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All about reading, really

January 19, 2011

Following last week’s posting, several people wondered about some of the references I made to characters and situations. References included (in rough order of appearance) ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays,’ ‘Down With Skool!,’ ‘Glee,’ ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,’ ‘Grange Hill,’ ‘Fame,’ ‘High School Musical,’ ‘Carrie’ and ‘Grease.’ Some old, some new, and it was recalling the old stuff I found most fun.

It all took me right back to those ‘Enid Blyton’ days, and reminded me of the news that, for the first time since they started recording these things, Ms Blyton dropped out of the top 10 authors for children list. Reason? Apparently, youngsters today are foxed by the language – they find synonyms like ‘bathing’ and ‘swimming’ confusing, apparently. So they are publishing new editions with updated language. I was upset… until I took a couple of her books down from the attic and read them…

Sadly, much as I hate to admit it, today’s worldlier child will indeed snigger through the “Famous Five” books in a way I never would have in those innocent days. Two simple examples, from book 8 “Five Get Into Trouble” in the original series: page 72, “’What are we going to do, Julian?’ asked George, who had been very silent. She was fond of Dick.” And, on page 111, “Cautiously Julian turned the knob this way and that. Nothing happened. Then he pressed it. Still nothing happened. He pulled it – and it slid out a good six inches!” (Knight Books 1978).

Just as words changed, I also wondered how life might be for the inhabitants of and visitors to Kirrin Cottage now…

…George, obviously, would be spending time with therapists prior to gender realignment surgery. She would also probably be really annoyed that her parents sold Kirren Island for an offshore wind turbine installation, whose blades finished off the castle jackdaws for good.

Julian, Anne and Dick’s parents would be prosecuted for child abandonment (in every tale they seem always to be shoving their offspring into boarding schools or palming them off onto the rest of the family).

Quentin and Fanny would still together, though I’d guess only just. Quentin would be ruing the day he turned down the tenured chair of extreme cleverness at Harvard, and the salary attached. He would also be upset that his design for Kirren Island wind farm was sold to the French, who in turn had the fans manufactured in China.

Their new one bedroom flat and self cooked baked bean meals (oh the days of a huge cottage and Cookie in the kitchen – gone with the latest scientific funding cuts) are just unbearable. Worse, Aunt Fanny is depressed that not only does her name inspire more ribald remarks than ever when introducing herself, but she can’t even get a personal email address that any spam-filter worldwide will accept. As for Timmy; he lived with them until the vet bills were no longer covered by insurance and Quentin developed a sudden craving for Korean food.

Of the rest of the gang – Dick’s ADHD treatment does keep him quieter than usual during the day, but sharing at tent at night is a burden for Julian as the Ritalin based medicine kicks in. Julian, has his own problems, though. His ASBO (Anti-social Behavioural Order) upset him as he feels it most unfair. He swears he thought the man was up to no good as he looked ‘working class, your worship;’ and he is now more careful who he tackles. With an army career in doubt due to the conviction, he’s now wondering if his innocent looks and low cunning might serve him well with daddy’s friend in the hedge fund business.

Sister Anne, meanwhile has simply vanished. She has stopped home making and cleaning, having discovered the joys of Facebook. She has ten million and six friends, mostly male and aged over 55 since she never quite got the hang of turning off her webcam at night. Late at night, Julian and Dick can only wonder at the flickering lights coming from beneath her bedroom door.

Finally, with the anarchy of crime today, you can guarantee any kid with a penchant for adventure would most likely end up ‘holding up bridges while wearing concrete overcoats’ rather than surviving to chat cheerfully to the police. At the very least, they’d be charged with trespass for going after the men into caves / railway lines / houses owned by other people.

Not only language has changed, but our whole environment and attitudes to property and risk. Quite a reminder that memory is a wonderful thing, and that times change quicker than we know, isn’t it.

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