Review: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

As soon as I heard about The Outrun by Amy Liptrot I knew I had to read it.  Liptrot is around my age.  Like me she was brought up in rural isolated Scotland.  Liptrot on Orkney, me on the Black Isle. Liptrot always felt like an outsider, English in the Highlands and Islands when the term was used like an abusive word.  I never felt I fitted well with my peers on the Black Isle, and I to had “English” thrown at me as an insult – despite the fact I am born and bred Scottish.  Like Liptrot I escaped south, and like her I returned to Scotland.  I also felt that the story of her descent into alcoholism and recovery to sobriety may have some emotional match with the issues dealt with in my pamphlet of poetry.  Oh, yes.  We’re both writers too.

The tone of The Outrun is thoughtful, and reflective. Liptrot spends her time on the Orkeny islands exploring all they have to offer, sea swimming, snorkling, attending festivals, walking the coast, building dry stone dykes, visiting other islands, learning about geography, gazing at stars, whipped by wind and searching for wildlife.  Liptrot not only returns to Orkney but decides to live on one of it’s furthest islands, Papay.  A self imposed exile on which she not only becomes deeply intimate with the landscape around her, but also with herself.

Throughout the book Liptrot returns to the theme of The Outrun, a coastal field the furthest away from the buildings of the farm she grew up on.  It represents being on the edge, being an outsider.  Despite her references to feelings of otherness in many ways her story could not be more Scottish. The bright lights and temptations of Edinburgh, Glasgow and London have pulled the young people out of the north for generations.  Alcoholism is the mental health issue of choice.  What really makes The Outrun stand out as a work not just of Scotland, but one fundamentally of the Highlands and Islands, is where Liptrot finds her redemption.  All Highlanders know, and much Highland literature tells us, that there is only one place where we can find salvation.  The land.  In that way Liptrot is at root very much, one of us.

 

You don’t deserve love, or happiness.

Deserve is a word I hear a lot now-a-days, and one I’ve come to actively dislike.  My theory is that it’s come into such common usage through self-help and core beliefs work.  Core beliefs are little, simple things that we hold to be true at the centre of our being. Often they have been there since childhood.  Most of the time we are unaware of them.  Because of our unawareness they are often what drives self-sabotage and unhealthy behaviours.  No surprise that for those on the path of personal growth or spiritual improvement core beliefs become a focus.

Of course, what they are can vary from person to person but there are some common ones that have negatives effects on those who hold them.  I’m broken.  I’m not enough.  I’m not lovable.  I don’t deserve good things/love/success etc…  For many people the negative belief has to do with deserving.  So to counter this other people have started to talk about what you do deserve.  You deserve to see the reward of your hard work.  You deserves love.  You deserves happiness.  Kind of like a poorly thought through cheer leading squad.  They’re well meaning, but essentially superficial comments.

The problem with deserve is that it is a wholly and utterly judgemental word.  If you behave in a way or are the sort of person who “deserves” love, then it is logical that you can behave or become the sort of person who does not deserve love.  Someone from whom love can be taken away.  This gives the person who tells you you “deserve” whatever, way too much power in your life.  It’s rarely their decision.

Deserve also feeds into a poverty mindset.  If you deserve love, but you don’t have it as you’d like it yet, maybe that’s because someone else has taken your fair share.  How dare other people steal your love!  What have they done to deserve that love!  If you still don’t have it maybe your still inadequate, or they are just greedy!

When human beings get into that scarcity mindset they stop sharing, they become closed off, ego flourishes like bacteria in a petri dish and they people into themselves – they do the exact things that stop them getting whatever it is they want, love, happiness, success.

There is a better word to use, at least where love is concerned.  Birthright.  When born it is everyone’s birthright to be loved and cherished.  If that is taken from you before you understand it, it is something you can find again, because it has always been yours.  You can’t do anything that means another person can take it from you.  Although you can make sure you make it as hard as possible for yourself.  You can block it, abuse it, shame it, distance yourself from it, ignore it, and try to do the same to others – but if you chose to claim it, it will always be there patiently waiting for you.  You are the only person standing in your way.  It’s a typical human arrogance to think that we ourselves influence the ebb and flow of love in our lives.  It just is.  If you let it.

All the beautiful, different families (and Picturehouses cinemas)

There are points in my life when I become acutely aware of the fact I’m a single parent. The dread I feel at the idea of going to my daughter’s school’s family ceilidh, when the Parent Teacher Council organise photographers to take family portraits to raise funds, and when a family ticket for anything only ever covers two adults and two children.

It’s pretty standard across the UK that families are seen as two adults and two children for events, attractions and transport.  Yet at the same time the idea of the nuclear family is really an aberration within the history of family.  If you think back before the mass use of antibiotics many people died early deaths.  At the same time women were most likely to die in childbirth (this is still an issue).  Add to this the large amount of men who would die in war, or from poor working conditions etc,  then what you have is a lot of children who lose one or both parents.  The lone parent would remarry, or move in with siblings, or parents, the children were sometimes given to other relatives to bring up.  In some cultures there has been a strong tradition of Levirate marriage.  The idea of the blended family appears very modern, but it is in fact very, very old.  The only difference now is that often the blended family has happened because at some point one parent chose to leave a relationship that could no longer thrive or survive healthily, rather than the catalyst of change being death.

Today I was discussing with a friend booking tickets for the Cameo’s Studio Ghibli Season.  My daughter has got massively into anime this year, and we’re quite excited to see some of the best being shown on Edinburgh big screens.  Attending a season is expensive.  While my friend has chosen to go for a Cameo membership to keep costs down, there is no children’s membership and being a one adult one child family there is no family ticket that suits me.

I’ve spent some of the afternoon emailing Picturehouses who own the Cameo, and several other independent cinemas across the UK.  I have to say their customer service was first class as the staff member I communicated with wanted to genuinely help me find an option that may work out for me.  Unfortunately there isn’t one.

Rather than admit defeat, and give into the feeling I so often get that my family isn’t a “proper” family (and all the guilt and shame that carries with it) I decided to make another suggestion.  The Cameo has a membership option of Adult + 1.  It could be possible to have an adult membership (transferable between two adults) at the normal price of £45, but on which the adults could then add as many children on to that membership at whatever cost the Cameo thought was appropriate.  I’d suggest something like £20 per child, some people have four kids after all.

The staff member I spoke to is now going to take this idea to her managers for them to consider.  They might not make a decision in time for My Neighbour Totoro on Saturday, but I’m really hopeful that we may be able to achieve a better, more flexible deal for families.

If you think that this is a good idea, and you’d like to see Picturehouses introduce it, then you can show your support by emailing enquiries@picturehouse.co.uk.  You don’t have to be a parent to believe families could have better access, or have your own children to believe that services, attractions and entertainment can find ways to acknowledge all our families and their different shapes and sizes.

Snail gel – no, honestly!

First time I told my friends I used snail gel on my face I got some very strange looks.  In fact, every time I tell my friends I use snail gel I get some very strange looks.  Making the the leap from garden to face never appeared very strange to me.

I grew up in a small village of about one hundred people in the highlands of Scotland.  Many residents, including out school head master  grew up speaking Gaelic as their first langue and English as their second.  Impecable English at that.  Our curriculum covered all the basics, reading, writing, doing maths without using your fingers, but also covered a smattering of myth and legend, folklore and superstition.  My primary three teacher, Mrs Skinner (who none of us ever saw without about thirty thin silver bangles jangling on her right arm) told us how one cure for warts was to pick a snail up from the garden and let it wander all over the effected part.  The warts would be gone the next day.

So when browsing in Holland & Barrett and finding a Dr Organic product based on snail gel, it didn’t appear like a way out there idea.  I feel I’ve been vindicated.  I’ve always had what is euphemistically referred to as “problem skin”.  I’m not that far from forty and I still get hormonal acne!  I decided to change my skin care focus from covering it up, to actually, well… caring.  The snail gel was one of the first products I tried and it’s been amazing.  Within the first week my skin had visibly improved.  My acne has dramatically decreased, and the little I get now is vastly reduced in both size and subsequent scarring.

Although this is a product directly derived from an animal, it is cruelty free.  To harvest the gel all the snails need to do is slide up and down a piece of glass.  Dr Ogranic only harvest from “free roaming” snails.  What makes snail gel really work is the ingredients in it.  Snails produce their slime to repair any damage to their shells. Not dissimilar to the way we humans produce oil to protect our skin.  The snail gel also stimulates the production of elastin and collagen in human skin, so aids our repair too.

I’ve tried a few different brands of Snail Gel and I have to say Dr Organic’s is definitely the best.  They just add a little aloe vera and some citrus essential oil to lift the fragrance, but other than that it is fairly pure.  Dr Organic’s is exclusive to Holland & Barrett, but luckily all their stores stock it, and you can click and collect if they’ve run short, or order online.

When I first tried it I was put off the price £20 on the secretion of a snail!  It felt like a lot to spend on my vanity.  However I decided to consider it was spending on my skin health and self confidence.  Given that a little goes a long way, and Holland & Barrett often have it in its buy one get one half price offers I feel I’m worth it.

Chocolate lime non-dairy ice cream

img_20160429_164655714.jpgBeing an indoors kind of day I felt like spending time making food.  I decided to dust of my ice-cream maker and start making ice-cream again.  Knowing several people who are either vegan, or lactose intolerant, I was keen to try  my first non-dairy version an opted for a coconut milk base.  Coconut milk is full of fibre and vitamin’s, so that totally cancels out all the sugar, right?

I’ve tried experimenting with no-sugar ice cream and it just doesn’t work.  Not because of flavour, but because the sugar is needed to make sure it does not freeze solid and remains scoop-able.  I ended up with a blueberry cinnamon milk stone.  The other ingredient that can keep the ice cream at the right texture while freezing is alcohol, but that wouldn’t really work for my eight year-old.

We’re just going have to accept that ice-cream is going to have a lot of sugar and calories in it. Everyone needs a treat now and again.  This is my favourite flavour combination I’ve made so far.  The lime and chocolate compete against each other in a dance off on your tongue.

Ingredients

400ml can of coconut milk

150g dark chocolate (I used 60% coco in this one)

86g golden syrup

zest and juice of one lime

pinch of salt

Step 1

Melt the chocolate by placing it in a glass bowl set above a sauce pan of boiling water.

Step 2

Add the chocolate and all the other ingredients to your blender and blend.

Step 3

Put mixture in ice cream maker and follow instructions.

Step 4

Freeze.

Step 5

Eat.

Rich Chocolate Mousse: No flour, no dairy, no added sugar.

My attempts over the years at making healthy sweet treats have been rather hit and miss, but always a fun experiment.  This rich chocolate mouse however is all hit.  I’d defy anyone to find a chocolate mouse recipe which is more healthful while still giving you the satisfying taste and texture of the more traditional desert.  Of course the flavouring with orange is optional and you can add whatever additions you wish to try.  This recipe serves two very generous portions, or four, if you like the people your eating with enough to have less yourself.

Ingredients

2 ripe avocados

100g dark chocolate (I like about 75% coco)

1 tablespoon coco or cacao

Zest of one orange

A squeeze of orange juice

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Step one

Break up the chocolate into pieces and place in a glass bowl.  Rest the bowl above a pan of boiling water, without it’s bottom touching that water (I have no idea what happens if they touch, but everyone appears to think this is really important so I’m not going to try).  Once it has all melted move to Step 2.

Step 2

Scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin and put in a blender.  Add all the other ingredients including the melted chocolate and blend until it is all combines.

Step 3

Serve.

Step 4

Eat.

 

Talking to children: Sex, masturbation, homosexuality

One of my friends has been urging me to write more parenting blogs.  She has been particularly keen for me to write about how I discuss masturbation with my daughter.  While we were having a general conversation about sex and the body masturbation came up, and here is how it went.

Daughter:  “I sometimes touch myself there.”

Me:  “Yeah, it’s a bit like picking your nose.  Everyone does it, but no one talks about it.”

That was it.

However, for the sake of having a slightly longer blog post here are my own personal rules for talking to my child about sex.  Please note, these are my own rules based on my own world view and personal circumstances – they won’t necessarily fit yours.  I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist or an expert.  You don’t have to follow them, or even agree.  No one is forcing you to read any further…

  1.  Let the child lead.  Children’s job is pretty much to discover the world and what place they want to take in it.  They are always learning and absorbing information.  Generally they will ask for the information when they are ready for it or need to know it.  With my daughter, who adores babies, all the questions started with “How do you get babies?”  “How do babies come out?” etc.  The trick is to answer honestly, but without being dogmatic.  Use tact, kindness, flexibility and compassion.  With this method by the time my daughter got to seven she’d put it all together herself and found it “Gross!”  A completely age appropriate response.  It all happened naturally because information hadn’t been either thrust upon her when she wasn’t ready, or withheld from her when she was.
  2. Make consent part of the talk.  I believe that talk about consent is necessary and vital with children.  However it can be a tricky one to negotiate.  I love the NSPCC underwear rule.  It’s a very helpful website, with loads of advice for parents so you don’t have to do the tricky stuff all on your own.
  3. It’s a continual conversation. Learning about your own body and sex is not something that happens once and never again. My daughters questions started when she was three, and they’re still going.  I believe that both gender and sexual orientation are fluid, which means discussion should be fluid.   I feel as a parent this also takes the pressure off me.  If I phrase something badly, I can come back to it.  If I realise I could have explained something better, I’ve not blown the only chance to get it right.  As your child grows, so will their personal boundaries and knowledge.  It’s important to adjust to those changes, and let the child lead.  It’s kind of like a slow dance.  I think of parenting as being a bit like Tai Chi.
  4. Talking about homosexuality.  “Some boys like to hold hands and kiss boys.  Some girls like to hold hands and kiss girls.”  My daughter has pretty much accepted this at face value.  It also helps that we watch TV together with openly gay characters.  We were both quite gripped by the Alec/Magnus, will-they-won’t-they story line in Shadowhunters.  When we talk about the future I try to include lines like “When you have a boyfriend or girlfriend you might…”  Although I have to fess up and say that giving these signals to my daughter, that whomever she becomes is ok with me, isn’t my strong suit.  Growing up in a homophobic household and hetronormative society takes a while to break down. I do need to improve on this.
  5. Children follow your emotional ques. If you think something is scary, and you model it being scary in your behaviour, your children will find it scary.  If you are confident in an area of your life, it’s likely your children will pick up on that confidence and feel the same way.  The same is true for sex, if you talk about it in a relaxed way that makes it a normal healthy part of everyday life, this is the que your child will take from you.  It’s not quite so cut and dried though.  Emotions are messy, slippery little things, that jump out on you and surprise you, and get all tangled up in each other.  Being an adult is absolutely no guarantee that you will always model the best emotional behaviour in every conversation and interaction your child observes.  If you think it does, you are probably in some very deep form of denial.  Two phrases I say to my daughter “I’m sorry,” and “I realise I could have done that better”.  Both have the plus side of also showing your child it’s ok and forgiveable to make mistakes, and to learning how to adjust behaviour is a normal thing.
  6. Make yourself a safe space.  It’s my belief that the main role of being a parent is to make yourself a safe space for your child.  If they know they can come to you with anything and they will not be judged, or ridiculed or punished, then they will.  This is really important when it comes to sex.  Children are negotiating a tougher world than the one I grew up in.  You can never protect your child from the world, but you can give them the tools to deal with it, and a safe haven where they can rest.  When they are older, if you’ve mainly done it right, they may even forgive you for the parenting mistakes you’re bound to make.

Happy parenting!