Flying High




My eldest child is off to secondary school next year.  That has sneaked up on me.  It only seems like five minutes ago that they were in Reception, covered in tinsel and jiggling about being a star in the Nativity play.  How did it get to secondary school so quickly?  In fact, how did we all get here so quickly?  I’m sure that we’re all still eighteen.

Middle class problem, but the whole secondary school thing has been and continues to be quite stressful.  I don’t think I am alone in this.  I’m not sure which school my child is going to yet, and like everyone else, I won’t know until the County Council pronounces next year.  I am sure it wasn’t this complicated when I was little – we just went to school.

The whole thing has been made a lot more controversial in my area by the eleven plus. Some children sat it, some didn’t.  Some parents are regretting putting their children in for it, some are wishing they had given it a go.  Some parents object on moral grounds.  Some parents just plain object. One mother I spoke to said that some parents had said to her “we want this” (complete with fist pumping of the air).  Another mother expressed relief to me that she was not going to enter her child for the exam as they were not “bright” enough.  Maybe not if you were posing a maths problem or dissecting Shakespeare.  I have, however, seen one of that child’s drawings – I could never draw like that in a million years.  I understand all of the points of view (apart from the fist pumper, I really don’t get that).  It is almost as divisive as Brexit.

As a race, humans have always valued high intelligence.  The pursuit and acquisition of knowledge has always been, and hopefully will always be, something to which humans aspire.  However, does our superior intelligence make us superior to other animals or even to each other? It seems that increasingly within our society that higher intelligence, or rather high academic achievement, is viewed as something that should not only be aspired to, but crucially, if it is not gained or achieved by a person, then they are somehow inferior as a human being and of less value. That is quite a narrow definition of worth.

At the end of 2013, a little boy was born six weeks early.  He was not expected to survive, although the doctors wisely kept their counsel at that time.  Wise because it was not something that anyone needed to hear at that time, it would not have helped, and on that particular occasion, the doctors would also have been wrong.  My nephew celebrates his fourth birthday next month.  As well as having blue eyes, blonde hair and a bit of a temper which I am sure he gets from his mother (my sister), he also has an extra chromosome.  This means that he will view and experience the world through entirely different eyes from most of the rest of us.

It was unexpected.  Partly because he arrived six weeks sooner than his due date and no one had bought him anything yet, but also because of the extra chromosome.  We had been conditioned to think it was meant to be a devastating loss.  In the melee and relief of everyone being all right in the end, I started thinking of all of the things that my nephew was never going to be – brain surgeon, astrophysicist, barrister, racing driver – those things, will almost certainly, be out of his intellectual reach…..But then I started to think of all of the things that he was also never going to be – murderer, liar, thief, bully. And as I have watched him learn and grow these past four years – a happy and healthy child who is not yet old enough to see the looks that some people give him – I have wondered why his life in particular is viewed by some as having less or no value…and how, why or when that was decided. Then I have wondered exactly where we, as a society, should draw the line and why it is that we think that we are entitled to draw that line?

When did not being something matter so much?  What is wrong with leading a good, kind and honest life and not causing damage to yourself or other people?  Why is this of less value?  Some of the things we aren’t, or will never be, are good things not be.  I am not suggesting that brain surgeons are not good, kind and honest people.  But what I mean is that we can’t all be brain surgeons and I don’t think we should get quite so het up about it.   Without someone to build the cars, the brain surgeons and most of the rest of us wouldn’t be able to get to work.  Without teachers to teach our children, they wouldn’t be learning to be the best that they can be, whatever that may be, and most of us wouldn’t be going to work, or at least not until the kids are old enough to be trusted not to draw on the walls with your lipstick.  Worse still, without someone working in the underwear factory, barristers would be literally breezing into court.  What a terrifying prospect.  If our rubbish was not collected each and every week, in less than a month, we would all be swamped. A few weeks longer and there would be a significant public health problem.

By all means, do that degree in a subject that no one understands a word of, throw yourself off a cliff with nothing but glorified knicker elastic tied around your ankle if you must; if you’re not hurting anyone then do whatever it is you want to do – everyone should have that opportunity, regardless of their place in life.  And if the only thing stopping you from doing it is that you’re scared of failure, then you definitely should proceed without caution.  However, if you don’t, won’t or can’t because your gifts don’t lie in that particular direction, don’t sweat it.  Maybe your gift doesn’t fall within that narrow definition.  And maybe, just maybe, how we live rather than what we live is all that really matters in the end.




My continuing naivety was revealed to me this weekend with an enlightening conversation with my girlfriends.  It was announced (to great consternation amongst the group) that The Bush Is Back.  I admit that I have been wrestling with nappies and bottles for a good part of the last decade but I was hitherto unaware that The Bush Had Left and this was news to me.  Obviously I know that Brazilians have nothing to do with the country and that Hollywoods are not for the faint-hearted.  But an out of fashion bush?  Really?    I found it as bewildering as the notion that seemed to be doing the rounds a few years ago that breasts were not the thing to have.  Most heterosexual men that I know would beg to differ.  But apparently those of us above a B cup were persona non grata.  That had passed me by as well.

So according to my friend, it has been the same for The Bush.  A few years ago if anyone had known that you had not had all of your pubic hair removed, then you might have been asked to vacate the premises, or at least you would have heard people tutting behind your bush, I mean, your back.  However, no need to panic, you now can rest easy – if someone checks your lady parts at the door and finds you not to be fuzz free, you will be allowed into the building once more because you are back in fashion.  What a relief.

This prompted an entire discussion about body hair in general.  We are women of the world; intelligent and educated (the two not necessarily being one and the same).  And yet not one of us could not come up with a single decent reason as to why we remove body hair.  Not one.  The best explanation was that in Western culture, it is not really accepted for women to have body hair, particularly on their legs and under their arms, but we could not get to the why.  None of us could.  We agreed that if a woman wanted to wear a Summer dress with unshaven legs or leap into the local pool bikini line poking out, that she should be allowed to do so, and no one should raise an eyebrow about that, but simultaneously we all agreed that eyebrows would be raised, ours included.  Although we concurred that there were no circumstances in which we were prepared to go the whole Wildlife on One, we could not think of a single reason as to why not other than we didn’t like it.

This was a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, so I decided to question a professional.  I asked a beautician friend of mine.  She confirmed it to me.  Yes, pubes were previously very unfashionable and grooming of body hair is increasing. No, she couldn’t come up with a decent reason as to why either.  She said that a lot of clients do come and see her regularly for topiary, with the irony being that you do have to let your hair grow quite long in order for her to put her foot on your chest and rip it out by its roots.  She said that most of her clients have this procedure for themselves given that the area concerned does not tend to be for a wide audience, which makes sense.  However, she was not able to be more forthcoming as to why people consider it to be taking better care of themselves.

The other irony is that a lot of grown women are paying a lot of money to be made to look like pre-pubescent girls, when they are post-pubescent themselves.  Maybe it is because I am a mother of daughters, but that makes me feel uncomfortable.  Not that children are standing in beauty salons listening to the screams, which they would probably think was hilarious, but children pick things up.  I inadvertently taught my children two new swear words and a hand gesture when another car cut me up on the M40 the other week.  It is known that it’s all part of the joy of parenting to spend the entire time wishing you hadn’t done/said something because it is giving the wrong message.  I am not sure what message the body hair thing is giving to my children, but I know I’m not keen on it and yet I am fully aware that I am helping to perpetuate the myth.  And oh my goodness the internet.

As I had got her, I asked my beautician friend if men were doing the same.  A family member teaches teenagers and she has remarked in the past that boys are starting to be equally affected by concern about their physical appearance.  Another worrying trend for another piece at another time.  Apparently things are moving in that direction. Specifically a male client may wish to dye, wax and contour.  And when I say dye and contour, I am not referring to head hair or cheekbones.  I have spent much more time than I should have wondering how that works and not out of choice. And no, I don’t want to google it.  As it happens there has been no need; apparently each of these has a name, depending on the look that the client wishes to achieve.  One of these was The Elephant.  So if you’re curious, and you’re looking for a different sort of Christmas present for the man in your life, your search is now over.

You’re welcome.