We live in a Political World
We live in a political world and as much as we might like to turn a blind eye to that fact, we can’t avoid it. You may wonder then, what has led me down this rabbit hole and enquire as to what politics has to do with having a brain tumour. The answer to that question is buried here deep within so bear with me.
I was reading in the news about the inquiry in the UK into the Grenfell Tower fire disaster a year ago, where 72 people lost their lives, trapped inside an inferno. I was angry reading about it last year and I was angry again this time around. I watched last year, as a milquetoast of a British Prime Minister refused to talk to the building’s residents following the tragedy, citing security concerns, whilst an unelected heir to the throne, Prince William, in an act that turned this republican into a staunch royalist, if not a monarchist, in a single act of kindness, turned around, in defiance of his minders, doing what the elected official couldn’t bring herself to do, and walked over to those same residents and joined them. He stood with them, listening.
The findings of the inquiry found that the biggest single contributing factor to the inferno was the cladding on the outside of the building. Questions were asked as to why this particular cladding was installed in the first place. The answer is quite simple, it was cheap. The lobby group representing the residents had no power and so therefore, in a nod to the way politics works, what was best for them was conveniently pushed to one side. Wisdom cries in the street indeed, as it was with the Grenfell Tower residents, as they, by their presence behind the barricades, shouted out to the Prime Minster to come and talk to them. It was as though they were the artist, providing answers by way of a question, “how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see” ¹, as those in power walked away, while others, princes, priests and railroad men, with no power to provide answers or words to heal, stayed and listened.
Wisdom cries in the streets but not evidently in the halls of power, or to put it perhaps less prosaically, we have the answer, we just don’t seem to like the question. It was known that the cladding wasn’t the best they could do but they went ahead and installed it anyway. Yes, sometimes using a split infinitive in a sentence adds power to it.
The masters of war brilliantly espouse the esoteric threat of another existential conflict some where or other, some time or other, from someone or other, and conclude the deal to secure an amount of money, to counter this supposed threat, that would make a medical researcher positively salivate at the thought of securing a mere five percent of the same money going to find a cure for an existential disease that we don’t fear, we know, exists. The same masters and their paymasters then dance off into the night, tipping their glasses to one another, proclaiming the jobs that will be created by building yet another fleet of destroyers.
Fear invariably plays better at the ballot box and always sells more easily than hope and so it is that these masters of war are able to present a solid business case for the billions that must be spent protecting the nation, while the masters of hope scrap over what’s left over.
Whilst we’re in the UK, you may remember the case of Baroness Tessa Jowell, who died of brain cancer just last month. In January this year, she addressed the House of Lords, a few short months after she was diagnosed. In her speech she spoke about the paucity of funds being spent on research. She also said that she was not afraid, that her only fear was that governments, wherever they are, would not pick up the gauntlet to properly fund research into brain cancer, continuing to find it still too difficult to find the funds, or to add my emphasis, to stand up to the masters of war. “Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows, that too many people have died?” ²
The existential threats that we, as a nation, feel the need to defend ourselves against, will, real or imagined, always exist but the threat of cancer, in all it’s forms, is not an imagined one, it exists, is abundantly extant and the wisdom that cries in the street, just like the Grenfell Tower residents who pleaded with their political leaders to talk to them, quietly sobbing but determined that something must be done, resolute, as Baroness Jowell exclaimed, that something has to give. She spoke about the dignity she was looking for in finishing off her life, she certainly achieved it. Dignity is a common attribute when meeting brain tumour people, they maintain it, often exude it and always remind you of it.
I appeared, a few weeks ago, at the tail end of a play about Cancer. It was a brief cameo at the end of a quite extraordinary evening, which had nothing, incidentally, to do with me. The invitation to contribute this bit part had nothing, either, to do with my acting ability. I was asked to talk about my journey, with one question aimed at what I hope for, for the future. The audience, I suspect, may have been expecting a personal reflection. My response was a direct representation of what I have written here. The last part of my monologue reads as follows:
“I would like to be able to look back in 10 years time and say that one of the great things that we did to define who we are as a country is to find cures for various cancers.”
I could roll out yet more poetry from any number of sources around the subject of wisdom and politics but it seems trite to invoke them now, however, in a convenient departure from this undertaking I recently discovered a song that I wrote over ten years ago, one of those songs I’d let rip in pubs week in week out, a recording of which I had discovered deep within a musical vault and which I put on to see if any if it was any good. The song’s title, Wisdom Cries in the Street, conveniently provides a theme for this piece of word-spill:
Wisdom cries in the street
the humble rise to their feet
they kick their shoes off
before they hit the road.
The politics of sin
the times we are living in
reveal the times
before the times explode.
I’ve reproduced here the first and second verses from that song, and now it turns me inside out when I stop myself and think what we could achieve if we acknowledge the times we are living in and tell the masters of war to wait their turn.
¹ ² Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan (1963)