‘Twas the proud, unthankful, schismatical, rebellious and bloody city of London’
A excerpt from ’A People’s History of London’ written by John Rees and Lindsey German, published by Verso 2012..
The Rat’s Nest
For a solid 28 years I vowed I would never live in London. I flitted through the city in my twenties and its airports served as a conduit for most of my misadventures overseas.
I never used the Tube until I went to undergo the selection process for the army. As I negotiated my way through that terrifying pipe in the summer of 2004, I disliked the place and did not know that my military path would lead me back to live here at 30 years old; a writer, cad and activist of some description.
Yet here I am, not far from where my father worked in his late twenties, in the at once awful and delightful sprawl of London. A crash landing if ever there was one.
The city provides every emotion over the course of a day; excitement at the diversity, history and opportunities, horror at the long crush of the commute to my secret scheming place, disgust at the lack of greenery and straight-talking, northern accents and so on.
Despite my half-joking concerns there is more to the place then the slack-jawed, skinny-jeaned, penny farthing-mounted toffs of the Bloomsbury crowd. There is squalor and poverty imposed almost directly on top of astonishing affluence. I have seen this particularly in the west, but it’s apparent everywhere.
On my daily walk from the tube to work, I see BMW’s and Merc’s parked outside epic five storey houses whose elegant sash windows face the stark housing blocks across the road.
What, I pondered at first, the fuck is this about?
The wars continue, and the imperialists – despite Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – favour more of them. The noise around Iran has diminished in favour of Syria, which is merely a change of tactics, rather than a lessening of ambitions against Tehran.
Moreover, the east has undergone its own military intervention. The failure of G4S, the odious private security company, to provide enough half-trained bodies for the Olympics has seen a massive deployment of soldiers – some fresh from Afghanistan – to the Stratford and surrounds. This is all in addition to the intended 3,500 troops, the missiles, the drones, the snipers, the Hesco fortifications, the aircraft carrier, the sonic weapons and more.
Recently I accompanied Brian Whelan – the journalist who blew the whistle on the Rapier missile installations – to film down by the Olympic site.
We were confronted by G4S minions and later by uniformed soldiers. A Royal Logistics Corps bloke and two Royal Anglians. On seeing the camera, one Anglian – a private of about 35 – told us we couldn’t film. ‘You a Viking or a Poacher?’ I asked him, referring to the two battalions of his regiment. The familiarity threw him.’…err, I can’t tell you that…’ He stammered, and that was the end of our exchange.
My unrequited, combative leanings
I’m all for peace, but I do love a ruck.
Fortunately, I have found a superb MMA gym to train in. It’s cheap by London standards and very well-equipped and provides me with Muay Thai, submission grappling, a nifty line in yoga and more.
My first fascination was with Muay Thai, but the wrestling has me. Arguably, wrestling is the dominant part of mixed martial arts. The two variants of wrestling are a complete and rewarding diversion from my past kickboxing/boxing.
My preference in practical terms is freestyle wrestling – which allows grabbing of the opponent’s legs – but the purely upper body-based Greco-Roman style is also fascinating given I’ve never really trained in the vertical clinch.
The sheer physical grind is amazing and has kept me sore, humble and focused. The boxing sessions will add a more familiar burn in the lungs.
After recent structural changes, my book is progressing very quickly and my editor is as happy- clappy as he could be at this stage. I’m told there needs to be some work on Voice, but that the book as plenty of poke, with the anti-war element being a departure from the norm and the key hook. I can’t wait to send it to the MOD, but until then let the wankers stew.
My other project will be a similar expose of military, Rupert-shaped dumb-fuckery, albeit in a non-literary format, and has been a pleasure to work on so far. We’ve assembled a brilliant range of testimonies, and a solid outfit to make it a reality.
I’m now considering my second book based on the rafts of utterly shit military books on the shelves at the moment. For the title I’m thinking along the lines of… Joe Glenton… Shadow Warrior…