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Programme Quest, volume 0

July 18, 2012

As some of you may know, I like rugby. If you know that, you probably know that I like rugby union, specifically. And if you know that, you probably know which team I support. And if you know that, you might guess that I went to the Premiership final this year. Well, whilst I was there, I purchased a programme. Normally, I don’t shell out for programmes at big games because they’re usually extortionate. This year’s was no exception on the price front, but it came with the caveat that 50% of the proceeds would go to Sport Relief. As such, feeling all charitable, I decided to go for it. I was quite happy with myself, and I had a physical memento of my day that wasn’t as easily destroyed by transit in a backpack as my ticket would prove to be.

Of course, some of you will have now clicked on the first link in this post and noted that Harlequins won the match.

And some of you will have noted that I’m from Leicester, and support Leicester Tigers.

So after 80 minutes of admittedly very entertaining rugby, after a last-minute push from Tigers failed to save the day for the second year in a row, and after the better team (and frankly, the season’s best team) raised the trophy, you can imagine that while I wasn’t too bitter, I also wasn’t particularly fussed about hanging on to my programme.

But I did. And I’m glad I did, because a few weeks ago I had an idea. It’s so ridiculous that I can’t imagine why I decided to do it, but here it is: I’m going to get my signed by everyone in it, auction it off for the Matt Hampson Foundation.

Now, this is a big project – I count around 125 names in it, including people who work for Premiership Rugby and its various sponsors, and non-rugby celebrities like Jessica Ennis and Jamie Oliver. There are also fans, school teams and people taking part in community projects, but I’m leaving them out because tracking them down would be nigh-on impossible and probably illegal. So it’s just the celebrities. All 125 of them.

When and how will I do this? Basically, it’s going to involve a lot of hanging around: With my minimal funds, I’ll have to target Tigers home games for the right players, I’ll have to sneak round Wembley when we play Saracens, and I’ll have to hope I can get to wherever the Tigers Academy are playing the Bath Academy so I can nab the autograph of their coach Danny Grewcock. I might have to bother retired Tigers top-scorer Tim Stimpson at his office. I might have to actually give the programme to Manu Tuilagi so he can get big brother Alesana, the winger who’s just moved from Tigers to NTT Shining Arcs in Japan, to scribble his mark on it.

Today, though, I’m starting it off with an easy one: a signing with some Tigers players at John Lewis in Leicester to launch the new Tigers away kit. I’ll report back later, hopefully with pictures.

This will not be easy. It might take more than a season. It might take years. But I’m going to do it, because the Matt Hampson foundation deserves the money, and because I know I can. And who knows, it might even end up being fun.

image

Wish me luck.

New story: The Old Sea Captain and the Young Stowaway

July 11, 2012

As promised (on Twitter, I think), a new story (well, flashfic) to celebrate my blog redesign, despite being thematically unrelated to my blog redesign. Because who would want to read a story about a blog redesign? Not you, I hope, because this isn’t one. It’s about growing up and being terrified of not knowing how to do it properly.

Here you go, then – The Old Sea Captain and the Young Stowaway. Read on Scribd’s embeddy thing below, or view and download from Dropbox. As ever, it’s CC BY-NC-SA. You know the rules by now.

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Housing Benefit, Cameron’s ideological wrecking-ball, and five simple words

June 25, 2012

First, allow me to apologise. This post is a little rushed and disorganised, but that’s because I’ve let it pour out of me rather faster than I usually do. This technique generally works better for creative writing, but I hope it helps make my point here, in the realm of reality.

So. David Cameron wants to cut Housing Benefit for people under 25. This is a sentence you will be familiar with by now. This is a sentence that has made everyone whose physical or digital company I care to keep incredibly angry. Now it’s my turn, and I have a particular sentence with which I wish to familiarise you, and particularly David Cameron. It’ll pop up a few times later on. I’m sure you’ll spot it.

But first: Why, David? You want to promote hard work, rather than enouraging those who would shun employment and sponge off the state. Well, 7 out of 8 Housing Benefit claimants have jobs, and just need some help to get on their feet in the working, property-renting, tax-paying world. But you don’t seem to mind that. You’re disadvantaging without a care as to whether your assumptions are accurate. Or are you? Probably it’s more a case of “you were going to do it whatever the evidence says”. Damn the evidence. As usual.

So for the people Cameron puts out of their modest first homes, what advice does he have? “Move back in with your parents”.

Great.

Great! Your parents are rich. Moving in with them would probably be ace, even for a man with a wife and children. There’s probably room (EDIT: since posting, I have been informed that David Cameron’s dad has passed away. I’m sure the £300,000 of tax-free inheritance softened the blow, but seriously, my sincerest condolences. Furthermore, I’d like to point out that this negates precisely none of my points, and in fact possibly strengthens the sentence which this edit follows). You could sell all four of the houses you have. But, David, here’s the thing. Not everybody is this lucky. You want people to move back in with their parents? Well, as it happens, I have some experience in that area. Let me explain how it feels to move back in with your parents if you’re a normal person.

I went to university. I was lucky enough to have that funded privately by my grandmother, who’s fairly well-off. Not everybody is this lucky.

I struggled a lot in my first year at university. My lecturers saw I was struggling, and helped me understand exactly what was expected of university work, and how to produce it. Not everybody is this lucky.

I worked hard in my second and third years, and once I’d clicked on what academic writing was all about, I found I actually had quite a knack for it. Not everybody is this lucky.

I graduated university with a First. This was a close call. A few circumstantial factors could have gone a different way, causing a few borderline marks to slip a bit lower, and I might not have managed that final result. But fate was kind and I got my First. Not everybody is this lucky.

Straight out of university, I had no job prospects despite spending my spare time during dissertation season trying to plan what I could do. As such, after about a month, I began claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance. Because of the shares I own in a company passed down through various branches of my extended family, the Department of Work and Pensions determined that I was entitled to £25 a week. I’d moved back in with my parents, and felt guilty about it, but they refused to accept any financial contribution until I had a stable job and only until I could afford a place of my own. £25 a week was, as such, just about sufficient for me to travel across town to see my then-girlfriend, now-fiancée. £25 a week was workable. Not everybody is this lucky.

I attended every single Jobcentre meeting I was required to. I couldn’t find work. I didn’t find work for 10 months. My first job was with a charity, but paid for by the state – under the Future Jobs Fund, most recently famous for being cut by David Cameron. Without it, I might not have had a job to this day. I came through the system at a time when the system was kinder. Not everybody is this lucky.

I worked hard. I was commended for the commitment I brought to the role, as well as the skill (helped by natural writing ability which underwent crucial refinement thanks to the hard work I put in at uni). The post was funded for six months. I wasn’t informed that I wouldn’t be kept on by the company until a few days before I left. I am not upset by this, as it was because they were trying extremely hard to find enough money to keep me on under their own steam. I couldn’t go back on JSA as I now had too much money in savings and wouldn’t be eligible. Apparently I could sustain myself. This would mean selling my shares, which would give me a yearly income that would be less than what would make me eligible to pay back my student loan (maintenance, gran payed for tuition). It would give me that yearly income for a grand total of one year. Right now, in the entire world, I have about £12,000. Not everyone is this lucky.

I still live with my parents. I have applied for hundreds of jobs, both in the private & public sectors, and I have rarely got so much as an acknowledgement that my application has been received. Jobs that need my degree aren’t there. Jobs that are plentiful need experience that I don’t have, and as such can’t get because I don’t have experience to qualify for the opportunity to get it (the Coalition Conundrum, as I like to call it). I’m waiting to hear back from one job about which I’m fairly optimistic, but even that will not pay me enough to move out from my parents’ house and into a studio flat sharing rent with my fianceé. I have a kind family and a kind partner. I have lots of love to cushion my lack of forward momentum. Not everyone is this lucky.

Here’s the worst part, for me: I feel like a burden. I know I could be so much worse off, and so could my parents, but I still feel like a burden. Between them, they make enough money to keep me and live a relatively comfortable life. However, one of them works in a public sector job that is currently in a great deal of danger, regardless of their hard work and specialist training. I’m told it’s likely to fall prey to the apparently common tactic of avoiding redundancy payments by changing the role so drastically and to something the employee will probably dislike, to coerce them into taking voluntary redundancy. If my parent ends up in this situation, they might have to do a job they hate for over a decade to retire with the entirety of whatever will be left of the pension they’ve amassed over almost their entire working life. And I might still be here, relying on them to stay alive, because there are almost no jobs for me and no hope of any significant state assistance to get me going. I’m 23 years old, have a First-class degree, and have found the person I wish to spend my life with. Unemployed, living with my parents and being ruled over by a government that doesn’t seem to think I’m worth investing in for a later return is not the situation I’d guess at for someone like that. I should be out on my own (with the missus, obviously) starting a proper life, because I have some core building blocks of a good one. Furthermore, not everyone is this lucky.

My entire family, myself included, has worked hard, but we’ve also been fortunate that we’ve had, by national standards, a relatively privileged base from which to work. Yet still, we could end up squeezed. Imagine how those who haven’t had the modest privileges we have will fare. Cameron says “move back in with your parents” as if it’s an infallible idea. Some under-25s have well-off parents that will gladly welcome them back. Some under-25s have parents with a backup plan who could just about stretch to having their kid back under the family roof for a while, until junior gets on their feet proper. Some under-25s have good, healthy relationship with their parents and can stand to be around them. Not everyone is this lucky.

David Cameron’s mother got him a £90,000-a-year job, but it’s mind-boggling to think that he’s so wrapped up in the bubble that has protected him his entire life that he can’t comprehend that others might not be so lucky. Yet that is what the evidence suggests. That the fate of so many lies in this man’s hands is terrifying to me. We are in a situation where we could conceivably end up with homeless university graduates under the age of 25, and the man in charge of this country either A) considers that less perverse than young people asking for some state assistance to help them to become reliable taxpayers, or B) just hasn’t thought about it.

Cameron slashes, cuts, dismantles, pulls apart and decimates, and believes he will be left with something other than wreckage. Cameron, beyond all logic, seems unable to comprehend that people don’t have the fall-backs he was blessed with. In the opinion of this smart, hard-working and responsible British citizen who just wants a chance to use this qualities to become a decent tax-paying bona-fide adult, David Cameron would do well to remember five words. Can you guess what they are?

England vs Germany: the battle of rhetoric

June 23, 2012

Tomorrow, the English football team will play a match. One of the possible outcomes of this match is that England will play Germany next. This is far from certain, and yet already, the flood of rhetoric has begun to wash over our national consciousness.

I speak, of course, of the unbearable and bizarre evocation of war imagery that people seem to automatically espouse whenever England play Germany. Already I have seen tweets championing the match kick-off time of 19:45 as a “good omen”. Already I have heard talk of footballers (some of whom, to their credit, visited Auschwitz with a great deal of dignity and respect) avenging the invasion of Poland by beating Germany in Warsaw. Already I am tremendously annoyed by it all.

As an aside, let me be clear that I have no idea whether this is limited to football, as outside of football neither country is successful enough at a sport that the other considers significant for it to ever come up. As such, football is the only example, and football is the example we shall examine. Let me also add that I am not by a long shot speaking of all England fans. I am speaking of the vocal section, likely a minority, that has offended me.

What irritates me about the whole business is this: if we play Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-finals, we will not be playing the same nation we fought in any war. Most recently, we fought a nation called Germany in the Second World War, but it was a different Germany, ruled by genocidal fascists. I’m not aware of Germany coach Joachim Löw’s political stances, but he is yet to put genocidal fascism into practise with German football team.

Indeed, the current German team is peasingly non-Aryan: you have Lukas Podolski, of Polish descent, happily representing Germany with no conflict between invader and invaded raging inside him. Because it’s a different Germany. You have Mesut Özil, with Turkish ancestry, a practising Muslim and winner of an award for exemplifying good integration. It would perhaps make my point better if I could point to somebody Jewish in the team, but in an age where Islam is often the prime target of fascism, Özil’s success in the German team is encouraging. Germany’s football team is multicultural in a way that defies Second World War stereotypes.

And yet the rhetoric from the England ranks remains. It’s not even the stereotypes that are brought up. It’s just vague posturing. Vague shouting. Bash the Krauts. Bash ’em. With football. That’ll teach them for the war. Let’s quote Fawlty Towers to death, ignoring the fact that those lines came from the mouth of a character who was supposed to be of diminished mental capacity.

I am pro-passion in sport. I have felt elation and despair when watching sport. I let myself get emotionally invested in every sport I enjoy. And I actively encourage intelligent, engaged passion about sport (such as, for example, the excellent Sparrow Dreizehn blog, which is full of fascinating and enlightening discussion about international football and everything surrounding it). But this isn’t passion. It’s not even an active ideal that I just happen to disagree with. It’s just ignorance. It’s boorish cultural laziness. It’s assigning an outdated role to an entire nation, and furthermore grossly misunderstanding the complexities and key details of that role.

Perhaps worse is where this flimsy pretense of sporting rivalry comes from. The two World Wars, in which the UK and Germany were on opposing sides (or to put it another way, not England versus Germany), were the source of thousands of deaths, and those deaths are continuously cheapened by the insistence that they’re somehow of equal importance as, or could be avenged by, a football match. As wars go, I believe we can be proud of our actions in the Second World War especially. Fighting fascism is a noble cause. But linking a football match to it is to debase its significance and taint its memory.

We are not fighting the nazis in Warsaw on Thursday. We’re not even playing them at football yet. If we beat Italy – not Musollini, although that doesn’t seem to get mentioned – we will play Germany in a game of football. I fully endorse getting passionate about that. Just leave the rhetoric out. Just stop relating this game of a sport to an entirely unrelated historical event which caused thousands of continuously-cheapened deaths. Just shut the fuck up about the war.

Why I don’t support the Olympics

June 6, 2012

A while ago, TV presenter Gabby Logan appeared on Room 101. I saw this happen, but I only know who it was because I just looked it up. That I have to be reminded of Gabby Logan’s existence is an accurate summary of my feelings towards her 90% of the time. However, this time, whilst I may have forgotten the source entirely, Gabby Logan’s words on Room 101 raised my ire.

I have learnt to take opinions expressed on shows like Room 101 with a pinch of salt. After all, this is a format that doesn’t encourage proportionate discussion. Those appearing are actively encouraged to complain, and do little but complain, about multiple subjects. Success is measured in persuasiveness and force of argument. Anyone paying the slightest amount of attention to any kind of politics knows that this is not a formula likely to produce honesty or useful ideas. What mainstream broadcast of this style of debate does for the public’s ability or inclination to discuss things in a way tailored towards progress is another subject for another time (it’s probably quite relevant to this and many other topics, but it’s also massive and complex, and as such, I’m leaving it for now).

Nonetheless, Gabby Logan still managed to make me slightly angry. Not because of who she is, not because Frank Skinner agreed she had argued her corner strongly enough to have her pet dislike (or, to use another term, “thing that she thought of that was topical and that she could say some words about”) figuratively banished from the social consciousness, but because of the subject itself. Gabby Logan, for money on an ultimately meaningless TV show, casually put forth people who complain about the Olympics as a subject worthy of disdain.

I don’t blame Gabby Logan. Gabby Logan is a relatively successful public figure, and as such probably has very little in terms of circumstance and general lifestyle about which she could reasonably complain. But still, this annoyed me, because I’ve been complaining about the Olympics, and I don’t think it’s at all wrong to do so. In fact, I’m of the opinion that it’d be wrong for me to do anything else.

Contrary to people who’ve argued with me about it, I don’t like complaining about the Olympics. I don’t like complaining about anything. I wish I didn’t feel like I had to complain about things. I wish there weren’t things about which I felt the need to complain. But I feel the need to complain about the Olympics, and my reasons are quite simple: the Olympics is doing a lot of bad, and not very much good.

People will be at the Olympics waving Union Flags (Union Jack only when it’s flown at sea, yes I do only know that because of Doctor Who). People already are equating the Olympics being in London with national pride. But I, who would identify as both a patriot and a sport fan, am not proud. The discontent started early, when anti-elitism protester Trenton Oldfield’s crashing of the Boat Race was labelled by various parties as being akin to idiocy, the worrying implications of which were brilliantly and hilariously identified by the Guardian’s Barney Ronay.

It went further. Illustrious bleached runner Iwan Thomas embarked upon a new career as a public ignorance cheerleader with a piece on BBC One’s The One Show, in which he styled protesters at sporting events as an annoyance to athletes, the “last thing you want” when you’re trying to compete. A small part of me had some sympathy for this – the things about the Olympics with which I take issue (coming up soon, I promise, bear with me) are hardly the fault of the athletes. But that doesn’t supersede the public’s right to protest at that with which they take issue.

Iwan Thomas seems to think it does, though. He confronted a protester and became enraged when “she had answers for everything” (apparently a point to be held against her, rather than one signifying that she’d won the argument). Athletes, and indeed commentators, organisers and all other personalities involved, get no sympathy from me if they dismiss any protest as an annoyance that could not possibly have reasons more important than their sport.

Ah, yes. Reasons. 700 words in, I’m sure you’re wondering what they are. Well, let’s start with the bespoke copyright legislation insisted upon by the IOC before they would grant us the games, legislation which prohibits anyone but officially affiliated companies (paid sponsors, that is) from using Olympics-related terms, including “London”, the capital city of our country, “gold”, a type of metal with just a smidge of cultural significance beyond being what the best medals are made of, and most ludicrously, “2012” and “summer”, respectively famous for being the year that it is and a season that happens regularly with utter disregard as to whether Coke, Cadburys, McDonalds and Heineken have funded it. Here’s some more detail on the subject.

Pubs can’t advertise that they’re showing the Olympics. Shops can’t use related imagery or terms to capitalise on the tourist influx. Apparently, this is because it would upset those who’ve paid for sponsorship, and without that money, the Olympics couldn’t happen. Let me be far from the first to say FINE. I don’t want an Olympics that either a) allows itself to be held to ransom by companies who refuse to let any small business take advantage of a big event in their city, or b) refuses to let any small business take advantage of a big event in their city then blames it on arbitrary corporate glad-handing in which it should be embarrassed to take part.

Furthermore (though less importantly), this legislation could greatly impede on the enjoyment of people who’ve jumped through the many hoops required to secure tickets to any of the Games. The legislation prohibits attendees from uploading their own photos to social media. In 2012. The first Olympics in a world where Twitter is truly, massively mainstream is one where you will be a criminal if you tweet a picture of your view of Usain Bolt in the starting blocks from your £725 seat. If you’re a ticket holder, you can’t engage with these games like you do with so much else in your everyday life, and you must instead sit there and be marketed to. If you’re, say, a Coventry City fan, it is illegal for you to share your photos of Olympic football being played on your club’s home turf with your Facebook friends.

The athletes even get some sympathy from me on the subject of brand protection. No engaging with your fans via social media from inside the athlete’s village. Don’t comment on any other Olympic event, because any kind of team spirit or whatnot could be construed as journalism, which isn’t your job, you tasty little commercial vessel. Oh, and if you see someone save an old woman from being mugged by decking the assailant with a full can of Pepsi, you probably shouldn’t mention it. Or just call it “cola”. Or just lie and say it was Coke.

This legislation has clearly confused even those who are there to put it into practice – security at the Olympic village were recently caught trying to stop people taking photos and filming footage of the Olympic stadium from public land, which is perfectly legal even under the batshit strictness of the IOC’s bespoke laws. Security guards being confused about anything is rather troubling, particularly if they’re inclined to act with overzealousness and harshness over it. Sadly, that seems to be precisely the end product (well, one of them) of this ham-fisted and unclear legislation.

So there’s a multitude of reasons of a similar tone. On to a different one, one that deeply upset me: the stories of people getting kicked out of their homes by landlords wanting to capitalise on premium rent prices (Guardian article, Metro article). Strictly speaking, this is not directly the fault of the IOC, but it does directly contravene their promise that the Games will create more housing (a benefit further debunked, along with all the others, by the excellent Space Hijackers, here). And, when so much is being spent to investigate the benefits and effects of the games, you’d have thought the possibility would have come up somewhere, especially when so many innocent, harmless parties are being warned off behaviour that the IOC views as malicious. This is bigger than a pub that doesn’t sponsor you writing some words on a blackboard to drum up a bit more business during a worldwide economic crisis. This is people making other people homeless. The IOC will protect the rights of Procter & Gamble, but if you’re a person who wants to continue living in your home during an Olympics you didn’t ask for, you can rot.

It would be a fair statement, perhaps even an understatement, to say that our country and its citizens are making massive concessions for these Games. It would be even fairer to ask: To what end? What benefit does the country get? Sure, there’s probably quite a bit of tourist money coming in (and hopefully pubs, for example, will either ignore the legislation, or people will just assume they’re showing the Olympics and go in anyway), but I imagine relatively little of that revenue will go directly to recouping the approximately £24 billion spent on staging the Games (ten times the original estimate, if memory serves). By my calculation, ticket revenue will equal about £37 million if all the tickets are sold. I don’t know how much is made from TV rights, but my guess would be that most of it would go to the IOC rather than recouping the tax money spent (feel free to correct me in the comments). How much more can be won back with food, drink and official merchandise?

It makes me wonder what I’ve missed with other events I’ve supported. It makes me wonder whether I should be looking forward to the Rugby World Cup coming over here in 2015 – while the International Rugby Board has a pretty good track record on quashing corporate bullshit (insisting that stadiums are called by a non-sponsored name in official coverage of the tournament, for example), their willingness to take it a step beyond the rational (such as fining players for a barely-visible logo on their gumshield) makes me worry that they could turn, and that if they did, it’d be hell, and I wouldn’t be able to tweet photos of World Cup rugby taking place on my beloved Welford Road turf. And I would have to support my country knowing that the price of their chance at glory was that someone slept on a mate’s sofa, or in an expensive hotel, or on the street, having pawned all their stuff because they had nowhere to put it. And that would upset me. And it would make me reconsider an otherwise virtually guaranteed ticket purchase.

I’m glad that I’ll now pay more attention to the important issues surrounding these events, but I’m also genuinely worried that I’ll never be able to enjoy a major sporting event again, solely because of the horrible people that might be either in charge or bankrolling those who are.

I’ll worry about that when the time comes, though. For now, as I can’t really afford to get to London nor think of any kind of effective protest to undertake if I could, I’ll have to adopt the grand British tradition of grumbling from afar. I just hope Gabby Logan, Iwan Thomas, LOCOG, all the Olympic athletes and preferably everyone else know that some of us are doing it for very good reasons.

Free story – ‘Chemical Units’

May 11, 2012

Good evening.

It’s been a while since I’ve done this, but a freak incident involving Hulk Hogan and a friend of mine getting an entire year’s worth of blog view traffic in a day has lead to me having a prominent new Twitter follower, so I figured what better opportunity to whore a story before I piss off him and everyone else by yammering on about rugby for ages tomorrow?!

In that spirit, here’s a story I wrote a few months ago, very much in a god-I-hope-I’m-not-the-only-one-who-feels-like-this move. As ever, it’s Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licensed, so go nuts on the adaptations. Nobody has bothered with that yet, so you could make my year by being the first! Either way, enjoy, and please be kind enough to link others if you do.

Here it is then: Chemical Units.

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In Defense of the Chav

April 3, 2012

Yep, that’s a suitably irksome title. Right. I warn you now, this blog contains potentially offensive words and reference to potentially offensive ideas. I assure you they are used responsibly and with good reason. Here are the ones I suspect people will dislike the most, just to get them out the way: chav, nigger, paki, Jeremy Kyle, benefit claimants, students, and the fact that I was a teenager within this century. If you don’t like those things, don’t read on, or just be aware that they crop up again and that several of my key points revolve around them.

So. Let’s begin.

Now, a Chav has been a thing since I was about, I’d guess, 13. At least that’s around the time that I became aware of the term. It seemed to come into everyday use in my school after it evolved out of the term “townie”. I’m aware that this was probably a local thing, specific perhaps even to my school alone. Either way, it became the general derogatory term for anyone wearing a tracksuit. It became commonplace to hear it used in sentences deriding the literacy levels, smoking habits and parentage of anyone who didn’t particularly care for music with guitars in it. I find it hard to object to its use in such an environment that much, because of course, secondary school upwards (heck, even primary school in my experience) is oftentimes a forum for kids to sling these sweeping cultural identifiers at each other. Horrible, yes, but it’s always happened and most people end up coming out of the experience with a fairly well-rounded idea of who they are.

Unlike the other terms, though (“goth”/”grunger” springs to mind), “chav” seems to stick around in the mouths of adults. I find this pretty troubling. For a term that was in all likelihood invented by teenagers to take the piss out of other teenagers, it’s always been one of the more loaded terms. I did my A-Level Work Experience at a student-run radio station with some guys who’d previously been in very different social circles to me at school. Their circles, in the minds of everyone else, fell into the chav category. This inevitably led to the term being slung at them in arguments, and that clearly stuck with them, as when we were on Work Experience, the station was visited by some children from a notoriously troublesome school. One or two of these kids, wearing tracksuits, ended up making a bit of a spectacle of themselves. One of the guys from my college turned to me and said “You all thought we were chavs? Nah, that’s a chav.”

So clearly, “chav” is a term with which people don’t want to be associated (fair enough). This, to me, singles it out a bit from “goth” etc, which seems to endure into adult life solely by people actively embracing it (if anyone has examples to the contrary, please do comment. I don’t claim to know everything, nor do I wish to make assumptions about anyone’s life experiences. Contradictions to my opinions and experiences are always welcome). But to me, the obviously hurtful intent behind the word and its use is just a small part of the problem with its place in the public consciousness. The much larger, much more significant part of my worry comes from the demographics involved when adults throw the word around. I’ve heard, in my everyday life, the word being used by people of every class and every race I’ve ever encountered (which is “all of them” and “all with a prominent presence in the UK”, respectively). One of those matters more, though, because the term is exclusively directed at people who can be categorised as working class and below. That Wikipedia article I linked to identifies an “underclass”. This is where “chav” becomes more than an identifier and worse than an insult. This is where “chav” becomes a slur.

I remember watching a BBC documentary called Five Steps to Tyranny. Step 1 of 5 was “create an us and them“. The use of “chav” would be my first choice for an example of this in practise. To my mind, while racism of all sorts is still an enormous problem worthy of much coverage and consideration (to start with), “chav” is perhaps in a more dangerous position, the reason being that it’s a mainstream, practically socially acceptable term. Perhaps not with as much history as “nigger”, “paki” et al, but certainly with as much effectiveness, “chav” differentiates, separates, lowers.

I saw a quote recently from someone, I forget who, who said something along the lines of “Politicians’ greatest trick was convincing poor people that other poor people are the cause of all the nation’s problems” (attribution and corrections welcome in the comments). Again, “chav” is the perfect example. The guy I quoted in my Work Experience anecdote was from a working class background. Now, one can understand his keenness to proclaim what was a chav and what was not, given the fact that he knew I’d witnessed him and his friends being identified as such in the past, so we can kind of let that one slide. But it showed a rift in the “lower” classes of society, an idea that those who could be identified as a step “down” from the working class were something less than just an underclass. Not just from that example, but from many others, from people of all classes (including people I’m extremely close to in each class), it became clear to me that “chav” is more than a label – it’s verbal dehumanisation. The fact that media entities like The Jeremy Kyle Show play up to the worst of public perception by parading the underclass in front of the country like they’re in a zoo is a particularly potent contributory factor to this. Every word of that thought is very deliberate, if you were wondering.

So the chav, in the public consciousness, is a subhuman figure, perhaps wearing a tracksuit, perhaps living in a council flat with a football-themed St George’s Cross hanging from the window, perhaps shopping at Iceland, perhaps idolising a public figure, the cause of whose fame could be considered to be of dubious integrity. People that fulfill these stereotypes, or elements of them, undoubtably exist. So why do we hate them? That’s not overstating it – maybe we individually don’t hate all the individuals, or even the collective, but as a society, we act hatefully towards them. Collective to collective, they’re a punching bag. Originally, this stemmed from parody and humour – “Oh, they all think X Factor is the world’s second largest religion”, “Oh, they all call their babies Wayne even though they can’t spell it” (for the record, I found this pretty repulsive at the time, too) – but now it’s more than that. Now it’s an ideology that a) they’re a problem, and b) it’s not anybody’s responsibility to do anything about it.

Point ‘b’, there, seemed to manifest in public opinion quite prominently during and after the last general election – countless times I saw on the news, on Twitter, on messageboards and in the flesh world, people speculating about upcoming cuts, and the majority vote for the first thing that should be revised/be reduced/disappear altogether was benefits. Benefits. The system set up to help the vulnerable. The country’s safety net for when the system fails people. The justification I heard trotted out the most was “Well, they all cheat it anyway”. Now, benefit fraud is a problem, but to overestimate it to the point where we declare it’s unsalvageable and we should just abandon ship demonstrates a bizarre and terrifying lack of social empathy. And it comes back to that word. Benefit claimants are just a bunch of chavs. A bunch of chavs, with tracksuits and flags and stupid baby names, who steal money from people who like normal, acceptable things. Why should we give them money? Nah, let ’em fix their own problems. Let the chavs work out that they’re not supposed to be chavs. On their own. With no money and no opportunities.

The word “chav” has drawn a line and relegated an entire culture from British society. It’s set the wheels in motion for a variety of needy people in a variety of situations which means the way the world works isn’t tailored to helping them through life to be ignored and insulted by everyone else. Think about that idea again – politicians (for what it’s worth, I believe we can point to politicians on the right, left and centre here) have tricked the country into a state of the poor blaming the poor. This indisputably happens. This tactic’s primary function (to shift blame for whatever issue off the politicians themselves) is very different from its primary effect (to turn people against a vulnerable demographic of society). I personally suspect that politicians who’ve performed this trick and perpetuated it as a legitimate political tactic consider this an unfortunate side effect if they consider it at all.

I digress. The causes of the singling out of the chav are varied, as the causes of a powerful idea always are.

A while ago, I saw a set by comedian Reginald D. Hunter on TV. He had a bit about middle class white people being offended by the word “nigger” that has been at the back of my mind while writing this. I realise, you see,  I’m just another middle class white person (and a middle class white male aspiring to be a middle class white male author, at that) getting offended on behalf of someone else who’s usually conspicuous by their absence in discussions of this kind. But I like to think that my 23 years of Asperger’s Syndrome-fueled sitting back and drinking the world in has been worth some measure of integrity, and all I’m really doing here is venting bile. I’ve seen ignorance, closed-mindedness and attitudes that uncomfortably echo certain hallmarks of certain historical atrocities, and rightly or wrongly, I’ve taken it upon myself to rat it out in front of everyone. Or the five people who’ve ever read my blog. Whatever.

What I’m essentially saying is that if anyone finds my third-party perspective to be didactic, judgemental, overly authoritative, offensive or anything else objectionable, I apologise. I really do. But I have reasonable evidence that I’ve managed to bludgeon myself into an intelligent person by now, and I really felt like this was something that needed saying, even if it’s being said by me, unqualified and entirely separate from the actual effects of the situation.

Anyway. For lack of a less clichéd ending, I’d like to beg everyone to stop labeling and start trying to identify and fix the actual problems (suggested starting point: the three utterly untrustworthy organisations that make up the vast majority of our government). And I know, I know that won’t happen, because the simple fact remains: some people, whether in suits, tracksuits, birthday suits, white collars, blue collars, clerical collars, wool jumpers, robes or lab coats, are twats. Sorry, that’s a label – some people of all demographics are prejudiced, bigoted, immature, and most crucially, difficult to bring around from such worldviews. But don’t let that bring you down (off your high horse?). I’m sure that rational, peaceful, positive people, among which I count myself in my better moments, can effect some positive change somewhere, somehow. Even if it’s just pointing a like-minded person to a blog post now and then.