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.
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.
‘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?’
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.