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UNCOLLECTED GUARDIAN PIECES

JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

 
2. Going Concerned


Writing for that intimate stranger Posterity, I try to avoid the week's momentous issues for I know that by the time they've turned yellow they might has well be in Hindustani. "Mr Smith Snubs Mr Wilson" roars my Sunday Telegraph headline for October 25, 1964; and across the page, "Mr Brown's Economic Medicine Tomorrow." You wonder who they were and how it all turned out.

Even so, two recent events
must touch the fiction writer's interests, if only to rouse his envy at their presentation. The first is the necessary overhaul of the police force following the appointment of a new commissioner. The second is the necessary slaughter of 15 thousand seagulls to make way for home-coming terns in a Scottish sanctuary. Both events were presented to the public with such frankness and dramatic shape that any television script editor would have accepted them for entertainment apart from one fatal flaw... "Sorry old chap, you'll have to change the ending. We simply can't let anyone get away with murder..."

The one vital change needed in the police system is that complaints against the police should be dealt with by an independent body. This is not a part of the overhaul. "Only the police are trained to deal with these complaints," a police spokesman explained on the radio. Then he made the rather charming confession: "Most people are surprised how efficiently their complaints are dealt with." Most people, if they've had
my experiences, would be thunderstruck.

The overhaul, then, is necessary not for the public but for the police. The slaughter of the seagulls (not to
mention the poisoning of the eggs) is necessary not for the terns but for the bird sanctuary keepers who must have at least as many varieties as the next bird sanctuary. From fantasies and fictions the public is well protected, but in the land they inhabit the cry of the Goebbels is heard. The Industrial Relations Act is good news for those minorities who suffer police brutality for soon they will have brothers.

Meanwhile, back in the schoolroo
m, tomorrow's citizens are sidetracked from the big bamboozle by lesser issues. I was approached by a sweetly serious schoolgirl in a Saffron Walden bookshop. This sort of thing happens all the time now since they've had to pay for their own school milk. "Do you think contraceptives should be made freely available to everyone, young and old?"

You know how quiet bookshops are, everybody getting a free read. "Pardon?" I said. I felt really guilty. She'd caught me in the middle of shifting all my books to the front and all Harold Robbins's to the back. "Yes, if they happen to want them," I told her. Some people prefer gardening. "Oh, smashing," she said. "And do you believe in trial
marriage?" I do, of course; all marriage is a trial.

"What about black i
mmigration?" she asked then. I said: "Just a minute, dear - what have you got in mind?"

We educationalists have to draw the line somewhere.

She was conducting another school survey. Oh, she was quite genuine. In Hampstead they often use such a device to break into your flat. Well, I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for these things. How often is anyone listening for your opinion with a quivering biro? In those market research inquiries I'm the one who looks profound and gives intellectual answers like "Definitely!"

"What about co
mprehensive education?" she asked next. What about it? So far all my answers had delighted her and I didn't want to let her down. It takes a personal crisis, losing your milk or spending the night in a police station, to rouse a sleepy social conscience.

According to my sixth-form inquisitor the comprehensive school is a stream system in which the posh and the privileged own the fishing rights. "Super," she said, when I'd given her the answer she wanted. "Now how about legalising pot smoking?"

Eh? You could hear books going down all over the shop. I don't have any opinion about other people's personal pleasures and I hope they've got none about mine. I expect it'll be decided by some great Christian ethic. For instance if you replace tobacco with a herbal cigarette who's going to pay for the defence of the realm? As a habit I should think pot is about as dangerous as touching la
mp-posts or jumping lines on the pavement.


"Whereas if it's not legalised," she pointed out, "it's a danger to everybody."

She wasn't looking at her questionnaire any more. You got the feeling she'd got out of bed that morning needing the world's support. So we legalised pot, okayed abortion (only for women), abolished pongo-British thinking in Ireland, reversed a nu
mber of recent Government decisions and got rid of policemen's boots in favour of something more comfortable. I asked her if she's forgotten anything and she had: "Do you think 18-year olds should do jury service?"

I don't have much enthusiasm for that. British justice depends so much on the legally substantiated lie to separate the innocent fro
m the guilty, I wouldn't want children of mine to get corrupted by it. "And what about voting at 18?" That's only useful if there's somebody of 18 to vote for.

"But there is," she said. "I shall vote for Trevor Barraclough. Instead of parlia
ment he's going to run the country with a sales manager and a few good reps like my dad. He leaves school this term. Though he may decide to play cricket..."

What will they grow up to be? The noisy minority or the silent majority? Or, to put it another way: the articulate few, or so
many hats on sticks invented by Bob Hope's script writers for frightened heads of state. "Trouble with democracy, my dear," Marx once told my mother, "that's riddled with dictators. Ah, most of 'em bad taters." Old Fred Marx that was.


(The Guardian, Saturday 10 June, 1972)

 

 

Jack Trevor Story's texts copyright   the estate of Jack Trevor Story 2002. Not for reproduction. Copyright in all work by Jack Trevor Story is the property of the author's heirs. Permission for use of this material can be obtained through Jackie Edwards (Story), Peter Story, Lee Story or Michael Moorcock. Reproduction of copyright material whether in text, visual or audio form by unauthorised sources strictly forbidden.

 

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