Birthday Trip to Salamanca
I’m writing this blog post sitting on the plane next to Betsy, returning home from a trip taken to Salamanca. Mick organised a mini-break for us to visit Annie so we could celebrate her 21st birthday together. Annie has only been in Salamanca for a couple of weeks so I’d been anxious that she wouldn’t have anyone to spend her birthday with. Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong and I spent, at least, some part of the trip transferring my worry as to whether we were, in fact, cramping Annie’s style and wondering if she would have preferred to be in the night clubs that we side-stepped on our way back to the hotel, very much not in the early hours. Annie assured me, (several times) that wasn’t the case and I am cautiously optimistic that I read the weekend vibe correctly in thinking that we had a lovely time.
As part of the 21st celebrations the conversation inevitably steered towards things like ‘advice I’d tell my younger self’ and ‘things I wished I’d known at 21’. The girls were both open minded to guidance I might have had for them, but in truth, sitting in the Plaza Mayor watching them across the table from me as they sipped their sangria - accomplished, funny and together - I didn’t feel I had a great deal of wisdom to share!
The Last Thirty Years
I find it bizarre this it is almost thirty years since I was celebrating my own 21st birthday. I don’t think I went anywhere particularly special, (or if I did I can’t remember), but I do remember returning to my university digs and sitting in the kitchen where Saint Mick produced a magnum of champagne. At the time that seemed to me the absolute height of sophistication, even though it was drunk from plastic cups and chipped mugs!
I think my own girls are much more aware of themselves, their place in the world and how that world might be different for them in thirty years time than I ever was. When I was 21 there are so many things that I failed to anticipate, think about, or couldn’t have known about. Let’s start with the serious stuff!
Things I Didn't Know
TV. I had four channels to choose from when I was 21. It hadn’t been that many years previously when I’d even had to stand up to change the channels rather than reaching for a remote. It was, I think, around this time that I developed a Countdown obsession. The concept of Boxsets, YouTube and Netflix would have seemed beyond belief. The fact that thirty years hence, young people would bypass TV completely and choose to watch a small portable screen on a phone or a tablet, when a vast monster of a screen was available in most western houses, would have blown my mind.
Sticking with TV: how could I have known that Jason Donovan (Scott), the hearthrob from the soap Neighbours, which I skipped lectures to watch, would go bald, mind his baldness a lot, have a successful hair piece and end up making cheap ads for Cadbury’s chocolate? How could I have known that Kylie Minogue (Charlene) would become a respected singer, a sex symbol for men and women alike, and be a role model for encouraging regular breast cancer screening. And definitely how could I know that Mark Little (Joe Mangel), my favourite character, would disappear for thirty years only to reinvent himself as the worst contestant ever to perform on Dancing on Ice and be knocked out in the first round. How could I even know that shows like Dancing on Ice would become a thing? A thing being an outlet to enable the famous for nothing, or once upon a time famous, to re-emerge in the public eye earning lots of money and, it seems, attain oft-desired social media derision in the process!
A Trashed Environment. I think it was around the time I turned 21 that the notion of recycling daily household rubbish first entered my life, (People in the UK might remember the excitement and confusion over the arrival of the extra dustbin for plastic and card.) I’d have been outraged if I had known that the human race was not only actively destroying our planet but, once aware, would be too lazy and selfish to make positive change to prevent this for future generations. The irony that I am on a plane, from a pleasure trip, writing this duly noted. L
Careers. They (I’m not sure who) say that our young people will have ten, fifteen, or even twenty different careers by the time they reach fifty. They also say that many of those careers won’t even have been invented yet. I don’t think when I became a teacher twenty five plus years ago I could even name twenty different career paths and had no idea of the opportunities that would be in our futures.
Feminism and Equality. I was a feminist at 21 but my knowledge was sketchy to say the least. I embraced the teachings of Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Vita Sackville-West, but it seems, looking back, only in a fairly abstract academic way. I feel quite ashamed how passive I was (what did those poor suffragettes fight for?). I guess I couldn’t have known that thirty years on even though girls would exceed boys in their school academic success, they would still hold only a tiny percentage of leadership positions and often be paid less across all industries.
Continued Predatory Behaviour – When I was at university the stereotypical ‘man in a mac’ flashed my friends and I when walking home one evening. It shook us up but our prime reaction was laughter not outrage. I knew that ‘No meant no’ but I also knew of instances amongst friends where no didn’t lead to no and we didn’t act on this. It has taken thirty years for movements such as ‘Me Too’ to find their voice and I suspect cover ups - royal or otherwise - continue all the time. I am hopeful that now our young people do have a much greater sense of what is and isn’t acceptable, though I bet I would have been surprised that it had taken so long.
The Internet. I was already teaching in Tanzania when the ‘online world’ started, yet these days it is completely taken for granted. I couldn’t have known how easy it would make completing academic research where answers to practically everything are seemingly just a few taps or a spoken question away. (Who could have imagined ‘Alexa’ and ‘Hey Google’?) Equally I had no ideas of the dangers that the dark world of the Internet brings with it.
Social Media. When I was 21 I wouldn’t have imagined that thirty years on I’d be able to pick up forgotten or spoiled friendships using social media. Equally, I had no idea about how people’s lives would be paraded (I’m doing it now) for the world to see on various social media forums. I may have behaved far better on some occasions if there had been the chance of my life being online for all to see! For me, and many teenagers, back in the day the telephone was my social life. The concept of not having to sit at the bottom of the stairway to phone my best friend, but instead have her photos, actions and voice and written words at hand 24/7 would have been a dream come true.
Alcohol. Who’d have thought that drinking shots of spirits would become such a thing amongst the young today? I don’t think it existed when I was young, or at least I never participated in it. Neither have I ever drunk pink gin which seems popular these days. However before I saw the error of my ways I definitely embraced the hobby of prosecco drinking. When I was 21 I don’ t think I’d have anticipated that thirty years hence I’d be a crusader for the ‘no-booze brigade’ preaching to anyone who will listen against it and explaining how alcohol does nothing for waistlines and all round well-being!
Politics. Should I even go there? I think I understood politics better thirty years ago and had stronger convictions than I do now, but I couldn’t have known that English politics would become such a complete mess! When I was young I at least knew who was in power and I did feel that politicians actually believed in something beyond self-aggrandisement. Now it all just feels very sad and the politicians come and go so quickly that I can’t keep up with who is in which role. Back in the day I joined Elvis Costello in his derision of Thatcher, followed the miners’ strike and mocked the ‘falsehood’ of Reagan’s acting presidency. (Why do people now remember him in such a good light?) I went to Essex uni so of course was a good lefty, but I do vaguely remember feeling guiltily (very guiltily – still a bit ashamed) cashing in when the gas shares were sold off and I was also a bit of a secret Shirley Williams fan. These days I would shout that admiration from the roof-tops. Back in the day I loved Spitting Image and enjoyed Private Eye, but these days even hardcore political comedians seem to find things almost too bleak to even satirize.
Anyway, I could keep going but I’m concerned that this blog post is becoming much too long and I am supposed to be focusing on the girls and how they are more aware of their place in the world than I ever was. I am not supposed to be preparing for a party political broadcast! In addition, I am genuinely afraid that if I use the term ‘these days’ once more I may be ostracized by all family and friends.
I did broach the question with the girls of how they think the world might have changed in thirty years time or what they might be doing in the future, but whilst they didn’t literally roll their eyes I am not sure I really got an answer. Annie did say that some of her friends had their life mapped out in such detail that they even had spreadsheets of the things that they needed to accomplish by which date and age in order to meet their goals. Talk about being motivated and knowing what you want! I have to say that I was happy with my girls’ more open-minded blank canvas approach to life. They are both go-getters and I am sure that they will take opportunities offered to them and maintain a bit of an eye on the future whilst living fully in the present. The one thing that I really had no idea about when I was 21 but which makes me happy each and every day is that I would have two strong, independent, feminist daughters who are prepared, if need be, to take the world by its goolies and fight for their beliefs. That’s more than good enough for me.
At school if I’d self-assessed and averaged out my grades I am pretty sure I’d have been a stock standard Grade ‘B’ student. I’d maybe reach an ‘A’ for the odd English piece; in French and Geography I was more ‘C’, but overall ‘B’ would be my forte. Better than fine or satisfactory – we all know what they mean – but not reaching the excellence of an ‘A’. Nothing has really changed, a 2.1 in my first degree at Essex, (though I’m sure firsts were scarcer in those days), and good solid merits in my later Masters’ degrees at the University of East Anglia and Nottingham and librarian diploma.
I think I know exactly why this is the case. Once I am sure that something is ‘good’ i.e a ‘B’, I can’t be bothered to do anymore work on it. I am a settler at good enough. In my life there hasn’t been any writing twice the word count allowed, enabling pruning and editing until the assignment is perfect. For me, once I’ve got enough words and it makes something like sense then that will do!
Transferring School Grades to Life
I’ve realised I apply the same attitude and approach to many parts of my life, especially things I have to do. Take housework, for example. In England I do keep things tidy and reasonably dust free, but I definitely wouldn’t achieve an ‘A’ grade for anything household related. With all house-y, and D.I.Y stuff I know what an ‘A’ looks like (my mum’s house) and an A* (my brother’s house!) but I just can’t be bothered to achieve such excellence myself. To be honest I’d only get a ‘B’ if the examiner was feeling generous! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have sunk so low that I have been known to use socks to dust the skirting boards. You might think that’s not so bad but I’ve been wearing them at the time!
Now I’ve started thinking about it there are loads of examples of my Grade ‘B’ approach to life. In fact it feels like I can’t escape it. This blog, is full of glitches, broken links and the like, preventing Google from even hardly recognising it, yet I just can’t seem to muster up enough umph to get it fixed up. We are back on the road to Scotland, this time heading to Fort William, (the first stop on our North Coast 500’ road trip in Lazarus the Landrover), though my holiday preparation has only reached ‘B-‘ grade. I bought the snacks, cooled the freezer cube thingies, but couldn’t be bothered to actually make sandwiches for the journey ahead of time. I decided we could make them en route whilst driving – which, to my detriment, I’m learning is actually easier said than done.
Even my beloved swimming – my way of maintaining a good enough level of fitness fits a grade ‘B’ rubric. I’ve made the effort to progress beyond, what I call, chinny swimmer, and I’m told I’m not too bad at all at freestyle now, but I can’t put the effort in to really master a decent breaststroke kick. Must do better!
When I was in the library I put ‘A’ effort into making it a fun environment and encouraging kids to love books. I was an ‘A-’ in creating a great collection for the whole school and parent community, (I like to think I know my books reasonably well), but I was only a C- in really embracing digital technology - and as for truly getting to grips with Dewey… I just couldn’t be bothered. I hope I was ‘A’ in developing a strong team, but in learning how to catalogue and classify books I was ‘D-’. So overall I guess at work I came out a ‘B’. No surprise eh!
Video courtesy of Bangkok Patana School Library. a great display we put together in January 2018 around an 'Under the Sea' theme, when promoting the enviornmental books of visiting author Gail Clarke.
It is interesting to see what I have invested an ‘A grade’ level of effort into. My family of course is top of the list, but I’m not sure I am mentally prepared enough to start grading my input into developing these complex relationships One thing I do know is they would probably give me an ‘A’ for worrying and nagging, but I’m not sure that is such a good thing!
The reality is that it seems that outside the personal stuff of family and friends there really isn’t much else that I seem to think is worth accomplishing beyond a ‘B’ in. Perhaps if I view my Grade ‘B’ achievement sympathetically I can justify it with the claim that I know what really matters or that I’m impatient to fit in as an infinite amount of stuff into a finite amount of time so don’t have time to be a perfectionist. I think, though, on both counts that’s probably me just letting myself off the hook!
One thing that I think I am quite good at is inspiring others to aim to achieve higher and being better than I am myself. I kind of expect it and it brings me pleasure that it is often the case. My kids have a better work ethic than me and are both kinder and more forgiving than me. When I was in the library, members of my team were phenomenally good at what they did, always striving for excellence. Perhaps I sewed some of the seeds but they followed through and paid attention to detail in getting things done properly. My housekeeper in Bangkok might smile ruefully at my self-analysis, at recognising excellence and desiring it in others. I certainly exact high standards from her in cleaning, washing and cooking-she doesn’t let me down!
I guess it’s good that at least I’ve recognised a lifelong Grade ‘B’ accomplishment pattern. It’s too late to change what’s been so I will have to be content to have been ‘good’ enough. Perhaps what I have been grade ‘A’ in is at cajoling, persuading and motivating others. The issue is though, that these days, the only person l have to cajole, persuade and motivate is myself. It would be great though to have a passion to be a grade ‘A’ in something and really go for it. Just right now, I’m just not quite sure what that something might be. I can't spend my whole life touring Scotland in the landrover - any other ideas?
Living Abroad or Living at Home
I was driving through the village today, on the way to Scunthorpe to get Betsy a new bank account set up for university, when she asked the question, “Mum if you hadn’t gone to university and chosen to live abroad do you think you would have always lived in Broughton or somewhere close by? Would you have lived at home?" My answer was “I doubt it” to which Betsy asked “Why not? Hmmm… good question. When I stop to think it doesn’t really make sense to not have stayed local. It seems that I’m a bit Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde! I love to Live Abroad, I love to be at home. It is same same but different!
The NHS in the UK
My dad's had a bit of time of it this last year with his health, so we've been vey grateful to have the NHS here in the UK to draw upon. I'm a huge advocate for nursing staff particulary and feel they are incredibly underpaid and undervalued by our government. We have had some amazing care and attention given to us so because of this I've been loathe to criticize the NHS.. thus far.... We've also had some pretty rubbish experiences though and every now and then it is very hard not to have a sense of humour crisis about some of the things that have happened to us. However, rather than just write a long (and it would be long) list of 'issues', instead I'll sum up in a couple of paragraphs or what I'd do if I ran the NHS!
I’ve set myself a June challenge, it’s nothing to do with diets or exercise or quantities of books devoured. … read on and see if you’d care to join me.
I was talking to some friends the other day and we unearthed a very similar pattern of behaviour amongst us. It came as a surprise that we have set of similar core traits in how we conduct ourselves, as my perception of our characters is that we are all quite different. Consequently, I wouldn’t have expected it. To a greater or lesser extent we all had the following in common:
We all fight this instinct and do make strong decisions. We stick to our guns and lead effectively in both our professional and personal lives, but it comes at some personal cost.
I feel like I have ‘superpowers’ in these traits and can take them to extremes. There are downsides to being a pleaser. If I know I’ve upset someone and I’m in the wrong (admittedly seldom-kidding!) I can really ‘overdo’ making amends and live the regret for ages. Even when I’m sure that I am right I still find any kind of conflict upsetting. Over, the years, I’ve fretted over how I can choose to not follow someone’s advice or seem ungrateful for it without giving offence to them. In addtion, I’ve spent way too much of my professional life circumventing conflict and wording tactful emails to reach a desired goal. I guess that could be seen as a positive, but it would be so much easier to just be direct!