There is no left wing ‘Thought Police’ forcing political correctness on everyone else. There is, however, a right wing ‘Thought Police’ spreading paranoia about political correctness. Yes, some left wing people do go a little too far in vociferously defending human rights, or calling for them to be extended, which is what the right see as political correctness. But when it comes down to it, it is the arrogance of white male middle class privilege that is the force for reactionary political unrest in the twenty-first century. By definition, the underdogs, the less privileged, the poor, and the oppressed cannot assert their rights over the ruling class. They — or rather we — can ask for, protest, petition, and ultimately vote for our rights. But by and large we are all helpless. It is just ridiculous for the rich, privileged, predominantly white and male, dominant, ruling class to whine that that they face ‘political correctness gone mad’. They actually make themselves look pathetic; crybabies who have very little to cry about and a hell of a lot to be thankful for. Revolutions come about when one sector of the ruling class decides to off another sector of the ruling class, and promise the lower orders a say in the new order. That is what is happening now. The loud mouthed, arrogant, to their minds ‘deprived’ but in reality well off and powerful are turning on the intellectuals and getting the working class to provide the muscle. No good can come of that. We’ve already chucked out of the EU. Look at what happens to the chuckers. Nothing. They are what happens to us, in the end.
Have you read the proposal? Sounds like a good idea to me. Yes, they should sell it and open a new library.
But really, I actually use the Central Library on a weekly basis, and I doubt that most of the people signing this do. Nothing lasts forever, and libraries are an anachronism in the Information Age. We can all be sentimental. And we can squander money that could be better spent on other things. After all, what is a library for? A place to put books so they are readily available for loan to the public? Have you seen the Central Library recently? Most of the space is taken up with other media and computers. Most people can access books on their phones. All right, some of us like to hold a book with paper pages. But how many? And have we the right to take resources from the majority of the public who are reading — but just not reading books? It’s even rather condescending. I don’t think libraries are invaluable. But do bear in mind that the Sheffield Council is intending to replace this old building with a nice new modern one, probably with better access for the disabled. That’s something that’s not been mentioned, so far. The new hotel will keep the Graves Art Gallery, but move it to the ground floor.
I used to be a member of the Sheffield Writers’ Club, which met in the Central Library Committee Room. Ours was Sheffield’s oldest writers’ club, and we were proud of our meeting place, it had a certain cachet. But when the Central Library administrators told us that they no longer had room for us, we did what we had to do and looked elsewhere for a meeting place. The administrator explained that they just did not have room to expand and were running out of space — even for storing, let alone displaying books. Look in the Central Library, in the novels section for instance. It’s been decimated. All the books that I used to borrow in my childhood have gone. But there’s no point in being sentimental about it. My childhood is long gone too! We can’t all live in the past. Even the computers in the Central Library are out of date. And in any case, most people have phones that knock the Central Library’s desktop PCs into a cocked hat. And most people download films and music from iTunes. The Music Library used to be a splendid service, with lunchtime recitals and knowledgeable assistants — all gone. It just isn’t that important anymore.
So what is the point of the Central Library? What should be its rȏle in the 21st Century?
I think it does have a rȏle, but a transitional one. There are some aspects of the Central Library service that are probably important and may be indispensable. One that immediately springs to mind is the provision of graphic novels in printed versions. Another is art books. And yet another is music scores. But these are already obsolescent. With the advent of the modern tablet computer, there is no reason to have a printed score as any tablet will fit on a music rest, or the score can be printed out, to order. Of course, some people love to hold a book in the hand, but they tend to buy and own their own copies. We are even living in the age of the cheap book! Look on Amazon. The classics are available for free download in Kindle format, but in many cases, second hand books are available for a nominal cost, many supplied by Oxfam and similar. There remain other services provided by the Central Library, such as searches. But these need not be provided by a centralised facility. In fact, many library services can be accessed by a terminal — anywhere! The building becomes irrelevant. So what are we complaining about? A building that is nice to shelter in on a rainy day? A building to point at, proudly, when showing visitors around the city? I suspect that for most people who will sign this petition, that is all the Central Library will ever be.
I actually use the Central Library. I go there on a weekly basis. I rarely borrow books, these days, and if you saw my flat, you would know why. There are books everywhere! But those are books that I own. The books that I would like to be able to read in the Central Library, on a casual ‘drop in’ basis are long gone. Recently, I had to get them to bring one up from the Stack. That’s because they don’t have the space. If the demand is there, they will build this new library building, and Emile Zola and Proust and Woolf will be back on the Shelves where they were in my childhood. And more important, GCSE texts will be there in sufficient quantities for dozens of students to have access. But do I have the right to demand that they prop up this crumbling edifice? Well, no, I don’t think I do, and that’s why I’m not going to sign this petition.
And after all is said and done, maybe they can solve their problems by extending their download service. Yes, they already have a ebook loan service. For the Central Library, and others, similar, the writing is not just on the wall, it’s on Cyberspace.
I : A Canopic Jar
When we were young, knowing and not knowing
The mass and mildness of our being and not being
And other fine complexities of time
And place and people and contingencies,
We talked a lot and walked and swam and sang
A lot and drifted through dark fading green
Our foreheads douched by dewy passion’s sheen.
Adultery for us a passing phase
Past childhood to centennial one-night lays
We swam through glades of interlacing leaves
And laughed at shadows that blew long and black
And gathered, threateningly at our lean backs.
And women, weeping at some weathering wall
Suddenly rejoice to view it fall
And one voice declaims — You shall see worse than this.
But I doubted this and walked a little
Further on, a borrowed hand guiding,
I walked further to a bank offering
Choice of sun or shade, there resting
My head as if beneath a blade, wondering
What dreams may come, but taking time to watch
Red spotted moths divebombing frightened children
Too young to realise the lack of danger
But trained to point and hiss at any stranger.
And onceuponatime those ragamuffin balls,
Where I was paid court to: whitegloved in marble halls,
And danced: puppetlike; but quick of pace
In layers of freshly laundered lace,
Let down my hair,
Whose is that step upon the stair?
Do not seek to know;
Nothing more than a dungbeatle Sisyphus,
Pushing until the moment comes to let it
Go: is that all there is to it? Is that all
Over now and nothing come of it, after all?
Pandora – truth be told – was going to give
Her jar to everyone, but Zeus tricked her
― Filling it up with demons – so when she
Opened it (as Zeus knew she would) out came
All the evils of the world and so
Pandora and all femalekind were blamed
For Zeus’s handiwork, and worst of all
That evil demon ‘Hope’ delusional.
But truth be known; Lilith, Leylah, Night
Was always friend to man, but foolish man
Was tricked into burying her jar beneath the sand.
Whispers in the Dark
Do you remember that Summer…
(you said “Sophie!
I do not think that you could ever be
A wallflower – not with a figure like that! – No Offence!)
But though men speak of you in whispers;
Speak of your mystery; they seldom hint
Of the grace you show when you step out to dance.
(And so I left – fantasising Cinderella – )
How we fool ourselves!
(You agree? And what
Pray, might you know? What indeed do you know!)
And do you remember that Autumn we last met?
When we all drank toasts to our nice degrees
And some of us drank to our decree nicis!
But all of us drank no matter what – we drank –
(“Fountain of knowledge – all drink here!” you said!)
We were sitting in that place with chairs of cane
And table mat menu cards with coffee stains –
Remember that? And him on the next table said,
(In ‘Oxford tones’ – louder than necessary)
“Shakespeare, of course – I think we’re all agreed?
For proper realisation would need
Much more than this poor theatre could supply!”
(And that poor woman with him could have died!
And not in the ‘Shakespeare sense’! Ha! Not at all!)
Which brings my mind back to that Summer Ball –
Or Spring Ball? Was it May or was it June?
I’m sure it was the solstice… That weekend
Some went on to Stonehenge, but were turned
Back… The Druids too!
(It was a shame!)
Anyway he was there.
(He was a drip!)
I saw him recently… You won’t believe it
But – he’s gay! Oh! You knew it all along?
You would of course! What do I mean? Ha-ha!
(That’s one to me I think!)
It’s time I left.
No, nothing very much, a car boot sale.
Yes, I use eBay … I sell them on.
I’ve sold my text books too
(I’ve sold my dreams!
I wouldn’t tell him that though!)
Well, goodbye! –
Air-kissing yet again! That’s twice this week!
And would it have worked out? Oh! Who can say!
It’s going to rain, I think. The sky is grey.
And into the greyness he goes marching off!
I wish I could take things less seriously!
Just look at him – his shoulders are like beams!
(Just like the ones I got the builder to
Expose and leave bare when he came last week!)
I do get bored with verbal hide and seek!
And what was I expecting after all?
What did I want to happen after all?
Lapsing into that silly, clever chat
That should have gone with all the other crap
I sold on eBay. But he did look good!
What might have been… Oh Sophie! Why did you?
Cross him off the list! That’s two down now…
Why do you do it? Oh you silly cow!
I vividly remember the smell and feel of dirty air, and the sight of ruined buildings from The Blitz that happened a full decade before, long before my time. But we were told to ‘keep away from the bombed buildings’ because they were dangerous. Of course, telling children that something is dangerous only makes it sound more exciting. The air really was filthy, and I had my neck scrubbed every time I came in from outside. And there was this awful, awful fog and smog, yellow and thick and impossible to see through — until the Clean Air Acts kicked in. I remember my father moaning about it to the local Bobby. Not that he could do anything about it, just sympathise. “This town’s really dirty,” Dad said, and the policeman nodded. We were always coughing and bronchitis was endemic. Then the air got cleaner. The Great Storm flattened all the prefabricated ‘temporary’ housing — the ‘prefabs’ — where the bombed out people had been living for over a decade. Goodness knows how they managed before permanent housing was ready. Most were rehoused in blocks of flats, seemingly thrown up overnight. Or perhaps the Council planned better than they knew and the flats were waiting for them, buried under red tape. Everyone hated the Council flats, and I was warned to keep away from them as well as the bombed buildings. We were all dreadfully prejudiced against the people in them, and said the children were violent ‘juvenile delinquents’ and their parents were thieves. There’s no doubt some of them were, but there’s no doubt that the suicide rate was higher in the flats, as well. Moving people into them tore apart communities. My sister and I felt privileged to own our own house. All this was in the first eight years of my life. But there were some very happy times. I remember the Student Rag with its parade of decorated floats and its comic boat race, all of us crowding together on Lady’s Bridge on The Wicker, to watch them capsizing and getting drenched with water hosed on them by the factory workers. And there was the magazine the students produced called ‘Twicker’ that I wasn’t allowed to read because it was too rude. But there were lots of green places, like Millhouses Park and Lido, and I remember especially going camping in Derbyshire with my sister when I was six and she was sixteen, and presumed to be responsible, although the whole exercise was really a subterfuge to cover her assignation with her boyfriend. “I think it would be best not to tell Mummy that we met Derek,” she said. That was about the highpoint, but it threw the dirty air and bombed buildings into sharp relief.
Disappointed, but not exactly surprised. I was expecting Trump to win but hoping he might not. I was more surprised that Clinton was doing so well, just only yesterday.
Democracy is a crazy system. Really it is. In at least every other election, either a crazy person or a fool is elected. I’m not saying democracy is a bad idea. Only that it could be made to work better. It went wrong in America way before the actual vote, by selecting Trump as the candidate. People aren’t that bright when they come to vote, even the highly educated one. When they vote, they don’t think: “This is important. We need to elect someone who will be reasonable and rational, who is pro science, understands the economy, diplomatic even under pressure, sensible about immigration…” and so on. No, they say things like: “We don’t want a woman in the white house. She might have hysterics and press the button in a panic.” Or, “She should go to jail. No, I don’t know what for, the FBI should be answering that question. And if they don’t, she’s paid them off.” Or, “Trump was good on ‘The Apprentice’. I liked him. And he’s going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out and make Mexico pay for it.” The level of argument here is sub-purile. Of course it is. And yes, I know that he won’t find it as easy as he seems to think. And I know that Trump understood the voters and knew what to say to get their support. Because the average American voter is something like an overweight redneck with a can of Budweiser in one hand and the remote in the other, and that’s true even of the non-redneck ones, the ones who wear suits and crouch over their laptop drinking latte and bourbon. It’s knee jerk politics. It’s soundbite politics. Can anyone remember a single soundbite that Clinton uttered? I know I can’t, and that’s worrying. It’s worrying because when the day of the election arrived, the voters said: “I know Clinton is probably OK, and Trump is an idiot, but… you know, he’s gonna build that wall!”
Also, people are running scared. Particularly, they’re scared of Islamic Jihadism. Clinton was too ‘politically correct’. They felt safer with Trump, even if it is an illusion of safety. People go by feelings. They walk into the polling booth and they think: “I’ll vote for Clinton. Yes, I will.” But their fingers hover in the air and they just can’t do it. Even without thinking, they vote for Trump, because they feel the fear running away as they do.
I have always maintained that elections are not won by people with the skills to run a country. They are won by people with the skills to win an election — which are different skills. Trump obviously has those skills in spades — he’s not called ‘Trump’ for nothing! He can play to the gallery, he can work his audience. Now he’s won, his work is done. In an ideal world he should stand aside and let someone who has a different set of skills take over. But this isn’t an ideal world. We’re stuck with someone with a flair for soundbites and catchphrases and no proven track record for actually doing the work. No one knows how good a president he will be. Maybe he’ll surprise us all, maybe he’ll pull some new tricks out of the bag, maybe he’ll listen for a change, maybe we’ll see a softer side, maybe…
But the maybes fall off the bottom of the page.
Baron Frankenstein filled Doctor Karnstein’s glass with more Amontillado. “We are alike, you and I,” he said.
“Well, we’re both physicians,” quavered Karnstein. “But you are pure research, whereas I apply myself to the saving of lives.”
“True,” said Frankenstein. “But we are both involved in the saving of lives. And I am practical, some of the time. Currently I’m working on something that could save many lives and does involve surgery.”
Karnstein simpered: “I hope you’re not going to tell me these rumours about you are true?”
This could be difficult, pondered Frankenstein. Sounded like Karnstein mightn’t approve. “Are the rumours so bad?”
“Bad for business, perhaps. We don’t want our work disturbed by superstitious villagers dragging us off to the stake. Ma-ha! We cannot save lives if we’re roast-meat.”
Ah, not so bad. A little more fortified wine and he’s mine.
“So, Baron,” Karnstein’s speech was slurred. “What are you doing that’s so secret, yet so frightening to the ignorant peasants?”
Yes, thought Frankenstein, Karnstein’s already on my side. Just doesn’t know it yet. “Something I need your help with,” he grinned, sardonically. “I am — like you — a highly ethical surgeon, trying out a very delicate procedure. I need your professional assistance. I’m about to attempt the most delicate of operations: the transplant of a human brain.”
Karnstein nearly dropped his glass. “Well, the ethics depend on whose brain, and whose body.”
“Indeed, I cannot practise on ‘the ignorant peasants’.”
Karnstein laughed. “Ah-ha! Not sure I entirely agree with you, Baron. That inn keeper was rather insolent when I charged for my services; removing a splinter from his finger. He was — after all — paying for my hard earned skills.”
“Have some more Amontillado!”
Karnstein drank greedily. “So, just who are you going to practise on?”
Frankenstein leaned back in his chair, and tented his fingers. “Myself.”
“What?” Karnstein shook his head and laughed. “One of us must be hearing things — or rambling. I thought you said you’re going to transplant your own brain.”
“I am,” said Frankenstein.
“You can’t possibly… operate on yourself,” dithered Karnstein, “S’impossible! And probably unethical.”
“On the contrary, it’s the only way that is ethical.”
“Still impossible, though.”
“Not if you carry out the surgery, following my instructions to the letter.”
“Could never counsel such a thing,” said Karnstein, drawing himself up. “And that is — um — that!”
Such impertinence, thought Frankenstein. Ah well, Plan B. “But my dear Doctor,” he said, “It is vital you carry out this operation. Your pettifogging concerns about ethics are rather off the mark. You see I must have my brain transferred into another body — and soon.”
“M-m-m-must? I don’t follow you.”
“This is not — shall we say — a matter of pure research any more. I discovered recently that I am ill; mortally ill. I have only days to live. My only chance of survival is to transfer my brain from my ailing body to a vigorous one. You can help me, Doctor. You can save my life.”
Karnstein mopped his forehead and drained his glass. “If I could perform such delicate surgery,” he said, “of course I would, my friend. But I don’t have the skills… the experience!”
“Then we must start your training right away. I’ll give you access to my notebooks and demonstrate my new techniques. Of course, you will have to be sober! Come down to my laboratory and let me show you what I have been doing.”
So Frankenstein led Karnstein down to his laboratory. And in that eerily lit, stone walled room full of strange apparatuses, he showed him the hideous creation lying on the bench. It appeared superficially human. But the yellow skin, stretched tight, barely covered the work of muscles and arteries arranged over the abnormally long skeleton. The yellow eyes stared sightlessly towards the ceiling. And the top of its head was open and empty — awaiting a brain.
“My God!” Karnstein’s eyes started nearly out of their sockets.
With a sympathetic smile, Frankenstein handed him the flask of Amontillado.
Karnstein, took a long draught, and fell backwards in a dead faint.
“Waste not want not,” said Frankenstein, catching the falling flask.
It was quite a long time before Karnstein woke up — with a violent headache. He could not remember a worse hangover.
Frankenstein looked at him sympathetically, “Ah, so the patient awakes.”
“I feel strange,” said Karnstein.
“I’m really not surprised,” said Frankenstein, holding up a mirror.
I knew I was overhung, thought Karnstein, but not that overhung. His reflection was sallow and strangely unfamiliar. His eyes focused — and he saw the taut, yellow skin with stitches around the top of the head. He screamed.
And went on screaming.
“Don’t take on so,” said Frankenstein. “You really didn’t imagine that I was actually going to use my own brain, now did you?