Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Time Out

After giving it a lot of thought, I've decided to pull down the blinds at Square Sunshine, at least until the end of the summer. I want to give myself a little more space to revisit old interests and possibly investigate some new ones. Let's call it a blog-break, not necessarily a blog broken. Happy holidays, and enjoy the sunshine, square or otherwise!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Fresh air, ice-cream, and going ape!

Had a fabulous family day out at Moors Valley Country Park. Although we paused for a ride on the miniature steam railway, ice-creams, and multiple playground activities, there was adventure and celebration in the air, too.

Now 35 years old, I think this little girl might be past close encounters with bears. Even those with a seat and wheels! However, her daughter, SW, was very keen to 'Go Ape' with her dad.

And, do you remember what I said in my last post, about scaling fallen tree trunks, twice your own height? Well, as far as Things 1 and 2 are concerned, it's mission accomplished!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Breathing Space

We’ve been planning a family visit to London for this coming weekend, in part to celebrate our daughter’s birthday, but also to take the opportunity to introduce our grandchildren to the ‘sights’. So why are we now heading for a country park instead? Well, it’s a question of breathing space, really.

Once you start to organise a day out in the capital city, for four adults and three small children, it’s not just the Millennium Eye that’s rotating. Anyone who’s familiar with the film of Fantastic Mr Fox will know that possum feeling.

Yes, it’s disappointing not to be taking the little ones on an exciting – for them -  train ride. It’s not such a let down to know that we’ll avoid the crush on the Tube, the fumes, the crowds, the noise, etc.

No doubt, after a day of running and climbing in the woods, there will be three pairs of tired young legs, not to mention the four pairs of considerably older legs. But it’s a different kind of achiness you get, keeping your balance, or testing your ability to scale fallen tree trunks that are twice your height.

Cities can leave you drained in so many ways, so we’re leaving the stone steps and concrete pavements for another day. It reminds me of a time, around 30 years ago, when we were visiting relatives near Southampton, having driven up from our home in Cornwall. We were out in the car on a Saturday morning, when our daughter – 5 or 6 at the time -  surveyed the scene before remarking that she was bothered by the constant movement of so many people. As I recall, she was most anxious about where they were all going to. It would have been so tempting to quote a line or two of Donovan’s ‘The Observation’.

On the sidewalk the people are hustling and bustling
They ain't got no time so they think on the thing
That will fill in the space in between birth and death
Who're they kidding?

Obviously I exercised restraint, on that occasion, something I can guarantee the grandchildren won’t be doing when we turn up here!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Jobs Worth

I don’t recall anyone ever asking me “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The usual, tired mantras, espoused by parents and teachers alike, were rooted in an unchallengeable work ethic. Keep your head down, keep your nose clean – easier said than done, whilst pressed hard against the grindstone – and learn, learn, learn.

Frankly, much of the last part was lost on me, as it was on many of my contemporaries. The incentives to learn were not so clearly explained in those days, and academic apathy combined with painfully narrow horizons, resulted in many of my cohort stumbling out of school, into a fug of employment possibilities filed under ‘Dead End’.

I recall someone I had an appointment with, a nonchalant woman – I don’t think the term ‘Career Advisor’ had been invented then – who offered me 17 ‘possibilities’ from her card-index of jobs. The options were hardly mouth-watering. Making wooden crates for a packaging company, creosoting railway sleepers, carpet factory, etc, etc. Eventually I settled for an apprenticeship with an agricultural engineering firm. Well, why wouldn’t I? I’d be working outside, undoing nuts and bolts and, most importantly, I’d be out of the classroom and into a world that was suddenly adorned with prospects. Although, a career wasn’t among them. Within four months of breaking free from education, I was already in my second job.

I hope I don’t come across as someone who’s feeling short-changed in any way. It was what it was, and I’d probably take the same path all over again. There have been some moments worth reliving.

What triggered this line of thought? Well, it was something that our twin grand-daughter, Thing 2, said when she stopped over, recently. “My friend told me, her mummy’s a doctor. I told my friend, my mummy’s a worker.

Great, isn’t it? Kids draw little or no distinction between the lady that saves lives, and the lady that serves school lunches. The truth is, both women play important roles, and do valuable work. It’s a thought worth holding on to, and I’m confident that Thing 2 and her sisters will grow up with a much clearer idea of how different people contribute to society, and how society regards them, in turn.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Body Parts

Of all the things we have to explain to kids, human anatomy probably ranks high on the list in terms of complexity. Starting out is easy. Teach them the common names for limbs and sensory organs, and establish a list of acceptable euphemisms for bodily functions – job done! That’s how it was for us, until our daughter brought a library book home from primary school, for me to read with her. Imagine, settling down to deliver a bedtime story, and being presented with a book about delivering babies. Yes, there I was, mentally rehearsing various character voices, only to find myself pitifully underprepared for ‘A Foetus Journeys Forth’.

Aged three, Thing 1 had formed the opinion that human anatomy
wasn't as complicated as grown-ups would have her believe.
Still, I survived that experience, and an awful lot more besides, the way most parents do. Now all I have to contend with are the occasional surprises, sprung by young grandchildren.

Why have you got small boobies, Grandad?

Why have your teeth got black bits, Grandad?
“Not black. Silver.”
“They’re fillings, where the dentist repaired my teeth.”

And the latest is, “When will you die?” To which I’m tempted to answer, “Probably when you call out some boundary-breaking question in a crowded public place.”

Our daughter, now mother of three - so the message in the library book all those years ago, must have stuck – was telling me, today, that Thing 1 sprang from the bath last evening, pointed to her distended tummy and declared it full of strawberries. She went on to explain that her head was full of fish, and her arms packed with biscuits. Beats slugs, snails and puppy dog’s tails I suppose!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Kids are all write

When I was at junior school, English lessons were divided into ‘comprehension’ and ‘composition’. In the former, we had to read someone else’s work before completing set exercises to demonstrate our understanding of it. In the latter we were usually given a subject to write about, the rest was up to us. As a ten year old, I favoured the freedom to produce something out of my own head, rather than analyse a story written by someone else.

I’ve noticed that SW is leaning the same way. Does this mean that SW is taking after her Grandad? I doubt it. She's far too sensible.

If you missed it, you can read about SW's 'Darsing Hipow', here.

The telling of a story is a very personal aspect of childhood expression. At this stage in our lives we are constantly telling, retelling, adapting and improvising. By the time we reach adulthood, we have every volume bound and catalogued in our heads and hearts. It’s a rich source to draw on when we have children of our own and, for many, it’s a safe place of retreat when the grown-up world rears, and bares its pointy teeth.

It makes no difference if the plots are acted out with a dinosaur as Prince Charming. He can still rescue the vision of a princess in distress, played by a one-legged teddy. Cushion castles can be impregnable and treacherous mountain passes often wind for hundreds of miles from lounge land to kitchen kingdom.

I watched a documentary about Judith Kerr recently. From the start of the programme, it was apparent that Judith’s passion for story-telling began in early childhood. She’s now in her 91st year, still writing and illustrating children’s books. She has led a remarkable life, and an archive of her work is kept at the Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books. Well worth a look.

If you’re interested in reading what kids are coming up with today, try one of my favourite places, Fighting Words. It's a wonderful initiative by Roddy Doyle and Sean Love. And for a limited time, you can read the top 50 stories in each age category of the 2014 ‘500 Words’ competition, hosted at BBC Radio 2.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

How prepared are we?

If you’re a visitor to this blog, you’re more than likely to have been on the receiving end of a child’s question that took you out of your comfort zone. I’m not talking about those whimsical enquiries about how babies are made, or why grandma has grown a moustache. I’m thinking more about those questions that cause society to stir and, occasionally, do a double-take. Subject matter that can all too easily be sprung on a grandparent who has only just discovered that Tinie Tempah is a rapper, and not a toddler’s meltdown. Yes, just as you’re giving and receiving uninhibited ‘high fives’, and discovering that ‘cool’ still resonates, even without jazz, a realisation dawns. Your grandchildren are tuning in to your world. They are hearing their first crackling transmissions of adult concerns, being broadcast over the angstwaves.     

Explaining same sex marriages, or the life choices taken by Thomas Neuwirth – alias Conchita Wurst – winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, seems pretty straightforward on the face of it. And it is, until those inevitable follow-up questions arrive in quick succession. Suddenly your well-balanced, duly considered and perfectly reasonable response is sounding a bit lame, and the calm conversational waters you were navigating threaten to become a little choppy.

But children so often come to our rescue. They come with an inbuilt instrument that measures the ability of an adult to communicate coherently. Listening intently to the stalled sentences, they stare wide-eyed, waiting for the hint of an answer. And when the stammering is over, they return to whatever preoccupied them beforehand, leaving you never fully knowing if they’re inwardly celebrating with a fist pump, or just picking up the threads of the Scooby-Doo story on TV.

I'm off for a think. I may be gone some time...

Some people have maybe taken things too far in trying to furnish children with solid perspective on the world at large. I was surprised to discover that Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish philosopher, had made a number of radio broadcasts for children, between 1929 and 1932, covering such topics as human responses to natural disasters, along with capitalism and its negative impact on the living conditions of the poor. His idea was for children to challenge clich├ęs. In my experience, this is something they manage to accomplish on a day-to-day basis, with minimum assistance from us.