Growing Friends

As I taught…one worry niggled me throughout: would I have the same kind of relationship with my own two children?

I’ve enjoyed a teaching career which spanned more than twenty years and, for most of that time, I’ve taught older children rather than younger ones. I think I was a natural fit for the ‘high school’ age range being daft enough to be fun for the 11-year-olds while enjoying mature and intelligent conversations about the great imponderables of life with the teenagers (and, ok I’ll admit it, being daft with them too).

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I loved teaching teenagers because though, in some ways, still so very young and child-like, in others they were ‘fresh adults’ and as such you got to know who they really were. Whereas in the juniors teachers might be life-changing heroes in the lives of their young wards but the children are just some of many hundreds they will know in their teaching career, for high school teachers the 3-7 years you spent in loco parentis means that relationships are a two-way affair. My kids affected me just as much as I affected them.

Certainly, in my life, I’ve been proud to call hundreds of students ‘friends’ both while I taught them and for years – even decades – afterwards. When I stopped teaching in the UK back in 2008 I was stunned as ex-students in their hundreds flocked to friend me on Facebook; most of them are still there now. Back then the social website was still in its infancy and there weren’t the worries and hang-ups about teachers and students being friends on the site as there is now. Though I didn’t have students as friends back then I did accept ex-students – and still do. I’ve been proud to see them turn into young men and women, have careers, marry, have children of their own and know I was a part of making them who they were – sometimes in small ways, other times much more significantly. I wouldn’t have changed anything if I could do it all again.

As I taught during the early 2000s one worry niggled me throughout: would I have the same kind of relationship with my own two children?

From April 2009 - What a difference to now!

From April 2009 – What a difference to now!

I would have felt a terrible fraud if I’d had teenage kids of my own with whom I had a traditional ‘us-and-them’ parental relationship while working with kids the same age at school and enjoying more ‘equal’ relationships there.

At times with Thing I & II it was touch and go. The times as they grew up where I would scream at Thing I for not tidying her room when she promised me she would; or the fights Thing II and I had over almost anything as our similar characters (and ADHDness) clashed repeatedly.

Off to Blues Night - my how the Things have grown...

Off to Blues Night – my how the Things have grown…

I’ve sat down and forced them to play their scales, brush their teeth, learn their times tables and eat their vegetables. I’ve punished them for forgetting to hand their homework in at school or for telling us a lie. I’ve told either of them too many times to remember to ‘shut up and listen’ or sent them to their rooms until they’re ready to own up to who put permanent pen marks all over the table cloth. And while I’ve succeeded in teaching them to play several musical instruments, at times while I taught them I found myself thinking ‘if I had taught the kids in my professional life this way not only would I have lost my income from their parents but I would probably have been reported to the Education Authorities!‘ Somehow I never had the patience with my own darlings that I managed to muster with some of the irksome tykes I’ve taught in the past. Terrible memories of my father trying to teach me to drive came flooding back.

It’s a fine balance between being fully involved in your children’s lives (which I wholeheartedly believe in) and being a tyrannical parent (which I certainly don’t). On the whole, I thought I failed though not as badly as I feared I would.

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Now my daughter is a teenager and my son, this term, has entered the high school age. I never dreamed that by the time they were both old enough to end up having me as one of their teachers at school that I would have long since retired from teaching altogether and would now be a professional freelance writer instead. But there you go – life is full of surprises.

I’ve been graced with two kids who I love very much and who still seem to want me around and active in their lives and have forgiven me for the times I had to be ‘dad’.

The greater surprise, however, is that – against all odds – it would seem that Things I, II and I have made it into the kind of friendship I always hoped for. It’s early days – Thing II isn’t yet a teenager and anything could happen over the next 14 months or so before he becomes one. But we get on well (we still fight from time to time but never irredeemably) and enjoy being in each other’s company.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that none of their friends tell their parents anything and were all shocked that both Things talk to their mother and I quite openly. I say that with some trepidation knowing that all teenagers can, almost on a whim, suddenly decide to keep things secret. Nevertheless, somehow we’ve got something right and have a family which enjoy doing things together and telling each other about things we do apart. I don’t ever want my two kids feeling they can’t tell us the things which are really important to them inside. Now we’re (almost) past the ‘get-your-bedroom-tidy- NOW’ stage I think we’re safe.

Room for four on the bed...just

Room for four on the bed…just

Growing a friendship with these two has been very important to me and recently has helped me understand a little more about myself. I never really understood how it was that I tore myself away from the teaching world so easily. I miss my classroom and the thousands of students I’ve taught over the years but I have never felt like I was missing out on no longer being in the teaching profession. I think I know why now and the reason is this:

Teaching was my trial run for turning my children into my friends.

That’s not to belittle the importance of all those young souls I did my best to make school life at least tolerable and, at most, a wonderful experience. But like many teachers, I referred to them as ‘my kids’ and that parental calling (which was, for me, 100% vocation and 0% profession) was the real motive for being in the classroom. I cared very little for the academic results (though they’ve always been quantifiably good) and cared very much that kids came out of school good, caring adults who I would be proud of to know in so-called ‘real life’.

I won’t say I’ve achieved what I hoped for – I don’t think I achieved anything at all. I think despite my failings, I’ve been graced with two kids who I love very much and who still seem to want me around and active in their lives and have forgiven me for the times I had to be ‘dad’. I’m very aware that I only have Thing I for another four years before she’ll likely ‘fly the roost’ and Thing II won’t be far behind her and so every moment we have where they like being with their parents is precious to me. I want them around and I want them to want me around too.

2015 is almost certainly going to be the biggest test my family has ever gone through – much bigger than 2014 which was tough enough. I’m going to want my two young friends with me as much as I can because I honestly don’t know what the future holds but, from where I’m stand, it looks grim. This will be the real test of friendship. Whereas I’ve had ex-students as friends for many, many years and know the worth of our relationships because they’ve stayed with me all this time, for my own two Things the metal will be tested in very different ways. I’ll make no prediction about what the outcome will be; I just know I need them very much.

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Lost in another world

I don’t normally rave about TV programmes; in fact I rarely (if ever) watch any TV other than with my family and even then only very select programmes.

I try not to be judgemental about this. I have to remember that everyone is different and everyone’s lifestyle choices are their own. But I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to sit around watching TV! I simply don’t have the time and on the very, very few occasions I do decide to turn the telly on and see what’s on the box I am disappointed every single time! There’s never anything on worth watching!

I didn’t want to get TV at all when we returned to the country but Wifey insisted that we needed to have satellite TV for the kids if nothing else. Now, our kids don’t watch much TV either. They’ve grown up with it pretty much not being part of their lives. Between school ending late (5pm most days) and rigorous homework schedules and music practice I insist on and us eating together as a family for every meal bar weekday lunches when we’re all in different places – there really isn’t time for TV for Thing I & II either.

We got it nevertheless so we could access the Bangla and Hindi channels (my daughter loves bollywood and I try to keep up-to-date with latest events in Bangladesh) and so we could follow the occasional TV series we watch as a family together. We watch Downton Abbey and X-Factor (don’t judge me – I have teenage children and I do really get into the people they have on the show; I’m a people person, what can I say?) but precious little else.

However, when we first began to live in Bangladesh – back in 2008 – there was little hope of getting any TV at all but you can buy DVDs at outrageously cheap prices (largely because every single one is pirated – it’s impossible to buy original DVDs in the country). So we used to buy box-sets of DVDs to watch as a family. We did The Simpsons, of course, and were delighted to watch most of Dr Who too. We watched the movie greats – from Hitchcock to Kubrick to Spielberg’s best.

Some things though Wifey and I reserved for watching on the laptop in bed once the kids were asleep. We watched Lie to Me, Criminal Minds, Fringe and Supernatural, amongst others, pretty much right up to the present/their season finales. Trashy though some of these are/were they will always be special to me because of their link to Bangladesh in my mind.

But there was one TV series which we began in Bangladesh, watching the whole first season but had to give up part-way through season two because the copies were so bad that half the episodes barely played or wouldn’t play at all. The number of times we’ve watched a movie only to find the last five minutes is missing – but that’s what you get with pirated DVDs: Soooo annoying! So we gave up with this series until we returned to the UK. There, a very good friend of ours just happened to have the complete six season box set and lent it to us to begin again.

The series in question was Lost.

Yesterday, after six years of viewing and way behind almost everyone else in the entire world (who wants to watch Lost anyway) we finally watched the very last episode. In keeping with everyone we know who has seen it all the way through, I won’t reveal what happens but will say I understand why people debated endlessly whether or not they thought it was a good ending. There were certainly lots of things I felt weren’t answered (though the bonus material on the last disk had a clever little extra Lost-minis which wrapped a few things up!) but I have to say I was very pleased with the final season and how the writers kept me going right to the very end (even if I do feel it was all a bit rushed in that final episode).

But that’s not my reason for writing about Lost. My reason for writing is that the end of this series was like a sudden flashback (appropriate for Lost) to our life in Bangladesh when the four of us (or two of us) would cuddle up on the bed and watch something together. The stunning jungle scenery from the TV series also made me think of the lush greenery of Bangladesh’s sonar land – though the two settings are very different. Ultimately the message of the series was one of appreciating that the most important times in your life are spent with people who mattered to you and to whom you mattered too.

I miss the people who mattered to me in Bangladesh. I miss the children I taught, the people I worked with, the friends I hung out with and the folk who we were neighbours with. I miss the friends I made in Dhaka, in Sylhet, in Chittagong, in Rangamati and numerous other places. I miss LAMB which was its own little island on which my family were lost – joyfully and peacefully lost.

But I have my family here with me now, in England. I have the friends who are here who I missed terribly while living in Bangladesh. Moreover, I have access to the internet world which makes contact with all those who were, and are, important to us available every day. So this isn’t a post about how I wish I was back in Bangladesh (I do, you know that if you’re a regular reader. but that’s not the point); it is a post about how much people matter and a reflection on how I’m grateful that I have people in my life who share my journey, by my side or from the other side of the world, and remain important to me because they are there with me. In some cases, I’ve never even met these people in the physical world yet they are still precious and missed – such is the joy of the modern global village.

And whether I’m here in my ‘real world’ or there in Bangladesh on that ‘lost island’ I’m grateful to be reminded that I’m not alone, even when I feel, at times, that I am. I hope none of us are really.

I’m going to miss the friends I followed on Lost and I’m saddened there will be no new episodes, no new questions to be answered and, in answering, spawn new questions. While I can watch the episodes again (and indeed I might watch a few before having to return the box set to my good friend) I won’t experience them with ‘virgin eyes’ as it were. I’ll know what’s coming and (most of) what it all means. I’m going to miss watching the tale and thinking back to watching it in Bangladesh with the people who meant most to me and still mean the most to me now.

But there will be other ‘TV series’ to follow, to get lost in, to love and, ultimately, to miss when they finish and that’s as it should be. Even for this sentimental old fool who watches very little TV, it’s good to be reminded that the world is made up of very different characters and this is a good thing because that makes being lost all the more wonderful even when, sometimes, it’s not.

kids in the field

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A Year On

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It’s almost a year on from when I, Wifey, Thing I and Thing II left Bangladesh and returned to the land of our birth, England.

We knew it was going to be tough. Thing II could barely remember what it was like to live in the UK as we moved to Bangladesh when he was five. Thing I was older but she had adapted and evolved into Bangladeshi teen culture so much over the years that it was always going to be hard trying to figure out British teenage culture. For Wifey and I it was simply the pain of leaving a people we loved and a country we had very quickly come to think of as ‘home’.

A group shot.

A group shot.

Added to that, I had (and still have) a healthy paranoia of British state culture. I’ve long been a critic of the corruption inherent in a dominant Orwellian state – a corruption ‘hidden in plain sight’ in that the people have tacitly approved of the corruption written into our our rules and laws. These laws pretend to protect the innocent but are fatally flawed because they assume one thing which simply isn’t true: that bad guys won’t be bad if you make a law to stop them. By definition, bad people will do bad things regardless of laws and rules.

And so we see banks conning people out of money, politicians bending legislation to suit their goals, paedophiles working with children undetected for years and laws protecting those who would destroy the lives and reputations of others.

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I knew all this and thought I was prepared for it. None of us could have guessed that the second half of this year would be so awful for us all. It’s been special too (I have to see positives everywhere were I can) – we have a place of our own again which we can call ‘home’ and the children have settled into a wonderful school with supportive, caring staff. My life as a professional writer has blossomed too and, inshallah, will be increasingly profitable next year. Nevertheless, we’ve been shaken by just how cruel people can be and how uncaring society is to its own. We honestly don’t want to be here, I’m afraid.

Normally, around this time of year, I’m looking forward to the coming year – perhaps with fear and trepidation, admittedly, but looking forward nonetheless. This year, however, I don’t want to even consider 2015 as a possibility. I can’t stop it coming but I refuse to acknowledge its presence.

There be monsters in the sea.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo 2014 – The End

Finally, NaNoWriMo is over and I have 60,000 words of a first draft completed. Well done if you’ve read them all!

Of course, this doesn’t mean the book is also finished and I’m ready to publish. Oh no – there’s much to be done yet. Now the real hard work begins!

Firstly I need to go through all nineteen stories and edit, amend and proofread. In fact I’ll be inviting beta readers to do most of my proofreading because it’s always easier to spot spelling and grammar errors when you’re not the one who wrote it originally. If you turn out to be one of those I call on and accept the challenge then I will make sure you’re named in the acknowledgements and receive a free copy of the book.

Then I also need to keep writing the stories. My original plan to write one story per day went out of the window by the second week as several stories came to much more than the 2,000 words I tried to write each day. Rather than give you bits of story far from complete I ended up taking two to three days to publish several of my tales.

This means I still have at least a dozen stories planned for which still need to be written. Some will simply be used for publishing in other magazines around the world. A few, however, will make it into this collection.

As I edit and compile stories, so I will begin to remove them from the writeoutloud blog so if you’re intending to catch up you need to do so soon! Only the stories which don’t make it into the book will be left up. The rest will change – possibly dramatically – by the time they are published.

So if you don’t manage to catch up you can, at least, find the stories in the book – but you’ll have to buy it! If you did catch up then the book will still be worth reading because there’ll be at least five previously unpublished stories in the collection plus the stories will be in a proper order which will make sense of the whole narrative.

On to the stories themselves then. What did you miss this week? Here’s a summary:

Harvey is Dead was the last of my trilogy of stories featuring the boys, Harvey and Jimmy. This was a particularly hard story to write based, as it is, on similar things which happened in my own childhood. You’ll want to read the previous stories (The Bombing Raid and Into the Dark Woods) before reading this one to really get the tale.

Insignificant Woman No. 3 is the third of a series of five or six stories about women in my life who, in themselves, were very insignificant in that they achieved no greatness, held no great import to society yet were very important to me and were far from insignificant. These are fictional accounts of very real people – amalgamation in places, significant alterations in others – and are probably the stories which most blur the line between fact and fiction in this collection.

The Head is another teaching story (I will include at least one more in the published version) and combines several true events together. The inspiration for this – The ‘Amazonian’ who is the centrepiece of the tale – is based on a very real, equally as impressive and terrifying woman from the first school I worked in as a professional teacher.

The Pendulum was the story I wanted to write last because it was the one which inspired the idea for the whole book in the first place though I doubt you’ll be able to see why very easily. Inspired by both Franz Kafka and Edgar Allan Poe (fairly evidently from the title) this is, by far, the most allegorical and metaphysical of all my stories in the collection as it currently stands. It’s also the one most pertinent  to where I am right now and where I have been for a long time (though I  couldn’t say exactly how many days or nights ;) ). It’s moody, so be warned!

Thank you to everyone who joined me over at writeoutloud during November. The stats (which you can’t see) show that hundreds of you took the time to read the stories every day and I hope that the many hundreds who follow this blog and haven’t taken a look yet will go over and take a peek at a few before it’s too late. I’d still love to hear comments and crits (kind ones – no trolling!). That will help me improve the stories and decide which ones are good enough to stay in the collection and which ones need to find another home. So please – leave a few comments here and there. Thanks :)

Best wishes and may this month bring you many blessings whatever you religion or creed!

Ken

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NaNoWriMo – End of Week 3: The End in Sight!

This week I’ve written my longest and my shortest stories so far in this series. As always I’ve tried to mix and match my style hopefully making this stories significantly different to one another so it doesn’t feel like you’re reading the same thing rehashed over and over.

I’ve had to concede defeat over trying to produce one story per day. I’m so far behind with that plan that I have to cut my losses while I can. I’ve been so used to producing fiction which is between 1,000 – 2,000 words for publications that I assumed I would write quite naturally at this size. However, when editorial constraints are thrown off it seems I don’t have a natural word count! Hence one story is less than 1,000 words long and another is over 6,000!

In terms of book word count however, I’m well on target. As I write, my first draft has come to 43,000 words so far (well done if you’ve read every single one of them – I’m proud of you!) and the NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words will be reached very soon – perhaps even by the end of the weekend? I’m personal target is to write more than 60,000 words before November is over and this looks very likely indeed now.

As the third week ends I’m now setting my sights not just to complete the first draft but to start editing the first stories. So now is a good time to give me your thoughts – good or bad – about the stories. Even simply pointing out typos will help (posting these stories is such a rush that I’m sure I’ve made plenty of gaffs despite reading through, correcting and editing each story a couple of times before presenting it for reading publicly). So please do make some comments when you can.

I’ve received a lot of praise and encouragement privately from many of you and I thank you for that. It’s really interesting to see which stories resonate most with who. I think most of the stories I’ve written have been ‘the favourite’ to at least one person. Keep such comments coming – I haven’t decided what form the final book will take as yet so it is good to know which stories are liked the most. In all likelihood I will produce two or three versions of the final version for different purposes.

As I’m not going to manage 30 stories in November the final book will also contain stories I won’t have had time to publish so there’s an extra incentive to buy it when I produce it in December!

On to the stories this week then:

Daniel in the Den is my shortest story so far. I’ve tried to be a little clever with this story and, though it is certainly fiction, I can tell you it is a composite of very real events which happened in my life (though not necessarily to me directly) about sixteen years ago.

Insignificant Woman No. 2 is the second of my series of essay stories. Again, fiction, but also deeply personal and based on my own experiences as a teenager. I’ve not tried to excuse or sweeten up any of the characters here but be true to what it was like back then.

A Good Match is my longest story and one of the longest I’ve ever written! Like Babuthis is a re-imagining of a Rabindranath Tagore story mixed with my own reflections about life for most Bangladeshi women. It’s also borne out of my fascination for the supernatural myths which pervade Bengali culture.

Finally, published today, is The CircleI rarely get to mention in these posts that I am a keen amateur conjurer and have loved performing tricks and puzzles ever since I was a young boy. The idea of the magician has changed a lot since I was a kid. I wanted to be Paul Daniels – now often ridiculed by the general public but brilliant in his day – but nowadays kids think of David Blaine or Dynamo as what magic is all about. I wanted to lift the lid a little on what it is really like for those of us who adore this hobby and are in it for life – far from the gaze of the public.

I should point out that the club (or ‘circle’ if you like) I belong to now is hardly like the one I describe here! I’ve taken memories from clubs I knew as a kid (I was the Teenager described in this story) to create this fiction. The club I have been a member of for many years now meets in a hotel but I really did belong to one which met in a church hall as I describe. Oh and Benny Bilbo’s story really did happen!

That’s it for this week – I hope you enjoy the stories! Thanks for reading them and for your love and support.

Ken

 

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