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We’ve just experienced an incredibly rare thing – a sunny weekend in England.
No, of course it wasn’t WARM. Heavens, it’s only March! It won’t get warm until July, when it will peak at 25.5 degrees C, just before the end of the school term, as BBQ and patio furniture-buying hysteria hits the shops… and then plummet swiftly into two months of solid rain, followed by winter.
But it WAS pleasant. And when the weather is pleasant, and I remember how pretty trees, hills, cobbled streets and patios look in the sunshine, I get the untrustworthy urge to book a holiday.
When I was a child, we didn’t really go on the types of holiday OTHER people went on, even though my Dad worked in the hotel industry. I could never really work out whether we were too middle-class, or not middle-class enough – but either way, with one exception, we didn’t ‘do’ the whole ‘hotels, pools, sunbathing, and table-tennis’ holiday.
Most of the time, any spare money went towards going to Japan, or going to Denmark to stay with our Danish family, or my parents would accompany me on orchestral tours. With a busy schedule and Dad’s work, that left very little time for any other kind of holiday.
Only once, when I was about 7 years old, we went to Portugal and I spent a blissful week splashing about in the hotel pool, being waited on hand and foot in the hotel restaurant, and feeling glamorous and important because I didn’t have to make my bed. I loved that holiday.
Funnily enough, a generation later, our holiday situation has evolved in exactly the same way. At first, when our kids were babies, we were too poor to go on holiday – instead, setting a humble budget and going on day trips. Then, when we had a little more money, we saved it for trips to Japan or Denmark. And now, due to Hubby’s insane concert/contest schedule, we tend to do short city breaks rather than full blown holidays.
I’m ambivalent about holidays anyway. I like the IDEA of them… I have a good enough imagination to dream about the sun; the delicious food; the hours spent stretching and basking like a cat by the poolside; the enjoyable AND educational trips into old cities, interspersed with ice-cream and coffee breaks at chilled-out, town-square cafes; not to mention the sultry evenings in the bar, sipping cocktails.
One year, my imagination got the better of me, and I persuaded Hubby that we should totally go on one those holidays.
I’d never even set foot in one of those holiday agencies (is that what they’re called?) before – you know, the ones with hundreds of cards in the window, with incredible holidays at ridiculous prices scribbled over them in red ink. It was quite a strange experience.
We sat down and explained what we wanted. We informed the nice lady that we had two kids, and that we wanted to go somewhere warm, comfortable, not too noisy, and where there was only a slim chance of a political coup during our stay.
She looked at us appraisingly for a moment, then with a quick business-like pirouette towards her computer, starting typing. She said, “I know just the place. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s quiet and there’s no riff-raff.”
And that’s how we booked a holiday to Lanzarote for a week. All inclusive.
It started off well. I especially enjoyed packing lots of bright colourful summer clothes. Hubby laughed at me when he saw me dubiously dithering, wondering whether I should pack a heavy jumper and maybe the kagoules.
“It’s going to be hot! There’s 0% chance of rain for the entire week!” he said.
- It was COLD for 6 out of the 7 days we were there. Too cold to make use of the 5 pools, apart from the single heated pool, which was busier than Kings Cross on a Monday morning.
- Our son went in the pool for about 5 minutes, then said he was done. And bored.
- Our daughter LOVED the pool. But a) shouted ‘Look at me!’ every time she jumped in, or did some other manoeuvre that she’d already done about 617 times… and b) needed accompanying to the toilet every 7 minutes.
- The all-inclusive food and drink, which included churros every morning, pancakes at elevenses and ice-cream in the afternoon was very exciting, until I remembered that I have the world’s slowest metabolism, and would probably be barred from boarding the plane home due to weight-gain exceeding my entire luggage allowance.
- The kids were too tired to attend any of the evening activities. So we took it in turns to put the kids to bed, while the other parent drifted around the resort, lonely as a cloud, before returning to a snoring family…and going to bed. (remember the sultry cocktails? What the heck happened to those??)
- We took the children to Kids’ Club one morning, hoping they’d enjoy it and maybe even want to go back the next day, so that us parents could relax for an hour at the spa or whatever. They both absolutely HATED it – said it was the worst thing they’d ever done, and they never wanted to go back. Oh good.
- We took a trip into the town centre, where every restaurant was showing football, and boasting an all-English menu – as in English food. Ugh.
- We bought ice-creams. Son promptly dropped his on the floor and began to sniffle. Hubby gave him another extortionate amount of Euros to buy another. Son picked up his fallen ice cream, and threw the mess into a nearby bin…along with the Euros. *sigh*
The only good thing – we had a secret weapon every time we wanted a little peace… as in, “I’d like to finish this chapter of my book. If you keep interrupting me, I’m going to take you to Kids’ Club tomorrow.”
That worked a treat.
All in all, we came home feeling that holidays like that definitely weren’t for the likes of us.
It would be nice though, wouldn’t it? It’s been so cold and miserable… I fancy a little sun, and cocktails by the pool… Maybe we should try again. This time it would be PERFECT.
When I was 9, my mother was informed by my school that I should take the 11+ exam, as I was of above average intelligence.
Problem was, there were only a couple of selective schools in the area, and they were both girls’ schools.
My mother asked me if I’d like to go to a girls’ school. I thought about it for roughly 2 seconds, and said no. Resoundingly. I spared not a single second thinking about my education or my future. I just knew I didn’t want to be in an institution where there were no boys to talk to or play with.
I was also completely convinced that I was going to be attending the local secondary school anyway, with the friends I’d had since age 5. End of story.
Except, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, we moved house into a completely different area, and I started at a local state secondary school without the friends I’d known all my life. I spent the entire time overcompensating for my perceived disadvantages as an ethnic minority, and my real disadvantages as a ‘new girl’, and realising that everything that defined ME also made me a bit of a misfit.
School days don’t feel like a distant memory at all. I feel as if I’ve only just left school. I can only assume that’s because I haven’t really come to terms with the way that school made me feel.
I’m angry that I didn’t have the strength of character to stand up for myself. I’m frustrated that I was ashamed of my nationality, and of my musical and creative abilities. I’m exasperated with my spineless tendency to be influenced and manipulated by others, or that I cared about the opinions of people who didn’t value me.
But I’m also disappointed that I was put in that position. 11 is very young – especially for a gawky, innocent, sheltered, oversensitive Japanese girl with zero street-cred. The kind of ballsy defiance and strength my young self would have needed to hold on to my integrity without becoming bullying fodder in the eyes of my classmates… well, that’s strength I can’t always muster even as a grown up.
So what I DON’T want to hear right now, are judgemental caustic comments about my shameful snobbery for sending my son to a grammar school. I even object to the use of the word ‘sending’ – as if I folded him up and posted him there. You send mail. You send naughty children to their rooms. You send a servant to fetch you a drink. I am not sending him anywhere. He CHOSE his school, out of all the ones we went to see, and they CHOSE him. It was a match. It was a meeting of minds.
He is also not at grammar school because we are ‘middle-class’ – whatever THAT means. It is nothing to do with how much our household earns per year, or our social status.
Apparently ‘people like us’ have a HUGE advantage because we can afford to tutor our little darlings for the 11+ test to within an inch of their lives. Well, I actually listened to the head teacher’s assertion that children who were heavily tutored would struggle at grammar school; that they needed to demonstrate raw ability, not tailored exam-competence. We didn’t spend a single penny on preparing our son for the 11+ test. We went through the familiarisation materials together (downloadable for free from the county’s website), and although he didn’t need any encouragement to read, I steered him towards more established repertoire to challenge his understanding and diversify his vocabulary.
Last week, I attended a concert performed by students from his school. I was flabbergasted by the standard of the music-making but, more than their prodigious talent and ability, I was impressed by the motivation, the commitment and dedication of these young people. They obviously enjoyed making music. They created opportunities for themselves, arranged and composed their own music, and rehearsed pieces for the sheer joy of participating in something special. This ‘X’ factor was missing at the school I attended, and I felt quite sad for my young self although, in my case, the hole was more than adequately filled by my local music centre and scholarship scheme.
As I listened to my son perform, I was filled with a fierce pride, and a rock-solid conviction that he was ABSOLUTELY in the right school for him.
I was unwise enough to get into a twitter spat with some bleeding heart, leftist, grammar-school-denigrating, socialist zealot the other day, who was SOOO disparaging about the CHILDREN who attend grammar schools that I might have gone a little beast-mode. He attacked the students, calling them ‘nerdy, self-satisfied geeks’, and attacked me for allowing the class divide to widen by sending my child to a grammar school.
I realise that there are huge issues facing schools, especially those in socially deprived areas, and those suffering catastrophic funding cuts, but no one can persuade me that I should somehow use my own children to prove a political point, or to salve my conscience.
All children are different. Different children thrive in different schools. I did not send my son to this particular school BECAUSE it was a grammar school – he is there because it suits him. He was a puzzle piece that fit perfectly.
My daughter hasn’t chosen her secondary school yet, and we are approaching this with a completely clean slate. We’re doing the rounds of school visits right now. She is an individual, and our duty as parents is to find a school that suits HER – a school that suits her personality, her work ethic; a school she feels comfortable in; a school with priorities she can support and that will, in turn, support her, wholeheartedly.
And as for me… can I let go? Can I stop picking at my school days like a scab that keeps bleeding?
I suppose I can. After all, I learned to get on with people from all walks of life. I learned to be diplomatic and socially aware. I learned that working hard and motivating yourself is your own responsibility. I learned that boys are easier to get on with than girls. (Wait. I already knew that.)
I DIDN’T attend a school where the teachers are called ‘masters’ and wear billowy cloaks. I DIDN’T attend a school where you were called by your surname and teachers threw blackboard rubbers at troublemakers. But I still got my A levels, still went to a good university, and more importantly, I have balance and perspective in my life experience.
I don’t regret NOT going to the selective girls’ grammar school when I had the chance. Because I’m pretty sure, now I think about it, that I’d have been a misfit there too.
Feeling a bit mutinous today.
I cannot help feeling that we females have drawn the short straw, physiologically speaking.
I seem to cycle from feeling rather fabulous, to feeling like the back end of a broken horse on a regular basis – a cycle that I guess, on closer inspection, would probably be roughly monthly.
Here is much-abridged list of the crap things about being a woman:
1. Having to wear high heels. If you’re short, like me, and married to a VERY tall man, you have to wear heels, even in the house. Otherwise I’m talking to his navel.
2. Having to wear makeup if you don’t want to make random toddlers cry when you’re out and about.
3. Having people assume you’re rubbish at driving when you’re not.
4. Having a hopeless sense of direction, however.
5. Being deemed too large to bare my belly in my 20s. Being too stretchmarked to bare my belly in my 30s. Being a bit too mutton to bare my belly in my 40s. (Why do you think I live HERE in the UK?? No belly-baring necessary…though try telling the locals that.)
6. Needing to sleep until about 10.30am in order to feel remotely human.
7. Being at the mercy of your hormones until you die.
8. Having to carry a handbag that weighs roughly the same as a large dog. And then ALSO having to carry your family’s bits and pieces too, whilst being expected to produce tissues, plasters, safety pins and sellotape at the drop of a hat.
9. Being expected to look smart in a strapless dress at posh events, when you’re freezing and you’d rather be wearing fleece pyjamas.
10. Being described as ‘feisty’ or ‘unusually intelligent’ if you have an opinion on politics, science or philosophy.
11. Pregnancy, labour, birth, and postnatal depression.
12. Periods. Period.
Don’t get all huffy and offended if you disagree with me. This is just my point of view, from where I stand in my shoes. My very high heeled, pinchy shoes.
#11 is the big one, though.
#11 is the one that I STILL feel resentful about - over a decade later.
I look back at my first birth – an underwhelming experience, in terms of the ‘care’ I received. After I laboured for many hours, and produced a huge baby in the middle of the night, Hubby was packed off home, where he got a good night’s sleep in a comfortable kingsize bed all to himself (ooh! I’m still fuming), and I was shown to a single bed in a cramped ward, already occupied with crying babies and crying new mothers. My baby was swaddled and dumped unceremoniously next to me in a bassinet, and I was left to my own devices.
I almost shouted after the nurse, “You can’t leave me here! You can’t trust me with this…this BABY. I’ve never even HELD a baby before! I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m tired! Don’t leeeeave meeeee!”
He cried on and off during the night, and I didn’t get a single minute of sleep. After labouring for hours and hours, and turning myself inside out, and literally ruining my body for ever??
No one told me what to do in the morning. I felt as if my insides would fall out if I tried to stand up, so I lay in bed waiting for someone to come and talk to me. I waited for hours.
By the time someone finally came over to my bed, apparently breakfast was over.
“You were supposed to go to the dining hall, pushing your baby with you, if you wanted something to eat,” she snapped crossly.
So. After labouring for hours, pushing out a baby, and then getting not a wink of sleep, I also didn’t get any breakfast either.
Very, VERY shabby.
The second experience with baby number 2 was even worse, because I was sent home whilst still dangerously anaemic.
Why are women expected to function normally after such trauma?? Not only function normally, but achieve MORE than normal, in fact – breastfeed, for example. Easy, right? Release a bosom, wave the baby in vicinity of the bosom, it feeds. Right?
Wrong. It isn’t easy. It’s physically and psychologically challenging, the demand is never-ending, and the sense of responsibility is crushing. It hurts like daggers if you get it wrong. It hurts even when you get it right. And if you ever have the misfortune of having to feed your baby when you have mastitis, then you have been to hell and back.
Some women never manage it, and are made to feel like failures - and whether you breastfed or not, your body will have changed irrevocably by the time your baby is weaned. Fair? I don’t think so.
I will never have a full pension, because I had the audacity to stay at home and look after my own children, rather than earn just enough to pay someone else to do it.
If I stay at home when Hubby is out, then that’s just expected. If Hubby stays at home when I’m out, then he’s ‘babysitting’ and ‘isn’t he good?’ (*Other people’s comments – not his)
Billions of women are powerless, while a bunch of men sit in a room and decide what we can do with our bodies, decide whether sanitary products are ‘luxury’ items, and decide whether abortions should be punished (not the men, of course. Just the women).
I never used to feel angry about being a woman. But now that I have a daughter, and I’m desperate for her to grow up in a world where she isn’t going to be thwarted by a glass ceiling; where her self-worth is not dependent on her appearance; where she can be proud of her skills and demand to be heard; I realise that a little anger is a good thing – a steady flame with enough heat to remind me to fight for what is right, and ensure that I never accept injustice with a bowed head.
What is fear?
I thought I knew fear.
I thought it was the feeling that creeps over you in the dark, as you lie with your eyes screwed shut because you’re suddenly horribly sure that a white shape will coalesce in the corner and drift towards you.
I thought it was that lurch as your stomach sinks swiftly into your boots when you realise that you forgot to do your homework, and a detention is heading your way.
I thought fear was the tension in the back of your neck, as you walk in the dark in a deserted car park.
Fear is the horror of imagined events, the anticipation of the things you most dread. It’s an inbuilt mechanism to protect us from ourselves; it stops (most of) us taking unreasonable risks; it prolongs our chances of survival in an unpredictable world.
Just as we start to realise that monsters aren’t real, that thunder doesn’t harm you, and dreams are just dreams… just as we start to break free of our fear… we have children of our own. And that’s when we REALLY find out what fear is.
I mentioned in a previous blog how I began to suffer from PTSD which manifested itself by flashing before my eyes graphic, horrendous images of catastrophes involving my children. I realised the true, crushing extent of the myriad awful possibilities out there in a way I never had before. I suddenly understood why some parents are unable to let go of their children, to give them the independence they need, to release them into the wild to fend for themselves.
And yet, now that my children are approaching adolescence, I can see that stifling them would also be a catastrophe – and a REAL one of my own making; not a megrim or a waking nightmare.
The worst thing about fear is its cunning ability to cause the worst to happen. It preys on your insecurities and changes your behaviour. For example, if you were terrified that your child could be run over whilst crossing the road on their journey to school, you might decide that you’d rather walk them to school yourself. You might believe that your presence there somehow mitigates any possible disaster. You might believe you are the talisman, the extraordinary parent, casting a force shield over your precious child, sending Fate scurrying back into the cracks between worlds.
Of course, you’ve fallen into the very trap that Fear set out for you at the beginning. You’ve protected your child to the extent that they DON’T KNOW HOW to cross the road safely themselves. And it’s this very lack of experience and knowledge that may, one day, cause them to suffer the disaster you’ve been trying so hard to avoid.
I once knew a girl who always looked sad. She was sad because her parents wouldn’t let her do ANYTHING. She wasn’t allowed out with friends – in fact, she hardly had any friends. Her parents had decided that friends were too unpredictable. She explained that her parents had eloped when they were 16, and had caused a huge rift in their respective families. They were so scared she would do the same that they wrapped her up in cotton wool, locked her in the house (literally), fed her hypochondria and neuroses, and made her very ill and unhappy.
The last thing I heard, before I fell out of touch with her, was that her situation had become so intolerable that, aged 17, she ran away with an older man, got married, and became estranged from her parents.
Too, too inevitable.
I remember being constantly assailed by fear when my boy started school. He’d always been a little awkward socially, and didn’t seem to encourage other people to interact with him. We knew he was warm, caring, sensitive, kind and funny, but we could see that he didn’t always come across that way. He didn’t connect with the life-saving, friendship-making, time-filling football culture like the other boys (and some girls), hence the trepidation every time I dropped him at school. I’d walk away wishing I could stay and help him with his new life.
Surprisingly perhaps, things went well. He enjoyed school. He made friends – friends who possibly had to make a little more effort than he made in return (!) but good friends, none-the-less. All my fears seemed to be totally unfounded, and I began to relax.
Then, about 3 months in, he came home under a burdensome raincloud, worry etched into his face, and pain in his eyes. Instantly, I felt my heart pounding and sweat breaking out at my hairline.
He wouldn’t tell me at first what was wrong. I had to physically restrain myself from badgering him about it. I told him that all problems became small problems when they were shared, and I’d be ready to listen whenever he was ready to talk.
Eventually he confessed (I’m even using the word ‘confessed’ as if he’d done something SHAMEFUL) that he had been verbally abused and pushed and laughed at by a boy in his class. The boy, notorious for his uncontrolled behaviour, his blistering vocabulary of swear words, and his violent family history, had been causing problems for other children too; but as my son told me about his day, his little face so despondent, I could feel heat rising in my face and ears.
Pure, primitive mother-rage.
I had never felt rage like it – not on my own account. That any child could be heartless and crass enough to hurt MY BOY – a boy who had never said or done a hurtful thing in his LIFE!! And what about the parents, huh?? Sitting on their asses, I bet, rather than teaching their child any values or compassion! Wasn’t this the rot that was attacking the very spine of society??
I knew, academically, that I was reacting, and that I couldn’t make any decisions about what to do until I had calmed down enough to respond instead. When I was no longer angry, I realised that focusing on the offending BOY was a waste of time. There was nothing at all I could do about him – he was not my responsibility. He was also only 5 years old – I couldn’t jump to conclusions about him and his family based on his behaviour. I felt loath to go into school to complain about the situation. It wasn’t bullying – yet. It wasn’t sustained and ongoing, and a reprimand from the teacher might exacerbate the boy’s frustration, and really focus his anger towards my son.
I did the only thing I felt would help.
I enrolled my son in a course of karate lessons.
I decided that taking part in a physical activity (which wasn’t outside, where he wouldn’t get dirty or wet, wearing a clean white uniform) would boost his confidence, and change the way he moved and presented himself. I hoped it might empower him to know he could look after himself. I thought he would probably appreciate the discipline and the pleasing sequence of moves, AND as a half-Japanese boy, he’d be able to master the technical terms quickly, and might even relate to the principles of karate.
I realised it was more of a long-term solution, but it made us both feel so much better, knowing that we were doing something practical to help deal with what life might throw at him.
It worked too. My son started to look more assured and confident. The other boy lost interest in tormenting him. Things went back to normal.
I suppose I’m trying to say that ‘fear’ is only conceptual. It is only a feeling based on a number of bad things that COULD happen. I find that the only way of dealing effectively with fear is to disarm it with pragmatic action. Do something to strengthen your position. Do something to make the fear smaller. Channel nervous energy and deflect the anxiety. This way, we broaden our horizons and create positivity where there was none. We don’t deny ourselves experiences or lock ourselves away, and we don’t allow fear to break faith with our beliefs or principles.
Next to tackle: my fear of flying…
The ‘R’ word didn’t really exist hundred years ago, because this issue was a way of life.
It has gradually, FAR too slowly, become part of a global consciousness, but is now a term flung about with reckless abandon, and I’m not sure everyone really understands what it means.
The ‘R’ word is divisive and contentious, because people don’t agree on its definition.
I am, of course, talking about ‘racism’.
As a foreigner, living in the UK, maybe I should assume that I can talk about racism with some kind of authority. But I have been living with my head in the sand for decades, simply sad and puzzled that the colour of someone’s skin can cause such violent and irrational hatred in some people.
Many years ago, I discovered something very interesting about how my mother views the world.
We were talking about one of my classmates she had noticed at a school event, and I was trying to ascertain who she was referring to.
“What did he look like?” I asked.
“Hmmm. He looked kind… but maybe not particularly intelligent,” she replied.
I laughed. “I mean, what colour hair did he have?”
She shook her head and shrugged.
“Was he tall, short? Dark, fair? Were his eyes blue or brown? What?” I asked, starting to feel a little exasperated.
It transpired that she couldn’t remember ONE SINGLE THING about this boy’s physiological appearance. She described his character. She described the way he moved. She likened him to a deer. She said she imagined he’d be patient with young children, and would probably grow up to be a vegetarian.
“How could you look at this guy, and NOT SEE his hair or notice how tall he was?” I asked, frustrated.
She thought for a minute, then said slowly, “In Japan, everyone looks the same. You can’t describe someone by saying they have black hair, brown eyes, and they’re not very tall. You could be talking about any of the 500 children in my school. So you stop seeing those external qualities. You notice their personalities.”
We looked at each other, suddenly aware of a vast difference in the way we each viewed the world.
And wasn’t her way better?? Wasn’t that a valuable skill? To be able to see past the external features – the features we have no control over, like the colour of our hair or eyes, the colour of our skin, whether our hair is straight or curly, whether our eyes turn up or down at the corners, whether our noses are flat or hooked or snub?
Once we see past those irrelevant trappings, wouldn’t we become aware of the human being within? The shape of someone’s soul, spirit, and character? We’d see their principles, their beliefs, their habits, ethics and tendencies. Shouldn’t we all have the right to be defined by what’s on the inside? We’d stop making assumptions and snap judgements based on a person’s outward appearance, and start bothering to find out what they think? Isn’t THINKING the fundamental difference that sets us apart from most species??
I think it’s important to remember that racism and stereotyping are not the same thing. Yes, it can be irritating to have people jump to conclusions about you based on your colour, but it’s not necessarily racism.
When people assume I have been playing the violin since I was 3, that’s not racism. When people assume I can’t speak English, that’s not racism. When people assume I’m Chinese, that’s not racism.
I have learned not to see a fight in every comment or situation – life is too short to seek battles, and most of the time, no harm is intended. When these presumptions become spiteful, when they are used as an attack, when they prevent fair appraisal and equal opportunity…then it becomes racism.
Only once, have I really felt the sting of utterly unfounded, uncalled-for prejudice.
This happened in the very early days of my teaching career. I was interested in a job advertised in a nearby school. As instructed, I phoned to ask for an application form and register my interest. My phone call happened to be answered by the head teacher himself, who welcomed my application and was particularly delighted to hear that I had a music specialism. He was VERY friendly – almost flirty - his manner exuberantly warm…right up until the point he asked for my name and address.
When I gave my name, he said, “Oh! Is that…er… Italian?” with the air of giving me one last chance for redemption.
“No. It’s Japanese.”
Instantly, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see icicles forming on the telephone. He couldn’t get rid of me quickly enough. He was abrupt and rude.
The application form never arrived in the post. Must have been ‘lost’…
Now, I realise that, in the big scheme of things, my experience was very mild – no one broke any bones, no one was killed and countries were not subjugated. You might remind me that people get beaten up EVERY DAY in the name of racism.
Beating people up for their colour though… is that really racism? Should that kind of mindless thuggery, no more cognisant or mindful than the brutal instinct of an enraged boar trampling on another animal, be validated by an ‘ism’? Doesn’t true racism require a degree of knowledge, of deliberate disparagement, of belief in your own superiority, and an insidious need to undermine others to further your own cause?
Do not misunderstand me. I absolutely abhor discrimination of any kind. I think it is tunnel visioned, selfish, mean-spirited, arrogant and, above all, unintelligent to discriminate due to gender, race, religion or sexual preference.
I just think it is important, especially now, not to see racism around EVERY corner. Perceiving everything as a racism issue is, in a weird way, a form of racism in itself.
Having the patience and intellectual ability to separate the tangled threads that are often muddled in with racism, obscuring the real picture, is a skill that we all need to cultivate in ourselves and in our children if we want the human race to go forward together.
I, for one, am going to try and adopt my mother’s way of seeing people – to look past their skins and into the real person within.
P.S Unsurprisingly enough, my mother is hilariously bad at playing this game...
Just returned from a school parents’ evening – the first one at our son’s new school.
We came away glowing with pride and residual warmth after hearing the teachers’ earnest and heartfelt endorsement of our son’s achievements. We congratulated him effusively as we walked to the car. He smiled shyly at us both and said, “I think it’s just good genetic material.”
Aw. Bless him.
If that were true, Hubby would be better at Science, and I’d be a lot better at Maths.
But it has made me think. How much of successful parenting is luck? How much is genetic? And how much is external influence? Or is it none of the above, dependent instead on an unplottable, mysterious equation, and a million delicate inter-related factors?
Probably the latter. After all, we have two children and we are not the same parents to both children. Our first had our concentrated and completely neurotic attention for 3 years. Our second was brought up, not just by us, but by her brother too. Even now, they relate to each other in a way that we can’t relate to either of them – they speak a special sibling language that we will never be able to learn.
Our approach to parenting wasn’t really an approach at all. We read the “right” books and magazines during my pregnancy, we tried to be prepared and have principles… but we were completely in the dark to be honest. Neither Hubby nor I had any cousins or friends with babies. We didn’t even particularly like children. We had no idea what being a parent was going to feel like, and I for one didn’t WANT to know. I just wanted to take each day as it came. We didn’t even find out the sex of either baby.
I look back now, and realise that I couldn’t have chanced upon a better attitude – I think our lack of expectation was the only thing that kept us sane. The thing no one tells you about parenthood is the intense rollercoaster lurch from ecstatic highs to utter lying-on-the-floor, bottomless despair – sometimes within seconds. And like a roller coaster, it’s hard to tell whether that expression on your face is laughter or horror. No single day is predictable. Children defy your neat boxes, stereotyping and generalising – which is exactly as it should be.
As a new mum, I made it my mission to DO something every day. When your baby wakes up, all jolly and full of beans and raring to go at 5.45am, it’s a loooong day. I used to strap him into the babybjorn, walk around the neighbourhood for miles, and then come back for a slap up breakfast, and it would STILL only be 7.30am!! Giving the day structure by planning an outing was essential – I felt as if there was a snarling pack of ‘PND’ wolves barely held at bay behind a flimsy door. Going out, seeing people, showing him the sights, helped to keep those wolves away for a few hours.
We were lucky to live in the most fabulous city, where museums were plentiful and free, where the docks and bridges were stunning, where quirky city farms and their amazingly eccentric cafes were perfect for gardenless people like us to ramble about in. Walking to the library was an outing (and also free – we were on one very small income at the time) - we could stay as long as we wanted and read to our heart’s content.
I made good ‘mum’ friends, and we met religiously at least once a week for lunch, taking turns to host. We’d each bring something – a homemade loaf of bread, homous, cheese, salad, and the host would often make soup or pasta – and we’d set it all up on the dining table. Then, we spread blankets on the floor, arrange the babies on the floor, and let them goggle and dribble at each other while we ate, laughed and talked about our tendency to burst into tears for no reason, or our sudden inability to jump on a trampoline without weeing ourselves a little.
This kind of interaction ensured that BOTH baby and I were sufficiently stimulated and happy.
One memorable day, there were no scheduled meetings. Everyone seemed to be away visiting family or on holiday, and the museums were all closed on Mondays, as were the city farms. It had been another early morning with a 5 as the first digit and, although we’d done as much as we could in the house, it was still only 8.30am, and we were both fretful.
I decided, rather rashly, to take Baby Son to a huge shopping centre 40 minutes away. I had visions of strolling through the mall, window shopping, exclaiming over the centrepiece fountain in the food court, and having tea and cake as he dimpled charmingly at passing old ladies. What could go wrong?
A few hours later, I was standing in the rain, actually screaming at the baby buggy which had suddenly lost its ability to collapse - looking like the world’s craziest, scariest mum-zombie. How had things come to this??
It had only taken a few minutes of pushing Baby Son around the mall to realise that my plan was a pile of crap. I’d somehow overlooked the unfortunate fact that he didn’t like ceilings. If we were outside and he was gazing at the sky, well, we could walk forever. However, the second we went under cover, inside any building, he would screw up his face, squirm and whimper. This forgotten nugget scuppered my plans.
I persevered for a while, but he began to escalate; I began to walk comically fast, hoping the resultant breeze on his face would somehow distract him. Eventually I gave up altogether, and pushed him out into the car park, whereupon it started to rain.
Proper, p*ssing down, West Country rain.
He began to wail. I fumbled at his seat belt which was slick with rain, swearing right in his face as I struggled to get him out of the push chair and transfer him to his car seat. By now, he was screaming at the top of his voice, and arching his back, making it almost impossible to fasten his car seat belt. But I managed it. All I needed now – apart from a poke in the eye and a lobotomy – was to start the car engine and DRIVE. This would soothe him instantly.
But when I ran to the boot of the car, and tried to collapse the buggy, it wouldn’t budge. I raged and shrieked and swore at the bloody thing, pushing the button and twisting the mechanism until I had blisters, but it was stuck fast. It wouldn’t fit in the boot unless collapsed.
I was out there in the drumming rain for fully 10 minutes, hearing my poor baby’s wails decrescendo to a dreary, bereft sobbing, while I wrestled with the buggy till my hands bled.
Dripping wet, shivering with cold and frustration, crying with fury, I had one of those black moments of clarity – I saw myself from the outside, and it was pathetic and pitiful. How had I gone from being an enthusiastic professional and talented musician, to THIS?? This bedraggled, weeping, hopeless wretch, whose idea of parenthood was driving her kid to a shopping mall, pushing him around for 20 panicked minutes and then putting him through the whole car seat trauma in the pouring rain?? It was as if the buggy was delivering some sort of karmic retribution for my poor decision making.
I half laughed/sobbed. At that moment, the buggy’s mechanism clicked smoothly into place, and it collapsed innocently to the ground. Still laughing with an edge of hysteria, I hefted the buggy into the boot, opened the driver’s door and squelched into my seat. When I looked around at my poor long-suffering baby, he was fast asleep. I continued to laugh, stuffing my sleeve in my mouth so I didn’t wake him up.
He slept all the way home. He obligingly stayed asleep while I changed my drenched clothes and put the kettle on. When he finally woke up, his long-lashed eyes fixed on my face, he gave me the sunniest cherubic smile, and was the most cheerful, patient little man for the rest of the day.
These sorts of memories have to be filed where they belong – under ‘random’ perhaps, or ‘awful but couldn’t be helped’.
Sometimes we are fabulous parents, and sometimes we are not. Sometimes we happen to give our children exactly what they need at exactly the right time; sometimes every single phrase that comes out from our mouths is WRONG. Learning to accept that this is the way of parenthood, learning to accept the bad memories with retrospective humour and wisdom is the only way to stay sane – to keep trying.
Yes, parenting is a non-stop rollercoaster ride. There are times you’re sure you’d be able to think if you could just GET OFF FOR A MINUTE.
But then there’s the other, shiny side of the coin. Like today. Like the rather gorgeous fact that our son was praised to high heaven by his teachers… and he tried to give us the credit.
Afterword: Ha. I was looking for an image of the Buggery Pushchair on Google, and found the exact make and model - on a news article informing the public about their safety recall due to faulty mechanisms!
Following on from yesterday… I have a very special day today. I am ON MY OWN between 9am and 3pm.
Peace – precious peace.
This is my chance to get on with stuff WITHOUT the roaring white noise that is the interference of other people breathing.
Hopefully the kids will come home from school to Patient, Smiling, Tender Mummy, not the Fire-Breathing, Shouty Poison Gnome who has been marauding the place for the last week or so.
Sometimes I feel guilty about needing this recuperation time, but then I remember the instructions on those aeroplane safety cards – ‘if oxygen masks are released FIX YOURS FIRST BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO HELP ANYONE ELSE.’ The first time I read this fascinating sentence I was quite taken aback, and then delighted at how sensible and logical it was.
Of course there is no point trying to ‘help’ a child with their mask first. If you faint or even die, whilst struggling to save your child, then a fat lot of ‘help’ you’re going to be…
And that’s parenthood in a nutshell really.
It’s a balance of being as good as you can be, until suddenly you’re not being good at it anymore; then you do whatever it takes to get you back to fighting form. It’s a skill – recognising that tipping point, or even sensing its imminence. It takes some guts and some determination to say, “This is what I need. Now.”
It took me years and years before I could say that without feeling guilty. I felt I needed permission to look after myself. I thought that denying myself luxuries or ‘me-time’ was the sign of a dedicated parent. I needed validation and justification if I wanted to buy a new coat or have a morning off – all the more so because I was a ‘stay at home Mum’.
You can call it a ‘home-maker’ or ‘principle care giver’ or ‘domestic executive’ or ‘household manager’, or any other bull-sh*t name you can think of – in the end the facts are the same – you don’t have a wage, you don’t get holidays and no one hands you a certificate for being employee of the month. Going to the toilet with the door closed is about as professionally progressive as it gets.
The sad truth is no one will give you what you need if you don’t take it for yourself. To be fair, no one but you really KNOWS what you need – and that’s why it’s ok to ask for it.
Waiting for someone (for example, a husband or wife) to say the words you want to hear is a fool’s game. It’s also not fair on your partner. There is no written script that we should be following. Feeling resentful because they didn’t read your mind and haven’t offered you the precise thing you crave is a massive waste of energy.
If you want something, make it happen. Be in control.
If you’re falling apart at the seams, you’re no good to anyone. However, if you keep yourself ticking along, using whatever methods you need – whether it’s alone time, exercise time, the occasional night out or spa day, getting your hair cut or going for a long walk – you’ll be happier in yourself, and in a better frame of mind for dealing with your family.
Many’s the time I have regretted speaking sharply to my children, and realised that I’m not cross with them – I’m cross with my situation and I’m cross with myself for allowing my state of mind to get so frazzled. It’s the most important job in the world, and yet often we have to do it on minimal amounts of sleep and sometimes in a precarious mental state.
Aaaanyway… that was all preamble to explain why I am not writing a blog today. I’m off to soak up the stillness.
Mostly, I succeed at being a normal person, and integrating with society, and all that. But every so often (and it IS more often, these days) I capitulate, concede defeat, take off my mask of conformist presentability, and let it all hang out.
And it’s ugly. I’m ugly. I hate things. I glower at everything and everyone in the house. I don’t want to do anything. I shout. I wear about 5 layers of clothing, and sit in a corner like Stig of the Grump.
Other odd things happen too.
Noises start bothering me. I mean REALLY bothering me. People chewing, dropping things on the floor, footsteps, rustling paper… I can actually feel the sounds on my skin. I’ve never admitted that to anyone before; I guess it’s some kind of hyper-sensitivity, but I don’t have it all the time thankfully. Imagine what teaching a class of 30 kids, all banging drums, would FEEL like. Like a powerful right hook, I suspect.
I stop being able to think in a straight line. My mind won’t be able to dwell on a subject for very long. If I try to do something organisational in this state – for example, plan the week’s menus – then I stare at the same piece of paper, and fiddle with the same pencil and stare into the corners of the room for easily an hour without achieving a single thing.
The reason for all this irritable discomfiture is very simple.
I need to be alone. For my health. For EVERYONE’S health and wellbeing.
Now, tell me, is this unusual? Am I being unreasonable, or showing signs of my ancestral tendency to hermit-hood? Is it too much to ask that, once in a while, I am completely undisturbed for a few hours?
I’ve looked at others to see what they’re up to – like an insecure Bake Off contestant during the technical challenge - to see if they’re doing things differently to me. Why can they manage to be surrounded by people 24/7, without losing their minds?
I actually dread school holidays, and family holidays. I love having my family around me, don’t get me wrong, and I appreciate them every second… but I also need distance from them if I’m to stay sane, and I get very little during holidays.
It has taken me quite a long while to understand this situation, and it has caused a lot of strain and strife in my close relationships, but I think I know why I need more alone time than most.
Do you know what an ‘empath’ is? I just looked it up, and this ridiculous definition popped up.
It has nothing to do with science fiction, and has EVERYTHING to do with people.
I also don't think there's anything 'paranormal' about it; an empath is just someone who is more sensitive than most – especially to the energies and moods of others.
As a child, of course, I didn’t realise I was a bit different. Well, I DID know, but I thought it was because I was an ethnic minority. I didn’t know why I would cry if I saw an elderly man shuffling laboriously along the street, or why I would feel so frustrated and sad when my parents argued – even if I couldn’t hear them, or why my friends would get angry if I knew more about their mood than they cared to admit.
Worst of all, I just didn’t have any barriers. There was a huge world out there, of humans and their thoughts and emotions, crashing about like rudderless speedboats; there was love and hate, anger and guilt, frustration and regret – and I was standing in the middle of the road, open to any vibes that came within my radius, vulnerable as a blind hedgehog.
I’d feel it all. It was too much.
This is why I need to reset now and again. It’s not enough to say, “I’m going to my room for a couple of hours. Please don’t disturb me.” It won’t work, because children don’t understand the words “Do not disturb.” Bless them. If they’re not marching through the house playing the kazoo or exploding bombs, then they’re ‘not disturbing’ anyone, as far as they’re concerned.
Also, even if the other inhabitants of the house are being quiet as mice, I can still feel them. It’s like having small, gentle, but insistent tentacles pawing at my brain. The air in the house is still spiky with the presence of other people. Different people ‘vibrate’ at different wave lengths too – my son has the knack of making his presence tiny, of flying under the radar, of soothing my soul. My daughter is the vibrational equivalent of a kitten – cute, hilarious, demanding and perpetually moving... with claws.
I need for those vibrations to settle and for complete stillness to descend before my brain will release its stranglehold on my reason, and start allowing me to think again. For that, it has to be complete solitude – nothing else will do.
It’s really important that people like us are not misunderstood. I realise that I can come across as utterly unsociable or even misanthropic, but chances are, I’ve just been overloaded with stimuli.
At the end of the summer holidays, when I’ve had 45 solid days of noise and questions and outings and chores, I’m ready to run away to a cabin buried deep in the woods, and leave everything behind. However, give me ONE day of silence, when I can do what needs to be done, in my own time, at my own pace, alone with my thoughts, (in my pyjamas)… and I’ll be just fine, and ready to interact with humans again.
And failing that, I’m saving up to buy a desert island.
Just doing a little health inventory… Apart from a couple of patches of eczema on my hands, and an imprint of my yoga mat pattern on my forehead from an over-grateful Child’s Pose this morning, I seem pretty whole and well.
3 years ago though, this was not the case. The eczema had got to an unbearable point. It infiltrated all areas of my life, and made every single second a misery.
I could never make up my mind if it was worse to have eczema on my face, or on my hands. If it was on my face, I’d feel ashamed about going out in public, looking as if I’d suffered 2nd degree burns, or I had face-planted in a bowl of acid. But if it was on my hands, the mundane tasks of the day became insurmountable mountains. I remember once breaking down and sobbing because I’d picked up a cup of tea, and I felt my skin break in about three places.
Anyway, during this particularly terrible time, I didn’t even need to make up my mind, because I had eczema everywhere – hands, face, neck, arms, knees and back.
I decided it was finally time to take action. I decided it was time to undertake an elimination diet.
Although I had tried cutting dairy from my diet when I was 8 or 9, it had only lasted about a week or so before the attempt was abandoned. I think my mother was secretly scared that I would die of starvation if I couldn’t eat cheese or butter.
An elimination diet is pretty hard core. I did a lot of research and isolated the foods that were commonly known to be allergens, plus a list of foods that I had always suspected weren’t my friends.
The list looked something like this: Soya, eggs, nuts, seeds, cereals (oats, barley, wheat), beef, pork, chicken, anything cured with sulphur (ham, bacon, salami etc), shellfish, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, chillies, aubergines, ALL dairy products, ALL fats and oils, sugar, yeast, corn/maize, all legumes – peas, beans and pulses. It could have been subtitled – ‘My Favourite Things’.
The idea was I exclude all the above products for 2 or 3 weeks, and then reintroduce each item, one by one, documenting every single response – pulse, digestive health, sleep patterns, any allergic reactions, and mood. This was a looooong-term commitment, but I was determined to get to the bottom of any food sensitivities I might have.
I was left with a tiny list of food that I COULD eat – mainly leafy greens, fish and rice. Which sounds so healthy, right?
I was not prepared for the immediate and visceral reaction of my body to the new regime.
I woke up the next day, having hardly changed my diet at all, with a raw, angry-looking face, swollen eyes, and aching limbs and joints. I assumed that I had coincidentally caught a virus or similar, but the symptoms weren’t constant – they changed and shifted, almost by the hour.
I was grumpy, tired, emotionally unstable and suffering from a hayfeverish wheeze and itchy eyes.
I was also very confused. I had expected to find it difficult to be strict with myself, to turn down my favourite foods, to eschew meals out at restaurants… but I hadn’t expected to feel like crap the moment the diet started. In fact, I thought I would feel instantly better after removing all those possible allergens from my daily intake.
I went through several elimination diet forums, and found that many people had similar experiences, but they put it down to sugar-withdrawal. The thing is, I don’t eat much sugar. I don’t eat cereal, drink tea or coffee with sugar, I don’t like sweets or even chocolate that much. What on earth could be causing this physical deconstruction?
Having tried to approach this scientifically, I’d overlooked the fact that I was a sentient human being with thoughts and memory. I KNEW what was going on, and my brain was sabotaging the experiment in every way it knew how. It was a rather terrifying, instinctive reaction from my body – the mindless snarl of a wild animal protecting itself from intrusion and change.
Over the next few days, the situation worsened. I could barely see, my eyes were that swollen, and the skin on my upper body felt as though it was being eaten alive by fire ants. And yet, I’d hardly made any changes to my life – in fact, just good changes. I was eating fish, green vegetables and brown rice, plus variations of the above. It really wasn’t that different to my usual diet.
I felt as if I had split into two parts. One part wanted to move on and make positive changes to diet and attitude. The other part hated the idea, and felt threatened by these new concepts. In the ensuing tussle, my physical body was the collateral damage. If my body was a control room, those two thugs were battling it out in there, like the climactic scene from a James Bond film; crashing into levers and buttons, causing malfunctions and sirens to blare, tripping circuits and releasing poison gas into the system.
That experiment proved to me, beyond doubt, that the mind and body have to work together to achieve health. They ARE separate things, but they each hold the life of the other in their palms. Forcing a new, healthier diet on my body was pointless until I had dealt with my psychological food hangups, because part of me would resist the change and make progress impossible.
I did stick it out for several months, however, and the violent reaction gradually calmed down. When I reintroduced some foods, there were a few surprises. I assumed that wheat and dairy would definitely be triggers…but they weren’t. There was no reaction whatsoever. But I DID react adversely to potatoes and barley. However, none of the reactions were significant enough that it was worth making any permanent dietary change. I went back to my usual diet.
The conclusion: My experiment was inconclusive.
My advice to myself now? ‘Eat what you enjoy – IN MODERATION. If there are foods that make you feel bloated or uncomfortable, then leave them out. But don’t think of them as banned foods, otherwise you’ll crave them 24 hours a day. Think instead of substitutions – enjoy the challenge of creating recipes which use approved ingredients. Be creative. Be clever.’
P.S I have LOTS of recipes that I devised and perfected, through trial and error, during those difficult months. I was determined not to be deprived of the meals I liked, so I was at my most inventive, conjuring up gluten/dairy/fat free biscuits, creamy curries, chocolatey treats with no chocolate, cheesecake with no cheese, and flatbreads and pizzas with no flour. Please message me if you find yourself in a similar position and you’d like any of these recipes and tricks. xx
I like cars. Don’t care that I know very little about how they work; or that I can’t take one apart and put it back together again. I just like driving.
‘Car’ was my first word (in Danish though). Instead of dolls, which I absolutely loathed, I had a cardboard carton full of matchbox cars – my favourite being a metallic purple Porsche, although I quite liked the black London taxi too. I drove them around on the floor, made stunt courses for them, and simply liked to have them and hold them.
(I also had a fine collection of toy guns, swords and other weapons, and enjoyed tying my friends up with rope – but that’s probably a psychoanalysis session for another day. Or never.)
When I was 14, I had a boyfriend who was a real car enthusiast, and he taught me how to recognise pretty much every make and model of car inhabiting UK roads. I realise that sounds a bit geeky, but I rather liked this new knowledge, and I have now passed it on to my kids. If there was a traffic incident, we’d make good witnesses anyway.
Reaching my 17th birthday and receiving my provisional driving licence was hugely exciting for me. I seem to remember pestering my dad to take me driving on the first available Sunday after my birthday. We went to the local train station car park, which was completely empty. (Remember those days? When the weekend was actually a time for resting and relaxation??)
He showed me how to get the clutch and accelerator to ‘bite’, and then he put his seat back, and had a post-lunch nap. I fooled around, trying to master a smooth gear change, and summon up the courage to go into third gear.
Again, although my dad was not the most reliable of men, he was fabulously laid-back about things like this. Where most parents would be tense and hyper-controlling, he explained that a car is designed to move forward, and the only thing we had to do, as drivers, was control its speed and direction. Good advice that.
He actually slept too, so I can’t have been that awful.
My first car was a Mitsubishi Colt Tredia. We’d owned it from new, but by the time I started driving it, the body work had started to rust a little, and the dark red paint was dull. However, like many Japanese cars from that era, the engine was an absolute gem. That Mitsubishi was the most responsive and exciting car I have driven, to this day. It was hard to beat me when the traffic lights turned green.
(Yes, yes. I know that drag-racing at traffic lights is frowned upon these days. I’ve grown out of it now. Anyway, my Honda Jazz isn’t up to it…)
It was a trusty car, and I was so sad when it rusted away almost to nothing. I bet that engine would still be going strong now, if it had been placed in a new body.
Since then, I have owned a Proton (Mitsubishi engine, but tinfoil body – it would dent if you breathed on it), a Honda Civic (fantastic, reliable car, and SO comfortable), a Mitsubishi Carisma (an attempt to relive the glory days… but no), and then several generations of solid, reliable, excellently designed, economical, mechanically undernourished Honda Jazzes. I do like my current car, but there are hills near our house which I dread tackling in it, because I end up in 1st gear, being overtaken by elderly pedestrians.
Anyway. As I said, I love cars. But I don’t like what happens to some people when they get inside their cars and start driving.
These days, viral videos of screaming men and women, hanging out of their cars, hurling filthy abuse or even physical objects at each other are two a penny – they pop up every day. We are anaesthetised to the drama, the horror and the sheer wrongness of road rage.
What happens to some perfectly ordinary people when they sit down, buckle up and start driving? What makes some of them lose their minds? React in a way they wouldn’t dream of reacting usually?
I observed a nasty piece of work in a white van (sorry, but it was) tailgating another car yesterday. He was so close to the car in front, there can’t have been more than half a metre between them, even though they were driving at a good 40mph. I don’t know what the other car had done to anger the WVM but how could it possibly warrant such a flagrant invitation to disaster? The senseless thing is that a crash would punish them BOTH. There’s no reason or rationale here – it’s the mindless anger of an aggravated swarm of wasps.
Once, many years ago, when I had only been driving for 3 or 4 years, I parked my car in a very small space outside a shop. I tried to be careful opening my door, but it slipped out of my grasp and gently knocked the car next to me. There was no damage.
As I locked up my car, I became aware of a man getting out of the car and facing me. He launched straight into full red-rag mode – yelling at me for ‘smashing’ into his car door, calling me disgusting names and jabbing his finger into my face like man in a broken elevator.
I fell apart. I had never, in my sheltered life, been spoken to in such a manner. Although I apologised immediately, he couldn’t stop shouting at me. His eyes were bulging with rage, his thin face hectic and pink; spit flew as he spoke, and the cords of his neck were standing out so prominently, I could have snipped them with a pair of scissors. The reaction was totally out of proportion to the catalyst. He was temporarily insane – clinically insane.
I don’t know what image you see in your head when you picture this man. Let me enlighten you.
He was clean shaven, clean cut, dressed expensively in chinos and tailored shirt. His car was one of those boring, executive mid-range saloons. He was probably an accountant or similar. His natural habitat was probably a country club, gastro pub, and a 4 or 5 bedroomed house on the new luxury estate. He probably never used the ‘f’ word in front of his wife and kids. Excuse the assumptions.
I couldn’t believe how crushed and scared I felt. Why wasn’t he stopping? Why was he behaving, utterly contrary to most British folks, in such a confrontational way?
Eventually, I got angry too.
Between sobs I asked him, “What’s wrong with you? Do you speak like this to other people too?”
That question seemed to cut through the red mist, and he stopped. I saw the fury draining from his eyes, and it was one of the most peculiar and alarming things I’ve ever seen – as if he’d been injected with a potent drug. He shook his head a little, and then looked at me – at ME. Saw that I was very young, very scared and in tears. He looked a little horrified with himself, and apologised.
His excuse was that his car had been damaged in an accident, and had only just returned from the garage that day. That was the reason for his overreaction.
It wasn’t an overreaction though. It was pure, temporary madness. I believe he might have done something a lot worse in that state.
Thankfully, the situation deflated and he quickly got in his car and drove away, but I was left with a sick, heavy feeling which lasted for weeks. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe how quickly my ordered, tidy life had transformed into a nasty, lawless nightmare from which I might not have escaped. I realised bitterly that, although we floated around in our self-satisfied, oblivious little bubbles – the bubble only gave us the illusion of being safe. And the bubble could pop at any time.
Maybe cars give us a sense of power that we don’t deserve – rather like a superhero’s talismanic outfit and cape. Some of us are recklessly galvanised when we wield speed and status. We forget that we are all fragile, vulnerable humans – whether we drive steroid-pumped flat-bed trucks or diminutive Smart cars. We forget that a car is a way of getting from A to B, not a weapon that we control at our whim.
In our crazy, stressful world we need to pick our battles – and none of them should ever involve a car.
Wherever you’re going this weekend, be happy and be safe. x