Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Notes on the English Summer

It seems a parody of the Arab Spring- not young people taking over the streets ready to die for freedom but English kids taking over the streets stealing and destroying stuff.

And not just kids. Is it still just education?

When I was eleven, I passed the Eleven plus exam. I went from an elementary school to a grammar school, the path to University. My brother didn't pass. He went to the school for the kids who failed. The eleven plus was finally denounced for dividing up England's kids into bright and dim at eleven years old. So what happened?

As a student I did a lot of odd jobs. I remember innocently asking a young man why he was just working in the hotel kitchen too. (I was always too timid to be a waitress.) "Why?" he said, very sarcastic, "'Cos I'm ignorent, en' I?"

Home from Yugoslavia, I taught for a while at a secondary school and immigrant center.
The racial tension arose between Asian boys and the black and white D stream who resented the Pakistani and Indian kids talking about the idea of becoming a lawyer or doctor or maybe owning their own shop.

The old constraints on English behavior are long gone, the old stuff about knowing your place. (See any old English movie.) The English have always been better at the dignity and discipline of civic rather than family life. (Who make the best queues, then?) And there was always the typical Anglo Saxon sneering at education. You went to Eton and Oxford or Cambridge, like the Prime Minister, for the connections. Long before Sarah Palin, the joke used to be that only in England would "-Oh, he's very clever," be an insult.

So far nothing has happened in Scotland or Wales. Scots and Welsh families, however poor, have always put a premium on education. Hard to be proud to be English -English now is what's left over when you take away Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

And now everyone has a chance at education. Now if you're down at the bottom you no longer have the consolation that it's the unfair world.It must be "because I'm ignorent- en' I?"

And brooding most about education means I'm a bloomin' liberal, en I?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Future of Soap

There was a time. my children, when we were told that in the Future (2K plus) there would be no more messy meals. We would start our brave new days with a pill marked"Breakfast" and go on from there to the more substantial ones labelled "Lunch" and "Dinner." Maybe the airlines would be interested, but for the rest of us now Food is bigger than ever.

I hope the same thing will happen with soap. Right now soap is disappearing, so messy! Turn it liquid and put it in a plastic pump instead! When my mother bought a bar of soap it didn't go in the bathroom it slid in between the sheets in the linen drawer. Her favorite was Yardleys Lavender. And she maintained that the bar hardened a little there, and so would last longer when used. Call me old-fashioned but sliding a cold plastic pump in among the pillow slips lacks something.

And even with soap, we are arriving at the state of No Fragrance! Some of the most expensive soaps now, do indeed take me back in time - to when my frugal grandmother cut up bricks of yellow household scrub-the-front-step soap for us to use. Apparently fragrance causes cancer - is that it? But like music and color and sunlight fragrance also creates delight and well-being and certainly an impulse to spend more than we should.

When my face cream smells like lard or olive oil it's a reminder to use olive oil. And for us who are buying pots labeled Revivify! Rejuvination! - by the time those evil fragrant fumes start to work on us, we'll be long gone. So keep the Fragrance Free for babies but let the rest of us enjoy. And no, I don't think spraying your sheets with something called Spring Delight or Pine Forest does the trick. You need the subtlety of a good soap - not the blast of public toilets.

Next: The return of the gilt-edged, leather-bound book.