My original blog was Hoses of the Holy (ca. 2003), which ended up being abandoned in the dark days of 2007. I started this one in 2011. Scroll down for the archives!

The Obald – Episode 4

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From last week’s shorter one, we now have a longer one.

The theme of this chapter/episode is that your past will come back to haunt you. There’s the link to the episode on Apple Podcasts and below is the director’s commentary:

I once worked with someone who was so concerned people might look through his desk when he was away from it that he took all his annual leave in half days. And because he was a old-timer, he’d qualified (by the time I knew him) for 30 (or was it 35?) days’ holiday in a calendar year. I think there were days held over from a previous year (you could do that, if you were planning a trip to the antipodes, or a honeymoon etc.), so it probably was 35 days. In half days. Furthermore, he would stay at his desk until 2pm on the days he had off, so that there were only 2-3 hours in any given day when most people were around to hunt through all the files he kept on his desk.

This pathology was allowed to pass. These days, I suspect he’d be pulled aside by the HR person and offered counselling, or forced to take a couple of weeks off, or something. What actually happened back then, one of the managers lost patience one afternoon and instructed two of the filing clerks to go through everything on his desk and make a list of what was being kept there.

Missing files!

In Chapter 4, Ronnie is worrying at the edges of the problem, just not quite able to see the big picture. Back in the 80s, you could triangulate protests around Greenham Common (anti-Cruise), CND in general, and those asking awkward questions about the Falklands war, relating in particular to the sinking of the Argentinian battle cruiser General Belgrano. In 1984, a civil servant called Clive Ponting leaked documents about that incident to a Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, who was asking questions under Parliamentary Privilege. Ponting was prosecuted – and acquitted! This in spite of a technical breach of the Official Secrets Act. Before that, in May 1983, a schoolteacher named Diana Gould had tackled Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the same issue – on live TV.

When I joined the Civil Service, in 1982, I had to sign the same Official Secrets Act. Someone said to me that I would be breaching it even if I revealed, say, the colour of the carpets in the office.

Gould died in 2011, Dalyell in 2017 and Ponting in 2020, but another activist (and anti-nuclear campaigner) was murdered. Hilda Murrell was abducted from the Shrewsbury home and discovered a few days later in nearby woodland. Murrell was a vocal opponent of the Sizewell B nuclear reactor, and there were rumours that MI5 had been involved in her killing.

All of this was in my mind when I wrote The Obald, and these are the issues Ronnie keeps stumbling across. There’s a list partway through the chapter: Belgrano, Belgrano, CND, Sizewell, 1981 riots, CND, CND, Pro-Life, Greenham, NUM, IRA, Greenpeace…

There’s a certain tendency among the authoritarian right to see all those things as equivalent. In other words, anti-nuclear protestors and striking coal miners are the same as paramilitaries. So you get people like Clarkson “joking” that striking workers should be shot.

In the end, they get you not because they get you, but because the fear and paranoia takes hold and you start to censor yourself. I was a keen trade unionist and activist, but then the course of my life was diverted by being blacklisted. Since becoming a teacher, I’ve steadfastly avoided getting involved in union activism. My feeling was, the membership are happy to let you put your neck on the line, but they’ll not lift a finger when they come for you. If you’re going to be a representative, then represent. In my case, I decided that I only represent myself: nobody else cares. When people suggest I ought to be the rep, I just tell them that I’m basically a communist. It’s not really true, but they get the idea that my opinions don’t align with theirs.

And the Toffo belt buckle? It was real.

Ronnie tries to triangulate the information being collected by his employers on protestors, letter writers and petition signatories, none of whom appear to have broken any laws. Dave Cooper shares his philosophy on youthful idealism. A meeting is called at work to flag up a supposed terrorist cookbook in circulation. With his mind mostly occupied by tonight’s gig at the Crown, Ronnie bumps into someone.

Some housekeeping:

If you’re impatient to read ahead, I’ve published a revised ebook of The Obald:

Amazon UK

Amazon US:

Other territories are available.

I have also revised and updated the paperback edition, which is now live. Unfortunately, this print-on-demand stuff ends up being expensive. I tried to make a nice book, a nice thing to have. You can see an example of a page spread below. Anyway, here’s a link to the UK store for the paperback, and the same for the US store.


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