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.

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