In 2006 a bright young man ( my son Alex) sat back in my flat and told me he wanted to join The Army. Me being me, I replied with " Al, if you want to brush the streets brush the streets, if you want to drive a bus, drive a bus, if you want to play for Everton, drive the bus", it drew a huge outburst of laughter. We used to go to EFC back then, had a few good days, notably when they beat Coventry on the last day to stay up, I can see him and his younger brother Shaun running around on the pitch at the final whistle now. Difficult to type actually, but hey ho.
Why did this young bloke want to join up? Scrub that, why do any young people want to do that? Al had been swilling around in the world of doing a lot for a little whilst into the bargain being treated like a dog. This I know because he used to ask me stuff, I had been a union rep for years, and he often raised things which made my hair stand on end.
He ended up one time working in a certain burger bar, that came to a memorable end after an incident involving the managers head and a jar of some sauce or other. Point here being, would that young bloke still be alive if better options had been available to him? Can this be said of many others who are now no longer with us?
Al grew up on a knockabout council estate in Warrington, never had much to brag about and at school was bullied. As he grew bigger and stronger and more street wise, the bullies became the bullied. He left school with no qualifications in particular, but was far from thick. Loved games, was good in goal and liked boxing and Rugby League. Did his education fail him? Did he fail his education?
The clues are all there, run down council estate, run down school, keen on the physical side of education. This he carried on after leaving, most Sunday mornings spent on muddy council pitches trying to keep the score down to five or six. Due to the bullying , he looked out for others. One story made the local paper after he died, a girl was being picked on at the school gates at the end of the day, he saw it, asked the girl(who he did not know) where she lived and walked her home, in the opposite direction to the way he should have gone. This is a trait which is quite common amongst soldiers.
So, a bright kid, an honourable kid, a dependable and honest kid. DEAD.
The important thing here, to me, is the absolute lack of pathways for him to map out a life, he was never looking to be rich or famous or any of that. Schools all over the UK are churning out thousands of kids like him. I am going back to 2006 here, I would confidently suggest it is far worse now. How is it possible to engage with these fine young people and get them to knuckle down and reach higher levels of attainment?
They soak up the news, on and on, unemployment, low wages, homelessness, inflation, corruption, worst of all they soon cotton on to the scariest of truths. Only a very few make good lives in the modern UK society. They leave school at the end of their school day, trudge home along run down streets to run down homes and eat the cheapest mass production heavily processed food that can be afforded. Again the news bombards them with the endless normalisation of the dire conditions that surround them and their friends. They do not even have hope anymore.
Estates like these are the breeding grounds of addictions, crime, anti establishment ideals, hatred of the well off, and , cannon fodder. I do not have the figures to hand here, I will confidently state that the majority of young enlistees come from such appalling backgrounds, why would that be eh?
Council estates, examples of hell on earth? well, they can be. They can also be tightly knit communities, places where people have that indefinable immense pride in each other because they rise above it and bring up happy enthusiastic kids. Places where lifelong friendships are formed. But, that requires money to be invested.
Image that, money spent on such places, money for leisure centres, swimming pools, libraries, football or rugby clubs, cricket or tennis, in the middle of council estates!!
Lets go mad and introduce Employment Advice Centres, run by the council, not signing on places, places solely for assisting the residents to earn money. Staffed by people who know the area, and likely have a knowledge of the people and specific problems and how to deal with them. Well, I can dream. (Did we not used to have those for the Disabled)?
Earning of money for the young today. Joke, bad joke. Paid the absolute minimum that the Law allows. Likely never getting Two days off together. Treated like a dog. A whole weekend off being nothing short of miraculous. The children of tomorrow really will live in the tears that fall today.
Lets expand this just a little. What if the kid has only one parent? or there are addiction problems in the house, or the relationships in the house are fracturing? There are debt problems, or, God forbid, all of the above?
This is what today constitutes a "successful economy". The kids hear this and read it every single day and try to set about their lives under its shadow.
Why should they bother? I can only put forward one reason, and it is a truly staggering one.
Because it is better than being flown home to RAF Brize Norton in a wooden box.
I will return to the story of Alex now and again. It is 15 years since Iraq. I cannot allow the general public to be so unaware of some of the facts and things I have learned in those unwanted years.