Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Starbucks World - a novel, Chapter 1

As I did last year I am breaking up the political stuff with the first draft chapters of this year's novel what I am writing as I found the interest and occasional comments most encouraging. 'Bitter Together' nearly went into print but did not make the final, last five 'new author' books Ringwood were seeking to publish in 2013. I am now back looking for a publisher for 'Bitter'. This year's book is a very different construct, a story with occasional flashes of humour but more searching in content. I hope you will enjoy it.

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Starbuck’s World - Chapter One

George Dunnet looked at the unthinking mob of Thatcher fanatics standing outside St Paul’s and shook his head. They really did not understand, he thought, just what a total mess she made of this country, how her policies broke up cohesion between people across the UK and her economic policies created the mess that is the current austerity. They stand their glassy eyed, worshiping her as some latter day Boudicca with no clear understanding of the irony of the comparison. Boudicca fought against Roman neo-liberalism and for social cohesion, she managed to unite British tribes not separate them and set them against each other. The Roman historical image Thatcher was closer to was that of Claudius who turned up on a couple of elephants, declared Rome triumphant over the natives and disappeared back there just as soon as he could. Thatcher was more like Claudius in the way she paid of her modern day equivalents of local British chiefs to stay quiet and get their people to do what they were told. If Thatcher had been Boudicca she would have made a bonfire of the City of London and not fund the building of temples to the worship of the quick profit and screw the rest.

He looked over the top of his Starbuck’s ‘decafe with skinny’ feeling sorry for the service personnel who were left standing, honouring a person with no honour in her own life time, who talked about ‘my lads’ while her policies had put George and his comrades in harm’s way, to claw back islands at the other end of the world, as Cabinet Paper’s of the era came into the public view, she did not want to defend in the first case.  It would have been fitting, George thought, if  one of the ‘Shite Hawks’, flying over St Pauls waiting for the crowd to go, so they could clear up, had done a dump in the middle of her coffin. Serendipity was not at home today in the air over St Pauls, mores the pity nor was any sense of justice.

George took one last look at the worshiping Thatcherites, put the half empty Starbucks container in the bin berating himself as to why he ever bought the thin tasteless brew in the first place. Starbucks and Thatcher were two of a kind, bright and shiny in their presentation yet underneath thin, weak and tasteless with a dark secret at their heart – no matter how much they pretend they were parasites on society.  He turned and limped back across the infamous ‘wobbly bridge’ to complete his shift as a security guard at the Tate Modern. He pulled the collar up on his old RN greatcoat to keep the over powering grimness of the day at bay, hearing in some long lost past the voice of his platoon’s Gunnery Instructor at Dartmouth shouting, “Get that collar down at once, sir, you’re an officer , I taught you better than that.” Yes, GI Smith, you did but when it comes down to it, who actually gives a shit? No one anymore, that was another of Thatcher’s legacies, as Dunnet looked at the Starbucks wrappings and cups jammed into the grill on either side of Roger’s famous bridge and the chewing gum spattered all over the place which made the occasional splat of guano, on the walk way, honest in comparison. There had been a time George had been Thatcher neutral and after the mess Governments had made of industry and work force relations during the 70’s, a necessary evil but as the evil grew he was left in the latter part of the 80’s just wondering at the chaos and sintering of society the electorate had unleashed in 1983 with her re-election and the clash of super ego’s that was actually behind the Miner’s Strike and the destruction of Britain’s coal mining industry. Scargill and Thatcher, two sides of the same crown, the only blessing was the armed forces were kept out of it which was just as well as they were tied up in the Northern Ireland hornet’s nest Thatcher’s policies there had stirred up to a crescendo.

Ten million quid was the cost of today’s ‘Claudian Triumph’, all that had been missing was the elephants and the odd benefit scrounger in chains being dragged behind the gun carriage prior to being ritually hung by the Dean of St Pauls, during his eulogy to ‘Thatcherdom’. ‘Do not go silently into that dark night’, never had Dylan Thomas’ words had more poingnance  than today for George, Thomas was right, for too long the little people, like George, had been silent while being dragged down into the neo-liberal darkness and simultaneously being blamed for the problems the neo-liberal economy had created. Trickle down had never worked at any point in history. George tried to remember what Keynes had said about capitalism and the people behind it. The quote was coruscating, George remembered that much. Keynes said something along the lines of capitalism was run by a legitimised criminal business class whose only interest was their own self interest and greed. The creation of Harry Enfield’s ‘Loads a Money’ caricature was a fine reflection of this idea made flesh, a caricature George had never found funny in the slightest as it was to near the bone. Then again, thought George, I could have taken that route, there were plenty of jobs being waved at ex-naval officers by big city firms offering big city wages and bonuses in the mid eighties when he took the opportunity to get out of an ever decreasing Navy he no longer believed in or could stomach. His appointer had tried to get him to stay and extend to a full career commission but all George had seen was years of driving desks and if he was lucky, kept his nose clean and got the internal RN politics right, a sea going command once or twice before he was retired at 55, if there were any RN surface vessels left by then at the rate Thatcher’s Government was scrapping the fleet and failing to replace them. The current fashion was surface vessels were now passé, the future would be in nuclear submarines, so the present mini carriers would not be replaced nor the Sea Harriers that had saved her butt in the Falklands be kept up to date with new avionics and weapon systems. The message from the Falkland’s was simply being swept under the carpet to fit with the latest political idea. There was even talk of the three services being combined into a single UK Defence Force and first to be amalgamated would be the medical branches. While at the same time defence logistics would be privatised and operate with the latest ‘just in time’ supply methodology. The Junior Officer corps in the Navy shook their collective heads. They knew from personal experience how the current system had almost failed them in the Falklands. They joked that ‘just in time’ would translate into ‘just in time’ for the surrender - by when many of them would be swimming for a life raft, if it had arrived in time.

George opened the door to the Tate, let a couple of visitors go first and headed for the staff room to take off his great coat and  go to his post preventing people from touching a series of art works created from or including elephant dung. He pondered for a moment if it was made from, sorry created from, the dung left by Claudius’ elephants which would, after all, be fitting on a day such as today.

George looked at himself in the full length mirror in the cabin in Dartmouth’s Hawke Division he shared with Mike ‘Smudger’ Smith. He checked his uniform was lint free, his black barathea tie firmly against the brass collar stud of his starched collar and central, checked his sword belt and that his sword could be drawn easily, checked his shoes to reassure himself they were polished to a mirror finish, all brass and leatherwork was spotless. Mike came back in from the heads and they both re-checked each other’s uniform and kit and did some last minute work with sellotape. They looked at each other shook hands, wished each other luck and headed down to the parade ground at Dartmouth for the last time as ‘officers under training’ to join their fellow sub lieutenants and midshipmen who would be marching off for the last time. They walked down from Hawke Division to the ramp where they joined up with other young men all excited and chattering to each other about their first postings. Mike and George as Graduate entries were on the fast track which meant they should make full lieutenant in a year if they passed all the courses first time. Mike was heading off to Manadon to complete his engineering training while George was heading for one of the Type 42’s about to be commissioned, HMS Glasgow, and his future as a navigational specialist eventually crossing over the Hydrographers once he made Lieutenant Commander and completed a  First Lieutenant’s job in the proper Navy.

The sun was shining bright and hot, the parade went well, no one in the colour guard fainted so all in all the Marine CSM would be as happy as he ever was. They marched up the steps, past the ‘quarter deck’ through the main doors and into the hall and long corridor behind them the door was slammed shut, they let out an almighty cheer and threw their caps in the air, a quick dash back to their division to store their swords then back to the parade ground to find parents and girl friends and invite them in for drinks and nibbles with the Britannia Royal Naval College staff, after which it would be two weeks leave before joining their new ship or posting. There were few thoughts or concerns about the trembling, crumbling Callaghan Government nor what the election might bring a year hence in 1979. There were more important things to concern ourselves with like parties and holidays. Politics - they were for commanders and above to worry over, as we headed off in to the summer of 1978, with the optimism of the young.

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