Tag Archives: Kent

(Too) great expectations

20 Feb

the-view-from-dover-castleLast week was half term but this made little difference to my economic circumstances, so through a cunning (and winning) combination of kind friends, family, childcare and a 12-yr-old fired up to find her own entertainment, I managed to fit five days into four and take Friday off.

We would, I decided, have a proper day out, something which weekend commitments and work often put paid to.

I was really excited about it. I love hanging with my kids and in an ideal world – one where people funded me just to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’, and one where school-years education was absorbed by osmosis rather than in-school attendance, that kind of ideal world – I would do it all the time. We had never been to Dover Castle and Friday, I decided, represented the moment all that would change.

However, lurking darkly in the back of my mind is the knowledge that the optimism generated from anticipation prior to a day’s adventure is rarely matched by the actual experience. Someone – usually more than one someone – is not in the right frame of mind to enjoy, and I am left trying to work out why actuality doesn’t always reach the heights of expectation. 

I think that word, ‘expectation’, turns out to be to blame. I want it to be great, not just Facebook-photo great, but actually in-real-life great. And because we’re all in the same boat, looking forward to being in the same place at the same time with no other demands, we all have the same aspirations.

No surprises, it’s impossible to match reality to these over-high expectations. It’s why in our household the impromptu (which I am absolutely rubbish at) tends to be the most successful, because no-one has anything to anticipate; but being impromptu when any attempt at it needs to be scheduled to the n-th degree, to fit in with everything else, contradicts the term and as a result doesn’t work.

Looking at it rationally, with sky-high expectations filed firmly under ‘give yourself a break’, it was a great day, when viewed upon a normal plane of greatness. We saw some fascinating exhibits – the Dover Castle War Tunnels and hospital are highly recommended – and spent the day together mostly out in the almost-sunshine without interruption. Yes, L2 became hangry on the way home, and had a ‘moment’; yes, L1 was overtired and started the very early morning off with a little bit of weeping, but why should it be those incidents that I allow to loom large in my memory when the rest of the day was what long-term memories are made of?

A perfect day is one in which we are together, and one where we can be honest and genuine with each other, without any grudges or long-term repercussions; we take the rough with the smooth because there’s no need to paper over the cracks with family.

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Christmas – a critique

5 Jan

LightThis year Christmas roared into our village, chased into being by the 85mph winds that first visited Kent on the afternoon of 23rd December, and keep revisiting rhythmically ever since.

At 9pm on 23rd, the lights and TV flickered, buzzed out, then fought back to life. This happened twice more before all electrical appliances finally conceded defeat and crept into a corner to lick their wounds. For over 16 hours. Of course, it’s quite funny at first, an adventure to be lived not endured – ‘remember the Christmas when…?’ – even on 23rd December. After all, you don’t expect power to be gone for very long. Candles were unearthed (fortunately, it being Christmas, there were a few already lurking around the place); we grabbed all our camping lighting, and sat in semi-darkness checking Facebook for updates from others in the village and surrounding areas (turned out it was only us, in the immediate vicinity, who had lost power); until of course we realised that without electricity we couldn’t charge our mobiles, so then social networking was out of the question.

At 9.30, it seemed like a good idea to go to bed. We had my inlaws staying with us so extra duvets were donated and everyone assumed that light – and therefore heat – would return to us in the morning. It didn’t. By this point, proper cold was creeping in. I found battery life on my tablet and learned that freezers stay frozen for around 16 hours, as long as you don’t open them, so ours was kept resolutely shut.  The turkey was placed by the badly-sealed garage door for that refrigerator-style environment (it was freezing in the garage – and not only freezing, but, well, something else as well – that’s coming up…). The ‘old-fashioned’ phone – the one that doesn’t need electricity to function – became star of the show, and my dad and stepmother mobilised as emergency Christmas hosts – if required; while we begged an audience with my mother for showers and a giant cool bag for aforementioned turkey.

All this seemed eminently practical in terms of decisions, I mean, who needs electricity, that sort of thing – until we realised that the entire extension – garage and office and utility room (the latter two are actually the same place, divided by usage rather than building techniques) were leaking. The garage had channeled its leaks into five or six places, rhythmically dripping through various ingress points under which we rapidly placed all the buckets and largish receptacles we could find. The office / utility room, however, had a roof that had simply given up the ghost altogether, and the entire wall was awash (if this is possible), the floor an ice-rink, a skating party which we were most definitely not equipped for.

I’m renowned for often insane levels of optimism (think the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “It’s just a flesh wound!”) but at this point, even for me, it was a struggle to look on the bright side (another Python link excuse, oh why not). Water water everywhere and obviously no time for the roofer – who came out on Christmas Eve, which was incredibly kind – to fix it before New Year; an insurance company who said ‘Flat roof eh, that’ll be general wear and tear, we’re not likely to cover that’ (there has been a better outcome than expected, however, we’re very fortunate – or alternatively, since insurance should actually insure one against events like this, it should simply be the case that this outcome is the fair one…); and no, still no electricity (I tried to dry the utility room from the heat of my anger at the insurers – merry Christmas, join us on hold for 90 minutes – but remarkably my inner fury didn’t appear to externalise into anything to evaporate the lake). It was looking like a Christmas to remember for all the wrong reasons.

There was a happy ending, and we were incredibly lucky. Power came back on about 2pm Christmas Eve. The heating kicked in; the lights came back; and the turkey’s position near the draughty garage door clearly did the trick since it didn’t poison anyone on Christmas Day. The water’s still coming in, and some extra leaky parts have arrived to say ‘hello’; but we’ve not had the wind / rain combination as viciously as 23rd, so it hasn’t been as drastic and I’m faster on the draw with the buckets, anyway, which helps. I cannot imagine what it would have been like had we come to 6pm Christmas Eve and realised that that was that till after the Bank Holiday. I know we would have coped; it would have been an adventure for the Ls; and family would have pulled together to make sure Christmas happened and no-one got too cold or wet; but it would have been difficult, and it might even have been awful. My heart goes out to those in Tonbridge, Maidstone and other places so close to here where the story was very different. Our sixteen hours in the darkness – actually and metaphorically – made me realise how utterly dependent I am on the background conveniences of our lifestyle; and how fortunate I am that these exist in the first place.

The return to school: how was it for you?

7 Sep
Beautiful Lullingstone taken from the Kent County Council website

Beautiful Lullingstone taken from the Kent County Council website

Two days since the start of term, and the chance to draw breath and review what it was actually like to go from a summer full of fun and frolics to the simultaneous return of school and proper working hours, on the same day. The summer came skidding to a halt without grace or apparently warning, colliding straight into the return to normality as if it were a reinforced glass screen. The unavoidable divide, the unmissable change of pace and activity,

You’d think going through my sixth pre-school summer end, and my third with two heading off into full-time education, I would be used to it, I would have planned for it.

Well, no. I was in denial. The day before school went back I was at work, so the last holiday day for me and the Ls was the day prior to that one, where we spent hours with friends frolicking in a stream at Lullingstone Country Park, foraging through the woods for blackberries and ending up on the zip wire where even I had a go (it was excellent fun). The day was hot, relaxed and in keeping with the rest of the summer bulged out beyond the span of its natural hours. When the elastic band snapped back I realised with shock that we only had half an hour to get L1’s reading challenge completion certificate from the library; and buy lunchboxes, a new school bag and a new school jumper. Which required a return to Swanley and a diversion to a neighbouring village, a drive of in total twenty minutes’ duration. A feat of time-stretching once more, perhaps; miraculously we managed it, but that manic half hour epitomised my approach to return to school planning.

Actually, it’s all been okay. It really has. I’m sad to wave goodbye to the chill-out days and by the looks of things the actual summer as well: the weather’s turned simultaneous to term commencing. But as my father always philosophically, perhaps slightly depressingly, says, all good things must come to an end; and school term time and yes, work, bring plenty of good, challenging and exciting things with them, as well.

The lessons of history’s silent majority

1 Jun

Potato and carrot pancakeWe’ve been having many discussions about the Second World War in our house recently, since L1 has been learning about it and has just finished a lengthy project, which she really enjoyed (yes, as did I, especially cooking the ration meals – illustrated here).

Some of our conversations – plus recent reads of mine and debates with friends – have really got me thinking about the way history is taught in our schools. I don’t mean the quality of the teaching – in L1’s case, her WW2 instruction has been exemplary, but I have written elsewhere about how lucky I think we are on that score.

What it is, is that in the syllabus there appears to be no acknowledgment that in the case of WW2 it was the actions of the few that led to life-changing horror on every side of the conflict, not just in the UK. This seems to be to be a message that is alive throughout our history – ancient and recent – and is prominent in these times in which we’re living.

I’ve just read Markus Zuzak’s incredible The Book Thief, in fact I read it some months ago but it’s so fresh in my mind because of it’s impact that it feels like I read it more recently than I actually did. The recounting of one girl’s personal experiences and tragedies in the midst of the macro tragedy that was starving terrified Germany ruled by a lunatic in the run-up to and during WW2 starkly, beautifully and devastatingly outline that there were all the other general populations of all the other countries fighting during those years undergoing the same unspeakable horror we were. The Allies’ actions, vitally necessary as they undoubtedly were, led to the same howling terror of night air raids and crushed cities for the general population as they did in our country too.

It is important that the undeniable achievements and bravery – which continues today – of our armed forces and civilians on the ground forced into untenable circumstances and practicing survival are highlighted. And it makes sense that the focus of what happened to the ordinary population – and how the ordinary population not only survived but became extraordinary in those horrendous, heart-breaking times – is on what it meant to the UK. By doing this it is easier to make it real, and more memorable, especially when told from the memories of our very own relatives, friends and kind people prepared to share their stories with our children, to make the events they underwent part of our children’s memories in the hope – and I do hope this – that lessons of the blessings of peace can truly be learned. Living in Kent, by the side of the constantly targeted London to Channel coast railway, the devastation of the bombings in our local area have always been very real to me, and have become so for L1, visiting Chislehurst Caves and Jubilee Park, and hearing their histories, as I did.

I’m not trying to lead a crusade to redress this balance except quietly in my own home. Whether for money or for religion or for oil or for territory or for any of the other legion reasons that wars are fought – be these wars blatant bombardments or undercover terrorism campaigns – I don’t want my children to think for one minute that the actions of a few leading these groups – whatever banner that few fight under – necessarily, or even ever, in the case of true evil and extremism – reflect the mindset of the majority. This lesson can be best taught, I believe, not by special focus but by including the message in the subjects taught as part of our current curriculum. Tolerance and understanding are qualities that are becoming increasingly important, so we have to start getting the message across while the next generation are young.

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