A few years ago, some sparky copywriter came up with use of the word “silver” as a euphonious euphemism for “elderly”, which is itself a euphemism for “aged”. The usage has become widespread and a week ago last Sunday I attended a session on Creative Writing given as part of a series of events for oldies grouped under the title of “Silver Sunday”.
The tutor, Robert, mentioned a piece by one of his students who came from Eastern Europe, I think, and who recalled that in her childhood she had had to break the ice on the well in order to draw water. Others from warmer climates had indeed had to use wells for water supplies, but not through the ice.
This reminded me of a well I came across as a child. I must have been about 7 or 8 and I was with my parents in some remote part of India. One day, as I wandered about the countryside, I saw a magnificent well-head. It consisted of a huge horizontal wheel linked by a system of large cogs to an equally huge vertical wheel. This type of irrigation apparatus was and probably still is widespread in Asia and the Middle East and I imagine it has been for centuries.
My eye was caught by the third component of the structure, a rope festooned with earthenware pots at regular intervals and looped loosely round the vertical wheel so that part of it trailed down into the well beneath. An ox was lashed to the horizontal wheel and rotated it by plodding round in a never-ending circle. This made the vertical wheel rotate in its turn, so that the pots came up out of the well filled with water which, as they passed the apex of their circuit, was tipped into a channel leading to the fields to be irrigated.
I picked up a stone and threw it at one of the pots which shattered satisfyingly, shedding its contents onto the dry earth. I repeated the act with another stone, another pot. My memory is that I hit a pot with every stone I threw, but my later experience on the cricket field showed that my hand and eye coordination is very shaky so that is unlikely. It is, however, true that by the time I had finished my little game every pot was broken, and I headed for home well pleased with myself.
I dawdled on the way, so that the owner of the well got there well before me and was pouring out the story to my father, who took decisive action. He paid the man for the damage done, more than generously I have no doubt, and he took a slipper to me, also quite generously. This is the only beating that I remember his giving me. I also remember his clear explanation of what the beating was for. It was not for breaking the pots. It was for not considering the effects of my action on the farmer, whose whole livelihood depended on the irrigation system I had destroyed.
Looking back on the episode many decades later, I also draw two other possibly unfashionable conclusions. First, corporal punishment can be good – this slippering certainly impressed the desired lesson on me and did not in the least diminish my love and respect for my father. Secondly, you could be one of the colonial rulers and still behave thoughtfully and fairly to the ruled.