I Hope You Dance

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about family, and specifically about how we create our own little dynasty. In our lifetimes, we are nurtured by parents who instil in us the basis of the values by which we live our lives. Sadly, for some, this process is unsuccessful, and I know that not everyone will feel as lucky as I do. Next Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’ll be celebrating the fact that the man who helped bring me into the world is still going strong at 90. I was born in the days when everything happened in black and white, but still have a few cherished photos from that time, like this one:

As you can probably tell, that was quite some time ago – I was born in September 1953, so that photo dates from Spring 1954. I grew up in a town badly affected by WW2, particularly in terms of bomb damage, and although we didn’t know it at the time the rebuilding of our town was taking place while we were on the brink of some major social and technological changes. My teens – the years during which we begin to understand the world a little better, during which we develop our own values and political sensibilities – were played out against the backdrop of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and all the changes they brought, not least in pop culture, but also with the growth of democracy, of people finding their voice. This was notable in student protests and demonstrations, which hadn’t happened previously on a large scale. It wasn’t as marked in the UK as elsewhere – for example, France in 1968, or the US in the anti-Vietnam War protests – but as I went through secondary school and university I like to think that my awareness of the changing world developed in me a sense of what is important in life, of the values that helped me to care about what kind of world we were creating for our children and for future generations.

As we become adults, we build relationships of our own and, if we are blessed, we help to continue our own dynastic line. I have two wonderful daughters, and would like to think that I played a little part in helping them become the people they are today. My ex-wife deserves the lion’s share of the credit for helping them become the caring, capable women they have turned out to be, but at least one of them appears to have inherited my socialist tendencies!

One of the overlooked results from a divorce – when you are the one to move out of the family home – is that you tend to leave behind the photo albums. I’ve been looking through the photos I do have, and can’t find any comparable with the one of me and my Dad. I did find a number of shots of my first born with me, like this one, probably taken when she was about 4:

The earliest I could find of her, which looks as though she was no older than 2 or 3, is this one:

I’m not sure if that look reflects guilt or pleasure. Maybe both!

And here’s one of her at 5, with her baby sister:

The reason for these reflections, and of thoughts about what the future holds for the people we love, is that this little girl has just had a baby of her own. I’m now grandfather to a beautiful granddaughter, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I could share many pictures with you, but I’ll spare you the overload! This is our new family member:

She has been born into a good family, with parents who adore her and will give her everything they can to build her life. I wonder what the future holds for her? The world in which we live is, in many ways, safer than the one I grew up in, but there are still many threats to our way of life. But it seems incongruous at such a joyous time to be thinking about that. Politicians, governments etc will continue to come and go, but the core of human life will always be there – and love, families, relationships are the essence of that.

What I hope for my lovely new granddaughter is that she will have the best life possible, and will create and take her own opportunities to make her mark in the world. The title for this piece is that of a song by Lee Ann Womack. It is about her own children, written not long after her second child was born. I’m the world’s worst dancer, but fortunately for me the metaphor is used here to mean that Lee Ann hopes her child will find and take opportunities in life – ‘I hope you never lose your sense of wonder……and when you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance’:

The adorable toddler in the video is probably around 20 now, and I wonder how her life has developed? Like her mum, I have hopes for my granddaughter’s future, but really these all boil down to one thing – that the little ones will be happy in whatever they do. Really, we can’t ask for any more than them taking their chance to dance, can we?

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For Mother’s Day

This coming Sunday, 11th March, is celebrated here in the UK as Mother’s Day. This day has longstanding religious tradition and history behind it, although you’d be forgiven for not noticing that nowadays. These traditions vary, depending on the religion. Here the day is actually recognised in the church calendar as Mothering Sunday, and falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Because Easter is early this year, this means that for the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Irish Republic and Nigeria, who use this date, Mother’s Day is also earlier than in some years. There are in fact 32 different dates around the world on which Mother’s Day is celebrated, the most commonly used of which is the second Sunday in May, which is the day in North and South America, and across large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The modern version was first celebrated in the USA in 1908, after a campaign by a lady called Anna Jarvis to have a designated day for mothers. Commercialisation began in the 1920s, when Hallmark began selling cards, and Jarvis was arrested for a public protest against this. But the date and nature of the celebration have since been widely adopted.

The commercialisation of the date means that it is ubiquitous. Apart from all of the advertising which uses the day as the basis for promotion – often in incredibly dubious and convoluted ways – there are TV programmes, articles in papers and magazines etc, which are very difficult to avoid unless you become a hermit. And in this modern technological age, I’d also need to stop checking my emails too. Some of the bombardment is unbelievable: I even had an email the other day from a clothing company which only sells men’s clothing, inviting me to purchase one of a choice of outfits to wear when celebrating with my mother, from the formal suit to go to the posh lunch to smart casual if cooking her a meal at home, complete with an apron!

Mother’s Day is a hard one for me. My Mum died nearly ten years ago, on 15th May 2008 and, whilst the immediacy of the feelings of loss is somewhat diminished by the passage of time, those feelings are still there. Many millions have lost their mother, and could do without the commercial juggernaut reminding us of what we have lost and what we could have otherwise been doing. It’s a difficult time of year. I find myself wishing that all of the companies stuffing this down my throat would roll up their promotional material very tightly and insert it where the sun doesn’t shine. And I’d bet I’m not alone in that. I shall be spending this Sunday in quiet reflection, remembering the person who brought me into this world and all that she did for me. I don’t need any marketing to tell me how to do that. I find myself agreeing with Anna Jarvis: this should be a day to celebrate our mothers, not to spend loads of money. Whilst the cards, flowers, chocolates and wine – especially the wine! – may be very welcome, do mothers really need this to know that they are appreciated? Wouldn’t telling them, face to face, be much better? And doing things for them, to show them that you care? Not just on Mother’s Day either: our mothers are very special people and deserve to know that our love for them is always there, with or without the giving of physical gifts on a particular day to make the statement for us.

If you’re going to be spending Mother’s Day with your Mum, I hope you – and she – have a fantastic day, full of the joy that families give us. And long may you be doing that: the happiness of days like Sunday will build into cherished memories. To repeat myself: Mums are special people, they deserve our love.

 

Mum, Dad, my sister, a cousin (top) and me, c.1960 I think.

International Day of Happiness

In case you hadn’t noticed and the festivities had passed you by, today is International Day of Happiness. I think we could be forgiven for not noticing this as the celebrations here in the UK appear to be non-existent. How could this be? This is a long-standing tradition that goes all the way back to, er, 2012, when it was first decreed by the United Nations. Here’s the relevant extract from their resolution, in case you don’t believe me:

The words are worthy, but I have a huge degree of difficulty in understanding how anyone can think that we can be told to be happy. It’s a bit like telling a depressed person to ‘get over it,’ it isn’t something that can be made to happen just because someone says so, or wants it to happen. Frankly, with all the evidence to the contrary, I think the UN is on a loser with this one and has many far more serious matters worthy of its attention. The world is in a mess, and decreeing a day to be happy is, frankly, ludicrous. Here in the UK we’re faced with the ramifications of the vote to leave the EU: the levels of xenophobia and racism that the campaign and its aftermath have stirred up; the uncertain financial and political future our country will face when we go it alone, led by a government that is clinging grimly to a mantra that everything will be wonderful when, in reality, they are as clueless as the rest of us; the possibility that not only will we leave the EU but will see the UK break up. Reasons to be cheerful? I think not.

Take a look at the wider world and the situation is no better. ISIS and other terrorists are implacable enemies of peace and harmony. There are ‘populist’ movements throughout Europe making electoral gains. And the largest ‘populist’ vote of them all was the one that bought the lies of a conman only interested in feathering his own nest but has somehow persuaded a minority vote to get him elected President of the US, due to their crazy Electoral College system. But, to be fair, he does seem to be doing his bit to contribute to Happiness Day: we Brits are still laughing helplessly at his assertion that GCHQ was somehow involved in the plot he imagines Obama started to bug his offices. Trumpgate; the comedy gift that keeps on giving.

I could go on at length about this, but that is not the aim of this post and many, far better informed, commentators than I exist to do this. My point today is to pick up on the apparent stupidity of designating a day to be one on which governments worldwide can do something to highlight and improve an emotional construct. Try telling that to the many refugees around the world, or those who are discriminated against for reasons of religion, ethnicity or colour – and by this I don’t mean those who happen to be orange. The phrase ‘pissing in the wind’ comes to mind.

I’ve painted a deliberately negative picture, and no doubt there are loads of activities and initiatives being taken today in the name of happiness. One such example is this piece from today’s Metro newspaper. There’s nothing new here, but advice on how to improve your mental health can never be repeated too much. To me, that is exactly what encouraging people to be happy is all about. There is allegedly a website for the day – happinessday.org – and I was going to give you a link to it. But I’ve tried it in four different browsers and it doesn’t load – maybe it’s crashed under the weight of interest?

But whatever is being done today in the name of happiness, I wonder how much of it has any long-term sustainable benefit. Maybe it’s just me being an old curmudgeon but I suspect that all the worthy efforts that may be being made will soon be forgotten, and that is really sad. Governments, those with the power and money, should be doing much more to help us all be happier. But vested interests tend to get in the way, and the rich continue to get richer at the expense of the less privileged. It will take a lot more than a token day to change that for the better.

One of the things in life that makes me happy is music. So, not wanting this to be an entirely negative post, I leave you with three minutes of musical happiness:

Try telling me you aren’t happier after watching that than you were before! Have a good day, and be happy – remember, it’s mandatory 😊