Sexuality sorted, now for religion

Dot writes: Frank listens carefully in his religious studies lessons at school. Here’s a snippet from today’s serious car conversation.

Frank: Jesus was white wasn’t he?
Me or Ken, can’t remember: He came from the Middle East, so he was probably a lot darker than us. But probably not black like Tunde [the very nice Nigerian boy who babysat them yesterday and was a big hit].
Frank: He was white because he never made any mistakes.
Us: Um…
Frank: And he died on the cross for our sins. The cross in the road. He was in the road and a car came along and squished him.
Us: Ummmmm…

I think Frank is confusing cross and crossroad. But, anyway, we hardly knew where to start with all this, and I was busy having shameful silent giggles as well. We might need to turn this particular conversation over to Granddad.

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Hugh and Frank sort out their sexuality

Dot writes: it’s well known that many of life’s most important conversations happen in the car. It’s because you’re together but can’t really look at each other’s faces, so there’s a kind of privacy about it. Or maybe it’s just because nobody is on Facebook or playing Minecraft. (Then again, with mobile data maybe they are.) Anyway, I was in the car with the two boys the other day and they decided to sort out some stuff about adult life.

Hugh: Mum, did you know that boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls?
Me, deciding not to start talking about next year’s referendum: Yes.
Frank: Why didn’t you marry a girl?
Me: Some girls fall in love with other girls but I fall in love with boys. So I fell in love with your Daddy and married him.
Hugh: I fall in love with girls.
Frank: I fall in love with girls too.

So that’s dealt with. Now they are busy deciding which girls to marry. In Hugh’s case this involves being a bit tragic because his latest flame, Charlotte, has another boyfriend whom she prefers to him (he says); in Frank’s it involves cheerfully listing three or four different girls and changing his mind daily about which of them is to be the lucky lady. At what point does this amazing directness stop and they go all hot and embarrassed about it?

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Biblical epic with midgets

Dot writes: midgets is a bit unkind perhaps – to midgets, that is. Last night I attended Hugh and Frank’s school plays. Plays because they were in different productions. Their school in previous years hasn’t had a Christmas production, but they’ve added a couple of new classes at the junior end and now there are too many children to fit into the church for the carol service; so the littlies (junior and senior infants plus first class) have nativity plays instead. Cast of thousands. Frank was one of seven donkeys in his play – presumably this Mary was a first-century Imelda Marcos, bringing the whole of a vast wardrobe with her to Bethelehem…

In the distant days of my youth nativity plays were painfully scripted by the teachers, but these days you can seemingly get wacky nativity play kits, including pre-recorded songs that the children sing along to. Frank’s play was called Wriggly Nativity. It was fairly straightforward. All the characters had their little turn in the spotlight, or rather their turn to squeeze their way to the middle of the very crowded stage. The donkeys had one verse to dance to in a song of assorted animals; touchingly, Frank spotted me on one side of the audience and angled himself to deliver his dance to me alone. The scene was rather stolen by another boy in his class as an exceptionally vigorous disco-dancing cow.

A large number of the girls were dressed as stars, each one with a home-made costume of ambitious and impractical size. One of the mums was worried that her husband had got carried away making their daughter’s star costume and mentioned this to the teacher. “That is not a large star costume”, said the teacher. “THAT is a large star costume” – showing her a girl whose shiny cardboard star was as tall as her whole body. One of the stars was officially the “Giant Star”, but it wasn’t in fact the largest. (I am not competitive about this stuff myself. I bought Frank’s donkey costume from a shop.)

Hugh’s play was second. My bottom was getting a bit sore from sitting on a wooden bench by this point, so I enjoyed Hugh’s play rather less than Frank’s, but Hugh had a more responsible part. He was one of the narrators. He had his lines on a piece of paper because he was too nervous to deliver them from memory (“I might faint”), but he read them very seriously and carefully into the microphone and afterwards expressed his relief by doing all the gestures in the songs rather vigorously. This play arranged the story of the birth of Christ around a camel called Humph, played by a cheerful, popular boy called Harry. His only, frequently repeated, line was “humph” but he got a big laugh every time.

I am very proud of my boys, you know. And they were very keen to be praised, and to know that my favourite part of each play was the part they were in. But I find it a little hard to maintain the proper attitude throughout…though I did enjoy the disco cow…


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Dot writes: this blog continues to be a rather quiet place. However, I have in fact been doing quite a lot of blogging, of a sort, in the last couple of weeks – just not for Ken and Dot’s Allsorts. The words in these posts aren’t all mine, and neither is all the effort behind them, but I proposed the project and was then responsible for editing and arranging the materials and for writing the summarising/linking passages:

The Lucky Country EP collective review part 1
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 2
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 3
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 4
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 5


In case you can’t face reading all of these, they constitute a track-by-track review of the recent EP by The Basics, based on discussion on Facebook plus a complete review and another set of comments sent in via email. (But you should read them. They’re more entertaining than what I’m about to put you through here…)

A little context: I seem to have become part of an online Gotye/Basics fan community. This is startling in some ways – I was never a band-posters-on-the-wall sort of girl, save briefly when I first went to university and was trying out a new personality for a bit. However, it is a very enjoyable opportunity to discuss music in detail, which is something I like to do (especially when it comes to Gotye), as well as to have a bit of a gossip. And I have encountered some extremely nice and interesting people this way, including one I would now count as a close friend, even though I haven’t actually met her.

This post is an outlet for a few thoughts about the process of producing the collective review, because it taught me a number of things about how online communities can work. Also, while I enjoyed doing the review hugely (especially when I got to have a couple of great live chats as part of two of the Facebook threads) it was at the same time a little frustrating.

So, the main discussion behind the blog posts took place in a closed chat group on Facebook (closed in that you have to apply to join it and the posts go only to members – they don’t filter the membership especially, but it does mean that one’s lengthy thoughts about a rock’n’roll band don’t then turn up in the newsfeed of all one’s professional acquaintances, something I’m rather grateful for). Before it happened there was a certain amount of planning that went on between me and the two admins, with some input from another member. Should we have separate threads for each track? How often should they be posted? How soon after the release of the EP could we expect people to be ready to talk about it? In the end it was done slightly by feel: five separate threads, one per song, starting on the day of release as in fact the whole thing had been previewed on the Rolling Stone website earlier in the week, but then beginning new threads when the previous one seemed to have died away, which worked out at roughly a new thread every two days. I wrote up the posts as we went and they were published a couple of days after each discussion. The threads were posted by one of the admins, not by me: I’m a very recent addition to this group and felt it would be a bit pushy and bumptious of me to be trying to marshal people into activity. I got more confident in this respect as the process went on.

The admins worked very hard at getting people involved. They tweeted about the review from both the Gotyettes and Basicettes Twitter accounts, and also advertised on the corresponding Facebook accounts. One admin sent personal emails to some fans she thought would want to be involved, but who were strangely quiet in the early threads (it turned out quite a lot of them were having a get-together in New Orleans, meaning that, ironically, they hadn’t listened to the EP yet or didn’t yet have time to discuss it). She also posted carefully-judged questions and comments designed to get discussion going. But, although we got excellent comments and I did have plenty of material for the posts, one thing that surprised me was how little most people were contented to say and how many didn’t join in at all. For me, talking and thinking about the music is an important part of my pleasure in it, and it was wanting to find people with whom to do that that led me into the chat group to start with. If a higher proportion of the group had contributed it would have been much more difficult for me to weave everything together, so I’m certainly not complaining; but it was a reminder that not everyone enjoys things in quite the analytical way I like to – or, even if they do, they don’t share my overwhelming urge to have my say about it. (There’s also the fact that not everyone who likes Gotye also likes his other band. They’re pretty different projects.)

I was slightly unsure of my own role and the extent to which these were ‘my’ posts. On the one hand, the collective review was my idea; on the other, it was a group activity being run by the Gotyettes. In the comments, I started by posting things I hoped would prompt others to respond, but I also had views of my own to share. I always had one eye on what the finished product would be like, and for that I had a couple of aims to keep in balance: on the one hand, I wanted it truly be a group review, representing as many people as possible, but on the other I wanted to make sure each post had something of substance to say, and in most cases there were specific points I thought should be made. As a result, I veered between holding back in the threads, not wanting to drown other people out or put them off (I wrote a couple of comments that did start to sound a bit academic, and I went back and edited them into a less formal register), and, conversely, eagerly sharing my own responses. I felt the editorial voice in the posts had to restrict itself to summarising or commenting on the discussion plus offering some general information about the tracks; I couldn’t use it as a vehicle to air my personal opinions. This prompted me, on one occasion, to post a comment largely because I very much wanted to put some of its contents in the review, rather than because it actually contributed to a conversation. (And then I went back and pruned it heavily. It was one of the academic ones and I had got rather carried away.)

I was reminded somewhat of teaching a seminar – trying to strike the balance between ‘delivering content’ and generating engagement – only I wasn’t quite sure who was in the group, or what they would respond to, or whether they even wanted to be there, and of course I wasn’t actually the teacher. The world of online interaction I’m moving into through fan activity is much more international and much more socially and occupationally various than the one I normally move in. In fact there are people in the chat group with whom I do feel I can be very much myself, and with whom I clearly have lots in common; but there are others for whom I worry I might seem pretentious, or too dominant. If only they knew how shy I can be at a party…

In the end, I was pleased with the series of posts and proud of the work I’d done for them, as well as grateful for and somewhat awed by the effort the admins had put in organising everything. I do feel a certain yearning for something more deeply analytical, something more acutely observant and detailed, especially with respect to the musical textures and structures of the material; but insofar as I might be able to provide any of that myself, it would be as a result of the period of thinking and listening that the collective review enabled, and a result of responding to other people’s observations. I feel the process has in itself taught me something – about how hard it can be to judge the impact of one’s own words and actions in the virtual world, but also about how richly satisfying it can be to interact with people you don’t know but who share your interests.


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Coffee snobs

Ken writes:

People often scoff when they learn I drink only decaffeinated instant coffee.

‘Why bother?’

The funny thing about this attitude is that it does no justice to their own appreciation for coffee. It implicitly claims there is nothing of value in the experience besides the caffeine. But who would want to replace drinking coffee with taking a caffeine pill?

They are mildly physically dependent on coffee, but I am not. They do need the caffeine stimulation, but I do not. I get as much from a cuppa as they do because I’m not missing what is missing from decaff.

But can they scoff because I drink instant decaf coffee?

I would concede that instant coffee has less flavour than the proper kind. It's bound to because it is processed and exposed to oxygen. Even after just a couple of weeks, the flavour of a jar of instant coffee has dropped away noticeably. But at the end of the day, it's only a cup of coffee. It's not something that really matters.

The pleasure of a well made cup of coffee just doesn't count for much. Even if on a relative scale proper coffee wipes the floor with instant, the two pleasures are so far from what really counts in life as to be indistinguishable.

I used to be a bit of a snob about coffee. Now I think it's just a young man's thing. One adopts these positions as part of carving out an identity. It felt good to feel superior to other people and to think that my palate was capable of affording me higher and more noble pleasures than others were capable of. I think I recognise now that it was not that other people couldn't tell the difference, it's just that they had the sense not to waste time bothering about it.


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Hugh is seven!

Dot writes:
On Saturday our elder boy turned seven.

He had five friends round for a party, which I considered our most successful children’s party so far in that not only did the children apparently enjoy themselves, getting vigorously stuck in to all the games we organised – I was heartened by the enthusiasm with which a bunch of six- and seven-year-old boys participated in a dancing competition – but also Ken and I remembered to do things that sensible parents do, such as have a bag by the door for the presents so they didn’t all get opened and strewn around during the party. The cake was bought (bad mummy, not that Hugh minded), but the party bags were not crammed with sweets (good mummy): instead, there were inexpensive prizes for all the games and the kids got to take those home. The giant pencils seemed to be the most desirable items. Hugh ended up not winning any of the prizes at his own party, but he didn’t whinge a bit. And that above anything illustrates what a big boy he has become.

We are very proud of him.


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Dot writes: recently Hugh found romance with a girl in his class. We heard from her parents that Ella was drawing love-hearts with ‘Hugh’ written in them in her books and proposed to marry him next week. He told me that the people he loved most in the world were me, Ken, Ella and Storm (Storm is a Senior Infant who is, says Hugh, ‘very cute’. We notice that Frank didn’t make the list).

But then it was all off. Whether Storm had something to do with this, we didn’t know, but apparently it was over. This evening, driving to Boys’ Brigade, Hugh decided to tell me and Frank about it.

Hugh, mournfully: I’ve lost my love. Ella has quitted marrying me.

Me: Why is that?

Hugh: I don’t know, she just quitted marrying me. She won’t give her permission and you need both people’s permission to get married. Now I can’t play chase the girls anymore. I will have to play a different game. [????]

Frank: In the Spiderman programme that girl says they aren’t ready.

Hugh: Yes, maybe we’re just not ready.

I texted Ella’s mum who said that perhaps they would feel ready when they had both turned seven.

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