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 https://hiddenwithinplainview.co.uk/ 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.

Realising What is Possible

My last blog about Leopards and Spots was written to make readers aware, if they weren’t already, that people really can change their behaviour. However, on reading it again, in trying to be upbeat, I may have made it sound as though this was straightforward or easy; as, in some respects, it was. Yet I’m also very aware that each person’s journey is an individual one that needs to take account of a great many circumstances. So, perhaps, some perspective might be useful.

              The first thing to be said is that I didn’t really see the problems that were there. At all. Yes, my mum, never in the best of health, had died when I was 5 and, yes, my father had already asked for the divorce that, according to her family, hastened her death. Yes, he did come home for the funeral and returned to his unit soon afterwards to remarry, leaving me in the care of his eldest sister and her husband. Yes, their way of dealing with the situation was to sever all ties with my mum’s family and never to mention her again and, yes, the husband was, shall we just say, very Victorian in his attitude to children. Fortunately, I was rescued by another of my aunts and her husband only to have my father return, after nine years without contact, to sign me into the army for 12 years. I also had some strange ideas (the most bizarre of which was that there had never been any such person as my mum, literally!), could have a very bad temper and be a bit of martinet but that was just me, wasn’t it? OK, I’d married my first real girlfriend when we were 19 and went on to raise a family. So, didn’t I have a job, a house, a mortgage and, commuting to London every day, live a life similar to a great many others? Indeed, wasn’t that normal life on the surface, reflected by a normality underneath?

              Well, I now realise that, no, not really. The nasty bits, you see, were reactions to circumstances and not an inherent part of me. It’s as if my emotional life was that of the five year old who never grew up. What many years of therapy did for me can best be described by Michelangelo’s reported response when asked how he carved the statue of David from that marble block. He said he just chipped away the parts that weren’t David!

              So, no, it hasn’t necessarily been easy but the real question is “has it been worth it?” and the answer to that can be best judged by the person that I am now, the “David” in fact. Considerably more at ease in his own skin, considerably more adult in his emotional life (now happily married for over 25 years) and, please excuse the conceit, a good writer. The latter something that I dreamt about for more years that I care to remember. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. So, as the title above intimates, I didn’t realise what was possible. Well, I do now and, in the meantime, the journey continues.

Can a Leopard Change its Spots?

Some questions are asked simply to get information, eg, “Do you know if it’s raining outside?” and “What would you like for your supper?” They require very little other than a straightforward response. Sometimes, however, questions are designed to stimulate a conversation or to elicit the answer that the questioner had already decided upon. They, in fact, presuppose an answer, as is the case with the headline above.

That question about the leopard it its spots is really one that is used when intimating that people, not leopards, can’t actually change. Whereas people, on the other hand, do change all the time, albeit usually in small physical ways as they get older. What, however, about changes other than these? Can you change how you think and behave or are these like the leopard’s spots? Well, I know from a great deal of personal experience that you can with one proviso. That proviso is that the desire to change needs to come from the individual concerned followed by effort to ensure that that desire is turned into action. These two conditions met, you can change enormously.

In my own case, I learnt early on not to have expectations; they weren’t for the likes of me. So I allowed life itself to get in the way of realising any dreams I might have had. Indeed, on the few occasions when I thought that they might have done so, I was disabused of any such notion fairly drastically. Those dreams remained just that, dreams. Until I was 32.

Within a few months I was divorced and, with custody of my two children, I moved to a rundown terraced house in Yorkshire to became a fulltime student. It was the start of the rest of my life on what was to be a very long journey and one that continues to this day. Yet, those demons continued to haunt me until one day, in a relationship, I blew it totally. It was then that I decided that I should try therapy. It was, as they say, one of my better decisions.

It was to be many years before, gradually, I changed. So much so that I like to think that I’m now the person I might have been had those childhood traumas not happened. Having published four works of nonfiction, I’m now trying to get my first novel published. Another novel and two other works of nonfiction are well in hand and, yes, I’ve realised my dreams. So, can a leopard change its spots? No, not really. However, can a person change and, in doing so, realise their talents and be at ease with themselves? Yes, they certainly can; they  just need  to take those first steps and then keep going.

Be Lucky!

I’m following up my last blog by using what I’ve discovered (I’m now back to 1810) about my ancestors to reflect on their lives and how crucial a role luck plays in life. Looking through the records I find that the women were, without fail, housewives and domestics while the men were manual workers; coopers, butchers, dockworkers, labourers, a tin worker and a slaughtermen. What, I thought, might their lives have been like had they been born a generation later? Something that is entirely down to luck; in the case of those of those who preceded me, the bad luck that was the Second World War! Interestingly, a feeling pervades those childhood years. One of making the best of it and somewhat of an acceptance of the life that you’d been given, with these two almost seen as one.  The former is still ingrained in me, the latter considerably less so.

              Now, perhaps, that was inevitable for someone who lived through the 1960’s which, to quote Joan Bakewell, were a golden age the likes of which we may never see again. Our parents had come through that war with a determination that things would be different from now on. Moreover, they went on to make sure that they were and, although we didn’t know it at the time, we, their children, were the lucky recipients. We were carried on their shoulders and the view of the world from there was very different. Deference, conformity, and a monotone world were replaced by experiment, freedom, a rainbow of colour and music that carried all before it. A glad, glorious morning it was to be alive and, for those of us still here, the diminution of those dreams has been particularly hard to witness.

              So, is there a point to all this? Well, yes, there is. Life will throw crap at you and you will have bad luck. The secret, if there is one, is to keep going despite these and to watch out, (note to a generation of smart phone users, this is a useful trait anyway when you’re walking). In that way, you may actually notice the gems among the rubbish as well as the luck that does come your way. Then grab hold of and make use of these. After all, most of us won’t override the tide of history; that, however, doesn’t mean that we can’t have some effect.   After all, if you want something to happen, you need to do something first, however small. That way, you will create your own luck and, in doing so, shows others what is possible. Believe me, I’ve done it.

Discovering the Road Not Taken

Anyone who knows me will understand why I might be interested in family history. Yet those who knew the person I used to be will be aware that, previously, I took no interest in it at all. Now, in that, I was probably like any other young person although mine was a particular lack of interest; something based on the idea that what you don’t have you can pretend doesn’t exist. It was, very obviously, a defence mechanism. Well, that all changed when I was in my early 60’s when I embarked on a voyage of discovery.

              It started with my mum’s family, where all I knew was that she had died when I was a child and that she had a brother named Bob, a sister named Doll and that we lived in Edale Road near Surrey Docks. I knew that because I’d met Bob and Doll when I was in my late 20’s before I reverted to type. This time, though, I really did want to find out where I came from. Now, in the short time that I’d talked to Aunt Doll, she’d given be a photo of my mum (the first one I’d ever seen), a photo of her wedding, a card from her funeral and my birth certificate. This latter particularly important as it was something that she’s actually touched. Armed with these, I went to the Family Records Office in Clerkenwell.

              Now, in those days, most of the information was held on paper and stored in hard bound books; rows and rows of them in alphabetical and date order. They were, in fact, indexes that allowed you to identify the person that you were looking for before ordering the relevant certificate. Fortunately, the staff were extremely helpful and knowledgeable; something that made the task a lot easier than it might otherwise have been. Knowing may parents’ names allowed me to order their marriage and birth certificates and the journey began. Unfortunately, you then had to wait for the certificate so that you could, for example, identify your parents’ parents before returning to the records office to repeat the procedure. It was a lengthy but thorough process which, with the addition of domestic census records and the Mormon Church, allowed me to piece the jigsaw together. Why the Church of Latter Day Saints? Well, I was told that they wish to baptise everyone who ever lived and have, therefore, amassed these records.

              With this information in hand, I set up Genius Family Tree and “built” my own tree. In the case of the “Daligans”, this was made easier by the fact that the family were all coopers by trade, from Cashel in Tipperary, who emigrated to England in the 1850’s. This led me to the Tipperary Family History Research Centre and the Bermondsey Local Studies Centre. Both were very helpful and, wonder of wonders, in the latter, after two hours of looking through filing cabinets, I came across a photocopy of a pencil sketch of George Row, Bermondsey in 1876. Even more wondrous, it was made at the time that my great grandfather and his family lived at number 42; a house that can be identified in the drawing. Interestingly, it was next to the pub.

In the meantime, I later discovered, my wife’s Uncle Ray was doing something similar for her family. So, we had the makings of two family trees. Now, with this completed, I let the matter lie for a few years until I felt the need to journey just a little further when, horrors of horrors, I discovered that Genius Family Tree had been shut down and I could no longer get access to my records. A quick ring around the family identified my cousin Deb, on my mum’s side, who had been passed the information and, as she’d never updated her laptop, it was still available. Then the pandemic started and, once again, I stopped.

Until, that is, this week, when I decided to set up the family tree afresh on Ancestry and I have greatly exceeded my expectations. Technology had taken over from paper and Ancestry helps you to find people from its database by asking whether a particular person is related to you.  As a result, the family history, now including details of my wife’s family is much larger than it was previously. We now go back to the early 19th century? The road not taken has been taken (virtually) and I am delighted.

Lastly, a few fascinating insights. One is that my grandfather on my mum’s side was born in Pratt Street, Camden, also opposite a pub and just a few minutes from another one that Gaynor and I frequented for five years, ten minutes from where we live. The second is that another of my mum’s family was, reputedly, interviewed by the police during their enquiries into Jack the Ripper and, finally, living in 42 George Row with the rest of her family was one Eleanor Dalligan. The passenger list of “The Cymric” shows that Eleanor emigrated to America, arriving on September 26 1898. Her great niece, also Eleanor (Ellie), my youngest daughter, is about to have her own daughter next month. The road is now being taken by the next generation, which is as it should be.  

For those who may be interested, my own journey can be followed in https://mikedaligan.com/books/the-other-side-of-the-doors/

Discovering the Road Not Taken

Anyone who knows me will understand why I might be interested in family history. Yet those who knew the person I used to be will be aware that, previously, I took no interest in it at all. Now, in that, I was probably like any other young person although mine was a particular lack of interest; something based on the idea that what you don’t have you can pretend doesn’t exist. It was, very obviously, a defence mechanism. Well, that all changed when I was in my early 60’s when I embarked on a voyage of discovery.

              It started with my mum’s family, where all I knew was that she had died when I was a child and that she had a brother named Bob, a sister named Doll and that we lived in Edale Road near Surrey Docks. I knew that because I’d met Bob and Doll when I was in my late 20’s before I reverted to type. This time, though, I really did want to find out where I came from. Now, in the short time that I’d talked to Aunt Doll, she’d given be a photo of my mum (the first one I’d ever seen), a photo of her wedding, a card from her funeral and my birth certificate. This latter particularly important as it was something that she’s actually touched. Armed with these, I went to the Family Records Office in Clerkenwell.

              Now, in those days, most of the information was held on paper and stored in hard bound books; row and rows of them in alphabetical and date order. They were, in fact, indexes that allowed you to identify the person that you were looking for before ordering the relevant certificate. Fortunately, the staff were extremely helpful and knowledgeable; something that made the task a lot easier than it might otherwise have been. Knowing may parents’ names allowed me to order their marriage and birth certificates and the journey began. Unfortunately, you then had to wait for the certificate so that you could, for example, identify your parents’ parents before returning to the records office to repeat the procedure. It was a lengthy but thorough process which, with the addition of domestic census records and the Mormon Church, allowed me to piece the jigsaw together. Why the Church of Latter Day Saints? Well, I was told that they wish to baptise everyone who ever lived and have, therefore, amassed these records.

              With this information in hand, I set up Genius Family Tree and “built” my own tree. In the case of the “Daligans”, this was made easier by the fact that the family were all coopers by trade, from Cashel in Tipperary, who emigrated to England in the 1850’s. This led me to the Tipperary Family History Research Centre and the Bermondsey Local Studies Centre. Both were very helpful and, wonder of wonders, in the latter, after two hours of looking through filing cabinets, I came across a photocopy of a pencil sketch of George Row, Bermondsey in 1876. Even more wondrous, it was made at the time that my great grandfather and his family lived at number 42; a house that can be identified in the drawing. Interestingly, it was next to the pub.

In the meantime, I later discovered, my wife’s Uncle Ray was doing something similar for her family. So, we had the makings of two family trees. Now, with this completed, I let the matter lie for a few years until I felt the need to journey just a little further when, horrors of horrors, I discovered that Genius Family Tree had been shut down and I could no longer get access to my records. A quick ring around the family identified my cousin Deb, on my mum’s side, who had been passed the information and, as she’d never updated her laptop, it was still available. Then the pandemic started and, once again, I stopped.

Until, that is, this week, when I decided to set up the family tree afresh on Ancestry and I have greatly exceeded my expectations. Technology had taken over from paper and Ancestry helps you to find people from its database by asking whether a particular person is related to you.  As a result, the family history, now including details of my wife’s family is much larger than it was previously. We now go back to the early 19th century? The road not taken has been taken (virtually) and I am delighted.

Lastly, a few fascinating insights. One is that my grandfather on my mum’s side was born in Pratt Street, Camden, also opposite a pub and just a few minutes from another one that Gaynor and I frequented for five years, ten minutes from where we live. The second is that another of my mum’s family was, reputedly, interviewed by the police during their enquiries into Jack the Ripper and, finally, living in 42 George Row with the rest of her family was one Eleanor Dalligan. The passenger list of “The Cymric” shows that Eleanor emigrated to America, arriving on September 26 1898. Her great niece, also Eleanor (Ellie), my youngest daughter, is about to have her own daughter next month. The road is now being taken by the next generation, which is as it should be.  

For those who may be interested, my own journey can be followed in https://mikedaligan.com/books/the-other-side-of-the-doors/

Thanks, Big Yin

Last night I changed channels on the television and caught an old interview with Billy Connelly. Perfect late night viewing from someone who, I once read, said that he still expected to wake up one morning to find that he himself at his welder’s bench in a Glasgow shipyard. Yet he made it, big time.

              In the interview he was asked what advice he’d give to his children, to which he replied that that he heard of a Buddhist saying along the lines, “Find what you should be doing in life and do it!” Please note the word “should”. It was particularly pertinent for your good self because, approaching retirement age, that’s exactly what I did when I started writing my first book; something that I’d wanted to do for more years than I care to remember. That was nearly 15 years ago since when, I’ve written five with one more just about finished and two others in hand. Crucially, for me, the last of these is a novel, the  invention of my imagination, that I’d always wanted to write.

              Not only that but I am good at it, so much so that the books write themselves with me merely the conductor of the orchestra. The appropriate words appear on the screen in the right order as do the chapters of each book. In fact, there are times when I read something that I’ve written and think, “Where the hell did that come from?”

              Now that ability to use language to paint pictures is something that I never imagined that I’d have and that makes it even more pleasurable. However, those books could probably not have been written without me leading the life that I’ve led; one in which I’ve done a number of things that I’ve enjoyed. In fact, that journey, from a more proscribed life to one in which I was able to determine a future more of my own choosing, started 30 years previously. It just took a long while to mature, so that I am, at last, doing what “I should have been doing in life”. Thanks, Big Yin, and hope that your kids are doing the same.

A Time for Remembering

This time last year, I was worried. I’d been ill since the new year with, what the nurse would later call, an extremely powerful virus. The symptoms were flu like with an awful cough that simply refused to go away. After three weeks in bed, I managed to get myself to the sofa where I spent another two weeks before going to see the aforementioned nurse. This last brought on by real concerns that there didn’t seem to be any improvement in my condition and that I wouldn’t get any better. Fortunately, from then on, things did improve although it would be another month before I managed to get out for a run. So, the personal history lesson over, why am I writing this?

Well, largely because when I experience illness, my thoughts are directed to the feeling, at the time, that I won’t ever get any better. More than that, that things will actually get much worse. Now, I’ve had enough therapy to understand the reasoning behind those feelings but, at the time, that doesn’t make them any less real. The memories that generate those feelings remain powerful. And, today is about memories of sad events. Now the problem with any memories is that as we get older, they become less accessible. We know that they’re there but instead of the thoughts, a “vacant” sign appears; not, of course, entirely coincidental. In my particular instance, the whole thing compounded by the fact that the events themselves are related to a particular time of the year. Dreary winter months that  resonate down the years. So today is the day to remember the nearest person to a sister that I have, my cousin Rose, whose birthday it is and who died just before Xmas three years ago. To Doreen, her mum, who, along with her husband, Bill, rescued me and who died at the beginning of February in 1998. To Nancy, Gaynor’s mum, whose birthday was yesterday and who died in November six years ago and to my mum whose birthday was also just before Xmas over 100 years ago and who died in November 1947. Four woman whose effect on my life I treasure along with, of course, the ones who are still here. You know who you are but thanks anyway.  

A Timely Message

The following is an extract from a speech that Robert Kennedy gave in 1968.  It has no less relevance today, 48 hours before the inauguration of the incoming president of the USA.

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us.  We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.
     
And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year.  But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all.  Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans”.

For those who don’t hail from the USA, please replace the words “America” and “Americans” with those that are either relevant to their own country or, preferably, global.