Friday, 17 July 2015

An old fish and a concocted sibling

I’ve had this picture on my desktop for a few weeks. I lifted it from one of SW’s illustrated tales, about a difficult girl, Amy, who was being forced to visit her horrible grandmother, who Amy constantly referred to as “an old fish.”

Children get a lot of creative mileage from their relationships with adults. First, the awkwardly connected shapes and colours, and the disproportionate eyes and noses that have you looking sideways in the bathroom mirror for weeks on end. Then the words come, along with the hard-to-explain messages written gleefully in school notebooks. I remember a tense moment when our daughter’s teacher congratulated us on the ‘good news’. “Heather is very excited, I’m sure,” said the woman, beaming. “When is the baby due?”

“Ah, yes, well, Heather has a vivid imagination, as you know…”

The teacher, moving on quickly, “And have you seen her artwork? We’ve been learning about dinosaurs. Aren’t they wonderful?”

But I’ll take any number of situations like that. It proves that the a child is taking note of the world around them, trying to make sense of it, and using creative expression to communicate their conclusions.

There was an interesting piece I read, earlier this week, by Kevin Jones, the headmaster of St John’s College School, Cambridge. Some brilliant quotes from children of various ages. Here are just a few, but if you have five minutes, the full article is well worth the effort.

Art is a break for my mind. In all of the confusion of life I can find peace through it. I can experience my thoughts and feelings in a physical form.”

When I’m drawing or painting I feel I can escape to the place that I am drawing.”

I love making sculpture as anything is possible, and as you work it opens up ideas in your head.”

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Celebration In Your Head

At a primary school assembly I was a bit taken aback when, in his preamble to announcing the team with the most house points for the week, the headmaster gently advised winning pupils to celebrate in their heads, rather than letting out an almighty cheer. I’m still not clear about the reasoning, but I guess it hinged on an intention to show respect for the runners-up. Fair enough, but whole school team efforts against other schools, are vigorously applauded. Even when the school team effort fails to make the top three, participants are told they were the best, the other schools just got lucky. There’s humour in the delivery, and I think most of the kids get that, but there’s also, potentially, a mixed message about the value of competition.

Let’s leave the Too Much, Too Soon Campaign – one of my hobby horses - aside for a while, and while we’re at it, let’s put pushy parents on hold, too. So much has already been said about them. Instead, shouldn't we be placing children on centre-stage, and fostering ideas around collaboration rather than competition? I read a really interesting piece recently, by the young writer, Chibundu Onuzo. She observes, “I am not yet halfway through my twenties, and already I am fatigued by the way the world is determined to frame my life. Someone always has more money, a better job, more vibrant social life, more attractive postcode. I am forever to be in competition with this ever elusive someone who is always a stride ahead, their shadow darkening my progress.” It saddens me to think that this is what's in store for my three grandchildren.

And it’s worth remembering that not only children suffer here. I see and hear evidence all the time confirming that many parents have already been sucked into the vying vortex. The problem is, so many of them confuse aggressive competiveness with keen aspiration. They are two different things, entirely. We all want to see our children and grandchildren realise and fulfil their potential, but surely not by viewing everyone as a deadly rival, and overlooking the possibility of a perfect working partnership.

I recall someone saying to me once, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Please don't tell me they were wrong.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A place for everything

In a few days time, Square Sunshine will have been rising and setting for 6 years, despite the odd extended eclipse when a host of other distractions have forced their way between me and it.

I have a t-shirt that I bought some years back at the Cambridge Folk Festival. It bears one of those ambiguous logos, picturing a silhouetted figure, climbing a slope with a sinking sun before him. A quasi hippie line reads’ “What a long strange trip it's been.” The romantic in me identifies with the figure. The message could easily be referring to what is archived on these pages.

There have been many moments when I’ve thought I should be concentrating my efforts on writing solely about the grandchildren. It’s not as though I’ve been hard pushed for material. But instead, I’ve wandered around the landscape of my own grandparenthood for a large part of the time, trying my hand at this and that, and representing my thoughts and observations with photographs and tentatively executed poetry, the best of which might crop up again, but not here.

I doubt if it's uncommon among grandparents, to explore what the status means beyond the relationship we have with the new additions to the family. Maybe, sub-consciously, there’s a process of checking ones credentials. I think, for me at least, blogging has provided a place where memories, partially completed tick-lists of interests and threads of talent can be reviewed, stashed and ultimately pointed to as an extension of myself. Who knows, maybe the three girls will even get around to reading some of this stuff one day? In any event, for as long as the strange trip continues, I’ll be leaving occasional stories and souvenirs of grandparenthood here, although this will increasingly become their space, as originally intended. The other stuff will eventually have a blog of its own. Until then, it’s good to travel light.