Songs of a Forgotten Generation

“They don’t believe in their true powers, or the power of this world; they cannot see a world in a grain of sand, nor heaven in a wild flower. Such things are becoming more and more alien to us.”

From Emma Kathryn

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In every cry of every Man,

In every Infant’s cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear:

Excerpt from London by William Blake

The streets of the inner cities are awash with blood, or so we are told. Only a few weeks ago, the news that London had a higher murder rate than New York City was everywhere here. Although the numbers have been debated, the truth is that this news made headlines in the UK.

What’s the big deal, you may well be thinking. After all, aren’t the two major cities, huge stars on the world stage. Both have similar populations, both upward of eight million (that number is mind-blowing to this northern country bumpkin), though NYC does have a higher population density. But in a country where guns are illegal, you’d like to think that would reduce the number of killings.

Knife crime is devastating inner city areas, and like all other things here in the UK, the problem is magnified in London.

As is so woefully predictable, the government responses have been and are wholly inadequate and dividing, doing next to nothing to help resolve this issue.

Throughout modern history, whenever there has been some kind of civil unrest or some upsurge in crime, governments have always been quick to point the finger of blame away from themselves, and towards ‘soft’ targets. In the fifties it was rock and roll music; the sixties and seventies had the Mods and Rockers;  in the eighties and nineties it was gangsta rap and metal; The noughties saw Eminem and computer games as the devil. Today we have grime, or more specifically drill music.

This, so our politicians would tell us, is the root cause for the current surge in violent crimes and knife crime in our cities.

Grime And Drill Music

Grime music has really exploded on the UK music scene the past few years, moving from a genre that was seen as very much underground to today where many of its artists feature in the top 40, sometimes with top ten hits. Whilst it still remains the voice of the forgotten and of the streets, you’ll now see middle class youths snapping up tickets for shows or driving around in parent bought cars blaring out the likes of Stormzy or Skepta (grime artists who have made it into the mainstream) from  their speakers.

Drill music is a sub-genre of grime, and still very much underground. The lyrics are hard, dealing with themes including violence, drug taking and the harsh realities of hard lives lived amongst the cracks and other forgotten crooks and crannies of the city.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why the government has zoned in on drill music as being the sole cause of these problems. With increasing pressure, the videos that are of the drill genre are being taken down from YouTube, no doubt the first step in censorship of these records.

This in itself may be seen as an attack. What makes grime music unique is that many of its stars have risen to fame, not through the usual means like record companies and talent shows, but through YouTube. Artists such as JME rap about coming from nothing, living on council estates and not being given a chance to progress through the usual channels.

Music, and the opportunities sites such as YouTube present to those young people give them an escape from poverty and the life choices the government say they are trying to prevent.

It is yet another example of how far removed these politicians are from the lives of everyday folks, never mind those that find themselves on the margins of society.

Poverty and Policies

Pity would be no more

If we did not make somebody Poor,

And Mercy no more could be

If all were as happy as we:

– Excerpt from The Human Abstract by William Blake

The problem with the governments plan to reduce knife and violent gang related crime are many, but can all be shepherded under the banner of poverty, or rather the inability of the Home Office and the government to recognise poverty as a major factor.

Inner city areas, especially council and social housing estates are rife with poverty – let’s face it, people don’t live here out of choice, not in cramped houses that are often neglected by landlords. I’ve written before about the Grenfel Tower, a council owned block of flats and the state of those homes and the faults that led to such devastation.

The people who live in places such as these are often at the bottom of society, especially in a society that places wealth and the ownership of objects above all else. It doesn’t matter that many of the residents of council estates, including those in the cities, are often decent people trying to make the best of bad situations, that they are decent human beings. Because they cannot afford to own or privately rent their homes, they are somehow seen as less.

The children who grow up in such places are often the ridicule of their peers at school. Their parents cannot afford the latest this or that, meaningless shit in the grand scheme of things. They learn early on that, in the words of KRS 1, to stay on course they have to roll with force. As a working class, council estate girl, I can certainly confirm this. It means that to progress, to get on, you need to be willing to be hard if and when the time comes. You have to stick up for yourself.

Of course, most of us don’t end up in gang related violence, so it is not poverty alone.

It is here that the policies of successive governments come into play. These policies, along with the hardship and challenges that poverty brings combine, mingle and interweave until we are left with the hot mess that we have now.

Services are ever being cut every where you look. The town where we live has been identified as a growth spot by the government, and construction is already underway to increase the number of homes by the hundreds, though the plans are that the population of the town will increase by thousands over ten years. Despite this, the local hospital is forever being downgraded – against the wishes of the residents – so much so that it no longer has an accident and emergency department, and seemingly every week there are reports of this or that service are no longer available.

It’s not only hospitals, it’s all services that might otherwise provide a lifeline for those vulnerable youths,  services like children centres and youth clubs; affordable sports facilities and equipment. I could go on but you get the picture. Despite the government telling us that services don’t suffer when the money gets taken away, we all know that’s not true.

Even the subject of cuts is not an easy one to tackle. For example, the cuts also affect issues surrounding money, whether that be benefits or free childcare. When the Tory party came into power in the UK, a main tacit of their campaign was ‘to make work pay’. Sounds alright, don’t you think? Many people did, even those working class folks who slaved away all week and still struggled to survive, all the while yet the next man, who chooses not to work can live a life of relative comfort. Of course ‘make work pay’ really meant to make not working, life on benefits, become unbearable.

And the real problem here of course, is that the government weren’t fair. For example, bedroom tax was applied to those deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council house, despite the lack of smaller council properties. Even where I live, the largest council estate in my town, there are only a handful of two bedroom properties within a sea of three bedroom houses.

Those with genuine disabilities, those whom you would like to see looked after and given help were deemed suitable to work, people with cancer, ex-servicemen with severe battle related injuries, and many others were let down by the system. People died or committed suicide, and Atos, the company responsible for enforcing these government checks to determine a person’s ability to work, called the Work Capability Assessment have come under fire in recent years.

Unaffordable childcare and lack of resources, combined with poverty often means that today, both parents (if both are still at home), or the single parent must work full-time to make ends meet. Those at the bottom cannot afford to be picky, especially those with little or no experience, education or training, must take jobs that take them away from the home for eight or more hours a day. Shift work is a particular struggle. Ultimately, what we are left with is a generation of latchkey kids. Children and teenagers who are left to their own devices. There’s no youth clubs, or sports facilities, and if there are, they can’t afford to use them.

As the mother of two teenage sons, I can tell you how difficult it is to parent them. It’s at this time they are beginning to find their independence, and it is at this time that they can fall into friendship groups or experiences that you know are not in their best interests.

So imagine how easy it is for those youths who come from troubled homes and backgrounds to fall into gang life. They find a family with those others, somewhere where they feel they belong. It doesn’t matter, or they can’t see that they are being used, often by older, more organised career type criminals, because for the first time they are no longer powerless, they are no longer poor and can afford to buy the things that society sees as markers of success.

To say that all of these problems are caused by music is ignorant. By doing so, the government can deny any responsibility for the violence that stalks the city streets. Instead they talk about police powers of Stop and Search which then fans the flames of racism and call outs between differing ethnic groups.

Divide. Separate. Conquer.

The Erosion of Us

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.’

Excerpt from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake

We have forgotten ourselves.

Centuries of conditioning under this Capitalist system has led to the erosion of ourselves. We’ve forgotten that we are the stuff of stars. We’ve been led to believe that we are separate from everything else, that we are apart from nature itself.

We’ve been lied to.

The problems faced in this world, not only my countries knife crime problem, stem from the separation of us from the land and from ourselves.

I know I bang on and on (and on, some might say, wink, wink), about the land and it’s importance to us  not only  as a species but also spiritually, but it’s because it’s true. I feel it in the very fibre of my being, and if you feel it too, you’ll know what I mean. It would take an essay in itself to describe it.

People kill one another, thinking that the next person is their enemy when in fact they are killing  themselves. These youths and young men that wage war on the streets see themselves as soldiers, but the war they are waging is against themselves. Their enemy is them, another young, angry man who only wants to make his way in the world but the world has conspired against him,  and so  they fight, but not their real enemies, not, poverty,  nor abuse, or even the very systems that oppress them, but one another.

They don’t believe in their true powers, or the power of this world; they cannot see a world in a grain of sand, nor heaven in a wild flower. Such things are becoming more and more alien to us.

Until we start to recognise the reality of our forced separation from the land, then these issues will not be resolved, but instead will intensify.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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Future Gardening

“In their sharing to me and my sharing to my grand-daughter (or another heart-friend) we can recreate the right dialogue between ourselves and Earth, ourselves and our tiny household where we are rooted.”

From Judith O’Grady

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It’s nearly Spring in Canada!

My son and I garden together—- he is interested in vegetables, I am interested in herbals and wildlife support. First thing every Spring is starting plants from seed. Lot of tomatoes (11 kinds this year); many, many Sunflowers because the squirrels eat them as soon as we plant them. But for me the challenge is planting and re-planting the things that don’t germinate well or that don’t grow well—- I can get Ephedra to come up but I’ve never gotten it to grow over a couple of inches; I can’t get Roseroot to germinate (this year I’m buying plants as well); I keep putting in Foxglove but it hasn’t overwintered yet…..

I’m growing Northern Medicinals and they can be hard. But after you have Oregano all over the place (it spreads, I give it away, it spreads), Thyme in between the stones in the path, Parsley overwintering, and Basil every year in the tomato tubs it’s the next challenge. And there’s a purpose to it; medicinal herbal preparations used to be what we had and they may be that again. I’ve made teas and dried kitchen herbs for years and now I’m feeling ready to try extracts and elixirs. And Magical Preparations from folklore:

This could be viewed as a raised bed with strawberries backed by huge invasive weeds.

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Or it might be Mullen behind the strawberries: used by settlers as toilet paper, excellent for smudge, contributing to lung comfort, and the base of ‘Witches Candles’.
So I grow it or, more exactly, keep it in where it pops up. It’s a biennial, like Parsley, meaning that it grows the first year as leaves and the second it makes seeds. Mullen stalks are very tall, flower yellow in progression, and then dry out.

I collect them up and cut the tops into manageable pieces, smacking the little black seeds out of the stalks as I do.

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A dedicated thrift-store frying pan to melt the collected candle ends in and coat the outsides of the stalks et voilà! Witch candles as referenced in lore.

I always find this delightful—- I read about something, I look into it, I try it out……. then when it works I feel the broken chain between me and my ancestral past clicking back into being, connecting me to an awareness and skill-set which is now mine (tiny bit by tiny bit) and I can use and then pass on for myself.

The same sequence follows for other things. I read about yesteryear’s children looking forward to drinking ‘Elderflower Cordial’ in the Spring. I prepare (for ‘prepare’ read ‘pick off the bugs’) and soak the flowers, follow the old-timey recipe, and taste history.

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The old lore works—- the handsome guy who plays the standing harp puts in a special request for the ‘Auntie Night-Mare’ tea because it really helps him to get to sleep.
I work out how to send someone ‘Two Sleep’ after the Farmer’s Market closes for the season.

After a while I have to explain that Camomile has to be picked and dried as it flowers, scrap by scrap, and that the year’s production of Camomile is finite. Camomile can also teach you that startling difference between ‘edible’ and ‘palatable’— don’t put a flower in your mouth because you can drink the tea.

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The nice older couple ask if I’m planning anything new because they’ve already drank all the different selections; we plan out a blend based on their
preferences……

At the end of growing season last year I made Purple Basil vinegar with success and (in a different time frame) found an all-glass, good sized, double boiler in the thrift store. The Horehound came back gang-busters for its second summer (that plant family with the square stems, pretty reliable) and I want to make Horehound cough drops —- it is historical and doesn’t seem like it will be too hard as a start.

Also Arnica and Calendula ointment….. then Boneset and Comfrey (don’t eat those, readers)—- I could paint the ointment on a Mullen leaf, fold it over, and have a ready-made bruise dressing.

Gradually as my Grand-daughter grows up I will become more skilled and I may finally grow Ephedra and Roseroot with success. There’s no end of things to find find out and try and there are many Cunning Wort-Doctors more knowledgeable and proficient than myself to learn from. In their sharing to me and my sharing to my grand-daughter (or another heart-friend) we can recreate the right dialogue between ourselves and Earth, ourselves and our tiny household where we are rooted.

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If she’s interested or if there’s someone else who wants the undertaking and if the World doesn’t end by fire or plague she can, since she will know where everything is in the yard and how to make the things, hopefully trade Medicinals for food.


Judith O’Grady

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is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


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Valentine’s Game

I breathe easier knowing my grandfather died before the age of Trump. My grandfather, a fiercely opinionated man, believed in people’s power and populism. He was the first person to breathe the word “communism” in my presence — then, in the early nineties, still a dirty word. His relationship with populism and fascism was complicated. His own father had been a soldier in Mussolini’s army, but taken prisoner for most the war in North Africa and presumed dead, leaving my grandfather’s family without a source of income, broken, and ostracized in their small Italian village.

My grandfather was still a young child when Canadian soldiers liberated his village from Axis powers at the end of the Second World War. I still remember my grandfather’s smile at that particular memory — from that point in his life, he would forever associate Canada with hope. When he emigrated to North America, he became a factory worker. Like most men of his age, class, and cultural origin, he had a difficult time with contemporary liberal politics. Decades later, by the time 2008 was said and done, he often felt a strong need to express his dislike for Obama and Obama-style politics. But towards the end of his life, as sickness and age eroded his ability to track world politics — and wage interminable, circular political arguments at the dinner table — he did not have to watch the rise of Trump-style American fascism as his children and grandchildren watched him die. Small mercies.

I’m thinking of that on Valentine’s Day. I’m twenty-six, and I just watched my family blow up in my face.


 

I’ve been here before.

We were always a family split along linguistic and cultural lines — I often joked that my parents’ dinner table was a Babel where three or four languages could be heard simultaneously. Even if bits were lost in translation, nothing could stop the signal of this beautiful cacophony.

As is often the case, there’s only so much difference that blood and habit account for. Eventually, something cracks. We lost our ability to speak to each other.

It ends this time, as it did last time, with an email from my father. This one contains only two words: “Fuck you.”


We are not Americans, but American-style politics have become, in the past decade, our common frame of reference despite ourselves. My brother, the youngest sibling, often wears a baseball cap mimicking those red ones we saw on television at the American Republican National Convention. He calls himself the most feminist person of the family, as he uses racially and sexually charged language to provoke anyone at the dinner table into a confrontation. He is a master of pivot-and-redirect argumentation. He loves to personalize everything. The moment I begin talking about patriarchy, or racism, or oppression in terms larger than any one individual person, he reframes the conversation to be all about him, about whether or not we think he is a bad person, whether we think he is acting like a white supremacist, whether we love him enough despite his faults.

My brother also fully admits to be trolling us at the dinner table. It’s all a joke: the baseball-cap-wearing-redneck attitude, the role of devil’s advocate, even the yelling out of racial epithets to shock us.

Nonetheless, my parents are fiercely protective of his right to say whatever he wants. Every argument with him happens the exact same way. I have tried arguing with him at the dinner table and on Facebook. I have tried being calm, taking him aside one-on-one to detangle this web of entitlement and rage that keeps its iron grip on my brother and won’t let go.

I have also tried, as I did just this last Valentine’s Day after another disastrous family dinner, to walk away. To walk away from his provocations, from this game he plays where he tries to get me to call him out for racist or sexist behaviours in front of our parents. Because he knows that the moment I do that, it’s game over. My father will rise from his chair and begin to scream. My mother will defend her son, throwing daggers with her eyes. As my brother knows well, the bulk of that rage is directed towards me. It’s the fault of feminists that my brother behaves this way. It’s our fault, as women, that my brother channels his insecurity as the youngest in this way.

I reach out to my father later that evening to apologize, again, that dinner was ruined, again. The response is: “Fuck you.”

Reading the email, somehow I am still capable of stupefaction. I am struck with the memory of my grandfather in tears when I admitted to him that I wasn’t sure my father loved me, let alone even liked me.


The problem likely isn’t a lack of love. My father shunned me when I was twenty years old, and I usually describe the year after as the worst of my short life. My life was split into a before and an after; the edges of that divide reached into my family, as certain members of my family no longer spoke to me and others still did, braving my father’s chilly wrath.

My grandfather never stopped speaking to me.

It was through his efforts, my grandmother’s, and eventually my mother’s, that after a long, frosty year, I reached out again towards my father and accepted his help on his terms.

I was dating my nonbinary ex-partner at the time, a relationship that disturbed the delicate heteronormativity my family adhered to religiously. My ex was furious I was speaking with my father again: in fact, it nearly broke us up right then and there. They kept asking me how I could do this to myself after everything that had happened. After all the work we had done to make it to that point, my ex believed that I was cracking under the financial pressure of trying to cope with being in university full-time, working full-time, and being without my family’s financial help. They were truly, completely furious with me. I realise now, with the benefit of hindsight, that so much of that anger was fear — fear for me, fear for my fragilized mental health, and even fear for them.

While my dire financial straits certainly were a factor that encouraged me to reconcile with my father, the truth is that that doesn’t even come close to the full reason. The simple truth is: I love my father. I love my father even when he calls me a whore. Even when he calls me a liar. Even when he screams at me. Even when he tells my brother to go commit suicide. Even when he tells me that my mental illness, multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations, weren’t real. Even when he tells me that no one would ever love someone as screwed up as me. Even when he has never once apologized for saying these things. I love him even when he tells me, so simply: “Fuck you.”


My grandfather, when he was a young immigrant factory worker, asked my grandmother to dance on a Valentine’s Day. It was the very first time they met: star-crossed love between young immigrants separated by language, continents and race. The Day of Love has always had a mythic quality in my family. Somehow, the story of my grandparents falling in love and beating every single odd before them seemed a story too pure for the shallow claws of commercial capitalism and the cynical Hallmark-card-narrative reaffirming heterosexual gender roles. The story of their first date was a story my grandfather and grandmother adored telling, over and over, long after we had already memorized all the details.

It would be on a Valentine’s Day, in another century, in another world, that the very same family my grandfather built, could be so easily torn apart.

I am not alone. I may be walking away, but I am not alone. I reach out to a friend of mine, who works in the United States and has recently been disowned, financially and in all other ways, by her family because she would not support Trump.

We admit to ourselves that we don’t know, exactly, how to cope with this. We spent a day crying or staring at a wall, and then we rolled up our sleeves and threw ourselves back into work. We try not to worry about the fact that our futures have become dimmer. We try not to think of family reunions and dinners that we will miss. We try not to think of the holidays and vacations we will not be invited to. Funerals, weddings, births we might miss. These memories with loved ones are fleeting and ephemeral — I think of my grandfather dying last year. I don’t even remember the last proper dinner I had with him, when he was still completely lucid and there.

We try not to wonder about these things, and instead try to come to terms with the fact that this has happened at all. The usual suspects: the ever-present accident of our birth and bodies and gender; our queerness; our unapologetic commitment to a feminism that isn’t bullshit; our generational status as entitled millennials with terrible job and housing prospects. In my family, I consider the part language and culture have to play, and think of God confounding Babel until all its people scattered, no longer able to connect with one another. Trauma manifests, poisonous and inescapable. Can it really be that simple, that we are estranged, denigrated, or refused for these reasons? How have Trump-style politics and violence arrived at our dinner table and infected our conversations? How is it so easy for love to be corrupted as it is?

There will be a before, and an after, now. My friend in the United States admits that, just like with my own family, the tension in her family ran high for years, and while the results were usually explosive and terrible, she’d always been able to avoid the finality of this kind of confrontation in the past. Somehow, a few weeks into President Trump’s presidency, a dam broke somewhere — she was unable to escape this outcome.

We wonder about the stresses of “unconditional love” on children and on parents, how it broke us as proverbial lines were drawn in the sand. These cracks in the earth that separate children from their parents, or siblings from each other, don’t seem to matter much in the greater scheme of things. If a political agenda is being served by all this interpersonal chaos and violence, it will probably be for posterity to name and trace its contours, though I have my theories.

After Valentine’s Day, I call my oldest friend. She is, coincidentally, also estranged from her father. I ask her why it seems like the whole world has become a nightmare, and why it feels like it is going to only get worse. She says that she feels it too. She tries to cheer me up as an afterthought, reminding me: “Things always seem darkest before dawn.” The platitude is one we’ve exchanged before. It hangs awkwardly between us in the phone static, as we both take a second to steel ourselves.

The “Fuck you.” echoes, viscerally. When I open my emails I have to reign in the urge to close my computer in panic. I need to go back to work. I take in a deep breath, find my father’s email, and delete it from my inbox.


This was an anonymous contribution to Gods and Radicals. A complete list of Gods and Radicals publications can be found here.