Classless, Stateless and a question of Identity

20 04 2014

Reading the newspapers today it would seem that 28% of those of us born in England will vote yes in the forthcoming independence referendum. As an Englishwoman in a foreign land I think that the yes vote reflects a desire for a different future and because we want to further distance ourselves from a failing Westminster system.

For me it’s not about nationalism as I am, essentially, stateless. I’m from Liverpool and have never identified myself as English. The industrial north west, I was actually born in Widnes of chemical fame, was still, if not quite dark satanic mills, very industrial when I was growing up. My background is socialist and working class and so I never identified with either the green and pleasant lands of the picture postcard England of the shires or the pinstripe suit and fast buck city state that was and is London. I have lived in Scotland for getting on half my life, certainly the majority of my adult life, but I am not Scottish. Certainly I could play for Scotland by virtue of residency, but then, looking at the Scottish rugby team of the past decades, so could most of the southern hemisphere. My son was born, brought up and now studies in Scotland and is determinedly Scottish. There was something unnerving about standing next to him before a rugby international while he sang Flower Of Scotland at the top of his voice. While we both have dual nationality in theory, in practice there is no doubt where his loyalties lie. But for me it isn’t that simple, nor would I want it to be.

And I’m classless. When I was a student I spent two weeks with a group of other researchers counting and measuring limpets on a freezing cold shoreline in Aberystwyth. Each evening we would sit in the pub and chat amongst ourselves and with the leaders of the research teams. I remember one evening in particular as one such leader, a Dr Len Hill, made a really compelling argument suggesting that by the time we were his age, sometime during the 1990’s, there would be no such thing as class. He argued that, with the advance of science and technology we scientists would become classless technocrats. The wealth and security that the advancements would usher in would raise the working class from poverty and, with wealth creation taken out of their hands, bring down the ruling classes. Would that he had been proved right. While society has not become classless in the way he imagined, I do, nonetheless, feel classless. My grandparents; foundry workers, factory workers and railworkers living in two up two down back to back council houses with back yards not back gardens qualify by any definition as working class. Access to free and excellent state education allowed my parents to get qualifications, decent jobs, become home owners and so by the time I was born they were well on the road to being middle class. During my own working life I have had assets measured in the millions but wealth in Britain, unlike America, has never been a key to the upper class. While I feel working class, as I still espouse the socialist principles of my working class ancestry, I cannot claim to be working class.

I do, however, identify myself as a Liverpool supporter, probably the only thing that I haven’t wavered from since being about 8 years old. I remember 15th April 1989 very clearly. I was standing doing a pile of ironing and watching the BBC Saturday afternoon sports programme. In those days you would get score updates sprinkled amongst horse racing, rugby league and athletics and I was keen to hear the score from the FA Cup semi-final as soon as I could. I watched in disbelief as the events of that dreadful day unfolded. 25 years later I watched the remembrance service for the 96 men, women and children who died at Hillsborough. The families and friends of those people have, throughout those 25 years, been defined by that event. While I have moved to Scotland, had a son, been through several relationships, built businesses and changed in all sorts of ways all of those people have been unable to live their lives with the freedom I’ve lived mine. They have been insulted, abused and lied to but there perseverance in pursuit of justice for those that died may soon be rewarded and some semblance of peace may return to their own lives. When I started supporting Liverpool there wasn’t a lot of money around. I’d seen photographs of people on The Kop with scarves that had the word Liverpool written on them. There was no way I could buy one, and my mum would not have thought a Liverpool scarf a suitable Christmas present for an 8 year old girl, so I sewed the word Liverpool, in my very best chain stitch, onto my red and white stripe knitted scarf. That scarf has been with me ever since. I waved it on The Kop when Liverpool played on one of the amazing European nights at Anfield. It has been to Old Trafford when Bobby Charlton and George Best were in the United team and Emlyn Hughes was my hero, it’s even been to Hillsborough as I was a student in Sheffield in the early 80’s. It was with me at a friends house when we saw Liverpool comeback from 3-0 down to win the European Cup. When I’m not watching matches it sits around the neck of my teddy bear. Well, it did. It is now part of the scarf collection made at Anfield in support of the Hillsborough families. It is the least I could do.

The other side of being defined by an event, to have shared identity for that long, is with all those who know what really happened on that April afternoon, who have always known but who have been content to say nothing or to lie outright about events and their part in them. As part of the remembrance day the Liverpool FC website showed a montage of all those who died. Very simple. A photograph with name and age. These photographs show men, women and mainly youngsters and children. Those who have lied should be made to watch that again and again until the reality of the wasted and ruined lives, and the injustice that they have allowed to persist, finally sinks in.

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Confidence is in the eye of the beholder

7 04 2014

My Dad has lots of sayings, picked up from books, plays and TV down the years that have passed into family lore. One of these, recited in an iffy west country accent, is “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?” As with most of my Dads sayings, I didn’t know where this came from but I was listening to a radio play, The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley, who found further fame as Corporal Godfrey in the TV series Dads Army, when I heard the station master say “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?”.

I was delighted to hear this refrain from my childhood. It brought a huge smile to my face. The real significance was the timing. I’d been sitting with a blank piece of paper considering the theme of this months issue of the3rdi magazine, ‘confidence‘, and writing, or failing to write this editorial and then this phrase “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?”

Confidence then. Where does it come from?
We all have it at birth, I think. When my son was about 3 years old we were on a family holiday in Portugal. We were having a meal in a beautiful courtyard and, as with most children, he got fidgety when he’d finished his meal and wanted to head off to play. We were still finishing our coffee so he had to stay close. What he did was to stand in pathway and smile at people. He didn’t stand in their way, he wasn’t pushy, he just smiled. If they didn’t smile back he smiled more. Everyone smiled. Imagine having the confidence to do that now. Street entertainers do this everyday but most of us feel nervous meeting new people and don’t feel we have the confidence to make an impression.

So we all start out with confidence, where does it go?
There are many possibilities. The media driven imperative for women to attain the perfect figure is one. The celebrity culture that has led young girls to aspire to be a WAG or a reality TV star, and berate themselves if this does not happen for them, is another. If we don’t have the perfect house or the perfect partner there are many TV shows who will show us how to get one, the implication being that we are somehow failing if we don’t reach this idea of perfection. The point is that the list is endless and infinitely variable.

And things that have happened in my life to shake my confidence may have left another unaffected. Business setbacks that might have fatally undermined the ability to prosper for someone else have not dampened my desire to succeed. Some people are very comfortable being overweight, with a body shape we are encouraged by the media to think of as unattractive, while others will go to extraordinary lengths and are desperate to have a catwalk model figure. We are not all the same and the reasons for our confidence to grow or wane varies. What I’m sure of is that, for most of us, confidence is built on shaky foundations.

So how can we build firmer foundations.
As ever, I’ll explain by way of a story. There are several times in my life that I have felt utterly indestructible, times when nothing was a problem, when nothing could shake my confidence. I can remember each time very clearly and the funny thing is that none of these times is closely linked to a moment of particular success. They seem to have arisen independently of the circumstances in my life at that time.

For example one time, very early in my career I was a salesman and I remember driving north up the M1 listening to Black Man Ray by China Crisis as I drove. I felt indestructible. The feeling didn’t follow a particularly successful call, I hadn’t just earned a huge bonus and I wasn’t driving a brand new car – all causes for euphoria if your in sales! The feeling just was. If the feeling can arise without obvious cause then we are free to create it within ourselves.

How do we create confidence in ourselves?
We don’t. Confidence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. That’s the strange thing about confidence is that we all assume that other people have it! The amazing thing you act like a confident person then people will think that you are a confident person. And if people think you are a confident person then you become a confident person.

Let me explain, when we walk into a crowded room at a networking event everyone who is already there looks relaxed and confident. Think about this. Two minutes ago they were exactly the same as you are now; feeling a little nervous about entering a room full of strangers. It is not confidence that separates you, just two minutes. Once you are in the room and settled you will be the confident one, so take that ‘two minutes later‘ feeling with you into the room.

So, we all start out with confidence and the reasons for it waning are not the same for everyone. Confidence is an illusion. We can create it in the perception of others. We create it ourselves. My tip for holding on to it is to think of a time when you were indestructible and take that feeling of how it feels with you wherever you go.