Friday, June 17, 2011

Rising from the working class to the middle class

The story below by a British journalist is well worth reading for anybody who still has time to read a story. It is a classic moral tale of the sort that everybody should be told, I think. I doubt that it is the whole story about economic advancement though.

One cannot read extensively in the academic medical literature -- as I do -- without becoming aware of how central genes are to almost everything. And I think my own life-history offers a counter-narrative to the story below. Like the writer below, I was born to parents who had lived through the Great Depression, who never had much money but who treated their children well and kindly.

But my parents never had "ambitions" for me. They assumed that I would earn my living as my father did -- through hard manual work. And it was only with great difficulty that my father was persuaded to give me two years of High School education. He thought that grade-school was "plenty".

But my parents did give me "a pearl without price": Their genes. Both had siblings who had done exceptionally well at grade-school so I got good genes for IQ from both sides. And life for me has been a breeze. I made mostly good decisions and ended up in very comfortable circumstances almost without effort. I did work quite hard in some ways but I enjoyed what I did far too much to call it "work". By and large, I simply saw where the opportunities were and took those opportunities.

For the ambitious, however, mine is probably a much more discouraging tale than the one below, so I will not elaborate the tale any further

Just over a year ago, I was sitting in a fancy restaurant about to tuck into steak and chips. This wasn't any old steak and chips: this was wagyu beef — the world's most expensive steak — and thrice-cooked chips, served with an organic mushroom and Cropwell Bishop Stilton sauce.

As I picked up my knife and fork, a familiar voice inside my head began to talk: 'How much did you say this cost?' I cut into my steak and the voice spluttered: 'One hundred quid! For steak and chips! Have you gone stark-raving mad?'

The voice was my father's: a man whose idea of gourmet dining is a meat-and-potato pasty from Greggs. A voice that never fails to remind me just how far I've come since I left the council house where I grew up.

When I was a boy, Sunday lunch was boiled cow's heart (it tasted every bit as dreadful as it sounds), with boiled cabbage and Oxo gravy. Teatimes were fish fingers. With chips. Beefburgers. With chips. Findus crispy pancakes. With chips. And if we didn't clean our plates, we'd get it for breakfast the next morning.

Growing up, we didn't have a car. Holidays were a week in a Blackpool caravan. And on the rare occasions we went out as a family, it was to the front step of my dad's local pub, where my three brothers and I sat outside with a bottle of lemonade and four straws.

These days, Sunday lunch with my wife, Rebecca, 41, and our three children — my stepdaughter, Daisy, nine, and sons Tom, six, and Sam, three — invariably involves an outing to a nice restaurant. For tea, my children eat free-range chicken, pasta and broccoli. We drive a Volvo estate and my wife and I have enjoyed wonderful holidays in Corsica, Majorca and Amalfi.

I am currently working as a freelance writer and looking after our family, while my wife earns a good salary as a magazine editor. But our comfortable existence wasn't always so comfortable: it took 30 years to reach this point. Now, though, I am so grateful that I will never have to look poverty in the eye again.

My middle-class life today is utterly unrecognisable from the world of my childhood. My story is the living embodiment of how hard work, not positive discrimination, can bring anyone success.

It's about parents who want nothing but the best for their children; who lead by example, and provide a secure and loving home which instils in their children enough confidence to achieve whatever they want to achieve.

And it is a story shared by most of my now middle-class friends, who make their livings as marketing consultants, company directors, television executives, sales directors and journalists. None of us was born with a silver spoon in our mouth: we all grew up in working-class homes. None of us was given a leg up by a family friend, an internship at an uncle's firm, or a place we didn't earn through merit at a university.

But, according to the Government, people like me and my friends should not exist. Working class kids, they say, can escape their backgrounds only through social engineering.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, recently unveiled the Coalition's Social Mobility Strategy that aims to ensure everyone has a fair opportunity to fulfil their potential, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

I don't doubt Mr Clegg is well intentioned, but isn't this a bit rich coming from a man who has reached high office largely thanks to his wealthy parents? Perhaps it's the guilt of having a £7,000-a-term Westminster School education that's talking here.

Because, to my mind, social engineering isn't the best way to propel a child out of a council estate and onto better things. There is a much more effective solution — and my friends and I are living proof of it.

I didn't end up eating £100 steaks because someone put a 'Poor Kid' sign around my neck and sent me to be taught with the children of millionaires. No, I got there thanks to my mum and dad, who worked their socks off to ensure their children were well-fed, well-clothed and well educated.

I was born in 1964 in the back-to-back terraces of Bradford, Manchester. Six of us — my mother, father and four sons all under five years old — shared two bedrooms. We had an outside toilet and bathed in a bucket in front of the fire on a Sunday evening. Our 'garden' was a postage-stamp-sized flagstoned yard where the bins lived.

But my parents wanted more for us, and their opportunity came when these slums were bulldozed in the late Sixties and we were relocated to a three-bedroom council house with a garden with grass on a new estate called Hattersley, 12 miles east of Manchester.

For my parents, our council house represented a massive step up. My father was an engineering fitter at Dunlop's tyre factory. At one stage, my mother had three jobs: working as a shop assistant, packing bacon in a factory, and taking in neighbours' ironing.

Both worked long hours and came home exhausted. My father's skin was grey, ingrained with grime from the huge machines; my mother's legs ached with varicose veins.

But they slaved away uncomplainingly for the sake of their boys — myself and my brothers, Michael, Alan and David. They did all they could to ensure that their sons would go further in the world than they had. And we boys knew and respected that.

After a 50-hour week, my father would flop down on the settee and tell me: 'When you leave school, don't do a dirty job like mine. Do something you enjoy, that's clean, that's easy. I didn't have a choice, but you do. 'Be a football commentator, or a disc jockey. You can do that — you talk rubbish most of the time!'

People didn't tend to leave the comprehensive school I attended for glamorous careers. By and large, people who grew up on our estate tended to stay on the estate, or move within a stone's throw of it. Most of my classmates got jobs in the local factories — Walls or McVitie's; or, like my brothers, got a trade as painters and decorators, electricians or mechanics. Some went on to drive buses; others to work in pubs and hairdressers. They became nurses, not doctors; classroom assistants, not teachers.

A significant number ended up on benefits [welfare]. And a few found themselves in court. Some of the boys I went to school with grew up to be small-time crooks and drug dealers. Some barely made it to manhood before overdosing on heroin.

Behind our council house front door, my parents were never the type to sit us down before bedtime to check we'd done our homework, or have long discussions about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Instead, they led by example and practised what they preached.

Neither my father nor mother (child-bearing aside) had a day of unemployment in their lives. And that work ethic was instilled in us.

My mother would insist that after school we were set to work dusting and Hoovering, making the beds and doing the washing up. And one of us would always make sure there was a piping hot cup of tea on the table waiting for her when she finished her shift at the factory. Hard work was the way out of poverty, not crime or scrounging off social security, we were endlessly told.

Sometimes my mother would tell me about the tough life she'd had as a little girl, growing up in the slums during World War II. Then she'd pause, blink back tears and her face would glower as she said: 'And I'll be damned if any of my lads has to go through the same as I did.' She meant it as encouragement, of course; but it felt like a threat, too: 'Do better than I did — or else!'

When you've got a mother as proud and determined as mine was, you don't need positive discrimination, university targets and diversity tsars to spur you on. The prospect of disappointing her was all I needed.

So, from the age of 14, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. A decade later, I'd left school with seven O-levels and two A-levels, finished (nearly) top of the class at journalism college and got a job on my local newspaper. In my day, you could become a journalist without a degree — virtually unheard of these days.

My career took me via Liverpool and Birmingham and Washington DC to London, where I rose to become an executive at a magazine publishing company.

When I went home to visit my folks, I could feel pride pour from them. They weren't the kind to boast, but I knew they felt they had achieved something for themselves via myself and my brothers.

When I eventually had children of my own, I was determined they, too, would have more than I had. Like most kids today, my children have it all: boxes and boxes of Lego, train sets, Scalextric, remote-controlled cars, iPods, Nintendos, laptops, Wiis, bikes and scooters. They have more chocolate than Willy Wonka. And whereas I still speak pure Mancunian [English with a Manchester accent], to the ears of my old friends back in Hattersley, my kids sound very posh.

By metropolitan London standards, we're not posh, just ordinary. But I'm aware I'm spoiling my kids in a way my parents couldn't dream of. My parents worked unbelievably hard to improve their lives because their own beginnings were quite appalling. I wonder what incentives my children will have to improve their lot, when they already have very nice lives?

We live in a very desirable part of North London, in a catchment area for great schools, but our flat has no garden. Some of our kids' friends live in £1million houses with wrap-around lawns. We drive a ten-year-old Volvo; their friends get ferried around in huge 4x4s. We holiday in Europe; their friends go skiing in Colorado.

I'm not saying these things would make them happy, but they would be a step up from the flat we live in now, which is a step up from the council house I grew up in, which was a step up from the slum terraces where my parents were raised.

And if that means my wife and I have to work until we're 65 and beyond to put our kids through university, then so be it. If it means we have nothing left for our retirement, then fine. We will sacrifice everything to ensure that our offspring can go on and outperform us.

A year ago, just weeks after I'd tasted that divine wagyu steak, I bought the finest piece of fillet I could get my hands on and drove to Manchester to see my dad. I wanted him to taste a similar steak that was the best of the best. A token from my life for the man who made it all possible.

I cooked it for him and served it with chips and a glass of a decent red wine. Dad took a bite. He chewed it, swallowed then gave his verdict. 'Not bad,' he said. 'How much did it cost?'

When I told him, his eyes widened. 'How much!' he spluttered. 'You need your head examined! You can get a Holland's meat pie, chips and curry sauce for £3.60 at the chippy.' And then he smiled. 'Beautiful bit of steak, this,' he said, finishing every morsel. 'Thanks, son.'

I had a lump in my throat as I thought to myself that my dear dad should never thank me for anything. He and my mum — who sadly passed away last year following a battle with Alzheimer's — sacrificed everything to enable me to go out, make money and enjoy the finer things in life.

And they taught me, too, the three things a child needs to make a success of their life: Love, encouragement and an unbreakable work ethic.


BBC fakery

The BBC will make an on-air apology after its governing body said a Panorama programme about Primark probably faked a scene about the retailer’s working practices.

The findings of the BBC Trust’s investigation into the episode "Primark: On The Rack" were released yesterday, saying there had been ‘serious editorial failings’ in the programme.

It added it was ‘more likely than not’ that shots of three young boys in the Indian city of Bangalore in a workshop ‘testing the stitching’ on Primark tops were ‘not authentic’.

The scenes were said to have shown the youngsters inspecting vest-tops and making sure ‘sequins don’t end up falling off in the hands of customers back in Britain’.

But on closer inspection the BBC Trust claimed there were inconsistencies and improbabilities.

The programme, broadcast in June 2008, had sought to investigate whether Primark could make ‘cheap, fast fashion without breaking ethical guidelines’.

However the report said: ‘Having carefully scrutinised all of the relevant evidence, the committee concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, it was more likely than not that the Bangalore footage was not authentic.’

As well as apologising on BBC1, the corporation is under pressure to hand back a Royal Television Society Award it won for the programme. It will also have to display an apology on the Panorama website for a week and was told the footage can never be repeated or sold abroad.

The BBC could still be hit with a fine for breaching broadcasting as media regulator Ofcom said it would consider any complaint made to it by Primark.

The trust’s Editorial Standards Committee examined evidence such as the unedited ‘rushes’ of the programme and emails to the production team from the freelance journalist Dan McDougall, who obtained the footage.

Yesterday’s ruling noted six points that indicated the footage might not be genuine in the 45-second clip. This included the size of needles used, which it was claimed would have been ‘inappropriate’ for ‘delicate’ work they were doing.

The BBC Trust also found it odd that in the Bangalore scene there appeared to be no other garments visible in shot – which would be unusual if it was a ‘quality control process’.

It added that the way it had been filmed – with a tight focus on the boys and less on their surrounding environment – added to concerns. There were also said to be ‘inconsistencies’ in the evidence such as the email trail.

The report also found the corporation had broken its ‘accountability’ guidelines over how it handled the complaints process, which went on for three years.

Primark described the finding as ‘extraordinary’, claiming shoppers had been ‘fed a lie’. It even suggested the BBC had been in possession of enough evidence to prove the scenes were not real before it broadcast them.

However, defenders of the programme pointed out the BBC Trust agreed that overall the programme had obtained ‘clear evidence’ work was being outsourced from other factories in India which contravened Primark’s ethical trading principles. David Thomson of international aid agency World Vision stressed the ‘key concern’ should be that ‘Panorama proved Primark was breaking its own policies’.

Helen Boaden, BBC director of news, said: ‘This is a very, very serious ruling and extremely chastening, and we need to learn from it.’

Mr McDougall ‘vigorously’ rejected the ruling. He said: ‘I have rarely seen a finding so unjust in outcome, flawed in process, and deeply damaging to independent investigative journalism.’


San Francisco Wants to Ban Goldfish to Prevent Their 'Inhumane Suffering'

The San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission wants to take away your goldfish, proposing a bill that would also include a renewed ban on pets like puppies, kittens and hamsters.

The proposed ban is meant to discourage “impulse buys” of pets that sometimes end up at shelters, said commission member Philip Gerrie. He said goldfish, guppies and other tropical fish were added to the proposed ban because of what he called the “inhumane suffering of fish” and the way the fish are harvested. “It causes animal suffering,” Gerrie told Fox News Radio. “Whole reefs and ecosystems are being exploited for whatever might be marketable or sellable.”

The Board of Supervisors considered a similar ban last year that would have included dogs, cats, hamsters, mice, rats and guinea pigs – but not fish. That proposed ban was tabled last August. The supervisor said they were going to reconsider it in January of this year – but did not.

The proposed fish ban has local pet store owners up in arms. “The city is taking more and more control,” said Ocean Aquarium owner Justin Hau in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “They are very stupid.”

Gerrie said that’s the response he expected from pet store owners. “They have a very strong interest to say it’s stupid,” he told Fox News Radio. “That’s the basic thing with human beings. We exploit everything in the world until it’s exhausted.”

Gerrie accused the “human” species of exploiting the environment – and the fish. “Humans are overfishing for food,” he said. There’s a huge market for aquarium fish. That creates a demand.”

As for people who would argue that it’s just a goldfish? “That’s how we are in this society,” Gerrie said. “Some people say, ‘It’s just a human’ – when it comes to some that kill. It’s a matter of degree. Where do you stop?”

The recommendation from the commission could be a tough sell among the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd told the San Francisco Chronicle he had doubts the new proposal would pass – calling it “another Animal Welfare idea that will end up in the dustbin of history and go absolutely nowhere.”


PETA renews "Happy Cows" complaint

The animal-rights group PETA said Wednesday it is suing state agriculture officials and the California Milk Advisory Board alleging that the famous "Happy Cows" ad campaign is false and misleading.

It's not the first time People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has sued over the marketing slogan, which it says misrepresents living conditions of dairy cows. "In reality, typical California dairy cows are kept confined on hard, abrasive concrete or manure-laden dirt," the organization said in a release.

PETA said it is suing the California Department of Food and Agriculture because it has failed to prevent the milk board from making "baseless marketing claims."

The group first sued the milk board in 2002, but the action ended in 2005 when the courts found that as a quasi-state agency, the board could not be sued under the state's unfair-competition law. The organization also filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in 2009.

PETA also attacked the ad campaign in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission in 2002, but that agency took no action.

PETA then filed a complaint with the CDFA, which has regulatory authority over the milk board. The organization said its complaint was dismissed last year. Today's lawsuit resulted after a public-records request turned up no documents to substantiate the marketing claim, PETA said.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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