Friday, 15 January 2016

Between children

It was the same for my daughters growing up in Australia. They went through a period of questioning the existence of Father Christmas. My son came home a few weeks before Christmas and announced that only he and one other boy in his class believed in Le Père Noël. They had had a conversation about this amongst the students and he had felt strongly enough about his convictions to not be swayed by popular vote and had voiced his belief out loud.

He had found an IPhone application that asked a series of questions of children and on the basis of their answers put them onto Santa’s naughty or nice list. He came out with a B+, which placed him on the nice list, although the final application message was a warning to remain on his guard, as Santa’s elves would continue to check up on him. He was chuffed about this and got his older two sisters to do the same test to see if they would be lucky enough be put on the right list with him.

A week or so later he came home and said that he didn’t believe any more as he had been called a ‘baby’ for still believing. He looked crestfallen and unsure about whether he had made the right choice. After all, he had written a beautiful letter to Santa, had included pictures cut out of magazines, of the toys that he wanted, and had wrapped it all carefully in a special piece of fabric. Independently, he had found an envelope for his offering. The envelope had simply been addressed, on the back, in his childish handwriting to Le Père Noël. It broke my heart to think of him sadly having to turn the page into a logical rational world instead of being allowed to remain in his magical fantasy one.

Then again there were no age limits to children being hurtful to each other, unintentionally or deliberately. My middle daughter at high school had participated in an inter-school cross-country event and on this occasion had mixed with students from her school that she had not come across before. One of the girls after having chatted with my daughter for all of a minute said, ‘You look like Polly Pocket. I think I’ll call you Polly.’ This annoyed my daughter more than upsetting her but my older daughter who had been listening to this story being told in the car on the way home, and who was usually so quiet and so polite burst forth with, ‘You should have said to her, you look like a dog. I think I’ll call you dog.’ I laughed all the way home.

Of course, she never would have said such a thing and I would have been most upset if she had, but occasionally it did them good to get rid of some of the inevitable antagonism of the schoolyard by speaking about it. A program on French television called ‘Fais pas ci, fais pas ça,’ centered on the daily lives of a few families. In one episode, a family was attempting to work out a date for a birthday party for the teenage daughter. Unexpectedly, the birthday girl had flounced out of the room and it was left to her older sister to explain to the mother that the date that she had proposed coincided with the party of the most popular girl in the class. No one would choose to come to her sister’s party.

Later in the same show the sisters sat the mother down and went through with her the different categories of students at the school; the popular ones, the semi-popular ones (the dangerous ones) and the bozos (stupid, not popular). Once a bozo always a bozo, they went on to explain to her, and unfortunately that was where the younger daughter had placed herself. She was still to learn that some of the most interesting people fitted comfortably into that last category and usually the most intelligent were those that simply did not care about being there.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Bonne année

My daughter shared this with me after having received it from one of her Italian friends. Happy New Year!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Places to call home

I was looking forward to our planned road trip; a mere 1400 km across the desolate, wind-swept, outback plains of Australia, dotted with the crumbling remains of dwellings long ago resigned to their slow, silent end; tin-roofed farm buildings, only fully alive when beating to the rhythm of the passing, oft-longed-for raindrops, and piles of rarely used or abandoned farm machinery - which, it was hard to tell.

We slowed occasionally to watch as the cows, straddling the main highway and unaware of their priority status, crossed in front of us to paddocks more desirable, unconcerned about timelines, variable property prices, drought-affected incomes or our need to 'just be there'.

Changing speed limits marked our entry and exit to the small, and getting smaller, towns; one of which I used to call home. It was hot, too...but that, opening the car door from our air-conditioned comfort and stepping into a veritable furnace, we expected.

What I had forgotten, and what struck me the most, was the straight lines. We had become used to the contours of our French mountains, cursed them occasionally as we struggled up and down them on our bikes or returning on foot from the village with our laden shopping baskets. But, happy to post photo after photo of soaring, beautiful peaks. Out here, it was achingly limitless, flat and open; nature and time disappearing into the horizon.
It was all coming back to me, how, divorced from the distractions of city living, I used to feel. If I was lucky, being there, in the Australian outback, brought with it a calmness, a sense of peace. But, that sentiment floated, as it always had, dangerously close to a darker push and pull - attraction and dissatisfaction. If I had had the choice would I have loved the land, happily lived the entwined lifestyle of land and farmer, oblivious to the bigger world out there?  Or, would I have known that, despite sincerely wishing that it was, that it would never have been enough?
I suspect that I know the answer. And, it probably has little to do with any one particular place. That push and pull has become more vigorous, determined to keep shaking me out of my now and onto my next destination.