Samira Ahmed: Blade Runner meets The Good Life

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Broadcasting House. You know the one, near the Church, back of Oxford Circus, Orwell did a stint there. Room 101 no less. Newsspeak, political turmoil, scandal, these corridors have seen it all. The building’s alright as it goes, a touch of the masonic about its foyer, just a hint of seediness, nothing too Savile mind. Can’t shake that feeling though, of well-appointed decline. Of ‘back in the day’, dissidents smuggling news broadcasts along with their smokes into whichever gulag they were being held at. World Service the only trusted source for the inmates. Mandela in Robben Island and so many others besides. It’s a long way from there to the slew of isms currently bedevilling the Corporation. Sexism, cronyism, racism, gently drizzled with some sour notes concerning impartiality. Leaden skies outside don’t exactly lift the gloom. Auntie has not been making the political weather as she once did. The rise and rise of digital platforms, citizen journalism and fake news all appear to be part of the murk. But as any hack will tell you, that’s not the whole story. The trick, apparently, is to read between the lines. Of course! A life less ordinary in the gaps, the interstices, or what Fred Moten and a generation of B-boys might call ‘the break’. Crazy Legs spinning to the Bronx anthem, and kids in Lewisham getting their news from the bush telegraph of record shops, or from the pirates in the tower blocks and the anything-but-dead spaces in between. Mind’s wandering again. Must be those masonic patterns in the floor tiles. The bush telegraph, spreading like wildfire. Fila, Ellesse, Tacchini and, back to the present…Samira Ahmed! Writer, broadcaster, journalist. The same vintage, 1968 (The Year of the Monkey), but a very different pedigree. We don’t talk about the Bronx anthem, but Bowie’s in there, and that’s not the only sound of the suburbs. Journalism along with ethics, as well as those other isms, gets an airing too. And there’s even time to talk Boris, Polaroids and other analogue fetishes. But as ever, with such tales, their true provenance heads south.

 

K: I’m going to do the logical thing and ask you about South London. I know you have described yourself as coming from the independent republic of South London. Is that a foundational lynchpin?

S: Being born in ‘68, everything was slower. We lived in a semi-detached house. And then we moved to Norwood, Beulah Hill. From there to New Malden. I had a pretty happy childhood really. Green, suburban, good schools. I always remember I used to love the bridges when they were lit up at night. And that sense of escape when you move away from home. I remember in my twenties I lived in Battersea. I used to drive into London and then I used to like that idea of driving back into my own safe space.

K: Sounds a bit like Tony Soprano?

S: (laughs) I haven’t watched enough of the Sopranos. Well, one of the things I would love was driving over Chelsea Bridge on the nights of those big parades. You’d have the night lit up with all those Ford Cortinas, with classic 50s cars, and I loved all that. I like the tribes of London, who often gather at these meeting places.

K: Were there tribes in New Malden that made any kind of impression?

S: Not in an interesting way. I think if I’m going to be honest, I couldn’t wait to leave when I was growing up in New Malden. It was incredibly dull, very old and white. I mean, I literally lived within a mile of three golf clubs! Jimmy Tarbuck and Tommy Steele lived at the top of the hill, in the private estate, but I went to school with their daughters for a bit. So there was this weird sense of it being that real suburban sitcom land. You know, blazers and golf clubs and a bit narrow minded. We lived in the nice posh bit of New Malden, and it wasn’t as if it was racist, but it certainly wasn’t diverse. Yet what’s really interesting now since I’ve moved back is that the population is around 50% Korean, it’s got a huge Sri Lankan community, and there’s lots of Japanese and Germans. It’s amazing. It’s sort of like Blade Runner crossed with The Good Life, because it’s still suburban and beautiful, but now the food is really good. Also, what’s interesting is the changed [nature of the] wealth. With the banking money that moved in during the 80s and 90s, in Wimbledon, where I went to school, there were these big old Victorian houses. Middle class, but not especially rich, and now it’s just Lamborginis and Ferraris and big city money and the whole place is simply millionaires row which is, well, I don’t know, that’s London, to some extent. But it’s been gentrified to such a level of the super rich that well…

(She pauses. This is after all the city of Grenfell, of the gig economy, of obscene disparities in wealth often existing cheek by jowl. And gentrification, in its myriad guises, cuts to the heart of these inequalities.)

K: And you’re quite happy there?

S: When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was leave and go to the big city. I lived in Clapham Junction for seven years which was fantastic. And then when I got married I actually went to the States for a bit; that’s where I did my LA stint and my husband at the time was working a lot in New York; then he got a job based partly in Paris, so he would commute on the Eurostar, go on a Monday morning, come back on a Friday, so we had this real 90s life, with the Eurostar, of being part of Europe and being able to travel to America, and living in the centre of London. We lived just off Baker Street and we raised our kids there until they were four and I loved it and I never thought I was going to go back to the suburbs but, you know, the usual stuff. School, finding a decent school. And actually all my family llve around this part of Southwest London. So I got free babysitting, once we moved back out, around 2004, and we were able to go out much more in the evenings, because I could leave the kids with my mum, who lives just up the road from me. But yeah, the biggest surprise, I don’t think I could have moved back down if I hadn’t found that New Malden was now so diverse.

K: The changing same?

S: Yeah, everything which is really brilliant about London is summed up in New Malden, I think. We went to South Korea with our children’s Tae Kwan Do teacher, and you know, not only did we run into white people from New Malden on the street, who said, ‘oh yeah, you know there were so many Korean people, I thought I’d be interested to come out here.’ We met white people who were so fascinated by South Korea because of New Malden. And of course there are lots of mixed marriages[in New Malden]. But also I realised, there are all these really quirky places, and we get some truly authentic Korean food in New Malden. It was the real deal.

K: Where is that culture, what is going to happen to that culture, post-Brexit? What do you think in your gut?

S: I genuinely don’t know, but I’m thinking, there’s two likely scenarios, and one is there is a crash-out scenario, which is economic disaster, in which case I’d be interested to see what happens to a lot of these families, but a lot of them have stayed because they’ve now established lives here. I mean you’re talking well into the second generation, and the quality of life for South Koreans is really much better somewhere like New Malden. You forget how crowded, and tiny, apartments are [in Seoul]. But maybe, and there’s another scenario, maybe Theresa May, who voted to remain, has had the option all along to put this to a vote and we don’t leave, but I don’t know. But anything is possible, yeah? Anything is possible in this most impossible of situations.

K: I suppose that’s where your penchant for science fiction comes in?

S: Well, I think we’ve learned that the world is sick of experts, and experts can’t tell us anything. But that’s also a really dangerous situation.

K: There’s an echo, surely, of the 1970s and the 1980s in terms of what is happening, that resurgence of parochialisms? That’s probably the most generous word I can find for it right now.

S: Look, racism’s on the rise, and overt racism, I think it’s interesting what has and hasn’t changed. In the 70s and 80s once we’d joined [the EU], I don’t think anyone was seriously thinking we would leave the EU, so although there was overt racism, everyone agreed on something, which was sort of, that we were part of Europe, and I think that was non negotiable; so the racism was actually about migrant economic backgrounds, really, wasn’t it? And a little bit of joking about the Germans and the French. Now, it’s interesting, ‘cos it’s like a veneer’s been peeled off and there are some older people for whom, I don’t know if they’d buried it and forgotten they were racist and they’re only now remembering it, and thinking, ‘Oh I can now be racist openly’. And I don’t want to make more of it than it is, because people who are unpleasant usually make more noise, don’t they, because they take pleasure in it or they’re attention seeking, but, I interviewed Ali Smith, the novelist, the other day, about her book, ‘Autumn’. And the book is so much about the unpeeling of the lid off racism, and it all pouring out and there’s this horrible incident of a Spanish couple at the station, and people tell them, ‘why don’t you go back where you came from’, and they turn out to be tourists just visiting London. And this is based on what someone has witnessed. She’s concerned, and I suppose it is a little like the 70s and 80s, but I still feel it’s different. I mean we’ve had an awareness and people do know better, so I think it’s easier in the long term to challenge it, but I think the bigger difficulty is there is this madness and frenetic pace fuelled by social media, so everyone can be enraged instantly by the next thing, and people get enraged by some racist incidents, but it’s actually quite exhausting and I think both as journalists and as citizens we are concerned with a good civic life, and with being good with each other. You actually have to work out, what are we going to get angry about and for how long? And pick our battles, and pick our fights, and save our energies for the important ones. And a lot of that is about not giving attention to attention seekers. And this is a different example, but I recently saw a tweet Julia Hartley Brewer had put out, saying, ‘You know, if I were a woman in Hollywood, I’d definitely make up something now about being raped’, and she’s done that deliberately to provoke a reaction, and she gets one. So I looked at that and I thought , you know on every level, to actually think to say that, and then to be cynical enough to put it out, that’s the nub of what I’m talking about, and they get paid good money to do it.

K: What do you think has happened to your once noble profession?

S: Well, yes, let’s talk about that. I think newspapers have been worried about this for some time, the decline of a range of political titles. I worry that the Guardian is struggling. I don’t know what the answer to that is. There is some very good independent journalism being done. I don’t know what the long term models are. But I read things like ProPublica, which is this American website, which does really good investigations into individual politicians and stories, and that’s what matters. Someone’s funding it, partly donations, and I don’t know if we need something more like that [here]. If I had one concern, and this is the most controversial thing I feel I’ll say to you, it is that I have real concerns for the future of the BBC.

K: That’s not controversial

S: Well, it is for me. I trained here. Though I work as a freelance. There’s real serious concern about bringing in people from newspapers at senior levels to run news here. James Harding is leaving now, but I think, when he came, what came with him was a culture of hiring people without any kind of process. The BBC is a public sector employee, so should be a model of responsible hiring. I mean jobs are advertised, you make an effort to recruit. You have it at apprentice level, and you have some great apprentices, trainee schemes, but where are these people’s career progression? I mean, the cronyism at the BBC at the moment is shameful. I’ve not seen anything like it. I joined in 1990 as a news trainee, and I swear to God if I knew then what things would be like now, I would have been absolutely horrified. Even things that appear trivial. I was listening to the Today programme today. Why is Christiane Amanpour presenting? I get it, she’s a woman from a diverse background. But she’s also a full time worker at CNN! She’s, you know, there are so many BBC women who have been clamouring to present on that programme, and they don’t get chances because of these celebrity hires, being brought in for the glamour of it. Crony hiring is just out of order. That’s what makes me angry, as someone who goes into schools, talks to young people, who is very conscious of having watched Asian or black role models growing up like Shyama Perera, thinking , ‘I don’t see women like me getting through the ranks.’ I mean, you get to these top levels, and we just get stuck. What the hell is that about?

K: Is that a view that finds much succour within the institution?

S: Well, that’s what bothers me, about the culture at the top. So the BBC is staffed by hundreds of amazing people. You bump into World Service colleagues and they finally got equal pay, because you know, World Service salaries were [historically] kept lower, which I think is implicitly racist. But at the top levels, who are the big hires coming in? They are all coming in as personal mates and cronies. The BBC’s reputation for impartiality and fairness is seriously eroded when you hire people coming from newspapers where everything in the way those newspapers, and people, function, is serving the interests of their oligarchs. These papers , these are not places that operate through talent, these are places that ultimately operate as fiefdoms, and the BBC is not supposed to be like that.

K: So are you suggesting that there was some sort of ‘golden age’ prior to this?

S: Well, there’s always been political pressures. What was interesting is how the original comedy writers for satirical programmes like That Was The Week That Was, said how in the early days, back in the 60s, there was this implicit understanding. You do your stuff and we’ll back you, and we don’t need to micromanage you. You push it and we’ll back you 100%. But that culture just completely disappeared. Most of the people who work at the BBC and most of the audience are on the same side. We love what the BBC represents at its best. We don’t do it for the money. I think it’s nonsense about market salaries. Actually one of the things I’ve learnt over the past few months is how much managers at the BBC are on. They are all paying themselves 150K plus up to half a mill. All the presenters, all the staff, are on freelance or short term contracts, so everything that you think about the BBC, who represents the BBC, they are all on freelance or short term, and management, who are piloted in from the private sector, or outside, are staff. And I think that’s all the wrong way round. And there are enemies of the BBC, powerful media barons, who hate everything that the BBC represents, because they’ve got commercial interests, and they want to take it down, and I’m saying that the BBC, by not fighting enough to say, ‘we are a public service’, and by not behaving ethically, is giving ammunition to those who want to destroy it.

K: Isn’t that just in microcosm a rehearsal of much broader arguments currently raging in society at large?

S: Well it’s interesting isn’t it, how a minority of people with a lot of money seem to control the public debate and we allow ourselves to go along with it. And it’s controversial not to challenge that. I mean the whole thing with the EU referendum was, ‘Look, you lefty, liberal Londoners in your metropolitan bubble, you don’t really understand what people want. This is what they wanted.’ And I went to Stoke on Trent to give a lecture recently and a man walked out, because I was giving facts about Nigel Farage, including his past, singing Hitler youth songs at Dulwich College after the Brixton Riots, you know, which teachers, and students complained about, saying, this boy has disturbing attitudes. Now that’s a fact, that was reported on Channel 4 news, but this guy said, ‘I like him!’ and he stormed out. And this is the thing. Just because people voted a certain way it doesn’t mean that they were in possession of the full facts, and people voted emotionally, so I don’t think we should be afraid to challenge some of the things being said, if they are not based on fact.

K: What is the role of atavism in all this? What are the limits of tolerance? And where does ethics reside in this?

S: Do you think that’s what’s really been the most frightening thing about all this? I mean I grew up in a time during the 70s and 80s when everyone was obsessed with the Second World War and this assumption that, you know, there was an inevitable arc of history, and of course, we would defeat fascism, and Britain did it, and then you realise the reality; how for so many of those years, right up until 1943 at the very least, you didn’t know which way it was going to go, there were plenty of people willing to collaborate, I mean, we know there was a fascist movement here in the UK, and this idea that you take an ethical position and then you stick to it, and you fight for it, where actually the reality is how few people would come down on the right side of it, a lot of people would admittedly not bother to take a side, but a lot of people would go straight for the easier side, and I think that’s really my bigger concern. So bringing it back to the way that news is debated now, there’s too many people happy to go along with the lowest common denominator. And I think that’s failing an ethical duty. Marine Le Pen going unchallenged for her views on the Andrew Marr show. You’re giving air time to these people, and you’re failing to understand that they don’t have to say something openly racist to be able to intimidate. I bet if you checked the diversity of the politics departments of the various BBC programmes, I’m sure it would be the least diverse part. And I’m not saying that you have to be black to understand fascism, but what’s worrying is that there’s too many people who think they’re being ‘impartial’, and they’re actually failing to see where the ethical line is. I think it’s an ethical failing that we keep giving this man (Farage) airtime to stir up trouble. I mean he’s not an MP, he keeps losing elections, and he has a particularly toxic potential, and we should be aware of that.

 

(She is scathing when asked about the often diversionary, trivializing tactics that much of the mainstream news media, the BBC included, seem to have adopted as a default ‘setting’ in their assessment of what might be ‘newsworthy’ at any given moment.)

 

S: As regards the BBC’s historical remit to inform and educate and entertain. Well, the Theresa May cough story, that’s a real crystallisation of what’s happened to serious news.

K: Do your kids feel that way about the news too?

S: Sometimes you realise that young people can be fully engaged with politics but they don’t fully understand, because they haven’t been fully grounded in the ethics (i.e the difference between ‘free speech’ and ‘hate speech’). I mean even the New York Times, for every great story, there’s three more looking at ‘we’ve gone into the atelier that makes Melania Trump’s clothes’. And you know what, you don’t need to be doing that. You shouldn’t be doing that. You should be deploying resources around important stuff, because we know this man, we know there are problems around this man as President, and that’s where we should be deploying resources. That whole successful diversion away from what we should be doing.

K: What was your own route into journalism?

S: They were simpler days, weren’t they? I mean I think I was born with an instinct for being fascinated by news events, news stories, because from a very early age all my school compositions were about news. I wrote a story about being taken hostage by the Red Brigades in Italy because that was the news at the time, and I wrote the story without really understanding. I was the daughter of an Italian businesswoman and I’d been kidnapped. I was eight or nine when I wrote that.

K: Stockholm Syndrome?

S:(Laughs) No, I wasn’t yet that sophisticated!

One of my earliest experiences of the news was I remember coming down the stairs at my friend’s house, and they had this little telly in the kitchen, and it was the morning that Jimmy Carter had been elected as President. And this may sound silly, but I used to watch Blue Peter, and you know the summer expedition, I used to imagine myself going off into another culture, and a whole other world, and I used to have this specific fantasy where I would go off and become a reporter on the Brasilia Times. I knew Brasilia was the capital of Brazil. I have never been to Brazil, even now, but I used to make my own little newspapers; I just loved news. And then I watched Newsround, and I had my letter read out on the show when I was young. It was one of those things.

K: But many Asian girls were discouraged from pursuing careers at that time?

S: But that’s about class, and that came as a big shock to me. And there was a culture element to it, and it really only hit me in the early 80s, that there were all these kids from much more conservative backgrounds, socially, and religiously. Never mind careers, some Asian girls weren’t even being encouraged to finish school. And that absolutely horrified me. I mean I’m from a middle class background, my Mum’s a University graduate. A lot of her friends were musicians and actors. An arty crowd. Bedsits in Bayswater. My Dad met my Mum in the early 60s. I think it was at The Indian Tea House. They met, fell in love, got married.

K: Isn’t that quite a rare story though?

S: It’s not that unusual. There’s some great stories [from that time]. Dad will tell me every now and then about their wedding day. How they took the bus to the registry office and then they went to an Indian restaurant in Queensway, and their wedding breakfast was paid for with luncheon vouchers. And to me that’s so glamorous! The bravery of our parents’ generation. They came to the other side of the world, barely into their 20s, where my mother still remembers the ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ signs, and maybe that’s where some of my concerns about the BBC now come from. I mean I was brought up to think of the BBC as this progressive place, something of a haven. And there are all these photos back then of women with beehive hairdos and in saris, and these were BBC programmers. They’re in my mum’s photo albums. So I’m particularly interested in the early 60s and in West Indian and Asian immigration and the way those communities were starting to transform big cities in the UK. And of course the Beatles benefited from that too. Look at Sergeant Pepper, at how aspirational they were. I mean you could grow up on a council estate, go to the local school, go to Art School, and within five years be experimenting with Transcendental Meditation, but I mean that kind of aspiration, those pathways, I do think we’ve lost a lot of those.

K: Bowie, Boww-ie, or Boo-wie?

S: Bowie. But really, the Beatles were a huge influence on my childhood, and that’s in part down to having an older brother. He used to make me mixtapes with the Yardbirds and the Kinks, and he used to love early 60s surf sounds. And the Beach Boys. So I grew up listening to a lot of that, but you know, I used to really love the Beatles. And I used to wear Beatles badges to school in 1979!

K: The time of the Specials, and you’re wearing the Beatles?

S: And you know, I loved all of that music too, but sometimes I think you need to look at where your energies were focused at that age, between say, ten and fifteen. My parents got me a record player with a tape deck and I used to record the chart show, keeping tabs on what had gone up and what was coming down, and I had all my records, and it’s where I spent all my money. It was a lovely time.

K: DIY mixtapes?

S: Yes. True, but I don’t want to fetishise the way we did it. I mean I use Spotify a lot, and you know if people love music, whether they’re downloading it or otherwise, they still love it. But what they spend money on is different. We did have a lot less stuff. An element of choice. The lack of television channels, and in any case it wasn’t on all day, so you would have a lot more shared viewing. You would watch each other’s programmes. I remember you used to go down to Woolworths and you’d choose what you were going to buy, the 99p albums or the 29p singles, and you’d get it and you’d play it over and over. But those things had value. And before I go off into another old woman rant, here’s another thing: disposable clothing. There was no question of wearing some synthetic piece of clothing manufactured in a sweat shop in Bangladesh, just once or twice and then throwing it away. I mean, I do lots of conferences, and there’s all these ethical young people there, and they’re big on green issues, but I have to ask them, ‘How many of you shop at Primark?’

K: With all this emphasis on the sartorial, the investment in style, the weight of a book or a record, would it be fair to say that there is such a thing as an emotional analogue sensibility?

S: I do think there is. I mean I got my twenty-one year old nephew a vinyl soundtrack to the film ‘Shaft’ for his birthday, and I think it’s the best present ever. And my daughter wants a Polaroid camera. I was talking to Wim Wenders just recently and he was telling me about his collection of Polaroids taken on his trips across America when he was filming. But they’re all framed now, so they’re art. Yet young people want them. So maybe there is something about being able to hold the physical object in your hand. I know that I never regretted sticking with it [the analogue tech], so I never bought a CD player, I always had a record player and a cassette player, and guess what, vinyl’s back! And I always had books. Just picked up the latest Ta Nehisi Coates and Philip Pulman. That’s my one indulgence, my guilty pleasure. John Waters, who’s one of my heroes, said that the greatest luxury of his life was being able to buy any book without having to look at the price.

K: What about Wim Wenders and those mucky polaroids?

S: (Laughs) Smutty. Mucky’s a word you don’t hear any more. I know what you mean, though, like mucky postcards. Think about all those TV comedies where there would be a flasher in a mac, and when people talk about ‘political correctness gone mad’, you think, we have made progress for a reason. I mean, do you really want to go back to a time where it was funny to have flashers in TV shows because it was trivialising something which was real?

K: In which case, is Brexit some kind of a cultural reversion?

S: There was the daily crap of sexual harassment, and the limited availability of roles for women back then, but they’ve all come through it, and they look amazing. And then you look at the men from that era, and they all look quite sheepish. Think about those scriptwriters from that time, some of whom have since publicly apologised for the sleazy manufacture of storylines which saw their female colleagues scantily clad or typecast in a particular way. But I do think there’s a danger of a kneejerk response to all this, to say, this was all bad. And that just feeds the right wing, tabloid appetite for contrived victimhood, for saying ‘this is about censorship and free speech’, and it’s not. I mean it’s really obvious where the line is between unacceptable sexually predatory comedy behaviour and having a bit of a laugh. There’s an episode of Butterflies where Wendy Craig, fantasising about a romantic encounter, says she wants to be ‘raped’, and of course you wouldn’t get away with saying that now, but what she meant was that romantic idea of being ‘ravished’, though of course you could have problems with that as well if you wanted to. But I mean, I look back on that, and I’ve never had a problem with that kind of characterisation. And as you get older, you become more nuanced in how you look back at these things. And I mean, I used to love all the cross-dresser humour of that time. Dick Emery. It goes back to music hall, the Army. Rugby club dinners. Drag king nights at Madame Jo Jo’s.

K: Are you ever a bluffer or a blagger?

S: That’s a really interesting question, and you know why? Women like me are never bluffers or blaggers, because if we ever made a mistake, we’d get completely slaughtered for it, but people like Boris Johnson, I mean they can bluff their way through, and they can boast about their ignorance, and they’re rewarded for it. That is one of the fundamental differences between men and women. I read this thing in the New European, about Justin Trudeau wearing his geeky socks, and it is part of this thing where you look at women in public life, who’ve risen to the top, and Theresa May’s a good example, and Angela Merkel’s another, and people say they’ve got no sense of humour, and basically they have to be so much better than the men. Even Hillary Clinton. There are so many rules that apply only to you, and so you/they focus on being the absolute best, and so they never blag, and they never bluff, and some people have that held against them. It’s like broadcasters get asked ‘are you warm enough’ [in your manner] and actually, that’s never a charge that’s levelled against men. I was of a generation that was told, ‘You’re going to have to be twice as good as the white kids’, and you know what, you could moan about it or you could just do it and get in there and start changing things. But you know, I don’t want to scare the next generation, my own kids, who are mixed race, because things are a lot better out there. They don’t have to see National Front demonstrations, or have stuff thrown at them in the street, though I want them to understand that it’s not a fair place either. And if you want to know about that in a nutshell, just listen to those posh white people who are like, ‘Oh, yah, failed all my exams, just scraped my 3rd at Oxford’. How did you get into Oxford then? You get a lot of that, that refusal to acknowledge that they get a free ride.

K: You mean a disavowal of class and entitlement?

S: Why are Generation X women angry? We’ve all hit a wall. Sexual harassment is as bad as it’s ever been. We’re not going away. And we’re all really angry. But there’s also a lot of good culture out there, that’s what’s keeping me going.

K: What about rage?

S: It’s about working out where you can make the change happen. Uhura wants to leave her typecast, downgraded role on Star Trek even though Martin Luther King wants her to stay. On Channel 4 news, it was all ‘Captain’ Jon Snow, you do the main things, I’ll do the little add-ons. I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted to do. It’s not enough just to be there. Or consider all those Universities taking funding from the most legally misogynistic regimes in the world. It comes back to ethics. What happens when there are no good ethical boundaries? The heroine of Ali Smith’s Autumn is a lecturer who’s on a zero hours’ contract. This is the Oligarch model. And what’s interesting is how quickly Britain has taken to it.

K: An echo of the Victorian age, surely?

S: But the high point of colonialism also included Victorian philanthropy. And they did build museums and parks and schools, that element was always there.

K: The Horniman Museum?

S: Oh, I loved that. The mummies. All the South Sea island artefacts. But even the Commonwealth, what an interesting idea, that we perhaps did all have something in common

(Empire? The thought stays undeclared though. Not going to be that person, today at least.)

K: Top 5 tunes?

The Beatles ‘You won’t see me’ (Rubber Soul)

The Yardbirds ‘For your love’ (brother’s mixtape)

Bowie ‘Sorrow’ (cover version from Pinups)

K.D.Lang ‘Constant Craving’ (?)

Carly Simon ‘See the river run’ (from the film, ‘Working Girl’) – ‘I love that film, with its fantasy about making it big, making it in the city. I feel about London the way that Melanie Griffiths feels about New York. ‘ (Samira’s words, not mine).

I check out those Wim Wenders’ Polaroids at the Photographers’ Gallery just round the corner. They’re not mucky at all. Classy, in fact. A bit like Samira. Boris (at the time of writing still ‘in post’), remains something more than a buffoon though. To say we need strong independent voices within our media to hold the likes of Johnson to account is some way short of understatement. But they do still exist, even within this most surreal and ‘interesting’ of times.

 

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