Thirty-five years is a long time, a lifetime, donkey’s years, or a coon’s age. It’s also a blink of an eye, a jiffy, an instant, a mere moment. It sort of depends upon your yardstick really doesn’t it?
It’s the length of time that has passed since I met my partner in crime, my love, my soul-mate – actually, that and a little bit more in truth. We’re not celebrating an anniversary or anything, it’s just that for most of that time it has been us and our progeny against the world. I note, in passing, that our next anniversary will be our thirty-fifth. Of course, as soon as this thought entered my head, I found myself Googling ‘thirty-fifth wedding anniversary’ and discovered that the traditional gift for that occasion is coral – with ‘blood coral’ (found only near Italy) being the most precious – whilst the modern gift is jade and the precious stone is emerald. I can see a Chinese carved dragon of coral and jade, with glowing emerald eyes looming in my future, which seems to cover all the bases there!
For almost thirty-five years though we have not been alone. Our first child, a beautiful and much-loved daughter came along fairly quickly, followed by her cherished sibling just eighteen months later, so our early years together were as a complete family unit. As our girls grew and our horizons expanded, we ventured further afield and found ourselves in the Far East, Hong Kong before the handover. Our teenagers accepted the challenge of a third child arriving on the scene, doting on their little brother with obvious pride and joy. And then they left to pursue their own lives – which is exactly as life should be. The call of university in far-away England was always going to be strong and for several years, it was a really difficult time for us, as parents, with our girls so very far away. Pride in their achievements, both personally and academically lay hand-in-glove with the heartache of missing them so terribly much.
Our son became almost an only child; perhaps many perceived him as such if they didn’t know of our older children. He’s only seven years older than our eldest grand-child which seemed almost negligible when he was smaller. It’s been challenging at times to re-experience parenting from such a different perspective. I think, for my own mind at least, it may be easier to raise two children together than doing it with a singleton. Childhood is more fun when there’s a close sibling with which to share everything. An important element that featured in my own childhood, I think Toby has experienced more solitariness than I would have liked. On the other hand, of course, there’s the up-side – he is not afraid of ‘being alone’ and has a level of self-confidence that being an only child often brings. And on top of that, he has sisters, grown adults now of course, with whom he shares a different, more relaxed relationship; they are connected by a strong bond and are finding more to like about each other as each day passes. They look forward to being adult siblings, supporting each other through all that life throws at them.
But now he is ‘The Neanderthol’, a strapping almost-adult with magnificent strength and character, of whom we are very proud. His life lays before him as an open book, waiting to be written. He has ideas, some of them hugely entrancing, that will require a great deal of hard work and commitment to achieve, but I have little doubt that he will succeed. He’s that sort of chap. When he says to people that he wants to be a feature film director, their initial smirk of experience soon yields to a genuine smile of appreciation and often develops into the unmistakable glow of awe as they realise that this is not pie-in-the-sky for him, he just doesn’t yet know exactly how he will achieve this lofty desideratum.
So, we find ourselves this autumn, pondering the next step with him.
Options are multitudinous. The most obvious is university – we’ve travelled this road before, although it’s a little different today, with tuition fees, student loans and all the considerations of future employability weighing heavily in the mix. and so it is that we find ourselves travelling from circus to circus – sorry, that should say ‘Open day to open day’ – at the various institutions that offer courses in film-making, television or alternative media. Many of these are channelled through acting or performance-related options and the purpose of seeing a number of different facilities is to try to make sense of which is the most suitable option for him. It’s a minefield though!
At each event, we cruise through the corridors of power – although I am heartily sick of seeing endless corridors that lead to studios or black-box suites where our offspring COULD be learning how to fade-in camera 4, if only the rooms were unlocked for this inaptly monikered ‘Open Day’, which might be better called ‘Closed Day’ in many cases. The best experiences are those in which the tour-guide has an engaging and outgoing personality (which is what you might expect from ambassadors for a performance arts programme) coupled with an intimate and authoritative body of knowledge about the courses, the facilities and the general pros-and-cons of this establishment, which should persuade you to enrol immediately. So far, we’ve only really come across this in Salford.
Salford is, for those who don’t know the place, not a salubrious or particularly beautiful part of England. Even the people who live there, known in the Urban Dictionary as ‘Salfordians‘ would probably agree that whilst beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, one would not necessarily be beholding the town at the time. There is definitely a distinctive pride in the town of the significance of their heritage – the dark and gloomy Victorian mills were a mainstay of the growth of Empire, built on the backs of the workers who churned out goods to be shipped far afield, the manufacturing centre of the universe in the nineteenth century. These buildings’ purpose now long redundant, the area has faced the challenge of regeneration as effectively as the Time Lord, ‘Dr Who’, with the creation of the brand-spankingly new Media City at the core.
Gone are the slums, the filthy rows of mean terraced houses of my youth. L.S.Lowry would not recognise the place any more – many of his straightforward representations of the local landmarks look completely alien when compared with the modern landscape of the town. As a youngster, living in nearby Stockport, being a huge football fan I was occasionally treated to a visit to Old Trafford, the most hallowed ground conceivable in my mind at the time. I recall wending my way through row upon row of red-bricked houses, usually with gleaming white-painted, scrubbed-within-an-inch-of-their-lives stone doorsteps and hundreds of dodgily parked cars for what seemed like miles around the ground. None of this is there any more. I snapped a few photos of the new (to me at least) vista with Old Trafford across the river from Media City. It looks serene these days.
We visited a couple of weekends ago, with a degree of trepidation – Yorkshiremen and Mancunians have long held each other with suspicion, harking back to the Wars of the Roses I think, which raged during the fifteenth century. Five hundred years of rivalry, in business, on the sporting field and in pretty much every respect means that each is at least a tad wary when not on home ground. It’s taken me this long for my Yorkshire family to forgive me for being from ‘The Other Side’. It felt oddly comforting to cross the M62 into Lancashire after such a long absence. I’m not sure my FAB Hubby and the Neanderthol felt the same! The view over the ‘Clouded Hills’ (William Blake’s words from ‘Milton’, immortalised in the hymn ‘Jerusalem’) is definitely one to inspire though.
As Toby delved deeper into the increasingly attractive facilities that Salford University has to offer, I found myself looking at the surroundings with a photographer’s eye. (What? You’re surprised? Who knew?)
Media City is where television is made now in England, for the most part, the BBC and ITV moved many of their London-based operations to the new conurbation in the north a couple of years or so ago; it is pretty self-contained, but possess it’s own, modernistic beauty.
The buildings are functional, of course, but also less bleak than I’d imagined. There’s a real ‘buzz’ in the air. It *feels* creative. I can’t define that. I can’t put my finger on what makes it so.
Maybe some of these pictures can help define it for me?
The Blue Peter Garden, transferred from the roof of Broadcasting House in London, delights children of today so much more because of its accessibility to all in its new location at Media City.
The Lowry Museum intrigued from inside and out…
… whilst other structures, such as the cable stayed footbridge over the water, are all about the linear qualities.
Now… I wonder if you can recognise the original inspiration for these orbs?
All I can do is hope that, if this is the place where my neanderthol chooses to stride out on his own towards, it’s a place where he might do well. Find success.
Then we will truly have achieved what we wanted in life. And being alone, without the constant presence of at least one scion will seem less like a challenge and more like a new adventure. We’ll be waiting for that chapter to unfold.
Thanks for reading once again!