Saturday, 8 October 2016

Hibernation

These are strange days. There is movement wherever we look. Whether it’s self-destructing participants in the so-called ‘global race’, or the actual mass migration of displaced human beings, walking the finest of lines as they cross land masses to what they hope will be a better life.

24hr reports and views hold us in a weird limbo. At once frozen, yet constantly agitated. The earth turns (did I read 650 mph?) and social media carries the thoughts and reactions of countless millions, at a speed that may well be outpacing the planet.

When I was first introduced to the concept of the blog, with the launch of Blogger, around 1999/2000, the possibilities were abundantly clear. Five years ahead of Facebook, anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection could log their thoughts, opinions, interests, causes, etc, and belong to a network of like-minded online diarists. It was a truly exciting moment.

I didn’t actually start my own blog until July, 2009. Square Sunshine steadily grew a following. Mostly people who were interested in the observations of a grandfather. Later, others who liked my tentative efforts at photography and poetry. Back then I always had something I wanted to share. A funny moment, a special occasion, a sobering discovery. In turn, I could pop over to my favourite places and learn about a whole range of life experiences. It genuinely felt as though I had moved into a new and friendly neighbourhood where interesting and informative individuals passed the time of day (or night) chatting over the cyber fence.

Then, after a while, my posts became less frequent. I often found that I had little of consequence to say. Years ago, the weekly column I wrote was mostly inspired by our young daughter. I had thought I might take a similar route with the blog, only this time prompted by the antics and activities of grandchildren. It worked for while. But, as I’m so inclined, I found myself distracted and eagerly filled in the blanks with anything and everything that took my fancy. I feel it was at this point when Square Sunshine lost its focus. Eventually the posts were sporadic, and often out of kilter with what visitors had perhaps come to expect.

I called it a day at least twice. I played around with the design, the look, the feel, the style. I posted enthusiastically but quickly ran out of steam. The lengthy periods between posts were beginning to look like neglect.

All the time, I was still dropping in on my favourite blogs. Not necessarily commenting, but passing by and giving a wave. What I noticed was, that old neighbours were shutting up shop at an alarming rate. Some blogs disappearing entirely, some halted abruptly with no explanation. I know of at least two regulars who died, their blogs left as a tribute. That or grieving relatives had no access to the relevant passwords.

This summer I resolved to give it one more go. I redesigned the header, tidied up my sidebar, and began posting every few days or so. When I called in on old neighbours, a handful were home, and producing greatly entertaining tales. Others were either out, not answering the door, or had moved from the area.

From my point of view, blogging, at least in the form that I consider to be typical of its heyday, is waning. It has been for some time. In part, the medium has been, like districts of our great cities, quietly ‘gentrified’. Increasingly, blogs are slickly presented, but a little 'flat-pack' in calibre. Too often a visual bombardment of heavily filtered pics and neurotic narratives. Certain traits have invaded blogland like Japanese Knotweed, obscuring and obstructing the neighbourliness and sense of community.

Me, stringing sentences together. © Robby Bullen - Cartoonist

I’m not going to say I’m shutting up shop and moving on…again. But I am going on a *virtual* winter vacation, in an attempt to get some serious writing done.

No doubt I’ll continue to bump into some of you on the crowded streets of Facebook, or maybe in the picturesque lanes of Instagram. One place you won’t find me is on Tweet Street. 

Thanks to all who have dropped by. It's been great to have your company. Take care, and have fun.   

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Miss Perfect?

These are the days that will shape our children and grandchildren, and I know that the little ones will adapt to the world they know. For a time, they will lay claim to it, as we once did. They will be okay with the hand they’ve been dealt, because they have little to compare their experiences to, other than our own back stories which, to them, are just that. Stories.

Kids have a natural gift for being able to relate and respond to the essence of individuals. 
Judging by physical appearance alone is such a negative burden.  

Even though I am a born optimist, and even though I have complete confidence that the younger generations will strive to make good the mess others have created, there are things that concern me. Things that all too often remain below the radar.

This morning I read this article. It highlights research findings by Girlguiding, into the pressures on young girls, to look perfect.

The following quoted figures are shocking.

559 seven – ten-year-olds took part in the survey:

36% said they were made to feel the most important thing about them was their looks

38% felt they were not pretty enough

35% agreed women were judged more on their appearance than their abilities

23% felt they needed to be perfect

The pressure to appear perfect is, no less a burden for boys, I’m sure.

The School of Life have produced an excellent animation that examines the ‘Perfectionist Trap’. It’s less than 4 minutes long, and well worth watching. 
  

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)