Sunday, 13 May 2007

Madeleine: the outrage

You all will have heard about the story of the disappearance of a girl named Madeleine in the news recently. I thought I might share my thoughts on the matter by way of the story below.

Once upon a time, there was a girl called Madeleine. Unlike the little girl from England on the news, this Madeleine was born in Sudan. She grew up in a little village called Kintooto, with her mother, father, and two younger sisters. Her first years were very happy: she had lots of friends, and her parents were very kind to her.

But now things aren't going so well. She's still a child - only 10 years old - but she no longer lives in Kintooto. Two years ago, soldiers in plain uniforms came into the village and captured all the men and boys. That included here father, Paul. Paul was never seen alive again, but Madeleine's next-door neighbour, Mary, literally stumbled upon what looked like his head whilst fetching water down the road a few days later. They think the soldiers were purging all local villages for men and boys, on orders of a tyrannical dictator.

As for her mother, she's dead too: she was raped by those same soldiers, and contracted HIV as a result. Because of the lack of medicine in Kintooto, she died 18 months later of Pneumonia.

So how's Madeleine and her sisters? They're ok - just. Madeleine's had to give up school (though she was doing really well at it) to look after her two younger sisters, Catherine and Lucy. Particularly since Lucy (who's only 5 years old) has trouble with her breathing.

And Madeleine herself? Well, she's given up school, and has to get up at 5 each morning to fetch water from the local well. Of course, we say local, but mean 5 miles walk away. Why so early, you ask? Spose that's to avoid the local militas who wouldn't think twice about raping little Madeleine too. Age is of little concern: you've got the right holes, you'll do - male or female, young or old.

And Madeleine's friends? Hmm, not so good - many of them were taken by the soldiers, too.

By the way, they had to move. Kintooto was overrun by gangs of warlords, so now Madeleine lives in a refugee camp, ridden with disease, starvation, and suffering.

She's got a hard life, has Madeleine.

You may all think, why has he made up a story about some little black girl from an imaginery village in a fictional situation? I'll tell you why. Because that girl's life-story isn't untypical of millions of others. Did you all get that? Millions. And it's not a past occurence, either - stories such as Madeleine's continue, day by day, hour by hour, minute by terrible minute.

And what has this depressing story got to do with white Madeleine? Well, nothing, yet everything. Nothing, in that the two girls have nothing in common. Everything, in that they are both suffering - yet why is it that one obsesses an entire nation, continent even, and the other doesn't even get one measly mention?

Of course I sympathise with Madeleine's parents. I'm not a parent myself, so I can't even begin to imagine what they must be going through. But just before we commit every second of our time to thinking about one girl, why not spare a few more to the thousands of others who, by some stroke of horrific luck, are neglected - not just by their native people, but by the rest of the world.

Let us not turn our backs on anyone. But that also means, let us put an end to the wild injustices that plague our otherwise idealistic planet.


Wednesday, 25 April 2007

A surprise shock day

Bonsoir everyone! I thought I'd share with you long-starved readers my afternoon's visit to Parliament.

We begin by meeting John Baron, MP for Billericay, in Portcullis House - nothing unusual there, since everything was pre-arranged. Adam and Ayesha half-moaning at me, as we've no profound questions to ask the bloody man. To worsen this bleak outlook, Ayesha informs me that she's done the tour, she's met countless MPs, she's grilled the bastards a hundred times. Great: this visit's gonna be a right hair-raiser.

First glimpse of interest: we see Tom Bradby leaving, ITV's political editor. Adam gets interested. Second glimmer of hope (after waiting for Baron to meet us at reception): Simon Hughes, mediocre-Lib-Dem-homosexual-extraordinaire MP, strolls past (as you do). At this point a brainwave strikes Ayesha: why don't we go MP-spotting?

We have a power-yomp / boot march around the Commons by Baron (the man's a giant). Glimpse Ming having a cup of cha; look utterly lost in an RNIB conference in tandem with the sodding Post Office of all bodies. Have a superb cup of coffee - but without Baron. Hmm - quite the visit this is turning out to be. The highpoint of this being, in true bumbling Walters style, David Bunklett manages to walk into me - literally. Things, as usual, seem to be taking their normal course of events: Walters makes a gaffe, everyone has a laugh - but at least it's enjoyable.

Go for another cup of coffee, only this time on the Members' terrace overlooking the Thames. This is more like it. Events then take a slight turn for the worst, however:

Baron: "So, what questions do you have for me?"
Us: "Errrrrr....." (awkward smiles)
Baron : "Ah, right, ok then - why don't I start by telling you a bit about what I do?"

Fabulous. A rendition of his glorious exploits as a politician.

Despite this initial gloomy outlook however, the table talk goes quite smoothly: being taken aback when I challenge him on his grasp of French politics, and impressed by Adam's seemingly-encyclopaedic knowledge of recent political events, Baron turns out to be an interesting Tory - and I bet you didn't think such people existed. Baron then proposes to drop us off by the Strangers' Gallery to watch a debate: I wonder what's on?

Six MPs in the entire chamber. Motion: the Norfolk Broads. Sorry? The Norfolk Bloody Broads. Need I say more?

After a comical quarter of an hour listening to a fusty Tory banging on about the cultural invaluable importance of the area, (bollocks - where are they, anyway??) we decide enough is enough. Evacuate pronto.

Strolling along Millbank, who do we then spot on our pavement having a chin wag? Charles Clarke. Former Home Secretary Charle Clarke- how spontaneous, yet how fun! I even manage to get a scowl off him as he walks past. YESSS!!

Highlight of the day / month / year: ministerial motorcade approaches - blacked out Jag tailed by a monster Range Rover. Walters to Ayesha and Adam: "Oooh! this could be someone sort of important! Let's have a look..."

All three of us recoil a yard back from the pavement's edge, shreeking as we go.... we clearly see the whispy profile of none other than the Iron Lady, Lady Thatcher herself!!!

In hindsight, we know such an event isn't really that amazing - but it was the spontaneity, shock and delighted surprise which amazed us for the one moment - and I hope you can imagine just what a few, over-excited teenagers aspiring to great heights, thought when they saw such a national insitution as 'Mother' herself! I'm no Thatcherite, but my gosh did the moment take us over.


Sunday, 18 March 2007


Paranoia. Anxiety. Worry. God, aren't they all just downright awful? I was having a good week: saw two performances of our school's "Les Miserables" production (scuse the omission of the accent); got coursework back on schedule, and so forth.

And now, I seem to be in a bout of miserableness: or is that the right word? Qui sait. All I know is that I seem to be worrying about things - but the worst thing is, for someone who lectures younger school boys in his thrice-weekly debating tutorials about rational, logical arguments, all my anxieties are completely irrational!!

Lord help women : if they get this feeling every sodding month, I admire them....hugely.

I thought that as someone who usually bottles up his feelings (which in turn have had disastrous cosequences in the past) I would attempt to articulate my worry through this blog.

Many of my friends have recently proved that geeky but loveable Dr Overill right in engaging in a full-blown blogging war: I thought that this would be less controversial, but interesting nonetheless. It's not that I want some quasi-agony aunt rabbiting on at me (though some advice and counsel would be nice); simply, what do you all think -

Should we go on about our worries, fears and anxieties?
Am I alone in feeling petrified at the thought of society's shunning me if I don't live up to everybody's expectations?

Maybe put simply, I should just yell......AU SECOURS!!!

Many of you won't understand that expression: but then, isn't that the core of the problem? Nobody really understands anyone like they themselves do. So then doesn't that beg the question,

what's the effing point?


Thursday, 22 February 2007

Meritocracy, mediocrity, and 'mediocracy'

Today we had a most interesting debate, "This House would abolish Oxbridge". How thunderous it was too! Despite debating often getting 'stick' from its numerous detractors, today's debate demonstrated how thinking on one's feet really can provide an entertaining, intellectually stimulating forty five minutes.

The title of this post, as you will see, talks of three terms: the first and second being the two key terms of the Opposition's arguments. Namely, Oxbridge does not promote un unjust elitism (perhaps like public schools do), but that they epitomise our society as a meritocracy - ie that you 'go places' on merit, not on class or background. The Opp then argued that the Prop (who, I have to say nevertheless gave us a jolly good run for our money through two astoundingly good speeches and numerous POIs) advocated mediocrity, ie that we should be all be 'average': and to all readers who survey this post, I am sure you will share my terror at such a prospect.

The third term was the genius invention of my partner, a most esteemed public speaker and future judicial high-flyer....I won't even bother to say his name - who else fits such a bill?! My understanding of it, is a state, be it physical or psychological, where all one strives for is the mediochre, the average. It is, if you will, the embodiment of mediocrity. That he even contrived and spoke of such a term effectively blew every proposition argument out of the water is brilliant in itself, but it got me thinking: what do I really mean when I talked of escaping 'middle class mediocrity'?

When originally writing that post, I imagined a prominent career on the 'global stage', looking back down on my humble roots. I would then return years later to allieviate the mediocrity of so many others......

But the question is: is that really escaping from it, or just a boyhood dreamy ambition? In fact, I've come to believe that I was completely wrong.

To me, 'Middle class mediocrity' is neither the routine Jo(e) Bloggs endures, nor his middle-of-the-road aspirations, nor his stereotypical three bedroom semi. It is his mindset. In other words, he doesn't think how to escape from his situation, how to further himself as a person, or how to become 'virtuous' if we dare step into the realms of Ethics. The question that now begs is a simple one: do we?

I like to think that we are somewhat unusual; that is to say that we are thinkers. We ponder, consider and reflect on anything and everything, some of us 24/7 (I, admittedly, not being one of those). I do not think of us as some sort of intellectual elite, but rather suggest that we have, in some small way, already escaped from that dreaded mediocrity, or God forbid, mediocracy.

What do you all think? - am I being snobbish? Complacent? Arrogant?......or do I just state the blindingly obvious? Please be frank and honest: as that same esteemed thinker said in his post a few weeks ago, all I ask you to is one thing: think.



Saturday, 17 February 2007

Me and Four boys, or Five Individuals?

My God. I go away for seven days on holiday, and I come back to umpteen posts to read. Mind you, I shouln't really complain: they are all jolly good.

Anyway, I went on my last ever school ski trip (I'm one of those very sad people to have gone on nearly every one since Year 7) to Austria this week. What made this trip unique however, was the fact that I was the only Upper Sixth Former on the trip.

So what the hell am I getting to? Give me a minute.

I am well known, bordering on notorious, for being able to get on with pupils of any age. I am also well known however, for finding it difficult to 'strike a note' with those whom I have little in common. If anything, that is.

So the ultimate challenge arrived last Saturday: share a bedroom with four Lower Sixth boys (yes four, not two or three), for a week.

Aside the fact that they have no apparent interest in discussing current affairs, or any other 'detached' or 'impersonal' subject, I knew this was going to be harder still: in brief, it was going to get personal.

I swore myself at the beginning of the trip that I would strive to take it as a 'learning curve', an experience to 'widen my horizons', to use a daft cliche.

So how did it go? Despite my initial concerns, not badly at all would be the general response. True enough, we didn't share that much in common: while I prefer to discuss my usual waffle, they dwell on....well, ummm, sex. Just sex. Sex, the whole of sex, and nothing but sex. (Sorry about the law connotation, P.A.). I hope at this point you can appreciate I'm stumbling on a bit of a 'challenging' topic for me.

Masturbation. Sex. Fantasies. You name it, we discussed it. GASP......SHOCK HORROR. Yes, I use the correct personal pronoun: we. (Save the 'fantasies' part - I only listened. Honestly.)

So why do I dwell on this? In short, this trip has taught me about something which a 1000 Citizenship or PSHE lessons could never do: tolerance.

Tolerance. Tolerance. Tolerance. Say it out loud to yourself: then consider this: what does it mean to you? Secondly, are you are really a tolerant person? Is such an abstract concept really that important?

You may (like I do) think that scoffing at Chardonnay de Pitsea with her three little horrors and Deric as a boyfriend (who happens to be serving time for G.B.H.) doesn't do much harm. I know that I could have walked out of the Lower Sixth's room in disgust, and asked for a new room. I probably would have got one too. Like you might have gotten a cheap laugh at your snobbish arrogance re Miss Pitsea. (cloaked by the way, in one's seemingly impregable intellect and air of self-superiority).

But I didn't. I stuck at it. And do you know what? I'm bloody pleased I did. That room, for me, came to reflect our world: there are billions of other people, all of whom have different opinions, beliefs and values. I do not write this blog as some sort of self-congratulation, but simply to ask you all to reflect: how do wars break out? How do millions die every year?

I bet if you think about it, you will soon realise. Intolerance is an evil in our world, which sadly in quite impossible to eradicate. But if we all did our bit, if we all said to ourselves - "No, I'm going to accept that others are different, and I respect that", then our lives would be a whole lot better.

And by the way, it is actually quite refreshing to discuss issues of taboo: how else do we break down prejudice and intolerance?


Saturday, 3 February 2007

So who is Tubby Isaacs?

Apologies tout le monde: in my true 'Vaalty-Vaalty-Vaalty' bumbling style (as one friend recently described me, rather aptly many would say), I neglected to explain just why I entitled my first post 'Tubby Isaacs'. The ostensible reason is simply that it was the first thing which came into my head.

Today I went to Clacton with my parents: they love the fresh air, and after a hard week at school, I had few qualms with such a suggestion: except that I hate the place. Similar to the town in which my school is situated (try and guess its name - I go to Southend High School for Boys), it is simply horrific. At this point, you are probably considering posting some damming comment, berating me for my shallow snobbery. To an extent, you would be justified in such an opinion: I hate the place because a) it is so very tacky; b) its image; c) I can barely understand the lingo of the locals...the list is endless.

I now ask myself while typing: why the HELL am I banging on about dated seaside resorts? Have I nothing better to do, like read a book, or study for looming exams in June? Of course I have plenty of more worthwhile things to crack on with. Or do I? To return to the topic of this post, are the dated facades and the accent of local people in Clacton really the source of my hatred of such a place? No.

If you share any small amount of ambition I have in life, when you leave your cosy, 3, 4 or even 5 bedroomed pad in middle-class suburbia, look at other people's faces: don't just glance at them, give them a really hard stare. Look at the 19 year old mum buying nappies at Asda; stare at the 40-something couple who walk down the highstreet; catch the eyeline of an elderly lady as she picks up her pension in the local post office. Now go to Clacton, or any place like it for that matter, and those same facial expressions are intensified.

Tubby Isaacs is, I presume, the owner of a small, modest van selling seafood I saw today in Clacton. He's probably saved up a lot of money, and put an incredible amount of energy into setting up that van. When I saw it, I happened to thinking about the essay I need to do this weekend about Britain's development of democracy.

That with a view to getting a good mark for my History homework.

That with the hope to obtain an 'A' grade in History A-Level.

That with the aim of going to St Catharine's College, Cambridge this autumn.

That with the aspiration of studying for a good degree.

That with the dream of escaping from middle-class mediocrity.

Most of all, that with the I'll-be-dammed-if-I-don't certainty of returning - maybe not soon, but some day - to come back and put a sparkle into Tubby's face once more.

We all get so obssessed with 'excellence', 'attainment' and 'success' these days. I'm one of the worst culprits to pursue all of the above. But just before you return to your daily rat race once more, I ask you to consider this: who did I help today? I fear that the answer is all too predictable for so many of us.

Tubby Isaacs

Bienvenue to all new readers!

I suppose I should begin in traditional style by explaining just why my blog is named after a large, wide-winged bird. L'albatros is my favourite poem, written by Charles Baudelaire, in the nineteenth Century. It may seem corny or somewhat unoriginal to name a blog after someone else's work, but I do so because it is the meaning of the poem which strikes me the most. So what on earth is that? I hear you ask. Apologies dear readers, but I have no intention whatsoever to turn this blog into an online analysis of allegorical poetry; such a deed would be both boring and pointless. Just type the title into any search engine and countless self-styled 'scholars' will witter on for pages what the true meaning apparently is.

But all online analyses aside, the ability of Baudelaire to express the manifold, hideous yet stunning complexity of human emotions, in but a few lines of poetry seemed to not seep, but flow from his mind: I neither pretend nor seek to rival his wisdom. But if I make just one unsuspecting reader reflect on life, even if it is only for a few seconds, then frankly, all this will have been worthwhile.