comments 17

In which I am startled by the size of a walrus and other things

I surprised myself by running out of books last week.  I’d been so busy being overwhelmed by the size of my To Read list that I hadn’t mentally ticked off each one as it was being read.  So by the time we got to Drop Everything And Read at work, a project to promote reading, where every single person in the school reads for fifteen minutes twice week, I was reduced to reading Kindle samples on my computer screen.  Amongst them I tried and liked The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which the woman in room 109 is reading (we stick pictures of our books on our classroom/office doors), so have ordered that.  I re-read the beginning of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and enjoyed how cool, precise and sensitive it was. I tried and failed to get on with Eimear McBride’s experimental A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.

This prompted total book ordering meltdown when I got home and dug out the names of all those books I’d meant to order, but never got round to:

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

e: A Novel by Matt Beaumont

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh

In addition to this, I have on order

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy from Lovely Daughter #1’s reading list.  Wuthering Heights seems to me to be the book of choice amongst readers here as to the best book to read along side Romeo and Juliet.  Part of me wonders whether her teacher is going to be faced with twenty-something essays on Wuthering Heights, all with the echo of someone’s mum going “You must read Wuthering Heights!  It’s brilliant!” behind it.  A bigger part of me wonders whether Lovely Daughter #1 is even going to be able to get past the first page.  I’ve mentioned before that LD mysteriously manages to get top marks in English despite never voluntarily picking up a book.  The idea of picking up old books is even more alien to her than picking up a contemporary one.

Also on Tuesday I went out to my friend Jane’s house and came back with a pile of books.  I now have:

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

So I’m going to be busy for a while.

I’ve been generally busy this week, busier than usual.  Apart from my day out in Croydon, and going round to Jane’s, last night I went out to the primary school for a school governors’ meeting, for which I’d done a few hours reading.  I’ve been school governor busy reading up on data etc for the past few weeks anyway, as we are overdue an OFSTED inspection and I am the Chair so they will definitely want to see me.  I feel a little bit OK about this, and a little bit Agggggh!  However, the proportion of OK to Aggggh is generally well balanced, much more balanced than it was when I started doing this three years ago.

Three years ago there was a bit of turmoil in Lovely Daughter #1’s Year 6 and I ended up complaining, and withdrawing her from school until it blew over.  But I’m not the sort of person to randomly moan on about stuff, and so when a parent governor position came up, I went for it.  This was despite never having been to a proper meeting before in my life, or had any kind of job where you would have to get together in groups and discuss things.  I spent at least the first three meetings actually sweating, I was so intimidated by the whole thing.

I spent the Christmas holiday on the Governors’ electronic training website and did a course every day and after that I felt a lot better, and must have looked visibly better too, because after a year, the governing body had to re-elect a chair and it turned out that nobody else wanted to do it so they asked me.

This was a steep learning curve!  I was still overwhelmed by the sound of my own voice in a room full of people.  I’d spent the last thirty years thinking that nobody would want to hear what I had to say.  It was important to me, growing up in my family, to hide what I thought and keep it safe, so that nobody would be able to laugh, nobody would question what I had to say to pieces, nobody would want to stop me from doing what I wanted to do.  I spent a lot of my life getting overemotional if it came down to having to put across a point of view that really mattered to me.  I spent a lot of time worrying about me and how I came across. This view of me often got in the way of me seeing what I was actually doing.

Several of my early chaired meetings were total chaos as we rambled on directionlessly for a good two hours sometimes.  I was self-conscious and panicky before every single meeting I had to chair.  I knew what I was supposed to do, which was to keep to the topic, keep strategic and ensure fair distribution of “the floor” to the group, but hated interrupting people when they went off topic.

In the end, early preparation together with the Head helped a lot – really identifying when putting the agenda together what the aim of each item was.  The other thing that helped was happening across Question Time one evening.  I’d not watched it for ages and this time was transfixed by watching how David Dimbleby moved the discussion around, moved it on and how he handled the situation as people become inflamed or intense.  After I’d seen this modelled, I took this new skill into meetings.  It was like being a new driver – those days when I couldn’t even speak because I was concentrating so hard on the road.  What was actually being said in meetings passed by in a vague dream as I totally focussed on moving the discussion around and keeping it in the right place.

After a while, I got the hang of it and I now I am in a place where I don’t even think about it.  I can’t even find the post because it was such a long time ago, but Sherri and I discussed being so into something that you aren’t even aware that you are doing it.  That’s how it’s become when I chair meetings now and I’ve totally surprised myself that I’ve been able to step away from being self-conscious and self-doubting, because the enjoyment of what I am doing is greater.

My other startle of the week was on the size of a walrus.

On Sunday, my friend James mentioned that he was going to see a stuffed walrus in the Horniman museum in South London.  On Tuesday he posted the pictures and as you will see from my comment, I always thought a walrus was the size of a very small horse, so to discover that they weigh two tons and measure up to 3.6m long was a slight shock. I imagined it felt like turning round and discovering that your pet cat had grown to four times its usual size.

“Oh yes, a walrus is even bigger than an elephant seal, and an elephant seal is huge.  Or is the elephant seal bigger?  I can’t remember. They’re both very big. The females are not so big of course, only the males get that large,” said my co-worker yesterday morning as I bemoaned the fact that I’d only ever seen pictures of walruses against ice and other walruses, so that had never had anything to size them against.

So for thirty years, as well as not being able to speak, the whole world apart from me was already in on the fact that a walrus is enormous. But it’s all OK now because I’ve found my voice, and I know what a walrus looks like when it’s not against ice.



  1. Denise, I absolutely love this post. We need more people like you on school governor’s boards, that’s for sure. You saw the need and you went for it and look at you know! Yes, what was our conversation about? I’m trying to remember now and think I need to go back and search! I love how you ended your post with something really quite powerful – you have found your voice! That is wonderful! Something to be celebrated…
    And so far as the Walrus? Great story. Until I saw my first red fox in the wild, because of my dad’s stories, I used to think that they were as big as Great Danes! Just shows how our imagined perceptions can change and shift overnight, just like that 🙂

    • I’ve made so many friends on the governing body too. They are a great bunch of people. I never fitted into the parent friendship groups of either of my children and felt quite out of it, so this is like third time lucky.

      Do you think you got your love of story telling through your dad’s side? I’m intrigued by the idea of fox stories.

      • That’s so great that you have been able to find a great friendship group on the governing body and also the confidence to slip into the role quite naturally. Wonderful and I just know that you are highly valued there 🙂
        My dad certainly instilled in me the love of telling a story, of that there is no doubt. Sorry if I’ve already told you this (shocking memory!) but since you are intrigued by the fox stories, you might want to take a look at the header of my blog under ‘My Writing’ where you will see my story called ‘A Walk in the Woods’. It is based on the walks that my dad used to take us on and the stories he would tell. I plan to write more about this in a book oneday, ha! More on the book thing in reply to your comment over at the summerhouse. Over and out.

  2. Denise, with all you have going on in your life I am surprised you have the time to read anything. You have to be a lot better at time management than I am.

    • I’m quite a fast reader and love accessible, entertaining books! I’d rather read a book than watch TV so I suppose I gain some time back there.

  3. amediablogger

    I really enjoyed this post. Denise good for you for being on the board. Good luck with the meetings.
    You’re quite an inspiration. I’m amazed how you manage your life and time. I just love reading your posts they’re always so up beat and interesting.

    • Having time is largely through not having a partner! From time to time I think about dating again but worry about giving up some of my autonomy, and the risk of going back to the same arguments I’ve had in the past about the way I spend my time 😦

      I’m glad you like my posts. I love writing and being able to create something that other people would read.

      • amediablogger

        It’s a shame that dating causes you concern. There are so many needy people out there but there are equally as many who aren’t. It’s a shame that often relationships leave a negative feeling based on past experiences. I understand what you are saying but it’s a pity not to give yourself a chance. I’m sure if you meet someone who is mature and confident then keeping some of your autonomy will be valued and respected.
        I’m still convinced you lead a busy life and I think it’s wonderful how you balance and manage it. Looking forward to more posts.

  4. I echo all the sentiments here – I’m amazed at how you manage to have so many things on the go! And obviously excited for all the lovely books you’re about to read. I wonder how your daughter will enjoy Wuthering Heights. I personally always find that one a little melodramatic, but that’s probably why it appeals to a certain age group. I prefer Jane Eyre. And The Tenant of Wildfell Hall if we’re sticking with Brontes.

    • I will probably be horrified at myself when I look back. I used to love Iris Murdoch’s The Green Knight. Thought the sisters’ set up was so imaginative and romantic, all that inner life. When I tried to re-read it as an adult, I thought it was so twee and dated. Opposite way round, I was too young, ten or eleven, when I first tried to read Jane Eyre. So I lapped up the scary school bit but couldn’t understand the romance at all.

      • That really makes the case for the re-read right there. Your own experiences change what certain books mean to you, how you understand it. You’d never realize what a delight Jane Eyre is if you’d never gone back. I’m not sure I would have had any idea what was happening in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall if I had attempted that when I was 13 or 14.

      • Another illustration of the way life changes you – the thing that has stopped me going back is I am worried that now I am a mum I will be unable to bear what happens to both poor orphaned Jane and poor Helen Burns. Especially as I know the school part of it was based on real life.

        I think the best plan will be for me to skip that part and go in at the romance part where I lost interest last time!

  5. I really need to get on with my to-read list too! Shouldn’t have left so many books behind in Sydney and Bangladesh.

    • The to-read list (actually now a growing physical pile) is a love-hate thing. I love the possibilities. And then, stupidly, I feel overwhelmed. Although less so now – I have books I am pretty confident I will enjoy. Whereas sometimes in the past I was less inspired.

      When are you going back to Sydney btw?

      • Going back in the end of January, or maybe Feb. Really can’t wait to go back! But at the same time, I am trying to make the best out of the time I have now.

  6. I love reading what you write here on your blog. You seem to lead such an interesting life. With your LDs and your book reading and your intense keeping up with all that is current in pop culture. You will share your life with someone who gives you freedom. That’s all there is to it. BTW, I read Virgin Blue and liked it.

    • I try to make my inner/internal life as interesting as possible and I feel freer and more ready to meet life as an individual than I ever have done. I think you are right and maybe I’ve gone too far to be able to have a relationship where I don’t have freedom any more. It’s just finding that person…

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