This week's big Questions: Is Amanda Knox a victim? Would you vote for Ukip?

This week's big questions are answered by Olivia Fane author of ‘The Conversations: 66 Reasons to Start Talking’.


Your book outlines 66 reasons to start talking. In the information age, aren’t we talking too much already?

I love the landline telephone. I’ve always loved it. I make myself a cup of tea and lie on the sofa and have, guess what, a real conversation with a friend, which might take one hour, or two. If you’re on the phone already, you can’t even be interrupted by the phone, so there the two of you are, putting the world to rights, talking, listening and responding so quickly to each other you may as well be in the same room. What is it with this love of modern technology? How can you talk in an email? How can you talk in a text? All momentum is lost. Texting is nearer in spirit to Morse code than real conversation. The voice is so much more than the sum of its words. You speak and listen with your whole being, and the eye – so rare in the modern era – can have a little time off.

You used to be a probation officer. What do you think of Chris Grayling’s ideas for the treatment of prisoners – making male prisoners wear uniform, stopping them watching 18-rated films?

I think wearing a uniform is no big deal. It might be helpful. Shedding an old identity and taking on a new one is possible, and surely, in the case of criminals, desirable. I hate this modern obsession with “identity” being everything, being your very soul. As for watching salacious movies, if this is all a prisoner is doing at home, why not see prison as an opportunity to do something else? Why not teach prisoners a craft? Let them write and produce plays, make them think about life. I used to teach my young offenders Latin, and they were good at it, too. The exciting thing about it was they felt different. They became clever, just like that.

What is your justification for punishing children by smacking them?

Smacking is out of fashion. Even I feel rather shocked nowadays when I see a mother smack her child in a supermarket. I want to say to them: “Haven’t you heard that’s not what you do nowadays?” Yet it must surely be part and parcel of “punishment” to inflict pain of some sort. If a child knows that he’s just going to get a cosy little pep talk on Mummy’s knee about right and wrong, the chances are he’ll want that little pep talk again. But, for some reason, the infliction of physical pain, even if a child has been warned, even if a child perceives it as just, is perceived as an absolute wrong, while the infliction of mental pain – sitting on the “naughty step”, being sent to your bedroom, forbidden from going to a friend’s birthday party – are considered “good” punishments.

Why do you think the green desire to save the planet goes against human nature?

The young nowadays, whose planet after all it will be, don’t give a damn about saving it. The moment, perhaps extending in some cases as far as the weekend, is all. I know this because for years, thwarted in my desire to talk to strangers on trains, I have dared to ask the young people frantically texting to my left and right: “What is it that you young people actually talk to each other about?” The answer is, who’s shagging whom, and where people are going to meet up. I ask them, so middle class: “Have you ever had a conversation with your friends about the environment, about how to save the planet?” They’re very polite, but they look at me as though I’m an alien who knows precisely nothing about anything. Once upon a time, a man might plant a park for the next generation. We, meanwhile, live in the era of leylandii, the quick fix, the next erotic encounter. In the cities, we can forget there is a horizon.

Why has Ukip become such a potent force. Would you vote for them?

No, I wouldn’t vote for them, because however much they insist they are not racist – and it is perfectly possible to have a strong, fair immigration policy without being racist – they are perceived as racist. In politics, perception is everything. Nonetheless, the issue in the next general election will be immigration, and how the various parties are going to put a stop to it. We cannot discount vast swathes of the British public, who are “concerned” about immigration, as being bigots.

Is Amanda Knox a victim of the age as well as Italian policing?

Amanda Knox is the victim of every age, of every police force. Her story is a universal one: the “beautiful murderess”. And our reactions to her are universal, too: wronged heroine or evil vixen? I, too, tuned in a couple of years ago to watch her acquittal in court. I also watched a documentary soon after. The chief investigator spoke for many, I’m sure: the story that Knox could be guilty is irresistible! Let’s just forget for a moment that someone has actually been imprisoned for the murder – how could someone do cartwheels at the police station shortly before being interrogated unless you’re a sex pervert/psycho? Well, I have a long history of doing cartwheels. And I do them when I’m bored. Haven’t we learnt by now how real murderers behave, haven’t we observed their “disbelief”, their tears? Amanda Knox was just a teenager, until we made her something else.

Are we right to cut aid to South Africa?

The truth is, I never knew we sent aid to South Africa, and it surprised me. I think of South Africa as relatively prosperous, and I’m surprised its government doesn’t consider it humiliating to receive it. A few years ago I was at a party. I was talking to a white friend who’d recently inherited a farm in Zambia from his grandparents. He told me how his first inclination was to sell it, but he’d been over there a few times and had grown attached to the place. In fact, he’s set up a small school in the local village, and was trying to scout out some local doctors to see if he could set up a weekly clinic, too. Then suddenly a tall, beautiful, glistening black man in tribal dress walked up to us. “So, you’re the imperialist,” he said to my friend. Enough said. Aid is a dangerous territory.

Olivia Fane’s ‘The Conversations: 66 Reasons to Start Talking’ is published by Square Peg

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing