Saturday, 25 June 2016
Those familiar with the `The Water Babies’ by Charles Kingsley will no doubt remember Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By and Mrs Be-Done-By-As-You-Did. When this tale was read to my school class I was seven years old and extremely confused by these characters and their odd names. It took years for the values embedded in Kingsley’s story to become clear and fully resonate with me. And again it takes a particularly robust personality to remember to apply the tenets of Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By consistently to everyday dealings with people; I cannot say that I have ever applied the doctrine with any uniformity . However, though I say it myself (and I hate to boast) … I make a very good friend. I encompass most of the attributes you could possibly want in a best buddy (sickening term though it is). I am reliable, dependable and trustworthy. In seven decades I don’t think I have ever been known to let a friend down. And I don’t usually suspect my friends of duplicity; I believe what they tell me which is of course occasionally at least somewhat naïve as others more sensible than myself are wont to tell me. It therefore always comes as a shock when I discover that someone I thought to be a friend turns out not to be quite as constant towards me as I have been towards them. And, perfect chum though I am this nasty situation does unfortunately come to pass from time to time. I have to admit that I am very easily duped. Instead of believing what is open and obvious for all the world to see, when a friend lets me down, deceives me, I look around for an explanation for their behaviour because I am most unwilling to believe the worst of them. Faithlessness from a friend is extraordinarily painful and can never be adequately explained; it must simply be endured. I imagine by now that you are thinking that I trudge through life with `doormat’ tattooed across my forehead and you could be forgiven for reaching that conclusion. But pause for a nanosecond because there is an addendum to this little homily. Although I make a superlative friend, I do not make a very good enemy. I harbour resentment and hanker after revenge and am quite unable to dismiss the wrong done to me. It frightens even myself and it matters little how frequently well meaning people tell me to forget the hurt and move on with my life. I am not good at taking sensible advice and I am incapable of moving on until I have exacted a suitable retribution upon the wrongdoer. It’s not a nice trait and I am not proud of it. Some of the payback I have been involved in over the years would make your hair curl and I shudder when I give it a cursory glance. Fortunately these matters only ever get a glance that is perfunctory to say the least because the odd thing is that I never suffer pangs of conscience. There, I’ve said it! As long as I sincerely believe that the payback was deserved then I sleep very easily at night. It isn’t admirable but at least it’s honest - never mind the shouts I hear of `what of integrity?....what of morality? …what of ethics? ` I find I can simply abandon all thought of such matters. I cannot help thinking, however, that none of this conscience angst would be necessary at all if only others behaved towards me as I invariably behave towards them. As I said, at friendship I am superb!
Saturday, 18 June 2016
I home schooled my two youngest children for ten years. Looking back, I think I must have been mad. The child at the centre of this mammoth educational expedition is now unequivocally scathing of the decade in question. I was not a good mother, he feels, I was `smothering’ and I admit it’s easy to feel slightly affronted when hearing this. Nobody wants to have ten years of their life dismissed in quite so perfunctory a manner. On the other hand I am not alone in the poor parenting corner because neither was his father a good father – he was `too distant’. His sister who was for the most part home schooled merely to keep him company, mostly escapes criticism. She is more pragmatic a personality and says as little as possible about her home education years. Their older brother who was always made to go to school maintains he would have loved the opportunity to while away years at the kitchen table rather than being forced to go to St. Thomas’s, which he still sees as an institution akin to a prison or the army. You simply can’t please your offspring when it comes to weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of the education strategy you lovingly worked out for them. It seems rather a waste of a great deal of energy from where I stand at the moment because, embarrassingly, I was one of those zealots who preached Home Education a bit like a missionary or at least just as fervently as those who used to campaign for breast feeding and have now turned their attentions to gluten free diets. I even wrote a book about it. What was said to me frequently during those cosy years of home based learning was that I would be quite unable to `let go’ of the children when the time came to do so. It was said so often that I began to almost believe it and nervously wondered what form this reluctance to relinquish would actually take. I now believe that educating your children at home, keeping them by your side year after year, interacting with them hour after hour, day after day, in fact ensures that they are finally abandoned to the world with a great deal of relief. Whilst other parents of my generation bewail the fact that their sons and daughters are only to be glimpsed in the flesh rarely, and are often not at home when a dutiful mother makes the weekly telephone call to Mongolia, I find that my own children seldom feature in my consciousness. It’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes I even feel a tiny bit guilty about how infrequently I contact them and wonder if they notice. Though to be perfectly honest I don’t think they notice at all. It is therefore perfectly possible that the secret behind the mysterious art of `letting your children go’ is to ensure you start off from the position of being a totally `smothering’ mother.
Friday, 10 June 2016
I always thought Auckland to be a slightly eccentric city. I thought it from the very first day I arrived, more than forty years ago. It was familiar whilst being totally unfamiliar uneasily perched in the Pacific as if not quite knowing where it was supposed to sit. Tourists thought it was odd too, as they tumbled off their cruise ships into the very heart of the city, blinking in surprise as they did so. No bus journey to take them to where `The Life’ was because they were standing in the middle of it. Sailors of course loved that aspect of the place and hopped happily from workplace to bar. Back in those days it was an almost totally late Victorian town with buildings to prove it. There was an absence of central city living, no blocks of mansion flats just round the corner from Queen Street and in fact I soon learned that housing was one of its oddest quirks. Apart from the very occasional Edwardian terrace of six or eight residences that might have looked almost at home in Clissold Park or Hammersmith, it was necessary to board one of the infrequent buses and travel several stops before reaching the first suburb or two. Then little workmen’s cottages in Ponsonby and Parnell could be viewed, all safely set somewhat apart from each other and rounded on three sides by verandas. But these were not suitable places for raising a family because the children would need much more room. And so suburban Auckland grew up cautiously and rather differently from other world cities. No tidy terraces, each residence looking almost exactly the same as its neighbour as in Leeds, London or Leamington Spa. Aucklanders demanded quarter acre plots and some of them even half acres dotted with trees laden with plums, oranges and lemons in whose sturdy branches tree houses could be erected. Every family needed enough room to play a game of cricket and no-one wanted to live in a house that looked like the one next door. This expectation of space meant that suburbs spread for miles and ensured that Auckland as far as area went was as big as London. But you can certainly adapt to area. We, who lived for over twenty years in the suburb of Kohimarama in half an acre of bush and scrub with two goats to help control it, were aghast when our neighbours began to `subdivide’, selling off huge portions of their vegetable gardens and cricket lawns to newcomers from South Africa keen to build their dream homes. We thought it shouldn’t be allowed. And then without warning and almost overnight and coinciding with an influx of immigration from Asia, easily recognisable blocks of flats began to appear around the very centre of the city. It was exciting and I remember taking the children to watch the progress of a construction climbing daily higher and overlooking the railway line. Now, a decade or more later, these edifices are everywhere, dwarfing the little villas set amongst them. Abruptly and precipitously Auckland has grown into a more recognisable modern metropolis and very few people seem enthusiastic about the changes this creates.
Friday, 3 June 2016
Much as I thought I loathed and detested those in shops who constantly wish me to `have a happy day’ I must say that after years of these joyful interactions it comes as a shock when faced once again with the surliness we were once accustomed to. Some months ago in central London I found myself almost reprimanding the saintly staff in Marks & Spencers for not being affable and gracious enough when I purchased my cottage pie and oven chips. You certainly notice when over the top customer service disappears from your life. Even so I have to say that the local habit of those in book shops and hardware stores who enquire what I am aiming to do at the weekend and if I have yet planned how to spend the next statutory holiday just a tinsy bit intrusive. There is a happy medium to the amount of happiness that can be absorbed into one day I suppose.