1) My friend Sue got a phone-call. From the school. Her son had fallen over, caught his finger on something sharp, was bleeding. The school wanted to know if they had Sue’s permission to use a sticking-plaster.
The mind boggles. The “rationale” is that a child could very possibly have an allergic reaction to erm to the plaster and could DIE!!!! We hear that there is a shortage of competent teachers, particularly male teachers at primary level, but what self-respecting adult would enter an environment where a nose-bleed or a bruised knee is a catastrophe, an accident needing urgently to be reported to parents and headteacher and the Accident Book (unless it’s actually an incident, in which case it needs to be reported to parents and headteacher and the Incident Book; a stern reprimand may be incurred by filling in the wrong form, Sir.) An environment in which violence is always wrong and where, accordingly, two kids fighting will be punished equally regardless of who initiated the fight and who struck back in self-defence. But energy cannot be destroyed: and anger, aggression, is energy, and if it’s denied its course, if it’s stifled, then it stays where it is. The vast majority of fights sort themselves out, end in a handshake or in grudging respect or at least in a mutual awareness to avoid each other thereafter. But where there is no resolution, where there is only repression, more serious problems start. Involved in youth work recently, I noticed a pattern: all the teenagers who spoke of being bullies would admit that they had earlier been bullied. And what everyone knows – but which nonetheless seems never to be a major component of “anti-bullying awareness weeks” – is the fact that one sure way to deal with a bully is to kick the shit out of him or her. To take a few lumps, to give a few lumps; to hurt them at least as much as they hurt you: people who are able to give and receive a certain amount of pain don’t get systematically picked upon. But kids who are cotton-smothered, taught that everything unpleasant is to be avoided, taught to hide from bullies, taught that the proper response to a cut finger is ALARM, will inevitably lack the awareness to deal with negative energy being shoved their way. The soft Stalinism of contemporary England makes us soft. Which makes us hard.
2) Travel, the truism goes, broadens the mind: one way it does this is by providing a vantage-point from which we can observe our own cultural norms to see that perhaps they’re not so normal after all. Something I’ve learned from my time in Thailand is that pretty much ANY TEN-YEAR-OLD CAN RIDE A MOTORBIKE. They can do so without systematic driving instruction, without licences, without helmets even, and this on piss-poor-quality roads. Thailand is a very pro-child culture and if kids were habitually crashing their motorbikes then they certainly wouldn’t be allowed them, but they don’t crash any more regularly than adults with all their driving-lessons over here do: because children are vastly more competent and sensible than we allow them to be.
3) I asked the Turkish woman in the kebab shop if she liked living in England. “Yes!” she said and she screwed up her face in disgust. Ha! – “So, you like it here but not much?” She explained that her family never goes out, they have no social-life, the only thing to do is drink alcohol and they’re not so into that. Again I’m thinking of Thailand: where eating out with family, with friends, is such an important part of everyday life. Thailand and other countries where it costs about as much to get a decent sit-down meal as it does to cook one. Where there are roadside food-stalls everywhere; I think they do need a license but that license is cheap and easy to obtain because the culture wants actively to encourage small business, local pride, social life. In such countries I tend to dine at little shacks on the pavement and I have never had food-poisoning. Compare to England, where the evident assumption is that cynical food-vendors will poison us all given half a chance. The tonnes of legislation, the bureaucratic hurdles needed to be overcome to sell food here, ensure that it becomes ever harder for family businesses, small businesses, to survive. [Midway through writing this I notice that the kebab shop that prompted these reflections has just closed down.] So dining out is increasingly taken care of by larger entities, who, we can be assured by the amount of money they’ve had to spend on themselves, are less likely to poison us than are poorer locals; it becomes prohibitively expensive, a rare treat rather than the everyday fact of life it could be if all the mistrustful anti-human legislation were stripped away.
4) So, as the woman in what was once a kebab shop pointed out, social-life in England basically consists of consuming alcohol or coffee. You’d think the Health & Safety Mafia would want to combat the evil influence of these particular drugs by allowing and encouraging the use of safe, health-giving psychoactive vegetables such as marijuana and psilocybin; but “Health & Safety” is of course a euphemism. (“Mafia,” on the other hand, is clearly the literal truth. Cui bono?)