At Seventeen

A seventeen year old boy has died at the Reading Festival this year. This is a tragic event for him-his young life ended just as it was beginning-and for his parents, family and friends. It set me thinking back to my life at seventeen.

Seventeen is an ‘in-between’ age, at once awkward, daring, angst-ridden and thrilling. You’ll be on the verge of leaping from childhood into adulthood, preparing for university or employment, marriage [as my mother was] or parenthood. Janis Ian’s heartfelt ‘At Seventeen’ describes the longing and the turmoil involved in being the age:

‘And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone’

As a seventeen year old and the youngest in our family I appeared to have been granted a lot of freedom for the time [the late 60s]. The hippy period was underway. I had a suitably Lennon-esque, guitar-playing boyfriend with a car. We roamed the county in search of music gigs, getting to see everyone from Fairport Convention and Family to John Heisman’s Coliseum and Chicken Shack. I wore long, trailing skirts and often went barefoot out of school hours. I went on camping trips in a group that consisted of all boys, trusted by my mother because the boyfriend and all the others were choirboys! Little did she guess…

We experimented with weed, drank more than we could cope with, spent long nights listening to entire albums [LPs as they were] by our favourite musicians. When I was left at home for many weekends while my parents went to help out with caring for my sick grandfather I either spent the days at the boyfriend’s, lolling about in his bedroom while his mother made meals for us, or holding impromptu, drunken parties in my own parent-free home. The aftermath of these drunken and weed-ridden bashes meant Sundays attempting to clean up and formulating explanations for broken items, aromas or stains.

At the watershed that was end of school and start of student life, Boyfriend and I went our separate ways, figuratively and literally-he to Sheffield and I to London. When I announced to my mother that a subsequent Boyfriend and I were to share a flat she astounded me by being outraged, spluttering ‘You needn’t think you are doing that in this house!’ Could she really have had no idea at all about my activities as a seventeen-year-old?

My own, post-Aids era offspring were of course more circumspect, more grounded and less wild. They grew up in the Margaret Thatcher, shoulder-pad years and without the benefits of student grants; with 80s music, Rubik’s Cubes and Angel Delight.

Parenting is tough. Kids can’t be sheltered forever. You have to arm them with common sense and knowledge of the facts, be there when needed and then let them go-with fingers crossed tightly behind your back. You might be horribly unlucky, as were the parents of the boy at the festival or you might be fortunate, as were my own, blissfully ignorant parents.

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No News would be Good

Maybe it’s because we are submerged in a waiting limbo or maybe because in other circumstances we would be away in foreign fields that I’ve become impatient to the point of fury with many of this month’s stories and trends. Here, in no particular order are some of the worst:

  • Brexit or Bremain

Not a day passes without a debate, an angle, a row or a ‘celebrity’ opinion for one side or the other. Even Facebook contacts are pushing their particular views [many, I fear culled from a certain tabloid rag]. The fact that it is not known for certain what will happen should we stay or should we go deters no one. Personally I have never been in any doubt about what Britain should do but it is one opinion I won’t be boring anyone else with [I’m not promising not to bore over other stuff].

  • The American Candidates

Yes, Donald Trump represents everything intolerant, bigoted, illiberal and reactionary. Yes, we can’t understand how he got into this elevated position. We would hope that America comes to its senses. Enough said.

  • Leicester City Football

I accept that being a football refusenik may have influenced my descent into ennui regarding what the sporting press call Leicester’s ‘fairytale’ success, nevertheless, surely the eulogising, analysing, filming, interviewing and repetition must be boring the undies off even the most die-hard Leicester fan? The only, tiny morsels of interest in this story are the bits about the manager [who should be cast as the cat stroking baddie in the next Bond film, so sinister-sounding is his accent] treating the players to a pizza making class or the team being bought beer and doughnuts. And if I have to hear their accomplishment described as fairytale one more time I’ll have to throw the TV from the window, rock star style. I presume the team members don’t object to being described as fairies, although there are certain [non-PC] connotations to the word…

  • Political In-fighting

Years ago [yes, yes I realise I’m coming over all ‘old bid’] politicians had lofty ideals. I’m sure there was a notion of serving communities and all that. Think of Aneurin Bevan and the start of the National Health Service. Is anyone else tired of spiteful niggling and back-biting and racial slurs? How good it would be to hear some real policies, some ideas about how society and quality of life might be improved for everyone. Is it too much to expect? Yes-obviously.

  • Beyoncé

How come I am unable to scroll down more than a centimetre of the Guardian website without having to accelerate past some new article about her? I’m sure that fans of Beyoncé are beyond delighted to be able to devour every, minute crumb of information about what she wore [or didn’t], sang, earned or had for breakfast but I’m sceptical as to whether your typical Guardian website reader is a Beyoncé fan. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

 

Here endeth this week’s rant-

Boxing Day-a daft party or a bun fight?

                When I was a child, spending my early years in the 50s, Boxing Days were passed with many of the traditional customs of the time. We’d visit relatives or have them visit us. We’d exchange gifts [the meaning of ‘Boxing’] and have tea. The visits would be to aunts, uncles and cousins and the gifts would be toys, games, puzzles or books. One of my favourite toys as a six year old was ‘Fuzzy Felt’, of which I had several sets. A set consisted of a felt board and a collection of felt characters and objects based around a theme. My preferred theme was the farmyard and I could occupy hours arranging the small figures and objects into different positions and scenarios. This, I think, was the beginning of story-telling for me. A cursory look on the web confirmed that Fuzzy Felt is still available, although now often termed ‘retro’. Invented in 1950, it was a ‘must have’ for children of the early 50s. My brothers favoured metal Meccano and occasionally allowed me to play with it, as with their train set, which occupied most of their bedroom floor.

                During the ensuing days we’d have to put in some time writing thank-you letters for all our gifts. My mother would have written a list of presents and donors, some of whom would have sent postal orders [also still available!] for an amount to be divided between the three of us. It could be tricky. One pound was not easily divisible into three, neither was ten shillings. We would receive 6 shillings and 8 pence from a pound or 3 shillings and 4 pence from ten shillings. It is not surprising that despite an innate deficiency in mathematical competency I was always able to remember what one pound, or ten shillings, divided by three was.

                It was a thrill to be allowed to stay up for a party, often held at our house. In those unsophisticated times it would consist of parlour games-in a circle or with pencils and paper. My father considered himself something of a wag and organised all of this including the ‘prizes’-items he’d fastened to the Christmas tree, including packets of indigestion tablets or a small tin of baked beans, all wrapped up.

                So what now, for Boxing Day? It seems vast numbers of people like to spend this next day of their holiday camping outside on a pavement in the cold and the howling gales waiting for a department store to open its doors, in order to join a galloping stampede into the interior and a fight to gain access to a designer handbag they cannot do without. I like a bargain as much as the next person but much as I wrack my brain I cannot think of a single object in a shop I’d wish to queue up all night in the cold for. Can you?