oh, well, whatever . . .

the citadel

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They’re building a Citadel in the fields behind our house. Actually it isn’t really a citadel, it’s a new school. Margaret is part of a group known as Citizens Against the Citadel, CAC, or The Citizens, as they call themselves. They are loosely knit alliance of the disgruntled and discounted whose motivations are probably complex and varied but who are united in their feeling that the Citadel is an abomination and that building must stop now. They are right that the building will be gruesome and that it is already ruinous to the quality of life around here, and that it is an imposition and something about which ordinary people were never given any real say. It’s true that the consultation was a sham. It’s true that the Citadel Construction and Development Company – led by the Tyneside businessman Sir Toby Griffiths (‘Griff’, to the Citizens) – misled local residents about the scale and impact of the project.  But the Citizens are almost certainly wrong in believing there’s anything very much they can do about it now. They won’t even get an apology from Griff on this one.

The phone rang about eight thirty. It was Geraldine. She lives across the road. She doesn’t work now, but her husband, Mick, is a council officer of some sort. Geraldine, who has been a leading light in CAC and for whom Margaret really doesn’t care very much, was ringing to tell her that Griff’s men were working and they shouldn’t be, because it was Saturday. Griff had said that Saturday working would not happen. This is the latest in a string of broken promises. Margaret’s response was predictable and instantaneous.

‘They’re bloody kidding!’ she said. ‘Let’s get everyone together and get around there and stop it. Let’s get Griff over here NOW!’ And so on.

The general strategy of the Citizens is to rant among themselves by telephone or over coffee and chocolate digestives in one another’s front rooms and then, one after another, by telephone, to bombard Griff, his minions, local politicians and council staff with unbridled disgust and indignation and, if the moment calls for it, a serving of personal abuse. Needless to say construction of the Citadel hasn’t been delayed one rivet as a consequence of this strategy. Water and ducks’ backs come to mind.  Nevertheless the fight must go on.

Margaret rang a couple more Citizens and began to make ready for the incursion into the Citadel building site. Her battle dress was a pair on Marks and Spencers jeans, her old but little worn Timberland boots, a grey sweater, her old red fleece and black gloves. It was a cool morning and it was drizzling; hypothermia on the Citadel battlefield was a real danger. I lay in bed, De Kooning at my side, pretending to take no notice of all this activity.

‘Have you heard that bloody racket?’ she said.

‘Er, yes,’ I mumbled, as if still slumbering. ‘I thought I’d heard something. Is it Fletch?’

‘No, it isn’t bloody Fletch – it’s the Citadel men. They’re now working on a Saturday!  Can you believe that?! They’ve got a bloody nerve. Well, they’re not bloody well getting away with it this time, I can tell you!’ And so on, again.

I ignored her and pretended I might be unconscious again. She left to meet Geraldine and the other Citizens to go into battle. The Citizens, curiously enough, are more or less all women, an Amazon legion. With the exception of Big Trevor, of course, who doesn’t work and likes to insinuate his booming and bellowing into any context where it might make what is essentially always only a textural contribution. But almost everyone agrees completely with the Citizens’ complaints, even if they never join the battle. Hugo might be the exception here: so far as I can tell he hasn’t even have noticed that the Citadel is being built. If he has he must regard it as just another extraneous object that’s fallen from heaven. The right attitude will be to accept it with equanimity and to leave it exactly where it is. Haphazardist politics tend to be marked by a passive acceptance which at times can look very like complicity or collusion.

I didn’t expect Griff’s men to stop working before lunchtime. I did think however that it might be a good idea to get up and go out for a while. De Kooning looked at me: he agreed.

It’s not that I too don’t agree with the Citizens and think their cause isn’t a good one. It’s just that the battles are futile if the war is already lost. They are no more than quixotic gestures, and while I know this sort of comic-tragic futility is what makes us human, sometimes you can have just a little too much futility in your life. It’s not always good to bang your head against every brick wall you find. Modernity is a steamroller and it will flatten us all. We will all become one dimensional people, as Marcuse said long ago. The future is a Citadel: massive, inhuman, noisy, computer generated, absurdly geometrical, obsessively orderly, built by robots to accommodate the robots we will all become.  It will be lifeless and it will not belong to us. Gordon, Griff and their like are at the wheel and the whole planet is their building site. Start saying goodbye to the things you love, Maureen, because this is the way the world really ends.

I left Margaret a note stuck to the top of her laptop.

Dear Margaret, modernity is a steamroller and it will flatten us all. The Citadel Men are unstoppable. I’ve gone shopping as there are some things I need. Please feed the cat when he comes in.

I went to see my dad this afternoon. He was watching an old film version of The Importance of Being Earnest on TV when I got there. I told him that they were knocking down bits of Park Farm in Newsham. He was born and grew up there so I thought he’d be interested.

‘Where is it?’ he asked.

I described its whereabouts and he told me this place was always called Thompson’s Farm when he was a kid. He used to play around there sometimes. I told him I’d taken some photographs of it just in case it was demolished. He went on to tell me about all the other buildings there used to be at South Newsham – the pit, the winding house, the rows of houses, the school and the Star Foundry. They’re all gone now, of course.

I asked him what pubs there were near where the shipyard used to be. He said they included The Sun, The Ship, the Fox and Hounds, and the Blagdon. They’re all demolished now too. He told me that a boxer called Seaman Tommy Watson had been the manager of the Blagdon for a long time. It seems Seaman was a good fighter and had fought Kid Chocolate for his world title at Madison Square Garden. He lost on points but some say he would have got the decision had the fight taken place over here.

When I got home I asked Margaret how the visit to the Citadel site this morning had gone.

‘I was a complete and utter waste of time,’ she said. ‘Geraldine just took over.’

De Kooning was in the conservatory. He sat with me as I read the newspaper. In an interview Cherie Blair says Tony is a socialist. I laughed out loud and, for a moment, De Kooning stopped cleaning his jet black face.

Margaret had gone in the bath. She was going to a poetry evening at Brenda’s house this evening. In two days time it will be exactly seventy five years since Seaman Tommy Watson lost to the little Cuban in New York.


Written by yammering

May 17, 2008 at 11:55 pm

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  1. […] as?Citizens Against the Citadel, CAC, or The Citizens, as they call themselves. They are looselhttps://yammering.wordpress.com/2008/05/17/the-citadel-men/Contractors come together to construct new dorm for treatment center BizJournalsNearly 25 local […]

    old foundry

    May 21, 2008 at 10:44 am

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