Monday, 17 September 2012

Great/Broken Britain

Since coming back to England I have been able to see my country with fresh eyes and notice all the things that I may have overlooked or I just took it for granted that’s how things were. I thought that when I came back I would be able to fit back into British life easily as I have lived here nearly all of my life, but it has been taking more getting used to that I expected.

Every day there is news of the economy; people watch it obsessively but, as I never really had any money, I never gave it much attention as it didn’t impact me. But having come back it is painfully obvious that the UK is in economic decline. Streets are shabby, public services are worn out and everything is either dark green, mud brown or grey as if the bright colours were too expensive to use. People go about their lives with a sort of stillness and solemn resolution to their fate. There is no energy or excitement. Recently there has been the Queen’s jubilee and the Olympics which seemed to generate enthusiasm at the time but now they are over its like they were never here and people have returned to their hum drum. Is there nothing in the whole country to be excited about?

Some of the signs on the trains
People appear to be stretched to desperation as there seems to be very little future or prospects, especially for the younger generations. Unemployment rates soar with the crime rates as people struggle to find employment that pays enough to live on. A couple of weeks ago my phone was stolen out of my bag in a club, it can’t have been worth more than £40 but someone was willing to risk a criminal record for that tiny sum of money. It’s gotten so bad that the entire population is scared of itself. I’m having to get used to never being alone after dark, never making eye contact with strangers and always having some emergency money hidden on me in case I’m mugged. There are now fake signs on the tube in London advising travel activities to avoid confrontation. At least the only threat on the tube is being mugged or stabbed; the threat of being blown up in a terrorist attack is subsiding, or people are just desensitised to it now.

Soon I will be returning to university to finish my studies. This means a new form of social interaction. I don’t mean between myself and other students but between myself and the rest of society. People say that there aren’t classes in society any more but they are alive and well no matter what the politicians may say. Students are regarded as lower than low. We are seen as a drain on the already crippled economy and regarded as troublemakers not to be trusted. According to the socio-economic classification used by the government, student is not even recognised as a class so I guess I would be classed at the bottom as “long term unemployed”. The other day I even found myself using the phrase “its ok for student standards” meaning it was broken, old and barely functioning but that it was good enough for a student. Students are that downtrodden that we expect this rubbish ourselves and worse, we are content with it! This is how Britain treats its future best and brightest. A report for Universitas 21 rated the UK 27th for spending on higher education. That says it all really. Maybe it’s some form of population control? If they make Britain so unliveable with so few jobs then immigrants will stop coming in, and the British born will emigrate out!

However there are some things that give me some hope for this country. Little pin pricks in the dark cover of ruin that let in the light if you know where to look.

Not everyone is out to stab you and there is still human decency in people. While at a train station in London something important fell out of my bag, and a nice old man brought it back to me. I was terribly grateful and it put me in a much better mood for the rest of the day. It’s a shame that we have to protect ourselves so much from strangers, but I would like to believe that those that we are protecting ourselves from are in the minority and most people are actually nice.

Not actually our show but similar
Since I have been home I have been to a couple of events that I think are unique to Britain. Or at least we are the last country to still have them. I went to my village Vegetable Show and actually enjoyed it! It was nice to see the community spirit still there enough to bring people together. I’ve also been to a Cheese and Pickle Fair! This again brought together lots of local businesses. It was nice to see that there still are some local businesses and the whole of Britain isn’t run by soul sucking supermarkets. This event restored my faith in Britain a little more than the veggie show or the man at the station as it included some young people. It had occurred to me that the honest man and the people at the veggie show were all older generations. Mostly retired probably and therefore they were tribute to Britain’s past not its future. But at the cheese and pickle fair there were lots of younger people who had set up businesses and more importantly were passionate enough to make them work!

I am actually really looking forwards to going back to university. Yes I know it will mean being treated like the scum of the earth for another year, but I’m at one of the top universities in Britain and the same report for Universitas 21 rated the UK second for university research and teaching so I am privileged enough to be in a really good higher education system. I enjoy my course and having spent a year out from structured teaching I am eager to get back into being intellectually stretched.

So Britain seems to be a country weighed down by its legacy and unable to lift her head up as she is crippled by herself. But I can see there are doctors working with her to try and get her strength back so she can once again stand proud and tall. I think it’s going to take a while and it may not even be in my lifetime but there are people out there desperately trying to rebuild Britain. Our history is scarred with battles, plagues, wars and ruin but we are one of the oldest sovereign states and we are still one of the strongest countries on the planet so we have been and must be a hardy country and get through this.