Learning to play Bach on the Piano

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How to Play the Piano, written by concert pianist James Rhodes, is published today by Quercus. It promises to teach anyone with two hands and access to a piano or electronic keyboard how to play Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major within six weeks, so long as they are willing to practice for 45 minutes each day.

When the book started showing up on my twitter feed I became curious. When I was offered a copy I jumped at the chance to accept the challenge and see what I could achieve in this time frame. I am currently four days in and can report that it is an accessible and fun way to learn. I am practising hard and the few bars that I am slowly mastering already sound almost as they should.

It is early days but I am hopeful that I can achieve the stated aims if I persevere. That being said, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel that I should share a few facts about my musical background.

I have never had a formal piano lesson in my life. I was, however, taught the basics by my father as a child. My father was a skilled musician. Largely self taught, he took piano to diploma level and his playing formed the soundtrack to my childhood. It instilled in me a love of classical music, particularly when written for his instrument.

Although I tinkered on the piano I never practised enough to play well.

At primary school I learned recorder and then cornet, joining the terrible sounding junior brass band. I disliked having to carry a heavy instrument on the long walk to and from school so when I moved to secondary school I took up the oboe. I played this instrument for seven years, joining several youth bands and orchestras. Eventually I achieved my ABRSM Grade 8. A throwaway comment from my tutor suggesting I didn’t possess the required musical feeling to gain my diploma was all it took to discourage me. I abandoned my lessons.

When I started work and was able to buy a house I decided that I would like to try playing the piano again. I traded the beautiful, French oboe that my parents had provided, that had been gathering dust in a cupboard, and purchased a basic electronic keyboard. My parents were not pleased. Once again I tinkered on the ivories but never practised enough to play well.

However, in my view the keyboard proved its worth. My children showed an interest and I enrolled them in lessons. When their tutor was told that my son had broken a few keys on the keyboard with his toy hammer she offered us an old piano that her church was disposing of as they had been gifted a better model. That ancient instrument was all but impossible to tune but proved adequate for three youngsters, just starting out on their musical journey, to practice on.

As they worked their way through the grades its inadequacies became more of an issue. My ever generous parents stepped in and provided the money that enabled us to purchase a reconditioned Yamaha upright model. Our piano tuner was delighted.

And once again I decided to tinker. And once again I didn’t practice enough to play well.

Now my elder two children live away from home. My youngest will occasionally make music but I hadn’t touched the instrument in many years – until I received this little book.

Thus, I am taking the challenge as a not quite beginner pianist, and as someone who is familiar with music theory. I will not post my review until I have either mastered the Bach Prelude or practised for six weeks. What I hope to achieve is not just the ability to play one piece, but to discover if I can once again enjoy making music. I will keep you posted on my progress.

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My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quercus.

Random musings: Burqas and bikinis

The idea of wearing a burqa holds certain attractions. Until I am able to purchase an invisibility cloak it offers the chance to hide away from the judgemental eyes of other people. What I don’t like about this garment is the repression that it represents. It is worn because men say that it is required, because a woman’s body tempts a man to sin simply by being on display. It absolves these men of their most basic responsibility: self control.

Those who try to claim that a girl in a skimpy outfit is asking for sex are speaking the same language as those who insist on women covering themselves from head to toe in a black or blue tent. I don’t buy this argument. Any individual should be able to display themselves as they wish without fear of attack, physical or verbal. An attack is always the fault of the attacker, never the victim.

I like to read diversely. Fiction is such a fabulous way to learn about different ways of thinking. I do not tend to seek out books featuring sexually diverse characters or those with varied skin colours because I already see these people as just like me. Skin tone is of as little significance as the colour of clothes. I eat meat but have friends who are vegetarian, am heterosexual but have friends who are gay or bi. Personal preferences are not my concern, unless there is an element of coercion. I do not wish anyone to tell me how to live my life.

What I do like to read about is characters whose day to day lives are coloured by expectations that are foreign to me, whose actions are ruled by cultural differences, acceptance of which I find hard to comprehend.

I will actively seek out a book that will enable me to better understand the issues faced by a child raised in a traditional Pakistani family, or who is expected to adhere to rules laid down by a religious organisation to which their family has always subscribed. Whilst I may wonder at the way these people think, I can learn more about why traditions have developed and see benefits beside the many flaws. I can broaden my understanding and challenge my thinking; see oppressors as people who, perhaps, have never known that it can be beneficial to act in another way. I may not agree with their choices, but I can gain a better understanding of why they behave as they do.

I find it much harder to empathise with those who have been raised with the ability and freedom to decide for themselves, yet who consider it vital that they always present an outward appearance that is acceptable to those around, such as women whose main aim in life seems to be to achieve a bikini body, big hair and smooth skin.

I tend to avoid books where the heroine must be beautiful and has her life enhanced by a handsome hero who will take care of her every need. Why does she have to be beautiful to find love? Why can she not look after herself? I am not against relationships, I have after all been married for more than twenty years and value my husband’s place in my life highly. He is not, however, responsible for my happiness, that is down to me and me alone.

I support the campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks because I recognise that there are too many people who think it is fine to have only pale skinned, heteronormative, cisgendered, able bodied protagonists. In young people’s literature especially, a more realistic physical, sexual and cultural mix matters. All children should be able to see themselves as the hero in at least some of the books that they read.

Still though, I am uncomfortable reading books that contain characters who match a huge section of the society in which I live, those who feel it is desirable to look like Ken or Barbie. I do not understand why so many fear wrinkles and grey hair, why they feel unable to don a bikini because of the very natural shape of their stomach following childbirth or because their legs are dimpled by their love of cake. I find it sad that some men are now swallowing the marketing hype and feel a need to build muscle or moisturise skin. I cannot comprehend this way of thinking.

My hankering after invisibility indicates that I am not immune to other’s judgements. I may struggle to understand why so many think so much about outward appearance, but I am affected by the knowledge that how I look generates negative comment. My antipathy and therefore avoidance of books where the young and beautiful win some mythical happy ever after may well be feeding my prejudices. If I am to gain empathy and understanding then I need to step beyond my view that these books are damaging because they sell an impossible to achieve lie, and try to better understand why they are so popular.

I decided to review a book titled ‘Diary of a Diva‘ because I expected it to be an amusing if superficial account of life from the point of view of a beautiful, media type person who moved in the sorts of circles that are anathema to me. Having read it I suspect that I wished to pat my prejudices on the head and feel quietly superior. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I feel ashamed.

I judged this book by its cover, the author by her looks and career, something that I call others out on doing all the time. This searingly honest account was as much of an eye opener as any of my chosen, foreign based reads. I had wrapped up ‘media type people’ as a vain, homogeneous mass to look down upon. It would seem that I still have a long way to go in dealing with my negative responses towards those who think differently to me. The protagonist of this non fiction book had many admirable qualities to which I should aspire.

I will wear neither burqa nor bikini because that is my choice. I will however continue to try to read more widely. The author of ‘Diary of a Diva’ was able to see and acknowledge her flaws which she then worked to improve. In reading her book I have uncovered a fair few of my own. I will try to do better.

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Time management

Today has been a good day. With the kids back at school and the husband back at work I decided that I needed to try to use my time better. However much I may voice the desire, I cannot create more hours in the day, so I need to improve how I use those that are available.

You’ve heard this before right? I am great at starting each new week with positive plans; not so good at following through for more than a few days. Who knows if I will do any better this time, but I can try.

Over the weekend husband wanted to go walking. I am always happy to get out into the countryside so put aside Sunday for an enjoyable day away. Then I saw the walk that he was suggesting. Wiltshire is undulating and I can cope with that; husband wanted to drive into Wales to the beautiful Brecon Beacons, and his plan was to bag a few mountainous peaks. With my current level of fitness I knew that I would not be able to keep up.

Time was, not so long ago, when this would have been a fine way for me to spend a day. I suggested that husband took eldest son and, despite him offering to do something less strenuous instead, assured him that he should do the walk he wanted without me. I only have myself to blame that I am not capable of such exertions.

After this experience I am determined to do something that will ensure I need not miss out next time. This morning I took myself down to the gym and managed a tough workout followed by a swim. No doubt I will ache tomorrow but at least I have made a start. The challenge will be to keep going, and to eat more healthily alongside.

The older I get the longer it seems to take to feel the benefit of changes to diet and exercise. So much time and effort is needed to achieve what came easily in my younger years. However, I am not yet too old to get fit enough to climb a mountain. All I need is the continuing willpower to effect the change I desire.

Once again I come back to the issue of time, and hence my wish to manage my day better. I want to continue to enter each of the fiction challenges that I enjoy, but also to take part in favoured blog hops. I want to be reading the blogs I follow and leaving comments, something that I have been neglecting recently. I have so many books that I want to read and review I could lose days to this favourite pursuit. If I am to care for my house and family as they deserve then something is going to have to give, and I suspect it is going to have to be the hours that I currently devote to my writing.

Balance is good in life and I am sure that I can find a way to fit in what is truly important. When I see how much others manage to accomplish I realise that I can do better than I have been achieving recently. I do not plan on giving anything up entirely, merely changing how much time I devote to any one thing.

That is the theory, now I need to act. Day one has gone well; onwards and upwards.

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Lent: what can I do, not what can I do without

I woke up to blue skies and sunshine on Saturday, the first day of Spring. I have a vase full of freshly cut daffodils from my garden brightening up my kitchen; there are signs of buds and leaves emerging from the bare, woody plants in my garden.


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New life, a promise of warmth, a chance to relax and enjoy the view from the back of my house as the seemingly endless grey skies of recent months finally lift.

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After my few days away over half term I came back wanting to write, yet found that I was too busy with chores and children, mess and disorganisation. When I eventually sat myself down to put words into my computer they poured out of me like a flood. I found time for little else until the need to create abated. Flitting from one extreme to the other in this way creates rush and stress, I need to find balance.

With Lent approaching I have been considering how I can improve. I do not plan to give anything up, to fast, but instead I will try to focus on the meditative side of Christ’s retreat. I am thinking about what I can do in order to become a better wife, mother, friend, person; what can I do rather than what can I do without.

With the advent of Spring comes an increase in family activity and additional demands on my time. If I am to become the person that I wish to be then I need to look after myself better, to be mindful of my own well being. This is not about navel gazing but rather of searching out ways to improve my health and thereby my ability to give.

My hens are starting to lay more eggs after their long, winter rest. This evening, Shrove Tuesday, we will use their bounty and feast on pancakes.

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My husband will take up duty at the stove, heating and tossing the batter, while I try to persuade my children to choose the savoury fillings before moving on to the lemon and sugar, sticky syrup or chocolate banana that they favour. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, I will begin yet another quest for self improvement.

As with many new beginnings, my desire is strong. Unfortunately, in recent months, my resolve in these matters has proven to be disappointingly weak. All that I can do is to keep trying; moving forward is the only option, time travel only goes one way.

This Lent I will be trying to establish a daily routine that enables me to restore balance to my life. I have not been making best use of my time and the knock on effect has been heightened stress as I have been unable to maintain standards in certain areas that matter to me. I have also been neglecting my health which has drained my energy levels. I will be looking at this little graphic and reminding myself that each of these areas requires attention, not just the one that appears the most desirable at a given time.

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There are so many things that I wish to do, but if I am to tread gently through this life then I must ensure that I remain mindful of both myself and others. We reflect and absorb what goes on around us, affecting all by how we live.

I feel that I am in a better place now than I was a year ago. I am learning to avoid damaging situations, even when others do not understand why I must act as I do. I am learning to stand up for my right to be me.

This Lent I will try to use the inner strength that I am building on to quietly offer more to those I care about. Small steps, mindfully taken.

‘Tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighbourhoods.’ 

Motivation

Our house is on a hill at the edge of a rural village. From my bedroom window I look down over fields and woodland towards a river valley and distant railway line. This morning the valley is shrouded in a light mist. There is frost on the ground and the few remaining leaves on the trees are shades of green and gold and brown. The newly risen sun is trying to break through the light cloud. It is a beautiful morning.

For some time now I have been following a blog written by a young mother in America. I love the way she writes about her life challenges and her thoughts. She sounds like the sort of person I would enjoy getting to know outside of the internet. Our lives are very different in so many ways, yet we also have much in common. I think that we could make some good conversation given the chance.

Yesterday she asked the question, What’s Your Motivation for getting up in the morning? It has set off a whole tree load of thoughts in my head. It made me realise that, unlike my younger self, I look forward to getting up each day. I enjoy the early mornings, the silence and the peace of a sleeping house. There is rarely anything in particular about the day that I am looking forward to doing. When I look ahead, beyond the day that I am in, I feel anxious. When I relax where I am now I feel happy and calm.

I have friends who love to travel. Not for them the package holiday in the sun, where comfort is guaranteed and all their needs are catered for; they visit amazing places where they explore what lies beyond the standard tourist trail. As soon as they return from an adventure they plan the next one. They live their lives in eager anticipation.

I have other friends whose lives revolve around parties, concerts, outings to the theatre and to restaurants with family and friends. They enjoy the social whirl, the chance to dress up and get out. They are busy and active with their plans and full diaries, sleeping late to recover and prepare for the next big thing.

I have no wish to do these things. I can understand the attraction and enjoy hearing about their activities, seeing pictures of my friends having fun doing their thing. For me though I want the safety and security of home.

I get up in the morning, draw back the curtains and look down on the magnificent view outside my bedroom window. I feel grateful that I live here, at peace with the world. I spend my days reading, writing, making my home a more comfortable place for my family to enjoy. When I go out it is on foot or on my bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside or to visit the local gym and pool.

My days are full and satisfying. I am motivated to get up in the morning because I anticipate the pleasure I will find in this new day. If I think of what lies beyond then events that concern me come to mind: a need to drive my daughter to an unknown city for a conference, a dinner that I must cook for guests. When I look ahead I worry about all the things that could go wrong.

It is not that I fear the future, but more that I remember similar, specific events that caused me grief and wish to avoid the risk of repetition. I feel safe and secure in my day to day life where I can take pleasure in simple activities. Facing the unknown requires courage that I struggle to find.

Other readers of the blog that I linked to above commented that their motivation for getting up and on with their day was obligation. I wonder if I have grown selfish in setting aside the obligations that used to drive so many of my actions. It was these that caused my problems; removing them from my life was a means of self preservation.

It is that self word that concerns me though. I wonder what sort of a person I have become that I live so much for what is good for me rather than others. If I am to serve my family well then I must preserve my health and my sanity, but there is a wider world to consider.

Life has a habit of moving on and changing us as new experiences offer the opportunity to learn and grow. I am not the same person I was a year ago; I cannot know what I will become.

For now then I will allow myself to enjoy this period of solitude and calm. I will continue to drink in the beauty of my surroundings, remaining mindful that transition is inevitable. I am as much a part of this world as all that is about me; I will seek to act with the care and respect that it deserves.

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Time management

Yesterday my children returned to school and my husband returned to work after the half term break. Despite not doing a great deal of note I enjoyed this holiday. I am in a good place at the moment as regards personal space. I seem to have found a balance that suits me between supporting my family and doing things for myself. I am managing not to allow how I think others expect me to behave to push me in directions that make me feel uncomfortable.

As well as my reading and writing I visited the gym a few times, spent time in the garden with my hens and completed a few of the housework type jobs that demanded my attention loudly enough. I even managed a bit of sewing and baking over the course of the week. I am so not a domestic goddess but there were no disasters. I can reflect on the results of my efforts with some satisfaction.

The holiday ended with the start of NaNoWriMo. It is now Day 5 of this challenge and I am enjoying taking part far more than I expected to. Of course, I enjoy writing or I would not have chosen to sign up. So far though the task has been a real mood lifter. As I watch my word count climb I can feel my spirits rise with it. My family are allowing me the space and time requested and my story is flowing.

Yesterday I also started a distance learning psychology course with the University of Warwick. I spent a very enjoyable few hours completing some interesting and, at times, counter intuitive background reading before taking part in an experiment; my visual reaction times are embarrassingly slow! I then had to complete a short test which seemed to be aimed at ensuring I had understood the concepts discussed; so far so good.

I found the coursework fascinating; there was so much new information to take in and consider. The results of some of the studies discussed made me question a lot of aspects of the way I and many of my friends think. It would appear that we are not nearly as knowledgeable and reasoned as we may like to believe.

By the time I had worked my way through all my usual, mundane chores; cleaning, laundry, dishes, cooking; my day was gone. These personal challenges that I have taken on may be enjoyable and rewarding in themselves, but the issue in completing them seems likely to be finding the time to give them the attention they demand if the standards that I wish to achieve are to be maintained.

I struggle with lengthy goals. I don’t mean things that take years but rather things that take more than a few weeks. When I can see an end to a task I want to reach it as quickly as possible. I find it hard to pace myself and enjoy the journey.

When I was at school I would try to complete homework at the first opportunity after it was set. I found that I couldn’t relax knowing that there was work to be done; I couldn’t enjoy down time with the knowledge that I had tasks that still needed to be completed, even if not immediately.

In my final year at university I took part in a programme that allowed older students to mark first year student’s work. We were given model answers and a dozen or so papers each and would spend a few hours going through each submission, adding helpful comments and awarding marks. Most students completed this task over a week or so. I would try to sit down on the night I picked up the papers and complete the marking in one sitting. I would then return the papers to faculty the next day. I wanted to do the job and do it to a high standard, but I also wanted it done and out of the way. I would worry that something unforeseen may occur that would prevent me meeting the deadline and I would end up letting my tutors down.

These days I have a similar attitude to relaxation. I prefer to prepare meals that need to sit in the oven or bubble in a pot before serving rather than something that requires last minute attention. I worry that, if a meal is needed at a certain time and something goes wrong, then I will have failed; a child may be late to an appointment and it will be my fault. Once the prep has been done and all that is needed is for cooking time to elapse then I can relax. My job is done, I have completed all that can be expected of me.

I am noticing this attitude in the way that I am tackling NaNoWriMo. I catch myself thinking that, even though I am slowly getting ahead of my required, daily word count, that 50,000 word mark still seems so far away. I struggle with pacing myself, wanting to race to the end.

Sometimes it takes a concious effort not to do this with the books I read. I want to know what happens so rush to finish where I could derive more enjoyment from putting the story down and granting myself thinking time.

When jobs cannot be completed (there is no end to housework) I can procrastinate with the best of them, my ironing pile is testament to that. When a challenge takes too long to yield results (such as losing weight) then I struggle to find the motivation to continue beyond the initial determination. It is those goals that are within sight and attainable with just a bit more effort that I rush to complete.

Time management is an interesting concept. Am I a good time manager because I accomplish tasks quickly? I would consider my time better spent if I could pace myself. Efficiency and effectiveness are all very well but when we do something for pleasure, rushing it seems foolish. Yes I get a buzz out of the final accomplishment, but if it’s purpose is enjoyment why rush?

Perhaps one of my problems is that if I put something down for too long then there is a risk that it will be abandoned. There are books that I have not finished, a cross stitch project that I was deriving satisfaction from but has not been picked up in over a year. If I am to conclude a task then I need to internally schedule time for it and then stick with that. I like organisation and routine; the unexpected, including random surprises, stress me.

Perhaps the most important thing in good time management is learning what suits us as individuals and then working to fit that way of living into our days. I know that I need to have control over what I do and how I do it. I rail against being told what is best for me. When I am granted the freedom to follow a path of my choosing then I can work on improving how I accomplish tasks in a way that enhances my quality of life.

The author George R.R. Martin has stated that there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. For someone who likes her life to be so strictly under my control, planned out and organised, I am a little surprised to discover that my writing style is more like the gardener. I have no idea where my NaNoWriMo story is going to end up. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am so eager to progress, that I may find out.

I created the graphic myself.

Travel

I have not travelled abroad in many years. In my younger days, before I was married, I would think nothing of embarking on adventures to the far flung corners of the world. I would book flights or travel by boat and train to unknown continents and countries, happily assuming that I would be able to sort out cheap accommodation wherever I ended up. Many of these journeys were undertaken alone.

As a student I was always travelling on a tight budget. I would sleep on whatever transport system I was using, in a tent or find an incomplete building in a resort and curl up in my sleeping bag in a corner. Sometimes I would stay with friends of friends; if I had acquired company then we would hitch lifts in lorries or from passing strangers. I wished to see as much of the world as possible before what little money I had ran out.

I had no interest in package holidays that involved pretty clothes and sunbathing. I wanted to explore, experience new cultures and see how other people thought and lived. As well as Europe I visited Africa, the Middle East and finally, just after I started work, had a more luxurious trip to Australia. I found the long, cramped flight hard to bear and it marked the end of my globe trotting.

Had my husband been keen to go out into the world with me then I guess we would have continued to travel, but he seemed happy to explore our own country. So long as holidays involved days spent walking long distances up and down high places, followed by a copious supply of good food, he was content. I was in love; if he was happy then so was I.

We have never taken our children abroad, but they are starting to explore the world for themselves. They have each made initial forays into Europe with school, and my daughter has just returned from a month in Africa with Scouts. Last summer I flew alone for the first time in twenty-five years when I made the short hop across the Irish Sea to visit family. It reminded me that travel itself can be fulfilling and fun.

I no longer crave excitement as I once did but recognise that pushing myself just a little beyond my comfort zone is good for my inner health. So long as I do not have to cope with those who bring me down I can still blossom and enjoy new situations, scary though I may now find the prospect. Thus I took the decision to break my habit of reticence and travel abroad this summer; just me and my older two children, even if only for a few days.

It feels as though a part of me that has been lying dormant has been awakened. I no longer have the confidence that I once had, but the interest and appreciation of difference is still there. My day to day life is so insular and I wish to expand both my knowledge and my outlook.

This vague plan would not have come to fruition had a friend not made the generous offer to host us in his small apartment. As seasoned campers we will be fine with the facilities available, but I am so aware that we will be invading his space. Having said that, I am as excited about having the opportunity to spend time with him as with seeing the city. A proper catch up with an old and dear friend is a rare treat for me. I look forward to our discussions at least as much as the sight seeing.

To prepare for our visit my friend provided us with a DVD explaining some of the history of the city we will be exploring. I have always enjoyed history and am eager to learn more; this is also the main reason for taking my children. An appreciation of European history from a non British perspective can only help them to understand how we got to where we are today.

I am being offered a gentle reintroduction to exploration and discovery with an informed and friendly hand to guide me. I am stepping out into a world that was once mine for the taking rather than hiding behind my husband’s preferences and desires. For five days I will have the opportunity to be me; I am intrigued as to what I will discover.

Thus, in a couple of weeks time I will have a fascinating city to experience, a friend to spend time with, and a chance to reveal how much of the person I once was remains. It should be an interesting trip.

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Self improvement

I very much enjoy receiving feedback on my posts and welcome all of  the comments that readers have kindly taken the time to submit. Some of these come from people who do not know me and have found this site by chance. If they are also bloggers then I will try to visit their sites; I now follow several of them and enjoy considering their posts immensely. There is only so much that I can manage to read in a day but I welcome the chance to gain a perspective on their lives and on the thoughts and issues that they discuss.

Other comments come from people who know me outside of the internet. Often these are posted on my Facebook page, where I always include links to the posts that I publish. As these people know me personally, and have often done so for many years, their comments can be more of a challenge to deal with. They are not just basing their reactions on the words that I write but on the person that they know. It takes more courage to share thoughts and feelings with friends than with strangers. If things go badly then I have more to lose.

If I were not happy to receive such feedback then I should not write about personal or controversial topics. That, however, is one of the aspects of blog writing that I enjoy. I like to put down what I am thinking; I find that it helps to clarify in my own mind what are sometimes fairly woolly thoughts. It also helps me to see where I have done my own thinking and where I have simply believed what others have told me. Much of our knowledge is obtained in this way but, when I choose to disseminate an argument, I am taking it as my own. I am well aware that I have valued friends who will strongly disagree with many of my views.

What has been particularly interesting for me has been the general feedback that I have received on the methods that I appear to employ when considering a subject. I have been told that, whilst I claim to encourage reasoned debate, I do not always come across as accepting of others point of view when they disagree with me. I state that I respect the right of others to think differently to me yet display an exasperated manner and speak impatiently of their choices. It would seem that others do not see me in the way that I see myself. When I think about this honestly, I believe that they are right.

I find it easier to clarify my thoughts in writing rather than face to face as I need time to consider what I wish to say. I am not good at debates; my mind is not quick enough and I cannot recall the detail of enough factual knowledge to make it sound as if I know my subject; I do not have a good memory for detail. At school I was better at the subjects which required problems to be worked through rather than a regurgitation of memorized information. I failed miserably at languages as I just could not recall enough words. When faced with a friend who possesses a memory to rival Google I feel bumbling and foolish; I need time to consider new information and to work through my thoughts on this new information as I would a mathematical puzzle.

When I am considering a subject I will try to read around it, but even this can be fraught with difficulty. I cannot help but have preconceptions and it is so easy to read opinion pieces that agree with how I already think. When a writer, well qualified in his subject, creates a cognizant argument with well researched facts, figures and references to back up my point of view it feels so satisfying; it is as if I am being proved right despite others not agreeing with me. Much harder is to read a similar document that is equally well put together but carefully argues that I am wrong in my thinking. This makes uncomfortable reading. I am working hard to make myself seek out these difficult pieces and grant them proper consideration.

In my head I find myself thinking that those who disagree with me cannot be reading and considering the information that has encouraged me to think the way I do, but that is disingenuous and beside the point. This is not about me changing others – I have no right to attempt to do that – it is about improving myself. Effecting change in the way I think is a challenge.

If I wish to become the person that I have claimed to be then it will require effort but I truly do not wish to be closed to new thinking, neither do I wish to be accepting of flawed arguments. Living with ourselves can be difficult enough at times; by promoting myself as this open and reasonable, accepting and respectful individual I have been outed as a hypocrite. Now I need to do something about it.

Please continue to comment on the subjects that I write on. I am going to try to read more of those disagreeable but well argued opinion pieces and to give more consideration to why I have accepted a certain point of view. It will be interesting to see how my own thinking changes, if at all. I doubt that I will be able to debate any more effectively, but I hope that I will grow closer to being the person that I have claimed to be.

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One step at a time

Weight a-gain

So, here we are at the beginning of another new month. Those of you who read my blog regularly may recall that, at the beginning of last month, I decided that I was going to try to lose a bit of weight in preparation for a few events I am looking forward to attending in the coming weeks. You will be pleased to know that I have been successful in my attempts to shift quite a few pounds. Unfortunately I did not manage to lose them, merely to set them aside only for them to find me again. My weight loss has been impressive but my weight gain has countermanded all the good effects. I will not be as svelte in my appearance as I had envisaged.

I see no point in beating myself up over this sort of thing. Life is too short and I am already within a healthy weight range for my age and height. I will tell myself that women are supposed to have curves and be grateful that my party dresses are made of stretchy fabric. It would have been nice to have flattened out a few of the bulges but I only have myself to blame. If I controlled my eating more effectively I would lose the weight.

I find it much easier to eat sensibly in the summer than the winter. We have had what feels like a particularly wet and cold summer, autumn and winter in this part of the world, and this has proved too strong a disincentive to venturing outside. I am a fair weather cyclist but would usually walk in most conditions. However, I have found it difficult to wrap up effectively against the wet and cold in recent months so have not been getting out and about as much as I would wish. Staying home, so close to our food stores, has not proved beneficial to my waistline. I find this lack of self control more disappointing than the effect it has had on my size.

Despite my failure to change my appearance as I would wish I am still very much looking forward to the events I have been invited to. I do not tend to socialise regularly so the novelty will be enjoyed. I sometimes feel as if I am taking a role in a play when I go out for the evening. I act my part and hope that I remember my lines. Much of the pleasure that I get from these occasions is in people watching and mulling over the experience afterwards. My hope is that I will remain largely invisible to the crowd; a bit part or background filler merging into the scenery. Whilst I would not wish to be ignored, I crave no particular attention.

In many ways this is reminiscent of my life. I wish to live away from the gaze of others; to do my own thing quietly and peacefully without fuss. I enjoy catching up with friends and hearing about their lives and news but rarely choose to join in with their exciting activities. It is good to have an occasional celebration to look forward to, but I have no wish to regularly party.

I had a telephone conversation with an old friend from my home town yesterday. Since we last talked her family has celebrated a wedding and a birth – sometimes I realise that I have left a catch up too long. When we were teenagers we used to go to parties together, dressed outrageously as our protest against the prevailing need to dress fashionably and in something new for each event. We could not afford to keep up with such frivolity. These days I would not wish to draw such attention to myself so try to dress to fit in although still rarely in a new outfit. I do not attend enough parties to justify the purchase of more dresses, however tempting it may be to conform.

I still have a little time before I must pour myself into whichever dress I choose to wear to the next event. Perhaps I shall manage a few more visits to the gym and a few less to the food cupboard in that time. I have left it too late now to make a significant change to my size, but perhaps I can manage a very slight improvement. It would feel good to be able to prove to myself that I can ignore the inner voice telling me to eat, drink and darn the consequences!

Party

Possessions

The best things in life are not things. Good health, a pain free day, enough food and comfortable shelter are all so much more important. Feeling safe, cared for and loved will provide more contentment than any number of possessions. Yet, it is still so hard not to feel possessive of the things we own.

I love to read good books; I have had some interesting discussions with friends about what makes a book good. I have many bookshelves full of books that I have enjoyed and that I enjoy sharing with others. I lend books out to friends regularly. A physical book is, generally, a low value and easily replaceable item. I often buy my books second hand as I do not need them to be in pristine condition. I have avoided moving to an ebook reader as I wish to be able to share my books around. Why then do I feel irritation when one is not returned? Surely it is better that a book be read than that it gather dust on a bookshelf.

I recently noticed that a few of my much enjoyed books had gone. I remember lending some of them out so approached the lady I thought I had leant them to and asked if she had them. She did not. She had another book of mine and had borrowed one of the missing volumes at another time but returned it. As I lend my books out widely and regularly they could be with any number of people. I felt a sense of embarrassment at having asked for their return. I felt petty and mean, especially when I realised that I had approached the wrong person.

I am as much annoyed by the irritation I feel at the loss of these possessions as about the loss itself. I try to be a generous and giving person and do not wish to concern myself about a few books that I have leant out and that can easily be replaced. When I have finished with some item; toys that my children have outgrown, books that I have read but not enjoyed or clothes that will no longer be worn but that are still in good condition; I gain pleasure from passing them on to someone who will benefit from them. A number of my friends use sites such as ebay to raise money from such things. I have sold a few, small bits and pieces, but found that I gained more satisfaction from passing on freely than from the small sums I raised through sales. When I have expressed this view I have been accused of not appreciating that others have more need of the money than I. Whatever the truth of this, I would not wish to try to influence others behaviour. If they derive satisfaction (and useful money!) from selling items then that is good. I derive satisfaction from giving things away, but only I guess when I have finished with the items myself.

My feeling of loss over a few books cannot be explained in purely monetary terms. In lending out a possession we show trust in the borrower; we show that we wish to share what we have with them. When I have borrowed from a friend I have taken especially good care not to cause damage. Perhaps some of the irritation that can arise from such acts of kindness is in the unknown differences in how a person values an item. There are books that I have leant out that I would happily give away; I do not require them back. There are other, much loved tomes, that I am lending out because I wish to share the enjoyment; I would wish this book to be returned. I cannot expect a borrower to know the difference.

One of my friends keeps a notebook in which she writes down who she lends a book to and when. She also writes her name in her books. Perhaps if the loss of a few books irritates me then I should follow her example. I would prefer, however, to just get over my possessiveness. Good things should be shared and I want to continue to pass on the joy of reading a good book. I wish to cultivate a more generous spirit and not be mean and petty with my possessions.

It is the things that we do not own and cannot replace that have a true value. Our possessions only have a value in the pleasure that we derive from them; it is the pleasure that is of value rather than the thing. Today I will sort through my bookshelves and try to work out which of my books are missing. If I regret their loss then I will replace them. I will remember how fortunate I am that I can do this. I will continue to lend out my favourite books and hope that the pleasure that I derived from reading them can be shared. I will strive to improve myself by cultivating a more generous spirit. How much richer our world would be if all could manage to be just that little bit more giving, not of things, but of themselves.

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