:: Buzzwords

3:AM in Lockdown 22: Owen Booth

We’re Teaching Our Sons About History
By Owen Booth.


Owen Booth on his morning run.



We’re teaching our sons about history

Its meaning. Its uses. Its relevance, or otherwise, to current events.

We are living, we tell our sons – as other people keep telling us – in interesting times.

We’re teaching our sons about wars, and disasters, and tragedy. We’re teaching them about the indomitable human spirit, about people surviving terrible sieges that went on for years, about how everyday life can still continue under constant bombardment and the ever present threat of death.

We’re hoping some of it might help.

“During the siege of Leningrad, people ate sawdust,” we tell our sons. “They ate cats. They ate the glue out of books. In the Second World War no one in the United Kingdom even saw a banana for five years. At the end of the 3-year siege of Carthage all fifty thousand Carthaginian survivors were sold into slavery, including the women who had cut off their hair to use as rope for catapults.”

We’re trying to put some fun stuff in there too.

Every morning we exercise together in front of the TV, cheered on by the handsome young fitness instructor who has accidentally become the embodiment of all our hopes for the future. We can get through this, is what the handsome young fitness instructor is telling us, if we all keep active and maintain a positive mental attitude.

We realise we’d be proud to call the handsome young fitness instructor our son. We hope he gets to a million viewers soon. We hope to God he doesn’t get ill.

To distract our sons, and ourselves, from being stuck at home all day we invent ridiculous games for them and challenge them to solve maths problems and draw pictures and make films and learn to play musical instruments and speak foreign languages. We make ambitious study timetables, and watch videos of other people doing much better jobs of entertaining their children than us. We tell our sons that living through historical events sometimes means just getting on with your life as best you can.

“We could spend more time on the Playstation,” our sons tell us.

“Did they have Playstations in Leningrad?” we ask our sons. “Did they have Playstations during The Blitz?”

We’re teaching our sons that history is mostly made up of the mundane stuff, like eating your dinner, and brushing your teeth, and remembering to wash your hands. The big stuff, we tell them, tends to take care of itself.

And this is mostly how we cope.

This and all the drinking.

Our sons, of course, are managing the whole thing better than we are. They’re not burdened, not as long as we can help it, by all the knowledge that keeps us awake at night – or wakes us up after we’ve drunk ourselves to sleep. They have no real understanding, thank God, of the range of possible outcomes that we’ve already envisaged, and what can go wrong, and how quickly.

This is one of the advantages of being young, and not having studied history.

We know that we are drinking too much. We know that, statistically, a good number of us might not come out of the other side of this (we make quiet bets on which of us we think will be the unlucky ones). We know that the odds for our potentially fatherless sons are much better.

But still but still but still.

When they come to write the history of what it was like to live through these strange weeks and months, no-one will really understand. Just like we didn’t. They’ll think “why didn’t they do something?” and “if it had been me” and “how could you just wait, like that, with the news getting worse every day, for whatever was or wasn’t going to happen?” and so on and so on.

But look at us all, still getting out of bed every morning, doing our best to be sufficient to another day, and to keep our sons safe, and make them laugh, and not to hold on to them too tightly.

And wondering what the useful lesson is in all of this, and what we’re supposed do with it, and when it will stop.


First posted: Tuesday, April 7th, 2020.

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