Saturday, 17 December 2011

A chequered past.

As a nation the Brits have had a chequered past. There are some things that we as a nation have been good at and others in which we have been appallingly crass. We dug out thousands of miles of canals. Which helped to bring about the industrial revolution but before that we were responsible for much of the world trade in slaves. Our engineers invented the steam engine which we put on wheels to create the worlds first powered railway. Then at the point of a bayonet we went on to subjugate nations and build the British Empire. British Imperial policy tried to completely rearrange the religion and morality of cultures because they were different to ours.

Although the British Empire is something that we were taught to marvel (the red bits on the world map). In reality Military Conquest is a despicable thing and brings out some of the very worst traits in humanity. I don’t think we should blame ourselves now but we sure as hell shouldn’t be proud of our past. Proud of the enslavement of millions of Africans or proud of the brutal oppression of any of the people our British Empire controlled. There are no circumstances when an outside body should intervene in the affairs of Independant Nations.

When I was a young man, we had a manufacturing based economy. People were expected to develop skills over many years through trade apprenticeships. Today our manufacturing industry is a shadow of its former self. Yet my generation were brought up and taught in an educational system that was built around a vocation. We were not expected to have any form of academic aspirations. Academia was for the rich and titled few. We were taught and were expected to know our place.

I bucked that trend - surprising everyone, including myself by getting the highest eleven plus marks in the area. My mother was fit to burst with pride. Proud because like me, she had been placed into an educational system that kept her, despite her talent in her place. I found out as I grew up that she had so much hidden talent. Like the day she just started playing a piano. No one else including me knew that she could play. Because there was a large gap between me and my siblings. I could read and write long before I went to school.  I had the luxury of her undivided attention. I think she enjoyed the challenge that I presented. If ever there was a "mothers boy" in this world - then that accolade is mine. I'm very proud to wear it.

I can remember her when I was a child, reading items in the newspaper out loud and then explaining to me what the subject was about. She would ask me what I thought about the item. She would then guide me through the good points and the bad points. As I grew, so did the challenges and the nurture. She was proud when I went off to University. She was proud when I graduated. I was taught by her to have challenging thoughts, to listen and to understand a differing viewpoint. Then to reflect before doing what I thought was the right thing. The first two paragraphs at the top of this posting reflect the way my mother nurtured me and made me into a thinker. They are almost certainly what her thoughts would be.

Today, most of our children are not encouraged to take on a traditional vocation. It almost seems to be a - right of passage - to have a university education. Yet a university education can be a millstone around your neck today. I'm not talking about the student loans. Our young graduates now find that they are "over qualified" for jobs or "lacking in appropriate experience" for even the most menial of work. The University educational system is now a bums on seats conveyer belt. There has been a role reversal between an academic and vocational education. Try to find a tradesman like a plumber or electrician today, you will have to pay a high premium. Need an IT graduate - they are now two a penny! I have been there, I have done that, I have the scars and tee shirt.

My mother was involved in local politics and through that with the local education authority. I remember going to collect her from an LEA meeting one day. As she came out of the room she was in deep discussion with one of he LEA heads. She said "We may educate our children, but we certainly don't nurture them into being proactive thinkers." Later, I asked her what she meant by the remark. We had a long discussion on the way home about different methodologies used in teaching. She said "We teach our children to write their names - but we don't teach them to enquire and to question what they are being taught. We teach times tables by rote and at the same time we teach the value of nothing. There is a subtle difference between good or bad rather than good and bad." Recently, I was told about an example of what she was saying to me 40 years ago.

A friend of mine wanted to purchase a ceramic heater for the engine room of his boat. He picks up a suppliers catalogue and selects the wanted item. Only to be told that "the item is currently out of stock." "When will you have any in stock" he asks - the sales person says "I don't know." So my friend asks if the sales person can find out when they will have some in stock. "Nobody will know when the item will be in stock again" says the sales person.

So my friend whilst he is stood at the sales counter, rings up the customer service department and asks them. The answer was "they are out of stock" - "when will the heaters be in stock again" he asks. "I don't know" is the answer. My friend is a bit persistent and says "can I speak to your manager then please." Again he is told by the manager that the items are "out of stock" "when will they be in stock" he asks. "One moment please - the stock is due in for delivery on Monday the 12th, they should be in store on Wednesday the 14th by the afternoon."

So he places an order for the item with the salesroom assistant, pays and says "I will collect them on Wednesday afternoon." - he is greeted by a round of spontaneous applause from others waiting to be served. Today he went to ScrewFix to collect his order, tomorrow he intends to install the heater.

For some reason I'm humming Land of Hope and Glory the traditional Patriotic song of the Brits to my cynical old self. I wonder what words Benson would put to the music of  Elgar today?


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