Friday 23 July 2010

Back In The Saddle Again...

When I was nine years old I desperately wanted a pony. A white pony, with flowing mane and tail, that I would name Silver. Silver would be my best friend, I would plait wildflowers and ribbons into her mane and we would have great adventures together, roaming the countryside. I christened my bicycle 'Silver' and attached ribbons to the handlebars to use as reins, and the bike became an imaginary pony.

My parents couldn't afford a real pony, but they did agree to send my sister and I for riding lessons at a nearby stables. I was overjoyed - until reality set in. The pony I was given to ride, Star, seemed impossibly huge (my younger sister was given a fat little Shetland pony to ride called Teddy, whose much lower centre of gravity seemed a desirable asset). Star's lack of anchor points to hold onto also seemed a serious defect - once teetering in the saddle, the stirrups and reins seemed wholly inadequate to keep me from toppling off. I had no great aptitude for riding and could not for the life of me cope with Star attempting anything faster than a slow amble. Most of the time I was quite frankly terrified. After a few weeks the inevitable happened and I fell crashing to the ground - breaking my arm in the process. As the riding instructor picked me up and dusted me down, she gave me a kindly, yet brisk talking to, about stiff upper lips and how it was essential to get straight back on the horse to ensure I wasn't put off riding in the future. Too late. I was already put off, and in fact nothing on the planet could have induced me to clamber back on Star's patient back at that moment in time.

And that was the end of my equestrian dreams. At the age of nine and a half I hung up my riding hat and decided to concentrate on becoming a secret agent instead.


How often do we give up in the face of discouragement? It's not always a bad thing - sometimes it is good to know one's limitations and be realistic. How many 'Pop Idol/X Factor' hopefuls who can't sing a note insist in their post-audition interview that pop stardom is their one dream and they won't be discouraged in the face of rejection? When so many people with truly wonderful voices never attain stardom, how realistic is it for tone-deaf talentless wannabes to imagine stardom is just around the corner? Would it not be better for them to realise their limitations and concentrate on finding out what they're really good at - cake decorating or brain surgery or teaching or breeding new strains of auriculas?

On the other hand, how easy it is to let a set-back hold us back. How often do we let fear of failure stop us from even trying?


When T and I split up, I was full of fear about my future. My marriage had given me a sense of security, emotional and financial. I thought I knew what life had in store for me, yet suddenly the rug was pulled from under me, and I felt like a complete failure. I was afraid. My future looked bleak, as everything I thought I could rely on was suddenly thrown into chaos. I expected that I would have to move from Halfway Up A Hill, and I panicked about how I could afford a new property with room for the animals. I knew I would have to get a paid job again, and the length of time since I had last been in paid employment convinced me that would be impossible. I could not imagine that I would ever find love again. I envisioned a cold, lonely, impoverished and uncertain future ahead of me.

Unlike falling off a horse and deciding not to get back on, I had no choice this time. Life was going to carry on, and not re-engaging with it wasn't an option.

Luckily, my financial situation turned out not be as scary as I had imagined. The divorce settlement allowed me to stay at Halfway Up A Hill - for the time being anyway. That gave me some breathing space in which to lick my wounds and take time easing back into the workforce. Amazingly, and quite unlooked for, a new romantic relationship developed out of an existing friendship. I was resistant at first, not wanting to ruin a good friendship 'on the rebound'. Yet IB and I have been together for over a year now and quite honestly I believe it is the best, healthiest relationship I have ever been in. Even so, it has been challenging at times for both of us. Starting a relationship in one's forties is quite a different kettle of fish than in one's twenties - the last time I was dating before this (do people even say dating any more? It sounds so teenager-y - but I digress...). At this time in our lives we are both quite set in our ways, which needs careful negotiation, yet at the same time we are more comfortable in our own skins and sure of what we want from life.


My bike 'Silver' is long gone (though fondly remembered) and it has been a good few years since I have cycled at all. I bought a bike about fifteen years ago but found it too much like hard work and it languished mostly unused in the garage. It has finally gone, cleared away with a lot of other stuff in my life that was no longer needed or wanted.

IB however, is a keen cyclist and has convinced me that my problem with cycling was the wrong bike. We have found me a good secondhand bike on Ebay which we picked up earlier this week. It needs a few improvements before I can ride it (the brakes need some work), but I am feeling a mixture of excitement at the thought of riding a bike again along with fear at the prospect. Am I too old? Too unfit? What if I make a fool of myself and fall off? How will I manage those Welsh hills? And yet I remember the sense of freedom and joy that cycling used to bring all those years ago. Is cycling still for me? I don't know. But I am willing to give it a try, a good try, knowing that initially muscles will ache and joints will creak, yet with practice I will improve.

Sometimes, it pays to know when not to get back in the saddle. Horse riding was not for me, and I saved myself a lot of grief (and my parents a lot of money) by quitting when I did.

But sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start all over again. Despite having my self-confidence and trust in others severely dented, I was brave enough to start a new relationship and I am so glad I did. It has helped the sun come out again.

Sometimes you just need to take a gamble and try again. Begin a new relationship, buy a new bike, try something new and different. You never know, getting back in the saddle just may be the best decision you ever made.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Please Yourself

I recently heard a new cover of an old song, John Fogerty's version of Rick Nelson's 'Garden Party'. I first heard the original song played on the radio years ago, and although I understood most of the lyrics at the time, the passage of years helped me hear it this time around with deepened understanding.

The song gives Nelson's thoughts on the negative reaction of some of his fans when he wanted to branch out from playing the 50's style pop music he was known for into 70's country rock. The full lyrics can be found here (and an explanation of some of the more obscure references is given on the Wikipedia link above), but the lines which really struck a chord with me this time around were those of the chorus:

"But it's all right now,

I learned my lesson well.

You see, you can't please everyone,

So you got to please yourself"

It was the notion of pleasing yourself that really got me thinking. Normally you hear the words 'Please yourself!' as the dismissive end to an argument, or being told you seem 'pleased with yourself' is an accusation of smugness.

However, what if pleasing oneself meant having the bravery and integrity to live up to one's own standards rather than those of others?

Nelson sings:

"When I got to the garden party,

They all knew my name

No one recognized me,

I didn't look the same"


"If you gotta play at garden parties,

I wish you a lotta luck

But if memories were all I sang,

I'd rather drive a truck"

In other words, people were happy with him while he continued to play the part they wanted him to. But when he found his own direction in life and ditched the preppy image and 50's pop for a more hippy style that reflected where he was at that time in his life, he found himself booed offstage. Even so, he decided he'd rather be true to what he believed in than pander to popularity.

In the song, I think Nelson is talking about coming to terms with the fact that although you can't please everyone, at the end of the day the important thing is to be true to yourself and your own ideals and ethics. In witchcraft, many people, myself included, subscribe to what is known as 'The Wiccan Rede' which appears in many forms, the most simple and concise of which is, 'An it harm none, do what thou wilt' - in other words, as long as you're not hurting anyone (or anything?), it's OK to do whatever you like. In some ways this may seem way more permissive than other codes of behaviour such as the Ten Commandments, but actually it is very robust. It is clear: Harm NONE, not harm as few as possible, or 'harm not thy neighbour'. Harm None.

Although it is impossible to pre-think every single action through to all potential outcomes to ensure it will harm none, I believe that it is important to try to live our lives in non-harmful ways, taking our co-existence with the needs, feelings and rights of others into consideration. Christianity says the same thing in another way, 'Do unto others as you would be done by them'. My notion of pleasing myself may mean living up to my own ideals, but I do not exist in a vacuum, and I know well that I am part of a complex interconnection of other beings. Being pleased with myself means not doing things just to please others, but choosing to do them because I can see how they contribute to the creation and well-being of the kind of world I want to live in. A world of beauty, balance and delight (in the words of Donald Engstrom-Reese).

I am trying to please myself in this lifetime. Being true to my own beliefs and ethics and living up to them. I don't always succeed - sometimes I displease others by not doing what they want, other times I am a human doormat - but I keep trying so that on balance, I can say I am pleased with myself. You truly can't please everyone, but you can try to please yourself.
P.S. Link to a Youtube video of the song: