Opinion with Christine Tongue: What 103-year-old May would have made of life today

May and her home 'at the bottom of the garden'

What’s kept you going through lockdown? Art? Friendship? Community spirit? Laughter?

For me it’s been anger.

I expect we’ve all done our share of shouting at the telly, but my anger is not just about Donald Trump whinging the election was stolen from him, or Boris’s uncontrollable hair while he recounts another few thousand deaths. Or Keir Starmer looking smug because he doesn’t have to take the rap for anything. I’m furious at the whole establishment.

I often wonder what my old friend May would think of politicians now. She was angry all her life.

She lived at the bottom of my garden when I first moved to Thanet. Not literally, we shared a back wall. She threw nice plants over it for me and eventually shared her views on life and history. Anger kept her alive for 103 years! She looked like my granny – but with attitude!

Born in 1902 she’d been through two world wars, the 1926 general strike, the Depression and Thatcher’s Britain. She hated all of it. She loved good food, baked her own bread, never ate “a mystery” so she’d never eaten a shop-bought sausage or a pie in her life, grew her own veg, and washed everything in her house all the time. It was the cleanest house in our street (how often do you wash your ceilings?)

Her husband had been a union organiser in London – he was an Italian chef – and was penalised by his employers for his activism. He was blacklisted – he couldn’t get a job in London. Such was the power of the establishment. They had to leave and take their hungry kids to her mother in Liverpool. They all survived – but it was a struggle.

If May were here now I can imagine her watching Boris on the TV – “Why on earth is he bumping elbows? We’re NOT supposed to touch people! And he’s had the bug so he should know not to spread it around!”

“Does he think I’m going to like him because he’s sitting there with some stupid flag behind him? He can’t even be bothered to sit up straight and comb his hair!”

“What’s all that clapping about? If he cared about the nurses he’d pay them properly!”

“And as for that smarm-bucket Starmer – he’s agreeing with him! He’s supposed to be opposition! Why aren’t they all trying to close everything down until nobody’s infected?”

“Why haven’t we got a real leader like that nice skinny woman in New Zealand? She hasn’t let a hundred and twenty thousand people die!”

Well perhaps I’m putting words in her long-gone mouth but she’s voicing what a lot of people are getting furious about, including me.

It’s not just one or two politicians making stupid decisions, it’s the whole establishment that needs rethinking.

May might have seen – with the benefit of her long view – that we should be turning all our values upside down – paying nurses more than bankers, creating farms not housing estates, planting trees, growing our own food (she did, and saved her own seeds from year to year), valuing quality over quantity. And more than anything, listening to people with experience and an understanding of history.

At 99 May eventually put herself in a care home because she fell off a ladder trying to wash her ceiling. But she stayed angry and in charge of all her wits to the end. I would take her good cheese and she made me pink gins when I visited.

I think she’s still around haunting my garden with her righteous anger and encouraging all of us heading towards our century to stay furious with everything. And I will!

Christine Tongue is a Broadstairs resident and former Labour Party member. She now does not belong to a political party after being expelled from Labour in a row about a tweet  but does represent disability campaign group Access Thanet

15 Comments

  1. I wonder what May thought about the unlawful multiculturalism social experiment?

    Or the encouragement of the new NHS to experiment? (And never mind the Nuremberg Code)

    Or the mystery of how IRA spied for Soviet since 1924. Yet became an ally of Hitler during WW2 .. emerging with its “S Plan” (Sabotage) complete?

    Or the absurdity of appointing a chap, who failed a trades union studies course (Lessons on angry placard waving skills etc), as leader of the Labour party. Friend of the IRA and champion cold baked beans eater.

    Or Viscount Tredegar an occultist, catholic and pederast (MI8) with his mate McGrath (a paedophile who went on to be a housefather at Kincora) so inspiring a young pal of McGrath that the young chap formed a new religion having learned (From Tredegar) that Ulster loyalists were descendants of lost tribe of Israel .. really special group Revd Ian Paisley.

    Did May get angry at the cruel absurdity of it all?

    Telling Paisley his group was special is no different to BLM telling black people their group is special as victims of inherited PTSD!

    It is difficult to be angry when laughing and shaking your head.

    • I don’t know how you got your hands on the synopsis for “Kevin” Adam Curtis’ new BBC4 project, but he’ll be incandescent that you’ve let the cat out of the bag.

  2. Christine, were you angry when you received your vaccine? You don’t mention the amazing effort of the vaccine roll out which has far surpassed all European countries.
    I assume you did have your vaccine, although I did wonder whether your principles would allow you to have it. After all, the vaccines have been developed in conjunction with privately owned pharma companies, which are often criticised by the hard left like yourself. I very much doubt we would have had the vaccines without private pharma.

    I see you hate Starmer. Is that because under his watch you have been expelled from Labour and your husband suspended? According to your video you claim you were expelled for supporting Chris Williamson, who said that Labour had been too apologetic over antisemitism. What a nice person he is.

    To say that Boris smirks when he announced the death figures is quite frankly disgusting of you. He does not.

    The Prime Minister of New Zealand is Jacinda Arhern. Can’t you be bothered to look up her name instead of describing her as the nice skinny lady? Many people make comparisons between the UK and NZ. It’s ridiculous. NZ is miles from anywhere, it’s not a major trading centre for business, nor does it have the same international air traffic volumes.

    How on earth do you think we can keep everything closed until there are no Covid cases? There has to be a balance. With the vaccine and decreasing infections, society can open up. Are you going to stop all cars until there are no accidents or deaths on the road?

    • Very well put Seaside Lover.

      It’s a shame in a way that “Thanet Watch” folded, as Christine could’ve still vented her anger in there.

    • Seaside Lover – I agree with all you say concerning this person with her poorly researched views. New Zealand has a tiny population compared with UK, I think just under 5 million. I wonder if Christine owns/renting out houses as an income as she mentioned in the past?

  3. Nice to read a politically balanced piece for a change.

    Usually, somebody is blaming everything on the Conservatives (or Boris or whoever is leading them this week) or on Labour (or whoever is flavour of the week in their camp).

    Cue the political die hards with their comments . . .

  4. Answering a few points: I did have the vaccine, Astra Zenica, and I’m waiting for my second dose. I believe that big pharma couldn’t exist without well educated scientific researchers in state run universities. I dont feel happy about drug companies cashing in on scarce drugs and I do think we’re not safe until everyone is safe. The academics involved in vaccine production seem keen to make their research available internationally and the co-operation between scientists globally has put the politicians to shame.
    Sorry I didn’t name Jacinda Ahern. I was perhaps identifying too much with May, and the straighforward way she often described people. And names sometimes did escape her!Thanks for filling in the gaps!
    And also for the record, I’m not Melissa Todd or Jane Wenham Jones, who are both much better writers than me – probably because they are not so fuelled by fury as I am!

    • The UK doesn’t have State run Universities. Instead Universities here are Independent bodies, considered part of the Private Sector. Maybe you are getting confused with Cuba where an egg costs as much as ticket to the Opera?

      • Gary, I have been to Cuba, have you? I was on a fact finding visit, not a holiday, staying at three different places, visiting hospitals, light industry, urban farms, and I was struck how happy the people are despite the illegal USA Embargo! They have one of the best Education systems in the world, and the lowest infant mortality rate, lower than the Americans! Every evening music could be heard in the streets, and people would dance to it!

        Yes there is privation, but no where as bad as most South American countries, or Mexico come to that, where I also went on a fact finding tour some years ago. No one starves, state run stores offer heavily subsidised essentials, and you will find Cuban doctors working in many third world countries for free! If the USA lifted its illegal embargo Cuba with a population of about 11 million would have a much better life style than most Americans, which is why Trump and previous Presidents hate it, because socialism works there! The USA has more people in prison, mostly blacks pro rata, than Cuba, and they imprisoned 5 Cubans for years, who had infiltrated exiled Cubans, who were planning terrorist attacks! So when they reported it to the US authorities, they jailed them! I would sooner live in Cuba than America (where I have also visited from top to bottom!) any time!

        • No never been, don’t have to, the poverty and the harm the Military Dictators have forced on the country is well documented. Can an embargo be illegal, surely if America doesn’t want to trade with Cuba, for pretty obvious reasons, then surely they have a democratic right to veto trade.
          Curious what facts were you finding and who for? Others have been before you and the facts are well documented/reported.
          State run stores are largely empty….fact.
          Since the era of USSRs Political and Economic support of Cuba, Doctors have been trained and weaponised to spread the myths of Communist ideology(for free, because they are prisoners of a dictatorship), fact.
          Cuba imprisons and executes dissidents, fact.
          Urban farms are necessary or Cubans would starve, again a consequence of the collapse of Communist Russia and loss of subsidies to Cuban agriculture, fact.
          Anyway my point stands, the UK doesn’t have State run Universities and staple foods in Cuba such as vegetable oil, bread, eggs and chicken are frequently in short supply and it’s citizens queue for hours to get them when they are available.
          I’m glad you enjoyed your “fact finding” mission and that the State Authorities that shielded you from the economic realities of Cuba are happy that you had the chance to share your experience with a few people in Thanet, after all Ramsgate’s Bay of Pegs is twinned with Bahía de Cochinos.

        • Dumpton, I’ve been to Cuba too,but not since 1998. We stayed with an actress who was a critic of Castro, but her criticism was only in detail -not able to travel etc. She also took us to hospitals and clinics which she was very proud of, and introduced us to her mother who was a committed Fidelista. Her mother had grown up before the revolution and talked eloquently of what life was like with a hostile government, hunger and appalling health system. She had trained as a nurse. There was music and art everywhere. People did feel inhibited about criticising the government but they were well fed, well educated and well cared for by a universal free health system. We took taxis with university lecturers eking out their state salary with foreign money, we met army officers farmers and theatre directors and many musicians. I would love to go back and see what’s happening now. I made a film about Cuba, which was widely shown for a while – I’ll look for it. I’ve also been to Mexico,where there is appalling poverty and people look much sadder there than in Cuba.

  5. I am not quite as old as May, but getting there! I wonder if she would have watched CNN during the USA election, and failed coup by Trump to usurp the American congress, I did, and was incensed so many millions of people could be so dumb as to vote for such an obvious con artist as Trump! Trump is a danger to all the world, and is not a “populist” as so many others seem to think who are trying to copy him, he is a neo fascist racist, like his father before him, who he still trying to impress! Don’t let it happen here!

    • She had a daughter who married a GI so she did take an interest in US politics. She couldn’t visit because the medical insurance would have been too high. That annoyed her!

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