The other day I happened on a TV documentary from 1957, shown by the ever-delightful Talking Pictures channel, which ran through what happened at Covent Garden from midnight till mid-morning the next day.
Sound enthralling? Surprisingly, it was. But what struck me most about it was the expertise of the workers. They knew exactly what they were doing, and how to do it….and at considerable speed.
I also watched an episode of Grand Designs in which a young man who had recovered from a brain tumour, and his wife, who had many medical problems including recurring skin cancer, took on the immense task of converting a massive barn into a superb house despite minimal finance and in the face of huge practical difficulties – many of them created by planning officials.
I wouldn’t have started the project , let alone finished it. If I had started, I would have given up at several points. But it was a triumph.
And these two programmes made me think about the B Ark. This was an invention of the brilliant Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The B Ark, a huge space vehicle whose residents chose to believe they were the cream of their planet, Golgafrincham, had been fired off to search for a new inhabitable planet.
In fact they were a collection of the most disposable inhabitants of Golgfrincham – marketing executives, PR consultants, telephone sanitisers, bureaucrats, politicians, planning officials and so on – who would really not be missed.
I have always seen myself as a B-Arker. I mean what use is a writer, journalist, poet…? Put me in Covent Garden and I would be lost. Ask me to build a house, and, although I am adequate at small DIY, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start – or the energy to do it.
Our society, unlike that on Golgafrincham, really has this all wrong. We praise and promote the academics, historians, professors and high-earning “elite” and fail to see how much more valuable are plumbers, electricians, nurses, care workers – even when the truth stares us in the face.
The Education Act of 1944 was supposed to put this right, creating schools which specialised in promoting practical skills – you know, the skills vital to our survival. What happened? Technical schools were looked down on, underinvested and seen as a home for people who weren’t good enough to make the academic grade.
One of my favourite comic strips, Dilbert, puts it very well in an encounter between Dilbert, an engineer, and a new employee, who says: “Hi. I’m very smart, but I don’t know how to do anything.” Dilbert replies: “Where did you get your PhD?” New employee: “I didn’t say I have a PhD.” Dilbert: “You kinda did.”
The current pandemic had thrown a spotlight on people who do really useful things, and do them very well. I would like to think that this realisation of who is really valuable to us all will result in a rethink about the structure of society, and where the big money goes.
But I bet it won’t.
I am not one of those who semi-amusingly use Facebook to blame the Tory government for absolutely everything that goes wrong. I am not a Socialist Worker, though I know one and like him very much. I do not pull down statues. But I would like to see change in the area of valuing the right people, and I think many other outwardly conservative people would like to see it too.