I’ve been thinking which my husband always laughs at and says is a very dangerous sign and he used to joke that my thinking used to bring fear to the Borders Tourist Board marketing team as inevitably it meant I had come up with a new ploy to get people to notice the Borders.
This time I have been thinking about the two books that I have been reading Brixton Beach and the Swimmer by Roma Tearne. They have really struck me in two ways. Firstly it has made me think about family relationships and secondly it has made me think about how we relate to the rest of the world.
Family relationships are complex things. Nobody has the perfect family or the perfect relationship. It doesn’t exist and though we all including myself like to present ourselves in a positive way deep down we all have our own fears, weaknesses and insecurities which impact on relationships that we have. The family in Brixton Beach at the beginning of the novel had what looked like the perfect family. A loving father and mother who loved each other deeply. Two beautiful daughters and they lived in a stunning house by Brixton beach in Sri Lanka. Sounds ideal doesn’t it? The father loved his children deeply and particularly had a close relationship with his eldest child. Now straight away the flaws start. How did that make the youngest daughter feel? And what happened when the oldest daughter did something that her father didn’t approve of? What impact would that have on the father and daughter relationship? Especially as the thing the daughter did was marry someone her father didn’t approve of and from then on the whole story starts to break up. And the father and daughter relationship was never repaired despite great effort by the father to do so but the daughter whose life is marred by tragedy is never the same again. The family in Brixton Beach are affected by marriage choices, life’s tragedy’s and politics which greatly impact on their lives and tear them apart. In the Swimmer the main character and her brother are scarred from childhood with the loss of their father and the lack of love and care from their mother which affects their relationship but all relationships they have in later life. Therefore when the main character Ria loses Ben her lover she can’t relate to his mother. Ben’s mother who has lost her husband and seen untold horror in Sri Lanka and sacrificed everything for her son equally can’t reach out to Ria as she blames her for his death. As I said yesterday they both love Ben deeply and that should mean that they at least respect each but due to their own perspectives they can’t and won’t reach out to each other.
I agree all extreme relationships it would seem but aren’t all relationships and families? You choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. And this means that you don’t always get on with one another. Equally we all relate to one another in a different way and sometimes people click and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they share the same sense of humour and sometimes they don’t and sometimes they share the same hobbies and interests and sometimes they don’t. And inevitably the family members that you click with, have the same sense of humour as and like the same things as are the ones that you will get on with best. And the others well you will have to work even harder at getting on with them because it won’t come as easily just like you will find in any relationship in life. But one thing both books show and something that I believe strongly is that you can’t choose your family but its your family who will love and support you through the tough times as well as the good and even the hard relationships are worth working at.
This leads me on to the second main learning for me from these books which is that we think in the 21st Century that we are so aware of other cultures and other ways of being. But are we any different to previous generations? Three thoughts I have on the topic. Firstly as a proud and passionate Scot I have in the past been very annoyed to be taken as anything other than Scottish especially when taken for my friends across the Border. This has happened in Europe or in the States and Canada. In the latter once they do know you are Scottish it is usually followed by. “My cousin ten times removed is from Glasgow. She’s called Mary Smith do you know her?” Eh no Glasgow is a big place. And you feel all smug and that you are in the right. When actually do I know the geography of America any better than they know about Scotland? No I don’t. I confess if I saw and met someone from Sri Lanka I would take them at first glance as Indian and I confess until I read the books my knowledge of this part of the world was minimal. So we think the world has shrunk but has it? How much do we really know about other cultures and their political situations? As humans we can only take in so much and as we are selfish beings we tend to concentrate on the place around us and the things that we know.
These thoughts were bleakly brought back to me last night as I sat watching the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I knew it has happened but it was hard to actually take it in. And I don’t think that we have so many communication channels these days and watch so many films helps. As it was easier when watching people losing their lives and their possessions to see it as a film as other wise why should we be witness of such a terrible force of nature? The more I thought about it I realise that when the floods happened in Cumbria I could relate to it. It is a part of the world that I know well. Equally if the tsunami had taken place in the Costa de La Luz at El Palmer though I don’t know anyone there I could relate to the horror as I have been there. That is not to say that I don’t feel for the people of Japan I really do but I am just arguing that even in today’s world where we get to see things as they happen. How much do we really relate to it if we have never been in that part of the world? When its horror on a scale such as this its easier to think of it as a film.
Finally my daughter is doing a project on David Livingstone that great Victorian explorer of Africa. The two of us have been researching it all and discussing it and it made me think last night as we sat down to discuss another aspect that we haven’t really changed that much from the Victorians. Africa in the Victorian era must have been as alien to people back in the UK then as some parts of the world are to me today. Hearing about slavery would have been appalling and David Livingstone’s protests about it went along way to having it stopped. But equally today unless 21st Century people go out and tell us about other cultures and lives how can we learn about injustices and needs? And to relate to them fully you need to either go or meet people from that part of the world.
I despair with the people of Japan and sitting here in Scotland I can only pray for them and listen as the news comes in. Not that different from Victorian Britain we just get the news in a lot faster these days. But what Brixton Beach and the Swimmer has taught me is that we will never and can never know everything there is about the world. But what we do need to do is respect all cultures and ways of being and not be smug that our way is best and we have the monopoly on how to live.
These were the thoughts that have been going round my head since reading Roma Tearne’s books which I greatly enjoyed as works of fiction. However I also found them challenging my views on my relationships and how I view and feel about other cultures and this in the end is what a good book does.
So these were my musings over the past 24 hours coming together as I walked the dog along the golf course on a very wet and snowy day in St Boswells. It doesn’t though feel so bleak despite the fact I was back in the same winter clothes as December. As spring is on the way, the daffodils are about to flower and this snow storm and this harsh winter is nearly over. But for the people of Japan there are long and difficult days ahead and for them I pray that God will be with them.