About The End of Tobago Street

A lot of hard times went  into writing this story, and a lot of good times too. A lot of very poor times working on building sites to make a crust, and a lot of times with no work at all, avoiding my landord when I owed him too much rent. But I like to remember the good times most.

One of the best was the early hours of the morning I spent in a small cottage in Richards Castle, Shropshire, back in the 1980s, with the late Oscar Brown Jnr, the great jazz poet and composer. Oscar’s son, Oscar Brown Jnr III had gone to bed, as had my good friend of the time and owner of the cottage, Eugene Howe. Oscar and I stayed up yapping away like we’d been waiting years to meet up and tell each other stuff other people just didn’t want to hear. The highlight was when Oscar began reciting «I apologise (for being black)», after which I read a couple pages of the very first draft of At the End of Tobago Street, in a room lit only by firelight. A great moment never to be forgotten. Beautiful days. And did it just the way he does it on this short youtube clip. Only better.

Tobago Street is a fictional street in the area of London I place it in my novel, but there are Tobago Streets in other towns in Britain.

Trinidad and Tobago were two islands off the coast of Venezuela combined into a single crown colony in 1889. Despite having been Spanish, French, Dutch  the islands ended up a British colony that didn’t gain complete independence from Britain until 1962. There were many Victorian rows of working class terraces in British cities and towns given similar colonial names. By the 1960s the majority had become disgusting slums not fit for decent human habitation. Those that weren’t being demolished to make way for shoddy council tower blocks were left to rot. Ironically, many were taken over by immigrants from the colonies, who came to Britain after WW2 in search of better lives.

The Tobago Street in The End of Tobago Street is one of the ones left to rot. It is a symbol of a fallen empire and the ensuing neglect they suffered once they had been stripped of most their natural resources. Trinidad and Tobago have now been left in the hands of ruthless capitalists and indigenous local criminals to be stripped even further without the islanders receiving a proper penny for the riches that were, and still are, theirs. The islands are rich in natural gas, yet 40% of the population still lives under the poverty line

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of Britain on May 4th 1979. Within three years she had taken the country into a bloody war that served little or no purpose except to expose the vanity of two extremely incompetent politicians, General Leopoldo Galtieri acting leader of Argentina, and Margaret Hilda Thatcher, the shopkeepers’ Quisling. Both were having extreme domestic political problems and facing electoral defeat should should their countries go to the polls.  At the same time both, though not that bright, both knew the seas surrounding The Malvinas or Falklands – I really care about as much as what you call the islands as they do themselves – had something big people wanted. Both were potentially immensely oil and fish rich. And both tinpot self-deluded dictators were prepared to sacrifice as many  ordinary people as it masters, tosolve their personal political difficulties. For both had already sold their souls to the unelected financial mafia that was preparing to take over the world long before the crash of 2007.

There was already a growing minority of  people, even on the light  right, who realised Thatcherism was leading to dangerous extremism. My father, a lifelong Conservative, was amongst them. By the end of her premership he was fiercely against her, when he realised the ruin she had wrought on British business.

It’s still difficulat for me to know whether she had the intellect to understand what she was doing, or was just carrried along on a unexpected tsunami of undeserved adulation. Like she thought she might the second coming, or the fifth Beatle. I do believe she was completely derranged. As mad a hatter.

But, by the talk in my local pub, there was little doubt in my mind a great number if the left wing of the time were almost as dangerously insane, if not more so. Our luck may have been we had the less mad one with her hands on the reins of power. But I am open to alternative views. The left’s loss of touch with reality had them ignoring that vast mistakes Mao Tse Tung was making in China as he took on a God-like status in his own eyes. In many ways the two leaders were alike. Both puffed up little dictators who had somehow managed to get in control of nations and go completely off their heads.

Neither had any idea of the vast damage they were inflicting on their countrymen because they couldn’t understand basic economics of the left or the right. And neither did they care. They deliberately ignored bad news, or anything which didn’t fit in with their idea of the world.

In proper economics at least somebody, somewhere has to grow or make something others need for things to work.

Magaret Thatcher’s ridiculous war in the Malvinas (Falklands), and lunatic privatisation policies. costs the lives of hundreds of soldiers, and the jobs of  thousands of workers. We are still paying the price.

The true cost of Mao Tse Tung’s madnesses may never be known, but it can be estimated in the deaths of tens of millions, through starvation and murder.

The Victorian values Thatcher kept spouting on about had never exisited, The British Empire was over because it wasn’t working. And for Mao to attempt to apply 19th century Marxist solutions to 20th century problems, Marx couldn’t possibly have foreseen, were destined to fail. Both Thatcher and Mao Tse Tung believed they were idealists when in reality they were sociopathic, ideological extremists. They were certifiably mad and belonged in secure institutions where they could have been cared for and the rest of us could have been spared the immense damage they caused.

Unfortunately, most pseudo-Trotskisyts, and quasi-Maoists spent most of their time quarrrelling whether it was an ice pick that killed Trotsky, when they weren’t  arguing about things like whether being gay or smoking dope could be considered too bourgeois to make one a true communist. They pursued these pointless activities solely in order to establish their superior credentials  amongst whichever privileged and educated elite they expressed sympathy for, and they felt so necessary to support, simply in order to control the revolution none of them had any intention of fighting. The one thing they had in common with their capitalist enemies was that most of them never actually did any of the work they were so keen on their – on the one hand faithful, and on the other beloved – working classes doing. And that’s what they do in this novel.

Though this novel may seem to have little or nothing to do with the 1984/85 miners´ srtike in Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s policies of the time played a great part in making changes to the Western world we live in today. Changes that are still going on and have concentrated the majority of the world’s wealth into the hands of a tiny minoroty determined to impose their extreme right wing policies upon the the rest of us.

For more than three decades we have had to suffer Thatcher’s unrealisitic vision of what Britain should’ve been instead of what it could’ve been. Her vision was a fool’s paradise based on the delusion we call all could return to a sort of modern Britain with Victorian values that never existed. A sort of Mary Poppins world where everybody was happy with their lot.

I know Grantham, where her father kept his grocery shop very well. From the age of four or five in the 1950s I used to accomapany my father to the market stall, selling wool and stockings, he kept there on Fridays and Saturdays. In typical Tory tradition, I was already starting to work for him, looking after his stall so he could spend a couple of hours in the pub scouting The ‘Gimcrack’ tipster column in The Daily Sketch for a couple of wnners. We didn’t live in a world where it might be posssible to make a good and honest living from the efforts of one’s labour. People like us could only be successful on the luck of the draw, or a win on the pools.

Once voted the most boring town in Britian by a radio progranne Grantham was already decline by the 1950s. Thatcher’s father happened to to be Alderman at the time, as famous for his groping of female staff as he was running the town into the ground.

I marched with the miners in London in 1984, when the Metropolitan police had decided to declare war on decent hardworking men. We now find they were some of the most corrupt police the Metropolitan police force have ever had to deal with. They were working with the very criminals they were supposed o be arresting. And they still aren’t arresting them.

Though I had attended marches before, the threat in the air was palpable. There were a large number of officers looking for trouble, and most were senior officers. I believe it included one of the first attempts at the practice that has come to be known as kettling. Along with a few hundred other, noisy but peaceful  demonstrated I was siphoned off to Victoria to imprisoned by a large cordon of policemen looking to spark off violent confrontation away from most of the camera lenses situated in Hyde Park.

I hope to be able to include more of this background in the rewrite of this story because I strongly believe democracy in the Western world is under threat again as it was during the time of Thatcher and Reagan. But this time I believe it is much worse. 

Since I started this a few weeks ago I’ve been making some serious adjustments, and those that have already started reading, may feel the need to start again. But this process was always meant to be organic, and it can be instructive to watch how some writers construct novels, however erratically at times.

I feel the changes have made dramatic differences, and would love to know how other readers feel. Oh, I forgot, there’s only five of you, and I think a couple have slipped off already.

At the End of Tobago Street has been posted pretty much as it was when I finished it a over couple of decades ago. Warts and all. I make no claims or excuses for it. Edits are being made and chapters are being rearranged.

In 1983 Margaret Thatcher decided the best way to help the physically and mentally disabled was to turn them out onto the streets.

At the time there had been a series of stories across the media documenting sad cases of people with limited capacities being abused in Victorian insitutions not fit for the purpose, and staffed by poorly paid, unqualified people not fit for the job.

But the idea there were huge numbers of families and agencies willing and able to take their place with enough resources to offer proper care for was an outright lie. A large percentage of these unfortunate victims of an increasingly uncaring socity were turned out onto the streets to look after themselves, or to be taken advantage of. Many died, and many are still dying as a result of this uncaring attitude. This was the neo-liberalism backbone of  Thatcherism and Reagansim. Family-based politics for families that didin’t have problems they weren’t able to throw out onto the streets, pass on to others or to conceal from their families and friends.

This story cannot hope to cover all the rights and wrongs of any wealthy western society unprepared to look after its own disadvantaged members, in fact it focuses on the more fortunate sector of society that can afford the care and treatment needed yet still refuses to take on their obligations and reponsibilities.

No parent in the world wants to admit their child is schizophrenic. Not only do they feel directly responsible, but they also feel it somehow reflects on them.

The middle classes feel particularly sensitive, almost as though it points towards a defective gene in the family line. Probably, as a result of inbreeding or somesuch nonsense. But schizophrenia can affect any family from any race or class at any time.

Not only do middle class parents in particular find it impossible to admit it to their neighbours and friends, but they can’t admit it to their offspring’s friends, their teachers or even their immediate relatives. Too often they retreat into a world of complete denial, not even admitting what they suspect to be true to themselves.

The mother of Howard Devlin, one of the two main characters in At the End of Tobago Street is such a person. Not only will she not admit there is something drastically wrong with her son to herself, but she can’t bring herself to admit it to Howard’s girlfriend, Gail when the pair fall in love. Even a failed suicide attempt does not persuade her to admit the truth. Her reluctance to face reality puts both young students in mortal danger.

At the End of Tobago Street is not a condemnation or judgement of schizophrenia, and nor was it my intention to create fear of schizophrenics,who only in extremely rare circumstances pose any danger to anyone, apart from themselves. But having been threatened by a schizophrenic wielding a knife it would be irresponsible for me to claim they never pose any threat at all. But the novel is not primarily about schizophrenia. In its essence it is a love story.

I had quite a lot of schizophrenic friends and acquaintances in the early 1970s and became very familiar with the residents of the R D Laing residence situated in Portland Road, London at the time. When I was only twenty-one my eldest sister had a schizophrenic boyfriend for a short time, while we sharing a flat. She wasn’t aware of it and neither was I. His family, who were, failed to help or inform us. Neither of us knew how to deal with the situation properly, and the authorities just left us to our own devices.

Being in my early 20s and knowing almost nothing about the condition, I had to learn quickly. The first thing I learned is that there is virtually no help for schizophrenics, and the  families and friends, who have to deal with them during their times of extreme crisis. At the End of Tobago Street  is very loosely based on a few of my experiences of the time. But it can no way be read as an account of real events.

A Little More History

At the End of Tobago Street  was not the first novel I managed to finish, that honour belongs to To Cross A River, a thriller lost somewhere a long time ago, and probably best forgotten. But At the End of Tobago Street was the first piece of writing that began to generate some interest in my work, and made me determined to contimue. I finished it some time around the thrid quarter of the 1980′s. A lot of people actually seemed to like it.

Bill Hopkins by Ida Kar
Bill Hopkins, writer.
5 May 1928 – 6 May 2011

The first writer to take an interest in my writing was Bill Hopkins. I geve him a copy of The Other Side of The River to read thinking he wouldn’t botherto read it. Despised by many and a rabid right-winger, oddly enough Bill was a good friend of mine. I have written a little about him here, and intend to add to it later.

Having given him a copy of the manuscript one Wedenesday afternoon, I expected I’d have to remind him to return it covered in dust a few months later, Yet I was amazed to find him sat at the table of a greasy spoon in the Golborne Road off Portobello Road two days later saying he actually thought it was rather good, but thought me capable of much better. So, I set out to do my best with yet another.

He hated At the End of Tobago Street, telling me the characters were shallow, and that I was wasting my time writing such drivel. He told me I should turn my talents to writing film scripts. I make no particular claims for it, but would rather have it out here on the web than let it gather dust on a shelf somewhere.

But there was interest from other quarters. Random House showed a little interest for a while, before deciding it wouldn’t suit the tastes of the US readership they were aiming for at the time. And I was recommended to the William Morris Agency, who didnt think I was worth their time. There were many other ups and downs. And I soon learned the deep pain of rejection the only way there is: the hard way.

Franc Roddam, became very interested for some time, and them must have found somthing else. The most pleasing moment of was reading a few pages to the famous jazz poet, the late Oscar Brown Jnr, after he recited one of his poens to me in a small cottage in Shropshire one very grey dull afternoon.

Anyhow, the reason I’m putting it here on this blog is just because I’m fed up with so much of my writing doing nothing all the time.

The world it tells of is more about 1980′s Britain than anything; the Thatcher Years. Don’t blame me if you don’t like it, the Thatcher Years were hardly my best moments. As for the manuscript the distance between us has grown so wide  it doesn’t feel like I’m to blame anymore.

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