Friday, 12 December 2008

Reflections of a Not so Hard Sexagenarian

It's the time of year for parties, present wrapping and school nativities. Thus there are numerous blogs with a 'feel good factor'. Nearly all written by ladies, often mothers who are most in tune with the season of good will. Which made me think, particularly this week, if too many of us males have lost, or never had a gentle streak, necessary in a hard, combative, aggressive, worried world.
Many of my generation were brought up acutely aware that to be male was to be manly. Men were allowed to swear and drink pints, not halves; to fight, fly aeroplanes and work down the pit. Too often crude, rude and unappreciative of partners or wives who deserved better. As children we had toys, if only a few; boys had guns, girls had dolls. Men went to work, women shopped, went home and prepared the men's food; men were strong, women were weak. In a country wearied after years of war and deprivation all too often attitudes seemed to reflect a British stoicism that is almost frightening.
I had no father at home, not unusual in those long gone days. On the 8th September, 1953, the 8th being a Tuesday, I arrived home from school. For reasons I cannot remember, I went to the house of my grandmother, around a mile from my own home. Aunt Mary was at the house as well as Grannie Hudston. I cannot remember exactly what was said, but I remember Mary crying as she informed me that my mother had been very ill, from pneumonia and had died. As simple as that! I remember no tears from myself, and I cannot recall that I knew my mother was in fact ill. Then I did what was in retrospect an amazing thing. I left the house, alone, and did my paper round. An action that sounds almost coldly clinical especially where thirteen year old boys are concerned. But I am sure now that I was probably in shock; plus the fact that years of existing in an emotional vacuum had to a certain extent desensitized me where everyday emotions were concerned.
This was the way my family, the Hudstons, that is, dealt with the situation. Perhaps this is the way many families dealt with life, and ultimately death in the immediate post war years. And this is the way I personally dealt with the problem. It was the only way I knew. No doubt in part allied to the fact that, being boys, we were encouraged ‘to be brave’ as undoubtedly men should be. And though the ‘manly’ bit was implied rather than being actively instilled, what I do remember is this. I was smaller than other boys of my age. On occasion bullied, deliberately or otherwise; to show weakness made the transgressions even more likely to be repeated.
Herein lies the phrase than has probably shaped my life more than any other. For the term ‘cry baby’ was commonly used among us children, a title that was cuttingly cruel and devastatingly effective. To be ‘a cry baby’ implied weakness, and a cry baby I was usually not. At the expense of showing feeling or emotions that often should have been the normal emotional response to life’s problems.
There was no greater love in my life than my mother. But it was a love not based on kisses and cuddles. Mary, my mother was usually far too busy, and often far too exhausted to show maternal affection in an everyday family sense. That she loved my sister and myself was never in doubt. But a constant round of cleaning for various well to do families in the village, plus hours in between as a school cook was all consuming. Add ironing, home cooking, clothes mending and shopping and it was obvious that the burden was awesome in the extreme. On my mother’s death certificate, at the age of forty-six it read, ‘cause of death, pneumonia’. It would have been more honest had it read ‘ death due to overwork’.
Fast forward to December 10th, 2008. My wife and I attended the nativity of Silverhill Infants School. My highly talented daughter, Alison organised this event for the umpteenth time, seemingly contracted for ever. My equally talented son in law, Simon, not a teacher, arranged the music. Their children, Angelina and Tommy, pupils at the school participated with enthusiasm, as did each and every other pupil at the school. The children are of mixed sex, age and religious persuasion; the performance of each and everyone was nothing short of brilliant. There was pathos, occasional unintentional humour and talent by the bucket load. The audience, mothers, fathers, grandparents and family friends almost glowed with pride. I glanced surreptitiously around and there were few dry eyes in the audience; I confess I was no exception. (As a matter of interest, when did you last shed a tear?) What was it Johny Ray used to sing, 'It's no secret, you feel better if you cry.' (It is purely an observation, there is not one single male teacher at this school.)
An event no doubt repeated in virtually every area of Britain. In these troubled times there is hope for us all. On the surface many still proffer a hard, unyielding front. But underneath there is often a softer, more loving, less inhibited affection that is nurtured by many parents everywhere, but particularly by today's liberated mothers. And even the modern male is allowed to show his feminine side on occasion. I drink to that, though a pint, please and not a half!


Clippy Mat said...

thoroughly enlightening reflections. your poor mother. and how sad that you had to be so stoic as a child.
i did enjoy reading that little insight tho'.
and so nice to see your grandchildren in their nativity. i watched a carol singing session by schoolchildren yesterday in the mall where i work and i had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.

Anonymous said...

I'm only a year younger than your Mum was when she died. Scary stuff....

Stinking Billy said...

ken, yeah, I ticked all of those boxes, but I never knew that it the same for lads south of the Tyne, let alone south of Yorkshire.

Hey, you don't fool me by using a laptop when away from home. I saw you yesterday, shopping at Morrison's in Alnwick! I had the drop on you since you don't know what I look like, and I was tempted to walk up and pull your leg a little, but maybe I was right to resist the urge because it might not have been you. How tall are you? ;-)

Troy said...

Beautifully written piece Ken. Behind most granite exteriors there's a caring heart.

The reason many men of a certain age have the "stiff upper lip" is because they suck their viagra rather than swallow it.

MikeH said...

Great story, Ken. For once, I'm speechless.

VioletSky said...

In spite of the romantic notion of life being better when we were young, it truly was much harder back then. One probably had to be made of tough stuff to get through it all.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

There's no doubt the way we are in later life is determined by our childhood. (for better or worse)
Yes, you're right, quite a thought. Do we learn fom it, I wonder.
I often think we go through life putting on an act. How would our generation cope with phychoanalysis, the on the couch bit, I wonder.
What's viagra?

Mad Asthmatic said...

i have read this post over and over again, it draws me back as it is so beautifully written. I have wanted to comment but couldn't find the words.

Mean Mom said...

What a great blog! You've shared so much in your last post, alone, and it was a pleasure to read.

I think that you've been too hard on yourself about your reaction to your mother's death. It seems more to me that you were seeking comfort in your usual routine. If you weren't allowed to show emotion, then you wouldn't have known where else to turn.

It seems to me, having brought up 3 sons, that things haven't changed much in the playground, since you were at school, except that some of the girls are aggressive, too, these days.

School plays and nativities are wonderful, aren't they? I always had to take a packet of tissues.

ADDY said...

Who said they were the good old days? Why on earth shouldn't men cry? Not to do so is not to be human. I am so glad that these days men can feel just as at liberty to shed a tear as women. If anything is going to set them off, it's seeing a nativity. Those little cherubs manage it every time!

Parisgirl said...

Lovely post. Shows how times have changed. It may be that if people had started crying in the post-war period, given what had gone before, they might not have stopped, so they bore grief without complaint or self-pity. Today, just reading the papers makes me cry.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Occasionally I get angry at what my mother suffered but we knew nothing else.
Mad Asthmatic
sometimes we don't need words. Thanks for the kind thoughts.
Mean Mum
You are quite right. Girls at times are trrifying. I don't know how I would cope today bringing up children.
You are so right re good old days. But people are selective as to what they remember.
Wise words. You are obviously a sensitive person which can be a problem. But don't change.