They're drinking vodka in the Lenin shipyards today
It's not the first time I've said "fuck off" in public recently. Last November I wasted half an hour of my life watching the first half an hour of I Heart Huckabees from the back row in a Glasgow cinema: and I wasted the previous quarter-hour watching the pre-programme. If that's what the trade are calling it now. The trailers and the adverts. One of the latter advertised its product using Bob Dylan's Blowin' In the Wind, played through, so my mendacious memory tells me, from start to finish, though my underemployed common sense suggests it was probably just the first verse and the chorus.
Mendacious or not, I can't even begin to remember what the product was that it was selling. Which, of course, rather negates the purpose of employing the song in the first place, unless that purpose be to get on my nerves while I'm waiting for the film to start. In that purpose, it certainly succeeded, because when the song had run its course and the identity of the product, an event to which the whole advert (and thus the song) had been a build-up, I found myself saying "oh, fuck off", so that the whole cinema could hear me.
They didn't seem as offended (if their laughter is any guide) by my reaction to the advert, as I was by the advert itself. And even I wasn't all that offended. I'm not that precious about Dylan. I'm not that precious about adverts, nor the misuse they make of cherished symbols and cherished art. I wasn't even offended, as such, at all. I just thought it was pathetic. I could have said, "give us a break", instead, without a change in meaning and in the same tone. But I lack patience, these days, and I have always lacked manners, and so I said "fuck off" instead.
Or maybe I'm more precious than I thought. Maybe I ought to be. Yesterday, having gone to a sub-post office on the Fulham Palace Road in Hammersmith, near where I work - partly to post some letters, partly to check that there was actually a sub-post office still there - I was walking back towards Charing Cross Hospital when I saw a car, one of those Ford Ka things, I believe, making a turn at the end of a side-road. Nothing stands out like a Ford Ka, says the blurb, and it's true that this particular one was distinctive indeed. It carried the colours and symbols of the Solidarnosc trade union. (I say "the colours and symbols". A medievalist, or an advertiser, would probably say "the livery". But I get ahead of myself.)
I was curious. What would Solidarity be doing on the Fulham Palace Road? I assumed it couldn't be anything to do with trades unionism, since Charing Cross Hospital is already a unionised workplace and I suspect Polish trade unions would lack negotiating rights, even though the Bridlington Agreement no longer applies. I did, for a brief millisecond, wonder if it had anything to do with unionising migrant Polish workers in London. This would be an admirable occurrence. Yet, by the very virtue of being admirable, I imagine that it would be most unlikely to actually occur.
So this fantasy made speedy way for the assumption that, given the political direction taken by Lech Walesa and many of his colleagues since Poland was liberated from Stalinism, it was most likely connected with some sort of Polish political party. Presumably a party with Catholic and right-of-centre politics, though even so, its presence in Hammersmith remained a mystery. Still, there are some buildings just opposite housing foreign companies, including some from Eastern Europe, so my assumption wasn't totally implausible. It was, however, like most assumptions, wrong. Coming closer to the car, beneath the famous red-and-white flag that I used to wear on a badge on the lapel of my school blazer, I saw the words:
- those words, and the URL www.solidarnosc.co.uk. All it was, was a lousy advert for vodka. And a lousy advert for vodka that had appropriated - and presumably placed some copyright on - the use of the name and symbols of Solidarity.
The only thing that stopped me saying "fuck off" this time was speechlessness. Speechlessness on my part, provoked by shamelessness on theirs. A lack of shame, a lack of dignity, an entire lack of appreciation of the difference between what something is worth and what you can pay for it.
It wasn't an hommage. It wasn't ironic. It expressed no ideas, save perhaps the idea that the only reason the Polish workers organised against the United Workers' Party was so that they could buy a particular brand of vodka. It was cheap, and cynical, or perhaps too stupid, too emptyheaded to be cynical. Can you call "shameless", those who know no shame? But shameless it was, and cheap. And walking past this new, and shiny, well-cleaned car made me feel dirty, almost too dirty to feel like walking back to work by my normal route through the hospital.
I'm glad the Berlin Wall came down. It was one of the greatest and most important political memories of my life. I'm glad even though Wenceslas Square has been turned into a advertising hoarding, Moscow into a brothel and Yugoslavia into a war zone. You cannot support that which will not stand, and I am glad the Wall came down. But sometimes, you know, on some days, I am less equally glad than on others.