Saturday, April 30, 2011

I take it back

...the bit about my son not being interested in the Royal Wedding (note new capitalisation).  He was indeed interested.  He was, to put it mildly, obsessed. 

It seems that all week the nursery were prepping our children for the wedding.  The whole week was focused on princesses and weddings and reminding them to watch it.  He thought we were actually going to go in to see it - in fact many of the children thought the same.

So, we watched it, him in tears because he wasn't actually there.

I say we watched it.  We watched about 20 minutes of it with various friends whose children also ambushed them with a desire to watch.  Just as the actual princess got out of her actual car to walk down the aisle, they all lost interest, leaving us adults to watch awkwardly and make wry comments.

Today I straightened my hair - I'm finding that much more interesting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A royal pain

The Royal Wedding, it appears is dividing young children directly along gender lines.

One of my friends is organising a 'Republican's Picnic' in the park to coincide with the nuptuals...(or an indoorsy one if the rain actually dares to fall on the royal parade... off with its head!) and she has invited Charlie and our local crew of mates to attend.  The idea was that the only wedding we'd have to watch would be the marriage of ants and sandwiches.

This seemed like a wonderful idea a few weeks ago, however we were absolutely not counting on the hypnotic pull that a princess and a prince getting actually, really married with a big dress and a proper coach and a parade and everything was going to have on the tiny females amongst us.

Seriously, half the Mums have pulled out of coming in the morning because their daughters are rolling on the floor and begging to be allowed to watch.  Some of them think they will be going to the wedding.  Other are forcing their reluctant Fathers to actually go into the hell of the centre of town to sit on shoulders and watch the procession go past.  One is going to a girls-and-champagne only party with her Mum leaving her Dad to come on his own.

This may not be a surprise to you out there who have daughters, but I have a son, a son who doesn't care a toot about the royal wedding; a son who only appreciates a princess dress if the girl wearing it will play trains with him.  And let him drive.

The Royal Wedding is a complete non-starter for us.  Neither the Frog or I give much of a damn and our son is oblivious.  I have Fridays off anyway so all this really means to me is that if it's sunny, the park will be that much more festive.  Now, it appears, the picnic may be delayed so that everyone can watch TV.

I'm quite tempted to walk into Brixton and see what the locals are doing - it's hard to imagine Brixton becoming MORE of a party than it already is on a bank holiday weekend but we'll see. 

I know it's curmudgeonly of me to avoid what is essentially a massive, nation-wide happy-day.  I know it may even be puzzling as to why I wouldn't want to go into the centre and experience the whole drama (including the 'Where's Charlie' drama as he dashes into the crowds...) but there you go.

Yes, it's lovely that two people are getting married but I don't actually know them even though we do live in the same town... Fancy that... and I just find it weird that people care this much about it.

Yes it's grand that English Royal Pageantry has exploded into action, but frankly the next coronation will be much more interesting - and Charlie will be older and with any luck, the next King will also be a Charlie and crucially, there will be no princess dresses involved.  That, I think, is something my little boy might just be interested in seeing. 

Or not.  Depends, I imagine, on what vehicle Charles uses to get to his new crown.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What is the Big Society?

This is a biscuit-and-a-cuppa post, I’m afraid.

There's a lot of guff in the British press these days about the 'Big Society'.  According to the powers that be, the Big Society will devolve power to local authorities and (I quote) "is the responsibility of every department of Government, and the responsibility of every citizen too. Government on its own cannot fix every problem. We are all in this together."   

Oh yes, all very dig-for-Britain but the truth is that most people feel that it's simply a way for the government to stop funding local services and in fact we're NOT all in this together – we’re dumped on and being asked to like it. 

The thing is though that the Big Society isn’t some government fiction – it exists and is everywhere around us – people have always looked after each other and this is what it boils down to – all of us taking care of each other and of our environment - streets, gardens, local bits and bobs.   People take care of each other all the time – no government initiative is going to change that.  Yes, we should all step up; but not as part of a government cost-cutting exercise designed to bail out rotten financial institutions; we pay taxes so the government can support us – they serve us, not the other way around.  If we serve anyone, it should be each other.

Horace and Edith (not their real names which is ridiculous, but there you go) have lived on our street for going on 50 years and are both about to hit 80.  We’ve lived next door for the last six and a half and have struck up a genuine friendship.  Horace was a handsome bugger in his day and Edith a slip of a girl, they’re easy-going, friendly, funny and great neighbours.  They braved a mixed-marriage in the 50s at which point much of her family cut her off, however they have a wide circle of friends, a son, grandchildren and quite a bit of extended family.

Last year Horace was diagnosed with a massive tumour and had extensive, successful surgery; however had to return recently to have two massive hernias done.  On her way to visit him a few weeks ago, Edith fell in the street and damaged her shoulder so badly she’s had to have it replaced; so they are in adjoining rooms on the same ward of our local hospital at the moment.  The same week, they lost their son to a heart-attack.

We have always sort of looked out for them and they for us. In the snow we sweep their pavement, we occasionally do their heavy shopping, we drive them to hospital and generally, along with quite a few of our neighbours, check in on them.  In return they keep an eye on cars and front doors when people are on holiday, do occasional cat-sitting and can be relied on to know any bit of relevant gossip in the area.

A few Saturdays ago we had a panicky call from Horace’s hospital bed telling us the bad news about Edith and begging us to feed their trio of rescue cats.  We have each other’s keys and this was no problem, however on entering their flat I realised why we’d not been invited over for a while – this is Edith’s second broken arm in 8 months and with Horace suffering from hernias, the last year has seen them barely coping and too proud to say.  So, with their permission we’ve cleaned and renovated their kitchen so they can reach things and have more storage space.  We’ve run errands, we’ve mowed the lawn, we visit them in hospital, they’re recovering fine and should be home soon.

I tell you this not because I want to wave a flag about how lovely we are, but sort of as a caution.  The Big Society works – it works because we are social animals and we like to keep in contact with people (or most of us... frogs excepted J) and it works because 80% of the human race are actually decent people and another 19% will step up if pushed. 

The Big Society works and further, it needs to keep working.  Horace and Edith have family and friends – loads of them.  However, due to recent family deaths and either the extreme youth or extreme age of the remaining people, they are effectively alone.  This, my friends, could be any of us.   You might think you have a strong support network around you but ask yourself – will that hold up?  Will it be there in 40 years?  50?  Will your children be on the same continent?  Will your friends be fit enough to help? 

The truth is that you just don’t know these things – you can’t know.  For many of us, we may never need to know – we may keep our network local and strong.  But for more of us than we might like to consider, the Big Society is what is going to keep us going – government directives or not.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Buns of Brixton

At last the sun is out and Brixton is booming - in more ways than one.  The only riots we're having now, thirty years on from the events of April 1981, is a riot of parties and picnics.

Brixton is a great place to live - ask anyone who actually lives here. I can't say anything about the riots, or about whether or not Brixton is a better place to live than it was back then - I'm a newcomer and I'm from entirely the wrong background to comment.  What I can say is that we would never live anywhere else in London.

The moment the sun comes out in Brixton it's as though the light is pouring out of the pavement.  Everywhere you go you hear music, people smile at each other.  Charlie and I went to a playground the other day that we don't normally get to; it's small and there was only a man and his son, a little older than Charlie, throwing snaps at each other and laughing at the bangs.  Charlie was transfixed, he tried to play on his own but it was too much fun and frankly, I felt the same.  We joined in, they gave us a box of our own and we spent a very happy 10 minutes talking about Brixton and throwing miniature explosives at the ground and cheering as they landed with a crack.

In that 10 minutes I learned a little more about Brixton, met someone new who also loves the place (and who has lived here 40 years and ought to know what he's on about) and walked away feeling, once again, that I am absolutely living in the right place, given that this is London and that actually I'd quite like to get out of the city one day.

Today, the park was mad with people, it was great.  There were two, count 'em, two ice-cream vans outside the gates, a circus across the way and the playground was packed.  The park was a counter-pane of picnic blankets and kites, dogs, footballs, boom-boxes and hot cross buns.

Today, the only riots were by 4-year-olds on the slide and the only explosions were 25p packets of fun snaps; perhaps not the most appropriate things for pre-schoolers to play with but frankly, in this day and age, the least of our worries.

Brixton, I bloody well love you.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The yearbook pic...

The yearbook pic... I don't think I had a single good one, although by the last year of school I had mastered at least the art of gentle makeup and hair and may even have found a decent photo angle, so it probably sucks less than the others... however pretty much every earlier one is absolutely rubbish.

My favourite is this one; my first ever, as far as I know.  Note the impossible hair, the gappy teeth and the askew school tie... and the slouch, ever the slouch...

Anyway, this is my entry for Tara Cain's 'Bloggers Yearbook' - although I suspect I may be quite a bit too late to actually get in.  I don't mind really, I'm quite keen to see everyone else's though.

What blows me away slightly about this is that this is me, aged about 2 years older than my own son is at the moment... which means that in a few years I'll be posting this up side-by-side to his one. Actually I'll be posting his next to one of my brother at the same age - scary.

Anyone fancy posting me a link to theirs?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Hoppity Hop

OK, clearly it's not Easter but I have to say I feel that it is looming, in much the same way Christmas looms once October spills out of bed and cracks open a withery eye on September's breakfast.  Already the dandelions are up in my lawn, winter must have gone.

I'm ambivalent about Easter.  One the one hand, the whole rolicking pagansism of new chicks, painted eggs and hares and the rebirth of light (combined, of course, with all the chocolate) makes me deeply happy.  On the other, this ancient and most awe-deserving of holidays has become just one more retail cash cow.

However, Easter, like All Hallow's Eve is, I think, powerful enough to overcome the crass consumerism that envelops some of our other old holidays like Christmas (Yule) , Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and all the other calendar-based excuses to spend needless money.  Oh yes, we are inundated by invitations to spend money on cheap tat at Halloween and Easter, but critically, the things that sell on these two festivals, really, are absolutely relevant to the ancient intent of the dates.

What this means in fact is that at Easter, the biggest selling things are all to do, pretty much, with joy and happiness - and chocolate. Egg decorating, chocolate bunnies, cheesy bonnets, baskets of sweets, egg hunts - I have no issue with Easter as a commercialised event; because with the exception of a few very serious types, we don't celebrate death at Easter, we celebrate new life; joy; happiness - we turn our noses up at winter and possibly dance around the odd field.  Or is that just the hares?

Anyway, all this preamble started off as an explanation as to why we accepted a PR invitation to go and see a screening 'Hop' the other week - because it looked like it was in the right spirit.  And you know what?  It was. Yes, the whole concept is as light and fluffy as the main character and one could fit  the whole cinema into some of the gaps in the plot; but hey, this is a children's film.  About Easter.  It has rabbits and chocolate in it - and the evil chick is not Angelina Jolie in a leather corset but something yellow and ridiculous with a beak.

The screening was sponsored by Lindt and there is seriously nothing like walking into a room and finding a man in an apron surrounded by chocolate rabbits to make everything OK but I would have loved this film anyway for what it is - a little bit of celebratory confectionary; a bit funny, a bit sweet, perfect.  It's not the world's greatest anything; but if you have kids, I'd be willing to bet that they'll like this film. Charlie and his mate Einstein, who is fairly discerning for 4, loved it.  Go see it.

And that's that.  Easter is coming, dig out the bonnets, dig up the garden, all that dies will be reborn.  Especially, if you look at my garden, the dandelions.

****This is a review, for which I received 4 tickets to the advance screening of Hop, along with not-inconsiderable amounts of chocolate bunnies and some fluffy bunny ears.  For Charlie, people...****