Monday, 25 August 2014

Pessimism and the art of positive thinking

The only way is up

or sometimes not ...

When an obvious, easier and eminently sensible option is to go down, it is unsurprising that Littlest at the foot of Ben Lomond asked, "Why do we have to climb a mountain?"

She went on to add, "Snowdon was fun. Because we all climbed it. This isn't fun because we're not all here."

And a few minutes later, "Holidays were more fun four years ago - when we were all younger." Siblings, flung far and wide, were clearly being missed. This and the days when they were young enough to want to play with her. Growing up is hard ...

Climbing up a mountain is hard too. Grumbling up a mountain is harder still.

Grumbling can be countered in one of three ways - ignore it (the rationale being that the grumbler will soon get bored. However soon is often not soon enough. And the grumbling often escalates before boredom sets in, hence it changes and this fluctuation in volume and tone is enough to divert boredom and as different pitches are experimented with the grumbling takes on a new and increasingly interesting character. And fails to cease.); get cross with it (this is a disastrous approach to take - it invariably induces tears. The grumbler, hurt and distressed, turns into a stroppy stomping stubborn and eyes-streaming storm of themselves more likely to blunder off in the wrong direction than proceed patiently up hill); or with distraction and gentle cajoling trick it into submission.

Taking the third route however often precipitates that most difficult of questions to answer - the one guaranteed to instantly empty your mind of ideas, "What shall we talk about then?"

What indeed?!

Littlest, joining in with this cajoling game, provided her own answer:

"Why on earth would you want to be an optimist?"


And answered herself with:

"Being a pessimist means that things will always turn out better than you'd worried they would. I think I'm a pessimist. I like being a pessimist."

"But I still don't like climbing mountains."

I'd like to say we went on to discuss psychology and positivism but Ben Lomond is a hard climb and where the mountain is steep it demands your attention and saps your brain of intuition.

It saps your energy too

"I'm so tired, I'll have to crawl up."

And saps your enthusiasm particularly if the weather does its best to add to the discomfort;

"And now it's going to rain."

... but it didn't, so the weather turned out better than Littlest thought it would.

As the rain bypassed us, slinking sheepishly away to the south, it dragged with it the grumbling. Serendipitously this coincided with a flatter path. Littlest's question was answered - we talked about volcanoes and fossils and peat and sheep and glaciers and ice-ages and how hungry we were and how much better it would have been if we'd remembered to bring chocolate, or biscuits, or sweets, or anything other than cheese rolls and dried pineapple and how dried pineapple is nice but dried strawberries are horrid.

And suddenly, we were at the top.

Munro bagged. Littlest's first.

Going down was easier but not easy.

Warmer but not warm.

Lonelier - owing to younger knees making lighter and quicker work of walking down steep hills - but not lonely.

Thus the mountain that pessimism had told Littlest she couldn't climb, was climbed. The day created memories of success rather than the pointless feeling of failure that giving up half-way would have induced. In this way, pessimism morphed into something positive. So Littlest is right, being a pessimist can mean thinking positively. In a round about, retrospective, let's seek the best outcome sort of a way.

And it is better perhaps to be a positive pessimist than a deluded and ultimately disappointed optimist.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Marital clichés, a party, vertigo and the possibility of a metaphor

"Marriage is finding that special someone you want to annoy for the rest of your life."  

So proclaimed the wall plaque that I was given on Tuesday 15th July. While being thought of as a "special someone" is good, I don't recall promising to love, cherish and annoy for the rest of my life.

I have a theory that one can only truly annoy those we love, as we first have to know them intimately before niggles and petty irritations triggered by what they do can escalate tsunami-like into annoyance. For us, 25 years of annoying each other have passed. It is likely that we will continue to annoy each other for the next 25 years, or - back to the wedding vows - 'til death do us part. Until then, seeking a state of harmonious annoyance will lighten the passing of the years - here's my recipe for how this might be achieved:

Keep calm and carry on carrying the ball and chain - it might be a bit dinted around the edges but like a vintage car, a judicious polish will rub the rust away. Who does the rust-rubbing depends on who most needs to make amends. But it is a canny wife who allows her husband to believe that it is beyond the capabilities of a woman to understand the finer points of obsessive vehicle and - by association because it is a similarly surprisingly onerous task - ball-and-chain polishing. This apparent feminine-impairment will ensure a steady stream of flowers, anniversary gifts and a lasting wifely-unfamiliarity with shammy leathers and t-cut. It is deceit and trickery but trickery is the essence of female intuition and as such is infinitely beyond the understanding of most men. Man's destiny therefore is to become life-long polisher. And as he knows that he is better at it and that if she tried her lack of care would annoy him, he is destined to be happiest in his polishing. And she in her smug blissfulness.

Accept that after 25 years, things could change but probably won't and that what you have must be pretty good if it's lasted this long.

Recognise that there are two ways of doing most things and that neither way is actually better than the other. This compromise will significantly improve domestic harmony when applied to cutting the grass, packing luggage into cars, arranging food in the freezer and loading the dishwasher. Alternatively, and because he is of course right, a canny wife (she again!) will let her husband get on with these tasks and devote her time instead to gardening, reading a book or having a bath.

Give up on trying to win arguments - knowing that you're right anyway (and keeping that knowledge to yourself) should be enough.

Plant trees. Two silver birches.

Get your children to help with the planting and smile at the significance of this. Watch the trees and children grow. And stop fretting over which trees are gold for the next big anniversary - 25 years is plenty of time to do the research.

Celebrate with a party. Invite all that is best in your life together. That best is family and friends. Eat good food and drink good wine. Don't panic (unless the forecast is for rain, or the freezers unexpectedly defrost, or the Aga temperature drops, or for all of the week before the prayed for 28 hour days fail to materialise, or elderly relatives announce they are coming several days early ... to help (!!) or it rains, or it rains, or it rains - in fact, it is probably best to panic. As soon as possible!)

Make plans for the years ahead but in doing so, respect and remember, at all times, the 'c' word.  No - not children; not cuddles, not caring; not curry; not cars; not cake (although plenty of cake, like children, is always a good thing); not coffee; not ... well, I can't think of anything else starting with a 'c' that matters, so here it is, the important 'c' word that you've probably guessed already and that is really a little bit boring and fraught with issues of who does it the most, why do it at all, and when is it fair to expect the other to do so - 'c' is of course for compromise.

Escape. Together. Preferably with your children. Wales will do. Scotland would be better but it has more midges. And escaping to a land of fiendish predation is not truly escaping. Not until later in the summer anyway.

Climb a mountain. In Wales. Snowdon to be specific.

And suffer from vertigo near the top. And miss out on the summit photo.

Listen to music. In fact, it is best to fill the house with it, particularly when filling it with singers who eat (a lot!), sleep and make music in almost every room for a week of joyous rehearsals before they attend the Edinburgh Fringe. Or you could use music to drown out all other sound in the car ("Are we nearly there yet?"; "You're in the wrong gear!"; "No - I said that lane! You'll have to drive right round the roundabout now!") The 'c' word is essential in the car - the driver gets to choose. And when he's not driving, the canny wife still lets him choose. Alternatively, you could just plug music into your ears and escape for a while.

Mountains. Marriage. Music. Anniversaries. And vertigo - there must be a metaphor in there ....