Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Up The Workers.

Mining a strike.

As an MA student at Goldsmiths College, University of London, I find myself on the coalface of the current lecturers strike, which is strange because last time I was at university the miners were striking, and that's where the similarity ends. The country's not exactly about to be plunged into freezing darkness three days a week because a few lecturers are having a lie in, although we are having an unrelated cold snap.


Instead, a few creative writing students are going to have to meet in a local cafe rather than on university premises this week and in lieu of hanging off our lecturer’s every word we'll just have to make it all up for ourselves, which I guess you could say is the whole point of the MA in any case. Hey ho. I find myself conflicted. On the one hand I support the cause, of course, my own father's an academic and the pay and status of academics in this country has been gradually eroded over the years like... well, like coal chipped from a coalface. Now, about to lose up to £10,000 from their pension pots as a result of a proposal to switch from "defined benefit" pensions (guaranteed income) to "defined contribution" pensions (subject to stock market fluctuations) they're understandably pissed off. Trouble is, despite more than a million students standing to be affected (or more likely lying... in bed), no one else really gives a toss.

I give a lot of a toss, as it happens, not just because the MA is expensive and nowadays education equals money but also because I don’t want to miss a thing. It dawned on me last week that unless I'm prepared to cross a picket line, which of course I'm not, I'm from Yorkshire for God's sake, I can't even set foot on the Goldsmiths College premises to swan about feeling studenty and queue up in the cafeteria for some quinoa. This is the real loss: being deprived of the student experience I was loving so much. As resentment mounts little traitorous thoughts start to creep in... 

Thoughts like, yeah well, I don't have a pension at all, mate. As a freelancer who took time out to have children I've been left to scratch a few pence together to see me through my dotage. And, yeah, my parents who both spent their entire working lives teaching now live a very comfortable life in retirement, thank you very much, on generous index-linked public sector pensions, but it's not sustainable for the future. The beleaguered generation following on behind can barely afford to pay for its own university education in taxes and heavy maintenance loans (charged at 6% interest, btw, which is criminal, and did lecturers come out on strike about that?), they certainly won't be able to go on funding their parents' and grandparents' hefty pension bills indefinitely as well. 

Off with their heads.

Speaking of living a comfortable life, I was in the Royal Academy on Friday at the Charles I: King and Collector exhibition -


where incidentally it was packed to the gills with well-dressed seventy-somethings whose combined pension power could probably pay off the national debt of a small African country, but enough griping from me because I was among them and people enjoying themselves on Friday afternoons in glass-panelled exhibition spaces probably shouldn’t throw stones. So anyway, visiting the ladies loos with my friend Jay after looking at the pretty paintings and having a quick glass of prosecco (I know, I know), we stood in front of the mirror washing our hands and talking about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde revision sheets, as you do, when suddenly a bolt shot back from one of the loo doors. 

"Jekyll and Hyde?" said a well-groomed woman, emerging speedily from one of the cubicles, "GCSE?" 

"Er, yes," we said. 

"Oooo!" she said, "which website?" 

So Jay told her, and as we walked away, I said, "You know what? That's got to be the ultimate MCP (middle class problem). Where to find the best Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde revision sheets, as discussed in the RA basement loos."

Love E x


P.S. Apart from being barred from your MA creative writing course because of a lecturers strike and having to sit in a local cafe instead, of course.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The boss.

People in York are friendlier than people in London, that's just a fact. I was there last week staying with my parents, so I know. People in York talk to you. At a bus stop waiting for a bus into the city centre we struck up a conversation with a lady with three children, a girl and two boys, who were talking about Germany Beck, an area of Fulford where a controversial housing development is taking place (Persimmon Homes, building 700 new houses).

"You do know why it's called Germany Beck, don't you?" says my mother, butting in to their conversation. She can't help herself, she's a raging extrovert; standing waiting for a lift in a department store I have to instruct her not to speak to the people already inside the lift when we get in, reluctantly she usually (but not always) obliges, but I can see it's a struggle.

The three children waiting with the lady at the bus stop didn't bat an eyelid as they might have done in London if some mad woman suddenly struck up conversation with them. "No," they said, with sweet, enquiring faces. "Why?"

So my mother told them: it's named Germany Beck after German de Brettgate, a landowner who lived in these parts quite a long time ago. I knew this too, as it happens, because only the night before I'd been with my mother at the Fulford Historical Society meeting in the local church hall: 'Who's who in Fulford:1066 to 1266' (and I know what you're thinking, you're jealous because my life is so glamorous).

After this we had a long chat with the woman and the little girl at the bus stop about how troublesome boys are (the elder boy kept mithering the younger one, as they say in Yorkshire). When we got on the bus another woman greeted my mother by name and as I passed the place where the little girl was already sitting on the bus she beamed at me, so I beamed back.

Arriving in York city centre, we descended the stairs (we always sit on the top deck, if there is one) and another woman at the bottom of the stairs suddenly stopped and waited. "Everything alright?" I asked her, wondering why she had suddenly stopped and waited. "Yes," she said, "I'm just waiting so you can go first." I'll just repeat that; she was -  JUST WAITING SO WE COULD GO FIRST. 

When I stepped off the bus the driver was waiting there too, suddenly he shot his arm out towards me. "Look!" he bellowed. I jumped. What? What was it? Someone pulling a knife? A shivering homeless person lying prone on the pavement I was about to step on? "Your shoe laces are undone," he said. I didn't have any shoe laces. I was wearing boots. I studied his face. He was smiling. It was a joke. I'll just repeat that - IT WAS A JOKE. 

"It's not like living in London," I said to my mother as we walked away, "London is a war zone. In London you must put on your emotional body armour every time you go out. In London it's dog eat dog, every man for himself, survival of the fittest. It must be lovely to live in York where people know your name and everyone is smiley and friendly."

"It is," said my mother.

A few days later, back in London, I was walking through our local market with my husband, telling him this. "People in York are so friendly," I told him, "it's such a lovely place to live compared with London. Here no one knows your name and everyone is horrid and mean."

"Mmm," he said, just as we were passed the veg stall.

"Alright boss!" called out the veg stall owner, to my husband. I'll just repeat that - ALRIGHT BOSS! called out the veg stall holder, to my husband.

"Did he just call you boss?" I asked my husband.

"He did," he said. "You'd be surprised. I command respect in these parts."

I have to admit, I was surprised.

Love E x


P.S. Because he's not the boss at all, I am.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Who am I?

I am a fifteen-year-old boy. I'm not particularly happy. Can you blame me? I have GCSE's in a few months' time and I go to a huge comprehensive school in south London where no one pays me much attention. I'm shy with people I don't know. I'm also bored. I'd like to go to America where kids get to be stars in programmes like Stranger Things. I never go to parties. I like to play games on the computer and skateboard with my mates. I love my brothers and my parents, but especially my brothers, who aren't around much now because they went to university.

I am a nineteen-year-old-boy. I'm at university. I'm happy most of the time and I'm not shy. I like people. I'm interested in a whole bunch of stuff and I read a lot. I'm reading History at university. I like the people here and I like the town my university is in. I read stuff that isn't history too, like philosophy, and then I talk about it, a lot. I play the guitar really well. I'm pretty cool and I know I'm pretty cool. Life's good.

I am a twenty-one-year-old man and I'm very happy. I'm at university too and I'm in a band and I have a girlfriend and live with a bunch of people in a lovely house by the sea. I write and play music. I film stuff. I like to drink alcohol with my mates. I cook, but not meat, I don't eat meat. I like to draw and paint. Basically I like creating. On the train to London at Christmas my girlfriend and I embroidered each others' shirts.

I am a fifty-four-year-old man and I'm not going to tell you anything about myself except that I work hard and love my family.

I am a fifty-one-year old man and the brother of the fifty-four-year-old man and I'm one of the few people who ever bothers to comment on this blog, which is kind of me. (Hello, I'm his partner, 'hi!').

I am a seventy-eight-year-old woman. To be honest I probably need a whole blog to myself to explain who I am. I'm a happy optimist, an extrovert, a force of nature. I was a primary school teacher and then a head teacher. Now I'm retired but I'm on thirteen different committees. I love to dance. I go to Zumba classes three times a week. I'm very happily married and I love my life and my family.

I am a seventy-seven-year-old man. I also need my own blog to explain who I am, or maybe a PHD thesis. I'm a thinker, a professor, I still work. I write books and research. I still lecture too, often abroad. Sometimes I still teach undergraduates. I love gardening and worry about what we're doing to this planet. I run a community orchard. I'm busy. I love my life and my wife and my family.

I am an eighty-year-old man and the brother of the seventy-eight-year-old man; and I am the wife of the eighty-year-old man, and I am their children, and I am their children's children.

I am a forty-eight-year-old man, the son of the seventy-seven-year old man, with a wife and two girls, and I live in London and I'm busy and creative. I'm confident and pretty funny, though I say so myself. I write. I play music. I love to play tennis in my spare time. I love my wife and girls. (I am the wife, and girls, and we have good hearts).

Love E x


P.S. Who am I? See above.