Gastric distress

I fail to see how viewers could be expected to believe in a heroine who wouldn’t fall for a man with

Well, that’s the next book done, then… It’s always a complete anti-climax when a book’s finished. You’ll pootle about your flat afterwards with a numb/emptied feeling, then send if off before beginning the enormous wait for anyone to get back to you.

The pause left at this point always being far too long – even if it’s only a few hours (not that it ever is only a few hours, you’ll understand – despite that fact that it is physically possible to read a book in a few hours…)

Sadly, even though your new volume has been pressing on your brain like a venomous tumour for months and months, no one else is really that bothered about it – even if they’ve been expecting it, have paid a bit in advance for it and made mumbly nearly interested noises when you’ve ranted on about it. (That’s what your agent and editor are for – to provide mumbly noises.) The level of caring about my books tends to drop off from

ME – 347 per cent

My readers – between 100 per cent and 102 per cent - but there are only 12 of them. And some of them scare me. And some of them only touch/stroke the books, they don’t actually read them…

My agent and Editor – between 75 per cent and 76 per cent apportioned in rotation between authors according to alphabetical arrangement, height and availability of biscuits.

Other readers – 6 per cent

My pals – 4 per cent (They have a lot of other things on their minds.)

Other comics in clubs – 2 per cent (And they’re faking that.)

Other people I meet as I go about my life – 0.8 per cent

Other people in the world – 0.0 per cent

As it happens, I hammered the book’s last sentence into place while an Austrian camera crew fiddled with lights, set up for an interview and then looked on politely as I growled into my laptop and waggled my head twitches in combination with a hearty – I’LL BE WITH YOU IN A MINUTE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS BUT I AM ACTUALLY JUST NOW FINISHING A BOOK, EXACTLY AS I SPEAK – AM I SPEAKING ? – ANYWAY, I’LL JUST DO THIS – AND THIS - AND THEN THAT. DEAR GOD, WHAT WAS I THINKING ? I MEANT THIS ! OH, JUST AT LEAST LOOK INTERESTED COULD YOU ? THIS IS THE CULMINATION OF THREE YEAR’S WORK, YOU KNOW. AND KEEP WELL BACK, I MAY CRY.

To celebrate, I purchased – through the interweb – a pair of splendid electric blue and black suede shoes. I’m not generally much of a shoe person, but performing shoes are a good thing to have and these got two outings of comedy this week and managed to propel me across the stage with ease and stylishness.

This was a more than usually miraculous achievement given that my ear infection has returned (my body really does want me to just lie down for a while) and I am now on industrial strength antibiotics which are causing my digestive system, shall we say some distress. Suddenly doing a 20 minute set had to be carefully coordinated with the onceeveryfortyminute episodes of gastric distress. Ah, me – showbiz is so dandy.

And now I am waiting to hear about a book, a film and any number of BBC thingies – which is more waiting than my frame can stand. Frankly, my regular sprints to the bathroom are proving a healthy distraction. And there’s always the telly,,, which I rarely get to see unless I’m both at home and exhausted. I continue to enjoy the bewilderment and gallopy shouting which is The Devil’s Whore – although I fail to see how viewers could be expected to believe in a heroine who wouldn’t fall immediately for a man with a large facial scar, several mental difficulties and a metal hand.

Of course, many people in the days before thermoplastics, grafting and Hello had to settle for prosthetics made out of slightly unsuitable materials. George Washington had wooden teeth and Tycho Brahe had a metal nose. A potentially helpful mobility aid like a walking stick might be rendered attractive and yet dangerous by being made of glass. I imagine many period conversations running thusly:

“Why are you lying down there, my good man ?”

“Oh, you know… first I snapped my walking stick and now my toffee legs have melted. D’you think you could carry me home ?”

“I’d love to, sirrah, but my spine has been replaced with these bottle tops and strips of gingham so I’m not really up to heavy lifting.”

“I quite understand. Give my last regards to my lady wife – you can’t miss her, she’s the one with the paraffin ear and the woollen face.”

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser