A few weeks ago my wife and I visited Stratford to see a production of Hamlet. As so often happens on such occasions, my mind was taken back to my school days and my first encounter with the play as a set text.
One of the things that baffled me at the time was, what I felt to be, the unfair criticism of Polonius. He is, afterall, a caring father of Laertes and Ophelia, and to describe him as a ‘tedious old fool’ and a ‘busy-body’ is somewhat unkind.
Polonius’ ‘fault’ is that he is over-protective. His advice to Laertes, prior to his son leaving for France, is a long catalogue of do’s and dont’s – all very sound but far, far too long. We can well imagine Laertes ‘listening’ but ‘hearing’ nothing as the words pass in one ear and out of the other.
This typifies the relationship between advice given and advice received. As parents we feel a responsibility for giving advice, whether or not it is sought. At the receiving end we only hear advice when the situation and the advice match – when we need help.
From childhood days on, two pieces of advice have influenced my behaviour and actions on many occasions:
- Remember, you’re as good as any man; better then none (my grandmother);
- Never spoil a ship for a ha’porth of tar (my father).
The first was important because, by temperament, I am naturally reserved and somewhat short on self-confidence. As a consequence I have needed to recall my grandmother’s words.
The second, I had always assumed, had something to do with keeping the ship watertight and seaworthy. Only recently have I discovered that ship is a dialectal pronunciation of sheep. Tar was used to protect sheep’s sores and wounds from flies. Whichever – don’t scrimp, don’t cut corners! That is false economy.
I have to confess that over the years this second injunction has cost me money. Too often I have used it as an excuse for being extravagant or over-indulgent!