Archives for posts with tag: family

24adTP - modern family 2The Last Advent Panda

24th Dec 2015: Modern Families

Well we made it Panda followers! It’s Christmas Eve and the big day is just round the corner.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my Advent ramblings with my mixture of reminiscing, ranting and hopefully, some uplifting moments have helped you on your pre-Christmas journey.

This blog post isn’t funny, ferocious or farcical and sits firmly in the sincere category.

We now live in a different and diverse world where families are not what they used to be. Children often have just one parent or perhaps up to four! Men are married to men, women are married to women and friends are sometimes closer to us to than family.

It does not matter who you love, how you love, what your faith is or even whether you have one. The coming days present an annual opportunity not to be missed.

Christmas by its very name may have originated in christianity, but it need not stay limited to those bounds. Whoever you are, whatever you believe in, use this holiday season as an opportunity to connect or re-connect with those you love – family and friends.

Make memories that will last, recount people and places of the past – life is fleeting and moves so fast. Press the pause button and take a little time to enjoy it.

The Panda will return in 2016, but until then, I wish you, your families and friends, the very best that the festive season has to offer, together with a peaceful and hopeful new year.

Advent TP signing out.


04adTP - tree trimming

The Advent Panda

4th Dec 2015: Tree Trimming Troubles.

Its the age old Christmas question of exactly WHEN do you put up your tree?

There are those who have the tree and their decorations ready to launch on December 1st and they don’t come down until the Epiphany! Eager beavers!

At the other extreme, is the rose tinted US Hollywood vision of the family trimming their tree on Christmas Eve with Pa up a step ladder and Egg Nog on tap. Heartwarming, but a bit last minute, don’t you think?

I believe 5 weeks of Christmas decorations is a bit much and everything looks a bit tatty at the tail end. I tend to go for the 3 week rule of thumb. If the trees up for that long – start to finish – I think I’ve pretty much got my money’s worth!

What does get my goat, is those grumpy kill-joys who seem to be up at 7am on New Years Day to dissemble their decorations. A disheveled tree sticking out of the recycling bin is only just visible as you crawl out from under the duvet at 2pm on January 1st. You know they can only do this because there weren’t at a New Years Eve party and lets face it – behaviour like that won’t get them invited to one next year either!




A recent television show in the UK focused on a comparison of the welfare and benefits system in England from its birth in 1949 to the welfare state of 2013. It made a number of volunteers, currently receiving benefits, reapply under the rules of 1949 and then live accordingly for a week with whatever money and support (or lack of it) they would have received.

Although I could probably spend a few pages voicing my opinions on the state of social benefits, there was a particular episode, which dealt with housing support and benefit. There was a family of four (husband, wife and two children) who, under the old rules would, as a ‘desirable’ family unit, have qualified for social housing and were allowed to stay in their council house. (Not so lucky was the single mother who would have been branded ‘immoral’ in those post-war days and turfed out onto the streets or placed at the mercy of the Church’s charity. However that’s a different story. )

Returning to our family of four. They were expected, under 1949’s rules, to maintain their house to a reasonable standard and it was given a thorough inspection by benefits officers. The findings were not only pretty disgusting in terms of cleanliness, hygiene and general mess, but what was more concerning was the attitude. The woman of the house simply threw her hands up when pointing to a pile of …well, it could have been anything (!) and said, “I’d tidy it if I had somewhere to put it”. My wife and I were screaming at the TV that even in the absence of vacant cupboard space, it couldn’t be that hard to find a cardboard box. For goodness sake!

This is a little worrying and yet somewhat amusing in the context of reality TV, but we were about to get a nasty shock when confronted by a similar and real situation closer to home.

Renting property is my wife’s family’s business and for some time she has been suggesting that we enter the ‘buy to let’ market and convert some of our investments into bricks and mortar. This is sound thinking for a long-term investment and we recently purchased a 3-bedroom town house as our first foray into the world of property rental. The house was bought for a little below the market value in the area and having viewed it we had seen that the interior was in need of some serious redecoration. This was budgeted for as part of our investment. The house had not been treated lovingly even though, unbelievably, the tenants were directly related to the owner. Also, two adults, three young children and a collection of reptiles (yes really) do not a pleasant odour make!

TP18 charactersIt was only when we completed the deal and visited the house without furniture, did we really get an indication of what squalor these people lived in. Apparently they ‘did not have time’ to clean before they left. Apart from the ground floor, the remainder of the house was carpeted and the state of (and stains on) these were disgusting. Goodness knows what had fallen on them, with the exception of the particularly rank ones in the bathrooms – we can all be pretty sure what had fallen on those! There was scribble over the walls and handprints on the ceiling. The stench I referred to earlier lingered on even when we removed the flooring and carpets despite the windows being open all day everyday.

Window fasteners were broken, taps inoperative, showers leaking, flushes not working and electrical switches faulty. This was a house bought as a ‘new build’ and still within its 10-year guarantee when we first viewed it. This was not the result of wear and tear, but repeated abuse.

To top it all off, we had been left the pleasant task of removing underwear (adult’s not children’s) from the master bedroom where it has been left perhaps as a housewarming present. Rubber gloves were certainly utilised for that task, I can tell you!

I take my hat off to our intrepid decorator who subjected himself to the initial carnage. I could barely stay in the house when it was empty – imagine what it had been like when the previous tenants were actually living there. You’ll be pleased to know that after a month of hard work and TLC the house looks (and smells) wonderful. It’s ready for new tenants and although I fully expect it to become ‘lived in’ and naturally worn, I know them well and it will be both looked after and cared for.

Going back to the TV show I mentioned at the start, the 1949 solution was to ship the wayward family off for ‘training’ in a special demonstration house. They were quite literally taught to dust and clean and how to tidy up after themselves before being taken back to use those ‘skills’ on their own squalid property. It did appear to work and the woman of the house made excuses of how she could not have done this without ever being taught. It did make you wonder what her childhood was like and how she could not have been exposed to the modicum of common sense required to pick up a duster and a vacuum cleaner! Worrying isn’t it?

TP18 - you're outAnd what of the former occupants of our newly renovated house? Will they ever change? What if they are never ‘taught’ what to do? It’s easy to assume that they might have treated the house differently had they owned it and not rented it. I have to admit that I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s just the way they lived.

In the rose tinted suburbia of the 1950’s there was the stereotypical notion that bachelors were unable to look after themselves – incapable of cooking and cleaning. Eventually they would be hitched to a wholesome wife who would take up the duties handed down by his mother and ‘look after’ him, their children and their all-important home. This may never have been an entirely true picture, but the world we live in today certainly bears no resemblance to this. Gender roles have blended and couples are of variable sexes, living together under varying circumstances. In many ways we have thankfully become more progressive and accepting of diversity. However, it would help if our standards had risen across all genders and roles to that of the 1950’s housewife. Unfortunately it seems that it has gone the other way. In many households, nobody wants to tidy the mess and most can’t afford a cleaner to do it for them.

So what happens to the children of these homes? “Tidy your room!” doesn’t really seem appropriate when the rest of the house is a dump. Are we in fact imprinting a sub-section of this generation with a philosophy that ‘filth is fine’? When I consider the state of our buy to let property, I wonder whether the 3 children who stayed there would grow up truly believing that living this way was acceptable and how regular families behave. It makes me shudder.

There are people around the world in lesser-developed countries, living in shantytowns of rusted, corrugated iron and dreaming of their own house to look after. To them, buying or renting is immaterial as both are so far out of their reach as to be the stuff of dreams. While they aspire to gleaming homes, we seem to have bred members of the population who are determined to transform their homes into slums.

They used to say, “an Englishman’s home is his castle”, but it occurs to me that for some  ‘Englishmen’ these days, the castle has been ransacked by members of their own family and they haven’t even noticed!


TP17 - family

I was fascinated to read an article today that Ofcom (the communications regulator) in the UK has released a study showing that the instances of families gathering in the living room to watch their main television set together has actually increased over the last decade.

In the now distant era of the 1950’s to 1970’s it was unusual to have more than one television in a household and competition with other media such as computers was still the stuff of science fiction. Families had no choice but to join together with common interest in the TV programmes of the day, delivered in the UK at the time through just 3 channels. Choice was limited and viewing figures astronomical compared with today’s multi-channel, digital, online and satellite content.

However, the most interesting point for me was the reason why families were now gathering together more and I have to admit, it brought about some disappointment. It appears that with the advent of mobile devices – phones, tablets and gaming equipment, there is no longer a need to children to plead for televisions in their bedrooms and retreat to their ‘caves’ after supper. We are now multi-tasking creatures!

On the surface we may be gathering together in the living room in front of an active flat screen HD television, but actually, we are texting, messaging, surfing the net, listening to music, gaming and watching You Tube clips all at the same time. What clever beings we are! The problem is that in this media frenzy, we have probably lost a large portion of what was great about families gathering together in the first place. Watching television together means laughing together at funny moments, gasping at shocking scenes, chuckling at the kids hiding behind the sofa at scary points and more than anything else, having common ground to discuss and talk about later or over breakfast the next morning. No degree of proximity will provide this if we are all plugged into our own little worlds.

The Walkman generation became the iPod generation and begat the iPad generation. Not only are our children’s aural senses catered for, but now their visual and tactile ones too. The effort of conversation seems vast when compared to the relative ease of entertainment provided by our electronic companions.

The UK National Literacy Trust made a recent recommendation based on a study of 35,000 children that families should try to talk with their offspring during meals. It seems that not only do families meet less at the dinner table for meals, but even when they do – they don’t actually say anything! I suspect that is probably because many of them have a tablet or other device in front of them while they shovel down their fish fingers and chips. It was ventured that just 10-15 mins a day of chat at the dinner table does wonders for a child’s confidence and communications skills. The experience has been shown to make these children more articulate and able to speak more confidently in public.

I urge you all with aim of promoting ‘the human experience’ to have sensible and planned embargo’s for mobile devices in your household. ‘No Tablets or Smartphones at the dinner table’ would be a good one for example. Additionally – pick out the TV shows you all like and sit down as a family to watch them. There don’t have to be many of these and between your digital recorder and internet catch-up services, I’m sure you can find a time that works for all family members. Make these meetings single media events (TV only!) and embarrass family members by pausing the show if they reach for a phone or iPad.

If we don’t make this kind of effort we will be committing our children to a future of turgid bars, pubs and coffee shops where silence prevails because everyone is enjoying their beverages whilst enclosed in their own personal media bubble and without the slightest need to converse with the human being next to them. No, sorry, let me correct that – there won’t actually be any bars or pubs…

…why on earth would they bother to leave the house?


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