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Archive for July 5th, 2010

While Irish daytime radio may be a boys’ club, one station across the water has been showcasing female presenters in high profile slots. Sadly, for a while it looked like the glorious BBC 6 Music was to be closed as part of cost-cutting moves. But – hurrah! – today it was announced that the station is saved (for now, at least), and with it the job of one of the station’s brightest stars, Lauren Laverne.

I’ve been a fan of  Laverne since she was in Kenickie, the indie-pop band who wrote smart, sparky songs and gave some of the most entertaining interviews around back in the mid-90s. Laverne and her fellow teen girl band-mates were hilarious, intelligent and hugely likeable, and Laverne has retained all of these qualities in her subsequent role as a TV and radio presenter. And she’s a reminder of how good it is to see – and hear –  a female presenter who isn’t just the sensible sidekick or the bland dollybird. She’s a smart, genuinely funny woman who is passionate about music and books and lots of other stuff. She seems like One of Us, and that’s why so many female listeners and viewers love her so.

And she’s managed to enjoy a career in what’s still a boy’s world without having to be one-of-the-boys. Today’s quality music magazines tend to assume readers are male, but Laverne knows that women care about music too. She knows that lots of her listeners are women, and many are, like her, mothers (other stations, if their recommendations on Mother’s Day are anything to go by, seem to assume what once women have children they’re suddenly only interested in MOR and sloppy ballads). Laverne gets a lot of mails and tweets from women who are listening while on maternity leave, and sometimes encourages listeners who are at home with their kids to send in reports of how their babies are reacting to the music on the station, the results of which are usually hilarious.

And in fairness, she’s not the only 6 Music presenter to reach out to female listeners – although some of the media coverage of 6 Music implied it was indeed a station for men who read The Word Magazine, 6Music is never blokey and never assumes its audience is all men (unlike, well, The Word Magazine, which is genuinely good but which I would like a lot more if it didn’t constantly assume the reader was, basically, my dad. Who does read it, as it happens). Throughout the station both male and female presenters – and it has a lot of the latter, with the daytime schedule completely dominated by Laverne and Nemone –  tend to assume that both men and women love good music. As indeed we do. In fact, for me and many other 30-somethings, 6Music has replaced the music magazines we loved in our youth as an intelligent filter of good new music. Thanks to the excellent taste of its presenters and producers, it’s a wonderful way to discover new bands. And thanks to entertaining, enthusiastic presenters like Laverne, Shaun Keaveny, Adam Buxton, Jarvis Cocker and Craig Charles, it’s always a joy to listen to.

So congratulations, Ms Laverne, and everyone at 6 Music. You deserve it.

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Letting Go

Earlier today I drove my tiny baby up into the Dublin Mountains and abandoned him. At least that’s how it seemed to me. From his almost six-year-old perspective things may have appeared rather different.  As far as he was concerned he headed to the wonderfully well-organised Pine Forest Art Centre in the company of his considerably older brother and cousin to spend a few blissful hours making and drawing; paddling and playing; and escaping the suffocating attentions of his overprotective mother.

I’m sure I didn’t feel this anxious four years ago when my firstborn was bundled off to his very first summer camp, facing the big, bad world armed only with a packed lunch and a hastily applied coating of sunscreen. The difference was that I was preoccupied with a toddler at the time and at five he seemed so big and capable when compared to the tiny, nappy-clad arriviste who couldn’t feed himself or form a coherent sentence.

This is largely the reason for my slight sense of unease as I sit here typing and trying to keep at bay thoughts of him tumbling into a patch of nettles or a fast flowing mountain stream (oops!). However, it’s probably not the sole source of my undoubtedly misplaced agitation. We live in a more anxious era and the consequences seep into our parenting as much as into every other aspect of life. Relentless reports of danger on our roads result in us trepidatiously strapping them into their tiny safety seats and prominently displaying “baby on board” signs as if to say “don’t hit me – hit someone who hasn’t reproduced instead”. Yet our roads are relatively safe and as youngsters we happily rattled around on the backseat and often in the boot of the 1970’s family hatchback.

We carefully vet  fellow parents to ensure that their supervisory skills are up to scratch before releasing our darlings into their care during a tightly scheduled play date, alerting them to allergies and other potential sources of upset as we linger on their lawn. Yet we lived in and out of each other’s houses. We wait beneath the climbing frame in the local park, arms outstretched, ready to act as a human crash mat should they tumble towards us. Yet we ran wild in the local park, climbing and falling with abandon and we never came to any harm. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.

They seem so fragile and tiny when they arrive. It’s utterly understandable for us to feel fiercely protective, determined to shield them from all conceivable harm. But how long can we keep this up? Are we loosening the strings sufficiently to allow them to make their own way in the world? The little hand that nestles in yours will soon be pulled away in embarrassment as you approach the school gates. Before long it’ll be holding the hand of someone else. The tiny boy who couldn’t find his feet will shortly be stomping through the park, sporting livid bruises, cuts and grazes, the battle scars of a hundred rough-and-tumble, fun-filled summer days.

The danger is that us helicopter parents who continuously run interference between our children and the real world can do more harm than good. Children are not necessarily good at assessing the risks but they have to be allowed to find the boundaries and with them their own burgeoning confidence and self-esteem. They sense our hesitancy and may interpret it as meaning “I don’t trust you. You’re not capable of doing the everyday things your friends can do”. They too may begin to detect dangers lurking in every new experience. It’s important to protect them but it’s essential to let go too. I hope my tiny lad enjoys his Pine Forest experience and I’ll try to put all thoughts of bullies and bees, stinging nettles and sharp knives, sun burn and sadness out of my mind. I’m sure they haven’t even entered his.

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My daughter, Jordan, is going to be 19 in a couple of days. This upcoming birthday has made me nostalgic and a bit mopey for some reason.

Where does the time go?

Am I my child’s friend? No, I am not, I am her mother, which by and large ought to be better*. At almost 19,  Jordan is an adult, but she is still my child. She can trust me, I won’t let her down, I will be there for her no matter what ever happens in her life.  She knows this, she has heard it from the horse’s mouth her entire life.  I love her unconditionally and think she is rather a fine person. This does not mean there have not been occasions where I could have cheerfully throttled her. Children can do that to a person. Children of any age.

One of the things people often say to me about her is how ‘well-mannered’ she is. And she is, but by golly, that was a hard-won battle.

‘My friends are terrified of you.’ She said, laughingly, as we drove into town to see Macbeth, recently.

‘I see.’ I said. ‘Why?”

But in truth I know why. I am old school. I expect things from them. Manners for one.

I mentioned to another mother over the weekend something I did when my daughter was but a sapling. We were discussing teenagers, but I was rather surprised when she gasped and laughed.

‘You did not!’ This lady said.

‘I certainly did.’

What I did was simple. When Jordan was about 13 or 14 her friends would phone the home looking for her. The vast majority of the times they would call and say –

‘Jordan there?’

Whereupon I would promptly and wordlessly hang up the phone. Sometimes they would ring back, confused.

‘Er, I was on a second ago, Is Jordan there?’

And  again I would wordlessly hang up and wander off to do stuff that did not involve talking to ill-mannered children.

‘I think your mother hung up on me.’ They would then complain to my daughter at school.

‘She did.’ Jordan would reply – most likely rolling her eyes, ‘morto’.

‘Why?”

‘Look, you can’t ring my house and just ask for me, she’ll hang up.  You’ve got to say “hello Arlene/ Mrs Hunt/ Mrs Mangan/ Mrs Hunt-Mangan/ Mangan-Hunt.” Then Identify yourself and finally ASK to speak with me. If you don’t she’ll just keep hanging up on you.’

‘Oh.’

No doubt they thought I was a right pain, but lo and behold within weeks anytime anyone called looking Jordan,  they were unfailingly polite and thus the seeds of respect were sown – albeit somewhat forcefully.

The same applied for any  friends that called to the house. First time visitors are introduced to both parents by Jordan, older friends say hello and  good-bye when they leave and anyone that needs to ‘crash’ they seek permission to do so before the event not after. If Jordan is out for the night she can tell us beforehand, or text us during the night to say she won’t be home.

Basic manners, innit?

And yet so sorely lacking so often.

‘You should hear the way some of my friends talk to their parents.’ She informed me the night of Macbeth.

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, it’s mad. I wouldn’t dare talk to you like that, you’d kill me.’

‘I’m afraid Gordo, sometimes fear and respect  go hand in hand.’ I said, but thinking that respect is usually earned by consistency.

We parked in Drury Street and walked to the Abbey. Whereupon Jordan immediately turned into Hyacinth Bucket (every time we go to the theatre she adopts this weird hilarious tone of voice, sort of ‘and how DO you FIND the theatre?’)

During the interval we had a drink and a chat.  She told me some entertaining story or other about one of her friend’s band’s gigs (she knows about a million people it seems) As she spoke all I could think was how much I loved her to iddy biddy pieces, how much I enjoyed her company, and how on earth could she walk in those heels.

* not always the case.

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I’ve been reading Iona and Peter Opie’s superb Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, and it’s fascinating to compare variations on the rhythmic chants of childhood – many of them ten generations old. Reading the originals reminds me a bit of the days when lyrics were anyone’s guess till you opened Smash Hits and realised that Bananarama hadn’t actually claimed I’m your penis, I’m your fire. Most of the time, I suppose, we don’t really think about the origins of nursery rhymes, and though I might have told you that Ring-a-ring o’ Roses was something to do with the Great Plague, this, according to the Opies, is eyewash, as the dates don’t tot. (Incidentally, next time you grab a hand and form an expectant circle, you might also sing Ring a ring a rosie, Round the ring of roses, or The cows are in the meadow.)

We pass our own (quite probably muddled) versions on, distractedly, to our children, but there are a few I’ve been mulling over and to whose rhythm I am typing today, thanks to the Opies, a couple who spent their lives researching and writing about children’s culture. Nursery rhymes are not quite as jammed with sex, menace, and politics as fairy tales are, but there’s usually a blast of romance, illness and death amid the nonsense and the social history, and the characters who have burst out of their rhymes into their own lives and nixers in the Shrek industry, and they can make fine reading. There are about twenty compare and contrast examples I’d like to choose, but I’ve gone with eena, meena, whose mystical powers of selection must still be invoked every day somewhere on the planet by a child on a chalked concrete slab. They’re not translations, but regional variations:

French Canada:
The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery RhymesMeeny, meeny, miney, mo.
Cache ton poing derrière ton dos…

Cornwall:
Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Basca, lora, hora, bite.

New York:
Hana, mana, mona, mike;
Barcelona, bona, strike…

Germany:
Ene, tene, mone, mei,
Pastor, lone, bone, strei…

Not sure of origin:
Eeny, weeny, winey, wo
Where do all the Frenchmen go?
To the east and to the west,
And into the old crow’s nest.

I don’t think that last line quite scans, but then I can’t catch the rhythm of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt so perhaps my brains thrums to a wonky beat. Most of the nursery rhymes I remember from my infancy are ones which I think of as English, which is probably because my mother, source of my songs, is an Englishwoman who certainly sang us English folk songs like I Gave My Love a CherryDance to your DaddyLavender’s Blue, and Bobby Shafto. But when I slid off her knee to school (trotting up Morehampton Road in my new shoes in September 1976) I heard new clapping and skipping rhymes that I hadn’t known from home. I think I still know all the words and all the palm-smarting actions of Miss Sue from AlabamaUnder the Bramble Bushes, and I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, which do seem to have a more American flavour. But so far, in summoning my rhyme memories, and in reading the Opies’ book, I’ve only come across one Irish rhyme (Buala, Buala, or Bulla, Bulla), and that was a mere footnote. Have I forgotten the Irish ones, amid the music of clapping and sevens and German jumps, and tip the can, one, two, three, I spy Antonia behind a tree?

I’d love to hear of some, or any remembered rhymes.

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