2008: Life

In part one of my “2008 and thereabouts” retrospective, I talked about what I’d been up to work-wise. Now I’m going to focus on my personal and family life. I find this side of things a little harder to talk about, and recall, if only because for most of the year, I spent five days per week at work (usually in London, away from my family) and the other two days recuperating. But here goes…

Of my immediate family, Rowan (now thirteen) completed her first year of secondary school, and Lola (a few weeks shy of eight) entered juniors. For Rowan the summer holidays of 2007, between primary and secondary, were some sort of chrysalis phase. Within a few weeks of starting King Edward’s she was a different person: not only in character, taste and habits (a new taste for fashion and music, a stand-offish muteness towards her parents and, for a short while, a boyfriend), but also physically: she seemed to grow about six inches in her first year (or should that be Y7 — I still can’t quite get to grips with our new American-style system) and very soon developed from a big girl into a young woman. Watching her become rapidly more independent has been wonderful, though sometimes painful. At times she can be incredibly argumentative and hurtful — like most teenagers I guess — but on those odd occasions when she lets me into her confidence, or tries unsuccessfully to hide her excitement about something, it melts my heart. I’m also immensely proud of the fact that she writes and draws keenly, and is showing real talent in both areas (she just won a Waterstone’s writing “supernatural love story” competition with a lengthy and very original tale of a girl who falls in love with a boy nobody else can see, only to find out that he’s a ghost).

Lola hasn’t yet reached that troublesome age (although she can be troublesome in her own, usually much cuter, way). She is every inch the daddy’s girl, eager to please; but as she gets older she is becoming cleverer at using this to her advantage, turning on the cuteness tap when she knows it will get her what she wants. She excels at school (like her big sister before her), and seems to have an incredible quality for peace-brokering, whether this be bringing calm to a rowdy classroom or helping two friends to resolve a dispute. Teachers and other parents love her because she can (usually) be relied upon to be sensible and helpful, although I worry that as she gets older the sensible part may slip. She has also recently started piano lessons, and is learning incredibly quickly. Every week when I’m at home, she shows me her piano practice, and I have a go too, which is wonderful as it means I’m also getting to learn to play, and to read music.

Gill too has been finding more outlets for her creative side. For a while she was working at a vintage clothes shop in Sheffield, but at the same time she was discovering eBay, buying and selling at first old nighties but increasingly a range of weird and wonderful items, retro and new, including dresses, handbags, purses, badges and jewellery. You can often find her abusing my eBay account. Recently, she has started to customise and combine items, so she may sew a 60s cloth doll’s face onto a 40s handbag, or make a brooch out of some tiny dollies attached to circles of Victorian lace. I bought her O’Reilly’s Fashioning Technology book for Christmas, so hopefully we’ll soon have antique accessories combined with flashing LEDs and intelligent textiles.

The two of us have continued fostering with FCA, although obviously with me out of town most of the time, 99% of the work and responsibility has fallen on Gill. We are currently without a placement (and taking a bit of a break from it all — although we do have Gill’s cousin’s daughter Zoe staying with us, and her boyfriend Tyler, which is at times not too different from a foster placement). But for most of 2007 and 2008 we fostered two of our longest placements: N___, a Somali girl who was with us from the age of 15 to 17, and A___, an English boy who lived here from 16 to 17. With kids that age, for the most part you just let them get on with it. The biggest problem is getting them home on time: we have to set them curfews and, under strict foster agency/social services instructions, have to phone the police and report them missing if they’re not back by midnight. As you can imagine, this results in phone calls to missing persons on average about 3 times per week. Then we have to wait for the police to turn up, which they’re duty-bound to do, and which usually happens around 3am. Couple that with the odd petty crime and misdemeanour that kids in care tend to get themselves into, and we soon became pretty familiar with most of the local force (in fact, we were already fairly well known to them after we had a panic button installed when a previous placement, a young Muslim girl, heard that her family were threatening to burn her alive after hearing rumours that she’s been seen out with men).

Which kinda brings me on to the subject of challenging situations. We’ve had a few: alongside the panic button incident, having most of our electrical goods stolen (a Powerbook laptop, several digital cameras, a mobile phone, iPod…) was one of the more minor incidents. Other stuff, I wouldn’t ever want to go into on this blog, but it makes you thankful for who you are and the fact that you come from a stable, supportive background. While appalled at some of the things human beings do to one another, and saddened at the things people do to children, I’ve felt myself growing as a person as a result of my ability to deal with some of these crises, and support Gill as she deals with them. But it doesn’t half make it difficult reading the newspapers, which make me alternately despair all over again at some peoples’ cruelty, and despair even more at the cluelessness of some newspapers’ leader and comment-writers, wittering on in the most judgemental terms on subjects they truly know nothing about.

And me? Where have I been throughout all of this? Well, as I mentioned I’ve mainly been at work, travelling backwards and forwards to London. And my personal development hasn’t been solely related to fostering incidents: freelancing has taught me lessons which would have passed me by had I stayed closeted-up in my office. Most of all, I’ve learned to embrace the new, to constantly experiment and re-invent. Part of the problem with my previous long stretch at home was that I was never exposed to new influences, and so I became more and more stuck in the same groove, the same way of doing things. I don’t think that will ever happen to me again: I now know that, in order to stay alive, stay fresh, I need to seek out adventure and learning wherever I can find it.

The only downside of this year of discovery has been that my photography career, which was really starting to blossom over 2007, has had to take a back seat. Although I’ve done some half-dozen weddings this year, and early in the year I was hired to cover some amazing events like the Creative Sheffield launch and the Vivienne Westwood exhibition VIP party, I haven’t had the time I’d like to edit photos, or to push my career forwards. Towards the end of the year, I’ve photographed a few private views in London galleries, but my rate of photography has gone right down, and as a result I’ve got a bit rusty (photography, like sport, is something you need to practice almost daily in order to stay on top of your game).

I did manage to produce a wonderful little Working Nights photobook in June this year but my (slightly unexpected) BBC iPlayer career swept me off my feet so fast that, to date, I’ve only managed to hawk it round a few shops, and haven’t found time to send it out to all of the magazines, galleries and, indeed, friends who I had intended. My New Year’s resolution for 2009: get some books in the post!