The things that I don’t know

It is the autumn equinox today. I would like to say that I know this from the cast of the leaves or the call of the birds but, actually, I learned it from Twitter.

Driving back from work earlier I was thinking about this, as the road came over the high fields between motorway and home. The sky is so big on those roads; the panorama wide open from east to west and straight ahead all the way down onto the Cleveland Hills. When I’m not dodging tractors and cyclists and those other car users who, in Bill Bryson’s inimitable words, drive along country roads as if they’ve always longed to lead a procession, I can see the weather roil its way right across the country.

Tonight, there was sunshine to one side and squalls of rain to the other. The clouds were livid and bruised over the coast; scant wisps in the blue towards the Pennines; but those overhead were strange, spreading things, a grasp of white and pink and grey. 

The radio this morning talked of the 400 Scots words for snow, but I had only one for this: cloud. I know there are others. I have vague memories of geography lessons and cumulus, nimbus and something else probably ending in -us, but they aren’t words I know; not concepts I could talk of with any degree of confidence.

I always thought I’d know these things when I grew up.

I always thought that, somehow, I’d know the stars in the sky. I’d take my children by the hand and introduce them to the trees, and the flowers, and the birds by name. I thought that somehow, by the magic of becoming an adult, I would turn into the experts of my own childhood, who seemed to know everything when we went for a walk through the woods or along the beach.

It isn’t just nature stuff either, before you diagnose a severe case of suburban malaise. It’s all the other stuff too. I thought that I’d know a composer’s work by hearing the first bar of a piece, that I’d be able to talk knowledgeably about poetry, or literature or art.  I’d know how to gut a fish and approach self-assessment with confidence. I’d know how to tip without floundering into becoming wildly over-generous or sweatily, self-consciously mean.

I think I thought I would know how to be a grown-up.

The thing is that I am fairly confident that, individually, none of these things would be beyond me to learn, if they mattered to me that much. I could buy a book on the constellations and study it of a night. I could download apps that would train me, Pavlov-like, to twitch with pleased recognition at a leaf shape or the precise colour of an egg. I could do research and evening classes, subscribe to podcasts and TED talks, write copious notes in a small book I would keep always about me and shrug myself into some kind of expertise.

I don’t think, somehow, that it would make much of a difference.

I turned 40 earlier this year. and I think that, amidst the half-laughing angst about wrinkles, the occasional white hair, and something which I’m doing my damnedest to pretend isn’t the beginning of the menopause, I am realising that I haven’t really grown up. That I might, in fact, never really become a grown up. That, just perhaps, nobody ever really does.

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2 thoughts on “The things that I don’t know

  1. This is a really lovely post, beautifully written and so much in it that resonates. I hoped/wished I’d know more about things like constellations, bird identification, plants as an adult too. I have so many memories of my dad showing me things like that as a child and explaining them to me, but I don’t seem to have retained any of the info. I do wonder if our easy access to information online means that we don’t keep such good hold of it in our heads anymore too.

    I feel like your post is almost the flip side of the one I wrote today which is about just how much learning and knowledge T has packed into his short six years of life. Sad to think our acquisition of new information slows so much, but isn’t it lovely be watch our little people learn and grow?

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