Sunday, 10 July 2011

All Growed Up & Saving China

I was surprised to discover this morning that my daughter is reading Kafka. On her own time, that is, not as part of a course or anything. Well, she is 17 and, as she reminds us from time time, she is our daughter. All the same, I was impressed. The Trial is a long way from Harry Potter. At least, I assume it is, as I've never read any J.K. Rowling (no disrespect, J.K., I've never read any Jane Austen, either). How quickly they grow up and develop a taste for the stronger flavours in life.

Of course, I was her age myself when I first read Kafka, and I've already written about the way getting older has changed my appreciation of his writing (The Next Village). As someone once said, I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. Actually, I think a lot of us were older then; we seemed to be so much more independent and anxious to fly the nest than kids seem to be today. I read somewhere that the average age, these days, for a young man to leave home is 34. Thirty four!

Earlier this week, she went to Nottingham on the train, meeting her brother halfway in Oxford, as they wanted to catch the Death Cab for Cutie tour (a pop group, m'lud). Apart from catching various trains and buses, and finding a venue in a strange town in time to pick up tickets and eat, this also involved booking and staying in a hotel. This all caused me some anxiety, as I realised that neither of them really knew what they were doing.

I am often appalled, for example, at their geographical ignorance -- despite having spent time in both places many times, neither of them can tell the difference between Norfolk and Dorset. It seemed inevitable to me that they'd stand on the wrong platform and end up in Glasgow. They didn't, of course. But in my anxious Kafkan dreams they are still tiny tots, not young adults, lost and in danger in dark streets, and I awake at 3 a.m. in a panic. I'm told this is a permanent and incurable condition for parents.

But I also think of the many narrow scrapes I survived at their age, mainly out of misplaced confidence and boundless ignorance, and how sweet life is when you first taste your independence. I'm pleased they're shifting up a gear. And as I watch them driving away, slightly too fast around the corner, I think of the days just a decade or so ago, when we would be on holiday and the big adventure was taking them to odd little cinemas in Lyme Regis or Swaffham to see the latest Disney summer blockbuster.

I'm not down on Disney, the way some people are. Indeed, I think there was a period in the 1990s when Disney animations took quite a progressive turn. Pocahontas, for example, is stuffed with equal-opps, green, and anti-imperialist messages, not to mention a slightly tripped-out earth mysticism, and was clearly made by indian-friendly hippies. Best of all, Disney made the wonderful Recess cartoon series, one of the best and wisest things that has ever appeared on TV. And any parent who has numbed their arse sitting through interminable kids' films will have welcomed that thread of adult-oriented humour that Disney (and later Pixar) always carefully stitches through the fabric of its products.

In particular, I think of Mushu, the fast-talking ancestral guardian lizard (dragon, DRAGON!) voiced by Eddie Murphy in Mulan -- still my favourite -- watching as Mulan single-handedly saves the Empire and the Emperor from the invading Huns.

"My little baby's all growed up, and... and... (gulp) savin' China!"

Well, readin' Kafka, at any rate. Which will do for now.


Martin H. said...

I've already lost count of the number of times I've watched Mulan, with our eldest granddaughter...and she's only four and half! Oh, my poor backside.

Mike C. said...


I used to really enjoy Mulan, though I don't suppose I'd ever have watched it on my own time. Wish I could say the same for Postman Pat.

There is a great pleasure to be had from repeated viewing of anything made with a degree of wit and charm with children, I think, especially when you can all chime in with favourite bits of dialogue. It gives them the idea that there is something called "art" in the world, and that this is a source of shared pleasure.