​Why is it that beginnings are so difficult?  Surrounded by notes here, as ever, I am searching for that attention-grabbing opening line but somehow I only seem to come up with them in my sleep – and then forget them!  Do you think technology will ever advance to the point where one can transmit and record one’s overnight brainwaves?  Sadly, I suspect so.  Too late for Paul McCartney who, famously, had to get out of bed to commit ‘Yesterday’ to paper!  Perhaps, in the meantime, I should take his lead …
Always good to start with a ramble and then the rest is downhill!  However, I do, actually, have something momentous to report this week: namely, I have written the introduction to my forthcoming bestseller – and who has the audacity to say I am not positive?  Yes, it has only taken two years since that light bulb moment when, hand in splint following attempt to saw off thumb, I was walking alongside my friend ‘Beds’ – on horseback – discussing possible titles for a book which, even then, was crying out to be written.  ‘I should Have Married A Vet!’ We laughed as we realized, immediately, that was it.  Not only true but lending itself to the comedic tone of a memoir meant not only to impart the knowledge gleaned from these difficult years but to highlight the humour, too.  Yes, beginnings are difficult but now it really is a work in progress.
Back to my scribbled bits of paper, all deserving of a mention.  Firstly, I wonder if anyone watched Celebs in Solitary?  On Channel 5 last week, it was a programme in three parts which followed four celebrities in complete isolation for five days.  Lured by vast monetary reward, no doubt, each volunteered to enter an isolation crate of sorts devoid of windows or any contact with the outside world.  Completely alone, they had no access to phones or home comforts and the absence of any clock or watch meant, in addition, they had no concept of time.  Cameras, however, monitored their every move and the effect of solitary confinement on the different characters.  Anthea Turner was one of them and damaged, she is quite complex.  I was interested to see how she fared.
Each was allowed three luxury items to occupy their time – potentially five days.  Their chosen items were probably the most telling thing of all.  Not one took one book, let alone three!  How can that be?  Faced with complete isolation for five days, I would immediately have chosen three books affording both escapism and a means to keep one’s mind active.  Well, perhaps two and a pen and paper as the third item in case I be suitably inspired!  Anthea, instead, chose a crochet needle and wool, paints and paper and a five thousand piece jigsaw.  Perfect for her, she utilised all three whilst able but … does she not read?  Do none of them consider books a luxury item? Obviously not.  A damning indictment of so called ‘progress’ in a world ever deeper lost.  To be continued.
Suffice to say, as the study progressed, all four were asked to relinquish their luxury items.  Anthea, at first, refused protesting, ‘Don’t take away my lifeline.’  It was then that I realized the accidental relevance of this programme:  these four human beings were, unwittingly, experiencing the imprisonment and isolation – albeit voluntarily in their case – to which we subject wild animals in a zoo for our entertainment!  Deprived of their natural habitat, all social contact with their own species, the ability to forage or hunt for food, nay freedom itself, the majestic elephant or the magnificent mountain gorilla – to name but two – are, instead, committed to a lifetime of confinement under the guise of conservation.  Were mankind less arrogant, the irony would be obvious.  Four celebrities in isolation for five days = monetary gain for all; wild animals imprisoned for life = human monetary gain in exchange for ‘life’!
I have three pieces of paper on which are subjects undeniably related.  Firstly, a note that the Scottish Qualifications Authority has announced that it will be phasing out handwritten exams over the next ten years (this was in that Daily Mail I, initially, bought when needing change and then couldn’t put down).  Now, that is scary stuff!  Is handwriting, too, to become obsolete?  In hindsight, I don’t know why I’m surprised.  In a world which no longer pays any heed to grammar or spelling, in which the dictionary is confined to dust, books are disregarded and all reading material is found online, of course the next thing to go is handwriting; an expression of the individual.  Don’t be ridiculous.  Grab the garlic!
One’s handwriting is unique, almost to the extent of a fingerprint!  The time and effort that was spent, as a young child, in a bid to master joined-up writing, a skill to be honed for the rest of one’s life.  Remember the letters and cards, once regularly received, whose senders were immediately identifiable by their unique script?  Even to this day, when anything handwritten is a rarity, I still enjoy guessing the source before opening and Christmas and Birthdays afford the same fun, rapidly to be lost.  I despair.  Nobody writes ‘Thank you’ letters anymore but, let’s face it, the act of thanking anyone for anything has all but gone whether it be letting someone out whilst driving or merely holding open a door.  Does one continue to protest, causing agitation only to oneself, or acquiesce?  A rhetorical question.  I do wonder, though, in a world of robots and technology devoid of manners and human interaction, will the obligatory use of computers in exams render everyone equal?  What of those who, previously, struggled to write and were given extra time?  Further creation of the obligatory minefield.
There was a segment on This Morning, recently, in which Gordon Ramsay and his daughter, Tilly, were promoting the importance of children learning to cook.  I totally agree.  However, he made a throw away comment about the relevance of Latin – or lack of – which served only to highlight, once again, the short-sightedness and lack of perception which abounds today.  Yes, we need to appreciate the benefits of cooking from scratch as opposed to the damaging effects of fast food but, in the same way, we need to understand the concept of learning as opposed to fast, disposable knowledge.  Gordon Ramsay compared learning to cook with his son learning Latin and panicking ‘even though he’s never going to use that ever again for the rest of his life’.  Open your eyes!  The influence of Latin is everywhere in day-to-day life.  Together with Greek, it is largely responsible for the foundation of our language, our politics and the very essence of our culture.  The thing is, the uneducated are too blind to see.  I loved Latin at school, as did my father before me.  I, therefore, ensured that my children were appreciative of its importance.  Job done.  Becca now carries the torch with great aplomb whilst Manny is a humble master of words.  For my part, in these advancing years, there is still rarely a day goes by when I am not thankful for my schooldays and the Approach to Latin affording me the ability to refer to my knowledge rather than a dictionary or, God forbid, Google!
In the words of Mary Beard,  the universal voice of Classics:
‘… I would say that if we were to amputate Classics from the modern world, it would mean more than closing down some university departments and consigning Latin grammar to the scrap heap.  It would mean bleeding wounds in the body of Western culture – and a dark future of misunderstanding.’
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations (Profile Books Ltd, 2013)
Mary Beard.
This is Trish, signing off.