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March 31st 2019
Let's talk about fear. Don't worry, I'm not going to bare my soul - or, indeed, anything else - but in a last-ditch effort to make sure that I don't go two full calendar months without a blog update, this seems as good a topic as any to think about. Don't worry (again), I'm not going to go over that old thing about me being scared of inanimate objects coming to life, either. You know it. You judge me for it. We know the drill.
The scariest thing I have ever done was my first driving lesson. When I'm particularly nervous about something, I find it difficult to sleep the night before and find myself waking up several times in a restless state - this is fairly common, I guess - but I think this was the only time that it happened for three nights in a row leading up to the day itself. Being in a position where I could do so much damage to others, and have so little ability or understanding of how to control it, was so petrifying that I put it off for a decade. I finally got behind the wheel at the age of 27, trundling slowly round the Downs in Bristol, and it was fine. I mean, I was still fairly nervous every time I got behind the wheel during lessons, and for the first few months of driving, and for any longer journey in the first couple of years after that, but eventually all was well. So far I've not hit anyon- no, wait, that's not true. Hmmm. So far I've not injured anyone, and while it was a big jolt to my confidence to scrape against another car the first time I ever drove to work (a significantly bigger jolt than the car itself received, although you wouldn't know it by the amount of screaming the occupant of the other car directed at me), it's been several years since I've had any concerns at all in the driving seat.
For most of my life it's been similar: the things that I've been the most scared about have turned out OK. Examples? I was terrified to start Uni and the years at Warwick were the best of my life; I'm nervous before every job interview and so far I've been offered every job I've applied for (except where I've withdrawn my application); I was pretty scared about starting improv classes and they've turned out to be a wonderful introduction to a new world. So. Do I, it turns out, get scared over nothing?
Er, no. Because there's also the flip side: the things that I've been scared to do that have turned out as bad as - or worse than - I'd imagined. Presentations that have gone badly; parties that I've hated; conversations that have scarred me. That time I thought that the mush on my plate might be parsnip-based and then discovered that it was. Sometimes fears are well-placed.
I should say that, in either circumstance, prayer is beneficial beforehand. And, indeed, afterhand (go with it). The difference, I suppose, is what kind of prayer the second one is.
All of this is a long build-up to say that I'm pretty scared of raffles. That is, I have no fear of being in a room when a raffle is taking place - that would be absurd - no, I'm just severely reluctant to take part in them myself. I avoid buying raffle tickets whenever possible (which, in all fairness, is most of the time). I'll tell you for why. At the age of eight or so I was with my family at some village or church event, and when our raffle ticket was drawn I was sent to the front of the room to pick up a prize. Approaching the table of said prizes, I noted that - amongst the usual chocolates, perfumes and what have you - was a camera, and so I picked it up. Being a child, I didn't really have any kind of grasp on the relative value of things: while I knew that a camera would be a good thing to have, I suppose I didn't really have any idea where it ranked when compared to, say, a box of Roses.
The room erupted with laughter and the owner of the camera leapt up to remove it, having (as you may have guessed) inadvertently left it on the prize table. I have never enjoyed being laughed at in that kind of way - who has? - and young me did not take it well. In what I still regard as one of the high watermarks of parenting, my Dad told me that he did not laugh.
All these years later, I am made of sterner stuff - albeit not particularly stern; think supply teacher - and so I was surprised by the amount of dread that came over me when I found myself press-ganged into a raffle last month. As I stared at my tickets, willing the thing to be over and hoping that I didn't win anything, it was far from the scariest moment of my life (the chance of me knocking down and killing someone on my way to the raffle table was noticeably remote) but it still wasn't much fun. What if I won two prizes? Should I tell them to put the second one back, or was this not that kind of place? In doing so, would I unknowingly offend someone who had claimed two prizes? Blending with my deep-seated aversion to raffles was my shallow-seated aversion to awkward social situations, and I wanted nothing more than to return to the safety of the amateur pantomime I was there to watch.
Anyway, I won a prize. Mine was the last ticket drawn, so I claimed the book that you see below. It was, shall we say, not worth it. And, as a note for the future, I'm always happy to contribute to whatever cause you're selling raffle tickets for, just please, please don't make me take the tickets.

what was I listening to?
Hello Starling - Josh Ritter
what was I reading?
Brown at 10 - Anthony Seldon
what was I watching?
Bull Durham
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