Despite having reached a position on the great journey of life which would only be considered to fall within my teenage years if you use base 25 (or higher), I am still awaiting the day when I feel like a grown up. Whilst I can pass for an adult for extended periods of time – usually sufficient to convince Joseph Q Public – I know that my inner child is still firmly in charge.
The recent news has cast my mind (or what’s left of it) back to my school days and, in particular, to my English lessons. I was never very keen on English at school, though most of my objections related to the English Language section which required me to write on fixed subjects which never (so far as I can recall) inspired my youthful muse in the slightest. As a result, I was grateful to take my English language O level a year early, so that my final year of formal tuition in my mother tongue could focus on its literature. Whilst I was less than keen on the mechanics of using the language, I was lucky with my English teachers and they furthered my pre-existing love of reading and expanded it into more serious literary territory. They also taught me other useful life skills – Mr Owen taught me to play the guitar (a skill sadly largely forgotten, but I have plans for its resurrection) and Mr Adams kept from ever owning a motorbike (by explaining that he could think of more enjoyable ways to die).
Despite a generally positive experience of literature at school, I did take against some of the “standards” of American literature. In particular, I found the work of John Steinbeck – specifically The Pearl and Of Mice and Men – extremely unpleasant. Had I been made Secretary of State for Education at the age of 15, I would have had them off the syllabus quick and lively. Despite my earlier self-deprecation (wasn’t it adorable?), I have grown up slightly and under my glorious rule Mr Steinbeck’s oeuvre would be safe: but I fear Mr Gove may still be re-fighting the battles of his mid-teens.
In my case, the “growing-up” was thanks to a holiday in the US – travelling from NY to LA through the southern states. My guide was a humanities major (one Brian Groves) who re-introduced me to the delights of that subject area – re-igniting my interest in history and “serious” literature. Soon after I returned, I read the Grapes of Wrath and all of Mr Steinbeck’s previous sins were forgiven – it is not a cheerful book, but I don’t think the Nobel Committee were wrong to honour it. I also read the entire of Hugh Brogan’s excellent History of America – and I’m not even an American, what could I have been thinking? I suspect that a little knowledge of other people from other places and times is no bad thing to have – especially in today’s soi-disant global village. I was wondering if the tax-payer should buy young Michael a holiday with American Adventures to broaden his horizons (as they did mine) – but a quick web-search suggests that they may be no more.
Actually, I do wonder if the government is using reverse psychology on the whole nation as a novel new form of governance. Presiding over the closure of so many libraries, “banning” books in prison, slashing funding for the arts and continually trying to make the curriculum as boring as possible while preparing young people for the challenges of the 1970s. Have they finally learned the lessons of years of failed drug policies? Make stuff really difficult, force it underground and it will become both very popular and wildly profitable. I think we might be on the cusp on an unprecedented surge in reading and interest in the arts and humanities. It’s been easy to mock, but are we all the victims of a classic “long con” – mere pawns in the Coalition’s cunning master plan? Or maybe they are just as clueless as they seem – sometimes there is a very fine line between genius and total idiocy. I should know: this blog exists entirely in that liminal space – or so I like to imagine!