I find myself now watching less television and wanting to listen to far more radio. We are lucky in having the BBC that provides such an enormous range of ad-free and therefore undumbed-down content.
The other day, for example, sandwiched between a rugby commentary, a Sibelius concert, an episode from a detective series and a Cabinet Minister being forensically taken apart, was a programme entitled "Something a Female Must Never Do". What greater incentive to listen?
It turned out to be a talk given by a remarkable lady zoologist who had spent the last 30 years in Kenya raising her own family while studying and being accepted into another-the same herd of elephants.
Her accounts of their social responsibilities towards each other were humbling and should be beaten into the skull of every gun-toting moron set on shooting one. For example, the chances of a calf surviving are greatly enhanced by the presence of a grandmother in the herd."
The speaker was very much of the Mary Beard school of presentation-erudite, intelligent and very earthy.
So what must a female never do?
This came from her personal, rueful experience..."Never pee near a male elephant!".
In elephant circles it is considered socially ok for a male to sniff a female's urine to see if she is in season, obviously by using his trunk...modesty forbids me finishing the zoologist's experience other than to say that squatting down in the middle of the Serengeti she claims “it gave me a shock.”
So, Elizabeth, next time we go to Chester Zoo…
Good old "Beeb" radio. Fox TV it ain't!
Many English people cannot understand why the Conservative-supporting Democratic Unionist Party are seemingly doing their best to ruin the former's Brexit plans over the border between themselves in the North and the Irish Republic in the south.
This is hardly surprising. The English as a whole know little of their own country's past (let alone History) and even less about that of others, especially Ireland's.
The Brexit border problem has taken me back thirty years to an attempt I made to rectify the above.
As part of the Schools' Council History GCSE exam syllabus, students had to undertake a "Modern World Study." With The Armed Struggle still in violent progress, I selected "The Irish Question."
The aim was really an exercise in causation - getting to see how such situations do not just suddenly happen but have long, medium and immediate causes.
In planning the work I needed something of greater impact than TV news to hit the 15 year olds hard at the start of term.
It was supplied thanks to one of my students and was devastating.
After giving the classes their year's study plans a term in advance, I was approached by Sarah. She told me that she had a cousin in Northern Ireland who attended one of the very few mixed Catholic/Protestant colleges in the province.
It gave me the idea. Via Sarah and Sarah's cousin I got into contact with the college's History Department, explained what I was doing and asked whether they could send us some material from both sides of the religious divide.
It duly arrived-letters, tapes, photographs etc all from students the same age as mine.
I photo-copied some into study packs and gave them out to the first group...only to be met with 40 minutes of utter, incredulous silence!
Some of the experiences I remember myself. ..
"Every afternoon when I get home from school my nanny and I sit on the edges of our chairs, waiting for daddy to get home. You see he is a RUC reservist and during the day drives a milk container through isolated countryside. He could be murdered at any time."
"I recently went to England for the very first time and could not believe that shopping centres were not surrounded by chainlink fencing and barbed wire like back home. I thought that was true everywhere in the world. Can you believe it? I am a bright 16 year old girl and that was what I had been led to believe!"
They then got down to the extreme sectarian material and were truly shocked by the vicious hatred shown between classmates. This was not soccer rivalry. This was visceral loathing based on what church you attended. Catholic boys and Protestant girls did not socialise out of school hours etc.
Worst of all was the fact that the material was planned and written by students of their own age ...but who lived in circumstances so very different from rural east Norfolk.
Yet there was still a sense of humour. One lad told the following story..." A little Catholic girl and a little Protestant boy went down to the
beach to skinny dip. They stripped and the little boy was embarrassed to find the little girl staring at him so he demanded to know why. She replied "Sure and the mammy told me you Protestants were different from us Catholics, but she didn't say
HOW MUCH different!"
The material begged one outstanding question from my students, "WHY?"
Me. "Well, you see..."
We were passing the extensive road works that will be the Norwich outer ring road. A fellow passenger leant across and told me that "they" had got it wrong. "They" should have chosen route B and not route A. What do
"they" know? "They" don't have to live here. "They" might have all the qualifications but you can't beat common sense. Didn't I agree?
(So ended our visit to Eastbourne as described in a previous daily blog.)
A diatribe we have often heard and to which it is all too easy not to respond.
What follows in dialogue form is a true and faithful account of the ensuing conversation which would not have occured had I not been provoked into making a response. (M=Me; H=Him).
M. Depends on who you mean by "them."
H. The planners. Who else?
M. But isn't it the County Council who have the final say?
H. That lot? They are all in it for what they can get out of it!
M. You may well be right, so please where is your proof? (Silence... definitely pregnant). Wife of H clearly fed up with having heard it all before, smiled encouragingly in my direction). I continued...
M. So getting back to the ring road, are you saying the Council and the Civil Engineers have not researched the project? (Wife of H now positively beaming),
H. I am not saying that. Research or not, I have as much right to express my opinion as them and it is just as good.
M. Indeed you have, but tell me... If your appendix should burst at this moment,
H. (With smile of superiority), I've already had it out!
M. (With exaggerated patience..If you STILL HAD your appendix and it burst what would you prefer? Us getting you to the N&N hospital into the hands of a skilled and experienced surgeon or me going in with my rusty penknife?
H. But that's different!
Wife of H now laughing openly as they leave the vehicle.
Still wondering how Trump got elected or Brexit came about?
Even in my lifetime there have been many evil dictators - evil because they have treated others not as human beings but as things on an industrial scale.
Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, Mao, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, down to Kim Jong-un etc., today.
I have often looked at them to see what or if anything they might have in common.
The answer was provided not by some modern popular TV historian nor smart political pundit but by a lone voice speaking across two and a half thousand years of time...PLATO
"The people always have some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness. This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector."
It would be comforting to think that tyranny was the product solely of the Great Ones but of course it exists in all times, in all places and is experienced by everyone.
In his "Elegy written in a country churchyard," Grey spoke of
"Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast,
The little tyrant of his fields withstood."
Fortunately all tyrants be they high or low can be defeated as easily as A. B. C...
Then go onto organise if not by frontal assault then boring from within. You might even consider hosting your own website...
Last week we were off on another of our coach holidays-this time to Eastbourne down on the Sussex coast.
I will describe it from my diary day by day even if a week late.
While waiting I compared the event in my mind's eye with another made 183 years earlier by one of the first residents of our village to ever travel to London.
Like us he left on a Monday but not to arrive at Ludgate Circus until the following Friday afternoon.
Our warm, comfortable coach running on well surfaced roads certainly had a thick edge over his horse-drawn stage being pulled over what were little better than cart tracks all the way to the capital.
The differences were obvious but what of the similarities? Expectant passengers waiting amongst their still to be stowed luggage, slight air of apprehension, nervous introductions to fellow passengers, general relief when the coach arrived, cheery greetings for the driver from old lags who had travelled with her before. Is everyone there? Seats taken, territories established, all aboard, we are off!
Arrive at Cambridge Services to take on passengers from a feeder coach. New travellers immediately come across one hang over from the eighteenth century coaching days....Dick Turpin Lives but instead of performing robbery on the Highway he owns Motorway Service Stations instead.
Away again, passing London somewhat quicker that our 1834 traveller in his Royal Mail coach. Over the Queen Elizabeth Bridge and into Kent and best of all, Sussex. Byron wrote in comparison with the Scottish Highlands, "England, thy beauties are tame and domestic." He must have had Sussex in mind. Neat farms and houses, forest beautiful as gold, brown, red and green leaves were illuminated by the warm autumn sun. Not New England in the Fall but this Old England in the Autumn was quite enough for us...(and cheaper to get to!)
Destination reached...Victorian Hotel, room on first floor overlooking the sea. It proved to be very clean, have good quality food and a conscientious staff. Tomorrow? Bring it on!
PLEASE NOTE... The photograph is of John Leatherdale's coach leaving Stalham "Maid's Head" in 1906, for his twice-weekly trip into Norwich...18 miles in 3 hours. Taken off the road in 1916, it was the last stagecoach service still running in Norfolk. It was similar to the London- bound coach of 80 years earlier. Many years ago I met two people who had actually travelled on it. First class was inside- 6 passengers, the rest travelled on the outside maximum 12
Off to Brighton but first, Beachy Head.
Going up the steep slope, another memory of coaching days came back to me. Sooner or later the coach would hit a hill too steep for the horses, so out would go the driver’s traditional
“FIRST CLASS PASSENGERS STAY SEATED, SECOND CLASS GET OUT AND WALK, THIRD CLASS GET OUT AND SHOVE!”
Not a bad commentary on the class system of their time, nor of ours!
Having arrived a the top, folk got out for a walk. I did not. I had been before and had visited the favoured jumping off point for the suicidal inclined. I found it depressing and did not like the way the local crows scratched around eyeing me up as potentially the next meal.
And so to Brighton, the city once described by Keith Waterhouse as seemingly “a town always helping the police with their inquiries.” Less said the better.
So where to visit? Sadly not the official naturist beach…too cold and too stony in mid-November.
Having been several times before and having Regency coming out of every orifice we decided to give the main part of the city a miss and explore the modern Marina instead.
Its most noticeable feature is the huge number of yachts crammed into its even extensive moorings. This posed the obvious question of how are they got out to sea? ARE they ever got out to sea or are they simply status symbols or used as floating
weekend retreats, their moorings never to be slipped in anger?
The second feature are the canyons caused by blocks of medium-rise but expensive flats. No shortage of safety sprinklers and flame-resistant materials there, I’ll be bound!
The sky turned to gun metal grey so bearing in mind the timeless advice given to us by a very wise Kerry man- “It niver rains in der pub,”- we made for Wetherspoon’s West Quay hostelry. It is on the first floor and whoever designed the approach had clearly never spent time on a mobility scooter. The way up consisted of the a zig-zag series of inclined ramps. Nothing wrong with that, but… Elizabeth was using her small fold-up “Luggie” yet found navigating the turns very difficult so how anyone with a normal scooter manages was beyond her.
Were we impressed with the Marina? NO, but in all fairness feel a summer visit is needed to provide a balanced judgement.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO DESCRIBE FLORENCE AS “NICE”?
We simply took the day off to explore Eastbourne and do some shopping.
By now we are getting accustomed to our fellow passengers. They are very pleasant people and the last thing I would ever want to do is to patronise or negatively criticise, but the opportunity to observe language patterns is too good to miss.
There are 31 of us…18 ladies and 13 men most of retirement age and all from the eastern counties. The most commonly read newspapers are the Daily Mail, The Express and the Sun. Most of the men have done skilled manual work and are knowledgeable when they can be persuaded to talk about it along with their strong ideas about soccer and motorcars. The ladies are mainly grandchild-obsessed. None have other ideas to so feely or so willingly express. Vocational Literacy. Help! We are in Brexiter country!
Ice is broken by exchanges of “Traveller’s Tales” about previous holidays. They but rarely touch upon the wonderful sights that many have seen and such flashes are soon lost among praise and damnation of hotels, foreign food and airports. Could anyone really damn Florence with such faint praise as describing it as "nice"? Er, yes!
Okay, Okay, this is what I believe is called “small
talk” at which I am as good as a fish riding a bicycle, so passing over that…
With topics of conversation covered, I listen carefully to HOW they are discussed in an air of “circular jocularity.” Person A will tell a story. Person B will not question A about it but proceed with a similar story of their own. Person C will next chime in with a funny observation. Then the process begins all over again in an atmosphere of shared bonhomie with no one rocking the boat by asking or posing questions, above all challenging others to THINK up a positive, constructive response. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis? Do me a favour!
What follows is text-book Bernstein (Public Language: Some Sociological Implications of a Linguistic Form) from fifty nine years ago….short grammatically simple, often unfinished sentences; simple and repetitive use of conjunctions, (so, then, and, because); very limited use of adjectives, adverbs shunned; no use of personal pronouns as subjects (one, it), frequent use of idiomatic stock phrases; all framed to create sympathetic circularity.
Bernstein later wrote that such a restricted code of English “is most probably a function of a particular social structure.”
Bearing in mind that Miller, as long ago as 1951 wrote, ‘thinking is never more precise than the language it uses,’ could this have affected either or both of the Trump and Brexit votes?
Away off to one of my favourite towns in the country- Rye. Sadly I had to go alone as Elizabeth's light mobility scooter was not designed to cope with the hill on which Rye stands, the narrow pavements or the cobbles.
I paid my usual historian's respect to the old buildings, thoroughfares and local businesses...especially the chippy styling itself as "The Catcher in Rye."
I then made my way down to the extensive market, not so much as to buy anything but inhale the atmosphere. What if 90% of sale goods arrived in a container and could be bought at most Pound stores even cheaper? We were outside, talking to stallholders and each other, often while eating some of the local fare.
I am a veteran marketeer having been raised on weekly holiday-time Thursday visits to the Acle Sale half way between Yarmouth and Norwich. This was a REAL sale...local produce in season, livestock and goods sold by auction and attended by buyers from miles around. I would go over with my mother by bus and train to buy- in vegetables, fruit and meat for the next week.
Sixty years ago it was exceedingly rural and had changed little from the fairs described by Thomas Hardy, although custom of buying and selling wives was in terminal decline.
One Thursday we had finished our buying and while waiting for the bus, sat in the tea room over something alleged to be coffee when my attention was caught by a group of passers-by. There was mother and father and at least 10 children...a real "organ-pipe" family if ever there was one.
"Strewth," I remarked to my mother, "Look at that!" She appraised them and turning to me asked,
"You know the reason for that don't you?" I replied that I was getting the idea.
Ignoring me she said, "The haven't got electricity yet!"
Suitably puzzled I naturally asked what she meant. Looking at her oh-so clever Grammar School son, she spelled it out so simply that even I could understand...
"No electricity = no television!"
Thanks Rye market and the excellent pint of "Spitfire" I bought at the "Cinque Ports," for bringing that back to mind.
Home James and don't spare the horses.
9.30 and time to head home, dropping off passengers at various "feeder" stops along the way.
The journey was uneventful apart from a conversation to which I was podded into responding.
We were passing the extensive road works that will be the Norwich outer ring road. A fellow passenger leant across and told me that "they" had got it wrong. "They" should have chosen route B and not route A. What do "they" know? "They" don't have to live here. "They" might have all the qualifications but you can't beat common sense.
YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT FOR THE WEEK.
Would you have responded to such assertions? If so, how and why?
My reply will be the subject of a future Weekly Blog coming shortly to a computer near you.