We chose to live on the edge; wrestling with physical adversity seems to be something we need to do. It makes us pivotal in our own existence. We built our home here and there is little that needs to be done that we haven’t learned to do ourselves; we cut down trees that threaten our electricity wires, we mend our bridge and tend the well, we poke sticks through the crust on our cesspit and nod our heads wisely. Our barn and woodsheds are full and we have enough lamp oil to last a whole winter without power.
I get perverse pleasure from asserting myself over an animal that weighs more than I do but doesn’t understand the need for immunisation. We can gather and marshal our herd with ease now, albeit more with cunning than physical fitness — still very satisfying.
It’s only when our grown-up children arrive, bringing their own worlds with them that we start to feel marginalised on our edge. It’s not that they sit in silence texting, they don’t anymore, or have a hybrid stealth car (we used to enjoy bump-starting their old wrecks) or that they don’t want the benefit from our experience about routes home — it’s okay we’ll probably just follow the sat-nav.
They bring their films and music, grab the remote and find channels on our TV that we didn’t even know existed, channels which have their own familiars, strange creatures that leer from the box making jokes that aren’t funny (to us) but they laugh; their cultural allusions are lost on us and ours on them.
Thanks to Laura Mountford for the Flickr.com photograph of Noel Fielding (CC BY-ND 2.o) Laura Mountford
They ask for mysterious bathroom products that are not soap or toothpaste, they want to know if the cheese is pasteurised. They are outraged that the baked beans went out of date in 2006 and the cloves in 1994 and fill the fridge with essential dietary items that are unknown to us. They ask their father not to smoke in the kitchen and are shocked by the lack of a toaster and hair conditioner and the suggestion to use washing-up liquid when they finish every drop of shampoo in the house. They definitely look slightly put-out when one of us absent-mindedly breaks wind.
They can’t understand a plumbing system that refuses to act as a garbage disposal unit and which exercises its own water-rationing. They put all the lights on all the time and use unbelievable amounts of toilet tissue. They download all sorts of strange programs onto our computer, change the browser (so we don’t know where we are) and complain about the broadband speed and the poor wi-fi signal. They put everything in a different place and worry about our poor memory and declining powers when we run round in circles looking for things.
They go for a 10k run or climb one of our little mountains, we provide back-up or bring up the rear, panting, feeling our age, feeling bad because we’ve held everyone up, made everything more complicated; we are no longer central to the exercise.
Then something occurs that bridges the gap, that slots us all back into a familiar place: they produce another generation.
Suddenly we’re all on familiar ground, all singing from the same song-sheet — the Oxford Nursery Songbook to be precise. We ‘re all saying the same daft things that we did 30 years ago — blowing raspberries, funny voices — Tweetie-Pie is going south for the winter again.
Now generation Y is learning why. Another little girl is learning to be gentle with the pussycat, not to pull the doggies tail. Another boy is learning not to put the fish-hook through his finger
This Christmas there was someone new to show to the sheep and to introduce to the joy of muddy puddles and carried away by it all the Mummies and Daddies were soon entering into the spirit with a planned Boxing Day dip in the pond — it’s not chlorinated you know!