I thought I'd better write about what I've been doing, so that when I look back on 2015, it's not just book reviews. Last weekend, Dave's parents were here and we got up unconscionably early on Saturday for the 10.30 a.m. tour of the BBC's New Broadcasting House. The tour cost money and I felt that we should have been able to bring our TV licence along and point out that we've already paid for it, but given that the Tories are trying to squeeze the Beeb to death, maybe we all have to do our bit. New Broadcasting House, a lot smaller than it looks on the TV, is stapled onto Old Broadcasting House, the art deco building on Portland Place - the one Orwell used as a model for the Ministry of Truth ("in his novel Room 101", the guide erroneously told us), with its Eric Gill reliefs and lovely lights. During the refurb, they found an etching of a girl that Gill had hidden in the building - I'd really hate to know what else they found.
We were taken around by two enthusiastic young people, who told us that, despite all the Dr Who paraphernalia in the foyer and gift shop, drama is not filmed there, it's mostly news (we could see the studio and the worker bees typing away) and radio. We were taken to a fake studio where Dave's mum read the news and then a teenage girl improvd the weather. I didn't know that the weatherwo/men have no script and are only told how long they have to fill (on a slow or fast news day) at broadcast. We also went into the 1930s concert hall in Old Broadcasting House and Dave's mum (again) and Dave recorded a 2 minute radio play, complete with sound effects. We also saw The One Show studio. That table's a bit grubby, I tell you. Needs a bit of Windolene.
We lunched at Melt Room and then went onto the Chatsworth Road festival, complete with vintage fayre, music, dog show, food and free photoboth tomfoolery.
Sunday, we traversed the Forest Gate Jumble Trail and to the rather nice CoffeE7, then over to the Angel Canal Festival where I held an owl that hated me, then down to the Lexington for the last Hangover Lounge before it moves to the Betsy Trotwood. Drinks were quaffed, gossip was exchanged, records were played (the last one being, oddly, the old theme tune from Coronation Street).
Tuesday, I attended the Commonwealth Writers Prizegiving glitzy gala. Well, it wasn't that glitzy, I felt a bit over-dressed in a frock. Writers aren't known for their snappy dressing, I suppose. It was held in Pall Mall in Marlborough House, a Queen Anne-era mansion, which reminded me of the Painted Hall in Greenwich. It was terrifying walking into the do as everyone was already talking to someone, fortunately there were anthologies of last year's stories hanging around, so I drank wine, ate nibbles and read the book until a woman started talking to me. Then other people started talking to me, and some asked me about my writing, like I was Julian Barnes or something ("Where do you get your ideas?" "How do you write your characters?"). The winner of the Europe and Canada regional prize, Jonathan Tel, was the overall winner, so it was nice to lose to him. I came away with a goodie bag and an invitation to join a writers' group in Kings Cross.
Friday, I travelled to that strange place known as West London. Well, it's not that strange, I used to live on Goldhawk Road, just around the corner from the gig venue. That's changed, that's changed, I said as we walked around, that Cash Converters below the flat where I lived was a Caribbean cafe, greasy spoon Cafe Rest is now a Chinese. It seemed to have degentrified rather than got posher. We were going to the Shepherd's Bush Empire to see some bands. Again, I was more interested in the architecture than the support bands, specifically the beautiful Edwardian detailing. The headline band, Alvvays, were a bunch of fun, a Canadian Camera Obscura, a Toronto Shop Assistants, a Canuck Sweetness-and-Light-era Lush. The lead singer told a funny anecdote about Noel Gallagher, they played their hit, as predicted, at the end and the crowd went wild. I don't think I've seen moshing at a London indie gig before. We, fortunately, were sat down I can't stand up for 3 hours anymore. They ended the encore with a Kirsty MacColl cover. Despite being the oldest person there, I enjoyed it.
Saturday we went to the Tate to see the Babara Hepworth. I think they just sent a van down to st Ives and collected all the bits. I wasn't hugely impressed. I preferred the Fighting History exhibition, featuring various British and European artists painting wars and conflicts from Ancient Rome to the Poll Tax riots.
Most moving was the Miners' Strike exhibition with a video of the Battle of Orgreave reconstruction by Jeremy Deller. I didn't realise that Yorkshire Main was still open when I started at Edlington Comprehensive in 1985, I thought it had shut down during the strike (there were legendary tales of pitched battles between miners and police on the school playing field). The exhibition detailed how the print unions refused to print scurrilous headlines about Scargill and the NUM, that the steel unions wouldn't smelt steel with Nottinghamshire coal. I was 11 at the time and knew that the miners were right and Thatcher was wrong, but I didn't realise how it was, really, the last great union movement. Nonetheless, I was irritated last week by Zoe Williams' assertion that the nineties were all about hedonism and it wasn't until the late 90s that protest started again. I remember marching against further mine closures in 1992, the Criminal Justice Bill in 1993, in various anti-fascist demos (the BNP got their first (only) councillor in Tower Hamlets in 1993), at various Reclaim the Streets actions, and although I didn't attend them, I remember Leytonstonia and Newbury and the anti-road protests. Williams doesn't even mention the great Poll Tax Revolt of 1990! (maybe she should go to the exhibition). The Nineties did not start in May '97.
Which leads us to Mr Jeremy Corbyn, Corbs, Jezbyn, close friends get to call him JC. I find it somewhat ironic that an old school leftie, steeped in collective action, is now hailed as the new messiah. I find the presidentalism of British politics depressing - in May, it was all: Will people vote for Ed? Will Ed make a good PM?, ignoring the fact that it was the Labour party that was trying to get elected: the shadow cabinet, the MPs, the grassroots and member suport.
The right wing press will have a field day with Corbs (once they stop comparing a woman who complained about a man's sexist behaviour to a political party that murdered 11 million people), as will the right of the party who think the first thing the Labour Party would do on winning an election is cancel Trident. I would hope - and maybe I'm hopelessly wrong - that the first thing a Labour government would do is reverse a decade of government cuts. Corby was voted in on an anti-austerity ticket, not on a CND ballot paper.
If you've been a back bencher for thirty odd years, you're able to say what you feel and, with a hefty Islington majority, vote against your own whips if you want to. So his opinions on Trident, Hamas etc are his own. That doesn't mean that he will force them down the throats of the entire Labour party. I presume that he will have learned from Tony Blair's top down style and won't be a dictator. He believes, so I assume, in the NEC and in collective decision making.
However, a left-wing Labour party might bring back SNP voters, but it's the marginal seats of England that Labour needs to win. Will a Corby-led party convince the selfish and stupid and easily scared swing voters of middle England that immigrants, benefit scroungers (sic) and London latte drinking liberals aren't the enemy, but the fat cats of the banking world, the newspaper magnates et al? I hope that a reinvigorated, voting against the government Labour party will change the way people feel, as they did in the forties. I want the partisanship of the '80s before Blair blurred the boundaries of left and right. If Labour don't win in 2020, then at least the left tried. As a miner put it, better to fight and lose then roll over and accept it.
We went for lunch/afternoon tea at Cinamon Soho. They brought the pots of tea straight away but forty minutes later, we were still waiting to be served. Eventually the food arrived, but it was the wrong (meat) order. They took it away. Twenty minutes later we finally got our meal. It was delicious: mini slider pakora, veggie quail Scotch egg, potato bonda, toasted green chutney sandwich, scone with chilli jam, masala sticky toffee pudding, but I considered arguing about the mandatory service charge, given that it was so terrible. I decided against ("I'll just make a passive aggressive comment on Twitter"), however the manager came over and dramatically crumpled up the bill, telling us that there was no charge due to the wait. Five hours in and we're already getting redistribution of wealth!