On Snow, Education and Duty

You may have noticed that here in the UK we have had unusual quantities of snow this year, reducing the southern counties of England to a stand still. There is much debate about whether the authorities should have been better prepared to get us back on the move again with claims from the Federation of Small Businesses that the lack of road clearing, and so on, has cost the country in the region of £3 billion (There was no detail about how the figures were arrived at). My own opinion is that councils can’t be expected to store equipment to deal with a snowfall such as this when it occurs only once every 20 years or so.

I was telling Mavis, aged 9, about cold winters I had known in the past and she asked if I had ever missed school because of snow. I had a good think and decided that I had not. “We just had to get on with things in those days.” I pronounced, sounding like my grandma.

I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone to give in to the weather. The school had a duty to open and we had a duty to attend and that was that. We cleared the pavements with shovels and salt and set off wearing our wellington boots, throwing snowballs and making ‘skids’. It was great fun and apart from the odd scraped knee, and a boy I knew nearly castrating himself on a toboggan, we were none the worse for the experience. Nobody ever said that someone else should have cleared the roads, or, if they had taken a tumble, that it was the fault of anyone; it was an accident.

Do people still have a sense of duty today? If so, to what do they feel it? I am burdened with a sense of duty or responsibility, call it what you will – but I wonder if it’s because I had a very singular upbringing. I watch others and feel, in equal parts, envy and disgust at their ability to drive, walk, park and live as they please with no sense of responsibility to others. I wonder what difference it would make to the world if I just joined them and put two of my wheels on the pavement so that the prams couldn’t pass, if I pulled up outside the newsagent’s shop on the yellow line, just for a minute, holding up who knows how many cars or I walked in a row of three with my friends, blocking the path so that others could not get past. Sadly (or not) I couldn’t do it. Social responsibility has been instilled in me from too formative an age.

I return to the teenagers of a former blog. There was a crowd of them at the top of the hill where my friend and I took our children earlier in the week for some fun in the snow. We were all having a good time zooming down the hill on sledges and toiling back up again, when a crowd of youths appeared. They took over the ‘launch area’, effing and blinding, jostling and shouting as though the rest of us just didn’t exist. In the end we went home with our children, cold and miserable rather than rosy faced and excited as we had expected to be.

To change the subject in a seemingly tagential manner, Whizz and I have been looking at his family tree today. We both have interesting families with websites containing details of our history. Mine comprises rather high born Jews with more than their fair share of advantages, while his started from nothing: generations of labourers and some more skilled craftsmen such as bakers and weavers are scattered through his family history. Some of them died in the workhouse and one man was sentenced to hanging for the theft of some silver spoons but was eventually deported to America instead. If my antecedents knew that I had married into such a family they’d be rotating in their graves to such an extent that they’d have arrived in Australia by now (I’m pretty sure some of the made it to the antipodes as a matter of fact)!

Anyway, my point is that Whizz is the single most intelligent man I know and has been very successful in his career, and none of this would have been possible without the advantage of education. Everyone can now read and write and so we all have the same opportunities in life. But do we all want the same things? Some of us recognise that to be happy ourselves we need to conform to basic rules. Others just want it all, no matter what the price to others. Has it always been thus? How long will it take for the unscrupulous to work out that if we have anarchy then nobody wins.

As Whizz says , education is important, we have to take the chance to raise a Ghandi even if it means we might raise a Hitler. For my part I suppose that I must accept that in order to have a Whizz I must also accept a Teenage ‘Mutinant’.

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