Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Waves

He, doing so, put forth to seas,
Where when men been, there's seldom ease;
For now the wind begins to blow;
Thunder above and deeps below
Make such unquiet, that the ship
Should house him safe is wreck'd and split;
And he, good prince, having all lost,
By waves from coast to coast is tost.
William Shakespeare (Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Act I, Scene IV)

AT WARWICK ACADEMY, from time to time, the recess or lunch break on the playing fields would be interrupted by loud shouts of “Fight! Fight!” and suddenly a knot of boys would form here or there, encircling something unseen but understood. One boy would have taken umbrage at something another lad had said or done, and would launch an attack of fists and feet. Sticks, stones or knives simply did not enter into it.

The spectators would continue to call out their encouragement until one (or both) of the boys was bloodied; and then the knot would unravel rapidly, the gladiatorial ended, and runny noses, split lips and blackened eyes would be dabbed at in the toilets.

I do not recall teachers, or even prefects, ever breaking up a fight.

I might add that I do not remember ever seeing girls fighting, except by way of words and distant gestures. The girls were as adept with a rude finger or two as their older brothers were.

There was not a great deal of bullying at Warwick Academy, bigger boys lording it over younger or smaller pupils. That said, in my day, some of our young tin Caesars felt it necessary to dictate hairstyles and the length of one’s hair. As this demand for short hair was the same as that dictated by the Headmaster, I never saw people punished for ganging up on boys with hair a little over the ears or collars. Our Headmaster could never be accused of being fair.

Only once was I threatened with a haircut by my classmates, and that was at a party one weekend night. I simply slipped out of the host’s door and walked a few miles home in the dark. I can still remember the walk home, 45 years later. Slipping out of the house, slipping along the roads, and taking a longer route than I need have done so that if anyone came after me they would expect me elsewhere, slipping into my home after midnight and never telling my mother I had walked home. One or two friends at the party did worry when I had vanished, knowing I had no transport and four or five miles to get home.

The Headmaster bullied me over my “long” hair. Many the times I was called up in morning Assembly, and told to report to the Headmaster after our little services were done. In his office, I would be shrieked at by a man twice my size, who would go so red in his rage that one expected something to pop. I can tell you he lived into his nineties, possibly because when he retired from his position at Warwick Academy he grew his hair longer than mine had ever been.

Last night, very late, I watched rioters, looters, and arsonists attempting to level part of London, starting in Tottenham’s High Road. Apparently, a small protest over the shooting death of a bloke two nights earlier got “out of hand”. It appeared more likely that a peaceful protest was hijacked by mini-gangsters who wanted to rumble. Soon I was watching people fleeing, while a few males pitched rocks and petrol bombs at vehicles and buildings, and there was a live view of the arsonists’ younger brothers wheeling shopping trolleys loaded with electronic goods from shattered storefronts.

A reporter from the BBC seemed to have taken a position in the centre of a street, with fires raging in the buildings behind him, and rock-throwing youths battling mounted police nearby. Two teenagers, in jeans and T-shirts, came up behind the reporter. First, Yellow Shirt gave the viewing audience a bit of a dance and hand gestures that were offensive even to someone as out of it as I am. Punching fists, rude fingers, and thrusts. Then Blue Shirt jumped in from the dark and shoved Yellow Shirt, who stumbled about.

I was waiting to hear “Fight! Fight!” However, the shirts decided to play for the cameras, smiling widely and looking anything but tough. The BBC reporter did not seem to know what was going on two feet behind him, or was simply not going to be bothered by it. The camera operator narrowed the shot so that only the reporter’s face and some flames behind his left ear filled the screen. The boys were out of the shot. That is when the reporter got the push and other rioters and yobs went for the camera and the BBC van. The presenter back in the studio told us that there appeared to be some confrontation between their team in Tottenham and protestors. "And here are some earlier pictures ..."

Today, it is all smouldering buildings, streets covered in rubbish and ash, and police walking about looking for “evidence”. Walls of now-roofless Victorian buildings are tottering in Tottenham. The locals are homeless and some even have no clothing but that they wore to flee the fires in the night. Somewhere, one supposes, boys and their slightly bigger brothers are setting up splendid stereo systems and HD television sets. How do young kids explain the new 42” telly with a surround-sound feature in the front room to their parents? Do they even have parents, or people who parent them?

From what I can gather watching the Beeb, at first only about 15 police officers were on duty when the protest started. One of the Police bigwigs tells us they misjudged the size of the crowd and the emotions of those taking part. Several riots this summer have also been poorly anticipated. Our Government is busy reducing the police services, and our military, despite protest marches and gatherings and the heartfelt anger that the population seems always to feel during Tory administrations.

Right now, our Government is off on holiday. No doubt Cabinet Ministers travel well on the taxpayer. The world’s economies are collapsing, and the world’s leaders (all in their holiday digs) simply do not have a clue and no end of photo-ops will calm the markets.

Our Government’s huge budget cuts have resulted in the closure of youth clubs. Notably in the parts of London with the ethnicity of Tottenham. Is it not time to weigh up the many millions lost in riots and arson and looting against the cost of providing boys and girls with somewhere half-decent to go on a Saturday night?

In the television coverage last night I was amazed at the many different types on the streets, though must admit there were 9 boys to every girl. But there were whites and blacks, Arabs and Hasidic Jews, and people in all sorts of clothes, from conservative to rather sluttish. Nearly all, when interviewed, seemed to speak with English accents. Imagine the fun they could have at youth group events!

Yesterday we saw a posed photograph of President Obama of the USA chatting on the phone with his military advisor, being told that over 30 US soldiers had been killed when a helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. Obama’s hair looks grey, he looks weary, and that is how he had to look. It was a single still picture, not a film. Did he also swear? Shake a fist? Curse the Taliban and their Allah? Did he shed a tear, edited out?

Could the economies of the great western nations be up shit creek because we are fighting unwinnable wars? Not just unwinnable wars, but wars that nobody seems to understand (or want) back at home.

Why are we bombing Libya, but not Yemen or Syria or Bahrain? Why not North Korea or Burma? Do we even protest at Cabinet level when a Saudi woman is the victim of Sharia Law?

Why are we being asked to send tens of millions of pounds of food aid to starving Africans who are forbidden by their Muslim leaders to accept aid from Infidels? We have to borrow to get the money to send on its lost cause. Why cannot rich Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states send aid to their Islamic brothers in Africa?

Over the last 30 years, we have been accompanied on life’s journey by no end of video games. We have shot down Space Invaders, blasted dragons, and outgunned dark-skinned forces in a desert town. At the end of the day, we have pressed the “reset” button and all returned to normal. For 30 years, death has been brief and life restored in a click. Magic! No wonder boys shoot their mates without a second thought. Press reset a thousand times to revive your dead, and pull a trigger twice. What is the harm?

Civil unrest, military disasters, monetary mayhem. It is as if natural disasters, those typhoons, tornados, tsunamis and great rumbling earthquakes just are not enough suffering for us.

I enjoyed my late night walk home from the party that threatened to cut my hair in 1965. The air was cool and the lights sparkled on the water. I just left the hassle behind and enjoyed the new moment.


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