Wherever I’ve lived I’ve always had an open fire; until this last house.
There is a real flame gas fire in the lounge, which is convenient and cosy, but it’s not the same as building up a fire yourself, throwing on logs, and roasting chestnuts in the embers.
The second reception room had a chimney breast but the fire had been closed up at some point.
Ten years into my occupancy, about two years ago, I had a moment of madness. Well it was a joint madness really, because my twenty four year old son egged me on. It started with me tearing some wall paper off the chimney breast to see if I could see an outline of a fireplace in the plaster. It ended with me prising off plaster with a screwdriver. My poor husband came home to a slowly emerging hole in the chimney breast, and a sheepish looking wife covered in dust.
Fast forward three days and the fireplace looked something like this (picture from google due to not having the foresight to take before pics), but sootier and messier. The initial elation I’d felt over starting the job had well and truly worn off and
I was cursing myself for my ‘crazy spontaneity’. The house was shrouded in a fog of dust, and we discovered the opening was being held up by some dodgy looking brickwork, which meant we were going to have to instal a concrete lintel to stop the wall collapsing.
I probably should explain at this point, I embarked on this job when we were really skint, so there was no calling out a builder to finish the job, and neither I nor my husband are particularly handy. Basically I had created chaos out of order, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be worth it.
Fast forward a week or so and a lintel was in place (thanks Youtube), and I was re-plastering the wall; a ‘skill’ I’d acquired after my shower leaked through the kitchen ceiling. My husband and I designed a wooden mantel piece and put it up ourselves, albeit with a crookedness that would drive some pedantic people a bit crazy, but for a non pedant like me, adds to the charm of it. Here is the finished fireplace, complete with my long suffering husbands slippered foot in the foreground.
By now you must be thinking this is a D.I.Y blog, but it isn’t. I got the idea to write it a few days ago, after I picked my husband up from the station because he’d been forced to get the train to work after his car battery died. As soon as he got in the car he started letting off steam about the latest anti Corbyn story in circulation. Then he sighed a deep sigh and fell into a long reflective silence. Often it’s me having a rant, or staring off into space as I try to process all of my Corbyn associated stress, but today it was his turn. He looked weary, and a bit despondent, and it suddenly reminded me of how he looked when we were up to our eyes in bricks, soot and dust. I found myself smiling to myself as the metaphor took shape in my mind.
When I dived into opening up the fireplace, it seemed to come out of the blue, a bit like when Jeremy Corbyn surprised everyone by winning the leadership. But it hadn’t. For years I’d been discontented with that smooth plastered wall where I thought a roaring fire should be, in the same way ordinary Labour members had been brewing a growing discontent with the managerial, technocratic, top down, wishy washy, bland, passionless, uninspiring Labour Party they found themselves members of.
And here’s where the metaphor really makes sense. To create my vision of a better room, in the short term I had to create chaos. I couldn’t have one without the other. I had to tear down walls, and then stand back bemused wondering why I’d brought such mess and stress upon myself and my family. Was it really that bad before? I asked myself a hundred times a day.
Whether you’re opening up a fireplace, or opening up a political party to new ideas, new members and greater democracy, it will at times be a messy stressful business. How long the Labour Party will be immersed in chaos is anyone’s guess, but to say months instead of years, is overly optimistic in my view.
In a recent radio interview, Len McCluskey said Jeremy should be given two to three years to prove himself, and he probably thought he was being generous considering some members of the party say Jeremy’s got till May if local elections don’t go Labours way.
But I think Jeremy doesn’t just need a few years to prove himself. I say he needs the whole term and beyond, and when I say beyond – yes – I think health and his own personal preference allowing, Jeremy should stay in situ as leader even if we lose in 2020.
Before anyone accuses me of being an ideological pie-in-the-sky-lefty who doesn’t care about winning or losing elections, I want to assure you that’s not true. I desperately want to see this cruel, damaging Tory government turfed out on their ear at the next election – and preferably sooner – it’s just that I believe Jeremy Corbyn, and his clear brand of democratic socialism, offers us our best hope of winning. If we don’t win under him, we are not going to win under anyone.
There’s a caveat to that statement. Jeremy Corbyn offers us our best hope for 2020 if the PLP start attacking the Tories rather than the leadership. If they plan to undermine him indefinitely then it will never be clear to what extent that effected any election outcomes.
So to go back to the fireplace metaphor; we can’t judge Jeremy, or the effect he’s having on Labours electoral chances, until the dust thrown up from his leadership win, settles, and that will take as long as it takes. After all, Neil Kinnock led the party for two terms in opposition. The party cut him some slack because it was undergoing a major change of direction, and that’s exactly what’s happening now, except this time the party is steering left not right. If the PLP stop trying to grab the wheel off Jeremy, they just might be pleasantly surprised by where they end up.
So fellow Corbyn supporters out there; whenever you’re feeling drained and despondent, and wondering if this chaos will ever come to an end please remember my fireplace.
It may be slightly crooked, but when there’s a big roaring fire in it you’d never notice, honest. It really is everything I wanted it to be.
The chaos was worth it.
I even chuckle to myself whenever I remember tearing that first piece of wallpaper off the wall.