I wear red to funerals.

My Great Aunt Lorna died recently. She was an amazing woman – a real inspiration. It was partly her (and partly channelling Agent Echo) that gave me the strength to jump, to make the decision to change the course of my career. I’d thought I was too old, but reading her life story and speaking to her last summer I realised it’s never too late to make a change like that. I’m excited about my future again and it’s down to her.

Lorna was still so sharp last summer – frail and nearly blind but still more mentally agile than many people my age. It was a real pleasure to see her and I’m very grateful I had that opportunity – I hadn’t otherwise seen her since I was too young to remember. She fell ill a couple of weeks before she died and faded surrounded by people who loved her. After an amazing life, is there anything more you can ask for?

I feel so lucky to have had her in my life and in my family.

It was her funeral today. She was quietly Catholic and this was the first catholic funeral I have been to*.The choral music was something she had requested, and it was beautiful but I have to say the funeral itself felt more like we were standing before a judge trying to justify her route to heaven with our own faith (and many, maybe most, of the people there not being catholic or even christian this seemed an awkward task). It seems odd – if there is a loving God, as my Great Aunt believed, I don’t think they would require our begging, I think Lorna’s life would be enough to sequre her passage, but I’m not catholic so maybe I was misunderstanding the ceremony. There will be a proper memorial later in the year to truly celebrate her and her achievements, one that her friends internationally can attend, and I think that is the sort of event closer to what I am used to in a funeral.

I like to wear red to funerals. Not lots of red, just something. It started at the second funeral I went to, my Grandada’s. I wasn’t sure what to wear, not owning sufficient black, and someone – I remember it as my Dad, but I’m not sure – suggested I wore a red kilt-skirt I owned. Black may be the colour of death, I believe the logic went, but life is red and funerals should celebrate the life as well as the loss. For me, it has become also a reminder that life continues for the rest of us – that life is vital and wonderful and death is just a part of that.

Normally, death terrifies me but something about Lorna’s feels ok. She lived absolutely; lived and died with love.

 

 

*Talking to my Aunt’s husband, an ex-soldier twice my age, he and I have been to the same number of funerals. That was a weird thing to discover. Is 6 a lot when you’re less than 30?

The Cat With No Name

TCWNN is not normally particularly photogenic – she isn’t particularly agreeable to staying still and her dark colouring can make it hard to show off the beauty she has in the flesh, but she was obviously feeling patient the day I took this – there were several photos and most of them didn’t suck!

Leaping

Fear has always held me back – fear of change, fear of the unknown but most of all fear that I’m not good enough.

I look at what my family have achieved – cousins with masters degrees, with artistic and musical talent; Agent Whisky earning a fortune before he’s 25; Agent Echo has been an amazing army nurse, is incredibly fit and has a TEFL qualification despite being severely dyslexic; Agent Tango is managing to raise her children in difficult circumstances but still giving them the best chances she and they are happy and healthy to prove it. I see all that and I fear that I am a failure. I feel like a failure compared to my family, compared to my friends, compared to my potential.

That dichotomy: the fear that I am not good enough but the knowledge that I am more than I currently appear..

My job is not stimulating me. It took a while to accept that the training and progression I was lead to anticipate was not going to appear, and by then apathy had bitten deep. The spur to action has come from a realisation that my low job satisfaction is largely the cause of my constant tiredness and my lack of interest in life beyond work. It has also come from reading somewhere that Iain Dickhead Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has claimed that the benefit cuts will encourage people back into work “we need to build a society where people are defined by their jobs”. I have no desire to be defined by my job. If I were defined by my job, I might as well give up now – end game and restart. And I thought, is that so crazy? I can’t end the game, but it’s not too late to restart, not really. I’m heading for 30 and still childless so I feel like it is, but I’m childless because we can’t afford to move somewhere big enough to raise a child, and we can’t afford that because we don’t earn enough and part of restarting is to earn more. I should have restarted before, when it felt like I couldn’t.

So here goes. I’ve tried being a teacher and found I couldn’t, but a desk job does not suit me: I need to have a job that makes a difference to people, a job that I feel matters. When at uni, I toyed with the idea of becoming a midwife, but felt it should wait until after I’ve had a baby so I could understand what I was asking of the women in my care. But the more I’ve thought about it over the last few months, the more it’s appealed and the more I’ve realised that maybe having my own baby first isn’t necessary – if I find birth as easy as my broad hips, hypermobility and chronic period pains suggest, I won’t be as sympathetic to women with less forgiving bodies as I’ll need to be – so maybe I should just do it.

I thought it’d be a simple course, maybe 6 months. When you think about it, that’s crazy. It’s a 3 year uni course and that should have been obvious to me, but there you go. To study at my local uni requires a further qualification I don’t have – biology or human biology A level. I didn’t bother with biology A level because the GCSE was too easy and I thought I’d be bored. I can substitute this with an OU module that I think may require a different module as a prerequisite because I don’t have the A level – I’ve emailed them to ask.

I’m leaping feet first. I’m taking this risk. It will take time and it will take money (the midwifery course is paid for by the NHS, but I won’t be earning a wage for the duration), but I truly think that this is the person I not only can be, but want to be. And Husbit is offering his support the whole way.

I’m leaping.

Granma

“You can outlive longevity” My Dad told me that once about my Granma. Many years ago. 10 years before that, she’d told him she’d lived her life; she was ready for it to be over.

I visited my Granma today. I don’t go very often. I don’t like it. She’s normally still in bed and she can’t hear me and doesn’t always know who I am. Agent Echo’s fine – she breezes in and smiles and talks cheerfully and does Granma’s nails but I… I freeze up and notice her paper-thin skin and think of death.

Today, Daddy was just leaving when I arrived. She seemed shocked – who is this strange woman touching me? – and didn’t – wouldn’t – look at me. Dad told her who I was and held my hand over her bed, but I don’t think she heard him. He handed me a notepad so I could write to her and left.

“Hi Grandma, it’s Fern – hope you like the cyclamen.” She read the note, laid the pad on her bed and carried on looking away from me. She wouldn’t even look at the flowers. No chair, so I dithered on my feet by the bed, feeling lost and lonely and afraid. I took the pad back gently. Did I imgaine the slight frown on her face? “I can’t stay long, but it was really nice to see you. Loads of love. X” I handed it back. She took more time to read it and smiled. I explained I had to go shopping and left. She waved good bye.

The door needs a code to let you out (to stop the old people escaping? can’t have them loose in society). The nurse saw I didn’t know how to get out and joked I’d have to stay with Granma. More guilt that I rarely come and never stay long. More fear.

I told Granma I would come and see her again. I wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth.

 

Little Things

I’ve been feeling down lately. Not just for the obvious reason, but also generally apathetic. It’s not an unusual state of affairs for me, but I think it’s time I changed things.

To this end, I’ve decided to set myself challenges – things to do to break up the monotony of the routine I’ve fallen into. This post is part of that. Tuesday evenings are normally when I have jitsu and my routine would be to think of an excuse not to go, and then either go and feel better or not go and follow the same pattern I would on other nights: watch crappy tv that I don’t care about whilst playing games on my phone. It’s a ridiculous existance. Anyway, the jitsu club has broken for the summer so I need to find something else.

Challenges:

Today: blog post

Tomorrow: nothing (people coming over)

Thursday: like most people who read voraciously, I’d love to write a book. Thursday’s challenge is to write a proper chapter.

Friday: weather-dependent – swimming, ideally, but if there’s lightning or high winds it’s probably not safe so a bike ride if the wind’s low or either a walk or a drive if the wind’s high.

Saturday: Crumbowl. I play Blood Bowl and this is a tournament a friend runs. A one day event designed to encourage new players. A lot of fun and a forced break from routine ;-)

Sunday: this is traditionally housework day, so it’s harder to break the routine especially when the chores can’t be done on the Saturday. It’s also roleplay week, which means the guys are over in the evening. I think, though, that I will try to fit in a cycle ride for the fresh air and exercise.

Small steps. Little things. But breaking things up, making changes, should help encourage me to do more and actually feel like I’m living, achieving and making progress in life.

Bereavement

Image

Husbit’s brother died back in May. It’s kept me quiet because my way of dealing with something like this is to talk and talk about it and his (and his family’s) is to stay quiet and private. I find that difficult, but this is really his grief so I have elected to stay quiet and respect his privacy.

I’m finally at a point where I’m able to talk about other things, so will try to get this blog running properly soon.

Time to Rethink Punishment?

I came across this article in the Telegraph the other day, and it got me thinking.

Firstly, I was concerned that only “loving mothers” are referred to in the paragraph about the research. I think this demeans the important role male parents play in childhood and particularly it demeans families like the one I grew up in, where the father is the primary or only carer.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the role of punishment.

I’ll start with an anecdote. I have been smacked exactly once in my life. I remember it vividly. I couldn’t tell you how old I was except that I was young and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I’d done, but Dad told me to go to my room and I was feeling contrary so I refused. And refused. And refused. And I saw something change in his eyes and realised that I’d pushed him too far so turned to flee up the stairs – just fractionally too slow to avoid the stinging open-palm blow to the back of my calfs.

It was not that look of unbridled fury nor the pain that meant I never pushed my Dad that far again. It waas his utter, profound guilt and contrition. The pain was fleeting but the look of horror on my Dad’s face – a look his that I had driven him to had put there – was something I never wanted to see again so I never pushed him that far again. But it was the guilt, not the anger, that acheived the change in my behaviour. He also learnt from the experience – Agent Echo and Agent Whisky were never on the receiving end of a blow and they were no less capable of being crazy-making – but I know from speaking with him that he still feels guilty even though this was over 2 decades ago.

Whilst I cannot condone smacking a child in anger, in this particular instance the punishment worked. I did not reoffend. Most anecdotal evidence I have heard, though, suggests that smacking is not an effective punishment, as those children who have been smacked are as likely to misbehave again as if they hadn’t been. I won’t say smacking is never effective but I think that it is never the better option. The comments section of the above article includes a lot of people saying that not all parents know any alternatives to smacking as a form of discipline, and that is concerning to me. They recognise that it isn’t ideal but don’t educate themselves on alternatives or don’t feel able to ask for assistance. That, I think, is a sad reflection on society. Other comments imply that not smacking your child is a sign you don’t love your child because, the commenter suggests, it isn’t a nice thing to do so you don’t want to do it even though it is better for your child: it is selfish not to smack your child. Other commenters suggest that loving your child instead of smacking them is what leads to the lack of respect amongst youth of today.

Well! ‘Lack of respect amongst the youth of today’ has been a charge levied at younger generations since written records began (or at least, there are Latin texts saying the same), so I think it’s unlikely that today’s youths actually are any worse than those that came before. Also, when there were the London Riots in 2011 I got into a debate on FB with someone insisting that those involved were all involved because they hadn’t been smacked as children. This struck me as erroneous: smacking as a punishment appears more prevalent amongst lower income families and it wasn’t just middle/upper class individuals involved. I doubt that only non-smacked individuals were involved in the riots. Furthermore, most of my peers were rarely or never smacked and they are very respectful individuals – in fact, even my peers who were repeatedly smacked are respectful/respectable so I would suggest that there is far more to making a responsible individual than whether you choose to smack your children or not.

Anyway, back to the point. Punishment is given after a crime. Law is intended to be impartial, so it seems to me that punishment has a two-fold purpose: to deter others from performing the same action and to reduce the chances of the individual repeating the action themselves. this two-fold purpose is important: if only the second point mattered, then the death penalty could apply to any transgression: no one would offend a second time. However, the death penalty does not appear to act as a successful deterrent so is not a suitable punishment. Corporal punishment similarly does not seem to provide either deterrence or reduction in reoffending, so fails on both counts. In the UK, criminal punishment comes in the form of prison sentencing, curfews, fines, community service or other restrictions. The question is, how effective are these at deterring new offenders and reducing reoffenders? I understand, not very. Fines are not effective when weilded against the very wealthy who can ignore the cost and when weilded agaisnt those who cannot afford to pay them can lead to problems which increase risk of reoffence. Prison is often considered to be a place where criminals come to learn their trade, which is supported by high reoffending rates.

Do we need to rethink our punishment systems? Most crimes come from the fractured state of society, so perhaps the money pumped into punishment should be redirected to addressing the root causes of crime – that seems to me to be a more effective way of reducing crime: not by punishing it, but by preventing the need for it. If someone does commit a crime, looking at what lead that individual to carry out those actions and finding out what can be done to improve things not just for that one person but for others in the same situation rather than punishing that one person and allowing others to follow… It would be expensive and difficult and it sounds idealistic but I think it is possible.

I understand the gut reaction desire to inflict punishment, but that makes punishment revenge and that is not the purpose of law. Punishment does not seem to work to prevent crime. Let’s try education, support and respect instead.