Jun 2010

I took Nick Hornby’s About a Boy out of the library. Yes, I know it’s from the last century, but it looked as if it might be interesting and it was – most of it.

As the blurb says, it’s really about two boys, one of twelve who acts too old for his age and one of thirty-six who needs to grow up. I identified with the twelve-year-old, but not because I ever acted older than my age. It’s because the boy didn’t fit in at school and was therefore bullied.

I enjoyed following the characters of this story, and especially the two main characters. I found their motivations believable and interesting. And I enjoyed the humour throughout. But I was disappointed by the ending.

Firstly, on page 265 out of 278, there is a typo. It says “Ruth” where I’m pretty sure it should say “Katrina.” Not very important, but that seems to herald the bad ending.

What happens at the end is what’s supposed to happen in all good stories. The characters change. The man becomes an adult and the boy becomes a normal boy who is no longer bullied. For me, it all happens too quickly. I don’t believe that the boy’s life could have changed so fast. I want to see how it happens. I want the author to show me the process.

But he doesn’t and I’m disappointed, even though I enjoyed reading 264 278ths of the book. That’s 95%.

I have a special relationship with Britain. Any other country I visit is foreign. I’m fascinated by the way the people live and I love to explore the countryside. But it remains a wonderful experience of something else, something I’m not part of.

Britain – or, more specifically, England – is different. It’s the place where I was born, where I grew up. It’s a part of me, even though it doesn’t play a part in my current everyday life.

I haven’t lived in England for…. Well, let’s just say that when I was growing up, calculating money involved the factors 12 and 20, and my favourite music was provided by four boys from Liverpool.

Going to England isn’t like going anywhere else. It’s not a visit to a foreign country. It’s a return to a life I left – to the bad times and the good, to people I knew then and places that have remained. And that connects nicely to those four boys:

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

So I’m going back soon, first for two weeks with hubby in Scotland, then three weeks on my own in England. I’m starting to make plans. If anyone has any suggestions about what I could do at not too great an expense – literary of otherwise – for three weeks in August-September, do let me know.

People are complicated. It’s often hard to understand why they behave in certain ways. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand your own behaviour. I’ve often failed to understand my reactions, although, as I get older and (hopefully) wiser, things are becoming clearer.

Cat of Daily Improvements wrote about people who behave out of character and about her own lapses when talking to officials. Many people will be surprised to learn that I also occasionally break out of my normal reserve and shout at people – strangers – including some who really don’t deserve such treatment. For years, I didn’t understand why I did this. Now I know that it’s my way of turning off social anxiety. Like Cat, I’m not proud of losing my temper in this way, but I understand where it comes from. My poor victims don’t understand.

Cat says she’s going to “try and be more aware of the motivations of other people and the mitigating factors that might explain their behaviour.” That’s good advice for anyone, but often it’s impossible to know what motivates others. We just have to be aware that everyone has motivations, and often things ain’t what they seem.

I knew it was possible. If others could do it, why not me? It wasn’t as if we’d never separated before, but it had always been when I was away from home. This time I determined to do it when the temptation was right there.

And I did it! Yes, I managed to stop myself from turning on my computer for fifty-five hours. It wasn’t easy – especially when I went into my office and saw it sitting innocently on my desk. It was as if it had a sign attached to it: OPEN ME.

I resisted all temptation. When I wasn’t at the supermarket or my daughter’s concert or cleaning or cooking, I sat in the garden and read.

It was lovely. I should do it more often.

You know what? Since we got back together I haven’t cursed my computer at all. Well… hardly.

At the end of April, I won a book.

The book that I won is Kwaito Love by Lauri Kubuitsile. It’s a romance novella published by Sapphire Press, a new imprint of Kwela Books.

The book took a month to arrive. I was beginning to wonder whether it would ever come. But, as it turned out, its timing was perfect. Because the morning after its arrival brought news that heralded a difficult week for me. It was so hard that by the end I decided to take two days off from my connection to the world – my computer. (More about that tomorrow.)

With all the extra time, I sat in my garden and relaxed with this sweet story that’s completely removed from anything I know. It’s set in South Africa, and describes a world where traditional food includes vetkoek or makwinya – depending on the language being spoken, where women of twenty-four are too young to marry, where family ties are very strong and where the worst problems are caused by misunderstandings.

No doubt the last item in my list is not always true of this place, but in the world described in this story, that’s all there is. And that’s what drew me to this beautiful, well-written story: its ability to distract my mind from all my worries and transport me to a world where the love between two people is the only thing that really matters.

The heroine of this story is called Mpho (pronounced M-Po) and Lauri tells me the name means a gift. The book was certainly a beautiful gift to me. Thank you, Lauri!

As far as I know, there was only one time in my adult life that someone decided not to talk to me. The situation lasted for two weeks, during which I was devastated. Why? Probably because in my childhood it was a regular occurrence for me to be sent to Coventry. Because even when this was not the case, I was mostly ignored. When I wasn’t ignored I was mostly made fun of, and yet this was preferable. For me, loneliness was harder than being bullied, and not being spoken to has remained the worst thing anyone can do to me.

When, a few days ago, someone unfriended me on Facebook, it felt just the same. Even though I’ve never met this person. Even though, as I’ve been told, this is a common occurrence on Facebook. This was someone I had “talked” to quite a lot, someone who had always been friendly up to then.

At first, I could only guess at the reason. Later, through a mutual friend, my suspicions were confirmed, although I still don’t understand it completely. I’m hoping that this rift won’t last long either.

Friends, on- or offline, don’t always agree with each other. They can discuss their differences or agree to differ. Breaking off the friendship seems very drastic, even on Facebook. To me, anyway.

I’m sitting in a bubble.
It’s really very small.
I’m bent over double
Too close to the wall.

I’m sitting in a bubble.
Big bubbles all around.
They want to cause me trouble,
To make me run aground.

I’m sitting in a bubble.
How long can it last?
A tiny little nubble
Waiting for the blast.

Please don’t burst my bubble,
Don’t drop me through your sieve,
Don’t turn me into rubble.
I only want to live.