I remember, years ago, seeing a television commercial for a national newspaper.
A tough-looking stereotype, a skinhead, is hanging around a street corner. He looks threatening.
In the film, the man starts running. Is he running away from somebody? Possibly the police? Is he running after somebody, a rival gang member?
I was pretty sure that the commercial was for The Financial Times. I was wrong. It was for the Guardian, made in 1986.
The message of the film, which has stayed with me for almost 35 years, was that we shouldn’t judge on immediate impressions. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. We should look at any event, any incident that we witness, from different perspectives.
The scenario, as I remembered it, is that the man is actually running as fast as he can to save somebody in danger. A young kid who is about to be run over? Or was it to stop a pram with a baby in it, rolling into the path of a car? It was neither. But I was on the right lines.
The hero – because that’s what he is – is running to push a middle-aged man out of the way of some bricks, hurtling towards him from a building site above.
Seeing this lunatic skinhead lunging towards him, the man pathetically holds up his briefcase to defend himself, unaware that his assailant is about to save his life.
In real time the whole thing would have been over in a blink of an eye. In slow motion, the film lasts 30 seconds and is accompanied by this effective voice-over:
“An event, seen from one point of view, gives one impression.
But it’s only when you get the whole picture, you can fully understand what’s going on.
Seen from another point of view, it gives quite a different impression.“
It was after I received a sobbing telephone call from my younger daughter following a distressing incident, that my mind went back to that commercial.
My daughter & son-in law, like many parents of young children, have been struggling during lockdown.
Whilst acknowledging there are families in far worse situations, home-educating a 6-year old, looking after 2-year old twins, running the home, buoying up her musician husband, whose gigs have all been cancelled and trying to keep her business afloat, all at the same time, has been incredibly stressful. This has not made easier by social distancing, limiting any help members of the family can give.
Okay – thousands of families are in the same boat and some are in more leaky boats than others.
But as concerned parents, there are days when our daughter and son-in-law’s boat is so over-loaded with lockdown baggage, we worry that it is going to sink.
I am the first to admit, and happily, that my wife is the beating heart and driving force of everything in our home and marriage. Without her, the land of Laytonia would not function.
I think my son-in-law would agree, that whilst he is the First Mate, his wife and the mother of his children, is the Captain of the SS Lockdown. Like mother, like daughter. It only seemed courteous to ask him if he agreed.
‘First Mate? Cabin boy, more like. S’cuse me, must go and mop down the poop deck!’
So, with Captain Mum at the helm and newly promoted First Mate Dad helping to steer, right now every day is another day of keeping the bad ship Lockdown afloat.
Before we get to the nub of this story – ‘The Distressing Incident’ – a brief word about the crew:
The 6-year old, like any 6-year old boy, has his moments, some of them anxiety related due to lockdown and being off school. But he is a good and generous older brother, a great support to his mum and generally a lovely boy.
The 2-year old twin girl is a free spirit. She’s easy-peasy. Especially if she can climb to terrifyingly, dizzy heights. A day avoiding a fracture, a twisted ankle, a broken limb, is a good day
Essential to the fun of Miss Easy Peasy/Free Spirit’s climbing expeditions, is that mum or dad is momentarily distracted, usually by her twin brother having one of his current terrible 2 tantrums.
Last week Captain Mum packs the twins into the car drives them for a socially-distanced play in the nearby woods so that First Mate Dad can do some work, the 6-year old permitting.
There are hardly any people around. It’s very safe – as long as mum’s eyes in the back of her head remain fully functional and her peripheral vision is in working order.
‘Okay kids, time to go!’
Wouldn’t life be wonderful if ‘Okay kids, time to go’ was followed with ‘Okay, Mummy, thank you for bringing us to our favourite woods.’
Sadly, life ain’t like that, lockdown or no lockdown.
Free Spirit is up a tree, singing her hero David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ and wants to stay there but she falls to the ground. Fortunately she thinks this is hilarious and no tears ensue.
‘Okay kids, let’s go back’.
Captain Mum has got through another morning of boundary-testing lockdown and it’ll soon be naptime. Phew!
Free Spirit follows but the little man decides to lie on the ground. It’s tantrum time. Who knows why? Hungry, tired, frustrated, just expressing himself?
My daughter has researched it, read about it, is on a support group app, has spoken to professionals:
‘….temper tantrums are not a behavioural issue. They are simply your child’s way of expressing their emotions when they have no other outlet of expression…Temper tantrums are completely normal and every child goes through a tantrum phase…’
Very comforting, but bloody hard to cope with when you’re trying to get two kids back to the car and you’re valiantly following all the ‘tantrum advice’ you’ve gleaned from books, friends, family, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – including apps!
Getting the two of them buckled into car seats is tricky at the best of times. Doing it with one of them in full tantrum flow is a military operation.
I get the sobbing ‘phone call.
All I can make out is that something terrible happened as she was getting the twins into the car after a walk in the woods.
I assume the worst. An accident. One of the kids has run in the road. My God, one of them has been hit by car. My mind is in overdrive. I feel is utter relief when I learn the reason she is so upset.
The ‘being loving yet assertive’ tactic she has read about, ‘Listen, Mummy loves you, but I’m the boss’ whilst struggling with a rigid, tantrumy 2-year old and the straps of his car seat is not quite working.
‘We are going home!’
The decibels rise with the not-so-loving ‘Get in your car seats now or I’m really going to lose my temper’ threat, when she hears:
‘You are a shocking mother!’
The voice belongs to well-dressed, well-spoken, middle-aged woman. Having verbally stabbed a young mum through the heart, she proceeds to twist the knife.
‘I am a parent and you are a shocking mother!’
I may be a doting dad, but I can be critical. My daughter is a wonderful mother. She is heroic.
I tell her so, but she is inconsolable. It needs another great mum to talk to her. I go downstairs and hand the telephone to my wife.
I think about the damage this passing lady has done. From the mists of time, the 35-year old television commercial comes into my mind.
“An event, seen from one point of view, gives one impression.”
Rather than ‘You’re a shocking mother’, the woman could just as easily have said, ‘You seem to be having some difficulty there, can I help?’
“Seen from another point of view, it gives quite a different impression.”
The offer of help would have been graciously turned down due to social distancing rules, but there might have been an empathetic moment between the older and younger mums. They might have even shared a laugh over 2-year old toddlers.
“But it’s only when you get the whole picture, you can fully understand what’s going on.”
There is more chance of my winning the Euro-millions than the likelihood of the passing lady reading this column.
Should she, however, have told any friends about the ‘shocking mother’ she saw near Queen’s Wood in Highgate, and they happen see this – perhaps they would be good enough to forward it to her…