Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Not Written Off Yet

Rock-paper-scissors chart
Image via Wikipedia

Although it’s taken me a long time to label myself as a writer, writing has been at the core of all the jobs I have ever done – reporter, PR, marketeer.  But what I most enjoy writing – and reading – are letters.  Among my most precious possessions are airletters penned by my grandmother when, aged 8, I lived in America for a year.  (Her not-so-subtle parting gift to me was a writing case, so that I might write to her too.)  I cherish boxes of letters from old schoolfriends, received when I moved to Germany at the age of 14.

So I was terribly disappointed to discover last year that I’d missed by a few days the deadline to apply for a job writing letters for Steve Webb, our local MP, responding to his constituents’ enquiries and requests.  For a long-term supporter of the Lib Dems, what a dream job that would have been: getting paid for writing about issues that really mattered to society and playing a small but significant part in changing our nation for the better.

My disappointment was short-lived.  In the wake of the General Election, as the new coalition emerged, I decided I’d had a lucky escape.  I would not have relished responding to the wrath of the disillusioned masses.  I began to feel sorry for Steve Webb, even though he’d been elevated to Cabinet Minister. But I still couldn’t stop myself firing off a few letters to him expressing my dissatisfaction with some of the new government’s policies.

Then last week I had the chance to meet him.  He visited the village school to plant a tree donated by Morrisons and I was invited to take photos for the school.  My disenchantment quickly melted away.  He came across as a sympathetic, dedicated representative of our community with a genuine interest in our children.  Some of them will not be eligible to vote for another 14 years, so no cynical fishing for votes there. He may be a Cabinet Minister, but he gave himself no airs and graces.  No formal silver spade for him – he got stuck in and muddy.  And no cynical kissing of babies, either – instead he played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with the Year 6 boys.

A little later, we spoke briefly and he asked me my name.

“Ah, yes, Debbie Young,” he smiled.  “France Lane.”

My goodness!  I thought.  A Cabinet minister knows where I live!  What stroppy message had I put in my letters to make my address stick in his mind? But really, that doesn’t matter now.  Next time there’s an election, I know who’ll be getting my vote.

(This post was originally published in Hawkesbury Upton Parish Magazine, April 2011)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Young Voters

Angleterre Suffragette
Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

In the run up to last month’s general election, I felt it was my maternal duty to make my small daughter aware that she was living through a historic moment.

I have a few memories of national and international import from my own childhood.  Kennedy’s assassination, chiefly because it was the only time our next door neighbour came in to our house unannounced and the only time I saw her cry.  Winston Churchill’s funeral: I had no idea who he was, but I knew that he was A Great Man.  The first footstep of mankind on the moon: unlike most British children, I experienced this in the afternoon, because at that point my family lived in California.

So I had not expected Laura to be especially interested in the election, especially considering her school, unlike her cousin’s, was not closed for the day to be used as a polling station.  (What a great way to instil a love of democracy in young children.)  To my surprise, she followed the election news avidly and quickly formed strong and independent political views.

Firstly, she favoured Gordon Brown as “president” because he shared a Christian name with her Daddy.  She also clamoured for an orange diamond on a stick to be displayed in our front garden because her best friend had one in hers.  She liked the local Lib Dem’s alliterative slogan: “Win With Webb” and was gratified when he did.

“Why don’t they make Win With Webb president?” she asked.  “He sounds good.”

Well, there are worse reasons.

She certainly pipped me at the post for early political awareness.  Despite growing up in Edward Heath’s constituency, my main perception of his importance was that he opened my brother’s grammar school fete.  Otherwise, my main childhood recollection of politics was a playground skipping rhyme, each girl stepping into the turning rope as her name was called:

“Vote, vote, vote for little Debbie,

Calling Debbie at the door,

For Debbie is a lady

And she’s going to have a baby

So we won’t vote for Debbie any more.

CHUCK HER OUT!”

To our way of thinking, this dismissal seemed only fair.  Astonishing, then, that the Prime Minister to emerge from first election in which my generation was old enough to vote was a lady by the name of Margaret.  It seems like ancient history now.

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

Posted in Family, Personal life

I Wear My Vote on my Sleeve

Having cast my vote a week ago via postal ballot, I can now relax and ignore the rest of the campaign. Indeed, I don’t intend to give the election much further thought until Thursday night, when the excitement of the old swingometer will certainly have our household glued to the telly till dawn.

This early decision doesn’t mean I’m not taking the election seriously. I knew long ago who I would vote for and that my decision would be completely unaffected by the antics of the big three slugging it out on the TV debates. My vote is my own decision rather than an echo of my parents’ political views. And there has never been any danger of my failing to vote at all. I truly value my democratic right, and for this I have my grandmother to thank.

I first became politically aware – or at least aware of the voting system – when I was still at primary school. What child could fail to be won over by the principle of democracy if it meant their school would be closed for the day to be used as a polling station?

From the ages of 5 to 11, I spent every school dinner time with my grandmother. I am perpetually grateful to her for rescuing me from the horrors of school dinners, substituting her proper home-cooked Lancashire hot pot and gooseberry pie for their compulsory beetroot and glutinous rice pudding. Grandma was a huge influence on me, shaping many of my characteristics such as a life-long love of BBC Radio 4 panel games and a killer skill at Scrabble. She was also a patient fielder of my incessant questions.

“So who are you going to vote for, Grandma?” I asked her when the election was brewing.

I was taken aback when my ever generous, indulgent Grandma refused to tell me. Instead she gave me an impassioned lecture about it being a woman’s right to make her own decision and keep it secret. She wasn’t even going to tell Grandpa.

It wasn’t until much later, when studying early 20th century history at school, that I realised why Grandma so treasured her vote and the privacy of the polling booth. Born in 1900, she was old enough to be aware of the Edwardian Suffragette movement. Grandma was an impressionable 13 when Emily Davison was trampled by the King’s horse during her infamous pro-suffragette protest at the Epsom Derby. For Grandma, turning 18 didn’t entitle her to vote: in 1918, only women aged 30 or over were entitled to vote. She had to wait until she was 28 for women to gain the right to vote on the same terms as men. No wonder she guarded her democratic right so carefully.

I’m pleased to say my six-year-old daughter is also taking her political rights seriously.

“Can we have a ‘Win with Webb’ sign for our garden too, Mummy?” she asked, as the orange diamonds started to appear in gardens around the village. (The rather wonderful Steve Webb is our local MP – and long may he remain so.)

Though I have a feeling that if there’d been a party with pink as its colour, she might have changed her allegiance. Now there’s a way to secure the women’s vote. (Not.)

Posted in Family, Travel

Fishing for Votes

Throwing economy to the winds, I decide to take my daughter to the notoriously expensive new aquarium in Bristol.  The Easter holidays are nearing their end and that is all the excuse we need.

We spend a nice enough couple of hours strolling past tanks of all shapes and sizes, learning endearingly odd facts about fish that make me wonder whether I’ll be able to face eating them ever again.

But the highlight of the visit is definitely the 3D film shown in the IMAX theatre.  For forty five minutes, we don the obligatory outsized dark glasses and experience the coral reefs at first hand.  Shoals of fish swarm about not only on the screen but, it seems, all through the auditorium.  “Finding Nemo” has nothing on the real thing: it is completely fascinating.  My daughter is not the only child who is reaching out to try to capture a fish as it  apparently swims past her seat or to pat a friendly dolphin on the nose.  We are totally convinced that we are in the sea with them and again, this makes me feel much warmer towards sealife than I’d ever have thought possible.

Halfway through, it occurs to me that the political party leaders, due that day to make history by facing a live audience together on television, are missing a trick.  If they really want to reach out to us in our homes, they ought to engineer a joint 3D broadcast.  The viewer at home on his sofa would feel so much more politically engaged.  And if he did feel compelled to punch any particular politician on the nose, well, at least it would get it out of his system.

A word of warning, though:  only a couple of days later, I find myself tucking in heartily to a distinctly piscatorial dinner , delicious squid as a starter, followed by a succulent moules marinieres.  So perhaps this is not such a wise idea for the politicians after all.