A couple of months back I wrote about the reasons why I love living in Carlisle. But, like any city, it does have its ugly side and I experienced that a couple of days ago as I was walking back from a charity shop having purchased a DVD of my favourite German film, Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders in 1987, for a whole 20p. It contains music by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and stars the great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who made such an impact in 2004 when he played Adolf Hitler in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s controversial Downfall. Wings of Desire is about an angel who is tired of overseeing human activity and wants to become human himself when he falls in love with a trapeze artist, and is the original version of the awful, overly sentimental, dumbed-down American remake City of Angels.
So, there I was, walking happily along Botchergate in the middle of the afternoon, when I stopped at a junction at a corner of the road. There was a pub on the corner, outside which, were three large young men smoking roll-ups and drinking beer. Each of them were tattooed and they sported the kind of fashionable, but ridiculous, partially shaved heads that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Peaky Blinders. As the red man changed to the green man and I began walking across to the other side of the road, I noticed a car pull up at the lights driven by a young black man. From behind me I heard one of the three men shout at the driver, “What the fuck are you doing here?” He then proceeded to hurl a torrent of racial abuse, employing frequent uses of the ‘N’ word, at the poor man waiting at the lights.
If I’d been a Kung-Fu expert I might have said something to them, but as I wasn’t and would most probably have been beaten up for daring to question their fascist views, I just shook my head in shame at the ugliness of the situation and carried on walking. Millions of years of evolution has brought us humans to where we are now, intelligent, free-thinking, sentient beings who, for the most part, know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. But as I walked on down Botchergate towards the safety of my flat, I thought about those three moronic idiots hurling abuse at another human being innocently going about his business and how they must have been the product of a different evolutionary path than the one my descendants took. I can only assume the path their descendants trod must have stopped abruptly at the Neanderthal stage and, having reached the absolute pinnacle of their evolutionary development, gone no further.
I grew up in the North of England in the 1960s and 70s, a time when racism was rife throughout the country, watching people laughing their socks off at a TV show called The Comedians, where repellent men like Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson delivered routines of casual racism, and the viewing public at the time lapped it up because in their ignorance it was to them what they thought was only right and proper. Thankfully times have changed. I spent 44 years working for the MOD, an organisation which, quite rightly, holds a very dim view regarding that kind of behaviour. People are people no matter what the colour of their skin.
But today, worryingly, racism seems to be on the rise once more. The results of a recent survey showed that Cumbria is the most racist county in Britain, which probably explains why a large percentage of its population voted for Brexit. Now, I’m not one of these people who want another vote, I think we should just get on with it and see where it takes us – for good or ill – but with Theresa May, a proven exponent of hard-right insular policies, as PM, I fear for the direction this country is taking.
Like it not, nationalism is on the rise. But were we not all taught at school about the rise of the Third Reich and fascism in Germany in the 1930s? Didn’t we learn the lessons from the past about making lists of perceived undesirables? Haven’t we all read Orwell’s 1984 and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and understood that totalitarianism and fascism can only lead us to authoritarian rule and the destruction of a way of life that was fought for so hard during the Second World War? Have we forgotten? Are we stupid enough to allow a government to ride roughshod over our basic human rights? What is happening to the western world?
America is on the brink of voting into the White House the worst President in its history – a vain, idiotic, racist, ultra-conservative conman with a permanent bad hair day who will expect the country to do as he says and not as he does. Here in Britain we have the most right-wing government in recent memory – a government that would like companies to provide it with lists of their foreign workers, a government that would like to see the formation of military cadet schools. Hang on a minute, doesn’t that sound familiar? Didn’t the Nazi Party demand lists of German Jews? Didn’t they introduce Napolas, military academies that trained the youth of Germany on how to become good Nazis?
If this is allowed to happen it will only be a short step to restriction of movement, internment camps, the end of free speech, neighbours denouncing each other and arbitrary arrests. Orwell’s Thought Crime will become a reality and the ugly side of human nature will take front and centre.
Racism and intolerance should have no home in our modern multi-cultural society and it should be stamped out. And I’m not just talking about the intolerance of certain white Englishmen here, I’m also talking about intolerance in the Muslim community. Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. By patriotism he meant false-patriotism, like those rabid England football supporters who adorn their houses with national flags for the World Cup and then remove them the moment England are knocked out and those three cretins I mentioned earlier who idiotically confuse racism with patriotism. I, for one, do not want to see the people of our great country descend to the level of those three bottom feeders. As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So, whether you’re a Tory, Labour or Monster Raving Loony supporter, in the next general election get out and vote. Don’t stay at home thinking your vote won’t count for anything or the ugly side of human nature will creep silently up on you while you sleepwalk through life and destroy everything you hold so dear.