Thursday, April 16, 2009

What others were Feeling Like Today #11


The ninety-eight Liverpool fans crushed to death at Sheffield bring back memeories of a similar disaster at Bolton in 1946. We never took a Sunday paper at home but sometimes saw the News of the World when we went down to Grandma's on a Sunday night, and I think I knew at eleven years old that there was something wrong about the gusto with which the tragic story was written up, and something very prurient about the way I gobbled up every word. Today I read very little, and because of being at the theatre see nothing of the live coverage on television. But already the process begins whereby terrible events are broken down and made palatable. They are first covered in a kind of gum: the personal reactions of bystanders, eyewitnesses giving their inadequate testimonials - 'It was terrible'; 'I'll never forget it'; 'Tragic. Bloody Tragic.' - and then wreaths inscribed 'You'll never walk alone.' Then the event begins to be swallowed, broken up into digestible pieces, minced morsels: the reaction of the football authorities is gone into, then the comments of the police, the verdict of the Sports Minister and so on, day after day, until by the end of the week it will begin to get boring and the snake will have swallowed the pig. Then there are the customary components of the scene - the establishment of a memorial fund (always a dubious response) and the bedside visits by the Prime Minister. I find myself thinking, it would be Liverpool, that sentimental self-dramatising place, and am brought up short by seeing footage of a child brought out dead, women waiting blank-faced at lime Street and a father meeting his two sons off the train, his relief turned to anger at the sight of their smiling faces, cuffing and hustling them away from the cameras.

Alan Bennett

Taken, as ever, from The Assassin's Cloak.

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