I really don’t like small talk. It’s the ‘Who are you, what do you do?’ brand of small talk that I dislike the most. Small talk amongst fellow professionals I can stand, you’re all in it together after all! It’s the small talk outside of work that I try to avoid. The problem for me is the first question you’re asked, ‘What do you do?’ because in the western capitalist world, apparently what you do defines who you are.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not secretly an eastern communist, I just think that there’s more to me than my job. In Uganda, the first question you are asked is about your parents., because your heritage is what is important, where you came from. It’s also one of the first questions you’re asked in St Ives. ‘Who do ee belong to?’ or ‘Who’s maid are ee?’ What Cornish family do you fit into, ie. are you local or are you a ‘furrener’ (=foreigner, and by that I mean east of the River Tamar…).
What I don’t like is the excitement in the eyes of the person I’ve just met as they realise a whole host of potential topics of conversation just opened up. For me, the conversation becomes a bit like those adventure books you read when you were younger, the ones where you chose the adventure;
eg. ‘As you are walking along the road, you meet a stranger. If you choose to follow the stranger, turn to p42. if you choose to walk away, turn to p.3.’
p42 – ‘The stranger robs you and throws you off a cliff. The end.’
p3 – ‘You go back to your usual life. Nothing happens. The end.’
I wasn’t a fan.
So here we go;
Stranger (hopefully not the robbing-throwing-off-a-cliff type): So what do you do?
Me: I teach RE and PSHE.
The response depends upon the situation. It falls into 2 categories; the response if I’m asked in church and the response if I’m asked outside of church. Generally, it can be divided into the religious and the non-religious.
1) Response if in church: “Oh! really? do you have to teach other religions? How close can you go to sharing your own faith?” ie. can you get away with proselytising? Well, the answer is always; that is not my job. I am there to encourage children to enquire and to find out for themselves, to ask probing questions and seek an answer. To be dissatisfied with the answers they are given and to continue to seek until they find. Potentially till the end of their lives. It is my job to encourage empathy in young people, understanding, acceptance and tolerance of others with different ethnicity, beliefs and cultures to their own.
The Christian stranger is not always happy with this answer. Did they hope for something more agreeable? or something more ‘small-talky’? Because it’s not a topic for small talk is it?
2) Response outside of church; “Oh really? do you believe yourself? is it right that a believer should teach children that sort of thing? should RE be taught in schools?” (this is where my answer reverts to the above). The alternative response; “Oh. I don’t believe in God.”
We’ve just met, could we talk about something else?
I think the thing is, I just don’t want a theological debate as soon as I meet someone. Certainly not on a date! (which incidently has happened…). The important thing at that moment is that I am not at work. We spend most of our waking hours at work, surely we don’t want to spend our free time talking about it? There is more to life and the people we are than what we do for a living. There is more to me than my job.
of course there is a third response;
3) “What’s PSHE?”
Religious Education has always been a bit like the Heineken of subjects on the National Curriculum; it reaches the parts other subjects cannot reach. Only if you let it though. Today, I had a ‘kairos’ moment with a bunch of year 10’s.
Kairos? it’s an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment
So a few weeks ago I was supposed to teach the little monkeys about answering prayer. We were supposed to discuss whether or not God answers prayer. But one of my dear friends had just died (see previous post) and I could not come to work, 2 days after his death, and open up such a discussion when all I wanted to say on the matter was potentially littered with a few expletives. It was the RE teachers equivelant of a Jilted Adam Sandler in ‘The Wedding Singer.’ So we watched ‘Bruce Almighty’ instead.
Anyhow, today was the day to consider whether or not God answers prayer. Suddenly I found myself telling a (reduced I’ll grant you) class of year 10’s that I wasn’t sure on this myself because my friend just died and God didn’t answer my prayers. Kids love stories, and they love hearing your stories. They don’t give you sympathy they want to know the details, they ask the questions that maybe adults should be brave enough to ask each other, they want to talk about things adults try to brush under the carpet. ‘Do we all have a time to die Miss?’ ‘Why can’t God just stop suffering? He’s not very loving is He?’ Then they offer answers, without prompting; ‘Free Will, innit Miss.’ Time to sit back and let them debate…they don’t hold back either.
Then for the heart stoppers. ‘What if someone dies by accident Miss? Is that part of God’s plan? My dad died by accident…I don’t believe in God.’ A moment of bravery, and an opportunity for a girl to speak from her heart in a safe place. Another girl; ‘I think good things come out of bad situations Miss. If the bad stuff didn’t happen to me when I was 2, I wouldn’t have been adopted, and that was a really good thing.’ More bravery.
Teaching is a crazy profession, it’s clearly not respected by the present government. But every now and then you have incredible kairos moments that remind you why you do it. Today the year 10’s learnt that it’s OK to talk about the tough stuff, because Miss did. They debated some of the most contentious topics in theology better than most theologians (in my view). Not bad for a low ability set.
How much death can a girl take in one year? Seriously, think twice before you hang out with me. When a close friend dies you’re in a kind of limbo as far as bereavment is concerned. Compassionate leave for the funeral has to be begged at work and you’re expected to continue on as usual, because you’re not family. But all the time you carry around with you the knowledge that there is a big hole in your life. It’s not always easy to explain what it is that you miss about that person. Not until you stop and reflect can you identify the shape and depth of the whole. This is the shape of the hole that Stuart has left in my life.
Darlek shaped. Stuart had a large remote controlled Darlek and I have a small one. I was ever and always jealous of his large Darlek and the range of noises it made and movement it had. Nevertheless, I always meant to take my Darlek to play with Stuarts Darlek. But in a busy world of work and other apparently ‘important’ stuff that cloggs up day to day life, who has time for a silly Darlek game? Stuart did. He would never have thought playing with Darleks was a waste of an evening or afternoon. Had I mentioned it he would have made the time. He was a lover of the random. Darleks, then tea and cake, because whatever you went to do with Stu, it always involved tea and cake. An abundence of cake.
Eeyore shaped. Eeyore the gloomy donkey, ever grumpy. Yep, that was Stu. Sometimes it was very, very frustrating. But more often it was great to sit down with him and be bloody grumpy together! Moan about this and that like a couple of old women. Grumpy, ranting old women. Over tea and cake. Did I mention the cake before?
Randomly shaped. If you didn’t think that playing with Darleks was random enough, Stu loved spontaneity. Dragging me off at a moments’ notice to see LOTR the musical and the like, Stuart quite liked being spontaneous. So long as it involved cake.
I keep coming across areas in my life where Stuart has left holes. Who will sort out my sound system now? He wired it all up and took great pleasure in doing so. It wasn’t a chore to him or a favour, he was genuinely delighted to be enriching my listening and viewing experience. Stuart loved people and we loved him, I hope he knew that. He was my great good friend. He was one of the first people to text me when I knew my dad was dying, even though he was very sick himself. ‘I know the last thing you want to do is go to the cancer ward, don’t worry.’ Was one of the last things he said to me. I didn’t get to the hospice in time. It will be one of my greatest regrets.
Goodbye my dear, dear friend. Whatever you’re doing now, I’m sure it involves cake.
Young people are heavily influenced by the media. In fact, much of the anti-social behaviour reported today is as a result of what young people have seen on the TV or ‘participated’ in on computer games. Films like ‘Juno’ have suggested to teenagers that it is cool to get pregnant and programmes like ‘Skins’ glorify drug taking.
Is this true? Honestly? Has the UK really bred a generation of young people who are so heavily influenced by what they see and, for want of a better word, ‘experience’ through computer games? Do they really not know their own minds?
It’s interesting that ‘some people’ (not 100% sure who these people are….) believe that ‘Juno’ has increased teenage pregnancy (no statistics available to either confirm or deny this theory, but this seems to be the right place to give a spoiler alert). When I first watched ‘Juno’ what struck me was that the unstable characters are the adults. Throughout the film we expect Juno to flake out on the adoptive couple, or for Juno to get together with the husband. We expect the teenager to do the wrong thing, after all, she’s young and teenagers are essentially selfish. She has a bohemian and relaxed attitude to the whole process, she clearly does not have a grip on reality. But ultimately it is the teenager who keeps her word and gives her baby to the now single mother after becoming enraged at the selfish attitude of the husband and watching their marriage fall apart.
Whatever criticism has been thrown at ‘’Skins’ it does tell us the unwelcome truth that our young people drink, have sex and take drugs. Mainly just for the hell of it. That was the message of the first 2 series. The 3rd and 4th series are much darker. The adults are mainly superb cameos played largely by high profile comedians (my favourite being Bill Bailey as Maxxie’s dad in series 2, but Will Young’s turn as a malevolent guidance counsellor in series 4 was genius). However the message of ‘Skins’ seems to be that if you want to understand the reasons for the deviant behaviour of the children, look no further than the adults who influence them. In fact the anarchic behaviour of the young people makes sense as they express their frustration with an adult world that makes no meaningful attempt to understand them. The young people are the ones who pick up the pieces, building bridges or caring for their deviant parents, culminating in the chilling episode 7 of series 4 featuring a machiavellian adult played by Hugo Spear.
So who knows best? I would like to, rather pretentiously I feel, leave the finally word to David Bowie;
“…and these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”
I love the fact that I come from a town where community and tradition are still important. As a community, St. Ives is small enough for everyone knows who you are and who your family is. When I was young, ‘Whose cheeld are ee?’ or ‘Who do ee belong to?’ (essentially, ‘who’s your mum and dad?’) was a question I was asked if ever I met an adult in St. Ives. I hated the question, favouring anonymity during my angry adolescence. Now I live away from the homeland, I love it. It gives me a sense of belonging, a sense of history. These people could trace my family tree back two or three generations, I can’t!
In terms of tradition; on Good Friday, the locals still go up to Consolls Pond to sail their boats, (of the minature variety), The schools still shut on St. Ives feast day and when a local man and former fisherman dies, the St. Pirran flags on the harbour fly at half mast. Two weeks ago, they flew at half mast for my dad.
We said goodbye to my dad in Fore Street Methodist chapel, the church he grew up attending, it overlooks the harbour that he worked in as a fisherman. It sits a stones throw (literally) away from the house in which he was born, the oldest house in St.Ives. The chapel is also a stones throw (literally, I do mean this, come and have a look!) from the pub in which he met my mum (The Sloop Inn) where he features in two of the sketches of local fishermen that adorn the walls. The chapel sits across the road from where he and my mum lived where they were first married, a flat that was once above a butchers shop but is now above some unneccessary trinket shop. (I like the unnecessary trinket shops, by the way). My dad was a local man and the community I come from let us know what that means to them.
The flags at half mast, the living room full of cards and flowers, the constant approach of people that I thought were strangers (getting into a taxi: ‘Morley’s maid aren’t you? Sorry for your loss. How’s Mum doing?’) I’m a private person and I don’t like to share my grief, some people might find the constant reminder of their loss excrutiating, but I feel proud that I come from a place that feels the loss with me, that mourns with me, (in a Matthew 5 kinda way). So many of our communities have lost this, but it’s precious.
There’s so many more things I could say about Morley Davey, but my blog should end with the poem my brother-in-law chose and read at his funeral, the celebration of the life of a Cornish man who was once a fisherman.
SUNSET and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness or farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.