Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On Failing The Citizenship Test

Dear Reader,

Yesterday I took - and failed - the British Citizenship Test.

My initial response was bemusement.

I have spent nearly 40 years in this country, and I would have thought I would have picked up enough to answer the various questions on politics, history, government, entitlements, and culture.

In particular, I would have hoped that having spent the first half of my life on council estates and in various unloved state schools, and the second half at a famous university and then qualifying and practising as a lawyer, would leave a certain awareness of the shape and nature of our society.

And, although I do not have an ounce of patriotism, I would have expected some things would have stuck, just through mere experience or familiarity.

But no; I failed.

I twittered about this, stating (somewhat pompously, I admit) that if an Oxford History Graduate who actually advises on the areas of law relevant to some of the questions cannot pass this wretched and pointless exam, who could?

And then to my astonishment, nobody at all was passing.

Amongst those who also failed were:

- one of UK's most eminent and sensible cultural critics;
- a talented and liberal prospective Tory MP;
- a distinguished professor of science at London University;

and so on.

Dozens and dozens of articulate and accomplished people were failing this barmy test, from all sorts of backgrounds.

One brilliant satirist even got less than 50% - so I suppose we know who the test is aimed at most excluding.

The only person who passed confessed to guessing half the answers. And he was a Twitter follower of a Twitter follower.

It turns out that this test is based on book learning: you buy and memorise the accompanying book, you then answer the questions by rote.

But in what useful way does that test anything relevant to a citizenship? Especially, when an entire range of British citizens do not themselves know the same things.

One may as well learn a telephone directory off by heart.

The test serves no actual purpose other than to sell the related book.

And so I am now just a citizen of the world.

I much prefer this, though I would have hoped it would have been achieved in a more elegant way.

Yours sincerely,

Jack of Kent

Sunday, August 2, 2009

At Brighton Pride

Dear Reader,

I went along to Brighton Pride yesterday.

I have never been to a Pride before, but it seemed a good idea after a dull and depressing week.

So off the London train, and in the drizzle, I followed the crowds to the park venue.

It was still only mid-afternoon, but some apartments were putting up balcony shows for the passers by. Men dressed as sailors and policemen waved and blew kisses.

Down below, the mood in the crowds was light-hearted.

By the time I got to the soggy park I was springing forward and cheerful. And I actually stayed in this mood all day.

The park was a cross between a fancy dress fete and a November 5th fairground.

I quickly became used to same-sex couples holding hands; so much so that after one hour I looked twice at a mixed-sex couple holding hands.

However, the event at the park had no focus. I did not see a main stage. Perhaps it was the wrong time of day.

It was just people milling around.

Brighton Pride did not really seem to be an event; it was a grand day out.

So I also milled about.

A lovely old man was in his electric chair, with a sign attached: "The Oldest Gay in the Village". He chatted happily to some delighted teenage girls. I posed for a photo outside the Christian tent. I ate a god-awful Veggie burger. I walked past the kilt stall doing its brisk business. I gave a half-hearted hard stare at the police recruitment lorry.

And I got on the bus just before it started pissing down.

Back in the centre of Brighton I ended up at a lesbian pub and watched some great stand-up from Claire Parker, an excellent comedienne wittily reflecting on her transgender journey.

After the show I talked with Claire and her girlfriends, and I heard this absolute gem.

Lemmy from Motorhead is called by a tabloid journalist.

Scandal, he is told, will lead the following day's edition. Indeed, a scandal about this very man who has supposedly slept with thousands of women.

The paper can reveal that Lemmy has - shock horror - slept with a transsexual.

But Lemmy couldn't care less.

"If she has got the balls to cut them off, then I certainly have got the balls to fuck her".

And the paper didn't bother with the story.

Everyone was happy on the train back. I am a veteran of last-trains-home from around the UK; and this was perhaps he jolliest, though for once I felt sorry for a ticket inspector, as he reasoned with Anthony (with a "fer") who simply waved his belt of plastic bullets in First Class.

It was all great fun, but I suppose I expected more - some - politics. I did not hear a speech, or see a slogan, or even a single red ribbon. Pride - like Bonfire Night - may have been in its origin a political festival; now - again like Bonfire Night - it is a colourful date in the diary.

I do not know whether this shift is a good development or not; but, insofar as there was joy and liberalism in almost everything I saw, Pride is undeniably a very good thing.

Yours sincerely,
Jack of Kent.