Friday, 7 May 2010

Election 2010

Fun fact: in Poland you are not allowed to write about elections for a certain number of days before and after the election. This is to stop people being influenced by the press. Can you even imagine this happening in the UK?! (see 'it was the Sun wot done it', 1992)

The first time I got excited about a General Election result was in 1992 when I was eleven.

When I was little, the world was ruled by two powerful women with very similar haircuts. I found it hard to tell the difference between the two but it was clear that women with granny perms ruled the world. This was right and good and exactly as things should be (I have already selected the colour for my purple rinse).

By 1992, everybody thought Mrs Thatcher was crazy and there were cartoons of John Major in all the papers wearing grey underpants over his trousers.
I was terribly concerned that Labour might win the election, because I had taken the eleven-plus exam* and was desperate to go to the local grammar school. If you didn't get into the grammar school, you would go to the secondary modern, where your head would be flushed in the toilet and nasty big girls would threaten you with knives in the playground. Other girls from my primary school who had visited the secondary modern on an open day said that you got to make pizzas there, but I was still suspicious. It sounded like a ruse to me.
Labour were the dark demons of socialism who would abolish the eleven-plus exam and insist on comprehensive head-flushing for all.
My friend's Dad wrote for the Independent and she had explained to me that the Liberal Democrats were the real good guys. When we played 'Members of Parliament' in the school playground, she was always Paddy Ashdown.
But that was a side issue: as far as I could see, only a Conservative victory could save me from a life of head-flushing and knife crime.

On the morning after the election, my Dad woke me up and said 'grammar schools are safe'. My desperate eleven-year-old soul was flooded with relief. My head would stay dry and my ticket to a university education was in the bag.

I have never found myself quite as excited about politics since.


* an exam kids take to decide whether they go to a more academic school or an ostensibly 'more vocational' school.

17 comments:

Laura and Ben said...

I love that you played 'Members of Parliament' in the playground!

pinolona said...

we were so sad! and possibly heavily influenced by Spitting Image.
As far as I remember, it was hilarious...

peixote said...

So the two women with similar haircuts were Margaret Thatcher and John Major?

Laura and Ben said...

My friends used to play a game called 'Tudor Kitchen' - we made a huge mess in my mum's kitchen, pretending to cook for a banquet, mostly spraying flour about the place, then we would clean it all up again. I think we would talk with country accents too... Oh, the shame.

pinolona said...

peixote - no, my two grandmothers. Who else?!

Laura, that sounds hilarious. Actually that's still what happens any time I try to cook...

student SGH said...

err... In Poland so-called "election silence" is quite short, it lasts just 44 hours - the whole day before elections and on the election day until 8 p.m. - not so bad and for it's a sound standard ;)

pinolona said...

WAsn't it ages in 2007? because that was where I learnt the word 'trwać' as in 'cisza trwa', which was what all the papers were saying...

student SGH said...

What happened on 21 October 2007 was an exception (that proved the rule). Some polling stations in Warsaw ran out of ballot cards when the turnout was higher than expected. So the vote could be finished after the last citizen cast their vote. But it was extraordinary, usually the first results are announced just after polling stations are closed.

And the first results in 2007 were given before midnight, so maybe some newspapers had been sent to printing before that hours.

pinolona said...

Thanks for the explanation!

'Some polling stations in Warsaw ran out of ballot cards when the turnout was higher than expected'... sounds a bit familiar come to think of it :)

Michael Dembinski said...

an exam kids take...

Traditionally, it was an exam that kids failed and children passed.

It's a class thing.

One thing I like about Poland is the lack of that stultifying class bollocks.

pinolona said...

It's not a class thing! It's an ability thing, that's the whole point! When I went to St Andrews, almost everyone else in my year had been to a private school because in non-grammar school regions there is just no decent state education - fact. Surely it's much fairer for schools to select pupils based on academic ability than on their postcode?! Especially when parents who can afford to will move house specifically to be in a good school's catchment area...

Exams are a part of life and we are all faced with tests of all types long after we leave the confines of the school gates: why not get used to it early?

And I'm pretty certain snobbery exists in Poland one way or another: I definitely met plenty of Polish yuppies in Kraków :)

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

My recollection of the Eleven Plus was that it was very unfair, and a device to add to the social divisions of England. Anyone who was a late developer, child of immigrants like myself, or from a working-class background with little tradition of learning, was really "up against it" at the tender age of eleven, and therefore had little chance of getting their GCEs, going to University, and escaping from the English cast system. When I learned English sufficiently to pass exams, I had to sweat it out in "Further Education Colleges" to get my "O" and "A" levels; lots of my friends from school did not have the family support or other kinds of wherewithal to take that step, and presumably lingered for the rest of their lives as milkmen. I addition, the system was unfair on girls; there were more boy's than girl's grammar schools.

pinolona said...

Not true! I took the eleven-plus and I don't see how it was unfair on girls at all! You took an English comprehension paper, a maths paper and I think verbal reasoning as well. What's wrong with that?
It's a test of academic ability: how on earth is that socially-divisive?! What is 'socially divisive' is refusing to allow schools to select pupils using exams, because then those that can afford to send their children to private schools and those that can't are stuck with the crappy comprehensives.

Eleven years old is not a 'tender age' - it's plenty old enough to cope with exams at school. I was not a confident child: if we hadn't had the eleven plus in Sevenoaks I would have gone to the local comprehensive, where I would have been bullied and unhappy, and I would never have got into the decent universities that I went to, nor would I be doing what I do now. It almost literally saved my life.

yellerbelly said...

I agree - I was pushed by my parents to take the eleven-plus and I remember spending many hours beforehand with my Mother doing maths and reasoning test papers to prepare. I passed and was pushed much harder at school than I would have been at a state comprehensive. Personally I needed that and it made me strive for better things once I left school. It was hard work, but I know if I was given the chance to be lazy and 'get away with it', I would have. Luckily I wasn't. I was bright enough to pass the test and then the grammar school system pushed me to my limits.

I also rememeber the elections in 1992 and was afraid that grammar schools would be abolished!

I do understand this is a big issue for many, but it's usually those that didn't go to the grammar schools that get upset about it!!

I also understand from my wife that you need to take an exam in Poland to get into a grammar school. My wife was from a working-class background where her parents didn't have an education and only because she passed the exam and went to grammar school, she got into a good university. It was the only way she could have had a chance of a good higher education.

Paying an annual fee to send your child to school puts them at a disadvantage straight away. This I don't agree with.

yellerbelly said...

I agree - I was pushed by my parents to take the eleven-plus and I remember spending many hours beforehand with my Mother doing maths and reasoning test papers to prepare. I passed and was pushed much harder at school than I would have been at a state comprehensive. Personally I needed that and it made me strive for better things once I left school. It was hard work, but I know if I was given the chance to be lazy and 'get away with it', I would have. Luckily I wasn't. I was bright enough to pass the test and then the grammar school system pushed me to my limits.

I also rememeber the elections in 1992 and was afraid that grammar schools would be abolished!

I do understand this is a big issue for many, but it's usually those that didn't go to the grammar schools that get upset about it!!

I also understand from my wife that you need to take an exam in Poland to get into a grammar school. My wife was from a working-class background where her parents didn't have an education and only because she passed the exam and went to grammar school, she got into a good university. It was the only way she could have had a chance of a good higher education.

Paying an annual fee to send your child to school puts them at a disadvantage straight away. This I don't agree with.

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

Many (many, many) years ago I taught at a Catholic (De La Salle) Grammar school in London, which was making the transition to to being a Comprehensive school. The drop in standards was tragic to see, and produced an exodus of brighter students to better schools from this site. I am not at all against elitism of this sort (my daughter, here in the US went through a "gifted" program, which might be considered an equivalent to what went on in the UK in those days). But...and this is a big subject, and I'm not an expert in it, and opinions are divided, the consensus is that the system favored the middle classes (more "late developers" came from working class families with less support for learning at home) and that it perpetuated class divisions, and that is why the transition to the Comprehensive system was made. It is also true that there were more boy's than girl's grammar schools, and as a result, back then, more boys than girls attended universities. There were, obviously, other reasons for that, but that's another big subject. My biggest objection to the old system is that there was no easy transition for students with ability from a Secondary Modern School to a GCE awarding school. Whatever lapse you might have had at age eleven, set a course for the rest of your life.
Just as an aside (long post, eh?): I made the transition from the Polish school system to the UK one, and I was quite horrified at the low standards of English schools, and the lack of interest and academic focus of English students. One year I even came top in my English class, though I could hardly even speak the language.

Jeannie said...

The Grammar Schools are once again safe :-D.