Yesterday a friend emailed. He teaches children with “issues”. He was going through what books were available to them and one of them was violent, threatening and frankly bloody. He asked a more experienced colleague “Can this be right ? We’re supposed to discourage children from violent videogames but here is a book of the same thing, on offer at school ?” She replied that some of the teachers ordered the books because they were by famous authors but had never read them. He asked me if he was being prudish ? I replied that you never recommend anything to a youngster you haven’t read yourself.
There weren’t many heroes in my upbringing. You did your best. If that meant you took mind blowing risks, rescued people or saved dangerous situations, it was less to do with the big “I Am” and more to do with doing your best. How I admired the veteran in the recent DDay celebrations who was filmed saying straight to camera “Don’t call me a hero. I was lucky, I survived. There are no heroes. They are all dead, and I shall never forget them.”
Most of my heroes are people who think – and we are short of them. Libby Purves writing in the Times (10.06.19) tells of the hooha that has blown up over an exam questions which features a small piece of writing by HEBates (she points out that an “unseen” like this is chosen because it will not be well known) and the immediate burble of social media from young – very young – women who are outraged and offended because contextual examination reveals that it is about a rape. Gosh. Perhaps now is the moment to tell these PCPC (politically correct putative children) how much of the great art of the world – written, painted, sculpted and sung, whether by men and women – came out of its ills and pain. How can you claim awareness if you don’t want to examine an issue from all sides ?
When I was teaching English to Myf (my young friend) I struggled to find her interesting material without the cultural subtexts familiar to 12 year old English girls. I tried all sorts of things, we’d have to pause and I’d explain, and once you had done that two or three times, it was disheartening and anybody would lose the thread. Myf was fascinated by grownups, how they thought, what they said, their interaction and change. I found a terrific piece on the website of an American writer (Amy Krause Rosenthal) who died all too young of cancer. It was called “Why You Should Marry My Husband”, an appreciation of her life, and when I offered it to her, Myf’s first question was “Have you read it ?” Of course I had. Think !(see Aretha Franklin)
A recent headline announced “Tax toxic tyres that pollute the air”. Can we do that to politicians – tax them for hot air? Rory Stewart the international development secretary in the Conservative leadership race brought a smile to my weary lips yesterday by pointing out that there was nothing patriotic about bullshit. Unfortunately the chief offenders won’t listen and that risks more and more of their constituents turning off. Or turning right. It is so appealing to think that bombast will win the day but three years on, with three separate European power bases and all those nations to negotiate, it isn’t likely.
If I think of heroics, I think of someone making a determined personal commitment and then making it again and again, in the face of every kind of difficulty and dislike.
Like Nimco Ali who has been given a gong for her campaigning work against female genital mutilation. Imagine taking on a disapproving community, that is afraid, far from home and living against everything ever previously expected. A hero for me. And I just about cheered Jon Sopel, for his book “If Only They Didn’t Speak English” in which he says more than once “that’s not what we are there to do” and marks clearly the difference between the public enactment of his job (as BBC North American Editor) and what he thinks. It’s a great read, highly informative but you can forget Hercules. Strength lies in the brain as well as the biceps.