Come the Day…

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this episode of Ungagged, introduced by Neil Scott, Graham Campbell talks about the Rethinking Race conference in Glasgow, Victoria Pearson reminds us that hope is apathy’s twin sister if it isnt backed up with action, and George Collins  talks about how children are citizens now, not citizens in waiting, and they deserve to have that recognised in the education system, as well as wider society.

At the request of his daughter Zoe, Derek Stewart Macpherson reads The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Paul Quigley of the FAC tells us why he cofounded the campaign against the Offensive Behaviour in Football Act, and Chuck Hamilton, will be talking Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, free thought (or not) in regards religion, and Marx. They are linked, we promise!

We will have an update on Jagtar Singh Johal, the Scottish man being detained in India from Damanvir Kaur, Debra Torrance* will give us her prediction of our situation come the day of Brexit, and Teresa Durran shares her poems Resurgum 1 and 2.

Catriona Stevenson, talks about the Glencoe Massacre,  Thomas Morris asks if, when times are tough, it is better to leave “your” country, or stay and fight to make it better, and our Red Raiph talks about whit can go wrang when you give someone a job for life.

 

With music from: Andrea Heins, Argonaut, Gallo Rojo, Girobabies, Husky Tones, Joe Solo, Kes’ ConscienceThunder on the Left,  Babel fish Project, The Hurriers, The Kara Sea.

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Edited, produced and sworn at by Neil ScottNeil Anderson and Victoria Pearson

Get yourself Ungagged and let us know what you think of this episode in the comments, or on our twitterFacebook or our new YouTube Channel.

 

* Debra references two video clips in her piece, a piece from RT on the Brexit transition, and an interview on Good Morning Britain.

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Plastic Pleurisy

Reading Time: 5 minutes
So I stumbled across a twitter thread today, quite innocuous but linked to a vital and important issue. Plastic straws. Now I know we have all seen that awful video of the poor turtle with the straw up his nose, but in case you haven’t…
Here at ungagged we try really hard to support all environmental campaigns, and reducing plastics in our oceans is just one of the many causes we ran on our activist advent calendar. I personally recycle as much as I can and try to ensure I buy products with environmentally friendly packaging when I can. We have 5 recycling bins including a food waste bin, as I suspect many of you guys have at home too.
It was recently suggested we would have to increase our recycling capabilities as we brexited the European Union, so it’s no surprise that the government has encouraged companies trying to cut down on unnecessary plastic products across the board.
One of these very admirable moves include banning plastic cotton buds. Replacing them with a biodegradable paper poled cotton bud. The other announcement was from multiple retailers and companies themselves, the banning of plastic straws.
Following the news that Scotland intends to ban single use plastic straws by the end of 2019, several restaurants were keen to tweet that they were ahead of the curve
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There is a campaign called The Final Straw Scotland and there’s a video you can see here…
Now, I really don’t have a problem with companies restricting the amount of straws they stock, I don’t even have a problem with biodegradable alternatives that work. What I object to is being told, as a disabled person who regularly needs a straw to be able to drink, that I can buy my own metal alternative or the company supply a reusable washed one.
Oh. My. Gods! Yukkers *vom emoji* 🤢🤮

 

So first off, never mind the blatantly obvious fact some disabled folk have upper limb impairment which means it can be difficult to hold cups and glasses. Yes we usually have our own drinks container, often with special handles or grips and built in straws, but most of the time the straw has 3 day old water in it or some disgusting electrolyte powder residue from that time you had the skits. And like we are all aware some disabled folk are more prone to disease and infection, and myself having an autoimmune disorder, I don’t really fancy drinking out a “washed”, “communal” straw. I’ve seen dishwashers in bars.
Now the tone of this article is gonna drastically change. If you cant interpret the point I’m digging at then I probably can’t help you past this stage.
  • Numero uno!

Before you comment on why doesn’t a disabled person just buy a metal or wooden straw, or use a paper straw, answer this. Do you have one of those bamboo toothbrushes? Have you recently measured the mould growth? Do you carry around your own cutlery EVERY time you grab a coffee? Oh you don’t use a straw to drink hot drinks? That’ll be why you think paper straws are the perfect solution.

  • B)

99% of my mobility aids contains some sort of plastic. My wheelchair has plastic trim, my crutches half plastic. I have a plastic pirate themed orthotic brace for my foot. I have a plastic bath seat. I have a plastic toilet stool (not my stool, that’s organic. Hashtag: poo emoji 💩)I have a plastic gripper grabber, plastic fans, plastic pads, plastic sheets (sometimes). You cannot plastic guilt trip a disabled person. Most of our furniture is plastic. It’s not a style choice like some funky 70’s LA interior design magazine or hipster Bakelite revival.

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Not a hipster fashion item
  • Section iii.)

Telling a disabled person they can carry a straw about with them or trying to tell them how they can best adapt to their own disabilities, is a bit fucking stupid. No one know’s a disabled person’s capabilities and adaptabilities better than the disabled person themselves, or their primary carer. Swallowing can be an issue for some disabled people. People with physical disabilities and mental/neuro disorders alike. Just cos you have a granny with arthritis doesn’t mean you know what’s best for Tam’s C1 spinal cord injury and resulting impairment. With all your best intentions, just gonnae no?

  • Part IV)

A disabled person most likely has a kit, a bug out bag if you will. I have medicine, patches, pads, a tool kit, a water bottle (aforementioned star wars container with Jedi grip), spare clothes, waterproofs, a hand pump, and a scarf (to double as a blanket) all in the back of my wheelchair. I also have to remember my phone, my wallet, my disabled parking badge, my crutch, my keys, my bag for life and my trolley coin token thing cos there is no way I have a pound coin cash, and you want me to remember to take a straw so you feel better about the banning of plastics? No bother I’ll just die of thirst in the supermarket queue while the lassie helps to pack my 20 PLASTIC bags for life. Not only does remembering such a shitload of stuff impact my cognitive issues, it can be stressful and expensive.

Remembering a wee straw might not seem like a big deal, especially if it’s something you need. It might not even seem expensive. Buy a multipack from the pound shop eh? But when being disabled is already costing a premium, and putting barriers in way of our independence, a small insignificant drinking tube seems trivial. But when you sometimes have to ask for a key to the toilet, plead for access to a ramp, be reassessed on congenital and progressive disorders, a wee straw feels like the final straw.
  • Lastly;

please don’t take this article too seriously. If you want to find out more please go check out the amazing work @jamieszymko is doing in highlighting the issue.

Please don’t be an ableist jerk and think before you tweet.
And please don’t get me started on the issue of pre-chopped vegetables. That involves knives. *angry emoji* 😡
Get in touch, get ungagged! @_Ungagged

Brexit, Referendums and Independence

Reading Time: 8 minutes
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Martin MacDonald

When I started writing this on 05/02/2018 the idea of a hard Brexit, an exit with no withdrawal agreement seemed possible but remote. In the light of the UK’s insistence this week that the UK will leave both the Single Market and the Customs Union and Michael Barnier’s insistence today (09/02/2018) that an open UK/Irish border must be written into the withdrawal agreement then the odds of it happening have dropped. The UK/Irish border can’t be open if the UK is not in the Customs Union and the Single Market and the DUP, whom the Tories depend on to survive in the Commons, will never allow an internal trade border in the Irish Sea. However there is a solution. The UK can solve the problem of a Brexit withdrawal agreement which is impossible under their Brexit plan by the simple trick of not having a withdrawal agreement. In which case there will be a hard Brexit where the UK leaves abruptly with no transition and no trade deal on the 29th of March 2019.

 

If the UK leaves with no withdrawal agreement then there will be no transition period or framework for future trade deals and in fact it may lead to no vote in the House of Commons on a withdrawal deal because there will be no deal to vote on.

 

The withdrawal vote scenario I’ve written about below may not come to pass. But assuming there will be an agreement here goes.

 

When politicians talk about voting in Parliament on the final Brexit deal what is that they will vote on? From the press the impression given is that the parliamentary vote will be on the details of the UK’s new trade deal with the EU after Brexit but in fact they will be voting on something very different when it comes to a vote in Parliament.

 

In the Brexit Bill it says this:

“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day, subject to the prior enactment of a statute by Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

Brexit Bill

 

That key phrase is “final terms of withdrawal” in the last sentence. It’s not a trade deal which will be voted on in Parliament, it’s how the UK exits the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Under Article 50 the EU and the UK sign up to a negotiated exit from the EU, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, taking into account items such as the settlement of budget accounts, withdrawal from EU institutions, rights of EU citizens in the UK (and vice versa) and the transition arrangements to smooth out the UK leaving the EU. It also provides in Article 50 that all the negotiated items of withdrawal will take into account the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. However a framework is not a trade deal or anything like it and it can be likened to an agreed agenda. It’s the agenda of trade areas where the UK and EU are willing to negotiate once the UK has left the EU and where the UK is treated as a third party outside the EU and almost certainly outside the Single Market and the Customs Union.

 

So the UK Parliament will be voting on one package which contains three things, the withdrawal agreement, the transitional arrangements and the agenda for future negotiations once Brexit has been completed, aka the framework.

 

This ensures that it will be a Hobson’s Choice vote. To vote Yes legitimises the Government’s Brexit vision of a UK outside the Single Market and Customs Union but to vote No throws out not only the agenda for a future trade deal but also the withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangements which means a very hard exit indeed unless the EU can be persuaded to extend Article 50 and the UK Government can be persuaded to change their Brexit stance in new negotiations. Just because the UK doesn’t accept the withdrawal deal doesn’t stop the Article 50 clock.

 

That’s the way the Government has set up the vote as David Jones, Minister of State for the Department for Exiting the European Union said in the House of Commons on 7th of February 2017.

“I think that I have already answered that extremely clearly. There will be a meaningful vote. The vote will be either to accept the deal that the Government will have achieved—I repeat that the process of negotiation will not be without frequent reports to the House—or for there to be no deal. Frankly, that is the choice that the House will have to make. That will be the most meaningful vote that one could imagine.”

Hansard

 

So can’t the UK go back and re-negotiate if it rejects the withdrawal arrangements or even stop Brexit if by some chance the agreement gets rejected? Things get tricky here. First of all there’s no time left to renegotiate under the Article 50 time limit. The final withdrawal arrangements are planned to be completed by October 2018 giving time for the European Parliament and the European council to consider and approve them before March 2019 when the two years allowed under Article 50 run out. The whole point of the time-limit on Article 50 was to stop endless negotiations with their accompanying disruptions and uncertainty. Article 50 can be extended but it would need the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU member states to do it.

 

Rejecting the final withdrawal agreement would need the EU to be willing to extend the Article 50 time-limit and renegotiate but that would be pointless unless the anti-Single Market and anti-Customs Union UK Government could be persuaded to change their negotiating stance or simply to give up on Brexit. However there is no guarantee the Conservative Government will do either or if stopping Brexit can be done unilaterally.

 

The proposed solution coming from groups like the one lead by Labour MP Chuka Umunna is to bypass the vote in the UK Parliament and hold another EU referendum where the UK electorate vote on whether the UK Brexits on the negotiated withdrawal, transition and trade framework, (again, remember the framework is just an agenda for negotiation), or just forgets it all and stays in the EU.

 

A very simple, clean idea and potentially very bad for Scotland.

 

Now coming from someone who voted remain and believes that Scotland is better off in the EU that sounds very odd, however there are some very good reasons to say it is a bad idea.

 

The chance of a second EU referendum happening is very low as it would need enough Labour and Tory rebels to win a vote in Westminster and both Tory and Labour are Brexit parties. However, even if just the idea got traction and especially if it got SNP backing, then the idea that you hold a first referendum on the principle of a proposal and then a second referendum on the detail would become mainstream whether it happens or not.

 

This isn’t the first time the idea of a first referendum on the principle and then a second referendum on the detail has been proposed. When the Scottish independence referendum was held in Scotland the idea of two referendums was floated in 2011 by Professor Vernon Bogdanor,

“Therefore, in my opinion, a referendum giving the Scottish government authority to start negotiations needs to be complemented by a referendum at the end of the negotiations to confirm that Scots want independence on the terms achieved.”

Vernon Bogdanor

 

and by Michael Moore the Scottish Secretary,

“If we have an advisory referendum set up by the Scottish government, I think it is a strong likelihood, and it is certainly my personal view, that you would need a second referendum on the formalities of agreeing what has been sorted out between the governments.”

Michael Moore

 

The idea that any Scottish independence referendum should be followed by a referendum on the settlement between Scotland and the rUK would be very dangerous to the independence cause and if the SNP support a second EU referendum very difficult for them to reject. A two referendum scenario would require the unionists to win only once but the nationalists would have to win twice to achieve victory. If Yes won the first referendum then the pressure on the rUK side of the negotiating team to create the worst possible separation agreement would be immense in order to ensure that No would win the second referendum on the deal.

 

Independence with full membership of the EU is Scotland’s best option and promoting a second EU referendum makes that much more difficult to achieve. Even if there were calls for one there’s no guarantee that a second EU referendum would happen or that given the current polling of the Tory party that the remainers would win it and even the proposal would certainly fuel the demands for a two referendum decision on Scottish independence. If Parliament feels that staying in the EU is the best option then they should call a snap General Election and the parties should fight it out on platforms of Leave or Remain.

 

Brexit has given impetus to a second independence referendum much sooner than many people thought possible but how will it affect the way people vote? To be brutally honest it won’t, not until the effects of Brexit really start to hit after March 2019. For most of the No vote in 2014 nothing has really changed, it’s Brexit on the telly, pound up and down, the UK and the rest of the EU facing off as usual in the press, squabbles in the Government, almost the usual mundane, background noise of politics in the UK.

 

At the moment it’s a phony war where the UK is still in the EU with all the trade and free movement perks that brings and although the political geeks like me talk and speculate about the future effects of Brexit they haven’t happened yet. There are forerunners, lack of migrant agricultural workers, corporations planning moves to inside the EU, corporations holding back on investment, universities finding that nobody in the rest of the EU wants them as research partners as the deadline to Brexit approaches but it’s just smoke in the wind for most of the population. The problems of travel, having to get and pay for visas to travel to Europe, customs duties on goods, perishable export goods piling up at jam-packed ports, companies leaving, price increases, job losses, no CAP payments for agriculture and import quotas on seafood into the EU haven’t hit yet because despite all the Brexit talk we’re still inside the EU.

 

Brexit will have a big effect on the next Scottish independence referendum but not until Brexit happens and its effects become real. (Effects which will happen very quickly if there is no withdrawal agreement and no transition.) Once it becomes apparent what’s been lost with Brexit then for the No voters of 2014 who believe in EU membership independence for Scotland becomes the only route back into the EU. There is a big danger that the second independence referendum becomes in effect a second EU referendum in Scotland when it must be much larger in scope than that, looking at all the possibilities in social, industrial and cultural change that independence will bring. However the Better Together fearmongering about loss of EU membership and being isolated will not be possible this time and the choice for Scotland will be to stay as a region in single isolated state or to become an independent state in the world’s biggest trading bloc. In 2014 the EU feared the breakup of a member state and kept out of it, in a second independence referendum they will be looking approvingly at regaining a chunk of what they’ve lost. Brexit has been a blow to the confidence of the EU but regaining an independent Scotland would be for them a recovery of both territory and pride. They will be very encouraging about membership.

Brussels as the epitome of evil, or a scientific socialist approach?

Reading Time: 7 minutes
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Written by Joanne Telfer 
 I read Jonathon Shafi’s piece in the Independent on the Marxist argument against the EU with interest, but feel it raises more questions that it answers.
Shafi starts off from a very promising declaration:
“In the abstract, the transnationality of the single market fits with left-wing ideals”.
   This is good and very true, but the question is: what does Shafi understand as the distinction between abstract and concrete? Not a great deal it seems, judging by his next sentence:
“Every mass social movement that has laid a national democratic challenge has found itself confronted by the infrastructure of the EU”.

Whilst this is an indisputable fact, it’s not a progression from abstract to concrete in theory (the method of Marx). It’s a juxtaposition of abstract thought with material object. That’s the vulgar distinction of abstract and concrete, which is a legacy of medieval thinking. Under that sort of rationale, the abstract is the musings of mind and concrete is the hard surface of stuff. Two worlds nicely separated from each other, worlds that never meet.

This is not the method of Marx. For Marx, ideas in heads were just as real as physical objects outside those heads, he had no truck with either vulgar materialists or idealists. For Marx, material conditions preceded thought and ultimately dominated it, but the concrete and abstract are not distinct, two world states of existence. For Marx, as was the case in classical Greece, the abstract is abstraction (a sample) and the concrete was the totality of what is real whether this is inert matter or living biological matter, or the products of human labour, either by hand or by brain.

 

So let’s proceed. You can’t easily raise a polemic against Shafi on the basis of what he says because it isn’t much, but let me try. He cites Yanis Varoufakis which is interesting. Now Varoufakis let me say, is just as much muddled as Shafi is, but in a different way. Y V has direct experience of being on the front line in relation to the EU, in the trenches as it were. Shafi hasn’t as far as I know. I give greater weight therefore to the analysis provided by Y V. Shafi falls down by his abstract concepts, Varoufakis on the other hand, falls down by his abstract solutions.

But

The key to understanding the EU, lies in its political economy and not in its potential to invoke moral outrage. Beneath the surface appearance of neo-liberal ideology, lurks the essence of finance capital, in its leading historical role in modernity. This is something that Y V gets and that Shafi either doesn’t get or ignores. Where I despair with the former Greek Finance minister, is his popular front remedy. Does he know nothing of Spain in the 1930’s? A transnational problem requires a transnational solution. But it has to be built on a class basis, it has to be based on working people across the continent. The ideological fellow travellers from the liberal bourgeoisie and celebrities of conscience will stab such a movement in the back and in the front when the going gets rough.

 

So what are the perspectives?

 

Perspectives should be about short term forecasts of future events, based on probability, there are no genuine clairvoyants. The EU referendum was of course, propagated by the remain side to include dire predictions. In reality what happened was that the pound fell in relation to other currencies, significantly but not disastrously, though it has to be said the significance was felt more acutely by the poor rather than the rich. The value of the pound of course, is a speculative matter. The casino nature of capitalism is abstract, by which I mean it’s part of the totality, even though this has concrete repercussions in some people’s lives.

 

A paper produced by a group calling itself Open Britain, makes interesting reading (2). Of course to be generous, this is a left reformist take on these matters, a business as usual take with a Neo-Keynsian economic bent. But to me it’s a serious consideration of the facts. It’s by no means Blairite bullshit, unless you think all this sort of stuff is conscious conspiracy and everyone we disagree with is a deliberate liar. To me, that’s not a Marxist approach at all. People do lie and people do conspire but the very best lies and the very best conspiracies tend to be closer to the truth or closer to accepted truth, than conspiracy theorists abstractly imagine. The acid test is always to see how concrete (in a Marxist sense) the propositions are.

 

Frederich Engels gave weight to the importance of the transformation of quantity into quantity and vice versa. In the concrete concept of Brexit, this transition has many answers but the qualitative change is in most instances, significantly negative in a quantitative result. In other words, Brexit will have a negative economic impact under any scenario, at least in the short term. I don’t think that is really a controversial point, what is controversial concerns what happens next.

 

In the Brexit version of events, British exceptionalism, the abandoned project of empire and commonwealth will be restored to its former glory. The Lexit version of events is of course distinct but abstractly distinct. It’s in heads not connected to bodies and by this I mean there is no plan of action. Its only concrete expression would be in the framework of accelerationism and I’ve heard this articulated. Brexit will bring about the collapse of the EU and shit will get so bad in the UK that workers in their millions will flock to the red flag. This in a sense is a more concrete position than the moral outrage saga of Brussels bad, London good. It is however bad concrete because by analogy it’s the equivalent of throwing shit and sand into the cement mixer rather than sand and cement.

 

Marx’s idea of accelerationism was to advocate free trade, remove the feudal barriers to the development of capitalism so that the grave diggers of capitalism, the proletariat would grow in strength and numbers. Anything else is just a fantasy of pure idealism. This is well illustrated by Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. (3) and his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach (4). Socialism, scientific socialism is not a matter of lighting the blue touch paper and stepping back in the expectation of fireworks, it’s about plotting the course of history and making calculated informed interventions with a coherent strategy, employing the living brain against the dead weight of past generations. This is what Marx means when he says reality must strive towards thought. There is nothing in the Lexit narrative which points to any practical measures that can be taken for the proletariat to benefit from Brexit.

 

Corbyn to the rescue?

 

The situation has developed of course since 2016, when I wrote my article on Bosses clubs,  left wing communism and the fantasy of left exit from the EU (5). Cameron resigned and the Tory party shifted to the right under new leadership. The toffs are out and a new layer of not so posh but the rather more radical, petit bourgeois front line arrived with talk of bringing back grammar schools and of May being the new Maggie Thatcher. The UKIP vote collapsed but ostensibly I think kippers feel that their people are now in charge. Rees-Mogg of course (tipped as a possible future leader and bookies favourite at 9:2) is posh but an arch reactionary who once suggested a pact with the Kippers.

 

The Blairites and various Brownites immediately moved against Corbyn with the backing of most of the PLP but failed to oust him. ‘Maggie’ May, strong and stable, called a surprise election, throwing the SNP strategy into chaos and labour published the most radical manifesto since the seventies. But does this mean we can declare the Brexit referendum a victory for the left? There’s nothing in labour’s 2017 election manifesto that would be impossible under EU rules or under rules which would apply by membership of EFTA.

 

Labour came a respectable second with the new Tory government, propped up by the reactionary DUP.  Had there been no EU referendum, my guess is that labour would have won. Class issues have been subsumed to a significant extent because of the great debate over the relationship with Europe. The Tories themselves have been so engrossed in the EU question that  they themselves have little energy to devote to domestic issues, so we haven’t really yet seen just how bad for working people this Tory government can become.

 

Labour also has a long hard journey to significantly shift the public consciousness, after decades of Thatcherism and Blairism. Of course class consciousness has its own momentum  but the Labour party is now trying to restore itself as the mass party of the working class. Brexit gets in the way of this, especially as the NHS and social care, rely on significant numbers of EU migrants. The ones that the Tory right and the Kippers feel so passionately about excluding.

 

If the outcome of negotiations is WTO rules, which is the way that it’s looking, the there will be economic decline and this will be self-inflicted. This is never a problem for the rich because they simply pass the burden on to the poor. If you own capital, then you can move it to any part of the world that gives you a better return. The much maligned freedom of movement is always available to those with wealth.

 

If a Labour government comes to power on or before 2022, they will have a huge task on their hands and the worse the ultimate settlement with the EU is, the harder that task will become. No Labour government in the UK has ever put forward a full blooded socialist programme and any future Labour government would need to be pushed by events to even contemplate that. Whilst they may be pushed by events they will also be restrained by their own inertia. Not just their faith in Keynesian economics but the careerists and renegades in their own midst.

 

An election of a Labour government in the UK would be a positive development, not so much because it would be bound to deliver socialism which it almost certainly would not, but because it shifts the social narrative and puts socialism back on the agenda of possible futures.

Perhaps the accelerationists are right and I am wrong. Perhaps the whip of reaction, falling living standards and brutal nineteenth century capitalism is what we need to wake us all up but my answer to that is that turning class consciousness into political consciousness and revolutionary praxis, is what is possible when a class is moving forward with renewed confidence, not what happens when a class is in retreat, blaming the immigrant or the bureaucrats of Brussels, for what is really a global international class question, concerning the mode of production and its given property relations.

Ungagged short Story Contest Results

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Ungagged judges have spent a month reading, scoring, debating and re-reading and we have – at long last! – got a winner for the Ungagged Winter Short Story Competition.

The competition was fierce and the panel of judges struggled to decide on a winner. All of the stories on our shortlist sparked discussion and debate, and they impressed us with their creative structure, character development or layers of metaphor.

 

Our winning story attracted a lot of praise from the judges:

Loved the ending and the play on words with the names. The opener was reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange, without being an over the top rip-off, which was great.

 

A tale in the spirit of MR James but this world is about the dispossessed. I liked the imagery.

 

I like this enormously. Here is someone who can really write, who understands the beauty of words but who is not so dazzled by them as to forget about plot and character too. I did not foresee the ending, although in hindsight there were clues…

 

Nice use of theme. Loved the recent cultural references. Wonderfully descriptive and evocative use of language to describe setting and characters.

 

I enjoyed this piece, I liked how assumptions about working class people were turned on their head, and I loved the imagery and smilies. The style was readable and likable, and the twist at the end was satisfying and well executed.

You can read our winning story here:

A Lefty Winter Tale

By

Anthony Franks 

 

And it will be performed on our next podcast, due out next week.

You can follow Anthony on Instagram and Twitter

We’d like to thank all of our entrants for sending in their work, we didnt anticipate the standard of entries, and would warmly encourage all of you to enter our next writing competition. Details will be announced here soon.

 

A Lefty Winter Tale, by Anthony Franks

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Winner of our Winter Short Story Competition 2017-2018

 

A Lefty Winter Tale

By Anthony Franks 

I am Sinister.  Adam Sinister.
Born in a cross-fire hurricane as Mick and the boys sang.  Well, actually it was Christmas Day.  My old Ma, God rest her soul (even though I am a hard-core atheist), used to say on that particular Christmas Day the snow had lain all around deep and crisp and even.
Which is why the ambulance taking her to hospital – as she was bleeding badly and all –  crashed into the phonebox and she gave birth to me on the street while some poor sod tried to finish a Christmas greeting to his brother in Australia with a couple of tons of ambulance wedging the door shut.
Story of my life really.  Accidents and incidents became precedents.
I grew up on a dodgy council estate in Sarf Lunnan, where even the squirrels were armed.  From an early age I carried a shank, just in case.  The boys in blue were more like the boys in yellow in our area and never used to show their faces unless protected by full-face helmets and hidden safely behind riot shields.
My gang was The SureShank Convention, as we would use our blades, dangerous as feral dogs, roaming the streets.  Stayed out of the way of the squirrels, mind you.
One night we were taking on the The RatPack, who wore leather jackets with two huge white teeth on the back.  It was a territorial dispute that required Balance be Restored to The Force.  All was progessing violently until the freezing air was split by the shriek of sirens and bells and whistles as PC Plod cascaded into the park like a dark river of panting blue woodentops.
Quick as Jumping Jack Flash, I threw my shank far away, put my head down and ran like the wind followed by a couple of clodhoppers.  I  practiced sprinting dragging a sack of stones, so I was pretty swift.
I was wearing gloves so I wasn’t worried about fingerprints, and a scarf so I wasn’t fussed about photographs.  I turned to see if the Old Bill were still after me, and because it was dark, ran full tilt into a sodding tree.  Accident.  Incident.  Like I said.  I was out for the count.
The judge had no problem in counting.  He gave me 100 hours community service.  The Old Bill could not actually prove I had been in the ruck as it was too dark, there were no CCTV cameras working and none of the The Convention ever dobbed another SureShanker.  The Judge said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt I had been involved, intoning something like “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk,” and then said, “I have therefore decided to sentence you to 100 hours community service clearing public land, in South London, which is I believe what is known as your ‘Manor.’” He smirked, “Take him down.”
100 days.  That’s like a whole lifetime.  Cleaning parks.  Delete lifetime, insert afterlife.
So there I am, December the 1st, wearing a natty Guantanamo style jumpsuit, scarf to keep me from icing up, Raybans so I can’t be recognised, walking in the snow to the park with my court-appointed minder where we would meet other innocent victims of the repressive state.
“Orright Adam!!?” bellowed Jumpstart as he rode by on another motorbike he had nicked.
I waved vaguely, noncommittally, dismissively.
“Friend of yours?” enquired my minder attentively, “Looks like a right crim to me.”
“Innocent till proven guilty, Guv’nor,” I answered, “How are we going to clear this public place while it looks like Ice Station Zebra?”
He looked thoughtful, least that’s what I think the writhing facial muscles meant, and said “You know what?  Haven’t got a clue.  But that’s your problem, not mine.”
We walked into the park where I was greeted by a barrage of “Orright Adam!? How’s it going Adam?!! You good, Adam?!”  I waved vaguely, noncommittally, dismissively.
The snow was flat and shone with a million diamond points.  The dark green trees hung like frozen shadows, their leaves tipped with flashing points of light.  There was that extraordinary stillness, that echoing sound of silence that falls with the snow.  I picked up a shovel and a broom, and started to clear the park’s perimeter path.  “I’ll clear round the edges,” I told my bodyguard, “And then have a brew over there,” I pointed vaguely with my thermos flask.
“Righto,” he said, “I am going be in the cafe over there, enjoying a cup of hot sweet coffee and chatting up the waitress.  In between enjoying my coffee and my fantasies, I will be keeping an eye on you.  Don’t do a runner, ‘cos you’ll just end up in the nick.”
“Fair enough,” I said, “Happy leching.”
I worked well away from all the other innocent victims: I did not feel like talking.  After about half an hour, I was getting warm, and my sunglasses were fogging up, and my scarf round my face was getting wet.  So I put my glasses in their case and unwound the scarf, and stuck it in my backpack.
After another half an hour, I had cleared a few hundred yards, and had branched out and cleared some park benches.
A little old lady walking her dog came walking slowly towards me.  She was about five foot tall – if that – and weighed about five stone, dripping wet.  She wore a black wool coat, red gloves, and a grey hat.  She sported a white scarf knotted around her neck.  But man, it was her eyes.  They were as blue as sapphire, as glittering blue as the heart of a diamond, the blue of deep-space stars firing their dying explosions of luminescence at us.  The dog was some large sort of Heinz 57 variety, a mixture of cool and drool.
“Watch your step, Grandma,” I suggested, “It’s seriously dodgy underfoot.”  She looked at me with amusement, “Grandma?!  Dear me, that won’t do young man.  Only my grandchildren can call me Grandma.  My name is Alice.   You can call me Mrs. Diadem.”
“Diadem?” I blurted out, before I could stop myself, “Like a tiara or a crown?”
She smiled, “Yes.  Just like that.  You are not as stupid as you look, plainly.”
“Err… right,” I said, “I’ll take that.  I like crosswords.  Love dictionaries.  Rubbish at school.”
“Ah dear me, a whole life in 10 words.   What admirable brevity.  You should think about a new career rather than being a small-time criminal in big bad world where you will be swallowed like so much small fry.  Throw your knife away and pick up a pen.”
This was getting seriously weird.
“Well, ‘scuse me Mrs. Diadem, I have got to clear some more path before I have a cup of coffee.” I asked quickly and started to shovel away the snow, “And you don’t want to be walking in deep snow.  You’ll get wet, and then like my Mum said (God rest her soul) ….”
“…. You’ll catch your death of cold?” said Mrs. Diadem.
“You’ll catch your death of cold,” I repeated slowly.
“Don’t worry, young man, it’s the sort of thing  old people like me say all the time.  We are renowned for it.  Along with Alzheimer’s, dementia and incontinence.  Fortunately I have been spared all those ailments,” she smiled sweetly and from the depths of her beautifully cut wool coat produced a hipflask.  “Do you want a slosh of brandy in your coffee?  Shut your mouth dear, it’s not a good look.”
I shut my mouth.  I brushed clear another park bench, unfolded a space blanket and a thermal blanket and folded it so it formed a barrier to the buttock-freezing planks of the park bench.
“Would you like to sit down Mrs. Diadem; fancy a coffee?” I asked.
“That’s very sweet of you, young man,” she said, “Just for a few minutes.  I cannot keep calling you young man all the time.  What is your name?”
“Sinister,” I said, trying not to lapse into my notorious Sean Connery impersonation, “Adam Sinister.”
Her laugh was so loud it made the squirrels drop their Uzis and scramble panicking back into the trees.
“Adam Sinister!?” she guffawed, “What kind of name is that, exactly?  Did your parents hate you?”
“Dunno,” I answered, “My Dad ran off after I was born, and my Mum died when I was 10.  Been living with my Gran since then.  And she’s is not … umm … well, let’s just say she has challenges with reality.”
“But that’s not your real name, is it?” she looked piercingly at me, “I refuse to believe that.”
“Well, no, it’s not,” I confessed somewhat embarrassedly.
“So, Mr. Sinister,” she bubbled with mirth, “What is your real name?”
“Adrian,” I said, trying not to giggle, “Adrian Lefty.”
“Aha!  Mr. A Lefty.  It all becomes clear.  Hence ‘Sinister’,” she nodded approvingly, “A good plan, I think I would have done much the same.  Sometimes names can conceal as much as they explain.  Drink up.  I must be going soon.”  I obeyed.  I mean, who wouldn’t?
“I used to love walking in this park when I was young,” she said reflectively, “I used to love the summer best of all.  But then my husband died and somehow the winter became the time of year when I loved it most,”  she sipped her coffee, “The ice and snow bring a clarity to me that is somehow lost in the summer months.”
We chatted for a few minutes, mainly about family stuff, sipping our fortified coffee in chilly companionship.  She passed me her empty cup.
“Come on Corbyn,” she said to her dog, and smiled at me, those glittering ice-blue eyes seeing right through me, “I have enjoyed myself.  Perhaps we could meet again one day?”
“I would like that very much,” I said, “Goodbye, and thanks for the brandy”
“What brandy?” she winked, “Your Minder – over there – drinking coffee and flirting, would be appalled.  Good bye Adam,” she smiled.
“Adrian,” I said, “My name is Adrian.”
“Whatever,” she said, “Isn’t that what I am meant to say nowadays?  Laters.”  Just like that she walked off behind the trees and I could see her no more.
“You feeling alright then, son?” said my minder who had sidled up like some Ninja, “Finished your coffee?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Met a nice old lady who chatted to me like I was a real person, you know?”  The minder narrowed his eyes.  Maybe he had done a course.
“What are you talking about?  I have been watching you all the time, and you have been sat here waving your arms around and laughing like a monkey on speed.  I thought maybe the cold had frozen your brain into rent-a-nutter mode, and I was going to have to turn you off and turn you on again.”
I look at him like he had at least two heads and the second was uglier than the first.  “I have been nattering to Mrs. Diadem.  A lovely little old lady with the bluest eyes you have ever seen.  And a dog called Corbyn.”
“‘Course you have son,” said the Minder easily, “And the moon is made of cream cheese.  Come on, you’ve done enough for today.  Only 95 hours to go.”
“Marvellous,” I said heavily, “See you tomorrow.”
I got back to my Gran’s and dozed in a warm bath.
Suddenly, I got out, dried myself, and grabbed the pad I use for doing crossword stuff.
What was her name?
Yeah, that was it.  I wrote down A DIADEM.  And then I looked at what I wrote for about 30 seconds.  Then I rearranged the letters.
They now spelled I AM DEAD.
I looked out of the window.
The snow had started to fall again, obscuring the tracks, smoothing the paths and hiding every secret under a thickening sheet of pure white.