Sunday, August 31, 1997

Original Introduction August '97

I realise that for any reader of these notes, they cannot realistically be called anything else, the style may seem somewhat rambling and at times possibly nigh on impossible to follow. I make no apology for this as this essay started out as a stream of thoughts over a period of time, that one day I decided to record for my own posterity, a Thought Diary if you like. It was and is fundamentally for my personal pleasure, something to look back on and provide an insight into what I was thinking when I am old and reactionary! My original intention to leave the themes in their ‘Thought order’ appears to have been rather over-ambitious in terms of readability, and I have therefore done a little constructive re-arranging to the ideas within a rough framework. I hope any reader will indulge me in the formation of the topics and not be distracted by the fashion I have chosen to link them together. I have thought hard about the ideas and wrote them whilst they came to me, when they no longer did so, I stopped as I see no reason to try to extend for the sake of protocol.

The purpose of this essay, ideally, is to express my views of the problems facing the world and those of us who live in it. I have limited solutions, but believe if enough people are made aware of the difficulties, the sheer weight of thought power and communication will enable somebody at some stage to come up with some answers. It would be a shame and a tragedy for all of us if there was potential that was never realised simply because people have been hoodwinked into believing that everything is as it should be.

My choice of title comes from the fact that in this essay’s infancy I was unemployed looking desperately for a job somewhere, anywhere, in the field of journalism. I was unsuccessful and resorted to having to solicit my language skills for a computer company. Whilst unemployed I had a little time on my hands and the concept of this essay was born, as well as the time to nature it in the beginning. Let me say that in these thoughts expressed there will be no sacred cows left, no taboos- I wish to be uncompromising and I will attack things that I see as wrong that need to be corrected, I make no apologies for my actions to this end. I believe these taboo subjects are often made so because they have been deliberately implemented to preclude debate and lead to the sort of hushed decision-making in Star Chambers that we presently see across much of the Western World, it is neither a democratic nor a constructive process. I do not intend to criticise out of prejudice, at least, it is not done consciously and I trust it will be looked upon accordingly if I have erred. I am not writing for any particular cause or purpose and because of this I would welcome criticism and debate as to the content of my ideas.

On a broader scale this is the only way that we will be able to tackle all the demons and thrash out a mutually beneficial solution for all of us Left, Right, Centre or Without. I do not believe that such a solution exists at the moment, nor perhaps ever will, and I would maintain that no one ideology encompasses the good sides without also bringing an equilibrium of evils. I do feel, however that some ideas may be closer to where we should be researching than others that should have been long since consigned to the dustbin of out-dated politics, I cannot imagine that my preferences will be mistaken but that is my business.

Thank you for taking the time to read this book, or at least thus far, my hope is that it will make you think, and through this give you enjoyment, as indeed it did for me throughout its conception.

Original Prologue August '97ish

I think it only fair and correct to give some form of background to my thinking and this involves a potted history, albeit a rather subjective one, of what has made me think and feel the way I do, where the axes that I have to grind come from so to speak. This whilst not interesting in its own right may serve to shed some light on the sources of my ideas and provide the reader with the necessary basic facts to do some further more objective delving should s/he require. I would also not wish to be accused of intentionally hiding any facts by my critics, and I apologise should it transpire that I inadvertently have done so. I am not ashamed of my background itself, I am no working class hero or local boy made good nor am I a part of the intellectual or political establishment and have as such no hidden agenda in my comments expressed herein.

I was born in 1971, living the first nine years of my childhood in relatively comfortable lower middle-class London surroundings. In 1980 circumstances dictated a shift in position for my mother and myself and we ended up on a council estate near Latimer road on the wrong side of Kensington, West London. At around this time my educational environment changed in the opposite direction from Inner London state school to St. Paul’s in a rural South West London suburb. For all but the first one and a half years of the next eight, I resided in one of the school’s boarding houses which I detested resoundingly, feeling increasingly claustrophobic as the school system became more and more intolerable. In the school’s eyes I excelled at little except playing the fool, an aptitude which I had brought with me from my previous establishment. In spite of this propensity for clowning I was unpopular and forced into an exile of my own company which upset me particularly as, during the week, there was no escaping my peers. This all lasted until at 16 I discovered a fledgling sardonic tongue, this provided me with much opportunity for reflection during numerous detentions as a result of exercising my new found prowess at less advisable moments, but it also made me more amenable to some of my fellow pupils if not the school hierarchy. 

My domestic life was substantially more comfortable in the face of standing out a little as the local kids knew I wasn’t “One of them”, I tended to keep within the safe confines of the flat, making occasional forays up four floors to another “outlaw’s” domicile. 

I was raised ostensibly by my mother with assistance from my maternal Grandmother during my early teens. My mother ensured I grew up in an erudite and cosmopolitan atmosphere, she placed importance in literature, language, communication travel and people in general. I was provided with a considerable number of books and my mother struggled to obtain the financial wherewithal to allow me to take part in school activities such as the numerous German exchanges on offer, our finances did not run to the ski trips and visits to exotic locations such as Moscow. I did not understand at the time why I was never able to accompany my fellow pupils on these trips and why we were never able to go on extended family holidays to foreign climes. I became rather embittered at my lot and jealous of my compatriots, at first blaming my mother for the lack of resources, later realising that the school catered purely for the well-off and made little or no allowances for those of us token paupers who attended on the basis of scholarships from the government or charitable institutions. In fact the school’s lack of understanding was illustrated when my half-term was extended due to my mother’s inability to come up with advance fees payment for what remained after the Assisted place scheme and Bursary scholarship had chipped away at the exorbitant total sum. It was a case of “no money, no education” and was carried out mercilessly, suffice to say the credit of other parents was never called into question in so far as I know. [Ironically enough the school itself maintains the status of ‘Charitable Institution’ a source of constant amazement and consternation to me when I look upon it’s behaviour and the way it has seen fit to spend it’s innumerable wealth, a huge multi-million pound theatre for example which it now appears is too heavy for the foundations of the sports changing rooms below it, and all this on a site which is atop a reservoir and was only intended as a temporary re-housing, the buildings being built in the 50’s to withstand 30 years of educational wear and tear.] 

It still angers me the way my mother was treated in comparison to those parents ‘in the establishment’, and it would be folly to think that this has not coloured my views on education ever since. I am however pragmatic enough to realise that I was given a lucky break and my education as a result was of a far higher standard than my family’s circumstances would normally have permitted. Having glimpsed the other side and fraternised with those supposedly ‘in a class above my own’, I realise that it is impossible to be accepted by different class but plausible to be ostracised by your own class and therefore be, for all intents and purposes, an outlaw or classless person. Perhaps this is not always a bad thing.

Aside from my schooling and domestic situation with my mother, was that with my father. I had seen my father regularly twice a month since my parents separated when I was two. My father was (and is) a civil servant, relatively comfortably-off without ever being wealthy, a kind, caring and gentle man and conscientious parent, he remains by circumstances entrenched in the suburban, middle-class commuter-belt establishment and appeared to epitomise the broken man of potential, that I always feared might also be my fate. My father had no lack of education, a love for history and a creative streak that manifested itself in a passion for painting model soldiers and helping me complete my airfix kits, but I more than once felt that perhaps he regretted not taking a more active role and made a stand for the things he believed in the way his father had done before him. [My Grandfather had done his bit for the working-class socialist cause, around and active at the time of Cable St. he took part in the marbles and mounted police incidents in Hyde Park, not particularly advisable as police brutality was rampant, had he been caught, the consequences, not least for my existence, would have been grave.] In actuality I think my father was forced into responsibility early and coped well, realising that he had other issues and indeed other people to think about rather than just his own beliefs. I treated him unfairly when I was a bolshy teenager, accusing him of selling out and letting the system walk all over him, when really he was trying to protect me from a world that didn’t give a damn, he knew that if I tried to buck the establishment it would bite me hard He attempted to warn me but my new found confidence at school led me to believe I was invincible, maturity and some experience of life taught me otherwise, and I have always deeply regretted that obstinacy that prevented me from having any contact with him for nigh on 4 years.

Leaving school I decided to take some time before what I felt would be the inevitable place at university, this proved to be a transition destined to take considerably longer than I thought, and my pride was much damaged by the rejections of every university I applied to at my first attempt. I plied myself to numerous labouring jobs which didn’t suit my more lethargic nature, I spent time working in both Germany and America, finally deciding that if England wouldn’t let me study I would take my skills elsewhere and undertook to apply to university in Germany, having finally satisfied the mountainous German bureaucratic requirements and sent my applications to Leipzig and Humbolt in East Berlin, I was informed by Humbolt some weeks later that they had arrived two days after the cut off deadline, which the university adhered to diligently, I never received a response, nor for that matter a refund from Leipzig. As fate would have it, through the persuasion of some friends in the back of a car, and having no better offers on the table, I entered into dialogue with the Head of European Languages at Goldsmiths’ college, London who informed me that I would be welcome to study German at the college and I magnanimously decided to accept his kind offer.

By this point my domestic environment had relocated to Oxford on account of my mother going to college there to study PPE in 1983. I was 15 years old and horrified at having to envisage life for the first time outside London. As it turned out when, nine years later, I was to take my place at University my sole concern was that I would have to leave Oxford and return, kicking and screaming, to London! I believe that life in certain villages is something that every city dweller should experience. In spite of my early apprehensions the village in which I resided with my mother and step-father, ten miles west of Oxford centre, holds many pleasant memories for me. It is one of the few places that I still look back on and consider home, the people were warm and friendly and no-one was borne any hostility for their various idiosyncrasies. (Mine happening to be walking along the village lanes to the only post-box in dressing gown and slippers whilst supping a cup of tea.) It is a place all too illusive in this world of ours where one may feel at ease and exercise one’s natural character without fear of reprisals. Maybe we were always seen as “city folk” but if so we were never made to feel it and due to the burial of my grandfather in the village cemetery I will always have at least some emotional links there if no longer any physical ones.

University proved on the one hand to be more rewarding than I had expected and on the other a great disappointment. Ironically it was the academic side that gave me more pleasure and satisfaction, mainly owing to the fact that save a handful of important exceptions I found the social element sadly lacking. This is not to say that there weren’t a variety of activities both social and academic to keep one occupied, simply that the people I found at University were more often than not similar to those I had encountered at St Pauls’ even though not necessarily from the same class background. What angered me the most was the apathy that those of us with open eyes encountered amongst our compatriots. It had started long before I got there but I myself noticed a marked increase during the time I spent at college. Alarmingly this attitude was not merely confined to happenings affecting others but also events which had a direct detrimental effect on the students themselves and their own studies. I found, and still find, this hard to comprehend. Whilst I was at college, grants were cut by 30%, lecturers were either made redundant or had their hours drastically reduced or were forced to place more emphasis on their research time thus allowing the opportunity for tutorials to suffer, whether they wish them to or not. Furthermore, the HEFCE lowered funding for certain courses such as demoting Languages to the same funding grade as English and History thus forcing many departments into the measures already listed. Students therefore had the value of their degree demeaned whilst the cost rose to the crippling, leaving many no options but to quit their studies or live in uninhabitable accommodation. The alternative was a spiralling bill totalling around £7000, this was the figure left despite many students obtaining part-time employment to ease the burden.

The less financially fortunate student, or rather those students without wealth and parents would face a normal week of 15 hours of lecture times and between 15 and 25 of part-time work. (This is before any research time has been calculated). Standard college estimations allotted a minimum of 20 to 25 hours of research time per week to best meet the requirements of the course. As if this wasn’t enough, a canny employer would have his/her student working the most unsociable hours “so as not to interfere with your studies or lecture times”. Yet the country still wonders why mental and physical illness as well as drug abuse, depression and the recent meningitis epidemic is rife on student campuses. Some of us were lucky enough to have genuinely understanding employers, some of the time, in those cases one had more time to deal with the unsympathetic/bordering on the criminal private landlords. The workloads set by college departments did not change from student to student meaning that those not having to seek active employment had on average between 2 and 3 working days per week longer to devote their studies. The vast majority of these students did nothing to help the cause of their embattled colleagues resulting in the grant cuts that were relatively unimpeded. This ironically led to many of the previously “safe” students to fall into the work or quit trap. The only people therefore that remained unscathed through these changes, students and lecturers alike, were those with considerable financial backing. Yet the situation worsens year-by-year irrespective of government, due to the continued apathy and “I’m all right Jack” mentality. In ten years it will have become nigh on impossible for even the comfortable middle classes to send their children into higher education without trust funds and the like, any chance the working class might have had has sadly long since perished. 

In the face of all this, protest and criticism has been and remains minimal and leads me to the conclusion that the “manufacture of consent” as Chomsky puts it, is more widespread than those left with an independent brain would like to consider. Hence, having finished my degree and been guilty myself of many apathetic moments and actions, although I would maintain that these had more to do with my inherent lethargy than a belief that all is well, I find myself needing to vent some expression and criticism. I cannot hope that it will change anything, though I still firmly believe that I people wish things to change badly enough and are willing to stand up for their neighbours as well as themselves then society and the establishment will have no choice but to listen and act under instruction. I can sit and avoid the count no longer.