Tag Archives: Politics

Is this advanced?

Far from being ‘advanced’, the further education system in the United Kingdom has a malign tumour at its core, and that tumour is itself.

Where once a pass at A Level was taken as a mark of distinction in a particular subject, with the tantalising A-grade a guarantor of prowess, it’s now a commonplace ornament on a list of eminent achievements expected of every student. A-Levels are symptomatic of society’s obsession with increasingly meaningless grades, a desire to project a plastic façade of competence rather than granite proof thereof.

The situation has deteriorated such that students are now routinely taught how to navigate mark schemes rather than the content they supposedly represent; swallowing prescribed formulas from the first week of most courses, creativity is strangled in favour of marks and, of course, league table positions.

As battery chickens in a dingy coop, students are stuffed with swathes of information to match the mark scheme by the educational machine, creative wings clipped not just by the examination boards but also by the fervent desire of the teachers to obey their whims. In sciences, students complete thousands of past questions to learn the mark scheme rather than the scientific theories or processes to pass the examinations and procrastinate over their actual education, as by laying an egg every day the hen delays slaughter. In arts subjects, the poultry inmates of the education system are systematically taught certain words and phrases which get marks, extending to the extremes in languages by teachers often writing speaking scripts for students to rote-learn.

With 270-word limits imposed on language essays (including, in at least one board, to discuss an entire film therein), where is the room to experiment linguistically, to developed detailed trains of thought or to analyse cinematic elements or societal tenets? When the widely-pronounced acknowledgement that German, for example, takes 33.3% more words as a direct equivalent of the English version, is taken into consideration, what can comprise these essays but sweeping generalisations, superficial narration and an end product linguistically equivalent to an asphyxiated deer, once regal but now swollen and rotting?

Although they are at last being phased out, the insidious ways in which schools manipulate controlled assessments and EMPAs by massaging the dates of papers and playing fast and loose with board regulations to secure their students the best grades at the expense of fair play and a good education, often suggesting content and answering ‘hypothetical’ questions, are endemic.

No wonder students struggle with the gaps between GCSE and AS, between AS and A2 and between A2 and university. Without a solid skill base having been established, what is there to build on but the ethereal departure of hope such a disappointment engenders? The marginalising of actual ability threatens not only the individual student, but more broadly the economy, with one dentist recently telling us how his employees with an A in English Language GCSE are unable to write a document with any sense of spelling, grammar or structure. What foundation is this for any form of advancement?

The pythonic embrace which has descended on further education belies the epithet ‘advanced’ which presides proudly over the heads of many teenagers, smothering any inclination to develop thought processes with absurd time constraints, word limits and concrete mark schemes.

Advanced Levels do not work for the most academically able. They do not work for the least academically able. For a minority caught exactly in the middle, willing to rote-learn mark schemes and manufacture a few paltry paragraphs, what is there to change? All too often various politicians wax lyrical about ‘the few’ of their opponents, yet with this crucial flaw in our society, never was so much slowed for so many by so few.

Arachnophobia

A few weeks ago, during the days when summer transitioned into a wintery autumn, our household was struck by an immigration issue. They came in all shapes and sizes, some small, some large, some black, some brown, but all with the same intent: feeding off us, using our benefits, impinging off our heating and lighting and making zipwires from my light-shade to my curtain-rail.

I was working one day (surprisingly) and I saw something out of the corner of my eye, something which scuttled with malice and a vengeance across the floor. This eight-legged horror froze as I turned my gaze upon its features, eyeing me back with contempt. I didn’t move either, and, summoning up my courage, I called my sister to remove it to a more suitable location. Then I knew. I had arachnophobia.

It lasted less than a week. I still don’t pick them up and let them run across my hands, and they’re not coming anywhere near my food, but I’m not afraid of them any more.

The word phobos is often translated as fear, but that’s not its true meaning. It’s the intertwined mix of hate and fear which supersedes reason and common sense. Paraphrasing Ovid, what is more influential than mankind, what less than an insect? Yet mankind screams and runs away from the insect.

The spiders have truly come out of the woodwork in the last few parliamentary years. In the midst of the populist web of disruption lies Nigel Farage, spinning out attractive propositions to win over the British electorate. The established parties, in reality, have nothing to fear from Ukip, electorally speaking. First-past-the-post, whatever disadvantages may be found with it, ensures that, even if Ukip come a close second in every constituency, they still won’t gain any seats. The spiders won’t eat the human.

Just as with the Anti-Waste League in the early 1920s, the Conservatives will inevitably shift more towards the right to eliminate the usefulness of Ukip, since they are more effective in government than the untested and globally unpopular Ukip.

Of course, the European elections show that Ukip has a mandate to voice Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom, but these cannot be taken as a prediction for the general election, given that the turnout was much lower (so those who did bother were probably more motivated to make it count anyway) and works on proportional representation.

The spider may not be able to do anything disasterous, but I still engineered a pretty comprehensive series of traps to stop one crawling onto my face during the night. Ukip may not win a majority in government, but they can still force Cameron’s hand in the EU, push for a reconsideration of the immigration laws and of the judicial infrastructure.

It isn’t logical to fear/hate spiders. In actual fact, they do some good, such as controlling the fly numbers…and probably other good things too. And Ukip have one good point – they’ve forced a reconsideration of the status quo and have ridded the established parties of the complacency in policy and in action they have enjoyed for a long time in Westminster politics.

We can prohibit spider from impinging on our territory by covering the vicinity in peppermint essence, or we can suck up each one with a hoover. We could discredit Ukip on the grounds of racism, sexism or whatever else the media can find, or we could seriously consider how they have enjoyed such a surge in popularity despite their ostensibly massive flaws.

I don’t have arachnophobia any more. I got over it. Maybe it’s time Westminster did too.

Jigsaw City

I look out to my left, and I see Prussia. Straight ahead of me lies Weimar Germany. Somewhere behind me lies the Third Reich. Below me is Cold War Germany. To my right, modern-day Germany buzzes along.

No city experienced turbulence in the 20th century more than Berlin. With 5 different forms of government (imperialistic monarchy, democracy, fascist dictatorship, occupation & communist dictatorship) in less than 50 years, every time I visit a distinct feeling of this jigsaw history being forced together is impressed upon me.

The Brandenburg Gate, to the left of my position at the top of Lord Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome, is the symbol of old Prussia. Built by Prussian monarch Friedrich Wilhelm II, its victorious quadriga swiftly became established as a symbol of Prussian power and might after it was regained from Paris at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Bombed during the Second World War and used to host demonstrations during the Cold War, these 6 columns represent the inherent imperialistic foundations of the capital.

Interwoven amongst subtle memories of the kaisers (more prominent in the cathedral, where the mighty organ & lavish masonry of Friedrich I Barbarossa’s tomb seem to be superseded by memorials not to the hegemony of Prussia but to the oppression of its peoples by national socialists and communists) lie the hints of embryonic modern Germany. Between the downfall of Kaiser Wilhelm II following his 1918 abdication and the nefarious advent of the Nazis in 1933, Germany was a democracy, with proportional representation* and a functional parliament. The cries for this seem to be eternally etched onto the front of the Reichstag now – “DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE” (“TO THE GERMAN PEOPLE”), carved in 1916 as support for the monarchical autocracy dwindled, which, to the modern onlooker, evoke feelings of a wider significance. Throughout the 20th century, Germany rarely fully belonged to the German people, blocked by a warmongering kaiser, coldly efficient purist national socialists and administrations comprising of Soviet puppets.

Rightfully afraid of an upsurge of Neo-Nazis, the site of Hitler’s bunker during the Battle for Berlin is unmarked. It’s a car park now, not far from the Brandenburg Gate. Like the Residenzstrasse in Munich, simply standing on the street where some of the most pivotal events of Nazi history – the final days of the regime and its first steps towards the seizure of power respectively – is eerily poignant. Just imagining the realisation of the lost war, enactment of scorched earth policy, suicides & cremations which happened all around that point is strangely silencing. It’s the same with Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse-8. The headquarters of the SS. Beck, Canaris, Bonhoeffer, Oster…the names of the lions of the anti-Nazi resistance swim around in my mind as I stand above the excavations of their holding cells.**

The memorials to the victims of Hitler are dotted all around the city; the Holocaust Mahnmal a few seconds away from the Brandenburg Gate, the Jewish Museum (which actually also documents wider Jewish history), the Topography of Terror museum & various plaques. But what I find the most thought-provoking is not the extensive displays of little collections, but rather the places; the spots where Bormann’s skeleton was found, where the grand march of SS troops was held in 1933, where the various ministries ordered the subjugation of what was to become the Third Reich.

Other ‘memory spots’ are to be found in the centre of the city, where the Berlin Wall sliced the world in half overnight in 1961. A line of cobbles traces it outside the Reichstag, in other places a double white line or isolated blocks of it decorated with art and graffiti (East Side Gallery & Potsdamer Platz). The spot where Allied & Soviet tanks faced each other, either one with the capability to incinerate much of our planet through starting a nuclear war, is now a McDonald’s – says a lot about modern society. Checkpoint Charlie is a monument to souvenir hunting and photo opportunities, itself being a replica – the spot itself is far more vivid and evocative.

And although it was torn down in 1989, amidst worldwide festivity, the Wall continues to embody a discrepancy in Germany today. It is widely documented that the wage, employment and quality of life gaps between the former East & West Germany prevail, but I do not refer to this. This discrepancy is much wider, obscure and threatening. It is not the failure of Khruschev & Kennedy to become amicable diplomatically in the 1960s: it is the failure of society today to recognise that those differences are, at present, irreconcilable. The Wall may be down, but its footprint is still there. Although on the face of it East/West relations seem to be effective, in reality, as we are now beginning to witness in Crimea & the Eastern Ukraine, they are probably as dire as in 1961. The routing of capitalist/communist sympathisers may have ended with the death of the latter form of government in Russia, but the propaganda prevails. It is crucial to repair relations with Putin immediately if we are to avoid another century of European turmoil.

In the meantime, Berlin, within whose boundaries the German government even now is vying for non-belligerent solutions to the Ukraine issue, sits atop its marshy ground, the jigsaw city, with all the answers to the future locked within its streets.

 

 

*(which elicited great instability of government)

**This year marks the 70th anniversary of the 20th July plot to assassinate Hitler. I’m currently researching the extent of the opposition  to the Nazis cocooned within their own regime, primarily within the secret service (Abwehr) which I hope to publish later this year.

Am I?

“That’s such a right-wing thing to say…”

This rather interesting observation often pertains to any conversation I hold regarding politics, education or history, fastening itself almost indelibly to my opinions on grammar schools (yes please), Margaret Thatcher (excellent wartime leadership & strong economic stance), feminism (no) and so on.

At the moment, I reside in the north of England, although I myself hail primarily from midlands and Scottish stock. Yes, I’m middle-class, Christian and Conservative, but does that really make me so shockingly right-wing? Of course, everything is relative, and relative to most of the people I have daily contact with I must indeed seem fairly right-wing, considering that they are very left-wing but snuggle within the quilting of a very left-wing district, rendering ‘Ed-ite’ politics seem the norm. A fellow student recently held out a 30cm* ruler, representing the political spectrum, and claimed that I am positively off the scale.

Let’s consider this objectively. I believe in private enterprise, governmental funding cuts, an in-out referendum about EU membership, the United Kingdom, constitutional monarchy, the House of Lords, tuition fees and a strong militia. I also believe in controlled immigration, freedom of the press unaffiliated financially and secretively to any particular political party and the NHS (which however desperately needs reform). I admire the special relationship with the US, but agree that it musn’t coerce the UK to become too subservient, have doubts about the sensibility of the EU and am wary of its and Russia’s dealings (although not for the same reasons).

Depending on your background, this will either sound very right-wing, or actually, which is the truth, simply Conservative. I have written before about left-wing indoctrinated of history, which is in peril of becoming revisionist, and my experiences thereof are typical of everyday life in an area so deeply ensconced in itself that it refuses to acknowledge outside views. Sometimes I am even regarded with disdain upon speaking for not having a trace of the local accent (which is worsened when unfortunately I cannot decipher that of the person with whom I speak – this has never been a skill of mine), which I think is bordering on – if not racism – anti-origin attitude.

To the English, I am ‘Scottish’ (my blood is 25% Scottish although I have Scottish origins); to the Scottish I am ‘English’. In arts lessons I am regarded as scientific, and in science lessons I am regarded as linguistic/arts-y. When I play badminton, I am told my style is too much akin to that of tennis; when I play tennis, I am remonstrated with for flicking my wrists as if I was hitting a shuttlecock. Like the dilemma faced by Tonio Kroeger in Thomas Mann’s eponymous novel, both sides seem to regard me as being too much with the other.

When it comes to politics, I may be Conservative, but that does not make me Nigella Farage.

*or, to fit in with my super-right-wing image, 12-inch

Permafrost

Here we are, one week on from the conclusion of the latest installment of medal-fuelled tears and tension, with a diplomatic crisis brewing 400 miles from the Fisht Stadium.

The post-1946 decline in Western-Soviet relations was named the Cold War; perhaps this new one could be termed the Permafrost War. For although grass may grow atop, a façade developed in the uppermost layer of warmer soil, there reposes a hard layer quasi-malevolence beneath it.

I think it’s safe to say that the UK has one of the worst diplomatic relationships with Russia. Since a sizeable proportion of the population with memory or knowledge of the 1950s-60s still hasn’t quite sat up from the knock-out shock of the Philby deception (by far the most disturbing of those of the Cambridge 5), it may seem logical that the defection of another spy caused the newest period of frosty diplomacy between the two states. Alexander Litvinenko did, however, transfer his loyalty from the FSB (Russian secret service) to MI6, an act which, along with publications deemed caustic to the reputation of his former employers, secured his death sentence by the radioactive drug polonium in November 2006. FSB agents were blamed but subsequent inquests have proved inconclusive – handily for the Foreign Office. Finding the death of Litvinenko (under the protection of the British government) to have been, beyond all reasonable doubt, effectively caused by the Russian government on British soil would be more than a little harmful for diplomatic relations.

Yet in 2010, Gordon Brown (PM) and David Miliband (Foreign Secretary) expelled 4 Russian diplomats (apparently intelligence officers) from the UK in response to Moscow’s refusal to allow the prime suspect in Litvinenko’s murder, Andrei Lugovoi, to be extradited. Also in 2010, Moscow expelled a British diplomat on charges of alleged spying. An associate of Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky, was found hanged in Berkshire in 2013 in circumstances which will probably never be entirely clear. He was a long-term and defiant critic of Putin.

Ever since the Bolsheviks arranged the murders of the British king’s cousins, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their 6 young children in Yekaterinburg in 1918, relations between our two nations haven’t been the most cordial. The UK supported the Whites in the 1917-22 Civil War and the swathes of refugees, along with her ally France. Although Churchill and Stalin aligned themselves strategically in 1941 to end the Nazi evil, Churchill remained aware of the dangers posed by Stalin, politically prescient as ever, and it was he who, in 1946, coined the term ‘Iron Curtain’. Very much the ‘enemy within’ the Allies, the Soviets initially made a pretence of willing friendship after the conclusion of the Second World War, in order to rebuild trade and industry ravaged by the Nazi infiltration of the USSR, but the West, ever wary of that communist ‘man of steel’ (in the least super-heroic sense), declined and widened the breach. Then the Cold War truly began in earnest; the Berlin Wall; Cuban Missile Crisis; Cambridge 5 revelations.

Royalist Britain simply could not stomach the overthrow of the monarchy in 1917 by fairly poorly supported workers and recently returned ex-patriots – the 36 million or so killings in Stalin’s purges is even less of a cause to be friendly with the old regime. Having led the world in industrialisation, and arguably the most advanced country in the world by that point economically speaking, with a well-functioning political system, it was hard to see what was so bad about the tsar that he needed to be replaced with revenge-hungry killers.

In my own opinion, I believe the fact that 36m or so murders are far less well-known and documented than Hitler’s 11m speaks for itself. The communist USSR and the capitalist west are so ideologically different in so many areas that it would be near-impossible to have maintained diplomatic relations. That’s pretty obvious.

But now? Has the history between Russia and the west laid down insurmountable barriers to happy and productive relations? Of course not. Look at Germany – Hitler ruled for 12 years, murdering 11m of his own citizens and several hundred thousand of ours during that tenancy, and Angela Merkel is received warmly into the Houses of Parliament and the homes of the British PM and head of state. Of course. It would be churlish to insinuate that she is in any way responsible for the Nazis’ atrocities, or that our relations are in some way impaired by it (something closer to the mark would be the word ‘penalties’ – 90 minutes rather than 12 years).

Is Russia so different? I’m afraid so. On top of all the negative history since 1917 go the recent espionage fiascos and the ostensible determination of Putin to supersede the west (his spokesman declaring the UK to be a “small island” that “nobody listens to” in anger over British proactivity over Syria and anti-corruption). The tenet that Russia has been ruled since the Mongol Conquest by silnaya ruka, the iron hand, seems to hold true, and this is not palatable to the modern west. As 19th century Slavophiles in Russia maintained, Russia is clearly different to the west, and therefore must develop differently. Whilst I’m not entirely adherent to that philosophy, the distinction between Russia and the west seems fairly apparent; but for the benefit of not only our children (cue spiel) but also for the global economy, peace and worldwide diplomatic fraternity.

In Alaska, they break away the permafrost with pick-axes of metal. We can break away this permafrost war with pick-axes of diplomacy, if only our politicians would.

Sporting matters

It’s a gloriously sunny day in the English countryside. Sheep bleat with content, birds sing and trill with burning goodwill, and butterflies flit between exquisitely colourful efflorescence. Magnificently natural, the secluded ‘peacefulness’ of the meadows, fields and riverbanks are throbbing. Throbbing with the sound of 18 break horsepower. This is the British Lawn Mower Racing Championship.

Initiated in 1973, this humble form of motorsport surely epitomises the track on which the engine of British sport should be headed. Devoid of monetary impetus, its rustic and simple allure has drawn famous and successful racers, like Stirling Moss, to compete ferociously for the kudos of ‘best in field’. Its motto, translated as “Through the grass to the stars”, is not only humourous and illustrative of the modest layout of the sport, but is inspirational, like the RAF motto it parodies. It shows an aim; a desire; a goal. Through 400m of liquidated lawn, competitive spirit, sportsmanship and co-operation cut through the apparent triviality of the sport.

Lawn-mower racing is hardly a major world sport. One doesn’t win a prize. It’s not televised. Outsiders hardly consider it Olympic material – it doesn’t matter. But that’s the point. Because, looming and zooming above those blades of grass, is the essence of true sport.

The detritus feeder of commercialism has decayed the purity of sport, before it’s dead. With such astronomical amounts of money being thrown liberally at football players (the average annual pay for a Barcelona player is £5.2m excluding endorsements), Formula One drivers (the average yearly wage of a Ferrari driver is £16m) and Olympic athletes (Usain Bolt earns almost £13m), it seems like the founding and purest aspects of sport are being thrown to the lions of avarice, materialism and rapacity.

The real impetus for the pursuit of sporting excellence should not be global acclaim, a bank balance that could afford 3m mosquito nets for impoverished Africans or scores of endorsement deals. It should be for the pursuit of health, social mobility and leisure. It should be adorned not with the logos of countless companies, but with the banners of health, fun and fair play.

Sportsmanship, the ideal of sport undistorted by greed or selfish ambition, was begun by the Victorians when they revolutionised football, rugby, cricket and other such popular sports. What started as commonly played games increasingly spread throughout the British Empire and their allies, covering the world in a matter of decades. Sportsmanship rode on that great Britannic wave. The idea of sport as something totally opposite to intellectual study, healthy for the body and mind, started with the Ancient Greeks; but the evils of commercialisation are a relatively new strain of plague.

The first sponsorship deal in Formula One was in 1968, when a company responsible for thousands of worldwide cancers, respiratory diseases and circulation problems, Gold Leaf Cigarettes, lit up the commercial racing scene. There’s no smoke without a fire; by 1972, every single car was covered with commercial symbolism.

Through the ashes of monetary addiction is a lesson for all forms of sport. 44 years on, corporate hands are stained yellow with the shame of eradicating the originally exemplary ethics of racing, the boundaries between fairness and balancing the books at the end of the financial year being smudged incomprehensibly, leading to fixed race results by team hierarchies, inter-team spying and drivers often being chosen over the amount of sponsors they bring, rather than their proven skill. This is all down to fiscal short-sightedness, megalomania and moronity.

While smoking is a detriment to the healthy image sport likes to emanate, the cancers of commercialism and materialism are far more terminal and treacherous to the cells making up pure and unalloyed sport, than any caused by cigarette smoke.

It’s not the money injected into sport that is its moral downfall – deprivation of all funding will let cricket grounds turn brown, pools become contaminated and ski pistes to become abandoned and unsafe. But the accentuated and markedly unsporting state of monetary affairs has destroyed all that our ancestors worked up to.

Although the intentions may have started off well, the dragons of financial gluttony have mauled world sport and have devastated its purity.

Whilst football pitches are surrounded by hoardings, leagues swamped by title sponsors and kits steeped in advertisements, the grassy knolls of the Sussex countryside are airy. A season in lawn-mower racing would cost £796.35 on average, including a new race-prepared mower, slightly less costly than Manchester City’s £392m wages bill alone. All the kit you need is a helmet, outdoor jacket and a pair of trustworthy boots, and there’s not much commercial interest in inscribing an old walking jacket.

And so, in a world chastened by oxymorons, contradictions and unfairness, it is to the lowly garden sheds and garages that we must turn to find modern sport in its prime. Flick the switch and raise the blades – the grass is greener on the lawn-mower racing side.

Childhood

No matter how far we are from it, most of us like to be reminded of our formative years once in a while. Whether it’s comparing the children’s television of today with that which we used to adore under the guise of entertaining young family members, adding musical memoirs of those times to our Spotify playlists or choosing what to cook on the basis of what we ate with our grandmother, our childhoods reach down indelibly into all of our lives.

This is obvious. It isn’t particularly insightful analysis to draw the link between nostalgic comfort and my desire to listen to the theme tune to “Thomas the Tank Engine”. But when it comes to the study of history, I believe the effects of childhood and the influences thereof are myopically overlooked.

Take  Adolf Hitler. His father, an illegitimate child with confused paternity, was an alcoholic who regularly beat up Adolf’s mother; Adolf, standing up for said mater, was once pushed through a window (albeit ground floor) by his drunk father. Alois exerted a forceful influence on his son, and tried to dictate his life, so undermining Adolf’s faith in a peaceful home and a successful career path that it set the foundations for the disturbed mind which would wreak such havoc upon the world.

Coupled with nationalist grief at the annexation of his local area (Branau-am-Inn) by Austria rather than Germany ingrained from childhood, the influence of famously proto-fascist politicians (e.g. the mayor) and businessmen in his late teenage and young adult years in Vienna, his impoverished situation sweeping drives for a pittance in the rich (and actually predominantly Jewish – who, due to racial career restrictions, often ended up in the lucrative financial sector) sector of the city and of course the defeat of the German empire (to whom Hitler always wished to demonstrate allegiance) in the First World War and ensuing Treaty of Versailles, the disruptive and strained home atmosphere had a deep effect on Hitler the man.

In fact, his extremist tendencies can be demonstrated from a relatively young age (teenage years) from the remembrances of friends and acquaintances. I would argue that Hitler became the evil persona by the time he was 20 – contingency, in the form of the First World War, created the opportunity for that to be released into popular politics, and, except for certain geopolitical tendencies as shaped by Munich professor Karl Haushofer, most of his ideas on politics were already complete prior to the outbreak of war.

In the English history curriculum, this crucial childhood is not explored enough for understanding of the man. If we are to prevent such a phenomenon of psychology occurring again, as advocates of the study of history love to claim its purpose is to do, surely we need to identify the causes therefor and rectify them in our society?

Hitler was not special. There are many alcoholics in the world. There are many nationalist politicians. There are many stubborn little boys. And, although circumstance in the geopolitical division of the border between southern Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire heightened Hitler’s development into the man he became, there are other instances in the modern world. North and South Korea. Sudan and South Sudan. Israel and the Gaza Strip. Just look at Chechnya; disagreements, to put it lightly, in the 1990s about whether or not it was part of Russia or an independent state following the dissolution of the Soviet Union have elicited devastating acts of terrorism and violence – the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and countless other investigators, bombings in Moscow and attacks in Grozny and the devastating Boston Marathon bombings.

If the circumstances exist, so too, somewhere, must such a person. They occasionally pop up, such manifestations of evil; Stalin; Bin Laden; the queer convention that was the Nazi party. In Britain, the Conservatives are most eager to help to diminish the frequency of broken families by encouraging the maintenance of marriage and so on; the break-ups thereof and familial discontent can brew future disaster.

Childhood is important. Childhood is very important. Memories, relationships and  some skills are formed during that time. But we would be foolish to regard it as pure nostalgia and to disregard it in adult life. Whilst Hitlers are – thankfully – extremely rare in positions of such potency, societal issues caused by dysfunctional (if I may venture to use that word) or disrupted childhoods, such as substance addiction, suicides and mental health issues, affect many millions of people. Whether caused by familial, geopolitical or associative (i.e. persons not pertaining to one’s family) issues, the formative years are crucial in developing such.

Please excuse me whilst I YouTube Fireman Sam and eat a jam roly-poly.

Inversion of prediction

“If it’s a girl they’re calling her Sigourney after an actress. And if it’s a boy they’re naming him Rodney, after Dave.”

Trigger, as portrayed by the late Roger Lloyd-Pack, used this simple line referring to the imminent birth of Del Boy’s child in “Only Fools & Horses” to intertwine typical social intricacies and his character’s idiosyncracies, playing on audience expectations to render the essence of the pun much more comedic than the situation might otherwise have been. Simple inversion of prediction is probably the most effective form of comedy. Tommy Cooper, whose jokes and magic antics made for popular and memorable viewing, exploited audience expectation expertly when relating a joke; “My neighbour came round the house at 4 o’clock this morning, banging on the door. Good thing I was up playing the bagpipes.” Les Dawson, in his pianoforte sketches, and Eric Morecambe, in the famed “Andrew Preview” sketch, also played on these false predictions with, shall we say, unique interpretations of famous works (or, paraphrasing Morecambe, playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order).

Yesterday, David Cameron, delivering a speech to the Westminster Correspondents’ Dinner, also inverted expectations whilst outlining his priorities for the coming year and his remaining in this parliamentary term.  Ostensibly serious, he declared his first priority to be “keeping the bald spot under control”, whilst lauding his hairdresser for making cuts and inhibiting a recession simultaneously.

Other inversions of prediction tend to be somewhat less humourous; the 5-0 whitewash in  the most recent Ashes series comes to mind for English cricket fans. Others are simply interesting; a score of ‘8’ for Gordon Brown on the tea-time quiz “Pointless” when 100 people were asked to name chancellors of the exchequer, or the shock of watching David Suchet sans moustache and Belgian accent.

What forms these expectations? As members of society, we have individual childhood foundations, familial influences and life experiences, yet there is sufficient communal interest and knowledge to merit a wealth of popular comedies – “Only Fools & Horses”, “Miranda” and “Morecambe and Wise”, for example, which pull large audiences. The 1978 Christmas special of “Morecambe and Wise” drew 28 million viewers, a huge proportion of the population with television sets. Does nationality – shared heritage and language – relate strongly to what we find funny? British comedy and German comedy are very different, with exchange of broadcasts being rare. British and American comedy are more similar, yet different in terms of development and intricacies.  The British sense of humour is unique; self-deprecating, often finely engineered and sometimes subtle, it is distinct from the more simplified, ostensible and ‘easy’ US comedy, designed for different audiences.

Expectations are also played out ostentatiously for comedic effect. Henning Wehn, self-described German comedy ambassador to the UK, preys upon the stereotypes of Germans as obsessed by punctuality, efficient and direct. Yet in fact this succeeds as comedy because our expectations as governed by the stereotypes we know to be untrue: hence subconsciously we, as the audience, are not in reality expecting it  and therefore the ploy works.

Is this a question of nationality, then, since so too are stereotypes? Is all comedy different across the world due to the discrepancy in expectation?

As Tommy Cooper would say, I was indecisive: now I’m not quite sure.

Indoctrination

Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler’s Fuehrerbefehl of attenuating the influence of the Jews in Germany reached down into the educational system, the poisonous anti-Semitism dripping through and contaminating even elementary education. In primary school, one learnt the ‘distinguishing features’ of a Jew (big noses, protruding foreheads and close-set eyes, according to the contemporary racial stereotype), was incited to deride those marked with the yellow Star of David and to despise them upon sight. Upon progression into secondary school, in addition to this virulent racism, pupils completed mathematics equations calculating the bombing of Warsaw or relocation of undesirables, were taught eugenics and how the Aryan race had to be preserved.

Soviet bloc. Communism was (or is) glorified as the mechanism for the conservation of mankind, whereas democracy and constitutional monarchy were dismissed as unfair, unstable and unviable. Whilst embryonic or fledged Communists and archaic Russian heroes such as Alexander Nevsky, Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin were lauded as heroes and societal exemplars, Peter the Great (who modernised and westernised Russia, developed the navy, furthered trade links and established St Petersburg), Catherine the Great (whose cultural interests brought the enlightenment to Russia) and Leo Tolstoy (author of “War and Peace” and political liberal) were forgotten. Figures such as Oleg Gordievsky, former KGB agent who defected to the west in the 1980s, and Alexander Litvinenko, who also defected from the FSB (successor to the KGB) and was later poisoned for his revelations concerning his former employer, are actively despised.

Modern Britain. Although extremist parties do not hold power, the education of our younger generations is being compromised through the influence of indoctrination. Although ostensibly open and tolerant (the latter is, quite rightly, mocked by German ‘ambassador of comedy’ Henning Wehn for being in fact exclusive since the attitude does not extend to welcoming or encouraging), at times holes in society emerge which expose the issues, such as egging of politicians, school bullying of those with financially poor backgrounds and death threats sent on social media websites to public figures.

There is, however, a more easily rectifiable hole in education. It concerns one subject, but perhaps the most important subject for the understanding of human life and machinations. History. Looking back at past examples, such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Communist China, the initial stage of indoctrination of children via the education system has always been conducted through the adaptation of history. In Nazi Germany, for example, Hitler’s background was altered for teaching to erase his alcoholic father, failure to get into art school on grounds of proficiency and other details inconsistent with the account given in “Mein Kampf”*. In Soviet Russia, the late tsar and his family were criminalised and the western powers (Britain, USA and France mainly) labelled as warmongers, declining powers and sources of social evil. In Communist China too, children – especially during the Cultural Revolution – were instructed in the failings of American society and the ‘shocking’ liberalism thereof.

Today, all over the nation, there are children being indoctrinated by the left. As Michael Gove’s statement, and subsequent piece in “The Telegraph” by Jago Pearson, have shown, just because the UK is not in the hands of extremist lunatics we must not think that indoctrination is not prevalent. Today, all over the nation, there are children being taught that the First World War should not be revered because military leadership led the military, that it is in the interests of democracy not to illegalise the criminal Ku Klux Klan, that all monarchist systems are unfair and should be eradicated. Today, all over the nation, children who do not possess left-wing views are being admonished, ridiculed and marked down.

History must be neutral. Judgement is not a thing to be pre-inserted and taught, so that all lessons are delivered with a spin, and balanced arguments are usually superficial (for example arguments opposed to the left-wing view are minimised and overriden in the end). I am not saying that a Conservative spin should be placed on these lessons; I am saying this, that we should all be extremely careful so as to imbue our children with the importance of the skills true history imparts: analysis, balance and the eradication of bias.

Next year, for the first time in 11 years, I won’t have another history lesson. Despite being the history prefect, I have become so exhausted of arguing for what is right – against the left-wing bias – and for being dismissed on no grounds except that I do not comply with the left-wing interpretation (and not solely in a school environment: my school possesses an excellent history department), I am giving up history. My study shall continue on a personal basis, unaffected by the spin placed upon it by successive governments.

It is ridiculously easy for a government to place their spin on the curriculum of history. And it can be easy to neutralise that spin. The views of hitherto governments have usually affected the impartiality and reliability of the study of a subject which must needs have such, but in modern times I truly believe the situation has never been more dire than now. In all my 11 years of history, never have I encountered such indoctrination as that of the AS level.

This can be changed. And it must be.

***DISCLAIMER***

I have been misinterpreted as being critical of my particular teachers. This is not my opinion; I have had some excellent teachers. My problem is with the curriculum itself and hence hitherto governments.

*In case anybody is interested, I highly recommend reading “Mein Kampf” in parallel with the first volume Sir Ian Kershaw’s biography of Hitler.

Pink-shirted potency

With the F1 circus still becoming accustomed to the life-threatening coma of Michael Schumacher and the imprisonment of Eddie Irvine, it seems unusual that the most telling of news items concerning the sport this winter is the sad passing away yesterday of John Button.

International news, trending hashtag, dedicated pages. The father of the 2009 champion and McLaren No.1 Jenson Button has, in passing, brought to light an aspect of public life rarely discussed.

There’s an old Newsround video featuring a young Jenson karting. His father John, encouraging from the sidelines, was neither arrogant nor overly ambitious when interviewed – “They all say they want to go to Formula One, but…as long as he’s enjoying himself, that’s the main thing”.

Throughout Jenson’s career, John has been instrumental. It was John we have to thank for Jenson’s proficiency in changing conditions, having restricted his son’s tyre usage as typical British weather prevailed over the karting circuit. From his first win at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix for Honda to his 2009 world championship to Brawn to his glorious 2011 masterpiece at the Canadian Grand Prix, Jenson has had his father spurring him on, manifesting his delight.

Denis Thatcher was an equally crucial influence upon his wife. Since inciting her to indulge her political ambitions, he never floundered in his unwavering public support for his wife, being an incalculably dependable rock for Margaret during times of strife. “All I could produce, small as it may be, was love and loyalty”, insisted Denis, when interviewed about his role.

Martin Luther King, too, was moulded by his father’s personality. Taking his fear of God, courage, defiance, belief in equality and embryonic societal awareness from his pater, King coupled this key childhood shaping with university experiences to forge the most memorable US social leader of all time.  Anthony Hamilton was his son Lewis’ long-term coach and familial engine for ambition. William III valued the mutual support and respect of his wife and co-sovereign Mary II so greatly that her untimely 1694 death broke him and inflicted chronic wounds on his viability as a strong and popularly visible monarch. And from primary school, from the one area of the curriculum not so easily indoctrinated by the left-wing, we all know the meaning of Albert’s constant consortship to Victoria.

People are not sole moulds. Circumstances leave lasting impressions on us all. My late grandfather’s diligency, benevolence, sincerity and logic will never ever leave my consciousness. We all have major human influences on our lives, and they, together with major events, make us who we are. And for those ‘im Brennpunkt’, as the Germans say, these people are even more important yet oft’ neglected.

Rest in peace, John Button.