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Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Massive bar and entertainment room

Massive (but low) stage in the holiday camp

Panto book - it works like a book, only its very big.

1. The Work

Not at all dissimilar to the processes involved in writing a lit review, there's a point that is reached when 'on the road', that you realize you have no idea where you are. You know where you started. You also know where you are going. And, you also have a plan, typically visualised as a route ( that you recognize is subject to en-route modification) of how to get from A to B. But at some point, some unidentifiable nexus of space, time and cognition, it dawns on you that you have absolutely no idea where, in respect of that route, you are.

Thus I find myself pulling into yet another motorway service station somewhere between Bristol and Hull and looking at the map that is on the wall by the entrance. Not the casual glance of the long distance driver, who sat-nav equipped doesnt care where they are, nor the smug glance of the on-time, organised family vacationer who knows they wont miss their plane. Instead I smear myself against the map, tracing roads with my finger tip, reading place names aloud, hoping for clue - a thirsty man looking for water in the desert.Work compadre and friend, the incomparible Tom. A seasoned road warrior. Taken in either Gloucester, Cheltenham, Cirencester, Portsmouth or somewhere else. Breakfast before we part ways for a few days.

This fever has been occasioned by a second full week on the road made necessary by the necessity of a temporary return to my career as a touring theatrical carpenter. I'm slogging through English seaside resorts and holiday camps, installing summer shows and staying yet again in identikit towns where the search for a good meal in a town you dont know is, at the end of the working day, a pointless, yet daily essential, ritual. I'm loving it.

Part of the loving it is a repositioning vis-a-vis holiday camps. There are several brands of these in the UK, the most popular of which I have just finished working in. I have to confess that as the son of a family of cultural snobs (who somehow manage to to redefine culture so that 'soccer' is somehow an acceptable cultural activity, highbrow even, and holiday camps are somehow not) I arrived at the camp with fairly negative preconceptions. British comedians have long laboured jokes about the perpetual, artificial cheeriness of the staff and have liked the surrounding walls to the walls of a prison camp. These characterisations havent diluted some people's enthusiasm for the holiday camps - they are fully booked up to a year in advance. However, the all-inclusive nature of the experience with childrens' playgrounds everywhere, shops, bars, movie theatres, live entertainment and organised fun aplenty are deemed, by some, particularly intelligentsia-with-children, to indicate a laziness on the part of holidaymakers who choose these places. Somehow, if you are not searching a remote hillside for a half forgotten church in 40C, pulling your screaming, reluctant children with you, getting bitten by God knows what or tramping disrespectfully over the graves of other culture's ancestors, you are somehow denying your children the essentials of being on holiday. I should make it clear that I am talking about people with children here. Childless people, as RHB and self and other 'dinkies' are, do not have to contend with deciding where to take our little darlings. But we are subjected to the accounts of other people's vacations, and I have heard both sides - smug parents of 'educated' children who have seen the Cistine chapel and hedonistic camp-dwellers who revel in the 24 hour fun of the all-inclusive.

And listening to both sides, and now having been to the camps, can say that I am firmly in the hedonist camp for a number of reasons. Firstly, the snobby intelligentsia-with-children can ruin things for other people by taking kids where they plainly dont want to go and should'nt be. You dont take a barking dog to watch Mahler, and I think the principle is exactly the same with children. They can ruin good things. Furthermore, I would bet a large amount of money that most kids would prefer to be swinging round a monkey net that's within lolloping distance of a soda fountain than hiking in pristine wilderness where you have to watch your water carefully. There's also the problem of justification. Hedonists just take their children to the camp, dump them with the children's entertainers then very quietly get drunk, happy in the knowledge that the kids are safe. When you ask them about their holiday, they usually just say "The Kids had a good time", partly because they themselves sometimes cant remember much of it, and partly because its true - the kids had a good time. The intelligentsia-with-kids on the other hand spend hours telling you how they were worried that "little James would'nt like Guernica, but you know what, we think he got it! He was very quiet afterwards, I think it really struck a chord with him ". Arse, I say. Actually what happened is that little James was struck dumb with boredom and realised that this torture was likely to continue unrelentingly until he becomes an adult and he can go to Ibiza by himself and drink himself into unconciousness.

It may seem that these musings are those of a crazed man, one too long away from home. And there's probably something in this, but while away, I did fall in love with these camps. For people with kids they are very, very good. They are cheap, there's no massive seven hour car journeys to local attractions, there's safety on site. Bt despite seeing the light, the musing and the love begins to wane - the camps arent for me, and anyway, I'm here working. I start to wish for home. I wish various things, like being prodded awake at 5am by Toshack wanting to go out and hunt, or back in the Queens drinking crap beer and getting told about football by a know nothing local with a red face. I actually start to wish I was back in my office writing my literature review, dreaming of an easy life on the road as a scenic carpenter, so its with relief that I turn the car in the general direction of North as I leave Minehead. Before I get home there's one more task to perform though. Its will turn out to be the biggest challenge yet.Two not-intelligentsia. At least when this was taken which was after, or during some cocktails. And champers. And beer. Taken at Christmas 2011.

2. The Visit

I suspected none of e challenge ahead as I crest a hill overlooking Bristol town centre and identify number 43 in a row of brightly, Mediterraneanely, pastel painted houses. I am greeted at his door by Will, who is animated by stupidity:

"Hi M___" he says "I'm reading about social capital and I'm animated by its stupidity"

Actually, and in the interests of complete honesty, Will doesnt say this. Instead, he welcomes me in, offers me a cup of tea and then says:

"Hi M___. I'm reading about social capital and I'm animated by its stupidity".

In truth, he doesnt quite say this either, but it would have been good if he had, as 'social capital' is about where I am in my literature review, and this 'concept' (although I prefer to think of it as 'notion') is why my lit review writing experience is exactly mirroring my on-road experience of being completely lost. It is however, true to say that Will is reading about 'social capital' and is bedazzled by the way this 'notion' is justified, interpreted and applied. The most stupid thing about social capital, we agree, is the way it's exponents claims it explains everything:

  • children are an investment and you only invest in them because production of same increases your social capital.
  • any learning you undertake is informed by economically rational decision processes
  • any sports activities, socialising you do, television watching you engage in, sex you endure, parties you attend or casual hello's in the street

All of these, according to the mainstream of economic 'thinkers' are actions or processes that can either be explained by, or used in the accumulation of, social capital. For the second time this post I am forced to use the word 'Arse', closely accompanied by the word 'my'.

The most terrifying thing about this though is that like Hell in the Middle Ages, or learning styles for those who have read (and believed) about them, it is all becoming true. Networking is an activity preferred to bullshitting, it is a crime to engage in pointless activity (we walk to get fit), we only go the the pub (after puberty) to talk about 'something' and a little read blog must be 'monetised' or of interest to someone ("how many readers do you have?", "does it make any money?" "have any publishers approached you?"). There has to be a point to every thing we do under social capital.

3. The Light Bulb

Needless to say, later that night at Willandsals/Salandwills (existential angst over gender preference in naming places - I need to stop reading!) we get pointlessly drunk, talk utter bullshit, listen to some obscure music that doesnt increase our 'credibility', eat wierd food and dont agree to start a consultancy business. During the evening, Sal gets quite close to having a serious conversation then returns to sanity with an utterly deluded observation (that re-defines some words, including the word "finished"), by claiming that Large Mansions is substantially complete. Satisfied that absolutely nothing has been accomplished by the evening's activities I retire to the North Parlour of Salandwills. We do however, agree to do something constructive the next day, so after an evening of rest, I awake, with a hangover, ready to change a light bulb. It is the challenge I referred to earlier and takes four hours.Pointless fake chimneys about to be installed on a new build house somewhere between Birmingham, France and the US. Pointless is good.

Strictly speaking, it is not just a light bulb I am to change, it is, in fact a whole light fitting. But the minor under-exagerration is, I would argue, allowable, because all that is involved in the operation is the unscrewing, and then re-screwing of six small wires, plus a bit of electrical cable cutting. It is little more than changing a light bulb. It is also hard to imagine a task in which I could more effectively increase my social capital by demonstrating the kind of ruthless competence that it pays to display in such work. A ten minute project successfully completed would put in the minds of my friends that here is a handy fellow - if we ever need to pay anyone to do some work, this chap would be just the ticket. I would have banked loads of social capital and therefore I should view this project as a job that I have something invested in.
But that's not how it goes. It takes four cups of tea, the mains electrics switched off so often that the fridge defrosts, thirty minutes of Internet consultation and a spectacular amount of swearing to do a job that I have done hundreds of times. "Why?" I hear you ask "might this be?". Well its because the business isnt social and the social isnt business. No matter how you redefine it.