Friday, July 08, 2011

The Origin of Fil the Bastard

When I first started working for the Youth Offending Team, my new boss, Wilky, introduced me to my new team mates as 'Phil the Bastard'. He joked that it was the name he'd always known me as, even before he knew me!

Phil the Bastard was a name that was given to me in the 1980s (although it was originally Fil, because I had to be pretentious with my name spelling) and was earned because of one specific subject that I was obstinate and obdurate about and the reason it's popped back into my head recently is because of events on the news.

I suppose it started 27 years ago, in 1984, around the time the Band Aid charity was just establishing itself. This was in an era of my life that was blighted by Margaret Thatcher and the lack of work for someone of my age. We were in a period of austerity, despite the word never being used and everywhere there was evidence of the Tories selling off the country's assets and being directly responsible for destroying the lives of many people - without remorse or conscience.

I took considerable umbrage at Bob Geldof's crusade. Not specifically at Geldof or his campaign, but because he was guilting people out of money with horrific pictures of starvation and famine, while families in the UK were struggling to feed their own children and a lot of communities faced years of struggling well below the poverty line, we were funding an aid package when our government wasn't doing anything about our own problems. However distorted or mixed my beliefs were, as far as I was concerned charity began at home and I wasn't about to give up part of my unemployment benefit for starving Africans; or for things like the newly established Children in Need. I felt it was morally intrusive of these telethons to expect British people to give even more money to charities, when our government was just taking more and more away and not giving a fuck about the consequences.

So I became vehemently anti-charity; putting across my argument and trying to gain the moral high ground by turning the discussion back to Thatcher and her army of uber-rich fascists. People didn't disagree with me, they just didn't agree with me. Most of the people who I talked with understood where I was coming from, but still gave to these high profile charities - because someone has to do something.

Thus, Phil the Bastard was christened. I was a bastard because I gave the impression that I abhorred all charity, didn't believe in it and could show no sympathy for starving Africans while people were living on shit in ex-mining communities. My passion for not giving essentially made people think I was a right bastard.

My personal crusade to shun human charities has essentially stuck and while the nom de plume I picked up in the 80s has disappeared into the memory banks, only brought out for a joke, my feelings about giving money to Africa hasn't really changed. I'd like to say I'm sorry to say that, but that would be a lie.

Band Aid was set up not to give a short term fix, but to help rebuild or create infrastructures to enable people to overcome the threat of droughts and disease themselves. So they would never again face the devastation that Michael Buerk originally reported on. Band Aid still exists; Comic Relief gives a huge percentage of its fundraising to Band Aid projects and, of course, we still all give money to organisations like the Red Cross that are always on hand at a time like this.

So how come they're facing their biggest crisis for 30 years? Yes, I know it hasn't rained, but I remember short films showing how efficient water storage systems, wells, bore holes and more importantly education would ensure that these people would never face the shocking humanitarian crisis it faced in the 1980s again.

What happened to all that aid? Has it just been propping these people up rather than liberating them? How come all the fail-safe systems set up; all the new infrastructure, schools and education all been a waste of time? Has it all been build out of balsa wood and candle wax? Suddenly, with enormous amounts of people in this country unemployed, more to follow and the ultra-rich government ministers telling us we have to make sacrifices to bail our own country out of a mess made by them in the first place; we're now getting appeals on the TV and papers asking to give again, to bail out another generation who obviously haven't learned anything from the millions of pounds spent already. Heck, I expect Geldof will be organising a new Live Aid soon and yet Britain spends more money on foreign aid than any other country - arranged so that we pay less interest on our debts - but we'll not see a penny of those billions directed at East Africa.

That's your responsibility.

I suppose I'm still a bastard, especially when it comes to being expected to support Third World famines when I can't even get a job...

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