Category Archives: Parenthood

#UKIP Myth: Toy Story

When Leo sits down with his Toy Story jigsaw puzzles a cold hand grips my heart. Sunday evening, I want to feel cosy, and he brings out those garish, creepy figures.

But there’s no escape. ‘Come, Mummy,’ says my two and a half year old, extending the beckoning hand that can’t be refused.

toy story jigsaw

Added to the first horror of sorting out four jisaws that have been jumbled together, I then have to pore over every limb of these gruesome zombie like objects: the corpse with the drooping eyelid (Leo calls it ‘baby’); the giant locust crossed with the Incredible Hulk (Leo calls it ‘green man with yellow pants’); the sickly pink fluffy monster (‘teddy bear’ to Leo), the leathery octopus, the eight-eyed monster…. I want to hide these four jigsaws (once we start we have to do them all) in a cupboard, but his favourite babysitter gave them to him for Christmas, so it wouldn’t be diplomatic.

I wonder if this is how Ukippers feel about the European Union: weird alien creatures they don’t want to understand. And I sympathise.

But I have to learn from Leo who assumes that everything around him is animate, and in some way connected to the world he already knows, and so he can relate to anything. The doll is a baby, the eight-eyed monster is a different kind of frog.

Maybe even Farage is just a different kind of frog.

Maybe we can relate to the Other without losing ourselves.

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Christmas Rape

Thomas Nast added the North Pole and the elves’ workshop to Father Christmas lore

Boxing Day 2015, Blairgowrie.

This morning we were in Grandad’s bathroom doing nappy change. ‘Mummy,’ says Leo, ‘Why did you pack a stocking?’ ‘So you could put it out and Father Christmas could put presents in.’ ‘I don’t want presents! I don’t want Father Christmas to give me presents!’ The tears rolled over the bright red cheeks. He had been okay about it yesterday, but now he was blotchy and shaking.

It’s true that his bah-humbug mum had filled his stocking entirely with oddments purchased at closing time on Christmas Eve in the charity shops of Blairgowrie (Raspberry Capital of Scotland). But I don’t think it was just about the quality of the gifts. Leo had been interested enough in the plastic fish holding an anchor in its fins and the miniature elephant asleep in a box. Knowing my son, I think it was about self-determination: I hadn’t properly asked him if he wanted to hang up a stocking, we had just done it, and he’d gone along with it without knowing what it was about. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said now. ‘You don’t want presents from Father Christmas, I’m sorry.’

And I know the feeling. There’s a heck of a lot of Christmas that I don’t want and did anybody ask me? Did anyone ask me if I wanted my head buzzing with Frank Sinatra’s  tinkety-tonk from end Nov to 24th Dec everywhere I go? Did anyone ask me if I wanted to intone ‘While shepherds watched…’ or eat brussels sprouts? Did anyone ask me if I wanted that egg cup, that biography, that scarf? Did anyone ask me? And there’s my honourable Scrooge Within who doesn’t enjoy blowing a month’s child tax credit in a week…

I miss my Dad. He brought a rich, velvety gloom to every part of Christmas, sombre tones between the tinsel. The Christmas cards would start to arrive: ‘Oh God! They had us to dinner five years ago and we still haven’t had them back. It’s awful!’ As the card season wore on, ‘We haven’t sent them one.’ Sigh. ‘Too late now!’

He would fry his nerves doing all his shopping on Christmas Eve and then deliberately exhaust himself by not starting present wrapping till gone ten o’clock. By that time we would have had the family row, the only part of Christmas he joined in with a passion. On Christmas Day, if he could find no other excuse for misery, Dad would develop toothache, at its worst the year we stayed with a friend in the country and there were no painkillers for miles.

Sometimes when you lose someone you love you would be willing to have any piece of them back. If the only Dad I got was the toothache spectre in the corner, I would opt for that. But it’s not just that I want him back, I also need that uninhibited party-pooper. By the time the 27th came, and we were preparing for yet another set of family friends or lonely hearts to eat turkey risotto or cold ham, my Dad would burst out: ‘I would like some peace!’

In this time when foreign policy is not going my way I find myself wondering if there could be some link between my Dad’s ‘peace’ and the pipe dream of world peace. What if we just did less? What if we gave up that positive idea that ‘there is always a solution’. What if we chose to endure adversity with the same bitter gloom that my Dad used for Christmas? What if that turned out to be the less harmful option?

Here in Blairgowrie, like everywhere, we’ve had the Strictly Christmas Special, the World at War, an Andre Rieu concert and a black and white Christmas Carol. Today, St Stephen’s Day, when we could be meditating on the poor saint getting smashed to death by stoning, we have done the Perth panto, with puns, dames and local lyrics to well-known numbers. It’s like we’re trying desperately to distract ourselves from some unpleasant truth. What is it? Winter? The sure knowledge that we will have flu in February (with and without the jab)? Or war? – that as we sit at our family tables our taxes are paying to blow other similar families to bits, physically and psychologically? But the chin-up grinning goes back a lot further even than this ‘War on Terror’ that we’ve been befuddled into staying in for fifteen years.

My theory is that the Christmas story is even scarier than the Crucifixion. Maybe we can just about get our head around someone, finding himself in a hairy situation, threatened with death, deciding to Tell the Truth, let go of control and take what comes. Sometimes people do have these moments of courage. But to be a god, who could stay up on a cloud twiddling a harp, and deliberately choose to get down here – knowing how it’s likely to end – that is too scary. And not believing in God doesn’t really protect from the story. The point is that, if there were a god, we think he might do that.

We think he might do that – suggests there’s a part of us that’s choosing to be here – not just the one in Denial, and the Lizard Brain with its survival reflexes, some other bit that actually chooses this.

Why on earth?

Popular Myth 3: You’re all the Same!

Wouldn’t that be nice? Responsibility off our shoulders. Sit back and relax. The Parties are all the same.

The Camel-Coated One by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England

The Camel-Coated One by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England

Here’s a quick quiz:

Which party thinks the Environment is the most important issue?

Which party is committed to protecting private wealth?

Which party is strongly in favour of public spending and state intervention?

Which party wants us out of the EU?

Which party puts Liberal values and Democracy first?

Wasn’t hard, was it! The hard thing is resolving those conflicts inside ourselves.

Katie Barron tries to canvass a particularly self-righteous suburban mum on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Here is one side of the conversation….

http://liberalengland.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/guest-post-youre-all-same.html

The Mother by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land

The Mother by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land

http://liberalengland.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/guest-post-youre-all-same.html

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, tales of the canvassing trail, is available as an ebook and paperback through Amazon and in Waterstones St Albans. Yours for £2. For a laugh, click here! http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

#UKIP Myth 2: #Race

Leo is two and eight months and still hasn’t noticed skin colour. He knows his colours, and he’s got no qualms about making personal comments, remarking loudly on beards, moustaches, moles, hats, shoes and walking sticks. Very occasionally he talks about hair colour. ‘I’ve got brown hair. Mummy’s got brown hair. Daddy’s got…. grey hair!’

On Saturday we were coming back from the big Quaker meeting in Friends House in London and Albert pulled up in his car to talk to us. Albert is from Trinidad. After the chat, Leo asked me, ‘He’s a boy?’ ‘Yes, he’s a boy. He’s a man.’ ‘He got a willy?’ ‘Yes.’ With that cleared up, Leo went back to talking about trains.

The Racist Animal Lover by Asbjorn Gundersen

The Racist Animal Lover by Asbjorn Gundersen

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, by Katie Barron and Asbjorn Gundersen, is available as an ebook and paperback through Amazon and in Waterstones St Albans. Yours for £2. For a laugh, click here! http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

#UKIP Myth 1: #Common Sense

Our dear old local UKIP candidate John Stocker is still talking about Common Sense with every breath, just as he was in 2010.

The Gentleman Businessman

‘The Gentleman Businessman’ by Asbjorn Gundersen in Adventures in Tory Land http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

I have to admit I use it myself quite a lot, usually snootily (shame) about parents who ‘have no common sense’. Why don’t they use some common sense? etc.

But I mean something different from John Stocker. I mean, ‘It didn’t work last time so why are they doing it again?’ ‘So and so NEVER does X, so why do they keep banking on their kid doing something he/she never does actually do?’

Yes I know I’m being obnoxious but at least I’m rational. When I talk about common sense, I’m talking about using past evidence as a guide to one’s plans, one’s ‘policies’. I’m asking for evidence-based policy.

But Stocker means something else. Common sense for Stocker means taking his daily life as a paradigm, and assuming that his personal experiences in his life will be a good guide for an entire nation’s policies. This is not evidence-based, because he doesn’t present evidence that a nation is the same as a household – the same as his household.

Nations are more complicated than households – which are complicated enough! I want policies based on what nations and governments have done and experienced, not on what J Stocker has done, even though I know he has lived an interesting and varied life. So I’m afraid there have to be some experts in there, such as economists, preferably arguing with each other, and public health researchers, dare I say it a sociologist or two….

Thomas Paine's pamphlet 'Common Sense' 1775 advocating American independence

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ 1775 advocating American independence

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, tales of the canvassing trail, is available as an ebook and paperback through Amazon and in Waterstones St Albans. Yours for £2. For a laugh, click here! http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

Leo and #Justice

Leo has been asking me ALL DAY, ‘Why does Mr King hava go to jail?’

‘Because he took some money’ is not enough of a reason for Leo.

And because I’m a Liberal parent, I’m just not gonna say ‘because he is a BAD MAN’. I’m not going to say it, although it might reassure Leo.

So why does Mr King, the smuggler in Graham Greene’s The Little Steamroller, have to go to jail?

Is it because he was grumpy?

Mr King is grumpy (Ardizzone)

Mr King is grumpy (Ardizzone, from The Little Steamroller, by Graham Greene, 1974)

Is it because he lied?

Mr King lies to a customs official (Ardizzone)

Mr King lies to a customs official (Ardizzone)

Is it because he crashed his car and lost his hat?

The Little Steamroller deliberately crashes into Mr King's car (Ardizzone)

The Little Steamroller deliberately crashes into Mr King’s car (Ardizzone)

Leo just can’t see stealing some gold and hiding it in some toy bricks as nearly as awful as having your hands ‘tangled up’ and being locked up in a cell without Mummy and Daddy, with no one to talk to and where you can’t get out. The only way out for us, at teatime, bathtime, bedtime, was to enact a role play where one of us would be Mr King. We said sorry, we gave back the gold, and then the policemen mended our car and our hat and we went home and had tea. But the hand-cuffs were insupportable. When I tried to mime wearing hand-cuffs Leo simply shouted ‘No!’

The day has been torture, and Leo has won. Because I don’t know why a punishment should ever be more painful than the original crime.

As Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado says, let ‘the punishment fit the crime’. By the way that was a brilliant production by St Albans Chamber Opera in March. They’ve another opera coming in May. http://www.stalbanschamberopera.org.uk/

BabMikadoTeeth
His teeth, I’ve enacted,
Shall all be extracted
By terrified amateurs.
(Cartoon by W. S. Gilbert)

Popular Myth 2: Politicians are Mummy and Daddy

As children, we expect our parents to put us first, to be firm but kind, above all to be right.

And then we grow up.

The Mother by Asbjorn Gundersen

The Mother by Asbjorn Gundersen

But we still seem to have unrealistically high expectations of our politicians, and to go into all the bitterness and woe of neglected children when they turn out just to be human.

As members of a democracy, I think we need to trust less to individual saintliness or brilliance in an MP or leader and trust more to the democratic process: politicians will do what’s best for us exactly to the extent that we are prepared to vote for what’s best for us. And that takes some thinking! In fact it might turn out that we are the ones that need to be brilliant and saintly more than they!

Dear old Nick Clegg especially comes in for gunning from media and voters alike because he

– changes his mind  – compromises  – adjusts to reality  – doesn’t know everything  – isn’t scary enough  – isn’t always right  – admits fault  – isn’t omnipotent…

But maybe we are grown up enough to cope with a Liberal leader?

Buy Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, in paperback or kindle format, through Amazon:  http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F