LIVES - turning points
And in the second [12-13 year old] year... I saw all the kids palling
up with each other, and I thought, "It's a fucking dead loss, you've
got to have someone to knock about with"... I clocked these two...
and I said, "Do you want to come down to our fucking house tonight?"...
And I started knocking about with them, they came down the first night,
and we drank a lot of whisky... and it was from there on. We parted off
from the rest (...) we always used to sit together, we used to start playing
up wild, like, 'cos playing up in them days was fucking hitting each other
with rulers, and talking, and it just stemmed from there. And Bill started
to come with us, Fred and then Spike ... And from then on it just escalated,
just came more and more separated. We used to go out of nights, and carrying
on from hitting each other with rulers we used to fucking chuck bottles
at each other... And from that came a bit of vandalism, here and there
That's it, we've developed certain ways of talking, certain ways of acting,
and we developed disregards for Pakis, Jamaicans and all different...
for all the scrubs and the fucking ear'oles [students who pay attention
to teachers] and all that(...). We're getting to know it now, like we're
getting to know all the cracks, like, how to get out of lessons and things,
and we know where to have a crafty smoke. You can come over here to the
youth wing and do summat, and er'm... all your friends are here, you know,
it's sort of what's there, what's always going to be there for the next
year, like, and you know you have to come to school today, if you're feeling
bad, your mate'll soon cheer yer up like, 'cos you couldn't go without
ten minutes in this school, without having a laff at something or other...
[Your mates] are about the best thing actually. (...) when you'm dossing
on your own, it's no good, but when you'm dossing with your mates, then
you're all together, you're having a laff and it's a doss.
I think fuckin' laffing is the most important thing in fuckin' everything.
Nothing ever stops me laffing (...)... I don't know why I want to laff,
I dunno why it's so fuckin' important. It just is (...) I think it's just
a good gift, that's all, because you can get out of any situation. If
you can laff, if you can make yourself laff, I mean really convincingly,
it can get you out of millions of things (...). You'd go fuckin' berserk
if you didn't have a laff occasionally.
We've [the lads] all bin with women and all that (...) we counted it
up the other day, how many kids had actually been with women like, how
many kids we know been and actually had a shag, and I think it only come
to, I think we got up to twenty-four (...) in the fifth year out of a
hundred kids, that's a quarter... It gets around you know, the group within
ourselves, the kids who we know who are sort of semi-earoles like...
they're a separate group from us and the ear'oles. Kids like Dover, Simms
and Willis, and one or two others like. They all mess about with their
own realm, but they're still fucking childish, the way they talk, the
way they act like. They can't mek us laff, we can mek them laff, they
can fucking get in tears when they watch us sometimes, but it's beyond
their powers to mek one of us laff, and then there's us (...) some of
them [the semi-ear'oles] have been with women and we know about it like.
The ear'oles (...) they've got it all to come. I mean look at Tom Bradley,
have you ever noticed him. I've always looked at him and I've thought,
"Well ... we've been through all life's pleasures and all its fucking
displeasures, we've been drinking, we've been fighting, we've known frustration,
sex, fucking hatred, love and all this lark, yet he's known none of it."...I
don't think school does fucking anything to you. It never has had much
effect on anybody. I don't think [after] you've learnt the basics. I mean
school, it's fucking four hours a day. But it ain't the teachers who mould
you, it's the fucking kids you meet. You'm only with the teachers 30 per
cent of the time in school, the other fucking two-thirds are just talking,
fucking pickin' an argument, messing about...
We used to make vague attempts at writing accounts of things we'd done
at school, y'know what I mean, we'd had to make an essay (...). I thought
that we were the artists of the school, because of the things we did,
I thought definitely we had our own sort of art form, the things we used
to get up to. And we were definitely the leaders of the school ... and
placed amongst ... if we were all separated and placed amongst groups
of the ear'oles we could have been leaders in our own right (...) something
should have been done with us, I mean there was so much talent there that
it was all fuckin' wasted...
[Teachers] 're able to punish us. They're bigger than us, they stand for
a bigger establishment than we do, like, we're just little and they stand
for bigger things, and you try to get your own back. ... That doesn't
rank them above us, just because they are slightly more intelligent...
The way we're subject to their every whim like. They want something doing
and we have to sort of do it, COs, er, ER, we're just, we're under them
like... Teachers do this, like, all of a sudden they'll make you do your
ties up and things like this. You're subject to their every whim like.
If they want something done, if you don't think it's right, and you object
against it, you're down to Simmondsy [the head], or you get the cane,
you get some extra work tonight. [You think of most staff as kind of enemies?]
...Most of them... It adds a bit of spice to yer life, if you're trying
to get him for something he's done to you...
You'm always looking out on somebody [when skiving] and you've always
got something to talk about... something. [What stops you being bored?]
Talking, we could talk forever, When we get together, it's talk, talk,
talk. [What's the opposite of boredom?] Excitement... Vandalising (...)
that's the opposite of boredom - excitement, defying the law and when
you're down "The Plough" and you talk to the gaffer, standing
by the gaffer, buying drinks and that, knowing that you're 14 and 15 and
you're supposed to be 18... There's no chivalry or nothing, none of this
cobblers you know, it's just ... if you'm gonna fight, it's savage fighting
anyway, so you might as well go all the way and win it completely by having
someone else help ya or by winning by the dirtiest methods you can think
of, like poking his eyes out or biting his ear and things like this...
it's exhilarating, it's like being scared it's the feeling you get afterwards...
I know what I feel when I'm fighting it's that I've got to kill him, do
your utmost best to kill him... I shake before I start fighting, I'm really
scared, but once you're actually in there, then you start to co-ordinate
your thoughts like, it gets better and better and then, if you'm good
enough, you beat the geezer. You get him down on the floor and just jump
all over his head. After all, you can't live without bread, let's face
it, fucking money is the spice of life, money is life. Without money,
you'd fucking die. I mean there's nothing fucking round here to eat, you
couldn't fucking eat trees, you couldn't eat bark...
It ain't only that [crime]s enjoyable, it's that it's there and
you think you can get away with it... you never think of the risks. You
just do it. If theres an opportunity, if the door's open to the
warehouse, youm in there, seeing what you can thieve and then, when
you come out like, if you don't get caught immediately, when you come
out you'm really happy like... COs you're defying the law again.
The law's a big tough authority like and we're just little individuals
yet we're getting away with it like.
I couldn't fucking survive on the wage [in training] it'd be [so much]
a week for the first year or two, every birthday it goes up or summat,
I couldn't do that. I'm more the energetic type, I always think, why fucking
walk around somewhere, when you can jump over. I'm always fucking jumping
over fences (...) I'm quite satisfied as I am now not taking any leaving
qualifications, if I'm intelligent enough, it'll fucking show through
(...) or I'll make 'em see that I'm something. I'll make 'em see that
I'm worth a bit of an investment and perhaps then I'll get on a fucking
course (...) I mean let's face it, it's fucking easy, it's really fucking
easy... He [his father] makes it all sound like a big fucking school,
he makes it sound like this place. He was telling me the other day he
says... We was talking about messing about, and the old lady says "Well,
you shouldn't mess about", and the old man says, "We do."
(...) He reckons they're always fucking about like this, like and I thought
it must be just like an extension of school, fucking working in factories,
with the same people, the same people every day, you'd fuck about every
day, you'd come there and it'd be all the same people like every day...
They'm all like kids down there [on work experience], like, they bin
there about ten years and they, one's been there thirty-nine fucking years.
But most of 'em, they walk about making soft noises and shouting for no
reason at all. And they swear like troopers at each other, and they call
each other names and mek up nicknames for each other. It's just like an
extension of school - they all mess about. It's to try and make it alright
I asked the old lady... "Ain't you fucking bothered what I become,
don't you worry about it like?" Her never said, "What do you
want to be?" Nor the old man never said anything. But she answered
it in a nutshell. She said, "What difference would it make if I fucking
said anything?" Her said, "You'll still be what you want to
be". So I thought, "Oh well".
Yes, if everybody don't start putting me off it. Our old lady, the first
thing her said when her fuckin' woke me up this morning, her said, "Oh,
I don't want to go to work". So I says, "I fucking do, I don't
mind, I'll start". Then her fucking said, "You'll hate it, You'll
hate it"...We wanna live for now, wanna live while we're young,
We want money to go out with, wanna go with women now, wanna have cars
now, and uh think about five, ten, fifteen years time when it comes, but
other people, say people like the ear'oles, they'm getting their exams,
they'm working, having no social life, having no fun, and they're waiting
for fifteen years time when they're people, when they've got married and
things like that. I think that's the difference. We are thinking about
now, and having a laff now, and they're thinking about the future and
the time that'll be best for 'em (...). They're the ones that abide by
the rules. They're the civil servant types, they'll have 'ouses and everything
before us(...). They'll be the toffs, I'll say they'll be the civil servants,
toffs, and we'll be the brickies and things like that...
Were the ones that do the hard grafting, but not them, theyll
be the office workers. I aint got no ambitions... I just want to
have a nice wage, thatd just see me through.
I don't say it's wise, I say it's better for us, people, the likes of
us, we've tasted, we've tasted not the good life, we've tasted, you know,
the special life what you'd have when you're older. I think we just like
it too much, I know I do anyway. I don't think you can cut yourself off
from it now and do an apprenticeship and all that... and not have much
It wasn't sensible [messing about in school], it was the only thing you
could do... it was more fun than doing fucking nothing(...). They gave
us the responsibility and we just didn't know, no matter how much anyone
told me, if they'd've hypnotised me, I still wouldn't have thought I really
needed them, COs I read it in the book, we all thought we were gonna make
it without 0-levels, we can you know but it would have been much easier
with em... We've just been thrust into society too soon, we've been
brought up to be too selfish we're too selfish, we couldn't care less,
you see on the tele so many people fuckin' affluent, you just want to
try and do that, make it, get money, you don't care about others, the
It's just a... fucking way of earning money. There's that many ways to
do it (...) jobs all achieve the same, they make you money, nobody does
a job for the love of a job (...) you wouldn't do it for nothing. I don't
think anyone would, you need the bread to live (...) there's a difference
in the actual ways you do 'em, but it's there like, they all achieve the
same end, they all achieve money, they're all the same like...
You can always mek it enjoyable. It's only you what makes a job unpleasant...
I mean if you're cleaning sewers out, you can have your moments like.
Not every job's enjoyable, I should think. Nobody's got a job they like
unless they're a comedian or something, but uh ... no job's enjoyable
COs of the fact that you've got to get up of a morning and go out when
you could stop in bed. I think every job's got, has a degree of unpleasantness,
but it's up to you to mek ... to push that unpleasantness aside and mek
it as good and as pleasant as possible. It wasn't [being masculine], it
was just that mental work was what teachers required, to do what they
wanted. If the teachers had let us play up, say "OK, off you go,
if theyd ave said that wed ave wanted to do whatever
they said they didnt want us to do(...).
They won't take advantage, take advantage in our sense, you know, they'll
never make a fool of us in these years COs we're so masculine, that's
all I can see. If I'd 've taken the track of the ear'oles all the violence
in me would have petered out a bit, you know what I mean,
it would have jaded a bit... and then "the lads" who were still
performing would take advantage of you, I could never do it... It's our
previous life, our fathers were working class, physical, their physicalness
has come over to us...[It's important to have the story, why's
that?] I dunno, you've always got to justify it. You seem a bit of a cunt
if you're just doing it like, ER I can't explain, really you've got to
justify, you've always got to make it seem alright, and there is a reason
for doing it(...). This justification is only for me, not for the police.
The police, I'd just say, "I didn't mean to do it" and start
crying and all that bollocks, trying to get yourself out of it... you
know, I've got to have some reason for justifying it like. I always feel
you'll be called to answer for it, in this life or the next. You'll always
be called to answer for the things you do. [But if you don't believe it
yourself, is it going to help?] It helps to an extent. Some cases, like,
you can really justify it and it puts it out of your mind, whereas with
others (...) you have to try and think summat out, to try and justify
it, on the surface it justifies it, but not deep down. Deep down you know
that it ain't right. It's just for when anybody else talks about it, you
say, "Ah well, there's some reason, I wasn't thinking of anything
cruel"...[But you could go back to college.] I don't know, the only
thing I'm interested in is fucking as many women as I can if you really
Learning to Labour- How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs
Farnborough: Saxon House, 1978, reprinted Ashgate, 1980, pp. 11-199.
Extracted with permission.
Copyright Paul Willis, 1977
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