March 26, 2014 § 11 Comments
This morning, I went for my first run in probably 20 years. Please don’t take that to mean that I was a runner 20 years ago – I’m fairly allergic to exercise. And when I say I went for a run, I half shuffled, half jogged around most of our block. But I was inspired by my friend, Cath Jenkin, who started doing something similar a few weeks ago. Do read her article about it here – it’s a worthwhile read.
I’d like to emphasise that I am not a natural athlete, and that’s putting it very politely. I am built for comfort, not for speed. I like to tell people that I have a body of steel, but I keep it bubble-wrapped so it can’t be damaged. I’m also completely unco-ordinated and terminally unfit. So for me to choose to go for a run was a Big Deal.
I laced myself into my lumo running shoes, said a silent prayer to whomever the gods of running might be – Usain Bolt, probably – and set off. I was about halfway when I ran past a man on the street. A man with just one arm. I wheezed and puffed a cheery greeting at him as he pressed the doorbell at one of my neighbours’ houses. He looked at me, deadpan, and tutted. “You’re only going at a three-quarter pace,” he said, not bothering to return my greeting.
My first thought was: “Why does this always happen to me?”
The last time I remember running, was just over 20 years ago when I lived in a flat opposite a school. The school was on a fair-sized block, and so I decided I would try and run around it. On my way, I met a small, lithe woman running effortlessly in the opposite direction. In other words, a woman who was the exact opposite of me.
She ran past me, greeted me, and continued on her way. Or so I thought until moments later when I heard her coming back. She caught up with me and fixed me with a quizzical gaze. More accurately, she fixed my boobs with a quizzical gaze. I’m used to this reaction from men – I have a fairly splendid pair of double dangs, if I may say so – but I don’t usually get this response from women.
Then she looked me in the eye and said: “I don’t know how you run with those. It must be very difficult.” And then she ran off again, leaving me completely flabbergasted and slightly demoralised.
So that’s why I strapped on two industrial-strength bras before I left for this morning’s foray. It’s also why I sometimes think twice about exercising in public. Because the public are damn rude, don’t you think?
March 19, 2014 § 7 Comments
This morning, at breakfast, a friend and I were discussing how people just don’t seem know how to do basic things anymore. Things our parents seemed to know instinctively how to do (although, of course, someone had to have taught them).
If I think back to my childhood, my dad fixed most of the stuff around the house. He painted walls and window frames. He did the car’s oil change and always seemed to be doing something mysterious with spark plugs. He even made and installed the built-in cupboards in our bedrooms with one of his friends, and did as good a job as any professional carpenter.
My mom made us clothes, knitted our school jerseys, cooked, baked, used up leftovers and probably clipped the dog’s toenails while we were at school. We had a veggie garden and a compost heap and when the garden chairs that gave us waffle patterns on our bums were looking tatty, we all took a brush and helped to give them a fresh coat of enamel paint.
And the point is not that we lived in some kind of 1950s idyll. Both of my parents worked, and there was no gender discrimination in teaching skills to we three kids – my brother helped around the house; my sister and I helped with home and car maintenance.
But we were raised to think for ourselves, to do for ourselves, to chase the career of our dreams, to study, to question and to improvise where necessary. I can sew, I can knit, I can cook. I can also change a tyre, wire a plug and do very basic woodwork if required. I have lain under a car with my father and seen how an oil change is done (although I’m not sure I could do one today, if I’m honest).
But we don’t live in that kind of society anymore. By and large, if something’s broken, it’s discarded or we call someone else to fix it. I know people who take garments to a tailor because they don’t know how to sew on a button or put up a hem – neither of which is very difficult or time-consuming. Children don’t know how to make a cup of tea. I know one person who calls the electrician when they need to change a lightbulb, which I find a little extreme given that they’re quite capable of standing on a chair or a ladder themselves. We just don’t seem to know how to do anything other than our primary occupations anymore.
So my friend and I, over eggs and coffee this morning, predicted a return to this slightly more old-fashioned way of life, partly because – as a society – we have to get tired of conspicuous consumerism at some point, surely? And partly becuase of the impact of the ever-increasing cost of living.
We’re going to have to grow our own vegetables, change our own lightbulbs and learn some basic home maintenance skills, because we simply can’t afford not to. We may have to eat out less and cook more, fix things instead of replacing them, and waste less in all spheres of life: stop being so helpless and useless and do things for ourselves.
So, call me old-fashioned, but I quite like being someone who knows how to do stuff. And I’m not usually one to hanker for the ‘good old days’, but I think in this instance, we could do with remembering how capable people used to be. I’m glad I was raised that way. I’m glad I know how to do stuff. I’m glad I have skills that save both time and money, and have given me a great deal of satisfaction too. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Good job.
March 12, 2014 § 7 Comments
This morning as I sat down to blog, I cursed the blank page. And as always, I cursed it publicly on Twitter. “Blank pages are the new people we meet,” replied my friend, Lionel. “Some we realise are works of art, some are cartoons, some are just wild scribbles.”
That made me smile. For a moment I pondered which of those I might be: a wild scribble, I suspect. But if new people are blank pages to us, it made me wonder how much of ourselves we write onto those pages as we begin the process of getting to know them.
Human relationships are so complex. There’s so much give and take, so much collaboration and co-operation needed to make them work – whether it’s just friendship or romance that defines the bond you share. So much promise. So much compromise. And the risk is always that you write too much onto the page that isn’t yours to fill.
We bring baggage to all relationships: our insecurities, our world-views, our past hurts and disappointments. And instead of allowing those new people – those gleaming blank pages – to write their own stories about us, we fill the pages with our own editing. We take a red pen to their words and try to shape the way they see us, both positively and negatively, instead of seeing them as a brand new start, a story waiting to be written. A story alive with hope and possibility.
It’s an easy trap to fall into in a world that revolves around the external, the superficial. We live in the age of branding and image, of the constant quest to control how others see and perceive us. And most of it is just a thin veneer over a shallow pool of nothingness. There’s just a cover page, carefully copywritten and edited and laid out, but when you turn the page, the book is empty.
We are the sum of our experiences, of the people who touch our lives. Some may just scribble or leave angry dark lines across the page, some may doodle a cartoon in the margin, some may splash colour on several pages in wild abandon. It won’t always be pretty, but it will be real.
And it will be yours, and yours alone.
March 5, 2014 § 8 Comments
We moved into our house in winter, with a three-week-old baby and two dogs, so I didn’t pay much attention when the previous owner’s gardener told me there was a peanut tree in the back yard. Besides, I reasoned, peanuts grow underground; perhaps I’d misunderstood.
But the following year, in late February, I noticed something lying on the grass, patiently waiting to be discovered. We didn’t have a peanut tree, we had a walnut tree. And every year it rains down it’s bounty on the lawn and I have to race to gather up all of the nuts before my dogs eat them all.
I love my walnut tree, not only because it is so predictable in its deciduous life cycle, helping me to mark the seasons as they pass, but because it holds a valuable lesson for me.
Walnuts, you see, arrive on the tree inside a green, round ‘fruit’, for want of a better word. It’s more like a round, hard pod encasing the nut and its armour. And if you pick one of those fruits, you can break it open, and you’ll find the hard walnut shell inside. But if you crack the shell and eat the walnut, you’ll find that it’s bitter and tastes horrible.
So you have to wait. And it’s not enough to wait until the pod cracks open and reveals the nut within. No: you have to wait for the shell to fall out onto the ground before the nut inside is edible. You can’t rush it – it has to be ready.
And that’s the lesson in a world that runs on instant gratification. Some things you have to wait for. Some things you just can’t rush. Some things need to go through a particular process to be perfectly palatable, to be at their best. They have to pay their dues.
Sometimes, you just have to wait for that walnut to hit the ground. But it will always be worth the wait.
March 2, 2014 § 3 Comments
A silly poem, dashed off to cheer @MicheRobinson, my Twitter friend, who’s in hospital tonight.
One Sunday night, in England fair
An author tweeted in despair.
“Oh help,” she cried, “alas, alack!
“I’m tired of lying on my back.”
In hospital she, poorly, lay –
She’d been there now for many a day.
Her ward-mates fought and moaned and snored;
It really was an awful bore
Then suddenly she heard a swish-
(The kind you hear from flying fish)
And through the window, quick as quick
Came someone in a catsuit slick.
It was brave Mandy, Twitter mate:
With destiny they had a date.
She struck a pose,then grinned and said,
“It’s time we sprung you from that bed.”
She swooped much up, with tubes and all,
For Mich, being ill, was frail and small.
Then took her from that horrid place
And marked the smile on Mich’s face.
And in a flash they landed down
Outside a place in Tinseltown.
Both Mich and Mandy, head to toe,
Were dressed up for the Oscar show.
They schmoozed and smiled and charmed the crowd,
And all the stars were totally wowed.
“Who are these girls?” they whispered low.
For Mich and Mandy stole the show.