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  • Richard Farr

Borne back into the past

Apparently the new season of The Crown will take us into the 1960s and actor David Wilmott will play union leader Arthur Scargill. This is disturbing. As a student I was involved with my university’s debating union and in that capacity once found myself, in my ancient rusted Mini, playing chauffeur to the great provocateur after meeting his train at Durham Station. There is something strange, something to stop you in your tracks on a Tuesday morning, about even the tiniest thread from your own life getting the Historical Costume Drama treatment on television.

I’m remind of the philosopher Tom Nagel speaking wryly about some shift in grammar or idiom and (I quote from memory) “getting to an age when you begin to see your own language drifting out of reach.”

(Especially when I note that WordPress is using its wavy red underlining to instruct me that my 1960s above is incorrect and should be changed to 1960’s. “No no no, it’s a plural, not a possessive,” said the fogy.)

Andrew Marvell: “And at my back I always hear, Times’ winged chariot hurrying near.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Nagel is being honest. But much easier to complain that the language is crumbling than to admit to any suspicion that you are.

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