Posted by Ian
"Read Marx and watched the Brits."
– so ends my diary entry for Tuesday 21st February 1995.
It’s a sentence that seems totally pretentious out of context. What on earth was I up to – planning a revolution before catching up with the latest musical movers and shakers?
In truth I was reading Marx under duress. I was a first year student at Liverpool University, and the Communist Manifesto was one of my set texts for that week. I was also living in a hall of residence, and would have had to squeeze in the principles of dialectical materialism between tea in the canteen and a pint later on in the common room.
That sentence rather neatly sums up, though, the distance travelled since May 1968 when, as Tariq Ali recalled in Sunday’s Observer, students in various cities around the world thought nothing of swapping studies and socialising for hand-to-hand combat with the police. (As he quotes from a reporter on the scene in Paris: "They’re storming the barricade – oh my God! There’s a battle raging. The students are counter-attacking, you can hear the noise…")
I wonder what, if anything, would ever get UK students so riled that they would take to the streets nowadays. Not that they made much fuss in 1968 – compared to their foreign counterparts – but in 2008 I can hardly believe students would raise as much as an eyebrow, never mind a fist, in support of this or that cause.
We were hardly a political bunch back in 1995, mind. Rather than speculating on how to hasten the end of John Major, my diary tends towards noting "a night of frustrations and broken hearts and then some beans on toast afterwards" (Sunday 5th March).
University is allegedly a time for the opening of minds and the challenging of conventions. I don’t think it ever has, and ever will be, like that in the UK. British students are a selfish lot, more concerned with themselves than the rest of the world.
Still, something or someone must have been inspiring me, or at least impressing me, back those rather barren years, for here’s the closing line from the entry for Sunday 26th February:
"Nothing’s perfect, nothing lasts, you can only grab at memories and feelings that rarely, magically and suddenly appear."
Now that’s something worth taking the streets for.