Chalk Talk: Andrew Motion's dad – and the spectre of an art-free world

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The Independent Online

To Oxford University and an emotional appeal by the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion to ring-fence arts spending during the current spending cuts.

Not likely to succeed, but he does use the kind of language that ministers would understand – two million new jobs and £16.6 million in exports generated between 1997 and 2007.

On the more human side, he reveals how he himself would probably not have been inspired by the arts but for an inspirational English teacher, Peter Way, who taught him at A-level.

His mother read a bit – some works by Iris Murdoch – but his father not at all.

"My father, in fact, thought that even talking was seriously over-rated, and as for any form of communication that had been elaborated into an art – well, that was just ridiculous or embarrassing or a waste of time," he recalls in the annual Romanes lecture at Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre.

"Theatre, for instance – theatre meant an annual trip to London to see a show around Christmastime – usually a pantomime (which my father would impatiently sit through, jiggling his foot)."

Such was life for many in the austere times of the 1950s, I fear.Sir Andrew's message is that they may be returning rather sooner than you think.

Meanwhile, back at the University and College Union conference in Harrogate over the Bank Holiday weekend, and an insight into how easily the comrades can be demonised in some of our more sensational tabloid newspapers.

Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell had just learnt to Twitter before attending the first student demonstration against the rise in tuition fees.

Like many at the front of the march, he looked down Whitehall and saw a sea of 50,000 faces joining the demonstration.

"Fantastic," he tweeted, and went off to a pre-planned meeting at the House of Commons – unaware of what had kicked off at Millbank, the Conservative party headquarters, as students broke into the building.

Cue a page lead in a national newspaper accusing him of fanning the flames of the riot as a result of his comments – which were seen as an endorsement of the riot.

Luckily, though, he had a water-tight alibi to show he could not possibly have been anywhere near Millbank at the time in question: the meeting he attended was one organised by the Police Federation.