I started writing this a couple of weeks ago. The days when I could produce a blog every few days are long gone, so I like to give myself more of a run in than I used to.
The weather’s turned spitefully cold again. The mornings are still darkly bleak and the chill as I carry my bike down the garden, to the side gate, bites through my fingers. I want to be deep in my sleep, in my bed, with my wife, but instead, like the rest of the world, I have to go to work. In the evenings, the temptation is to crank the central heating up higher because we can afford to, but instead we layer on another jumper, maybe have a small wood fire and huddle in the lounge. It’s cold, but, I remind myself, not that cold.
Five years ago, I lived without heating in a small studio flat, not half a mile from where we are now. Five years and half a mile, but it is starting to feel like a memory of a film about someone else’s life. How, I ask myself, as my fingers cramp over the keyboard from the cold, did I manage for so long in that flat, through two of the coldest winters seen in a century?
Five years ago, it was so cold inside that it was better to be outside, to be moving. So one 2010 January Saturday, as the snow finally cleared, I took myself down to Kent and walked along the coast line where Saint Augustine landed with plans to convert the heathen English. January just gone, we find ourselves, by coincidence, a little further along the sea, in Faversham. Parts of it look familiar and déjà vu plays tricks on my memory. Things change, things stay the same.
Five years ago, I was angry. Five years ago, I felt like we were on a precipice where one wrong step spelled disaster. A lot can happen in five years.
Five years ago I lived in my chilly flat, surrounded by books and music. I was single, in a low-paid administration job and trying to write a novel about a broken hearted alcoholic rock and roll band in a near future dystopia. A world where all my biggest fears had come to pass: the United Kingdom was a deeply unequal country and everyone only cared about their own troubles. As I walked along the Kent coast that afternoon, the election loomed on the horizon and I was struck by the idea for series of blogs which would form both a commentary on the electoral process, our responsibility within it and a history of the country.
Where we are, how we got here and, perhaps, directions for how to lose an electorate.
It was one of those perfect writing moments when everything hit the right notes (or at least that was how it felt to me). It was easy to convince myself that the zeitgeist poured through every angry, anxious sentence that I hammered out, too late in the evenings. I am not ashamed to say that I got quite an adrenaline rush of putting those together, whether or not anyone was really listening.
While choosing to vote Green myself, I was hopeful of Labour majority and was interested in how the surge in Liberal Democrat popularity would play out. I have to confess, I didn’t envisage a Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition. Certainly not one which would last a full term or one which would see the Lib-Dems so willingly sacrifice their principles, and future, for the briefest sip of power. With the great global crash of 2008 so recent and the effects still rippling out through the world, stability, a Keynesian approach and a utilitarian consideration of society as a whole seemed to be the best course of action and there was no way I trusted the Conservatives to deliver anything other than ideological preservation of the elite.
And I was right.
But, five years is a long time and a lot of things can happen.
There’s a quote often attributed to Churchill that if a young man is not a socialist he has no heart, but if he is not a conservative at forty he has no brain. There is a dispiriting logic to that. At almost thirty-six my days as an idealist seem numbered.
The past five years have been the best of my life. The transformation has been quite remarkable. I find myself writing this a different man: Married, with a mortgage on a three bedroom house, in a well paid position of responsibility. In many ways, one could argue that I ought to be grateful for the political environment of the past five years, as though it were responsible for my happiness.
I am no longer angry, by which I mean I am no longer irrationally furious with everything around me. My wife brings me a sense of inner calm that is hard to articulate, but is certainly good for my soul. The state of our country, however, still frustrates me. The past five years have, largely, played out as expected. The dismantling of society has ploughed ahead, but I have been surprised by two things: the absence of protest and the rise of UKIP. A significant proportion of the country have let themselves be persuaded blaming people is better than facing up to our own inadequacies and selfishness.
Things change. Things stay the same.
As HSBC are exposed for systematic, illegal tax evasion for their clients we seem to have learned nothing about the financial industry’s malpractice. People’s fundamental greed still corrupts.
For the briefest moment it almost seemed that we were going to get rid of Rupert Murdoch; that his stranglehold over so many people’s worldview was going to broken. But, no. Arrests of former employees continue and a scandal that seems to involve half the country’s celebrities, numerous grieving families, the Prime Minister and a police horse seems to swerve right past Murdoch himself, as he persists with his public persona of a confused old man seemingly surprised to find himself in control of a vast, international media web.
At least the aftermath of the last election saw the British National Party scuttle back to their cave, whipped beyond the pale. The party went into the election with its leader promoting his odious views on every available platform and the media at least willing to air his lies so they could be challenged rather than ignored. It confidentially strutted towards polling day only to find itself scurrying away, battered, bruised and not tolerated since. Polls showed strange things. The same systems which suggested possible wins for the BNP suggested a performance from the Lib-Dems not seen since the First World War, all off the back of Nick Clegg’s impressive – and unheralded – performance in the televised debates. In actuality the party ended up with a net loss of one seat, albeit a significant increase in the popular vote. Polls, tch. No matter what they suggest, the only thing that matters is the result the morning after.
When Clegg snuck into bed with Cameron for a post-election fling, it seemed as though it might be a genuine romance. All that flirting in the Downing Street gardens. We could hope that the Tory’s old school right wing brigade might be tempered by Liberal sensibility. Alas, it hasn’t worked out as such. This has just been a dirty shag. An exploitive relationship with the Lib-Dems so short on self-worth they’ve seemed pleased to be exploited, at least people have noticed they’re there.
Less than a month later, still recovering from the churning coincidence laden meta-fictional craziness of my personal life during the run up to the election, I met a girl in a pub, in Marylebone. Over a couple of drinks we dismayed at the Conservatives taking office, saving our greatest vitriol for George Osborne. ‘I’d like to see more of this one,’ I thought. And now I see her every day.
But, perhaps naively, I want those days to be good ones. I want us to live in a fair, tolerant, conscientious society. I have a recurring nightmare that May the 8th, the morning after a marathon televised news schedule, I’ll wearily rise and find myself living in a hell whereby Boris Johnson has staged a dying moment coup d’état to form a coalition with UKIP. Johnson is PM with Farage as his deputy. In such circumstances, I may find myself fleeing these shores: it’s a scenario far worse than the dystopia I was trying to write five years ago, and it’s not as far-fetched.
The past couple of mornings though, as I’ve laboured my bike out of the shed, off for another day’s work, the sun has been nudging its way over the horizon. It’s still cold, but the light gives me a flicker of excitement at the summer coming. Things change, but there are cycles. Things return too.
My wife likes to mock me. She says that when we first met, that I still thought of myself as some sort of punkish rebel against society. As evidence for this, she cites my accommodation and employment status, my tendency to only be seen in a leather jacket or to sneer at other people’s lifestyles. This attitude, she says, is no longer valid given the utterly conventional path my life has taken. I have joined the masses I was trying so hard to annoy and maybe, I wonder, this has been one of the things which has robbed my voice of late. Has my writing suffered not only due to a lack of time and a sense of contentment with the world, but because I know that I’ve betrayed my self-image? The voice of a disaffected not-so-youth is no longer authentic. I have nothing to rebel against, nothing to be angry about.
And then I look at what the last five years have done to our country. I look at the rise of a political party which is subverting notions of Britishness, of community, of decency and turning them into something spiteful. I look at the direction we’re heading in and wonder how quickly I can get off. I see all this around me and the apathy with which we seem to be shuffling into a less fair world and there’s isn’t much else I can do except slick back my hair into a Brando quiff, straddle my (push)bike, dangle a metaphorical cigarette in my oh-so pretty mouth, and look moodily into the monochrome middle distance.
What can I be angry about?