Dear Sir David Amess MP,
Hullo! Nippy isn’t it? I’m typing this just round the corner to your office. I bet if I were to print this out, fold it into a paper aeroplane and lob it over it’d reach you quicker than the post but the truth is Sir David I haven’t got a printer so I’ll just stick it in the newspaper instead.
How was your Christmas? Did you get to chill out much or were you busy with work? I ate too much cheese. It happens. What can you do (except not eat cheese)?
Do you get to read this paper much, or do you get pertinent pieces cut out by your secretary for you to scan while you’re having a biscuit break? I’ve been writing this column (well not this one specifically) for over four and a half years now but it’s the first time I’ve written one to you. It’s ok if you’ve never read it. To be honest Sir David if you read my weekly witterings rather than tending to important political business I’d tell you to get back to bloody work.
How did the Alternative City of Culture launch on New Year’s Day go? Was it nice? Did you go? Was the clown good? I couldn’t make it in the end because a group of us decided to boycott it. Sorry. We used your event as inspiration and called our quiet rebellion No Culture Day. It involved doing literally nothing that resembled anything cultural whatsoever. It was a hard task on the nation’s favourite hangover day and by about 5pm I thought I was going to expire from not sculpting something thought-provoking from sea-clay while listening to Shostakovich but I got there. Phew.
The reason a group of creatives decided to announce on social media platforms that we were shunning culture for the day was because we didn’t want to appear complicit in our silence. You may have become aware that some people are reticent about you announcing Southend as the Alternative City of Culture following its defeat in the bid for Actual City of Culture. Some have been left a bit confused about what a city actually is, some worried the dissent might look a bit petulant to the rest of the country and queer our pitch for future bids, and some of us sat by the phone, waiting for you to call. We knew that if you were serious about programming a whole year of Culture,❤️💥🌟🌈 etc, in the town by the town for the town to represent the town, you would make concerted efforts to reach further into the town for said Culture. This year – the year you call to arms the creatives of Southend to give your personal project substance, context, and meaning – would be an exceptional opportunity to get to know some cool people you don’t otherwise get to talk to. It must be hard though, finding time to talk to the people when so much of your work takes you away from them. It’s a busy life isn’t it Sir David? I get that. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out at the lack of time to do everything.
I came to the Southend day you held at the House of Commons a few years ago. I think it was a preparatory event for your City of Culture bid. There were some nice people there. And a lot of nice suits. I tried not to get a bit blinky at the slight air of patronisation that can surround such events; the jocular implication that we simple seaside Southenders live on cockles and lactate Rossis ice-cream, but I stood by the table with the fizz and was fine. ( A nice Aldi Cava I assume, what with parliamentarians being so dedicated to saving the nation’s quid.)
Standing around in shoes I don’t normally wear looking at old portraits that probably cost more than I will earn in a lifetime reminded me of the day Teddy Taylor showed my Politics A’ Level class around the Houses of Commons and Lords in the late 90s. It’s quite a nice place to hang out with all that history and bustle and cracking architecture isn’t it Sir David? I can well imagine being part of the cogs of history must feel like quite a heady whirl of privilege and purpose. I can also imagine that once you’re ensconced in that world you must grow protective of it, like I am protective of mine. We are all simple clans folk really, aren’t we. We’ve decorated our caves nicely but the hard-wired programming of being human remains pretty basic. Perhaps spending a great portion of your working life in that gilt club must make it hard to see beyond the gleam, to wander away from the campfire; perhaps your voting history is merely you voting with the pack. Weirdly, it’s easier to think you voted, for instance, against gay marriage because you’re toeing the old Tory line for an easy life than it is to think you truly don’t believe in your heart that everyone should be free to marry the person they love irrespective of whether they’re packing two nadgers, four tits, or whatever. Sorry for the language, Sir David. It is the fruity dialect of the common person and I’m happily stuck with it.
Yes. I suppose it must be hard to come away from the unrelenting bind of a stressful job in the most important institution in the country to find time to get to know the people who comprise your constituency, especially when some of those people are diametrically opposed to your own ideals. The truth is Sir David, the creatives you need to pad out your year of Culture are not likely to be those who voted for you. They are not wealthy businessmen, comfortable pensioners who like their people as anaemic as their tea, or people who like to give their vote to the unchallenged local party because it’s easier than thinking or changing anything. The real truth is most creatives are piss poor because we have chosen a life of lunacy in the Arts, because we’re drawn to little else, and we make our strange peace with not being amply remunerated for the life we choose. We count our riches out of different pockets. But we all make up the town and whether some of us agree with how you vote or not, while you are our MP, it is your town. And we are here too. Other people. Hi.
Your Cultural project makes me wonder what culture floats your boat enough for you to take up the mantle of enthusiast so publicly? Are you a theatre man? Feminist confessional new writing with a metatextual bent? Perhaps you like opera or Morecambe & Wise or burying your eyes in a Turner painting – or maybe when you have a quiet moment you listen to Mötorhead to get your juices flowing or perhaps you’re on the fifth listen of Black Star and mourning David Bowie’s passing like a lot of us. I don’t suppose many people think to ask you what culture sets you alight. Does that nark you out a bit or make you sad? You’re not a bloody machine after all. I like to think that a thing we all have in common is when we put down our work and our rules and the things which tire us or stress us out, we are all creatures who seek joy in something. Art is always there for us and it never diminishes, no matter how much we take from it. That’s pretty cool isn’t it, Sir David?
I suppose you get asked to attend a lot of things, probably involving cutting a ribbon somewhere, but I wonder how many people ask you to come out for a pint and a chat about the culture you’re passionate about. Now, I know you’re busy because you replied to a friend of mine – a wonderful artist named Scottee – saying someone else would be in touch. But I wondered if, in the interests of the town and the culture you’re personally celebrating this year, you might be the one to venture out yourself. I’m no PR guru but I think some shots of you holding a real ale with some people wearing Converse would be cool. (Some of them are gay though, FYI, but I doubt you’re their type so you’re quite safe.) It would be great. You could take your tie off. It would be winsome. You might even feel comfortable, happy, inspired, refreshed, or – dare I suggest might not be common in political life – real for a while. In short, fancy a pint? (We can also do coffee – we’re not heathens.)
Because Sir David, if facepainting and a singular clown remains the zenith of the vision for your year’s foray into culture, we’d rather you didn’t do it in our name. Shall we discuss the other options?
Columnist, Southender, playwright, leftie, lover of gays.