Thursday, 24 June 2010

Observing Extended Family

Presiding over Rites of Passage ceremonies and services, you get to see the coming together of families. There is always the immediate family who hug, kiss and greet each other with familiarity and ease and then the larger extended family that shake hands and hug in a more resigned fashion, aware that they are present out of family duty.

After the ceremony, there is usually a “get-together” of some kind, whether it be a reception or wake, when there is time for everyone to socialise and catch-up with each other’s lives. All families appear to treat these opportunities in a similar way. Each family unit keeps to its own group sitting at the same table. It would seem that they consider themselves as part of the greater family by being in the same room but that is all. As if modern life doesn’t already create enough barriers to keeping family ties strong, people seem to unknowingly encourage the scattering and ultimate breakdown of the Extended Family.

Over the last 50 or 60 years, there have been some big changes in society that have challenged the loyalty of family life. Most of it shouldn’t make a difference, but sadly it does.

For a start, travel has become a modern way of life and even without the extreme of emigration, families no longer stay in the same areas. Career opportunities as well as social standing often lead sons and daughters to move length and breadth of the country meaning that previous close ties are loosened.

Despite changes in the law and medical understanding of homosexuality, bisexuality and trans-gender individuals, we are still living with the stigma which was taught to our parents and grand-parents of the evil and perversion of such people. This has often lead to families gently pushing out those who may cause embarrassment or discomfort to the rest of the family, (I know this one personally).

Finally, and probably the biggest change, is the modern desire to own our own homes, a family car and other modern consumerist items that we feel we need, which means that it’s not just Dad’s that go to work but Mum’s as well. This one is a double-edged sword because, despite the breakdown it has caused, it has also given women the opportunity to fulfil their own dreams and use their intelligence beyond household chores, making them much happier when they’re in the family home, but it has brought it’s loses to family life as well as communities as a whole. The woman of the home used to know everyone in the street, which gave a tribal feel to the area in which they lived. Children had the security of having their mother with them in their earliest years without the insecurity that must come from being passed backwards and forwards between parent and child-minder. Without the reliance on a family car, Mums were more willing to hop on the bus to visit local family (if they lived beyond walking distance) giving the opportunity for children to bond with relations and friends.

I guess, no blame can be laid on those who attend family “get-togethers” and keep themselves to their own distinctive unit. It feels safer and more secure being with people you know, where-as, even if the little grey haired fellow in the far corner is Great Uncle Harry, you’ve never met him, you know little about him so you’d feel uncomfortable about sitting with him. What if he didn’t even remember you existed? What if you had to sit there with him and neither of you knew what to say?

I may be generalising with all this, being a naturally sociable person myself I enjoy chatting to people I’ve never met before and hearing their stories, I know I’m not the only one so I guess there are still some of us who are willing to mingle and breakdown the little walls between family units (even though I can’t do it with my own family anymore), but my observations tell me that this is becoming a continuing theme that now runs through most extended families.

Perhaps we should feel grateful that there is still the sense of duty that brings the individual units into one place for the hatches, matches and dispatches of life. I can’t help feeling that something is being lost but we’re a complicated race and it’s difficult to make a positive decision on whether this seemingly new way of living is balanced out by the increase in our communication facilities. Perhaps ties will improve again once enough years have passed to ensure that even Great Uncle Harry is on email and that we know the entire extended family in type or text format making it all the more exciting when we meet on family occasions.

I wonder.

Sunday, 13 June 2010


Surely every home has a junk room? What about making your life even more complicated and doubling up the junk room as an office? If I said that only 4 months ago, if you walked into the “office” in our house there would only be a clear way from the door to the desk, which is about 4ft. In the event of wanting to open the window, climbing boots and rope would be handy items to have. The cats loved it, there was enough paper, C.D.s and videos to play with and hide under that on rainy days when they didn’t want to go out, there was still the office in which to have an adventure.

The problem with a junk room, is that when you decide that “enough is enough” and want to smarten it up, there’s always the problem of where to put “the junk”. Every flat surface was already piled high and this was made worse by our mistake purchase.

Years ago, when Pat and I first moved in together, there were loads of relatives and friends who said they would come and see us and so we thought we were very “forward planning” in purchasing a Bed Settee. Guess what ....... not one of them turned up LOL. When we’ve moved house, the bed settee has always moved with us, heaven knows why we missed opportunities. That bed settee has only ever been used by the cats not only for them to sleep on but they took to trimming their claws on it too. It became an eye-saw and nuisance from almost as soon as we’d bought it. Too big and heavy to get rid of ourselves it became part of the “office pile-up” and had paperwork, books, more cds, videos, even photographs, an old record player and (the list is endless) anything which wasn’t already floating around the floor went on the settee. There was no complaint from the cats as this all added to the adventure playground.

The room was really an embarrassment. We’ve never decorated it since we’ve been here, which is now 5 years. Previously a nursery to the previous couple’s 2 year old son, it’s painted baby blue and has a boarder running round the centre of the walls with animals and baby words on it. Our Joshua (one of the younger cats) discovered that, if he stood on the back of the settee he could remove the baby boarder (obviously not to his taste) however he felt it needed the striped effect as he’s left a foot gap between each rip. Shouldn’t complain, he’s obviously been hinting it’s time we decorated.

This weekend, we finally got rid of the cumbersome item of furniture!

My God! I can get to the window! If I wanted to I could even do celebratory rollie-pollies round the floor! I immediately introduced the vacuum cleaner to the large area of carpet that hadn’t seen daylight for 5 years.

There now remains a book case, a filing cabinet and a cd rack and, of course, the desk, all of these items will be staying, but the room looks bare and empty in comparison to its previous state. This is when I get the urge to visit the local Wickes store and purchase the much needed tin of paint. Once the room is decorated we’ll furnish it properly and ensure that it doesn’t go back to its old state. This could be a lovely sunny room and I find it quite relaxing painting walls once I finally get started. Gotta buy that tin of paint! Watch this space .......

Sunday, 6 June 2010


You know those Sunday afternoons when there’s nothing on the t.v. and so you wander over to your video collection and see if there’s anything you haven’t watched for ages. Yesterday, was one of those days. Feeling too lethargic to go out anywhere, and the weather was drizzling and unsettled, I wandered over to the Webster collection for something to watch that would lift my mood.

The film that “bounced” out at me was “Educating Rita”. Hadn’t watched that in years, so, in the DVD player it went. My expectations were that I would find Julie Walters character as amusing as I had the first time round and that my sympathies would be with both her and Michael Caine’s character Frank, but what I found was that my own life has changed somewhat and that the film meant something different to me this time round.

I’m presently waiting to apply for the Ministry. Although I already serve my chapel in a role which reflects a ministerial position, I am not trained and do not hold the level of knowledge with which a congregation are entitled to be lead by. This month is the month the application forms come out, apparently. Perhaps it was not a good idea watching the film I had chosen.

I better explain a bit of background here. I have no academic qualifications at all, in fact, I left school with 6 lousy CSEs which, now, aren’t worth the paper those results are printed on. Although I’ve held some pretty good working positions, they have always had to be worked hard for. I’ve been an Office Cashier (including Jaegar, Regent Street), Building Society/Bank Manager (depending on which point in time you’re considering), Store Manager, Mortgage Adviser (complete with stage 1 FPC passed first time) and an Analyst. Sadly, even my FPC is now worthless.

I didn’t get on with school at all, in fact, I hated it from the time I started (aged 5) to the time I walked out the school gates for the last time (aged 15). No, it wasn’t anything to do with “having a problem with authority or discipline” as my favourite teachers were the ones everyone else was afraid of, for some reason, but these were usually the best teachers, not only could they control the class, they also made sense in their explanations and I always did well in exams when they had been teaching me. Doing well, back then, wasn’t always a good thing. I did well in Maths under a very good teacher so I was put up a grade which meant joining another class with a different teacher who I did not understand, who wasn’t patient or willing to explain himself and so I never got any further. Are you catching my drift here?

So, my past, on an academic scale, is zilch.

In order for me to become a Minister I have to get a degree (no, not university, although that’s what I originally took for granted). I’ll be expected to study at my own denomination’s college (luckily it’s in Manchester) and my degree will be issued by Chester University (although how that works is beyond me). I’m officially middle-aged, and that I’ve got no academic background is scary to say the least, in fact, I had avoided ministry on that basis for the last couple of years.

Why am I doing it? I read a book which I bought for someone else as a joke, believe it or not, it was entitled “If not now, when?” It was aimed at the over 50’s and I purchased it as a gift for my partner for her 50th birthday. It was only the fact that she was already reading another book and, you know how it goes, you see a book sitting there idle, you start to thumb through a few pages, find yourself reading the odd paragraph and in the end I admit, I read it before my partner got her hands on it.

Although I’m much too young to be considered as the age group this book was aimed at (cough, cough), the book pointed me in the direction of “if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, then stop making excuses and do it before you end up regretting that you didn’t even try” (or at least that was the message I got). Without going into any more detail on the book (although, if it’s still available, I highly recommend it for those at the latter end of their working years and beyond. Author, Esther Rantzen), I knew that Ministry was what I really wanted because I wanted to serve the Unitarian community to the best of my ability on a worship level and I wanted to improve my academic record, both pointed to ministry.

Back to yesterday, I watched that film and I was Rita, accept, I don’t have her cheeky and sometimes bolshie characteristics. Education is one of the areas where I have very little confidence in my ability. Rita excels in the film, she becomes the person she wanted to be and even passes her exams with distinction. I ceased to be Rita when she started to understand the literature she was reading and found the film was scaring me into wondering “What the hell are you thinking of Shammy?”

I’ve got loads of different fears all rolling round my head now. What if I don’t even understand the questions let alone give a good enough answer? What if I am “thick” and that getting a degree is really a laughable dream? I’m unemployed (having been made redundant over a month ago) and have not looked for work (or claimed any benefit) because the dream was my aim. What if I’m using precious monetary resources on something that will never happen?

Sometimes I wish there was someone, a parent or relative, that I could call on to talk these things over with. My partner is so supportive that sometimes I wonder if she just tells me “You can do it” because she thinks she has to. Much as I love her for it, the fact that I feel like that tells me I need someone who hasn’t got a vested interested in my success. I even mistrust the opinions of my Unitarian friends as they too have an interest because the denomination is crying out for Ministers.
Times like these I wish I had parents or relatives with constructive views, someone I could go to who could talk things through with me.

I could, of course, read the book again, but I doubt it would hit the same chord second time around.

I want to be Rita, but is what I want realistic? That’s all I want to know. I guess I can either find out the scary way or not fill in the application form.

What was the message I got from Esther’s book? “if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, then stop making excuses and do it before you end up regretting that you didn’t even try”. I think I’m gonna have to repeat that into the mirror every morning until the application forms come out.