Thursday, February 05, 2009


Some years ago I came across an article that someone had written about how we as a nation had changed. It described our collective childhood memories – cycling in flip-flops without helmets, kneepads, shoulder-pads, with wooden lollipop sticks rubber-banded to the spokes of our bikes so we could make a sound like a motorcycle (apparently!); it talked of disappearing at sunrise and coming back at sunset with never a concern about where we were or what we were doing; it talked of leaving front and back doors open, of giving spare keys to our neighbours in the event that we locked ourselves out, or just so they could ‘check on things’ while we were on holiday; it spoke of low school and work absenteeism, of how we did our best to get well when we were sick so we could go back to school or work; there were no childproof lids on medicines – we just knew to stay away; there were no airbags or safety belts, and riding up-front was a treat; we drank water from the garden hose; we shared fizzy pop from cans and bottles, and no-one ever died from it; we spent hours building go-carts out of junk, and then hightailed it down steep hills at breakneck speeds, and ploughing into stinging nettles three or four times soon made us wise to the need for brakes; we had no mobile phones or tracking chips in our shoes, and no-one worried about whether or not we would get lost or kidnapped or run over; we did not have playstations, x-boxes, no video games, no videos at all, no cable, no internet, no personal computers or chat rooms…but we had friends, and we went places with them, and we discovered hidey-holes and secret places and we built dens in the woods and lit fires, and we fell from trees and scraped our knees, and sometimes we lost a tooth or two. There were no lawsuits. There were accidents, nothing more nor less, and we learned very quickly not to do that again. We had fights. We punched as hard as we could. We got over it, and usually became best friends. Our dads didn’t go round and fight each other, nor did they call the Police. They took us out in the garden and taught us how to fight back even harder. We rode bikes in packs of six or eight or ten, and we wore our coats by the hoods only. We made up games with bits of wood and stones and old tennis balls; we threw worms at each other, and mud, and sometimes we ate things that we shouldn’t have eaten, but no-one went to hospital and no-one died. The Police were there to be respected, and we did respect them. We said ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’, and we minded our manners when we were told to. If we got in trouble our parents sided with the authorities, and said things like ‘It serves you right…’ as they cancelled our pocket money.

Our actions were our own, and consequences were confronted.

My son is twelve. This is the second day this week that his school has been closed. Because of snow. About two and a half inches of snow.

I went to school in the wilderness of Oxfordshire. It was a mile and a half to the nearest post box. There was no such thing as a ‘day off’. Snow banks reached three and four feet in height, and we walked to school. In shorts. We had snowball fights all the way, and when we got to school the teachers threw snowballs too.

If that happened now there’d be a lawsuit, a civil investigation, suspension, internal inquiries, and someone somewhere would lose their job.

What in God’s name has happened to us?

Where did it all go so wrong?

Political correctness has become ‘fear of saying anything even when it’s the truth’.
We live in a world that seems populated with frightened people, people who want to say and do and think and feel, but believe they cannot.

We live in a society where the younger generations are being taught to never think for themselves, to expect something for nothing, to believe that calculating how much public benefit you can get is better than working for a living.

What happened to pride in a career? What happened to the feeling of doing a damned good day’s work, and never once thinking that you deserved more than you had legally and legitimately earned?

And the education system? Don’t even get me started!

So, apart from ranting away on some polemic about how dreadful things have become, I will temper my diatribe with a simple observation: People do not need to be told how to live their lives. They are more than capable of making their own decisions and learning from their own mistakes. Tell a child what to do, and they will invariably contradict and do something else.
Forbid someone to do a certain thing or behave a certain way, and they will behave that way just to get back at you. It’s human nature.

The government (a term I used advisedly as they seem to govern very little of anything), continues to fail us. They spend so much of their time worrying about what we might think of them that they have become afraid of doing anything decisive.

The comment that Obama made when he met with David Cameron? ‘What a lightweight’. That says everything about who we rely on to manage our affairs, control the corrupt and greedy bankers, advise and direct the actions of the Police and the legal system, provide social and community support, and give us a means by which we – as a society - can co-operate with one another racially, politically, culturally and religiously. Look where they have got us. We don’t go to school because someone might slip over, or someone’s parents might be late to collect them, or a teacher might get a snowball thrown at them…and then where would be be… Oh my God.
Sometimes I look at our history as a nation – our heritage, the legacy of the Victorians, of Elizabeth I, of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Brunel, Watt, Churchill, of what we accomplished in the First and Second World Wars, of London surviving over two hundred and fifty consecutive days of the blitz, of the sacrifice that ordinary people made to preserve some degree of sanity in Europe…and then I see those same people, now in their eighties and nineties, being left alone without heating or adequate food, being treated disrespectfully by teenagers and children, and a government that stands by and allows this to happen, all the while worrying about whether the ‘human rights’ of some burglar have been violated because he slipped on the floor while he was stealing your DVD player.

What is the deal with these politicians, the very people who are supposed to represent the very best of this country, those who are supposed to epitomise honesty, integrity, intelligence, courage, hard work, decency and trustworthiness?

Are they all just naturally liars and idiots? I am afraid to say that they just might be.
I can only hope that the future will see a change for the better. I am naturally optimistic, but it seems that the society within which we live, at least the society that seems to be being created for us, makes it harder and harder to be optimistic.

Instead of spending millions putting internet facilities and CD and DVD rental services in libraries, apparently to ‘entice’ more people into those libraries and thus get them reading again, why not teach people to read in school? Do what the Romans did – reading, writing, basic arithmetic until you are twelve, and then apprentice in a trade and learn the value of work, of getting something done, of having created something that has a value that can be exchanged for something else. How hard would that be? Get rid of OFSTED, Social Service bureaucracies, pen-pushing desk jockeys who spend all their time figuring out how they can pass the buck. Let the doctors and nurses use their training and ability to help people the best way they know how, and don’t belabour their days with paperwork and reviews and threats of legal suits. Give the Police back control of their own services. Let them catch real crooks as opposed to having to fulfil ‘arrest quotas’. Have the government use the vast resources of money that we give them to pay for real healthcare, effective schools, for creating new jobs, and make ministers and politicians really accountable for their own decisions and actions; approve unemployment benefit on the basis of the number of hours of community work that an individual does each week – if he doesn’t have a job, then let him work for twenty-five hours a week alongside local councils as they repair things, regenerate run-down areas, remove graffiti, plant trees and other such projects. Stop rewarding people for being sick and incapable. People are not sick and incapable. Make a job valuable. Make it worthwhile. Cut back income tax, road tax, council tax, death duties, tax on alcohol and cigarettes…and apply a standard sales tax on goods. Give people the money that they earn – all of it – and they will spend it. Use a standard sales tax from those expenditures to fund the social services we need. And stop spending billions on drugs, psychiatry, warfare and unemployment. No-one wants them. No-one needs them. We will survive an awful lot better in their absence.

And those are my thoughts on this snowy day – as the Scots, the Poles, the Scandinavians, the Canadians and so many other peoples laugh at us for our pathetic response to two and a half inches of snow.

I really do not want to be considered a ‘lightweight’, and I’m sure you don’t either!


martin said...

Hi Roger, I agree with a lot of what you say. Personally I would say there's too much of everyone for himself these days, too much selfishness, too much on the material things in life. That's the reason why we've in such a mess today. There is a lot of greed, from the bankers willing to lend us bucket loads of money so they can make fat profits, to people wanting more than they can afford. The result is they've dragged us all down with them in the process. I have always tried to live within my means, had a decent job and have never bought anything I can't afford. But now thanks to the interest rate being so low, my income from savings is fast dwindling. All right so I'm not in debt, but the low interest rate is stopping alot of people like me from spending. So how can this help?
I feel a lot of the blame for the yob culture today should rest with successive generations of parents, who seem to obsessed with money, and going to work, and neglect their kids. And when they get in trouble it's anyone's fault but their own.
It's sad how drink and cigarettes and drugs have become a status symbol for kids. All right, when I was young you tried a cigarette, even a drink, and occassionally even drugs if you were stupid enough, but these days with all these things so readily available and with kids having so much money, I shudder to think how alot of these kids will end up in the future.
But we have to remain positive about the future. Still, the majority of people are good caring people and I feel the answer to all our problems lie with us ourselves. Only we have the power to change things. We need to think about others before ourselves.
Through communication, such as writing and reading can we be influenced and educated and also we can influence and educate.

Best wishes

R J Ellory said...

Couldn't agree more. I believe that the vast, vast majority of people are unselfish, caring, considerate individuals, and it is only the very tiny majority that sour the society.
I am optimistic for the future, but I believe we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Jan Bird said...

My mum tells a story of being a 10-year-old in 1936, careering down a hill on a bike and going over the handlebars, and a fence, into a nettlebed. She'd been forbidden to do it, of course!

I used to love snowball fights - the more vicious the better - and water fights. I was out clearing our front path a few days ago and actually thought I might invite a complete stranger in to have a snowball fight in the garden. I didn't do it - I lost my nerve - but the thought was there. Snow brings out the child in me. I don't have children of my own, if I did, I think there'd be a serious dilemma about on the one hand thinking they should go to school, and on the other relishing some unexpected fun time with them.

Part of me regrets not having children, another part fears about how fiercely protective I would be in what can be a frightening and bewildering world for them. They can so easily be exposed to things that are, or should be, out of their reach. Walk into any newsagent, or open any tabloid paper at the breakfast table. Growing up doesn't seem to be gentle any more, I'm not suggesting wrapping kids in cotton wool, everyone has to experiment and learn. Over protection can mean they can't cope when the adult world throws them a serious challenge. But the pressure on children to grow up is so ferocious and aggressive, pop videos, advertising, magazines, it scares me.

I don't have a pat answer to it, although having just started working with very young children, I see every day their amazing sense of joy and wonder at new discoveries, whether it be that they can climb stairs, or that they can make a noise with a musical instrument, it doesn't matter. It's all precious. We sometimes forget all that as adults. We don't experiment, we're scared to get it wrong. When parents realise that they can learn every bit as much from their kids as their kids learn from them, we're on to something good. And it might preserve the innocence that little bit longer. And encourage a life-long sense of joy and wonder in the world.

Thanks for provoking that!

R J Ellory said...

Well, having chldren just serves to remind you of what it was like to be a child! You know, the simple truth is that the newspapers and the TV and the internet actually make the world appear to be an awful lot worse than they actually are. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the newspaper magnates got the idea that the best way to sell papers was with bad news. I don't agree of course, but they have now set a standard against which all newspaper journalism is set, and it is very sad. I often ask people I know - 'How many times in your life have you been actual witness to some horrible event, an act of real physical harm against someone or someone being killed?' The answer is invariably 'Never', yet the newspapers and the TV would have us believe that it is happening all the time around every corner, and all you have to do is step outside your house after dark and someone will stab you or shoot you. Madness! But madness created by false propaganda. I don't know about you, but the vast, vast majority of people I meet are very good, social people. The dangerous ones are in the minority, and unfortunately some of them own newspapers and TV stations!

Brian said...

Just back from a weeks skiing in Austria for the first time. An eye opener to see kids as young as 4 yrs coming down the slopes with the same ease as walking, I would be a protective type telling my kids to mind this mind that without even thinking about it yet out there I watched them come down the slopes after 3 days of lessons with a sense of pride and not fear. Speaking to the instructor who said she lived up in the mountains we asked her how did she get to school in the winter, Her reply, I skied of course !!

R J Ellory said...

Absolutely! And they would catch and kill and skin a rabbit on the way, and then eat it for lunch. Unbelievable!
Tony Blair started all of this 'Health and Safety', everyone has to be super-careful and say nothing that might offend someone lark. I heard something the other day from a fireman. Apparently you are no longer allowed to refer to men as 'male' and women as 'female' in the Fire Service as there are male and female couplings on firehoses and using such a term could then be considered offensive to a person!

Jan Bird said...

I recollect a discussion not that many years ago about whether a manhole cover should be renamed a "personhole". Common sense prevailed ..!

R J Ellory said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful - don't you just love being English!

FarmerGiles said...

"We live in a society where the younger generations are being taught to never think for themselves, to expect something for nothing, to believe that calculating how much public benefit you can get is better than working for a living."
That bit jumped out at me the most. I was born and still live in a very deprived and what most people would describe as a “rough” area. It’s looked down upon if you want to make and honest living. There’s been numerous times when I have been ostracised for being the way I am. I was a very bright child, but I was painfully shy so I would often me made an example of - but not so much by other kids but by adults! Some of them were even members of my own family. They seem to think that for you have a bit of ambition and drive and if you want to make something of yourself you must be mad when you could be sitting on your backside bleeding the state dry. I feel that as a country we have come so far but now we are just falling right to the back of the class because of how human beings have become very greedy and selfish. And I truly believe that the greed and selfishness will be what finishes us all off. The world truly is a beautiful place but we won’t realise that until it’s too late and the damage is too severe to repair =[
Another point that you made about how political correctness has gone mad, about how we wrap children up in cotton wool and sometime even each other, I feel that this lack of freedom contributes to the high crime levels. I think the intention was to keep us safe but it’s totally backfired. Gun and knife crime is on the rise and generally a lot of young people are quite anti-social. And those people will have children and bring them up to be aggressive as well. I really do worry about how the world will turn out, because it’s slowly becoming the norm to be selfish, greedy and aggressive and if you are not those things you pay the price as you are them trampled on for being a decent person.

R J Ellory said...

Your message strikes such a chord. You're talking about a kind of person who refuses to believe that people should aspire to greater things. Dylan said it best with the line: 'People bent out of shape by society's pliers, care not to come up any higher, but rather drag you down in the hole that they're in'. I can do nothing but congratulate you for your foresight, courage, ambition. drive and determination. If more of the population had your viewpoint and ethic level we wouldn't be in the mess we're in.

J Mitchell said...

Oh dear. I feel like I've strayed on to the Daily Mail / Telegraph comments page. I really thought a writer might have a slightly more imaginative take on the current world. Of course there are aspects of modern life we can rage about, and of course the so-called "political correctness" can have its absurd manifestations, but in my experience, a huge amount of what we hear on this subject is simply made up by right wing newspapers with their own sordid agenda. (And it's absurd to say Tony Blair created this situation. The roots of "PC" lie mainly in America, where people were resorting to litigation at the slightest insult, and invariably some of that attitude spread to the UK.) In my experience, if there's one thing worse than "political correctness gone mad", it's the kind of people who resort to that phrase whenever they find themselves unable to vent their unpleasant views in any manner they like.
And as for the snow - I remember occasions when my school was shut as a child, more than 30 years ago, and it was for the same reason they shut recently - not enough teachers could make it into work. Frankly, I thought it was wonderful that kids had a couple of days off to enjoy it. And before anyone rants about how ill-prepared the UK is for this weather, just remember how rare it is to get heavy snow. Ironic that exactly the same people would be apoplectic if councils spent a fortune in equipment and personnel, year after year, for extreme weather events that might happen once a decade.
Lighten up, for God's sake. In most aspects, life in Britain today is immeasurably better for a larger number of people than it has ever been. And those unfortunate citizens who do have cause to complain are light years removed from the miserable, hate-filled Nazis who comment on the aforementioned newspapers, and who, unfortunately, seem to include you amongst their number. Very sad. You should be capable of a much more generous mindset than this.

R J Ellory said...

Dear J Mitchell, I appreciate your 'lighten up' attitude, and perhaps the difficulty is that everything does get taken far too seriously. I suppose, more than anything, my real concern is that so much time and attention is being spent trying (and failing) to solve the wrong problems. The primary difficulty in any society, from my own experience and from observation of many, many societies that have fallen by the wayside, is the fundamental human error of considering present situations against the worst that was, as opposed to the way they should be. This has led to complacency and a lack of need to change things for the better. The money that we pay in taxes, the shallowness and mendacity of politicians, the vested interest, the self-serving greed...all these things are a product of the society within which we live, and though I cannot help but agree that these things have been present before, I am also aware of the fact that we - as a peoples - should have wised up by now, and with the speed of communication available to us through the internet and other such avenues, it seems tragic that we are incapable of coalescing as a united force (if not in physical terms, then at least in verbal protest) to put a stop to it.
Complacency, and 'Oh well, at least it's better than it used to be' is a surefire route to deterioration and social collapse. I have spent over twenty years doing all I can to combat the ravages of street, medical and psychiatric drugs on our children, and I have seen all too clearly where the 'advances' of 20th and 21st Century Man have got us, and I am sorry if I cannot be as 'bright and cheerful' as you would wish me to be. I feel it is far more pragmatic and effective to be 'realistically sober' about the difficulties we face in the world today, rather than nonchalantly brushing it off. But I do have my lighter moments, and if you read my past blog entries you will see that I do also possess a sense of humour!