I went off the Harry Potter series after J K Rowling killed off Sirius Black, my favourite character – Mr B made one of his rare jokes by suggesting she couldn't be 'sirius', and was quite proud of this piece of wit, bless him. However, in a rare moment of TV viewing recently (usually the only programme I don't like to miss is an under-fives' series called Sarah and Duck
, which is totally surreal and wasted on the said age group) I watched the final of the Potter film series. I knew it sort of ended happily as I sneaked a look at the last pages in the bookshop; I did the same with War Horse
as I can't bear sad endings, especially where animals are involved. I could never understand people who didn't want to know the ending first, and that incredulity is mutual, for some reason!
What did strike me, though, was the overall darkness of the piece – often literally so – the special effects were brilliant, but everything was dark and depressing – most of the scenes involved misery, death and general destruction, a bit like the blitz in WW2. Sure, the hero triumphed in the end – the usual death and resurrection stuff which C S Lewis also appropriated for Aslan the Christ-like lion, but it was all pretty grim. And there seems to be a lot of 'grimness' in contemporary young people's fiction: books like Hunger Games
or Noughts and Crosses
, where the young people are up against dystopian regimes. Is this a reflection of the fact that young people see the world as such a dangerous and unfair place, with adults as the chief offenders? And with a pandemic to contend with, which is known to have caused many young people anxiety and depression, shouldn't we be offering them something more upbeat?
Having said that, my own taste in fiction as a child was probably eccentric. I hated the goody-goody heroines like Anne of Green Gables
and the Little Women
lot. Even the supposedly 'naughty' ones like Jo, or Katy in What Katy Did
, started off as anarchist rule-breakers, yet still ended up as poster girls for female virtue. Yuck!
My hero was William Brown in the Just William
series who was as naughty as could be and still got away with it. My favourite story was when he and his naughty chums stole various ingredients from their mothers' store cupboards to make toffee (this being wartime, sweeties were rationed) and one child could only manage to pinch a tin of sardines, which on reflection they added to the mixture. I particularly liked this bit as it reflects my own attitude to cooking – waste not, want not (it was probably the reason why the late Mr B took over culinary duties in the Brown establishment).
But weirdly, the book I liked best as an 11-year-old was Goodbye West Country
by Henry Williamson (of Tarka the Otter
fame), an account of his experiences living on a farm in the south-west of England. I haven't the faintest idea now why I liked it – Williamson was a horrid man by all accounts who treated his wives appallingly and was a big fan of Hitler and the Nazis – but it may be that he wrote like an overgrown school kid who thought life had treated him unfairly – just like me. I managed to track him down via his publishers and sent him a fan letter, telling him I wanted to be a writer, just like him. He sent me a postcard (I wish I still had it, but it and the book are long gone) saying: 'I hope you do better than this old hack has done'. Sadly, I can't say I have, but then Henry Williamson never wrote for the Scottish Review
On 'royal' Deeside it is officially spring, as we have had several days of warm weather, so it will probably snow again soon. Mr B remembered playing in a cricket match in Aberdeen once when snow stopped play – it was June. Thankfully, I only now have the garden to tend – I no longer have an allotment, as the allotments committee were not impressed by my strategy of turning half of it into a wildlife haven – but it is just as well, as I was not a natural fruit or vegetable grower. The problem was that once I had grown them, I hated the idea of eating my 'children'. I've even planted onions that have sprouted in the cupboard. I blame Jung – he took the view that all of us: humans, animals, growing plants, and trees, were all part of a sort of psychic soup that he called the world soul. So, if I eat a carrot, I am eating a fellow traveller on the same journey.
In fact, I think it was the maverick scientist Rupert Sheldrake who did some experiments that showed lettuces trembled when a person came into the room who had previously pulled off some of their leaves.
Now if it's true that lettuces are that sensitive, this leaves a bit of a problem about what we humans can eat without causing pain to our fellow creatures. With the aim of being environmentally responsible, I have been trying to consume more 'plant-based' food – presumably they have changed the name from 'vegetarian' because of the latter's negative connotations, not surprisingly if you have ever tried a vegetarian sausage. But I suppose vegetarians are as bad as carnivores, if you happen to be a lettuce.
Humans have quite a lot to answer for, when you start to consider all these dystopian regimes, wars, pandemics and the like. Animals, trees and plants must be just waiting for us all to keel over so they can reclaim the earth. I just hope the Green Party know what they might be unleashing when they ask us to vote for them!
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant