Tuesday, 5 April 2016

TUnESDAY: Who Rules the World?

Slowly, painfully slowly, the reins on the control over music in Jackson (my car) are being loosened. Since our trip Stateside, I've gradually been able to introduce music that isn't being sung by a personified pony, a doe-eyed princess or a talking French candelabra.

And, while it's liberating to some degree, it's also a little daunting as I've realised that these - and the years coming - are going to define those moments in my daughters' futures when they say 'We were raised on ________ in our house' - and that could be anything A-Ha to ZZ Top. And THAT could open them up to be either ridiculed or revered among their peer groups forever more. Or at least until they tell me to turn that junk off and lose themselves in a sea of tuneless, meaningless, manufactured modern shite. God, I'm old.

Anyway - what SHOULD I be pre-emptively brainwashing my kids with? I had a small but important moment of pride not so long ago when, just before the drum line kicked in and asked , 'Are you ready to rock?' But I'm not sure that my rock one compilation CD consisting of Kid Rock, Kansas, Foo Fighters and Van Halen will be enough to hold back the inevitable onslaught of talent show winners-cum-pop-icons.

That's not to say I don't LOVE a good pop song. I've been known to bob along to [insert generic short-lived teeny-bopper build-a-band here] from time to time. And, hey - let's be honest, I was never cool enough in high school to appreciate the Doors, the Stones or whatever other classic artist I was meant to love at the time, much to the dismay of most of my friends. It got worse in college, when I was left to my own devices. McFly? Loved em. Busted? Right on. McBusted? Holy Hell... yes, please! But whatever my own glaring shortcomings musical taste, I'm now responsible for setting up three lives with some modicum of musical credibility, and I can't afford to let them down by only playing Five Colors in Her Hair.

Luckily, the oldest seems to have taken a shine to Pink. It doesn't matter that she picked out that particular artist from Lady Marmalade - the fact is that she seems to like Pink. And I think that's not a bad choice. A strong and talented woman with creative flare, playing with the boundaries between rock, pop and ballad. I don't mind that at all. And yes, of course, somewhere along the line, they'll all need to hear other strong females who represent different takes on musical genius. The time will come for the Diana Rosses, the Dusty Springfields, the Stevie Nickses and the Janis Joplins. But she will also get to enjoy Sia, Christina Aguilera, Madonna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga along the way. And, for now, I'm going to concentrate on filling her head with these more accessible Women of Song, in the hopes that it will pave the way for a deeper appreciation for women in music and a greater resistance to the soulless cookie-cutter drivel that weakens us all.

Now, I can hear all of my seriously musically-minded friends screaming that some (if not all) of the artists I names are nothing more than peddlers of the trivial nonsense that I claim to be fighting against. And to be fair, you're probably right. I've already said that I don't have very sophisticated taste in music - what did you expect? All I can say is that they will get a wide selection of all music has to offer. AC/DC and Little Mix? Sure, why the hell not? They'll get it all.

Except jazz. Even I have my limits.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Wish You Were Here: Family Camping in Cumbria

I consider myself a pretty advanced camper. Although I haven't done much of it lately (last 25 years), my time in the Scouts as a youth and young adult taught me life-long lessons that have come in handy in many occasions. For instance, I know from 'The Great Winds Camp-Out' that even though dome tents are stable, if you don't peg them down, they will roll, and you and everything you own may end up sleeping on the roof. I know that Snipes do exist, and that they taste like chicken. And I know that bacon, yummy bacon, tastes better when sung to during its cooking. I learned lots of useful things in the scouts. What I learned this weekend, though - was that none of that prepared me for Camping with Kids.

Let me start by saying that the Kids - all eight of them aged eight or younger - were delightful. Everyone behaved, there weren't any unreasonable arguments and they had a blast. So this wasn't about THEM being particularly challenging. It's about me not being used to the difference between camping with people who can take care of themselves, and camping with people who think running around, near and over a flimsy portable BBQ is great fun and not at all life-threatening. Camping with Kids is Camping with People Who Don't Yet Know That They Are Mortal - and as important and liberating as that perspective is, it can be stressful when they are inherently in an environment where there is so much more than normal that can kill them, and it's your job to keep them safe from all of it.

But it's also your job to teach them how to engage with that environment, and to have fun doing it. And that, I think, is where I need to learn the most. How do you teach them the importance of improvisation by using 6" kebab skewers as marshmallow roasting sticks and ALSO teach them that sitting IN the fire is dangerous? How do you teach them to love hiking up a steep, rocky hill and ALSO teach them that running back down it can kill you? BBQ food is SUPPOSED to have 'bits' on it, air beds are MEANT to be squishy, taking you boots off before you get in the tent is not optional, sometimes 'because I said so' is reason enough, and so on. SO much learning.

And, if I'm honest, being a mostly-mute adult trying to manage all that learning is a real challenge. I'm not great at multi-tasking with kids at the best of times, but when you have an already air-riddled voice that disappears completely at anything above Loud Whispering, explaining, comforting, encouraging, congratulating and expressing wonderment are all physically difficult and psychologically exhausting. So forget about disciplining, calling out for, yelling or sometimes even being heard over the cacophony of kids learning to love the great outdoors. I'm afraid the result this weekend was, at times, a stressed-out ex-Scout, who may have appeared not to be enjoying himself.

But it was ever of the moment; the effort to find that balance and the temporary inability to Communicate got the better of me. But the frustration soon abated and I quickly found something to remind me what it was all about. Whether it was one child finding complete joy in a narrow-gauge steam train ride, or another falling asleep while still trying to eat an ice-cream cone, or the emotional penguin hug as all eight kids said their good-byes and promised to meet up again (next time at the beach) - they reminded me what It is all about. It's about them, and their relationships with each other and with camping. The fact that they all wanted to do it again next weekend means it was a success. I think I'll need a few weeks to recover first.

Postscript: I am very aware that any Scout leaders that may read this may be feeling more than a little content. It is likely that they will recognise some of the struggle and all of the joy I'm trying to convey - but I imagine that they will also have a rather smug smile of their faces as it dawns on me what I put them through. Touché, Dad and Brother Gilliland, touché.

Monday, 26 January 2015

On Losing

I've done more than my fair share of losing at sports in my life. I've had some success, too.... and recently, I've been lucky enough to be working some guys who are enjoying a nice string of wins. 'The Streak' will, inevitably, come to an end, and when it does, I hope I can remember a few of the things I have learned as a Loser.

1.  Losing doesn't make me a loser. Winning doesn't make me a winner. Winning and losing are relative - HOW you win and HOW you lose - your character - is what matters most. I've known great players on poor teams. I've knows guys that are dead weight on championship teams. The guys I've respected most are the guys who could win or lose and act with class either way. Rudyard Kipling said "If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same; yours is the earth and everything that's in it". That makes a lot more sense to me than a boy being raised by monkeys and a dancing bear.

2.  For 99.9% of the people in the world - and definitely everyone I know - the result just doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. I mean, literally - it means nothing. Does it mean a lot to me RIGHT NOW? Yes, of course. People who choose to participate in competitive sport do so because they want to compete and (more often than not), to win. It matters enough in the short term to give up hours, days weeks in preparation, and it matters enough that it hurts when the result doesn't go my way. But...c'mon! It's a game. In my case, most often it's a minority sport being played in the backwoods of nowhere by a relatively small handful of people. Hardly the cure for cancer, my daughters' smile, or my family's health. Please do not misunderstand me: I play to win and I really HATE losing. Ask my wife, or anyone that has played a board game with me. Ever. But win or lose, I should (eventually) be able to joke with and be joked about without getting too upset. It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small, you know? Yes with the Frozen reference.

3.  As good as I think I am, and as deserved a winner as I think I've been, some people will enjoy me losing. Now, that's probably down to a combination of a couple of things. Firstly, I probably am not that good and not that deserving, I have probably not been the perfect sport at every opportunity, and some people will feel a genuine and justified dislike for me and what I've tried to do - regardless of whether I've tried to do it 'right'. Even if I was the perfect sportsman, my (or our) success has necessarily come at the expense of others, and some of those others will be laughing when I fall. And that's OK. And that's the second thing: people who make light of me losing aren't necessarily calling me a loser. Some are, but most are probably just joking around because they are aware of (1) and (2), above. They may have a great deal of respect for what I (we) have accomplished. They may even be trying to emulate that success, and using us as a template of good practice. None of that is dimished by the fact that they crack a joke at my expense. Knowing (1) and (2), it stands to reason that if I can't (eventually) laugh about my successes and my failures, I need to find a different hobby.

I say this the morning after the night before, when the team I'm currently involved with achieved a significant milestone for them, and when another local team that has enjoyed a lot of success in the past few years saw an impressive streak of theirs come to an end in exciting fashion. I ribbed them slightly, because we rib each other. I did not say it with malice or cruel intent - I said it because I truly believe (1) and (2). As such, I have been both the joker and jokee, the winner and the loser, and I hope I manage more often than not to handle both with some degree of respectability. If I haven't, I can only apologise for my humanity and all its imperfections (including my stubborn immaturity) and suggest that we all chill the fuck out. Peace (drops mic).