There, it’s not a blank page anymore.
It’s a start.
You see I have genuinely refrained from planning this post, or thinking about it, before sitting down at my computer, because I wanted to know what was really on my mind.
Inspired by a great line from Peter Ustinov, the late, great actor, writer, playwright, screenwriter … all sorts, really … but who I remember best as a brilliant talk show raconteur. A story-teller to beat all story-tellers (check out his autobiography, Dear Me).
Relating these hilarious tales of Hollywood and beyond to Parky or Gaybo, all decked out in accents, actions and exquisitely telling detail, the eyes crinkling all the while as he spun another rib-tickler. Living it as he was telling it
Anyway, he was asked one time if he ever got fed up of appearing on all those TV shows, or of being endlessly interviewed on radio, or for print.
“Oh good heavens no, old boy, I love doing them … I’m fascinated to find out what I’m thinking!”
Or words to that effect.
As the father of two teenage kids I naturally think a lot about the world we live in now, and the world they will live in when they are out there careering and carousing, swopping friends and enemies, bossing or being bossed, creating their own families, or not … living.
That is when they even get some kind of handle on what they might end up studying or working at. Or where their burgeoning interests will take them.
Probably end up doing something that hasn’t even been thought of yet.
I look at career options in newspapers and I don’t even know what some of those bio-whatever-you’re-having-yourself job specs even mean.
But more particularly, I have this weird sense of things simultaneously staying the same and changing utterly.
What do I mean?
Well, I have had some interesting reactions to a piece I put out a couple of weeks ago, Ordinary people are not as ordinary as you think.
In it, I referred to my coming from a long line of “ordinary” people. And how I used to see this “ordinariness” as boring when I was younger, before discovering the extraordinary in this “ordinary”.
A lot of people were able to relate to all that.
But behind it all, there was a sense in my piece of continuity, of the lives of my ancestors and I following broadly similar patterns, in terms of school, college, career-paths, settling down, getting a mortgage …
Obviously, our stories have to be filtered through the prism of huge historical change (like the World Wars, major events, and inventions witnessed by my dad’s sister, for example, Aunt Nancy finally goes down aged 104), and access to better education and healthcare. But no huge change in day to day circumstances. Not really.
But thinking about it since, I am struck by how this continuity, and predictability, has been blown out of the water. In one generation.
Here in Ireland, when I was growing up, it was all laid out for me: school, college/apprenticeship, job, mortgage, and so on.
I am one of six kids, my wife one of eight. Common enough in dominantly Catholic Ireland.
Now I have two kids, as have a lot of my contemporaries, three at a squeeze. In far bigger houses than we had growing up. Back when an extension was a rickety addition to a hay shed, or something.
Now everyone has to have one. Architecturally-designed and curated. With a small house out front.
One of my two sisters has five kids and she has described, when the kids were younger, going out together and being looked upon with horror as they rocked up to a cafe, as if they were some kind of travelling freak-show.
And never invited as a family anywhere, outside of family reunions. Five kids!
I grew up in a small town and the only foreigners in Ireland, as far as I could tell, were all in Dublin going to Trinity or writing dirty books in west Cork. And appearing on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne.
Friends with Peter Ustinov, no doubt.
The handful of black people in our country either played football for Ireland, like Paul McGrath, or were student doctors.
Now, I take a break for coffee, look out the window in my estate, and I see the houses of my Polish and Hungarian near-neighbours … oh look, there’s a bubbly bunch of young black kids heading off to the local secondary school.
Where they play hurling and everything … the most wonderfully exotic names appearing on school team-sheets. Brilliant!
So much social change. In a single generation.
When my kids were in primary school, they added up the nationalities represented in their small, country school, and it came to over fifty!
Most of them arriving in this generation.
We used to joke about the inevitability of it all when I was a kid. There was a career for everyone: plumbing or some such trade for the ones who weren’t too bothered in school; teaching, banking, the civil service or nursing for the mid-ranking intelligent; maybe engineer or doctor for the brighter ones (or the ones with more money behind them).
In our small town, there was also always farming for the sons of the soil who bused it into town to our school.
The old reliables of teaching, nursing, and the civil service are not guaranteed any more. Farmers are struggling. Selling up or taking second jobs. Or emigrating, like so many. Of course we always had emigration.
Yes, there are still plenty of options — if you get the results in school.
The pressure on our kids to get higher and higher marks for college places is fierce. Which so many choose if they are not disadvantaged, as many are from the get-go. Costing their parents more and more in those colleges. Both parents working now, usually, to afford all this.
The kids sort through all that, find the right guy or girl, and they might be thinking about settling down. They want a mortgage …
Welcome to Ireland’s housing crisis — too few houses being built in a market poisoned by speculators, accumulators and lousy government policies that appear to favour the property developers over the poor bastards pushing so hard to even get on the property ladder.
Working usually on contract, or freelance. Pressurised enough when you are younger, and without family responsibilities and the rest …
So they pay exorbitant rents to landlords unburdened by price regulation. Or squeeze in with mum and dad while they try to save for a deposit.
The free-market? Free-for-all more like it.
So this is the kind of stuff I had in my head when I sat down to write this!
Is it any wonder that teenagers, already caught in the Hadron Super Collider of fizzing hormones, acne and ridiculous parents that is adolescence, turn away from politics and news altogether and switch on their iPads and YouTube influencers?
Sure what is news anyway? All fake, as the serious stuff of world politics, money and social cohesion are lost in a nightmare world of Trumpian distortion and distraction.
The old dictators and despots made the mistake of trying to censor books and opinion; the present lot long ago realised it works much better when you allow the people more and more access to social media. They get paralysed by information overload and options.
Don’t think about it, just Google it. And find yourself better informed but knowing a hell of a lot less.
All fake, all fake, anyway.
But I am also excited too when I consider what my kids could become. As people. Not just as job titles.
I see them as they work through it all. I see the anxieties, sometimes, of course, but I also see the blithe optimism of youth at work … the feeling it will all work out. So vital for any person setting out on life’s journey.
Setting out? They are already well on the road.
Making their way.
No clue yet what they want, or where to look for it, but, they won’t rest until they find it.
At least some things don’t change …
- If you enjoyed what you have just read, try another one! Try them all! Seriously, follow my blog and you won’t miss out again. Thanks for reading.