South London’s annual riot

Crystal Palace, that unsung gem in South London, held another of its summer (well, that’s what they’re calling it despite the recent, prolonged drenching everywhere’s had) festivals this last weekend. And like in 2011, the beautiful little park in which it’s held and over which the kitchen window of this flat looks, was packed to the gunwales. To mark the event, the extraordinarily hard-working people from the Midlands who had upgraded the children’s playground last year, had taken that upgrading a stage further. Other things – devices? – had been installed, such as a hammock (!), extra seating for parents who  want to come and watch (or make out they’re watching) their little ones throwing themselves around. And this -

Climbing tower

Now, this is something else. It’s compulsive. It’s one of the most imaginative things for children I’ve seen in a children’s playground. It deserves a great round of applause, for it treats children as competent and intelligent, thinking human beings. There are at least four ways of getting into it (and probably more depending on your determination and the fertility of your imagination) and then reaching the top platform where the slide starts. You can be conventional and start off up the steps which are notches in the woodwork; you can arrive there by swinging yourself above the ground along a series of handles like the things you hang onto in buses and Underground trains; you can climb up a vertical wooden wall with hand and foot grips in it -

- and you can – though this is for the hardcore and I’ve seen only two children give it a serious try – haul yourself by your hands up a slim vertical pole, and by, at the same time ‘walking’ up the wall on outstretched legs. (You can also descend by this pole, if you’ve a mind for a rapid vertical descent). Then, by whatever means you’ve arrived at the top platform, you whizz down a slide which has a pretty sharp angle on it, tipping you off at the other end rather unceremoniously like a sack of potatoes. And because it’s compulsive – it’s popular.

There was a rock band, music all day. There were cookery demonstrations. In among the trees there were umpteem food stalls selling everything from fresh-cooked pizzas to spit-roast hog to vegetarian pasties to fresh oysters. There were black people, white people and every shade between. And the whole thing, just like last year, was thoroughly good-natured.

It all rolled on from eleven in the morning till just after six in the evening. At which point the end was announced and slowly, lingering only for a last jig to imagined music or a last guffaw with friends, they all gradually dispersed and left the park to the birds and the squirrels.

Multi- coloured balloons

It is very reassuring – and gets nowhere near the publicity it deserves –  that a few thousand people of all colours can actually get together for a day, thoroughly enjoy themselves, then part quietly and thoughtfully when it’s all over. And this is London – Sin City, SE19.

Toy animals on bus

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The world is insane – DKDRCBM

Down in the park below my window, it’s hot, the sun is out and after the miserable cold of the last few weeks, it really feels like summer. The trees are in full and beautiful leaf. Birds sing. People light barbecues. The smell of their cooking drifts in through the curtains. Children of all ages run around, shout, laugh, cry, push each other about, swing on the swings, whizz down the slide and generally, under the watchful and sometimes not-so-watchful eyes of their parents, have a good, child-like, timeless time. It’s very, very good to see and hear. But beware, you little people, you who will inherit this land – for on the horizon there be monsters. The world is insane. I’ve thought for a long time that might be the case. Now I’m sure.

I suppose to be fair, I should really speak only for my own small corner of ‘the world’ – the United Kingdom, (which looks like it might be dis-united in a few years’ time if certain Scots have their way, and good luck to them). Although from what I hear and read things aren’t all that sane almost anywhere. In the Middle East, a President once feted in the West, summarily executes and fires artillery shells on his own people, adults and children alike. And another rachets up the rhetoric about an Israeli strike on Iran. If all this isn’t insanity, I’d really like to be told what is.

But to be fair, I shall speak only of the one place I know from my own recent experience – this island that once ruled the world, this splinter whittled by the ice-ages off the mainland of Europe. And here there is insanity to spare. People at the top, in very high places, have been getting up to some very unethical things and an awful lot of the brown stuff appears to be hitting the turning blades. They’ve been up to things which would make some of the old-time politicians – those with gravitas if you’re old enough to recall a politician with that – turn in their graves/urns. Things – such as plain dishonesty, greed, graft – which, if perpetrated by children or teenagers, would result in a severe reprimand and warning never to do it again. And if by a tenant of a council estate, in a short trip to the cells. But it seems the closer you get to ‘the top’, the less you are accountable for your transgressions. And at that level, there is always available the defence of DKDRCBM as it’s now commonly known. Or ‘don’t know, don’t remember, can’t blame me’.

We saw that same defence expertly employed here in the current inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal. Top-ranking members of the Murdoch press could, however hard they racked their brains, remember nothing. Their memories were so bad I wonder they remembered to get out of bed in the mornings. And when they could actually, just about, faintly recall some event in question or someone – don’t know who though – telling them about some other event, they had no idea, could really not recall who had or had not had part in it. And that being the case, no blame can be thereby be attached. DKDRCBM.

It doesn’t work like that for those at the lower end of the social scale – despite the fact that our dear Prime Minister told us all – and with a straight face – that, “we are all in it together.” It’s clear we are all in something quite unpleasant. But the thing he’s in doesn’t seem to be the same thing the rest of us are in. No – at the lower end of the scale you pay the price for your misdemeanors, and you pay pretty quickly too. They didn’t waste a lot of time hustling those people – teenagers, most of them – who were involved in the riots last year, off to the stocks.

(As an aside, only the other day, a lady peer of the realm who is suspected of not declaring, when the rules say she should have done, rental money from a London apartment, fragrantly announced that it was ‘an oversight’ on her part. Those at the lower end of the social scale aren’t allowed oversights.)

On top of that, down at that lower end you pay not only for your own, but for others’ transgressions as well – the transgressions of those who, for example, toil (is that the right word?) on our behalf in the boiler rooms of Canary Wharf and Wall Street. It would seem on the face of it that they, along with their colleagues around the world have, through their rather less than rigourous ethics, come near to bankrupting half the developed world. In order to put that right, some ordinary people, minding their own business, who have had no hand in it whatsoever, are being subjected to such savage cuts in wages, pensions etc. that thousands of them have lost their jobs, their homes, their livelihoods. And on an international scale, one complete nation in the south of Europe looks like it’s entering a period of national poverty courtesy of those same people.

Now – if you were an innocent, if you were a child at school, you’d expect that people who’d caused such mayhem and misery would be contrite, apologetic. They’d want to reassure us that they would never let that sort of thing happen again. But that hasn’t been the way of it. They seem, in fact not really to have noticed. Despite the chaos for which they have been directly responsible, they respond by paying themselves their customary astronomical bonuses and crowding into the nearest champagne bar.

And there’s more. But what’s the point? It’s all the same really. It’s not a seemly picture. It’s insanity. It starts at the top and in Madame Thatcher’s infamous words, ‘trickles down’ and bit by bit becomes acceptable by default, corrupting every level of a society. It’s no coincidence that people in positions much further down the line show a similar reluctance to admit their mistakes. Whenever did a company receiving a complaint from a customer put its hand up and admit to screwing it? What you’re almost certain to get is a carefully scripted response of timeless vapidity about how committed that company is to customer service and blah, blah, blah.

So to all the little people playing happily out there in the sun today on the swings, the roundabouts, the slides – do be very careful as you leave the playground. A wicked, wilful, blameless and amnesiac world awaits you. You will not find the pathway clearly marked. And if you are not careful, you too will get swept up in this circus of the insane. The one positive thing that can however be said about it is this -a thing can fall only so far before it hits the ground and breaks. Then at least it will be possible to put the pieces back together again – but this time in the right order.

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Visit the UK and have a whacko summer

I hope the many hundreds of thousands of you lovely people from around the globe who will be descending upon London for the Olympic Games, due to take place in July and August this year, will appreciate the amazing things that have been laid on for you. No expense, it will be clear, has been spared.

First off, it will see the biggest mobilisation of security and military personnel in the UK since the Second World War. This will involve 13,500 military personnel backed by an array of hardware including unmanned drones, 4 Typhoon fighter aircraft, 55 dog patrol teams and an 11 mile long 5,000 volt electric security fence. Plus – no, we’re not finished yet – three Royal Navy helicopters, laser-guided towed missile systems, three RAF Puma helicopters and two amphibious assault ships parked (anchored?) in the Thames.

Heartwarming. To which must be added a range of new scanning devices, bio-metric ID cards, number and facial recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, extra police control centres and security checkpoints in key zones. And to get into an event, assuming you’ve a ticket, you will be faced with airport style security checks.

And as if that weren’t enough – and this next one takes some beating – surface to air missiles are to be deployed on a number of tower blocks in East London. Civilian tower blocks, that is – i.e. blocks of flats (apartments) in which ordinary UK citizens have their homes and bring up their children. Some of the residents of these blocks are not pleased. First off, they were not consulted. Nobody asked them if they’d agree to have these things perched on their rooftops. And secondly, you can forgive them for wondering if this might make the places in which they live likely targets for terrorists. But the government says not; it says it might actually make them less likely targets. Not sure of the logic of that, but who am I anyway? I guess it’s all OK. It will be a memorable two weeks.

One further thing – should it be your intention to join us for this superjunket, you should be aware of this –  with the main entry-point into the UK, i.e. Heathrow Airport, in the mess it currently is, it’s likely to take you the entire two weeks of the Olympics to get through Passport Control. But be not discouraged, dear visitor – they have TV’s in all the terminals so you’ll be able to watch all your favourite events as you queue, eat sandwiches, go to toilets, try and calm the kids, try and get some sleep etc., etc.

What has gone wrong? These are games. This is sport. Am I the only one detecting a mismatch here? If I were going on a cycling holiday in Somalia or back-packing through Helmand Province I’d be seriously reassured to have that sort of backup. But all I want to do is get on a bus and go down the road to watch some people in running shorts running the hundred metres, for Christ’s sake. Throwing a javelin or two, swimming around in a pool – see who wins – that sort of thing. But it’s bring out the guns, the assault craft, the missiles, and – in the words of Monty Burns – release the hounds  – for it’s the Olympic Games!! Should we not be thinking very, very seriously – all of us including governments around the world about how we’ve come to such a lunatic situation?

And now – a real sporting story. On the 17th March this year, during a football match in North London between the teams of Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur, 23 year-old midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field having suffered a cardiac arrest. Medics rushed onto the pitch. The match was abandoned. Muamba was rushed to hospital and though technically dead for 78 minutes, was kept alive by artificial means. Due to the quick work of doctors on the pitch, to the skill of paramedics of the London Ambulance Service and subsequently to the expertise of doctors at the London Chest Hospital, he gradually – and amazingly – recovered. That recovery has been described by doctors as ‘miraculous’. It  has been closely followed by the media. He came out of hospital on the 16th April and on the 2nd May he put in a personal appearance before a match between the same two teams, this time at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton. He received there, from the thousands of fans, a tumultuous welcome. So much so, he couldn’t believe it. Fabrice Muamba wept.

And the point of this story? This man is black; the vast majority of those standing up and cheering him, unreservedly welcoming him back were white. Now that’s a good story. The Olympics story is – to my mind – a shameful one. I wish this country would make much more of, even brag about its multi-culturalism. It’s one of the things – give or take the odd lapse – that it’s pretty good at.

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Some people are gay – please get over it!

I don’t agree with many things that emanate from the mouth of London’s present Mayor, Boris Johnson. I suspect him of being dangerously, perhaps ruthlessly ambitious, out of touch with the lives of ordinary people (whoever and whatever they are) and too enamoured of his own cloak of faux-naive buffoonery he dons so readily  in public. I do however agree with one thing – the pulling by him of the adverts issued by Core Issues Trust (“…a non-profit Christian initiative seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression…” – so says its website) and which were booked to appear for two weeks on the sides of many of London’s buses. “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay. And proud!”

For those not in touch with the goings-on in this city, these adverts, backed by Anglican Mainstream, were intended as a response to Stonewall’s recent ads – also on bus sides – saying “Some people are gay. Get over it!” The latter ad is self-explanatory. The former a little less so. It refers to claims – by that same group amongst others – that gayness is a successfully treatable issue!

I wonder why such people are so exercised by something which has nothing whatever to do with them. Some of them say their justification is the bible which claims homosexuality to be a sin. I’m not Bible-savvy enough to know about that. But I do know you could cite the Bible in justification for any number of what are now regarded as sins, crimes, whatever. But as the prophet of their religion is one Jesus Christ who, as far as I’m aware, made no such pronouncement about gayness, I’m not inclined to take their claim of Biblical justification very seriously. And we’ve all, in any case, been delighted many times in our school days and since, by the delicious irony that parts of the Bible appear at least to directly contradict others. It just depends on your point of view.

People are people. We are all who we are. Provided other people are not in any way harming you, or impinging on your right to exist in whatever fashion appeals to you, why does it matter to you how they, in turn, live their lives? And if, in any case, you feel that in so doing they’re offending God, don’t you think God can probably take care of that himself without your input?

Sexual relations between people of like gender are neither legitimate nor illegitimate, right nor wrong, moral nor immoral. It is simply the way it is. We are all our own selves, and made that way, or made in such a manner as to develop that way. And the fact that for the vast majority there is but one way of reaching out with another for a few moments’ relief from the tyranny of self and a glimpse of Home should not blind anybody to the fact that others, with others, may reach out differently. And if, in their union, there is tenderness, if there is in it love, care and affection does that not contribute to the wholeness of us all?

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Excerpt from an unpublished novel – Part V

Ellen in the following excerpt is Barnaby Marechal’s wife. This is about one year after his disappearance. She has finally abandoned any hope of his return. Frank is a former party colleague with whom Barney worked for a number of years. Barney, cut off now almost entirely from contact with his former life, still counts Frank as a trusted friend.  In order to give those who have not read the previous excerpts a better idea of what this is all about, it would helpful to read the synopsis here –  (http://besonian.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/synopsis-of-an-unpublished-novel/)

And on a completely different subject, W and I are today leaving for a two week break in central France. Ruby is almost packed and is clearly raring to go. The sun is shining and the forecast for the next week is excellent. A bientot mes amis! And now – the excerpt ……

I don’t find jokes about sex very funny.” Ellen turned away from Frank and pulled the duvet up. “They’re more often smutty than funny.”

How about this then. ‘Do you – ?’”

No. Stop it.”

This isn’t smutty. ‘Do you smoke after intercourse?’ ‘I don’t know, I’ve never looked.’”

Silence.

Suddenly she burst out laughing.

Well, do you?”

She stopped laughing, frowned. “Do I what?”

Let’s have a look.” He started to pull the duvet down off her. “Let’s see if you do smoke after – “

Frank!” She yanked the duvet back up over her breasts. “No! That’s crass.” She looked at him in puzzled surprise. “Frank, that’s really, really crass.”

He sat up, his face blank. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

So you should be. Christ.” She turned away from him again.

He went to say something. Held a finger poised to tap her naked shoulder. But then stopped. Bit his lip and turned away.

There’s a bottle of Argentinian red open on the unit in the kitchen. Get me a glass please, would you?”

He slipped out of bed. Stood looking around, naked and embarrassed. She could see him reflected in the cheval mirror. “If you’re looking for something to put on, there’s a dressing gown – ” – she withdrew an arm from beneath the duvet and pointed across the room – “ – in that wardrobe.”

He opened the wardrobe, looked inside, and drew from it a heavy, multi-coloured dressing gown. He looked with a curious distaste at it.

Yes,” she said, watching in the mirror, “it was Barney’s.”

He looked at it again, then put it on and went from the room.

**********

I watched you, you know. For years. D’you know that? I gazed at you from afar.” Frank lay looking up at the ceiling. “Wondering. And hoping – in a hopeless sort of way. I never thought I’d be here with you like this.”

Ellen, sitting up in bed beside him, sipped her wine and looked out of the window. It was very dark outside. There was no moon, no stars. She could just about make out the nearest branches of the maple Barney had been threatening for years to have removed. Its roots, he claimed, were bound to disturb the foundations of the house before very long. Then what sort of a mess would they be in? What indeed?

Frank mused on. “I used to watch things you did. How you talked, how you laughed. How you held your knife and fork at meals. Silly, ordinary things. I needed to take in all I could of you.” He paused. “You were so – so much a woman.”

She looked down at him.

Were you ever aware?” he said. “Did you know that?”

No.” She sounded slightly apologetic. “Not really.”

And I used to wonder what would it be like to feel my face against your face.” He took a deep breath. “I dared not let my imagination go further.”

“How is Martha? Or is that a bit brutal given the circumstances?”

He shrugged. “It comes, it goes.”

She drained her glass. “I know very little about MS,” she said, “but might it make that aspect of life – a little difficult? Or not? I hope you don’t mind my asking.”

He gave a non-committal grunt.

I’m sorry. That was inept of me.”

No, it wasn’t. It does.” He held up the wine bottle. “Top up?”

She nodded. He filled her glass.

The chimes of St. Laurence’s church in Ludlow echoed distantly across the fields. He looked at his watch.

Where does she think you are?” She tried hard to keep any suggestion of guilt from her tone.

Having a drink with a couple of the local party members. I didn’t say which members. Or where.”

So – how long is it then since you and she – well – tasted the joys, as it were?”

I don’t know,” he said. “Four years. Five? I’ve lost count.”

Ellen raised her eyebrows.

He sat up, reached behind his back and re-arranged his pillows.

But surely,” she said, “having MS doesn’t actually mean you can’t. Does it? Or does it?”

No.”

So – ?”

Some people do.”

Right. And some don’t.”

He shifted awkwardly. “It’s not for everybody.”

What’s not? I’m sorry, I don’t think I – ”

It affects things. Not everybody copes too well with the ways around it.” He looked away towards the window and the maple tree.

I think I understand,” she said.

The telephone by the bed suddenly erupted. They both started. Frank sat forward anxiously, peering at it.

It rang on.

Does she have this number?” Ellen said, quietly.

Yes.”

Let it ring.” She twirled her glass slowly around by its stem. “Let it ring.”

She wouldn’t ring here.”

Ellen peered at her reflection on the surface of her wine.

Frank kept his eyes on the telephone. It seemed to be going on for a very long time. It stopped. He sat back.

She said, “We’re entering difficult waters Frank, you and I.”

A train threaded its way through the night, slowing down towards Ludlow. The nine-forty-six from Paddington. The times she’d sat downstairs thinking he’d be indoors now in around twenty minutes.

Frank suddenly sat forward again.

What?”

Listen,” he said, “I’d better go.”

Oh.” She frowned. “That’s very sudden.”

I need to be back by half-ten.”

You didn’t say.”

I didn’t think. I’m sorry.” He slid awkwardly out of the bed.

OK. Well – er – do you want anything before you go? Coffee – or – ?”

No. Thank you.” He picked his clothes from the chair he’d earlier draped them over and started to dress.

Ellen watched, bemused.

He turned away to pull on his underpants.

Are you alright?” she said.

Yes.”

You’re not acting alright.”

He turned back to face her. Threw his shirt on and started doing up the buttons. “I’m a bit concerned.”

About what?”

What do you think?”

I don’t know.”

As you said – ‘difficult waters.”

That was obvious. Right from the start.”

He stepped into his trousers.

And Frank.”

He stopped. Looked at her.

Don’t you think you’d better have a shower?”

He shook his head. Continued pulling on his trousers. “I’ll be alright.”

It’s not you I’m thinking about. We have been – rather close. Put it that way.”

He stopped again and looked at her.

Please.”

He stood quite still. His shirt was half-out over his trousers which he held up with his hands, unzipped and crumpled like a clown’s.

Ellen looked away.

OK.” The word was a staccato jab which seemed only just to escape his mouth as he bit back a surge of nervous irritation. He yanked himself back out of his trousers, one leg of which got caught round his foot. With some difficulty he flicked it away. Then pulled off his shirt and underpants and threw them down on the floor. “Shower,” he said, and walked naked from the room.

Ellen watched him leave. Listened to his bare feet padding along the polished oak boards of the landing. The few moments of almost silence as he traversed the Axminster rug. The padding continuing. Then stopping. The opening and the rather noisy closing of the bathroom door. The shower starting up, grumbling a fraction before it got into its stride. So banal and so familiar. Twisted painfully out of true in these now and forever changed times. She lay slowly back down.

**********

At night, Martha left her bedroom door just a tiny bit ajar. “So’s not to feel entirely on my own,” she used to say. Frank put his face to the gap. The room was in darkness, but the light from the landing was sufficient for him to notice a slight movement of the bedclothes.

Hello dear.” She sounded sleepy. “I’m not asleep. Was it a successful meeting?”

The usual sort. Are you alright?”

I watched a bit of telly. It wasn’t very interesting.”

Did you have your warm milk?”

I did. Why do you ask?”

It’s just that I didn’t notice a used milk saucepan in the kitchen.”

He heard her yawn. “I think I remember washing it up.”

And you’re alright?”

Yes. I’m alright.”

Good.”

I locked the back door, by the way. And the conservatory. To save you having to think about it.”

Thank you. So – goodnight then.” He turned to leave.

Frank.”

He looked in again. Yes?” he said.

It doesn’t matter.”

There was something in her voice. A fleck of apprehension shot through him. “Tell me.”

Nothing. I’m just glad you had a successful meeting. A goodnight kiss would be nice.”

He went to her bedside. The light behind him threw his shadow across the bed so he could hardly see her face. He bent and kissed her cheek. The skin was loose, the flesh slightly puffy. He had lived a life with this face. Seen joy, pain, heartache, laughter in its company. He suddenly felt a need to tell her where he’d really been, what he’d really done. But of course he couldn’t – not now nor ever.

Good-night,” he said, quietly.

Good-night, Frank.” She turned away on her side. “Till morning.”

He went slowly to his own room. Closed the door quietly and sat down on the single divan bed. He took his shoes off, lay them neatly side by side on the floor. Then sat looking out of the window. His curtains were open. Through the trees that bordered their land he could just make out the public tennis courts lit dimly by the lights from the street on the far side. A fox appeared from the shadows and wandered across them. He found himself cursing Barnaby Marechal. But what’s done is done, and done for all time.

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Spring – it looks like it’s sprung again

Shafts of sunlight through ragged clouds move across the face of London this morning. From this window, high up on the highest ridge of the capital, you can see right across to the new Wembley Stadium fifteen kilometres away, and on a clear day such as this, far beyond that to the first shadowy humpbacks of the Chiltern Hills.

The daffodils in the park down below are out in a blaze of gently-nodding yellow, the soft pink blossom of the cherry trees, miles of which line roads in the capital and which by some quirk of nature, thrive so well here, are now starting to decorate and  enliven the streets. And the magnolias, whose exotic blooms look more like refugees from the sub-tropics than natives of this part of the world, are popping up in front gardens everywhere.

Yes – Spring is here. Yet again. Never reliable as far as timing is concerned, but always, without fail, it turns up. And wouldn’t it bring us up with a stop if one year, it didn’t? No daffodils, no crocuses, no green shoots, no leaves on the trees, no magnolias, the sun always low in the sky, the lights on by five o’clock and frost at night. I guess we’d all stop fighting then. We’d all drop our guns, cease our posturing and our grand-standing in the fear that some monumental calamity from without was about to engulf the lot of us – the approach of the Death Star, asteroid blitz or the implosion of the sun.

That won’t happen though, will it? We’ll carry on in our confused and stumbling way till either we blow ourselves and the globe apart or we learn some sense. But even if we do the latter it’s likely it will be only after some dire self-induced catastrophe has  decimated half a nation or reversed the world’s poles.  We’re not good at thinking ahead and acting for the future; we specialize in re-acting – in shutting the stable door in a panic even as the horse is bolting.

And down there in the park, as the sunlight sweeps across it, the children – those who will take what we pass on to them and who will mould the future – run and play and shout and clamber all over the swings and the roundabout and the see-saw. So many of them. All in brightly-coloured outfits with parents looking on or joining in their games or just looking lost, as some do, and thinking ‘How do you deal with this little alien creature?’

So many children – like an ever-flowing, never-ending tide rolling in. Bright-eyed, fresh-faced, looking to enjoy the world. What are we bequeathing to them in their innocence?

Close shot multicoloured flowers

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Education? What’s that?

We had some riots here in the UK last summer. Any individual in any country in the world who was not aware of that must have been down a hole in the ground. People set fire to buildings, threw things at the police, looted shops and scuttled off home with everything from jewellery and mobile phones to fridges and washing machines. The iron hand of the law (!) descended on the miscreants, half of whom it now turns out were between ten and twenty years old. The rest is a familiar tale – they were also more likely than other children to be living in poverty, to be suffering from a learning disability or difficulty, to be regularly excluded from school and therefore lacking education.

There’s a lot of talk about education today. It’s become a popular toy for governments to play with. They tweak it, remould it, bend it, upend it, turn it inside-out and do just about anything with it they think will help make their party’s mark on history and, at the same time, so ingratiate themselves with the electorate that the latter will put them back into office at the next election. What they fail to do, unfortunately, is to think with any vision about it – what education is, what its function should be in a world which is changing faster than any of them seems to comprehend.

Our present-day education system is woefully out of date. It is still basically a system by which the population can be groomed for employment – which may be OK up to a point, provided there’s any employment for them once they’re educated – of which today there is no guarantee. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people flocked from their isolated, poverty-stricken rural villages into the new, burgeoning manufacturing towns in the hope of a better life for themselves and for their families. It was to the advantage of their employers that these people had some basic numeracy and literacy. Hence, they were to be ‘educated’. And this, along with a number of largely superficial and pre-digested disciplines which have been added over the years is what is still thought of as ‘education’ in our society today.

The word ‘education’ comes from the Latin – ‘educere’ – to lead out, draw out. In other words, the original meaning and function of education was not to impose anything from without, but to discover then nurture that which is inherent in the individual. It is the failure to recognize and act on this which is at the root of so many of Western society’s current problems. I quote below another meditation from the book I am preparing -

Blocked entrance in wall

Few of us are educated in the true meaning of the word. Nor do we truly educate our children. If we would do that we would be concerned not only to teach them the essential skills of literacy and numeracy but to draw out from them and encourage to flower in this world that which is in each of them by nature. That way, they and society would grow toward wholeness and balance. Each and every one of us, of whatever social class, estate or degree, has his or her contribution to make. For even the meanest and the least gifted is an essential element in this universe.

As it is, we pay scant regard to their inner selves, imposing on them from without a system of essentially short-term, superficial and pre-digested disciplines whose primary purpose is to prepare them for future employment and the illusion of ‘security’. Thus confined to the shallows and distanced from their own hearts they grow out of true, and the society of which they will all too soon form the fabric continues along its ailing, confused and often destructive path.

And as we do to them, so it was done to us. Do we wonder there is resentment and disillusionment among the young?

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