Quote of the Week – Week 28

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I love giving gifts. I’ve decided that the favourite gift giving I’ve done this year, was getting tickets for me, my Mum, Vicky, Ruth and Miss S for the London Eye so we’d see the sunset over London. So much fun, and in a way quite selfish, because it seemed so romantic, and I loved having people to share that experience with.

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However, learning the art of gracious acceptance has been tough.

My learning really began 6 years ago, when I came to Edinburgh. When I arrived off that plane from Australia, I entered this city with no permanent job, no place to live. As the year went on, I was suddenly given a £800 council tax bill, £1,500 bathroom repair bill and went to the brink of my student overdraft. The next year Cassie the Corsa’s speedometer broke as well (along with a few other things…she was most certainly a ‘Friday afternoon car’). There was the time (or two) that I didn’t get paid from work on time because the charity had no funds to pay me. There was South Africa. There was the day my laptop screen stopped working and I was told it would be pointless to pay the £400 to fix it.

There was the silly humiliations of going to a church in an affluent area, and realising you couldn’t afford to socialise in the same way as they did. Sometimes they offered to pay for my meal so I could come have lunch with them, but I was often to full of pride to accept such an offer. ‘I’m nae a charity case’ ; ‘I’d just feel bad, because I’d never be able to return the favour‘; ‘I’m sorry I can’t accept it when I can’t pay you back‘ are the sort of responses I’d give.

Eventually it was two friends, who built up trust with me, that challenged me on my prideful ways. They often gave me random gifts, especially when I was living in a draughty flat and trying to pay off my debts (and fund a trip to South Africa) – a starbucks gift card so I could go get a caramel hot chocolate and read a book. A postcard. Home baking. But sometimes they gave me large gifts that I struggled with. A cheque to help cover car repairs. A new laptop.

I confessed to them my discomfort. They told me that I needed to learn to accept gifts, because to not, was to deny someone else the gift of giving.

Ouch.

And I knew what they meant, because I love giving gifts. For sure, I don’t earn much on British terms (shown by the fact I currently live in my mother & stepfather’s attic conversion, my phone is a pay-as-you-go ‘vintage’ nokia and no longer have a car), but I love to do it when I can. Whether it’s paying for the meal, or a cinema ticket. Sometimes it’s just being able to babysit or make a batch of cupcakes for people to enjoy. I get so much pleasure out of sharing things with people. It sounds cliche, but it’s true.

I would have been really hurt if my friends had refused to come on the London Eye with me just because I’d paid for the tickets!

I can’t say I’m all there yet, but I do know I”m better. After all, the laptop I’m currently typing this on, was an extremely generous gift from my friends. I totally dread the day this laptop dies, because this one (like the last one) has sentimental value to it.

Plus, none of my friends are my friends because of material wealth. They are my friends because  they are honest with me and allow me time in their company, experiencing things together. Sometimes that can be things that cost us money (like going to see Matilda) and sometimes that can be watching an NCIS finale together or sitting in the park for ‘free’!

So let us find the joy in giving, and work on graciously accepting so we can help others find the joy too. 

Quote of the Week – Week 15

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It was inevitable that a quote from my favourite series of books – the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency – would find it’s way into these (sort of) weekly posts.

Some of you know that I’ve done a lot of work and training in counselling skills. I must confess it’s not a natural skill that comes to me easily, but it is a role I’ve often found myself in since I was a teenager. People used to joke that my room in university halls needed some counselling hours on the door.

As I came to the end of my university studies, I got the chance to start training as a crisis pregnancy counsellor with an aim to volunteering with a pregnancy resource centre that was going to open up in town. I was freaking out, because really I wanted to do youth education work and was very nervous about training alongside people twice my age (or older) some of whom already had diplomas in counselling.

We often watched videos of the organisation’s founder who would explain theories and concepts of the counselling model to us or introduce role play scenarios. I’ll never forget the ‘first steps in counselling’ that Joanna spoke to us through the TV set.

The first step in  counselling was to welcome the client then go make her a cup of tea.

How terribly British!

And I was panicking right there. Because I don’t drink tea or coffee (I now drink some herbal teas just so I can join in with the hot drinks culture of Britain and church). Therefore I was thinking ‘Oh no! I can’t even make a decent cup of tea, I’ll fail the client before I’ve even begun!’

But it is true those words that Mma Ramotswe speaks. She makes a cup of tea for her clients too. Clients that are maybe nervous about speaking to her, ashamed at what stories they may be bringing, worried about the outcome.

I’ve now been practising my counselling skills for 5 years. I can now make a cup of tea (though I still get nervous about making tea & coffee for others), and it does help. Not only does it give my client a chance to breathe and make themselves familiar with the surroundings of the counseling room while I’m gone, something else to concentrate on somehow takes away some nerves and the story begins to come out as they hold their mug of tea taking sips every now and again.

There is something warming and comforting about having that mug of hot liquid in your hands that makes you relax when you are feeling stressed and tense.

Maybe there’ll be research about the psychology of tea drinking one day – perhaps there already is. But when you sense someone you care about is in a crisis…listen to the words of Mma Ramotswe (and Joanna)…pop the kettle on and get that tea brewing.

Redbush, tetley or otherwise! :)

An evening with…

Last year, I had the pleasure of going to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the first time as an adult. I used to go every year with my primary school, which I loved because I was a little blonde bookworm! I hadn’t really been on the ball with the book festival when it came to tickets – which sell out FAST – as I am with the Fringe Festival. Luckily for me, one of my author friends, Nicola, was coming up to Edinburgh for the book festival and gave me the orders to get tickets for an event I’d missed out on 2 years in a row because of working at the Momentum conference.

An evening with Alexander McCall Smith.

As huge fans of his books, we LOVED it. I think Nicola’s friend Fiona was a bit bemused by our true McCall Smith geekdom as we laughed with him as he  chatted with Jamie Jauncey about Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Phuti Radiphuti, Isabel Dalhousie, and of course the poor suffering forever 6 year old Bertie and his very overbearing mother…! This year, I was ready and waiting and when the tickets went on sale, and my friend Vicky (another huge fan) was able to come with me on the first night of the book festival.

We enjoyed the evening so much, especially the reading from one of the 44 Scotland Street books where Bertie and his Dad meet a Weegie ‘businessman’ (read: gangster). The contrast between the rather well spoken Bertie and Lard’s weegie tones was fabulous. Seeing the portrait commissioned of Olivia Giles, founder of a charity called 500 miles which supplies prosthetic limbs to amputees in Zambia and Malawi. The portrait is hoped to be part of a public collection of people who have done great things to make a positive difference in the world. What an honour for Olivia, and how lovely to see her work recognised.

I laughed a lot when Alexander (or ‘Sandy’ as he seems to be known to his friends) talked about overbearing mothers, and how Edinburgh has a high concentration of them – particularly in Stockbridge. It has indeed been my own observation living in Edinburgh for so many of my 28 years! And I told him so, as I’d met a few ‘Irenes’ whose children went to the same dance school as me in Stockbridge. :)

How did I tell him so? Because we got the pleasure of meeting him briefly afterwards in the signing tent. He signed our books, shook our hands and even got someone to take a photo of us together on our camera.

Thank you Mr McCall Smith – for your kindness, infectious laughter, sharing your wisdom, cultivating arts and philanthropy and of course…your books which make such enjoyable reading.

And if you’re in Edinburgh – do check out the Book Festival in Charlotte Square. It makes for a pleasant calmness in the midst of the Fringe and tram chaos! :)

I’m saving the world with my orchestra (apparently)

I had no idea I’d managed to save the world with my very own amateur orchestra until the other night when I first saw this book written by one of my favourite authors, Alexander McCall Smith.

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Most of the people who know me from my Aberdeen days call me ‘La‘. I can’t remember how it started. Possibly from me ending texts with the intials of my first name…people started calling me ‘La’ and it just stuck. My friends think that it suits me nicely as I do lots of singing. :)

I’ve never heard of anyone else being called ‘La’. I’ve not read the book yet, but I plan to. I hope that ‘La’ is a nice character.

What will happen if she isn’t? :(