Category: Parenting

Burning down the house

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2017)

220px-little_fires_everywhereWhen I first saw the cover of this book, it brought to mind the artwork for ‘Everything That Happens Will happen Today’ , an album by David Byrne and Brian Eno released in 2008. This association proved to be not so wide of the mark. David Byrne’s work with Talking Heads often cast a sardonic eye on suburban living. In ‘The Big Country’, for instance, he gazed down from an airplane at the neat houses and comfortable urban amenities below and concluded “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to”.

Celeste Ng is not quite so scathing in the way she presents Shaker Heights in Cleveland, Ohio but, equally, she is not blind to the faults of a community that smugly prides itself on having a plan for anything and doesn’t see race.

This is “a town built for cars and for people who had cars” and a place where “an un-mowed lawn would result in a polite but stern letter from the city”. Anything regarded as a flaw to the domestic perfection is regarded as a threat. Continue reading

LOCKE – Fuck Chicago

Screen shot 2019-11-04 at 22.15.46LOCKE directed by Steven Knight (UK, 2013)

Locke is Samuel Beckett in a BMW X5. From the creator of Peaky Blinders. A riveting one man show. Tom Hardy brilliant as Ivan Locke. A Welshman who works in construction. Concrete is his speciality. He’s good at his job. A fixer. He gets things done. He knows that details matter. A huge Chicago contract is worth millions. Everything depends on him. Everything must be in place. He knows one mistake can be catastrophic.Sooner or later cracks appear if anything goes wrong. Even the most stable structure will eventually fall.
Locke is driving from Birmingham to London. On the motorway he makes calls by speakerphone. To business associates. To his two sons. To his wife. To Bethan. Locke is the only face we see.
Ivan Locke’s life is built on firm foundations but is falling apart. His job and marriage are on the line. A one-night stand was all it took. An error of judgement. A moment of weakness. The woman is no oil painting. Not young either. Bethan.
She was lonely. He was too that night. He felt sorry for her. He still does. They drank wine. They had sex. One time only. Enough for her to get pregnant. She decided to keep the baby. It could be her last chance to be a mother.
Locke is a father already. His sons are home watching a big match. He is supposed to be there watching with them. But Bethan’s waters have broken. Two months early. He is the father. He feels responsible. He is not her partner. She is nothing to him. But he caused the situation. Now he needs to fix it. To make it right. He will be with her when she gives birth. His father abandoned him. He will not do the same. He imagines his father in the back seat of the car. Mocking his predicament.
Locke is not a bad man. He has everything to lose.
His son has taped the match. He says he they will watch pretending not to know the result. When he comes home. But life has no replay options. We live with the choices we make. What is done cannot be undone.
Owning up to the truth means confessing to infidelity. It means risking the Chicago contract. He could lie. He could say he’s sick. He does neither. Fuck deception. Fuck Chicago.

EDUCATED by Tara Westover (Random House, 2018)

What is education for?

This deceptively simple question is guaranteed to open a can of worms.

In Charles Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’, the severe school board superintendent Thomas Gradgrind expresses the view that “facts alone are wanted in life”. Schooling in Victorian times typically followed the view that young captives in the classroom were little more that vessels to be filled.

In our supposedly more enlightened age, decent-minded folk are scathing towards such blatant child abuse. The robotic process of memorizing and reproducing information is rightly dismissed in favor of an educational model that encourages students to, in the words of Noam Chomsky, “shape the questions worth pursuing”.

In a talk to teachers, James Baldwin followed the Chomskyan line when he said “The purpose of education is to create in a person the ability of to look at the world for himself”. But Baldwin was also aware of how problematic a well-informed, critical populace could be and added that “no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around”.

In ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover , the author implicitly asks readers to consider where instruction ends and indoctrination begins.

In a note to readers, she advises: “This is not a book about Mormonism. Neither is it a book about religious belief”. Yet the fundamentalist of her survivalist parents and their rigid application of principles prescribed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have a huge and primarily negative impact of her upbringing.

A weaker, less stubborn personality would have been broken and submitted to a conventional life mapped out for her. As it is, she not only survives to tell her remarkable tale but thrives against all odds to become an esteemed scholar and to exemplify the virtues of individual thought and creative enquiry. Continue reading

BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley (1931)

huxleyIn his foreword, Aldous Huxley wrote that “A book about the future can interest us only of its proficies look as though they might conceivably come true”. Unfortunately for us, his nightmarish visions are increasingly coming to seem all too accurate.

Almost half a century before the birth of the world’s first ‘test tube’ baby, Huxley imagined how “newly unbottled babes” might be used to “improve on nature” by replacing the need for parents and what he provocatively defined as the “appalling dangers of family life”. In the ‘new world’ human genes are manipulated to produce docile and efficient workers and consumers.

The promise of sexual freedom and the encouragement of promiscuity serves as a compensation for the absence of political or economic liberty. Dumb movies known as ‘feelies’ have an additional sedating function while a legal drug called ‘soma’ is taken to avert any lingering gloomy thoughts. Continue reading

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine (Faber & Faber, 2018)

vivThis is not a memoir about music but if you come to it as a fan of The Slits you will not be disappointed by the embodiment of the punk spirit that Viv Albertine represents.

In it, she describes herself as questioning, militant, aggressive, secretly shy, awkward, mistrustful and solitary. Continue reading

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