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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Right now, in the afterglow of 2016, there are a few things I know to be true.

2016 was not the Worst Year Ever

  • To be sure, the ‘important’ celebrity deaths seem on a different level, especially as they now include stars who came to world attention in the broadcast media age. It’s very sad that Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (her Mother) died within hours. But please, it’s only a tragedy for their friends and family. It makes me sad for them, and a bit sad for me as I’ve loved their films, but it’s not life-changing or tragic or unbearable. Really, it’s not.
  • Brexit and Donald Trump have rattled my cage and dented my rose-tinted liberal view of the world, but they’re not massively unsurprising. With a smidgen of hindsight, it’s quite easy to see them as a natural progression of where we’ve been going in recent years, perhaps somewhat extreme, certainly upsetting for me, but actually almost inevitable.
  • Similarly, while stories and images from Syria have been uniformly depressing and the scale of destruction seems more catastrophic, how different are they from Chechnya, South Sudan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo and other conflicts of the last 25 years. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is  similarly the natural extension of what’s been building for a long time.

I’m done with thinking of The New Year as Something Transformative…

Just because the year changes on the calendar doesn’t mean I can swivel on a sixpence and turn things around. There are things I can control and things I can’t, things that actually affect me and stuff that simply bothers me. I’m trying to stop caring too much about celebrity deaths, or what Donald Trump has proclaimed about Vladimir Putin, or what kind of Brexit we apparently want today.

But I can’t shrug off or simply change my attitude about a whole shitpile of things that affect me directly and are at least partly beyond my control. I can’t pretend to even consider the sort of upbeat “let’s make 2017 AWESOME” posts that are just about everywhere. Because while I am privileged and lucky to be British, white, born to affluent parents (etc), and we had many fine experiences last year, I can’t hide that, overall, 2016 was bloody hard. And the things that made it hard aren’t going away anytime soon.

  • My Dad still has inoperable cancer and has been increasingly breathless, which unsurprisingly is taking its toll on Mum, so they need our support more than ever, emotionally and physically.
  • Christmas 2016 was the last that Rachel and I will celebrate in either of our childhood homes.
  • We’re still helping Hannah through a protracted process to get her the support she needs to make sense of herself, feel less anxious at school, and to give her a shot at achieving her undoubted potential in an education system that seems to be going back generations in its approach to testing and exams.

Believe in Better

I do believe that it will be all right in the end, but I can’t see the end right now. So please, try not to encourage me to make 2017 amazing or exciting. Please don’t tell me to ‘consume less/create more, frown less/smile more’.

If I’m lucky, stay focused and can stick to my intentions, I’m hopeful I can be enriched in 2017 by

  • moving house (while staying local)
  • helping my parents downsize into a smaller home
  • spending more time writing this than getting annoyed on Twitter
  • continuing my cycling evolution; ride more often (commuting), further (100 mile rides), in new places (Wales, Yorkshire, France?), and more with our children
  • (re)watching Mad Men
  • helping our children to thrive, laugh and be everything they can be
  • the love and support of Rachel, Hannah & Eleanor, as well as my family and friends

Wish me luck…

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One of the best things about our summer holiday was that it lasted longer than a week: in fact, it extended to nearly three weeks in all including our return to the UK swiftly followed by a Bank Holiday weekend visiting friends. This gave me plenty of proper quality time with my fabulous daughters, which left me with several new lessons…

Orleans

  • They are both pretty amazing at coping with us driving solidly for 2 days each way to/from SW France. They did have a DVD player and a few films to choose from, but we did limit its use (a bit). They’re only 10 & 6, and their patience (compared to what I know about other families) was impressive. They only seemed to lose the will when we did, i.e. on the Godawful M25
  • If Eleanor says the water is cold, it really is…
  • Hannah (just 10) is now stretched, between being a gorgeous little girl, and growing up. She still loves to play imaginary games with her little sister, she still likes to act and behave like a young(er) girl. But at the same time the hormones are beginning to flow through her system and she can’t understand all the ways that makes her feel. And I know I’m not much wiser than she is…
  • …Rachel will probably always be the #1 parent on that front. I want to help, but accepting I don’t have anything like all the answers isn’t always easy. When Hannah was a (pretty difficult) newborn, she barely slept more than 2 hours at a time for the first few months, and cried quite a lot in between times. Lots of well-meaning neighbours and friends offered comfort like “it gets easier”. Actually, it just gets different. Every stage is new with its own challenges. True, they’re often more rewarding than the seemingly impossible task of getting a baby into sleep routines, but that doesn’t make them easier
  • But despite the onset of early pre-teen awkwardness, Hannah is pretty mature, self-aware and considerate of others. Her increasing independence is (so far) pretty benign, and she’s cautiously exploring boundaries. She makes herself a cup of tea in the mornings (two sugars!). While we were camping recently, she liked to take off around the campsite in the dark on her bike.
  • Eleanor is a proper little Daddy’s girl; always wanting to hold my hand, cuddle or sit with me etc. This can bother Rachel quite a lot, as Ella can effectively ‘snubs’ her attentions. Much as sometimes this makes me feel awkward, I’m also kind of glad. I must be doing something right…
Barrington Court National Trust oakleaf swing

This was actually taken in June 2011

  • Hannah knows all sorts of stuff I couldn’t have imagined, like that the Millau Viaduct was designed by a British architect. In your face, Michael Gove!
  • One of my prouder achievements as a father is indoctrinating encouraging our girls to develop a broad range of musical, literary and cinematic tastes. They’re already proper little cinephiles who care more for Studio Ghibli than some of the trashy Hollywood fare (although not entirely…!). They’re huge fans of the dark fantastical comedy of Roald Dahl, and on the evidence of this holiday, the musical element of my MasterPlan is taking shape well. We helped pass the time on our long drives with an occasional “Moody Jukebox” where we each chose a few songs from my iPod. KT Tunstall, The Cure, Damien Rice, The Bookshop Band, The Beatles, and various eclectic artists culled from my catalogue of Word Magazine CDs were all prominent (big Dad smiley face!!)
  • They also like listening to The Archers (big Mum smiley face!!)
  • Hannah is eating from grown-up menus now. On our last night in Orléans, she enjoyed (and demolished) chilled Gazpacho soup, Chicken Basque and a massive bowl of rich chocolate mousse. Where it all goes is beyond me, but she loves her food and this is only going to start costing us money (see what I mean about different, not easier!). I mean, she even eats roast pork crackling now – whatever happened to parental privileges?!
  • Their imaginations are terrific. While we were in France, they used some of their holiday money to buy a new Playmobil set – a camper van with a family and a couple of bikes. This quickly became An everyday tale of cycling folk, as they christened the family member as Bradley Wiggins (Dad), Victoria Pembleton (Mum), Chris Hoy & Laura Trott (kids). There’s your Olympic Legacy, Lord Coe…

Playmobil Camper Van

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In the opening song of my all-time-favourite-musical-ever-ever-ever there’s a short exchange between two parents.

Did you see his school report? He got a C on his report!
WHAT?!?
We’ll have to change his school, the teacher’s clearly falling short…

The song “My mummy says I’m a miracle” brilliantly depicts insufferable parents and their (ahem) talented children. I am now joining those insufferable ranks. Forgive me while I sing the praises of my eldest daughter, Hannah.

Hannah is bright. She reads voraciously and sometimes it’s difficult to get a word in when she’s excited about something: partly because her imagination takes her off on tangents of tangents of tangents, and she struggles to remember what she started off talking about, partly because her brain evidently works faster than her mouth and she struggles to actually get the words out quick enough, partly because it’s just fun to listen to her.

But she has also been quite shy, often a perfectionist who collapses if she makes even a tiny mistake, she gets embarrassed when asked to ‘perform’ in public. She’s young in her school year (June birthday), and is quite happy in her own company, her imagination running riot, much to her own amusement…

This year (she’s 10 at the end of June) she has matured in a way that has made me very proud. Last year there was a Youth Theatre Musical performed in Tetbury. Most of the leading parts were taken by teenagers, but the chorus included Hannah and some of her classmates. She was adamant that she didn’t want a speaking part, she wanted to be in the background. It was quite a big surprise, therefore, when she announced this year that she wanted to audition for a more important part.

Smike is a musical written originally in the 1970s for the children at Kingston Grammar School, loosely based on the Charles Dickens story of Nicholas Nickleby. Hannah took the part of Smike, which certainly isn’t the largest part, but has plenty of lines, acting and three solo songs. She committed herself to rehearsals, and with seemingly only a small amount of active support from us, she was fantastic. We kept asking if she was happy with her lines, did she need to practise the songs, and she declared everything was alright. And indeed it was.

The part of Smike is a pretty sad one. An orphan who gets horribly beaten and abused at school, who spends most of the play alone. It wasn’t a very easy watch for me.

Smike

Thanks to John Rees for this great picture

As is increasingly common for me, it got pretty dusty in the hall when Hannah was singing, or being beaten up, or sat huddled in a corner of the stage which suddenly seemed huge and dangerous compared to her vulnerable smallness. She wasn’t perfect by any means, but this was her first time on stage in front of nearly 100 people. Her words were clear, her acting was decent, we believed in Smike. And we all cheered her at the end.

Smike

Alongside the fairly intensive rehearsals for this show, Hannah has also been preparing for her Grade I piano exam. Again, she’s not exactly Wolfgang Amadeus, but in the last few months her confidence and commitment at playing the piano has made a step-change. It feels like she’s realised she can play her pieces well, she’s started to work out and play song tunes by ear, and she actually practises her scales. She’s just received the results from her exam, passing with a strong Merit at 127/150. When she called me at work to tell me, all I got was shrieking and whooping down the phone.

What’s more, at the local Minchinhampton Music Festival recently there was a children’s day, when kids of all ages and all abilities on any instruments could play as part of a competition. Hannah actively wanted to play, despite having been reluctant to even play in front of me just a few months ago. Again in front of more than 50 people she played her pieces and did it pretty well.

My little girl is growing up. It is my privilege to be able to watch and guide her, and bask in her reflected glory as she does. She is a miracle.

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I started playing the French Horn when I was 13. I recall my parents coming back from a meeting with the music teacher, with his request / recommendation that I might like to start having lessons, and as luck would have it(!), the school had just come upon a cheap second-hand horn I could use while I decided if I liked it. And there was soon to be a vacancy in the school orchestra.

Apparently I did like it, as I’m still playing in amateur orchestras and groups today. I also ‘self-taught’ myself to play saxophone, and played for a few years in a Big Band at university. My wife has played piano since she was 8, and oboe since she was 12. She took a music degree and we both played together in the Exeter University Symphony Orchestra.

So it’s not that surprising that we’re keen for our daughters to enjoy music, and ideally play an instrument. But which one? We’ve got our own preferences and prejudices, but recently chanced upon what might be a valuable book to help us…

The right instrument for your child was first published by Atarah Ben-Tovim and Douglas Boyd in 1985, and has now reached its 4th edition. It recommends a fairly rigorous (although I’ll stop well short of suggesting it’s scientific) approach to assessing your child, their physical attributes, mental characteristics and other things, alongside the different instruments. So far, so-so. Why not? There’s probably something in it.

Naturally, we started off by having a look at what the authors have to say about our own chosen instruments. Forgive me for reprinting extensive segments of their work, but I want to make it clear that these are entirely their ideas.

Oboe

In the hands of an outstanding professional musician… the oboe can sound exquisite. Played by most children who are learning, the sound is unpleasant and rasping…

The most important physical requirement is the shape of the lips: they must be thin and tight… The aperture between the two pieces of reed is so tight that the player has to force the breath through. Children may experience headaches from the back-pressure  which this causes, even in a healthy teenager.

Not an instrument for frail children… it must not be attempted unless the child is physically fit, even athletic… The oboe should never be played or even practised by any adolescent with a head-cold, respiratory or virus infection. The inter-cranial pressure can spread the infection into the eyes and the brain causing complications and even disability…

The oboe is not for generous extroverts; determined, tight-lipped stubborn children do best… Oboists tend not to mix well… [they] make a little clan and keep to themselves.

French Horn

The French Horn is not recommended as a first instrument. It is not for fun…

Thin to medium lips are called for by the mouthpiece. The small bore through which the air has to be directed produces back-pressure which can cause dizziness and headaches even in quite mature learners…

You can never relax playing the French horn; each note must be achieved; there is no letting up…

French horn children are not gregarious… The horn-players in an orchestra or concert band make a definite clique and do not mix much even with the other members of the brass section…

The playing position seems to suit, and even comfort, children who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they do not get enough attention at home or at school… With excellent justification, they feel special about playing the horn, for only a very unusual child can.

Well, I can’t keep a straight face while I’m reading that. Irrespective of whether the descriptions reflect Rachel or myself, I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone could write or read this and take it seriously.  Playing the oboe seems life-threatening, and apparently both horn-players and oboists are borderline sociopaths.

Why would any parent suggest these instruments to their children after reading this book? It’s the musical equivalent of Gina Ford and her infamous parenting manuals. While I’m sure some people do benefit from such prescriptive methods, to me it smacks at least slightly of lunacy to tick boxes about your child and to categorise musicians based on the instrument they play.

If any other players are keen to know what this fount of knowledge has to say about them, do let me know…!

 

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To see the butcher slap the steak before he laid it on the block, and give his knife a sharpening, was to forget breakfast instantly. It was agreeable too – it really was – to see him cut it off so smooth and juicy. There was nothing savage in the act, although the knife was large and keen; it was a piece of art, high art; there was delicacy of touch, clearness of tone, skilful handling of the subject, fine shading. It was the triumph of mind over matter; quite.
Charles Dickens – ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’

Apologies to any vegetarian readers, but I love going into a ‘proper’ butcher’s shop. Indeed, (and apologies also to Jane Austen!) it is a truth universally acknowledged that Chris Moody, in possession of a few minutes to spare on a Saturday morning, must be in want of a nearby butcher’s… where I can sample a nugget of cheddar or a new variety of sausage, I can ogle the pork pies or scratchings, and marvel at the staff’s dexterity with some very sharp knives.

Jesse Smith Butchers in Tetbury is my favourite butcher’s. John and his excellent team are wonderful ambassadors for the town, for their craft and trade, and for all-round customer service. They welcome customers like friends: I’m often greeted with the not-at-all ironic salutation “Good day, young man!”. They’ll advise about cuts and joints, cooking tips, offer up bones for your dog, offer sweets for the kids, and their sausage rolls are amazing.

They play a central role in Tetbury’s community. The store is located right in the heart of the town, and on alternate Saturdays they operate the ‘Big Pan’. You can smell can smell the sausages and burgers and onions cooking from down the street, and it’s a terrible burden to walk past without indulging. More significantly, the proceeds from all of these ‘Big Pan’ mornings are donated to local charities and community groups. They supply burgers etc to local schools and the like for their own fundraisers at discounted prices.

Probably as a result of all this, on ‘Christmas Lights’ evening, when many stores open late in Tetbury, Jesse Smith is always packed with laughter and buzzing conversations, as customers and staff share mulled wine and sausage rolls. In the days leading up to Christmas there are queues down the street.

Long live Jesse Smith and all those like it. I hope you are as lucky as Tetbury is to have somewhere like it.

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I was thrilled and privileged to be Best Man at my brother’s wedding to Kate last weekend. It was a terrific day, complete with even a couple of small fires during the reception…! My abiding memory of the occasion was the overwhelming sense that Mike and Kate make each other smile and laugh; just being with the other is enough to make them both feel better.

One of the readings at their marriage ceremony really summed this up.

A Lovely Love Story – by Edward Monkton

The fierce Dinosaur was trapped inside his cage of ice. Although it was cold, he was happy in there. It was, after all, his cage.

Then along came the Lovely Other Dinosaur. The Lovely Other Dinosaur melted the Dinosaur’s cage with kind words and loving thoughts…

I like this Dinosaur, thought the Lovely Other Dinosaur. Although he is fierce he is also tender and he is funny. He is also quite clever, though I will not tell him this for now.

I like this Lovely Other Dinosaur, thought the Dinosaur. She is beautiful, and she is different and she smells so nice. She is also a free spirit which is a quality I much admire in a dinosaur.

But he can be so distant and so peculiar at times, thought the Lovely Other Dinosaur. He is also overly fond of things. Are all Dinosaurs so overly fond of things?

But her mind skips from here to there so quickly, thought the Dinosaur. She is also uncommonly keen on shopping. Are all Lovely Other Dinosaurs so uncommonly keen on shopping?

I will forgive his peculiarity and his concern for things, thought the Lovely Other Dinosaur.  For they are part of what makes him a richly charactered individual.

I will forgive her skipping mind and her fondness for shopping, thought the Dinosaur. For she fills our life with beautiful thoughts and wonderful surprises. Besides, I am not unkeen on shopping either.

Now the Dinosaur and the Lovely Other Dinosaur are old. Look at them. Together they stand on the hill telling each other stories and feeling the warmth of the sun on their backs.

And that, my friends, is how it is with love. Let us all be Dinosaurs and Lovely Other Dinosaurs together. For the sun is warm. And the world is a beautiful place.

Being there was a joyful experience, and reminded me how lucky I am to be married to my favourite friend and person in the world, and to have two wonderful daughters. All three make me smile and laugh and feel better just to be around them.

Congratulations Mike and Kate. May you always feel the sun on your backs.

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For many people Christmas can be fairly regimented, full of rituals and routines, and often fraught with family politics. We are blessed with a reasonably large immediate family who are all based within 150 miles of each other in the Southern half of the UK, so we’re often travelling. However, as we have two young daughters we are also trying to establish our own traditions…

  • Go to at least one carol service
    Perhaps my oldest ritual, dating back to my time in the school choir.  I often find myself flitting between the tune, harmonic parts, and occasionally the descants! Whether you’re Christian or not, these are often rousing tunes that create a great collective experience. It’s also a great opportunity to recall ‘alternative’ versions to certain lines: While Shepherds washed their socks by night, this post’s title…
    Tetbury has several nice services through Advent (essential to cover all the best carols): a lovely Christingle Service, communal ‘carols under the tree’ opposite the Chipping, and a Christmas Eve crib service where children are encouraged to dress up. There are always many angels, stars, shepherds and wise men, often a few sheep and occasionally a donkey or camel!
  • Don’t be afraid to shut the door
    Christmas usually comes at the end of a frantic few weeks: the end of a school term, wildly busy periods at work, not to mention parties, drinks, writing cards, buying and wrapping presents… At some point it’s pretty much essential to shut the door and relax. Just. Do. Nothing.
  • Seasonal Films…
    The Moody household likes films. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ has become a tradition in recent years for Christmas Eve. Anyone who tries to tell you it’s sentimentality run riot hasn’t been paying attention. By the final heartwarming scene, George Bailey has been run through the mill, and we’ve been there with him. Fantastic.
    We’re also big fans of The Muppet Christmas Carol, perhaps my favourite adaptation of the Dickens story (certainly a million times better than the recent Jim Carrey vehicle. It’s DICKENS’ A Christmas Carol, NOT Disney’s…!)
  • Food
    Apparently Christmas is all about food. At least it is in our house. And we’ve discovered that to truly enjoy all the gastronomic pleasures we want to, we’ve had to juggle the received order of things.
    We do a big cheese / ham / paté platter on Christmas Eve (while we watch Jimmy Stewart and finish wrapping presents). Christmas breakfast / brunch is bagels with salmon/cream cheese with Tropicana OJ. We have our main meal in the early evening. To get everything done for lunchtime means chaining ourselves to the kitchen instead of enjoying presents with the girls, and then by the time lunch is over, it’s practically dark outside, which means there’s no time to…
  • Go for a walk
    Daylight is a pretty precious commodity in the UK at Christmas. It’s usually pitch-dark by 5.30pm, but there is nothing much finer than a walk with family and friends around the edge of Tetbury (or on the beach at Southerndown if we’re visiting Rachel’s parents) until the sky begins to darken, then diving into a pub for a well-earned pint, hopefully by the fire.

Whether you recognise any or all of these components of My Christmas, I’d also advise you to do what you want. Christmas can be a time laden with societal norms and pressures, nearly all of which are associated with consumerism and no little amount of guilt. You really don’t have to buy presents for all your friends’ children, or send cards to all your work colleagues, or gorge yourself on snacks you would never normally eat.

Whatever your festive rituals, I thank you for reading my blog, offer you seasonal good cheer, and hope that 2010 dawns with hope and optimism for you.

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