Through my life, I have always been somewhere on the radical left end of the political spectrum, with the exception of a small rebellious phase in my early twenties of being a Liberal Democrat. My parents were broadly left-wing, drifting right with age, following the trajectory of the Labour Party, though I strongly credit them for shaping my opinions and my world view.
One of my earliest memories is a ballet lesson. I was four or five, and anybody worth knowing was utterly furious with Thatcher. I stood in a cold community centre in a purple leotard, awkwardly failing at forming second position in a graceful manner. The activity changed; we were to extend our right arm and right leg into points, and artfully tell off an imaginary naughty dog.
Charmlessly, I assumed the pose. The pointing and stamping reminded me of something that my parents did and I had learned.
‘In my house, we say this’ I declared. I enthusiastically performed the pose. ‘MAGGIE MAGGIE MAGGIE! OUT OUT OUT!’ I chanted. My voice echoed through the hall. No megaphone was required.
I didn’t go back to ballet lessons after that.
I remember, vividly, the day Thatcher finally left. I was allowed to stay up late as a treat.
I didn’t like the new man who took over. He was grey and boring, and I didn’t trust his face. He was just as bad as Maggie, I thought. He hated me as much as Maggie hated me.
I knew Maggie hated me because I had to bring milk money into school, even though I didn’t like milk.
I knew John Major hated me because he didn’t want me to learn at school. I marched with my mum and the NUT for education.
The idea of protests captured my imagination. When we moved house, I played with the estate agent’s SOLD sign, pretending it was a placard. It hardly compared to the real thing, with all the whistles and the shouting, but it was better than nothing.
It was around the age of seven that I undertook my first direct action. The aim of the action is lost to the ages, but the process remains clear as day.
I locked myself in the one bathroom in the house, with a pile of books and some biscuits. With full bladders and an unwillingness to unscrew the hinges from the door of the one bathroom of the house, the demands of my occupation were swiftly met.
I discovered my own power that day, so marvellously effective was my simple act.
The year after that, we got a downstairs toilet and I had to occasionally concede to the whims of others.
I took a break from direct action after that, until I was fourteen and my best friend and I decided to protest against being forced to play football in PE by sitting in the goal. We agitated, and the other chubby, unpopular kids joined our improvised blockade.
Seven was a crucial year for me. As well as developing a taste for direct action, I became an atheist and a pacifist.
The atheism happened as I stopped believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Santa, I realised, had my dad’s handwriting and kept my presents in my parents’ room. The Tooth Fairy had my mum’s handwriting and looked a lot like my mum when she strolled into my room and put 20p under the pillow. That, in conjuction with my mum showing me a jar of my baby teeth, led me to the obvious conclusion that neither of these characters actually existed.
It became immediately clear to me that God, too, must be one of those harmless white lies and fairy tales. At least Santa left presents and ate the mince pie we left for him.
It was my love of Fungus the Bogeyman that led in a roundabout way to becoming vehemently anti-war. One day I spied on the bookshelves a graphic novel by the same author. As a bookish child, I fell upon it hungrily.
To parents, here is a tip: never leave a copy of When The Wind Blows within reach of children. It will permanently fuck them up.
From that day on, I slept under my duvet in a vain attempt to keep the inevitable nuclear fallout away from me. I made sure that the curtains were fully drawn so I would not die a slow radioactive death.
We were moments away from nuclear catastrophe, I believed. Why was nobody doing anything about it?
The answer was, of course, that it was 1993 and the Cold War was over. I did not learn we were no longer under perpetual threat of mutually assured destruction until I was about ten.
I still feel uncomfortable if I sleep in a room where the curtains are open a crack.
These experiences, these little slices of life moulded me. Each time, I drew my own conclusions from what was available. It was a love of learning and synthesis that made me myself. I have, of course, adjusted my belief system with age, but I savour developing my own convictions. It is fluid. It started as far back as I remember.
4 thoughts on “An angry childhood”
Hehe – regarding MAD: I turned 16 in 1986, the year we came closer to that mutually assured destruction than we’d been during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and nobody knew, at least specifically. We all knew it could come at any moment though. All my friends knew what they were going to do if the 2 minute warning sounded, & it generally involved frenetic sexual activity outdoors so we’d die in the fireball in someone’s arms.
That sounds like a marvellous idea 😀
The notion that Thatcher was the milk-snatcher was entirely invented by the ever-lovely tabloid press, whom we should never believe.
In fact the policy of curtailing free milk was enforced on her by the treasury and she successfully fought within cabinet to lessen its impact and limit the age-range effected. That, along with saving the Open University in outright opposition to Conservative policy of the time, were really the victories that put her on the path to power.
One could say it was another example of the press blaming ‘evil women’ for societies ills, rather than the main culprits, her male superiors.
It’s a good example though of why we should be as sceptical of ‘news’ stories that reinforce our prejudices as those that challenge them. I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog, it’s one of the best I’ve ever found, and your level of research and insight is a cut above the rest. But I’m highly suspicious of stories of gay people being refused wedding dresses or people being turned away from blood banks for looking gay. They smack far too much of the usual mickey-mouse journalism we all know and distrust when it comes to celebrity gossip, riots, big business etc.
I can’t but help wonder, if had it not been for the blind hatred directed at Thatcher at the time, whether she may not have been quite so vindictive towards the left when she assumed office. Certainly as we can see clear lines from the miners’ disputes under Heath to her later vendetta, her life prior to the daily assaults she endured as a cabinet minister reads far more humanely.
But there we go, that’s how the world turns, nobody wants shades of grey.
A long time ago I once heard that the real reason they stopped school milk was that it contained radioactive iodine and although the government obviously couldn’t admit to this and cause a general panic in the population they also couldn’t continue to give free milk to children knowing that it was slowly irradiating them.