Sorry seems to be the hardest word (after forgiveness)

You know I have a yet another confession to make – it is becoming addictive I think. Anyway, one of my many and varied faults I can bear terrible grudges. Worse, they tend to be ones generated absolutely over the silliest of things such as undirected and throwaway remarks someone has made or simple things done or not done. These little weapons of hurt just have that unerring ability that just stab me in the area I am most sensitive at that particular point in time. The metaphorical knife is not just sharp, but also one where the blade of the knife is usually serrated with horrific barbs and dipped in mental poison that prevents the wounds from ever healing entirely. Even when I know I’m just collateral damage. Intentional attacks are easier to bear.
I find it so easy to be wounded in this way that I am amazed I have any friends left.
So I was wondering why it is that you can know people for many years, when inevitably you will upset each other, and then still want to see them without out punching their nose for that time ten years ago they unconsciously said something that really hurt you.
Where I came out was to shake my head in wonder again about the mystery that are our relationships with others and the slight sadness I feel when the relations between two people are pigeonholed into something far too simplistic.
 Every one of us is a unique creation of our genetics and our experiences and when we meet someone we start on a relationship – of any sort – with another person that too is going to be quite unique as a result.
 It might be a very short relationship, someone you just met at a mutual friend’s party and had a thirty minute chat with, but it is still a relationship and potentially an important one – that 30 minutes perhaps gave you a piece of information that will later be crucial in some way (‘Yes, he said, ‘the way to tell the difference between these two snakes, one harmless and one deadly poisonous is simply…’)
Some relationships will be more obviously major ones, like a significant other (if you find one), your close family or that best friend who knows all the things the family and the significant other don’t know about you – but each relationship itself is a mixture of two life stems entwining together to a lesser or greater extent. Sometimes that entwining strengthens both stems, and sometimes the friction between them causes one or both to fray. The result is the relationships where that entwining is more mutual and there is less friction are the ones that sustain us. Often the stems start thin and weak and if too much friction occurs too quickly the relationship will break – or one stem will strangle the other, like a kind of emotional parasite. But if the entwining is strong and mutually supporting, a little bit of conflict is not going to destroy it – even if, in a grudge lover like me, it might never be forgotten, scars are not always negative things – open sores are the problem.
The most upset I have been recently is when I upset someone I care about. I did not mean to, but that does not remove the damage I did or my annoyance with myself for being thoughtless. I should try and be better than that, because although I will fail to live up to the standard in my head – again and again – with a bit of effort I can fail a bit less, or maybe less disastrously. Relationships are the most beautiful things in my life, from the Lovely Wife to some simply awesome friendships I am very privileged to have. They have taught me so much, allowed me to experience regularly ample hope and joy and even the relationships that – for whatever reason are no longer there to help me manage this mess of contradictions that I normally feel my life looks like have been fundamental in shaping how my life has gone so far. Up to a point, I feel I owe people the benefit of the doubt and my compassion and forgiveness, and just hope the people closest to me feel the same way towards my transgressions.


Head over Heels

What is it about small children and cartwheels?
 Just come off a lovely weekend with friends that included this year’s Folk by the Oak day festival in the grounds of Hatfield House here in Hertfordshire. Despite several days’ worth of doom laden weather forecasts in the end it was a gloriously sunny day and a very relaxing way of spending ten hours entrenched in a canvas chair eating a picnic and sipping beer while being serenaded various forms of English folk – from the wafting of The Unthanks to the bouncy folk rock of (the soon to be no more) Bellowhead. I even managed to learn a new folk concept this weekend, in the form of ‘diddling’. Somewhat intrigued and after a few childish giggles I have since discovered that to get together with some like-minded people and have a bit of a diddle is also to do some ‘tune singing’ where you warble along to what would normally be a piece of dancing music turning it into a vocal piece (albeit with lyrics of the ‘diddly diddly dum’ variety). Based on the ladies that form the band Lady Maisery this is one of those things that sounds a terrible idea and probably often is but can also be surprisingly appealing.
Anyway, cartwheels. One of the other things about Folk by the Oak is that it is very family friendly and there are always lots of young children running about and getting increasingly wild as the day drags on and they do that thing children sometimes do the combat tiredness – i.e. go hyper. In particular, the amount of impromptu gymnastics that seems to go on increases over the course of the day, with varying degrees of proficiency (depending I guess on how much gymnastics they normally did). It’s hilarious and quite impressive – I struggled with a forward roll at that age – I find there is a lot of amusement to be had in seeing children play physically with so little concern for life, limb or dignity. You get it wrong and then end up in an unseemly heap all you do is get up and do it again and again until you get it right. And then you do it again. Possibly again… Repeat until called off by parents. There is something both sweet and indomitable about it. Any kind of equivalent adult activity would result in shamefully slinking away from your failure and giving up or at least furtive looks to see if anyone was watching before you try again. But when you are a child, it seems to be just that bit easier to have a go.
I think it is such a shame that so many of us lose that freedom as we get older. It is like skipping. No one skips beyond the age of about the age of 6. Yet it is delightful to watch as it just cries energy, delight and carefreeness. I tried slipping a bit of skipping along into a run the other day and started giggling as I bounced along the road. Then I saw an incoming car and stopped quickly and went back to pounding the tarmac more conventionally. But for a few seconds it was like being a small child again (I will confess that the other thing that can do this is skinny dipping, but that’s kind of off topic) and it is a good feeling to tap back into. When I eventually reach the inevitable status of benevolent world dictatorship I think near the top of the list I will insist everyone who is physically able should do a quick 10 second skip at a convenient moment for the therapeutic benefits. If they want to add cartwheels or the odd handstand up against a wall then that is perfectly fine, but only the skipping is mandatory. It will not create world peace, but I pretty certain the smile quotient will go up just a little bit.

Someone to watch over me

Feeling in a serious mood – considering what is going on at my work at the moment being light hearted is perhaps indicated but difficult to come by. So probably better to concentrate on positive rather than on fluff.
I never had a mentor as a child. I am not even sure who my God parents were, plus we were a very small family and my parents did not socialise much or have people round, so I never really formed any relationships with other adults of any depth.
 Looking at this in retrospect this was unfortunate. As the first member of the family to be going to university, with all good intentions my parents did not have the experience to prepare me and it was a bit of a leap into the unknown. I think if I had had someone who had experienced that life to advise me I could certainly have used my first year more effectively and been a lot more confident than the flapping around I actually did. Come to think of it, there are any number of questions and concerns I could have offloaded on a trusted adult which I would never have asked my parents, even if I though they may have had the answer. I think many parents do not realise that no matter how much they love their children, and that love is reciprocated, that there are just some things you do not talk to your parents about. You can probably come up with your own examples of topic areas. Plus, no matter how world savvy your parents are they – as you later learn – are not actually the perfect omniscient super beings that you first take them to be. They do not know everything and the different perspective someone else with experience can bring does not undermine parental advice but provides important perspective that can put it in context and make it more useful.
 I wish I had a mentor as a teenager. I’ve had the pleasure and responsibility, with the Lovely Wife of having that role with a number of young people. According to them, it has been of great use. Well, they are the experts, so I assume it has been and they are not just being nice. What mentoring a young person means always looks a bit different (something which I had to learn the hard way of frustration). In the end, these are relationships and like all relationships it is formed by the individuals involved. In some cases contact is regular, and in depth – long chats over coffee putting the world to rights, or at least exploring it. Sometimes it is a brief text every few months checking that all is well. Knowing that someone out there is on your side is maybe all that is needed for some individuals. Sometimes the relationship will last a few months, sometimes they might morph into friendships that can last lifetimes as you get a shift away from the teacher and pupil dynamic to two adults who can share how their lives are going. As time has gone in it is interesting to me how much support I have had back when things were perhaps not going great in my life.
How does this happen? You cannot manufacture it, or at least that is very hard to do. I have been in a number of schemes that tried to do this but in the end it is never really satisfactory. There has to be some kind of mutual respect and you have to like each other. God parents do provide a good opportunity but too often they are not chosen with the child in mind, rather a way to perhaps show to friends and family of the parents how important that person is to them, rather than picking someone they are fairly certain will take the role seriously and engage with the child from the start (and is able too – with all the best intentions, you still need to see someone to establish any kind of strong link, although I am surprised and slightly scared at how some people can seem to get to know people very quickly over a virtual platform, so what does an old man like me know?). Extended family may also throw up someone that just clicks with the young person and can establish the trust needed with the child – and of course with the parents as these relationships can go badly wrong too. But my plea is never underestimate the young person. These days they are incredibly well informed and independent compared to the past and can judge pretty quickly when something feels useful and safe. It is not for everyone perhaps, but when it works it can be a springboard into adult life that both should be able to look back on fondly.
  Bird Update: By the way, if anyone actually reads these regularly, I can report that we believe the Great Tits fledged successfully sometime on Thursday 9th July. Either that or something ate them, but the timing would have been right and sometimes you have to be positive about the universe!

Thank you for the music

A recent unexpected purchase (I really need to stop going into discount booksellers, it is not good for the bank balance or for already straining book shelves) has given me a better insight of one of the passions of my childhood – the rock band Queen. This will not be much of a surprise to close friends or anyone who came to my 40th birthday and my mercifully brief flirtation with seventies glam rock outfits. They were one of the few bands that while active managed to cross generations by employing a range of styles within an overall branding based on rock and quality. It is now a bit of cliché, but if you ever need proof of just how good they were, the twenty minute set at Live Aid in 1985 pretty much tells you all you need to know as they definitely steal the show. The joke in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens that any tape left in the car long enough turns into ‘Best of Queen’ is worryingly true considering that the first Greatest Hits album is the best-selling album of all time. I have no doubt that if Freddie Mercury had not died in 1991 the band would still be producing quality albums. But it all came to an end before I could enjoy Queen at their best – i.e. live.
 In fact they had retired from live performing in 1986, so I really never had a chance to go to a Queen gig. I love live music; the Lovely Wife and I try to go to several gigs a year, and while it is not planned as such the eclectic selection of music is part of the fun. I think it is a real blessing to have wide music tastes although once again it gives me problems in the wallet and storage space department (while I will download the odd song there is something reassuringly solid about having a physical copy). We try to catch people on the way up if possible, if only to keep the budget down, or people we really like but are not in the mainstream (the wonderful Duke Special, for example, is a must to catch if he is over from Northern Ireland). This year we have managed to fit in the Duke (twice), Train, Of Monsters and Men, Midge Ure, Dorset folk duo Ninebarrow (in a tiny venue in Poole) and The Who (with 70+ thousand others in Hyde Park). But I‘ve never really managed to catch the iconic acts from my childhood. Queen, Dire Straits, Genesis – all were no more before I was potentially able to go to a gig (or at least have a shot at affording it). Actually, this is not quite true I did see Genesis play, but only supporting the so-so ‘Calling all Stations’ post Collins so I am not sure I really count that. I do not feel hard done by. Just a little sad not to round off my relationship with music I like by adding the live experience. There are risks involved of course. The band can turn out to be rubbish or in a bad mood on the night – a terrible Midge Ure gig we went to over ten years ago where he was in a terrible mood and rude to the audience (there were extenuating circumstances, but even so) meant I never went to another gig until recently, when he was back to his usual likeable self that I had experienced at many other gigs prior to a bad night at Shepherds Bush. And Midnight Oil were interesting, the only band I have ever seen who seemed to actively be antagonistic to their audience (mostly ex pat Australians). But I have been lucky that there are very few gigs I have been too that were a waste of money, at worse some have been just a little disappointing. But some have been ridiculously good fun, and not always who you would expect. When we go to see Scouting for Girls or The Feeling, we expect it to be a good night and the music is infectious and they are enthusiastic live performers. Back in the mid-1990s soap actress Nathalie Imbruglia had a massive album ‘Left of the Middle’ that I adored – rather nervously I booked to see her at The Forum in Kentish Town. She was spot on and full of energy, although had to come to an end as once you’ve done your whole album and your entire collection of B sides you do not really have anywhere to go! That taught me not to jump to conclusions, and I’m still drawing up the list of who we can see next.