You’ll learn more about the human condition working for minimum-wage, than you would by reading the Guardian.
During university, I spent the summers feeding planks of wood into a sanding machine. The noise was an oppressive mix between a runway and one of those sick-making nightclubs in which awful young people pretend to enjoy themselves.
In such work, the little things matter the most. The difference between a slog and a manageable day is often the result of one’s lunch, and one’s newspaper, and of course, the radio. Such jobs are a kind of “Stanford Prison Experiment.”
The boss was one of those quasi-sadistic types whose personality traits are what sociologists would term “latent authoritarian.”
When he’d shuffle across the yard toward our workshop, his hands always clasped old-worldly behind his back, we’d kill the radio dead.
He refused, you see, to pay the annual radio license—a trifling sum—condemning us instead to the whine of the sanding machine and our own, often delusional thoughts.
We used to play games—demented tricks of survival now that I think about it: “In just 45 minutes, there will be just one and a half hours before the last hour in work.” To the well-adjusted, that’s over three hours.
We summer hires came from all walks. One lad, a boyish Marxist and philosophy student, poisoned every lunch hour with his theories of revolution. The proles, as he no doubt imagined them, seldom bent an ear in his direction.
The other lads were coarsened and coiled from growing up on bleak housing estates reserved for those running out of luck. Their eyes had printed over them a predatory suspiciousness. In their charming prison lingo, they called tobacco, “burn.”
The regular workers held a mild disdain for us university boys. To them, we were little more than tourists or interlopers, Henry Mayhew-types on some strange social safari slumming it for summer before slinking off to school.
At lunch time, the workers eyed what you’d brought in for lunch, and which newspaper you added to the pile. They’d scoff at any fare more sophisticated than microwaveable slop, or fried nonsense from the burger van parked across the yard.
One day, the philosophy student signed his own social death sentence. He brought with him a container of sushi, and a crisp copy of the Guardian. This was the social equivalent of urinating in the kettle.
A regular snatched the broadsheet from the pile, and laid it out on the table before him. He leafed through the pages as an archaeologist would the Book of the Dead.
He concluded: “There’s no fucking tits in this.”
From that day, the philosophy student was known as “Weird Kid.”
The jail boys didn’t need telling twice, absorbing fully the primitive social arithmetic laid out before them: Weird Kid was not of their kind.
One afternoon, a team of us were busy stripping packages on a conveyor belt. Weird Kid, situated on the end of the belt, had a brain wave. He hooked an industrial container to the end of the conveyor belt. Magic! Rather than pile onto the floor, the packaging collected itself.
One of the jail boys witnessed this bout of invention. His raised eyebrows said he was impressed, yet his hands which promptly ripped away the bin, said otherwise: “You think you’re fucking management, now, do you?”
The regular workers shook their heads. The jail boys nodded their heads. The rubbish piled onto the floor.
After that summer, Weird Kid probably scuttled off to a bougie London enclave to carry bags, print documents, and publish tweets for some Labour Party M.P..
No doubt, Weird Kid has political aspirations of his own. That summer on the factory floor formed his political founding myth as a man attuned to the people.
Over some fashionable dish, he and his fellow dogsbodies probably puzzle themselves over why those factory boys voted to leave his beloved European Union, and why they severed their umbilical ties to the Labour Party to vote for an old Etonian, the very antithesis, or so it would appear, to their interests—Boris Johnson.
The problem for Weird Kid and his associates is they don’t understand social currency. Boris, like Donald Trump, speaks a language ordinary people understand.
Back in the 1990s, the clever ones and their linguistic thimble-rigging turned the economy into a gameshow, and our culture into a talk-show. Stripping workers of decent jobs became “outsourcing.” Employees became “human resources.” In 2008, the excrement communed with the fan.
In our warlike society, the plain talk of Boris and Trump has emerged as legal tender. Such honesty is a mithridate against what Weird Kid would call alienation, and what the workers would call taking the piss.
In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell outlined why the Marxist radicalism of his day concentrated amongst those middle-class revolutionaries he called sandal wearers and sex maniacs.
The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that Socialism, in its developed form, is a theory confined entirely to the middle classes. The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years’ time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and have been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian leanings.
The worst advert for socialism, he said, was its adherents.
Today’s equivalent advert is the same newspaper which dropped Weird Kid into the soup of derision.
When reading the Guardian, one habitually encounters a species of human being bearing no resemblance to those of my working-class roots, those Orwell called, “that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat.”
Such progress invariably means curtailing the apparently lurid preoccupations of the working class. That newspaper with “no tits,” as one of the factory boys complained, lauded the successful campaign to remove aforementioned tits from the preferred newspaper of the factory boys, the Sun.
The people who know best, those left-liberal Guardian readers who despite their numerical tininess dominate every sinew of our culture, banned smoking in pubs they never set a plimsole inside.
Victory only sophisticates their priggishness. Now they desperately campaign for reforms within the holy trinity of working-class vice—junk food, booze, gambling—sensual pursuits with which those at the bottom animate an often-bloodless existence built by and for the clever ones in London.
When reading the Guardian, one gets the whiff that all this country and its many problems needs is more bicycle lanes and vegan cheese. There is an assumption that you too harbor some expression of culinary eccentricity.
In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell recalls a scene in which two oddballs jump on a bus. The man next to him whispers, “socialists.”
But the point is that to him, as an ordinary man, a crank meant a Socialist and a Socialist meant a crank. Any Socialist, he probably felt, could be counted on to have something eccentric about him. And some such notion seems to exist even among Socialists themselves.
For instance, I have here a prospectus from another summer school which states its terms per week and then asks me to say, ‘whether my diet is ordinary or vegetarian.’ They take it for granted, you see, that it is necessary to ask this question. This kind of thing is by itself sufficient to alienate plenty of decent people. And their instinct is perfectly sound, for the food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcass; that is, a person out of touch with common humanity.
An exhalatory recipe for jackfruit in the Guardian assumes you too indulge in the voguish theater of dietary narcissism. Jackfruit, they claim, is pulled pork for vegans.
Why anyone would swap a slab of ribeye for jackfruit is beyond me. Just one percent of the population, even in these monkey-see monkey-do times in which we are all desperate to peacock our compassion, are vegan. Add to that the gleeful fact that the vast majority of the wilfully malnourished pack up the act once their social media likes slick dry. You see, the Guardian, protector of the downtrodden, champion of the ordinary folk, expects you to have something eccentric about you.
As a social experiment, turn up to a barbeque hosted by ordinary people, with a jackfruit beneath your one arm and a case of alcohol-free beer beneath the other. I suspect you’d join Weird Kid in the ranks of the strangeling.
A cursory Google search of “peak Guardian” uncovers a treasury of their greatest hits.
To the outside observer, a typical entry into the journal of a Guardian reader would seemingly go something like this:
Cut myself on some fruit. Had a cry in public. Got catcalled: Hated it; Didn’t get catcalled: Hated it. Ivanka Trump’s new haircut triggered my anxiety. The “tears of joy” emoji, a symbol of cruelty, then plunged me into despair. For hours, I wondered aloud whether our fear of sharks is tinged with subconscious guilt. Went to the new hipster café, an ethical place called “Eat”: disaster. The cis-gendered waitperson offered the most triggering of condiments: Brown Sauce! A symbol of the racist British Empire.
To ordinary people, the Guardian speaks in tongues. But the real meat of the matter lies within the ceaseless campaign to boot Boris Johnson from office for indulging in a slice of cake and a glass of wine during lockdown.
Like everything of which they don’t approve, Boris is a threat to our democracy.
Brexit, too, remains a threat to their democracy. These people drained six years of their lives desperate to overturn the largest democratic vote in British history, in the name of democracy. They failed.
And still our betters say the quiet part out loud: “If Boris goes, Brexit goes.”
As Orwell said, “The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the Lower Orders.”