READING LE TOUR

30/06/214

Mark Perryman reviews books that can help frame our enjoyment of the Tour de France 



There seems to be something about cycling that helps inspire fine sportswriting. Perhaps it is the landscapes and countries traversed, the solitude on a bike, the risk factor of a fall or worse, the extraordinary feats of human endurance, and human-powered speed too. Add a healthy dose of British elite level cycling success plus a dose of greenery and its no surprise that publishers are backing bicycling authors to deliver sales, for the most part with very good books too. 


Of course it is Le Tour that galvanises this interest, every year, right across Europe, free to watch from the road or mountain side, on terrestrial TV live too. And this year the first two days are in Yorkshire, from Leeds to Harrogate, York to Sheffield, then down south to London before crossing La Manche for the remaining three and a bit weeks of this most magnificent of races. Tim Moore's French Revolutions is one of the best introductions to the scale and ambition of Le Tour from a cyclist's point of view as he retells the experience of riding all 3,630km of one year's route. Even for the keenest, and fittest cyclist such a venture would prove to be too far, and too much. Ned Boulting's brilliantly idiosyncratic How I Won the Yellow Jumper is his own inside story on how most of us follow the race, via the ITV coverage. This is the professional journalist as self-confessed fan, which in Boulting's case, but not for many others, works to produce a wonderful style of writing. Part of what makes Le Tour so iconic, as with all the major global sporting events, is its backhistory, now stretching back more than a century. The Tour de France to the Bitter End is a superlative collection of race reports from the Guardian beginning in 1903 to almost right up to the present with the Bradley Wiggins victory in 2012. Before Wiggins in terms of British riders the essential reference point was the story of the brilliant, yet tragic, Tommy Simpson. A career detailed in William Fotheringham's Put Me Back on My Bike. Road racing at this extreme physical level is sometimes described as a sport for individuals played by teams. Simpson's final demise can in part be explained by his becoming a victim of this contradiction. Richard Moore's Slaying the Badger is the classic account of a bitter rivalry between two cyclists riding the race supposedly for the same team, Hinault vs LeMond, in what Moore dubs the greatest-ever Tour de France, the 1986 edition. Whatever the year, on the roads of France and beyond the riders will be stretched out over many kms as they follow the designated route for the best part of four weeks, a compelling sports drama. It is the sheer range of the riders that Max Leonard captures so well in his book Lanterne Rouge choosing to write not about the winners, but those at the back, the very back of the race, and what keeps them going. Ellis Bacon's Mapping Le Tourprovides the definitive insight into the scale of the endeavour of the race, beautifully illustrated, every edition of Le Tour catalogued, each stage recorded. Not only does cycling inspire and attract great writing, but it has a vivid visual culture too. A combination showcased in The Rouleur Centenary Tour de France with the very finest photography of the 2013 race alongside high quality reportage on each of the 21 stages, which ended of course with the second successive British Yellow Jersey winner, Chris Froome.. 


The Climb is Chris Froome's newly published autobiography and details his extraordinary road to the Yellow Jersey via growing up in Kenya, school in South Africa, joining the European pro-cycling circuit, debilitating illness and last year's eventual triumph. Of course this was a victory whether he likes it or not will for ever and a day be measured against Bradley Wiggins' triumph the year previously. Read the Wiggins biography My Time to get some kind of inkling of the nature and the depth of the rivalry between the pair of them. Before these two was Mark Cavendish and expected to be very much a part of this year's Tour too. The ferocious speed, not to mention the split second and millimetre perfect decision making required, of a stage finish seems to be almost the ideal environment for Cavendish's very particular cycling proves how he has developed and excelled detailed in his book At Speed. For many though whatever the scale of Wiggo, Cav and Froome's achievements as British cyclists the long shadow of the sport's drug problems remans so impenetrable as to cast such successes in doubt. The Armstrong case was eventually uncovered because of the dogged determination of the very best investigative sports journalism. And now with the revelations made spectacularly public and entirely unchangeable Armstrong's team-mates are producing confessional-style books to help reveal the mire of performance-enhancing drug culture the sport had relationship become part of. George Hincapie's The Loyal LIeutenant the latest, and as such a close and long-standing team mate of Armstrong;s, one of the most revealing to date too. Juliet Macur's Cycle of Lies provides the panoramic view of perhaps the greatest story of decline and fall in the history of sport with a rare ability to get to grips with what Armstrong, the good the bad and the drugs, came to represent in and beyond his sport. 



The Tour de France differs markedly from other sports mega-events - most obviously football's World Cup - in the close relationship between spectating and participating. A huge proportion of those watching Le Tour in Yorkshire will be cyclists themselves, many pedalling their way to reach a prized vantage point n a hill climb. And lots in the weeks before, and after, will cycle a chunk of the official route with all the speed and energy they can muster dreaming of being in the mighty pellet on the day itself. This is in many ways a do-it-yourself sports culture, armed with the Pocket Road Bike Maintenance handbook and the Cyclist's Training Manual the advice will be more than enough to keep bike and body in the kind of shape to ride a Tour stage, or even two. The binary opposition of recreation vs comepetition blurred by the race which is mainly against the clock and our own body's capacity to perform at speed, to ride a 'sportive' the aim for some, as documented in Successful Sportives. A tad muscle-bound some of this stuff, certainly gendering the way cycling is consumed and practiced. A welcome relief therefore provided by Caz Nicklin's pioneering The Girls' Bicycle Handbook


A sense of the potential inclusiveness of cycling is provided by Robert Penn's almost philosophical It's All About The Bike. Penn is a missionary for cycling, he makes no apology for his two-wheeled evangelism. A bike as mode of transport, a means to a holiday, a family outing, a race to the finish. All this and more Robert Penn promises we can expect from our bike. 


The rich variety of inspiration cycle racing can inspire is admirably showcased in the latest volume of The Cycling Anthology.. Ranging over history, philosophy, the mediation and culture of the sport, this is high quality writing for the seriously enthusiastic. 


And my book of Le Tour ? Richard Moore's superb Étape. There have been many history of the Tour de France but instead of a dry chronology Richard Moire takes his reader to the core meaning of this most intriguing of races, the stages where the Yellow Jersey is decided by a lone break, a climb that defies human frailty, a calamity on the road, a rivalry unfolding. Its takes three weeks to ride the Tour, ever day filled with drama. This book helps us to understand its ensuring and growing appeal, and to appreciate the tradition and culture this year's Yorkshire Grand Départ will be contributing to in no doubt its own very special way . 


Note No links in this review are to Amazon. If you can avoid purchasing your books from tax-dodgers please do so. 


Matk Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction'. aka Philosophy Football

THE WORLD CUP OF OUR DREAMS

10/06/2014

To drag ourselves away from the banalities of the Brazil 2014 TV studio punditariat Mark Perryman provides a World Cup reading list. 


The professionally cautious Roy Hodgson just couldn't resist it could he? 'England can win this World Cup' he declares on the eve of the tournament. Not if Roy consults the match histories elegantly provided by Brain Glanville's classic The Story of the World Cup they won't. No European side has won a World Cup hosted in South America, Central America or North America. No England side has made it past the quarter-finals in a World Cup for 24 years. No England side has ever made it past the quarter finals at a World Cup in South or Central America. Why should things be any different this time Roy? That's not to say the next three and a bit weeks can't be hugely enjoyable for football fans, England loyal or otherwise. Chris England's witty and accessible pocket guide How To Enjoy the World Cup provides ample enough ways to drag ourselves away from what the TV studio punditariat serves up and consume the tournament on our own terms. Or delve intoThirty One Nil. A footballing travelogue which explores the global reach of the World Cup via the qualifying games we would otherwise never have heard of because the losers haven't a hope in the proverbial of ever making it to Brazil for the finals. Yet without this international back-history the World Cup loses much of its sense of meaning, a case superbly made by author James Montague. 


As tournament hosts Brazil will unsurprisingly be the focus for much of the TV and other media coverage. Yet the richness of Brazilian football culture cannot be disconnected from the broader place of football right across Latin American society. Alongside Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and possibly Colombia will be serious contender. The collection The Football Crónicas provides a football-writing insight into the state of, and culture of, the game across the region. A prison team in Argentina, a team of Colombian transvestites, Peruvian women's football, Chilean football hooligans. Romario's campaign for a just World Cup. This collection really has got the lot. Golazo! by Andreas Camponar is a splendid history of Latin American football on both the continent and the international stage, including of course most importantly success at World Cups. This is football writing at its very best, epic on the pitch, socially aware off it. 



The best writing on society and culture repays this kind of literary compliment by accounting for sport's role in making the social. Justin McGuirk's Radical Cities is critical travel-writing with an expert eye for urban design. The author tells his story via a tour across Latin America, on the the way accounting for how urbanism shapes the politics of Brazil. This is a powerfully original way to begin an understanding how the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics both seek to represent modern Brazil. Published by the Latin America Bureau their brand new guide Brazil Inside Out is easily easily the best guidebook to have handy beside the TV as we wade through a month of banalities and lazy stereotypes. Perfect for a half-time alternative catch up to keep yourself better informed on Brazilian politics and culture. 


One of the by-products of hosting a World Cup is the unprecedented focus on the host nation. Brazil remains best known for its football, there is no obvious way of avoiding that salient fact . Jogo Bonito helps us to understand the central importance of global footballing success, dating back to the 1950s and pretty much ever-present since then, both to Brazil's self image and external profile. Futebol by Alex Bellos is the definitive social history of Brazilian football and an absolutely joy to read. David Goldblatt's Futebol Nation is also an historical account of Brazilian football with a sharp political edge to connect this story both to the formation of Brazil as a nation and the current state of this nation as 2014's host, and favourites to win the tournament. 





And my book of the World Cup? Written by the finest critical sportswriter in the world today, Dave Zirin his new book Brazil's Dance with the Devil mixes incisive sporting commentary with an angry polemical style that drags readers along to marvel both at the sport we love and the outrage FIFA with corrupt politicians in tow quite rightly spark. Read it to be informed in your anger. Not to spoil your watching of the World Cup, but to enrich the experience. 


Note A signed copy of Futebol Nation with Futebol, Brazil Inside Outand Football Crónicas, all half-price is available for just £24.99 from Philosophy Football 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction', aka Philosophy Football

 

OUR WORLD OF SPORT

22/05/2014

Mark Perryman reviews the perfect reading companions to the sporting summer 


Summer 2013. The British and Irish Lions win their test series against the Aussies down under. Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Chris Froome makes it a second Tour de France British Yellow Jersey in a row. Mo Farah does the double in the 5000m and 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships. Sporting Brits are forced for once to come to terns with what it feels like to be winners. 


Of course the glorious appeal of sport is its unpredictability. A year ago Man Utd won the League by 11 points with Sir Alex in his retirement pomp. A year later Utd managed to hold on to 7th place. The best sportswriters engage with the cause and effect of unpredictability to capture not only the glories of victory but the far more common experience, the miseries of defeat. 2013's summer of British victories only meant so much because most of us were better accustomed to the experience of British plucky losers. Amongst the finest sportswriters to cover this emotional scope was Frank Keating, The Highlights a posthumous collection of his superb writing spanning more than fifty years of sport. But sport's appeal is about more than just emotions. Sport's potential to mobilise for social change across issues stretching from peace and environmentalism to women's liberation and anti-racism is expertly chronicled in the collection Sport and Social Movements. It is a potential rarely acknowledged by the Left, in what should be regarded as a 'classic' work on this subject, Marxism, Cultural Studies and Sport Editors Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald definitively rebuff this underestimation. Or by way of practical example., the extraordinary story retold in Nicholas Griffin's Ping-Pong Diplomacy. Mao's China, a long-standing British communist, the Cold War and table-tennis is an unlikely mix yet proves to be a true-life story of how sport can matter enough to change history, sometimes. 





Sport is not only socially-constructed but is heavily circumscribed by a classic binary divide, competition vs recreation. One that is largely meaningless however to the vast majority of us who participate because for most of our time watching, or doing, we are inevitably on the losing side. The pleasure rather is being there, or doing it. As a doer and a writer Richard Askwith is the supreme champion of the appeal of the most basic sporting activity of all, running , and in his new book Running Free, subtitled ' a runner's journey back to nature' he explores with some wonderful writing what running 'free' means as opposed to Olympian ambition on the track or big city marathons on the road. 


For those cynics still to be convinced of the potential connect between sport and politics James Montague's When Friday Comes could prove the most enjoyable dose of re-education imaginable. A travelogue combining war, revolution and religion with football all in the Middle East, a quite remarkable read. Or with the summer World Cup fast-approaching try Alan Tomlinson's handy counter-history of Blatter and company, FIFA : The Men, The Myths and the Money Written by the pre-eminent expert on what FIFA has done to football , a vital accompaniment to understanding the divorce in Brazil between the tournament and the passion of the people . Cult football teams, can help popular fascination with the game. Danish Dynamite, is a tale of what that passion can come to represent. In this case Denmark's 1986 World Cup Squad. A similar approach, uncovering what particular teams at particular times represent to those they captivate with their skill and personality is covered by the collection Falling for Football This is fan-oriented writing at its best. Yet for every moment of joy there's plenty more of misery. You simply can't have one without the other, and can't really relish the former without your air share of the latter. The "Where were you when you were shit conundrum'. Refs of course are one of the main causes of such joylessnes. Paul Trevillion and Keith Hackett's latest volume of their cult series You are the Ref enables us all to be the arbiter of the disallowed goal, offside controversy, did he dive or was he tripped? Ideal reading as England go out of the World Cup thanks to a goal that never was. Originally titled Why England Lose authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski came up ahead of World Cup 2006 with an original set of arguments to explain away the nation's four decades and more of hurt. A 4-1 thrashing at the hands of a young and hugely talented German team helped make the book a well-deserved best-seller. But four years on precious few now expect England to do anything but lose at World Cup 2014 so the book has been revised, updated and given the new title of Soccernomics. A book rich in arguments and statistics, debunking the mythologies of football from penalty shoot outs can't be trained for to big cities producing the best clubs. More sense than you'll ever get out of a Match of the Day Sofa. 



Elizabeth Wilson is a committed Marxist, a feminist, and a tennis fan. Her new book Love Game is not only the definitive social history of tennis but also provides a template of range, argument and wonderfully engaging writing style for a similar progressive account of each and every other sport too. An incredibly important book whether tennis is your sport or not. 



Wimbledon fortnight for as long as most us can remember has been a mainstay of the British sporting summer. Notoriously insular, the Tour de France scarcely got a look-in, something those flash continentals got up to. All that has changed now, with first Olympic success on the velodrome track closely followed by Wiggomania and Chris Froome's victory last year too. Yorkshire hosting the start of Le Tour's 2014 edition is symbolic of the soft internationalism sport hs an almost unique capacity to foster. Tim Moore's Gironimo is a tribute to Italy's Grand Tour Race, 'The Giro' which this year started in Belfast. Tracing the route of the 1914 race on an ancient bike, this exploration of what cycling means to Italians is a rare, and hugely effective, mix of the historic and the comic. Alasdair Fotheringham's Reckless covers a more recent period of cycling history, Luis Ocana, the great Eddy Merckx's most serious rival in the 1970s. A vivid portrayal of the sport before the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs threatened to destroy it, rider against rider in what is surely the single longest battle for physical supremacy in any sport , the four weeks of Le Tour, and Fotheringham captures the mental and muscular intensity this demands brilliantly. Cycling appears to the layperson as a sport simply of individuals , but dig deeper and rather this is a sport contested by teams of individuals. Pro cyclist Charly Wegelius records this in his autobiography Domestique. Every team has a leader, pushing for the Yellow Jersey or equivalent, but sprint finishers, mountain climbers, arouleur to help keep the pace going, sometime to make a breakaway, often to close the breakaway down. And in Charly's case a domestiquetoo, with a wide variety of roles to keep the team united behind the interests of their leader. A book that helps us to understand the varying parts of what make up cycling's peloton which produces such a thrilling sport. Le Tour will this summer surely establish itself as one of the highlights of the British sporting summer. But the rest of the continental great cycling races remain so low profile in terms of coverage and understanding they may as well not exist. Cycling in that sense has a long way to go before breaking into the British sporting mainstream. To understand the appeal of the one-day classics read the brilliant new book The Monuments. A bit like football-writing in the early 1990s, publishers have woken up to the fact that there is a great literature to be written about cycling and a growing readership too. Crucial tools towards the popular breakthrough the sport deserves. There's not much doubt part of the appeal of cycling is the pursuit of speed. From commuting and the recreational to touring and racing, the bike offers us the potential for unheard of speed by almost any other vehicles fuelled by our own body. Few of us are going to reach elite levels of performance, but the dreaming and wondering is pervasive. Desires satisfied by Michael Hutchinson's imaginative book on the science of cycling speed Faster



And my book of the quarter? One to restore faith in the capacity of sport to inspire, to form a collective, to spark social change. The remarkable story of Germany's FC St Pauli, told with energy and insight in the brand new book (the title says it all), Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson. This is a tale, and writing , to take us back to spiky music and DIY politics that framed a long-forgotten moment of football with attitude. A book to remind us that across sport those sparks still exist, vividly illustrated by all that St Pauli fans have achieved. A book to lift spirits, and horizons, just what sport needs. My perfect read for the sporting Summer.. 

Note No links in this book review to Amazon. If you can avoid buying from the tax-dodgers please do so. 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction'. aka, Philosophy Football

SPRINGING INTO ACTION

18/04/2014

A Hot Summer beckons but perhaps not on the political front? Mark Perryman from finds some books sure to cheer up our inner pessimist. 


UKiP riding high in the opinion polls, what could be a more dismal sign of the state of opposition outside the Westminster bubble. Whether or not Farage's party of English poujadists manage to top the Euro Election poll in May and make a further dent in the 3-party domination of the local government elections on the same day too the dragging of political debate rightwards remains UKiP's biggest achievement. There remains few signs of any similar success from the outside Left. 



John Harris has recently argued that the Left is trapped in the past. Perhaps, but part of the reason for that is that the Left's past is a tad more interesting than its present. Backward-looking? Yes, sometimes. But a modernisation founded on an ahistorical politics fails to account for the pluses and minuses of history and has proved itself wilfully incapable of grappling with today's fast-changing world . As an alternative take a look at the approach adopted by the hugely impressive Oxford Handbook of The History of Communism which is as comprehensive as it is challenging. Rich in scope while sharply analytical in its understanding of one of the twentieth century's grand narratives. So grand in fact that it sparked a counter all of its own making 'anti-communism' which is carefully dissected by the latest, now twice-yearly , volume of one of the most startlingly original political history initiatives of recent years, the journal Twentieth Century Communism. French revolutionry of the '68 vintage, Daniel Bensaid's excellent memoir The British Left and Zionism carefully chronicles a changing position on Israel and Palestine that he describes as a 'history of a divorce'. The altered circumstances, loyalties and issues given the kind of weight of understanding they deserve yet are all too rarely afforded. On the other hand history needs endless and unchanging principle sometimes too, a point well-made by the welcome appearance of contemporary writings against the First World War, Not Our War



The new and updated edition of Seumas Milne's unrivalled account of the 1984-85 Miners Strke, The Enemy Within provides an example of how the past continues to haunt the present. Three decades on the legacy of the defeat of the miners continues to shape contemporary trade union militancy. Richard Seymour is a writer unafraid to confront the contours of such a defeat while at the same time providing the kind of deep-rooted analysis to map out an alternative. His latest bookAgainst Austerity is no counsel of despair, rather a hard-headed call to action of a new type. Benjamin Kunkel's Utopia or Bust is a handy, and exceptionally well-written, survey of Left wing analysis of the financial crisis including David Harvey, Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Zizek. Kunkel though doesn't provide a commentary simply to inform though, but to enlighten too, a brilliant read. A similar dose of well-reasoned yet strikingly original thinking is provided by the regular instalments of the After Neoliberalism Manifesto available free online. The latest contribution States of Imagination takes rethinking public sector provision in a radically modernising direction entirely different to the Blair/Brown and Cameron/Clegg model of conservative modernisation Read it to appreciate the art of the possible and the sheer misery of the 1997-2010 moment of lost opportunity. An unashamedly theoretical account of neoliberal culture is provided by a special edition of the journal New Formations much of which is available free to download. For now though the political terrain in England at least remains dominated by the challenge from the Right, namely UKiP. The best single effort to understand this ghastly yet incredibly important phenomenon has been provided by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin in their sublime book Revolt on the Right. Mixing empirical analysis of long-term voting trends with a well-argued case for the need to both understand and confront the roots of right-wing populism this is an absolutely essential read for summer 2014. 



At the core of UKiP's message, and the same is broadly true of right-wing populism across Europe, is a discourse of race and nation. The former is a subject the Left likes to think it has a decent set of ideas to construct an analysis of rooted in anti-racist values. However just how far the British Left needs to travel in order to reshape its politics via the Black British experience is revealed by the superb Darcus Howe : A Political Biography which via personal testimony revisits a history of migration, self-organisaton and resistance which exists largely outside of traditional Left politics. Arun Kundnani's The Muslims are Coming!links together the experience of Islamophobia, the framing of extremism/fundamentalism and the ongoing Global impact of the West's so-called 'War on Terror'. Here the Left is grappling with subjects it is more at ease with understanding though the depth to which it is transformed via that process remains in question. An insight into what that transformation might look like is provided by John Hutnyk's Pantomime Terror which imaginatively records how popular culture has been affected by a post 9/11 world and on occasion has offered signs of resisting the reactionary, racist, consequences of that process. The urgent necessity for this kind of engagement is established brilliantly by Andrew Hussey's new book The French Intifada. UKiP are not of the same make-up as France's Front National, populists not fascists, yet they feed off the same fear and loathing that French politics is immersed in and this book explains why. Superb writing on the complexities of race, religion and immigration that situates this in the legacies of Empire and colonialism. 





In all likelihood any kind of UKiP breakthrough to top the May Euro poll will be restricted to England. Their support in Wales is negligible, and in Scotland close to non-existent . They are fundamentally an English party, defining their independence, or more accurately their nationalism as against Europe and against immigration. To develop both an understanding of UKiP's success and any kind of meaningful opposition requires an engagement with the meaning of Englishness. For some on the Left this remains unacceptable, yet this is to ignore our own history. As Wade Matthews records in his magnificent The New Left, National Identity and the Break-up of Britain. This is the kind of historiography the modern Left needs, connecting us to past yet hugely relevant debates dominated by such figures as E.P.Thompson, Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall, the kind of towering influences we so lack, and miss today. The1956 New Left generation was formed politically in large measure by the anti-fascist Popular Front experience of World War Two. A period depicted in Peter Conradi's A Very English Hero locating the heroism and idealism of the war hero Frank Thompson in and amongst the commitment, anti-fascism, that took him to the front line.This is a very different version of the Anglo-martial tradition we are more used to. The potential for such a rupture with this and other components of a more traditional Englishness is explored in Michael Kenny's wide-ranging book The Politics of English Nationhood. A welcome and timely effort to think about what England after the Union might end up looking like. 



But of course any such break-up won't be decided by the English, forced for once on this island of ours to adopt the role of also-rans, but by the Scots. It isn't to decry the central importance of September's independence referendum to claim that in some senses the result hardly matters. Instead we need to recognise that the process towards separation, involving Wales too and more problematically the north of Ireland, has already begun and to all intents and purposes is irreversible independence for Scotland or not. What the referendum campaign has stirred up north of the border is a flowering of political debate that the English Left cannot even begin to imagine how to match. Gerry Hassan has established himself as without doubt the most imaginative and incisive commentator on all things Scottish, nationalist and progressive. Yet south of the border he, and others like him are fortunate to get even a cursory hearing. Gerry's new bookCaledonian Dreaming combines both a rare realism about the reality of the mythology of Scottish social-democracy in both its Labourist and sometimes Nationalist forms , with a vision for how the best of those traditions can be shaped by the identities, social movements and cultures that post-date them in the new Scotland. James Foley and Pete Rennard provide a more polemical broadside in their book simply titled Yes. With passionate argument they capture the energy of the coalitions around the independence cause which stretch way beyond simply the SNP. This is radical politics at its best, a testament to the potential for ideas and actions rooted in movements for change. 



Fulfilling such potential depends in large part on a remaking the political so that ideas and practice are fused with cultural expressions and forms. A good example of this in the Independence debate is the work of the artists under the banner of The National Collective. Three recent books in their different ways bear witness to the scope of such an ambition more widely . JP Bean's Singing from the Floor captures one of those rare moments when the Left is at the core of something happening to shake up mainstream popular culture, in this case the beginnings, and explosion in popularity, of British Folk music, richly evocative, a lovely read. Going further back in history, Bohemians by Paul Buhle and David Berger is presented in a bright and accessible format, a graphic history, absolutely right for the subject-matter. Jazz and dance, salons and clubs, utopianism and multiculturalism, all were central to this cultural rebellion. A very modern interpretation of the political-cultural fusion is provided is provided by Stitched Up by Tansy Hoskins. The book's sub-title ' The Anti-Capitalist Book Of Fashion' does its job to intrigue and tempt. 'Of' , not 'against' this is a book that embraces the joy, for men and women, of dressing up while deconstructing the industry, working conditions and rip-off merchants behind such pleasures. An incredibly original read about a subject the Left should have plenty to say but to date has scarcely seemed bothered with once it had made its mind up to be on the side of the simplicities of the 'against' and not so much of the contradictions located in the 'of'. 



But remaking the political requires not just a redefinition of politics but a new imaginary too, one that can inspire hope in what the future might look like as much as reveal what is wrong with the present. Such an imaginary must surely draw on the resources provided by fiction, the novel. Not a place the Left is all that used to looking to for ideas. Jonathan Lethem's best-selling Dissident Gardens is about fighting for what is right, losing yet keeping on keeping on, the emotions and experiences that shape such commitment in the harshest of conditions, McCarthyite-era America. A tale of loss but also about the romantic ideal that making a difference is not only essential but feasible. Hitler's Girls by Emma Tennant and Hilary Bailey is perhaps a more extreme example of how the novel can challenge and extend, our political imagination. A complicated plot moulded by Nazi Germany, the aftermath of WW2, far right conspiracies and modern-day hate criminals. A tale that few would fail to enjoy with intrigue in abundance. 



In the search for the potential to remake the political there is no better starting point than the modern women's liberation movement, sometimes now referred to as fifth wave feminism. International in complexion, internationalist by purpose, there are few rivals to the ionic Pussy Riot for their ability to shake up the humdrum with wit, imagination and intent. Masha Gessen's Words Will Break Cementretells their story, mostly in their own words in a manner clearly intended to reproduce by any media necessary . Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates may seem a tad less spectacular yet is simply testament to the sheer diversity of both feminism's content and action. Based on the trail-blazing Everyday Sexism blog she also initiated Laura's book reveals in the most painful detail the bloody-minded endurance of a sexism that is one tiny step away from misogyny, harassment , physical intimidation, sexual violence and worse. A book, and a blog, that isn't read to weep but to rally towards change. The response already has proven quite definitively, it works. 



The book of the quarter? A book that reinforces the enduring vitality of feminism, from whatever 'wave', while connecting to the vital need for hope in an era of popular despair and widespread disaffection . Beatrix Campbell's pocket manifesto End of Equality is a well-aimed polemic against a neoliberal order that is founded on patriarchy, wilfully allows sexual discrimination to flourish and cannot be understood, resisted or changed without a central commitment to gender equality . A book to shake up established thinking right, left or in-between. Nothing short of a new revolution, what a way to welcome the start of summer. 


Note No links in this book review are to Amazon. If you can avoid buying from the tax-dodgers, please do so. 


Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction', aka Philosophy Football


DID YOU DIG DEEP IN '84?

27/02/2014


Philosophy Football have produced a T-shirt to raise funds for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.Mark Perryman explains why the Miners Strike 30 years on still matters. 



Do you remember1984-85? Digging deeper for the miners. Frankie Goes to Hollywood at number one. Everton win the league championship. And a medium-sized t-shirt was ample big enough. For those whose principles have endured the test of time it all seems just like yesterday and Tony Blair only a bad dream. 



The strike ended up as a defeat, there is no point avoiding that awkward and painful fact. But that doesn't mean it hardly matters, then or now. This was twelve months of communities across Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Kent, the North-East of England, South Wales, Scotland and elsewhere effectively under police siege. Miners Support Groups twinning metropolitan Britain with coalfield towns and villages. Convoys of trucks full of seasonal hampers to brighten up Christmas for miners families' who had already endured 10 months on strike. Women against Pit Closures projecting a powerful message of solidarity  on and beyond the strike picket lines. Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners connecting social movements and identity politics to a common cause. Bands and stand-up comedy mobilised to put on benefit after benefit to raise not only much needed funds but the case for the miners too. Keep on keeping on kept on for twelve magnificent months.    



Prolonged and courageous. British politics hadn't seen anything quite like it for a generation or more and in terms of industrial action nothing like it since either. In the late 1970s the historian Eric Hobsbawm had provocatively argued for an analysis he called The Forward March of Labour Halted. The decade after the miners strike we were to discover not only had it been halted but it had turned decisively rightwards too.A decade after the miners strike had begun in '84 this process saw Tony Blair elected Labour leader and the symbolic, yet politically significant dumping of Labour's Clause IV commitment to common ownership as its model of society. As we would soon learn, Things could only get bitter. 



Of course thirty years on simply celebrating the cause of going down fighting, however gloriously, isn't enough. The Left as an historical re-enactment society doesn't have much of a future, or appeal. We don't however do the new any favours by a blank refusal to connect with the past. Orgreave 18.06.1984, as it is beginning to be revealed,  was policed by junior and senior officers who five years later would be involved in another cover-up of their foul and illegal actions, HIllsborough. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is a vital part of the recovery of history to reveal the rotten state we're now in.  



New Labour was founded on the claim to be all things modern. Bright and shiny vs dull and boring. The vibrancy of the solidarity that the miners inspired nails the lie that the Left is incapable of modernisation. The point should always be that new Labour represented one particular model of being modern, a conservative modernity. The activist culture of the miners strike represented at least in embryonic form a different version of change, a radical modernity. Broad, imaginative and dynamic while being unashamedly militant. A cause defined by but never restricted within class politics. The demoralisation of eventual defeat in '85, allied with the variety of factors that contributed to the defeat, meant the alternative version of what it means to be a modern left never became fully formed. Instead for too many new Labour became 'the only game in town' and the rest is our unfortunate history.



From late 1970s Rocking against Racism to mid 1980s digging deep for the miners via a mass movement against both Cruise Missiles and nuclear Trident. The past sometimes seems almost another country. There have been spoke since then, mist notably the 2001-2003 peak activity of Stop the War, and the huge 750,000 strong March 2011 TUC march against the cuts.Other movements, demos around Gaza after Operation Cast Lead 2008-2009, the 2010 Student actions against tuition fees, Occupy have been more momentary and relatively narrow in their special appeal. Feminism has retained perhaps the most impressive capacity to reinvent itself and re-connect to a new generation, the impact this will have on a broader political terrain that remains male-dominated however remains uncertain. 



And the miners? It is unlikely, though not impossible, we will see here a strike of the scale and duration 1984-85 from any section of an increasingly un-unionised workforce. But that simply means the terrain of establishment against opposition has changed, something in marking the 30th anniversary we should all pay careful attention to. The Enemy Within? For some of us, guilty as charged and ever-present. 



RESOURCES 



Enemy Within T-shirt from here 





Seumas Milne, The Enemy Within : The Secret War Against The Miners from here 



Tickets for 18.06.2014 London Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign Benefit from here 



Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign @orgreavejustice 


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