Consequences : Post 6

(Posted by Pam Br)

For the first time, the system had let me down. I’d like to say that, but if I’m completely honest, I let myself down.

I’d had my life planned out since the age of 12. There was never any question – I was going to university and I was getting a degree and I was going to have a career. I though it would all just happen naturally, without any effort from me. First mistake.

I did alright in high school. I should have done much better, but I was lazy and didn’t study. I left with 6 qualifications, 2 A’s and 4 B’s. Enough to get into my chosen degree course anyway.

Second mistake was not getting a summer job. I was so sheltered from the big, bad world. Living in the suburbs and having reasonably affluent parents, I didn’t have a clue about the value of money or having to budget.

I’d chosen a joint degree course in geology and archaeology (well, you can’t say I wasn’t ambitious !). I don’t remember ever getting to grips with either subject. I wasn’t prepared for the transfer from teaching to lecturing. I was used to getting attention and help whenever I needed it and you just couldn’t do that. I stopped attending lectures and spent all my time in the student union or in gay bars with poorly chosen “friends”. My parents were in the process of separating, so they never asked me how I was getting on. It was too easy to have a good time. I hadn’t had many friends in school and I had been bullied, so I latched onto the first people who were nice to me. Third mistake. The fourth mistake came as a result of the third – getting a student loan. If you had friends you had a social life and that costs money. I spent maybe £100 on books for the first term and the other £3200 was blown. I was out every single night, burying my head in the sand and convincing myself that if I could just keep laughing nothing else mattered.

Halfway through the last term I realised that there was no way on this green earth (or any other earth for that matter) I was going to pass the exams. I didn’t fancy repeating the year and I knew there wasn’t much chance of me getting a job in that field anyway. Excuses, excuses. I spoke to my advisor and switched to accountancy for the next year. A new start. Didn’t bother with a summer job again. What’s the point when they’re throwing money at you ?

I started the next year with all good intentions. I bought my books and attended lectures religiously for 3 whole months. Then we got our first essay assignment (duh duh duh thud). I didn’t understand it at all. It might as well have been for anthropology and in Polish. I don’t know why I didn’t just ask for help. I guess I just found the whole lecturing system a bit too impersonal. Another excuse. I knew I couldn’t repeat another year so I threw in the towel and dropped out. I’ll never forget, or forgive myself for, the disappointment on my mother’s face when I told her. It would be so easy to blame it on the university system or the bad influences but I have to take responsibility. It was all because I didn’t want to ask for help.

There is a silver lining to this cautionary tale. It was around this time that I met my wonderful girlfriend. She gave me the boot up the arse I needed to get a job and, 5 years later, life’s getting back on track. There’s no motivation as strong as love.

Consequences: Post 5

(posted by Clare)

For the first time, the system had let me down.

Because it did, surely it did… didn’t it?

At some time, it must have done. Or how did I end up a revolutionary socialist, at the tender age of 16? I was angry, and chomping at the bit. I was going to save the world. Because there were wrongs everywhere I looked, and they needed righting.

What made me most angry? Nuclear weapons were the first thing I marched, shouted, jumped up and down about. That was when I was 13. Then I got riled about the unequal distribution of wealth, and the exploitation of the working class. But I’d always been a stickler for fairness. Wherever there was an underdog I’d be there, whether the quiet girl teased at primary school or the mother whose daughter (my friend) was castigating her for not ironing her uniform… “Parents are people too, you know!” was my self righteous cry.

But revolution is quite an extreme reaction. Was it feminism? Is that what did it? Was I a victim of terrible sexism? At the age of five I insisted my teddy was female (why should all bears be male?), and marched around the playground shouting “Boys are rubbish, put them in the dustbin!” I declared myself a supporter of women’s lib at the age of nine and naïvely rejoiced at the introduction of a female prime minister. But do I have any personal tales of misogynist injustice? Nope. I was the only girl studying A level maths. I felt a bit outnumbered. But nobody ever, would have dared ever tell me I couldn’t do whatever the hell I wanted to do.

I honestly can’t think of one single significant example of being let down by the system. Not personally.

But boy, I can tell you a gazillion tales of other people’s pain. The friend who was dragged into the back of a police van on a Saturday night, beaten up and then charged with assault. One of them headbutted him and broke his own glasses. My mate was charged with criminal damage.

I could go on. I won’t.

But you know what? I’ve been trying to work out why somebody would blow themselves sky high if they hadn’t grown up in a war zone. Why they would kill innocent people if they didn’t have blameless dead relatives of their own. What would make them feel THAT strongly about something…

But we do. Human beings. We’re capable of anger, passion, great good and sheer evil. And we always, every one of us, think we’re right.

What we’re not so good at is taking a step outside, and looking at things from someone else‘s point of view. We’ve all behaved badly, we’ve all hurt people. But we all feel happy to condemn when someone else is committing a crime.

There’s no question in my mind that those bombers perpetrated a hideous, heinous, evil act. But that gets me nowhere. I want to know why. I want to know who next. I want to know when. And what scares me most is not that a stranger whose mind I’ll never inhabit has done this terrible thing. The question that burns in my brain is… Could it be me? Could it be you? And whose eyes, and whose teeth will be exchanged for the eye and the tooth of last week’s victims?

The greatest atrocities in world history have been committed at the hands of ordinary men and women. Nazi soldiers and every-day Germans. Rwandan soldiers. Balkan citizens. Large numbers of people caught up in the language of hate, seeking retribution against those they consider to be their enemies. People like you and me, answering the call of “We will not be beaten” and “They can’t do this to us, because we are strong.”

In the summer of 1969, I was born.

That year Nixon gave the go-ahead to “Operation Breakfast” – the covert bombing of Cambodia, conducted without the knowledge of Congress or the American public.

On June 29th, in New York’s Greenwich Village, the police raided a gay bar and sparked the Stonewall riots.

On July 14th, Francis McCloskey (aged 67), a Catholic civilian, died one day after being hit on the head with a baton by an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during street disturbances in Dungiven, County Derry.

For the first time, the system had let me down.

Consequences: Post 4

(Posted by Rob )

“Sing it. Sing it so I can hear all the words.”

There she goes, Mrs Dodds the teacher who takes the choir. A dandelion-head of frizzy white hair appearing over the top of the upright piano, silhouetted against the windows across the classroom. Between us, lines of boys and girls standing ready to sing, some with look-how-hard-I’m-concentrating expressions, some with a kind of easy nonchalance, but all ready to hit those consonants so hard the windows will blow out. (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” won’t be released for another eleven years, but the scene where the aliens’ reply to the human musical tootling shatters all the windows will make such an impression on me that maybe it echoes backwards through time.)

“Toodle-um-a-um-a, toodle-um-a-um-a, it looks like rain….”

And where am I? I’m the new boy, standing near the back because of my height, only in the school for a few months because we’ve just moved into the village. Not totally friendless, but with those guarded friendships you get when everyone else is already formed up into groups and you’re an appendage. Fairly bright: up there in the top five or so, sometimes vying for the top spot with Julia (a nerdy type but I fancy her like mad, just knowing somehow that she’ll blossom into a real beauty) or with Paul (son of one of the teachers, very full of himself, bosses people about, the kind of blond sporty type I am already coming to be wary of). Ten years old and wanting to fit in, that’s where I am.

“Toodle-um-a-um-a, toodle-um-a-um-a, don’t mind the rain….”

At my previous school we’d done French, which I liked. At my new school they do not only French, but German and Dutch as well. It beats me how anyone manages to take in three languages on an hour a week between them, and I’m not sure how much they do take in. However, all that is pretty theoretical because no sooner has my pudgy behind hit the seat in those classes than somebody asks for volunteers to sing in the choir which will be rehearsing at this time each week. And that, said John, is that. Goodbye French, hello choir. I do choirs. I do music.

“He’ll mend your umbrella, then go on his way….”

Picture the tubby ten-year-old, a bit of a nerd with a head full of science and a worryingly good memory for trivia. Also – courtesy of Dorset-born parents – cursed with an accent which to anyone from the Manchester area is redolent of Long John Silver, of yokels with straw stuck in their mouths, of village idiots…. The accent doesn’t show though when I let rip with my boyish treble. It’s a belter of a voice in fact: not King’s College Chapel material, maybe, but decently formed, in tune, and able to get the high notes without straining or cracking. I can certainly keep my end up in the school choir, which I love. The ugly duckling becomes a skylark.

“Singing toodle-um-a-um-a-toodle-ay,
Toodle-um-a-um-a-toodle-ay,
Any um-be-rellas to fix today?”

Terrific. The notes die away. Windows still intact, but we’ve nailed it. Oh, and there goes a hand over on the far left, near the piano. It’s Paul, the abovementioned alpha male of Junior 5. Not a bad voice himself. What does he want?

“Yes Paul?”
“Please Mrs Dodds, Robert Saunders wasn’t singing.”

What?

“Sorry, Paul?”
“Robert Saunders wasn’t singing.”

Has this child gone insane? Not singing? You’d have to cram a sock in my mouth and spray me with tear gas to shut me up.

And then. And then. I can see it now, forty years later, Mrs Dodds hardly even looking at me and saying “Well, we don’t want people in the choir who don’t sing, so Robert can go back to Mr Clowes class. Go on,” because I was standing in shock , “Out you go.”

I can feel around forty pairs of eyes on me. The ones nearest me, mostly female, puzzled because they know I was singing. Paul’s, triumphant. The rest? At the age of ten, the word “Schadenfreude” is still in my future, but the concept has arrived. I put down my music, eyes pricking and throat closing up with anxiety, rage, confusion and embarrassment. I clamber out of the row of children, and leave. I close the door behind me. I let go of a few anguished sobs but I’m literally choked up, and not much comes out. Slowly up the stairs, not wanting to get to the top.

If leaving that room is bad, arriving back in the other classroom to take up French (and German) (and Dutch) halfway through the year is even worse. How do you make an entrance that takes the sting out of “Hi, I’m a failure and have just been binned from the choir for no reason I can comprehend yet”? I may have an awesome capacity for trivia, but the memory of that entrance, indeed most of my memory of that class, will vanish completely. I may eventually learn French and German (even a few words of Dutch), but not from Mr Clowes, though I assume he will try to teach me.

——————————————————–

Forty years on, it still rankles. I can only make sense of the whole incident as a set-up of some kind, whether because Paul was Mrs Dodds’ class favourite or for some other reason. Why else would his unsupported delation have led to my immediate dismissal? No chance to say anything in my defence. No asking the children round me if they had heard me singing. No “You’d better start singing or you’ll be out of this choir” even. Just “Please Mrs Dodds, Robert Saunders isn’t singing” and I’m history. Remembering the incident brings up so many negative emotions that if I wallowed in them I would begin to turn to the Dark Side. I really do want to go back through time and cut Paul in two with my blood-red light sabre. I want to gesture at Mrs Dodds and have her throat close up even more than mine did when she threw me out. “Apology accepted” I would breath metallically at her lifeless form. When I think back, it’s her role in all of this that I find most despicable and hard to understand. Paul, I assume, got rid of an unwanted rival, and fair enough, that’s what ten-year-olds do, if they’re total prats who believe the world is made for them alone. She was a teacher, and teachers are supposed to be the Guys In White Hats when you’re ten years old. For the first time, the system had let me down.

Consequences: Post 3

(Posted by PB Curtis)

“We should be proud of what makes us, us.”

“Ewes? Female sheep?”

“No, Us, upper class.”

“Your usage of us is very u; surely, you mean you, not us.”

“We beg your pardon?”

One is merely middle class, your highnesses, for which one apologises and feels humble in your presence. I’m non-u, and thus we can’t be proud of it. You wire in, though, and knock yourself out.”

Not exactly the way the conversation went, but a legitimate mimeo thereof. The discussion was class shame – I believe (no, I bet) it was Julie Burchill who said that only the middle class are ashamed of themselves – but my high-born friend seemed to be just as stamped with the Burchill imprimatur, given her call to proud arms.

I’m pro-pride, as a rule. I truly believe that if we spent more time and effort being proud of ourselves for what we do, and what we are, we’d all need less medication and fewer therapists. We’re encouraged not to, however, and the blame for this lies squarely with Evagrius of Pontus.

He is the founding father of charts of infamy with his original list of eight nasty human passions, and argued that pride was the worst of the lot. It’s classical Greek irony, this proclamation that pride is shameful. You can’t help but wonder if he didn’t hate himself just a little, because Evagrius apparently enjoyed great acclaim as a theologian, before – HA! – getting busted having it off with a Roman Prefect’s wife. Then he has the gall to blame pride for his downfall, rather than his penis. With that sort of chicanery, if he was alive today, he’d be a former Tory cabinet minister.

Anyway, I digress. I was in the middle of talking about class structure in Britain, and I go off and get hung up on Greek cock. That is always happening to me. My point was going to be that while pride is cruelly undervalued, actually being proud because Mum and Dad were upper, middle, or working class is missing the point. Fair enough to not be ashamed – which is the noble origin of “working class and proud of it” – but plain old wrong and stupid to really be proud. If only because, as Clare illuminates, there are more sterling qualities than the retarded social construct of class to be proud of. We all know that – right? – but shame remains the more enticing emotion, because it’s become perversely legitimised as humility.

Had “Shagger” Evagrius not been such a weasel, he might have made a compelling case that it’s shame that’s an offence against God, and love, and the self; the world might have been a much better place for it. Pride is a hosannah. Sing it.

Consequences: Post 2

(Posted by Clair)

The corny ones will get you every time…

My life is ruled by cliches. Every day there is a cliche that describes my life, and slowly I’ve got to come to grips with the fact that my life isn’t perfect.

There are good things that happen, and bad things. There are obstacles to overcome and hurdles to be jumped. But despite all this, life goes on.

As a race, humans are remarkably good at carrying on despite everything. We plough through and achieve despite the odds. The odds might be terrible, we may be facing war or poverty, slavery or hunger, but we have a humongous will to carry on. An innate desire to survive, despite all the odds. And I think we should be proud of this. Proud of the inner strength that drives us onward. We should be proud of what makes us, us.

Consequences: Post 1.

(posted by Mike)

Hey ho, here it comes. As the crowd cheers in delighted recognition, Dymbel and I exchange meaningful shrugs. Massive fan that he is, this one has never done much for him. As for me, I grew tired of it a long time ago. Even in the context of last Saturday in Hyde Park, where so many dull songs by lesser acts took on new, grander resonances, I remained unmoved. Now, I simply tune out and drift off.


In the cottage, late last Friday evening. K has gone to bed; I can already hear the snores from upstairs. I’m staring at the telly, pleasantly trashed, not yet ready to let the feeling end, giving free rein to the right side of my brain, letting it lead me through whatever unexpected connections it chooses to make.

Which is when it hits me.

The part of me that I hate, that causes me all the wobbles, the angst, the Self Esteem Issues…

The part that procrastinates, that under-achieves, that won’t dare to try because it’s so sure that it will fail, that’s ruled by fear, that has erected thick barbed wire barricades around the prison yard of its comfort zone…

The part that says I can’t, and I won’t, and why bother, because you can do it better than me anyway …

The part that ties itself up in Gordian knots of guilt and blame…

…it’s just a part of me. It’s not all of me. It’s not even most of me. And so I shouldn’t fall into the trap of letting it define me. Because the greater part of me is better than this.

How do I know this?

I know this because I am loved by the most wonderful man I have ever met.

And if he can see worth in me, then ipso facto, that worth must exist. Because, for all the accusatory shit that I might choose to fling at myself, two irreducible truths remain:

1. All sentimental bullshit aside (she’s the best mum in the world/they’re two little angels), he is the most wonderful man I have ever met.

2. His love for me is beyond all reasonable doubt.

Why hasn’t this occurred to me before? I am loved, ergo I am worthy of love. Accept this truism, and it could me give me some of the strength I need in the perpetual battle which I wage with my darker, weaker self. Indeed, there is no reason why I cannot use the greater part of myself to heal the…


*snap*

And you’re back in the football stadium.

Having stated and re-stated its lyrical themes, the song is now peaking, by means of an extended instrumental passage. Insistent, repeated triplets, steadily increasing in intensity, are rippling out from the stage in waves of pure, positive emotion, accentuated by wordless, staccato barks from Michael Stipe. The stage lighting is bright now – so bright that, even at this distance, I can feel something of its warmth in the cool, damp, dusky air.

In front of me, and indeed all around me, thousands of pairs of hands are stretched up high in assertive V-shapes, obliterating the view of the band, engulfing me in one shared feeling of joyful, certain release.

So, hold on, hold on. Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. Everybody hurts. You are not alone.

Ambushed by unexpected emotion. The corny ones will get you every time.

It’s going to be Consequences.

As I both expected and hoped, it’s a landslide vote in favour of Consequences (see below). That little vote was basically just a way of absolving my conscience over nicking Vaughan’s fine idea.The people made me do it! Pontius Pilate, me.

There’s still plenty of time to volunteer. I’ll get things rolling in the next couple of days.