Friday, 2 April 2010

New or Old?

Worlds, that is. It's the perennial question when you're born, as I was, with two nationalities (Australian and British - and that's only alphabetical order, before anyone gets upset.)
In practical terms, the New World has it all sewn up - nothing's difficult, there still aren't too many people and dense tangles of rules and regulations rarely prevent you from doing what you want. Yet the email I got from my Old World cousin this morning, headed 'Maundy Thursday', reminded me that there are other aspects to life that need to be considered.
Because I'm not involved in a church here - I've yet to find one where the platitudes of the vicar, the banality of the new versions of the Bible and prayerbook and the refusal to acknowledge that the whole thing is about mystery haven't driven me away - until today practically my only awareness that Easter was approaching came from the sight of hot-cross buns and chocolate eggs on the supermarket shelves (and they've been there for months and so were not great indicators).
My cousin, by contrast, lives in a quiet hamlet with a 15th century church and surrounding buildings dating back a century further. No wonder she knows that it is Maundy Thursday (over there anyway; it's actually Friday here, of course): the medieval maundy practice of giving alms to the poor was probably something that used to happen right there where she lives.
Reading her email, I thought about how, despite the usually filthy weather in England, it is still oddly comforting to live somewhere where Easter rituals and other ancient practices have been observed without interruption, year in, year out, for many, many centuries. There is a pleasure in knowing that the place you call home has been inhabited by generations of your own kind for centuries and is steeped in your culture and traditions. That bit from Pike by Ted Hughes that includes the phrase 'It was as deep as England' conveys something of the idea.
So yes, for a moment I let nostalgia sweep over me.
But then I read this letter to The Guardian from Blair McPherson, Director of Community Services, Lancashire County Council:
'Libraries are not about borrowing books (Off the books, Society, 17 March). Libraries are not about housing books. Libraries are one of the vehicles for local councils to deliver community cohesion, social inclusion, community engagement, and equality and diversity. Libraries are a place where you can access the internet. Libraries are venues for homework clubs, mother and toddler groups, rock concerts, councillors' surgeries, and benefit advice sessions. Libraries work with schools to promote reading, with adult learning to promote life skills, with the Prison Service to promote numeracy and literacy, and with social services to promote safeguarding children and adults. Libraries are local, they are community centres. The best attract all ages and all sections of the community. If we didn't have local libraries then people like me would be inventing them.'
What good, I thought, is it to have deep links to tradition and the values of the past if you then place power in the hands of people with no appreciation of those things - or is what McPherson displays actually a spiteful hatred of everything representing the past and the values of an earlier time (and I know libraries are not quite the same as 15th century churches, but in their original un-McPhersonised incarnation they did represent an impulse towards civilisation and a belief in and desire to preserve some of the major achievements of our own culture)?
Perhaps, after all, it is better to live in a place where ancient customs (at least those of your own heritage) are not ingrained in everything around you. At least then you avoid the disappointment of seeing the things you value being systematically trashed by ideologues and fools.


  1. i occasionally meet people who love the idea of, e.g. Victorian England, and i have to break the news that 21st C Blighty is more like a hideous cross between 1984, Mad Max, and The Office.

  2. Perfect description - but how has it happened, and how did Central Europe preserve its dignity while we went all bleurgh?

  3. A mystery. i used to think Blighty went to the dogs because of goddamn left-wingers but Jerry is every bit as left-wing. i suspect something to do with the language - being overwhelmed by Americanness. The Bosche, strange to say, don't seem to have the same tradition of self-hatred and anti-traditionalism as the English. Strange given they have plenty of recent things to be ashamed of, whereas for the English our crimes lie further back and are of lesser extent.

  4. I think it's because we had no decent folk costumes. The Austrians are forever getting out in their dirndls when they start to lose a sense of who they are (even the men - what am I talking about, complete fantasy.) And also no character building breads. Having to tackle a chewy bauernbrot every morning would have changed everything.
    I don't really think that. I wish I did know what the explanation was. I wonder about it quite a lot but never come to any sensible conclusion. I have the mad idea that if it could be understood something could be done about it - the clock could be turned back and everything returned to normal (ie my childhood, although of course it was quite dull then as well).

  5. Not dull in an unattractive sweaty way like Gordon Brown.