This weekend Luna was away in Poland for the Carramba Cup in Katowice. Aga went with the girls to help as our travelling coach was on the jury. The difference with this competition and most other foreign ventures was that we got to watch the live feed from the meet. Normally you just hear the results after the event but this time we had the dubious pleasure of sharing in the stress. We knew that the field was going to be very strong with lots of gymnasts from top countries like Russia, Ukraine and the home country Poland. These countries have a much bigger pool and the top gymnasts train up to 30 hours a week which is more than twice as much as our girls. Basically this kind of competition is about experience.
This year so far Luna has concentrated on Free and Hoop. In the Carramba she did Ball for the first time this year and Ribbon for the first time ever! She did Ribbon on Friday and it went okay but she didn’t make a couple of important catches. She didn’t have her usual confidence but that is all the more reason why getting Ribbon praticed in competition was important. Ball was similar with two big throws going wrong. She just needs to get more practice in with her throwing technique and it will eventually come good. Earlier in the season she was missing her hoop catches but that improved over time. This morning they had Free and it went okay but she did look a little unhappy.
From all accounts the girls enjoyed the event and meeting the other teams. Luna’s results were as expected. She was near the bottom end of the rankings but even with her very best performance she would not have been able to get much higher. At these meets you hope that the girls will learn from what is going on around them. It is like resistance swimming – exposing yourself to a much more difficult environment to get better. Luna got to meet family and new and old friends so she will come back stronger ahead of yet another competition this weekend.
I was at a very pleasant dinner with some colleagues the other evening. The restaurant we were at has real character and we were seated at a larger table in the upstairs ‘library’ area. Quite often at this kind of dinner the conversation is in English because there are one or two people who don’t speak Dutch but on this evening no accommodation was needed. Although most people I know here are very comfortable in English there is always a more relaxed atmosphere when no extra effort is needed to explain any culturally specific concepts. In these kind of gatherings I am reminded of how I feel at once at home and indelibly foreign in my adopted country.
I was asked if I would ever go back and I said that I could never go back to where I am from. The most I could conceive right now was to make it as far as Dublin, a city which always felt to me like a half-way house between the ‘real’ Ireland I grew up in and the big brother across the water. In my home town I feel like a foreigner because I lost touch with its sensibilities and ways of communication a long time ago. Reading McGahern’s ‘That They May Face The Rising Sun’ again I am struck by how well he captures rural life and how people ‘know’ things that defy explanation to the outsider. There are all kinds of hidden rules and codes and when you don’t live there any more you fail to interpret the half of what is going on. I love to read books set in communities where people need each other.
In a way it all seems to link back to a homesickness for a place and time and people that no longer exists for me and maybe never did. Maybe exile and a romantic look at my childhood idealizes the Irish language and songs and rituals and traditions. It just seems so much more than I can give to my own children. When I was telling one of my colleagues about this feeling at the dinner she said that Dutch kids don’t have the things that my kids are missing either but the fact is that they do have other things. There are a lot of parts of Dutch life that we can’t access as foreigners so our children are a step removed by default.
It’s a fact of emigration but there is always a part of you wishing for someplace else. The problem is that you don’t always know where that place is or even if it exists at all.
There has barely been time to catch a breath these last weeks with so much going on. For Aga in particular it has been non-stop because she has been the taxi service for the most part and at home she has been sewing eight matching leotards for the mini groups. It is so much exacting work and luckily there are some other expert mothers who provide useful tips when things get tricky.
So far this year there have already been a few competitions. The club provides lots of opportunities for the girls to get experience so there was a trial competition and then a friendly one with a couple of other clubs. In the friendly Luna did really well in Free but had a Hoop out so that was a good experience in a way. Dealing with mistakes is crucial and how you handle it can change your overall result dramatically because the least disruption means the minimum of points lost.
The first important competition of the year for Luna was the District. It went very well and she managed to make the important catches on hoop. Her handling of the materials is improving a lot and her execution of the elements is also translating into points on the D score. She ended up exceeding expectations coming second but with a tiny points difference ahead of third and fourth. It is definitely pushing her to have teammates who are so experienced and with such a great record of success. The next competition will be in Poland at the Carramba Cup which is as very high level competition in Katowice. The standard there will be top class so we just hope that Luna can put in a good performance and get as far up the ladder as she can. She will be doing ball and ribbon in the main competition so that will be good practice for the nationals ahead. They also have a separate competition for Free which will be beneficial to our girls as they have performed their routines in quite a few competitions this year. The first national qualifier is in March. It’s good that she will have had so many tests before that point.
Nadia had her first Mini competition at the C qualifier last weekend. She ended up coming fifth from thirteen in Free and fifth from eight in Ball. She performed Ball first and it didn’t go very well because she forgot her exercise and ended up looking at the trainers for prompts. Free went an awful lot better and she was better able to show her potential. She has still another year at Mini level so there is plenty of time to develop. She is also in the Mini group which is a great development because the girls get a chance to interact and work together. That is all very useful later when they are doing more advanced choreos with materials. It’s a nice thing to have a group to bond the girls together even though they compete against each other individually. At the end of the day they have the common bond of a sport they love.
I found it really hard to write my TMA on Okigbo but I managed to squeeze it out of myself in the end. It’s so hard to finish an essay that is below par and just accept that but I have to keep the Pareto Principle in mind and not waste too much energy on a death march. We have had so much going on in our family life that it was very hard to concentrate on study especially when I became totally demotivated with what I was doing. I just had to keep my eye on the finish line and I managed it in the end.
I don’t want to tempt fate but the next TMA should be much easier because I can do it on Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” which is a really fascinating and challenging piece to analyse. I hope that I don’t lose it half way through. I only have to manage two more TMAs and then the EMA. After that it is finished, I will get the degree I wanted to have to partially recompense for past mistakes and choices.
When I was studying Materials Science at Sheffield I did look into a switch to English. I remember going to the department there but having no confidence talking to the Dean of Admissions. I must have come across as a very disturbed and confused young man. I was suffering from crippling depression though there I never had any professional help until a friend said that I should go to see a counsellor. I used to lie on the ground rather than sit in the chair and try to tell her what I was feeling. It scares me now to think of how black it all was then. If only I had have known then what I know now I might have changed direction. I had all of these fears and confidence issues about studying the Arts, hard, scientific subjects seemed the only option in those very fluid times.
As I come to the end of this degree I don’t feel very energetic. It’s not even very easy to explain what I have learned in this degree in very tangible terms. Still I feel that I have become a better person. I have learned more about myself and others and found new ways of looking at the world. I quit drinking after several years of being on/off and letting alcohol control me more than I care to remember. I have embraced the feminine when everything that went before was in the masculine. Be yourself they tell you at school but being yourself often comes at a price and it’s a luxury you may not have until a later day.
In the last weeks I concentrated less on my studies than in the months before Christmas. I took some time out to catch up on a lot of television (“Breaking Bad” and “The Wire”) but also to think about what I am going to do when I finish my English degree. It has been bothering me for a long time that my knowledge of the Irish language has deteriorated so much. The older I get the more I realize how the Irish state did endow me a treasure that I should cherish. When I was eighteen I wanted the world and I wasn’t too bothered about where I had come from. Now I am looking back and trying to understand my childhood and the culture in which I grew up. The language was at the core of what was good.
I have joined a lot of Irish language groups on Facebook and started to read as much as I can in Irish again. It is heartening that there is so much being said in the Irish language even if far too much of what is being said relates to the language itself. TG4 has made a massive difference in supplying fresh consumer material in the language. That makes the whole language environment fresher. I listen to Radio na Gaeltachta every now and again but I don’t often feel engaged with what is being discussed, you have to enjoy what people are talking about in whatever language you are listening to.
As far as the Irish language is concerned the main focus of most people is on the maintenance and preservation of the small number of rural areas where Irish is the primary language. Irish speakers talk about the dialects spoken in these areas as the ‘gold standard’. The general view is that Irish spoken by other speakers is of a lower standard because the influence of English is more prevalent. For anybody from an English speaking background it makes it seem as though the only way to be an Irish speaker is to have been born into an Irish speaking family in the Gaeltacht.
The unusual thing for me now is that I am mindful of how much Irish I knew because I am relearning so much with little effort. The grammar of Irish feels very natural though I make loads of mistakes in the application. I can listen to conversations between native speakers and understand most of what is being said though I certainly could not converse with any great fluency any more. There are many Irish people who learned Irish at school. Indeed there are many more people schooled through Irish nowadays than there were in my youth. Holding on to this idea that they are not really speaking Irish because it does not meet this ‘gold standard’ is as ridiculous as assuming that the millions of conversations in English every hour of every day between second language speakers are somehow not valid.
With the benefit of perspective and knowledge of other languages I see Irish as a language which could have made the transition to being a kind of hybrid like Afrikaans but there is an undue emphasis on the gold standard of the dialects. At the same time the general attitude to the language in Ireland itself remains half-hearted. There is no will to sacrifice English at the expense of Irish. I didn’t make the choice myself to live in Ireland after having children. I have done nothing to help the Irish language so I can’t be critical.
In the end there is always too much to consider. I love languages and not just one language. I love the fact that each language provides different ways to say the same thing or even ways to say different things – things that I may not ever have considered. I feel that I should know Irish better so that I can find out more about where I came from. At the same time I can’t avoid wanting to know Japanese and German and Spanish better to learn more about what it means to be. The particular and the universal are always there in an uneasy tension. These languages I want to know like endless oceans I cannot hope to navigate.
After letting go of myself in the festive season and indulging in copious quantities of chocolate, for want of any other acceptable vice at this stage in my life, the time has come to pull in the reins. I wasn’t looking forward to stepping on a weighing scales because I had avoided doing it since November or so when I started falling down the slippery slope. Luckily though the damage was limited. I weigh about 76kg now which is 5kg more than when I was in top shape last year but considerably less than I have weighed in January in previous years.
Cutting out the chocolate is very difficult. For me chocolate is more addictive than nicotine or alcohol. With both those substances there were very strong drivers to quit linked to unwelcome side effects and loss of control. You don’t have the same with chocolate besides putting on weight. There are no chocolate hangovers or memory lapses. I find that bread is the crutch that helps with craving for chocolate. If I am nicely full on toast with raspberry jam then I am less open to wolfing down a chocolate bar. The only problem is that bread itself is pretty bad for me so now I have to try to cut down my consumption.
Luckily there are oranges. I don’t know what it is about citrus fruits but they seem to help reduce my appetite incredibly. Oranges are very filling and it is hard to eat anything else after I have managed to eat one. It’s hard to be enthusiastic in advance of eating an orange but I enjoy once I am in the process of eating one. I just have to keep forcing myself to take an orange over bread. Lemon tea also has a very good suppressive effect on my appetite so I have to discipline myself to take a mug of that over Barry’s every once in a while. I have started on the porridge again in the mornings so that helps too.
So basically I am back to eating healthily but I am not training as much as I would like. When it is cold and pouring rain then the 35 minute cycle to work is as much as I can bring myself to do. I don’t want to stop off at the gym dripping wet and I don’t have the chance to go in the evening anymore because of the girls’ training schedules. I have started doing press-ups again though. It was awful the first time because I could barely creak out 5 x 20 but I have to just build up again. The great thing about having gone through so many phases of laziness followed by fitness is that I know my own body. As imperfect as it is I can bring myself back to reasonable condition without too much fuss, the ambition to do anything better than that is what just keeps slipping away. For now though it’s back to square one and getting back in shape in the way I know how.
In my last OU Diary entry I was looking towards TMA3 on the A300 course where I needed to select two poems and use them as the basis to write an essay on whether poetry can change society. I ended up choosing a lesser know T.S. Eliot poem called “Hysteria” and a canto from MacNeice’s “Autumn Journal”. I wasn’t too impressed with what I came up with and I was banking on a mark in the 60s but I ended up getting 84%. I am probably getting the positive inflationary benefit of having delivering good essays in the first TMAs.
On the one hand I much prefer reading novels and short stories to anything else but it is actually easier in some respects to write essays about poems because there is less primary source material to work off of so you can be much more creative with looking at contextual issues. In the next TMA there is a choice between “Orlando” by Woolf, “Life of Galileo” by Brecht and Christopher Okigbo’s poetry. I have enjoyed Galileo the most but I am really swaying towards doing Okigbo because the Nigerian historical context in his work is interesting. Having read all of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s work and “Things Fall Apart” by Achebe the historical background is familiar to me so it will be nice to have the chance to explore that further. We have to do a thorough analysis of some secondary data sources this time but that is pretty straightforward since I have always done that anyway.
I expected this final module to be the most difficult by far but it hasn’t turned out that way at all. It’s probably for the best because I am already finished the degree mentally. I have started thinking a lot more about what I am going to next. One of the things that I wanted to do was reactivate my Irish and I have already started doing that by becoming involved in a FB group and writing and reading Irish regularly as well as listening to RnaG every now and again. I will definitely be trying to improve German once I get the OU study finished but I also have plans for French, Spanish and Japanese activities. All of these things have had to wait while the priority was given to the OU. Now that the end is in sight there is a big pressure in my mind to go back to my love of different languages and literatures. I have learned a lot but the desire to go back to my main passion is becoming a lot more urgent.