When I were young...

>> Thursday, 29 November 2007

What's going on? 4 blogs in a week? Either I'm having an outburst of creativity, or Husband is travelling and the tv is rubbish.

It's the latter, obviously. And as a result, I am so knackered by dealing with my beloved Boys 100% solo that the chances of my writing anything in the least creative are as likely as my waking up and finding that I fit into my wedding dress again after all these years. (Not that I've tried, you understand. Borderline loopy, perhaps, but insane? Not yet...)

So, because I once more have very little to blog about, here's a retrospective glimpse of my picture-book childhood...(mainly at the request of Omega Mum on 3 Kids No Job - for which name, by the way, she should be sued under the trade descriptions act...)

My Dad used to joke in a Monty Python styley that he 'were born in a paper bag and had to lick 't road clean for breakfast'. This was not true, but he certainly wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and everything he (and consequently, we) had was mainly as a result of his hard work. (There was also some input from my mother - but that's a post for another time, when Husband is travelling and the tv is rubbish...Next week, probably). Dad's is not a rags to riches to story, but one of a man who made it to the upper levels of corporate management by being dependable, good at his job (marketing - oh, the acorn didn't fall far from the tree with me), and probably one of the most honest men you would ever hope to meet. Who always knew how to do The Right Thing.

So, by the time he was 35 years old, with a wife, 3 children, a good job, and a 5 bedroom house in a pretty Cotswold town to his name, he was very much aware that those children were not necessarily experiencing life in the raw. My sister, brother, and I were living a life of pampered priviledge he could not have imagined growing up in post-war Formby (if you want Grim, there's no place like 't 1950's North), and clearly, he decided that it was time for us (well, my sister and I - my brother was only a baby) to experience a bit more Cold Harsh Reality. (I'm using the capitals because that is how it seemed to us at the time).

But this posed a problem. How to do it?

My sister and I were both at a Catholic Primary school 10 miles from home and ferried to and from there each day in the back of my mum's Mini Clubman Estate. On the way, she would pick up 2 kids from a friend's house, and she, the 4 of us, and my baby brother would rattle around Cleeve Hill to Cheltenham at speeds that occassionally topped 35 mph when we were going down-hill with a following wind. Things got pretty hairy at times, I can tell you. Especially since my sister, K, (btw - am not calling her that for the sake of anonymity - we just call her that), and her counterpart from the other family were usually sitting in the boot. Have you seen a mini-clubman? Not the new, swanky version, but the 1970's tin can version? Let's just say that kids these days don't know they're born. Not for us the poncy rules about seatbelts in the back... In fact, I'm not even sure there were seatbelts in the back.

But I digress.

Stage 1 of Dad's Reality Check came in the form of making us take the bus to school. Not as simple as it sounds, since there was actually no bus to school. Instead, we had to take the normal bus to Cheltenham and walk the last 10 minutes. Can you imagine asking your 10 year old daughter to do that today, and at the same time take responsibility for her 8 year sister? You can? Hmmm. Social Services may be knocking on your door sooner than you think... But in any case, Dad's plan misfired. Whilst it may have been rather a shock for poor little K and I to drag ourselves unwillingly up the lane to catch the bus, there was a limit to how raw the exploits on the Castleways service from Greet to Cheltenham were going to get, especially when the bus drivers were the same every day, knew us by name, and were likely to report any misdoings directly to our parents. Frankly, we were more cossetted on that bus than we had been in the mini-clubman. And we had more space...

We still didn't know how lucky we were, in Dad's considered opinion.

So then Dad came up with Reality Check Stage 2.

Only 2 minutes walk from our house, at the top of the lane, was a set of almshouses. For those of you who have never come across these, they were essentially bedsits provided by a 'generous benefactor' for the poor elderly of our small town when they were down on their luck or had nowhere else left to go. Nowadays this is known as sheltered housing, and the view over the fields to the hills beyond would make each of these bedsits worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Back then they were the point of no return for most of their occupants. Not that you would have known it; they all took care of themselves as best they could, had daily visits from Meals on Wheels, and tended their pots on the balconies. Those of them who were able even had a little allotment out front. Frankly, these people were lucky when they considered the alternative, and they knew it.

But aged 10 and 8, you don't see the bigger picture like that. Which is why Dad hatched his cunning plan.

Every Saturday morning, crucially before pocket money was handed out, K and I were tasked with walking up the lane and knocking on each of the 14 or so doors and asking if there was anything we could to help the occupant within. No matter how smelly. Or toothless. Or gaga. And we weren't allowed to come home and claim our pocket money until we'd done it. Our Dad was capable of checking, and we knew it.

So every Saturday morning, oozing resentment and fury, we would drag ourselves up the lane, kicking stones around, and desperately hoping for most of the occupants to be out / asleep / at the doctor's / in hospital / on the loo when we knocked at their doors. Usually we got lucky around 50% of the time. And at another 25%, they didn't need us or, even want to talk to us. But in the remaining flats... I learnt - and have since forgotten - more about budgies & their habits than most people pick up in a life time (Did you know they like chickweed? Can't believe I still remember that...). Had an overdose of butterscotch sweets - I still don't really like them... Heard - and shockingly forgot - more about World War 2 than you could pick up in a month of watching the black & white war films that showed interminably on Saturday afternoons on BBC2 before the sports results, back when there were only 3 channels.

Of course, none of these old people really needed K and I to do anything for them. Their lives fitted into one room smaller than most of our sitting rooms these days; what could an 8 and a 10 year old provide? Now and then, one of them would ask us to fetch them a newspaper or a pint of milk, but that was pretty much it. They even tried to get us to keep the change (and remember, this is when 7p would buy you a Mars bar, so it was temptation indeed), which I hope we never did, but can't be sure.

However, I look back, and realise that Dad played a master-stroke here. I think we did this for about 18 months, before I began to plead too much homework after I started secondary school, and not only did this brief period in time give us a slightly better understanding of what it might be like to grow old (mainly you became smelly, I seem to remember my sister and I deciding, with the wisdom of two children who lived in a house with two bathrooms and a cloakroom), but also - and most importantly - how bloody lucky we were.

Now, how the hell, in this day and age, am I going to manage to educate my kids in that?


Potty Mummy 30 November 2007 at 15:14  

BTW - hope you like the larger text...

Mya 30 November 2007 at 22:28  

You paint a familiar picture. Our parents were always making us visit the old people's homes, to sing songs with them. But of course, we didn't know any of the words to Vera Lynne etc. I remember it as excrutiating - I'm not sure what I learned from it - except that I didn't much want to get old.

Mya x

Iota 30 November 2007 at 23:24  

My kids have just participated in "stuff the bus" - which involved donating items to local charities (I assume a bus came to the school to collect it all). Good idea, I thought. Until I found out that 100% participation meant that the class got a popcorn party. Not only did I think "poor kid, the one who forgot, and who ruined it for all the others, that's the quickest way to instigate bullying that I've ever seen", but I also have an uneasiness about children being bribed so blatantly to give to those less fortunate - and actually, I dont' think it's necessary, as most kids are more warm-hearted and anxious to help than adults.

Of course this is America, so I suppose they are training them to be the kind of benefactors who like to see their name (complete with middle initial) above the door of whatever institution they have helped. Not wrong, just different and all that, but I don't imagine your Dad would have thought much of it, Potty Mummy.

Iota 1 December 2007 at 01:15  

Forgot to say, I like the new type face.

Potty Mummy 1 December 2007 at 11:05  

Hi Mya, you had to do singing as well? Now that would have been a bridge (dental, of course) too far... And I still don't want to get old. (Must go as I have grey hair pulling out session over-due...)

Iota, it's much easier to read, I should have done it ages ago. No, Dad probably wouldn't think much of that, but you know as I get older? Whatever works... As long as they do it, right? (But the bullying is also a good point - especially since it would probably be the mum who forgot, rather than the kid!)

Omega Mum 4 December 2007 at 19:15  

I really, really enjoyed this. Thanks so much for doing it. What a riveting read. And it worked, didn't it? As to ideas for making your own children appreciate their lives, I just wouldn't worry. Obesity, global warming and the crash in the sub-prime mortgage market should answer a treat.

The Rotten Correspondent 5 December 2007 at 16:35  

I'm catching up and I'm late, but I love this post.

You paint such a vivid picture of it all. To answer your question I have no idea how to recreate this with our own children. I wish I did. It's something I think about a lot.

Potty Mummy 5 December 2007 at 20:05  

Thanks for the kind words, RC - I thought I rambled on a bit, but there you go. No suggestions then on the way to go with the next generation... Oh well - I guess I'll just have to get them visiting old people's homes and taking their rubbish out. As if... Boy #1 talks back now - heaven only knows what he's going to be like when he reaches his teens!

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