One Nation, Divisible


I’ve been fortunate, I think, in that I’ve not had a particularly difficult life. Yes, there have been those moments that I wish had never happened, the deaths of loved ones, the disasters, the extreme anguish, but those times are a luxury for a white male born in England and living, now, in the USA. I’ve never been more than momentarily on the receiving end of prejudice. I’ve never been to war. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never gone a day without food, except when I chose not to. And providence has seen to it that I’ve never been in a disaster, though I’ve lost friends to them. And I’ve never, really, been in a situation where the government has been overtly and aggressively at war with its own people. Until now.

The UK in the 1980s was an extremely unusual nexus of time and place, a node in the rhizomatic structure that emerges as history. The prosperity and hope of the swinging 60s had given way to the industrial unrest of the anarchic 70s, due, in no small part, to the capitalistic machinations of OPEC, elite corruption, the crackdown on socialist ideals, and the breakdown of the ideals of socialists. In its wake, swanning onto the political center stage, came Thatcher and her “on your bike” economic vandals, ably supported by the rising star of her right-wing transatlantic paramour, Reagan, who rallied to the same war cry. The unions are too strong. Bosh! The people are too lazy to work. Biff! Socialism is Communist. Smash! There’s too much money to keep inflation down. Crack! What can we ever do to fix this mess?

Luckily, a savior had been born. Milton Friedman had won a Nobel prize in 1976 for his free market, trickle-down, economic theories. “Fuck Keynesian economics,” he might have said in private, his idea was that inflation is a function of consumption, and consumption is connected to income. Destabilize and restrict income, preferably as a natural result of free-market instabilities, and consumption will fall. And when consumption falls, inflation goes away. Sure, a few people might starve, but at least the cost of funerals will be steady. Thatcher and Reagan and their cronies swooned at Friedman’s alligator loafered feet. This is just the ticket, they thought, to fight Communism, put the working class and those Bolshy union bastards back in their box, and regain control for the wealthy elites. Meanwhile, she could prove the merits of the free-market–no one had to know that it was being manipulated–and reinforce the social structures that had stood for hundreds of years. All it took was a bit of union busting and a winnable, Jingoistic war for our brave boys, and the press will be lapping up the anti-Commie, red-menace propaganda in no time. Take away tertiary education, take away milk and school lunches, take away their communities by privatizing the social housing, et voilà! Uncertainty. Disunity. Misery. Now, if we can just find a scapegoat or two…

Ah, yes. Scousers and miners, the two most vocal, visible, and organized opponents of Thatcher’s politics of destabilization. The national coal industry was being undermined by the free-market, which was the way it should be, said Thatcher. Drive prices down, make people compete, and productivity goes up. Import cheap coal, and the lazy British miner had to modernize, make sacrifices for efficiency, and work for his money, went her rhetoric. Except that the imported coal was cheap because it was subsidized by foreign governments who knew that jobs and infrastructure were more important than rapacious profits. It wasn’t a fair fight, and the miners could never win it. They tried, though, and it took a couple of years where the police were deployed to literally and figuratively beat the strikers into submission.

I saw people die, sometimes at their own hand. Families fell apart. Communities broke down. By the time Thatcher was done, the power of the union had been starved into submission, and privatization became the national mantra. Privatization was good, said Thatcher, because it relieved the burden of failing industries from the national purse. It also relieved the government of the burden of complying with safety rules, working standards, paying a living wage, giving the workers their rights. Unfettered by the shackles of humane treatment, the newly privatized industries fell into the hands of Thatcher’s elite friends, and the fuckers raked it in. And if anyone complained, there was always the Falklands War, a minor turf war in the South Atlantic over a sheep-stuffed rock that gave Britain Antarctic mineral rights claims, to distract them. Let’s teach those uppity Argies a thing or two, eh? Britannia ruled the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves… unless they no longer had a union.

The right-wing rags had a thing or two to say. The Daily Mail. The Sun. The Express. The dailies owned by the upper-class elite were the basest of all. Oi! Who’s that union leader riding around in a Jaguar? Surely the working-class oik should be in rags and pushing a handcart! He’s a class traitor, innit! If you had no education—an education that was less and less available to the underclasses as schools and universities were spanked by the defunding fetish of the 80s–you were likely to believe every word.

And, into the crosshairs came Liverpool. That city that fought to abolish the slave-trading that its wealth was built upon. The city that once unloaded 40-pecent of every cargo ships in the world. The city at the vanguard of the general transport strike for workers’ rights, and where the government in London deployed troops to violently suppress industrial unrest. The city whose major income came from its Atlantic-facing port, and which was left to rot when the UK joined the EU and trade shifted to Europe to the south and east. The city who, despite it all, fought back and refused to set punitive budgets that fell into Thatcher’s as-yet unpublished manifesto of managed decline. The city that retaliated against the great social housing sell off by building more social housing than any other city in the country. The city that continued to rebel against Thatcher.

With the labour movement and unions in disarray, under constant threat from Thatcher’s aggression, the Labour Party, funded by the unions and founded as the party of the working class, fell under the spell of centralism. The seeds of neo-liberalism were sown by Kinnock et al., who fell into the centre-right as Thatcher moved the Tories to the far right. And to assure the battered and brainwashed masses that Labour could be for all people, Kinnock vowed to oust the socialists, the militants, the unionists from the party. First to go were the Militant tendency, among which were the defiant Liverpool City councillors. They were evicted from the party, and evicted from elected office. At the protests, the crowd was battered into submission by our boys in blue—not quite on the same scale as Orgreave, but brutal in is micro-focus. At the time, if you asked why Scousers didn’t trust the police in Liverpool, this would have been the reason. The press fell into line, and the loony, left-wing, thieving Scouser stories were rife. On TV, in the papers, the media were learning the tools of the trade, and they Liverpool was its test run. But that was before Hillsborough, and after 15 April, 1989, things would never be the same.

From its architecture, culture, sports stars, comedians, poets, musicians, politicians, sense of humor, savvy streetwise attitudes, warmth, and sense of community, Liverpool was a city with so much to be proud of, and it wasn’t shy of telling people, albeit with a unique mix of brazen cheek and sage humility. And despite the knocks along the way, it continued to succeed, one way or another. Despite deriving its enormous wealth from the slave trade, Liverpool, the second city of the sprawling British Empire, campaigned for the end of slavery. When slavery was abolished, Liverpool, because it had the foresight and technological prowess to build the most modern docks in the world, continued to prosper. When the money turned to Europe and the docking trade collapsed, we had the Beatles. And when the Beatles disbanded, we had the best sports teams in the world, and between us we dominated European football. On the way to an all-Liverpool FA Cup final, Liverpool traveled to Hillsborough and the world collapsed. Police forced too many fans into the same tunnel and, because Thatcher had decided that all football fans were working-class hooligans, waiting at the other end of the tunnels were pens, used to keep the animals in check. 96 football fans died in a crush created by the police, and it was covered up for two and a half decades. The fans were blamed, the city was blamed, and the media fell in line. They’d had a few years to practice the Scouse Scum line, so when the disaster happened, when innocent fans were killed, the newspapers were geared up for it. The newspapers made horrific claims about how fans pickpocketed the dead and pissed on cops. The cops threatened to drag the names of the victims through the mud, where their still-warm corpses lay, if the families kicked up a stink. And the government crowed about how the city was its own worst enemy.

I’d never really been politically savvy, or “woke” as the modern phrase goes. I hung out with some of Liverpool’s Militant contingent. I knew miners and those affected by the strike. I was a poor, working-class kid who went to the posh school by way of a form of scholastic affirmative action. I was thrilled when my parents bought their council house, not wondering what would happen to people who needed a place to live and couldn’t afford private rents. I had been fortunate enough to somewhat survive the worst privations, and had found my way into well-paying IT career, which was what I was expected to do, work at the bank’s IT centre, on Hillsborough weekend. I wasn’t a regular matchgoer, work got in the way and I moved round a lot, but I had lots of friends who were. Over the next few days and weeks, the trauma set in, and the naked aggression and outright enmity of the state apparatus became crystal.

I wrote about this many years later, and I received comments after my story was printed in The Guardian about how not everyone thought like that. How not everyone was against Liverpool. It’s true. They weren’t. But it must be said that support and solidarity was thin on the ground and didn’t last as long as needed. Hands of support from other cities were shoved deep into pockets of grief, and when they eventually re-emerged they formed dismissive waves that said it was time the city just got over it. But on that day, Hillsborough, to my mind, the government declared war on the people.

After Thatcher fell, of course, the country was ready for a change, and they change they elected was Tony Blair. Blair was a new Thatcher, a warm, kindly, pragmatic Thatcher, and Iron Laddie with a Saville Row suit, kid gloves, and a soothing, charming smile. Leading the Labour Party, the New Labour Party of neoliberals, a Clintonesque (William Jefferson) reflection of the new centrists that had smoothly occupied the territory evacuated from the right-shifting Tories, Blair caringly back-peddled a few of Thatcher’s more brutal policies, but only until he’d got his party settled in. By the time the “New Labour” phonies left office, education cost an arm and a leg, industry was on its knees, and workers had even less rights than when Thatcher was ousted from her own party. The Labour Party had ceased to exist as the political voice of the workers, and when the Tories swept back into power, there was no one left to oppose them. Brexit was the bellwether for a set of anti-worker, anti-rights policies that was never expected to bring the sheep into the pen but point in the direction of where the Tories were going. But because of the disastrous policies of the anti-education elite, the uneducated flock followed, meek as ever, fed to fattening point by the lies of the right-wing, anti-people populist rags.

Of course, by that time, I was already here, in the USA, raking in a bundle as an IT consultant, ignoring the neoliberal policies of Clinton, who introduced, among other neoliberal policies, three-strikes sentencing laws and a restructured, limited welfare system. Clinton was also quite as fond of removing dictators and bombing brown people when the White House heat got a little too much to handle. When the shit hit the fan in the middle east, we already knew the script. Reagan had focused more on the big stick than the soft speaking, and overtly militarized foreign policy. Clinton followed Reagan’s lead on Grenada, bombing Tripoli while the Senate wanted to know why he lied about shagging Lewinsky – his wife was behind him, on camera, for fucksake – what man isn’t gonna be tempted to lie in that situation? And then, Saddam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait happened. Some of the CIA’s favorite playthings got out of their box and started shooting American weapons at each other. And America had to intervene because, well, if we can keep them shooting, eventually they’re gonna run out and need weapons, and hey, we’re the biggest gun shop in the world, right? USA and the Brits, oil and guns and political distractions. “We has a need, and you has a problem. Let’s get together and work it all out. And if some oilfields find their way into our hands, well, thems the breaks, eh kid?”

Bush Sr, Baby Bush, Obama, now Trump. The reason the wars haven’t stopped is because the money hasn’t run out yet. Eisenhower warned, just as he left office and not before, of the power of the military-industrial complex. He wasn’t prophesying, he was commenting on current events. And we didn’t see it, did we? Boo-yah, Amerikka! Britannia Rules the Waves. Whatever nationalist, by jingo, sloganeering dog-whistle they use, it gets us scratching our fleas and looking for the bone, eh? We’re so unable to dissect the words coming out of their mouths that whatever they say is gonna get 50% for and 50% against, of the 50% who vote. It’s knife-edge, un-nuanced, same coin politics, and the working man hasn’t had a break in half a century. Heads or tails, Dems or GOP, Tories or Labour, it makes no difference to the working-class poor. They’ve been shafted every step of the way and it didn’t matter what colour rosette the politicians wore.

Okay, so let’s just take a minute to laugh at all those deluded turkeys voting for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Come one, let it out. Let’s have a great big belly laugh about the dumbfuck rednecks, the idiot workers, the bigots, the temporarily impecunious millionaires, the trailer-park tycoons, the council-estate captains of industry who voted for Donald Trump and Theresa May, okay? You done yet? Need another minute? Okay, go on, let it out. Those dumb, ignorant, racist, idiots, eh? How could they be so stupid as to vote for their own annihilation? Go on, let’s have a big old laugh about it. Okay, one more minute, go on, because then we gotta get back to the serious stuff.

I’m okay with words, but put a couple of calculus equations under my nose and ask me what one looks right, and I am absolutely flummoxed. I have no training, no expertise, no inkling of what might or might not be right. Tell me my livelihood depends on it, and I still won’t have a clue. Without education, it is impossible to make educated decisions. Now ask a man who has spent 30 years getting nowhere financially which politician is going to improve his lot, and he likely won’t  have a clue. Especially when both candidates are out to fuck him over. One candidate tells him its his own fault. Or society’s fault. Another says it’s a foreigner’s fault. If he votes at all, he’s gonna vote for the guy who tells him the problem is everyone else’s fault, the immigrant, the worker, the foreigner. He’ll vote for the guy who makes the problem look understandable and easy to fix. He’s not an idiot, he’s responding to conditioning. He’s scared, bitter, resentful, and wants what is best for himself and his family.

Wanna know who the biggest idiot of all is? You are. And me. And all of us (I assume, because you’ve made it this far) inquisitive, thinking, caring people who are worried about what happens next and why is going to come along and save us. You are the biggest loser, and you want to know why? Because you have failed to see what these dumb-ass working-class idiots have known for years. How big was your student loan when you left school? How long did it take to pay off? Maybe you had a parent of relative that paid instead, lucky you. One in six Americans has a student loan debt. The average debt of a college graduate is $37,172. The US student loan debt is $1.4 trillion. That’s bigger than the credit card debt industry. But… you got a job. You only took 15 years to pay it back. If you can do it, anyone can do it, right? You are an educated, well-informed, productive member of society. Not your fault some dumb-ass believes Breitbart, eh?

Actually, yes, Yes it is. Because this brutal, me-first society that adores wealth and reveres gilded butterflies like Trump, hasn’t done a thing to stop the commodification of education. How can you expect someone to choose wisely when he isn’t educated enough to apply basic critical thinking skills to what he is being told? You haven’t stopped this by holding your representatives’ feet to the fire every time they vote for a self-serving policy that fucks the poor. That’s your fault. And mine.

We also haven’t done anything to halt the medical insurance industry that feeds one on every two of the 1.5 million annual American bankrupts, and which now takes 20cents out of every dollar we earn.

We haven’t done enough to stop the wars that have sucked a trillion dollars from the public purse and poured it into the private hands of the military-industrial complex.

We haven’t done enough to create the politicians we now believe we deserve.

Instead, what we have done is reached the (what I hope is) the conclusion of this political death spiral, and elected Trump and (probably) May, a president and Prime Minister whose naked hostility toward the underprivileged and underclasses of society is actually something of a refreshing change. They are at war with their constituent populations, and they no longer need to hide it. Gone are the snake-tongues; they tell it like it is, and it’s terrifyingly clear. Trump is fighting a War on America. May is fighting a War on Britain. They don’t have to hide it anymore. The electorate is so conditioned, so divided, so beaten into submission, that they can count on their supporters to help them defeat themselves.

Look at May with Brexit and the dismantling of the NHS. The NHS has been looted and pilfered for generations by successive Tory and the neoliberal Labour governments, so when they point out that it is failing, people agree. When they say privatization is the answer, people don’t know whether it is or not, so they’ll nod and say yes. Brexit was voted in on a campaign of lies, lies stating that the NHS will get 350 million quid back a week that goes into EU pockets. It was a big fat lie that was admitted by its perpetrators within 12 hours of the final tally. The horror of the Europeans deciding British laws culminated in the weird lie about how bananas would have to be straight from now on. There was uproar in the right-wing dailies, and people believed it. And then, of course, there were the terrorists and immigrants and all those foreigners coming here and taking our jobs etc. A large number of Britons who voted for Brexit said immigration was a factor, and they didn’t like just anyone coming here. This, despite the fact that most people immigrating to the UK came from outside the free-movement, Schengen zone of the EU. Some people voted against Brexit to stop people from Africa, India, and Asia coming to the UK. It’s madness, wrong-headed, flat out wrong madness, and yet no one in the most popular, populist daily newspapers ever sought to set the record straight. In the UK, the “immigrant terrorist” is most likely to be a British-born citizen who has been systematically disenfranchised by years of economic oppression and a daily ration of hateful headlines attacking his religion, his skin, his heritage, and his culture. We made this man a terrorist, and then we blame his god.

In a fit of pique, I elected to become a citizen of the USA after Brexit. I figured that the country was no longer the one I belonged to, the one I knew, so let’s move the topic back across the pond. How cute that saying is, eh? Like a short hop across shallow waters, a minor thrill, and yet ideologically there’s barely a trickle of difference between the two countries that I am now a citizen of.

I wanted to become a US citizen so I could vote. I couldn’t vote against Brexit because I’d been gone too long, and although I had become more and more politically active, it felt wrong not to be able to make the gesture of voting for my political conscience. When I filed for citizenship, Bernie Sanders was still in the running as a candidate. My citizenship ceremony was held the week after Trump was elected. Timing, eh?

Since November, like this is a surprise at all, Trump has declared war on anyone and anything that doesn’t benefit the wealthy elite and their cronies. Family planning, women, the poor, the environment, healthcare, education, the differently-abled, the LGBTQ constituency, Hispanics, foreigners, the working-class, the middle-class, the other, the truth.

The day after Hillsborough happened, the Sun printed a headline that said THE TRUTH, and we all knew it was a pack of lies concocted by the police, Thatcher’s political cabal, and the newspapers to deflect the blame and put Liverpool in the crosshairs. 28 years later, Trump has taken the truth and made it lie, and taken lies and made them truth. This fake news, fake truth, fake president has perverted every last sense of fact and introduced an alternative truth that carries as much weight for anyone who wants to believe it. Breitbart and TASS get front-page scoops from within the White House and the serious press, the ones that have not yet quite fallen to elite ownership, the NY Times, CNN, Washington Post, and the Guardian are barred from press events. A Montana politician, Greg Gianforte, bodyslams a reporter who asked an inconvenient question, breaking his glasses, and gets elected to office the next day. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbot, then makes a joke about shooting reporters. And we wonder why people are so ill-informed that they can’t see right through Trump’s war on them?

Then again, who else were they going to vote for? Hawkish Hillary, a Wall Street insider who offered more of the same neoliberal status quo? People were hurting and the Democrats, right on the hot-button social issues, offered no relief to the working poor. Sanders was the only man offering real change to the US political system, one that tried to address the root causes, and he was run out of town by a Democratic Party intent on ensuring no William Wallace/FDR-like candidate ever got into the oval office again. Whaddya mean no war? Who are we gonna sell guns to? Waddya mean single-payer health insurance? How will Aetna and Blue Cross and United make billion dollar annual profits now? We see the same thing in the UK with Jeremy Corbyn. A committed, passionate, idealist and pragmatic democratic socialist, Corbyn represents the ideals that the Labour Party was founded on, and he has been excoriated by the press, left, right, and center. Not only that, but the neo-liberal members of his own party has tried everything to get him out of the leadership role, despite the fact that he seems to be drawing younger voters by the millions, voters that will be the core electorate for decades to come. I suspect he won’t beat May on the general election, but he might be able to gain enough votes to form a coalition government. Might. But I doubt it. And if May wins, she will finally have what she thinks is a mandate for negotiating the Brexit that eliminates the rules that the EU implemented to protect British workers from the likes of Thatcher and Blair.

It all seems a bit hopeless, really, and I struggle to find even the smallest glimmer of light. I think the USA is a done deal, and fear the UK is going the same way. But at least in the UK the Labour Party under Corbyn has offered a platform that represents real change. Here, what we are seeing is more of the bumbling, naysayer, oppositional politics that the Dems have excelled in. From president Clinton to Obama, to Hillary Clinton, the Dems have spent decades being the party of scoff. Name me one solid, immutable, Democratic belief that translates into party policy during that time? I bet you’ll struggle. And yet, here we are presented with a man who has declared war on America, who has leveraged the ignorance of a manipulated population and enlisted the aid of the billionaire bastard club to fight his battles, and what are democrats saying about this? They are saying, “No.” There’s no follow-up. There’s no design. There’s no pledge to reinsert EPA laws. No statement saying that universal healthcare will be implemented post-Trump, and single-payer installed. There’s no unambiguous statement on electoral reform, on education, on reversing a thing that Trump is doing. The Dems are playing the game of opposition, because they don’t have another game right now.

Well, saying no is not enough. The democrats need a platform that lays out a solid, strategic plan for a better future for all. It needs to be set out and left in the public domain for a few years to percolate. The economic rubble that has rained down on the working-class for decades cannot be stopped overnight. It needs to become a mindset that becomes a national culture. When we look after the poorest and most underserved in our communities, when they are not hurting and suffering and being ignored, when they are educated and supported and cared for, they, in turn, will look after the immigrant, the poor, the foreigner, the other. Trump is a symptom, not a sickness – though the man clearly has some issues. But he is not to blame. We are to blame for the society we have designed. No one else. And only we can fix it.

Animals – Unedited


Three months ago The Guardian published a piece of mine about Hillsborough. It was heavily edited–understandably so due to the timing and their political sensitivities–but it introduced some inconsistencies. Now that the 3-month exclusivity period has expired, and Cameron is no longer PM, here’s the unedited original.

 

It started before we were even dead. While we pulled crushed blue bodies from a sea of red and carried them on advertising hoardings to the field, the authorities were already giving statements to the press that we were drunk, unruly; that we robbed our dead, spat at the police, and pissed on the injured. The smell of sweat and urine from dead, dying and injured Scousers didn’t stop us. We pulled lifeless children from the crowd and willed them to breathe. We hoisted unconscious bodies over high fences to safety, or give them room to die. We gave the kiss of life to those that no longer needed it. Broke down the barriers that penned us in. We were livestock, faces pushed into the bars, searching for air to fill lungs that had no room to breathe it in.

We were the lucky ones, those of us that were not corralled into the central area of the Leppings Lane. We would only have a life of nightmares that wake us up on sodden beds and struggle to hold back tears, burying our faces in the dark, held tight to the breasts of our wives and husbands. We were left alive. The broken and battered carcasses on the glorious green grass of Hillsborough were the ones that suffered most. And while they suffered, we were the ones that unknowingly gave the lie to the headlines already being written in London. We found our friends, treated wounds, consoled our families and covered the faces of our dead while ambulances were held outside the stadium for fear that what the police told them was true; the animals had broken from their cages and were out of control.

How readily the rest of England believed it. Anfield, our home, was swathed in funeral robes. The pitch was knee-deep in wreaths and flowers. We draped our scarves and banners from the goal and from the barriers on those famous terraces. Where our family of forty-thousand once cheered and sang, we now drifted soundlessly, sat where we normally stood, wrote poems, and sobbed as we left teddy bears for children that would never hug them. We mourned in our sanctuary while England whipped itself into a frenzied, frothing outrage at those thieving, murdering, fucking Scousers. Police records were being re-written. CCTV footage was being confiscated. We were told our dead belonged to the state until after they had been desecrated by autopsies in search of incriminating evidence. Our dead children were being blood-tested for alcohol.

We were being threatened by police advisors, telling us that if we made a fuss we could expect to have some dirt dug up on our dead. Pipe down. Keep quiet. Shut up. Or else your dead will be dragged through the mud as well as trampled underfoot.

The stories in the press grew ever more obscene. We didn’t have tickets so we broke a gate down and poured in. The red horde trampled over our own children to watch a football game for free. We were no longer the cheeky Scousers, always on the rob, always looking to get something for nothing, always with a quick smile and ready wit. We had graduated even from a reputation as Commies and union activists. We were the looney lefties who took on Thatcher, who led the transport strike and were baton charged on Bloody Sunday in 1911 when we went to hear Tom Mann talk about the corruption of parliamentary democracy. We were the agitators who stood behind William Roscoe to campaign against slavery, even as the merchants built us into the second city of the empire on the trade of human lives. Scousers founded the first school for the blind in the world, the first school for girls, the first lending library, the first school for the deaf, and the first school of tropical medicine. We were the militant Trotskyists who gave free milk and lunches to schoolchildren, built the world’s first public park, cleared the slums, and introduced social housing. And now we had completed our despicable downward spiral and had shown ourselves to be the scum we were. Oh how the media loved it, and oh how England lapped it up. Our city was economically eviscerated, our heart and soul torn out, and now our reputation finally lay in tatters. Thatcher’s managed decline of Liverpool was complete.

Once upon a time, Liverpool was the busiest port in the world and four out of every ten of the world’s ships docked on the Mersey. The world came to Liverpool and Scousers sailed the world. The term Scouse came from Labskaus – a name that Norwegian or German sailors gave to a thin stew made from scrag ends; cheap cuts of meat, usually lamb. To call a Liverpudlian “Scouse” was to try to demean him but we owned it and wore it like a badge of honour. It’s not surprising that we tend to look out rather than in and perhaps this, rather than jealousy of the city’s successes, is why the country so readily believed we were a law unto ourselves. When we stood at Anfield, forty-thousand strong, and sang our club anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” we sang it for each other. YNWA became a song of struggle, solidarity, and hope. A prayer to our patron saints who looked down upon us and blessed us. It wasn’t just a club anthem, but our national anthem, and Liverpool was a constant thorn in the side to not just the authorities; we pricked the conscience of a nation that allowed itself to be cowed. The Scouse diaspora extended around the world, but it was rarely welcomed in England. Not after the newspapers revealed the “truth” of the murderers of Hillsborough.

Except we don’t tend to lie down, us Scousers. We’ve always fought back. That is what makes us dangerous. Especially when armed with the truth; the real truth. A truth that has taken twenty seven years to finally be accepted. The police cover-up. The tampered police statements. The new inquest. The child who cried for his mother 30 minutes after the police told her he was already dead. The official, public apology from the Prime Minister, the bastard child of Thatcher’s privilege. And now, possibly, prosecutions for those complicit in the slaughter of 96 ordinary, sober, football fans on April 15, 1989. Most of those to blame are dead already, or too old to be punished. Thatcher, may she burn in a hell of her own making, went senile and never admitted her part. And people tut and shake their heads and wonder why we want to dance on her grave and trample her memory into the dirt.

Even now, after the lies have been exposed, after the public apology, after being vindicated and praised for our actions on that day, we still hear the chants of “Murderers” at football games. After Thatcher’s papers were finally de-classified, revealing the scope of her plans to crush the city that stood up to her, we are still called thieves and bin-dippers—another word for scavengers. Twenty-seven years after Hillsborough we still get told we revel in the morbid, “always the victim, never your fault.” Outside of England we are known for our musical heritage, our sport stars, our comedians, our poets, our writers, our altruism, our heart. Scousers are proud of our wit and humor. We are prouder of our political will to stand up for what is right. Our resistance to those who would have the world believe we murder our own. Today, after 27 years, the courts agree that the burden of guilt that has lain heavy on 96 graves can finally be lifted and placed on the sloping shoulders of those that have evaded justice for a generation. Although there are signs our rehabilitation has begun it will probably take another generation before England admits it.

But we are Scouse, not English, and we know who we are. We know what we did. We don’t need you to tell us. We remember what happened that day at Hillsborough. We remember who the animals were that day. And we remember that when we walk through a storm we hold our head up high and we never walk alone.
JFT96

Naming the Ghost


What sadist places a maze of pre-fabricated, high-rise flats to re-house the inner city slums between two wealthy golf courses?

I consider myself a skeptic and, in the absence of the dis-proof of a “God”, an agnostic rather than an atheist. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t believe in a higher power, I do. And she manages the money, pays the bills and tells me when I forget to put stuff away. But while I don’t tend to be the hard-nosed “show me the science” type of naysayer, at least not anymore, the fact remains that I don’t put any faith in a conscious spiritual power that is responsible for my existence and capable of helping me win the lottery. But equally, that skepticism about taking an absolute stance on matters of our spiritual and physical selves means that there are things I believe in at which, perhaps, other skeptics would scoff. Like ghosts.

But then, I find ghosts easier to believe in because I’ve seen one.

At ten years old, I was already displaying proto-atheist tendencies and refusing to go to church with my Mum who, accidentally, had rediscovered her own faith when she decided the kids needed the moral guidance of a church she’d stopped attending. We were Catholics, of course, as many Scousers of Irish heritage were, so I attended St Cyril’s Catholic primary school.

Cyril’s was lodged in Naylorsfield, the more westerly of a string of three council (for which, read “public,” “government,” or “cheap houses paid for by the local authorities to keep the poor people from dying in posh neighborhoods”) housing estates. Netherley, where I lived, sat between Naylorsfield and the snooty-sounding “The Woodlands.” St Cyril’s Junior School wasn’t that large, perhaps 300 children (75 children to a year spread across 2 classes, and ages from 7 through 11) and we were all from one of the three council estates. Posh kids had their own schools up the hill in Woolton and Gateacre and Allerton.

The council estates were fairly new-built on the outskirts of Liverpool, abutting farms and open countryside. They were built to house the people who had previously lived in the inner-city slums and, perhaps, to get them out of sight. Being poor isn’t very pretty, apparently. Or very smart either.

One of my two best friends, Martin Humphries, still had an imaginary pet spider named “Bidey” at age ten, and it happened to be smarter than Martin. My other best friend was Steven Harris who was the fastest runner in the school and marginally smarter than Bidey. Stephen Harris lived in “The Woodlands” and occasionally I’d go to see him during the holidays. Stephen wasn’t allowed to come to my estate to see me because Netherley was too dangerous, but that was okay because it wasn’t too far a walk Stephen’s house. All I had to do was turn left out of our house, turn left down the street past my Nanna’s house (she lived at number 22 and we lived at number 7), past a school, past Skellington Fold (which was just the coolest name for 4 blocks of flats!), and walk through the underpass (honest, Mum, I didn’t go across the main road) under Caldway Drive, and from there it was open fields.

Kind of.

There were houses to the right, off Wood Lane, which formed the lower part of The Woodlands, but in front of me, and

Halewood Plantation and Workhouse used to be adjacent to where Netherley was built a century later.

 to the left, was open fields and farmland. I had escaped the world of Liverpool council estates and could almost hear the birds coughing. The field in front of me was, perhaps 200 yards long and bounded on the left by a small brook (Netherley Brook?) and trees and brambles. At the end of the field the trees on the left joined with a copse on the right, leaving a narrow gap. Beyond the gap. The fields opened out again even wider for another 300 or 400 yards with woods and farmland on the left, and Wood Lane and houses on the right. Stephen lived at the very end of the field, at the corner where houses met Netherley Brook and the woods. (I’ve decided that this must be the same Netherley Brook I’ve seen pictures of and named as such.)

Stephen and his sister, Jane, who was a year younger than me and a little hottie, for as much as I knew what that was, would play in the woods and near (and sometimes in) the brook. We’d swing over the brook from overhanging trees, play hide and seek, and sometimes we’d just tie Jane to a tree and go play football. We didn’t, however, ever threw bricks at a hornet’s nest while someone’s brother was urinating on it, requiring hospital treatment for many, many, many stings in sensitive places. No. We didn’t, but my cousins did!

So after a long day’s playing and climbing trees and tying little sisters up, it was time to go home. Back through the top field, through the gap in the woods, across the bottom field, under the underpass (I told you already, Mum, I didn’t run across Caldway Drive and that Shaun’s a liar!), past Skellington Fold, past the school, past my Nanna’s house and home.

Half-way down the top field, there was a tree-stump. At least a hundred yards from anything. I know, because it was the starting point where we used to play hide and seek sometimes, and it was at least a 30 count before you got to the woods to hide. One day I noticed a kid sitting on the stump as I was walking home. In Netherley, you generally learned not to look twice at any kid you didn’t know so I tried to pay him no attention and carried on walking, studiously looking down. As I passed within, maybe, 30 yards of him, I looked up. He was just another kid, a little older than me perhaps, but by no more than a couple of years. He was wearing the oddest clothes. Brown pants that finished at the calf. No shoes. An off-white shirt that would later become popular with the New Romantic movement of the 1980s but which, when I first saw it, looked more like the 1880s’ vintage. I smiled a tight “I’m tough” smile and nodded slightly. Unfortunately I also waved in a very “Oh Shit! I just blew my cover about being a tough-guy” kind of way. That could be fatal in the Netherley I grew up in, but he just smiled and nodded back. I remember thinking it was best to take no chances though, so I put my head down and walked on a few paces more staring at the grass three feet in front of me. Wary, I looked back after 10 paces or so to see if he was following.

Gone.

He was not on the tree-stump. Not crouching behind it either (it really wasn’t that big of a stump) and I spun to see where he was. There was nothing to hide behind for at least 100 yards in either direction but he was gone. It had been maybe 6 or 7 seconds since he nodded at me and there was no way he could have just vanished like that. I got scared and started running. In seconds I was into the darkening woods, through the closing gap, across the lower field that had grown to six miles long, over Caldway Drive, (Okay, so yeah, I did run across it that one time, Mum. Honest, it was only once.) past Skeleton Fold, past the school where I had nightmares about Roman legions marching, torches blazing, over the playing fields in the dead of night, past the scary Alsatian that was tied up by a heavy chain so that it only ate one kid a day, past my Nanna’s who was developing Alzheimer’s and went a bit crazy sometimes, and into the house and my bedroom and my bed.

I may even have peed a little.

I don’t remember telling anyone because, of course, I didn’t want to be laughed at, but I do remember that I only ever went back to Stephen’s once. And I walked the long way round through the lowers Woodlands estate were we once found my Dad’s missing car, glass smashed and minus an engine.

After that summer, I went on to grammar school because I’d passed the Eleven-Plus with good-enough grades to get into St Edwards College. Stephen and Martin Humphries went to the local comprehensive school. Bidey, I seem to recall, went to St Francis Xavier and then on to Oxford, but I may be mistaken.

It was haunted by druggies and addicts during the 1980s, but was the Haunted Wood given that name for older reasons?

So here’s the odd thing. Okay, another odd thing. Years later when Al Gore got around to inventing the internet, a whole new world of nostalgia opened up. People started taking pictures of where they lived and posting them on the web, and genealogists and amateur historians and people like me who had nothing better to do started feeding the world-wide web with data, and more data and more and more data than had ever been accessible from one place, any place, ever before. And one of those pieces of  information is a black and white photograph of the woods where Stephen and I and Shaun and Richard and the hornets used to play. And the photograph is titled, “Haunted Wood.” There it is, right there on the left, see?

Taken by Paul Farley on a visit back to Netherley. There is a fascinating piece written by Paul and Naill Griffiths (from where this picture is taken) about how Netherley came about and what it was like growing up there and it’s definitely worth a read, if even for its social history value. Sadly, I can find no other explanation as to why this wood is called Haunted Wood other than a reference to it being haunted by druggies and addicts. But it seems right. It fits.

I’ve searched more and more into this over the last few years, and still cannot find out why the wood may be so-called, but as soon as I heard the word “Haunted” I remember that I’d heard it called that before when I was a kid. It was something the older kids used to say and maybe it was just a generational thing that stuck for kids of my age and continues to resound in middle age.

Another odd thing is that where Netherley and The Woodlands estate were built was the site of a Victorian dump. Previously a part of Little Woolton, the part of Woolton down the hill from Much or upper Woolton Village, it also bordered Halewood Plantation and the Workhouse, where poor people went when to work off their debts. (see map) It stands to reason that kids would work the plantation and the workhouse in the 1800s, just like my ghost perhaps.

So now that I feel I know much more about where my ghost might have lived, and worked, I was determined to give him a name. Looking for period names, I searched through the archives of burials registered in Much Woolton and came across Joseph Cragg, aged 12, buried January 28th, 1835. His brother, Thomas Cragg, was only 7 when he was buried the very same day.

Haunting, isn’t it?

Links that provided images and research information:

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/index.html?/Prescot/Prescot.shtml

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=41306

http://www.flickr.com/photos/41557568@N04/sets/72157623618731084/comments/