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I heartily recommend a new book called "And the Band Played On"
by Christopher Ward, a friend of mine. It's a best-seller already
in the UK. It's about his grandfather, who was the violinist in the
band that played as the Titanic sank. But it's not about the
sinking, but about what happened afterwards, and in particular the
feud that broke about between the violinist's father and his
pregnant fiancee's family. It's an astonishing tale of fraud,
hoaxes, lawsuits, imprisonment and cruelty that would make a
fiction writer blush at having exaggerated.
But, for the purposes of this website, what struck this
rational optimist most was the examples of how non-good were the
good old days. A world in which a ship's musician has to buy his
own uniform on credit, to be deducted from his wages, is not very
nice. But a world in which those wages were stopped by his employer
at 2.20am on 14 April 1912 is shockingly awful. And a world in
which his father then receives a letter pointing out that the wages
having been stopped, there is still a sum owing for the uniform
buttons, which the father should settle by return -- takes the
biscuit. This was also a world in which a seventeen year old girl
who devised a cruel hoax to get revenge on her father and
stepmother was imprisoned in a brutal jail awaiting trial for
deception. Yet I suspect Scotland in 1912 was a lot kinder than it
was in 1812 or 1712.
Next time the Archbishop of Canterbury or some pontificating
busybody tells me the world is getting worse because people are so
much more selfish these days, I will suggest they read this