word power

Where I live has always been very good for street cleaning.  Rubbish is regularly collected , we have two street sweepers and damn the dumpers, detritus is contained.  In the autumn

we have a little sweeper van which goes round, with one or two men with blowers, shifting the leaves into the street  for gobbling by the bigger engine. 

We live in late Victorian purpose built flats, two to a building, individual step up into each fronted by a common area in which of course, the leaves pile up.  The council has to be careful that its employees collect from the street which is public, rather than trespassing on the front which is privately owned. And I’ve always been a bit sniffy about the van which is called a Scarab.  








I stand corrected,  I’ll explain.

I’ve waved and mouthed thank you, given the thumbs up, for years.  I don’t know if I see the same men sometimes, I don’t always have my glasses on.  I just thank them and this week the Blower was concentrating, so I waved to the man in the van who tooted and grinned and when the Blower turned towards me, I smiled  my thanks and without more ado and under my appreciative gaze, he cleared my area of leaves.   And we all beamed at each other.  Not a word.

Charmed, I looked up the Scarab and discovered that it is a sacred version of the dung beetle, which is one of those creatures that can shift many times its weight. Dung is not a word we use often nowadays.  I have an affectionate memory of it because my father once asked me if I really enjoyed the caporal cigarettes I briefly smoked.  Yes, I said, I did – “because” he said, eyes twinkling “it smells exactly like camel dung.”  Which he had smelt burning as fuel

in the villages of northern India when he was stationed there as a young man.

I can remember my father, a born teacher and a big man amazing light of foot, pacing backwards and forwards in a small house, and inveighing against a system which only introduced children to teachers  – to a background of school , college, academic discipline, training and other teachers – when a glimpse of the wider world might better hook them into feeling they could learn.

Both major political parties and probably all the others vow to put heft behind the education system  to help it recover and I want to write and ask them to understand that education isn’t just the passing of exams, the qualifying for work, but the ability to use words and talk.  

I want to ask them in their thoughts about education, to include speakers from every walk of life to talk how they were taught, what it meant and didn’t mean, where they went, how they got on and answer questions.  Of course I know there would be kids who wouldn’t attend unless it was on the schedule and speakers who wouldn’t be fascinating but at best, you would offer young people a wider and more generous idea of learning.  It’s all learning. 

And you’d offer them a more flexible informal way of using language – and you only get to use language by doing it.

It’s not a sin to use a word wrongly or to use a word others don’t know.  That’s how we all learn.    And you can’t most usefully fit this kind of general information into a class or a course.  I saw an item about a professor of philosophy who is teaching debate , the formal disagreement across the differently esteemed “names” in his discipline, rather than take the fashionable position of “this one is right “ and “that one is wrong” and there is no exchange. 

I wrote to congratulate him.

In life there is very little that is absolutely wrong or right, black or white. Life is endless shades of grey and much easier to bear if you can talk across the gap – not to persuade, but to understand a bit.  Moreover, if you know how to use words, you have dignity.  You might even like yourself better which would be a good start against the ubiquitous mental problems.      


2 responses to “word power

  1. I loved your post this week Anna..
    I live in a small semi detached property,on a slight hill,four houses each side,with good neighbours..
    Front garden,hedge surrounding it,and small back garden,which I love to look out at!
    I take great pride in my environment,if I see a crisp bag,it is picked up!
    Like you,I appreciate the council’s good work,and always wave to the workers..🙂

  2. I love your appreciation for the council workers who clear our open spaces Anna. I loved your non verbal communication of warmth and gratitude which resulted in your communal space swept. Communication…so important.

    I sat with a friend while her elderly dad passed away last night. No verbal communication but he knew she was there…. He passed peascefully.

    Your views on education are insightful, your father sounds like he was an amazing man and educator – who inspired many, along with yourself….my young son has been a history teacher for two years and from his passionate stories about his pupils…I know, he too will inspire and broaden many young minds.

    I really enjoy your blogs Anna, they make me think…

    Best wishe and have a lovely day.

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