At least Stephen Hester and his huge bonus are not on the front pages again today. My other half tried to convince me that the RBS boss is worth all those shares and explained how much money Mr Hester has saved his bank. Sorry, I’m still not entirely convince and need somebody to explain to me, very slowly, why bankers are so highly valued. In my opinion there are many people working in far less high profile jobs and professions and who contribute to society in much more beneficial ways. From where I’m standing it appears that our cabinet of millionaires, and multi-millionaires are far more closely allied to the ‘fat cats’ of industry and big business, than they are connected to the majority of people in Britain.
Although I’m jobless, I’m lucky that I don’t need to apply for benefits, although I would love to work. However I use some of my spare time to volunteer and help out others and I believe I have I much more balanced and sympathetic view of those who are far less well off than I am. Today I put money in a collection box for Alzheimers and Dementia, simply because I’ve often stood in the same spot and collected for my local branch of Mencap. Life is not fair these days, and can even be extremely cruel, but I usually feel pretty good in myself after a couple of hours holding out a collecting tin and feeling it getting heavier and heavier. I know what I take in an hour or two would be a mere drop in the ocean compared to the earnings and bonuses of the big bank bosses. I often feel incensed when people smile at me and walk away without putting a penny in my tin, but I feel more of a connection to those less fortunate than I would do if I carried on living my own self-centred life.
I think those of us further down the heap have more of a connection than those who preach to us. Would they really want to donate spare time to help people learn the internet for nothing at their local library (assuming that they have one that is still open)? I will expand this to teaching computing and internet to elderly carers in my area next month. These are the unsung heroes of our society. Those people who have no option but to care for friends and family with disabilities. The people they care for are not scroungers, but people who are afflicted with problems, difficulties and illnesses that prevent them from working. In spite of these handicaps, I know of men and women with learning disabilities who work to a certain extent and do the best they can. And I haven’t heard one of them moan or grumble about their situation. They just get on with it and carry on as best they can.
We are definitely not all in it together. In Animal Farm George Orwell famously stated that ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ It was ever thus and will never change, unless those who are more equal roll up their sleeves to help those who are less equal.
An Experiment in Love is Carmel’s story of her childhood somewhere near Manchester. She is educated at Catholic schools, earns a scholarship as a passport out of her working class background, and fetches up at university in London. Here she makes new friends from different classes and parts of the country, but fails to sever her ties with her school friends, who have joined her at the same hall of residence.
Carmel reflects back on her life, prompted by a newspaper article about a friend and former co-student, but it is only when we approach the novel’s end that we realise how her story, and her friend’s profession, are linked, and can understand what has prompted Carmel’s reminiscences.
This is a coming of age biographical novel, told against a background of the 1960s and early 1970s, of girls leaving home for the first time and trying to live independently in London. We are vaguely aware of the wave of feminism that underpins the era, although these girls are having to work it out for themselves. As someone who was born in the same year as Hilary Mantel, I was also touched by the memories that are so relevant to the 1960s, especially the ritual of buying the first school uniform, and encountering school teachers who are quick to lash out with a ruler.
T S Eliot famously stated that his past was part of his present, and this is acutely true of Carmel and her tale. She may have risen above her working class background, but she can never leave her former self behind.
Penelope Lively has long been one of my favourite contemporary writers. Once more she plays with the idea of memory in a novel that is not linear, but jumps around in just the same way that we remember the past.
Family Album is the story of a large middle class family and is told through the eyes of the parents, and the six children, who are all adults when the novel starts. What appears to be an ideal existence in a large and rambling home, Allersmead, actually turns out to be anything but. There is a skeleton in the family cupboard, and it gradually becomes apparent that it is known and acknowledged, although never explicitly acknowledged by the parents.
It’s often stated that a family that eats together, stays together. But this is not the case and the novel ends with the siblings widely scattered and keeping in touch by email. Thus a tale that starts slowly and that expands gradually, is reduced to the shortened messages conveyed through hyperspace.
Penelope Lively again proves that scratching the surface reveals that things are never quite what they seem, and that we don’t all take away the same impressions from shared experiences.
This book should be required reading for anybody who cares about the English language. Although David Crystal is a linguist he passionately believes that our language must evolve. It can never be preserved in aspic. To endorse this belief he reminds us that Samuel Johnson saw the error of his way, and proclaimed that language can never be fixed. Crystal goes on to state:
You cannot stop language change. You may not like it; you may regret the arrival of new forms and the passing of old ones; but there is not the slightest thing you can do about it. Language change is as natural as breathing. It is one of the linguistic facts of life.
He charts the evolution of the English language, both verbal and written, from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day when American English is more the norm than the exception. He analyses the changes in our language over the centuries and discusses how the pedants and moralisers have tried to impose rules and regulations. How regional accents and dialects have been derided, and how writers, such as Shakespeare, have been retrospectively criticised for making grammatical errors.
Crystal reaches an optimistic conclusion that allows for changes to the English language. He is pleased that the teaching of grammar has been reintroduced to schools, but in a far less prescriptive and proscriptive manner that now permits children to understand and questions the rules.
It’s time to go with the flow and accept that the English language has never stood still, nor will it in the future. And there is nothing wrong with starting a question with a conjunction and ending it with a preposition.