The Incredible Journey

The grandchildren visited this week. They came down from Scotland for a weeks mini-break during the school’s half-term. Their visits are the high point of our social calendar and something to which we really look forward. One ‘side-effect’ from these visits is that they make me feel my age. If you want to feel old then spend four days with a 7 and 9 year old. Halfway through you will remember what it was like when you had kids of your own and shortly afterwards you will wonder how you ever managed. Looking after kids is a young person’s game.

There used to be a huge beech tree here.

Their visit coincided with the visit of Storm Ciara to Wales. We had days of gale force winds and torrential rain followed by the light relief of a day of snow when we built a snowman. This gave us the opportunity to go for walks to see the results of the power of the wind, to see the uprooted and torn trees and the destroyed outbuildings. When we were able to go outside we were able to occupy the children by getting them to help us re-roof the turkey house and repair the fences around the hen runs. They really enjoyed this as they got to use real tools like a hammer and a staple gun. This was a better way to entertain the children; free, educational, and useful providing them with skills for the future and without all the noise and cost of the activity parks and play centres we often used.

We were, for long periods, unable to go outside but, sticking with a theme, we kept our spirits up by teaching new skills. The kids are aware that in Taid’s house, ‘taid’ is Welsh for grandfather, the fire and cooker don’t come on by flicking a switch. Here you need to set a fire and light it and there are different approaches for the open fire and the Rayburn.The kids really enjoyed setting a fire; making tinder out of newspapers, collecting and arranging kindling, getting logs ready and finally striking a match to start it all off. I also hope that now they know the true meaning of the word ‘tinder’ and this might inoculate them against the future definitions from their smartphones. However, there was a feeling that their grandparents were not only ‘old’ but almost ‘historical’ like something you might see on a visit to a heritage centre!

In the evenings the education was much more two-way. They taught me games I still don’t fully understand, on the Nintendo Switch and with Pokemon cards, and for the first few nights they chose the films we would watch. Two of these were surprisingly enjoyable. “Early Man” and “Abominable” were good fun tales on the themes of friendship and loss and well worth watching. The less said about “Teen Titans Go”, “Steven Universe” or “The Thundermans” the better. However, it was when I chose a film that I felt extremely old and began to see some of the differences in the culture my grandchildren inhabit and mine.

Less tears than Old Yeller

I chose “The Incredible Journey” having recollections that I enjoyed this film when I was their age. As we started watching, for the first quarter of an hour, it was clear this this was not holding their attention. There were no effects, no action, and not even any talking animals and I noticed that the kids were giving as much time to the screens on their laps as to the television itself. They thought they were much wiser than I was at their age, they knew that the animals would not die “they never do in films”. I forbore from telling them the fate of Bambi’s mother or that of “Old Yeller” . As the film progressed they decided that it must be all CGI as animals “can’t act”. They refused to consider that they may be real animals handled by wranglers. I guess that the rabbit, that Luath chased, might have hoped that the kids were right and he had had a CGI stand-in stunt rabbit. However, once they started to believe that these were actual dogs and a cat they started to be more interested in their actions.It seems you have to think something is real before you will truly care for it.

By halfway through the kids had been captured by the story. Having seen the bird and rabbit eaten they now knew that sometimes animals don’t make it through. They had started to worry about the trio of animals fate, and they started to think perhaps they wouldn’t get home. By the end they were on tenterhooks and when the last of the trio, Bodger, came over the hill in the final scene there were gasps of relief and joy.

Chatting afterwards about the film it was clear that the themes of friendship, loyalty and perseverance had been taken on board. It was touch and go at the start and if I hadn’t insisted I don’t think they would have persevered with the film. A good story, wonderful photography and landscapes and good acting seem no longer enough for a film to succeed with an audience of children. Like our food, our books, our music and so much of our culture we now need high intensity, easily digestible pap. This does not bode well for our future.

Next time they arrive, and it is my turn to choose, it will be “Old Yeller” we will watch. The simple tale of the love of a boy and his dog will be perfect. I hope that I’ll be able to avoid crying at the end. I’ll be rather depressed, disappointed and worried if, however, the kids don’t cry.

Weather back to normal

The Love Songs of the Elderly.

The Love Songs of the Elderly.

As the relentless march of time carries me ever onwards towards my demise I find, perhaps as a useful reminder, that I spend increasing times at funerals. It seems that each month I am on a pew listening to the service, recalling the life of a friend or acquaintance. Each time I am aware at how increasingly close to my age they were when they passed. I listen to the services and to the stories of the lives of my friends and find it very comforting that everyone gathers together to remember the departed and to show respect for their life.

This respect is real. It doesn’t depend on the person having done anything spectacular or unusual it is simply respect for a life well lived : a parent to brought up children, a spouse who supported their partner, a neighbour who played a part in the community. It is respect earned by living a good, normal life. However, it is not shallow respect or deference, this is respect that was earnt as it came by the passing of time. It came by being a good person day in and day out for years. It follows from raising children to their maturity. It is respect when a spouse helps through the thin times as well as the good. It is respect that is often earned in those times at the end of our lives when illness and infirmity make our lives harder. A partner who sees beyond these elderly problems and gives support and love despite them certainly deserves anyone’s respect.

We often talk of love in our teenage and early adult years when we are setting out on the road of our lives. The songs we hear are about our love being as deep as the oceans or as wide as the mountains. We will face and conquer all for the person that has conquered our heart. But how little we know. In many developed countries the average length of a marriage, until separation or divorce, is a little over 10 years. The romantic songs of our youth often profess undying love but for many a decade is the length of eternity.

At these funerals I hear the tales of marriages which have lasted decades. Stories of couples who, split by death, lived longer together than they ever did apart. Stories of children bereft of parents who have always been part of their lives. It is clear when you listen to these tales of normal life that there were good times and dark times, but the latter were faced down and defeated. It is clear that, it is the sharing of these difficulties that is important in the person’s love, probably more so than the simple sharing of enjoyment. During these years families and couples grow into each other and grow deeper in love. Like watching a vine growing over the years round a tree, in time the vine supports the weak and broken branches; were the vine not there neither would be the tree. Pleasures are important, and obviously enjoyable, but it is the facing difficulties together that tempers love and makes it stronger. The more problems you solve together the deeper is your attachment and affection.

“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A love that cannot overcome difficulties is a weaker thing, these elderly couples demonstrate that their love was so strong that, ultimately, only death could break them apart and, even then, could not break their love. These eulogies of the bereft are the love songs of the elderly and they remind us that love can last for ever. They sing not of the possibilities of love but of the proof of enduring love over time. They also remind us that working to stay together can strengthen and deepen love. We should be wary of viewing love through the eyes of the young and foolish, looking only for pleasure and joy. No-one’s life can be unalloyed joy we will all need to face difficulties, dangers and disappointments. If we have a family these dangers will be multiplied (although so will the joys). Finding someone who cares about you enough to stand by you throughout is a remarkable feat and should demand that you are steadfast in return. If both of you can do this, you will have found something the young can only sing about.

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,

the last of life, for which the first was made.

 

Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half;

Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”


Robert Browning