Friday, 28 April 2017

Democracy: Now

The first person I see in the sparsely populated room tells me she recognises me, suggesting quickly that maybe I have one of those recognisable faces.  She is eating salad from a tiffin container.  I recognise her as well, but don’t let on.  I don’t even make my classic “all white people look the same to me” joke.
Then the woman sat next to her mentions to The Convener of the meeting that we could use the local church for subsequent meetings, that it would be “good for the church”.
The first woman snorts and asks pointedly: “Do you go to the happy-clapper church then?”
I wince slightly, as the second woman pauses before answering in the affirmative, without regard to the “happy-clapper” epithet, other than a sideways look, and the hesitation.  I’m not sure if the question was borne of provocative derision, or dismissive ignorance.  It could have been both, I think to myself.  Although, judging by the innocence of the ensuing conversation, I suppose ignorance rather than deliberate disrespect.  (I regard either as good reason to pretend I don’t know her.)

There are not many people at this meeting, but the convener suggests that more will come.  Still, there are far more seats than bums, so we all draw in nearer, in a small circle. 

As we begin, The Convener is proved right, and more people arrive, precipitating the usual shuffling of seats and whispering necessary to accommodate the new arrivals.  By 6.30 there are twenty-six people in the room.  I am no ethnographer, or anthropologist, or sociologist, or fashionista, or cultural expert, but…..all twenty-six are white, and most look middle class.  There is an even split between men and women (once again, judging solely by appearances.) 
Ten of the twenty-six people in the room will make no audible contribution to the meeting.

The Convener introduces the agenda: it is to be discarded immediately!  Dismissed, out-of-hand!  As is the way with this most postpostmodern of times, events have overtaken us.  There are rumours; everybody knows the details of these, but no one is saying.  But everyone knows.  You know?  You know.  You know.

A softly-spoken gentleman with a grey beard talks about communal ownership, with a quiet passion.  He knows that some people do not care for his passion, or his ideas, but he is sticking to his principles.  He tells the meeting that, without wishing to be dramatic (this would not fit his idiom at all, and he is too honest even to try it rhetorically), he sees this as a watershed moment for us; if we allow corporate interests yet more control, yet more space, over the most precious remaining parts of our communal wealth, it will not be wrested back.  Not in this generation…

Someone argues with the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard, calling for pragmatism and realism.  I thought that the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard was being pragmatic and very realistic.  For the record.  But everyone has a different view of realism, don’t they? 
I like Magical Realism, myself, although Social Realism can be politically effective (and entertaining, if well-executed.  (Which it usually isn’t.))

The objector/interlocutor/comrade to/of the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard says we mustn’t let go of our toe-hold.  This seems eminently sensible.  Of course, we got a toe-hold to do something useful with (ie, climb a bit higher), so we also need to keep that in mind.  A toe-hold is merely a means to an end, after all.  The woman in question also points out that We have been recognised as Stakeholders, which in itself constitutes Progress.

When Powerful People pay Us lip service, we can still hold them to account on it.  They know this, and that’s why they are careful about their pandering….it’s easier than ever to hold people to account for the things they say in public.  So, perhaps it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what people say in public, as counter-intuitive as it seems amid the rushing torrent of bullshit We face daily.

The meeting generally agrees that we will be nice to everyone until someone gives us a good reason not to be.  This is nice.  “Working with us will be easier than working against us – hurrah!  In this room, “compromise” is a far cleaner word than in other meeting rooms….(it doesn’t mean We actually should/will compromise, mind you.)

The counterpoint to this is that we quietly, while Being Nice, assume that anyone in a position of Power will be at best wary of Us – and at worst, contemptuous.  We will most likely prove them right, one way or another.  This seems eminently sensible to me.

The Attendees are jovial, after a fashion.  It’s a classic sort of middleclasswhite occasion.
The Local Residents give the meeting a seriousness, an urgency (especially given their impending court date) it might otherwise lack.  Support is offered, and gratefully received by the Representative of The Local Residents, who gets legal advice and offers the perspective no one else present could have.  The Local Residents are not required/expected to be jovial about the situation, but their Representative strikes a very good balance between joining in with some light-hearted comments and elucidating the sobering seriousness of Their situation and Their struggle.

The same people speak several times, but the room lends legitimacy to the discussion – it’s a public forum.  If the same people were having the same discussion in a pub, without audience/mute witnesses, the pressure would be off, the stakes lower, no actions would result.  This is Democracy.
Towards the end of the meeting, there is a vote, and it is unanimous.  This allows the ten people who have not spoken to have their say.  Turns out there is a value to voting, after all. 

The softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard is likeable, and has made some good points.  But he is part of the group.  Even when representing this group outside this room, he is not quite in charge of it.  This is Democracy.  When he speaks for this group, outside this room, he will be expected to represent it honestly, without merely repeating his own views and pretending this is the same thing.  That’s what This is.
Nobody at this meeting could, with any honesty, say that the softly-spoken gentleman with the grey beard is the only hope for this group, or for anyone else.  Equally, no one here would argue he is perfect, or that he is perfectly useless.  He is part of the group.  There are others.  Without the group, he would not be here.  Without him, the group would still be here.  He, like most in this group, has little or nothing to gain from shouting at leaders/members of other groups.

Elections will have their unpredictable impact on this group, as on all others.  The only certainty is that, whatever the results, whatever their impact, this fight, this discussion, these meetings, this real, grassroots work…….the Democracy…will continue.

It has to.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Film Review: I Am Not Your Negro

I first read James Baldwin recently, and it seemed serendipitous that this film was released so soon after.  I’ve seen the famous Oxford Union debate between Baldwin, the subject of this film, and William F. Buckley, an unbearably pompous, verbose and slimy writer and pundit famous in the US in the 1960s.  That debate, about the state of race relations in the USA at the time (1965), was won comfortably by the commanding and erudite Baldwin, who even got a standing ovation from that most august of crowds.  (White liberal privileged students are so predictable, aren’t they?  Doesn’t mean they’re wrong, mark you.) 

This debate is referenced in the film, along with many of Baldwin’s other TV appearances and excerpts from his writing.  The narration (by Samuel L. Jackson, if you’re interested) is taken from Baldwin’s unfinished work, Remember This House, on which the whole film is based.  The book was intended as a history of race relations in America, as told through the lives of Baldwin’s friends and contemporaries, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
It’s a more interesting take than the usual biopic stuff; Baldwin remembers his three friends, all very different characters, all political campaigners, all important figures in the civil rights movement, all assassinated.  Sounds like a great idea for a book to me…sadly, Baldwin died before completing the book, even though he wrote about the three assassinations in other collections.
Baldwin’s assertion that the problem was with America in general echoes the views of the three friends on whom he intended to base his book. 
“The story of the Negro in America is The Story Of America.  And it’s not a pretty story.”
The book also takes in a lot of the cultural criticism for which Baldwin is well known; he writes about realising, while watching Western films as a child, that he was not the hero – and that those who fought against the heroes were the victims of America.  He realised he was not the tall white dude on the horse, bravely shooting natives – and never would be.
There are a few surprises in the film: that not only Marlon Brando, but also Charlton Heston, were at the march on Washington in 1963 – you know, the one where Dr King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in the shadow of the US National monument.  This was also a speech that called the Hip Hop community into existence, but that’s a story for another time…
Bringing the ideas and criticism right up to date, the film shows images from Ferguson, Missouri, and other places where people still struggle to convince others of their humanity.  Baldwin, in railing against White America’s refusal/inability to confront the past, to accept the humanity of the black population, posits the notion – very shrewdly, without really spelling it out (because he knows why) – that white people cannot face this reality because it would force them to confront the real history of the USA: built by wiping out the native population, and built with, and on top of, black bodies.  The reason that race is still such an explosive issue in the 21st century USA is surely, at least partly, caused by this inability, this lack of understanding on the part of the privileged group.  White children do not learn that their ancestors committed genocide and enslaved and traded in humans to give them their privilege. 
(British children do not learn what their ancestors did in Kenya, India, Jamaica and Ireland (and everywhere else) for similar reasons.)
As Bob Dylan would have it:
“And the names of the heroes, I was made to memorise; with guns in their hands, and God on their side.”
Bob Dylan appears in the film, briefly; fifty years before he made an advert for IBM, he sang at the aforementioned March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as well as plenty of others.  What with him continuing to be an interesting artist ever since, we may forget that he wrote some of the most politically insightful songs of the 60s.  While most of his contemporaries were saying Love Is All You Need, or whatever, Dylan was getting to the heart of the issue:
“The south politician preaches to the poor white man:
‘You got more than the blacks, don’t complain –
You’re better than them, you were born with white skin’, they explain
And the negro’s name is used, it is plain,
For the politician’s gain, as he rises to fame,
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train,
But it ain’t him to blame,
He’s only a pawn in their game.”
That’s from Only A Pawn In Their Game, which first introduced me to Medgar Evers.  He was the leader of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and was assassinated in 1963. 
“Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They’re lowering him down, as a king.
But, when the shadowy sun
Sets on the one who fired the gun
You’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.”
James Baldwin was as incisive in print, and on TV, as Dylan was on record.  Given that he was speaking from the personal experience of being on the receiving end of The Official (and Cultural) US unwillingness to recognise his humanity, his views on it are more significant.  (Dylan was good because he was a white man telling white people what was up, which is a different thing.)
“I am not a nigger. I’m a man.  So, if there is a nigger, you had to create it.  And you have to ask yourself why that was necessary…the future of the country depends on it”
The use of contemporary footage is telling: James Baldwin was saying decades ago – like Malcolm X, like Martin Luther King – that the race problem in the US was a human problem, and not something black people needed to get over….so.  Think on.
There are so many quotable quotes in the film; far too many to list here.  Also, I’m not trying to give you edited highlights – just go and see this thing, OK?
Still, I must include this one, because it says it all, as far as is possible in a few words:
“White is a metaphor for power.” 
BOOM.  There it is.
It’s a great loss to literature and culture, and a tragic loss for America, that Baldwin didn’t live long enough to complete his book.  This film goes some way towards addressing that loss.  See it if you have any interest in the contemporary USA, or the state of the world today.

Friday, 14 April 2017

A(nother) Little Argument With Myself

When I was a teenager, the papers were full of anti-immigrant chat.  All the time.  And you couldn’t spread your arms in a pub without touching someone who would gladly furnish those present with uninformed opinion and bigoted rhetoric on a range of subjects.  Whether solicited or un-.  The papers were absolutely full of articles spouting some alliterative shite about Barmy Belgian Bureaucrats Banning Bendy Bananas.

When I was a kid, all that was true and you could add The Loony Left and Political Correctness to the bogeymen of popular culture.  It was all “Loony Left London Council Leaders Ban Black Bin Bags Because They’re Racist”, and that type of bollocks.
So, my question to you is: what’s really changed…?
And my answer to me is: the atmosphere.
For a long time, there’s been some mileage in being a contrarian political commentator, and a political insider.  Now there’s neither.  Mind, dumbasses on the bus or the pub or at work used to annoy me with their inane blather and contortions of the English language – now there’s that AND the entire internet to get annoyed by.
Every time someone shares a video, I want to shake them hard and shout in their face:
NO ONE HAS DESTROYED THE PRESIDENT AND NO AMOUNT OF COMEDY VIDEOS CLAIMING TO HAVE DESTROYED ANYONE ACTUALLY HAVE THAT EFFECT.  I’m glad the video made you feel better about it, but it’s not a solution!  In the case of the President, the popular hope is that he will destroy himself.  (Many of us do that, one way or another…)
I always wrote about “political stuff” when I was younger.  I had so much to express, I could never get the words out quick enough or well enough to satiate the desire to keep going.
Political stuff was easy to talk about, because it didn’t reveal much about myself – it’s personal in an impersonal way (and, I suppose, impersonal in a personal way – never could resist word play).
Still, out of the noise and chaos, a few strands of wisdom shine: t’was ever thus.  That’s not Because The Internet, it’s not because of Now, it’s just The World.  Or, at least, the world of mass communication.  And it’s better in so many ways than the pre-post-modern, pre-mass communication, pre-affordable-mass transit world.  You know of that other, old world, don’t you?  Yeah – affordable for whom, exactly.  But it’s the world where education was basically just organised child abuse, and people had more excuse to be ignorant of other countries/cultures and geopolitics, and outsiders weren’t a problem because most people never met any….mind, it’s also the world of stable communities in Western countries, full employment, strong unions, non-ironic entertainment, artistic innovation and bearable pop music.  So…swings and roundabouts, really.
A time when you had to just turn up (insofar as possible) when you said you would, instead of saying “I’ll text when I’m about…”  Everything seems frayed around the edges these days, don’t you think?
Well, current events may have thrown all of this into sharp relief for some/none/all of us.  Kicked us out of complacency.  Not for me, though.  I have never/always been complacent. 
I always thought the world was pretty fucked-up, but I felt like a lot of people didn’t realise what was going on, or were just comfortable enough, that far-away suffering couldn’t touch them, they didn’t want to make the connection between the two, and understand that they were inextricably linked…
Oh, what a time it was to be alive – but to be a young humanities student, was very heaven/hell.
Well, these days – I say, these days, everyone seems pretty unsatisfied at the state of the world, don’t they?
Careful what you wish for.
Everyone young wants to shake things up, don’t they?  Resignation and cynicism are for old people, or defeated people.  The worst thing television and advertising ever did to us was to encourage our cool cynicism and ironic detachment.  Just another example of something cool and subversive being co-opted by the very things it was made to fight against, I suppose. 
Because every peaceful, progressive avenue for change has been blocked, closed off, discouraged, blunted and co-opted, hasn’t it?  So, maybe no surprise that people are as het up and disillusioned with the status quo as a twenty year-old know-it-all student, is it? 
But there does seem to have been a flip, I suppose, contrary to my earlier suggestion that nothing much has changed, in that rather than buy space to reach an audience, now the audience is the product that advertisers purchase – data, people at which to aim specified advertising.  Disgustingly clever, isn’t it?  But, the thing is, we’re always ahead of them.  Well, someone is – young people are, you know what I mean?  Advertising, public relations, political parties, they’re so desperate to look good that many of us can see right through them.  Especially young people, maybe because they’re so used to bullshit. 
I read Manufacturing Consent, or I was supposed to, when I was at university.  I probably read a chapter from a lecture hand-out, or just enough to be able to quote in an essay.  That and some of the Situationist stuff:  Democracy is staged!  Pure Spectacle!  HUMAN PROGRESS IS NOT A STRAIGHT LINE TO A GOAL!  Jouissez sans entrave!  Great stuff.  Inspirational.
Something we used to say to the fash, when I were a lad – God, listen to me, I sound like my Dad…anyway, we used to say, put it on posters and placards and all that:
All your hate is going nowhere – or nowhere good, at least….
The more things change, the more they stay the same!
If I made up a slogan for kids today, it would be something like
But, y’know, better than that; that was just off-the-top, you know.
Right, more pints – oh, you’re off, are you…?  Alright, no bother, nice talking to you, see you again, yeah?  Take care.  Yep.
Bye then.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Googling One's Own Name

The internet keeps throwing memories at me.  I dug this old review up in the fetid soil of outdated digital text…enjoy.

“I think the reason most people ignore me is that I ignore most people.”

Well, that’s a good start, isn’t it? 

“You know, you’re the good people, who come out and see things, not the ones who sit at home watching people they apparently love on youtube and never leaving the fucking house.”

Simultaneously caustic and generous, arrogant and self-effacing, this was Clayton Blizzard at his acerbic best.

Who hurt you, Clayton?  Who hurt you so much that you can’t trust us?

Having watched the video with the above quote in preparation for a live review, I had assumed Mr Blizzard would be reticent to speak to me after the gig, but I had questions, and I’m a journalist, yeah?  So I steeled myself for some serious social discomfort of the kind usually reserved for distant relatives at Christmas, and approached.

He was actually quite nice – he smiled at me and everything.  Maybe this is an Andy Kauffman-type situation, where the stage persona is confrontational and self-pitying, in opposition to the real person who is, well, quite personable.
Anyway, before all that, he played a set of rather funny songs, some of which managed to be moving as well, particularly the excellent Sleep Tight, introduced simply:  “Yaaayy, it’s Friday night: here’s a jolly song about death.”

It wasn’t a song that dealt with death in a conventional way.  Spoiler alert: the closing line was:  “Sometimes, I could just choke myself with laughter/what a perfect way to go.”

The guitar-playing was intricate, the songs surprisingly complex and the words striking, but the “banter” (if you can call it that – Blizzard does, by the way) remained on the Stewart Lee passive-aggressive side….I later asked Clayton Blizzard if Clayton Blizzard is Clayton Blizzard’s real name.

“His Momma call ‘um Clay? I’mm’a call ‘um Clay!”  he barks, in an American accent.  I’m not at all sure what this means, and the delivery suggests questions on that will be most unwelcome.  Regarding discretion as the better part of valour, your intrepid reporter decided to let that one go.

As I thought this, he launched into an excitable explanation of the reasons why rappers change their names.  (Apparently, it’s to start their own history, as opposed to the history handed to/forced on them by their parents, or the sometimes hostile environment into which they are born.  (In the case of early Hip Hoppers, this would be a creative way of rejecting the names handed down to them from those assigned to slaves.  “As the authors of the gospels knew, naming is power”, Blizzard added.) 

Once again, I got the impression this was a quote from someone/somewhere, but I didn’t know what or where, and decided not to give Blizzard the satisfaction of explaining it.)

Referring to his opening tirade against the youtube generation, he said: “Well, like most jokes, there’s a bit of truth in there, but it’s exaggerated…honestly, I rarely remember things I say on stage between songs, it’s all off-the-cuff.  I’ve had to apologise a few times….”  Again, I wanted to ask for examples, but his tone suggested I’d be better off letting him feel enigmatic.  (It’s amazing what you can learn when you keep your mouth shut, so I gave it a go.) 
This was a reasonably enjoyable encounter, but was also becoming hard work…I’m supposed to make an interviewee think with my searching questions.  I really wasn’t prepared for this, to be honest.

“I just don’t like having to explain things – or even describe them, you know what I mean?” 
Not really. 
“It feels like if the writing is any good, it shouldn’t need explanation.  Even if it’s not, in fact.  And if you don’t get a reference, or there’s an ambiguous line, can you not just make up your own mind what it means?  Art isn’t supposed to spoon-feed us answers, it’s supposed to make us think.”

And yes, readers, Blizzard is pretentious enough to consider what he does Art.  High Art, even, judging by this last outburst.

Some elements of the writing could easily aspire to that ambition, but the performance has much more of a light, comic feel to it; some of the writing, and the musical style, sadly does not match this vaulting ambition.  It’s as if Blizzard is stuck between the two, wanting to entertain but also be an artist.

There’s some tension in the room at some of the banter, and maybe some of the more forthright lyrics, but it feels manufactured at times, like the performer is keeping the audience at arm’s length to avoid drawing them in too close.  If the point is to confuse the boundaries, it works.  But I don’t really know to what effect.

It is certainly entertaining, I’ll give him that.  When Blizzard stalked the room, singing close into the ear of someone seemingly chosen at random, everyone wanted to know what he was saying to that person.  When I asked, he refused to be drawn, again claiming, with a grin “I’m just trying to be enigmatic – is it working?” 
Sort of, I told him.

The review I had planned turned into an interview which turned into a protracted discussion where the interviewee explained how and why he doesn’t like interviews.  It’s probably better than the standard interview guff from every magazine/broadsheet interview, which in every single case goes like this:

I meet Clayton Blizzard in a specific place, and he arrives, looking like a certain kind of person, dressed in clothes, and in a mood experienced periodically by all humans.
None of this is particularly relevant to the discussion we will be having.  It’s just to set the scene.  Which is the same scene for every interview ever.

It’s short on detail and long on feeling, this review, isn’t it?  Impressionistic and unashamedly subjective.  Slightly verbose.  And generally approving without being too complimentary; sarcastic without being too derogatory…

It’s almost like the “Artist” wrote it himself.



Friday, 31 March 2017

A March Saturday

Beware the ides of March (what a strikingly banal (that’s oxymoronic, and you know it is!) phrase to be so often quoted…it just means beware the middle of March.  As if the rest of the year is free from political intrigue and the threat of violence…)
On the bus to London (I’m not calling it a coach – I’m still working class, OK?), we are relaxed, and enjoy a spirited discussion about the difference between 3/4 time and 6/8 time.  Our expert witness settles the argument, but doesn’t quite end it…(Thanks, GrayDog).  Ah, open-ended academic arguments….remember when they seemed important enough to bother with?
I haven’t been on a march for a while.  A long time, come to think of it.  Help us out, Saint Jude…
We’re meeting friends here; they’re on the phone.  “Don’t worry, we’re a middle-aged, middle-class white couple in blue – you can’t miss us.” Ha ha.
I don’t love the EU.  I do hate Brexit and almost everything about it.  Both as a compound noun and a political clusterfuck (how’s that for a compound?)
As usual, I am conflicted, ambiguous, ambivalent. 
What I think about this cannot be summarised in 140 characters, a long facebook post, or a 20-second voxpop interview.  (If I could, it would be something like: “’Brexit’ is a grammatical and political turd; an ugly act of violence perpetrated by an ill-informed, angry public, at the behest of a few dozen extremists who have been granted an unjustifiable level of attention for years, and proved surprisingly adept at using it, seizing their moment with a combination of luck and ruthlessness, some of whom are retrospectively honest about their frequent massive dishonesty.  So, pretty much politics as usual – but leading to an unusual level of unpredictable upheaval which will affect more than the usual victims.  But mostly the usual victims.  But that would be 594 characters. Not including this bit.  Or this bit.  Or this bit.  Or this bit. Or this bit. Or this bit. Etc.)
So fuck off, journalists.  I’m sick of you clamouring around me for an easily-digestible opinion, a poem about the prime minister, or a new album.  Leave me be.
This is not the first demonstration I have been to, but it is the first one I have ever been on time for.  It is also the most middle-class demonstration I have ever been anywhere near; that quinoa will have to drizzle extra virgin oil on itself today.  That’s part of the point of all this: these times are dragging out more than the usual suspects.  Because they are hurting more than just the usual victims….still, unless someone punches a police officer, or gets arrested for pissing on a war memorial (both highly unlikely), it probably won’t be on the news.  But no one gets their news from The News any more anyway, do they?
So, there will be no Black Bloc, no Usual Suspects, no bottles thrown at The Cops.  In fact, there will be so little hostility to or from the Police, it hardly seems like a protest at all….there is a fella selling whistles, though, so…let’s steal all his whistles and throw them down the drain, I suggest.  No takers.
I am used to standing in a crowd and agreeing with no one else in it on 99% of any/everything, so I think I’m prepared for all this, emotionally and intellectually.  (This is the sole benefit of my university education.)
I am also familiar with the knowledge that 52% (or more) of the electorate disagree with me violently about any/everything that matters, and are angry about every/any opinion I express, no matter how reasonably.  (This is the sole benefit of my comprehensive secondary education.)
It’s not that I’m getting old, it’s that I was born old, and I’m growing in to it. 
But this isn’t about me.  (Well, this is, obviously, but the arguments, the important stuff, really isn’t.  Or, at least, not for anyone who isn’t me.  If you get me.)
This gathering will not be ignored, because this number of middle class white people caring about something enough to march through London is still a big deal, politically.  It’s a bitter irony, don’t you think?  It fits the narrative for both sides (people like narrative these days, don’t they?)  The gathering contains a lot of people who, in the popular imagination (the narrative, if you will.  (I’d rather you didn’t.)) have been living in a bubble and don’t understand that lots of their contemporaries are more racist than them.  Which would be true of us, if we’d never been in a pub.  Or a workplace.  Or a school.  Or a taxi.  Or known any white people.  Or been anywhere in public at any time in the last hundred years.  Or ever seen a newspaper. 
(Seriously, if it were possible to live without ever encountering ill-informed prejudice and lingering bigotry, I know lots of people would be inclined to try it.  Some have and will surely be disappointed.  (Would it be different than just hanging around with people who broadly agree with us, like most people tend to?  (Yes, I’ve heard of Facebook – and I know that makes it easier to try it, but…does it really exist anywhere, even online?  Perhaps I am an unusually curious person disinclined to agree with anything/one, or seek to insulate myself from distasteful opinions…..but I don’t think so.)))
I’ve got no flag.  There’s not a flag in the world in which I would drape myself.  Not of a supranational alliance of countries, nor the country in which I was born, nor the one where my parents were born nor the one where my great grandparents were born, nor any I like, any under threat, any currently threatening, any to which I have been to, or to which I have not been.  Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, as Samuel Johnson may or may not have said.  (It doesn’t matter which, in case you’re wondering.)
I’ve got no sign.  There are not many examples of wordplay I would wave around on a placard, and today will see thousands of piss-poor efforts, alongside a few good ones.  If I did have a sign, it would probably feature the phrase “No. Fuck off.” In every language of the EU.  But that would require a level of effort and planning that is just not idiomatic for me here and now…
There’s “Hipsters 4 Justice” – and my favourite (so far) says simply: “Tut.”  Mmmm, that’s good satirical self-awareness. There’s also a man who enters from a side street, carrying a gold crocodile, and joins the march for a while, whether he wants to or not.  That would have been simultaneously hilarious and freakishly disturbing, back in the day…
But by far the best sign of all says: “Boris Johnson was sent by Christ to get the UK out of the EU and fulfil biblical prophecy”.  This seems totally genuine – it’s held by a man resplendent in orange and green, who gets bewilderment and cheers – in equal measure – from passing marchers.
Also, these are part of my legacy of proper protest from years ago.  Others include my general distaste for entry-level protesters coupled with my anger that there aren’t more people here (it’s like living in a tourist town, I expect).
Once again, this is about lots of people who are not politicians or journalists politely asking the political and media classes to be a bit more honest and a bit less harmful to us.  (In the old days, I’d have said, Fuck asking politely, let’s tear shit up.  I never like to agree with the prevailing wind, so at this moment in our political/cultural “development”, I do not say this.)
One of my problems with the “debate” about immigration is that it is dominated by the idea that it is inherently a problem, and mostly a problem of resources.  I overhear someone defending EU citizens in the UK and the “contribution to society” they make/have made.  I understand the argument, but it’s cheap, at best – the person making it is shadow-boxing with an imagined squawking UKIP shoutsman who is complaining that there isn’t enough healthcare or houses to go around, so it must be because there are too many people here, so last in, first out.  The problem with this is that we shouldn’t let the right frame the debate – especially when they’re not even here. 
It’s not really about what contribution people make to society, wherever they’re from; it’s about the right of everyone to live where they want, because no one is illegal and the very best kind of border is no border.  If we accept the idea that people are allowed to live in a country based on their material contribution, why don’t we kick all those who don’t pay tax?  You know, like old people, children and huge corporations.
Also, the fact that all the bullshit people talk about it is referred to as a debate, by anyone with a straight face, is tremendously disappointing.
This being a traditional march-from-one-spot-to-another-through-a-cordon-of-police-to-a-public-square-near-parliament, it ends with loads of speeches made by people whose opinion I could not give less of a shit about.  One of them is the current leader of the Liberal Democrats, and another is a former leader of the Liberal Democrats.  Fifteen years ago, I think I would only have gone to throw things at either person.  People change.  Unless they’re the current or former leader of the Liberal Democrats, in which case they stoically – even obstinately – stay the same. 
Naturally, I agree with some of what I hear, with the important caveats that a) I don’t agree with anyone about anything in any depth, b) there’s always some kind of common ground (humans are complex), and c) however much we agree on certain specific points, I do not see things the way any of these people do.
So, why did I go?  Well, why does anyone protest or complain about anything?  Partly – sometimes mostly, occasionally entirely – to say “No.  Fuck off.”  It’s probably a more considered way to do so than voting for a jump off the white cliffs of Dover.  But I’m all middle class and middle aged, so I would say that.  (Look at the amount of italics in this thing!)  It’s probably because I live in the bubble of The Metropolitan Liberal Elite who run the media and the government and are spoilsports and won’t let people shout racial epithets at footballers or smoke in pubs.  And yet, curiously, rarely, if ever, seem to get the electoral victories which should be a foregone conclusion, given their supposed dominance.  Strange that.
Another reason to go is to live up to my belief that Everything We Do Matters, something I have been telling anyone who will listen and a lot of people who won’t, for a long time, and in many forums.  Nothing in human relations is inevitable. 
“Bit late isn’t it?” is the most frequent, most fatuous, and yet the most cogent criticism of the march.  (Apart from mine, obviously). 
But it misses the point, which is “No.  Fuck off.”
Even if leaving the EU is unavoidable, there is still a lot of very significant stuff yet to be decided – a lot of it is up to all of us, whichever way we voted.  So, probably worth getting it on the news…
Once again, it falls to the governed to civilise the government.  It has been done, it can be done and it is being done.
People who are alive and consuming media in “rich” countries in this era are the most marketed, polled, surveyed and surveilled people ever.  Everything we do is noticed.  Especially if we are white, middle class and middle aged.  (It’s a na├»ve and comforting thought that this can be used against the cynical marketing teams who dream up policy to sell to the rest of us.)  Probably worth using that to say something, to be somewhere, that might count.  If it doesn’t….well, we have a few pints and a chat about it between ourselves, in the pub afterwards, and discuss it with rowdy, friendly, opinionated strangers – and drink pints, and smoke fags, and everything.  Just like working class people do!