Tag Archives: parenting

Go Ask Your Mother… Or Even Better -Grill Your Granny

7 Sep

Do you know what an ‘inter-generational’ project is? Sounds riveting, eh?

But before you expire of boredom in anticipation of today’s little bloggy-offering, please let me reassure you that this whole ‘inter-generational project’ malarky truly IS something to write home about. That it genuinely IS something that should tickle all of our fancies.

You too - can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

See below. You too – can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

In the days of yore, we simply used to refer to such projects as ‘Hey – I have a grandparent. Aren’t they BRILLIANT!!!??!!!’ (Ref: ‘The Fast Show’. Go Google.)

But I don’t want to get too sarky about this side of things, because lots of us (for whatever reasons) have lacked older relatives in our lives. For instance, the folk whom we could rightly claim as our own grandparents and older aunties and uncles, could have passed away when we were just wee nippers. Or maybe family breakdown meant that through no fault of our own, we were estranged from our parent’s parents.

Or perhaps even, those so-called Elders n’ Betters actually turned out to be drunken old lushes who had buggered off with a toy boy named Gazza to the Costa Del Sol (and that was just your Grandad…)

Inter-generational learning about growing up to be a Fag Ash Lil...

Inter-generational learning about growing up to become ‘a Fag Ash Lil’…

Anyways. In recognition of this – and of the fact that so many kids and young people today lack older role models in their lives, I’ve always loved creating and getting involved with such inter-generational projects. The first one that I ever heard about was run by a local community group in Gorton, Manchester. Teens who were having a tough time in life were taught how to do ‘hand-massage’ and were partnered with elderly folk in the area. As yon teen massaged the hand of an older buddy, they both got to know one another better, they traded experiences of dwelling in a (sometimes tough-to-live-in and to-grow-up-in area) and yup… you can just imagine. The youth received some great pearls of wisdom in life, made new ‘mates’… and the older ones who had lent their hands (and their heads) said that the whole project made them feel ‘less lonely’ and ‘more useful to the young people in our area.’

One of my all-time favourite inter-generational projects took place a few years ago, when I lived and worked in the Kalahari in Namibia. Whilst out there,  I trained San Bushmen youth to interview and record the words and lives of their elders. Not only did the kids find out startling new information in relation to how their ancestors used to live – before these amazing indigenous folk were kicked off their homelands – but the project also led to much improved relationships between old and young, heralding a revival in bushmen culture (the youth learning the traditional dances, the methods of hunting and gathering, the history etc. of their elders.)

The book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

A wee book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

It was startling that the San bushmen youth and elders often lived in the same one-roomed shack, but still knew very little about the histories of the elders. And yet… isn’t this something that we’re all guilty of?

I consider myself to be fortunate. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that my family are an unusual blend of working-class white and Pakistani-British muslim origin. Over the last two decades – collectively – we have had to overcome plenty of prejudice and bigotry (and I’m not even referring to the poor, discriminated-against Brummie contingent.) So we talk a lot. More than most families, probably.

But even then, we haven’t spent enough ‘getting to know you’ time together. And there has been a huge element of taking the grandpees (as we call them) for granted. Just ask my own Ma about the fact that she and I rarely get time to have a proper natter – because when we do speak to each other, it’s all about the littlies – the dates, the change of dates (yeh-soz Mum), the music lessons, the allergies, the tantrums, the sleeping arrangements, the bargain buys at Boyes in Ilkley and the Panto-tickets. It seems that the generation above us – and us grown-up parents, never get round to simply passing the time of day, talking about the past, mulling over not-so small matters such as Life n’ Death.

Sure, if you’re into your history as I am, you can take all of this ‘missed info’ stuff rather seriously. Urged on by the best Professor of History in the world (Carl Chinn) back in my university days, I actually recorded an interview with my own Granny. I unearthed some fascinating stuff (Gran was once wooed by a certain young Mr Cadbury, whilst she happened to be on her hols in Llandudno…) but you don’t have to be as organised as I, weirdy, nerdy-teen,  clearly happened to be.

Granny in the beret on Llandudno pier. Legging it from multi-millionaire choco-magnate. Like you do.

My Granny (in the beret) on Llandudno pier. Legging it from the advances of a multi-millionaire choco-magnate. As you do.

Because this is where the informal inter-generational project perhaps needs to be considered a bit more by all of us. I was reminded of this the other day when my ten year old informed me of a startling new nugget of information;

GIRL: Mum, did you know how you came to be called ‘Christina’?

ME: Well – yeah. I think Grandma just liked the sound of it.

GIRL: Oh no. It wasn’t like that. You weren’t given your name straight away. Grandad told me.

ME: Well… I know that I wasn’t ‘Christina’ straight away. I know that my hospital tag only had my surname on it. And I do remember seeing a few ‘arrival of new baby’ cards that referred to me as ‘Baby Jennifer.’ So they obviously changed their minds about plumping for that one.

GIRL: Well I know why and how it all happened. About two days after they brought you home from the hospital and thought you would probably be called ‘Jennifer’, the phone rang and Grandad answered it. A drunken man asked for ‘Christina.’  Grandad told the bloke that no one called that name lived there.

ME: Oh.

GIRL: Yes – then – the next night, at exactly the same time – the drunken man rang again and asked for ‘Christina.’ Again. And Grandad said the same thing. No one here called that.  And then when he hung up he said to Grandma ‘Actually – that’s a nice name isn’t it?’ And so they decided finally on your name and registered you with that name – and all of that.

ME: Great. So I was named as the result of a drunken, telephone mis-dialling phenomenon?

GIRL: Yeah! Cool eh?

nana and us babies

My Nana nurses me. My brother was probably hankering after Nana’s pink turban. Ah…the days when hats really *were* hats eh?

But this daft ‘your namesake’ new little revelation of mine reminded me of another ‘inter-generational’ discovery. Sadly, my own Nana died as a result of suffering with terrible dementia. For the last year or so of her life, her conversation made very little sense to most people. But as her granddaughter – it was perhaps easier for me than for others – to listen to her words and to try and find the meaning behind them.

But for Nana’s own daughters it must have been terribly too painful and too frustrating for them to listen to. (And if you’ve ever been through this, you’ll know that nursing a relative or friend through dementia is one of the most heartbreaking experiences in the world. This is truly a case in point where a generation-removed is sometimes a ‘balm for the soul.’)

A year or so after Nana had died – thanks to my dad’s renewed interest in family history – my mother informed me that she had just discovered that her Grandad had died in the Great War. Mum hadn’t known about this at all (because Nana’s mother had remarried when she was only small, so my mother had grown up only hearing about the stepfather in the family.)

AND YET – GOBBY GIRL HERE – already knew about this.


“But I already knew this, Mum,” I said when she told me about the fact that my dad had even discovered Great-Grandad’s war grave.  “Nana told me a few months before she died. An entire tale about how she met him when she was tiny and he was just back home on leave from the war. Wearing his uniform.”

Samuel Hight's grave 1 sml

When she finally knew where her Grandad was buried, mum left a photo of his family next on top of his war grave in Flanders.

This this little case study of course, marked a far more emotional inter-generational revelation than my recent discovery of the drunken phone conversation. And it also culminated in my parents going to visit my Great Grandad’s war grave in Flanders. Serious, heart-rending and important stuff can be uncovered – if we just listen to each other a bit more, between the generations. If I had thought to have mentioned this to my own mum before Nana died… perhaps we could have mentioned it to her more in her last few weeks and…

But no point in dwelling on it.

And on a lighter note,  as well as being the recipients of previously unheard-of information, the younger generations can also inform their elders of stuff that they might not be aware of. Or ‘grass us parents up,’ if you like. My daughter told me last week; “Grandad had no idea that you once chucked a tin of baked beans at Uncle Steven’s head. And that you always tried to get *your own brother into trouble* all of the time –  by sneaking into his room and turning the dial up on his stereo and leaving empty crisp packets filled with water on his floor.”

kung fu fighting

Thanks to my kids, my own folks are more aware of the Kung Fu fighting that went on when *their* backs were turned.

And then the titbits that you feed your own kids about what the grandpees revealed to you about their childhoods, can come back and bite the grandparent’s bums… (“Mum – Grandad tried to tell me off for punching my brother but then I said that he had no right to, because back in the 1950s he once hit another kid over the head with a shovel-handle.”)

So the moral of the tale is to keep that dialogue flowing between the budding youth and the oldies. Between ALL of us really. Or you can do as my mother-in-law has done, write down your life story and self-publish it – ensuring that your nearest and dearest find out about the bits that you may never have gotten round to sharing (although a very elderly friend of mine has done the same but has a lot more scandal to share and has therefore neatly typed out her life story and it remains under lock and key until she shuffles off this mortal coil.)

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was...

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was…

Inter-generational questioning of one another however,  can cause a bit of embarrassment. It might be pertinent for example, to advise the younger generation that it ain’t clever to grill your grandparents about their sex life (as a slap round the chops can often offend.) So diplomacy should always rule the day when interviewing your elders, my dears…

But if anyone- ANYONE – out there happens to know of a chappy who used to be rather sozzled during the 1970’s and who had a lady-friend called ‘Christina’ – you will give me a tinkle, won’t you?

Because it could be the last piece of my own inter-generational puzzle…

Teddy Boy-Dad. Apparently he had 'come to bed eyes'. But these days Mum says its in order to test the new electric blanket he got from Aldi.

My Teddy Boy-Dad once told me that “the girls always said that I had ‘come to bed eyes.'” And I’m all for trading stories Pops, but let’s leave it at that. Eh?


Homework, Irony and the BBC…

14 Dec

MALE OFFSPRING:  Arrrghhh! I can’t do this! I HATE this! I HATE it!

ME:  Oh for…..(stopping myself)…it’s just homework! The sooner you get it done – the better.

MALE OFFSPRING: That’s alright for you to say! You said you never had nowt given you as homework when you were a kid. But I’m just 6! It’s not fair! I HATE this! I HATE my life! I keep telling you! I’m supposed to be HAPPY!

ME: I did get homework. But not until I was about 12.

FEMALE OFFSPRING: Well that’s because you must have gone to a rubbish school.

ME: I didn’t actually. It’s just that things were different in those days. Plus… if you didn’t do your homework… your parents didn’t feel the need to try and bail you out. Or to feel guilty that they might somehow might be turning out to be a crap parent.

FEMALE OFFSPRING: You just swore!

ME: No I didn’t. You must have misheard me.


ME: Anyway. I’ve had enough of this. I’m going upstairs. Or out. I’m sick of this every night. Don’t do your homework. See if I care if you end up on the streets at the age of 16 with no qualifications and you can’t even do your 5 times table!

FEMALE OFFSPRING: Oh that’s very mature, Mum.

MALE OFFSPRING: Good. I don’t care. I’m not doing it. Goodbye stupid numeracy book!

FEMALE OFFSPRING: That’s so unfair! So he doesn’t have to do his? Just ’cause he sits there and cries and whines like a big baby brat?!

MALE OFFSPRING: (whacks her with the exercise book) I HATE YOU.

ME: I can’t do another 10 years of this. I’m off. Make your own tea.


This is no exaggeration. This tends to occur most nights of the week in our home. Yes it is stressful. Yes it will get worse as the kids hit secondary school age and as fully-fledged teenagers, learn even more arsier tactics than blubbing, whacking each other with homework books or spitting grapes at each other. I know that.

But I’m actually thanking my lucky stars. It could be much worse. We have some great advantages on our side:

1) We are a 2 parent family. We can take turns to lock ourselves in the bathroom and have the odd swig of Listerine when it all gets too much.

2) We both work flexibly. We are around a lot more than most parents in order to supervise homework.

3) We possess a wonderful Grandma who sometimes takes over when the going gets tough in terms of weekend homework burden.

A Grandma who knows how to get around the homework tantrums...

A Grandma who knows how to get around the homework tantrums…

4) Our kids go to excellent local (state) primary schools where the teachers listen to the different needs of our kids and don’t pull our finger nails out if we occasionally don’t deliver the scribbled goods. They even let us choose reading books for our dyslexic daughter (how cool is that?)

5) We ban the TV from Monday to Friday. Okay… this is not so much an example of luck. We just know that the more that the TV is available, the more paddying occurs and the larger the flying missiles become.

So it was a super-duper irony today – when right in the middle of a blazing homework tantrum – the nice people from BBC 1 TV Breakfast Time called.  They wanted me to come onto the show in the morning in order to talk about the latest research by think tank OECD, that compares the number of homework hours spent between different countries. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30417132

I hope that the Beeb were not too disturbed by the freakish laughter that emanated from the other end of the phone line.

Either way, I’m always happy to talk about this issue. In terms of the research, I do find it rather strange that our kids in the UK are being compared with kids from the other side of the world (i.e. Shangai, Singapore) who operate within very different cultures, historical contexts and economies.

Malala Y and Stupendous Man - homework for 'who is your hero?' with our own unique interpretation...

Malala Yousafzai and Stupendous Man – homework for ‘who is your hero?’ with our own unique interpretation…

But I certainly welcome opening the dialogue – particularly in relation to the differences relating to the ‘homework question and class’ here in the UK. There are huge differences between the expectations and standards placed upon kids from more working class backgrounds and those born of the middle classes (dare I say it… the latter parents falling rather more into the competitive parenting pool. Whilst parents from working class backgrounds are less obsessed with an exterior sense of academic achievement.)

I probably veer between both camps, if I’m honest.

So if any parent is reading this and finds that the level of stress in their household is worse than our own and wants to dampen things down a bit, here are my tips:

1) If you are a lone parent – find another partner in crime quickly to help manage the burden of homework management. Doesn’t have to be someone from your preferred sexual orientation. Old Mrs Milligan next door might be worth her weight in gold (pay her in cans of Stella, or whatever her tipple happens to be.)

2) If your child is doing too much non-homework screen-time, do as we do. Ban the TV in the week. Hide the screens. If the kids are older and have screens in their rooms and deliberately disobey you – fit a trip switch into the home so that all electric goes off in their room (brutal perhaps but some kids need the iron fist approach.)

3) Speak to the school. Most teachers are utterly sympathetic to the plight of homework clapped out and downtrodden parents. Negotiate with them about what can constitute as ‘learning’ for your particular child and their needs from time to time.  And if it means getting a bit more creative about how homework is presented (i.e. using a video camera, a dictaphone, a blog post, having a parent transcribe a story – all techniques which we have used in the past) then bite the bullet.

fruity earrings sml

Liven up a dull national curriculum on ‘healthy eating’ by letting them make ‘fruity earrings’. Try and stop them from spitting the pips at each other though..

4) Stay away from the competitive parent sorts. Certainly don’t cosy up to them on Facebook. Perhaps think about talking to yourself in the playground instead (believe me – having a little chat with oneself DEFINITELY keeps the other parents away from you if you are really struggling to keep them at bay…)

5) Set up a list of *fun* activities that you consider to be learning/homework opportunities. Stop thinking about academic achievements for your kids. Start thinking about them being helped to become well-rounded individuals who have good logical and problem solving skills and who love the world and who will have a lifelong interest in society and the environment. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not the sort to try and push the wisdom of a former Tory MP onto you… but one of the best buys that we have had in recent years along these lines is a tome produced by Gyles Brandreth ‘The Lost Art of Having Fun.’ Go and treat yourself to a copy!

(And no. I am not sleeping with the fella.)


6 year old boy has just peered over my shoulder and shrieked “Are you mad? Why are you writing about homework – you weirdo!”


6 Mar

Everyone in our house enjoys World Book Day. Even more so this year!

The 5 year old’s school requested him to dress up as a character from his favourite book (disappointing me somewhat…I was hoping that he wanted to go as something rather literary, rather serious – such as Aslan the Lion, but no….bloody Spiderman. Again.)

My 9 year old had to bring her ‘favourite book’ into school and talk about it.  She told her teacher “Well, really – my favourite book is my mum’s new book. Sort of. I’m not really allowed to read it as it’s got rude words in it. But mum reckoned the teachers would like it as they read even dirtier things all of the time, when they go home…”

Cheers m’dears.  Happy reading folks!

Find my book here!

The Book Has Left The Building…

5 Mar

It’s finally up there for people to buy.  My first fiction book. You can find it on Amazon here.

I allowed myself a small, self-indulgent moment when the first dribblings of tweets and publicity trails arrived.

I felt good about the fact that I’m honestly not out to make money from this book. It’s always been  about the process of creation for me. About the fact that I finally listened to my inner voice …. that I simply had a story that I wanted to tell and to share with others.

I smiled and I pondered as I looked out upon our beautiful valley here. It really has been a mammoth task – but so satisfying and so uplifting an experience.

So, I got ready to go out, to meet my fellow writers and to bask in the warm glow of their support and artistic inspiration.

And then my husband said; “I hope you’re not going out like that. The budgie shat in your hair and you never even noticed.”

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course...)

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course…)

A Flat Head? EJ Howard, writing and the waterways…

3 Jan ej howard

One of our local librarians managed to push aside the fear of her own redundancy in order to try and engage with me. There I was.  Wild eyed and raddled mother of second, newborn baby. Desperate for something both entertaining and intelligent to get me through the wee small hours of brain and boobie-overdrive boredom…

Without Anon Librarian-Lady, I would never have heard of Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Or the Cazalet chronicles. Without Unknown Kirklees Library-Lass, I would never have ended up corresponding with E J Howard herself.

All it took was a certain librarian making a certain recommendation (sans Amazon, sans Kindle estimates of previous-purchases help…) “Oh – judging from your returned books – I think that you will like EJ Howard and the Cazalet chronicles – we don’t lend them out enough these days. A real shame!”

And this was…what? Some FOUR years before BBC Radio 4 decided to credit Elizabeth J Howard for her societal, spiritual, humanitarian and yes – beautiful prose, dialogue and character-observation.

Oh, dearest BBC Radio 4 commissioners I hate to say this, but yes. I really want to say ‘I told you so.’ Elizabeth’s writing was and is amazing.  Tasty, profound, political – without being preachy. Even though many of her contemporaries – and especially the Literahti – perceive her to be ‘domestic, upper class. old fashioned commercial women’s fiction’

Cobblers, my fellas. Just read her stuff.

And yes, how I wish that Radio 4 had re-discovered her before the very recent time where her Cazalet Chronicles were snatched up as new fodder for a Radio 4 audience who had enjoyed ‘Downton Abbey’ etc… But hey. Better now, than never.

I was fortunate to have been able to correspond with her directly.  She was an exceptionally rare person. A woman able to disreguard the birth prejudices of all of us in terms of economic family of origin.  A fellow ‘starting writer in heart’ even though she soared above us all.  She adored books, grassroots, off-the-wall, boho society. She admired socialism, quakerism and pacifist thought. She venerated books and the ‘simple life’. Here was a woman who ‘way back when’ had braved the infamous Standedge Tunnel and who still admired those crazies of us, who still square ourselves up for that all too rare  200 years old tunnel experience right here and now on the waterways today.

And poignantly, she admired and priorised the extended family. She was a subtle reminder to us all that ‘love affairs’ of the heart can and do change but that actually ‘being a parent’ has nothing to do with whether you have actually given birth or not.That parenting per se goes far beyond biology, paperwork and gushing sentiment…

As for me, I will never forget her kind responses and encouragements to my yearning to write whilst being a mother to small children. And that particular encouragement as to how parking the mammoth Cazalet chronicles on the noggin of child number two might not simply lead to a ‘peculiarly shaped, flat-head’…. but also might lead to a life-long love of books and learning…

ej howard