A little piece in the corner of the newspaper caught my eye the other week. It said "Seahorses of Britain at risk of dying out" and it went on to report that their habitat is being destroyed by pollution and trawling. My first thought was that this news was really sad; my second was that in the great scheme of things, it was not so terrible. Those caught up in war, in poverty, in crisis and in misery in general would care little for the plight of these little seahorses, and who could blame them?
Fortunately, I am at liberty to muse on such things, from the comfort of my warm and peaceful home. Seahorses make me smile, and when I smile, I'm happy. Appreciating the nicer things in life is part of what makes us human. And sometimes, it's nice just to appreciate something for its own sake.
I've recently had reason to be grateful for my education. When the BBC televised War and Peace early in 2016, I was glad that I knew a little bit about it. Not because I've read the book, (I haven't) and not even necessarily because of my background in history, (I have a degree in the subject) but because of two women: my mother, and my English A level teacher. It has to be said that my mother was also a teacher, of languages, before she retired, and she and my English teacher were the kind of teacher who taught right round the subject, and strove to inform and educate whenever the need or opportunity arose. Sitting next to my mother in the 1970s, I watched the original adaptation of War and Peace, and asked questions, all of which my mother was only too happy to answer.
So, when the inevitable discussion about the newest version opened up on Facebook, I was able to wade in and tell people that no, they didn't wear corsets, because the dresses were known as Empire Line. (I was also able to explain to my daft husband that no, there is not a sequel!) It was my English teacher who explained to me the links between music, literature and painting, so that I learned how the Romantic Movement involved more than just poets throwing frilly-sleeved arms up, hand to brow, and weeping over daffodils.
As a teenager I loved the music of Tchaikovsky. I still do, actually, but back then it really matched my angst. The lessons where we strayed from studying Chaucer and Jane Austen to talking about links between the arts made me appreciate his music more, and filled in some of the gaps about the 1812 Overture. I knew, though, that both the Russian and the French national anthems are incorporated into it; the Russian anthem was used in the original BBC series and I remember my mother explaining to me what it was, and its significance. It pleases me to know that the Russian national anthem has changed a few times over the years, and that I have a recording of the 1812 which uses real cannon.
Just yesterday, a magazine quiz had me stumped, for the most part. The only answer I knew (the rest were mostly science and geography, with which I've never been on good terms. There's been a lot of misunderstandings between us over the years) was that the Tailor of Gloucester was a mouse. Again, this is knowledge derived from story time on my mother's knee, or curled up in bed.
So this is not my formal education. This is the round-about stuff that serves no real purpose, other than to make me happy. George Sand thought that "Art for art's sake" was an empty phrase. But "What we learn with pleasure, we never forget," according to Alfred Mercier. If I'm happy, and I'm learning, then I'm a better human being. The little seahorses do matter, because they help make the world beautiful. Perhaps the eco-system won't collapse if seahorses die out. I used to joke with my children that everything in the world, including them, should be decorative or functional. And both characteristics have their merits.