Maiden Voyage

By Clarke, Jeremy | The Spectator, September 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Maiden Voyage


Clarke, Jeremy, The Spectator


The emblazoned ship was just in. Foot passengers had yet to appear in the terminal's arrivals shed, which was silent and deserted except for this wonderfully fat, moon-faced man taking up all the room on the only bench provided for meeters and greeters. He was perched at the exact centre, his legs as wide apart as they'd go. He looked up and smiled at me, and without any formal preliminaries told me that he was waiting to meet his Aunt Dolly, his only living relative, whom he hadn't seen for about a year.

I would have liked to reciprocate his open-heartedness by telling him I was there to meet my 16-year-old boy, who has just left school. That he is a bright, goodnatured, obedient boy, and that, year after year, the teachers we interviewed at his school's parents' evenings all said what a model student he was. And how he's just left school barely able to read and write, knows nothing about anything, is not interested in anything, has no qualifications worth having, has no prospect even of a job filling supermarket shelves, and is on knockout pills for depression. Also, I wanted to tell him how disillusioned I am that all those thrilling slogans about the future of state education have turned out to be yet another confidence trick played on the white working class by a coterie of fantastic hypocrites that educates its own children privately.

We'd get over it somehow though, I would have assured him of that. We were going to fight back. And we were going to start by robbing the robbers. To recompense my boy for his gimcrack education, I've invested in a small business, to be run by him, in which he'll nip back and forth across the English Channel, bringing back tax-free hand-rolling tobacco, which he'll sell on privately around the council estate where he lives, thus depriving the government of revenue. I would also have liked to tell him how excited I was at that moment, because this was my boy's first tobacco run, and the first time he'd been abroad on his own.

Fortunately, he went with his mother's blessing. His mother's mother, however, was anxious; she travelled 20 miles to the ferry terminal to see him off, chain-smoking all the way. His mother's mother's mother, on the other hand, was so pleased about her great-grandson's new career as an international businessman that she contributed a £5 note and a St Christopher medallion, costing £7.99, ordered from the catalogue. …

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