Learning

Yesterday I completed a six week long psychology course that I signed up to through Futurelearn, a subsidiary of the Open University, that offers a variety of free, on line courses. On completion I was offered the opportunity to sit an external exam which could lead to a qualification. Although not exorbitant, the cost of this was enough to put me off the idea. I have no need for any extra qualifications.

Over the years I have earned the right to include a long string of letters after my name. I use none of them. If I were applying for a job I guess I would list the various accreditations on my CV, but they are no longer relevant to the life I lead now.

I signed up for this psychology course purely out of interest. It is the first time in my life that I have studied with a respected organisation, in this case the University of Warwick, purely for pleasure. The exams I studied for in my younger years were carefully selected to offer me the best chance of getting a well paid job. I get the impression that this approach and aspiration has fallen out of favour.

When my children’s school asks them to consider careers they are encouraged to think about what they enjoy. Whilst I think that it is important to take into account personal interest and ability, I also believe that the usefulness of the qualification should have some significance in the decision making process. It costs a great deal of money to go through higher education these days. A university education has become much more of an investment than it was in my day.

Had I chosen courses that interested me then I would have studied philosophy with, perhaps, a few modules of psychology and sociology thrown into the mix. I have always been fascinated by these subjects. Because of my interest I do a lot of related reading in my own time. I took modules in philosophy at university and excelled at the subject. I had to work stupidly hard at my main degree subject, computer science. The study of philosophy never felt like work.

I didn’t, however, consider that I could land a well paid job with such a degree, and that well paid job mattered to me. I wanted to be able to afford my own home, a car and to travel. For that I needed money. As a student I hated not having enough money. It instilled in me a determination to do whatever it took to earn enough to pay for the life I wished to lead.

I was also lucky of course. When I was going through the system a university education was still funded by government. By the time I graduated there were jobs available and house prices, although climbing, were nothing like as stupidly high as they are now. No matter how hard they work, my children will not have as easy a time as I had getting themselves established.

Perhaps this is why they are now encouraged to pursue their interests more than a potentially high earning career. Perhaps the days of debt free, home ownership have gone except for the uber wealthy minority.

Of course, economics fluctuate wildly over time. When I was studying, unemployment was high and jobs scarce so I knew that I would have to work hard at a sought after subject if I was to get to where I wanted to be. By the time I qualified though, the Thatcher boom years were in full flow and I undoubtedly benefited from that. Whether or not your politics considers her rule a triumph or a disaster for the country, those of us who were starting out when she was in power had the opportunity to reap rewards at the time.

I encourage my children to think about how they will use their qualifications when making choices. If they are going to incur a huge debt then they need to consider how they will pay it back, and whether it is worth getting into debt in the first place.

I have friends whose intelligent children have opted not to go to university because they do not wish to live under the shadow of a massive student loan. With the government currently selling off these debts, it is unclear how interest rates will be affected and how much will eventually be needed to pay them off. I can understand why a university education no longer looks so attractive.

I find this quite depressing. Whilst I do not consider further education to be a right, it seems sad that some of the most academically able choose not to attend purely because of the huge cost. With so many graduates unable to find jobs the incentive to get a degree in anything other than a sought after subject diminishes.

There are no easy answers. We cannot be held accountable for the times into which we are born, all that any of us can do is to work hard to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. I wish that I could offer my children more, but ultimately they will have to find their own way and cope as best they can.

Whatever they choose to study, I hope that they retain a love of learning. It is possible to pursue what interests them as well as that which can be practically useful. Learning for learning’s sake can be a very satisfying pastime.

FutureLearn Cupcakes

A typical week

Contributing to Perfection Pending‘s Blog Hop

Perfection Pending

Monday: I am up and ready to face a new week, not so much manic as stoic. This week I really will do better. I load the dishwasher, switch on the washing machine and leave my wonderful, labour saving devices to do their thing whilst I visit the gym. Perhaps on this day I will manage not to eat more than I know is good for me. By the time my kids return from school I am tired from dealing with the myriad of chores that the weekend produced. I am in no mood to prepare dinner. I get through this and an early night is in order.

Tuesday: I am resigned to the fact that yet another week did not start quite as well as I had hoped. I reassure myself that the week is young and I have time to sort this out. Once I have caught up with the housework, laundry, on line learning course, personal writing and chores that I couldn’t face yesterday, I am ready for that easy pasta dinner that my children have come to expect on this day. I settle to enjoy a glass of wine. Time to relax.

Wednesday: I plan to go to the gym again but may not make it. Perhaps I did not sleep so well, or have a task list to deal with. I will either make myself go and feel accomplished but weary, or stay home to tackle my backlog and then feel guilty that I am not looking after my health as I should. Neither offers personal satisfaction. This day of the week feels rushed and unsatisfactory. Not so much a failure as a lack of anything worthwhile.

Thursday: my day for meeting up with friends. If that fails to materialise then I go to the gym and somehow feel it is worthwhile. I have the time set aside rather than grabbed from other tasks and can enjoy the exercise. I may allow myself a little indulgence in the spa, and return home feeling relaxed. The rest of the day flows.

Friday: I am preparing for the weekend. I follow a timetable, a military operation that leaves me free to share the euphoria of my family as they end their working week. I am careful not to rain on their parade.

Saturday: I am fitting in with whatever plans have been actioned by others. Sometimes I am doing little more than cooking, dishes and laundry; other times I am required for taxi duty or activity preparation. Saturday evening is family time, if my husband can stay awake after his afternoon hockey match and the children are willing to join us.

Sunday: my day of rest. Apart from preparing dinner I may relax with a book or my writing. Even when my boys are working in the garden, I do not make demands of myself. On this day I indulge my desires. Guilt merges with bliss.

As a stay at home mom I have so much freedom to structure my week to suit myself, so why do I find that each day has a predictable routine? I have my aims, my goals; improve my fitness and therefore my health, keep on top of the essential tasks to ensure that personal pressure is minimised, work my brain as well as my body to allow for mental and spiritual growth.

I function best when I know what to expect, I do not like surprises. I do, however, need to guard against a dulling of the senses and complacency. Challenges that stretch make me feel good about myself, they reassure me that I am still capable of tackling the new.

For that is what the future is, always new, never predictable, always changing.

So long as others are not there to judge me I can push myself a little, try something different and feel accomplished. Perhaps the manic Mondays, or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, are the ones that I will look back on and remember with more satisfaction.

It is the audience that I fear, the judgement more than the challenge. So long as I may remain invisible, whatever the outcome, I can gain from knowing in myself that I was stretched and made the grade. If my loved ones can share in my achievement, rather than smirk at it’s insignificance compared to what they are so easily capable of accomplishing, then it becomes all the more pleasing, but this is not necessary.

We each live our lives inside the cocoon of self. When other’s demands break through we must try to adapt and indulge without resentment. This can be so hard. I have never been the perfect daughter, partner, mother or friend but I have tried to be all these things and more.

Perhaps what I should be aiming for is simply to be a good person. I wonder what that even means.

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To read the other posts in this week’s Blog Hop, click on the link below

      

Santa Claus

Spoiler Alert! If you are expecting your Christmas presents to be delivered down your chimney on Christmas Eve by a big, bearded, soot sprinkled, magical elf dressed in red with white fur trim then please do not read this post.

I hope that was warning enough. I do not wish to spoil anyone’s Christmas.

That was my problem when I first had kids. It was very important to me that my children should trust me; I did not wish to lie to them about anything.

Sometimes this aspiration got me into trouble, such as when I gave birth to my third child at home and my eldest burst into the room before we were ready. I explained to her carefully, in what I thought was age appropriate language, how her little brother had emerged from mummy’s tummy. She then wanted to know how he had got in, which I also tried to explain as honestly as I could. The next week she was passing on this important information at playgroup. At no point were any birds, bees or storks involved; just a mummy, a daddy and a special hug; followed nine months later by something like a big poo.

So, what to do about the existence of Santa Claus in the Christmas story? At first I simply ignored him. I explained to my children that Christmas was a birthday celebration for Jesus. When a child has a birthday, family and friends give the child gifts and a party is held. Because Jesus is so very special we all get given gifts on his birthday and everybody celebrates with a party. I reckoned that I could cover other religions when my children got a bit older.

Except me not mentioning Santa Claus didn’t stop every other adult that my children came into contact with just expecting them to be in on this tale. Without a word from me they came to believe in the flying reindeer, presents coming down a chimney and a funny little old man all dressed in red who granted every material wish.

At no point did I ever say that this was how it was. I didn’t have to. However, whilst I may not have lied explicitly, I did implicitly as I went along with the established orthodoxies. The night before Christmas, when my kids asked to put out cookies and milk for Santa along with a carrot for the reindeer, I obliged. I ensured that they were tucked up in their beds before sneaking the presents down the stairs on Christmas Eve. When they were old enough to write a letter requesting particular gifts, I helped address the envelope to the North Pole and walked them to the village postbox to send the carefully crafted missives on their way. I made no mention of the wonderful service that the Post Office provides when, a few weeks later, each child received a reply from the man himself.

What else could I do? Had I told them the truth then that important information would have been shared at playgroup or school too. I was not willing to take responsibility for removing the magic from all those children’s lives. Perhaps more to the point, I was not willing to face the potential wrath of their parents.

When my elder son eventually asked outright if Santa existed I told him the truth and, as I had feared, he rightly accused me of lying to him. I felt dreadful. It is not the only time that I have fallen short of his good opinion, but I do not recall any other deliberate untruth that I have perpetuated.

On Day 4 of my countdown to Christmas then, I am feeling glad that I can now celebrate Christmas with my family without a pretence that I never felt comfortable with. I may be the only one in my family who still looks on this event as a birthday party for the son of God, but we exchange presents with each other out of love, not because a mythical stranger invades our home in the dead of night.

My daughter still remembers her little brother’s birth, probably her first real memory. I do wonder if witnessing the aftermath of that momentous but very real event has scarred her for life.

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December

And so it begins. December. Today we can open the first door on our advent calendar and start the countdown to Christmas. Light the advent candle, deck the halls.

Despite having an enjoyable and relaxing day with my family yesterday, I felt jittery. After a pleasant and easy dinner, just before we settled down together to watch a film, I had to control myself to prevent weeping. For no reason. Nothing had happened to upset me.

I am fighting to overcome the dread that has settled in the pit of my stomach, that threatens to wrap itself around my heart.

Yet this will not do. The festive season will not go away and I have a family who will want to enjoy the build up and the event itself. Much as I would like to hide under my duvet for the rest of the month, this is not an option.

I need to find strategies that will enable me to cope. Perhaps if I exhaust myself at the gym each day I will be able to sleep, an elusive activity when I feel anxious. Perhaps if I avoid all gatherings and instead head out into the countryside to enjoy the stark, cold beauty of this time of year I will find solace.

There is only so much that I can choose to eschew without causing offence. I have no wish to cast a shadow on the bonhomie of the season. I want to run away and hide but am aware that my absence would tarnish what is a happy time for others.

A season of joy has become a season of obligation. The enforced sociability, the expectation of gaiety has stripped my resoluteness to the quick. I wish joy to the world, goodwill to all men, as I fight to quell the rising panic in myself.

So much negativity.

Throughout this month, as I open each door on my advent calendar, I will seek out a reason why this season is good, a reason that will help me to get me through that day. It is the anticipation of what is to come that I fear, not what is happening today.

So, what can I find that is good today?

In my garden there is a small flock of hens who crowd around me the moment I step into their garden. They follow me to the shed for the handful of corn that they know I will scatter for them to enjoy. They find happiness scratching over an area of freshly dug soil.

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These creatures rely on me yet demand so little. They always make me smile with their funny little ways. They tolerate my hugs and welcome me, even if it is only for the food that I provide. Their presence will help me get through today.

Words

I am thinking about words. Not the fifty thousand or so satisfying words that I poured into my NaNoWriMo file, now floating in the Google cloud awaiting rewrite. Not the thousand or so words that I fill each post on this blog with. I am thinking about the words we speak and, more significantly, the words we cannot speak because they are so hard to find.

On a typical day I do not say very much. Many of the words that I speak could be pre-recorded and played on remote. ‘You need to get yourself ready’; ‘Have you packed your lunch?’; ‘What time will you be home?’; ‘Have a good day’; ‘How was your day?’.

I suspect that the daily repetition is irritating to those around me. The alternative is to say nothing, to stay out of the way, which I sometimes choose to do.

Over dinner in the evening I find that my children now drive the conversation around the table with their happy chat about friends and teachers, television shows and funny happenings. When I try to join in with an anecdote of my own it often falls flat. It is best if I remain largely silent.

My husband rarely makes conversation. We pass each other essential information or significant news. Sometimes we find a topic of mutual interest, an update from someone we have met, a topic from current affairs, but this is a rare treat.

Perhaps this is why I have found my writing to be so therapeutic. All of those words in my head that want to come out, all of those thoughts and events that I want to share but have nobody wishing to listen. I throw them out into the ether and feel pathetically grateful when someone, anyone, responds. It feels like interaction, sometimes even understanding.

Television shows depict friendships where people can share anything and everything with their close friends. In order to draw the viewer in to the plot there is necessary dialogue. Do friendships like this exist in real life? Do people ever share the plot lines of their lives so openly?

I was brought up to adhere to a strict set of rules. There were some things that we should not do, but if we did then it should never be mentioned. There were some things that we should never discuss. If nobody talked of the shameful thing then we could all pretend that it hadn’t happened. It would remain hidden, secret, unspoken, unacknowledged. Eventually it would go away.

Words spoken do not go away. A careless, cruel or unkind word will bury itself deep in the hearer’s psyche where it will fester and grow in proportion, beyond anything intended. It will shape perception of the speaker, creating waves that spread out as a pebble dropped in a pool of still water. Little wonder that many words are better left unsaid.

What to do then with the emotions that are so hard to express but which affect not just the bearer but those around because they cannot be fully contained, they affect the way we live and act? I have tried to explain so much to my nearest and dearest, yet have been unable to find the right words. I encounter blankness, irritation, misunderstanding. Do I keep those words inside and cope as best I can? Do I try to share in the hope that some sense can be made of the way my life is being blighted by these feelings of despair?

Words are powerful and dangerous. A lack of words can be equally hard to bear.

Am I looking for understanding only so that things may go my way? If I cannot make myself understood, the repercussions may cause a reaction that is worse than holding it all inside. How do I find a language deep enough to express such intense emotion in the short time that I can hold a listener’s attention?

My silence is painful but words, once shared, cannot be contained or controlled.

I cannot explain, even to myself, why these emotions exist and affect me so negatively. How am I to find the language that will allow someone else to understand? If I bottle it all up inside, will it explode and cause more damage because the cause was never adequately communicated?

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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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Book Review: My Father’s House by Bethany Dawson

Recommended to me by a friend from my school days who still lives in the province, this book is set in contemporary Northern Ireland but spends much of the story looking back. Having grown up in Belfast, many of the places mentioned were familiar. It did at times feel rather too spread out for the distances that those living in the rural communities depicted would have felt comfortable travelling. Although the six counties are small, the people lived insular lives and travelling further than a town or two away with any regularity would have been unusual. The way everyone knew everyone else and gossip was rife was picked up well though.

It took a while for me to synch with the cadence of the book. At first the language felt stilted, but it soon started to feel correct for the characters portrayed. The author captures the balance between expectation, duty, geographical closeness and the topics that remain guessed at yet unspoken within families with an accuracy that made me feel disturbed and uncomfortable. There is no doubt that this book affected me very personally.

The plot revolves around a family whose father is dying of cancer. Life in rural Ulster is described with an uncanny realism although I did feel there were a few flaws. The mother had left the father and somehow managed to finance a new home. How she did that was never explained. As a wife of twenty or so years she did not work outside of the family home and farm. To suddenly leave her husband would have been highly unusual; to be able to afford to do so in such a comfortable way struck me as unlikely.

None of the characters were particularly appealing. Their flaws were well portrayed but not their better qualities, which must have existed in some form for them to have got to where they were. The underlying tensions between siblings and the way children see their parents as always old were well described. I found the second half of the book easier to read as we were shown glimpses of the people the parents used to be and understood better why they had got together. As a parent myself I find it frustrating that my children cannot see me as an individual but only in relation to themselves.

I found the denouement satisfying. Given the picture that had been painted in the previous two hundred or so pages I felt that any other ending would have felt false. There is very little in this book that did not feel all too real. It is full of raw emotion with no glossing over weaknesses and flaws.

The book disturbed me, probably because so much of the tale felt too close to home for comfort. I consider a book that can get to me in this way to be powerful. For those who cannot relate to the intricacies of the time and place, it is a well written family saga. There are no great shocks or changes of direction, but the book is a page turner and a satisfying read.

I am left with a few questions that I would have liked to have had answered by the end of the book, such as why the father sold his land and where the money went. It was, however, a story about people and their tales were tidied to believable and generally satisfying conclusions. For me then it was not a comfortable read due to the thoughts and memories it provoked. I am glad though to have read it and would recommend it to others who enjoy this genre.

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Memory

After just over a week of fairly intense but ultimately satisfying creative writing, the word count on my NaNoWriMo story reached the half way mark late yesterday afternoon. To celebrate I gave myself the evening off. I have found that, when I am writing, the time just disappears. I am keeping up with the essential tasks needed to keep my little household ticking over but am managing little else.

What to do then with this time off that I granted myself? I chose to pick up a book that I received for my birthday several months ago and have been looking forward to reading. This turned out to be quite an intense and thought provoking experience in itself.

The book, ‘My Father’s House’ by Bethany Dawson, is set in Ireland, primarily the North, and revolves around a family whose son moved to Dublin and has not been in touch for over five years. It opens with his return to the family fold following news that his father is dying of cancer. I have so far read about half the book and have found the memories it evokes disturbing.

The author has managed to create a tale that captures Northern Ireland and family life in a way that I find uncomfortably too close to home. Just like the protagonist in the story, I escaped what I felt was a claustrophobic life and suffer guilt at having abandoned my perceived duty to my wider family. The part of the book that I have read so far suggests that unhappy memories are being suppressed; I cannot relate to that. If anything my guilt stems from the fact that I was loved so much yet felt suffocated by the expectations of those who cared for me.

Throughout my time in England I have come across other ladies around my age who were raised in Northern Ireland and still have large families living ‘back home’. They talk of missing the place, the closeness of the communities and the contact with the extended family members who were rarely far away. It was these aspects that I wished to escape. I felt smothered and unable to move without whatever I was doing being discussed and, too often, criticised. I longed for the freedom to do as I pleased without being held to account by those who loved me.

Northern Ireland folk are as friendly and welcoming as anyone could wish for. Families are close and supportive, yet much of what individuals personally feel or experience was never discussed when I lived there. There were so many things that were taboo, topics that were avoided, ignored or concealed. This book evokes these attitudes and I found reading about this familiar yet forgotten way of living difficult.

As ever I am aware that my antipathy towards such attitudes is at odds with the majority of those I know. I am the odd one out which I guess is why I wanted to leave so much. The book has opened up memories that have discomfited me.

Memory is a strange beast. Sometimes when I talk to my sister, who grew up in the same house as me and experienced the same people and way of life, I realise that we watched what was going on through different lenses. We did not talk freely of our issues back then, although when we get together now we can be more open. There were four of us living in that house and I sometimes feel that we barely knew each other.

There was love and there was support in abundance, but we each did our best to act out the role that was expected of us. We lived our personal lives in secret, and have generally continued to do so. Edited highlights are shared but so much of our daily thoughts and experiences remain unspoken and unknown.

The characters that the author has created in this book remind me of so many I knew. The guilt, the expectations, the resentments, the love. It is not a heavy or difficult book but, for me, it is raw.

Of course I cannot say if my experience is in any way typical, or even if any of my family members would feel as I do, but I am disturbed by this book because it opens up a box that I had not realised I prefer to keep closed. It uncovers my selfishness for leaving and returning only when I feel I must.

I have made a new life for myself and it feels far removed from the life I was raised to lead. The choices that I made were right for me but I must now live with the knowledge that, in doing so, I may have caused hurt. I was expected to marry and stay to raise my children close to what was considered my home. I feel guilty for escaping, guilty for not wishing to return. That is the price I paid for my freedom, but those who loved me also paid the price of loss and they were given no choice.

With half the book still to read I have yet to discover if there were other reasons for the protagonist in the story to break away. Perhaps my guilt is as much because my reasons were totally selfish. I needed to get out to preserve myself but this book has made me think about what my actions cost those I left behind.

As we do not talk about these things I will never know if my parents blamed me for leaving, if my guilt is even justified. I do know that, unlike many of those I speak to from similar backgrounds, I have never had any wish to return.

English: Northern Ireland

Book Review – Any Human Heart

‘Any Human Heart’ by William Boyd is not a book to read in one sitting. It covers the life of the fictional Logan Mountstuart, a marginal author and journalist from a wealthy family, whose life is woven around a tapestry of the culturally rich and famous in the twentieth century. As a piece of literature it is deep and satisfying; as a study of the human heart I found it depressing.

The book is presented in the form of a personal journal, a device that works well given the time span and subject matter to be covered. The strength of the book lies in the authors ability to write believably as a seventeen year old school boy, an aspirational graduate, a middle aged philanderer and an elderly gentleman.

The interactions with the rich and famous are as contemptuous or gauche as the protagonists situation at the time allows. As a writer and minor art expert he is unimpressed with many in these fields who he meets when young, but will invoke their names in later life to impress those around him. He has an awe of royalty which is, perhaps, a sign of the times in which he was raised.

The book succeeds in getting under the skin of many of the varied characters created to allow the story to flow. Those who we get to follow throughout their lives develop as old friends will; some steadfast and likeable despite their flaws, others whose selfishness and egotistical tendencies increase discreditably when they age. As in life, those who appear to succeed are often not those who deserve the accolades.

The book provided much food for thought and was best enjoyed in small chunks to allow for frequent processing of information and development. It was beautifully written, evocative and offered a depth that is rare. So why do I have reservations about it?

Much as I hate to generalise about these things, I suspect it may be a man’s book. The woman were there largely for background and sex; the men seemed obsessed with their virility, their ability to obtain sexual satisfaction driving much of their decision making. For all their many accomplishments and achievements, few seemed to recognise the value of anything other than this physical fulfilment. If that is how men think, then they are considerably more shallow than I give them credit for.

Perhaps it was the fact that the hedonism of youth did not subside until old age that irritated me. Despite a period when he was content to be happily married with an adored young child, subsequent behaviour ensured that this was not a state that he could repeat. If a mistake can only be made once, after which it becomes a choice, then Logan Mountstuart chose to be foolish for much of his life.

The author created a character who was given every opportunity to succeed in life. From his public school eduction, through his time at Oxford, to his early success as a writer; his contacts allowed him to move amongst the best in his field and be regarded as an elite member of the cultural club. His inability to perpetuate these jump starts to his career must be all too common, but it was his inability to be a likeable human being that killed any sympathy I may have felt for the character. Even allowing for the hardships that he endured from time to time, he ended up with more than I felt he deserved.

I found the middle section of the book, his middle age, the hardest to read. I wonder if this is because I am middle aged and wish to think that those around me are better than that which was portrayed in this book. It is to the credit of the author that he has created such a believable set of characters and annoyed me so intensely.

I preferred the penultimate few pages to the final ending, which felt a little weak to me after such a powerful, roller coaster ride through a life lived in numerous countries on four continents amongst a cast of the great, the good and the infamous. Thanks to the recommendations that caused me to add this book to my reading list, I had high hopes for it. I was disappointed not by the quality of the writing, but by my dislike of the human heart portrayed.

The shallowness of the men in this book have left me with an emptiness inside. I hope that real men are not as typical as they have been written to appear.

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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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