In 1996, AOL put a filter on their users’ accounts to prevent profanities. The unintended consequence of this was that people from Scunthorpe were unable to create accounts. The first part of this blog is about the unintended consequence arising from my failure to pay for milk in my tea at work.
At Chancellor’s, we had to pay for tea, coffee and milk. This was the case at every place I worked until I started at BHASVIC where it was all free. The Deputy Head at Chancellor’s was a wonderful person called Jo and she took it upon herself to order the milk for staff’s tea and coffee and she collected a small weekly amount from everyone who used milk. For some reason, I was always very late paying my milk bill. To be honest, at that time, in my early 30s I was always very late in paying every bill. This was before the days of Direct Debits and I had my phone cut off twice and regularly received red notices for electricity and gas. One year, Jo got a promotion to be a Head in another school and on her last day she wearily asked me for the money I owed her. I felt very guilty and paid up. She also asked me would I take over from her as the Union rep (National Union of Teachers). Again, I felt so guilty that I agreed to do this and set a train of events in motion which led to my once anticipated glorious upwards career trajectory remaining on a plateau for the next 30 years.
In the Eighties, Margaret Thatcher was determined to break the power that the Unions exerted over preceding governments. The most well known union action in the Eighties was by the National Union of Mineworkers which had the effect of politicising me. Arthur Scargill’s prophecies that the Tory government would destroy many of the communities in mining towns in the North of England was, sadly, very accurate. However, the miners were not the only union to take significant action. The teachers’ unions took prolonged action which included three day strikes and withdrawal of the supervision of voluntary extra curricular activities. When posh public school types bemoan the fact that cricket is no longer played in State schools, they need to look back to this time to see the effect that their party’s policies had on the morale of teachers and the willingness to work extra unpaid hours running sports teams. Although the culture of teaching changed as a result, the prolonged action did result in a significant pay increase. I always like to claim that the teachers action was the only successful union action of the Eighties.
Of course, at the time, I was very wise and knew a lot. In fact I knew everything. “Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth. ‘Rip down all hate,’ I screamed. Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull. I dreamed romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow. Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.” As the Union rep, I was determined to show that even 15 middle class teachers in leafy Hertfordshire could show solidarity with the miners. Unfortunately for me, the Head didn’t quite share my political beliefs. I suppose he felt he had a school to run.
At around the same time, Hertfordshire County Council decided it was time to reorganise the schools in the area and proposed a “merger” with a school in nearby Potters Bar, on their site. There was a lot of opposition to this idea and not all of it was pleasant. Various local newspaper articles appeared in which the other school was disparaged by members of the Chancellor’s School Senior Management Team. I wasn’t happy with this and called a Union meeting in which I suggested that our Union members should meet with the Union members of the other school to express solidarity, to recognise that we were all colleagues and to build mutual respect. This was agreed by the N.U.T. members at Chancellor’s and I wrote a letter to the N.U.T. at the other school. I put the letter in the school’s outgoing post tray and put a copy in the Head’s tray. When I got home to my
luxurious second floor penthouse flat in Harlow, the phone rang and it was the Head. Angry. He had intercepted my letter and wanted to talk to me about this. The next day I met with the Head and the Chair of Governors in the latter’s luxurious detached house. They both told me that it was a mistake to write this letter and were aghast that I could even think of writing it. They asked me what I thought would happen if the press got hold of the letter. (?) The Chair of Governors walked out of the meeting in his own house leaving me to try and navigate my way back to the front door. In the end we had the meeting with the other school; it went well; the merger never happened; my goose was cooked. Clearly I made several mistakes but try telling me that then. “A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool spouted out that liberty is just equality in school. “Equality,” I spoke their word as if a wedding vow. Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”
Over the next three years I unsuccessfully applied four times for a promotion at Chancellor’s. My friends were very sympathetic towards me and once a lovely guy called Steve who had got the job phoned me up to say he thought I would have done a much better job than he would. I think he’s still in the same job. At the time, I was furious because I knew I would have been a much better member of Senior Management than those who got the job. Unfortunately, I was forgetting that the job was for a member of the Senior Management Team and, understandably, the Head didn’t want me as a member of his team. As it happened, I was to repeat this mistake two schools down the line at Oakmeeds.
My relationship with the Head deteriorated. By this time I was organising Summer holidays to Switzerland for up to 80 children at a time. There had never been any trouble in previous years but in 1988 he made me attend a meeting with him and a parent governor to give me the Third Degree about the Health and Safety aspects of the trip. This was of particular interest to her as her daughter had booked a place on the holiday. Being a smart arse, when the holiday took place, I managed to ask her daughter to hold my lager while I took a photo of her and somehow or other, that photo formed a centre piece of the photo display next to my classroom for the next year. Another sign of the deterioration in our relationship was when I applied for a teacher exchange to the U.S.A. and he wouldn’t support me. I left the school after that and got a job at Brays Grove School in Harlow which was much closer to where I lived but a significantly harder place to teach.
In retrospect, I was an idiot and was unwilling to compromise what I knew to be right, just, fair, proper and correct in order to further my career. I should have been more willing to see all points of view. “Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect deceived me into thinking I had something to protect. Good and bad, I define these terms. Quite clear, no doubt, somehow. Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now.”
(It wasn’t just me that didn’t get on with the Head. One of my favourite memories of my 7 years at Chancellor’s was walking past the Head’s office and seeing John, the Head of P.E., sitting outside. “Hello. What are you doing?” I asked. He replied, very loudly, “I’m waiting to see shitface.”)
So, there you have it. If I had paid my milk bill, I would never have become Union rep, I would never have had face to face confrontation with the Head and I might have spent the next 30 years in the comfortable environment of Chancellor’s. Then I would never have moved to Sussex. Ah! Unintended consequences are not always negative. I’m very glad I never paid that milk bill.
“Younger Than Yesterday” is the 4th album by The Byrds and it is magnificent. There are some amazing songs on the record. The Byrds had always covered Bob Dylan songs and their cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” (which was influenced by The Beatles domination of the U.S.A. in 1964) would motivate Dylan to go electric. There s a CD available called “The Byrds Play Dylan” and it has 20 songs on it. “My Back Pages”, whose lyrics I’ve already quoted at length, was always one of my favourite Dylan songs. He was 23 when he wrote it which makes a complex song even more ridiculously complicated. Here was a 23 year old looking back at his younger (?) days and realising that he was impetuous and simplistic in his attitudes. The Byrds version is sanitised which makes it different, neither better nor worse. The typical Byrds harmonies on the chorus are wonderful.
The rest of the album is, with one exception, brilliant. “Rolling Stone” nominated it as the 124th best record of all time. The website “Byrd Watcher” review of this record includes the following: “The most remarkable aspect of the release is the number and caliber of Chris Hillman’s songwriting and vocal contributions. The best of these became the first single, “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” With Roger McGuinn, Hillman wrote the lyrics, an acerbic but good-natured swipe at the success of manufactured rock bands like the Monkees. Hugh Masekela adds a wonderful trumpet part, the first appearance of brass on a Byrds song. Rounding out the song is the sound of screaming teenage girls, taped at a Byrds show in Bournemouth, England during the band’s ’65 tour. Another of the album’s best tracks is Crosby’s jazzy torch song, “Everybody’s Been Burned.” Crosby’s voice is in fine fettle; McGuinn’s subdued guitar and Hillman’s deft, jazz-influenced bass picking provide sensitive accompaniment. “Have You Seen Her Face” was strong enough to be chosen as the third single from the LP. Hillman’s vocals are winning, and the song sports a killer hook in the chorus. His other pop number, “Thoughts and Words,” shows a definite Beatle influence in the chorus, and in the groovy, backward guitar that fills the bridge, sounding not unlike a sitar. Clarence White’s pull string adds a country flavor to “The Girl With No Name,” another winsome fusion of country and pop. David Crosby’s contributions to “Younger than Yesterday” ranged from the sublime (“Everybody’s Been Burned”) to the ridiculous (“Mind Gardens”). In between are two other Crosby compositions. The first of these is a tepid remake of “Why,” the former raga song co-written with McGuinn and performed with considerably more conviction on the flipside of “Eight Miles High.” The second is “Renaissance Fair,” a song that recaptures those heady days when the sight of a bunch of addle-pated Tolkien addicts jousting, strumming lutes, and gnawing on greasy shanks of beef did not immediately inspire howls of derisive laughter. As undistinguished as the two McGuinn/Crosby tracks are, “Mind Gardens” is in a league by itself. From the shrill, modal vocal to the obvious, sophomoric lyrical conceit (“Get it, man? He’s saying your mind is, like, a garden, man…”), from the pretentious Hamlet quote to the complete lack of melody… this song is so self-indulgent that it’s no wonder it put the band off raga forevermore. The lyrics in particular are the kind of dubious doper “poetry” that bands like the Moody Blues would later specialize in.* (“Breathe deep the gathering gloom….”) The legion of backward guitars is the one redeeming feature about the song. Aside from his collaborations with Hillman and Crosby, the only McGuinn song is “CTA-102.” The song is about an object in space that was briefly thought to have been an alien civilization sending radio transmissions to earth. The song combines, scientific abstraction, a jaunty melody and playful sonic experimentation.”
*Very harsh on The Moody Blues
The Law Of Unintended Consequences, according to Wikipedia is “commonly used as a wry or humorous warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them.” I’ve long since stopped believing I can control anything. Apart from my choice of music to write about and I’m so glad I’ve reacquainted myself with this glorious record.