Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Something has to change

Looking over my shoulder out of the window, all I can see is a monotone landscape. Shades of grey, greeny-grey and browny-grey. My late m-in-law (always a cheerful soul, NOT!) would have called this "suicide weather". I am inclined to agree with her this morning, having slept very badly last night thanks to Lucy-cat sitting on my shoulder all night, purring loudly and dabbing me with her paws. At 5.45 a.m. I gave up the battle to sleep and now feel thoroughly drained. I have done the last of the ironing to warm up, then decanted some bulk-bought spices into re-used (again and again) glass spice jars. The last one I did was chilli flakes. I picked up a few straggler-flakes. Then I blew my nose. Bad idea. Now it has chilli-flake-itis and is streaming . . . Just shows how awake I am this morning.

Last night I was reading Henry Beston's "Northern Farm". If you have never read any of his work, may I recommend anything he ever wrote. His relaxing prose and short chapters were just what I needed last night, although one paragraph has set my mind working on a particular spiral today. In the preamble to this paragraph, he was speaking of "the need of men for a community to live in and live with." That this was as yet an unrecognised need - certainly a concept totally alien to politicians at national level, and yet surely it is a fundamental basic of nationhood - that people interact and work together for the benefit of themselves and their community. He goes on to say:

"I suspect that if this open wound is to heal, it will have to heal like all wounds from the bottom, and that we shall have to begin at the beginning with the family and its obligations, with the village and its responsibilities, and with our universal and neglected duty to the earth."

Wise words, and very pertinent now, although I believe Beston's slant was more towards "our universal and neglected duty to the earth."

With the recent court-case about the feral boys who tortured, sexually abused and damn near killed two other boys who they saw as victims, this comment seems particularly relevant. The structure of family, for some stratas of society, seems to be in meltdown. "Dysfunctional" as an adjective attached to the word "family" is common coinage in newspapers. There have no doubt always been families through civilization whose attitude to child-rearing has been at best slipshod (think of that famous Hogarth print, with the gin-sodden mother not noticing as her baby falls over the railing), that children were perhaps just a commodity by which you might earn money - it was common in Victorian times for children to be sold into prostitution - or at best, those from working families had to earn their keep and support their parents as soon as they could do something - anything - useful. Think of Charles Dickens in the Blacking Factory children up chimneys, working down mines and amidst the mill machinery, bird-scaring or being (literally) "farmed-out" at 8 years old.

Now children are being sold downstream by parents who renege on their social obligations - have nothing to pass on to their children from their experience of the world, and at worst, like the boys above, were only taught the degradation of mankind via family violence, alcohol and drug-abuse, and violent and/or pornographic films so that is normal in their world. In the milder instances, some parents see no obligation to teach their child to be continent before going to school (the teachers can do that), and they see it as the school's job to teach the children moral boundaries, ethics, social skills - even speech in extreme cases. It reminds me of one family I came across where the mother had one supper for herself and her "partner" of decent food - even lobster or steak - and then a jam sandwich and crisps type "meal" for her - 7 - children. The youngest child spent its time strapped into a pushchair in front of the television all day long.

It worries me to read that so many young people have no life skills whatsoever but live in a house with every possible convenience money can buy, but having come from a family in which both parents worked, so the skill of cooking from scratch became one of shoving something instant in the oven or microwave, in one or two generations, a basic building block of family life, food - nourishment - has become degraded and undermined. Boys grown to men have no idea how to change a plug, carry out a simple woodwork repair, grow anything in the garden. Children grow up thinking that being a celebrity is a "career" choice . . .

My family mean more to me than anything and I have always seen it as my moral responsibility to equip them to grow into capable and well-rounded adults, with skills that they can pass on to their children in time. My responsibility to teach them the difference between good and bad, to show them boundaries, for them to show consideration to others, to recognize their obligations and responsibilities to their partners, family, friends, workmates and neighbours. When they were growing up it was blardy hard work. Children need those boundaries in place - they seek them because that boundary gives them security.

It is apparent that without any boundaries they are their own judge and jury, run wild and listen to, like the boys in Lord of the Flies, the beast inside us all . . .

Perhaps it is time for the words duty, obligation and responsibility to be highlighted again in family life, from the parents downwards and to heal that festering open wound from the core.


  1. I'm with you 100% on this post. I think maybe a possible answer would be to make it compulsory for prospective parents to attend parenting classes, along with the anti-natal ones!

  2. My brother and I were discussing this topic just last week,saying that we had tried to teach our children the oldfashioned skills such as lighting and maintaining a fire.My son-in-law,a Londoner,had no idea how to lay and light a fire until he met my daughter.We have since taught him many things,and he is now a keen vegetable gardener and helps with our poultry.My son can turn his hand to anything,like his father could.If there were to be a crisis of any kind,with no electricity or gas etc most of the younger generation would have no idea what to do !!!!

  3. I'm sure what you say has a lot of truth to it/is true, but worry that in the UK at the moment there is an imbalanced viewpoint from only one window (if that makes sense)being pummeled into people from all sides.
    Whenever I visit the UK (about once a year, we talk to family often on the phone and read the UK news and press via internet) I get increasingly depressed by the negative focus of most media definitely has an 'isn't life awful, jump off a cliff.. trivial and tacky tone' to it that I don't believe to be a true picture.
    I believe it's not accurate because friends, families, friends of friends families, neighbours and people I meet are not like that,not at all,they don't think or act in those ways .
    I'm sure the majority of residents of the UK are law abiding, hard working and have some common sense.
    I have a strong suspicion that an unbalanced focus by the media not only makes people miserable but is also harmful.
    I don't mean we need rose tinted glasses but a bit of old fashioned set a good example media (I don't mean preach but make a bit of effort for balance don't focus on the easy shock/horror rubbish..most of us aren't like that..find the decent interesting stories too and follow them up) would be of value.

    Hope that makes sense a bit at least..I don't disagree with what you say, you just made me think and I've tried to make sense of a feeling that has been growing lately (probably in a very muddled way..sorry!)

  4. Henry Beston's "Northern Farm" is my favorite of his beautifully written books. [Did I send a copy of "Herbs and the Earth"?] I never find his thoughts dated, although he was writing in the 1930's.
    So many of us of a certain age grew up "in the country" and perhaps took for granted the homely skills of fire-building, gardening, canning, preserving, "Making Do." I've found it interesting that in the US at least, the arts of living on the land were taken up in the 70's by the "hippies". In our farming area of Vermont several small communes sprang up, young people who mixed free love and drugs with efforts[usually short-lived] at heating with wood, gardening, living off the grid. This movement was followed by the glossy magazine promoted escape to the country as a more sophisticated and self-conscious effort by the upper middle class who could afford to rescue and restore vintage buildings, collect pricey antiques, landscape with "old roses" and herb gardens, "decorate" in "country style."
    Neither extreme was in tune with the lifestyle of our families who had owned New England farms for generations, cherished, matter-of-factly, g-grandmother's teapot or grandfather's favorite rocking chair.
    It perhaps isn't as simple as affirming that when people live in an industrialized society and lose their contact with the land and seasons they must necessarily become uncouth and violent. I do think the city culture encourages the mindset which says, for example, that if one is hungry, order in pizza or run out to the nearest MacDonalds for a Happy Meal for the kids rather than spending the time and thought to raise [or buy] real food, prepare it and make eating a family gathering time.
    My daughter, who works in the local school system, could verify and elaborate on your comments re dysfunctional and abusive families. The welfare system in this country seems to encourage and support a lack of family responsibility. [I could get on quite a rant!]
    I must say that although Lucy kept you awake, your thinking and writing skills are not impaired!
    And to those who may wonder why you didn't simply chuck her out and shut the bedroom door, I can only conclude that they don't live with cats!

  5. I will try and do an overall comment (especially after losing the reply I typed earlier. Grrr!)

    There is often a media feeding frenzy over cases like the one I mentioned, along with the Baby P case and other such-like. The media have a great responsibility to report the facts of such cases, but they just love to go into overdrive with their comments and opinions and a large bowl of salt is often a necessary accompaniment. If you were to believe all you read, there is scarcely a decent human being in the country! Why not write some POSITIVE journalism for a change? The vast majority of people I know and come into contact with are perfectly normal well-balanced human beings, BUT I am sometimes quite shocked by what matters most to them (and I suppose influences how their children think) and having wonderful holidays and "things" counts for nothing surely if there is not a single book in the house and General Ignorance rules? As for the Chavs I have seen in town, dead drunk by 7 p.m. on a Friday night, and with babies in push-chairs with them as they stagger down the street, less said the better . . .

    You have only to walk around the average supermarket and see what passes for "food" being loaded into people's trolleys. OK - it's easy to be judgemental, but time and time again I see trolleys loaded to the gunnels with "stuff" which isn't remotely "food". Ready-meals with more nutrition in the packaging than there is in the meal. You would be surprised at how many people rely on Aunt Bessy for their Yorkshires! My daughters just about did Domestic Science at school. The only thing I can remember them actually making was a pizza. I can remember being taught about flat fish and oily fish, about the different fibres in meat, nutritional value of various foods, and we learned to make everything from toast through soused herrings, make good mashed potato, Christmas Cake, fruit pies and crumbles, biscuits and main meals of various sorts. It was a good few years ago now, mind, but I learned to cook in a basic fashion. Take that away from schoolchildren, and add mothers who rely on microwave meals and you have shorted out the cooking circuit. MM - you hit the nail firmly on the head - the further away from the land, where there are crops being grown and farm animals providing meat, milk, eggs etc - the less the understanding of the importance of good food - as little interfered with as possible.

    To be honest, I believe education is one of the sources of much of today's ills. Right from being taught to read - with the whole word vs. phonics debate. I taught my 3 to read at home using the phonics approach, which was how I had learned. This was because they were attending a Category 1 Welsh-medium school and English would not be introduced until they were about 8. We never had any troubles with their reading.

    Remove the Grammar Schools, which were the poor scholar's lifeline to a better education, and then you then have to massage the examinations qualifying University entry, and dabble in some social engineering to give chances to the deserving cases from underachieving areas.

    Give no chronology to History, and then your country has no real past or relevence.

    Give Welfare benefits to one and all (and who should I be to complain, now that my daughter with a First can't get a job and is on the dole) and you soon have a line-bred strata of society with no wish to achieve, no ambition beyond children and no HOPE.

    There are good schools too - I love to read about children having a garden they tend, or proper Nature lessons, or hands-on history and some wonderful school outings.

    It that doesn't make any sense, it's because my brain has gone walkabout . . . an early night tonight I think.

  6. P.S. As my previous post was too long:

    MM - yes Herbs and the Earth has been sent by you, dipped into and will be again - many thanks.

    Rosemary - sounds like you have a good son-in-law.

    Val - yes, it made sense - we do tend to just get the bad news and none of the good and the bad blown out of all proportion.

    Jinksy - that's just what I was thinking earlier on. When you have the obvious no-hopers (like the Form 4 (no letters, note!) when I was at school, surely it is better to have Life Skills lessons with stuff about relationships, how NOT to have a baby, looking after a baby (if it's too late!), basic cookery, housekeeping, budgeting skills.

  7. I echo all your sentiments and more! The melt down of family life, which surely owes much to the media -- of all kinds --, the raising of children, the laissez faire attitude of the parents, the jump-on-any-band-wagon and any new fad in the education system etc. etc. Yes I could go on a rant too . What worries me is, have we gone too far down the road to turn back? Honestly, I'm glad I'm in my seventies and won't have to see the further decline of the western world for much longer. I've done my part and more, to keep my environs level-headed, but the faces of kids I've taught from young ages haunt me. Some are dead, some are in mental asylums, some are homeless and hopeless. Thank the good Lord I also see the bright shining faces of some who have made right choices and are seeking to live righteously and responsibly and bring others along with them.