“We can’t jump off bridges any more because our iphones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we google, check in and hash tag.”—Jeremy Glass - We can’t get lost any more.
To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.
Pay freezes. Job cuts. Double-dip recessions and end of the world prophecies. It’s 2012 and we could all be forgiven for wallowing in our own miserable, hopeless existence. The little that is left of it anyway.
Don’t know about you, but it seems the only options to escape this imminent doom or A) buy a bunker, B) become a mermaid and swim with the dolphins all day. Or C) Sell Satan your soul and become a banker? Who fancies a splash with the dolphins and me?
Long gone are the boom days of conspicuous consumption and hedonism. The bubble has burst. We were blinded by the brands. We collected the gizmos and the gadgets. But now we’ve maxed out our credit card.
It seems we can no longer afford happiness. We’re in recession. We’re knee deep in depression. We feel part of a ‘Lost Generation’: one that’s sick with nostalgia and longing for the good old days of plenty: the days of Jags, Mulberry handbags and quarterly holidays. But now we’re left clutching our pennies with little faith in the future.
This seems a bizarre time for the Prime Minister to want to measure how happy we are. Mr Cameron believes some multiple choice questions and answers on a scale from 1 – 10 can capture the happiness of the nation. But, unless it’s questions like: ‘on a scale of 1 – 10 how happy would you be if you never heard the words Cameron, Clegg and coalition in the same sentence again’, I won’t be answering.
How on earth do you measure happiness? What questions could you possibly ask? The idea’s either a deliberate distraction or an accidental absurdity.
We don’t need another survey to show us that doing a good deed makes you feel better. We already know silent meditation helps too. We tried smiling at strangers. And that worked, until we smiled at the maniac on the bus. But what grates me the most is that Mr Cameron fails to realise that greater philosophers than him have struggled with the elusive notion of happiness?
Socrates said: ‘Happiness is unrepentant pleasure.’ Camus talked about “a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can behappy without money.’ Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz insisted that ‘all you need is love, but a bit of chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt’.
Perhaps the most poignant and significant words written on happiness are from British philosopher John Stuart Mill: ‘Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.’ Happiness is something momentary. Something intangible. It has little to with the amount in our bank accounts, yet it’s very hard to be happy with an empty belly. Happiness is neither simple nor something you can put your finger on. It’s a good book. It’s dancing until your feet fall off. But once you try to define it, or once you try to ‘measure’ it, Mr Cameron, well that’s exactly the moment you lose it.
An extract from Brian Moore's, The Luck of Ginger Coffey
"Love isn’t an act, it’s a whole life. It’s staying with her now because she needs you; it’s knowing you and she will still care about each other when sex and daydreams, fights and futures—when all that’s on the shelf and done with. Love—why, I’ll tell you what love is: it’s you at seventy-five and her at seventy-one, each of you listening for the other’s step in the next room, each afraid that a sudden silence, a sudden cry, could mean a lifetime’s talk is over."
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man… I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”—Albert Einstein
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”—Anne Lamott
“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see. The longer I live the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and wonder of the world.”—
Sit back and relax. Please make your way to departure gate seven. Do not leave your luggage unattended.
Airport departure lounges are my favourite place. A little puerile of me perhaps, but I was raised a good, truth telling Sunday school attending girl. To declare the lounge of the Dorchester or the beaches of Koh Tao as my preferred spot would be a lie. And liars go to hell.
It could be Belfast City, Bangkok, Gatwick, Charles De Gaulle or Jomo Kenyatta International. The anticipation, passport checks and baggage conveyor belt kick start countless adventures.
From the dishevelled back packer rummaging through a tattered satchel; to the middle aged aerophobic; the curious eaves dropper and the few you can smell before you can see after an indulgence in the perfume samples; the departure lounge is a utopia for the imagination. A world of stories. Each departure area is waiting to reveal a thousand and one stories. Gripping, plot thickening, sometimes erotic, sometimes dull, but always intriguing stories.
As the author of these anecdotes, I choose the protagonist. Their lives are prey to my imagination. I decide what they had for breakfast, whether to put them on a first class ticket to Dubai or a budget holiday to Magaluf. The longer I wait in the lounge, the more fanatical and captivating the stories become. The disparate group of characters are oblivious to my observation. Ignorant of this game I’m playing.
The Costa Coffee queue finds the tired eyed, middle aged, suit clad and so obviously business class traveller. He’s in need of a caffeine fix and a plug hole for his MacBook Pro. He is so familiar with this place. He’s grown tired of its flux of people, the noise and the security announcements.
Mark (let’s call him Mark) forgets for a moment that he’s on his way to Yemen to propose a new international taxation scheme. A concoction of nostalgia and the double Jameson he had half an hour ago are transporting him to his lanky pubescent days. Mark wishes he had never broke his leg at fifteen and wonders if he could have pursued that goal keeping career.
He’s married with two children. A girl called Anna and a boy called Paul. Mark missed Anna’s solo at the carol service. He missed Paul’s winning kick at the karate championship. He bought them both the new Blackberry Curve 9300 to make up for it. All was forgiven. His wife is pretty. Cate Blanchett pretty not Zeta-Jones pretty. But he’s forgotten to look at her in that way for a while now. Mark doesn’t know that she’s plotting to run off to the Italian countryside with the next door neighbour Jim. Jim grows parsnips and videos his hen hatching.
The weight lifting Rastafarian is my next subject. While working part-time at the local library in Staines he awoke an unexpected passion for romantic novels. He’s eagerly awaiting his flight to a Mills & Boon convention in Kentucky. His friends at the gym believe he’s off to a wrestling tournament.
Steeling my glimpse now is Cherry. Cherry because her lips are painted red. Her fierce blue eyes dart from her phone to her watch to whoever enters the lounge. She throws a polka dot shawl over her shoulders and grabs her suitcase which holds nothing more than a cashmere cardigan, mascara, lipstick, a floral bikini and a few pairs of jeans.
Her dalmatian obsessed, chain smoking Mother has taught her a lot of things. How to pluck her eyebrows without the exaggerated startled look. How to bake banoffee cheesecake. How to accessorise for every occasion. And exactly what she does not want in life.
Her Mother never approved of Eduardo. His spontaneous spirit, owl and pussy cat tattoos and three piercings always made her uneasy. Cherry will meet Eduardo in Cuba. They will indulge in black beans and rice while sipping sangria on the beach tonight. Then they will spend a few seconds predicting what her Mother is doing in that very moment. Eduardo imagines she is polishing her ten year collection of porcelain doves and ornamental blue tits while watching Barry White live on VHS. Cherry reckons she’s registering on match.com.
These notions and scenarios completely steal me from myself. I’m lost in a tidal wave of my own flamboyant imagination. Full of possibilities. Seeped in adventure. I Forget the tedium of grocery lists and MOT failures. Instead, I forecast new beginnings and guess the happy, sometimes sad ending. In the departure lounge, no one is asking where I have come from. They’re just curious about where I’m heading.
Just like Cherry’s no longer in fear of her Sargent Major Mum. Cherry’s cavorting off to Cuba with a hippy.
'How to be a Woman' begins on Moran's 13th birthday. Thirteen is the worst age. Braces, bullying and a bowl hair cut are the epitome of my thirteenth year. So when Moran describes her thirteen year old self on the first page as the ’ weak antelope separated from the pack,’ I love her.
This book invites Moran to become your new, wittier best friend. You laugh, you cry, you shake your head in righteous fury and laugh some more with her. That’s Moran’s craft. That’s why ‘How to be a Woman’ was crowned 2011’s book of the year.
From the first chapter, where she is chased by a bunch of yobs because of her androgynous attire- to the final, where the death of a colleague sparks debate on why women feel the need for cosmetic surgery- ‘How to be a Woman’ is a new emancipated feminist manifesto. Minus the burning bras.
In an age where the concept of feminism is hazy and with only 25 to 30 per cent of women calling themselves one- Moran makes it easy: ‘Feminism is the belief that women should be as free as men. Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it?’
Her wit highlights the absurdity of the fuzz-free, fashionista with the perfect job and the perfect man- the ideal woman who ‘has it all.’ Notions that are so integrated to our cultural definition of feminine. While Moran isn’t exposing what we don’t already know, she is providing an affirming, much needed breath of fresh air. It’s OK not to have a Brazilian. It’s Ok to not really have a clue what you’re doing, just have a bit more fun doing it.
This ‘part memoir, part rant,’ is celebratory, insightful and unifying. We women, yes WE WOMEN- plural, collective, united- all have opinions on botox, bikini waxes and boob jobs. And the gut wrenching tough stuff too. Moran’s USP is the ability to perfectly pen what we have all done, thought and feared- with humbling humour and empowering conviction. This is not some new academic spiel but it makes the F word digestible, not scary and not anti-men either.
Moran’s main triumph is in her humour. However her candid ability to discuss the tougher things must be credited. She states: ‘When the subject turns to abortion, motherhood, sex, love, fear or just how you feel in your own skin, women still won’t tell the truth to each other unless they are very drunk.’
In her most moving chapter, entitled ‘Abortion,’ she tells her unborn child: ‘I can’t have you. The whole world will fall in if I have you.’ This book is a tool to bridge that chronic communication phobia, that not only women, but we all have.
'How to be a Woman' is a conversation. A debate. A sentiment. More than that, it's communication that isn't stirred by the downing of a bottle of vodka.
I am being shaken in a way that is awakening me to the brutality, horribleness and unfairness of life.
And I wish I could learn this, know it and as I have done for the past 24 years- hear it, shake my head and fist, then log back on facebook. Carry on living MY own little life, discovering MY path. Making MY way, the easiest possible way with as much money as I can. Feed my dress and bag addiction. Forget why my head was shaking, why my fist was clenched.
I want the blissful ignorance.
I want to hide in my own intoxicated blindness.
But that’s what got us here in the first place.
Everyone looking out for number one. Everyone wanting to build their empire. Improve their lot. Earn more and carry on. Update the car every year. Carry on. Build a bigger house next year. Or just scrape by. But carry on. Live off microwavable crap. Don’t get angry, carry on. just accept, just carry on. Whatever you do, carry on. Carry on keepin on.
Don’t question, don’t care.
I think I care now. I think I want to do something more than just carry on.