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’.

Share

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

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

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron addresses No campagn supporters in Aberdeen  

Scottish independence: Cameron faces a choice between destroying his country or his party

Matthew Norman
Fighters from Islamic State group sit on their tank during a parade in Raqqa, Syria  

Islamic State: Assad lures Obama into his web

Robert Fisk
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week