THINKING TIME

Post-It
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I’m feeling exceptionally fed up today. My desk is covered with paper, the floor is covered with paper, the book shelves have books made of paper on them and there are paper post-its all over the screen of my computer… Get it? If I have this amazing piece of kit called a computer, why am I slowly sinking into a mountain of – yes, you’ve got it – paper! All the paper and the computer are there to make me feel really busy. And if I feel busy, then I feel important, don’t I? No sitting around staring into space, doing nothing. No looking out of the window, dreaming.

And then there is my mobile phone. It buzzes and whistles at me from 7.30am. It goes on doing that until I either chuck it out the window or open it and read the messages. Once, a long time ago, we used to sit together in the kitchen, talking. Yes, drinking coffee and talking…to each other…to friends…to family…  Now we start the conversation and someone’s phone buzzes, someone else hears a bleep that tells them a new email has come in, upstairs on their computer; someone else needs to send a text…  We are ruled by robots!

Of course, I cannot imagine how dull life would be without all these amazing machines that connect us to the wider world, but sometimes I do miss the peace. What did I do when I wasn’t staring at a screen? How did I fill my time? I know what I did. I did ‘thinking‘.  When you factor in ‘thinking’ time, life does change. We have learnt to dismiss thinking time. When my mother was a child, she would get a smack for staring into space. It used to be called day dreaming and it was not allowed in her family. It had connotations of idleness and you know who makes work for idle hands, don’t you? You had to be doing, doing, doing. You had to be seen to be productive.

So I guess we now all feel incredibly productive in front of our screens. We feel we are really achieving something when we spend time reading emails or talking to mates on Facebook, don’t we?  We feel connected…  But to do anything that had any real meaning, we need to take time out to think. Any creative act needs thinking time. Even those clever guys who write the computer programmes we use, need to think their ideas through, don’t they?

Stopping to allocate time for thinking appears to be a luxury today. In fact, some of us don’t even know what ‘thinking’ is, or how to do it. Our minds are muddled; full of incoherent stuff that, if we are not careful, might turn us into robots, too!  Yet, we feel guilty if we enter that creative state of day dreaming too often in a day. We might be thought to be slacking by not looking frantically busy all the time.

It’s probably a good idea to make short breaks in a working day to just think; to let the brain take a good wallow in a pool of thoughts. It’s amazing what appears in your mind’s eye. I’m going to ignore all that paper and shut down the PC for a bit. There is an apple tree in the garden and I’m going to sit under it and think.

WHO HELPS THE UNEMPLOYED?

Unemployed people in front of a workhouse in L...
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Okay, we can’t blame this government for everything. Any rational voter will understand that. But when the legislation being proposed is of the rash-slash type, we have to make a stand. That is why I support the teacher’s strike on Thursday. Yes, I accept that there has to be some radical thinking about the pension situation for people working in the public sector, but the current proposals are, to my mind, not well thought out.

The prospect of teaching as a career will become far less attractive. Over the past fifty years, teachers have increasingly lost status. The last Labour government sought to improve this by raising their salaries, but I don’t think it worked. Now young graduates considering entering the profession will have to face not only this loss of status in our society, but the prospect of working longer for less money, while paying higher  contributions and receiving a smaller pension when they retire! Not a good selling point. Yet, we desperately need talented teachers. To my mind, they should be on a par to doctors and other front-line employees. Teachers contribute hugely to the health and welfare of our future, because kids are the future.

Jobs and who gets them seems to be the focus this month. Baroness Stedman-Scott is a Tory peer and the chief executive of Tomorrow’s People, a welfare-to-work charity.  30% of the charity’s workforce has been layed off. This is an organisation that helps, on average, about 8,000 people a year to get back to work. It’s been running for 27 years and and has assisted more than 440,000 people across the UK.

The chief executive is angry because this government’s Work Programme is using private companies to put people who are out of work into jobs on a payment-by-results system. Large companies have won the government contracts, while the smaller charities, often working in this field for years, have bid for a piece of the action as subcontractors and appear to have been unsuccessful. Tomorrow’s People failed to win a bid for one of these contracts, so offices in London and Sussex will have to close. Another scheme funded by Lambeth Council will also end because the Work Programme is being replaced by the governments back-to-work initiative.

The worry is that these companies win contracts by offering prices that are too low to enable those who are most unprepared for work, to go into jobs. A report just published by Tomorrow’s People and the Centre for Public Service Partnerships says: prime contractors who may in future reduce the funding package, making charities’ participation in the Work Programme unviable. I can understand why Baroness Stedman-Scott is angry.

Charities like Tomorrow’s People can transform the lives of the long-term unemployed.  But it takes time and money and there have to be jobs out there. To prepare someone who has been out of work for a long time for a job, is expensive. They need support and it’s the charities that are willing to do this. The contracts for the government’s Work Programme should be awarded to these small, experienced charities, because people who have been unemployed for a long time need individual attention by organisations that understand the issues involved. Long term unemployment ruins families and is passed down like a gene. Unemployment is a family issue.

In my opinion, if this government does one really valuable thing during its current term, they must seriously address the way they create and fill jobs in this country.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF EMPATHY

Here is a quote from Einstein:

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

I have been thinking about empathy and how there seems so little of it in world today. What is empathy? It’s the ability to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and to identify with them and their feelings. But this is impossible if you have difficulty in identifying your own feelings. If you have never experienced passion, or never felt like rebelling, you will not be able to recognise and empathise with those feelings in another person. You may have studied psychology and gained a high qualification in the subject, but reading or discussing a feeling is vastly different from actually feeling it for yourself.

Could it be that the world would be a much safer place if the ability to empathise was encouraged from an early age? Teaching children to develop their innate natural empathy can be done, but when both parents may have to work just to put food on the table, there is little time to think about such things.

I believe that children need to be aware of what they are feeling. They should  be encouraged to accept feelings, even difficult ones, as normal. Only then will they be able to develop their own empathizing skills. An adult with a well-developed sense of empathy will make good, lasting relationships and will live life with compassion. So by helping our children to keep in touch with their feelings on a daily basis and not prevent them from expressing them, we are giving them skills for life. Being ‘in touch’ with your feelings is essential, not just in a home environment, but in business too. It helps you read others and understand where they are coming from.

If you have ever felt discrimination of any sort, then you will probably be able to relate to someone who is also experiencing discrimination. The fact that we have felt the emotions associated with discrimination ourselves, means that we can feel what that the other person is feeling. Discrimination and intolerance lead to conflict. Nature knows that being in touch with the feelings of other is vitally important to our survival.

To be compassionate we have to be able to feel empathy. Feeling empathy for another person means we are ‘reading them’emotionally. We are building up an emotional picture of them, and this enables us to feel closer, more connected to them. If their emotional needs and feelings are like ours, then we are able to empathise with them at a greater level. When we fall in love we often feel we have known that person before, or in another life. We have recognised similar emotional needs and similar feelings and makes us connect in a way that makes us feel especially close to that person.

To feel compassion for someone means that we have put together our feelings of understanding and empathy. Developing your emotional intelligence means that you will have greater ability to understand someone else. This will then help you empathise and show compassion to anyone, when it is needed.

The world is in a bad way at the moment. Just recently our PM decided to set up a Happiness initiative. There is an awareness that our ability to empathise and show understanding has suffered in the ‘have everything immediately’ culture. But I believe there is a sea-change happening. The Slow Food Movement is thriving. It takes time. We are growing more vegetables in this country since the last war. Growing vegetables takes time. Some of us are savouring moments in favour of rush, rush, rush. Perhaps to be truly happy, we must take time – for ourselves and for others? To show empathy and understanding takes time, too. The planet is exploding with people. We have to find new ways to live in harmony and peace. Maybe a Mexican Wave of empathy might do just that?

“It takes time and wisdom to realize that the personal parallels the universal and what pains one man pains mankind.”   Now we might add that it also takes highly developed emotional intelligence. Haim Ginott

IN PRAISE OF FATHERS

Photo taken by me as an example of a stay at h...
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Today is Father’s Day in the UK. That means millions of us will have bought cards with sentimental rubbish written in them, bottles of after-shave with horrible smells and all manner of other silly gifts for our Dads. Some of these lucky fathers will have received breakfast in bed. There will be corn flakes under the duvet and coffee stains on the sheets. Ah, well.

Fathers are under-rated in my view. Their place in a family is so important. It’s not just about earning the money or cutting the grass. It’s about balance. Kids need to know where they came from and the child that knows and relates to his or her father is a lucky child today. With so many absent fathers and broken marriages, millions of children miss out on hugs from dad and the security this gives them. That’s not to say that I think that only a hubby, wife and 2.4 kids is the perfect combination. It doesn’t matter who raises you, so long you are loved, but I think it’s vital to learn on a day-to-day basis how to relate to men, and having a Dad around when you are growing up, does just that.

Yes, I know that any loving and thoughtful male figure in a kids life may help, but there is something about knowing your own biological father and having a relationship with him, that cannot be bettered, in my view. If that’s not the case, then why do kids seek out their real Dads when they are adopted or abandoned?  Why do boys often fantasize about the father they have never known? Why do we know that girls who grow up without their fathers are more likely to get pregnant younger? The statistics show that having your Dad around makes a huge difference to who you become and to the way you live your adult life. A father doesn’t have to be perfect. Just good enough.

In America the US Department of Heath say that 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes. That’s five times the average. 90% of all the kids who run away from home are from families where the Dad is missing. 85% of kids who have behaviour difficulties have absent fathers. There is a great deal of evidence to show that having no contact at all with you father is seriously detrimental.  Dad’s represent a lot more than a salary every month that pays the bills. They provide a child with a sense of safety, protection, friendship, guidance and someone to look up to.

What about fathers who die during a kid’s childhood? Children need serious help when a parent dies. This is a hard one for a widowed mother dealing with her own grief. So it is important that family and friends rally round and help any children deal with their feelings. Listening to kids after the loss of a parents is vital, because they will have things to say. The grief may not show itself all at once. It may take many years and it may also come to the surface again in adulthood, especially if there is a crisis or a celebration, where a father would normally be present and able to contribute.

Kids grieve in different ways. But grief expressed when a father dies is much the same as the grief felt when a father leaves and has no contact with his children. Kids need to know the truth. They need to know details; why Dad died, or why he left. Was it my fault? Did I do something to make this happen? The younger the child, the more difficult it will be to explain. But openness and compassionate honesty are so much better than silence or insisting that feelings be repressed.

Anger is a very real emotion and it is one that kids often express when parents split up and a father leaves. They may not express anger in the same way as an adult. It’s could be more subtle. There might be a rebellion against going to school, eating, answering questions or just engaging at all. In adolescents, stealing or getting into drugs can often be associated with the lack or loss of a father.

So fathers are very, very important and men need to know this and not embark on fatherhood lightly. Teaching sex education in schools is important, but teaching boys what it really means to be a father is more important, in my view. Yes, let them practice putting a condom on a cucumber and know all about the risk of getting an STD, but please, teach boys what being a father on a daily basis is all about. Tell them about the committment, how important they are, what happens to their children if they up and leave. If we can get boys to take all this as seriously as they do football, we may lower the teen-age pregnancy rates and have fewer absent fathers.

Happy Father’s Day!


WHAT’S WRONG WITH GETTING OLD?

Cirurgia Plástica – Plastic Surgery

Have you ever wondered why shops assistants ignore you if your hair is grey? On the other hand, have you ever, if you are a grey-head, used a wobbly voice on the phone to get sympathy? Finding a balance is quite an art.

Advertisements tell women to fight visible signs of ageing.  What signs are we supposed to be looking for in order to fight them? I’ve got enough conflicts on my hands fighting all the other injustices in my world. Why on earth should I want to get into armed combat against my wobbly bits, my map-of-England stomach, my green and blue veins, my wrinkles? (Not that I possess any of those things – I’m far too young!)

Recently, I have noticed that the broad sheet Sunday magazines have been showing fashion pages of clothes worn by older women. Some of them look very old. That’s so exciting that I want to drink a bottle of Vimto to celebrate. I glory in their lined faces, their long, straggly grey hair, their faded complections tarted up by obvious large amounts of slap! I love the fact that they are positioned next to bright young things in a line-up that you wouldn’t find in any police station. Whose decision was that? Are the fashion editors facing their own fight against the visible signs?

I hate the presumption in this country that OAP’s are a b****y nuisance. They are lumped in with the poor, the scroungers, the disabled, the lower-classes. How many over 60’s have we got in parliament? Quite a few and the House of Lords is propped up by dozens of them. The best representative of us oldies is the dear old Queen and her notorious hubby. No-one tells them they are too old to do the job. No-one presumes her majesty is deaf, or a bit ga-ga because she takes her time. Her hubby can be as cantankerous as he likes and we all laugh and say what a card he is. Age is not mentioned in relations to these idiosyncracies. Yet put one corn-ridden foot wrong as an ordinary senior citizen and the name calling starts: old biddy, miserable old bugger, dried up old prune, grumpy old sod/cow, old witch, poor old soul…

Yep. Discrimination against anyone not young is alive and well, even though there is an act of parliament to prevent it; even if you are a politician. How many times have people in the public eye been ridiculed and sacked because they are considered too old and unattractive to continue?  TV presenters have fought back of late and have won. Insidious discrimination is still very much alive. Politicians have a harder time. Their values and beliefs can be used as an excuse to dispatch them, but we all know it was probably their age that did it.

In America, I fear it’s far worse. You HAVE to look young. It’s mandatory. Despite all the hype about grey power, most Americans are dead scared of the ageing process and pursue the holy grail of eternal youth as if their lives depended upon it – which they do. Women haunt the corridors of the plastic surgeons, prepared to face painful operations just to look young. Only they don’t.  Plastic surgery creates smooth, unreal landscapes that once were character-filled faces. It’s so sad.

The retirement age is going up and up. Soon, we might be asked to work until we are eighty. Or perhaps retirement will be abolished altogether? You will have to work from cradle to grave. And don’t expect the NHS to bail you out if you get ill. They’ll be broke, too. Most people want to keep working as long as they can and it is, at the moment a choice. For how long? If I was twenty, would the prospect of having to work until I was well over seventy be so daunting as to make me not want to start working at all? Especially if there are no jobs. And what about our education system? Do they teach kids how to deal with ageing? Do they explain why old people are devalued, ignored and often abused in our modern world?

No one gives you a single lesson on how to cope with the problems that hit you once you reach a non-young state of mind and body. You have to make it up as you go along. And life is very different. The role you had as part of the main stream, as a productive and valid member of society, is swiped from under you once you are living on nothing but a pension. It’s like the lack of a salary makes you into a civil burglar, taking that pension, the one you paid for during all those years of work, illegally. Too many old people, shout the papers. You get the idea that millions of eighty year olds with dementia will be roaming the streets in thirty years time. What’s the answer, the headlines scream? Ghettos? Euthanasia?

It starts with respect, in my view. If we simply respect the wisdom and experience of the old, then they might start to respect and unearth that wisdom in themselves. It start with self-esteem. Recent TV programmes showing old people being abused in residential homes does nothing to raise levels of self esteem among an ageing population. It’s just terrifying. The shift has to be in the media.

I want to see pictures of mature women with natural, beautifully cut hair on the walls of hairdressing salons. I want to see more older people represented in ads that aren’t about paying for your funeral, going on a cruise or buying double glazing. I want those gabbling young men wearing the badge Financial Advisor in banks, slow down and explain properly to older customers where their savings will be safe and have the best return, because lets’ face it, the old age pension is a farce. I want to see shop assistants show some real respect to older customers. I want to see kids giving up their seats on buses and trains and opening doors for anyone old who looks vulnerable and in need of some assistance.

I want to see older people regain their self-esteem and status.

FAMILY LIMITS

Save the Children logo
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Raising children has never been easy.  Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, suggested  last year that people who are receiving benefits should limit their families in order to ease the burden on the state. The £500 a week top handout for families on benefits might encourage them to be a little more thoughtful about the number of children they conceive, he said.  Interviewed on the BBC TV‘s Newsnight programme, Mr Hunt said: “The number of children that you have is a choice and what we’re saying is that if people are living on benefits then they make choices but they also have to have responsibility for those choices. It’s not going to be the role of the state to finance those choices.”

He added: “You can have children but if you are going to ask for support that is more than the average wage that people earn then we’re saying no, the state shouldn’t support that. That’s not fair on working people who have to pay the taxes to pay those benefits.”

Child Poverty Action Group responded: “Forcing children into destitution on the arbitrary basis of how many brothers and sisters they have is abhorrent. As families brace themselves to discover whether their jobs will survive the cuts it is awful that those with larger families should face this extra anxiety.” said Alison Garnham

Save the Children said: “Children are the ones who’ll end up suffering if a parent suddenly loses their job because of the economic crisis, or if their mum or dad becomes a single parent. And in fact, most children living in poverty have at least one parent in work – but they are still poor because that work is low-paid.”

So, does this government appear to still subscribe to the myth of the undeserving poor? It looks like it. Donald Hirsch, from Loughborough University‘s Centre for Research in Social Policy said: “It’s a real simplification to divide people effectively into these undeserving poor or lifetime poor to whom we say ‘these are the choices you make and if you make them we’re not going to support you’, and people who are working. In the present system we do expect people to go out and look for work if they can and if they lose their jobs we think about their needs, not just some crude comparison.”

Okay, I know there are people out there who would steal their grandmother’s knickers and use them as a Jolly Roger flag on their own prate ship, but these criminals are just that: criminals. An ordinary hard-working family who falls on hard times and just happens to have more that the 2.something kids that the politicians prescribe, should not be penalised.

On the other hand, contraception is out there. But poverty is an excellent midwife. Look at the birthrate in third world countries. Making the choice not to have more children than you think you can afford is a good idea. But what you think you can afford is very arbitrary, isn’t it? One man’s meat is another man’s tin of beans. Some people can make money stretch like chewed gum; others need loads of the stuff to just survive.

Shopping in charity shops has become sexy and chic. In my mother’s day you wouldn’t be seen dead wearing clothes some stranger had given away unless you were – yes, that’s right, one of the ‘deserving’ poor. Now, the fashion mags have hooked onto cast-offs. These days, wearing an outfit that came from Oxfam can take you anywhere, day or night. In fact, it will have even more cache if you bleat about it across a dinner party table and quote the extraordinarily cheap price you paid.

I’m all for second-hand. I will wear anybody’s cast-offs these days. I have no sensibilities about who or where these old clothes come from. If the skirt costs me three quid instead of thirty, if it fits and is not torn, is a good colour and makes me feel nice when I put it on, then I buy it. Don’t want to sound too smug, but it’s called recycling.  I trawl the charity shops weekly, hooked on that wonderful buzz you get when you have pulled one over on those advertisers who are after your hard-earned cash, by buying second or third or even fourth hand. The down side to all this is that I am not supporting the economy by buying hand-me-down, am I? The way I spend my money won’t help lift us out of the financial chaos our leaders had got us into, will it?

The idea that your life should be planned out like a well drawn map is ludicrous. We are human beings, not robots. From the day you take your first breath to the day you croak, you cannot plan your life so exactly that nothing ever goes wrong. Surely our politicians know this? Life is a roller coaster and you have to face each lurching twist and turn as it comes and make the best you can out of it.  Many  geniuses were born into abject poverty. Think of the painters, musicians and writers (and politicians…) who started life on less than a shoe-string? Is there to be a future where families are woken up at 6am by the condom police? Will they rummage through your drawers looking for Durex? Or even worse:  “I’m sorry Madam, you already have three kids; the bump on your front will have to go!”

Jeremy Hunt, who after all is the Culture Secretary and not the Minister for Contraception, although he could well be promoted, is symbolic of the way this government seems to be determined to hit the most vulnerable in our society. The Archbishop of Canterbury, a man of great integrity and strong views has let it be known that he thinks this government is forcing through policies that ‘no-one voted for’.  Now the Archbishop has been accused of not understanding the democratic process.  Does the democratic process include ignoring the views of those who voted in the last election? I had such high hopes for this coalition, having been let down by both the Tories and Labour over the past two decades, I longed for higher things; like a modicum of understanding of the day to day problems families face in this country in 2011.

FACING CANCER

Second Life: National Health Service (UK):
Image by rosefirerising via Flickr

Facing cancer is something that many of us will have to do as we get older. In my family I have lost so many to the illness, and some of them have been young.

When I was growing up, it was a banned condition. The word was never mentioned, let alone discussed in company.  Now, that stigma has been lifted  and there is more good news. Cancer is becoming a condition that you can live with, not die from. Of course we are a long way from finding a total cure, but so much can be done now and life can be prolonged if you get treatment fast enough.

My worry is, that will all the current reorganisation of the National Health Service in the UK, waiting times for diagnosis and treatment may well go up and people will die sooner than they should. There is also never enough money for research.

http://www.mariecurie.org.uk/

Life is so short and the prospect of losing anyone close to you from this disease is so frightening.  We must do everything we can to help research continue, because one day, a cure will be found. Until then, I hope our Prime Minister will realise that our government must do everything it can to make sure that prevention, diagnosis and treatment is funded and funded well.

MOMENTO MORI

Dietkirchen gravestones
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How many of us understand the importance of making a will? Today, with so many couples deciding not to marry but to live together instead, how many realise that should one of them die, their assets would not go to their partner if they have not made a will.

And how many people over 60 realise they can make provision in law so that in the event of a serious illness in late life, if they have lost the legal mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, they can lay down clearly in advance, how they would like to be treated. By that I mean, they can opt for no intervention to prolong life when it is medically certain that they are about to die. The law is very complex in these areas, but it’s worth looking at because these are issues that all of us may have to address at some time.

I want no loose ends when I reach my own end. I don’t want my kids to have to sort things out when I am gone. I remember how unsettling it was to have to deal with the detritus of life left by my own close relatives. How it haunted me. I want to go and leave everything tied up neatly. With pink ribbons if necessary! But I guess that is a bit of a pipe dream, because life and especially death is messy. That’s the way it is and once we are gone, there will inevitably be things to do that we have forgotten, when we were alive

So how do we make it easier for those we leave behind. Well, I guess a good sort out of the house before I become too decrepit,  will help. Making a will in plenty of time will save much hassle. And letting my wishes be known in the event of a terminal illness. All things that on a bright sunny afternoon, you don’t really want to think about. Mind you, it’s no better in the winter…

Now that religion is no longer part of a lot of people’s lives, there is no buffer. Those who believe in the afterlife can be comforted that they will have places to go and people to see once they turn up their toes. The rest have to accept that decay is inevitable and the earth or the incinerator will deal with what is left. Tough. I don’t subscribe to either view. In fact, I’m not sure what I think.

Before I was born, my mother lost two children; one to a disease and one in an accident. How she lived through and past those events always amazed me. But she did – to the ripe old age of 96. She always refused to discuss the deaths of her beloved babies, my siblings. They were under three when they died. But in her late fifties, she had a serious breakdown and we were told  by the psychiatrist that it was as a direct result of unexpressed grief. She was stuck between a sense of unreality – she could never accept that it had happened, twice – and a reluctance to show tears, because that would make it real. So for years, she lived in a foggy landscape, dealing with the everyday, but never seeing life at it really was. Her vagueness and disorganised manner endeared her to most people, but it was a way of creating a safe plateau of chaos for herself, where the truth was kept at bay.

Finding a way to understand and cope with the ultimate truth – that we are all going to die, is a conundrum that even the TV programme Countdown can’t assist with. We have to find our own way to acceptance. Head in the sand is how most people deal with the prospect of their own demise. The under twenty-fives don’t believe in it. That’s why all those fighter pilots in the last war were so young. Young men in particular do not subscribe to the possibility of their own deaths. I suspect that the boys who are currently being slaughtered on the battle fields of Afghanistan, see only the glory and the heroism when they join the forces. The idea that they might be torn limb from limb by a land mine never crosses their minds when they sign up.

To deny that death even exists can be one way of living. But for everything on the earth, there is a time. And for us humans, there is also a time –  to die. It’s best to put everything in place and be prepared for it. Then you can go off and live your life.

ANARCHY WITH GRANDMA

Deciduous teeth of a 6 year old girl.
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Keeping connected to your kids when they are grown up is a delicate business. To be intrusive is a definite no-no.  To develop a relationship with them where they will treat you like mates and invite you to their parties is not advisable, either. Even asking them to be your friend on Facebook can be seen as interfering, after all, would I have wanted my mother knowing who all my friends were? Eh, she did, because when I was a kid, parents had the upper hand until you were thirty.

Learning how to change from being the person who knew everything, could sort everything, was always there – the way you were when they were two – to the person who is now simply getting in the way and interfering,  is really difficult. It takes huge amounts of tact and willpower. And a lot of humour.

Humour works far better than a complaint. When I am told in no uncertain terms, that I am overstepping the line in the ‘mother trying to be a mate’ stakes, I shrug and move on to another topic of conversation, like – ‘I’m off to join a boxing club. Really feel the need to learn a new sport…’ That usually does the trick.

Grown-up kids should be able to reach a point where all the defensiveness that poured out of them when they were teenagers, dries up and they become companionable human beings… At least that’s the theory. In truth, that defensiveness never goes away because YOU WILL ALWAYS BE THEIR MOTHER! Of course, it can be different with daughters. Until they have their own kids. Then you have to learn overnight to keep your mouth shut and your purse open. Simple. If you do that, you will survive and so will they and so will the grandkids.

I have made some glaring mistakes in the adult kids management stakes. First, NEVER be too honest. Always temper your views and look as if you really know nothing. Trust me, it works. What the hell should you know just because you have thirty years more life experience than them? And never get into any sort of argument. If they say the sky is full of UFO’s, agree. If they tell you that curry won’t burn your throat, agree (and toss your plate of the stuff into the nearest indoor plant pot – it makes the plants grow. I know, ’cause I’ve done it. Only make sure they don’t see you do it…).

They are now grown-up and you are fast approaching, in their assumption, your second childhood. One sage grandmother I know says that she has fascinating conversations with her grandson. When he loses a baby tooth, she loses a tooth, too. When he gets ticked off by his Mum, she usually does, too. They have much in common.

Grand kids can be wonderfully subversive and fully paid up members of the grandparent‘s partisan group. They understand that the very young and the very old have a rebellious streak. They’ll stand by you when their parents are rolling their eyes and suggesting you get some antidepressants from your GP because you really have too much to say for yourself… They understand why you keep a stash of chocolate bars in a flower pot, or why you always have fish fingers and frozen chips at the ready – gourmet food for the under fives – when their parents insist on carrot sticks and raisins. No, just joking. I’m all for carrots and raisins, especially in a cake with pink icing.

I am very lucky, because my grown-up kids and I bounce along together without too much hassle. But it’s a huge learning curve to realise that what you say doesn’t go any more. It’s hard to take a back seat when you have been in the spotlight for all those years while they were growing up. But I try to remember it’s their turn now. Their turn to make the mistakes, to get it right or wrong and learn from that, to learn the art of parenthood as they go along, just as I did.

The joyous outcome of all the dedication and tact and trying to connect in the right way, is  to hear your little grandson or daughter whisper: ‘I really like you Nana…’  Or to receive a mother’s day card that says something really cheesy and sentimental like: To the best Mum in the world, from your grown-up kids. Then you know you are  doing something right and you can continue to get old ungracefully.

PROPHESY OR INSANITY?

The End of the World is Nigh (no parking or tu...
Image by Tim Green aka atoach via Flickr

Recently, the Americans were told that the end of the world was nigh.

I remember a strange old chap who carried a banner saying just those words. I was about twelve at the time. The man would stroll up and down the high street where I lived, winking at the ladies and proclaiming in a croaky voice, that time was short. Sometimes, a brave soul would stop him and confront his prediction. All to no avail. He was adamant. No amount of logical discussion would sway him. He even had a place to go when the apocalypse happened. How do I know this? Because my mum was one of those brave souls who confronted him, while I stood beside her feeling unbelievably uncomfortable and wishing the ground would open and swallow me up!

His place for the moment when the world ended was in the park near my house. There was an old shed there. The gardeners kept their tools in it. According to end-of-the-world man, there was more in that shed that just a rake and a hoe. There was, he told my mother in a stage whisper, a secret passage. Only those who had ‘special’ knowledge would be able to locate it. He knew where to find it… So on world’s end day, he planned to be outside the shed with a sledge-hammer as the door was always bolted and only the head gardener had a key. He would break down the old wooden door, rush inside to the ‘secret’ passage and disappear, like Alice down the rabbit hole.

My mother was not a woman easily fobbed off. She pushed him to know where the passage ended. In Australia? In Harlesden, just up the road? In a tube station? Unphased by her teasing, he stared her in the eye and said in a loud voice, so that the gathering crown could hear: Heaven!’ 

End-of-the-world man was so convinced that he was right that no-one could challenge him. Even the local priest, who’d also stopped him in the street and asked him to stop frightening the children with his prophesy, could do nothing. The man simply shrugged and said the priest was the mad one, not him. This sort of conviction is fascinating. It seems that we humans can convince ourselves of anything, can believe any madness, can persuade others that our madness is truth. No animal does this. Is it the price we pay for our large brains; our free will?

The American who was so sure that the world would end when the clock struck 6pm on a day in May 2011, was as convinced as that old chap in my street all those years ago. He also thought that the goodies in the population would be ‘raptured’ into heaven…  In the crush to get to paradise, I think quite a few would experience a rupture instead, along with the rest of the poor baddies who would descend into the pits of hell. Nice.

This 89 year old is quite evidently totally wrapped up in his wild notions. He truly believes them and so do a lot of other people, who have parted with their money to fund his headquarters, situated between a burger cafe and a car repair shop.  How thrilled would my old chap have been to receive such support!

But sadly or happily, depending on your point of view, they were both proved wrong. Should people like this be given pills or be shut away from the rest of us? They can upset and frighten many people. But we have free-speech, thank goodness. So they will continue to be allowed the space to make their mad predictions. I guess we should just smile and say live and let live?