I am too old for stockings actually, but I had a wonderful Christmas with my family and my new granddaughter who had a beautiful stocking made for her by my dear friend, covered in fairies, chickens and lovely details and her name embroidered along the top. She got all the traditional things including a clementine, and she is one small child who adores clementines.
I didn’t get much read over Christmas, too busy! But I have now finished Carnival by Rawi Hage, a gorgeous looking book about the son of some circus folk who ends up as a taxi driver in America. These are his pensées about his passengers, his neighbour Zainab, and his philosophy of life, and his huge book collection – this one fact alone endeared him to me, though his way of cataloguing and arranging them is decidedly quixotic!
I have also now read one of the books I was given for Christmas. The Poets’ Daughters by Katie Waldegrave. This is the double biography of Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge. Their fathers’ friendship and falling out are the stuff of legend, as indeed are their fathers’ lives. So it was refreshing and delightful to read about two people who were fairly obscure in their own way but who by judicious and well intentioned promotion served the cause of their respective father’s reputations, so that the works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge grew to the stature and importance that we attach to them today.
The claustrophobic huddle of poets and philosophers that lived and worked in The Lake District is well established, but Katie Waldegrave causes us to look again at the messy nature of their lives, spent in and around each other’s houses near Grasmere in cottages and houses that were too small, dark, smoky and damp. Not really at all the idyllic picturesque vision that we might get today visiting (in our thousands) Dove Cottage.
But what I want to write about more in this blog is First Story
an organisation that encourages and promotes creative writing in challenging secondary schools. This charity was founded by Katie Waldegrave and William Fiennes and arranges for acclaimed authors to go into these schools to assist pupils in expression and writing. My daughter-in-law (see an earlier blog: Not Keeping it in the Family) has been doing workshops for this organisation in Hackney and I was deeply moved and impressed by the Thank you/Christmas Card that they made for her.
Listening to Radio 4 one often hears titbits of information that are so depressing that one wonders what we have a Secretary of Education for? Our schools are failing our children if even one of them leaves unable to adequately read and write, and as parents we are failing our children if we don’t tell them stories! How can a child begin to know how to express him/herself if right at the beginning of comprehension they have not learned story-telling? For through story telling we learn to relate to others our own experience, it doesn’t have to begin “once upon a time” or end “happily ever after”, but it must be done so that another generation grows up able to pass on the skill. So even if it is as banal as “today, Daddy got on the train and went to London to meet a lot of people who sat round a table and discussed a proposal to…and then he came home to tea…” it will give a child the tools, the basic building blocks for communication. If not, pray that your school is part of the First Story initiative and if it is not, ask the Head Teacher why?