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Like Jonathan Richman, I’m in love with the modern world. I may not be driving around Massachusetts these days, but I’ve got my radio on. Only it’s radiotherapy. I started last Monday. Every day for two weeks they clamp my head into my own personal mask and put my brain in a microwave. Or the equivalent of, let’s not quibble over frequencies. Maybe I can smell burning. It’s actually not at all painful but it leaves me a bit more dizzy than usual, and these days I am Normal Dizzy the great jazz musician at the best of times.

So, slow me down. Let me build a garden which is a haven of peace and quiet beauty. And live in it a life full of respair where despair is repaired by hope, or at least calm acceptance.

But please don’t confuse me for some apolitical moron on a path to personal discovery and heightened spirituality. I still spit with indignation at mindless repeats of old history, where right-wing bigots use the misfortunes of “destitute foreigners” to advance their own interests. I snort with incredulity that anyone can believe that the Tory agenda for the NHS does not involve causing it irreparable harm. I laugh at ex-Army types who talk about “terrorist sympathizers” but clearly have never had a serious conversation with someone jailed for planting a bomb.

Maybe I’m just more aware of the passage of time. The average human lifespan in the UK is 972 months and we sleep for 324 of those. My current personal target is to have stayed alive for 720 months. Maybe I’m aware that a high probability of early mortality was once common with World War 1, Spanish flu, etc. Maybe I see the things around me with sharper acuity.

My English teacher at the Irish seminarian school was straight out of Chaucer – a short, billiard ball of a man rigged out as a priest in his black robes. He was an 8 ball. Round glasses in a moon face on a round head attached to his round body. ‘Cream buns’ was his nickname. If we only had a bit more culture in us we could have called him ‘Skoleboller’ (‘school buns’), which are Norwegian cream buns.

He tried as teachers will do to instill some love of literature in the unwashed sons of farmers and small town solicitors. “Boys, shur ye’ll like this one, he was only a youngfella like yersels”. He was talking about Francis Ledwidge (1887–1917). The centenary of his death will be on 31 July. Ledwidge was a war poet. He survived the battle of Arras (where the English poet Edward Thomas was killed), only to die at the next one in Ypres.

The poem that the portly priest was praising prolifically is called June. It begins:

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
And plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
And let the window down.

I didn’t have much time for the pastoral in those days, but it was so easy to visualise that country cottage that I was a little bit impressed. A woodbine is the folk term for honeysuckle, in case you didn’t know. The Victorians didn’t like young girls bringing honeysuckle into the house because the smell of the flowers was believed to cause erotic dreams.

You could maybe pair it with a little bit of Seamus Heaney:

Were we not made for summer, shade and coolness
And gazing through an open door at sunlight?
For paradise lost? Is that what I was taught?

Even a shower of rain is good in June. Petrichor is the name for the earthy smell made when rain falls on dry soil. Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) wrote about it:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

I try to see and hear things better now. Swifts that scythe the summer sky, madly and constantly screaming as they fly. The chuckle-cackle cry of a passing jackdaw. The mutually-reassuring chirps of long-tailed tits to the rest of their family group. A good day is spotting a Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly in the garden (and listening to Boris Johnson make a twit of himself on live radio).

Small pleasures.

Well, that’s been an interesting couple of weeks. An end to the European dream as set out by Winston Churchill in 1948, among others. The cold shivers of the first blast of the Economic winter waiting just around the corner. The simian-like racists with their freshly-issued permits to abuse. The loss of life opportunity for a whole generation of young people. A new low in the perpetually downward spiral of the body politic. And I still have this bloody annoying cancer.

“I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Woody Allen once said. You could replace “death” with “Brexit” as far as I’m concerned. I’m looking at both right now, and death isn’t as far behind in the popularity polls as you might have been led to believe ;-).

When I’m drunk or upset I can only think in Galway-ese. It was weeks of internal dialogue along the lines: Well they’re all just a bunch a’ messers and chancers actin’ the bollix and you’d want to go flaking them with a hurley, so you would. They madden me somethin’ powerful, so they do. Will ya get down out of that, Nigel, ya feckin’ little amadáin ya. Now! will ya only look and see what he’s after doin’, the ugly little shite. He’s after shaftin’ the lot of us. Well, I hope he feckin’ dies roaring, God forgive me.

On top of that, I had the bad luck to click on a book called “Into Extra Time” which “comprises the powerful reflections of a Jesuit priest which he wrote during the final months of his life following a diagnosis of cancer”. God bless the poor dead man, and all that, but the feckin’ Amazon engine has me plagued and close to distraction with a barrage of recommended books by God-botherers. All trying to tell me how much comfort I can find. “Is it after givin’ me relief and solace ye’re after?” thinks I, “well, ye can all feck off for a start and take that pile of wasted trees with ye.” If it’s extra time, it’s like extra time in a dreary dull 0-0 game that you just know will go to penalties, and you couldn’t give a fish’s tit for either team.

Sorry. No, it’s fine. I’m alright now. But it’s no wonder I’m skipping along the watchtower with Bob and Jimi looking for some kind of way out of here. There’s too much confusion and I can’t get no relief.

Metaphorically, it’s turning into the year without a summer. Literally, the Year Without A Summer was an actual thing. It happened to be exactly 200 years ago, in 1816. It was down to volcanic eruptions in SE Asia that created dust clouds over the world and caused a volcanic winter. These days, I suppose we make our own volcanoes. Anyway, it caused food shortages and general privation everywhere, including England. It led to such things as the Littleport Riots in May 1816.

It coincided with the end of the Napoleonic Wars (Waterloo was in 1815), and soldiers were coming home from the wars. The English Corn Laws had just been passed by a Tory government to impose huge tariffs on imported grain, in order to keep prices high in favour of well-off farmers (mostly Conservative landowners). The effect was to dramatically raise the cost of food, and it led to a protest movement against the “bread-taxing oligarchy.” To offset the damage, ‘Poor Laws’ were passed that would supplement wages and alleviate the lot of the poor. But these just kept wages low as farmers knew that their labourers’ wages would be topped-up by the system.

Plenty of John Bull flag-waving patriotism went on display, as once again the labouring poor were asked to pick up the bill for wars and greed. Lots of “tax credits” to hide the reality of a “zero hours”, low-pay culture where you worked for a pittance and got treated like dog shit. When it was repealed in 1845, it was partly because of the Irish Famine. Mostly, it was because the rich industrialists got fed up paying higher factory wages so that rich landowners could enjoy higher profits.

To go back to the riot for a moment, it happened close-by in Littleport, Cambridgeshire. A group of people had a “few scoops” in the Globe Inn (alas, it was demolished in 1962) and they then set off to relieve the local wealthy of some of their worldly possessions. Braved-on by this, they gathered up a few fowling guns and pitch-forks in a waggon and horses, and began a march to Ely. Needless to say, the Dragoons, Cavalry and gentlemen militia were soon dispatched against them. The culprits were rounded up, and trials were held in June. Some were transported to Australia, but five were condemned to death. There was then a delay for a week because they had to hire the black-draped Gallows cart and horses all the way from Cambridge – no one local was willing to supply. On Friday 28 June 1816, the five were hanged and buried in Ely. Their memorial plaque says “May their awful fate be a warning to others”. Indeed. Step carefully, you plebs and oiks.

If this happened in Ireland, we’d have a rousing ballad to commemorate them, and we’d still burn with the indignation of their killing. A few days now after the 200th anniversary of their deaths, a little traditional camaraderie goes out to them from me. Poor is poor, no matter what your national flag.

Ah, Memorials, Commemorations and all that. I went to a classical music event in Madingley last Sunday week that was surprisingly good. One song-cycle took the words from Orwell’s 1984: “In his waking thoughts he called it the Golden Country.” I went back to the book for a quick re-read. The Party slogan just seems to have special resonance for these times: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The mutability of the past is bad enough, but I keep looking at Media mind-twists on the present and constantly asking: who falls for this shit?

Winston Smith escaped the grey drudgery of his IngSoc existence by dreaming of the Golden Country. In truth, it sounds like a rather ordinary place. An old, rabbit-bitten pasture, with a foot-track wandering across it and a molehill here and there. The UK was asked to vote last week for a return to the past, to some long-gone image of a Golden Country.

I wonder how George Orwell would have voted in the referendum? Who knows, but his Internationalism was well-proven and there is that famous essay from 1945 in which he distinguished between nationalism (=bad) and patriotism (=less bad). Nationalism makes people disregard common sense and ignore facts. Patriotism is “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people.” Not a great demonstration of logical thinking either, but at least a bit less bad. Still, at least you can impress your chums by saying that Gove is a misguided Patriot (doesn’t that just sound like a missile out of control?) whereas you have no time for those nasty Nationalists abusing people in the street.

So, here we are two hundred years on from 1816. Climate forces still background our experiences, and we play out the charade of history before it. We still have the under-privileged getting shafted by the Elite, and ever more elaborate tapestries of lies are woven to distract our eyes from it.  Hegel just about nailed it when he said that “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” We the Golden Country!

I don’t expect to vote in the UK General Election in 2020. I doubt I’ll be alive to do so. Seeing that written down in cold black and white surprises and scares me, but there it is.

But, after the last GE outcome, I felt I had to do something. I’ve joined the Labour Party (as a full member, not a supporter). What the Tories are doing and could do to young people of my daughter’s generation and the disadvantaged just cannot go unopposed.

I’d like to say “re-joined” but I’ve been a member of the Irish Labour Party only; never the British one. The reason for that is mildly interesting in light of the present leadership campaign. I was on the left of the Irish party. When I moved to London in the early 1980s, the group in the British party closest to my politics was called London Labour Briefing, which counted Jeremy Corbyn amongst its prominent members. What turned me off however was their support for Irish Republicanism, Gerry Adams, et al. It was profoundly ignorant of the debate in the Republic and siding with nationalists is a risky business for the Left. Rather than join and argue, I let it lapse.

It’s ironic that now I’ve joined, it will be Corbyn who gets my #1 preference. He hasn’t changed much in his positions since back then, which I suppose is due some credit. I believe he has other shortcomings in the stance he’s taken over issues like child abuse in the 80s/90s. But he offers something different.

I’m upset that Labour right-wingers are using divisive and abusive language against people like me. Heart transplants, “end the madness”, that sort of thing. It smacks a bit of desperation, the words of people who feel they are about to lose their positions of privilege and cosy jobs. You know, maybe we just want our Party back. Maybe someone needs to say something different. Not Tory-lite.

I’m also indignant over the abuse of statistics in the media on the notion of “hard-left entryism” and the impact it could have on the leadership vote. Over a quarter of a million could vote in the Labour leadership. Let’s round it off at 250,000. It’s laughable to even imagine people with hard-left beliefs joining the Labour Party, but let’s run the numbers anyway. The Communist Party has roughly 1,000 members in total. Even if they all agreed to join Labour just to cast a vote, they’d be only 0.4% of the electorate. Of course, the CP is not the only left-wing party. Let’s say that there are five times that number and all together they too want to join and cast a vote. Those 5,000 would still only be 2% of the electorate.

[In fact, according to the Guardian, the electorate in the leadership ballot is now well over 325,000, and likely to rise still further. That dilutes the “malign influence” factor even further. There are also reports that only around 250 applicants have been challenged as ineligible – more support for my analysis.]

The right-wing media never claim logic as their weapon of choice, but there’s so much inconsistency between the claim that “hard-left causes have few supporters and make you un-electable” and “a surge in far-left supporters joining Labour will sway the election”. It’s the same wonderful logic that says migrants can take both our jobs and our benefits. Migrants can be amazingly both employed and unemployed at the same time. “Rent-a-Lefties” can simultaneously be pathetically few yet still wield vast influence due to their numbers.

It this was a song, you’d say they got the Red River Blues.

If I have a selfish stake in this, it’s probably the NHS. I’m going to need it over the next few years. I may be someone who has often paid higher-rate tax, had share options in publicly-offered companies, could be described as an entrepreneur in “Startup Britain”. But I believe in the original Labour vision for the NHS: to avoid opportunistic behaviour by those who would seek to profit from illness. Labour messed up in the 1990s by adding excessive middle/upper management and bureaucracy to the NHS, but that is nothing compared to the current trend towards talking down the NHS as a “softener” or enabler for future privatisation.

You’ve heard me mention Oxaliplatin chemotherapy in these pages. Between it and the other types of chemotherapy, I’ve had well over 20 infusions. If I lived in the USA and did not have health insurance each infusion would cost me over £4000. If I had insurance, each infusion would cost over £2000 for the health insurance company, and they often put maximum limits on pay-outs. And that’s for just the chemotherapy.

Cancer and certain death is a tough enough burden without all of that. Protect it, people.

As I roved out on a bright May morning, to view this country fair, who did I spy but a shy Tory voter, and he a-standing there. Says I to him, sit ye down near me on my right hand. Tell me now, and tell me true, what was the thing that came o’er you. The vow you did make to the Polling Man, that vow you did break right well. What did you search, what was your salvation? That made you break this united nation?

“Well it’s true that I love the Union-o, and the Queen to watch right o’er it. But at the end of the day for my fellow man, I could not care a bit. What need care I for your poor in their austere woe, when chance right soon my fortune up may further go.”

“I took my heed from the rabid Press, those words they did right sore me. That every greed I ever craved, it would foreswore me.”

“What need heed I for a united nation, when ’tis up against my aspiration?”

Says I to him: “By you I’m one that’s quite undone, If you leave me here in scorning. Where will I turn, for me tumours to burn, when thon hospital there be closing?”

I may take my hope that the Queen of the North may save me. Though she swears their hearts be loud with voices proud, her wee army’s small and cannot win. And what need care she, in her fine tartan bed, when fortunes smile less fondly. She’ll sit on her throne, in her fine Scottish home, when misery overcomes me.

There was a very powerful mini-documentary in the middle of Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Wipe TV show on the BBC this week. Such a potent summary that I went looking for more about the creator –  a video maker and commentator called Adam Curtis.

It started with a reference to the current dominant political ideology in Russia – “Sovereign Democracy” or “managed democracy”. It’s a term coined by Vladislav Surkov, a close ally and political advisor of Putin and a fellow member of the United Russia party. It isn’t the easiest term to explain. It’s a sort of ultra-populist pragmatism which relies on a dominant-party system (i.e. United Russia).

All fine and well, but how do you get the popular vote to become the dominant party?

One way is to create and maintain confusion. Take the comparison with fighting a military war. Instead of a classic A vs B scenario you create a non-linear war where many factions compete, all against all. When Alan Turing et al were decoding the messages of the Nazis, it was a case of finding out what the enemy were doing. In any war of the 21st Century, we don’t even know who the enemy are. Should we back the enemy of our enemy, when they are our enemy too? When is it OK to like them?

One day we’re told the Government is not spending money. It’s all about austerity. Take money out of the economy (and especially from the greedy, grubby hands of the undeserving poor). Next, we’re told they are pumping money into the economy in order to stimulate recovery. But then that ends up in the hands of the already-wealthy, so it makes no difference at all.

There is a rich/poor asymmetry about this current recession that is even more marked than the one of the early 1980s. We’re never “all in it together”, but this time it couldn’t be more obvious.

The preferred way of non-linear politics is to avoid those clunky old debates of e.g. Capitalism versus Communism. Keep everyone guessing. Here’s a bit that is anti-Europe; this bit says the USA is the source of all woe; in this bit it’s the immigrants that are to blame. Don’t stop there. The Gay lobby is destroying marriage and the family. International banking is to blame. We deserve to be our own independent Nation. Drink less to prevent Cancer. Have a drink, it will help to prevent Cancer. Your information is private. If you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide.

Which of those are left-wing arguments and which are right-wing? Which ones come from the mouths of Labour or Conservative politicians?

Everything is is confusing and contradictory. All the lines are blurred.

According to Curtis: “And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything, because we live a state of confusion and uncertainty. To which the response is: Oh dear!. But that is what they want you to say.”

Another way of non-linear politics is to find (or invent) the Demon. All the difficult confusions disappear when the enemy is clear. It doesn’t matter if it is Islamic or Immigrant, they’ll all do.

But people don’t like all this difficult thinking. Time to use the old ‘bread and circuses’ trick. A bit of “ooh” and “aah” as we escape from the horror of it all, at least until the song or dance routine is over.

An episode of “Strictly Come Goose-stepping”, anyone?

Some of this may have been said before:

“To obey with your eyes shut is the onset of panic. In this world where denial and morose passions take the place of certainties, people seek above all not to see.”

— Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1953)

It’s unfortunate that the Irish name for Tuam is Tuaim, which means a burial mound (or tumulus).

It’s in the news because a Catholic order of nuns called the Bon Secours Sisters, who were set up as a nursing order, thought it was the right thing to do to dump the bodies of babies in an adapted septic tank on unconsecrated ground. The babies were born from unmarried women, at a Magdeline-style mother and baby home. Although these homes were run by the Church, they were state-funded institutions.

The body count is at least 796, and it occurred between 1925 and 1961. That’s not some ancient history, that’s (just) in my lifetime.

The tomb was discovered in 1975, but local people thought they were the bodies of famine victims. It took a historical researcher until now to uncover the real truth. She found that the infant mortality rate was 4 to 5 times higher than the general population of the time. The children were malnourished and prone to infections.

A priestly spokesperson for the Diocese said that we can’t really judge the past from our point of view, from our lens. That’s a fair bit of revisionist apologism. Is he saying that it was the norm in 20th Century Europe, in a country not at war, to dump children in a pit intended for shit?

I’d offer him as an alternative the words spoken 4 years after the Salem Witch Trials by the jurors who found the women guilty of witchraft:

“We confess that we ourselves were not capable to understand, nor able to withstand, the mysterious delusions of the powers of darkness, and Prince of the Air; but were, for want of knowledge in ourselves, and better information from others, prevailed with to take up with such evidence against the accused, as, on further consideration and better information, we justly fear was insufficient for the touching the lives of any, whereby we fear we have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood; which sin the Lord saith, in Scripture, he would not pardon, that is, we suppose, in regard of his temporal judgments.”

It is truly puzzling how any group of women could act like this. But, then I remember the expressed view of my parents who felt that many nuns did not join through any sense of vocation, but instead because their marriage opportunities were limited and a ‘nun in the family’ brought honour. My parents were not alone in this view, circa the 1950s and 1960s and especially into the 1970s when it all started to become more open.

To put this in more perspective, the website of the Bon Secours order says: “Since 1824 the Sisters of Bon Secours have brought compassion, healing, and liberation to those they serve.”

And now, instead of donating a few pounds towards a memorial, the satanic-infested Catholic institutions of Ireland could open up their ledgers, and tell the whole truth.

Today they bury Thatcher.

It’s sad when any human shakes off the mortal coil but it isn’t a coil it’s a garland of wonderful flowers, actually, and you are only “free” to be recycled into the muddy ground.

I was trying to assess my feelings about a politician who dominated my 20s and changed my life. Usually by taking away options that I would have rather kept. But it’s all about freeing the human spirit and helping us achieve our inner potential, innit?

I imagine a pit village in some Durham mining community. There’s a brass band. Everybody practices like crazy to be the best ever Miner’s Brass Band. One of the members is a young trumpet player and s/he has a very special talent. The others do their utmost to nurture that talent. If that means s/he gets to be a student at the Conservatory of Music and it leads to a career as the best in the field, then they make it happen. That’s Socialism.

Now it turns out that the band practice in held in a village hall and it turns out that there’s a dodgy lease on the property. So a local Spiv buys up the lease, kicks out the band and turns the hall into a supermarket. That’s Thatcherism.


When I was a small boy I went to a National School in Galway that was one of those old (1916) single-story grey stone buildings that was split internally into three rooms. Each room contained two or three rows of desks, each of which was a class (as in year 4, year 5, etc.).

It was my second school. I’d started with the Sisters of Mercy nuns as my first teachers. I was there for a few years so I joined at the middle end of the age range. I’ve read it somewhere that the sisters of mercy had no mercy, and the sisters of charity had no charity. They got that right.

The building had no inside toilets – they were in a shed out in the yard. There was an open fireplace and it wasn’t quite that we had to bring a sod of turf with us each day in cold weather, but you felt and knew that this had been a recent practice.

One year it was unusually cold with a snow fall and the toilets were frozen over. They had no choice but to send us home. Getting home meant a bus journey and for reasons I can’t explain me and my friend had spent the penny or two that it would cost to take the bus. Probably on sweets. So we decided to call on his father who was working on the other side of town. He had a car and would give us a lift home. Not a great plan in retrospect but there you have it.

We trudged across town. I especially remember that my feet were freezing. We trudged up a hill that took you past the Magdalen Laundry building, up towards another old school – a Grammar School from 1807 where “none are to be admitted schoolmasters of the said Schools but such as are the Protestant religion”.

We achieved our redemption at the top of the hill. Cold and with a strong rebuke ringing in our ears, we got taken home.

I was thinking of that day this week because of the report out about the horrors inflicted by the aforementioned Sisters of  Mercy on the unfortunate “fallen women” that they incarcerated in their hell-hole Magdalen Laundries in various Irish towns. No redemption for those poor women that day, or any other day till they closed those buildings down.

There’s controversy now because the Irish Government didn’t apologize when the report came out for its complicit role in the whole affair. They dumped people there without trial or appeal. They turned a blind eye to working conditions and their own workplace legislation. The police rounded up anyone who escaped and took them back, like something out of the antebellum South. They buried them in mass graves when they died.

But it’s OK – the surviving nuns at the Sisters of Mercy convent have extended an invite this week to any ex-inmates to come in and talk about it.

I say fuck your State Apology anyway. Fuck your coffee morning reconciliation too. Those women were made to work for nothing while the nuns collected big revenues from the laundry services they provided with the slave labour.

There’s no need for anger. Just take the assets of the religious orders, make a list of the people owed money for their labour (including pensions etc) and make retribution. There won’t be much left of the prime real estate when all that is done. But there will be just enough for a pleasant-enough small house somewhere that will comfortably serve the old nuns in their final years. There they can think on the past and find their redemption.

A few weekends ago I was listening to a website of Indian music ( and especially their Hindi Oldies section. I adore songs from the old B&W Indian movies of the 1950s and 60s. My long-suffering family knows my idea of a perfect take-away evening is to recreate the background music of the restaurant, but usually a bit louder and with less modern (as in bland) songs. You have to find those songs from somewhere.

Then it occurred to me that I didn’t have enough names behind the songs. What I mean is that I wouldn’t be so crass as to watch a BBC documentary about Glam Rock without knowing the difference between David Bowie and The Sweet. Whereas you could have summed up what I knew about Indian music artists into one reference – that indie song by Cornershop called “Brimful of Asha”.

At least I knew the person in reference is Asha Bhosle, who was best known as a playback singer in Hindi cinema. A playback singer makes prerecorded songs for use in the Bollywood movies. The actors or actresses then lip-sync the song lyrics during those wonderful song and/or dance routines that zing with joy or pathos. In fact, “Dhingana” is a  Marathi word that means joy, zeal and frenzy. That sums it up, right enough.

Playback singers worked really hard.  So hard that the Guinness Book of Records (2011) acknowledged Asha Bhosle as the most recorded artist in music history. Ever. She’s done the singing on over a thousand movies.

Now, it turns out (a) that Asha has an older sister, and (b) that many of the songs I like but didn’t know the artist were sung by her. Her name is Lata Mangeshkar, and she was also a playback singer.

But it isn’t all about the singers. Those actresses were eye-catching too. There’s Suchitra Sen for example, an Indian actress who has acted in many Bengali films. Possibly the most surreal plot-line of any of them is “Deep Jweley Jai” (1959). It means “to light a lamp”. She plays a nurse who is working for the R.D. Laing of Indian psychiatry, and many of his cures for patients involve Suchitra forming a personal relationship. With this one guy, for example, who is diagnosed as having an unresolved Oedipal complex, she has to impersonate his mother. But in a more loving sort of way than usual. If all this sounds like a bad porn movie plot, I refer you immediately to the year it was made. It’s as chaste as anything. But it is full of partly-lit and shadowy cinematograhy and she looks stunning in those close-ups. In a word – iconic.

They all look iconic, these singers and actresses.

Most of these women are still alive, and now in their 80s. For myself, I was pleased with my web surfing on that Sunday evening, and knew that I had some great Hindi songs to listen to as well as a better grasp of who was behind the music and the films.

On that same evening of October 28, an Indian woman died in the same hospital where I was born. Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old. It isn’t difficult to do a quick search for the news details. The basics are that she had a miscarriage. Because (allegedly) there was a foetal heartbeat, she was denied a termination. Because her cervix was dilated she suffered septicemia and organ failure led to her death. She seems to have been denied basic Christian charity in a “Catholic country”.

When the pictures of Savita appeared next to the awful news, they too seemed iconic. Just iconic for the wrong reasons.

Many people in Ireland (and the diaspora) were shocked and angry. Personally, I was angry to read that a symposium on maternal healthcare in Dublin a month earlier had concluded that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother. As you might imagine, the Pro-Life mob had a field day with that. I was also dismayed to see several Labour politicians had voted last April against a Bill on Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman because (I can only presume) it was put before Parliament by the other side. You don’t have to read back too far in this blog to know I’m no fan of Sinn Fein either; but what happened to all those campaigns I took part in during the 1970s that were all about the issue, not who had proposed or seconded it?

The symposium in Dublin got some of its scientific respectability from the eminent doctors who spoke there. One of them has worked in Galway for decades. It was sobering to me when I talked about the Savita case with my mother: she reminded me I was a difficult birth (a breech who kept turning back the wrong way, no matter what they did – nothing changes). Without prompting, she tore into the same eminent gynecologist. Her feeling was that he saw women suffering as part of some Divine glory, and that they should endure it. Strong stuff, and coming from a pensioner not some snotty young Leftie.

Maybe I write these stupid posts as a form of catharsis. Maybe it’s to let out the anger of the fuck cancer / why me? But I want to turn back the clock many years and tell immigrants such as Savita and her husband: there’s a reason why so many of us have emigrated from that Island, and it isn’t all to do with economics. Too late now for her.

It’s October 1983: start of my year two in London. MSc is over, research job (and PhD) has just begun. On the short list of essentials for living; provisions to be made from disposable income for the procurement of: one annual membership to the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Among reasons for: free entrance to exhibitions, early booking advantage for their rock weeks (seven nights of best music of the time), some of the weirdest (& clothing optional) theatre/performance I’d ever seen (or since).

I’m there watching Clock DVA on the Tuesday night – in case they’re unknown to you here’s a quick synopsis – part of the Sheffield electronica movement circa 1980, more cut-up than motorik, penchant for film noir and moody soundscapes. One of the things new and different for me that night was the way they backdropped the music with an audio-visual show. Lots of b&w still photomontages and short film clips, all synchronised and complementary to the music they were playing live.

Since then there’s been the rise of MTV, but it was new then. Not “first time ever in the history of the world” new, but unusual.

What brings this to mind is two different projects from two different corners of my musical likes. In the first instance, a collaboration between “new classical” Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and the American filmmaker Bill Morrison on a film called  The Miners’ Hymns. The film is a collage made from clips of the mining industry around Durham and the North East, using archive footage from the likes of the British Film Institute and the BBC, intertwined with footage of the miners’ strike in 1984. Another memory – collecting money in buckets for the miners outside Whitechapel tube station. There’s no narration – just the images and the soundtrack.

In the second instance, a collaboration between “new folk” artistes The Unthanks with North East filmmaker Richard Fenwick on a film called Songs from the Shipyards. Again, it’s made using archive footage, and depicts the rise and fall of shipbuilding in places like the Clyde and the Tyne. In this one there is narration, all nicely intoned in received English, but that juxtaposes the grimy industrial images even more.

The titles of the musical pieces by Jóhannsson evoke the trade union movement and the optimism of  19th century workers’ colleges: Freedom from Want and Fear;  There Is No Safe Side But the Side of Truth; The Cause of Labour Is the Hope of the World, etc.

Think for a moment on one of those titles. You can be free from the fear of want when you know there could be a job for you when you graduate. You can be free from fear when you know some arbitrary whim of a manager won’t end in your dismissal. At a time when Tory politicians are trying to swap your employment rights for a paltry share option in a company, and youth employment has an ’80s feel, it doesn’t seem appropriate to say that we are yet free from want and fear.

These are anything but just two pretty little films that cleverly re-use old images to evoke a sense of a former time and place. More than just an elegiac wallow in the remembrance of things past.

In 2012 if the leader of the British Labour Party joins a march against austerity cuts he’s told: “You can’t be serious about clearing the deficit when you attend a march that calls for an end to austerity.” Er, no. You can be serious about clearing a deficit by advocating another way of collecting the money. Such as fair corporation tax on Facebook, eBay, Google, et al. Grudgingly I admire what the right-wing has achieved in the past 30 years. They’ve turned back the history of the past 150 years and made us doubt everything that isn’t about personal gain and immediate gratification. They’ve made ordinary people doubt the evidence of their eyes. They’ve made us see marches as the expression of futility or the blind optimism of socialism.

They’ve achieved the re-framing of history. As Cynthia Fuchs, in her review on PopMatters puts it:

“How is history ever anything but what you receive, your trust or skepticism of seeming sources, a narrative reframed each moment by what you see next?”

But it’s dead easy to take back. It only requires that we look twice at the faces of those working men and women in the b&w films and think: “you have more in common with me than any Eton toff”.