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Gods, Mongrels and Demons
Angus Calder

Dave Hallsworth

The dust jacket says it all: '101 Brief but Essential Lives. A compendious assemblage of oddballs, tinks, heidbangers, saints, keelies, nutters, philosophers, freaks and other personalities ….from Billy the Kid, and Hedy Lamarr to the Scottish Queen of Morocco and Ludwig Wittgenstein'.

Amongst these 'oddballs' 'tinks' and 'heidbangers' he lists Tom Bass, the 'original' 'horse whisperer', a Black American whose horsemanship in competition was only frustrated by the colour of his skin; Annie Bessant, promoter of birth control, instigator of the Bryant & May match girls strike, Marxist, creator of the Home Rule Party in Imperial India, who seemed to live three or four lives in one; Charles Bradlaugh her colleague, lover, and freethinker; Aaron Copland best known now for his 'Fanfare for the Common Man' and his folk music; Bettie Du Toit the Afrikaner textile workers organiser and Communist; Joe Hill of the Wobblies; Billie Holiday black blues singer; Mother Jones of the United Mineworkers of America.

Angus Calder and his notable father are oddballs in their own right, products of the twentieth century, its wars and its collaborations. Angus Calder sees his assembled characters from a New Age point of view. Bit like multiculturism, all equal in their inequality. To understand why he should believe this we have to look to his nurture and the social milieu he grew up in.

His father, Peter Ritchie Calder, son of a jute worker in Scotland, started work as a journalist, becoming a star in Fleet Street in his twenties. His front line reporting of the London Blitz annoyed Churchill because of his criticisms of the government handling of the air raids. Churchill bought him off by offering him charge of 'Political Warfare - White Propaganda' at Bush House. After the war he returned to the News Chronicle a Liberal newspaper.

Soon drawn into the Establishment machine, he undertook 'globe trotting', 'fact finding' on behalf of the United Nations, where no doubt he became aware of the USA dominance of the UN, organised at the end of the war and established in New York by the American victors. His response was helping to found the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Harold Wilson, the Labour Party Prime Minister at the time blunted his edge my ennobling him as Lord Ritchie-Calder of Balmashannar of the Royal Burgh of Fofar. This didn't stop him from taking up the reins of the Scottish-Soviet Friendship Society however, although he toned it by accepting an honorary citizenship of Jerusalem.

With his father so deeply involved, no wonder Calder saw the Second World War as the British 'Peoples War' (See his The People's War: Britain 1939-45). Mind you in the early years it was found that we, the people that is, were hardly fit to fight a war. On hard rations during the years of the slump, losing your teeth by the time you left your teens, thin-chested and head and shoulders smaller than the middle classes, we were hardly fit for anything.

Feeding the children at school milk and school dinners, setting up 'works canteens' and British Restaurants in the towns and cities for the workers, Churchill's government, now including Ritchie Calder, attempted to redress the sorry facts. The Labour Party, and, after Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, jumped in to close ranks. No way the Germans and Japanese were going to get our colonies. Even after the war the best Foreign Secretary British capital had ever had (or so the capitalists historians said) Ernie Bevin, late General Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, fought on still. Twas to no avail however - the Yanks wouldn't go home.

Today's academics, whose knights and emblems have all fallen in the gutter, are unable to differentiate between odds and sods, and real people who took on all manner of struggles in order to take humanity, not just their class or country, forward, who fought against all manner of discrimination with their life's blood. Still, this book is worth borrowing from your library to read about people before the age of counselling, when we stood on our own two feet and slogged it out with oppression in all its forms.

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