Monday, 7 April 2014

The Two Rs

I still have in my possession a treasured postcard from Hunter Davies in response to a request from Seismic Crew 115 in Libya, for a photo illustrating his serialised family – specifically, daughter Caitlin - from his Father’s Day column which ran in Punch magazine for ten years. I hope he gets to read this blog as, in his reply he accused us of being a bunch of students cooped up in a junior common room of some provincial polytechnic, rather than the daredevil oil explorers we really were. Anyway, it’s observational humour like that which sparked my own interest in writing and I’ve recorded and commented ever since.   

Quite why this should pop into my head when everybody else is writing about Maria Miller and the absurd situation David Cameron finds himself in, I have no idea but pop it did and got to me wondering why I write at all. Let’s face it, fewer than a fraction of a percent of published writers are able to make any kind of living out of it and the opportunity cost of not doing something more useful is enormous. I hate the pretentiousness of those who say “I simply have to write, darlings” because I know I don’t and I’m also not so precious as to believe that if I just stopped I’d actually be missed. Such is ‘art’.

I’m being a tad disingenuous, actually, I do know why I’m writing about writing today. As usual Twitter is a goldmine for inspiration and a short exchange with a retired English teacher sparked off one of my hobby horses – the experiment in the 1960s with the Initial Teaching Alphabet which hindered thousands of infant school pupils in getting to grips with reading at an early age. Despite some small successes, it was a typical initiative of the progressives who, no doubt with good intentions, have caused irreparable harm to all areas of our society. Without reading your education is, to put it bluntly, fucked.

If you can’t read properly you can’t write and if you can’t write you can’t reason. You may think you can, but unless you start to put your thoughts in order it is quite difficult to articulate just what it is you believe. Of course, the internet is awash with people attempting to do just that, but the quality control is dire and lunacy is ubiquitous. So, you turn to established writers – the newspapers print more commentary than they have ever done before – and discover there is no consensus there, either. It’s rare indeed to find a news story which is cut and dried and not subject to opinion.

Which brings us back to what you believe. Without critical reading skills you are going to reject any column which doesn’t feed your existing prejudices; the most eloquently argued analysis will leave you cold so you’ll return again and again to the red mastheads and join the screeching mob of those who let somebody else decide for them just what is right and wrong. Thus the banshee screams of “Fatchaaa!” passed on from generation to generation and preventing reasoned discourse. Thus the perpetuation of the myths that, while you sleep, Tories plot to steal your food and grind up your babies for fertiliser.

I am daily astonished by the things lefties believe. I can only conclude they can’t read – maybe they are victims of their own educational experiments? And as for writing, you should grit your teeth and have a go at Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee and see the astonishing level of conspiracy theory they feed to their adherents; words can be powerful weapons and dangerous in the wrong hands. So where do I get off, you ask, thinking that anybody gives a toss about what I write? I don’t. And anyway, don’t blame me; blame Hunter Davies.

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