Monthly Archives: March 2021

Overcoming Rejection

Today I return to a theme that has been a constant for much of my life; that of the fear of rejection. Indeed, anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve written will have glimpsed the “if only” theme in the background. They will also have seen that, rather late on in life, I have actually been able to change things, pretty fundamentally. Yet, anyone who really knows me will have gathered that I do still hold myself back. So, how does this manifest itself?

Firstly, however, I’d like to start with apologies for any arrogance or conceit that comes across in regard to what I actually have achieved. In the main it’s anger at the fact that, at each stage, what I saw as a destination, a mark of some achievement was, in fact, just another step along the way before another big change. It’s taken to my 70’s (where did the time go?) to face up to the final hurdle.  The first stage of which was to acknowledge that deep seated fear for what it is. So there, I’ve said it and, what’s more, it didn’t hurt, although it did make me feel uncomfortable. So how, you might ask, does someone who, for years, has stood up in public to talk about his life and what he’s done, overcome that fear of rejection when facing an audience?

Well, it’s quite simple, I have my prompts. Without them, I’m lost, with them, I’m actually quite an accomplished speaker. When I’m at my best, I may not even take them out of my pocket. However, the knowledge that they’re there is what counts. With them, I can ad lib knowing that I can return to base at any time. The funny thing is that when I’m at home with Gaynor, I often make her laugh with my soliloquies and funny voices, yet I can’t do that in public, unprompted. It’s as if I need some sort of supportive environment in which to flourish. Something that I recognise to be the case.

So, what about my real love, writing? After all, it’s what I wanted to do for 30 years yet managed to persuade myself that I couldn’t. Yes, I had a way with words but 60,000 of them, that was a mountain and one that I was incapable of even attempting. Yet I knew that there was a powerful imagination that, along with that way with words, provided me with the necessary ingredients. I also knew that I had the story that I wanted to write; that of my life. So it was that, in my early 60’s, I decided to do just that. The secret, if there was one, was in discovering how. At which point I remembered the words of an author who, when asked how someone who’d never done it before, could begin, replied, “Well, you could start by writing!” So that’s what I did and, each time I found something else to do, making a cup of tea or washing up, I went straight back to the computer. With that persistence, the block was removed and the words appeared as if from nowhere. A week or so later, I‘d written nearly 20,000 words and become a writer.

Since then, I’ve written and published four books, all nonfiction. Yet that, much desired, novel remained out of reach. I had no framework around which to structure those words, merely them and my imagination. It was then that I recalled an incident that Gaynor had described when Ellie, our daughter, was a baby. That became the door to my thoughts and I wrote the story that became, “Finally Meeting Mum”; someone who, by then, had been dead for 70 years. It is, even if I say so myself, a good read. Moreover, there are now two other books nearly finished and a second novel also started. I have become an author and that feels really good. And my point is?

The point is that, despite the reviews, I have proved to be completely incapable of marketing my books. It’s as if the writing and publishing were enough in themselves. Yet I know that’s just a defence mechanism, an excuse. In fact, it’s the fear of rejection that holds me back. So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be trying hard to break the mould. You will note that I say “trying” and I know that I’ll do that. That fear is sufficiently deep rooted, however, that, despite all the evidence of my own accomplishments to the contrary, that fear lies in wait. This time, however, that’s all it will do. I, on the other hand, will be making sure that I do my bit by overcoming it.  

Hidden Within Plain View

My wife, Gaynor, and I have always enjoyed walking around London. In fact, it’s one of the joys of living in a big city; there’s always something that you haven’t previously noticed just around the corner. So it was that, in 2017, we were walking along Marylebone High Street, when we decided that a little alleyway looked inviting. The alley led into a little square and, although we didn’t realise it at the time was born. So, from now on, instead of just deciding on the day, we would actually plan our walks. A short trip to Stanfords in Covent Garden led to the purchase of a map and a couple of books on London walks and, equipped with our cameras, comfortable, waterproof boots, jacket and a rucksack, we were ready.

Given that we didn’t want to use the car (something that would necessitate any walk being circular), live near the canal and like the thought of walking towards, rather than away from, home, we decided to start with the Lea Valley Walk. 25 kilometres, spread over four weekends. So, that’s why, on 16 April 2017, we found ourselves at the old Gunpowder Mills near Waltham Abbey. From then on, we spend one day each weekend, walking along the River Lea and the canal from there to the River Thames. With a break for the pandemic, it’s what we’ve been doing ever since, as can be seen on that map we bought. From something pristine, it’s now covered in black marker pen showing where we’ve been and, lately, also in red marker pen to show where we still need to go. If memory serves me well, we’ve only been disappointed once and that was only for part of a walk, where the Thames Path was diverted, past an expensive housing estate. 

Our journey so far has taken us from the aforementioned Waltham Abbey in the north through to Hackney Marshes and Three Mills (where Masterchef was filmed) in the east. Then on to New Cross and Dulwich Village in the south along the river to Richmond, Brentford and Hanwell Lock in the west. We’ve also done the Magificent Seven Cemeteries and more. From two people, one who had been a keen photographer for years and the other more of a novice, it’s the former who now takes a back seat as the “spotter” and the latter who photographs thing of interest.

              In the process, Gaynor has become a great recorder of, among other things, ghost signs, but will also have other things that are her favourites. Mine, however, are those which most reflect the name of her website, things we found that were completely unexpected, like the site of the first Texan Embassy in London just off the Haymarket. Some of these are shown in the accompanying photos including Primrose Gardens in Belsize Park, a hidden cottage between a dual carriageway, railway line and the canal in east London, local authority housing in Alexander Road, an amazing mural in Brixton, a pair of cottages on Heath Street, Hampstead, the complete other world that is Dungeness and Arts and Crafts houses in New Cross. When we get back, Gaynor downloads the photos and researches places and items of interest which are then written up in her blog.

               We may have done a lot but there is still much to do and, hopefully, with the easing of the pandemic, we can continue. So, check out the website and, if you know of places that we haven’t yet discovered, please let us know. Better still, give it a try yourself and find your own things that are “hidden in plain view”. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.