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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Thoughts on Home

I have just come back from visiting my parents, in my home town of Luton. As usual, I drove around seeing the sights before dropping in the folks. I even dragged my poor wife into the Mall Shopping Centre, that was called The Arndale back when I lived there. It’s a weird thing to come from Luton. It’s town that you hear about a lot on the news, but never in a good way. It’s the home of the English Defence League, radical Islamists and has bred a couple of terrorists. On news coverage alone you’d think it was a hell hole place to live. And it really does have it’s problems, but it still holds a place in my heart.

Sadly Luton seems to have been developed with division in mind. For as long as I can remember there was an area of Luton where the Asian community lived, Bury Park. This was just the way it was. When the by-pass around Central Luton was built it cut this area of Luton away from the main town, and really emphasised the division. This led to further separation of the disparate groups that made up the population of Luton, and that made people view each other as even more different. They fell back on the security of their culture and that fed a stronger feeling of division and difference. I remember what it was like to grow up in this kind of atmosphere. At my school there was two Black kids, Corey and his brother, and three Asians, my best mate Alex and his two beautiful sisters. Oh and one crippled kid… me. Not exactly representative of the Luton population but maybe of the area I grew up. At school we could see no difference, but whenever we were around adults we were reminded of the “them and us” attitude. Luckily back then rebellion was hard wired into us, so the more grown ups disliked us all mixing together, the more we did it. You have no idea the hullabaloo when two of my mates came out as being gay! The tragedy was that as we grew up this mixing of colours and cultures seemed to fall away somewhat. I can’t really complain, as I moved away from the town that bred me.

But however much Luton wasn’t a shining example of community cohesion, everyone kept on going. This was thanks to the fact that jobs were easy to find. All thanks to the massive Vauxhall car factory, and all the subsidiary work that brought. That was until it totally shut down. This led to unemployment on a scale that had never been seen before. Within a few months Luton started to fall apart. The massive unemployment led to a major problem with drugs and crime, and of course the divisions between communities grew. A radical Islamic movement grew and started campaigning on the streets of the town centre, which did not please many Lutonians. Hence the rise of the EDL. Now anyone who reads my blogs will know my politics, so I hope I don’t need to say how I feel about the right wing EDL, but it is the obvious outcome of building a town with division built into it’s fabric. All of the communities of Luton feel under threat, and have fallen foul of the old divide and conquer routine.

Sadly the simmering feelings of people in Luton were ignored while things were good, and so it all went wrong when bad times hit. Allowing the car plant to close ruined Luton, and all the people of my home town should have got together and fought for a better deal. They should also have received better from local Let’s face it, the parent company of Vauxhall Motors didn’t shut the German plants down, mainly due to their government acting, German union having some power and labour laws being strongly in favour of the worker. This is what happens when we all allow UK manufacturing to be moved abroad, all in the name of profit.

Whatever problems Luton may have, I still feel at home there, and have fond memories of growing up there. I only left to further my career, although I’m not sure that worked out. I know that most people there want to live together in peace and dream of a time when this town, filled with history, tradition and pride will rise again. Of course before that happens it will have to ride the storm of council job losses and budget cuts. I know that if the people of Luton work together they will get there, and if anyone can think of a way this Luton boy can help please just shout!

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