A week or so back I observed (I cannot say celebrated) the 54th anniversary of my entry to this “vale of tears”. It would be nice to look back over the years and say how far we have come in that time, how much better is the world we live in, but I find myself unable to do so.
I was born at Guys Hospital in the borough of Bermondsey (since subsumed into the London Borough of Southwark). Historically Bermondsey has been one of the poorer areas of London; Charles Dickens lived in the area and used it for some of the most memorable sequences in his novels – Bill Sikes met his end at Jacob’s Island, Amy (Little) Dorrit grew up in the Marshalsea debtors prison (a place Dickens knew all too well, as his father had been an inmate).
In the 1840s the population of the area quadrupled, mainly through Irish people being forced from their homes by the Famine. They came to work in the docks, warehouses and wharves, in the tanneries, the mills and the factories; the area was characterized by the stench from the tanneries and from Sarsons Vinegar Works on Tanner Street (note the name) which only closed its doors in the 1990s.
So Bermondsey at the time of my birth was an area of much deprivation, still pocked with bomb sites from the war, with people crammed into inadequate housing by Rachman-style landlords; my paternal grandfather still had an outside toilet, my maternal grandparents shared facilities with other families and bathed in the tin bath by the fire. Poverty and disease were rife; my own parents were hospitalized with TB during the time my mother was pregnant with me, rickets was not uncommon, homelessness was rampant (an early childhood memory is of people queueing to get a bed in the Tooley Street doss house, opposite the warehouses and wharves they had so recently worked in, but which were now closing).
There were positives. When I was just shy of 4 years old my mother was widowed, leaving her with two children and one more on the way; the social security net ensured we did not go hungry and friends and family rallied round to help out. We spent much time with my grandparents; my maternal grandfather was, by now, an invalid because of poor health and safety at his place of work – this was a man who had fought for workplace rights, at great personal cost, but at least that safety net was there for him as well.
And now, fifty four years on, we should be in a much better place ….. but we really aren’t. The Rachman landlords are back, cramming as many people into rundown properties as they can, milking people for all they are worth, TB is back, rickets are back, homelessness is every bit as bad as it was back then; but the difference is that society no longer cares, no longer wants to give people the hand up they need when life has laid them low. My mother would now be judged as being a feckless parent, how short sighted of her to have that many children if she could not afford them; and my grandfather would be condemned as a scrounger, undoubtedly reported to the DWP by his neighbours and made destitute.
And in other areas we are worse off; all the hard won rights my grandfather fought for have been thrown away by people who have swallowed the lies fed to them by the MSM. And I am looking at a death similar to my father; he died of an asthma-related condition, because the medicines back then were not adequate, I am looking at a similar death because I simply cannot afford the medications that are now available.
I am tired. I’m tired of fighting, of trying to make people see they are being fed a lie, that they are the proverbial turkeys voting for Christmas; on a personal level I am tired of fighting to keep my head above water, the constant struggle to maintain an existence (it can’t be called a life). I have two hopes for the future, firstly that a revitalized Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn can begin to make a difference again, can help this country regain some of the dignity that it has lost; and secondly that I am not here to commemorate my 55th birthday – one I fear to be a vain hope, the other to be a certainty.