Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Read On

Earlier this year I had a fairly lengthy email correspondence with a grandfather who was looking forward to his 80th birthday. His children, knowing his love of gadgets and having an acute awareness of his lack of book-space, had decided to buy him an eBook as a gift.

Our dialogue eventually drifted into and around the pros and cons of life today, at which point my thoughts turned to the grandchildren. It’s amazing how quickly a lively imagination can sketch out, in nightmarish detail, the shortcomings of the modern world. Using my own fairly benign childhood days as a convenient canvas didn’t help matters. The picture I had in my head was suddenly thrown into sharp relief.

Of course, our grandchildren will never know any world other than the one they were born into. They will live in their own time. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But just occasionally it’s tempting to map out the uncharted territory of a new generation, using the tools of our own selective memory.

Compared to the grandfather I mentioned at the top of this post I am a novice to the role, and obviously sensing some mild angst in my tone, he reminded me, “Don't worry about your grandchildren. We all do it, but remember, humans are adaptable and will make the best of anywhere they find themselves.”

In a follow-up message I asked him how he was enjoying the eBook. He confessed that he was incapable of downloading anything to it until he had received further tuition from his grandson…..the one who set up his mp3 player for him!

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cuddle Cuddle

I’m painfully aware that I need to take care when writing this post. The last thing I want is for my granddaughter’s language development to be swept up and dumped in the ‘kids say the funniest things’ category.

At two years old the words and phrases are coming thick and fast, although some conversations remind me of the Grieg's "Piano Concerto" sketch Morecambe & Wise did with André Previn. At the point, when Previn is approaching the peak of his confused state, Eric explains that he is playing all the right notes…..but not necessarily in the right order. We are not yet blessed with this level of elucidation but we do find ourselves on the receiving end of expressions and gestures that are clearly intended to point out our short-comings in the communication department.

One recent development has been her ability to pronounce ‘s’ and ‘h’ as ‘sh’. Before this she pronounced ‘sh’ as ‘t’. Coupled with the fact that she was pronouncing her ‘f’s as ‘sh’, it’s understandable why visits to the aquarium have been off limits.


One of the best things about children learning language is the way they inadvertently come up with nicer alternatives to those words in common usage. My current favourite is the term ‘Cuddle-cuddle’ for crocodile. I just hope that when she’s coming to me for a hug, shouting cuddle…cuddle, it’s because she wants an affectionate squeeze, not because she sees an uncanny resemblance between me and some thick-skinned monster that loafs around with his mouth open waiting for his next meal. Hmmm……

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Monday, 27 July 2009

By Rote

I began my education just short of my 5th birthday in 1959. My Mum recalls how she pecked me on the cheek, turned and briskly walked red-faced from the building. My vociferous protests were approaching levels that could shatter glass when another mother asked, “who on earth does that child belong to?” My mother sheepishly replied, “I don’t know,” before heading for the school gate.

The couple of years I attended that Infant School has only left me the memory of fun we had in the playground and the sheer joy of going home.

In the classrooms I suffocated in the chalk-dust atmosphere and discovered daydreaming in the inertia of systematic teaching methods. My teachers all seem to have had their personalities removed and they punished non-conformists by way of humiliation. Standing on your chair, standing in the corner or struggling with the physically impossible task of placing fingers on lips and hands on heads. Unless you had been blessed with tentacles instead of digits you were always going be an under-achiever.

Things have moved on of course. In September our two year old granddaughter is due to start pre-school. Now play-doh has replaced plasticine and teams of staff are more likely to display systematic enthusiasm for hand-painting and positive interaction. The EYFS, or Early Years Foundation Stage has an impressive poster that outlines its key objectives.

Ideas about what education really is or should be has been the subject of debate for an awful long time. Many people probably don’t stop to consider it. They are a product of the same system that served their parents and grandparents. A system that was basically designed, according to Sir Ken Robinson, to meet the needs of industrialism.

If you have a few minutes to spare, I would encourage you to watch the following clip of a speech given by Robinson. It might just have an unexpected effect on the way you think about education in the future.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

It's Good to Know

Since taking early retirement I’ve spent quite a lot of time researching my family history. It’s been a wonderful way to determine where I fit in the familial scheme of things. With the increased interest in genealogy there’s plenty of information out there, particularly online. But, fascinating though the records are, they can represent little more than names and places of people you never knew. That’s why family stories are so important.

Asher at work
Asher At Work

My maternal grandfather, Asher, was a natural storyteller and up until his death in 2002 he loved nothing more than sharing the escapades he’d had as a child – some of which will no doubt appear in future posts – and accounts of his own parents and the life experiences they had throughout the late 1800s until the mid 20th century.

Robert dressed for work
Robert Dressed For Work

My paternal grandfather, Robert, was an unknown quantity to me and from the time when my parents broke up in the early 1960s we lost contact. Until, that is, he wrote to me out of the blue, just a few years before his demise in 1994. Our correspondence offered tantalising glimpses of a relationship that might have been but the clock had beaten us and there was too little time for so many questions. I still have his letters though and I am pleased that he got in touch.

Where am I going with all this? Well, I guess I’m stressing the importance of passing on whatever we know about previous generations. Hand down the stories but try not to bog your grandchildren down with references as to how lucky kids are today. Instead, pick out the funny things that you know, particularly if there are incidents that relate to your own childhood or that of an ancestor.

Children are often curious to find out more about the exploits of other children and the time gap can add to the mystery. It is possible, even in these enlightened times, to read an expression on a young face that’s asking, “you mean, granddad really did that?”

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Mind the Gap!

I keep hearing the term ‘modern grandparent’. But is there really such a thing? Or is the term wishful thinking, perhaps even an unfortunate oxymoron?

Of course we wouldn't want a return to the days when grandparents were synonymous with silent Sunday teas, ritual Christmas visits and awkward farewells. It's unlikely that level of remoteness would be easily achievable in todays searchlight society anyway.

There are moments when I have the uneasy feeling that the 'generation gap' is still perceived as a kind of sociological deficit with its own raft of experts to advise us on how best to overcome it. For just as new parents are under pressure from the outset to read this book about child rearing or to watch that programme about how to deal with ‘terrible twos’, grandparents are urged – not always too subtly - to ‘get with it’, ‘keep up’ and ‘be cool’.

For the lucky ones keeping up is not something they’re necessarily conscious of. My own Mum has – to use a term she would be comfortable with – ‘moved with the times’. She texts faster than me, regularly surfs the internet and uses email. She has mastered her digital camera and is still one of those on a very short list of drivers I feel safe with.

Yet there must be a good many grandparents who find it a struggle. They may feel that their relationships are compromised as the grandchildren morph to and fro, from recognisable little darlings to inscrutable alien beings. For these family elders the years have probably proved that self deprecation is an effective form of defence against a madly spinning world. Unfortunately this particular strategy may not guarantee a fruitful connection with their children’s children in the long term. Perhaps it’s not so much ‘get with it’ as ‘get to it’. Declare your interest and nurture the two-way process.

I’m no expert but I do believe that, rather like the indigenous people in foreign places, children do actually respond to those who make an attempt to interact with the locals. They may huff and puff a little when your attempts go awry. They may contort with laughter when your phrase book lets you down, but points are awarded for trying.

Kids are pretty good teachers of their pet subjects and they love nothing more than for the boot to be on the other foot from time to time. Who knows, you may even win that elusive accolade and actually, eventually, become ‘cool’.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Friday, 24 July 2009

Drama In Little Town

According to our 2 year old granddaughter there's a lot going on in this scene. Mr Bun the baker, one of his customers and the waitress who works in the tearoom above the bakery are having a rest. Are you still with me? Good. There's more. The distraught parents of the baby that's unfortunately fallen between the yellow block seats and the rustic table are being chastised by Marge (in the hat) and Lucy (with the blue headband).

Little things please little minds......
Little Things Please Little Minds

Most adults would probably struggle to improvise a scene like this for fear of displaying too much negativity. A risk assessment would be irresistable. Kids, on the other hand, are fearless when applying their imagination. I am regularly having horrendous wounds - usually inflicted by an interchangeable floppy toy/unidentifiable monster - tended by an infant 'first-aider'. Despite our continued efforts to reassure her that Medics are fine people who work to keep us in good health, she delights in using the reflex hammer with gusto and there's something slightly sinister about the way she prepares her patient to receive the benefits of a toy hypodermic!

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Thursday, 23 July 2009


While we’ve all been monitoring the swine flu news the varicella-zoster virus has crept in by the back door. Today our two year old granddaughter was diagnosed with Chickenpox.

Despite reassurances from the GP we’re still a bit anxious for her 17 week old twin sisters. Not a nice thing to have when you’re so small in the world. Not so good for Dad either, as he’s pretty certain he hasn’t had it himself.

As grandparents we’re used to seeing the effects of childhood ailments. We’ve been through it ourselves, nursed our own children and now we’re seeing all over again. Apparently there are sound reasons why a Chickenpox vaccine isn’t offered as a matter of course in the UK. However, when you see the list of diseases children are offered immunisation against, it’s staggering to hear that some people still choose to opt out and put their children at risk.

A little under thirty years ago we were undecided about the whooping cough vaccine for our daughter. At the last minute the doctor asked us if we had made a decision. We hadn’t. He went on to describe the possible scenario if we decided ‘no’. I remember us both immediately giving him the nod to proceed. The stark facts about the disease were enough to sway us. It’s hard to believe that the choice was such a dilemma for us but it was.

I’ve accompanied our daughter to most of the grandchildren’s vaccination appointments and I support her 100% in her efforts to protect those that are so precious.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Where Do I Sit?

Have you ever wondered why grandparents sometimes wear that pained expression? Well, it might the result of being caught between a rock and a hard place. In the modern world it seems as though everyone is struggling to find where they fit in the scheme of things, and grandparents are no exception.

Could it just be that, like children, grandparents need clear boundaries to operate within? Maybe.

We have always enjoyed a good relationship with our only daughter and this has been achieved quite simply. We built a foundation of mutual trust and respect from the time she made her entrance in 1979. We simply adapted the rules when the grandchildren came along and this time our daughter and son-in-law are ‘calling the shots’. We now tow the party-line.

Some grandparents believe that certain rights and privileges come with their role and these can often fly in the face of young parents who are, themselves, in very new territory. It’s worth remembering that, while we want to make the most of our grandchildren, they are primarily the responsibility of Mum and Dad. If we are not all singing from the same song-sheet it’s bound to get confusing for the grandchildren and become an unwelcome burden for the parents.

If grandparents find it hard to play by the rules it’s probably because they harbour reservations about the way some things are handled by their own offspring. “Well we never did it like that in our day.” That’s because ‘our day’ probably bears little relation to today.

We may receive strict guidance on what we feed the little darlings. We may balk a little at television viewing thresholds. We may be left feeling a certain degree of resentment and slightly wrong-footed on occasion. But we have a lifetime of experience that surely includes those memories of when we were first starting out.

Treasure the grandchildren. Love and support their parents. They are undertaking the most difficult job in the world while we enjoy many shareholder’s benefits.

The recent BBC Four series - The Grandparent Diaries – has showcased three different sets of grandparents and relationship they have with their children and grandchildren. Sadly, there were only three programmes to enjoy but each offered a fascinating insight to the world of grandparenting.

 © 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges