The most honest and realistic answer I could have given at age 13 to the question "What are you thinking of doing when you leave school?" would have been "Killing myself".
Before then, I had never seriously thought about it. It had always been too distant a prospect to warrant more than a few seconds' consideration. If asked that question I would think something like "well, I like playing with water pipes" and answer "be a plumber", or think "I like animals" and answer "be a vet", and then forget about it. And this was perfectly adequate, since the purpose of answering was no more than to utter words which would act as an incantation to get some annoying adult to shut up and stop asking shit nosey questions about subjects I fundamentally wasn't interested in. Much the same as most answers given to the robotically psittacine adults who would spout this sort of crap on greeting the family: "Ooh, is this Pigeon?" (Who else am I likely to be?) "Hasn't he grown!!!" (Do you really have no idea just how inane and stupid that thoroughly unoriginal comment is?) "I remember the last time I saw him he was only this high." (And I don't remember that time at all, I don't even know who the fuck you are...) "I suppose he'll be doing O-levels soon." (Yes, that does tend to be true of kids my age.) "How old is he now?" (Old enough to be doing O-levels soon, you fucking great mong.) "What do you want to do when you leave school, Pigeon?" (Introduce the death penalty for attempting to "make conversation" in such a mindlessly formulaic manner that you might as well be following a script.)
But when I was 13 I went to a new school and entered the period of time when the question did have to be seriously considered, as its answer was relevant to A-level course choices, which in turn affected O-level course choices, and those had to be made now. For the first time I had to try and imagine what I would be spending all my time doing in more detailed and realistic terms than simply naming some job that involved the same things that I liked playing with.
And when I did apply my powers of imagination to the visualisation of the possible course that my adult life might take, it became very plain indeed that any possibility that wasn't hopelessly unrealistic essentially equated to all the shit things about school in exaggerated form with all the good things about school missing. In short, any available option would be fucking bleak.
There was plainly no realistic prospect of being able to spend my days in enjoyable activity. School had made it very clear already that no matter how much I enjoyed doing something when I was doing it just to please myself, that same something would be transformed into tedium of the highest order by having to do it out of necessity, and by having to do it according to how someone else wanted it done. Maybe I did like doing things with water pipes or electronics or whatever when I was doing it at my own pace, at a time of my choosing, for my own amusement, but doing it all day, every day, in a manner designed to please someone else, and doing it because I had to do it, it would not take long before all traces of appeal had been wiped from that activity for ever.
There would be no relief, either, from spending all my days in grey tedium. There would be no change every 45 minutes to some other thing which while it might be no less tedious was at least completely different. There would be no long breaks mid-morning and at lunchtime. There would be no free periods, neither scheduled ones nor unofficial ones created by skiving PE. There would be no more long holidays three times a year, instead I'd be lucky to get two weeks consecutively and the rest of the "holiday" time would end up being frittered away on the myriad of things that have to be done but also necessarily involve interaction with other people during business hours and so can only be done by taking a day off. Even the days themselves would be two or three hours longer, and they were quite fucking long enough already.
I would also be largely denied the relief available from fucking about. The environment would be far more authoritarian and the freedom far less. School, when it came down to it, could not impose any truly effective punishment. The worst they could do was yell at you. Employers, on the other hand, could deprive you of the ability to obtain food and maintain shelter; and they would be far less inhibited about taking such extreme measures, and far more sweeping in their categorisation of behaviour as being considered to warrant it.
I was, I realised, doomed to spend all my days in tedium far more mindless and unvarying, and with far less relief, than the worst school could ever offer. And the time this would drag on for was beyond imagination. Eighteen to sixty-five. Forty-seven fucking years. Three and a half times the duration of my entire life to that point; more like five times the timespan that I had clear memories of. At that age such a long span of time was entirely beyond my ability to visualise; all I could do was try to approximate - and the approximation, which I was aware would fall short of the reality, was fucking horrific enough. The reality would be far worse.
So, then, what would be the other side of the coin? What good things would become available to me by way of compensation, that might make it bearable?
Oh, money. I would be paid. Oh, woop-de-bloody-do. That was supposed to be compensation for the loss of all opportunity for enjoyment for forty-seven years? Fucking money? Bollocks. Money is a necessity - it is the need to maintain a supply of food and a place to live, for which money is required, that would condemn me to this shite in the first place. I was supposed to regard the possibility of having significantly more of it than was required to service the necessities as being sufficient compensation for any amount of shit. Why? What was I supposed to do with it that would be so fucking amazing that it would make up for spending all my waking hours doing something I wished I didn't have to do?
The only way in which money could make such an existence worth putting up with would be if I was paid such scads of it that it would take no longer than a time comparable with that spent at school for me to accumulate enough of it to remove the need to spend any more time getting it. Chance of that? Fuck all, of course. Rock stars might be able to make enough to retire aged 30 but 999,999 out of 1,000,000 people have no fucking chance. I'd stand a much bigger chance of being struck by lightning.
And really, being struck by lightning would be preferable to not being struck by it.
Did "they" really think I would be fooled by the propaganda in the careers room? Or by the more personally-oriented crap from people saying I was really good at science and would become some sort of new Einstein? Did it not occur to anyone that once I had arrived in the position of having to think seriously about how I would live after school, I would ignore the propaganda and base my thinking on what real people actually did spend their time doing?
Heck, I had my own father as an example. He had chosen work on the basis of what he was interested in and he readily admitted that the shine wore off in a few years and he spent more and more of his time in tedious crap. Moreover, it was right about now that he took a promotion which meant that he would have no interesting stuff to do but instead would be exclusively involved in boring admin shite all the time - which he felt he had to do because he needed the money to maintain a family, even though he didn't like the work. And he has way, way more tolerance both of boring shite and of authority than I do.
And I could see that that sort of thing was pretty typical. Everyone had that kind of shit. Everyone spent their days in drudgery because the need for money left them no choice. Everyone found that even if they did manage to get a job which accorded with their interests, the reality of it left them with little chance to reap any reward from that aspect. Everyone found that as they got older, if the nature of their work changed at all it was only in the direction of eliminating what aspect of interest there had been. Everyone... well of course there were exceptions, but they were only a tiny proportion of the whole even if they did attract a wholly disproportionate amount of attention.
I was repeatedly told - sometimes explicitly, more often by way of allusion - that because of my intelligence I would more or less automatically become one of the "exceptions", as long as I didn't fuck my exams up. Now that I came to think seriously about the matter it became plain that this was complete bollocks. Intelligence itself has little more than fuck all to do with it. If anything it makes matters worse. Far more significant are other qualities of mind of which I have no trace - tolerance of boredom, tolerance of authority, tolerance of piss fucking stupid conventions, ability to cooperate with other people, and above all tolerance of and ability to deal with all the flaming shite which is lumped as "business". Essentially, to be a sort of business robot, suppressing or eliminating all emotion in the cause of toeing the line.
And even then, none of that is any use without the one consummately overriding factor, the one which the propagandists refuse to admit even the existence of, let alone the importance - LUCK. The propagandists insist that "anyone can get where they want by hard work" in total defiance of reality. It's bullshit. It's bleeding obvious bullshit. All most people get out of hard work is harder work. The propagandists try and hide this fact by concentrating on the tiny minority who do get something out of it (though interestingly they ignore the even tinier minority who get something worth having out of it) and get away with their blatant sampling bias because it fits in with what people want to hear, but it's still bullshit. All the useful mental qualities in the world won't get you anywhere if you don't have the luck of an opportunity to do something with them (and no, you can't "make your own opportunities", for fuck's sake; opportunities are made by what other people do, not what you do); and if you do have the luck, you can be a complete fucking div and still get something.
At age 13, I had discovered that I had five years left of life worth living and after that, barring some million-to-one chance, I was fucked.
I reacted by spending my nights brooding over it and, failing to see any way out of the pit, concluded that the most sensible thing to do would be to find where my dad kept his gun and shoot myself with it.
I didn't, of course; I bottled it, which was probably a good thing as the chance of a successful suicide with a .22 is pretty slim. In the end I decided that I could at least put it off another three years by going to university, and in the meantime I began to get into Pink Floyd and then into programming Commodore PETs and BBC Micros, both of which provided fine distractions.
When I eventually did get to university, I learned that in fact there was a solution, to some extent, albeit one that the propagandists had done their best to denigrate.
Before going to university I had never even got drunk. I had no idea what any of the variations on the theme of getting out of your head were like and I didn't understand why anyone would want to do it. I began to understand after consuming four pints of cider at a freshers' party. A week or so later someone passed me a spliff, and despite never even having smoked tobacco before, I thought "ah, what the fuck" and smoked it. After that I had no trouble at all understanding why people would want to get out of their heads.
Also, of course, as a result of meeting large numbers of people some of whom had been doing drugs for years, I quickly realised that the "drugs are baad, mmmkay" propaganda is a load of bullshit as well.
When the time finally came that I could no longer avoid that which I had been dreading, I was therefore in a fine position to observe that being forced to spend all day doing some shite I didn't want to be doing was a fuck sight more bearable if I was sufficiently off my trolley that most of me was off somewhere else having a good time.
Though, as it turned out, still not bearable enough for me to keep it up indefinitely. I did still get to the point where I couldn't face any more of this fucking shit and started bunking off instead (it was that or go fucking mad). It just took longer. Better than nothing, by a long way, but still not all the way there.
The next step kind of made itself. The limited success of the drug method became even more limited when I no longer found it pleasant to get so blitzed. The other escape route turned out to be in the opposite direction: instead of using drugs to get as far out of my head as possible, it was naturally effective to simply cease trying to deny my mind's inherent tendencies and offer no resistance to it pulling me all the way inside my head and pulling the shutters down behind, blocking all incoming connections from the outside world and making no outgoing connections other than those I personally choose to make. It is a lot more peaceful in here.
Having mentioned Pink Floyd earlier on, it occurs to me that this seems to be - as far as I can tell from what I've read here and there - pretty much what Syd Barrett did. Everyone says he lost it because they could not communicate with him, but to me it seems more like he found it, found a way to retreat completely inside his own head and lock everyone else out. He didn't need other people to communicate with him. They were not happy about it, but I've not seen anything to suggest that he himself was unhappy; on the contrary, it sounds to me like the more reclusive and disconnected he became, the more he was at peace. I don't think he was an "acid casualty". Roger Waters reckons he could see the signs long before Syd got into acid, and he'd have ended up the same way without any drugs. That makes sense to me. I think he ended up where he really wanted to be all along, and all the acid may have done is help him. To me it seems that the "tragedy" aspect of the Syd story is all about how everyone else reacted, and has very little to do with what it was like from Syd's own point of view (which nobody got to see). Looking at the ways they all went after Syd had left the band, if I had to choose which one of them I was to be it would be Syd.
In all the time since school I have seen nothing that fundamentally contradicts my assessment at age 13. All around me I see people of whom I think "no fucking way would I swap places with you", and I can't think of anyone - whether someone I know or a public figure - that I actively would want to swap places with. They all seem to spend their days doing fucking awful things that would force me into disconnection far more quickly than anything I have ever done, and the more money they have the more hideous their lives seem to be. They all seem to have an immense capacity for pretending shit isn't shit to the point where they actually believe it, or at the very least pretending that the shit doesn't stink, to the extent that I don't have the first bleeding clue how they can possibly manage it. Not one of them is even remotely close to amassing enough money to get off the treadmill, nor has any prospect of doing so. And I still hold the view that if amassing that much money is not a realistic prospect then there's no point trying to amass some lesser amount which is still well beyond that required to service those needs which arise as a direct result of biology. That which I spend on myself over and above those needs (excluding vehicle-related expenditure) probably doesn't average out to more than twenty or thirty pounds a month over a year, and when I look at what other people spend their money on they seem to be just spending it for the sake of it because they can't think of anything better to do than keep buying overpriced shit they don't need.
The right wing and the left wing constantly bicker at each other over who should do how much of the work and who should get the benefit of it, and in doing this both are equally blind to the real point: nobody needs to do most of the work and nobody benefits from it. By eliminating the truly vast amount of work which exists only to create work for work's sake, spending the ten per cent extra that it would take to make artefacts last ten times as long, and handing the dehumanisingly robotic aspects of what little remains over to actual robots (which even with current technology are still potentially capable of most of it), it would be entirely possible to reduce the "working week" to less than four hours and still ensure that everyone has everything they need. (Yes, it may well be that people are no longer able to continually spend loads of money on shit they don't need and throw it away six months later, but on the other hand they won't be having to continually distract themselves from reality to maintain the self-deception that allows them to tolerate their current existence, so they won't need to continually spend loads of money on shit they don't need and throw it away six months later.)
To sum up, modern civilisation unthinkingly expects people to live the kind of life which demands one of the following responses:
1) Suicide at age 13 or thereabouts, as soon as you perceive the reality beneath the paint
2) Taking drugs (alcohol included) to the point where you have little or no conscious experience of life
3) Walling yourself up in a psychic bunker and refusing to allow the world to communicate with you
4) Self-deception and mass delusion on a truly epic scale and reaching a truly abyssal depth
Is that what you want? Is it? Or are you so mired in (4) that you can't admit to yourself that that's the way things are?
Fuck you. Fuck your "economy", fuck your mindless fetishisation of work for its own sake, fuck your constant masturbation over money as if it had any importance beyond its use as tokens to allow fulfilment of biological needs. Fuck your brainwashing of the masses so they miss the real point in bickering over trivia while you carry on wanking. Fuck your authoritarianism, fuck your control-freakery, fuck your desire for a population of people who are too fucked up to think and therefore easier to keep under your thumb. Fuck the pointless futile shit of drudgery you expect everyone to spend their every waking minute either engaged in or attempting to recover from and fuck your expectation that everyone will unthinkingly accept it. Fuck your greed, fuck your stupidity, fuck your boot stamping on a human face forever.
Fuck all that shit to the wide, and then go and fuck yourself.
Back to Pigeon's Nest
Be kind to pigeons