Friday, 29 January 2010


This evening Ray comes back from France and seems to be pleased with what he has achieved concerning the boat. He normally spends some time keeping it in order. Usually we would have spent so many weeks there, visiting about six times a year and we have grown very fond of the area.

Before he went we were watching the news when we heard of the proposal to pay the Taleban not to attack. Immediately, I said “Dane geld”. Most people of my age were educated at a time when history was not taught as a serious of separate fun topics but a more continuous story so we know all about Ethelred the Unready’s fatuous attempt to placate the Danes by paying them to go away. Similarly one of the reasons for David Dimbleby’s new programme based on history is that he was bewailing the fact that many people have not been taught history well. Those who fail to understand the past are doomed to make the same mistakes.

One of the reasons why we like Normandy so much is not just about what it is like now, but its past and then not just its medieval Norman past but its role in World War II. They don’t seem to forget how they were liberated.

To make sense of the present we need to understand the past. I am finding that very difficult now. When I was a youngster I lived in a very modern house with painted walls and wooden floors whereas many of my relations lived in older more cluttered surroundings. They longed to rid themselves of swirly carpets and wallpaper whereas I was fascinated by antiques and relics of the past. Consequently, because I was interested, many of my paternal family’s artefacts such as china, pictures and linen came to me.

The books and pictures I still treasure but some of the china I only kept because it belonged to a great-grandmother whom I never met. Now I feel strangely ambivalent so I have put many of these items away and shall let my son and daughter decide later on what they would like to keep.

Nature versus nurture will always be a talking point. When I started teaching it was all about nurture but now because of the study of genetics, we are perhaps achieving a more balanced view. Just as we need to know the history of our country and changes in society, so we need to know about our own history and what has made us what we are. It really is a human need.

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