I’m working on a novel (yes I know, “me neither…”), about a sinister cult that operates under the guise of being a political organisation, but is actually more concerned with making money, while establishing power and control over the weak and inadequate saps it recruits. The scope of the book is a 35 year period from the early 80s up to the present day, showing how people can go mad and have their lives ruined, as well as those around them, if they suddenly realise how gullible they’ve been to accept the narrative they’ve been force fed by their puppeteers. So far, I’m about 40,000 words into it, but as a taster, here’s the opening section of it, which was published in SHIFT #4, the Derry-based magazine’s “Revolution” issue early this year.
Cairnsy asked me and Denver to join The Organisation, upstairs on the 58 heading to Leam Lane Baths, one piss-wet Sunday in late summer 1981. The look on Denver’s face. Oh man, I thought he was going to burst out crying. Never seen him so happy. After two decades of abject anonymity, he had finally become someone important. In his eyes at any rate.
From that moment onwards, Denver changed from sort of non-entity who would have failed a personality test, to fanatically embracing the role of the most loyal and obedient of all converts. He efficiently parroted the special language of The Organisation, ferociously guarding the structural secrets he learned. Ordinary members were Comrades. Professional organisers were Full Timers who generally worked at The Centre in London. Potential recruits were Contacts. Other lefties whose programme varied one scintilla from The Organisation’s were Sectarians. Anyone who tried to argue their case about politics was Undialectical. All monies raised went to The Fighting Fund, apparently. Those with jobs were Workers. Those under 30 were The Youth. Anyone who dared suggest that racism and sexism were bad things and that Comrades ought not to make jokes about such subjects were Reformists. Worst of all, if you asked about gay rights, you were Bourgeois, as apparently sexuality was related to class orientation. The Organisation’s catechism was summed up in a document, helpfully printed on one side of A4, called What We Believe In. Denver already knew the contents off by heart. He even believed it. “Somebody’s got to be right,” he reckoned.
I must admit I was flattered by Cairnsy’s offer, as I’d already developed an instinctive left wing philosophical standpoint, based on implacable teenage opposition to Thatcher, Tories and the Royal Family. But I wasn’t a joiner. Was never in the Boys’ Brigade like Denver was; protestant paramilitaries I called them. Heard the phrase on Panorama once. I mumbled something indistinct to Cairnsy about finishing my A Levels, meaning I’d be too busy to commit properly. Saw the contempt in Denver’s eyes and felt what it was like to be doubly branded a class traitor; a dilettante and a queer.
Years later, long after he became Joseph Andrew Cairns MP for South Tyne, Cairnsy confided over a pint that he’d been forced into extending an invite for me to dine at the Captain’s Table during the imminent transformation of society, not for any reasons of political quality or revolutionary spirit on my part, but simply because I was there. “It would have been rude not so,” he explained. And then he got the beers in.
Ironic how things happen. I never was the biggest fan of swimming. While the changing rooms and showers were great, the pool was less fun. The chlorine stung my psoriasis. Made my eyes run and vision blur. Seeing the weather, Denver had called round on the off chance with his bathers and a towel, telling me I’d quarter of an hour to decide if I was going or not. I’d have been happy to lie on the settee watching Weekend World (loved the theme tune; Nantucket Sleighride by Mountain), impersonating Brian Walden’s speech defect, but Denver started shouting and bawling at the telly, as usual. Cut through the calm of Sunday late morning. I needed to get us out the house, before he started an argument about politics or religion with my old man, who was always ready for a verbal scrap or even Nanna when she pitched up for Sunday dinner. Consequently, the idea of doing a few lengths, blinking out halogenic tears and grabbing a hot Ribena in the snack bar afterwards had a certain allure. We were through the front door and at the bus stop in 5 minutes max.
When Cairnsy offered us a walk-on part in the class struggle, as the almost deserted bus came down Whitehills and hung a right at The Ship, both me and him knew Denver was the one The Organisation really wanted. He possessed the essential qualities needed to make the step up from being merely a Contact, to being a fully-fledged revolutionary. He was obsequiously deferential to figures of authority, indefatigable to the point of fanaticism, prepared to transform hobbies and pastimes into obsessions, incapable of independent thought, utterly devoid of any sense of humour and virtually unemployable. In the opinion of Ray Whelan, The Organisation’s top dog in the region, Denver had successfully served his apprenticeship, hanging on to the coat-tails of Cairnsy and Sue Byrne, who ran The Organisation’s student section at the Uni. Pretty ironic as Denver had just bombed his A Levels for the second year running, but at least he was starting to understand how the lines between personal and political could get blurred. I read a thing about cults; her fluttering her eyelids at him was part of a process called flirty fishing, apparently. Would have been funny if she tried that on me. Looking back, I never fancied anyone in The Organisation, because they were all trying so hard to be tough and hard. There was nothing gentle. There was no love, only control.
Denver’s whole body immersion into the ways of The Organisation had seen him chalk up 100% attendance at every scheduled meeting and impromptu paper sale since Cairnsy first spoke to him. Denver’s progress and malleability was such The Central Committee had decreed it was time to initiate him into the role of Comrade. Somehow I’d ended up in the slipstream; a fellow traveller on the top deck, being schooled on the finer points of the revolutionary socialist scion that was The Organisation. My role was to keep an eye on Denver and the way to do that was to be satisfied with the role of a semi-detached and unreliable Contact. For all his insecurities and failings, Denver was a pal.
My pusillanimous response to Cairnsy’s ultimatum provided the get out clause I needed to decline a post-swim invite for coffee and dialectics round at Ray Whelan’s gaffe with the other two. Instead, as the rain had stopped, I wandered back alone instead of getting the 58. Ran into some of the lads in the Square. Sat around talking shite until the wind whipped up and it got cold about 8 o’clock.