Firstly we were reminded by social media that last Friday, July 27, it was six years since the magnificent opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. Just six short years, but it might as well have been a lifetime ago. It was more than a little upsetting to watch again that wonderful, exciting, thoughtfully put together cultural event. It was, rightly, a source of national pride. A whole army of committed volunteers were prepared to work their socks off in order to present a piece of large-scale outdoor theatre that depicted British values and institutions which at the time (poor naïve fools that we were) we took for granted.
What has happened to our country since then? How have we travelled so far from Danny Boyle’s warm-hearted and celebratory vision of Britain’s diversity, inclusivity and community spirit?
It is too depressing to list what we appear to have lost – or are in danger of losing (the NHS, for example) – and the ways in which we have allowed those with the loudest voices and most divisive opinions dictate the conversation.
Empathy is in pretty short supply these days which is why the arts are more important than ever. Literature is one of the many artforms that help nurture empathy and there was some good news this month with the latest figures showing that British publishing houses had a record year in 2017 with a collective rise in book sales of five per cent.
Also, call me old-fashioned, but what pleased me most about the figures was the fact that physical book sales were up again and digital and e-book sales continue to go down. There is something comforting about sitting down to immerse yourself in a story that expands your mind and horizons, that explores the human condition and reminds us how much we all have in common. We could perhaps all do with taking time to savour such simple, escapist, pleasures at the moment.
On a more uplifting note – the other significant anniversary was the bicentenary, on Monday this week, of the birth of Emily Brontë. The most mysterious of the literary siblings, there is very little known about Emily, much less than about Charlotte, Anne or even Branwell. In a way, that is a good thing – it means that her work is free to speak for itself, uncluttered by biographical detail. And there is such a thing as over-analysis. I can’t imagine Emily herself having much truck with that. Instead we have her brilliant, visceral and at times disturbing novel – not a romantic love story at all, as it is so often charaterised, but a clear-eyed observation of family dysfunction and destructive passion – and her exquisite, much-admired poetry. When it all gets too much, you’ll find me up on the ‘wily, windy moors’ with the spirit of Emily.