I was sad when Blighty’s much-discussed ‘Big Freeze’ ended a couple of weeks ago, around the time I departed from the grandparental home Oop North (i.e. the house of my parents, my little boys’ grandparents). The Big Freeze has already become the topic of retrospective TV documentaries, as if it needs to be milked further by the media. Sigh. While it lasted, I enjoyed the fact that venturing outside was like visiting another country: the Alps, perhaps, without the skiing and fondue and also, thankfully, without the £8 drinks in bars. Now Blighty has returned to its usual uninspiring mode of cold and drizzle, with less to feed the eye (icicles were good on that front). It’s a bit like returning from holiday, descending into the perennial greyness of Grotwick Airport, and adjusting to damp old Blighty at its boring worst.
At least the Big Freeze was exciting. It still galls me that while travelling between one end of England and the other (Brighton and Newcastle to be precise), I somehow managed to miss the fresh snow at both ends. This was a sore point, as I wanted to play with my little boys in the virgin powder before it turned into ice or slush. I reckon I’ve missed my chance this winter now, for good.
It’s admirable that snow can galvanise families into outdoor activities such as sledging, snowballing and building snowmen – a way to encourage obesity-combating movement and discourage us from sitting on the sofa gorging on chocolates while watching endless reruns of ‘Tom and Jerry’ with the kids. My Father – i.e. Granddad – took my boys out sledging in the North and great fun they had too, despite Grandma most likely having hysterics over health and safety concerns (too cold / too slippery / the sledge might career out of control, etc.). This brings me neatly to the topic of The Generation Gap: much as we think we are different to Ye Older Generation (I wouldn’t obsess about a sledge crashing, for example), do we eventually turn into our mothers?
Despite being prone to hysterics about certain things (“the event might go wrong... the train might not come... the laptop might be nicked...”) I often convince myself that I won’t turn into my Mum. A kind and gentle character who’s led a sheltered life, she favours floral prints, bone china cups, lacy table cloths (you’re never allowed to see the oak table) and sandwiches filled with tinned salmon containing all those little bones (yuck!). She can’t understand why the younger generation (OK, so my peer group is in its collective 30s and 40s) wants to engage in drinking and partying (“you all behave like students with no responsibilities”) or chooses to share its personal life on social networking sites such as Facebook (“what’s wrong with keeping it private”). She might have a point, with Facebook in particular, but I really can’t imagine taking someone to task because their skirt is too short or because they’ve poured a third glass of vino. Not yet, anyway.
There’s a great Twitter page called ‘Shit My Dad Says’ which celebrates the obvious generation gap in a harmless and amusing way. However, I fail to remain entirely amused when generation gap comments are made. A particular brickbat, in response to my younger son’s constant ‘bed head’ appearance, was “when you were young, your hair was brushed *and* it was shiny”. A few of those remarks and I caved in and took the boys to the local hairdresser. Instead of laughing off the older generation’s ‘helpful’ comments on subjects such as child-rearing, I find myself reverting to teenage-esque behaviour. Even though this isn’t an appropriate or respectful way to relate to one’s Mother when one’s toddlers are present, it’s clearly the Default Mode (just as we have one on our computer programs). Default Mode includes sulking, applying the old adage of ‘attack is the best form of defence’ and using phrases such as “you don’t know what you’re talking about” and, “What do you mean, ‘everybody’ thinks it is disgusting? Who is everybody anyway... you and a few acquaintances who share your views?”
Personally, I can never come to terms with the older generation’s desire to ‘make do and mend’ beyond the point where it’s sensible. This means clinging on to personal effects which have bizarre sentimental value, such as blunt carving knives, plastic kids’ cups from the 70s and place mats that have seen better days. Just as the old folks can’t understand why the ‘youngsters’ would want to stay up all night to celebrate a birthday, I can’t understand why the cake knife can’t be used to cut a tomato. What will happen to the established order of things, for heaven’s sake, if the cake knife is used to cut leeks or bread?
But... but... just as I’m averse to the older generation’s foibles learned during the wartime, I increasingly find myself adopting Mother-esque thoughts and sayings. OK, so I have an MP3 player and I could give the youngsters a run for their money at a soiree (admittedly after I’ve passed out for a few hours) but I’ve recently caught myself thinking “that’s not music, it’s just noise” (an expression frequently used by my Mum in the 80s), I have a problem with hoodies, and I only just stopped myself from approaching a group of bare-legged teenage girls in a Brighton park to suggest “why don’t you put some tights on – it’s only one degree Celsius”. Perhaps, whatever we do, we start turning into our mother. Am I only a few steps away from clinging on to f*cked up old chopping boards and deciding not to have my hair done because it’s “better to leave it natural” for 20 years?
I have a friend in Spain who inhabits the same generation as the gentle older folks I’m discussing but they are a world apart. She has a 40 year old boyfriend, can down Stollybollies as if they’re going out of fashion and she could show the 20 year olds a thing or three. I suspect she wouldn’t share my fascination with condiments and voucher codes – no, she’d have something more exciting to do. It shows that there’s hope yet. Perhaps we don’t all turn into ‘Mrs Brady – Old Lady’, as per a previous blog entry. However, for all I know, this friend’s Mum might have been a bohemian party animal too... she might just be copying the older generation after all.