Thoughts on a birthday 1

I intended to continue my thoughts on the recent riots by examining the claims that they were due to a moral decline among some areas of society. I wanted to ask why it is that only the people from the poorer segments of the public were being targeted as being morally bankrupt, when we have seen almost all of the great and the good within our society proving that they lost their moral compass way before the riots. Let’s face it, we have seen those who govern us defrauding us through expenses claims, those who give us our news and police us using illegal methods to pry into our private lives and those who runs our economy nearly destroying the fabric of our society through poor management (I’m being charitable there) while demanding huge bonus payouts. None of these actions could be described as moral, and as they pretty much all seemed to get away with it surely it creates an atmosphere that leads to some people seeing nothing wrong in taking what they want? Luckily many other people have said this already, so instead I can dwell on something else.

I have just celebrated by 46th birthday, and this year is also my 30th year as a wheelchair user. It reminded me of that I was part of the last huge rise in youth unemployment. I left school in 1981, and spent a year on the dole. I then went onto study “A” levels, but went straight back onto benefits as soon as I left. I could not go to university as there I could not find an accessible one that had the subject I wanted to study. So instead I joined all my friends on the dole queue.

Most people think of the 80’s of a time of greed and loads of money, but it was also a time of unemployment and poverty. Almost everyone I knew didn’t have a job, especially the men. For almost a decade we hung round together, knowing we had no chance of finding work. Not only because we had dyed hair (which back then was like being a leper, even thought it was very fashionable), but also because once you’ve been unemployed for a while you become also unemployable. Everyone views you as “not the right sort” and you slowly become so used to not getting an interview that giving up seems the only answer.

But it didn’t get us down. Almost every member of the unemployed gang I knew used the enforced period out of work as an opportunity to learn a skill and follow our dreams. They slowly became artists, musicians, actors, fashion designers and jewellers. Those of us who didn’t go into arty stuff ended up as computer whizzes and now make a bundle. The only difference that I can see between us back then and the growing number of unemployed youth of today is that we saw succeeding as an act of rebellion. We weren’t going to be kept down. We saw our fortnightly trips to the dole office and our exclusion from mainstream society as part of the deal to allow us to build a future of our own design. OK, we all lived in a small town and had grown up terrified of being forced into dead end jobs, following in our parents footsteps, so the chance to follow our bliss was too good to waste. In a way we were lucky. The economy and government policy at the time saw our unemployment as part of the way the world should be, and we just took advantage of the time we had to fill, and we filled in constructively.

There’s the rub. Filling it constructively. If I could say one thing to the unemployed young people of today it would be that. Fill your time constructively. Don’t give in to the boredom. All that time can let you become whatever you want to be. And remember, when you become really skilled at what you want to do, thanks to all the time you have on your hands, success will follow. That success is a bigger two fingers to the powers that be than any riot. Getting to rub shoulders with the people that run the country allows you to have a voice in what goes on and gives you a chance to shape the future. I know that I would never have thought as a teenager that I would be meeting with MPs and councillors and being treated as an equal. The fact I now have a chance to make a better future is due to the years I had being told I had no future at all. So come on, don’t let the bastards grind you down. Become the best you can be, and have fun trying. Worked for me.

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Riots – Can Anyone Claim That They Are The Answer?

Today I wheeled into Camden Town Centre and witnessed the aftermath of the thankfully minor troubles that took place last night. While some shops had been looted and many windows smashed, I know that the place I call home got off lightly. The footage on TV and photos and videos on line show the true level of damage and destruction left in the wake of the rioting that gripped London and the country beyond. As many people who read my blog must know, I am a bit of a lefty and so they may expect me to be one of those who explains away this orgy of crime and violence as a reaction to unfair treatment and lack of opportunity, but I must disappoint you.

I spent the day thinking about some of the claims from community leaders and some of the youths who were involved, but they just don’t stand up. Let’s face it, as a person who was born disabled I have experienced discrimination through out my life. As a young New Romantic in a small town I experienced some extreme treatment from the police and feel the sting of being excluded almost every day. Even this weekend I was not allowed into a restaurant in Brighton (called Picasso’s in Market Street) because I was in a wheelchair, so I know how angry being excluded can make you feel. I really wanted to throw one of the chairs outside the eatery through one of their windows for sure, but I didn’t. In the past I must admit I have reacted to blatant discrimination with vigour, and with some force. The difference is I did not target anyone else. The person who was the victim of my wrath was the person who had discriminated against me, not anyone who happened to be nearby. Or any local business that had some stuff I fancied.

And that is the true reason for all of this. However much people may claim otherwise, this whole chaos is driven by greed and jealousy. These gangs of youths are not fighting to get fairer treatment, they are going out to get stuff. In Camden, the 3 store was totally cleaned out of stock. Even the displays have been taken. I can see no way that this level of theft can be a political act. Other shops, like JD Sports and O2 where also ransacked, yet did the youths gather and march to Whitehall? Of course not. That would be an act of political rebellion. Looting and smashing things up has no real chance of changing the way any minority groups of treated, but it will mean the perpetrators will have new mobile phones, trainers and wide-screen TV’s.

The saddest thing is that these youths will effect the very places they live. Places that are already deprived. Sure Camden isn’t a seat of poverty, but it does have some very poor areas and is struggling in the current economic situation. How can looting and mindless vandalism lead to anything constructive? Some of the places worst effected will take years to get near to normality. Not only will it bring down the places were these young people live further, but it will give those who do discriminate against them the excuse to do so. By acting this way they have just conformed to the stereotype that society at large has of them.

So come on, stop this craziness now. Put this anger to good use, and stop making yourselves into the very thing that leads to the responses you claim to be reacting against. That way you will prove that all of this isn’t really just a way of stealing things you feel you should have. Don’t believe the crap that Rap stars tell you about the gangster life and if you really feel the need to do something, make sure it’s constructive. Use your anger to change things, not smash them up. But if, as I suspect, you’re only driven by selfish desire then I am afraid you will have no friend in this lefty liberal. And if I’m not on your side, then imagine what the Daily Mail reading man in the street thinks. He’ll be shouting “Hang ’em”, and remember that this squeezed middle and their reactionary politics decide what happens in our country. So if you thought you had it bad before all this, just wait.

As a foot note I would just like to praise the local police here in Camden. I found this piece of footage shot as the local troubles started, and was amazed at the bravery of the police involved. Going into the situation in nothing but their usual uniforms in such low numbers… they all deserve medals! Check it out –

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