Tuesday, 13 October 2015
The shaggy haired, ex-BBC economics editor, Robert Peston has called upon a generation of selfish parents to sell their big, family homes in order to fund the purchase of houses for their children.
A strange proclamation from Mr Peston, who is paid £400,000 for his pontifications on all things financial, which even by my far less mathematically expert reckoning means he could probably save up for a couple of months to offer both his grown up sons a pretty decent deposit on a home, even if they want to stay near to daddy in pricey North London.
But that aside, I am still not sure that I agree. Once upon a time I used to think that it was a good idea for parents to flog big houses in order to fund smaller ones for their brood, but that was before I was a parent with a big(ish) house to my name. Now before you think I am showing off, I have a big house for the simple reason that I have a big family.
I grew up in a tiny flat in the centre of Brussels. If I really reached out I could probably have touched a hand to each side of my bedroom, and let me assure you, my arms are not very long. It was shabby, tiny and a million miles from luxurious, but it did the job. There was a roof over my head and I was a short walk from the many dive bars and clubs I would frequent as a teenager.
This left me with a profound lack of interest in spacious, 'show-off' houses. However, I then went on to marry a man who had grown up in a pretty sizeable house (which his parents, now a couple on their own, still rattle around in and have no intention of selling to help anyone out) and proceeded to have four children. This led us down the path, via many well-timed sales and purchases to be the proud possessors of a huge mortgage on decent-sized home.
When I first bought this home I did vaguely think that one day perhaps we could sell up to help the kids set themselves up. But then I had the shock realisation that this would mean that they would leave home, and that wouldn't do at all.
Perhaps I am naive, after all my children are still young, but the prospect of them flying the nest is one that chills me to the bone. The idea of me and my husband knocking around in our big house all alone horrifies me. Yes, it would be tidier, and the fridge would undoubtedly not empty at quite such a pace, but it would be so empty and lonely.
No, far better that my boys stay at home forever and ever (imagine a rather terrifying witch's cackle as the soundtrack to that particular pronouncement). The idea of losing the only people who share my terrible taste in television, who laugh at my jokes, notice when I've had my hair cut and appreciate my cooking doesn't bear thinking about.
So there is no way I am selling my house to make it easier for my boys to escape. Instead perhaps, once they all have jobs, they can help us pay the gigantic mortgage we have on this one, which will still hang like a millstone around our necks well after we have reached pensionable age.
Also, which I am sure would draw opprobrium from a financial expert like Mr Peston, we have no pension fund, so any equity in this house is far more likely to end up funding our years of dribbling in a nursing home, than flash pads for our four boys.
Sunday, 11 October 2015
I am sorry T. S. Eliot but I think the abuses of old age on my body require more than a simple rolling of the cuffs of my trousers. After birthing four children my aged stomach is much more in need of the gentle touch of an elasticated waist, or at the very least a heavy dose of Lycra to soften the harsh pull of denim.
I recently went to see one of my favourite bands play, the Barenaked Ladies, whose name is their most risque feature. This bunch of ageing Canadian rockers kicked off their show with a song called 'Get Back Up', which is essentially about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting back to living life after the slings and arrows of life have given you a good old kicking (forgive my mixing of metaphors). If you want to read all the lyrics they're here.
Later during the show, the lead singer Ed Robertson, announced that he was 44. Just the same age as me. My first reaction was a bit of a shock, what with his greying hair I had assumed he had a few years on me, but then I remembered that if I were to stop slathering my own locks in L'Oreal dye (because I'm worth it) I would swiftly become just as grey.
This combination of factors led me to a meditation on ageing. Well in between singing along to the unsurpassable 'If I had a million dollars', watching my 11-year-old beam when they sang his favourite song, the theme from the Big Bang Theory and trying to clap without aggravating my arthritic fingers.
Going to a concert always takes me back to my youth. I was never one of those cool kids who saw all the latest indie bands, but growing up in Brussels meant that I could see all the acts that were topping the charts in the UK, long before the Belgian teens had worked out who they were. I was treated to virtually one-on-one performances from 80s pop sensations Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw. If you remember those names then welcome to my club.
But Ed's grey hair and the bittersweet lyrics got me to thinking about how my life has changed over the decades that separate my experience of bopping to 'Wouldn't it be good' in a sweaty Brussels nightclub, to sitting in a comfy seat in the O2 Indigo with easy access to the toilets, watching grey haired men singing about growing old.
Apart from the obvious fact that proximity to a toilet probably wasn't such a concern pre-children, it was that a song about being kicked to the ground and getting back up again, bruised, perhaps even scarred, but alive, resonated with me far more deeply than it would have done when I was a teenybopper.
I used to think I was invincible. That whatever life threw at me I could simply deflect it like Teflon. That to be happy was a natural state. Now I look back on those days with the same nostalgia I feel when I recall how easy it was to fit into a size 8 skirt. I took for granted the simplicity of feeling happy and normal, just as I took for granted that everything in the shop would fit.
My goodness how life has taught me a lesson since then. I have ridden the waves of divorce, estrangement from my most beloved people, deaths and regrets. I have birthed four children, which was painful, stressful, joyful and blissful. I have collapsed in a soggy, weak heap under the pressure of depression, anxiety and insomnia. I have realised that I cannot cope, but that I simply have to.
I have built and lost careers, I have wasted talent and profited from it. I have seen friends soar, and felt that choking mix of pride and envy at their good fortune. I have realised that I will never be rich, or famous, or beautiful, I have realised that really, that's OK.
I have learned to see joy in the small things, because sometimes the big things are so grim it is hard to see a chink of light. To understand that a day can be switched from bad to good, simply by appreciating the glint of dew on a glossy, green holly leaf, or by dragging your exhausted, unwilling body out of bed and into the sunshine, or by a hug from an oblivious child.
I have come to understand the enormous power our own minds play in how life treats us. Of how easy it is to be washed away under tides of misplaced adrenaline that flush through you when your mind randomly opens the floodgates to your fears. But equally how deep breaths and fixing yourself in the present can help you to put your shoulder to those gates and hem in the fears once again.
I have learned what it means to unconditionally love someone. To care so much that their life counts for so much more than your own. To get wrapped up so deeply in the needs of someone else that you can lose sight of yourself. To have children.
Life has changed me, just as it changes all of us, and in some ways I miss the simplicity of youth. It's not that being young is easy, it's just that the challenges I faced didn't seem so insurmountable, I suppose because there were so many second chances ahead of me and it always felt as if someone else was in charge. But that said, growing up has given me a depth and understanding of the complexities of life that I am not sure I would swap to go back to that easier version of myself.
Of course I hate the hard days and then I would gladly throw away everything I have learned in exchange for some peace, to be able to relax, to feel the tension ease from my body, to relax, to sleep as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But paradoxically, I love that I am beginning to see that this kind of turmoil forces you to stop, to look at the world and seek out those tiny drops of happiness it hides round every corner. To spot all those things I would have missed if life had been easier.
So yes, perhaps it is all about the ride....the ups, the downs and the blessed calm bits in between.
Thursday, 8 October 2015
A dear friend of mine, who coincidentally I actually met up with in the flesh last night, to compare notes on the lows and lower lows of being in our 40s (notable points raised included hangovers after drinking just three glasses of wine the night before, the proliferation of women our age suffering from insomnia, putting the sparkle back into a decades old relationship and feeling so very old when forced, through work, to meet with younger career women) is also the author of the fabulous and much more prolific blog than mine From the Valley to the Palai.
Today she has harked back to the old-fashioned style of blogging. She is a veteran of the art, having put finger to keyboard way back in 2008, while I am an upstart who copied her example in 2009.
These were the days when the only real reason to blog was to share in a community who were all trudging through the trenches of new babies and toddlers together. There were no ads, few freebies, but a whole lot of love. Fellow bloggers would dish out handcrafted awards to other bloggers who had touched them with their words.
These were the days before the incredibly talented Clare Mackintosh became a novelist and social media expert, back then she was just the run ragged mum behind the now defunct, More than Just a Mother. She wept, swore and laughed her way through the loss of a child and the challenge of multiple babies, and as I was simultaneously juggling newborn twins I found a lot of solace in her words, as well as being filled with admiration for her.
Even more so now that she is the author of a book I Let You Go, which is a feat I have never achieved, though not for want of half written manuscripts tucked away in the back of my hard drive.
No one really got book deals apart from the superlatively talented and well connected Wife in the North, whose blog about leaving the Big Smoke and moving 'ooop North was hilarious and quite rightly got picked up almost instantly by a savvy publisher.
The rest of us made do with the odd free packet of biscuits or trip to a theme park and thought we were doing pretty well. FDMTG even got nominated for a proper award or two back in the day, though the old girl never actually won.
The problem, even back then, was that to make a blog work you not only had to be super talented, but also dedicated. Linking out to other blogs, getting involved in conferences, endless posting pictures, posts and lists of your likes and dislikes in order to persuade a jaded internet audience that yours was the blog to visit for your daily dose of parental humour.
Now it's even tougher, but the rewards are greater. A modern top blogger can make money, get free holidays, book deals, TV shows and more. That said most deserve it because they work bloody hard at blogging, unlike lazy old FDMTG.
To which end I once again decided to copy my friend's blogging example and indulge in one of the old school blog activities by offering out to my adoring audience of about two readers, five things you don't know about the woman behind FDMTG:
1. I studied Theology. Weird enough fact in itself given that I am, oh another fact coming along, an agnostic with atheistic leanings. I spent three years arguing with people who believed that God had deliberately put fossils into the earth just to test their faith in the almighty. It was actually quite good fun, but was a terrible career move as I am forever dogged by the perception that I must be some kind of loony bible basher. This means I always have to go into minute detail about why I chose to study theology to prove that if I get the job I won't spend my lunchtimes trying to spread the word of the Lord around the office canteen.
2. I grew up in Brussels. Another part of my life that I appear to have to endlessly defend. Everyone believes that Brussels is the most boring city in the world. Not least the deeply unappreciative Mr FDMTG. I, on the other hand, know that it is, or a least was, a bloody amazing city to grow up in. With a mix of all nationalities I was a real international school brat, hanging out with all the other schools populated by the offspring odds and ends swept together by the EU. There was lots of underage drinking and copious opportunities to flirt with a vibrant mix of different young men, from the gorgeous Spaniards who spoke not a word of English, but had the most delicious velvety brown eyes you could drown in, to the strange German boy who wore a trench coat and smoked a pipe at the ripe old age of 18.
3. I think scallops are the devil's food. I know they are beloved of the Master Chef set, and whether paired with black pudding, bacon or pea puree are always a sure fire hit amongst those with a sophisticated palate, but to me they are just a lump of rubbery fishiness. I once went to a press do catered by a famous Michelin-starred chef, who served the most gigantic scallops as a starter. While everyone else tucked in with gusto, I chewed on one repulsively rubbery mouthful and then hid the rest under my napkin. Ditto for oysters, which taste like runny, yet paradoxically chewy, snot to me, even when dived fresh from beneath the ocean.
4. Ever since I gave birth to four boys I have been secretly (well maybe I don't keep it that much of a secret) dreading becoming a mother-in-law. Not because I am convinced that I will hate my daughter-in-law, or that she will hate me (though odds are she will), but because I cannot conceive of sharing my sons with another woman. I know this is ridiculous and my sensible brain understands that the goal of bringing up children is to set them free to wreak their own brand of havoc on the world. But deep down in my swirling pit of a subconscious I fear I will feel as jealous of my son cuddling up with another woman as I would if my husband did. I am just crossing my fingers very hard that I grow out of this by the time they get their first girlfriends.
5. Although I am a member of a book club that endlessly attempts to drag my literary choices out of the gutter, I really, truly mostly only like trashy books. Not real pulp like Mills & Boon, I tried it, but all those heaving breasts, dominant men and women whose only aim was to end up in a clinch with a billionaire didn't really do it for me. But JoJo Moyes, Freya North, Jill Mansell and the queen of chick lit, Jilly Cooper, are my real literary heroines. Give me a bit of froth, a romantic misunderstanding played out in a beautiful village, perhaps a horse or two thrown in and a dashing hero in the mold of Rupert Campbell-Black and I am in heaven.
Boys and fire are a magnetic combination. My eldest has never been able to resist the lure of box of matches and often had to be restrained from dragging all flammable items from the house in order to see if he could set fire to them. Now his particular obsession with all things incendiary could be dismissed as a mildly disturbing one off, but then along came his little brother and cousin .
They spent one sunny afternoon last summer engrossed in setting fire to elastic bands on my brother-in-law's patio. The acrid scent of burning rubber filled the summer afternoon, like the barbecue from hell. Clearly my oldest boy was not a one off.
Then friend told me how she once came home to find her home filled with thick, dark smoke and her middle boy standing in the kitchen looking sheepish. The source of the smoke? Her kitchen bin, which he had fashioned into a makeshift indoor fire pit that he had been using to burn much of the contents of her kitchen cupboards just to see which was the most impressively flammable.
This, I conclude, is enough evidence to prove that boys + fire = happy, if, slightly singed, sons. The problem is finding a way in which they can play with fire without setting fire to ether themselves or the family home. Solution, a neat little kit sent to me by Certainly Wood, which is ideal for the fire mad child in your life, although with appropriate adult supervision to guard against third-degree burns.
natural firelighters to create a sufficiently impressive blaze for the most fire mad child, plus, and this is the draw for any children who less impressed by the sizzle of blazing bonfire, a kit to create your own Brit version of the American 'delicacy' s'mores.
As with all snacks of American origin, these are over the top, sickly sweet and absolutely irresistible to children. For the uninitiated they are fashioned from two biscuits, a slab of chocolate and a fire roasted, molten marshmallow.
So we kicked off by lighting our fire, a job that my 11-year-old fire fanatic grabbed as his own. So sticks and ingenious natural firelighters, which look a bit like tiny bales of hay, were neatly stacked in the barbecue and leapt into bright yellow flame at the touch of a match.
As a family with our own wood burning fireplace, I know this is a sign of quality. So many times my husband is left cursing over poorly seasoned logs that steam and belch smoke, but refuse to light. The wood in this pack was of a much more amenable nature and, even when we popped on one of the larger logs into the fire, it burnt merrily with no need to cajole it into flame with extra kindling.
Soon all the boys were happily toasting away over the flames. There were tears when one marshmallow escaped its skewer and dived to certain death in the fire, but overall the horribly messy combination of charred marshmallow, chocolate and cookies was a hit. Faces were smeared with sticky goo, chocolate formed impressive moustaches above their upper lips, and the ensuing sugar rush was just what the doctor ordered right before bedtime.
Given that it is the season of bonfires this was certainly a way to indulge a fascination with both fire and food. We even had enough top notch logs left over to have a fire of our own with them the next night and they blazed away just as merrily then, though after having scrubbed the children clean following the previous night's sweet snack extravaganza no marshmallows were allowed near the flames!
Friday, 4 September 2015
Since then six years have passed and the day-to-day business of rearing four boys is no less exhausting, but paradoxically it seems to take even more time than when they were little. There are no nap times during which I can escape to the keyboard to avoid the siren call of the washing machine and now they are all at school shockingly it appears I have to make some vague attempt to earn a living. The latter of which is proving more than a little challenging, as the call for a jack-of-all-trades writer seems to have faded to little more than an vanishing whisper torn away by the hurricane blast of digital media.
But it seems somewhat unfair that while I charted the early years with such dedication, now that my children are getting really interesting I am silent on the matter. Particularly as this week marks a huge parenting milestone as my oldest started secondary school.
My goodness what an emotional few days it has been. We have been working towards this day for the past two years. Thanks to a very poor choice of location (oh the shame for one so devoted to Kirstie and Phil ) we ended up living in a house that was in the catchment for just one secondary school, which had just shut down its sixth form due to lack of interest.
This meant that we were caught up in the whirlwind of exams and tests to see if we could win that golden ticket to a selective school. It seems as if we have been tutoring, revising, sitting tests, waiting for acceptance letters forever, yet, at last on 2 September, it was finally time for him to go to his new school.
He dressed up in his new blazer and tie, a massive change from the sloppy polo shirts of primary school and before me stood an impossibly handsome young man. A quick scroll through my Facebook page and I was confronted with legions of little children who were suddenly all grown up as everyone posted the obligatory first day of school photos. Where had all the little urchins with unruly curls, chubby cheeks, untucked shirts and gap-toothed smiles gone? Overnight they were transformed into smart, independent almost-teenagers.
On day one of school I was eased in gently. I was allowed to drive my precious boy to school and give him a quick kiss before he disappeared into the crowd of blazer clad pupils. Day two and the plaster was beginning to rip off, but I could still walk him to the bus stop and wait with him to make sure he got on safe and sound.
Day three and, ouch, the plaster is off! I had to watch from my doorstep as he trudged down the road, PE and book bags weighing him down, off to catch a double decker London bus all on his own. He was grinning at his independence, while I had come over all neurotic and kept shouting randomly that he 'Wasn't to speak to strangers' and to 'Remember to look both ways when you cross the road'. All things I have drummed into him for over a decade, but suddenly it seemed imperative that he shouldn't forget all the rules that I pray will keep him safe in the big, bad world.
Parenting is such a roller coaster of an experience. On the one hand you count the days in the lead up to every milestone. When will they sleep through, walk, talk, start school, finish school? As each new phase rolls around we are filled with pride that we have made it, that things are going to plan. But equally every achievement is tinged with the blue hue of nostalgia and the fiery red alarm of fear.
Of course my son needs to go to school alone. He needs his mummy to let go of his hand and allow him to forge his own way. Of course I am proud that he is coping so well and happy that he is enjoying this new experience so much. But deep down there is a part of me screaming that I don't want him to grow up, I want to keep his sticky little hand firmly clenched in mine forever. I want to wrap him in a double layer of cotton wool so nothing can ever hurt him. I think that as a mother you never really manage to tamp down that overweening protective instinct, you just learn to gag it for fear it might suffocate your beloved baby.
So this week marks a big step forward for both me and my boy. For him he is making his first strides towards independence and for me I am inching my way towards letting go. That said I cannot wait to hear his key in the door and I will continue to engulf him in a bear hug the moment he gets home, no doubt long after he is happy to reciprocate. After all I have made it clear to him that a mum's primary function is to embarrass her children, and I wouldn't want to let him down!
Saturday, 18 July 2015
As usual it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. It seems that while the early years of babiesand toddlers are rich in anecdote, as children grow up they become less ripe picking grounds for funny stories.
But one thing I have noticed, that appears to be a constant with children, is the aching wrench I feel when we reach a period of transition – at least with my firstborn.
I can still remember driving away from his first nursery, my eyes blurred with tears as I sobbed, filled with nostalgia. I remembered his first day when he clung to me as the nursery staff attempted to interest him in water play or the sandpit, but all he wanted was mummy.
I remember his best girlfriend with whom he would share the rich pickings of the dressing up box. I still have a picture of him holding hands with her, resplendent in a beautiful fairy dress (him, not her). We still see this precious friend, but she too has long outgrown dressing up and is fast becoming a beautiful and clever young woman.
You see almost a decade separates these pictures of my blonde haired, blue eyed, pink and squidgy toddler from the boy who is my son now. Rather than leaving nursery he is on the brink of leaving primary school, and like generations of mothers before I wonder ‘Where did that time go?’
What was I doing that the years have whizzed past like the blur seen from the window of a speeding car? Was it really not yesterday that I had to pluck him from neighbours’ driveways as he dashed into explore their front gardens on our walk up to the shops? Since he perched on top of the bump that would become his baby brother?
How is it that the memory of walking up to school, his sticky little hand in mine, his head not even reaching as far as my hip, begging to stop every five minutes to look at some fascinating piece of debris on the street seems as fresh as the Year 6 Leavers Disco that happened just yesterday.
It is a piercing pain, the ache of nostalgia. Most of the time we just carry on, living life, doing the shopping, the school run, nagging about homework and hardly stopping to drink a moment of it in, but sometimes life stops us in our tracks and forces us to see how fast our children are becoming adults, how little time is really spent enmeshed in the experience of childhood.
As you will have gathered my firstborn is just about to leave primary school and everyday activities have taken on a sharp poignancy in the face of this step. He has come home with a bag stuffed full of schoolbooks that will never be written in again, he has acted in his last play, danced the Macarena at his last disco, had photos taken with friends who may or may not last the distance once they no longer spend every school day together.
Next week we will do our last school run with him and eventually close the door on his first school forever.
I feel the tears begin to flow as I write of these final moments. It has been such a journey for both of us, from him clinging to me outside the Reception classroom, in tears because he so hated to leave mummy, to the tears shed at the end of every year as he would miss the teachers he had come to love.
There have been school trips that have taken him away from home for the first time, tests and exams that have begun to set him on the path towards his future, friendships forged through shared experiences. I have made friends amongst the mothers of his contemporaries and will miss their smiling faces at the school gate.
There have been ups of great achievements, and downs when friendships have gone sour or mistakes have been made. It has not been a perfect experience, but it has irrevocably changed both our lives, and for the most part for the better.
I try to feel happy that my precious boy has had such a positive experience during his early school years, but I am just so sad to say goodbye to them. I think it is all part of not wanting to see him grow up and inevitably grow away from me.
In my head I know he needs to learn to become independent, but in my heart I long for the little boy who clung to me for security. It’s the classic dilemma for any mother – do I let go and let him grow or do I cling on because the letting go just hurts so damn much?
Of course I know the answer and, as I bought him his first blazer for big school, I felt my heart swell with pride as I caught a glimpse of the gorgeous young man he is fast becoming. I know he needs to leave behind the beginning of his childhood and move on to discovering who he will be as an adult, but as a mummy I know sometimes I miss my little boy so very much.
So next week when the door finally closes on primary school forever, I shall equip myself with hankies, a phone with plenty of memory free for pictures and I will make that last walk, holding my little boy’s hand as we exit the gates of primary school together for the very last time.
Wednesday, 3 June 2015
You know you are getting old when you start tutting about the behaviour of the 'youth of today', that and thinking policemen and teachers look younger every day, oh and and believing that young people never had it so good.
This is how I know that I am categorically getting old, as I recently found myself listing all the things I hated about young people. Perhaps it is because I am afraid that my sons are on the brink of turning into young people, as opposed to children, who at least have cuteness on their side and I am deeply afraid they will start aping some of these dispicable characteristics.
As a guide of just what I am looking out for here is my definitive list of the 10 things I hate about youth:
When I was growing up these were the preserve of criminals, sailors and the worse kind of chavs. An indigo smudged LOVE and HATE emblazoned across the knuckles was a sign to steer clear, ditto the blue bird flying up the neck of an ex-con or a dodgy anchor hooked across a paunchy shoulder. Now the young can't wait to get inked, and all over. I could deal with a discreet star or heart in an unobtrusive place, but a whole multicoloured universe splattered across the backside is beyond the pale. I am simply hoping and praying that by the time my boys are old enough to get inside a tattoo parlour this fad has gone out of fashion.
See above. Earrings yes, a bolt through your nethers, no. Self mutilation is never a good look, but while a 20-year-old may be able to just about carry it off, what happens when they are 40-odd and that hole just won't seal over?
I will admit that as a child raised wasting her Saturday afternoons watching old movies from the 40s, I once had a bit of a thing for pencil moustaches - blame Rhett Butler. But essentially I hold a deep and intractable belief that a man looks best clean shaven. I cannot bear the fact that while women have grown noticeably more bald all over, and I mean all over to a Brazilian degree, men appear to have sprouted that excess pubic hair all over their faces. Huge, bushy, lumberjack beards are de-rigeur amongst the hipster crowd and I just hate to think what kind of ecosystems are emerging within the deep pile on the chins of trendy young men.
Now this one really does mark me out as a fogey. When I go out to eat I want to book a table and know that I will be able to sit down at it at the allotted time. I do not want to be told that I will have to wait two hours in a dismal queue before being granted the dubious pleasure of scoffing down a mediocre 'gourmet' burger from a novelty plate, while perched on a rickety second hand chair at a scuffed communal table. All this done while watching the crumbs from my hipster neighbour's meal work their way deep within the dense foliage of his facial fur. This is definitely dining young person style.
I am not a total Luddite, though I am sure that by even writing a blog, I would be marked out as one by anyone under the age of 25. But I detest with a passion that youth culture seems to exist entirely through the lens of social media. That is not actually seeing or talking to friends, but contacting them via some sharing site that I won't even attempt to guess at as the platforms change far too fast for my ancient brain to keep up. I guess it is just a mirror of my own teen telephone addiction, but it is just so deeply anti social to be endlessly staring into the abyss of the internet rather than interacting with anyone. I am sure it is what lies at the heart of the growth of teen anxiety and suicide. I know I couldn't have got through my teens without seeing my friends, and I don't think that swapping pictures of our privates would have had quite the same frisson as an illicit fumble.
I am a child of the 80s and I thought that sexism would soon become a thing of the past. Now I laugh at my own naivety. With boys introduction to girls and sex no longer being made through a quick flick through a dirty magazine, but through an internet that gives them a hotline into the most deviant and perverse expressions of human sexuality, the idea of sexual violence seems to be as everyday as French kissing. Men troll women they don't like, not with blunt insults like 'Fat cow' or 'Stupid bitch', but with threats of rape, mutilation and murder. It's a scary world out there when you have prepubescent boys who you rather hope won't grow up into misogynistic fools.
OK I admit it, I am bitter. When I was young the last thing I had was confidence. My peers and I were a shuffling herd of insecurities, embarrassment and self doubt. Now young people seem to be like mini adults, shining with inner confidence. Perhaps it is essential now that you need to be a ridiculous overachiever in order to have any hope of owning a home of your own before retirement age, but it's terrifying. When I was 16 my main achievement was having found a concealer that hid my zits effectively, now teenagers seem to have built a CV to rival my own before they even leave school.
The flip side of my previous point is that the most unprepossessing specimens appear to believe that the world owes them a living. I still remember my first job, which consisted mainly of making tea and photocopying, for which I was eternally grateful. It gave me a step up on the ladder, without taxing my very insignificant skill set. I could watch, learn and hopefully make a good impression with my expert wielding of milk and two sugars. I expected to be the bottom of the pile, to get the shit jobs that no one else wanted and to work my way painfully up the ladder. Today's breed of young adults appear to be under the impression that thanks to their zillions of qualifications, often gained in Mickey Mouse subjects and overpriced colleges mean they deserve to shoot right to the top without even a nod at making the tea.
I don't long to be young again, but like every parent who has ever lived I wish I could inject a bit of my wisdom back down the line so that youth wasn't always wasted on the young. My sons count every moment until they can get older and do more. I remember that suffocating feeling, that the adults had the keys to some magic kingdom of licentiousness and they were keeping us out of it just to be mean. Now I understand that they were trying to preserve our innocence and not let us in on the secret that being grown up is, in general, pretty rubbish. When you are kid you have no power, but equally no responsibility and I know I am not alone in feeling quite happy to swap watching 18 rated movies and staying up late, for not having to pay a mortgage or worry about how to pay the bills.
Thursday, 8 January 2015
Tonight I can't sleep. Now insomnia and I are no strangers to one another. I have wasted many a witching hour tossing and turning, reading, piecing together jigsaws with bleary eyes trained on the clock watching the hours tick by until I need to be up again. But tonight the reason for my sleeplessness is much more real than a racing mind caught up in knots over its own inability to capture the silken web of slumber.
Yesterday saw terrorists gun down a group of journalists as they held their editorial meeting and I can't help but picture the scene on and endless, horrific loop. I imagine it was the first time the team will have met after the New Year. The would shamble to seats in a cramped meeting room, coffees and notebooks in hand, exchanging the odd Bonne Annee, discussing food eaten, parties attended, nights spent slumped in front of the television rather than revelling to celebrate the arrival of 2015.
Then down to business, this was a satirical magazine, so I imagine the order of the day was which political or religious bubble would be burst by their rapier pens. Now I make no claim to have known about Charlie Hebdo before today, and after a cursory glance at its work its not a publication that would particularly appeal to me.
The cartoons are too graphic, gross and yes, offensive for my taste. But what resonates with me is the familiarity of the circumstances in which this magazine would have come to life. I spent most of my 20s working for magazines. They weren't as high profile and or as contentious as Charlie Hebdo, but I can't help but think that the environment would have been pretty similar to the one into which bullets came flying and blood was shed.
Magazines are laid back places to work, the people who work on them tend to be pretty cynical, iconaclastic - if not they would probably have got proper jobs working as accountants or management consultants. Instead they were the ones messing around at the back of the class, refusing to take what they were told at face value and poking fun at those who did. They are bright, quick witted and more than a little bit disaffected.
This was my happy home for over a decade and even after I left I continued to work as a freelance journalist so I feel a kinship that makes what happened in Paris somehow more personal and painful, more difficult to forget in favour of a good night's sleep. The idea of those slacker writers and fastidious subs being ripped to pieces by a rain of bullets from a military trained terrorist just jars my brain. The juxtaposition between these acerbic cartoonists armed only with their wit and a smart drawing pen and combat ready maniacs wielding AK-47s just doesn't make sense to me.
While I have never raised my head above the parapet to do anything remotely worthwhile with my own career I have admiration for those who have chosen to use their exposure in the press to push forward an agenda that forces us to continue to look beyond trite philosophies spoon fed to us by those in authority. It was what I meant to do, but never really had the balls to follow through on.
It is heartbreaking that anyone would want to see that way of life smashed and silenced by a rain of bullets. That the way such warped thinkers wish to repay a country whose very tolerance is the reason they and their families were able to make a life there is by trying to extinguish it.
Of course I am aware that life is not always easy for immigrants and their descendants in any society, but what I find so confusing is that rather than try to find a way to work within the country that they have made their home, they seek to destroy it and all its values. This surely makes them as guilty as the 'infidels' who they despise so much, as the very reason they hate the West is that it meddles in the affairs of countries that are really none of its business.
While I suspect logic plays no part in it, perhaps we are reaching back in to the medieval way of thinking where an eye is demanded for an eye. But even if can accept this rationale I still cannot understand why the lives of innocent journalists, who almost undoubtedly held no more respect for their political leaders who dragged them into foreign conflicts than they did for religious fanatics who opposed them. These men were not the establishment, they were anything but. They didn't reserve their scorn for one religious or political faction, everyone was fair game and this is as it should be in a country where freedom of speech and of the press is a cornerstone of its society.
I am sure that the ramblings of a half asleep woman waiting for the pills to kick in so I can get some shut eye add not an iota to the debate that will rage about the implications and causes of this atrocity, but perhaps I can find a little peace for having blurted my thoughts out onto the glowing void of the internet.
A good night to you all and may those killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack rest more peacefully than I tonight.