Tuesday, 13 March 2012
History without history books
I'm not stupid but I didn't really take advantage of my education when I had the chance. I was one of only 5 pupils to pass the 11 plus out of a total of 85 who sat the exam in our local schools at the time, and ended up at grammar school, which should have been a great opportunity.
It wasn't. I felt out of place. My parents, having boasted to all the neighbours about their daughter going to grammar school, showed no further interest in my education. They never attended one parents' evening or ever encouraged me to do my homework.
As a result, I just floated along with very little interest in anything other than English Literature and Art. I left school at 15 years old, a year before I was due to take GCEs, and got a job as an office junior. From then on I had many jobs, and was eager to take on any task thrown at me. This was the way I learned. I taught myself to type, operate printing machines, tackle bookkeeping...you name it, I did it. Every time I went for an interview for another job, I bluffed my way through it. In those days you could get jobs very easily based on experience and not just on qualifications.
Much later, when my children were small, I did some Open University courses. I also did voluntary work and that's how I entered the social work field. From then on I managed to become qualified with funding from my employers.
One of my biggest regrets is being pretty ignorant when it comes to history and politics. I do pick up snippets here and there, on the internet, which sparks my interest and then I'll google and learn a little more.
But I have realised over the years that it's not possible for me to absorb historical facts from history books. My eyes glaze over. However, occasionally I read a novel or a biography which apart from telling a story of certain individuals, actually includes history and because I am enjoying the story so much, the history falls into place. One such example is Birds without Wings by Louis de Berniere. A hauntingly beautiful and sad story, which gave me a better understanding of the Ottoman Empire.
I have just started to read the book I recently won in a draw...and which had quite a journey getting here! It's Ataturk by Andrew Mango. Ataturk has always interested me. I had to read up on him when Mr A and I were living and working in Side, Antalya, because I spent time as a tour guide on two-day coach trips and had to find something interesting, other than the scenery, to talk to the passengers about.
The facts I learned by heart about this fascinating man, just whetted my appetite for more, but until now I hadn't managed to find a book that was easy to read.
Andrew Mango's book is a long one, and I'm only a little way into it but am enjoying it immensely. One fact I gleaned today was that Ataturk was strongly influenced by the French Revolution and according to his French biographer, Alexandre Jevakhoff, it was his "supreme point of reference throughout his life".
I know very little about the French Revolution, so I need someone to recommend a good novel set in those times, that will keep me enthralled with a personal story, but will teach me the historical facts without boring me.
I have decided it's never too late to learn about history, but I would prefer to do it without history books.
All recommendations will be most welcome.