Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pondering on Philip Larkin ~ Did He Visit France?

The majority of French children I meet never fail to impress me. There is inevitably eye contact and a cheerful ‘bonjour’, ‘s’il vous plait’ and ‘merci. They mingle well in adult company, contribute to conversations and enjoy seeing adults behave like normal people, to whom they can relate and share some of the concerns of their generation.

I am always delighted to see how quickly Brit ex-pat children soon gain this confidence and invariably become rounded personalities very quickly. Maybe it is because the Brit families who move here come for a better quality, although often financially poorer, lifestyle for themselves and their children.

No doubt in large cities things are different, but it led me to wonder why there are so many differences in family values in France, when such a small stretch of water divides England and France.

In France it is common to see children, of all ages, included in restaurant meals, lunchtime and evenings. They enjoy the conversations and their opinions are considered in discussions. Whereas In the UK, child friendly restaurants include separate child play areas and other entertainments to keep the children amused whilst the grown ups can have some respite.

I know so many French families where the traditional Sunday lunch is eaten, over a period of many hours. It is a time for conversation and maybe not always welcome advice, from the elders. The extended family often lives locally, and if not, there are many get togethers for important celebrations.

Many UK families rely on takeaways or convenience meals and do not eat together. Busy lives and second jobs mean precious time is sacrificed to pay the ever increasing bills. It is no wonder so many Brits opt to move to another more relaxed, family friendly country.

Family really appears to have some meaning in France. All Saints Day, On 1st November, sees the French travel great distances, with their pots of Chrysanthemums to visit their family members in cemeteries. It is an amazing sight to see so many flowers, left by so many, to honour and remember their forebears.

Maybe we can learn from the French culture. Inclusion of children at a young age, with wine mixed with water and a respect for alcohol generally may help the current UK crisis with binge drinking amongst children and young adults. British children are not legally allowed to drink, even at home, until they achieve a certain age. Then they can drink, in theory, as much as they like; is it any wonder that so many then suddenly consume such vast amounts of booze, and behave in such an alarming fashion? Unfortunately they call this socialising.

Kids are great, enjoy them, listen to their idealism, we were like that too at the same age, but some of us were often scorned for our liberal thinking, told to be quiet and our opinions laughed at and ignored.

Of course I am not saying all UK families are potentially dysfunctional, I am aware that many families value and encourage the contributions of their children during social occasions, actively encouraging their participation as drink pourers or snack hander outers when people visit the house, thereby showing them the basics of socialising; they find time in their busy lives to include their children.

But too soon, they grow up and have their own lives. Give them freedom, but give them respect, it is a two way street, not a right to be expected by adults. Respect has to be earned by anyone of any age, in any relationship.

I have always told my children to be happy and to do whatever they want with their lives, as long as they do not emotionally or physically harm themselves or anyone else.

I have had the poem “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin (1922~1985) on my kitchen pinboard for about twenty years. This reminds me of my traditional and suppressed childhood, being seen and not heard. My children know it has always been on the wall, to warn them what may happen to them, if they don’t keep me under control!

Needless to say, healthy discussions, tantrums and crisis, have been frequent as we all express valid opinions on any topic any of us choose to raise. So, this do be the verse ..... by Philip Larkin.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra; just for you

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half, at one another’s throats

Man hands on misery to man,
It deepens like a coastal shelf,
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

By not fucking them up, we can hope they do chose to have children, so we can be doting grandparents.


Enid Wilson said...

I so agree about the behaviour of French children certainly gere in rural Lot-et-Garonne. They are expected to amuse themselves at social gatherings and do so without fuss or whining. Sunday shopping seems to have replaced Sunday lunch as a family activity in the UK - hope recent change to the law on Sunday opening in France isn't the thin edge of the edge here.

Love he Philip Larkin - my guide to having children is The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Ian said...

"This be the verse" is also posted on the house cork board - which happens to be in the loo.
The one that send shivers down my spine is "Aubade" - sorry it's long!

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Lesley Tither said...

As soon as I read this post, I too immediately thought of The Prophet. I was privileged to be asked to read it several times at family therapy sessions at the Fortune Centre of Riding Therapy, where I worked, and it is so wise, and so true, especially: "You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you."

Was also privileged to have a grandmother from Luxemburg, so used to the long family meals, watered down wine and even drops of cognac on sugar lumps.

Never had children myself but had I done so, would have had The Orphet engraved on my heart to remind me that having spent my life trying not to be like my parents (who were dysfunctional) it would be criminal to make my own children like me.