Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Down and Up Again

The positive mood has fluctuated over the past few days. Daughter #3 seems to have taken a nosedive again, and then pulled upwards. If only she had some decent female friends to confide in who could tell her that these feelings of alienation and 'not fitting in' are a regular - if unwanted - feature of the teenage years, being largely driven by hormone levels. Also of the peri-menopausal years, something I'm not going to divulge as it won't cheer her up any. It's unfortunate that as one member of the family is clambering onto the front end of the hormonal rocking horse, another is being bucked off the back end at the same time.
I've told her that life is pretty much hard work, but that it WILL get better and she WILL find her niche in the world, but I think she feels that it's so much hot air. On the one hand, she wants to hear comforting noises, but on the other, she's pretty disbelieving. I've tried to shortcircuit the tear-fests by briskly telling her to get up, get dressed, get some food and start doing something positive - anything positive - but my case isn't helped when she indulges in watching crap like 'My Mad Fat Diary' which dwells on mental and self-esteem issues. If you watched to much telly, you'd end up believing the world was a terrible dark place, with death and madness only a step away and you might as well wrap yourself up in a duvet and spend all day crying. But of course they all watch this sort of self-pitying victim stuff, so to not watch it is to be 'out of the loop', and 'out of the loop' is not what she wants to be.
Sadly, she seems to believe that the answer to her problems (or at least temporary relief) is for us to pay for her to go on trips, or to gigs, but I don't think she understands that we REALLY can't afford to do this. University is looming, and that is going to cost us BIG TIME when they're both there.
Fortunately the endless rain seems to have petered out. The sun is sort-of out at the moment and the river level is dropping rapidly, so some actual rowing is on the cards rather than the grim gym sessions, which everyone is p-r-e-t-t-y sick of by now. I coxed the older juniors this morning - the stream on the river is still pretty fast, so the coaches little lectures, given to a stationary crew, saw the quad drift back downriver some way before they got going again.
Leisure sculling outing tomorrow - hopefully. The better weather should see the squad numbers increase once again but, as  ever, those who haven't been down to the gym sessions will be unfit as well as lacking in technique and confidence. It'll take a few weeks at least
to get things going again, but by then the last of the Head of the River Races will be upon us. We'll be doing 'time only' rows, I think!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Knuckling Down

The sky is that awful leaden grey that doesn't change its tone from daybreak to dusk - a sharp contrast to yesterday's frosty sunshine. It is far, far less tolerable. I heard the water trickling off the roof into the gutters during the night and knew we'd awaken to more gloomy weather. It is getting beyond a joke.
I went down to the rowing club this morning and we were discussing that we hadn't seen the bottom towpath (which means it's safe for all classes of boats and experience to go on the river) since mid-December. The leisure squad's Christmas outing was undertaken in v-e-r-y marginal conditions; high water levels and fast stream, but with experienced steersmen and a safety launch accompanying the quads, but the river hasn't really dropped since then. It's been one of those winter's when we might as well have said 'no rowing for three months' so sporadic have been our outings. One head-race was cancelled last Saturday due to adverse weather conditions and I can quite forsee that's going to be a recurring theme over the next few months.
I suppose we're in a far better situation here that down south, where the Thames Valley is now severely flooded, as are the Somerset Levels and all the rivers in the south-west have burst their banks.
Touch wood, the Yorkshire Ouse hasn't come as high as it did last year when we had to evacuate the boathouse THREE times in almost as many weeks. But then after that, we had an exceptionally benign Spring/Summer/Autumn conditions-wise.
So this morning, a gym session it was; weights for me and ergos for the hardy leisure squad souls that bothered to turn up.
Not much fun (or leisure) for them, but there was at least some sense of achievement.
Hopefully I will still be able to move in 48 hours time - last week's legs session left me barely able to walk, with muscles so tender I could bear them to be touched, let alone knocked in any way.
It's always very, very difficult in the early stages of a fitness/strength campaign to just knuckle down and get the reps/miles in. It would have been the easiest thing this morning to look out of the window and think 'Naaah - don't fancy it today' and pull the metaphorical duvet over the head.
Taking the l-o-n-g view means thinking how I'll feel sitting in my all-in-one lycra, in the boat, in the Summer: relatively pleased with the training results, or wishing I'd done those reps? How I'll feel on the beach....happy in a bikini, or opting for the big T-shirt?
Yes, I know, I know....I talked only yesterday of not being vain, and really I'm not. But I like to feel strong and - I suppose - to look like I've made a bit of an effort training-wise.
As I've always maintained, I'm more interested in what people can DO, rather than what they LOOK
That goes for me too.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Brightening Up

Things are looking a little more like they're on an even keel now.
Apart from the horrendous squelchiness and interminable mud brought into the house at every turn, life is definitely looking brighter.
Husband has received some good news on the work front which means that his efforts are going to be recognised...and not before time.
Daughter #3 has come round a bit and cheered up - at least temporarily. She's joined the local gym on a short-term contract that should take her through until the nights are light enough for water-training to start again after school. To that end, she's been sorting herself out a training programme. This busy optimism is great, but I wonder whether it's just another pressure she's putting herself under? When did our children feel like they had to fill every moment of every day with worthy activity? What happened to pointless fun?
I feel that it's probably something that she's absorbed from us, her parents.
The Husband has always been absolutely rigorous about his 'training' regime, even when his training consisted of only that - training. He has a remarkable ability to get himself to the gym three or four times a week when there's very little need to be so committed. I think it's probably because he thinks of himself very much as a physical being. He defines himself by his strength and the way he looks, which is all well and good, but what happens when his physical prowess goes into decline (as it surely will)? It's the same for the woman who defines herself by her attractiveness to men, her looks, her slim figure. How will she feel when the skin wrinkles, the tummy sags, the men no longer stare longingly at her....? Seems to me that old age will be more difficult than it already is, if all our energy and interest has been invested in mortal flesh.
I don't think I have the same level of vanity....but I might have. I don't know. Looking at photos of my young self, I regret that I did not value my youthful slim figure and what might pass as prettiness. As far as I was concerned my external appearance was only minimally interesting. I had a passing interest in clothes, but never any money to indulge in fashion, so I formulated what might be nowadays called a 'hipster/boho' look based on what I could get from the Oxfam shop. Funnily enough there were very few charity shops around as far as I can remember. Grandad shirts, a tweed jacket, tight jeans (always Wrangler), clogs, long hair worn loose, scarves and the like. It fitted my pseudo-intellectual pretensions, the carrying of the poetry or philosophy books. And many of my friends were of the same cloth, so to speak. Apart from the huge lacuna of my twenties, I don't think I've really strayed from that look or image. I was, and still am, a pretentious cheapskate, an intellectual lightweight and bullshitter. Only now the hair is greying, the midriff thicker and less taut (four kids you see...), the joints achier. Ah but youth is wasted on the young!
Funnily enough, as I was walking the Dog in the glorious February sunshine this morning, I had a very intense recollection of a moment in my sixteenth or so year: It was another brilliant chilly morning, and I was - for some reason - walking to school sometime after the start of the school day (dentist or something?). I'd stopped to light up a cigarette (I know, I was part of the 'image'). It was, I can clearly remember, a Peter Stuyvesant, from a soft top packet. I was very brand/image conscious when it came to cigarettes. I eschewed the regular flip-top packet (no No6 or Bensons for me!), preferring foreign fags; Gitanes of Gauloises (my favourites by far, having 'taken up smoking' on a school trip to Dinard), Camel (liked the pic on the packet), Black Cat (ditto), or anything that was slightly exotic or foreign. One of my friends had a taste for the menthol St Moritz (very posh packet), and the school cool girl smoked Disque Bleus.
Anyhow, the sense of lighting up that cigarette came so strongly back to me in the frosty sunshine. I can completely recall the feeling of pure HAPPINESS that washed over me at that moment, and it washed over me again this morning some forty years later. The recollection of such intense happiness was incredible. I don't understand why I was happy at that moment in time - it was certainly just an ordinary day, with nothing exceptional to look forward to - just that I WAS, sublimely happy. It was like a pinpoint in time, or a moment that stood outside time in an inexplicable way. It was separate from time itself, a pure discrete sensation. I understand that there are physical conditions that can have a similar effect, epilepsy for example, but I don't believe it was in anyway thus caused.
But the sensation that it left me with, an afterglow, has persisted throughout the morning. I feel energised and hopeful, ready to take on new challenges, should they present themselves.....It's gradually fading of course, as the day goes on. If only I could preserve that sense of happiness and revisit it for inspiration throughout the darker days!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

More of the same...

Another day dawns. The Husband is off to Manchester first thing and leaves me the car. This is both good and bad. It means I don't have to walk down to the boathouse for the junior training session later this afternoon, but it means I don't GET to walk down to the boathouse, which means I'm falling short on the load-bearing mileage thingy that I've got going to keep me fit.
It does mean. however, that I can give Daughter #3 a lift home after her double training session, which today is probably a good thing as she is most definitely feeling really down.
Poor girl. She tries so hard to be hard-working, conscientious, responsible and fit....and she does so well.
I am constantly staggered at her drive and commitment (and wonder where she gets it from!) but worry that she is taking on an awful lot onto her teenage shoulders. School work, rowing training, TWO paid jobs...enough!
There was a bit of a crisis this morning. A welling up of sadness and loneliness that spilled over as I hugged her and tried to comfort her. What prompted this? I ask it a hormonally driven fluctuation, the result of driving herself to try for perfection, a seasonal funk of gloomy days and not enough sunshine?
I've always said to her - and reiterated it again today - that our love for her is absolutely unconditional.
It's FAB if she does well, and we're really proud of what she achieves, but it has no bearing on our love for her. It's not conditional on anything she DOES, it's there because of who she IS. Our girl.
I feel for her so much. My teenage years weren't the happiest. My parents, as I have mentioned in the past,
were generationally conditioned in the post-war era to expect that children were largely there to fulfil their own often-frustrated lives and plans. They were supposed to dutifully toe the line, pursue post-university careers that would make the old folks glow with vicarious pride, and never, ever, do anything to bring opprobrium onto the neatly tended semi-detached respectability carefully nutured by restraint and making-do. I was not their ideal child. Sulky, rebellious, frustrated and desperate to be independent (although not financially - that never occurred to me) I made the most horrendous errors of judgement that effectively cocked up my late teens and twenties. But the errors of judgement were ALL MINE!
So what I want more than anything is to make sure she never feels that she has to do things to make us happy. I want her to be happy, for herself, and in herself. And at the moment, that doesn't seems to be happening.
The best I could offer - over and above a listening ear and comforting noises - is that she is essentially lonely, because there isn't anyone of her acquaintance who in any way measures up to her in terms of excellence. She is in a different league, but will find her soul companions as she progresses in life and goes to university.
Unlike some teenaged girls I know, I would trust her to govern her own life at university NOW on account of her amazing maturity. But I DO know that - deep down - she is still just a little girl. And it's that little girl that I'm looking after today.
So the plan is, little things to look forward to, dotted through the coming days, weeks and months: coffees out, a new activity or two, a day out at a music festival. Cutting back on the remorseless work ethic, the endless 2 and 5k erg-tests so bloody beloved by the rowing fraternity. Keeping it light.
I know her mood can flip just like that, for the the better or the worse. I just hope that when I get down to the club tonight, she will be feeling a bit better in herself.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Return to the Front

Absolute madness - the urge to write gets no less, despite the traumatic ending to the PhD which saw me refuse at the last fence to do the proposed corrections.
Much shock and disbelief at someone who had completed, submitted, had a viva....and to all intents and purposes passed (although there was much huffing and puffing about the borderline status).
Why? Why did I not knuckle down and just do what I was told? Rewrite the bits that were considered unsatisfactory, go through with a fine tooth-comb and correct the typos, insert the references that were suggested as suitable?
Well, that boat had sailed. I could no more open up that document and write another word in it than fly to the moon. I had HAD it with academia. And academics, and the pifflingly unsatisfying nature of research done at such a micro level, that no-one either knows nor cares what the findings of your thesis are. Not even me. At a party, someone asked me to sum up my PhD in a sentence, 'Because' he said 'it's perfectly possible'. So I said 'Verbal aspect is not all it's cracked up to be'. And it isn't. And its not worth another moment spent on it, not even to get to wear the funny hat and have a limp and half-hearted buffet reception in the department common room.
But still...the urge to write persists, and its been a peculiarly unsatisfying 18 months on the intellectual front.
On the one hand, I have a great deal of specialised knowledge. On the other, I have neither the desire nor the opportunity to use it. I open many books and notebooks, my mind skids from one subject to another enthusiasm; it burns but briefly before the volumes are abandoned in the pile on the table, gathering dust.
What is my problem? Why am I such a light-weight, a butterfly, a charlatan? Have I had some psychological crisis that leaves me thus unable to commit to a project, or am I frightened of becoming a jack-of-all-trades, a flailing amateur, destined to half-fill journals with half-baked prose?
I've considered maybe I've been depressed, but I don't feel the awful sense of pointlessness and doom that supposedly accompanies that. I don't know what I feel. Boredom mostly, a sense of the drumming of fingers whilst the days fly by unused, a need to fill my days with something other than hoovering up mud, washing and cooking.
Even a part-time job - in a pleasant enough environment, with tolerable people, became a hindrance to getting on with...nothing. But I resented it's restrictions.
Rowing: Rowing is great when it goes well. It takes you out of yourself (because you HAVE to concentrate!), keeps you lithe and co-ordinated, fills your lungs with fresh air, but the interstices tend to become just time when you sit around waiting to go rowing again.
The children are growing so fast that I merely tend their needs and they beetle off on their own.
The Husband is going through such a total career and existential melt-down that we seldom communicate in any meaningful way at the moment. He is mute with misery, but I don't want to replicate his mother's inane witterings to fill the silence.
The Dog...the Dog is a blessing. Rescued mutt, desperate to love and be loved, bounding, extravagantly pleased to see his humans and snuggle inconveniently alongside them in bed. He keeps me busy; active, anyway.
So resurrecting this blog (as I have found the login details) will be a bit of therapy.
I shall work through - in words, blessed, necessary words - what it is that I am missing, and try to heal that wound, whatever and wherever it is, that lies across me.
Bear with me. It might not be pretty, or happy, or even useful. But I am going to give it a go.