Faith schools, hypocrisy and class aspirations

The most depressing thing I heard in the last few weeks was this: some people I know started attending the Catholic Church, with a view to having their child admitted to the Catholic School in the area (not strictly very near their house). When I say ‘started attending’ I mean that these people were not particularly religious before. In fact, the mother is/was a self-confessed atheist.

What drives people to abandon their values and subscribe to a religion for the sake of ‘better’ education is simply class aspiration. Some faith schools (including the one in question) have excellent results. Parents who are ambitious to the point of dictating and directing every step of their children’s lives are drawn to this. A faith school is a guarantee of success, supposedly.

So, when a self-confessed atheist sends his/her child to a faith school, the message they send out to the world (and their child) is: “it’s OK to be hypocritical and an outright liar, if this will guarantee you success”. Also, “it’s OK to belittle and insult other people’s genuine beliefs by using their faith and place of worship as a means of achieving individual success”. “But the school is good, what does it matter that it’s Catholic?” you’ll hear them reply in defence. A school run by the Catholic Church which has been turning a blind eye to child abuse? A school run by the same Catholic Church that has been preaching against condoms, therefore playing an active role in the spread of AIDS and other STDs? What does it matter that the institution running this school is a backward, conservative, homophobic and corrupt? What if their values and principles go against the trends of modern society? What if their institution is led by an ex-Nazi? “Their results are good, their students succeed”. Would you send your child to a Nazi school? I am sure that a Nazi school could be as successful as any other. Does it matter that the principles of the organisation that runs it are a bit iffy? What does it matter if the agenda includes mass deportations and genocide? Not one iota if Junior gets great results and ‘succeeds’ in life. The message you have given Junior is that it’s OK to do dodgy things in an attempt to succeed. Lie about your religion. Kill a Jew. Pat yourself on the shoulder, you’re a successful member of society.

My greatest gripe is that I, as a taxpayer in a secular country, help fund these institutions which operate on the basis of discrimination. These institutions discriminate against people who are not religious. According to the same logic, I could start a school excluding religious people-I bet that would cause a reaction, would it not? Apart from the fact that discrimination is illegal (and this should apply to schools), why is the taxpayer funding this?

What drives all this is middle class ambition (or ambition to be middle class). It’s not just with faith schools. It’s with any school that has ‘good results’. There is a type of people who lie about their address, sell their houses and move elsewhere, cheat, lie and pull strings in order to get their children into the better schools. Because, as they say, their children “deserve the best”. No they don’t. They deserve something decent, middle of the way, normal, OK. Because everybody’s children deserve the best, but only a few can have it. And for every child of the aspirant greasy-pole-climbers who drive their huge cars to school runs because the school is too far for their precious to walk, there are at least 10 who go to a ‘not so good’ school (ah, euphemism, that most British of traditions). They don’t deserve the best, do they? As far as the middle class is concerned, everybody else can burn in hell (or in Nazi ovens).

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Dakos!

Dakos, or koukouvayia (which means owl) is something I learnt to appreciate in Crete. The reason I made it (apart from nostalgia and flavour) is that last night, with a bit of leftover dough I had from making pizzas I made a small bread with poppy seeds. Unfortunately I forgot to take it out of the oven in time so it over-baked and became really hard.

Basically, Dakos is made using double-baked, very hard rye or barley rusk (in the naval sense of the term). This is called paximadi (παξιμάδι/ποξαμάτι) in Greek or peksimet in Turkish. I suspect it’s also some kind of bruschetta. The recipe for dakos comes from Crete, although it’s probably made elsewhere too. You take one of these rusks (I used my super-baked bread) and place it in a bowl. Grate some nice and ripe tomatoes (they must be nice otherwise don’t bother). Spread these on top of the paximadi, including the juices. Add finely chopped spring onion, oregano, salt and pepper and plenty of olive oil. The juices and oil soften the paximadi so you can enjoy it with a fork. If it’s still a bit hard you can use your hands! In Crete they also add fetta cheese or even olives in the mix, do whatever you fancy. Enjoy it with a nicely chilled glass of zivania or raki.

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Baked plaice with tomatoes and parsley

A very simple recipe and a healthier alternative to frying the fish.

Ingredients (for 2-3)

4-5 fillets of plaice
a few fresh tomatoes
1 onion, cut in rings
2-3 cloves of garlic, thickly cut
Olive oil
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

In a baking tray drizzle some olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Lay the fish fillets (skin side down) on top, and then make a layer with the chopped tomatoes and the parsley. Drizzle some more olive oil, salt & pepper and bake in 220 degrees for 30 minutes. Simple and tasty!

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Football and reason

What is it about football that makes people have blind faith and loyalty to a cause? I have been thinking that our generation, more than any other, has no reason to support A or B. Take me for example: I support Liverpool FC. I am not from Liverpool, never lived there. My support is based purely on their widely-broadcast success of the 80s. Moreover, the first team has two Liverpool-born players, and not many more who are English. So what does Liverpool FC stand for? Change the crest and move the ground a few miles away and you might as well call it something else-nobody would notice. It’s the same with most clubs in Europe. In my native Cyprus, second division clubs have squads full of EU-born players. The only things linking club and locale are the shirt, the crest and the actual football ground (unless your an ex-Wimbledon, currently MK Dons fan).

I am fully aware of football as a huge business which makes players, managers, officials and (most damagingly) agents rich beyond their wildest dreams. I have no illusions as to the purpose of UEFA and FIFA, the Premier League and Sky. Football is a commodity in high demand, and they are responding to that demand. I am unaware of another commodity which also combines the unending loyalty of fans, the following which spans generations (nationalism comes close). On the one hand we have the cynics, the business-minded who reap the benefits of the spectacle. That’s fine. I get it. What I don’t get is: why do we fans pledge eternal loyalty and faith to our respective clubs? We refer to them as ‘us’, ‘we played well last night’, ‘I hope we buy a couple of good players’ etc etc. We feel physical pain when our clubs lose to a fierce rival, and personally betrayed when our star striker moves on to another club. I have a colleague who doesn’t turn up for work if his team loses to its city rival. Loyalty, passion, even crime, all in the name of the club, the sacred colours, the crest.

Ticket prices are sky-high, cheap replica shirts sell for £50 at a ridiculous markup. The clubs rip off their own fans, the very people who swear allegiance to them. It’s not that the fans are naive. They know full well that most players are just professionals, like in any other profession. Offer them more money and they’ll be off at the blink of an eye. The players themselves are unapologetic about it. Take Fernando Torres for example: who left Liverpool, a club and city he had claimed to love so much he wanted his daughter to learn Scouse. Fast forward 18 months and that love is lost. Torres spoke about the romance of football being dead, that it’s all about winning trophies. Torres, as predictable as a middle-class climber who wants the bigger car, is only interested in ‘success’.

And yet, if romance is dead, how do we explain all those professionals who have stayed at their club forever and never even considered leaving? Why is Dirk Kuyt not as anxious to move? Why did Ryan Giggs play all his career at Man Utd? Javier Zanetti? Torres’ assertion doesn’t hold water if you consider all the top class professionals who chose to stay and not move in search of success. Romance is dead for some, but very much alive for others. You know that your team is staffed by professionals with little attachment to what you consider your club’s values. You know that they’re overpaid primadonnas and that the club owner made his money in shady ways in the oil fields of Siberia (or Saudi Arabia). And yet…and yet…every weekend, as they take to the pitch, you are willing to raise your voice with thousands of others, because at the end of the day this is your tribe, your religion, your passion. It doesn’t matter really who wears the shirt, who owns the club. It always represents the fans’ hopes and anxieties. And that’s the beauty of it. And that’s the tragedy of it.

Perhaps it’s all rooted in a previous time, when clubs were local, and foreign player meant someone from outside the city’s boundaries. Back when fans gathered to build their clubs’ stadia by hand, volunteers for the big cause. And of course when clubs reflected people’s political beliefs, and weren’t simple caricatures at the age of money. Maybe we’re all clinging to that past as the golden era, in one grand (and final) delusion.

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Joan Miró‘s poster for the 1982 World Cup

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Breaded trout

This is a very simple and tasty recipe. Take 2 trout and allow them to marinate in some olive oil, salt and parsley. In a baking tray cover the bottom with breadcrumbs and grind some black pepper. Put your trout in the tray and bread the other side, grinding some more pepper.

Bake for about 30 minutes. You will see that the breadcrumbs form a crust on the outside, keeping the fish nice and juicy. Serve with salad and a glass of white. Enjoy.

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Leek and potato soup

This is very much an English recipe, slightly Mediterranean-ised for good measure.

Ingredients

2-3 leeks

2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced

1-2 cloves of garlic (depending on your taste), finely chopped

Olive oil

Wash the leek very well, removing one layer and making sure there is no earth trapped in the leaves. Chop it finely. In a saucepan heat some olive oil and sauté the garlic with the leek. After 3-4 minutes, add the potatoes and give them all a stir in the olive oil so that they’re nicely coated. Add salt. Pour some hot water in the saucepan and allow it to cook for about 20-30 minutes. I give it a whizz with a hand blender to make the soup nice and smooth (the potatoes come make it thicker). If you like cream, you can add some at this stage, or even milk-I didn’t.

Serve and eat with some black pepper and, if you’re like me, some lemon squeezed on top-it works a treat!

Note: you can add some herb/spice if you like. I think cumin would go really well, and some fresh coriander.

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