Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Meet Ben

My last post about the hardships of life was so popular (at both ends of the sympathy spectrum) that today we’re going to meet Ben. I don’t know Ben, but in the same way that Raymond found himself in the spotlight, so does he. In another piece of fearless journalism, the BBC has chosen Ben to represent a generation of young people with seemingly no hope and no prospects. Though I disagree, I actually have a great deal more sympathy with Ben than I do with Raymond – for starters I have kids, and I don’t want them to end up like Ben. And as you may recall, I had no sympathy with Raymond whatsoever. None. And anyway, Ben receives a tenth what Raymond does. Mind you, he could quit smoking....

Ben is 25 and last worked when he was about 21, though the jobs were essentially menial. If you listen to the accompanying audio clip, he sounds an OK kind of bloke, relatively articulate, relatively intelligent. For the last three or so years though, it appears he has sat at home playing video games, watching TV, and smoking. Note that this is not too different from Raymond....  The article unfortunately goes into no depth as to how Ben ended up where he is – this is a shame, it would have been far more insightful had we heard something about Ben’s family life as a teenager and even earlier, and what might have caused his premature exit from the job market, and seemingly, a fulfilling life.

Let me start by saying I am not a psychologist, I am making this up as I go along, but to me the issue seems one of being stuck in a rut and of having no confidence, and one probably feeds the other into an ever descending spiral.  People are born very different, and I believe that some people have a natural confidence. Ben has very little, or at least very little now. There is probably a nurture vs nature element here, hence why some life-history beyond poor exam grades would have been helpful, but I think that confident parents produce confident offspring, be it genetic inheritance or merely a function of what life is like growing up in a particular household. If I had to put money on it, I’d say it’s both - Darwin had nothing on me. Apart from me, my whole family is very confident....

Whether you are brimming with personality and a sense of self-worth or not, I am a firm believer that life is what you make it. Ben (and his flatmate) are, to my mind, not making the most of it. My personal experience is perhaps not ideal for being able to understand and empathise with feelings of complete despair, but Ben needs to get real and pull himself together. I’m sure he’d love to hear that from me, and would immediately go and do the washing up, and from that first squirt of Fairy his life would dramatically turn around. For that is all it would take, one thing would lead to another. Imagine the satisfaction of doing three weeks worth of washing up – he could even tackle it over a couple of days if he so chose, it’s not like he has anything else to do is it? He says he's unimaginably bored, but clearly not bored enough to do the dishes. Imagine looking at the now immaculate draining board and thinking “Wow, that was me!" - I get that feeling and I'm a happy kind of person, so imagine what it might do to Ben! He might then clean the whole kitchen, which is almost certainly totally disgusting. A quick 48 hour gaming stint, and then he might progress to the no doubt equally-horrible bathroom – in fact I just shuddered involuntarily as I envisaged what it might be like. And here’s the key, with the sink shining, and the mirror clean, would he shave off that scabby beard? A beard which shouts “loser”. A beard which totally precludes employment of any kind. A beard which totally defines the kind of individual that Ben currently is. He insists, of course, that he isn’t lazy. A large beard, three weeks worth of washing up in the sink, mould in his tea-cup and not leaving the house for days at a time, and that’s not lazy? What would you call it then, a life-style choice? Don’t get me wrong, I feel sorry for the guy, I can’t even begin to comprehend how miserable he feels, but at the same time, how difficult can it be?

A few tiny things – no, miniscule things –  and the sense of despair and hopelessness could be alleviated, however fractionally. Sitting at home in a filthy flat playing computer games isn’t going to help him meet people or help him get a job. Surely anyone can see that? The BBC doesn’t mention his IQ, other than to say that he didn’t do well in exams which isn’t correlated to intelligence. I didn't think he sounded stupid, but he must be if he can’t see that the future holds no promise for as long as he doesn’t sort himself out. I realise that this sounds supremely arrogant - I only wrote it to annoy the anonymous commentators. One thing I do know, and that I would hope everyone agrees with, is that to sit at home and play computer games and watch TV requires far less effort than getting up and at least attempting to do something else that might actually help. In other words, it’s a complete cop out.

One thing I do appreciate is his comment about the lack of feedback after job interviews. I wouldn’t employ him either, but I’d tell him why (see above), which might be highly discriminatory but would help propel him in the right direction. Or my view of the right direction anyway, which is generally known to pragmatic people as “real life”.  When I was trying to get a job last year after over two years out of paid work and thus diminished experience (note that I viewed what I did – childcare - as an alternative form of work; typically prospective employers did not...) I had several interviews. These were at big, multi-national companies, not small local businesses. One was at a quasi-government institution! Not one of these places ever gave me any feedback about why I hadn’t got the job. Two of the places I never heard from again – at all! That they didn’t want me is purely an assumption on my part after a couple weeks of silence! You would think that if you have washed yourself, dressed up nicely, presented yourself at their offices at the appointed time, in other words been thoroughly professional in all respects, that - irrespective of how you performed in the interview - at the very least you might get some constructive feedback. And if that is too much, too burdensome, at least an email or a phone call to say thanks but no thanks. If my experience is anything to go by - and I would like to think I am a damn sight more professional than Ben is when he turns up for a role – it is no wonder young people can quickly become disillusioned and jaded by what they would naturally perceive to be a rather nasty and unfair system where they have no visible worth. They end up blaming the damn system, and from there it is but a short step to burning Tottenham and swinging on the Cenotaph.
So – and you knew this was coming, right? - my advice to Ben. The fact that he’s not asked for any is irrelevant.

1) Clean your filthy flat, it will make you feel better about yourself, and that is half the battle.
2)     2) Clean yourself - ditto.
3)     3) Get rid of the beard, and get a haircut. You will be amazed at the prejudices that will melt away. People probably think you're a birder.
4)      4) Kick your flatmate into shape as well, you probably feed off each other.
5)      5) Quit smoking, it is a waste of what was once my money.
6)      6) Stop playing computer games and get your ass out of the house.
7)      7) Start with unpaid work. Do anything. It will get something current on your CV and potentially give you a sense of worth and of belonging.

Of these seven pearls, numbers one to three are the most important, and it’s crucial you start with these. They were probably the first things to slip as you started your slide into the cycle of failing and believing you are a failure, and their reversal could also be the springboard to climbing out of it. Please bear in mind I’m not a qualified self-help expert, though you would struggle to tell. I come from the “pull yourself together” school of advice. So Ben, I admit it might not work (though the chances are very slim), but how will you know unless you start to do something?  Because at the moment you’re doing nothing, and that definitely won’t work.

If it doesn’t, and in two months from now you still find yourself at a loose end, at least get some bins and go find a local patch. Migration should be in full swing, and finding a Wheatear cannot fail to lift your spirits.


  1. Have you realised since you went back to work at the Bank you have become increasingly right wing and frighteningly intolerant.Stick to writing about birds and birding as your posts were amusing and interesting and that is why I read your blog.Anymore of your sermonising and I will be hitting the delete button - Ewan

  2. interesting,

    a) you're not getting enough sex
    b) you're very unhappy with your working life
    c) you're the lovechild of George Osborne
    d) you're actually quite unpleasant
    e) ?

  3. Ewan, you are very nearly correct. Working in a bank is very bad for me - when I get home from a 45 hour week during which I’ve seen hardly any birds and instead worked my socks off in a high-pressure environment, I often feel the need to vent some steam. Reading about layabouts who are not working their socks off and instead enjoying (or not) the amount of free time I would like to have is a natural place to vent that steam. Funnily enough, over the last two years when I was looking after the kids and just pootling around, I was – outwardly, ie to you – a much nicer person. I had little stress in my life, and the need to vent steam rarely surfaced. I say very nearly correct because I assure you that whilst not working in a bank I had precisely the same feelings about Raymond and Ben, I just didn’t tell you about them. I had more than enough other, nicer things to write about. Things like all the birding I used to do, things like all the time I used to spend with my kids. I far preferred my time not working, but it wasn’t economically sustainable, and my intolerant right-wing principles mean I’m not prepared to have another twenty-five children, invest in a massive TV, and sit on my arse at the tax-payer’s expense for the next decade. Nobody owes me a living, I’m sorry if that offends you.

    I set out writing this blog for me, and I still do. When I wasn’t working it provided intellectual stimulus, and gave me something to do instead of sitting around smoking. When I realised that people actually read it, naturally this coloured what I wrote, but it didn’t mean I stopped being me, and so I let it all flow out. That said, I enjoy interaction with readers – show me a blogger who does not – and as such I publish every comment, even those posted anonymously (with the exception of ones that are just offensive, hence my recent switch to approving them). So I had no problem hearing that there was disapproval and readership malaise in relation to the recent post about Ben, in fact I expected it. You can’t please everyone, and I certainly do not set out to. Can you imagine how bland this would end up? I write it as much for me as for you. The threat to stop reading, press delete or whatever, is thus a hollow one. And that I’m frighteningly intolerant is frankly laughable. Frighteningly intolerant I’d reserve for the Klu Klux Clan, not a London-based blogger who occasionally goes off on one in response to news articles about lazy people. Get some perspective.

  4. Hi Tim - b)

    Do you really think a) could be a factor though? Could you speak to my wife?

  5. Hi, I haven't read the article, but it sounds like this guy might have depression. IF (big IF) this is the case, then telling him to get out of the house/snap out of it is a bit like telling someone with Measles to stop being ill.

    One major problem in the UK is the lack of available help for mental health issues, such as free counselling and not just giving pills to people to get them out of the GP's consulting room (if they even manage to get to their GP's in the first place). If this sounds like namby-pamby woolly nonsense then I guess we can continue ignoring the increasing problem and thus save costs because the suicide rate will go up, and just hope that none of them will be selfish enough to cost us productivity by doing so in front of a train or by causing crime etc.

    I know that's not what you're saying, it's just a general comment on the right-wing media persecution of those who haven't been so fortunate in life. For some it may be their fault, for some they may be able to sort it out with a bit of a stern talking to, but attacking the vulnerable is risky and unhelpful for many. I heard Lambeth council is saving money by taking away travel passes for the mentally ill - this reminds me a bit of the part in "Life is Beautiful" (set in WW2) when a fascist woman is chatting to her friends over dinner about how much keeping a disabled person alive costs. Clearly it's at the other end of the scale, but it's still wise to be very cautious about kicking those who are down, and stop to take a look at how society's attitudes are beginning to change.

    Still - this is assuming he is indeed ill and not just a bit lazy!! And I do appreciate you're not going so far as some of my comments above, just I'm worried about what a bit of financial change is doing to this society.

    All the best.

  6. Have a read of it, and better still, if it's still available, listen to the audio excerpt. I didn't think he sounded depressed, but make up your own mind.

    As an aside, a lot of people seem to take what I write at 100% face value. This is a big mistake. I don't know how long various commentators have been reading my ramblings, but I would hope that the general impression over the long term is one of tongue-in-cheek and humourous intent, rather than out and out fascism, which, on the basis of TWO posts, is what I am getting accused of. I guess that's the internet for you though...

    1. Fair enough, I should really read the article before I can judge this guy's case. But just to say, as I pointed out in my rather earnest comment, I wasn't at all saying you personally were being fascist, just that's the mood in the press at the moment. I guess I am just worried about the prevailing press/political attitude towards some sections of society. Point taken that you're not being 100% serious, though much of the media is (and, let's face it, it does get the comments coming in!).

  7. Mr Beale has gone all Godwins on us. But very marginally.

    Do we count that? I think we count that.

  8. Good lord, as an American I wish our right-wingers spoke just like Jonathan (even if he were being 100% serious). How I would love to have a right wing like that. Seriously, anonymous, come on over here sometime, we'll give you intolerant fascism. Sadly.

    Can't listen to the bit right now but I do agree Ben could be depressed, although I will further qualify that by saying that I think there are a lot of people out there who identify as depressed, are taking antidepressants and doing therapy, etc., who would probably benefit much more from exercise/outdoors time and the sort of therapy-through-activity you describe. (But it's much easier for society, from big pharma through the corporation that wants you to put in 60 hours a week, if you just take a pill instead.)

    But I do have to remark that, even though I actually agree with your washing up idea, you have more or less replicated the FlyLady method (

  9. Parus, you would say that because that's exactly what Hitler would have said had he been alive in... oh I see.... I'll get my coat

  10. It's your blog and people can read it or not read if they want. That's the beauty of freedom of speech. I personally don't see why you feel the need to defend your position - it's a personal view and that's the end of it. Anyway, you think that's bad. I'm actually getting excited by the idea of going to Beddington at first light to watch gulls all morning. How depressing is that...