On Wednesday, the 25th of October, an Edinburgh venue hosted a public discussion entitled: “Can Words Really Hurt?” On the panel, there was a mix of authors and lawyers to discuss the boundaries of free expression in the law, as well as from a standpoint of intellectual rigour. I was there, and the discussion was fascinating. My flatmate commented – possibly accurately – that the obvious answer to the question, ‘can words really hurt,’ is yes, case closed. I don’t disagree with him, though it obviously becomes a different question when examined from a legal perspective.
However, the most memorable thing about this event was not the fascinating discussion. It was not having a drink bought for me by a charming attendee, nor my ensuing chat with said attendee and his equally charming pals that revealed them all to be hard conservatives whose views somewhat jarred with the effect Wymondham High’s drilling of An Inspector Calls has on almost every GCSE English student.
It was this: quite simply, everyone there was incredibly friendly. The discussion was complex and controversial, yet humaneness prevailed. People with wildly different perspectives sat merrily in the same room, and the planet managed to keep spinning. In the words of my free drink benefactor, it was “disagreement without being disagreeable”.
This, to my mind, embodies the festive spirit! A debate about the legal nuances of free speech probably doesn’t scream ‘festive’, but I admired it for the dedication to human connection above differences. And, if nothing else, this time of year has (traditionally, anyway) stood for a similar kind of goodwill. I remember when I was still a Wymondham High pre-GCSE student, and at home, I’d ironically sing “Tis the season to be jolly…” placing particular emphasis on ‘jolly’ to remind my parents not to stress out too much. (What an irritating child.)
Undeniably, the pressure on people at Christmas to be unflinchingly happy and jolly tends to achieve the exact opposite goal, hence the importance of not placing oneself under puritanical standards. But if this season reminds us that differences actually aren’t everything, that is enough.
On a more serious note, 2023 was a thought-provoking year. The year’s stories in the Wymondham Magazine consisted of community bookshops, updates about hard-working cancer charities, the plight of the local pub legend the Green Dragon, and even tales of a former Norfolk soldier who wrote of the arduous conditions in a later-discovered diary. Our fabulous legion of book reviewers has covered a diverse array of literature, ranging from Angie Thomas to Eliza Clark. Any struggles to buy Christmas gifts for bibliophiles can be solved by scrolling through the Wymondham Magazine literary archives.
Speaking of literature, J.K. Rowling’s latest Cormoran Strike novel, The Running Grave, marks a happy year for crime fans, as well as new releases by Kate Mosse (The Ghost Ship) and Ragnar Jónasson: his recent novel Reykjavík was co-written with his Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir. (That must have felt bizarre. Can you imagine co-authoring a book with Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak? Nor can I.)
2023 also saw the deaths of many beloved figures, including Tina Turner – the singer I shall always remember for belting out the iconic Bond theme Goldeneye – and Matthew Perry, the Friends star. Among the funniest, and most touching, tributes to him was Miranda Hart’s admission that she met him once (he was her celebrity crush), word-vomited in “utter madness”, and blurted out, “this isn’t who I am!” before making the case for herself as good wife material. (We’ve all been there Miranda.) She says he responded very graciously – like a true gent.
Speaking of graciousness, one of my favourite moments of the year was seeing Julian Clary and Christopher Biggins at the Edinburgh Fringe. Julian declared himself to be “so left-wing it frightens me” and admitted that, by contrast, Biggins was “so right-wing” (he said with a shudder). And yet the two gentlemen were onstage like two old pals, cracking smutty jokes and giving the audience a fantastic time. Like the debate on words, to me, that embodies the festive spirit – even though it happened in August.
Whether you agree with me or think I’m garbling like Miranda – Merry Christmas Wymondham readers, and a Happy New Year!