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Phin Campbell

In conversation with Roman Krznaric

Right now if I thought of myself I'm not achieving anything. I'm unemployed and on the dole. I don't do bollocks all. I'm not improving myself personally. I smoke dope, which befuddles my mind. I'm unfit - I couldn't even run to the end of this road without getting out of breath. So I could look at myself now and go, 'You're a bit of a loser Phin'. I don't actually have that low self-esteem because I go, 'You're great - but what the fuck are you doing?' If I was doing something that made me happy and felt successful and got the respect of other people I'd look at myself and go, 'Yeah, I like me'. I do like me at the moment, but I'm not fulfilling myself or interesting to myself. If I had to talk to me I'd get sick of me very quickly, but that's what most people think!

***

I don’t like British peoples very much. I think we’re very narrow-minded and very shut down. If I said,  ‘Manifest your energy’ to my old head teacher he’d say, ‘What? Get out, you’ve got a detention’. A science teacher once said to me, ‘the world’s round’, as if saying ‘we all know the world’s round’. And I asked him, ‘How do you know that, because a hundred years ago or something – I don’t know the details – you would have told me it was flat and if I had challenged you, you would have told me that was a scientific fact? Yet how do you actually know?’ I explained to him, ‘I know that you know because we’ve seen it from space’. I asked him if he’d talk to me about this. And he actually tried to get me kicked out of his lessons just for trying to open up some intelligent debate. And why do we think dying in our sleep is painless? (Thanks Fabian)

The kind of people who I want to interact with are outgoing, intelligent, self-thinking…clever people basically. Not very conventional – I’m fed up with conventional people. I ask people shocking questions. It’s a bit of a cheap trick, it’s partly an assessment, a test. It’s like, how broad is your horizon? Or are you very narrowly focused (which is a nice way of saying narrow minded)?  It’s partly the shock factor. It’s partly because I like people’s attention…And it’s partly because I want to know, I’m genuinely interested. I’ve always been that way. Why should I bollock around thinking of something proper to say when what I want to ask you is, what do you believe in when it comes to God? A lot of people have a strangely misaligned attitude. Take money. Would you be offended if I asked you how much you earned last week or something?  A lot of people would be. They’d think, ‘you can’t ask me about money, that’s taboo’. Well, why is it taboo?

Asking shocking questions helps wake people up. Some people have sat in their jobs so long that they’re not awake. They’ve got no motivation in their job anymore. They don’t see it as important to the community or integral to the planet. They’re either not interested or they’ve been there so long, even if their heart’s in the right place they’re just dead. If I go somewhere and I’ve got a complicated request from, say, the dole office, I’ll go in there and get that person thinking. If I shake them up with a question, one, I’ve got their interest and they’ll be thankful that I’ve made them interested. Two, they’re awake, I’m gonna get a better result. And three, it’ll be a more pleasing experience for me and them.

***

I was born in the John Radcliffe in Oxford on October 10th, 1985. I’ve lived in Islip my whole life, which is a little village eight miles from Oxford. It’s quite a conservative area, it’s got what you call ‘high standards’. In Islip it pays be a nice little posh middle class boy, to go, ‘Yes Henry, isn’t the weather fascinating?’ even when the weather isn’t that fascinating. Grooming, you call it. It’s upper class and I think that reputation brings people of that ilk who need to be living in an upper class snooty place. I’m not condemning it. We’re there just because we’re lucky – my grandmother used to live there ages back. I live with my parents. They’re ex-hippies and are both over 50 now. Mum works in the Central Library in Oxford and is an Assistant Librarian. Dad is epileptic and didn’t work for most of his life, but just started working recently doing AutoCAD landscape design. He’s self-employed I guess. My sister’s 24 and lives in London now, she moved when she was 18. She’s got a BA in something – linguistics I think – and works in Sainsbury’s. I get on well with Alix.

The first school I went to was Dr South’s Primary School in Islip, which had sixty odd people in overall. It was a Christian primary school, which is where I developed my bias against religion (and organisation). They wanted a little Christian and you had to tow the line. I was quite articulate so I let them know that I wasn’t a Christian, I was there because that was my school and I had a right to be there. My parents don’t believe in religion. I believe I don’t know enough to comment. But then a lot of people don’t know enough to comment and still do. I believe in something but I don’t know what it is. The only thing I do know is that Christians have invented a bollocks story. Somewhere it’s been corrupted and gold plated and sold and bought and fucked over. And what goes on in churches today is not religion. It’s corruption, a sect, a cult. I don’t think football supporters are dangerous or vindictive but I do think the churches are. I’m not saying that as soon as you go into church that you’re going to become a bad person. There are a lot of people who truly believe in God, or truly do believe in love at least. The only thing I truly believe in is love. And I don’t just mean relationships.

After primary school I went to Gosford Hill school in Kidlington and what a shithole it is. The teachers lack motivation because most of the kids there don’t want to learn. They resent being made to go there. Either they’re pissed off with their parents, they’re pissed off their teachers or they know that their parents are forced to send them to school by the government so they’re just pissed off at the whole system. Purely because school was compulsory and unsympathetically arrogant with it, I defected from it.

My approach to school was passive aggressive withdrawal. I milked it like a cow. I got exactly what I wanted out of it, which was a free reign, not much hassle, respect, friends, something to fill the void of boredom and to muck around if I wanted to without getting troubled. School was my puppet. I hope it knew it.

Most of the people there lack academic intelligence. Most of what they’re learning they feel is pointless and it is pointless to them – and me. No one could really give a shit. No one feels they’ll do anything other than live in Kidlington. After year eight or nine I wasn’t working, I wasn’t stretching my brain at all. I was hardly even exercising it. I’m like, I won’t lift the weight unless it’s actually gonna make my muscles more capable. I won’t lift it just because the teacher wants me to – not until I can say why I’m doing it for me.

I did the bare minimum that I had to do unless a piece of work appealed to me – I like history – and after a while that stopped happening. I passed all my GCSEs except one – design and technology. It’s no longer based on intelligence. It’s based on ability to meet their requirements. I don’t want to be a clean statistic, I want to be great. If I put work into it I’d get an A-star with a letter from Charles Clarke because it would be so good.

I left school as soon as I could, at 17 in year 11. When I left I was already in a pretty much full-time farming job. I was shovelling cow shit mainly with tractors. Basically it was a dairy farm. I worked with cows and worked the fields. I gave up after two years. I was late pretty much every day because I lacked motivation.

***

My dad told me that school doesn’t teach you stuff but it teaches you how to learn. I took some books out of the library the other day – about seven – and I’ve lost them all. One was on fitness in sport, one was on martial arts (some Japanese application), one was on amazing ancient inventions, one was on good posture…I’ve always been more interested in achieving myself rather than achieving at school. ‘The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read and How They Can Learn’ is a book I want to re-read. I didn’t know I was dyslexic until after I left school.

Maybe I’ve always been audacious and arrogant and conceited and condescending but if I do something I’ll have a natural feel for it, just by doing it. I’m really good with animals, I’m really good with children. I’m good at massage too. I don’t know why. I rely a lot on my instincts and intuition. I’ve good sense physically and mentally.

I’m fascinated by people. I’m interested in interpersonal behaviour, child psychology, things like that. I’ve adopted Think Equus, which is a philosophy of horse management that can be applied to humans. Its just common sense really. It involves a 50/50 balance between horse and owner. You’ve got to be in charge of the horse because you know what you want from it. But you’ve got to respect it as an equal because it gives you what you want. It’s about not taking bullshit from anyone yet respecting them, 50/50. It also uses positive and negative reinforcement – letting the animal know what’s right and wrong. I respect the Think Equus pioneer, Michael Peace, because he speaks his mind, he achieves his results, he’s happy and he’s kind.

***

First Principles of the Think Equus Philosophy

Partnership

Balance

Diplomacy

Learning Processes

Truth

The Middle Ground

There are no short cuts, or instant answers

Responsibility

Dynamic Awareness

Setting Targets

Collaboration and Trust

Letting go of your ego

***

Years 5 and 6 at the primary school were detrimental because I was bullied and became suicidal, depressed and have had relapses from it ever since. My friends were taking the piss because of my name. At that age I didn’t have a concept of taking the piss – I was too innocent in a way. I thought ‘wow, they must really have taken a disliking to me’. It really hit me hard. It was one, unpleasant, and two, scary. My parents didn’t know. I made sure they didn’t know. Every night probably for a year, I cried. They say depression is the lack of your own good company. I know what they mean. Back then I didn’t have the mental capacity to articulate it to myself.

I did that scar trying to slash my wrists. There’s a whole load of little ones. Do you want to know why I’m still alive? Because I couldn’t bear to do that to my parents. I could empathise with how they’d feel if I were them and they found me dead. I can imagine the whole series of emotions and I have done, time and time. The only reason I never topped myself is that I could see how sad it would make my parents. Not sad, sad’s not the right word. How devastating it would be. They say there’s two types of suicide: ones that tell what their intentions are and ones that don’t. And I’ve never told anyone except once and that was because I was so serious that time I figured that if I told someone I couldn’t face doing that to them, because they would wonder, ‘why did you tell me?’ So it was a survival thing. I tell them I’m gonna kill myself because that’s what I’m gonna do. Having told them, I can’t do it. Lost me my friend but kept me alive. We’re sort of friends again now. Sorry Jack.

I’ve never really talked about it. I don’t just cause I don’t really understand it. All I knew was I wanted to die and my happiness would come from dying. When I’d get home from being bullied and in my head I’d go, ‘I’m gonna kill myself so they all fucking know’, I knew that I wasn’t going to even go and try to kill myself. I was gonna sit and be sad for a while. I was gonna grieve for myself before I was dead, and then I was fine. It was just self-pity. And I learned that if you enjoy self pity it’s harmless and you should enjoy it, it’s part of the natural thing, it’s good for you. I think that’s where I first got my taste for wanting to kill myself, a desire for it. After that…depression, despair, disturbedness and out and out pointless fear were things that I was well-versed in.

I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for getting on a year. My mother wanted me to because I stay up all night and ‘I lack motivation and direction and I’m a very unhappy person’ – that’s their words. Although I’m not. I’m actually a very happy person. There’s nothing wrong with me. I think sometimes they dream up the concept and I take it on to placate them. I read their assessments of me but it didn’t really correlate to me. I thought, ‘hold up, that’s not what I said’. They hadn’t listened to me, they’d interpreted and deciphered me. They’re not objective, they’re not well-guided, they don’t really know what they’re doing. What pissed me off about my psychiatric treatment was the way that they asked me a question: Do you use any drugs? Yes, I smoke cannabis. They may have just as well gone, ‘right, that’s you’re problem, stop smoking cannabis then you’ll be fine and fuck off, we’re not going to bother seeing you next week because we’re just going to keep telling you to stop doing this’. They seem to frown on me asking them a question. They want an all powerful position where they don’t give anything away.

I’ve never been a loner but I’ve always been lonely, or maybe that’s the wrong way round. I don’t know how I deal with loneliness. By denying it, by suppressing it. And in more recent years by just dealing with it, by going out there and making friends. Loneliness isn’t actually real. Loneliness is something you choose. I’d say that I suffer more from sadness that people don’t like me.

***

My parents feel that I’m wasting my talents. They feel that I should fuck off or pay council tax. [He passes me a letter to read]

March 4

To whom it may concern.

This is to confirm that Phin Campbell will not be living here after April 1st. We’re unable to live together with any degree of harmony and my health is suffering. Also he makes no contribution to the council tax.

Yours sincerely,

Penelope Campbell.

The council needs to have the letter if I want to get housing benefit, but it basically is a summary of the situation. It’s not quite as bad as we do work in harmony sometimes – few and far between though. We don’t fight but we do argue and we do disagree. Me and my Dad get on quite well but I really hate my Dad at the same time. It’s really quite complicated. I’ve disliked my Dad for a lot of my life and I’ve dislike my Mum for a lot of my life. I’ve more consciously disliked my Dad and I realised that the only reason I liked my Mum was that I didn’t want to be all alone against Dad. My Dad’s epileptic so is unfulfilled you could say or at least has felt that way. I watched my mother go through a nervous breakdown. Over the course of six months I watched her health deteriorate and then crack, which wasn’t fun….You see, despite the fact that they’re a pain in the ass, my worst times are when they’re unhappy. It upsets me when my parents worry about me. I never let them know just how depressed I was or still am. I don’t really let people know things about me.

***

What do your friends think of you?

That’s a really good question, I’ve always wanted to know. They think I’m a dickhead but like me, because I’m pedantic, I’m difficult, I enjoy arguing the toss and I’m not that good socially – I have an irritating conversation style. I prefer being this way because I think it’s more creative. On the one hand I’ve never really put friends as that important a thing. On the other hand I’ve always had friends because I valued them. Friends are very important to me but I could probably go for a very long time without seeing someone. In fact I do from time to time. I put more energy into defence mechanisms to avoid rejection or pain that I do making friends.

It’s easier for me to be offensive and defensive than it is to be open and warm. If I like a person they are often quite convinced that I find them really fucking annoying. I let people think that I don’t actually like them much because I like them. Like me and Marc Church, we understand we’re friends, but if he makes a little fuck up in his car, I’ll go, ‘You dumb twat’. And if I trip up or something he’ll go, ‘You fucking fool’. If we’re talking about something we’ll get at each other. It’s what they call horsing around. But for me I use it more as a default defence so people don’t get close to me. It’s all to do with rejection and not trusting people. I think it all relates to when I was bullied in primary school. Because people who were close to me and who I’d let know I liked threw it back at me. And I don’t want that to happen to me. I’m scared of being caught off guard.

I’m not saying I can’t be nice to people. I’m just so much more at home being a cunt. It’s just lack of practice. I’ve never really had to be nice to people, because I’m intelligent and very physically capable. If someone tried to pick on me they could beat me up for half an hour and I could get up and walk away. Or if someone tried to beat me up I’d just turn round and put them in the bin or something. If someone tried to outsmart me in that banter way that children do, then I’d just out-banter them and leave them looking stupid on the playground on their own crying. I really know how to destroy people like that. It’s easy. I just go, ‘right, I’m not going to be nice to you now’. But I hardly do it. It’s not worth it.

I don’t want anything out of anything, that’s my problem. And my other problem is that if I do want something I get it. I go to myself, ‘I need a crisis loan from the dole office’. Then I go to the job centre and get a crisis loan even if I’m not eligible. I could go in there, right, in an Abercrombie & Fitch suit. I could walk in there with my Mercedes outside, with my servants lining up bringing me dinner trays at the dole office, and I could go, ‘I need a sixty quid crisis loan because I can’t afford my food’ while I eat a bagel. And I’d get it. The self confidence gets it me. I am clever. I know how to rub people the right way. I don’t like saying things like that because that makes me sound manipulative, which I’m not at all. I don’t lack consideration or kindness. Nor am I calculating.

Someone should write a book about the meaning of the phrase ‘Yes, sir’. It can be ‘Yes, sir,’ very much respectful or ‘Yes, sir,’ very much disrespectful. It can be a lot of things, it’s a very useful little phrase. You can get away with saying it without implying any authority to the person, deference to their position of responsibility. I like to be in authority but not the authority. I like to have as much of a free reign as you or anyone else. The more I need or want the more I’ll take.

I don’t like people who pick on people. I disapprove of violence and stay away from it but if someone was beating up a kid I’d go in and be violent. My dislike for violence is coupled with a like of violence. Terry Pratchett in the Discworld books calls it ‘the beast’ in the character Sam Vines. And I agree. If I get attacked and I get to walk away there’s a sense of self-gratification - being able to rely on myself - and happiness because I just fucked up someone who attacked me. Yet I’ll always do the very minimum to achieve a result if I need to do it violently. If I can push someone over I’ll push them over rather than hit them.

Do you get in violent situations a lot?

Yeah, I do. It’s Oxford, innit? If I feel people are putting me down or taking the piss I’ll get very irate quickly. I’m not prone to violence though. I don’t want to sound like I’ll just snap and be violent. But I’ll get verbally irate. In Oxford if you know the right people you can get beaten up for free.

***

True understanding is much less common than we perceive. Isn’t empathy just understanding with emotion?

That’s very interesting, I’m going to write that down.

That’s what the cops kept saying to me – ‘that’s very interesting, I’m going to write that down’! I got a criminal record a week before my eighteenth birthday, so it got knocked off a week later. I was arrested for possession of cannabis.

***

To a degree nothing really worries me…Things have always worked out for me. I’ve always been a winner. I’m really driven. If decide tomorrow I want to move house, I’ll move house before the end of tomorrow. I’ll get housing benefit, I’ll get the deposit from the council. It’s odd. The only thing I can use to describe my life is I do what I want. If all I need is a quick slap-dash fence I make up a quick slap-dash fence, and that is perfection to me. It will fall down in three days, but in three days all the cows have gone through it. If I decide I want to put up a ramshackle fence I don’t want someone coming and saying, ‘that’s not the right fence’. I want flexibility and the ability to do what I want to do. And I don’t want to have my head either glued to anything or shoved up anyone’s ass. Partly I don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to know what I want to do. Without an element of danger I find life very boring.

I’ve always been unique. I’ve always stood out. I was very chatty as a child – I’d go up and instigate conversations with adults. I’m very difficult to explain. I’m just one of life’s weird people who’s not really weird. What da fuck!