Laughing at Yourself

jamie_dAfter writing my last post on being a special Mum, concerned family and friends pointed out that some readers might not realise I’m joking. So please let me assure you I was joking. Of course there were elements of truth in what I wrote. I do sometimes drink smoothies and I even have a secret desire to make my own yoghurt. And perhaps I even fall into the trap of thinking I’m so very, very, very, special. I suppose in part my post was laughing at myself.

However coming from a family with four bothers, I’ve learnt from a young age to snap out of such nonsense. It’s not that healthy self-esteem wasn’t encouraged, but anything pretentious, or inflated was definitely to be laughed at. After all, this motherhood caper has been going on for centuries. You don’t become a special Mum because you start blogging about it.

My sister picked up  that my post was in part inspired by the character of Irene in the Scotland Street series, written by our favourite Alexander McCall Smith.  Irene’s character is a satire on helicopter parenting. She forces her six year old son to learn saxophone, take yoga and learn Italian. In fact he does so many extra curricular actives he has no time to play. She paints his room a lovely pink, as she wants to raise him gender neutral. For his birthday he wants a Swiss Army knife and instead she gives him a gender neutral doll. Irene is very educated and very irritating.

I remember when I heard the author speak at the Opera House I spotted one of my university lecturers in the audience. I was surprised because this particular lecturer had told us that she puts her little boy in a dress to allow him to pick his own gender. Not unlike Irene I would have thought.  Obviously she didn’t mind someone having a laugh at her lifestyle. We all like to laugh at ourselves to a certain extent.

As another example take Ja’mie, the absolutely obnoxious private school girl.  I’ll bet it’s the private school girls who are laughing the loudest. They get the joke even better than the rest of us.

Oscar Wilde was wonderful at getting society to laugh at itself. His plays were written for the English upper class and made fun of the upper class. They laughed wildly at themselves being ridiculous on-stage.

I truly hope satire can in some way be a force for good. Perhaps there was an English upper class twit, who after seeing The Importance of Being Ernest, decided that true love shouldn’t be superficial – you should love someone for more than their name. Perhaps their are private school girls who after watching Ja’mie have decided to be less of of a bully. I truly hope they at least realise that Ja’mie is a pretty poor example of humanity.

We can but hope…

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15 year old Clare McAuley

What would your 15 old self think of your life if they could see you now?

The other day I was sorting through some old cards and letters I’ve received over the years. I stumbled across a letter I had written to myself when I 15. In very bossy language I commanded that the letter was only to be opened when I was 22.

Admittedly I was a rather unusual teenager. At first I thought this letter might be great to put on my blog. After re-reading my scribbles, I realised I’d forgotten in the last five years the content of this odd letter. It was whimsical, personal and in some places very strange. I could never put it online. The letter wears its heart on its sleeve, and I still feel my teenage self still deserves some privacy.

Amongst the dramatic statements I did give myself some good advice. I told myself to go for walks, go to the cricket and re-read Charles Dickens. In particular, I should read Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.

In one place I tell my future self to stay friends with certain people. My choice of people was in places a little puzzling. The first three are still some of my closest friends. However later in the list I included someone who I’m sure at the time I really disliked. From memory she a bit of a bully. Dear 15 year old self, what was that all about?

Half way through the letter I write:

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt its don’t be a flattering fool – be honest with yourself. Always smile and think, why should little things ruin your day? Love people and don’t judge. Never think you know someone. Don’t classify humans.

Don’t grow out of the Narnia series.

Good advice there Miss 15 year old Clare McAuley.

At the end I demand a return letter. So here’s a little of what I’d say.

Dear 15 year old me,

I like the advice you gave me. Sometimes even you have a sensible streak. Try and listen to it.

Never be afraid. Don’t be afraid if I guy doesn’t like you – they are never worth your tears. Don’t be afraid of bullies – they still exist after school, just appearing in all sorts of disguises. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong or to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to do the things your love, even if they are horribly uncool. You’ll love murder mysteries, reading anything from tge 19th century, cooking cheesecakes, dancing in pubs, playing tetris and singing anything from a musical. The sooner you face up to this the better.

You’ll even love teaching. I know – bit of a shock that one. Life is surprising and when you say yes to the adventure wonderful things can happen. (Yep you’re still full of dramatic statements.)

And I absolutely agree that you should never grow out of the Narnia series.

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Friday Poetry: Funeral Blues

This week I said goodbye to my younger sister Liz. She flew out of Australia to live and study in Scotland for a year. Despite being six years my junior, Liz and I have always been the best friends. We know exactly what the other is thinking.

One thing I love about Liz is her contradictions. She sometimes likes to fancy herself a bit of hipster. However she also doesn’t mind putting her feet up to a good Midsummer Murders or reading anything by Alexander McCall Smith. Perhaps McCall-Smith is one of the reasons she chose to study in Scotland… Certainly after reading his books the place does feel like home.

Liz and I even lined up to meet Alexander McCall Smith at the Opera House. And a year earlier I had lined up to have my book signed by the author. He was quite the gentlemen, standing up and shaking hands with every person he met.

I think I asked him to sign one of Scotland Street books. But I also brought along a book of poems by W.H Auden.  As I had hoped he was surprised and delighted to see the book. I felt a little smug. I’m sure the whole line of middle ladies had wished they’d thought of such a clever trick.

You see, his novels are full of references to Auden. Characters are always using Auden’s poems to muse on life.

It’s hard to pick a favourite, so I’ve decided to go with one I know my sister loves.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good

W.H. Auden

Writing as Mother

ImageThis week I started reading ‘Mary Barton‘ by Elizabeth Gaskell. Five chapters  in I’m loving it.

 
I’ve always loved anything written by Gaskell. During her time she was called Mrs Gaskell which a 21st century feminist might take offence at. However her life as a wife and mother comes across so strongly in her novels.  She includes details that you would never find in Austen’s clean and tidy novels.
 
For example in ‘Mary Barton’ a couple are comforting their baby twins. The mum breastfeeds one baby while the father tries to comfort ( unsuccessfully) the other baby with bread soaked in milk.
 
In the novel Gaskell has strong opinions on class divisions and the apathy of the wealthy towards those struggling with poverty. It’s interesting to see her sometimes apologise for these opinions.
 
I’ve been teaching Fay Weldon this year. She would see this as an example of the “angel of the house” whispering in Gaskells ear, warning her not to be too opinionated. After all, she is just a woman. Luckily Gaskell doesn’t listen too closely to the angel.
 
Early on in ‘Mary Barton’, Mary’s mother dies in childbirth. It made me think how lucky we are in Australia to have such good medical care when giving birth. We don’t need to fear death when we have a baby. Not long ago, death would always be a real possibility.
 
Here in Australia we completely take it for granted. In fact if you listen to some women talk about birth, you’d think it was just a complicated yoga position, a few deep breaths will see you through it. For centuries women never had the luxury of turning their nose up at medical support. Personally I’m so grateful to be alive at this time, in this country.
 
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the rest of ‘Mary Barton’.

Three reasons to be grateful

Have you ever had one of those weeks when you have too much to do? This is my week. Pressed for time, I even resorted to getting a coffee from the drive through at McDonalds. A new low I felt. However life’s not too bad; here are some good things happening.

1. Soup: this months Donna Hay magazine has some truly delicious soups to try. My favourite so far has been the pea and ham; the bright green soup puts me in a better mood. The recipe calls for sour dough bread crumbs to be sprinkled on top – this is an inspired detail!

2. Inspector George Gently: I’ve recently rediscovered this TV show and am loving it. It’s brilliantly written and you’ll laugh and possibly cry with each episode. I also like feeling I’ve just had a history lesson on 60’s social issues with murder solved. Haven’t had much time but there is a long weekend coming up…

3. Jane Austen: my drama students are performing some scenes from Austen and their enthusiasm is awesome. At first they absolutely HATED Mr Darcy when he snobbed Lizzy. Then they LOVED him when he told her how much he “ardently admired and loved her.” It’s so wonderful for them to be 17 and truly discovering Austen for the first time. I’m grateful to be part of that.

So chin up. Life’s still pretty good.

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Is It Just Me?

mirandahart-288x300This last week I’ve been listening to Miranda Hart read her autobiography Is it just me? Such fun!

I honestly feel like Miranda is prancing about in my kitchen and chatting to me about her life.  She wants me to gallop, play hopscotch and dance around to Billy Joel.

She’s a lovely guest to have, always reminding me to replenish my cup of tea and calling me My Dear Listener Chum or MDLC.

In her book, she admits to things that we all do, but never dare talk about. She discusses the dangers of farting and yoga. Actually, there are many fart and bum jokes so, stay away from her book if you don’t like that sort of thing.

Sometimes I felt I was laughing with her. I too love the  little kettle that you find in hotels. Like her I’m not a big fan of those “family updates” sent out with Christmas cards. I too find manicures a little uncomfortable. She describes it as “basically just holding hands with a stranger for forty-five minutes whilst listening to Enya.”

Other times she was laughing at me. She is often calling my bluff at trying to be cool. I hope I’m not one of those obsessive, over the top mothers that she talks about…

Her book actually seems far more profound when read out loud. The moments of seriousness have real gravitas. I’m taking to heart what she said on raising children.

She says: “Please don’t force them to wear the right things, eat the right things, learn and do the right things. No parent can ever get it right but much more importantly, if you’re basically decent and kind, then it’s hard to get it particularly wrong. We’ve all turned out all right, so let them play! Let them be a mess. Give them a tin of beans and a big stick and cast them loose in back yard with an Arctic roll (jam roll). Because think about it, how great would it be to live life like a child right now?”

Thank you Miranda for your book. I often think to myself, or even say it out loud, “No Miranda it’s not just you!” And what a relief that is.

Excuse me Miss – I have a question

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One of the best things about being a teacher is being around teenagers. Don’t ever believe anyone who says all teenagers are selfish and difficult. They have big hearts, are great fun and minds that are bursting with curiosity about the world.

At the end of a days teaching, they have always inspired so many questions in mind.

Here’s just a few from the last week.

1.      Is mental anguish greater than any physical pain you could feel?

2.      Why do girls have higher voices than men? 

3.      Why didn’t the Friar from Romeo and Juliet make sure Romeo received the note that she was only pretending to be dead?!

4.      Does every girl end up marrying someone like their father?

5.      How do we care about our results but not care too much?

6.      Why is Shakespeare so depressing?

7.      Why is theatre often about death?

8.      Is the “everyman” concept used in movies today?

9.      When did Orson Welles die?

10.   What is tofu made from?

 

Do you know the answers?

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