Tag Archives: children

Ulpia, 8 years and 11 months

I’m reading Guy De La Bedoyere’s “Gods With Thunderbolts: Religion In Roman Britain” (2002). It’s a clear-eyed, rigorously unspeculative text but it’s hard not to “humanise” some of the items from the archaeological record it examines.

Ulpia, whose ashes were buried at York 1800 or so years ago, was clearly loved by her parents. “8 years and 11 months” – each one of those years counted. Her other name “Felicissima”, means “Most Happy”. I wonder how many hopes and dreams were wrapped around this child.

We do our ancestors quite a mis-justice when we assume that they cared for their children less than we do. And, looking at the levels of abuse and mistreatment of children in the “modern” world, we flatter ourselves if we think we’re any better.


Skullduggery Pleasant and the problem of violence

Dudelet (who’s nine) has recently got into Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant in a big way. He’s devoured the first one in about two days and is currently storming through the second. There are, of course, various things about the books I’ve forgotten. Like the swearing, for example.

“You know how I’m not supposed to swear?”


“So how come this children’s book has so much swearing in it?”

“No it hasn’t.”

“This character says ‘Damned key!’”

“Ah. Well. That isn’t really swearing.”

“Can I say Damn? Damn!”

“No you can’t.”

“What about ‘bloody’?”

“Can we talk about something else?”

“It’s not my fault – you gave me the book!”

“Yes – but…”

Yes, but what?

Actually, the swearing in the Skulduggery books doesn’t go any further than the occasional ‘bloody’ and only ever by the bad guys. Mostly. The violence, though, is another thing entirely. My God, but Skulduggery Pleasant and his friends are pretty bloody violent individuals. But according to the discreet little note on the back, the novels are suitable for children of “9+”.

One swipe of the sword took the fingers on his left hand and he howled in pain and staggered back and she jumped. She planted her feet on his chest and swung, the blade flashing in the bridge’s lights as it took his head.

Eek. Or is it different because it’s happening to a troll? And am I a hypocrite because I’ll let him watch this or Avengers Assemble but I won’t let him see Skyfall? Supermum’s puzzled about the last one. She thinks the Marvel films are too violent (but I’d argue her tolerance of little elf’s Barbie fixation ceded the moral high ground long ago) and she used to worry about Doctor Who. So what’s the difference? Why is Skullduggery acceptable? Why are The Hulk and Thor positive role models? And why does the idea of my nine year old watching James Bond make me queasy?

Supermum asked me this in the car once, with dudelet listening attentively (we’re pretty open about these discussions).

“It’s because it’s too sexy, isn’t it?” dudelet said.

“What’s ‘sexy’?” asked little elf.

As it happens, I do have an answer (though not about what sexy is) and it’s to do with that old fashioned fall guy, the Moral Compass. Skulduggery Pleasant has one. The Mighty Thor has one. Even Ironman has one.

James Bond doesn’t.

Bond might as well be Loki. He likes killing. He enjoys watching his enemies suffer. He treats women with contempt and uses them as toys. He stumbles through the kind of ambiguously grey moral universe that only adults should be asked to navigate. For all of the cartoon dismemberments, beheadings, eviscerations, zombifications and sundry other horrors, there is never any doubt about right and wrong in Skullduggery’s universe, even if the characters themselves struggle to orientate themselves along the compass points they know they ought to follow. And, compared to The Hunger Games or the horrors of Garner’s Red Shift, it’s fairly knockabout stuff.

Barbie, though. That’s plain unforgivable.

Do you draw the line at particular books or films? I suppose we all have a limit. What’s yours?

Bad parenting and TO THE LIGHT: Yoko Ono and Ai Wei Wei at the Serpentine

Somehow, supermum had managed to convince herself that the Princess Diana Memorial Playground was in Hyde Park as opposed to the best part of a mile’s trudge across Kensington Gardens. I was grumpy and still weirded out by various work-related miseries. Dudelet was on a mission to annoy everyone and little elf was taking full advantage of this with a sickening display of decent behaviour. Sarcasm is instinctively written in her bones. I just wanted utter silence and to contemplate the abyss of my working life. Supermum was probably quite happy to be where we were but no doubt devoutly wished the whole crew of us on Pluto.

Then we realised that we’d accidentally parked outside the Serpentine. So we wandered over to look at the Ai Wei Wei/Herzog & de Meuron pavilion. It was twenty metres away and I managed to squeeze in two more instances of appallingly bad parenting along the way. Dudelet burst into tears. I burst into tears and simmered at the same time. Little elf skipped obliviously into the pavillion’s shady depths and I followed her, hoping it would swallow me up.

In a way, it did, a little. The photographs available don’t really do its odd presence, at once chthonic and airy, justice. A flat round roof overlays a partly below ground-level space full of curved walls and gently stepped levels heading in different directions and rather ugly IKEA lights. It’s like a deconstructed amphitheatre. Cork stools shaped like giant button mushrooms or champagne corks – champagne being something at once rooted in earth, permeated with air and emblematic of all things playful and extravagant – are scattered here and there. Little elf and dudelet ran back and forth and dudelet ran over and hugged me. I hugged him back. We all peered over the edge of the pavilion’s flat roof. It was covered in water and mosquito larva but one sense of it was clear. Earth, sea and sky.

Then we went in to see the Yoko Ono exhibition. First, dudelet and little elf had their pictures taken to join her #smile project then they attacked the all-white chess set which was attracting a large quantity of equally puzzled young people. I asked dudelet why he thought it was white.

“So that people don’t know if they’re winning,” he decided. Little elf, showing a flicker of little goblin, then tried to win by knocking all the other pieces over and we made a hasty exit for the galleries.

In there, we queued to walk around a perspex maze after watching other visitors wander around it, arms outstretched like blind men or women. It’s a simple maze and (I think) a simple point – how easy it is to see how others are on a wrong path and taking the wrong turn, not so easy for oneself – but one that’s made quite powerfully. Dudelet and I went in together and we found our way to the centre. Once inside, you forget that other people are watching you. We reached the centre, a simple square plinth, hollow, with a still pool of water at the bottom. It was inside a small, private enclosure. I told him I was sorry and kissed the top of his head. Then he led the way out and we watched little elf lead supermum around the small labyrinth looking absolutely delighted with herself.

There were other pieces (“Look! Bums!”) but the maze meant the right thing at the right time, as did the Ai Wei Wei pavilion. Later, we were all grouchy with each other once more – it’s been a long summer with too much change – but at least we all know how to make up when we need to.


Dudelet and I are walking to the Underground on the way to pick up supplies from the Japan Centre.

“Look, those girls are smoking!” he says, clearly disapproving but also fishing for my reaction.

“Not good for them, is it?” I offer feebly.

“How did they get the cigarettes? I thought shops weren’t allowed to sell them to children?”

“Well, maybe they got an older kid to buy them. Some shopkeepers don’t pay as much attention as they should/“

“Did you ever smoke?”

Oh dear. Here it comes.

“Yes,” I say, wondering if I should lie.

“When did you stop?”

“January 1st, 1998. Wish I’d done it sooner. Hope it wasn’t too late.”

“When did you start?”

“When I was thirteen or fourteen.”


Why indeed? I’m stuck with being honest now so I plough on.

“I suppose I was trying to impress other, slightly older or cooler boys – at least I thought they were cooler at the time.” I decide to leave out the fact that I actually started smoking in Scouts.

“Oh. Were they a bit thuggish, then?”


“Mummy says she never started because she tried one cigarette and it was so disgusting, she never went near them again.”

“She was very sensible, then,” I say, half-wishing I’d given the same answer.

“Yes. Did I tell you I’ve started writing a script?”

Southport Seafront, clichéd decay, weird paddle boats

The fact is, Southport isn’t anywhere near as bad as I remembered. Every toilet in every chain restaurant seems papered over in posters warning about meow-meow and suggesting one ‘asks Frank’ but the expected gangs of feral tweens wandering the seaside wastelands seem to keep themselves voluntarily confined to a large skatepark. Tottenham and Hackney could learn a thing or two there.

We’ve been here for three days, visiting my elderly relatives and taking a ride round ‘my old haunts’, as a obscure track by The Dream Syndicate might put it. There’s a decaying Victorian park sandwiched between an immense Travel Lodge and an even larger Best Western that offers a pleasantly melancholy tour of Southport’s former grandeur.

I had my iPhone so I took a picture of a decaying and pleasantly melancholy park gazebo (or meow-meow house).

In the distance, there’s the deserted coils of the giant rollercoaster in Pleasureland. I’ve no idea if it opens in winter. Probably not. It looks like the council decided to put a lot of money into it at some point and sort of…stopped. But not before they built a heritage centre. I walked around it (it was closed) and couldn’t really work out what it was for. It was surrounded by truncated lampost pillars, like a Greek ruin.


There’s a circular chamber at the back. Perhaps its the airconditioning for a vast underground system of tunnels and bombshelters. Perhaps not.


Dudelet and I took a walk while we waited for the arcades to open. There are rituals associated with seaside towns which must be observed at all costs and the exchange of money for noise, coloured lights and unreliable hits of serotonin is one of them. Dudelet, though he didn’t know it at the time, was about to win a jackpot amount of tickets* and acquire a memory which will remain with him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, we passed a building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Smallest Pub In Britain.


Next to the Smallest Pub In Britain was an equally small sternwheel paddle steamer. I have no idea how they acquired it.


Back in the park, we found a deserted miniature railway station. It was a forlorn sight.


Elsewhere, the Most Gothic Hotel In Southport stood waiting R-PAT’s wedding party.


Then I discovered Hipstamatic and turned everything into the 1960s.


And here’s a picture of my family. They’re the cold looking little group trudging wearily towards Fun.


Later this week, I’ll do the happy post about the joyous, uplifting things. But today is all about the cliché and the decay. I suppose I’m listening to too many Cure reissues.

*If you don’t already know, it’s far too complicated to explain.