Life As A Controlled Experiment #thought #humour #family

Simple Simms taught me chemistry from age eleven to fifteen. He was keen, distracted, had a boyish face and somehow controlled the class by the gob smacking way he would ignore any semblance of health and safety. When Trillo, a somewhat dilettante young lad released a pipette of sulphuric acid over his thigh instead of the test tube he was holding and, perhaps understandably screamed that his uniform was dissolving, Simms’ ‘oh, for heaven’s sake, what now, boy?’, while admirably lacking panic also lacked any sort of plan B guidance for poor Trillo. And standing by, shaking his head as Trillo climbed onto the bench and stuck his melting limb under the gushing taps was the epitome of a certain British stiff-upper-lippery especially when coupled with the way he offered the mop so Trillo could clean up the ponding that ensued, rather than send him to ‘see nurse’.

I only saw Simple flustered once and that was when an experiment to create hydrogen sulphide got out of hand. As he admonished the class to ‘depart forthwith’, which we were happy to do, he took what were practical if rather unorthodox safety measures of his own – to whit, he switched on the extractors and climbed into the fume cupboard where he squatted until the deadly gases cleared, like some self exhibiting lemur.

One thing about chemistry that I do remember however is Simple’s insistence on a ‘control’ for every experiment we undertook. The need to have something with which to contrast whatever disaster we had instigated.

I was reminded of this today when reading a post by Rebecca Ruark of Rust Belt Girl fame, here.

I’ll let you read it, because it is excellent and the article she links to equally fine. And it reminded me about how we can all do things, selfish things, that have larger consequences than we both know at the time or later until, finally, either directly or by dint of our own experiences we realise the ‘What did I do?’ Question should, could have been answered differently and maybe the outcome would have been better.

My family moved from a rather grubby, albeit leafy north Surrey in 1969 to the fresher, even more leafy south Hampshire as a result of Dad’s job. He held out against the move for years but promotion, indeed maybe the job itself left him no choice. I was nearly a teen, the Archaeologist was one and we both hated the move, the loss friendships and familiarity. Two years later dad’s firm was at it again, this time pushing him towards Antwerp and thereafter Grangemouth (near Aberdeen in Scotland, further away both geographically and socially than Antwerp).  It meant dad moving forward in his job; it ensured his employment.

He enjoyed the idea. He wasn’t unique in having both ambition and ego. Going would have meant a lot to him and, as a family to us in terms of a happy pappy and financial security.

But we didn’t. At the time I, and I expect the Archaeologist too, didn’t feel part of the decision making process but looking back our patent, and loudly expressed antipathy to the idea had its role to play. We had both carved out new friendships, new comfort zones but rather than giving us the confidence to believe we could do it again, and maybe again, it felt like we’d used up all the ‘making new friends’ luck that was going around and we weren’t happy about the idea that we experiment again. No control, you see.

Dad always said we made the right decision, that he loved living where we did in the New Forest and an apartment in a drear part of Antwerp wouldn’t be the same. He never spoke much of the Grangemouth idea expect to shudder whenever the name was mentioned. And in many ways that was true, that we enjoyed staying where we were. But also true was that  moment marked the start of a process of disillusionment turning to downright disgust with his job and his employers that grew as the 1970s morphed into the 1980s. His job was constantly under threat – he fought off redundancy at least twice before he was finally forced to take early retirement in 1986. And in those later years his loathing of his workplace began to infect his relationships with everyone, including his family. He was, putting not to finer point on it a class A 1 arsehole at times and, had I not had my heart set on going to University in 1975 I doubt I could have stayed at home without going more than a little demented.

He took an age to get used to retirement – two years at least – but when suddenly it clicked he was a changed man. A joy to be around, to spend time with.

Looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight I can see how that decision – or rather those decisions – to sacrifice corporate advancement weighted heavily on him. He took one for the team. Would things have been different had he gone and worked in Belgium?  Of course but I wonder in what ways? I wonder what the control would have looked like against the experiment. Because, in a way we lived the control and not the experiment.

My mother’s lot would have been different too; in those grey grizzly years she had to put up with a bundle of balonney, just to keep the peace. She wouldn’t have had it any other way as it meant we stayed together and eventually mum and dad enjoyed their autumn in the place they loved best – her garden and his New Forest.

So the end justified the means? I still wonder…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in families, humour, miscellany, thought and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Life As A Controlled Experiment #thought #humour #family

  1. Ruth says:

    In 1973 my husband’s dad moved his whole nuclear family lock, stock and barrel from Louisiana’s hot and humid deep south to the freezing and wind-swept Highlands of Scotland without so much as a by-your-leave. No choice was offered, and for a time my husband truly resented that lack of consultation in such a monumental move. In fact 1973 was when we first met, when our families became neighbours – I was 10 and he was 12. But although my father in law eventually moved ‘back home’ to the USA my husband remained here in the UK and has built a life for himself far removed from the rural swampland of his birth, with no regrets (especially now that Trump is president!). The ‘control’ in that experiment would be all his cousins, many similar in age, who still live knitted tight within the bosom of the family in the unquestioned manner expected by culture and country – which is seriously not my husband’s cup of tea… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Ah indeed, there are good and bad in each option and it’s how we deal with the cards that were dealt, isn’t it? Glad he came to love those midges,probably the only reason why visiting rather than living in Scotland will do for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this, Geoff, and thank you for the shout-out! Makes me wonder…am I living the control or the experiment? Very thought provoking!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting and relatable. Oh so relatable!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary Smith says:

    When I was a child on Islay the school only went up to the end of primary so at the age of 12 I would have had to go to secondary school on the mainland and be a boarder. My mum didn’t want that and as soon a promotional opportunity came up for Dad she encoraged him to go for it and so the whole family moved to the mainland. I know Dad regretted leaving the island. I was young enough to adjust and make new friends. I guess for me the experiment worked but I do sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out if we’d stayed on Islay. I suppose everyone has one of those what ifs in their life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an interesting take on life indeed! The point of course being that we have no control and most of humanity’s misery arises from trying to have it…….. Life is about change. Kids and cats hate change. Adults only like it when it’s their idea. It’s how we conduct ourselves through all levels of life’s changes that matter isn’t it – and what we learn as we go through the pain of it! That’s the end of this mornings musings inspired by your deep and meaningful post. And now I’m off for a walk on the beach 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. willowdot21 says:

    This is a hard one Geoff, sensitivly put, with humour at the beginning. But in-between the lines I see the stress it would of caused and I recognize it. (Though in my case not a dad) Still a great read as ever.💜

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As a Methodist minister, my dad was obliged to move every 5 or 6 years. It always came at an academic junction for me – just as I started school, between primary and secondary, and between O and A levels. My sister is 3 years younger and was always caught in the middle somewhere. Just an accident of birth order, but now I’m wondering which of us is the experiment and which the control!

    They must have moved Grangemouth since the 70s. It’s in the Central Belt these days 😉.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Widdershins says:

    If the ‘means’ never needed justifying in the first place, the ‘end’ would be entirely different. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. George says:

    A beautifully thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Who knows what would have happened? You all might have hated Antwerp. Your dad’s frustration with his employer might have been the same or greater. He might have been wracked with guilt at uprooting his family, and pined for the New Forest, that would now have seemed like the opportunity that got away. It’s one that panned out well in the long run. Perhaps, resisting the obvious career move for the sake of family and a place he loved was the experiment not the control.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      He knew he was right fifteen years on when he had truly become a Man of the Forest. I don’t think there was any part he hadn’t walked and watched each season unfold. From knowing where to find Wild gladioli (only site or some such in Britain) to the Victorian railway builders tree carvings in Wood Fidley to Roman potteries to where each butterfly could be found, each type of orchid, the sundew varieties… yep he made the right call. I wish I’d paid more attention when he took us out when we visited. Hey ho.

      Liked by 1 person

      • George says:

        I can relate to that. We moved to Cumbria twenty-one years ago, because my wife was offered a dream opportunity. I managed to find a decent prospect for me too. However, as the years passed, I reached something of a ceiling and realised that to progress significantly in terms of pay, prestige or being at the cutting edge, I’d have to move. But my ambition in respect of those thinking waned as my love of the area waxed. I’ll never move now. You can keep all that. I’ve got this. Sounds as if your dad felt the same way about the New Forest.

        It also sounds as if you gleaned much more from your excursions than perhaps you realise. You can look up the names of butterflies and orchids. What he sparked in you was the interest and the love.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        All very true. Though the glads were a closely guarded secret!!

        Liked by 1 person

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