Dear Friends

DF 21 - Preconceptions, jokes, stereotypes & QPR (October 2001)

October 2001

Dear Friends,

The last of the leaves are falling from the trees here in Connecticut. The reds and browns have gone; only yellow remains. Deer graze and the turkeys are looking nervous; it's that time of year. A man of diminutive stature and lower latitudes walked by yesterday; calm but oddly menacing. He was holding some sort of weapon, which consisted of a tube attached to a huge machine which was strapped to his back. All of a clatter, he started up the contraption and the creatures ran away. Within seconds he was lost in a storm of detritus. I've seen this before and so I recognised it as the great American invention of leaf blowing. Within minutes every single leaf and twig had been moved from the lawn to the edge of the tree line.

Then the wind picked up a bit and everything got blown back exactly to where it belonged; except the dog's tin water bowl and the cushions, neither of which could make it back up the slope. The little guy's head went down for a moment. But he went back into battle like a man possessed. However, it wasn't long before he knew he was beaten and started a tactical retreat, waiting for a lull in the breeze and then dashing off to his next appointment.

As I write this I'm staying with Bruce Payne (our manager) en route to Florida for a writing session with the guys. In a couple of weeks from now I shall be back in England for a complete break from work until we start touring again in February. I'm looking forward to spending time with my family and friends, doing chores, shopping and driving around in my new car; the yellow one's gone after five years' faithful service, and now I have a blue one. I'll be walking along the beach regularly and dropping into the pub to warm up in front of a log fire, and share a whisky with Father O'Donnell as he puts the world to rights.

I hear that marijuana, shoplifting and vandalism have just been legalised in the UK. Well, not exactly legalised per se, but you can do all three now without any fear of arrest by the police; apparently the paperwork became too burdensome. Meanwhile, legislation is being prepared to make a criminal of anyone who might jokingly impinge upon holy territory. In other words, another lane is being added to the PC highway and they might just have to demolish the crumbling keep of free speech, Speakers' Corner at Hyde Park, in order to accommodate the extra traffic…….So, before all the remaining copies of 'The Life of Brian' are swept off the shelves and every free thinking person disappears underground, here's a racist story.

There were three steel erectors, an Englishman an Irishman and a Scotsman, nearing completion of a forty-storey building. Every day at one o'clock they'd sit with their legs dangling over the city and open their lunch boxes.

"Bugger!" said the Englishman, "Salmon and cucumber sandwiches again. Every day for the last six months I've had salmon and cucumber sandwiches for lunch. I can't take it any more, this complete lack of variety" and he threw himself off the building.

The Scotsman opened his lunchbox. "Och hoots mon" he growled "Not again, not Haggis again, not bloody Haggis again. Every day since I started this job, Haggis for lunch. I'm off" and he jumped to his death.

The Irishman lifted the lid of his battered old lunchbox and peered cautiously inside. "On no, it can't be, I don't believe it. Potato sandwiches. Saints preserve us. Every day since time began I've opened me lunchbox to find what? Potato! Bloody! Sandwiches! That's what. Well I'm having no more of it" and he rolled peacefully into the slipstream of his friends; much to the amazement of the Foreman who had witnessed the entire event.

A week later at the funeral: (being such good friends it was a joint affair and the wives were consoling each other) "Oh Janet, Oh Mary" wept Elizabeth into her hanky, "if only I'd known, if only I'd known. I thought he loved salmon and cucumber, he told me years ago that it was his favourite and I've been making them for him ever since, oh my poor dear Henry"

After a respectful pause it was Janet's turn to unburden herself. "Oh Mary, Oh Elizabeth, oh my poor dear man." She sobbed, "He was so proud of his heritage, and the Haggis, he used to say, was the most, the very most important thing to a Scotsman, in the category alimentary, or something like that. If only I'd known he'd tired of it, if owowonly I'd knowowownonown" she wailed down into Jock's grave.

After an interval somewhat longer than what might be termed decent, Janet and Elizabeth lifted their heads and turned reddened eyes questioningly towards Mary who was gazing down blankly into her spouse's resting place. "I can't work it out" she said, "Paddy always used to make his own sandwiches.'

I thought the joke was funny the first time I heard it, but then I grew up laughing at that sort of thing. 'My Daddy was from Scotland' as it says in the song, and what little I could understand about the puzzling world gave me no reason to think that he objected to being called Jock, it seemed easy and natural. Just like the few exotic Irishman I knew. If you needed a fourth for a more complex joke or a shaggy dog story you'd include a Welshman, but their idiosyncrasies were not so obvious; a weird race of people the Welsh, just ask Roger.

The English were sublimely arrogant and every one of them aspired to the upper class; all except the upper class of course, who utterly despised anyone who had to buy their own furniture (yes, I know). Whatever your class, if you were English you were obliged to play the game old chap, this meant using Marquis of Queensbury rules in a street fight whilst having the ability to deliver cutting throwaway lines like 'Bounder' and 'Cad' on your way to the hospital.

The Jocks were short, aggressive, and renowned for their thrift, for example 'Jummie dropped a penny and it landed on his back'.

As for the Irish, well they liked a scrap didn't they, oh they loved a scrap, and they loved their Guinness and they were known for being lateral thinkers; 'Excuse me landlord are you open?' 'No, we're not sir, not until six o'clock, but would you like a drink while you're waiting?' or 'Paddy always made his own sandwiches'.

Laughing at stereotypical images was always considered a healthy way of relieving tension. Of course nobody really was like that and you'd soon learn if you'd gone too far in present company (the indicator would be a smack in the gob); so everyone was careful to work within the comfort zone. In England there has not been a great deal of immigration since 1066, until recently. The new found sensitivities are more concerned with the protection of minorities, who don't like having a laugh at each other. Don't they really? I don't believe it. The wittiest satire I have seen in recent years has been broadcast by Asian program makers in the UK for the benefit and enjoyment of the whole community.

The ebb and flow of society's tolerance would decide these things in the past. It's probably the same miserable lot now, but current directives are promulgated, often unconsciously, by the mass media (always desperate for content) and blaired into common law by the politically correct serpents at the pulse of awareness. It's the humourless champions of taste who make these decisions, the guardians of the moral mound, the appeasers, the upside-downies, the re-writers of history….. 'Oh those disgraceful colonialists…'

What the hell were you supposed to do as a healthy young blood in the eighteenth century but go swing a cutlass for king and country. Because if you didn't volunteer you were pressed into it anyway; no one knew any different at the time. Places to go, people to beat, it was quite the fashion. Coarse humour was the language of princes and peasants and personal honour was the badge of acceptance, even among thieves.

The Krays (London's notorious East-End gangsters) were genuinely puzzled by the concern of the authorities…. 'What's it got to do with them, we only murder our own kind, the public's got nothing to fear.

'

Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor (hmm) used to be the exclusive province of Robin Hood Ltd. and similar private enterprises. Now we witness the Castle full of Rascals at Westminster (Whitehall really, as Westminster has become irrelevant) attempting the same deed on a scale never even dreamt of by William Tell (the Swiss philanthropist)…except, the so called re-distribution of wealth seems to stop at the (I'm your man) Labour (Socialist with a makeover) Chancellor's front door, number 11, Downing Street.

'Tax, tax, tax, tax, taxi! I say cabbie, my cars have run out of fuel. What's a chancellor to do?'

'Well guv (short for governor, boss, overtly respectful but seldom meant), if I was you I'd have a butcher's hook (Cockney rhyming slang for 'look') at the OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) charts just published, showing the breakdown of costs, nice and simple like, so as the punter (average guy) can understand it. You just have to reduce the tax don'tcha (don't you)! Easy innit (isn't it)!'

'You're not suggesting it's the government's fault are you? You miserable little prole (wage earner/tax payer). How the devil do you expect me to clear the roads of traffic if I don't tax you out of existence? And another thing, everybody knows that the route from the refinery to the pump is being blocked, not by pickets, but, by the greedy oil companies who are manipulating the situation for their own wicked ends. It is nothing to do with us. And another thing, we're not going to change our policy just because the people want us to. That is no way to run a country. If the oil cartels weren't so avaricious you would not see prices going up and up…'

'Listen to me guv, crude oil prices actually went down quite dramatically for three years on the trot (sequentially) if you remember, but the taxes were increased in some kind of weird inverse exponential equation, in order to maintain price levels at the pumps. So when the crude prices started to rise again, the blame was cunningly shifted to OPEC, ain't that right guv'nor. I mean you're all playing the same game'.

'That, as you have said yourself, is a crude over-simplification, anyway who are you and where did a pleb (an ordinary, insignificant person) of your kind learn to use words like exponential.'

'The name's Fred sir, I won the Brain of Britain competition didn't I guv'nor, what's your excuse?'*

Stereotypes or preconceptions, we can't do without them. Take Rock 'n' Roll. It's basically a generic term, like 'Hoover'; it describes perfectly well what you might have in your cupboard and what it might be used for, whilst retaining a vestige of mystique, so that when your friends come round you can still whip out your Dyson. 'Impressive Eh?' 'Yah, but have you seen the new Electrolux, uhh, to die for.'

So all my friends have got a Bill Haley in storage somewhere, in the mental attic, but the truth is we all scorned Bill Haley; well not all of us, but he was out of it as far as Rock 'n' Roll was concerned. Y'know why? Because he was cultivated, unreal and, although he didn't know it, patronising. The worst of the old stuff wrapped up in 'hey kids this is specially for you'.

Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Coasters, Gary U.S. Bonds, The Everly Brothers, and all that lot. That was Rock 'n' Roll and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Then, then, then, we started to get the hang of all this, just the music. Not the politics of controlled evolution. Not the black/white thing and the whole frightful American radio apartheid syndrome, it was just the music.

So we started buying everything we could lay our hands on from labels as diverse as Blue Note, Pye International, Tamla Motown, Stax, Chess and so on.

Somewhere deep in the human soul there was a mediator who decided whether you felt better listening to The Young Elvis, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Little Richard, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howling Wolf, Dusty Springfield and Brenda Lee on the one hand, or Bill Haley, Bobby Vinton, Cliff Richard, The Bachelors and Pat Boone etc., on the other. It was more than just a record you were listening to, it was more than just a piece of product you were buying. It was going to shape your life.

The same as your decision to favour one political party/ideology over another, you either go the same way as your parents or take the scenic route, sometimes just for the hell of it. It's little to do with reason because, at the time, there's nothing upon which to base a judgement except the status quo, the currently slanted syllabus and a growing feeling of injustice. There is no broad perspective, just passion, as you look up at the great dung heaps of history which surround you, and you make your decision, there it is.

It's the same with your first football team; QPR of course are without doubt the greatest football club of all time. When I don't feel too confident about yelling this from the rooftops, particularly given their current humble position, I can muse upon past glories. The first third division side ever to win a Wembley Cup Final (against WBA, 1967), and what about the time we put five gaols past Man Utd. Eh? That wasn't so long ago was it. It's all vital isn't it? Or is it meaningless?

In a personal sense I can put thoughts like this down on paper (sic), but everything up until now, apart from the opening four paragraphs, was written before the catalytic Tuesday 11 September. So what's changed?

Certainly nothing since Kosovo; the only acceptable authority for mandating action with global implications is the U.N. That is not to avoid the struggle or those who might lead it, but to legitimise it in eyes that see things differently, and to aim for some understanding, focus and maybe a glimmer of hope. The U.N is unwieldy but that is because it is woefully unsupported by the big boys.

Each culture has a different point of view; so this is a war of perspectives. Every side (and there are more than two) claiming dutiful rectitude, conveniently endorsed by the god of their choosing. Premeditated killing is wrong and, maybe ironically, Churchill's 'Jaw, jaw, jaw, instead of war, war, war' is still the only civilised way forward.

Up until very recently, and this is thanks to the mass media (not CNN btw, or governments), the protagonists were oblivious to each other's sensitivities.

Let me give you one example of something I witnessed personally.

In '66/'67 I was working in Beirut with Roger Glover. Our band, Episode Six, was booked for three months to play at the Casino du Liban, a casino/entertainment complex that, at the time, shovelled Paris and Las Vegas into the penumbra of largesse.

I saw many things that were strange to me and violated my educated vision of behaviour patterns. Yet within a very short time I was entranced by the delightful hospitality and the genuine friendliness of everyone I met in this different world.

In order to secure a port facility in the Levant, the Americans had finagled (that may be too strong, but it's how many Lebanese felt) a naval base in Beirut. As a gesture of goodwill, or maybe as a quid pro quo for the privilege, the U.S. government paid for the construction of a first class highway, which ran from the city in a northerly direction along the coast for what seemed about thirty/forty kilometres, through Juniyah and Maameltaine (where we had a hillside apartment) and terminating at the Casino. So, your international playboy could fly into Beirut International airport, sniff the cedars, check into his hotel, visit the gold market and get out to the Casino for a spot of gambling, dinner and a show, without any terrible inconvenience. So far so good.

This road, which was very advanced for it's time and unique in the country, had to cross the Yellow River, bounded on the seaward side by the American Military docks on the south side and the Civil docks to the north. The Yellow river was a euphemism for a river of sorts, but it really was, in effect, an open drain which carried, sluggishly, the raw sewage from the city into the Eastern Mediterranean.

To the west, immediately downriver from the bridge which carried the highway, was an encampment of displaced Palestinians. These people were living, if living is the word, in shelters of tin and cardboard as far back from the filth as possible. But they couldn't escape it, high up the banks and pressed against the barbed wire security fences, which protected the naval base, their only source of food was the putrefied remains of perishables, which were thrown from the dockyards into the muck.

(This was common in the Plymouth dockyards in England and, when I was helping with the harvest during my school holidays, I would go with the farmer to collect the swill for the pigs. The practice was outlawed in the sixties; unhygienic).

The road, and particularly the bridge, was heavily patrolled to prevent any escape.

Azaleas had been planted in the central reservation of the duel carriageway, and they were supported by an irrigation system. Fresh water would cascade from sprinklers that turned themselves on at dusk every evening. Palestinian children would try to reach the water and collect it for drinking. Some were successful and some were mown down by the traffic.

(Normally traffic accident victims were left to die by the side of the road, because if you reported it you would be deemed responsible, so nobody did. I remember clearly seeing a badly injured man in a roadside ditch, another sewer. When I asked our driver to stop so that we could help, he locked all the doors, checked his gun in the glove compartment and accelerated away from the scene. The man died, unattended, in the ditch three long days later. I found out afterwards that he was a schoolteacher).

The Palestinian children who were maimed or killed by the traffic, were thrown over the bridge into the mire. Those who were caught uninjured suffered the same fate.

All this for a drink of water.

When the distraught parents looked up at the source of their horror they saw the bridge, and they saw the sign on the side of the bridge. The legend proclaimed it to be 'The American Highway', and their rage became focused.

On the Christmas Day of '66 I went aboard one of the warships, by kind invitation of some of the sailors who had been to see us perform at the Casino. We had an excellent Turkey dinner in the seamen's mess and afterwards I was shown some remarkable secret weapons, unmanned torpedo helicopters for example, on a flight deck, before going back to work in the evening.

Not long before the end of our contract we were invited for a trip out to the beautiful Bekaa Valley. There we enjoyed a typical Lebanese feast, something like thirty or so dishes laid out on exquisitely dressed trestle tables and, with a little arak to wash it all down, I learned the etiquette of eating with small scoops of unleavened bread; no double dipping, that's unhygienic.

I pointed across the valley and asked if we could take a drive. We were told quite firmly that it wasn't possible because of the danger presented by people who had escaped from the Yellow River.

Every one of my American friends who have heard this story, even stunned and hurt as they were, in the wake of Tuesday, September 11th, were appalled and quietly took on board the wider picture. History is littered with events and circumstances like this. The Israelis, for example, have their own equally powerful version, but then don't we all.

There has to be a better way.

I've always believed that much of humour (I don't mean slapstick) is a by-product of fear, (which, in itself, is the first principle of movement). By that, I mean both in terms of building psychological immunity to a constant threat such as a warlike neighbour or as a reaction to sudden danger. In other words, when all else is desperate and life threatening, if you can laugh at your own and your enemy's daftness, who knows….. just a thought.

Cheers for now,

Peace & love,
Ian Gillan
Copyright © Ian Gillan 2001

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