Issue #50 - Special birthday edition! - October 3rd - 9th
Happy Birthday Friends of the Heroes!
Sister Janice And The Many Happy Returns
A guide to people
It Happened This Week Too, You Know...
The Anti-War Candidates - Phony and Genuine
Happy Birthday Friends of the Heroes!
The story of the friends of the heroes could begin in many ways, in many different places, and with many different people, but since I'm the one telling the story, lets just say it all began outside a night club in Aberystwyth the night that Paul met Rachel.
A few years later it was raining and they didn't have much money, so they decided to set up a website dedicated to British music. Not knowing much about websites Rachel opened a Microsoft publisher and designed a purple page with a map on it. She couldn't really think what the website should be about so she shouted at Paul to "WRITE!"
Luckilly he did.
Over the next few days they worked hard. Paul with a pen in his hand and Rachel scratching her head and staring at a computer screen. They wrote about music from England, Scotland and Wales, but got stuck when it came to Ireland. They invented a band called "the easy readers" who the both fell in love with. They learnt what ftp meant. And finally they published their website. The next day it stopped raining and they went to the beach forgetting all about the easy readers and Ireland.
Many years later Dimitra met Rachel. She was stood next to a flower seller at Liverpool Street Station. Rachel came up to her and said "Hi I'm Rachel". Then Rachel's friend who was also called Rachel and who in actual fact is the Rachel who had previously met Paul said: "Hi I'm the Rachel you are here to meet". The pair had decided to go to Spain to see Belle and Sebastian. Later they decided to go to Glasgow, Belfast, Edinburgh, and London to see the same band and sometime between the travelling the idea of starting a magazine hit them…they stored it at the back of their minds and went to watch a certain band sing. That is when Dimitra and Rachel met Ian. Ian fed them strawberries, and cheap fizzy wine, and made them laugh a lot. Later that day, it is rumoured that he and Dimitra skipped down Brixton high street on their way to see Belle and Sebastian.
The summer of 2002 was a real washout in Dundee. Grey, cold and depressing.
Not only was it raining but Rachel had very little money.
One year and 50 issues later and the friends of the heroes is still going strong. We've pestered bands, and celebrities, made new friends and been joined by many lovely people...
...but we are still waiting for the story about the women who fell in love with the drinks machine.
Sister Janice And The Many Happy Returns
Sister Janice is the Friends Of The Heroes agony aunt. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career.
Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer...
Roger is a bloke she met in a burger bar.
Hello my little cherubs of cheer,
I feel a little strange right now.
No, just incase you're thinking it, I haven't been smoking what's left of my alternative herb garden. Nor have I been drinking, though the nuns opened a bottle of convent-brewed wine in my honour.
Yes, you read that right.
I'm back here. Back, in the convent. Guest of honour, for one night only. Or two. Maybe three.
I should tell you how it happened:
I didn't recognise her at first. Oh, I saw the outfit, I can identify that particular get-up from a mile away and I did, on this occasion. My first thought was to run and hide - I am, after all, still a fugitive from The Law and I figured she'd probably come to bring some of those blue-coated-bastards to arrest me.
Because, you see, those were the terms we parted on. Me and the Mother Superior, Old Sister Mary Angelica.
Actually, that's not strictly true. I actually thought I'd killed her. Inadvertently. There was an accident, with a bottle of disinfectant and a recipe.....Hell, it said 'Jif Lemon Fresh', and it LOOKED the same, its an easy enough mistake to make - but some people didn't see it like that. Not at the time.
So, I ran off, while the ambulances were arriving, and, eventually, I escaped into space. Well, why not? Its not a bad place to be when it feels like the world is out to get you.
So... I saw her walking across the hill, and I thought a few things. I thought maybe she was a ghost - but, no, she really wasn't the type. Heaven or nothing, those were the only options. And if she DID find herself back from the blessed afterlife, you can bet she wouldn't be spending her time striding around a Welsh hillside, looking for someone she'd never liked much in life.
I thought she was an hallucination. I still catch myself from time to time, wondering if this is all an hallucination. But that isn't the way. I have to believe. I've been given the chance to believe in something again, and I'm going to take it.
I thought she might be bringing trouble, until I saw who was with her. There she was, her and Roger, my space-travelling companion, striding across the green, a purposeful expression on her face and then she stopped, and we looked at each other, and she did something I don't think I've ever seen her do before.
Roger drove all the way back to the convent. We sat there, in the back seat, and she held my hand. I didn't look at her, I couldn't. I had tears streaming down my face, because I knew I'd been forgiven, and it felt too much - just too much, after everything that has happened lately.
I guess there's a reason they call her the Mother. At the convent entrance, a whole group of the nuns waited, smiling at me, nodding 'hello Janice' niceties, and taking me inside. I suppose they had been waiting for this. I'd gone from being the stroppy over-aged teen who played her music too loudly to the prodigal daughter, aware of the error of her ways, returning penitent and quiet, affected by the harshness of the world. Like all families, they had missed me, while I was away.
I can't believe they had missed me.
Oh, don't worry. I've got no intention of staying. And, now they know that, the relief in the air is palpable. I still remember how she asked me: smiling kindly, trying to stop herself from grimacing as the words came out 'You can stay here as long as you like. For ever, if you wish'.
And I looked at her, and I remembered the angry words. The curses I'd thrown at her when she objected to my playing 'Do You Wanna Funk' during the sisters' Hour Of Reflection, the times I'd stumbled into evensong, stoned off my face, humming a Nile Rodgers refrain and waving my hands in the air like I just didn't care. Because, let's face it, I just didn't care. I thought of the peace she must have found since my departure (after her discharge from hospital, that is). I considered the grace with which she now moved, and the stiffness that had characterisd her gait in my days at the convent. All of this came to me, and I realised what a sacrifice she was making.
Of course I said no. Not just for them - for myself as well. I couldn't stay here and play my records, and lie on the roof while they all went to prayers, and pinch the cider from the convent brewery. Oh, they'd let me, this time, but I couldn't do it now, not after everything. And I'm not ready to give that up just yet.
Not yet. One day, perhaps.
It seems the nuns have dropped all the charges they made against me. A couple of the cardinals that were visitng on the night of the Little Accident have been more reticent to do so. It seems they're too important to Jesus to go around forgiving people. A shame they can't see beyond their importance. A shame they can't see the point of what The Big Guy spent so many years going around saying.
But now I sound like one of the nuns. Perhaps I should stop there. This place is getting to me - in a good way. I'll be here until we get The Space Shed mended, then me and Roger will be off travelling for a couple of weeks. Write to me while I'm away, and I'll answer your problems just as soon as I'm finished partying. If, that is, we go partying. Right now, I'm just happy to sit here amongst people that want me around, although they're glad I won't be staying all that long. Hell, its a hugfest. They've forgiven me. I've forgiven them and... weirdly, I've done something I never realised I had to do.
I've forgiven myself.
The convent wine tastes good, better than I remember it and, now they know I'm going, they've bought me a leaving present.
Its an original copy of 'I Feel Love'.
It feels appropriate, somehow.
Nobody wrote this week, but that feels fine. This isn't a time to dwell on problems. This is a time to celebrate what we can all do, when we come together, and forget the past.
It is your birthday and she isn't here. She isn't here. Begin the begin and tear at your heart. Your soul. Soul? You lost that long ago. Or was that your heart? No, you still have a heart, buried deep under layers and layers of bitter moats and ramparts. They cannot touch you now. You will not fall for faceless flattery or coincidences dressed up as connections. You don't connect.
It is your birthday and she isn't here.
Where did all the time go? Buried again, this time under layers and layers of Christmas cake and birthday cards, Sundays and holidays, the days inbetween filled with turning sheets of metal into bicycle frames. They asked you, at your place of work today, as you finished drilling the final hole for dynamos, how old you were today. You said you didn't know. Today is only the day that you were born, you said, a number of years ago but what does it matter?
What does it matter?
It is they, you presume, who are knocking at your door. It is they, after all, who told you that tonight you were going out to celebrate this, the day that you were born, all those years ago. Don't they see your fortified heart? Don't they realise that you have nothing left to offer them, no witty-repartee or gorging on tequila, no half-hearted intercourse or perfunctory sycophancy.
It is your birthday and she isn't here.
It is your birthday, and you are sat cross-legged in the corner of the room furthest away from the door and the incessant rat-a-tat-a-tat of knuckles against said door. Strewn in front of you, on the carpet, are choices. You have two of them. One is the eighteen year old single malt that you were saving for better days. The other is the knife, the blade that glitters and shimmers in the half-light. You sigh. Sit up. Check your reflection in the mirror. All that you ever wanted was to be happy, just like anyone else, but somewhere along the jittery path you lost your way, mistook flattery for love, and love for boredom. It wasn't boredom. It was the comfort of knowing you were loved and you were with the one you loved, and what is wrong with curling up on the sofa and watching the television as the sun sets? What's wrong with that? You know the answer yourself:
You miss the sun setting.
You go to the fridge. Another sigh. One day you will stop sighing. One day there will be nothing left to sigh for. Won't there?
You grab a beer, prise it open, and take a big, long hit. You walk back over the corner of the room where your soul and all its remnants lay, and open the single malt.
It is your birthday and she is not here? You pour yourself a tall glass, adding an extra measure for her. Here's to you, on my birthday, and as long as there is blood pumping in the heart, fortified or not, as long as I'm breathing, dirty air or not, then you will always be there or thereabouts.
You'd better answer that door.
A Guide to People
Up until now I've mainly told you about my girl. Some of you may be thinking that she is the only person I know, but she is not! I know quite a lot of people really. Some people are tall, others are very short, some have deep scary voices, others have quiet voices, some laugh when you lick there faces, others say:
It is hard work to understand people and some of you maybe thinking that it is really not worth it, but let me tell you, it is! People have food. Toast, chicken, chocolate, you name it and if you try hard enough you'll be able to get someone to give you some of their food. Certain people make this very easy. All you have to do is sit by them, make your eyes look very big and sad and they'll give you practically all of their food. Other people are more challenging and will make you "sit-rollover- lie- stand- go to you bed" before giving you the smallest thing.
It is worth remembering that different people do different jobs. When the woman with curly hair and the man with the dark-blue-walkies-monster come to stay I know that there is no point reminding that man that the is chicken in the small grey heating cupboard. I'm pretty sure he would leave it in there all day long and so I concentrate my reminding efforts on the woman. By licking my lips, and jumping up at her and then bouncing of towards the kitchen she will always go and get the food out. On the other-hand the man can be relied upon to go for a walk first thing in the morning. After I have greeted him in my normal understated way, of jumping around him in circles, and running through his legs, I show him where my lead is and he knows exactly what to do. He opens the back of the dark-blue-walkies monster, I hop in, the walkies monster makes a roaring noice, and off we go!
On the whole though, if you take a little time and effort, you'll find you can understand most people. And even if you don't quite, a cheerful greeting and a wag of the tail will make sure you get on well.
However there are some people I just don't understand. Me and my girl were out walking in the park one day when we came up across this strange type of person. It was a normal kind of walk really. I had my head down sniffing at the ground trying to work out why next door's cat had zig-zagged all over the park the night before. The girl was walking along beside me not really taking much notice of anything, when all from out of nowhere a stone hit me on my back leg. I yelped in surprise and pain and looked around to see a group of boys laughing.
Thank goodness most of the people I meet are not like that. I think I might give up food altogether if I had to get hit by stones to make people happy!
It Happened This Week Too, You Know…
Whilst the whole world no doubt trips over itself in reams of uber-orgasmic hyperbole at the Friends of the Heroes birthday party, there is another reason, another anniversary that should make any decent citizen of this here world walk about the rest of the week with a thumping great smile on their face. Because this week, some 67 years ago, the most famous anti-fascist demonstration in British history took place: The Cable Street Riots.
The How's and Whys and Wherefores:
The British Union of Fascists were led by Oswald Mosely, who had, shall we say, a 'chequered' political past prior to his leadership of the BUF. He had been both a Tory and Labour member of Parliament and was tipped to be a future Prime minister. Considered by many to be an outstanding Orator, this Charismatic and wealthy individual became disillusioned with the established political parties and formed the New Party in 1931. After the New Party failed to get any of its 25 candidates elected into Parliament, Mosely studied Mussolini's fascists and formed the BUF based upon them, adopting both the Italian Fascists structures and their black-shirted uniform, earning them the highly imaginative nickname of 'Blackshirts'.
Originally denying charges of anti-semitism, the BUF soon organised against the Jewish community, seeing them as the cause of all the problems which faced the people of the East End and of being part of a world wide conspiracy of world domination as purported by the now-notorious forgery 'The protocols of the Elders of Zion'.
Initially the BUF gained support both from the working class and from members of the establishment. The press baron Lord Rothermere, for instance, was attracted to the Italian style of fascism that Mosely wished to imitate. By the early part of 1934 membership of the BUF had risen to around 40000. However, after some major disturbances at Olympia and Hyde Park membership began to fall, and supporters like Lord Rothermere could no longer condone the increasing anti-semitism shown by Mosely and his Blackshirts. At this time Mosely began to be influenced by the rise of Hitler, and some members of the BUF were also associated with other pro-Hitler and appeasement groupings in England.
The BUF did not establish itself in the East End until comparatively late; The Bethnal Green Branch was established towards the end of 1934 along with the Shoreditch branch. The borough of Stepney did not have a branch until one was established in Limehouse in July 1936. Two Blackshirts, Owen Burke and E.G. "Mick " Clarke organised the early BUF campaign of street meetings, rallies and intimidation against the "Jews and Jewish backed Communists". As Mosely stated himself it was the intention of British Fascism "to challenge and break for ever the power of the Jews in Britain".
By the spring of 1936 it was clear that Mosely had targeted the East End to be the focal point of BUF activity and from there it was hoped that they could increase their influence throughout the country. The Cable Street parade was aimed at being a show of power and strength of the BUF. Many in the East End had other ideas…
The role of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the Cable Street Riots, and particularly that of the Stepney branch, in combating the rise of Mosely in the East End cannot be underestimated. The CPGB had been active among the local communities, campaigning for better housing, jobs and against exploitative landlords for some time. As a consequence of this it had come into contact with the harassed Jewish community, many of whom saw the CPGB as the only political force actively fighting for their interests and the interests of the community as a whole. Many Jews in Stepney joined the party and they were to play a vital role in influencing the parties line against the fascists.
The CPGB had often been criticised by the main stream Labour and Trade union movement for its policy of attempting to physically disrupt fascist rallies and meetings. On 4th October 1936, the BUF planned to hold a rally in the heart of the East End. The CPGB worked hard to gain support to stop the rally, yet Walter Citrine and Wally Henderson signed a statement on behalf of official labour and trade union organisations urging workers to stay away and have nothing to do with the Mosely rally. This attitude just spurred the CPGB into a greater effort to stop the fascists.
The Daily Worker published an article which stated that "the London trades Council officials funk fight against Mosely". Leading communist Harry Pollit went on to write "Make October 4th a landmark in the fight against fascism". The CPGB distributed over 1,000,000 leaflets during the campaign, and held meetings all over London to organise the opposition on the day.
The BUF rally turned into a fiasco. The fascists entered Cable Street two hours later than scheduled, but that didn't stop 250,000 people rallying to oppose them. Despite police protection, the marchers were harassed and harangued until driven out of the East End. Pitched battles between fascists and the authorities on one side, and the people of the East End on the other side, were fought the length of Cable Street until finally, behind a cordon of police, the Blackshirts were forced to leave the area.
The next issue of The Daily Worker summed up the feeling of the anti-fascists in it's headlines urging people to "Drown the blackshirts in a sea of working class activity!". The tone was set for the forthcoming battles in the East End. The CPGB held regular street meetings in Whitechapel and Stepney, areas in the East End were rapidly being identified as either fascist or anti-fascist, often leading to disturbances between the opposing forces.
The CPGB influenced anti-fascist feeling in a wide number of groups who joined the struggle against Mosely, leading Jewish Comrades held positions within local Trade unions, the workers circle and the JPC, The CPGB at this time had a national Jewish Committee, many of whom were very close to their community, they produced articles and leaflets in Yiddish, which helped to enforce the belief within the Jewish community that the CPGB was the only party that was actively fighting fascism and anti-semitism. The CPGB had its own charismatic leaders within the London district, such as Phil Piratin, secretary of the Stepney branch who was later to be elected as a communist councillor in 1937 and Member of Parliament for Mile End from 1945-1950, and Pat Devine the London district anti-fascist organiser.
The battle of Cable Street has become a symbol for the anti-fascist movement. It was a day when the forces of democracy, spurred on by organised and committed anti-fascists and individuals, showed Mosely and his blackshirts that their brand of hate was not wanted. Sixty-seven years on, many of those who took part in that battle are now dead, they will never be forgotten. Those who are still with us are a living testament to what can be done to overcome fascism within a community. As Pat Devine stated in his memoirs "I will never forget that day."
The Anti-War Candidates - Phony and Genuine
Since announcing his intention to stand for selection as the Democratic Party's Presidential candidate General Wesley Clark has been lauded by the media as an 'anti-war' candidate who supposedly opposes the war in Iraq and as an honest and decent alternative to Bush.
Yet Clark has never been consistently opposed to the invasion or occupation of Iraq - in general he has supported it, tailoring his views to suit the prevailing political wind. For instance on the 21st of January 2003 Clark told CNN that Saddam Hussein 'absolutely' had weapons of mass destruction and that Bush had to act. On the 5th of February 2003 he claimed ' The credibility of the United States is on the line, and Saddam Hussein has these weapons and so, you know, we're going to go ahead and do this and the rest of the world's got to get with us'. Only now that there is a political opportunity presented to those who opposed the war has Clark rewritten history claiming that 'I would never have voted for this war. I've gotten a very consistent record on this.' Now 'The simple truth is that we went into Iraq on the basis of some intuition, some fear, and some exaggerated rhetoric and some very, very scanty evidence. '
Clark would maintain the occupation of Iraq since 'We're in there now, we're committed, we need to do our best.' This occupation currently results in the deaths of up to 1,000 Iraqi civilians per week since the war 'ended' on May 1st to add to the 7,800 plus killed during it, not to mention hundreds of British and American troops. It also wastes British and American taxpayers' money - around 78% of which goes on the military occupation with most of the rest going to firms linked to the Bush administration like Halliburton and its subsidiaries.
Clark, lauded as a Vietnam veteran, is also an apologist for the My Lai massacre. So it's unlikely that massacres of Iraqi civilians by US forces like that at Falluja , investigated by the US based human rights watch , or the daily killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians in US raids and checkpoint incidents documented by Amnesty International among others would end if Clark were president.
Clark's experience as NATO's Commander in Chief in the Kosovo campaign is held to show his opposition to tyranny and his military and political acumen. Yet as the US Air Force now acknowledges that campaign took months to destroy only 14 Serbian tanks and 20 artillery pieces - while killing between 500 and 2,600 civilians. Cluster bombs dropped in town centres and busy bridges and town centres were bombed on market days. Civilian targets like oil refineries and factories would be hit. Clark's warning that ‘there will be no safe haven in downtown Belgrade' was followed by the bombing of Serbian State television which killed 15 'propagandists' including a night watchman and a make-up lady. Clark and NATO didn't bother bombing Croatian state TV which spewed similar propaganda relating to Croatian atrocities against Serb civilians like the US-assisted ethnic cleansing of the Krajiina border region between Croatia and Serbia.
Not content with cluster bombs Clark went on - as Spanish NATO pilots who flew in the Kosovo campaign have testified, to allow the use of depleted uranium and napalm - just as Bush did in Iraq. Now in Kosovo the massacre of Albanian civilians by Serbian paramilitaries has been replaced by murders of Serb civilians by criminal elements of the CIA-backed Kosovo Liberation Army - who are also involved in the heroin trade.
So that's the reality of Clark as Presidential candidate - as careless of civilian lives as Bush, and with one belief one moment and it's opposite the moment he senses a shift in the political winds.
Congressman John Kerry, another Vietnam veteran, also claims to be 'anti-war' despite the fact that he voted for war on Iraq.
Howard Dean, Governor of Vermont, did oppose the Vietnam war and vote against war in Iraq. Will he end the occupation? No chance since "We cannot lose the peace in Iraq." As Dean's mother puts it 'he's not really [a liberal] - I hope they [the voters] don't find that out just yet'. So the occupation of Afghanistan would also continue under Dean since "pulling out early would be a disaster." Afghans will be amazed that the raging many sided war and continued US bombing campaign could be considered anything but disastrous. So, like Clark's, his rhetoric is partly tactical. Use radical rhetoric to harness the tide of opinion in the US that wants to bring the troops home and not extend the war. Then whoever is elected can continue of the same 'war on terror'.
There is at least one potential Democratic Party candidate with significant popular support who offers a genuine alternative to the continuation of the 'war on terror'. Congressman Dennis Kucinich backs the transfer of power and industries in Iraq to the UN and then to the Iraqi people and a gradual withdrawal of US forces, followed by massive reconstruction aid from the US to Iraq. Since 78% of the money spent by the Bush administration in Iraq since May 1st goes to military occupation rather than reconstruction ending the occupation would allow the US to spend less on Iraq while still giving much more to the Iraqi people and actual reconstruction.
The media need to start reporting the records and policies of candidates - not just their rhetoric - and to give equal coverage to candidates like Kucinich. If American voters are left with a choice between Wesley Clark and George W Bush it will be no real choice - only a choice of which rhetoric they want to cover the same murderous 'war on terror'.