Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lapidary phrases

Sometimes in a piece of journalism you come across a phrase which is so spot-on that it crystallises a number of random thoughts which have been rattling around your brain for ages.

I came across a perfect example of this on Wednesday October 26th, in a piece by Stuart Dakers for SocietyGuardian (read it all here). The paragraph in question reads "Old poverty argued the collective harshness of life, not individual failure; nor, crucially, was it teased with the trinkets of materialism or disabled with credit." Now, that might seem to you a statement of the obvious, or a cliche, or just plain uninteresting, but for me it simply leapt off the page.

Why? Because every year students on the Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University are sent off into Butetown (what remains of Tiger Bay, as was) and every year they come back with tales of how strong the (highly multicultural/multiethnic) community spirit was in the old days even though most people were materially poor, and how disaffected most of the youth are now, even though they are probably better off materially.

Dakers's words encapsulate a complete suite of answers to this apparent conundrum. They help to validate the oldtimers' memories and explain the current situation. Of course it is complex; of course there are many more questions and answers needed to understand and try to ameliorate the problems.

But "Old poverty argued the collective harshness of life" is a brilliant, and brilliantly illuminating, phrase.


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