Sunday 13 March 2011

Ancient and Modern

In what is an era of rapid change in so many areas of our lives, I am a great believer in respecting tradition and upholding customs (even if they are, at times, outmoded) as I feel it is important that identities and histories are not lost in the name of progress. Nevertheless, when people do make changes, as long as they are justified, explained and attempt to retain the spirit of the original concept, I endeavour to accept them without complaint and view them as the next stage of development in what are often long established practices. I like to think I am not so arrogant as to insist that people, societies and nations remain static.

However, in the course of this week I was faced with a tradition being up-held which frustrated me. The Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust is inviting applications for two new trustees as a result of two retirements. According to the publicity, the Trust makes charitable grants to individuals aged under 25 to further their education and to local organisations for more general purposes and, having been resident in Lichfield for more than five years and thereby fulfilling the stated requirements of the post, feeling that this might be a good opportunity to get more involved in the local community I decided to apply.

I already knew that the Trust had been founded in January 1545 to provide water for Lichfield and it was an organisation I had encountered while researching the history of the Cathedral’s Choral Foundation as records of Chapter’s nineteenth century meetings discussing the management of all aspects of Cathedral life include the provision of water for individual houses in The Close.

The fact that it is such a historical organisation had an inherent appeal, and the four meetings a year seemed manageable; the only question to which I did not know the answer was when the meetings were held.

I contacted a representative of the Trust to answer this question and was given the dates. Apparently, the meetings in March, June and September are always held on Wednesdays and December’s meeting is held on a Tuesday in keeping with an ancient tradition. Quaint, but not unmanageable. However, the meetings are always held at 3.30pm and, having been that way throughout living memory, I was brightly and confidently told ‘that’s not likely to change any time soon’.

Suddenly, a tradition was being upheld but for what purpose? By implication, the applicants and trustees must, most likely, either be retired or unemployed. The trustees of a charity making donations to help young people are to be distanced from their beneficiaries: I had felt that, as a teacher, one of the strengths of my application would be my work with young people.

I bit my tongue merely saying that, being a teacher, there was clearly no point in applying – which was duly agreed with – and I hung up. I struggled mentally for a few minutes with the question of tradition and rationality and decided that if people are going to be so protective of traditions which, when considered in the larger scheme of things, appear risible there would be no point in questioning it.

As I sighed to myself, I was left with my penchant for tradition tarnished and a sense of disappointment that, even in our era of rapid change, there are still some people who seem too stubborn to acknowledge it.

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