IT'S NOT AS SIMPLE AS THAT!
Copyright © Julien Evans
This edition published
2021 by Steemrok Publishing
rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied, recorded,
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the
written permission of the Publisher. Paperback version available here.
the characters and events in this book are fictitious apart from the
September 11 atrocities, Hurricane Katrina and the fatal railway
accidents at Quintinshill (1915) and Harrow (1952) mentioned in the
final chapter. The working practices in railway operating procedures
described herein may differ from those in effect in real companies.
Cover image by Mark
IT'S NOT AS SIMPLE AS THAT!
not easy being 12 years old. When you're a kid, like my 6 year old
sister Amy, you don't understand lots of things. But by the time you
get to my age you know what's what. Except that old people still talk
to you like you still don't understand. For example, the teacher told
us that the world's population is going up by 80 million people every
year. Eighty million! Every year! That sounds scary to me. I mean,
that's like more than all the people that can fit in a thousand
football stadiums! Every year! I said it was scary but the teacher
shook her head. No, she said, the rate of increase is slowing down so
80 million is a good number. It used to be worse, she said.
so where's all the food coming from to feed all these extra people?
Also, where are they going to put all the rubbish they produce -
cornflake packets and computer game boxes and stuff like that. Also, if
they go to the toilet every day where will all the extra crap go? I
didn't say that last bit to the teacher, of course. It's okay for
adults to swear - they do it all the time - but we get bollocked if
they hear us do it. Anyway, I was expecting the usual answer. It's
always the same. You tell them something obvious that even a 5 year old
can understand and they go 'It's not as simple as that'. In other words
'I know you're right but I'm not allowed to say so'. But amazingly the
teacher said I had a good point! Course I got a lot of stick from my
mates afterwards - now I'm a teacher's pet and I'll have to do
something bad to cancel it out.
only old person who says stuff I can understand is my friend Justin's
auntie. Considering she's so old - she's nearly 30 - it's amazing how
smart she is. Her name's Charlotte but everyone calls her Charlie.
(Justin calls her Charlotte the Harlot.) She's a journalist - she
writes stuff for newspapers and magazines. Justin's Dad is always
taking the piss out of her - calls her a commie or a pinko. You
probably know that commie means communist, which means someone who's
jealous of rich people. Pinko is something to do with politics. It
could be skin colour - my Dad says pinkos love black people. But that's
weird - okay, Charlie has got pink skin but so have I and my Mum and my
sisters and none of us are bothered one way or the other about black
people. Ollie - he's one of my best mates at school - he's black.
looks nice and smells nice, Charlie, and her boyfriend always buys us
crisps and stuff. He's brilliant, Martin. He drives express trains
weighing hundreds of tons and carrying hundreds of people. Justin's Dad
doesn't like him because he and Charlie gang up on him when they're
having arguments. Martin goes to rock concerts. He's going to take me
one day when I'm older if my Dad will let me. My Dad's as useless as
Justin's Dad. He's an estate agent, selling crappy houses to gullible
punters, to use his own words. Gullible is nothing to do with gulls, by
the way. I don't know what it means but it's obviously something not
good. If it wasn't for the fact that my Dad supports Tottenham he'd be
a complete plonker.
Mum's sort of okay, but she's a bit of a wally. She's a teacher but not
at my school, thank God. I know she's smarter than Dad but she never
argues with him even when he's talking bollocks. She's also dead old
fashioned. She made me learn my tables when no-one else in my class had
to and she tells me off when I spell words wrong. Now that is stupid.
Why can't you spell words like they sound? Supposing you were a foreign
person trying to learn English. How the hell are you supposed to work
out that 'cough' sounds like 'coff'? Why isn't 'English' spelt
'Inglish'? Charlie says there should be two Englishes. One sort of
proper English for reading the news on telly with a proper accent or
writing books with proper spelling and then like talking English when
you can say what you like whatever way you want to say it. What were
those words she said - 'collo cweel' or something. Usually I agree with
Charlie but she's wrong on this one. Why do you need proper English -
it's obvious you can use collo cweel English for everything.
not brilliant at school work, not like my sister Alice who is dead
clever. She passed her 11 plus easily and goes to the Girls' Grammar.
She is so naff, my sister, it's untrue. She does her homework without
being told to and she keeps her room tidy. It's so embarrassing when my
friends come round. Once I messed up her room just to make it look more
normal but wow, did I get into trouble. I told them Amy (my little
sister) did it but no-one believed me. I admit I felt bad about trying
to blame Amy, the daft little cow. As punishment, my Mum banned me from
going to White Hart Lane that Saturday, so I missed seeing West Ham get
didn't pass the 11 plus - not properly anyway. But my Mum went to see
someone she knew in the Education Department and told them I should
have passed. So instead of going to the Senior School where I would've
had a cushy time I have to go to the Mixed Grammar where they make me
learn stuff I don't understand. Charlie says the 11 plus is unfair,
because only about one third of the children pass it. So two thirds go
to the Senior Schools instead of the Grammars and everyone says the
Senior Schools are crap (except my Mum, who teaches at one of them. In
that case why did she want me to go to the MG?). My Dad reckons it's
only right that the best children should get the best teaching but he
only said it after we found out I'd passed after all.
says all the schools should be the same but she also says that kids
clever at some things should be taught together. Maths and French and
stuff like that. Streaming - that's what they call it. Mum says the
British don't take education seriously but it seems serious enough to
me, the amount of stuff we're supposed to learn, not to mention SATs
and bloody homework! I think what Mum means is that teachers should get
more pay and I think she's right. Then she wouldn't have to drive
around in that tatty little green car. Green, for Christ's sake!
Morris, our school headmaster, is a complete turd. The creepiest creep
in the whole wide world. He's all smarmy when he talks to parents or
when he's giving speeches. He talks dead posh but everyone says he's
useless at running the school. He's also a snob. My Mum was talking to
him once when another mother came over, who happened to be the wife of
the Mayor. Morris cut Mum dead and started smarming up to the Mayor's
wife. What an arsehole! I saw it with my own eyes. When I told the
other kids they said we should get him back so Timbo let down two of
the tyres on his car. Brilliant!
despite Morris the Turd I don't mind school. Most of the teachers are
okay, especially the ones who don't smarm up to the headmaster. Morris
once gave me a detention for talking in assembly when it wasn't me who
did it. Obviously I couldn't grass up the real culprit, Ollie, who was
already in trouble.
not bad at art and music but I'm crap at maths, even though I know my
tables. At least the MG isn't as bad as Meadow Lane Academy, where the
thick children of rich parents go. Everyone says it's full of weirdos
best teacher at my school is Bob Hollis. We get him for history and
geography. He tells us amazing stuff. He got told off by Mrs Bellwood
for teaching us that Jesus Christ was just a political activist like
John Lennon, who used to be a rock singer until he got shot. Mrs
Bellwood does RE. Her opinion is that Jesus was the son of God but
let's face it - where's the evidence? Why wasn't his mother a God too?
According to the New Bible we have to read the Christs were a poor
family - Jesus was born in a stable with a load of animals. Not very
cool for the son of God. These miracles he did - pretty simple stuff,
changing water into wine, feeding loads of people with a few fish
sandwiches. Okay, he is supposed to have brought some bloke back to
life but was he really dead in the first place? Was Jesus really dead
when he did the same trick on himself? If he did really die, why didn't
he show himself to more people when he came back to life? Why didn't he
turn up on market day in Jerusalem so thousands of people could see
him? Then everyone would have believed in him.
there a God for Jesus to be son of? And who created God? And who
created the person who created God? If someone created the universe
they made a pretty crap job of it. What's the point of having diseases?
Why do people get dozy as they get older? Why can't people get smarter
and healthier instead? Why do people have to die anyway? What's the
point of earthquakes and droughts and floods? Why are so many grown-ups
so miserable or so shitty? It's true, you know. You never get children
who are as miserable or as shitty as grown-ups. Mrs Bellwood gets
annoyed when you say this stuff. She says you have to have faith in
God. Doesn't seem like much of a deal to me. The best way for God to
make you believe in him would be to beam down to earth in the middle of
the World Cup final. You couldn't argue with that.
doesn't believe in God. She says why do people use the Bible to tell us
what to do when it was written 2000 years ago by people who thought the
earth was flat and floods were God's punishment for being bad. But
Martin says some people need God to help them when they're unhappy and
it's wrong to tell these people that God doesn't exist.
reckons religion is a con trick. You tell people to put up with being
poor or having a crappy life because when you die you go straight to
heaven and live happily ever after. She says that religion is used as
political control but I don't really know what that means. She laughed
when I told her what Bob Hollis said about more people have been killed
in the name of God than any other reason. My Dad says Mr Hollis is a
subversive. Or is it submersive? I think that's like a boat that can go
under water like a small submarine. I can't see the connection myself.
one thing I like about religion and that's the music although of course
I wouldn't dare admit it to my friends. They already take the piss
because I do piano lessons with Miss Hochdorfer who's an old foreign
woman. If there's no-one at home I watch services on the telly. Some of
the hymns have terrific tunes, even if the words are stupid. Don't
laugh, but I've even made up some hymn tunes myself. I play them on my
sister's Yamaha which can store stuff in its memory. I even tried to
think of words in church-type English. One went:
thou art son of God
this impious world thou trod
fed the throng with crumbs of bread
guard my soul when I be dead
don't know what 'impious' means or even how you're supposed to say it
but it looks good. On the radio on Wednesday afternoons they have
choral evensong from one of the big cathedrals. The music is brilliant.
One minute you get chanting - plainsong I think it's called, then you
get these brill anthems with full harmony. Last Easter the junior
classes went to hear the St Matthew Passion at St Paul's Cathedral. It
was fantastic although of course I had to pretend it was boring like
the other kids. I even did a mega fart to make the others laugh but I
did it in one of the quiet bits rather than a chorus. (They wouldn't
have heard it if I'd done it in a chorus anyway.)
Dad says he's a Christian but he never goes to church. He says he
doesn't go because lots of people who go to church are snobs who think
they're superior to other people. So, I said, what about all people
being equal in the eyes of God, which is what Mrs Bellwood told us.
Also, why do they send out loads of planes and helicopters when someone
falls off a boat in the Channel but no-one seems to be bothered when
thousands of Bangladesh people get drowned in floods. Guess what Dad
said. The usual answer. 'It's not as simple as that'.
going to get me a ride on one of his trains. He's got to get special
permission for me to go in the front with him. He drives these big fast
electric trains that do 125 miles per hour. He's nuts about trains. He
drives steam engines in his spare time on the Sussex Steam Line near
Brighton. He's taken me a couple of times. These old engines are a bit
scary. They hiss like they're about to explode and they smell
disgusting, like burning wet wood. But they look amazing - massive
wheels joined by like girders that clank when the wheels go round and
steam leaking out from the pipes. And there's a huge furnace in the cab
where they have to shovel coal into to make the steam. When they open
the fire door you can see the coal glowing red hot and you can feel the
to Martin some of the steam engines could go nearly as fast as the
trains he drives, which is amazing. Why don't modern trains go faster?
He says they do, but not in Britain. Other countries have faster trains
but for some reason we can't have them here. When I asked him why not
he gave me some complicated answer about politics which I can't
remember apart from the bit about foreign countries spending more money
on trains and stuff like that. As soon as someone says 'politics' I
know I won't understand what they're talking about.
says people should use trains more but you can't get to the shops in a
train, can you? Anyway he drives his car to work himself. But it's
obvious there are too many cars around. You see the adverts on the
telly where these shiny new cars whizz around on roads with no other
traffic. Of course in real life most of the roads are jam packed with
cars and trucks crawling along with smoke belching out from their
exhaust pipes. I told Martin that traffic fumes don't smell as bad as
steam engines but he didn't agree. They don't bother me unless we're
stuck in a jam for a long time. Then I sometimes get a headache and my
windpipe feels funny, like something's stuck in it. What I don't
understand is - why does everyone go to work at the same time? Even my
stupid sister Amy could work out that if there are too many cars and
everyone drives to work at the same time you're going to get traffic
like school - all the kids go to school at the same time and go home at
the same time so all the school buses and all the mums taking their
kids in the car are all getting in each other's way. Why not start some
days later for some of the kids, which also means you could stay longer
in bed instead of going to school half asleep and trying to stay awake
when the teacher's going on about something boring.
had a brilliant idea once. You know how buses wait at the bus stops for
ages because the driver has to collect ticket money - why not get
another person to do the tickets? Then, instead of blocking the road
for years the driver could drive off as soon as the passengers were on
board and then the ticket person could collect the fare money while the
bus was moving. When I told Martin, guess what? He said that in some
places they actually do that. I was dead chuffed that one of my ideas
was so good that someone else had copied it, even though it proved that
they had thought of it first. So why don't they do it on all buses? You
can guess what the answer would be if I asked a grown-up.
was telling you about Mr Hollis a while ago. Sometimes his lessons are
interesting and sometimes they're boring. We did the solar system the
other day. Did you know the moon goes round the world at nearly 4000
kilometres per hour? And yet when you look at it you can't see it
moving, because it's so far away, like about 400,000 kilometres or
something. But that's nothing - the sun is 150 million kilometres away.
That's so far away that it takes light rays eight minutes to get from
the sun to the earth. So if the sun went out you'd still see it shining
for another eight minutes. But get this - the sun makes all its heat
and light from nuclear energy, like an everlasting nuclear bomb. Mr
Hollis said it does it by destroying itself. It actually destroys its
own matter by changing hydrogen into helium. And do you know how much?
I'll tell you - it destroys 4 billion kilograms of itself every second.
That's right - four billion! Timbo asked him how long the sun was going
to last. Mr Hollis laughed. He said there's several million years of
hydrogen left yet. I hope he's right!
Hollis was doing the lesson on Powerpoint. But then he picked up a
marker and drew a picture on the board - the sun, the moon and the
earth in a straight line. Then he drew a line from the top of the sun,
touching the top of the moon to a spot on the earth. Then he drew
another line from the bottom of the sun, touching the bottom of the
moon and meeting the same spot on the earth as the first one.
teacher said that the sun and moon looked the same size when we see
them because it just so happens that the distances and sizes matched
each other even though the sun was much bigger than the moon and much
farther away. Because of this we get amazing eclipses sometimes, when
the moon exactly covers the sun and you can see the burning gases round
the sun's edge and stars round about, just like the eclipse in 1999. Mr
Hollis said it was an amazing coincidence that the sun and moon seemed
to be the same size, less than the chance of winning the lottery. So
the question is, he asked us, is why this happened to be?
Timbo and I looked at
each other and Timbo did his 'who gives a shit' look.
Then Sarah - it had to
be Sarah - said, 'Are you suggesting that God made the moon the correct
Hollis smiled and said, 'Who knows?' Just as well Mrs Bellwood wasn't
there. She would have told him off and said of course it was God who
So then Sarah went,
'What's the purpose of the universe, sir?' We all groaned. Typical
Mr Hollis shrugged. 'Who
knows?' he said again. 'Maybe it doesn't have one.'
'Shall I ask Mrs
Bellwood?' said Timbo, grinning. 'Maybe God's told her what the
universe is for.'
Timothy,' said Mr Hollis, 'not if you're doing it to embarrass her.
That would be disrespectful, and it's bad manners to disrespect a
teacher. Mrs Bellwood is a good teacher who puts a lot of effort into
trying to educate her classes, even hopeless rebels like you.'
'Up the rebels!' called
'Shut up, Oliver!' said
Sarah. 'You're a fool!'
'Takes one to know one,'
Hollis held up his hands. 'Enough, boys and girls,' he said. 'Back to
work. Who can work out how long it takes for light to travel from the
moon to the earth? And before anyone asks me what's the purpose - the
answer is to prove to me that I haven't wasted my time trying to teach
you lot how to use your brains.'
go on school outings sometimes. We had a look round a dairy the other
week but it wasn't very interesting, although there was this massive
machine that looked like a ginormous tumble drier that turned cream
into butter. The best bit was some of us were allowed to have a go on
the fork lift which takes the boxes of butter into the storage place.
Dave Bresson managed to stick one of the prongs into one of the boxes
and all this butter splurged out. It was mega, but Mrs Hicks wasn't
very amused and neither was the man in charge of the butter machine.
Mrs Hicks is one of our teachers. She's a bit of a misery most of the
time. She gave Dave a right bollocking and no-one else got a go on the
fork lift after that.
trip was the British Museum, which was mainly boring. There were some
students outside carrying signs about sending back some marbles which
belong to Greece. Big deal! Surely the Greeks can get some new marbles
of their own - they don't cost much after all. Inside it was mainly old
statues and pots and stuff like that. But there was one good thing Mrs
Hicks showed us - the Rosetta stone. Some French soldiers found it in
Egypt a long time ago. It's a big black slab completely covered in old
writing with some bits missing where the stone was broken. The top bit
is picture words - higher graphics they're called. Underneath are
letters but they don't look like normal letters. Greek I think Mrs
Hicks said. Anyway, some clever geezer worked out what the picture
words meant by matching them up to the letter words underneath and
that's how they work out what's written in these Egyptian tombs and so
quite good at games - football and rugby mainly and cricket just about.
I'm sometimes in the first eleven for football for my year, usually as
a defender although I can also run fast with the ball except that the
games teacher, Mr Sadiq, says that I lose possession too easily
although I think I'm not as bad as he makes out. I wouldn't mind being
a professional footballer when I grow up but I'm probably not good
enough for that. Maybe I could get a job writing church music but I
don't know how much money I would get. Also I'd have to make sure that
no-one found out because it would be so embarrassing. I'd have to
pretend I was doing secret work for the Government or something. If I
made it as a footballer I'd probably make more money. I mean, those
guys in the Premier League, they make a fortune. If I made good money I
could do music as a hobby and I could buy a big house and put a real
organ in it, not some piddly little Yamaha keyboard.
really like to get my hands on a church organ with three keyboards and
pedals too. Not just loud and soft pedals like a piano but proper
notes. The only person I've told that I want to play an organ is Miss
Hochdorfer, my piano teacher. She wouldn't tell anyone. She's about 200
years old and a bit deaf. I even have to play quiet bits loud so she
can hear. But she's alright, Miriam - that's her name. She doesn't mind
me playing pop music on the piano sometimes. She told me how you get
high notes and low notes. You won't believe this but music is really
vibrating air. If you make it vibrate slow you get low notes. Fast
makes high notes. In a piano the bass strings are thicker so they
vibrate slower. In an organ the long pipes do the same thing so they
give the bass notes.
was on the telly yesterday, talking about trains. He's a sort of
spokesman in the drivers' union which is why he was on the telly. He
was talking about a train that went past a danger signal. He said that
maybe the driver was tired because he had to work too long. It's like
Mum, always going on about teachers having too much work and not enough
pay. Not at my school! Any time you go to the staff room half of them
are lounging around reading the paper and gassing.
a funny thing. People without jobs get money from the government for
doing nothing. Sounds brill to me, though Charlie says they don't get
enough. My Dad says they get too much. But what I don't understand is
that the people who work say there's too much work for them to do, like
Martin and the train drivers. So why not share out the work between all
the people, so everyone's got a job and no one has to work too hard.
Guess what the answer would be if I asked a grown-up. Actually, Charlie
said I had a good point and Martin should put it in his speech. What's
happening is Martin is in some sort of election for the drivers' union
and he's got to make a speech asking people to vote for him. What about
that, eh? My very own idea in a grown-up speech.
like why don't rich countries give more money to poor countries? Or
even food. You'd probably get the usual answer. You see all these
starving Africans on the news but at our school half the food gets
chucked away. Okay, it usually tastes like vomit but if you were
starving you'd eat it, except maybe tapioca pudding. It doesn't seem
fair that the Africans have to live in tents with no money and no food
while the Queen lives in a huge palace with like servants to do
everything for her and millions of pounds to spend on food and clothes.
Mum and Dad are good friends with Justin's Dad and his Aunt Charlotte
but they often start arguing when they come round for a drink specially
when they talk about the royal family. Charlie says we should have a
president, like America but no one agrees with her. If they asked me -
they never do - I would say that having a queen or a king is better
because it's like more historical but the people should be allowed to
choose who the queen was, maybe Britney Spears. She wouldn't need a
palace - just a big house. The money from selling CDs could pay for it.
Then you could sell the palace to get money to buy food for the
Africans. Or if it was a king you could have some one like David
Beckham. Or else you could make Prince Charles the new President if
enough people voted for him. Then he wouldn't have to wait till the
Queen died. My Dad says if he wins the lottery he's going to give some
money to the Government so that he can be a Lord. Then he reckons he'll
be able to change the laws to stop immigrants coming to England. That
would be really cool - imagine saying to the other kids at school 'you
can't touch me, my Dad's a Lord.' Also the teachers wouldn't be able to
tell me off.
Mum went off with another man a couple of years ago. We're not supposed
to talk about it. Justin was all moody for a bit but he's a bit better
now. Charlie and Martin live in the same house as Justin's Dad. His
Dad's got a new girlfriend but she doesn't live in the house with the
others. I've met her a couple of times - she's dead posh and walks
around with her nose in the air. She's called Penelope or something.
She talks funny, like the queen. But she's also cool, Penelope, even
though she had a go at me for drawing a picture of the Union flag
upside down. When people tell her off for smoking she says they do more
damage to the atmosphere with their cars than she does with her
ciggies. She goes fox-hunting too, which is against the law. I don't
like the idea of foxes being ripped to pieces by dogs - Charlie says
it's cruel and sets a bad example to children. But Justin's Dad's got a
photo of Penelope in her red hunting outfit sitting on a horse and she
looks really great. The flag thing was that the red stripe going across
at an angle is not in the middle of the white stripe - it's supposed to
be off to one side a bit. So I said to Penelope does it matter? Anyway,
why not have the red stripe in the middle, then there wouldn't be a
right way up or a wrong way up. Guess what she said: 'It's not as
simple as that'!
Martin argues with Justin's Dad, usually about music. Martin reckons
that it's pop music that stops war. According to Martin, young people
all over the world listen to bands like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie.
What was it he said? How can you drop bombs on people who are listening
to Metallica or Dead Dogs? My Dad said that was a good reason to bomb
them but he was laughing when he said it.
it's football that stops wars. When England goes to war it's always
against Germany but now with the European Cup and the Champions' League
and all that stuff it would be impossible to fight Germany because the
football would have to stop. Mr Hollis was telling us about all the
wars still going on in the world. Maybe these countries should play
football against each other - then they wouldn't be able to fight in
in the old days England used to fight France all the time. That proves
the theory - they never used to have football then. There was a French
Emperor called Napoleon who was good at fighting till he came to
England. When he got off the train at Waterloo he got beaten by the
English army, led by the Duke of Wellington, who invented the wellie
boot. Mr Hollis told us Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo because he
was unwell. Dave Bresson asked him if it was because he had piles and
Mr Hollis laughed. No one knew what Dave was talking about. Piles of
what? Mr Hollis made Dave explain it to us - Dave's Mum is a nurse.
Dave said piles is another way of saying a pain in the bum. I said in
that case Morris the headmaster was piles but I said it quietly so the
teacher wouldn't hear. So there you go - don't go fighting battles if
your bum is sore.
I got a surprise. The teacher gave us a break during Social Studies -
boring, boring - and Andy Magillan passed me a note. Andy's a good
bloke. When he was a baby he came over from Ireland with his family to
get away from the fighting. His Gran was killed by a bomb - she was in
a greengrocer's shop when it exploded. Six people were killed,
including Andy's Gran. Anyway, what was I telling you about? Oh yeah,
the note. It wasn't from Andy himself - it was from Sheila Ashley, who
sits in front of Andy, who sits in front of me. She couldn't text me
cos we're not allowed to use our phones in class. Do I want to go out
with her, the note said. I was amazed. I like Sheila, she's not as
stupid as the other girls and the note said she supports Tottenham.
But, let's face it, 'going out with' means having sex, which I haven't
course I know what sex is all about - we get lessons at school and the
videos are really funny. But I don't know if I want to do it yet. Does
that mean I'm gay? Timbo says he's done it with an older girl but he's
probably making it up. The strange thing is my willy goes stiff for no
reason, like when I'm on the bus thinking about nothing. Maybe there's
something wrong with it, but of course I can't tell anyone. I'm only
telling you because you're a stranger and I'll never meet you. It
doesn't go stiff when I think about Sheila Ashley. What should I do? I
thought of telling her that I'm already going out with another girl but
what would she say? Would she be angry? Maybe I should ask Charlie -
she seems to know everything and she wouldn't tell anyone about my
have to have sex to have children, as you know. Mr Simpson told us
about DNA, which is like a molecule that decides what shape you'll be
and what colour your hair will be and stuff like that. Mr Simpson -
Marge, we call him - takes us for biology. When your dad shags your mum
bits of their DNA join up to make the baby's DNA, which is why you look
like your parents. You can see that Alice and Amy are sisters by just
looking at them. Luckily I'm not as ugly as they are.
glad I'm not a girl. At least I won't have to have babies when I grow
up. Okay, my sisters are ugly, but not as ugly as a woman about to have
a baby. It's revolting - they look like hot-air balloons and they walk
like ducks on the towpath. Marge said humans are not as advanced as
crocodiles and snakes - they're reptiles and they lay eggs instead.
Ollie got a laugh in class when he suggested women should lay eggs. It
started a general discussion. I said the eggs could be kept warm by
sticking them in the airing cupboard and Timbo reckoned the parents
could take the egg down the pub and take turns sitting on it, like
birds do in their nests.
Bresson said the reason he was crap at lessons was because his parents
had given him the wrong DNA, but Marge said no, he was just lazy. We
all laughed, but the teacher turned dead serious. Consider yourselves
lucky you were reasonably bright, he told us. You might have been born
stupid, which was just about the worst thing in the world. If you were
born stupid nothing could make you clever, even if your parents were
rich and sent you to an expensive private school. 'Remember children,'
he said, 'money can't buy intelligence.'
Hicks was talking about marriage in Social Studies. Luckily she didn't
talk about sex when Ollie tried to make her. I sniggered like the other
boys but really I get embarrassed. She told us marriage wasn't as bad
as Mr Hollis made out, which puzzled us because he hadn't even
mentioned it. She said less than half of them broke up these days,
which was pretty good going.
said he saw on the telly that there was a design fault with the human
being. When Hicksy asked him what he meant he said the telly said that
when a woman loves a man she never fancies anyone else at the same
time, but a man fancies other women even if he loves the woman he's
attached to. He tried to remember the words - women were monotonous but
men were polly something. Hicksy said yes, he was right, but good men
stopped themselves fancying other women. Timbo said he'd shag 'em all
but not loud enough for the teacher to hear.
though, when you think about Justin's Mum. She was the one who went off
with another man, not his Dad going off with another woman. I didn't
say this though. All the kids in my class know Justin, even though he's
in the other class, but they don't know about his Mum. I don't mind
Justin's Dad but he's sort of hard on poor people - says they've only
got themselves to blame by not working harder to get more money. Guess
what? Charlie told him the normal answer I get - 'it's not as simple as
they were talking about traffic jams the other day Justin's Dad said
cars and petrol should be more expensive so poor people couldn't afford
them. What started it was Justin and I were late for school cos a huge
artic got stuck trying to go round the mini roundabout nearby. In the
end we got out of the bus and walked. Why do they let mega-sized trucks
go on little roads? Martin came out with his standard answer - put the
stuff on trains - and we all groaned, even Charlie! Martin's got weird
ideas about cars and stuff. He reckons they should be fitted with a
sort of gadget that stops them going too fast and he says drivers
should take a test every 5 years. My Mum would kill him - she had to
take her test about 1000 times before she got her licence, so Dad says
anyway. Martin also says people should have to take extra tests if they
want to go fast or drive big cars. Sounds like he should be a teacher -
tests, tests, tests all the time!
Hollis nearly got into trouble the day of the stuck lorry. When we told
him why we were late someone in the class said there were too many big
cars - you know, the ones that are too wide, with fat wheels and high
up seats. They're called off road vehicles or something but you always
see them on the road. Hollis said something about it which no-one paid
any attention to. Anyway, the next day, I was in Morris the Turd's
office to collect next week's Class Mission Statement when this woman
came in and started shouting the odds, telling him to give Hollis the
elbow. She stuck a bit of paper in Morris's face and said 'I've sent a
copy of this to the governors. I want an apology from Mr Hollis and I
want him sacked.'
read the paper while this hag was yelling at him. Turned out she was
Sarah Haywood's mother. For once Morris did the right thing and tried
to calm her down. Said it was probably a misunderstanding and he would
have a word with Bob Hollis about it. After Mrs Haywood had gone I
sneaked the paper off the desk while The Turd wasn't looking, thinking
to myself I bet it's about sex. No such luck. Talk about boring -
neither Timbo or Dave Bresson or me could make out what it meant. This
is what it said: 'I own a Geronimo Super Scout vehicle. My daughter
came home from school today and told me that Mr Hollis had said not all
owners of four wheel drive vehicles were compensating for personality
inadequacies. This is grossly insulting and Hollis should apologise
personally to all owners of these vehicles and should then be
dismissed.' What do you make of that? Typical Sarah. She says big words
that no-one else understands, but otherwise she's cool. She gets us
cigarettes sometimes and she's let Dave touch her tits. I don't think
she meant to get Bob Hollis into trouble. More like showing off how
clever she is.
the subject of posh cars, we were talking about poverty in Social
Studies. Hicksy got all serious and asked us if rich people had a duty
to help poor people. I mean - who bloody knows? She should be telling
us stuff, not asking us. But she told us about a family she knew. The
father died and the mother had two daughters to bring up but she didn't
have any money, so the kids had to go to like an orphanage run by nuns,
who were really cruel. They made the children wash their own pants when
they were dirty and they had to learn all this religious stuff. The
nuns told the kids if they didn't go to church every Sunday they would
go to hell. Scary stuff, eh?
said Hicksy, one day this boy in the school was accused of stealing a
watch. The nuns got all the children into the main hall, then one of
them took his trousers down and hit his bare backside with a plank of
wood in front of all the other children. Sounds bloody painful, doesn't
it? Hicksy said the boy was crying more from humiliation that from pain.
while she was telling us all this stuff, Hicksy's voice sounded a bit
odd, like she had something stuck in her throat. Afterwards, Sheila
Ashley said she could see tears in the corners of her eyes. When she
finished the story Hicksy finished the lesson ten minutes early and
told us to revise our assignments cos she had to dash off and do
the swots did what the teacher told us but the rest of us just farted
around. Dave and Timbo and me played poker. Sheila told us she reckoned
that Hicksy was talking about herself. Maybe, we said, then we told her
to bugger off so we could concentrate on the cards.
thought about the story afterwards and wondered whether Sheila was
right about Hicksy. But it's weird, isn't it. These nuns are supposed
to do what Jesus says but I can't imagine Jesus walloping some poor sod
with a plank of wood. Like I told you before, I don't normally bother
much about religious stuff. But what about this - in the New Bible
Jesus Christ always hangs around with poor people and sick people and
that. So he obviously preferred them to rich people and important
people. Is that why churches are big fancy buildings with loads of
coloured windows and statues? Cos obviously they must
loads of money to pay for stuff like that. You see, if they gave their
money to the poor people they wouldn't be poor anymore so they wouldn't
be the sort of people Jesus liked. So they spend the money on other
stuff instead. It makes sense to me. So therefore the answer to
Hicksy's question is 'no' - it's wrong for rich people to give their
money to poor people, despite what Martin says.
you, people round here wouldn't want Jesus hanging around anyway, not
when he looks like a foreigner. Even if he was wearing normal clothes
they wouldn't like the long hair and the beard. They'd say he was an
asylum seeker or a terrorist and they'd tell him to go back to where he
never mention poverty during Choral Evensong. Mind you, a lot of the
prayers and that are in church English so they may be going on about it
and I don't realise. Last Wednesday was Exeter Cathedral. Some good
stuff. They did a fantastic anthem I never heard before - 'The souls of
the righteous are in the hands of God'. I've listened to the recording
hundreds of times and I really dig it.
know what? I played the melody to Miss Hochdorfer and she took over and
played the bass and the tenor and the alto and sang the words as well.
It's one of her favourites too. The ending is so cool. They sing 'but
they are in peace' over and over, like a rondo, the last one pianissimo
- that means dead quiet, ending with the melody on the dominant. It's
wicked. I must try and get it on a CD or download it off the internet.
today, which means we have to write our diaries. Most of the other kids
are too daft to realise that if you write interesting stuff Mrs Hicks
reads it out in class. Of course that's what Sarah likes, but no-one
can make out what she's on about cos she uses poncy words. Her Dad took
her to London where he works in a bank and she was rabbitting on about
the euro and the dollar. As far as I could make out the euro will only
last twenty years and then it will be taken over by the world dollar,
which will also replace the pound.
my diary I was going to write up last Saturday's match. To be fair it
wasn't one of Spurs' best games. They were losing one nil to Everton
and Fernandez got sent off for thumping one of the Everton strikers.
Luckily we sneaked a last minute equaliser, probably off-side but the
ref let it go. Hicksy hates football - she keeps telling me to write
something else so I thought I'd do something funny - like Amy getting
told off for treading on ants. Me and Justin were playing on the
computer. The door to the garden was open and outside we could see Amy
stamping on the patio. We told her to stop cos the noise was putting us
off. Then Mum came out and asked her what she was doing. Treading on
ants, said Amy. Why, said Mum. Don't know, said Amy. So then Mum goes
on about what about all the Mummy and Daddy ants waiting at home for
the children to come back and now they won't cos Amy's killed them. So
then Amy bursts into tears and runs inside to her room. Justin and me
burst out laughing - what a scream. Then Mum had a go at us, saying
it's not funny and going on about the sankerty of life - I don't know
what this means.
be honest I can't make up my mind about the teachers reading your stuff
out. They do it for the kids' diaries, like I told you, and also for
essays you write. The trouble is you get the piss taken out of you if
it's your stuff. Ollie's working out a league table for the children in
my class. Of course Dave Bresson is at the top of the table. His work
is so pants it never gets read out. Sarah Haywood is at the bottom, but
you'd expect that. I'm about the middle or a bit below. You know what -
I'd really like to do an essay about Choral Evensong, but you can
imagine what the other boys would say. I'd get sent to the bottom of
the league, even below Sarah. It's too risky - I've got to protect my
Choral Evensong they even sing the prayers. It's weird - the preacher
does a long prayer on one note, a bit boring, then the choir does a
really fancy 'amen' in full harmony taking several bars. I got to
thinking - when we used to say our prayers when I was a little kid I
used to pray for Mum and Dad and Granny and Grandad Fielding and Granny
Harper and Uncle Maurice and Auntie Jessica and my disgusting sisters
and all my friends and that. Then I used to pray for sick people and
poor people, like I was taught. But then I thought that's unfair - what
about all the billions of people you leave out. What happens to them?
Okay, maybe they've got their own families to pray for them but you can
see it's bloody complicated. Suppose someone gets missed out?
doesn't everyone just pray for everyone else so it all evens out?
Anyway, if God was as terrific as they make out he would want to help
people without being asked to. People have been praying to God for like
thousands of years, asking him to stop wars and famines and cruelty and
other bad things but it looks like he ignores them, so why bother with
other strange thing is you're supposed to worship God. Why? Surely if
he's a decent bloke he'd like you without needing to be worshipped. I
remember once Mr Hollis telling us that people who wanted to be
worshipped didn't have confidence in themselves and were afraid of
being unwanted. He was talking about film stars and other celebrities
so obviously it doesn't apply to God, who's the most powerful thing in
the universe and can do everything he wants. So he probably doesn't
need to be worshipped.
get these funny ideas sometimes. In school we were doing the nervous
system and Marge Simpson was telling us when you see something or hear
something or touch something or smell something it's only messages from
your nerves to your brain. So I suddenly thought - suppose I am the
only person here in the whole universe. Everything else is just
pictures and sounds in my brain. Scary, isn't it? When I said this the
other kids laughed and Dave Bresson pulled my hair. 'Big shot,' he
said. 'I'm the only person in the universe, not you.' But Marge said I
had a good point but I wasn't the first to think it. These Greek guys
in the olden days talked about stuff like that, he said. There was even
a name for it - he wrote it on the board - solipsism - where you think
you're the only thing that exists.
then said that I was the biggest arsehole in the universe but
unfortunately for him Marge heard him and gave him a bollocking.
Everybody sniggered, except Sheila Ashley, who turned round to look at
me with a sort of smile on her face.
changing my mind about Sheila. We were all messing around in the
playground during break one day and someone said 'what about a
shit-shouting competition'. It's dead easy - all you've got to do is
shout the word 'shit' as loud as you can and make it last as long as
possible. The teachers don't like it of course so we have to check they
aren't around when we do it. It's boys only, although we sometimes let
Denise join in because she's really good.
usual, Dave Bresson was winning when my turn came. I took a deep breath
and was just about to start when I saw Sheila watching me. It was like
she wanted to say 'please don't do it'. I got confused. I thought, I'll
do it really really loud just to wind her up but then for some reason I
stopped and pretended to have a sudden cough. Someone else took my turn
and I didn't do a shit-shout at all. I looked at Sheila again and she
looked at me. I went all funny inside and could feel my face going red.
I find I'm trying to do things to make her like me. I've even started
going to Mrs Wright's Latin class after school on Tuesday because
Sheila goes and I can talk to her without my mates seeing. They still
take the piss though - once for going to Latin and twice for doing it
to meet Sheila. I thought it would be boring - well, it is boring -
although it might help if I want to learn the words of church music -
some of it is in Latin. Mrs Wrong says Latin is useful if you want to
learn other languages or want to understand complicated English words.
Well, that's a waste of time - everyone abroad speaks English these
days and only showoffs like Sarah Haywood use big words. But at least I
now know that Agnus Dei means 'Lamb of God' and Adeste Fideles means 'O
Come All Ye Faithful'. Possum is not just a furry animal, but means 'I
can' in Latin. Video means 'I see'.
because of Sheila that Dave Bresson laughed at me for answering a
question from the teacher. Mrs Bellwood asked us what the word
'ambiguous' meant. Of course Sarah put her hand up but no-one else did.
Funnily enough I knew the answer, but I thought if I put my hand up the
other boys will kill me. But then I thought, why not annoy Sarah and
show off to Sheila at the same time? Mrs Bellwood was amazed when my
hand went up. Sarah looked really pissed off when Bellwood chose me. It
was fantastic. I couldn't see Sheila's face because she sits in front
of me. I hope she was impressed.
it was my piano teacher, Miriam Hochdorfer, who told me what
'ambiguous' meant. Sometimes in the lesson she gives me a break and
plays stuff herself. She was playing something by an American bloke
called Gershwin. I said it sounded a bit like jazz and she started
telling me about blue notes. That's not the colour blue, by the way.
It's just that you change some of the notes on the normal scale.
you've got a piano or a keyboard you can try it yourself. Play a C
major chord but then drop the top note to B flat so you've got a
seventh. Now here's where the ambiguous bit comes in - you can play
either E natural or E flat to get a blues chord. You can even play them
both in the same chord. Miriam calls it the 'ambiguous third', which is
how I got to know what it meant. She played some more Gershwin then
suddenly stopped, but leaving her fingers on the notes.
she said. 'B natural with the left hand and B flat with the right'.
Those are the third notes in the G scale, if you didn't know already.
She hit the notes again. It made a sort of tingly sound. Then she
carried on with the piece.
got an old photo on the piano, black and white. There's a young girl
about the same age as my sister Amy and a man and a woman about my
Mum's age. I'd always thought the girl was Miriam herself, but in the
photo she's holding a violin. One day not long ago she saw me looking
at it and began to tell me about it.
that was me, many years ago. And my mother and father'. In the picture
Miriam and her Dad are smiling but her Mum looks sad.
'You used to play the
violin, then,' I said.
'Can you still play?'
'No, I have not touched
a violin for over sixty years.'
eyes went a bit squinty and she seemed to be trying to remember
something. There was a silence and I didn't know what to say. I
thought, wow, what happened to suddenly make her stop?
'Didn't you like playing
it then?' I asked.
'At first yes, then no.'
I felt a bit, you know,
embarrassed, like I could tell something was wrong.
incredible what people can do to other people,' said Miriam. 'Man's
inhumanity to man. Civilisation is such a thin veneer. You see, people
are animals. In fact worse than animals - sometimes they are
started to get a bit panicky. I didn't understand what she was talking
about and I thought maybe she'd gone mad. She lives on her own so there
was no-one I could call to for help. I didn't know what to do.
'Shall I carry on with
what I was playing?' I said, hoping that would make everything normal
'It was the war,' said
Miriam. 'We had to leave Austria after my father was arrested.'
decided to let her say whatever she wanted to say - get it out of her
system, like. But I would have to tell Mum just in case she really was
losing her marbles.
Gestapo took my father away one evening. I had just gone to bed when I
heard the door knocker. There were voices downstairs and I heard my
mother calling, "don't take him, don't take him. He has done
nothing." I was very scared and I got out of bed and went to
top of the stairs. There were two men in the hall, in civilian clothes,
with my parents. My mother was crying and waving her arms and my father
was trying to calm her, saying it was just routine and he would be back
soon. He saw me standing on the stairs and he smiled at me and blew me
a kiss. "See you tomorrow, darling," he said. Then he went out with the
two men. My mother stood crying at the open door, calling, "please let
him come home, please, please . . . " '
could picture what Miriam was talking about in my mind. I've seen war
films where people get dragged off by the Germans. But this was for
'We never saw him
again,' she said.
looked calmer now. I thought, I'm glad the story's over - I don't like
sad things - but what has it got to do with the violin?
But the story wasn't
mother heard that Father had been deported, probably to a concentration
camp. She tried to find out where he was but no-one would tell her.
They wouldn't even tell her if he was still alive. Mother decided we
had to get away. My older brother Theo had already been sent to stay
with friends in Torino so there was just the two of us left.'
'Why did they arrest
your Dad?' I asked.
called a public meeting to protest about something, I can't remember
what it was. Something to do with politics, probably. Although he was
an architect he was also involved in politics before the war.'
'So is that how you came
to England?' I said.
shook her head. 'No, we were going to Torino to join Theo. My mother
locked up the house and we walked to the station. The two of us, two
suitcases and my violin. My mother's flute was in one of the cases -
she played in the Kanzelkehre symphony orchestra. It was winter, very
cold, and the train was late but there weren't any problems until we
got to Bolzano, where we had to change to another train, the one that
was going to Milano and Torino.
train also was late. All the trains were late in the war. My mother and
I went to the ladies' waiting room but there was no fire so it was
freezing. It was nearly midnight. We were the only two there.
German soldiers came into the waiting room. They looked young to me,
not much more than boys. It was obvious they were drunk. My mother
politely informed them that the room was for ladies only. One of the
soldiers swore at her and told her to get out. My mother looked calm
but I was scared. She said to me: "Come on, dear, we'll wait outside.
The train won't be long now."
But the soldier stopped
her getting to the door. "No," he said, "stay here."
are happy to wait outside," said my mother. "Please let us pass." I
could see the other soldier smiling, but not in a nice way.
The first soldier looked
at me. I was very scared. "You play the violin, little girl?"
was too frightened to answer. He came over and stood in front of me. I
could smell the drink on his breath. "I said, do you play the violin?"
My mother replied, "Yes,
The soldier came closer
and bent down. "I'm talking to you, little Austrian slut," he said. I
could feel his spittle on my face.
"Yes," I said.
"Then play it," he said.
looked up at Mother. Her eyes were frightened too but she smiled at me.
"Would you like to play a tune for the soldier?" she said.
I could feel tears
running down my face but I smiled back and said, "Yes, mother."
soldier moved back and took a seat on the bench opposite us. "Play the
Beethoven Concerto," he said. "It's one of my favourites. Play the last
I looked at Mother. I didn't know this piece, not at that time anyway.
My mother told the soldier that I couldn't play it. The soldier looked
at his friend for a moment then turned to Mother. "Are you Jewish?" he
"No," said Mother.
"You look Jewish to me,
both of you." He spoke to me. "Are you Jewish, little girl?"
I couldn't speak. I just
shook my head.
"If you are Jewish you
have to go to the Special Camp, do you understand?"
"We are not Jewish,"
don't believe you," said soldier. "But if your daughter - she is your
daughter? - if she plays the Beethoven I will not tell anyone that you
are trying to escape going to the Special Camp."
"May I help her,
please?" said Mother. "She can play it if I play the flute
The soldier looked
puzzled. "What flute accompaniment?"
"You know," said my
mother, "the arrangement by Vogel."
The soldier waved his
hand dismissively. "Alright, I permit you."
mother opened her suitcase and took out the flute. I got my violin out
of its case. I couldn't hold it properly because my hands were shaking
because I was scared and the room was cold. Mother said quietly to me:
"It's in D major, triple time. We'll take it slow. Just repeat the
phrases I play. It's quite easy."
started to play and I tried to copy her but it was difficult to play
the correct notes because I didn't have the score to read the music. I
made lots of mistakes and the more I panicked the worse I played. The
soldier stood up again and motioned us to stop. I thought he was going
to tell me off for playing it wrong but instead he spoke to Mother.
"The little tart is
useless. You play the melody. And play it at the right speed this time.
It's one eighty to the minute."
The soldier hummed the
tune, conducting as if he held a baton. His friend was laughing.
mother started to play but again the soldier stopped her. "Your coat is
hindering your playing," he said. "The arms are too heavy - you're not
holding the flute correctly. Take off your coat."
"Sir, it's very cold,"
said Mother. "I would prefer to keep it on. I can still play properly."
"Take it off."
Mother put down her
flute and took off her coat. Underneath she was wearing just a blouse.
She picked up the flute again.
Mother was shivering and
it made her play badly. Again the soldier stopped her.
"Take off your blouse,"
pleaded with him. I could see she was close to tears. I put down the
violin and threw my arms round her, trying to keep her warm.'
stopped for a moment and this time her eyes were watering. It must have
been horrible in the station, being bullied by drunk soldiers. How
could anyone be so nasty to a lady and a little girl?
heard a whistle then and a few moments later our train pulled in. I
watched the carriage windows as they went by, hoping someone would see
us as the train slowed down. Someone who could rescue us. There were
some passengers on it but they were not paying attention. Some of them
this is our train. Please may we go?" asked Mother. But the soldier
then pulled his pistol out of its holster and pointed it at us.
"Take off your blouse or
I will shoot your daughter."
carriage opposite the waiting room had a passenger sitting right by the
window, a man reading the paper. The engine blew its whistle again and
the man in the train put down his paper and checked his watch. He
looked round and looked into the waiting room. I thought, surely he
must see us, a soldier pointing a gun at two civilians. Surely he could
investigate. But the soldier told his friend to pull down the window
blind. So that chance of rescue vanished.
"I'm waiting," said the
soldier holding the gun.
shaking hands my mother took my arms away and started to unbutton her
blouse. I just lost control and burst into tears. I ran to the soldier,
screaming, "No! No! No!" but he pushed me away.
"Get back!" he shouted.
then the door opened and another German soldier came in, an officer. He
looked at the four of us and addressed the man with the gun.
"What's going on?" he
"These two Jews have
escaped custody. I have just arrested them," said the soldier.
The officer came over to
us. He was not smiling and his eyes had no message.
"Madam, you look cold.
Why aren't you wearing your coat?"
told her to take it off, sir," said the soldier behind him. "I wanted
her to play the Beethoven violin concerto and she was playing it on the
flute because her daughter couldn't play it on the violin. But she
couldn't play it properly because her coat was too bulky."
"Please, put on your
coat," said the officer.
"They were going to play
the Vogel arrangement," said the soldier. He was looking a bit worried
"Ah, the Vogel
arrangement," said the officer. He turned to us. "Excuse me, madam, may
I see your papers?"
mother was still putting on her coat so I got the documents out of her
bag and gave them to the officer. But at that moment the engine
whistled again and the train began to pull out.
"Sir, that is our
train," my mother said to the officer. "We are going to Torino."
officer nodded, still checking the documents. We couldn't see the train
because the blind was down but we could hear the engine exhaust getting
faster. Then the officer returned the documents and smiled briefly at
us and walked out of the room. Above the noise of the train we could
hear orders being shouted. Suddenly there was a screech of brakes and
we could hear the train stopping. The two soldiers who had threatened
us looked very sullen. I hoped they would not hurt us. My mother asked
if she could pack her flute away but there was no reply, so she did it
anyway. I put my violin in its case but I was still scared. The soldier
with the gun still had it in his hand.
officer came back in. "The train is waiting for you," he said. "I have
instructed the conductor to look after you and make sure you get safely
to Torino." He turned to the soldiers. "Put your pistol away. Go and
wait for me in the Stationmaster's office. I will be along shortly."
they had gone the officer picked up our cases, one in each hand, and we
went to the train and got on, Mother carrying my violin. The officer
put our cases on the luggage rack and asked us to sit down.
apologise for the behaviour of those two," he said. "War is not good
for youngsters. It damages their hearts and their souls and they forget
their manners. I will remind them that it is impolite to point guns at
defenceless ladies. By the way, my son is a musician, in the Stuttgart
Philharmonic. He plays the cello. I know Beethoven very well. Is there
such a thing as the Vogel arrangement?"
"No," said Mother. "I
was trying to help my daughter."
The officer nodded.
"Well, maybe there should be. Have a good journey."
that was it. He got off the train and waved to us from the platform as
it pulled out again. The rest of the journey was uneventful. The
conductor made sure we were comfortable and even brought us food and
coffee. He wouldn't let Mother pay for anything - said it was all taken
'Was everything okay in
Italy?' I asked.
nodded. 'Yes, we were well looked after, considering our friends had
very little money and we had virtually nothing. When we arrived Mother
said we'd have to sell her flute and my violin to help pay for our
keep, and her best clothes too. She said we should play the instruments
together before they were sold and she arranged a little concert for
the Barbiere family - the friends we were staying with.'
Miriam was quiet again
for a minute, obviously going back to the past.
took my violin out of its case while Mother tuned her flute and then -
and I don't know why - I suddenly couldn't bear to touch it. I threw it
onto the floor and stamped on it until it was smashed to pieces. The
others were astonished. Then I realised what I'd done and I burst into
tears. Mother came over and hugged me and said she understood. She
wasn't angry that I'd destroyed something that could be sold to buy
food. That was the last time I held a violin in my hands. I still
can't, although I can listen to the D major concerto now without
'How did you end up in
England?' I asked her.
before the end of the war the Italian family had to move to England
because Signor Barbiere - the head of the family - had to do work here.
Mother didn't want us to stay in Torino on our own so we went to
England with them. She thought it was too risky to go back to Austria
until the war was over. Then after the war when the family went back to
Italy the three of us stayed here while Mother made arrangements for us
to go back to Austria, to Jenbach, our village. She flew to Innsbruck
to find us somewhere to live. A friend had told her someone else was
living in our house. My mother didn't know if she could get our house
back or if she would have to find somewhere else.'
'Did you get your house
back?' I asked.
shook her head. 'Mother never arrived. The plane crashed into the
mountains when it was coming into land. Everyone was killed.'
I didn't say anything.
Miriam picked up the photo on the piano and stared at it. She wasn't
crying or anything, just staring.
'It was the middle of
the night,' she said after a while. 'There was a snowstorm.'
Miriam looked at me with
like a sad smile. 'Bad luck . . . good luck . . . how can you explain
I didn't know what to
say so I just shrugged.
luck . . . Father was taken away and killed by the Germans .
good luck . . . the rest of us survived. Bad luck . . . those soldiers
at Bolzano finding us . . . good luck . . . the officer letting us go.
Bad luck . . . Mother getting that flight. The plane was delayed so
instead of arriving in Innsbruck in daylight in good weather they
arrived in the middle of the night in a snowstorm. Afterwards they said
the pilot made a mistake with the navigation. Maybe he was tired.'
'So you never went back?'
Miriam shook her head. 'No, Theo and I both stayed in England with
people my mother had made friends with. We didn't want to go back. A
few years later we went to Torino for a vacation and stayed with the
Barbiere family. Theo fell in love with a local girl and ended up
marrying her, so eventually he went to Italy to live there. I didn't
want to go to Jenbach on my own and leave my English friends so I never
'Do you ever go to see
your brother?' I said.
'I used to but he died a
few years ago. There's just me now.'
I thought what an amazing story. You look at Miriam and she's just a
little old lady who plays the piano. And yet those things happened to
her, just like a movie or something. I wondered if she'd ever got
married or had children. It's not as if she was ugly. She was wrinkly,
yes, but maybe when she was younger she looked good.
this thing about Jewish people, you still get that today. In school we
learnt that the Jewish people and the Arabs have hated each other for
like thousands of years. It's religion again, fighting about whose God
is the best one. All these religions in the world, each one thinks it's
got the best God. But how can you tell? It's not like there's a way of
checking it out, like a competition or something. The Arabs also hate
the Americans, because America helps Israel, which is where the Jews
live, except that lots of Jewish people live in America, which is why
they help Israel. The Arabs hate the Americans so much they blew up the
World Trade Centre in New York with two airliners. So then the
Americans smashed up Iraq when they bombed Saddam with Weapons of Mass
Distraction, which confuse the enemy by making them look the other way
while you drop bombs on them. Then you've got like Catholics and
Protestants hating each other in Ireland and Scotland. And blacks and
whites in Africa and blacks and whites and Asians here in England.
asked us how you could stop people hating each other. Sarah came out
with some big words but what she meant was - I think - babies don't
hate other babies when they're born - it's grown-ups who teach them how
to hate. My idea was - if people have been taught to hate
people, why couldn't they be taught to de-hate them? Hicksy said good
thinking you two, which of course was very embarrassing for me,
although Sarah loved it. Sheila Ashley was off sick so I didn't even
get a smile from her. I told the grown-ups about it when I went round
to Justin's after school and Charlie said she might put it in the
article she's writing for her magazine - I've already told you she's a
journalist, haven't I? I said okay, but for Christ's sake don't mention
my name in case my friends see it and have a go at me! Justin's Dad's
girlfriend told me off for blasphemy, which is when you say bad things
about Jesus and that, but that's stupid - how can a dead person living
in another country hear what you're saying?
says the Jews and the Arabs will soon be fighting over water, not
religion, because of global warming. I must say, ever since people
started going on about global warming the weather seems to be getting
colder in England. And more rain as well. But apparently in the place
where the Arabs and the Jews are the water is getting less. But then
people say the sea level will go up, which is more water, not less. Why
can't they use this water if there's not enough?
you can get good things out of global warming, like cars automatically
washing themselves. You see, every car in the world makes about three
thousand kilos of carbon dioxide every year - that's like three tonnes.
Think how many billions of cars there are in the world, not to mention
buses and lorries, and you can see how much of this stuff gets into the
atmosphere. Well, carbon dioxide traps the sun's heat which means more
water evaporates from the sea, which means more clouds and more rain,
which washes the cars! Except where the Jews and Arabs live - they
would still have to use the car wash.
Hicks set us an essay for homework. Are cars good or
wrote down that everyone says there should be less cars but no-one
wants to give theirs up. There was a programme on the telly the other
day about what people do with their cars. How about this - they showed
a gym where people get on a walking machine, you know the thing, like a
moving rubber belt which you walk on but you stay in the same place.
But people drive to the gym to do walking exercise! Is that weird, or
what? Why don't they just walk to the gym in the first place if they
want to practise walking? Guess what the answer would be if you asked
them! They also showed a clip from America where a woman came out of a
shop, got into her car, then drove about 50 metres to another shop and
got out again! We were allowed to ask our parents and friends for ideas
for the essay.
you know, Martin's always going on about cars and things. When he's in
his own car he says it annoys him when he lets people cross the road on
pedestrian crossings but they never say thank you. He says it's rude.
He doesn't like people driving in the evening or in bad weather with
only their parking lights on. He says he would make a law saying people
would have to use their headlights so pedestrians can see them better.
Mum said she turns her mirror pointing down so she can't see people
driving too close behind her - she says it scares her. My Dad said Mum
was silly to do that and he also said that most people in the world
drive their cars on the wrong side of the road. In my essay I put that
I want a car when I grow up but I want it to use fuel that doesn't harm
probably had enough of all this crap I've been telling you so I'll pack
it in now. Maybe when I get older I'll understand why grown-ups do the
stupid things they do. Maybe when I'm older I'll think they're not
stupid! Then I'll be telling kids who tell me it's obvious how to make
the world better: It's not as simple as that!
you're not completely bored, you can read a copy of Martin's speech.
You can see the ideas he got from me. Most of the rest is a load of
rubbish, going on about education and politics and stuff – ignore those
bits if you want. There's a bit about a train almost crashing as well,
where the driver went past a red signal light, which sounds a dozy kind
of thing to do but guess what Martin said!
me start by introducing myself. For those of you who don't know me, I
am a senior driver with South Midland, based at High Wycombe. I've been
with South Mid since before privatisation. Like most of the private
companies we've had our troubles and our customers still refer to us as
the Sorry Mistake.
good news is that the directors have come to realise that a
well-trained, motivated, properly-rewarded workforce actually improves
the efficiency of the railway business. It's a pity it's taken them so
long to discover what a child of eight could tell you - if you treat
people well they will work better for you than if you bully or threaten
them. And it's pleasing to see some of the ancient rolling stock
finally being carted off to the breakers' yard. But we can only give
the directors two cheers. The modernisation and new investment is still
too slow. This country's railway system is a good example of the old
saying that the British way is 'muddling through with inadequate
resources.' For example, we lag behind most other developed countries
in replacing diesel traction with electric, so we're pumping out more
carbon dioxide per train mile than the others. Not good in a world that
needs to decarbonise quickly.
be pleased to hear that today I'm not going to stir up an argument as
to whether the funding available is better spent on upgrading current
rail lines rather than high speed trains. Of course the idealists will
say - both!
problem is that poor operational practices are still lurking in many
areas of the industry. The recent Aylesbury incident which most of you
will be familiar with is a case in point and I shall be referring to it
again later in this speech.
have two areas of concern in the activities of our Union. Firstly, most
of you will know that I am Vice-Chairman of the Working Practices
Committee and that I also serve on the Train Operating Companies'
Arbitration Board. This work takes up about two thirds of my Union
time. The rest of it is spent on Developing World problems. I'm proud
to say that we're in the forefront of British Trades Union activity in
this area and I'm proud to be Chairman of the Developing World Aid
Committee. On which subject - we have recently been invited to join the
Socrates programme set up by a group of charities. Socrates stands for
Social Responsibility Awareness Training and I'll be talking about it
am standing for re-election to the National Executive so that I can
continue my work on the committees I serve on. I have been involved
with industrial relations work for the Union for nearly twenty years.
working conditions in the Developing World is an important part of our
union activity. We're doing a lot in this area but I'd like to see us
do more. We've been through difficult times in this industry and maybe
we've been so wrapped up in our own troubles that we've forgotten about
people less fortunate than ourselves. As trade unionists we ought to be
persuading the governments of the rich nations to put more effort into
improving the pay and conditions of workers in the poor ones.
the worst excesses of monetarism that swept through the Developed World
in recent times are now behind us and at last there are signs that
people are being valued more than money, in some industrial enterprises
at least. What our union and similar organisations need to do now is
increase that momentum. We have to educate our children that it is not
acceptable to think only of themselves - they must be taught that they
will have to do their bit to help people who by sheer bad luck are born
into poverty or ignorance.
that's what it comes down to - luck. Take a look at me - I've been very
lucky. I was born to loving parents who weren't rich but they weren't
poor either. I got a decent education at the expense of the state. I
have no disabilities and I have white skin. Suppose I'd been born
disabled, or a black in one of our inner cities. What sort of life
would I have had? With loving, supportive parents I might have had a
chance to do well. But suppose I was the child of a single parent who
was too exhausted by life to look after me properly and I went to a
school with no resources, where the teachers were demoralised and
academic expectation was zero. Would it be so surprising if I went
outside the law to get things that I would otherwise have no chance of
getting? Would it be so surprising if I resorted to drugs or alcohol to
bring relief from the unremitting misery of life? What would people
expect me to do with my life?
imagine that problem times ten. Imagine being born in a poor African or
Asian country. What would you have to look forward to in life? Not
enough food, no money, no education, no work, or even worse - slavery,
nowhere decent to live. Nothing. What sort of life is that? Suppose
someone came along and said, 'Join my organisation and I'll make it
better for you. Help me fight the foreigners who steal our resources
and starve us.' Would you be able to resist? Perhaps poverty and
exploitation are two of the seeds of terrorism.
now here's the really big question. Should the lucky people be expected
to help the unlucky ones? There are plenty of people who will tell you
'no', but you won't find them in Bangladesh or Nicaragua or Somalia.
You'll find them in financial centres in London and New York and
Frankfurt and Paris. You'll find them in their big comfortable houses
or playing in their expensive yachts. If you say to them, 'why don't
you want to share your good luck?' they'll say why should they? They'll
tell you they worked hard to get their money. Some of them even pay
their taxes. They'll conveniently forget that they were lucky to be
born with the talent for making money and they won't mention the
workers they exploited to get that money.
we have to do is change the minds of people who behave in this way -
not the older ones - they're a lost cause. It's back to education -
social education if you like.
Socrates programme says that what we have to do is change our
philosophy. We teach gifted and talented children to share the fruits
of their good luck. And to those who say we mustn't ignore poverty here
while we're putting resources into the Developing World - charity
begins at home and all that - well, I agree with you. Poverty does not
recognise borders and nor should the people trying to eradicate it. In
the words of John Lennon: 'Imagine all the people sharing all the
world' - a better impulse than that illustrated on the backdrop behind
might surprise some of you to hear me say - and I hope I don't lose too
many votes saying it - that socialism is not the answer - not in the
old-fashioned sense of the word. The idea of 'from each according to
his ability, to each according to his needs' was bound to be a failure,
because it ignores human nature.
is a natural human characteristic. We all want what's best for
ourselves and our families. So what we have to say to our children is -
look, you've got ability and talent - use those abilities and talents
to do well for yourself, to get a good job, make a good living, nice
house, nice car etc. You don't need to feel guilty about earning wealth
but while you're doing it, spare a thought for the unlucky ones, born
without talent or ability or into poverty.
taking my cue from the Socrates programme, we must say to the next
generation, your social duty is to give a little time and effort to
improve the lot of the unlucky ones. Remember, we must tell them, every
person who is born into this world is entitled to expect freedom from
hunger, basic education, health care, work to do, and most important of
all, some happiness in their lives and a sense of purpose. It's up to
the lucky ones to make sure the unlucky ones get these basic human
entrepreneurs will tell you they're already helping the third world by
setting up industries there. But of course they're not really helping
the local people, they're helping themselves. Ruthless competition, one
of the nastier aspects of monetarism, has forced companies to relocate
to parts of the world where labour is cheap and yet again it's the
unlucky ones - many of them children - who lose out.
need to see the process work in reverse, by setting global trade rules
which prevent exploitation of workers. I'm talking about minimum wages
and maximum working hours. Competition itself is no bad thing and helps
to increase efficiency, but that efficiency must not be at the expense
of the weakest people. Rather, there must be basic rights for workers
everywhere in the world and efficiency achieved through the way
businesses are managed rather than by abuse of the workforce. And, as
I've previously mentioned, by removing the seething resentment fuelled
by grinding poverty and exploitation you'll reduce terrorism too. You
cannot make a terrorist out of a contented person.
forget the present day entrepreneurs and company directors. Their
education was flawed - they weren't taught their social duty. They were
brought up to worship the great god, money. No, the children of today
are the ones who need to learn these new responsibilities. And in turn
they will pass the message on to their children and then the world may
see a fairer distribution of wealth and power. My partner, who's better
educated than me, has supplied a quote from the poet Wordsworth, who
said in eight words what I've been rambling on about these last ten
minutes - the child is the father of the man. In other words - bring
the children up right and they'll turn into good citizens and good
us be the first generation of whom our successors can say - they taught
their children correctly. Wouldn't we prefer that than if they said -
they were the ones who abused the world's resources, who allowed
corrupt politicians to lie their way out of trouble, who thought profit
was more important than people, who thought image was more important
look at that last point a bit closer. Today more than ever before we
are influenced by image presenters. They are so clever they can
actually change what seems to be the truth, often by the simple
technique of choosing the right name. Sometimes their job is made
easier because people don't want to hear the truth. It's not a new
phenomenon - several hundred years ago a religious group invented the
Inquisition, an innocuous name which hid the practice of torture and
murder they were using to enforce political control, much the same as
the concept of Rehabilitation in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China.
no doubt remember the Winston Smith character in George Orwell's famous
book, 1984, which condemns mind control of the populace for political
purposes. Winston Smith would be cynically amused to note that when the
nuclear power station at Windscale in Cumbria ran into an image problem
over radiation contamination the problem was solved by changing its
name to Sellafield. In the Eighties the Poll Tax was called the
Community Charge and then - a rare example of truth almost breaking out
- became the Council tax.
wry smile would perhaps cross Winston Smith's lips when he heard about
the worldwide practice of politicians and officials being paid bribes -
sorry, I used the wrong word there - I meant to say consultation fees -
by commercial enterprises trying to get what they want.
Smith thought that the only hope of changing things for the better lay
with the proletariat. I humbly disagree. I think that hope lies with
the children, as long as we teach them how to turn the world into a
better place, with the lucky ones helping the unlucky ones, and
everyone acknowledging their social responsibilities and their duty of
care to planet Earth. A young lad who lives near me suggested that we
should teach people not to hate each other but to de-hate each other. I
like that word - it could catch on. When you take away hate you begin
to solve many of the world's problems. When you then start thinking
about the welfare of those less fortunate than yourself you go further
along the same road.
take that idea and direct it to my other area of concern - industrial
relations. I'm pleased to say we are making progress here, at least in
South-Midland Rail, and, I understand, in other train operating
companies too. The past tendency of directors and managers to threaten
and even bully the workforce is starting to reverse. At last they're
beginning to think about the welfare of the workers and not just the
bottom line on the account sheet. But there are still problems in the
way humans deal with other humans in the workplace and one contentious
area which is particularly significant in the public transport industry
is the regulation of duty periods.
some of you know, considerable research is being done by psychologists
into how outside factors influence people's performance at work.
Indeed, our union is directly involved in such a study taking place at
Cambridge University. What is clear already is that although the
performance of the human brain is fairly easy to measure, the ability
to predict variations in performance is much more difficult. From this
it follows that the current rules concerning duty periods are far too
is where I'll bring in the recent Aylesbury SPAD incident. For the
observers here the acronym SPAD stands for signal passed at danger - an
error severely compromising rail transport safety, with potentially
incident did not attract much media attention. There were no fatalities
and only minor injuries. The train was not derailed or damaged in any
way. Let me remind you of the main points. A four-car multiple unit
operating a semi-fast Euston to Birmingham service and running at
normal speed on the down main line approached a signal at danger
without reduction in speed. The driver realised his error when he saw
the red aspect of the signal. He immediately applied emergency braking.
The train came to a halt having overrun the signal by 120 metres. Three
passengers were injured during the abrupt deceleration.
aspects of the four preceding signals were green, double yellow, double
yellow and yellow. The driver cancelled the aural cab warnings at the
last three, as he was entitled to do, but did not reduce speed after
passing the single yellow, in contravention of standard procedure.
questioned after the incident the driver said he thought that the last
warning he had cancelled was also a double yellow and he was expecting
the next signal to show an aspect other than red. When asked why he did
not check the Last Signal Repeater in his cab he said he thought he had
done so. He thought he saw a double yellow. Testing of the repeater
equipment after the incident confirmed its correct operation.
significant factor in this incident was that the Track Occupancy
Indicator on this train was inoperative. Had it been functioning it
would have shown that the block protected by the signal at danger was
occupied by another train which was running behind schedule. Currently,
despite union pressure to change them, the regulations allow dispatch
of trains with inop TOIs as long as the aspect repeaters are
serviceable. A few minutes before the incident Area Control had advised
the driver by cab phone about the late running train ahead and he had
acknowledged the message.
the train had come to a halt after emergency braking the driver
reported his violation to Area Control by cab phone and was given
permission to proceed to Aylesbury once the signals were clear. On
arrival at Aylesbury the driver was relieved of his duty and suspended
from further operations pending investigation.
the investigation, it was suggested to the driver that, given that his
TOI was inop and Area Control had advised him about the late running
train ahead, he should have monitored his aspect repeater more closely
than usual. The driver replied that he was doing so, or so he thought.
He could not explain why he had mistaken the single yellow aspect for a
was noted that the driver's past operational record was satisfactory.
He had no previous SPAD incidents on his record. His sickness rate was
about 70% of the average. The driver stated that there were no major
worries in his domestic life at the time of the incident.
the incident the driver has had a problem with returning to work.
Despite counselling, he does not feel confident enough to resume
driving. He told the investigating committee that he was worried that
if he made the same mistake again there might be more serious
consequences. This man is not shirking work - in fact he is doing
office duties, which means his take-home pay is quite a bit less than
when he was driving. I'm pleased to report that our union is making up
most of the difference.
why did this driver overrun a signal at danger? Let's look at some
possible explanations. Clearly he didn't do it on purpose - he was
mortified when he realised what had happened. Was it carelessness? A
more likely explanation, but this man's operational history showed a
conscientious, professional approach to his duties.
about other possibilities? Incompetence? Well, again, this driver had a
good record. His performance assessments during route checks were
always satisfactory or better. How about incapacitation? The evidence
says no, the driver was not physically or mentally ill at the time of
the incident and was in possession of all his faculties.
we are left with a conundrum. Why did an experienced, competent,
conscientious driver in good mental and physical health ignore yellow
warning signals and overrun a red?
the clues can be found in another comment in the report. I quote: on
the day of the incident the driver's manager had noticed that he seemed
'not quite with it' when he booked on for his turn at 0530 and the
manager queried whether the driver was alright. The driver said he was.
This duty was his the fourth consecutive early start.
an aside here - the report doesn't pursue this further, but at the
investigation the driver confirmed that the manager had asked him if he
was feeling okay for duty. So, well done, that manager. There are still
a few around in South Mid who show little consideration for the welfare
of the workers they are in charge of. We need to get rid of these
dinosaurs as soon as possible.
quite with it.' What does that mean? I've got no training in psychology
but I think I know what they're talking about. You know the feeling,
we've all been there. You find yourself making more mistakes than usual
and it seems that your mind is drifting when it should be concentrating
on things and concentration itself is difficult. Sometimes it's after a
long duty or when you get up after a sleepless night. Sometimes it's
because you're not fully fit and sometimes . . . there's no apparent
reason at all.
perhaps in this case there is a reason. Let's revisit the report. As I
just said, this duty was the fourth consecutive early start for this
driver, although he stated afterwards that he was adequately rested and
not suffering from fatigue as far as he was aware.
are two big problems with fatigue. One is legal and one is
physiological. If you look in the Train Operators' Procedures Manual
you will find the following:
person shall not undertake driving duty if they know or suspect that
they may suffer the effects of fatigue during the course of that duty.
is one of the most controversial rules in the book. You will have heard
of drivers worried about repercussions if they report unfit for duty
through fatigue. Some drivers take to reporting sick when they are just
over-tired but then they worry about generating higher sickness rates.
Needless to say, most of the cases are genuine and only a tiny minority
are malingerers. But if there is a climate of fear, the possibility
arises that trains are being driven by men and women whose judgement is
impaired by fatigue because they're worried about losing their jobs.
I said before, there are signs that the climate is improving in this
area. But there is still the remaining problem - how can a driver blame
fatigue if he or she is involved in an incident? The legal bods will
say - you've broken the law by driving when fatigued. So what will
drivers say? Let me remind you again what the driver in this SPAD said:
He was not suffering from fatigue as far as he was aware. What else
could he say without being accused of breaking the rules?
I mentioned previously, there is another consequence of fatigue and
that is that it impairs judgement. This means that a person suffering
from fatigue might not even realise it. They may not realise that they
are not in a fit state to do driving duties. Having eliminated other
possible causes, my guess, although there is no proof, is that the
driver in this SPAD incident was suffering from some form of fatigue,
perhaps caused by having to report for work before 6 o'clock on four
read somewhere recently that machines are now more reliable than
humans. If this is true then the weak link in transport safety is the
human being. Machines can be improved almost to the point of
infallibility, but humans have taken millions of years to evolve into
their current form and they still have minds and bodies naturally
suited to pre-industrial life. The only safe way of allowing humans to
operate safety critical machinery is to develop operating strategies
that minimise the likelihood of human error and also minimise its
impact when it occurs, as occur it must. It's important too to remove
the blame culture still prevalent in some industries and some
countries, which deters people from admitting to errors they've made
and so prevents others from learning how to avoid these errors.
means that the whole area of human performance and variation in
performance needs more research so that we can replace the current
rules with something better, especially in the areas of maximum
permitted duty periods, minimum rest periods and fatigue-inducing
roster patterns. Which is where our research project at Cambridge fits
in. Again, a bit of good news - the practice of rostering four
consecutive earlies has now been discontinued. It took a fair amount of
pressure from the union to achieve it but finally the directors agreed,
maybe because they didn't want more SPADs - or worse.
someone reminded them that the two worst disasters in the history of
this country's railways both occurred early in the morning. In the
first, during the First World War, incorrect procedures were carried
out by signalmen during a shift change at a signal box, partly through
negligence, it has to be said. The result was a three train pile-up,
with smashed wooden coaches catching fire and burning for many hours.
In the second, a few years after the Second World War, the crew of an
overnight express ran through a red signal and hit the back of a
stationary commuter train boarding passengers at a station. Again a
train running on the adjacent track hit the wreckage of the first two.
In this case fog was a contributory factor. The combined death toll in
these accidents was over 300. We've made technical progress in so far
as carriages these days are built more robustly and operations in fog
are much safer. But the weak link - the human being - is still not
people by nature are better than others at working efficiently and
safely during unsocial hours. So a new union initiative which we'll
shortly be presenting to the company is introduction of preference
rostering so that drivers can state their preferred booking on times.
Incentives to work during unsocial hours should not be financial - for
obvious reasons. Rather, turns could be significantly shortened for
unsocial booking on times, more so than the present rules. Another
option is two-crew operation for these turns, to allow rest periods
during the turn. If the company baulk at the resulting increase in
payroll cost, we'll point out that these strategies will help to
improve safety by keeping fatigue at bay. Watch this space!
here's a related factor which needs attention. Besides our working
conditions, we're naturally concerned with our welfare and our quality
of life outside of work, which sadly are not high on the list of
priorities for our directors and bosses. Fatiguing operating practices
are likely to have long term detrimental effects on our health and
longevity. As we frequently remind those we work for - it's not just
can see that there's a link between the two themes of this speech, and
that is how people treat other people. Firstly, how we, the fortunates,
treat the unfortunates, and secondly, how we, the fortunates, treat
each other. My view is that I would like to see Britain following a
more European code of social behaviour. By this I mean the countries
disparaged by some right-wing Americans as 'old Europe'. In these
countries, the harshness of capitalism is tempered by the citizens'
obligation of social provision for the less fortunate. It's the 'make
money for yourself but don't forget about others' idea I mentioned
earlier, and it's far superior to the American 'make money for yourself
and don't bother too much about anyone else' where hire-and-fire is
governed purely by economics without regard for workers' welfare.
an oversimplification, of course. I don't want to be accused of
anti-Americanism here. I like America and I like the Americans I've
met. Many Americans show concern for others, and there is a tradition
of philanthropy in the US in which those who have amassed fortunes
redistribute some of it in charitable foundations and the like. But
there is a difference in basic philosophy which was clearly exposed in
the devastation wreaked on New Orleans by hurricane Katrina, which the
fortunates escaped and the unfortunates did not. At the risk of
oversimplification again, the American way could be summarised as
'money before people' and the European way 'people before money'.
Britain over the last few decades we have drifted towards the American
model. For many people - the clever, talented ones - that means greater
material wealth. But for many others it means the opposite. The much
vaunted 'freedom of opportunity' is about as achievable as a flight to
Mars for deprived, undereducated families living in squalor in sink
estates. I would be saddened to see the governments of enlightened
European countries following Britain along this uncaring path in their
obsession with economic competitiveness. You can predict the response
of a sink estate inhabitant when they were informed that the country in
which they lived was the world's fifth largest economy - 'What do they
do with the money?'
a good question - what do we do with the money? Some people will tell
you that we waste money which the country can't afford on asylum
seekers and illegal immigrants. You read it in some of the more rabidly
xenophobic newspapers. You know the sort of thing - 'the reason the NHS
is struggling is because the money that would pay for improvements is
being paid out instead in benefits to people too lazy to work or asylum
seekers and illegal immigrants.' It's a lie of course and it deflects
attention away from mis-spending of tax revenue by incompetent
government. But wastage of taxpayers' money has been a complaint of the
populace ever since taxes were first raised, often with some
justification. I would contend that a welfare state that protects the
unfortunates, even though it is also abused by benefit fraudsters, is
better than an inadequate welfare state.
was recently involved in a radio programme comparing industrial
relations in Britain with those in other countries. I mentioned the
anomaly that although Britons work longer hours than their continental
cousins their productivity was often lower. It's not rocket science -
if people are forced to carry on working when they're knackered the
quality of work will suffer.
also pointed out that Europeans tend to run their railways as public
services rather than commercial businesses, with subsidised fares to
encourage their use instead of cars. I have to tell you that at this
point in the programme I was interrupted by a member of the audience,
who shouted: 'Why don't you go and live abroad then if you think it's
so much better?' The rest of the audience responded with a mixture of
applause and jeers - it was difficult to say which was greater. When
the hubbub died down I said that I was born in England and I loved
England, but I wish England could be a bit more civilised. I think the
applause for that comment just about beat the jeers.
I can see some of you yawning, which tells me it's time to shut up
before you start jeering me yourselves. So my closing words are: please
give me your vote so I can continue my work in these fields.
Books written by Julien
Chalk and Cheese
The Sommerville Case
The Damocles Plot
Flight 935 Do You Read
Handling Light Aircraft
How Airliners Fly