Put that in your pipe and chew it

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Whoever came up with the headline for my article of January 28, "Set the controls for video future", brilliantly fused the piece's twin themes of Pink Floyd and camcorders. I couldn't have done better myself (a phrase that usually, as in this case, means "I couldn't have done half as well").

That column was about Christmas presents, a topic we were still talking about in the staffroom until around a week ago. "Did anyone ever get a chocolate smoking set in their stocking?" somebody asked. A fair number of us remembered these selection boxes, with their sweet cigarettes, edible pipes and chewable tobacco. When you talk about this sort of thing, the comment often made is that this "wouldn't be very politically correct these days".

I beg to differ with the choice of words. This "would be an act of crass stupidity these days" would surely be more appropriate.

In truth, virtually everything labelled "politically incorrect" is just plain wrong. In the 1970s, my pals and I used the insults bandied around in jest on television's Love Thy Neighbour on a daily basis. There were no non-whites around to be offended and, perhaps if there had been, we would have moderated our language, but that isn't the point. Personally, I'd rather my own children effed and blinded their heads off than used the words I used.

I can let myself off with a lot because pretty well everyone was ignorant in those days. Given the task of writing a Scottish football song in S2, I came up with a series of jaunty verses that rhymed, scanned and stereotyped the opposition. My teacher, a caring, competent woman, said nothing.

There were boys at my school who were said to be gay because they were gentle, unaggressive and hung around with girls. My friend used to flatten himself against the wall when they passed. I sniggered. I may even have nudged him when one of them approached. I wasn't politically incorrect: I was an ignorant plonker and probably a condoner of bullying into the bargain.

I have worked with kids long enough to be able to smile wryly at some of the things I did when I was younger, but those sniggers still make me ashamed.

So let's not use the phrase "politically incorrect" any longer. It has the air of "I'm only behaving like this because I've been tellt to". Pupils now are more aware and less likely to be offensive, particularly on issues of race. Perhaps I am being naive, as I'm sure a large number of English kids in Scotland would agree. Chocolate "wha's like us?" kit anyone? Melts when exposed to the light.

Gregor Steele will soon reveal news of an automotive nature that will shock every regular reader.

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