There are number of updates throughout the year that you can guarantee will beglamour this corner of the t’interweb. The Christmas message and the beginning of the year Janus (p)review and then there are the three Baguettes’ birthday write ups. The first of the birthday write-ups, calendrically if not chronologically belongs to Ezra. Our third child, and youngest member of our Bagnall enclave has the honour of celebrating his birthday first – a full week before me! Read more
Trust that you all had a fantastic Christmas and Santa brought you all the presents that you deserve. He was very generous with the Bagnall household this year and despite rumours to the contrary the Baguettes must have been on the ‘nice’ list. As tradition dictates this will be the last update of 2015; the next update will be early in the new year when I will reflect on the year but here I will update you on the events of the Bagnall household over the yuletide.
Both girls broke up from school the Friday before Christmas, which means that they will be off school for just over a fortnight. Fortunately my new shift pattern meant that although I was working the weekend before Christmas (the tail-end of a seven-day stint) I was off for the three days leading up to Christmas and could spend some time with them (and Ezra) at the start of their holiday.
Monday saw our fireplace, or more accurately our multi-fuel stove, finally installed and although it is the warmest December on record, in the South-East of the UK at least, wood needed to be burnt. It has taken me a few goes to begin to perfect the technique to obtain a really hot fire, and I still think that there is a lot to learn. My early mistake was that I was a little too eager to get the logs on the fire, as soon as the kindling was aflame I was piling the wood in. Thus the stove was never reaching the optimum temperature before being asked to work. There is still a lot to learn though, something that I am looking forward to.
Tuesday was the first day off as a family and I took this opportunity to take Éowyn to the local cinema to see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, while Lucinda stayed at home with Amélie and Ezra. I was seven when Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was released so I thought it was high time to introduce my eldest to the Star Wars universe. Éowyn hasn’t seen any of the other films (something that will be rectified over the next few weeks) unlike her friend Blake who, along with his father, accompanied us to the first showing of the day.
Unfortunately, we could not get 4 tickets in a row, so we had 3 in one row and 1 just in front, therefore Martin sat with the children, while I saw on my lonesome. Even in my excitement of watching a Star Wars film at the cinema, I was conscious of my little girl in the row behind and kept turning round and making sure she was fine. About half way through the film she tapped me on the shoulder because she wanted to go the toilet, so we headed out of the auditorium. I took the opportunity to ask her what she thought of the film. She said that she was enjoying it but was a little scared in places. This as such didn’t worry me too much as I think that is the beauty of film, that it takes you on an emotional journey, however the next sentence broke my heart. She said that she had noticed that when Blake was scared he had his daddy’s hand to hold but when she was scared she had nobody’s hand to hold.
Therefore when we returned to the auditorium I told her to sit on my knee to watch the remainder of the film. As we sat there watching the conclusion of the film my hand was holding her side and chest and I could feel her heart beating at ten to the dozen with the excitement of the final scenes. Father and daughter bonding over a film.
This isn’t really a forum for my report on the film but suffice to say that I enjoyed it but was disappointed. That sounds oxymoronic but Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope – as it was retrospectively christened) took Hollywood in a new direction and kicked off the summer blockbuster (in tracks laid by Jaws a couple of years before). It was a nod to 1930’s serials such as Flash Gordon, it took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa (especially The Hidden Fortress), mixed in 1950’s Westerns and a dash of World War II movies and captured a generation of children’s imaginations.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens on the other hand is trying to be Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it is not trying to be anything new; it has no story of its own. That is slightly unfair as it is part of the continuing Star Wars story however, for me, it is a scene by scene remake and brings nothing new to either the Star Wars universe or Hollywood in general. It was Disney playing safe trying not to damage the franchise with its first film especially since it has paid $4 billion for the rights. It will do well at the Box Office; it is an enjoyable romp and to be honest I think it is a good film and I will see it again, and I am looking forward to the ‘Director’s Cut’, but is it a great film? Will it be anyone’s favourite film? Does it do anything that no other film does? Unfortunately not. That is why despite my childhood enthusiasm for the film and for all it stands for it is a disappointment.
We left the cinema with Éowyn asking lots of questions (some I could answer, some I couldn’t – the films haven’t been written yet!) and a promise that we will sit down and watch the remaining canon. We had a list of things to pick up while in Staines town centre, so after grabbing something quick to eat we battled the Christmas shoppers and headed home.
In November we had offered to cook Christmas dinner for both of our families. That is Lucinda’s Mom, brothers and their families and my Mom and my sisters. With Granddad’s passing in October it only seemed right and fitting that we spent Christmas together as a family. It wasn’t right, however to burden Nanny with the entertainment (even if we, as the next generation cooked the actual meal) so the logical place was our house. Our lounge/dining room is big enough, with a rearrangement of the furniture to comfortably seat 17, even if the kitchen isn’t quite equipped to cook for that many. However as we stood on Tuesday afternoon, 72 hours before that meal the house was not in any fit state to welcome Christmas visitors.
The lounge had been emptied to allow the workmen to work on the fireplace and so all the furniture was piled to one side of the dining room. There was also a layer of dust coating many of the surfaces in the house. So after returning from the cinema we set about rearranging the furniture and getting ready for the family.
Christmas Eve saw the arrival of Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz, Auntie Mary and Toffee and Frazzle. The house was ready for Christmas and the fire was on. Toffee and Frazzle were introduced to their new home (although the girls did not know that we were going to keep them at this point) and we settled down for the evening. We were all sitting around chatting and watching Christmas telly that we completely forgot to go out into the garden to look for Santa’s International Space Sleigh.
Christmas morning we were expecting to be woken at oh, my gosh it’s early, O’clock. However that was not to be. Éowyn and Amélie didn’t wake until 0730 while Ezra was still asleep at 0800! How lucky were we? Indeed we were downstairs when Ezra woke up and I asked him whether Santa had been and left anything in his room. His little face dropped and he shook his head. ‘Are you sure?‘ I inquired (I did have some insider information), ‘Shall we have a look?‘ His face lit up when he saw he big sack of presents and we took it downstairs to join the girls in the big opening.
Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz and Auntie Mary must have also been good girls as Santa had left them a little stocking of presents too. They certainly were good girls helping us prepare the table and more importantly preparing the mountains of veg for Christmas dinner.
Amazingly, Christmas dinner for 17 went fairly smoothly. We were planning to sit down and eat at 1500 and we started serving at 1503! There was a mountain of food left over (that kept us going for days afterwards) and we needed a little bit of a tactical break before tackling the desserts. Auntie Zoe provided the desserts (with help from Uncle Steven) but as Christmas Day is also her birthday we had a surprise for her. Instead of bringing in the Christmas Pud alight, we turned the lights out to bring in a birthday cake replete with 4 lit candles. Apparently, it was only about the third birthday cake she has ever had.
I was back at work on Boxing Day (it is one of the busiest football days!) and Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz and Auntie Mary headed up to West Bromwich, leaving Lucinda and the Baguettes in the house with ridiculous amounts of cardboard and piles of toys.
There was a gap in the fixtures on the following day so it was time to introduce the Baguettes to one of the big responsibilities of pet ownership – cleaning out the cage. Not sure how long this enthusiasm will last but they all helped cleaning the cage and their house while I disposed of the waste products. It was a good excuse for another cuddle with the guinea pigs before putting them back into their clean cage for them to mess up and throw their food all over the floor. I have been teaching the Baguettes that when you approach the guinea pig cage to talk to them softly and walk slowly to the cage so that they know you are coming at it is not a big surprise. That way they will be less scared (guinea pigs are always scared) and hopefully they will not run and hide as you get there. We have a long way to go until his guinea pig etiquette is fully established and a long way to go until the guinea pigs are fully trusting, especially of the smaller members of the household, but while the enthusiasm is still there, then we will encourage their interest and hopefully Toffee and Frazzle will begin to trust us more and not be quite as nervous around the kids.
I have a couple of days off around the New Year before football kicks off again on the second of January. So by the time the girls go back to school I will not have spent too much time with the baguettes, which is a shame but will have had Christmas and New Year off and Lucinda has had the entire time off which would have been an impossibility if she was still at the airport!
I will leave you now but not before I wish you all a very Happy New Year and see you all in 2016!
Peace and Love
PS For those of you that enjoy geeky stats click here for a summary of baggieandlucy.com for 2015.
This is somewhat of a departure from my usual writing style but with John’s death it was something that I needed to think about in detail so that I could have a frank and honest discussion with my children while telling them about Granddad.
Before you read on, these are my musings. I apologise if they upset you; that is not my intent. Neither is it my intent to get into any religious or philosophical discussion with friend or stranger about anything written here. These are my current thoughts, beliefs if you must, but I am not saying that they will always be my understanding. I may do an about turn next week or indeed in 50 years time (if I am still here in 2065), that is my prerogative and the freedom of not subscribing to a rigid belief structure. I sincerely hope that you take this essay as it is meant to be: one man’s internal discussion about life and death and how it can possibly explain this to his young children.
At times such as these one often turns to their religion for solace. This is whether you practice or are your denomination in name only. The belief in a supreme being and an eternal reward are very comforting in times of great loss.
I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, indeed I have been Baptised, taken my First Holy Communion and have been Confirmed; I attended a Catholic Primary School, a Catholic Secondary school, was an Altar Boy, served as an Usher and rarely missed mass in over 20 years. Despite this impressive C.V., I grew to realise that I did not believe in many of the tenets of the religion and simply did not have Faith. This was not solely the fault of Roman Catholicism but my years of questioning and investigations reading Catholic doctrine, secular essays and everything in between drew me to become areligious. This is not necessarily the same as atheistic; I think that there can be a huge gulf between not believing in religion and not believing in God.
The way that I see religion is that they all start off with good intent. They tend to be the teachings of a wise man (I am not being sexist here, but the World’s current domination religions are broadly misogynistic and have very few teachings by women) about setting rules for a fair and just society. Most can be distilled into one phrase: ‘Be nice to each other’. However this message is corrupted by those in power in a bid to make their religion dominant and thus increase their own individual power. This power struggle leads to this fundamental message becoming marginalised in their teachings and thus somewhat ironically, it becomes the one thing that most religions are not, especially to someone who doesn’t believe in exactly the same thing as them. Unbelievers are labelled Pagans, Infidels and denigrated to the point of sub-human. There are examples throughout history, throughout the world; indeed it is still going on today, whether subtly through media manipulation or blatantly as is evident in the Middle-East. This is not just inter-religious but intra-religious with denominations of the same religion having a tendency of dislike through to full blown hatred towards each other.
So religion, per se is not the issue but moreover the way it is used by those in power. Religion is a powerful control mechanism. If people believe, or are afraid, then you can manipulate them to your will and that is what those in power do, to ensure that they remain in power. The reward that is Heaven or the punishment that is Hell, are abstract notions that can never be proved nor disproved but can help mould a society build on social inequalities. How can one justify a child dying of starvation while its Lord dies of surfeit? By offering the dividend that is eternal life. If one disagrees then it can be arranged for you to find out, a lot sooner than you would prefer, the reality of an existence of an afterlife, lest you start a murmuration in the populace.
Thus, you can see my dilemma of how to broach these deep metaphysical discussions with a seven and a five year old (Ezra is too young). I do not believe in religion; I do not believe in an infinitely merciful, benevolent supreme being and neither do I being in Heaven and Hell; something that someone who lost their father at 14 years old can not, and should not, take lightly.
So what do I say to my children?
My scientific mind sees the beauty all around without resorting to a creator. I revel in the fact that the only place that heavy elements are created (and from an astrophysical point of view heavy elements are elements above Lithium in the periodic table, i.e. not Hydrogen or Helium) is in the death throes of a star. Indeed the abundance of heavy elements in our neighbourhood can only have come from one, if not a number, of supernovae. You are literally stardust. A star has to have been born, ‘lived’ and died in an astronomical explosion to create the building blocks of matter that allow you to exist. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
Even more mind-blowing than that, is the fact that you are immortal. Not strictly you, but the energy that is currently in the form of matter that forms you, has always been and will always be. Many of you may have heard of Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 without truly understanding what it means. Effectively, it states that matter is energy – and an awfully large amount of it. To put this in some perspective the annual world consumption of energy is somewhere in the region of 6 x 1020 Joules, this is the equivalent to the energy held a little over 6.7 tonnes of matter (at rest, for the pedants).
In addition to this, there is the first law of thermodynamics. The law of the conservation of energy states that the energy of a closed system must remain constant – it can neither increase nor decrease without interference from outside. Therefore, by definition the universe is a closed system so the total amount of energy must be the same throughout time. The form that energy takes may change and matter is one of those forms. I’ve lost you, haven’t I?
The above merely states that the energy that was once a star was converted into the matter that formed you. It may have been a trilobite, a dinosaur, a tree or the heat from a fire warming the hands of a child before it was you; it may be a table, a lamp post, the sound of heavy-metal concert or the heart of a star sometime in the future, but that energy will always be.
This is without any discussion on the goldilocks zone, evolution or even just the odds of your birth.
So how do I disseminate these complex notions to my children and explain the fact that their grandfather had died. Then field their questions of what happens to you when you die and what comes next. Then, do I go a little further and try to explain the innate injustice that is life?
When discussing death with children it is important to use the definitive, they are dead. Do not use euphemisms like ‘they have passed’ or ‘they have gone to sleep’ or ‘gone to their rest’. Children will not understand these nuances and take the meanings literally, leading them to be frightened to pass things, or go to sleep or lie down for a rest for fear that they might die.
This was the approach that I took with the girls. I explained that Granddad had died and asked them if they understood and whether they wanted to ask any questions and we sat in a huddle and hugged each other while crying. I thought it was important for the girls to see that I was upset too and thus there was no shame in crying.
Questions ranged from the scientific from Éowyn, (‘How do you catch cancer?’, ‘What happens to your body?’ etc.) to the practical from Amélie (‘Who is going to cook me pancakes? ‘Who is going to fix my toys when I break them?’). I answered them as honestly as I could, without going into any dark details. Then came the question ‘Is Granddad in heaven?’ ‘Can we go and visit him?’
Now, I may not believe in Heaven, but then again neither do I believe in Father Christmas. Like Father Christmas I am not going to crush the girls’ belief with my adult logic (flawed or otherwise), it is more important for them to believe in the magic. In the same way that the belief in the magic of Christmas is embodied in the personification of Father Christmas then Heaven is a belief in the enduring love of those we have lost.
I took this opportunity to introduce the girls to imagery that I use to help explain love and loss. My vision is that whenever you have a relationship with someone you both exchange a piece of your soul, your heart if you will. These pieces are connected by a silver thread binding the pair together. The deeper the love you share the larger the pieces that you exchange, and the thicker and brighter the thread shines.
Sometimes the relationship fizzles out, you grow apart. In these cases the thread, dulls and withers and eventually the link is broken without too much pain. You still have, however, a piece of their heart (and they yours) that you can nurture or ignore at your want.
However, when that relationship ends suddenly, in the case of a death, the thread is severed and you feel the pain of that loss. Nevertheless, you can perhaps take comfort in the notion that although they are gone, and with a part of your heart (hence the hurt), you have been entrusted with a part of theirs. You, therefore, have a responsibility to nurture that heart and in that nurturing you should take comfort that they have not gone. Not entirely.
I like this imagery on so many levels and it shows that we are the sum of our experiences and our relationships shape and hone us, not just in the big ways but subtly and even the smallest of relationships are kept in our hearts. It also shows that are loved ones are never too far away. Even death can not separate you because they are an innate part of you.
This is not a complete theory in any sense. I have not discussed the good that religion brings to the world and have completely avoided the question of conscientiousness to wit: the soul.
Regardless of my stance on religion the basic underlining tenet of love thy neighbour is something that we should aspire to. To quote Adam Hills and place it in more contemporary language: ‘Don’t be a dick!’
When someone dies of cancer (indeed whatever reason), it is perfectly natural to feel anger; to somehow, personify cancer (the cause) and vent vitriol upon it. We bemoan the fairness of life. To paraphrase the man in black (the Dread Pirate Roberts – not Johnny Cash) ‘Life isn’t fair; anyone who says differently is selling something.’ Death even more so.
There are traditionally five stages of grief that have been identified that those who have lost someone typically go through. They are not linear steps neither does one have to go through them in order, or indeed even experience them at all. When one realises that Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance are all perfectly natural stages it somehow helps to guide you through the rocky road of grief, giving you the tools to better cope with the loss. It is important to realise, however that everyone experiences grief differently and one should respect another’s grief journey, regardless of how it compares to yours or indeed the stages outlined above. Again I refer you to Adam Hills.
So what is it that I want to impart to my children?
Life is precious, everyone’s life is precious. If you consider the events that need to have occurred for you to be sitting there reading this and can manage to stop considering this before your head explodes, you should realise how special you are and how precious your life really is. You are only dancing on this earth for a short while. This is not, however, a reason for you to ‘do what thou wilt’ and again I refer you to Adam Hills.
Life is not a race. Sometimes you seem to be ahead and sometimes you know that you are definitely behind, but in the end the only race that you have is in your mind, with yourself. So don’t race, just enjoy the journey.
Life is not fair. It is not meant to be, and you have no right to believe that it should be. It does not mean that you should not strive for fairness but remember that the one great leveller, the one thing that will unite us all, is death.
Keep dreaming. Never give anyone the power to destroy your dreams. If you have a dream, keep it safe, keep it in your heart, live it; for you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.
Keeping learning. Never think that you know everything, about anything. Never be afraid to put your hand up and say I don’t understand. There are no stupid questions but fear of looking stupid will leave you wallowing in ignorance. Don’t be ignorant.
But above all: Love. Love your parents; they love you more than ever imagine and you never know when they’ll be gone for good. Love your siblings; they are your link to your past and most likely to be there for you in the future. Love your friends. You cannot choose your relatives but you can choose your friends. Choose wisely. A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow; no man (or woman) is a failure that has friends.
As I said at the beginning of this essay I said these are my current musings. I have tried to avoid internet memes but there are a number of film quotes and song lyrics (try to find them if you can). This is not a definitive and it certainly isn’t my entire belief system but just the ramblings of a man who is trying to explain to his small children the sad news that their Grandfather has died.
Peace and Love