Julia Hughes - writing thrilling adventures - time after time after time.
Every morning I wake up and think ‘Result!’ Because life’s a lottery, and no-one has a lease on it, every day spent on this earth is the equivalent of winning against all odds. Fate’s quirky; for example, I’d have put money on the Princess of Wales outliving the old Queen Mum. If only Diana had taken time to buckle her seat belt, chances are she’d be with us still. Wouldn’t that have made the wedding of the year interesting?
Catching the right bus, or train or ship or even a car window malfunctioning could mean the difference between life and death. As the motorist in this Friday’s Flash Fiction is about to discover: ‘The Drive of her Life’ Parts one and two explores the same journey, with one small change resulting in two very different endings. Click here to read part one, if you’ve already done so click here and go straight to part two.
First, know the beast. For starters; lemme tell you one thing they've all got in common. Their biggest fear; the one that wakes them up in a cold sweat to keep them gibbering all night?
LOOKING UNCOOL IN FRONT OF THEIR MATES.
Hold onto that thought. It's your greatest weapon in the arsenal I'm about to give you. And oh boy, as their parent do you have a million ways of showing them up, or causing grief.
OK, we'll come back to the many ways on a scale of one to ten on how to keep them in line - from dancing at their barbecue, (on the squirmometer around a two to three) to calling them by their pet name or whipping out the baby photos (score a rock solid ten)!
Before resorting to emotional blackmail, because deep down I know you're a nice person - deep down; we're going to examine their greatest ambition, and explore how you can help them achieve this:
Their biggest desire, what they want - need - covert - more than anything else in the world:
TO BE THE COOLEST DUDE EVER.
If you can help them in this quest, you might find yourself considered 'safe.' This means now and then your opinions will be tolerated, and your pleas to be home before midnight during college days might be heeded.
But, you howl - I'm old (or at any rate middle aged) how do I know what cool is?
Answer: You don't. No-one over the age of 25 with the exception of a very few 'real cool dudes' (think Bowie, Johnny Depp) can possibly be expected to know what 'cool' is. Cool is intangible. A river in torrent changing colours, hues and shape as it thunders forward. And believe me, if you have to ask what cool is, you just ain't got it.
Happily though, there are essential add ons to even begin to cut it. Study your teen. Familiarise yourself with his pack, taking note of the 'gear' they wear, the mobiles they use. Take some time to flick through his reading material - in my subject's case, FHM, Autotrader and XBox 360. Pay particular attention to the small ads, this might give you some idea of what's trending. Do not even attempt to discuss these fads with your kid. Wait.
Sooner or later the words 'Andrew's got a smart phone' or similar will trip out.
This is NOT an invitation to offer your opinion on the latest gimmick (or Andrew). The only acceptable response should be along the lines of 'Really? Are you thinking of getting one?' This will either earn you a look of amazement (My god the old bat's read my mind) or an offended 'No! They're shit! I want the xyz phone.' Whatever the reaction, smile smugly while nodding wisely. You've planted the idea in their mind that you might, just might, be of use in getting the latest gizmo.
Because they're young and innocent and unschooled in the ways of the world, they don't yet realise the hoops they are about to jump through in order to get you to put your hand in your pocket. Once they've admitted their deepest desire to you, (apart from wanting to be the coolest kid in the world), they're yours. To do with what you want.
Oh! Bribery. That old trick I hear you cry. Yes. Bribery. It never fails. Use it wisely.
It ain't all about the money.
Believe or it or not, there are one or two life skills required for coolness that the oldies (that's you babes!) can do with their eyes shut. Top of that list, at least as far as the boys are concerned is driving. No, you probably can't teach them handbrake turns (even if you wanted to). But at the very start of their driving career you can get up early on a Sunday morning (savour it: one of the few times it will deign to grace the world with its presence at an unearthly hour at the weekend) drive to a quiet road or your local industrial estate and (gasp) hand over the steering wheel. Make sure you're wearing your old brown trousers and have taken at least two Valium. Be prepared to add the kid to your insurance. Make sure you have no claims protection. Make sure the kid realises that this is a supreme sacrifice on your part.
There you have it in a nutshell. Work out what they think they need to be cool, then give it to 'em. Or thrash out a way to help them achieve it. Not too fast though. You've offered the answer, you've come up with the goods... the question is - what do you want in return? Whisper the word 'respect'. So you're asking something in exchange for your hard earned cash or precious time. So what? So you've begun to treat them as an adult, a person in their own right. Not a child receiving pocket money but someone who has something to offer the world. If nothing else, you've given 'em confidence.
Whatever cool is, it cannot exist without confidence.
Right! Bribery and being pleasant even if it kills you dealt with! Back to the many ways of embarrassing your kids in front of their mates.
Rule number one: DON'T DO IT. Never ever ever. At least not consciously. In any case, you can only pull the baby photos out once. And your son or daughter will be forever pitied by their mates for having a really sad parent.
Rule number two: Hardly needs saying really. Never ever criticise in public.
Rule number three: Do not nag. Ask them to do something once. Remind them. Take action yourself. For example: Would you mind tidying your room please. Have you tidied your room? If said room remains untidied - then do it yourself. I suggest two or three large black bin bags. Chuck everything in. Yes. Everything. If you're feeling lenient, separate the designer clothes from the empty hamburger cartons. If the black bags become a feature of the room, remove them after four or five days. Your choice. Either hide them in the shed, or put them out for collection.
Rule number four: Whatever you say or do in front of their friends will be wrong. Accept it. Stick to a few words of greeting - the phrase 'help yourself to the fridge lads, I'm spending the rest of the night in my room' is acceptable, though this should be taken for granted. It hurts when you hear 'Becky/Zoe/Ben's mum is really funny/proper safe/jokes man - she got drunk and danced with all the boys.' Suck it up.
Now we're beginning to establish a relationship, or at any rate, declared a truce. You've gained their trust. Now and then it might be possible to get them to look at things through your eyes. Don't do this too often, that would be pushing things. But if you can get it through their skulls that the reason you need to hear from them if they're going to be late home is because you are genuinely concerned (however silly this might be) for their well being. Ditto the need to study, ditto the need to consume something other than McDonald's.
If all else fails, cheer yourself up with the following: It won't always be a teen. One day in the far off distant future it might even have kids itself. And guess what? Yeah. Then they'll be the sad old fart. And you? Well you'll be the coolest gramps ever.
"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." Mark Twain (1835 - 1910).
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Having left school at sixteen, I'm really conscious that there are holes the size of the M25 in my knowledge. Yep. The things I don't know would smother London. So when a programme randomly popped up on the telly the other night promising to reveal the real culture of the southern states of America, you can bet I sat up and paid attention. And the show delivered - books such as Tobacco Road, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof etc., were being discussed by the time I caught up.
The presenter was an American comedian whose caustic wit I'd admired on various chat & game shows. Tallish guy with a face that needs ironing, blue eyed, teeth bad enough to be an honorary Brit. He got going on the great music produced by the South, names such as Ray Charles and boy was he scathing about those who only found the great man's songs from films, saying something along the lines of 'If you can't be arsed to discover this talent by yourself, if you have to wait for the movie to come along, you're just a ruminant, a sheep. And fuck you.'
Which I thought a bit harsh, considering this was a BBC production for a British audience who were actively seeking to discover more about the 'Southern States'. But I admired his passion. One by one the great writers, composers and artists of Dixie Land were examined and compared to Hollywood's Treatment of their art. When the bloke complained that the rest of the world only knew the Southern States from Hollywood's version, I nodded in agreement. I was in this guy's pocket.
Until he came to my favourite novel of all time. It started well enough. The genius of this book he explained, is that it tells its story through the eyes of a child. I nodded eagerly, so far agreeing with every word. Then he broke the spell.
'Six year old Scout and her younger brother Jem.'
I don't know what he said after that. I lost faith completely. He was no longer a man with passion, speaking on behalf of the South. Here was just another actor, spouting words put into his mouth by a team of researchers. The real pity though was that everything the presenter had said before, even his vehement scornful words for those who relied on Hollywood to supply their culture seemed hollow and false. For all I know his comments on ‘Tobacco Road’ and ‘Inherit the Wind’ were pukka. But the connection had been broken.
I’d changed from a woman eagerly hanging on my new best friend’s every word to a cynical channel hopper.
Have I made my point? Sweat the small stuff. I know hundreds of small fascinating facts about the Titanic I never knew before researching for ‘A Ripple in Time.’ It isn’t hard, when the subject’s so interesting. Enthusiasm’s great. It’ll take you far. But sooner or later, you’re going to have to come up with the goods, and if your audience even gets a sniff that you might be faking, all the hard work that’s gone before will count for nothing. And credibility, like Darcy’s good opinion, once lost is lost forever.
Wren Prenderson; "A Ripple in Time" best hero.
"The Griffin Cryer" best Urban Fantasy. Thank you to the hard working judges and everyone who voted at the eFestival of Words, organised by Julie Dawson, of Bards & Sages.
A Raucous Time, A Ripple in Time, and The Griffin Cryer. Thank you to Julie and her hard working panel of judges and reviewers.
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