The Pros and Cons list

Saint George and an unfortunate dragon, Prague, 2014

My mother was making a decision the other day, whilst we were hula hooping, and I asked if she had made a pros and cons list.

One of the characteristics of the decision she threw out was that it is ‘scary’. Twirling around the living room I stated, “so that’s on the pro list.” To which my mother grinned in a silly fashion and concluded that, “perhaps it could be on either.”

In May I took a five-hour spontaneous drive in a hire car, across a desert into a quarantined zone to catch an aeroplane home. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it on time, but I knew I had to try.

Fear didn’t pay much of a part in all this. Or, it did, the adrenaline rushed around my head and while I was waiting for the chap at the desk in the hire car agency’s offices to learn how to use the computer, I paced up and down. Fear came along for the ride, sitting in the back seat, but fear comes along anywhere I go. Fear is an innate part of life.

If fear had had its way, I would have sat on my bedroom floor and cried.

However, although all my fear responses were screaming like sirens, I maintained a focused calm. I’m not trying to pretend that I wasn’t speaking at ten thousand miles an hour or that my body didn’t shake and twitch, but as soon as I decided to drive, my thoughts calmed.

The beauty of being human is that we can make a decision that isn’t solely dictated by our physical response.

I knew that I had to deal with the problem one step at a time. First, I had the get the car, then I had to drive north. At some later point in time I would worry about my lack of boarding card and the police cordons and how to actually get to the airport. Mostly, I had to keep myself together for the next 96 hours because this trip I was doing alone.

When I sat down in the car, I touched the gear stick and smiled to myself that at least it wasn’t an automatic. Never mind that the gear stick was on the wrong side which inevitably results in me bashing my wrist against the car door. I hadn’t driven a car at all in months but for some reason it didn’t seem to matter.

When the midget turned twenty-one, I took her to Europe. In a café in Vienna, after many protests, she ordered coffee with the shakiest of hands. It was a large central café and I was pretty sure that the waitresses would understand enough English to give her a coffee, but the Midget was terrified.

My dad did the same to me when I was a child. He gave me money for a burger in an airport lounge somewhere and told me I could have one if I bought it. The Midget was with me then too, but she was smaller than the counter. Stuck between my dad’s generosity and my sister’s pleading eyes I somehow managed to be brave enough to order the food. We both ate burgers that day, with fries.

By the end of our Europe trip, the Midget was asking at the desk for international rail tickets with more confidence than she’d managed for that first cup of coffee.

Sometimes you don’t however realise how many small steps you’ve taken until you look back at something you’ve just done – like a spontaneous 5-hour drive to catch a plane in a foggy desert – and realise that as a big picture it all looks rather brave.

But bravery is often not something big, but merely a small step against the current. A mere shuffle forward in fact. Shuffle after shuffle after shuffle.

I sat in that car and pulled out of the supermarket carpark and realised that I didn’t need to try and coerce myself into feeling better about the situation. Nor did I need to cry. My sole job was to pay attention to the road and get myself home. And all at once I knew that however ridiculous my situation was, I was going to be able to handle it.

I’ve dealt with worse.

So yes, when you make your list of pros and cons anything dangerous ought to be on the negative side of the page, but just scary… I’d leave that off the list entirely. Fear will always come along for the ride, just don’t let it drive.

How do you hold yourself to a beneficial routine?

By Posted on Location: 3 min read
Viscacha, Machu Picchu, Peru. January 2020.
[I get asked some challenging questions sometimes… here’s my attempt at answering this one.]

That’s an interesting word isn’t it… ‘hold’, because it can be quite severe as well as protective. It can be restrictive as well as supportive. And I guess that in some ways I’ve ‘held myself to a beneficial routine’ with both senses of the word.

The preferred method is the supportive one

I try to do those things, like sleeping regularly and eating healthily, because I’m trying to support myself. I’m on my own side. This isn’t a fight where part of me wants something that’s not good for it and the other part is angry about that. No. I’m a team within myself and I fight on my own side.

But that wasn’t always the case and in times when my mind was at risk of self-collapse and the idea of the different parts of me working together in some cohesive team quite an alien idea, holding myself to the necessary routine was severe and restrictive. Sometimes you have to stop negotiating with yourself and set a simple clear boundary – particularly I think when it comes to the things that have the easy power to send you spiralling into a pit of self-loathing.

I was given a gift during my greatest moment of lostness in my mother

After all she made sure that I was receiving three healthy meals a day and it was she who woke me up each morning from the never-ending swamp of nightmares. Waking up at a normal time resulted in me going to bed at a normal time, and so she did a lot of the holding, protectively so.

Meanwhile, I focused on remembering to clean my teeth and wash my face. My sister will attest to the fact that when she calls me feeling less than 100%, the first question I tend to ask is likely to be nothing more complex than “Have you cleaned your teeth?”. I hold myself to a beneficial routine by focusing on the small but necessary. The basics are non-negotiable.

I tend to then focus on accepting that I’m a mess and that I need to do something about it

Even though on a typical day now I’ve got a gentle grip on my routine, when the anniversary of being raped came around I woke in a fog with the echoes of nightmares inhabiting my limbs. The painful recognition of how close I will always be to feeling like I’ve been smothered by the impossibility of existing can be terrifying. I was alone.

I was alone and with my biggest ally and greatest friend: I had myself.

I got out of bed and focused on two very important things

One, this was temporary. Even if such feelings lasted months rather than days, I knew that it wasn’t a feeling that would last forever. Two, I focused on the fact that I could do something about this very real feeling. I got up and made my bed. I then went in the shower with a biro gripped horizontally between my teeth and under the hot water I lifted my arms and struck a fighting pose. You’re thinking that this sounds very simplistic – it took most of the morning.

I know I cannot flick a switch and make myself happier just like that, but I’ve already decided that apathy towards myself isn’t something I can indulge. Even though my parents are amazing, at the end of the day I’ve got to take responsibility for me. If I want a happy life, I’ve got to get on with putting happiness in the world.

How do I hold myself to a beneficial routine? With all the depths of my human heart.

The Midget got married

By Posted on Location: , 3 min read
Wild rose, Asolo, Italy. May 2018.

The Midget got married so she and the Blacksmith may now collectively be known as the Siblings.

And these dear siblings of mine are all adorably in love and what with the house smelling of roses and raspberry and white-chocolate cheesecake, they had a most perfect little wedding. The Siblings have a grin that could swallow the world. The clouds and the rain couldn’t compete. The sun tried its best to, and so summer finally turned up, but nothing could beat the Sibling’s smile.

Understandably I’ve been busy doing hair (the smaller sibling’s) and sewing because the Father wanted a tie to match his new waistcoat and so presented me with the material and made his request and smiled and being a dutiful daughter what could I do but clamber back into the loft, find the machine and learn how to make one. Back into the loft I say because I’d only just put the beast away – so much bunting.

The midget-sized sibling wanted me to plait her hair and so I did in a thousand plaits with handmade paper roses, long blue ribbons and my mother’s headdress. The one worn many years ago, before I was born, when she and the Father said their vows to each other.

And the Midget was beautiful and ever so elegant and managed to be entirely herself even though I played with her like a doll and she even let me put mascara near her bright blue eyes. She was pandering to me, but it’s not often that I get to play such games. I painted her toenails and promptly stood on her feet. We never mastered this hair and make-up thing like other girls do. I remember watching another bridal prep – one where I took the photos – and there were makeup artists and false lashes and trays of paints and an expertise I couldn’t understand. I did the Midget’s make-up the same as I do my own, and I did my own in the same as I do any other day and she looked like the Midget and I looked like me.

The Little Mermaid said she’d prefer to have lots of beautiful clothes rather than lots of beautiful make-up. I told her I’d rather a plane ticket and good food with friends. A dear friend of the Siblings and I fell into a conversation about ceviche and I told her I’d take her out for dinner the other side of the world and buy her a pisco sour. It’s a good plan.

But even before the bubbles and chinking glasses, the wedding was most definitely an adventure. Planned and re-planned, with risk assessments and hand sanitiser and masks and the Tall Aunty alert system – the fastest pandemic news source on the planet. And yet despite the world being in chaos around them, never knowing what would be in the next call from the registry office, the Siblings seemed to keep it in perspective and whilst the Mother negotiated and renegotiated with the catering, the Midget thought and talked about the adventure that would follow – being married.

So in my mind, the Siblings deserve every milli-second of their joy because they’ve worked out that if you want a relationship to work, you work at it. That love isn’t simply a game of infatuation but an act of warrior like bravery. That it’s an act from the heart of pure and unfaltering courage. That, as a wise man once said to me, the wedding is nice, but it’s the marriage that counts.

Part eight of the repatriation ordeal (in which there is no hotel shuttle)

By Posted on Location: 3 min read
This is what a real coffee looks like.
Peruvian coffee, Peru
January 2020

Miami airport is large. I’m not sure that it’s as large as Madrid airport where you can stand in the hall without seeing the other end of the building because it’s just so incredibly far away from you. However when you leave immigration and exit alone into an empty hall and walk through an empty corridor to find an empty set of facilities, pass alone up and down in some large empty lifts and through some more empty halls, completely lost, Miami airport feels very large indeed.

I sat down and called my dad, he said there was a hotel shuttle.

I called the hotel, a chap said there was no hotel shuttle because of coronavirus.

I went in search of a taxi

There were no taxi’s but a cheerful chap assured me that he could find me a taxi and what’s more I could pay with any card I liked. A bright yellow cab turned up. It was so yellow I laughed. The man who had called it up looked at me as if I might be mad.

I asked the driver to take me to the hotel. He tried. He got a bit lost. He tried some more. I paid. I walked into the hotel. I checked in. I looked for a lift. I found the elevator. I counted the numbers and found my room. I collapsed on the bed.

A short while later I decided that the best thing to do would be to have a shower and go back downstairs and find a cup of coffee. The shower was a good idea, the coffee less so.

I ordered my coffee, which came in a furry plastic cup, and found some of those small UHT plastic carton things which are supposed to contain milk.

This was when my brain finally conked out and I realised that I was going mad. I stared at the plastic carton whilst sipping my plastic coffee and I read the label.

Non-Dairy. Contains Milk.

I read it again

I asked the waitress. She read the label for me and said that she didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was supposed to be healthier than the alternative option, but she wasn’t sure. English wasn’t her first language. I told her that this English wasn’t my first language either because in my English milk is a dairy product.

At this point my day got suddenly much better because we switched to Spanish and everything seemed to make a lot more sense. Suddenly I was having a very real Latin American-esque conversation where I learnt about Cuba and how a certain ‘politician’ has caused some frustration for the Cuban residents of Miami as he’s made going home to visit their mothers a whole lot harder. I sympathised, I was on my way home to see my mother and had unexpectedly found myself spending a night in Miami. Going straight home would have been a whole lot more convenient.  

I then returned to my room and ask the rain fell in Miami, I slept.

Wielding a butter knife

By Posted on Location: , 4 min read

I’m supposed to be writing

In these weeks of uncertainty there is much I am unsure about, the anxiety of all the unknowns eats away at me, yet I know one thing: I’m supposed to be writing. I’m supposed to be writing, and I’m not. I’m not even writing in my diary.

Weeks pass and although my fingers tap away at the keyboard each day, bashing out lesson plans and assignments, I’m not really writing. Practical writing isn’t the sort of writing I ought to be doing. There’s nothing wrong with it, except it’s not enough. I’m meant to be writing something more, something to connect the war being fought in my heart to the outside world through some fanciful linguistic dance.

I’m meant to be writing

I don’t write because I’m numb. I’m sad and heart-bruised. I should respond to my emails and tell my stories. I should build on the scrappy collection of fiction that is stored in this mystical interconnected cloud, and I should translate all this impossible into something more tangible, something I can face, something I can deal with.

I’m homesick for a life I only imagined.

I tell my mother I want a butter knife

She tuts at me and pulls faces and gets one from the drawer. I’m a spoilt white girl with everything at her fingertips. My father obstinately refuses to have anything to do with the tiny precious silver knife. He thinks I’m being overtly and unnecessarily posh.

I live in a palace, although many people I know mistake it for a three-bedroom ordinary little house with a generous garden.

Do you know how lucky we are to have a butter knife?

To have all this food? I use jam spoons and cake forks because I want to treat the food as precious. In front of my eyes it has become precious, something that mustn’t be taken for granted. I’m putting on weight eating all these meals all the time, deserts, ice-cream, fancy cheese. It pains me to see anything thrown away.

I’m supposed to be writing, but I’m still kind of in shock

I’ve forgotten how to be the person I was before I left. On Friday I decided to cook a pasta dish from my Italian recipe book. I read the recipe and it required a certain type of pasta. I could have replaced it with any packet pasta. Tubes would have worked fine, as would spirals or those fancy little butterflies.

I take flour and water and make the pasta, covering every surface in the kitchen with sheets of tiny orecchiette, ‘ear-shaped’ pasta. With my kitchen knife, I flick off shape after shape, exactly as the Italian nonna does in the video. They really do look like little ears. Hundreds of pasta ears scattered across the surfaces of my parents’ beautiful kitchen.

I’m angry

I know I’m supposed to be writing and yet I’m not. I make myself extraordinarily tired with studying and teaching but it’s the inner battle that’s wearing me down. I’m supposed to be writing, and I’m not. I create pasta shapes as if doing so could save the world. It won’t.

I’m homesick for a community I don’t belong to.

I’m the sort of girl who gets to wield a butter knife.

In psychology there’s a phrase cognitive dissonance

It’s a term used to describe what happens when a person’s brain holds two or more contradictory ideas, beliefs or values. The result is a discomfort which people try to escape. It’s through deeply uncomfortable cognitive dissonance that we can change our beliefs about the world. This is always hard work. It’s ONLY through deeply uncomfortable cognitive dissonance that we can change our beliefs about the world.

That’s why people don’t want to change their beliefs.

Traditionally I write when I can’t order the disorder in my brain

It’s taken thousands and thousands of words to get me to here. It’s going to take me thousands of words more to settle with this current discomfort. My heart aches with what I have witnessed this last year. This time though it’s going to take more than a pen. This time I’m fighting not only with ink but with a tiny, precocious silver butter knife.

At least I’m fighting.

Part seven of the repatriation ordeal (in which my apple is incinerated)

You can’t take photos in immigration, so here’s a random purple flower.
Tuscany, Italy
May 2018

I landed in the United States of America very early on the Sunday morning. The sun had just risen.

The aeroplane had landed smoothly enough and silently I’d dragged myself from my seat and like obedient cattle we all filed off the plane and trotted down the corridors to immigration control. Here, two men, one in either half of the hall stood and shouted at us in Spanish and English, ordering us what to do, where to stand, when to move etc.

I was exhausted and my little brain wasn’t processing information very well as I put my details into the computer and got ushered into the next queue. I moved along, socially distanced from the rest of the queue, listening to the shouting repeating itself over and over.

It dawned on me at some point in one of the queues that in my rucksack somewhere…

I probably had an apple

I wasn’t sure if I did have an apple or not. I’d certainly eaten one of my apples which I’d bought less than 24 hours previously. I’d bought them for the bus journey. The bus I reflected, would be leaving in a couple of hours, trundling down the Pan-American highway from La Serena to Santiago, my seat empty because I was now in the United States of America.

Maybe, I concluded, I did have an apple. But I couldn’t be sure. In fact, I seemed to have barely any memory of what I’d stuffed in my rucksack on leaving. It had all been such a rush.

I told the security chap who wanted to check all my papers and know exactly which plane I would be escaping the United States of American on. Although he didn’t use the word escape. The security chap explained that apples were banned. Apples were not allowed in the United States of America and as such, my apple must be incinerated.

“How do I incinerate it?” I asked

He tried to explain to me where to go. I was tired. I didn’t understand. He decided that the best thing was to escort me to the special baggage reclaim area for people who accidentally forget to eat their apples before finding themselves in the United States of America.

I collected my suitcase and wheeled it through the door to customs, where a cheerful chap kindly asked me a question. I didn’t understand him, but I said I’d like to please have my apple incinerated because apples are illegal.

He asked me if there was anything else

I shrugged and said I had no idea. Maybe I owned some biscuits, I wasn’t entirely sure. And what about a cereal bar. I might have had a cereal bar in there. I told him I was very tired and that I couldn’t be 100 percent sure.

Thankfully the chap in charge of putting apples in the incinerator said not to worry. He smiled and told me just to pop my luggage through the machine. A Chilean chap who appeared behind me offered to lift my heavy suitcase for me. The bags rolled through the scanner.

Very sure of himself, the security chap told me my apple was in the side pocket of my rucksack.

“It’s not,” I said. “That’s a bottle of water.”

He let me keep my water. He took the apple, remarked upon its large size and told me I was free to go. I could keep my biscuits.

Part six of the repatriation ordeal (In which I compare airlines)

Torres del Paine, Chile
February 2020
This was on the eighth day of continuous hiking (in the same clothes).

In February I went hiking in the beautiful Torres Del Paine National park in the Patagonia region of Chile. My flight back to Santiago was with the airline LatAm. Shortly into the flight, the pilot came on the tannoy system and cheerfully told us that what with it being a really beautiful day, with perfect flying conditions, and a perfect view over the national park, he was going to just take a few minutes and twizzle the plane around a bit so that everyone on the flight could get a good look at the iconic stone towers for which the national park is so famous.

It was quiet flight to Miami with LatAm, but the staff checked we were okay, and they gave us food which to my surprise seemed like real food on what looked like a plate. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was until I started eating. I had the entire row to myself as the staff gave us freedom to sit where we wanted to help us keep socially distanced and make use of the available space.

I don’t remember the food on the American Airlines flight to London, except for that when I got off the flight I was hungry and there was an awkward moment where I had to go to the kitchen at the back of the plane and ask for water because we’d been given so little.

The LatAm staff acknowledged the unpleasantness of wearing masks, but they wore their own mask correctly and set a good example.

On the American Airlines flight, I saw one senior looking member of staff not bothering to wear any mask at all, despite it being an obligation for everyone. He walked up and down the aisle from one end of the plane to the other, mask-less, a number of times throughout the night.

You’ll understand therefore if I now have a bias towards LatAm. I was exhausted, anxious, afraid and alone and the staff bothered to recognised it. No surprise that I slept much better on the LatAm flight that the American Airways flight.


On my return I did write to the booking agent, Opodo, explaining the situation. They have still not responded. There has been no apology for their screw up.

My father called British Airways about the first cancelled flight. Nobody ever picked up.

‘Tannoy’ is apparently, like hoover, a brand. I think it looks ugly capitalised mid sentence.

#LanguageForResilience

By Posted on Location: 4 min read
Valparaiso, January 2020
Care for one another.

The boy can barely keep his bum still on the chair. He has so much he wants to tell me, so much he needs to do, right this moment. His limbs move with such excitement and yet he’s only at school, sat in the corridor practising his English.

He is not an easy boy to teach. He’s bright and enthusiastic but seen as disruptive and undisciplined. He doesn’t fit in the system and so he’s hard work. It’s hard work for him, for the teachers and for his fellow students.

Students misbehave and play up for all sorts of different reasons

If you’d asked me when I was at school myself about classmates who couldn’t keep their mouths shut, I would have been quite disparaging. Emotional regulation seemed like a reasonably basic concept and I couldn’t understand why some people seemed not to have it.

Of course, as time passed my own ability to regulate my own emotions became rather tested, and my emotions, so strong and so true, dominated, blinding me, delaying me from having any perspective of how I was impacting other people.

To an extent, this is normal and happens to all of us as part of regular life

People burst into tears, they lose their tempers, they stamp and the stomp and then hold grudges or feel guilty and the emotions work their way out and life continues.

A child bursts into tears on one Wednesday in March, you don’t worry too much about it. A child bursts into tears every Wednesday in March, you start to worry.

Recently I completed a tiny little course on the impact of trauma in the classroom run by the British Council. Trauma, I know from first-hand experience screws up your ability to regulate your own emotions. It can turn a sensible, disciplined adult to a wailing screaming shouting violent mess in an instant without any warning whatsoever. It can also make a determined, hard working student lose belief and become apathetic to their studies.

Trauma effects that part of the brain that gives us the self-control to study

It effects the way we process information. That internal voice that we tend to need to remind us that we’ve put the washing in the machine and we’ll soon need to hang it on the line, falters. A student might be given a task, but it doesn’t mean they recall what they were told to do five minutes before or understand why they are here in this classroom learning these verb forms. Trauma plays games with the memory. Verb forms are irrelevant if your brain is still hooked on an event from the past, an event which haunts the present. Past and present merge and mingle and you’re sitting safe in the classroom, with part of your mind wandering through hell, and someone’s asking you when to use the present perfect continuous.

I have been thinking about trauma and classrooms and students who might want to learn but don’t know how to learn and teachers who want to teach, but who can’t reach their students.

I have been thinking of all this, and studying that course, because how I think is now defined by my past. I no longer wander though hell on a regular basis when I ought to be doing something else, something more productive, but the path of trauma is embedded, neuron to neuron, throughout my brain. I don’t wander that way anymore, at least not so often anymore, because I’ve learnt to look after myself.

Trauma results in an inability to self-regulate

Students who have been, or who are being traumatised may seem uninterested, unfocused, volatile, reserved, defensive, threatening, insecure or unaware. This, understandably, makes teachers insecure and defensive.

The same drama has played out in my own brain time and time again, the critic and the victim, the pain driven need to rescue and defend, the anger and the irritation, the wailing screaming shouting violent mess.

But I am not a wailing screaming shouting violent mess today. And I haven’t been a wailing screaming shouting violent mess for some time now. I’m uncomfortable and emotionally fraught. It’s been a few tough months and at times quite distressing, but fundamentally, emotionally, I’m looking after myself.

And it’s creating safety that makes the difference

It’s a steady, genuine care that is willing to be patient. It’s providing a stable environment, structure with routine and predictability. It’s acknowledging emotions rather than trying to box them up. It’s sharing relaxion techniques, learning how to be mindful, being quiet, listening and showing respect.

We all must learn to do this for ourselves and for others. We rarely know who has been traumatised and we cannot know which of us will be traumatised next. We can all though improve how we respond to people who cannot control their pain and who struggle to fit within our rigid system of acceptable societal behaviour. Which is why I did the course.

As for the disruptive child whom I had the pleasure of teaching

For me he’s a role model.

One day, in one of our conversations I asked him about daily routines. He explained, every morning before school he runs 5km attempting to manage his energy levels and do what he can to keep his bum sat on his chair.

Often, students are working a whole lot harder than we give them credit for.

Part five of the repatriation ordeal (in which I board a plane)

Valparaiso, January 2020
Bedtime.

I hate filling up the car. I particularly hate filling up cars in foreign countries because filling up the car is, like ordering in a restaurant, an occasion where you take what’s being sold before you pay for it. I find that the cards in my purse are much more reliable in England where they belong, and that in foreign countries things go wrong. Imagine my fear of the embarrassment of whatever card is in my purse not working and the inevitable search in the bottom of my suitcase for a spare.

Of course, my Chilean card behaved perfectly

My problem came before that, when the kindly chap who was gallantly offering to fill up my car for me asked me to release the cap to the petrol tank. I had no idea how to do this. I opened the car door and he indicated places where the release might be, instructing me with a friendly polite Chilean Spanish from behind his mask.

It was now dark outside, my brain was flooded with anxiety because I had to be in the airport in the next twenty minutes, I had found the petrol station because I’d just taken the wrong road on entering Santiago. Ramon was waiting for me, somewhere. And I had no idea where the lever was.

Luckily Latin Americans don’t hesitate to mime when the occasion demands such

The situation, with our efforts at maintaining some resemblance of social distancing, required some excellent miming, and eventually, to everyone’s relief, I found the lever.

The chap filled up my car. I paid.

Ramon was waiting for me when I pulled up on the driveway of the hotel where he’d suggested we meet. He suggested I turned the car around and put it facing the other direction so that other cars could leave. I stalled the car. Put it in the wrong gear. Managed to do a five-point turn when none was necessary and turned off the engine.

I got out the car and pulled my mask back onto my face.

Ramon inspected the car

He found it acceptable. I hopped into the passenger seat and Ramon drove me to the airport. Calm, and with a gentle manner he asked me about my journey, my time in Chile and we discussed the quarantine. I knew now that I was going to be on time for my flight. It had taken a team effort, but I was heading to the United States.

Santiago Airport is a building site, and we drove past the carcasses of future airport lounges and pulled up straight in front of the door for international departures. I thanked Ramon. He lifted my case of the boot of the car and I headed inside. It was obvious where to go because there was one flight leaving that evening. The only other scheduled flight had been cancelled.

I walked straight up and placed my bag on the scale

The LatAm woman at the counter helped me to move a few books into my hand luggage to get the weight down, then I headed to security and was waved straight through. I placed my rucksack on the counter ready to go through the process of extracting my technology and liquids, but the security guards waved me through with a clear attitude of don’t stress yourself.

There were no tester perfumes in the duty-free shop, and the lights were dimed in most of the airport, meaning that I walked straight from security into my gate simply by following the light. It was like Santiago airport had been reduced to something smaller than Doncaster Robin Hood airport. There was a single open shop, some toilets and some seats. We spaced ourselves out and waited.

I expected emotion

I messaged that wonderful selection of Latin Americans and Europeans who had sent me messages like ‘ARE YOU OK???’ to assure them that I was alright and that somehow I was now about the head to the United States…

My brain was dead; I was emotionally in shock. Home was a five-hour drive behind me or a few days ahead of me whichever way I chose to think about it. Mindlessly, I followed the person in front of me onto the aeroplane. No emotion came.

I hoped that my housemates were enjoying the bottle of wine I’d bought for us to share that night. I wondered how it tasted.

Books and the Yorkshire dialect

By Posted on Location: , 4 min read
A bit of Yorkshire.
May 2020

One of my favourite books as a child was The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett so I’m not sure why it is that I had never read The Secret Garden. My sister who never used to read much, until her beloved Blacksmith came into the scene, has read it. The father thinks it’s a most excellent book. It turns out we even have it on the bookshelf here.

So why hadn’t I read it?

I knew the vague outline of the story, because when we were children my sister and I had the film which stars Maggie Smith as Mrs Medlock and we must have watched it over and over again, delighting in the magic. However, I hadn’t appreciated the full wonder of the book itself.

The Secret Garden is a beautiful depiction of the Yorkshire accent, with the protagonist Mary slowly taking on more and more of the Yorkshire dialect as the story progresses, simultaneously becoming a nicer, kinder person as she adopts a playful ‘tha’ for you and the single aspirated alveolar stop of ‘t’ for ‘to’.

Away from the sound of home, I’ve gained deeper appreciation for the accents of the North

I expend so much effort trying to clean up my speech that sometimes I forget the wonder of its original form, with its double contractions and missed consonants. There’s no shortage of un-official English in my family. Apparently, my southern grandfather used to say skellingtons and my mother still does slip into such a form from time to time and so there’s no wonder it’s my natural inclination to say skellington too (dear students: the word you want is skeleton).

But Yorkshire, with it’s ancient twists of words, is also a place of wisdom

If anyone is currently bored by the lack of freedom to socialise, the ‘born ‘n’ bred in Yorkshire’ character of Martha in The Secret Garden has some advice:

Martha looked perplexed.

“Can tha’ knit?” she asked.

“No,” answered Mary.

“Can tha’ sew?”

“No.”

“Can tha’ read?”

“Yes.”

“Then why doesn’t tha’ read somethin’, or learn a bit o’ spellin’? Tha’st old enough to be learnin’ thy book a good bit now.”

“I haven’t any books,” said Mary.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

It makes my heart sing to read such a conversation written on the page

The book includes this beautiful explanation on the word ‘wuthering’ which was famously used in the title of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights written and set here in Yorkshire where I currently live. I don’t personally recommend the book. I thought, when I picked it up, that it would be a romance. I was wrong, it was a horrible portrayal of domestic abuse.

Mary did not know what ‘wutherin’’ meant until she listened, and then she understood. It must mean that hollow shuddering sort of roar which rushed round and round the house as if the giant no one could see were buffeting it and beating at the walls and the windows to try to break in. But one knew he could not get in, and somehow it made one feel very safe and warm inside a room with a red coal fire.

Frances Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden

Continuing the reading update, I’ve also finally finished Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which I enjoyed but in my ranking of 17th century Russian literature it falls below Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

When someone makes a remark on how certain politicians seem to believe that they are above the rules, I’m reminded of some of the long, meandering convoluted essays of thought portrayed in the book.

Yet I wondered if they book should be re-written using the structure of Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (Rayuela) which has an appendix of unnecessary philosophising conveniently disguised as an alternative reading option. Or at least I think it does… I’ve only read the short version.

Trying to curb my book buying habit a little, I continued with foreign literature, reading Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, for which I had high expectations. I remember James Wood waxing lyrical about Flaubert’s impact on modern fiction in his book, How Fiction Works, but I found that since I didn’t like any of the characters it was difficult to find much appreciation for the style. My favourite moment was when Flaubert described the animals all gathered up for the agricultural show:

The beasts were there, their noses towards the cord, and making a confused line with their unequal rumps. Drowsy pigs were burrowing in the earth with their snouts, calves were bleating, lambs baaing; the cows, on knees folded in, were stretching their bellies on the grass, slowly chewing the cud, and blinking their heavy eyelids at the gnats that buzzed around them.

Gustav Falubert, Madame Bovary

At least I felt like I could relate to those marvellous beasts.