Monday, November 12, 2012

The Great Escape: Part 1: Maladjusted

Yes that's me. Avoiding being swallowed up by hungry gods of industrial civilization can be a hard trick to pull off.

It occurred to me recently that one of the reasons some of us have such difficulty in communicating with people about the seriousness of the global problems that beset us is that we have all ended up at different conclusions from taking vastly different paths through life.

The path I have taken which has led me to this point differs quite substantially from the regular well-trodden paths that others have taken. In my own case, if I were to simplify, looking back on the last four decades it seems quite clear to me now that I was being frogmarched by my elders towards a fate I was naturally vehemently opposed to. Why I should have been so opposed to it, I don’t know, but I can only suggest that I have a peculiar stubborn gene which has dictated my character, and which I now see re-emerging in my youngest daughter too.

Thus, when I express an opinion pertaining to a fact which, at least to me, seems perfectly obvious, I have to remember that my mind formed that opinion based on 41 years of experiences and influences which are in most cases vastly different from those of the person I am trying to communicate with. What’s more, further genetic markers would seem to prohibit me from seeing things in black and white, thus making everything into shades of grey that, when I step back from it all, looks like some gigantic metaphysical and natural system, and is actually pulsing with colour and complexity.

Anyway, to that end, I’m going to go a bit autobiographical for a few posts in an attempt to explain something of my background. If for no other reason, I aim to have my blog printed out and bound and placed in an old wooden chest I recently bought, along with other accrued photos, family trees and assorted genealogical paraphernalia in the hope that one distant day it will be discovered in an dusty attic by my generational offspring and they can cast their eyes over it and say “So that’s why old Grandpa Jason acted the way he did.”

If you are those offspring: Hello!

Back to the story in hand – where was I? Oh, yes: me. I am going to divide this narrative into three sections. The first post could be subtitled: confessions of a reformed nihilist. For anyone who knows me today as the mild-mannered, quietish, father of two, they might be in for a surprise. Yes, it was true that I was quite a tearaway, but this isn’t some kind of jokey brag. Instead, I want to make the point that I was basically a good kid driven to bad things by a crazy system. And that same system is driving ever more basically good people to do crazy things.

The second part will be a, ahem, intellectual journey. I’ll talk about the all the books and other things which have influenced my life over the years. The last part will expand on this, although it will be more of a metaphysical retelling. Okay, here we go.

I was born in Preston, Lancashire, in the north of England not too far from Liverpool in 1971. Don’t ask me anything about Preston or Liverpool though because I only lived there as a baby and have no memory of it at all.

My father was trained as a draughtsman and was working his way up the ladder in the UK manufacturing industry. In those days there were still plenty of car and car parts factories dotted around the country, although the inexorable slide of deindustrialization had already begun back then. My mother was trained as a secretary, although she didn’t go to work until I was older. Instead she was what was known as a housewife, staying at home to cook, clean and look after her new baby i.e. me. Both of my parents were from working class backgrounds in Cheadle, near Manchester, in the north of England, and as such they were thrifty, saved sensibly and would never dream of buying anything they could not afford.

I have an older sibling, a sister. She is ten years older than me and spent much of her childhood before I arrived living in Ontario, Canada, which is where my family had emigrated to escape a depressed and depressing Britain. Apparently there were two or three other babies before me, but my mother miscarried in all cases. They had all but given up when a new drug was developed to prevent miscarriages, thus making me a product of modern medicine.

In Canada my father became one of those immigrant landlords there, buying and doing up old houses, which he then rented out. Apparently it didn’t end well and he warned me against thinking that renting property was ‘easy money’. They moved back to England shortly before I was born – if they hadn’t then I’d be writing this with a Canadian accent.

When I was three, the family moved to Banbury, near Oxford. My father must have had a decent pay rise with his new job because we moved into a fairly large detached house surrounded by gardens on a road called Queensway. Banbury is a largish town, famed for the nursery rhyme ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross to see a fine lady upon a white horse.’ I started at the local primary school and spent two years there until my parents removed me and sent me to a private prep school. I’m not sure why they did this. I don’t remember disliking Queensway Primary School, but I do remember my mother saying I was being bullied by the other kids. I don’t think this was the case, instead I think it had more to do with my father’s nascent aspirations for me.

The young me being forced to pretend to read a book and refusing to smile

Prep school, it turned out, was a lot of fun. The school was a converted stables out in the countryside and we had quite a lot of freedom to roam around climbing trees, playing conkers and another game which we invented that involved kicking a pebble into hole in the playground. It was a very small school, with only about 100 kids ranging in age from 6 to 13. The curriculum was easy and mostly involved two things: English and singing. There were other subjects too, but singing was really the one given the greatest priority. Oh, and Latin, which naturally led to singing in Latin.

By going to this school my parents thought they had been put on the conveyor belt to a higher social class. Indeed, my friends all had interesting parents. One was a Tory MP. Another was a daredevil salesman who flew around in his own plane and was credited with introducing pepperoni pizzas to the UK (!) Another was the nephew of a (now disgraced) pop star. And they went of holiday to far-flung places, such as Disney World in America. I couldn’t compete with any of that, but that didn’t seem to bother any of them.

I spent five blissful years at this school. It was boys only, so I didn’t actually get to speak to any, you know, girls until I was a teenager. Still, who needed girls? We had a lot of fun playing football and rugby and cricket, stunt riding our BMXs on a track we had actually built in a field next to the school, and playing Dungeons & Dragons and Horror Top Trumps (until they were banned for being ‘satanic’ by the pious probably-alcoholic Irish headmaster and his grossly obese wife). I thrived in this environment, and was made Head Choir Boy (probably a role given even greater authority and status than Head Boy, which was for squares). I didn’t realise it, but this ‘preparatory school’ was doing nothing to prepare me for life ‘on the outside’ and I’ve heard it since that there is no way such a school would be allowed to operate these days, run for profit as it was by someone seemingly without any teaching qualifications.

And then disaster struck. My father was made redundant during a massive round of firing at Automotive Products (owned by Lockheed Martin) where he worked. At the age of 12 we had to move away from our cosy life in Banbury and follow my father to his new job, which was in Wakefield, Yorkshire. I found myself pulled out of school in an instant and literally packed off ‘up north’ to another life.

Now, looking at my family tree I know that most of my ancestors come from Yorkshire. But as far as I was concerned I was a southerner, bred, if not quite born.  In case anyone doesn’t know, there is quite a cultural divide between north and south England which harks back to the times of the Danegeld and the subsequent Norman Invasion. That’s the cultural chasm and I was about to be chucked into it.

I’m not sure why anyone would send their kids off to boarding school. In my case I think it was my father’s burning ambition for me to be a success rearing its head again. In any case I was dispatched to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (QEGS) – a school that is routinely in the top ten independent schools in the country, and a known pressure cooker. This is where I first learned all about bullying, loneliness and all the rest of it. To say I was desperately unhappy there would be an understatement. The headmaster, whose house we actually lived in, had evidently not heard that the Victorian era had ended. He walked around with a long black cape on, carried a cane and often sent us out on gruelling cross country runs in sub-zero temperatures wearing only skimpy shorts and tops.

Furthermore we had to wait on him, serving meals to him and his selected ‘top boys’ in a system of subservience known as ‘fagging’. Now fagging, in case you’re wondering, didn't involve that, and at least in this case didn’t stretch to anything more than being a personal lackey of the older boys, who would have been around 17 or 18 years old. This being Yorkshire, the other boys made fun of my southern accent and called me all sorts of names.

QEGS in Wakefield

It was also a place of violence, with a class war being raged within the actual school itself. Placed in an historical context, Thatcher had recently come to power and was busy trying to break the trade unions and beat the coal miners into submission. Many of the boys at my school were the sons of coal miners, granted scholarships due to their brightness. So when the great Miners’ Strike of 1984 kicked off, so did plenty of school ground fights.  Rich upper class kids would name call the miners’ sons, which was normally not a good idea because the miners’ sons tended to be much harder fighters. What’s more, the sons of miners were even pitted (no pun intended) against one another, depending on whether their father was a ‘scab’ or not (i.e. someone who had decided to break the strike, for whatever reason). It was an ugly time.

Furthermore, the toilets were a no-go area due to them being the hangout of smoking ‘top boys’ who would grab you by the neck and shove your head in the bowl and flush. After this happened to me a couple of times I became too scared to go near them and had to develop the ability to ‘hold it in’ for a week at a time (I was sent home at weekend, mercifully).

After a year of living a lifestyle akin to that of an early 19th century lackey I had had about enough. Luckily my parents had by now bought a house in Wakefield and I was able to move back home. Ah the bliss! Also around this time one of the greatest things to happen in my life occurred: personal computers began to appear in the shops.

I rapidly became obsessed with them. They blotted out everything for me and I was able to escape into the world of computers and ignore the elements of the real world that were not to my liking. More specifically, I was obsessed with computer games – the more fantasy-oriented the better. I used to design games in my head and then spend hours at night lying in bed figuring out all of the details, and how I would code them. A few of my friends were similarly obsessed and we began writing programs for our ZX Spectrums. At first they were in BASIC but, probably to show off, we moved onto assembly language, machine code and even hexadecimal. I spent all my pocket money on games (which came on tapes, uploaded torturously slowly via a tape recorder), games magazines and hefty books about programming languages.

Although we didn’t realize it at the time, this was probably the golden age of computer games in that it was eminently possible to design, program and market your own game from start to finish – and get rich in the process. Puny memory limitations (my spectrum had a 48k RAM chip, and even that was fairly large by the standards of the day, although the laptop I am typing this on is 83,000 times more powerful) made sure you had to code tightly, and there was no room for huge, fast-moving graphics. My idols at the time were Jeff Minter, who created such classics as Attack of the Mutant Camels, and Matthew Smith, the Bug Byte goth programmer who created Manic Miner and Jetset Willy.

Anyway, while I might have been able to process computer code at the same level as a university degree undergraduate, the rest of my academic abilities left a lot to be desired. I was, in fact, the lowest out of 120 pupils in my year, academically speaking, and my father was not happy. I was consistently getting single digit percentages in test scores and the more trouble I got into over the more it became cemented in my mind that I couldn’t achieve academic success and that there was something wrong with me.

I was put out of my misery by yet another move – although this time it was a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. My father, having lost his job yet again, found a new one at a train factory in Birmingham, England’s second largest city. The good news was that I was leaving Wakefield, but the bad news was that I was being sent to Solihull School – a bastion of upper class privilege in a snooty satellite town.

The moment I turned up on the first day I knew it was bad news. QEGS had been somewhat rough and violent (one of my classmates who I went on a school trip to France with turned into a serial killer in later life, killing women with a crossbow and then eating them. This was the second serial killer the school had produced, for some reason.) but Solihull School had a sinister feel about it. 

With its neatly trimmed lawns and its obsession with sporting prowess I knew right away that I wasn’t going to fit in. Around this time my father bought a weight lifting bench and weights and decided it was time to put some hairs on my chest. He himself had lifted scrap metal around the back of the factory he worked in as a young man, building himself up into something quite muscular – and now he wanted me to do the same. I still remember all those Saturday afternoons in the freezing garage as he made me pump iron, and got me to perfect the ‘clean and jerk’.

One of the first things I was made to do at this new school was decide whether I wanted to join the Army, Navy or Air Force, or do community service. It was that kind of place – a feeder institution for the upper echelons of the armed services. From my experience with bullies in Wakefield I had learned that the best way to deal with them was not to look like a target. Anyone doing community service, thus spending their Wednesday afternoons dipping biscuits into tea with elderly ladies would be a prime target, I reasoned. Joining the Air Force would mean I had to wear flares (no way) and the Navy was full of boatey types who knew how to sail yachts. And so, at 14, I joined the Army Cadets.

I was fitted for a uniform and assigned an old First World War rifle from the school arsenal. Soon afterwards I learned what being in the army was all about namely: looking perfect, marching and being with psychopaths. Nobody had taught me how to tie my puttees properly or wear my beret, so I got yelled at a few times by the barking NCOs. Punishment for such infractions tended to involve running around a rugby field holding your rifle above your head. And those rifles weren’t light.

After army training had finished every Wednesday we were free to walk around town dressed in our combat fatigues (sadly, though, without the rifles, which would have been handy). This was quite appealing to me as I was vary scrawny in my younger days, but the local teenage psychos from nearby schools tended not to mess with you if you were dressed to kill.  But the drawback of this was that my fellow army heads decided that I had better undergo some initiations to see what I was made of. That’s when I started getting into serious trouble.

Some of the minor infractions included things like lobbing fireworks at houses and buying bottles of cider from the off licence. Another thing was to pour Tippex thinner on your sleeve and inhale it. The more you could inhale, the tougher you were. Unfortunately one of the other boys had taken a dislike to me and told the teachers what I was up to. I was caught with thinner and cigarettes in my pockets and promptly suspended from school. My parents were devastated. What had they done to deserve this?

When I was allowed back to school again it was only a few short months before I was in serious trouble again. Another ‘initiation’ was to commit a burglary at a nearby boarding school. It was easy – me and another boy just walked in and ransacked the students’ possessions while they were out doing sports. My ‘haul’ was £2, a can of Lynx deodorant and a new format for playing music – a Boy George CD. I hated Boy George, but this shiny metallic looking plastic disk was a marvel to behold and I examined it at length in the privacy of my bedroom.

It didn’t take long before I was caught. The very next day I was summoned to the sadistic headmaster’s office and interrogated. He knew that I knew that he knew I was lying. As I got up to leave something hit me in the back of the head and almost knocked me down. He had literally thrown the book at me. “Sit down you moron,” he commanded. “Your life is over.”

Later, when my sobbing mother came to collect me, I made my escape when nobody was looking and ran away. My plan was to walk to France and live as an itinerant tramp. It was an unrealistic plan. In the end I spent the night shivering in a field with a horse barely three miles from home. I went back the next day, starving hungry, and faced the considerable music.

The police were involved and I was expelled from school immediately. My punishment was to be shut in my room for several weeks but after a couple of weeks in solitary I begged to be allowed to go and visit a friend in Yorkshire and was allowed to do so. Bad idea. My friend had become a punk. I wanted to be a punk too. I dyed my hair green, ripped my clothes to shreds and started acting like Sid Vicious, my new role model.

Arriving back in Birmingham, my father was less than impressed with my new look. It was the beginning of the end of good relations with him – for the next 25 years, until his death earlier this year, there was always a simmering hostility between us. He resented the fact that I was refusing to conform to his view of how I should act, and he never got over it.

After the expulsion debacle I was sent off to a school for no-hopers and the sons of organised criminals in the centre of Birmingham. It was the only place that would have me. I knew that I only had to tough it out for another year and then I could leave school and get on with being an unemployed and unemployable punk.  

As before, I had learned to avoid the bullies by acting crazier than them. Bullying is mostly psychological warfare, so by pretending to be psychotic, you are robbing the bully of any power they might have over you.
In my case I head-butted things. Doors, walls, other people - it didn’t matter what it was, I butted them all. 

By now I had spiked and bleached hair and a permanent bruise on my forehead. Bullies took one look at me and decided to pick on someone else.

I began to get into trouble as a matter of routine. Writing anarchic graffiti on buses, smoking cigarettes and dope, drinking whisky in class, fighting in the park after dark (well, pretending to – in most cases it was posturing and we ended up running away), carving an anarchy symbol across my whole chest with a razor blade right before an inter school swimming match – you name it, I was in trouble for it. I even got into a fight in a Birmingham backstreet with a bunch of Zulus (football hooligans following Birmingham City) who managed to knock me out, stab me through the cheek and were in the process of kicking the crap out of me when I was rescued by some security guards from an adjacent TV station who could see what was going on. I was taken to hospital to be stitched up, and a rumour went around the school that I was dead, making my subsequent resurrection something of a talking event for all and sundry.

I might have been alive, but I was still an academic dud, and the teachers told my parents there was little chance I would achieve even a single ‘O’ Level, the next year. My report said ‘Jason stares into space a lot and would probably prefer to do that all day long instead of doing his schoolwork.’

I didn’t care. I had been consumed by nihilism. In my mind, the world I was supposed to be conforming to was a world based of hypocrisy, greed and evil. I wanted no part of it and I figured that the way things were I’d probably be dead by 40, and fully intended to go out with a bang. I took to hanging around with my friends at the Mermaid pub in Birmingham’s Sparkbrook district. The Mermaid was an institution beloved of punks and skinheads. They would serve anyone, no matter how young, and every weekend the walls reverberated violently to thrash metal and punk. I followed bands like GBH, the Anti Nowhere League and Napalm Death (the lead singer of which went to my school).  I was an angry young man alright.

The next year, when my exams finally came, I did better than expected. I scraped four passes, although failed both Maths and English. Still, it meant that I could join my friends at Solihull Sixth Form College. And that’s exactly what I chose to do so, in no large part due to the fact that my best friend at the time, Mark, managed to convince me that throwing my life away was a bad idea. I was, throughout it all, still very bookish, and there were certain things that appealed to me – especially the idea of being an archaeologist or a computer games developer.

By now, my beleaguered father had given up trying to fight me in terms of what I wanted to do. I chose what any snarling punk would want to do as A Levels: English Literature, Classical Civilizations, Computer Studies and French. As an olive branch to my father I agreed to study Economics as well. I was sick of the hostilities and was feeling guilty about bringing so much distress to my beloved mother. The reason I was allowed to study so many subjects was because I re-sat Maths and English (getting an ‘A’ in the latter) and the college realized I might not be as stupid as my academic record said I was.

After my stormy teenage years, being at college was calm and placid. I disassociated myself from most of my troubled friends – most of them were now working at McDonalds’ or for the big local employer Land Rover. They were, I noted, remarkably quick to conform, get steady girlfriends and grow beer guts.
I dropped Computer Studies in short order when I realized how mind numbingly dull it was to actually study it in an academic manner. I also dropped all the studded dog collars, winkle pickers and other black leather gear I had been wearing, and conformed to type by wearing a tweed jacket and blue jeans. I had my first proper girlfriends and actually fell madly in love with one, Emma. We went around Europe together on trains, and it was all terribly romantic.

It was during this time too that Mark told me about an environmentalist called Jonathon Porritt who was coming to give a talk in Birmingham one evening. He somehow knew I had an interest in these things (although I can’t figure out how when I try and recall) and took me along. The talk was riveting and I bought a book from a stall at the entrance, which I asked Mr Porritt to sign for me. I had a brief chat with him (although others were waiting in line) and by the end of it I knew that herein lay the key to dismissing the nihilist feelings of angst and hopelessness that had been eating me for so many years. For the first time I had heard someone in a position of power (well, okay, he was Director of Friends of the Earth) lay out what the core of our problems was. Here’s the kind of thing he was coming out with:

"I've learned that the fate of the world's indigenous people lies in the fate of us all. And the reason is very simple. At the heart of today's so-called 'environmental crisis' is something profound and disturbing. We are simply not at one with the world in which we live, we are not 'true dwellers in the land', and behave for the most part as if we were just uncaring itinerants hanging around until we've used everything up and then moving on."

The book was called Where on Earth are We Going? and it addressed many of the problems that beset the industrial world such as pollution, global warming and our unsustainable lifestyles. Jonathon Porritt, now Lord Porritt, went on to be a sustainability advisor to Prince Charles, and is still a leading voice of reason. I still have the book on my bookshelf with its inscription to me.

I’ll leave it at that for this post. In the next one I’ll talk about being plunged back into uncertainly again as I flee the family home Dick Whittington style, only to find the streets on London lined not with gold, but kebab shops and shady pubs.

About that chest. It’s currently sat on the floor beside me as I type these words. It’s a huge pine one of the type known as a marriage trunk, which would have accompanied the bride during her wedding and been stuffed full of all the sorts of tools, fabrics and ornaments accrued by her loving parents for her to take with her in married life. 

When I say huge, it really is – you could probably fit about four huskies in it, or maybe a teenage rhino. It’s light blue with a depiction of flowers painted on the front in what is known as ‘na├»ve folk art’. We bought it for 300kr (about $50) online, with the seller saying that if we didn’t pick it up that day he was taking it to the dump. It is about 200 years old and in almost perfect condition (but missing the key).

Antique furniture is a niche that my wife is moving into. As a skilled upholsterer with a City and Guilds education from England, she has found her skills unmarketable in Denmark. Here, people buy stuff new from Ikea, and then when they are finished with it after a handful of years they throw it away and buy new again. Occasionally they will inherit something finely crafted from a dead parent and they will make a funny ‘yeuch’ face and either throw it away or sell it for a pittance on Denmark’s version of eBay.

That’s where we come in. In the last few weeks alone we have bought three antique chests, a wall mounted display cabinet, a 18th century ‘Queen Ann’ chair (pictured a couple of posts back being transported on my new cargo bike), a solid mint-condition L.Lange Danish antique cast iron woodburner weighing almost 200kg and, yesterday, three solid rosewood chairs from the time of King Christian VIII of Denmark. There have also been a few knick knacks, such as a rye bread slicer from the 19th century and some stoneware, and copper kettles. In total the price we have paid for all this is about the same as you would pay for the new iPad that everyone is talking about.

[Note to descendents: an iPad was a flat device with a screen on it. On the screen you could manipulate images and text using your fingers and they had all sorts of applications. They could store music and books and you could watch films on them and chat to your friends through the Internet. People found them endlessly diverting, but given that they require colossal amounts of energy to manufacture and a vast range of government subsidized high-tech industries to support them I doubt they will still be around by the time you read this. You might find one in a museum, if you’re interested.]

My point with the above is that due to these incredible finds (and hundreds more like it, though we don’t have the space) my wife has finally plucked up the courage to quit her terrible job. She has spent the last five years cleaning council properties, such as schools, old people’s homes and the public toilets down at the beach. After five long years of working with a small army of similarly downtrodden people, most of them immigrants with degrees (one of her fellow bowl scrubbers used to be the editor of a popular anti-regime newspaper in Iran, but had to flee for his life) she can now call herself an antique furniture restorer and dealer, which certainly sounds better at dinner parties than ‘mop woman’.


  1. This is a great story about what our system does to people--thanks for coming out!

    1. Thanks. I think the point I am trying to make is that if you have ever truly experienced the emptiness of nihilism, you have a better understanding of and empathy towards the kind of hooded youths who chuck molotov cocktails at the police which we're seeing more and more of these days. These people are both against the system and creations of it.

  2. What a Trip! Thanks for posting this - I wish more Bloggers would do so; kind of brings the writer's perspective into focus.

    1. Three or four more posts of this and I'll have the longest 'About' section on any blog ;-)

  3. Indeed, I agree with Iaato, and you are telling it well.

  4. "carving an anarchy symbol across my whole chest with a razor blade right before an inter school swimming match"

    "who managed to knock me out, stab me through the cheek"

    A genuine wild man. Nice hat. Congrats to your wife. 'love it! :)

    1. Ex-wild man. The wildest thing I do these days is sing Jimi Hendrix songs in the shower.

      I still have the lump in my cheek.

  5. Martin is right- I think there's a lot of room for more autobiography amongst bloggers. It's interesting to see that we've trod similar paths at some points- though I never found the punk world very appealing myself.

    Private school is a private hell for nonconformists. I don't know how most survive it. I suppose in many ways it does build character, but not the kind they're ostensibly supposed to be building.

    I'm looking forward to reading the next installments.

    1. "Private school is a private hell for nonconformists."

      It sure is! When I recently saw a video about Steiner Schools I almost cried. All the kids were bright, confident, secure, loved. What a waste we make of forcing our children to be so competitive, and making them learn useless information.

      Character building - maybe. But would I send my kids to one? No way!

    2. Oh, and another tip. Never send your kid to a school that has its own private weapons arsenal.

  6. About the autobiography. About four years ago, I was working night shift. The county I worked for was pretty slow at night...maybe 2 or 3 calls on average. Anyways, I'd bring my laptop to work and I began writing my auto. I started with my earliest memories at 3 and began writing everything I could remember in chronological order about my life. I made it to age 14 at about 90 pages before I stalled out. At that point there was simply too much memories to continue writing everything. As I wrote memories were dredged up. It was a very interesting process.

    It's also interesting to me to see others wanting to read more autobiographies. I guess I thought, I'm nobody special, I have no claim to fame, I'm just another flunky with no credentials really. Who would want to read about my life? Yet, I'm reading your auto and enjoying the hell out of it. So more room for auto's from bloggers? It's an interesting idea. Maybe when I'm done writing the
    Whoville Chronicles I'll follow your lead. Shit...I've already got 90 pages. Let's face it, publishing an auto as a societal flunky ain't gonna happen, unless you maybe try to sell it as fiction, but that games almost impossible. There are a hell of a lot better writers than me out there who can't get their shit published, and at any rate I'm too much of a pessimist to drum up enough faith that I could get that done.

    1. I'd sure be interested to see more autobiographical stuff from some of the regulars here :-)

      Nobody special - who are you kidding? It was your Whoville Chronicles that sparked off this autobiographical stint.

  7. Excellent read so far Jason, you are my favourite european environment blogger. I guess if you were born in 1971 you probably missed the silver jubilee in 1977 when the pistols released god save the queen, that was a great time with a massive sense of possibility. I too was inspired by JP and joined the ecology party in 1977 but I always lived in my home town, had my bad boy habits straightened out by the age of 11. Its a pity JP never broke through politically like die grunen did at the same time.

    Went to london uni at 18 but fortunately married my hometown girl who dragged me back 6 years later, that was lucky, still together after 36 years. TRB could be too mainstream for you but Tom caught the spirit of the time with power in the darkness. When Maggie defeated the miners it changed everything and I spent the next 25 years providing for my family. Sadly I am now viewed as the angel of death whenever I mention peak oil! Harking back to Gandhi's "be the change" I now grow as much of my own food as I can while paying as little tax as possible by earning just enough to tick over(thank you Dimitri Orlov, oh and Nick Clegg for the increased personal tax allowance) and looking at ways to stop the banksters nicking my dwindling savings.

    1. Cheers Phil. I was there at the Silver Jubilee - I even saw the Queen ride past in a carriage as I waved a flag in a crowd. Sadly I was too young to be into the Sex Pistols then - Squirrel Nutkins was more my thing then.

      Jonathon Porritt was a voice in the wilderness at the time. He's still a great communicator and I have a lot of respect for him.

      Keep on being the change!

  8. I think the autobiographical stuff is great and am looking forward to the other installments.

    It struck me that we are about the same age (I was born in 1970). Its easy to overstate the generational influence, but the U.S. hit peak oil in 1973, and in retrospect its clear that its economic decline stared around then, though masked for 35 years with statistical manipulation and investment bubbles. It means people born just before or after that time grew up into a very different economy or job market than the late baby boomers, and of course later generations will or are growing up when the decline is a given and the entire country isn't in denial about it anymore. I realize in the UK the decline started earlier, and was partially alleviated by the North Sea oil fields.

    Other than that, I was the son of a lawyer who died when I was quite young, and grew up in New York City, so we grew up in quite different environments, not least in class and geography. Instead of going through a nilhistic/ anarchist phase and then becoming a productive, employed citizen, instead I started as a productive, employed citizen and my life has gradually and steadily become shabbier and more shambolic. I never had to do a dramatic break with a domineering father or his plans and probably grew up with more trust in institutions than you did, which is probably also something of a handicap entering middle age.

    1. Thanks for that Ed. The funny thing is, economic decline was a fact of life in the 1970s - even I can remember that. Everything was tatty and broken-looking and workers were on strike a lot.

      Then, our big oil spurt happened and - like you say - decline was pretty effectively masked until recently.

      And yes, I'll be talking about statistical manipulation shortly.

  9. I am also enjoying your autobiography (and I also much prefer the white background you're using now; it's easier for my middle-aged eyes to read). Your mixing of the personal and the energetic/ecological in your blog makes it good reading.

    I've been thinking of writing a more philosophical / autobiographical sort of post for my next blog post. As a trained scientist, I find it much easier to write technical stuff than things with a more humanities-based focus, so I have stuck to the technical so far. I'm also quite introverted so it is difficult for me to be public about personal issues. But the latter might bring me more alive to anyone reading my blog, and it might be good for me to stretch my comfort zone.

    1. Hi Claire. Glad you like the white background ... black background - what was I thinking??

      I don't really think of this as an autobiography as such - there is a lot of skimming going on. Instead I'm just using my background and experiences as a template on which to shed some light on the evolution of my thinking - maybe others will recognise some similarities.

      And yes, I realise that there are lots of technically excellent blogs out there written by gifted people but, as they say in the newspaper business - human interest, human interest, human interest!

  10. Excellent post, Jason! It's always good to know more about the person who produces a blog you enjoy.

    I won't give too much biography (sort of pointless when posting as "Anonymous"), but I'll say this: My Dad is English and I was born there before moving to the States at a young age. When reading about your schooling experience, I kept thinking: "But for the grace of God..." I can't help but feel that a lot of the bullying that goes on in English schools is about defining and reinforcing class distinctions. Or, at least, it's a product of the violence that is implied in a classist society.

    While bullying existed to a very minor degree in the bog-standard public (in the American sense of the word) schools I went to, it was nothing like you describe and it had nothing to do with class - it was the simpler type: strong sadistic kids picking on weaklings or outsiders. But, as I say, it was quite rare and it didn't impact my life at all (despite the fact that I was on the skinny and weak end of the spectrum).

    Thus, I always feel grateful to my father for agreeing to come to my mother's home country. To tell the truth, I don't think he regrets it (although he might have during the Bush years).

    As for nihilism, I didn't go that far, but I fell under the spell of Scientism (materialism, reductionism, faith in randomness etc). I was permanently cured of that by a few LSD and mushroom trips in college. Now, I'm delighted to say that I feel the universe to be a living organism, shot through with consciousness and intelligence.

    Becoming peak oil aware was very natural for someone like me who was raised to question the popular narrative (thanks to my parents) and very suspicious of modern society.

  11. "They were, I noted, remarkably quick to conform, get steady girlfriends and grow beer guts."

    So true! Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas of all places, the punks were an amalgam of nerdy bullied kids, blue-collar underclass debris, and kids who just couldn't take being ordered around. I was never much of a punk but hung around them to avoid churchy types. The great irony is it's the churchy types that have become more interesting adults. The punks--such as they were--got straight jobs and church memberships.

    There are many paths to truth. Leaving nihilism behind is a better one, though.


  12. "I chose what any snarling punk would want to do as A Levels: English Literature, Classical Civilizations, Computer Studies and French." Have to say that doing A levels at all, would have been an anathema to any of the snarling punks that I knew.....Would be interested to see a pic of you as a snarling punk? I shall continue to read further with interest....


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.