Ken Fleet

Ken Fleet on a European nuclear disarmament demonstration in Brussels, 1981.
Photo from Tony Simpson and the Guardian.
I happened to be at that demo, but travelled with colleagues from Birmingham.

Ken Fleet organised many of the radical groups run from Nottingham, along with Ken Coates, that gave Nottingham such a radical reputation in the eighties.
Always pleasant to talk with.
Tony Simpson has written an obituary, published in The Guardian.

Extract of obituary written by Tony Simpson.

Here to be Heard

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Never saw The Slits but the almost breathless start to their cover of “Heard it through the Grapevine” is a classic, applauded by a member of the audience who asked how it had come about to find that the reggae producer brought in from Island Records couldn’t get it right and a new producer on their first record brought it together.
The Guardian review of the documentary expresses disappointment with the film so I had gone for the experience of the event, including a Q&A like that.
My question was on the claim by a journalist (check) that ‘without The Slits, there would have been no Madonna’. “Were they disappointed with today’s music scene“?  Turns out the quote came from Madonna at the outset appearing to copy Viv Albertine‘s fashion sense.
The documentary is a bit of a mess, and the second half not good, but the first half is compelling, especially for the nostalgia.  And the Slits were part of that magic time when youth music was so good.


Screenshot (848) ab0772h Nottm Playhouse Wonderland
“Best show I have ever see ” – a mate.
And some people really felt it.
Go see.
And if the Nottingham Playhouse was set up to tell Notts stories, this certainly does that.

The Government setting up the miners to force a strike.  Then fouling up the closures to be announced.  An uncontrolled union response leaving no space to call a ballot and starting the strike after the winter.   Notts miners feeling by-passed and a split results.  And so much more.

The play convincingly conveys the sense of heat down the pit.  Visuals are often excellent.  One or two brilliant jokes.  Certainly not just one perspective.

Perhaps some of the political analysis needed a bit longer conversation and less vernacular.
Can’t all be covered but when NACODS almost struck is omitted and the wives and the women against pit closures is only referred to.
Don’t get the title.

Track 5: “Ceremony”, Joy Division

Something of a surprise that a band attracting national attention was playing at High Hall, a hall of residence at the University of Birmingham – but a very welcome one.
A fan through listening to John Peel, I’d seen them supporting the Buzzcocks six months or so previous.
I’d gone in my usual blue Littlewoods shirt (never one for fashion), and starting swaying to the very first song – “Ceremony“.  You just got into the groove and started dancing.  I’d even hung around towards the back so I’d got space to move.
There was a bit of a commotion when the lead singer appeared to have collapsed but he came back on.
Not long after, Buzzcocks did a BBC Radio 1 live concert and my mate looked at each other slightly confused when Pete Shelley said “this one’s for Ian Curtis who died last night”.
It wasn’t until almost a week later that an NME poster made it clear to us that he was the Joy Division lead singer.  And it’s kinda how we were – you liked the music, and didn’t worry about the individuals artists; against strut. But once we knew who he was – horrible shock.
This was to be the celebrity death that had the most impact on me, and of course the story has become very well known with 2 movies (a lot of “Control” was filmed in Nottingham and Mapperley Hills) and lots of documentaries, and even one of a series of 4 posters celebrating the event – the actual poster for the night got the date wrong and black biro was used to fill in the errant number “2”.

The recording of the concert was to be the second half of a double album of collected songs, despite one of the mikes not recording the first part of the vocals of “Ceremony” at a proper level.  (I was there, but I can’t hear myself …)
Even so, it’s my favourite version, of my favourite Joy Division song.

Track 5: “Ceremony”, Joy Division, from Still album, live recording from May 2nd, 1980 at Birmingham University.

Previous track – “Making plans for Nigel”, XTC.

Negotiate internationally and survive

I don’t object to the re-publication of the “Protect and Survive” pamphlet as a reminder of what was once published but the curator behind it is wrong to say it shows how close we came to a nuclear war.
The pamphlet was about building up the idea that we could fight and survive a nuclear war.
The particular notion was of a tactical nuclear war – i.e. within Europe only (strategic was USA and USSR exchanging ICBM with multiple nuclear weapons).
Protest and Suvive 015567The pamphlet did backfire (a pamphlet called “Protest and Survive” was published; CND was renewed, a campaign against “tactical nuclear war – European Nuclear Disarmament – was started and based in Nottingham).
But there were still plenty of people in places like Top Valley saying they’d survive a bomb detonated over Nottingham city centre.
Lots of nonsense about this –
– so a BBC documentary that showed the impact of a single weapon was salutory;
– that a nuclear war could be constrained to Europe was inexplicable – just how were enemies supposed to know where bombs had been sent from? (The Russians would understand we were only taking out a bridge across the River Rhine? Disappointing to hear a Labour MP giving the notion of deficits in tactical nuclear weapons some credence in the last major Parliamentary debate.)
– we know that it wouldn’t take many explaosions to throw so much material in the atmosphere as to cause a nuclear winter – not seeing the sun again for many months; (Yeah, Top Valley might survive, but then starve.)
As a country, we got stranded choosing between unilateral and multilateral disarmament (hopeless) – so nice to see the UN giving multilateral nuclear disarmament another push today.

Square_legA reminder that an exercise, called “Square Leg“, run in the eigthies presumed 131 nuclear explosions in and over Britain, meaning – “Mortality was estimated at 29 million (53 percent of the population); serious injuries at 7 million (12 percent); short-term survivors at 19 million (35 percent).”
Map scanned from ‘Doomsday, Britain after Nuclear Attack’ by Stan Openshaw, Philip Steadman and Owen Greene Basil Blackwell, 1983 ISBN 0-631-13394-1

Trains and planes and satellite pictures

Loads of scenes with trains and railway lines – much better then “T2:Trainspotting“.
So this film couldn’t miss.
Lion” is at its best when showing action and landscapes; dialogue – not so good – a soap opera style of misunderstanding, whilst some of the lines are swallowed.
Despite it being based on a true story, I was sceptical.  A child being lost in the ’80s and not found?  The film explains it all, including just how many children are lost in India.

County and Forest inducted into the Hall of Fame

Inducting Notts County Football Club into the Hall of Fame, for being the oldest professional football league club.
Inducting the Nottingham Forest football teams of 1979 and 1980 for winning the European Cup twice.
And celebrating again John Robertson’s induction for his individual achievements.
At the Ice Arena, where local kids put on a fitness display and there was a local singer.
Pictures and fuller detail available in Facebook album.

Darkness, Darkness

Another play focussed on Nottingham and Notts at the Playhouse.

And it’s our own DI Charlie Resnick.
On his last case.
And it’s the miners strike, activism, self-discovery, strike funds, sexism at work and domestic violence.   How people are and interact, rather than the murder investigation itself.
Outside, during the interval, it’s praise for the author John Harvey and director Jack McNamara from an autograph seeker, especially for the set design.
The Playhouse – another thing that makes Nottingham special – has put on another play about us, and there’s plenty to think about – including for me a new theme – the potential for all kinds of wrong-doing surrounding strike funds and people running very short during a long strike.
A review here.

A Very British Deterrent on BBC 2 tv

An excellent documentary from the BBC kinda spelling out how SuperMac wasn’t that fantastic and worse, clearly thought the British should be ready to use nuclear weapons if our supreme (oil) interests in Kuwait were threatened.
Yep, Supermac would want to start a nuclear war over oil in Kuwait.
Witness Einstein’s challenge – “the unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our thinking.”

The tv documentary started with a simple reminder – because we were part of the Manhatten project, we thought we started out as a nuclear power.
We could wipe out a city more effectively than we did with Hamburg or Dresden.  But with one bomber, one bomb, and in one night (or indeed, minute).
Yes, acknowleding it was powerful – hence every superpower needed one – and yes the radioactivity was poisonous.
But perhaps not grasping acknowledging how the debris is poisonous, how an explosion came to be might not be understood and that in a full exchange, that many cities would be destroyed in a short time, their electro-magnetic pulses making so much equipment beyond the blast useless, and then all the airborne waste, soil, dust and smoke creating a nuclear winter.
Yet, even in the eighties, top brass were planning on fighting tactical nuclear wars in Europe.
Witness Einstein’s challenge, again.

But Attlee decided we British needed our own bomb, and then Macmillan decided we British needed a delivery system beyond a bomber, and then Wilson decided we British needed our own submarines and missiles with American warheads (check).
So not quite an independent British deterrent – hence the sarcasm in the title.

A very British Deterrent bbc 2 tv screen grab cb0585hThe programme focuses on Macmillan’s travails, and how he accepted an American Polaris nuclear base in Holy Loch for not a lot, and finally gets a concession from JF Kennedy ‘to allow Britain to keep up with the Joneses’.
(Yeah, don’t know what Einstein would say about that one.)

But Einstein’s challenge kinda applies to disarmament as well.
We need an approach that is not as simple as “we’ll give up ours”.
But calling it multilaterism don’t cut it either – cos often multilaterists have been the keenest to expand one side’s capability to destroy.

Start by not answering questions about pressing a button that doesn’t exist.
And recognise that when crises come, leaders do work hard to avoid an exchange.
But a new focus to avoid a waste of resources and to mitigate against accidents would be nice.

Meanwhile, check out the documentary. And the FT review.

Deutschland 83

When we think of close scrapes, then those who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and were old enough to know it, cite it as the time they thought the world might end.
1983 is overlooked, but the more we learn, the more it becomes clear that it might have happened.
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Deutschland 83,
a German production that has finished being broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 tv, tells the story of how military men in NATO thought a tactical nuclear war could be fought in, and limited to Europe, and leaders of The Warsaw Pact thought they needed to strike first before NATO did.  And Operation Able Archer could well have been the time when the mutual loathing and misunderstanding could have triggered nuclear exchanges.
Ronald Reagan is said to have been so shaken when he was briefed that the East actually believed the West was about to attack, that he changed tack and sought a new diplomacy.
The thriller series weaves in events and movements from the age, including movements I was a part of, with a spy genre to entertain and explain.
deutschland-83-28There were great moments and stories, some tragic, including of the secretary, manipulated into hoping and believing she’d found love, only to realise that she had to run and then fight for her life; and shockingly lose, just when she thought she’d escaped.
The drama series does have weaknesses – some of the twists being barely credible and some key dramatic moments being left to the imagination.
Things are different from ’83, and indeed ’45, ’49, ’62 and ’73.  Which is why it’s so depressing that arguments are still stuck in the fifties language of unilateralism and multilateralism, and the eighties portrayals of disarmament as cowardice and surrender.  2016 is not the most dangerous time in world history.  Renewing Trident would be a tragic waste of resource – and it’s such a shame that we, both west and east, lack the imagination to find a way to do something more useful on both sides.