Tag Archives: working class

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.

Seriously.

“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?

“You’ll Thank Me For It One Day!”

2 Jan

Whatever year you happened to be born into – whether you are a child of the 1940’s or a kid spawned of the 90’s, you’ll no doubt be able to remember some of the more ingrained parental scripts. Some of them stark. Some of them scary. Some of them bloody hilarious.  And didn’t we all say to ourselves “I’ll never end up saying that to my own kids”?

Classics from my family include; “Because I said so,” “surely you know better than that!” “if the wind changes your face will stay like that,” “I won’t tell you again,” (said several times), “I’ll give you something to cry about,” “wait till your father gets home,”nobody likes a smartarse,” and the immortal “don’t come running to me when you’ve broken your leg!”

Don't come crying to me when you've broken your leg!  (Dovestones, Peak District 1981)

“Don’t come crying to me when you’ve broken your leg!” (Dovestones, Peak District 1981)

Now, I hate to admit this but I think that I’ve used all of these lines on my kids. And one of them – “you’ll thank me for it one day” was frequently employed by own folks in relation to marshalling me to various music lessons, orchestras, exams.  Yup – I was pretty good at playing the flute. A music teacher of mine even told my parents that I might be offered a place at the famous Chethams School of Music in Manchester. Sounded like great news for the adults. But the trouble was … that I couldn’t be arsed. Being forced to play a musical instrument far too often? Having to wear a stupid blazer and get the bus into Manchester? Being required to hang out with a load of kids who would be well-posh and who would have ponies or do ballet or learn Latin or whatever?

Thanks, but no thanks, folks.

This was also my attitude to the fact that my parents – who had very little ‘extra’ money to play with at all – sent me for expensive music lessons every week. They drove me to and from orchestra as well. They both cajoled, nagged, shouted at me to practice. Tears and tantrums were often the result (and that was just my dad).  But my parents had never had the chance to study music themselves, to discover which instruments they might excel at. Understandably, they wanted better for me. And whilst I sympathised greatly with this, in truth I just wanted to be left alone in my bedroom so I could cut up my Smash Hits magazines and make interesting little collages out of the varying photos of Dave Gahan’s bum.

“You’ll thank us for it one day,” they’d continue to remind me.

“Ha. In your dreams!” I’d reply in my head  (expressed verbally sometimes when my gob happened to run away with me. This tended to be when my dad was not about.)

Not that I’m stubborn like, but all throughout my twenties and thirties I held to this sentiment. Harking back to the music lessons – the plinking about on the piano, the tooting of the fluting and the mucky rhymes that I created in order to differentiate my Allegretto from my Adagietto – provided me with nothing other than memories of pain, doom, boredom and gloom.

They're all glaring at me and thinking about how POSH I am! Arghh! This dratted flute!

They’re all glaring at me and thinking about how POSH I am! Arghh! This dratted flute! (Junior School 1981)

No whiff of nostalgia. No memories of delight of the times when Nan and Grandad were thrilled with me playing Christmas carols for them. Nothing more than a heavy feeling of hours wasted and an insecurity complex developed (’cause the kids at my junior school always called me ‘posh’ for being able to play a musical instrument – when all’s I wanted to do was to have the same kind of talents as them – to be able to walk on my hands or to fart in time to ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson.)

I was – for some 30 years – a pathetically, ridiculously and utterly ungrateful little sod.  I never could see how or why all of the agony involved in making me practice had helped me in later life, in my career. Were the tenants that I evicted from houses in Oldham treated to a rendition of ‘Bright Eyes?’ Did the civil servants that I used to advise on government policy in London ever summon me to tickle the old ivories with a chorus of ‘Fur Elise?’ Was there any call in the African bush for a rehearsal of the entire score of ‘West Side Story’?

No. It was all a dreadful waste of my time and of my parent’s hard earned cash.

And then something happened. History began to repeat itself. My ten year old daughter began to learn the flute. My motives for forcing the music upon her are less noble than my parent’s own reasons however; 1) I still have my own flute from the 80’s…hence a cheaper approach to music-learning and 2) My daughter struggles with numeracy – and I realised that music can help those with a dash of dyscalculia. Might stop her from moaning about maths.

I’ve blogged about the homework battles before. But I kind of hoped that my girl would show more mettle than me. That she would seize the day with her flute practice and enjoy being able to play an instrument that she clearly has a knack for. But no. Cue paddies and meltdowns. And hollow laughter no doubt emanating from my parent’s household… Ye Shall Reap What Ye Sow. And you guessed it…the very same words actually left my own lips “You know – you’ll thank me for this one day!”

History repeating itself? Is she looking sufficiently thankful in 2014?

History repeating itself? Is she looking sufficiently thankful in 2014?

But I don’t give up easily. Rather than feeling miserable about the fact that my girl has clearly inherited my less-pliable than most streak, I tried to think of something that might make her practice with a little less stroppiness. I realised that she was bored with her practice pieces. So I grabbed the flute and had a go at showing her some of the tunes that I had learned many moons ago. All from memory. Beatles and Birdie Song and the like. “Oooh – show me how to do that one!” she said. So I scribbled the letters of the notes down for her. And then it was “Can you put it into proper musical score?” with my response being; “Blimey. Not sure if I can remember how to…”

And I could. It all came flooding back. The sight-reading. How to write the notes, guess the rhythm. Hell – even how to transpose the key into one more easier for a beginner. It was a little rusty at first but it all soon began to flow.

The result was:

a) One happy little bunny who is now learning lots of new tunes, who practices for a lot longer and who sees it as a bit more of a challenge (as well as a chance to boss me about.) And;

b) One smug big swine. Because although I cannot remember whether I remembered to put my bra on this morning, I can recall how to read, write, compose music from some 30 years ago – and most importantly – how to calm my kid down and get her to enjoy her music practice a bit more.

So, as much as it pains me to admit it, yes. My parents were right. On most things in life – as well as on this one aspect that I could have sworn that I was proving them wrong on.  It might have taken me a few decades to realise it – but I concede that I am truly, totally and – delightfully – grateful and I DO thank them for it. From the bottom of my heart.

(Although I’ve yet to truly feel gratitude for ALL of those trips down the slate mines in Wales. But I’ll get there one of these days. When kid number two develops an unhealthy interest in geology and big holes in the ground or something…)

Faking pleasure at heading off down a slate mine...

Faking pleasure at heading off down a slate mine…

Another slate mine in the early 80's. The day when I will be grateful for this could be... 2015!

Another slate mine in the early 80’s. The day when I will be grateful for this could be… 2015!

Death Penalty – a light-hearted distaction for Tory screw-ups…

6 Aug

I know that I shouldn’t be shocked.  But  I am. Apparently it’s the power of the public. The power of the petition. If enough people have enough strong views about something or other – our adorable Members of Parliament get to collectively debate it. With the potential of re-establishing the legal -snuffing out of human life, according to how you and I (i.e. a Jury) believe what the evil scummers have done.

Yep – the old Death Penalty chestnut finally wriggled its way out of the Tory coffers this week. I hope that readers are canny enough to see that the massive amounts of press and media coverage that surrounded this ‘new debate’ have very much heralded a convenient DISTRACTION for the disasters that we are now encountering as a result of this Tory-led coalition.

 So far, all that we have seen from this Government is a load of witless rhetoric from a bunch of public schoolboys who have the money and backing to pay for their own oratory tutorials and to purchase soundbite-awareness and the best PR/ Media  private company representation. These are a bunch of toffs , for whom it is clear that the only experience to encountering  the lives of anyone remotely working class has
been to purchase a kebab from ‘Jason’s Kebab Van’ in the middle of Oxford, round about 2 am during Trinity term and after a thoroughly smashing debate at The Union about whether more people  from those dodgy postcode areas (Academies! The New Comprehsensives! Eeek!!)should be allowed into Oxbridge….

It strikes me as highly amusing that this Government are obviously wetting their pants at the transparency of their links with a certain Mr Murdoch. Furthermore, it reeks of desperation now, that they are now going for the approach of ‘Well – if we are going to go by the strength of numbers via the general public signing petitions – Hell! Let’s drag the old death penalty one out!! An awful lot of people think that the death penalty will help our country out of all of these problems!  So surely, we have to listen to these people as an example of basic democracy! (Hoo…and those muslim-sorts are also pro-capital punishment aren’t they? We can even win back THEIR votes! Course, we wouldn’t want to go or the full beheading malarky. Bit messy that.  We would go with something nice and sanitised like the lethal injection.  Make a note – send fact-finding mission to Louisiana ASAP’…

As someone who has had a lot more to do with the subject of capital punishment during the last ten years.  Sadly, more so than the average member of the population in the UK. I am afraid that my feelings are obviously a wee-bit biased.  But my reaction is also just a little bit déjà-vouzed right now.  I feel incredulous that we are returning to this stupid debate, yet again.   As someone who lost one of their most wonderful friends – to a barbaric and ill-administered (i.e. tortuous) execution in Texas only a few years ago, I  feel utterly depressed at the prospect of any UK citizen who buys into this pathetic diatribe of ‘an open and public debate on capital punishment.’

Those of you who already know me, may remember than my own written words of a seven year friendship, even the  words of my (then) 3 year old daughter – were quoted in USA courts as an example of the sinister threats imposed by a poor, innocent black guy who was stitched up from the word go.  Anthony joked in a letter to my little girl, Ruby that he would like to teach her to fish (as she had requested earlier), using the prosecuting lawyer ‘as bait’.  He shared the same impish sense of humour as I still do. We spent many years getting to know each other, taking the P out of each other, sending tiny little tokens of care and love (so far as you can from Texas when you are not allowed to send anything out other than a drawing, or a letter…..so far as you can from the UK when you can’t even send anything other than a card or something printed off on a computer).

Little did we know that the crazy letters that we sent during the last year of his life – mine, my daughter’s, my mother’s, my husband’s, even my muslim brother and family ‘s (whom many people WRONGLY supposed would be pro-death penalty..) were confiscated before delivery to him.  Each one of us were just quietly, doing their best  to try and keep this guys head above the water. To keep him from taking his own life at the horror of life in virtual solitary confinement in Texas. But ever letter was  seized and used as evidence of ‘a violent and corrupted mind’ of our friend. Anthony had never, ever had a violent criminal record. His only crime was being brought up in the ghettoes of Dallas, to an absent father and a mother who couldnt cope. As the second eldest he had to look out for all of his younger siblings. Now you tell me. How the hell does a nine year old boy manage to look after his tiny siblings within the 1970’s- to feed and clothe them – without learning the ropes of ‘coping’ aka the wavy blue line of the law?

So just before Anthony was 16 – he nicked a car.  I am sure that he had been doing dodgy stuff now and then before this.  But he got caught.   And there happened to be a few dollars in the glove box. So he got a double rap. He told me that he hadn’t even been aware of this.  The daft bugger.  And he got out of prison when he was well into his 20s.  He then went on to work as a volunteer, advising ex-offenders who had just gotten out of prison.  He volunteered for the NAACP.

I won’t use this opportunity to tell you about the horrendous corruption that followed this in relation to a violent incident that Anthony and his nephew Claude were alleged to have carried out.  Anthony was hundreds of miles away from the robbery and murder (and had evidence to prove this – which got ‘lost’ by the police). There are MANY reasons as to why this case became a ‘stitch up’ and I won’t go into it here.   I am all too aware that Anthony’s nephew, Claude – is now on the 11th year of his life sentence in Texas. I am all too aware that the words I have muttered before – even light hearted banter between Anthony and a toddler – can nail a life in good ol’ Texas.

When Anthony realised that he only had a a couple of weeks to live, he asked me to witness his execution and to be there for him as his best friend. Even now, a few years later, I am still horrified when I think that the daft words exchanged between him and myself, and my tiny daugther were re-constructed as to become a death threat to a US lawyer.  I still can’t believe that every letter of the last week prior to his execution was  held back until after his execution. So he never received my family’s last words of love. (They were returned to all of us two weeks after his execution with a handwritten ‘Inmate Deceased’ written on them).

The issue of the death penalty is so much bigger than us so-called ‘bleeding heart liberals’. That caring, sharing, enlightened bunch who feel sorry for the poor inmates who never had much of a chance in life….There are  of course, the victims to consider.  And although I know that Anthony was not ‘your typical death row inmate’ and his case was somewhat unusual, in terms of the death penalty per se for ‘an eye for an eye’ for me, getting to know about organisations such as ‘Murder Victims for Reconciliation’ simply took my breath away. I got to meet  people like Bud Welch whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing and who himself became friends with Timothyy McVeigh’s father when he realised that execution would only make his situation and experience as the father of a murdered daughter much, much worse. I met the mothers of murdered children both in the UK and the USA who had somehow (God only knows how – I don’t know if I could do this) moved beyond baying for blood and who wanted some peace and form of reconciliation.

But as Bud Welch himself said to me, ‘no one would ever think that Tim Mcveigh’s dad is a victim. But he is as just as much a victim as my daughter’s family are. He loved his son, did not want to see him also killed.  He knew that his son had been misguided and messed up the most horrible degree. And now Tim’s dad – this poor guy has had to change his identity, name, state, livelihood – all because of something is son- not him – did.   He is in exile. As are the rest of Tim’s family.  This goes for everyone who is remotely related to someone who is executed.’

Remember this. We are not just executing people that we think are guilty. We are executing entire families – parents, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters and tiny little children- who have done nothing to deserve losing their loved ones. This is not something that you can share during a lunch break with a sympathetic colleague.  This is not something that you can chat about nonchalently to your next door neighbour.  You child screws up big time – or is stitched up big time – and you also have your own life, your own freedom – snuffed out.

And yes, despite what many of their loved ones have done – they are still utterly loved…. and so these relatives’ own lives become miserable and scarred – and many of them will tell you that they feel that they are not even worth living  – as a result.

So please, before you open your mouth with an opinion on the death penalty. Think beyond your own gut reaction. I know that if anyone hurt my own family or friends, I would want to see the perpetrator dead.  I would want to nail the bastard myself.  I know that this is only a natural reaction.  But I also know that – through my own experience – that ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world toothless and blind’… You may feel better for a few seconds, after crushing the one who hurt your dearest so badly. But to be a human is to be more than just blood-lust and knee-jerk reaction.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1090

For more on how/ why I got into all of this – see www.lifelines-uk.org

me and ant  (PHOTO)