Monday 21 December 2015

Uncle Karl

A Christmas story from 'Left Field'. "A regular guest at our house was Karl Henrik Køster, a Danish neurosurgeon who’d met my father in Bergen-Belsen when they were both serving in the RAMC. They became close friends and my sisters and I called him Uncle Karl. Because he always came to stay in December, this large man with his deep voice and Nordic accent was Father Christmas, though now I realise he looked more like Karl Marx. Uncle Karl always arrived with a large bottle of Cherry Heering, a Danish liqueur, and gifts for us children. I remember the nine-inch-high brightly-painted wooden soldier with its red tunic and blue trousers. It had moveable arms and a detachable lance which was quickly lost. Karl Henrik was a surgeon at Copenhagen’s Bispebjerg hospital. After operating on a wounded member of the Resistance, medical students asked him to help hide 40 Jews while their escape by boat to Sweden was organised. But how to get them into the hospital? Karl Henrik organised a ‘funeral’ with dark cars, black clothes and flowers. 140 turned up and all of them had to be hidden. He then arranged for ambulances to take them to the coast. In all, he and his hospital saved 2,000 Jews. Then their luck ran out. One day, when leaving his apartment he passed the Gestapo on the stairs. They asked him where Dr Køster could be found. As he left the building he passed the body of a medical student shot in the back. He then followed the same route as those he had helped save and escaped by boat to Sweden. He made his way to the UK and joined the British army. His wife Doris was at home and the Gestapo imprisoned her … The last my father knew of Karl was when he heard from a mutual friend that he had, as my father put it, ‘taken up with his secretary’. He had no idea what happened to poor Doris. Karl committed suicide in the 1980s and didn’t live to see the 1998 Disney film made about his life, Miracle at Midnight, directed by Ken Cameron which starred Sam Waterson as Karl and Mia Farrow as Doris. I recently came across words of his explaining why he acted as he did. ‘It was the natural thing to do. I would have helped any group of Danes being persecuted. The Germans picking on the Jews made as much sense to me as picking on redheads.’ " 

Thursday 17 December 2015

Jeremy Corbyn

I met Jeremy Corbyn in my local pub this evening. He talked about his day in Brussels and I told him about my day at Unbound. I said 'Left Field' was being published soon and that he features in several chapters. He was involved in helping me instigate an enquiry at our local hospital when a neighbour committed suicide. In the chapter 'Ships at Sea' I explained that my politics had been summed up in a lifetime's opposition to joining any parliamentary party, but that I had now had to add a postscript. Because of him, I have joined the Labour Party. He has accepted a copy of the book and wants to attend the launch. It's not too late for you to pledge your copy and, if bought before the end of the year, your name will be printed in the book.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Behind God's Back

In 1994 Anne Aylor wrote 'Behind God's Back' after visiting War Child's operations in Mostar. The New Republic asked to publish it, but wanted the article to focus on the charity's mobile bakery which was feeding the besieged town. She felt the whole piece was important and so, 20 years later, it will appear in 'Left Field'. Here is an excerpt: “I meet Hamid, the official responsible for food distribution in the city. Over whiskey, he explains his view of the conflict. ‘Before the war the mosques were empty. Even now, after all this talk of us “Muslims”, there are still only a few old women there at prayer time. The bridge was our life and they took that from us. They took what was most important. This war has nothing to do with religion. When you hear the muezzin call, you can tell the time.’ He adds, ‘I used to live in West Mostar, close to the cathedral. I loved that cathedral and I loved its clock. I used to look out at it from my flat. When the clock stopped because some idiot damaged the building, I was very sad because I couldn’t tell the time any more. It removed something important in my life. You know,’ he said, ‘that clock on the cathedral and the call to prayer from the mosque are one and the same.'  

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Questions for Tony Benn's son

1. Is your leader a 'terrorist sympathiser'?
2. The Lancet estimated that, "as of July, 2006, there have been 654,965 excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area.” Do you accept these figures and if so, do you worry about your responsibility for supporting the UK's involvement in this carnage?
3. Why did you support the sanctions against Iraq prior to the 2003 occupation. When former UN Humanitarian Coordinators in Iraq Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday described their effect as a 'genocide' of children, were they talking rubbish?
4. Are you aware that many of the bombs dropped on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya contained depleted uranium. Have you asked the Ministry of Defence whether these 'cancer-inducing' components are to be used in any forthcoming Syria bombing?
5. I often dream about my dad. I wake up smiling. Do you have the same experience?

Friday 27 November 2015

in praise of disobedience

This weekend is the first anniversary of my admission to hospital for an operation on a subdural haematoma. I was at the 'Disobedient Objects' exhibition at the V & A. On display, suffragette teapots, battered pan lids that had helped bring down the Argentine government, a Palestinian sling-shot made from the tongue of a shoe and homemade shields made to look like book covers. My behaviour was as surreal as the exhibits and I went directly from the V & A to A & E. You can read about all this in an article I wrote for Huffington Post and later in 'Left Field'. One year on and I am alive, recovered and on my way to join the disobedient at Downing Street to oppose bombing Syria. I have nothing but contempt for our tinpot bombardiers. Cameron's sole experience of war would have been his time on the parade ground at school. Ex-chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, once told the PM that 'being in the Combined Cadet Force at Eton did not qualify him to decide the tactics of complex military options.' I know, I don't trust Sir David either. My trust is with Jeremy Corbyn and those who join me in Whitehall at midday. 

Thursday 26 November 2015

Standing in the light

Ex-Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Wesley Clark, made this comment eight years ago.“We’re going to take out seven countries in 5 years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”. Hasn't exactly gone to chronological plan, but they are still working on it. My friend Haifa Zangana, novelist, short story writer and political columnist, invited me to a showing of 'Whose Peace Will it Be' at the P1 Studio London last night. Directed by the Belgian filmmaker, Luc Pien, it was deliberately not a film about the atrocities that have been committed in Iraq—and now far beyond its borders. Pien spoke with writers, poets, academics and refugees. As well as Haifa, they included Zainab Khan and Intisar al Obaidy, artist Rashad Salim, film maker Al Daraji and academic Mundher Adhami. Harold Pinter said, “We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people.” Yet out of this degradation the survivors emerge, defiantly standing in the light and speaking for themselves and for a civilisation that belongs to all of us. Don't forget to be at Downing Street at midday on Saturday. We still have to act against Clark's seven-country plan and stand in the light. More on Haifa Zangana in Left Field

Saturday 21 November 2015

Syriza, Inside the Labyrinth

Last week I went to the the launch of the new Left Book Club at Conway Hall. Their first publication is Kevin Ovenden's 'Syriza, Inside the Labyrinth'. As a fervent follower of Kevin's insightful blogs on Greece and much else I am looking forward to reading this one. Set up in 1936 the first LBC had 57,000 members, and 1.500 discussion groups in workplaces and communities. Writing in today's Guardian, Ian Jack wonders, “could anything like that success happen again? At first sight, it would seem mad to think so. A book is an antique method of political dissemination ... But too many recent examples suggest the case is far from clear-cut. Thomas Piketty, Richard Wilkinson, Naomi Klein, Bill Mckibben: it was the printed book that contained their ideas, rather than social media. A form devised in the 15th century is proving remarkable resilient. A book, lke a fire, is something people can gather round. It can be - see reading groups and literary festivals – the focus of a good night out, or the first provocative stage in a more serious process. Or both.” Well said. My own upcoming memoir is a great coming together of social media – which has raised more than enough funding to publish – with a traditional physical publication at the end. Not forgetting the E-book. So, read Kevin's book and check out 'Left Field'. 

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Rolling Fork to Tallahatchie

In the 20s and 30s, American black jazz singers, Josephine Baker and Alberta Hunter, found their stardom, not in New York or Chicago, but in Paris and London. ‘The Negro artists,’ said Hunter, ‘went to Europe because we were recognised and given a chance. In Europe they had your name up in lights. People in the United States wouldn’t give us that opportunity.’ In the 50s and 60s this happened again with the great blues singers who played to packed houses at London’s 100 Club and the Marquee. It was Europe and the UK, in particular, that gave them the recognition they deserved. When these musicians arrived in London, their first booking was often at the Bromley Court Hotel, Catford, a short bus ride from my home in south London. Blues greats, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley appeared there with British stars such as John Mayall, Alexis Corner and Spencer Davis. With his pencil moustache, red telecaster, sharp suits and from Rolling Fork, Mississippi - Muddy Waters “Got my Mojo Working”. The Bromley branch of CND used to hold meetings at the Swan and Mitre in the High Street, and I was delighted that being part of Ban the Bomb in South London meant I was among other blues’ fans. I remember one evening we cut the meeting short and decamped to the Court to hear Sonny Boy Williamson, another Delta blues man from Tallahatchie. Here they all are in a collation titled: 'American Folk Blues Festivals,1963 – 1966. The British Tours'. Be sure to check out Mamma Reed and “Baby What you Want Me to Do?” at 33:50  Much more on this in 'Left Field'

NOTE: I am going to see DUBIOZA KOLEKTIV at 100 Club in London on 20 November. I saw this gig in Belgrade in 2014 - my good friend, Oha Maslo is guest singer towards the end. They played Glastonbury this year and this is their 2nd appearance in the UK. Many more to follow I hope.

Saturday 7 November 2015

never-ending wars & poppies

This year the poppy people have extended their 'patriotism' to a photo of three kids carrying giant poppies. - for soldiers of the past, soldiers of the present and soldiers of the future. So now it is going to be never-ending poppies alongside never-ending wars. I gave a talk on 'Left Field' at my old school, Canford, last week. The 200 sixth formers sitting in front of me was a sea of poppies. I didn't want to be rude as they were a lovely audience and the school was more than friendly to this old rebel. But I had to say something. I told them my father had been one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and I had witnessed war at first-hand. Both experiences meant I think poppies should stay in the fields. Read this about veteran Harry Smith - a true patriot. 

Tuesday 3 November 2015

The pied piper of Mostar

I met yesterday with Prof Nigel Osborne as he passed through London on his way from running children's workshops in Syria and Lebanon to Buxton. He was due to give a talk at the Buxton Opera House and attend the premier of a new work of his, 'Bosnian Voices', to be performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The Chief Executive at Buxton is Simon Glinn, who played a significant role at the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar. 'Significant' is not strong enough. His technical skills were vital to the setting up of the centre. Here is an excerpt from 'Left Field' about Nigel's first visit to Mostar. “War Child today still emphasises the charity's historical connections with the music world, but the first money-raiser for our work involved animals. Over the 1993 August Bank Holiday we organised a three-day event at London Zoo. There were sitar and sarangi players near the elephants, Peruvian pipers serenaded the llamas and didgeridoo players the kangaroos. There were African drummers and giraffes, gamalan players entertaining the Indonesia rhinoceros, Brazilian berimbau players the squirrel monkeys. The Chinese percussionists were kept well away from the giant panda, Ming Ming, because she needed all her concentration to breed. The most amazing sites for me were a string quartet playing Bach in the Butterfly Grotto and a lone cellist in the shadowy depths of the Aquarium entertaining the circling sharks. On the lawns, pathways and courtyards there were clowns, jugglers, stilt-walkers, magicians, dancers and acrobats, story-tellers, poets and pavement artists. Inside the monkey house we held children's workshops, art and photo exhibitions. The promotional brochure said that, 'during these three days, London Zoo, with the help of its animals, will come to the rescue of another endangered species – children threatened by the thirty wars raging across our planet.' Six months later Nigel Osborne arrived in Mostar to help the children. He was carrying a large bag full of percussion instruments. A big, bearded bear of a man, Nigel was Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. He’d heard that we were co-operating with MTV and taking music tapes into Sarajevo where he’d been trying to organise music workshops with young people, working with the Sarajevo String Quartet and collaborating with cellist, Vedran Smailović and poet, Goran Simić on two children's operas. He said he would like to run children's workshops in Mostar and it was to be the start of a long association between Nigel and War Child. It was no problem gathering interest. I had been amazed how quickly news travelled across this bombed-out ghetto and, in such a desperate place, anything out of the ordinary was news. After two years of shelling, the upper floors of the UNHCR building had been blown away. The lower floors, housing the UN office, were as secure as it got in East Mostar. By the time Nigel arrived, there were twenty children and their parents. They sat very quietly and few of the children smiled. They looked as though they were about to be told bad news, not be offered the chance to bang drums and blow whistles. I looked around the room and realised most of them would have had no memory of anything but fear. One mother sat with her blind, impassive, six-year-old daughter. I watched while Nigel tried to get the girl to play a triangle. She refused to hold it. This went on for some time until, finally, she grabbed the triangle with one hand, the metal stick with the other and struck it over and over. Her face lit up. Her mother told us that it was the first time she had seen her daughter smile in over two years. Nigel's arrival in Mostar was to result in a schools' music pogramme that reached 3,000 children in Mostar and the surrounding area. More on all this in Left Field

Sunday 25 October 2015

Under Milk Wood

Kevin Allen's 'Under Milk Wood' opens in UK cinemas later this week. - starring Charlotte Church as Polly Garter and Rhys Ifans as Captain Cat. I am looking forward to seeing it. After 'Left Field' is published I am going to re-write my Dylan Thomas comedy - 'Spitting at the Sky' - first performed as a professional reading at the Dylan Thomas Festival in Swansea in 2004. I was a friend of the art critic, Mervyn Levy, who went to school with Dylan. He told me that the two of them shared a flat in Chelsea in the 30s and loved going to Marx Brothers films. They acted out the parts when they got home. He also told me that Thomas had been interred in Macy's morgue in NYC. Knowing this I set the play in Macy's and introduced Dylan to the Marx Brothers there. The cast in Swansea included Sion Probert, Stan Stennett, Liz Morgan and my friend, Anna Gilbert. John Yorke, then Head of Drama at Channel 4, commented: “a powerful and beautifully written piece of theatre, and I have to say that your mastery of language isn't far off Thomas' himself.” 

Saturday 10 October 2015

Toilet humour

Jeremy Corbyn is 'standing up the Queen', 'won't kiss her hand', 'refuses to kneel', 'didn't sing her song'. All archaic bollocks. The language itself is feudal. 'Privy' council is taken from the time when the monarch held meetings while he/she was having a shit. 'Cabinet meetings' were also held in the toilet. Maybe they still are. That long table may have been photoshopped. As co-founder of War Child I was once invited to have tea with the Queen. I wouldn't go and, as I was the lone republican in the charity, someone took my place. They returned to the office shocked and had moved slightly closer to my republicanism because, at that time, War Child was running a bakery in war-torn Bosnia. When told about this Phillip commented, 'I bet they steal the bread'. Then when the head of our medical projects said we also supplied insulin to diabetic children, he jumped in with, 'I bet they steal that too'. According to The Republic the annual cost of the Monarchy is £334 million. The feast that feeds off the people. 'Left Field', which covers my War Child years, has no references to the Queen. I promise.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Left Field cover

Russell Mills has created a great cover for Left Field. I am honoured that he has produced such an outstanding design, as effective as those I've admired on his covers for Don DeLillo and Milan Kundera. 

Left Field is to be published by Unbound in March 2016. Funding has exceeded 100%, but there is still time to pre-order a copy & have your name acknowledged. To be a book angel, click here.

Cover design: Russell Mills 

Brian Eno interview here

Sample chapter here   


Tuesday 6 October 2015

The Texture of Shadows

I have just finished reading Mandla Langa's The Texture of Shadows which, in his own words, "speaks of the invincibility of the human spirit. The possibility for people to go for broke and do things even if there is no reward." Amen to that! A great read. A powerful and unromantic account of the liberation struggle in South Africa. It is beautifully written—Mandla is both writer and poet. Check out the interview with him here and then get hold of the book. I have finished Textures on the day when Russell Mills has started work on designing the cover for Left Field. Mandla kindly offered a comment on me which will appear in Russell's work. I quoted from Mandla's book in my chapter, 'Rainbows' which is about my meeting Nelson Mandela: "Towering above his escorts, he was the freest man on earth, freer, certainly, than his captors who’d have to wrestle with their souls as cat’s paws of unjust power." Eugene Skeef introduced my own work to Mandla. Eugene is not on my book's cover, but he gets a whole chapter to himself!

Mandla Langa was winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Prize with his novel, The Lost Colours of the Chameleon

Thursday 1 October 2015

Dr Strangelove is alive and well

With the1962 Cuban missile crisis, nuclear war seemed imminent. If the missile-carrying Soviet vessels didn’t turn back from Cuba, there would be war. Jackie Kennedy recalled that she insisted on sleeping with her husband—not something she often did. She didn’t want to die alone. If she was scared, the rest of us had every right to be. That year the anti-nuclear movement remained the focus of my politics. I read Robert Jungk’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, the horrific telling of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with its account of the shadows of the dead imprinted on the earth. It left me in shock. The book’s title is taken from Robert Oppenheimer’s words when witnessing the first atomic bomb explosion in July 1945. He quoted the Bhagavad Gita, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I started to self-educate myself with all that was not taught at school, following Bertrand Russell’s axiom that ‘Men are born ignorant not stupid. They are made stupid by education.’ I read everything: from Marx's Capital to Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I joined CND and started marching against the bomb. Fifty three years later and Dr Strangelove is still scaring the shit out of me! Read more here in 'Left Field'.

Monday 28 September 2015

Half the world is missing

'Left Field' is a memoir with many meadows, one of them containing the flowers and fields of the Croatian naïve painter Ivan Rabuzin. Some years ago as his London agent, I produced a BBC Arena film made during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. With Rabuzin's paintings came a homespun philosophy: ‘When a man looks at something, he just sees half of it. At every moment, half the world is missing to us so we must turn in order to see the second half. Everything depends on what we see and how long we see it. That’s how long we live. Unfortunately, for most of us, even when we are alive, we live only half a life.’ Despite selling truckloads of his silk-screen prints in Japan and with buyers like Woody Allen, it proved impossible to popularise his work in the UK. Croatia: The Artists' War was panned by the critics here. Giles Smith in The Independent said, ‘Most of his paintings look like the kind of Get Well card you might buy for someone you didn’t know that closely.’ Check Rabuzin's art out for yourself here. He liked to play Chopin when he worked though this video is set to Handel.

Monday 21 September 2015

Exaro - holding power to account

The Guardian (21 Sep 2015) says that there are moves to bring to a halt police investigations into child sex abuse amongst Establishment figures. The role of Exaro - the news organisation whose work played a major part in bringing about the police inquiries - is being brought into doubt. The Guardian says "One complaint came last November over the presence of its journalist, David Hencke, a former Guardian reporter, at a private meeting for survivors and their representatives. A second complaint was made to another senior inquiry official three months later, alleging that the role Exaro was playing – 'seemingly with the assistance of panel members' –was 'causing havoc' among some survivors." If you check out the Exaro website you will see that they work meticulously in their exposure of corruption and bad practice at the highest level. What's more they conduct their work more honestly and rigorously than the corporate media. I have known David Hencke since he was a Guardian journalist and led the investigation into my allegations involving War Child. He was incredibly thorough and would not commit anything to public notice until he was sure he had a watertight story. He even investigated me and was right to do so. This is what Exaro itself says about David: "David Hencke led our exposure of senior civil servants who were able to avoid tax by working off payroll. The story won David the title of political journalist of the year. David was at the forefront of Exaro's exposure of secret recordings of a meeting where Rupert Murdoch made clear that he was aware that some of his newspaper journalists had paid bribes." Check out Exaro's work for yourself.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Jon Snow buys Left Field

Jon Snow has today pledged for his copy of 'Left Field'. If you don't have your copy on order yet check out the Brian Eno interview and then order here

Wednesday 16 September 2015

God save the hypocrites

My dad died two years ago aged 101. On his 100th birthday he received a card from the Queen. Hardly able to move he kicked it off his bed. He was one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Would the Daily Mail care to denounce him as 'disrespectful' of his country?
Read more about my father here:

Tuesday 15 September 2015

New Francos

“The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security.” David Cameron. These words could have been said by General Franco – just replace 'Republicans' or 'Reds for The Labour Party. Even some Tories understand this – David Davis has attacked the trade union bill as being 'Franco-style'. Last night at the Jeremy Corbyn celebration at London's Forum Mark Steel said,  "What has happened is exciting. It's marvellous but it is also daunting because all of us have to do what we can do to protect Jeremy - not just Jeremy, but the ideas that he stands for ... there's been a movement building and it's been looking for someone, some thing, somewhere to attach it to. They found it a bit in Scotland and with Caroline Lucas and people like that - and now very much with Jeremy. It's a fantastic movement which we've got to protect." The last place this movement will affect will be in Parliament – just look at the glum faces and silence on the Labour benches yesterday. Never thought I'd say this, but join Mark Steel and join the Labour Party. Be a part of the Corbyn protection. Be active against the new Francos. 

Saturday 12 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn

“We don't have to be unequal. It does not have to be unfair, poverty isn't inevitable. Things can, and they will change" Jeremy Corbyn, 12 September 2015. A momentous day in this country. Just had time to watch Jeremy elected leader of the Labour Party before joining 100,000 marching through central London in solidarity with refugees. Jeremy is my local MP and I have been helping out with his leadership campaign – archiving media reports. I hope his victory means I can stop this work! I have to get back to my book, 'Left Field' , and rewrite parts of the chapter about my politics. “Towards the end of the Grunwick strike in 1977”, I wrote in 'Ships at Sea' - the chapter on my political life, “I remember a speaker on the picket lines calling for a march on Parliament. This was booed and someone shouted out, ‘Don’t disturb the dead.’ I was not alone in my scorn for the ‘parliamentary road’.” I hope my readers will settle for this as a postscript: "September 2015: Despite not wishing to disturb the dead I supported the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Party leader campaign. Perhaps this is because he is one of the few MPs who is not dead. One of the few who offer an alternative to austerity and war, an alternative to the estate agents of New Labour. As my constituency MP I have consistently voted for him for these reasons and not because he is Labour."

Thursday 3 September 2015

Masks of Anarchy

In contempt and despair I hardly need change a word of Shelley's 'Mask of Anarchy'
As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from out of the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in visions of a cemetery.
I met Murder carrying bombs--
He had a mask like Cameron--
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:
All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.
Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Lansley, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.
And the little children, who
on the beach played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.
Clothed with Mail and Sun, as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like Duncan-Smith, next, Hypocrisy
On a crocodile rode by.
And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,
Like MPs, lawyers, media liars.
Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.
And he wore a kingly crown;
In his grasp a sceptre shone;
and on his brow was worn--
With a pace stately and fast,
Over the Middle East he passed,
Trampling to a mire of blood
The suffering multitude.
And a mighty troop around,
With their trampling shook the ground,
Waving each a bloody sword,
For the service of their Lord.
And with glorious triumph, they
droned through whole countries proud and grey,
Drunk as with intoxication
Of the wine of desolation.
O'er fields and towns, from sea to sea,
Fled the People hand in hand,
Tears at front, a corpse behind;
Till they came to Calais town.
And each person, panic-stricken,
Felt his heart with terror sicken
Hearing the tempestuous cry
Of the triumph of Anarchy.
For with pomp to meet them came,
Clothed in arms like blood and flame,
The hired guards, with Hammond's bid
`Fight marauders and their kids'.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Cameron has not read Article 14

This is an account of a visit to the Calais refugee camps from my friend Irial Eno. It deserves the widest readership ...

The true human situation on the ground in the camps is not being reported. The ‘threat’ to us gets a lot of attention: what is happening to them gets almost none. Political solutions to dealing with the migrant situation seem irrelevant right now; at the moment it is a pressing humanitarian disaster. People are dying and are going to continue dying unless something changes fast.
I went to ‘The Jungle’ with a group of cyclists who rode down from London to donate our bikes. The camp lies a fair distance from the nearest shops or the town centre by foot, so our hope was that the bicycles would make their travels around a little easier.
Getting to the camps required a long walk beside a tarmac road through a line of silent factories. Although early in the morning, there was already a stream of men walking away from the camp alone or in pairs, wearing tattered, beaten clothes, old shoes and empty-handed. Many stared straight ahead, numbly. In the other direction, walking back to the camp, were several men with ripped jeans and the fresh cuts of failed attempts to climb the razor-wire fences, after another unsuccessful try to get into the UK.
When I arrived in the camps on Monday morning it had been raining. A lot. Muddy paths had become small rivers, and many tents – ranging from 2-person camping tents to makeshift shelters of tarpaulin and plastic bags – had given in under the weight of the water, and were leaking over their inhabitants. In some areas, people lay sleeping in their sleeping bags, in puddles.
What kind of lives must these people have had for this to be preferable? Where when it rains you get wet while you sleep, where there are no clothes to replace those you rip trying to scale barriers, where human excrement and litter lies rotting on the ground. There is no infrastructure. Only a couple of water points, a few pathetic light bulbs strung up for night time darkness, not enough toilets, not enough food. Imagine the desperation that drives someone from their tent every morning to have their flesh slashed as they attempt to scale a razor-wire fence, to try once again to cling to the underside of a lorry or jump onto a high-speed train.
“But why are they all coming to the UK?” someone asked me recently.
My answer: They’re not. The 3000 refugees in Calais represent only 0.015% of the global refugee population; the vast majority (around 86%) are taken in by neighbouring countries. Syrian refugees predominantly go to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, for example. Amongst the European countries, the UK houses amongst the lowest numbers. In 2014 we accepted 10,050 refugees; Germany accepted over four times as many. Sweden, despite having a population seven times smaller than ours, received nearly three times as many asylum applications. So, comparatively, few choose to come to the UK, and due to our tough asylum process, out of those that do apply for asylum here only around 25% have their applications granted. Once they’re in the UK asylum seekers receive a measly £36.65 per week to live on – Britain is hardly the ‘soft touch’ that the Daily Mail likes to bang on about. Additionally, refugee status is granted only on a 5-year basis, with cases reviewed after this time. This makes it particularly hard for people to make long-term plans or properly settle in.
But the ones that do come here have a right to come. Article 14 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. The people in the camps at Calais haven’t spent months travelling hundreds of dangerous miles because they want free NHS treatment, housing or benefits, as the Sun would have us think. These are people who have had to make the torturous decision of leaving their loved ones and homes, and are fleeing for their lives. People don’t risk everything they’ve got, walk for hundreds of miles, travel across seas on flimsy inflatable dinghies, or spend days in the back of a refrigerated lorry just because they fancy it. These people are desperate.
Despite the unwillingness of our government to accept refugees, we British have blood on our hands. While other countries across Europe and the world are taking in a hell of a lot more than us, it is the British, more so than any other country in Europe, who should accept a considerable share of culpability for these global crises. Take Eritrea and Sudan for example, both ex-British colonies, in the latter of which we created segregationist policies that led to ethnic divisions that have been suggested to be the roots of the current conflict. Or take Pakistan and Bangladesh, both of which used to be parts of British colonial India, which had their borders with modern-day India arbitrarily drawn-up by a British lawyer, leading to bloodshed that cost 1 million lives. More recently still, take Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya – all bombed or invaded by the British in 2001, 2003 and 2011 respectively. The 13-year invasion of Afghanistan resulted in over 90,000 deaths and cost £18 trillion, while the Iraq invasion led to nearly half a million lives lost. These last three countries are the places where we now see the increasingly hasty rise of ISIS.
By and large, the refugees coming to the UK are from countries that at some point have been affected either historically, through our greedy colonial past, or more recently, with our military aggression and jingoism. The British have certainly left their imprint on the globe. I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s ‘karma’, but we certainly need to recognise the part we have played in the history of these countries.
I don’t know what the solution is; I’m not going to pretend to know. But this can’t go on. The living conditions for these people, who have already suffered so much, is an abomination. There is nothing in the camps that resembles ‘living’ to me… people aren’t ‘living’ there; they are just struggling to stay alive. We are so focussed on ‘keeping them out’ that we have totally lost our humanity. Britain and France have spent millions and vowed to spend millions more on strengthening our borders. Higher fences and sharper razor-wire won’t solve the problem; it will just mean people have further to fall, break more bones and be cut more deeply than before.

The pressing issue right now is one of human rights. Article 25 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that every human being “has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing… including food, clothing, housing, medical care”. Whatever your views on the migrant situation, these people are human beings, not animals, and they deserve their basic human rights.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

The banner maker

Alice Kilroy, who made me a banner for my 70th birthday, was recently commissioned by the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Party leader campaign to make them a banner. Here is the fantastic result.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Corbyn - challenging the state's estate agents

I have now been twice to help out on the phones at the Jeremy Corbyn campaign office in London and I will be back there tomorrow. In my 70s now my whole life has involved me in political agitation, from CND to Stop the War. And my take on parliamentary politics has until now been 'don't disturb the dead.' But this is different. One caller today said they had been waiting their whole life for this to happen – a movement challenging the estate agents who run the political parties who service the state. If you have any spare time contact:

Thursday 13 August 2015

Chilcot delay needs an enquiry

Reg Keys is leading demands for the publication of the much-delayed Chilcot Enquiry. Reg's son Tom Keys, was one of six military policemen killed in Majar al-Kabir, Iraq in June 2003. Working with Felicity Arbuthnot and Brian Eno I helped organise the early days of his election campaign when he stood against Tony Blair in Sedgefield at the 2005 general election. Watch his election night speech here. And read more about Reg in 'Left Field' here.

Friday 31 July 2015

Dictation from the Establishment

The Guardian's Michael White says, “... I know that Westminster-based pundits are supposed to be an unimaginative bunch of sheep who take dictation from the 'establishment' ”. Where did he get that idea from? Perhaps it's the memory of his support for Tony Blair and the Iraq slaughter. “It's disappointing for the pack that always gathers where Blair goes, not least because the Get Blair crowd are looking for something that isn't there – the smoking gun that proves Blair's villainy.” Working from an office 'embedded' inside the Westminster parliament, White finds his targets amongst the “romantic beardies who wear sandals and socks to the office.” Who can he be referring to? Pity he couldn't have been at UNITE'S offices last night where I went to help the Jeremy Corbyn campaign. Three rooms packed with volunteers on the phones. At age 70 and beardless, I was probably the oldest there, surrounded by young people, many of whom have never been involved in political activity and hopefully have never read Michael White. None of them were wearing sandals.(I visited MW's Westminster office when working with David Hencke on my WarChild memories. You can read more about David in 'Left Field')

Sunday 26 July 2015

Who are 'Left Field's' publishers?

My publishers, Unbound, are leading the way with a radical model for book publishing. Their founders, John Mitchinson, Justin Pollard and Dan Kieran turned partly to the music industry for inspiration. At the same time, they looked back to a much older model. "Subscription publishing is extremely old when it comes to books," Pollard told The Guardian here. "It's how Johnson's dictionary was published, as well as a large number of 18th- and 19th-century novels." As their first author, they recruited ex-Python Terry Jones, who pitched 'Evil Machines', a collection of dark, surreal stories. Jones was followed by Tibor Fischer, Jonathan Meades, Kate Mosse. You can check out how the Unbound system works here. Of course you can then pre-order your copy of 'Left Field' here.

News: Unbound has agreed a joint- venture deal with the Cornerstone division of Penguin Random House to distribute trade editions of its titles.

Brian Eno: "This is an excellent and inspiring book. David's stubborn and yet self-effacing commitment to his ideals carried him through many daunting situations, and his sense of humour kept him able to see the funny side."Dorothy Byrne,Head of Channel 4 TV News and Documentaries: "What a life this man has led!"Russell Mills: “You’ve done so much, achieved so much, that is for the good, the right, the just, that to be asked to undertake the cover design for you, which may be considered a minor thing in the great scheme of things, is for me a bloody major thing”.—Sir Tom Stoppard: "David Wilson has lived a life and a half … the broken world needed people like David then; it still does and always will."David Hencke, former Guardian Westminster correspondent: "This is the work of a determined guy who is prepared to expose fraud and injustice wherever he finds it."Eugene Skeef, percussionist and collaborator with Steve Biko in Black Consciousness Movement: "A must-read by my comrade and brother David Wilson. Please spread the word and encourage your friends to buy and read David's memoir.”Orhan Maslo (Oha): "One of the key people of my life has finished his book and it will soon be out. There is a chapter that describes the times we spent together. What good times we had while giving spirit to the Pavarotti Music Centre. This steered me to who I am and what I do today. Thank you David"Gianni Scotto, Assoc Professor, University of Florence: “I was so surprised to hear the most insightful and radical political analysis of the conflict speaking with you.”Sebastian Balfour, Emeritus Professor, LSE: “A vivid account of a life fought for justice, full of indignation and tenderness.Mandla Langa, author of The Lost Colours of the Chameleon, and winner of 2009 Commonwealth Prize: "David Wilson is a national treasure."Ed Victor literary agency: “Your relationship with your elderly father is described in such beautiful style that it would not be out of place from a literary novel by an established and seasoned author. The same goes for your childhood years at boarding school ... The 'Balkan years', including the bits where you fall in love with a Croat and the adventures of the mobile bakery could be from a historical thriller. The whole 'War Child' section could be an expose about the problems and hidden lives of charities, especially when they become powerful.”

Saturday 25 July 2015

Behind God's Back

When writing my blog on Dragan Andjelic, I came across this photo of Anne Aylor and me standing in front of his installation at the Pavarotti Music Centre. She is wearing her white coat having just come out of her busy treatment room where she practised acupuncture during her nine-month stay in Mostar. Anne had originally come to Bosnia Hercegovina at the tail-end of the war in the summer of 1994 and had written up her experiences in an article submitted to The New Republic with the title, “Behind God's Back”. On her journey there she wrote about a surreal traffic jam that had been caused by two toppled vehicles. “When the road has been cleared and we are given permission to continue our journey, we see what has caused the delay: two overturned container lorries full of pigs. The ones that are alive are being hosed down by soldiers. What is eerie is that the animals are completely silent. They are traumatised, dead or dying in the 40 degree heat. I wonder if it is the first time in history that an army has been deployed to help animals on their way to slaughter. We pass the containers and see dozens of UN vehicles facing the other way. It has been seven hours since the accident and these drivers will be here for hours more. Seeing our War Child sticker, one of them waves at me. I ask him if he speaks English so I can tell him what is causing the delay. He shakes his head, says that he is German. ‘Schwein,’ I say, the only word I can remember from my high-school German, and thumb in the direction of the overturned lorries.” A year later, War Child released the Help album with contributions from more than 20 artists including Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, Sinéad O’Connor, Paul McCartney and Portishead. It made the charity millions. The income from the album was used to provide artificial limbs for wounded children, food and clothing to orphanages, funding for school meals, support for a mobile medical clinic, the supply of premature baby units, even funding for mine clearance programmes. It was at this time that Linda McCartney heard about Anne's article and asked to read “Behind God's Back”. Perhaps that was why she decided to donate 22 tonnes of veggie burgers to War Child to be distributed in Bosnia. You can read more about Anne's work in Bosnia in Left Field.