Absent and Something Else

These are a couple of things I wrote to be read at UK Uncut‘s take-over of BHS on Oxford Street, London, during the anti-cuts event on 26th March 2011.



This is supposed to be a speech to cheer you up, and cheer you on. This is the first night. This is the opening of the art show. This is the premiere of the symphony. Lace up your ballet shoes, you’re all swans. Do your stretches and get focused. Pick up your pole and vault. Get the hell out there and win this thing. Sing the aria like you’ve never sung it before. This is the first night. This is where history gets made.

Except it’s not. This isn’t the start of anything. This is just another in a line of thankless jobs that have to be done.

We’ve been here before. Or, rather, you have. I’m not here. So I guess I can just sip my fucking martini, wherever I am, and say this, without having to pretend that out there, somewhere, there’s spotlights and warm applause. Because there aren’t either of those things. And there won’t be any flowers in your dressing room tonight, and most of the critics will fucking hate you tomorrow.

You are standing up to your knees in a deepening lake of piss. And rising out of the piss around you are the steel tines of a thousand up-ended garden forks. And quivering on each tine is the freshly impaled body of a kitten. As far as the eye can see. Kittens on forks in a lake of piss. It’s fucking horrible.

And the thing is, the piss, the kittens, and the garden forks weren’t even put there by people who get a kick out of filling the world with things like that. If they were the kind of people who got off on impaling kittens on garden forks in lakes of piss that everyone has to stand around in for years, you could almost understand them. At least you’d be able to understand that these people are evil, and then just get on with destructively hating the fuck out of them until they all ran away. Or died.

But they’re not. They’ve decided, according to a made-up system that involves the transfer of abstract numbers from place to place, that the lake of piss you’re standing in, and the forks, and the kittens, are somehow necessary, when they’re not. They aren’t at all. Making everyone, apart from the lucky few people who can afford not to, stand around up to their nipples in piss, surrounded by kitten corpses, is not going to solve anything. It’s just going to make the world a miserable place to be, while the few people who aren’t up to their nipples in piss stand around on dry land wondering what the fuck everyone else is complaining about and doing nothing to help unless they’re fucking made to.

So what this is all about is trying to get across to the people who’ve decided we have to stand around in piss that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Unfortunately, because the people who think this is a good idea are just not used to being told they’re wrong, they haven’t listened yet. And for some reason, it’s never them, or their mates that have to stand around in the lake of piss, surrounded by dead kittens on forks. It’s you. And they probably won’t listen today. So they’re going to have to keep being told, over and over. Today, and the next day, and the next day, until eventually they listen, or people lose patience and start throwing buckets of piss at them.

So this isn’t the start of anything. There is no champagne reception. There is no after show party. This – and I’m sorry I’m not here to share it with you – is the middle of a long trudge through a lake of piss. Make the fucking best of it. It’s better to be wading through it than standing still.


My Gran said shitloads of things in her life, and they were mostly rubbish.

She used to believe the Rovers Return was a real pub.

She used to claim it was OK for six-year-old boys to smoke.

She was totally convinced that if you let the budgie out of its cage for more than an hour a day, it’d get used to the sense of space and end up the size of a pigeon.

She once said, and this haunted me for years, ‘if you play with that, it’s going to fall off’.

All of the above turned out not to be true. Although in moments of over-excitement I’ve nearly pulled it off once or twice.

But the one thing she said that’s never been proved or disproved is ‘cheats never prosper’. I mostly remember that one because she said it after a game of snap, while smacking my knuckles so hard with the deck of cards that I still can’t play the fucking recorder properly.

So what this is about, isn’t about monumental injustice, it’s not about cunts protecting their position with a ‘who, me?’ shrug while everyone else pays for their mistakes and they get away with paying virtually nothing. It’s not about a bunch of people who think balancing abstract economic tables is more important than actual quality of life as it’s lived. And it’s definitely not about the twisted notion that you promote a fairer world by giving more to the amoral shits who made it unfair in the first place, and then expecting them to magically change into something else without being forced to.

No. It’s about proving that just once in her life, God rest her soul, my Gran was actually right about something. Let’s do it for Elsie.