Social Normalities in War and Revolution

This post is an assignment set by a history course I am currently working my way through with Futurelearn, Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923 — Trinity College Dublin

The question set is, “Does the survival of even some social normalities alter your sense of how dramatically lives were changed or disrupted by war and revolution?” It should be answered in no more than 500 words.


In times of war and revolution death lurks in the shadows but life goes on. What is considered normal in everyday life is changing all the time. Adapting may be a challenge yet somehow people cope and always have done because they have no other choice. The majority of a country’s population have no control over whether or where trouble and violence will occur. Whatever is going on around there are still jobs to be done, meals to prepare and a day to get through. Even when living in times of increased risk, comparatively few will die as a result of a bullet or a bomb.

It does not surprise me that games of golf were played, dances attended and meetings with friends arranged as violence raged in Ireland. The disruptions such as curfews would be seen as an irritation but most would adapt albeit with varying degrees of grace.

More noticeable would be the divisions brought into focus as sides were taken. Political, religious or personal beliefs that may previously have been tolerated become betrayals when a matter of life and death for those someone knows and cares about. A choice to help or hinder a cause, to become involved, can bring with it camaraderie but also deep enmity. Those risking their lives fighting to protect or impose their beliefs expect support from family and friends. This is generally forthcoming even from those who may not previously have had much interest in the cause.

Still though, the day to day lives of most of the population will be their primary concern unless the violence affects them directly. They may discuss the war but also the weather. They are more likely to pass the time of day gossiping about friends and neighbours than about the latest goings on in parliament. War and revolution are of interest looking back when the effects may be studied, but those living through it are doing what all must do in the here and now, living their lives as best they can under circumstances that are largely beyond their control.


What is political activism?

This post is an assignment set by a history course I am currently working my way through with Futurelearn, Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912-1923 — Trinity College Dublin

The question set is, “What amounts to ‘political activism’ in a period of war and revolution?” It should be answered in no more than 300 words.

Political activism can include fighting and protests but these are a means to an end. Wars are fought to try to force those who disagree to comply. War is an extreme form of bullying, undertaken by the many at the behest of the powerful.

In peacetime and in war protests are commonly used to raise awareness. They are a rallying call for the faithful, a recruiting ground for those who may not yet have been galvanised to publicly offer their support to a cause. Those who care about what others think of them will feel good being a part of a popular movement. The excitement of being seen to be at the forefront of potential change can be enticing.

Where political activism starts though is in the home amongst family and friends. This is where discussions occur and ideas are shared. Whether a person is regarded or disdained, their opinion has influence. A wish to be accepted by a group can be a powerful factor.

Political activists do not just include the impressive orators and dogged campaigners, although charismatic leaders are required. What is needed is large numbers of supporters who are willing to stand up and be counted, people with a view who will work to persuade others by whatever means they can.

War and revolution focus attention by creating suffering that all will want to end. As more minor differences are set aside in the quest for peace, activists prey on the masses emotions to ensure that their core beliefs are enshrined.


Mothers and daughters

I have been reading a lot of thought provoking posts recently on how we raise and treat sons and daughters, boys and girls. Expectations about gender have been discussed, from the pinkness of girl’s toys to allowing boys to wear dresses if they wish to. Whether we, as parents, should actively encourage gender neutral play or just let our kids do what they want and go with the flow.

I did not dress my daughter in pink when she was little, and she had few dresses. With two brothers growing up behind her I was always aware of the cost of clothes and how short a time they were worn for. I dressed my daughter in outfits that could be passed on and bought her toys that all three could play with. I took hand me downs from anyone generous enough to offer them, and most of these came from boys.

She did have a few dolls, but I only remember her playing with one just after her younger brother was born. She asked for real nappies and discarded the play bottles, hitching up her t shirt to feed her ‘baby’ from her toddler chest while I nursed her brother. She soon tired of this game and returned to her soft toys, trucks and Lego. At three years old she had more interesting games to play.

When they were little I remember one of her brothers kicking out at her; and their grandmother, appalled, telling my son that he must never, ever kick or hit a girl. Had she not added the girl bit I would not have objected to the reprimand. It was the kick that was naughty, not the fact that she was a girl. I would have been just as cross had my daughter kicked her brother. I did my best to raise them to follow the same rules, with no special treatment based on gender.

All three of my children played football and hockey, trained in judo and joined Scouts. My daughter did try Brownies and Guides, but never felt that she fitted in so well. Boys were more straightforward, less moody, more willing to build rockets, play outside in foul weather, get muddy without fuss. At least some of them were, the ones that she wished to play with.

It suited our family to have a daughter who showed little interest in her looks or her clothes, although I didn’t give this much thought until last year. She surprised me by deciding that she wished to attend her school Prom, so we needed to consider dress, shoes, hair and make up. I began to see a pattern amongst her peers that, perhaps naively, surprised me.

From the small sample that I observed, the daughters of mothers who dyed their hair blond and their skin tan, did the same. Mothers who liked impractical shoes and would not leave the house without make up, had daughters who chose to wear high heels and make up. Mothers with a more relaxed attitude to their looks had daughters who were happy to allow their natural beauty to take centre stage.

Given that most sixteen year old girls look fabulous whatever they wear, all the girls at the event looked amazing. I did not enquire but suspect that each mother thought that their daughter looked at her best. I certainly perceived my daughter as beautiful, although I often do even in the most ordinary of situations.

My surprise was, I guess, more that the daughters reflected their mothers choices so clearly. I wonder which of them would be most appalled at this thought.

Much as I love my mother I have never aspired to be like her. I see little similarity between us in either looks or outlook. So many of the young girls I observed seemed to be clear reflections of their mother’s tastes.

I can see both my husband and me in our daughter and I like that. She is also an individual in her own right. Perhaps sixteen was just too young and these young ladies will find their own way in the years to come. I am aware that my choices for myself are now influenced by my daughter, so perhaps it should not surprise me that some of my influences may rub off on her.

My sons seem so much less like me than my daughter, although my elder son is his father in just about every way except looks. I know that many of my views and habits now irritate him so perhaps he is reacting against that, or perhaps our influence as parents is not so great and my daughter merely tries harder to please.

The nature versus nurture debate is an interesting one.  There is no doubt that, as they grow older, parental influence diminishes, as it should if the world is to progress.

My children give me hope for the future because they do not dwell on gender, race or creed as so many adults did when I was growing up. They expect equal treatment as a right. Perhaps it is time for we adults to listen more to our young people and less to conventions that have caused the problems we are now trying to avoid.

The generations move on and so must we, guiding lovingly and mindfully until our young people are ready to lead us into the future.


How contagious are opinions?

I like to think that, as I go through life, I learn from the experience. I observe and listen to the people I meet, I consider the various texts that I read on all mediums, I evaluate my responses and question if I should be adjusting my point of view. I wonder though how much of this is within my reasoned control. I wonder if all opinions are contagious.

Let me try to explain what I mean. I consider myself fortunate in being surrounded by intelligent individuals both at home and amongst my wider sphere of friends. These people come from differing backgrounds and often have strong views which they can back up with carefully presented examples and facts. They are capable of arguing their cases calmly and cogently even if they come to differing conclusions amongst themselves. They consider those who do not agree with them to be at best deluded, but more often foolish. They each appear convinced of their own rightness.

I am rarely convinced of my absolute rightness. Apart from my views on religion, which are based on a belief born of many personal experiences, most of my views have been built up over many years and are not fixed. It is not that I am swinging wildly from one side to the other, but rather that I am not so fixated on any particular argument that I am unwilling to consider that I may need to take some outcome into account that I had not previously considered.

I wonder how much I am influenced by impressive oratory skills and how much by the opinions presented. How blinkered are the views of those I listen to?

In an attempt to learn more about why people think as they do I follow quite a few political activists on line. I read a great number of comment pieces and consider historical outcomes based on principles argued for that, too often, didn’t quite work out as anticipated. The more I learn the less clear I am about any side’s rightness. I do not understand how my friends can be so unquestioning in what they argue for.

Yet I do believe that their opinions are contagious. Once they have put their thoughts into my head I cannot forget them. The thoughts sit there, waiting to offer a rebuttal to the next opposing point of view. By trying to be receptive and fair in my own opinions I am considering conflicting conclusions drawn from the same finite well of facts. How am I to know what to think?

Let me put down some questions to consider. Do we encourage the government to spend huge amounts of money on developing so called renewable energy when the resulting environmental benefits are questionable? Do we ensure that nobody goes hungry by increasing the availability of welfare for the needy when this acts as a sticking plaster rather than addressing the cause which is often not enough access to decent jobs? Do we invest in encouraging enterprise to create jobs when this also benefits the wealthy? Do we increase taxes on the wealthy when this will encourage them to move to a country that is less punitive, thereby removing their investment from the economy? Do we nationalise to keep profits within the economy when this has, historically, led to gross waste, lack of investment and inefficiency?

The previous paragraph is obviously simplistic and the causes/effects questionable. However, I have listened to many arguments that both back up and refute each of these examples. The result of these assaults on my reason is that I have no clear answers, I do not know what to think.

Yet in each of these cases I do think something, I cannot help but have an opinion. Often this is based on what I would once have considered to be common sense, yet that is invariably biased and based on views I have been exposed to rather than facts I can be sure of. Of course I do not wish to see any citizen of what is still a wealthy country go hungry, but if the hungry choose not to buy food because of an addiction should we subsidise that? I wish the ill to receive quality healthcare, but if their illness is not life threatening then should they receive whatever treatment they desire? Always there is an opposing argument, an extreme case to be cited, statistics that show how many or how few cases exist. There are statistics to back up every argument and a slippery slope for the opposition to take advantage of. How far do we go with the finite resources available?

I am not attempting to offer answers for any of this but rather to put forward for consideration this idea that our thoughts, views and beliefs are influenced so strongly by the arguments that we are exposed to. I would argue that, with difficult and complex situations to consider, nobody can be absolutely right.

One of the things that I find quite depressing is that some of those I know are so willing to mock opposing points of view in an attempt to sway opinion. They come across as patronising rather than convincing. In the public sphere this is also the case, an example being in the climate change debate. Eminent scientists on both sides offer biased and incomplete arguments, dismissing the opposition with accusations of being under dubious paymasters and therefore not trustworthy. There is little open and reasoned debate. It is hard, as an observer, to be sympathetic to either side when it is clear that this issue has become such a money spinner. Big oil may finance the sceptics but agreeing with ‘the consensus’ appears to be necessary to retain a job in the field. Science suffers as trust is lost amongst the spin and hyperbole. Information is hidden, opposing opinions derided, the public patronised.

I will continue to attempt to learn but have become much more cynical as I have observed how my own response to difficult questions can be altered by a well researched article or debate. Where is the balance between being too easily swayed and stubbornly digging in when a position becomes dubious as previously unknown facts come to light? Difficult questions rarely have easy answers.

I find it depressing that papers such as The Daily Mail are still influential, the mainstream media reports only news that it knows will sell, headlines mislead and memories are short. Too few seem interested in paying attention, preferring to believe the popular sound bites and shock tactics employed to sway public opinion.

Even when I do not agree, I can respect other’s right to hold opinions based on critical thinking. Perhaps some may consider themselves better than others, a conceit that is unlikely to be conducive to open and rational thought, but if they can back up their opinions when pressed, whatever their prejudices, then I can learn from them. Who knows, perhaps over time some of my opinions may even be caught by those I know. I suspect that some may be horrified at such a thought.



I have a healthy body. Apart from a few, minor, chronic issues that have hung around from the occasional, previous illnesses I have endured (none serious), or that are a result of simply living my life and ageing, I enjoy good, physical health. Sometimes I see others come down with an apparently endless stream of minor ailments that seem to demand attention and medication, and catch myself thinking that they are making an unnecessary fuss. With a more robust attitude, they could push through the discomfort without intervention and allow their bodies to heal naturally. I catch myself being unsympathetically smug and self righteous; sometimes I realise that I have a very unpleasant person inside me, lurking in the shadows. I cannot know of other’s needs or how they are feeling.

A week or so ago my youngest son developed a cold. He was feeling a bit achy and tired but kept going and didn’t fuss unduly; my kids know better than to expect much sympathy for such things. Inevitably, I picked up the virus. It settled in my sinuses and caused discomfort but was, quite simply, a cold. No need to talk about it or stop normal activities. I expected my son to continue with school and I was determined that I could continue with my routine.

Except I couldn’t seem to shake it off. The sniffles and the achiness developed into chills and sweats; headaches and nausea ensued. I was feeling very unwell so decided to give myself a break and have a day of rest to allow my body to heal. I snuggled down under a duvet to read my book and catch up with blog posts.

Is it the time of year or can we catch stuff off the internet? It seemed that every other blogger I follow was suffering from some sort of illness, most of them considerably more serious than mine. And a lot of these women have little kids to look after. Sure, I still had to get up in the morning to see that my family started their day as they should, I had to put a meal on the table each evening, but for a lot of the time I can properly rest. These other mothers had no such luxury.

Every last one of the writers sharing their thoughts was feeling seriously under the weather, and guilty as hell for not being able to keep going. There was no fussing or indulgence going on here. They had been physically floored yet felt that they should be trying to drag their bodies through their working day for the sake of their families.

It has made me think about differing attitudes to occasional sickness. There seem to be those who will turn to the doctor and expect medication at the slightest sign of a possible issue. Then there are those for whom the doctor is a last resort, who will wait for a full blown, debilitating illness before thinking of seeking medical intervention. And how we respond ourselves seems to determine how we regard other’s behaviour; talk about being judgemental!

I try so very hard not to judge others, yet time and again I fail. I feel more sympathy for these people I have never met, whose lives I know only through what they write, than I do for many of those around me. Of course, there are friends who suffer serious, and recurring health issues; who do their best to soldier on with whatever medication can help. Why do I admire this stoicism yet fail to dredge up sympathy for others whose illnesses may be debilitating but, in my eyes (and what do I know anyway) not serious?

I admire and envy those who always seem to be able to naturally respond with kindness and empathy. Too often I am awkward and tongue tied, spouting platitudes that reek of insincerity even when that is not what I am thinking. I too easily show irritation or impatience; it is as if the gentle kindness that I would prefer to offer has been buried too deeply to be seen.

I wonder how much of the way we react to others is affected by how we are treated ourselves; how much is a reflection, learned behaviour. Is the brusqueness that I inadvertently convey a part of me or a reaction to how I have been treated? What traits am I encouraging in my offspring?

I am saddened when I do not think kinder thoughts or react in a less than empathetic manner. Given the way I act, I do not expect to be treated gently myself. This illness will pass, hopefully without inconveniencing my family. If any of the bloggers that I follow and who are ill read this, I wish you and yours a speedy recovery too.



Yesterday I started to read a new book. I put this book on my Amazon wishlist after I came across a glowing review of it on a Facebook friend’s ‘Books I’ve enjoyed’ Pinterest board. There it sat for more that half a year. The synopsis and general reviews were encouraging, the price was not off putting, yet I never seemed to move it across to my basket when other books or DVDs were being purchased. It was the cover that put me off.


I like my books to be challenging or, at the very least, thought provoking. This cover made me think it was a romance. Not just that, but a televised romance; appealing to a mass audience. How snobbish does that make me sound? I hate myself for that thought.

And then I spent a highly entertaining evening following a Twitter question and answer session between Tom Hiddleston and his fans. He was asked to name his favourite book of all time and came back with two:

.@inceptioning Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. And “Any Human Heart”, by William Boyd. #TomQandA

— Tom Hiddleston (@twhiddleston) September 12, 2013

That weekend I ordered the book.

I am not a Hiddlestoner, but my daughter is. Through her I have started to take notice of the various television dramas and films that this actor has been in, and I have enjoyed what I have seen. To my untrained eye he appears to be a talented thespian, classically trained, intelligent and fun loving, who does not take himself too seriously. Who knows what he is like in private, but his public persona is eminently appealing. His answers to interview questions are riddled with quotes from Shakespeare, well known and lesser known poets, and his own mantras, which are full of self deprecation and encouragement. From what I have seen, I like the guy.

When such a well educated, seemingly smart person names a book, alongside another that I have read and been challenged by, as an all time favourite, I take note. It was on my wish list anyway, but am I making excuses for being influenced by a celebrity?

This got me thinking about who and what influences me. I already know that I admire academic achievement. I have a number of Facebook friends who I have known for many years and who have opinions that are at variance to my own. I am forever trying to work out why they think as they do. They could not have obtained the qualifications that they possess without having the ability to question and reason, so I am perplexed as to why they are so vocal in their support of certain points of view. However much I may disagree, I will always listen to what they have to say because I admire their intellect and wish to understand where their arguments are coming from.

Book recommendations are, of course, harder to value. People look for different things in the books that they read. If a working day is spent being challenged in a demanding environment then it may be that a light hearted, easy read is desired. Books are an adventure and an escape; some people wish to indulge in romance, or to engage in trying to solve a murder/mystery. There are those who enjoy travelling to an imagined other world, and those who prefer something closer to realism, even if extreme or sugar coated. Of those who choose to read fiction, a variety of genres are often chosen with a few, oft returned to favourites. Some people prefer non fiction or historical fiction based on real events. Knowing a person’s preferences helps when deciding whether their views are likely to correlate with my own.

I wish to read a variety of books and genres. By limiting the recommendations that I will take notice of I risk allowing my reading list to lack breadth; I risk missing out on new authors whose work I may love. I do not enjoy fluffy, shallow books, but can see from the best seller lists that these sort of books appeal to many others. There are so many books out there. I will never be able to read them all so must action some sort of selection process. My imperfect and unattractive literary snobbishness is the best I have come up with so far.

Based on my reaction to my latest tome, I will judge a book by it’s cover. The original recommendation came from someone whose opinions interest me, but whose reading history was largely unknown. I am perturbed that I should be swayed by a celebrity when I abhor the cult of celebrity, but the book is turning out to be highly enjoyable. Perhaps the lesson I should take from this is that I need to be more open and less judgemental of all.

Over the weekend my elder son accused me of coming out with the sort of sweeping generalisation of a group that I berate others for voicing (I made a derogatory comment about Daily Mail newspaper readers and those who commented on newspaper articles). We discussed this and I was saddened to come away with the knowledge that I am still far too judgemental.

Being aware of my shortcomings and influences can help me to improve, as can reading a greater variety of books. Let me know of any work of fiction that has challenged your thinking in the comments below. I have been blown away by Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ this year. I would love to be pointed towards my next great read.

Growing up

It came to me this morning what is bothering me about the life I am leading: being a grown up is not what I expected it to be. I thought that, when I grew up, I would be able to do what I wanted.

As a teenager I used to get so frustrated that my parents had power over me. I had accepted the much repeated mantra that I needed to gain qualifications if I was to enjoy a reasonable standard of living for the rest of my life. This meant that I was financially dependent on my parents until I was well into my twenties. I had to follow their rules.

I kept going, and it was a struggle sometimes, because I dreamt of the day when I would move away. I would buy my own house, which I bought and furnished in my imagination many times, and I would be free. I would be able to start living my life. Up until then it felt as though I was killing time.

There is no doubt that I felt an incredible sense of elation when I moved away and then bought my own place. I worked and partied and travelled as I had planned. I was also incredibly lonely at times.

Then I got married. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted this and was much happier being married than I was living on my own. I adored, and still adore, my husband. What I hadn’t envisaged when I was younger, living in my parent’s house, was that I would not be free to live as I wanted when I was with someone else. It wasn’t just my parents who would expect me to fit in with their rules.

These past few weeks I have been feeling better about the way my life is going than I have for quite some time. I feel that I have managed to retake a little autonomy. Except the results of that selfishness are now coming to my attention and I am having to suppress a growing sense of irritation. If I don’t wash the dishes then they remain unwashed; if I don’t clean the house then the dust and cobwebs soon build. Nobody else in the house will think to do anything about the mess, and I can see that this is my fault because I have never attempted to delegate these tasks.

My husband goes out to work and thereby supports us all financially; it is only fair that I should look after these housey jobs. My kids have their school work and social lives; getting them to do much else is too often a harder battle than doing the jobs myself. They point out that I am home all day and they are not. But still, but still…

I find myself longing for an escape. for the ability to do more of the things that I want. And then I look out from my privileged, little bubble and I feel huge waves of guilt for thinking these thoughts. I have it so easy with my loving family around me and my financially secure life. I feel so selfish that I am not permanently happy and grateful.

My kids are growing up. All too soon they will be moving out and I will long for their messy bedrooms and impenetrable demands. I will be able to buy myself a new item of clothing without my daughter asking if I needed it (in her eyes, it is she who always needs new things). I will be able to cook dinner for a time that suits me rather than trying to accommodate the needs of others, who cannot decide if they wish to go somewhere until the last minute, but will blame me for their inability to attend if I have not yet fed them. Yes, I will have more freedom, but I know I will miss their never ending demands.

I used to think that, when I grew up, I would be able to go out when I wanted, stay in when I wanted and eat what I wanted. These days going out is a major, logistical exercise that requires multiple permissions and forward planning. I always seem to put someone else out with such requests for cooperation. When I eat what I want I put on stupid amounts of weight; if I then try to cut down my daughter berates me. My parents controlled me with the knowledge that I was financially dependent on them; my husband and kids control me with guilt.

This is not what I thought being a grown up would entail. Cooking and cleaning; dishes and laundry; living my life quietly and without fuss whilst supporting those I love. I read back on that and I think about how good my life sounds; how good my life is. But still, but still…

Perhaps a part of it is that I have not changed inside. I look my age (at least) and have the aches and tiredness that go with that increase in years. I have an older generation’s expectations weighing me down and a younger generation’s demands filling my day. If I grab some time to do what I want (which I have been doing more often lately) then the price I pay is a backlog of tasks that must eventually be completed. And a voice inside is telling me that this is all my fault because I have allowed it to happen.

Does being a grown up mean living unnoticed, without emotional support? Whilst the things that I fail to do cause inconvenience to others, the things that I achieve are expected so not noteworthy. What makes me feel good: a fabulous view discovered on a long walk, an insightful book, a piece of writing where the words mange to convey the feelings I am trying to express; I try to share my inner satisfaction and encounter blank looks from those around me. My attempts to join in with their wordplay are increasingly met with irritation. I am required to be seen but not heard.

Perhaps we never really grow up, we merely grow old. Perhaps I am longing to have my achievements recognised and lauded as I did when a child. Perhaps all that has changed is that I have learned to act as expected, for most of the time anyway.

It is the weekend. I have a house to tidy, an oven to clean, laundry to sort and meals to cook. I have taken on the responsibility of a family and raised my children to act as they do. If I ever feel unhappy with my lot then it is up to me to orchestrate change. Perhaps accepting that is a part of what growing up means. Whilst the child in me throws herself on the floor in a hissy fit, I will get on with the jobs to hand with as good a grace as I can muster. But still, but still…

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I feel the pressure of so much guilt weighing me down. I am unsure if there has ever been a time when I have been able to live my life without feeling guilty. I wonder if this guilt is a result of the successful imposition of other’s will upon my psyche, or if it is an alarm system that I have developed to ensure that I function as an acceptable citizen in the community in which I am required to exist. I suspect it is more the former, but fear there may be a little of both at play. I sometimes wonder if I would find more contentment with a hermit’s lifestyle. The guilt I feel can, at times, overwhelm me.

It is my own response to other’s perceived expectations that can floor me; I so desperately want to please those I care for. Some days I will pour the time and effort required into being the good wife, mother, daughter, friend; but it is never sustainable at the levels demanded. I cannot be the person that other’s appear to want me to be.

Growing up I was taught how I was expected to behave. I should eat my food and be grateful because there were hungry children around the world. I should follow the rules set out in the bible and preached at church because God and my neighbours were watching me all the time. Bad people went to hell to burn and suffer for eternity; they also embarrassed their families. In my head each was as bad as the other. I should be kind to my parents, obey them and make them proud, because they had done so much for me in so many ways. I picked up a subliminal subtext here, that they could have led a better life if I hadn’t been me. I knew that I was loved, but could never quite live up to that which was expected of me.

Sometimes the demands were clear and vociferous, more often they were passed on through the anger or sadness that my wicked actions created. As a child I was desperate to please and impress. It felt impossible.

My mother would voice her admiration of other children and I would hate them with a fierce jealousy. I would offer up my own tokens of achievement that rarely generated more than a ripple of praise. Whatever reaction I expected, it never felt enough. My accomplishments, looks and behaviour fell short; the disappointments I generated in those I cared for washed over me in huge waves of resentment and guilt.

How does a child live with such negative emotion? I rebelled. When I realised that I did not want to be the girl that my mother was bringing me up to be I changed direction. I could not leave the guilt behind though. The feeling that I was letting her down, that I was an embarrassment and a disappointment, bubbled on below the surface. She would express fear that other’s she knew would notice my behaviour and that I would bring shame on us all. I did not care what those other’s thought, but I did still care about fostering her good opinion. Not enough though, not enough to change the way I was. The guilt gnawed away at me but I fought it, suppressed it, rejected what it was telling me.

I changed my view of the church. I discovered a loving God who forgave and accepted. I could not believe that he would send me to hell for rejecting a rhetoric that inspired so much hatred. I lived in a country full of hate and violence, perpetrated in the name of the God who threatened pain and suffering. I rejected that deity and found my own; a loving and supportive being who would accept me as I was and then help me to be a kinder and better person. Knowing my bible became less important than knowing how to support a friend in need. No longer would I reject people for their wickedness; I would hold their hands and show love and practical support as Jesus would have done.

My guilt is a construct of the muddle of thoughts that developed in my formative years, but that has been built upon since. It worries me that I have the same desperation to please my husband that I once felt towards my father. Both men are quiet, kind and supportive; neither demonstrate emotion unless sorely displeased. I fear that displeasure.

I skirt around my mother warily, trying to offer her contact that will please whilst holding back that which may not. I do not wish to hear her judgement; I do not want her to worry about me. I am not a good daughter because I do not give her my time. How can I spend time with her when it may allow her to see me as I am and then open up the floodgates of her efforts to mould me into the person she has always wanted me to be? I am not that person; I do not want to be that person. Neither do I want to let her down.

I live with the guilt of my failure to fit the moulds that others place before me. The hardest to climb into is the one that I have created for myself.

Inner Demon


As we do not have broadcast television in this house I pick up my news from the internet. Each morning I will browse the BBC News website along with a couple of free, on line, British newspapers (the Independent and the Guardian). I do not trust the media to give well researched, honest and unbiased reports. I wrote about my views on this in a previous post (The mainstream media and blogs). The media reports a lot of self promotional material that I ignore (I have no interest in Strictly Come Dancing or Big Brother). When I do come across something that I consider to be news I will research it. Occasionally I find something of interest.

As well as the newsworthy story that interests me, my research often pulls up related material alongside opinion pieces written from varying perspectives. Armed with this information I am then keen to discuss my thoughts. My children are now old enough to have their own views and I will relate what I have come across to them and canvas for their opinions. These discussions are interesting; young people are just as capable of considered thought as their elders. What they lack, though, is life experience.

My husband has strong views and reads very different on line sites to me. I love to discuss issues with him as this helps to sharpen my thinking and hone my debating skills (they still need a lot of honing). The problem is his availability. He works long hours and has numerous other calls on his time. As well as helping out with child taxi services, he plays hockey for a local team (along with our elder son), goes on runs, plays football and works on his fitness at the gym. When he is at home he sometimes just wants to relax, read a book, watch a film or listen to music. I cannot expect him to fire up on a topic just because it interests me.

There are always other things that I need to pass on to him anyway, the sort of home administration stuff that he will want or need to know. Perhaps the kids have plans or achievements that will interest him; there may be maintenance issues to discuss or decisions to be made that require his input. The kids themselves seek his advice on certain subjects; there is often little time left to burden him with more.

I find it very frustrating when it seems that my husband is the last to know about a discussion I have been having that may have generated a reaction. He misses out on the hows and whys, being presented with whatever comes after with no forewarning. His views are well thought through and worth having, but the demands on his time limit how involved he can become. Perhaps this is why some long married couples still go out on dates, just to ensure that they are keeping up with each other’s worlds.

Communication is vital to any relationship. When life gets too hectic I have been known to make lists of things that I need to say to my husband just to ensure that he is kept in the loop. I know how hurt I feel when he shares an anecdote with someone that I was not aware of; I do not wish him to ever feel that he is not important to me. I want to share my life with him, all of it, but I recognise that he needs to be allowed to live his life too. I cannot complain about the limited amount of time he spends with me when the majority of what he does away from me is for all of our benefit.

There are, of course, evenings when I need quiet time for myself. I may be engrossed in a good book or simply need an early night. The rare discussions that we do manage can only happen if we are both in the mood and have no distractions; little wonder they are so rare.

When I bemoan the fact that I find it difficult to find anyone who is eager to discuss challenging topics with me it is with the knowledge that I live with someone who fits the bill perfectly. I guess I need to extend the understanding I have of his reasons for rarely engaging with me to my other friends. If I insisted that they enter into heated debate every time we got together, I suspect my small group of friends would evaporate entirely.

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

There and back again – differences of opinion

My Berlin friend has strong views on many topics. We disagree on rather a lot of these, which I find interesting if a little challenging at times. He has a similar background to me and is highly intelligent academically. I find it curious that, what I would call our baseline beliefs, differ so markedly.

We were both raised in Belfast by working class families at the height of The Troubles. We attended local Grammar schools and went up to university at a time when this was still unusual amongst our contemporaries. From here our paths diverged. Ian stayed within the folds of academia for many years, developing his interest and participation in theatre until he emerged with a job as an arts critic on a national newspaper. He pursued a career that matched his interests; I pursued a career that could earn me money.

This difference in early ambition perhaps characterised what developed into our differing value systems. As an example, we have markedly different views on what we would define as fair regarding wealth distribution. Although we would both support tolerance and acceptance of differing lifestyle choices, our political ideologies are poles apart.

One of the reasons that I wished to spend time with Ian was that I am aware that I mix with people who generally agree with my own baseline beliefs. I hoped for discussions that would shine a light on why he thinks as he does. I was also keen that my children should gain an understanding of this alternative point of view. Although I will always try to offer them both sides of an argument, it can be hard to explain reasoning behind certain political beliefs when I do not fully understand myself why people think as they do.

It turns out that this is a hard goal to achieve. Our evening discussions in Berlin touched on the impact of Margaret Thatcher, the Unions and membership of the European Union, but did not get to the bottom of why Ian’s views differed so emphatically from my own. Before my children could gain an understanding, the discussion had become dangerously heated and had to be diffused for the sake of our friendship. I concluded that these topics were just too close to Ian’s heart and were not open for debate.

Politics and history are convoluted; reasons behind events are hard to define simply. Although Ian and I had lived through many of the pivotal moments discussed, our memories did not always tally. Our reactions to events also differed, perhaps due to personal experiences at the time. I was living and working amongst people whose goal was to establish a well paid career in business, get married and raise a family in comfort. Ian was living in major cities amongst actors, writers and others whose lives were linked to creativity and the arts.

Although the time we spent together in Berlin has granted me a clearer understanding of just how ingrained political beliefs can be, I am no closer to working out why Ian thinks as he does. We appear to have similar views on ideal outcomes of political policy, yet would support radically opposing means of getting there. I guess if there were clear and easy solutions to these societal problems then politicians would adopt them. It is the uncertainty of success and the complexity of application that presents the difficulties in achieving desired solutions.

The evening discussions in Berlin that centred around music were much more satisfying than our attempts to delve deeper into British politics. Ian has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the background and development of the genres in which he is interested and succeeded in giving me an understanding as to why some people choose to listen to bands whose music I find grating.

Back in the day, when I first got to know Ian, he and some other mutual friends were creating cassette tapes of music under the Cemental Health Records label. I could recognise their early passion for experimenting with sound in the Krautrock bands he introduced me to in Berlin. Knowing his regard for the late DJ John Peel, I began to understand the attraction. I doubt that I will now choose to listen to the music, but I can at least appreciate a little better why others do.

It is this understanding that I was trying to achieve with our discussions around political beliefs. I did not expect to change my opinion, nor to influence how Ian thinks; what I was looking for was improved comprehension. Perhaps I should have realised that such views are rightly described as beliefs. Some things cannot be fully explained, being an ingrained and sometimes inexplicable part of a person. To question their validity is to question credibility.

The world would be a much more tedious place if we all thought the same way. Ian and I can continue to hold our differing beliefs and remain friends. We are both exasperated with the current political situation and wish to see similar outcomes in so many areas. I now suspect that there is little to be gained from trying to discuss the best way to achieve these though. Whatever the reason for our beliefs may be, we seem highly unlikely to reach agreement as to the most effective way forward.