How many of us, I wonder, dare to look like ourselves?’

Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘You Learn by Living’.

Sadly, very few.  I like the question, though, and I suspect I would have liked this lady, too.  I am ashamed to admit that I knew very little about her, other than the fact that, married to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945 and a renowned humanitarian.  Clearly, very much her own person, she was a great supporter of liberal causes and was, eventually, instrumental in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, having been appointed a delegate to the United Nations by President Harry S. Truman following the death of her husband in 1945.  Phew!  No blank canvas, there is a wealth of information to be gleaned from her life – note to self – but she was born in New York, in 1884, to affluent parents, both of whom, sadly, died before she was ten.  She and her brother were, subsequently, brought up by relatives.

A serious child, no secret was made as to her perceived lack of beauty, which would strike a chord and ensure a marked lack of self-esteem, certainly throughout her early life.  Enrolled at Allenswood, a boarding school for girls outside London, at the age of 15, she claimed her three years there were the happiest of her life under the auspices of the French headmistress, Marie Souvestre, who awakened in the young Eleanor a taste for travel and all things intellectual.  I don’t know why I have embarked on a biography; it’s just that she seems an interesting woman who made a concerted effort to carve out a niche for herself and, through her humanitarian work, grew in confidence.

Funnily enough, her name has come up, frequently, in my quest for quotes and, most often, with regard to courage and self-esteem.  Thus, she was very much someone on my radar even before I received one of her books – one of a carefully chosen selection from my friend and fellow avid reader in Wales – on my last birthday.  ‘You Learn by Living’.   Ain’t that the truth!  It is a lovely paperback, light and flexible, perfect print and layout, chapters neither too short nor too long … a joy to read in bed, unlike my last tome – Prince Philip Revealed, courtesy of Ingrid Seward.  Just a little aside, here, with regard to the aforementioned book:  Ingrid Seward is one of the most prominent and respected writers on the Royal Family while being Editor-in-Chief of Majesty magazine.  Was I wrong, then, to assume that this book would be well-written and worth reading?  Affirmative.  Full of repetition, the punctuation left much to be desired, not to mention several proofreading mistakes.  It’s a curse, honestly!  Spending so much time writing, myself – and having been taught by an English teacher who lived and breathed grammar and punctuation – add to that a proofreading course and the critical eye never sleeps.  I liken it to when we would take Becca and Manny to various riding schools around Edinburgh, hoping against hope, to find one which was old school and cared about the basics – even the correct-fitting hat and right length of stirrups would have been an acceptable start.  Don’t be ridiculous!  Put that on; yes, these will do.  The correct way to hold the reins?  You’re fine.  Now, would everyone like to canter?   I couldn’t stand it!  Growing up riding, since the age of four, one never stops learning.  All these hours in the saddle, pony club camps, riding and jumping without stirrups, round the world, hands above your head, riding bareback, gripping only with your seat and your knees …   It’s the attention to detail.  We never found a suitable riding school – other than that at Glen Tanar.  It got to the point that I was told that I was not allowed near Becca and Manny, in situ, as I wasn’t insured.  Insured?  Rich coming from an establishment which placed no importance on the correct length of stirrups or a hat which fitted!

Standards.  Today, there are none, let’s face it.  Everything is a quick fix but the written word …  The well-written book is an absolute joy and, thankfully, there are still many I can recommend which do not disappoint.

Eleanor Roosevelt, meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying.  I know, now, why her quotes resonated with me.  She was very much a champion of the individual; that which she gleaned from her own life being very much of her own making.

But the worst threat comes from within, from a man’s or woman’s apathy, his willingness to surrender to pressure, to “do it the easy way”, to give up the one thing that is himself, his value and his meaning as a person – his individuality.’

Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘You Learn by Living’.

Chapter 7 is entitled, ‘The Right to Be an Individual’.  Somehow, I think the author would have understood – and supported – my Ode to COVID, at the heart of which is the importance of the right to choose.

The individual.  I wonder how many people saw the photograph of Princess Anne and her husband – sitting, at home in Gatcombe Park, watching the Calcutta cup – emblazoned on the internet?  I loved it!  The faded chintzy couch and chairs, the thread-bare carpet, mis-matched rug, antique furniture, walls emblazoned with horsey paintings and a mountain of books and family photographs.  In a word, home!  The room is Princess Anne; her character written all over it.  No grey walls with one lonely, floating picture; no grey furniture, black leather couch or fluffy cushions; no ridiculous accent colours; not one nod to minimalism or the robotic interior designer commanding exorbitant fees.  Instead, a home belonging to, and reflective of an individual, content in her own skin.  Thank God for that!  To the Joe Bloggs of today, however … just typical of the upper class; a home befitting the posh.  Meant as an insult, in reality, a compliment.

What happened to the world?  A world in which, now, one must substitute ‘chest’ for ‘breast’; in which an academic panel at a Cambridge college, named in Churchill’s honour, is intent on vilifying the great leader whom they accuse of being not only a white supremacist but racist.  Enlightening to read some of the names on said panel: Professor Priyamvada Gopala, the Chair; Professor Kehinde Andrews and Dr Madhusree Mukerjee.  Enough said – not nearly!

Then, there is news of the latest Apple emojis …  A woman with a beard?  No breasts and a beard?  That may be life, Jim, but not as we know it!  Looks like the fairer sex has been well and truly ‘cancelled’.

Hang on!  This world once belonged to the likes of Captain, Sir Tom Moore; heroes of whom we could be proud; heroes who, once, fought for our freedom; a hero who raised millions for the NHS; a hero who gave us hope and believed that tomorrow would be a good day; a hero who died oblivious to the online abuse hurled at his family for fulfilling his last wish.  Where did it all go so wrong?  We, as individuals, should hang our heads in shame.

It is a brave thing to have courage to be an individual; it is also, perhaps, a lonely thing.  But it is better than not being an individual, which is to be nobody at all.’ 

Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘You Learn by Living’.

So much to learn from a woman who forged her own path.

This is Trish, signing off.