On one of our rare visits to the home counties, my sister-in-law fished out an ancient, long-forgotten photo of me from a biscuit tin she keeps under the stairs. I’m guessing I was about 14. I look older, I think. I matured young – so young, in fact, that at the tender age of 12 I used my Dad’s razor to shave my legs in the bath. No, not because I fancied slipping on my sister’s tights (just in case you were wondering) but because I was embarrassed. Most of my contemporaries at school hardly had a short and curly between them.
The backdrop to the image is a perfect picture of naff seventies-chic. Our south London parlour was a riot of clashing colours and patterns – orange floral flock wallpaper, red faux-velvet curtains, an orange and brown three piece suite in synthetic wool and a swirly carpet in reds, blues and greens. It made my old girl proud. Nowadays, it would make everyone else feel nauseous.
As for me, what are those goggles about? And the shocking locks? They had a will all of their own until tamed by creeping male pattern baldness. Still, I was cute – even if I do say so myself – with raging hormones, a 26-inch waist and cheekbones that could slice cheese. Happy days. The grim, buttoned-up decade never held me back. And what was my chopper doing behind that sofa? Now that would be telling.
There’s no better way to spend Boxing Day than a trip to the flicks, especially when it’s to see the long-awaited sequel to a classic. Liam and I saw the original Mary Poppins as little ‘uns (though not together, obviously) and it was the child in us both that spit-spotted us to Cinema City to see Mary Poppins Returns. In fact, Liam was virtually hyperventilating along the way. Sequels are so often disappointing, even more so when competing with rose-tinted memories of the distant past. Expectations were high and expectations were exceeded. The film is every bit as magical, charming, melodic and whimsical as the original. Kids of a certain age will be mesmerised, and subtle references to the first film will keep the nostalgic grown-ups happy too. As the closing credits rolled, applause rippled through the crowd. By all accounts, PL Travis, the author of the Mary Poppins books, hated the Disney treatment of the first film so no doubt she wouldn’t approve of the sequel either. But I hope Julie Andrews likes her able successor, Emily Blunt – practically perfect in every way, I say. I feel a barrow-load of gongs coming on.
I know it’s a-coming because the Christmas lights went on in Norwich last week, enthusiastically witnessed by thousands of over-wrought kids and their anxious carers. Pushy pushchairs and strident strollers took back the streets and our ankles became collateral damage. The good burghers of Norwich fired up City Hall with a row of giant exploding fountains, and rockets flew from the roof of Jarrolds, the well-groomed department store for the well-heeled. Here’s a taste…
Chapelfield Shopping Centre has also unveiled its glitzy seasonal offering, even turning the word ‘christmas’ into a verb – punters are ‘christmassing’ all over the shop. The meaning isn’t entirely clear but I’m guessing it’s about people spending money they don’t have on things people don’t need. It was ever thus. They’ve replaced the enormous melodic Christmas tree of yesteryear with something more modest. It’s chic but silent.
I rather miss the camper, older model belting out Yuletide tunes every thirty minutes though I’m guessing that sentiment wouldn’t be shared by the staff and patrons of the adjacent restaurants who’d have to put up with the racket.
After the fun came the fare. We squeezed through the crowd to grab some hot Spanish sausage. Exotic street food has really taken off round these parts and I’ve always been partial to a generous slice of Iberian spice. The chorizo ciabatta griddled with red piquillo peppers was divine. We finished off the evening in a local hostelry, the newly tarted-up Lamb Inn – no prams the size of a small hatchback, no tantrum-ing kids, no over-fussing parents. My kind of advent.
Certainly there’s more joy than anger on pride marches these days. Yes, attitudes have changed, things are better. But all that glitters is not gold. Recently, Channel Four ran a series of ads made by Pride in London. It was part of the channel’s ‘50 Shades of Gay season’ marking the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The ads featured belated apologies from parents who rejected or ridiculed their own children because of their offspring’s sexuality or gender identity. Still too many parents disown their own for the sake of family, faith and community. Still too many parents worry about how it looks, not how how it is. Still too many young people suffer bullying and rejection – at school, on the streets, at home. Some cope better than others. Some don’t cope at all. We may be living in the age of sexual enlightenment but suicide rates remain depressingly high. Why is this?
‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’
As famously written by poet, Philip Larkin.
Back in the dark ages, my experience with my own family was unusually benign for the times. It helped make me what I am today, for good or ill (no laughing down the back, please). The people in the ads are actors but the message is powerful. That’s why we march. That’s the point of pride.
The words famously not sung by Natalie Wood in West Side Story – and there was plenty of pretty, volumes of witty and oodles of gay at yesterday’s Norwich Pride. With colourful coppers leading the way, frisky fireman bringing up the rear and the whole world in between, the pride march reflected all the colours of our rainbow. The legions of young people out and proud brought a lump to my throat. Well done Norwich and well done to those who made it happen.
I’ve always been a sentimental old fool. I only have to hear Vanessa Redgrave’s voice-over at the start of Call the Midwife and I start to well up, knowing the everyday trials and triumphs of East End childbearing during the fifties and sixties will leave me drained and limp. So I should have known better when we decided on a distracting afternoon at the flicks to watch Lion. Based on a true story, it’s a heart-churning tale of a five-year-old Indian boy who, by tragic happenstance, finds himself lost and alone on the mean streets of Kolkata, far, far away from the dusty plains of home. Following near misses with the truly unthinkable and a stint in a teeming orphanage, he’s plucked from the crowd by a well-meaning Australian couple and re-homed in comfortable Tasmania. Job done, lucky boy, you might say. But 25 years later, haunted by vivid flashbacks of his childhood, he sets out to find his long lost family in an attempt to calm his troubled mind. Lion speaks volumes, not just about the casual horror of life on the streets but also the cultural dislocation and guilt felt by those airlifted to affluence. Dev Patel is excellent as the man on a mission to rediscover his past. But the undisputed star of the show is the extraordinary Sunny Pawar as the lost child. Take a box of Kleenex. You’ll need it.
Attending the annual Families in Global Transition jamboree in Amsterdam last month (#FIGT16NL) got me thinking about my own minor experience as a ‘third culture kid’ (TCK for short) – children and young people who are raised in a culture different from that of their parents for a significant part of their developmental years. For good or ill, we live in a world of mass migration and the term can apply to anyone along the #TCK continuum – a child desperately fleeing a war zone clinging to a hopelessly overcrowded dinghy or children flying business class riding the coattails of an executive parent. Such things present their own emotional challenges, though I’m sure we all agree the plight of a refugee child is way off the scale.
I was born in married quarters and was an army brat for the first ten years of my life. My Dad was posted here and there and I attended four different primary schools, three of which are still molding young minds to this day. The fourth, Mountbatten Primary School, Terendak Camp, Malaysia, is long gone. Malaysia was my one and only experience of living abroad as a child. I have no deep or wise words about our semi-colonial tropical idyll except to say I had a ball. I ran around Mowgli-style half naked and shoeless, climbed exotic trees (and fell out of a few), got stung by nasty red ants, crashed a homemade go-cart into a concrete monsoon drain (I still have the scar to prove it), played Chinese hopscotch with our maid, built a den out of army-issue packing crates under lofty coconut trees, learned to swim and got all my badges, tasted my first vanilla milkshake and played I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours with the girl next door. The only cultural dislocation I remember feeling was when we arrived back at RAF Northolt in West London. It was a cold and wet November day and I didn’t like it one little bit. And I never got to play Chinese hopscotch ever again.
Here are some old, well-worn and torn snaps – Mum in her best sequined frock and Dad looking dapper in his dress uniform, me with my little sister just after she was born, an undersized me posing with my oversized scooter, me with my best friend and a strapping Aussie lad (right) who tried to mug me out of my pocket money and made me cry (but relented when he saw my tears and befriended me), and a really hazy image of Mountbatten School I found on Digger History.