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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Coming Soon...."Queen Victoria's Creatures - Royalty & Animals in the Victorian Era"

From a garrulous parrot who embarrassed an Archduke, to an injured fawn carried home in the arms of a Queen, animals featured largely in the lives of the royal families in the halcyon days of the European monarchies.
Disruptive dogs, bothersome birds, faithful friends, family pets, livestock and working animals all had their place in palaces, but while these were generally treated with respect and affection, princes saw no incongruity between wilfully slaughtering other creatures for sport.
Throughout the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of birds were shot for entertainment, and, as empires expanded, hunters were proud to exhibit their trophies of more exotic animals, whose heads and skins were boldly displayed on palace walls. This, too, though was the era of a growing awareness of the need to respect and protect our fellow creatures, and a number of royal voices were raised in defence of ‘our dumb friends’. One Queen purchased a large number of caged birds, solely to set them free; while a Duchess took in so many strays that the stench of her home became unbearable to visitors.
 Sometimes amusing, sometimes tragic, the stories of all these animals are each, in their own way, deeply moving, and, perhaps, in the retelling, we, too, can be reminded of the message of Queen Elizabeth of Roumania:
“If man really imagines that he is the lord of the creation…surely he has, before all, a tremendous responsibility toward his inferiors and must, perhaps, some time give an account of the way in which he has treated these animals. If eternal retribution is a reality, if we are responsible, what shall we then suffer for the way in which we have treated God’s creatures.”
This book is dedicated to the thousands of unknown and innocent creatures who gave their lives for Man’s amusement, and the thousands more who continue to suffer such abuse today.

Why I Believe In Grammar Schools

I am somewhat baffled by the argument that Grammar Schools are divisive and geared towards wealthier people. I attended a Grammar School in which there were pupils from very different backgrounds and from all areas of the city and beyond. The wealth of the pupils’ families was of no significance at all to us, as we simply saw classmates, in the same uniform, studying the same subjects and being encouraged to achieve all the we could achieve according to our individual talents.
There are many people who say that Grammar School were divisive as those who did not attend them were viewed as somehow inferior. Again, I think this argument does not hold water. The problem was not with the Grammar Schools but rather with the attitude that somehow academic talent is superior to any other talent – technical, manual, musical, artistic or otherwise. Rather than condemning the Grammar Schools, the question should have been why are some talents viewed as more important than others.
The fact is, I am not gifted manually. I wish I were. I cannot sing opera. I wish I could. Should, therefore, there be no singing lessons because people like me feel inferior to those who can sing? Should there be no university degrees in physics, because I would not be admitted to the courses?  Should there be no drama schools because some people are not good actors? Should there be no apprenticeships in plumbing and electronics because I couldn’t do it?
It often seems to me that rather than raising everyone up to their highest potential, certain politicians prefer to make everyone the same and pretend that we all have the same talents. I certainly do not think children should be made to feel inferior in any way because their talents are not the same as someone else’s, but equally it would be wrong to pretend that some children are gifted at everything when they clearly are not. It would also be wrong to prevent one child excelling at something because another child couldn’t do it. We will never all be Olympic athletes, pop stars, actors, footballers...nor would we all want to be. Education, as far as the Latin I learned at Grammar School goes, surely, means ‘leading out’ as in helping children to discover whatever talents they possess and using them to their highest ability. 
The question I would like to ask is not, “Are Grammar Schools divisive?” but rather, “Why do we value some gifts more than others?” If we stop doing that, then all children could be attend appropriate educational facilities and we would stop pretending that we are all the same.