I saw her once – in person. A proud mother I thought, she stood calm and tall with such an open and steady face. I am drawn to use the word resolute, but it needs a softer word than that. She listened to speakers and clapped at the end. Eyes, mouth… as if every sense utterly aware of every thing, every nuance, as if there was anything she did, did well, it was to feel, to feel all, and to know all. To have to accept all? What horror. Those eyes that have seen. Knowing what was done to her boy.
“If in doubt… leave it out. That’s what they say. They mean, if in doubt… abandon. Resist. Take your leave. Disengage. Only fight the battles you can win. History only remembers a winner. These are the maxims of success. It’s a money, time, success thing – a ratio of sorts. If there was a policy of abandonment, rather than a policy of struggle, then the electorate would not see the party as struggling. A small success is better than a great failure. There’s nothing immoral about being modest. So let us abandon health, education, welfare, Europe, as we intended abandoning Liverpool.”
There are people here, but not many. An old man sighs a joke as his grandchildren try to raise a kite into the still air. On the grey banks of mud a wiry bird stands still, too tired to prod for worms with its thin beak. Reeds have been blackened by the winter across the silent pools of the marsh. In the nearby woods, fragile, rusting leaves are broken from their branches by the merest gasp of air, their colour dulled in every moment that dusk creeps over the sodden ground. Birches have been felled and forgotten; ferns lifelessly splayed…
The queue of kids had grown, their excitable faces turning into expressions of anguish as they waited. At a signal, each stepped forward and was met by a guardian who would inspect the child’s pockets and remove any money, sweets or small toys. Puzzle or colouring books were not permitted. Other banned items included art, musical and sports equipment, dictionaries, encyclopaedias or other reference materials. The guardians then provided each child with one workbook which had to be completed within a given time-slot. Late finishers and those requesting extra tuition received a punitive fine. ‘Know-it-alls’ were also to be discouraged.
Pat turned the key in the gloom and the old cupboard door opened. Shining a light, he gasped. Inside, boxes were piled high. A year calendar hung on the back of the door with days circled. Files were stacked and labelled meticulously. Civil Partnerships and Church, ‘Trouble’ Families, Euroscepticism and the Public, Standards and Sleaze: the topics ranged widely. The old cupboard was much deeper than Pat had expected – or hoped – and there was something strange about it too. The cardboard files were crisply rigid, the boxes bright and unsagged. Where was the dust? The calendar was from this year.
Some of us came from the factories, sons and daughters of coal miners and steel workers. Others were the children of doctors and professors. We were brothers, sisters, neices and nephews, friends, colleagues and lovers. You saw us only through what we did; the ways in which we toiled. We created glories, memories, happiness, and you took it all to the bank. Cash in hand you led us to nightclubs, bought us drinks and fast cars. We hatched plans and got drunk, occasionally made the news. And now we are gone and the obituaries written. You smile, averting your eyes.
xx saw xx xx xxx xxxxxxxx. x thought xx xxx xxxxx xx xx x xxx crash xx cancer. xxx xxxxxx news xxx xxx xxxx harrowing. xxxxxx? Oh xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx xxxx another xxx? xxxx xxx xxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxxxxxx. xxxxx xxx all xx us, xxx I xxxx. xx xxxxx xxxx shared xxx xxxx xxxxxx. x xxxxx xxxxxxx xxx. xx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxx years ahead xxx. Why xxxxx xxx speak? x xxxxx xxxx listened. xx loved you xx xxxx. XXXX. xxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxx xxxxxxxx. xxx xxxx xx xx xxxx xx this? xxxx xxx xx xxxxxxx? xxxx?
From Siberia and the cold continent they arrive, to make home, however temporary. To eat. To survive. The Great Northern Diver. The Arctic Skua. Waxwing and Redwing. Snow Bunting. Short-eared Owl. Guillemot. Brent Geese in their tens of thousands, huddled in the cold mud of the grey estuaries, arcing over forlorn skies. Oystercatchers from Norway, stabbing the clay with flaming bills; Curlew, somewhere, it is rumoured. The great migrations of the world. While humans forge papers, dignity trafficked and stripped, never to be accepted, caged in a caravan, paying with their lives to survive and eat the carrion carcass freedom.
It came to me in a dream – woke me from my sleep – a unifying image, an idea that could take the insurgencies and economics, deaths and party politics, hopes for the future and legacies of the past, the festivals and hangovers, culture high and low, the academics and judges, phone hackers and strikers, pensioners and medics, the bankers and IT gurus, the heat of North Africa, heat of the Middle East, the singular sweltering heat of one day in a British summer, and wrap it up in a word, a phrase, a vision. It was a vision of a deluge.
The young girl ran out of the hotel in tears. Her family thought it was a good job, prestigious. She earned little, like all the immigrant workers, and hoped for tips she could split between the family fund and a Friday night out. Chambermaids were suspended from work all the time, said the cleansing manager. The girl’s case was no different except in one respect. High spirits and regret were the words used. And the old man watched and dictated terms to his lawyers. He had developed a twitch, rubbed his eyes. That cow. Who was she to make accusations?