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CIGARETTES ON THE NHS, By Bill Drummond
The Quietus , January 6th, 2017 09:25

Bill Drummond has got in touch with tQ to send over a new essay and two more 60 Second Films. He advises that The Neutrality Of This Article Is Disputed. Photograph by Tracey Moberly

Yesterday:

Most of us have watched a baby being born. And most of us have watched someone die. It’s the bits in between that are more difficult. Whether being the Watcher or the Watched.

Yesterday I arrived in Kolkata, India. I’m here to spend the next two weeks working.

I am here both as a Watcher and a Watched.

What I am watching is 14,000,000 people engaging with life in a way that we would struggle with. What they might be watching is a white Western male indulging himself, knowing all the time he has a return ticket to Heathrow in his back pocket.

Today:

Today I received an email from an organisation called SITUATIONS.

It read:

To Bill:

We've been approached by 38 degrees (the campaigning organisation) for a proposal to support their campaign on the value of the NHS early next year. It came out of nowhere and at the moment we are just trying to navigate their expectations. It came to us as an invitation to commission a series of public artworks in response to a letter campaign they are running over Christmas, but as ever, we're trying to see whether we could find something in there of interest to an artist - it could be a single artist commission/campaign across a number of sites where NHS closure is threatened. 

I wondered whether this might be something you would be interested in talking to us about. At this stage, they need an expression of interest and a budget and we're open to what this might be - it could be a series of temporary interventions. 

Best

C.D.
www.situations.org.uk

I don’t think I was aware of SITUATIONS before but I am aware of 38 Degrees. I seem to get a weekly newsletter from them. Whenever it was I first heard of 38 Degrees and whatever it was that they were campaigning for, I must have been interested enough to tick a box. This I guess was five or six years ago.

But over that time I take less and less notice in what they are campaigning about. It feels like I would now be just ticking a box to make myself feel that I am making a difference, when all I am doing is making myself feel vaguely better about myself.

I guess 38 Degrees wanting to involve artists in their latest campaign is an attempt to stimulate media interest and engage the hoped for demographics in a way that a weekly newsletter fails to do in these post-newsletter days.

The one thing that I definitely know that I like about 38 Degrees is their three word strap line – PEOPLE, POWER, CHANGE. But I could say the same about Coca Cola’s current strap line TASTE THE FEELING. I have an ongoing fascination with three word strap lines.

Right now I’m writing this sitting on a bench at a tea stand in a crowded Kolkata back street. Wave upon wave of humanity are pushing past me as I drink my chai from a ‘bhar’ and contemplate the roll 38 Degrees and the NHS play in my life.

What we expect and receive from the NHS, these people around me could never dream of, as any reader that has ever visited the sub-continent would testify.

But we in the UK – over these past few decades – have felt little guilt, shame or remorse at milking the sub-continent for doctors, surgeons, nurses etc, to man our wonderful NHS.

Seducing them with the promise of pay packets they could never earn here in India.

Back in 1968, the grandmother of my youngest son was seduced away from these very streets by a poster that read ‘The Mother Country Needs You.’ The ‘Mother Country’ being the UK and not India. It was not our NHS that was trying to tempt her away but our understaffed education system, but the affect was the same.

During the Raj years from 1858 and 1948, we squeezed the sub-continent for all the raw materials we could. Once we granted them independence, we milked them for their aspiring and educated young, to staff our NHS. This was the very section of their population that should have been staying and making things work for the newly independent India and the then East & West Pakistan.

Tomorrow:

Tomorrow, with my colleague Tracey Moberly behind the camera, I plan to make two of my Sixty Second films. These will address a couple of my historical and conflicting emotions about the NHS.

Being an ex-employee of the NHS, I might be one of the few artists to have been approached who is so qualified.

On my return to the UK, I will drive up to Birmingham and under Spaghetti Junction, where I have a habit of doing such things, I will paint over my previous crudely painted words – BEST BEFORE DEATH, which so happens to be my own three word strap line. And then replace them with the words CIGARETTES ON THE NHS.

I doubt this writing and the two Sixty Second films or even the crudely painted words on the wall under Spaghetti Junction, will be what 38 Degrees are looking for. But it is now too late for me to stop myself from taking this course of action.

*

A few days later.

We arrived back in Blighty yesterday. We were not able to film the two Sixty Second clips in Kolkata as planned. We have just filmed them now. Below are the links to them on Vimeo.

Cigarettes On The NHS

CIGARETTES ON THE NHS from Penkiln Burn on Vimeo.

Free To Die In The Gutter

FREE TO DIE IN THE GUTTER from Penkiln Burn on Vimeo.

Tomorrow I will drive up to Spaghetti Junction and complete the job.

Bill Drummond
December 2016

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