At the chalkface: It’ a jungle out there

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

It was time for the ugly truth. “The world out there doesn’t take prisoners,” I’d drone grimly. “It’s a jungle out there!” My classes had heard this speech so many times they sometimes joined in...

In my more desperate classroom moments, when I was knackered and things were slipping into chaos and Dave Mania was giving it some, I used to try a little blackmail. I’d describe the probable, catastrophic future consequent on sloth and delinquency.

“No GCSE Grade C. No job!”

It was time for the ugly truth.

“The world out there doesn’t take prisoners,” I’d drone grimly. “It’s a jungle out there!”

My classes had heard this speech so many times they sometimes joined in.

“We’ll be packing shelves or cleaning floors or down the mines or up the chimneys or derelicts or worse,” they chimed.

“There’s no future! No future in the UK!” I’d yell.

“He’s gone! He’s lost it!”

“That’s the Sex Pistols, sir!”

That was in the 70s. Well, it’s worse now. For many of our inner city pupils the world outside school is hell of unregulated chaos.

Let’s look at Dave Mania in his latest modern incarnation. Low stream, low achievement, low expectations, no hope – and possibly about to be “disappeared” by his school before the exams.

Dave still lives in a rough part of west London. He still walks to school under the Westway – past the same boarded up shops, betting emporiums, run down newsagents, the odd dealer, drunk or beggar. Sirens scream and howl. Ambulances fail to get heart attacks to hospitals.

Cop cars fail to get to crimes. Helicopters prowl the skies. It’s not just poverty. It’s worse. Something dreadful seems perpetually imminent.
Dave moves on to another universe of grotesque wealth – strange antique emporiums, plush restaurants, huge mansions in gated communities and estate agents renting dwellings for two grand a week. Oligarchs, when they pop in, are rumoured to pop out of their palaces in helicopters from their rooftops.

Meanwhile fancy cars ferry children to mushrooming prep schools so that they will never meet the likes of him. Dave is an exile. He knows there’s something’s so wrong out there. He has had a keener apprehension of this since the tragedy of Grenfell. He had a friend in it. He watched it burn through the night from his balcony. Pandemonium. Now it looks like a nightmare from hell, a black burnt-out shell on the skyline. Forever. An accusation. He can’t but walk past it; he can’t but not see it. Forensics are still looking for teeth. Firemen are still looking for clues. It still looks haunted. It gives Dave the shivers. It’s not good for his mental health his teachers say. They recommend a shrink. Dave is beyond therapy and yearns for the solace of some green, for some silence, for some peace. There’s none.

It’s a jungle out there.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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