MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.10: J.G. Ballard – ‘The Largest Theme Park in the World’ (1989)

Photo (c) Fay Goodwin, The British Library Board

Welcome to the last episode of series 1 of May’s Miniatures. If you’ve enjoyed this series at all, please get in touch and suggest other stories or writers you’d like featured in a possible, if not probable, future series! Feel free to add comments on the posts that are on the May’s Britain blog.

Now, this final selection is a short story from one of my favourite writers. You don’t have to be Will to self-diagnose as a Ballardian. I love his work as it is sardonic, strange and taps into undercurrents of our human consciousness that most writers shy away from. Ballard’s work is like a literary equivalent to Max Ernst’s surrealist paintings but with an utterly matter of fact tone to its weirdness. You can’t help but hear his words resounding inside your head as if delivered by a BBC announcer from the Sixties, but who has unknowingly ingested some weird substance – and we’re not talking bleach!

He is not alarmed or moralistic about modernism, about the modern life of cars, motorways and consumerism, but nor is he Panglossian about it. He perceives troubling currents and subtly under plays them. This story is from later era Ballard. He was in his fourth decade as a writer, and wrote this soon after Margaret Thatcher’s pivotal Bruges Speech of 19 September 1988 which was critical in how the UK Conservative Party changed from being a pragmatically pro-European capitalist party to one torn between this and proto-Brexiting euroscepticism. This was published on 7 July 1989 in the Guardian newspaper, accompanied by a Steve Bell cartoon. This was four months before the restrictions between East Germany and West Germany were lifted, and the Berlin Wall took on new historical meaning. This story is incredibly prescient not just of events since 2016, but seems to parallel… In some ways… the, yes, cliché-alert…! strange times we are living in RIGHT NOW…!

Broadcast here on YouTube on Tuesday 11 August 2020:

This story brilliantly depicts cross-European middle class rebellion of leisure with a distinctive English iteration with seemingly divergent tendencies – green, feminist, sporty, Thatcherite. It observes the undercurrent beneath our cultural observance of the Protestant Work Ethic, which could apply on a much wider cross-class basis, given how beloved our holidays in Spain, Italy and Greece are to us.

More detailed thoughts to follow subsequently.

Brexit Britain: Day #993

Thursday 14 March 2019

               Question Time, BBC1, 14/03/2019

Day 993 in the British Brexit house! Lots of shouting, a pair of mad dogs in the Question Time audience having a barney, more yakking on about ‘sovereignty’ than about sharing or saving the planet. Less evidence of thinking or, even, research going on from the ‘researchers’ (ERG). Less and less evidence that even Brexiters can agree on what they want: Gove is for being a “vassal state” of the EU that controls immigration, Johnson is for an even deeper isolation which threatens the UK itself.

I cast Channel 4’s Dispatches on ‘The Brexit Millionaires’ via the laptop, onto the telly. It got me wondering just what the Leave voters in places like Sunderland make of the profiteering leading figures on their side… For example, Jacob Rees-Mogg (who has made an estimated £7m since the Brexit vote) and Crispin Odey (who made £220m). Also, the patriotic Mogg man’s firm has invested not in the UK, or even Somerset, but in China and Russia. You “get your country back”, but instead empower a new super-rich elite just as deeply embroiled in global capitalism; but who aim to gain from the economic recession of No Deal and avoid tougher new EU rules on Tax Avoidance that are due to come into effect shortly. Jacob has taken his lead from his father, former BBC Governor and Times editor William, who advocated a game-playing approach to “disaster capitalism” (see Andy Beckett’s article here).

To widen the picture… Observe: Farage, live on the BBC yesterday, claiming he would try and sabotage an extension to Article 50 through his connections in Italy. Apprehend: our favourite person with a “de Pfeffel” middle name trivialising child abuse, and proving unable to see the irony concerning a certain colossal amount of public money poured in the Thames over a farcical bridge project in a certain mayoral tenure. These really are tawdry, entirely self-interested people who simply cannot be trusted with power. They are not cavaliers at all, or Brexiteers – as there is no unity behind a specific cause.

See: Liam Fox, who has “rolled over” trade deals with around 9 out of 69 countries we currently benefit from via our EU membership. If so, it will take us until 2033 before he is finished! And my rough calculation doesn’t take into account that the hardest deals – i.e. with bigger world powers – are yet to do. Move to a different part of the superstructure: the media! Gather: Julia Hartley-Brewer, who constantly harks back to the supposed folk wisdom of one 2016 vote and who refuses to stare 2019 reality in the face.

To paraphrase both The Doctor and Special Agent Dale Cooper: “WHAT YEAR IS THIS?”

It comes to something when Hammond and even Gove are made to seem as beacons of probity, in comparison. Architects of much austerity are able to assume a mantle of “reasonableness” due to the nature of their avaricious opponents on the “Brexit Right”, who have notably walked away from responsibility. Seems we could now be sucked into another, debased, poisonous referendum (though, admittedly, it would be better if a choice between the Deal and Remain, as thus less abstract and more concrete; no scope to allow people to imagine their many Brexit panaceas).

The lie of a Hard Brexit posits exchanging EU membership with a say, for pipe dreams of the Commonwealth, with probably less say. The Commonwealth is far less populous than the EU, has no political organisation behind it and which we were proportionately trading much less with by the 1960s anyway. Imports from the commonwealth dipped from 38% of our total imports in 1948 to 20% in 1972; over the same period, exports fell from 38% to 20.5% Brexiters elide the likely necessity of the British in a ‘No Deal’ situation having to beg ‘charity’ from the trustworthy, outwards-looking Groper in Chief of the USA… The latest disgrace is that these pipe dreams seem to be fusing with Troubles nostalgia, see Johnny Mercer MP’s comments on an ex-British soldier being tried for alleged crimes during Bloody Sunday in 1972: “one soldier too many”, implying none should ever be legally held to account.

It really does seem pointless to go ahead with Brexit. Democracy is a changing process, not a faith with landmarks set in stone. However, considering current political economy and how the cards are stacked, a Norway option would be the most sensible and is a genuine compromise. I’m unsure we actually deserve it though. It’s hard to maintain enthusiasm in one’s country when so often the level of debate (at least online) is: “Brexshit”, “Remoaner”, “we won, you lost, get over it!” and our favourite, currently, “Why don’t we just leave?!”

Now, that delight, a second referendum. A 5-page questionnaire with ranked options and attached supplementary reading matter would be apter for this issue than an insultingly simple binary. If we do get the likelier, self-harm avoiding outcome of a Deal versus Remain, the ERG will try to claim betrayal. With some gall, considering the utter lack of ideas and plans they have had – and their selective blindness to the United Kingdom’s constituent nations, Northern Ireland and Scotland. These ‘researchers” incompetence has led to a scenario whereby we have seen IRA mail bombs to London and Glasgow, in 2019.

If we have to have another referendum (not generally a good way of doing things; imagine if we’d taken this approach in the 1960s to abortion, capital punishment and the decriminalisation of homosexuality?), then instead of Osborne, Cameron, Mandelson, what about getting Caroline Lucas, Patrick Stewart and Neville Southall to front it? The decent MP, the captain and the keeper! With some more adept political operators from the left and centre running the campaign than, gulp, the mighty Will Straw.

Much national humiliation – and worse, danger to security and life – might have been avoided had the Tory government (and Labour too) backed the SNP’s late 2016 plan: for Brexit, but with single market and customs union membership. But maybe a bit of humiliation is due, given so many politicians and voters still have an inflated idea of our world status. No one has learned the lessons from Eden, Blair or indeed remembered why we asked to join so many times in the first place.

Last night was what seemed like Part 13,377 of an absurdist morality play-turned-soap opera, with John Bercow out-Blesseding Brian Blessed (or is that Henry Irving?) and a “HOUSE OF FOOLS” (Daily Mail front page) only narrowing rejecting a seismic, UK threatening historical change. A government whipping against its own motion, which had been given ballast by Hammond and Gove’s dire forecasts for the future. A Gove now happy to assume the “expert” mantle, perhaps not appreciating the lessons of the old ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ fable. Government ministers abstaining on a matter of vital national importance. Historically, this will likely rival the Suez Crisis; we can only hope that it will involve less needless loss of life.