The "Middle Way" on Hunting Suggested That, Although It Is Cruel, We Might Do It Just a Bit. in the Same Way, the Law Allows Us to Beat Children Just a Bit for, as It Were, Pest Control. (Diary)

By Mantel, Hilary | New Statesman (1996), July 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

The "Middle Way" on Hunting Suggested That, Although It Is Cruel, We Might Do It Just a Bit. in the Same Way, the Law Allows Us to Beat Children Just a Bit for, as It Were, Pest Control. (Diary)


Mantel, Hilary, New Statesman (1996)


The other day, I bought a second-hand copy of Seven Types of Ambiguity. I'd never read this famous work of William Empson's, but at only 10p per ambiguity it proved a bargain -- unlike The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where I nodded off part-way through the first habit. Second-hand books are always good mystery value. Many seem to have been pre-owned by aliens still grappling with earth-speak, who have underlined words and phrases in blunt pencil. How do they choose? If Empson were to write "I'll catch a fox and put him in a box", the previous owner would underline "in".

How ambiguous I am myself -- how invisible, in fact -- I learnt when sprinting around London bookshops to sign copies (of my own books, as it happens, although it would be more fun to sign other people's). Mostly, the booksellers' welcome was warm, but sometimes there was a dazed interrogation. Who? Do we know you're coming? What's it called? What kind of book is it? They spoke not to me, but beyond me, to my (male) minder. I was reminded of my time in Saudi Arabia, where I moved under the foreign female's notional veil, with a shopkeeper talking past me to the man at my elbow. Every author wishes to "achieve recognition", and I see I have some way to go.

We're all aware that John Prescott is the walking incarnation of a mangled galley proof, but it's cruel of the BBC to tease him; when I switched on BBC News 24 part-way through Monday's statement on the fire service, the caption below him read "Deputy Prime Minsiter". Mince it he did. When a Leeds member asked about his local fire service, Prescott first mentioned the Isle of Wight, then London; then assured him, with the air of a man who makes his own geography, that "West Yorkshire resides between". Trying to say (perhaps): "I don't quite get your question", he admitted: "I am not fully available..."

Confused, I settled down to the hunting debate, and found it much like a day in nursery school: the rabbits and the hares, the little black hen, the otters (animals of good character), the minks (beasts of bad character). …

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