One tries one’s very best to look on the bright side and unearth the silver lining, however deeply it is buried and however malodourous the thing that is burying it. Lately, however, I encountered a couple of moments for which the opportunity was not immediately obvious. You know? The kind of thing that rocks you back and has you say: “Aw, man.”
Obviously it’s only American teenagers who actually say “Aw, man” in real life. Or at least the American teenager who lives in my head does.
“Aw, man,” said the teenager to the news that the newspaper in my home town has gone into administration. Not that it’s a particularly surprising thing – eviscerated by the internet and squashed by the weight of pension funds, old-fashioned fold up and wrap your chips print papers simply don’t make any kind of economic sense these days. But the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald seemed to be bucking the trend. Obviously, it has been a fixture at my parents’ weekend breakfast tables for as long as I can remember – nothing having officially happened until it’s in the Herald. And then, what with one thing and another, I’d been subscribing myself lately. It still has the kind of energy you get from a high story count and the certainty that the words, even the ones about whist drives and domino nights, matter to someone. And that’s not an aura that many papers have these days, mostly they have the atmosphere of a solitary Saturday night in a student flat three doors down from party you weren’t invited to.
It goes without saying that the fat lady isn’t singing yet. There’s an appeal for rescue, a campaign and lots of sad-face emojis on the internet. Fingers crossed.
A couple of days earlier, Boy Three had skipped home bursting with the news that he’d won a writing competition and that his story (100 excellent words on a broom that resolves its existential crisis) had been picked from 13,000 others to go into an actual book. And he had a certificate. Proud hardly covered it.
Then we looked a little closer.
The certificate came with a badly written letter urging parents to grant permission for their child’s tale to be published by means of a handy order form. And, while we’re at it, the £15.99 book (or three for the price of two makes an ideal gift for grandparents) can be paid for in one of three ways. Hmmm.
The nearly published author paused mid swagger to say that more than a dozen of his classmates were also celebrating writing contest glory that evening. Hmmmm.
What kind of amoral ratbags build a business by exploiting trust – children’s, teachers’ and parents’? And they’ve been doing it for years, heedless of the heartbreak and tears caused as their con exposes itself, time and time again. It makes me feel sick with impotent fury – at them and, a little bit, at the school for picking this creative writing scheme above all the good-hearted legitimate ones without checking. Oh, also for the law (or lack of it) that means there’s nothing I can really do to stop these slimy pond dregs from fooling others over again. And for invading my look-on-the-bright side positive outlook with rock-solid evidence that everyone isn’t always doing their best, and human nature is a fickle thing.