Posted in Writing

Reverting to Type

English: Vector typewriter
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all used to October being a month of change, with leaves changing colour and clocks turning back, but for me this month heralds an even  bigger transformation than usual: I’m giving up my part-time day job to write full-time.

I’m very excited at this prospect. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child, when I remember being made to read to the whole of my infants’ school a story that I’d written about a witch.

I’m slightly embarrassed to have taken nearly half a century to achieve my childhood dream, but according to an informal survey I’ve just conducted, I’m actually ahead of the game. Although my friends remember their early career ambitions, few have yet to fulfil them.

Which is probably just as well, or the world would be overcrowded with ballet dancers, gymnasts, engine drivers and airline pilots. The good news is that there would also be plenty of air hostesses to look after the pilots, and enough hairdressers to keep them all well groomed.

Some of my friends’ ambitions were less predictable. Libi, for example, planned to be either a nun or a stripper, whereas Norio was torn between a fashion designer and “a digger of wells in Africa”.

Sam’s objective was admirably broad: “I wanted to be everything.” Cleverly, she has achieved her aim, at least by proxy: she became a careers advisor.

But even Sam’s ambitious plan was trumped by my friend Lucienne’s.

“I wanted to be the Queen,” she confessed. “I am very disappointed that I am merely a writer.”

Well, that’s put me in my place!

story in my exercise book fro

With thanks to everyone who took part in this survey: Jo, Liz, Jacky, 2 x Jackies, Kate, Claudia, Jade, Jo, Craig, James, 2 x Sandras, Libi, Letty, Liz, Simone, Sam, Lorraine, Norio, Sue, Charlotte, Beth, Maurice, Stephen, Cindy, Sara, Debbie, Jim, Corrina, Susannah, 2 x Louise, Beverley, plus lots of others who did go on to become writers even if it wasn’t their childhood ambition: Helena Mallett, Joanne Phillips, Catriona Troth, Lindsay Stanberry Flynn, Christine Nolfi, Linda Gillard, Bart van Goethem, Peter St John, Stuart MacAllister, Darlene Elizabeth Williams, Dinah Reed, Anna Belfrage, Caz Greenham, Bobbie Coelho, Carol Edgerley  & Alison Morton!

(This article first appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News, October 2013)

Posted in Uncategorized

A Life Less Resolute

“2011 will be the year in which I ….” Resolve hangover cure

Can you complete that sentence yet?  Chances are, you can neatly slot in an answer inspired by your New Year’s resolutions.

Not me.  It’s not that I don’t have ideas for resolutions.  I’m certainly eligible for all the usual suspects:  eat less, drink less alcohol, go to bed earlier, exercise more.  But last year I didn’t actively make any resolutions, yet 2010 turned out to be one of the best years of my life.  It’s a formula I’m happy to repeat.

How did it happen?  Well, a radical resolution actually came at me from out of the blue, several days into the new year.   It was as sudden and unplanned as Newton’s apple falling on his head and, in my small sphere, about as revolutionary. I was in the first meeting of the year with my boss when I suddenly heard myself calmly tendering my resignation. It was unprovoked by her: we hadn’t had a row or a punch-up.   But in a light-bulb moment, I suddenly realised what I really wanted the new year to bring:  a better and less stressful work-life balance.  Amidst the sturm and drang of the Christmas break, spent caring for a very poorly daughter, this idea must have been churning away in my subconscious, but I simply hadn’t noticed.   I’m not sure which of us was the most surprised at my resignation – me or my boss.  But both of us recognised, several months down the line, that I was a happier, healthier person for this impulsive decision, and I’ve not had a single regret since.

So this year, I’m going to take the same approach.   Though I love the new beginnings and the promise that a new calendar brings, I don’t think New Year’s Day is the best time to make resolutions.   In any case, for most people in the UK, the word “RESOLVE” is inextricably associated with the commercial hangover cure of the same name – and probably quite a lot of them have consumed it today.   This doesn’t exactly create the most positive vibes.  Far better to let the freshness of the new year permeate the subconscious and see what surfaces at its leisure.

So watch this space.  Anything could happen in the next 365 days…

Happy New Year!

Posted in Family, Reading

Write On

What new-fangled technology most irked the ancient Greek philosopher Plato?  Apparently it was the written word.  He feared that the spread of literacy would make people less reliant on their memory, causing their brains to atrophy.

Now that just about all of us can read and write, any discussion of memory is more likely to relate to computers rather than brains.  IT is certainly making us less reliant than our forefathers on the information we carry in our heads.

I’m old enough to remember the advent of the pocket calculator.  In 1973, my father bought, at vast expense, the revolutionary Sinclair Cambridge.  It was a very basic calculator by modern standards, but how we marvelled at it.

Photo taken by me of a Sinclair Cambridge pock...
Image via Wikipedia

We preferred not to believe that it would dull our powers of mental arithmetic, but now that such things are commonplace, there must be few modern accountants capable of what my grandfather, working in the 1960s, could do: add a whole page of figures in his head.

To my mind, dimming the ability to memorise facts and add figures is not the main problem caused by our dependence on computers.  What worries me most is that future generations will lose out on archive material.  Paper may biodegrade in time, but it outlasts most computer chips and disks and is a lot more solid than ether.   Whose computer can still access the 5¼” floppy disks that were industry standard just 30 years ago?  Even the fact that we measured them in inches must seem laughably old-fashioned to the latest entrants to the workplace.   We set aside paper and pen at our peril.

So in your understandable enthusiasm to fill your recycling box every other Tuesday for our commendable village kerbside collection, think twice about throwing away every bit of paper.  At least hang on the 125th Hawkesbury Show Schedule for posterity; guard safely this issue of the parish mag, especially if it mentions you by name.  In time, your grandchildren will thank you for it.

(Oh no, Debbie Young’s blog can only be accessed online!)

This post was originally published in the September 2010 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel

Laura’s Ambition

Intricate sand castle sculpture, approx. 10 fe...
Image via Wikipedia

On holiday at half term, my six year old daughter Laura discovered a new career.  She added it to her list of what she wants to be when she grows up.  So far, these have all been chosen without any prompting from me:  bus driver, “Rainbows lady”, teacher, art gallery owner, taxi driver.

Not long ago, I watched a documentary about mothers who had career plans for their toddlers.  One had decided that hers would be a doctor.   Whether as an adult he would have the aptitude, skills or desire did not matter.  She had made up her mind, keen to fulfil her own thwarted ambitions through her child.    I’m determined not to fall into that trap.  Born in 21st century Britain, Laura can choose her own career freely, even though she was born a girl.

Things were different for her great grandmothers, her grandmother and even for me.  My grandmothers were constrained by their era.    One longed to be a teacher, but female teachers were not allowed to marry.  She considered herself lucky to have a husband instead of a career.  So many of her contemporaries had lost their sweethearts in the Great War.   My other grandmother wanted to be a nurse, but early marriage and an unstoppable succession of children put paid to that idea.  She would have been a natural.  When at the age of 8, I trod on a rusty nail in bare feet, she managed to remove it without hurting me.  I watched in awe and said to her: “You really ought to have been a nurse”.  She looked very wistful.

My mother gave greater priority to her career but did not stray from traditional women’s professions.  She was a secretary before I was born and trained as a teacher once I’d started nursery.  In the 1960s, for a mother of three, even that was  considered radical.

My own career was launched on the cusp of women’s equality in the workplace.  The theory was in place, but the practice was still a little patchy (still is).  But it was not the workplace that held me back, but our school careers advice.  In   those days, careers duties fell to the teacher with the lightest teaching load. At our girls’ grammar school, this meant the RE mistress.  She knew very little of the world of work and held our careers interviews in a store cupboard.  The only advice that I remember was “Don’t go to York University – it’s an awfully long way from home”.  She meant well, but I’m glad I had the confidence to disregard her.

Most of my classmates complied with her recommendations and became teachers or secretaries.  Surprisingly none became nuns, but one girl is nearly a vicar.  Even the RE teacher could not have recommended this career, because at that time it wasn’t open to women.  Another girl rendered the poor lady speechless by enquiring about opportunities in the oldest profession.  I found out on Facebook recently that she’s now a personal trainer.  I don’t think that job existed even for men in those days.  And in the 1970s it would have taken a psychic to predict in the 21st century demand for website designers.

I wonder whether my daughter will also end up in a career that has yet to be invented.  Perhaps she’ll be a spaceflight attendant, a time-travel agent or an invisibility cloak seamstress.  Who knows what opportunities new technology will bring?   But for the moment, Laura’s heart is set on the career she discovered on Barcelona beach at half-term.

“Mummy, I think I’ll be a person who builds giant models out of sand and then people have to put money in their bucket.”

Well, some old professions never really lose their charm.

(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, April 2010)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Time to Readjust

An old style alarm clock.
Image via Wikipedia

Since leaving my 9-5 job in February, my body clock has been quietly readjusting.  No longer do I wake up a minute before the alarm sounds, nor do I habitually go upstairs at 11pm, programmed to fall asleep the minute my head hits the pillow.  Instead, my bedtime is creeping back, getting later and later.  I’m having way too much fun to want to go to bed.

This subconscious readjustment has always happened during my two-week Christmas break.  By the end of the fortnight, I reach my natural state: waking refreshed around 9am and hitting the hay around 1am. Holiday over, I ditch my body clock and take my cue instead from the radio alarm, permanently tuned to Radio 4.  Listening sleepily to whatever is on, I can tell whether we are running late.  Farming talk: safe to doze.  News headlines:  jump up and get busy.  Sports Report: overslept, but I can still make it to work on time if I hurry. Thought for the Day: I’m in big trouble.  Putting the clocks forward or back at the end of March, as we have just done, has never affected my sleeping habits, so long as I’ve remembered to adjust the radio alarm (and John Humphrys had done the same to his).

Now that I’m liberated from my job, I’d rather do away with my watch and my radio alarm and listen to my body clock instead.  Now I no longer have to get to the office by a fixed time, I just wander into my study when I’m ready and take a seat at my desk.  Surely following my body clock must make for a healthier lifestyle.

After all, it’s not that long since it was common practice across the country to take the time directly from the sun.  It was only the construction of the London-Bristol railway that caused this part of the country to reset its timepieces to match the capitol’s.  Apparently, we were far enough west for our day to run 11 minutes behind central London’s. This would have made the first London-Bristol train timetables bewildering, were it not for the fact that the newly built Temple Meads Station helpfully offered passengers two clocks, one showing local time, the other “Railway Time”, i.e. 11 minutes earlier.

Unfortunately, there is just one small obstacle that will stop me from giving full free rein to my body clock:  my daughter still has to get to school by half past eight.  So it looks as if my household will also have to keep two clocks, one for London time, the other for Debbie time.  I wonder if I can persuade Hawkesbury School to do the same?

This post was originally published in the April 2010 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.