Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Dull, dull, dull...

    I am going to have a big old whinge selfish sulking moan And I know I will come across as a petulant little brat, but I’m annoying myself at the moment by not being honest. So I'm going to vomit out a rant, and then we can all pretend I haven’t just had a huge tantrum all over this blog, and carry on as we were.

     I am so fucking sick of reading shit writing. Bland, boring, inoffensive, vanilla, sugar free, low in salt, reduced calorie writing lite. Writing that has no soul, no heart, no real feelings or thought behind it. Just boring ‘My top 10 things to do in summer!’ lists, or ‘what we got up to at the park!’ or ‘here’s today’s outfit!’ boring, shit, crap blogposts and articles, and people doing immensely irritating and self-indulgent and utterly pointless mini tours, or people writing about history they don’t understand, or postulating an opinion based on no evidence whatsoever, I’m fucking bored with reading stupid shitty tourist related guides to Norwich that mention Elm Hill, or ‘what to do in your holidays in Norfolk’, or supposed lifestyle bloggers who write nothing but puff pieces on cafes where everything is lovely and nice. This kind of writing is just everything that pushes my buttons into FULL ON MAD RAGE MELTDOWN. This kind of writing is so boring and sanitised and wipe clean and just so very fucking dull.

     There’s nothing in this type of writing. Nothing. No real opinions, thoughts, feelings, the writing style is plodding, the words are beige, you don’t learn anything from it, or feel anything towards it. Why write such oatmeal bilge? When you have the whole of the English language to choose from, why choose fun! And nice! And lovely! And thoughtful touches! And never offending anyone or anything, or giving anything real and honest, or suggesting that there’s anything to you beyond the most basic and superficial and trivial ideas?

     It’s fucking BORING. Boring for me to read and it can’t be much fun to write either. Hammer it out if you must. Tell me about your trip to some wanky hipster bar in the Norwich Lanes. But fucking hell, can you stop being so bloody Pollyanna about it all? You can’t possibly mean to tell me that every encounter you ever have goes well. That every meal out you have is simply lovely and oh so very nice. If that’s all you’re churning out, really, how believable do you think it is? That nothing goes wrong, and everywhere is great?

     I’m not saying swear and rant if you’re not a sweary and ranty person (I think we both know someone who is though). But give something of a personality to what you’re writing for fuck’s sake. Instead of giving the impression of some dullard wandering through a pretty little field waving at the clouds and flowers, tell me about the time you trod in a cowpat. Life isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, and nothing turns me off more than people who try to pretend it is. And THERE ARE TOO FUCKING MANY OF YOU.

     A whole wave of fucking journalists, bloggers, and writers, churning out the same vapid, dreary, grey BORING AS FUCK writing that makes me feel like I’m swimming in hummus and fecking breadsticks. I know I’m not a your target audience, but there are so fucking many of you and you’re like some mass swathe of clones, all writing the same desperately ordinary prose about the same fucking stuff and not even writing it well, or in a way that’s going to entertain or tell me something I don’t know or make me laugh, or want to share it with anyone.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Holding my hand

     For some reason, this morning, as I said goodbye to The Boy at the school gates, I was reminded of this old blogpost. And hey, what do you know? I wrote it exactly two years ago today. I can remember writing it, oddly. The strange feeling I had that he was growing up, growing older, and growing away from me.

     Which has turned out to be utter rubbish. He’s not. If anything, we’re closer than ever, me and my boy. He’s taller, broader, he has more questions that I don’t have the answers for, but what seems to be unshakable is the bond between us. It’s not that I love him more than I do The Girl, or that he’s my favourite or anything like that. It’s that we seem to share a soul.

     I can look at him, and know exactly what he’s thinking. I can tell, from the subtlest gesture that there’s something troubling him. I can see, just from the way he stands, that something funny has just occurred to him, and he’s about to share it with me because he knows I’ll laugh too (and then we’ll have to explain it to Alistair and The Girl, who won’t find it as funny).

     Earlier this week, The Girl had an after school club, so The Boy and I decamped to what we both call The Grotty Pub to while away an hour or so. And we were chatting, talking about his day. The following exchange took place:

     The Boy: Imogen asked me if I wanted to go out with Claire this lunchtime

     Me [wildly excited, starts thinking of buying a Mother of The Groom hat] And what did you SAY????

     The Boy: No. Not because of Claire personally, but because I don’t ever want to go out with anyone, ever. I prefer solitude.

     Me: Hmm… but it might be nice when you’re older to have someone special to share things with?

     The Boy: No, not really. I just don’t like being around people. Apart from you. That’s different. And a few of my friends, because they’re like me. But mostly, I just want to be alone.

     I’m still not sure what to make of that. On the one hand, it troubles me that despite being reasonably popular at school, and part of various groups and good at Joining In With Things, he seems to reject the idea of being close to anyone. That spending so much time in his own head can’t be healthy, that he really should be more open to the idea of being around other people, and sharing things with them. And yet… and yet, and yet, and yet… I’m the same. I know I am. I don’t like being around other people too much. Given the choice, I would always choose to be alone, rather than feeling I had to share thoughts and emotions with other people. Too much social interaction and I’m a wreck, totally drained and prone to getting ratty with everyone. And so is he.

     The only exception to the rule is when we’re together. We can sit in companionable silence, or we can talk and talk and talk. And laugh, of course. Being around him is never a chore or a strain. We see the world with the same eyes, and it feels effortless, when you’re with someone who understands you so instinctively. We’re both moody, stroppy, and sarcastic at times, but it never grates on me when he’s in one of Those Moods because I know why, and I know the best way to get him out of it is to leave him alone. Something that not many other people understand. And I wonder how differently my life would have been if I'd been as aware of my introvert nature at the same age. The things I would have done differently, how perhaps things wouldn't have seemed so overwhelming if I knew how to handle them better.

     I do worry, though. I worry that because I see so much of myself in him that I let him get away with too much. That maybe I’m guilty of giving him what he wants and not what he needs. That perhaps I ought to be tougher on him, that in life he’s not going to always have people around who’ll understand him the way I do, and he needs to find ways of dealing with that. But then I look at him again, my beautiful boy with his blond hair, his silly expressions, his thoughtfulness and gentle nature… and I remind myself that he’s still only ten.

     I can’t protect him from life forever. Part of parenting is learning to let go. But while he’s still young, I can be here for him. I can do my best to smooth his path and help him to understand himself better. I worried he was slipping through my fingers. He’s not. He’s still holding my hand.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Give a little bit

     Happy National Volunteers Week!

     What? Ok, yes, I know, alright? Trust me [adopts Sybil Fawlty voice] oh, I know… Every day is National Something Day, or it’s National Something Week, or International Day of Something awareness. Too many bloody Days, Weeks, Months, Years, all wrangled into some kind of Good Cause Promotion, all of which can be filed under These Things Are Important, and Stuff You Should Care About, and If You’re Not Out There Actively Supporting This, Then What Kind Of Callous Monster Are You?

     I sort of care about a lot of them, in a vague and halfarsed way, by which I mean I might tweet about something, or share stuff on facebook, or nod approvingly to myself when something flashes up on my phone. I don’t usually get involved in these campaigns. But this one, volunteering, is very dear to my heart.

     I’m a volunteer. I do stuff, for free. Because it matters to me, because I feel it’s important, because I think other people should care about it too. I have the time, I have the inclination, I have the energy. It’s that simple. There is one volunteer led project that I adore above all others, but there’s other stuff too that I’m kind of on the edges of. If I’m honest, there are an awful lot more causes I could and should help out with too, but I don’t. And if I'm even more honest, it's because the attitude of some people really pisses me right off.

     Because we do it for free. Because we don’t get paid. Because we do it for nothing other than the love of it… the professionals and academics seem to think it’s fine to sneer at us and assume we don’t understand anything more than handing out stickers and badges. I’ve seen a lot of it in the last few days, as volunteering has become a topic of debate on twitter. Actually, debate’s the wrong word. Because it’s only the professionals who are doing it, in their cosy little echo chamber where everyone reinforces each other’s opinions and no one else is allowed in. Professional = valid. Volunteer = invalid.

     Invalid… huh. InVALid, or invullid? I’m sort of both. I can’t work. I would love to work, trust me. I would love to feel I’m making a contribution, I’m helping, I’m doing something of worth. My income last year was a grand total of £5k. Once you’ve bought food for a family of four, and paid for school trips, and dance classes, and your phone bill... However thrifty you are, there’s not a lot else to play with. I would love to have that sense of satisfaction that being paid gives you. That not only have you done something that’s helpful, but someone else thinks so too to the point that they are prepared to give you real hard cash money in reward. That’s never going to happen for me. Yes, it’s shit, but meh. All fed, no one dead. So what can I do? What do I have to offer?

     A fuck of a lot, actually. As do all volunteers. It doesn’t matter if we’re washing pot shards, or making cups of tea, or answering the phone. It doesn’t matter if we’re out in the rain, holding a plastic bucket, hoping passersby will chuck some loose change our way. Or manning the desk at a museum, or offering counselling, or spending hours sticking post it notes to a door. It doesn’t matter if we’re organising a quiz and chips night to raise funds, or crocheting squares to be made into blankets for bereaved families. It doesn’t matter what it is that we’re doing. We are out there, doing this stuff, for nothing, for free, for gratis.

     We are not doing this to get paid, to gain qualifications, to receive approval, to be lauded by our peers. We are not doing this for attention, or for glory, or to get thousands of twitter followers, or so we can write up our findings in an academic paper, or be a keynote speaker at a conference. We’re not doing the stuff we do for any reason other than that we care.

     So when I see professionals express an opinion that volunteers are somehow a bit of a joke, or we can’t be trusted to do stuff properly, or we’re a bit of a pain, or we need to be talked down to, or we’re putting professionals out of a job… Let’s take the last point. It’s not volunteers who are making the huge swinging cuts to the NHS, to benefits, to arts, to education. Funnily enough, we don’t have that kind of power. If your profession is so riven with internecine battles that you can’t organise a piss up in a brewery, never mind a proper campaign to protect yourselves, then you need to think about where you’re going and how you behave. What volunteers are doing is taking up the slack after the axe has fallen. So I’m sorry if that means that the great unwashed, the Great British Public, with their lack of qualifications and expertise, will be the ones offering free tours to other members of the public, or sitting behind the desk at a Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or running a food bank.

     I’m genuinely heartbroken that people, good people, are losing their jobs and are being consigned to the scrapheap where I currently reside. But to blame volunteers for that is wholly wrong, short-sighted, and just plain rude. When I see professionals and academics sneer at volunteers, I have a few questions I want to ask them:
  1.    How many of you got a foothold in your chosen career partly through volunteering?
  2.   Do you think that potential volunteers will be encouraged to fill in the gaps in future when they see the contempt in which you hold them?
  3. If all of the volunteers out there right now fucked off tomorrow, what state would the country be in?
  4. That’s it, really.
  5. Apart from me adding that if you’re going behave twattily to people who are basically on your side, then don’t be sodding surprised if they then refuse to get involved with anything to do with you in future. Huh. Funny that. Turns out you do need volunteers after all…

     And to drag this back to a happier place… my fellow volunteers, out there, doing what you do, making the difference, quietly, unshowily just getting on with it all without any expectation of any kind of reward or praise. You lot are the absolute best. One of the slogans for Volunteers Week is ‘Why do you do it?’ I started because I wanted to make a difference. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. 

     But a lot of other people have certainly made a difference to me. The people I’ve met through the various projects, however I've come across them, either as a fellow volunteer or someone who has relied on their help, go out there every day and they make the difference to so many people, in too many ways to describe. I’m really very proud to know you, and to get to hang out with you. You give your time, your passion, your consideration to people who don’t often appreciate it. But it doesn’t go unnoticed. Just ask yourselves where they’d be without us, eh?