John Bird: Like French cuisine, we need to make the most of the leftovers

I have no problem with the well-appointed. My problem is that they seem to waste so much of their advantage on little more than crass thinking

Sometimes I just want to tell people how ill-formed I am. Of how I kind of got there in the end, in spite of coming from behind. In this spirit, I recently tried to explain to the editor of this fine publication that I’m very much like French cuisine.

The erroneous thing said about me is that I seemed to have been ‘well made’. That is, educated and socialised. But alas, I’m a bit of the leftovers made into a relatively edible stew (if we’re talking food metaphors).

Even though I know very little about cuisine and take the French at their word for producing the best food in the world, I’m taking a guess; though I do have a commonality with it, if the history of French dining is as I’ve picked up.

My life has been a bit like French cuisine, made out of bits of this, that and the other. Odds and ends. Leftovers, you might call it.

When the wealthy, aristocratic, Versailles-led regime were living high on the hog, the poor, the paysannerie (peasantry) was getting by on making the most out of nothing. Or next to  nothing. They didn’t throw much away and they made the most of entrails and bits of veg that, higher up the food chain, would’ve been dustbinned.

Under the very shadow of the pigged-up ruling class, they utilised the little and made it a lot. And out of that need, they created the true cuisine that so many came to praise.

Like me, le cuisinier français seemed to have made the most of their precious little. Likewise, I see myself as having made the most of my precious little. Always encountering the cleverer, the better- educated and the better-nurtured, I’ve tried to use what little education and skills I have to the greatest advantage.

That might sound downright arrogant – and forgive me if it offends – but when one is surrounded, especially in Parliament, by those incredibly advanced in culture and education, you have to realise that for all that dressing, and all that investment, it’s not enough. They’re often let down by their advantages and weakened because they don’t seem to make the most of little and therefore waste their plenty.

This is not, I assure you, a class slag-off. I have no problem with the well-appointed. My problem is that they seem to waste so much of their advantage on little more than crass thinking (or pensée grossière, as the French might say).

It seems that we live in a time when the meritocrats are yet to arrive (or have exited prematurely). The current political system seems cemented in keeping an ill-functioning regime going, where government budgets fail to tackle the causes and concentrate on effects. And the well-made and well-advantaged just buy into this crassness.

I’ve had to accept in the British class system is that the cleverly educated are not necessarily that clever

And a badly put together, poorly educated, badly socialised geezer like me – forgive again the self-promotion – asks about this Emperor’s-new-clothes of a scenario.

If only we lived in a meritocracy, we’d have lots of bright people who journeyed upwards from nothing to make the world function (and not default). We’d obviously have other problems with these meritocrats, but perhaps a meritocracy is preferable to a dumbocracy.

You only need look at the Government’s budgetary spend to see that the money’s there, but that it’s allocated poorly by funding stops-gaps and short-termism, and not – as it should be – better allocated on pre-emption
and prevention.


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I suppose the greatest realisation I’ve had to accept in the British class system is that the cleverly educated are not necessarily that clever. And that we suffer under their leadership in all walks of life. They have all the appearance, but all too little of the substance of leadership.

I am Mister 30 per cent. And I’m sure there are many like me, not brought fully formed into the world. But given our disadvantages, we cover far more than those piled high with educational and social privileges. If only there was more liberation for more of the 30 per centers, like me. Maybe ‘making the most out of the nothing’ argument could then make the world a better place.

Sorry, I very rarely crow. And if I sell my qualities to anyone, it’s normally to take the mickey out of myself. But I do believe that there is a natural intelligence that shines through me, and people like me, from what’s looked upon as the ‘below part’ of society. I’ve met so many who lack little more than hope, the chance, and then the opportunity.

French cuisine, if it’s been explained to me, made of the odds and ends and shows what can be done with incredibly little. And that the ‘laying on with the trowel’ of privilege produces the confederacy of dunces who run the world at
the moment.

Of course, it would be better if there wasn’t such a gigantic hole in the UK’s education systems where around 37 per cent of schoolchildren end up doing badly. Young people who then become the left-behinds and who rarely get out of need.

It’s good that on some occasions us 30 per centers get out and get advance; but we should not be deliberately creating more of us. Better to spread the privilege less unevenly; better to tackle Britain’s ‘stagnating’ social immobility as the Social Mobility Commission recommended last week. That would be better for us all. Even the children of the privileged may find they get more out of their lives than the distortions of over-privilege.

Remember, poverty destroys us all in different ways. It makes the poor needy. And it makes of the privileged the exploiters; and their children often unable to bear the guilt.

Why do you think there are so many charities in the world? Guilt! But that’s another argument.