No Cure for Shell Shock – Out now! (Sticky)

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Well it’s taken a while but my new Prose/Poetry collection No Cure for Shell Shock is officially out! You can buy it online from Amazon in either digital or paperback formats, or if you’re a bit more old school you can order it through your local bookshop of choice. And given the excellent cover design by the very talented Kim Norton I’d recommend going for the physical copy, which is well worth it.

I’d also like to ask that, if you enjoy the collection, you make sure to add your review on Amazon and recommend it to your friends/family/neighbours/strangers/farmyard animals/deities of choice. The only way this works is if you, the reader, make it because for all I can write getting my work into the great big world is still one hell of a challenge.

Anyway, I sincerely hope you’ll have a look and, even better, enjoy it!

No Cure for Shell Shock is intended as the antithesis to the war story. Each part of this collection of poetry and short pieces was designed to search for those lost, silent moments which shape the human experience of conflict but which are left unmarked and uncommented on in the aftermath.

Anti-war by intent the focus throughout is on the human, attempting to find the self that endures beyond comprehension and judgement.

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Immigration Police

UKBA

I’ve had a few friends over the years who’ve fallen prey to the UK Border Agency. I’ve seen them take people away for good and I’ve seen people successfully appeal, I’ve known people who’ve spent years evading them too. It’s always an unequal struggle though. And it’s seldom a question of immigration policy or the relative benefits or failings of it. They, like most figures of authority, act to project their own power as much, if not more, than anything else. The case with Byron Burgers the other day is one example of that, but so are their fishing trips to certain areas or their check points at train stations and transport hubs.

Exercises like that do nothing to limit the flow of people into this country, or to mitigate the factors that bring them here, or open legal avenues for them to come, or hinder those who profit off of their transportation and frequent exploitation. All they do is instill fear in normal people whose status may be uncertain and project a false image of strength and control from the government and its agencies. Which is nice for headlines, if you’re playing to a certain audience, but worthless as far as effecting any real change goes. What does happen though is that it takes those lacking security and makes their lives harder, it makes normal people living normal lives and working normal jobs have to worry on a daily basis about where they go and what they do. An easy example of authorities punching down rather than trying to face the root issues and causes.

There’s no point in trying to demonise those who work for UKBA, no doubt many of them are just doing a job themselves, or believe that what they’re doing is good. But as with any organisation granted power by the state the personal matters far less than the institutional and the results matter far more than the intent. Which in this case makes it hard not to resent them when they bowl up on another speculative hunt for ‘illegal’ human beings.

It spreads beyond the victims too, that resentment and paranoia. Knowing that there are groups of people setting out to grab your friends, co-workers and even strangers you pass on the street is always going to carry a weight on the way you think about the world. Presumably it gives a sense of justice and security to some out there, although I can’t speculate on who or where, but certainly in London, for me, it does the opposite.

Immigration is a big issue these days, subject to endless debate on all levels and that’s a different matter for a different day. The behavior and approach of the authorities though, the actions they take on a day to day level, that’s something easier to judge. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t help and it makes life harder, more suspicious and poorer for all of us. All thoughts to bear in mind when the next ‘tough’ headline on immigration crops up, or when you next go to get a train and see them plucking people from a crowd.

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Innocent Crime

UK Border Police Raid

It was too late to do a u-turn. The officer’s eyes were already fixed on her, indifferently weighing her guilt – or just checking her out – it was hard to tell the innocuous from the threatening when they were in uniform. Either way she’d have to face it out, force her legs to keep moving forward with the steady ease they’d had before she’d turned the corner into the station and run into the wall of authority. Hard to do when her knees were mutineers, almost collapsing on themselves as they battled to turn away and run.

She tried not to look at him as she approached, although her eyes strained to read his expression. Was he bored? Just there because he’d been told to be and happy to idly wave the crowd through? Or was he measuring her, judging her and the rest of them – eager to catch someone out and feel his duty was done? Which one would be better for her? A bored man could still stop her, a keen one could still judge her as irrelevant. She glanced at him, trying to read everything in an instant and failing.

It only took seconds and she was there, within a couple of feet of him, a few seconds that felt long enough to tear her down but far too short for her to ready herself. Would he stop her? Should she stop before he asked? Or would that be an admission of guilt that wasn’t even asked for? The other commuters were seemingly oblivious as they drifted through the strung out line of officers at the entrance, all innocent perhaps, or just better at looking it. While she could feel herself glowing red, steps uneven as he kept his eyes on her.

Within arms reach now. Any second and she’d be finished, a hand would grab her, then the questions and then stolen away to… He nodded, his eyes meeting hers, still hard and blank, but then she was through. No looking back, no hesitation, again she had to force her body not to slump in relief or turn to cast a glance at the fate she’d just escaped. She was part of the crowd again now, she needed to be as indifferent to the check point as the rest of them were, just another face among many, another commuter walking away from the day and returning to normality.

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Byron Burgers & Immigration

Byron Burgers Dodgy Immigration Bastards

Byron burgers gets dozens of its own employees deported.
On the 4th of July, workers across 15 Byron restaurants were called in for a training at 9.30. 5 minutes after start, 2 immigration enforcement officers for the Home Office arrived, carrying lists of names and photos. They started calling people into a room one by one.
A manager in Byron unashamedly explained ‘We know what’s going on here. We prepared this.’

Dozens of workers were arrested, and deported that same name. Most of them were Latin American.

Here’s what Byron said when contacted by El Iberico:

“Byron confirms that several of our London restaurants were visited by representatives of the Interior Ministry earlier this week . The Interior Ministry recognizes that Byron, as an employer, meets the requirements of immigration law in their procedure for hiring workers. In Byron we are proud of the diversity in the staff of our restaurants built around people of all backgrounds. We have a long and close collaboration with the Ministry of Interior , to cooperate fully with them throughout the course of the investigations currently carried out and that will be in the future. “

A quick search on the internet tells me that no other media outlet is talking about that. Let’s change that.

The above is one of the few write ups I could find of a recent immigration bust on Byron Burgers. There’s a Spanish language report over at El Iberico too. I know this is a bit out of the usual and I’m not planning to make too much of a habit of posting random news items but this seems to have been ignored in most places so I figured I’d throw it out there.

Why does it matter? Because in working with a business that illegally employed undocumented workers the Immigration authorities have thrown the weight of guilt directly onto workers. It tells business that they can get away with breaking immigration law as long as they’re willing to throw up a few scapegoats if they get caught out. And it tells workers that their bosses are willing and now able to barter them away to avoid any repercussions they should be facing. It does nothing to stop dodgy practices, but it does make those workers even more easily exploitable. At the same time it gives politicians and the authorities an easy way to look ‘tough’ on illegal immigration without undermining the cheap labour market that their peers in business increasingly rely on.

It’s an example which extends beyond employment too – landlords for example have been known to use the threat of deportation to coerce or force poor conditions on tenants. Again, shifting all responsibility to the individuals who’re just living their lives while removing all responsibility from those profiting from it.

Sadly there’s no doubt going to be more stuff like this coming out as Theresa May looks for stories to re-enforce her ‘tough’ position on immigration.

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Get Busy Winning or Get Busy Moaning

Owen Smith vs Jeremy Corbyn

It’s a dramatic experience supporting Jeremy Corbyn. One day you’re a Stalinist thug, the next a near-fascist misogynist, the next a naive idealist, then you’re backing an ineffectual old man, or a sinister dictator, or a street fighting gangster – every day is a lucky dip of contradictory images. Sure, let this run long enough and there’ll be stories leaking out about Corbyn supporters being the secret descendants of an ancient alien race. Here to purge the Earth in advance of an invasion by our own species of giant Revolutionary Socialist ants – but I’m sure they won’t figure that one out for a while yet.

Momentum's re-enactment society does 'The Storming of the Winter Palace'
Momentum’s re-enactment society does ‘The Storming of the Winter Palace’

There is one consistent theme though, one axiomatic truth that those supporting the coup seem to cling to like a life boat on the Titanic they’ve created for themselves – even if their words contradict their belief. It’s that we don’t want to win. We don’t know how to win, we wouldn’t know what winning looked like if it kicked us up the arse whilst singing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. Granted, they acknowledge, we do want to terrify, brutalise, intimidate and text them into submission in our blind fervor to keep Corbyn as leader – but we don’t really want to win do we? Not properly, not really, not like they do. We don’t want to win over The Sun, or win over pro-austerity Conservatives, or win friends in the House of Commons bars and if you don’t want those sort of victories then you may as well just give up now.

As media lines go it’s a slightly confused one, as they try to make their opposition seem at once both ruthlessly opportunistic, Machiavellian and nearly nihilistically defeatist in the face of a challenge. It’s understandable though, I think. For a lot of those on the Labour Right (Progress, Maquis, Continuity, Provisional Labour, Blairites – whatever you want to call them) ‘winning’ is a very small thing. It’s the outcome of a closed door competition, where the only valid measures of victory are rarefied and defined by a sealed circle within the political class. ‘Winning’ is to wrestle power away from the honorable member opposite even if you do nothing more or less with it than they do. It makes sense, in a certain light, because it’s a system of victories which radiates from a monopolised source of power – everyone who participates knows the rules, knows the tactics and knows the firm limitations of the outcomes. If you’re a participant why would you ever contemplate bigger goals? It’s a world of competition more than big enough to consume your attentions after all and if you’re in it there’s nothing immoral about it, you can play the game with full certainty that you’re the good guy and as long as you stick with the players you’ll never hear otherwise.

The problem that way of thinking faces, at the moment, is that there’s been a huge influx of attention, energy and desire from a whole load of people who’ve never been part of that closed world and who never will be. It’s like a strangely inverted form of gentrification – those in parliament and around the political class are seeing their comfortable little dramas and conflicts being overwhelmed by a huge influx of outsiders who want to knock it all down and open up a string of Socialist coffee shops and artisan Workers’ cake shops. It’s a new population who have scaled up the entire notion of ‘winning’ from a parochial, insular affair into something far bigger and – as far as I’m concerned – far more important concept.

The established rules of recent decades don’t mean much to these new neighbours. They don’t want to compromise on NHS privatisation, they don’t want to compromise on attacks on social services or benefits – they don’t want to ‘get along’ with the pro-austerity lot next door. And you can see why that would be disconcerting if you’ve been sitting near to the source of power long enough to feel comfortably at home with those sort of compromises.

A normal man who drinks normally from a normal mug, just like you.
A normal man who drinks normally from a normal mug, just like you.

We’ve had their reaction now, after a false start or two. It’s a refusal to pay attention, more or less. It’s Owen Smith. Without a trace of awareness their Great Hope comes in the form of more of the same, albeit with added protestations of being ‘Left Wing’, lip service to a new presence in the political world which can’t be convincing even to those putting him forward. He can win though, that’s the line, maybe they even believe it, narrow as their definition of victory is. As I said though, it’s a small, mediocre notion of victory, one that challenges and gains nothing beyond a warm glow of satisfaction in a small quarter. But it is one which Smith is a perfect model for. A former Pfizer lobbyist, open to privatisation within the NHS, eager to maintain the rules of political movement within the status quo, open to reciting the mantras of a Socialist party without ever needing to act on or fight for them. He’s a reflection of the halcyon days the Labour Right long for, the days of Blair, the days of management where the community of power was small and all too often unnoticed by too many of us. He represents politics as they feel it should be, sensible and codified in a way they can understand and control.

Unfortunately he won’t win. He won’t win in the Party and he wouldn’t win with the general electorate. The times have changed, people have remembered that they should, in theory, have some say in the political landscape of this country. Brexit was just the tip of that particular iceberg and it’s not going to melt away any time soon. People no longer care about the Parliamentary traditions of closed door conflict, they want to know that winning actually means something, they want to know that things can actually get better for people, that they can actually bring about positive change and resist the negative – not just play through the motions of success as if it ended at the boundaries of Westminster. They even, shock of shocks, want to see politics take place outside of the halls of power – they want to see opposition, and government, manifested in the daily struggles of life, drawing power down and out to where they can see, feel and use it to protect and improve their own lives.

So they’re going to fight. They’re going to fight until they do win because within Labour, within the electorate and within the political world as a whole people are realising what victory should be – and they’re wondering why the politicians they have are so reluctant to try to attain it.

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