The Blind Spot

park

Today a woman lost her daughter in the park. It was a sunny Sunday, about 3pm, loads of kids kicking about a football or three, many a dog walker like ourselves and a few cyclists stripped down to their lycra shorts and soaking up the last of the summer sun.

We were throwing a stick for the dog, and drinking coffee, sitting under one of the big oaks that lines the make shift football pitches, watching a guy trying to fly a kite without any wind. This is not a remarkable day. I have done two loads of washing, put off the vacumming and berated myself for not sorting through the bathroom cabinet. A standard day. Nothing special, but a pleasant day. No rain, and it’s warm for late August. We left our jackets at home and I’m kicking myself for wearing jeans, but pleased we’ve made it out the house. The dog needs exercising and who knows how long we’ll have this weather for. Its September tomorrow after all. 

I’m feeling a bit annoyed, inexplicably so, although probably because R took too long getting the coffee or spoke in an off tone to the dog. In reality, I’m probably annoyed as its Sunday afternoon and the weekend is winding down.  My annoyance is peaked as someone is shouting and cutting across the usual park buzz. It’s not the shout of a kid retrieving a ball, or someone calling their rogue dog. Its a distressed shout. And its repeating one word over and over.

I’m not really paying attention as this stage, so I can’t make out the word, but its reached that volume so that I have noticed. I’m walking up the small embankment to retrieve a better throwing stick for the dog and as I’m walking closer to the main path I catch the tail end of a conversation.

‘…she’s 4 and she’s on a scooter. She just went over the hill and I thought by the time I caught up I’d see her on the other side, but I can’t see her…’

A calm voice, but with enough of a tremor to betray the rising panic. I put two and two together, she was shouting a name.

‘..right, and you’ve looked by the swings and the cafe?’ The conversation continues with an elderly couple who have stopped to offer help. Although I’m not sure they’re elderly, I’m guessing by the tone as I’m not close enough to tell and there’s a few hedges and shrubs between us.

I’m still not really paying my full attention as the dog has now got into a tiff with a Maltese-cross and I’m telling her off. But a few more people have now congregated around this woman and someone says,

‘I think you should call the police’ 

But the sun is shining, and the park is tranquil and its Sunday. There aren’t even that many people around –  not enough to lose someone. And its a big open park. Scenes like this don’t play out now do they? I wander back down to the oak tree where we’ve plotted up and I mention what I have heard to R. He’s just has surprised as I am.

‘Here? Did you just pick all of that up from walking up the hill and back?’

I start to wonder if I day-dreamed it, but then I see the mother, walking very fast, talking on her mobile with another child trailing after her. She must be calling the police. I start to feel a bit queasy. 

I’m almost subconsciously now scanning for a lone child on a scooter. Hoping to see her coming out from around a tree, from behind the playground steps, may she was hiding?  I’m torn between running after the mother and asking if I can help to reminding myself she is calling the police and doesn’t know me from Adam, and that I’ve just earwigged the whole conversation and I’m not holding all the facts. 

We carry on throwing the stick for the dog. Continue with our conversation. Finish our coffee. Walk a bit further around the park. I tell myself the professionals will be on the scene soon, and that she’ll be found queuing up for ice-cream with no knowledge of the drama that unfolded. But I’m scanning the park regardless. 

Sometime later, with the dog suitably exhausted we meander back past the oak, along the main track where I had overheard the conversation. I can’t see the mother, or any sign of the police. The man is still trying to fly his kite. Kids are still kicking about a ball. There’s a healthy queue for the ice-cream van. No sign of anything untoward. We must have missed the reunion. The relief. Probably some tears and then reprimanding the child for wandering off. But lots of hugs, That’s what’s happened. Otherwise we’d see some kind of gathering with men in high vis, and questioning. I tell myself its all worked out. Perhaps that child I saw with the mother while she was on the phone was the original lost child after all.

We make our way home. But it hit me again how the extraordinary things happen on ordinary days. We don’t get the luxury of ominous theme music to alert us to something coming down the road, no heads up, no warning. We do not get the chance to prepare ourselves. We cannot possibly know what will happen on a Sunday afternoon at the end of August. When throwing a stick for the dog.

We know this, of course, on an academic level, but we still think we can prepare for every eventuality, that we have no blind spots. If we save enough money, or take enough care, do all of our research, have all of the control. Or that we have the luxury of waiting for the right time. For the stars to align, for the perfect conditions. And it both scenarios there is no such thing. We are not in control. There are no perfect conditions. Most importantly, we have no guarantee that we have the luxury of time, and that it is a huge luxury.

Maybe it’s that I am hurtling head first into my mid-thirties, or that its already September, which basically means its Christmas, or that I am seeing time pass so much quicker as our friend’s kids grow up (and speak! go to school!). That many of my contemporaries are now experiencing age-related illness with parents, and we were in our teens over 20 years ago. Even though it really only felt like the other day we were scaling the walls to go clubbing past our curfews.

Unsettling, uncomfortable and disquieting yes, but a good reminder to get on with the business of living, and stop putting off all the things that I want to do ‘when I have time’ and just do them. Even if it is just a quiet Sunday Afternoon. 

 

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The Digital Detox

I have taken two weeks off Facebook. I deleted it in a strop. I had one of those infuriating social media sessions that left me raging, frustrated and exhausted. I’m not even sure what tipped me over, all of it and none of it in particular. The incessant sharing of banal day to day dinners, the violent images of war-torn communities, combined with unicorn quizzes and farmville  requests. With absolutely no differentiation in volume. LOOK AT MY CAT! SIGN THIS PETITION FOR GAZA! GUESS WHICH SOPRANOS CHARACTER I AM? SAVE OUR LIBRARIES! SAVE MY CANDY CRUSH! SAVE THE LIFE OF THIS 4YR OLD WITH CANCER! HOW CUTE IS THIS PANDA?  

I was unable to tune out or focus, instead I was just stuck, starring at my screen habitually refreshing for more ‘news’. Needing to inhale all of it at once. R has started to joke that he’s going to send me to rehab for internet addiction. He’s not far off. I am plugged in, incessantly. 

My simmering rage and underlying anxiety was exacerbated by the fact that news has been beyond grim. Diving into social media to switch off amongst the sneezing kittens and sunset filtered pics seems like a great way to de-stress having mistakenly picked up the insipid Metro or god-forbid the despicable fear-mongering Daily Mail on the overcrowded tube.  

But having settled into a nice safe buzzfeed quiz, its not long before a comment thread on a controversial image/quote/news story turns troll-nasty:  ‘You don’t agree with my POV on  x y or z  well FUCK YOU AND YOUR SNEEZING KITTEN‘.  

Or I’m sucked into  an argument on privacy settings:  ‘What? You didn’t read all 425 clauses? IDIOT everyone reads ALL 425! …’  Then I’m obsessively checking my old direct messages from 2008 aren’t appearing in my timeline (I only read 420 clauses at 2am on a Tuesday. Because I’m hooked). You’d think I was working for Mi5 the level of paranoia that a change in T&Cs can bring.

Or someone uses a semi-colon incorrectly and says ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ .WHO ARE THESE GRAMMATICAL IMBECILES?  *she says abusing adverbs, awfully and using conjunctives as the beginning of sentences –  hypocrite*

Or I post a very funny anecdote about my day. No one likes it. Refresh ad-nauseum. One like. From the random promiscuous, indiscriminate ‘liker’ who just likes EVERYTHING

Then my blood pressure goes through the roof, I’m squinting through a migraine and grinding my teeth at tight.

I have #nofilter

I felt totally hijacked by notifications and found it increasingly difficult to focus on the issues that were important. Being inundated with wave after wave of upsetting, horrifying truths, it’s tempting to stop engaging with the news at all, put our heads in the sand and pretend there is nothing going on in the Ukraine, in West Africa, in Iraq. Turn on Netflix and binge on box-sets that reflect anything but reality, without any ads or reminders that the world outside is absolutely and irrefutably just… shit. Because we have that choice. A very privileged choice. To just switch off. Deactivate. Opt out. With just the click of a button. Lucky us. Our reality has double glazing, running water, vaccines, the NHS, access to education, fluffly slippers and wifi. Not missiles, Ebola, kidnapping and militant extremists tearing us from our homes. 

I have heard this referred to as compassion fatigue. This term implies we all a certain capacity to care, and once that’s reached, tough. We just stop. Which of course has to be true to some point. We’re not capable of feeling everything all the time. We need to filter and temper and prioritise or we’d all be gibbering wrecks unable uphold society when confronted with an orphaned puppy, never-mind the searing heartbreak of  the unending conflict in the Middle East.  

But given the penetration of social media into our very privileged day to day, you know, having access to the internet and actual leisure time, we’re beginning to suffer from ‘newsroom syndrome’ (a term I stumbled upon while zoning out on Twitter, I’m not sure I am even using it correctly – standard). This is apparently what happened to news readers when TV first went mainstream – they found it very difficult to attribute the right amount of reaction, compassion or weight to any situation due to the sheer amount of information they were bombarded with.

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Not all News is Created Equal

 Here in the 21st century, we’ve all found ourselves in a similar state, unsure which story needs to take top priority, given we have the amount of time it takes to refresh a screen to change the mix of info, and therefore the ability to prioritise effectively.  And surely when we lose this ability to care, to feel compassion, to be connected, one of the main tent poles of society starts to fall down? The ability to care and then to ACT? We read this from our sofas. our desks, seats on the bus, we have a responsibility to do so. To get off our pampered asses –  we can’t just opt out. 

So here’s the conundrum. How do we care appropriately?

*cue massive social media outrage about what constitutes ‘appropriately’*

Or rather, how do we learn to filter our information sources better and quicker? Particularly when every brand and service has cottoned onto the power of Social and is literally bidding for our attention along with that of our mates, the news channels, the government. Except they they’re pushing their messages with hard cash. 

Of course this is a very simplistic take on what is a much bigger issue, and doesn’t give enough credit to our own, hopefully innate ability to know wrong from right and to weigh up the consequences and impact of consuming and distributing information responsibly. We hope. 

So how do we keep the volume of the white noise down and amplify the relevant and important stuff?

I don’t know. 

I do know that Human of New York is the one reason why I didn’t delete Instagram. That the stories Brandon shares with the world of the extra-ordinary people that he finds in the very ordinary every day restores my faith in humankind one portrait at a time. That Twitter has taught be a huge amount and raised my awareness on everything from gender politics to new music to great writers. That I’ve made new friends through this virtual world via shared interests (running, running, through a healthy dose of Nike+ running brags) And that all of this has been real and vital and life affirming. 

So I deleted Facebook for two weeks. By the time this is posted I may well be back on it. A big part of my life is online. That is a fact. But taking a good break every now and again to re-asses what really matters. To unplug and realign our perspectives. Share responsibly, take action. Speak up. But with less migraines and jaw grinding. More writing, running and face to face. Our feet in the sand rather than our heads. 

Any other tips or advice for good digital detoxes? Anti-virtual shakes? I need some inspiration!

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Good Intentions

Many readers of this blog will know we moved house at the beginning of the summer. Twelve long weeks ago we packed up and relocated a whole three miles up the road. Three miles is not a long way. I can run three miles in under thirty minutes on a bad day. In the rain. On a clear day from the train station I can actually see our old neighbourhood. So hardly a massive move.

But you’d think we had relocated to another country when you look at the disruption its had on our day to day. We’ve sorted out the basics, but my schedule has taken a huge knock. The exercise routine is ad-hoc at best and I found myself eating cereal for dinner on more than one occasion, because I’ve not sorted out the groceries. Its not a good look. I am a fan of structure, and clearly don’t deal with change well. What started as a whirlwind love affair with NW2 and its beautifully well behaved neighbours has turned into a magnum eating, sofa loafing, social surfing lazyfest.

Willesden, we have a problem.

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Stella feeling the chilled out NW2 vibes

Back in W10 I was highly motivated to be out of the house as much as possible. take a small flat combine with despicably noisy neighbours, a hyper-active dog and being surrounded by a LOT of cafes and parks meant I was rarely home. I was out and about giving Stella her daily dose of Portobello love (she’s minor celebrity around those parts) and saving my ears from the almost constant deluge of noise from upstairs.

Here in NW2, we have our own sun trap of a patio garden, a living-room big enough to get a wii-fit game on the go (we haven’t) and neighbours so quiet I suspect they walk around in feather lite slippers all day and are perhaps mute. I can’t lie. Its freakin’ wonderful. So I am very happy to come straight home and then stay there as long as possible. Basking in the silence. On my sofa. Eating ice-cream.

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And THAT is the problem with living in the ‘just as soon as’ frame of mind. The Good Intentions Zone. You know it. It goes something like this. Just as soon as we move, Just as soon as we sort out the xyz. Just as soon as we finish abc…THEN we’ll get on top of everything. Good Intentions.

There were a number of things I was sure I would do ‘just as soon as we moved/ unpacked/ got settled’

Here are the Top Three

* Get Into Yoga

I have no flexibility. And I have all the kit so really feel like I should put it to good use. And everyone I know does Yoga so I am just succumbing to peer pressure really. If only so I can stop nodding and smiling when they talk about Pigeon Pose (I thought it was a East London Band for weeks)

* Figure out The Garden

So far I have managed to pull out weeds. Get stung. Water plants. Pull out weeds. Get Stung (by a bee this time). Get covered in mud and burrs. Plus the gardening malarkey works well with my Yoga plan. I’ll be all zen and into nature and have the core strength to really get to grips with those effing weeds.

* Learn to Cook Like a Grown Up

For god’s sake I am 33 years old and I can barely make an omelette. Its embarrassing and a little pathetic. Given how much I like to eat.  I have been relying on the gastronomical expertise of my wonderful hubby for far too long. And seeing as he’s going through a Brussel sprout phase (eww) I need my own repertoire up my sleeve.

 

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THIS

 

Any takers who’d like to join in my yoga practising, garden tending, cooking experiment? All welcome! I will try not to poison anyone. In fact maybe just join in on the yoga and gardening. I can’t guarantee your safety with my cooking. Yet