Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Kiddies Party

When our daughter was born, 37 years ago, we had already decided that we wouldn’t have her christened. Religion, we agreed, boiled down to a matter of faith. And as neither of us were strong on religion, it just didn’t seem right to secure for her, membership of a club that she had no inkling of. Yes, it was a question of faith, and she would, from her experiences of the world and those she’d share it with, either make the leap, or not.

The same applies to politics. I hold my views (left of centre) but I never consciously pushed those views Heather’s way. Sure, she would grow up witnessing my reactions to certain events and injustices, but in the end her own opinions would be formed from her learning and understanding of life.

The picture isn’t very different today. I always answer questions from the grandchildren honestly and with fair-mindedness. I don’t go on a rant about how the government is ruining the country. Nor do I subtly attempt to indoctrinate them in one line of thinking or another. If they raise a subject that presents a moral dilemma, I usually ask them what they think might be the right thing to do. The answers are almost always logical, and devoid of all artifice. We really should put the kids in charge. What could possibly go wrong?

Mary addresses conference with a knowing smile.

Yesterday I read about the “Teddy Bear Mandate”, and afterwards my heart sank a little. The initiative, from the British left-wing political organisation, Momentum, is designed to engage children in a certain type of politics. Personally, I think it’s questionable, at least. Children will be encouraged to make protest banners with the aim of helping them to become activists and attend protest marches. It’s the “Teddy Bear Mandate” because kids will be asked to think about what their teddies stand for:

‘Bring your favourite toy to the party where we will imagine the party it might join and lead, and what it stands for.

What is your toy’s mandate, what are the positives that would make your toy a great leader of a totally new party?

What does your teddy stand for, what are its values and how would it make positive changes?

And, finally, what powers do they possess?’

Delegates are mesmerised by the 'new politics'. 

I’m all for kids being empowered, engaged, included, involved, etc. But I want them to figure politics out for themselves. I want them to have the chance to grow up listening to many and various views, to learn about tolerance and social justice, to realise how it feels to have empathy and compassion. I’m not sure that much good can come from a back-of-a-cigarette-packet-idea, the success of which lies in the use of a child’s Teddy Bear as a catalyst. But then, I'm not a politician.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Comic Timing

You know how it is. You crack a joke and people laugh. Then some bright spark suggests you should be on the stage. And, with perfect comic timing, they follow with, “sweeping up!” Cue an even bigger laugh than your original witty story received.

This has happened to me on many occasions, in the past. I’d like to say it put me off treading the boards or having a stab at ‘stand-up’, but the truth is, I’d be paralysed with fear if I had to stand in front of an audience and perform. These days any attempt at humour is made in the company of friends and family, or from relative safety, this side of the keyboard.

But the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd hasn’t deterred other family members from taking to the stage. We’re not a million miles from pantomime season and, for the fourth year running, SW is getting excited about this years school production. And it’s…The Sound of Music…with a Star Wars twist. Feel free to rewrite the lyrics to those classic Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers.

SW (with fellow actor) in Aladdin, 2 years ago.

SW's mum (far right) in Wizard of Oz, 30 years ago.  

Okay. Places, everyone!

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Art of Growing Kids

I recently listened to this 5 minute clip from BBC's Woman's Hour. I love the gardening analogy that Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist, uses to describe what parenting should really be about. That parents aren't creating a particular kind of plant, but developing an ecosystem, a nurturing environment in which many, many different kinds of plants can flourish. Well worth a listen, if you have 5 minutes to spare.

Two little girls flourishing in their own garden.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Every Picture

The girls are back from France, and full of tales about their travels and adventures. And so it was, over Sunday lunch, we learnt all about their holiday. The high point was a surprise visit to Disneyland Paris. In fact they still had no idea where they were going until 5 minutes before arrival. Mum and dad had told them they were visiting a castle, and that there may be a play area to explore. Not exactly a fib, was it?

But aside from accounts of the main attraction, there were those eagerly recalled, unexpected incidents. The owner of the gîte who appeared with a couple of farmworkers carrying a trampoline for the girls to use. The huge man who stood in front of his own children, just to get himself the best view of a fireworks display and light show. The enthusiasm with which food was described. The facial expressions that conveyed trepidation about travelling under the sea to a foreign place.

They left their cameras with me and I've downloaded a haul of photos. Lots of fun shots, fuzzy shots, mugshots, and a few that really made an impression on me. These aren't purely pretty views or popular attractions. They are moments of imagination or curiosity. Explorations, impressions, and fleeting ideas, frozen.

'Reflections' by SW
'Minnie's Ears' by Imogen
 'Candles in Amiens' by Iris

Saturday, 3 September 2016

DO NOT ever grow up (it's a trap)

I'm always left with a heavy heart after reading accounts of how children are unhappy. Recently, this BBC item caught my eye. According to the Children's Society annual report more than one third of 10 - 15 year old girls are unhappy with their appearance. Such a sad state of affairs, that kids should be hung up on this kind of thing at any point in their young lives.

There follows some words of advice, from young women. Things they'd say to their younger selves.

This started me wondering what advice I might give to my younger self. I quickly drew the conclusion that, even now, I'm really not qualified to offer any advice. And when I was a youngster, I rarely, if ever, listened to advice.

All I would say to my grandchildren is, keep drawing those beautiful pictures, keep inventing wonderful stories, don't forget how to be silly. As much as we want children to have our old heads on their young shoulders, with all the best intentions, it ain't gonna happen. But we can support them, love them, and try to help them build confidence in what they do. We can also reassure them that failure is not to be feared. Mistakes and setbacks are important in teaching us what works and what doesn't.

Keep bouncing back

Keep drawing. (Chewbacca by Iris)

DO NOT ever grow up (it's a trap)

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Missing You, Already

All three girls came to us for lunch on Friday. Part of a plan to allow mum and dad some packing time and space before all five head off to France the very next morning.

Our first floor flat is quite small. And it becomes unbelievably small when three active children are slotted into the equation. It's also quite warm all year round. I'm sure the girls think it has something to with being old. I believe it’s because we’re closer to the sun. The girls feel the warmth, even during the winter months. So we heat fill them up with eggs, chips and beans, then offer an ice-cream dessert as an antidote extra special treat.

Then I suggest, “Let’s walk to the shop,” (only a mile across country).

Muted response.

“We could buy lollies.”

Did three girls ever don their shades and sunhats more quickly? And I speak as someone who has just watched a considerable slice of the Olympics. So I know how to gauge speed.

Trips to the shop seem to take no time at all in their company. All the constant chatter, the running ahead (them, not me) and the extras like choosing an apple that’s fallen from the tree near the railway bridge, setting it still in the middle of the road, and seeing who can kick theirs over the humpback bridge with the fewest attempts.

Two ‘Pop-ups’ and a ‘Twister’ later, and we’re plodding our way home. Our group becomes straggled due to an almost microscopic blister on Iris’ toe. I hang back with her, offering reassurance that her foot will be intact when we get home. It seems to work, for a while, until she complains of stitch. She’s holding her left side, at a point around her hip.

“I don’t think you get stitch there."

“You can get stitch anywhere,” she says. We walk on in silence. Well, I walked, she limped, slightly.

Then, at the end of an enjoyable few hours, dad came to pick them up. Normally when we say goodbye, it’s in the knowledge that they will be just a couple of miles away. But this was us saying goodbye before they crossed the channel to France. An altogether different prospect.

The view from the gîte appears to be quiet and still. Rather like our days without the girls in them.

They were hugged, we were hugged. We did ‘high fives’ (several times) and we told them how much we love them. Then, just when I thought the old heartstrings couldn’t tighten much more, Imogen looked me square in the eye and asked a question in such a way that only a promise would suffice as an answer.

“Will you still be here when we get back?”

All three stared, waiting for my response.

We’ll do our best. Of course we will.”

Ouch, that really tugged, young lady. But who knows what though processes are taking place inside such a young head? This is the girl who asked me to print a photo of Monty, their dog, so she can see him when she's away. I had to print another, of all three girls, to pin up next to his basket, so he could see them, too.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Cobs and Monsters

When I was about seven, I watched an episode of Robin Hood starring Richard Greene, which included a scene where the “baddie,” in black armour, lurked on a great staircase. I couldn’t sleep for nights. In my dreams/nightmares he was always after me. A pursuit that caused me to eventually wake, hot and breathless.

A few days ago, the eldest of our twin granddaughters (by ten minutes) told me she’d had a nightmare. For her, a giant Christmas tree began to move and wobble, generating monsters that began to chase her and her family. In fact the monsters in question were hideous hybrids of her favourite animals. Anyway, the family all crammed into the smallest of their two cars, and made their getaway. This, her sister told me, was the severely abridged version. “Ugh, she told us this at dinner, and it went on forever. We were all, like, *pulls the expression of someone in a catatonic trance* enough, already.” Sympathetic little soul.

Swan, Flying by Imogen

It was a different tale, today. Today number one twin presented me with a hand drawn picture of a swan, flying. I think it’s charming, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

A place for imaginings.

She’s also been taking advantage of this hammock that her dad’s suspended beneath their horse chestnut tree. The perfect place for recording her imaginings.