Growing up

“When I grow up I want to be…”

Do you feel grown up? Despite having clocked up many achievements over the course of my life thus far (acquired a degree, moved away from the parental home, built a career, bought a house, married, given birth to three kids) I still feel much the same inside as I did before I donned this cloak of adulthood. Perhaps I am more confident in myself, a tad cynical at times, mentally battered especially by my teenage offspring; but I still have the same questioning, insecure mind that I struggled with as a teenager.

As the years have passed I have developed as a person, learned more about our constantly evolving world, recognised that I will never know it all or be entirely right. Whilst I rail against injustices and in my own small way campaign for more awareness of issues that matter to me, I can accept the shades of grey and need for compromise. When I suffer the despondency that dogged my younger self I remember that moods pass. I have reached a point of self acceptance where the world may take me or leave me, no hard feelings either way.

But have I grown up? What exactly does that mean?

This last week I have looked in the face of a new challenge, the prospect of an event that was always going to come but which I have not yet had to face – the death of a parent.

Lest you feel the need to reach out and express condolences let me assure you that my own elderly parents remain upon this earth. The scare came from my husband’s side, involving ambulances, an emergency operation and a vigil through the night as we waited for news. Thankfully it was good.

Events such as this pull sharply into focus what is to come, if not today then in time. At an unknown point in the future the ties that bind me to my wider family will be weakened, the imperative to sustain links will be gone.

My parents have been an anchor throughout my life. At times I have found the chain that connects us frustrating and fought to lengthen it but I have benefited from the security that their love and support has provided. We now live in different countries so they are not a part of my everyday but they are undoubtedly the secure foundation on which my life has been built.

When my younger self was longing for independence, for the freedom to be myself and not the daughter my parents desired, I did not foresee that our connection, their demands and my guilt at not being as they wished would remain despite increasing age and geographical distance.

When others try to mould me I feel treated like a child. Is it possible to feel grown up without autonomy? I may rail against my parents’ expectations but wonder if, when the time comes and I am cast adrift, I will choose any change of direction.


Sitting exams vicariously

Perfection Pending

This post was written for a parenting blog hop hosted by Perfection Pending. Click on the badge above to check out the other blogs that have linked in this week. 

Exam season is in full swing here in the Law household. Younger son has papers to complete which will decide the sets that he will be placed in for GCSE and whether he can do the advanced science and maths modules that he hopes to take. Elder son is sitting the majority of his GCSEs plus a few AS papers, and has the most challenging exam timetable that I have ever seen. He will be required to spend two days in isolation due to clashes, sitting four important papers on each day between 9am and 5pm. How exhausting is that going to be? Daughter has her AS papers to sit, the results of which will dictate the universities she can apply to next year. We are living in a fug of stress, trying to find the balance between support and encouragement. We have another six weeks of this to survive.

On Monday evening daughter and elder son were discussing the challenges and merits of the universities they would like to apply to and I was taken back to my own decision process. So much has changed, yet so much remains the same. Whereas I did my research via handbooks, they use the internet and forums. I did not consider visiting the universities that I applied to; attending open days now seem to be de rigueur. Still though, it appears that the well regarded institutions for particular subjects have not changed over the years. This was a conversation that I could join in with, that was of mutual interest. With their research and my experience we had an adult discussion. For once I was not regarded as impossibly ancient and irrelevant, but as someone from whom interesting facts and opinions could be gleaned. It felt good.

So much of what I say to them as a parent comes across as me trying to tell them what to do. They often seem to believe that I have no understanding of the lives that they are required to live and wish me to back off, to allow them space to make their decisions unhindered. I have experienced another time that may as well have been another world given how relevant it is to their here and now. We do not talk as equals as we see what happens around us through eyes clouded by differing experiences.

This conversation felt more like a meeting of friends. I do not know if it is them growing up or me letting go, but they allowed their more typical guard to relax and I was able to see them as the amusing, intelligent and thoughtful individuals that they can be. I would be so happy if I could enjoy this more often. It can be exhausting being treated as a nuisance; a provider of food and clean clothes but with little else to add to their lives.

One conversation is not going to change the way we treat each other, but it has offered me a hopeful glimpse of our evolving familial relationships. Living with three teenagers can be challenging, but it is the potential for the clashes to damage how my children will see me in the future that worries me most. I want so much to remain close to them as they move into adulthood, and this showed me that it could be possible.

The only people who will be qualified to judge if I have been a good parent will be those who have experienced it, my children. I suspect that how I cope with this formative time will be critical in how they look on me in the years to come. When they no longer need me will they choose to include me in their lives? Despite the stresses that we are currently living under, I am feeling more hopeful that this could be possible than I have for some time.



They used to just drive me to distraction

Perfection Pending

 This post is part of a parenting Blog Hop hosted by Perfection Pending.

Over the years my kids have fallen out of swings, trees, down steep slopes, over fences, off their bikes and from horses. They have banged their heads, suffered greenstick fractures and sported the cuts and bruises inevitable when allowed to run and climb and play in the parks, fields and woodland around our home.

Of course I worried about them, schooled them on avoiding risk, taking care, on not playing alone, not straying too far from home. I recognised that they needed to learn for themselves but tried to ensure that they did so in as safe an environment as was practical whilst granting them the freedom to explore, stretch themselves and grow. Looking back on their childhood experiences, that they survived is as much down to luck as judgement. The potential for accidents is everywhere, including in the home.

To all you young moms out there, frantically trying to stop your kids eating dirt, banging their heads when they fall, running in front of traffic, falling in a river or pond; I have been there and I empathise. The world can seem so full of danger when you are responsible for a little person intent on learning for themselves, who seems to consider mom to be nothing more than a spoilsport when she says no.

Do you look at me with my teenage kids and dream about how much easier it must get when a full nights sleep is to be expected and those little people can go to and from school on their own? It does get easier, but the potential dangers just seem to get worse. Oh my.

My children have always wanted to drive. Be it push alongs, pedal cars or go-karts, if it had wheels they wanted to ride. Add a motor and they were in heaven.


Yesterday my daughter had her first driving lesson in a much bigger car. A ton of metal that she claims to have driven at up to 50mph. Apparently her driving instructor only had to use the dual controls twice. No casualties were reported.

I knew that this day was approaching, and that this would be the start of a process that I will have to cope with for some years to come. Elder son, happily driving with his sister in the picture above, turns seventeen next year; younger son just a couple of years later. In a few weeks time, when she has learned the basics, I am going to have to let my daughter drive my car, with me in the passenger seat, in order to allow her to practice her newly learned skills. This must be the ultimate teenagers revenge; I will not have the benefit of an instructor’s dual controls.

I guess that, as with any other milestone, I will simply get used to it. The first time my daughter used a local bus by herself, the first time she took a train to the city, the first time she made a complicated journey that required multiple changes, I was worrying every step of the way, whereas now I barely give it a thought. I know that she will benefit from learning to drive a car, but oh my is it a challenge to let her loose on those dangerous roads.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the sleepless nights, the constant vigilance and the inexplicable tantrums of their early childhood, but it can be a challenge to let go of those little hands that I held tight and safe for so long. In the end it is a matter of trust, of hoping that my children have absorbed enough of the lessons taught to act carefully and sensibly whatever temptations are put in their way.

It seems that we never stop parenting our children, we must just learn to do so in a more quiet and unobtrusive way. If teenagers suspect what we are up to, that there is a risk that we might interfere in their chaotic lives? Believe me, those tantrums can return…


How to embarrass your teenager

I am taking part in Perfection Pending‘s weekly Blog Hop

Perfection Pending

I had two important tasks that needed to be accomplished yesterday. Number one, get passport photographs for each family member. Number two, buy new trainers for elder son. Not too tricky you would think, no great challenges involved. A quick trip into town, two places to visit and home. If only things could be as simple as they sound.

First off we all had to get out of the house together. Cooking up a big breakfast seemed like the easiest way to coax those sleepy teenagers from their beds on what is usually a lazy Sunday morning. Cups of tea were delivered as wake up calls and warnings given that food was being prepared. Somehow, by the time we were fed, dressed and the debris cleared away, midday was approaching. How does that happen?

Getting toddlers out of the house always seemed like a major accomplishment. All those socks, shoes, coats and toilet visits had to be sorted; juice, snacks, changes of clothes and toys packed in the large bag I dreamed of being able to one day leave the house without. It should be easier when they are old enough to get themselves ready, yes?

I have long since dumped the bag, but somehow it still seems to take forever to get more than one child out the door at the same time. I suspect that the distraction of computers and social networks may have something to do with this. That and their ability to tune out the sound of my voice.

Eventually however we piled into the car and drove into town. Concerned about wasting his valuable time, Grumpy in the back was asking how long this was going to take and if it was really necessary. I pointed out that I needed his head and his feet so yes, his presence was necessary. He did not appreciate my comments.

There are three photo booths in the town shopping centre. The first was out of order, the second did not produce passport quality prints, the third was rejecting around 90% of the coins it was offered. Having got this far I was not going to turn back. We fed coin after coin into the irritating machine, even going back to the car to fetch the change we keep there to pay for parking to see if those coins would be more acceptable. Slowly we managed to coax the uncooperative device into submission.

It is possible that we may have got away with the delay and frustration had not my elder son’s worst nightmare then occurred. Standing in the mall, trying desperately to get the blasted booth to just take the damn photographs, two of his friends walked by and recognised him, in a public place with his mother. I could see that he wished the floor could just open up and swallow him whole.

As I collected the last of the prints (which incidentally make us all look like convicts) my son strode off towards the sports shop. Hurrying after him I was stopped in my tracks as he swung around and demanded to know if I needed anything from this shop. I knew from his look what he wanted; I was banished to wait in the car lest I be spotted once more in his presence.

Letting go of our kids as they grow up can be a challenge for any parent. It would seem that shaking off those pesky parental units can be as much of a challenge for certain teens. They need us for the roof over their head and the food that they can never get enough of. What they really want though is for us to acquire invisibility should we ever be required to inhabit the same space as they outside the home.

My son has reached the stage where he believes that he knows a great deal more about what matters than I. There is no doubt that he is quicker at maths, more knowledgeable about the intricacies of science, more in tune with the latest happenings amongst his peers. When he talks to me I can appear foolish because the things that interest him do not always tally with my own areas of expertise.

If I knew that he wished to talk about the development of a new jet powered engine, the orbital capabilities of a certain type of rocket, the possibilities unleashed by over clocking a computer processor, then perhaps I could look into these topics and pick up enough knowledge to at least nod in the right places during our conversations. He has no interest in the matters that engross me; we are both drawn to enquire but about different subjects.

I remember not so long ago I was the font of all his knowledge. If I could not answer the question then we investigated together. It must be hugely disappointing to discover that a parent is not as bright as once thought. I wonder how long it will be before he understands that my abilities lie elsewhere but can be just as interesting and challenging as his.

My son is capable of showing patience when I cannot keep up. He explains and modifies his explanations that I may gain an understanding of the subject that is so fascinating to him. This is, of course, in the privacy of our home.

I suspect it will be quite some time before I do not embarrass him in front of his friends just by being there. Until that time I will do my best to quash the hurt I feel when he rejects me, and remember that we all have a lifetime of learning ahead. He may not know everything as he sometimes appears to think, but then neither do I.


Le Failfish turns seventeen

My daughter has a nickname, Failfish. It came into being several years ago during one of the convoluted conversations that teenagers have with their friends, where they all end up thinking something is the funniest thing ever and afterwards cannot explain why. Or that is how it was sort of explained to me. I can’t say I that I really understand either how it came about or why it stuck, why she wanted it to stick. As they get older there is more and more going on in her life that I am not party to or do not understand. I think this is what happens as kids grow up.

It is not totally accurate to describe it as a nickname as I have not heard her friends call her by it, but she does sometimes use the name to refer to herself. I am puzzled because I cannot see how it can suit her. My daughter does not fail. She is one of the most driven people that I know.

Today is her birthday. In the wee small hours of the morning, seventeen years ago, my husband drove me to our local community hospital where we expected to welcome our first child into the world. On arrival the friendly midwife examined me, called an ambulance, and I was whisked off to a large city hospital some miles away. My husband was not allowed to travel with me. It was the most upsetting part of the birth process.

He caught up with us in the delivery suite and was present for our daughter’s birth, just before sunrise. The look on his face as he held his first child in his arms for the first time is one of my most precious memories. There couldn’t have been a more proud daddy. He has been a wonderful daddy to all three of our children.


That tiny baby, who had to be monitored through her first thirty-six hours due to temperature and breathing difficulties, is now healthy, active and taller than me. Apparently we look alike but she has my husband’s willowy frame rather than my dumpy one. She also has his brains but my determination. It is quite a combination.

I like to think that we are reasonably close as mother and daughter. Being the eldest, she has always been the child to lead and her brothers have willingly followed. It has made my life a lot easier bringing them up that she could generally be reasoned with even if we did not always agree over the best course of action.


Motherhood defined me for so many years, yet it is only one stage of the life I have lead. My daughter is starting to get this, to recognise that there is a person underneath the being who always has and always will care for her. I value her empathy and willingness to offer support and encouragement when our beloved boys find my foibles frustrating.

It is not just the well being of her mother that she looks out for though. As the eldest child she has always been the leader, the explorer. She has the ability to calm and bring under control the family storms that brew from time to time.

It is fascinating, as a parent, to watch a child develop and grow. My daughter has never been a follower, choosing her friends wisely but forging her own path. As her taste in clothes and music have developed, as she has chosen how she wishes to present herself to the world, it has been noticeable that she has not copied those around her. The look may not be unique to her but it is unusual amongst those she chooses to be with. She has never been a clone.


And all of this delights me. The scientist who wishes to be a doctor also writes prolifically. Her penchant for rock and metal music, for Dr Martin boots and black eyeliner, does not preclude her from donning khaki’s and walking boots and heading into the hills with her tent and a few friends. She has never limited herself by the ideas that others may have of her.

I am immensely proud of all three of my children. Today though, on her birthday, I am thinking in particular of the child who turned me into a mother. I have always encouraged my children to think for themselves, to be themselves (everyone else is already taken), to ask questions and to stand up for what is right. My daughter is also loyal, loving and caring.

As for that nickname? I must ask her why she put the male article before it. Perhaps it is just another way in which she refuses to be defined by convention. Perhaps she uses it in an ironic way, against the hipsters who once used it and moved on.

For all her independence my daughter is not a rebel. She understands the need to conform in certain situations, to be community minded and a giving member of society. What defines her though is her determination to be the best that she can possibly be in whatever interest she chooses to pursue. For all her teenage procrastination she gets things done. This mother could not ask for a better daughter.



The theme for this week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop is : Mail

Remember the Time Blog Hop

My first penpal was a girl named Winsom Montgomery. I never met her. I was given her details by my school who were trying to encourage us to write to complete strangers. I happily shared all the intimate details of my preteen life in a series of letters that I wrote over the several years that our correspondence survived. This all seemed perfectly normal at the time. I wonder when adults started to think that they needed to warn young children about stranger danger and data privacy. I certainly never came to any harm. Neither can I remember much about the girl I wrote to for so long, other than her unusual name.

I had many penpals as a teenager. Most of these resulted from a desire to keep in touch with girls I met on the holiday camps that I attended with the Scripture Union. One was a primary school friend who had moved to England with her family and who I continued to write to for many years before losing touch.

I could write up to half a dozen letters a month to the three or four people that I corresponded with regularly. Most of them wrote back, but I suspect that they did not maintain quite as many penpals as I collected over the years.

I graced these recipients with all the details of my life. They were told of the comings and goings of family and friends, of my time at school and, most especially, of my many outings. As most of these involved regular activities I suspect my letters may have been a tad repetitive, they were certainly self centred. I just loved to write though, so I did.

The many letters that I sent required stationery. I had a lovely collection of coloured notepaper and notelets with cutesy pictures and matching envelopes. I loved to receive such things as birthday and Christmas presents. I kept all the letters that I received in pretty boxes, carefully filed by sender. I doubt that I ever reread them though.

Except, that is, for my love letters. My first long term boyfriend lived a few miles from my parent’s home. One spring he had to prepare for important, school exams so we could only see each other at weekends. To make up for this traumatic curtailment of our budding romance we wrote letters to each other on the long, lonely weekdays. He is the only male I have ever known who would happily write regular and intimate letters. Young love is succoured by absence and romance, and those letters had me floating through the days until we could be together again. I do wonder if his parents were aware that his apparently avid revision included such preoccupations.

And then there were the Valentine cards. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty I enjoyed this annual ritual of posting enormous, padded, verse covered offerings or sending that single red rose to a loved one. There was one rather awkward year when I got three of these things which seriously annoyed one of the senders. He obviously resented the expense when his offering was not as unique as he had anticipated.

By the time I got to university the first computer messaging services were starting to appear. As a computer science student I could use university facilities to communicate with other such students abroad. I was still writing many letters though, to family and close friends as we spread our wings and landed jobs around the world.

Before I moved out of my parent’s home I had to clear my childhood bedroom. I came across all of my old letters and valentine cards and binned the lot of them. My mother was more upset than I at such hard-hearted disposal, but I saw no point in keeping reminders of lost loves and forgotten friendships. I was making a fresh start, reinventing myself without the ties of home.

The pleasure of receiving personal mail was totally dependent on the sender. Letters from close friends, especially boyfriends, created a frisson of excitement. I would take the missive to my bedroom, settle down comfortably, and savour each moment; from the careful opening of the envelope to the reading the letter contained therein, drunk up in peaceful privacy. The letter would be read and reread, meanings deduced or imagined, time given to contemplation of the news relayed. More mundane letters were quickly scanned and discarded, their value fleeting and unappreciated.

My only regular penpals now are my parents. They do not own a computer and I dislike using a telephone so we communicate by snail mail. What used to be an enjoyable exercise has become something of a chore as I struggle to find things to write about. The art of letter writing is drowning amongst the other mediums that I use to communicate.

But still I feel excitement when I receive a handwritten letter from someone I love. Even if my mother cannot think of much to say, just receiving a letter proves to me that she is well enough to write. The value is still in the sender more than the contents. I wonder if that value has been lost amongst the electronic mediums that proliferate today.


“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”

To read the other posts in this Blog Hop, click on the link below

For my daughter

You are beautiful, but it is not your beauty that defines you. After that first, perfunctory assessment it is your wit and empathy that will colour opinion. Never compromise what you are; if others do not appreciate your worth, move on.

I realise that, although I have encountered many of the issues that you must face, my experiences will have differed from yours. I grew up in a time and a place far removed from that which you must experience. I do not ask that you do as I say, although I may ask you to consider a point of view alongside others.

Be aware that, however irrelevant other’s may appear to you, their counsel may contain some nugget of wisdom. Learn to listen that you may proceed mindfully. There are lessons to be learned in even the most obscure of places.

Your thoughts and feelings are valid; do not allow others to diminish their worth. The things that matter to you should not be dismissed as irrelevant just because they are not appreciated by those you encounter as you move through your world and this life.

Strive to be the best that you can for your own edification and satisfaction. Others will come and go but you will always have to live with yourself. Take care of your body and your mind; they are the constants in the ever shifting sands of your life.

Sow seeds of kindness and generosity; the rewards you reap may take time but will be plentiful. Do not be afraid to let go of those who tether you to a place that limits your ability to flourish. Make your own path if those that exist do not take you to wherever you wish to go.

Do not rely on others for your happiness. Take personal responsibility for what you are and what you may become. This world owes you nothing, but offers so much if you choose to seek out and work for that which you desire. Learn from your setbacks; do not be cowed by challenges. There is often more than one way to achieve a goal.

Be open to new thoughts and ideas; consider carefully other’s reasoning and beliefs. It is possible to be respectful and considerate whilst maintaining one’s own integrity. When new information is uncovered, challenge the established dogma to ensure it remains as incontrovertible as you were led to believe. Changing one’s point of view is less shameful than fighting for a flawed premise.

It is possible to be practical and still follow a dream. Life is fluid and ever changing; take charge of yours. There will be times when events are beyond your control; do not give up or blame others. Your destiny is in your hands.

Do not be afraid to love, but give your heart wisely. A soul mate will not seek to change you, but will enhance what you already are. If you do not feel comfortable with what you are asked to be or do then desist. Others should not expect you to live by their standards; those who truly care about you will respect your wishes and love you for what you are.

Wherever you go in this life, whatever path you choose, know that you are loved beyond measure. I would change nothing about you other than to wish that you could see yourself through my eyes and thereby realise just how wonderful you are. I wish you nothing but happiness and personal fulfilment. I will always be there for you.


The Hot Rod

My first car was a Mini. Not a BMW Mini such as half the world seems to want to drive these days (personally I would prefer a new styled VW Beetle, even though I do know it is simply a Golf with a different body). No, my first car was what is now known as a Classic Mini. I loved that car; it gave me my freedom.

Beneath the dirt (I don’t recall ever washing it) and rust (it had a lot of rust) it was a sort of mustard yellow colour. I inherited it from my sister when she upgraded to a Ford Fiesta (I eventually inherited that from her too). I covered my car in stickers that advised those behind me to ‘Back off, I’ve got a sensitive bottom’ or ‘Who says you can’t have everything? Here I am’. The rear and side windows displayed such information on their many stickers as ‘Sex Appeal, please give generously’ and the much derided ‘My other car is a Porsche’.

I was given all of these stickers by friends and attached whatever was offered (which was probably why I was given a few; as a challenge to see if I would dare display them in our conservative neighbourhood). The pièce de résistance, however, was the blue sun strip that ran across the top of the windscreen and proudly declared the car to be ‘Hot Rod’. And it was.

Thanks to some clever tuning work by a friend (and a friend of this friend, who enjoyed rallying) the engine, when it went, went like the clappers. Back in the day the VW Golf was the car to have and my little Mini could outgun one from a standing start (I did this at lights just to annoy the drivers who thought they were so cool). My car had a top speed of 80mph, as measured by a police speed radar on the Outer Ring Road at Knock in Belfast. How I managed to sweet talk my way out of that one I don’t know. A nineteen year old’s seemingly innocent smile and feminine charms can work wonders when needed.

Did I mention the rust? If my front seat passenger lifted the soggy carpet there was a fine view of the road. This was sorted by my friend who rivet gunned a sheet of metal over the offending area. The carpet dried out eventually and the car smelt much better after that.

This was not the only leak the car could boast though. The radiator leaked and the brake pipes leaked (I learnt to pump the brake pedal when I needed to stop). The electrics were also dodgy, particularly when it rained. I wrapped tinfoil over the front grill and sticky tape around the distributor. If the engine cut out in heavy traffic a spray of WD40 would normally get it going again.

In the boot of the car I carried brake fluid, a gallon of water and a tow rope – all a girl could need in the event of breakdown. When the exhaust system fell off I went back to collect it and drove noisily round to my friend’s house to have it reattached. To get the car through it’s MOT I borrowed a set of tyres that had more tread than mine and sent it to a garage with a sympathetic mechanic. I never really knew how much an MOT was supposed to cost.

Driving a car such as this meant that I was never intimidated on the busy, city roads. When a smug, besuited, middle aged driver in a sleek, shiny jaguar tried to push into my lane I just kept going. If he wished to risk a scratch on his bodywork trying to get me to move out of his way then let him; bodywork scratches were the least of my worries. It was a bit embarrassing when, having forced him to give way, the Hot Rod then conked out in the busy stop, start traffic. Luckily I had that gallon of water to top up the radiator and get going again. I gave the drivers behind my best smile but I’m not sure it was appreciated.

I would have continued to drive this amazing machine for longer if a taxi driver hadn’t slammed into the side of my beloved car trying to do an unexpected u turn. He took me to court to try to pin the blame on me but lost. During this time I drove around with a polythene sheet where the passenger side windows had been (visibility was a bit of an issue but I coped) and the door attached to the car with string. Eventually my friend got me a replacement door, nearly the same colour as the rest of the car. With the help of a tractor and chain he pulled the car into shape and managed to get the door to fit pretty well. I had to remember which key opened which door but felt well sorted with this arrangement.

Unfortunately the accident drew the attention of my insurance company who declared my little car a write off. The assessor pointed out the dodgy brakes and treadless tyres but it was the potential damage to the chassis that made him refuse to reinsure. I was devastated.

Recovery was, however, speedy. Not only did I get money from the insurance company (lucky that I was on the winning side of that court case), but another friend found a farmer who was willing to take my broken car and do it up for his daughter. He even paid me for it.

After a few drinks to celebrate I put the accumulated cash aside for my second car. This ended up being another mustard coloured Mini with dodgy brakes, purchased from a couple of guys who did up and sold on such cars. I heard a few years later that the police were prosecuting them for selling unroadworthy vehicles to unsuspecting customers. For the money I had paid, I expected nothing less.


Thanks to The Waiting for the inspiration for this post. Sorry I missed the relevant Blog Hop.

Radio Ga Ga

Zebra Garden

I was born in the swinging sixties, the youngest of three children with a brother who entered his teens just as I was learning to walk. He left home for university before I could get to know him, and moved to the other side of the world a few years after graduation. What he left behind for his baby sister to enjoy was a vinyl record collection from the sixties and seventies, and a portable record player that had settings for 16, 33, 45 and 78rpm recordings.

Music was always being played in our house. My mother would have the radio on in the kitchen every morning as we ate our breakfast and again in the afternoon as she prepared the family dinner. She would listen to stations that offered news, comment and the ‘easy listening’ songs that she favoured. In the evenings my father would change the radio station and listen to classical music as he washed up the dishes. My sister had a little portable radio that she used to follow the latest chart toppers; she has always been more fashion concious than me.

I preferred my brother’s record collection and developed an enduring love of the Beatles, The Moody Blues and many of the singles covered by unnamed artists on the much maligned Top of the Pops collections released in the late sixties and early seventies. It was many years before I would hear these songs sung by the original artists.

When I started to add my own purchases to my brother’s record collection I continued to favour music that rarely made it into the charts. I chose Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan over the latest boy bands being swooned over by my classmates at the all girls grammar school that I attended.

Soon after it was purchased I borrowed my parent’s music centre, moving it up to my bedroom and not returning it until I was able to afford my own separates system several years later. This device allowed me to make numerous compilation cassette tapes of my favourite tracks and to listen to these endlessly until I could bear them no more.

When I learnt to drive most cars had only a basic radio for entertainment. I saved up and splashed out on a decent in-car stereo system that was stolen within days. I reverted to the radio and, for the first time, started to listen to new releases on BBC Radio 1. At home I would still opt to listen to my record collection or my compilation tapes, but my music appreciation expanded and I found that I could enjoy some of the offerings of my own age. Even when my father purchased a car that had a cassette player as well as a radio I continued to tune into Steve Wright in the Afternoon, learn from his Factoids and laugh at his Mr Angry.

In my late teens, when I was building my Hi Fi separates system, I purchased my first CD player and my vinyl collection started to gather dust. The only recordings that I chose to buy on CD that I already had on vinyl were by Pink Floyd and The Beatles. The rest of my CD collection was made up of new recordings from the eighties and nineties. When my husband and I married and joined our music collections together we found few overlaps; we continue to have quite different tastes in music.

With the birth of my daughter I became a stay at home mum and started to listen to the radio for the news and a little music, much as my own mother had done. However, I soon grew tired of the phone ins and debates; it seemed to me that those who discussed the topics of the day were ill informed and hopelessly biased. I tuned out in boredom and disgust, reverting to my recorded music of choice.

My husband took a job at a phone company just as it was setting up a rival to Apple’s iTunes. As an employee he could add any music from the in-house music store to the MP3 player on the top end phone that they provided him with. Over the two years that he worked there he amassed a huge collection of albums including everything we already had on vinyl and CD. Suddenly the entire music collection of my youth was available in high quality surround sound. Much of it has aged rather well.

The twelve year old car that I now drive has a radio and a CD player but no MP3 capability; this is the only place where our CD collection sees use. Steve Wright in the Afternoon can still be found on the radio but I will rarely tune in. There are few of the latest chart toppers that appeal; the latest boy bands still fail to capture my attention.

Radio has been a background noise to my life but never an integral part of it, yet I would not wish to get rid of the radio as I have done with television. I prefer to tailor my listening to my own tastes but wish to retain the option of a live link to the outside world.

On a sunny, summers day in 1984 I attended a Radio 1 Roadshow at a seaside resort a few miles from my home town with a friend. We had a fabulous day out, dancing to the music and cheering with the crowds. I immersed myself in the atmosphere just as I would do at the many live concerts that I would attend in the coming years. The music that was being played mattered so much less than the convivial spirit of the revellers.

Radio on it’s own is too sterile an entertainment for my taste; the DJs are too talkative and the adverts on commercial stations unbearable. Music has always been important to me, but I make my own choices over what I will listen to. Perhaps I am just too set in my ways to be willing to accept what appeals to others; perhaps I am just too different to the norm to be catered for.

It delights me that my daughter has developed a taste in rock and metal music rather than the vapid and transitory chart toppers. Just as in my day, it seems that our favoured bands are rarely given air time on the radio.

Whatever we are doing there is usually music playing somewhere in our house. It is, however, rare indeed for our radio to rock.

English: Close-up shot of a turntable cartridg...