I have had plenty of warning about Indian Day at school.
Please, Felix’s upbeat princess-template teacher asked: might we send in some dress-up clothes to celebrate Diwali? They need not be Indian: just bright and colourful as befitted a celebration.
I was on the Indian clothing cybersites before you could say Jack Robinson. As I googled I goggled: the little emerald silk outfits would make anyone look like the prince of a faraway land.
Grand scenarios of ordering a kurta – the loose top so prevalent in India and its surrounds – were overtaken by common sense. This is not a fashion show, Kate, I admonished myself; rather, it is a celebration. Whatever the children wear will make them feel special.
You are not going to spend twenty quid so Felix looks the part.
The week has flown, and tomorrow I must send my son in with an outfit.
I arrived home late and flew upstairs to rifle through stashes of clothes. What I found was initially unpromising. I began to fume. The results were far from my vision.
By bedtime it was looking to be far from right as all my searches turned out were jewel-coloured t-shirts and a few set of leggings.
I was flying upstairs to a tired Felix in bed, saying “This? This is quite Indian, isn’t it?”
“Mum,” he rejoined levelly, “Can we just not talk about this now?”
I’d apologise, but five minutes later I’d be back with something else.”This?….”
He gave me a straight look.
Finally I found them: a long linen kurta-alike in my wardrobe: a pair of voluminous cricket trousers; a stole from an evening dress to make the whole thing look festive.
It was far from perfect: but it would do.
I hurtled upstairs triumphantly. “Eureka!” I waved the kurta through Felix’s bedroom door in triumph.
The duvet said: “We’ll talk about it in the morning, Mum…”
Wordsworth was right. The child is the father of the man.
Perfection: it’s a stick to beat oneself with, as those who helped form our electoral system, here in Britain found.
A survey in 1780 showed the electorate consisted of just 214,000 people: or three per cent of the entire population of eight million. While Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds thrived in these brave new industrial times, they had not a single Member of Parliament between them.
Conversely, Dunwich in Suffolk – with a population of 32 in 1831 – was sending two MPs to Westminster.
The working man was voiceless, it seemed.
But the air was filled with a new zeitgeist. France had come through its revolution filled with notions of equality, liberty and fraternity: Tom Paine had already ignited the heart of the common American with his words.
British men of power could see that their system was no longer in the interest of many.
But how to conduct change, under the commonsensical British way?
It is as well to remember that not so long before women’s’ suffrage, there were martyrs to the cause of a vote for all men.
There was the Peterloo Massacre: at a demonstration in St Peter’s Field, Manchester the local militia turned guns on the crowd, killing 11 people. And despite an outcry still, no-one seemed to listen.
Instead, in small steps throughout the nineteenth century, Britain edged nearer to representation. The first act in 1832 was a firefighting measure to prevent revolution. It accorded to men living in towns who occupied property worth more than £10: effectively, only one in seven men.
It was far from perfect.
Next came votes for men in towns only: rendering two in five men voters.
The final act, steered through Parliament by William Gladstone, extended the vote outside the boroughs to men in the countryside who paid rent of £10 or owned property worth £10 or more. By 1885, according to the National Archive, slightly less than eight million people had the vote.
It was still imperfect, though.It was during his work on the act that Hansard records an observation made by Gladstone.
He told Parliament:” Ideal perfection is not the true basis of English legislation.
“We look at the attainable: we look at the practical, and we have too much English sense to be drawn away by those sanguine delineations of what might possibly be attained in Eutopia, from a path which promises to enable us to effect great good for the people of England.”
What might possibly be attained in Utopia: idealism.
Sometimes, said Gladstone, being perfect can draw one away from effecting good.
An excuse, or a pragmatic approach?
I opted for the latter. Why get hung up on a perfect vision of a small Indian prince when I could send my son into school with glad rags which will make him exuberant during the celebration with his teacher-princess?
Let us keep our eyes on the prize.
But meanwhile, we will look at the attainable: at the practical.