Friday 2 August 2019

Age obsession. Steve Way

Visiting schools as an ‘author’ is always a varied and interesting experience as I imagine many of you would agree. One issue that began to get under my skin over the years was the obsession with age that the local newspapers seemed to have.

Schools often like to get the local rag to come and photograph what’s going on when a writer visits. I think understandably, as a rookie visiting author, whenever this was going to happen I naively assumed that this would give me an opportunity to meet a journalist and have the chance to promote my work and explain how I was using it in the school. However the newspaper rarely sent a roving reporter, just a photographer. The only two things the photographer ever seemed to do was nag the children and I until we arranged ourselves in a completely unnatural pose and then – and this is the point of my rant – ask all of us just one question.

Despite being disappointed that only a roving photographer had been sent along, like Robin without his Batman, it still seemed reasonable to assume that he or she would be capable of asking some sensible questions. Apparently not. Ignoring their more bizarre contributions, such as, ‘do you have a butler?’, ‘do you live in a castle?’ and (my favourite) ‘why have you got such hairy arms?’ even quite young children could ask some sensible questions. In fact I think only two children ever asked me how old I was – perhaps they were destined for a life in local journalism.

As many of us know it’s not easy making much of an income as an author. It did seem reasonable to expect the local papers to take an interest in the work I was doing as a local writer. I remember being similarly disappointed when illustrator John Welding and I were interviewed on BBC radio Leeds. We’d just had a couple of books published for infants; a series of science stories and poems. Unfortunately for us the interview coincided with Tony Blair describing the importance of sex education for his children. So, as his announcement was topically ‘sciency’ the DJ bombarded us with a barrage of questions about our opinions and experiences of sex education, with a token question about the books at the end of the interview (just before a track from Kylie.)

As I became aware – and annoyed – by this exclusive obsession newspapers had with our age I considered rebelling in some way. What did I have to lose since there was nothing to gain from my ‘interviews’? Maybe, given that no one was likely to be keep track, I could give the newspapers a younger age each time they asked me. On the other hand perhaps I could make my age appear to alternate randomly or oscillate regularly like a sine graph? How many years could I get away with claiming to be the same age? It certainly made me wonder what would happen if this idea was taken to the extreme. My version goes something like this;

Local author (36) visits local school (80)

We visited Pendulum Primary School today where local author Mary Meridian (36) worked with children including Adelaide (7), Imran (7), Shane (7), Chloe (8!), Amaan (7), Alisha (7) and Kylie (you’ve guessed it 7!)

‘We enjoy author visits,’ said teacher David Watchstrap (28.) ‘We also like parents and grand-parents (various ages) to come and participate at events like this.’

Grand-mother Barbara Timepiece (says she’s 58 but you could have fooled me*) agreed. ‘My George (dead these four years but lived to a spritely 73 *see what I mean, ED) would have enjoyed this.’

Parent Pauline Hourglass (hit me when I asked) and mother-to-be (as yet unborn -3 months assuming normal gestation period and an accurate date of conception) - who came to see her daughter not the author let’s be honest - described the visit as, ‘right good’ (which could have been a brilliant example of word play or just a coincidence.)

Headteacher Clara Clockedin (refused to tell me) reminded us of the school ethos of encouraging diversity and trusting in God (13.7 billion or possibly a few minutes older assuming latest scientific estimates of the age of the universe are accurate.)

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has had a similar experience – don’t forget to give your age!

Steve Way
Latest book 'Escape from Schoolditz (four teachers make a bid for freedom)'


Pippa Goodhart said...

Yes, it's just unthinking and automatic isn't it. Although I must admit, when I stop and think about it, to noticing ages of people mentioned in newspaper articles in just one way; whether they are older or younger than me. Don't know why.
Pippa (60)

Steve Way said...

Thank you for your comment Pippa! (And for recording your age!) I think it's entirely natural to compare your age with people mentioned in newspaper articles, which is why I think it's so daft them having this obsession. Obviously age and experience have some bearing on what we can do/achieve etc but it's hardly the most significant factor! Just the easiest fact about us a newspaper can record without making the effort to dig any deeper. There I go again, ranting on my soap box - sorry! Steve Way (58!)

Daniel Blythe said...

Very good, Steve! Although I have to say you've got off lightly if only a couple of kids have ever asked you your age - I get it a lot!

When Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays was - for some inexplicable reason - contracted by a national newspaper to write a gossip column, he always rather wittily put people's heights in brackets after their names, rather than their ages.

Daniel Blythe (50 - almost always significantly older now than most teachers in every primary school he visits, except sometimes the head).

Susan Price said...

Susan Price (5'4" or I.63 metres) confirms everything Steve Way (58) says about photographers and school visits.
Susan (5376 weeks) has learned to grit the teeth and strike whatever unconvincing pose with kids and book that the photographer requires. It's easier that way. And over quicker.

Steve Way said...

Dear Pippa, Daniel and Susan,
Thank you for your comments, they all made me smile!
Steve (37.2°C - I hope!)