The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Sarah Palin, pregnant children and snobbery: The art of snark

Posted by Bill Nance on September 9, 2008

In case you have not yet added the British press to your habitual reading, you may be unaware of the consistent excellence displayed therein. I am not referring to hard-hitting investigative journalism, though there is certainly plenty of it. I’m certainly not referring to the tabloid extras and “page three” girls, though they too can be entertaining.

No, I allude to the great art of the SNARK.

Not, mind you, the famous creature of Lewis Carroll fame. Though aptly describing the term is somewhat reminiscent of the Hunting of the Snark.

No, I refer to the delicate and tricky art of blending bite, sarcasm, wit and humor; of hiding venom beneath flowery prose, all while excoriating ones one’s intended victim, entertaining one’s readers and having a positively delightful time all at one go.

One of the great gifts of English literature of all varieties is sarcasm. I love sarcasm in all its forms and engage in it frequently. But I must confess that at my best, at my most creative, at the height of all my snarky powers, I will forever be a rank amateur in comparison to the everyday standards of the British press.

In example, I reprint in full, a fine example of this art, in all its resplendent glory, courtesy of Times Online.

Only the rich can can afford state schooling


Bottom line: we all want what is best for our kids. Now, if you are a cross-eyed, gun-toting creationist, with a year-old passport and a neat line in rabble-rousing rhetoric on foreign policy, what is best for one of your kids is to hang there like a bag of flour, conveniently covering the pregnancy bump of one of your other kids, while you work a room full of whooping acolytes with calculated mentions of God, family, Iraq and September 11.

Some may judge it an abuse of parental power, using a mentally disadvantaged child like that. Some, indeed, may find it the single most disgustingly cynical, self-serving action by a politician on either side of the Pond in recent memory, one that should disqualify a public servant from the authority to hand out parking tickets in Shageluk, Alaska. But I digress: because this really isn’t about Sarah Palin. It’s about the actor and writer Arabella Weir. It’s about people who not only want, and know what is best for their kids, but what is best for your kids, too.

Mrs Palin thinks it best for your kids to be born, even if mummy has been raped by her uncle, to be taught that the world might have appeared by magic and that sexual abstinence is better than finding out how all those bits work, so you, too, can experience the joy of being knocked up at 17. Mrs Palin also thinks certain books shouldn’t be in the library, which is an irony for a person so set against state control.

She is also nothing to do with this column but, God, have I been looking to get that off my chest. Where was I? Oh, yes. Arabella Weir. At the opposite end of the spectrum, but no less nettlesome.

“Why I would never send my kids to private school,” she wrote in another newspaper last week. “The underlying snobbery and racism are shocking.” Oh, I know. It’s like the thought of another four years of Christian rightwingers in the White House. Don’t get wound up, my wife says. But I can’t help it. My kids dwell in a school playground that looks like happy hour at the United Nations but apparently we’re all racists. I’m picking them up with Peter the plumber and Tom the builder but in Arabella’s mind we’re snobs. I wonder if her kids ever got met at the gates by a bloke in a van.

Apparently not, because she wrote that her ten-year-old daughter walks home from school through several council estates “without even thinking about it”. I reckon mummy thinks about it, though. I reckon if you know how many council estates your children walk through you are not quite as down with the working class as you would like us to believe.

Really posh people don’t send their children private these days. They go state and smug, judging all the hapless arrivistes scrabbling to give their children the half-chance that might protect them from having to get up before dawn each morning to run a greengrocer’s like their dad. Gordon Brown’s son, John, is going to the local community school where almost half the pupils have free meals, apparently. Big deal. Chances are that what with his father being the Prime Minister, junior might need less of a leg-up in his teenage years than some of his schoolfriends.

Ms Weir talked about sending her children to the less desirable of the two state primaries in her area – Camden, naturally – as if she were bestowing her bounteous gifts of spawn on the poor. She said that when her parents moved to Camden they were advised against it by friends because “people like us” didn’t live near council-house folk. And that was the clue. Something was not quite right in that sentence. You know what it is. I’m talking to the state school attendees here. Were any of your classmates called Arabella? No, me neither.

Arabella may have attended state school in Camden, but there the gamble ended. Her father was Sir Michael Weir, Balliol scholar, Foreign Office diplomat, former Ambassador to Egypt and the man Jim Callaghan referred to as his mentor on Middle East politics. When Anwar Sadat was assassinated, Sir Michael was seated two rows behind. Sir Michael died two years ago leaving an obituary that read like a Who’s Who of 20th-century history. It said that he persuaded Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah al-Thani of Qatar to abolish slavery, which my dad was definitely going to get round to, if he had not had 400 boiling chickens to gut at a market stall each day in East London.

“It’s only information,” sniffed Arabella of private education; but it isn’t. It is an often forlorn attempt to level the playing field by those not born with connections that will put them at the front of every queue. State education can never provide the same opportunities for all because there will remain the sons and daughters of the truly powerful, the truly wealthy, the famous, who can call in favours from a network forever closed to the bloke with the plumbing business that has just had a good year. All he can do is try to buy his way in; this is why you rarely hear of a black guy with a guilt complex about getting his children privately educated.

My kids watch Doctor Who. The godfather to Arabella’s kids is Doctor Who. David Tennant. You see the difference, Arabella, don’t you? You don’t need to send your little angels to private school. They are already in the Tardis, just like their mum.


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