The sixties was a time of discovery in British education. I didn’t know that because I was one of the lucky ones to be schooled through it. We had teachers who were new to the profession, teachers who had grown up through the war and grown some more in the fifties and then into sixties. They had seen the world change. And it had been for the better.
History had always been my favourite subject, well that and art. Art had been about creating, represtenting and shaping what I saw whilst history had been…well, it had been about the same stuff.
I was always aware of how important history was to our village. We had an ancient church there and a line of descent that demanded an annual recreation by The Sealed Knot Society. This was the civil war remembrance group who dressed up and fought out the Battle of Thornhill, a decisive play between the roundheads and the cavaliers.
I shouldn’t have been, but I was always a secret cavalier. They seemed romantic in comparision to the workaday Cromwelliams. Cromwell was about not singing, not having your hair cut on Sunday, wearing black clothing. Perhaps that was why I never took to Goths during the eighties. Anyway, I loved history.
One memory stood out amongst many other significant ones. It was the time that our teacher measured the circumferences of our heads to determine whether we were of Anglo-Saxon or of Viking descent. Post war meant that Anglo-Saxon was, ironically, the most patriotic as it was seen to be more aligned to the natural English bloodline; we still had maps with pink on them to show the extent of the empire.
As it turned out, in a massively Anglo-Saxon head measuring school, that was Church of England in denomination, I was a big headed Viking. Raider, reaper and raper, I ought to have hung my big scandinavian head in shame, but I didn’t.
Evans, Evanson I was and that I have remained.
Out of the frying pan and into the weekend.
I have always thought that the working week has been organised by somebody who doesn’t read the label; Fragile, This way up!
So, after a reasonably long working week, we get two days off to celebrate, relax, commiserate and fret.
Weekends are the product of the need to work and the need to show thanks and obedience to God and our other masters. We give thanks for not having been dragged off for lunch by a Dire Wolf or not having succumbed to a deadly dose of Black Death. Nose, arms, ears, feet, toes and our pleasure bits are still in order so let’s make hay. The problem is that the hay is just as much an illusion as the expanse of weekend that lies before us. Two bloody days! Forty-eight hours! Such a tiny amount of time to rebalance our bodies and minds.
But the fact that I am not in charge of an unruly tribe of early teens (unruly in the terms of a viking raiding party) means that I am not as incapacitated as I would have been. Kids now call me Mike. They thank me for lessons. They say nice words to my face. I may have died and entered some surreal world of educational derangement but it’s alright by me and long may it last.
Little bastard-devil on my shoulder is now up on tip-toes and whispering in my ear.
Like dandruff, I have metaphorically dusted him off.
She stops and nods at some of the patients come to stand around and stare out of eyes all red and puffy with sleep. She nods once to each. Precise, automatic gesture. Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh-coloured enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils – everything working together except the colour on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom. A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big, womanly breasts on what would of otherwise been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it.
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, P11 copyright © Ken Kesey
We are all constructs of our environment and upbringing. Murphy got caught up in a mental institution whilst some of us just get trapped in the other world.
I have watched madness close up. It looks like normality. The people who purvey it appear to be super-normal. These folks are the projections of a society that truly believes in what it is told. Everything is real, everything is as we see it, everything should be taken on face-value. And the androgynous being, striding the corridors of our chosen institution, is there to provide guidance and direction.
The basic fact is that once we are in, once we have bought the ticket, it’s hard to get out.
Meditation. That’s the answer. So I checked the digital world for help. I was met by beaches and gentle waves, trees and gentle leaves, streams and gentle flows. In the midst of all of this was the course, and the accompanying books, to help in the quest towards owning an empty mind. Nah, it’s just putting face cream over the wrinkles.
I have disconnected with the madness of all that I see around me. Going into schools and teaching as a supply/substitute teacher has opened my eyes to something that I long suspected, the world is going mad. Inparticularly, many of our younger citizens are now so anti-social that it is difficult to communicate with them. I have been in one school for just over a month and have watched its deterioration as groups of students roam unhindered along the corridors during times set aside for lessons.
I was told that it was, until recently, a good school. Then came a change of management. Then came the dilemma, how do we improve such a good school. The answer for many in that position is to bring about change, leave a mark, set down a better path to follow. In less that a year the school would be unrecognisable. It’s Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ridding the world of adult reason and allowing unfettered anarchy to fill the vacuum.
The irony is that it was a strong, unswerving individual who made the school a good one in the first place. Not Nurse Ratchet, but somebody not to be argued with.
This is the puzzling crevice through which falls our reasonable understanding of freedom and democracy.
Too little and we are prisoners, too much and we lose the integrity of our reason.
There is something unnervingly hypnotic about a psychopath. The eyes have it. They stride into ours and rearrange what we think is normality. In some ways it’s akin to having a change of internal scenery with the sofa inhabiting a different area of the room whilst the armchairs are perfectly placed on the ceiling. When that happens, we are left to follow the madhatter down the hole.
Mankind likes a monster. We like the gothics of Dracula, Frankenstein (the real monster being the doctor) and a Mr Hyde (the real monster being the doctor). They tickle our fears whilst taking us into a realm of darkness that we can emerge from at the end of a reading or viewing. Once we leave the covers of a book or the darkness of a cinema, we are free to enjoy the sanity of the everyday. The only problem is that the everyday is more frightening than fiction.
Scientists at Harvard have come to the conclusion that psychopathy is a trait that many of us share. They even go so far to say that the more psychopathy we have the more likely it is that we will succeed in life. A lack of empathy, a conscious effort to make others see us in a false light, and a driving desire to turn everything to our own advantage. Aren’t all the self-help books for success all about this? Ask not what you can do for others but what others can do for you. And the sad thing is that the others find this trait appealing.
Contrary to what the movies might have depicted, they are not the knife-wielding demons of movies like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Patrick Batemen in American Psycho.
Many are walking among us, leading completely normal lives, and are even some of the most successful members of society, precisely because of their psychopathy. These are the ruthless business people who do whatever needs to be done, regardless of the human cost.
Research suggests somewhere between 0.2-3.3% of people have psychopathic tendencies.
We may work with one. One of them may be our boss, headteacher, member of parliament, or church leader. We may even be married to one.
HOW TO TELL IF PEOPLE YOU KNOW ARE PSYCHOPATHS
Antisocial, the medical term for psychopathic, personality disorder is defined as having unpredictable, erratic and overtly dramatic behaviours.
According to the NHS, a diagnosis can be made if any three of the following criteria apply to the person’s everyday personality:
- Repeatedly breaking the law
- Repeatedly being deceitful
- Impulsive behaviour or being incapable of planning ahead
- Being irritable and aggressive
- Having a reckless disregard for their safety or the safety of others
- Being consistently irresponsible
- Lack of remorse
When studying texts from the Second World War, ones that deal with the death camps, I am often at a loss to explain why decent people sat back and let it happen. Other, apparently normal, folks actively participated in those evil events. I look at my students devoid of explanation and some way off understanding. My job is to inform them, make them the type of decent human beings who will heed the lessons of the past, but I too was part of the generations growing up after the war and we have not learnt. Indeed, we now seem closer to psychpathological politics as we have ever been since then.
Could it be that we are beyond being saved?
Or could it be that we are predisposed to act and think in this Fascist fashion?
Could it be that this is the path to success?
Subject A woke up in the middle of darkness and felt for the glass of water at the side of his bed. He found it just as his fingers decided to add some urgency to their search. The resulting action was a slow, slow-motion tipping of the glass and its contents off the bedside table and onto the floor.
His wife stirred beside him, but did not wake.
“Shit, shit, ducky shit,” he muttered to himself. But the spilt milk, or water on this occasion, was the least of his worries.
Subject A felt the dryness of his mouth and tongue. He struggled under the pounding in his head. And he felt the sure and powerful flood of his vital blood coarse through his veins.
It was Fryday and the wolf was returning.
Keeping himself together, he eased out of bed. He left behind a fresh layer of hair on the sheets which he would have to blame on the cat later. The cat was sleeping in another room. She would know that he was moving about, but she would also know that it was wise not to investigate.
Subject A descended the stairs and walked to the door.
With all the stealth he could muster, he undid the locks and eased it open before stepping outside. He always found this last procedure to be better and quieter than merely stepping through the door.
Outside, he breathed deeply beneath the cold, full-moon that gazed lovingly down at him.
In moments, he was off and running towards the open common-ground where he hoped to find some rabbits, a piece of virgin ground to crap upon, and a tree to rub his scent over before he anointed it with his bursting bladder.
Back when the world was still young and very, very big, somebody thought it wise to employ inspirational quotes as a way of lifting the general mood out of abject depression. Life, you see, sucks.
But so does a vacuum cleaner.
“Don’t wait until you feel better to live your life, get your coat on and live it now.”
Perhaps I agree with some of this, but question why I need my coat on to live my life. Surely, this is a little prohibitive.
It was a Year 7 lesson in which an inspirational quote was unknowingly uttered:
“Sir, is Ancient Greece something from the nineties?”
Laughter was my initial response. Kids sometimes don’t get it. They may overlook a century or a continent in the same way that others overlook an occasional misspelling or punctuation error. After explaining that Ancient Greece was some several thousand years in the past, I realised that her misconception had not been rectified; time, centuries, eons were just so much other things to fall out of a busy mind.
I had turned away momentarily before having to turn back again and remind her not to continue to wrestle a pencil case off her friend.
But then again, she was only getting on with it and living for the moment. Are teachers such myopic tyrants that we would deny the life out of any kid in our care just so that we can educate the hell out of them?
This week I heard that slippers are the answer.
One primary school teacher had carried out some research that suggested that the wearing of slippers in the classroom improved educational outcomes. It was, apparently, part of their ‘wrap-around’ learning environment in which the students had opted to take more responsibility and control of their learning episodes.
When I was at school, the slipper was the softest of the hard options for learning.
The other thing that I heard this morning was that in South Korea, the entire student population go to sleep for at least one hour after lunch. This was being lauded as good practice as the South Korean offspring tended to get much better results than our own.
So now, somebody in the Department of Miseducation will command all schools to be ‘lounge lizard aware’ and to adopt the manner of the sloth.
In that respect, I can report that I am probably ahead of the game as many of my after lunch lessons bear a striking resemblance to an episode of The Walking Dead (during nap-time).