smashing phallic imperialism in Norfolk


We headed off for some more tent-related fun after Camp Bestival. The original plan was to go to Wales, but the reports of gale force winds and torrential rain dampened the spirits of even the sturdiest in our crew. Needless to say this isn’t really my bag – last year’s experience on the Isles of Scilly was enough to put me off the outdoor life, for, ah, life.


But we thwarted the weather by driving to the other side of the country. There were ten of us and I was one of two blokes present. Which actually suits me fine, you get any more men than that and there is a serious danger that you’ll get embroiled in conversations about cars and football and A-roads and how camping is a bit like going back to being a caveman and shit like that.


Talking about the weather is allowed, though, right? Especially as the atmospheric conditions conspired to produce a plague of ladybirds throughout our stay. Apparently that freaked some people right out, but it’s hard to think of a cuter insect and much better than gale force winds and torrential rain, so I don’t have much sympathy myself.


Nearest town of any size was Cromer, which has and olde worlde seaside vibe to it. Good for just arseing about and eating chips and getting drenched in the odd downpour and all that. The kind of thing you know that children will remember fondly and there are few things more important than that.


Plus a bit of crabbing (squid is your best bait, don’t be palmed off with rancid bacon) and crab races back into the sea. It was proper relaxing stuff in fact, with no trace of any subcultural activity to distract me…

Until I saw this bookshop and wandered in… They had some pretty surprising stuff in there – lots of political books and African history and not a bad music section. And most strangely of all, a massive box of copies of the sixties libertarian socialist Solidarity magazine up by the counter, for 6 quid a pop. Which was pretty impressive but a little bit more than I wanted to pay. (I imagine someone will scan them all in and upload them at some point anyway.) They didn’t have the Solidarity pamphlet I’m after, inevitably.

I find the idea of old commies holed up in seaside bookshops to be strangely attractive. There was another shop on the other side of the road which seemed to specialise in sporting memorabilia and christian books. I wondered whether the respective owners waged a covert war against each other out of season, perhaps inserting leaflets into their rivals shelves…

I did pick up:

  • Fred and Judy Vermorel – The Sex Pistols (the 2nd edition with the stuff about King Mob at the end)
  • Brian Jackson – Working Class Community (Pelican, 1968 – one of those paperbacks with the blue spines which are everywhere and generally pretty good).
  • and an issue of Radical America magazine from the late 80s.

Radical America also started off in the sixties and seems to be something to do with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Not bad for a couple of quid, lots of photos (including the one at the top of this post) and some interesting but slightly bonkers articles on “the politics of drag” and a look at a feminist group whose most interesting activity seemed to be going out en masse to a bikers’ pub to “reclaim” it. And actually quite a good cartoon strip in which a women’s misgivings about their experience of sexual liberation and feminism.

The whole thing smacks a little of not quite getting over the end of the sixties (for example in a piece concerning films about the Vietnam war). Radical America has an impressive archive here.


If you have read this far you may be interested in their 1984 issue on punk and hip hop, which came about when a (gasp!) young person wrote to them and asked why they were still harping on about Bob Dylan and not covering what was happening at the time.

I don’t think we really smashed phallic imperialism all that much in Norfolk, although we did have some brief conversations about the politics of drag and feminism around the campfire after a few mugs of wine.

It’s good to think about these issues but it’s never really my main focus and I am a bit wary of “identity politics” (but then I would be, wouldn’t I, what with me being a white middle aged european man with a penis?). It’s quite difficult to translate those sorts of discussions into anything meaningful outside of an activist ghetto. Ultimately it can lead to all sorts of ludicrous specialist language, and feuding which is so insular it is actually hilarious.