Friday, March 31, 2006

Hurrah for Goths

According to an article in The Guardian last week, teenagers who are Goths tend to be well-educated, intelligent and likely to get on well in their future careers.

Of course we think that's true in our house, because here is our Emily, above (though that doesn't necessarily mean I want you to become a bank manager, Emily). I think it's because although Goths may appear to have lots of things in common - most obviously piercings and lots and lots of black - in fact you're likely to be something of an original thinker if you become a Goth.

You need to be prepared to ignore the abuse that's hurled at you by some people in the street just because of the way you look. Even the Guardian describes one's child becoming a Goth as "every parent's nightmare".

Not so! Or not necessarily so, anyway. Teenagers who do lots of drugs, lots of casual sex, binge drinking - those are things that could be described as "every parent's nightmare". But simply choosing the way you want to look - what's wrong with that?

And thanks to John Coombes who took the photograph.

The Twelve Apostles

If you cross the M6 just past Kirkby Lonsdale and drive west along the A590 for longer than you would have believed possible, you come to Barrow-in-Furness, isolated industrial town to the south of Cumbria. And nearby is the old village of Rampside.

In the seventeenth century, the story goes, a fairly rich and very aspirational gentleman of Rampside wanted to find an even wealthier wife. Around Rampside there was none suitable, and because in those days Rampside must have been even further beyond the back of beyond than it is now, he needed to find the means to lure any potential wife back from the soft South to the remote and undiscovered North.

He hit on a strategy, and began some building work.

“Celia,” he said, some months later in London, “marry me and move North to glorious South Lakeland.”

(She may not have been called Celia. But she probably was. He probably didn’t call it South Lakeland, for that is an invention of the Tourist Board, but that was what he meant.)

“But, William,” she replied (probably not his name, see above) “what kind of dwelling would I find in the remote and undiscovered North? Surely a mean hovel is the most I can expect?”

“Oh no, my dear,” said William with confidence, “there are many fine houses in Rampside. Why, I have just had a new mansion built, Rampside Hall, and it has twelve chimneys.”

“Twelve chimneys? It must surely be a house of tremendous size and status.”

“Well, I don’t mean to boast, but - - will you marry me, my darling?”


And here is a photograph of Rampside Hall. The chimneys are known locally as the Twelve Apostles and for many years it was customary to have them all smoking on Christmas Day.

Celia did marry William and move to Rampside Hall. Her remarks when first she saw it are unrecorded.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Slavery Unabolished
Emily came home from school early today. Why?
"There was only me left in my English class." Why?
"A few of them had the vomiting bug and the rest had been sold as slaves."

Sure enough, it turned out that most of Year 12 had been sold as slaves for the day for charity, to the little ones in Year 7. Emily had avoided this by the usual method of not putting her name down.

"What do the year sevens get their slaves to do?"

"Oh, menial tasks, carry their bag, that sort of thing. Apart from the one who bought Claudia* last year."

"Why, what did he get her to do?"
"Have sex with him, obviously."

* She probably isn't called Claudia. And of course this story is definitely not true.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

So here, at last, is the story of the hedge.

It was 1968, year of flower power and student unrest. Not in Yorkshire though, for we were good girls, and we were only twelve.

The school was built in the 1930s, all red brick and parquet flooring and carved ceremonial chairs made by the North Yorkshire mouse man, each with a little mouse climbing up its leg. Outside the school were remnants of a slightly grander past: huge lawns, slightly past-their-best tennis courts and the old House Gardens – all now rather overgrown - where in former years each House in the school would compete to grow the best flowers.

All along the drive that swept up to the front of the school was a huge, magnificent beech hedge, in full bright leaf that summer morning, made from a long row of beech trees planted closely together.

And by the school gates, screened from the teachers’ view, some men with an electric saw were cutting it down. As Sarah and I pounded through the school gates, late as usual, two or three of the trees were already on the ground.

We knew it was going to be a disaster as soon as we saw it. So, because we were good girls, and only twelve, we did the right thing and rushed to tell a grown-up. Because it was so important, we went bravely in through the forbidden front entrance and banged rather loudly on the Headmistress’s door.

“Miss Lee! Miss Lee!”

She opened the door with her usual air of regal grandeur and rebuked us for our hastiness and noisiness and lateness and unladylikeness.

“But they’re cutting down the hedge!”

“What on earth do you mean, girls? Cutting down what hedge?”

“The beech hedge! The men are cutting it down. With a saw!”

She gave one of those short, bright, knowing laughs.

“Hah! Nonsense, girls. They’re not cutting it down. They’re just pruning it because it’s untidy.”

“But, Miss, they ARE cutting it down. We saw some of the trees on the ground. They are, really, Miss.”

“No, I’ve told you, it’s only the branches, I spoke to the council yesterday. Now, hurry along to your formroom, you’ll be late for assembly.”

“But, Miss Lee, if you would come and look-“

“I’ve had enough of this, girls. I’m sure you mean well but you’re talking nonsense. Off to assembly at once, now!”

By lunchtime, when one of the teachers finally noticed, every one of the hundred or so trees was lying horizontally on the ground.

Next morning, in assembly, Miss Lee told the whole school of the terrible misunderstanding which had led to all the trees being cut down, when the men were only supposed to be pruning them: and how, unfortunately, nobody had noticed until every single tree was gone and it was too late to do anything about it.

I stayed at that school for a further five years and Miss Lee never looked me in the eye once during that whole time.

I haven’t forgiven her, either.