Facebook Rant

I pretty much never reblog other people’s posts because… well… I’m not that keen when my favourite bloggers do it, if I’m honest. But this is excellent.
In my new job I work regularly with young people who are struggling financially, and am regularly struck by the fact that so very few of them are at all like the benefit-scrounging-scum we hear about on a regular basis. Many of the young mums I work with have partners who are in employment or are in employment themselves that is so badly paid they still have to go to food banks at the end of the month and often apply for special grants/help in order to replace a cooker or fridge. This post about the benefit system started ‘going viral’ (I’m so modern) on Facebook, and what I particularly like about this version of it is that he has checked all his facts and referenced things. THIS is how to make a point. UK Media, please listen to Jon Leighton.

(She said, acting as if Media moguls read her blog).

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

Retired Cornish Miner
In Cornwall, this is an iconic image which never fails to move me. Unfortunately I don’t know who took it, but I found it on http://mysaffronbun.com/2011/11/17/a-bleak-day-at-south-crofty/

I suppose it’s grimly appropriate that, in the week of Margaret Thatcher’s death, I have been out photographing evidence of the decline of tin mining in Cornwall. But if I’m honest, I have no idea whether or not Thatcher had anything to do with the post-industrial landscape of my native county. I should really ask my dad, a former mining engineer, about it all before I go around having opinions on things I know nothing about. So, I’ll refrain from comment, apart from to observe that this area in which I live was once one of the richest places in the land due to the tin that shot through its substratum. You can see for yourself how it has changed in the following images; from thriving industry to dereliction to heritage theme park.

 

The Shirk Ethic

playworkSon 2’s lovely 18 year old girlfriend just found herself a full-time job. This, of course, is great news when so many young people are genuinely struggling to get themselves onto the employment ladder. So I was evidently all-kinds-of-wrong when I had a bit of an ambivalent response. My first thought was the standard one: That’s great! She will earn an acceptable amount (so long as she doesn’t want to live anywhere) and is taking the first step to independence. But hot on the heels of that response was this: And now she’ll be spending  most of every day doing things that are nothing to do with her for people who are nothing to do with her wearing clothes that are nothing to do with her, and when will she have any time to spend working out what IS to do with her?

See, now I’m in my 40s, I think I’m de-maturing. I’m going back to my childhood values. When I was at school, for example, I would have vigorously coveted this t-shirt because I couldn’t accept that THIS. WAS. IT.
birth work death
I just could NOT come to terms with the idea that I had to get off my bike, put away my drawing stuff and abandon my Lego in order to go to this place where I was obliged to work and play with people selected purely on the basis of them having been born at roughly the same time and in the same place as me. ALMOST EVERY DAY.

welcome-to-kindergartenThat was the thing – the everydayness of it. I actually didn’t mind school in general, but what about when I had better things to do? What about on those days when the sun was shining and someone had built the beginnings of an amazing den down the bottom of the hill and we’d found the materials needed for building a table? What about when I had an excellent idea for an illustrated story that urgently needed attention? What about when my snails had eaten through the cardboard box home I’d made them and were escaping? I completely and totally hated not having control of my own destiny and decisions. And the idea that there would NEVER come a time when I could make my own life decisions because I’d move from doing things that schools wanted me to do, to doing things that employers wanted me to do, just blew me clean away. The work ethic left me cold.

This personality flaw led me into plenty of problems which I won’t go into here, but suffice to say, I eventually realised that if I wanted to exist in the world of Having Enough Money to Keep Warm and Buy Shoes/Tampons/Peanut Butter, then I’d probably have to give in and work for someone. And I did, and I learned that there is some satisfaction in knowing that you are a contributor to the machine. Other people treat you differently because there’s some relatively visible evidence that you’re not just useless eater. When you do useful things for others it does make you feel good (I’m not sure how investment bankers get their feel-goods, but I think it’s probably not that way).

So that was fine for some years until my job began expanding out of all proportion. Or rather, I began to notice that my job was out of proportion – that I was working every evening at home and all of Sunday too. And I had stopped doing anything else. If friends or family dropped in, or if a son needed any help with something, I would feel a wave of stress like an acid inoculation because it meant I would probably have to stay up until 2am to do the work I would have been doing in those hours. You know the story. But even if you don’t have one of those jobs that demand all your time, here’s  breakdown of an average working week:

  • There are 168 hours in a week
  • We should spend at least 56 of them sleeping
  • That leaves 112 waking hours in a week
  • An average full-time job involves 40 hours at work a week
  • That leaves 72 hours in a week not at work
  • On average, we probably spend 1-2 hours a day getting ready for work and travelling. That leaves 62 hours a week not involved in work.
  • On average, if we have a full time job, we probably spend an hour a day preparing/cooking/eating food. That leaves 55 hours a week.
  • Perhaps an hour a day is needed to organise/clean/do the chores at home (conservative estimate for some). This leaves 48 hours a week.
  • Other modern-life-sustaining chores (food shopping, getting car mended, doctor/dentist appointments, paperwork, etc.) – perhaps half an hour a day? This leaves 44.5 hours a week.

So, if we have a job that only takes up 8 hours a day and no more, we are left with 26% of our lives to do the things that are – in the grand scheme of things – the only really important ones:  playing with our children, painting, exercising, going to the theatre, thinking, reading, exploring the world, travelling, photographing, volunteering, writing, walking, bird watching, inventing, building things, relaxing, keeping up with loved ones, learning things, etc. The things that we look back from our death beds and wished we had done more of.

just-got-home-from-workI am probably a bad human, but for me that’s not enough. And I’m in a job (now) where I probably can make the occasional small difference to people and therefore achieve some job satisfaction. What about those who spend the majority of their precious lives in some of the mind-grinding jobs that are out there? Bertrand Russell argued that “without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things”, and I agree with him. Since I escaped my skull-crushing previous job, I am painting, making things, exploring my native county, photographing with a vengeance and writing. Ideas have started to appear in my head again, and I feel more sentient than I have in years.

Russell also felt that everyone should have a 4-hour working day, and again, I agree. But our ethic isn’t really a Shirk Ethic – I don’t hate work – I actually love it. I will stay up all night and work if I have an exciting batch of photos to edit or some sort of project that’s sparking my inspiration nodes. Because, as George Halas said, “Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”

So, if anyone has a spare shack in the woods (with broadband) that they wouldn’t mind filling with a regressing, workshy artist, do let me know.


My grandmother’s drawings

I’ve been blitzing the house today. My kitchen is so clean I’m scared to go in it and I’ve filled a box big enough to sleep in with recycling from the spare room.

This afternoon I started tackling the bookshelves and piles of paper and crap that surround them and became absorbed in… well…. everything: academic books from perspectives that now irritate me, brochures for holidays we could never even conceive of affording, pretentious poetry books I forgot I had, spouse’s slightly alarming political books, science books I keep not quite getting round to reading… and that sort of thing. I also found some more personal things: a purple flowery book of drawings and stories I wrote when I was small, a collection of significant poems I collected when I was a teenager, and a black hardback book of my grandmother’s drawings.

Looking through them reminded me vividly of her living room. It was painted a light coffee colour and featured paintings that her mother had done; a harbour scene of a jetty surrounded by red wooden houses, and my favourite – a representation of my great-grandmother’s weaving room with a floor-length blue patterned curtain swept aside to reveal shelves of yarn and weaving equipment. There was an old oak settle with a cushion that she had woven the cover for, and a massive extra cushion with a really itchy also-home-woven green cover. Inside the settle were all her Christmas things – wooden stars, hearts and goats, little Father Christmasses made by my Auntie Helen, electric candles, a plain white wooden angel with wispy hair like a little old lady and a candle holder in the shape of a lady with a wooden dress and a round nose.

My grandmother must have learned to weave from her mother and she did try to teach me, but I was far too teenage to take it on board. I regret that now she’s gone, of course. And I felt that very strongly when I visited Golant church this year where her woven cushion covers are still in use on the pews many decades after she made them.

My grandmother's weaving
My grandmother’s weaving

There were two cupboards in my grandmother’s living room on either side of the fireplace. One was next to her chair and contained her braid-weaving equipment and the other contained drawing books and a huge (or it seemed huge to me when I was small) tin of felt tips. I loved that tin of felt tips. It was made by Caran d’ache and what was splendid about it was that it didn’t seem to be made for children. My grandmother was the only grown up I knew who used felt tips, and these ones were in a tin instead of a rubbish plastic folder. Each one had a special niche so you could arrange them neatly by colour, they felt nice when you rolled your hand up and down them and the tin made a satisfying gentle click when you opened or closed it. They were so POSH.

And it was these very felt tips she’s used for her sketches in the book I found today. If you’ve ever coloured in with felt tips you’ll know that they can be quite a blunt instrument, so I find it interesting that she chose to use them instead of pencils or paint, but I suspect some of these drawings are ideas for weaving and the felt tip might be more precise – appropriate for the precision of designs for the loom.

These last two pictures are more meaningful to me than all the rest. When my brother and I were little, we used to find those little flat, green bugs (I now know they’re called Shield Bugs) really cute. My grandmother called them, for reasons I still don’t know (is it Swedish?) ‘Fifs’, and she told us stories about the Fif family and their children, Fif, Fifalina and Fifalotta. In the book there are two drawings that can only be of the Fif family. Here they are.

fifs 2 fifsOne excellent thing about having creative relatives is that you have something left of them when they’re gone. I have prints and drawings by my spouse, one painting by my mother and one by my dad’s cousin, some of my grandmother’s weaving and other paintings by my aunt and my great grandmother, and also this book of sketches. My creativity is largely digital, though, so I wonder if I’ll have anything physical to hand over to my sons when I’ve kicked the bucket.

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