Saturday 4 October 2008

What's it all about Alfie?

Evidently the problem with the the House of Representatives failing to pass the bill to pump $700bn into the US financial system was an issue of 'branding'. By referring to it as a 'bailout' it appeared as though typical US taxpayers were stumping up some 2000 McDonalds doughnuts each to keep the wealthy bankers in the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed. Evidently it should have been positioned as a 'financial rescue package for the global economy'. And not withstanding it was the media who continued to refer to it as a bailout, they may have a point. But as someone who earns their crust in the world of branding, it distresses me immeasurably, that my offspring's future can be threatened by a few mis-spoken words. I would have hoped, naively, that the lawmakers of the largest mostly-democratic country could see beyond words and rise to the challenge in hand...I'm glad to see they have second time round.

Now whilst we're on the subject of branding, it has become time to rebrand this diary. Before I started writing I spent weeks trying to think of a decent title, and failed miserably...clutching on to Man and Boy for the lack of anything better. And I've had enough of it. So I've decided to rename as 'Don't panic, RTFM' which refers firstly to the state of panic I found myself in for the first four years of my new found role as both mother and father to the boy, and secondly to a phrase which has been used regularly at home for the last fourteen and a half years. And to go with the new name is a new look still designed by someone who bears the same surname as me, but hopefully it's a little easier on the eye.

I was asked just recently 'Why?', 'What's it for?' Which seemed a fair question to me especially as I am very clear 'why'. Firstly, it's entirely self-indulgent...a record of many of the things that would otherwise get lost in the mists of time as the boy grows up and I grow old; secondly it's therapeutic helping resolve many things that have caused grief in recent years; and lastly I spend my life writing for other people who demand word-perfect, grammar-perfect text which once supplied, they proceed to this is my chance to leave typos in and write just what I want when I want. I'm slowly learning the rules...if someone comments I should respond (often I don't because I don't have anything to add..just enjoy their jottings)...I follow the blogs that I really like either because they're well-written, or because they're funny, or because they strike a chord...or any combination of the above. And suspect I would enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer with the authors - but only comment if there's real reason to (too often I see no need). I avoid the professional or semi-professional ones which I suspect are penned by people who having finished typing sit back with an air of smugness. So please indulge me.

Can't read, won't read

Coming home one day this week I was greeted with "I'm dyslexic", "I'm sorry I chortled expecting some hilarious punchline to follow." But no, in all seriousness the boy said, "No, it's true I might be dyslexic". Realising I'd stumbled into quicksand on a B movie set, I sat down and asked him what he was talking about. He patiently explained that his French work was very poor, and his teacher had checked with his French teacher from last year and his House mistress, and there was a evidently a problem. Thinking quickly, I realised that being top of the class in English and History and with nothing other than good to very good grades in any of his literacy subjects, dyslexia was unlikely to be the problem. In my usual gentle fashion, better known as 'bull in a china shop' syndrome, I flushed and told him in no uncertain terms that there was no question, if there was a problem, it was certainly not dyslexia...and then backed it up with the evidence above...and just to put the genie back in the bottle, I said that the school should not under any circumstances say anything like that without tests and without speaking with me first. I said I would speak with the school in the morning.

I finally reached the headmistress ten minutes before she headed off to a meeting...and the gravity of my concerns were made clear to her when I said that I didn't want "that woman" near my child until the matter was resolved. A panicked French teacher called within minutes, and numerous telephone conversations later, it is clear that not much is clear...the teacher denies ever mentioning the 'd' word, but for certain the boy's basic work is in fact very good, although his concentration can wander and mistakes creep in...and equally, the teacher's assertion that the boy was distressed by his mistakes is not borne out by all.

So probably a hurricane in a teacup and everything is back to normal...but of note:

  • the teacher had just been on a 'special needs awereness course' and so was probably oversensitised
  • under the confident exterior of a handsome young man lies the uncertainties of a boy going through puberty
  • like any mother who feels their offspring being threatened, I will lash out protectively
So looks like parents evening in a month's time should be fun....

Wednesday 1 October 2008

On the skids

Toilet training is one of those joys of young parenting...or do I mean parenting the young? I'm glad to claim I've never been to a dinner party and had to suffer the joys of listening to new parents talking about their new-born's toilet habits. Fortunately, the boy was an early starter.

Of course, when you get older the question, as mocked by many, is whether the seat should be left up or down. You can imagine that in our all-male household "up" is the way it goes...and you'd be partially the flat by the sea, our new bathroom features a hydraulically damped lid, so there is much joy to be had in it gradually closing all by itself.

But there are other toileting issues. Drips on the rim...a long battle is fought trying to ensure that should there be a drip, it is properly cleaned up at the time. I can almost feel the women throwing their arms up and declaring "Men!", but I have to declare from experience, that women are just as guilty as us boys. And worse still, is checking whether the bowl has been fully flushed after number twos. I don't want to look at other people's skid marks or floaters, in the same way I hope they don't want to inspect mine. In the flat by the sea, this is a particular issue because a) the water pressure is low and b) if it's not flushed properly and we're then away for a fortnight the consequences on return can mean psychological counselling for years afterwards. But it's not just at home...we have a shared toilet in the office and just too often I have to adopt the role of janitor. Pooey

Monday 29 September 2008

School disco

I had a sad e-mail at the end of last week from an old school friend: "In process of joining the massed ranks of the divorced - keen to hear how to date in London without catching anything!!!"My reply, I hoped was suitably supportive, but elicited the following response, which I found quite shocking, "Yes a shame, no real reason, just end of!!! Now back to the best places to meet younger women in central London (without looking like an old git out of water)". And this from a mid-Forties man, married for nigh-on two decades with three children. Recognising there's a degree of bravado here, it still seems wrong that a marriage could be dismissed so easily.

I remember being shocked about marriage twice before... a sixty something next door neighbour split up from her now-revealed alcoholic husband. It occured to me that at that age, you really should be able to relax with your partner, and not have to go through the trauma of break-up. The second was a friend who lived with her American boyfriend and was pressurised into tieing the knot. Which she duly did at a glorious ceremony in the south of France. A few weeks later, she had changed job and met the man of her dreams. Clearly the decision of a lifetime commitment had been taken for the wrong reasons - I'm glad to say she is still with THE ONE and they have two terrific if somewhat boisterous young lads.

In both cases, it caused me to re-evaluate the concept of marriage...not that either one stopped me doing what I still regard as extraordinarily romantic...I met and married in 99 days. We were divorced five years and five days later. Some sort of perfect symmetry.

So for the boy, I hope he meets and chooses the right person, and when they get to know each other properly, they live happily ever after. As they do in all the best fairy tales.

Equally I despair of my schoolfriend who thinks that dating in mid-life is the same as going to the school disco and grabbing the best-looking girl for a sweaty-clinch for the slow dance at the end of the night. Oh those were the days!