End of (Another) Era.

I just took my son to his primary school for the last time this morning. He had his leavers’ assembly yesterday and the sports day was the day before that. He seems okay with all this. No tears or complaints. A little moan about the weather not being sunny today when it should be bright and cheerful to see them all off.

The school has been brilliant. In distant times, when my daughter left the same school for example, there were some really disastrous leavers assemblies. How to celebrate your years in primary school and welcome the move to pastures new? With a You Tube video, complete with doom laden American voice over reminiscent of those cold war information films, warning how our children must work ever harder to combat the menacing challenge of the Chinese economic powerhouse on our borders? There were tears. And the kids were upset as well. I’m surprised there weren’t serious complaints to the Local Authority. It was a catalyst for me taking a more active role in the governing body.

The new head has a much more upbeat approach. The day is emotional enough without winding it up with mawkish end of an era speeches and ceremonies that go on for two or more hours, reducing ten and eleven year olds to heaps of mush. He has a celebratory approach and he has released the teachers to be joyful in encouraging the children to remember their time and achievements positively. To cement friendships and build a firmer foundation for their move to the future. A short, positive, joyous celebration of seven years of shared challenge, triumph and laughter. Spot on.

Of course there will be challenges. Nobody is hiding their head. But the way to meet this is with a raised spirit and a smile over that firm chin, not with gritted teeth and words of doom echoing in your head.

So well done to the head, the management team and the staff. And most of all to the children who said how they wanted to celebrate their time together, and pulled it all together in rapid time and superb order. Good humour and jokes and mutual support and recognition abounded.

So now they are all right, can someone put a parents leaving assembly on for me please? I hate endings and after 13 years association with the school I suddenly have no reason to go back. Having sent two children through the school, having been a governor and chair of governors, my wife having been secretary of the PTA, I suddenly find myself a complete outsider.

Maybe my son will help me celebrate the past and the future. Football and model aircraft and playing with toy tanks beckon. I’m feeling a bit better already.

THE GAME’S THE THING. ISN’T IT?

I used to be marginally obsessed with sport. It was a reaction to not being sports mad as an early teenager. My madness of personal involvement was rugby (union) with a side helping of most things that came along, sprinting, road running, fell/hill running (short course ), badminton, power lifting and even on occasion squash and five aside football. The observant will have realised that some of those are almost antithetical. A power lifter’s physique is not conducive to fell running. Well, I never said I did them at the same time, or that I was any good at any of them! But I did them.

As age and career progressed, well the age did, progression seems a little too grandiose a term to describe the career, I dropped more and more sports and at c42 began to vegetate beyond a bit of light maintenance jogging, cycling and weight training. Recently, inspired initially by my daughter’s brief flirtation with gym membership, I have been back in moderately serious training, although I have no idea what for.

It has however reignited an interest in sports watching. My son, age 9, tried rugby as a mini and didn’t get on with it. Not wanting to be one of those fathers who insists his son follows his obsessions, I shrugged, and he abandoned my hopes of basking in reflected World Cup winning glory in 2027. Then he began an unholy interest in football. Soccer. Association football. I wasn’t any good at football and the idea of running around NOT picking the ball up seems insane. What was the point of our ancestors developing opposable thumbs back in the African Rift Valley if we were going to stumble round kicking things?

As I said though, I wanted him to pick his own obsessions, however mad I thought they might be. So I spend hours kicking a ball with him to the best of my ability on the local park pitch, buy him footy magazines and let him stay up to watch Match of the Day and Match of the Day 2. Something that brings back mixed memories of my own childhood. I quite liked watching football back in the 1960s and 70s. And I met several players through the rugby team I played for in a series of unlikely crossovers between sportsmen (however loosely that term is used in my case) in the same area.

I haven’t really bothered watching football since about 1980 apart from joining the odd national moment of mass delusion at various World Cup and Euro forays by England. My son’s apparently instant encyclopaedic knowledge of not just Premiership but world football however, has alerted me to that fact that the game is radically different from the one I remember. It’s not just the offside rule and what the keeper can do with the ball that have changed.

I mentioned in a recent ramblings post that I thought Olympic athletes have become part of a professional circus that has devalued the once every four years event. That is true in spades for football. The existential aim of the club, the matches, the game, indeed the whole sport has changed. From a release from the constraints of work to engage in inter village, town, school, pit, factory rivalries it has changed into a money making entertainment industry for rich kids of all ages. The footballers get paid ridiculous amounts of money, generally have an over inflated sense of their own intrinsic worth as people, but are treated just as badly, if not worse than before as people.

Players who are just as good as they were last season, indeed as the last match they played are suddenly cast aside on the whim of psychopaths called managers. Managers themselves are treated with a Lord of Misrule dualism: they are feted, built up as geniuses, paid mad money and then slaughtered in due, often very short, course by money men with the attention span of ADHD ridden stockbrokers.

Too much borrowed money chases imaginary, worthless, goals. It is sustained by hyperinflated, frenetic, marketing portraying it as more important than life itself (to misquote Bill Shankly as most people do for their own nefarious ends). An obsession with results, irrelevant to life, (it’s a game) lead to hyperbolic and vitriolic reactions. People are hounded at a bizarre and deeply unattractive bar of media hype, masquerading as public opinion.

It’s stupid. It’s nasty. It’s unnecessary. It’s a game.

I want my son to enjoy football. At the same time I want him to grow up with a good value system. I want to know how to explain the treatment of players he has loved watching suddenly being cast on the scrap heap by psychologically flawed managers for no other reason than they don’t like them. I want to explain how other managers, decent human beings, trying their best, get canned after a month of attempting to meld a bunch over enormous egos into doing the bare minimum for which they are paid. I want to know how to explain to him that someone who can’t run ten metres for the bus is regarded as an expert on the game with a huge twitter following because of their ‘witty’, foul mouthed posts.

What does that tell him about valuing ability, human dignity and heaven help us; job security? It tells him none of those things matter as the circus of senseless individualism is all important and people are disposable.

It’s a game.

Going Green (and wet)

I thought it would be a good idea to be a bit ‘green’ and not have a second car (and cheaper! – tax, insurance, MOT, maintenance, petrol etc). My wife uses the car the most and is named as main driver for that reason :^). It works pretty well most of the time but today is one of those times when the incompatibilities of public transport and living in a large village/small town become apparent.

My wife is working a shift in Cardiff today and therefore has the car. We booked a routine family dental appointment six months ago for this afternoon, after school. But our NHS dentist is about six miles away in a neighbouring town. My wife couldn’t switch shifts so we decided rather than mess about with moving lots of appointments about we’d keep the ones for me and the two kids. But of course my daughter goes to the only Welsh medium secondary school in the area which is not actually in the area but a 50 minute bus ride away and there was no way I could use public transport together back from school realistically in time for the appointment. So we decided to take her out of school and use the opportunity to get her a routine medical check up she needs at our doctors in another neighbouring village, three miles away this morning.

We have just had the check up and they want a follow up discussion with a doctor today, routine, no worries. But that is in the neighbouring town where we are for the dental appointments. Convenient no?

As it turns out not really. We have also made an unrelated appointment for her in the village at 1200hrs (lets not waste time off school – get it all in on one day!) So shortly we will walk into the village, half an hour later walk up to my son’s school – only a mile away, pick him up, walk home, dump his school stuff and then walk off back into the village to catch the bus. That leaves us an hour to kill before the dentists. Then we walk across the medical centre site to the doctor’s (told you it sounded convenient) and have the formal results of the tests (fingers crossed). Then we have an hour and a half to wait for the next bus – which isn’t run by the same company as the bus in, so I have no idea how a return ticket works there, and then we have to walk home from the centre of the village. So from half past eleven until half past six (ish) we are going to be wandering around Monmouthshire for a grand total of about one hour’s worth of appointments. And it has just started pouring with rain. Well it is Wales.

Writing? I remember that.

DON’T BE BORN IN AUGUST

I have been sitting in front of the computer for the last hour doing all those things one does to avoid actually committing words to screen. And this in a way is simply a continuation of that process. Yes it is ‘writing’ but almost in the same way making a shopping list is ‘writing’.

I should be finishing Cinderella (or whatever it will be called if I ever get past the working title/work in progress stage). That is proving a much tougher not to crack than I thought it would be however. It’s not that I don’t know where it’s going or how it ends. Nor am I unhappy with what has managed to get on the flash drive so far. But getting from here to there without detours is proving inordinately difficult. I am beginning to suspect that what I had imagined was a c30,000 word novella to fit with ‘Wolf!’ has in fact a much longer story trying to break out. I guess the problem is do I go with that (and what do I do with it, if it is there? And what do I put in its place in the anthology of fairy tale based stories?). If I do, see parentheses.  I think not, on the whole. It ends up being indulgent. I think I just need to wrestle it into submission.

I have in fact wandered off the point of this note anyway.

Which was: don’t be born in August.

I am and so is my son.

I started off school in 1960 as the oldest in my class – which was great. Then at the end of year three I moved schools and discovered that the cut off date for which year you were supposed to be in had moved.  All of a sudden I was supposed to be in the year ahead. The previous school were supposed to have moved me half way through the year so I only missed half the curriculum. But they hadn’t. So I skipped a whole year. It was pretty traumatic, but I survived. And yet it has only recently occurred to me what a gibbering piece of bureaucratic nonsense this was.

They moved the date for entry. Okay. But why did this affect me in a retrospective manner? Would it have hurt to allow me to remain with my cohort of the first three years? As the eldest I felt confident, physically capable of handling everything that came down the road at me and on top of the world. It would have been difficult enough had I been almost a year younger than most people from the start but I guess any cut off does that. But to suddenly move everything forward a year was really harsh. I was a year behind in most things, bullied by loads of people who were all older than me, and doubly so when they found out I was more capable than them academically yet a year younger. I lost so much confidence in that one summer that I am not sure I ever made up the loss.

What prompted all that reminiscence?

I just left my son at his first (and I hope not last) day at summer playscheme. He was quite keen beforehand, but the friend he had been meant to go with was sick this morning. I offered him the chance to miss today but he said he wanted to try it alone.

The first question was ‘How old are you?’ The answer ‘7, but 8 in August’ caused a cloud to flit across the assistant’s face.

The scheme is split into age ranges and naturally being born in August still creates that tension of which group you should be with. Conaire is currently the youngest in his class at school. I am hoping he slides into the younger group and becomes the eldest in this scheme, but I suspect that if and when he sees other friends from his peer group at school he will end up again as the youngest.

Studies, (where would we be without them!) suggest that being born a day or so either side of such cut offs make a huge difference to life. Confidence, emotional security, academic achievement can all be considerably skewed by the chance of which day you were born on. And also birthdays are rubbish when you are away from school and people are all away on holiday.

I’m thinking that for the sake of their future children, potential parents would be well advised to exercising self control and abstinence during the build up to Christmas.

NESTS AND STUFF

My daughter is on her way to Turkey as I write. Only for a holiday with a friend and her family. At fourteen she is nervous but excited. I am just nervous. And a little sad I suppose. Obviously I want her to have a great time but I also know it marks the beginning of the cutting of that emotional umbilical cord. In four years time, all being well I guess, she will be off to University. And then she will, if everything goes right, and globalisation hasn’t reduced us all to indentured labourers, be pursuing her own life and career.

 

Part of me still wants it to be one of those seemingly always sunny, summer Sundays, back in 2004 or so when I used to take her out to the park in Chepstow and push her on the swings, bounce on the seesaw until my thighs quivered and then take her to the little shop by the castle for an ice cream. Then it would be a walk back up the hill to the car with her on my shoulders, her shouting; ‘run faster Daddy’.

 

But of course I would be desperately sad if we were really stuck there. Much of the joy is being part of the change and development of your child, wondering how they will turn out, what sort of character they will have, which traits will become dominant and which will be a branch line never pursued.

 

I have no problems with how my daughter has turned out. Of course my judgement is probably a little clouded, but I think she is marvellous. I remember the first time her mother went away for a weekend conference and left me in charge. I can remember suddenly being absolutely terrified. I had never been left alone in charge of a child before. It all suddenly seemed so serious. The nearest relative would be hundreds of miles away, many over water and accessible only by air or sea.  What if the poor mite, about 2 and a half at the time, wanted her mother and was inconsolable by a hairy lump like me?

 

After the first hour pottering about the house, we took the high road for Raglan Castle. As we played in the grounds and she chattered away about Jeremy Fisher and the lily pads that covered the moat, I realised that not only did I love my daughter as I had from the moment she appeared in the world, but I liked her as a person. That she was fun to be with. That I enjoyed talking to and listening to this person who suddenly seemed so much more than simply a responsibility on legs. I know I had and still have a residual function as an authority figure, mentor and guide but I can’t help feeling that as she moves into her own milieu, one of the best friends I have ever had is beginning a journey that will distance her from me. And oddly, just as I made that discovery in Raglan Castle grounds, I am beginning to realise that is exactly what she needs and I want.

 

Yes, that selfish bit inside me wants her to stay 4 years old forever. But more than that I am excited to know how my friend will go on to enjoy her life without me hanging over her shoulder going: ‘I wouldn’t do it like that love.’

Distractions

I’d like to say that I haven’t had time to post anything here recently because I have been following my own advice and writing hard. I can’t say that in all honesty. I have done some work on the next part of what now looks like being a collection of modern fairy tales following ‘Wolf!’ (and perhaps including it). The second story is a modern twist on Cinderella. I have an outline for Hansel and Gretel and the other one (it’s looking like a four story book) is between the Pied Piper and Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the moment.

However, the real reason for my absence has been school holidays. As the ‘work at home parent’ it makes sense for me to be looking after the children. To be fair my thirteen year old daughter requires minimal intervention beyond me saying ‘No’ at various intervals in her conversation and the odd peace keeping foray between her and my six year old son. He, on the other hand requires more input. Sometimes, when I have an idea and sit down to scribble it down or type it up (write down, type up?…interesting), this can be a bit of a pain. On the other hand he is great fun and often provides a different perspective on the world.

Last week we went to feed the ducks at the pond in the local castle grounds. They didn’t want to play, so the fish got the bread and we went further afield. We ended up at the village where my daughter went to school. The school itself is now houses. This wasn’t the only change. The paper mill has shut, the railway line that still bisects the village main street has been shut and the four level crossings are all permanently open to traffic. The traffic lights on the bridge that gives entry to the village are even slower now however, as there has been a new housing estate built whose entrance is right next to the bridge. There is also another rail line that used to serve a naval arms store which is closed and overgrown. My son wanted to know all about this, but mostly about the railway lines and why and when and how they were shut. I told him but as I did I realised how quickly this had all happened. Six years ago it was all open, the school, the mill, railways, and the housing estate didn’t exist. To me this was a rapid change. To my son of course it is just how things are.

I expect some of this surprise on my part was just getting old. Things that seemed permanent when I was six had on reflection only happened recently. Television for a start. On the other hand I am convinced there is an increased pace of change, and not just in relation to communications. We seem to be moving to the US model: if a building last more than 25 years it acquires heritage status. Not many do.

The other thing my son’s presence helped me reflect on was related to this week’s Sins of Literature. This second programme looked at the supposed isolation of the writer and the balance between needing to be cooped up in a world of your own, writing your imaginative existence down, and experiencing sufficient of the world to have something to fire that imagination. My son certainly helps me maintain an involvement in the world, for which I am very grateful. It can be distracting when he wants to play at airports or drag me off on an afternoon’s walk but it is a rare day when this doesn’t afford me time to reflect or offer a useful insight into something I would have ignored from my lofty adult perspective.