Archive for July, 2013
So we have a Royal Baby. Nothing – not even MMR or the time Brighton signed Stephen Dobbie – has so split my twitter timeline in terms of opinion. And yet my first reaction was how quickly I could get a James Hewitt gag in. Otherwise I feel strangely ambivalent*. But why?
It certainly wouldn’t have been the reaction of my Granddad. A staunch communist and republican he would have been moaning about the amount it would cost to maintain such a huge institution the second the first photo hit the papers. Then, the following week, he’d have paid his Union membership without a hint of irony.
It probably wouldn’t have been my Dad’s reaction either. Not a communist but certainly left leaning, he too was republican the last time we discussed it. Years of living in a large wine cellar in France might have mellowed his opinion but then again maybe not. He certainly lives in an area of France where a quick “vive la republique” will still get you bought a drink.
I am less republican. Maybe it dilutes in each generation in my family. I feel no need to genuflect, hang up the bunting or write to the Mail with a eulogy on how damn wonderful “Waity Katy” really is but I feel no real anger or jealously or injustice either.
When I see comments on twitter about the baby having a life of luxury paid for by the rest of us my reaction is “yeah – and?”. After all that comment was just posted using an electronic device that cost hundreds of pounds connected to an internet system that also requires money to connect to, in a Liberal Democracy that might snoop on you quite a bit more than you suspected, but no longer hauls you off to the Tower for a quick beheading for such a thought.
The fact is that if you live in the first world, particularly the English speaking first world, then your life is a lot more like the Royal Family than it is a family who have to work all day in tropical heat to earn the dollar or so it takes to give their kids rubbish tasting food and dangerous water. Or, if there has been drought or flood no food or water at all. There are some real flaws in our society and some really vulnerable people who lead fairly miserable lives, but the majority of us sit in relative palaces talking to one another on miracle devices purely because of where and when we were born.
When my eldest was born I promised myself there were certain parent things I would never do. I wouldn’t answer the question ‘why’ with the answer ‘because I said so’. This is a rule I first broke when he was about two. When we had two we promised we wouldn’t spoil or indulge them. Clearing out our attic and the kids room ready for our house move had demonstrated to me that, while they are no Violet Elizabeth Botts, they certainly haven’t wanted for things. But I never promised myself I wouldn’t say ‘life’s not fair’ because I have always believed that life isn’t fair. And whether you choose to tackle this with charity or libertarian harshness the truth is it probably never will be.
At the end of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life there’s a song that contains a line that urges us to consider ‘how amazing and unlikely is our birth’. And once you’ve digested that mindfuck then consider how amazing and unlikely it is that you were born the child of a Business Analyst and Nurse in a suburban new build in Welwyn Garden City as opposed to the eighth child of a labourer in rural Chad or a sweeper in Bihar. You may not be living in a Palace with everything paid for you but then nobody shoves a camera up your nose if you want to pop to Tesco Extra for a late night bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
In short, I’m uncomfortable attacking privilege by accident of birth from a position of privilege by accident of birth.
But if I’m uncomfortable with attacking privilege then I also don’t understand the fascination with the Royals either. OH LOOK, THAT WOMAN JUST GAVE BIRTH TO A BABY! OH LOOK, HE’S PUTTING THE CAR SEAT IN AND DRIVING OFF JUST LIKE A NORMAL BLOKE! Let’s face it if you are reading this you have probably gone though this sort of thing yourself without so much as a round of applause. I’d be interested if she gave birth to octuplets or, say, a lizard. That might make me look up from my cup of coffee and switch from the Sports section of the paper to the front page but ‘Woman has Baby’ is not really going to hold my attention for very long.
The fascination of others is, I suspect, due to familiarity by media. I avoid the celebrity and gossip pages and the Royal stories like the plague and therefore feel I barely know them. This was certainly true with Diana’s death too. While the rest of the country sobbed in shock I went off to play cricket having barely considered it. But should you be constantly bombarded with images of Royalty there’s no doubt you will treat a birth or death like it happened to a very distant relative or the woman up the road. If this is a natural part of human nature though, thinking of the Royals as your betters, to me, is not. They just got one of the Golden Tickets in the birth lottery.
*obviously not that ambivalent or I wouldn’t have just dedicated 960 odd words to the subject. So shoot me.
I know you signed yourself “Mike” but that’s probably a bit familiar for now. I might get more comfortable with it later on in this letter but for now I think I ought to use your full title of Conservative Representative for Hove and Portslade. Just so everyone knows who you are.
Thank you so much for writing to me for my opinion, not once, but three times! It’s nice to know that in these times of necessary austerity there’s still a bit of spare cash around for headed House of Commons paper with your photo on. Do you get a prize if you use it all up?
Since you are so persistent I thought I’d do you the honour of a reply though I find the questions asked rather simple. In fact, as you are about to find out, I have more comments than could even be fitted overleaf from your simple questions. Perhaps I should have used the overleaf of all three letters I received?
So firstly. It’s nice to know you are in favour of an in / out referendum on the EU in 2017. I fear, however, you may be jumping the gun a bit, a point to which I’ll return later. I do wonder, however, given the proposed date how the good people of Portslade are supposed to make up their minds how they’d vote in it? We are, after all, talking about a totally hypothetical referendum in four years time. Crystal ball? Tea leaves? Perhaps Jeremy Hunt could shake some water in a mysterious way and we could all drink it and get super hero powers that allowed us to see in to the future?
Even if the referendum was tomorrow though there is nowhere near enough information supplied for me, or anyone else who isn’t an MP with a party whip to stick to, to decide. Perhaps you thought it was better to send a simple letter three times than an informative one once. Or perhaps – cynical I know but bear with me – the letter sent gives you the very best chance to receive or even spin the statistics you crave.
Before I could decide such a thing I’d need to seek out a lot more information. What would be the affect be on trade agreements? Would all parties explain copiously that the European Court of Human Rights was bound by the Council of Europe and not the EU? Would I need a visa to see my dad in France? How would the farce that is port and airport immigration deal with even slower lines of people they suddenly have to check more thoroughly? Should I believe UKIP when they say there will be 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians heading here to steal my job, live on benefits and be generally smelly? And is there any chance you could explain why it is that, when discussing Europe, the right reverts to protectionism and the left to defending trade?
I fear that you will actually receive very few replies. Portslade being a working class area – but more working than shirking – most of its residents will be far too busy trying to make ends meet under your austerity regime or struggling with the shortage of Junior School places and the frankly appalling local secondary school to answer hypothetical questions about something no-one understands properly. And any who suddenly find themselves living on one of Portslade’s many estates with an extra bedroom are probably saving all three of your letters to burn for heat when the winter comes round.
But, Mike (see, I said I’d get there), I think the real point is this. Democracy in this country is driven by general elections rather than referenda. As you rightly point out you don’t have a majority. It is my unending hope that come 2015, you, your hopeless Chancellor and your frankly backwards Education Secretary, not to mention Call Me Dave, will be voted back to the obscurity you enjoyed in the thirteen years leading up to 2010.
Hope this helps!
*real name used on printed copy to be posted this morning.
Lilliania-May Thompson is 36. She works in social care and reads The Guardian’s Education section. She has considered Steiner education but couldn’t afford it. Her daughter Alfafa Bean is in Year 2.
“Of course the whole thing is a scandal. I don’t even know what they’re rated for and they take no account of alternative means and methods of education. Who says playing all day isn’t conducive to developing four year olds? Or that vegetarian only school lunches don’t provide proper nutrition? These people would have them sat in rows of desks repeating their times tables by rote and getting slapped with a ruler if they dare speak out.”
Reporter: “And what is the rating of Alfafa Bean’s school?
“Well it’s outstanding. It has been since they started inspecting I believe.”
Reporter: “And how did you get her in?”
“Well I may have fiddled the council’s residency records a bit.”
Oliver Bastard is a commodity trader for a firm of Swiss Nazi brokers in the city, specializing in jackboot futures. He likes rugby, champagne and following Jeremy Clarkson on twitter. His son Timothy is in Year Two at Station Primary.
“Bloody good idea I say! Makes sure they’re learning with the right kind of chap if you catch my drift. I didn’t gazump that Web Designer for the house right next to Timmy’s outstanding school for nothing you know. Now he’ll be able to read and write properly before we send him off to spend his teenage years in buggery and cold showers. An entire education spent without having to speak to a fucking chav. I just wish they did Latin.”
Reporter: Because it’ll be useful at private school?
“No you idiot, because it makes you fucking miserable and I had to go through it.”
Sara, 29, is a teacher at a satisfactory school. Her son Sam attends the nearest school to her house which has just been rated as “good”. He’s in reception.
“To be honest we’ve had so many inspections where I work and yet I’m sure we’re marked down simply for being in the catchment area of Bernie Grant House over there (here she points to a burned out shell of a block of flats with an Uzi poking out of a top floor window, clearly visible from the Head’s Office at her employer’s, Shameless Primary). We put Sammy in to the nearest school because we don’t think the OFSTED is as important as getting him and me to school on time and having some nice local friends to play with. In any case they always mark you on something different. I’ve literally no idea what we’ll be marked on next.”
Reporter: Here’s Michael Gove’s latest proposal.
“If you want me I’ll be in the toilet weeping.”
Wendy, 34, is a Stay At Home Mum who is also a qualified accountant. Husband Simon is in IT. Their son Toby is due to start school in September.
“Well we’re right on the border between two good schools but when we looked at last year’s admissions it was touch and go whether we’d get in either. The nearest school to us is a church school and it’s outstanding but neither of us are religious and we just didn’t feel right sending him there. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get in either of the other two so now it looks like Toby will have to do a 3 mile return bus trip to Shameless Primary. It’s not ideal but at least they’ve cleared out the last of the crack dealers from Bernie Grant House.”
(noise of reporter choking)
Nigel, 37 lives next door to Wendy with his wife Mandy and their son Frank.
“Come in. Have a pew. And I do mean literally. They gave us that for the kitchen when we made up 60% of the collection for the new church roof. It’s amazing how connected I feel to the church despite only having gone for the last year. What’s that? No that isn’t a Richard Dawkins book on the shelf. Get out! OUT! I need to pray.”
Dave, 40, is “on benefits”. He likes Special Brew, Jeremy Kyle and farting. His son Tyrone is currently excluded.
“What’s an OFSTED? Whaaaaaarrrrrrp!”