A brief history of my thoughts about history

Recently I saw a video about how they do education in Finland. It’s impressive. So much so that, at the time, I promised myself I’d read more about it (or watch more videos). To date I’ve failed to keep that promise, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Finns put a lot of emphasis on kids discovering: how to learn; what they want to learn; what makes them happy; what they might be good at. They still cover the full spectrum of arts and sciences (in fact, they seem to manage to cover subjects we’ve dropped from our own schools because there’s not enough time or it’s not deemed “relevant” enough). Anyhow, it made me think back to my own schooldays. (And, yes, this is where the history bit comes in, and not just because my schooldays are now quite a long way back in history…)

I was what would typically be called “academic” or “bright”. I did well in tests and exams. I worked hard. I handed my homework in on time. I got my O levels, my A levels and then a degree and later on another degree. And all that education opened doors of employment for me, as it’s supposed to do. I’m grateful for that. My employment, and my home life, have been “strong and stable”, to coin a current phrase.

But.

My schooldays were good but not your classic “happiest days of your life”.

I worked hard. Once I got to 14 or so I would get home from school and work till 9 p.m. most nights. I did the homework because that’s what needed to be done. I did have friends but, as I watched that Finland video, I began to wonder if I’d missed out on friendship or doing other activities because of the time I spent studying.

And two other things struck me as I looked back. First, I never had a clue what I liked or wanted to do. I knew I could understand maths and physics and was good at homework or passing exams – but that’s not what I’m talking about. Through several decades in work, I’ve never really been sure what I wanted to do.

Second, I asked myself what my gut reaction was to the question, “What subject did you most enjoy at school?”. Answer: History. (Told you we’d get to it.)

history-funI did history to O level. My teacher (Chris Rowe) was disappointed because I only scored a grade B, and I didn’t want to do it at A level. And yet it’s what came to mind 39 years later when I asked myself what I’d enjoyed most. Why? Well, words like “interesting” and “fascinating” spring to mind, but if I dig a little deeper, it has something to do with a concept of my connection to those historical events – “a sense of history”, if you will.

Our curriculum covered “modern” British and European history, starting with the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and ending with World War Two. (Nowadays, my schooldays period – the seventies – would have to be in that curriculum too!) I liked finding out what happened and why, and seeing how one thing led to another. I didn’t like writing essays about it – but I did it, naturally. Today I still like that finding out (or, more accurately, being told – normally by a presenter on a TV documentary). But I find it especially fascinating (there I go again) when I can make a link to my own history or my life today.

Take World War One, for instance. Although further in the past than WW2, I feel a stronger link to it because both my grandfather and my Great Uncle Ernest fought in it. Although Uncle Ernest was killed, my grandfather survived and went on to have my dad. (Of course, if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be reading this and we’d all end up in a space-time paradox.) That knowledge does something to me. And I still remember Chris Rowe teaching us how the Versailles Treaty at the end of WW1 sowed the seeds for WW2, a conflict that ended a mere 17 years before yours truly appeared on the scene.

Back to Finland, then. Does any of this mean I should have been a historian? I doubt it – but, then again, I’m approaching the time of life where I may have the chance to do different things, so who knows? I do know that I’m a habitual diary writer and like to look back, muse on what’s gone before in The Life Of Me, and even (sometimes) learn stuff from doing so. Chris Rowe started our 4th form history lessons by defining history as something like:

The art of looking at the past in the light of the present to learn lessons for the future.

So maybe I am a historian after all! I’m going to try to contact Chris Rowe to let him know.

 

The Dad Diaries Chapter 1: In which 2005 arrives and a card is not sent to the Emperor of Japan

Thursday, 23rd December, 2004

My diary helpfully tells me it’s the Emperor’s birthday in Japan. If I’d realised sooner I could have sent a card. The shops have been full of Christmas cards for weeks so I probably missed the Japanese Emperor birthday card section.

More importantly, it’s Christmas Eve-Eve! Jack came back from the market with four new Santa hats to replace our rag-tag, scruffy collection. He’s a thoughtful son. We will of course now have to wear them for the next week.

Wednesday, 29th December, 2004

Bought a new pair of trainers and the ABBA Gold CD. They are so underrated (ABBA, not the trainers). Can’t believe it’s 30 years since Waterloo. Can’t believe I’m old enough to say it’s 30 years since anything. Well, obviously, I’ve always been able to say that; it’s just that now I can say it for events for which I was present, well, not present (since I wasn’t actually at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest – although I could have been, it being held in Brighton and all) but, you know, alive at the time of the event which is now 30 (or whatever) years ago.

Friday, 31st December, 2004

Decided I will not wax philosophical about another year drawing to a close, where does the time go and all the rest. Instead, reminded Jack and Sarah that, once again, they’re in danger of failing to write their thank-you letters before the end of the year in which their Christmas gifts were received. Once again they argued that it doesn’t matter, that it’s not even a week since the said gift receiving and that if Christmas was in August it would be different. And besides (they continued), it’s holidays from writing and stuff (everything’s “and stuff” with them these days). I then reminded them that while they may not set great store by a £5 Boots gift voucher (which we will inevitably end up swapping for cash because they don’t want anything from Boots), Aunty Muriel and Uncle Norman were very kind to think of them at all and that ingratitude is just downright rude.

They adopted suitably penetant expressions and asked if they could do it after Friends.

Sunday, 2nd January, 2005

Played squash with F. but was rubbish.

Christmas wasn’t cancelled after all

Monday, 3rd January, 2005

Took the Christmas stuff down despite it being only ninth night. It now consists of six boxes and a bag. Reminds me of that episode of The Good Life where Margot declares Christmas as cancelled “because it couldn’t be delivered”. After all, we all know you don’t need tinsel and chocolate Santas hanging on an artificial tree to celebrate the birth of Christ. Although sherry and re-runs of Morecambe and Wise always help.

Wednesday, 5th January, 2005

Sarah and Jack finally wrote their thank-you letters. I suppose it’s because they’re back at school and are allowed to do “writing and stuff” once more.

The Dad Diaries are fictional. Probably.

W H Smith to the rescue in kitchen calendar drama

RANDOMNESS ALERT: This post is one of those random jottings / miscellaneous musings / domestic minutiae-type stories with no obvious economic / practical / scientific / spiritual value. But don’t let that put you off. It might just make your day. Or make you grateful that you have better things to do than those written about herein…

Back in December 2012 I waxed lyrical about the joy of a physical diary, sending letters through the physical mail and putting photos in a physical album, which activities I rather cleverly grouped under the banner of The Joy of the Physical. Fourteen months later, and I have to report not one but two deeply troubling issues in my world of physical, paper-based equipment. Both, happily, now resolved.

I still write a diary. On paper. With a pen. I had spates of doing this in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, but then the PC came along and it all migrated to the word processor (as we used to call it). In 2005 I felt the call of the old-fashioned way and requested a big diary for Christmas. And every year since there’s been one; some A4, some A5, some week-to-page and some day-to-page. In the closing days of 2012 I lamented the lack of writing space for the weekend days in my 2012 volume and announced with satisfaction that for 2013 it was back to a page for each day. Sadly, at the start of this year I chose my own diary and again bought a compact week-to-page (or, more accurately week-to-double-page-spread). It again offered tiny space for Saturday and even tinier for Sunday.

Are you feeling my pain yet?

After two months I decided enough was enough (or, rather, not enough was not enough). I wanted more space to write. Because, based on previous years’ volumes, I suspected that the more space I had the more I tended to write. And then I had A Revelation.

Why, I asked myself, did I have to write in a diary at all? After all, diaries are primarily about forward-planning (like calendars, of which more anon). My scribbles, by contrast, are about retrospectively recording what is past (with, admittedly, some thoughts on things to come, but not from the point of view of scheduling or organising). What I write is a journal. Why attempt to predefine the maximum space for a day? Why, in fact, not simply write said journal in a notebook? Oh. My. Word. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Oh, wait…

And so my first problem is solved. Hurray. But the tale, as they say, doesn’t end there. Because in December 2013 I was distraught to discover that W H Smith were out of stock of our usual style of calendar for the kitchen. Specifically: month-to-view with tear-off weeks so that as the month progresses you get to see the first half of the next month as well. Having used this style for many years I was loath to change but decided it really shouldn’t be that big a deal. It’s only a calendar, for goodness’ sake. Off to the market, then, and a 50p month-to-view calendar. “It’ll do,” thinks I. “Although the fact that it’s an inch longer than the usual style does mean it’ll have to be tucked behind the tea bag box. That’s fine. Fine. I don’t mind. It’ll do.”

So on the wall it goes. For those same two months, we made do. Didn’t like the fact that as January advanced we couldn’t see February. Didn’t like the fact that as January ran out, the calendar disappeared behind the tea bags. Didn’t like the repeat performance in February. Decided that, no, it won’t do. It really won’t. Back to W H Smith goes I, finds the correct style in stock at £1 off. That’ll do. This too is now in service and calendar-related well-being is restored.

What a relief.

Diaries, Drawers and the Joy of the Physical

Diary_2013

Before I begin I should explain a few things. First, I’m composing this by email because on the iPad I can’t use the Notes app as when I copy the text from the Note either straight into Posterous or even into an email subsequently sent to Posterous, the font and paragraph formatting is, well, just soooo wrong. I can log into the site and fix it all but, I mean, really, who wants to have to do that? And I can compose direct on the Posterous site on Safari on the iPad but – unlike working direct in the browser on a PC, I don’t get any option to save the post as a draft, meaning I have to write it all at once without any saving, and just hoping beyond hope the system doesn’t crash while so doing. (I could, it’s true, just publish a half-finished post and finish it later but then all my eager readers who await the auto-announcement of each new post would be, like, so disappointed and would lose faith in me and tell others never to read my posts and my blogging career would be utterly and irrevocably ruined before it’s even begun.) Writing in an email at least gives me the option of saving a draft to protect my pearls of wisdom while I pause to drink PG Tips or take out the recycling.

Pause for breath. And to drink PG Tips.

Secondly, I only got prompted to post today due to running out of space for Saturday. In my diary, that is. My traditional, paper-and-pen diary, that is. You know, where you write things by hand and they don’t instantly appear on all your favourite social media sites. And where you don’t have electronic search facilities. Or the option of hitting backspace to correct your mistakes. Or…well, you get the idea. At least, I’m assuming you do. Because in our connected, digital age I suspect there are those who don’t know what a pen is for. Or how to send a letter. Or, for that matter, why you’d bother to write something that couldn’t be easily “shared” with all one’s “friends”. But I digress from my explanation into the territory of Young Folk Nowadays. I was telling you about Saturday.

My current 2012 diary is nice and compact (A5 size for the stationery-minded among you), but at a page per week it only offers a stingy 1 inch or so for each of Saturday and Sunday. And today’s been so action-packed that I’d filled the space when I turned my hand to Clearing Out That Drawer. Having sorted out a random multitude of Jiffy bags, ribbons, old school photos, gift bags, bubble wrap, candleholders, copies of the Daily Express from 1989 (I kid you not) and unopened, long-forgotten packs of Christmas cards suitable for next year, I jettisoned the excess, reloaded the remaining contents and stood back with a look of smug satisfaction. “This,” I thought, “shall be logged in my diary.” How wrong I was. For space there was none. What to do? “Aha!” I thought. “On the blog shall this fascinating glimpse into my life go!” And so it has proved. Not that I expect anyone to really care or be amused, challenged or otherwise aroused to any kind of emotional response. But I couldn’t let this moment pass into obscurity without being somewhere recorded – and, I agree, on this occasion, shared electronically via all my favourite social media sites.

Cool, huh?

Oh, and one more happy consequence of the clear-out: I am finally going to rescue all those old school and graduation photos and give them a home in an album. A real photo album.  A physical one where you turn physical pages. One where the contents are not easily accessible by distant friends and family. One, indeed, which is a tag-free zone. Oh, yes – the joy of the physical.

You’ll be delighted to learn that my 2013 diary, while once again being A5 size, is of the page-per-day type – except at weekends, where it becomes a weekend-per-page type. Nevertheless, this is a significant increase in the writing space available. And thus this may be both the first and last post describing the minutae and trivia which may be diary-worthy but, in reality, hardly blog-worthy. If, however, by some slim chance or great miracle I am mistaken, and your greatest wish for the new year is to read more incoherent domestic ramblings from the mind of a supposedly intelligent 50-something, do let me know.

Happy New Year. Enjoy your diary, enjoy a good clear-out and don’t, please, forget to enjoy the physical.