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.