Sunday, 14 September 2008

Can Care, Won't Care

There are two things I'm going to write about, and I promise, they link up. That may not be immediately apparent.

One of them is a five minute snatch of conversation I overheard, the other is the focus of my television watching this evening. I rarely watch television really. In general, I doubt its value for money and feel that I can be entertained and informed better by reading but every now and again I'm tired and want to engage my eyes but not too much of my brain. Typically I find my brain engaging anyway and meandering off on its unheard dialogue with the throng of personalities and perspectives on TV.

There are endless of those, Amanda Platell for instance, who I think should do the dignified thing and fade graciously away, taking their inane, unsupported, bigoted, self-righteous tripe with them.

I can cope with them sounding like the idiots they are, but it worries me a little when I see someone I like who's doing something interesting who then says something totally idiotic and somehow that fragment of idiocy remains in the final cut. I am talking about Charley Boorman describing Iran as 'slightly segregated' for women and observing that it would 'definitely be better to be a man' in Iran.

I am no expert on Iran, I haven't travelled there or studied it in depth but I've watched a couple of documentaries and read and re-read Persepolis until it practically fell apart in my hands. So, nothing profound but, surely, I feel, enough to be furious at this understatement, which didn't sound particularly ironic.

I had really been enjoying watching Charley until that point, at which it struck me that a lot of people actually need to travel to be able to see further than the ends of their noses and even then they seem to lack the imagination or the honesty to see things for what they are.

It reminded me of a the crumb of eavesdropping I'd picked up when sitting at a table with my friend, her sister, their partners and another friend. This is about the other friend, who I'll call NF. That doesn't stand for National Front, but judging from what she was saying that may turn out to be entirely appropriate.

The bit I caught was her loudly pronouncing that she doesn't care about climate change or her carbon footprint or the environment in general and furthermore, neither does anyone else. I didn't ask her who she's including in 'anyone else' because it sure as anything doesn't include me, probably people whose homes have been flooded in the UK in the past couple of years, probably also millions of people living in vulnerable regions all over the world in greater poverty than I have ever experienced. After all, they're the ones who take the brunt.

She didn't care about the extra runway at Heathrow, which segued into a rant about people who receive state benefits, and how she'd be better off if she were to leave work and sign on. I seriously doubt that she'd be better off and in fact would probably get a shock if she were to do so, but this indicated that she can imagine the world beyond her own being, but didn't want to. It seemed to be in direct contrast with Charley Boorman who wanted not only to imagine the world beyond himself but see it and be in it, but then faced with expanded and fascinating borders, offered a benign and facile description of what he was seeing.

He wanted to but couldn't, she could but didn't want to.

Of course it takes major effort to change and compassion to understand the perspective of someone else as well as your own but I don't see that as an acceptable reason not to try. Even without posing this specific question I can be sure that this is how my mum feels and my best friends too. What surprised me about NF is that she's the friend of someone I hold in high esteem and I struggle to understand how that difference can be bridged.

But that's none of my business. The net result is to remind me to pursue compassion and kindness in my own life, because not only must they exist in their own right but they have to counter the accidental and deliberate myopia of others.

Thursday, 11 September 2008


I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I'm superstitious about magpies.

(I'm superstitious about ladders, too, but that's always seemed to me to be plain common sense. People carry things up ladders at a time when they can't even use both hands.)

But for now, I want to think about the magpie thing.

I'm trying to work out when it started and I'm really not sure, because my mum's not particularly superstitious about them. I remember seeing it in a play once, but surely that wouldn't be enough to cause me to catch my breath and whisper "Aye aye, sir." at the merest glimpse of a lone magpie?

I have done it for years, now, without the slightest shred of evidence that single magpies lead to any kind of misery, or that multiple magpies lead to joy, a girl, a boy, silver, gold or a secret never to be told.

In fact, I saw two magpies the morning of the most miserable day of my working life. I saw two magpies the day of breaking up with a long term partner.

Actually, in retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have expected immediate joy. Both of those things did, eventually, cause me to be much happier, but saying goodbye is always hard, even if it's to a miserable job or a miserable relationship.

More recently, during the welcome service for new pupils in the Chapel at J's school, I'd had to take my little girl out because she was being too noisy. We played outside in the wind and rain a little and then roamed the corridors of the main building.

On our way back to see whether the service had finished I saw it: one magpie, all alone, on the Chapel steps.

That can only mean one thing: I was packaging my lovely boy off to a life of sorrow.

We were not the only ones there, though. There were plenty of others, pupils and parents, bursary recipients, fee payers, teachers and matrons. Surely that one magpie couldn't possible spell sorrow for all of them?

Or maybe it could, the sorrow could come from the quiet of an empty house, from saying goodbye to something you love. Parents may feel that first, but presently, so will the matrons and the teachers.

Or maybe the magpies are just reminders that sometimes the cup is half full and sometimes half empty. Life is never about just being happy or just being sad. They come in cycles and balance each other out.

Sometimes the thing you think will make you happy makes you sad and sometimes the thing you think will make you sad makes you very happy indeed. To the effect of believing you are able to plan, anticipate what should happen and how you should feel. Only later do you realise that no such thing exists and life always throws you a confusing loop which you just have to incorporate and deal with, happy or sad.

Magpies are little more than reminders that life is as it is.

Monday, 8 September 2008

And suddenly I like Russell Brand a little bit...

"Some people, I think they're called racists, say America is not ready for a black president," he said.

"But I know America to be a forward-thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retarded cowboy fella be president for eight years.

"We were very impressed. we thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn't be trusted with a pair of scissors."

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Boarding School

It's a strange position to be in, that of driving for five hours to leave your eldest child somewhere knowing that you will not see that child for the next six weeks.

But, I have done it.

I have now joined the ranks of wealthy British who customarily place their children into private care homes known as boarding schools. And, boy do I fit in? Yes, that's right. Not at all. The Boy is there on an almost 100% bursary, I'm at least ten years younger than any of the other parents (I'm used to that!) and I am absolutely definitely and completely the only mum with pink hair.

So, the preparation took a long time. The list of supplementary equipment was long and expensive and could not have been managed without some serious help from family (mainly my dad). Labelling that equipment as well as all the civvy clothes he took was the biggest headache. For years I have risked it with the labelling of school items, at most I'll write his name somewhere conspicuous with biro or, at best, safety pinning in a woven name tape. This was a whole new ball game.

To begin with, the labels had to be big, with surname, house and house number. I was fundamentally confused about the house number so left it late, until I'd tracked down his matron.

I do myself no favours.

The labels arrived at the last possible minute, by which time I'd bought a DIY label kit and machined them in to some of his clothes. With the woven name tapes in my hand I was in no better position as his name had been spelled wrongly, so I bought more DIY kits and turned the dining room into a workshop.

Meanwhile, he loafed around, playing with his new phone, chatting to his friends and enjoying the take away food we ate non stop to assuage my guilt at sending him away.

And now he has gone. The house is quiet, the only phone calls are for me, no neighbourhood kids are knocking on the door in case he's not busy. I can't hear 'The Hits' echoing from his television upstairs and I almost miss the sound of him thundering around the house.

Actually, I don't feel too bad. That might be different if he'd seemed miserable to be at the new school, but he didn't. Not even slightly. In fact, he almost pushed me out the door of his boarding house. He'd found a friend who he sat with in Chapel, unpacked his bed space and put his brand new Doctor Who duvet cover and pillowcase on and seemed, well, happy.

That was how I'd thought it would unfold, and now that it has, I don't feel bad: not for a second. He's going to come back an independent thinker and a capable young man. I'm confident about that because that's what his school does.

I'm also confident that I could not do that, not alone, as only one person. I get tired and ratty, I'm disorganised and often busy with other things. There's nobody to take up the slack, so often, The Boy slacks off.

At school, there maybe a lot of kids, but the adults, house staff, teaching staff and senior staff, are more collectively able and more practised at helping kids to become good adults than I will ever be.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Posts that upset people

I wrote a post yesterday (day before?) about the friend of Mr ONIS. Mr ONIS then read the post and perceived it to be one big moan about the young lady (hereafter referred to as TYL).

Alright, yes I probably was moaning, but why not? Though very nice and not unpleasant (to me), TYL essentially treated a brand shiny new friendship as an old and secure one. That's okay, I can work with that, it just caught me out.

All the same, Mr ONIS read it as being excessively negative and so I deleted it.

He also raised the question of a point to the post and to the blog. I have told him this and I will repeat it. The point is mine, and mine alone. It's barely even about being read, it's just about writing: anything. I'd like to write and the only way to improve is to do it. I have a stock of pieces saved in Word which I have written, but where's the fun in that. Writing in this blog is little more than journal keeping, nothing profound, though occasionally a little more ambitious.

I can accept that my brain is less switched on now than as a student and that often I want to say something but can't quite make it hang together and that I start following routes without knowing where they'll lead.

When I wrote about TYL, I had intended to write something along the lines of a 'why aren't you a feminist?' piece. I wanted to write about conversations I have had with women aged between 25 and 85 in which they have all revealed classic examples of points on which feminism is fought. They include rape, exploitation, abortion, the effect of motherhood on career, education and the simple desire to carve something better out for themselves. Yet, when asked, they don't describe themselves as feminists.

Why could this be?

There are obvious answers which are useful clich├ęs, like: feminism not being sexy; feminists not being sexy; feminists having no sense of humour and equality having been achieved.

I'm not really interested in these arguments, although I think all but the last are valid. There's something deeper going on whereby women who have had a genuinely bum deal come to think of that as just deserts. There's something of the Uncle (Auntie) Tom to the mode of thought, of buying in to the system which has dealt them the bum deal.

That's what I'm grasping at, and missing. I just had to have a bit of a moan first, about not knowing what to expect from TYL and then getting something I didn't expect, even though I didn't know what to expect...

Monday, 1 September 2008

A revision

Having spent some time at my Ma’s and practically forcing her to sit and read what I wrote about elder brother M, I realised my analysis was wrong.

Wrongetty wrong wrong wrong.

Ma obviously has memories of M which stretch back many years before I was born. She was also the one to go and sit with him when he was feeling so sorry for himself after he’d driven his ex and their children away. She’s not especially sympathetic.

Having pointed out M’s spelling mistakes and the ones that I made that slipped through the net, she dissected what I had actually said.

Firstly, she pointed out that it isn’t vicious. In fact, it isn’t at all. That was entirely bound up with my feeling, my perception and my vulnerability. A total stranger reading his words could at worst find them patronising and egotistical.

What they are, though, is dismissive: super dismissive.

This is what M does – he acts cool and charismatic and makes you (that is, me) want to be in his gang. Then he goes cold and uninterested, making it clear that he is too cool.

Well, that’s boring. What a knob.

My mum’s a genius (at least I think so!). She also gave me the perfect response next time the subject comes up with Dad. All I need to do is say how sad I am that he’s so dismissive toward me and how I’d love to be closer to my big brother.