Friday, 12 February 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, my first guest blogger.

This posting is from my first ever guest blogger, my brother Ron. I could embarrass him by saying what a nice man he is but I’ll let you judge him on his posting. He’s very funny and writes great short stories, lyrics and speeches. I asked him if he’d be prepared to blog on anything he liked and here’s the result.

Reading Bill’s account of his Goldilocks spin-off got me thinking about his ‘audience’, the grandchildren, and by extension, children in general and the way they deal with the ‘messages’ we –writers, grandparents, mentors, teachers- are conveying to them.

Let me illustrate. I am a retired teacher and one of my roles as a year leader in my middle school was to visit our feeder primary schools towards the end of the summer term and tell them what wonderful experiences were waiting for them when they joined us in September. My spiel was designed to inform them, reassure them, excite them, send them home to comfort their mothers about the upcoming transition. Thus, I would describe our school’s on-site swimming pool, the three football pitches, science labs, IT suites, all-weather playground surface, drama studio…

The pupils in this particular school were sitting at my feet and – partly because of the huge build up the class teacher had given me – were completely rapt by my twenty minutes of inspired salesmanship. Shock and awe weren’t in it; they were gagging for the middle school extravaganza. Finishing with ‘any questions?’ I was comforted in one sense by the initial lack of response: my performance had clearly stunned them, their jaws were dropped in either amazement or adenoidal boredom, except for one small boy who reached up to tap my knee and asked, not the anticipated,

“How many pottery studios did you say you had?” or,

“Is there really a keyboard each in the music suite?”

but, simply,

“Can you touch the ceiling?”

And when I reached up and showed that I could, the whole group fractured into gasps and shared their wonder at the giant from the big school. Until that moment I hadn’t realised that the staff around me in this primary school – mainly women – were below average height, and barely capable of reaching their coat pegs. The headmaster was notably short in fact. My six feet three made me the one-eyed-man in the land of the blind. I sensed that the children might go on to conclude that, as they graduated through the different levels of education, the pedagogues got bigger:

“Maybe that’s why they have those raked banks of seats in university lecture theatres, so the students don’t have to crane their necks looking up at the nine-foot professors.”

Returning to my school I had a fresh awareness of the potential for this kind of failure to connect and began to notice examples in my working day. Our deputy head was giving (or taking) an assembly on a familiar theme. It was about the dizzying pace of technological change and how pupils should pause and reflect on how fortunate they were, etc. They’d heard it all before and were dumbly counting the wall bars to keep them awake until the sports results were announced.

Then the deputy said, “I expect most of you have a TV in your bedrooms as well as a huge flat screen surround sound system in the lounge. Well, when I was young “ (how many wall bars was that?) “all my family had to watch was a twelve inch Bush in the corner of the living room.”

They were too sleepy to react but I can imagine them in the corridors afterwards:

“Did he really say that?”

“The whole family watching a bush?”

“Yeah, like, ‘Can we watch the other side mum, it’s greener.’”

“Or mum says, ‘Stop moaning you two, you can have a bonsai in your room when you’re thirteen.’”

What children – if we let them – keep telling us is that there is a parallel universe, although it’s not a remote, inaccessible quantum thing but a handy little resource they can, and must, use in their admirable quest to make sense of the rubbish we sometimes talk. What we can do in response is stop trying to impose order on the resulting chaos and join them in the way Bill demonstrated. When they see we’re not pretending, that we’re in the flux too, maybe we can start to make the connections we crave.


  1. I love this. I spend about half of my time with children and their minds are fascinating to me. They way they make sense of the world is, in many ways, far more logical than the structure we adults put on it. Children create order out of chaos in their own creative ways, while we adults demand that order be laid down in very specific, functional ways. How boring! I have long held beliefs that adults have a lot to learn from children.

  2. I agree, Baley. When I said that creating the stories with my grandkids was the best type of writing, I meant it in the way that you and Ron suggest i.e. that we learn a lot from the freedom, spontaneity, tolerance, honesty of the way they think. We can borrow their freedom.

  3. Nice to meet you, Bill's Brother. You got all the intelligence then? You'll know even more big words than Bill does, eh?

  4. Two witty handsome men in one family! Okay that's the flattery done with. Great, insightful post, Ron. I love the way children look at the world and cut through the pretension.

  5. Are you planning to start your own blog Ron? You would do us a huge favour.

  6. I loved this post. It brought back memories of my own teaching stints. I recall a second grader who said, "My mother's going to kill you," when she got chalk all over her new dress during an art session.

    Writing talent certainly abounds in the Kirtin family! I agree with Anneke. Ron should start his own blog.

  7. I love it! What we think of in adulthood as a lack of focus is total unADULTerated spontaneity. We should all see more giants in the room.

    Come back, Ron.

  8. OK, now you're all getting carried away - he's not THAT good.

  9. So what factors equate to this drastic change in our perceptions of the world around us? Why, essentially do we look back longingly as if we all wished we could be back in those spongy, ill-proportioned bodies? Do we really wish to relive all those gruelling developments of self-involved anguish that we must go through in order to become the (hopefully) more refined, calm individuals we are now? What role does the structure of our society and our world’s history play on humbling our mind set?

    When I was in my teens I could gladly watch Robocop relentlessly and laugh at the ED 209 riddling Kenny with bullets before leaving his corpse lying smoking atop an architectural model. But now if I visit my friend’s eleven year old boy and he is playing Call Of Duty - Modern Warfare2 on the Playstaion3, my morals are tested. Is this due to an inevitable increase in global political awareness that comes with age?

    Is there an element of escapism involved? Do we want to return to when the world, in our minds revolved mainly around Transformers and Mask stickers? Where we didn’t need to concern ourselves with irreversible environmental decay, and assured terrorist annihilation?

    We are told, when children to strive to learn as much as we can, forced to take in information that seems so useless. Only to then turn around in adulthood to be amazed at the mentality of these child entities before they have been sullied by our teachings.
    Is this just an inevitable stage of development that we must all go through in our constant, frail attempts to find reason for our existence?

    Is this the ramblings of a mad man?

    I will agree that Ron is an alright bloke though, only met Bill twice and I haven’t read any of his books, so I can’t vouch for him.

  10. loved this post as an intro to your blog Bill, I had to laugh at the giant story - Ron painted an image for me as clear as any photo.

  11. Wow Barry, thanks for stopping by. I feel it should be up to that lazy sod of a brother of mine to respond properly to your thoughtful comment but I just wanted to say I'm grateful for your response. Regular readers here will know that I long ago gave up the notion of there being a 'reason for our existence' – indeed, I rather glory in the fact that there isn't and that ‘now’ is all we have. (If you want it in posh terminology, I think each one of us is accidental, contingent.) I do, though, think that the 'now' of each of us has, as you suggest, been clearly conditioned by socio-political factors and, most of all, by our education. OK, it gives us insights into things we might not otherwise have encountered and it expands our vocabulary (if we’re lucky in our teachers) but it also rests on an implicit notion that there’s a norm to which we must conform. And that, in turn, fails to encourage the imaginative, unstructured leaps of thought that demonstrate kids’ willingness to accept fantasy and magic – not as an escape from the world but as an extension of it. I take your point about the morality of piling up corpses in computer games but kids were always thus. For my generation, it was cowboys and Indians (hiding in doorways paradoxically) and shooting at one another with fingers, but the aim was still the same – kill the enemy. But what did ‘kill’ mean in that context? Little more than score a goal. That childhood line between imaginative creation and destruction has always been indistinct. I suppose my general point is that I deplore the suppressive effect that formal education can have on creativity. And all this thinking is too tiring. I must go and have a lie down.

  12. Ev, welcome. I suppose you realise that, by citing Ron as the reason for your visit, you've made me indebted to him and he won't let me forget it. But, grudgingly, I have to admit you're right - his stories as well as anecdotes like this one do produce memorable, touching truths that seem artless but are very sharp. (Damn him.)

  13. I was hoping to get away with a single submission then sneak off to play golf, but the comments move me to respond.
    Firstly though, I’ve got to scotch notions that I am a nice guy. My behaviour is nice but it hides a nastiness which it would be wrong of me to conceal from you. For instance, this morning, when I took my wife her breakfast in bed, I only put one spoonful of freshly blitzed New England blueberries in her porridge instead of the usual two. See: nasty. (I had saved the second to spread on the Shrove Tuesday pancake I was going to surprise her with on rising).

    Yeah, right.

    I’m not going to dwell on Michael’s point, except to say it’s the sort of delicious piece of bait that I’m almost tempted to take and relax into that mode of wit-fencing which Bill is so good at but I can’t sustain without the barbed comments sounding real –and leaking some of my nastiness. But I will say this in thanks to the blog. The nearest I’ve got to writing anything in months has been to write this sonnet as a kind of workout, to prod the sleeping muse:

    Because I said I would, here is the line
    Which seeks to shape its counterpart (this one)
    Conveying what was previously mine
    To you in words which can, for both, be fun.
    The substance of the piece is that I long
    To give delight and hint that, in my soul,
    There is a light, consistent with my song,
    Which shines to light the tunnel of a mole.
    As always, I’ve extinguished every part.
    My message turns to tangles in the murk.
    As soon as I begin to show my heart,
    The fool of comedy begins his work.
    Frustration, yes, but listen: to be fair,
    I said I’d write a sonnet so….so there.

    She didn’t budge. In the days since your responses, however, I’ve been busy reconnecting a few broken synapses and begun to seek my desk rather than sneak past it. Thanks.

  14. See what I mean, people? He's round the bend. Golf? Blueberries? Sonnets? I should have had him sectioned years ago.

  15. On the other hand, the visits to the blog have gone up more than 50% since he posted his contribution so he must have something.

  16. Finally got round to reading this, was somewhat busy with bowling, cinemas and other things a mother has to do during a half-term!

    I have a two brothers who both do something you ever feel competitive? Just curious. :)

  17. From my experience scarvazeri It certainly seems there is some kind of underlying emotion between the Kirton brothers. I wonder if we can find out anything by looking at these comments above?

    Notice how Bill consistently looks for a way of digging at Ron in a pseudo comical manor. There may be a possibility that Bill (the older and eldest of the family) is threatened by the intellectual presence of Ron. By the somewhat childish nature of these cheap shots I might suggest that this type of insecure attack has been continuing for many years, possibly since childhood. Maybe the simple invasion of another male being born into the family unit could provoke this action from an unconfident first-born child, hoping to affirm his place at the top of the hierarchy.

    Notice how Ron does not rise to these jibes. This only inflames the already nervous Bill who, bound by years of self-conditioning is forced to continue with his assault. But without results he is doomed to merely torture himself.

    How can Bill find peace with himself? If he does can he possibly then start to take steps towards respecting Ron as the decent man he is? And will this in turn allow Ron to begin to build respect for his brother. It must happen intellectually as on the golf course Ron is obviously in a different class.

    Oh yes I forgot to say: My name is not actually Barry Carrogan; it is Joe Kirton, second son of Ronald Kirton. And you can't tell me off for my Grammar and spelling errors because I haven't got any GCSE's.

  18. Ah Scary and ‘Barry’, your comments cut straight to the sub-text of my invitation to Ron and his posting with consummate skill and precision.

    The answer to you Scary is that, far from feeling competitive towards Ron (and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way), I take pleasure in his achievements and I sincerely wish I was as nice a man as he is. That’s not bullshit, I mean it. I’ll even take it a bit further. We have another brother and three sisters and all six of us consider ourselves very lucky in the siblings we have. We admire and love one another without question and draw tremendous strength from one another. (Sorry, this is sounding a bit cloying and happy-ever-after-ish. It’ll be over soon and I’ll get back to crotch-kicking. Yes, ‘Barry’, your turn will come.) I’m saying this on their behalf without having asked them because I know it to be true. In fact, I know that Ron (and our brother Bob, too) agrees with me when I say that our three sisters are all far ahead of the men in the family in their energy, engagement with life, psychological strength, self-effacing charm, personality, and many, many other attributes.

    Pertinent to the exchanges in the blog, we also share a sense of humour which others sometimes don’t recognise as such and it often takes a form which seems hurtful and/or cruel to ‘outsiders’. That’s the trouble with trying to be funny.

    Now, ‘Barry’. If you are indeed my nephew Joe, I think it fair to inform those reading this that you’re tall, dark and handsome, that you enjoy laughing and have a great sense of humour. (All that is true, folks, not a cruel joke.) I know, too, that you have an elder brother and that you were thus not born ‘at the top of the hierarchy’ (to use your own expression) – which therefore gives your analysis a poignancy of which strangers might not be aware. Add to that the fact that you were brought up by an uncaring, insensitive father and it is only natural that you should lash out at the only member of your extended family whom you find truly admirable. I forgive you, my child. Go in peace.

  19. There are two questions left:
    1. Can Bill touch the ceiling as well?
    2. How come Barry/Joe hasn't read any of Bill's books? Apparently he doesn't realise how popular the books are in the Netherlands.

  20. I guess they had to be popular somewhere, as I've never seen them in a book shop in this country. Mind you I don't think I've ever been to a book shop, are they good?

    I can touch the ceiling.

  21. Anneke, you know very well that I subscribe to Browning's lines:
    Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp
    Or what's a heaven for?

    Barry, be careful, reading can make you go blind.

  22. I had a personal agenda in my question, in a way. I still am torn whether to stay with one child or go for the second one. The decision is up in the air, 50/50 and I still have not moved an inch in either direction! I am curious when it comes to siblings. I never had one and never wanted or missed having one. :) I guess, it is always a gamble. I am glad to hear you have such a great bond, guys. :)

  23. Scary, you're now living up to your name. The thought that anything I said might swell the population in your household is terrifying. I understand your dilemma though because there are clear and persuasive arguments both ways.

    Michael, what sort of dowry would you bring with you if I did?

  24. Someone as warm-hearted as you doesn't need any form of dowry... just the act of bringing someone into the bosom of your family and the warm n' fuzzy feeling this engenders is payment enough.

  25. Ah Michael, your innocence is so beguiling. No wonder the ladies want to touch you.