Monday, December 31, 2012

Pale White Light

For an end-of-year post, I was thinking of writing about the teachers’ nemesis, Michael Gove. But the intention of this blog is to be celebratory; there are plenty of blogs that negatively moan on and on – I know, I used to write one. (The reason I wanted to write about Gove was because I took a group of sixth form students to the cinema to see the new version of Great Expectations at the start of the month, and someone innocently asked me whether I would be able to claim back the money I paid for my ticket. I said I didn’t really know, but why would I expect the public to pay for something that was for my enjoyment? And then, as I and countless other teachers put our hands in our pockets to buy sweets, biscuits and mince pies to celebrate the festive season with our students, my mind turned to MPs' expenses and that culture of claiming for every single one of life’s little outgoings. Gove has spent 2012 turning the word ‘teacher’ into a pejorative term: telling us that we don't work hard enough, we are propping up a corrupt exam system and we are over-rewarded with our gold-plated pensions. So, I thought I would remind myself how he fared in the MPs’ expenses scandal – where he sits in the something-for-nothing culture. Of course, he was as rotten as the rest of them. As well as making a dubious claim for £13,000 in moving expenses, in 2009 he had to pay back £7,000 he had claimed for equipping his second home. These items ranged from luxury furniture from his mother-in-law’s interior design company to a cot mattress from Toys R Us. What shocks me most about this information is the revelation that Michael Gove is married with children…) So, I decided not to write about Gove.

I was also thinking of writing about the incompetence of George Osborne: how he has demonised people on benefits as unemployed layabouts when the welfare bill overwhelmingly supports pensioners and the working poor; how savage cuts in the public sector have stalled the circulation of money that capitalism relies on; how he has missed target after target after target and, despite all the misery, the deficit has not gone down. But I don’t want to write about him, either; John Lanchester’s magnificent essay, Let's Call it Failure, on the London Review of Books website, demolishes him with much more elan than I could ever muster.

And I had thought of writing about the proliferation of technology for its own sake. A year of gigs spent alongside people either watching the band through their phones as they film them, or heads bowed ignoring the band and praying to the pale white light, has made me realise how, for so many people, life is lived vicariously and is only real if it is mediated through a screen. I could have written about the marginalisation of books and the invasion of the classroom by e-readers, tablets and apps; I could have written about the demise of Sussex Sedition as a physical fanzine but its survival as a blog. I had even found quotations from two writers on the subject this year:

“Speed cameras, recording angels on lampposts, our phones, our computers…a nation that could look at everything and see nothing.” - Andrew O’Hagan

“Watching has become mere gaping; open-mouthed and slow-breathing.” - John Banville

But I don’t want to write about any of that; it's all too depressing.


  1. Mr W, you are a genius. I love your writing and I love this post. I am horribly guilty of the last gripe, I know. Happy new year to you, sir!

    1. You're too kind; I'm just a Luddite who's scared he doesn't understand the world anymore. Very touching last post on your blog. Happy new year!