Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 23 Feb 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The boy maketh the man

I was a vile, vile child, not helped by how I grew up. My parents sent me to school each day in a uniform that managed to be both regulation and, at the same time, something that Little Lord Fauntleroy might have worn if he’d had the misfortune to find himself at a comprehensive school in the eighties. My collar was crisply starched, my trousers had a razor sharp crease in and the whole ghastly assemblage came from the school section of John Lewis, a store I always felt was too good for the likes of me.

My father left me in no doubt that the hoi polloi with whom I was mixing were below us on the social spectrum and in the evenings, I returned home to a house that had such aspirations that its TV was kept in a mock-Tudor cabinet and there was a decanter of sherry on the side in a silver tray and had the word ‘SHERRY’ embossed on a silver medallion that hung around its neck. This, in my world, was taste and refinement.

Not surprisingly, I grew up to be politically confused. I was a hideous mishmash of hard right, Thatcherite bellicosity which involved parroting things my dad had said, and an oddly tweedy sense of fair play that had come from being left alone with Biggles books and annuals from the early sixties in which earnest schoolboys and reassuring authority figures battled against spivs and communist agents who sounded German but were really supposed to be Russian.

This template for How The World Was stood me in incredibly bad stead. I was bullied with a rare zeal and attention to detail, both for looking like I’d walked off the set of The Winslow Boy and sounding like a Tory backbencher. The former was not my fault at all and the latter most certainly was, particularly since I lacked the wit to realise that parroting free market truisms in a mining area that was in the process of having the life kicked out of it by a Tory government might not be very judicious.

Equally, my sense of tweedy fair play was literally beaten out of me in a bullying incident that, in hindsight, would have been easily preventable. Tags from people’s bags were, for some reason, a desirable item. I saw one of the more physically robust boys stealing them from bags in the PE changing room and told one of the teachers who then asked the boy about it using me as an expert witness. The boy then punched me in the library and made my life a hell of fear for the next year or so.

In the books I’d read, the boy would have seen the error of his ways and repented after being punished. This was clearly not how it worked out. I was the one being punished and was angry with everyone, from God – I remember kicking the small copy of the New Testament and Psalms that the Gideons had given us – to the school authorities and developed all manner of strange coping rituals to deal with the stress of it all. In summary, my map had proved to be useless. I withdrew into my own world.

The bully, whose home life can’t have featured much to celebrate, reportedly attempted suicide and then disappeared from school for a few months, before coming back just before the run-in to GCSEs and then disappeared for good. I went on to make a clumsy fist of A Levels and, after a false start, escaped to university where I started buying my own clothes and developing my own opinions about things, some of which now seem laughable and some of which seem like the earnest attempts of someone with no real life experience to make sense of an academic milieu for which nothing had prepared him.

For all that most of what I believed was wrong and up for challenge, I’ve found that my tweedy decency was real and has returned. What I failed to realise was that my sense of fair play was at odds with my politics at the time. Had I done so, then I may have got to where I am a bit quicker, but no matter. I knew that friends who studied economics and wanted to be ‘in business’ were vile. I came to suspect that getting rich at the expense of poorer people was dishonourable just as I now realise that buying my granddad’s vote by saying he could buy his council house has caused the housing crisis.

There are other points where any decent person could not help but see the glaring paradox, but these will do for an illustration. I remember my dad grumbling that my great granddad was ‘a socialist’ and nodding sagely along to this verdict. It now seems that my great granddad was the decent one here, and not the ghastly little squit and his pompous dad. He knew what decency meant and how the get-rich-quick policies were tearing the fabric of society apart, not us. His was the decent way, and ours was wrong.

Thinking about this now saddens me more than I can say, as though my juvenile politics are responsible, quite beyond their measly stature, for the country’s ills. Sometimes, I think about taking my great granddad’s surname, Marsland, by way of recompense for what I once thought. What I have now, though, is that most doubly discredited of things, a Christian Socialism that prizes decency, quiet, undemonstrative helpfulness and a belief that, somehow, things and people can be made to be better that is wholly at odds with lived reality.

I don’t know that I would have changed any part of this journey now, as it’s brought me to a place where I’m starting to be happy and to see possibilities that I never saw before, a sort of highly personal awakening I wouldn’t miss for the world. Perhaps who I am now is an extended apology for who I was then, or perhaps it’s a necessary evolution. I don’t know. But when I have chance to be directly useful as a Street Pastor or to try and be kind to someone, then something in my soul rejoices in a way that I’d never previously been aware of. I am no longer vile, but fearfully and magnificently alive.

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