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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It’s STILL A Hard Life

Two years ago today I posted a piece which laid out my fears for the way our world was going. This specifically referenced the campaign which was then in full flow towards the UK referendum on membership of the European Union (EU), which took place on 23 June 2016, and the US presidential campaigning, which at that point looked very likely to endorse Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, as indeed happened. Thankfully, election campaigns here only last a month or so, unlike the many months the Americans have to endure – but there’s no guarantee that either of us will come out with a good result, regardless of how long it takes us to get there.

Reading this post again, I was struck by how my worst fears were now coming true. Our referendum became a mass vote of lemmings throwing the country off a cliff, and with only ten months or so until we are due to leave the EU we are nowhere near a conclusion to negotiations or to any coherent vision of the future direction our country will take. Our government has veered ever further to the right, going for what it calls a ‘Hard Brexit’ – in other words, a total split from the EU – with no apparent thought about what the outcomes of this will be. Racists have been empowered by the referendum result and xenophobia is the norm for many. And as for the election of Trump, with all that has brought about, I could go on at length! Here is the post, exactly as I wrote it at the time. I’ll return at the end for a final comment, or several:

“Some weeks ago, when I posted in response to the terrorist bombings in Brussels, I titled my piece after what I had always known, until then, as a Nanci Griffith song, although it was actually written by Julie Gold  – From A Distance. I had been listening to music as I often do, as a lot of truth is spoken in song lyrics and the words of that song resonated with me. One of her own songs also came to mind, and it was a bit of a toss up which one I used to illustrate my post. I chose that one as it made my point for me, and the other song has a wider meaning which I thought I might revisit as a companion piece. Having been kept away from here by illness it has taken me longer than I intended to do this, but this is the other song I had in mind:

Nanci Griffith was born four months before me so, although we have grown up in different countries we have to a degree shared our experience of the world and all its changes. In the song she references growing up in the 60s which, when we look back now, was a tumultuous decade, which in many ways has shaped our lives now: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War in Europe, student demonstrations, and the massive changes in popular culture. But what have we we learned from all of this? The song’s chorus goes:

‘It’s a hard life, it’s a hard life, it’s a very hard life,

It’s a hard life wherever you go,

But if we poison our children with hatred

then a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

Look around you. What does the news tell us? Have we learnt the lessons of recent history? That song was released in the late 80s, but more than 25 years later it seems to me that we continue to poison our children with hatred. The obvious example of this is Donald Trump, who now looks very likely to be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. Despite his recent appointment of some spin doctors it is difficult to forget some of the rhetoric he has used during his campaign, and the way that it has demonstrated a position built on racism, bigotry and hatred. As I have said several times before, I fear for the world if he should become President, and hope that doesn’t happen.

But the issue I want to draw to your attention is far greater than just one man, however odious he may be. Next month, we in the UK will be voting in a referendum to decide whether we remain a member of the European Union. In recent years the main (only) political party of any note to espouse this cause has been the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which, by the actions of its members and its beer swilling, chain smoking leader, has largely come across as a bunch of racist buffoons. But here we are, in the midst of a campaign which seems to become nastier by the day, and in which much of the language used seems to be based on bigotry and hatred, of Little Englander perspectives. And we have always had our far right parties, going back to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, via the National Front and British National Party in  more recent times. Another current incarnation is Britain First, which was started by someone who was thrown out of the BNP for being too extreme (!) and which makes UKIP look like a credible political organisation.

And this isn’t confined to the UK, either. All over Europe there are similar political parties and movements. France has long had the Le Pen family leading the Front Nationale. Italy has the Northern League, which is anti-immigration. Germany has the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which began life as an economic movement but has jumped on the racist angle and is getting huge increases in public support as a result. Similar groupings exist in Spain and Austria, amongst others. Flip the coin and you have ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Then there was Al Qaeda. And in North Africa there is the Boko Haram group, amongst others. Everywhere you look you see organisations based on hatred, and the worrying thing is that they are generating huge amounts of support.

What are we doing to ourselves? Not content with destroying the planet, we appear to be trying to solve that problem by destroying ourselves from within first. In the song, Nanci Griffith references the KKK and the racial hatred for which it stands. Her song was inspired by a taxi trip around Belfast, which at that time was still a city divided by religious and political terrorism. Towards the end she mentions that she ‘can’t drive on the left side of the road.’ For the uninitiated, we in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road, although most of the world does it the other way. Her choice of metaphor is very apt: it is about time that we all started to learn to drive on the other side of the road. We have poisoned our children with hatred for far too long.”

And back to today:

Sadly, Nanci Griffiths’ words are possibly even more pertinent now. The song and video were released in 1989, and still bring a tear to my eye. The video was made in Northern Ireland, which at that time was still subject to terrorist atrocities. Those have largely ceased now, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Yet we don’t seem to be learning from history, do we: the UK government appears totally clueless about how to solve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and there is, I think, a potential danger that the peace could unravel. This hasn’t been helped by the electoral battering the Conservatives took last year, when hubris and arrogance cost them their overall majority in Parliament, leaving them dependent on a bribed fix with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Never has the word ‘democratic’ been more misused.

In the US, Trump duly won his way to the Presidency, and appears to be engaged on taking America back to the 1930s, with protectionist policies that ignore the progress that has been made, in social, cultural  and technological terms, since the end of WW2. I described Trump in my previous piece as ‘odious’ and I stand by that. Every day it seems we get yet another example of his, and his government’s ignorance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, hypocrisy and xenophobia. Today’s news contains reports of his speech yesterday at the NRA convention, in which he mocked London and Paris for their lack of guns. Seriously, Mr President? You need to take a much closer look at your own country, and not pander to the money of the organisation responsible for making the machines that kill people. I said in the original piece that I feared for the world if he became President, and I still do. It may be cynical, but I do wonder if he isn’t being played by North Korea, who recognise his naivety and egotism. I hope I’ll be proved wrong, but I’m not convinced that this apparent ‘peace process’ will end well. And as for Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – the man is a coward and a bully, and would demean the honour.

It would be easy to abandon hope, and I’ll admit to being worried about the world we are bequeathing to future generations. But therein lies the real hope for the future. Nanci Griffiths’ video focuses on children: as she says, we need to stop poisoning them with hatred, and allow them to shape a future world which is based on human values like love and compassion. In the US, the National School Walkout campaign – a direct response to the Parklands atrocity, which took 17 lives – demonstrates vividly the lack of moral courage on the part of political leaders to do something which is long overdue. These young people are our future leaders, and it is to be hoped that they succeed where others have failed. If they don’t, then

‘a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

A Man Blogs, Aged 64 and a Half

If you look closely towards the bottom of the sidebar on my blog you’ll see a badge for something called ‘Post 40 Bloggers.’ Click on this and it will take you to their site, where you will find a range of posts by people over the age of 40.

A taste of the excellent Post 40 Bloggers site.

They have kindly featured a couple of my posts before, which is why I wear their badge of honour, but in recent weeks they have promoted a number of posts that have got me thinking about whether I should be doing this. I’ve been wondering if there is, in their writers’ eyes, some kind of upper age limit beyond which blogging becomes inappropriate, like an onscreen version of dad dancing. Oh, and it appears that being male is apparently a disadvantage too, as for some reason their featured writers have, by and large, somehow omitted to notice our existence. It’s time to redress the balance, I think!

Some might say that age is irrelevant, but if that is the case why mention it or write about it, as quite a few have been doing? My age is part of me and who I am, it gives me life experiences not available to younger people. Of course, I understand that ageism is still very prevalent in many industries, and I know that I have the luxury of being protected from this, now that I have retired. But, without that burden, I don’t keep my age a secret or shy away from mentioning it, when it suits me to do so – like now! We can still write when we are older, we don’t lose the ability to communicate just because we are in our 60s, not our 40s: fortunately for the likes of me, I don’t have to contend with anyone telling me I’m too old to do the job, or to fit in with the younger cool kids, and I know that makes me very lucky.

And men can blog too – there is no natural monopoly on subject matter. Of course there will be some subjects that will appeal more to one gender than another, but that doesn’t mean we can’t read them if we choose to do so: for me, the quality of the writing is of equal importance to the subject matter, so why should I worry if it isn’t ‘meant for me?’ Maybe I should start writing about football and cricket – there could be a whole new market for me in Australia on creative uses of sandpaper! But just by saying that makes me think there could be a post in there somewhere about how we develop our sporting loyalties and what they mean to us. Is that a topic which would appeal more to men than women? Is it being sexist to think or say that? You might think that – but I don’t. It is just my response to the sexism – in the sense that they believe only they can do it – that seems to be implicit in several of Post 40 Bloggers’ featured writers. And I have many female friends who have an interest in sports, so I am well aware that this is a subject of wide interest – no need to pick me up on that!

But maybe I’m just weeing in the wind? Maybe blogging really is a female-led world? If you google something like ‘older bloggers’ this is what you get: mostly female, mostly beauty and fashion:

This is just the first screen: scrolling down gives you much more of the same.

To be honest, I found that to be a pretty dispiriting exercise. It did leave me wondering if this blogging lark really wasn’t something I should be doing. But then I thought ‘sod it, it’s my time I’m spending on it and people can choose whether or not to read what I write.’ So here I am, back after my most recent little hiatus.

For the past couple of years I have been an occasional contributor to the Senior Salon, which was set up by Bernadette and recently taken over by Esmé. Each week, bloggers choose to contribute posts and I have found many blogging ‘friends’ this way. Yes, the balance is largely towards female writers, but there are a number of regular male contributors too (I use the word ‘regular’ in relation to their blogging habits, not because we oldies are obsessed about our bodily functions – just to be clear!). But I follow many other blogs too, written by people of a range of ages and on a plethora of topics. The age and gender of the writer are irrelevant to me: it’s what they have to say which is of interest. Of course, their writing will reflect their life experiences, but why should I feel odd if I choose to read them, simply because I’m older or younger, male not female? Actually, I don’t – if you have a problem with this then I think you need to take a look at yourself and why you blog. Be honest with yourself, it might just surprise you.

Is reaching the grand old age of 40 some kind of barrier? Is it a milestone, beyond which everything changes? Judging by some of the posts I’ve seen, some in their 40s appear to think their lives are in a downward spiral. But even we poor disadvantaged males have a life expectancy in the UK of double that – people, your race is barely halfway run, and you have much to look forward to. Maybe we need a Post 60 Bloggers website? Or Post 70, or any other age you care to choose? Age shouldn’t be used in a divisive way – ‘I’m not that age so that can’t be for me’ – but people put others into pigeon holes. It’s a form of prejudice, of discrimination – don’t be ageist, please!

We’re all different and have our own uniqueness – I don’t want to be categorised as part of a ‘target market.’ I choose what I want to read, not what I’m told I should read. I would prefer people to read my posts because they enjoy them, find them interesting, believe them to be a good use of their time, and that is how I approach the blogs I read. People seem to be taking this a bit too seriously and are losing sight of the enjoyment we can feel from reading or producing a well-written piece. Surely, the pleasure we can derive is reason enough to be involved in blogging, without any other need for justification? Simply by putting something out there we are offering an insight into our selves – my blog is me, like it or lump it. I don’t mind what your age or gender are, you’re very welcome here, and I hope you feel that it was worth your time and effort. In saying this, I recognise that there are many reasons why people blog, one of these being commercial: I did originally have some comments here about monetising a blog, but they felt out of place. Maybe another time…..

Nor should blogging make you feel under pressure. Some feel they have to post every day, or every week. That may be fine for them but it isn’t my way. If I don’t have something to say, or don’t feel like writing, why should I put myself under pressure to do it? Believe it or not, but I set myself quality standards for what I post, and creating a schedule is the best way I know of reducing the quality of my output. I took part in National Blog Posting Month twice, and the range and content of what I posted was, to my eyes, all over the place. Again, that may work for some but it isn’t for me: reading some of the posts I’ve seen recently makes me think I should somehow be feeling guilty for being male, older, irregular in my posts. I don’t. And I won’t ever apologise for that.

Maybe there are far fewer male than female bloggers, and maybe older bloggers like me are very much in a minority. But if we choose to be here, what we have to say is just as valid to us as anything said by others with different demographics. Don’t lose sight of that, or of us. Who knows, you may even find something to like about us 😉