Civil Unrest?

That widespread rioting and looting is appalling seems so obvious as not to require much stating – though politicians and the media keep restating it. What is also appalling – perhaps more appalling, for it suggests the impossibility of resolving such chronic problems – is the emptiness of statements on the subject from our various ‘leaders’, and the crudity of statements from most other people who are saying anything at all. Opinions divide depressingly into two lists: one of crude right-wing clichés, the other of limp left-wing generalisations. I humbly and politely submit that such responses are brainless – and are likely to have no effect except, perhaps, a counter-productive one.

Serious problems very rarely have single, still less simple, causes. To offer a simplistic analysis of such a grave problem as the current crisis in society – whether from the right (Boot all the blacks) or from the left (Show ‘respect’ to young hooligans) – is unhelpful and perhaps wicked. To be both effective and humane, any analysis of a serious issue, and any strategy for tackling it, must fearlessly draw on the best and the necessary ideas, regardless of whether in themselves they come from left or right. It is in the combination that something wise and effective may emerge.

So, in what is the worst social-political crisis of my life-time (which unfortunately, gentle reader, spans some decades), I suggest that a few ideas which in themselves are left-wing cannot be discounted as likely or possible factors…

1. We are suffering under the most arrogant and least competent government in memory.

2. This government was not – as constituted – voted for by anyone; but it has not set appropriate limits upon itself.

3. Financial cuts and ideological threats on an unprecedented level have been made against our national institutions and services. (Cutting public expenditure may or may not be deemed essential, depending on the economic philosophy prevailing, but clearly some of the cutting has been done ruthlessly, wastefully, and harmfully.)

4. The Deputy Prime Minister has revealed himself as a self-seeking political hypocrite who has betrayed his former supporters and overturned his own previous promises; but he has not resigned.

5. The Prime Minister has been revealed as involved in corruption; but he has not resigned.

In the light of such factors, it is less surprising that people are rioting. I say less surprising. I do not say that rioting becomes excusable because of such factors. I do not even say, of course, that they are sole reasons; but I suggest they are factors in the compound reason – that whole reason being the substantial breakdown of social norms. Certainly no such factors (nor any others) can be excuses for looting. Looting is not a political protest: it’s a criminal act. Rioting, however, is or can be a political protest. Whether or not it is a morally acceptable form of protest depends on the extremity of the corruption and/or incompetence of the government in question, set against the availability and likely effectiveness of other methods of protest. In my own opinion, our present government is not such a one as to justify actual rioting; but it is, more than any other in my life-time, one that makes rioting less surprising than it would otherwise be in this country.

But I would also suggest as having equal weight a few ideas which in themselves could be called right-wing…

1. Our general level of public morality, and the general levels of compassion and responsibility in our public attitude, are at a record low.

2. Selfishness and materialism, and a general hardness of attitude, are at a record high.

3. Parenting (with many exceptions, but in general) has sunk to such a level (physical absence, moral neglect, lack of domestic cohesion, and utter stupidity in attitude and behaviour) that many of the young people in our society are beyond what used to be regarded as proper control and have simply not been brought up to recognise what used to be regarded as normal standards.

4. Schooling (with some exceptions – fewer and weaker as every year goes by) has been dragged down and down (by many factors) in almost all areas, but spectacularly so in the area of discipline, so that many of the young people in our society – many of those who are now at school and many of those who have been through school in recent years – are no longer capable of accepting discipline by the agents of society and still less capable of disciplining themselves.

It seems to me to be a tragic refusal of intelligence for some people automatically to reject the idea that arrogant and unwise cutting of services is a factor in this social unrest simply because that smacks of a ‘leftist’ attitude which one of the less agile parts of their minds rebels against automatically. It is equally tragic when others will not accept (because they won’t associate themselves with something that sounds reactionary) that gradually giving up on obliging children to show respect and obedience from an early age (when it is easily achieved) was a disaster for children and for society and needs to be put sharply into reverse in homes and in schools.

Any society – a family, a school, or a nation – needs both firmness and compassion; and it needs both its principles and its strategies to be considered and applied with an intelligence that is sober but agile. We have ceased to be a sufficiently thoughtful nation – thoughtful in both senses of the term. Neither the pure radical way nor the blind right-wing way works alone – any more than the dry, separated ingredients of bread make a meal. It is only in just measure and skilful combination that they lighten and leaven and flavour and transform each other into a whole thing, which is the bread of life.


Some Modest Proposals

Getting the new year going on a note at once light and dark, the little list below offers a few of the favourite things I should like to see what’s left of our country achieving during 2011. In the unlikely event that you are possessed of supernatural powers, gentle reader, or that you intend to become the next dictator of Britain and you wish to give me a little present…

1. All education legislation subsequent to the 1944 Act will be repealed.

2. Wolves will be reintroduced into the forests of Britain.

3. Smoking will be banned in all public places and allowed in private only if all present are consenting adults.

4. The production of newspapers will be illegal unless a licence is obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury certifying the moral fitness of the owners, editors, and journalists involved.

5. All teachers will receive an immediate one hundred percent increase in salary (conditional only upon passing a test in the use of the colon and semicolon).

6. All British citizens over the age of sixty will be issued with a bottle of good sherry once per week at government expense.

7. The salary of the Prime Minister will be fixed by law as not exceeding the average salary of a nurse in a British hospital (the Prime Minister being free to increase nurses’ salaries substantially, should he feel such a move to be in the public interest).

8. The salary of all bank executives will be cut to one tenth of present levels.

9. All Members of Parliament will be obliged to submit to a bi-election (or, should you prefer more pedantry and less punning, gentle reader, then a by-election; or, should you prefer more punning and less precision, gentle reader, then a bye-election; or, should you prefer language that just whacks you in the face, gentle reader, then a bye-bye-election) in the event of voting contrary to an election promise.

10. The photographing of the person previously known as Tony Blair will be made illegal under national and international law; concurrently, all reference to and use of the name Tony Blair will be banned – to be replaced by the more correct name Tony Thatcher-Blair.

11. Local councils will be obliged to establish and maintain in every village and in every locality of every town (as a minimum) a post office cum general store and a grocer’s shop – which, in addition to groceries, must sell locally produced fruit and vegetables and bread baked daily on the premises. All goods will be sold at prices paralleling those in the hideous institutions known as supermarkets (see below) to customers who arrive on foot (delivery arrangements to be made for the sick, elderly, and disabled), and at twice those prices for those arriving by car. In the event that the bread on offer is not of a pleasing texture, lacks flavour, or is insufficiently crusty, the chairman of the council will lose office.

12. The term head teacher will be abolished by law.

13. The taking of any decision or the public voicing of any opinion on grounds of Political Correctness will be made illegal (the penalty to be exile from the United Kingdom).

14. It will be illegal for any commercial organisation to have any influence upon or connection with any school, beyond the anonymous and wholly unconditional donation of money.

15. Varying rates of VAT will be applied to goods, based on the distance they have travelled to reach Her Majesty’s shores. The rate will be zero for items produced within this country and using native materials.

16. Any persons caught using jargon, management speak, or other forms of gobbledegook will be condemned to silence for a year.

17. It will be illegal to produce, distribute, or offer for sale any article covered by or contained within any form of cellophane wrapping or any type of plastic bag (unless specified by doctors for medical purposes).

18. British television companies will be fined a million pounds in the event that they broadcast any episode of any Australian soap opera.

19. It will be illegal for solicitors, barristers, and accountants to earn more than teachers, doctors, and lecturers.

20. All computer games will be banned.

21. The Ministry of Education will be prohibited in perpetuity from giving itself any name other than the Ministry of Education.

22. Prospective members of the government will be subjected to a short academic examination in order to qualify for entry to the cabinet room: just a simple little exercise of the sort that a pupil in a scholarship set at a good British school would have handled habitually fifty years ago – such as translating some dozen or so lines of Shakespeare into Latin.

23. The payment of money to any person for the playing of sport will be banned by law: sport will be sport.

24. Any headmasters or headmistresses who have used the word delivery to mean teaching at any point in their careers, or who have used the term focus as a noun (other than with reference to cameras or the human eye), will be removed from office.

25. A statue of Thomas Tomkins will be erected at public expense outside Worcester Cathedral, facing the statue of Sir Edward Elgar.

26. All headmasters and headmistresses will be required to re-qualify for office by passing a viva voce examination to ensure that they are scholars and gentlemen (or scholars and ladies) and not ‘managers’ in the wrong profession. (A typical question would be ‘What lessons can we draw for education today from our reading of King Alfred’s preface to Gregory’s Cura Pastoralis?’)

27. All Americanisation will be returned to the United States of America with the compliments of Great Britain.

28. Musicians giving live performances of works composed before 1750 will be provided with government grants enabling them to reduce the cost of tickets by half, and all instruments they require will be paid for out of the public purse.

29. Income tax will be paid at half the current rates by those engaged in the public service; income tax will be paid at twice the current rates by those engaged in making money.

30. A statue of Margaret Thatcher will be erected in every town in Great Britain, bearing the slogan My name is Ignoramus: look on my works, ye British, and despair; such statues to be manufactured from recycled plastic.

31. The salary of an ordinary Member of Parliament will be determined each month so as to replicate exactly the average wage in Britain during the previous month.

32. Admission to all theatres and concert halls will be free to all persons in full-time education (but see item one above) and all persons over sixty years of age, at government expense.

33. Churches will receive a grant of a thousand pounds for every service conducted at which no words are uttered that are not taken from BCP 1662 or the King James Bible (and at which hymns, if any at all, are from the English Hymnal); the single and obvious exception is that words sung by the choir may of course be Latin – or Greek, in the case of the Kyrie.

34. Members of Parliament will be subjected to a brief physical examination to determine which are in fact human beings and which are air-brushed plastic androids: the latter to be excluded from the House. (Plans are being made to deal with the large number of empty seats that will inevitably result…)

35. Headmasters and headmistresses of schools will forfeit salary for one month if their pupils are seen (whether in school or elsewhere in school uniform) with ties loosened, top buttons undone, or shirts not tucked in.

36. In order to become a bishop of the Church of England in future, it will be necessary for the applicant to be possessed of both a mind and a heart, and so to be capable of applying logic to morality. (Needless to say, whether the applicant be male or female, straight or gay, black or white, left-handed or right-handed will be entirely irrelevant.)

37. Copies of the novels of Trollope will be available, at government expense, to all loyal subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, on demand.

38. The use of Christian names between people who have not been introduced will be banned by law.

39. No programmes will be broadcast to television receivers before six o’clock in the evening.

40. All supermarkets will be abolished: the property and other assets of the owning companies will be seized and used to finance community development.

You may ask, gentle reader (and, indeed, if you are still gently reading at this point, gentle reader, then I humbly thank you), whether I am serious about the wolves… (I won’t insult you by suggesting you might doubt my utter seriousness as regards any of the rest.) Yes, I am quite serious about the wolves – though they are merely an example. I do not think it likely that I shall see such a thing actually occurring during this year, but then I think it far more likely that I shall see wolves roaming free in Britain than that I shall see Britain governed by educated, humane, sensible people, blessed with both integrity and intelligence. Wolves seem to me by far the more likely prospect.

Alice felt that if there was to be any conversation at all, she must manage it herself. So she began rather timidly: ‘Am I addressing the White Queen?’

‘Well, yes, if you call that addressing,’ the Queen said. ‘It isn’t my notion of the thing, at all.

Alice thought it would never do to have an argument at the very beginning of their conversation, so she smiled and said, ‘If your Majesty will only tell me the right way to begin, I’ll do it as well as I can.’

‘But I don’t want it done at all!’ groaned the poor Queen. ‘I’ve been a-dressing myself for the last two hours.’

Why have we forgotten how to address each other? Or rather, why have new rules for the purpose been invented by the comptrollers of fashion, which the rest of us are expected to suffer whether we like it or not? (And in case you haven’t guessed, gentle reader: I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.) I suppose it’s because the people in charge have scant regard for the two key aspects of culture involved: courtesy and language. Downgrading them both to the lowest common level is smart behaviour, apparently.

Take names. They are, after all, rather important: they identify people. You could say there is something uniquely human about them. They are the first and most obvious means by which we make communication personal and individual: so they contribute significantly to the atmosphere of warmth or of respect that we wish to show to others.

We used to have a simple means of reassuring an addressee whether, at that stage in our relationship, our feelings were predominantly warm or respectful: we knew that all adult people had two names, and we chose the one appropriate. So I and the society I belonged to used to agree that I would call people senior to me Mr/Miss/Mrs (Ms not having been invented) Brown; I would call no one except children by their first names on a first meeting; with people on an equality, I could go through a pleasing little ritual. (I apologise if the expression on an equality strike you as odd, gentle reader – perhaps, sadly, as that subjunctive may do too: it comes from Jane Eyre, and I am addicted to it.) I could begin by addressing them with title and surname – as they would probably do to me – until it seemed that our relationship was entering a new phase, that we were to some extent becoming intimate… and one or the other of us would decide it was time for first names. A nice practice, enacting a nice point.

What happens now, by contrast, is that I go along to a first meeting, whether personal or professional, and some brash young person of half or a third my age says, ‘Hello!’ (Or, far worse, ‘Hi!’) ‘It’s John, isn’t it?’ Leaving me a choice between agreeing that it is, when – at this stage – it really isn’t and I just don’t want it to be… allowing myself to be defeated by fashion (a character that Shakespeare’s Borachio aptly describes as ‘a deformed thief’), or else being pompous and admitting that such is indeed my Christian name, though normally kept for use by those whom I have the pleasure of knowing a little.

But does it matter? It is, after all a trivial point.

Certainly it matters. It matters because people matter. It matters because courtesy is, at its lowest and simplest, the first means by which we avoid offending each other; and at its highest and most extravagant, it is an emblem of caritas… the first rung on the great ladder of love. It matters because language is the essence of civilisation – it distinguishes us from the beasts; and every step our society takes to level off precision and flexibility of meaning, to eradicate choice in style, is one more step into the uncivilised world. And it matters because it is an example of the awful process of cultural degradation by levelling – the process by which ‘they’ run a steam-roller over one aspect after another of what used to be life. The process that – to raise a couple of flags on my personal blog-pole ready to wave on other occasions – has replaced Shakespeare (a popular entertainer in his day) with the television, and that has allowed our organic local communities to be ruined by supermarkets, chains, franchises, and multinationals.

It doesn’t have to happen, gentle reader. All you have to do is to refuse to pay your television licence, and refuse to shop in supermarkets. And allow me to call you Mr Smith or Mrs Brown or Miss Jones.

Should you decide after a while to invite me to call you Bill or Margaret, then I shall be pleased and honoured.

We heard a lot from the Plastic Prime Minister before he ascended to the throne about Waste. We heard his former opponent satirise all that, on the grounds that the nation’s economy couldn’t be repaired by cutting down on paper clips in Whitehall. But now, of course, Mr Clegg is following his new motto: ‘Never mind the policy, feel the width… of my grin.’ Anything goes, so long as Mr Clegg has POWER. (Mr Clegg, whom – one suspects – knows little of poetry, would do well to see Donne on the subject.) So, presumably, Mr Clegg – the Tweedledee of this new duo – is now passionately and sincerely committed to reducing Waste: the small fact that he decried Mr Cameron’s call to do so during his election campaign is of course irrelevant to his darker purpose. (Do the people who appear to be taken in by all this really have such short memories?)

Those of us particularly interested in education, believing that most of society’s problems directly and indirectly stem from its decline, and that any real programme for regenerating our nation must be based on the real, radical improvement of our education system, are waiting eagerly to see what this new government of sweetness and harmony will do to abolish Waste in education, freeing the system and its money ready for real improvement.

We have been disappointed. Their main idea so far seems to be that when we don’t know what to do about a school – and most of us don’t these days, particularly not those of us in the recent governments – we should just ask the parents. Fine – if we happen to ask parents who know a great deal about boys, girls, teachers, discipline, teaching, learning, English, maths, counselling, health, buildings, money, exams, sex, bullying, pianos, cricket balls, food, school ties, the stationery cupboard, and what sort of biscuit Mrs Wilkins likes with her coffee. Otherwise, rather disastrous. By definition, teachers know about schools (or – by heck – they should do); parents know about banking, computers, railways, groceries… or whatever their fields of professional expertise may be. Of course some of them will have experience and qualities that make them invaluable as supporters and advisors: that’s what PTAs and governing boards are all about. The idea of parents in general running schools – deciding the basics of whether and how – is quite absurd.

Interesting to try the logic out on other areas of life…

A surgeon runs into trouble in the operating theatre: ‘Ah – let’s wake up the patient and ask him to take over.’ The builder finds mending my roof too much for him: no problem, of course, since I can just put on my overalls and mount the ladder to sort it out. A desperately worried client approaches his solicitor for expert guidance and reassurance: ‘Well… I don’t really know,’ says the solicitor: ‘I’ve rather given up trying to handle the law – but I can lend you the books for you to see what you make of it yourself.’

What a way to run a country!

So what have the delightful duo done so far to eliminate Waste, freeing resources of money and teachers’ time, so that the teachers can go back to doing what they did rather well a few decades ago – running their schools and their classrooms? It’s wonderful, gentle reader: they’ve changed the name of the department. A stroke of sheer brilliance! No one else, of course, has ever thought up that little trick: convince people you’re doing something, when in fact you haven’t a clue what to do, by giving things flashy new names. That’s how clerks became administrators, managers became directors, and – horror of horrors! – pupils became students. It achieves so much.

We used to have the Ministry of Education. Was there ever a need to change the mere name? Has changing the name actually done anything for the nation and the standard of its education service? Successive governments have thought so. We started off changing it to the Department for Education and Science; we ended up with the Department for Children, Schools and Families. (Without the big letters, though – they’re too difficult for people these days… because of the decline in our educational standards.) But all’s too weak for brave Cameron and Mc Clegg: they’ve changed the name to the Department for Education. Of course, they’re so much against Waste. That’s why they’ve just wasted so much money on a name change – involving an entire new website, all stationery to be changed, every document containing the old name to be altered… Oh what a lovely Waste! And it stops us thinking about the real problems: massive decline in standards, lack of discipline, waste-of-time tests, lightweight qualifications, disillusioned staff, ludicrous paperwork, under-achieving pupils short-changed by one government after another.

But wait a minute… Department for Education? Isn’t that what we had when we were all little? Oh no, of course not – that was the MINISTRY OF Education. The DEPARTMENT FOR Education is on a higher plane, of course.

We must, I suppose, take comfort from small things – we’re unlikely to get any large things to comfort us: they’ve put back the capital letters. Yes! David and Nick can use big letters.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Those two famous lines from Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’ are relevant to many periods of crisis – though written in 1919 – including the present one.

We have a Prime Minister made of plastic. He follows Blair in style (though ostensibly of a different political party) just as sickeningly as Blair followed Thatcher in policies (though ostensibly…) What thinking person could not ‘lack all conviction’ in the face of such self-seeking power-hungry hypocrisy as has dominated public life now for so long, and which has been seen so disgracefully during the last few days?

What comfort, gentle reader? Well of course, we shall think of Trollope. Remember the Warden preparing to leave his Hospital? He too saw ‘the worst’ surrounding him, apparently taking over everything, ‘full of passionate intensity’ – and totally lacking in any real human values, the values by which he lived. But… as he moved from the beautiful hospital to rooms above the chemist’s shop, his music and his books went with him.

As we face the shocking prospect of the country being run by a crew of image-mongers more lacking in intelligence and integrity than any others in living memory (and my memory of such things, gentle reader, goes back to Sir Anthony Eden), we can at least find pools of what used to be called human values in our books and music.

I commend to you most earnestly, gentle reader, the recital to be given at one o’clock tomorrow in Shrewsbury Abbey (Richard Silk, Harpsichord). It is one in a series to raise funds for the repair and restoration of the marvellous Hill organ in the Abbey which, at present, is – sadly – in too unsatisfactory a state to be used in recitals. So the Abbey simply mounts a recital series using other instruments, to help raise money to restore this historic organ that is – truly – a very significant item in our heritage. ‘It seems imperative,’ they so rightly say, ‘that despite the circumstances, there is no loss of momentum in striving towards that goal.’

THAT, and not any antics of Mr Air-Brush Cameron or Mr Power-at-Any-Price Clegg, represents the spirit of Britain still (just) alive.

We are told that the current Prime Minister has, while canvassing, been overheard calling a voter bigoted. We may feel any one, or some combination, of three possible reactions:-

1. The Prime Minister is to blame for being critical.

2. The person concerned is to blame for being bigoted (to whatever extent the allegation may be true).

3. The media are to blame for broadcasting private comments illicitly obtained.

After the event, our capacity to tolerate electioneering by three variously lightweight party leaders is further stretched by disproportionate comment on this tiny matter by broadcasters less skilled than they should be in the relevant arts of thinking and speaking, controlled by producers and executives seriously lacking in proper standards of professional behaviour, self-respect, and respect for the public whom they serve. The most disturbing thing – it seems to me – is that the great volume of comment is concentrated on Blame Allegation Number One. Just how much harm has Mr Brown done to his image, to the sacred practice of PR? Just how much embarrassing fuss can we make about this miniscule incident? What do local people think about Mr Brown’s image self-harming? Let’s treat them just like five-year-olds in the playground and ask them what they think of Mr Brown’s attempts to ‘say sorry’. (Yuck!) What do people drinking in the pub think about the vital questions surrounding the mutter we stole from Mr Brown? Let’s hear from our political correspondent… Let’s hear from our waste-paper-basket correspondent… Let’s hear from Bill Blogs… Let’s hear from Auntie Jean’s budgerigar…

If we had not declined into a media-driven, PR-orientated, image-conscious society in which self-promotion has shifted from one of the seven deadly sins to a method for living, we might look at such things quite differently. Considered as an exercise in ethics instead of as an exercise in television by embarrassment, I venture to suggest that priorities would be reversed.

The culpability of Mr Brown is, given the slightest bit of dispassionate thought on the point, quite obviously minute or non-existent. Among news of national importance, the matter deserves no consideration. How many of us have never come out of a meeting and muttered – in private – a critical comment about one of the other people encountered? The rest of us do not have the BBC eavesdropping; the fact that they were eavesdropping on Mr Brown does not increase by one jot the extent to which he is worthy of blame on serious ethical grounds. In an ideal world populated only by angels and archangels, perhaps none of us would ever call anyone else bigoted. Clearly we do not live in such a world. And we are not angels. The word is not extreme and may, depending on the context, be either mildly insulting or simply an accurate and well-deserved criticism.

In the mad rush to exploit the embarrassment factor, the serious question of bigotry was lost. It is surely undeniable that there has always been an element of bigotry in attitudes towards race among some strands in our society since the early days of immigration. Even a patriot must admit that ‘traditional Britain’ could be proud of its reputation for duty, industry, respect, and courtesy… but that the corresponding vices of snobbery and bigotry were not wholly absent from this sceptred isle. (Modern Britain, of course, has lost most of its sense of duty, industry, respect, and courtesy; it has kept the element of bigotry; and it has translated its snobbery into yuppiness.)

The only people undeniably and seriously to blame – but who were not of course blamed at all in the media comment – are those at the BBC who authorised the use of entirely private remarks that were recorded only by some combination of inefficiency and disregard for professional ethics. Such behaviour is contemptible and should be roundly criticised as such. If the matter were judged according to ethical values and not ‘entertainment’ value, it would be quite obvious that the conversation should not have been broadcast: the media were not entitled to it, it could only annoy or upset the lady concerned, it would merely waste the Prime Minister’s time not seriously affect his role in the forthcoming election, it was not a matter of significant public interest – on the contrary, it was literally private. It should have remained private. The BBC should have had more dignity – and more respect for our dignity – than to broadcast it.

The point that stays in the mind is that awareness of ethics has so far declined in our society. We simply do not hear the level of serious debate about ethics – particularly practical ethics – as we did some decades ago. Can it really be that just because phrases like ‘ungentlemanly behaviour’ have been outlawed by the PC police, we now have a society in which an institution like the BBC can get away with such behaviour uncriticised – when formerly that phrase would have put them to shame?

(Of course, ‘unladylike behaviour’ would do just as well – though somehow ‘unpersonlike behaviour’ doesn’t quite hit the spot.)

Well, gentle reader (in the unlikely event that you are still there), the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have kept me from playing further with these little pages for some while… but I am minded to have another go, just in case there are the odd one or two people interested in lamenting the decline and fall of the British, post-empire.

I am particularly prodded into thought by an event that occurred last night. Dr Francis Jackson gave a recital at a local church. About thirty people attended.

You will ask (unless you are a gentle reader already interested in gentle church music) who Dr Jackson may be. Answer: he is a gentleman (the word deserves to be taken here in its full sense) born in 1917, who still regularly gives public recitals. That in itself is quite remarkable. (His instrument is the organ, and the organ – for the benefit of gentle readers who do not play it – is not only a profoundly difficult instrument but one requiring considerable stamina.) Of further remark are the facts that he began to play professionally at the age of sixteen and has done so ever since; he was taught by and succeeded Bairstow, so offering us a direct link back to the great Victorian English organ tradition; he was for a most impressive length of time organist of York Minster; he is a composer of note as well as a performer; he has collected honours ranging from the Limpus Prize, through a couple of doctorates, to the Order of St William; he is – in short – one of the giants of English cathedral music and has been a very significant figure in English music generally, and over an extraordinarily long period.

You may ask why it matters that only thirty people attended. If you are asking, gentle reader, then ask yourself why you are asking. That anyone should ask is, I suggest, the problem.

That most people are not keen to attend organ recitals is not the present point. (I made a small attempt to address some aspects of that point earlier on in these humble pages.) The points are these…

The event, though local, was at a location close to the boarders of three counties. It was well and pleasantly organised. (Thank you very much, St Michael’s, Tenbury Wells.) The music played, while very fine, was not difficult to listen to. And it was a great occasion. (How often does one have the chance of seeing and hearing a gentleman in his nineties practising his profession with great charm, deep knowledge, high intelligence, and a remarkable residual verve?) It was a chance to join oneself back into a part of our cultural history. (Dr Jackson played, among other pieces, a composition of his own, written at the time, to record the anxiety of the nation at the perilous condition of York Minster, to exemplify musically the activity that went into correcting it, and to celebrate the triumphant success of the restoration. To hear that played now… precisely by the person who wrote it and played it then… to feel the event recreated in that unique way here and now… was a wonderful thing.) This was not, then, an occasion purely for the specialist. It should have been valuable not merely to all organ enthusiasts (of whom there are far more than thirty in the three counties), but to many general music-lovers, to some who are interested in the church, to some who see the cathedral tradition as having at least some significant role in our culture and our history. It is pitiful that not many more than thirty bothered to attend.

Hamlet, at the end of the famous soliloquy, suggests that the possibility of something after death is the respect that makes calamity of so long life – the last words being, of course, a lovely example of ambiguity. I suggest that in today’s world, it is the death of respect that makes calamity of life.

Exactly what place should be ascribed to the preservation of a Henry Willis organ, to the restoration of a cathedral, to the celebration of a life’s work in public service through music and music education are all issues deserving some debate. I do not suggest that my own particular level of enthusiasm for such things could be, or should be, universalised. I do suggest that one of the more radical things that has happened to our general social attitude over the last fifty years – and dramatically so over the last thirty – is the decline in respect. The point is that we used to be a society in which people – even though not personally that interested in the things that a man such as Dr Jackson personifies – would nevertheless have considered them almost self-evidently worthy of high respect.

Let that respect die, and with it dies a key element in our national life, our culture.

And if you don’t want it to die, gentle reader, move in fast with your crash team. There isn’t much time left.