Saturday, 27 February 2010

Duty: time for rehabilitation

Duty is underrated. It was pretty popular in the 19th Century, then it went out of favour while we were busy achieving our potential, pursuing our goals and getting in touch with our inner selfishness. As I find myself in a position where I have a bit of duty to do, I've decided that I might as well apreciate the opportunity rather than resent it. That's all very well but one problem with doing your duty is that it can turn out tobe a bit of a drain on your resources. Last year was bonkers. I spent half my life on the train to Sunderland, visiting my mother in hospital (after a series of falls) and rehabilitation homes (where she passed all her tests to show she could look after herself at home - but couldn't), then working with my sister to get her a place in a marvellous care home in York, organising the house move and working out what to do with the contents of an eight-roomed family house. The other half was spent on trains to Poole, down to Lush, the people to whom I've dedicated most of my work life since 1996. With no time in between to do anything but sleep, our house looks like it's been burgled by a gang of monkeys who failed to find the bananas despite looking everywhere.

So here I am, doing my best to be a hard-working creative sort, writing for a living and filling my spare time with suitably mind-expanding projects, then I discover that I've got an old person's life to take care of. No choice really. There's a pile of paperwork to do, the family home to tidy up and rent out, and a never ending list of apparently insignificant items to buy from mail order companies and have delivered to York, because if I don't, I get reminded at least once a week and several other people call me to explain that my mother has told them I've forgotten to buy her important items from mail order. (To be fair, I share this chore with my sister, who also gets the day to day duties.)

So now I've now got two lives to administer (when I'm already somewhat behind with the running of my own), I also discover that I can't fit in a job that regularly takes over evenings and weekends.

Children, start saving up now. When I was 23 I embarked upon a savings scheme; this means that in a couple of weeks time I can reclaim a small pile of cash that will buy me a year off (as long as I only spend money on food and bills). Yes, I ought to save it for when I'm 80 and I retire, but I might not last until then, and besides, I need it now. If you're 23, the moment where you'll have to step in and look after your parents might seem like a long way off, but believe me, your life is over in a flash. So start saving. You'll be able to take a year off work too. I've no idea how I'll get on without a job; I've been working hard to impress people since the age of four.

Tracking back a bit, one of the most difficult parts will be the bit that involves not buying anything. I haven't done that since I was four either.

So anyway, back to duty and where it fits into 4160Tuesdays.

While I've been saving up, I've also been collecting stuff, way too much of it. I've got stuff to paint pictures, to make clothes, to listen to, to watch, to make jewellery, to write with, to write books in, to write letters on, to read, to practise yoga with, to wear, to scent myself with, to decorate myself, to burn, to plant and just to look at and admire. I've got about twice as much of all of this stuff as I've got space for. So as well as getting rid of it - by eBay, freecycle, charity shops and generally using it up and wearing it out - I'll be pulling my socks up and doing things I've been meaning to do for ages. (And lots more yoga or I'll go bananas.)

My plan is to report here regularly.. Until 30th April I'm still working for Lush. (The boss has kindly said that once I feel that my duty is done I can call him and go back there, which makes the leap less frightening. Say what you like about safely nets; I think that they make you more adventurous.) After that, when I've handed over editorship of my precious Lush Times to the admirable Harry Blamire, it's six months tying up loose ands and six months unravelling a few beginnings.

For the 52 Tuesdays from May '10 to April '11 I'll see if I can create a new system, set up a way to earn a living at the same time as doing my duty as a daughter. There are lots of us in this boat; how do we earn a living while we run around after our parents? A generation ago, when one half of most partnerships didn't work, it wasn't such a problem. Your mum looked after your gran (or both grans). Now we both have to earn a living, what's supposed to happen? I'm starting to find out.

Just as working mothers hire nannies to look after the kids, working children hire carers to deal with their parents. These are new problems, and employers haven't got the rules in place to deal with them yet. You can't take a morning off to take your mother to the hospital. My sister and I are both self-employed with working partners. How else would we be able to do this?

Duty. It's got to be done. But the mortgage has to be paid. Not everyone can take time off to sort these things out and I thank my dear departed dad for bossing me into saving at an early age. He knew a thing or two about duty. If he hadn't saved up from the age of 23, my mother wouldn't have been able to live in the beautiful place she does now. I'll be letting you know how it works out.

(By the way, if you're looking for a place to live when you're old, get your name down on the list for Lamel Beeches, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust home in York. Joanne and the team are the world's best. Bar none.)

Saturday, 20 February 2010

How My Dad Invented Snowboarding in 1941

Back up north, I've been exploring the house my family has lived in since 1971. It's a generously sized1960s box, not particularly beautiful, not historically significant and, as it's a good 25 minute walk from the Metro station, not on any estate agent's list of desirable residences. But it's full of my past, boxes of 35mm slides, mountains of theatre programmes, exam certificates, sheet music, vinyl, paintings, a record of our trips out, summer holidays and school years. But my favourite thing is a book my dad wrote about his early years, when he in the country during the war. He was a very safe, cautious, over-protective man when I knew him. When I read his recollections, I was surprised he survived past 16, considering the stuff he got up to. It's fascinating to see him in a different light; it's hard to imagine how the adventurous 13 year old Alan grew up to be a building society manager. Anyway, in the spirit of exploring our recent history, and with the Winter Olympics playing in the background, I give you Teesdale winter sports 1941.

After one night back, George and I and an older boy from our school took a borrowed sledge, there being a lot of snow in 1941, to the hill near the log cabin. At the foot of the hill was a line of small trees and bushes about fifty yards below us. George would have first ‘go’. We tried to get him to lie head first so that he could steer with his feet but he would sit upright, feet first. What happened next was over in a flash. The sledge was so sleek and well made, its steel runners so smooth, there was a ‘swoosh’ and we saw this dark blur below us shoot out from the bottom of the hill straight into a tree. A loud cry went up to find George in agony with his leg, the sledge smashed in at the front. I never got a ride on that sledge.

We pulled George back to the farm. The local doctor had the leg rubbed with liniment, George’s mother took him home a few days later and his leg was found to be fractured. He was off the rest of that term and although he returned for the summer term he never came back to the farm and I spent the rest of the time there on my own, including the two winter terms.

After the episode with the sledge I did no more sledging but I obtained a piece of wood from the side of an old barrel about six or seven feet high. I used this as a kind of snowboard. On the gentler slopes I would stand on it with my right leg and push myself along with the left. After a while I was able to balance on it with both feet and to travel long distances. The bottom of the wood got smoother and smoother until it ran away by merely putting it on ground with the slightest gradient. I developed a game in which the snowboard and I gathered speed and then went over a prepared mound where we rose into the air until it fell away, and I presumably fell into the snow.

And the rest is history. This week's recommendation is this. Write your recollections now, because in 70 years' time, your kids won't believe what you were allowed to get up to, before Health & Safety stepped in and stopped it.