SANDRA MARTIN, recently returned from a visit to England, gives her impressions of the post-Thatcher scene. The England I knew has all but gone. It is surrounded by the shadow of a motorway which cuts a scar through the once lovely green fields and meadows. The roar from too much traffic rudely interrupts once quiet villages. People fight to stave off ever widening highways which pollute their lives with noise and dirt. Quiet resignation and swallowed pride reign where once angry action kept the vultures at bay.
The houses which once stood so proudly have been replaced by row upon row of disintegrating multi-storey flats and housing estates, where families live shrouded in the poverty left behind by too many people wanting too much.
The class divide is more evident then ever. As children we laughed at the toffee noses. Their illusion was so obvious, and we had no illusions as to what would happen if they lost their place through misfortune or bad management, which is one and the same thing if you think about it.
Once proud workers are brought to their knees by unscrupulous bosses who see nothing amiss when they take everything the worker has to give and provide insecurity and struggle in return. The worker lives in fear these days — of sacking, of reduced hours, of contracts that demand more and more. Self-employment has a new meaning, and those in trades walk the streets looking for work. Shop and office workers sign on the dotted line; there is no choice involved. People consider themselves lucky to be in work.
The Labour Party has long forgotten why it exists. It clamours for power and promises more of the same. The members flounder under a confusion of rhetoric. They learn how to be like the bosses: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. But they soon find futility in the struggle where the cards are stacked against them.
On a Saturday night, the locals gather in ancient inns. They talk about the weather and who is doing what to whom and complain about the price of things. But revolution is not on their minds — they cannot afford it.
The walls and floors of these meeting places are covered in cultural attractions. Culture is a commodity to be admired, copied, exported.
The walls stand as silent witness to tales of wars between workers and bosses. They have lost the fight and even lost sight of what was once theirs, proudly won. The price paid by their ancestors has been washed away by promises and futures full of hope and inspiration — you too can be rich, whispered the enemy. In this new world, failure is fault; fault cannot be supported but must be stamped out. The road down is full of self-recrimination.
England, warm memories of Xmas trees and carol singers. Autumn leaves that fall in my path and infuse the earth with an aroma I cannot shake from my memory. Shrove Tuesday and harvest festival, bonfire night and the crackling of those huge fires we lit with old furniture we scavenged from the neighbours. The bangers going off by the score and the guy from whom we earned many a penny.
England is a curious place these days.