In a New Country Now

9 Jun

On the morning of the the General Election results of 2017, one of my favourite comedians, Mark Steel, declared “We’re in a new country now.”

You can’t help but agree with him. Political awareness and interest has (finally) been pricked here and I take my hat off to the young people of the UK who quickly cottoned onto the fact that their future is now being decided for them and that they can make all of the difference.

But whatever your political leanings on the domestic front and however you think that the terror attacks (at home and overseas) can best be dealt with, one thing is for certain – the UK is entering a new phase of political energy (yesterday the fella on the chicken counter at Morrisons was waxing lyrical about the Constituency Labour Party and believe me, you wouldn’t have had that 2 years ago. You’d have been lucky to get have received some advice on your giblets.)

The week also provoked some stimulating conversation in our household;

9 yr old boy; That election was brilliant! When’s the next one? Can I have one near my birthday?

12 yr old girl; (To me) Honestly! He’s such a dimwit. He thinks we have them all the time.Like, every year!

9 yr old; Oh. But we only just had that one about the Brexit. And there was that David Cameron who I remember. And then Trump the Man With the Dead Cat on his Head. And then Huddersfield Town won the Premiership too.

12 yr old; Look you – you div (gestures at brother, tapping side of head) You’re too young to remember much. And we didn’t *win* the Premiership. We just got into it.  But … but when *I* was growing up, we had elections only ever 4 years. You don’t know what it’s like, you little kids. And for some reason you see to think that Trump has something to do with our country, too!

Politics for the 9 yr old in Huddersfield. Round and round and round and…

9 yr old:  Oh. I just thought it was supposed to go on and on and round and round.

12 yr old: No. We’re living in extraordinary times. But it’s going to be, like, really really hillarious at school when they call another General Election and we have to do another mock one at school. I still don’t think that anyone is speaking to the teacher who had to act as the UKIP candidate, when none of us kids would do that one.

9 yr old: I bet even his own children don’t like him now.

12 yr old: Don’t feel sorry for him. He didn’t have to volunteer. Anyway … you keep on hoping for mad politics-city here in the UK, ’cause you’re gonna get it!

9 yr old: I hope so.  But I did like the olden days when all we did was watch CBBC and no one expected to help around the house. But I hope Jeremy Corbyn comes back to Huddersfield and stands on my foot again, when he launches his next Fannymesto.

 

Moving Funnylass

6 Mar

We have moved!

As of March 2017 – you can find the latest blogs from me, plus all of the oldies – in an all-singing, swinging n’ dancing blog that allows us to put stuff up like erm…. video, audio, horrific medical experiment and nuclear-testing trickeries… blah blah.

Head over to funnylass.com  – and make sure that you check out how to ‘Follow’.  And all of that gubbins.

(NB – if you were a subscriber to this ‘oldie blog’ – you will automatically be a subscriber to the new one. So if you didn’t subscribe previously – please check out the newbie and DO subscribe. Got lots of goodies in store for you in 2017. Watch this nasty-blue-light-screen-thingy… and tell all yer mates. Innit.)

WE HAVE MOVED! Go to funnylass.com

More Than Just The Thought (far, far more)

15 Feb

“It comes to something, when you’ve got to be told by the bloody media and Twitter or whatever – to remember to be kind to someone,” a grumbly old sod just said to me.

This person has a point. But on the other hand, for so many of us life today is super-duper fast. We ricochet along at breakneck speed, obsessing about our work/health/families/delayed train/crap bin collections and we rarely stop and think about what we can do for someone else.

So, I whole-heartedly welcome the movement called ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ (it’s Random Acts of Kindness Week actually, folks) because all of us need a nudge from time to time. And some of us were less fortunate than others, when it comes to whether this habit of stopping, looking and doing a little deed for another person, was instilled in us from an early age.

Lady in the middle to blame for helping people!

Scandal of lady in the middle to blame for helping people outside of her own family!

I don’t normally blog about my parents, but for once I will break the rule and tell you about my mum. She always did – and still does – bend over backwards in order to help anyone. She has spent her life looking out for how she can support other people. Even when she was working full-time, her life was chocca with long lists that involved visiting sick people, cooking for others, advocating and campaigning for others and taking on church-related jobs. Since her retirement she has spent weeks of her time doing all of the above, plus packing shoeboxes for the likes of Samaritan’s Purse, raising money for various causes, writing to inmates and the inevitable babysitting of annoying grandchildren (although the latter she genuinely doesn’t see as a ‘favour’ – for her an act of kindness is more about reaching out to the stranger in society.)

She isn’t some sort of busybody. She doesn’t go round telling everybody about what she does in terms of this endless list. If anything, she sweeps stuff under the carpet (in fact, I’ll probably be out of the Will now, for blogging about this.) But if you ask her why she feels so compelled to help others, she will just shrug and say, “Well, it’s what my mum always did. She’d do anything for anyone. She’d give anyone anything. That’s why we were always so poor. “ In the past, people have told my mother that she’s a ‘mug’ for helping others. That other folk take advantage of her good nature. And yeah, she has gone through phases where this has happened to her –  and she has been heard to say; “Right, that’s enough. I’m sick of helping others out now.” But guess what? Two days later and the most thoughtful woman that has ever been born up-north is back into the swing of things.

Perhaps a psychologist would have a field-day with her. Accuse her of finding her self-worth through the need to assist others. And sure, there is some truth in the psychological findings of the ‘glow’ effect that giving to others has on us. It isn’t *all* about simply *giving* when we are kind to others. Quite selfishly, we get a bit back ourselves and get to feel good about being a human being.  And nowt wrong with that, I say!

But for my mother, there is also a religious obligation too. She is a Christian and follows what the bible tells her; the story of the Good Samaritan, the Widow’s Mite and all of that. And in particular, the stuff about ‘not letting the left hand see what the right is giving’ – about keeping quiet in terms of your good works (which again, will be why I’ll be out of the ruddy Will now…)

All religions tend to have exactly the same principles – on giving to others who are NOT part of your nuclear family; about spending time and effort with the outcasts in society; about not judging the so-called ‘feckless’ ones – the ‘undeserving’ ones. But whilst we’re on the subject of religion, some of the most astoundingly generous and kindly hearts that I know are proudly atheist, but pro-human.

Now, the other thing that is really great about my mum, is that if you get her onto this subject, she’ll always start on a diatribe about Thatcherism and what the ‘Me and Mine Only’ philosophy has done to our society; i.e. produced the very real need for an artificial construction called ‘Random Acts of Kindness.’ As though we have suddenly lost the ability to spontaneously GIVE. And even with my own upbringing, I often find myself facing the other school governors/volunteer librarians/charity shop workers/befrienders and thinking to myself ‘what is wrong with you lot? You’re all completely MAD – you’re crackers! Doing all of this for free!’

This is how far selfishness and the nuclear family culture has permeated into our society.

1980's joke donor card. Thatcher visiting Mum in hospital would NOT have been an act of kindness.

1980’s joke donor card. Thatcher visiting Mum in hospital would NOT have been an act of kindness.

So, I was smiling today as I watched a journalist

from BBC 1 trying to show a random act of kindness as she handed out free train tickets to commuters. Nearly all of them  were avoiding her. Suspicious of the grinning ‘I’m being nice to you me-I-am’ look on her face. Far better I thought, to do the anonymous approach as at The Christie hospital in Manchester, where some sweet soul stuffed a load of money into a vending machine and let the family of cancer patients help themselves to free snacks.  And –  if I’m going to get all hardcore about this – I honestly don’t think that Random Acts of Kindness are enough.

I try not to blog about it (because I realise that I’ll look like a smug do-gooder) but for me, *true giving* comes from regular voluntary and charitable work. For me, it isn’t just about chucking a couple of quid into a charity collector’s bucket. And I know of far too many people suffering from depression and illness who all of a sudden have stumbled across the miracle that a bit of regular giving of time to others – to those who really need it and who exist outside of your own usual cosy set – can give to you. A proper shot in the arm; exposure to other human beings who you are doing something else for.

Not something you'd find in a Christie's vending machine. But the thought counts.

Not something you’d find in The Christie vending machine. But the thought counts.

And it’s funny isn’t it, how some acts of random kindness come from the very people who you don’t expect it to come from? At Sainsbury’s in a certain west Yorkshire town recently, I *didn’t* want my mucky old car be washed by this older lady with broken English, who was doing the rounds, up and down the car park with her squidgee thingies.   However, I took one look at her and thought; ‘you’re not that much younger than my own mum, you’re a refugee and I am not at all happy at seeing you standing in the cold and wet and doing this sort of thing.’  So, me feeling all compassionate and benevolent – I granted her permission to clean the dratted thing.

On leaving the store, my trolley was stacked high with hand and bath towels. (Look, they were on offer, okay? And as my own mum will tell you, I lack both pride and care in my approach to household linens.)  Sure enough, the lady had washed my car beautifully and then, as I was shoving the mountain of new towels into my boot, commented; “very lovely towels, nice price there!”  At this point, I began to feel really embarrassed. There was me – on a towel binge – and there was she, poor, cold, soggy and now covered in muck from my filthy vehicle.  I wanted to make a fast escape.  I handed over the money to her for the car wash and she gave me £2 back.  “You give me too much,” she said. “It not so that much.” “Oh…” I replied. “Are you sure? You’ve done a really nice job on my car …” She shook her head firmly.  “No – you need the money. You have children.” She gestured to the crap-heap that consisted of the interior of my car (superhero costumes, crisp packets, squashed flapjack etc).

And with that, I pootled away in my externally clean, but internally filthy car. To be honest, the condition of the car reflected my emotions after this rather unequal exchange with the woman. But then I remembered that she too, is permitted to practise Random Acts of Kindness.  Generosity of human spirit never should have become the currency of the affluent or those who have the time on their hands.

Dare you to leave your winnings for someone else...

Go on… I dare you to leave your winnings for someone else…

 

 

 

Flying WHOSE Flag?

3 Feb

I wouldn’t really consider myself a huge fan of national symbols. I can’t stand all of the jingoistic flag waving and ‘Ooh I’m so proud of my country me-I-am’ stuff. I tend to take the attitude of ‘accident of birth – what’s there to feel so chuffed about?’  Yes, if you ask me what I love the most about my own country of origin, I’d say ‘the hills’ and ‘our freedom to be able to think for ourselves.’

I genuinely don’t feel competitive with any other nation, superior to any other country or inferior to any other peoples (unless we start talking more on the parochial level and then I get all sniffy about the folk who live in Hebden Bridge.)

But I’m not averse to anyone feeling that they appreciate where they live and the sort of community that they dwell amongst. And I do have to confess that I enjoy seeing the white rose of Yorkshire paraded about our streets and towns (although I’m often struck with a fear of being found out … as my birth certificate clearly states that I was born just a few miles over the border in red rose land. Don’t tell anyone though.)

British Pride? Or 1981 embarrassment?

British Pride? Or 1981 embarrassment at being born in Lancashire?

And I have also been heard to say (see previous blog where I bemoaned the geography syllabus in schools today) that it truly is a shame that kids today aren’t taught as much about countries, capital cities and national symbols in the same way that we had it rammed down our throat in the past.

But this week I had to swallow my words as it was a person from the older generation who caused me to stop in my tracks and to gape in astonishment.

In search of a tacky tourist giftie for my kids, I wandered into a little shop in North Wales. After grabbing the inevitable Welsh dragon keyrings, a lady steamed ahead of me and beat me to the till. Looking to be in her early 70’s, she was smartly dressed, had a well-spoken (English) accent and had a small pile of flags in her hand. You know the sort – nylon, A4 sized, attached to a wooden stick.

“Right,” she said to the young chappie at the till. “I’ll have these. Let me just check that I’ve got them all.”

She rattled off a couple of countries and plonked each item down and then I really began to pay attention when she laid out a red and white flag and said;

“And England, of course.”

“Er, no,” replied the young man.  “That’s not England.”

“Of course it is! What do you mean?”

“It’s Switzerland – that one. See – the English flag is a big red cross all the way over it.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. That’s definitely Switzerland. And we’ve run out of English ones.”

I mean, come on! It's the total opposite of St. George's!

Come on! It’s the total opposite of St. George’s!

“Oh, well. Never mind. I’ll get one from a petrol station or somewhere near a council estate.”  The woman continued with her final purchase, adding; “And then to finish with, we’ve got France.”

“Er, no. That’s not France.”

“Yes it is. It’s France. See – red white and blue stripes.”

“No. That’s the Netherlands.”

“Where?”

“Netherlands – you know – Holland. France has the same colours, but the stripes are vertical for France.”

“Really? Well. Can you get me a French flag then?”

“Sorry, no. We ran out of them last week.”

“Oh. Oh well. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to find one anywhere else. No one seems to be that keen on the French. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I don’t imagine for a minute that anyone will notice that it isn’t France.”

A confused version of France?

A confused version of France?

And with that, she paid up and left the shop.  I purchased my little dragons and made eye contact with the guy behind the counter. He was shaking his head as he said to me;

“You know, these older people – you always think that they know more than we do – but they do make you wonder sometimes …”

After leaving the shop, I recounted the tale to my husband. He being a keen fan of ‘traditional geographical learning’ and being an all-round smart-arse when it comes to flags and countries, had a good old chuckle. about the flag exchange.

“It’s the Six Nations this week,” Mr Rugby-Fan informed me. “She’ll have been stocking up on them for a party or something.”

I found all of this to be deeply ironic. Because he has always tried to steer our children away from any interest in football. Telling them that  rugby is a far more skilful game than football, that the game retains a much more ethical attitude to money and celebrity and that rugby fans are more intelligent and less rowdy than footie followers.

And yet the lady flag-purchaser was either all too aware that her party guests might not be the most educated individuals – or –  that her guests would be so drunk that they wouldn’t notice that the Six Nations has become the Eight Nations and now includes those well-known rugby fixated countries of Switzerland and Holland.

 

 

Harassment? Or Hilarity.

10 Jan

An elderly chap named Gerry told me the other day; “Saw you out running, love. I beeped at you. But you didn’t notice. Blind as a bat, you are.” I gave him a look. “Just count yourself lucky,” I replied “That you didn’t get two fingers from me. Or one. Because that’s my standard response to idiots that beep me.”

The poor bloke was astonished. Not because of my propensity to crudity (he knows me too well to think otherwise) but because of how often the honking of horns happens to females when we are out running. He was genuinely shocked when I told him about this sort of thing and said; “do fellas really do that, then? I would never have thought it…”  “Yes,” I answered. “And I truly don’t understand it myself. Because when I’m out running, I’m all sweaty, no make-up and in my scruffs and I look minging.” He considered this; “Aye, you didn’t look your best lass. But even so. There’s no excuse for honking at you – even when you’re all scrubbed up. I’m shocked, I really am.”

winston

I only do what the bloke on the five pound note does…

My other half shares similar sentiments (although thankfully, he is less honest about me looking like a sweaty minger). His words are; “I’ve never, ever understood men that do that sort of thing to women. When I was younger, there was the odd time when I was in a car with a ‘friend’ who found it amusing to beep the horn at a woman. You know – the ‘lads together thing – fwooorrrr’. But it never enters my mind to do that. You see a woman you think – ‘yeah she looks nice’ but you don’t do anything about it.  You wouldn’t frighten her, that’s for sure. Or think that she might find it flattering. It’s just imbecilic behaviour.”

And I won’t even repeat the words that he uses when I tell him that plenty of fellas *on their own in a vehicle* beep at you, when you’re out running. For me, those incidents are even more disturbing and sinister.

So it was interesting to hear that according to research by England Athletics, 1 in 3 of women have encountered some sort of harassment when out running. To be honest, I’m shocked that this number isn’t higher. It has become a fact of life in our household, me returning from a run with a cob-on due to some incident involving the opposite sex, a vehicle and someone who has been unable to keep their gob shut or their fingers away from the horn (oo-er, missus.)

And on the back of this report, it’s been fascinating, listening to the experiences of various runners; some women  find the honking of horns to be very intimidating, some of us have had other forms of harassment and some men also report that they have encountered all sorts of abuse when out running (I myself have had peanuts lobbed at me – don’t laugh – and water squirted at me). Some guys who have encountered such incidents feel strongly that this means it isn’t a ‘gender’ issue – and I’m with them on the misery that such stupidity can result in, when all you want is a bit of fresh air and to stretch your legs. But on aggregate, we can’t really deny that it is women who are being targeted and that there is still a massive problem in society, in terms of the way that women ‘out and about’ (how dare we!) are perceived and how we are deemed to be ‘miserable bitches’ if we respond with the two-fingered salute.

take-dogs

Take dogs. And poo bags.

On BBC Breakfast time, one of the women runners being interviewed said that she didn’t view shouts and beeps as intimidating or harassing. She felt that it was a sort of ‘encouragement’ – to egg her on in her leggy endeavours. Me? I’m usually pretty savvy at discriminating between a beep / leer and a ‘good speed gal!’ sort of remark. The former being a sign of a saddo perv and the latter being genuine camaraderie (which, no – I wouldn’t swear or snarl at.) And actually, if I’m going to have a bit of a moan about stupidity and rudeness towards us runners – and walkers – I’d like to add into the list, those nutter drivers who are crap at judging how close they are to you when there is no pavement, who won’t slow down as they pass you, who are happy to nudge you into a ditch or who don’t even realise that they have drenched you as they speed gleefully through a puddle in their enormous 4WD.  In fact, the only person who ever stopped and apologised to me for spraying muddy water all over me – turned out to be a drug dealer. I saw him later down the lane in his BMW, doing a deal with some school kids. (And yes, dear reader – of course I grassed him up. Course I did.)

Some feel that the answer to female runners getting hassle is never to run alone. I have many friends who have enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to initiatives such as ‘Run Together’ and Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can.’ But I just can’t DO the running with other human beings thing. I used to run with my other half, but we had to stop. Because we spent half of the time dreaming up new business ventures – and then following through with them; time consuming and expensive. And the other half moaning about the kids. Depressing.  I enjoyed being in Namibia though, because on my bush-track runs, I took a dog with me (although every time we encountered neighbouring ferocious canines, the little swine quickly abandoned me.) But I don’t have a dog. And it would be selfish just to purchase one for running purposes only. Plus, I’d have to stop in order to pick up the poo.

Running in packs is one answer to the problem, but an even more helpful response would be to educate all people to keep themselves safe when out and about (don’t get me started on how dangerous it can be, using earphones …) and raising our kids to realise that shrieking things, blaring your horn and chucking snack foods at people in the street and the like, is the behaviour of low life.

I’m not – of course – advocating that people do as I do. Making gestures at the pond-life  who do the beeping and the blurting -and worse –  really isn’t the wisest course of action. But by gum, it always makes me feel better.

Until I realise that it’s dear old Gerry who has beeped me. Or my daughter’s teacher. Yes – the latter has occurred too. Hopefully it won’t affect her end of year exam results too badly.

Hope our girls will live to see no more beeping. After all, we have Donald Trump as a President.

Hope our girls will live to see no more beeping. After all, we have Donald Trump as a President.

 

 

…And a Font-Filled New Year

31 Dec

I can’t think of a nicer way to spread cheer and to end the year than mentioning an old chum from my childhood.

Every card of Stuart's topically features our local landscape. Here's the monstrous IKEA too!

Every card of Stuart’s topically features our local landscape. This year’s features the monstrous IKEA too!

Stuart Vallantine (can tell you himself) that he hasn’t always had an easy ride in life. A few years younger than me,  this wonderful lad first presented himself to the world as a bit of an unusual wee dude. Stuart lived around the corner from me and I spent many an hour in church, trying to keep a lid on the enthusiastic little boy’s outbursts during really dull sermons. He used to hook onto something said by the minister and then start reciting adverts from the telly that used the same word or terminology. Great fun to be around – as he really annoyed old ladies who took the Old Testament just a tad bit too seriously and who failed to appreciate the nuances of British Telecom commercials.stuart-2013-xmas-card

Anyway. The merry / melancholic season just isn’t the same unless I received a hand-drawn card by Stu (no pressure there, our kid.) So I wanted to nudge you towards his story and his website.  stuart-xmas1

Stuart hardly needs more followers; he is probably the most successful, proudly autistic-blogger in the UK. But if you *do* want to find out a bit more about Stuart, his life, his artwork, his politics, Stalybridge Celtic, 70’s and 80’s pop, his writing and poetry, plus the public transport history of the Mancunian area – then please, put your feet up and check out his blog.

A previous year's - worship of waterways too.

Oh. And the ‘font’ bit? Stuart is an expert on fonts. He really is a national treasure.

So where’s his ruddy OBE then? I’m sure Stuart would have an interesting political answer for that one.

Have a great 2017 and go see https://mancunian1001.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

More talent in this little finger than most of that lot on the Honours List. Really!

More talent in his little finger than most of that lot on the Honours List. Really!

Cheer up! Paint the whole world. Never mind the town.

13 Dec

Now here’s another cast-iron guarantee ‘pick me up’ if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t easily feel good cheer at this time of year. One of the things that I love about living Up North – being crowbarred between Manchester, Huddersfield, Halifax, Bradford and Leeds – is that I get access to such incredible vistas. The term ‘a sight for sore eyes’ was created for our neck of the woods.

I remember a sketch by Billy Connolly, where he joked about how unappreciative of scenery his kids were, when they went on a family holiday to Scotland. I remember feeling the same myself as a child (“Nooo – not another loch, Dad! Not another mountain! Where’s the ruddy amusement arcade?”) but strangely, I seem to have produced at least one child who regularly shrieks “Woooah!” when we turn down certain roads in our area and stumble across a fresh new view every few yards.

Cute. Once upon a time. With a little Rainbow Fish.

Once upon a time. With a little Rainbow Fish.

(Although it could be that he is simply being sarcastic. You never can tell with that one.)

So yep, you can predict that you will open your front door or amble down the lane and be met with this gobsmacking views when you live in these parts. But you can’t accurately predict the weather here. Pennine climatology is a law unto itself. But it is the reason for my next ‘potential cheer’ of the season.

The rainbow. The rainbows. Here in the valleys – they’re mighty special. Because you get to check out both ends of them, you see? And this leads to small people demanding that you stop the car in order that they can go and dig for a pot of gold and live lives of luxury (have these kids never heard of the Protestant work ethic, I ask myself? I blame The X Factor for this instant gratification malarkey.)

There’s nothing nicer than walking down the lane and all of a sudden this shimmering arc of translucent colours appears in front of you. And who the hell can feel glum when there’s such beauty trailing itself ahead of you? No one could ever dislike a rainbow, could they? I mean, have you ever heard anyone mutter ‘Oh bloody hell- there’s another rainbow again. That’s the third one this week. I’m onto the council, pronto. Sick of the damned things.’

A BOGOF Rainbow

A BOGOF Rainbow

No. They are one of the best things that still manage to exist in this crazy, greenhoused-up world of ours. In fact, me and mine were discussing them – as a phenomenon – the other day. Although I did then go on to make the mistake of showing them a youtube clip of my favourite childhood-nostalgia TV programme ‘Rainbow.’ My little boy asked me a very thought-provoking question;“Why’s it called ‘Rainbow? This programme.” I said; “Gosh. I don’t know. Well, it was the 70’s you see. And the grown-ups were trying to be all about … hmm… diversity and I guess … how a mix of colours can lead to a beautiful experience.” But the daughter has learned to be a lot more cynical these days and replied;“So they thought that this would happen … by creating a family that consists of some old white dudes, with a mucky looking bear, a camp pink moomin and a gobby puppet that looks like – and sounds like – Nigel Farage?”

And yet more cynicism has tainted my rose-tinted spectacled views of rainbows in recent weeks. On viewing one a-straddled across the reservoir, I made another error – turning to my daughter and asking her; “Do you know why rainbows are so special?” She replied, “Probably. But you’ll no doubt tell us anyway.”

Now, do bear in mind that during my childhood and adolescence I was exposed to perhaps a few more bible verses and church attendance than can be deemed to be healthy for one young person – because I somehow felt led to tell her; “In the bible it says that after Noah’s Ark and all of that – God sent a rainbow. To show the people a new promise – that he would never flood the earth again.”

Girl goes; “Yeah, well. Try telling that to your pagans who live in Hebden Bridge. Don’t imagine they’d be much impressed.”

Still, sarcasm gene aside – they’re lovely aren’t they? Rainbows, I mean. Not children.

And if you don’t live in these parts – and can’t get to see the ends of both of one – go and get your felt tip pens out and draw yourself one. Instant cheer up. I promise. And I’m not trying to be facetious or blasphemous here, but it’s probably more of a cast-iron guarantee than the one about the earth never being flooded again.

This Rainbow will also make you smile. Even with Nigel Farage as a young apprentice, Zippy.

This Rainbow will also make you smile. Even with Nigel Farage as a young apprentice, Zippy.

Raising The Spirits

7 Dec

A lot of people find this to be a difficult time of year. In the past, I never found it to be so. I always preferred Advent to the maelstrom of the big days themselves.  ‘Cause I like my anticipation, me I do.

But after losing certain very special people from my life at this time of year, there is something much more melancholic about December for me these days. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about decorating a tree with cheapo chocs from Lidl and fighting for the last Hatchimal in Toys R Us, when even the light – the blimmin’ LIGHT – at this time of year reminds you of the people who should have been here with you. Who should by rights be standing right next to you and calling you ‘a miserable old cow’ for insisting that the kid’s advent calendars MUST have pictures of the nativity and accompanying bible verses and MUST NOT contain chocolate or any other consumerist impulses.

And I know that I’m not alone in this; the mournfulness. But I also don’t believe in retreating into myself too much – and I’m not allowed to either. Because there’s my pal at the gym who constantly says ‘oh, just give yourself a good slapping, girl – and get on with it’. So I thought I would blog a few blogs this month that might spur on the strugglers amongst us at this time of year; to share a few ideas to raise a smile and to banish the blues.

First off – we have;

A fine little theatre. Lawrence Batley Theatre in wonderful Huddersfield

A fine little theatre. Lawrence Batley Theatre in wonderful Huddersfield

Take an Uncomplicated Person to the Theatre

At first, I was going to say ‘take a child’ – because being ‘uncomplicated’ usually applies to these small humans (yeah, right.) But then I thought of panto. And how I really, really hate the panto. But how I really, really love watching other people’s faces – esp. the kids – when (for the umpteenth time) they’re shrieking ‘He’s behind you!’ Yeah, uncomplicated sorts make for the ideal theatre-chum. So with mates like these, even *I* can even bear a bit of panto.

But panto aside, I would say that my happiest times of the year are when I’m ensconced in a theatre seat. There’s just something about live performance – the cast of characters, the trepidation of wondering whether anyone will fluff their lines, whether their trousers will split, maybe someone will set off a fire-alarm etc – that for me makes theatre worth every penny; far and above being pinned into some crap, chain cinema seat whilst your eardrums are blasted by the OTT sound effects.

This year, I’ve been dragging my beloveds to productions by Northern Broadsides and dear old Huddersfield Thespians. Not to mention the other am-dram societies. I certainly can’t moan about the quality and experience of any of the above (and oh… ‘the Broadsiders did a bazzin’ job of JB Priestley’s ‘When We Are Married’ – they really did) – but even if you do spend a few quid on something which is not completely top banana and you ain’t that impressed, why not swivel your head a bit and start noticing the faces of your fellow theatre go-ers? It really is a different experience to watching the gawpy expressions that people adopt when faced with a screen.

But of course, don’t take a cynic with you. Or a critic. Or someone who has any kind of literary pretensions. Take a straightforward, uncomplicated person who will just be grateful that you thrust a bag of sherbet lemons in their general direction. I took my husband to the last performance and he’s from Birmingham. So it worked out really well for everyone concerned.

Mind you – having said that, he also hates panto. About four years ago we happened to win a family ticket to a panto in Halifax. And the two of us felt this terrible, overriding compulsion to leave. Which we did – during the interval. We told the kids that;  “it’s finished now. Wasn’t that nice?”

The drive back to Huddersfield consisted of the older child saying to her little brother; “You know, Sleeping Beauty was supposed to wake up at some point. I hate it when they change the stories.”

*** MORE CHEERY DISTRACTIONS FOR THE SEASON – SOON ***

Dream on, girl. We can't be arsed to stay for any more of this stuff.

Dream on, girl. We can’t be bothered to stay for any more of this stuff.

 

A Blanket Descends.

9 Nov

(Howling from the kitchen)

ME: (coming downstairs). Go on then. Is that happy howling?

12 yr old GIRL:  Noooo Nooooooo! He’s got in. Trump. It’s Trump! My God! What is WRONG with these people?

ME:                    (that’s dumbstruck silence)

8 yr old BOY: (coming downstairs) What? Trump got in? That’s a nightmare.

GIRL: You’re telling me! It’s a catastrophe!!

ME:                   (more dumbstruck silence)

BOY: Someone needs to tell Dad. (He scampers upstairs. Then comes down again)  Dad says ‘ha ha very funny and have I packed my PE shorts as he’s sick of being my servant or whatever.’  It’s a disaster! And Dad thinks we’re joking.

trump

Thumbs down for Trump. Until it snowed.

GIRL: Oh Emm Gee – this is like, the worst thing ever ever ever. Like, 8 years ago, Mum – I was 4 – and *he* (jerks head at brother) was sat in his high chair there, slopping his food everywhere and generally being totally repulsive –  so *he* won’t remember it. But *you* were getting all … crying at Radio 4 …. ’cause Obama got in and you thought it was like, dead important because he was black and a dude and all of that. So what the hell has gone wrong??? Someone tell me!!!

ME:                  (even more dumbstruck silence. I had no idea she remembered that. Oh crap. What else can she remember?)

BOY: Yes it’s all a disaster. I’m so depressed. It’s gonna be World War Three. We’re all gonna die. But  … heyyyyy!!!!  (looking out the window.) Cool!!!  Look at the snow!! There’s snow everywhere! Ah, wow!  Cool!  Can I get my snow boots, Mum. Please please please!

GIRL: (flares up) What is WRONG with you? This is the worst thing EVER!  And all of a sudden you’re happy because IT SNOWED!! You are SO shallow! A bit of snow and you suddenly forget about Trump and the end of civilisation or like, whatever?!

ME: (finding voice) Well. You might as well let him enjoy the snow. Trump won’t be doing much about climate change. You may well not be seeing snow for much longer. But the world might well enjoy many more incidences of letchy old fellas getting away with groping young ladies.

GIRL: (in a wonderful impersonation of Trump’s voice) So that’s ok, then!

 

 

Skimmed? Or Devoured.

4 Nov

As a life-long bookworm, it came a bit of a shock to me when I noticed that my 6 year old daughter would do anything not to read. Indeed, we soon noticed that the kid was hiding her school reading books down the back of the settee (which in my household is a remarkably risky activity, unless you want your reading materials to be encrusted in marmite-toast and dead spiders.)

Initially, my reaction to this was; “blimey, what I crap parent I must be”, followed by “this is her dad’s fault – he’s always crowing that ‘I’ve seen the film, don’t need to read the book'” and then finally, I realised that something was indeed the matter.  That maybe the child had dyslexia.

A simulator which shows how *some* dyslexics experience the written word

A simulator which shows how *some* dyslexics experience the written word

Problem was though – that the school wouldn’t get her tested. Told us that she was ‘too young’ to be diagnosed. ‘Poppycock’ – we were later told by an expert. The *real reason* for lack of help was that our girl was beautifully behaved in lessons. It turned out that the kids who cause maximum classroom disruption were the only ones able to access local authority funded testing.

So, we took her off for a private test. The tests involved lots more than just looking for dyslexia. Full IQ analysis and all of that gubbins. And whilst the cost of it brought tears to my eyes at the time, it was the best thing that we ever did for her. Because – yup – it found that her literacy ability was presenting itself as what we commonly refer to as ‘dyslexia.’ But we were also told that she was naturally smart, she could easily make good this gap of hidden impairment, if she got the right amount of help.

Now one of the reasons that the girl didn’t want to read, was because (she said) all of the school reading books were ‘well dull.’ And at this point, I had to concede that she was right. Because I had to sit and read a lot of them with her. I’m sorry to say that they were the same old same old formulaic fripperies. The children seemed to have none of the golden oldies that I remembered had sparked my own imagination as a 6 year old (Flat Stanley, Bobby Brewster, Just William, Amelia Jane, etc). So I asked a friend in the publishing industry “Why are there such few reprints of the brilliant books of the past? Why do schools insist on trying to feed our kids such badly written modern tosh?”  After reminding me that this was a slightly unfair statement on my part, he went on to inform me that these days, schools only have access to the ‘bargain basement, cheap as chips’ stuff that the big publishing houses want to sell ASAP. And yeah, there are a few incredible ‘stand-outs’ that I don’t mind conceding to (Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Annabel Pitcher) but in general…

Its more of a case of supply dictating demand. Of the big publishers force-feeding our kids the kind of genre/theme that worked last year. They don’t want to take risks on a new author with a different approach. Hence too many coloured fairies, young wizards and vampy-sorts wandering about. And amidst all of this, the parent of the dyslexic child (quite understandably) presumes that the school is providing sufficient stimulation for the kid who needs a bit more help to get into a book. But the school teachers lack the time to research which books work the best – and the schools – you guessed it – lack the money available to buy stuff that isn’t coming from the big booksellers.

My own personal answer to this dilemma was to hit charity shops, second hand book shops and eBay. To trawl them for the oldest, tattiest books that were deemed not to be ‘hot’ enough for a big publisher to want to do a new edition of.  But which were a superb, captivating, beautifully written read.  I don’t mind patting myself on the back for this one – the results paid off; but my girl also put the effort in (and oh yeah, banning the telly helped too. Evil? Moi?)

This one would live in a library if you let him.

This one would live in a library if you let him.

And child number two – my son – couldn’t have been any different. It’s the opposite story with him. It’s US having to HIDE books from HIM when we want him to get off his bum and to help around the house. He has been known to sit and read the instruction manuals for fridge-freezers when his favourites have been whipped away from him.

So I was fascinated to hear about the latest research from the University of Dundee which found a bit of a gender gap when it comes to kids and reading. You can read an interesting summary of it here – http://huntington.researchschool.org.uk/2016/10/29/what-are-our-children-reading/ but in short; lads tend to skim read more and choose less challenging books than girls. Of course, there could be a lot of reasons for this; perhaps boys are lazier and have a false confidence in their abilities, perhaps girls are more anxious at missing out on that all-important passage that could change their life and lead them to The Handsome Prince. I jest of course – but as a Governor of a high school, I’m also acutely aware that we are really struggling to treat our boys with fab and unusual reading material. And one of the problems with the research itself, is that it only focussed on the books that are included in the schools ‘Accelerated Reading Scheme’, which, if you have read the previous paragraphs, you will realise content-wise is dictated via the supply and ‘presumed demand market-monsters’ again.

So what do we do? How do we improve the literacy of kids who struggle to keep engaged and interested in reading? Those of you that know me already, will know that my first response will be ‘less of the e-devices for our kids, if you please; it’s a book for ’em or nowt!’  But I’m a realist and I know that this isn’t possible for a lot of us.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see classrooms stuffed with rich, high quality, old and new reading material. But I can’t see this happening right now, for the reasons above. In an ideal world, I’d like to say that there should be an effective partnership between parent and school; to spend time together nailing the specific problems that their child has in terms of literacy. But again…. it’s time. And it’s always money.

So I’m afraid, that this is one which will have to fall onto the shoulders of parents and relatives. One thing that many literacy studies over the years has shown us – and you might well be able to look at the reading habits of your own loved ones in order to bear this out – is that some of us prefer fiction and some of us prefer fact. And whilst I’d be chuffed to see all kids reading and enjoying my own book recommendations, that would be a bit… well. Stepford Wife-ish. And whilst I’d be thrilled to see all children reading every line on every page of every book; again. Where the hell would society be if we didn’t skim and scan and chuck the odd crappy book at the wall, every now and then?theweek

One of the things that I discovered about my dyslexic daughter is that her eyes/ brain want to work so fast, that she tend to ‘word skip,’ and this means that she sometimes skims a book. In fact, we soon realised that she was reading our newspapers. We can’t get her away from our ‘History’ magazines and she’s even been pondering ‘Private Eye’. So we did a bit of research and tried her out with her own – and ‘The Week Junior’ has proven to be a big hit. http://theweekjunior.co.uk/ She gets to keep abreast of current affairs and she gets a rare and magical occurrence these days – real time post, from Bob The Postie!

Personally, I would love to see schools taking out subscriptions to magazines for kids; to start buying more fact-based publications. To accept donations of previously loved, less shiny-new but top quality books. Yes! To get laminating those magazines in case of Irn-Bru spillage (those teachers and their unhealthy lifestyles, eh?) I mean, why should we be discriminating against young people who don’t have the desire to read the youthful version of the likes of ‘War and Peace’? Why should there be one rule for them and one rule for the adult world? private_eye

So with Christmas rapidly approaching, why don’t we treat the youngsters in our life to a magazine subscription? And why don’t we nudge our schools to raise money for the same – as opposed to the usual ‘we need ipads’. And apologies if I sound like an old fuddy-duddy but – we can’t sit here moaning about literacy levels when the nippers are bombarded by devices that actively discourage them from slowing down and perusing the paper.

And on that note, I shall go and go and take a hammer to those nasty powerloom thingies. Be the death of our society, those things will.