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Old 09-17-2019, 07:59 PM   #46
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astrangerhere mentioned Floss, and the strong bond between man and dog. I noted down the section (Chapter 24 in Winter) where Rebanks wrote about training Floss, and the enjoyment the dog has in her work.

Quote:
I call her back and show her what I meant. She almost smiles as she comes back to my feet. I feel blessed to have a dog that can work like this.
It was this section which reminded me of a book I read a very long time ago by a now obscure English author called Constance Holme. In her first novel, published in 1913, she had a section I have never forgotten about a sheep farmer working with a sheepdog he rescued from her abusive owner, and the knowledge of how to work with the sheep that had been bred into these dogs over many generations.

When I got the book down from the shelf and started reading it, I realised that the setting was the same. Holme lived and set her books in Westmorland, which in the 1970s was combined with Cumberland to become Cumbria. While the story was a bit melodramatic, the section I remembered, which took place at a sheepdog trial, was very good indeed.
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Old 09-17-2019, 11:06 PM   #47
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His older girl is already quite serious about becoming a veterinarian. She started secondary school this week (he posted proud dad photos). She has been birthing sheep on the farm since she was 4 and is able to do it without any assistance. His middle girl loves to paint and cook like her mother, and also loves school. His son, who I think is just now 3, is the likely candidate. He loves farm toys, the dogs and the sheep. However, all three children had very expensive sheep bought for them to start their own flocks should they want them one day.
Wanting to be a vet when starting secondary school is cute, wanting to be a vet when finishing secondary school is serious (especially given the marks required - I assume that is still the case).

Yep, I had farm toys too, but I didn't end up farming, nor (as the examples may be) driving trucks or flying planes. I had a toy kangaroo and now live on a bush block I share with many 'roos - maybe that counts.

And unless these expensive sheep are embryos on ice, waiting to be raised when the children are grown, then I see this sort of as a convenient fiction: a way to help the children feel involved in the farm. (Let's face it, his 3yo son is not ready to make life and death decisions regarding his own flock.) It's a good thing for the kids, but it's even better for the father: he gets happier kids and he gets to justify his own pick of expensive sheep that he wants in his flock.

All I really mean is that these are nice family-life images (albeit not from the book), but they don't actually offer much in the way of predictive value. The daughter that likes to cook might end up a chemist. In my experience the fact that the author tells us he knew exactly what he wanted at 13yo, and that wish remained static throughout his life, is more the exception than the rule these days, a late hang-over, perhaps, from the relative isolation of the district and the long standing male hegemony - especially of his own family.

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I would agree with you on this, Bookworm_Girl. While there are certainly places in the book where he demonstrates a rather male-centric view, the overall impression I got was that a shepherd is a shepherd, and that it isn't a gender-specific noun.
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He also wrote approvingly of Beatrix Heelis (Potter) and her work. I certainly had the impression that he is proud of all three of his children, and doesn’t see his daughters as in any way less important than his son.
For me this was yet another example of the self-contradictions that spread through the book. There are so many statements that could (and possibly did) originate with his grandfather, and then there are hints (mostly in the latter part of the book) that we see of what he accepts as the reality now. But (as far as what is actually in the book goes) it's almost as if he hasn't noticed any change himself.
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Old 09-18-2019, 12:19 AM   #48
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astrangerhere mentioned Floss, and the strong bond between man and dog. I noted down the section (Chapter 24 in Winter) where Rebanks wrote about training Floss, and the enjoyment the dog has in her work.



It was this section which reminded me of a book I read a very long time ago by a now obscure English author called Constance Holme. In her first novel, published in 1913, she had a section I have never forgotten about a sheep farmer working with a sheepdog he rescued from her abusive owner, and the knowledge of how to work with the sheep that had been bred into these dogs over many generations.

When I got the book down from the shelf and started reading it, I realised that the setting was the same. Holme lived and set her books in Westmorland, which in the 1970s was combined with Cumberland to become Cumbria. While the story was a bit melodramatic, the section I remembered, which took place at a sheepdog trial, was very good indeed.
For a peek at sheepdog trials, have a look at




(There are LOTS of examples, but this is one of the better runs I remember, and a beautiful dog indeed. )
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Old 09-18-2019, 01:36 AM   #49
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I loved this! Thanks Charlie!
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Old 09-18-2019, 08:21 AM   #50
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I have two instincts at war with each other.

A fixed philosophy for me is that the book is the book and outside information is irrelevant. On the other hand, especially with non-fiction, extraneous matter adds to the interest and certainly to the discussion!

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Wanting to be a vet when starting secondary school is cute, wanting to be a vet when finishing secondary school is serious (especially given the marks required - I assume that is still the case).

Yep, I had farm toys too, but I didn't end up farming, nor (as the examples may be) driving trucks or flying planes. I had a toy kangaroo and now live on a bush block I share with many 'roos - maybe that counts.

And unless these expensive sheep are embryos on ice, waiting to be raised when the children are grown, then I see this sort of as a convenient fiction: a way to help the children feel involved in the farm. (Let's face it, his 3yo son is not ready to make life and death decisions regarding his own flock.) It's a good thing for the kids, but it's even better for the father: he gets happier kids and he gets to justify his own pick of expensive sheep that he wants in his flock.

All I really mean is that these are nice family-life images (albeit not from the book), but they don't actually offer much in the way of predictive value. The daughter that likes to cook might end up a chemist. In my experience the fact that the author tells us he knew exactly what he wanted at 13yo, and that wish remained static throughout his life, is more the exception than the rule these days, a late hang-over, perhaps, from the relative isolation of the district and the long standing male hegemony - especially of his own family.
This is my take on the situation, but I couldn't have expressed it as well.

I'm not saying that Rebanks doesn't love and cherish all his children equally and want each to reach his or her full potential. He's a modern father. But based on the evidence of the book, which for me slants terribly in the direction of the male tradition and lineage especially given his unalloyed worship of his grandfather, I can help wondering to what extent a thousand mild influences and prejudices, even unwitting, have led his kids to express their preferences which just happen to be in line with the Salic law.

I don't have an issue with someone's choosing to be a traditional farmwife (or a much less traditional farmhusband ) and if that's the basis for Rebanks's marriage and homelife, more power to them. It's his attitude toward the women of an earlier generation who had few if any options, his grandmother and mother who were clearly under their husbands' dominion, the farmwives who, according to him, stuff the men to the detriment of their work (this really bothered me), the teachers who were in a difficult situation and probably not out of full agency - well, I just don't see him as a poster boy for equal opportunity. I also doubt he's aware of this undercurrent, but to be fair, it seems most readers don't sense it either - I can't judge to what extent I'm reading things into this or projecting, but I don't think I'm entirely wrong, either.

Still, this doesn't matter much. I don't have to like an author to find his memoir compelling. This one didn't reach that level for me; it was full of interest but it was pedestrian in the telling, to me, and lacked the level of self-awareness I like to find.
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Old 09-18-2019, 10:13 AM   #51
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[...] Still, this doesn't matter much. I don't have to like an author to find his memoir compelling. This one didn't reach that level for me; it was full of interest but it was pedestrian in the telling, to me, and lacked the level of self-awareness I like to find.
I haven't read or followed anything else from James Rebanks, so I am working only from what I read in this book and what I see other people saying of is online presence. He got me offside from the opening sentence of his book, and this made it much harder for me to look kindly on anything more.

For example I've been sitting on the what I post below, not really sure whether I should air this. issybird you speak of instincts at war with each other, and for me the idea of offering what seems such personal criticism feels wrong to me, a literary critique should not be personal, but how can we possibly discuss reactions to a memoir like this without getting personal?

What follows relates to what you were saying about a lack of self-awareness, and I think that is probably at the core of what irks me about this book; the constant stream of contradictions that he doesn't seem to recognise.


Quote from the book:
Quote:
I wonder whether any of them see the wall my grandfather built, or care that it stands, or wonder who built it.
And while in Oxford, did he ask himself who raised those walls or laid that pavement, or built that desk he was sitting at? As a man steeped in tradition, didn't he sit in awe of the history that surrounded him? (I get that feeling just by watching an episode of Lewis.)

My guess is that it was more likely the Lake District tourist had asked the question, than he had; he seemed to show no interest at all in Oxford or its inhabitants. I get the impression the author has never been a tourist anywhere; to be somewhere (other than home) simply to watch and wonder. Do this and he might better understand those that are invade his home lands.

And this surprised me:
Quote:
Dad hadn’t wanted to do the picnic anyway, they had a minor row, and we retreated back to the farm. Fell walkers we weren’t.
Why not? As I grew up we had multiple places on the farm worth holding picnics on: family time, and the farm was part of the family. Or I could lose whole afternoons wandering our property alone, watching for finches, hoping to see robins and so on (okay, and I admit it, sometimes with the destructive intention of shooting rabbits). As I read this book I imagined having the fells to explore and simply could not understand his lack of interest.

It seemed yet another self-contradiction in the book. He professes a love of the landscape, supposedly inherited from his grandfather and father, and yet never explored the fells for their own sake? No wonder they cannot understand the intruders (tourists).

So when we get statements like:
Quote:
sometimes think we are so independently minded because we have seen just enough of the wider world to know we like our own old ways and independence best
I see not independence but blind ignorance, plain and simple. I'm not arguing that ultra-modern living is better, but I am arguing that other livelihoods have value to anyone that will take the time to understand them. It seems a very conservative mindset: anything unknown is pointless and worthless. (At best; sometimes they believe it is inherently bad and should be abolished.) I got quite sick of seeing this view scattered through the book. I had expected to be told about the joys of his life, not listen to him dismiss mine as unworthy. It quite disrupted my enjoyment of the parts of the book that spoke of things I did want to know about.
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Old 09-18-2019, 11:46 AM   #52
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I see not independence but blind ignorance, plain and simple. I'm not arguing that ultra-modern living is better, but I am arguing that other livelihoods have value to anyone that will take the time to understand them.
I think this is what bothered me the most about this book, even as I rated it 4 stars and quite enjoyed it overall, I still come back to the, for want of a better word, glorification of ignorance. It started early and never really went away.
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Old 09-18-2019, 03:20 PM   #53
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I think this is what bothered me the most about this book, even as I rated it 4 stars and quite enjoyed it overall, I still come back to the, for want of a better word, glorification of ignorance. It started early and never really went away.
I think I saw this less as a glorification of ignorance and more a glorification of "other." I think this speaks to me more uniquely as I am from the American South. Many folks hear my accent and assume many, many things about me, very few of which are true. But I will own that there are people who have base-level literacy that are better craftsmen, farmers and artists than me and my doctorate will ever be.

I think that is the point he might have been trying to make - that these people are living on land that has been sustained for hundreds of years by people who have very little education beyond the dirt on their hands.

I don't truck with praising ignorance, but I also don't truck with the notion that intelligence means the same thing for everyone. I am sure that this underpinned his writing, whether he meant it or not.

Either way, I am really glad to see such thoughtful discussion of the book
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Old 09-18-2019, 10:28 PM   #54
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Victoria, our fathers shared a birthday! Mine would have been 91 on Sunday. But he grew up in New York City; no farmer boy he........

(Although did anyone else cringe early on when he took a swig from the milk carton? That had to be deliberate in establishing his character.) .........

Ultimately this was polemic, the sense that he was harranguing us.
Issybird, how neat that they shared a birthday! Coincidentally, my father’s family was from New York as well, albeit 4 generations back. However, they were from Staten Island, so perhaps still the country?

Yes - I cringed when he swigged from the carton, and I frequently felt lectured.

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....For example I've been sitting on the what I post below, not really sure whether I should air this. issybird you speak of instincts at war with each other, and for me the idea of offering what seems such personal criticism feels wrong to me, a literary critique should not be personal, but how can we possibly discuss reactions to a memoir like this without getting personal?

What follows relates to what you were saying about a lack of self-awareness, and I think that is probably at the core of what irks me about this book; the constant stream of contradictions that he doesn't seem to recognise.


Quote from the book:

And while in Oxford, did he ask himself who raised those walls or laid that pavement, or built that desk he was sitting at? As a man steeped in tradition, didn't he sit in awe of the history that surrounded him? (I get that feeling just by watching an episode of Lewis.)

My guess is that it was more likely the Lake District tourist had asked the question, than he had; he seemed to show no interest at all in Oxford or its inhabitants. I get the impression the author has never been a tourist anywhere; to be somewhere (other than home) simply to watch and wonder. Do this and he might better understand those that are invade his home lands.

And this surprised me:
Why not? As I grew up we had multiple places on the farm worth holding picnics on: family time, and the farm was part of the family. Or I could lose whole afternoons wandering our property alone, watching for finches, hoping to see robins and so on (okay, and I admit it, sometimes with the destructive intention of shooting rabbits). As I read this book I imagined having the fells to explore and simply could not understand his lack of interest.

It seemed yet another self-contradiction in the book. He professes a love of the landscape, supposedly inherited from his grandfather and father, and yet never explored the fells for their own sake? No wonder they cannot understand the intruders (tourists).

I had expected to be told about the joys of his life, not listen to him dismiss mine as unworthy. It quite disrupted my enjoyment of the parts of the book that spoke of things I did want to know about.
Gmw

So well said! I had many of the same perspectives and feelings reading the book. A lightbulb went on for me in your earlier post, when you described the dynamic of the three generations of men as extreme isolationism.

One of the many times it struck me was when he talked about outsiders not traveling to their area until 1750, with the advent of roads and railways.

“I’d be annoyed to discover that no one from the outside seems to have thought it beautiful or a place to visit until then....”

It surprised me that anyone could feel personally slighted by a major transformation in cultural and industrial history 250 years earlier, which had altered the live and fortune of almost every person alive in the country.

I know it’s not fair for me to give too much weight to any one passage. But the impression I got from reading the full book was a world view characterized by “us against the world”.

I didn’t strike me as just a reflection of a general Northern attitude towards outsiders, or even the smaller enclave of shepherds. It seemed personal and familial. Like the rest of us, Rebanks is a work in progress.

My guess is that he was a very bright boy who, sadly, felt that an interest in school, books, and the outside world was a personal betrayal of his grandfather and father. Maybe, as you point out, joy, leisure, exploration and beauty were also verboten. He’s still squirming on that hook, and projects it outward, probably unintentionally.

Though I didn’t appreciate the lecturing tone, I do admire how he’s harnessed his life energy for good.

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I think I saw this less as a glorification of ignorance and more a glorification of "other." I think this speaks to me more uniquely as I am from the American South. Many folks hear my accent and assume many, many things about me, very few of which are true. But I will own that there are people who have base-level literacy that are better craftsmen, farmers and artists than me and my doctorate will ever be.

I think that is the point he might have been trying to make - that these people are living on land that has been sustained for hundreds of years by people who have very little education beyond the dirt on their hands.

I don't truck with praising ignorance, but I also don't truck with the notion that intelligence means the same thing for everyone. I am sure that this underpinned his writing, whether he meant it or not.

Either way, I am really glad to see such thoughtful discussion of the book
Astrangerhere. You're so right - the world is very quick to dismiss the intelligence and resourcefulness of others based on superficial criteria, like formal education. Rebanks does speak with pride and passion about the people of his community and the their heritage. And the same values must underpin his work with UNESCO.

It is a thoughtful discussion, and I really appreciate being introduced to the book, and learning about James Rebanks and the the world he’s writing about and fighting to save. Thank you!

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Old 09-18-2019, 10:32 PM   #55
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I do find the disparate reactions intriguing. I cannot see it as a glorification of "other" because the narrator is not talking about "other" but of "self". Time and again through this book we find the author rejecting "other". And he doesn't even seem to realise that a lot of the "other" he's rejecting isn't really so different to him after all.

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Old 09-19-2019, 09:52 AM   #56
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Disparate reactions indeed, but then, that's fairly normal for the Club!

I read this book as being about a particular place and a particular way of life. Rebanks doesn't talk much about Oxford because that's not what the book is about. That is, he is writing about life as a shepherd, not life as a student in Oxford. So yes, of course he touches on various aspects of his life, such as school, going to Oxford at a later stage, mentions UNESCO, and so on. But these parts of his life aren't what the book is about.

I don't think it is reasonable to berate him or call him blindly ignorant to other ways of life because he doesn't write about them. They aren't a part of his life as a shepherd.

As for astrangerhere's reference to the "other", I interpreted her as referring to another way of life from the way of life of the vast majority of us, living in cities, getting our food (wrapped in plastic) from the supermarket, and so on. That for me was certainly the real interest and enjoyment in this book: showing me something of a very different way of life from the one I know. While I don't like Rebanks' writing style, I did find the content interesting.

I do agree with issybird's comments about the lives of the women, but while it isn't a life I would like, it could well suit Mrs Rebanks down to the ground, which is fine. The conservative attitudes and the way in which the women seemed to be second-class citizens didn't really surprise me.

So in summary, I think I enjoyed the book more than several members did, though I did find his style (or lack of it) an irritation.
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:13 PM   #57
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Originally Posted by CRussel View Post
For a peek at sheepdog trials, have a look at




(There are LOTS of examples, but this is one of the better runs I remember, and a beautiful dog indeed. )
Thanks Charlie - I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was interesting to see how quietly the commands were given - a very smart dog.
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Old 09-19-2019, 11:18 PM   #58
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Disparate reactions indeed, but then, that's fairly normal for the Club!

I read this book as being about a particular place and a particular way of life. Rebanks doesn't talk much about Oxford because that's not what the book is about. That is, he is writing about life as a shepherd, not life as a student in Oxford. So yes, of course he touches on various aspects of his life, such as school, going to Oxford at a later stage, mentions UNESCO, and so on. But these parts of his life aren't what the book is about.

I don't think it is reasonable to berate him or call him blindly ignorant to other ways of life because he doesn't write about them. They aren't a part of his life as a shepherd. [...]
Had he stuck to life as a shepherd I would not have been inclined to berate, but he does write about other ways of life, mostly with indirect or implied scorn, but sometimes directly:
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He asked what I made of the other students, so I told him. They were OK, but they were all very similar; they struggled to have different opinions because they’d never failed at anything or been nobodies, and they thought they would always win. But this isn’t most people’s experience of life. He asked me what could be done about it. I told him the answer was to send them all out for a year to do some dead-end job like working in a chicken-processing plant or spreading muck with a tractor. It would do more good than a gap year in Peru. He laughed and thought this tremendously witty. It wasn’t meant to be funny.
This observation stood out because it seemed to me that there was no evidence he actually knew these people he was criticising. He earlier spoke of people coming to his land and learning nothing of the reality of life there, and yet he can come out with this? What's the bet that if you drop one of these students in the middle of the Lake District they will see the shepherds as "all very similar"? We always see those foreign to us in this way, it takes time and familiarity to change this view. And how does he know these people have never failed or been nobodies? And what is it with this "nobodies" thing anyway? Doesn't he see that he is belittling his own existence with such a statement? (He is effectively saying, about himself, and many others besides, exactly the sort of thing he complains about hearing from others.)

I do have some sympathy with the idea that people should spend some with the "other", it can help us to learn that difference is often not where we expected it to be. But we only learn this if we open ourselves to the experience, if we let the foreign become familiar, and the author's writing of Oxford suggests this didn't happen.
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Old 09-20-2019, 12:48 AM   #59
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It's past time that I stopped picking on the author and take up what I think could be considered the book's more interesting aspect...

How important is it that these ways of life are preserved, and to what extent, and in what form?

The Wikipedia article about the Lake District Economy says "Sheep farming remains important both for the economy of the region and for preserving the landscape which visitors want to see." Rebanks made a similar observation about the sheep playing an important part of maintaining the landscape. But that's the sheep, not the shepherds or the farming lifestyle.

And Wikipedia about the Herdwick sheep says "Herdwicks survive largely due to farming subsidies and the aid of the British National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty."

So it's costing money to keep this system going. Rebanks himself gave us this quote from Beatrix Potter:
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I respectfully maintain that work, business and the undisturbed customary use of centuries should be set before idle amusement.
Mrs Heelis (Beatrix Potter) in a letter to The Times,January 1912, objecting to an aeroplane factory on the shores of Windermere
Rebanks gave us this for the words "undisturbed customary use", but we might equally well highlight "work, business" and "before idle amusement". If we end up supporting this culture only to enable the idle amusement of the tourists then we have to consider such business details as return on investment, and the possibility some better business model may be proposed in the future. After all, how many, no longer economic, traditional lifestyles are we supposed to keep going?

The way things are headed, it is possible to envisage the Lake District being turned into something like this Pioneer Settlement (in Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia), where there are "attractions" and "rides and cruises" staffed by actors in fancy dress. Okay, those like the blacksmith must know something of the work, but their livelihood depends on their tourist value, their decorative skills not their practical skills. So I can imagine a future in which the shepherds exist not to earn a living as shepherds, but to earn a living as tourist attractions and as maintenance personnel for the fells.

Not saying I like it, but I could see it happening ... perhaps even in the next generation.

Think of the economies of scale and the possible advantages to the sheep where a large company runs things and keeps trained veterinarians on hand for professional health care. And machines like those they have in vineyards to pick grapes, but these put the rock walls back together (maybe a bit of invisible glue or mortar here and there because they will last longer and the tourists won't notice). And so on.
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Old 09-20-2019, 07:53 AM   #60
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Do you know, I had a lot of fellow-feeling with Rebanks over that quote, gmw. I rather suspect that he summed up the "silver spoon" brigade pretty accurately. Everything handed to them on a plate, and no struggle or failure as they swanned through their privileged lives, sent to a public school (in the UK sense) with no expense spared, and the way made smooth for them to get into Oxford. Supported all the way by mummy and daddy, without any need to get any work to keep themselves.

Thanks for the various links you gave above. I shall certainly have a look at them. On the matter of subsidising various industries, we used to have a textile industry, car manufacturing industry and all sorts of other forms of work in Australia, which were subsidised in order to keep them going. Not a lot of it still going now.

I think there is an argument for subsidising industries, not just as stage-dressing or as a theme park, but because it gives decent honest work to people who would otherwise not have it. And that of course is very true of the UK, which now has had several generations of people in the north who have no work.
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