Thursday, 6 June 2013

Counting Steps - A Book for Father's Day

If you are looking for a present for Father's Day on 16th June, then 'Counting Steps' - the debut book from fellow writer and blogger, Mark Charlton (Views from the Bike Shed) - could be the answer.

It is a book rooted in nature, landscape and relationships, exploring through its 26 named chapters the experience of fatherhood and the light this throws on his relationship with his own father.

The evocation of landscape and Mark's physical relationship with it through cycling, climbing, walking, running and canoeing, runs as a theme throughout the book. It's Mark's relationship with the landscape which is also self-revelatory: he refers to the 'capacity of landscape to hold a mirror to our feelings, to embody our spirit in physical form' and how 'we return to certain places not so much to look at the view as to look at ourselves'.

Indeed, a few years ago I found myself doing just that. After a hugely difficult and challenging period in my life, I took 'time out' and went back to a childhood haunt in Cornwall. The north coast bays and beaches around Padstow had been etched on my soul during carefree holidays with my parents. Now here I was returning, battered and bruised in my forties, to use the constance of a beloved landscape as a haven in which to reflect on all that had happened and to reconnect with the person I once was. I was viewing the same scenes, but with different eyes - yet their unchanged nature allowed me to recall the essence of myself and to reaffirm my desire to retrieve the elements of my personality that had been lost.

Returning, though, can have its pitfalls. While one draws comfort from returning to certain landscapes, the memories they stir up - particularly when many years have passed between visits - can sometimes be painful: an acceptance is required, for example, that you have aged and that your physical capabilities are not what they once were. Mark, on returning to run along Stanage Edge in the Peak District, where once he easily managed the whole 17 miles, reflects: 'But that was 20 years ago, and though returning is one of my chief delights, I know that some things can never come again.'

The process of maturing is another recurrent theme through 'Counting Steps'. Mark records how his older sons have progressed through their childhood into the teenage years and how he has had to adjust his relationship with them accordingly - he too has had to change.

The loss of unborn children is also sensitively and painfully recorded, in tandem with a physically punishing mountain bike ride, in the chapter 'Push, Pull Through'. It will resonate with any parent who has had to go through this tragic ordeal.

The following chapter, in contrast, is a peaceful reprieve, a coda from the drama and pain which went before the happy arrival of his third and youngest son. It is an evocation of a father's unqualified love for his son and ends, quite simply, with 'Happy birthday Dylan, it's the least and most I can say'.

In poignant contrast, in the chapter 'True Geordies Cry', we are reminded that unconditional love in a parent-child relationship is not always a given as here Mark explores the difficulties in his relationship with his own father which in childhood were not comprehended but are more clearly seen through adult eyes.

Mark's quiet reflections throughout 'Counting Steps' are essentially a set of observations and responses to life before fatherhood, and life since; on the people and places that hold meaning for him and the shifts in attitude and perspectives which have taken place within him because of the love he has for his wife and children and the nostalgia he has for certain landscapes. Immersing himself in these landscapes allows him to better assess the changes that have taken place within him, together with an acceptance of the fact that there are some things he can't control; he also comes to understand that an over-immersion in work and the pressing need to 'progress' can result in a loss of self. The final acknowledgement is how becoming a father himself has transformed his life, taking him on the journey of a lifetime for which there are 'no maps'.


Counting Steps is published by Cinnamon Press and is available to buy for £8.99 through Cinnamon Press, from Amazon or from Mark's own blog page, Views from the Bike Shed


Cait O'Connor said...

Yes an ideal book for Father's Day! I reviewed it some time back, it is a really lovely book.

Deb said...

What a beautiful review! Thank you. My husband will like this.

Ian Sharp said...

Sounds to add to the summer reading list....

Ian Sharp said...

Sounds to add to the summer reading list....

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