Honestly, it has got to the point where Michael Wilshaw's pronouncements: on how teaching should be done; how teachers should behave; how much of a gut needs to be busted in order for teachers to even approach doing their job properly; could be safely ignored by everyone within the profession and indeed anyone with a stake in the education system. His words are inflammatory, unhelpful, perhaps even incitement. He does have previous, though. He was the one who failed to notice the literal meaning of the word satisfactory when saying that schools that were satisfactory needed to improve to good.
It seems to me to be a form of playing to the gallery. For some reason, teachers are one of those categories of people who it's okay to be negative about in general conversation. It's a bit like the thing where you're allowed (ish) to say that you're useless at maths in polite company, and it's not challenged frequently enough. It's not a badge of honour to be useless at maths - it doesn't make you cool - and it's not a badge of honour to think the worst of teachers - it doesn't make you a deep individual sticking it to the system. So Wilshaw - who despite in theory not being a political figure during his time at Ofsted - weighs in on a range of political-to-do-with-education topics, and there aren't many occasions when you can see him saying: look, teachers do a reasonably tough job (mostly) reasonably well, and when you consider the hammering they get in the right-wing press (and off successive governments) it's a wonder they continue to educate your rather demanding kids. In fact, the teaching unions look after the interests of their members, rather than just existing to say stuff that's offensive to the Daily Mail, and those members are frequently let down by their ultimate paymasters in government, particularly when it comes to the frankly wild suggestions of how education might be improved, usually involving teachers working longer hours. And those kids who roll up to school expecting to get away with doing the square root of fuck all? I blame the parents, actually, not the teachers, who have thirty of them at a time to try to organise, and can't necessarily accurately monitor the amount of time each kid spends looking under the desk to text their mates.
You don't hear him say that. And the reason is there's nothing to be gained for a commentator to piss off quite a wide range of the electorate with the difficult-to-face-but-nevertheless-fairly-obvious truth that is the kids make the most difference to their outcomes, and the influence of an individual teacher on any given kid's trajectory is pretty minimal. You don't hear the discussion of the subtle points around peer influence, culture, the way the instantaneous gratification of mobile phones and immersive computer games make the rather pedestrian task of teaching Y9 Energy that much harder... Again, those are things that broadly absolve teachers of responsibility for the poor performance of particular kids, and bring it back around to the kid and the circumstances they exist in.
You don't need to spend much time investigating how parents feel about the return to school to find that what schools do is - any way you cut it - absolutely incredible. A teacher will take 30 or so kids at a time, easily bored, with short attention spans, with phones that are much more interesting than our subject, whose behaviour can at times be anti-social or even bordering on the sociopathic to be honest (and that's all just the teachers...), give up a decent amount of the punishments that might actually tell (particularly at the moment!) before we even get going, and somehow - somehow - manage to get through a lesson having taught most of them something most of the time. So - and I don't say this very often - Wilshaw can fuck off. He either said what he said in ignorance of its implications, in which case it just beggars belief that he was HM's Chief Inspector of Schools for five years on the basis of limited his competence. Or he said it in the full knowledge of what it implies - that teachers dying as a direct result of the decision to send all students back to school is an acceptable sacrifice - in which case he is spiteful, vindictive even. Interestingly, the same standard of willingness to die does not seem to apply to Ofsted itself, which didn't inspect any schools in the last term because of the potential danger of school environments.
Still, at least it brings an important point to the fore. Education has broadly carried on, and yes, it's not as good as what happens in the school building, but what we're there for - in the end - is to make sure that the economy can run as normal, because getting kids back in school lets their parents get back to work, and, by extension, buying sandwiches from Pret.
Whatever they say tomorrow (and I think by the time the presser actually starts at 7pm, everyone will know exactly what they're going to say because it's all been leaked to the press) it's going to have a limited effect on what people are doing. There are lots of people who are going out and doing outdoor-type things because the weather has finally changed its mind to something tolerable, rather than actively unpleasant. We have been locked down - give or take - for the last four months, and only had a few months of relative freedom before that. It's no surprise that people are using their opportunity to go out and exercise, and there were considerably more cars parked and people walking around at the various places I cycled past this morning than there have been for probably the whole of the last 12 months. And the effect on people who are being told that schools are safe to reopen and that hospitality is going to be reopening relatively soon seems to be that everyone is looking at the situation and thinking that they can start to get back to normal.
So why am I worried? Put simply, the criteria for making decisions about how to handle the end of lockdown seem to be how well an announcement plays with the general public. There's no will or desire at the top to lead, especially when the leading is along difficult paths. There's far too much of the playing to the gallery that Boris Johnson is used to being able to do, turning round to check how his jokes are going down with the crowd behind him, rather than - and I hesitate to put it bluntly and come across as partisan - the kind of statesmanlike behaviour that is on show from the leaders of other countries at various times. The shift is palpable, as far as I can make out from my own memories. Even the ones I didn't like (the PMs, the Chancellors, the Foreign Secretaries) would at least put some value on appearing to be above corruption and incompetence, even if at some level they weren't. Appearances now don't seem to matter, or at least not in the same way. The current UK government seems to be comfortable with lawbreaking, bullying, incompetence and instability, to the extent that these things are not resignation issues for ministers any more. Which is terrifying: because if you can be shown to be corrupt in office and yet somehow remain in that office in what is supposed to be a functioning democracy in this country, what exactly needs to happen in order for someone to be pressured to resign? And the truly terrifying thing, from my perspective, is how little this sort of stuff seems to matter to some people who can vote. It's all about this nebulous sense of what these people represent, rather than anything concrete about policy or competence. Keir Starmer, for example, is streets ahead of Johnson in his command of detail in the facts, and routinely makes Johnson look lazy, careless, even stupid at PMQs. But there is talk of him resigning or being ousted. And that talk is amplified, reported, trends on Twitter... Johnson has a higher approval rating than he has any right to expect, and it seems to come from the idea that he, despite being enormously privileged, having a very inflated sense of his own ability, and his history of lying and general brattishness, is a born leader. Starmer, not so much. We seem to be frightened of him exactly because all of that detail and precision in the argument is dull, whereas Johnson's shtick isn't.
There have also been a few instances of the horrific shithousery that is accusing the opposition of scoring political points over matters of real import. I suppose neither side is above using that line, but as a way of trying to avoid being held to account in the business of government, it should be instantly disallowed. As in, any interviewer or commentator should, at the point of hearing that, shut the person saying it up, and then repeat whatever the question is and demand an actual answer. Actually, that wouldn't be a bad start for a lot of political interviewing. The training that seems to be in place - how often have you actually heard a politician of any stripe use the word 'no' or indeed 'yes' in an interview? - to turn the question round to the agenda of the day is clearly doing something. After all, the current government seems to have developed it to a level where no question can be asked which forces someone to admit a mistake or a blunder post hoc.
Anyway, political commentary isn't really my thing, but I have found myself driven almost mad recently by the way that things have been handled. In particular, opening all the schools on the 8th March seems to be driven not by evidence that schools are safe and not contributing to the spread of CV-19, but by the fact that schools are this ludicrous political football that has enormous narrative power. Keep the schools closed longer than initially advertised, and it will be cowardly - indeed, it seems to be the case that the lockdown naysayers have laid the groundwork by saying that Johnson is overly influenced by his scientific advisers - rather than cautious. Open them all at once in a Big Bang and that phrase will sell lots of newspapers and make people feel like it's all going back to normal. Never mind that schools aren't going to be able to do some of the things that need to happen to keep us all safe; never mind that regardless of the danger to kids (which may indeed be small) schools are staffed by people who aren't - usually - kids and will be at considerable risk; never mind that kids in school are not only in contact with each other but their own home and family networks. What matters is that they have something to shout about tomorrow. It's a really sad reflection on government that it is done by this kind of focus-group-approval method. There's no leadership in it, just trying to be popular.
The world as it was a couple of years ago didn't feel as though you'd miss it particularly when it was gone. In October 2018, I lost a friend and colleague suddenly and unexpectedly. There were things I wish I had the opportunity - or the balls - to speak to her about before she died, but I didn't. I wasn't brave enough to ask the questions - or to hear the answers - and they are moot now. If there's a point to that, it's precisely to note that I am not the kind of person of whom others say 'he's not going to die wondering'. Indeed, I'm probably going to die wondering. About a great many things. I changed to another job just under a year later, and - whether that was the cause or not, I'm not sure - my depression hit me again. There was something new and difficult about winter, bookended as that one was by the first anniversary of one awful and probably avoidable death and the fifth of another. I was adjusting to the change of environment, from a place where I had been part of the furniture, perhaps not liked and respected by all but at the very least able to find someone or something each day to look forward to. Teaching felt very much like a job - and one that I wasn't very good at and certainly wasn't enjoying - and I spent some time looking at other things. None of which were ever serious, but perhaps I was more ready than I had been before to give up.
The world, then, as it was a couple of years ago, did not feel like it was going to be lamented. There were things about it - going to the pub, band rehearsal, sporting events, even school, that shaped the weeks and the days, that were little lights on the way, and it wasn't until March of 2020 that we perhaps realised the extent to which we all lived for those things. And since then, in various combinations, we haven't had all the things we were used to. For example, I have not taken my children swimming for all that time. The small one hasn't been to the big water for nearly half of his short life. My band's forthcoming 'album' is marked up as '2019' in the files. It's taken us nearly two years, and not because we've got some grand artistic vision, we just haven't been allowed to get together to work on it for most of that time.
So the desire to return to normal is strong, for everyone. But - and I haven't really got much else to say other than this - let's not fuck it up quite so badly this time, eh? Last summer felt like a welcome return to normality, and then the autumn (at school in particular) was so weird, disrupted, obviously leading to another lockdown, This time as spring rolls around and I can look forward to wearing shorts and shoes that don't need socks, let's not jump the gun and have to all this shit again. Please...
I did not know, until very recently, that Richard Curtis wrote that Van Gogh episode. In any case, there's something about Amy Pond that means I don't quite buy the enthusiasm for his paintings, but I'm not sure what exactly. That may well be an unfair judgement made about a young woman with no justification. It's surprising, though, to find her captivated by something like that. Perhaps that's the point, that all the sass and cynicism hide someone who really is full of those emotional connections to stuff, someone human. The Doctor describes the plastic-Roman version of Rory as 'so human', and those with a sense of history or who have been reading back through this very blog may know that phrase as one said to me (and of me) by someone who had seen that in me. I don't always hide behind sass and cynicism, although I am capable of that, but I do have experience of hiding, and of being unable to hide what I feel. Depression and anxiety took my ability to hide my feelings for a while just around five years ago, and there have been a couple of people who I have come across who have seen straight through me even when I was supposedly wearing my professional mask.
It's the same with how Amy feels about Rory, that there is this imbalance in how physically striking they are, but that does not stop Amy's love for Rory being all-conquering. The trope of the man loving the beautiful woman more than she loves him is a common one, and Arthur Darvill captures the idea of the nervous boyfriend of the whirlwind, mercurial girlfriend really rather well. Anyway, all of this is just a preamble to the confession that once again, when that Vincent episode came to a close and Bill Nighy is talking about where he sits in the pantheon of painters, I cried, and I did all that stuff that you do - blinking, tipping my head back - to try to stop it or disguise it. And it all happened again when the Doctor tells the story of his suicide at the age of 37, probably battered by years of depression and insomnia, possibly bipolar disorder...
Sometimes you rewatch something and a bit of the magic has gone. Not this. Perhaps the fact of watching it with a 9-year-old who is seeing it for the first time is part of that, but it really does feel like there was a bit of a streak across the David Tennant and Matt. Smith series. I wonder what I'll think about Capaldi.
I once taught a kid who was a good downhill skier. There was a theory going about the staffroom that his ability went along with a sort of fearlessness that allowed him to barrel down a (literally) slippery slope at the best part of 100mph without fully appreciating the potential consequences. Which, if I understand correctly, are like that bit in Cool Runnings when John Candy goes on about bones not breaking, but instead shattering. It's a question to be asked: if you don't feel the fear, are you brave? Isn't what bravery really is exactly the ability to master the fear that one really feels? I suppose you could set up an analogy with physical pain: someone doesn't have a high pain tolerance if they just don't feel the pain in the first place. You need to feel the pain to tolerate it. I sometimes wonder about myself, actually, whether I feel pain more intensely than others in some situations or whether I am just a wuss about it. And that goes for both the physical type, and the even-less-easy-to-quantify mental type.
After coming off my bike, I was surprised - and, truth be told, marginally disappointed - to be diagnosed as having a grade 1 sprain of my AC joint. I was expecting to be told I had least broken a few bones for my trouble, and to be wrapped in several layers of bandage and perhaps even plaster to show off my predicament. But no, a cloth sling and physio were my only 'rewards' to show for it. When a kid does something physically destructive (and painful) to themselves, they get told they are brave for dealing with the pain. I didn't even get a hint of a nod that it might be uncomfortable. Indeed, they recommended paracetamol, which gives a very clear indication of how much they though it hurt.
I've never been brave. When I was playing rugby or cricket, I was not the one willing to put my body on the line to win. In fact, I was generally the one finding the excuse to stay out of the way of the fast bowler or the big fella on the other team. I've never had the sense that I can master the fear and be calm even when it gets to me. I wonder how different I would be if I could. Although that said, there have been a couple of occasions when I have stood up and performed in front of people and felt nervous, and been able to channel that into something positive. Maybe 'nervous' just isn't the same as 'afraid'. Whatever, I'd love to be able to get near a stage and feel nervous at the moment...
What takes courage? Admitting you're wrong, perhaps, is something that doesn't have that physical edge to it, but still takes courage. Staying silent when you could open your mouth... I'm not very good at that one. Saying 'no' to someone who wanted 'yes'... Or the other way around. These are the run-of-the-mill situations in which someone average like me might find themselves called on to be courageous. Being kind to someone who is not kind back, perhaps. Sometimes, it's not clear which is the brave option, which the selfish, which the craven, whether to act decisively or be passive and let it happen. Sometimes it's not clear which is the kind option, and that's both looking inwards and outwards. I'd pray for guidance, but then I find that I'm arguing with myself, telling myself I'm not superstitious. This, usually, as I watch a pair of magpies and smile, or a single one with a frown. I don't even know whether I'd like to be brave(r) or not. I suppose I don't want the responsibility of making decisions that might hurt others, even though I find myself with that responsibility here and there. And when there are no clever workarounds, such as creating a second, human, Doctor to let Rose have him (can you tell that I've been watching Doctor Who from the 2005 (re)start recently?), no hitherto-undiscovered magic powers to solve the otherwise unsolvable, then you're left with the decision as to which you'd rather feel: is it regretting the one thing or the other? Accepting that it will hurt either way is probably the first stage of coming to an actual decision, but anyone even remotely like me, with a mind that ruminates as a matter of routine, will know that 'decision' is probably the toughest thing. Because no decision ever feels made until it is acted out. Perhaps the monkey on my shoulder will one day fall silent and I will be content to settle on one course rather than dwell on the possibilities of the choices, but I doubt it. What we do in life echoes in eternity...
A memorable post-exam run-down from a former student who was trying to find the words to explain just how badly it had gone, which culminated in him trying to express the idea of the slow-motion-ness and the sheer scale of the Titanic sinking, after having moved up through the gears of a car crash, a train wreck and so on.
I'm sure no one could possibly imagine what could have set me in the train of thought that led to me remembering that particular moment. Root has just about kept England in it, hasn't he? I suppose Sheffield United's season is on the same sort of scale, with both the slow-motion-ness and the epic scale fully represented in their pathetic (in its old-school sense) efforts so far.
Bereft of a chance to go and play music even for fun because of lockdown, as I've mentioned on here before, I've even taken the rather uncharacteristic decision to try to learn what it is that makes Jazz sound like Jazz, other than the obvious riposte of them intentionally playing the wrong notes in the most upsetting order they could think of. Music has proved to be a bit of a release here and there, but it's kind of not the same when it's such a solo, inward-looking pursuit. I'm left wondering how it is that anyone manages to make any kind of sense of the singer-songwriter approach to music when it is so lonely. Of course, I suck very hard when it comes to writing the sung tune and the lyrics, so perhaps that's worth bearing in mind. Much like when I watch Joe Root batting and he makes it look so easy, but I just can't map my mind (and my body, but that's another matter entirely) on to his such that I could understand what it would be like to be him.
So we're left wondering: are the government really as bad at this (governing - albeit in difficult circumstances) as they appear? The question as to whether they really think they're doing a job runs alongside, and I think the answer to both is revelatory. They really are making as much of a balls of it as they appear to be, and the thing that is now becoming clearer is that they honestly do think they are doing a good job. I had to look it up, but it's called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and this version of it combines two dangerous ingredients. The first is a desire for power, and that desire seems in many cases to be fuelled by the thought that power is an appropriate destination for one of 'my abilities', a kind of self-assessed merit that is then interpreted almost as a divine right to be in charge. The second is a sense that since I am in power, I must be capable of wielding it properly, and as such my decisions - however much they are sniped at by my political opponents - were the right ones. This one allows those in power to read those in opposition as scoring political points, rather than challenging what on the face of it seems to be dangerous incompetence and a total lack of moral principle, and to look - and again, if I read it right, to genuinely be - offended that the (political) opposition could be challenging the decisions of the government.
It's a big challenge, then, to bring politics back in the direction of actually being about governing in the country's best interests. Why do I put it that way? Because political parties and individuals of every stripe have to be seen in the light of the imperative to gain and keep power, and that seems to have overtaken any sense that they might represent people regardless of whether that leads to government. It's niche parties like the Greens who have always existed outside that sphere who seem to be able to propose the policies that look to be the ones inspired by humanity and care. In any case, the current cabinet appears to be composed of people who really do think they are the right people for the job, and who really aren't in the most robust way possible. Anyone who could convince themselves that the corrupt practices of awarding contracts or pushing through planning applications or ignoring serious workplace conduct issues or the utter shambles that was the first day back after Christmas and indeed whatever the next will turn out to be is not fit for power. But it seems that the imperative to be powerful has overtaken the need to be competent. The PM can't sack cabinet members for being incompetent, because the logical conclusion of that move is his own immediate resignation. That, I think, is the engine that moves this ship. Not for them the accountability of performance management, because what judge could possibly rule on the competence of someone who is in the role because they are simply meant to be in charge?
Ho hum. It seems that this current government has finally perfected the metaphorical teflon that others have aimed for, in that criticism doesn't really seem to have any effect. No matter how bad they are, they constantly surprise us by carrying on as if they were doing a fine job..
As the various elements of the world of normality come crashing down around us (again), I realised that I had been listening to some of the tracks off the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack over and again. It's a memory that was jogged a few years ago by a cricketing mate of mine who said that, were he to play in the kind of T20 where you get a song as you come in to bat, his would be The Touch by Stan Bush, which is what is playing in the film when Optimus Prime rolls up to win the battle for the Autobots. If you don't have any conception of what I'm wittering about, fair enough. The Optimus Prime who appears in the current (ish) run of Michael Bay films is a poor excuse for the character, even though they've got the voice pretty much spot on. But here's the thing: Optimus Prime genuinely was a proper hero when I was a kid. Even though he's a robot who transforms into a lorry, he was what you wanted to be. So when he dies twenty minutes into the move, it really hits hard.
What I realised over the course of a few listens is that I can actually picture the scenes in the film that are accompanied by the songs. I also realised that - at the age of seven or eight, when I would first have seen it - the 80s rock stylings must have been a huge formative influence on my later 'taste' in music. I even took the plunge and listened to the actual soundtrack music - the stuff that is the score, rather than more-or-less complete songs - and that was even worse. The death of Optimus Prime music still - and I can't believe I'm writing this - makes me sad nearly thirty-five years later. Apparently time doesn't heal all wounds.
I have half a notion of writing a lengthy and detailed post about the current goings-on, but I don't think I'll have anything to say that hasn't already been said better by someone else. It's a great shame that there are selfish and incompetent people in charge of a wide range of things at a time when even the best people would be struggling to make it work, and it really is staggering what a colossal balls of it - the pandemic, the US election, Brexit, whatever you care to mention - can be made by folk who think they are good enough to be in charge.
So, instead, I'll keep it short: I hope that good vibes accompany you in this strange, unsettling and dark time. I hope that you are able to enjoy life, and that hope for the future remains real. Time is a strange thing - it will seem, when all this has passed, as though it did not last as long as it did - and whilst it most definitely does not heal all wounds, it does allow perspective - and situation - to change. Those things that seemed important, or were a barrier or a frustration, will one day no longer loom so large. Those things that really did matter, hopes, dreams, feelings, experiences, people... One day, perhaps not that far in the future, those things might take their right place once again.
A difficult quality to define, of course. Some people have it, and you occasionally get to spend a bit of time with those people. It's a privilege to be in that sort of presence. You can't put your finger on it, because if you could, it wouldn't be mojo, it'd be something else. Some things have it. For example, some of my guitars are competent instruments which play well and sound good, but some of my guitars have something else entirely. In a lot of cases, they're not the ones that are easier to play, or the ones that it's easy to get a good sound out of. They're just the ones that demand to be played. The best explanation I can give for it in that limited context is that some instruments just leap out at you, whether that is on the wall in the shop or in the house. Those ones that you can feel music in, the ones that just do something every time you pick them up. I'm not a good enough player to deserve one of these, in all honesty, but I do notice it both when it's there and when it's not.
What is all this rambling about? I've noticed that my desire to give up on the anti-depressants could be couched in those terms. They were robbing me of whatever mojo I thought I had, in a lot of contexts. I haven't written a lot of good music, or a lot of creative writing, and I put the blame for that on the tablets. Well, perhaps they were not so guilty. It turns out that for me, depression is a viciously cyclic thing that takes away my ability to write, my interest in playing, my desire to do things that are entertaining purely for the sake of it. One example that I have given before is going to the swimming pool with my children. When I'm at peace, I enjoy that for the pure nonsense that it truly is, an escape that has no purpose, no end point, just an hour of fun. And that's what I was missing from the playing and the writing. A sense of fun. I have a feeling that my mojo left me not because I was relying on citalopram, but rather that I was relying on citalopram because I'd misplaced my mojo and couldn't find it.
So where am I looking for it? Well, it's a daft thing, but I have found that learning new types of music - gypsy jazz, country, whatever - is enough to get me back into the swing (!) of playing just purely for the sake of it. I won't ever pick up the guitar to do a Django Reinhardt gig, because I don't think I'll ever be good enough and I don't really think anyone would be that interested in hearing my limited interpretations of the style. But I have got something out of it. It tests the fingers and the melodic sense in a different way. It places new demands on me as a player, and I can't just run through my best licks to show off because they don't fit. Likewise, I have allowed myself to diversify in my writing, looking at projects that have been on the back burner for a long time for various reasons. Letting those characters exist in my imagination, even at the expense of a slow-down in the progress on book IV of These Matters, has put me in a better mood. The coincidence of restarting the anti-depressants is notable, and I might be tempted to say that the tablets are just giving me the 'breathing space' to be creative again. But it's not a simple matter of one leading to the other. I thought I was making a positive choice in giving them up. It turned out that I was blaming them for crippling a side of me that, in reality, they were not responsible for. My fingers are firmly crossed that I don't need them forever, but my head says that I need them now. We shall see, I suppose, but be assured that for the moment, I am content. The limited amount of peace available to a teacher (in these strange times) and parent (whenever) means that I have to take it where I can find it, as I have while writing this post.
There is always hope. And, indeed, Hope. And, if you look at it the right way, you can always just about avoid being beyond Hope.
Turns out I am not in any way ready, certainly not in the current circumstances of isolating in the house, unable to exercise due to my shoulder, in the shortest days of the year, to live life without my anti-depressants. I had hoped - indeed, I had made the decision in the hope that - giving up on the tablets would let the creative voices back in. Turns out those voices haven't come back in any substantial way, and instead I'm lumbered with all the naggingly insistent voices that crowd out the good stuff. So, instead of suddenly rediscovering my creative mojo, I've spent a while trying to hide away from the bad stuff. Which has thoroughly sucked.
Alternative strategy: use the tablets, find other ways to mine my creativity. The first one is a definite decision. The second is still more of a wishlist than a strategy, but we'll get there. One thing I've been trying to do is to write whatever comes into my head rather than insisting on making progress on These Matters. Perhaps I'll be able to put together the last parts of book IV and get it published, then unload all this other stuff onto 'paper'. Or, alternatively, I'll just end up wasting a load of time looking at memes!
I'm not sure what it is about the BBC and the way they do things, and it might be wrapped up in elitism and old-boy networks and all that sort of thing, but undoubtedly when they (it?) go(es) for it... His Dark Materials is the sort of story that you wish you'd thought of, much more so than Harry Potter (despite the commercial success of the latter), because it really is a story that is worth telling. It's also told in a much more compelling way (in the books) and that comes out in both the first series and the current, second one.
What's made me write about it? Well, if you watch carefully and know me well, you may have guessed this already. I had forgotten entirely the character of Mary Malone and was entirely unprepared for the exchange where she asks Lyra what she did before she became a physicist. The idea of a crisis of faith and an abandonment of holy orders - for reasons that I cannot articulate and have never been able to - makes me weep. There is something in me that is desperate for the certainty of faith, and a great chunk of my own writing has been discussing the failed relationship between one of my characters and God. In that context, in the 1540s, in a time when religion was more-or-less a non-negotiable fact of life, the people around him all point him back to God. They talk about faith, and about how God is truly real to them in a way that Strelley, for all his worldly knowledge, cannot follow. To him - and to me - the comfort of faith, the knowledge that there is a something better, is denied.
It would be wrong for me to speak of a crisis of faith in my own life, I think. I have never had it, but there is something, the presence of The Church (or a church, or a churchman) in some of my moments of great distress, a connection that refuses to go away completely. It is as though my atheism is a thoroughly Christian atheism, and this is not entirely helped by my current work situation, because I am reminded of how little most actual Christians (the young ones in particular) know about what their religion is supposed to be about, and I end up getting involved. I'm no Bible scholar, but there are plenty of times when you say things that don't seem to hit home in quite the right way either with the kids or the staff, a lot of whom at least give out that they believe in all the metaphysical stuff.
So here we are, then: I wish I could, in my moments of depression and anxiety (it is very much the first that is the risk at the moment), talk to God, even if it is just to be heard. I could even imagine not asking anything (neither the selfish stuff nor the intercession for others), and just being at ease with the idea that there is a greater power and that my depression is greater than me. But I cannot. God, to me, is a cantankerous being that watches over me and puts obstacles in way, with whom I bargain when I struck by grief or anger, but to whom I do not turn in my joy. And that is it: I do not need God for most of the time. So, when I really do need Him, he is not there.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought