Radical Stroud Walks programme 2020

Some walks confirmed – others will have dates confirmed on this website – others more tentative – walkers may need to check social media etc or Good on Paper for precise details. After discussing it with Radical Stroud members, we can’t do Saturdays, I’m afraid.

Wednesday January 29th: A hidden colonial landscape – from the Archway arch to the blackboy clock in Nelson Street. Empire, imperialism, the nation-state of the UK then and now. Meet at the arch at 9.30.

Sunday February 23rd: Rodborough (see website)

MAY DAY Chalford to Stroud – how late 18th and 19th century national politics affected Stroud – Thelwall and Spence – green roots of socialism – the radical lessons of 1790-1820 for today, both in terms of state repression and radical responses. Stroud Labour Party May Festival MAY DAY

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Tactical Voting and Conscience

Green Principles, Pragmatism and stopping the Tories in Stroud

There are those who say that when they cast their vote,
They have to vote according to their conscience,
To their ‘principles’,
Rather than pragmatically or tactically,
Rejecting any ideas of ‘a progressive alliance’
(A mirror, perhaps, to the KPD’s rejection
Of a Popular Front
In the Weimar Republic in 1932 –
And we all know where that ended up).

But what is ‘conscience’?

‘The voice in your head’ that separates right from wrong?
The internal ethical guide to universal morality …
Or is ‘conscience’ no more than a ‘pre-disposition’?
But expressed with what Mark Fisher has termed,
‘A lofty Olympian sense of detachment’
In the helter-skelter discourse on social media –
But as though ethics and morality,
Rather than the replication of one’s personality,
Or one’s presentation of self,
Or one’s doxa (one’s orthodoxy), as Pierre Bourdieu put it
Were the determinants of socially mediated opinion –
‘To thine own self be true’,
Is often cited as the justification:
People conveniently forgetting that Shakespeare
Was not enunciating a universal truth,
But rather reflecting Renaissance humanism,
In a pre-Enlightenment prefiguring of individualism,
Ina pre-capitalist rejection of collectivism,
A philosophy that reaches its apogee
In a 21 st century cult of the celebration of celebrity,
And narcissistic performance of self.

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Jolly Well Vote Labour

Jolly Well Vote Labour: A New Christmas Carol

Oh for a new Charles Dickens classic:
Jolly Well Vote Labour –
No more of that Bob Cratchit toasting Scrooge:
“Mr. Scrooge!… I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!” –
In the most complete and perfect depiction
Of false consciousness imaginable.

No more personal journeys of redemption
For malign capitalists such as Scrooge;
No more beneficent Victorian philanthropy
From well-heeled jolly old men
Such as the Cheeryble brothers and Mr Pickwick,
With their unexplained wealth bestowed on the deserving,
So that everyone lived happily ever after;

Instead, the likes of Sam Weller and Barkis and Pumblechook,
And Joe Gargery and David Copperfield
And Old Fezziwig, Martin Chuzzlewit, Nicholas Nickleby,
Wemmick, Little Nell, Nancy, Little Dorrit,
Fagin, Quilp, Pip, Wackford Sqeers, Sowerby,
The Artful, Bill Sikes, Mr Bumble et al
Declare: ‘Enough of this onomatopoeic caricaturisation!’

And in act of collective expropriation,
They snatch the quill from Dickens’ Broadstairs hand,
While Mrs Cratchit loudly declares:
“The Founder of the Feast indeed!.”
And under her determined leadership,
Dickens’ characters write a new Dickens classic:
Bob Cratchit refuses Scrooge’s offer of
A few extra shillings and a few extra coals,
He forms, instead, a union of all the clerks
And pettifogging pen pushers,
And, like Herman Melville’s Bartleby,
Bartleby the Scrivener,
When requested to perform a duty by their boss,
They reply: ‘I would prefer not to’;

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Medieval Monarchy and a Radical View

Edward the Second

Kings and Queens, Princesses and Princes,
Fairy Stories for children and for grown-ups,
But this is no fairy tale,
This is the story of a reign gone wrong:
King Edward the Second, most foul murdered,
So-say, on our Berkeley Castle doorstep,
Screams, they say, heard for twenty miles,
His cortege stopping at Standish en route
For a regal entombment at Gloucester …
This Gothick tale is not made for the Age of Enlightenment –
Oh, go away, Tom Paine with your Reason:

‘When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary. Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are easily poisoned by importance, and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions’ …

Let’s keep the fairy tale going if we can –
Oh, but how much do you loathe and detest
Tales like The Princess and the Pea and their ilk?
And by all The Rights of Man and Woman,
A simple question to ask of pomp and circumstance:
Why do monarchs wear crowns upon their heads?
Anthropologically speaking,
I suppose head-dresses, wreaths, crowns and the like
Signify ‘otherness’, legitimacy, immortality,
And yet, let’s be honest with ourselves,
People look slightly strange in a crown –
We wear paper hats at Christmas Dinner,
And laugh at ourselves in an echo
Of the World Turned Upside Down,
And the Twelfth Night’s Lord of Misrule,
But we also laugh at ourselves because we look comic:
You look weird in a crown, be it paper
Or heavy with gold and wrought with jewels …

But on to Edward the Second at Gloucester,
And a popular history paperback,
Edward the Second The Unconventional King
(Kathryn Warner) –
The foreword by Ian Mortimer
Offers some interesting observations
About monarchy, but not, perhaps,
In the way that the writer intended,
But what do you make of all of this?

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Radical Cirencester

Cirencester seems like a typical
High-Tory Cotswold sort of town,
Men in yellow and red cord trousers –
Profuse pocket kerchiefs, tweed jackets,
Highly polished shiny brown brogue shoes,
Conservative ladies who take luncheon,
Just one silent beggar in a shop doorway,
Just one busking troubadour in the streets
To remind us of medieval days of yore …
But when I sit down by the weathered cross,
Down there by the church in mid-winter,
With a cheese and onion pasty,
And a warming cardboard cup of tea,
I wander through the fourth wall to read
The 1381 Poll Tax and its hated demands:
574 Cirencester subjects over the age of fifteen,
To pay the hated iniquitous tax,
No matter how indigent they might be,
A peasantry taxed to pay for a ruling class war,

Over the sea in France;
I glimpse, too, the Feudal Lord, the Abbott,
Studying his imposingly long list of tenant duties:
Thresh corn, plough fields, scythe hay,
Mow the fields, hedge and ditch;
Tenant’s corn to be ground in the Abbot’s mill,
Pay for the privilege, ditto at market;
If you grind corn on your own mill-stones,
The bailiff will take or break your mill-stones …

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Common People

The lexicon of popular history,

With its ridge and furrowed semantic fields and stories,
Opens doors of childhood perception,
To fields of knowledge, imagination,
Wonderment and enchantment –
But, I think, especially enchantment.

Take, for example, an Anglo-Saxon tale,
The tale of Alfred the Great and the burnt cakes:
The moral of the tale presented to me in childhood books
Was all about the humility of a king
(A king in a common kitchen, indeed!),
And the curtness of the woman in the kitchen,
When discovering that the stranger –
Preoccupied with Vikings rather than griddles –

Had ruined the cakes.

But could a different moral have been presented to my boyhood self?

Where’s the next meal going to come from?
The woman in the kitchen has so many things to do.
Cooking cakes is, in fact, a difficult and highly skilled task.

Popular histories for grown-ups carry on this approach,
Textually rather than through pictures perhaps,
But the effect is the same.
Take the phrase ‘ordinary people’, for example:
The word ‘ordinary’ is, I think, used almost as a pejorative,
Rather than as a synonym for majority;
And what synonyms do we find for ‘ordinary’?
Ordinary, as in ‘not distinctive’ …
Common, everyday, humdrum, run of the mill …

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