“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
Wait! This is not a post about running!
So since Christmas, I have been trying to write two essays. Two 3,000 essays that are due in very soon. It sounds so simple when you say it like that – I write everyday at work adapting my style to audiences and formats. I journal often finding writing things done a cathartic way to get my thoughts out of my head. Surely two short essays can’t be that bad? But my essays have been a tough process. The light is nearing at the end of the tunnel and I’m relieved that the process will end (one way of the other).
I thought it would be tough but I have found it really surprisingly hard but also it’s a really interesting experience. I’m learning things about myself, I’m sure it is a process which is helping me grow. It just feels hard. Uncomfortable. Unusual. Testing.
Academia and I have had a hard time, I have been thinking about this a lot as I have been clearing stuff out at my mums house. We have found numerous school reports, books that I bought while doing my last MA and while I was still dreaming of doing a PhD. I love studying and for a large part of growing up I just wanted to be paid to read books. School made me feel stupid; I worked really hard but found the ideas in my head hard to write down. By the time I finished my masters I wanted to leave academia and never go back, refusing to go to my graduation because I disliked it and felt so demoralized. It has taken me a long time to consider studying again and I don’t regret the decision. So what is it that I find so hard?
I’m attracted to the ideas and the thinking; I love the act of studying but I find writing and expressing my thoughts on a page incredibly difficult. I am incredibly self-conscious about writing and get intimated by the blank page. I love researching – reading around the subject but translating my thoughts onto the page often ends up as a torturous process with me wondering what on earth I’m doing to myself. So I thought I would document what I have learnt so far from the process to encourage me in reaching the finish line.
I haven’t written an academic essay for a long time and at the beginning I found it hard to find motivation and discipline to get into it. I definitely had a preparation phase when I went to academic writing workshops, bought stationery and worked out how to use the various libraries. Without sounding too much like a dinosaur, so much has changed since I was at University – the growth of e-books and online journals, having to submit your essays online and everyone being convinced that everyone wants to plagarise rather than write something original.
The lovely Wellcome Library, a good reading nook.
I found it hard after really long days at work to want to log in in the evenings or turn on my computer at the weekend. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. It coincided with my workload getting colossal and there just seemed no space to think, breath. At this point, I still was trying to do a lot – hobbies, see friends and work crazy hours. Unsurprisingly cramming studying into small fragments of weekends doesn’t work well.
Then in February, panic set in. I found it really hard to understand some of the papers – it all felt very foreign and quite dry. I am a humanities person – I understand theories and arguments, I am discursive in my approach and much less scientific than I need to be in this course. It is interesting to study a new discipline but not having anything to fall back on is quite challenging. “Wot is this hierarchy of evidence you speak of?” I found myself muttering but “who is the Terry Eagleton of the policy evaluation world?” on a particularly bleak day. One of my study comrades who also did English made me laugh by saying “we read Derrida, we can get through this.”
To begin with I found a couple of hours completely exhausting. I discovered that getting out of the house was really important for focused work – decamping to a cafe to read papers and a range of libraries has been key to get things done. The Wellcome Institute has become one of my favourite places to read; the British Library feels a bit like a youth club at times I find! Taking myself out of the house is necessary to help with focus during the working week; weekends are fine to study at home. I bought a desk and set up a little study in my spare room.
March arrived and I was having horrid dizzy spells in which I kept appearing at the Drs explaining that I thought I was suffering from anxiety and stress. It was horrible because I honestly thought I was going mad. I just felt very odd; the whole room would swirl and I would feel like I just had to go to bed. It appears that I’m suffering from anemia and after several weeks of industrial strength iron I’m on the mend and actually as I’ve felt stronger my general resilience has improved. So after reaching rock bottom in early March, I’m on the mend and have got into the swing of things.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve really put the hours in and have hit my stride. I can studying easily for a while day now, over the Easter weekend whole days were zipping by while I was locked in a world of reading and writing. I’ve written draft essays and I’m continually working on them. I wish I had longer and I’m trying to be strict and not over read at this point which is really hard. I have to remind myself that I’m doing this to learn and I’m trying to do the best possible job without overly focusing on the outcomes. It is hard but I keep having to remind myself of that so I don’t just drive myself completely mad. I comfort myself that for a lot of professional writers, writing is difficult but you need enough desire and discipline to turn up and keep going even when you think you are writing complete rubbish.
Working full-time and studying part-time is quite a difficult combination for your tiredness levels and ensuring there is balance in your life. I definitely haven’t cracked it but I do think it is a test of emotional and physical stamina. I have been thinking of Marathon trainers and how they approach their running; I think I need to build my stamina and ensure I have rest days. I have been thinking about writing as like building muscle memory which will build up over time. When you build muscles, you tear the fibers so maybe pain is an essential part of growth. Building muscle tissue involves good nutrition, rest, sleep and strong immune system (among many other things) all of which are what I need right now. I’m trying to break hard things down into small parts, taking each part slowly until I understand it. Take breaks. Try to be patient with myself. Find ways to boost my resilience.
I’m hoping that I will fall in love with the act of academic writing; or at least by the end of the course get freaked out less by it.
So since Christmas, there has been my inner voice saying why are you doing this? What do you have to prove?
In truth, nothing.
For me, I like learning because it is part of wanting to live life to the fullest. But part of the process is also trying to understand your limits and really pushing yourself to succeed. It is about endurance. In order to get good at something whether that it is writing, playing music, sport, dance or work; you have to put the work in and that takes discipline, time and energy.
I’m trying to learn to love the process rather than fight against it.
Image from here.
This weekend I went to the brilliant Women of the World Festival on the Southbank which was great. I felt truly humbled, moved and inspired by all the amazing women at the event. I cried, laughed, danced, celebrated, debated, hugged my friends and learnt lots of things.
International Women’s Day seems to be growing every year in terms of international events and focus which makes me feel positive that maybe the light is creeping in. There is still so much to do to make the world a more equal place, as Lucy Managan’s excellent article highlights, and sometimes the enormity of the task can make you feel defeated.
There was a lot of darkness at WoW, I listened to discussions about women and girls being kidnapped and raped in war zones, pornography and the impact on young people, about why girls were joining extremist organisations, and from victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The sheer numbers of women who face terrible violence in the UK and further afield is truly truly shocking; 2 women a week are killed by a violent partner and 3 more will kill themselves to escape an abusive relationship. 1 in 3 women globally will be beaten or raped in their lifetime. But it is important to remember that within the darkness there will be lights and you have to walk towards them.
WoW reminded me that we (men and women) can change things, and that we should use our voices to be passionate and noisy about the things that matter in the world. There were moments of high adrenalin and incredible emotion so it was impossible to not feel moved but there was also plenty of moments of reflection. The audience was incredibly mixed and being surrounded by so many brilliant women was very life-affirming and energising.
It also made me feel incredibly grateful for my life – for being able to read, able to have gone to school, work and be financially independent, own property and not face violence or abuse every day. I am so blessed to know incredible women in my life and I love that there is a day each year to appreciate them.
It was an intense mind-blowing weekend so I’m currently letting it all sink in and absorb what I heard and felt. In the meantime, these are some of the links that have been shared to celebrate IWD amongst my friendship group which I have enjoyed.
:: Lovely infographic about 10 famous female adventurers.
:: Seeds and Stitches suggestions for how to creatively celebrate IWD
:: Stylist article about female journalists who changed the world.
:: The Afghan men who wore burqas through the streets of Kabul to understand how women feel.
:: Getty release images that show different images of Fatherhood.
:: Amnesty International bravest women in the world
:: Lovely guardian article on inspirational feminists (including Aphra Behn)
Finally, I love this quote that has been used on lots of social media posts.
“Here’s to strong women.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them. ”
Happy International Women’s Day!
“There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue…
And in the depths of the city, beyond an old zone of ruined buildings that look like broken hearts, there lived a happy young fellow by name of Haroun, the only child of the storyteller Rashid Khalifa, whose cheerfulness was famous throughout that unhappy metropolis, and whose never-ending stream of tall, and winding tales had earned him not one but two nicknames. To his admirers he was Rashid the Ocean of Notions, as stuffed with cheery stories as the sea was full of glumfish; but to his jealous rivals he was the Shah of Blah.”
To celebrate, World Book Day, I wanted to write about a children’s book that I loved reading this year.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie was such a joyful read. The opening gripped me, I loved the idea of a city living on glumfish and the Moody Land where the landscape changes to reflect the emotions of the people currently present in it. I read it in an Angler’s cottage surrounded by fishy objects on a grey February day. You could really believe that people could live on glumfish!
The words bounce along building a picture of a magical world vividly. It tells the story of Haroun who wants to help his father, Rashid, rediscover how to tell stories. This leads Haroun on an amazing adventure to the Sea of Stories complete with water genies, houseboats, mechanical hoopoes, kingdoms, princesses and princes.
There are some gorgeous characters throughout the book. I especially love the plentimaw fishes, giant angelfish, who constantly ingest the stories conveyed by the sea, speak in rhyme and mate for life. Mali, the floating gardener made up of interwoven vines and plants is also a lovely character. His job is to prevent stories from becoming convoluted and cut away weeds on the ocean’s surfaces. Yes, there is even an environmental sidestory when they stop the sea from becoming polluted.
At the heart of the book though, it is a book about stories and storytelling.
At the start, Haroun asks his father “what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” By the end of the book, you are convinced that stories matter whether they are true or magical. “He knew what he knew: that the real world was full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real.” We all need stories whether we believe them or not to help us understand the world around us.
The sea of stories is from the title of an 11th century collection of Indian legends, Kathasaritsagara, the Story-Stream Sea or the Ocean of the Streams of Story. In Haroun, the sea contains all the stories ever invented flowing in intertwining streams and occasionally they get muddled. I love this idea that storytelling is this organic, living process with a life of its own. The story wants to be told but might find its way into several streams first. I have always thought that the best worlds in books are ones you don’t want to leave and can imagine your own adventures in.
Throughout Haroun, there are many funny jokes, sayings and elements woven from other classic stories throughout. Part of the joy for me in the book was spotting references to 1001 Arabian Nights, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz and even The Egg Men and The Walrus from the Beatles. As the Water Genie, Iff, is keen to tell Haroun:
“Nothing comes from nothing, Thieflet; no story comes from nowhere; new stories are born from old–it is the new combinations that make them new.”
Storylines, archetypes and narratives are remade, retold and reversioned for new audiences. A lot of people can get a bit sniffy about whether things are “original” or truly great writing without missing the point about stories. Stories are meant to be living breathing things that are always remixed. Storytelling is based on an oral living folk tradition, where stories merge and evolve and new ideas mix with the familiar.
People (and particularly children) like repetition – it makes us feel safe. A lot of children’s classics have repetitive formats, familiar imagery and characters to help children learn. Familiar ideas help children understand where they are in the story and act as reference points to the world around them. I think this is why series fiction is popular – we understand the rules, we can decode the tropes and importantly we can predict sometimes what will happen next. This is comforting. Like the lamppost in the Narnia forest, there are markers of things you recognise so you can feel at home and secure enough to explore the new fictional world. And like Narnia, you can return again and again without treading the exact same path.
Good writing mixes classic elements with new ideas in different combinations and makes it seem effortless. The Dark Materials trilogy borrows from William Blake and Milton’s Paradise Lost, JK Rowling borrows from just about everyone but that doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of Harry Potter. What I love in Haroun is that the inter-texuality is so blatant and joyous.
Finally, the backstory for Haroun is lovely. It was the first book that Rushdie wrote following the Fatwa and he was suffering serious writer’s block. The book started because he promised his son he’d write a book for him and it started as stories he told his son in the bath. He would take a mug and dip it into the bath, pretend to sip from it and find a new story to tell. There is something really poignant in the book about Rushdie writing a book at this time about a son helping his sad father find his stories once more and wanting a happy ending.
“Happy endings are much rarer in stories, and also in life, than most people think. You could say they are the exceptions, not the rule.”
In a very dark time, from the bathtime of stories came this lovely happy book. I think that is quite magical in itself.
Happy World Book Day!
Every time I wake up and the sun is shining, I virtually sprint out of bed.
After all the grey days, the shot of blue is definitely a good tonic. I love spotting any additional daylight that shows the long dark days of winter are coming to an end.
This morning I’ve got into the office early and I’m enjoying the peace before the crazy phones start ringing. I’ve been experimenting with morning and evening routines recently and I have found that what I do in the mornings makes a massive difference to how I feel all day. Mornings when I don’t snooze but power out of bed (often boosted by music and strong coffee) are much more productive.
I have been thinking a lot about personal resilience this month and how to boost your inner reserves to deal with challenges that work or life through at you. While there have been many great things this month, there have been a few moments in February where I just feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff to do on every front. Time feels like it whirls past in a blur of meetings, more meetings, SO MANY emails and still my washing machine is broken. Needless to say meetings, emails and broken white goods to do not help me feel nourished in my life.
When I feel like this I remember the importance of looking up and the clouds. Clouds are slightly magical to me and watching sunrises is one of my favourite things. I love seeing colours creep across the sky and I often take snaps of different lights and moods in the morning. So this month, I’m remembering to look up and breathe when things are getting me down.
Blue skies are definitely coming.
Photo by Stuart Spicer
On a snowy grey day with grim news headlines, it can feel like the world is an unfriendly place. But then you see a picture like this.
This picture was taken in Zalipie, Poland, a village about 40 miles east of Krakow.
Around 20 houses are adorned with floral paintings and the results are stunning. It seems unclear how it started apparently it was over a century ago but Felicia Curylowa a ceramics artist is mentioned a lot as being particularly influential. Today local women (and men) continue the tradition, painting chicken coups, bridges, barns as well as houses. The village hosts an annual competition around the feast of Corpus Christi where people paint new designs and touch up artworks from previous years.
Have a look here for some more of the gorgeous pictures, it has made me really want to go to see them for myself.
How cheery it must be to be surrounded by such gorgeous colours and flowers!
Definition of Nourish:
- Provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition
- Keep (a feeling or belief) in one’s mind, typically for a long time.
Synonyms: cherish, nurture, foster, sustain
A new word for a new year. A word to guide, a pilot light to remind me of my way this year.
A word that represents my hopes and dreams for the year ahead.
A mantra to whisper to myself to help me make choices and set appropriate goals.
Over the last couple of years, slow has been my word to live by. One of my friends described it as my own philosophy last year and it’s certainly helped me feel more grounded and settled. While I’m still channelling my inner tortoise and living my life in the slow lane, I thought a new word was also needed for this year. A word that I can incorporate into my day to day and permeate my life as much as possible. And I have kept coming back to nourish. Time and time again.
I love to plan. I love to brainstorm, write lists, plan for the future yet this year I want to get stuff done and put off less. Nourish for me is about committing to life now and making sure I have the best possible days along the way.
Having slow as my word for the last few years has reminded me that I find it hard to do less and that I’ve had to practice slowing life down. I’m a person of extremes I find it easier to be a hermit or a social butterfly. I like action and instant gratification. There is always so much to find out about and do and see. It turns out I am not very patient. I find it hard to embrace the slowness. While I’m quite tolerant and patient with others, I am not with myself and with life in general.
Going to Bali was a good tonic for me last year, the Balinese with their infamous time keeping and their philosophy of everything being in sync or balanced was very inspiring. I want to soak up life instead of rushing through to the next thing.
It is also time for me to focus on aligning my actions with my values. To be very honest, I’m tired of saying “one day” and “I wish” and “next week when work becomes easier…”. I need to take the actions necessary to make those wishes come true. I’m tired of reading, pinning, daydream and not doing. I’m tired of saying I value x, y and z but living in a way that doesn’t reflect that.
I’m exhausted by talking about creativity but constantly feeling I’m not practising my own often enough. I’m tired of knowing the value of eating seasonal whole foods but still buying my lunch at Pret far too often. I’m fed up of constantly thinking about ways to let friends know I’m thinking of them and not writing the email or letter to tell them. I’m bored of saying I’d like a dog one day, without going for regular walks with the dogs I know or joining a site like Borrow My Dog to find a dog to walk once in a while.
So Nourish is also a kick to remind me that I need to breathe, refocus my attention, to stretch a bit and make small long-term changes. I’m good at bootcamp but my work would always remind me that the greatest behaviourial change comes from small, regular, incremental changes.
Nourish is a beautiful word, full of care, love and compassion. I like the idea of a word that could be relevant to my mind and body. I keep remembering Dan Pearson’s inspiring talk about what gardening can teach you about commitment. Like a plant, I will make sure I have enough water, light, nutrients to grow, flourish and bloom. I wanted a word that I can incorporate into my day to day – permeate my life as much as possible.
So what does Nourish mean for me?
The themes underpinning nourish are self-care, creativity, taking time out. Nourish also reminds me to do things that inspire me whether that is reading, art exhibitions, listening to music which lifts my spirits, spending time outside, scribbling. While there will be studying I will also look for ways to nuture my creativity – to spend time making and playing. There will be also be my continued drive to spend more wisely, consume mindfully, feather my nest, eat well, move more, sleep better, be kind to the earth, give to my community. And those things are a full time job in itself.
So I’m trying to work out a way of every month doing things that help me get closer to all those things. Regular evenings to cook something delicious, jobs done at home, essays written, notes to friends actually posted.
Last year, by being involved with the New Year Resolutions Club, I learnt the importance of setting clear intentions each month about what I would do and then holding myself accountable. Showing up each month to the group was a good discipline but I struggled without a clear vision for where I was headed. This year I feel a lot clearer. I also for the first time for a couple of years completed Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Ahead which I found really helpful to do this. I’ve also made a resolution board on Pinterest as well.
So how has January gone?
::Self-care: I’ve cooked tasty healthy dinners, stayed in my house more, walked around London more, slept better and more. I haven’t been drinking (yes, I am currently a dry vegetarian!) I’ve completed two levels on Headspace my mindfulness app and I’ve given my permission to curl up under blanket when I’m knackered. I’ve started writing in a gratitude journal. I’ve also reclaimed Friday nights to do something social to help the weekend seem longer.
::Inspiration/ Creativity: I’ve read two great books (Andy Millar’s 50 Books Which Saved My Life and Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie). I’ve fallen back in love with the cinema (Theory of Everything, Into the Woods, Wild). Gazed at the gorgeous colours in Kurt Jackson paintings at the Horniman.
:: Making/Playing: I played by ukulele and made a cake for Choir with No Name.
:: Brain enriching: I went to Germany Exhibition at British Museum, discovered podcasts so have been listening to The Reith Lectures and Radio 4 podcasts. I’ve attended an academic writing workshop and started work on my essays.
::Feathering my nest: My spare room has a desk in it and finally unpacked all the boxes. This is VERY exciting… I’ve taken a lot of stuff to charity.
Things I found hard:
My dishwasher and washing machine are broken. This needs action.
There was still an awful lot of work this month and a lot of stress. By the end of the first week back in the office, I was in quite a state and had a range of people being quite worried about how I seemed in myself. This has led me to taking it easy at weekends and I’m quite behind with my study. I have negotiated a 9-day fortnight to give me more study so that will give me some dedicated time away from the office.
I also need to get back to some regular exercise.
Things for February:
1) Studying: I need one essay finished by end of this month
2) Budget plan: I need a budget plan back in place
3) Get myself back on to my yoga mat!
Welcome 2015, the year of Nourish. I think you will be a good year.
With your dark mornings and long nights.
Your grey drizzly days and your crisp bright frosty mornings.
How I love and loath winter in almost equal measure.
Today is last day of January and have to say it hasn’t been bad. Usually I hate how January drags but this year I’ve embraced winter. I’ve curled up more indoors – reading, tidying, lying low and studying. I’ve been to a few exhibitions and watched films spending afternoons at the cinema with a cup of tea. There has been some silly jumping/dancing around my flat, I have played my ukulele, reclaimed Friday nights for fun & haven’t drunk alcohol since New Year’s Eve. Instead I’ve used stories, words, ideas & bright pictures to banish the January blues away. I even went to Ikea and had fun. These are strange times…
The starting of a New Year always makes me reflective – I start planning, dreaming and scheming for the next year. Last year was full of good things – trips to Bali, Cornwall and Berlin and especially lovely because I saw lots of dear friends achieve dreams. There were weddings, babies, books, music EPs, businesses and lovely coloured yarns. So many good things that made me feel so proud of my gorgeous and talented friends. There was 100 happy days to snap, I stepped down from WI Presidency, gave up plastic for lent and drinking in October. Then there were as usual books to read, yoga to do, talks, music, art exhibitions, The Story Conference, Towersey Festival and Berliner Philharmoniker at the Proms. There was a random trip to Broadstairs for a lovely lunch and playtime on the beach. There were flat improvements and lots of fun times with family and friends. Surprising things happened as well – I started an MSc at Imperial in Healthcare Policy and I went back to being a vegetarian. Since August, I haven’t felt like eating meat at all. This has never happened to me, even when I was a strict vegetarian I still secretly wanted to eat meat. Most of all I’m surprised we are in 2015 and I’m turning 35 this year.
I giggled when I read about Colleen’s House of Good Intentions – my flat is always full to the brim of intentions and like Colleen I have been shifting things about, auditing my 2014 ideas and thinking about what 2015 might have in store. One of the reasons why I love this blog is that it allows me to retrace my steps, think about how things have changed over the years. 2011 was full of adventure and change, 2012 was the year of the Fs. Full of fun, fitness, food but less good on frugality! 2013 was the year of the tortoise when I started to slow life down just a bit and bought my own home. So what was 2014. 2014 wasn’t a year of massive change it was a year of slowing things down and relaxing into my life. I set small goals and flexed my willpower muscle across the year. I fell a bit in love with my lovely life in London and got better at taking on less. I also decided to stop. Stop worrying about whether I was on the right path, and over analysing.
So what does 2015 hold in store? I’m not entirely sure but plots are thickening. I know it will be an excellent year. I can feel it in my bones.
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” Stephen Hawking
Stars, work, meaning, purpose and love seem good things for 2015. I wish you peace and joy for the year ahead.
Remembrance in November is a tricky business and I always approach Armistice day with mixed feelings. This year has been no exception with the World War One Centenary. It is such an important anniversary, WW1 & 2 created such social change – women’s suffrage, advances in education, medicine, workers rights. War casts a long shadow over nations and landscapes. I was surprised listening to From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4 this week which contained a shocking statistic. A hundred and fifty tonnes of WW1 shells are still being dug up in Ypres every year – local farmers call it the “iron harvest”.
As I have written before, remembrance for me is an important time of reflection and I have still been deeply uncomfortable with the majority of the coverage. When I hear the jingoistic phrases being repeated again and again by the newspapers and politicians and through images posted on social media it makes me shudder and makes me feel sad that we don’t have a wider vocabulary for discussing how horrific war actually is. It reminds me of Wilfred Owen’s last line, “The old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”. (How sweet and honourable it is to die for your country). It feels like even now, 100 years on, we still put too much emphasis on propping up the lie – the glory in sacrifice rather than the gore in the trenches.
Reading Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Vera Brittain, Virginia Woolf and Pat Barker fundamentally changed my outlook on the world when I was growing up. They are writers I often think about and especially turn to at this time of year. I can’t help think about the First World War without thinking about shellshock, those shot for cowardice and conscientious objectors. With all my heart, I wish we could find a way to include a greater range of perspectives in how we remember. Harry Leslie Smith wrote a thoughtful article in The Guardian is worth reading about conscientious objectors in both wars.
This year I thought about how I want to mark the war and have remembered in a range of ways. I took part in Lights Out reading Edward Thomas poetry by candlelight on the anniversary of the first day of the war. I went to the Britten’s War Requiem at the Proms which made me cry. The line that stayed with me was from The Parable of the Old Man and his Son:
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
There was a lady sitting behind me, on her own, who didn’t know the work. She said to me at the end “it makes you glad to be alive”. I didn’t really know what to say, I think she meant because the music though difficult was so glorious to hear live and we were so lucky to hear such an amazing performance. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it made me think about man’s inhumanity to man and I was feeling pretty bleak.
Marion Alsop wrote a great about what it is like to conduct Britten’s War Requiem which contains a fantastic quote: ‘No piece of art can bring back a single one of the millions of people killed in armed conflict since Wilfred Owen’s death in 1918, but the War Requiem can challenge us to think about what it is we people to do when we send them to war. This is what art is for, and it’s important.’
Yesterday, I went to see the Poppies at the Tower before work – I’m still not sure what I think about it but seeing 888, 246 poppies is an awe inspiring sight. It reinforces the scale and the waste.
Remembering is important to try and stop ourselves repeating the same mistakes again and again. Cultural remembrance is difficult to get right and often controversial. But we need to keep telling the stories of the war and what they can tell us about bravery, resilience but also healing, reconciliation and peace.
If you would like to read more reflections about remembrance here are my previous posts. My Subject is War and the Pity of War (Britten War Requiem), Why This Year I Won’t Be Wearing A Poppy, Beyond Living Memory (Harry Patch and Passchendaele) .
Today my niece turns three. She got a bike for her birthday and is enjoying going “really fast” on it. I love how she likes being strong, loves climbing and being outside. She has a huge conker collection and can name a variety of animals and birds. Hippos are particular favourites at the moment.
There have been so many funny moment and phrases that have had us giggling over the past year. From her turning round on monkey bars to instruct us to help her (“Hold me Lara!), drinking fizzy water (“it’s spicy on my tongue”),turning around super excited in Frozen to say “it’s magic!” with big eyes to hilarious phone conversations which run along the lines of “where are you? Why are you in London? Are you sad?”. Always keen to know where I am and why I’m there.
There has been reading books in bed, dressing up as the Gruffalo, paddling in the sea on Cornwall and Broadstairs, dancing, first trip to theatre to see the Tiger Who Came for Tea, playing in the fountains on South Bank and eating rice. Fun car journeys where Lyra looked at me and got me to hold on to the car door or her hand as we drove down steep roads (“Aunty Lara – Hold on!”), singing Nellie the Elephant a ridiculous numbers of times (trunk, trunk, trunk).
Over the year I’ve been impressed by how quickly vocabulary has come and watched how her interests have changed and developed as she has changed from being a toddler to a little girl. While I know she has her moments, I love the slightly anarchic phase pre-school where the behaviour is a bit wild, fearless and untrained. The funny toddler logic conversations are hilarious and gives you a glimpse to how they are understanding the world which is fascinating. When reading Snail and the Whale she saw the stranded whale on the beach in the picture and roared “get back in the bath!”
Being an aunt is the greatest joy. Aunts have had quite a bad deal in fiction and history. We’re often depicted and spinsterish, frumps, sometimes mad and often drunken. I love being the slightly naughty aunt who might encourage her to blow raspberries or dance crazily in the morning or wear unsuitable clothing combinations. Apparently it is not helpful to parents if you say “does it matter if she wears a tutu skirt over her pyjama bottoms to the supermarket really?” I’m conscious that all too soon she will be self-conscious and wanting to fit in, probably a bit embarrassed by her aunt turning up and wanting to give her a big hug.
I find myself gushing more about her than I ever thought possible and taking great pride when telling stories and anecdotes. It still makes my day when her face lights up and she looks genuinely pleased to see me, I love it that she wants to sit next to me or on me. I love being someone she will pretend to whisper secrets to and make each other laugh by pulling silly faces.
Happy Birthday Monkey – thank you for making us laugh so much and play silly games!