As I write, I recall something I read the other day – about those three words: ‘as I write’. I originally chose them, as a title for this column, because I wanted a very general title. Something like George Orwell’s ‘As I please’ column, around 80 articles which he wrote for the Tribune newspaper, from 1943-1947. As I also intended to write about anything I was interested in, the title of my column had to be as general as Orwell’s. If I’d chosen something narrower, like: ‘Notes on Injustice’, that would have been fine for a few of my rants, but not too good for writing about going for a walk amongst autumn leaves; or, describing an art exhibition. I had no idea when I chose the title that the same phrase ‘as I write’ was part of an unfinished final entry in the Journal of the writer Denton Welch. At the end of August 1948, he wrote: ‘I wish I could be left alone to look about me. Even now, as I write’. The sentence was left forever unfinished. Denton Welch died on the 30th December 1948. He was 33 years old.
Orwell and Welch were far apart, in terms of political commitments. Welch was mostly conservative but not a political commentator or activist. Orwell, of course, fought in the Spanish Civil War against fascism, and was shot and wounded in the throat. He was passionate about fighting for socialist ideas. The main common link between the two writers was that each had an ability to write prose which was so clear and pictorial, a reader could see right through the words to the world the writers described. Whether it was grimy Northern towns, or a picnic in the South of England, both writers excelled at instilling life into their words. Welch also had his own scars, from a terrible accident which left him in great, ongoing pain. Welch and Orwell both had pieces of writing in the 1951 anthology: ‘English Stories from New Writing’.
If I could spend all of my hours in natural pleasant places, with the peace to write about all I see, perhaps I would evolve into the same mould of writer as Denton Welch. Yet, although I love being in and talking about the countryside, birds and animals, perhaps it’s too early in my life of struggle to be thinking about living in heaven. Perhaps, I should just make do with living and writing in a world I am more familiar with, although I find it often bewildering: a mix of heavens and hells.
Slowly, I am disentangling myself from frontline work in Welfare Rights. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but hopefully I’ll find some other role, a bit less stressful. Wherever that is, I’ll never forget or ignore the lessons I’ve learned during the last decade. A decade when millions of people were stigmatised, brutalised, and treated unjustly – so that a government could cut services and blame all of society’s ills on the poor, on people with disabilities, and sell the huge lie – unemployment is caused by lazy unemployed people.
Helping the victims of the long War on Welfare is like patching up civilian casualties in a military conflict. It’s a worthwhile thing to do, but – you’re always aware that the people you are patching up will return to exactly the same war zone where their incomes and lives were cut, without reason or mercy. Soon, they would return with a new crisis: fresh wounds.
Just a few weeks ago, I’d hoped for some respite for all those people battered in the War on Welfare. Yet, the victory of Boris Johnson, and the decision to make Iain Duncan Smith a ‘Lord’ was a clear announcement: more of the same suffering for the poorest. You could almost hear sirens going off all over the country. More destruction on the way to blitz our communities.
Yet, there are always vast reservoirs of hope, resilience, and energy within the great majority of humanity – even in the darkest days. I see evidence of that.
My responsibility as a writer and human being is to do whatever I can to strengthen our hope. It is an ordinary and good thing to do. The only difference between strengthening hope through writing or the same task achieved in conversation is – with luck, and perseverance, writings can reach more people. Yet, in writing, as well as in conversation, the support we get from words and worries shared belongs to no one person. It belongs to us all. This can be seen most clearly when our words reflect important truths.
So, as I write, hoping not to run out of life before I end, like poor old young Denton Welch, I am thinking of all the ways we can keep hope alive in often gloomy days. First, we can always strive – to stay alive and keep all our loved friends and family close (to help ourselves and help them); we can fight injustice and we can rest, in equal measure. We can speak out for all who suffer and die unnecessarily; and, we can fight to bring down bad governments; and, we can hold elected politicians to their promises and always, always condemn their crimes. And, every one of us can build the new, better world in the heart of the old world. We can keep doing all those things which the rich and powerful cannot privatise, no matter how many tentacles their companies grow. We can reflect, in our hearts and minds, on the astonishing beauty and vitality of the wonders in our world. In songs, poems, and jokes, in laughing and speeches and strikes, in a thousand acts of rebellion a day, and acts of kindness, a few coins placed in the hand of a man with nothing, or just a supportive talk in a crowded café which helps a woman to decide to walk from hell to freedom, or the life affirming power of every ball kicked high into the air, or mountain bikers refusing to give up, or the shared joy of a red sunset in the skies over the River Tay, or an unstoppable campaign to open a centre where those at risk of suicide can support each other and be supported, or a book read to keep alive the ever-inspiring courage of armed uprisings – in Sobibor and in the Warsaw Ghetto. In our darkest moments, when one hand holds one other, and one gaze meets one other, and in all such acts of eternal solidarity – together, we are stronger than cancer, stronger than poverty, and much, much stronger than despair.