Tag Archives: responsibility

Humility

I was startled by a small hand tapping me on the shoulder, not least because I was inside a traditional Gurkha restaurant in the city of Pokhara, Nepal, sharing a meal with a group of friends. The city of Pokhara is small, and beautiful. It skirts a turquoise lake and sits at the foot of the vast Annapurna mountain range. After two weeks travelling through northern India and Nepal we seemed to have reached nirvana. That morning we’d been woken at 4am and packed into a taxi-bus. Bleary eyed we arrived in a little village set into the hillside above Pokhara, the best view-point (we were told) to ‘experience’ the sun rising on Annapurna.

We weren’t alone. Fifty or sixty other tourists gathered in awkward circles, expectant yet dubious, waiting impatiently, not really convinced this ‘experience’ warranted getting up so very early. Then the snow-covered tips of the distant horizon shimmered gold as the first tenuous sunrays touched them with fire. Chatter became hushed, cameras stood ready, and expectations grew. Gradually the rim of crested peaks bled crimson under a velvet sky. Little by little colour flooded over the mountains until they blushed pink, like something half-dreamed. Well-travelled and worldly we might be, but this was nature at her most majestic. We were awestruck.

That evening we decided to celebrate our experience and were tucking into a traditional thali meal when this small determined hand reached through the open window. Turning round to look I was surprised to find the smiling face of a local boy who, I guessed, was no more than ten years old. He didn’t look like a beggar. His clothes were shabby but his eyes shone with happiness. My friends laughed at his impudence.

I handed him a bowl of vegetable curry and he drank it down in one gulp. I’d never seen anyone so obviously hungry. When he handed me back the bowl he nodded his head. The beaming smile never left his face.

My friends passed over another bowl which disappeared as quickly but then a second boy, so alike he must surely be his brother, reached up on tiptoes, doe-eyes shy and frightened. We gathered everything that was left from our feast and handed it through the window all the time worried a waiter might chase the boys away. But when the waiter eventually came to clear our table he commended us on our excellent appetites. By then the boys had ducked out of sight. On leaving the restaurant we were given a handful of lollipops and catching sight of the boys a few streets further down the road, we handed them the sweets.

They were the only beggars we met in Nepal and their beautiful smiles still haunt me.  I wished I could bring them home and mother them. Later, when we told the story to our local guide, he explained the boys were probably not Nepalese but Tibetan. There are many communities of Tibetan exiles in Pokhara but they struggle to support new refugees who make their way through the mountain passes.

News reports of the earthquake last week pricked my conscious. As a tourist, being able to travel to Nepal and witness the highest mountains in the world is amazing, but this awe-inspiring scenery also makes it one of the harshest environments on our planet. And therefore one of the most dangerous.

Himalayas

A friend, Angela Locke, travelled to Nepal in 1992. She wrote a beautiful book about her experience – On Juniper Mountain – and inspired by the people she met set up a grass-roots charity called The Juniper Trust. www.junipertrust.co.uk  If like me you want to help in some small way please consider donating to them, much of their work is achieved by volunteers.

High mountain passes

High mountain passes

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Best Laid Plans

Busy family life

Busy family life

Well both grandsons are off to school (Reuben’s first year, Oscar’s second), summer is drawing to a close and I’m all fired up ready to proceed with my Grand Plan – back to writing that novel again. Seriously!

Eight thirty in the morning I’m sitting at my desk, fingertips at the ready, but almost immediately the phone rings.
‘You’ll have to come to work’ – husband’s voice – ‘there’s a couple of things I need you to look at urgently’.
OK. So I jump into the car and drive straight to our business premises five minutes away.

All the problems are solved quickly but once at work I decide I might as well open the day’s post and sort through some invoices and then I remember I need to pop into town to get some food for dinner. And might as well drop off the ironing – after a houseful of visitors last week it’s all piled up and there’s this wonderful local business where the ladies are better than fairy godmothers.

Lunchtime already? I’m just settling down for a quick snack before starting work on my Grand Plan when the phone rings again.
‘Are you doing anything’ – daughter Sam’s voice – ‘only I need to pop to town for an appointment and Delilah’s asleep?’
No problem, Sam promises she will just be an hour – I grab my tablet, proving I’m trying hard to succeed with the Grand Plan and it makes me seem like an avant-garde gran.

Delilah wakes after less than half an hour. As soon as I pop my head around the door she takes my hand and leads me on a route march around her house, a guided tour, discharged in a language of her own making which she assumes I comprehend. As we enter the kitchen she waves a finger at the tap – time for a drink of water? Already, at one year old, her nature leaves me in no doubt she had a previous existence as a headmistress.

Sam arrives home. Relieved of duty I can shoot off home but as I leave she hands me a bag of freshly picked damsons surplus to requirements…if I don’t want them perhaps great-gran would?
It seems sensible to take the damsons straight to mum’s, it’s not very far, almost en route, and they’ll only go rotten if I take them home. Having had a spectacular harvest this year we’ve got piles of ripe fruit gently going rotten in assorted bowls and we can only eat so much jam and chutney and the freezer is full.

Dad’s mowing the lawn. As soon as I appear he stops work and leads me to the garage, a look of smug triumph on his face. Ever since my parents moved here two years ago the garage has been full to bursting with household goods and furniture deemed no longer useful. We suggested they give all the stuff they no longer want or need to charity shops but old furniture is bulky and unfashionable and even local auction houses aren’t interested in taking it. However dad has discovered a man with a van (a community charity) and he is coming to take everything away later today, so last chance if I want anything.

I’d been meaning to grab their emergency fridge –newer and smarter than the one we have at work and doesn’t need defrosting. And then there’s the brass coffee table – can’t let that go because I have its twin. But it’s hardly fair not to take them away immediately. Dad’s been waiting long enough to park his car inside the garage – it’s so untidy cluttering up the drive.
Husband isn’t too pleased but comes immediately. Another essential job done and dusted.

Now where was I? Better make the dinner…..best laid plans and all that. I’ll just have to start on my big plan tomorrow.

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Sochi 1

‘I’ve been waiting ages for you to come back Gran’ Reuben said as he flew through the door. I wanted to tell you I saw David and Stacey on tele’. Reuben’s eyes were shining as he wriggled out of coat and cardigan and tossed them onto the floor. Oscar, responsible older (by 16 months) brother interrupted with – ‘they did their very best’. But Reuben wasn’t going to be deterred, he had seen Stacey fall badly and wanted to be sure she wasn’t hurt. And he had worried until I got home. In fact I’ve never seen him so worried.

 

Because we were in Sochi for the Winter Olympics our local press couldn’t get hold of us so they went to my daughter instead. Sam was working that day so they asked if they could sit with our grandchildren as they watched David and Stacey’s perform their short pairs programme at Sochi. Now although my grandchildren know what David and Stacey do they are hardly experts (age 5 and 3 and five months) but babysitting them was my son-in-law’s mother, a retired headmistress perfectly capable of controlling a reporter or two.

 

But I do question the integrity. My grandsons were quoted in the newspaper word for word, words they repeated as soon as they saw me because they were upset. I am angry because the reporter made them feel David and Stacey did something wrong. While anyone unfamiliar with the skating world might consider they failed because they didn’t win a medal we always knew there was never any chance of that, not because David and Stacey haven’t worked their socks off, not because they haven’t got amazing skills, but because they have done it on a shoestring, taking one lesson a day instead of five, using a choreographer once a month (if they are lucky) when the top teams have the use of several choreographers every single day they train. And it all adds up. The top Russian pair (who won Gold) receive £30,000 per month to cover their costs! We manage to scrape by, just, on £200 per week. It’s a fact that David and Stacey are the only pairs team competing at International level not fully funded by their country. So how on earth are they expected to win?

 

I am so pleased that at long last the British press are beginning to direct their attention to the lack of funding rather than the lack of medal success. http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/feb/11/winter-olympics-david-king-stacey-kemp 

 

But ultimately it isn’t just the money directed towards training. The ISU is largely funded by television rights, therefore the countries where skating is popular inject the most capital. I don’t think it is any coincidence that British free skaters weren’t offered any Grand Prix competitions in the season running up to the Olympics. Taking part in a Grand Prix builds up points towards international standings. If you don’t do them you lack enough points to be at the top and worse, Grand Prix competitions make sure you are seen by the right judges? And if you haven’t been seen competing you can’t possibly score enough points no matter how well you skate, the more you are seen the better you are marked when half the marks are basically subjective!

 

If you are interested in the debate about judging read this article from the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/06/sports/olympics/despite-revamped-system-for-judging-figure-skating-gets-mixed-marks.html?smid=fb-share

 

Of course I am proud of my son and his partner, they’ve fought hard every step of the way despite overwhelming odds. And just at this moment I’d like to shoot the reporter who introduced the idea to my grandchildren that their achievement is anything less than remarkable.

And I’m not the only person to think so, http://www.buzzfeed.com/hillaryreinsberg/olympics-photos-that-will-destroy-your-faith-in-gravity?sub=2996282_2429250

 

 

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Me, my-self, I

I’m not sure where I lost myself but I do know it happened somewhere between leaving adolescence and arriving at menopause. The bustle of day-to-day routine took up the slack of ambition and made me into a very different person from the one who came into being. Somehow the ‘who’ I should be became the ‘who’ I am.

 

Now I’m not suggesting it’s a bad thing to lose oneself. Some very great things are achieved by change. But lately I worry about losing the ‘me’ who formed decisions based on what I wanted or liked. The ‘I’ has been diluted to the point it’s impossible to make any deliberate decision unless convinced it parries with the wants of every other member of the family, and that’s a growing list these days.

 

Of course I have to blame myself.

 

I think, therefore I am. But I think of others’ first, therefore I am not.

 

I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, gran….my life is full. But the essential person that is me seems to have disappeared. And so I fluster when asked what I want…..not because I don’t know but because it’s somehow lost, or buried. Is it selfish to want to find me? One thing I’ve learned from my grandchildren is that character is stamped at birth. Time waters down the obsessions, disciplines our wildest dreams, but I’ve found growing old has dissipated the expression of self that made me an individual.

 

And I finally understand my own grandmother who dressed up to the nines in her nineties and went out in style. The photo shows her in her teens, riding her favourite motor-bike.Image

 

 

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