It seems appropriate, in this Armistice month, that I should write my Last Post.
I haven’t renewed my WordPress subscription as I feel I have said all I want to say under my theme of At 26 – stuff I wish I’d known back when I was that age.
Although I have strayed from my point, on a number of occasions, when I started my blog, I had some specific objectives. Here’s how I got on with those.
My main aims were:-
tackle my IT/social media fears to set up a basic blog – √
challenge myself to put my thoughts and writing out there for others to read and comment upon – √
order my thoughts around some issues that I have encountered, in my adult life, and write about them in a reasonably coherent way – √ ( I think)
read other blogs, on topics of interest to me, to see what’s going on out there and what others are doing, beyond my little world – √
get some stuff out of my system – √
leave some sort of cyber footprint – ???? (not sure about that one, but I find now it doesn’t matter)
practice my writing skills in preparation for that novel I always meant to write – √
It feels really good, as the year draws to its close, to have accumulated those √. My confidence, some of which I lost, as a consequence of some personal issues, has been restored. I feel inspired and excited to go forward into next year with some new challenges. As I approach another birthday and, after that, hurtle towards another with a round number with a 6 in it (!) I am grateful and really quite chuffed to anticipate interesting stuff ahead of me and possibilities. I’m hopeful that you’re never too old for possibilities. I say that, having recently read about a dear old lady who did her first sky dive in her 90s. At the moment, I haven’t set that as one of my challenges, but you never know …………………….
Before I put down my cyber blog pen, at least for the time being ( I may be back!), I want to say a big thanks to those who have taken time to read, consider and comment on my posts. That has been such an affirming experience for me. You’ve helped me a lot. At the same time, it has been beyond interesting to hear about lives led both here, in my own country, and abroad as well. I have been a bit sexist about the blogs I follow, not deliberately, but I have so loved the insight into the lives of other women, both older and younger – the issues they face and how they tackle them. There are some amazing women out there, but then I always knew that. The guys are great too, but they always knew that! 🙂
I plan to keep following my favourite blogs, even though I will not be writing myself. Well, I will be writing, just differently. I aim to try and complete a novel rather than just talk about it. After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll write another. I’ve started and I’m enjoying it, but I know I’ll get fed up eventually and then I’ll have to dig in to get to the last page.
Apart from that, I’ll continue with my part-time work in adult social care. In the next few weeks, I’ll start work as a helpline volunteer for a mental health charity. Around and between this stuff, there will hopefully be more travels with my partner and my dog as well as time to just be….. I realise I need that for my own mental health. It’s taken a while………..
So keep on blogging people. You’re doing a great job. Most importantly – look after yourselves and your own health and wellbeing.
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I’ve touched on this one in previous blogs. I’m on it again, so clearly it’s a subject close to my heart, or is it?
The thing is, it seems that I’ve gone through my whole life with a nagging Know-all situated somewhere behind my right shoulder, who just doesn’t know when to let it rest. I keep trying to call out Know-all and get rid of him/her. I move, change jobs, change lifestyle but still nagging Know-all is stalking me.
Yesterday, I got up in a reasonably good mood, with no particular plans for the day. We usually see my partner’s grandchildren on Sundays, but they were otherwise engaged so we had unexpected free time.
The weather was pants – cold, wet and miserable. All my plans for interesting dog walks took a hit in the face of driving rain and glowering skies. Just stick to the usual stomp around the golf course and get back, soon as, I said to partner. That we did, but from first thing Sunday morning, Know-all steps up on steroids, shouting at me that I’m not doing enough, I’m giving up too easily and when am I going to go out and get another job? It’s been 4 years since I left my last job. Is that it? asks Know-all querulously. Look at all those other folk, hacking away full time and doing loads more than you.
“You should have done this. You shouldn’t have done that. Why did you say that? Why didn’t you say this? Why are you doing that? Why aren’t you going to do this? Look at so-and-so. Why aren’t you doing what they’re doing?”
These are typical Know-all questions, by the way.
Hmmm. I argue fiercely with Know-all that I worked hard in a stressful job, for many years, cared for my elderly parents, tried to be a good partner and friend and loads of other stuff. Blah, blah, blah. Know-all’s not having it. When I point to the new stuff I have done since leaving my job, Know-all is very unimpressed. When I mention that I’m going to write a novel and I’m definitely going to finish it, this time, no matter what, I thought Know-all was going to swallow itself, so enormous was the snort of derision that met my protestations.
As previously blogged, I have tried to work on this self-critical thing and stop beating myself up and making unhelpful comparisons to other people. Just when I think I might be getting somewhere, Know-all comes hurtling at me from the Forest of Find Fault and I am going backwards again. Does this happen to other folk? I ask myself. Is it a good thing to perpetually push oneself through life and daily, nay, hourly, assess one’s progress only to deliver a critical end of term report? Is this mainly a feminine issue or do men suffer this sort of stuff as well? At what point, if at all, should one definitely accept oneself as one is?
I don’t think complacency is the answer here and it’s good to challenge and push oneself, but there has to be time off for good behaviour, at some point. The joke here is that I criticise myself for criticising myself. Really? Get a life, somewhere in all of this.
I do think I’m making progress, despite all of the above, but I could do better. OMG! There I go again…..
I’ve recently returned from a few days’ holiday at Center Parcs in northern France. For those of you who are not familiar with the CP brand, they offer activities, adventure and private accommodation pitched at families, in particular.
The twins (my partner’s granddaughters and mine, to all intents and purposes), their parents and the dog came with. We all had a jolly good time and the weather was truly amazing. All good.
Then, there was not so good, unwittingly caused by the dog. Not her fault, but under EU regulations, the dog must be wormed between 24 and 72 hours prior to return to the UK from an EU country. For that to happen, we must visit a vet who administers the correct worming tablet and checks the dog is fit to return home. The dog has her own passport, in which the administering vet records the giving of tablet and her fitness to trip back home. We then hand over a disproportionately large amount of money relative to the process in question, but c’est la vie. We want our dog to accompany us on holiday as often as possible, and accept this is how we manage that.
On previous trips we have visited the same vet, in a Belgian town, which we know, about 1 hour from Calais. This time, it would have been miles out of our way to go to the same vet, so we located one in a nearby village to the Center Parcs at which we were staying. Whilst the girls threw themselves down water chutes and flowed down the lazy rivers of the swimming complex, we decided to make an occasion out of necessity and enjoyed a very pleasant lunch, en plein air, prior to attending the vet at the appointed time.
In lightning quick time, the veterinary process was complete, we were figuratively mugged for 38 euros and the dog enjoyed her extra treats for being such a good girl through it all. Rather than pay the inflated prices at the Center Parcs supermarket, I decided to do a food shop in the village supermarket. As anticipated, it was cheaper in there, so I bought some bits and pieces for our supper.
My French is rusty and imperfect, but I always give it a go, as I am very conscious that the British have a bad, imperial hangover in the way they expect everyone, across the world, to speak English, whilst making insufficient effort to learn other languages. So, there I am at the cash desk, burbling away in my schoolgirl French, only to be met by the perfect English of the guy operating the till. When this happens, I tend to continue in the language of the country, whilst the person I am speaking to continues to speak English, which is kind of weird, but I have a “started so I’ll finish” kind of approach to the whole business and plough on.
Anyway, I exchange some pleasantries with the till guy, then he asks me where I am going next. I say back to England. Quick as a flash, he gives me a hard look and says “why?”
I was taken aback and looked intently at him to try and check if he meant what I thought he meant. “What do you mean?” I asked, this time in English. He gave a wry smile and a little snigger and said “Nothing.”
Now I don’t know for sure, because I chose not to delve deeper, but I took his meaning to be related to Brexit, which is rather preoccupying the British people at the moment. Having been a Francophile since I went to France on a school trip, when I was 13, and having adored the French, their country and their lifestyle for so many years, I was a tad shocked to get this back at me, from the till guy, in a none too warm tone of voice. Is this how it’s going to be, I asked myself, as I stepped out into the autumn sunshine, which was casting a warm golden glow over the characterful buildings of the pretty village square? Despite the warmth, I felt a little chilled.
Anyway, I’m not going to use this blog to make political points, but on the way back to the park, I found myself reluctantly reflecting on the Brexit business, which I was hoping to avoid, whilst on holiday. My thoughts meandered on to the so-called democratic process and how it has operated around Brexit.
We’re told by those that claim to know, that Leave voters included many people who felt left behind and ignored by the influencing liberal elite in the UK. I don’t entirely buy this, as most of the Leave voters I have spoken to, voted that way, for different reasons. I confess, I haven’t spoken to that many, as I now try to avoid the topic as much as possible, because I’m so sick of it. I personally voted to Remain in the EU, but more people voted to leave, so there we are. I accept that and I just want us to get on with it and get to wherever we are going to get to.
One thought that struck me at the time of the referendum, to which I keep returning, despite myself, is this. I now fall into the category of people who feel left behind and ignored. Whether I am right to feel that way or not, is beside the point, for the purpose of this blog. The point is that I find myself wondering whether true democracy means different groups of people having to take turns to feel unhappy about their lot and it’s just my turn. Well, as they say, you have to take the rough with the smooth, but what about those who are in the majority, whose will is to be obeyed? Do those people get what they want, by virtue of being in that majority? I don’t think they do, because even within a majority grouping, there will be those who want something a bit different to others within that group.
Hmmm. Not sure about this democracy lark. Plato, Socrates, Aristotle… what were you thinking?
As with everything in life, I guess nothing is perfect, especially political and social systems. The older I get, the more I think, you just have to make the most of it and accept that people hold very differing views about things and you should try and listen to viewpoints, respectfully, even if you fundamentally disagree with them. Of course, there must be limits on individual freedoms to offend and harm, but shutting down discourse is not a tried and tested way of addressing grievances, in my opinion. Hopefully till guy would have accepted that, if I had put it to him, though I’m not in the habit of engaging in philosophical discussion whilst doing my food shopping.
Hey ho and on y va!
PS. Incase you’re wondering about the title, I wanted to use the French word désolé, but couldn’t get the accents to work on the letter é, in the title, only in the text, so I used my English translation instead. Doesn’t work half so well 😦
This week my partner and I shared a friend’s birthday present – a flight in a Spitfire airplane. These planes became famous in WW2 and there are about 54 left in the world. Originally, they were single seater planes, but many have been adapted to fit in an extra seat so that they can be used for training and also to take people up for pleasure flights.
My friend was both excited and emotional. He and his late father, who died some years ago, shared an interest in airplanes. The fact that he was going up in a plane, much admired by his father, re-connected him with his dad and pleasurable moments they shared together. A happy and powerful memory.
Two other flights were scheduled, as well as my friend’s. In an enclosed area, adjacent to the control tower and runway, relatives and friends could stand and watch the plane take off, fly away, then reappear to land. Part way through the morning, whilst we were waiting for my friend’s flight, I noticed an elderly gentleman arrive. He was seated in a wheelchair, zipped up in a thick coat, a cap pulled low down over his ears and with a thick blanket wrapped around his legs. He looked old and frail.
I found myself wondering what brought this elderly gentleman to the airfield on a sunny, but chill September day. Curiosity got the better of me, so I questioned a lady who was accompanying the gentleman. She told me that the gentleman lives in a care home for war veterans of various conflicts, including WW2. During the war, he worked as an engineer, on Hurricane airplanes. For the first time, in a long time, he had become engaged and animated, when watching a TV programme about the Spitfire. His brilliant carers had organised a visit for him to watch the Spitfires, at this local airfield, to encourage him to continue to engage and to have some enjoyable moments, however brief.
A representative from the company operating the airfield came to speak with the gentleman and he was taken out to the Spitfire, waiting on the runway, for its next aerial performance. There he received a personal briefing from the airfield representative and one of the pilots. From what I could see, he looked thoroughly happy and engaged. I thought of my dear old dad, who also worked as an engineer on Hurricane airplanes during WW2 and would have been about the same age as this old chap. My mind film switched to photos taken of my dad in uniform, standing in front of planes, in various parts of Italy, North Africa and the Middle East. I remembered the war tales he told me, later in his life, when he seemed to want to finally speak about his war experience. The power of memory.
Eventually it came time for my friend to fly up, up and away. As his pilot started up the engine and began to taxi down the runway, I looked across to the elderly veteran, positioned right next to the fence of the enclosed area. His vision was impeded by the fence and, as I watched, I saw him haul himself up from his chair, like Lazarus rising up off his bed. His shaky legs barely held him up, but he grasped on to the rail of the fence to steady himself, with the supporting hands of his carers at his back. He stood there, tottering and swaying slightly, until the plane took off and climbed into the clouds. He was determined to see the whole event, even if it took the last ounce of his strength. In his mind, he was a young man again, back with the Hurricanes, in the middle of the action.
Last week I had a meeting with my independent financial adviser to discuss my pension.
As usual on these occasions, we reviewed the performance of my pension over the past year (not great), then went on to discuss how and when I might start drawing on the pension, tax efficiently.
We crunched through the figures and shot the breeze about world events. Having fixed on a date when payment of pension would begin, said IFA turns to me and says, “So, you’ll be a pensioner”.
I am 58 in December. Not in the first flush of youth, I’ll grant you, but still…
“I don’t regard it as a pension,” I retorted, sharply. “It’s just another policy”.
“Investments”, volunteered the IFA, looking suitably chastened.
“Exactly”, I replied, firmly.
Driving home, I pondered IFA’s words and particularly the bit about me being on the cusp of pensionhood, aka old age.
At what point in life, I asked myself,does a person become a pensioner? Is it, as suggested by my IFA, when they draw on a policy called a pension? Is it when they draw their state pension, which for women of my age is 67 (10 years to go on that one, if you please) or is it some other time?
I googled a definition of “pension”:-
“a regular payment made by the state to people of or above the official retirement age …..
So, Mr IFA man, I am definitely not about to become a pensioner, as I will not achieve retirement age until I’m 67, assuming the government has not raised the age to 110 by then, due to absence of funds in the state pension pot. Ok, so my money man may have been speaking facetiously or in jest. If so, I have a sense of humour failure in this area.
Then again, does it really matter what it’s called if there is money coming in from somewhere to keep the wolf from the door and pay the eye-wateringly expensive care home fees I might incur in the future?
Well, I find that it does matter to me, as I don’t like to bump up against names and labels which don’t feel comfortable or appropriate for me.
Allied to this “pensioner” issue, I find that I also have a problem with being described as “retired”. For example, on most applications I make, of whatever sort, the category into which it seems I have to be deposited now is that of “retired” person.
Digging around the geriatric section of Google, I found a couple more definitions, this time for “retired”.
“having left one’s job and ceased to work”
N/A. I work a small number of hours in adult health and social care, as and when it suits me, so have not ceased to work. By law, however, I can’t call myself a “part-time” worker because I don’t work the requisite number of hours.
“withdrawn from one’s position or occupation – having concluded one’s working or professional career”
I guess this comes closer to it, as I practised as a lawyer for 30 years before giving up my job about 4 years ago. I have not gone back to the law and doubt that I ever will. However, I remain interested in learning new skills and training in different fields. In a couple of weeks, I will undergo training to do some voluntary work for a mental health charity. I may take that training further into professional qualification. I definitely do not regard myself as having concluded my working life and I intend to continue working, on my terms, for as long as someone will have me.
Then again, what about women, who had a career, but gave up that career to bring up children – a very big job indeed. Should those women, who were most likely in their 20s and 30s, be regarded as “retired” because they gave up a career to take on the full time job of childcare when they were young? I don’t think so.
There are also the many who, after giving up their paid work, go on to take up voluntary work, doing many hours of valuable and, often, difficult work, for no pay. Are they retired persons? I don’t think so.
From the blogs I read and the contemporaries I speak to, I sense that those borne in the 50s and 60s view life differently to their parents and grandparents. When it comes to the working life, many intend to continue working for as long as it suits them. Two formidable ladies I used to work with, both now around 70ish I would guess (they never divulged their actual age, and why should they?) are still working as lawyers, in my old firm, and want to continue doing so. I read and know of many others who have left their long term careers to start working in new occupations or in business for themselves. Then again, I know of many women who have returned to “BC – before children” roles, many years after leaving, or to different roles and occupations.
The days of the carriage clock leaving present at 65 for men and 60 for women have gone, not least because we must all retire later due to insufficient money in the social and health care pots. No more subscriptions to the local lawn bowls club (which, when you come to think of it, was a bit of a cheapskate present when life expectancy was about 70ish). People change jobs much more frequently these days and the “job for life”, which ends suddenly at “retirement” is becoming a thing of the past, I think. This trend seems set to continue for the generations coming behind.
So I think we need some new labels. Any ideas? I think a pension is a long term investment plan (ok, not that catchy and more words to write, but I’m open to persuasion). Retirement could be replaced by? How about life development? (ok, ok it doesn’t grab you, but I’m hoping to open reflection and thoughtfulness around this).
Maybe there shouldn’t be any labels at all because labels create perceptions. which may bear no connection to reality. Some of the labels that attach to advancement in years point to endings and a gloomy future. Does it have to be that way?
Almost certainly, I have less years to live than I have lived. My joints are protesting and I am developing some of the ailments which afflicted my parents. I know from the experience of seeing my parents age and from my work in adult social care that growing old is not for wimps, as someone else said. It brings with it challenges, on a daily basis, which were not there in youth. Does that mean I should I give up? Accept pensioner status and watch daytime TV, whilst waiting for the grim reaper to knock on my door? How would that help? It would make me feel worse. I don’t think it is any coincidence that many older people suffer from depression because they feel their life is over (when it definitely isn’t) and they have no place or purpose in society.
For my part, I don’t want to be dismissed as part of a group in society which is “past it” and has nothing to contribute. I don’t believe that is fair or true. Attitudes are changing as many people live longer and better lives and are able to continue contributing to society in much-needed ways. I do think, though, that there is more work to be done to re-classify the later phases of life in such a way that allows us to accept the reality of ageing, at the same time as recognising what can be and has been achieved by the older(est) generations. Old age isn’t a disease. It’s a fact of life. Let’s acknowledge it, talk about it and be as positive about it as possible. Let’s draw the most out of every day, whatever age we are.
I like to think I am mellowing, like a mature cheese. Well, maybe an extra mature cheese.
Turns out there are still things that make my blood boil.
What drives me crazy, and always has, is the fact that some people go about their daily, business with, it seems, complete disregard for others. Rules and conventions are for others. They can please themselves.
I could fill the ether with examples of behaviour that has annoyed, no, incensed me, but it would elevate my blood pressure. Examples of inconsiderate behaviour range from the minor to the breathtakingly major, but all have the ability to wind me up.
One of my biggest bugbears is around parking in public car parks. Hardly earth shattering, I acknowledge, but boy does it send me into one. Just today, for example, on a visit to the supermarket, I find the car park is completely full. Bit annoying but I’ll play car ring-a-ring-a-roses and drive around the car park until a space comes free. Turnover is usually fairly swift and it shouldn’t be too long before I can park.
Now, there is a one-way system around this car park. I can see it’s there for a reason. If everyone drove whichever way they wanted, it would be mayhem and there would be a lot of squashed metal. Of course, it’s annoying when a space you have just passed comes free and someone else cruises straight into that space, without delay. The temptation to reverse into the space is strong, but in your driving mirror, you see another car coming up behind and you know, the space is really theirs. When that happens, I curse a bit, but I am the person who always finds the slowest queue, so I kind of accept this sort of thing as my fate.
Anyway, this morning, I am driving around and around and starting to feel vertiginous, when man in large black car enters the car park, drives the wrong way and straight into a space which has come free ahead of me. There is no-one else in front of me. That is my space, with my name on it. I apply some pressure to my car horn, turn the air in my car blue with my descriptions of this other driver, but the a*** in the black car does that studious ignoring thing and completely disregards me. Worse than that, he emerges from his car with a smug and happy expression on his face, as if he has just had tea with the vicar.
Many is the time this has happened to me and I never get any better at absorbing it into my day. As before, I felt myself harbouring quite murderous intent towards black car man and, as often happens, after the event, I expended a lot of time and mental energy on clever and cutting, but imaginary conversations, which would have reduced black car man to a quivering wreck. Physical violence was contemplated. The incident occurred this morning and I’m still only in Act 1 of my imaginary drama. This may say more about me than the a*** in the black car, but my point is that he got his space because I and others were following the rules of the car park. Why should the rule breaker benefit from a rules system, which he/she disregards, at the expense of those who obey those rules?
Do rule breakers always get away with it and sail through life unimpeded and always out in front? Sure as hell feels that way to me. What do you think? With my rational head on (my what?), I tell myself that 2 wrongs don’t make a right and it won’t help society if, in future, I career across car parks to snap up any space that comes free, tempting as that is. I believe in order and the rule of law. The opposite appalls and scares me.
Thank goodness for the numbers of people who do obey rules and have respect for their fellow citizens. They shall inherit the earth, or, at least, get a car park space eventually. I still have smoke coming out of my ears, from the morning incident, which I feel may only be extinguished by a g and t with lots of ice 🙂 It’s Friday, the sun’s nearly over the yardarm. Chin! Chin! Have a great weekend.
I’ve been getting a bit introspective of late. It’s time to lighten up.
I have posted previously about my attempts to save the planet – well, doing a bit of litter picking around the place where I live.
Recently, I have been obsessing about single use plastics and how I can reduce my household’s use of the same. First in my sights are the plastic dispensers of liquid soap which we have in our bathrooms. Got to go!
Easy enough, I thought, just buy bar soap in future. That’s what my parents used, back in the day, and they were always clean. Off I went to purchase a selection of sweet smelling soaps and soap dishes (plastic, I’m afraid, but not single use), which I duly positioned in the bathrooms.
All went reasonably well at first until I quickly realised that regular use of the soap resulted in a scummy pool of watery soap in the hollow of the soap dish with random soap splashes all around the sink. This necessitates more cleaning of sinks, which is not part of the plan. Additionally, after time, black lines opened up in the soap, which looked very uninviting. Then I read that bar soap harbours bacteria. Yuk and thrice yuk!
I know, I thought. I will see how to make my own soap. I quickly realised this was a non-starter due to difficult process and need for chemicals. I would probably blow us all up.
How about making bar soap into liquid soap? I googled and sure enough this appeared to be reasonably straightforward and there are plenty of recipes to be found on the internet. Measurements and advice varied from recipe to recipe, but I was confident I could make a go of it.
Nothing difficult or expensive is required in terms of equipment – a grater, plastic bowl and pan, all bought new as I don’t want soap-flavoured stews and cakes. Additionally, I bought a glass tight-seal jar and cleaned up some old jam jars. I have some saved, empty plastic soap dispensers to re-use as well.
On y va, as the French say, though I doubt French ladies would spend an afternoon grating soap, but I may be wrong about that. I’m sure they would look far more chic than I did.
Reader, I can tell you it was time consuming, I lost some skin on the grater but I finished up with rose and geranium scented soap confetti, to which I added a quantity of boiling water, as directed. The consistency looked disgusting, so I added a bit more water here and a little more soap confetti there, then dribbled in some glycerin, not really understanding why I was doing that. I boiled and stirred but the mass looked worse and worse. Eventually, I just left it, convinced it would settle into a smooth and fragrant concoction of delicate scented liquid soap.
So here is what I finished up with.
Frankly it looks and feels like something an alien would excrete. It has a gloopy, mucous-like consistency and slithers off the fingers. My partner refuses to use it. With my lovely mum’s old adage of, “Waste not, want not”, ringing in my ears, I feel obliged to chase the soap slop around the jars in order to wash my hands, rather than tip the stuff down the plughole. It worries me that if I do, I’ll block the drainage system in south-east England.
Today I bought more bars of soap, as I hate to fall at the first fence or soap dish. What I would like to know is, can anyone help me with any tips? I think I need to grate the soap more finely, add more water and refrain from too much boiling and stirring. As for the glycerin, what’s the point?
In case you missed it, the overall theme of this blog is me talking to my 26 year old self about stuff I would like to have known. In this year of blogging 2018, I am attempting to use this theme to confront and tidy away some of my demons. In my last post, D-I-V-O-R-C-E I dealt with my ex-husband shaped demon. Here, I’m facing up to another of my life’s issues – namely, children, or the lack of.
At 26, it felt like I had my whole life before me. Most of my dreams and ambitions were still intact. Whilst I was fairly career-oriented, at that time, in my sights I had the whole “happy families” thing – mum, dad and a couple of kids, in a rambling home, with a dog. Conventional, I always was. Anyway, friends had begun “settling down” and having children and I was starting to want some of what they had.
As I have described, I blew my hopes and dreams out of the sky by making a monumental mistake in my choice of husband. The consequences of that choice have rippled out through my life, like a pebble skimming a pond.
The first big ripple that stirred the waters most dramatically was that my ex-husband didn’t want children. Shame he didn’t make that clear before we married, when the subject came up, but there we are. You sure as hell can’t make a man have children. You can, however, free yourself from a selfish, self-regarding man, who makes you very unhappy, so that’s what I did.
I must accept my share of blame in the relationship, though I did try to make my marriage work. When it failed, I decided men weren’t worth the effort. What to do, then, about that loud ticking in my ears that became positively deafening whenever the subject of babies, pregnancies and children came into my world? Drastic measures were contemplated that would give me the baby without the man. Suffice to say, I bottled it.
The years rolled by. I dated, but my heart wasn’t in it, literally. I concentrated on my career, travelled a lot and had a fairly full life. In those years of living independently, I got to find and be myself. I enjoyed spending time with my friends’ children, but always felt a sense of isolation and “otherness” because I could not swap stories of the trials and tribulations of parenting. I did not have the experience of being a mother to share and compare. I felt that I just wasn’t getting to the essence of life. It’s no coincidence that very many of the new friends I made were also childless, some from choice, some not. It was easier on my soul not to be confronted with what I so much wanted, but didn’t have.
They say life begins at 40. Yes and no. At 40, I met my partner, with whom I have enjoyed 18 years of loving support and adventure. When I met him, I was having a bit of a mental meltdown about being 40, and was still nervous and ambivalent about committing to another serious relationship. Fortunately he is as calm and laid back as I am hysterical and unduly dramatic about everything. Patiently, he helped me to banish/manage my demons, but by the time I had overcome all that, it felt too late to contemplate the whole “trying for a family” thing again. I had given up on the idea of that, for myself.
So I reconciled myself to my childlessness, partly believing that I was paying the price for the bad choices and decisions I made around my relationship with my ex-husband. “No use crying over spilt milk”, as my dear old mum used to say.
More years rolled by, then my partner’s daughter had twin girls. Two beautiful, funny, captivating and loving little people. Just what I always wanted. I have known them from their first hours and love them as if they were of my own flesh and blood. They call me Nana and although they have a vague notion that I am not related, they seem to take that complication in their stride and repeatedly tell me, they love me. I believe them. They square a circle, they are my redemption, my second chance, my hope for the future. They have helped me both to forgive myself for my stupidity and wrongdoings and to experience just a little of what it feels like to be a mum. I took a very circuitous route to get to these children, but what the heck, I got there in the end.
So what would I say to my 26 year old self about all this? Well, I would say that somewhere along the line you have to get to know and like yourself. It just won’t work well, if you don’t.
As well, I would say that we all have dark days, months, years when it doesn’t feel great to be alive, for whatever reason(s). Daily I hear or read stories of the tremendous challenges which people face and I don’t know how they cope. All I can say to my younger self is that I have found it helpful to reflect back on bad experiences and to look for and focus on any positive I can find. That can be very difficult to do and often the positive is nothing more than a learning point about self and how to negotiate a way through life. On a more optimistic note, good things do happen and joy can be found. The experience of the good can be heightened by surviving the bad.
So, it’s not always straight lines to your destination. Sometimes the lines get broken and you fall between the gaps, but you get there in the end.
The other day I was in my office, having a tidy session.
I came to the file in which I keep important stuff such as my will, birth certificate etc. In there as well is my marriage certificate, right next to my decree absolute of divorce. Date of marriage: 3rd April 1992. Date of divorce: 7th July 1997. All the 7s. Never really noticed that before. It’s got me wondering now if it was simple coincidence or some planetary realignment?
Anyway, as the numbers reveal, I was not long married. Thereby hangs a long story, most of which I do not want to tell. I have tried, but the words won’t come. For the record, I lived with my ex-husband for a total of about 6 or 7 years However, the basic premise of this blog, from which I’m afraid I regularly depart, is that I am telling my 26 year old self, stuff which I would like to have known at that age. My theme is “live and Iearn”. That means, I can’t really pass over this aspect of my life, without some mention, not least because I probably learned as much in a few years as I have over the rest of my life.
So what was it that I learned from my number 1 biggest mistake of all time?
Trust your instincts. If something feels very, very wrong, it usually is
If you think you have or might be making a mistake in your choice of life partner, stop. Don’t get deeper into a relationship because you think you should, or because you think others expect it of you
Sometimes the hardest thing is the best thing for you to do. Have courage
Think long and hard about what you want from a relationship and from the person you may spend the rest of your life with. Don’t allow yourself to be swept along, unthinkingly
Actions have consequences, good and bad. As much as you may revel in the good, know that you may have to live with the bad for the rest of your life
There may be times in your life journey when you reach a fork in the road. Think so, so hard about which fork you take. If you get it badly wrong, you may have to learn to live with the deepest regrets
Forgive yourself, even if you have acted totally out of character and against your moral code
Only when you forgive and learn to like yourself can you build a good future for yourself
Women are much, much stronger than they think
Experiencing the bad is part of the human condition and everyone passes through light and dark at different times in their lives. Even if you experience the deepest pain and sorrow, there will be joy to be found on the other side of that. Make sure you look for that joy
Here endeth my ten lessons. Forgive the rather cheesy, amateur psychology.
Would I have heeded the ten lessons back when I was 26, the age at which I met my ex? Probably not. I learned today that the human brain does not stop developing until age 25 years. Perhaps that explains it. I had only had a mature brain for one year before I totally blew it.
Of course I had to live a life to learn this stuff, as we all do. I’m still learning how to do it, still stumbling and faltering on my life road, picking up metaphorical cuts and bruises along the way. I don’t find it any easier, even with a now much-matured brain, and I’m sure I face as many challenges ahead as lie behind me, but I have made progress on the self-like, self-forgiveness, self-not beating up front. It’s better.
I’ve mentioned that my partner is a bit of a car enthusiast.
I, on the other hand, am not.
In fairness, when we first met, and were getting to know each other, we discussed our respective likes and dislikes. At the time (18 years ago), I had a bit of a soft spot for a flashy car. The important point to note, however, is that my interest was confined to new, state-of-the-art motors, with all mod cons. The common factor in all of my fantasy cars, was their ability to travel from A to, at least G or H, without belching out smoke, steam or oil.
So, at an advanced stage in our relationship, my partner manifested a worrying obsession with old cars which, by and large, don’t work for most of the time. Worse than that, it has become apparent that he labours under the delusion that if he pulls out the minutiae of the engines of the said cars and leaves rusty, greased-up widgets lying around the house and garage, then some time later puts back them back or replaces them, that the old crocks will go for more than a few hours. Despite the hard evidence of many hours spent by roadsides with me stern-faced and foul-mouthed and him sweaty, oily and equally foul-mouthed, his love for the classic car, and dismembering of same, endures. Daily deliveries of suspicious brown parcels arrive at our house, which have probably put us on the radar of MI6. This is not fake news.
At some point in the last 4 or 5 years, his obsession took a new and even more unwelcome turn (pardon the pun), with an interest in car rallies. For the uninitiated, these events bring together a large number of clapped out cars and geeky people who speak a strange car language, almost without drawing breath. Of those who attend, there are some women who appear to have a genuine interest in this whole classic car business. Good for them. There are many more whom I suspect are sceptics but don’t choose to out themselves, for whatever reason. Not a problem for me. My partner is under no illusion as to where I stand on the topic.
So, back to the car rally. The basic principle is that you take a bunch of cronky old cars and send them off on the worst roads imaginable, deep in the countryside, where any vehicle recovery company will really struggle to find them, should the need inevitably arise. Genius!
These roads, by the way, are clearly used infrequently, as there is often grass and weeds growing along them. We never meet my fantasy, modern, car venturing down these roads. Call me the girl with the dragon tattoo, but I think that’s because they have craters which would grace a lunar planet, interspersed with mounds of gravel, mud or twigs, likely to cause serious damage to any car which travels down them. The sleuth in me detects tractor tracks, but not much else. Small wonder then that the old crocks, which seem lower to the ground than most modern cars, invariably scrape their sagging underbellies along the road detritus and thereafter rattle and bang their way to the end of the car rally, if you’re lucky. All this seems to do is encourage the partner and fellow enthusiasts to stand around, at the end of the rally, debating what further repair and replacement might be required, all with an unhealthy and deranged gleam in the eye.
I should mention that the participants, in these escapades, are sent out into the wilderness with vague, ambiguous directions, maps and diagrams called “tulips”. These are little diagrams which show when to turn right, left, carry straight on etc. Now, I am keen gardener, but I just don’t get it. These babies are nothing like the flowers in my garden, but hey! What do I know? I’m just a modern car preferring, English speaking, level-headed person (not sure about that last bit).
Another feature of these car rallies is the fact that they are structured around pit-stops. At regular intervals, participants are encouraged to load up with food and drink, thereby boosting the profits of far-flung establishments, buried deep in the countryside, which would otherwise have no customers. Then back to the old crock, to bump along those dirt tracks again in order to go even deeper into remote countryside. What countryside is that, exactly? God help us, but I am the navigator and my head is buried in maps and tulips. I can see f*** all. About 5 minutes in from a pit-stop, either my partner or I will need to pull over to answer the call of nature. It’s not yet happened to me, but anecdotally, others pull over to be sick, due to continuous jiggling and juggling of food over bumpy roads, whilst being restrained by an old seatbelt, which clamps across the stomach like a vice, squashing all behind it, particularly the bladder. Too much information, I know, but I need to tell you what I am dealing with here.
Last but not least, there is the heat that these exercises bring into a relationship. Monumental rows break out, as I pour over the hieroglyphics and minuscule map markings to try and work out where to go next. We take a wrong turn. I curse and swear, throw the map round the car and tear it in a crucial place. My eyesight is rubbish so I have to peer through a magnifying glass and as I continue to turn the air blue, my partner declares “I’m going to turn around and go home. I’m just not enjoying this experience with you.” HE’S NOT ENJOYING IT! WOW!
On the most difficult rallies, we usually give up and head straight for the pub at the end of the rally. I neck about 3 g and ts before I am prepared to speak to anyone. We then sit there and endure the ritual humiliation of results and who came first, second, third and last. Guess which one we were?
Today, an astonishing thing happened. We arrived back first, having completed the course without any wrong turns. I can’t quite believe it. Unbeknownst to me, because I was tip-toeing through the tulips, loads of other competitors were behind and following us. Had I known this, I would have flipped with the pressure, but as it is, I’m feeling rather smug. What is more, my partner and I are still speaking to each other directly, instead of through the dog. I know he thinks this is the start of something car rallyish. All I can say is, life is full of disappointments. But I have agreed to another one…..in October!
PS. The car in the photo is one of my partner’s cars. He told me to put that in!