Christmas 2006

Is it a sign of age when you like Jane Austen more, and hip hop even less? And that lack of desire to watch violent unpleasant films, does that go away as the children grow up? Really, we aren’t narrow minded. Except Helen isn’t that keen on that World Music stuff, and for almost all of modern jazz, arrogant self-indulgent pretentious nonsense that it is, with applauding all the solos being like hugging everyone on the Tube, and oh yes, also nearly the entire oeuvre of Country music too. So that’s it settled then, narrow and probably balding as well as grey.
Which you certainly couldn’t say about our children. There may not be any girls in the house but they all smell of Herbal Essences, and I think we may get Isaac’s eyebrows done for Christmas. Samuel goes for the Afro style. Josiah just grunts ‘nuh’ to suggestions of a haircut and won’t ask Roisin to bring three three razors for the other indication.

One good thing about having them away from home is that they bring back soapy tales from a completely new environment. All of them hate questions about Special Friends, but that still leaves a couple of topics. Smule seems to be having a good time in York, or wherever he is right now, but he’s sharing several houses, and brings back glorious tales of everybody’s ups and downs and love lives, except for his own. We visited York on a pre-Christmas weekend and had to stay out of town, and travelling in on a bus where the the graffiti was on peel-off labels and the conversation good enough for a whole chapter of Samule’s unwritten novel. One was a poet and didn’t know it. He went to South Africa with a teaching charity for the summer and we got together for just a week in Cornwall where we dug holes on the beach and stared at the sea. We got to borrow his iPod. He has been reading too much poetry I think, and most of his 25 Most Played are ballads of romance or loss. His main house is across town with three girls, one of whom was taken aback to discover he’s not gay, but won’t tell her parents. So Barbara Streisand for Christmas then.

Isaac has just finished his first term of computer science in Manchester, where we stayed with Lucy the vicar’s daughter and co, who are lovely. Isn’t it curious that Jane Austen was a vicar’s daughter but none of her characters were, in fact the church hardly gets a look in, although several of her leading characters have vicar’s daughter-ish elements. Actually we know only a few vicar’s children, but with the Biddle Hughes it happened the other way round anyway, as if having children drove them to it later. Well you can see that it could. Except in their family of course. With Isaac’s characteristic advance planning we were forced to make an impromptu attempt on the record for kitting out a student for a year, at the Trafford Centre late on Saturday evening, or he’d have had no duvet. No records broken finding our way back from it though.

Also on his course are 210 nerdy boys and 2 girls. There isn’t a lot of soapy gossip (or indeed soap) in the computerish folk, but fortunately he’s in a hall of residence with a much wider range of deviancy. According to the author of the Dilbert cartoons, male engineers become sexually irresistible to their co-workers in their 40s, whereas female engineers are sexually irresistible to their co-workers from the moment they start until some time after their death. Nevertheless Josiah’s evidence-based predictions about Isaac’s group of friends proved totally inaccurate.

Having struggled round quite a few student residences of late, driven to reflect that it’s extraordinary what beautiful people emerge from such states of squalor (I don’t mean you if you’re reading this, you’re very tidy, probably pathologically, have you sought help?). Surprisingly Isaac went back to stay with a York friend recently – surprising, as the first time I thanked her mum for putting up with him, it was very good of them, came back the forthright reply ‘Yes it certainly was, wasn’t it’. According to Facebook he has no special friend, though probably should apply to marry Joanna, whose earthbound solid advice on correct sock etiquette, and accompaniment to the music dept at night, proved invaluable.

Poor Josiah is left at home having to do all the teenage heaving and sighing alone, but he’s doing enormously well at making the fuss of three. As he is number 3 we are now in a position to formalise some of the structures, and have recently discussed his need to get some new talent in, or upgrade some of his exsiting friends to level A excuses. This is the negotiating tactic where you ask to go to an event chiefly on the back of the reputation of the people you are going with. A level ‘A’ excuse is a friend with whom you are allowed to an overnight student party at a vaguely located student flat in Glasgow, and get away with replying ‘dunno’ (that second syllable reluctantly) when asked when you’d be back; Level B – normal sort of people, i.e. watch them like a hawk, and level C – unspoken message ‘I don’t really want to go but please ban me to reduce my social disgrace’.

Unfortunately this formalisation process can lead to some pressures from other parents and indeed marital disputes (Why did you tell them Catriona is an A?). Level A cards played in these circumstances are predominantly female, as they know their parents’ preconceptions (but do the subjects know who they are?). Where are the boys? Possible exception: Sam’s Calum with the hippy fuzz, Isaac’s Calum with the half empty cans of Irn Bru, Josiah’s Calum with the shy arty sister who works in Next. We add these details because they’ll help you when we test you later.

The boys as a team always been formidable, and while to the chagrin of their mother not always wearing the most sensible shoes, and they have generated a list, Emma-style, of desirable spouses as they perceive their parents will estimate them, and flutter tantalising details of improbable relationship details in attempts to throw dust in our eyes. If it was the parents real list, I couldn’t of course mention any details, but as it’s theirs it’s fair game.

Josiah is following the example of his biggest but smaller brother by going away next year to Namibia. When he comes back he hopes to go to a university and course that need to be selected between now and tomorrow. The ‘please don’t let me out’ card is rarely played in 6th year. He’s in slightly sharper clothes now, which show the extraordinary amount of stuff he carries in his pockets.
There were some round number birthdays this year. We had a pizza or something. And almost no holiday, but as well as Cornwall and a week in Northumberland some days during the Festival, which was tip-top and included a bit of everything, and the house busy with visitors. We went to Andy’s 60th at Catterline and took tea at the Rennie Macintosh house in Helensburgh (thank you BHs) We are both enjoying stuff. If you want to know, come and talk. We aren’t climbing enough hills, but NT is doing various webby projects, sometimes with Isaac’s help, Helen is doing just the two jobs still and also enjoying technology, she can miss calls on the most advanced phones possible, and text very long words with a stylus. Boy you don’t really want to hear how our eyes are weakening or jobs proving challenging, or the days too short. In some sort of recognition of the birthday, and in a desperate attempt to prevent narrowing of outlook and fossilation of ideas, and because it’s 25 years since we were there, we are revisiting India for 3 weeks in February. The now complex itinerary includes several lectures, but we’ll get to meet a lot of people, well that was the justification, will let you know. There will be no blog but we may contact our children from Internet caffs if we run out of money.

If this was a blog it would appear at and you could write abusive comments at the bottom. Give it a try in a week or two if there’s nothing much on 120 TV channels and the kids are reading too many books or whatever is the fashionable evil. Then Google will have copyright of our lives, and when the kids go dodging old pianos to scatter our high-phosphate ashes off the top of Ben Macdui, there’ll still be a nasty persistence in the ether.


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