Thursday, 22 March 2012

Cross - cultural fertilisation

A reader has commented on the arcane rituals associated with the working of the raffle at the end of a Moffat coffee morning. Ticket holders draw up chairs in front of the table below the dais, where the tickets have been sold. The ritual requires three officers: a holder of the ticket stubs where buyers names and contact details eg telephone number have been inscribed; a prize fetcher who selects the prizes in strict order and a disinterested figurehead (in the case of Moffat Book Events' coffee morning, me) who draws the prize-winning tickets one by one out of a wicker basket holding all the eligible tickets. I am proud to be able to claim that I introduced the concept of the raffle to Moscow. I was at a conference where some valuable object was donated and the question arose: how most fairly to award it to a member of the audience. Conversely, I successfully persuaded the organisers of the Jan 2012 W G Sebald gathering in Aldeburgh to adopt the immensely sensible Russian practice of dealing with questions to the platform from members of an audience. Questions are written on slips of paper and passed to messengers roving up and down the ends of rows to the platform, where they can be dealt with one by one. This only works fairly if every slip is seen to be opened and dealt with, of course. This method deals with time-wasting speechifiers and encourages people to make their questions more precise. Diffuse, ill-framed questions can briskly be paraphrased by the speaker when he addresses them, or several similar ones be lumped together or self-evidently be demonstrated to already have been asked. This Russian method, however, permits insults or even death threats to the speaker, as was the case at public gatherings where Fr Alexander Men was the speaker, which warned him of his fate but did not daunt him.

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