Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Magna Carta, David Starkey and Fracking

All this David Starkey
About Magna Carta,
The Great Charter,
And Life, Liberty and Property;

I saw him on the telly,
With his usual pomposity,
But without a hint of irony,
As he talked of ending tyranny;

For as a consequence of fracking,
Our homes now face ransacking,
And so pockets can be lined,
Our homes are undermined.

                                              An English home is your castle?
Why, that’s oh so medieval -
Magna Carta’s not for us,
Our basements turn to dust.

Oh brave new world that has such mining in it.

1066 And All That
Here are a few of the comments of Sellar and Yeatman, from their 1930 classic, on Magna Charter (‘on account of the Latin Magna (great) and Charter (a Charter)’):
1.     That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason – (except the Common People).
2.     That everyone should be free - (except the Common People).
3.     That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm - (except the Common People).
4.     That the Barons should not be tried except by a special group of other Barons who would understand.
Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).

And, for 2015:
1. That no one’s home should be subject to fracking – (except the Common People).

Monday, 26 January 2015

My visit to Auschwitz

Sliding Doors
So, it was a simple twist of fate:
Rivers near Auschwitz, railways at Auschwitz,
Junctions at Auschwitz,
Trains from Berlin, Warsaw, Prague and Vienna,
So that’s why it was there.
I mean, here.
But Art imitates Life – or is it Death?
The buses ferrying people into the concentration camp,
People idly fagging it, sending wreathes of smoke into the air,
Some have scrawled felt tip penned graffiti on to the red brick walls;
Others firmly inhabit the 21st century,
They memorialize the day with confectionery and souvenirs from the gift shop,
Industrial Death and Industrial Tourism,
People have worked hard for their day out,
“Arbeit Macht Frei”.
Photography makes you free too,
The iconography of death,
Electric fences, execution spots,
The corpses of prisoners,
The Orchestra,
Music while you work,
‘Keep in step while we count you’,
The alphabet and abacus of death,
There’s block 24D,
The soulless logic of number and letter,
The bureaucracy of extermination,
The relentless productivity of extermination,
The understated tone of our guide,
“The Final Solution of the Jewish Question,
Now we go into Block Number 4”,
The lamps outside the blocks,
Redolent of Dixon of Dock Green,
A blue lamp for more than blue murder,
The No Smoking sign outside the block,
Inside, George Santanya:
“The One Who Does Not Remember History is Bound To Repeat It”;
The understated monotone continues,
“It was easier for the Nazis to transport the Jews here.”
We had a loo stop, we didn’t have to pay,
We just had to say the word, “London”,
(“This is the BBC and this is Alvar Liddell reading the news”)
Then the walk through the blocks,
The art deco recreation of some ovens,
“So now follow me please”,
Past the typewriters and the fountain pens,
The documented numbers of the production line,
80 prisoners a wagon,
2,000 victims crammed into the chamber,
The 15-20 minute death schedule,
The black smoke,
“You can see model of crematorium and gas chamber”,
The undressing, the shower, the Zyklon B crystals,
The Hydrogen Sulphide, the evaporation,
The suffocation, the display, just like a Tracy Emin,
Massive display cabinets,
1kg human hair sold by the S.S. for 50 pfennigs,
All neatly parceled up,
The rendering of humanity,
Like an efficient abattoir.
We step outside,
There is a young family with a baby in a pram,
Relaxing in the sunshine, stretching in the warmth,
But we carry on,
Past the cabinets of spectacles and eye glasses,
The combs and brushes, shaving brushes,
The children’s shoes, the dolls,
The adult shoes, brogues, sandals, dainty shoes, sensible shoes,
Dress shoes, fashion shoes, heavy boots,
All echoing down the corridors of my head,
Then the prosthetic limbs,
The enamel bowls, the cheese graters, the rolling pins,
The suitcases with the names and transportation numbers,
L. Bermann, 26.12. 1886, Hamburg, V1/11/42,
“Do I find it hard to work here? Yes.
It is not a nice place. But someone has to do it.”
Then past the emergency exit signs,
The bakelite light switches,
The desks, the files, the index cards,
And on to Block 10, the Human Sterilisation Experiment Block,
Then the "Wall of Death", where political prisoners were shot,
Outside, a man saunters by, with his tee shirt:
"Where the hell is Esmeralda Beach?"
Then the Gestapo Block, 28 cells,
The starvation cell,
The pre-execution washrooms,
The spyholes (why did we look through them?)
The chill in the basement,
The screams that should still echo,
Block 20: "Chemical injections into the heart",
The scaffold where the women were hanged,
"Now we are going behind the watch-tower
To see crematorium and gas chamber."
The gas chamber made me feel physically sick,
It was impossible to stand in that place and not feel the past,
Sense and sensibility meant that a visceral reaction was the only rational response,
At which point the phrase about the banality of evil becomes banal itself.
I noticed a chimney had a lightning conductor attached to it,
"The electrified wire made it very difficult to escape from here."
The tour ended. 
Some birds were singing. 
We were all stunned.
The atmosphere was tense. 
You couldn't say, 
'Cheer up. It might never happen.'

How can the holocaust deniers deny?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Railway Time

Do you remember that lazy afternoon
Back in August 1958?
Well, I bloody well do mate.
We were sitting on the bunker
At the end of platform four,
Just by the giant semaphore signal,
When 5050 The Earl of St Germans
Came steaming, Brunswick green and brass dome gleaming,
To a shrieking, whistling halt;
And you showed me how to record the numbers,
In a three-penny red memo book
(Weights and measures on the back),
And how to underline name and number
In my half-crown Ian Allan train book,
And you opened the door to magic:
Happy years at the Iron Bridge, the Greenbridge,
And the Bunky Bridge on the Highworth line,
On Vickers Armstrongs outings with our badges,
And trapping your thumb in the leather strapped door,
And the milepost says it’s seventy eight miles and a furlong
From Swindon Junction to Paddington;
Or sneaking on to the station
When you couldn’t afford a platform ticket,
Staring at the Five Boys Chocolate,
And the machine that stamped your name for a penny,
Or watching the trains from the Milk-bank,
Or a signal box with its clunking, clanking levers,
Then taking me inside the Railway Works
On a school holiday Wednesday afternoon,
Queuing to walk through that hallowed entrance,
Then along the tunnel into a Wonderworld
Of mechanics, machines, girders, cranes and grease,
And odd bits of steam engines, with the numbers
Chalked on steam-pipe, or funnel, or wheel,
And it counted as a cop -
You told me it wasn’t wagging and so it wasn’t!
And do you remember the men pouring out
From the Works and Pressed Steel at lunch time,
A river of men on bikes in full flood
In a frantic rush for grub and a fag,
And do you remember seeing 70030,
William Wordsworth, strain and slide
In snorting steam on ice cold winter days?
Or seeing sunlight shimmer, gleaming
On endless heat-hot railway lines,
Until they at last disappeared
In far off main line vanishing point;
Or waiting for the Cheltenham Flyer,
Studying the semaphore signal
In the sun haze squinting distance;
And you showed me all of this Ian Allan
ABC world of names and numbers,
This alphabet of railway alchemy:
You showed me the right way, the railway,
The Permanent Way -
So you’ll always be sitting beside me
On the wooden fence near Standish Junction,
As Jubilee class, 45609,
Gilbert and Ellice Islands steams into sight:
Railway Time,
Keith Time,
Brother Time.