Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ignorance is not a traditional value

Yesterday I saw yet more evidence that while, on the one hand, it is churches who claim to be the champions of community and local identity it is their members who, in practice, are fast destroying both. This example would be simply hilarious if it were not so startling and very, very dumb.
We were looking for a child’s birthday present, so thought we’d do the right thing by getting something that would encourage the child to learn something and also looking for it in a proper local bookshop, rather than Waterstones.
While there a bloke I’d take to be a fairly new resident came in and asked the staff for assistance. He had friends coming from across, and as they’d be here at the end of October, wanted to give them a suitable book on Manx folklore which might explain Hop Tu Naa.
For non-Manx readers, Hop Tu Naa is the Manx variant of those Halloween customs whereby kids dress up and go door to door asking for treats. The fun bit is they get to dress in witch costumes, but to get the treats they must also (a) carry a carved turnip lamp and (b) successfully sing the Hop Tu Naa song. So, most would agree, harmless fun stuff that gets kids away from the Playstation and keeps local tradition going.
Apparently not the shop assistant, who froze as if asked if they had anything on practical Satanism and child sacrifice, after a few seconds said, rather stiffly, they didn’t stock “that sort of thing” and then, when asked who did, uttered the phrase which is enough to get you slung out of the Independent Book Retailers Association, “Try W.H. Smiths”.
Seeing all this, and in particular the bloke’s dazed expression as he headed for the door, the Light of My Life steered him towards me and ordered me to list suitable Manx shops and book-titles. This I did, and duly put his business the way of a nice little guy who stocks old Manx books, posters, postcards and other memorabilia, just across the street from the bookshop as it happens.
The irony is, a few metres away from the shop assistant was an entire bookcase of local titles, mostly nonsensical whimsy but including several copies of Sophia Morrison’s Manx Fairy Tales, an Edwardian local classic reprinted in a ridiculously over-priced edition a few years back by Manx National Heritage to take advantage of the need to cover Manx culture in the school curriculum.
It’s a great book, something like a Celtic version of Grimms Fairy Tales, but also with several chapters on Manx customs and all very accessible to kids. The Manx elders who introduced me to it and other out-of-print local classics years back were, without exception, stalwart churchgoers and also, for example, involved in keeping things like mhelliahs (harvest produce sales), Sankey Evenings, carvals (Manx carols) and suchlike going in village churches.
By comparison, the annual Manx outcry about the ‘dangers’ of Halloween comes from a nastier, more recent Christian tradition (if something recently concocted in the half-mind of a deranged fundamentalist can yet be deemed ‘tradition’). This was predominantly introduced by exiled Ulster Unionists who, before fleeing a fairer, more humane Northern Ireland, discovered the advantages of US correspondence course theological qualifications and superchurch pyramid schemes. Like our worst politicians, they know nothing of morality (and never even study the big moral questions) but do know (in their case by filling in the blanks on those helpful sermon templates that come with the franchise) how to create moral panic out of tabloid non-stories.
It is they, and not ‘militant atheists’ or ‘aggressive secularism’, who are the greatest threat to Manx community life and common decency. But for now, as their entire lives revolve around material wealth and their pretensions towards ‘spiritual values’ are just ridiculous, I’m happy to laugh, or put them out of business by pointing punters towards proper, community-orientated, competitors who do deserve neighbourly support.

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