THE CRAZY OIKLET 31
RETIREMENT OF A CLASS WARRIOR
He describes his background as petit-bourgeois and was born, he is proud to say, during the battle of Stalingrad (1942) probably in Birmingham since that’s where most of his troubles began. In 1962 he did a philosophy degree at Bangor but didn’t seem to make much use of it. A bookmark of mine sums it up - PHILOSOPHY MAJOR WILL PONDER FOR FOOD. He has a great affection for the University which, he says, was founded on subscriptions by local slate miners. I didn’t get to ask him about his course – presumably the English Empiricists (are there any Welsh thinkers? Russell lived in North Wales at the end of his life but never went native and JC Powys, who also lived in the area wasn’t even Welsh.) As for careers, one recalls that Wittgenstein sent one of his best pupils to work in a machine shop. Then there’s the case of Barrington-Jones (see Crazy Oik22 p66) who gave up teaching philosophy at Oxford and Princeton to become a plumber because he found the problems of plumbing more interesting.
Following this great tradition he finished up in a factory watching a machine tool. This drove him nuts. I can imagine, having watched a few myself. Shapers and milling machines are the worst. They just go back and to. It’s like air travel – long periods of boredom interspersed with short jags of panic when the tool jams. The lathe is a better bet. Prince Bolkonski in War and Peace had one – and so did Louis XVI. But our class warrior couldn’t stand it and one day when the machine stopped he went with an electrician to the junction box. Inside he found a quite ravishing collection of brightly coloured wires and decided to become an electrician. The enduring memory of this episode in the factory was of the energy, resilience and humour of large gangs of women.
As a self-employed spark he made lots of money and ploughed this loot into a bookshop in Birmingham which he gradually filled with over 25000 books of a radical persuasion. His most cherished accessory was a big picture of Robert Mugabe displayed prominently. The place must have become a meeting point for revolutionaries and odd-balls and it’s quite conceivable the police had it clocked as a source of trouble. His shop was raided and damaged and he himself was banged up after a street riot against fascism. He reports being thrown in an underground cell where he was “beaten and raped”. He was by now in the ETU (a union later destroyed by the CIA) and the Communist Party (also destroyed later by the CIA). Remaining unpersuaded that the CIA had done all this I’m told that I live in a parallel universe. Yes, I thought, it’s called reality. And if there’s no area uncontrolled by the CIA meatgrinder then what about the Snowdon revelations? There are conspiracies but do we really believe that Princess Di was bumped off by Phil the Greek? That 9/11 was carried out by New York Jews? And that the moon landings actually took place on a back lot in Hollywood? I guess he doesn’t either but he’s down at that end of the spectrum.
He revered the president of his CP branch who was a great organiser and orator. President seems an odd title – the main man in my experience was always the secretary. But I don’t doubt his racontes or their horrifying details. He claims to have done two spells in jail – five years and seven years and even been sued for libel, a case which went to the high court in London and in which he had no legal representation. In an aside he mentions wandering this high-establishment warren and coming across a clerk wielding a quill pen. I couldn’t find out exactly what this libel was, but he did publish a radical newspaper in Birmingham.
He was imprisoned after the Birmingham pub bombing of 1974 in which six innocent Irishmen were banged up for years. He refers to this repeatedly as “The Birmingham Five”. He was considered part of the operation but later released. He adds an interesting detail on handcuffs. Normally you are cuffed in circular cuffs with your wrists in front – so you can have a pee. But once he was cruelly cuffed by plod in square cuffs with his hands behind. These bit into his wrists. A particular torture perhaps reserved only for commies. How many people know this?
It was after these terrible incidents that he decided to flee to his old refuge – the Snowdonia National Park – or more specifically a small industrial estate in an old slate quarry overshadowed by a huge slate mountain near Tregarth and not far from the University of Bangor. It’s an idyllic spot. He has many books in Welsh on the shelves and is even taking exams in the language. He opened an envelope while I was there. It was his results. “A pass” he said “But a crap grade”
I didn’t explicitly state my own views – I’ve not come here to argue, just listen. But I guess he has me down as some toffee nosed academic who used to contribute to the Morning Star. Even the name gets in his craw. Changing from the Daily Worker was the start of the rot. Even so, what with his petit-bourgeois origins and university degree I guess my own proletarian credentials far exceed his even though I haven’t been cuffed in square handcuffs. He considers almost the whole staff of that organ to be loathsome piecesashit, traitors to the working class and mindless puppets of the CIA who are running the whole world and will soon institute a fascist dictatorship after the imminent world war three. I mention my old Bookspage editor Bob Leeson (see Oiklet 29) and his brother Phil who taught Marxist economics at Manchester University. Loathsome bastards! The only commie he respects (apart from the president of his Birmingham branch) is Rajani Palme Dutt – that old unreadable dinosaur, Balliol scholar and lifetime editor of Labour Monthly. An extract from Wikipedia may give him some cause for concern since it utters a heresy about one of his other gods JV Stalin
But then again we must remember that Wikipedia is controlled by the CIA and everything in it is a pack of lies. His list of shites is remarkably inclusive. Almost no-one (other than Palme Dutt) escapes condemnation. They include such commie/ radical saints as Harry Pollitt, Willy Gallagher, Jimmy Reid, John Golan, Jack Lindsay, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler (hardly a commie saint after his early enthusiasm) and Eric Hobsbawm.
Bookbinding became a passion after the move and the place is full of great tools of the trade. He did a six year course. He is, by all accounts, a great bookbinder. He does about two a week, mostly for strange religious sects in the area. A section of the stock is designated his own private library and is not for sale. It includes the complete works of JV Stalin which he says is v rare and worth £300. I came across this at Eddy’s a few months ago (see Oiklet 16). I thought I might pick it up as a curiosity. Eddy was asking £25. When I went back it had gone. Another greatly valued edition is five vols of the six vol set of the complete works of Enva Hoxha (the Albanian dictator)…er… not just now thanks. Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia was a set I could relate to, having grown up with it like he did. He’d rebound it lovingly – along with, on another shelf, a run on Punch magazine up to 1925.
Then, the most tantalizing object in the place. A stack of about at least 1000 A4 pages constituting his memoires of a revolutionary (I allude to the great book by Victor Serge who, was no doubt, also a CIA spy). I peel back a sheet lying face down. It’s handwritten. If this had been a typescript, or even better a digital file, I’d’ve been glad to take it away for publication. But there are a few things wrong with that aspiration. One it isn’t a digital file or a typescript and keying in that wodge would be a job for some slave in China (which he wouldn’t like) and two my suggestion for a print-on- demand perfect bound product offends his high standards as a craftsman. Perfect binding is a process which stacks single pages and then applies glue to the spine. Penguins are such things and the early ones often fell apart. I can’t convince him that modern glues make such things almost indestructible. He insists that his work must be in signatures (folded leaves) and stitched. I guess if he lives to be a hundred he may get this book out. From what I’ve heard I’d be in the queue to buy it. The place generally is meticulously organised and I’d guess his memoire would be similarly set up. He’s an entertaining raconteur and has many funny and interesting anecdotes (eg three sparks from the ETU at a loose end in London after a match decide to visit their Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt. They have his address and get into a taxi. They arrive at a huge house in Mayfair. A butler answers the door...har har!)
If you are one of those, like me, who don’t mind being ranted at for a couple of hours I would heartily recommend a visit. I had only a brief squint at the stock but nevertheless walked out with a 1500 page Pléiade of Gide’s novels for a fiver. This’d be 70 euros new and about 50 second hand – so bargains are available. Gide, of course, would be a “loathsome bastard” after his attack on God’s country in Back from the USSR.
I think the chance to meet characters like this was one of the reasons I joined the CP back in 1968. Fanatics driven by an ideal no matter what the cost. In history they’d be Robespierre, St Just, Hébert, Marat. Stalin and Mao might be considered such before they were corrupted by power. Joe thought nothing of liquidating the kulaks or shipping the Crimean Tartars out to Siberia just as Mao thought a few years of starvation would concentrate the minds of his subjects. Twenty million dead? So what? It’s the goal that counts – everybody dies anyway and even if there is a nuclear war which wipes out half the world’s population this would be worth it if universal communism results. Atlee called their English epigones “doctrinaire impossiblists” and I’m reminded of the comedian Alexie Sayle. His parents were both dedicated CP members who used to take little Alexie on hols to Bulgaria in the 60s. They probably had views not too far removed from our class warrior’s. Alexie moved even further left and became a Maoist. Today he recalls this period and adds “Thank God I never got anywhere near the levers of power.”