Category Archives: Parenting




They don’t look the same do they?

Anyway, today marks the occasion wherein my eldest daughter gets to celebrate the fact that in her first year I managed not to drop her on her head and in the second, I noticed she’d shoved a bead up her nose before too much harm was done; in the third I found her a playgroup from which her only memory is playing with a toy called a ‘Troll’… By her fourth year, I was getting the hang of it and enrolled her in school; in the fifth I enrolled her in another. In her sixth year we had mastered the art of doing her hair in a pineapple do and in her seventh I had managed to uncover her hidden talent for the waltz. In her eighth year I was still remembering to feed her, but by her ninth she could feed herself by making pancakes; her tenth year marked the occasion of her common sense often overtaking my own, and today, well, today she is celebrating by taking her SATS.

Funny how things go.


One she made earlier

One she made earlier

Chuntering on at Chartwell & Channelling the Inner Churchillian

Alliteration eh? Seems that too much of a poetic device becomes nothing but a cheap tongue twister.

Anyway, we went to Winston Churchill’s home at Chartwell today and we didn’t fight anyone, anywhere – although it seemed for a moment there that the serried ranks of grey-haired volunteers at the front door might like to if we didn’t rein back the kids. The goons were over-reacting though because the children’s behaviour was impeccable. Come to think of it – they were the only children I saw in the house today – unless you count a solitary teenage boy and the ones in utero. As my sister observed, half the country’s expectant mothers had visited the National Trust at Chartwell today.

Seeing my sister, who is I believe my closest genetic match in the world, is always something I enjoy. I used to enjoy it rather too much and get a headache from excitement before we had even met up when we were younger. It was so exciting, back then. Both of us working in London, everything new. Now we are both the mother of two girls and probably too old for full on excitation, but I am still aware, despite my trying to hold back (a bit), I still don’t half chunter on. The poor thing probably wishes I would occasionally shut up…

So here is something from the eldest niece. A rather marvellous upgrade on the Churchill quote that usually runs something like this:

A cat looks down on you, a dog looks up to you, but a pig will treat you as an equal

Today’s updated version, and better for it I would say – far less predictable – goes thus:

A cat looks down on you, a dog looks up to you, but a pig will treat you as a hamster

Towards the studio

Towards the studio

Larkin about

When I was first introduced to Philip Larkin, I took a violent dislike to his work. I don’t remember which school or college it was in, but I was left with an overwhelming impression of distaste as the teacher (male) deconstructed the poem Sunny Prestatyn with a leer.

I slapped an embargo on the lech Larkin and would not let his poetry past the gatepost. You can’t live life like that though; that is to say in a knee jerking, reflexive state. The reason you can’t is because it closes your mind to other possibilities; in this case some of the beauty, down amongst the dirt of Larkin. And ain’t that life, whether we like it or not? Turning our face from the facts, also removes the closest we can get to experiencing life through someone else’s feelings – something that helps to keep the heart open and the old knee jerks at bay.

Having said all that, and more than once recently I have been called a hippy, if some perving teacher tried to teach one of my daughters Sunny Prestatyn, I’d be straight down the school in a highly reflexive mood. Be warned.

It’s Sunday morning though, let’s forget the world with a little High Windows

“Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.”


Turning into my father

This post has taken a while to show up because some other stuff got in the way of me sitting down to do it. I wonder if that is not in itself one way in which I am turning into my father… the propensity for having too much on. I think I mentioned it on here before, but I will do so again, because it is apposite; on asking my father last year if he thought he took on too many projects at once, which I tend to do, he simply said,

I find three is too many.

Yes, that’s definitely one way I am turning into my dad. The other ways include:

being happy to live hermit-like communing only with a keyboard

being subject to being in the grip of mini-obsessions that are of limited, if any, interest to nearest and dearest

going deaf in one ear

being a bit rude to people, accidentally

being bad on the telephone

and, most recently, being unable to read

very small writing

without pulling the most squinty-face known to human or beast.


Father, I, and my daughter

Father, I, and my daughter

I have dug out this photo taken at my sister’s wedding in order that one might observe my genetic inheritance of a pointy head. That day, I recall, my mini-obsession was with showing my father the lattice method of long multiplication…

The Auriga

This is the ship that the children’s paternal grandfather came to Britain on, from Dominica.


He arrived in Plymouth on the 14th November 1955. The mystery is that he always said he supported Liverpool FC because that was the port he arrived in, we never looked at the passenger records until after his death. Funny how you rely on people’s memories, those most unreliable of things, in their lifetimes. His address in England was in Hanbury Street, E1 – nowhere near Anfield.

The children’s grandfather’s name was Joseph Junkere and he was 20. He was the oldest, we think, of eight or nine children, all boys, born to Louis and Olive Junkere. The family saved and borrowed to send him to England. He saved and sent back money to the family in Dominica his whole life. In due course, other brothers followed Joe over. A younger brother died young and Joe became the father figure for his young nieces and nephews as well as father to his son and step-father to a daughter. He was a patriarchal figure. He did not mince his words. He was well-loved.

His son, the children’s father, has memories of playing out in Penguin Street, Camden Town in the early 1970s. Turns out it was Penryn Street. It is evident that paper records are the most accurate, but personal reminiscences far more evocative. Memories are what elevates the life of man, woman and child off the dry page of the history book and into our hearts.

He left us many things, but apart from the memories and the genetic inheritance we have his bucket. It’s a galvanised metal bucket full of tools and tricks from his day as a tool machinist. He used to calibrate the machinery to make the right kind of screws and rivets and goodness knows what. The bucket smells of oil and grease. It smells of the life of a working man living in London for fifty years. Joseph Junkere is buried in Kensal Green cemetery. A cousin of his, also called Joseph Junkere, was buried there a few years later, a few rows along from Grandad.

It’s a very long way from the volcanic island of Dominica for them both.

On Mothers

I am thinking, as I write, specifically of Sally Roberts, the mother of the boy named Neon, who is in the news for refusing to allow her son to undergo a course of radiotherapy for a brain tumour. She has since been overruled by a judge, a man, who has said that her judgement may have gone ‘awry’. I am also thinking about Nancy Lanza, the first victim of her son’s massacre in Newtown, USA. And then because I am a daughter and a mother I realise I am probably thinking about myself.

Mothers are women who have children and each of us approach the state differently, I suppose: some of us adopt, some foster and some give birth. There are still others, a few, who steal or borrow, or simply refuse to return. And then there are the step-mothers of fairy tales, who lurk in the wings with a basket full of shiny apples, leaning on a stick. We should all aspire, perhaps, to the image of the Madonna: a beatific face that dandles a well-behaved boy child on her lap. Surely a Madonna would not run away with her sick child and hide from the doctors; surely a Madonna would not be gunned down by her own son; surely a Madonna would not make the commonplace mistakes that many of us make – on a daily basis. In terms of cultural references (and I can only write of the western tradition, another perspective would be welcome) a woman is there, like Eve, to transgress: to fall from a state of grace. The Madonna, exclusively amongst mothers, remains in grace because she has not fallen from that hallowed state to conceive in the sweat and mire of humanity. No, she has simply had a conversation with an angel.

Mothers blame themselves for their children’s mistakes. Or they do not. I cannot speak for all mothers. But for those that do, and the ones I know do, have a strong societal bias to overcome because when push comes to shove – we blame the mother. Fathers are absent, but rational, mainly. Some of them are absent because they are rational, allegedly. It is the mad mothers that they are absent from, not the children. Not the children. Women give up a lot to have a family. Like men, they need support to bring up that family, but if a lone parent is in town statistically it is more likely to be a woman. Mothers need emotional and practical support, as well as financial. The truth is, if one mother has to do it all, some of it will necessarily remain undone because there will simply not be enough of her to go round. This is not because we mothers are mad, bad and dangerous to know, but because bringing up one child is at least a three person job…

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Societies, like ours, that continue to hold mothers up to public shame (not counting Nancy Lanza in the final death toll at Newtown, publishing every medical twist and turn of what should be a private court case) are perpetuating an archaic and repressive notion: that mothers are responsible for the way it all turns out.

Of course, we are responsible for some of it, but marching us off to the stocks for public excoriation via the media makes it more difficult to parent effectively and with sensitivity. I am not going to attempt to judge the actions of another mother in a blog post: I have no context within which to operate, unlike a High Court Judge, but I do note that there are noises about Sally Roberts being paid for her story by a paper (which makes me sad). Still, indiviudal cases aside, I believe the limited and stereotypical representations of women in our culture give many mothers an impossible image to live up to. Motherhood is a myriad state with many mixed feelings. It’s a curious notion and you wouldn’t believe it sometimes, but being a parent is yet another state of humanity, not grace. It seems to me is time to reinterpret the role and ditch both the Madonna and its modern incarnation the Yummy Mummy. (There is probably a parallel for today’s fathers too, I just don’t have the scope to think about that this morning.) What such a reinterpretation would look like I really don’t know, but I am sure that a shift in perception and imagery of mothers can only help us all bring up the kind of children the world needs right now.

A Victorian ‘hidden mother’

For more of these photographs, where the mother is there to keep order and provide succour to bored or scared children but not wanted in the tableau, her image presumably ruining the shot, go to The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

Educate the Heart

Dalai Lama Centre // Educate the Heart from Giant Ant on Vimeo.

Bringing Dickens up to date

My eldest got it into her head that to celebrate this, the 200th year of Charles Dickens’ birth, she fancied dressing up as Miss Havisham, which she duly did.   Very nice she looked too, mingling in the streets of Rochester for the Dickensian Christmas festival over the weekend.  She gave herself a contemporary context every now and again though – saying that she would be krumping as Miss Havisham – which she did.

It looked a little like the final sequence of the Chemical Brothers video for Galvanise, without the arrests thankfully. I can’t listen to the track without thinking of her and me being driven across Turkey from Antalya to Turunc, across the mountainous interior and into the night.  This was on the occasion last year where I made a complete hash of the passports and subsequent travel arrangements, from which I was saved by the combined efforts of my maternal family, for which I remain truly grateful.  The eldest was a grand girl throughout, even as I popped the valium, and remains so, despite her krumping as a Victorian proclivities.


On anger

Me and anger have been on first name terms for a long time. I used to find it an all-encompassing vehicle for emotional expression. 

Feel sad? Be angry

Feel hurt? Be angry

Feel rejected? Be angry

Of course this kind of high octane living was unsustainable.  You can’t resolve everything by shouting and shaking your fist; or indeed throwing things and smashing crockery, however good it might feel to release some of the emotional energy in the moment. 

What the person who gets angry has to accept is that other people find such voluble acts of emotion frightening.  So you may get the thing off your own chest in some fashion,  but at the same time you damage not just property but your relationships with others.

By the way this is not a lecture.  I know well the feelings of anger that bubble up in one’s gut  as a physical response to a challenging situation. What I have learnt over the years is that those physical feelings do not have to drive my behaviour.  I have found out the hard way admittedly,  but as I see my eldest daughter struggle to manage her quick temper in much the same way I have,  I hope that a little of what I have picked up can benefit her, sooner rather than later.

Three styles incorporated in a picture (aged nine)

The blog sometimes feels its raison d’être is to produce a digital record of the children’s work. This was from last year’s exercise book and apparently incorporates pointillism, blending and something I can’t remember. I will ask the artist to comment. I was rather moved by the colour of the three mountains and the river. Some parts of the scene seem unresolved, but ain’t life just like that?

I had a desperate mother moment yesterday, looking at another picture up on the fridge.
One day, I thought, there will be no pictures on the fridge.
So I made the youngest promise me to send me a doodle a week forever…