Bashing the Bishop

Another year, another cumfest of bitterness as The Guardian panders to what the The Right Reverend Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley describes as the “middle-class Est­abl­­ishment bandwagon of outrage and horror” with another circle jerk biscuit of dreck about Brexit.

One of the central objections of the result of last year’s EU referendum is that Brexiteers were predominantly the elderly (and racists, workers, Northerners, plus anyone who hasn’t tongued Owen Jones’ ring-piece). Indeed, Dan Rebellato – who styles himself as “world-renowned playwright” and who was recently profiled in The Guardian (where else?) has recently produced on Twitter an “alt-right bingo card” of truly horrendous graphic design, which sought to generalise what he saw as typical pro-Brexiteer insults, including “libtard” and “snowflake” while using “truly horrendous graphic design”.

So here’s 78-year-old former BBC economics advisor, libtard and snowflake (HOUSE!) William Keegan, feeding his colostomy bag in The Guardian:

“This is the year when our politicians and the so-called ‘people’ – all 28% of the population who voted to leave the European Union – will reap what they have sown. Unfortunately, unless sense prevails, the rest of us will also suffer the product of their wild oats.”

Britain leaving the EU allows for the development of trade relations with all counties of the world, not just the elite couple of dozen members of the regulation and canapés EU. The Leave side (colloquially known as “Brexiteers”) won by over a million votes, with one Guardian reader crying:

“The tragedy is that the neolithic system of simple-majority-voting has given the generally less-well educated Brexiteers a colossal boost to their egos.”

Ha!!  The usual argument against the tried and tested voting system used for the referendum – by the losing side – was that Brexiteers didn’t win a clear majority, because babies, children and the mentally ill weren’t allowed to vote, which the Remain side thinks would’ve given them millions of extra votes, something which writes its own punchline. Keegan went on:

“It would be good if the majority of members of parliament could recall and act upon Edmund Burke’s 1774 address to the electors of Bristol: they should summon up the courage to act as representatives, not delegates of constituencies where they fear the threat from the xenophobic forces conjured up by the likes of Nigel Farage.”

“Lord King [former Governor of the Bank of England] has come out as a Brexiteer, which is not very helpful to his successor, who can sense a prospective train crash and was quite right to warn about the impact on the pound of a Leave vote – and who, with the help of his colleagues at the Bank, has been doing his best to keep the show on the road since.”

“He [King] was, of course, speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, which ever since the beginning of the referendum campaign seems to have gone out of its way to give prominence to Monsieur Farage and his ilk.”

“They were at it again last week, with the shameless Michael Gove heavily revising his castigation of ‘experts’, seemingly narrowing the field of the accused to the category of economic forecasters.”

“Anyway, while wishing readers as happy a new year as events allow, I should like to end with this wonderful quote from Jan Kamieniecki in a letter to the Financial Times: ‘I suspect that what Michael Gove meant to say was that the people in this country have had enough of exports.’”

Ho ho fucking ho.  In one article packed with bile, invective and a cream pie of generalisations, Keegan has not only accused the BBC of being a mouthpiece for those well-known neo-Nazis Michael Gove, Nigel Farage “and his ilk”, he’s simply highlighted the cancer that increasingly possesses the Left and mainstream media as a whole, particularly the Guardian and the BBC, whereby if you disagree with their point of view, you’re inevitably and invariably something-ist or whatever-ophobic. Taken to its extreme, one Guardianista, commenting on Keegan’s article, even went so far as to suggest Brexiteers were homophobic:

“Given their liking for framing the EU debate in macho terms, I’m sure there’s a fare [sic] few Brexiteers will be uncomfortable with the idea that the UK is ”Coming Out'”.

It is possible that Brexiteers are more aspirational than their Remain counterparts. Maybe they want to better themselves, try something other than a system that has served them badly, that has not allowed them to flourish. Maybe instead of sneering at those who want to achieve, want to get on, maybe instead of whinging and whining and crying into their own glasses of milk while wanking over Jeremy Kyle AND GET SOME FUCKING WORK DONE.

More tea, vicar?  The middle-class outrage has also infested the Church of England, Britain’s largest landowner and so middle class dominated it can barely see beyond its arguments over issues such as sexuality even to notice the concerns of the poor it should be serving, says Bishop Philip North, who claimed that the Church had largely been taken by surprise by the result of the Brexit referendum in June because it had become out of touch with life in deprived areas.

In the Church Times, Bishop North characterised clergy as increasingly embarrassed by ideas once promoted by the Church such as patriotism, family values and the virtues of hard work.

He said the referendum result was less of a backlash against immigration than a “patriotic vote from people who were fed up with having pride in their nation, its flag, and its armed forces misrepresented as intolerance or racism”.

He said that despite, uniquely for any organisation, having a presence in every community in England, the Church is no longer “adequately present” in areas of deprivation and “so discon­nected from many of these communities that it no longer hears what they are saying”.

He went on: “The Church’s agenda is being set not by the poor, but by academia, the moneyed elites, and certain sections of the secular media. It is their preoccupations that dictate the terms of the Church’s debate, and that pose the questions that it expends its energy on answering.

Indeed.  A twenty-something friend from a part of England known as “down South” set up a public transport business in his late teens.  He made mistakes, some more serious than others, some having a greater and wider impact than others, but he was learning.  And despite the doom-mongers and “enthusiasts” (self-proclaimed experts in the field of public transport who enthuse about nothing except late 1970s clothing and cheese sandwiches) who, as I wrote in a New Year message to him – “…whether it be TV, restaurants, books, food, wine, hotels, whatever – all industries where people make a living as critics without a) actually having produced ANYTHING in their chosen field and b) have no professional qualification or experience on which to base their judgements.  Basically they’re small, bitter and often jealous people who contribute nothing to society and think a visit to their local cottage is a posh first date” – he has flourished, exploring new markets and new opportunities proving, after a little guidance, the doubters wrong.

And that, folks, is Brexit. A bumpy ride but an fascinating and enjoyable journey.

We thrive on segregation

Whenever television looks back at the 1970s it tends to do so with disdain: the usual ragbag of modern day worthies pontificate about the bad old days of protests and colour bars, strikes and segregation. But what of today – have things really moved on?

Johnny Speight’s If There Weren’t Any Blacks You’d Have To Invent Them, first shown in 1970 then remade in colour in 1974, dealt with how people thrive on segregation, treating others as belonging a group rather than as individuals. From Richard Beckinsale fantasising about being a woman raped by a man to the blind Leonard Rossiter who thought Beckinsale was black because of the tone of his voice, Speight himself had something of an obsession with segregation, especially that according to race, with much of his work after The Arthur Haynes Show dealing with this subject – though sometimes misunderstood – to great effect.

Students at Oriel College, part of Oxford University, are the latest to find such a cause to leech onto, namely the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign. Although it’s origins lay in a post-Apartheid South Africa, the British black and white copy seeks to have removed from the College a statue of former student Cecil Rhodes, seen by opponents as something of an imperialist, a white supremacist, who made his fortune from mining diamonds in the former Cape Colony of South Africa where he later became Prime Minister in 1890.

Rhodes was a shrewd, perhaps ruthless businessman. The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in 1867 transformed South Africa into an industrial economy which saw Rhodes amongst others led to the rapid colonisation of the country, so much so that by the end of the 19th Century all the indigenous peoples of South Africa had lost their political and economic independence. White-owned mining companies were able to control workers who often found themselves in dangerous conditions for low wages and Rhodes was able to amass an enormous personal fortune through the creation of the De Beers consolidated Mines Company in 1888.  Today we call that “getting on”.

Rhodes used his personal wealth and political skills to become the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. His treatment of indigenous Africans as a businessman and Premier varied: by today’s standards he is seen as something of an imperialist, but he took a genuine interest in their cultures and language, and had a respect and understanding for Africans that belies his legacy.

But Rhodes’ methods in business and politics were merely a development of over 200 years of British and Dutch colonisation, which were relentlessly intensified after his death in 1902 when the British Government implemented the Act of Union and brought together the previously separate colonies of the Orange Free State, Transvaal, Natal, and the Cape Colony to form the Union of what we now know as South Africa.  In comparison, today’s Britain is a small, insignificant bit-player in a group of nationals with vested interests seeking to unify different peoples under common, unelected law called the European Union, disgracefully championed by a toadying media including BBC Radio Four’s not very funny or clever The Now Show.

Back to The Cape.  For the following two decades successive governments introduced a raft of regulations and discriminatory laws that tightened state control over blacks. The Natives’ Land Act of 1913 which reserved around 90 percent of the land in South Africa for whites and prevented Africans from freely buying land; the remainder of the land became “reserves” and were a forerunner of the “homelands” where illness and malnutrition were rife. For many Africans, especially young men and women, migration to wage-earning jobs in cities and mines became one of the only ways to pay colonial taxes and survive. In turn during this period mass urbanisation saw the number of city-dwelling Africans more than triple, but they lived in terrible conditions, with poor housing, health and transport and no electricity for many decades, and along with poverty came crime and fear for personal safety. Sadly there are some indigenous to Britain for whom that is a fairly accurate picture of their country today.

Of course it is difficult to justify racial segregation in South Africa, just as it is difficult to justify segregation of any kind, anywhere. But Rhodes’ tenure as mining magnate and Prime Minister was merely a progression from what had proceeded him, and by the standards that followed it could be argued he was, comparatively speaking, a free-market Liberal. That is not to say that what he presided over was not cruel. To deny anyone the opportunity to live, learn and earn as they would wish purely on the basis of their being somehow different to what is perceived as a superior group of human beings is as distasteful as it is ultimately self-destructive. And it is this where, for me, the hypocrisy of the “Rhodes Must Go” campaigners at Oxford University becomes apparent.

What set Rhodes apart from the Premiers who succeeded him (apart from his statue) was that he left in his Will an endowment to Oriel College whereby eighty-three students each and every year, initially of Teutonic descent but latterly anyone – including some of the greatest campaigners against segregation and for civil liberties – would be awarded scholarships affording them the opportunity denied to others from a different academic and socioeconomic background. Indeed, there is much controversy about the alleged hypocrisy of a black Oriel College student, Ntokozo Qwabe, who although accepted a Rhodes scholarship, partook in the protests. In my view he was given his opportunity and should take it. However, it is a tad disingenuous for him to want to whitewash Rhodes out of history but happily take his cash.

But for these opportunities the students who benefit from them would not have their platform for debate. To be able to attend any university, let alone Oxford, is granted only to those with the very highest academic and economic means. The rest of us are kept in our respective places, working for a living and paying our taxes to, er, help fund “our” universities.

Yet for some even these opportunities are not enough. At the time of writing junior doctors, for example, who could go on to earn £120,000 as a consultant, are in the middle of a series of strikes because they believe that an eleven per cent pay rise is “derisory” and that working after seven o’clock in the evening is “antisocial”. The segregating of blacks in South Africa and forcing them into “homelands” was both derisory and antisocial; enjoying a double digit wage windfall while working when the sun is just about dipping over the horizon is something the majority of people would kill for. Yet for all the talk of Unions existing for the common good, and how important statues are as a symbol of what is right and wrong, what about the one outside the TUC which depicts a man helping another man off the ground? How are striking junior doctors helping others, except themselves?

On a 1980 edition of Parkinson, guests John Betjeman and Maggie Smith were talking about pay protests with the great Kenneth Williams who put it this way:

“Why can’t they march for somebody else instead of a few pounds for themselves? What about somebody who’s really hard up? When a union does something like jeopardising the work of their fellow men. For example if you stop trains, people can’t get to their work, can they? So in doing what you want for yourself you’re jeopardising your fellow men, aren’t you? Well why can’t you act in concert with your fellow men? Why do you have to do something that endangers… your fellow men when that statue represents exactly that, helping not hindering.”

Host Michael Parkinson countered: “Because it might be that one worker is a lot worse off than their fellow. If they were all equal there’d be no problem… it’s all very well if you’ve got a talent, a decent job, you can go on and earn a handsome living… because you work in an area where you can back your talent and because your talent pays off in the end then you had a horizon, you could see ahead.”

The points Johnny Speight, Kenneth Williams and Michael Parkinson were making, that all human beings should be treated equally and have the same opportunities in life regardless of anything, and that given an opportunity one should grasp it with both hands and have confidence in oneself rather than dragging others down with you, are absolutely spot on. Whether the points being made were intended to be interpreted in this way comes down to the simple passing of time: Speight saw the preoccupation with segregation as a regressive brake on society whereas today’s students see it has a bandwagon on which to hitch a ride and get noticed; Williams saw striking as an excuse not to better oneself whereas today’s strikers attach themselves to individual causes such as Ntokozo Qwabe or junior doctors’ pay – in so called “sympathy strikes” to seek attention rather than the greater good; Parkinson was attempting to argue that people who had what might be termed a menial job (the example he gave was people whose job it was to “stick on door knobs”) had more of a right to strike than those with better prospects – of course there are fewer jobs with better prospects than that of a junior doctor.

But while students mourn for their colonial brothers in spades perhaps they should reflect on the fact that in this country, not all indigenous whites have the same opportunity to attend university. The real problem is class not colour.

Segregation is commonplace, is part of our lives, and as such television portrays it in it’s many forms, from the class divide of Upstairs Downstairs and the exquisite Brass, to the more cut and dried Porridge, and not forgetting The Nineteenth Hole which also threw in sexism for good measure albeit satirised in a fashion typical of Johnny Speight. Between them Government and society have taken great strides along the path to equality of all forms, and this has perhaps been best documented by the venerable Coronation Street which, over it’s fifty-odd years, has gone from a stark northern working class kitchen sink drama to taking a more metropolitan, softer snapshot of everyday life with the introduction of characters who are black, gay and transgender. Sadly however the Street’s smokers – black, gay or otherwise – are segregated in the grubby yard at the back of the Rovers Return. That’s progress for you.

Seemingly only certain types of segregation attract publicity, mainly to do with race or sexual orientation, driven by a left wing media narrative whose greatest exponent is of course The Guardian, where Owen Jones, who probably believes every word he writes, hitches a lift on whichever particular segregation bandwagon will gain him a few hundred more Twitter followers that day. To be fair to Owen, he doesn’t bleat about “only” earning £30,000 a year for writing about those not afforded his opportunities. That said, he doesn’t mention the fact that the tax arrangements of the proprietors of The Guardian are very well segregated in The Caymans.  That, too, is called “getting on”.

So what do protestors want? Junior doctors would do well to take a leaf out of the Oriel College students’ book – and grab the money and the opportunity, no matter how distasteful they might find it. Maybe in an act of solidarity they should black-up, forming a picket line of Paki-Paddies between scholarship-funded lectures protesting about how downtrodden educational immigrants are. If they want to know real hardship they should do what Matthew Parris did for World In Action in 1984 and live on Jobseekers Allowance. In that year, months after my mother had died of a brain tumour (doctors, eh?) my father joined the ill-fated miners’ strike. Our meals came from food parcels which we’d collect from the stage at Arkwright Town Miners’ Welfare and had about as much nutrition as the crumpled brown paper sack they came in – plenty of Bulgarian jam but no shortnin’ bread – and our heat came from burning fence posts which I stole – aged ten – from hedgerows armed with a wheelbarrow and a set of wire cutters, posts I’d then saw into fire-sized pieces under the cover of darkness.

It is so easy to protest from a position of comfort, not really having experienced that about which they complain. Segregation is a fact of life. Our country thrives on segregation whether as a cause to get angry about or a structure to exploit. Whichever way you look at it segregation puts people in their place. And that’s how society works.

The Wheeltappers… where acts not activists bombed

Depending on who you ask, I was either born in the middle of the “Golden Age” of television comedy and entertainment, or just before half way through the most racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic decade ever to sully our screens. But maybe television was and is reflective of its time, where, as Game For A Laugh put it, it is actually “Watching us, watching you, watching us, watching you.” So back to my childhood to see what’s what.

Being born in 1974 perhaps, first time round at least, I was exposed to television comedy just as what has since been unfathomably termed “alternative comedy” was beginning to replace the music hall derived light entertainment spectacles and the cosy suburban sitcom.

If my Dad’s views, who in 1974 was the same age as I am now, were to be analysed by the same dreary D-listers that spend clip show after clip show trying to plague a new audience with the view that everything and everybody from that era was as racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic as television comedy and entertainment of that time, they’d probably troll him to the point of suicide. Thankfully he’s not the one with the closed mind.

I would be the first to concede that my Dad did perhaps lack some imagination and vision: he named me after himself and stopped me going on to sixth form and University on the grounds that as a family we needed me to be earning not learning, both of which have probably more than anything resulted in my having a pretty severe lack of self-confidence, but have at least allowed me to stand on my own two feet from an earlier age than my contemporaries.

Memories of staying up into the small hours listening to Test Match Special on BBC Radio 3, where Brian Johnston and Henry Blofeld would gorge themselves on an assortment of cakes sent in by devoted listeners – whose commentary on a Cairns Birdwing was occasionally interrupted by England’s cricket team inevitably losing The Ashes in Australia – and my perhaps being as equally fascinated by the crackles and whistles of late night medium wave as whether David Gower would snick another soft ball to second slip, remain as strong and as warm as playing snooker and pool at Arkwright Town Miners’ Welfare, where John Allwood would lisp his way through calling six houses of bingo, and acts of dubious quality would ply their trade before being paid off by Stuart Ashmore, the Concert Chairman.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club was a television programme like no other. Compered by Bernard Manning with the wonderful Colin Crompton playing the part of Concert Chairman to the hilt, it was my world. It was hard to believe that The Wheeltappers was actually a studio set such was the impressive attention to detail: the Pile of Pennies for Charity stood precariously on the edge of the bar, Double Diamond and Bass Mild, Golden Wonder Jungle Fresh Salted Peanuts, people carrying trays of beer to their tables and wandering off to the toilet between “turns” and Worthington ‘E’ ashtrays brimming with cigarette stubs, complete with a dense haze of smoke hanging over the creaky wooden stage.

The Wheeltappers was meant to reflect a concert night at a typical Northern Working Men’s Club, institutions which have seen a steady decline since their 1970s heyday. They began life back in Victorian times as a place to learn rather than drink, and were always an integral part of the social life of local communities. Over time these institutions evolved and the working man was able to enjoy a pint after a long, gruelling day’s work. Soon the more recognisable Working Men’s Club was born, with cheap beer and, it could be said, even cheaper entertainment.

No agenda, no politics (aside from the pictures of Harold Wilson sitting alongside notices warning patrons “Hats Will Not Be Tolerated” and that they should not swear during ladies’ nights), just mirth and music circa 1974. Entertainment for the sake of it. Acts like Trevillion and Nine, where (Sadie) Nine would sing with a voice that cut through like a constipated crow while (Paul) Trevillion drew a vaguely related cartoon, would appear alongside Kossak dancers, rubbish ventriloquists and, hilariously, a knife thrower interrupted by Colin Crompton sounding his fire bell and announcing that there were still tickets available for the meat raffle just as an eye-watering 12 inches was about to penetrate a scantily clad female pinned to a board.

Fast forward to November 1991 when I saw Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out at Sheffield City Hall, and these acts were being satirised in the most absurd ways imaginable on “Novelty Island”, a small paddock made from butcher’s grass where bizarre acts would ply their trade with Reeves acting as compere. Perhaps my favourite comedy moment of all time, and certainly one that was the talk of the Monition offices at work the following day, was where the first act, Judith Grant (played by Emma Cafferty) walked into the paddock carrying a white box spewing with wires and told Reeves she was going to electrocute a shrew. A short buzzing sound was heard before a ball of fluff (the unfortunate “shrew”) leapt half-heartedly from said box. That was it. End of act. Entertainment for the sake of it.

Back to The Wheeltappers and it wasn’t just the “speciality” acts on the bill. Many who made their television debut at The Wheeltappers went onto achieve greater exposure in their own prime time shows, such as Little & Large and Cannon & Ball, The Krankies and Paul Daniels while others were at the tail-end of their careers (even though in some cases they didn’t really want to believe it) including Charlie Williams, who’d just had a disastrous run hosting The Golden Shot, Freddie Garrity memorably dressed as a chicken on the 1974 New Year’s Eve Special, and Gene Pitney, who Bernard Manning introduced with “It’s a good job he was nice to me on the way up ‘cos I’ve just met him on the way down!”

Of course, this was the 1970s, and so Paul Daniels performed an exaggerated caricature of a camp homosexual, Cannon & Ball sang a song about Pakistanis during their first appearance in 1974 while Charlie Williams, himself of Caribbean descent, told jokes about how “they were going to take over” (make your own mind up as to whether this was prophetic or pathetic). The thing is, and this something that is often conveniently or lazily forgotten by current cultural commentators, there was absolutely no malicious intent in any of the acts.

Sadly many Working Men’s clubs have closed. Although anti-smoking legislation has undoubtedly had an impact, they certainly suffered from an old-fashioned image among young people, perpetrated by a prejudiced modern left-leaning Southern-centric media which seeks to colour the North of the 1970s as an era of hatred and racial division, of misery and deprivation by and large with pieces written in The Guardian or list shows on Channel Four pursuing their metropolitan, predictably politically correct narrative.

The problem with this breed of social commentators is that they haven’t lived in the North or through the 1970s with its rugged industrial landscape, genuine albeit sometimes misplaced fear of immigration, and the ignorance of the different. Writer Harry Pearson once said: “When judging Southerners we must always remember that they have not had the benefit of our disadvantages.”

It is ironic that while progress has undoubtedly been made in terms of race representation, for example, regional diversity is lagging behind.

In a piece subtitled “The bad old days of British comedy”, Allister Harry wrote in The Guardian in April 2000: “[Charlie] Williams, now 72, was the first black British comic to enjoy mainstream TV success. In the early 70s he was a resident on Granada TV’s influential stand-up show The Comedians. He hosted the popular game show The Golden Shot and in 1973 topped the bill in Scarborough, breaking box- office records. Here’s one of his jokes: ‘When Enoch Powell said, ‘Go home, black man,’ I said, ‘I’ve got a hell of a long wait for a bus to Barnsley.'”

“‘I didn’t set out to offend. I went out so that people could laugh.’ Williams met two other [black] comics on The Comedians – Josh White and Sammy Thomas – both from Lancashire.”

Harry then goes onto quote Curtis Walker, star of The Real McCoy who had at the time been a stand-up for 18 years: “…if it wasn’t for Charlie… doing what [he] did, a lot of black performers wouldn’t be anywhere near telly today.'”

Of course some of the material in the 1970s may have been uncomfortable so far as perceptions of racism was concerned, this acts as a smoke screen, a scapegoat for an anti-Northern bias, prejudice even. Bradford-born comedian Kate Fox, talking to The Yorkshire Post back in October, said: “That while some progress has been made in terms of… race representation, regional diversity is lagging behind. ‘I think it is harder for a young person in a Northern school or college to make their way in the creative industries… [which] are still very London-centric and middle class.'”

All of which makes you wonder where the problem really lies. The same media set, so quick to criticise Northern Working Men’s Clubs of the 1970s for having a supposedly narrow-minded attitude to race, is similarly blinkered when it comes to anything north of Watford.

The Wheeltappers, which emerged from the success of The Comedians, gave opportunities to performers regardless of colour, and represented a club where the whole community could come together, have a laugh and a sing-song and chat to friends. An important meeting place. A force for social cohesion. A hub. At Arkwright Town Miners’ Welfare Club in 1984, it was the place where people bought and sold allotment vegetables, enjoyed a game of dominos and where striking miners’ families would collect food parcels containing such variable delights from lentil soup to Bulgarian jam (while Norma Dolby kept all the tins of Stewed Steak to herself). We had genuine community spirit. And yet where current comedians and talking heads would see our Working Men’s Clubs confined to history, they were just as crucial to social well-being as Facebook and mosques are today.  And what people forget is that once we’d had our watered down beer (mine was a shandy, to be fair – I was only 10) and won our topside of beef, we went home to the Epilogue and a good night’s sleep. We didn’t spend countless hours online threatening to kill someone or walk into a bar full of people with a nail bomb, because they were the wrong colour, sex or sexuality, or because they were too fat, too thin, introvert or into the wrong thing.

In the 1970s any prejudices stemmed from what was seen as a sudden, unstoppable change the likes of which had never been seen before, and were, generally speaking, played out with humour. Nowadays, even with the benefit of experience and education, there is an indoctrinated hatred that manifests itself as wanton cruelty and destruction, with collateral damage that has a far deeper and longer lasting impact than the closing of a few hundred clubs. Are things really better now?

The only thing that bombed at Working Men’s Clubs were the turns. We had a bloody good time.

Google caused my mid-life crisis

A year ago almost to the day I was browsing the Internet, looking for an excuse to explain a life of missed opportunities, when I stumbled upon a very interesting piece about ambition and confidence. My problem is that despite having oodles of the former it has just about always been stifled by a distinct lack of the latter, and that the balance between self-belief and can’t-be-arsedness has been constantly tipped in favour of underachievement. Even more thought-provoking as the article itself was, for me, it’s author. I immediately recognised his quite distinctive name as being the person three positions above me on our school register some 25 years ago. After some toe-dipping we exchanged a series of emails detailing each other’s life choices and career paths. He was and remains tremendously likeable and highly intelligent without a modicum of bombast. In terms of schooling, we started from the same point: both in the top set for maths and English, both got a raft of a-grade GCSEs, but then we diverged spectacularly. He, via sixth form and (Oxford) University, is now an Editor at The Economist whereas I, via IT support and starting an ill-fated small bus company which could be best described by a quote from Denis Norden (“it was a bit like making love in a hammock – an interesting experience but of uncertain duration”), am a bus driver in the Peak District.

My father was a coal miner and was made redundant in 1986. A hefty redundancy lump sum was soon whittled down by his partner who he met a year after my mother died in 1983. This meant that by the time I reached school leaving age in 1990, every penny counted, and so my desire to take the sixth form and university path came a tearful second to the need to go out and pay my way.

As it happens I’ve largely enjoyed the work I’ve done and running a bus company was something I’d wanted to do since having a toy box full of them, but now after hitting 40 and having spent almost a third of that time driving without any intellectual stimulus whatsoever for the same firm on the same routes and seeing the same people I’ve decided that much more of this will tip my current human-to-cabbage genome ratio so far that my veins will take on a distinct hue of chlorophyll and any phallic representation by means of a cucumber/courgette/gherkin (delete as appropriate) would take on a greater reality. It comes to something when one of my primary school teachers, Mrs de Chiro, quite by chance boarded my bus a couple of years ago and said with a look of genuine despair: “It’s such a shame, you were a very bright child, I thought you’d be doing something much better than this.”

Over the last year I’ve been Googling the rest of that school register. Contemporaries who messed around in class and showed little potential have gone on to great things: one is Head of Creativity at an advertising agency in Edinburgh, another is Executive Finance Director at an NHS trust. A football manager, Head of Business Development at a District Council and Engineers various. And here I am, stuck behind a wheel.

So what did they do that I didn’t? They followed that Economist guy down the sixth form and university route. Am I jealous? Definitely. Am I bitter? Slightly. Don’t get me wrong, where I currently earn my corn is a cracking place to work and I’ve had this conversation with my boss several times, but realistically nothing is going to change unless I put more weight on the self-belief side of the scales. I have to do what all my former classmates did and take a different path.

And so this is part of that. Finding a creative outlet, a whimsical whinge, call it what you will. But for the first time and every fortnight I can say these two words with sincerity:

Welcome aboard.