POST #186 – MORE ABOUT MY FIRST LOVE

I’ve loved poetry since an infant school teacher first delved into her handbag and put a poetry book in my hands. 

I had read all the reading books in class and she was looking for something to keep me occupied until the school bell rang for the end of the lesson.

My late father, the writer Ralph L Finn, used to quote poems at me all the time. It drove me mad. But now I find myself doing exactly the same to my own children and grandchildren.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was about eight years old. My first poem, written when I was in junior school, was entitled, “The Squirrel and the Hare”.

The Squirrel and the Hare

“What of the woods?”

said the squirrel to the hare

“branches bare, thick moss

everywhere

where nuts can be found

and the ground

is as flat

as a beaten door mat “

“Well? What about that?”

said the hare.

“So, what do I care

for the branches bare?

I have the hay

and seeds can be found

on the ground which is sweet

and lies lush at my feet …”

“Please come to the woods!”

“No thanks,” said the hare

“I’m quite happy here.”

Then they both said together

“Never mind the wind or weather

We will always stay together

 Squirrel and hare.”

Now, should you find their bush

Please tiptoe and don’t stare

For you may find them sleeping there …

Squirrel and hare.

The headmistress contacted my parents, convinced they had helped me with it or even written it for me. Fortunately, they managed to convince her otherwise.

From then on I was hooked.

What about you? What was your first love? And did it remain with you – as poetry has for me – all your life?

    

My father, Ralph L Finn    (1912-1999)

© Andrea Neidle. My Life in Poems

ARE WE WINNING THE BATTLE AGAINST COVID-19?

“This virus is in retreat. We’re working through our plan and our plan is working.”

Matt Hancock  11/6/20

All this war terminology. People talk about people winning or losing the fight against cancer as if cancer is an enemy that you can defeat by putting up a good fight. So, if you succumb to the disease, does that mean you didn’t fight hard enough?

We battle against the virus. We have people working on the front line. And now the virus is in retreat.  I’d love that to be the case but I’d be surprised if it’s true.  There may even be a spike in a couple of weeks as a result of all the Covidiots who haven’t been following social distancing.

It seems there’s a list of 60 statues the protestors want removed including Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square.  I think we should replace him – and all the other statues they’re complaining about – with statues of pigeons.  Totally inoffensive. And the pigeons would love them.

OH (other half) and I have been in lockdown now for 87 days. We began quarantining ourselves before we were all officially told to do so because we thought, at the time, that our daughter had the virus. She went through all the symptoms, was examined by an ambulance crew and went into self-isolation away from her husband and three young children. Recently she had the antibody test, only to find out that apparently she had not had the virus after all! All that self-isolation for nothing! And she’s by no means the first person I have heard about who has had this experience.  On the other hand, I’ve been told about other people who had extremely mild symptoms and found out when they were tested that they had indeed had the virus.

It seems to me that – in coping with this “battle” most of us have been going through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Some of us – maybe those people in their thousands who swarmed onto beaches and beauty spots – are still in denial. Many are angry.  A few of us may have done some bargaining. Maybe with God if we believe in one.  Or maybe with ourselves.  A large number of people have suffered from depression and many still do.

And then there’s the final stage of acceptance. I think that’s where I’m at now. It was easier when the message was ‘stay at home to stay lives’ rather than ‘stay alert’. But I think many of the people in my position – older and no longer working – have found it easier to accept the lockdown.  So much harder for younger people who led very active lives who are missing work and financial security.

What’s more, working from home and home schooling your children is not an easy task.  I know many parents who are finding it exhausting. If I’d had any say in it I would have said forget about this year altogether. Think of it as a long, extended holiday. Enjoy the time you have with your kids – you may never have a time like this again in your lives. My suggestion would have been to pretend this year had never happened. Postpone all the  assessments and exams. Start again in January 2021 where you left off the curriculum in January 2020. Everyone would be at the same level. No pressure.  Yes, it would mean next year’s cohort starting school a year later but I don’t believe that would harm their education.  There are many countries where children don’t start school until the age of six ( in Hong Kong, Singapore and Finland it’s not until they’re seven) and very often those children do much better academically than ours.

One of the recent bugbears is that the congestion charge has been increased and will now be operating over evenings and weekends too. Talk about adding insult to injury! At a time when they are trying to encourage fewer people to use public transport, they’re obviously going to get more people using their cars!  So, here’s my idea.  Why not lay on free shuttle buses?  We could use the open top deck tour buses that are redundant at the moment.  Stop all but essential traffic and offer free car parking to people coming in from the suburbs so they can get a shuttle into London or wherever it is they live. Rather like the park and ride many towns operate over Christmas.  And reduce the congestion charge so that people who have to use their cars can afford to do so. We should be doing everything in our power to encourage people to get back to work not hindering their attempts to do so.

Do we really have the second highest figures of deaths out of all the countries in the world?  Really? I find that hard to believe.  Some countries are obviously not reporting their figures correctly or honestly. According to WHO, we are told that India’s total number of deaths up till now is only 10,000. A country that is 17.7% of the total world population! Can you believe that?  Maybe Diane Abbott has been helping them add up the figures.

Rant over.

Stay well. Stay safe. See you again soon.

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING – AND ABOUT TIME TOO!

I’m not going to talk about the comings and goings of Dominic Cummings other than to say that he should do the decent thing and resign.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to the subject of role models.

When I was growing up there were very few positive female role models seen on television  – unless you count panel games. The news readers, weather forecasters, politicians, presenters and pundits were all men.  Even the Question Time panel on TV and the Any Questions panel on the radio invariably was all male – as was the panel on University Challenge.  Even the disc jockeys were male. My generation did not see women in key roles in society.   We thought nothing of it. It was as it was.

Now it is rare to see any kind of news programme without it being fronted by a woman. We have the likes of Fiona Bruce, Emily Maitlis, Kirsty Walk, Reeta Chakrabarti and Emma Barnett – just to mention a few. Role models that today’s young women take for granted.

Growing up as a girl and a young woman in the 50s and 60s,  the people we saw in key positions were all men.  Contrary to primary school life today, most of our teachers were men. When I was at primary school all the women teachers were single – or “spinsters” which was the rather derogatory word for an unmarried woman at the time. Until the Sex Disqualification Removal Act was passed in 1919, married women weren’t even allowed to work as teachers. The act should, in theory, have meant greater equality for women but in the 1920s the idea of women working was frowned upon because of so many men being on the dole.  In reality you didn’t see married women taking up teaching jobs until the 1940s. The Bar that existed for married women teachers also reflected the prevailing social attitude at that time – it was a husband’s duty to support his wife and a married woman’s place was in the home.

We had postmen, milkmen, coalmen, firemen, policemen. Chefs were all men. Most of the people in the professions were men. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants. Even the driving instructors and testers were all men.  And this lasted well into the late 70s.  I can well remember on my driving test being led out to the car by a woman and being completely taken aback to find out she was the tester and not the secretary! This completely threw me and I’m sure that’s why I screwed up my driving test.  It was the very first week that women had finally been permitted to work as driving test examiners! As an aside, this reminds me of when a friend, who was taking her driving test, offered the examiner a Polo mint. He responded in all seriousness, “We don’t take bribes madam!”

I grew up watching Miss World competitions and seeing bikini clad models displayed across the bonnets of cars at the Motor Show. We were used to seeing women in TV commercials extolling the virtues of one washing powder over another. I grew up to pop songs that treated women as playthings and possessions – where the finest achievement was to be wanted by a man.

“I wanna be Bobby’s girl.
That’s the most important thing to me.
And if I was Bobby’s girl;
if I was Bobby’s girl,
what a faithful, thankful girl I’d be.”

I was not swayed by any of this but I do remember friends who felt that they were “on the shelf” if they had not met the “the one” by the time they reached the ripe old age of 25.

Most sport was restricted to men. No women’s football or cricket then.  When our sons were at primary school, the girls learned to play the recorder while the boys played football! No one complained.

At my school the boys did woodwork while the girls did home economics.  For the boys to learn cooking skills was unheard of. The science master at my Grammar School refused to take girls for A-Level science.  Consequently the sixth form arts stream consisted mainly of girls and the science stream of boys. Very few girls went on to do science at university.  Nursing, teaching, secretarial work – these were the job choices girls were offered. Clearly these were not meant to be careers as we were expected to give them up when the right man came along.

My first job in advertising was as a secretary at Y&R (Young & Rubicam).  The agency was similar to the one depicted on MadMen. The women were all typists and secretaries.  Our desks were lined up on either side of a long room. Each secretary was assigned to an account executive (male, American) whose office was adjacent to her desk. In addition to our secretarial duties we had to polish his desk and make him tea. Even then I knew I wanted to be a copywriter which was then (and still is largely) a male dominated field.  I summoned up the courage to go and see the creative director.  At 18, I did not have the confidence to tell him that some of the ideas the agency had used had been mine – given to my boss in the hope that he would let people know that they came from me. The creative director came out from behind his desk and literally patted me on the head. “You stick behind your typewriter little girl.” he said to me.  That was the day I started looking for a new job and not long after was fortunate in obtaining my first job as a copywriter.

Although I never liked the woman, things began to change seriously when Margaret Thatcher emerged as PM in 1979. Even so, in order to succeed she had to be more of a man than the men.  She wore men’s suits and had voice training so her voice became more like a man’s. However, she still “flirted” a little with the men surrounding her and mothered them – which they all seemed to like.

I tried to be a good role model for our daughter by seeking out books that showed strong women. Often the princess would reject the hand of the prince preferring do her own thing instead.

When our daughter played mummies and daddies she would carry a briefcase instead of a handbag and say, “I am the mummy and I’m going to a meeting.” When she dressed up as a nurse her brothers said to her, “why be a nurse when you can be a doctor?” Even so they still delegated the role of “cleaner” or “maid” to her when the three of them played ‘house’ in the garden shed.

Her brothers, on the other hand, were influenced by my role as an NCT  (National Childbirth Trust) teacher. One day when I was in the kitchen I heard all these strange groaning noises coming from the living room.  I went to have a look and found our four year old lying on the sofa while our seven year old was exhorting him to, “Push! Push!” With a final loud grunt the four year old gave birth to a teddy that had been hidden underneath his jumper!

When our daughter was growing up in the 80s I told her she could be anything she wanted to be.  That probably wasn’t entirely true then. But the world has now moved on. Our four year old granddaughter loves playing with her dolls house but she also knows that whatever she chooses to do in life, the opportunities are now there.

Coming back to the subject of role models, let’s hope that by the time you read this, Cummings will have done the right thing and resigned.

 

 

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 60. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JOINED UP THINKING?

“Where is the life that late I led?
Where is it now? Totally dead.”
Kiss Me Kate

Whatever happened to joined up thinking?

Well, what do you know? As a response to public demand (I joke) cleaners are now allowed to go into people’s homes, which is great if you’re not able to cope with the work yourself.  But many people who work as cleaners – ours included – don’t drive.  They travel on the tube and buses to get to their destinations. They may come from homes where they are living with a large number of others. So, much as I would like not to have to clean our home any more, I will pass on that one.  Yet, I cannot enter our children’s homes unless of course I decide to become their cleaner!

People can now meet up with a friend or a member of their family but only one person at a time and only as long as they practise social distancing – did that word ever exist in our language before this? So, I could meet up with one of our children – at a safe distance – and then OH (other half) could meet up with them. All of us have been in lockdown. None of us have gone anywhere except for walks. But we can only meet up with our children one at a time. What is the thinking behind that?

Yet, when we walk on the field near our home we see all the dog walkers gathering in groups together chatting away – a few feet apart from one another but certainly far more than one to one.

Our children cannot come inside our home and we cannot go into theirs. However, we are allowed to put our house on the market. Complete strangers can come and view it as long as they keep their distance.  So, does that mean that if our children wanted to view our home that they could come inside it? And vice versa?

At very little notice for the teachers, small children are going to be allowed to return to school. How are young children going to practise social distancing? How are the children going to be kept apart at playtime?

Will the teachers and other workers at the school wear masks?  Won’t the children find this a little scary and intimidating?

We are told that parents can choose whether or not to send their children to school. Won’t this create two different classes of school kids?

And what about the staff, the dinner ladies, the cleaners, the caretaker, the teaching assistants – are they all going to get PPE?

How are the parents going to return to work if they can’t turn to their parents (the children’s grandparents) for childcare as many of them did before?

Where is the joined up thinking in all this?

What’s the hurry? Why not wait till September for children to return to school? Or even January if necessary?  And if children are to go back to school, why not start with the older children who will understand the need for social distancing?  They are the ones who have been more affected by the lockdown. Many of them have exams. Surely it would make far more sense to start with them? And even if they were allowed to return to school, someone would need to still be at home to care for their younger siblings. So how can their parents return to work?

Maybe if there were a few more women in the Cabinet we would see a little more insight and understanding of what it means to be a parent.

I can cope with missing all the things we used to do. I don’t mind not having holidays, going out for meals, seeing friends, going to the theatre, the cinema, travelling on public transport and so on.  But, like so many of our friends, I am missing spending time with our grandchildren. Touching them. Cuddling them. Holding them. Kissing them. No amount of telephone calls, Zoom, Face Time, WhatsApp or other screen time can replace this.

What do you think?

I’ll be back on Monday. Have a good weekend.

 

 

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

COVID-19 AND ME – APRIL 1 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April Fool’s Day (SNGO – STILL NOT GOING OUT)

So, here we are April Fool’s Day 2020. Spring has sprung. Easter and Passover are nearly upon us.  The “home-schooled” children will soon be on vacation. And in a week’s time it will be my birthday.

And we’ve been told we may all be in lock-down for another six months at least.

Hard to believe we’re not all players in a worldwide April Fool.

To cheer myself up, I was remembering the kind of April Fool’s Day tricks we used to play on the teachers at my long gone grammar school.

Once we completely turned the RE (Religious Education that was) teacher’s desk right around so he couldn’t find his drawer. Took him a few minutes to realise what had happened.  The class was in hysterics. What was even funnier was to see him red-faced and exploding with temper – before slamming out of the room to tell the Head what his pupils had done.

Worse still was when the boys in the class unbeknown to the girls (who, were of course, very well behaved goody little two shoes all the time) unscrewed the bolts of the classroom store cupboard. We were in the middle of a French lesson with the charming, pretty French mamselle (the only class where the boys always chose to sit in the front row) when all of a sudden the cupboard door came crashing down on the back row desks (where the boys would normally be sitting in other lessons).  The boys were expecting it of course. We girls all jumped out of our skin.  Our French mamselle screamed, burst into tears and fled out of the room – never to be seen again.  Clearly, something the boys hadn’t thought about when they devised their prank.

As you may have gathered by now, I was in the “naughty” class. We had all passed the 11+ and we were all at a top notch Grammar school but we had all performed badly in our first year exams and had been relegated to the B form. Whereas our peers were being taught Latin, French, Spanish and German – we were limited to French and also, sadly, relegated to the less able teachers.

There was Casper (I won’t give his real name) who was only interested in the boys.  “Come out dear heart and write on the board”  he would say to his favourites.  Casper was camp in the days before we knew the meaning of camp.  Then there was the physics master who refused to have any girls in his class – I kid you not.  And there was the maths master who scared the wits out of us with his bullying manner until one day we saw him carrying all his wife’s shopping while she yelled at him to hurry up and get on the bus.  Behind every bully there is often another bully.

Our most memorable teacher was our English master who marked our work on how well it was illustrated rather than on how well it was written.  He had lost his hand many years before and, like Captain Hook in Peter Pan, had a giant hook at the end of his wrist where his hand should have been.

One day our history teacher was absent and this teacher was asked to take his place. “What is the meaning of war?” he asked the class.  No one answered. “What is the meaning of war?” He yelled. No one stirred.  “This,” he shouted, shaking his hook in everyone’s faces, “THIS is the meaning of war!” Many years later, after we had all left school, we found out that he had lost his hand when he had caught it in the closing doors of a tube train!

I digress. Back to April fools. A favourite trick of mine was to get hold of my father’s newspaper before he had seen it, remove the front cover and wrap it round yesterday’s paper.  It took my dad a few pages of reading before he realised he was reading yesterday’s news.

So here we all are AC (after Covid-19) possibly taking part in the biggest April fool of all.

They say God laughs at your plans.

 

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

 

 

No one forgets a good teacher

They say that no one forgets a good teacher. You could, of course, equally say, that everyone remembers a bad teacher!

When my daughter was at primary school, she had a wonderful teacher.

Together we wrote this poem for him:

My teacher Mr Williams

My teacher Mr Williams is as kind as kind can be

Though he has some funny habits I think you will agree

Like he always clicks his fingers when he wants to talk to me

When the class is being noisy and mucking about

He doesn’t threaten to give us a clout

But just claps his hands and says, “Stop!” with a shout

When we do bad work we feel we’re in disgrace

But when we do good work he has a happy face

And writes in our books words like “excellent” and “ace”

With Mr Williams as a teacher work feels more like play

Though we’re sad on Wednesday afternoons when he has to go away

But we enjoy him even more when he’s back the following day

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems