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The next generation will be far more radical than us.


The current popularity of Jeremy Corbyn amongst Labour party members raises some intriguing issues. I am observing the debates with a detached interest. For my generation of centre-left liberals, Corbyn strikes me as the blatantly unelectable candidate. However, I get a strange sense that times are changing. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Jeremy would seriously struggle to garner wide scale support in the country right now, but in ten or fifteen years time, we could be looking at an entirely new political landscape.
My sense is telling me, that the current government are radicalizing young Britons in a way that hasn’t happened since the 50s and 60s, the only other era in modern memory when opportunities were so cruelly limited for the upcoming generations.
Everyone is conservative (with a small ‘c’) when they are comfortable and have something to lose and opportunities to look forward to. Young people now have nothing but huge debt and a shrinking jobs market and soaring house prices to anticipate in the future.
As soon as this generation, punished the most by austerity, reaches the age at which they can vote, it will change everything. A ‘leftie’ leader like Corbyn may appear to reflect their needs far better than the smooth, soundbite delivering career politicians my age group are more comfortable with.
I don’t believe we can be complacent or dismissive of this type of shift. Look at what’s happened in my homeland of Scotland, not so very long ago the heartland of Labour, now entirely dominated by the SNP.
Cameron and Osborne are obviously not setting out to radicalize the youth of Britain. But this consequence will be the result of alienating young people and brutally curtailing their life chances and opportunities.
In the 80s and 90s, I received a first class state education and higher education without accruing any siginificant debt. If I hadn’t gone on to take my teacher training qualification as a mature student then I wouldn’t have needed a student loan at all. It’s hard to be angry and radical when you’ve been treated so well by society. I’m comfortable and privileged, despite not coming from a wealthy background. That is the experience that every citizen of a progressive society should have.
It provides benefits for the government too. We work hard and want to give something back. And we are, for the most part, agreeable and pliable.
I genuinely don’t know how the next generation will view their society. It will be different, for sure. They’re bound to be more angry and more politicized than I ever was. To them, a candidate like Corbyn may be the more natural choice. It will be fascinating to see how it pans out. For authors like myself, the challenge will be to understand and capture this shift in attitudes and reflect it accurately in our work.


Is it still bad manners to read at the table?


My daughter is at that age when she reads constantly. Her books are scattered around the house and she will peruse them anywhere, from halfway up the stairs to sitting on the toilet. And we would not dream of stopping her. It’s what we’ve been encouraging her to do since she first learnt her letters.

But a new dilemma has reared its head. The books now come with us when we go out. If the conversation veers into boring grown up territory, at a restaurant or at somebody’s house, the paperback pops up and the nose gets promptly buried within its pages. So, is this okay? I distinctly recall being told, in no uncertain terms, when I was a child, that reading at the table was bad manners. But these were the days before smartphones and ipads. Now, a book seems like the least offensive article that your offspring could suddenly produce during a social gathering.

So we let her, adopting the rationale that she’s sitting there with us, not in another room in front of a technical device of some description. Does this really mean that it is now accepted practice to read at a table in a restaurant?

If children are handed out free crayons and a sheet of colouring in along with the menus, then I’m saying yes. Gone are the days when we remained silent and bored while the adults happily conversed.

Or is this simply a case of self justification in the face of patently having failed where my parents succeeded?

I sense it is more than that. The art of reading a paper bound novel really isn’t going to last forever. I feel strangely certain of that. So, if my daughter or son wishes to read a book then I’m sure as heck not going to stop them. Wherever they might choose to do it.

Are we correct to set so much store by dressing ‘smartly’?


So, despite being a world championship winner, Lewis Hamilton was refused entry to the royal box at Wimbledon for being too casually dressed. Gary Lineker described the action as ”England at its pompous worst”.
I’m inclined to agree, although the debacle did make me smile a little. My son and daughter will be required to wear ties as part of their primary school uniform come September. I’ll be buying them this week.
I suppose we’ve been lucky to avoid it for so long. But it’s going to be a wrench, especially after a lengthy summer break spent in nothing but t-shirts and swimsuits. My two children object even to the feel of the soft collar of a rugby top beneath their jumpers, let alone a stiff shirt with clip-on tie.
My offspring do not attend a private school, where such formality is more or less obligatory. But there is a new Headmaster at their state primary. He’s keen to place his mark on the institution and inculcate positive behaviour and habits amongst the pupils. Needless to say, the children already possess these characteristics. However, in these days of healthy competition and the need for strong social media profiles, the children’s good habits have to be more visible and obvious to the outside world.
I’m not a total liberal when it comes to this kind of thing. I like school uniforms because they remove the danger of children being viewed purely in terms of what clothing their parents can afford to buy for them. It creates a level playing field. My view, though, is that a less formal get-up is preferable. Sticking to burgundy tops and grey bottoms has worked very well for us up to now. If children are comfortable, warm and relaxed, they will learn better, is my humble view.
I wore no uniform in my own primary school. We weren’t required to wear uniform in the sixth form of my secondary school either. This practice would be unheard of in the modern day, but I loved it. When studying for ‘A’ Levels, when most of us had Saturday jobs and a bit of spare cash, we could express ourselves through our choice of clothing. This freedom of expression went hand-in-hand with choosing our own paths in life. We weren’t little school kids any more, forced to conform.
It surely couldn’t have done me any harm, could it? Clearly it has not, but I suspect that having been used to a relaxed dress code has perhaps made the concept of ‘power dressing’ one that I cannot seriously adhere to in adulthood. When I see the women on The Apprentice, tottering about in high heels and pencil skirts, in the assumption that this makes them perceived as better businesswomen it makes me inwardly sigh. In most modern industries, we are judged on our performance, not our dress code. I have been either a teacher or a writer for the majority of my career, neither jobs requiring super-smart outfits to be worn on a regular basis (although that doesn’t stop some people, I can assure you).
My husband has often complained that women have more flexibility in their choice of clothing than men. He always has to wear a suit and tie, even in the height of summer. But how long will this tradition survive? Richard Branson pours scorn on the concept and the IT and creative industries have always been notoriously ‘casual’ about staff attire.
Actually, I think the practice is getting more ingrained. It’s the fault of clever marketing, of course, jumbled up with old-fashioned traditions and an innate desire to belong to a particular institution or group. Uniforms are tribal, almost. Or am I making too much of it? My children will simply look smarter and more business-like in their ties and buttoned-up shirts, won’t they?
Hmm, I’m still not sold on the concept. When ties were brought into the uniform for girls when I was in the fifth year at school (they’d always been worn by the boys) we quickly adopted ways of making them more individual. The girls tried to make theirs as wide as possible and the boys as thin (a ‘peanut’). There will always be nonconformists.
The cynical side of me wonders why dress codes are still being enforced in the modern age. Why should we let anyone tell us what to wear – one of the most personal decisions a person can make? Does freedom of choice in clothing suggest some kind of breakdown of the social hierarchy? Would anarchy ensue? No, of course it wouldn’t, but there would be greater freedom to question. We would have more confidence in ourselves as individuals, less likely to act as part of the herd. This is what Richard Branson recognises. He wants his workforce to be unconstrained by such conventions. He wants them to be inventive and original, to be ‘better’ than the received wisdom.
I will still dress formally when the situation warrants it, but there is always that little part of me that wants to put on jeans and canvas shoes to attend a ‘black tie’ event. Mind you, I’d probably get turned away, just like Lewis Hamilton, then it might prove to be nothing but an empty gesture.

How many great thrillers are set during summer?


The heatwave that we are enjoying in the UK right now has got me thinking. The weather is perfect for plonking yourself down in a sun lounger with a great book. As it happens, my latest DCI Dani Bevan novel, Dark As Night, is set during a rare Glasgow heatwave. But just how many other crime books take the summer months as their backdrop?
I must admit that the majority of my ten novels are set during autumn and winter. These ‘darker’ months just seem to lend themselves better to the creation of atmospheric tension and foreboding which goes hand-in-hand with the mystery genre.
In Dark As Night, the dramatic tension is built instead, by the close humidity and the climax of the story is precipitated by a sudden, violent storm. To make the atmosphere right, there have to be some dark clouds lurking on the horizon, ready to ruin that clear blue sky.
So how many great thrillers have been set during summer? One of my personal favourites is Barbara Vine’s (the pen name of Ruth Rendell) ‘A Fatal Inversion’, where the oppressive heat of a hot summer spent at an old country house in Suffolk is the scene for a tense drama of intrigue and murder. Yet, this particular book is more about psychological twists and turns than it is about true ‘things that go bump in the night’ horror.
Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and Ten Little Indians, use the fierce heat of their locations to evoke an oppressive atmosphere which facilitates murder.
I believe that ‘summer crime’ can certainly work, although we use the word ‘chilling’in conjunction with a great thriller for good reasons. If you really want to put the frighteners on your reader, a book has got to make their ‘blood run cold’and this is very rarely achieved by transporting them to a warm, sunny day.

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