There are rules to blogging.
1. Don’t not blog for a week
2. Don’t blog endlessly in one day
3. Don’t go off-piste with the subject matter and stick to the subject matter about which you have committed to blog…
I don’t like rules and anyway, literacy isn’t exactly off topic.
I’ve read much in recent months about the parlous state of literacy in this nation and to add to the subject are recent stats around book ownership. According to the Literacy Trust, one in six children do not own a book of their own. Much has been made of this. I include myself in the numbers shocked. This is because interest in reading is believed to be linked to learned behaviour – if you don’t see books and reading around you, the less likely you are to read for yourself. Maybe I just drew the dots for myself, but somehow discussion on this topic seems to link this unpalatable yet simple fact to poverty and the lower classes, whatever they are.
I’ve thought about this a lot. My husband and I read voraciously before our daughter was born and have started to read again in the slithers of time we can snatch from the yawning jaws of other incessant demands. My husband is the son of an RAM trained opera-singing music teacher and accountant-turned-osteopath. It doesn’t get more middle class than that. Nobody would be too surprised that he reads instinctively. I however was born of a policeman and a shop-assistant. Nobody in our family had then gone to university and when the marriage failed, we survived on benefits, lifts, pay phones, free school meals and council housing. The women in my mothers family, married or not, worked. Not because they wanted to get out of the house or were building careers, but because they had to. The work was cleaning at all-hours, minimum-wage stuff but nonetheless they had a strong work-ethic and what they lacked in status and financial success, they made up for in pride.
My mother never read for herself. There were no books of hers in our home and no money for books. no money for anything. Yet she gave me spelling tests, bought me books as treats instead of sweets or toys, and took me to the library once a week. Yes, my father went on to abandon the CID (I inherit my inability to accept authority from him) and yes he completed two degrees and a PhD later on. Whilst I am immensely proud of his achievements, they mean nothing to me personally as a token of his influence, as he abandoned two vulnerable people in order to do it and was largely absent for most of a decade (I’m not being disloyal writing this, he will readily admit all of the above.) His reading and drive were not what I saw and heard every day.
I am not the smartest person you will meet. I am also not the dumbest. But I can spell with the best of them, even if my time poor attention to detail doesnt help me make this point in this blog, as I struggle to write and upload on my iPhone or iPad on the train, often missing the colourful predictive text replacements that change what I have written! But what I am, is down to my amazing mother. She was proud enough to see beyond the limitations. To influence and reach for something better for me. My mother had peerless vision, determination, love, courage and dedication. She was not a saint but she took all of those rules about kids being bought up alone, fatherless, rudderless, with working mothers, no money and no education and she kicked it up the backside. Whilst my stepmother was one of the first women to break into the board of directors of her ultra conservative organisation, my mother was the first of her generation to face divorce. Neither achievement belittles the other. Mum had no peers and was largely friendless. I remember the disdain with which we were treated by the sea of married friends and family. As if our broken unit were something catching (little did they know, a decade later we would be the norm..) There was always that faint feeling that there was something shameful about us. Perhaps we were a reminder of how fragile human happiness can be. The women were deeply suspicious of her, of us, which was ridiculous. She had enough on her plate without stealing their mates. Besides she loved my father for way longer than was wise. But she was beautiful and shy and full of strength and guts. They were right to fear her. She was Boudicca and without telling me anything, without even believing it consciously, she taught me I could do anything, be anyone, that I didn’t have to take this shit and that I could be different. She didn’t read, yet it was her influence that taught me to, not the tirades from a distant parent who showed up to embarrass me on parents evening and berate me about university. I heard her through my bedroom door yesterday, looking after my daughter whilst I sat on conference call after call, talking to her with the same intuition, love, kindness and focus she bestowed on me and I filled up with gratitude, love and awe.
Yesterday walking through Victoria Station, the Salvation Army were playing carols on their brass instruments and I felt scalded by the shame of materialism. Only recently, I wrestled with a Christmas tree in a homeless shelter and was reminded of the realities of boiled free cabbage smelling poverty. I was reminded again that it doesn’t matter we can’t afford to offer people Hine this year. We are lucky enough to have each other and a concerned, involved upbringing. Christmas is a celebration of the birth to people who had nothing of someone whose thinking changed the way the world thought, whether you believe in God or not. He wasn’t middle class, with a Smythson-designing daughter of a peer wife. He didn’t play to type.
So I’m wondering about those bookless homes and our closing libraries and whether we’re in an age of neoVictorianism of isolation from Europe and undeserving poor.
I believe in people and I believe people do transcend their circumstances all of the time. It is not preserving the status quo that makes a difference.
So, I don’t believe that stats tell us anything other than lots of children don’t physically have a book in their home and I don’t believe that tells us too much yet about their potential.
Merry Christmas, whereever you are