Archive for December, 2014

Another one bites the dust… Ruminations on the year that was

December 20, 2014

It is at last the holidays and we have arrived battered and bruised at the last epistle of the year as I am off to France for the festive season to drink a small ocean’s worth of champagne in Champagne and will not be back until the new year. It is time to consider the year and its usual trials and tribulations, its continuous tricks and treats and be pleased to have made it to the end of another one. As one ages, one becomes more appreciative of this increasingly amazing feat.

france

I am pleased to end the year, especially the work year in one piece. This has not been true for many years in the UK and I am grateful to be away from the extreme pressure and unpleasantness of some of my former colleagues. But that meanness of spirit, that streak of nastiness resides in many in the work-force, too many in management, who seem to take pleasure in delivering bad news on the eve of the festive season. It’s as if they deliberately set out to Grinch Christmas for people, that it’s okay to leave bitter and sour tastes in people’s mouths and usually pain in the pocket for Christmas. I wonder at that, at the lack of compassion for others, especially in my profession that is meant to care about others! I’ve often wondered how we are expected to care for the kiddies if the management don’t care for us…

This year, as I plan for my children’s visit this weekend and prepare for my Eurostar voyage on Monday I feel as if the year, on balance hasn’t been too bad. It has, as ever, been all over the place, literally as we moved house again and ended up apart with moi in a pleasant flat in London and beloved in the house in France, which is an interesting thing to do for a while. I think it is making the heart fonder. Certainly it’s pushing thoughts of murder and divorce way off the agenda! No, a bit of married separation is a good thing. It helps you see the other in a better light, it helps you get to know yourself again as you stop being opposite sides of the one coin. It makes you remember why you got together in the first place all those years ago on the other side of the world in one of the secret magical places of the world – Gove.

dear

I am, as ever, pleased and proud of my brood, their achievements and on-going evolution into adults who are fine people who make the world a better place. Soon there will be another teacher in the clan, sensibly a primary one and training back home where teaching is not the veil of tears it is in England. Soon there will be a qualified artist, doing strange and wonderful things to compliment or perhaps off-set the robotic engineer who may very well being planning to take over the world, not just turn Tasmania into a theme park. Tomorrow will be a hoot as they gather to celebrate another Christmas.

minerva

I am sadly aware of losses, both of my beloved and devoted woof, the much missed Zanzibar, and of others who have passed. It is one of those truths that pet owners know, how hard the loss of your dog or cat, or horse, or any creature that shares your life, is felt. It is like a body blow and while we move on, we mourn and miss him and are thankful he was such a core part of our lives for nine years.

Zanz

For my friends who have lost loved ones this year this Christmas will be especially hard as the gap that has been sort of closing will yawn widely open, and the wound that has been scabbing open will weep and bleed as the previous years full of their smiles and words and love will hover in the air and attack again and again and it will be hard to smile in the face of the loss and look forward to a happy new year. So my love goes to them and I also remember those close to me who left too soon.

Christmas is a time to be with those we love and remember those we loved and have lost. It is the time to cherish what we have. Loss reminds us what we have and should make us more mindful of the joy and love we have.

france fam

So, the year is dying, it is fading away, as it should. We look to the New Year for hope, fresh starts and new chances. It is incumbent upon us to consider our good fortune in reflecting on 2014, to accept the shit-bits – they are a part of being human and do, whether we like it or not, make us strong – but try to avoid them if we can and if we can’t then get through them as best we can and not be too embittered and brutalized by those who would brutalize us. It always sounds trite but it is good to count your blessings, to be aware of the good in our lives and appreciate it.

T&P love

Do these simple things this holiday:

Love and cherish the ones you’re with.

Honour and remember the ones who have gone.

Make the most of your life because no matter how long it lasts it is but a short time we are here.

Learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on them.

Look forward to the future and make it as good as you can.

Travel well, my friends, this Yuletide period – embrace life and live it large. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

A book: the best present

December 13, 2014

As the holidays loom for us all on both sides of the world I wonder how many of you are planning some lovely indulgent reading time. Perhaps in bed, as the rain howls and the snow flutters down, or on the beach, baking yourself all crispy like the Christmas turkey.

xmas pres

For several years when I was at uni wading my way through English and Psychology and reading books that were chosen by their thickness of spine I rebelled at Christmas and read and re-read Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. I actually loved it. And like others was not impressed by the TV mini series that eventually followed. But for a few summers it was my un-wind and de-stress book. Indeed I took my banana lounge out into the sun, turned up the cricket on the radio and read for hours. It was bliss.

So when I went anywhere, traveling, even if only to the beach for the day, I packed a book. It seemed to me a book was an essential item. Needless to say I packed a ton of books when we went to China for three months and read my way through Schindler’s List amongst others. My poor boy had a list of classics he was expected to read given his age and greed for knowledge. I am pleased that he remains an avid reader despite his predilection for the Sciences. He was less than impressed by not getting a book for Christmas last year.

One of the best present for me, forever has been books. You will not, dear reader, be surprised by this as I am an avid reader and writer as well as seasoned English teacher. I can’t remember my first book but I know books have been part of the business of gifting all my life. I used to get an annual of some description – name completely eludes me – but it was expected and enjoyed for many years. Birthdays are also great times for books.

books2

What surprises and saddens me is that if I tell my students that we give books at Christmas many of them look at me in horror and amazement. A book – as a present – why? Well, clearly they would be aghast given it seems to cause them physical pain to open a book in class. To read a book outside of class wouldn’t even occur to them. It absolutely does not. What has happened to the world?

I wonder at a world where books don’t exist. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s book where a future society outlaws books and any that are found are burned. Ironically many of my students would approve of such a world. Reading for them is a sort of medieval torture, something they must be forced to do. Worryingly this attitude does not reside only amongst the bottom dwellers of our fine educational establishments but abounds amongst many of the brighter stars.

phu reading

Disclaimer here: not all students are anti-reading, not all hate books, but a worrying amount do.

I wonder why so many are profoundly anti-reading, anti-books. It’s not just the screen-generation; it’s not just the attention spans of the much derided goldfish. It has to be in the home, it has to come from parents who also don’t read, who don’t value books or quiet, or the imagination. (It’s what’s called a trans-generational effect.) Ah, and there’s the thing – too many of our young people lack an imagination. Too many have no inner worlds of their own based on some magical place they read about and appropriated for themselves. They like a book on the screen: they know the stories of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings but they only know them as imagined by the producers of these films. Peter Jackson’s imagination dominates the world. How sad is that?

I am reminded of my China experience here. I’d read The English Patient not long before we visited in Shanghai and it was out on DVD. One of the exchange students offered to get it for me but I knew it was too soon between reading and viewing. I knew that the DVD would disappoint me, it would not be true to my version of the book, and worst of all, the book would be diminished for me. So, I waited, and for a number of years before I watched the film of the book. And I was not disappointed. I ended up loving both versions. I re-watch and re-read and am happy that my version is still in tact.

A Christmas book story. Last year my beloved big girl bought my beloved the first books of The Game of Thrones and the first two series on DVD. We entered into an agreement: that we would not watch the shows until the books were read. My husband was encouraged to re-boot his reading through this slightly briberous (sp!) arrangement and so we have been true. Books come first. Always.

xmas & books

Reading is not just about the imagination, about the writers and the readers. It is about many things that make us human, that reinforce our humanity.

 

Here is a brief list of why we should read and encourage those around us to do the same-

1.Reading helps your vocabulary, and understanding of grammar and expression

2.Reading fires the imagination, it enables you to think and dream

3.Reading enhances your empathy through getting into the heads and lives of characters and traveling with them

4.Reading tells you about life – its magic, its beauty and its tragedy

5.Reading tells you you’re not alone – there are others out there like you

6.Reading allows us to experience things we might not dare try in life

7.Reading enhances your ability to concentrate and focus on matters

8.Quite simply, reading makes you a better person, a more compassionate person, a person who makes the world a better place

books

I know books speak to us differently and that’s as it should be. Books from different times of our lives mean more to us too, but there’s always a new book out there waiting to be discovered, devoured and shared. Make sure you share the books you love. Buy books for Christmas and keep your fingers crossed that Santa has one for you too, so you can sneak off after all the festivities and escape to another world of wonder. (images courtesy Private Collection)

Dear Santa

December 6, 2014

I’m not going to waste your time by asking for world peace, although it really would be a good thing. Instead perhaps when you’re distributing presents across the world you could do a bit of a redistribution of wealth and equality as well. Now that would be something worth having for Christmas. But perhaps I need to lower my expectations a tad?

pinky & the tree

I would like to ask for a better world, a kinder, less menacing and threatening world. Too many people live in fear these days – actual bodily fear as well as cyber-threats. Why have we become so ugly to each other, Santa? When did nasty become our default mode? Why do we have proliferation of TV shows where we vote people off? Why is so much cast in the negative, thank you politicians of all persuasions. Why do people feel they can spew bile and venom on the internet, just because they are hidden, miles away from the person they are bullying or threatening? I know it’s a fine line between free speech and totalitarian repression but surely we’re smart enough to find it again and stay there?

Can all bullies be struck down now – is that too much to ask, really, for a better world?

 

I want the planet left alone too. I want this endless exploitation of its resources to slow. I want there to be a move away from profit at all costs, to the planet herself and to her peoples. There’s not going to be much left if the greedy and the corrupt are allowed to pursue their aims. I despair of the future, Santa, what can we do?

xmas snow

I do want a just world. A place where your gender, your religion, your place of birth does not define your life, your chances. Why, in the twenty-first century is there so much poverty, inequity, and violence – most of it launched at the most vulnerable in our world? Once I naively thought that politicians were there for the people, the ordinary people, especially in places like England and Australia. But it’s all too obvious that the ordinary people all over the world do NOT have a voice; do NOT matter any more. The austerity movement is alive and well and crucifying the many for the few. Ah me, it is a nasty little world.

T&P Xmas

So Santa I want three things for the world:

1.Kindness to become our mode de jour

2.Equality of opportunity for all, no matter where, or who

3.For people to get the presents they deserve – I’m hoping for a Karmic Klaus response here, Santa, and I have a bit of a list if you’re interested.

 

For myself, just a few simple things:

1.For my family to remain healthy and happy: keep living large lives – always feel the love and know the joy they bring me

2.For my friends to remain my friends and have good lives for many years to come

3.To win lotto or get a publishing contract for my amazing book (Ophelia, if you’re interested, Santa – something you could drop down chimneys as presents next year) so I can leave the world of Education and work behind once and for all and live a gentler, sweeter life myself!

family xmas

What do you want for Christmas then? Think global, then act local. Merry Christmas, dear friends, xx

(Images courtesy Private Collection)