Monday, March 28, 2005


Sowing the seeds

It was nearing the time in the office when Nick drifted off home and it was a Friday, pub night. Now, Nick liked his friends and his friends liked him, but Nick could not get over the feeling that these weekly pilgrimages to the local were becoming as dull and routine as the rest of his life. The usual topics of conversation, cars, women and work, were becoming strained and repetitive. Change was in the air and Nick was in the mood for doing something different.

Nick had always harboured an interest in political matters, indeed these occupied a substantial part of his thoughts, and he was consistently and constantly appalled by the way contemporary politicians appeared to be no more than power crazed vote hunters.

Politicians had always had a reputation for being 'economical with the truth', thought Nick, but any vestiges of truth had now well and truly dissolved. The phrase 'economical with lies' was more appropriate; Nick observed in one of his more wry moments.

Nick left work, having once more tried to get something from the glorified calculator which resided on his desk, and once more, failed. He shut his computer down, left a message for the boss entitled SNAFU, collected his things and headed home.

On his way home, he stopped at his local supermarket to do his end of the week shop, bought the usual stuff and a copy of 'Time Out'.

He arrived home and having distributed his purchases around the kitchen, flicked on the kettle and went to listen to the messages on the answer-phone. It was his mother.

Nick rarely called her and over the years she had rung him less and less. He had forgotten the last time he had called and when she had last called him. Family life was something which he found tedious and he had little in common with his parents. Their meetings had become less and less frequent as they found very little to talk about. Eventually, both parties had decided to give up on each other and their contact had been reduced to one or two conversations a year, which both found difficult. Despite this, Nick felt sorry for them. They had struggled to send him to university and had sold their house to raise the necessary funding, having fallen foul of laws which said that they earned too much to be able to receive financial assistance. His father had been in the engineering industry, but had got out at the wrong time, having been victim of changing times and bad management. They now lived in rented accommodation and had been left with almost nothing for their old age.

His mother was saying that her washing machine had given up, which Nick interpreted as, please send us a cheque. He mentally noted this and went back to the kitchen where he made himself a cup of tea and began idly leafing through the pages of 'Time Out'. He stopped at the page which gave information on political events.

Amongst the crop of back room meetings for the supporters of the communists, anarchists and fascists there was a small box displaying the words in bold type:



And then the words 'Come down to the Half Moon, High Street, Kensington and vent your feelings. Entry free. Meeting starts at 8:30.'

Fascinated by the thought that other people felt the same as himself, and more to the point that they had actually been motivated enough to get together and talk about it publicly, rather than do the usual English thing of acknowledging the fact that there is a problem and then sweeping it under the carpet, where it thus remained for evermore, Nick resolved to check this little meeting out. Chances were it would be a collection of extremist crackpots or desperate no hopers, but what the hell, he thought, he'd check it out anyway.

He arrived in London at 8:00, the traffic, as usual having been diabolical, found the pub, then spent half an hour trying to find a place to leave his car. Once in the pub, he was directed to the function room on the first floor.

The pub in which the meeting was to be held was nothing special, the usual attempt at an 'olde worlde' feel. It fell into the category of middle class professional pub, for many of the clientele were in their early to mid forties and fifties. Most had the haggard look of men escaping the drudgery of their week at work, and judging by the lack of women and absence of children in the 'Play Area', their wives and children. More evidence of dissatisfaction with life, Nick thought as he made his way to the back of the pub, climbed the stairs and strolled down the corridor which led to the function room.

He noted before entering the room, that there was only the merest drone of conversation emanating from it. Nick was not overly surprised to note that the ad had not attracted the thronging masses. He entered to the room to find three people sitting round a small table at one end. They stopped talking and turned to view their visitor.

Nick was greeted by the comment from one of the group that the great British public was not as apathetic as they had all thought and, that there was hope yet. This comment produced a smile from the others present, including Nick. He liked people with the same cynical sense of humour as his own. Good start, he thought, shame there are only four people present, including myself.

"Hi, I'm Nick," he announced, trying to sound enthusiastic. His ploy worked, the response was friendly.

"Hello there, I'm Rachel, this is Jonathan and Steve."

"Hi." said Nick again, shaking their hands and noting the educated tone in Rachel's voice. He also decided that she was quite attractive. Black hair in a bob, dressed neatly and casually. She was wearing no make up. This was something Nick liked greatly. Whatever was going to happen this evening, the presence of this woman was going to make the proceedings more interesting. Then he told himself to stop ogling the woman and draw himself back to reality.

From the ensuing conversation, Nick learnt that the group had a varied background. Rachel was a lawyer working for a large firm of international lawyers. Jonathan was an information technology lecturer at London University and Steve was a civil servant based in Westminster. They were all about Nick's age, an aspect noted with interest by Nick, who was convinced that it was his generation who were particularly dissatisfied with the direction society was taking.

Right, it looks as though Nick is the only one who could be bothered to turn up tonight.", announced Jonathan. Bringing the pleasant introductions to an end rather impatiently, thought Nick.

"But first, what'd you like to drink Nick?"

"Thought you'd never ask! Pint of Flowers, thanks", answered Nick, revising is initial negative impression of Jonathan. The round arrived and the group got down to 'putting the world to rights' as Steve called it, coining an old phrase.

"Who'd like to kick off?",asked Steve.

"I would, actually", said Nick. "First I'd like to tell you why I'm here, and then I'd like to find out why you're all here, too."

"Good idea, and call me 'Jon', Nick. Everyone else does and I prefer it.", cut in Jon.

"OK, Jon.", continued Nick, "Well I came down here tonight because I'm frustrated with my own life and I view my frustration as being direct result of the frustration felt throughout today's society. What I mean by this, is that I have a constant feeling that I am always running, but never getting anywhere. Like everybody around me. I work, or rather I keep my head down at work. But I don't get anything out of it, well, I get a good salary and all that, but that’s where it ends. I just turn up at work, do my thing, and then disappear off home again. And this happens every day of the year, bar holidays. I'm no more than an automaton. Oh, by they way, I am the IT manager for a large insurance company. And whilst I’m on the subject of large companies, I don't know if any of you have found the same, but for me the management of companies these days seems to have gone to the dogs. My office is one example, and I hear the same from all my friends. Everywhere seems to be run by idiots and their sycophant cronies."

"We've all discussed that particular subject many times before. Your not the only one to have noticed this situation.", interrupted Rachel.

"Yeah, I thought you might have done talked about this before. That would explain, at least in part, why we are all here. Anyway moving on.", continued Nick.

"In my free time, I've been trying to think of some kind of reason for this decline. I've concluded that the blame for this situation lies with the country's management, the British Government. I'll explain why I've reached this conclusion. I don't know whether any of you have noticed, but I've found that in many large companies, you can predict what the senior management is going to be like from dealing with their underlings, ie more junior management. For example, I had a problem with some software the other day, so I rang the supplier to discuss it, the usual guy I speak to was away that day, so I spoke to another in his section. This guy was a pillock to put it mildly, he treated me like an idiot and tried to lay the blame for my problems on my lack of experience with the software. At this point in the proceedings I realised that I was not going to get anywhere. So I accidentally, on purpose, dropped a file on the telephone, cutting Mr Stupid off in mid-flow. Thankfully he never phoned back. A few days after this little episode, I spoke to the usual guy again. He was his helpful self and we sorted the thing out, which was as usual, a programming problem, in other words, not my fault. I mentioned how his colleague had been less than co-operative. And when I mentioned his name, he just laughed and confided in me that I had actually been speaking to his boss. I should add that this time I was chatting to him on his mobile, so we could both speak freely. He explained that his boss was pretty incompetent and so were most of the more senior management. They were always making unusual decisions and then changing their minds a few days later. He compared the management to the 'old boy network', ie incompetents led by idiots. He added that he wanted to change jobs, because he could not move up in his current organisation because 'arse kissing' wasn't his style, and moving out was difficult because all the other companies seemed beset by the same problem." Nick stopped for a moment, downed a few mouthfuls of beer and continued. The others had not stopped or even tried to interrupt him, they just sat, drank, grimaced and smiled knowingly.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg, though, as I said, I hear the same from most of my friends and business contacts. You know, morale is at an all time low in this country, and it's not helped by the fact that changing jobs is no longer a remedy to the problem. Not to mention the fact that, these days, whether you stay or move, you never seem to be sure that you will have any job next year. This feeling is accentuated the older you get." He took another mouthful of beer, swallowed it and continued his tale.

"Now, let's compare the situation which exists in the business world with that which exists in government. Everyday, I read more stories of politicians, usually right-wing, taking bribes. That's right, bribes. What we have here is good old fashioned corruption. The Italians' would probably be amazed to hear that they do not have the monopoly on this dark side of political life, they would possibly be even more surprised to hear that traditional, stable, honest old Britain is running them a pretty close second in the national corruption stakes, if indeed it hasn't by now, overtaken them. That's my first problem with the state of government: rife corruption. The other thing which annoys me again and again is the blatant lies which they all tell to get themselves into parliament. I know that they regard the whole thing as a bit of a game, by I for one am sick of being a pawn and a loser in this so -called game. No matter who promises what, you can bet good money that these promises will never be fulfilled. What's this got to do with bad management - beware I'm really wound up now! I could go on about this for ages. Anyway, to continue with my diatribe. It's bloody simple in my opinion. Lack of knowledge and experience. By this, I'm not referring to their lack of ability to get themselves into a seat in parliament, but the lack of knowledge to know how to do what they are supposed to be doing, which is, supposedly, running a country. And this situation is also mirrored in the business environment.

I'll illustrate my point with a little anecdote from my childhood. I was watching the television when an item came on about politics. In particular about the promotion of someone or other to the position of transport minister. The news reader went on to explain than this someone or other had a degree in Chemistry. Suddenly, my immature and simplistic logic provoked me into asking my mother why someone with a degree in chemistry was in charge of the transport system. My mum was stumped, she had no explanation and what was worse, she didn't seem to care. It was as if this situation was completely normal. Since that moment, I've observed more and more examples of the same ridiculous situation. In my opinion not one of today’s so called politicians is actually qualified to run a country. It really is incredible, but it gives you some explanation as to why the country is always in a worse and worse mess. And the diabolical management which exists in government, appears to have permeated all levels of society.”, said Nick almost talking himself out of breath.

The next thing I'd like to moan about, is the lack of any clear division which exists in the political system. You, know, they all adopt this right wing left wing stance, but I don't know about you, but I don't think there any real difference between all of them, apart from the theory that one party seemingly cares about one section of the population and the other cares, I use the word 'cares' in its loosest possible sense, about another section of society. But whoever you look at, they all seem to be after one thing and one thing alone, power. Part of my evidence for this is the blasé way in which they all vote themselves pay rises, at the same time telling us all to tighten our belts. Bloody bunch of hypocrites. If any of them actually genuinely cared for anybody or anything they would stand up and say something, but does anyone? Never. They all think ‘we've got the power, so we'll do what we like.’ The trouble is that these 'little' power games are destroying the country. While the right honourable members fool about in the large kindergarten known as Westminster, the whole country is crumbling socially.

Take the situations regarding crime and terrorism, education, health and economics. Pretty fundamental elements of society, I'm sure you'll all agree, and each one of them is in a huge mess. If we can't manage the present, what hope have we for the future? It's a sad situation. And that's why I'm here, I'm an idealist, yes, but I'm also a realist and I know when change is necessary. Right, OK, I'll get off my soap box and let someone else have a go.", finished Nick, settling back into his chair and taking another sip from his pint.

"Nick. You should have been a politician", quipped Steve.

"Yeah, your quite a talker, aren't you?", added John.

"Maybe you are right. I never thought about it before. This is the first time that I've had a real opportunity to get my thoughts of my chest. I hope I didn't bore the socks off you all", said Nick.

"Quite the contrary," Rachel commented. Nick noticed that she appeared to be regarding him with new eyes. His thoughts momentarily left his criticism of the county's political system. Hell, he thought, I think she likes me. Then he wondered whether he had sub-consciously geared his performance to impress her. He was still trying to decide when Rachel continued.

"I wish everybody I met could express themselves so passionately, but so many people either seem unable to, or they just plain don't want to. How'd you fancy being president of the new republic?".

They all laughed at her absurd comment and Nick began to think that he may have found some new friends and allies. He also thought about Rachel again, but again his internal pontifications were halted, this time by Jon.

"Yes, I think you neatly summed up just about all Britain's problems. I for one, agree totally and can't really add much more. However, there's one thing you've not touched upon", continued Jon.

"That is the undue influence wielded over society by big business. Oh, I know that I could be accused of being paranoid and you might be right. To the people at the top, all those beneath are no more than another asset, like a computer or a telephone. In the same way, once we've reached the end of our operational lives, we are replaced, a figure is crossed out and we become history. The politicians think in the same way, as Nick mentioned, if your vote is not considered worth getting, then you are not worth considering.

A current fad in government is green policies. No-one in parliament gave a fig about the environment, until, that is, 'those who rule', realised in their reactionary wisdom that this subject was a potential vote getter. What I mean by reactionary wisdom is the way in which all these, I have to admit, outwardly sensible policies were introduced way too late. One of mans frailties is his inability to realise or predict the outcome of his actions. Sorry about the use of the un-politically correct 'his'. The situation is worsening all the time, the more scientific and technological advances we make, the more difficult it becomes to assess the results of whatever on, not only the environment, but also society. This is a distinct and very ‘difficult to solve’ problem. However, I believe that proper politicians should address this issue more seriously. It's no good developing an advanced society and then having it destroyed by the very advances which placed it in the position in the first place. A case in point is that of nuclear power and weapons. These things are possibly the most insane devices built by man, however, too many people consider the weapons essential to the maintenance of the balance of peace. But this convenient theory falls apart, when you consider that all it takes is for one madman to set one of these things off and the whole world goes down the pan. The problem, as I see it, is that because the effects of these things are so difficult to comprehend, some believe that they are a fallacy. I know I'm side-tracking from the main purpose of our little gathering, but it's something we need to consider. It'd be no good re-building Britain, only to find that someone takes offence to our actions and decides to employ force to stop us. "

"You're quite right", agreed Nick. "But I'd like to see Britain as a world model. Setting an example, which everyone will follow."

"Just like the old British empire.", chuckled Steve.

"Well sort of.", continued Nick. "Only, this time I'd like the conquest to be a peaceful one. I hate the idea of imposing my views on anyone. What I want to do is say 'this is a good idea, let's try it', and if it does indeed work, then we can encourage others to follow the same path. I'm pretty sure that the disease being experienced by British society is felt throughout Europe, if not the world, not just here."

From the subsequent discussions, generated by Nick's speech and the others comments, Nick realised that the group of three, had often thought about, like him, and unlike him, had discussed the plight of modern British and world society.

They had observed the same stagnation as Nick, had similar bosses to him and had also noted the low level of morale which pervaded all levels of British society's structure.

Nick learnt that they had decided to hold the meeting to try to discover if they were alone in their feelings. And although they were happy to discover that they were not totally alone, they were somewhat disappointed to note that Nick was the only other person in the whole of London and the South East who had bothered to turn up. Nick sympathised with this disappointment, for he too was a little surprised. But they all knew the reason, the comment at the commencement of proceedings had summed the position up. Apathy.

Obviously, at this juncture in time the group did not consider themselves to be radicals or revolutionaries. They did not even have a name. As for labelling the politics of their discussions, this could not have been a more difficult task, for it covered communism, socialism, fascism, capitalism and in fact, all the different types of political ideologies which existed in the world at that time, in so much as you can cover such a diverse range of topics in one evening in a pub. What was noticeable was that there was a small, almost imperceptible, spark of energy generated by the conversation. It was light hearted and yet, serious, at the same time. The fire of enthusiasm had been stoked, all it needed was a little more fuel to start it burning really fiercely. Nick was pleased that they all thought and felt the same way as him. All had had similar experiences at work and in life and agreed that the monotony of life was starting to depress them. One thing though set them apart from the rest of the British population: they had turned their depression into a form of motivation.

And so it was that there on a Friday evening in that most traditional of English settings, the pub, that the foundations for one of the greatest changes Britain would ever experience began to be laid.

It was to take several more gatherings before a word such as 'revolution' would start to be openly used, and each of them was aware that a word of such emotive power needed to be used judiciously, in order to avoid the attentions of the nation's authorities. There was also the feeling that revolutions were somewhat out-of-date concepts that were usually associated with the past and that the world had not experienced a real revolution since the communists had seized power in Russia. Thus the term, when it came to be introduced, was used with a degree of reservation at first, and generated a sort of curious amusement, for the idea of a revolution taking place in modern Britain was, indeed, a very strange thought.

At this initial gathering, though, neither the word or the idea of a revolution even entered the minds of those present. Although, had Marx or Trotsky been listening in, they may well have considered the little group's discussions to be very similar to their own thoughts and debates before Russia was set on a path which was to change the country forever.

In fact it was the Pub's landlord who innocently commented, "You lot still here? You've been at it for hours. What are you up to? Planning a revolution or something?", which opened the new friends eyes as to the possible direction in which their discussions could lead. However, they were only four insignificant people in a big wide world. Revolutions need planning and supporters before they can commence. The seed may have been sown, but it was going to need plenty of care and attention before it could even break through the hard ground, let alone form itself into a fruit bearing tree. Their work had only just begun.

When the group was finally kicked out of the pub at midnight, they realised that the 'one or two pints' had grown to two, then to four and that they were in no state to drive. They hired a taxi and decided to go back to Steve's house, it being the nearest.

Steve's place turned out to be a small mews property. Nick joked how overpaid civil servants were. Steve admitted that although the house gave others the impression that he was not without a penny or two, he had inherited it from his grandmother, who had sadly committed suicide to avoid having to go into an old peoples home and in doing so, Steve continued, had avoided losing her property to the government, as a result of a particularly unpleasant piece of legislation, which required that those with assets over a certain value pay for their life in a home. The funding for this would have come from the proceeds of sale of the house. He added that his grandmother had always liked him and had delighted in telling him that the house, which she knew he loved so much, would one day be his. She had read about this legislation in a newspaper and the next day had taken her life.

Steve told his story in a matter of fact kind of way, but Nick could tell from the cold look in his eyes that he laid the blame for his grandmother's death squarely with the right honourable gentlemen and women who purported to run the country. Nick felt a twinge of regret for his initial hasty remark and momentarily turned away from his new friend. Steve read Nick's embarrassment and apologised for being so blunt, adding that this had been one of the many factors which had led him to try to find a way to change the established and devious order which ruled the land. After this slight dampening of the evenings proceedings, the atmosphere lightened and the companionable spirit which had, until Steve's account, dominated the evening, returned.

Inside the house was modestly decorated and furnished, reflecting that the owner was indeed no more than a poorly paid civil servant.

The group sat down and over several cups of coffee and malt whisky, Nick learnt how the three had got to know each other. It transpired that Jon, and Steve were old school friends. Steve had met Rachel through his work, they had been seeing each other for a short time but, as Nick later discovered from Jon, had decided that ultimately they were to be no more than good friends and so had ended the relationship in favour of maintaining their friendship. Steve’s gentle flirting with Rachel throughout the evening implied to Nick that he had wanted more from the relationship than Rachel. Despite this it was obvious that they got on very well. Nick found himself thinking about the beautiful Rachel, who he had found to be highly stimulating company, quite often that evening. He also sensed that he had been paying a little more attention to her than to the two others present. Nick hoped that the others had not noted this, but suspected that they had. Rachel appeared to have a keen mind and was also highly pragmatic type of person. And bother were characteristics that Nick liked in women. There was also something else, that Nick could not quite put his finger on. He sensed that her friendly demeanour was perhaps, for he was not quite sure, a mask for something that had happened or was happening in her life. Her eyes gave this away, for although they were dark and beautiful, they seemed to be tinged with a certain sadness. He found himself wanting to know what was affecting her in such a way, indeed he wanted to know as much as possible about her, as he had not met a woman this interesting and intriguing in a long time. Rachel never retained eye contact with him for long, possibly because she did not want the others to notice, but her eye contact was long enough for Nick to realise that their interest was mutual. Nick again wondered whether Jon and Steve had noticed anything. In fact they had noted this electricity from the beginning, but had showed nothing, although Steve, would have admitted to being slightly envious of Nick for the effect he was having on his former partner.

After some more idle chat, they all finally retired to bed at about four in the morning.

Each of the group slept soundly, filled with enthusiastic thoughts and above all, some hope for the future.

When he awoke the next morning, Nick made his normal trip to the bathroom. On his way he back, he accidentally walked through an opening, which he had not been aware of the previous evening. He had entered what was obviously a library. The shelves were filled with a large selection of books. Seeing as Nick liked books he decided to browse for a while. He noticed that Steve, or maybe his late grandmother, for some of the books were quite old, had a large selection of political texts, there was Marx, Trotsky and even Hitler. In fact the complete political spectrum was covered. The other books crammed onto the bookshelves were on a wide variety of other topics, ranging from fiction to a substantial number of books on more practical subjects such as motorcycle and car maintenance. Steve was obviously interested in similar things to himself, Nick noted. This pleased him because it confirmed his earlier judgement that they had much in common, including he mused, an interest in Rachel. Then he thought, ‘What am I doing - judging people, shit I’ve been working with idiots for too long, the rot’s set in’. Mulling this thought over in his mind, Nick returned to the sofa where he had spent the night and had just started looking through a few magazines when Rachel appeared.

'Morning, Nick, How'd you sleep? Hope you weren't too uncomfortable.'

'No worries, thanks, I slept fine, I'm an old hand at crashing on other peoples sofas!', replied Nick, pleased to note that the friendliness of the night before had not been solely the result of the drink they had all consumed.

'Anyway, you sleep OK?', Nick enquired.

'Fine thanks, although my head feels a little thick. How many whiskies did we put away last night?'

'Plenty. Good night though, wasn't it?'

'Yeah, great', she replied enthusiastically, Nick was happy to notice.

'Are the others awake yet?'

'Just coming round I think. We're going to do our usual thing of grabbing a cappuccino and a brioche from the local bar. Would you like to come?'

'Sounds good to me. I'm not doing anything else today.'

Soon after the foursome were sitting in the said bar consuming cappuccinos and brioches. The conversation once again flowed. Although, this time it was the casual conversation of new found friends and not dissatisfied citizens.

The group split up at lunch time, but not before having agreed to meet in the same pub as the previous evening, at the same time the next week.

For the first time in ages, Nick noticed he was feeling genuinely happy, he pushed an Aerosmith cassette into his car stereo and drove briskly home, keeping an eye out for the speed cameras which seemed to be breeding throughout London.


Anonymous Jan said...

I feel the same about politics ... hmm .. the right wing/left wing issue ..

In regards to the chapter, Nick's words to me seems very expositional. It doesn't seem as "conversational" as it would be if, say, I am ranting to my friends about politics. For example: "I'll illustrate my point with a little anecdote from my childhood." It seems more literary (something you'd find on paper) than verbal (something you'd hear in conversations) ...

However, maybe it's just a Canadian thing. Maybe the British talk more formally and politely?

Otherwise, this chapter does make me want to read the next one too.

And ps: "you are" and "your" difference. i.e.: 'Your not the only one to have noticed this situation'.

3:03 PM  

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