Aren’t all families modern? Are some old-fashioned? What defines a modern family? It could be both parents working and making full use of modern technology. They may make momentous decisions about when their eldest should get their first phone.
From 1980, that’s thirty seven years ago, I started to visit houses as a piano tutor. I stopped just before I retired so I’ve seen a fair few families and their households. I mean, I’ve seen families that have their children busy for every second of their young lives. I’ve seen families where the children live completely separate lives from each other. I’ve seen immaculate houses, scruffy houses, struggling houses etc. I’ve been welcomed with open arms, treated as a friend or treated like a tradesman; he must be paid. I took this all at face value. I was never there to judge but I did marvel at the lives people were leading. I still see it around me today.
Perhaps from my more isolated stance I can judge. But wouldn’t that put me on a par with the narrow minded short sighted bigots who slavishly follow the editorials and opinion columns of certain newspapers? Well I’m not even going to start judging people by their choice of newspaper because I know folk with polarised views who glue themselves to the same publication. If I buy a paper it will be the Times. I don’t always agree with what they print but I do like the crossword.
Somewhere close to me is a family within earshot. The mother shouts a lot. In particular she shouts at her children. I’ve never seen them on the pavement. I’ve never seen them walking their two dogs. Their cars may be constantly in and out of their block-paved driveway but there are never more than two people in them at any one time, except for the school run. So they never go out as a family. (It’s a family of four.) Oh I can just see the abundance of screens and devices. I can see the massive television and the tops of their heads as they trawl their phones and tablets. I can even see the ready meals lined up in the freezer. But the fact is, I can’t actually see them so I shouldn’t make assumptions.
Having seen inside so many houses however, I can pick up the signs. Once I lived next door to a family with five children. During the long days of the summer holidays, they would tear up and down their garden. The mother would squawk like a bird as she complained about the mess they made and the chaos they created. Funny enough, there was a large park nearby, but she never took them there. She never took them anywhere. It was a pressure cooker of conflicting personalities. By late afternoon I would begin to detect the crescendo of intolerance. Tempers would rise like the turbulent spring tide bashing relentlessly against the wall of the promenade. They were friendly enough but I did detect an air of resentment. In their eyes I may have had the perfect life. Again, I don’t know because I didn’t know enough.
But I know this. If you got out as a family it can instantly become an adventure. I’m not talking about going to the local shopping centre or retail park here:
“It was also a two sided affair in the shopping centre.
Dad and I would wander around the walkways waiting endlessly for Abi and Mum as they gazed into brightly coloured shop windows. We were subjected to a barrage of noise. There were children shouting, people chattering, and teenagers squealing. Best of all was the faint sound of tinny music, rattling away through hidden speakers; loud enough to hear but not loud enough to listen!
Anything new and shiny was like a magnet to both Mother and sister. Abi would always find something she couldn’t afford. As a result she would devote the next ten minutes giving us her sincere, heartfelt reasons for buying it. It was either a bargain or something she claimed to genuinely need.”
(From The Ghost of Hartington Hall.)
I mean going where you will do things and communicate with each other; something you can talk about around the table at dinner time.
Some families were very particular about my time-keeping. It was so very important for me to be punctual in order for Charlotte or Simon to get to their karate or basketball or ballet or riding or international terrorist classes. I felt sorry for those children I feel sorry for all children living in the shadow of expectation:
“Win or lose, the consequences filled Tom with a sense of dread. As he stared blankly at the swirling clouds overhead, the approaching march of his father’s footsteps shuddered towards him. He could see a tall dark-suited figure tower above him. Tom still didn’t care about the result. Then he heard the sigh.
“What did I say? What did I say?” Tom’s dad had an annoying habit of repeating himself. Tom closed his eyes. “You jumped off the blocks, you just jumped out of them. Then you missed your rhythm; missed your rhythm and ended up flapping your arms. After a strained pause, he looked at his father silhouetted against the fluid sky. “Flapping your arms.” He walked off. Tom sat up to see his coach bounding towards him.”
(From Stop, I want to get off.)