Monday, 23 May 2016

Building walls. And dismantling them, one brick at a time.

Walls - hmmm - why am I building them? Why am I writing about them? Well ... we all build walls. Of a sort. From time to time. Some of us more frequently than others. What are they? Ok, so you know what a wall is; a vertical (usually, depending on their age) structure of stone or brick (again; usually) that forms a barrier, or divide, between discrete, physical spaces. Or it could be a verb, as in 'it walls us in', meaning traps or imprisons or encases. The noun version isn't necessarily bad - think the elegant weave of drystone walls, sweeping across the Yorkshire moors, or the walls, covered in favourite pictures and shelves and books, that build your home and support the roof over your head. The verb, on the other hand, traps you. So which am I writing about? Good walls or bad walls? Both, actually.

First, the aesthetically beautiful example of the noun wall, that I have spent all weekend uncovering from beneath a tangle of ivy -

Then, the penning-in verb wall -

Although, in this case, it's not a wall but a fence enclosing our garden, trapping Four-legged-friend and preventing him from seeing what it is that smells so ... delicious? ... venisony? ... dinner, perhaps? 

Of course, there also now exists the imaginary wall of hate - imaginary as, unlike my garden wall, it doesn't exist. Yet. Except in the head of a billionaire mogul who has promised that it will be build. But he wants the people who it will enclose to build it for him. Their president has categorically stated that he has no intention of building it. He doesn't want it and he's not going to pay for it. Particularly, after all the insults that have flown in his direction out of the clever mogul's mouth. I say clever, because that's how the mogul describes himself; the mogul has stated that the mogul is clever, so clever in fact, that he has, allegedly, challenged the new mayor of London to an IQ duel which he claims he, the mogul, will win. Of course, the duel will have to be fought online, as there is also to be an imaginary wall - this one really is imaginary - to keep all those, of the same faith as the mayor, out of the mogul's country, just as soon as the mogul is king of the castle. It sounds like a tale of playground antics, between little boys playing territorial games, in the sandpit, bickering over whose mud pie is the biggest and who has the best spade and drawing lines in the sand that the others must not cross. Sadly, it isn't. Is it? ... Oh! It is ... aaaah.

Back to my categorisation of walls. Before I get into trouble. To summarise so far: wall as noun - solid, upright, structural barrier; wall as verb - enclosing people and things; wall as something ridiculous; and now, wall as metaphor:

Metaphorical walls, the ones we build inside our heads that prevent us from progressing smoothly in the direction we want, or need to go. I build them all the time. The walls that tell me I'm no good at something, so there's no point in trying; for example, I'm too greedy to diet/too addicted to chocolate/too partial to an evening tipple, to ever manage to diet effectively, so why bother trying; and my writing isn't good enough, so I'm not going to humiliate myself by sending it to an agent. The latter is an example of imposter syndrome wall building - the debilitating wall that tells you you're not good enough and that someone will surely find you out; probably quite soon. I don't think I'm alone in this building of metaphorical walls; I think we all do it. Littlest certainly does.

She has exams this week, she needs to know enough History, Science, Spanish and French to pass, with ... distinction? Her dignity intact? With merit - whatever that means? Without disgracing herself? Or maybe, with the satisfaction of doing well in the subjects she likes? What about subjects she doesn't believe she is particularly good at ... there is one - it isn't her favourite, she finds it difficult and she knows that she won't do well in its exam? Belief in one's failings and hopelessness leads to wall building, and with each layer of bricks, it becomes more impossible to climb over the top. As a result, when faced with a test in this subject, she literally grinds to a halt.

A bit like me and tax returns. And work appraisals. And pension calculations.

Like the rest of us, Littlest occasionally builds walls deliberately; positively constructing them, rationally and with intent. These are not built for the subjects she fears, but are for the ones she dislikes. For these walls, she labours over the mortar and the precise alignment of the bricks. She doesn't want to knock them down. I could try telling her that all subjects are equal. But she might go all Orwellian on me and reply that, in her head, some subjects are more equal than others. Some deserve beautiful robust walls, others don't. And she'd be right. I see her point. All subjects are not equal. And which subjects are more equal than others, depends entirely on the person who is considering the subject list. I love History and Biology and English. You might be a Geography, Economics and Mathematics person. My kids are all linguists. I am not. Although, I may address this, as learning a language, at any age, delays the onset of Alzheimers by up to four years. Four extra years of clear thinking and wall building.

I wish I had some answers. About deconstructing walls. Taking them down brick by brick would, I think, be like giving someone their confidence back; giving them permission to have a go; to try; to find out how risk-taking feels and to start building a different structure inside their head - the bridge to a place of self-belief.  I fear that what is needed, in all this cerebral structural engineering, is some way of permanently removing the bricks, so that with every stumble on the uneven path of challenging yourself, that old wall isn't built up again ...

... Hmm - gloomy thought warning: if the bricks were removed ... would the temptation be to dig a pit instead?

Happier thought warning: Littlest took a break from playing with bricks to draw this -

Clearly, the I'm-worried-that-my-drawings-don't-always-work-out wall is so low, at the moment, that she can step over it. Easily.

Irony notification; see if you can spot it - the 'mogul' playing in his sandpit ... 'mogul' definition: a tycoon; an important, influential and powerful person. Mogul derivation: from moghul, Persian; a muslim member of the Mogul dynasty. Has anyone, other than me, called him this?

ps. Yes, several people have. Himself included. Ha!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

On a cold and frosty morning

Is it just me or do you also sing the 6 words in the title of this blog entry? Do they evoke memories of skipping round and round on the school playground? Do they spark off hints of other long forgotten tunes in your head? Memories of scuffed shoes, warm cartons of odd-smelling milk, an itchy, ill-fitting and snaggle-threaded-at-the-cuffs school jumper and of not having the words to explain the neediness of wanting to be included and the fear and shame of being different and alone. What power a nursery rhyme, eh!

Nursery rhyme - definition: a short traditional poem or song for children.

On a cold and frosty morning, specifically, is the 8 note final line of the nursery rhyme 'Here we go round the mulberry bush.'

As with most traditional rhyming songs there is a history to it -

Mulberries do not grow on bushes. They grow on trees. Unless clipped or stunted to restrict their growth. The frosted mulberry, burnt back to the size of a bush is probably a scathing reference to the failed attempt to cultivate silk in Britain, in the eighteenth century. Importing silk from the east was expensive. Silk worms thrive in mulberry trees. So, why not establish a silk industry in Britain? Why not plant mulberry trees in Britain? Why not? - because the mulberry - Morus nigra - is not frost hardy. Frost clips the tree back to the size of a bush. And we recall this folly as we skip round and round the hopeless bushes of the failed British silk industry, on the cold and frosty mornings that are part of our British climate. Who knows, though - if global warming continues, maybe we could rewrite the rhyme and skip round the mulberry trees of a revived British silk industry.

Anyway, back to my cold and frosty morning (trah-lah) which was a recent cold and frosty morning. Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend knew that I would be 'grateful'  -  I would of course want to take photographs of the rising sun. And get out of bed before 6 a.m. And besides, their tummies were hungry.

Bertie Baggins wasn't sure about the sun-rising-apprciating-nature-lets-all-hug-a-tree beauty of it all, "I don't get this. Why's he staring at the sun? My feet are cold. Can we go in now?"

"Now! Please. In is that way. Pleeease - oh no, not another photo ..."

Yes, another photo. Of hawthorn. On the cold and frosty and dazzlingly bright and clear-skied morning. Stunning, star-like, snowy-white hawthorn - the faerie tree of Celtic myth. The tree that you must not clip and take indoors. Taking it inside invites illness and death to enter your home. Because ... the blossom produces a smell - caused by trimethylamine - which is similar the the smell of decaying flesh. So, by taking it under your roof you take the smell of death into your house. And as well as being an unpleasant olfactory experience, the vapours that infiltrate every corner of every room, creep into the fabric of your soft furnishings and lurk in the crumbs of your food, hint at sickness and tragedy and disaster, so are best not trusted. Best not to tempt fate. Admire the hawthorn outside, where the spirits that skip hand-in-hand with its macabre scent disappear like evanescing ghosts into the air.

The cold and frosty morning gave way to a warm and sunny day spent in the garden

... trimming edges

... spectating

... standing up, stretching, turning round, then lying down again

Or, if Four-legged-friend, wandering off to find somewhere with a softer floor for sleeping on - the middle of a clump of fading daffodils was pretty bouncy. For a while. Until they were all flat and broken. Then indoors seemed like a good idea. Where mum wouldn't know that the daffodil flattening had been due to her big black Four-legged-friend.

Finally, as a post script -

How many women does it take to tie a clematis to its wires?

One - who takes gloves and tools and string to the top of her ladder. The hammer is for the staples that are in her pocket.

How many people does a man need to accomplish the same job?

Hmmm - while I have no intention of insulting any of the men I know. No, really. I haven't ... I dare to answer this question as follows - the answer is two - the man and his child/wife/partner to steady the ladder. And pass him the tools. And make him a cup of tea. And stand back to observe and marvel and deliver praise at the skill of his workmanship.

My work-woman-ship was pretty good though - for a ...

Only one bruised thumb. Two bent staples. And a lot of cardboard inside Four-legged-friend ... don't ask!

And finally finally - or should that be finally-squared? Or double finally? Or post-post-script? There may not or must not be another blog, aka procrasti-writing post, until I have finished my submission preparation for the Faber Academy alumni book ... ho I'm-too-scared-to-write-it hum. 

See you back here soon ... ish!