SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT

La RueThey might be stereotyped as gammon-flavoured ‘White Supremacists’ at worst or plebeian homophobes at best, but the parents concerned about the indoctrination of their prepubescent children into the extremities of Trans dogma are rightly up in arms that the educational authorities have allowed nurseries, libraries and primary schools to be infiltrated by an ideology that should be reserved for those old enough to make their own minds up. The parents have been left with little choice but to gate-crash the disturbing trend for drag queens to host an alternative ‘Jackanory’ for toddlers in some of our public libraries, promoting ‘gender fluidity’ and ‘queer role models’ before an audience far too young to grasp the intricacies of a philosophy that routinely outfoxes adults. Drag queens – occasionally entertaining foul-mouthed parodies of female sexuality and purveyors of camp sensibilities in the right context – have no place broadcasting Identitarian propaganda to pre-school children in a supposed ‘safe space’. And those parents who allow their offspring to be exposed to a trend (unsurprisingly) imported from across the pond are as misguided in their attempts to raise a generation without prejudice as parents in the past were in trying to beat traditional gender roles into children exhibiting signs of ‘effeminacy’ or tomboyish traits.

Along with bowing and kneeling before the ubiquitous Pride flag in an enforced ceremony of emotional blackmail that would raise a smile on the chubby countenance of Kim Jong-un, accepting extreme Trans beliefs without question has become a sinister strain of social engineering in recent years, helped in no small part by the successful lobbying tactics of a one-time gay charity that lost the plot a long time ago. That now-beyond saving bastion of unhinged activism called Stonewall has a strong foothold in the corridors of power and a disproportionate influence in the corporate world; it awards brownie points in the Top 100 Employers Index to businesses and organisations that slavishly adhere to its Workplace Equality doctrine in a desperate bid to evade social media blacklisting. The gender-identity mantra pursued with such aggressive fanaticism by Stonewall since around 2015 has been adopted across the board by virtually all of our institutions, and any dissenting voices are silenced by unleashing online hounds that take no prisoners, whether the critic is male, female, straight or gay.

Former British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies has been fighting a brave battle against the desecration of her old sport as it has allowed mediocre male swimmers suddenly identifying as female to enter women’s disciplines and to utilise their physical advantages in order to claim the top of the podium when the medals are dished out. For her troubles, Davies has been subjected to awful levels of online abuse; but just as race-baiting activism often exposes the racism of its practitioners, the deep-rooted misogyny at the heart of Trans activism is similarly plain to see when natural-born women rebel against the deranged dogma pushed at them from all sides. Labelled TERFs – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – any woman opposed to men who abruptly declare themselves women without committing to gender-reassignment surgery, those who believe simple self-identification entitles them to overnight access into female-only spaces such as public toilets and changing rooms, is fair game for the same treatment received by Sharron Davies and – even more so – JK Rowling.

The insanity of being beholden to this fantasy philosophy is evident in the increasingly embarrassing activities of Police Forces online (activities that erode the last remaining vestiges of respect for the Force even further), as well as headlines describing a ‘male rapist’ whose victims were duped due to ‘his’ prosthetic penis; yes, of course, this rapist was a woman identifying as a man, for an actual man obviously wouldn’t need a fake prick to commit his vile crime. Yet, the fact the misleading headline portrayed her as a man was as disturbing a diversion into fiction as the fact she has to be referred to as a man during court proceedings and in any reporting of the case. This is how the 2010 Equality Act – one of the most abused pieces of legislation arguably ever passed by a British Government – has been twisted to fit the Trans ideology. OK, one can identify as anything one wants to, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has to fall in line with the individual’s personal preference; I mean, I could suddenly say I identify as an 18th century nobleman, but does that entitle me to turn up at the House of Lords in an ermine ensemble and demand entry to the chamber?

Yes, it’s mad enough when all of this is inflicted upon the voting-age public by academia, the media, the NHS, the Church of England, the Police Force and the worlds of sport and entertainment, but when children are subjected to it as well, something has to give. Parents who take it upon themselves to diagnose their kids as gender dysphorian and decide they need sex-change surgery are playing a dangerous game that could have lifelong consequences for their children. Take the case of Keira Bell, a young woman who a couple of years back won a High Court case against the now rightly-discredited (and soon to close) Gender Identity Service at the NHS Tavistock and Portman Clinic. Aged 14, the tomboy Bell came to believe this defining aspect of her personality meant she required gender reassignment when nobody told her it was perfectly fine to not be ‘girly’; after a mere handful of appointments at the said clinic, she was placed on a course of ‘puberty blockers’ whilst barely 16, her life in the hands of gender-identity ideologues who have espoused the belief that even 10-year-olds who don’t conform to gender stereotypes can undergo experimental treatments.

On testosterone at 17, Bell endured a double mastectomy at 20, yet shortly afterwards the damage done began to dawn on her. By this time, she was mature enough to decide personal issues around gender and sexuality for herself; but it was too late. She has since joined the lengthening queue of those who have ‘de-transitioned’, but the mental scars of her state-sanctioned mutilation will probably outlast even the physical ones. At times, the solution to Keira Bell’s adolescent confusion is chillingly similar to that practiced in Iran, whereby anyone suspected of homosexual leanings is automatically placed on the transitioning waiting-list; moreover, it’s also reminiscent of the kind of ‘chemical castration’ Alan Turing was subjected to in the 1950s, as though the G in the LGBTXYZ acronym is something to be discouraged; showing gay or lesbian symptoms when young is now seemingly seen as a green light for transitioning.

Confused teens in a mess due to a variety of tragic reasons have been sold the idea that changing sex is the panacea that will resolve their problems, with organisations such as the Gender Identity Service at Tavistock responsible for spinning such a dangerous yarn – though the likes of the NSPCC and Bernardo’s, establishments that are supposed to protect the interests of children, have been just as culpable in propagating this myth, along with the dubious Trans-youth lobbyists, Mermaid. And all are in the pockets of Stonewall, who have recently put forward the ridiculous proposition that ‘children as young as two recognise their Trans identity’. Stonewall already has a handy guide for parents and schools re children living as their ‘chosen gender’; along with primary school teaching materials selling fanciful theories as fact – such as claiming sex is assigned at birth by doctors rather than being determined by straightforward biology – it’s no wonder parents are waking-up to just how deeply the Stonewall agenda has been embedded in the educational system.

An acquaintance of mine who has spent the past twelve months or so transitioning from male to female took this life-changing decision following a slow realisation spread over several years. Children do not have the luxury of getting to know themselves in the same way, and any efforts to ‘sexualise’ them can also take them down some very dark roads indeed. However, it does appear that people are at last beginning to push back against this dogma; those in genuine need of help should be able to receive it, but those whose issues are not gender dysphorian should be steered well away from an ideology whose fantasy is not reality.

© The Editor

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RUNNING MAN

Tom CourtenayWell, anybody who fell for that clearly hasn’t learnt anything from the Covid narrative – and if you haven’t learnt anything by now, you never will. Only an idiot foresaw an uninterrupted march towards 21 June in the expectation the last lingering lockdown vestiges would definitely be lifted; of course that glorious liberation has been postponed; anyone with half-a-brain knew a new variant would appear on the eve of Freedom Day and the SAGE boffins would throw a spanner in the works right at the point when their unelected influence over Government policy was threatened. Putting back the final removal of restrictions by ‘a month’ was apparently based on scientific advice re the Narnia Variant – ‘thousands of potential deaths’ or so they say; cheers once again, Professor Ferguson. Incidentally, as the official christening of variants now shies away from naming the latest one after its country of origin, I’ve decided that every new addition to the variant pantheon will henceforth be named after an imaginary realm on this here blog. What the MSM used to call the Indian Variant and now refers to as the Delta Variant will be known as the Narnia Variant at Winegum Towers.

I suppose one could feel a modicum of sympathy for those who did fall for it, but only a modicum and no more. Twitter has been abundant in video statements from the likes of Matt ‘Cockers’ Hancock over the last 24 hours, all emanating from last year and all full of ‘it’ll be over by Christmas’-type promises as evidence of taking each forecast – good and bad – with enough pinches of salt to sculpt a Biblical pillar. When it’s down to Theresa May to make a speech in Parliament that absolutely nails the futility of the Government/SAGE approach, you know the game is up. Anyway, perhaps that tediously familiar phrase ‘herd immunity’ should really be applied to the unquestioning adherence to the advice that the herd entered into with the best of intentions, placing misplaced faith in their elected representatives to deliver. The immunity of the herd is immunity to common sense, willing to sacrifice long-term freedoms for short-term gain, handing over personal data via vaccine passports in order to enjoy a social activity that won’t kill them, never once considering that this info will be collated, catalogued and inevitably leaked.

The pressure to conform has always been a prominent element of every society, especially those that purport to be free ones; basically, they’re far easier to govern if everyone does as they’re told – only, don’t let on this is the case. In a free society, the herd is gently persuaded into conformity not through the strong-arm tactics of a police state, but through subliminal social manipulation, something particularly effective if there’s a moral tone. Pandemic Britain has seen conformity take on a pseudo-patriotic quality in which opposition to conformity is almost regarded as treasonous. The pressure to conform in this unhealthy atmosphere has infiltrated all aspects of daily discourse so that individual choice is secondary to the collectivist consensus, and any deviation from it is tantamount to criminal.

The doctrines of the coronavirus consensus have been embraced by some as choice, whereas many others have opted out and simply submitted. Following the guidelines, shopping your neighbours if you suspect them of not following the guidelines, taking the vaccine even if in doubt, disowning your unvaccinated friends, clapping for the NHS, living in fear for your life and so on and so on; I sometimes wonder if anyone who has stuck religiously to all the advice has actually come out the other end feeling it was a worthwhile endeavour – or are they now too far gone to evaluate their sacrifice? The herd adapts to whatever demands are placed upon it as a misguided means of self-preservation and survival, but imagined safety in numbers often means insulation from those aspects of life that make it worth living. What we have seen over the past year or so has been an extreme example of the state selling conformity as a panacea, though the practice has always been there.

I recently watched the 1962 film of Alan Sillitoe’s ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ for the first time in quite a while, and it has a lot to say on the struggle to resist conformity. The author took the corruption of the amateur ethos central to the Olympic ideal and used it as a metaphor for how the integrity of the individual is sacrificed to the continuation of a society that has done him few favours. The Borstal boy played by Tom Courtenay finds a personal, internal freedom when his athletic ability elevates him above his miserable home life, the petty crime sprees that resulted in his incarceration, and the incarceration itself. The Borstal Governor, however, is essentially training him like a racehorse in order to win a cup on a sports day event against a public school, with Courtenay’s individuality subsumed by him representing the entire institution – just as the society outside its wire fences demanded his submission to a communal conformity.

The sports day sequence itself has an antiquated pomp and circumstance that now looks like the dying breath of the Empire; the film appeared just a couple of years after the end of National Service, and the fact Tom Courtenay had his acting apprenticeship interrupted by the pointless peacetime exercise of playing soldiers perhaps gives his inspired casting an additional edge. Compulsory conscription – rather than voluntary – was a contemporary example of state-sponsored conformity, though Courtenay’s character also sees the era’s ‘you’ve never had it so good’ consumer boom as merely another illusion of freedom, memorably setting fire to a pound note as his mother goes on a spending spree after receiving the money bequeathed to her by her late husband. While the rest of the family sits mesmerised by the novel new television set, the pre-Borstal Courtenay only feels alive when he’s thieving.

As his time at Borstal progresses, Courtenay’s character gives every impression his contempt for authority has been softened by the privileges bestowed upon him when training for the race; yet when he’s within a few yards of the finishing line on the day, he deliberately stops running and allows his posh-boy opponent to catch-up, overtake him and win it. His final and most devastating act of defiance is sealed by a knowing smile aimed at the furious, humiliated Governor. Some are baffled by this ending, but it always made perfect sense to me. After being dispatched to Borstal, it’s the only ‘fuck you’ opportunity the character has left to him.

Another name for Borstal was ‘approved school’, and whilst it’s closer to a cross between a prison and army barracks, there are parallels with state schools of the period. Today, there’s a lot of concern regarding what some view as the ‘Woke indoctrination’ apparently rampant in the education system; were I a parent, I’d probably be concerned too. But to me schools have always been conformist training camps, teaching children to grow up to become good little obedient citizens – Pink Floyd pointed that out over 40 years ago, after all. The majority of kids I was at school with were indoctrinated, it’s just that the ideology then was a different one; but the aim was the same. I rebelled and resisted, and I’ve no doubt there are kids today doing likewise. The rebels are always in the minority, for the majority prefer the herd mentality. I can understand its appeal – I suppose life must be far easier if you simply go with the flow, just as it can be far harder when you instinctively rebel and resist. But I do believe it must be even harder to follow that path today – and, of course, there was no social media when I began my own journey on that path, one which will stretch way beyond 21 June.

© The Editor

CROSSROADS

What is referred to as ‘real-time’ rarely impinges upon long-running works of fiction; for example, if the chronology of our world was applied to ‘The Simpsons’, Bart would be roundabout 40 now; but he remains frozen in a no-man’s land somewhere between pre-and post-pubescence because that’s his character for life. A rare instance of real-time seeping into a successful animated franchise came with the third instalment in the ‘Toy Story’ series. Reflecting the decade-long gap between II and III, Andy – the little boy whose toy-box had provided the movies with their non-human stars – has aged several years and is now poised to leave home for college. However, he remains emotionally attached to his childhood playthings and reluctantly surrenders them to the young daughter of a neighbour at the eleventh hour. Even when Andy knew it was pointless holding on to his toys when they’d simply be stuck in the attic rather than being enjoyed by another child, he still found it tough to let them go. But it can be tough letting go when something becomes entrenched even though its relevance has expired – whether childhood toys, a failing marriage…or a lockdown.

A couple of weeks back, when we experienced a sustained bout of warm weather on the eve of Boris’s revised instructions to the people, I mused on how much longer the people could be kept indoors. Many were already beginning to seep out of their fortresses, lured by the sun and prepared to gamble with the threat of arrest if it meant alleviating boredom in the open air. Why not, they thought – after all, the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed, the Nightingale pop-up hospitals were all-but empty, and the members of society who were actually experiencing the coronavirus as the genuinely lethal plague we’d all been led to believe it was would have been just as vulnerable to it had the country carried on running as normal. Nobody was going to die because a few people sat around in a public park.

Although the elderly had been earmarked as the most at-risk from day one, the fate of many was sealed with or without the lockdown on account of so much focus being given over to the NHS. Such was the fear generated by the nightmarish prospect of hospitals swamped with coronavirus casualties, anyone admitted with symptoms would be swiftly dispatched back home once through the worst in order to avoid congestion. And that’s all fine and dandy if you’re heading back to your own place – not so if the virus is still in your bloodstream and you’re returning to a care-home that is effectively an all-you-can-eat buffet for Covid-19 to feast upon.

The short-sighted approach to the care-home issue seems to me to be the single biggest cock-up in the litany of them that the mainstream media is so fond of reciting. But, hey, the Peston’s and Kuenssberg’s are having fun scoring points as their ratings are flying high, so it’s to be expected, I guess. Whether or not the Government has made an almighty mess of everything – and, let’s face it, this particular administration is not exactly crammed with intellectual heavyweights or inspiring political giants – endless comparisons with the approaches of other nations to the coronavirus, especially in Europe, seem pointless when each country has its own unique set of circumstances to deal with. A one-size-fits-all approach to this crisis just doesn’t work, not even within the borders of one nation; as I’ve said before, there has to be a point whereby recognition is given that some parts of the UK are more at risk than others, and the easing of restrictions needs to reflect this.

Giving back the freedoms taken away from the people may well be something some in authority are reluctant to do, for sure; in many respects, this troublesome electorate that goes against the political class by voting Leave and then having the nerve to kick the main Remoaner offenders out of Parliament has finally been rendered powerless and is utterly at the mercy of its overlords at last. But when one considers the economic collapse that the Government is now confronted by as a consequence of events, it’s difficult to see what it gains from prolonging the lockdown; getting society fully functioning again is in No.10’s best interests as much as it is anyone’s, and the last thing a man so concerned with how history will remember him as Boris Johnson is will want as his Prime Ministerial legacy is a Suez, an Iraq or a 2008. That’s exactly what his tenure in Downing Street will amount to if this goes on much longer, however – indeed, it may already be too late; but he’ll surely seek to minimise the damage if he can. Yes, the country’s police forces might mourn the passing of their temporary stint as Brownshirts, but a Government elected with a whopping majority and able to boast record levels of employment just five months ago is hardly likely to stand back and watch it all go up in smoke overnight.

At the moment, it feels the lifting of the lockdown – even if a gradual and protracted process – will not so much struggle to re-establish normality because of any reluctance of the authorities to relinquish control, but will be stymied by the fear the Government instilled within the majority of the population to bring it about in the first place. Scaring the people into observing the containment of Covid-19 was naturally enforced by the closure of most shops, businesses and places of entertainment; but so effective has this particular Project Fear been in its impact on the behaviour of the general public, who knows what the long-term damage could be? People might want to go back, but are they capable after two long months of this? Socially distancing in the sun is one thing; returning to the workplace and indoor public spaces whilst simultaneously trying to maintain that distance could prove to be one hell of a headf**k. There’s the danger many have become so institutionalised to the two-metre lockdown lifestyle that it could take years to properly pick up where we left off.

Of course, some are more eager to settle back into the old ways than others. Those elements of the middle-classes that lean to the left have had a good war so far and it’s no surprise they’re amongst the most vocally opposed to the lockdown being lifted. In political terms, their true ideological leader is Nicola Sturgeon, but they have to make do with the boring barrister south of the border, who at least has the backing of the unions – and the unions are another long-redundant section of society that are relishing reclaiming the spotlight, especially those representing the teaching profession. The middle-class environment might suit home schooling, but sending their kids back to school isn’t something some parents can choose to opt out of; if schools do reopen in June, they have to reopen for everybody – and the parents that most need them to reopen are being denied that at the moment. There may well be legitimate concerns on the part of teachers themselves, but the spat that has overshadowed the issue this week almost feels like another extension of the polarisation that has characterised discourse over the past couple of years. And no child will benefit from that.

It really was a case of damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t at the end of March for this Government. I don’t really think they had much option but to take the path they did; the MSM certainly wouldn’t have relented from claiming the blood of every fatality was on Boris’s hands had the lockdown not come into effect, yet it was destined to be a no-win scenario even if this administration was the most capable and talented in living memory. The U-turn over the health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants has the feel of another capitulation to media pressure from a Government so concerned with public perception as it balances on the economic precipice that it is willing to bow to any demand if demanded loud enough. Some might argue that’s what it did two months ago. Yet however bumbling and stumbling it appears to approach every challenge, it now has another tough choice confronting it that is every bit as tough as the one confronting it two months ago. But whoever said government was easy?

© The Editor

HOME ENTERTAINMENT

With the cool kids loudly declaring on social media that they’ll be unwinding on a 24/7 diet of Netflix soup whilst sealed-in for the foreseeable future, the response of mainstream terrestrial television to the dramatic change in circumstances has served to underline its increasing irrelevance as a source of go-to entertainment. The abrupt cancellation of sporting fixtures that can ordinarily be depended upon to pump up the ratings has left them looking utterly clueless. When the Beeb had no ‘Match of the Day’ to broadcast last Saturday, did they think of the audience and perhaps replay a classic FA Cup Final from the archives, something that would still have featured 22 men kicking a ball about but would also have been imbued with the kind of nostalgia factor that surfaces when the future is suddenly so uncertain and the compulsion to cuddle the familiar figures highly? Of course not; they opted for a ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ double bill. Just what football fans were hoping for as they instantly changed channels.

Concerns over the coronavirus spreading through the sets of the BBC’s small elite band of long-running drama serials has provoked a swift cutting back on such productions. Thanks to that dodgy geezer by the name of Covid-19, ‘Eastenders’ has now apparently been reduced to a mere twice-weekly outing of dreary, depressing cock-er-nee gangster fetishisation, though the last time the programme came anything close to being remotely watchable was back in the days when it was restricted to Tuesdays and Thursdays. As a one-time viewer of both this show and its older Salford sibling, for me the rot really set in when the decision was made to spread them thinly over the whole working week ala cheap ‘n’ cheerful Aussie soaps.

This decision was made when the soap opera was one of the few TV genres still capable of commanding high ratings, though as viewing habits gradually altered, the schedulers failed to recognise they’d overstretched their one-time safe bet. Increasingly melodramatic and gimmicky storylines devised to desperately entice the diminishing audience – along with an influx of forgettable, interchangeable teen archetypes straight outta Hollyoaks – served to hammer the first batch of nails in the Walford and Weatherfield coffins. Perhaps the restrictions imposed by the current crisis might be a blessing in disguise for the remaining viewers; pruning the bloated beasts that ‘Coronation Street’, ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Emmerdale’ have all become has been necessary for years, but whatever the schedulers select to replace the absent episodes could be crucial to how they fare when all this is over.

A good example was the landmark 1987 technicians’ strike at ITV’s original breakfast franchise-holder TV-am – effectively the last stand for militant unions within the television industry. As the picket-lines sought to flex the same muscles that had successfully blacked-out ITV screens for two whole months in 1979, Bruce Gyngell – the blunt Thatcherite chief executive imported from down under by Kerry Packer – substituted the normal TV-am schedule with daily repeats of the classic 60s Batman series. As TV-am was the most watched of the two breakfast shows then broadcasting on British TV, whatever replacement Gyngell had chosen would have commanded a large audience; but the relentlessly entertaining adventures of Adam West’s caped crusader proved to be a bigger hit with the viewers than the usual Anne & Nick sofa waffle. The show’s unexpected popularity was one of the first indications of a widespread appetite for vintage TV that would eventually result in whole satellite channels dedicated to it.

Whether or not they know it – and I suspect they probably don’t – both ITV and the BBC have a treasure trove of archive shows they could exhume to plug the gaps, and ones that could well capture the audience’s imagination far more than wheeling-out repeats of recent programmes nobody gave a shit about first time round. No football or rugby, no Grand National and not even the Eurovision; ‘Question Time’ forced to go ahead without a studio audience and ‘Newsnight’ having to speak to the majority of its guests via Skype or satellite link-up; production on drama scaled down or suspended. There are going to be many hours to fill and something worth watching will have to fill them if viewers are to be prevented migrating to the alternatives in droves.

With schools out for a premature summer, families cooped-up in confined spaces as though replicating the claustrophobic holiday experience on home turf are destined to rapidly get on each other’s tits; but it’s doubtful few of the Smartphone-addicted school-kids would consider turning to TV (other than the iPlayer) during their legally-endorsed truancy from the classroom. Therefore, why don’t the Beeb and ITV make available the hundreds of educational programmes both produced for decades, so that the long-neglected public service remit British TV once honoured with such dedication could be revived as a key element of its DNA?

Personally, one thing that could persuade me to switch-on during the day would be the chance to catch some classic schools programming – even some hirsute Open University outings would be welcome; and unqualified parents lumbered with home tutoring could at least point their sullen brats in the direction of ‘How We Used to Live’, ‘Watch’, ‘Look and Read’ or ‘Experiment’ as a means of educating with entertainment. The kids would probably be bemused by the alien presentation style and amused by the fashion crimes, but there’s always the outside chance they might learn something. No, I know it won’t happen anymore than the test card will make a comeback; but then, I don’t have to concern myself with any of this anyway, being spared parenthood. It’s a weird enough world when you’re on your own.

I did venture out today after a bout of self-isolation yesterday, and the effects of the public response to events were more noticeable than even just 48 hours ago. My local Sainsbury’s had all the look of a store on the last day of a closing down sale, trying to flog the few remaining items and knowing what had already gone wouldn’t be replaced. A few doors along, Wilkos didn’t even have the empty shelves where the loo rolls used to sit; they’ve stuck other goods on there now, almost as if they’ve given up on stocking toilet paper ever again. To be honest, I’ve all-but given up on ever buying it again as it is. Unfortunately, with the enforced closure of all cafés, pubs and restaurants as of tonight, supermarkets will remain the sole source of edible articles for the majority, putting even more pressure on them. I’m just hoping booze hasn’t been unduly affected in this mad rush to purchase pasta. I could really do with a drink.

© The Editor

US, THEM AND THE REST

One of the key – and, yes, (sorry) iconic – moments in one of my favourite movies, ‘Blow-Up’, comes when David Hemmings’ Swinging London photographer attends a druggy party with the hip set and he runs into one of his top models, played by an actual 60s top model, the exotic Veruschka. Under the impression she couldn’t make one of his shoots because she was otherwise engaged, Hemmings says ‘I thought you were supposed to be in Paris’, to which the stoned beauty replies ‘I am in Paris’.

Personally, I haven’t physically been in Paris for over 30 years, though I’ve regularly been there in a Veruschka sense; even stone-cold sober, I know where she’s coming from. I guess we’ve all imagined ourselves in surroundings we regard as more conducive to the people we feel we are. Combating inverted snobbery and the ‘know-your-place/don’t-get-ideas-above-your station’ default mindset intended to protect the little people from overreaching their origins is something anyone emanating from an estate will be familiar with; but visiting Paris in one’s head is often the only option. Others, of course, judge greatness by the amount of material goods they can call their own, believing ownership of such items somehow elevates them into a higher social strata because those who can match the goods to an equivalent bank-balance are who they aspire to be; get the goods and you can manufacture the impression of affluence. And making an impression is half the game today.

It’s been a staple diet of mainstream TV for well over a decade, whether in property porn shows, ‘Come Dine with Me’, the Essex/Chelsea un-reality programmes, or the ‘I-wanna-be-famous’ Cowell approach – presenting the viewers with an ideal it implies they can attain and make them better than their nearest neighbour. All feed into the same necessary fantasy generated by the National Lottery because knuckling down and putting the hours in can no longer guarantee an actual escape route, whether doing it academically or working your way up the corporate ladder. Today’s resignation of all four members of what is known as ‘The Social Mobility Commission’ is being cynically dismissed by some as political point scoring, bearing in mind one of the most prominent voices on the panel was ex-Labour Minister from the Blair era, Alan Milburn. But the Tory Peer Baroness Gillian Shephard has quit with him.

In his resignation letter to the PM, Milburn wrote ‘the Government as a whole is unable to commit the same level of support’ to social mobility as it claims to do with education; he also addressed Theresa May directly when he wrote ‘I do not doubt your personal belief in social justice, but I see little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action.’ Milburn expanded his reasons behind quitting a post he has held for five years on ‘The Andrew Marr Show’, when he blamed the Government’s all-encompassing focus on Brexit as relegating other important and pressing issues to the bottom drawer. The Commission is intended to oversee the Government’s attempts at ‘freeing children from poverty and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’, though Milburn compared this to ‘pushing water uphill’.

The Government has responded to the decision of the Commission by saying Milburn’s tenure had reached its natural conclusion and that it would be getting fresh blood in. Even though Milburn claims Education Secretary Justine Greening wanted him to remain in the post, Greening herself toed the Government line re the ‘fresh blood’ remit and has stuck to the positive script despite the publication of a report by the Commission last week that pointed out ‘political alienation’ and ‘social resentment’ as well as the indisputable divisions the EU Referendum result exposed to a far wider audience than had acknowledged them before.

The oft-aired theory of London as an economic citadel separated from the rest of the country – particularly old industrial heartlands, isolated rural outposts and neglected coastal enclaves – also formed part of the Commission’s report. None of this will have come as a surprise to anyone outside of the capital (or at least its booming boroughs), but perhaps the Government will only listen when they’re told so by a committee they set-up; mind you, it doesn’t even sound like they’re listening to this one.

The report studied all of England’s 324 local authorities and upheld the postcode lottery syndrome, even if it proved to be far more widespread a division than a straightforward North-South split. West Somerset was down at the bottom of the league table, for example, and the likes of relatively wealthy Crawley and West Berkshire also performed poorly when it came to their most vulnerable sons and daughters, exhibiting a greater gap between their high and low earners. Wages, limited career prospects and the chances of anyone starting life from a lowly position being able recover from it were important factors in the report, and as a collective region, the East Midlands came out worst of all. Newark and Sherwood in Nottinghamshire were found to be the poorest performing local authorities, with anyone there from a disadvantaged background less likely to rise above it than anywhere else in the country.

Some of Alan Milburn’s recommendations in the review of ‘Left-Behind Britain’ sound like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but even if they were implemented we’re probably talking another generation before they’d show any impact, and who knows how much rarer social mobility will have become by then? Really, when one strips away familiar factors – including disproportionate levels of immigration in some areas that have further limited job and housing opportunities, not to mention savage cuts to social services – at the root of it all is the same thing that has always been at the root of this problem: class. The old saying ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ remains the mantra for getting on in this country. Not enough of us know the right people, and most of us never will.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

SCHOOL’S IN

A school uniform may be resented by those with no choice but to wear it, yet the sullen adolescents slouching against bus-shelters this morning have merely exchanged one uniform for another – one day dressed in their regulation designer teenage attire and the next back in the straitjacket dictated by the educational institution selected by their parents due to its standing in the league tables. One mass-produced outfit trades on the illusion of individuality and the other is sold as a constricting concession to The Man, but both cynically feed the consumer appetite, either that of parent or child. The latter I sighted earlier today are now at the stage Alice Cooper once sang of – ‘I’m in the middle without any plans/I’m a boy/and I’m a man’. Envy them? Thought not.

The aforementioned veteran shock-rocker has regularly cited the inspiration for his biggest hit as being the moments leading up to the last school bell that heralds the summer holidays, moments he rightly recalled as being amongst the highlights of childhood. Even a childless person can’t help but notice those moments have been and gone for another year now, however; a sudden alteration in the apparel of the urban parade as of today is something one can’t help but notice, though I must stress at this stage of proceedings I have no midlife leanings towards the female variety resuming the route to the academy. Who would dare these days, anyway?

No, I was simply made aware that school was no longer out because of the proliferation of identikit brats cluttering the pavements in the manner of chattering wheelie-bins. Mercifully, most of my social media brothers and sisters have either avoided or have passed the proud parent bombardment, so I haven’t had to endure any forced smile mug-shots of their offspring in freshly-ironed and starched blazers this week. Not that I don’t feel sorry for those caught in the competitive crossfire of parental one-upmanship; in fact, I have no qualms in declaring I’d much rather have been a schoolboy then than now – even if then would seem virtually Victorian to today’s press-ganged classroom crew.

Assembly – the daily induction: a hymn to sing, a fable from the Bible, a round-up of results involving the numerous school sports teams, a slap across the skull from a patrolling teacher as swift punishment for talking, the occasional gust of wind provoking sniggering, and every once in a while a lecture on the evils of some vandalism committed by a villain nobody will name – all conducted in the chilly environs of a hall that can double-up as a dining room three hours later. Not long after the half-asleep multitudes are herded off to their respective classes, the unmistakable aroma of boiled slurry begins to seep into the space, though the belly will have to wait for the dubious gastronomic treats; lucky belly.

Those wooden rubbers designed to erase chalk text from the blackboard could very nearly have an eye out, as they would have said on ‘Blue Peter’ if the school experience had been realistically portrayed on the programme. As a teacher’s weapon, the wooden rubbers competed with a ruler or a register when deciding which would serve as the quickest means of altering a daydreaming pupil to the lesson when hurled in their direction. Running the gauntlet of staff sadism was a tricky business that, if done with the correct amount of cheeky chappie nerve, could ensure a legend that would last a lunchtime; if done wrong, detention alongside the swivel-eyed school yahoos awaited.

Those I knew who did as they were told and got on with their work probably enjoyed careers of clerical social-climbing and mobility once graduating from our glorified Borstal; they were fortunate they could do so while it was still possible. Their equivalents today can look forward to university (which was a rare privilege at my alma mater), albeit bankrupting their parents in the process and saddling themselves with decades of debt as their degree qualifies them for soul-destroying telesales that won’t even pay their astronomical rent, never mind entitle them to a home of their own. Some progress.

We are also intermittently informed by our tabloid press that today’s schools are hotbeds of violence – both physical and sexual; coppers are often on site; bullying initiatives are part and parcel of the curriculum; CCTV and weapons searches are apparently regular fixtures. Never had any of that at my school, but I fail to see how the violence could possibly be any more vicious and endemic than it was during my tenure. The most severe punishment a teacher can dish out to an unruly ‘student’ today is temporary suspension; they can’t administer six-of-the-best let alone a clip round the lughole, yet they could more or less indulge in any assault when I was at school, and it was sometimes hard to decide who were the scariest – the staff or the more psychotic pupils.

Okay, so institutionalised violence emanating from the staff-room may have been outlawed, but pupil power has its own downside. Not that any parent would want to accept this could be the case at their own child’s school – after all the trouble they went to when moving into the right catchment area and ferrying their offspring to the gates in Chelsea Tractors? No wonder they react to any fictional portrayals of school that dwell on this violence with such fury. ‘Grange Hill’ was the bête noir of parents for the first few years of its existence; surely characters such as Gripper Stebson were pure fantasy? Yet, the kids recognised this council estate Flashman in an instant. Only when the cast were applauded for the ‘Just Say No’ campaign did the show achieve the parental pat on the back.

I doubt schooldays were the best days of anyone’s life, merely an introductory episode to the equally joyous workplace or dole queue; I certainly don’t look back at mine with any fondness, that’s for sure. Yet, at the same time, I wouldn’t swap places with the poor sods enduring it today. I would imagine the environment they currently inhabit is a good deal less intimidating than the one I inhabited at their age, but the prospect of joining a workforce with the longest hours in Europe and diminishing rewards at the end of it makes one wonder why the whole lot of them aren’t bunking off. Mind you, that would put their parents in prison, wouldn’t it? I guess not all new laws are bad.

© The Editor

BACK TO THE TEACHER

Okay, so it’s been a bloody grim week so far, and as a means of combating the worst elements of the twenty-first century, I’ve been retreating into the selective embrace of the past in the shape of programmes for schools and colleges produced in the 1970s. Thanks to YouTube, over the last 48 hours I’ve sat through 40-odd year-old editions of ‘Look and Read’, ‘Words and Pictures’, ‘How We Used to Live’ et al. If I dip into my desk drawer and pull out a copy of the Radio Times from the same era (the copy in question dated 31 August-6 September 1974), the centre pages provide the most striking contrast between television then and television now, for they contain a four-page guide to that autumn’s educational schedule across BBC TV and radio.

And the variety on offer in this schedule is all the more eye-opening because these series are all primarily aimed at adults; there isn’t even room for cataloguing the myriad of programmes produced for schools during this period. Got kids? Watch ‘Parents and Children’ on BBC1; like football? Listen to ‘Behind the Goals’ on Radio 3; just qualified as a social-worker? Watch ‘Developments in Social Work’ on BBC2; interested in ‘news-making, decision-making and forms of loyalty’? Watch ‘Focus’ on BBC1 – and that’s not the flute-based, yodelling Dutch prog-rock band, despite ‘House of the King’ being used as the theme tune to numerous educational programmes in the 1970s.

You can learn to speak German, Spanish, Russian and Welsh, learn to become a mountaineer, rugby player and gardener, learn how to understand economics, the National Health and local government, not to mention ‘systematic thinking in action’! Arts, sciences, languages, the community, home and leisure, work and industry, teaching – all fall under the umbrella of public service broadcasting in 1974. Despite his reservations over the one-eyed monster, no doubt Lord Reith would have been proud his original remit remained relatively intact.

Today, what used to be viewed as television down-time is filled during the day with cheap and cheerful antiques/cookery/house-buying and selling/quiz show formulas and late at night with rolling news, interactive game shows and repeats of daytime fodder with a man in the corner of the screen aptly gesticulating his way through ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’. In retrospect, it’s amazing how a TV landscape that switched-off around midnight seemed to cram more into its limited broadcasting hours than one that never sleeps. The adult education programmes described above could usually be found hidden away last thing at night or presented together in a large chunk on a Sunday morning, sandwiched between a religious service and farming news; space in the listings may have been at a precious premium, but the schedulers always found a space to educate and inform as well as entertain.

Then of course, there were the twilight hours that were occupied by hirsute men in spectacles with little or no evident experience in front of a camera – the Open University. Who could forget that eerie, unnerving jingle jolting the armchair snoozer back to life far more effectively than a car alarm would do today? And who could forget programmes for schools and colleges? For anyone who was of school age in the 60s, 70s or 80s, they were amongst the few breathers from the classroom tedium on offer. What a ritual that was, being ushered into the library and watching the teacher wheel-in a huge telly, waiting for what felt like an aeon for the machine to warm-up, and then being greeted by some unsettling Radiophonic Workshop ditty accompanying a pulsating diamond or a circle of disappearing dots before the actual programme began.

It’s worth bearing in mind just how many hours were given over to schools broadcasts as well. An average BBC1 week during term-time would begin around 9.38am and would sign-off not long after midday; following a dinner-break for the test card, the news, ‘Pebble Mill at One’ and ‘Watch with Mother’, schools TV would open its gates again for another hour or so at the precise time of 2.2pm. That’s not even including BBC schools broadcasts on the radio, when the VHF wavelength on Radio 4 would be used exclusively for them between 10.00 in the morning and 3.00 in the afternoon.

We should also remember that ITV – yes! ITV! – played its part in the television education of the nation’s children as well. Even though commercial considerations freed them from a less rigid public service commitment than the Beeb, their weekday schedule ran from 9.30-12.00 and produced some of the most memorable schools programmes of them all. There was even an advertising armistice during these transmissions.

Calculate just how much of pre-24 hour TV on both sides of the British broadcasting divide was given over to educational programming and it’d be pretty impressive. It’s indisputable that many were cheaply-made on shoestring budgets, especially the Open University broadcasts; and some were uniquely dull in a manner that elevated visual boredom to a level that now seems quite radical, on a par with the worst Warhol movies or a contemporary art installation But I’d still be more bored sitting through an edition of ‘This Morning’ than an episode of Granada’s austere schools science show, ‘Experiment’.

Noble ventures are not something one would now really associate with British television. Most 21st century TV execs would probably regard ‘Comic Relief’ or ‘Children in Need’ as such, and in their own way, they are. But annual or bi-annual telethons, when the normal schedule is set aside for one night only to accommodate a good deed, are different to the noble venture that was educational television. It was a product of a period in which the people who ran television regarded it as a tool of communication that amounted to more than a ratings-chasing commercial cash-cow or a daytime sedative. Much like the internet is today, TV then was viewed as a multi-purpose medium capable of all that life can afford.

So, where did it go? Firstly, the advent of the VCR hailed the death-knell of schools programming in its traditional slot; secondly, in the mid-80s BBC TV schools programmes were shunted over to BBC2 in preparation for the launch of daytime BBC1 and the arrival of cosy sofa chinwags about child abuse and the menstrual cycle. Not long after, ITV transferred their schools schedule to Channel 4 in order that Richard and Judy could do likewise, paving the way for menopausal gobshites and underclass-baiting bullies. It is ironic that a slot once reserved for mind-expansion is now reserved for the gradual erosion of the brain cells, and after-dark telly today is no less retarded. It does seem a shame that the increase in broadcasting hours doesn’t seem capable of embracing the same breadth of broadcasting available when less was more.

© The Editor

WHEAT AND CHAFF

TuckerGrammar and School – what is it about the combination of those two words that provoke such frothing at the mouth? Labour’s leading intellectual of the post-war era, Anthony Crosland, didn’t mince his words in his post as Education Secretary in Harold Wilson’s first government. ‘If it’s the last thing I do,’ he allegedly said, ‘I’m going to destroy every f**king Grammar School in England’. From an early 60s Labour perspective, entry to the Grammar School system via the 11-Plus exam was symptomatic of elitism within British society, whereby the lucky ones gained a fast-track to social mobility and the losers were relegated to a lifelong manual scrapheap courtesy of the Secondary Modern, written-off as factory-fodder before they’d even reached adolescence. But was it really so bad?

History tells us that Grammar Schools in the 50s were primarily packed with middle-class pupils, whilst Secondary Moderns were reserved for the working-classes; but the 11-Plus was class blind. If a child was academically bright enough, he or she made it, simple as that. My parents were both born the same year (1943) and both emanated from similar non-socially privileged backgrounds; my mother failed her 11-Plus, whereas my father passed his. My mother, like many girls of her generation and background, wanted nothing more from life than to be a housewife with children, so the 11-Plus was effectively irrelevant to her ambitions; those that wanted more had the opportunity to achieve it (admittedly to a lesser degree than later generations of women) if they passed their 11-Plus, so the exam served its purpose.

The Labour Party that gained power in 1964 regarded this segregation of the population at such a young age as cruelly mapping out their prospects for life, which is interesting; maybe Wilson and his contemporaries sensed traditional heavy industry was already living on borrowed time and that condemning half of Britain’s schoolchildren to a dying working environment was sowing the seeds of future mass unemployment? If so, they certainly didn’t spell it out at the time. Perhaps, bearing in mind their dependence on the support of unions, they daren’t.

The 1944 Education Act could retrospectively be viewed as the midwife to the Swinging 60s. Its introduction enabled working-class Baby Boomers not to have to beg local education authorities for the privilege of a scholarship (as future Tory PM Ted Heath did) to elevate themselves above humble origins, as they would have had to have done before the War. The Act opened the doors to academia for those to whom it would previously have been barred – born troublemakers like John Lennon, for example; a candidate for expulsion, he managed to slip into Art College thanks to a teacher who saw potential that, prior to the 1944 Act, would have had no higher education outlet. Lennon wasn’t alone; most of the musicians, writers and artists who played their parts in the Pop Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s benefitted from the Tripartite System of education, and the wider world benefitted from their benefits.

The social mobility that the Grammar School and its examinational Open Sesame facilitated greatly transformed British society for the better in the decades leading up to its eventual abolition in the mid-70s; and it’s worth looking at how social mobility has declined in subsequent years. How much the eventual subjugation of Grammar Schools by Comprehensives from the 70s onwards, as well as an increasing emphasis on the ‘everyone’s a winner’ educational mindset, has contributed towards the resurgence of success based upon nepotism and the old school tie is something that requires a longer debate than we have room for here; but there’s no doubt that naive belief in intellectual equality is responsible to a degree.

The announcement that the new PM intends to increase the number of Grammar Schools in Britain in an attempt to boost social mobility has been met with predictable protests from the Corbynistas as well as the Liberal Democrats. The former, ironically, betray their Blairite sympathies with their objections. Tony’s determined effort to make universities accessible to all was a misplaced egalitarian experiment that assumed every school-leaver actually sought another four or five years of education. The lack of investment in manual labour apprenticeships and alternatives to the tuition fee treadmill showed a short-sighted appreciation of what some children want from life, making a mistake in assuming Tony’s goals were replicated across society. Yes, of course universities should be open to the bright, regardless of where they come from; but the Blair Government reforms have merely priced the academically inclined from less-privileged backgrounds out of the market and have crammed today’s universities with wealthy dimwits.

It’s no great surprise that rent-a-quote media socialists such as Owen Jones have been so quick to criticise Theresa May’s proposals; the communal philosophy of Corbyn’s left wants to reiterate that all men (and women) are born equal – which should be a given, anyway; that some want to work with their hands and some want to work with their minds is always overlooked when it comes to this rather blinkered aspect of socialist thinking. Personally, I believe the Prime Minister should be given the benefit of the doubt. Unlike her predecessor in Downing Street, she didn’t have success handed to her on a plate; and if an increase in Grammar Schools gives the less-fortunate an opportunity to achieve success currently denied them, this is something that should be applauded rather than condemned with the token jerk of a knee.

© The Editor

LIVING IN A BOX

CybermenIf, like me, you happen to reside in a neighbourhood that retains the majority of its Victorian architectural roots, chances are you may have noticed the high proportion of churches – even if not all of them are still open for business. In an era when working hours were long and wages were low, Christianity served a purpose beyond mere faith, being at the heart of community life in a way it only appears to be today in rural England. But the church’s core business at its most basic was to offer hope – however slim – and a kind of ethereal distraction from the toil that the mass of the country’s workers endured.

Times change, of course; and religion, at least the one that has been that of the nation for centuries, no longer commands the same authority it once had or is turned to by millions as an escapist alternative to the dispiriting norm. Celebrity culture, certainly for what used to be called the working-class, seems to have taken its place. The reasons for an elevation that is to many utterly baffling are myriad, but the fact that it exists in its current form at all suggests there is a need for it as there was a need for the church in the nineteenth century.

Working conditions then were notoriously bad, even though there had been several pieces of legislation (largely prompted by campaigning reformers) that gradually improved the wellbeing of workers; the days of bewildered orphans being bussed from one part of the country to another in order to provide unscrupulous mill-owners with cheap labour were thankfully gone by the end of the nineteenth century. But for all the vast contrast between the lot of the working man and woman of today and their equivalents just over a hundred years ago, there is little cause for celebration; and many might argue the overall picture implies the situation has got worse rather than better over the past couple of decades.

Parents have always mapped out a newborn’s life, whatever their social demographic. Following in father’s footsteps was a familiar scenario both to those at the top and those at the bottom, whether that entailed journeying along the same prep school/public school/University/Foreign Office conveyor belt as Daddy or joining yer old man darn t’pit. So, in some respects, modern mania for catchment areas and ‘the right school’ isn’t necessarily an entirely unprecedented development. But it does reflect a very contemporary, almost obsessive, desire for absorbing people into the system at the earliest possible age, a mantra of propaganda pumped-out by media. Once Junior boards the educational treadmill in twenty-first century Britain, he or she is on the first lap of a marathon operation that surpasses anything his or her nineteenth century predecessor had to suffer. The old, rather quaint, boast that the National Health Service would provide the people with cradle-to-grave care has now been surpassed by a far less benign watchdog spanning the same timescale.

A child at school today is placed under fanatical observation and surveillance more or less from day one. The bureaucratic box-ticking that has permeated all public services settles its all-seeing eye on the school-kid and will never avert its gaze thereafter, ensuring the child slots into the system; and the system preaches that the child is secondary to concern for what the OfSted report will say. The idiosyncratic teacher who fired and inspired the imaginations of the open minds before him – the kind that could be seen in the likes of ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ or ‘The History Boys’ – has no place in today’s academic institutions. There are boundaries and boxes, and stepping or thinking outside of them is simply not allowed. A teacher is there as a trainer of trainee drones, not simply in terms of a workforce, but in every aspect of work, rest and play; and there’ll be little of the latter once Junior is released into the big bad world.

An unpaid internship or a zero-hours contract – what are they really but updated and rebranded nineteenth century working conditions? A Victorian working man or woman low down the food chain was, in many cases, dependent on their employer for a roof over their heads, a scenario not that different from the tied cottages they’d left behind when migrating from country to town. They could never have imagined owning their own home and the prospect of doing likewise for the working man or woman in both the same position and far higher up the food chain of today is just as implausible.

Their working hours are barely shorter than the working hours of their nineteenth century ancestors and they will have to keep working for more years, probably up until their mid-seventies. Money they owe may not land them in debtor’s gaols anymore, but in all likelihood they will never pay off all their debts before they die; their debtor’s gaols are the jobs that drain them and the homes they don’t own. Where do they go for much-needed, albeit temporary escape? They want to watch a family of rich bitches talk bollocks as opposed to a lone, lonely vicar talk bollocks. The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Kardashian both offer unrealisable dreams because dreams are necessary when reality is a master-plan drawn-up by people with no imagination, no compassion, no heart and no soul, people who don’t have to live the lives they’ve designed – Tory, Labour, Liberal or Whig.

The unacceptable face of capitalism? The unacceptable face of Britain.

© The Editor

SCHOOL’S OUT WHEN WE SAY SO

Alice 2 - CopyA family holiday was not always my favourite out-of-school experience as a child; as much as I disliked school itself, at least I was free of it from 3.30pm onwards – though home could often be as unpleasant as the classroom; not having to endure a full twenty-four hours in the company of either family or fellow pupils meant the division of the day made a degree of sense. Come the school holidays, my day was essentially my own, with working parents and the freedom to roam; for this period of ecstatic emancipation to be curtailed always seemed unfair, and on the rare occasions when family holidays took place during the six-week summer break, it felt as though I’d been robbed.

However, this didn’t happen very often. Mostly, family holidays were scheduled in term time, meaning that even if the holiday contained the usual tensions exacerbated by the unnatural nature of two weeks in the sardine can, at least I was missing out on tedious lessons, playground Capones, and slap-happy sadists masquerading as teachers. If you’ve paid any attention to the headlines over the past couple of days, you probably know where I’m going with this.

It’s amusing to think that, if today’s rules had applied 35-40 years ago, my parents would have faced fines and possible imprisonment during my school days, both for taking me out of school for a fortnight and for ‘allowing’ me to take myself out of school. The latter occasions were those days when I preferred taking on my partner-in-truancy Stuart at PONG, playing air bass ala John Taylor to his copy of ‘Rio’ as he did his best Simon Le Bon (with a pair of his mother’s tights acting as makeshift New Romantic headband) or simply spending the afternoon up a tree on my own.

The fanatical obsession with endless exams, intense tests and putting pupils under all-day surveillance in the bureaucratic battle to ascend the league tables has placed both them and their parents under a strain I was spared, for which I am eternally grateful. I wasn’t viewed as a future financial investment by either parents or the State, which (as it turned out) was fairly shrewd foresight.

The legal victory on Friday of John Platt against the Isle of Wight Council following his refusal to pay a £120 fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school and on holiday during term time has been celebrated in some quarters as a triumph for common sense and two defiant fingers up at The Man. It is ironic at a moment when there is a continuous government emphasis on reducing the interference of the State in the lives of the individual that the State actually has more power to interfere today where some scenarios are concerned than it ever has previously. With regards to John Platt, he had managed to persuade magistrates on the Isle of Wight to overturn the fine, but the local authority appealed and took the case to the High Court. His argument was that it was not up to local authorities to decide what was best for his children, and this argument appears to have been vindicated following the High Court’s decision in his favour.

Of course, there is also the crucial truth that the travel agencies hike up their prices during official school holidays, aware that changes to the rules of the game mean parents now risk incurring the wrath of the watchdogs if they decide to holiday when prices aren’t so astronomical. Most don’t like making a fuss and adhere to the system, but for those who don’t, one has to ask what the child actually loses out on by missing a week or two in the classroom. All I can really recall about the aftermath of a holiday in term time is returning to school and being filled in on the latest gossip about who snogged who, who had a fight with who, and who went to the toilet in their trousers when a teacher refused them permission to go to the loo during a lesson. I don’t remember missing out on some vital piece of information that cost me dear come an exam, and (much to my chagrin) I was never absent from an exam due to a family holiday anyway.

Following the case of John Platt, there are now renewed calls for the law to be tightened. The Department of Education has pompously proclaimed ‘The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.’ Really? Does that mean, even if they miraculously acquire a precious degree, they still won’t be qualified enough to make it as a zero-hours contract, unpaid intern for a corporation whose billions are funnelled through to the Cayman Islands via Luxembourg or Eire and only ever reach the pockets of fat cat shareholders based in Monaco? All because they weren’t present for a physics lesson one moribund Monday afternoon? Education, education, education, eh?

© The Editor