A Day out in Canterbury

A teacher reported this week that she noticed a child pretending to eat from an empty lunch box. A 10 year old boy in Ukraine, wearing a green hoodie, is floored by a piece of a cluster bomb hitting him in the head. A young woman in Iran is beaten to death by the morality police. Yet another teenager in Palestine has their life taken from them by the so-called Israeli ‘Defence’ Force. Teenagers, children, they seem to terrify the likes of Putin, Truss, Trump, Mohammed bin Salmon and the rest of the neo-liberal elite.

They have their advocates and defenders. Rupert Murdoch, Frank Furedi, Paul D’Acre. They claim to be defenders of certain values, pretend-victims, oppressed by the great immiseration of their own imaginations. It is not so much a world turned upside down as a world smashed into pieces and reassembled so that it doesn’t touch the sensitive souls of those that rule.

Oppression is a strange phenomena. It cannot be weighed or measured. It creates a police force in the head, a mental truncheon which is always battering the inside of the skull. What can and cannot be said and done. If the internal police force is not enough a real, physical one can apply a real truncheon to the exterior of the skull.

Anyone who works feels some sort of oppression. Most work is based on coercive social relationships. Fail to work, fail to have a home, fail, just fail. The oppression is not spelled out and is not mentioned in staff hand books or contracts of employment. But it sticks the particles of the air together in a cloying glue which traps the soul like how the thick mud of a river bank traps the shoe. It is possible to become so immersed in this that it is forgotten what the opposite is. That the antithesis of oppression might be liberation, emancipation. So immersed in oppression that emancipation is not even considered. What might emancipation be?

A flicker of light of such short duration that the initial question is, did that really happen? It’s like watching the beginnings of a thunder storm across the sea to the distant dark, brooding horizon. A flash out at sea, the dark clouds move and for a moment or two the sun cuts through, and then is gone again. But in the intense darkness of the sky something is happening. It is electric, it begins to be experienced as a multi-sensory event. The whole body feels it. The mind becomes intense and alive, spears and arrows of ideas shoot out. It’s not yet apparent, but they are beginning to land somewhere, it is an interesting place. We cannot see that place through the night and fog but we know we want to go there.

I went to an Enough is Enough public meeting in Canterbury. There was about 150 people there. It had an atmosphere of being an event. There were eight speakers. This may seem a lot but they were all interesting and they were limited to five minutes each. There was a big mix of ideas. Left wing trade union stuff, Labour Party infighting, people calling for a general strike, calls to join trade unions, insights into the disputes that the RMT and CWU are involved in.

There were impassioned speeches; in defence of the most vulnerable sections of society, of the rights of refugees, of real struggles and what’s going on at ground level. I didn’t agree with each and every point. I hope I never go to such a meeting. It’s not about everyone agreeing with everything it’s about listening to each other and finding common points of contact and learning to build solidarity. Everyone was basically on the same side. Why poke a stick and demand confessions about deviations from an imaginary line? The meeting finished with a real energy.

I got to Canterbury early. There are no trains because of the strikes. I went on the bus. I like the bus journey to Canterbury. The bus goes out into the countryside and if you sit upstairs you get lovely views of the Downs and then in the distance, Ramsgate, the sea. It was pleasant to walk through the town and then to the market. I bought bread, potatoes and apples. And then, with some time before the meeting was due to start I visited the cathedral.

Most of the scaffolding in the interior has been taken down. There were few people there. A bright sunlit day, sunlight beaming in through the windows. The gothic architecture could be properly appreciated. I asked one of the guides about the ceiling of the central tower. ‘Built in the early 1500s’ he told me. We both looked up.

‘The builders then went on to build the ceiling of Christ Church Cambridge. This is really the last of the gothic. After this, Henry VIII and the gothic ends. This of course was a Catholic cathedral up until that point. A lot of the Catholic tombs and so on were removed during the Reformation’.

We discussed Chartres and the differences with Canterbury. We both agreed that while Chartres had more 13th century glass extant, Canterbury probably had a better overall interior. Chartres has been a bit too messed around inside, particularly that rood screen of 1514. That doesn’t fit. Nor does the baroque statue of the Assumption. Canterbury has its blisters (as Pugin described the memorials of the 18th century) but it has been saved from too much baroque interference.

There is a whole sub-text of medieval graffiti on the walls of the cathedral. How I longed to take a hammer to some of those 18th century monuments to see what lies hid beneath. Have I become an iconoclast? Perhaps they could be gently removed and put in a museum or something. Or something.

The bus was quieter on the way home. The countryside looked so lovely. The green velvet grass across the curves and sensuality of the Downs. Trees shaking their boughs and slowly changing their leaves from green to gold, brown, red and burnt orange. Straw coloured stubble where the wheat has been cut. This is just as serious as it was in the medieval period. No wheat, no barley, no oats means no life. But would a village community allow a child to pretend to eat when that child had no food?

There was a flash of something today. In those moments in the cathedral, in the meeting, in the bus coming home. It was as if it all came together and made a statement. Unwritten, unclaimed, unnoticed perhaps, but just a drop of something not yet fully known fell to earth. Another drop may follow, and then another.

That this is our England and always has been. It has never been their England. It is not the England that the Tories and jingoists imagine. Why, they have all sold their minds and souls not to the devil, but something worse; the sovereign wealth funds of Kuwait and Qatar, the arms requirements of Saudi Arabia, the dirty money conglomerations of the Koch Brothers, the slimy hands of Putin’s allies, the alt-right social media campaigns.

It is our England. We are the holders of the real history, we are the hands that built the treasures, we are the minds that have imagined and created the colours, words and sounds.

It’s a long war this one of class struggle. But always, throughout, we are part of the stream of human productivity and they – the ruling class, the Tories, their stale -breath hangers on – are not. They are essentially parasitic. We are essentially the workers.

We created it, let’s take it over.

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