A chipless evening last night, but one spent outside in the garden in a social gathering. Two social gatherings actually, each of three people, but from time to time we linked up and even shared olives. The curious fox came back. We decided collectively it’s a female. I still didn’t have my camera with me, but B took some photos which she may share. It was all very jolly, though as the light went it was a lot cooler.
For most of lockdown I found it impossible to concentrate well enough to sustain reading what I would classify as a good book. My attention kept wandering. I was ok with light reading, undemanding stuff, but something stopped me from losing myself in a book the way I usually do. So it’s good to be reading again. I attended my first book group by Zoom to discuss our summer long read, Homeland by Fernando Aramburu. I enjoyed the novel, but my reservations about Zoom as a medium for book group continue. Michèle wasn’t there, her computer won’t do Zoom, so it may have been that which left me feeling less than satisfied with the whole thing. I always enjoy book group more when she is there with her extensive knowledge of literature and her insights.
The next book is Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I’ve only read ten pages and my first impression wasn’t favourable, not because of the quality of the writing, but she opens with an all too accurate description of a smear test, which is something most women do not anticipate with any enthusiasm. So that’s my fictional for the next while. I am reading another memoir, this one by Margaret Drabble, and my respect for her grows with every chapter. I read her novels a long time ago, and although I enjoyed them, I don’t remember anything about them other than the titles. This memoir has made me warm to Drabble. It is scholarly and never pompous. She comes across as an interested and interesting person, a kind person who is unshowy and reflective. Michèle, who knows her, says I should write to her to tell her I am enjoying the book. Maybe I shall. I also have Diary of a Teenage Naturalist which I bagged at the library the other day. I am guessing others will reserve it, so I should get a move on and read it. There was an extract in the Guardian some months ago and the writing was extraordinary. Luminous, and lyrical while also scientific.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is definitely on my to read list, and I am delighted she has won a literary prize for it. I still haven’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, and the tv adaptation of A Suitable Boy has made me want to read that book again. In some cultures, even today, girls don’t learn to read. That sounds like a violation of human rights to me. As we have shifted from oral societies to ones where the written word dominates, to exclude someone on the grounds of gender from accessing the pool of shared stories is abuse. Mind you, people are also excluded from the stories themselves on the grounds of gender and colour. There has been such a hooha about including more rounded histories of our country. Phrases like ‘cancel culture’, ‘rewriting history’ thrown around. Our history has been edited by people with and in power for centuries. The things they haven’t deemed important have been left out. To include things isn’t a cancel culture. Women’s history, black history are not niche subjects. Leave them out of our narrative and the history you tell is incomplete. The history of slavery is a painful, shameful one, but not telling it, not looking at how our lives today are affected by it, how people with wealth today often inherited it from an ancestor who made that wealth through the slave trade and the exploitation of men, women and children, doesn’t make it less shameful. I would argue it makes it more shameful, as we refuse to acknowledge how it has shaped modern Britain.
Money acquired through the slave trade built our railways, built grand country estates, funded the industrial revolution, was often used for philanthropic causes. The benefits the money brought us can’t be denied, neither can the inhumanity of its source. In art galleries and museums we often see the name Sackler, and a sign telling us the Sackler family has given large sums of money to that museum or gallery. On the face of it, these Sacklers sound like great people. Dig just a little and you realise their wealth comes from drugs that have left those prescribed them with addictions and long term mental health issues. I see those gallery donations as a form of money laundering. It looks like the family may lose some of its wealth, but their investments will leave them far from poor.
I hope the Black Lives Matter movement will result in a more rounded telling of history. It may be painful to learn what our ancestors did, but until we do, we will never begin to make reparation. For those who say it’s a long tome ago, don’t rake it up, take a look at the world around you, the descendants those who benefited from the slave trade continue to benefit, those who suffered continue to suffer. The British Empire was built on abhorrent practices, we should not regret its passing but we should do something to make amends.
Stay safe. Keep well. Be kind.