Friday, December 2, 2011

Back home to Animal Farm

Returning home to Manchester in the middle of September my life slowly began to change once more. Since the building of the Berlin Wall tensions between East and West ran high and everyone looked to Berlin as a potential flash point. Yet very few people, and certainly no one in Cheadle’s churches had visited the now divided city.
As a result I found myself quizzed about my trip to Berlin. Then a local Anglican curate, Peter Wilkinson, discovered that I had taken a lot of slides of the Berlin Wall and other places. So he invited me to show them to the church’s youth group.

Looking into East Berlin from the West
 This was my first public speaking engagement and could easily have been a disaster. But, because I was used to performing  stage magic I spoke with confidence and it went over very well. Consequently, I received several other invitations to speak to local Christian groups.
Although I treated my Berlin talk rather like a theatrical act there was a big difference. For the first time I had an audience that talked back and asked difficult questions. The people who put the questions to me were my age, but they read books with strange names like 1984 and Animal Farm and I was expected to compare these books to East Germany. Even worse I was asked about Boris somebody or other who had written a book they were all reading about the Russian Revolution.

To be honest I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about or how to answer most of the questions. Talking about what I saw and heard in Berlin was one thing. Answering questions about weird books was another.

Very quickly I became aware of the huge gap that existed between my own background and that of the folk I met through the church. While I was an apprentice who left school at 15 they were all the products of the elite English grammar school system. Thus while I expected to earn my living as a gas fitter they all planned to attend teacher training colleges or universities and become professionals.

Slowly it dawned on me that these people, who seemed so like myself in church and at the Billy Graham Crusade, actually belonged to a very different world where I was an outsider. In other words, although I did not realize it at the time, class differences were beginning to make themselves felt.

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