Tag Archives: growing up

The Outsider

During one of the panels at Fantasycon Joanne Harris spoke about being an outsider and how, despite appearances at the time, it helps the individual in the long run rather than hurting them.

She then spoke about her own experiences of not being one of the popular children at school, not being with the ‘in crowd’ and being one of the oddball kids who didn’t seem to fit in. She believes (and I agree with her) that those children who are popular, those who glide along in the middle of a crowd through school without ever being challenged or bullied or just put-upon, are less prepared for the challenges of the real world when it comes knocking on their door. Because they’ve never faced adversity and had to improvise and overcome it. Because they’ve never been alone and left with only their wits. Because they’ve never faced mental hardships. Standing alone in the shallows and facing the waves is a lot easier when you’ve done it before.

I was never very good at sports at school. I wasn’t lazy and I wasn’t overweight. I just wasn’t that good and didn’t excel at any of them. I tried all sorts of sports over the years and I did enjoy some of them, indoor rock climbing and badminton, to the point where I pursued both outside of school for fun. I swam for a local club and even played rugby for a few years, and there was fun there, and friendship, and camaraderie, but eventually I stopped playing and don’t miss it. Every week I’d come home from rugby with a fresh bruise, cut or scrape, and I certainly don’t miss those.

I was never on any of the school sports teams and I never really enjoyed football. As far back as middle school I remember sitting on a bench  and reading at lunch time, beside the massive green playing field, while others chased a football in the sun. Even further back in primary school I remember asking teachers awkward questions and then getting annoyed with them, because they didn’t have the answers. I don’t think I was just endlessly asking why a hundred times over and over. I’ve always been genuinely curious about lots of areas and my disappointment stemmed from the realisation that they, as teachers and adults, didn’t have all the answers. That definitely left a mark on me.

After that I was told off for miming hymns (back when we had religious assemblies in public schools) because it didn’t make sense to me. Others just sang along happily, never asking why we had to sing those songs or what they really meant or who we were praising. Even now I am often baffled why some people just go along with something and never ask why, never question authority, never want to scratch the surface. They vote for the person who seems the nicest and never dig beneath the bold statements. This is particularly on my mind as here in the UK we have a general election next year.

I don’t recall any specific incidents of being bullied at school, but I’m sure I was to some degree like most people. I had an ordinary family background, I looked pretty much like everyone else and I did fairly well, but didn’t excel in most subjects. There wasn’t anything particularly weird about me, so that blunted any number of weapons bullies could use before they even had a chance. My name was a little odd so that was one weapon. I think I was an outsider not because of any external factors, but because of the inquisitive nature within. Children are usually very curious, so it wasn’t just my inquisitiveness that made me an outsider, but it’s definitely a part of it.

I was (and still am) never satisfied with an answer that doesn’t make sense on some fundamental level, whether that’s scientific, moral or just plain old common sense. The Green Cross Code told us to look both ways before crossing the street. That made sense because cars came from both directions. Stubbornly looking only in one direction would just get you run over. So there was nothing to be achieved by rejecting that rule.

Most mornings in middle school before class we had a religious service, which was often a Bible story followed by hymns. One morning we had the story of the Good Samaritan. The following morning, a different teacher took the assembly, and he started to tell us the story of the Good Samaritan. Someone, probably not me although I’d like to believe it was, put their hand up and said ‘Sir, Ms Marr told us that story yesterday.’ His reply was one that came from a place of anger. He basically told us that we would listen to it again and this time learn the lesson because it couldn’t have sunk it overnight. So the seeds were planted for my problem with authority. After a while I would excuse myself from the assemblies and leave the hall when there was a religious service. In the corridor outside the two Muslim lads in the school and I would then chat or sometimes play cards, usually Top Trumps, until it was over.

As we grow older and become adults, as the world becomes more complex and less black and white, do we stop being curious and stop asking questions because it’s easier?

I’m still very curious and I’m still asking questions. I still get agitated and annoyed by a lot of things, major and minor, that other people don’t. They don’t see what the problem is. They don’t see why I’m making a fuss, whereas I can’t see why they’re not upset.

Is it fear of standing out and being noticed again that keeps some people quiet? There’s an old saying in Japanese that roughly translates as ‘that nail that sticks out gets hammered down’. Is it the old fear from childhood of being an outsider that makes people ‘go with the flow’ and just follow orders? Do they want to belong so badly and be part of something that they ignore the other voices? Or are they quiet from neglect?



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Reading as a hobby

During my day to day life some people view my reading habit as odd and unusual. By that I mean I am always reading a book. Always. I never read more than one at once, but am always reading. In a spare 5 minutes, or on a bus, train platform, in a waiting room etc, my default is not to pick up phone and play a game, but to read a book. When I don’t have my book with me and I’m waiting, I will pop on Twitter, but I’d much prefer to read a book.

Among my group of friends my reading habit is not unusual as most of them are always reading as well, but outside that circle, during my day job or when I meet strangers or friends of friends, I sometimes get funny looks. To them it is unusual. Normally, if I can, I ask them why they don’t read and the responses vary. Other people have spoken at length and with far more clarity than I about why reading, books and libraries are important, for example Neil Gaimain’s recent lecture on why our future depends on libraries, so I won’t go over that. I wanted to focus more on the type of responses I have received over the years.

Some people have told me they only read one or two books a year, and one of them might be on holiday around the swimming pool. A paperback they pick up at the airport and then throw away as it’s been covered in sun tan lotion and the spine has been cracked and the cover bleached by the sun. Some say they simply don’t have time to read, which I would argue isn’t true, but I don’t press the point as reading obviously isn’t something they want to pursue. Others see reading as a chore, and not something you would choose to do for fun. As if they had to endure it at school and looking back on it gives them a chill and bad memories, as pulling apart the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner down the atomic level at school, does for me. I’m not sure I ever want to read that poem again, so thank my high school English Literature teacher for that and for ruining Shakespeare for me as well.

When I see that horrified reaction to reading I feel sorry for those people and I really pity them, because they’re missing out on so many amazing worlds and so many fantastic stories (fiction and non-fiction) than can shape and change a person, even as an adult. Of course that sort of response isn’t restricted to books, but that’s what I’m focusing on here.

The weirdest and also saddest response I ever heard was a few years. I had been in a new job for a few weeks and my boss saw me reading at lunch in the canteen. She asked what I was reading so I showed her the cover. She’d never heard of it. A few weeks later she saw me reading again, stopped by, looked at the cover and said ‘Another book?’ as if one book was more than enough for a lifetime, or all books are the same and once you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all. She was genuinely surprised that I would choose to read, for fun, in my spare time.

At school I wasn’t very good at sport, not because I was particularly awful or overweight, but simply because I didn’t really enjoy it as a whole, so didn’t apply myself. If I had enjoyed football more as a boy then perhaps I would have developed a passion for the sport and tried harder. I might even have become a supporter and followed my local team over the years, although I still doubt that. Over the years I tried all sorts of sports and got involved with several to various levels including martial arts, swimming, rugby, and later fencing, but for various reasons they never stuck. I would focus on one for a few years but circumstances would change, sometimes beyond my control, and I’d find myself drifting away and then trying something else.

I distinctly remember in middle school (ages 7-10) sitting on a bench during lunch hour and reading a book, while others ran around on the field chasing a football. Sometimes I would join in, but not very often. I preferred to read about Garion and Aunt Polgara, I scoured the entire myths and legends section of the school library, I regularly visited the library in my home town with my mum and I spent a lot of time in second hand bookshops looking for fantasy books. I remember my mum reading me stories at bedtime when I was very young and being overjoyed (I still am) when I received books at Christmas. I also remember getting annoyed at having to be social and not being allowed to lock myself away and just read my new book, which also still happens.

With the saturation of technology into our daily lives I suspect for some young people growing up today it’s a very different story. What fills me with some hope for the future is that I have several friends with small children and all of them are very passionate about their children’s education and reading is big part of that. Reading has always been a part of my life and always will be and I hope it will be the same for others.

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Living Things by Linkin Park

Living Things by Linkin ParkI was going back and forth about whether or not to buy this album, but after previewing all of the tracks I took a gamble. The last two albums, for me, have been a let down, and no, I’m not including the rap mix revision with Jay-Z which I did not touch with a barge pole. Despite one or two tracks that were great on Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns, I found the rest to be a real let down or they made me grind my teeth.

Linkin Park’s first two albums were amazing. Every single song on Hybrid Theory is excellent. In particular the instrumental track, Cure for the Itch fascinates me and I’m still convinced the latter part would make an amazing theme tune for something like a remake of The Equalizer on TV, as it seems to perfectly capture the mood and darker aspects of that show. Some people claim that debut albums are the best and thereafter the music goes downhill as people ‘sell out’ or their egos get too big and they believe their own hype, or a billion other reasons for not getting more of the same the second time around. I’m not someone who believes or buys into that wobbly theory. Meteora, LP’s second album, proved that theory to be wholly untrue. Sure, it was different, but they’d grown up a bit, their style had evolved and there were some amazing mixes and blending of different sounds, styles and voices. Numb is still one of my favourite LP tracks and I don’t think there is a weak song on the album.

Enough dancing around. Living Things starts out very strongly and for the first half I was delighted to hear a mix of new and old. Some songs feature the familiar, with Chester and Mike doing their usual rap and shouty blend of musical mayhem that is one of their signatures. So maybe they didn’t invent it, but it’s a sound I associate primarily with them. There are even a couple of soHybrid Theory by Linkin Parkngs where Chester’s voice is kept at an even 8 out of 10 on the Richter scale and he doesn’t shout once. You can hear him almost getting there at the start of I’ll Be Gone but he manages to hold back and the song is better for it. Castle of Glass that follows it is excellent and at this point I was feeling very happy with my purchase and for taking a risk.

So, imagine my surprise after two great, but more gentle tracks in a row than you might associate with the band, to have my ears blasted by what can only be described as a vicious musical interlude for 1m 46s called Victimized. To me it felt as if it was nothing more than an excuse for Chester to shout. A lot. Over and over again to the point where I was worried about his health. It’s almost as if they thought they were at risk of losing their audience because the last few tracks had not featured their hallmark sound. Or maybe they were scared of having a more thoughtful and quieter album and they felt the need to remind everyone that they are still a nu-metal or rock band and full of angst and are angry and grrrrr, look at me!

For every evolution in the tracks up to that point, Victimized felt like a complete devolution. It felt like version 0 of Linkin Park, something they did on their demo album before Hybrid Theory where someone said, yeah it’s a good sound, but it needs to be more than Chester shouting which then led into their break out album.

There was one song, Until It Breaks, that I just loathe. Linkin Park are known for experimenting and mixing sounds and styles, but this is a hideous mish-mash. It starts as one thing, jumps to something else, then something else, then a bit of a chorus, then something else, and it just doesn’t gel together. At all. The second half of the album is definitely weaker, but if you can get past the saccharin nature of Roads Untravelled, and Meteora by Linkin Parkyou skip the next musical interlude Tin Foil, which seems kind of pointless, and make it to Powerless then it’s not bad. One last thing before I end on more of a positive note. In this mp3, single track download era, where people pick and choose songs and discard the rest, I’m still a traditionalist. I listen to an album as an entity, and I think Linkin Park share that approach as their tracks blend into one another with no long pauses in between songs but as a whole this album is erratic and inconsistent, especially when compared to the others.

So overall I’d give it a 7/10 but there are some great tracks on there that make this album worth buying. And even if I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two, it was worth the gamble and I’m glad I bought it.

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