Peer Pressure

The last post leads nicely onto something that nags me sometimes, peer pressure.

In a way, it’s one of the primary justifications for children having things they shouldn’t.  When i was at school, it was trendy trainers and superior home computers, nowadays it’s all about the latest smartphone gadgetry and the most expensive clothing brands.  This is very much how the smartphone and tablet epidemic started – weak parents, myself included, giving in to children who plead that their lives are incomplete and will be permanently stunted unless they have that device in their hands to save their lives, enhance their academic opportunities and worldy knowledge.  The sad reality being it’ll be used to avoid any real mental and physical development as they text their friends and relieve their boredom on the school bus.

It’s certainly something of a modern epidemic that it starts earlier and earlier.  I really don’t remember ever encountering this kind of peer pressure until I started at senior school, aged 10.  Before that school seemed simpler and even the children who’d grow up to be societally challenged were largely OK.  Now I was being told that my 7-year-old child needed a smartphone, minimum iphone 4 please, in case of missing a bus or being abducted.  I prevaricated, but invariably I would have to give in in the end, my pleas for my children to just be children and lead a simpler life devalued and ultimately ignored on account of my non-samfund inferior upbringing and failure to understand modern childcare methods.

The funny thing is, I thought I had left this behind as I got older but it creeps up on you again without you noticing.  Certainly, by the time I bought my house in Brighton I had accepted I was slightly different to many of those I met.  Whereas they almost all strove for the status symbols of a certain level of car, house and holiday, I was very happy with my Lada Samara – it met my key criteria of doing the job while being economical and not something anyone would want to steal.  I was very happy with my house – it sat outside the absolute city centre, solid if unspectacular, with 1970s carpets in fair condition that I promised myself I’d change some day.  Expensive foreign holidays were also not for me.  My holidays often involved a week off back in the ancestral home of the North East rather than exotic destinations.  It’s a trait of my family that all of us have most pride in not having paid a huge amount for something and that we are happy making do often rather than overspend just to get that perfectly matching kitchenware or the conversational bragging rights of the big holiday.  It’s interesting that this seems to be a trait of few other people I ever meet.

Thinking then and now, I’d love to travel back in time and tell that younger me to live with it, that one day you’ll have risen way above those idiots whose only claim to anything is that they wear Hi-Tec trainers, while you wear Dunlop or that they have a Commodore 64 while you only have an Acorn Electron.  I feel I have, even if along the way I made some big mistakes.

Over a period of years, much of the life I was happy with was gradually peeled away.  Much of it went in the bin, to my lament.  Not just physically, but also mentally and financially, as the careful savings of my younger years were eroded by high expectations way above anything they had probably experienced in their younger years – I know Danish welfare is generous, but was it really that generous back in the 1980s?

Call me sexist, but I think some women have a certain competitiveness with other women that seems to make them keener to not only keep up with Joneses, but strive to overtake them, regardless of the cost and pressure it may put on their partner.  Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping up Appearances is only humorous because somewhere behind it is a stereotypical truth many can relate to, even if it’s exaggerated for comedic value.  And that’s what happened here.

Don’t misunderstand me, I have invested untold thousands in my children.  Before you start thinking about money, I’d say thousands of hours and thousands of pounds.  It’s what a loving Dad would do, including sending them to private school because I wanted them to avoid the school days I did.  That feels like good value to money to me, but if you choose to do that, there should be equivalent economies elsewhere, shouldn’t there?  And ultimately, isn’t the most important thing that the children learn that nothing in life is free, everything has a price and whether that price is worth it?  Without those values, that sense of value, the child is bound to grow up with a distorted mindset.

Summer, as I write this, is an interesting time to reflect.  In the early years, when I still had some sway, summer holidays were restricted to affordable shorter trips to places like Sweden or simply at home.  This was fine with me, but over time I was undermined.  From 2009-16 the summer holidays were spent in places like Italy and Spain, minimum two weeks.  After all, that’s what everyone else does, isn’t it?  Except with 4 children economies have to be made, I argued, especially if one partner isn’t working.  While I enjoyed these times with the children, the burden of booking and financing fell squarely on me, every single year and every single year I would sigh deeply, knowing the £5,000 cost was drawn against my own future, one way or another.

I wonder if some day, the children will ever think about any of this, or whether they’ll just continue looking down at their smartphones, comparing their lives and possessions to others.  Always victims of Pia Peer pressure. After all, that’s what everyone else does, isn’t it?

A Meterman Calls

Technology is an exciting thing.  It’s only 40 years ago that my family was one of the few homes in our street to have a telephone, yet now we all do our banking online, read the news online and forge new relationships online.  We are all connected.

I’ve even made my career in this area, so of course I’m going to agree it’s a good thing overall, even if a wander around your local town centre might convince you otherwise, with desolate streets, shuttered up shops and closed down banks.  I said overall, as much is being lost in the name of progress, and what is this progress anyway?  Is every force behind it benevolent?  Of course not.

Take mobile phones, for example.  For years, I resisted even having one.  Finally succumbing in about 2000.  Even then I would let the battery go flat for days, even weeks, at a time.  I really hated it.  It wasn’t just because of fears of radio waves and brain frying, though even then there were concerns voiced publicly, it was also because having this device in my pocket seemed to create a certain kind of obligation.  A need to be on-grid and contactable at a moment’s notice.  For what reason, I don’t exactly know.  As someone who enjoyed long walks off-grid, I really didn’t get it.

I even used to be really disciplined with email.  I would read it 3 times a day then close it down, that was that.  It was a great strategy, when I look back in retrospect and I seemed to get a lot more done back then.  What’s so important that it can’t wait an hour anyway?  But all that has changed now.  Even if I close down the office email in outlook, I’m still faced with an IM via skype or Jabber.  The art of focusing on a single task and doing it well is becoming harder and harder.

Worse, at some point in the last 9 years I turned into someone who has their mobile with them almost constantly.  Somehow, they (whoever they are) have convinced me that I should have a fear of the car breaking down in a remote spot, as it does on average only once every 5 years, and be panic stricken without a mobile at hand.  That I can’t travel somewhere without the assistance of google maps and that I must check my bank account daily in case of any unexpected transactions.  I do all these things now and I am ashamed of it.

We took a walk last night around the football fields near the house.  We even did it sans mobile and it felt good to be talking openly about things that matter, while simultaneously knowing that as far as Google and Apple are concerned, we were still in the house and that Facebook wasn’t picking up conversational keywords for future targeted advertising.  We should do it more often.  Those footballs fields reminded me of my own son.  How as a younger child he had been a star runner and swimmer, a real super-fit sports fanatic.  I was so proud of him when he won the Hobro under-12 run, one in the eye for the smarmy superior types who frequent those sports clubs, as he wasn’t even a member (Feels like a story for another day) and proud when he energetically swam or played football.  Mostly gone now, of course, as he descended into the new normal of online computer gaming and late nights.  Sad, very sad.

I really disapprove of young children being exposed to technology, I really do.  To me, it’s incredibly important for a child to develop key skills and then be exposed to a computer, not avoid learning the key skills and just be given a computer to do it from day 1.  Have these people not read The Machine Stops by E.M.Forster? If I had my way, there’d be no tech in schools until they are 12-13.  I was horrified at a recent parents evening to hear the teachers talking about a new government project meaning increased tech and exposure to programming from age 10, the age of my youngest daughter.

What can schools do anyway, when parents themselves are the biggest pushers of Tech to their young children?  I tried kids, I really did, but the resident medical expert again devalued my opinion to the point where I gave in and all my children had iPads and smartphones.  But isn’t it a major worry for a young child to be stranded at school without any means of contacting us, I was told.  If so, then you have to wonder how any of us ever survived in the B.C. years (Before Computer).  Why a smartphone anyway?  How about a Nokia brick if that’s the primary concern?  It’s also interesting that school recently had to expel a child from my youngest daughters class for exposing her friends to horror films via her smartphone in school time and next up, for sharing “unfortunate pictures on social media of a fellow pupil”, as the school themselves described it.  God knows what the photos were and god knows what the hell the parents were thinking giving their child a social media account.  It’s not an isolated incident, mobile phones are evil.

I am reminded now of a story involving my eldest daughter.  She had a habit in her teens of retiring to bed early – 9-9.30, even if we had said she could stay up later.  I became aware that she was online really late, something later confirmed by other family members on my side, who also noted the behaviour.  Once, around 00.30, I dived into her room and found her on her phone.  I took it off her and told her I would keep it for 7 days.  Not unreasonable, I thought, to enforce some cold turkey.  We could all do with that occasionally.  The next afternoon I came back home to find her sitting on the sofa, phone in hand, browsing facebook drivel.  Her mother had overruled me and given it back, telling me I was unfair and a tyrant.  Considering she has now spent the last 3 years failing to compete a two year college course, I want to go back in time.  I am sure technology has played a major part in this failure, aside from the familial influences she is exposed to.

So why A Meterman Calls?

Well, just this morning I had a skirmish in my own fight against overreaching technology.  It’s a fight that few are making, especially in Denmark, where there is now a law in place to make smart meters mandatory by 2020.  This is way in excess of what even the EU has demanded of its member states.  You have to wonder why they are so keen to implement this technology and to spend so much money on it, you really do.  We will resist to the last possible moment.  Hopefully by 2020 we won’t need to resist as the house will be sold and Denmark will be just a memory.

An Inspector Calls

English at school should’ve been a more enjoyable subject for me than it actually was.  I’ve always loved games like Scrabble, Countdown and anagrams.  Playing with words is an enjoyable hobby and even if writing software specifications in my daily work doesn’t allow much scope for creative writing, it can be fun to slip in the occasional rarely used word.  The latest being ameliorate.

For every enjoyable book like Twelfth Night, there were several duds like Tom’s Midnight Garden, Of Mice and Men and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Now I’m older I’d say some of those titles were chosen for the children with an agenda unrelated to learning to read, write or achieve more in adulthood.  It’s pretty sad when you leave school at 16 having been exposed to only one Shakespearean literary gem, especially having found it hilarious, full of adult humour, little in jokes and worst, you actually got an A grade on the assignment as opposed to the normal Bs and Cs on the aforementioned drivel.  Thanks to Mrs Miller for believing in my ability to get English Literature and English Language grades.  I did and was one of only a few at my school/prison to do so.

Aside from Shakespeare, the other play I was exposed to and instantly found brilliant, was An Inspector CallsWikipedia probably explains it better than I can, but it’s set in Edwardian England tick, is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery tick and lastly, has a great twist at the end tick.  In the story, an Edwardian family dinner in some large spacious residence of the style I love so much that I chose to live in one, is interrupted by the appearance of a policeman.  He says a woman has died after committing suicide and slowly proceeds to implicate every single one of the dinner attendees in her gradual decline and ultimate demise.  I’ll stop there, the sub-plots and ending are a surprise the first time you watch it, so I’m not ruining the surprise for anyone.

I think I’ve seen this play 4 times over the years, as well as a few TV dramatisations of it.  As I’ve grown older, I also came to realise even being exposed to this at school was something of an agenda, although as it’s very clever, I’ll forgive them for it.

This play seems a logical extension of the Cluedo analogy.  A group of people have a superiority complex about those not in their social group yet are happy to mingle, use and lord over the underling outsiders when it suits.  Then, when confronted with the truth about how their attitude and actions have affected others, they refuse to accept blame and convince themselves they are innocent.  The poor unfortunate either didn’t exist or they brought it on themselves.  At this point, the ending leaves you, the reader, wondering too.  What you are left with is the feeling that whoever we are, and however righteous we claim to be, we all carry scars, make mistakes and ultimately have no right to judge others when we would fail the same judgements.  Sounds fair to me.

I just learnt something new – Wikipedia tells me that it was first performed in the Soviet Union in 1945, totally in keeping with the social class distinctions breakdown as a fraud that the working class was beginning to work out at the time.  Interesting that the working class have always been told to work and rarely taught how to work things out, isn’t it?  This aspect of socialism is at least something I can agree with, no-one has any right to claim superiority over you on the basis of an assumed higher cultural background yet it happens constantly and some countries build whole systems around maintaining that status quo.  Despite their PR, I live in one.

Whodunnit

The reference to Cluedo was very apt.  To the mix of Cluedo characters, I must add the Reverend Green and Mrs White II.

Mrs White II has a sob story to tell, one which the evidence, a true detective might suggest, tells otherwise.  As a young mother, she gave away her daughter.  As an older mother to two more children she played her part in the split which got rid of JPB and drumming the narrative into her own young children.  Funnily enough, the stories I got were of young children sent down the welfare office to beg for extra money while she overslept with a hangover, or of endless pic ‘n’ mix and no teeth cleaning, with the resultant adult dental bills for bad teeth heavily subsidised by me.  A heavy smoker, Mrs White spent a large proportion of her life on welfare.

The Reverend Green on the other hand, I always thought was more like me, Boxer from Animal Farm, The George Orwell classic.  I thought I could trust him, to the extent that I even helped him get a website and built it, along with Google+, Facebook and Google ads to help him beat his business competitors.  All for free when the price quoted elsewhere was 10,000 kr.  When the time came though, he showed his true loyalty – telling me I needed to be reintroduced slowly to my own children.  I wonder how that method is working out for him?  He’s seen his own son once in about 30 years.  Dad of the year.  #fakegranddad

I used to hate my children staying with them, knowing it would mean a night of overdosing on junk food, no teeth cleaning and them coming back with black rings under their eyes and sniffling from cigarette smoke.  I really wish I had been stronger and Just said NO.

So I must be Dr Black, the murder victim lying dead on the floor in Tudor Manor – or in my case, Montana.  slightly ironic I’m a doctor, given my much ridiculed medical views when it comes to things like protecting my own children from allergies – I would never ever have got them a dog or cat, for example.  I see the similarities though, at various points during the murder process I’ve invited them all into my home and they’ve taken advantage of my hospitality.

So, was it Colonel Mustard in the kitchen at Christmas dinner with the expensive flæskesteg I had to buy him every year because Turkey just wasn’t good enough?  Or was it White and Plum with the expensive confirmation dinner for the foster menagerie?  Or, how about Peacock, the omni-present parasite? Or was it White II and Green?  The last two even now doubtless still have their house furnished with my white bookcase, my chesterfield armchair and stool, my China tea set, my super-king-size bed and side tables – all things I didn’t really want to give away, but had them given away for me.

Actually no, it was Miss Scarlett, and her weapon of choice was the children.  She wielded that weapon well in the last 3 years.  Blow after blow rained down upon me during that time, just as surely as if the murder weapon had been the lead pipe or the candlestick.  Resistance was futile.  No surprise considering her own background, knowledge of the local systems and the range of accomplices she has to accomplish the desired result.