A Plutonic truth is out there

30th October 1998 at 00:00
In all those speculative treatises about whether aliens landed from outer space and built the pyramids at Giza, no one has yet pointed out that the working class came from Pluto. I know this for a fact, because my Uncle Ralph told me when I was a little Plutonian.

Apparently an interstellar space probe left Pluto aeons ago. On the way to Alpha Centauri someone realised there was no beer on board, so they stopped at Barnsley to try to find a pub. At that time there was no such institution and they had to move on. Unfortunately several of the pub-hunters, pausing to relieve themselves behind a bush, were left behind as the starship took off.

We Plutonians have been marooned here ever since, waiting in vain for the spaceship to return, condemned in the interim to a lifetime of tin baths, chips and white sliced bread, consoled only by our whippets. Escape into the middle class, and your Plutonic origins are given away the minute you wipe your nose on your sleeve and ask for a pint pot of tea.

Our patron saint is Sisyphus, the legendary King of Corinth, whose eternal punishment in Hades was to roll a massive stone to the top of a hill and watch helplessly as it rolled back down again. Many Plutonians who have escaped from their humble roots work in public service, especially in education. The labour can sometimes seem equally fruitless, but at least you get to wear a suit.

There is permanent angst about the plight of working-class children in the education system. The facts are well-established. If you are born into what nowadays are known as "D and E households", as opposed to toffs' palaces in social groups higher up the alphabet, the odds are stacked heavily against you.

Around three-quarters of students in universities come from the two highest social groups, the As and Bs. Most of the loot in our society belongs to a relatively small percentage of the population. The bright son or daughter of a professional parent is about twice as likely to go on to higher education as the equally-talented child of a manual worker.

Plutonians can find school an alienating place. When I started infant school I could never understand why, in my reading book, "Daddy" was always taking a spade into the garden to dig. My dad sometimes worked seven 12-hour shifts and arrived home knackered. The last thing he wanted to do was dig up the concrete in the backyard.

One multiple-choice reading test invites pupils to complete the statement "Jimmy - - - - - tea, because he was our guest". The correct answer is "got the best cake at", but many Plutonians choose "washed the dishes after" and get no marks, even though they can read. It is not our fault. On Pluto you are taught that washing up is the least you can do if someone asks you for tea.

If you couldn't get your child into your favourite Plutonian school, you popped round to the chairman of governors' house and laid one on him. Here you have to put in an appeal and appear, tongue-tied, before a crowd of suits. There were no phones on Pluto either, you just shouted out of the window, which is why we are reluctant to phone the head if there's a problem.

The biggest problem on Pluto was the two conflicting forces. One pulled you away from the planet, the other held you firmly on to its surface. Education is the rocket that takes you away. Tradition is the force that holds you down. Plutonian children must be given every possible access to the rocket. That way they can choose. Remove the rocket and you eliminate choice.

Escapees are often lost. I sometimes go to quite posh places nowadays, the occasional palace even. I always wonder what I am doing there and wait for the uniformed bloke, a fellow Plutonian, to call out, "Oi, you! Clear off!".

Footballer Paul Gascoigne is marooned between his roots and the alienating Sunday supplement lifestyle that his wealth now offers him.

Deference is excruciatingly embarrassing to Plutonians, but fortunately fellow citizens rarely offer it. Years after I became an academic, I bumped into a childhood friend. "I saw thee on't telly," he began. "Is it true tha't a professor?". "Er, yes," I replied. He pondered, "Well, bugger me."

It was always hard to be stuck up on Pluto.

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