As a child I was gently indoctrinated, along with just about everybody else in my class, into the ways of our Lord. From a very early age it was put to me that there was, nonspecifically out 'there,' a far greater and more powerful Being and that, intrinsic to this contention, there was a tome of knowledge, also non-specifically, far beyond anything that I could ever hope to amass. Thus, I was introduced to the concept of 'faith.' We sang a lot, which didn't leave a great deal of time for questions.
Where would such a Being reside? Heaven, where's that then? How could such a Being know what everyone was doing? What about those people who were working deep underground? How could such a Being know what we were all thinking? At the same time? What about dreams? How would such a Being be able to 'hear' all of our prayers? How would such a Being prioritise? If someone said 'good' things, but secretly thought 'bad' things, how would such a Being know this? What if we believed the 'bad' things, because a cleverer person had misled us? How would such a Being be able to tell the difference? If someone made a very 'bad' choice, hurting or killing others, why would such a Being not intervene? Why would such a Being allow natural disasters to kill and hurt people and other creatures?
Our's was never to reason why, apparently. We just weren't knowledgeable enough to understand the overriding will of such a Being. Although, some of us, even at such a tender and an early age, were starting to draw our own conclusions about this 'greater' Being. 'Faith' we were reminded- my teachers reminded me, my mother reminded me, the church reminded me, and numerous other people reminded me- was our lot. Faith!
Now that I am older I know enough to know that I am differently unsure. Older and slightly more jaded, I am arrogant enough to believe that I know the answers to some of the above questions. Now, I have different questions... requiring different answers, which necessarily do not pertain to faith.
Accepting, just for the sake of argument, that I am not going to be able to directly put my questions to such a Being, I would like instead to be able- safely!- to ask these questions of those who are most 'certain' of the 'answers'... the fundamentalists.
The fundamentalists have, of course, weaponised 'faith,' effectively remodelling it as fear! Naturally, honing the doctrine to a fine point- fear is often anyway still not enough- the fundamentalists might well kill us regardless; they might detonate shrapnel amongst our children, or they might career their vehicle along a busy pavement, or they might simply refuse to reason, sheltering behind the trusty (rusty) shield of faith, a highly selective shield when it comes to bombs and bullets. Our bombs and bullets, those of reason, are, we are 'assured,' far more discerning than are 'their' bombs and bullets, the old 'benign collateral' (cite "friendly fire") versus 'indiscriminate terrorism' argument! Proudly wear your faith, wear it much like a pair of spangled blinkers, wear it like a mask!
My opening question to the Being's spokesperson upon this Earth would have to be, why it is that our imperfect minds have been equipped with nothing better than faith with which to navigate our route through (theological) life? Why then equip us with the means with which to question 'His'* existence? So, of those various humanly-scribed books, which tome was actually the first draft, and which should we take to be the 'finished' (polished?) article? Presumptuous on my part, maybe, but I'm going to suggest that just a smidgen of greater clarification might not go a miss. Are we perhaps long-overdue a further redraft?
And then on to the sensitive subject of personal armaments, about these cursed hand-guns and rifles for example- those which have often been employed in His name- shouldn't we perhaps keep them locked well away from the cerebrally inept? We have, I am hoping, now evolved well beyond the belief that sinking a flaming cross into the earth, and wandering around in pointy white hats, weapons loaded, may be a superior or purer means of somehow 'ordering' humankind, along the lines of some sort of human-paint-chart? Couldn't we just hammer home this point, once more for the hard-of-understanding?
My is it third?- and certainly it is the most delicate of questions to the Being's spokesperson on this Earth- relates to the female gender of our species. I am, of course, assuming that this set of rules isn't perhaps an earlier and some-since-time superseded draft of His 'correct' Holy Book. Why, I feel obligated to ask, is having been genitally mutilated considered to be the 'correct' physical state for any female?- or, especially, any innocent child? And, in anticipation of any response, I would like to question 'why said 'clitoris' was there in the first place?' Further, I would like to ask 'if this means that He has therefore made a fundamental error?' Furthermore, is it not cruel to have designed 'us' for pleasure, only to have then prescribed the removal of one highly significant means by which this might be achieved? Is He then not in some major capacity also flawed? Is it really the role of certain significantly flawed and immeasurably-lesser beings to 'improve' upon His efforts?' Page numbers for reference, please?
Here on Earth, I think that it would be only reasonable to assume that I argue for the vast majority of humans when I seek to question the butchering that is done in seeking to (shall we refer to it as?) modify the human form. Are these 'people'- the butchers- not defacing His work? Can we not instead modify the butchers?- if only to remove from them their more dubious of powers?
And, quite why would He create someone so very beautiful, only to condemn that same someone to a lifetime of conducting 'life' from within a black box, a niqab or, even more condemnatory, a burka? Really?- so, it's entirely about modesty, is it? Does this mean then that the man in this 'relationship' is acting immodestly? So the woman is actually a possession, is she? And the covering of the hair thing?- perhaps then You might have considered a less hairy model? I presume then that the role of the more hirsute male requires entirely less modesty?
And stoning? What, even if the male perpetrator- cases of rape, for example- is permitted to watch on, whilst the female victim is being pounded into the earth? Is he, the perpetrator, also then permitted to throw rocks? And, what is it supposed that the perpetrator is actually 'punishing,' should he deign to partake? Will the mighty Being judge him at some later date? Pages? ** And- fourth now is it?- this racial difference thing? Perhaps I'm being just a bit thick here, a bit humanly flawed, as 'twere, but it really doesn't feel in any way superior, being white. On a handful of occasions I've been given due cause to think that being white is, if anything, rather inferior. White pointy hats and burning crosses, what was all that about? Demonstrating superiority, how? Do those with the loudest shouty voices also possess faith? Or has some form of enraged-entitlement here substituted? Any sort of hierarchy seems questionable, colour or otherwise... that is, unless we should regard those who follow this path as immensely inferior? You know what, might we just have stumbled onto something here?
Surely I cannot be alone in thinking that we here upon this Earth are well overdue a smidgen of enlightenment on the mega-touchy subject of "racial superiority?" The 'ride' thus far has not been a wholly tranquil one! The merest concept of 'superiority' is never going to sit comfortably, alongside any culture that it is looking to 'order,' or that might be hoping for order alongside reasonable law.
Thus, cannot we all hunker down to a spot of disentanglement, for example where Semitism and Zionism are concerned? A 'few' of the more confident readers are becoming a tad alarmed at the tanglement-by-design of terms like anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist, media-orchestrated-and-fuelled and further fanned by the thoroughly-disingenuous. Semite, pertaining to a group of Semitic languages, spoken by, amongst others, both Israelis (Hebrew) and many Arabs (Arabic), am I right in believing this to be so? Would that then- although somewhat veiled through this ever-curious twisting of reality- seem to imply that the Zionists are amongst the more anti-Semitic of peoples?
My next question would be, in the event of a human detonation, or vehicular mayhem, who gets to decide who might live and who might die? Well then, who in His stead might decide? Okay, so does this not mean that His human spokesperson is destroying and/or defacing the Supreme Being's work? And, if your response to this is that the Divine Being then intervenes to decide who does and does not survive any such act, why then are not all of the perpetrators also subject to such a brutal 'selection' process? Might I be so bold as to suggest that He perhaps endeavours to ensure that the ultimate-decision-makers- those who might plot or otherwise bring about such awful destruction- are always, from this point onwards, to be situated far closer to the consequences of their decisions, especially as they profess to be following His imperfect plan? Under these circumstances, would they 'smile' quite so confidently for that flash?
And, this mention here, just here, about the taking of a single life destroying a whole universe? I think the wording is "... if anyone slew a person- unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people." (Al Quran 5:32) How should we regard this wisdom, as an earlier note... or better, as the perfected amendment? Shouldn't we clarify this issue, specifically for those who possess the wrong kind of faith? And, with much haste!
And, this far too non-specific, "spreading mischief in the land"?- who gets to decide which is 'mischief' and which is 'government?' And, where the two transpire to be one and the same?
Pertinent to an earlier question, am I to assume then that the detonator, or driver, or knife-wielder, the 'religious' killer, is going to be repaired in Heaven? And, will his, or rarely her, 'repaired' mind still be 'functioning' along similar lines? How many virgins is that? What, virgins with or without fully functional genitalia? Anticipating the masculinity of His response, can I then ask- refraining from employing the 'r' word- what sort of congress is this likely to be? Is this then going to be a different sort of Heaven for all of those virgins who will be on the receiving end? References again, please?
Presuming then that His loyal foot soldier's thought-process is to remain fundamentally unchanged, will (s)he be required to continue to detonate, or stab, or run-down other inhabitants within this Heaven? What, so sort of like a one-transaction contract, specifically undertaken prior to 'joining' the 'anointed,' then? And, 'this' type of 'suicide' will be afforded a 'get-out-of-jail-free card,' will it?
Will there be many (for the sake of argument, shall we refer to them as) mass murderers in Heaven? How will other, non-violent, arrivals be expected to relate to these murderers? Will there be time, do you suppose, for the inhabitants of this Heaven to converse calmly about the 'good' old days? If so, is there a 'correct' and politer etiquette for referring to the shattered remains of murdered children? Is there one which permits the murderer not to feel somehow excluded from politer circles as they well might down here?- or otherwise deeply and irretrievably ashamed? So, will these mass murderers now be able to laugh and to joke and to somehow to 'live' (on) with themselves? What, no remorse?None whatsoever? Again, can I request specific page numbers?
And, what if killer A is 'right', for want of a better, far better word, to have murdered' those in group A, whilst killer B is wrong to have murdered those in group B? Will killer B be judged to have sinned for adhering to the wrong type of faith? What, even if the ritual slaughter was carried out in 'good' faith?
Can I also ask, is life here on Earth really supposed to be quite so Hellish and devoid of compassion? Does that not then make Him a vindictive Being?
And dare I ask, just for the sake of argument, should we be preparing ourselves for the event that His idea of Heaven might actually transpire to be our idea of Hell?- and that He might transpire to be some sort of monster?
If we are not to question these things then why would He give us the minds with which to do so? Unless this also is another design flaw. Or is it yet another test... of our faith?
We are finding that neighbourly respect and affection- at least whilst we are trapped here upon His Earth- offers a mighty antidote to much of His more curious will. Often, this might even happen to transcend faith. Even so, might I not harbour just that tiny kernel of contempt for the religious fundamentalists?
Finally, would it be in any way unreasonable to conclude that, if one could reason with religious people that there would be no religious people? Do any of these thoughts make me a sinner?
* Apologies for the gender allocation. In modest justification of my choice, I chose to affix a male label over a female one because I considered that the faults of any such being- pain, war, 'torture,' conflict, that sort of thing- were more likely to sit 'comfortably' within the remit of a male creature.
** And, this would have to be the moment, the moment, at which we- that is 'we' unbelievers- may be as certain as it is possible to be, that certain 'individuals' are far more inclined towards faith and religion because it is entirely the means by which they seek to consolidate their advantages over others, than because they are inclined to believe in anything other than their own advantage. Otherwise, why would they lay themselves open to such disappointment in the 'eyes' of their 'God?'
As all half-decent photographers will know, it is all about the light. The subject matter is therefore entirely of a secondary importance; because without the right light nothing else matters, or if it does then any resultant substandard image pretty much soon determines that it really doesn't. Ansel Adams understood this implicitly. He would get up well before the dawn and he would lug his bulky view finder camera and other boxed paraphernalia- his immaculately prepared large-format glass plates- to the pre-located spot of choice, entirely in order to pay his own particular homage to 'the light.' Few, if any, have ever paid it better, or to greater effect. Adams would have probably marvelled at the modern alternatives to his cumbersome 'box.' No doubt he would have wondered about the vast pool of buttons, dials and variable settings and functions, all of which are but slaves to 'the light.' Either they are a means to more easily capture 'it,' or else they are a means to taming 'it.' If all else fails, then they are a means to substituting for either a lack thereof, or else a surfeit of 'the same.' Ergo, it is all about the light!
I was reminded of as much, just last autumn, when I happened to find myself perched upon Hunstanton's clifftops at the point of sunrise. The precise blend of perfect light with which I was met was of my very particular favourite; there was a weather front of quite spectacular proportions, fast approaching from the west, yet the sun behind me had slanted in under the darkening leading edge to throw every crest, and estuarine dimple, every blade of grass, into perfect relief. I think that I have never seen a more wonderful nor a more terrible image!I learned, several weeks later, that such a phenomenon as I was witnessing had only twice before been recorded. And so, curiosity duly whetted, I thereby determined to dig further.
The cloud that had so fascinated me, that of a cumulo-stratus structuring, was unnaturally low, weighted down by the pressure of the greater and far more extensive 'front.' Entirely more conventional, this otherwise typical weather front was characteristically and decidedly blue-black in appearance, almost bruised. It was this entirely familiar 'belt' that had so perfectly captured the light. But, as I am here endeavouring to establish, 'twas the lower roll of cloud that had taken on a spectacular, an almost biblical or otherwise magical appearance!
The rising sun had so precisely positioned itself that the roll had temporarily assumed a buttery golden appearance, quite 'solid' and glistening so as to appear to be literally generating its own peculiar light. I doubt that the roll had been more than 300 feet in height, yet so low at the underside of the curve of its face that one could almost have reached up and brushed one's fingers against the polished surface, that is if one had been standing upon one of the few tethered boats in the immediate estuary. The roll of cloud was actually a tad more elevated than this, slightly fewer than 100 feet above the waters. It extended as far to the sides in either direction as the eye could see, or at least as far as mine were able to determine. All of this of itself was wondrous enough to quite simply demand one's attention, yet there was something even more otherworldly about this image. Upon its flawless, peculiarly-glistening surface, there above the mirroring estuary, I saw, in such immaculate and astounding detail, my own projected shadow. There was time to wave and to test the image, and 'twas definitely mine, of me and of my old telescope. At first this curious shadow had delighted me, yet as the roll moved ever closer, and the image resolved itself into ever crisper focus, I could not help but feel a certain chill creeping into my bones. I know not what the cause of this uncertainty was, suffice to write that I was somewhat relieved when the roll grew so close as to seem to suddenly rise up and over my head. Almost beyond the range of my imperfect hearing there was (I think it was) a sort of hiss, as if of sand being blown across a beach, or maybe it was more of a deep rumble, the type that may register more in the pit of one's stomach than in one's ears, rather more felt or sensed than heard- I longed to thrust my outstretched palm into the mass, but it was just too far above my head- either way, throughout the whole experience, the curious roll seemed to retain the mass or consistency of a solid shape, that of a golden cylinder, one that was, it seemed, entirely capable of uniquely generating something approximating sound. I searched up and down the clifftops, hoping for another soul with whom to compare 'notes,' but the scene was otherwise unpopulated, and soon to be replaced by, and immersed in, a thick and drenching fog that made driving home decidedly unpleasant, extremely hazardous for the first mile or two. This, before the rain proper set in for the remainder of the morning and the better part of the afternoon. I was later to learn that this magical light phenomenon had been 'once' before recorded in Victorian times. On this other occasion the accompanying cloud mass had proven fatal, consisting significantly of pea-souper-smog industrial-particles. That bitter veil had lain heavily upon the landscape and, before it had lifted or rather blown out, it had claimed over thee-hundred lives, almost exclusively from pulmonary complications. Of course, such a smog- rather greyer, considerably less golden- in Victorian Britain had been a frequent and an all-too-natural consequence of industrial pollution- albeit rather less prevalent upon Norfolk's rural coastline- yet, so significant was the death-toll on this occasion that it was briefly rumoured that the Black Death of the Middle Ages might have again returned to plague our shores. More pertinent to my consequent research, the curious additional phenomenon of the strange golden light had also been detailed, and this was down, almost entirely, to the curiosity of one minor meteorological student, by the name of Delaney Kingston. Had the young man been rather more caucasian, rather less Asian, I feel certain that this valuable historical record would have been afforded far greater attention. What young Delaney, a fortunate survivor of the culling Victorian smog, had also gone on to unearth was that of one further significant prior instance of such a golden-light phenomenon, it's occurrence having also been an almost overlooked aside of book margin 'insignificance,' referring back a further millennium to the days of Viking raids upon our shores, way back in the late eighth century. The 'pencilled' note to which Delaney Kingston alluded in his writings has, I am led to believe, long since been misplaced, but Delaney's consequent writings not only help to enlighten us regarding the instance but also manage to considerably flesh out the curious meteorological details. In his short essay, Delaney manages to draw together such diverse cross-references as the Brothers Grimm together with that of early Norse Mythology. "Mirror mirror on the 'wall,' who in this land is fairest of all?" is an oft misquoted line from Snow White (Brothers Grimm, published in 1812). The precise wording of the original is now irretrievably buried in the mists of time, but what we do know is that the Grimm line was in turn lifted from an earlier Norse text. Further, we can be fairly certain that the now (Disney) corrupted line was gleaned from a longer Norse 'plea bargain,' a plea culminating in a worshipful prayer to the Goddess Hel herself. "There are none more magnificent, nor more munificent than yourself, Omniscient Hel!" or some such desperately grovelling attempt to evade The Goddess's wrath, we learn, was to be a beseeching conclusion, cried into the face of the onrushing storm. The absolute terror in finding oneself teetering at the very edge of mortal existence- the ultimate abyss- was said to have been enough to have brought about an immediate termination to (all) mortal life. But, presumably a literate handful at least survived long enough to recount the tale. It almost goes without the need to remind ourselves that in the eighth century man-created-pollution would have been almost nonexistent, deforestation would have been as of nothing, and that the reclamation of marshy landscape would have been far beyond the wit of humankind. Consequently, the marsh mists rolling in from Western Scandinavia would have been, at various times of the year, an almost daily occurrence, perhaps through unique and once-in-a-generation-juxtapositioning- to be sun-gilded, as on my autumn morn, from the east. Quite how many occurrences there were, of that imperfect timing, whereby one's own image could be captured upon the golden wave, we can only speculate, except to note that glimpses into the very mouth of Hell would surely not have been a daily occurrence, otherwise those clever Vikings would surely have started to ask a few more questions. Any consequent death toll would have been down entirely to heart-failure- quite literally scared to death! Imagine, if you will, that desperate Viking, standing at the face of the blinding light, believed to be the literal rolling back of the edge of The Earth, Hell's golden underbelly momentarily exposed to all of those about to be crushed into nothingness under it's mighty bulk, or else cast into the void. The poor desperate soul might actually have thought that he or she could actually see their own perfect reflection- every flawed and impure thought and action captured therein- staring back at him or her from the polished underside of The Earth. "Omniscient Mirror of Hel, might my people not be pure enough of soul, spirit and deed to this once be considered worthy of salvation?" The moment of reckoning had surely arrived! Truly Hel was one spoilt brat, more than fully prepared, as are many of today's fictitious Gods and Goddesses, to gather up both bat and ball and to thoroughly spoil the game for everybody else concerned.
"Preparing to avoid conflagration, it is more the offcuts than the bespoke suits with which we need be concerned." This, or something very like it, has no doubt oft been muttered in the upper echelons of 'our' society. It's the sort of thing that Jacob Rees Mogg might have tossed into the arena, before sitting back and looking rather pleased with himself. But clearly it's also the sort of utterance that has been repeatedly ignored, in the ever downward drive to prepare 'our' future society for the 'better' times yet to come. More truthfully, 'it'- the presumed utterance- has been selectively ignored, selectively actioned. I think 'it' was ignored, in the sense that the working peoples, to whom it was of greatest concern, were proven repeatedly not to matter. 'It' was acted upon in the wider sense, that all manner of precautions were put into place to ensure that each and every dissenting voice was to be nullified. In an oppressive machine such as our state it is an academic exercise of epic proportion simply attempting to establish quite which is 'dissenting voice' and which 'silencer.'
When, in one of the wealthiest boroughs upon the planet, Grenfell Tower lit up the Kensington skyline, the consequent sound of shuffling was momentarily so very prevalent that it almost drowned out the words of the BBC etal, reporting the latest disaster to befall the nation. The 'shuffling' was, of course, society's 'top cards' manoeuvring to be as far as possible away from the accusing finger which was already hungrily searching out blame, far enough from the dying embers that they might not themselves combust. The peculiar shuffling sound, was entirely like that to be heard when the late and hated Jimmy Savile was found to be the nation's most prevalent sexual predator. I write "found'" but what I really mean is , 'when this information was released to the wider public.' Because, it was alreadyknown to so much of 'our' 'upper,' and lower, society. Right to the very top, we can safely surmise! In the flavour of this reporting we have almost the very essence of our problem. We might refer to it as a form of assimilation. As the cooling flakes of Reynobond plastic 'fuel' were still settling into the dust, so the panic had already set in, perhaps even upsetting more than one or two rather extravagant dinners along the way. We have long since surpassed the point where targeted austerity had created far more offcuts than was humanly acceptable. Yet, in a climate of continued and targeted slashing the theme is still being far too eagerly embraced. Whether it is because the likes of Mr Murdoch and Mr Dacre, Messrs Rothermere, Desmond, Hall and the well-appointed Barclay Brothers have decreed that it shall be so, whether it is simply the Brexiters hoping to shore up the self-inflicted damage, whether it is born out of hatred for the public establishment, or perhaps it is just lazy habit, we can only speculate. Lily Allen spoke well upon the issue. She spoke of the Conservative-Liberal Coalition's decision to slash away at the fire and rescue services, lopping off a massive 30% of the nation's means to guard against just such an eventuality as has just happened. Three fire stations in the region of Grenfell Tower were duly closed. Nationally, one in six firefighters have 'disappeared! Boris Johnson was later recorded, telling Andrew Dinsmore, a Labour Assembly member to "Get stuffed!," for daring to question the decision.
Specifically about the fire and the tragic death toll, Lily Allen said that the government were, "micromanaging people's grieving." Lord alone knows that they have enough clout with the Main Stream Media to do so. Lily went on to accuse the media of misreporting the incident, the "death toll has been downplayed by the media!" she insisted. "I feel like the government are trying to micromanage people's grieving here... I've never in my entire life seen an event like this , where the death count has been downplayed by the mainstream media. 17? I'm sorry, but I'm hearing from people that the figure is much closer to 150, and that many of those people are children," were her angry words. In consequence her scheduled appearance upon Newsnight was duly cut. A BBC spokesperson 'clarified' that the two were unrelated. The bod went on to fabricate that, this was in order to allow Kirsty Wark to conduct a thorough accountability interview. Another, or quite possibly the same bod 'explained' that "With live news programmes like Newsnight final decisions on guests are often made late in the day, which can mean that the lineup changes at short notice." The statement was, quite naturally, entirely unnecessary, as the nation- that thinking part of it, anyway- had already deduced the BBC's truer reasoning. Effectively, there are now two fires from which we should draw our conclusions. One has been doused, its numerous casualties yet to be unearthed and identified, some perhaps never to be afforded even this final dignity. The other, and second conflagration, is currently still raging in the 'important' corridors of our 'betters' and 'our' decision-makers. And, as Lily has made clear, the establishment are attempting to micromanage the crisis until the flames (of anger) have considerably died down. Lily also recounted the earlier instance of Seventy-two Tory Landlords in The Commons, voting down a law requiring landlords to make their homes fit for human habitation. Elsewhere upon the continent, the terrifying forest fires raging in Pedrogao Grande in Portugal are yet another scream into the smug face of (the likes of) Boris Johnson, that one cannot safely allocate safety and rescue services in line with the proposed corner-cutting balances of the wilfully indifferent. When we are searching for a presence at which to point the accusing finger of blame, we will need quite a sizeable hand, perhaps a wave of hands? Or a stab of forefingers? I think there is not yet a suitably accusatory collective noun.
It transpires, and relatively quickly it has done so, that the cladding, as supplied by Harley Facades- boss, Rob Bailey- was already banned in the U.S. and worse, that there was a more fire-resistant alternative, but that this was a slightly more expensive variant, at £2 per square metre. The decision as to which to use was, we can be in no doubt, taken entirely upon 'efficiency' grounds. It transpires that the gas pipes, running up the central stairwells and common areas were not even boxed in with fire-retardant cladding. More 'efficiency? It transpires that there had been no fitting of sprinkler units to the interior of the building. Efficiency? It transpires that even if there were supposed to be working fire alarms that these had not been tested and were effectively, and in the panic, almost silent. Efficiency! It transpires that time to be devoted to an effective escape strategy was still being bumped ever further into the never-distance. Efficiency! Now, we should be in no doubt that somebody signed off on all of this, several somebodies have repeatedly signed off on this! There are, even as we contemplate the scale of this and the next disaster to befall the nation, people preparing themselves to sign off on similar undercutting in almost identical buildings. In order to counter this we are going to need, perhaps, a great many fingers of blame and accusation. How far up the tree will they be able to prod? How far back in time will the fingers be prepared to travel? Is it just me, or does this not seem to be an easy route to plot? Mrs May slinked to the scene and away, under armed guard, before angry residents were even aware of of the proximity of her toxic insincerity. Jeremy Corbyn was able to walk freely amongst the gathered crowds. It is to be hoped that he and his cabinet will be able to glean some small comfort and clarity for the affected families. Mrs May, we know, already 'knew' the scene, although not perhaps the immediate devastation, because she and her type have been driving this divided nation agenda for decades. Of course she had nothing to say to the bereaved, what could she possibly have to say, "You are the unfortunate yet acceptable consequence of my government's and of successive government's deliberately implemented policies."? As, every time that we tune in to the news, we see the burned out tomb that is Grenfell Tower, I wonder if perhaps this charred monument to failing British values might not somehow be preserved- carefully relocated to haunt the culpable- as a constant reminder of the contempt in which ordinary people were held in 2017? Can we not incorporate Grenfell Tower into the refurbishments currently underway at Westminster? Meanwhile, what about those who made it out of the tower, before it was consumed? Where will they reside? Can we not requisition those investment properties in the borough that have lain empty for the past year? How is Westminster Palace geared up for emergency accommodation? I have been reading in the Guardian, "Why does it take a tragedy for ministers to put lives above money?" Andrew Rawnsley, fighting for the light of publicity, wrote, "Grenfell Tower's residents were failed long before fire broke out." And, it makes me weep! In answer to the former, I would have to respond that the question is based upon a false premise; beyond this it does not even warrant an answer. The same sort of empty platitudes had been offered after Savile, after Hillsborough, after all manner of past tragedies and will be again after all manner of future tragedies. The question is an insult to the residents, many of whom know- in a sense already knew- that money is still held in far higher esteem than all of the deceased, all deceasedinall such instances. Of the plans that are already in place, we can be certain that, in this regard, they are set for 'no change!' My response to the second article amounted to something approximating, "Pah! Well thanks, Andrew." Are 'we' here driving a call for change? Or are 'we' already, and so seamlessly, so very deep in the process of assimilation? I think and I fear more of the latter. Should we be at leisure to revisit this tragedy, in say a year's time, I am certain that these thoughts will have been vindicated. Lessons will not be learned! And, finger pointing is not rude, it is absolutely essential, but it desperately needs to be accompanied by some very serious high-calibre clout! Martin Moore-Bick has been refused the appropriate arms license and will be conducting his public 'inquiry' equipped with only blanks. Is the speed of the assimilation not absolutely breathtaking?
Boundaries will always appear so much less significant if one views them through the wrong end of the telescope.
My father's generation did something quite shameful, they 'collectively' raided a larder which wasn't truthfully their's to raid, that invested for future generations. We watched them doing this, and we duly processed the 'information.' But, in attempting to come to terms with what we were witnessing, we applied the wrong filters. And, in so doing, we are now in the process of seriously compounding the error.
In truth the collective intergenerational-we were lazier than this. What the intergenerational-we did- and what the intergenerational-we are continuing to do- is the intergenerational-we allowed 'somebody else' to apply those filters. In effect, we allowed 'somebody else' to buy, to restructure, and then to apply those filters in our stead. We allowed those with money to tell us what to think and then what to do, and then we collectively did it... or rather we collectively abdicated responsibility and thus we collectively abdicated control.
Democracy was born. Democracy was bought. Democracy was 'remodelled.' And democracy died!
My mother stayed at home and raised the family. I realise that not all UK mothers did this- in our neighbourhood working mums were, applying different filters, quietly looked down upon- but staying at home and raising a family was sold to us as aspirational. Less than two whole generations later we reside in a society where earlier and earlier aged schooling is being deployed as a means to drive young mothers prematurely back into the marketplace.
I am not here advocating an iron fist approach to the issue, I am merely wishing to draw attention to the iron fist approach to the issue. That is to contend that the UK's drive to push ever-younger children into our (incidentally seriously underfunded) schools is a thinly veiled drive to provide cheap child-minding. The issue of today's families not being able to survive on one income is, quite naturally, a different yet irrevocably interwoven issue.
If we look at the Scandinavian approach to education- the term 'education' here being used more appropriately- we find that children start schooling two years later than those in the UK. A 2006 Unicef Report on children's wellbeing rated Denmark's children third and those in the UK bottom. Further to the issue of Scandinavian children starting their formal education two years later than British children, within two years of having commenced their education those in Scandinavian schools will have already caught-up and be (averaging) well ahead, and far more roundly educated, than their UK counterparts.
In the UK we are both divisive and 'we' are dishonest about education. And, in so doing and care of those aforementioned filters, we are collectively abdicating our responsibilities towards the next generation. Taught in underfunded schools by often-unqualified staff, herded through ever-narrowing SATs hoops, before being saddled with debt via 'our' cha-ching university system. Now, off to the housing treadmill you must go! Enact that neoliberal dream, if you please!
This is not in any way to knock any of those invariably-overworked and under-appreciated staff in our schools and universities; it is instead an objective observation of the filters being applied, when we are 'invited,' as we so often are, to judge them.
During my childhood teachers and many other public sector workers were appreciated, often admired, and certain professionals were frequently held in high esteem. Through today's tabloidesque filters the next generation of the same are being systematically undermined, often vilified, and continually scapegoated as ripe for yet further government cuts. They are also thus an ever-downward-pressure being applied to wages in the jobs' market.
During the 'bad' old days of the 70s, when the 'bad' old trade unions were holding the country to ransom, and the 'bad' old councils sheltered the 'shirking' classes in subsidised homes-for-life, and the UK was the 'sick' man of Europe, many mums did stay at home and raise children, who in turn were likely to get jobs, which in turn were likely to afford rents or potential mortgages consistently based upon three-times one's salary. In the 'bad' old days pensions were aspirational, as was the prospect of owning a single home, as was job-security. In the 'bad' old days different filters were applied. Although, even then, the manufacture of a more opaque version was already covertly underway.
Late on in the 'bad' old 1970's a security lock was effectively jemmied open and the infamous larder raiding did thus begin. History records what was sold off: the supply of gas, the supply of electricity, the supply of water, council housing stocks, the railways, the list is a long and indeed a shameful one. The filters at the time, rose-tinted or otherwise, obscured the raiding. As we came to terms with life's suddenly rosier hue we were reminded time and again that we really ought to climb on board this particular gravy train.
Since those heady, gravy days, the train has slowed somewhat- undoubtedly some cost-cutting corner, care of Virgin Trains- and now the stops are more infrequent, even fragmented. In order to sell off the Post Office there was the necessary rebranding, the identification of the most valuable assets and thus the drive of the less-valuable into crisis. I doubt many younger adults will recall that the Post Office was once massive, with an umbrella that incorporated telecommunications. In truth 'twas slightly lumbering, but the sharks were very quick to strip off the meatier chunks, and the 'free press' were there again to supply those rosy goggles. Sledgehammer and nut? Currently the remaining Post Offices are still under fire, simply because they offer something that the sharks cannot- local and safe storage of undelivered parcels- once gone, don't hold your breath!
Of greater alarm by far- the (Sir Robert) Naylor Report will confirm- our NHS is currently being subjected to much the same sort of treatment.
Yet another area of our society that is frequently being subjected to filtering is policing. So very many different filters have been employed in order to 'appraise' the UK's police forces that it has almost been like a game of musical glasses. Those Tories keep reminding us of the money being spent and, importantly, that crime is going down. But, how can this be? Create enough substrata in any society and a rise in crime becomes inevitable, I'd have thought. There's the 'just about managing stratum'- even Mrs May occasionally refers to these people- and there's the 'not even remotely coping and relying on food banks stratum.' It's the ballooning of the second stratum that has prompted Mrs May to so frequently refer to the former- another filter surely- and we can rely on the Main Stream Media to polish it up and to make it sparkle. If any stratum is permitted to sink low enough isn't it inevitable that different 'laws,' or a lack thereof, might apply at vastly different 'depths?'
Of course, crime statistics are not as clear as our lords and masters would have us believe; many of the figures, such as they are, are easily disputed. And, there's always the manner in which the figures are compiled to be refuted. And crimes that aren't reported at all? Well, what can we do? With the best will in the world- never a given- it is surely impossible to compile figures that effectively do not even exist? Although, we might deign to speculate as to quite why these figures do not currently appear to exist.
In order to do just that, to speculate as to why they do not exist, I am going to cite a specific crime. A young man that I know recently had his flat broken into. He lost quite a deal of stuff; from experience I know that the event hit him hard, harder because he feels reasonably confident that he knows who the perpetrators are- his neighbours are inclined to concur. The police themselves may have more than an inkling, observing as they are inclined to do from ever further afield.
Will he report the crime to the 'local' police, make it official? He knows that they have nether the staff nor the resources to properly investigate; in truth, they'd given up on this before I was burgled in the early 90s. There are far too many nefarious and more urgent 'issues' to worry about. The roads also are barely policed anymore, although serious accidents are still measured and recorded for insurance purposes, I believe, before effectively being hosed on to the verges. If he reports the crime he will get a crime number, which will enable him to claim on his insurance. But, of course, he has no insurance, because he cannot afford it. So, knowing that the crime will not be investigated, will he bother? Perhaps he will pursue the absentee landlord through the courts, because the man has not bothered to secure a frequently reported faulty lock at the side of the building. I jest.
The landlordly classes also require their own specific filtering process, my God how they 'require' it! It's a wonder that we can see at all. And, of course, in a very real sense, we cannot!
Crime figures are down, we are reminded. But, which crime figures would they be?
Amongst the strata there is also the 'coping-wonderfully-well-and-don't-really-care-about-other-layers' stratum. And here, please permit me to take a sizeable sideways step, into the field and wider concept of creature reintroductions. I refer, of course, to the idea that we might reintroduce a species to again live amongst our avifauna, one which has already once been extirpated from our shores.
Quite why we would wish to do this, upon an island where even many of the smaller and more manageable species that are left are fast declining, could be regarded as something of a mystery. The 'controversial reintroduction of the European Beaver, the proposed reintroduction of the Wolf, the European Lynx? Rewilding, I believe the 'conservationist' are excitedly calling the process.
As a conservation-minded soul myself, the idea of encountering a wild European Lynx or a Wolf quite thrills me. I know, from experience, just how much adrenalin such an encounter may swiftly generate, that curious balance between fear for one's immediate wellbeing and unbridled delight at having come so very close to one of nature's finest. But why, when we cannot conserve the likes of the Skylark, the Linnet, the Bullfinch the Tree Sparrow, the Yellow Wagtail, cannot even conserve the UK's major breeding woodland for Nightingales, would we consider reintroducing a showboat species like the Wolf, when the last UK record was shot some three hundred years previously?
The clue, I believe, lies within the previous sentence, primarily within the terms "showboat species" and, more specifically, within the word, "shot!" I would go so far as to suspect that this is one 'conservation' effort with which even the likes of Mr Angry-Gun-Wielding Botham might yet agree. By all means let us reintroduce the Wolf and the Lynx, but let's also bother with the smaller stuff shall we, the creatures which don't seem to count for much when the 'developers' move in. Oh, and if we're going to go to all the expense and bother of reintroducing a past species let's ensure that it doesn't end up as target practice for some depleted dentist half-a-generation down the line.
Two generations on from the 'bad' old 70s, we live in a very different world. One where one's clothing accessories and shiny white teeth, aid of the MSM-applied filters, may easily hold more sway than any form of compassion or sense of community. In today's what-passes-for-society the best that we might perhaps hope of ourselves, on the social scale, is that we are that little bit less of a hypocrite than is our 'neighbour.'
"I count myself jolly lucky to have got on board with the sell off of Anglian Water but, my God, isn't it awful that those bloody Virgin train fares are going up yet again?" "Have you seen my water rates? Way things are going I might have to sell off a couple of those council homes I snaffled with last year's annual bonus." "Tried your hand at the stocks and shares game? Found this tidy little app..."
Truth is that, of all those who play the game, all of those who manage to convince themselves that they're actually beating the stocks and shares odds, almost nobody- small fry that is- wins. Even the mass automated systems which are meticulously programmed to compute thousands of volatile figures each second, against which one must successfully compete, even they will not always turn in a profit. But, just Google, "play the stock market" and you'll be bombarded with sites that'll promise you the Earth. They'll find ways of dressing up the losses, tossing you another depleted bone, find as many ways to keep you playing as you'll find ways of losing. The House always wins! Even the old cynic- that would be 'me'- was surprised to learn that, of those players who consider themselves 'winners,' less than 2% manage to beat the system- and that's amongst individuals who, aid of some smart language and the right filters, consider themselves to be amongst the canny winners. Invite the plebs to gamble their money in a marketplace that has become increasingly, often legally, questionable and it somehow legitimises the practise. We must insist on safety goggles, please everyone!
So, life is rather like an elastic band, isn't it? We lay it out and we place everybody on the line, from the richest to the poorest and then we flesh it out with details like 'affordable holidays,' a 'new car,' a 'mortgage,' or maybe just simple things like a 'meal on the table,' a 'loaf of bread,' 'tea-bags,' 'pay the rent,' 'afford the new train season ticket.' And then we find 'the' most important detail, where to stick the 'I'm surviving' dot. Then we do exactly what consecutive governments have been doing for a generation, we stretch that band!
Now, are you to the right or the left of that all important dot that's just got so much further away? Don't get too cocky, terms and conditions do apply, the management reserves the right to move any dot, as is arbitrarily deemed to be in the greater interests of...
Is it just me, or did everything suddenly get so much brighter?
When I lived that little bit closer to Norfolk's delightful coast, trundling off to the edge of the ocean was something that I fairly regularly managed to achieve. Now that the city of Norwich is my starting point the sea seems oh, so much further away.
Of course, it is, sort of. But the 'oh, so much further' is really far more of a subjective call than it is one of relative distance. Were I to set out determinedly, upon any of the various and more direct routes, I am reasonably sure that I would quite soon make up the difference. The thing is, however, that, for me, the journeying now is every bit as worthy as is the destination. And yet, having now written this, I am again reminded that I do still yearn longingly for that wild and evocative coastline whilst I am relentlessly turning those pedals.
So, the dilemma? To cycle enjoyably along those quiet country back lanes, or to suffer the occasional impatience of some of our larger vehicles, vehicles with loads to unload and targets to meet, that I might once again reconnect to that wonderful untamed ocean? This 'dilemma,' quite naturally becomes ever more so as age gradually and determinedly replaces relative youth. That is to write that one's ability to avoid or otherwise ameliorate any of cycling's potential and multifarious mishaps also becomes increasingly compromised, as previously sharp reactions are cruelly usurped by something approaching torpor.
In the course of my variable meanderings I have never yet come to any serious harm, although several times I have found myself unseated. Thus, I now always endeavour to don my trusty cycling helmet before venturing forth. But, this wasn't always the case.
There was a time when I didn't even possess a cycling helmet; I used to love the feel of the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and the merest thought of encasing my fragile skull in a helmet would never have occurred. Events have moved on apace since those more hedonistic days. I can all too vividly recall an incident, not so very long ago when I found myself upended within a shallow ditch. The event wasn't so very memorable as of itself, except in the exiting of the aforementioned ditch.
I remember thinking, "Who is this?" as I struggled to align memories of a more agile younger self with those of a entirely more decrepit older shell. At the time I had been wearing a helmet; it wasn't this mishap that had brought me to my senses, that had happened a couple of years previously. And it wasn't so much any specific sort of a mishap either. It was rather more an imagined pinnacle, a gradual dawning of sanity- it had anyway taken far too long for me to come to my senses. Maybe this 'incident' had merely been that final 'nagging drip.'
As I recall I was somewhere approaching Warham Camp, although I don't believe that this had been my ultimate destination. I believe that I was returning from somewhere further to the west, and was attempting to rejuvenate tired legs by standing upon the pedals, such that this might stretch my aching calves. I remember slipping and losing control, as a left toe dug itself determinedly into the road's surface- fortunately this act of stupidity was not observed by others- and I recall hitting the grassy verge and being thrown over the handlebars and onto the raised bank.
Even then, immediately after the impact, I knew that the bike was okay; in need of a bit of realignment maybe, but otherwise fine. But, when I attempted to sit up it became clear that I had thumped my head against a softer part of the bank. There had been other and less forgiving features with which I might have collided, but my point of impact had been a relatively soft and well-covered grassy mound. Even so I found the immediate act of sitting up to be unattainable. So, I opted instead for a moment of quieter contemplation. I simply laid where I had fallen, using the aforementioned mound as some sort of temporary pillow. The day had been one of generous allocations of sunshine and the grass was longish and, at the site of my landing, free from thistles or other more troublesome plant-life. A short while later- as thoughts of remounting gradually began to usurp those of taking a short nap- it was more the idea of troubling any passing motorist that eventually brought me again to upright.
I hadn't then noticed the fact that the impact had also severed a small bag from just under the rear of the saddle. This I found several days later, still lying in the grass, but shredded by whichever mechanical grass cutter had since mowed the verge. I observed also several of the now exposed and alternative landing sites, many of them entirely less forgiving. When I had mentioned the mishap to my partner she (more or less) insisted upon the wearing of a helmet, a 'request' with which I have always since complied.
But 'to wear or not to wear?' although seemingly clear cut, is not quite so secure in its apparent guise as it might at first seem. There are other factors to be considered, factors other than those of the blindingly obvious.
'Other factors' might necessarily include the most obvious one of the un-helmetted' cyclist being more attuned to the potential pitfalls of the road. Another consideration might therefore be that the motorist- the motorist, not all motorists- actually tends to consider the un-helmetted cyclist as more fragile and will act accordingly. Pertinent to the second consideration, the passing distances of other vehicles has actually been measured; I think that the increased margin is somewhere in the region of six to seven inches.
There is the fact, assuming the skull is not otherwise compromised in any mishap, that the resultant neck injuries may be worsened by the subtly altered contours of the head, shoulders and neck. There is the fact that the tiny restrictions of the straps of the helmet interfere, albeit very minimally, with one's finer attunments with the immediate environment. The issues are seldom quite as conveniently simple as we might wish them to be, or indeed 'as they are often sold.' Most of us can muddle by with this state of affairs.
But I cannot yet fathom the curious decision that some riders choose to make, that of riding unhelmetted whilst a child rides along, helmeted or otherwise, cautiously ahead of the assumed parent. Were we living in less confrontational times one might deign to ask the adult 'quite what is the plan here?' And, I would imagine, always assuming that abuse is not forthcoming, that the answer would be something based upon considerations pertinent to the aforementioned points. Maybe something along the lines that 'the adult' is going to be more finely attuned to the potential hazards of the road. Still, it does not fill me with confidence, to see such an arrangement. I might tally, that surely the adult's finer tunings are going to have been compromised through the distractions of thinking also on the part of the child.
Drivers, some of them, can be fairly impatient, often more so if they are not also cyclists. If would additionally be fair to observe that even the sparsely trafficked roads are becoming ever more compromised, as some of the more rabid effects of targeted austerity bite deeply into the nation's tarmac.
I don't know if this makes me appear more chauvinistic- I'm sure that age is also at play here- but I have found myself evermore anguished at the sight of younger female riders, more so those with the longer, flowing locks, who float along the busier roads. But then, it may even be the case that the flowing tresses act as signpost to the vulnerability of the rider? They're certainly signposting this argued 'fact' to me.
The weather has finally tipped that point where I can feel that winter might never relinquish its determined hold upon the temperatures. I have even managed to dust down my own bike and to again work those pedals, although as yet to minimal effect. But this is just the most recent in a wavering line of sprummers (spring and summer, but should really also include autumn, so maybe sprumtumns) and my mind has been persuaded through the accumulated hard miles, impatient trucks, and confrontation; this year I will be wearing the helmet, and yet again opting for the scenic over the efficient. Still this will not, I think, be able to prevent me from becoming increasingly distracted from my own journeying at the choices that others may have elected to take.
And so, for this one-more-season, I shall settle for being able to cycle enjoyably along those quieter country lanes, preferring not to suffer the impatience of some of our larger vehicles. Those deepening potholes might yet have their 'say'...
I've long had issues with capillaries, especially those that are located within my fingers. Often when it's cold I have found myself fast losing the sensation in my hands; this much I would imagine is not uncommon. My affliction- I've been 'reliably' informed that this is known as Raynaud's Syndrome- sometimes now affects me when I've forgotten to eat, or when I have worked for an overly long time at some task or other, even when the surrounding environment is otherwise quite benign.
On such occasions I have found, upon returning home, that for an age I am unable to properly manipulate the requisite number of fingers. This lack of feeling may steadfastly refuse to relinquish its hold for as long as an hour, and this when I am languishing within a suitably heated environment. Maybe this trait is simply another manifestation of a sugar-low or some such thing. It would be fair also to write that, during those more pronounced bouts, there has sometimes been an accompanying feeling of otherworldliness not unlike being unexpectedly drunk. I think that age is not without some blame here.
Today the creeping numbness was again present as I set about attempting to record an entirely different set of capillaries, those belonging to the fair city of Norwich. These particular microbial pathways being the cuts and alleyways that creep so stealthily between the more purposeful structures of the greater conurbation.
And, not unlike so much mycelium, these almost subliminal afterthoughts often appear seemingly invisible to the significant majority of the city's human inhabitants. If not literally 'invisible' then effectively inconsequential, there more by mistake or inconvenience than by any specific product of design or forethought.
As I wandered through a city to which I have, over the years, become increasingly attached I was given to ponder the creeping corporate blandness of certain quarters, the absence of those smaller and more delicious gems that have been slowly esponged from the more fondly frequented areas, the corner shops, the 'unchained' establishments. The 'noise' of commercial busy-ness has often found me withering into the cracks, my mind otherwise elsewhere; it has invariably been the more unique pieces of the larger jig-saw within which I have sought solace.
That is not to write that Norwich has been entirely subsumed by the corporate dollar. I was happy to relocate here several years ago, and that affection has far more morphed than died. Norwich remains a city that is (reportedly) proud to have retained such a wide spread of independent shops and eateries. Fair play... maybe?
Speculating upon my fascination for these tiny rivulets of essentialness (the alleyways), I found myself drawing all sorts of bizarre parallels. Quite what was it that has drawn me repeatedly into the shadows and away from the neon lures? To where the pavements lack so much of the lustre, to where the bright facades are entirely absent and, curiously, to where so many of the 'doorways' appear now without further purpose?
I considered that it was, at least in significant part, the more evidently organic aspects of such places that still reached out and drew me in. I considered that these places are not entirely unlike those rainforest glades that may have been opened to the sky through the demise of some strangler-fig targeted behemoth; the monolith no longer standing so we may now be permitted to ponder the smaller and more ethereal alternatives, thus to me the verticality of these places is also relevant. Here there lies juxtaposed an illusory gateway to freedom, yet encapsulated within the more immediate and claustrophobic embrace.
After a certain hour these places are transformed into something else, something far less reflective and decidedly more forbidding. But, when the sunlight may be permitted to dapple the sides of the 'canyon' then we may afford ourselves time to reflect upon its more organic and wondrous properties.
There are the meandering trails of barbed wire, perhaps the scattered presence of shattered glass, either glistening upon the variable or undulating ground, or else jutting threateningly from the tops of rambling walls. We can note the black-painted pipes, coated thick and treacly, that silently deposit their unmentionable cargoes deep into the earth, and branching off are the smaller tributaries, winding upwards and away from the mother-pipe. Limpeted to the 'cliff-faces' we may see the clustered air-conditioning units, perhaps awaiting the predicted catastrophic rise in sea-level. There are the frosted and dusty windows, layered as much as decades deep, cowering behind their heavy bars, and those mysterious sealed doorways into other worlds now lost, the angry or tribal graffiti, invariably hastily scrawled upon any 'suitable' canvass, weathered brickwork and broken paving slabs unlikely to have been scheduled for any sort of swift repair.
These micro-environments are, of course, littered across our fair city, either effecting a shortcut to another part of the city, or else trailing away and into an effective dead-end. Here, in this posting, I have opted to highlight the less-trained thoroughfares, many other alleyways have gradually been humanly-utilised, transformed in part into far quainter courtyards, mostly now locked safely away behind cast-iron gateways.
Our mark upon the planet at times seems so indelible that we often forget the almost ethereal briefness of our tenure. Several of our more enduring plants will have been here long before much of this urban sprawl set up its squat; it is to be hoped that some (plants) will yet linger on long enough to usher the globe through to the 'other side,' whatever that may transpire to be.
If we dare to believe it, to peer into the cracks and the more conducive corners, we may bear witness to a few of nature's more tentative scouting parties. Way up in the highest gutters already the spores and the saplings are taking root, secreted still inside the pores of the most porous the avant-garde are, at this very moment, determinedly reaching for the light. Inside one urban glade I encountered a door-shaped panel of verdant mossiness, already perhaps hinting at the alternative gateways we might yet pursue, not so much clinging on in the corners as already setting about eroding and replacing humankind's more transient obstacles.
And we were encouraged to believe that we were making such a positive fist of it all.
When I last visited a school classroom, nearing five months ago, I found the experience to be somewhat unnerving. It wasn't that I found the children difficult to relate with, or that I was uncomfortable with the subject matter being taught, or that the teaching staff were in any way hostile to my presence. No, there was something else.
Many of the staff members I already knew. I had known several of them for years, one or two of the longer-serving teachers I'd known for decades; I should by rights have felt more at ease with the surroundings. Other members of the staff that I had known had moved on, a few to new and different challenges. A healthy turnover of the ongoing workforce? Maybe so.
Over the years it has become increasingly difficult for me to relate to just how committed are most of those in the teaching profession. During previous visits to the afore-alluded-to school I had sometimes stayed on, after the staff had already undertaken a six-and-a-half hour day, simply to take on the role of a second adult during an additional hour's commitment to the cause of education. Members of staff already harbouring several hours of preparation and marking were, frequently at this juncture, preparing to voluntarily further-extend their working days.
Knowing that my day was already complete I would sometimes then opt to also enjoy the shared experience of relating to children who were, entirely through personal choice, simply soaking up knowledge and immersing themselves in the problem-solving experience that this extracurricular time had secured for them. It additionally afforded me the time to catch up with old acquaintances. Naturally the school in question received an absolutely glowing Ofsted report, naturally.
But, my most recent visit fell somewhat (and sadly) short of expectation. Although even this- the 'expectation'- had of late become increasingly tempered. And I traced that 'increased temperedness' to the arrival of the New Executive Head. I think that I had first met 'Him' in a corridor as He swept along the narrow spaces with his entourage of newly-appointed non-teaching staff. He stopped and 'smiled' in my direction and then introduced Himself. We conversed briefly before He was on his important way.
Nothing to see here, folks. He was a PR man, neat and tidy and with the requisite full and colourful pallet of newspeak-educational phrases, ready triggered to roll off the tongue like so much cheap honey, that of the very sweetest nature. I doubt He would have stood out in any of a thousand offices up and down the country. Maybe not such a surprising thing in today's crisis that has substituted for normality. It was more the manner in which the children had viewed the man that I found to be most unsettling. Those children who had clocked his presence seemed unsure, curious but not curious enough to approach or to even speak to the man. I doubt He would have noticed.
After He had glided on to his required destination I heard the nearest classroom teacher reassure the children that He was indeed the New Executive Head, although she wasn't quite so scathing. The tone was decidedly more a reverential one than one of shared outlook. There was a sense that both teacher and pupil were rather on the outside looking in, somehow excluded from something entirely more elevated, pedesterial even.
The deck had, at my last visit, been shuffled, several of the longer-serving members of staff had been ushered towards the exits. A secretary had gone, as had a caretaker, another cleaner, support staff, a teacher. After I had returned, several times under the new regime, I became curious as to why the children remained quite so remote from the man. Did He never teach, could He not find the time to address the school, via an assembly for example? I asked questions of the members of staff that I knew best, obviously not the children, that would have been most unprofessional. The answers were as revealing as they were vague.
Upon leaving the school, after my most recent visit, I pondered briefly as to why a visitor to the school (myself) should not have been questioned by the New Executive Head about additional voluntary hours worked, or maybe thanked for so doing, or perhaps even have been acknowledged as having done so. But I only pondered this conundrum very briefly, because I think I already knew the answers.
I have since learned that the New Executive Head has recently informed teaching staff that they are not being paid to sit and to drink tea, thus that the morning break for members of staff had been effectively cancelled, and that the teachers would henceforth be expected to find things to do in respective classrooms whilst the children played. I guessed that a New Executive Head wasn't the sort of busy person to notice that staff also used these times to discuss ongoing educational issues, such as curriculum and even the welfare of certain children. Truth be told, it was difficult to gauge what He may have thought, as He importantly spread his time about the various schools under his 'caring' wing, or perhaps did something else more becoming of his New Executive Head's salary. I doubt He would have made any comment upon the numerous unpaid hours worked prior to the scheduled start of the teaching day, after the scheduled end of the teaching day, or during the scheduled midday lunch break.
When I last visited the aforementioned school it had been bandaged within several hundreds of metres of chain-link fencing, the inadequate car-park had been further inadequately armed with a regiment of particularly unforgiving speed bumps, the curriculum suitably scoured of the more creative subjects, instead tweaked for tommorrow's successful linguists and mathematicians, also those of a lesser linguistic and mathematical bent and those of a linguistic and mathematical ineptitude- at least they would now be fully armed with an awareness of this ineptitude, fully.
The New Executive Head's office door- no longer set invitingly ajar- had been closed and emblazoned with something newspeak-educational-one-liner, inviting the children to go away and to solve their own crises. I think that it had read, "Don't come to me with problems, come to me with solutions." I believe that suchlike has become something of a management and 'leadership' mantra in thenewUK.com. Perhaps Philip Green had once hidden behind something very similar? The office in question was now that of a New-Executive-Head-busyness, except that it was empty, devoid of life, because the New Executive Head was non-specifically elsewhere; perhaps not quite yachting, but certainly not pulling at the oars.
The school had reeked of those newspeak educational values: Extra unacknowledged unpaid hours worked had seriously trumped work-breaks, working relationship with pupils had been well-and-truly trumped by application of relationship with government values, Ofsted had trumped humanity. Humanity's worth was in serious decline.
'Forging Ahead' or 'Forging a Head?' Very much more of the latter, I fear.