Posted on November 26, 2016
Hindsight would tell us that we frequently make wrong decisions but is this really so?
“If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.
The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” ― Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life
As one of those people who sometimes struggles when making decisions, I find the above quote reassuring. The minor choices which arise, such as what to choose from a menu, I’m okay with. No dreadful consequences if I select a ghastly meal other than the need to make peanut butter on toast when I get home.
When I have an important decision to make I tend to gather information; ask the opinions of family and friends in an attempt to think through the options logically. This works to a degree but trying to see into the future without the aid of a crystal ball remains unreliable.
I am in the process of completing my first novel. The final edit is almost done and I’d like to see it in print. Would it be better to get an agent, go directly to publishers or attempt the self-publishing route?
After seeking advice and receiving – as you would expect – opposing opinions, I’m still in a quandary. All three options have been used with success but what would be right for me? It feels like such an important decision, as though the success or failure of the novel depends on the choice I make.
But is this so?
According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American lecturer and poet who took a great interest in the soul and led the transcendentalist movement in the 19th century:
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.
Fantastic! No more deliberating over the ‘correct’ choice; no more sleepless nights meditating on whether to do this or that! Whatever we choose to do will turn out for the best to align with our position in the universe.
Seems like we can’t lose doesn’t it? However…
Reading around this subject a little further I understand – and I may be wrong here – that this does not necessarily mean the result will be what we desire. The result will depend on our relationship with the universe, the intentions behind our desire and what is in our best interests at that stage of our life. Basically, you don’t always get what you want!
For example: A man – or woman, let’s not be sexist! – plans to rob a jewellers and emigrate to the Caribbean. He deliberates on the best method. Should he ram the shop window with a van, take the goodies and drive away? Or should he go in, armed with a weapon, order the staff to put the goodies in his SWAG bag and leg it home? If he rams the shop with a van and gets caught he will probably say: Damn, should have gone in with the gun! The chances are, the universe will not sanction either method, the robbery being doomed from conception regardless of the decisions made on method.
If, however, he (or she) is a modern day Robin (Robina) Hood who intends to sell the jewels (which were obtained illegally by the jeweller) and use the proceeds to help feed and clothe refugees, well, the universe may take a different view and either method of theft may work.
Not the best example but hopefully you get the drift.
The only comfort I can take from all this is that whatever choice I make, if my book is meant to be seen in print, will be the correct one.
Fingers crossed! (Does this help, I wonder?)
Posted on November 3, 2016
I have discovered over the years there is a lot of misunderstanding about the practise of meditation.
Like many, when I first began, I thought the aim was to be free of thought, to zone out and go into a dreamlike state where I would somehow, miraculously, become enlightened. And like many, over the years, I practised sporadically because each time I went through a ‘serious’ meditation phase I failed to reach that state of nirvana. Can you believe it!
The term ‘meditation’ conjures up images of sitting in the lotus position (who can get anywhere close?) and humming a mantra, giving the impression it is only for those ‘weirdos’ who have the time to sit for three hours a day chanting.
Most people ‘meditate’ without even realising it so I will give a few definitions I found of what meditation is:
- To focus one’s mind for a period of time
- To develop concentration, clarity and emotional positivity
- To think deeply about something
No mention of floating off with the fairies! When you are absorbed in a piece of music, focused on a particular task or just enjoying a stunning sunset that takes your breath away, you are meditating.
The aim of meditation is to focus concentration, allowing the mind to be in the present rather than anywhere but. It is a tool to tame the mind. To allow you to control your thinking rather than your thoughts controlling you. The mind should be alert but the body relaxed. If along the way you get anywhere close to enlightenment it’s the icing on the cake.
Most books will advise starting with a short practise of about ten minutes twice a day, increasing to longer periods over time. If you are anything like me you will start with good intentions, set the alarm fifteen minutes earlier (for three days at least!) and do your evening stint after climbing into bed – and promptly fall asleep before you’ve managed a few deep breaths! It is not surprising so many give up.
I have found the following ideas, practised during the normal working day, to be of far more benefit to begin with than setting aside a particular time (which, if you miss it, that seems to be it for the day!)
WATCHING THE BREATH. While washing, dressing or queuing at the supermarket focus on your breathing. Relax the body, keep your eyes open and feel your breath moving in and out while still being aware of what is going on around you. With practise you will be able to do this while holding a conversation.
VISUALISATION. This can be done when you are able to close your eyes for a minute or two. On a train, at work during lunch break, or sitting on the toilet is the perfect opportunity! Look around for any item: a clock, a picture or even just your hand and look at it for a moment then close your eyes and try to recall its detail.
PRESENT MOMENT AWARENESS. While performing any task give it your full attention even if it’s boring. If you are ironing (that’s my most boring task by far!) see the patterns on the piece you are ironing. Or notice the vibrant colours of plants while weeding. Be aware of what you are doing rather than acting subconsciously.
I have found that these exercises, if part of a daily routine and performed as often during the day as can be managed, enhance awareness and train the mind for more formal meditation.
So why bother?
As well as the possibility of a deeply spiritual experience (this is the dangling carrot!) there is a growing amount of evidence that meditation can have huge health benefits:
- Reduces depression
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces anxiety, stress and worry
- Gives you greater control over your actions and reactions
“When we understand meditation, it becomes surprisingly simple – in principle at least. It is like finding the light switch after hours groping in the dark.’
This is a quote from a book called Teach Yourself to Meditate by Eric Harrison which is an excellent book for beginners with lots of tips and exercises on how to make meditation part of every day living.
Posted on October 18, 2016
“Anytime you are unhappy in the present or feeling unsuccessful, it is time to learn from the past or plan for the future.” The Present by Spencer Johnson
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they are stuck in a rut. If you are the lucky person who always has a busy, fulfilling and happy life then please email me with the secret!
Me, I go up and down like one of those round toys on a string that we played with as children but are now banned from the school playground. Yes, the yoyo!. Sometimes I’m on top of everything, the positive thinking is doing its trick and even mild setbacks, like rain dripping through the living room ceiling, fail to faze me; get a bucket – no problem. Life’s a joy. Throw something at me – I catch it. Knock me down and I bounce back up.
Then come the darker times. The times when an innocuous comment hits a nerve and sends me scurrying away in floods of tears. The times when I’m not achieving my goals.The times when work is dull, my social life non-existent and I dwell on the purpose of existence.
Reading The Present by Spencer Johnson I realised that: a) I am personally responsible for my happiness and there is something I can do about those low or unproductive times and b) it is near impossible to change other people. The only option, if I am unhappy, is to look at myself to change the situation. If I can’t change the circumstances then I must change my attitude towards them.
As family and friends know I have been working on my first fiction novel for…er…um…nearly three years. I desperately want to finish it but for some reason I procrastinate and have periods when I don’t touch it for weeks. I blame the house for constantly getting itself dirty, compelling me to clean. I blame the sun for making the grass and plants proliferate, forcing me to spend the day mowing and pruning. I even blame my son for coming home from uni: ‘How can I focus when you’re asking what’s to eat every five minutes?’
And I know, deep down, that none of these reason are valid because many people write books as well as work and look after a family.
So, after some reflection on the wise words of Spencer Johnson in the quote above I looked at how I could learn from the past and plan for the future.
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been very slovenly with my time. As I generally sleep for no more than seven hours a night that leaves a whole seventeen hours conscious and capable (well almost!). Do you know how much you can achieve in seventeen hours? Quite a lot, I learnt.
As the primary excuse for lack of words on laptop was insufficient time I decided to record everything I did for a few days and how long each task took. Surprise! Surprise! Nowhere near as long as I thought. For example, I had set aside one whole day to get the paperwork ready for the accountant. I completed the work in six hours but because that was the only job for the day I faffed around with other little bits until dinner – then read a book. That’s six hours of constructive work out of a total of seventeen.
Now, I’m not one who likes a strict regime. You know, shepherd’s pie on a Monday, vacuum the house on a Tuesday for example. I work from home because I like the flexibility and the opportunity to take up the offer of lunch, or some other distraction, should the occasion arise. But like most people who work from home, my time management is somewhat lax.
Not one for spreadsheets either (I used to laugh at my daughter who planned her meals for the week) I decided to give them a go (this is the planning for the future bit that The Present refers to) and I have to admit that, so far, it’s working. So much so, that I try to start some of the following day’s tasks in advance to get ahead!
I am happy to report that the novel is progressing nicely and I get a great deal of pleasure striking through each task on the spreadsheet when completed. I am currently ahead of schedule and if this continues, the novel should be finished by Christmas.
I was feeling quite demoralised and, at one point, considered abandoning the novel completely but now feel back in control. I am happy – for the moment at least. I can also see that this philosophy can be applied to most circumstances.
If my social life is boring I have to make an effort to enrich it because most of the time it is pure laziness that prevents me from arranging to meet a friend or book an evening at the theatre. I blame hubby for not wanting to go into London as he is not a theatre fan but, as he is unlikely to change, it is up to me to arrange to go alone or with a friend.
Knowing I have the power to change many things that make me feel stuck is extremely liberating. A little effort with a change of mindset and, as Del Boy would say: the world’s my lobster!!
Posted on October 7, 2016
Vaseem Khan was born in London in 1973. He worked for ten years in Mumbai, India and on his return in 2006 joined the Department of Security and Crime Science at University College London and still works there.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is the first in the Baby Ganesh detective agency series and was published in August 2015. The next in the series, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown is due out next spring.
As Inspector Chopra is preparing for his last day at Sahar police station he discovers he has inherited a baby elephant from an eccentric uncle. As he arrives at the police station a crowd is gathered because a young man has died. His mother claims he has been murdered and is very distraught because she believes her son’s death will not be properly investigated because they are poor.
Inspector Chopra asks for a post-mortem to discover the cause of death although his replacement has already decided it was death by drowning whilst drunk. There is little he can do on his last day.
In the days that follow his forced early retirement Chopra is feeling despondent and at a loss at how to spend his time to fill the long days ahead. The baby elephant refuses to eat and the new inspector has refused the post mortem that Chopra requested for the young man.
Ashwin Chopra, a principled and honest man, wishes to do what is right for the elephant and the dead boy so he seeks knowledge on how to care for baby Ganesha and commences his own investigation into the boy’s death.
His search for the truth leads him though some of the roughest parts of the Mumbai slum district and baby Ganesha comes to his assistance when the going gets tough.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is a delightful book; very amusing and entertaining with well-defined characters. Inspector Chopra is very easy to like because he is an honest man yet not pompous with it. He is kind and thoughtful but never too imposing with his code of ethics. His character evolves as the novel progresses. There is also humorous and moving interaction between Chopra and his wife Poppy.
Due to its setting the story allows you to escape to another world: the vibrant city of Mumbai. There are some wonderful descriptions of Mumbai’s underworld as well as the more affluent areas and weaves in the charm of the local people and their lives.
I can see the Baby Ganesh detective agency series a clear favourite for a television series sometime soon.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is published by Mulholland Books – An imprint of Hodder and Stoughton
You can follow Vaseem Khan on Twitter: @VaseemKhanUK
Posted on August 25, 2016
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet” Mahatma Gandhi
I love this quote. My interpretation is that I will not let anyone hurt or upset me with their opinions and judgements. After all, they are personal views formed from their experiences of life. They are expressing these views from their own understanding and beliefs.
It does hurt when people criticise. It even offends when people we don’t know are rude or judgemental about us. Interestingly, as I grow older, the views of others have less effect on me. Perhaps that’s why older people speak their minds, sometimes to the point of rudeness. They’ve realised that someone’s appraisal of the situation is not always accurate and should sometimes be disregarded.
I was reading an article the other day about the ego. Sorry – that blasted ego keeps popping up; it’s always there, humming in the background. The article explained that finding fault in the actions of others strengthens the ego. If you watch for it, in yourself and others, it’s plain to see.
A conversation I overheard recently, while queueing in the supermarket, went something like this:
‘Did you see what Chrissie was wearing the other day?’
‘Yeah, didn’t do her any favours did it. Wrong colour, wrong style, everything!’
‘Made her hips look huge! I would never wear that style if I had big hips. You can never get away with it – pleated from the waist – with hips that size.’
‘And the red with her pale complexion made her look ill.’
Trinny and Susannah would have been proud.
If these two women had been talking about me I would have been mortified but as a bystander, earwigging, I could only laugh because their own dress sense was appalling (in my opinion that is!) Mind you I often found that the case with Trinny and Susannah. I would think: What on earth are you wearing? And you’re giving advice!
Why do we worry and get so upset about the opinions of others when they’re clearly not speaking with any authority on the matter?
Another scenario concerns the opinions of the bully. We’ve all been in situations, I’m sure, where a parent, partner, boss or colleague keeps digging away: Are you stupid or what? Did you not think? I can’t believe you just said/did that! Comments accompanied with the rolling of the eyes or a shake of the head; chipping away at your self-confidence, causing you to question whether there is something wrong with you. Perhaps I am stupid after all, you wonder.
It has taken me a lot of years, a lot of people watching and a good degree of introspection to realise that people who criticise rarely do so to be helpful. So, before you allow someone else’s voice to reverberate in your mind, take a clear look at who is speaking to you. You may discover that the person who is constantly telling you that you’re forgetful and getting senile frequently forgets things themselves.
A well-meaning friend who says, ‘well I would never let my child have internet in their bedroom,’ leads you to think that you’re the worst parent ever until you remember they feed their own children ready meals and takeaways and allow them to eat lots of sweets and drink cola. Then you realise their parenting skills are no better, so why did you allow their comment to cause you to question your own parenting methods. It is just their opinion.
Back to Ghandi – be careful whose dirty feet you allow to walk through your mind. Be discerning. Think carefully about the comments and opinions of others. Some are worthy if delivered with authority or from someone who genuinely has your interests at heart. Otherwise, don’t take the careless comments some people make too much to heart.
Posted on July 27, 2016
The Present is a story about a young boy and his friendship with a wise old man. The old man tells the boy that The Present is a gift which, of all the gifts he will ever receive, ‘is the most valuable of all’ because it offers the opportunity to be happy and successful. The boy wishes he will someday get The Present. For now he is just happy to play.
The boy is growing up and although he has received many gifts over the years, the joy they bring is short lived. As he reaches his teenage years he starts to feel more dissatisfied with his life. Visiting the old man one day, he remembers The Present and asks his friend why it is so special. How could it make him happier and more successful?
The old man defines success as: ‘progressing toward whatever you think is important’ and the boy realises that this idea allows him to decide for himself what he wants to succeed at.
As the story continues and the boy becomes a man, he frequently returns to visit his wise, elderly friend who imparts little snippets of wisdom but the young man does not take time to reflect on what the old man is saying. He wants to know where he can find The Present and does not understand why the old man will not just tell him where to find it. The old man tells him:
‘No one can find The Present for someone else. The Present is a gift to yourself. Only you have the power to discover what it is’
Disappointed in the reply, he leaves.
Sometime later, determined to seek The Present, he reads books, scours the Internet and talks to others. His search is fruitless and he gives up.
Passed up for promotion and in a failing relationship the disillusioned young man returns to the old man for help. The old man suggests he takes a break to spend some time alone, reflecting on his life. This he does and discovers the beauty of everything around him. He notices things, like the carefully crafted fireplace and can almost feel the love laboured on this piece of work; that the creator must have enjoyed building it.
He suddenly realises that The Present is the present moment. The old man had said before that:
‘When you are fully engaged in what you are doing your mind doesn’t wander and you are happy…you are intent only on what is happening at that moment’
The young man could see the value in this but was puzzled on its application when you are in a situation that is unpleasant, not permitting you to enjoy the present moment.
The old man talks to him of ‘tuning out distractions…paying attention to what is important now…and creating your own present’.
The old man imparts a little more wisdom:
‘Anytime you are unhappy in the present or feeling unsuccessful…It is time to learn from the past or plan for the future. Look at what happened in the past. Learn something from it. Use what you learn to improve the present’
He tells him that the past cannot be changed but if you learn from the past then the present will be better. Do not repeat the same mistakes. He also tells him that:
‘No one can predict or control the future (but) the more you plan for what you want…the less anxious you are in the present. Picture what a wonderful future would be like. Create a realistic plan to help it happen. Put your plan into action in the present’
As the young man grows older he finally sees the value of the old man’s teachings and puts them into practise, becoming happier and more successful (remembering this definition is a personal one). He comes to realise that:
‘Success is becoming who you are capable of being…progressing toward worthwhile goals. Each of us defines for ourselves what it means to be successful’
The Present originally published in 1983 as ‘The Precious Present’ is a short, easy to read book with a very simple message, but one which takes quite a lot of personal reflection to fully comprehend. It is wonderful to believe we can decide our own interpretation of success rather than the assumptions made by others where success is often considered in monetary terms, academic achievements or our position in the hierarchy of society.
Sometimes, of course, the present is just too painful to inhabit. The current climate of terror attacks give testimony to this and time is needed before the present becomes, once more, an acceptable place to reside. However, speaking for myself, a lot of present discontent can be eliminated if lessons are learnt from the past (and it’s not always easy to see where things may have gone wrong). The present moment of the future can also be better if a strong vision of what we would like to achieve is considered, and determined action taken to work towards the desired outcome.
If you read The Present I hope its profound message resonates with you too.
Posted on July 21, 2016
“When I am an old woman…I shall go out in my slippers in the rain” – When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple by Jenny Joseph.
I remember this poem from when my daughter was taking GCSE English Literature. It was in an anthology of poems they studied and It struck a chord. I thought how wonderful it will be when I can do what I want without having to behave in a proper manner. Now, as the poem says, we must pay our rent, not swear in front of the children and set a good example. How rubbish is that!
I speak for myself when I believe we lose some of our sense of fun between our carefree young adult years and those when our children become independent; weighted down with the responsibilities of trying to be a good parent we forget how to be naughty and I loved this poem for its decadence.
A few days ago there was an article in the newspaper about the drinking habits of middle-aged women. Some, apparently, are taking their first drink as early as midday. (How shocking! Who would have thought it! What kind of women are they when they have responsibilities and all!).
At first glance I thought it was implying that life is so stressful that many were hitting the bottle soon after breakfast but it transpired it was just a guilty pleasure. They felt it fun to be sipping a glass of champagne at the kitchen table while the children were at school – they would have preferred the South of France or some exotic location but the kitchen table did the job.
I envied them their little indulgence as it’s so easy to get caught up in the mundane. Afraid to look silly. Embarrassed that others will criticise. How does this fit in with my goals of reaching enlightenment I ask myself when we are taught that self-discipline is the way forward? Is self-gratification and lack of restraint at odds with discovering who we really are and our purpose here on earth? I think not. I think pretending to be someone we are not means we’ll never discover our true self.
I believe that as long as we are unselfish in our self-indulgence (if that makes sense!) and we enjoy our time here without becoming too attached to material things, then it’s okay to have fun. It’s okay to drink champagne for breakfast and it’s certainly okay to wear clothes that are brightly coloured and don’t match if you wish – just ignore the kids when they laugh.
That said, my daughter is getting married in December and I have been invited, along with her two aunts, to her hen do. I think us more mature ladies will do something deliciously fun and show those youngsters how to have a good time. Kat, you’re in for a surprise…
Posted on July 4, 2016
“Some people are so anxious about growing old that they cannot help but leak that anxiety into every situation that calls for them to remember something – a friend’s name, someone’s address, the place where they left their keys” Ageless Body, Timeless Mind –Deepak Chopra.
You’ll be pleased to know that my little experiment with the mobile phone worked a treat. Well, most of the time. It took a few days to train my mind to focus on the phone but as long as I was aware of myself putting it down I always knew where I had left it. Amazing! I only ‘lost’ the phone when I was stressed or focussing on something else and therefore only aware of the current crisis.
So pleased was I with the results – and relieved that I wasn’t ageing as rapidly as I thought (and that others implied) – that I read around the subject in more depth and came to the conclusion that we age ourselves by relating every lapse, whether it’s tiring while running for the bus (this can be improved with exercise), putting on weight (this can be altered with a healthy diet) or losing various objects (which can be remedied with practised attention/mindfulness), to getting old.
A little exercise goes a long way…
We buy into the fallacy that with every passing year our bodies and minds are disintegrating but there is a lot we can do to stave off this deterioration and it starts with changing our expectations. It’s time to rebel and change our mindset. Certainly we shouldn’t allow others to tell us we are getting old on the basis we have forgotten to collect the dry cleaning!
Whilst researching the ageing process I came across an experiment conducted in 1981 involving two groups of 8 men in their 70’s. They were taken, at different times, to a converted monastery for a period of five days. Everything around them reflected they were in 1959. Both groups were tested before entering the monastery and various markers were recorded: hearing, sight, memory, dexterity etc.
The first group were encouraged to reminisce about the period of their past but that was all, whereas the second group were told to live the period. Talk about the politics of 1959 as though it was current. After the five days both groups were reassessed. The group that ‘lived’ 1959 showed marked improvement on their dexterity and sight as well as looking more sprightly and energetic compared with the control group. There was nothing specific to memory but a general improvement in all aspects was noted.
This experiment was replicated in 2010 by the BBC involving celebrities and the results were similar. The subjects were rejuvenated, completing tasks with ease that a few days before were deemed impossible.
These were people in their 70’s and 80’s!
YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO BE YOUNG!
There are pockets of communities all over the world (Healthy at 100 by John Robbins) who ignore old age and are able to live active lives.
As a writer I listen and observe others and I constantly hear people in their 50’s and 60’s say they are getting old. Nonsense!! Stop making excuses and put in a little effort. Mindfulness takes effort. Learning how to use new technology takes effort. Exercise takes effort. Meditation takes effort. I know because I don’t make the effort! But knowing that something can be done is a start and being able to find my phone over the past two weeks has made me determined to make more effort on all fronts.
Posted on June 10, 2016
“The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.” – Anne Lamott
I made the decision a few years ago to step onto the path to enlightenment. I knew the journey would be long and arduous but I have to admit I was hoping to have covered a little more ground by now. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly where you are at any given time because there isn’t a map; no little arrow saying ‘you are here’ to enable you to see how far you’ve travelled.
And which direction do you take? The books tell you there are signposts everywhere but they appear to be very well hidden. I should have realised many years ago when I emerged crying after two hours in the Hampton Court Maze (age 35!) that my sense of direction in terms of ‘paths’ wasn’t sound and my husband will confirm that my map reading skills leave a lot to be desired. So what led me to believe I had any chance in finding my way to enlightenment?
If I’m honest, I didn’t really expect to reach such heady heights. I was more hoping that I would be able to get through the day without shouting at somebody or sticking up my middle finger to everyone who beeps me for crawling fifteen miles per hour up a gentle slope (with a 2003 clapped out Citroen C3 I really have no choice). I was hoping that meditating would leave me calm and in control, unflappable in stressful situations. It has worked to a degree – I’m extremely calm when I’m asleep!
What I have discovered though is that everything comes down to ego. Everything is about how we respond to everyday situations. If we are to remain calm and reap all the benefits which a calm disposition brings a new approach to life is needed; a new way of looking at those daily problems that cause anxiety. We have to stop making everything about ‘us’. The person who bumped into you in the supermarket and did not apologise did not aim their rudeness directly at you because they don’t know you – so what is the point of getting upset?
It’s so easy to see the ego reacting in others, how they’ll try to blame someone else for their mistakes or lie to protect their integrity, how offended they come if criticised. We all behave in this way but somehow we’re unable to see it in ourselves because the ego will do anything to justify its actions and behaviour in an effort of self-preservation. The ego is supposed to be the major obstacle to attaining enlightenment and if that’s the case I’d better stock up on snacks and magazines because it’s going to be a very long journey.
Posted on May 24, 2016
Three women, all suffering with burns of varying degree, are brought together in a hospital room which has a policeman parked outside the door 24/7.
Anna Van Veen, recovering from a collapsed lung, cuts and burns, is a loner. She is ‘not a people’s person’ and ‘not really one for friends’. Although she married Nelis she much preferred spending time with dead animals (she is a taxidermist) than her husband’s friends and work colleagues. Nelis once told her that she had a dyslexic heart.
Vandersteen, a lesbian in her fifties, has recently separated from her wife who has taken their two children away as she can no longer put up with Vandersteen’s lies.
The third occupant, in her twenties and known as Tubby (she is considerably overweight), is the most severely burnt of the three women and does not speak to the others at the beginning. She refuses to reveal her identity, even to the hospital and, referred to as Ms X, she is something of an enigma.
The three women of the guarded room get to know each other and we learn that Van Veen is destined for a prison cell, Vandersteen is a habitual criminal and Tubby is afraid of being found. Each with their secrets, bonds form between them as they begin to trust each other. Van Veen can see they are all faulty is some respect and declares them members of The Dyslexic Hearts Club. She feels comfortable in their company.
‘All day long I found myself laughing at any old thing. I was inquisitive. I was cheerful. What the hell was wrong with me?’
They all begin to recover and when Tubby reveals how she got burnt, and how afraid she is of being discovered, they all decide it is time to escape before it’s too late. Once outside the confines of the hospital room they are forced to beg, borrow and steal for survival. As they make their way to an island where Van Veen’s childhood home stands empty, evading capture becomes difficult; news of their escape is all are over the newspapers and TV. Cracks appear in their friendships and Van Veen reverts back to her desire to be alone, realising that,
‘This club of ours was driving me up the wall…All my reasons for hating clubs so much began to rear their ugly heads’.
The story of The Dyslexic Hearts Club is told by Van Veen. There is a nice slow build up as the personalities of the women are revealed. They are all troubled in some way which draws them closer. It is an entertaining story filled with adventure and humour yet Hanneke Hendrix has also shown the difficulties faced by those who do not always follow society’s rules; that the world is not always a nice place for those who are ‘different’ in some way. Although we all play roles in society, those who lack the social skills to integrate easily have to try much harder at playing their roles.
The story also highlights how unkind people can be, forcing those on the receiving end to react with a vengeance brought on purely by the cruelty of others. Van Veen, as a child, was happy to be alone working on her animals but her mother thought she was strange, as did the neighbours children causing her to violently attack one of the children when they were nasty to her.
Hendrix reveals further insight into human nature when Vandersteen believes the nurse is insulting and rude to Tubby about her weight because it makes the nurse feel better about herself. Such subtle observations, slipped into the narrative, add a deeper dimension to the story.
It is an enjoyable book full of antics and adventure but beneath the light hearted exploits of Van Veen, Vandersteen and Tubby, Hanneke Hendrix has captured some of the flaws of the human condition. It provides food for thought with respect to one’s own behaviour when in the company of others who do not always possess the required social skills to fit comfortably into the expectations of society.
Well worth a read.
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