I’ve found a cafe in Kendal that has wi-fi if you buy a drink. I’ll be buying loads. The sky is emptying its load on the old town and walking in the hills is not an option.

What I love about holidays is the sense of perspective you get from stopping, reading, sleeping and thinking… all without the pressure of the next deadline or the next appointment. It frees the mind and lifts the soul. But is also sends me back into questioning my memories – which I’ll explain in a moment.

So far I have read Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father and am nearly half way through Philip Norman’s excellent John Lennon: The Life. What both books demonstrate is the complexity of any individual life. Obama’s search for his origins and his evolving ruminations on his own identity are beautifully recorded; but it is the emotive power of his emerging questioning that impresses most. I read this wonderful book reflecting constantly on how impenetrably and (ultimately) unresolvably the identity of any human being is constructed – shaped both by nature and nurture.

This makes me even more suspicious of the drive we all seem to have to categorise people or force them into conforming to a particular anthropological ‘shape’. What often looks ‘good’ always turns out to have a dark side, and vice versa probably. The oft-lauded community and extended family character of African society is shadowed by the lack of responsibility it engenders in favour of dependence on (or exploitation of) the ‘head’ (which means ‘most successful or affluent’) of the clan. Obama confronts this and it is hard to hear his speech in Ghana a week or tow ago without reflecting on his own experience in Kenya as it is recorded in the book.

Obama reflects on the origins of humanity in the Rift Valley and comments: ‘If only we could remember that first common step, that first common word – that time before Babel’ (p.357). Wherever human division manifests itself in all its greedy and self-promoting pettiness, that question needs to be heard.

I’ll come back to that in another post. But the thing about John Lennon is that Norman’s description of Lennon’s school days involves a roll call of people and places I grew up with. I also went to get my hair cut by Harry Bioletti at Penny Lane. Mr Burrows, formerly his English teacher at Quarry Bank, also taught me at the Holt Comprehensive. I remember him showing us an exercise book of poetry and doodlings by John Lennon, but this memory has been questioned by people who think I must be making it up. Philip Norman records it and my own doubts can be put to one side.

Lennon was complex, too. Reading about him, it is impossible not to feel sympathy for the complexity of his own upbringing, loves and losses. If such a mess can be made of one individual, how is it possible to generalise about anybody?

I actually think this is something Jesus rumbled in the Gospels – in the face of opposition from those who found that categorising people (in their own interests, of course) was politically or religiously more useful.

But for now, back to the valley where we don’t even have mobile phone signals…