Bagley and Spend

A little over a week ago (blimey, was it only a week?!) I was standing in the belting sun outside Birstall library, acting as the teller for the Workers Party. I loitered around like Billy No Mates from just after 7am, awkwardly asking people for their voter numbers as they left the building after voting in the now historic Batley and Spen by election.

Standing as I was, a few feet away from the spot where Jo Cox was killed, and with time to think between voters, it occurred to me that it hadn’t taken long for the street to seem so normal, so busy about its business, in the place where such a shocking event occurred. I guess time moves on, people move on and go about their life. It seemed such a monumental thing to be doing, standing there for a rival party, running against her own sister, and I worried that recent propaganda may be making people feel as they passed that I was a terrible imposter on their turf.

A few days before, the worst ever photoshop had appeared of George holding his daughter with a gun balanced on two fingers. It was clearly faked and I laughed when I first saw it, and because it was so badly done I thought it was a joke. What soon hit me was that this was no joke, and had been put out to instil the kinds of feeling in the locals that I was fearing as I stood there, telling. More images emerged, each as badly put together as the last, but there seemed to be an almighty amount of people on social media believing these pictures to be real, or at least, pretending to.

The roar of social media during this election had shocked me. Yes, there was division. At least online there was. But the online account of proceedings in Batley was so far removed from what was actually happening on the ground that it took a while to hit me; this is what the media do. This is what propogandists do. This is how society works. A line is picked, and the line must be followed. A decision is made, somewhere, anywhere… and that it is not deviated from, no matter what, and the populace will be brainwashed thus. They will be shown so much propaganda that they will disbelieve what their eyes and ears tell them is actually happening, until everything is so mushy it’s impossible to separate truth from reality.

The media onslaught of George was shocking. It was clear that an attitude was being forced onto anyone watching. I could imagine my mum back in Wales watching the news and thinking.. bloody hell.. what’s she gone and got herself involved in now? Some of the reactions I had from the public made it clear that a lot of this propaganda had worked. The only thing that made me feel better were the reactions from the people on whom this had clearly not worked, and were supportive in what we were trying to achieve as a party by being there.

George and Gayatri turned up around lunchtime with three bodyguards. That made me realise that what we were doing was in fact as risky as I’d thought. When out canvassing we saw Kim Leadbeater with her campaign buddies, but I didn’t see anyone who looked like a bodyguard, which surprised me. I would have thought that in the circumstances that all candidates would have that sort of thing laid on. One of their guys told one of our guys that they’d been having a crappy response, and they conversed like friends on the same trail. No division. Another day, we turned up on an estate and saw Ed Milliband out with a crew, so we waved, told them good luck, they smiled, we left and went to a different estate. No division.

During the Saturday before the election, the place was crawling with endless police as it had been told that the  far right-wing groups were coming to town to campaign. We stayed the hell out of Batley that day, and campaigned in other parts of the constituency.But one of our team, headed back to the HQ in Heckmondwike to get some water, and ended up having to lock herself in and call the police, as around a dozen right wing campaigners tried to get into our HQ and shouted through the windows at her, scaring her to death. The division of the following week locally was clearly more to do with the fear about the right wing groups than anything to do with us, but the media continued their onslaught, ignoring the abuse we got later from Labour campaigners, ignoring our broken PA system, ignoring the posters being taken down, ignoring everything that would split their narrative and prove that we were playing a fair game everywhere we went, and all felt as sensitive about the occasion and the situation as I did that day I sat next to Jo Cox’s murder scene and thought about her all day long, admiring the roses and the lavender planted there and hoping that they were in here honour. As it was a Thursday, the garden volunteers were there, doing a brilliant job of making it look nice for Birstall in Bloom. They were kind and friendly, we chatted. No division, just a bonding over flowers.

During polling afternoon I had the company of a couple of tellers from the tory party. Nice elderly chaps, who were too nice to be tories I thought, helped me to pass the time, and were both masters at getting polling numbers. They had both been doing this for a long time. One had been a councillor. At one point, a woman walked into the polling station with a big black bag that said “Postal Votes” on it. I remarked to my tory teller chum that it seemed weird. Very weird he agreed. He mentioned something about a four o’ clock deadline for postal votes. I don’t know what the rules are, but I do know that when I ran for the Senedd, the agent meetings were very clear about the strict ways in which postal votes were treated and transported. Around fifteen minutes later, the lady came back out, carrying the same bag. I joked to my buddy.. hey – looks like a switch to me. He didn’t take my intended joke. He thought I was deadly serious, and agreed. And then again commented on what a weird scenario it was. I’ve never been a teller before, so I don’t know, but it got me thinking about how easily a vote can be rigged.

We had spent weeks with voter lists, with all their information on, addresses, voter numbers…. We had called at nearly every single door. Many people told us they wouldn’t be voting. How easy would it be to rock up to a polling station and give a name, the name of someone you’re pretty sure isn’t going to vote, and vote on their behalf? A few wigs and a reliance on the returning officer seeing hundreds of people and you could pull a lot of votes if you had enough people doing it. It would be really, really easy to do. How do we know this doesn’t happen? If you had the kind of budget that a big party has, where money is no object and you could pay actors or suchlike to do the dirty work, and then you could hide those outgoings, then you could easily win an election when there are 40 odd polling stations. Is this a thing? How would we know?

George is calling for ID at polling stations and a lot of the “left” are against him in this. Why is that? Yes, the working class are less likely to have photo ID, not drivers, no passport or whatever, but if they made it compulsory to show ID, then cards would be released free, surely? The old arguments about ID cards are long obsolete, seeing as your phone and Alexa follow your every move. What’s wrong with ID cards? It’s not a human-rights issue as much as potential voter fraud is. All those bin bags of votes turning up in Batley on the middle of the night took me straight back to the memory of the lady, unaccompanied, strolling around with a bag full of postal votes like it was just her make up and laptop. No security, no checking… nothing.

Are the powers that be scared of voter ID because they saw the plan of fake votes at polling stations before I did? Is that what’s been happening for all these years? Is democracy actually even a thing? Judging by the media controlled outcome of Batley and Spen, the lack of conservative candidate on the campaign, the fake stories about division, the egg incident, the extremist incident, the poster incident, the PA incident, the BBC and channel four incidents, it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole thing has always been fixed, or at least, for a very long time.

Money is where it’s at. Labour paid some bloke to come over from France and tell Kim what to say to the tune of God only knows how much a day. They still only got a third more votes that a new party on a four-week campaign where we relied on volunteers and George’s local buddies.

Hopefully, and with all my heart, I’m hoping that the people are seeing through it all. It looks like that may well be the case. I liked Batley. It’s a great place. The people are lovely. The constituency is very different from one end to the next, but I hope they all get what they need with their new MP. I suspect however, that they won’t. And the system has ensured that the spotlight is not going to come off them for a very long time yet.

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Batley and Spin

A cold evening on a housing estate in the Batley constituency. George Galloway approaches a lady who is standing in her front garden, arms folded, defensive, and he starts talking to her about her cat. He’s fearless, I think to myself. It’s clear she’s not keen on him, or keen to talk. She’s been attracted outside by the commotion of other people in the street coming out and talking to George like they’ve seen their favourite popstar. They’re super happy to see him. This lady looks suspicious of the whole thing. The cat sits down, between her and George like a referee. I’m taking photos. It’s a great image. But I’m expecting her to swear at him and ask him to leave. She doesn’t. She replies. They start talking. Just about stuff. The cat. The street we’re on. The bollards at the end of the road designed to stop the joyriders. Less than five minutes later, her arms are unfolded, they’re laughing. She’s telling him all the stuff that has been pent up in her for years. She tells us that politicians don’t usually come down their road at election time, a tale we’ve heard from every one of the poorer working class estates we’ve visited over the last few weeks. Within ten minutes, he has her vote. They exchange phone numbers. They’re buddies for life. This is a scene I witnessed over and over again on the Batley campaign trail.

We’re a poor party. We’ve been living up here in an old mansion, loaned to the campaign by local owners. We were donated mattresses by locals, and they’ve been bringing us provisions, water and sweeties. We’ve had endless volunteers appearing at their own expense from all over the country.

We haven’t been having time off. There’s not enough time. We’re living in a weird bubble of the campaign, where nothing outside it exists. During the evenings, we get a chance to see what the word is on social media, at accusations of thuggery, dictatorial hat wearing, gun toting, extremist supporting, and all the other wild things being flung our way. The story on the ground couldn’t be further from the truth, but the truth doesn’t seem to matter here, as Labour desperately try to do anything they can to disguise the fact that if we beat them, it won’t be our fault. It will be theirs. Meanwhile the tories are keeping pretty quiet. They’re hoping we do their job for them.

They seem to think that the voters belong to them; mere commodities to be conjured up at election time, and put back into their box flats when it’s all over. There is a huge divide in the area between very low income and extremely nice housing. What we’ve found as we’ve been knocking on every type of door, is there is no real pattern to the voters that are attracted to George. We’ve met many that used to be labour but turned tory in frustration, now agreeing to vote for us. We’ve had lifelong tories and labour voters, telling us that they will vote for us. We’ve had many who have never voted, who registered to vote for us. We have many that were undecided until we knocked on their door. We’ve been thanked by people for calling because no one has before. On more affluent estates, we’ve been told that they’re getting sick of people knocking. It seems that other parties concentrate on certain areas and ignore the rest. But they’re quick to tell us that we’re “stealing” their votes. No one owns votes. No one is entitled to votes. Votes need to be earned. And we’re out there, earning them, just to get back to our donated digs every night and read all about today’s big attempt to take them from us.

This is the biggest campaign I’ve ever been involved in, and I’m frankly pretty shocked at the difference between what’s actually happening and what’s being said online and in the media. I’m seeing backstage of this show, and backstage is a mess.

When we decided to fight this election, we knew that certain things would happen. But what we hoped was that by the time it was all over, everyone in the country would know who the Workers Party are, having been ignored since out formation back at the end of 2019. I’d say that’s a mission pretty well accomplished. The media are fawning over George like flies around the proverbial poop, and they’re all trying to trip him up, and as they find that impossible, they’re now trying to slur him with whatever lame tactics they can amass. It’s a filthy world, politics, and though I’ve always known that this kind of thing goes on, it’s pretty shocking to be involved in it so closely and see how far they’re prepared to go.

What is clear though, as I observe from the inside, is that we are watching a master at work. At the hustings, George has been kicking ass. He has broached the difficult issues. He stands by his actions where others will not answer the question. He dives where others dodge. He holds the audiences he addresses, and he talks round every person he meets, such as the lady with the cat. He is so amiable, so straight talking, so sincere in his speech, that they can’t help it. They can feel that they’re in the presence of someone who knows how it all works. It shows, almost physically, like a Ready Brek aura.

An old horseman called Ray Hunt once said, “The horse knows if you know, and he knows if you don’t know”. It’s the same situation here. For all the bad stuff they’ve heard, once they meet him, speak to him, they know that they have met someone who knows. Fifty years’ experience will do that to a man. It’s clear that he has spent those years acquiring the kind of knowledge and skill that you need to carry on when faced with an impossible task such as the one he’s set himself here, and according to the bookies, it doesn’t actually look that impossible. The guy is a machine. The energy level required to stay sane throughout this madness is huge. I’m writing this today because I’m too shattered to move and my voice is gone. Everyone had to go out and carry on without me. But George never seems to rest, and he’s got nearly twenty years on me.

The real achievement of this election, for me, is that we’ve shown the whole country that there is a new party, once that intends to replace Labour as the party of the working class, whether they live in the three storey stone houses, or the six flat blocks. Whether they’re businessmen donating mattresses and properties to our campaign, or whether they’re so poor they have nothing else to give us but their vote. We’ve met them all. They’re all hearing our message. If on Friday morning we hear that GG has pulled it off, well, that would just be the super bonus. But if anyone thinks this is the end of our mission, then they’re much mistaken. This is just the start. Expect the Workers Party to be bringing the circus to town everywhere we can. Thrills. Spills, tightrope walkers, acrobats, even a few clowns.

The attraction of the circus is watching people doing daredevil feats without a net. That’s what we’ve all been doing. Some audience members are willing us to fall, but if we do, we’ll just get back up, over and over again, until we get the trick right. Our big top will be in every town. No risk, no progress. If Sir Keir and co think that by calling us the circus they’re being derogatory, they’re much mistaken.

Everyone knows that kids, young people, families, pensioners alike… they all love the circus.

Priorities

Couple of bees in my bonnet fam. There’s a post on facebook with a thread a mile long, discussing what recycling item goes in each bag or box. I’ve been watching with interest.

Last week, a local councillor was advertising that he had a brand new set of PCC recycling bins, for the princely sum of fifty pounds. Apparently they work great, and he’s really happy.

Meanwhile, at the foodbank, the packaging on the charity food is excessive to say the least. The packaging companies force you to take steps like cut the bottom off your Pringles, to put the metal in one bag, so that the tube can go in another, and the lid can go in yet another.

All this fuss, all this expense, all these first world concerns in a county where not many local wages can afford a home and where villages have three people living in them, the rest only being used for holiday homes and air B&Bs.

And at the end of it all, this trash that we worry so much about, and are encouraged to use a week’s food money on accommodating PCC and their refusal to hand out proper recycling receptacles, is being shipped to Malaysia and dumped on a beach. Our crap goes to them to sort out, to bury, to dispose of, but we can be very righteous, because we can proudly display the new status symbol, which is a bunch of plastic boxes on a made to measure trolly.

Yesterday I went into the doctor’s. The woman on the desk told me that I can’t get my Ventolin, because people “abuse the system” and I can’t make an appointment there and then, while I’m in the building, but I must go away and then phone them, knowing full well that people wait in excess of an hour for someone to answer.

I suggested that this might be something to do with the systematic privatisation of the NHS, which she vehemently denied and insisted it was because of Covid. The fact that there is one surgery to service 28,000 people seemed to be irrelevant to her. The thought that another surgery is clearly needed, was horrifying. She got very defensive. That situation would be fine and dandy were it not for Covid. Someone would definitely answer the phone then, with one line for 28,000 people. Yes absolutely. Of course they would. She even told me that there were free appointments most days, but you can’t actually book one of those appointments, because the only time you can ring for one is first thing in the morning, so all those spare appointments don’t get used, because you have to go home and phone for today’s spare appointments tomorrow. I’m yet to investigate whether you get charged for being on the line for 90 minutes listening to the same part of the same song over and over again. Someone enlighten me.

So. Councillors, stop demonstrating how better off you are than your ward constituents. Keep your flash new bins to yourself.

Ban bricks and mortar holiday homes. Holidaymakers want a status symbol? They can go and buy one of the quarter of a million pound chalets at Lydstep.

While we’re at it; a rent cap on private properties please. Stop charging 600 quid for a two bedroom house with no garden and then forcing people to claim benefit to pay their rent, using the taxpayer to pay some landlord for their asset.

And while we’re at it, build some bloody social housing. Stop calling affordable housing affordable housing when it’s not.

Sort out more doctor’s surgeries so that a pandemic doesn’t put the system on its knees. Make enough provision for people to access the health care they have paid for thought their taxes. Stop making people feel like they’re begging because they need their prescription. Stop stressing people out by not letting them see a doctor. Stop forcing them to use A&E. Stop forcing them to use the HNS direct line, which is a private enterprise.

And lastly, stop stealing plants from my front garden. Spare a thought for a world where people think it’s cushti to rob a big pot of chives and some fuchsias from a fellow worker. If you have to nick something I hear there’s valuable stuff on the street owned only by the upper echelons of society who can afford it.

Bins.   

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

What is it that makes most people slaver at the thought of owning their own bit of land and living simply from it? When put like that, it’s obvious. It sounds ever so wholesome. The old school peasantry and the serfs of old would tell you, if they could, how hard it was, back in their day. But we have the advantage of nipping to Tesco for everything we can’t grow. That’s what most land lubbers do. The Diggers and Dreamers Facebook page and the One Planet Council page, are bursting at the seams with people wanting to do what their ancestors before them did. It’s sold as the dream. There are many out there willing to help you achieve the dream.

Years ago, on site, there were very clear societal structures. There were the ones with the big wagons, who owned the sound systems and the tents that the parties were held in. These were, more often than not, “middle class” kids wanting to escape their parents. Can’t blame them for that. And at least they used their monies for good. Then there were the city squatters, and the brew crew, the ones who had nothing, and therefore their status was earned by being the ones with the least, by being the true underdogs, the oppressed. They were the real anarchists. The glue sniffers, grasping cans of Tennants Super like it was their last possession on earth. It usually was. And it wasn’t even usually theirs. They’d blagged it off the bloke with the big wagon and five hundred cans in the back for sale.

The old films of tepee valley show a bunch of people living what some would call the dream. Their accents reveal their backgrounds. They too, are upper class escapees. They remind me of the pioneers of exploration, like George Mallory; the aristocracy who have the time and the means to go off doing mad things like trying to climb Everest in a woolly and hobnails “because it’s there”.

These things grow and attract poor hangers on, and power tensions arise between the ones with the most, and the place gets overrun with madheads and people fall out and sites disperse and whatnot, much like Everest now attracts a massive amount of visitors and you can pay your way to the top, that is, after arguing over dates with all the other expeditions at base camp.

The same seems to be happening now in the world of living the land dream. Some money got together and built an eco-village. They proved it could be done. It’s now sold as the dream, to achieve similar. There are courses, there are open days, and the worst phenomenon of all, there are Woofers.

I don’t even know what it stands for and I don’t care. All I see is the word SERF. The landed gentry need work done on their land. So instead of doing what everyone else does, and getting a man in or doing it themselves, they invite armies of landless workers to their site on the promise of bean soup once a day and a nice campfire. The experience should be enough they say. You’re getting accommodation. They say. As landowners they are able to open their land up for free to any passing stonemason or tree surgeon and hey presto. Sorted.

How many times have I seen ads for people wanting people to come and plant trees? I planted my old site, four acres, on my own. It took time, but that’s the point. It took MY time. It was my land, and it was my responsibility. Why do people who are “living this dream” feel they don’t have time for this? Isn’t that what you’re doing it for? Is it because by doing OPD you’ve bought into the capitalist trick of business, accounts and turning profit? That now you’re doing the desk job you left again, just with a different emphasis? It’s not just the OPDers. It’s anyone with land. I see people wanting all sorts of skilled workers. Very skilled workers. To do very physically hard work. People who, in the real world, are paid many hundreds of pounds a day. And you’re going to let them stay on your land in a tent? How lovely. Is there a bath on this tent? Anyone with those kinds of skills has already learned how to home him or herself, I should imagine.

The fact that people think this is ok is what bothers me. There are arguments about it all the time. But who is coming to do these woofer jobs? Who are our market here for free workers? Here’s who. The homeless, who really need a home, the lost, who just need something, and probably more help than you can offer, and the idle who don’t need to sell their labour power for money because they have other means, that’s who.

In the first case, it’s modern day slavery. The slave owners housed and fed their slaves. They just didn’t pay them. In the second case, big job on your hands. You’re gonna need to hire a psych. The third, then you’re just filling your land with people who are essentially on a jolly. They may work well, they may learn skills. They may make friends. But then they’ll go and emulate what you’re doing, and buy into the weird society in miniature that seems to be emerging here. Or they will go back to the life they tried to escape, because you won’t need them anymore. Exponential rejection.

There will be arguments. There will be fights for power. There will be neighbour disputes. There will be fights. When selling eco villages as the big dream, they leave out the bit where the police get called to them more often that they get called to the Mount Estate in Milford.

There are no solutions being presented here. The ones who want to ban roads all drive around in diesel campers, often made my Volkswagon, done for emissions fraud and designed by the Nazis.

They use the roads they shout against to get to their favourite eco villages to be woofers, and they all have a jolly nice time.

You can all carry on with this. It makes no odds to me. But what you need to do is stop selling it as a big solution. You buying land and offering lentils helps nothing. You getting righteous if someone suggests a real progression to society yet offering no solution further than your cabbage yield helps nothing. Pretending to be saving the planet by being anti-China and pro-Greta helps nothing. Own it.

There are no individual solutions to social problems. Pay your workers.

Entering the Fray…

Funny old game, innit.. politics.

So many people say they hate politics. Lots of people hate politicians. I suppose problems can arise because of this.

I got some abuse off some bloke on facebook earlier, for being what he called, a politician. I’m not a politician. I work for a political party, but I’m not an elected politician by any means. I don’t even harbour any hopes that I will be after May the 6th.

We’re not standing in the elections to win. We’ve only been going five minutes. That’s an expectation that’s not even worth hoping for. And besides, I’m really busy with trees and branch building. Not tree branch. Party branch. And we’ve got loads of organisey stuff to do. The last thing I wanna be doing is driving to Cardiff every day to listen to Neil Hamilton. That’s not the point at all.

The point is, in case anyone is wondering, that for a small deposit you can get the posties to go leafletting for you, instead of having to do it yourself. Each party is entitled to one free leaflet drop. We did a crowdfunder to get some leaflets together, and off they go, already, I hear, in Aberdare, according to my buddy who lives there. Awaiting news from Cardiff and Vale chums as we speak.

The reason we’re running in South Wales Central, and not in Mid and West Wales, is quite simply that if you look at an election map, there are swathes of blue and yellow throughout Wales, with a little squirt of red around the valleys. George’s opinion was that if we were to have any chance at all of gaining an elusive seat, it would be there.

To win a seat on the regional list, you need around 6-7% of the vote or thereabouts. Our leaflet is going to 300,000 homes, each potentially containing two or three household members of voting age. So potentially that’s a reach to more than a million people. Much more than our party leafleteers could get round in the same amount of time. We have had a few new members in Cardiff already, so perhaps the leaflet is making its way about the place, and some people are looking. If we can get new members, get our name out there, show ourselves to be up for the game, then it’s all good. We can concentrate on getting ourselves into local council seats next year and keeping an eye on proceedings. We can start looking at campaigns that affect the people of Wales. One of these, of course, is the state of our NHS and the problems people are having all over Wales. There are very few NHS dentists, and highly populated, rural areas simply do not have enough resources or enough doctor’s surgeries to service such numbers. This is resulting in poor levels of care and much frustration for the public.

I dared to bring this up on the council webpage yesterday, wanting to get a feel for how big the problem was in the area, and was frankly a bit shocked at some of the responses. Some very angry people commented repeatedly in quite an abusive way, and much as I hate blocking people, after a certain amount of reasoning has failed, it just becomes abuse.

And here I get to my main point. I’m not even a politician, but already the grief has started. I watch the abuse some local councillors get online. I see the abuse politicians get on Twitter. Our party leader is subjected to more online vitriol than anyone I’ve ever known, even to the point of death threats.

This is from people who say they hate politics. They hate politicians. But if anyone good tries to get involved, they’re instantly subjected to a barrage of abuse by these people, based on assumptions and prejudices. It’s little wonder that people don’t want to get into politics. You have to have nerves of steel, the patience of a saint, and an iron will. You have to care about the people abusing you and rise above it. It’s not easy. This isn’t the first time I’ve had hassle online. And it’s nowhere near the worst. Pretty tame in comparison. The tragedy is, that the bloke actually had some good points, and had he had a bit more patience, and a bit less immediate hate, we could have probably come to some kind of truce and agreement, assuming that we were both after the same thing, ie, an improvement in local health services.

Someone tries to help; they get shot down. Is that an internet thing? I understand a lack of trust in politicians. But if you shoot everyone before they start, the only ones who will persist and put themselves through it are the narcissists, the hard men, the ones who don’t give a shit, who can brush off abuse like they brush off a pub fight. You’ll end up with a cabinet full of self-assured, bombastic, abusive, abrasive psychopaths.

Oh. Look. Neil Hamilton by the water cooler. Please don’t vote me in….

When Is A House Not A Home?

Finally, the powers that be are trying to instigate a double council tax on holiday homes. Many locals are jumping up and down in joy, but many are not. Why is that?

A lot of people have in in their heads that as tourism is our main industry, then the houses all being sold as second homes to people from outside the county is all fine and dandy. But is it really?

There’s an ex-council house up for sale in St Florence for nearly 200k. Yep, you heard right. It’s on an estate where there are so many generations being forced to move into houses together due to rising local house prices, that there is nowhere at all to park, so anyone new will be fighting a losing battle before they start, and then they’ll probably complain to the council that there’s nowhere to park. I remember that same estate when I was a kid, playing down there with friends. There were just a normal number of cars. Now, it’s completely ridiculous.

These holiday homes, second homes, whatever you want to call them, quite often get let out as Air B&Bs while the owners aren’t around. I’ve spoken to a few owners of guest houses around the place, and they’re all saying that their businesses are being affected by the enormous amounts of Air B&B in the county. So this hike in council tax that the second home owners are gonna get, they could quite easily pay with just one weeks income, offset against tax, and et voila, they hardly notice the new council tax rules and nothing changes.

Meanwhile, villages are shrinking because no-one lives in them, businesses and local shops and post offices suffer because no one uses them, and then they close. Wintertime, everything around here looks like the Marie Celeste. Summertime, you can’t move around the county because the London traffic has made its way from Piccadilly Circus to here.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of holiday parks, caravan sites etc in this county. If people want to buy a holiday home, then fine, they can buy one of them. They’re supposed to be holiday homes. That’s what they’re there for. People can still play their status games – some caravans are getting on a for a quarter of a million quid. Some people just love to tell you all about their houses and homes and what they’re worth. There. Show off your caravan with its deck and sea view. What’s the point of emptying the caravan sites and guest houses of holiday makers and cramping them all up into delightful little rural cottages?

I’ve said it before but it needs saying again. You try renting a small affordable property around here to live in.  Go on. I dare you. But you’ll find a little cottage for your week’s holiday quick as a flash, because all the nice little places are now in the clutches of the moneyed classes. If you’re homeless in Pembs, there’s literally nowhere to put you. All the council houses are being sold up, or have already been. There is no housing available any more for local people. Local covenants aren’t strict enough, even if they are in place. Pretty soon our prices will be like the prices in Cornwall. And we wonder why our young people abandon the county, land of very little opportunity and super high property inflation.

If someone has a holiday home in west Wales, a bricks and mortar (or more often stone) place, we should at least make it so they can’t rent it out. Because that’s not bringing money to the area. It’s bringing money to someone who lives elsewhere, and taking from the legit holiday establishments which we already have. It doesn’t even need staff, so results in no employment, apart from a cleaner for two hours on a saturday. It’s way too easy for the owners of these properties to just cover the extra council tax that they’re going to have to pay. A few hundred quid isn’t much in the scheme of things to these people.

This council tax hike is definitely a step in the right direction, and it shows that finally, people up top are beginning to see the effect these properties have on our local economy, and the damage they do to communities and the locality. The four million it will raise in extra revenue will be much welcomed. But we have to also support local tourism businesses, and not let their trade get taken by opportunists. Enough of our housing stock is now going to the new breed of work from homers.

The new housing project in Solva looks promising, and is to provide affordable homes. Let’s hope they’re actually affordable to people on Pembrokeshire wages. Real Pembrokeshire wages, the jobs you see advertised for 15k a year full time. Make houses affordable for those people, otherwise affordable is a complete misnomer on every conceivable level. Don’t change the rules in a few years’ time. Make sure they aren’t lost to people who will use them as spare houses, when they already have one.

Close this gap, before we all fall down intro the chasm. And congratulate the councillors who are pushing this. For all the people who say councillors aren’t worth their money – and in some individual cases I’d agree – I’d also argue that some of them clearly are.

In Estate

I was talking to my new neighbour the other day, and she was telling me about all the vandalism in Pembroke, and all the dodgy happenings that go on. Apparently, my new place got broken into loads of times because there were some dodgy geezers living here. It was all pretty hectic it seems. Which is strange, because since being here I’ve felt really safe. It’s weird what can make you feel secure. The endless whirr of the fridge, the mumbling central heating, the passing cars, the voices outside; it’s a massive contrast to my old field – the silence that was so deafening you heard music, and the lonely owl hooting, and the call of the river birds in the distance.

So what about this vandalism then? I’m pretty sure it didn’t used to be like that. Any graffiti that appeared was usually done by one of us as far as I remember. I’d love to climb up onto the railway bridge at East End and rewrite “It’s Black Friday” as the late Joe Rawlins did all those years ago, a slogan which became almost as much a part of Pembroke as the castle, until the pesky council washed it off.

There is much that has changed. The Lion now sells cakes. Cromwell’s is a pizza place. The Castle Inn is a winebar. Middlegate restaurant is still there, though much changed, and so is Brown’s. The Cross Saws remains, The Kings, The George; there is much that is familiar. But the town is definitely looking like it needs a bit of sprucing up. There are loads of commercial properties for sale in Main Street. The shops are all closed, some of them, it looks like, for good. The only people still trading are the estate agents – property is flying off the shelves quicker that they can send out the details to applicants. The only properties that aren’t rising in price are the buy to lets, because the landlords are all trying to jump ship, and new ones don’t wish to play. They’re probably all off buying gold or bitcoin or something. The buy to let properties are still out of the reach of most locals though. As are the family homes, ex council houses now going for around 180k in some instances.

Can we perhaps notice a correlation between the rise in vandalism and the fall in living standards? It was the late eighties/early nineties when I was last kicking around here. I moved from the dock back to Jameston is 1992. There were some undesirables, but I knew them all. Is that all that’s changed? As they’re all young now, I just don’t hang out with them? The undesirables I knew in my yoof all suffered from the same problems as youngsters do now. Poverty, mental illness (less admittable to back then) a general feeling of malaise, of no future. That feeling is still here, 30 years later. But guess what? That feeling is everywhere. It’s no different anywhere you go, if you’re working class. There is always a subsection of society, struggling, hidden away, identifiable only by their 2am street brawls and their propensity to smash stuff and then disappear like shadows over the town wall. The people are the same, trying to pay rent, eke out an existence in a place where there are few opportunities, where the gap between the have and have nots is so wide. When I point out to people that West Wales in the poorest part of Northern Europe, they look at me in disbelief. Really? With Tenby and all the landowners and all the nice houses and Valero? But look at the prices. A waterside property in Pembs can be picked up for a song, in comparison to a waterside place in Engerland. And those prices can only go one way because of this. Up. Will this influx of money to the county do anything to improve the lot of the locals? Perhaps, if there were any local shops left for the new people to shop in, but there aren’t really, so they’ll probably just go online and use up all the Tesco delivery slots.

The county is collapsing in front of us, and regeneration schemes taking place seem to be generally scorned by the public on social media. There is a brilliant new course at the college that is teaching youngsters the techniques of medieval wall building in order to facilitate the town wall project. Little opportunities do come up, the trick is getting the youngsters enthused enough to take part. The apathy, the despair, the lost look of most of the young people I know, including my own two sons, is a hard nut to crack. Covid is contributing to something that was happening anyway, and is now accelerating quickly. The small business owner is always going to be playing a massive game of cat and mouse, taking enormous risk. It’s pretty easy to turn them against people who have lost their way, and their enthusiasm, and need help. It’s also pretty easy to turn locals against immigrants, because you just have to tell them that the immigrants are getting the stuff that they should be getting. Thing is, they’re not getting it. There’s still no provision for homeless people in the county. There’s still people renting properties with leaking roofs and leaking windows and with damp problems. Imperialism and late-stage capitalism, over the last thirty years, has half emptied Pembroke of everything that was here. Pretty much every business has changed hands many, many times in that period. Pembroke Dock is a literal ghost town. There’s nothing there I recognise from living there except for Josephine’s. I remember that so well cos it was my eldest son’s grandma’s shop, back then, and we used to live in one of the flats upstairs. The streets are desolate and dark and the people wander around as if in a daze, not knowing what to do with themselves. Small local projects can only go so far. We need broad scope. Big change, huge overhaul. A complete change of economic system. Otherwise, in another thirty years, we might just be a castle, on a dirt road, surrounded by estate agents.

I know Why the Bird Cage Swings

I know why January lasts so long.

Psychologically, everyone breathes a sigh of relief on Boxing Day, and then proceeds to spend the next few days in a state of confusion and limbo, where no-one really knows what day it is, and everything is all topsy turvy. You’re bored of the decorations, and maybe you rip them down, throwing the dusty lights into boxes which by next year you’ll regret, because you’ll have to untangle it all.

We then sit and wait, while the longest week in the universe gives way to New Year, which is followed by another ghostly day or two, and then the clockwork towns start to whirr again, and everything is supposed to go back to normal.

By this time, most people have forgotten what normal is, because Christmas has been going on since about September. The days are still dark but the pretty twinklies have all come down. By the time the snow comes, the lights are out. January is essentially, five weeks long, because that post-Christmas feeling begins way before January does.

And we’ve still got February to go.

Plus, we’re still in lockdown. Everyone is skint. Some friends of mine had bailiffs at the door the other day in the middle of a pandemic demanding cash. This was due to an unpaid council tax bill. The guy lost his job due to Covid and had to move in with elderly relatives. The council wouldn’t let him set up a payment plan. So, bailiffs knocked on the door and hassled people in their 70s and 80s at 8.30 am. This was a bit much for my friend. The next door he attempted on his own life and was sent to A&E. He waited for hours. He was then given a Zopoclone and told to go home. He has an appointment with a mental health team in two weeks-time. Meanwhile, they’ve given him some anti-histamines.

He can’t find another job. He’s not in a great place. And there’s no one to help. Good work, Pembs County Council. You couldn’t just set up a payment plan? This is their whole attitude. I have friends who are still waiting for their OPD planning application to be looked at after nearly two years. I have another friend who got planning last March and the council still haven’t signed it off so that he can start work. However, the other day, when some tree surgeon buddies were doing a job, a guy came out an told them he was calling the council. The enforcement officer was on the phone within ten minutes, accusing the workers of cutting down a tree that they shouldn’t have, threatening that if the tree had been cut, the planning permission would be taken away.

When I emailed the enforcement officer last week to tell them I had sold my plot which failed at OPD, the response was instant, enquiring as to whether everything from the site had gone. The new owners are going to dismantle everything to save me the stress, knowing that I have suffered enough at the whims of PCC, but the enforcement officer couldn’t resist that last little bit of demanding attitude. It’s not enough for them that they took away my home and business. No, they want to me to take everything apart, piece by piece, alone, in order that I may pay maximum penance. I was diagnosed last week with Fibromyalgia. Doctor reckons the stress of the last few years is what’s done it. I believe her. Many times over the last few years I’ve been close to the bone like my buddy, who is now waiting for the council run crisis team to get round to helping him. From what I’ve seen of their service, the help doesn’t really extend to much. You end up having to save yourself.

And how do you do that exactly?

Well, no matter how many self-help books you read and how many times you go to CBT to get rid of negative thoughts, there’s no arguing with the fact that the reason we’re all so messed up is because humans were never designed to live in this high impact stressful world full of rules, where modern slavery takes the form of underpaid work, where there is no leisure time, or funds for leisure, where everyone is struggling constantly just to get by.

Mental health provision is simply paying lip service and ticking a box. There is no help in this society, How can there be? Are they going to conjure my friend up a job that he can enjoy and that will pay him well enough to cover his bills and enable him to afford a reasonably priced property to live in? Unlikely.

If you get through this world with all its injustices, without developing some stress related disease or another, then you are truly blessed and have walked the tightrope. For the majority of us, there is nothing to do but wait for the inevitable. To be ill and have an NHS that no longer works because of privatisation. To be dictated to by a council who are only interested in you if you’re working class and have done something wrong, to be skint and be unable to find meaningful work that pays properly.

If you need something from PCC anytime soon, forget it. They’re all super busy and working from home. However, if you flout a rule, or even if you don’t and someone just thinks you have, they’ll be round like a shot. If you’ve been emailing them to no avail, and phoning and being left on hold for hours, just to be told the person you need will call you back, and then they never do, best thing is just to tell them you’ve built a shed or cut down a tree. Result. Callback in ten minutes. Absolutely foolproof. Don’t thank me. Public service is my job.

Schadenfreude

Since moving to Pembroke I’ve been chatting online with a lovely new friend called Rita who lives up the road. As I’ve been sorting out my place, I’ve been looking for inspiration, and Rita sent me some beautiful pics of her place, which of now makes me want red walls like she’s got. We share tastes. She has fairy lights everywhere, lovely dark wood furniture. The place is certainly a credit to her and her husband. My walls, being an ex-rental property, are all bright white, which is great for showing up spiders, but it’s a little bit stark.

I swear I will never take for granted the fact that I can turn a hot tap on, and that I can press a button and heating happens. After five and a half years of living off-grid, and pretty roughly, it’s luxurious indeed to be warm, and to be moving my books in, and arranging things how I want them, and feeling like I have a comfortable safe home.

Contrast this with the predicament suffered by those boys staying at Penally camp.

Yet again, social media is full of “send the buggers back” type comments, as well as much worse. These comments are written by people that, by sheer luck, were born in a country where things are pretty shit, but we’re not being war torn and oppressed by Imperialist countries who want our resources but who are actually pretending that what they want is democracy in whatever country they’re liberating this week.

The scenes at the Capitol last week were extremely interesting. One, because the public stormed the Capitol. Two, because many people believed it was a set up by actors and they had been let in. Three, if it wasn’t a set up it shows a distinct lack of organisation on America’s part, and shows that the democracy that they’re trying to instil all over the valuable resourced world is not actually present in their own country. The American elections never pass by without allegations of fraud and cheating. Just this time it’s got more serious, because The Donald is a brat, and is throwing his toys out of the pram. But America created this monster all by themselves, and their halo is slipping for us all to see. Well, for nearly all of us to see.

The opportunist Simon Hart has condemned the Penally Camp boys protesting their living conditions. Basically, he had a quick shufti on Facebook to see which was the wind was blowing, and then he decided what to think and say.

Paul Dowson has also decided to use this local fear as part of his next campaign, joining UKIP and therefore becoming a UKIP councillor. He can see the voices clamouring, and he is pushing the tide as far as he can, making full use of the natural propensity of the tide to come in.

The statements on Facebook concerning these protests, have even surpassed the ones that have come before. I see many well-meaning people trying to fight them, trying to reason with them. But there’s no point. The more logic you give people, the less truth they want to hear. The people round here don’t want the truth, and they don’t want unity. They like the division, they enjoy the Facebook arguments. A population brough up on Eastenders has been trained to think that division and conflict is key to life. It’s not. As a theatre graduate, I can tell you that conflict is just the key to drama and a successful long running soap. It’s time people learned to see the difference.

This is real life. These are real lives. These are real people. They have been forced to leave countries where the everyday is like nothing anyone round here can ever imagine. They state that the barracks are good enough for the army. What, the army that went over and shot the families of these boys that live there now? Those trained killers, you mean?

What makes someone join the army? Who likes going and shooting people? How many of them enjoyed watching the footage that Julian Assange brought to the public view, of American soldiers shooting men in the street for no reason? That footage carries a warning on YouTube. Assange is rotting in jail because he allowed us to see it, but so many people refuse to see it, to watch it, to even care that it’s out there.

How many people have argued a point with you and then when you’ve talked them round in circles they say things like, well, I don’t follow politics.. They’re all useless?

Everything is politics. The local council decisions for our everyday lives are politics. Bin day is politics. Planning permission is politics. Bailiffs are politics. Unemployment is politics. Invading Iraq is politics. If you’re going to scream that we should send the buggers back, then you really should know what we’re sending them back to, and why that situation exists.

These guys aren’t spending their lockdown having a look at furniture on ebay, or choosing paint, or getting a new mop for the nice new floor. They’re not making choices about décor, or getting annoyed with ‘er indoors ‘cos she wants shelves putting up. They’re not calling the drain guy or getting a new washing machine.

Their lives consist of cold, no proper home, the charity of others, the generosity of the country that insists on continuing to join in with Imperialist domination of their country, and this bunch of entitled locals, who think that because they were born in a relatively safe country, that that somehow gives them the right to talk in the way they do about human beings, who are at the mercy of every corrupt government available.

I have news for you lot. You will all see similar hardships in time to come. Not like they have, because you’re sheltered, in Wales. But when your pension has disappeared, and you assets are worth nothing, and your inheritance disappears up the tax man’s arse, and when you lose your job and can’t get another one, or when your high wage earnings come to an end because of global laws of economy and you have to downsize from your executive home, then remember, your birthright is a corrupt, inept country, that can’t even handle a pandemic properly, that has no trust from its citizens, that encourages dissent, and causes its own crime epidemic by creating poverty and inequality. Your birthright is overpriced homes, and influx of Saesneg, and the loss of all you worked for due to one bad decision, piece of luck, or whim of a bank manager.

You’re not special because you’re British. You’re part of the biggest, most corrupt, Imperialist, thieving, slave trading bunch of clowns in the world. Don’t be feeling so proud. Don’t be feeling so smug, or comfortable. Your fall is coming. Who will care about you? Who will help you? Where will you seek asylum?

Head Funds

I think I’m going to wait until all the episodes of Pembrokeshire Murders have been on the tele before I watch it. I can’t cope with cliffhangers, so I like to binge watch things. Although of course, it’s not like it’s a surprise. I remember the stories well, and remember when they happened.

The programme has certainly caused a stir locally if social media is anything to go by. We usually get to see our county on the tele presented as the wild west landscape of wonderment, or holiday destination extraordinaire, or on Escape to the Freaking Country for the fiftieth time running. I’m looking forward to seeing the parts of Pembs on the tele that are usually hidden. I hear there’s a housing estate in it. That’s gonna be a shock for all the people looking to buy property in the area. They have estates?

The human psyche has long been fascinated by the concepts surrounding all things murder. Is this a residual process whereby they deprived us of the spectacle of public hangings and executions and now we have to get our fix from Midsummer Murders or The Ted Bundy Tapes? Mindhunter on Netflix has resulted in a whole new bunch of fans for Edmund Kemper, the Co-Ed Killer, currently languishing in jail in Sacramento. I say languishing. He actually spends his time reading audio books for the blind. I wonder if they’re aware that the charming voice lulling them to sleep with the latest Agatha Christie is actually the same guy who cut his mother’s head off and threw darts at it, and that’s nowhere near the worst thing he did. Look it up if you don’t know. You’ll be appalled. But this 6’9” terror of a figure, who killed his grandparents when he was 15 and managed to talk his way out of the asylum due to an IQ of 146, outfoxing every psychiatrist they sent to him, comes across as a gentle giant. So gentle in fact, that when he turned himself in, the police who knew him from the local bar refused to believe he was the killer. He had to persuade them and insist that they come and arrest him. They reluctantly picked him up, but still didn’t believe him, leaving him uncuffed in the car.

Is this where the fascination lies? Is this why we can’t get enough of these stories? Is it because the guy next door, walking past you and bidding you good evening, may well have a decapitated head in his bowling bag and you would have no idea?

One of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims escaped Dahmer, and ran into the road, screaming. He came upon some police, who he begged to help him, but Dahmer turned up, told the cops they’d had a lover’s tiff, and that his boyfriend was just drunk and hysterical, and they gave the victim back to Dahmer, only for him to murder the 14-year-old boy later on. Like, seriously?

Ted Bundy was able to pick up victims by putting his arm in a fake plastercast and asking girls to help him carry his study books to his car. His behaviour was so believable it’s a ruse that worked countless times. Is this why we have such a compulsion to hear every detail of a crime? Are we assessing the possibility of the level of danger around us? Are some of us worried that we may become the danger?

I won’t lie. There have been many times that I have got interested in the fact that a body will burn in three hours if you use dry pine. If you sweep up the teeth and bury them in four different places, then you’ll get away with it. Well. You might not. But they won’t have a body. There is a lot to be learned from these thorough and detailed documentaries. I must also confess, that whenever I watch stuff about the Unabomber, a lot of what he says makes perfect sense. It would have been nice if he could have got his ideas across without the nailbombs. But a mind like that in a society like this is asking for trouble. And that’s the trouble. There are an awful lot of minds like that in this society. But they’re not always making nailbombs.

Most of the hardcore psychopaths, the most controlled ones, the ones with the largest Machiavellian streaks – are the ones running the hedgefunds, and the ones running the country. They’re the ones allowing the insane developments in London along the Thames, where a 1-bedroom flat is a million quid, and they’re purchased as property banks by oligarchs and investors. The last three mayors of London, including our own dear Red Ken, and your own dear Boris, and the other ones’ dear Sadiq Khan. None of them have said, hang on… that’s public land. Why is it being developed by investors into luxury apartments? They just say, oh my, thanks for the donation old chap, and everyone goes home for tea.

So of course, they make wonderful programmes for TV, to get us addicted and setting ourselves up for a nice binge watch with some biscuits, to gawp at the psychopaths, and say, oh my, what a crazy guy. I’m glad he’s locked up, out of harms way. Instead of looking around at all the psychopaths and saying, wait a minute… How come this lot are running the show?