Ian Jack

Ian Jack writes a monthly column for the Guardian. He left school to work in a library.

Diary: Class 1H

Ian Jack, 15 July 2021

‘The golden generation’ is the way Selina Todd describes us in Snakes and Ladders: The Great British Social Mobility Myth (Chatto, £25). We are the children born between the mid-1930s and the mid-1950s (1945 in my case) who, in Todd’s words, ‘were more likely to be upwardly mobile than any generation before or since’. More than 50 per cent of us, if we were...

The Railway Hobby

Ian Jack, 7 January 2021

On​ a wet and windy Saturday in October a few regulars of the Ian Allan Book and Model Shop gathered inside the premises for the last time. The shop – on Lower Marsh, behind Waterloo Station – would soon be a memory, like many things to do with the railway hobby. One or two customers chatted to the soon to be redundant staff. Others encouraged a yappy terrier to chase a tennis...

The notion of idleness is important to the argument: land cannot be allowed merely to sit there minding its own business – it needs somehow to be put to work, to be efficient. As for surplus, that can be created by various ruses, not least by setting targets, such as those that drive up occupation densities in civil servants’ offices from 14.5 square metres to ten square metres (and in some recent cases to six square metres) per full-time employee; or by establishing a minimum area for playing fields determined by the number of pupils at a school, and declaring anything above that figure surplus to requirements. Public land becomes surplus, in other words, as the result of the state’s determination to shrink itself. At the heart of this project lay a brazen deceit.

In​ 1987 the Proclaimers released a single called ‘Letter from America’, which compared the then ongoing industrial destruction of the Scottish Lowlands with the Highland Clearances two centuries before. It was a rare intrusion by an 18th-century lyric into the UK top ten. ‘Lochaber no more/Sutherland no more/Lewis no more/Skye no more’, sang the Proclaimers,...

In​ 2016, Oxford Dictionaries made ‘post-truth’ their word of the year, defining it as an adjective that described circumstances ‘in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. This hardly seems up to the job: if that’s all the word means, the wonder is that we have waited so long for it....

Comprehensible Disorders

David Craig, 3 September 1987

The item which seems set to stay longest with me from Ian Jack’s alert and precisely-written record of British life in the Seventies and Eighties comes from the opening memoir of his...

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