The first things which must be said is that, despite the claims, this was not primarily a demonstration against the planned fees but an opportunity to try to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the Conservatives and their Lib Dem catamites, who have agreed to keep keep them in power. For the fact is that Conservatives are not popular with young people, they never have been and never will be. And if our students and would-be students are so upset at being charged for their university education, why did they so meekly acquiesce when the charges were first introduced by Labour several years ago and the principle was first established that from now on they must pay? There was barely a peep out of them. But then the fact is that, broadly, Labour, as the party of the left, are the good guys, and the Tories, as the party of the right, the bad guys. The Lib Dems are, as always, an irrelevancy. (Incidentally, it was suggested today on the Week In Westminster (Radio 4, on all good radio sets) that perhaps the Tories are using the Lib Dems as fall guys for many of the unappetising decisions which have to be made. To which I reply: does the Pope shit in the forest? That’s where Brian Cowen and his buddies went wrong. They didn’t form a coalition with the Lib Dems.)
But it’s a fact of life that the young tend to the left and as they age, faced with a mortgage, loans, keeping up with the Joneses, career-building, unexpected pregnancy and other assorted ‘life event’, they invariably drift to the right. You, my dear reader, whoever you are and wherever you are reading this, know as well as I do that in ten years time the vast majority of those rioters will be boring fucks with mortgages and aspirations who wouldn’t dare rock the boat even if their life depended on it.
It is certainly true that those few who most enthusiastically took to smashing up the roads ‘to demonstrate their displeasure’, do not need an excuse to turn violent. Years ago, I had personal experience of such people and it was not pleasant.
I was at Dundee University and something of a layabout. I wasn’t an anarchist or a druggie or a politico or anything like that, but I was not a model student. I didn’t take part in demos (fighting apartheid was the big cause then) and the lefties thought I was right of the centre, whereas those on the right thought I was a lefties. I was, in fact, neither. The one principle which guided my life was anything for a laugh, and if a toke or five on a spliff was involved, so much the better.
One day Tony Benn came to the university to give a speech in the big lecture hall of the social sciences building. Benn, who might still have been calling himself Anthony Wedgwood-Benn – I can’t remember – was a Labour minister and thoroughly disliked. Although these days he is Mr Cardigan and everyone’s favourite elder statesman and reasonable to a bloody fault, in those days he was regarded by the Tories as a dangerous socialist, but, ironically, regarded by leftie students as an establishment stooge and not left-wing enough. Anyway, I have absolutely no idea why, but I organised a spontaneous ‘demo’ of about 15 people, and we sat at the back of the lecture hall banging our fists on the desks and chanting Give Peace A Chance. It was quite ludicrous that I should have been the ringleader because I didn’t have a political bone in my body. I was just having fun. But word spread and we were joined by others until the group at the back had almost doubled. I can’t remember what happened to the meeting, although we might well have brought it to a premature close, but I do remember my gaggle of 30 or so protesters returning to the students' union where we were joined by others who had just heard of the escapade.
And then I noticed something quite odd: the good-natured gaggle had subtly transformed itself into something quite different. It was now a rabble baying for more trouble. It was a mob. It wanted blood. And it was very ugly. It was no longer a group of individuals but an entity of quite another kind and there was absolutely nothing good-humoured about it. I remember being rather stunned by this very sudden transformation. As the instigator of the original disruption, it had, after all been, my group for a short while, but now I wanted nothing to do with it. I left there and then, and can happily report that those I left behind could think of nothing else to do, and slowly the mob went their separate ways. But it was very odd and it did teach me something about humankind.
. . .
It is standard journalistic practice to blame ‘a violent element’ when protests such as the one yesterday spin out of control, but I believe it is very much the case. It’s a sad fact that 90 per cent of us are sheep who can be led and manipulated with frightening ease. The Communists and the Nazis both made use of that. There need not be many, but those few are not like you or I. Several years ago, four or five were jailed after turning to quite sickening violence, ostensibly acting on behalf of animal welfare. Prince Charles and his darling lady wife Camilla (the ‘Duchess of Cornwall’ – I am dearly hoping that at some point in my life - though I am running out of time - I will be offered a knighthood so that I can turn it down) were being driven through London to some premiere or other (probably not Les Miserables) when they were caught up in the protest and their car was attacked. Apparently, someone managed to get his arm into the car and punched Camilla in the stomach. What exactly does that have to do with protesting against the rise in college fees? Every country has these lunatics, people who simply want to get violent and don’t need an excuse. If you are angry about being charged tuition fees and want to demonstrate that you disagree with the Government’s decision, smashing the window of the Roller Charles and Camilla are being driven in and punching the good lady in the stomach strikes me as a novel and, ultimately, futile way of putting forward your argument. You are more likely to persuade the neutral bystander that you are utterly uninterested in the issue at hand and merely want to perpetrate a little gratuitous violence. I am something of an openminded chap and always willing to be proved wrong but on this one I think you might feel inclined to agree with me.
unpleasant night out for our future king and his missus as the locals get very restless
. . .
Being a fully-paid up member of the cliché industry, clichés are dear to me (at the end of the day, come rain or shine, when all is said and done, clichés are worth their weight in gold.) We hacks are always urged to ‘avoid clichés like the plague’), but the truth is that they are our lifeblood, our stock in trade, and to ignore them would simply be stupid. It’s not that they simply make our lives easier (it ain’t easy being original, so I’ve long ago given up trying to be) but because the public is familiar with them, they are comfortable with them and expect them.
I like to think that a cliché is not just a phrase, but that the notion of clichés can be extended to include our behaviour. So it is surely something of a cliché that a businessman should screw his secretary and marry her after divorcing his wife. Or that some of us guys ‘fall in love’ with the first girl they screw. (In my case it was my second, Sarah Hunter. She jacked me in after a while and, as is the way, I was devastated. She went on to screw a trendy psychology lecturer, a real tit call Martin Skelton-Robinson and then his wife. You might put it down to sour grapes that I should describe him as ‘a tit’, but anyone who calls his newborn son ‘Judas’ is a complete tit in my book. I should add, perhaps in mitigation, that this was at the end of the Sixties.)
I suppose what I am getting at is that just as a phrase becomes so hackneyed by overuse that it gains the status of ‘a cliché’, some behaviour is so predictably commonplace that it can gain a similar status. Thus, in the sense that I am suggesting, some attitudes can also gain the status of ‘cliché’. And, unfortunately, I am now at the age - 61 just under three weeks ago - where I am in real danger of having clichéed attitudes. In my defence, I am very aware of the danger and do my utmost to steer clear of them, but but as far as I can see, that is as futile as attempting to ‘steer clear’ of death.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh on those my age, but too many of us do seem to be living clichés. I would dearly like to exclude myself from that, but in all honesty I can’t. I have got to the age where new words and phrases are beginning to irritate me (e.g. we no longer ‘appeal against’ a decision, we simply ‘appeal’ it, which sounds wrong to my ears, but I am bound to admit that usage of that word has changed and that I am the one out of step. Then there’s the response people give when you ask ‘how are you?’ ‘Good’, they say, which just sounds plain daft to me. I would say ‘well, thank you’.)
All this is an almost excessively long-winded way of getting around to describing my thoughts about the modern take on giving presents. Yesterday my daughter - who is only 14 - texted me while she was on her way to school to ask me to buy her some Christmas cards to give to her friends - bloody 80 cards! 80! Then there is the amount of presents children get these days for Christmas. It is obscene. Three years ago, when we hauled out the sacks my children use as Christmas stockings to fill up again with small gifts, I discovered at the bottom of one a present which one or other of my children had not even opened. I try to instill in them the notion (which I firmly believe to be true) that the more you have, the less you value what you have, but whether or not the message is getting through, I really don’t know. When I was a child, we got one ‘big’ present from our parents, then something practical, like a pair of gloves. We would also get small gifts from grandparents and, perhaps, godparents. But these. The reason I started off this ramble with a reference to clichés was that surely it is a cliché to do what I am doing: ranting on about how ‘the younger generation’ takes too much for granted and how the whole ‘present-giving’ seems to have got completely out of hand? It has probably got a great deal to do with the fact that, for most of us at least, times have become ever easier over these past 60 years, with the recent - and now concluded - era of easy credit boosting the impression that we are all rather affluent.
Yet part of me still firmly believes that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’. The ‘younger generation’ is not at all that different to us old farts. They are simply younger. I dislike my two children more or less as a matter of course switching on the TV as soon as they get up, and tell them so. But all I hear when I tell them so if my father ranting on at me. And guess who also would have switched on the TV more or less as a matter of course were early-morning television available when I was young? Just the one guess, but I’m sure you’ll get it right.
. . .
I’m pretty certain that finding a Daily Mail cartoon funny is a sure indication that retirement can’t be long away. So it is with some shame that I admit that every so often one or two of them do amuse me. Not Garfield and not Fred Bassett, certainly, but Chloe, which sometimes has to be toned down a little to avoid offending the middle-aged sensibilities of readers (why is it that as people grow older, many pretend they never had sex?), The Odd Streak and one called The Strip Show.
I wasn’t at all struck on The Strip Show when it first appeared, but it seems to have gained confidence and can often hit the button. The strip below, which appeared last week, particularly appealed to me. It is a slow burner, but all the better for that. The key to it is in the discrepancy of price. When I first read it, I wondered ‘What the bloody hell is/are ‘dote/dotes?’.
If, after reading it, you’re still wondering, this strip is not for you. Another Strip Show strip I enjoyed a few months ago simply showed the exterior of a building, the home of The Double Entendre Club. Outside the main entrance is a sign which reads ‘Members only’.