"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, August 15, 2011

Restless England

Many fellow bloggers and all media outlets on both sides of the Atlanta have covered the rioting in London boroughs and other parts of England. The causes of the unrest have been speculated about endlessly, the reponses debated in every forum.

I've been busy, and busy-ness is comfort. It's also kept me from commenting on these developments in a country that formed me to a great extent and where I return at least once a year. I intend to be there again before the year is out, to see friends and explore family connections.

Historical bloggers are running down the list of English public unrest down the centuries. Americans who haven't set foot in the country for a decade or more are shocked and alarmed. Those familiar with the places wrecked, looted, torched, are outraged.

It's a very small nation crammed with many many people, natives and people from every other land on earth. There is a wide disparity between the classes, and more class distinctions--among immigrants and Britons--than is conceiveable to Americans. It's a potent mix.

I mourn, I rage, I go through all the stages. But I'm not in denial. These eruptions occur--in every generation, under every government. Riots broke out when I was there 8 months ago, the drone of helicopters was omnipresent. Though I hope not, I won't be surprised if it happens next there. It's terrible to see...but to me, based upon my experience, not entirely incomprehensible.

I've seen desperation explode into flames.

Some commentators call it the desperation of the underclass. Some call meanness and yobbishness of modern youth. If only identifying the source of the violence were a means of curing it....

One of the most beautiful and saddest songs Mark Knopfler ever composed describes impotent despair. For me, it sums up how what we think of as social and technological progress is nothing of the kind.

A b&w video of the song performed at RAH. I saw it performed in Montreal last year.

And the lyrics:

A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a sack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
Made a home in the wilderness
Built a cabin and a winter store
And he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
The other travelers came walking down the track
And they never went further, no, they never went back
Then came the churches then came the schools
Then came the lawyers then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their load
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road

Then came the mines and then came the ore
Then there was the hard times then there was a war
Telegraph sang a song about the world outside
Telegraph road got so deep and so wide
Like a rolling river ...

And my radio says tonight it's gonna freeze
People driving home from the factories
Six lanes of traffic
Three lanes moving slow ...

I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
Yes and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed
And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
All the way down the telegraph road

I'd sooner forget but I remember those nights
Yeah, life was just a bet on a race between the lights
You had your head on my shoulder you had your hand in my hair
Now you act a little colder like you don't seem to care ...
Well just believe in me baby and I'll take you away
From out of this darkness and into the day
From these rivers of headlights these rivers of rain
From the anger that lives on the streets with these names
'cos I've run every red light on memory lane
I've seen desperation explode into flames
And I don't want to see it again ...

From all of these signs saying 'sorry but we're closed'
All the way down the telegraph road

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