A small step and a giant leap

I want to get better at getting better. I know a statement like that has all the opacity of the melange of self-help quotations that haunt Facebook or Instagram. But let me explain.

For a long time, I have looked at my own character and ran straight from light critique into a verdict of guilty. When something went wrong and I failed to live up to my (very high) expectations of myself, I relentlessly beat myself up until I had developed an arsenal of condemnatory phrases that I wheeled out at any given opportunity. Slowly but surely, my expectations of myself started to decline, but the self-critique actually became even more ferocious.

I stopped being able to do the simplest of tasks, because if I couldn’t change the filter in a water jug, what exactly was the point of me. My studies also suffered because I would rather do shoddy work at the last minute than disappoint myself again. I don’t really want to talk about all the *other* acts of self-destruction that often followed.

So, this blog is an attempt to reflect upon my progress but within both achievable and positive parameters. I want to spend 20 minutes a day putting pen to paper. I am not aiming for perfection. I only have two goals. The first, that this becomes a part of a daily routine, a chance to practice writing my thoughts down in a short period of time (exam preparation yuk). The second, that even if I don’t achieve other ambitions in a day, I have a small, qualified success to fall back on.

And maybe, this way of talking to myself, this practice of moderating the way I think will seep into other aspects of my life. It wont suddenly quiet the screaming abusive voice inside my head. But over time, I hope I will be handed some earmuffs.

Cats will be heavily featured…

Four Weddings and a Funeral, the LGBTQ+ edition

The four wedding and a funeral sequel received the customary twitter outrage treatment when it was screened for Comic Relief last night. Opposition seemed to be divided into those who thought the sketch was making light of LGBTQ+ relationships, and the BBC-is-too-PC crowd. But to me Richard Curtis seems to have a conjured a golden, if somewhat conservative, panacea of inclusivity.

A familiar group was back. Though older, greyer and portlier, we got to see a glimpse of the characters we loved in the halcyon days of 90’s rom-coms. Hugh Grant grinned his signature grin as he accompanied his daughter, played by Hollywood golden girl Lily James, up the aisle towards a besuited figure. When they turned, the groom was revealed to be another bride.

And the surprises didn’t stop there. Alicia Vikander played the dapper bride whose dramatic lipstick marked her as truly her mother’s (Fiona!) daughter. As they gave their vows in front of an amusingly befuddled Father Gerald, they told the story of how their parent’s friendship had brought them together. They looked into each other’s eyes and remembered their first furtive kiss on shared holidays and how that blossomed into love. It was so perfectly mundane and I am not ashamed to admit I cried.

The reception featured the swirling forces of awkwardness, envy and euphoria of seeing old acquaintances, that made the original film so great. And the bond of love between the two women was just another seam in the tangled web of family and friendship. For better or worse, LGBTQ+ relationships were perfectly integrated in this glistening world.

The 90’s really couldn’t feel more distant. It is easy to forget how precarious even Hugh Grant’s career had been when he faced allegations of homosexuality. Indeed, when the film was released, Thatcher’s Section 28 was still in the statute books, so the simple embrace of the two brides in the sketch would have been an act of ‘propaganda’.

Today, despite all the progress made, many still face the choice between family and partners. Some of course create a ‘found family’, and we must not forget the importance of hard, necessary and slow activist work. But the wonderful, slightly saccharine sketch was a vision is of what might be possible, and of the love that is truly at the root of it all anyway.

Global Encounters

Running down the steps in Cambridge Station to reach the 7.44 to Kings Cross, I hurtled into a student who was patiently waiting in front of the doors. As we sat down across from each other on the near empty carriage, he introduced himself as a resident of Tokyo, on a visit to friends in Kings College. I really hadn’t expected to have such a fascinating conversation on a train.

Interspersed between the exchanging of cat pictures, we both told a little of our family histories, which turned out to be intertwined in an unexpected way. A several times great grandfather had served in the Japanese Navy in the last years of the 19th century. Stationed in Portsmouth for training, he had struck up a friendship with an Englishman who had given him a tea-set and crockery in exchange for a samurai sword (an item I was told, the family had in abundance). Although he was subjected to some truly revolting navy rations, he recorded in his diary that he had tried the ‘quintessentially English’ dish; Fish and Chips.

Now I was naturally delighted by this vivid image of adventure and culture shock, and slightly envious when I made the comparison to my own potato eating shtetl dwelling ancestors. But then I reminded myself that my family had a stake in the dish that he found so surprisingly oily. This was of course because fish and chips has a Jewish lineage, emerging from the fried fish dish brought over by Eastern European immigrants.

So there I was, a British Jew looking across from a Japanese man hailing from half-way round the world. Besides a mutual love of cats, I hadn’t thought we had much in common. And yes, we now have each other on Facebook, a sign of our very globalised times. But our worlds were never separate. It just took a faltering conversation on a late-night train to remind us.