The Squawking Tree: 2013 365 Challenge #146

The gorgeous Scottish hills from my friend's house

The gorgeous Scottish hills from my friend’s house

I’ve been having some crazy dreams while on holiday. I think it’s the rock-hard bed. I’m sleeping on a pile of duvets like Princess and the Pea and I’m clearly of royal blood because, even through the towering pile of softness, the bed is hard enough to keep me awake.

Last night I dreamed that a friend and I took our manuscripts to a publishers together and mine was put forward when hers wasn’t. It ought to have been a happy dream but instead it reminded me of many uncomfortable moments in my own life. With each academic milestone, when I should have been elated at my own achievements, the moment was clouded by a friend’s disappointment. GCSEs, A Levels, degree: In each instance, I got top marks and a friend didn’t. So instead of bouncing with joy for my A Grades, my First, I was embarrassed and tried to conceal my results, while consoling various friends’ unexpected Es, Fs, 2:2s.

This has all come to light again, I think, because we went to visit a friend of my father’s who lives close to our holiday location in Scotland. I haven’t seen him since we scattered my Father’s ashes seven years ago. He hasn’t changed. Visiting him and his house was like having a chance to see what my Dad would have been like had he lived. Talking to him was a bit like talking to Dad, and double edged for the same reasons.

Even though Dad’s friend was impressed at my writing achievements (after hubbie listed them, while I sat red-faced and silent) he said something later that showed his true feelings. We were talking about my Masters degree. He seemed disappointed that I didn’t crown my first class honours degree with a distinction for my masters. (I was close to getting top marks, but losing my Dad and getting married the year my dissertation was due didn’t help my grades).

My Dad and his friend as boys

My Dad and his friend as boys

He then went on to question why I wasn’t some hot-shot Board Director with all the qualifications I have, instead of “wasting my time scribbling” (his words). I thought hubbie was going to explode. I shrugged off the comment, having heard it before, and having learned to be comfortable with that particular decision – I’m not made to be a director: I’m rubbish at office politics.

It got me thinking, though, about how miserable I make myself by constantly comparing myself to other people’s expectations. Talking about it with hubbie, I came to the conclusion that I am a product of my parents – both of them were one of three kids and each bore the burden of being compared unfavourably to elder siblings. Both then found themselves caring for ungrateful parents later in life, while the favoured siblings vanished and did nothing. Nothing like martyrdom to leave you bitter.

So I learned martyrdom and feelings of inferiority (I’m very good at both!). I feel like my parents, and their parents, are all squawking crows sitting above me in a giant tree, shrieking their nonsense at me. All the clamouring voices in my head are theirs. When I feel the disapproval of my friends, or worry I don’t live up to their expectations, it is the fear and worry of my noisy family tree filling my head. Beneath it all I believe in my choices and am happy with them.

It’s a useful analogy. I don’t want my kids to have to roost in that tree, though it’s probably too late, particularly for my eldest child. They are a product of me. But if I can fly off and roost somewhere quiet, maybe just maybe they won’t have that noise clamouring in their heads all their lives.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked up at the glorious building, set in parkland, and smiled. She was glad to leave the trees and the rain and the smell of horses behind. All she wanted was a hot bath or shower and something alcoholic to send her into the land of nod.

She walked through check-in like a zombie, nodding in the right places and scrawling her name on the paperwork. She regretted the lack of a private room but, if the outside of the hostel was anything to go by, the dorms would be lovely.

Claire opened the door to her room, then stepped out to double-check the number. There must be some mistake. She checked the paper in her hand. It was definitely the right room.

She stared at the chaos, trying to make sense of it. The floor was barely visible beneath a litter of clothes, plastic bags, stray shoes and other paraphernalia. A bra hung from the nearest bunk bed. The top bunk seemed to be occupied, although Claire wasn’t sure if it was a body or a crumpled duvet.

This can’t be right. There isn’t room for a mouse to move in here, never mind an extra person.

Eventually, like a Where’s Wally puzzle, Claire spotted an unoccupied bunk near the window. She was surprised it was free – usually the beds under the window were taken first – until she realised the curtains were so thin the morning light would illuminate the bed like a spotlight. Something about the state of the room suggested to Claire that these girls were not early risers.

A memory from early in her trip intruded on Claire’s thoughts. Those bloody Swedish girls. That’s all I need. I wonder if it’s too late to get a different room. She backed out and headed down to reception.

“Sorry love, the last bed was taken just after you arrived. Is there a problem?”

Claire thought about the stench of clashing body sprays, the comatose body huddled under a duvet at 5pm, the general clutter and chaos. I guess that’s hostelling, I’ll just have to write a post about it.

“No, there’s no problem. I’m a light sleeper and the free bed is by the window, that’s all.”

“I can lend you an eye mask if you like?”

Claire was touched by the offer, but shook her head. “No need, I have one, thank you, and ear plugs.” Like airplane freebies, without the glamorous destination to look forward to. She sighed, then a thought sparked in her mind.

Actually, hostels should do that. How much nicer would some people find their hostelling experience if they discovered the wonders of ear plugs? You could have a little packet on each bed with the sheets; maybe get the eye masks sponsored by local businesses so they don’t cost anything. If I ever have my own hostel, that’s what I’ll do.


6 thoughts on “The Squawking Tree: 2013 365 Challenge #146

  1. Technically, you could have been a director, sure – but is that your choice, or someone’s blinkered view of how you should live your life? I think it took great courage to leave behind a perceived norm and tread your own path. Your family are in the norm and squawking tree. You sit in the Silent Courage one. I hope your children have inherited that particular tree.

  2. Ugh. Why is it so hard to ignore other’s expectations of us? And in reality, they’re probably saying it because they’re feeling bad about the decisions THEY didn’t make in life.

    I’m glad you’re happy with your decisions in life. That’s really all that matters!

  3. Did you see Kristen Lamb’s recent blog about this? Her family’s comment was she didn’t work a real job.

    We go through this with my husband being an artist. The overall comment is “must be NICE!”. No, it’s not. He’d rather have a regular job and paycheck than this overwhelming need to be creating art that doesn’t make much money. But his art comes first, just like it did years ago when we started dating in high school.


    • I do follow Kristen Lamb but had missed that one, so spent a lovely hour catching up on her blog last night, thank you!
      I had the same thing when I left my job as a Marketing Manager to paint abstracts for a living – people said ‘oh how lovely that you are following your dream’. However, then, I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I was convinced I could make money selling corporate art, and I hated my job with a passion. As it turned out, I wasn’t made to be a sales person and gave the art up as too soul-destroying (I did an exhibition and had as many people saying ‘my five year old could do better’ as appreciating it).
      I’m very lucky that my husband is as supportive of me in my crazy endeavours as I am him in his, and that my parents are proud of my novel. We (possibly foolishly) believe that writing may one day be a career with a proper pay-cheque. But, are there days when I wish my salary came at the end of every month like everyone else? Oh yes!

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