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Paint it black
on 1 July 2015
I'll not duplicate some of the other disapproving reviews. Like them, I'm on the left but irritated by the polemic. I expected to see disapproval from Daily Mail readers but I reckon they just got bored and chucked it after page 5.
Chiefly I hated the monochrome. Everything that happened to the people was bad. The book is heavier on personal accounts than on hard statistics and there is a sense that she is only interested in personal accounts if they're depressing.
Military service in WW II is dismissed as unpopular and badly paid. My father flew bombers towards the end of the war and for a Clydeside apprentice, this was educational, healthy and liberating. My father-in-law, in the navy, saw Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the age of 19. Now I'm not suggesting that this was an acceptable payback for 75 million deaths but it was a common experience which she ignores.
Those of us who were educated at working class schools in the 60s had a good chance of rewarding and involving employment. IT was a field that was open to entry for all. In fact until the mid-70s, its lack of structure meant it was open to non-academic entrants. An oddball on the shop-floor could easily find himself transferred to the computing section. She ignores these opportunities in her picture of constantly closing alley-ways.
She pictures the strikes of the 1970s as a purposeful cry against Capitalism. well the Builders' Strike of 1972 was a real strike for real goals. I was on it (as a student doing holiday work) and the shop stewards on our site were the best craftsmen and men to admire. In a weak union on a small site they had to be good. By 1978 I worked in a major industrial firm in the same town. The shop stewards were bullying and often criminal. Within a fortnight of starting I was on strike for a day. The union TASS had poached a member from my union (ASTMS). So we went on strike... I finished the decade on a fully paid lock-out because the AEU was striking for industry-wide terms (all of which we had already on our site.) So the company closed the plant down for the duration. The AEU caved in after a fortnight but I was overjoyed at my paid holiday. I mean I was short-sighted but the AEU was ensuring Mrs Thatcher's election.
She criticises Thatcher for politicising the miners' strike but lets Scargill off the same hook. She admits the government were ready to settle at an interim point. If it had been a genuine trade dispute, the miners would have settled and legitimately claimed a win. But Scargill was fighting his revolution so he carried on and lost.
At one point I was reading a couple of the depressive personal narratives and thinking, she can't honestly believe this. It turned out she didn't. She annotated them, saying that even if these stories aren't true they show how people felt. Well that's great, there's no statistical rigour and even the author doesn't believe the stories she's quoting.
She dismisses Lucky Jim at one end of the book as a university comedy. Then at the other end of the book she goes off on a rant about the toughness of the university life. If she'd ever read the book she'd find it illustrated her rant but with rather more wit.
She says she was only able to trace 20 out of 300 of her year at school to interview. Now probably this is laziness. Using social media I would guarantee to trace 95% of my far more elderly generation within a week. But I like to think instead that she just got fed up when each person she contacted said "Oh it's yourself, Selina. Jaysus, are you still a moaning git?" and just stopped.