Confessions of an English Scot

I have a confession to make to my fellow pro-independence campaigners, for which I am very sorry, and that is this: I often say ‘British’ when I mean ‘English’, and ‘English’ when I mean ‘British’.

I don’t doubt that actually many of you have picked that up – my husband occasionally corrects me on the point – but it’s a habit I’m striving to relearn. But it raises the question ‘why?’

Why do I confuse the two terms?

I know what it comes across as (which is why I’ve been trying to stop it) – it comes across as that proud English chit assuming that ‘England’ is an interchangeable term for any land in the British Empire, and that as a true citizen of that noble country I have the right to build myself a castle anywhere I set my flag!

flag castle

Air conditioning, sea view, private moat… *

I can promise you that, in my case at least, that isn’t the reason**.

I think it comes down to something much more basic and forgivable. I think it comes down to identity.

You see, I’m English for sure, but I’m also British. I was brought up English and British, and I have lived my life English and British. I’m from England, I’m from the UK. My passport is British but it says I’m born in England. Just like so many of the ‘No’ campaign say they don’t want to separate because their identity is British, my identity is British.

I understand that British and English are different things – of course they are. To be English makes you British, but my husband is British too (don’t tell him I said that) and is firmly north of the border, heart and soul. They are clearly not the same, but my identity isn’t different things – it’s not split. I’m me, and that me is both ‘English’ and ‘British’.

Part of the privilege of being English (and I don’t deny that we are privileged, nor that that privilege is unjustly given) is that we don’t have to differentiate those identities, and separate out what they represent. In fact, most of what we are given affirms that the identities are inextricably linked and intertwined. Our media paints a picture of Englishness and Britishness being so close as to be the same, and there’s little to contradict it in South English culture. For me, it was only when faced with people equally British but undeniably un-English that I started to question where the line actually is. I never had to before.

All that to say, when I encounter something ‘British’, I may retrieve ‘English’ (or vice versa) as the correct term. I’m not done renewing my mind yet.

This isn’t an excuse. I believe it’s the duty of the privileged to compromise in order to build up the disadvantaged, and that’s why I’m overhauling my lexicon. But I hope it goes some way to explaining why we English often mix up the terms, and might even make you reconsider the words you use and why.

 


*Photo credit: Sarah Groves. Image cropped. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adnamssouthwold/5637302947/

**Well, not usually

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A Moment for Meso

I first heard about Mesothelioma when I was a child- my parents were talking about someone who had died of a cancer caused by asbestos, and how unfair it was. They explained to us that a long time ago it had been used as a building material, but that they had discovered that even a little exposure to the dust could be deadly so they had stopped using it. That was all I ever knew about it, so I was shocked when I learned recently that although they have known it was dangerous since the 1950s, it wasn’t actually banned until 1999 and it’s still the leading cause of work-related deaths in the UK

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the cells which cover organs, usually those of the lungs. It develops slowly and is often not discovered until the sufferer is already struggling to breathe. Although it can be up to 40 years from exposure time to the patient developing the disease, once diagnosed the average life expectancy is a mere 1 year. It’s incredibly painful and debilitating, but the early signs tend to be subtle and so often missed – weight loss, side pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and a persistent cough.

One of the great battles faced by Mesothelioma sufferers, much like those of ME, is the lack of information available for patients and doctors. Although most people are aware that asbestos is dangerous, very few realise that it was still used as a building material in the UK as late as the 90s. Then there’s the large number of professions exposed to it – from those serving in the armed forces to those washing construction crews’ clothing – most of whom never knew there was any danger at all.

The good news is that there are treatments available, and new research is being carried out all the time – the prognosis nowdays is better than it was even 10 years ago! However, many doctors are still unaware of the latest options, and patients often struggle with understanding the illness and what to do about it. That’s why, as ever, the spread of information is key – and that’s something we can all help with.

We can combat poor poor life expectancy simply by knowing what to look for. Usually the illness is diagnosed very late, but the earlier its caught, the better the chances of survival. You can find out more about the symptoms at www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/symptoms. It’s also a good idea to check whether you or a loved one worked in one of the industries which used asbestos – a list can be found here:/www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-exposure/occupations.

If you’ve been diagnosed then there’s a wealth of medical and legal help available at websites like www.mesothelioma.com (US) and www.mesothelioma.uk.com (UK) where you can find out about the latest treatment and research options. There are also support groups and helplines available. In the UK you can sign up for clinical trials through the NHS at www.nhs.uk/Conditions/mesothelioma/Pages/clinical-trial.aspx and help researchers improve treatments and quality of life for sufferers everywhere.

Lastly, if you’re thinking of carrying out some DIY or home renovations then find out first whether your home was constructed with asbestos, so you don’t accidentally put yourself and your family at risk.

Like ME, this was a disease I had vaguely heard of but never really knew about, but it’s something many people know all too intimately, and those sufferers need support too. I’m glad I took the time to learn a little more and to share that knowledge. Information empowers us – the more we know, the better we fight!

Adjusting to discipline

I started writing a while back about adjusting from chronic illness/disability to what is considered ‘normality’, since it’s not covered very often and a lot of people had questions about it. Like I explained in the first post, “I’ve not been writing because I’ve been doing, and for me writing requires a lot of space to think”, but that’s part of adjusting, too… working out what to make space for and how to do it.

I have a little space now so I’d like to continue where I left off, way back in March.

I found the struggle back then to be with discipline, and not having a schedule really didn’t help with that. I wasn’t using the time I had in a way I considered good, because I was no longer disciplined in making sure the housework was done, getting up at a reasonable hour (etc.) – and that last one is especially hard if I don’t have any specific reason to be up at a certain time! I spent far too many mornings just dozing, in a state of being too sleepy to get out of bed but not actually sleepy enough to sleep. Also, sleep was kinda my default state for almost 9 years. I remember hating sleep so much – I’d rather use time on something enjoyable or necessary than on dozing in bed, but it took work to break out of it.

I was working from home a lot too, both doing housework and lesson planning for tutoring, and they suffered from lack of discipline. I wanted to get them done in a certain amount of time but the push to actually do that was very difficult. I think discipline is a “use it or lose it” skill – I don’t blame myself for that loss, I had no choice, but I still find it a struggle to re-learn.

It’s amazing how quickly you lose it and how long the retraining takes.

There were a whole bunch of other things that I suddenly need to do, too. Eat healthily (since I can actually cook!), exercise, go to bed on time, do laundry. I had to remind myself to do things just because it had been so long since I was able to do them that I forgot that they needed to be done. Going to church on a Sunday felt utterly bizarre, and bathing? Oh yes, bathing. I used to shower every day before I relapsed, and then suddenly I could only bath every… month? Once a week at best, and that was pretty rare. And required supervision. Awkward.  Suddenly I didn’t have that restriction anymore, but I also didn’t have the habit! Don’t worry, I didn’t go for more than a few days without remembering – is it okay to admit that on the internet? – but I just would plain forget that it had to be done. Probably a good job that I like showers so much!

It basically felt like I was learning it all from scratch. But I also had a better foundation, the knowledge that I did actually need discipline (and a schedule), and that I could build my life on top of the things I knew to be important, instead of trying to cram them in at the edges.

Wisdom and words

I spoke on valuing both silence and speaking up, but truthfully, I feel lost in this area. I wish I had the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. To be sure, sometimes it’s obvious – but I feel like those occasions are few and far between.

I’ve noticed some people tend towards keeping silent always. Keeping silent in the actual situation when they desire to speak, anyway, and then ranting about it privately. To be honest I probably tend towards this. Keeping silent when words need to be said can be so damaging, but I know so well how powerful words are, and how powerful still is the rejection of the things of our heart.

It’s true also though, that many tend towards always speaking up, always objecting. In some situations, to not speak up is to side with wrong, and so they decide to always speak up. But speaking up when silence is better is just as damaging – what you say hurts. Words drive bigger barriers than seas between people, and can do more harm than knives. Why do we sing the songs “sticks and stones…”? Not because words don’t hurt, no – but because we want our words of not caring to hurt the one who hurt us! Sticks and stones may break bones, but bones heal within a few weeks, and I’m still broken over words said to me years, decades ago.

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, but I don’t trust that I can identify either particularly well. I need a lot more wisdom for that. But I also wanted to explain my thoughts about these things – about how both are so important – because it seemed rather incongruent for someone with a blog (of all things!) to claim they valued holding their peace!

Why I value speaking/shutting up

I ranted on it, so I thought I should be reasonable about it too: (not) shutting up.

I value shutting up. I also value speaking up. It sounds an odd pair to value, but then some people might venture to describe me as odd anyway. Regardless, I hold onto this as a wise saying:

“There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven:
…a time to be silent and a time to speak” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

There are times when it is really important to not speak: The words which bubble up inside will do nothing but ill. The thoughts in your head are too whirling and disjointed to help. The things that come to mind are meaningless. There are times when, regardless of how good and true what you have to say is, the other person is not ready to hear it. The things you say will fall on deaf ears, and all that will happen is your pearls will get trampled in the mud. There are times too when there is nothing better than to listen. Your side, my side, it is valuable and important but right now, the absence of opinion speaks louder than the flurry. Sometimes it is better to say “I am listening”, when you want to say “I disagree”.

There are so many times where it is better to hold your peace.

There are times when it is really important to speak: The fear and worry that tells you to keep your peace is holding back words which will break down barriers and bring healing. The thoughts in your head are exactly what they need to hear. The things coming to mind are timely and Godly. There are times when, regardless of how difficult the circumstances, the other person needs to hear what you have to say – even if what you say falls on deaf ears. There are times too when to not speak up is as good as saying you’re on the side of the oppressor. There are times when you are unable to do anything, and nothing you say is listened to, but you have to say it because if you keep silent you’ll be as bad as them. There are even times when words have power and effect great and mighty change, and you never expected it.

There are so many times when it is wrong to hold your peace.

When I can’t shut up

I can really relate to the whole “no one can control the tongue” thing. I mean, I’m fairly good at holding my peace, of restraining myself when speaking will just make everything worse. Sometimes telling your side of the story just isn’t going to help anything. But sometimes, I can’t shut up.

Especially if I’m angry.

It’s worse because this week, I realise I’m staying with someone who just Does Not Understand what I am saying. I have been trying to get them to understand for most of my life, and I should know by now that it’s a lost cause, but something snaps and I cannot not say something. Even though it’s useless.

…but the government has destroyed the NHS. Do you not understand that? The NHS is GONE. I don’t care if your MP is “a nice bloke”, it’s his party’s policies that are directly responsible for this.

…but people are starving to death in the UK. Starving to death. In the UK.

…but we are supposed to “submit to one another in love”! Where is giving up the place of authority like Jesus did, and serving like Jesus did? What they propose leads to abuse and break up of relationships. It is embracing the curse that we are supposed to be breaking.

…but people are killing themselves because they can’t care for themselves. They are told they are lying and they don’t have enough money to eat or live, and they need care every day which they can’t get, so they kill themselves.

…but that’s not what the Bible says! That’s human rules made to look religious!

…but I don’t care if the BBC reported that, it is a lie. Go look at the figures for yourself. No, actually look for yourself, and work it out in your head. It-is-a-lie. Just because it’s in the paper, doesn’t mean it’s true.

It’s futile and foolish because it all falls on dead ears. Usually I know, I can tell it’s useless to say anything, because they are so set in their ways they won’t hear any of it. But for some reason, here today, I can’t shut up about these things that make me so angry. The things that are destroying our world.

Who wants to hear a clanging gong? It’s just off-putting. I want to live a life which shows what I believe, and have an answer ready – not just spout my mouth about stuff in a way which won’t make a difference. I want to bide my time and say it clearly when it will be listened to. I think today all my words are being wasted, but I’m angry about all these issues, really angry, and I can’t seem to shut up.

The Pile Shall Not Grow

A recent post by Sarah Bessey alerted me to the fact that I too have a slight problem with books, in that I have quite a lot of them to read. It isn’t a problem in itself – I love reading – but apparently that love has gone a little wild. I thought I was reading, quite reasonably, four books – 1 fiction, 1 practical non-fiction, 1 theoretical non-fiction, and the Bible. I mean, I need a bit of variety, right?

But then, I actually took stock. With lists.

Currently, I am reading no less than 9 books. I recall several moments where I could not wait to finish the current book in order to get my mind into the next one, so I just started it anyway. In addition, I have another list of books which I have already purchased, just waiting to be read, and a further list of free e-books which I own and ideally would like to read someday, when I don’t have more pressing desires. Then there’s the list of books my husband bought when I was ill, which I could also read. Oh, and an Amazon wish list. Or three. Or four, actually. I’m pretty sure there’s four. You have to categorise the books, after all.

So, I am making the decision: The Pile Shall Not Grow. Oh, the wishlist pile shall most certainly grow. And probably the free e-book pile too – hey, they are free! But the two important piles, the books-I-am-currently-reading and books-I-have-bought-in-order-to-read… yeah, they are not growing one bit bigger.

I shall finish a book before adding a new book to the pile. The Pile Shall Not Grow.

I shall reduce the pile from 9 to… less than 9. I can’t conceivably have less than 3 (fiction, non-fiction, Bible), but I can have less than 9, at least. The Pile Shall Not Grow.

I shall finish the books I own before buying more I shall finish at least two books I have bought before buying a further book, until the “purchased but not read” list contains less than two books. It’s not a perfect solution, but it at least converges towards unity. The Pile Shall Not Grow.