Exploring how to be positive and patient
I’ve written before about being positive and as a rule I’m quite good at keeping a glass half-full approach to life. Remembering to be grateful and kind is key. I have to admit though that in the last couple of weeks I’ve struggled to be patient or positive. At times it has felt like “I’ve had to fake it to make it.” As Brene Brown would say in the Gifts of Imperfections, which I've mentioned before, I’ve needed to ‘dig deep’.
Somehow ‘digging deep’ seems to have worked and when I woke up this morning it felt almost like a switch had flipped and I could see things more positively.
Looking for the Positives
July has brought both ups and downs.
On the plus side, and it is a big plus, my lovely Saint Mick of Thana is back in Beech Close full time. At the risk of gushing, he is the kindest, most quietly supportive fellow I could ever wish for. On the downside he snores a lot.
It is sad not to have said a proper goodbye to Bangkok, but we can perhaps return there one day. In the meantime I’ve got all my friends’ Facebook photos of them hopping from one beach to another as a means of reminding me of how lovely Thailand is – grrrr… not jealous at all! I say that tongue-in-cheek as I know many of them would have much preferred to travel home and see their family this summer and are actually making the best of their own difficult situations.
These incredibly cute photos of my friend's little girls and her husband doing a nappy car change reminded me how travelling with infants can be a bit full on. You need to pack everything except the kitchen sink!
Getting Better after Health Concerns
We have had a couple of health setbacks this month. My dad’s foot had become infected whilst at his rehab centre and he had to be admitted to hospital. This was a good call as intravenous antibiotics are quick and effective. It has been a challenge though. Poor communication and missing x-ray paperwork meant he had to stay in hospital longer than was strictly needed. Having said that some of the teams up at the hospital have been brilliant. Looking back at my blog I was writing about the NHS and my dad’s health about a year ago. I am afeared middle age is making me repetitive!
The noisy hospital environment is not good for my dad’s well being so I felt ridiculously relieved to finally get him moved back to rehab late on Wednesday night. The hundred plus phone calls (largely to an automated generated machine who couldn’t understand me), and the missing sets of newly bought clothing I took in for him faded away into insignificance.
A big positive is that dad’s new room in the rehab centre has a window, so for the first time in a month we were able to go wave to him yesterday. Dad looked tired but quite well considering the trauma of the last couple of weeks. He gave us a smile and a wave. Dad seems to have left hospital ‘sans hearing-aid’ so this week’s task is to get a new one organised. Once more … grrrrrr….
Little did my dad know that at the same time he was back in hospital he had one of his granddaughters just down the corridor from him in a different ward. My typically understated and calm Annie found herself in tons of pain with what we thought was a kidney infection, but what turned out to be a kidney stone. There followed three nights in hospital. Her main response was that she was ‘relieved she hadn’t been making a fuss or being melodramatic for nothing.”
Annie is now back home recuperating on the sofa and doing lots of extra hours for her virtual internship to make up for the time she missed during her stay in hospital. She is resilient, funny and kind and makes me proud. That’s a lot to be positive about.
With all this ill-health Mick and I didn’t manage to get to go down to Torquay as planned. This was disappointing as we had hoped to surprise my lovely friend Carolyn who lives down there, but there will be other opportunities to see her.
I have had some lovely reminders this week of how lucky I am to have some great friends.
Carolyn sent the girls and me these lovely hearts to which cheered us up no end. Another great friend Jackie and her gorgeous son Bill sent me a pampering set. I’m looking forward to closing the bathroom door (in this overcrowded bungalow!) and having a lovely quiet relaxing bath. As I light a candle with a relaxing and soothing scent, I’ll also perhaps indulge myself with a nice cup of one of the specialist teas my other dear friend Rachel sent me a couple of weeks ago.
My friends are a tower of support and for that I’m very grateful. The gifts are an added bonus which just prove how spoiled I am!
Despite our aborted trip to Torquay it isn’t all gloom and doom for the Flint Smith family re holidays. Annie did manage to get to Spain for a week to collect her belongings. I think that was bittersweet for her, so I’m pleased she has come back home to us before heading back to London in September. Betsy has also managed a little mini-break with her boyfriend. They opted to go to Liverpool. I’m not really sure why, but they seem to have had fun.
Trying to be Patient
I am naturally quite a self-reflective person and in recent years I’ve been surprisingly positive. I don’t think, however, I need to dig particularly deep to discover that I am not a patient person. I always want things completing ‘yesterday’. I think this is partly why this further setback for my dad has been so frustrating. It is, of course, much more challenging for him and my mum. They don’t deserve it.
These last few months have felt a little crazy. We need to be patient just a little bit longer regarding the timescale of getting my dad home to mum. We’ve had a small blip, but can now look forward positively. We are back on track though and that’s a big positive. Some things we simply can’t change, so as my mum says, “what can’t be cured must be endured.”
A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have predicted that the whole family would be back living in the UK, not currently working and coming out the other side of a global health pandemic. We have got through it so far and are so much luckier than many people.
I have had the huge bonus of having the girls at home with me all through lockdown. I’ve had several months of enjoying their company and not having to worry at all about everything that comes alongside their living away from home. I know that they can’t stay forever, but I’ve got them a little bit longer yet. That’s a massive positive for me.
We’ve got some figuring out of our future to do, but there’s no rush. Mick is enjoying being able to see more of his mum and dad. I even heard talk of him picking up a paintbrush over at their house!
Once the girls have returned to their lives, (which I guess they do have to!) I’ll still have my Saint Mick of Beech Close here with me. For now, I’ll hold on to that as the biggest positive of all.
Book Review of Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race
Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race was first published in 2017. It shares a title with a blog post she published in 2014, but wrote in 2012 with the same title. She explains how she doesn't wish to discuss race with those white people who are defensive about their 'own white privlege and those white people who don't even believe that it exists. With such a strong opening the reader (if white) is immediately required to reflect on their own attitudes towards racism and forced to confront what may be uncomfortable for them.
The irony of Eddo-Lodge's claim that she isn't talking about race, when she spends most of her working life doing just that in the white publishing world isn't lost on her. Neither is the knowledge that she is inevitably going to have the reprisals and character assassinations that come from the discussion of race. Eddo-Lodge is rightly angry and forceful.
In Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race Eddo-Lodge clearly shows the legitimacy of the claim that structural racism and its symptoms continue to be rampant in today's society. She does though express hope as she describes how in 2017 she felt that, despite the continuation of far right political progress, the world climate was finally ready to discuss racism. The current popularity of this text must, of course, be related to the 'Black Lives Matter' movement. Eddo-Lodge's claim in the final sentence of ther book 'It's happening right now' was, at the time of publishing, an incredibly accurate prediction of the imminent future
The structure of the text cleverly separates issues into topics in order to enable the reader to consider specific aspects of racism before bringing it back together in order to demonstrate the wider picture of the origins and continuaton of structural racism at all societal levels. Why I am No Longer Talking To White People about Race is a very comprehensive account of the history of racism. It's chapters on how racism needs to be considered specifically when exploring issues relating to women and class had me reeling. Eddo-Lodge skilfully shows how even in these marginal groups racism exists.
Even though, the time is, I think, ripe for the success of Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race it is currently attaining, it wouldn't be popular if it wasn't so honest and accessible. Eddo-Lodge is quick to admit her own failings and concerns. For example, she questions whether it is appropriate to use the Grenfell Tower Disaster to prove a point when the grief that people are feeling is so raw. This openness and tiny glimpses of self-doubt makes Eddo-Lodge very readable. That's not to say that she is a beacon of humble self-effacement. She is a strong, forceful powerful women whose angry voice rightly asserts itself through the pages.
Book Discussion Questions on Why I'm No Longer Talking To White Poeple About Race
These questions are all based on an acceptance that structural racism and white privilege exists.
How did the title make you feel? Could you relate to the sentiment expressed?
Did you learn anything from Reni-Eddo's book that you hadn't known before?
What was the value to you of reading Why I'm No Longer Talking About Race to White People?
Do you think many people will read this book and completely dispute the validity of the arguments made in it?
If Reni-Eddo was here now what would you ask her?
Having read the book what do you think white privilege means?
Do you think anyone can be completely without prejudice?
Do you think you or 'people' more generally would respond differently to the book if it was written by a man?
Is it uncomfortable discussing this book in a bookclub environment? Why is this?
if the movement is happening now how will you contribute to it? Discuss?
Is there anything you disagree with in Eddo-Lodge's account of society?
Do you think there will be many book groups discussing this text? Why or why not?
How would you describe Reni Eddo Lodge's character?
What chapter of the book did you find most revealing and interesting? Why?
What emotions did you feel as you read the book?
Has reading this book changed your perception about racism? How? Will it change your behaviour?
Is age an excuse for racism?
How would you respond to someone who rejects the 'black Lives Matter' statement by claiming that 'all lives matter?
If you are a white person do you feel that reading Eddo-Lodge's book has helped give you a platform for discussing racism more freely? Why or why not?
Wold you like to explore how different members of the groups' experiences regarding racism have been different? What can you learn from each other?
If structural racism pervades our society what can you do to help eradicate it?
Is it possible to feel as passionately about inequality if you are not experiencing it?
Personal Response to Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race
One reading of Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race is not enough. A second reading allows the reader to assimilate and reflect calmly on the points that the reader reacts emotionally to the first time through For anyone who is struggling to really accept the extent of racism that underpins our modern world this book is a real eye-opener. Eddo-Lodge has claimed that white guilt isn't helpful and rather it is white action that is required. She is right but it is hard to not dwell on the guilt. This was an important point for me to consider.
This powerful, focused book on race is the first about this issue that I've seen become a best-seller. It is an essential read,
Book Review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus
I absolutely adore Adichie's books, so it was a joy to revisit Purple Hibiscus.
The story is told by fifteen year old Kambili whose father, Eugene, is a wealthy business man and prominent public figure. He takes huge personal risks in publishing stories in his newspaper, The Standard, that challenge the actions of the Nigerian government. In addtion, Eugene donates considerable sums to worthy charitable organisations and local families. He is a staunch Catholic and rejects wholeheartedly anything he considers heathen. This includes his own father who is a follower of traditional beliefs. Within his own household, however, Eugene is a cruel tyrant subjecting Kambili, her brother Jaja and her mother to horrendous physical and pyschological abuse.
Using an extended flashback Adichie tells the story of the events which lead to Jaja standing up to his father. He does this at first by not going to church. This act of rebellion initially seems like the 'resolution' of the story, but it is in fact followed by an additional section of text which reveals far more serious repercussions which then begin to unfold.
Through the voice of Kambili we are able to hear the power that abusers have over their victims. What makes Purple Hibiscus so fascinating is Adichie's clever portrayal of the complexity of Eugene's character. Whilst the reader primarily simply wants the abuse to end (in this respect it is similar to Tara Westover's Educated) they are also fascinated by Eugene. Interestingly Eugene's sister, Auntie Ifeoma doesn't demonstrate any of the same cruel traits of character. She is seen as intelligent, open minded, poor and political.
In Purple Hibiscus we investigate religion, hypocrisy, politics, charity and culture. These are big issues which run alongside an almost separate 'rites of passage' story where we see Kambili fall in love with an unobtainable priest, Father Amadi.
The characterisation is fabulous in this story, the structure is effective and the political insight fascinating for anyone interested in Nigeria. Like all first person narratives, with an unreliable narrator, it is fascinating to consider the portrayal of character from alternate perspectives. What I found particularly interesting was how little space was given to exploring Kambili's mother's thoughts.
The only thing I'd change in Purple Hibiscus is affording a little more time to finding out what happens next, after Jaja's release from prison. Perhaps there might be a sequel one day.
Book Discussion Questions on Adichie's Purple Hibiscus
What do you think are the reasons for Eugene's behaviour?
What similarities can you see between Eugene and his sister? What is your opinion of Aunt Ifeoma's parenting style?
Jaja was convicted for the crime, not his mother? The narrator says that no one believed her confession. What do you think?
Why did Jaja take the blame for the murder of his father?
Kimbali's grandfather is known as a heathen to Eugene and a traditionalist to his sister. What does this difference in viewpoints reveal about their different attitudes to religion?
How is Father Amadi different to missionaries that Eugene and Auntie encountered when they were young?
Is there anything to reproach about Father Amadi's behaviour?
What different types of inequalities are explored in the novel?
In the novel there are numerous instances of things not being what they seem. What examples can you think of where the appearance of events differs to the reality? Explore the significance of this?
What do the purple hibiscus symbolize?
Father Benedict is still considered to be the new priest, even though he has been in the role for seven years. This is, according to Kambile because he is white. Discuss the concept of being an outsider both in relation to this specific story and in literature more generally?
The story is set against the backdrop of political instability. Auntie Ifeoma is likely to leave Nigeria and move to America. This is criticized by her friends who claim that she will become a second class citizen in America. Discuss.
Bookclub Questions on Adichie's Purple Hibiscus (if you haven't read the book!)
Adichie has written a small book (I was lucky enough to have my school Headteacher agree to give copies to all Year 12 students) where she outlines her views of feminism. I've linked to the clip in this post and the full transcript. It is utterly brilliant. If you have time watch or read this Ted Talk of We Should All be Feminists before your bookclub meeting and discuss its importance.
Adichie's book. won what was then known as the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Purple Hibiscus.. The prize has since ceased to exist in the format it was in. This is what Salman Rushdie said about the prize. “Isn’t this the very oddest of beasts… a school of literature whose supposed members deny vehemently that they belong to it? Worse these denials are simply disregarded! It seems the creature has taken on a life of its own,” Discuss your views on 'the Commonwealth'.
Eugene is descirbed as being too much the product of colonialism. Regardless of if you have read the book discuss what do you think this means?
Discuss the idea of using religion to justify controversial beliefs and actions.
It is through gardening and helping his aunt that Jaja starts to find a strength and purpose to his existence. What activity has helped you through difficult times
At different points in this story Kambili has all of her beliefs challenged. Have you ever felt the ground shift under your feet and lose everyhing you believed in? Would you like to share what happened?
Kimbala's cousin is prejudiced against her because she has wealth and a seemingly privileged lifestyle. Have you ever allowed your own prejudices and jealousies to stop you seeing the truth of a situation?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a first person narrative when writing fiction?
Personal Response to Adichie's Purple Hibiscus
I remember when I read Purple Hibiscus the first time I was fascinated by the connections Adichie made, to Achebe's Things Fall Apart. I was fascinated that she actually spent part of her childhood living in Achebe's house - so cool! My first reading of Purple Hibiscus focused a lot on considering how colonialism was explored through the book. I think I felt that Adichie somehow was a figurehead for all modern Nigerian literature. Hardly fair on my part!
In this reading of Purple Hibiscus I spent less time exploring whether this was a modern take on the themes specific to 'post-colonail literature' and more time reflecting on the theme of domestic abuse that dominates the story.. This highlighted for me how we bring different things or priorities to the reading of a book. There is no such thing as objectivity. I absolutely loved revisiting Purple Hibiscus. it served to remind me what a top class writer Adiche is. I now need to re-read all of her books, especially Half of a Yellow Sun, which was one of the books I wrote on in my dissertation for a Masters Degree in English.
Returning from Overseas
I woke up this morning to a typically wet and drizzly English day. The sky is a blanket of grey cloud and there's a chill in the air. When I don't need to go anywhere I quite enjoy a rainy day. Settling indoors with a book and, ideally, a bar of chocolate is pretty close to heaven for me.
Today the weather made me feel gloomy so my thoughts went immediately to Bangkok. It doesn't drizzle there. The rain comes down in torrents that flood the drains. It make everyone late for work, ruins shoes and then disappears as quickly as it arrives. I laughed at myself to think that I was actually missing Thai rain as I've cursed it often enough!
Nostalgic for Bangkok
I am missing Bangkok, and at some point, no doubt I'll go on to create a sensible article on managing change, addressing closure and so on. There is lots to miss - some of it heartfelt, most of it people based, but some of it just plain bonkers and as shallow as an English puddle of rain. These are some of the things, in no particular order, that I'll miss.
Things I Miss in Bangkok
My friends. I've posted loads of times about it being people not places that are important. Thank goodness for social media as my friends are all in Bangkok. They are, by and large stranded over there, until the corona virus is sorted out, so are all spending their summers renting villas on beaches, doing huge road trips across Thailand and generally living the travellers' dream. Not jealous at all!
The pool. I'm not a particularly good swimmer, but going to the pool was my number one stress busting activity in Bangkok. I can't imagine ever ever having such a lovely place to swim again. During those times that I was living, but not working in Bangkok, I'd get up for a swim and once finished be spoiled by the restaurant staff bringing me a pot of tea as I reclined next to the pool watching the golfers. That was the life! I like to walk now, as it serves a similar purpose, but .it isn't quite the same.
Having a full time housekeeper. When Khun Nong came to work for us we struck gold. She is a lovely person who helped us run our house like clockwork. She became a friend who I miss each day. Prior to Nong working with us I have so many funny stories of housekeepers who weren't quite so good. I think the story that tops the bill was coming home from holiday to find that one lady had painted several rooms and random bricks in our house bright pink. To this day I don't know why!
The weather. It isn't just the Brits who discuss the weather. I love the drama of Bangkok storms. I never quite got used to leaving a shopping mall and being hit by a wall of heat. I miss the conversations amongst my library team as they buttoned up in scarves and cardigans (if the weather dipped below thirty degrees!) about how chilly it was. I guess as an English person weather has to feature in what I miss.
The quirks. All cultures and societies have 'norms' that seem quirky to outsiders. I often noticed different ways of living as Mick drove us all to school. I miss seeing people in the street making their offerings to monks in a morning; I miss seeing old ladies walking to the early morning markets in their PJs; I miss the wais that Thais offer as a sign of respect; I miss having to stand stock still as the anthem was played at 6.00 pm and the flag was raised on a morning. I miss seeing adults going to university in what is essentially a 'school uniform'; I miss watching people meticulously sweep their patch of land outside their house; I miss the old man we drove past every day sat outside his house in a sarong and a deck chair and ample midriff showing. I miss it all.
The traffic. I don't really miss the traffic and I'm glad that roundabouts don't pose the problem in the UK that they seem to in Bangkok. Getting my last driving license was a bit of a drama that, now I'm not there, I can think back fondly to! It didn't seem to matter so much if I occasionally forgot to indicate. Seeing cars and motorbikes laden with people and belongings, coming up a dual-carriageway the wrong way was simply normal. I kind of miss it not mattering if I didn't follow the rules!
Shopping. I miss the madness of shopping in Bangkok. From early morning flower markets to top end designer shopping, it was all like entering a parallel universe. I miss the ladies marketing expensive products, shouting through loud microphones in glamorous outfits.
Restaurants. Living on the edge of Bangkok I didn't often venture to the restaurants in town. I do miss our old favourites though, especially having the salmon at Wine Connection, or pizza on a Friday night. The Green and White was an institution! We spent a lot of time with the kids playing 'word games' and chatting in restaurants, or when they were a bit bigger, sitting drinking coffee and beer (back in the days before I was teetotal) whilst the girls met their friends and we were hanging around to collect them.
Learning about a different culture. I got myself into 'hot water' so many times when I didn't understand how Thai culture works. From 'saving face' to 'land of smiles' to 'everyone being involved in every task’ the nuances of learning about a new culture is never dull and kept me on my toes. It is this learning about culture, learning about your own unconscious (or conscious) bias, in your interactions that is one of the fascinating things about living overseas.
Our Dogs. Who would have thought that I'd have ended up having two dogs! Fizz sadly died in 2018. Everyone is super sad that we can't bring Wizz back, but she is too old to travel. Wizz is happy though as she is happy is going to move to live with our lovely housekeeper's mum. She already knows her well As she sometimes stays in the summer with Nong when we have visited the UK.
Adventures. Mick has been coming across old photos whilst he has been packing up our lives in Bangkok. We've had some fantastic adventures and trips. My friends with small children have been reminding me how, when travelling with little ones, you basically need to pack everything except the kitchen sink. It's hard work, but what memories are made of.
My library colleagues and friends. It's a good job I said in no particular order as this should be near the top of my list. I still miss my library colleagues and I've made friends for life there. I've also collaborated with the wonderful Khun Duang on our books. (I really must do something about getting the drafts we still have completed into a finished format!) I learned a lot about leadership when I took on the library role and it is testament to my colleagues that they gave me a chance and forgave all the mistakes I made!
Khun Lyn and Pang. When I go into my kitchen in Bangkok I have a view out to the temple that Khun Lyn was cremated in. Lyn and Pang from the library both sadly died from cancer whilst I was there.. Seeing the sun set over Lyn’s temple each evening always reminds me of Lyn. I miss her.
The brunches. Oh my goodness, we have had some great brunches, especially at the Sheraton Grande. I've wonderful memories of Christmas days there too. Back in the day they were boozy affairs with a ton of eating and free flow bubbles. I haven't found a similar place in the UK yet.
Unwanted visitors. As I write my friend just sent me a text of a snake and the caption "the only thing I had to share the beach with today." I miss the unexpected of never quite knowing what you might come across just outside your door. In our case it was often monitor lizards that came calling.
Day trips. For most of our time in Bangkok we were just getting on with life. Going to work, helping the kids with their homework and activities, such as music lessons dominated our time. Every now and then though we'd make the effort - be tourists for the day and go off exploring the city. This sometimes extended into a staycation with a 'sleep over' in one of the fancy hotels in town. Whether with Mick, Mick and the girls, or my friends we had some great times.
Turning 50! I had a ball. My dear friend Rachel coordinated a wonderful afternoon tea, followed by a trip on the river, and cocktails. Mick had then arranged a very swanky night in the Shangri-La where we had the most fantastic suite you could imagine. I turned 50 in style!
The Kids' Achievements. The kids had a ball at school. There's too much to write about. Plays, musicals, sports teams, charity groups ... another post beckons!
The beach. I should say the beaches. My memory is shocking and I couldn't begin to say which beaches we've visited when. We've taken a lot of walks, made a lot of sandcastles (less so recently) and used a lot of suncream. I miss going to the beach.
The view from my soon to be ex-apartment. This matters more to me than I expected. I love our view. However nice your neighbours are waking up to their front lawn isn't so exciting.
Moving Forward when Relocating
The rain has stopped so I think that it is time that I stop reminiscing. I think it is ok to miss things though. It doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to our next adventures as I really am. I've not mentioned missing Mick as he is going to be back with me next week. :) I'm looking forward to our shipment arriving which Saint Mick has just packed up. Having my Thai belongings around me will be lovely reminders of a fantastic time living overseas. I'm sure there were bad bits too abut living in Bangkok, but today I can't remember any of them!
Book Review of Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
Salley Vickers' Grandmothers is an unusual and much needed book in that it focuses on the lives, loves and losses and hopes of three older women. They are either grandmothers, or in the case of Minna, a surrogate grandmother, It is through the relationship that the women have with their grandchildren that their inner thoughts, aspirations and ultimately moral values are demonstrated. In Grandmothers, Sally Vickers shows that the Grandmothers are valued far more by those in their grandchildren's generation than they are by those in their children's generation.
The main character in Sally Vickers' Grandmothers' is Nan who has a secret life as an award winning poet. We see her preparing her grandson as she prepares for death. It is around her that the book is structured. Of the other women Minna is shy and bookish and takes comfort in her friendship with a neighbour's child. Blanche, is seemingly suave, sophisticated, wealthy and content but is in fact lonely and saddened about her estranged relationship with her son and daughter-in-law. At different points these characters' lives interweave. Friendships are formed and the reader is encouraged to reflect on relationships, ageing, the future generation and the quintessential brevity of life.
I've recently read Ruth Jones' Us Three which also explores the friendships of women in their middle age. It is a genre that I enjoy.
Book Discussion Questions on Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
Bookclub Questions on Grandmothers (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Sally Vickers' Grandmothers
I enjoyed reading Salley Vickers' Grandmothers and thought that aspects of it were brilliant. It was a quick and easy page-turner which belies the depth of philosophical contemplation that underpins the social and personal commentary in it. Having said that if I'm honest, I did find the execution of the story-telling just occasionally a little heavy handed. There was a sense that the author simply needed to tell us something about the character rather than reveal it in order to keep the story moving forward. There is perhaps an argument that each of the grandmothers' in Salley Vickers' Grandmothers deserve their own novel and shouldn't have to share one.