Sunday, 29 January 2012

More About Mince

My childhood was not like today's childhoods - gosh, no-one's ever said that before, I'll bet. Still, I never said I was going to be original - and, in any case, however cliched, in my case the statement is absolutely true.

The reason for this is that, unlike their modern counterparts, my parents did not exert themselves to conjure up diversions and entertainment for their offspring. Instead, they devoted most of the little attention they gave to us to trying to offload us onto someone - well, anyone, actually - else.

Which was why we were regularly sent to spend holidays with a large family of cousins, all of whom we loved dearly but whose nanny was so utterly dreadful that whenever we returned home we would beg our parents never to be sent there again.

We were wasting our breath, of course. They took no notice and, sure enough,  a day or two after school was next over for the term, we'd find ourselves hurtled off into the terrifying arms of the starched old bag once more.

One blogpost - indeed, one lifetime's entire blog - would not really provide enough space in which to describe that woman's horribleness. Suffice to say, it came as an enormous surprise when, one wet afternoon, rather than forcing us all out of the house into the rain in insufficient clothing and then berating us for getting wet when she finally permitted our reentry, she told us all that we were going to be allowed to watch television.

It must be a trick, we all agreed, but that didn't mean we were going to argue. We arranged ourselves in a dutiful row on the green ivy printed white chintz of the drawingroom sofa and waited for the set to warm up. The film we then saw was so striking that I have never forgotten it. It was called  Carve Her Name with Pride, and told the story of Violette Szabo, to whom a memorial has recently been erected near Lambeth Bridge.

I have no idea why Nanny allowed us to watch it - at the time, I assumed she was hoping to pick up a few techniques from viewing the Gestapo torturers at work (in which case, she would have been disappointed by the lack of explicit detail [but more of that later]). Whatever her thought processes were - and I have no doubt they were weird and twisted - it is the one thing that, despite all her iniquities, I'm grateful to her for.

Mind you, I'd forgotten all about the film until I went for a swim this morning and listened to Simon Heffer talk about it  with what I thought was rare insight.

Just before the swim, I'd read a comment by Frank Wilson that yesterday's post wasn't "really about censorship" (or indeed organic minced beef) , "but about prudence and taste" .

He's right of course, and this was only reinforced by Heffer's observation that, were Carve Her Name with Pride ("the French are magnificent, of course, but they have to be organised"), to be made today, the film makers would be unable to resist showing the full details of how exactly Violet Szabo was tortured, sparing the viewer nothing. That's almost certainly true, but just as I can't see any useful purpose for much of the sensational information that is served up to us daily, I doubt the addition of more graphic scenes would have made a more moving or memorable film.

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