Thursday, 18 October 2007

It's OK - I did my best to write a short entry

As I approached the Wendover CE Secondary School, I was greeted by three boys in the red toped school uniform. Five steps later three girls smiled at me and said welcome. It was clear the head master was intent on impressing us, “prospecting parents”. The short rout to the main hall was lined with more pupils. Later I learned that they were all prefects or something to that effect. After the Head made his introduction, teams of the children took small groups of the prospecting parents around the school. I was led around by three very enthusiastic girls. I could not wait to ask them about the 11+ exams. It seems they just had them. I was not surprised to hear that two of them had extra tuition towards the 11+ arranged by their parents. You will probably consider me na├»ve when I tell you I was surprised when the Head told me that (a) he was not allowed to supply me with statistics about the 11+ and that (b) state schools are not allowed to coach and prepare the kids for the exams. OK, I can see why that is so. But he did tell me that not all the children sit the tests, and a parent I spoke to implied she would not push her daughter. Then the penny dropped and now I think I understand why Brits do not know how to appreciate food and why it is practically impossible to see here women dress chicly.

Ever since we came to live in England, my wife and I have been trying to figure out why do most people here eat bland, tasteless, unattractive food. I know this is a dangerous statement. Each time I said it, I was told how wrong I am. But when I requested proof it most always was either very expensive or in London. London is NOT England. It is a country of its own. When we came to Wendover we could not find locally any good bread and don’t get me started on the sausages. There is an abundance of good produce to use. But for some inexplicable reason it is processed in a very bizarre way.

I always thought it is a legacy from the rationing after WWII. Today the penny dropped. Yes the Brits embrace entrepreneurs and eccentrics, but a drive for excellence does not seem to be a national trait. Yes, there are always the exceptions. I had a wonderful fish and chips in Wales (and in Aylesbury, the one in the centre of town), the new manager of our local Budges has introduced much improved lines of bread and cheese and the chocolateir (Rumsey’s) is a heavenly singularity point. But these are exceptions. If you want to experience really good and cheep food you must go to any patisserie in France (I found some good Cartoons), any sandwich shop in Austria or any food stall & store in India, Turky or Greece.

I grew up in an environment where academic merit was a value. No matter how challenged one was at school, one aimed to go to university. There are always the non scientific subjects that do not require being at top school. I was never told by my parents they expected me to obtain a degree but even our cleaner was studying towards a “General BA”. When I thought in the open university I came across all echelons of society. I had in the same class soldiers who wanted to improve their chances to be accepted to very sought out universities sitting with working class 40 year old mums who wanted to find fulfilment though their studies and to expand their horizons.

So, I hear you ask, how are the two linked? The answer is that they are both derivatives of that oh-so-annoying phrase “It’s OK love, it doesn’t matter you came last in class. What counts is that you did your best”. It does not matter that the Millennium celebrations encountered many hitches – we did our best. It does not matter we have a relatively low rate of young people aspiring for an academic degree – we are doing our best as a nation. It does not matter the NHS is not providing the service it should, that it is practically impossible to find an NHS dentist and that you go to hospital to catch a deadly disease – everybody is doing their utmost best. It does not matter that the new developments in Wendover and Aylesbury have no visionary design – someone is doing his best to comply with the requirements ….

Imagine you are watching a 400 meter sprint race. After the interview with the glowing winner the attention is turned to the runner who came second. Now close your eyes and judge these alternative response:
“That was a good race, I really enjoyed it, I know I gave it my best”
“I gave it all I hade. I will work hard to improve my best. Next time I will win”
On whom will you put your money for the next race?
The excuse of “I did my best” is a euphemism for “I don’t really need to work hard – I will be forgiven if I just puff my cheeks and make enough noise as if I am trying”, “It is ok to be mediocre as long as you enjoy it”. And from that one learns it is ok to eat mediocre food, wear mediocre clothes and live in a cupboard size room.

I think this attitude started to prevail when the Brits stopped exploring and absorbing other’s cultures. So what we really need is to go out there to Europe and the world and learn from the migrants who come to live here.

Once I checked a heraldry book for my mother’s family name, Schomberg. Though it is highly unlikely that any blue blood runs in my veins, I found a crest that really spoke to me. It had the motto: Persevere!

I just received an email from a friend that just fits in her so well:
What has happened to those imaginative plans, which came from listening to all the various groups from the Canal society to Aylesbury Society to say nothing of the Town council
Who produced the plan which had a wide pedestrian bridge sweeping across Exchange Street? The plan that emerged from all this creative thought was timid and meaningless. it bore no relationship to the interesting linked squares.It has swept away the Old electricity show rooms and the Ship for a boring canyon of shop fronts and the Canal is fronted by mediocre dwellings,and cloned cafes, while the AVDC Office workers are banished from the town Centre, as if, in shame!
This is the second time I have seen old Aylesbury destroyed. There might have been a little excuse in the sixties, this wholesale destruction had not happened before. I well remember my horror when I read the headline in the Bucks Herald which quoted an Aylesbury Borough Councillor saying , in effect, "Aren't we lucky these nice developers are building us a lovely new Shopping Centre "Ugh! The Tory District Councillors should have learnt from this earlier mistake, but they were far too busy condemning the County Tower, and all its inhabitants, to build on the creative ideas which came from the initial consultations
Banning the council offices from the Centre of the town will have a negative effect on the vibrancy of the town. One of the good things about working in the centre of Aylesbury is that the workers can go and shop and find a green patch on which to sit and eat a sandwich, relaxing away from the office.
We have lost what little green space there was. The Rec is but a fraction of the green space before the Reg Maxwell pool and the car park encroached upon it. The council should of concentrated on designing in and demanding pleasant open spaces. Infact they should have looked at the O'Rourke Study.


  1. Absolutely correct.

    Its a plague which afflicts all on the 'left' including many LibDems.

    Its unfair that some children might do better at an exam and have a more academic education, even if its what is best for that individual child.

    We should praise excellence, not be ashamed of it.

    (I do happen to like some british food though, when its done well it can be great, then again, I also enjoy food from around the world and its fantastic that we have the opportunity to eat it)

  2. Tristan,

    I am excited someone (my wife aside) has actually red this long piece.
    I don’t think it is a Left-Right issue. It is more a socio – economic differentiation of attitude to life. Your average Lib-Dem voter is a well educated and earns well. Thus, I beg to differ with your assertion “Its a plague which afflicts all on the 'left' including many LibDems.” The village I live in comprises of mainly rural Tories (last elections I lost 1500:750). As a Lib Dem I believe all should get a chance for social mobility, so they can enjoy a quality of life and help our economy prosper. The vehicle for that is education. But also motivation is needed. I just can’t get it when I see parents who squander one of our most important national asset – our children’s potential. Our economic future lies with the Information Workers – currently we are behind the rest of the developed countries in nurturing this crucial resource just because of attidute.

    With regard,