Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Eleventh Hour

Another learning curve.

In Harrogate we have one of the largest army training colleges in the country, 16 and 17 year olds come to learn "how to be soldiers". For most of them it is the first time they are away from home and the first time they have money in their pockets. In the town we are always aware when they have pass out weekends. The centre is heaving with wiry youths with regulation hair cuts lurking around McDonalds and the night clubs. Some of them look utterly lost, others already have a swagger that is noticed, and admired, by the young ladies of North Yorkshire.

Today was different, they were in town for the Remembrance Ceremony. Not youths but young men, wearing immaculate uniforms, a huge pride in themselves and their futures. An awareness of what their predecessors had given and what they may be asked to give.
Any of the soldiers I saw today could be a casualty of war in the next twelve months. Let's pray not.

Please Hollywood, leave it alone.

I was a "non-sporty" child, slightly nerdy, (which in the days before computers was unusual), solitary and cylindrical , I loved to read.

Many of the books that gave me pleasure then are still on my bookshelves and are regularly re-read. "Little Women", "The Hobbit", all the Narnia series, Jennings, Cynthia Harnett and Rosemary Sutcliffe, but the favourite of all was a battered copy of "The Little White Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge. It was my mothers, when she was young, a present from her Grandmother in 1946. A first edition no less, printed when all books were published under the "authorised economy standards". A book was a luxury in those days and treated with respect.

This copy is now shabby and faded, the pages have that soft powdery feel and it is well foxed, but none of that makes any difference to the story. A little girl, orphaned, is sent to stay with her Uncle in a beautiful but sad house. As she learns the story of her family and determines to solve what she sees as misunderstandings and injustices, we are drawn into the archetypal world of good and evil, joy and sadness. There is no escaping the fact it is a Christian allegory, although as I child I read it in blissful ignorance, it draws you in .

Then Hollywood got hold of it. I should be pleased. A book that is not high profile chosen for adaptation by a studio with thousands, millions, to spend on a production. But my heart sank, I was afraid they would not be able to retain a charm and gentleness the book has. There would be special effects, drama and derring do. There was; we had black leather clad baddies, more hippy crystals than you could shake a stick at (this was obviously the way to dilute the Christian element) a re-enactment of the Guinness advertisement with the Sea-horses and no geraniums. (When I was at the cinema I had the added bonus of a small child trying to remove my kidneys through my seatback with her feet, but I can't blame Hollywood for that.)
It wasn't my story anymore. It wasn't my childhood. They had made an entertaining film that all the children in the cinema, those not headfirst in their popcorn anyway, seemed to enjoy, but it was a lesson for me. If there is a book that you love, really love and the film studios get hold of it, be prepared for your illusions to be dashed.
No one can make better memories for you than you.

(This will not stop me going to see "Where The Wild Things Are", I never learn)