Richard Wilson or Evald Ilyenkov?

Like any revolutionary socialist worth his/her salt I can’t go past a second hand shop without popping in to see what books are on offer. You just never know what you will find. I remember walking up Clapham High Street not so long a go with a few comrades. As we passed the Save the Children shop we spied a large box of books they were throwing out. Like a pack of rabid dogs we descended on it and, heads down, arses up, rummaged about in it with glee. Minutes later we continued on our journey each with handful of books.

You just never know what you’re going to find in a second hand shop. My nearest charity shops are in Jarrow. I frequent them often and nine times out of ten come away empty handed. About a year ago, however, in the Scope shop just off Ellison Street, I came across a copy of Evald Ilyenkov’s Leninist Dialectics and The Metaphysics of Positivism - not a title you want to try repeating after 5 pints of brown ale – for one thing you’d slaver all over your shirt and for another someone would give you kicking for being a wanker.

I bought the book not with any intention of reading it – a quick skim reading of the book revealed you needed a an MA in Pure Applied Jargon and an MSc in Intellectual Masturbation to get past the first chapter – but out of pure curiosity (if I was a cat I’d have been long dead). Who the hell, I wondered, in Jarrow, would have this on their shelf? Was this a sign that in The Town That Was Murdered* there was a sign of life?

Yesterday, I bought another book in the Scope charity shop: I don’t believe it: Richard Wilson’s Book of Absurdities ( I’ve just done a friggin’ google search for this book and found it is selling on eBay for 1 pence, which is 100 times more than I paid for it). It’s the kind of book you quote from when you’ve had five pints of brown ale and get a kicking for being a boring bastard. I bought it because after a long year on the barricades I needed to wind down with something light.

The book is little more than a collection of amazing and weird facts and catalogued under various headings such as Nutty Notices, Misleading Names and Ghastly Gaffes.

Within minutes of opening it and flicking the pages I had learned that the Bible does not mention that Eve ate the forbidden apple (I’m gonna have to check that one out), that the Greek playwright Aeschylus died when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head and that William Tell could not have shot an apple from his son’s head with a crossbow as crossbows were not known in Switzerland in the 13th Century.

I came home and read the entire book in an hour. Putting it down I considered that there was more in this book of interest to your run-of-the-mill Marxist (not the Groucho tendency) than in a dozen readings of Ilyenkov’s little book. Moreover, I knew I could pass it on to a comrade who would find it every bit as interesting as I have. And I wondered just who had handed this in at the charity shop. Was this a sign that there was life in The Town That Was Murdered*?
* The Town That Was Murdered is a history of Jarrow, which includes a much quoted chapter on the 1936 Jarrow March, and was written by the town's MP Ellen Wilkinson in 1939.


Acccording to the aformentioned Richard Wilson book on weird and wonderful facts, Pontius Pilate was a Scot. Seemingly his father was a governor of that part of the Roman Empire. Pilate was born at Fortingall near Dunkeld. St Andrew would turn in his grave.

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