Friday, 6 February 2009

'Me first' mentality, Victory Vs, snowbound and Charles Simic

So the snow falls and then falls some more and friends in the States and Canada laugh at the pathetic sight of us grinding to a halt. I battled through snow on Monday, sliding gracefully round bends flanked by deep fen drainage dykes wondering if the tale of the man dredged in his car from the dyke after several months in which his wife just presumed he had run off with another woman is true or a rural, as opposed to urban, myth. When the snow fell again during the night on Thursday, this time thicker and more luxurious, I had a ‘Snow Day’ as all my meetings were cancelled, I could have walked through the snow to the office as our secretary did, taking an hour to slither what would normally have taken her fifteen minutes, but I had no need to as I could log on at home and busy myself with the same stuff I would have done had I displayed the Dunkirk spirit and gone into work. Where is my Dunkirk spirit, did I leave it in my parents genes, did I misplace it when I failed to produce fairy cakes for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Street party, am I now the sort of person to stock pile in a shortage situation, queue to get my money out of Northern Rock?

There was a lot of publicity this week surrounding a recent report that came to the conclusion that children’s lives were being adversely effected by the selfish behaviour of adults around them, the ‘me first’ mentality was, they seemed to indicate, pervasive and having a long term toxic effect on our young. I was a little dismayed to see that the single parent working mother was again dredged up by others (not the report) as the prime example of this attitude. As an ex single parent working mother (the child now having grown, not past mothering but past being counted statistically as a child of a working single parent) my hackles rise and the ‘me first’ mentality does come into play; ‘me first’ to kick the smug pundits that trot out such tripe into touch. Most single working parents have no time to put the ‘me first’ into action they are too busy trying to do the best they can to bring up their children and give them a decent and secure and love filled life. There are always exceptions that can be trotted out to the rule but the vast majority of single parents have no real ‘me time’ and do not resent that because others, their children, always come first. Perhaps some want to see the so called demise of the community spirit as an indication of the rise of the ‘me’ society. I am always suspicious of looking back at the communities and societies of the past through rose coloured spectacles. My mother used to talk about the fights that went on in the Second World War, between women outside butchers' shops when there was a merest rumour of offal or some woman being given an extra sausage. My father as an ex policeman who walked the beat during the war in a cheek by jowl so called slum area could name all the people that profiteered even on a tiny scale and those that burgled peoples houses when they took to the shelters during the air raids. People helped each other because this was the most effective way of surviving on the whole and most people have a desire to be kind if possible.

I personally think people are just as kind, just as helpful but the nature of how people work now and how housing and finances dictate how we live makes it more difficult to show that kindness. Violence, rape, child abuse of all kinds, all went on in the past, most of it undetected or even unmarked by society as it was within the normal parameters of social expectation or even to speak of it was taboo. The premise that people were less selfless then cannot be upheld solely by looking at the crime statistics or mental health referrals of the young now or pointing to nostalgic anecdotes about the way people sang together down the air raid shelters or could let their kids roam free all day without supervision or how people would more readily help a neighbour clear their path of snow. I have known great acts of kindness and care displayed by the people who live in my small town, the toxin of the ‘me first’ culture if it exists at all may just boil down to that old socio-political concept, alienation, when you don’t feel connected to anything or anyone there is only yourself to tend to. If you don’t feel part of the great web of life and want your children to be part of it, all that’s left is to be the spider or the fly

I have craved Victory V lozenges throughout the cold snap and could not find them locally, it takes my Philadelphian friend to send me a link to a web site where I can purchase nostalgic confectionery until I’m sick of the sight of sherbet fountains, Poppets, Fisherman’s Friends, Tootie Fruities, shrimps, Imps, Jelly Tots and the very un PC sweet tobacco. Perhaps the confectionery of old contained chemicals that inhibited the operation of the selfish gene, perhaps there was a government conspiracy to keep the population acquiescent and more community conscious through ensuring children were brought up on a diet of sweets chemically infused with certain colourings or sugars.The old Victory Vs for instance contained liquorice, ether and chloroform. As a child I must have been exposed to them and to more sugar and artificial colourings (long banned) than several herds of lab rats. The amount of sunshine yellow colourant in the fish fingers I consumed alone could now keep a whole class full of children bouncing of the walls, or so some say. The way we were is a very dodgy tool to use, a detailed understanding of history is of course hugely important, where we have been is vital to allow us to examine the here and now rationally and put it in context but to profess that human beings were less selfish then and more selfish now seems unwise, unproductive and just plain wrong. I think I have harped on in a similar vein in previous posts but the publication of this report about the future of our children was jabbing at my brain.

I was sorry to miss Charles Simic’s Poetry Society lecture in London because of he snow but have been informed that the text of the lecture will be made available to all those who want it and there should be a recording of it available at some point.

I have been asked to contribute a square( ish poem) about Spring to an anthology, I must now go off into a darkened room and think spring like thoughts despite the snow, now rapidly turning to slush that the forecasts say will turn to ice overnight and likely to stay icy for a few days. Dear Reader , this week I shall be mostly eating Victory V’s and falling over.


Michelle said...

Hope your Spring poem has sprouted green shoots despite the icy environs.

Mrs Slocombe said...

I have Mr Simic to thank for Ron Padgett, who I am sure you already know. God he's good.
My dad was by no means rose tinted about the old days: 'oh it don't do to get too involved with your neighbours' he would say. He was an avid curmudgeon though.
Seeing the way people here have responded to those burnt out in the bushfires does away with any notion of our society being selfish, even though there are still con artists and looters. As you say, there always were.....
Have you read that fabulous anecdote by Orwell where his aunt is locked out of her house and he has to go miles to get a ladder because she doesn't want to ask the next door neighbour, and then have to talk to him? That's the good old days as well......