Angus, sixteen - who likes chocolate - has been feeling restless after a year of living industriously in preparation for pending GCSEs and more latterly deprived by temporary injury of the explosive relief of his beloved rugby.
The really hard times begin when the exams are done and dusted. Being advised to rest! chill! take it easy! is difficult when one has a black hole in a head which had - until very recently - been packed with facts and figures, concepts and theories, poems, plays and sophisticated equations. Games on TV and occasional sessions with the guitar go nowhere near filling the black hole in the head. And this, I feel, is where the restlessness comes in.
I want to help, and - being the pedant I am - I suggest a bit of challenging reading to fill the black hole. I have just been reading about the Dead Sea Scrolls (research for At The Villa d’Estella) and had come upon a very sharp series of Very Short Guides by OUP, including one very well written one on my subject, by Timothy H Lim. In the back of the book is a very comprehensive list of subjects from Archaeology to Machiavelli, from World Music to The Russian Revolution.
The chocolate eater gets his eye on the VSG s to Philosophy, to Consciousness, and to Logic. Then, while the little books whirr here from the Planet Amazon, he picks up from my shelves Fear of Freedom by the wonderful Erich Fromm. As he gets stuck into this book he whoops with delight, discovering that Erich Fromm has ideas that fit in with his own – sometimes very original – worldview. Then the little books arrive and the whoops continue right through the consumption of the books on Philosophy, Logic and Consciousness.
Then one day he throws the last little book aside and asks I fancy playing a game ‘for a bit of a rest’? He calls it The Dictionary Game. He’ll pick ten words at random and test me on them and I have to pick ten words to test him. And so on. We amaze ourselves with how many words we actually seem to know.
Then something strikes me and I tell Angus that when I was even younger than he is, my mother used to play this very game with my brothers and sister and me. That was in a tiny house a tenth of this size of this one, where the money was in very much shorter supply than the love and the language.
So we agree, he and I, that playing these clever games does not depend on wealth or privilege but on the nature of the people who play. And he tells me of this new word he has just invented – lucaviatic. He says it means eccentric but brilliant.
That must be a compliment.
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