A New Year … with some blasts from the past!

15 January 2022

This is my first post of 2022, so “Happy New Year!” Uncharacteristically however, I find myself a little out of sync with the advent of this novel chapter of life. As the seasonally resolute launch into fresh starts, new regimes and forward thinking with enthusiasm, I spend much of my initial fortnight taking a trip down memory lane…

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Well, quite frankly, no-one could blame anyone for wanting to retreat from the jaw dropping January chaos of Boris’ unbelievable Britain! New channels and social media can scarcely keep apace with all the scandal and speculation: Downing Street parties, sozzled civil servants, surging omicron cases, disgraced royal princes and soaring energy prices. It feels like utter madness and misery, which why, were this the catalyst, I know that I’d be forgiven for looking wistfully back to a simpler time when I was young and wrapped up with friends, boyfriends and schoolwork. Back in a bygone century, with only 4 channels on the TV, not a mobile phone in sight and at an age when I was only half aware of anything that was happening out in the wider world.

But the reality is that I don’t find myself reliving some of my past because of any of this. No; it is all far more straightforward! I am contacted unexpectedly by some-one I went to college with; whom I have not seen or heard from for over 30 years. How exciting! We re-live classes, teachers, social exploits and gatherings (some of which I can only dimly recall.) And it is fun. So much so that I decide to really wallow in girlhood nostalgia and challenge Alexa to bring back the soundtrack of my youth.

Now, I spent most of my late teens, clad in black leggings and Ts, lying on my bedroom floor listening to The Smiths, convinced that Morrissey was the only person on the planet to truly understand me. A champion of teen angst he may well have been, but for an aging mother of three, Mozzer wailing through the house is a bit of a mood killer, so I wind the clock forward a few years and go for Alanis Morissette instead. And that is much more like it!

“And what it all comes down to. Is that everythin’s gonna be quite alright.”

I warble along lustily, dancing around the kitchen making tea; I feel fantastic. My chance re-acquaintance may have reminded me that I was once under 25, but the music … I swear that it actually takes me back to an age when I was carefree and finding my way in the world. Maybe it does? In at number 4, on Saga’s Top ten ways to feel instantly young again’, is voyaging down memory lane by looking at old photos or listening to music from that time. Similarly, Wes Baines in an article outlining how youth is defined by ‘action not age‘ suggests that,

“Looking back at your life doesn’t have to remind you of what you’ve lost—it can remind you of what you still have. It’s easier than you think to slip back into that youthful mindset when you surrounded yourself with music and photos and loves from that time of your life.”

I can certainly recommend it as an uplifting hour, if nothing else. Further, I venture a tentative ‘yes’, that a 1980s/1990s kitchen disco brightens my outlook a little and helps me start to look ahead to the new year, with some of the ambition, hope and optimism that I had all those years ago. We shall see… and in the meantime, Alanis certainly knows how to write a great song…

You live, you learn
You love, you learn
You cry, you learn ….

You Learn : Alanis Morissette

What’s wrong with being woke?

Friday 26 November 2021

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Don’t call young people ‘woke’ or ‘snowflakes

Samantha Price November 2021

It is a headline grabbing moment from headteacher Samantha Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, at a conference in Manchester this week. Reading various reports of her speech, I don’t think that she objects to the word ‘woke‘ itself, rather that the ‘older generation‘ now use it as an insult to ‘sneer‘ and ‘dismiss’ the views of young people on issues they care deeply about such as: climate change, Black Lives Matter and gender identity.

Well climate change terrifies me; racism sickens me; gender identity, I’ll confess that still baffles me, mostly because I know far less about it. So, whilst as a parent and teacher, it is a cardinal sin for me to even contemplate ‘getting down with the kids’ it makes me ask myself,

Am I a little bit woke too?’

But firstly, what exactly does it mean?

Although its origins can be traced back hundreds of years, woke first appears in the OED in 2017, where it is defined as ‘originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’. While the Urban Dictionary entry reads, ‘being woke means being aware… knowing what’s going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice)’. Simply summarised, woke means consciously awake.

And what, I would ask, is wrong with that? Shouldn’t we all be on board? Clearly not; for in certain circles of society there is now a vehement ‘anti-woke‘ movement. John McWhorter writing How ‘Woke’ became an insult in the New York Times, suggests that this reflects a certain inevitability in language and evolution within the very communities who first adopt it; a ‘euphemism treadmill’ if you like,

A well-used word or expression is subject to ridicule or has grimy associations. A new term is born to replace it and help push thought ahead. But after that term spends some time getting knocked around in the real world, the associations the old term had settle back down, like gnats, on the new one. Yet another term is needed. Repeat.

Others, point to an anti-left wing agenda, who articulate a weariness with the judgemental and preachy tone of woke advocates. The Metro reporting,

“‘Woke’ has dethroned ‘politically correct’ and ‘snowflake’ as the insult du jour for many internet … wishing to mock the hypersensitivity of the left”

And indeed, there are long list of famous names outspoken on the need to crusade against ‘political correctness’, waving the flag for the ‘Anti-Woke’, even portraying the entire movement as ‘anti-British.’ Notable faces including: Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage and, self appointed anti-woke warrior, Laurence Fox.

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And here is it that I pause to decide which side of the balance I land on; Woke or ant-Woke? I could search on for ‘the truth’ but, in today’s society that would be be a very long quest. Statistics, politics, new stories, values… in the right hands they can all be spun to suit any purpose. In consequence, whenever I think about voting, for example, I look at the people behind the policy and ask myself ‘Who do I trust the most?’ . If I apply that decision making strategy to this scenario then, it appears to boil down to whether I see myself in Team Greta and Team Malala, or … choose to line up behind Messieurs Farage and Fox.

Well … that took me under 30 seconds to answer and it will be woke for me! But I respect that for many of you it may take longer and it may be a different verdict.

Additionally, it is not only the faces of this generation of youth activists that sways me. No, I think it is also Samantha Price, who concludes her speech by reminding us that, whatever our grown up beliefs, it is the youth of society who will be the future and that to deter them is to “risk the level of progress in society – from sustainability through to equality“. So I resolve to avoid the clamour to join the grumpy oldsters when I hear views that sound new and challenging and hark back predictably to comfortable yesteryear. No, I shall aim to chime with Ms Price who states, “I am weary of hearing the older generation say, ‘you can’t say anything any more’…. The fact is that times have changed, and we simply need to keep up with them.”

It is, of course, true that no decision comes without its costs; the lovely Laurence Fox once decreed that he would not date woke -women. So I guess he’s off the dating list for me?

I think I can probably live with that….

My son gets a haircut …

Saturday 9 October 2021

This weekend, Small-boy is booked into an appointment at my hairdressers instead of being sent on his customary walk to the local barber.

Have you taken leave of my senses?” I hear you wonder.

As both girls have flown the family nest to university, have I turned my poor son into a daughter substitute who must accompany me on coiffure outings to sip cappuccino, eat Biscoff biscuits and talk hair products with the styling team? Actually; it is probably the complete opposite….

This has actually come about from me listening to my teenage child! Yes parents of small children, be cautioned; the lovely days of kitting your child out with economical biannual trips to Sports Direct or the ‘F &F‘ aisles at Tesco and, similarly, perching them on booster seats at the hairdressers for a cost effective over-short, made-to-last-a-few-weeks cut, do not last forever! No, alas, those cheery, chubby toddlers, with their grubby hands and paint spattered cheeks only go and grow up … and start to make their own choices about what they wear and how they look! I could call it the ‘Teenage years‘ but, as lots of you will know, it can happen even earlier than that for the more determined offspring.

In many ways, I think I had an easier ride than some, particularly with Small Boy, who definitely made it to High School before he really gave his clothing or hair a second thought. But now he is pretty clear and… yes the word is ‘unshakeable‘ … about having his own look and style. And this, at the moment, means ‘growing’ his hair. And so it was that a few weeks ago he, peered out from under his unruly locks and threw into the conversation,

Mum, now that my hair is getting quite long, do you think I should get it cut properly… at a hairdresser who knows about curly hair?”

I suggest that the barbers are probably also more than capable of branching out beyond a ‘two on the sides and longer on top’ brief, but he remains unconvinced and eventually I think, ‘Why the devil not?‘ plus, it would be nice, however we achieve it, to see his face again and call my salon to make enquiries and the appointment is made.

After an hour of washing, cutting and scrunching, he emerges, looking a little unsure, but after a quick trip home to ruffle it up a bit and ‘thumbs up’ approval from both sisters on WhatsApp, off into town he goes.

‘Does it make the start of a whole new hair-cutting era?’, I ponder. Who can tell! The Teenage years are one unexpected roller coaster of surprises with unexpected highs and lows at every turn. And so they must be, for they are about a child taking those confusing, daunting but also exciting steps to adulthood and independence. And, I hope, being able to talk about, listen and, where appropriate, hand over autonomy (and budgeting) on simple things, like haircuts and clothes makes it a little bit easier to be there for the more challenging and difficult conversations along the journey too.

Well that’s my hope …

Holidaying …without kids…

Saturday 28 August 2021

On the heartwarming ‘Raising Boys’ blog, there is one article, ‘7 Rules for taking a Toddler on Holiday‘ that takes me on a poignant trip down memory lane and inspires this week’s post. For this year, I find myself emerging on the other side of this parental vacation voyage. In August 2021, I leave my kids at home and go holidaying with my friends again!

Yes, my friends and I have shared many holiday permutations over the years. In our student days, lots of adventurous travel. Booking a flight, packing a rucksack, a tube of travel wash and the iconic ‘Rough Guide to…. wherever‘ and simply setting off for a few weeks … occasionally months. Then marriage and settling down, lit up by the sociable toddler years, when our cheery, chubby offspring were only too happy to team up with any children in sight and so came with us on trips to see our pals. Built sandcastles together, shared tents together, giggled, laughed and probably cried on ‘long’ parent-led walks together. Alas, this harmony was soon to hit the challenge of the teenage era! Definitely a more barren time in terms of keeping in touch. Awkward adolescents are fare less keen, we discovered, to immediately bond and socialise with each other, simply because they are around the same age and, back in the 1980s, their parents became buddies at University! So our holiday meet-ups, regrettably, dwindled away … until this year.

With Small Boy joyfully driven to Wales to enjoy a seaside holiday with my Mum and his ‘caravan friends’, my girls more than keen to have the house to themselves for a week, I am free to head to the beautiful Northumberland Coast to join a house that ‘sleeps six’ with a group of university friends. And there is not an single child in sight!

And it is wonderful! Seven days of adult company and a full 180 degrees different from my usual life. A large G & T greets me upon arrival on arrival. We enjoy leisurely meals out and fantastic food in with wine, chat, laughter and no-one rushing to finish and get back to the x-box. Countryside and coastal walks are planned with pub or cafe stops … and without needing to resort to threats or bribery. The very civilised ‘Great Estuary Debate‘ aside, (to chance a wade across at low tide or play safe with a longer roadside route?’ … that was the question) there are also no arguments, no sulks, no squabbles. On the beach, some do swim and board, someone even brings a bucket and spade… but not me. After years of having to occupy, entertain and cart equipment for 3 children to the sand and sea … I just bring snacks, drinks and my kindle.

Of course, there are still some decisions to be made… just not ones you’d usually hear on a teen family vacation,

I thought Yemeny pilaf for dinner tonight, or possibly salmon‘ calls one of my friends from the kitchen ” Any preference?”

Oooh – tough choices!

And we don’t forget about our children completely. We share parenting tales, we swap proud pictures and we call them most days. But predominantly, I find, I have a precious and refreshing week for me; afternoon and evening drinks, lazy morning lie-ins with a good book interchanged with occasional runs, convivial jigsaws but competitive board games, fresh air, stunning scenery, much tea, many biscuits, fun and friendship.

Do the kids miss us? Today I drive home and arrive at a house where the curtains are closed, the shed is full of uncollected Amazon parcels and there not a scrap of food to be found in fridge or cupboard. But those who are in welcome me back with hugs and smiles, so even if they haven’t missed me, even if they have had a lovely break from my ‘mum – nagging’, I think they are pretty pleased to have me back. My Eldest sends a text explaining that she is ‘out’ until later and Small Boy reminds me that he is heading to a gig in the local park at six. I resign myself to tea without milk, an afternoon of washing and conclude that whilst we have all had welcome change of pace and routine, that life will be ‘back to normal’ before I’ve even unpacked my bags.

Or maybe not; I fire up my laptop, start to type and escape back to holiday mode for an extra indulgent hour or two…

Oh to be young ….

11 July 2017

At around noon, Prom-dress daughter, three of her friends, assorted luggage …and a mini fridge, set off, in a very small Fiat 500, en route for my mum’s caravan in Wales.

‘Oh to be 18 again!’

Laughter and excitement fill our house as they all assemble. I pop briefly into the lounge, in an attempt to discuss the route, but am waved away with confident flourishes of Google Maps and leave them discussing the far more important issue of what to add to the car playlist! And, as bottles of gin and fizz are cheerfully clanked into the car boot, I realise that now is also not the moment to check if anyone has brought ‘a waterproof‘ or a ‘pair of stout walking boots’. No this is the glorious age when you are old enough to start breaking away parental supervision, sensible shoes and practical plans, and life can be centred on fun, friendship and freedom. And I don’t feel overly worried or anxious as I wave them off…I just feel envious! My mind wanders back to the halcyon days of my own youth and those early  ‘gal pal’ holidays.

Me, as a teen

My first, aged 16, was also at my parent’s caravan. Ours was an epic journey indeed, involving a National Express coach, a train followed by a steam train, a local bus and then dragging our bulging bags and cases through the caravan park. Once there, I have no idea what we ate and doubt we had a raincoat between us. What I do remember is sunbathing on the beach with a crackly radio permanently set to the ‘Radio 1 Roadshow’, occasional and very tame night-time adventures at the ‘caravan club’, lots and lots of laughter and delightful days drifting by without a care. And that is the feeling I miss, now that I am a grown up.

I say this even after a week when music makes a magical return to my world. The curtain raiser; a trip to the Bridgwater Hall. And here, just as I am sipping on a cheeky white wine spritzer with the opening chords of the overture rising through the auditorium, my phone pings with a request to  play in an actual concert. 

I’ll confess I feel a little stunned at first,  because I am 16 months out of practice. However, I resolve to ‘go for it, slug back a little more alcoholic courage and reply with a ‘yes!’  I spend my week digging out reeds, working on my parts and rediscovering the challenge of scheduling meals, work and life around rehearsals.  And it is great. Great to be making music with others again, great to be part of the noise…but it’s not the same as being 18.

At eighteen, I was touring the wonderful Veneto region with the city Youth Orchestra and don’t recall giving my part, my reeds or any solos a second thought. In truth, I’d struggle to name the programme for a single concert! At that young age, it was all about the friends I roomed with, post-concert drinks, bleary-eyed breakfasts, sunshine and adventure in exciting foreign settings …without a parent in sight. Old enough to taste independence but still too young forthe weight of responsibility. Was it, for the briefest of windows, a golden age?

Who knows, but here’s to a fantastic holiday for my daughter and her lovely friends. Lets face it, after 16 months of pandemic, they all deserve it. Make memories, make it laughter- filled and, above all, make the most of being young….

Teenagers and battles …

Tuesday 5 May 2021

“Miss!! Turn the board down ! It is so bright… it’s like Jesus has come into the room!”

And so, with a lot of laughter, my working week begins! Teenagers – I live with them, I work with them. They can test my patience and sanity to the absolute limit but at their best, their feisty, funny, outspoken best they can brighten up the day like nobody else. And, it is true in the classroom, that a lesson that begins with a smile, usually goes better than one that starts with a rant. But sometimes a rant also has its place. And this is equally true in the home…

Source: anniegetyourgum

Our house has been a whirl of school and college exams of late. High stakes for Prom-dress daughter who grinds stoically through a testing ordeal of assessments designed to support her Teacher Assessed Grades for A’levels this Summer. For Small Boy too, after a crazy 12 months of school closures and online lessons, come Year 10 Mocks. He also works well to prepare for his tests in most subjects. I say most, because there is one notable exception. The night before his maths exam, over tea, I offer to help him with some revision,

Oh, I don’t need to revise for that one – all the topics on the list are really easy”

is his casual response. It is like a red rag to a bull, not just because maths happens to be my subject, but also because ‘trying your best’ is our household motto. So this feels like a betrayal and I am unable to stop my hackles starting to rise. Predictably preachy and rather more acidly than I might have hoped, I point out that in our household we ‘always prepare’, that he does need to ‘look at some questions‘ and that I do expect him to ‘aim a bit higher’. Something about my tone clearly lights the touch paper of teen indignation because within moments, I am under fire,

You are putting too much pressure on me!”

“Its my life mum, not yours!”

Angry, self-righteous cries fly across the kitchen table. I am quite weary and for a split second toy with the idea of just giving in. It would be a lot easier. I could shrug and sniff ” Oh have it your way” and put my feet up with a nice cuppa. But it feels like a dereliction of parental duty so I dig in. But in an increasingly toxic atmosphere, I compromise and allow Small Boy to organise his own revision. Eyeballing me with disdain, this turns out to be my son swiping his phone on, watching a 3 minute maths video, before sauntering out of the room announcing ‘Revision done mother!” over his shoulder. It feels very much like a ‘lose , lose‘ situation and I grit my teeth for a tense week.

Happily however, I manage to avoid further confrontation and the ensuing days are harmonious ones. I do forget to wash Small Boy’s PE kit and have to rush it through a hurried 30-minute wash on PE morning itself. But I just apologise and my son really couldn’t be any more reasonable about heading to school in a distinctly damp set of joggers. As a reward for much improved communication and reliability when meeting his friends, Small Boy and I also negotiate a slightly pushed back ‘home time’ for his next social outing. All is well, all is calm, all is pleasant. Perhaps a battle really is never worth it, I ponder. But there is another page to turn on this tale.

Towards the end of the week, his teachers start to hand back test results and Small Boy is thrilled by his scores… with one notable exception. On Thursday, I arrive home to a cup of tea and a sheepish looking boy clutching a mathematics book,

“Er mum…I have to resit my maths test tomorrow…can you give me a bit of help ?”

Oh perhaps that really was the Lord in my White board at school, because this feels like divine redemption! It takes under 20 minutes, a couple of revision cards and a review of the salient features of the probability tree, before he is pretty much ready for anything ! I have to confess that I am unable to resit a bit of a raised eyebrow but my son holds up both hands muttering, “I know mum“, so I magnanimously leave it there and hope it is a lesson learned.

So can we ever completely avoid clashing with our offspring? Probably not. Look, I could have handled this week’s conflict far better, but I defy any parent to beatifically beam their way through the daily battery of teenage-rearing challenges. Not just because we’re human. Not just because our kids can be the most exasperating creatures on the planet. But because sometimes, it matters. The trusty old adage to ‘choose your battles’ is essential advice for any parent, but battle you sometimes must. Yes, occasionally to be a good parent (or a good teacher) you have to roll up your sleeves and face the flak, because its worth it and…they may even thank you in the end!