Day 36 (22 April) When I was a lad.....
I’m a spare Dad. In the same way that your car has a spare tyre.
That is how I explained my rôle to ex-wife n° 2’s son when he was only seven. He is not seven any more which is a good thing as he is an airline captain. The bad thing is that flying passengers is not the most bankable business right now.
In order to put a turkey on the table this Christmas he might have to work somewhere extreme (we are talking south of Dover here) so he contacted me to look at the idea of home schooling for his children.
Note that I have not referred to his children as grandchildren. I do not wish you to loose your accurate picture of me as a strong, youthful, square jawed, athletic masculine ideal. Think Adonis not Methuselah.
Back to our sheep, as I never hear any French person say.
Having chosen to accept the mission, and narrowly escaping third degree burns from flaming tape, I ransacked the web from left to right and top to bottom ignoring only the naughty bits of which I hear there are many.
And I was impressed. To understand how impressed I was you have to remember that I am a refugee from the age of steam.
When I was a nipper there were still steam trains doing what only Thomas does now. We had one bakelite telephone in the hallway. A long distance call, probably only a few score miles away, was considered as rash as betting the family pig on red.
We had our first mobile death trap, a Ford Anglia, when I was seven. At around the same time we acquired a television set - tastefully designed with sliding wooden doors in front so that it could resemble a television set with sliding wooden doors in front.
It came with two black and white channels but there were no broadcasts in the mornings or after midnight. If you needed to learn anything for school beyond the purlieu of your dilapidated text books you looked in a newspaper or went to the local library. My Dad bought the Daily Express or the Daily Mail. Can you imagine trying to glean anything worthwhile from either? Think National Enquirer, Das Bild or Facebook.
And the library? You would trek there in the rain to discover they had two books covering your chosen subject and one of them would be out on loan. The other, written during the Crimean War and updated in 1946, would harp on about the discovery of penicillin and the hope it held out for us all.
During school there was always the possibility of corporal punishment. An example of which was the experience, not to be missed, of having a cross chalk-marked on your bottom and being hit with a gym slipper with a similar marking until the two lined up. There was also the setting of “lines” where one could spend mind numbing hours writing out:
"Unbridled loquacity vitiates academic effort and entails for the miscreant unnecessary calligraphy”. Two hundred times.
This combination of a straightjacketed top-down approach to learning combined with a dearth of data was not best suited to a broad world view. So the day you went to see the poor gym teacher who had been lumbered with 'careers advice' as a secondary responsibility it was a sobering experience. Apart from the local steel works and factories there was teaching, nursing, being a bank clerk, joining the army and ….teaching.
But there were compensations.
No there weren’t.
Between the last two sentences I tried and failed to think of ways in which things were better and specifically compensations for the world being such a black and white and narrow place.
Which is not to say that I do not smile when looking back. There are many good memories, but they are memories of, and appreciation for, the people I met and the friendships formed.
I have a particularly sticky memory of friend John heating his copper ashtray ( yes, ashtray!) in metalwork class. Heating it with a blow torch in his right hand until it glowed red and then picking it up with his naked left hand. An ambulance was called to take us to hospital we were laughing so much.
Perhaps it was the contrast with 'the old days' which made the stuff I found seem so wonderful.
Apart from dedicated multi-media online colleges, there is a plethora of free back-up sources such as the Khan Academy with courses at all levels in a whole range of subjects; there is my friend Duolingo teaching you to communicate with rhinos and penguins in the languages of your choice; there is BBC Teach which links in with the U.K. national curriculum; and there is a myriad of Moocs covering every subject you can or cannot think of.
We have grown used to criticising the internet as the font of fake news and extremism, conspiracy theories and blatant crap; It is. But it is also a thoroughly marvellous and massive window offering a panoramaic view of the world and showing us paths to an increasingly enlightened future.
A necessary condition for all positive change is access to information and knowledge.
It is the democratisation of knowledge which produces greater awareness which in turn can lead to greater compassion.
I expect you homework on my desk by lunchtime tomorrow at the latest.
Embrace yourself. And then embrace another.