Notepad on Life

April 9, 2018

Organised crime, coming to a street near you

Filed under: crime,Family,Kids,Uncategorized — - @ 1:00 pm

road-man-lights-legs.jpgTwo weeks ago, it was a brick through their front window.

Tonight, it’s someone smashing the side-windows of their car.

There are several candidates as to the source of the grievance, but it’s not the time for us to press the point.

While he’s gone off in a futile bid to catch the culprit and introduce him to rough justice, I’m struck by her resigned calm as she shivers on the doorstep. This grievance has rumbled for a while; their shouts, audible through the wall, suggesting a family under pressure, and its ability to frighten her seems to have diminished through repetition.

More angry now, she detachedly takes us through the drill, as if discussing the cost of food at Tesco.

“He’ll have got someone to do it for him,” she explains, staring at the car. “It’s twenty quid to get someone to smash a window for you. Fifty if you want a kid beaten up…”

This shopping list dismays me almost as much as the sound of breaking glass. I don’t live in Sicily, or New York. I live in an English country town, yet even there the value of life is now apparently so cheap, all it takes to have a price on your head, is to be a child who’s narked someone.


September 9, 2017

Schools’ Big Lie – a letter to my niece

Filed under: Education,Family,Kids — - @ 10:13 am
Tags: , ,

Dear ……….,

I was delighted to learn of your successful GCSE results and I wanted to congratulate you and wish you all the best as you enter Sixth Form and the next phase of your education.

At the same time, though, I wanted to offer you some advice, because some of the things your mother told me about the way schools work these days and the pressure they place on young people, concerned me greatly.

Some pressure is always good, of course. It drives us on to succeed and so brings out the best in us. Too much pressure, however, is no good at all, and I found it very depressing to hear that no sooner have schools stopped pressuring their students over GCSEs than they start pressuring you over A-levels and university places.

It is important that we take time to stop briefly and savour our achievements in life, and the school summer holiday used to be the perfect opportunity for that. You would, hopefully, do well at your end-of-year exams and then have a clear six-week break in which to enjoy that achievement and rest, ahead of the next year’s challenges.

I understand from [my son] that things are different now. He tells me that in every summer holiday during his time at secondary school, he had homework to do in readiness for the following year. You will have heard of the expression ‘the rat race’ – it used to be something only adults had to worry about, but it seems that children are now expected to join in as well.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to this for you these next two years, but if it does, I want to offer a little advice to help keep your head above water.

Schools lie to us, I’m afraid. They mean well, but they do lie.

They will try and tell you that the next two years will shape your entire life, for example. This is not true – they may be influential but in the end, your destiny lies in your own hands. Read biographies of successful men and women and you may be amazed at how many of them left school with nothing, yet went on to do great things. You are already ahead of them.

Schools talk about guiding you into ‘good jobs’, but beware. Those ‘good jobs’ might come with fancy cars and big houses but they also often come with stress, 16-hour days and misery. Don’t drift into one of those ‘good jobs’ like I did; make it your mission these next two years to identify what you’re good at and what you’re interested in and see if you can spot a career where those two things meet. Like me, you may be in your thirties before you get there but the sooner you start figuring out where ‘there’ is, the better. And whatever your careers teacher might tell you, there are only two definitions of a good job – it pays your bills and you look forward to going to work in the morning. You find a job like that and it doesn’t matter what car you drive; you’re still one-up on 95 per cent of the British workforce.

Oh, and the idea that you must go to university to amount to anything – this may be their biggest lie yet. It’s an option, not a ‘must’.

Schools also act like the pressure they put you under is all for your benefit. This is only partly true. The better you do, the better they look and the safer their jobs are. That’s not to say you shouldn’t respect them but don’t buy into all their hype. Remember, you will shape your destiny; they will play only a small part in that.

None of this means you should just amble through the next two years, of course. Education remains a wonderful opportunity and it is one you should take with both hands. It isn’t failure that makes old people bitter; it’s the chances that they never took; opportunities that are gone forever. You don’t want to be that person when you’re old and grey, so work hard now. But work reasonably hard: preserve your leisure time and your health, for both are equally valid elements of a good life.

For all the talk of projected grades these next two years, I believe you have just one objective between now and the summer of 2019 – that you walk out of your final A-level examination knowing that you have given it and those before it your very best shot. If you can honestly say that, then you will cope with whatever the results may be.

In some respects, a good school does its job long before its students sit GCSEs or A-levels. It fires their imaginations, gets them engaged with the world around them and makes them unafraid of hard work. If you take those qualities into the outside world and keep hammering at Life’s door then it won’t really matter how many certificates you have in your pocket. Somewhere, that door will open.

With my love and very best wishes,

January 23, 2017

Child poverty not just a money thing

Filed under: Education,Family,Kids — - @ 9:26 am

Cropped from a pic by Steve Rhode

She works with disadvantaged children. The type so damaged by broken homes or dysfunctional parents that conventional education can’t cope with them; they need one-to-one lessons in handling life before they can even think about handling school.

She’s making inroads already with her latest charge. So immersed did he become in one of their recent days out together that he briefly forgot himself, as he pointed to something that had caught his eye.

“Look mummy…” he shouted.

The ultimate professional compliment, wrapped around a cry for help so searing, she said it cut her in two.

You can’t throw money at that kind of deprivation.

May 18, 2016

Etiquette of death rises scarily from the ashes

Filed under: death,Family — - @ 9:54 am
Tags: , , , ,

While it would be wrong to call it a good-news story, it is at least comforting to hear from my sister that, as and when the time comes, our mother’s funeral is all but paid for.

Turns out that there’s some sort of advance payment scheme – mortality’s version of the Christmas club – whereby the undertaker trades off the benefit of money up front against the risk of prices rising unforeseeably sharply between now and the dreaded day. It felt unseemly to press for the full details.

Had only the phone line itself gone dead at that point, but no, I then learn that the interment of Dad’s ashes at the local cemetery brought with it the right for family members’ ashes to join him there at a later date, so he and Mam will lie together. “And I’m going there too,” my sister adds.

So that will be the three of them together forever, while my ashes (if I can’t retire to Ireland, my remains will) frolic in the breeze along the Cliffs of Moher, a mere 500 miles away. My sister would probably regard this as symbolic.

I am desolate at the odd-one-out scenario, which has arrived out of the blue like an express train from the fog. It is a mixture of guilt and sadness, tinged with anger that I am only just addressing the issue now. Yet who thinks of this stuff when they are 20, 30 or 40? Who amongst men, at any rate? Just as we begin Christmas shopping on December 24th, so it is consistent that death’s niceties fall to be considered only when we find ourselves at the gateway to life’s final decade or so.

Burial of any kind would be out of the question, as it happens, my claustrophobia having been childishly invested with the same immortality as my yearning for Ireland, but the spectre of permanent separation still hovers, even if non-believers and believers alike would chide me for it. You’re dead, nothing matters, or you have moved onto a place where 500 miles is what’s known as a footstep. And how many miles separate some of those white crosses in French fields and the graves of those who loved what lies beneath? Does that distance diminish what they had?

As I often do, I try putting myself on the receiving end. Were my children to intimate that their final resting place of choice would be on the other side of the world from Co. Clare’s famous cliffs, would I be heartbroken? No, because it would take nothing away from what went before and I would also consider there to be a certain glamour to our global reach in death.

I will probably stick with the plan, but it’s not resting in as much peace as it has been. 

March 29, 2014

Remembering Dad. And his hay fever

Filed under: Family,Health,Nostalgia — - @ 10:17 am

It’s always nice to be reminded of your late father.

Not quite so nice when it’s courtesy of a plumber hawking phlegm like there’s no tomorrow.

Oh well, we must take our nostalgia where we find it.

March 27, 2014

It’s a cliche because it’s true, y’all

Filed under: Family,foreign,Travel — - @ 8:42 am
List of numbered highways in South Carolina

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two colleagues are chatting as I approach the coffee machine at work. Man 1 is relaying the itinerary of his approaching holiday to the USA.

MAN 1: “…and then we’re off to see some of her relatives in redneck country – South Carolina, where there will no doubt be many firearms on display…”

MAN 2: [Laughs, then suddenly stops] “You’re not joking, are you?”

MAN 1: “No: there’s a bunch of assault rifles they want me to see, apparently”

MAN 2: “Are you taking the kids?”

MAN 1: “Not to that, no.”



March 25, 2014

Wedding plans, rural-style…

Filed under: Family,Relationships,Women — - @ 9:00 am

She was sat across the aisle, discussing her impending marriage, on a Norfolk-bound bus out of Peterborough. In the way of so many in this mobile phone age, she seemed of the opinion that it’s still your private life if the only people over-hearing all about it are complete strangers…

“I don’t want Carl there, Matt. I’ve explained it to Nan; I don’t mind his family being there but I really don’t want Carl.

“It’s not fair on Kim, it’s not fair on the kids and I don’t want to have to spend the whole day waiting for him to thump somebody…”

“Invite him,” I wanted to blurt out.

And then invite me. Sounds like it could be a blast.

August 23, 2013

How many more times will you see your parents alive?

Filed under: Family,Health,Old People — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,

Focuses the mind, that question, doesn’t it?

Especially now that it can be empirically assessed.

I would say, ‘enjoy’, except I’m not sure it’s the right word.

August 19, 2013

God v Mammon – fight stopped round 3…

Filed under: Church,crime,Family,Kids — - @ 9:00 am

Not even a month into the school summer holidays and kids offended by claims that they don’t know what to do with themselves the minute you take their Xbox away, decide to prove that they do.


July 24, 2013

Old spice of new life

Filed under: Appearance,Family,Kids,Nostalgia — - @ 8:35 am
Tags: ,

Older Son heads out of the door for some beers with his friends.

He’s always been a bit retro but his sudden fondness for Old Spice cologne is startling even by his standards. But then, if you weren’t around in its heyday, can you actually be accused of being behind the times? Who can urge him to move on, when he was never there to start with?

I’m glad he doesn’t ask me how he smells, all the same. I’m not sure “Like 1976” would have gone down too well.


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