Walking and talking with Betty

Last weekend I spent some time with my friend Betty in Shrewsbury.  Betty is 81 years old and she is an inspiring woman.  She has been an intrepid walker for years, and she continues to lead Betty’s Assault Course ScRambles (my name for her activities) with groups of women much younger than her, forging the way up many a steep climb.
 
Saturday dawned brilliant sunshine with only a few threatening clouds.  Contrary to weather predictions, it looked like the sunshine was destined to win out.  So we set out for Wilstone, one of the hills outlying Shrewsbury where Betty has spent much of her time walking over the last decade, solo and in groups, but nearly always accompanied by her good-tempered border terrier.  She knows each of these hills like the back of her hand and can walk without much thought or planning because the routes are engraved on her mind.  It is as if each of the hills is a separate character with a different personality.  How many people do you meet these days who have such a lifestyle and such an affinity with the natural environment? No i-phone applications are needed by Betty. 
 
There, said Betty, pointing to a peak.  How do you feel about heading for that?  I was a little aghast, it looked like a purely uphill climb.  It was basically that.  Short and sweet, but lovely verdant footpaths, a steady climb with consistent but not overwhelming exertion involved.  We both could have gone on further but lunch at the Acorn cafe in Church Stretton beckoned.
 
Betty is not internet-proficient but she does a lot better than many people only just over half her age.  She had struggled to find her way on to my blog and before my arrival she had asked me to print out and bring a hard copy of my post, ‘Walking to hear the music’ which she had seen online.  At last, I thought (mistakenly!), someone who appreciates the content and knows the music.  I suspected Betty might be someone who had listened to Oysterband for many years, as she would be more than a little sympathetic with their politics.  Only to be proved wrong again…but not exactly disappointed.  Not only had she never heard of Oysterband (though it was a pleasing surprise to hear that she knew Holly Near’s music, who almost no one has heard of, from the peace movement in the US 30 years ago), but because of her IT system (soon to be upgraded) we couldn’t even listen to any of their music online. 
 
However, she had read my piece with more care than I could ever have imagined and particularly understood the comments about how it feels to be in a different place in a walking group – the front, middle or back.  She explained that in her walking group everyone naturally but also perhaps deliberately makes a point of joining different people at different stages on the walk so that by the end everyone will have spoken to everyone else.  Discussions start and then flow into each other, but what needs to be said is always said by the end, or comes up again in the tea shop later.  It sounded like a seamless flow, and once again the image of a patchwork quilt came to my mind.


 
I had many interesting discussions with Betty.  Each morning when I got up she was waiting for me and had been reflecting on yesterday’s conversations.  We each challenged each other on our thought processes and even on areas of shared agreement.  But it was always very companionable.
 
Betty used to lead a discussion group where people brought along topics to explore, with only the group leader doing any preparation – kind of like a live blog I guess.  She had once initiated a discussion on ‘inadvertent collections’ which I thought was an evocative phrase – collections you end up with that you never set out to have.  I guess we all have these to some extent whether objects, pets, books or even people.  And you could call life itself an ‘inadvertent collection’ – whatever it is you end up with along the way, the various paraphernalia that you accumulate and patterns that can be traced in the process.
 
One of the areas we seemed to diverge on consistently was whether or not you should address problems and conflicts head on.  I was more of an accepter and/or avoider, she more of a confronter.  In our last walk before I set off on my journey home, Betty suddenly turned to me and said, ‘So who was right?  The dwarf who swept the dust under the carpet or Snow White for telling him off?’  This made me think of Michael and some of his comments on this blog.  I, of course, can think of arguments for both, but I wonder what you think.

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14 Responses to Walking and talking with Betty

  1. John Dilks says:

    The wise person will seek enlightenment to know when to accept and when to confront. Start at the end. What you want to achieve will tell you when to accept and when to confront. Imagine a relationship with a young child. Accept some behaviour in recognition of the child’s experiential learning, and building confidence and self esteem. Confront some behaviour in a rational way in the interests of safety but also to build understanding and then confidence and self esteem. Always confront challenges to social justice.

    • Karin says:

      Hello John, you are absolutely right. It is about having the end in mind – only sometimes it’s hard to know what the end is. And that’s when I struggle. Or is that just me copping out so I can get out of confronting?!
      It’s great to see you here, hope you’re well.

  2. It sounds like a wonderful time you had together. I love your friend’s phrase, ” Inadvertent collection.” I think I have a few of those. It is an interesting idea to give thought to why such a collection comes to us.
    p.s. I am a confronter. I used to be a sweeper.

    • Karin says:

      Yes, I loved the phrase too and wanted to capture it (collect it?!) Ah, you’ve just given me an idea for another post too…

      It is very clear that you are a confronter. I actually am a lot of the time too – often in group sessions as either facilitator or member. (I am more likely to be a ‘sweeper’ in more personal circumstances.) I went to a new committee this weekend to support a friend and found myself biting my tongue to not confront within the first five minutes. I ended up not being able to restrain myself but at least I waited a half hour!

  3. Chris says:

    I used to be a sweeper. Then I became a confronter. Now I’m mostly a confronter but in a sweeperly manner! Enough that when I do full-on confrontation people know to listen! On balance I prefer confrontation but you have to choose depending on the circumstances and also choose how much energy you are going to put into confrontation. I remember seeing (it must have been a television programme) a young officer cadet at Sandhurst confiding to the camera that he didn’t like doing kit inspections as he hadn’t yet worked out just how monumentally fierce you had to be over a single dirty button.

    I loved Karin’s piece. So much of Betty’s approach to life chimes with a saying used a lot in our household as we grow older – “Use it or lose it”.

    And there was a Border Terrier and Karin is starting to see patchwork and quilting in unrelated things … Did anyone notice the beautiful blue to mauve/purple pattern like stained glass behind the Pope’s head at the Beatification ceremony? I long to turn that into fabric.

    It’s a beautiful morning here. Autumn sun, so not too hot, and it feels like a day when anything could be achieved. I bet Betty’s out on the hills.

  4. Karin says:

    Hi Chris, If Eileen ever comes on to this blog (she has been very busy with other matters; you and she were both in the same department in a previous organisation together, you might know her), she will appreciate your appreciation of things such as the blue and mauve pattern etc. Have to say I missed it totally.

    Border terriers are amazing creatures especially when trained with real understanding, care and appropriate discipline by someone such as Betty (also a trained vet).

    And I have always seen patchwork in the most unlikely places!

  5. Dody Jane says:

    I am a sweeper as well, an avoider, I guess. Betty sounds wonderful and made me long for my mom. Your discussion with Betty put me in mind of several thoughts I have had lately. I do feel our world gives short shrift to older individuals. The publishing world is as enamored of youth as is Hollywood. I do think people like Betty have so much to offer.

    Karin, your walking activities sound wonderful; just as I imagine from reading books. I walk alone, on the college campus behind my house, nothing like your hills and verdant footpaths – what I wouldn’t give for a verdant footpath! I am having the best vicarious experience from your blog.

    I am attending a lecture on Jane Austen today given by a professor of comparative literature at the Univ of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It is called ‘Brides and Pride, Jane Austen in a Global Context’ – I will let you know how it goes. I don’t know why I just wrote that, must be all the Englishness of it all! Take care – wish I could go for a stroll with you and Betty…

    • Karin says:

      Hi Dody Jane, look forward to hearing about the lecture and hope it was stimulating. And I’m glad this blog is giving you positive vicarious experiences. Just beware of seeing Englishness – or Britishness – through only rose-coloured glasses, as I think I’ve said before!

      • Chris says:

        Good morning Dody Jane,

        Just to add my voice to Karin’s – we do have verdant sometimes. And verdant, when encountered, is wonderful. But on other occasions and in other sites we have we also have mud, dust, abandoned litter, relentless rain, ….. I don’t want you to be too disappointed when you finally make it over here!

  6. Michael Reid says:

    Its not an alternative of confrontation versus avoidance. If the intention of avoidance is victory then it is a different form of confrontation.

    Its only worth confronting intelligent people. Stupid people need to handled differently. An intelligent person will , when confrontated, focus on the issue, a stupid person will interpret confrontation as a personal attack.

    So if I confront your views you are clever. However …..

    Today, returning from abroad, I watched a black african (this is significant) ticket inspector at work on the train to Bedford . There were a group travelling together their group tickets were clearly stamped group booking. They had paid £11 a ticket. One of the group -a white respectable lady of pensionable age- couldn’t find her ticket-but there was clearly a missing ticket as group tickets have the group number on them. He says ”you have no ticket you must buy a ticket-no discount £48” he was clearly a man on a mission to rectify his perceived years of being down trodden.

    The comparison with the laid back attitudes in Greece from where I was returning was very evident. Here was an unpleasant racist bully -using victimhood as a cover.

    It is time we British simply shot such people.

  7. Karin says:

    Michael, I can’t sweep this one under the carpet.

    I’m very unhappy with your last sentence and the general gist of your comment, and other readers are too. I could delete or edit it (the powers that come with running a blog), but instead I’ll make my views known here.

    The story you tell is all too familiar. It is common to encounter such nit-picky, pedantic, excessively bureaucratic, by-the-book behaviours on trains and in other environments from staff of all colours and backgrounds. From the data provided there is nothing to suggest that this man was racist.

    Even if you were to say that there was evidence to support your view, I find your last sentence offensive. Such a comment just detracts from the sense in some of your other observations.

  8. Chris says:

    Michael,

    Karin beat me to it. Your remarks are offensive, bigoted and probably break the law. The ticket inspector was doing what thousands of people do – obeying the rules he has been instructed to follow. It’s nothing to do with his racial origins – it’s more to do with the box-ticking petty bureaucracies that govern guys doing jobs like his. Of course he might have applied common sense or turned a blind eye but he didn’t and who can say why? Maybe he was new to the job, maybe he had been told off for doing just that on an earlier occasion, maybe he feared he might lose his job if he didn’t do it exactly by the book.

    And your final comment scrapes the bottom of the barrel.

  9. Michael Reid says:

    I am sorry if my post caused you ofrence. It wasn’t intended to.

    Karin you ask for evidence. The same inspector looked at the ticket of the man sitting next to me- it wasn’t valid but he let the matter pass. The inconsistency could have only been due to one motive.

    As it happens I subsequently reported the man -by name- to the most helpful and supportive (Indian) station manager when I got off the train. He agreed with me.

    My comment about shooting nit picking bureaucrats who ruin the lives of innocent law abiding lady pensioners was entirely colour blind. I don’t care what race they are its their actions that are, to me, so dreadful.

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