After a break of a few days, during which I have been feeling anxious and unwell, I return to this Blog.
I have decided to post another chapter of my new book, Obsessive Compulsive Asperger, looking back at events in the years surrounding 1984.
Much has changed since then but, more than 30 years later, a lot of the interests I had as a young adult feel familiar.
George Orwell, a man who probably stuggled with Asperger’s, remains my favourite author. His warnings about the dangers of totalitarianism lurking in our dubiously democratic society are as relevant as ever.
Despite the scepticism of many people, I have remained interested in politics, and (just about, in view of this years purge) a member of the Labour Party, intent on tackling the Tories.
So here are my memories, in a chapter entitled The Lion and the Unicorn.
In the Summer of 1981, our family went on holiday to Newquay, in Cornwall. This was not particularly enjoyable, as we stayed at a poorly-managed hotel (worse than the establishment in Fawlty Towers, but not funny), with most of the staff departing during the course of our fortnight there. A few weeks after I left school, a results slip showed I had passed six “O” levels. Failures in English Literature and Computer Studies did not prevent me subsequently writing books with the aid of computers. I became a student at Farnborough Sixth Form College in September 1981, studying for “A” levels. I also played for the college chess team, participating in a local league and national knock-out competition, the latter sponsored by the Sunday Times.
Excitement on sitting down to watch England’s first match in the 1982 World Cup finals, against France, live on television, grew as Bryan Robson opened the scoring after just 27 seconds. England beat France 3-1, but goalless draws in the second stage, with West Germany and Spain – the latter being the host nation – meant England were eliminated, despite being unbeaten in the tournament. West Germany later reached the Final, where they lost 3-1 against Italy. During August I saw Manchester United win 3-1 at Aldershot, in a match that raised money for victims of the Falklands War. Following this I visited Spain, as we had our first foreign family holiday, the location being Lloret de Mar, near Barcelona. We stayed in a large hotel, which was impressive, apart from unpalatable food. A year later I went on an extended family holiday for the last time, at the village of Cala Bona in Majorca.
I reached the age of 18 at the end of 1982, and made plans for the future. I decided against going to university, having spent enough years in formal education. A growing interest in politics was strengthened by frequent discussion at college. As a member of the debating society, I made a speech advocating that Britain should withdraw from the European Economic Community. A college assembly attempted to follow the format of the BBC’s Question Time programme, with myself on the panel, providing a critical view of the Thatcher government’s approach to unemployment. Thatcher proclaimed herself a “conviction politician”, opposed to consensus. Her major preoccupation was an attempt to revive British capitalism, through monetarism. Thatcher’s policies proved a calamity for Britain, with reduced public expenditure, reduced taxation (especially for the ruling class), an attack on the trade unions, and the sale of public assets. When Thatcher took power, more than a million people were unemployed. The number of unemployed people increased to two million in August 1980, and three million in January 1982.
I read lots of the works of George Orwell, and was particularly impressed by The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius plus Nineteen Eighty-Four – fact and fiction respectively. The latter book is a brilliant warning about the dangers of totalitarianism, and a satire on the politics of the era in which it was written. In the character of Winston Smith, who starts to write a diary on April 4 1984, Orwell conveyed the outlook of an individual battling to express a minority view – “sanity is not statistical”. During the Spring of 1983, I read the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital, one hundred years after his death. I felt the influence of Marxism as an approach to politics, economics, and history, being persuaded by Marx’s critique of capitalism, which is shown to be exploitative, and prone to recurring crisis. Capital ranks as a monumental piece of world literature, full of illuminating quotes and allusions.
In May 1983 I voted for the first time, supporting the Labour Party in a Hart District Council Election – Hart covered Fleet and surrounding villages, including Hartley Wintney. The following month, I voted for Labour at a General Election, and felt demoralised as Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives were returned to power, with a majority of 144. Shortly after the General Election, I made the first in a series of visits to the House of Commons, observing proceedings from the visitors’ gallery. On that first visit, I saw Edwina Currie, a newly-elected Conservative MP, make her maiden speech. Edwina was immediately followed by Harriet Harman, feted as Labour’s most glamorous woman MP, who won a By-Election a few months earlier. I was joined by granddad on one trip to Westminster, during which we saw Margaret Thatcher at Prime Minister’s questions.
I passed three “A” levels, but was unemployed for several months after leaving college. Then I was offered a job by the London branch of Dresdner Bank, based at Frankfurt, in West Germany. Employment with Dresdner, as part of their audit department, began on December 28 1983. The bank was situated at Frederick’s Place, a cul-de-sac adjoining Old Jewry, just off Cheapside, in the City of London. The building was a wonderful labyrinth – I initially worked in a mezzanine office, tucked away in a corner, at a tangent from a staircase linking the ground floor with the first floor. Benjamin Disraeli worked in the building as a youth, a fact commemorated by one of those distinguished blue plaques on an exterior wall. During his employment with a solicitor, Disraeli was told by a female friend “You have too much genius for Frederick’s Place: it will never do”. Indeed it did not, and the young man set out on a series of adventures.
I started writing a detailed diary on January 1 1984. This opened with a combination of activities and opinions, linked to interest in politics, and the works of George Orwell – themes destined to recur down the years:
I begin this diary on the evening of the first day of 1984. The year is one that has long been awaited in connection with George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. As expected, the general view of the connection as put across by the media has been distortion – or at least misunderstanding – of Orwell’s views. It is being asserted that the book is prediction and wrong, when in fact it is both a clever satire and a useful warning. I hope that if anything is to come from the connection of the book and the present year, it will be increased understanding of Orwell’s views. Given the current state of the media in this country, I believe the myths surrounding the book will largely remain. The book opens with Winston Smith beginning a diary.
I decided a few months back to keep a diary, to provide a record of my thoughts and actions, which I could then refer to at future dates. Besides simple nostalgic sentiment, such reference has intellectual value. George Orwell, in his As I Please column, in the issue of Tribune dated December 17 1943, wrote “One way of feeling infallible is not to keep a diary”. In the March 22 1946 issue of the same newspaper, Orwell’s In Front of Your Nose was published. In this essay Orwell advised that keeping a diary, or record of one’s views on events, was of value. If this was not done it is possible that “when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it”. I propose to record in this diary a regular account of my activities and also my opinions, hopes, fears, predictions etc. When these are set down to be read, and re-read, it will not be possible for me to believe that opinions I held once, but then wished I had not, were not held in the first place. In this of all years I believe that to be valuable. I saw the New Year in with a Channel 4 programme hosted by David Frost. Ken Livingstone predicted that this year might be a bit worse than last or a lot worse. I expect the former myself, but am optimistic about the long term.
When starting to write the diary, I wondered whether it might be published one day, far in the future. By a convoluted process, some of which happened in 2007, extracts from my diary have now found their way into this book.
Dresdner provided a contrast to the efficient image of both banking and the Germans. There was disorganisation, plus strange procedures, but a generally informal atmosphere, and working at the bank was entertaining. At the start of my time as something in the City, I lacked confidence, but chat about football with the blokes, and readiness to be teased by the women, helped break the ice with colleagues. My anxieties in the working environment continue to this day.
I joined the Labour Party in September 1984. I had been born in a National Health Service hospital, and educated in a comprehensive school, while I believed in democratic Socialism, equality, free trade unionism, internationalism, and Britain playing a positive role in the world. These factors made me a natural supporter of the Labour Party. That Autumn I took a holiday in Yugoslavia, staying at the village of Porec, in Croatia. I was attracted to Yugoslavia by a combination of excellent climate and innovative Socialism, based on industrial democracy, decentralised power, and non-alignment – but unfortunately not parliamentary democracy. The weather was rainy, but I enjoyed my visit, and the drinking of Slivovitz, the local plum brandy. Back in Britain, I attended a couple of Labour Party meetings, staged at Farnborough, which focussed on the national strike by coal miners. Each meeting featured a speech by a Labour MP, the first of these being Dave Nellist (member of Militant). The latter meeting was addressed by Dennis Skinner (legendary “Beast of Bolsover”), a former miner, and impassioned critic of the “casino economy”. Dresdner Bank was conveniently situated for visits to Parliament, which I often made after work. One trip to the House of Commons in 1984 was followed by a letter to Bernard Wetherill, the Speaker, asking about the public availability of amendment papers for Parliamentary debates, to which I received an encouraging reply. At the start of the next year, Timothy Wood, a Conservative MP, handed me a copy of a Local Government Bill, as a Commons committee debating the legislation adjourned for dinner. There is no such thing as a free bill, however, for I had already bought a personal copy – besides financing it as a taxpayer.
On October 17 1984, I attended my first World Cup match, as England commenced their campaign in the 1986 qualifiers, beating Finland 5-0, with Mark Hateley scoring twice. I talked with two pretty Finnish young ladies, working in Britain as au pairs, who sat behind me in the stadium. Afterwards, travelling by tube train from Wembley to Waterloo, I found myself sat next to another lady from Finland, and enjoyed a chat with her, which stimulated laughter, and suggestive comments, from several other passengers. Mentioning my encounter with her fellow nationals, I asked the lady if she was an au pair. This flirtatious Finn announced she was a nanny, who thought it would soon be time for me, as a naughty boy, to go to bed. (Dot dot dot? Actually nothing more to report).
The 1984 Dresdner Christmas party was held at the Churchill Hotel. Several people did party pieces, and I sang John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over), oblivious of the possibility the Germans might not like this. For Christmas our family visited mum’s parents at Salisbury. We had a great Christmas, dividing our time between eating, drinking, and watching television at home, and visits to the local Conservative club – some of the family were members, and I did not wish to spoil Christmas with a boycott. Granddad was a staunch Conservative so our political ideas had little in common, but we enjoyed discussing them. Sadly I never saw my grandfather again, as he died suddenly from a heart attack on May 5 1985. This was a traumatic event for his family. Granddad was a wonderful man, and I was to miss him in the following years.
In March 1985, at Wembley, I attended the Final of the Milk Cup – the name at that time of the League Cup – in which Norwich City beat Sunderland 1-0, with a fine performance from Steve Bruce, in defence. Earlier in the season, I had half-seen Norwich win 4-0 at Aldershot, in a Third Round replay, amidst very thick November fog. Mick Channon, in the twilight of his career, was among the goalscorers that day. I returned to Wembley on May 18 1985, hoping to buy a ticket for the FA Cup Final, in which Manchester United met Everton. I negotiated purchase of a ticket from two officials of the Surrey branch of the Football Association. Prior to the match, an emotional minutes silence was observed in memory of the fans who died in the fire at Bradford City’s ground the previous week. During the first half both teams failed to produce impressive football. Play improved as the second half progressed, but the game remained goalless. Twelve minutes from time, United’s Kevin Moran became the first player ever to be sent off in an FA Cup Final. The continued absence of a goal meant that the match went into extra time. With 10 minutes remaining, United’s Norman Whiteside charged with the ball through the Everton half, and into the penalty area, scoring with a curling shot. As the ball hit the net, I erupted with joy. Manchester United held on to the lead during the closing minutes. When the final whistle arrived, I again celebrated wildly. A few minutes later, Bryan Robson lifted the trophy.
Another great Wembley occasion followed on July 6, with a concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I arrived early, and managed to get a place near the front. For hour after hour, I stood in the crowd on a very hot day. It was uncomfortable, but totally worthwhile, as I got a great view. Bruce displayed amazing energy, and built a rapport with the fans, while his band provided tremendous support. The show began with Born in the USA, and continued with a succession of fine songs before Bruce took a break, following Thunder Road. The second set included a stunning rendition of Because the Night. The encores ended with a lengthy medley of Twist and Shout / Do You Love Me. Bruce had been on stage for just over three hours, with a performance that was almost unbelievably brilliant – witnessing it was an inspiring experience.
During August, I returned to Yugoslavia, staying at Ulcinj, in Montenegro, a few miles from the border with Albania, the most isolated country in Europe. On a tour of the area, I saw part of the border between Yugoslavia and Albania, marked by a line of trees, viewed from a distant vantage point on a hillside – an eerie moment. In the Autumn, I went to Dresdner Bank’s belated Summer party, at the Savoy Hotel, and felt a bit uncomfortable in the luxurious surroundings. A man in attendance in the toilets commented on my not wearing a jacket. When I asked why this was worth mentioning, the man said he assumed my wallet was in the jacket pocket, and I could have given him a tip. I could have observed that it might cost a lot to spend a penny.