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Sunday, 5 May 2013

Jeremiah's Universal Glasses

First of all, I know the frequency has dropped off again somewhat. Life, after threatening to become completely miserable - thereby inspiring another round of excellent writing - has become barely tolerable again thus the writing has suffered. Amazingly, this post is alomost completely positive.

First stuff is that as you re all aware, another reason for paucity of writing at present is that I will not write about my experiences in research - which give rise to many humourous/notewrothy incidents - because I am researching people.  I will not write about people without their fully informed consent in respect of many of the situations I find myself in because these situations very often reveal something personal or intimate about my research participants.

But I can recount an incident, where the main thing that is revealed is something about yrs truly, namely, what an idiot one is and how everybody should be taken down a peg or two from time to time. Incident occurred during the course of what I will refer to as my fieldwork, although of course its not in a field and doesnt seem like work. Actually, the incident has a precedent which I am minded I need to tell in order to proceed. That precedent involved the demon drink, myself and my perennial friend JJ  (a former member of an otherwise, in too many cases, a  lamentable profession - see Obama's sickeningly 'matey' speech to the US Press Corps at the annual Whitehouse Press dinner - I remain convinced that good journalists are an increasingly endangered species). JJ's professional status incidentally, is incidental. Anyway, self and JJ met one evening  intending to consume a couple of beers while watching football and chewing the proverbial fat. Co-incidentally, both of us were experiencing work circumstances that were not ideal, so the football match watching was rapidly abandoned for a moan fest, and the couple of beers transmuted into buckets of the stuff - each drink a kind of  ante post   militant two-fingers to our respective employers the following day  "Another ? Why not ! F**k them  and so what if I'm hung over tomorrow".

Of course, it goes without saying that this kind of activity does absolutely no harm to the employer at all unless of course he is in a different pub cursing his workers with his friend PP, the ex-thought leader and getting similarly, but reflectively drunk but its unlikely that they are, because the type of people who rise to the head of the organisation we are both involved in,  are they type of people who have plotted and planned to get to the top of this tiny organisation, and who spend most of their waking hours working out how to stay at the top or improve their position. These little  bosses - 'petit boss'?-  have not time to go and get drunk because their work (which isnt work at all but is actually self aggrandisement) is too important to them to waste any time on socialising. (ref also to Nickson/Large's Theory of Sociopathic Leadership). And these people, these bosses, do this manoeuvering, this ruthless venal self promotion within the confines of  a tiny organisation that, when the corollary of "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" is written about Western Democracy, will not even feature in a footnote about a footnote. All of which is essentially what self and JJ were saying because one of our respective bosses had been caught in flagrante with a lady of the night. Which itself is not such a bad thing - I personally dont problematise other people's sex activities - but the bosses organisation is an organisation whose mission includes, among other things  stamping out the sex trade on the grounds that it exploits women. What we were railing against was hypocrisy, cant, hyperbole and hubris in the highest - and lowest - places. We were drinking the beer as a Socratic sacrifice in a fight that was fundamentally about justice.  Plus, we observed,  this particluar boss's breath smelt and he was ugly and stupid. And fat. And a twat.

After several hours of such revelry, we were extremely hungry, so we went to a local pizzeria, staffed mainly by migrants. It is not a particularly good pizzeria, but it is close. And it is not particularly cheap, but it is close. And , inaddition to being close, it is friendly. So it is friendly and close.  Inside the pizzeria, there is nothing apart from a counter, two chairs for waiting and an amusement arcade punch bag. For some reason (er Beer? - ED) we decided that we would 'play' this amusement arcade punch bag. So we entered a huge amount of money into the pay slot, the punch bag lowered and we each had three attempts to hit is as hard as possible. It is at this stage that the inherent contradictions in the condition of being  highly  (self) educated working class, skilled trade,  middle aged men, concious of too many cultural dynamics of liberalism that despise machismo but with enough remaining connections to background where the ability to punch was one with the ability to breathe as a survival skill and where one's friendships were also always predicated on the notion that at some point you might have to have a punch up between yourselves  emerge.  If you have successfully parsed the proceeding sentence, you will realise that what I am saying is that while pretending to take the game in a light hearted fashion, we were also, at the same time, deadly serious. So while my friend JJ pretended that his headbutting of the bag was just 'daft", on my turn, which came next, I felt obliged to perform a spinning drop kick - instantly lethal - 'just for a laugh'. Indeed this continued not for one ridiculously expensive 'go' but until our pizzas were ready. The pizza staff handed us our pizzas with broad grins - we had provided them with quite a show. Executed by a drunk, a spinning drop kick is not the seamless manoeuvre of a trained assassin, but is more like the stumbling chaos of an elephant recovering from a tranquilizer after emergency medical attention.

The next day, showered and excited, the booze melted away as I was, that day, supposed to be  addressing a local college about my work - all part of my participatory approach to research. The local college has a large ESOL (English teaching) provision and staff and students were to attend my lecture and so far the research programme in the college had gone very well. On the whole, my research is performed at a small level - groups, individuals etc etc. But I also like to report back to college where I have researched  the results of that  research (for obvious democratic and participatory reasons). The manner of report back is up to the college and on this occasion, the college had chosen a lecture setting - big hall, big screens, big powerpoint - as the most appropriate venue. Such an occasion demands some pomp, some ceremony (this is England after all) , so I was re-introduced to the assembled throng - ESOL learners, teachers, Head of School etc. - as the returning lecturer/researcher from Hull University. My research was described (correctly)  as a 'first', and internationally reported and presented. It was a big build up. I stepped on to the podium. I have to admit that I was somewhat inflated, in the sense of ego. While the introduction sounded like the type of impressive thing that is said about other people, it is actually  true, I thought to myself. Then I probably though "Wow. I'm great".  A quick glance at my notes, and I - the internationally renowned academic and lecturer stepped forward to deliver my brilliant summation. It started brilliantly. "Hi" I said. I started to talk.

After about five seconds I noticed three familiar faces in the front row. The familiar faces were grinning in a manner which can only be described as 'widely'. They were also miming a sporting activity. Collating the previous three sentences into a summary, the three faces were the staff of the pizza parlour from the night before and they were miming 'boxing' from their seats and grinning widely. They did not see a distinguished visiting lecturer, they saw a drunken bum imitating an intoxicated elephant. I was brought back to my earth properly and quickly. I managed to get through the lecture without 'corpsing' and my ego was deflated to the proper size. And I think the students enjoyed the whole research process - I am still getting emails from students who wish to be interviewed.