On being liberal…with a small L

“Laser 558, broadcasting live from the North Sea, where the music is only a minute away…” 

A classic strapline from the Laser pirate radio station that competed with Radio Caroline during the early 1980’s, when broadcasting music to eager listeners from ships moored in international waters near the Thames Estuary was the height of living dangerously! 

Laser 558 wanted to play more music for listeners than the regular licenced broadcasters who, in Laser’s opinion, had far too much talking between tracks. The establishment sought to stop them, in favour of an already existing licenced service provider.

There was something rather special about hunkering down by the Bakelite wireless and twiddling the tuning knob to pick up one or other of these unlicensed radio stations, as the 1967 Marine Offences Act prohibited any British person connecting or associating with them. 

Or to sit on a clear, dark night on a high point of the North Kent coast and flash your car headlights out into the dark North Sea abyss, signalling your individual right to listen to a pirate radio station (whether or not you could actually literally be seen by them). The modern equivalent of chuffing on a Woodbine behind the school bike sheds and then trying to avoid the steely gaze of the gown billowing, mortarboard wearing Form Master who could tell at twenty paces that you had been doing something that should result in a letter home to the parents or at least a detention and no early release after class on a sultry Friday afternoon. 

Sat sitting in a non-air-conditioned classroom, while the crisp click of cricket ball on willow bat drew your eyes from copying out Psalm 119 in your best handwriting and, should you be caught gazing wistfully towards the cricket pitch, there would always be another Psalm added to the former. It was always Psalm 119 due to it being the longest one in that book. Or very occasionally, you would receive 100 lines on how you shouldn’t smoke behind the bike sheds. This was before the actual health dangers of smoking took over from the dangers of smoking in a particular location and the possible fire risks incurred. Smoking in an area where the grass grew long and tinder dry was deemed not the done thing, whereas the Staff Room apparently was an acceptable place…

The lesson gleaned from this punishment was not to be caught in the first place. 

Receiving an infinite lunchtime detention for calling a school Prefect a ‘mobile snow storm’, just because he had an awful case of dandruff was, in my opinion, a tad harsh, but then I hadn’t counted on his speedy ability to contraflow the one way system through a series of corridors. Evidently this was a ‘Prefect Perk’ that I would never attain as, in my case, staying at school past the age of fifteen was never going to happen.

Unsurprisingly therefore, I was duly caught and in short order, cuffed around the ears, and written up as needing a punishment of such proportion that I would never again see the outside world during school lunchtime break. 

Blessed if I could work out how wiping tables in the school canteen was a punishment, as it didn’t bother me much at all. This confinement meant I could grab a mate’s plate or bowl after he had finished with it and go up for ‘seconds’ of anything I fancied. Spotted Dick with lashings of hot custard, or Tapioca puddings were firm favourites. If I was quick, I could follow this up with some steak pie or liver and onions with stewed cabbage on the side, as the savory main courses were always my preferred go to. That is something that still happens today, where I’d rather end on savory than sweet comestible. One exception will be made for Panna Cotta, with raspberry or strawberry topping which, if they are on the menu, I will always plump for. 

(If you stay at La Vrilletterie and have dinner with the hosts Stephen and Diana, I can highly recommend their Panna Cotta which is superb…)

However, smoking behind the bike sheds, being rude to a senior, scrumping in a local orchard, under age drinking, playing Knock Down Ginger, tying piano wire between lamp posts, bunking off school, listening to pirate radio stations, or tuning in to the police band on your C.B. radio…(not the band The Police, I mean the law enforcement brigade, them with the hard hats and truncheons!), were all things that as a youngster, being caught doing would land you in varying degrees of hot water, from mildly tepid to bloody boiling, especially if the punishment involved a Form Master who was handy with a whipping cane!

In not being caught, did this make the apparent crime worse or better?

Are we all preconditioned from birth to think that we know better than our parent/guardian/teacher/responsible adult which then drives us to try out these seemingly less than desirable pastimes or are we on a learning path to discern the difference between right and wrong or good and bad?

Is standing up for someone who is being victimised and then, without thought for your own safety, beating up the peer bully to stop them an acceptable thing to do, or should the bully be taken to one side to explain the error of their ways in hushed tones so as not to hurt their feelings?

How far have we evolved from the school of hard knocks and morphed into a state where no one is allowed to lose or win where the ‘even playing field’ has been manicured with micrometers to ensure fair play?

Is being bad only considered bad as it is a perceived action that doesn’t conform with our preconceived notion of how society works at any one particular time in history?

Acceptance of all, living harmoniously, should of course be goals for us to strive for, but today, has the competition to survive and win been diluted too far so as not to offend anyone and in so doing become a state of no winners or losers, just believing that taking part is what counts?

Have we, in our desire to be all things to all people, not become far too liberal, luke warm and neither here nor there in how we live, instead of standing against moral injustice and intolerance whenever and wherever we see it?

Appreciating that we live in a society where all decisions made are not clear cut and easy to come by, in a society that lives with and accepts that there are a thousand shades of grey for us all to cope with, I suggest arbitrary detention for anyone caught being liberal in the face of repression or moral injustice, a veritable see me after class to write out 100 times, ‘I will stand up and be counted!’

Carry on regardless!


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