Blimey, I really did have a moment of letting go then – that was the first time in all my posts (about two months’ worth now) that I haven’t previewed what I’ve written first. I guess that counts as progress!
I have spent the last twenty minutes typing, deleting, re-typing, trying to think of something vaguely insightful & hopefully amusing to write about. I have lots of things that I could post about:
*my on-going battle with toiletries (of which, the Lipbalm Chronicles warrant a post in their own right)
*my ambiguous feelings about facebook (I find it really useful for keeping in touch with people but also find it has an insiduous effect on my moods)
*the end of my love affair with general women’s magazines (this had been on the wane for some time but the final realisation that it’s over struck me while on holiday)
*my somewhat macabre obsession with couples & trying to figure out what makes them tick, what holds them together etc
*the revelation that our self-loathing is often what we fear other people really think about us (I read this & totally identified with it as true; trouble is, I’m not sure what to do with this information now that I have it – how will it help me to tackle the waves of self-loathing that often wash over me?)
Distilling all these things in a couple of sentences has been easy, but I couldn’t write a larger coherent post about any of them because I was putting myself under too much pressure to write – and to write insightfully & wittily. This is ironic as a major theme in my journal this week has been pressure. Namely why do I put myself under so much pressure? I think I’ve blogged about this before. I seem to be constantly striving towards some unobtainable goal of perfection: at work, with friends, with family, with my hobbies, with my appearance.
What’s makes me feel most sad is that I know I have let go of so much pressure in this respect. I am now far more relaxed & laid-back than I ever have been. Yet still, the spectre of perfection lingers: pushing me, driving me, criticising me. Sometimes I feel paralysed by it. Like this evening, trying to write this post. So, while I’m a big fan of the Fairground Attraction song (it’s one of my singstar favourites), I’m going to rephrase their famous lyrics: it hasn’t got to be perfect. This post – like my life – doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be insightful or witty. It just is. And that is good enough.
‘My Uncle Paul of Pimlico’: In my childhood imagination, this nonsense rhyme was always linked to my own Uncle Paul. This was an inaccurate linkage on three counts. 1) My Uncle Paul had never lived in Pimlico. He was a Midlander, man & boy. 2) My Uncle Paul did not have seven cats who would ‘sit at his enormous feet as he played the piano upside down, in his delightful dressing-gown’. 3) My Uncle Paul was not actually my uncle. He was married to my godmother. No blood relation. Even so, he was always called Uncle Paul.
I have numerous memories of my Uncle Paul.
1) His favourite flavour of rock was aniseed.
2) I remember going to buy a 10p mix with him in his green VW Polo.
3) He had really, really ripped jeans when such things were fashionable. As a child, I thought they were very rude. You could see his boxer shorts through them.
4) He bought me my first proper ‘grown up’ toiletries: four items from the M&S peach range, wrapped in a gold gift bag. I was about 8.
5) He was a metrosexual before anyone had even heard of David Beckham. From what I remember, Eddie Izzard was his role model.
6) He had great taste in terms of interiors. He used to have a scrubbed pine table that I particularly loved.
7) We both loved English literature & writing. We went through a poetry writing phase at the same time & would talk about poetry. In more recent years, he’d often ask me ‘Read any good books?’ & we’d share recommendations.
8) My first proper watch was a 6th birthday gift from him & my godmother. I still wear it sometimes; it was a Sekonda with a red strap. I also have an old Sekonda that was his watch, which I wear on an almost daily basis as I like gents’ watches.
9) He taught me how to pour a can of Guiness properly.
10) When he’d babysit, I was allowed to stay up later than usual. Once he even let me watch ‘Bread’. Looking back, this was probably agreed with my parents, but at the time I just thought he was really cool and trendy.
I could write so many more memories of him, but ten seems a good number at which to stop…
Tonight a group of us did Race For Life in memory of him. He died in June last year after a long battle with cancer. As one of the photographs shows, I dedicated my efforts to other cancer sufferers too, but his daughter organised us all & it was him that was in the forefront of our minds. It wasn’t an easy event for any of us. None of us are particularly fit. It was the 10km race rather than the 5km one. It poured with rain for about half of the course, complete with thunder & lightning. The weather was so bad that the event organisers allowed people to just complete half the circuit if they chose. Four of us pushed on & did the full thing. It was largely walked, with occasional spurts of jogging (like when a fizzy cola sweet was dangled a few feet ahead of me!). It was very wet & cold & damp. It was also good fun & bought us all closer together. Holding hands as we crossed the finish line seemed a fitting way to finish an event undertaken in memory of the man we had all known & loved.
My Uncle Paul never lived in Pimlico. He was not actually my uncle. He did not have seven cats who sat at his feet as he played the piano upside down in his delightful dressing-gown. But tonight he had ten women battling their way through mud & rain & their own physical limitations in tribute to him. A better tribute than any nonsense rhyme could ever be.
The photographs show:
Uncle Paul (left) & my dad (right), having completed a fun run in 1982
My mum & godmother, finishing tonight’s race
My dedications: my Uncle Paul; my friend’s mum; my auntie; my godmother’s sister
The four 10k-ers, approaching the finishing line
I’ve just spent the last five minutes smiling deliriously at a slideshow of my own holiday photographs. This is, I know, a little sad – especially as I spent a good hour earlier on looking at them, editing them down to a reasonable number etc. But I love them!
I love these photographs partly because they are memories of an amazing holiday & partly because they represent my interests in life, from stunning natural scenery to the smallest architectural details. I become often transfixed with objects & scenes that surround me, but rarely have the time to make the transient & passing more tangible & concrete. On holiday, I not only had the additional stimulus of new surroundings, but the opportunity to look, to observe, to capture those elements of life that grab me so deeply. Lighthouses; weather vanes; the nuanced colours of the sea; huge, open expanses of space; different textures & shades of brick work; railings; street lights – they were all there for me to drink in to my heart’s content.
As in the photograhs that accompany this post, the scale of the images varies enormously. Sometimes it is the tiniest detail that I love; other times, I become lost in the vast enormity of it all.
The holiday also gave me a similarly varied perspective on my own life. The time was composed of a series of small pleasures that brought me huge satisfaction. Writing in my journal at the end of each day, I could immediately observe what some of these pleasures were (such as an hour happily rummaging in a flea market) but others emerged that were perhaps more surprising (I would never have consider myself to be particularly enamoured with engineering, but it became apparent through my writing on the highlights of my day that I am totally fascinated by mechanical things, especially nineteenth century innovations).
I could observe the bigger picture too. As well as my penchant for Victorian engineering, I was struck by my capacity for solitude. The extent to which I not only enjoyed but thrived on my own company was a surprise & amazingly reassuring. Although a holiday is very different to possible ‘real life’ scenarios I may find myself in, even so it’s good to feel that my sense of self & the pleasures I find in life will not simply disappear in a different place. Not everywhere has lighthouses & the sea & piers, but most places will have some bricks & railings for me to develop a communion with. And these little things contribute enormously to creating a life of my own.
I am back from my road trip. It was amazing, although it ended up less like a road trip & more like an ocean voyage. I felt like this white sailing boat (which seemed to follow me as I walked along the cliff path one morning). Unmoored, charting my own course, free. It was bliss.
Tomorrow I am going on a road trip for a few days. Technically, it is not a road trip at all. Firstly, I am going by train. Secondly, I am staying in one place. Despite these admittedly large provisos, in my world this trip classifies as a road trip. The main justification for this is that it feels like a road trip.
It feels like a road trip because it is the allure of the ‘open road’ that has made me decide to go. Earlier I spoke to my friend who I had originally planned to go away with later in the summer. She has now booked to go away with someone else as our available dates just did not fit together. I felt sad about this. Scribbling away in my journal, I realised that while my sadness was in part about our mutual plans falling through (for the third year in a row – long story!), it was largely arising from the desire to just get away. Although I’m often happy to take a ‘staycation’, I guess sometimes we all need a change of scene to revive us. Even my plans to go to London later in the week didn’t seem satisfactory to fulfil this urge; I was there at the weekend & go so regularly that it lacks that ‘holiday’ vibe. Maybe it stems from having a childhood in the Midlands, but for me, holiday = seaside.
It also feels like a road trip because it is spontaneous. It was only at 8pm that I decided for definite that I’m going. That’s only 14.25 hours between the decision & the train I’m catching. I often long for more spontaneity in my life. It took a lot of soul-searching to realise that one of the most beautiful, happiest & poignant moments in my life felt that way because it was spontaneous. Ever since, I’ve tried to recapture that feeling, often failing by mistaking drama (high emotion & / or extremes of behaviour) for spontaneity. I guess spontaneity is by its very nature difficult to nurture or encourage. Having recognised this rare opportunity, I’m grabbing it with both hands.
Closely linked to my desire for spontaneity is my urge – I would even say need – for freedom. Again, it has taken a long time to identify this, to unpick what is was that underlay many of my fondest memories, to name this nebulous feeling. The need for freedom clashes with many of my other urges; reconciling freedom with the desire to feel loved is perhaps my greatest dilemma in life. Reconciling freedom with the pressures of life (financial; time; etc) is also difficult at times (I haven’t the time nor money to do much more than the trip I am undertaking). This trip signals freedom in different ways: the freedom to simply go; the freedom to go where I want; the freedom to do what I want when I’m there. This freedom again makes it feel like a road trip.
This road trip joins a list of various journeys that have come to represent road trips in my memories. Nearly all of them did not involve a car, while many of the journeys I have undertaken by road have felt so stifled & cloistered & restricted that they lack any of the symbolism of ‘the road trip’. I may not be going on Route 66 – rather a cross country service to a small north eastern seaside resort – but I’m certainly going on a road trip of the mind.