‘We met on the train’

I attended an event in Ebbw Vale, some years ago, when the late politician, Tony Benn was touring the UK. At this event Mr Benn, described entering into a conversation with two people whilst stuck on a delayed train. During the conversation Mr Benn asked the two people how they had met, they answered ‘We met on the train’. Perhaps the romance, or at least the social leveling of sharing a train journey encourages socialising. In a sense on the train, life stops, givign people space to think and talk with people they wouldn’t otherwise speak to. However these days, people cocoon themselves with their mobile devices, carry on their lives and don’t allow the world to force them to stop.

This the principle behind the film ‘Jab We Met‘ which I enjoyed watching at the weekend. In the film two young people meet on a train and begin a journey together.  It’s a variant of the usual boys meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together, get married and live happily ever after. I don’t watch enough Bollywood films, though people say i don’t watch enough films generally. When I do watch a Bollywood film I usually really enjoy them.

I am a bit of a sucker for trashy romantic comedies anyway. However generally I find the Bollywood ones are better than the U.S. ones. Better because partly I love the fact that they are usually musicals and that the cast may burst into a massive song and dance number at any moment, which is great. The films can make very serious social points and still provide an exhilarating happy ending. Also, the films are long enough for viewers to fall in love with the characters of the protagonists (whatever your sexuality), the audience can get to know the character and see their development through the film. The films are clearly fantasies, there is a sense of knowing that this is a fantasy story, with elements of reality, sometimes with U.S. films i feel a sense of trying too hard to be real, to make the world real and not leave room for the imagination of the viewer.

With any piece of art, the viewer fills in the gaps in there head, makes it real to themselves by adding pieces of themselves to the experience. I despair a little of much of modern culture that tries to be too real. This applies in films, computer games and indeed music, where video is provided to accompany the music. Traditional forms of theatre,  stop motion animation and old low budget episodes of Doctor Who, I love, because they are clearly leave space for the audience to say yes and make it real for themselves. This fantasy of making things real is perhaps lost in modern media, indeed works are often criticised for not seeming real enough. What I do wonder though, is where the younger generation gets to practice and develop the ability to fill the gaps and use their imagination.

Conservative trains

Politically, I should be a conservative. I grew up in a traditional middle class nuclear family. I was brought up to value and respect people and tradition. I have a sentimental attachment to a paternalistic society, whereby you learn about, then adopt the system you grow up with, following a broadly linear path. To work hard and be rewarded with a comfortable existence and a modicum of quality leisure time where people are free to do what they want, earning responsibility by conforming to a set of principles, then adapting those principles to the needs of the time and ones generation. This is essentially what is described as one-nation conservatism. That everyone lives in a society and everyone who is able to, should pull their weight and look after the rest of society, each individual has a responsibility to society in general. an analogy for this system is that of a train, everyone travels on the same train, as you mature you gain responsibility leading towards driving the train and ultimately managing the direction of the train.

When I was very little I enjoyed reading the Railway Series books of the Rev. W.V. Awdry, now popularly known as the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ books. The tales are essentially a classical analog of the idealised traditional one nation conservative British class system, the world of the author. The  ‘troublesome’ trucks represent the working classes or proletariat. The passenger carriages represent middle class women, who are demure and subservient to the engines, the male middle classes, All paternalistically managed by the Fat Controller, representing the ruling class. The stories centre on the characters of the engines, each engine learning to control their personalities, with often strict control by the fat controller, to achieve the aim of becoming ‘really useful engines’, or conformed contributing members of society.

The thing is, I didn’t fit in, despite being male and middle class, I was an outsider. I tried to conform and do what I felt was expected of me, but I couldn’t force myself to be something that I wasn’t, I wasted so much time trying, feeling plastic and fake, so ‘failing’ to commit to the system as it wasn’t rewarding me and putting up barriers to the world, which made the attempt harder and harder to be happy, until I eventually stopped trying being this way, I decided to be me and do what I wanted to do, to trust myself and not be what ‘society’ wanted me to be. The system had failed me.

Except, really, the system hadn’t failed me, it had changed, radically. Conservatism changed and politically hasn’t been properly challenged, and I vehemently opposed this change from a young teenager. One nation conservatism dissappeared with the adoption by the Conservative party of monetarist capitalism by the Thatcher government at the time when I was becoming aware politically. I objected to it because it rejected the concept of society that I had grown up to believe in and one which continued to exist in Wales. Instead of working towards a fair egalitarian society, the concept of society was ditched in favour of a more individualistic model where each individual aims should be to maximise their individual wealth at the expense of the rest of society. An anathema to a close knit rural community, where people were always ready to muck in and help out those in need for nothing in return.

Of course the ruling classes required the support of the middle classes to make such changes. The middle classes were kept on board by the lie of expanding the middle class, the lie of ever increasing house prices so people felt that things were getting better (they weren’t as the cost of a home went up from three times average earnings in my parents time to ten times average earnings now), merely the market was distorted by restricting supply. By selling off the assets of the nation on the cheap, the nationalised monopoly industries, to the middle classes who could afford to buy the shares who could sell them for a tidy unearnt profit. Growing up in Wales, it was obvious that wealth and power were being drawn to the South East of England. Wales saw rising unemployment and social deprivation as my country went from being a net contributor to the UK economy, to a net beneficiary, requiring ‘handouts’ from central government to keep services running and benefits to the unemployed. I find this so sickening, It amazes me that people don’t see through the Tory party and still vote for them!

To me it seems that capitalism has failed. True markets, are a lot less common nowadays. By true markets I mean an industry growing through innovation and efficiency. New technologies enable things to be produced more efficiently and the work is organised better so each worker is more productive, an ‘organic’ natural system. Due to this growth less people are needed for production in any specific area and are thus freed to develop new arenas or work in the arts. Real world markets no longer function through real growth, they develop through exploitation, by making people pay more for the same product or a worsening service and this is achieved by the lie of selling the products as a lifestyle choice. Instead of making new products or improving old ones, Britain has become a nation of getting better at financial services, or getting better at selling rubbish. People in such a system no longer feel a sense of pride in their work in doing a good job. Such a system is surely doomed to collapse at some point. The costs of maintaining a high standard of living in Britain now require ever longer working hours to pay off ever more imposed debt. I object to it because it is anti-social. I don’t get a ‘thrill’ out of selling something to people that they don’t really want, and I have met many people in my generation who seem to enjoy this, because they are not selling to ‘people like them’. This is such a divisive force and against every principle I grew up with, I didn’t want to compromise.

Anyway, I have found myself and a way to be me and exist in such a society without ripping anyone off. i no longer am constrained by any perception of what I ‘should’ do. Doing this involved, ‘getting off the train’ (which was changing from ‘caring’ steam trains to modern ‘abominations’ of diesel and electric, or from traditional conservatism to neo-conservatism) and finding my own path. The freedom to do this is, for each individual to discover themselves is itself inefficient, but the only way for true individualism to continue and not be forced from the path by the corporate lie is to do this, but it is inefficient. This inefficiency in an overcrowded world of climate change challenges will not continue. We face growing older in a world where the quality of life is in decline. I wish I knew the solution, but I am working on it!


Fear is the worst thing in the world.

Christmas is often a time when families get together and share news about their lives and the people around us. It is interesting and often argumentative, because people who otherwise carve out quite different existences are forced through the bond of family into talking.

I learnt that someone mutually known had got married and they had adopted a child. I expressed my joy at the news, but was rebuffed. Rebuffed because this was a female same sex marriage. However what I found interesting was that it wasn’t the marriage in itself, that was the bad news, but the adoption. The reason given for the adoption being bad news was a fear for the child suffering abuse at school because of the nature of their parents.

Children can be astonishingly cruel and vindictive in the playground, I know this very well, having been an outsider child myself.  Children can be picked on for almost anything and more so if the abuse affects them. The point is that it is impossible to shield children entirely from abuse in the playground, no-one should not do something through fear of potential consequences.

This example may be one of misplaced fear. I visited members of my family before Christmas. I remember the subject of Elton John’s recent marriage came up and some of the younger children didn’t get why the adults were discussing it. It was quickly explained that all possible combinations of gender were possible in a marriage and the law had only recently been changed to allow this. The younger children appeared to quickly grasp the idea and didn’t find it odd at all. The world the adopted children of same sex marriages  will hopefully be one where people are not abused for their, or their parents sexuality.

Is fear of change, fear of the unknown? Society is changing, some people may not understand or wish to engage with change through fear. A fear that one old fashioned rule being changed may have consequences for the whole social moral structure. Again this is a misplaced fear, the social rules still exist, they are still discussed, but one less thing is now suppressed and hidden away behind the net curtains, which is a good thing, fewer oppressed people!. I would suggest that the fear of the change is the thing that causes problems.

I read that there was the usual Festive season train problems in Britain. This time Kings Cross station in London was closed and thousands descended upon Finsbury Park station, being the ‘planned’ alternative. Really bad planning (we expect this sort of thing in Britain!), as the much smaller station couldn’t cope with the numbers of people. You would think that in a country which suffered from the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, that people would think twice before shoving their way in to a crowded station, that there would be civility and a sense of public spirit and putting up with the expected chaos of the UK rail network. Judging by the pictures it would seem not, that there was a selfishness in the people wanting to get on the trains. It is possible to suggest that this lack of public spirit was due to the fear that social values are breaking down as a justification to act selfishly. It is fortunate that no-one died because of this mess.

This sense of fear is used by the media and politicians to scapegoat groups. For example there is the story that Ukip blamed the congestion on the M4 motorway on immigration. The reason for the congestion on the M4 is due to poor planning, a lack of investment in transport infrastructure that has occurred since the second world war and the idea that the ‘free market’ will produce solutions to these issues. So the immigrants end up suffering the abuse and the ruling classes who failed to deal with the problem get rich out of it.

Yet people still sometimes have a pop at ‘heavy metal’. A musical genre that openly deals with the dark and the grotesque. The reason for this is not that metal fans are sinister people, far from it. It is simply better to deal openly with fear, to confront it, to reflect upon it, to embrace it, for then it it can be realised that the fear is simply fear and reality is not as bad as can be imagined when fearful, oppressed or depressed.

Things are never as bad as the fearmongers of the world would have you believe.