Saturday, 13 June 2015

A Man's A Man For A' That

taken from the bailey looking up the valley

K. has been a neighbour for several years. We meet walking our dogs, K. has a lovely collie called Sam; Millie can take or leave Sam, but she adores K. She and I were halfway up the hill when she spotted K. below us in the meadow by the river and down she raced to make a fuss of him and have him make a fuss of her.

K. is a strange chap, lives on his own, is extremely hard up and spends most of his time - up to 8 hours a day - making wood carvings with a religious theme. He is self taught and tells me he has never sold a piece. Beloved and I knew that he suffers from depression, we have had long talks with him (I have given him wood for his fire from the garden and once or twice I’ve paid him to look after Millie; he terminated the arrangement, not me. I’d have been happy to employ him as an occasional dog sitter), these talks have been on the doorstep, his or ours, and in the field, never in the house before.

When he saw me on the hillside he climbed up, Sam and Millie following.

After a desultory exchange about the weather and “haven't seen you around for a while and how are you?” K. laughed his strangely strangled laugh and said he would love to find himself a partner. “Oh yes?”, I said. “Yes, but all the single women in Valley’s End are lesbians; “. He continued, "I was thinking what a nice woman J. is but then Hen told me that J. is a lesbian. Hen is a lesbian, Trish is a lesbian, Jane is a lesbian . . . . ."

It’s true, considering the size of Valley’s End, we have perhaps a disproportionately high number  of lesbian and gay neighbours. Safety in numbers? Although that is surely hardly necessary nowadays. Maybe I’m a bit slow on the uptake but I didn’t consider being a lesbian (or gay man, for that matter) any kind of bar to making friends.

“Yes, but I don’t want a friend, I want a partner.” K. continued, “but then I’m probably asking too much anyway.” He began to count off on his fingers the qualities he required in a woman. “She’s got to be a good cook, she’s got to like opera, she needs to be into art, she needs to be able to put up with me. . . . “

“Aha,” I said, not being particularly tactful, “and what can you offer in return?”

K. choked. “Sweet eff. all”, he said. I’m no good at anything, haven’t a penny to my name, and I certainly wouldn’t want to put up with me.”

I suggested he might like to try and make friends first and to that end I invited him to “come on, come with me and have a cup of tea; we’ll wake Beloved from his afternoon nap and chat.” K. was very keen instantly, and I’d had enough of standing on a windy hillside by that time.

Like many lonely and solitary people K. turned out to be a great talker. After he’d admitted that he wished they’d lessen with the years, we dropped the subject of his amorous needs, and he suddenly quoted the beginning of T S Eliot’s Ash Wednesday

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

and from there it was but a short step to a discussion of singing and music, (K. has had training as an opera singer), poetry in general and T S Eliot in particular, drama, the arts, etc.

“There,” I said, “you have a lot to offer, even if you have no money. In a place like Valley’s End you find many people with tastes similar to yours. What about joining a choir, for a start? Or a drama group?” I wasn’t quite ready to invite him to join our poetry group.

“No, I couldn’t”, he said. “I have been told that I have an excellent voice - (true, he is a powerful baritone) - I wouldn’t really fit in with any local choirs or drama groups. Besides, they wouldn’t want me.”

And then the flood gates opened. “I don’t fit in anywhere.” He quoted Philip Larkin’s ’This Be The Verse’ which starts

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.  

K. is 61 years old and still chewing over the hurts and grievances of childhood and youth, still craving the love he believes he didn’t get as a child.  It is the common story, self-destructive and a barrier to living a full, independent life.

His background is totally uncultured, his parents and siblings are working class people with no pretensions to being anything else, content with their lot. They haven’t read a poem or a book in all their lives. He left as soon as he could for London and education. He did college courses in various subjects, trained as a singer, earning a precarious living in his spare time. “But I couldn’t finish any of the courses,” he said, “ I even did half a Masters in arboriculture. But I ended up in an office, which I hated. I absolutely hated it.” K. began to drink. And carried on drinking for years. He finally hit absolute rock bottom, which is when he ‘was saved’, found religion of a sort and joined AA . He seemed still amazed at what he found there. He said “There were all these people, drunks like me, but they were sober now and jolly, clean and smartly dressed, with jobs and a purpose in life; they didn’t need drink to get them through the day anymore.”

He talked for over an hour, occasionally close to tears. The main impression I had, and still have, is that he needs to find a reason for his years of self destruction and he finds this reason not within himself but in others, his family and circumstances.  In other words, he blames others. He appears to be totally lacking in self confidence at the same time as having unrealistic schemes of making his carvings count for something in the art world by approaching religious bodies, incl. the Vatican.

If only K. could learn the truth of Robert Burns' famous lines which say that wealth, or lack of it, and social class should not be the measure of a man’s true worth.

A Man’s A Man For A’ That

If he gave himself half a chance K. could be that Man.


  1. Sadly, no matter what your circumstances in growing up, you are responsible for yourself as an adult. No excuses for your mistakes, make them and then get over them. But optimism and rose colored glasses are not easily available. So many of us can allow ourselves to fall into that type of funk as we all have issues.

  2. I am commending this excellent character sketch/insight to a few of my therapist friends.
    You remind me again of my own accomplishment, by showing the road I left a while back.
    You are wise. Thanks for the example...

  3. Boy I can relate to K. BUT, a big but, I left the demon booze behind and saved myself from certain death. Some people are missing that extra spark, if only K could own his life, accept responsibility and get out there, it starts with a tiny step and maybe having the cuppa with you and B was a start today, who knows?

  4. We all have our personality flaws. One of mine is that I find people who suffer from the "if onlys" hard to entertain. It's called intolerance. I find people like K interesting until they test my patience and understanding. I admire you for extending the hand of friendship.

  5. Works in wood,does he? And quotes Eliot? Hmmmmm...... :-)

    What's so sad is that our society (here at least; perhaps not there) increasingly seems determined to convince people that victimhood is a good thing. I could go on about that for some time, with delicious examples, but instead I'll tell a different story.

    Years ago, the psychologist Eric Berne wrote a book called "Games People Play." The book was pretty well known, and you may have read it. One of the games he described was called "Broken leg." It goes like this: "Honey, why don't we go to the park?" "Oh, I couldn't possibly. I have a broken leg, you see." Or, 'Do you think you could help me with this paperwork?" "I'd be happy to, but this broken leg..."

    And so it goes. I suppose we all have our metaphorical broken legs. The real question is, are we going to cope, or will we mope? It sounds to me as though K may be transitioning from moping to coping -- or perhaps wants to, at least. It must have taken a good bit of courage for him to say all that to you. I think that's a good sign.

  6. What a fascinating tale! I'm sure you dod a service by listening --and I hope we hear more of this fella.

  7. K is a very complicated character. To us it looks simple for him to get out of his self imposed situation. We can see that he has all kinds of assets that could be used. As I heard a psychiatrist say one day. "There's a lot going on here."

  8. A sad tale; but it's great that you reached out to him. Maybe that'll be his first step.

  9. Friko, you did ask K a very good question. What could he offer another. His answer might at first seem sad, then a bit unimaginative, then a bit self-serving.

    Perhaps his having tea with you and yours might have encouraged him to have some other ways of looking at life. Perhaps not.

    Oh Friko, may be add these sorts of questions to what we might discuss when next we meet. When I encounter folks at my workplace, the shop, they might say to me, I could use some help. I always, well almost always, smile and reply that we all could use some help, but not all of us admit it. Generally, I've found that a bridge is immediately built.

    Hoping that we do get to see each other before too many more months or years pass by. xo

  10. You are a good listener, Friko and that is what K needed that day.

  11. I imagine that his family and circumstances could have had a great deal to do with how he felt himself to be treated.
    The lazy cruelties of those that have can be hard to bear for the one that hasn't.

    A man might well be a man for a' that...but he is not treated as such and confidence is hard to learn.

  12. You were very kind to him. Not every would take the time to listen, including me I expect. I think once you reach a certain age, and not a terribly old one at that, you have become too selfish and set in your ways to start your first full on relationship. In some ways he is like my mother, lonely, yet won't make the effort to meet new people in any social group or any other circumstance than what she is used to.

    I am risk of going on for way too long. Love the Larkin verse. I had not heard it before but there is plenty of truth to it.

  13. Hi Friko, your very well written post made me think a lot and made me feel sad. What a waste of good properties this man has. Being lost,
    and in his own way all his life...
    Will your kindness and interest in him, and your listening to him, push him out to a better management of his days and talents? To some insight about past, present and future? Will you have the strength for more talks with him? Will he use you and throw his burden onto you? Or can things to be improved through gentle advise?
    You have a good heart Friko! :-)

  14. You are most kind and generous and you may very well have brought K out of his shell. Perhaps you will see more of him. He sings, loves the opera and carves and quotes poetry. Sounds like a good start to invite him to tea and get him talking, drawing him out of his shell. Sometimes, all that is needed in life is a listening ear.

  15. How very sad this is, but I think in sharing with him, helping him to see his qualities, you are offering a kind and selfless sort of service. I have always believed that there are survivors in this world and victims. The victim will take a background like K's and no matter how much they succeed in talents or endeavours over their lifetime, they will never be able to welcome the accomplishments with grace. They will remain the victim of their youth or experience. The survivor will take that same situation but use it as a step toward growth and blooming. Perhaps by recognizing his need for love and companionship, K is taking the first step toward becoming a survivor. I hope so. He sounds as though he has a good deal to offer if only he will recognize it.

    1. That is very well said. You summed it up perfectly.

  16. Maybe you have helped K to make inroads into the community. I hope so.

  17. I was shocked when you said his age is only 61. He has so much more living to do. I'm sure it helped him to release the floodgates and express some of his pent up feelings. Are there any non-profit/charity groups where he could help others in some way? He would be making a contribution, making connections and raising his value in his own eyes.

  18. So true that some people can never let go of old hurts. If you believe you are a victim then so shall you be. I know. I was one for a long time--LOL! ;) As long as he blames others or circumstances, he won't change much. Sad, but true. One can never love those people enough to make them feel loved and whole. Ask me how I know that, too--LOL! Some people always see the glass half empty. The miraculous thing is that sometimes--sometimes--people can change. And it is pure joy to behold!

  19. K. is very open. I wonder if he is like that with everyone.

  20. I loved this read, Friko ... so much ... would love to meet this man ... his story moves me 2 tears ... have many like him on my psych ward ... he doesn't know how lucky he is ... and gifted ... 61, eh? ... well, there is still time for him to find lady luck and things ... I hope he knows that ... all it takes is one (1) lucky moment ... glad he has you and Millie to talk to ... cuz you know, and obviously Milly knows too ... sweet ... Love, cat.

  21. We always had the phrase "no, cos..." in our family. It refers to the persistent raising of obstacles in the face of constructive suggestions. I suppose it is fear of failure or rejection, perhaps based on previous experience, that cause us all to find our "No Cos.." objections and hold them out in front of us as a shield to our own fears, but they also block us from our own growth and redemption. This man sounds like my father: Confidence disabled early and paralysed by an inability to perceive one's own actual value. Alas, my father never escaped the drink. At least K has that victory to reflect upon. You tried, and all credit to you. Perhaps some part of what you said might lodge in his consciousness and grow to be a glimmer of hope. Perhaps. But you tried. And that was a good thing you did.

  22. K sounds much like my X, however the only lines of poetry he knew came from Barbara Streisand. Drink got the better of him and he died last year at age 77. However, he found a woman on the Internet and married her before that, and she was with him til the end.

  23. What a sad story, and how many other Ks are out there, unable to make the most of the lives and the gifts they have been given? Kind of you too to try and take him under your wing. I hope he can find a way through so he can have the life he craves.

  24. What a story. It is a sad one. It is also one that makes me feel a bit of hope for K. He came to visit. He talked. I hope he finds that companion. One never knows. He just might.

  25. How fortunate for K to have found a good listener in you, Friko.

  26. ich habe dieses eintrag mit sehr viel interesse gelesen und finde dein mitgefühl, dein verständnis und verstehen bemerkenswert...! liebe grüsse und ich wünsche dir einen schönen harmonischen tag! renée

  27. With his complete lack of self-worth and lifetime of blaming others, I really don't think he has much chance of finding a partner.
    At least you and beloved sat and listened, that would help a bit. Unfortunately, without professional help from probably a psychotherapist, he's unlikely to make the necessary changes to himself.
    I wish him luck anyway.

  28. Sad that a man that old still cannot take responsibility for his life. whatever failings his parents had, childhood was a very long time ago.

  29. Sounds like he might benefit from some counseling and a medical work up..he sounds bi polar to me:)

  30. My heart goes out to this fella. I would have probably told him what you advised him. Find a choir, join a group with your same interests.

    Beautiful post. Beautifully written.

    Greetings from London.

  31. It would be lovely if every child had an idyllic childhood , full of music , fairytales , cupcakes and museum visits . As it is , far too many don't even get enough to eat or adequate medical care .
    So , while I sympathise with K , I do think it might be time to stop blaming his family .

  32. That's such a sad tale, but the good part is the way he opened up to you and your kindness to him.

  33. I suppose I should be thinking of K but my first response is to say what a writer you are. I hope he can find some way to greater contentment but it sounds like a long road.

  34. Really interesting post, particularly since you quoted my all time favorite poem.

  35. I applaud you for asking him home and letting him lay it all out there. It doesn't seem he'll find that partner any time soon, what with the blame and quirks and possible low-level (if you ask me) mental illness. Joining a group of some sort does seem a smart first step to making some connections, indeed.

  36. That's very insightful, and also very interesting. What makes people 'tick' is an all time favorite interest of mine, but often the answers are so sad and bleak.


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