On a crowded Chiltern Railways train last week, two curly-haired, dark-eyed gentlemen from Madrid with whom I shared a table engaged me in conversation.
It would have been so impolite not to respond ...
They asked me, finding I taught English, to recommend some British writers. We discussed Dickens, Eliot, Austen, and more contemporary writers such as McEwan. I made them discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but mainly because I liked hearing them say it.
A friend said later, ‘I hope you recommended your book to them.’
‘I had a copy in my bag,’ I said. ‘But I didn’t feel confident enough to mention it.’
'I despair of you,' she said.
'I despair of you,' she said.
Hm .. confidence.
Have you ever picked up a raspberry jelly with your bare hands? No, neither have I, although perhaps I did as a toddler. It’s the kind of thing toddlers try, thinking it perfectly feasible. To toddlers, everything is possible. Leaping from high walls, putting hands in fires, and poking chubby fingers into plug sockets and cats’ eye sockets are all reasonable, nay, laudable ideas. Toddlers are have-a-go heroes and heroines, determined not to let silly sensible old farts of adults hold them back.
My 18 month old granddaughter is at this stage. Why not stroke that snarling Rottweiler? Why not set off down this flight of steep concrete steps? Why not put this Lego up my nose? Stop at one nostril? Pff.
|Phoebe Hill the Brave|
My 11 year old pupils, although by that stage wised up to most real dangers, still take risks. The words ‘Who’ll volunteer to read their work aloud?’ guarantee a flurry of raised, Pentecostal-fervour arms. They’re not all fluent readers. Even the stumblers and those who stutter at the complex words are eager to have a go.
Fifteen year olds are different. The word ‘volunteer’ is to them what the words ‘long walk up Snowdon with a backpack’ would be to me. The same request for pupils to read out their work has them playing avoid-her-eyes-or-die. Who knew that specks of dust or scuff marks on the classroom floor could be so enthralling?
I remember the acute low confidence of my teens, too; I was convinced I was flawed and didn’t belong. Coming to Christ in my late teens helped improve this. But now in my 50s, that confidence is slipping through my fingers again, like jelly I can’t grip.
So, if I could have something back from my toddler years, it would be risk-taking confidence. I pray for it often. Self-consciousness, and the fear of being thought arrogant, stopped me from saying to my Spanish travelling companions, ‘I’ve written a book. Would you like to see it?’ It stops me from going into my local library to say, ‘I’ve written a book. Would you like to stock it?’ It stops me from calling my local radio station to say, ‘I’ve written a book. Can I come and talk to you about it?’
Perhaps it’s a menopausal thing and in my 60s I’ll be poking Lego up Rottweilers’ noses for England.
Who knows? I may even have a second book out, being read in Madrid.
Fran Hill is a writer, blogger and teacher whose first book 'Being Miss' - a comedy about a teacher's rollercoaster day - is available on Kindle from Amazon and in paperback from her humour blog However, it is not available by clicking on the image below. She's not brave enough to try creating a proper link.