Sunday, 18 May 2008


We had been discussing the importance of atmosphere. AF was expressing her frustrations over: 1. her perception of feeling fat and ugly but not being willing to make the necessary sacrifices; 2. her being tired of studying; 3. her financial insecurity; and, 4. her desire for a cosy home with friends.
Well I have often considered that being female is, as you would say, pants. Apart from ‘the curse’ which it is possible to chemically bypass, there is the dreadful over development of those parts of the brain concerned with self-image and humility.
There is no woman who is either satisfied with her bodily appearance or indifferent to it. No matter how skeletal or gorgeously attractive a woman might be, she is always under the illusion that she is either fat or flabby or ugly or any combination of these. All women – yes, I dare a preposterous generalisation here because the evidence is overwhelming – suffer tremendously from guilt and anxiety about imagined wrongs they may have committed.
Women are always saying sorry.
Sorry for provoking you into beating the living daylights out of me. Sorry for existing and getting in your way. Sorry for making God angry by getting pleasure.
So although the answer to 1. is that since you are not overweight there is nothing to worry about and K is madly in love with you exactly as you are and your friends love you exactly as you are too and no one can possibly see you as in the least bit ugly or flabby and the almost invisible down is ravishingly delightful and the only time your appearance is in anyway disturbing is when you get red and blotchy by using that ghastly wax none of this will signify.
The real problem is your female brain and there is nothing I can suggest you do about that unless you can use your excellent intellectual powers to counter these awful feminine thoughts. I suspect also that short-sightedness may pay a part. Try to convince yourself that no one sees you as you see yourself and there really is nothing – absolutely nothing – to be concerned about. This was the thing that the dreadful S just couldn't understand. And many other men cannot understand either. That reassurance and physical praise are absolutely essential for a woman. A man does not have to be continuously told that he is handsome. But that is because he doesn't understand the constant internal demons in a woman's brain that are deprecating her in every way. She needs help to fight them and to reinforce her own struggle to prove herself to be a precious, worthy creature who is beautiful and interesting.
I suspect that the vacuous female airheads you are always castigating behave like they do because they have been beaten into submission by the self-deprecating parts of their brain and believe themselves incapable of thinking or using their capabilities and surrender to what they believe themselves to be.
So don't worry about the biscuits.
Think kindly of me here where ginger biscuits and shortbread are rare. And bread and rolls, real hot crusty bread straight from the oven or nutty wholegrain bread is non-existent. Bakery products are dreadfully sweet and mostly inedible.
There are things about Europe I miss – frosty grass and overcoats and scarves intended to keep you warm not to hide female hair – open fires and chestnuts and autumn walks in the forest and long Scottish summer evenings. And rivers where the water is not made of something looking like chocolate or black treacle.
I have reached the stage where I like my home and I want to stay. I don't want to wander any more – except to spend a year in France to learn the language and perhaps to collect any of my things that remain with A or T.
Now I have books – my own and my parents – the atmosphere at home is lovely (despite the wailing from the mosques and the cries of the street vendors). Most of the time it is quiet and looking at the trees through the windows is so tranquil. I wondered why I like the criss-cross security grill behind the windows and now I think I understand. It makes the windows look a bit like leaded lights. It is nice having frogs and butterflies inside the house and sitting in the garden in the evening and hearing the river. This evening we will be going to meet an erstwhile colleague from when I was in Indonesia before in the botanical gardens so we can watch the fruit bats.
Yes, stories of sprites and fairy queens and so on before an open fire roasting chestnuts and crumpets would be nice. The only problem with those comfortable or scary stories is when people actually start believing them. Religion and the credulity that go with them are great dangers.
I have often wondered how it is possible that when the doctrines of Christianity are so bizarre and contradictory research and intellectual advancement is possible to such an extent whereas the rather simple concept of Islam seems to cause enormous problems intellectually and to stifle thought.
Of course many strange ideas have crept into Islam which were not originally there, like Muhammad being physically transported to the heavens and to Jerusalem, Jesus being replaced by an apparition on the cross and being lifted into the heavens and the last Shia imam surviving for hundreds of years in a cave or well somewhere.
I think that the reason may be because western religion is so inherently unbelievable literally that few people actually do believe it other than enjoying cosy events such as Christmas and a nice sing-song in church. The problem with Islam is that it is so easy to believe most of it. The problem is when people stop the process of growing up and still believe in Santa Claus. Of course you have the creationists and other nutters in the US who also want to destroy education.
Coming to your second point: It is true that when doing things you have to do everyone wants to put it off.
Having to do Eng. Litt. at school (for which I am very proud of my GCE grade H fail) and learn poems you don't like and praise books which are self-evidently crap, really can put you off the real delights of reading. The same is true with maths for many people.
You don't like something you have to do and envy people doing things which they probably hate just as passionately. The trick is to keep switching and do different things.
I think the brain (well at least my brain) works best as a butterfly – flitting from flower to flower and often changing direction for no apparent reason. But the funny thing is that the brain actually works best this way. Let things take their own time and intersperse what you are doing with other things.
People who claim that setting a strict routine helps them to get things done actually produce rather boring and predictable work. Imaginative and truly creative stuff takes time to mature. That is why I think writing a book where you are in control may be better than a PhD. So again, I don't know the answer. Just don't feel guilty – or try to suppress your guilt if you can – if you get fed up and go to the canteen instead, or start doodling or searching for kitten photos.
Can you work part-time? I know you are pissed off with the PhD and want to work full-time on it, but maybe the amount of time that you actually do may not be that much different. A lot of your thinking and planning time will probably happen while you are at work when you are supposed to be thinking about something else.
Hopefully when you get to Ann Arbor a lot of the friends’ problem will have been solved. How does K cope? Does he have real friends there? It seems such a bleak place where you are now.
I want biscuits too. The problem is the rupiahs are rapidly drying up. We fancy an expedition to Jakarta to try to find an M&S. I was in heaven in Singapore when we bought ginger nuts and organic Scottish shortbread. My rationing plan did not, of course, work.