It’s a bit like an advent calendar. Perhaps I should have started this process on the 1st December and then posted a shot from 2016 every day until Christmas… well, there’s always next year. Earlier this year I headed to The Photographer’s Gallery to see a retrospective of one of my favourite photographer’s work, Saul Leiter. I must have been feeling very influenced by him when I took this. It’s a refection on the step of a Chinese restaurant in China Town and it had been raining, or was raining at the time. I’m always on the look out for reflections. Something about them is a little magical.
About a week ago I swapped my three boys for three little girls when I headed down to Kent to capture some of the lovely expressions in these images. I had such a laugh with everyone and could have spent a whole weekend with them. I was also treated to a lovely Sunday roast with friends who live in the area, and so by the time I returned home the next day I was really quite eager to see my own three children. “I miss you, mummy!” was the very warm welcome I received from my youngest child. I’m really not sure the others noticed I was gone. Although when they did finally put their heads up and see there was a different adult at the table with them, they told me that my mother respects them more than I do. “Really? Really?” I said sceptically. It struck me they might have been doing the same sort of thing Daisy does in a children’s series of the same name, where she and a babysitter collude with each other over what sort of mischief Daisy manages to get up to while her mother is away. Suits me, though. As long as I don’t know what is actually going on here between the four of them and I do manage to escape occasionally …
Here are just a handful of shots from my afternoon in Kent.
“So, we need to make a list of words and phrases that we mustn’t use,” announced my oldest son a couple of weeks ago. We were eating supper round the table at the time and as far as I can remember no one had just been rude or insulting, but then perhaps I’m just inured to the open aggression that flies about the place and which three young boys seem to accept as humour. And in any case, are the harsh words they sometimes use towards each-other any worse or more difficult to be near than the physical aggression they accept as ‘play’? “OK,” I said with encouragement. I’m always very pleased when he appears to want to implement some structure in his life, no matter how small, even something as simple as a list. It’s so alien to him usually.
Immediately he leapt up from the table and grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, despite not having finished his meal. He’s not the only one who does this. For some reason these boys simply can’t stay seated for an entire dinner, and spend most of the time finding reasons to spring from their bottoms constantly. And as for the middle one – he’s got jumping beans in his pants and is genuinely unaware, I’m sure, that a seat is for sitting on, despite my constant pleading, commanding and finally demanding that he ‘sit down!’ each and every evening. I feel myself wanting to erupt and am on the point of yelling, a litany of aggressive language desperate to explode out of my mouth, when fortunately and just in time I remember my son’s desire to do away with harsh language.
The boys make a list of phrases and words they can’t say and all, especially the youngest one, enjoy very much the business of saying the words in order to put them on the list of words that can’t be said.
“So mum, what can’t you say?” I’m reluctant to give up any language. But it’s right we don’t insult each other constantly even though there are moments when the impulse to is overwhelming. Eventually I say, “Obviously, all the words you’ve already listed”, and then I also stupidly offer the word ‘twit’. Straight way I retract my offer. How on earth will I get through life if I can’t transform the genuinely dreadful words that are in my mind into a relatively benign and ineffectual word, used by Roald Dahl never forget, when I want to express my rage because they won’t put their shoes on, refuse to get dressed, or forget to throw away sweet wrappers and leave them on the floor instead? “Nope!” says the oldest one, “you’ve given it up. It’s on the list”.
“Mum needs to say, twit!” says the youngest with force.
“N0!” replied his brother.
“You take twit off the list now or I’ll hit you really hard with my fists!” Oh, I think to myself, this moment hasn’t unfolded so well.
The words bounce of the big one, and he says calmly, “Well, if she’s allowed to call us twits, then we can call her one.”
At which point the littlest walks up to his bother and punches him in the stomach. “Mum can say twit,” he yells, “and you can’t!!!” For a moment, I’m so proud of him and his desire to protect and fight for me with such passion. It’s too adorable. Although I do see it’s not so great that it comes with such a hefty blow to his sibling. Thankfully, rather than prompting my first-born into a full-on fist fight with his four-year old brother, which has been known, Mr. Sensible laughs and tells us he’s happy to remove twit from the list, leaving me at least one word to insult them all with when I feel like it. By now the middle child is laughing hysterically because seeing a four-year old take such command over everthing is simply the funniest thing he can imagine.
I don’t know what eventually happened to that list. It lay on the kitchen counter for a couple of days and hasn’t been seen since. I thought about it afterwards and felt, as much as I agree with choosing to be kind to each-other over meanness, removing words from our language entirely actually presents us with different problems. There is always a cost. Making words illicit risks giving them greater power, and probation tends to force things underground. When we’re angry, instead of expressing it we risk suppressing how we feel if there is no medium for communicating it. And suppressed anger leads to bad feelings building up inside and transforming into trapped emotional wind. And we all know what that results in. It’s painful and uncomfortable and stinks when it escapes. Passive-aggressive language is far worse is my mind than outright verbal insults, even though those aren’t great either. At least you know where you are with open and honest words. But in the end you can’t have small children wondering about the place calling each-other by unmentionable names and shouting out swearwords really loudly down the street now, can you? So, we currently have no contraband list in the house, but we know we’re all OK with twit and flippin’ or frikkin’. Personnally, I tried friggin’ for a while until I thought about it and resolved that friggin’ was no less ‘rude’ than fucking when you get down to it, although it’s often used as a replacement. I’m not sure you can wonder round saying you ‘friggin’ anything at all to your kids. But I am sure there are times when you and they have just got to say something!
Recently I was asked to accompany an Earlsfield based association to document their trip to The Jungle in Calais. In the near future Just Shelter aim to raise funds for charities, Calais Kitchen and Jungle Canopy, who feed and help people living in the camp. Please follow Just Shelter to find out more about upcoming fundraising events. There are no NGOs operating properly in Calais and so the volunteers working there are doing so under extremely difficult conditions and really need any help they can get, as do the people living in the camp. With so much going on in the world the media have moved away from The Jungle and donations are less forthcoming. It is becoming harder to maintain the support that is required.
Here are a handful of the images from my previous trip. Please see my site for other images showing some of the conditions people are living under. You can also visit Just Shelter or Calaid-ipedia for further information about what is needed and how you can help. Just Shelter is planning another trip very soon and will welcome donations of money or goods, but please check with Just Shelter about what is required.