A family take on remembrance

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to post about our sneaky weekend away to look at the battlefields of the Somme. What better time to do it than today, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War?

It’s complicated, but basically, McOther had two grandfathers on his dad’s side, one who gave him his name and one who is his blood relative. Both are held in love and revered. Name grandfather was injured at the Somme so we went to have a look at where he was. McMini is very keen on flying and aviation, mainly from the Second World War but also from the First World War, especially Baron Von Richoften. So as well as going to see the spot where McOther’s namesake grandfather was shot we thought we’d see if we could find the area where the Red Baron was shot down, too.

McOther’s grandfather was found in no-man’s land by the Germans, with a sizeable head wound, taken to the first aid station and patched up. He had lost almost a third of his brain and was repatriated in a prisoners swap. The Germans, I think it was the Germans, had given him a metal plate in his head. Subsequently, he was paid £200 each year to go up to his nearest teaching hospital – Glasgow, I think – where the metal plate would be removed and eager medial students would crane in to see what a live brain looked like. He made his living on this – it’s the equivalent of … I dunno, about £8.5 – £10k today? As much as some people earned, anyway, and definitely close to a living.

Naturally McOther’s family were very pleased to get their son home with a Blighty wound that would ensure he didn’t have to go back to the front. However, there were hidden aspects of his injury that only became apparent as he grew older. Part of the problem was that the large part of his brain that was lost was to do with maturity and its departure meant that his personal, emotional and mental development stalled; frozen, forever at eighteen, the age he was when he was shot. This wasn’t so noticeable, at first, but as he aged he still behaved like an eighteen year old. As his wife grew older, and her outlook matured, his stood still. He began to find it difficult being married to someone so much older than him. He felt eighteen, he expected his wife to be the same age as him, and, more to the point, look eighteen. This woman was more like his mum. Likewise, McOther’s grandmother began to find the maturity levels of an eighteen year old husband a serious challenge when it came to the responsibilities of being a father and raising children.

I remember one of McOther’s uncles telling me that his father still expected to be as fit as an eighteen year old aged sixty. He would come out cycling with said uncle and his friends and couldn’t comprehend why he wasn’t able to attain the same fitness, stamina and speed levels at the young lads around him. It wasn’t an affectation, he literally, didn’t know or even comprehend that he was older. Unfortunately this caused a bit of tension at home, which is why, eventually, he and McOther’s grandmother divorced and she married again. The children all kept the original family name, including the two sons she had with her second husband. This just goes to show how, on top of the death rate, the mental scars the survivors carried may often have been as significant, if not more so, than any physical injuries they endured.

Thus it was that, a few weekends ago, we went off to France and went to the Somme.  Over the weekend, we looked at Beaumont Hamil which is where McGrandfather’s regiment went over the top and where he was injured, the site of the Red Baron’s death and we visited the Australian Memoral. We also visited one of the best air museums I have ever been to which I’ll have to leave for another post.

Site of Baron Von Richthofen’s death.

The weather was lovely on the first day so first we visited the area where the Red Baron died. There’s not much there. Just a plaque by the side of the road, a bit like Agincourt.

Apparently, shot and mortally wounded as he was, Baron Von Richthofen managed to crashland his plane, clipping a chimney with the wheels as he flew over and landing roughly in a field. This photo shows the chimney on the left hand side. Allied soldiers rushed to the plane and he whispered the word, ‘Kaput,’ slumped over the controls and died.

McMini, who has devoured every piece of literature he can find about the Red Baron, explained that Baron Von Richthofen was one of the true knights of the air, in the tradition of chilvalry, because he was always at pains to stress that his pilots should try to break the opponent’s plane rather than kill the person flying it. I’ve no idea if it’s true, but it sounds plausible. He was buried with full military honours by the allies, anyway and it’s the reason McMini admires him so much.

Afterwards, we stopped in a couple of cemeteries and walked through the graves reading the inscriptions. The thing that always strikes me about these places is the atmosphere of calm and peace. It feels as if these people are, well … if not at rest then, at least, reconciled to their deaths. There is an almost healing intensity to that calm which I can’t really explain but it is special. Some of the families of the fallen had inscriptions put on the headstones. There was a limit to this. Sixty characters, including the spaces. A world of love and grief to express. A life to sum up. Sixty characters to do it in. That’s pared to the bone, raw, sometimes powerful and often moving.

Every war-mongering idiot in charge of a nation should be made to read these before taking office and then one or two every day. Sixty characters may be all they had but, done with feeling, sixty characters is all it takes, trust me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m peri-menopausal, perhaps it’s because, as a mother, I know how much effort and energy it takes to make a life and raise one child, let alone more. Whatever it is, I only need to read a few of these and I’m distinctly moist about the eyes. Linger too long and I’m in danger of bursting into tears and blubbing like a four-star nut-bar. There’s one grave at Beaumont Hamil with an inscription from a wife to her husband which reads something like, ‘Husband, best friend, I loved you in life and I love you still’. I think the guy was about 40 when he was killed. Thinking about it, perhaps I’m not menopausal, because I found that 10 years ago and I cried then. I didn’t find it this time, so I couldn’t check the exact inscription but as we walked about the other cemeteries, I found more. And as it’s the 100 year anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of the inscriptions with you.

One of the first things that strikes you, coming to these places, is that people have come from the four corners of the earth to honour their fallen just as those family members travelled thousands of miles to fight, before. Not just in the main memorial areas but in any cemetery you cared to stop at along the road, there were knitted poppies, and even, in one instance, a little knitted flower and Australian flag on one unknown Australian soldier’s grave, which was almost more poignant than if the occupant’s name had been known.

Some inscriptions were religious, ‘he was a good catholic’ one French Canadian grave reads.  Another Australian grave, ‘Christ will clasp the broken chain closed when we meet again.’ Others while grieving, are kind of upbeat, ‘A noble son, a brother kind, a beautiful memory left behind.’ Or on the date of a sargant in the medical corps, who died so tragically late in the conflict; on 1st November, 1918, aged 28, ‘With Christ, which is far better.’ And the strength and raw power of feeling behind the beauty of this one; ‘Still living, still loving, still ours.’

Then there are the stiff upper-lip ones, ‘As a soldier and a man, one of Australia’s best.’ Laid at the grave are two crocheted poppies and a little Australian flag. On the grave of a 20 year old sapper, ‘In memory of our dearly loved son and brother.’ Or on another, ‘Far away but not forgotten, Mother’. Or the one that still makes me cry, ‘In loving memory of my darling son, sleep on in peace dear’. Jeepers. ‘Not dead in hearts left behind.’ Or on the grave of a member of the Gordon Highlanders, ‘One of the best, Drumoak’. And another, a member of the Black Watch, which was McGrandfather’s regiment, ‘Time makes his memory still more dear,’ or on a member of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire regiment, ‘Sleep on, dear son, and take rest.’ On another sapper, a British one this time, the achingly poignant, ‘Only good night beloved, not farewell.’

Then there is the out-and-out anguished, ‘Oh how I miss him, no tongue can tell, the happy face I loved so well,’ or there is, ‘His war is over, his sun is set, but we who loved him can’t forget.’ Or ‘Sleep on dear son in a far off grave. A grave we never see.’ I wonder if they were going to say ‘we’ll never see’ but were left, two characters short. The message comes over well enough without.

Lastly there is the occasional political one, ‘Who lives if Britain dies, who dies if Britain lives.’

Even now, 100 years on, it is incredibly poignant to visit the cemeteries and read the graves. There is a world of grief and love in sixty characters.

Drawing by an Australian solider

 

 

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Updates, ramblings and witterings

Well, it’s prettier than a blue-arsed fly.

Wow! Time seems to have bitten me on the arse this week, my goodness but there’s been a lot for schools to use to torment me by giving me too many things to remember each day get McMini’s teeth into this term. First harvest: collect tinned and dry goods for the local shelter. It’s for people fleeing domestic violence too so toiletries like flannels, bath caps, toothbrushes and toothpaste are appreciated, as well as tampons and lady requisites. McMini, upon discovering a packet of tampons in our bag of stuff, refuses, point blank, to hand it in. Eventually, to spare his blushes, I have to.

Then it’s Halloween, a bit too quickly after our holiday for organisational comfort. I’m still catching up on the post holiday washing and do not have the capacity for pumpkin carving. Although this year it wasn’t me tramping the nearby streets with McMini as he shook down the neighbours for sweets, he went with a friend and the friend’s brave mum!

Having whinged, I quite like carving pumpkins. I was hoping to have a go at edgy political satire and make a Donald Trumpkin this year but alas, my cartoon drawing/cutting skills are not quite up there enough to make a suitably recognisable effort, indeed, the only similarity is the colour which doesn’t show in this photo. This year’s pumpkin crop seems to be particularly dense fleshed and thick skinned. Maybe it’s the heat. Good for cooking I may even make it all into pumpkin soup. But tough to carve. Indeed it took so long that I ran out of time to do the hair. As McMini said, I should have done it with a cheese grater, or a blonde wig. Meanwhile several of the people who saw it thought it was a set of ovaries.

Halloween Trumpkin.

Ooookay … mwahahahahrgh! Moving on then.

When it comes to the stress of life, clearly I’m not the only one affected. McMini’s school meals are all lovely winter warmers this quarter which means many come with sauces or gravy or other things he refuses to eat. As a result it was three packed lunches this week which stretches our supply of suitable receptacles. That meant he had to be sternly warned to bring his lunch bag home with him – otherwise every tupperware box I possess will end up at his school. Bless his little heart, he has managed to remember to bring the lunch stuff home so fair play to him.

However, it appears that, like his mother he is only able to remember a finite number of things to be done before extraneous others start falling off the list.

On Tuesday we cycled to school. McMini is walking some of the way home from school on his own now so as I waited for him at our designated half way point, I saw he was approaching on foot. For a split second I thought that maybe something terrible had happened to his bike. Then I remembered that this is my son, and relaxed.

‘Mum! I’ve remembered my lunch box,’ he said proudly holding out the lunch bag as soon as he was within earshot.
‘Well done mate,’ we high fived. ‘Um just out of interest … where’s your bike?’
‘I forgot it. I was walking down the street and I looked up here and I could see you and I thought, “Why on earth has Mummy come to meet me on her bike?” Then I remembered, I’d left mine at school. I’ll bring it home tomorrow.’
‘Well, Daddy is collecting you tomorrow so-‘
‘Oh yes, he doesn’t have a bike. I’ll bring it home on Thursday then.’

He forgot that, but he did remember the bike albeit on the wrong day. Apparently McOther had to run a bit to keep up but I expect it did him good. McMini is definitely making a concerted effort to remember more stuff though. It’s a bit hit and miss but I know how difficult it is for me so I have to give him kudos for trying.

There’s been another development this week, which is that McMini has discovered the joyous feeling of clean teeth, which is brilliant as instead of my having to force him at gunpoint he now happily cleans them morning and evening. As a child who normally eschews any attempts on my part to instil any sense of cleanliness, whatsoever, this is good news.

However, it has also led to what may well be one of the grossest conversations I have ever had. Yes, last night we had this conversation.

‘Have you cleaned your teeth.’
‘Yes I have. My mouth is lovely. My teeth are all smooth with no bobbly bits.’
‘Yeh, no horrible stuff under your fingernail when you do this,’ MT scrapes fingernail down front tooth.
‘Plaque you mean?’
‘Yes.’
Oh no Mum, plaque is AWESOME!’
‘It is?’ I ask weakly.
‘Yes it tastes just like sweetcorn.’
‘Bleurgh, ugh.’
‘Whereas scabs are like crunchy chicken, unless it’s other people’s scabs. Those are vile, like raw beef or something horrible.’

On the writing side, I have just discovered the gobsmacking truth that I’ve written 131,000 words this year. Clearly there are many people who write that many words a month but I reckon it’s not bad on an average of 10 minutes a day. I’m just tinkering with ideas for another two shorts and the new K’Barthan shorts series will be ready for editing and covers. Hopefully, they should be done for release next year. I’m a bit too concentrating on one thing at the moment, the short that’s turned into a long is taking far too much time, but I am too interested to find out what happens and the scenes that are popping into my head at the moment seem to be mostly related to it. I’m a great believe in doing what comes naturally so that’s where I’ve been concentrating my efforts for the moment. It’s creeping slowly forward but I definitely want to finish something soon so I need to get another short going too. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on progress. In the meantime, for the word nerds among you, I’ve discovered a cracking website.

Have you ever wondered how to pronounce the word ‘gif’? Or what TASER stands for, or why the word ‘laser’ can never be spelled with a Z even in America? If you want to know the answer to these and many other splendidly obscure and trivial word related questions head on over to Emma Wilkin’s Wordy Rambles. It’s funny, too so I promise you will not regret it.

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Rarer than unicorn shit.

I’ve just realised that it’s now half past four on a Tuesday evening and that I haven’t written a blog post for about three weeks. Oops. But then I found this one. I’ve no idea why I didn’t post it at the time, suffice to say I suppose life has been a bit busy since I wrote it and it’s quite long. I also have a horrible feeling I’m repeating myself with the story about my parents. Yes, I know I’ve just been fifty and I know that menopausal brain fog really IS a thing but I still feel I should be able to work out whether or not I’ve told a story on my blog.

Apparently not.

Oh dear.

Never mind. I can find no evidence, so I’m going to assume that I haven’t told the stories and my memories of having done so are just rather vivid ones of writing the original draft.

Right then. Onwards and upwards.

So a while back I was negotiating with Mum and Dad’s neighbour. They were putting in a fence and we were trying to work out where it’s going to go. But the process went on for a long time because the neighbour and I were both very busy and very leery about putting it in the wrong place for either of us.

However, the negotiations weren’t what made it difficult. What I struggled with was that it brought the progress of Mum’s dementia into stark relief. Because Mum would normally have sorted this, herself. Even six months ago, she’d have sorted it. But this time, she was just not able to. I had to and it was tricky from a long way away. Also because it was my parents’ garden, and my parents’ fence I found it difficult to detach myself, emotionally which hindered the process – because I wanted to be sure that what I agreed was what they’d have negotiated if they were able to – and that also made it take longer.

The thing is, when someone has dementia, it’s like the slowest death imaginable. At the start they are just a little bit forgetful but then, as it begins to take hold they become unable to cope with things, and as that starts to happen, you have to do those things for them. With Mum it was cooking, she started to forget recipes, indeed, the moment I realised she was getting dementia as well as Dad was the day when she rang me and asked me how to make flap jack, pretty much her signature dish. Luckily, she’d given me the recipe but after that I made sure I collected all the recipes she used regularly, the’d she’d collected from various people over the years.

When that sort of thing starts to happen, you start to mourn the loss of the fit healthy person. It’s not that you can’t have good times with them as they are, it’s just that you miss the jokes, being able to discuss things with them, the advice they would give. The subtlety, the nuances of conversations with them, the multiple shades of colour and tone in your relationship start to fade to simpler notes; black and white, primary colours, capitals only.

Of course, they are still with you, and yet more and more of these subtle things you so love in them are not. And that hurts. It’s natural to withdraw a little at this point. You still love them, you still care for them but you simply can’t be as open because it hurts too much.

Mum and Dad’s dementia is something I cannot look in the face for too long metaphorically speaking. I can look through it, round it, I can turn my head sideways and look at it out of the corner of my eye but if I look at it head on for more than a second or two, I am undone. So what the negotiations with their neighbour did was compel me to appreciate the full extent of Mum’s dementia; to look it full in the face without flinching or turning away, all day, every day for about five weeks, after which every single piece of white goods, and their shower, broke in succession followed by other things which I didn’t think could break, which proved me wrong by … well … breaking.

It’s been tough. Although at least the fence looks fab, the shower is fixed, the new washing machine works and the new fridge is working, too, even if the stair lift is on the blink and all power to their kitchen has failed (can’t win ’em all).

Mum and Dad are both very smart. Even now, Mum is one of the best judges of character of anyone I know and Dad was. That’s one of the things I really miss about him. When I pine for the things that are gone, I turn to memories, just as if I am grieving, for real. I guess I am grieving, for real, in respect of these personality traits because they are things that I will never see again. I’ve been doing a lot of that kind of grieving recently and I remembered this story, which, in turn, has led me to think about religion and faith. Run with me I do get to the point eventually.

A few years ago now, when Dad was beginning to become forgetful but was still perfectly able to do some things on his own he went off to do some some bits and bobs at the church. It was about five o’clock in the evening and as he came out he met a man in the churchyard who asked if there was a bus to the next town. At that time of day, the last one had gone so Dad explained that there wasn’t.

The two of them got talking and after a while, the man admitted that he was sleeping rough. Dad asked if he wanted help with the bus fare and the man said no. He then offered the man a lift into Brighton where there was a hostel. Again, the guy said that no, explaining that many of his fellow rough sleepers were mentally disturbed or on drugs, and if they weren’t, they soon became that way after a few months of homelessness. He explained people in the hostel would steal the few things he had to his name and flog them to get another hit. Some would go in groups from inmate to inmate extorting money and beating up any that had none to give or refuesed to pay. Others were suffering from mental illness, often without any medication. He said he’d been beaten up several times by gangs but also by people who appeared to be having a paranoid episode or who were clearly hallucinating. However, he said that if Dad was happy to do so, he would appreciate a lift to the station at Shoreham By Sea.

Dad asked him if he’d eaten that day and when the man said he hadn’t. Dad loves his food and has always got distinctly ratty if he misses a meal, indeed, to him the idea of missing a meal is a pretty major disaster, so immediately he invited the man home to tea; an action Mum would have one hundred percent endorsed. The man accepted and Dad drove him home where he was plied with copious cups of tea and a lot of home made cake, flapjack etc. By the time they’d finished, it was seven pm and the man thanked them and said it was time he went as he wanted to get the 8 o’clock train. Mum and Dad had spent a couple of hours in his company by this time and found out where he grew up, how he became homeless, what he’d done before etc. When the man went to the loo they had a discussion and decided that it was too late to take him to the station. They had a bible study group that evening, so people would be coming to the house and they were certain he was fully in possession of his faculties and highly unlikely to hurt them, why not ask him to spend the night?

The man was completely overjoyed to be asked to stay and Mum went and made up the bed in the spare room. She asked him if he’d like to join them for bible study or if he’d like to watch TV or something. He said that what he’d really like to do was stay quietly in his room and listen to the radio. So she took her radio up to the spare room and made up the bed. She asked him if he would like to have a bath and his eyes lit up. It would be wonderful, he told her. So Mum dug out a huge towel and ran a bath for him. She asked him if he’d like her to wash any of his clothes, she could hang them over the radiators and they’d be dry by morning but he said no.

Ten or twenty minutes before the bible group was due she rang me.

‘Darling, I’ve done something you may not approve of.’

‘Uh huh. Come on then out with it.’

‘Well, look, if I don’t ring you by 9.30 tomorrow morning, can you call the police? Only your father found a homeless man in the churchyard and we’ve invited him to spend the night.’

I’ve met countless rough sleepers in London and since I never had any money, I always tried to talk to them, because I felt that if I couldn’t give them a place to stay or money for whatever it was they spent it on, then at least I could acknowledge their humanity by sitting down with them and having a normal chat. I reasoned that they probably don’t get many of those. I may have been lucky with the folks I’ve spoken to but those conversations have left me with a strong belief that most of them are decent people. Some are damaged, for sure, but most of them are decent.

‘Is he an addict?’ I asked her, confident that after 40 years of teaching and 17 as a house master my father would have no trouble spotting the most cunningly concealed addiction from a mile way.

‘No, he just seems like a very nice man who is down on his luck.’

’You’re nuts and you have absolutely no sense of self preservation. You know that don’t you?’

‘Yes darling. Oh and darling?’

‘Yes.’

‘You won’t tell your brother about this will you? Only he’ll be furious.’

‘No, I won’t, at least, not until afterwards.’

‘Afterwards is fine, just not now.’

‘It’s OK, I won’t tell him now.’

‘Thank you.’

‘It’s a pleasure. On you go then, speak to you tomorrow morning.’

Needless to say it was fine. They gave him a slap up breakfast – ‘I hadn’t a thing in the house so the poor man had to have porridge, fruit and then some toast, and then I managed to find an egg so I boiled that for him’ – and dropped him off in time to get the 9.40am train.

McOther, was especially impressed by this. As a confirmed atheist, he felt that actions such as these are what religion is supposed to do for people. He even told the story at a lunch with some friends in London, to illustrate the point. When his friends laughed and told him my parents had been unbelievably naive and stupid McOther, in an incredibly touching moment of loyalty, went into orbit, bless him, telling them that my folks were well aware of the dangers of what they were doing which was what made it such a Christian act in the first place. I think he and his friends were all half cut as McOther ended up totally losing his biscuits and having a massive row which finally came to a head on the pavement outside when he told them they were all bastards and he never wanted to see them again. Then – his memory of events is a little hazy – he thinks he threw his brief case at one of them who had followed him up the street to apologise and try to calm him down, before telling him to fuck off, a grand gesture that was rendered a bit less grand by the fact he then had to go and retrieve his briefcase from his friend’s feet before he could storm off properly!

When McOther arrived home, he had many, many missed calls from his friends trying to apologise. I was touched that he should have stood up for my parents but at the same time, I told him, ‘It’s not a real row, you were rat arsed and they were rat arsed. They’re a decent bunch, they know it’s a blip, just ring them back and make up.’

He did and they are all firm friends again but I’ve noticed that he comes home from these lunches a little less under the affluence of incohol than before so they might be moderating the excess! Not sure.

Anyway, it made me think, because in these days of the internet it’s so easy to think that a Christian is someone banging on and on about how all gay people are evil and that Jesus needs your money to buy an important preacher a new private jet. And if you are a person of faith it’s easy to forget that the kind of dickhead who does that is what most lay people think a Christian IS. Especially when most folks’ only experience is encountering absolutely mentalist American Christians on the internet. Or morons who start spouting the Old Testament at them and telling them to repent their evil ways. Some Christians seem to have completely missed the transition from Bronze Age Syria to modern society. Never mind.

However, trust me peps, Jesus will NEVER need your money to buy some smarmy, bouffant-haired fuckwit an aeroplane. Jesus got pissed off with the money lenders in the temple precinct, went off on one at them, and trashed the place. You know, like The Who at the height of their 1960s hotel-room-smashing excess might have done – I suspect the Who are far more well behaved now, they probably retire straight after each gig with a hot water bottle and a cup of Ovaltine with a slug of whisky in it but I digress.

There are strong arguments to suggest that one of the most important aspects of JC’s ministry was the idea that it was a new era and people who were not Jews could be baptized and be part of this. The idea that changes could be made, new people, different people could be admitted and accepted into the new faith while still keeping the premise and core ethos of the old one. Then there’s the whole thing about The Law. Originally it had been set up to help people live good and loving lives, to stop them abusing their slaves and servants or eating things that would make them ill and to keep them actively participating in the arms race with the tribe next door – the one where the bunch who can breed the highest numbers of strapping young men gets to beat all the other tribes when they have yet another war. But now the Pharisees were using it as a stick to beat the people over the head with. There are so many parallels between what Jesus appears to have been trying to tell us then and what is happening, today.

You see a Christian is called that because they are ‘a follower of Christ’. And as the priest at my church pointed out the other day, we started with ten commandments, each beginning with the words, ‘Thou shalt not,’ and then along comes Jesus and he gives us two commandments which start with, ‘thou shall’. It seems to me that a lot of Christians look to the Old Testament over the new, putting a tremendous amount of time into ‘thou shalt not’ at the expense of ‘thou shalt’. They strike me as a bit off message.

For a start Jesus explained that it’s a new covenant, new start so yeh, New Testament. So if the Old Testament lays down some draconian dictat, and you believe that, over and above contradictory statements made by Jesus in the New Testament well … are you even a Christian? Because if you’re calling yourself a follower of Christ and you’re not fucking listening to him, but, instead, turning to old lore, the one supplanted by the New Testament ie His law, surely you’re something different; a gentile follower of some really extremist Jewish sect, possibly? If you’re not accepting the Christy bits, how can you be Christian? The clue is in the name and surely the love thy neighbour Christy parts are the whole fucking point.

And this is what perplexes me. Because it appears that, for many folks, the point of being a Christian is to force your behavioural norms on others, turn everyone into some kind of holy Stepford clone and to vilify those who don’t conform to your ideas of what a ‘wholesome’ life is. There is no compassion in this wholesomeness. No mercy or pity for the afflicted, it’s all about kick-back reactions to stuff, someone’s an alcoholic so all alcohol is evil. There is a medieval simplicity to this approach. In US Republican politics, it seems to come with the suggestion that if people are poor it’s their fault and it is always, always this sickly saccharine ‘wholesome’ over happy. It’s always about the minutae. It’s all about judging, condemning. It’s about not swearing and not drinking, about not doing bad things and stopping other people from doing bad things. So often it seems to be about condemning young women who get pregnant, ruining their lives with approbation and censure, with disapproval, shunning them and then vilifying them when they have an abortion to avoid a life time of stigma. A life of stigma which is entirely unnecessary. There seems to be fuck all about love, and kindness and doing good things, and compassion for people who can’t help doing bad things because they’re damaged or hurting or indeed, who might be very different if given a helping hand.

Mostly it seems to be about following the ‘rules’ and condemning those those who don’t confirm. It’s about not being gay, although so long as you vilify and condemn gay people loudly enough in public it’s OK to go cottaging or sleep with rent boys while your wife is at bible club! Just don’t let anyone find out. It’s about brainwashing rather than free will and reason. It’s about controlling other people’s behaviour rather than looking at your own.

Is that what Jesus would do?  Just like the Pharisees, who went around looking for tiny faults in others so they could point them out and make themselves look good, these folks seem to have completely and utterly missed the point of religion. And that’s why normal people, like McOther’s friends, just didn’t get that Mum and Dad’s actions there, though possibly unwise, were Christian. Because the only Christians they’d met were people who were so busy obeying rules and judging those around them who didn’t, that they’d forgotten the whole be-like-Christ thing.

That seems to be the difference, to me, between the Christian Right and … well … Christians. A Christian tries to live like Christ. That’s where the name ‘Christian’ comes from. A Christian is supposed to love their fellow humans as much as they love themselves. A Christian heeds Christ’s words, ‘judge not, lest you be judged.’

A Christian is supposed to ask themselves, ‘what would Jesus do?’ and do that.  A Christian is supposed to reach out to another humans in need, whatever the cost. God knows we don’t manage it much – or at least, I know I don’t – but we’re supposed to try. A Christian is supposed to be kind and loving to everyone and every thing; like Jesus. The reason Christian countries don’t torture prisoners of war, even if other countries do, is because we are supposed to have evolved beyond all that. It’s the whole goddamn point. So if we waterboard people because we think the brutal regime they come from is bad, we’re just being like them and completely surrendering any moral high ground. Suddenly it’s just two differing regimes, wrong versus wrong as opposed to right versus wrong. An eye for an eye doesn’t solve anything, it just makes for a lot of blind people with even less understanding of one another than before. Was Jesus being remembered for how incredibly judgemental he could be? Wasn’t it the Pharisees who are remembered for that? And when did he condone violence and torture? Oh yes, that’s right, never.

Also, correct me if I’m wrong but try as I might, I fail to recall the bit in the New Testament where Jesus says that rich people will inherit the earth. Indeed, wasn’t it the poor? And wasn’t it blessed are the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers … anything about the merits of vainglorious pomposity and bald pursuit of power? Mmmmnope. Only when Jesus is deriding the behaviour of the Pharisees. Oh wait there’s something about how it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man get to heaven isn’t there?

Another thing about Jesus. He doesn’t seem to go in for organised bullying, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount, try as I might, I find myself unable to recall the moment when Jesus picks people out of the audience – possibly at random, or possibly because he knows they disagree with his view – and vilifies them for being ‘unpatriotic’ Jews. At no point does Jesus ask some of the more sturdily built disciples to hustle these folks out of his sight while the crowd chants ‘Israel, Israel,’ and Jesus exhorts their manhandlers with choice phrases such as ‘don’t go too easy on them! Get them outta here!’ I confess, I’ve heard accounts of Hitler doing that, and seen film footage of America’s devout christian president, Donald Trump doing it, of course, but not Jesus. It’s not the way someone who professes to be a Christian should behave. Not if they have the smallest understanding of their ‘faith’.

Conversely, when the crowd don’t like what JC has to say, he just leaves them to it. We are told that ‘many turned back and stopped following him’ after they didn’t like, or understand, his preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, so many that he asked the twelve apostles, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’

One of the things that strikes me about internet christianity or Trumpian ‘Christianity’ is that there’s no dialogue.  Jesus talked to his enemies, he debated with them, he proved them wrong in intellectual discussions. He showed people why his way was the right one. It’s no good deciding that everyone who disagrees with you is a morally dissolute liar and refusing to talk to them. That just brings polarisation, extremism and deadlock. Oh yeh and if you’re a leader, it also shows you up as too thick to argue.

A few years back I remember being extremely impressed by something I read after the death of the Revd Ian Paisley; a Northern Irish MP who was a tub-thumping, protestant, hell-firer if ever there was one. The impressive thing was that one of the first people who popped up in praise of him was his opposite number from Sinn Fein. He explained how, while they both disagreed on many aspects, he had an enormous amount of respect for Paisley for a) coming to the table and b) the way he conducted himself when he did. The way these feuds are perpetuated is when each side has managed to convince themselves that those on the other are less than human. That’s what the alt right do. Teach you to fear and distrust other human beings so you are afraid to talk to them and believe the hype. Lack of contact between polarised communities helps perpetuate this.

Our fellow from Sinn Fein, who, let’s face it, had made the same brave step, was impressed with the way that Paisley didn’t treat him as an enemy, but as a fellow Northern Irishman with different viewpoint with whom he must work for the good of the people. He – I think it was Martin McGuinnes but I can’t be sure – felt that a man could only cross that divide if he genuinely put the well being of those he was elected to represent over his own personal viewpoint and that for someone who had held such an entrenched viewpoint for so long to do that took not only conscience but moral courage.

Those first stage talks were difficult and long, but apparently, despite their polar opposite political viewpoints, the two men grew to respect each other enormously and became firm friends in their work to try and bring peace and some kind of cease fire that both sides could agree over.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Christians in politics would follow JC’s instructions to leave judgement up to God. Wouldn’t it be grand if they tried looking to their own behaviour, rather than endlessly picking out faults in others to score points and win votes, or looking for ethnic groups and minorities to blame for economic problems of their own, or other politicians’ making. Wouldn’t it be great if they took the hard path of truth rather then pandering to extremists and stirring up racial and ethnic hatred. The end doesn’t justify the means.

Why is it that God in politics seems to bring out hypocrisy of the worst type? ‘Christians’ and holy people in the public eye who behave like actual Christians appear to be rarer than unicorn shit. I guess we should just thank fuck (or possibly God) for Desmond Tutu, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama.

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The downside of making progress

Just a quick one today. I’m sitting in a cafe, drinking an enormous bucket of hot chocolate while I while away an hour before McMini’s harvest service. Very important I go to this one as Scion has a speaking part! Woot. There will also be a Hymn I Know, apparently, so I must make sure I am in a position to sing loudly without causing undue distress to people around me, ie I must stand at the back, alone at least twenty yards from anyone who can hear.

On the up side … I have my keys, although I didn’t yesterday. I was late meeting McMini after school – he walks half way home on his own and I meet him in town – because I managed to lock myself out of the house. On the upside, I did, at least, realise I had no keys before I locked myself out of the garden as well. The garden is a nightmare because my disability makes it impossible to just climb over the wall and unlock the gate. I have to borrow a ladder or a chair and lean over.

On the other hand, the house is easy, I’m usually back inside in about twenty seconds. It did make me late though, because I had to find the ruddy keys before I could come out again and I had wet knees from kneeling on the doormat. There are times when I wish my life wasn’t quite so remeniscent of a badly written situation comedy. Obviously any character as ditsy as I would be totally unrealistic when written into fiction. I can’t believe I’ve reached the stage where I’m so bad that, as a fictional character, I’d be untenable. Nobody is actually that crap in reality … er hem … well … no-one except me.

Obviously, even for me, locking yourself out of the garden or house three times in about five days is pretty impressive going. Now it could be menopausal brain fog – yes ladies I can tell you, for nothing, that really is a Thing – but I think it may be the knock on effects of my efforts to do a little bit of something. It sounds mad but thanks to the lovely Joseph Michael’s course on Writer’s Block, I have been following his advice to merely aim for ten minutes’ writing a day. The results have been so splendid that I’ve been doing it for other things. The results are a very much calmer, less tense MT because doing secret me stuff that I enjoy makes me happy and fulfilled.

However, by making this time for me stuff, I fear I may have inadvertently overstretched the mental capacity available. The way my memory for administriatitive shite works is that it has a finite amount of space and when that fills up, as I put stuff in one end other things start leaking out of the back. My old headmistress used to use the analogy of a sponge. As in; it can fill up with a certain amount of water but after that, when you put more water in, stuff that’s in there starts running out. This appears to be what is happening.

By doing things I enjoy alongside all the stuff I have to, I have discovered that the things I like are starting to take up a portion of that memory and as a result, shite, like remembering to pick up my keys as I leave the house is falling out. I am lurching from one, ‘shit McMini! We’re supposed to be at …’ insert name of specially organised Year Six event here. And just getting to things on time; school open days, upper school head master’s talks, providing packed lunches on the days McMini requires them, going to school in his PE kit with a bag full of his normal school uniform, or, like today, remembering that it’s harvest festival at ten am and that I have to be there.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to do about it. I am so much happier and more fulfilled if I do a few things I want to do alongside things I have to do that I’m loathe to go back to tense frustrated MTM. But at the same time, I don’t want to reach the stage where I fail to function as a human being in normal society! A stage upon the brink of which I am teetering, right now.

It’s a fine balance to strike and Mum is particularly muddled at the moment so I have to remember a bit more than usual for her and way, way more than usual for McMini. The quiet oceans of peace when McOther takes him to football on a Monday evening are gone because McOther is no longer home in time. I think the thought collection time is definitely lacking and perhaps this is part of the problem. I’m not sure.

Whatever it is, Real Life is rather too busy for my taste, McOther is buried under work and so I’m doing the cooking. By doing every dish from scratch and eschewing everything ready made I am hoping to lose some weight. It isn’t actually that much more work than using cook in sauces and I am cautiously optimistic that it may be working. Might need to hold back on the spuds a bit though. The cooking isn’t a problem but I do have to be a bit more organised, there are lots of lists although I seldom remember to take them with me when I go shopping etc.

Back to the drawing board then. I don’t want to drop the things that make me happy but I definitely have to find a way to remember more crap.

I leave you with a McMini-ism. Last night at about 3 am he called out. I went and found him on the stairs having had a bad dream. I sat down a few steps below him and told him he had far worse things to worry about, like that his mum might wee on the stairs because I really needed to go to the loo. He laughed and then told me he’d dreamed we were fixing my car, that his dad had given him a coke to drink and that he’d inadvertently drunk from a bottle of rat poison we were using instead and died. I said that sounded like a bummer but that if he was dreaming of dying it was a sure sign that he was enjoying life! I asked him he’d like a hug. Yes, he would, he told me. So I hugged him tight. Too tight. He farted loudly and then guffawing with laughter told me,

“I’ll be alright now Mummy!” and we both went, giggling, to bed.

Incidentally, as I prepare this for posting, it’s later in the day. I’ve managed to leave the house to collect my son with my keys, I locked the garden gate without shutting the keys the wrong side … trouble was, when I got home again, I realised I’d forgotten to lock the door. Hmm. Let’s call this a work in progress.

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The day-to-day challenges of being a fuckwit and other stuff …

There are times when I enjoy being me and other times when I wish I was one of the normal bastards.

I also loathe and detest the first person who decided that it would be a good idea to nick something that belonged to someone else, resulting in the bane of my fucking life; keys. One of the many things the Romans gave us, I believe, along with underground elder and rabbits, oh no wait, that was the Normans wasn’t it? And organised people. Because organised people are organised the rest of us all have to bloody do it their way. Jeepers, if I could a penny for every minute I’ve pissed away looking for my keys, breaking into my own house or generally footering about on key-related shite I’d be giving Jeff Bezos a run for his money.

Yes, as you can guess, I locked myself out of my house again this week. I also failed to meet and greet McMini’s new headmaster, who is the spit of a TV personality from a popular magazine programme. The curriculum meeting, which I did get to, was rather disconcerting as I felt as if I was in a TV audience and half expected the other presenters on the TV programme to turn up too. Quite weird. Anyway, I set my phone to beep when the headmaster’s new meet and greet session was on because I knew I hadn’t a hope in hell of remembering through my menopausal brain fog. Did the stupid thing go off?

Did it buffalo!

It just showed me a message which, of course, I didn’t chuffing see, the phone being in my pocket while I was riding a bike. I think there’s been an ‘improvement’ to they’ve dicked about with the diary facility on my phone and not mentioned it, as per usual, because clearly google’s users have nothing better to do after the weekly update than spend the rest of the week working out what it’s improved fucked up. I haven’t worked out how to persuade the alarm function to make a noise since it used to do so automatically.

Do you know, I’m beginning to wonder if technology isn’t something The Man has given us all to do so we don’t notice how many companies are screwing us over or what bastards the politicians are.

Anyway, there I was on Tuesday, having discovered that I’d missed the meet and greet, but on the up side at least I was finally remembering to pay in a cheque the Inland Revenue had sent my dad about three weeks earlier. But I decided I’d go to M&S first, and afterwards, as I went to unlock the bike to head for the bank, that’s when I discovered that I didn’t have the keys.

Bollocks.

So I left my bike leaning against the lamp post to which I’d chained it and walked home. The gate to our garden runs across a narrow alley between our garage and next door’s. It’s quite high, about seven ft, so while I could leap up and undo the catch, I would probably end up swinging on the gate, or at least, breaking the gate with my huge weight as it tried to swing.

There is the wall, of course, but unfortunately, my knees are far too fucked to go over the wall these days, so I have to liberate something from a skip to stand on or, skips being a bit thin on the ground at the moment, I have to borrow a ladder from a neighbour. This time the unlucky recipients of my plea for help were the lovely folks at the cobbler’s shop opposite. Offered a choice of three sizes of stepladder, I chose a small compact type and suitably armed I returned to the back gate, set it up in front, climbed up, opened the gate without falling through it – result! – and went and got my keys from the back door of the garage. Then I pulled the gate to, with the keys about my person this time, handed the ladder back in at the shop and plodded back up the hill to town.

This is my life. This is a normal day for me. This is how I waste my precious fucking time. Flippin’ eck.

After liberating the bike, I found the bank just opening. Apparently they do training on Tuesday until 9.30, not that there is any mention of this on their opening hours sign. Sigh. Clearly the Chaos Fairies knew and were just finding me a more interesting way of occupying my time than waiting outside. Little shites.

Cheque paid in I returned home.

Today I discover that I have forgotten to buy my Dad a new set of pyjamas so it’ll be all hands on deck to do that in a moment … when I’ve done this. But I digress.

Telling McOther about my episode with the keys, he said cheerfully, ‘Crikey! I’d really hate to be you. Although if I was, I think I’d have thought about changing something by now.’

I tried to explain that changing this behaviour would be a complete fucking joy but that repeated attempts to do so have ended up in failure and indeed depression. It is abundantly clear to me that the reason I am such a cheerful personality is that were I not, the unnatural degree of fucking uselessness which which I am lumbered would certainly have caused me to top myself. It appears I am no more able to change my bollock-brained ness than an amputee is able to grow back their lost limb. Indeed if my efforts are anything to go on, an amputee trying to regrow a lost leg is marginally more likely to succeed.

On the upside, I suppose my life is never dull.

Speaking of which, the old dears were in good form this week and I saw my Uncle and Aunt too, which is always great fun. Lunch over and as I was leaving, Mum drew my attention to the dolls house our gardener, but more of a family member really, made for me as a kid. It is a replica of our house and had been languishing in the barn at Mum and Dad’s for years until my sis in law and niece had found it, got it out, cleaned it up, got rid of the woodworm and washed everything that could be saved and washed.

Dolls house, from the back.

‘Do get them to take it away, darling, it’s cluttering up the place,’ said Mum.

Turns out Sis in Law and niece aren’t sure they have room for it. And it is manky. It needs fixed.

‘I think we should just bin it,’ said Mum.

‘But we can’t do that!’ I say, ‘think how much thought and love went into making it.’

‘True,’ said Mum, ‘But we really can’t have it lying around here. Why don’t you have it?’

‘Really? Thanks,’ I say, not even thinking how I’m going to get a 4x5ft dolls house into a Lotus, not to mention bringing home another large cluttery thing to clutter up our house. My poor, poor husband. It’s probably not even going to fit into his sensible(ish) alfa but I’ll take it down next week and have a look, anyway.

It’s a wonderful, if knackered thing, though, this doll’s house. The windows are cut carefully with a fret saw and glassed with perspex cut to size from the windows of the sidecar from Arthur’s old motorbike. The lay out and rooms are a replica of our house, except for the downstairs loo but I think we can let that go.

The actual house

Dolls house, from the front.

It opens in all the right places for maximum access to all areas. It’s not quite the right size for standard dolls house furniture so Arthur made tiny chairs and tables to go with it. Mum made tiny duvets and valences to go round the beds and little cushions.

As a child, I ‘decorated’ it, myself using felt for carpets (long since eaten by a variety of rodents and insects in the barn) and the contents of a 1970s wall paper sample book. As a result some of the decor is a tad … lurid.

A full on view of some of the attractive shades of decor 10 year old me chose. Geez I was classy!

So I’m going to paint it up, sort it out and redecorate the inside. I may even try making some furniture, although, it’ll have to be paper mache. But you never know, maybe the chaos fairies will move in, and if they have somewhere to live perhaps the little bastards will piss off and leave me alone!

Here’s hoping.

 

 

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This week, I have been mostly … reading.

This week I thought it was time for some book reviews, so here are two that are completely chalk and cheese yet despite this, I find they go together surprisingly well.

First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

First up, I’m a sucker for history books and I’m a total sucker for biographies or autobiographies, especially when you get a good writer/ghost writer or someone who knows how to write up a transcript.

However, this is neither of those.

This is the most wonderful, evocative book about one of the key moments in my nation’s history, written first-hand by someone who could clearly turn a phrase every bit as well as he could fly a Spitfire. It’s fabulous.

The story is of a young man, Geoffrey Wellum, who leaves school at 17 in 1939 to become a pilot. In the book, he takes you through his training, and then, later, some of his best/worst/scariest missions. He is utterly honest, documenting his thoughts and feelings with a frankness that only someone who has been through the mill, and come out at peace with their own humanity, can. He describes his emotions, his fear and his distress as his colleagues and friends are lost, one by one. He describes how the threat of loss deepens the relationships between those who are left and how he, and they, deal with the omnipresent threat of death, themselves. When the heat of combat is finally over, after eighteen long months, and he is taken out of combat and sent home on sick leave, he briefly outlines how he reacted. For those few pages, alone, it’s worth a read, if only for the honesty they contain. The whole book is unfailingly frank about the daily business of being human under stress, and also about the personal and emotional cost.

The style of writing is quiet, understated, yet deep thinking and powerful. Geoffrey Wellum describes flying so vividly you feel you are right beside him, and the writing is compelling. This may be an autobiography, but it’s also a page turner. I read late into the night when I really should have been asleep. I found myself looking for a sequel, it was that good. But over and above that, I came out of it with a great deal of affection for Geoffrey Wellum. Because what comes across in this book is the story of an absolutely lovely chap; a complex and thoughtful young lad trying to do the right thing, but enduring horrors to do it. A man looking for answers which ultimately, perhaps, he finds and accepts, but which may not always be the ones he might expect. A man of great wisdom, so much so that I thought about writing to him to say how much I loved his book, but unfortunately he died in April this year (2018), aged 96.

As people who remember the horrors of the second world war, people like Geoffrey Wellum, die off, we seem to be forgetting. The modern world appears to be more and more profit-driven, our politics polarised and compassion, tolerance or kindness towards people who are weaker than/or different from us fading from daily life. This book is definitely worth a read, if only to face up to the reality of what lies at the end of the path some of the world’s major politicians appear to be embarked upon.

One of the best books I’ve ever read. Recommended.

Scout Pilot of the Free Union (Space Scout Book 1)

This is a comedy but run with me on this, there are similarities, I promise. Our hero, Frank Eric Russell is captain/pilot of a Valhalla Class Star Destroyer in the Free Union’s Star Fleet. We meet him as the Free Union and the Imperium are in an uneasy truce after years of war. Unfortunately Frank makes an embarrassing cock up during a diplomatic mission which leaves the Free Union looking … well … a bit rubbish, to be … Frank (badoom tish). He is punished by way of being transferred to the Free Union Star Fleet’s Reconnaissance Unit. There, he is assigned an ancient and outdated ship and sent on missions which are less prestigious, less carefully overseen and far more dangerous than the crappy obsolete vessel he is assigned to fly them in would suggest.

What I like about this is that Frank is very flawed and human. He can be a bit of an idiot, but he is well meaning and for all his averred cowardice he Does The Right Thing. There’s not a lot of descriptive world building, yet the world in question is very much alive and everything you need a handle on to imagine it properly is in place. Frank describes his missions in the first person which means he clearly understates the case most of the time. Things go wrong on most of them and he is forced to change the plan, or take radical action to fulfil his tasks and escape with his life. Indeed, most of his efforts are about survival and he just does as much of whatever it is he is supposed to be doing as he can while lurching from one crisis or ship’s mechanical failure to the next. But as the book continues, you begin to realise that, though he makes light of it, he is clearly an excellent pilot with a capacity for lateral thought that gets him out of situations that would certainly prove fatal to others. There are also the first hints that his exploits are beginning to get out and that he is beginning to be thought of by his peers as a hero.

Because this is all seen through the prism of his view, he is very understated and matter of fact in the way he describes his exploits – except when he is talking about lack of coffee at which point a hint of drama might creep in. It’s that style of delivery that reminded me of some of the sections in First Light. But also, I believe there was a lot of gallows humour in the RAF in WW2 as a way of dealing with the high casualty rate. This gallows approach is similarly abundant in the world of the Free Union’s Reconnaissance Unit. Likewise, the way Frank questions the ethics of the conflict but at the same time, steps up to do his duty, anyway, also echoed some of the moments of thought Wellum outlines in First Light.

Scout isn’t a deep book, by any means, or at least not like First Light; the humour is slapstick in places and very Milliganesque, so you have to like that sort of thing. It’s all very light and as such is chalk to First Light’s cheese. But, while it’s a quick entertaining read, at the same time, it’s way more complex than it appears when you start in. Macmillan Jones is smart enough to know the important truth that few heroes ever see themselves as such and that’s a facet of Wellum’s personality that is noticeable in First Light. I found the parallels between the two books interesting. Indeed, I found it very intriguing that I even noticed parallels. I’ll leave you to decide if I’m bonkers or onto something.

Light fun but fluff with more than one level! Recommended.

So there we are. If you want to read either book, just click on the picture and it will take you to a page with links to buy it in all the major stores. Although Scout is only available from Amazon both books are available in paperback and ebook – there’s also an audiobook of First Light.

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Aaargh! Am I turning into an adult?

Yep it’s a valid question. I never, ever wanted to become a grown up but it’s one of those unfortunate facts that as we age, the changes are so imperceptible that, for the most part, we fail to notice. That might be why, if you asked me or anyone for that matter, if we feel any different inside now, to the way we did as kids, the answer is likely to be a resounding no. Yet apparently there have been changes – in my case, anyway.

On our way back from Spain we stopped in a rather lovely town called Niort in France where we stumbled on a small gallery, in a lovely old building, displaying a series of photographs documenting a short period of time in the life of a graffiti artist. There were some cracking photos and I actually love a bit of graffiti art, myself. France seems to be particularly good for it, or maybe it’s just that its motorways are; less traffic + less CCTV = more multicoloured letters.

Nice.

Graffiti art in Niort, France.

Anyway, as we went round I pointed out the photos I liked to McMini with my usual enthusiasm. McMini was interested too but seemed slightly bemused. Oh dear and I do so want him to enjoy art because he’s quite good at it.

However, when we got outside we got to the bottom of his bemused attitude. The conversation went like this,

‘Mummy, you don’t really like graffiti art do you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Really?’
He sounds incredulous.
‘Yeh.’
‘But you’re a grown up. Grown ups should disapprove and be saying, “Those terrible kids what are they up to now?”’
‘Your Mother is not a grown up,’ says McOther.
‘Yes she is!’ says McMini.
‘You think?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says McMini.
McOther is looking very dubious but with a twinkle at the corner of the eyes because he knows how completely horrified I will be to hear this.
‘Flippin‘eck! I’ve convinced my child I’m an adult!’ I say. ‘How did that happen?’

How indeed?

The idea is, frankly, horrifying! When I was a kid, I never thought my parents disapproved of much, well, no they did but not in a pissy small-minded adult way. They disapproved of bad things like punching people, stealing, bullying, being unkind, hurting animals and stuff like that but they couldn’t give a toss if someone was untidy, had illegible handwriting, was late to things or was, say, gay. At one school I went to there were a couple of girls who made life hell for a lot of people – to the point of giving someone a nervous breakdown – but they had neat handwriting, they were on time for everything and always looked tidy so as far as many of the teachers seemed to be concerned they were paragons of virtue, whereas I was ‘slapdash’ and untidy in my work; well no, actually, I had a form of dyslexia. Looking back on it now, those girls were incredibly unhappy at home and dealt with their unhappiness by spreading it. I suspect the teachers who praised them, who I saw as traitorous and unjust, were merely trying to instil them with some sense of self worth.

Sorry, going off on a tangent there, I guess what I’m saying is that as a child and then a young woman, I loved that my parents totally seemed to get that timeliness, tidiness and conformity, though fine traits sometimes, were worthless if the person displaying them behaves like a piece of shit. Likewise, their complete lack of concern over the sexuality of the people I came into contact with. They probably spotted that my gay friends were gay way before I did and back then in the 1980s any difference in sexuality could be a major stigma even among the supposedly liberal youth, let alone folks of my parents’ generation.

As I grew older and started to do rebellion, it became very obvious that my parents were right behind me and, indeed, that they were a great deal more anarchic, liberal, forgiving, free-thinking and generally open than most of my supposedly avant garde acquaintances. They seemed to revel in eccentricity of character and loved anyone who was prepared to think deeply and challenge the establishment. I remember my father desperately trying to get me to say the word, ‘fuck’ in mixed company because he felt that some of the older people there were rather pompous and deserved a good shock. I suppose he simply approached language, and swear words, with the same lack of prejudice as he approached everything else.

Mum dragged up all sorts of gloriously textured words to replace invective, troglodyte, nit-wit and strewth were some of them. Dad, on the other hand, was an occasional but enthusiastic swearer – usually when he was frustrated or angry, I don’t recall him ever swearing at people. When he mowed the orchard, colliding with the low branches of Every. Single. Tree. He used to eff and blind like the most foul-mouthed squaddie. Mowing sessions were rated on a scale of buggeration, ‘how many buggers was that one, Dad?’ we would ask. He would try to be cross for about a nanosecond and then laugh and say something like,

‘Far too many, and there were a few fucks as well!’

No matter how odd I was considered to be at school, I fitted in at home and surely that’s what good parenting is, isn’t it? Giving your kids somewhere they fit, where it’s OK to be who they are while they try and find out what that is.

When I went to university I desperately tried to persuade my friends to visit me at home for the weekend because if only they would, I knew they would be able to make sense of who I am. Few were brave enough. It was very, very hard to make friends my first year, until someone happened upon the fact I was good at art. Then, suddenly, there was a new box to put me in. I was no longer a southerner (and therefore scum) I was ‘the artist’ and all was fine from there on in.

Always, I have hoped that if I had children of my own I would be like my parents, which is why the idea that McMini thinks I’m a grown up is so alarming. Have I officially Lost My Sense of Humour? Have I Become Set In My Ways? Have I started to believe I’m right about everything? I hope not. As a woman of faith, my politics seem to be moving further and further left as the mainstream moves further right so maybe it’s OK. Maybe there’s hope for me.

The fact my friends weren’t as anarchic my actual parents was a terrible disappointment to me as a youngster. If I’ve turned into one of those normal bastards, at least I’ll spare McMini that. It’s awful having to bite your tongue with people your own age because they tell you off for swearing or mentioning periods, admitting to a fart, or whatever, as if they’re anally retentive prudish pensioners (except both sets of my grandparents were similar to my parents). Seriously, though, teenagers trying to be grown up can be so fucking prissy. Actually, anyone who feels they have to try and act like a grown up can be is pretty fucking prissy. That’s why the thought that responsible adulthood might have crept up on me fills me with such despond.

As a kid, I rebelled against the Draco Malfoys of my school life who despised me because, among other things, I wasn’t attempting to get my end away with every male who crossed my path. But to me, boys weren’t the complex mystery they saw. Living with a brother and in close proximity to 500 of the buggers does that to a girl. Looking back, I suspect the real reason they hated me was because I was happy and they weren’t but they couldn’t articulate it, or perhaps the failure of their sporadic efforts to be nice to me so I would invite them home and give them a pop at those 500 boys was part of the problem too. The official reasons they gave for hating me were very faux, things like my being too posh or not posh enough, or ‘so immature’ (ie having a sense of humour). Deep down we all knew that the hatred was irrational and the excuses fake. Nothing like someone giving you shit because they want to and then trying to pretend there’s a logical reason to make you start questioning the status quo.

But McMini isn’t bullied, thank heavens. And I hope he never will be. There are no Dracos for him but that means that when the time comes to rebel he may well rebel against me. I am, kind of, braced for this but I’m still not sure how I’ll go about empathising. Will I be able to? Will I just become entrenched in my position, be Eddie to his Saffie?

Throughout my school and working life, barring a couple of notable exemptions, I have always been lumbered with a someone who decides, upon meeting me for the first time, that their raison d’etre from now on will be to make my life a misery. I seem to have something in me that enrages total and complete bastards to the point of mania and while on occasion, I feel smug at being able to piss off the small and petty minded so comprehensively, it can be hard going. What a relief it was to give up work and step out of all that and, for the first time in my life be bastard free!

But now I wonder, have these recent, glorious years without my own personal nemesis corrupted me? Am I like Lister in Red Dwarf? When he complains that Holly has brought back Rimmer, his arch enemy, and not one of his friends, he is told it’s because Rimmer is the crew member most likely to keep him sane. Do I need a total wanker in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow? Have I gone normal in these glorious tosser-free years? Or is it simply that I lack the strength of character to have that open-minded, easy going confidence of my parents?

I hope I will be the kind of parent to McMini that I had. I hope that when I’m in my 80s, I’ll be as anarchic as my Mum and that McMini, in turn, will be the same in his 80s. I hope I’ll always be able to grow and think and adapt my view. I hope I never lose that curiosity of viewpoint that my parents still have, even now. To give you an example:

My mother was a debutant, she’s had dinner on the Royal Yachet while The Queen was still living there. Twice. But she’s fully convinced socialist. She thinks that ideally we would just pass a law to re-nationalise the railways, power infrastructure, the lot of it, and then have it run by people who knew what they were doing (which is many of the folks there now) and who could tell the government what dividend it was going to have each year so they could invest properly in the infrastructure as needed, rather than having to stand and watch their companies being bled dry.

She thinks that MPs are never going to go after people like Google to collect the proper amount of tax, partly because … lawyers … and partly because unlike the Victorian times the Conservatives so espouse, rich people these days ‘have no proper religion so they don’t know how to behave. They have no compassion, they’re not going to set up the Joseph Rowantree Foundation, or build Port Sunlight. Those days are gone.’ But mostly she believes the Googles of this world will always escape tax because this country is still run by the 200 most intelligent people in each year at Oxford and Cambridge, no matter what the social background from whence they come, and so the UK branches of these companies are run by folks with whom many of our politicians are friends.

‘It’s awfully hard to have dinner with someone one night and send his company a writ the next morning,’ she says.

She’s right, of course, it is, and just as much if you’ve come up from the gutter and want to maintain your status as if you’re a weak-willed trustafarian. And principles only get you into trouble. After all, look what happened to St Thomas A Becket. The politicians will be looking to their post political careers, speaking, being on boards … none of that’s going to happen if they go round clobbering their future employers. Mum agrees this is bad but thinks it’s human nature and that the state needs to accept the humanity of its elected servants and find ways to earn money through something other than the taxes people like Boris and Rhees Mogg will have neither the balls nor the inclination to collect.

‘We should feel sorry for them really, they can’t help it, they haven’t a clue how to behave,’ she says with sweeping disdain.

So if some utilities etc were state run, PROPERLY, I might add, Mum thinks we’d have more money to give to the NHS.

It’s a bit of a cop out, she admits, because like me, she thinks that the government should go after people like Google for the tax they owe. After all, by paying their employees so little that they can’t survive, people like Jeff Bezos are, basically, taxing the rest of us. Buy your goods for less on Amazon but pay an extra £5.00 a week on stuff for the food bank their zero hours, underpaid employees have to use. Oh and some extra tax, because you’d better believe the government will collect yours, the poorer you are, the more heavy handed they will be because they know they’ll get it – you can’t afford to fight back. But they collect the tax so that they have the money to run the state services Jeff’s stressed employees will need to use when their worry and over work have made them ill. And now we’re coming out of Europe, of course, it will be even easier for Jeff and his friends to screw their employees over because our compassionate conservative government will get rid of all that annoying red-tape-shaped employment law.

Will I be as anarchic as that when I’m 85? Will McMini have parents like I did? I really, really hope so.

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