Swedish woman on escaping from Scientology cult


Mariette Lindstein and Dan Koon

Translated from MARJOLIJN DE COCQ, in Dutch daily Het Parool, 13 March 2018:

“There was no way back. We were literally prisoners’

After 27 years in the grip of Scientology, Swedish Mariette Lindstein (60) processes her past in the thriller trilogy The Cult on Fog Island.

Translated into Dutch as De sekte. Original Swedish title: Sekten på Dimön.

“I talk about everything, I have nothing left to lose.”

She was fanatical and convinced, and she worked at the highest level at headquarters in Florida, directly under leader David Miscavige. Until the excesses and terror at the Church of Scientology became so untenable that her eyes opened and she began to plot her escape.

The second part of her trilogy, The Cult Rises, has just appeared: about a New Age movement on an island on the Swedish coast under the leadership of a charismatic leader. ‘To join is tempting, escape is impossible’, is the motto of the books and could also be that of her life. Because yes, in a physical sense she escaped Scientology after her flight in 2004. But the cult – because that is the ‘church’ in her view – does not let her go. Her accounts are hacked, false Facebook pages are created and when she visits a book fair somewhere, then there are shadows that photograph and film her.

But Lindstein does not give up her mission: she gives lectures, does school visits and has started writing thrillers to warn young people who are receptive to the lure of these kinds of movements – which seem so innocent, but which slowly brainwash people. “You can shout: do not join a cult! But nobody will listen, so I can make it much easier to see how easy it is to get caught up in something like that.”

Together with her current husband Dan Koon, also a former Scientologist, Lindstein tells her story. “He was the first person in the church with whom I dared to talk about my doubts, and often a raised eyebrow was enough.”

It is probably not easy to publicly admit that you made such a totally wrong choice 27 years ago.

“I fled to Los Angeles in 2004, where I lived with Dan for seven years, and during those early years we were only trying to get our lives in order, we had been cut off from the world, I still dressed like in the nineteen eighties, had no passport, no references, it was hard to find a job – just tell them you were in a cult for 27 years, then we went to Sweden, to Halmstad, where I grew up. To ask the question: what would my life have been like if I had made a different choice when I was nineteen? I got nightmares and started to write to get rid of them, it was such a relief.” …

There was no way back, but you have climbed high within the movement. That does not happen just like that?

“No, I do not want to wallow in victimhood, I have been very fanatic for a long time, I really believed that we were working for a higher purpose, though sometimes I had a vague sense of discomfort. The doubts came and went. Then people began to be physically abusive, I got my mind back a little bit – although it took me five years before I found the courage and the opportunity to escape. David Miscavige is very violent and unpredictable. The abuse is denied blatantly, that feels like a knife stuck into my heart. We’ve seen it with our own eyes.”

Her husband Dan Koon, who sits next to her all this time, takes over the conversation. “When Tom Cruise, the film star, came to the base for his training in 1990, we were still allowed to call friends and family; someone from the marketing department told his mother about Cruise and she had sold the stories to gossip magazine National Enquirer. From that moment on, someone always had to be there when you called – that was the beginning of an even greater isolation from the world, and we were also constantly told how bad things were in the outside world. ”

Lindstein: “At one point we were all called together and we were shown the images of 9/11 on a screen.” This, “said the Leader”, is what happens in the world because you are spreading our message quickly enough.” He used the attacks to frighten us, manipulating them, and playing extreme power games at Scientology.”

Castrum Peregrini, German-Dutch sexually abusive cult, based on German poet Stefan George: here.

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British Labourite poet banned by Blairites for satiric Blair poems


This video from Ireland says about itself:

Kevin Higgins – An Introduction with two poems from Revival

Launch of the Revival Poetry Journal issue 7, recorded in The Whitehouse, O’Connell St., Limerick, on Wednesday the 9th April 2008.

By Steve Sweeney in Britain, Tuesday, January 2, 2018:

Calls grow for Kevin Higgins to be reinstated into the Labour Party

A letter signed by over 30 people in today’s Star brands the poet’s 18 month suspension ‘absurd’

POET Kevin Higgins remains suspended by the Labour Party 18 months after writing a satire about critics of party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

A letter printed in today’s Morning Star, signed by more than 30 people, has called on Labour to reinstate Mr Higgins’s membership, branding his continued suspension from the party “absurd.”

Mr Higgins was one of the many to receive letters from Labour’s compliance unit suspending him from the party after the Labour right organised a failed attempt to dislodge Mr Corbyn as leader in the fallout of the EU referendum vote in 2016.

Included in the list of accusations against Mr Higgins was that he had refashioned German writer Bertolt Brecht’s poem Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife as a satire about Tony and Cherie Blair.

The poet lives in Ireland but campaigned for Labour during a visit to Britain and has continued to pay his membership fee as an overseas member.

He has been a member of the party since the age of 15 and was active in the anti-poll tax movement.

In 2015 he wrote the satirical poem Blair’s Advice on hearing that the former prime minister had written a column in the Observer saying Labour would only be successful by occupying the “centre ground”.

He tweeted at the time: “Tony Blair needs to just go away. I hear he has an article in today’s Observer. I’d rather make love to John Prescott than read it.”

Mr Higgins’s supporters wrote: “We think it absurd that someone can remain suspended from the UK Labour Party for 18 months for the supposed crime of writing satirical poems.”

They called on the party to “immediately clarify this situation.”

Here is the 2015 poem about the failed Blairite coup attempt:

BLAIR’S ADVICE (On hearing tell of his column in Sunday’s Observer)

Easy to say,
you’d rather make loud love
to Lord Prescott, or have
your face smashed between
Sir Cyril Smith’s quivering cheeks
than read Tony Blair on how
the motorway to the mountaintop
he envisages lies
through the centre ground;
when you know neither
gentleman’s available, right
here right now, to take you.
We need to make voting Labour
as pleasurable
for call centre managers and
estate agents of a certain age
as lowering their roasting
menopausal testicles
into a nice cold bath.

To this end, we need a leader
with ideas thrilling as a dripping cistern,
a man (or woman) likely conceived during a Conservative Association dinner
somewhere in darkest Buckinghamshire;
who, while his or her fellow students
were thoughtlessly dancing the blues,
bravely danced the beige;
a person of exemplary character apart
from that one conviction for stealing
the brass handles off
their own father’s coffin.
We must offer hope
to those who aspire to shop
for gourmet sausage meat
at Waitrose, and not
waste time on people who perspire
as they rifle through packets
of past-their-use-by-date
picnic ham at Aldi.

KEVIN HIGGINS

– Kevin Higgins’s poetry features in the generation-defining anthology Identity Parade — New British and Irish Poets (Ed. Roddy Lumsden, Bloodaxe, 2010) and in the recent anthology The Hundred Years’ War: Modern War Poems (Ed. Neil Astley, Bloodaxe, 2014). The Ghost In The Lobby (Salmon, 2014) is Kevin’s fourth collection of poems. His
blog is at mentioningthewar.blogspot.com.

This video from the USA says about itself:

New Report Finds Tony Blair Schemed With Bush To Invade Iraq

8 July 2016

An official investigation known as The Chilcot Report into how Tony Blair led Great Britain into war reveals that he and George W Bush conspired to bring their countries to a war of aggression based on faulty intelligence, lies and assumptions. Blair sent Bush a note promising loyalty.

And here is Kevin Higgins poem on Tony and Cherie Blair, based on Brecht’s Ballad of the soldier’s wife:

And what did she get, the girlfriend,
from the student union meeting
at which he rose to his feet
and realised he could speak?
From that meeting she got
the Snickers bar he forgot to eat
so busy was he watching them listen;
and that speech, unabridged,
every other night for thirty five years.

And what did she get, his new wife,
from the time he first used a party
conference microphone to agree with both sides?
Those okay with the Moslems/Mexicans/Gypsies being here,
and those who want them kept over there.
From that microphone she took away their
invitation to dine with the Deputy Mayor
and his not new wife.

And what did she get, his no longer new wife,
when, at the second attempt,
he won that seat on the City Council?
From his election she got to drink Pinot Noir
and go swimming in their private club
with the not-so-new wives
of those who got the contracts
to make the paving stones and install
the pay-and-display ticket machines
during his years as Chairman
of the relevant committee.

And what did she get, his well-maintained wife,
the night he was elected to the big shiny
parliament? From that night she took away
an architect to re-design their new three storey pad
in the priciest possible part of the capital,
and an article about herself
in the Daily Express lifestyle pages.

And what did she get, the no longer new MP’s
no longer new wife, the morning
they made him Minister?
That morning she got to go horse riding
with the Leader of the House of Lords’
fourth (or fifth) wife.

And what did she get, the no longer new
Cabinet Minister’s wife, the night the landslide
made him Prime Minister? That night
she got to hold to her breast
invitations to break foie gras
with the Sultan of Brunei, the President of China;
and the chance to write husband’s speech
announcing the crackdown on beggars
who accost hard working
families who stop to ask for directions
en route to the nearest funeral parlour

And what did she get, the ex-Prime Minister’s
no longer new wife, from all the depleted uranium shells
he had dropped during the Battle of Basra, all the soldiers
he sent to meet improvised explosive
devices
in far Mesopotamia in the hope
of getting rid of something bigger
than the beggars and prostitutes
at Kings Cross. For these she got
white night terrors
of him on trial for all their crimes,
and the desire to never again
look out the front window of their fine
Connaught Square house
at the tree from which, it’s said,
they used to once string
traitors.

While the Blairite Labour party bureaucrats keep banning Kevin Higgins for poetry, they apparently never even thought of banning Tony Blair for war crimes, torture, money grabbing or his expressed preference for the Conservative party over the Labour party.

Mr Wolff also claims in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House that Mr Blair tried to land a role as a Middle East adviser to Mr Trump: here.

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, new film


This September 2017 video is called THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS | Official Trailer.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

The Man Who Invented Christmas: Charles Dickens and the writing of A Christmas Carol

8 December 2017

Directed by Bharat Nalluri; screenplay by Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford.

“No one could feel more deeply for Nature’s stepchildren, the blind, the dumb, and the deaf, nor more deeply–and this says even more–for the stepchildren of society .”

–Franz Mehring on Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, published on December 19, 1843, is the story of the dramatic moral transformation of the wealthy, miserly, misanthropic businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, under the influence of several ghostly spirits who pay him a visit on Christmas Eve.

The spirits help Scrooge see the error of his dreadful ways, including the mistreatment of his overworked and impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit, who has a crippled son, known as Tiny Tim. Scrooge’s initial comment about Tim, who is not expected to live long, is cruel and Malthusian: “If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Scrooge’s brutal comments about the benefits for the poor of prisons, workhouses and “the Treadmill” also come back to haunt and shame him (“Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief”).

A Christmas Carol struck a chord with readers in the 1840s, in the midst of the social misery produced by the rise of capitalist industry, and it has remained a staple of popular world literature ever since.

Dickens (1812-1870) began successful public readings of the book in 1849, which he continued until the year of his death.

Modern audiences are more likely to know the novella, or elements of it, from the numerous film and television adaptations. In fact, nearly 20 movies based on A Christmas Carol have been made since 1901, including seven silent versions. Reginald Owen (1938), Alastair Sim (1951) and Albert Finney (1970, in a musical version) are among the leading performers who have taken on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in film.

There have been, as well, dozens of theater, radio and television adaptations (with Lionel Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Ralph Richardson, Fredric March, Alec Guinness, Michael Hordern, George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart, among many others, as the immortal miser). There are even five operas based on the work.

Perhaps inevitably, most of the various “second-hand” versions tend to play up the more sentimental and melodramatic aspects of Dickens’ book, which is also an attempt to present something of a panorama of English reality at the time and introduces dozens of characters from various walks of life.

The Man Who Invented Christmas, directed by Bharat Nalluri, is a biographical fantasy that involves an effort to bring A Christmas Carol once again to the screen, this time by reinventing it. For this purpose, the filmmakers turned to the 2008 novel of the same title by Les Standiford, which includes Dickens himself as a character along with his literary creations.

The movie opens as Dickens (Dan Stevens), at the peak of his popularity following the publication of Oliver Twist, is ending his 1842 North America tour. (His travelogue, American Notes for General Circulation includes a condemnation of slavery, linking the plight of the poor in England to that of the slaves in the US).

After his return to London, Dickens’ career undergoes a serious decline over the next several years, with the failure of his next three novels (Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge), thereby increasing his financial difficulties. (“London is not a place for a man without money”, Dickens explains in the film). Under intense pressure, Charles begins composing A Christmas Carol.

His publishers, however, see no great potential in a Christmas tale, and give him six weeks to complete the book. Accompanied by his friend and literary agent (and real-life biographer), John Forster (Justin Edwards), Dickens goes to a restaurant where the arrogant William Thackeray (1811-1863), a rival novelist best known for Vanity Fair (1848), taunts the hard-pressed Charles. It’s not long, however, before the writer draws his first inspiration from a rich man’s funeral that is absent of mourners.

Also feeding his imagination is one of his servants, Tara (Anna Murphy), a young, literate Irish immigrant who sparks his interest in a ghostly world (“Spirits crowd over us on Christmas eve”). As the story begins to take shape, Charles interacts with his characters (“Get the name right, and if you’re lucky, the characters will appear.”), most prominently the wizened Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). Jacob Marley (Donald Sumpter), Scrooge’s deceased business partner, emerges from the darkness: “I wear the chains I forged in life–Your chains are all around you–past and present and what is to come.”

The arrival of his irresponsible father, John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce), is an impediment to Charles’ work. It is also the occasion for flashbacks to his early adolescence, when Dickens was forced to work at a blacking factory (pasting labels on pots of boot polish) for six shillings a week, 10 hours a day Monday through Saturday, after his father was taken off to debtors’ prison. Tens of thousands of people unable to pay their debts were incarcerated in such institutions each year in the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain.

Even Charles’ relationship with his pregnant wife Kate (Morfydd Clark)–“Sometimes I feel your characters mean more to you than your own flesh and blood”–and the rest of his household, run by Mrs. Fisk (Miriam Margolyes), becomes strained.

Developing something of a writer’s block, Charles is stumped as to whether Scrooge will be reformed and whether Tiny Tim will live or die. In the end, Scrooge’s redemption also redeems Charles’ relationship with his father (“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another”). Commissioning eight engravings from John Leech (Simon Callow), Charles manages to write the book and scrape together the funds to have it illustrated, printed, bound and distributed to shops in six weeks’ time!

The Man Who Invented Christmas is intended as a piece of light entertainment, and it accomplishes certain of its goals. Stevens as Dickens is the energetic, spirited artist at the mercy of the market. At times amusing, the movie does manage to convey the fact that life in Victorian England is insecure and precarious, and that even the successful Dickens feels the shadow of the debtors’ prison as he races against the clock to fulfill the outrageous demands of his publishers.

But even light entertainment has certain responsibilities. In the popular vein too, opportunities have been missed here. The simplistic, unnecessarily slight film makes only insubstantial, passing references to poverty among children–a major issue then as it is today. (Unhappily, “Dickensian” is a term that cannot yet be retired to the museum shelf.) Related to that, too much emphasis is placed on secondary psychological factors in The Man Who Invented Christmas, such as the father-son relationship.

Dickens was an immense figure, deeply affected by the social and economic transformations of his day, and not merely as the result of his own personal experiences.

The influential American critic Edmund Wilson, commented: “It is difficult for British pundits to see in him the great artist and social critic that he was. … [Dickens] was nevertheless the greatest dramatic writer that the English had had since Shakespeare, and he created the largest and most varied world.” Whenever the novelist comes to deal with institutions, Wilson went on, “he makes them either ridiculous or cruel, or both at the same time.” (“Dickens: The Two Scrooges,” 1941)

The origins of A Christmas Carol were not as slight and jovial as The Man Who Invented Christmas would have us believe. According to letterpile.com: “Charles Dickens was involved in charities and social issues throughout his entire life. In early 1843 he read a government report describing the conditions of women and children employed in mines and factories, it described the abuse of the laborers. [Friedrich Engels read the same report, which documented that children as young as eight were hauling coal carts 11 hours a day.] He was stricken down by these victims. Dickens vowed he would strike a ‘sledge hammer blow,’ on behalf of the ‘poor man’s child.’”

“The idea for the Carol came to him in October 1843, while doing a talk [in industrial Manchester, England, where the average life expectancy of a laborer in 1842 was 17]; he thought the best way to bring attention to the horror that was happening, would be to write a story instead of an article.”

In A Christmas Carol, a boy and a girl, Ignorance and Want, are hidden in the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present. “‘They are Man’s, and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’”

Is this so remote from our own time?

Poet Mayakovsky in theatre play


This 10 October 2017 video from the Netherlands is the trailer of the play Majakovski/Oktober by theatre company De Warme Winkel.

On 23 November 2017, I went to see Majakovski/Oktober at the Leiden theatre.

Its subject is the life and work of Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930).

This video is called The voice and ethos of Mayakovsky.

When he started as a poet, he did not like symbolism, which was rather widespread then.

He was a radical innovator, inventing the ‘stepladder poem’, in which narrow lines run diagonally down a wider page. These innovations are similar to other avantgarde poets, like Flemish Paul van Ostaijen.

Before 1914, he joined the Futurist movement; which in Russia differed from their Italian colleagues.

In 1915, Mayakovsky fell in love with Lili Brik, a central person in the avantgarde art world. Later, she would feature on a famous Rodchenko poster.

Lili Brik on Rodchenko poster

In 1916, there was trouble in the relationship with Lili Brik. This led to Mayakovsky’s first, failed, suicide attempt. According to Brik, later there was a second failed attempt. Finally, in 1930 after more deceptions in his love life, Mayakovsky made his third attempt, this time successful.

What happened in 1917 in Russia caused him to overcome the sadness which had led to his first attempt to kill himself. In February, a massive workers’ strike drove away the repressive czarist regime. When the new provisional government continued the czar’s participation in the World War I bloodbath and told workers and peasants to wait for improvements till after victory in the war, the October revolution, with its ‘Peace, land, bread’ slogan expelled the provisional government.

Over 150,000 people came to Mayakovsky’s funeral, as this video shows.

In a 1930 obituary, Leon Trotsky wrote:

It is not true that Mayakovsky was first of all a revolutionary and after that a poet, although he sincerely wished it were so. In fact Mayakovsky was first of all a poet, an artist, who rejected the old world without breaking with it. Only after the revolution did he seek to find support for himself in the revolution, and to a significant degree he succeeded in doing so; but he did not merge with it totally for he did not come to it during his years of inner formation, in his youth.

This is a strange remark, as Mayakovsky had joined the revolutionary movement when he was only fourteen years old. More precisely, he joined the Bolshevik tendency among the revolutionaries; which Trotsky would only join ten years later, months before the October revolution. (Partisans of Stalin would reproach Trotsky with being a Johnny-come-lately. Though they were not really consequent. Look at prominent Stalin supporter Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinsky. In 1917 had been a pro-provisional government pro-World War I Menshevik. He had tried to have Lenin arrested, and joined the Bolsheviks three years after Trotsky did).

Trotsky had written about Mayakovsky more extensively earlier, with praise but also some sharp criticism.

A. V. Lunacharsky, ex-Soviet Minister of Culture, in a 1931 long obituary reacted critically to Trotsky’s obituary:

Trotsky says that Mayakovsky took his life because the revolution did not proceed according to Trotsky; now, had it gone according to Trotsky, it would have blossomed out in such dazzling fireworks that Mayakovsky would never have dreamed of grieving.

Now, from 1931 to the 2017 play.

This 6 November 2017 video shows what happens backstage at Majakovski/Oktober.

On the flyers of the play, the theatre company alludes to the Dutch social democrat PvdA party, which at recent elections lost most of their voters due to being infected with Blairism.

This 16 October 2017 video shows actresses Annelinde Bruijs en Mara van Vlijmen. They tell how they swapped their roles.

There are six actors in the play, four women and two men, apart from the Mayakovsky role. These six roles are not named. Who are they? Are they Mayakovsky’s lovers, Lili Brik and Veronika Polonskaya? And old colleagues of the poet from the Futurist movement? The dialogues give that impression.

The theme of the play is disrespectful treatment of someone who has died by survivors. Symbolized in the play by the six actors using Mayakovsky’s dead body as a plaything. Dik Boutkan, the actor of the Mayakovsky role, did well at being a dead body during most of the performance, except at the beginning and the end. He is not exceptionally tall, contrary to Mayakovsky. In general, the acting was good.

A review in Dutch daily De Volkskrant says that is a pity the play is more on the poet’s death and after than on his life and work. I have to agree at least somewhat with that.

There is a parallel with another famous artist who killed himself: Vincent van Gogh (though with Van Gogh it is less certain it was really suicide).

In a review of the recent film Loving Vincent, Joanne Laurier wrote:

In the course of the movie, [Doctor] Gachet’s daughter Marguerite asks Armand [Roulin] at one point: “You want to know so much about his death–but what do you know about his life?” This, unfortunately, is a question that can be posed to Loving Vincent as a project.

Ms Laurier cannot accuse Loving Vincent of neglecting Van Gogh’s work, as the paintings, recreated by oil painters, are at the heart of the film.

With Majakovski/Oktober, one may ask: is there enough in the play about his poems? Yes, many lines of them are quoted.

However, not more political lines, like pro-peace lines.

In 1917, Mayakovsky wrote one of various poems against World War I. This one:

Call To Account!

The drum of war thunders and thunders.
It calls: thrust iron into the living.
From every country
slave after slave
are thrown onto bayonet steel.
For the sake of what?
The earth shivers
hungry
and stripped.
Mankind is vapourised in a blood bath
only so
someone
somewhere
can get hold of Albania.
Human gangs bound in malice,
blow after blow strikes the world
only for
someone’s vessels
to pass without charge
through the Bosporus.
Soon
the world
won’t have a rib intact.
And its soul will be pulled out.
And trampled down
only for someone,
to lay their hands on
Mesopotamia
.
Why does
a boot
crush the Earth — fissured and rough?
What is above the battles’ sky –
Freedom?
God?
Money!
When will you stand to your full height,
you,
giving them your life?
When will you hurl a question to their faces:
Why are we fighting?

Still a pertinent poem asking a pertinent question, now with the 2017 wars.

And why does the play neglect Mayakovsky’s theatre plays (obviously useful at first sight for a theatre company)? The films he made? And how about the background, the 1917 Russian revolution mentioned in the title, but not elaborated on?

Dutch daily Het Parool is also critical on the play: here.

The Theaterkrant wrote a positive review: here.

The Dutch daily NRC also wrote a more positive review than De Volkskrant or Het Parool or Trouw; here.

Including the line (translated):

Later in his life he, like [Dutch poet Herman] Gorter, made the switch to socialist poetry and became a mouthpiece for Stalin.

The NRC is incorrect in this. Mayakovsky became a socialist before he became a poet, and wanted to make socialist art right from the beginning. While Dutch Gorter became a poet first, and a socialist later. Both Gorter and Mayakovsky were not ‘mouthpieces for Stalin’. Probably, the reviewer bases that mistakenly on the final part of the play. Then, Dik Boutkan in his Mayakovsky role arises from the dead, and speaks about the situation now in 2017. He attacks the restoration of capitalism in Russia; and claims a strongman like ‘the great Stalin’ is needed to redress that. Giving the wrong impression that the second part of that final speech is a logical consequence of the first part.

Mayakovsky on Marx: here.

British disabled punk rocker Penny Pepper interviewed


This video from Britain says about itself:

Morning Stories | Penny Pepper On The Problem With ‘Sensible’ Shoes

24 August 2015

Penny Pepper, a disabled writer, talks about rebelling against the “what’s best” rhetoric when it comes to fashion.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

‘The world was a liar and I had too much to say to listen to its prejudice’

Thursday 23rd November 2017

Self-confessed saucepot PENNY PEPPER talks to Felicity Collier about the life experiences informing her recently published memoir

JUST before she starts her reading in a Camden Town pub from her memoirs First in the World Somewhere, Penny Pepper is abuzz with anecdotes from her punk youth, be they striking up a rapport with Morrissey or performing gigs in front of Diane Abbott.

A writer and disabled-rights activist, she instigated change in the 1980s by firing off a letter to music magazine Jamming! calling for equal access to gig venues.

The reaction she stirred led to her meeting her first love, forming a band, and recognition that, if punk is about “breaking down barriers,” that must include disability rights.

Her memoirs follow Penny’s childhood and adolescence in the Chilterns where she was keen to escape her lot with an abusive stepfather and a home life she describes as “a prison, hell.”

She savoured times when there was enough money for batteries to power her radio so she could listen to John Peel (“an absolute saviour”) and, when she first heard The Smiths, she immediately bought “everything they had breathed on.”

Feeling represented by Morrissey’s outsider lyrics, Penny wrote to him “endlessly” and was rewarded with a vinyl copy of Barbarism Begins at Home.

Another pivotal moment was watching Siouxsie Sioux and the Sex Pistols on TV setting the tone for a new youth movement.

Rejecting “the designated life of the cripple,” and the restrictive attitudes from health professionals, she was determined not to live a life ruled by Still’s disease, the arthritic condition which affects her joints and requires her to use a wheelchair

Her dream of living an independent life in London was granted when Ken Livingstone, then Greater London Council leader, acted on a letter she wrote. “Letter writing was my escape, my way of fighting back in the world,” she tells me. “The power of my words took me somewhere.”

Cue letters to the Greenham Common women, membership of CND and Rock against Racism, all provoked by “hating Thatcher and everything she stood for.”

She moved in with her partner-in-crime Tamsin — also disabled — and the pair studied, partied and made music together.

“We didn’t think we shouldn’t do what other people do in their twenties,” she says, recalling how at that time disabled people lived with their parents or in a care home. She was intent on avoiding “incarceration” and the sense that her destiny was set in stone was vehemently rejected when she decided to write.

But it took a long time for her to realise that she had “as much right as anyone else” to tell her story. As with writing, so it was with having a sexual identity as a disabled person. She published a pamphlet on the subject and wrote erotic fiction and her candid and vivid memoirs are excellent testament to her tackling ignorance and discrimination.

As a musician, record company executives “leered” over her breasts, she recalls, but took umbrage at her wheelchair. It was an awakening — being made to feel like she could not belong or be sexy because she used a wheelchair and had arthritis. “I decided the world was a liar and I had far too much to say to listen to its prejudice.”

Outrageously funny and brilliantly defiant, Penny is now in her fifties and she has an enduring identification with anarchism, defining it as mutual aid that involves people who are “programmed to help each other to survive rather than the survival of the fittest that capitalism thrives on.”

Yet she’s been a socialist all her life and has a lot of hope for Jeremy Corbyn. Penny encountered Corbyn in the summer while fundraising and he has supported her disability campaign group Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC).

“He’s definitely captured the imagination of people — he’s made politics fresh. You can’t undo the passion he’s stirred. For the many, not the few!” she chortles.

Penny and her partner were among the first to have a home help in their own flat. She refused to be placed in a care home in an impersonal system, instead demanding independence in her youth.

But there was a battle to have disabled access fitted to the front door when she was forced to move house and the couple encountered fierce opposition from neighbours.

These days, she works with DPAC in its campaigns against the government’s dismantling of social care, including the fight to preserve the Independent Living Fund that enables disabled people to live independently in their own homes, with visiting personal assistants.

But she is not, she says, “vulnerable” and it’s a word she hates. “It’s really abused. I’m no more vulnerable than anyone else, unless my social care is threatened.”

Of government cuts, she says: “We’re talking about basic equalities — being able to sleep and not in your own pee.” It’s a shocking testament to today’s government because, as she points out, Thatcher ignored disabled people, “but she gave us benefits.”

First in the World Somewhere is available from Unbound, unbound.com. Penny is appearing in Brighton tonight at New Writing South, 9 Jew Street. British Sign Language-interpreted.

Under the Tories, attempted suicides by disability benefit claimants have doubled – why won’t Theresa May scrap the work capability assessment? Here.