Leaving the box

We live in a box. All our favourite and familiar things are in here with us. Yet due to pressure of numbers, long term problems with the plumbing and heating systems, archaic wiring etc., these once comforting elements are no longer quite doing their job the way they should. So our formerly liveable but now increasingly insalubrious dwelling challenges us constantly to think or act outside it: repair, renovate, redesign, transform, rebuild, or even move elsewhere.

But the world outside the box is scarily vast. The moment we have one of those much heralded “outside the box” ideas, it leads inexorably to a complete change of paradigm. Other things are called into question, new light is thrown on that which we presume to be acceptable, and our thoughts are knocked out of balance as new challenges rise up to greet them. Take last Sunday for example.

Behind blue eyes

There I was, sitting in the library enjoying a perfectly respectable hock with Jean-Michel (formerly he of the parachute and currently master of hydrangeas and the impressive tool shed), a man with steely blue eyes and the kind of hair-cut that screams National Front, a party he feels nothing but distaste for, when we got to talking about our pensions. Now he has no problem with his military pension: the government has guaranteed him a modest, though by no means marginal life, one as befits a man who can kill with a single chop of either hand. No cabinet minister would want him as an enemy. Neither do I have much of a problem with my pension. There simply won’t be enough of it to take offence at when the time comes: freelance writers of private means, however limited, not ranking very high on anyone’s list of pensionable worthies, mine will be a pittance at best. Thus J-M is resigned to a life of constant gardening and frugality, while I am resigned to selling off a few paintings or some rare bottle every now and then, maybe even mothballing Miranda and using a bicycle when the crunch comes.

So I must admit, in all fairness to those of you for whom this question is an existential threat, that we two had all the time, all the freedom, all the whimsy and none of the dratted urgency as makes outside the box thinking so nerve-rackingly Apollo 13. Thus it was all the more surprising when my guest quite suddenly and alarmingly said: “Get them all pregnant as soon as they leave school”.

Talking ‘bout more generations

The stunned silence that followed was me crashing a few gears at this total non-sequitur (I was just enlarging on the dubious virtues of private insurance funds at the time), so I very nearly asked “who?” although that was perfectly and shockingly plain. So I quickly changed tack and asked “why?” instead, though “how?” might have been a more intelligent question, given the ubiquitous little pill.

“Stands to reason”, said J-M, “no one can be reasonably expected, without financial inducements (which we cannot afford) to have more than their allotted West-European average of 1.78 children. We simply have to reduce the generation gap!”

I said I found the prospect of all those rotund 18-year-olds reading Shelley in the park rather alarming, and that many would question their level of maturity in the face of such a significant responsibility as early motherhood.

“Nonsense”, said J-M, “if the Masai and the Tamil, the Yoruba or the Timorese can do it, so can we … and anyway, who said anything about eighteen? Fifteen’s the right age, sixteen at the latest. That way we could fit five generations, four of them earning a wage, in a space where we currently have just three, only one of which is a wage earner, while one is busy stuffing its collective head with nonsense at college. Meanwhile the youngest is either still wearing pampers or is secretly surfing the net in the pursuit of sex and violence. Give them real sex and they’ll forget the violence soon enough and get on with living instead.”

The kids are alright

Now, before any of you go all preachy on me, I’d like to point out that a) the number of countries that set the age of maturity at 15 or 16 far exceeds those who set it at 18 or 21, and b) most kids of 15, at least in western European societies, are no strangers to sex by that age anyway, so the idea is not as preposterous as it is surprising, neither is it especially immoral. J-M’s pension boost is not in fact suggesting anything illicit, permissive or particularly precocious, merely outside the conventional box wisdom.

“But you can’t have everyone becoming a parent while they’re still at secondary school,” I insisted, “How do you expect them to do their A-levels?

“A-levels, who needs ‘em?” riposted the parachute captain, “I said ‘out of school’ not ‘in school’, didn’t I? School’s no bloody use to them anyway above the age of fifteen. If you haven’t learned enough to get ahead by then, you probably never will. Get them outside into God’s good fresh air doing easily understandable, measureable and enjoyable work building roads and houses, ploughing fields, driving forklifts and bulldozers and fire trucks and trains, working oil-rigs and cranes and container gantries and sailing cargo ships. Isn’t that what you always wanted to do as a kid? Anything else they can learn from Wikipedia in their free time. We need to get away from this silly reliance on pieces of paper to certify who we are, what we know or what we are capable of doing. That’s why I joined the Parachute Regiment instead of the infantry.”

Doctor Jimmy and Mr Jim

Now J-M has the military man’s way of saying things as if they were already decided. You feel you could quite easily follow him up K3 or through the Ghobi desert or across the Antarctic on trust alone. But at this point I felt, as an ex literati and alumnus of the hallowed halls of learning, that I ought to put up at least a token fight, even at the risk of having my nose bone thrust into my frontal lobes, an act which I have heard some Belgian paras consider preferable to reason in the heat of critical dialogue.

“But, my dear Jean-Michel, we’ll still need professionals. We’ll still need people with degrees and even doctorates to help us plan our future, to design and administer all those roads and bridges and buildings and things. We’ll still need engineers and doctors and dentists and, who knows, maybe even a lawyer or two.”

“Fine by me, you can have all the professionals you want, as long as you leave out the bloody social sciences. We certainly won’t need any of them. You see, my plan goes like this: once our young turtledoves have had a couple of kids and got them as far as grade school, they’ll be around 25 years-old, the perfect time to go and study. They’ll be that much more mature, know more about life and the world. They’ll be able to hit the books that much harder and have a far clearer motivation for doing it.”

“You mean like feeding the family, or what other motivation did you have in mind?” I asked.

“Like never having to drive a bloody bulldozer, milk a goat, gut a million fish, climb a drilling tower or sort through a hundred thousand cubic metres of rubbish with a giant magnet ever, ever, ever again!”

Edwin Drood

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *