Pause for Thought- 4 (Radio Devon early show-transcript) ‘Does my bum look big in this?’

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Does my bum look big in this?

Getting children to tell the truth has to be one of the greatest challenges for any parent, yet it doesn’t always work both ways. We expect it from them, but don’t always give it back. Why? What’s the issue here? Don’t children deserve the truth? What have they done that they don’t deserve our honesty? We want them to tell us the truth for their own sake, for their safety and welfare, for their moral well-being. We want it from them, in all its glory so we can tackle the problem at hand. Do we always give them the same in return, even in its diluted form, or do we sometimes shy away?

Of course, sometimes not telling the truth can make life in the short-term easier. I’m a firm believer though, that one way or another the deceit will seek you out, trip you up, and put you on your face. The cliché- there’s always one- ‘The truth will out’.

A child wants to watch a DVD, but for one reason or another it doesn’t suit you.

“The DVD isn’t working today,” you might say, just to end the conversation. Let’s be clear- this is a lie, not a distraction. The child might take the bait the first time, maybe the second, but there almost inevitably will come a time when they see that the DVD does work, and no one came to fix it. A case in point I know, but you see what I mean. Maybe not as a result of that single occasion, but repeated many times, the child will begin to believe that this simple level of deceit is ok.

Take the retort- ‘we’ll see.’ How many times does it really mean no?

Parents try to give lessons in truth.

“Did you steal that money?” you ask. You know they did.

“No,” they say.

“That’s a lie!!!” you tell them. “It’s so bad to tell lies. It will get you into a lot of trouble. You must always tell the truth!” you say several times during the course of the next few hours. “Lies lead to trouble,” you remind them. Too true!

What the child should say of course is- “so why did you lie to me about the DVD?”

Here’s a classic situation:

Your partner asks, “does my bum look big in this?”

Remember- the truth can hurt.

“No,” you say. It isn’t true. You don’t believe it any more than you believe the moon is made of green cheese. But still you say it. Why? For an easy life, or because you think the full force of that truth will cause irrevocable damage? Maybe it won’t. Maybe the person you liberate from your own deceit might want to make their own choices. After all it is their truth and not yours. I know we can’t be purists, but you know what I mean. Of course you do!

Pause for Thought 3 (Radio Devon early show)- ‘No Comebacks!’

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No Comebacks!

Talking about fiction yesterday, I want to mention the book ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee. Most people know this book. It has recently celebrated it’s 50th birthday, so hard to miss. We now hear there is another book by Harper Lee, allegedly written before the first, serving as a sequel because the characters are older. Harper Lee has always shunned publicity. This is not something even the most reluctant authors can do today if they want to promote their work in the sea of books available. Harper Lee’s sister was her lawyer and always handled her affairs until the sister died recently aged 100. Current reports state that Harper Lee also in advancing years, would sign any papers her sister placed in front of her, such was her implicit trust over the years in her sibling. Now her sister is gone there are new people. Hot shot lawyers, accountants, media experts, starting what might inevitably become a feeding frenzy. There is speculation that Harper Lee may, with her failing health, be unaware that this book has been sold, or even exposed. For someone who wrote such a singular and profound piece, I sincerely hope that the decision to publish is hers, and that it works. Maybe we will never know the truth. ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ is one of my favourite books. The thought of a sequel filled me initially with excitement. Now I’m not so sure. How do you follow a book that has graced every school, every library and every bookshop, spawned countless theatre productions and films continuously for the last 50 years? This book will have to be one of the most brilliant ever written. The bar will need to be raised so high, I doubt we will be able to see it.

Whenever something amazing happens, humans often want more. Where lightning strikes, we want it to strike again. Once is rarely enough. We want to emulate, repeat, follow on, see sequels, prequels, and with films about chipmunks see ‘squeakels’. Yes I did say that. We want to repeat what went before. Tired and aged rock stars come out of retirement and play to jaded audiences. They play stuff that sounded great thirty years ago because we were all thirty years younger, and didn’t have a care in the world, a mortgage, children, tinnitus and piles. It wasn’t just about the music, it was about us. It was everything we were back then, sacrosanct and true.

Why can’t we leave these things alone? I have no quarrel with history, but I do have an issue with resurrection. Or even encores. How many times did Tina Turner retire? Did she keep coming back to see if the applause would be as it was? Of course it wasn’t. Most of the audience have got arthritis! There are a whole list of super groups who have traipsed across the world still doing the old stuff. Some have even done the new stuff, an album of hip hop or garage, to contrast with the earlier prog’ rock. No one was asking, and I’m not aware that in most cases many were buying. Some of course pull it off, and go on to forge a second career. And good for them. Look at Vera Lyn. But what about the rest of them. We turn up in the hope that the past might resurrect itself, because once they delivered it. Now, in truth they dish out disappointment, and it’s hard to take. We can’t go back, recreate a moment exactly as it was.

When I buy Harper Lee’s new book, and I know I will. I shall keep it for some time before opening it, wondering in the end whether it will tarnish one of the most significant books ever written. I really hope not, but I’m not holding my breath.

Pause for Thought 2 (Radio Devon early show)- ‘Why I Write’.

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Why I write.

If I could have an artistic wish, it would be to be musical. I love music from punk through to many of today’s acts, but I’m about as melodious as a group of howling cats. The thing about music, is that it’s instant. When you write a novel it takes so long that sometimes you forget what it was you were writing about in the first place. After that you have to wait for people to tell you what they think. That’s a tough one if you wait for a year to hear it’s rubbish. It’s different for music. You can share music right away, and feel the impact it has on an audience. But I guess art is art. Whether you’re Banksy, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, or Ernest Hemmingway, or a child doing a painting, or even me slogging at a laptop, it’s still art. It’s a form of innate expression, a way of interpreting and examining the strangeness and wonder of the world. You see art is everywhere. It’s how you decorate your home, shape a garden, the clothes you wear. It’s a statement that you can’t necessarily articulate in words alone.

For a long time I didn’t think of writing as an art. I was using words already created, rearranging them into an order that makes a point. A bit like Lego. But of course, music does the same thing, only with a predetermined set of notes. I realise now that it’s what you do with those words, those notes that make it magical. Like life I guess: it’s what you make of it.

I write fiction probably to hide the fact that I don’t know enough about one single subject to write a definitive text book. Unless it was on motorbikes, and there are thousands of those. Fiction though does have a role in conveying facts. People want to be entertained, carried along by a story. Why not. In that story though, it is possible to talk about things that people ordinarily wouldn’t show interest if it were on the news. My last book ‘Bread for the Bourgeoisie’ uses the back story of human trafficking and corruption wrapped up as a thriller. It is about the lengths that people will go to protect their family and their loved ones. It is in part a love story, but I hope brings across the message that these things happen not so far from our own families and homes, and they are horrific.

Fiction therefore has a job to do in telling not just stories, but within them, facts that we might not otherwise face. Not an easy job. Bernard Schlink the German writer does it brilliantly in his book- ‘The Reader’. The story focuses on the relationship between a young boy and an older woman who once worked as a guard in one of the Nazi concentration camps. It doesn’t dilute the gravity of what happened, but it does prompt the reader to think about the holocaust from other perspectives, whether it rests easy or not. Another is ‘The Road’ by Cormack McCarthy. It is the story of a young boy and his father making their way across post-apocalyptic America. The story is harrowing, but nevertheless it galvanises the truth about parental love, and moral dilemmas that hopefully we will never have to face, unlike many people in the world who do so on a daily basis. In short, fiction from around the world can provide if we want it, a worldview. It can get inside the reader’s head and sometimes if we are lucky, change the way they see the world for the better.

Pause for thought 1- Nobody Wins.

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Carl Sagan who died in 1996 was one of our most eminent astronomers. Involved with the American space programme, he worked on the Voyager project, taking images of the Solar System, searching for evidence, which might prove we are not alone. They found little. When Voyager 1 was about to go out of range, Carl asked for it to be turned around to take one last picture of earth. This picture was taken from 3.7 billion miles away. From this extraordinary vantage point, our planet looks like nothing more than a tiny mote of dust caught in a single sunbeam. When you think about it, earth is the only home we have ever known. It is us. That is it. End of story so far. On this mote of dust is everyone you love, every hopeful child, corrupt politician, superstar, saint or sinner. It is home for the thousands of religions, ideologies and tin-pot regimes we ever thought up. At times it is easy to forget that Earth is it, and we are mortal. We have no real evidence that there are life forms like us out there; at least within 3.7 billion miles. That’s a lot further than Land’s End! Our little planet is a very small stage. Our leaders and those who follow them have in their time, past and present created havoc, death and destruction on this tiny precious place. Yet with all our wisdom and desire to protect, the blood of innocent people still runs in rivers across the surface of this tiny planet because those who can, choose to tear the homelands of others apart.

Imagine two people cast adrift in a boat miles out at sea. They fight until the boat is burning, and they sink because the boat is all they ever had. What was it for? They lost everything. Nobody wins. If we carry on as we are, fighting, there is nowhere else to go, and just the same, nobody wins.

Looking out of the window of a plane, it is easy to see that we have barely scratched the surface of the earth, like insects on the bark of a tree. We look so small, insignificant, because in the grand scheme, the solar system, the cosmos, call it what you like, we are insignificant, and all that matters in the end is us, and how we choose to live out our lives.

Carl Sagan called the image of earth taken by Voyager ‘the pale blue dot’. Perhaps it should be on every billboard, an advert on the TV to remind us that from 3.7 billion miles away our wars, our anger and hatred of one another look nothing but futile, where nobody wins.