musingsponderingsandrants

Parenting, profundities and humour

Winter is Coming…. — August 22, 2020

Winter is Coming….

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So today we set out on our second round of ‘Caravanning in a Pandemic’….still not as intrepid as it sounds but perhaps a little more so than last time.

And that is for two reasons: 1) winter is coming and 2) we are oop north.

Let’s take 1) first. In England the long summer school holidays run from mid July to early September. This isn’t that great for many reasons. The light lasts longest in June when in usual times kids are sitting very important exams with BBQs in neighbour’s gardens running on until 10pm and hay fever at its peak. And anecdotally the weather is usually best in May, June and early July. See my exam point above again…

By this late in August one can smell that winter is coming. The light changes and gets that slanting misty feel which makes driving at about 8pm very tricky. It completely disappears at 8.30pm- those runs you were doing (I say ‘you’ because I don’t run but my offspring do) are seeing you return in the dark- not ideal.

There is a bite to the wind. All those beautiful lush gardens and hanging baskets are looking dry and yellow. I actually don’t like August much. It is a nothing month. A time when you feel you should be having a ball but all you really feel is like all those Winterfellers…. for winter is coming. It might hide behind a brief Indian summer, always after the kids have returned to school, and it might break you in gently with conkers and blackberries and kicking fallen leaves with gay abandon whilst avoiding dog shit. But it is there. Lurking.

This year it promises even more menace with predictions of gloom and virus resurgence.

It is against this backdrop that we got up at 5am (in the dark, note people) to set off for our next caravanning trip (so far with water but we got this far last time so we ain’t counting our chickens yet….if you are baffled please read Corona Camping).

And we arrived at 12.30pm. Because we decided to come to Northumberland. But not just Northumberland the northern most part of Northumberland. We are actually nearer to Scotland than the next major English city. Point 2)…

My husband booked the site. He is from the north east. But even he is a southern softie in these parts. People from north Northumberland probably feel the same about those from County Durham as geordies feel about those people from the midlands, places like Sheffield. We sailed past Sheffield before we stopped half way.

We booked the trip to meet up with my in laws who still hail from those parts. My husband must have said about twenty times “I didn’t realise just quite how north we are going”….

The one upside of the journey was that we got on the A1 at Bedford and got off it at the entrance to the camp site.

I am not sure we have ever done that many miles on one road before. About 270 in total. It is a truly astonishing road. Motorway and 3 lanes in places and then up here single carriageway and full of tractors and hay wains (well lorries but you get my drift). There are service stations with Greggs and Costas and caravan parking. And road side burger vans in parking bays.

Today it felt a little interminable. If I am honest.

Anyway 6.5 hours after leaving we made the site. It is fine, a little rough around the edges but on the whole fine. I am not sure there will be any moth walks.

Already we have visited Berwick upon Tweed. For duck tape (all that water has it’s downsides) and gooseberry yoghurts (not from the same shop I hasten to add). I vowed never again to ever visit Berwick after we came for the day during a holiday to mark our 1st wedding anniversary. We had booked a hotel whose exact location now escapes us. What we remember most about it was the ‘swan’ theming of our room. Even down to the gold swan taps that spewed hot water. Luckily in copious quantities. For we got married in November and so the holiday was a little parky. (That is pretend northern speak for cold).

We decided to spend one day walking the walls of Berwick. The wind was whipping mercilessly off the North Sea. I have to say it was probably the coldest I have ever been. Except for that other short break my (not yet) husband took me on to the Fatted Lamb in Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria (another would be northern place) when we got snowed in and the pub had a power cut. I had to swap bed sides with my (not yet) husband as the draft through the window was making me so cold even in thermals, bed socks and PJs….and as anyone in a long term committed relationship knows swapping bed sides is only a last resort when all else fails…

But today I had to brave Berwick as it is the only place between us and Scotland.

The weather forecast for this week is best described as ‘mixed’. We have already had some weather. I was fitting that duck tape in the rain. Quite heavy rain. It was hard to see if I had fixed the leak to be honest (I hadn’t by the way).

We have rather optimistically brought the wet suits… hmm…

Anyway what we will probably spend most of the week doing is visiting castles in the rain. There are a lot of castles. Due to that Scottish border proximity. There is also part of a wall. To keep them out. Maybe it gave Trump the idea. But then it was built by the Romans. We have learnt since then. Walls don’t work and are very expensive. And anyway currently most Scots want to keep us out not vice versa….

And we will be walking along mostly empty beaches, often overlooked by castles and priories. And probably digging a big hole. I will be wearing my hat. I brought two. Both are woolly.

For although it is very north and has weather and many tractors Northumberland is absolutely stunning. We will be sure to make the most of that. Before we get back on the A1 and get off at home.

Life ain’t fair…. — August 12, 2020

Life ain’t fair….

When I was a kid and I uttered that oft bemoaned phrase 

“It’s not fair!”  my mum would always reply 

”Life ain’t fair!”

How right she was. As one gets older one realises more and more the fundamentally unfair nature of life. The fairness of who gets the last home made orange lolly from the freezer, you or your slightly younger brother, or who has to clear the table after tea begin to pale into insignificance in the face of the total lack of equality between people’s life experiences. 

My kids are still at the stage where that ice lolly is the most important thing. Even though they are approaching adulthood (in a long and tedious way which seems to involve two steps forward and 20 back) they are still mostly stuck in their own small world.

And generally what a privileged world that is. However it seems that whilst teenagers are able to rationally understand the general unfairness of the experiences of minorities or refugees or those unfortunate enough to be born in countries torn by war, poverty or famine (or all three) they are simultaneously completely and utterly fixated on their own situation. 

And recently we have been playing a lot of the ‘unfairness game’; that is who has been most affected by the current pandemic. 

On the face of it none of my children have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. No one we know has even had it let alone been ill or tragically died. Both their parents still have jobs. There has been food on the table. Love and reassurance a plenty.  Birthday gifts. A staycation. On line school. 

But these things mean nothing to my teenagers. Subconsciously they are probably appreciated although outwardly one would never know. Because these are things they expect. Take for granted. And maybe that is the way it should be. 

What they focus on is what they have lost. Exams, school learning, social lives,  sport, tours, music, the summer following exams and the adventures planned. Pointing out that they have it better than a lot of others does not help. And it feels like a real loss to them. 

And actually it is. These things are not important in the scale of climate change or catastrophe in the Lebanon but they matter to millions of kids.

And I think what they have actually lost most is their sense of security. The sense of continuity. That events will follow a pattern, a time line. And their futures, which seemed mapped out to some extent, are now clouded and unsure even down to whether they will actually go back to school in September or on what basis, or even where.

And all those kids tomorrow and next Thursday getting exam results face an uncertainty no other cohort ever has and I hope (for my next child’s sake) never will. The endless debate and arguing is unsettling and treats these cohorts of children as statistics rather than human beings. 

So actually although in real terms the unfairness of their current situation is small, in relative terms it is huge. 

I/ we need to remember that. 

 

 

Corona Camping… — July 22, 2020

Corona Camping…

So many moons ago, about last August, just after we returned from our summer holiday in France we began the annual ‘Where shall we go on holiday next summer’ debate.

This is a long and often fractious process with wildly differing views and opinions and indeed aspirations.

Suffice to say that Eldest and I won out and we booked 2 weeks all inclusive in the Canaries. We had been to this particular hotel twice before please see Sunbed Wars for further info.

Then the pandemic happened. The quite astronomical balance was due by the beginning of April, (never have 3 kids seriously or if you do never allow them to grow up) people were struggling to get refunds for holidays actually cancelled and it was likely that even if we were able to go by late July all the best bits of an all inclusive (buffets, discos, karaoke, squashing balloons against virile German chests etc etc) were unlikely to be allowed. Add to that booking a pool slot or beach hexagon and wearing a mask in 38 degree heat and the whole idea seemed, well frankly, much less appealing.

So we cancelled. And yes we lost the deposit. But hey if you can afford 2 weeks in the Canaries you can afford to lose the deposit. And someone’s job might be saved.

My husband then began another round of the great and now twice annual ‘Where shall we go on holiday this summer’ debate but with bells on.

He decided to buy a caravan.

My initial reaction was one of horror. This is often the case. I am wont to see the downsides in his hair brained ideas.

Once I calmed down it seemed like a relatively good plan. We were still in the midst of full lock down. But logic and rumour dictated that camping sites were likely to open early on due to them being outside and naturally socially distanced. A caravan with it’s own loo and shower meant that if shared showers we ruled out we could still go.

We are quite good campers and had all the gear. My hips no longer cope with more than 3 nights sleeping on the floor so a caravan would allow for a longer stay.

It cost about 2 lots of the holiday we had just cancelled. And had a resale value.

Hubby did the research, as he likes to do, and found our perfect caravan for sale at a local ish dealer and booked a showroom visit on the weekend that became allowed.

We also booked two campsites. To begin with hubby was keen on north Devon. I reminded him that on our trip to Woolacombe in February half term we had nearly had kittens driving our car down the really very narrow roads flanked by high solid verges and having to badly reverse when meeting a tractor coming the other way. I suggested that our cortisol levels may take 10 days to return to normal if we added an 8ft wide caravan into that mix. We went for Norfolk (flat, relatively wide roads, soft hedging) and Northumberland (A1)…

Again this was a punt. Neither site was open or knew if they would be. However the Norfolk one was doing full refunds and the Northumberland one was for the end of August and cheap as chips it being oop north.

The site in Norfolk was well known to us as we had been numerous times in our tent. We knew the pitches were generous and the site large.

The weekend of our caravan viewing arrived wet and miserable. We took the kids (the whole event had the feel of a carnival as the kids had not been out of our village at this point for 3 months) and even Eldest who remained sceptical was won over by the ingenious cupboards and fridge.

So we purchased, collected a few weeks later and spent 2 hours manoeuvering it onto our drive, emptied our camping trailer into it, sold the trailer and tent and waited for our holiday to arrive.

And now we are here. Thankfully all the planets aligned. We managed to get the van off our drive with only minimal damage (when we manoeuvre it back on the drive upon our return we must park it further away from the fence), tow it successfully and reverse it onto the pitch with the motor mover which I am so glad we bought as our reversing failed spectacularly. As soon as they are allowed again we are booking onto the Caravan Club’s reversing course… I can vouch for the fact that watching you tube videos is absolutely no substitute for doing it in person.

The communal facilities are open here which is fortunate because during the first night we had a spectacular water leak which saw us awaken to 2 inches of water on the floor, sodden carpet and flooded cupboards..not so ingenious now… a repairman and part is coming Fri evening.

We also failed to put up the awning correctly (the instructions made IKEA ones look comprehensive) and so it nearly broke on that first night under the weight of the pissing down rain. But it didn’t and we worked it out the next day.

After 5 days here are my observations about staycating in a caravan (without water) during a pandemic:

The facilities which are usually clean here are pristine.

The site is half empty which means there are no queues for anything. Except the shop. And plenty of space to play cricket, footie, catch etc. And to try to reverse your caravan (badly)…

There is a booking system for everything from pool, to tennis, to moth walks.

This favours the organised. And that is me all over. Before we had even left home I had booked 2 National Trust gardens and parklands.

The National Trust is still doing socially distanced al fresco cream teas. Thank god.

It is the first time in a long while that I have forgotten about the pandemic for hours at a time.

Suffice to say we are officially sold on caravanning. We all love the beds. Eldest loves the fridge as he can eat as much cereal as he wants. We all love sitting in it at night playing poker at a table without the need for thermals or head torches.

We may never fly again. Seriously.

I’m Just a Teenage Dirt Bag Baby… — May 28, 2020

I’m Just a Teenage Dirt Bag Baby…

There’s this thing at the moment. Indignation. We are becoming (even more) of a nation of people bristling at the audacity of ‘other people’. Social media is awash with despairing posts outlining the latest transgressions of various ‘other people’. I live in a village. People here are incandescent with the outrageous behaviour of ‘other people’. Never before have I seen that little red, cross face appear so often on Facebook posts as in recent weeks.

Now some ‘other people’ are quite rightly deserving of our incandescent, bristling outrage. Dominic Cummings for instance. Spam that little red face all you like.

But before we condemn whole parts of our society of ‘other people’ to our outrage maybe we should stop and think. And to my mind a group of society which often comes up against a disproportionate amount of these outraged feelings are teenagers.

I live with 16 and 14 year old boys. As well as a nearly 13 year old daughter. I know of what I speak…. I will relay to you how many a conversation goes with my teens. It may help you understand,

About 9 weeks ago everything my teens knew and understood of the world collapsed. One can argue that it did for everyone. Old and young. But bear with me here. Overnight (literally) everything in their lives was curtailed. School, education, exams, social life, romantic life, sport, music, hobbies, holidays, clubs etc.

They got on with it. They toed the line. Mine did not leave the village for 8 weeks. Not even to shop as they were too old to be taken to supermarkets as they could be safely left at home. They settled to home schooling.

Now cast your minds back to the summer you were 16. Really try. Think about what you did and where you went. I can only speak of my own experience and maybe I was very different to the norm but I doubt it. Yes I did my O levels. And I went to school. But I also lived outside. I was at home to eat and sleep and that was about it really. I roamed the streets and countryside in a gang of mates. I went to the cinema. I went shopping. I bought illicit alcohol and drank it in the woods. I had a boyfriend and started on a road of (shall we call it) romantic discovery. I was forced on a 2 week holiday with my parents during which I was miserable and probably a complete pain in the arse.

Maybe you did some of these things. Maybe you worked. Or did more wholesome activities. But I can absolutely guarantee you did not spend 8 weeks with your immediate family and only your immediate family. It is not natural. Teenagers need to push against the rules. Explore the world. Expand their horizons.

Is it any surprise, then, that when we release lock down a little these same teenagers want to meet up?

Mine have stuck by the rules. All of them have met one mate at a time outside. Eldest’s friends want to meet up as a four. He asked our opinion on he and his one mate ‘accidentally’ bumping into his two other mates (well not bumping obviously as they would be 2 meters apart) whilst in the park.

And the easy answer is ‘ it is against the rules so not a good idea’. But, and it is a big but, as he said others are also breaking the rules.

This weekend I spent a lot of time in my front garden. Within one day I saw 2 grandparents walking with 2 grand kids. I saw 2 families with at least 2 young kids each walking together. I also know of people meeting in their gardens. I saw three elderly ladies all sitting on a bench together. All of these things are not ‘allowed’. (Unless they all live together in households. They might. It is unlikely but they might. Even so these sorts of things are happening).

And although ‘allowed’ the media pictures of beaches and beauty spots over the bank holiday do not send a message that many are taking their responsibilities particularly seriously. And do not get me started on Cummings again.

Moreover these things are being done by ‘other people’ who should know better. Who are more at risk than my 16 year old. They are in the parts of society he is being asked to protect by drastically altering his life. ‘Other people’ who should be setting an example to the younger elements.

And actually, yes, I do think teenagers and young people are sacrificing the most. My teens are certainly sacrificing more than me. I had my summers in the sun free of responsibility and with my future laid out before me like a glittering prize. Most of us did. They aren’t and may never. Currently they do not even have the basic developed world right to their education. I would happily sacrifice more to allow them a bit more freedom. Because at the end of the day I am at more risk.

So yes there are ‘gangs’ of teenagers out there. There are also daily transgressions by a whole host of ‘other people’. People who should know better. I doubt many are entirely without sin. If you are please feel free to polish your halo. But be honest.

In the end we all agreed that hanging on a bit longer is the way forward. Trying to stick to the rules helps everyone in the long run. However hard and unfair that may feel. But I am not going to condemn others who feel they cannot tolerate it.

Before we cast stones maybe we should actually stop to think and praise our youth for perhaps one of the most altruistic acts of recent memory.

After all they will be paying for it for the rest of their lives.

Sunday — May 24, 2020

Sunday

Some days are just shit aren’t they. Today I had to deal with my disconsolate daughter who crawled in bed beside me and sobbed for half an hour.

She has been doing ok. Like all of us she is sometimes able to settle into the new routine and deal with the day to day of our new reality.

In fact yesterday was a relatively good day. I drove her to a public park to meet up one on one with a school friend whilst I went to the nearby supermarket. They walked 2m apart round the park. She said they talked about the virus and school and the new age and it seemed to have helped. She hasn’t seen her friends for over 2 months. She is 12.

But today she is again struggling. She is struggling with intrusive thoughts. She is struggling with grief. She is struggling with a sick feeling in her stomach. She is struggling with hours of empty time. She is struggling with loneliness.

She is not alone. There are millions of children out there who feel hopeless even if that’s only some of the time. They are impotent. They cannot help. They are the subject of intense debate. They are carriers and spreaders. They are unwanted; at school, in shops, on the streets, sometimes at home. They cause issues. And don’t think for one minute that they don’t know this.

They are children.

It worries me intensely what all this is doing to our youth and their futures which are all our futures.

And apparently children are resilient. Quite often that is not how it seems.

There is no answer. I have no answers for her. I cannot wave a magic wand. I can’t help make it right.

This virus has stripped me of my ability to do that.

Call me…. — May 13, 2020

Call me….

Yesterday I rang Sainsburys. I have been an on line customer for years and the owner of a delivery pass for about 10. Recently though I have been charged for deliveries and although I don’t really mind and thought it was probably because of the current unusual circumstances I had it on my mental list to ‘get to the bottom of’….

I went on line and was surprised to note that my account showed that I did not have a delivery pass…weird.

So I called up. I got through to a lovely lady with a thick accent (probably Scottish but may well have been something else). I asked her if she could find out why I had no delivery pass. She said it had expired on 30th March. I asked why it had it not been automatically renewed as stated on their website (still). At this point she got very defensive…

At the beginning of lock down, she said, when they were under the kosh of panic buying and on line slot mayhem they took a decision not to renew delivery passes. They simply couldn’t cope with it.

I was not in any way cross with her. We talked a bit more. She was sitting in the bedroom in her flat using a laptop and a mobile phone that had been hastily issued by her employer when she started working from home. Her broadband was not always up to the job. She lived alone.

She said I should be able to get a new pass. I advised her that the website still said I could not. She said she thought she ‘had read it in the chat’ from her employer sometime this week that delivery passes were coming back. Clearly not yet. She thanked me for the intel.

I said not to worry I would keep looking myself. She offered to book me my slot for next week which was a major bonus as usually I log on 3 times a day searching! She did that and reserved the slot for me.

I thanked her and hung up. Later I got the confirmation email and had a chuckle at the bottle of Moët she had used to reserve the slot. I may forget to untick it when I do the actual order!

The conversation got me thinking about all those call centre and social media peeps desperately trying to help their customers in what can only be described as very unusual circumstances.

The banks are under a lot of this pressure at the moment (and indeed have been for the last 2 weeks) in the wake of the launch of the bounce back loan scheme. The volumes seen have been unbelievable. The scheme was rushed in with IT platforms not tested or in some cases ready. It was right to rush it in. Small businesses need the cash. But it needs to be remembered that the time frames are ridiculous and the volumes astronomic.

And the people at the sharp end managing issues and complaints and understandable frustration are often sat alone in bedrooms on hastily arranged IT with a lack of up to date info. In fact the info changes so quickly that it is hard to disseminate it effectively to staff from the centre especially when those staff are dispersed. They are low earners and are answering call after call in an unrelenting fashion day after day. I cannot imagine how soul destroying that must be.

As is the case in these situations those that are happy don’t say it often enough and those that are not yell loudest.

We need to remember that supermarkets and banks and others are actually a whole lot of people most of whom, in very difficult circumstances, are trying to do their best to help people.

When we finished our talk yesterday my lovely accented call centre lady thanked me for our chat. She said it was nice to speak to someone who was interested in her.

Be kind folks.

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