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Great expectations

‘In my head they are going to be amazing but in reality they will be awful I expect!’ Jenny

My sister was talking about some pasties she was planning to make with some pork fillet, and I suspect she is putting herself down somewhat because she's a really good cook. But the sentiment struck home. I'm sure we all feel like that everyday about any number of things.

I mean for a start and sticking with the pasty, what is an amazing pasty anyway? What does it look like, what does it taste like? What kind of pastry is it made with, what do you put inside it, and how long do you cook it? Ok - I suppose if you burn it, it's not good, and if the filling isn't cooked so that the potatoes are hard, it's not good. But I'm guessing that almost anyone can knock out a pretty much perfect pasty - even if they have to buy frozen pastry to do it. Or does amazing - therefore perfect - imply that it has to be all hand-made? And does perfect also mean how it looks on the plate? Does it have to look like these, carefully shot and arranged - no styled - photographs?

I mean who knows really what the above actually taste like?

I notice that the diagram that I found at the top of the page assumes that expectations means high expectations, but that's not necessarily true is it? I mean my sister actually has low expectations. It's hope that is high or even worse - a wish for an amazing result.

To wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect” . Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Expect what though - that all will be well or that all will be a disaster? Like my sister. And that depends on the psyche of the person doing the wishing I guess. Although now that I think about it, maybe only people with low expectations wish and hope. People with the confidence to have high expectations don't need to wish - or even hope. They just know. Or do they? And their dreams are often much higher than ours - 3 Michelin stars, an Olympic Gold Medal, becoming president, an Oscar ... But then if all doesn't turn out as they hope the failure must be devastating. So perhaps it's actually a really good thing not to have expectations. High ones anyway.

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Alexander Pope

But we can't stop ourselves can we? I have been taking lots of photos recently, partly to experience life as a tourist on holiday in some exotic spot, whilst 'trapped' in Eltham. Well Eltham would be very exotic to my English family and friends. Partly also because of the photo competitions I am running with the grandchildren. I see something, interesting, or beautiful, or just weird, and know that an amazing photograph can be produced from it, although already there is a niggling doubt that it's a dream - for me that is. Actual disappointment begins when I am trying to frame the photograph because I begin to suspect why this won't turn out like the masterpiece that would have been on the cover of Life Magazine if it still existed. There are telegraph lines in the way, a dustbin, a shadow I didn't notice. Then when I look at the actual photograph on my computer my worst fears are realised. Even after I have attempted to make it look better after a bit of editing it just looks very ordinary. Sometimes I am pleased but these tend to be with things - like gorgeous eucalyptus tree bark - that it would be impossible not to capture. I mean you just point and click. Mostly though I am disappointed and my lack of skill is confirmed.

"Expectation is the root of all heartache". William Shakespeare

But I do keep trying. After all you never know do you. One day you might get it right.

Where do our hopes for super achievement come from? Is it from our parents who tend to think that their children, given the right encouragement and education, will succeed where they failed? Or is it from all the achievements that we see around us - in whatever field it is we aspire to succeed in? To achieve perfection with food, for example is getting more and more difficult. Food photography and food styling is a really big thing. It might look easy to achieve the same results, when you watch those snappy videos, but I really don't think it is. I certainly never manage to make my food look amazing. And sure my food mostly tastes good, sometimes really good even, but never sublime as you would expect in one of those 3 Michelin star restaurants.

But having low expectations in life can't be good either can it?

“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus." Stephen Hawking

True I guess but the expectations were crushed by the death sentence that he received at that time - well a sort of death sentence. It wasn't that he didn't expect that he would have been able to do great things (and of course in the event he did do great things), but more that he was prevented from realising those expectations by circumstances beyond his control. It's not quite the same as having low expectations of oneself. If you have low expectations and therefore no hope then you don't try to do better. Or do we need those really achievements that we see out in the world, to make us try harder?

Tomorrow the grandchildren and I are cooking chicken butter cream together. I have high expectations of them because they are enthusiastic, and it's a pretty easy recipe. Quite a few ingredients, but pretty straightforward to put them together. I am expecting fun and tasty food at the end of it. But they might surprise me somehow - they always do. Indeed they may exceed my expectations.

"Most things don't work out as expected, but what happens instead often turns out to be the good stuff." Judi Dench

I think those are the wisest words on this page about expectations.


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