I love London social history. Simply fascinated by it ever since, in my early teens, I read of the fate of the Jack the Ripper victims in the East End in 1888. So this book jumped out at me in the bookstore as something I might enjoy. But it wasn’t like all the thousands of other books on London history out there. This one looked so much more compelling.
Indeed, it didn’t disappoint. The book looks at the social history of the Thames and the people who’ve lived beside it for centuries. All from the perspective of the findings of a mudlark, a person who scavenges in the muddy riverbeds at low tide.
Lara Maiklem, the author, discovers finds items discarded or lost in the river by Londoners over the centuries; items that give valuable insight into the social and urban history of London.
The author describes the items she has uncovered in chapters that focus on different locations along the river, taking readers on a journey through history to the Roman fortification of London. Her extensive knowledge of the geography of London over the centuries and the Thames tides, coupled with the compelling stories she tells about the item and the last human ever to touch it, makes this a compelling and highly fascinating read that never failed to hold my interest.
In the context of the life of a modern-day mudlark, Lara reveals a little of her own life, how she discovered her love of mudlarking and the thoughts and feelings she experiences with her finds, helping the reader to feel a connection to her.
I’m usually a bit of a book tart; I flit from one book to another depending on my mood. But with this book I couldn’t put it down. I read it within a couple of days; then I searched Lara on Youtube to find out a bit more about her. Throughout my reading of the book, I was ready to don my wellies and head for the city at a moment’s notice were it not for the fact that, as the author explains, the foreshore of the Thames is at many times inaccessible. This is due to the changing tide (the Thames is a tidal river) and the fact that you need a licence to be a mudlark these days.
There is something wonderfully comforting about this book. I think it’s the way that the author draws you into her little world of treasure hunting, reveals the effect this has upon her and shows that, even in a bustling metropolis like London, there are moments of calm to be had if you know where to look for them. Moments whereby, with the help of Lara’s wonderful imagination, and her enthusiasm for her subject matter, so many of the past occupants of this city come to life to tell a tiny bit of their tale.
As I mentioned above, I love books about London social history, but I haven’t read one I’ve so enjoyed since reading Dr Matthew Greene’s book London, a travel guide through time. Another fascinating and compelling read about London’s history.
I often notice people, especially at the school gates, who try desperately to fit in, to be part of the clique because they want to feel as though they belong somewhere. I know a little of how they feel. I’ve always felt a little on the side-lines, a bit of an outsider, a loner, when all around me groups of friends are laughing together, safe in the knowledge that they have their ‘tribe’ around them.
When I was growing up I spent a lot of time indoors, helping to take care of my twin brothers with my mother. Her husband, my stepfather, disappeared when the twins were born so she was left, single parent to five children, I was 10 years old. Consequently, because I needed to help out at home I missed out on many of those critical friendship interactions that kids need to go through if they are to become emotionally secure, well-adjusted and comfortable around friends.
As a result, I turned into one of those people who felt slightly on the outside around groups of friends. In fact, I actually preferred to be on my own, it was easier than navigating the sometimes-hostile waters of friendship groups. But there were times when I felt that I should try to make an effort. It is, after all, our biological imperative to be part of the group. If we were still living in caves we would seek group connection for protection, for a mate, for a share of the food – for survival.
In my efforts to fit in and blend into my preferred group, I tried to be the person I felt I should be, but in doing so it felt false. I wasn’t being my authentic self and I felt more and more on the fringes. I was trying to fit in, to prove my worth. But all I was doing was suppressing my own true desires for the sake of fitting in. I felt as though just being me wasn’t enough to make people like me and invite me into their friendship.
We all want to feel as though we belong; to feel as though we have found our tribe but sometimes the price we pay, pretending to be something we’re not, or doing something we don’t want to do, is just too much and it drains our power. When we’re young, we might wear clothes that we don’t like so that we belong, or we might drink alcohol or do drugs with our friends just to feel as though we belong. We might try to project an image of ourselves that is not the real us, such as trying to appear to be outgoing, when in reality we know ourselves to be introverted.
Since those days, I’ve come to realise that fitting in or not fitting in made little difference to my life. I came to truly realise that I was happier with myself or a small select group of like-minded people that I got along well with and who accept my quirks rather than a large clique who don’t really know me at all. I have since learnt that to be true to our own nature takes strength, but it allows us to be truly happy. There is no pressure to follow the crowd or be part of a group I have no real interest in.
I’ve also learnt to be proud of being me, of my uniqueness. My strengths and weaknesses, preferences and dislike are different to other people – I appreciating these rather than trying to be like others, with their likes and dislikes. Only by being ourselves can we grow and flourish and be our true selves. Only by being comfortable in our own skin, will we get to a point where no-one can make us feel as though we’re not quite enough.
The social media culture of comparisons lead too many people to feel as though they’re not good enough, not active enough, not slim or pretty or clever or popular enough.
But if we’re being who we really are, being our true selves, and we’re fulfilling our own potential to the best of your ability, then we are enough.
If we let go of who we think we should be and just be who we really are, we’ll no longer worry about who we are and why we are not good enough to be part of this group or that group.
A friend told me that when she meets with her village friends, about once a month they tend to have a few drinks. She doesn’t usually drink so on these evenings just one glass of wine would get her a little tipsy and she would feel awful the following day. Not least because when she’d had a drink, all her inhibitions disappear, as is prone to happen, and she would say things to people that she wouldn’t normally say when sober. The next morning, she would regret drinking and promised herself that next time she would not drink. The problem was that people expected it of her now, so it was not easy to say no, without looking like she was being unsociable.
For many months, she told herself that next time she’d refuse, but when another evening out came around she would feel pressured to join in with the drinking for fear of being excluded by the group.
Eventually she made the decision to avoid alcohol altogether. And despite her fear that she would no longer fit in, her village friends accepted her decision and respected her for it. Eventually she came to realise, that had they decided she wasn’t ‘fun’ enough then she’d have known that they were not true friends anyway and not worth her time.
“Don’t change so people will like you; be yourself and the right people will love you.” ~Unknown
The need to fit in comes from our fear of being rejected. Because of this we might be a little too needy and will perhaps care a little too much about what others think of us. We will see their approval of us as a measure of our self-worth. But, our inauthenticity convinces no one and drains us of personal power in the process. A sense of belonging may feel comforting and safe but to sacrifice our true selves for the sake of it is not healthy.
To be true to our own nature takes strength, but only by doing so can we be truly happy.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Irritation swarmed through me as I listened to her, shouting at me down the phone. “Get your bloody head out of the sand and realise that your son is a bully” she shouted, almost perforating my eardrum, I moved the handset away from my head. I could feel the venom in her voice.
She got louder. “I don’t want my son spending the next two years afraid of school,” she screeched, being overdramatic, as ever. Should I put the phone down? Was I enjoying her rant? Was I getting a perverse thrill out of the fact that she was losing her shit?
I think so.
Her anger was unjustified. Absolutely unjustified. My son was not a bully, he was merely sticking up for himself, and she didn’t like that. But the fact that I wasn’t rising to meet her anger with my own, stung her even more.
“There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on its own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, if foiled, none more insane—since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.” Seneca
In Seneca’s essay On Anger, he speaks about anger as being ‘hideous’ and ‘wild’. I would agree with him. She was certainly hideous and wild on that phone call. To lose one’s temper is never a good thing and almost always leads to problems. I haven’t spoken to her since, nor will I. Loose canon. As my Nan used to say.
The news is frequently dominated with stories of people who have done things because of their anger – particularly around Brexit. These people should act as reminders to us all that anger leads us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. In fact, it makes things worse, in some cases, so much worse. Consider Ivan the Terrible, who killed his own son out of anger.
When we lose our temper, we lose other stuff too
But we all do it. Everyone gets angry sometimes. We might take offence to something someone says to us, we see red and then we let rip. The trouble is that, when we’re angry we lose so much more than our temper. Our dignity for one. As Seneca wrote. “Anger squanders things and rarely comes without cost.” Anger can lead to lost friendships, lost business, and lost relationships. And it can overcome us at any time – even during those times when you’d think we were least likely to get angry – on a family holiday when the person in front puts his airplane seat back; or, when a sibling says something that reminds you why you hated him in your teens.
When we are angry we are not in control. She wasn’t in control when she lost it, to me, on the phone. We need to recognise what is at jeopardy if we continue to indulge this volatile emotion. Our friendship, in this case – she’d overstepped the mark.
Accept what you cannot control
We also need to accept that we cannot control the world around us. To believe we can is very egotistic. To think that everything will go our way is foolish. Her son was provoking and harassing, my son was retaliating. Her sense of entitlement led her to believe that her son’s behaviour was acceptable.
The world is mostly outside of our control. And bad stuff happens to us all. Someone in another car may cut us up, or someone walking in front of us may let the door close in our face, someone may have betrayed us – we have no control over any of that. What we do have control over is how we react to these events. We can respond in a certain way that doesn’t demean us or give our power away.
If we accept that there are people and events that are going to happen that will annoy or anger us, then we are one step closer to controlling our responses. If we expect everyone to behave impeccably around us, won’t try to hurt us or annoy us, then we’ll be sorely disappointed. This is how our anger escapes – through thwarted expectations.
Why does anger feel so good?
Anger can feel good, it can be cathartic, it can be energising and make you feel as though you are standing up for yourself, that you won’t be walked over.
Sometimes it can be really hard to resist. It was so tempting to fight and argue with her. But that would have been easy, that’s what she wanted. I chose to hold my tongue. When we lash out at someone we feel has done us wrong, it rarely ends well. It takes an immense amount of power to waft them off and walk away.
Social media and anger
This is why social media is so very toxic – the me-first attitude of so many users has bred a society of ego-maniacs who troll and flaunt their daily-life minutiae; what their kids had for breakfast; other trivia that is part of everyday life. These are the people who are quick to bite if they see something they don’t like. With social media, there are too many ways to complain, to get upset about a post, to get upset if one’s own post doesn’t get ‘likes’ or ‘loves’ or ‘shares’ any other positive response. There is too much blame, too much revenge and too much spite. It has been shown that despite the number of ‘likes’ flying around on social media, it is anger that spreads more virally.
Anger is trying to tell you something
Anger is not all bad. By learning to listen to our anger we can learn something of ourselves. Our values, our allegiances, our sore spots and our loves can be revealed when we get angry. Listen to what the anger is telling you – what has that other person said that has got you so wound up? Why do you perceive it as a threat? Don’t try to suppress it. If we try to force it back inside of ourselves, it will come out in other ways, to people who don’t deserve it. If we keep all the tension from our suppressed anger deep inside it will eventually erupt like a volcano. Running, swimming or another physical activity will release all that emotion without disruption.
How to respond to feelings of anger
Everyone has people that irritate and annoy – colleagues, family members, school gate acquaintances and it’s not always easy to hold our tongue, especially these days when anger and frustration surrounds us. But it’s not the event that make us angry, but our judgment and opinions about it. The way we think about a situation or event affects the way we feel, which affects what we do in response.
I went for a long walk after the telephone call. That’s how I dealt with my anger, by doing something constructive, something that helps get it out of my system. I didn’t lose my temper or my dignity, I maintained my control. I also realized that her anger was a response to fear or sadness. This made me feel sorry for her. She was unable to take a deep breath and deal with her anger more constructively.
“The person who does wrong, does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves — making themselves evil.” Marcus Aurelius
Image courtesy of Pixabay