Fwengebola (just how proud am I to be one of his 'Blogroll Babes? Good question*.) has tagged me to come up with seven things I approve of. And it's taken me a little while to come up with a disconcertingly long reply, but here we go.
I started with some diffidence with the word ‘approve’. It suggests a lofty disengagement … then I realised that this is mere inverted pomposity and that I was being a bit of a twit. Not that I disapprove of twits of course – sometimes you don’t know you are making a fool of yourself until you already have.
I seem to have led myself towards this then, to start with - I approve of people who are not ashamed of themselves, who will open up and take risks. I don’t mean those who have no inhibitions at all, who seem to be on the road to self-destruction or who are uncaring about the effect they have, but to those who have a go and take it in good part if it doesn’t quite work out. I used not to know how to do this at all and wonder how anyone could put himself in such a vulnerable position, but when you try you'll find either that you can actually acquit yourself pretty well or else that it’s not that awful if you don’t do as well as you had wanted everyone to think you could. Sometimes it is awful actually – but even then … no, still better to have tried, I think.
Bloggers are pretty good at doing that in fact, and I obviously approve of blogging. It’s quite perturbing, if you let yourself think about it, how trustingly we tell each other extremely personal things (and few people are better at that than Fwengebola himself). It didn’t, at first, dawn on me that I might actually meet anyone via blogging and when I discovered that such things happened, I really didn’t want to. It seemed to be a very peculiar relationship, to meet someone about whom you might know quite intimate details, that you might not find out in years of friendship. Worse, they know similar confidences about me. But of course, as I discovered, it’s fine. It’s great in fact.
I approve of mutts and moggies. I don’t, of course, in the least disapprove of an animal with a fine pedigree, but it’s not really my thing. I like an element of chance – all my children look quite different from me and from each other, although there are family resemblances, some of them quite subtle ones (such as my left ear, which has been passed down the family – or rather its slight peculiarity has) – so why would I want a dog that is almost impossible to distinguish, not only from its siblings, but from every other black Labrador or cocker spaniel? Appearance isn’t everything of course, and there are advantages in knowing the likely temperament and characteristics about a pet, but on the other hand there are inbred defects in behaviour as well as in the health of pets. I’ve never bothered with pet health insurance for my mongrels, but – horribly expensive though it is – I’d think it a necessity for a pedigree dog.
I approve of teenagers. They are so endearing. I went to a year 9 (age 13-24) Parents’ Meeting at the high school last week, just so there was a governor there and was charmed by these youngsters. They vary so, yet they are all the same. Several were in agonies of anxiety in case their parents let them down by behaving embarrassingly. There was a parental survey I was handing out and one lad hissed ‘mum, you’re putting the same reply for every question’ - bless him, you can be embarrassed about anything if you're expecting to be. I was at school before Parents’ Meetings had been invented, fortunately. My parents and my school were better kept well apart and I never gave them any information about social or fundraising events, in case they actually turned up and found out anything about me.
Teenagers are so well turned out nowadays. They all brush their hair and wash. Some of them are rather alarmingly pierced, out of school, but the harder they try to appear hard, the younger they tend to look. I remember a few years ago – must have been, because it was before he was married – Al and I went to the cinema at the Rlverside in Norwich, where there are various nightclubs, a bowling alley, restaurants and the like. We hadn’t taken into account that it was a weekend and were very casually dressed, and we were abashed at all these dolled—up boys and girls. A group of them poured out of the car opposite us, and one young lass – she might have been sixteen, you really couldn’t tell – was wearing a little band of cloth as a skirt. It started on her hips and finished on her hips and she spent some while pulling it up and down, trying to preserve a little modesty above and below. So sweet. And there is such a brief age when you can get away with it too, without looking dreadful. While I hope she didn’t end the evening completely rat-arsed, and there are all too many who do, let ‘em have fun. It’s hardly skipping in the playground, but there’s not half enough fun around and far too many people looking on disapprovingly.
Of course, some kids are scarily feral and I worry about them and have no answers, but most of them are fabulous in their awkwardness and streetwise insecurities. They have had a lifetime already of being groomed constantly for exams – from the baseline assessment in their first term of school right through to NVQs, A levels or whatever they are best able to do – of knowing that they will spend years of their lives in debt if they want to go to university or buy a house, and are constantly told that they are taking worthless exams that, nevertheless, are completely essential if they are to get anywhere in life. I think they – and indeed the generation up, now in their thirties – have had a much tougher deal in life than I did. Children of the Sixties, my lot won the lottery of life, really. Of course, we squandered most of it, but that’s the way it is. You don’t know at the time and there’s not much you could have done about it anyway. We’re all been teenagers, unless some of you readers are rather younger than I think you are, and we’re all marvellous, let’s face it.
I approve of food that you prepare yourself. I enjoy eating out, and I even like the occasional takeaway, but I am increasingly coming to loathe the whole thing of what is marketed as home cooking. Cook-in sauces, ready-prepared meals, hidden rubbish ingredients, expensive e-numbers … I think they are a cheat and a health hazard. I can't buy 'em any more. I read the label and if there's anything I wouldn't put in myself, I don't buy it. Fresh ingredients, simply cooked taste a whole lot better, cost far less and are good for you.
People say they haven’t time to cook, but it’s not so, you know. I can rustle up a meal in twenty minutes from scratch and so can anyone. Only five minutes? Make an omelette, cut a wedge of cheese, put a potato in the microwave or cut a hunk of bread, chop a cucumber and a tomato, tear some basil onto it. No need to buy salad dressings – a splash of olive oil and a squeeze of lime, lemon or vinegar is fresher and tastier. There’s no mystique to it, although if cooking is a pleasure and a hobby, it can take enjoyable hours. But it doesn’t have to. And of course, if you spend an extra hour one day, you can make the basis of several meals and cover yourself for the rest of the week.
I approve of taking responsibility for yourself. Awfully tempting to blame someone else, or life, or the past, and we can spend years working out just why we have so many hang-ups, but by the time you get to my age, you have to accept the situation and make the best of it. No need to beat yourself up, every good reason to look at yourself with compassion, love, amusement, wincingly, but to forgive the mistakes you have made and keep making – but don’t just explain yourself, try to make some improvements too.
I approve of taking the present time as a pretty good one. I hope I don’t start to live in the past and say that everything is worse nowadays. Of course, it’s natural to look back with a rosy glow, but people have been saying that everything’s gone to the dogs since their day from time immemorial. I’m quite glad that, so far, I get more tolerant and good-humoured as time goes by.
I remember once reading out loud a passage to my mother from a Bill Bryson book. He had taken his children to some tourist attraction that he and his sister had adored when they were little, and he and they were quite underwhelmed. He pondered – there had been so little stimulation in his life as a child that anything different was wildly exciting, but for his children it was the opposite – they had so much to entertain and excite them that they tended to be blasé. He wondered which was better. I said there wasn’t an answer, was there? You could argue it equally both ways and be as wrong as you were right in either instance. My mother disagreed. Of course, it had been better before. But the point of the piece, I said, was that there wasn’t an answer. I know that’s what you’re saying, she replied, but it was better before. Because it was and that was that.
No it wasn’t. It was just different. And in a few years, we’ll be looking back nostalgically to now. From a place that, if only we could see it now, would look amazing and rather wonderful.
Having said all that, HDWK has also tagged me - and that meme encourages me to look back with nostalgia. I see no contradiction in that at all...
*Hugely, of course