Friday, 21 December 2007

Too Many People

There are too many homeless people on the streets of Truro. There are too many second home owners sitting in their cars on the M5 and A30, massing for the Christmas exodus. There are too many cancer patients at the oncology and haemotology centres at The Royal Cornwall Hospital. There are too many fat cats and I'm-alright-Jacks, and too many little match girls, shivering as they wait for punters in the frost. There are too many empty churches and reconstructed rectories. There are too many turkeys and way too many mince pies.

Took two coats down to the crisis appeal at the cathedral. Two old coats that had kept me warm for far too long, and far too long ago. I wore them on trips between Helsinki and St Petersburg (then Leningrad), and they kept me warm in twenty degrees of frost.

Then I gathered together my hoard of shampoos and contitioners and body lotions and handcream and moisturiser samples, garnered from four and five star hotels in Europe and the USA these last few years and put them in a gold-coloued tote bag, marked for the attention of homeless women. And it isn't enough.

Anybody can be homeless. Anybody. Even those mortgage-free people like me. Anybody can be homeless. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a report about a former news journalist, who had co-anchored the national news on occasion, but still managed to run up more than two hundred thousand pounds worth of debt. He's homeless now. And children are homeless, And mentally ill people. And vulnerable young women. And ex married couples, homelessly single, sleeping in their cars and office floors. In the old days, vicarages used to open their doors to the homeless, but now there's aren't many vicarages running as homes for the clergy (there aren't many stipended clergy), so shelters are opened by social workers for eight days over the Christmas season. There aren't enough social workers. There aren't enough shelters.

The Bishop of Truro, who always gives an apposite address, said the message of Christmas was: 'Don't be afraid.' Fear not, said the Angel, for I bring you tidings of great joy. The greatest joy for me was giving two old coats and a hoard of unwanted toiletries. I looked in my wardrobe and counted eight coats altogether, not counting the two in the trunk which I gave away, and my grandma's old furs, waiting for my daughter to give them a decent burial. That's too many coats for anyone. But still there aren't enough coats...

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Middle Aged Texters...

U-tube post sent to me by Neil, my editor, this morning:

I'm the one who can't open the book!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Tales from school

I am still reeling from the shock of the parents' evening at my daughter's school this week. Not because it was shocking. On the contrary, it was deeply underwhelming, particularly the discussion of how literature is taught. They look at bits of things: 'extracts' of Victorian novels; sound bites from broadsheet newspapers, comparing these with the miniature bite-size mouthfuls from the redtops. At least I came away enlightened about that. Now I know how the redtops have gained such an almighty readership. The punters are trained for it, at school, by looking at bits of things. I'm not too much of a snob to look at redtops. In fact, I enjoy looking through all those bitty magazines you find in hospital waiting rooms

(which is a convenient link to my new blog


'Chat' is an exemplary title, for instance, since it encapsulates the skimpy sound-bite nature of the content. It's like looking into a parallel world of enhanced breasts and celebrity fashion gaffes (and other gaffes) and people who had their brothers' babies, or whose babies grew up to be serial killers or rapists. All in bite-sized, easily digestible chunks. With no analysis. And no demanding words above three syllables.

I thought my daughter's expectations should be greater than these - not because of snobbery or elitism but because of the SHEER BOREDOM that a diet of chit-chat imposes on enquiring minds. It's worse than boredom after a while. It becomes what the old Victorians might have called 'ennui', and the postmodernists 'anomie'. Whatever you call it, it deadens the soul.

Why read extracts of Great Expectations? Why not stick your toe in the water and tackle the whole thing? Because, I was told, children could not be expected to read 'those long Victorian novels'. Not all children, maybe, but limiting all of them to extracts sends out the message that extracts are all you need to digest the themes and issues of the day. It tells my daughter, for instance (who had already read Great Expectations, because she found it on the shelf at home) that she needn't bother in future, thank you very much, but she should pipe up more in class because the English GCSE assessment is as much about SPEAKING as it is about reading and writing! (As an A level examiner, who resigned in despair from a Board that refused to penalise lapses in basic English usage, such as simple apostrophe use, this shouldn't really surprise me...)

But edcuational nonsense aside, the real issue is far more serious, because this system seems to be fitting up kids for a lifetime of soundbites and extracts. And where the hell is literature in that? When I was thirteen, I looked forward to losing myself in a long Victorian novel - Jayne Eyre, say - or even Great Expectations. The novel, according to that great French master of the form, Stendhal, is a mirror held up along a highway. Sometimes it reflects the sky above, sometimes the mud below your feet. The point is all about the journey. Extracts, on the other hand, are a hide into nothing. A short fix before you get your teeth looked at or your blood pressure taken. A trip to nowhere.