Thursday, 21 March 2013


Many years ago I was staying  in the United States with someone to whom I am very close when I glanced at her cookery book shelf. It was lined with what looked like twenty identical volumes. These turned out to be individual books, each with a sort of theme. However, on closer inspection, it was clear that the purpose for volumes that added up to two feet wider than the Larousse cookery bible was to accommodate repetition. For example, the recipe for a white sauce appeared in volume 1.  It also appeared in volumes 11,111 and V11. (Except, they were numbered 2,3 and 7 - I am, obviously, a word snob) I asked why the reader was not referred back to  the first volume, as in 'see volume 1 page 44', rather than re read the thing every time a basic white sauce was needed. Repeating it made it easier to access, I was told. Along with 'Mozart's Greatest Hits', this phenomenon started my war with "making things easier".  My most recent gripe is with 'mediaeval'. It has lost its 'a'.  Now, I, and my school friends, spent a considerable time learning how to spell 'mediaeval' and I am not pleased that all that effort has gone for nothing. Guru tells me there are often spelling mistakes in these blog posts so I don't want to pose as an impeccable speller, but typos and ignorance are very different from having life made easier for one when life is hard and every lesson with that in focus has to be a welcome one. To return to Mozart: isn't it a touch infantilising to presume that there are those among us who can appreciate a pretty tune but not have the staying power to hear the development of a whole piece? The argument runs that the" more acessible" pretty tune at least brings Mozart to more of us. Heaven forfend that I should advocate no Mozart for the great unwashed but why not a whole Mozart. More accessibility is essential, but so is education. A generation before mine, born, say at the end of the nineteenth century -  for instance my Father - often left school at twelve years old. Letters and old school books show that those youngsters were literate and well-informed with no need for accessible short cuts.

I am also more than willing to enter the apostrphe war. Yesterday I met a friend for lunch in a restaurant that boasted "todays" specials. She had to hold me down and confiscate my red pencil to prevent me running round altering all their menu cards. I do believe there is a way in which accessibility becomes tantamount to not bothering. I am quite prepared to have a discussion about civilisation losing its attention to containment and form, becoming sloppy round the edges where it is sloppy round the edges of its literacy. If the underprivileged young of the century before last could handle 'mediaeval' why can't we?  I do see that I am a cliche of an old woman in many ways, as in "things aren't what they used to be". But they are not and I am not convinced they are better. (Nonsense, of course they are. You don't see me down at the stream doing the washing).  By the time one is reconciled to three score and a lot more than ten there is a huge amount of stuff in the archive and some of it in corners too remote to reach with any reliabilty. In the same 'todays' restaurant, I saw a face I recognised from forty years ago when she ran a restaurant, herself.  After a long wait my archivist found her name which enabled me to approach her.  It was, indeed, she and, more astonishing than my memory, she remembered me, and by name. Perhaps I ought to leave more space for this kind of past and leave the mediaevals and the apostrophes to legend. What do you think? Prynhawn da.


Anonymous said...

Dear Liz,
As someone who snobbishly regarded Reader's Digest as unworthy of notice I was surprisingly hurt by your withering comments on potted Mozart and have decided that it is because literature has always been very much my thing. I would not, it is true, want to have excerpts of Thomas Mann or Simone de Beauvoir or Hilary Mantel. But, with all due respect, I think opera is a bit different; the recitatives in many operas are really only the joining-up bits and the arias are the glorious music. I recently attended a whole evening of such arias from diverse operas, and it was sheer musical bliss. We could also see such concerts (and their CDs) as a way in to an entire opera. I think there's room for both.
Mediaeval - don't get me started!
Looking forward to your next blog.

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