The nature of friendship ( and more views from a motorhome sofa)

Me, him and the dog, are away again in our motorhome, this time touring ever so bonnie Scotland.

Our tour has taken us from one end of the UK to the other, about 650 miles as the crow flies. En route, I was able to hook up with one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met at uni and have been friends for nearly 40 years (gulp – where did they go?). For a period, after we graduated, we were both living and working in London, until lives and loves put us about 250 miles apart. We might see each other once or twice a year, if that. In between, there are emails and Facebook posts to keep us connected.

My partner and I spent a lovely evening together with my friend. As ever, it felt as if I had seen her only the week before. We slip right back into the people we are, together. After we left her, and as we wound our way through the highlands and islands of Scotland, I pondered the nature of friendship and what it means for me.

Firstly, I realise, that most of the people I call my friends, I have known for many years, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean I have to know someone a long time for them to be a friend.

All my friends are people who know me, possibly better than I know myself. They accept me as I am and don’t judge me. They know my trials and tribulations, as I know theirs. They always have something constructive and supportive to do or say when I am struggling. I care about what happens to them, as they do me. We laugh and cry together. The roots of our lives are intertwined in places and will be for as long as we live.

Over the years, I have learned that friendships wax and wane. This can be for geographical reasons, personal circumstances or just a change of focus for the friends. The important point is that such changes do not unseat true friendship, which endures.

Based on my experience of friendship,  I think there is another version of it which is based more on mutual interest and possibility rather than abiding qualities of care and support. The aim and product of the friendship is mutual advancement. Such friendships can be very effective for all concerned, but they don’t have roots and can be easily broken.

I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this, whilst gorging on the gorgeous scenery that has wrapped itself around me. Again, I am reminded that you don’t necessarily have to travel far to find beauty and peace. Here are photos of some of the places that did it for me.

 

Have a great summer everyone.

 

 

 

 

Community spirit

I have mentioned that I lost a dear friend several years ago. She died of a horrible cancer, if there is any other sort.

Her lovely parents became friends of me and her friends, as we lived through my friend’s illness and then her death, together. Since her death, my friend’s parents have raised tens of thousands of pounds for a cancer charity which researches into the particular cancer from which my friend died. Every year, they hold a garden party, which brings in friends and neighbours and their friends. For the past couple of years, I have been able to help out.

I have also mentioned that my partner lost his son, a couple of years ago. He died from an insidious and fairly uncommon liver disease (nothing to do with alcohol) which crept up on him over 10 years, then galloped through his body in a few months. He got infection, which he could not fight off. Since his death, my partner, his family and his son’s friends have been involved in various fund-raising campaigns which, again, have raised thousands for vital research needed to start to understand this dreadful disease. Again, I have helped out here and there. On each and every occasion I know about and/or have been involved in, I have been struck by how effective communities, big and small, can be. Quietly, and without razzamatazz or celebrity fanfare, they organise, co-operate, share, support, laugh and cry together. They get things done and make a difference in a fraction of the time it takes central government to do a fraction of anything.

The future is community.

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Coping with bereavement

It’s a couple of years ago this month since I lost my dad and 3.5 years ago since I lost mum. They both lived into their 90s, had been married nearly 70 years when they died and they enjoyed good, long retirements together. Of course that provided some consolation, but I am someone who suffered from chronic anticipatory grief from about the age of 6, when I first grasped the concept of death and losing mum and dad. I have no siblings and I loved my parents intensely, as they did me – of that they made me very certain.

Of course it wasn’t all sweetness and light. My mum was feisty and not always an easy person. Dad could be extremely stubborn. I have both of them in me. It got heated sometimes.

Neither mum nor dad died suddenly, so I had some time to properly prepare and to tell them how much I loved them and what great parents I thought they had been. It was very important to me that I was able to do that. Despite all of that, I felt utterly lost and hollowed out, when dad’s death left me parentless. After mum died, my life was very much taken up with supporting dad as he descended more and more rapidly into dementia, which I didn’t even know he had, when mum died. That kept me busy, mentally and physically, so I didn’t get the full onslaught of grief until after dad’s death.

Around the same time that dad died, my partner lost his son, aged only 33. Shortly before mum died, I lost a dear friend to cancer, so the Grim Reaper was circling me for a few years.

In time, I appreciated that, in life, there are some hard facts that you cannot get away from, no matter what you do. Death is one of them. No point pussy-footing around it or ignoring it. You just have to find your way of dealing with it and keep putting one foot in front of the other. For me, it was important to talk out the feelings inside me. I was able to do that with my close and supportive friends, my partner, to a certain extent, and, finally, a bereavement counsellor, whom I consulted when I thought my friends probably could not take much more.

Eventually, through talking, I processed my loss and that of my partner. I was able to look forward, rather than being frozen in the moment. Several years on, I think I have moved through my grief for those lost ones. I now see the impact of bereavement as an indentation in an otherwise smooth, firm surface of psyche. At the moment of bereavement, the indentation goes so deep, it’s almost a hole. Over time, the indentation springs back, but not completely. There is always a dent in the surface of your psyche and you have to learn to live with it. That’s how it is with death and bereavement. Life is never quite the same after you lose someone very close to you, but it can still be good.

What’s brought this on? Well, last Sunday, I attended a service at the crematorium where I have created a memorial for my parents. For an hour or so, my parents filled my thoughts completely. Tears came, but I was able to draw comfort more quickly from some words of the service which speak to the way I deal with my loss.

Firstly an extract from the poem “Remember me” by Margaret Mead:-

“Remember me in your heart;

Your thoughts, and your memories,

Of the times we loved,

The times we cried,

The times we fought,

The times we laughed.

For if you always think of me, I will never have gone.”

Then an extract from the poem “A Litany of Remembrance” by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer:-

“So long as we live,

they too shall live,

for they are part of us,

and we remember them.”

I’m not particularly religious but I have a sense of spirituality. I feel that something unseen moves around and within us. Don’t ask me what. Perhaps it’s only our memories. I don’t ponder it too deeply, but draw my comfort from the fact that I hear the voices of my lost loved ones all the time. I know their opinion on events in my life. I am reminded of them in people alive today. I have vivid recall of my time spent with them. So it does feel that I am not completely without them and that I live with them differently now. Maybe it’s a fiction; maybe I’m kidding myself. What does it matter if it gives me comfort and helps me to live on, as happily as possible, without them?

For anyone reading this, who has recently experienced bereavement, I hope you find your solace and consolation.

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Photo by Cindy Gustafson on Pexels.com

Having a passion

Recently, I was having a conversation in which the other person was describing to me a creative activity of hers, which she felt passionate about. After listening to this woman talk with such obvious enthusiasm about her “passion”, I came away wondering whether there is anything that I feel so passionate about, if at all.

Hmmm. Struggling to answer that one. Time for a blog post to help me bottom this one out.

Firstly, what does it really mean to feel passionate about something? Is it a good or a bad thing? What does it say about you if you don’t feel passionate about anything?

Some dictionary definitions of the word “passionate” are:-

“having, showing, or caused by strong feelings or beliefs” and

“intense, impassioned, ardent, fervent, vehement.”

I’ll be honest – I get a bit worked up and shout at the telly when politicians come on and peddle their rubbish (in my opinion), but it’s short lived. That’s not the sort of thing I have in mind. What I’m trying to get to are the one or more things I go back to, over and over again, because they engender in me the feelings defined above.

Hmmm.

In my 30s, I think I felt strongly (passionately?) about travel and exploring foreign countries and their cultures. With eager anticipation, I would buy maps and guide books, which I would then pore over for months before my holiday. I’d keep a travel log and then, on returning home, would bore everyone with my holiday photos and souvenirs, wishing myself back to those far-flung places. I still love travel and travel planning, but don’t get quite as excited about it as I used to. Why is that? Is it me, or do passions come and go? Should you feel as intensely about something, your whole life through, in order for it to count as a passion?

For the past 15 years or so, since I have lived in a house with a garden, I have developed a growing interest in plants, shrubs, flowers and trees. I love their colour, shapes, textures, scent and movement. I read about them, watch lots of gardening programmes on TV and visit them, whenever possible. Only this weekend, I spent several happy hours poking around beautiful local gardens opened to the public under the National Gardens Scheme (see photos below). Dodgy back permitting, I like to spend time in my own garden, trying, but failing, to create an attractive ensemble. My garden’s only small, though, and I don’t want to be gardening to the exclusion of all else. So, could I be said to be “passionate” about gardening?

If there’s anything about which I could be said to be passionate, it’s literature, reading and words. I’ve had my nose in a book pretty much every day since I learned to read. I can’t imagine life without a book(s) to read. I salivate at the thought of all those books yet to be read. I need a day or two to come down from somewhere, after finishing a good book. Does that qualify as being passionate?

Does any of this matter? Well I feel that a life lived with intensity sounds better than a life lived without, on the assumption that we’re only here once. That said,  we are the product of our genes and experience which may combine to moderate some of us more than others, whether we like it or not. Perhaps too much intensity is a bad thing. Witness the struggles of Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and Vincent Van Gogh. Their artistic vehemence did not bring them happiness or contentment. We also know that passionately held beliefs can lead to bad actions, as we see every day.

So is it important or not to be passionate? What’s wrong with being on a level about everything? Perhaps the best way is to have intensity, with moderation? Good luck with that one.

Do you know what? I think I’ll rejoice in my books and my garden and not worry about the rest.

 

 

 

Group dynamics

I have just come back from a classic car weekend away to Spa racetrack in Belgium, staying just over the border in Monschau, Germany.

A tour company organised all the travel and hotel arrangements, plus entry to the racetrack. Suggested routes and itineraries were provided and the rest was up to the participants .

We booked onto the trip with friends who in turn invited others, which made for a little group of 6 couples. Two of the couples I hadn’t met before. One participant brought his new girlfriend.

The weekend was eventful and interesting, as such occasions usually are. Inevitably I observed and reflected, as I do. Ergo, blog fodder is born.

For starters, on the way down, one of the classic cars has a problem. Not unusual, in my experience. In fact, I’ve come to expect it around these aged motors. I make sure to dress appropriately for hanging around on the roadside, incase my partner’s car proves to be the weakest link, as often happens. As you may be picking up, I don’t share my partner’s passion for classic cars, but I go along, “for the ride”, occasionally, because I know it makes him happy.

We pull off at the nearest service station, where the men and, to a degree, one woman, indulge their passion for poking around in car engines and talking incomprehensible car speak. I switch off and eat too many travel sweets, so my teeth tingle.

Anyway, an hour or so passes and still no diagnosis from the car doctors, though lots of theories. Bits of the car come out. I’m thinking how much I would like to get back on the road, as we are only half way and if we delay much longer, we’ll hit rush hour traffic and be quite late arriving at our hotel. My partner is starting to agree with me, but reminds me we are a group and must stick together. Really?

Another hour or so passes and I’m now quite antsy.  If it had been my partner’s car that  broke down, I would have made people drive on because I hate to be a nuisance, feel terrible about spoiling other’s fun and am not good at accepting selfless help from others.

After more than 2 hours, everyone in the group agrees that no-one can fix the car and the owner couple must get breakdown recovery either onwards to the hotel or backwards to the UK, depending on the car problem. Bummer for them, and they take it very well. I’m impressed. My partner and I would have been screaming at each other by now.

Off we go and travel for about another hour or so. A few folk want to pull off for refreshment. I assume this means a drink and a snack, but discover people are ordering full meals, even though we are planning to have dinner on arrival at the hotel. More delay. Time marching on. I just want to get to our destination, shower and eat something savoury.

Eventually we go back to the cars. One won’t start. I saw that coming. More car doctor stuff and car speak (you’re getting why I don’t share partner’s car passion, right?). General consensus – it’s a problem with the car battery and jump leads are required to start it. No-one has any, not even my partner, who generally carries around a garage in the boot of his car.

I see another 2 hours of waiting around by the motorway, so I think, what can I do to help? Off I go around the service station, asking other users if they have jump leads. Not easy, as few speak English, and my French (as we are in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium) is not up to the description of jump leads. No matter, I will fall back on the fail-safe option of sign language.

So around I go, miming the action of putting jump leads on a battery. People shuffle away from me, with worried expressions. No matter, I persevere, and eventually a Polish lorry driver rummages in the locker of his truck cab and pulls out a pair of jump leads. Bravo to him! The leads are applied between my partner’s car and the crock car, which jumps back in to automotive life. I get a group pat on the back and feel quite pleased with myself. On y va!

We eventually get to the hotel, late and, in the case of those who did not take on food fuel, very hungry and a bit jaded. Guess what? The first breakdown car is there before us. They got recovered to a garage and a clever mechanic fixed them straight up. They did not stop again, as we did, and so beat us to it. They had already had a refreshing beer or two, by the time we arrive. To crown it all, we were so late, the hotel restaurant was closed and we had to walk down into the town to find somewhere to eat.

It takes all I’ve got, not to have a hissy fit, at this point. I have a fierce conversation with myself. Why did we wait around all that time? Why did we not drive off sooner, when it was clear the problem could not be fixed by amateur car doctors? Why did we stop so long again, so that we were even more delayed? Finally, I said to myself, look what happens when you try to help other people and go with the group flow against your personal will. You’re with me on this, right?

Well, here’s what followed. Those of us who hadn’t eaten earlier, made our way into the town of Monschau. We found a cracking pub/restaurant, called the Zum Haller, with a great atmosphere and jolly, helpful staff. Later we were joined by breakdown couple 1, who insisted on buying everyone a drink by way of thanks and apology for the time lost. During the weekend, this lovely couple put effort into organising stuff for the group. They were humorous and sociable, and I was pleased to get to know them.

On the Saturday, I decided to miss a day at the races in favour of exploring the attractive and interesting town of Monschau. One of my friends in the group accompanied me and another lady in the group also spent the day, doing something different. We re-grouped in the evening for a meal together, organised by one of the couples. On Sunday, we all went to the races, split off in a few smaller groups, then all met up for dinner and dancing in the evening and had a great time together. The group dynamic easily accommodated individual choices as well as group activity.

Reflecting on the weekend, as we travelled back, I decided that it had been a success. In philosophical mood, I decided this had something to do with the group itself being successful. Each couple had contributed something to the group dynamic e.g navigating on behalf of the group, making suggestions and arrangements around eating together, buying drinks and, in the case of one couple, buying a birthday card for one group member, whose birthday fell during the trip.

Although I’d had to ignore some personal preferences in favour of group activity and this had sometimes seemed, unfair, I gained as much, if not more, than I gave up. Some personal sacrifice had contributed to overall good. Were we, in fact, a micro society, and was this how societies can become successful? It’s decades since I read Plato’s Republic and I couldn’t make much sense of it, but I do recall he had something to say about how societies shake down together. It’s stretching it a bit, I know, to apply Platonic philosophy to a classic car weekend, but I had lots of time to ponder on the way home!

Of course, it could have been a different story if we’d had one or more people who were a complete pain in the a**.  How would that have worked out? I’ll probably get to find out, as there will be more of these trips. Perhaps more blog fodder for another day?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jobs To Be Done

On leaving my job, four years ago, I had 2 main objectives. One was to venture into different worlds. The other was to try and correct some personality defects that have lived with me for rather a long time.

In pursuit of objective 1, here are some of the things I have done so far:

  • Become a dog mummy for the very first time, having never had any pets
  • Found a part time job in the health and social care sector, which is very different to the legal world I once inhabited
  • Improved my IT skills. Setting up my blog was a major achievement for me
  • Ventured into social media which I previously shunned, partly due to ignorance
  • Become a blogger
  • Taken on a house refurbishment project with my partner in which we have done most of the work ourselves
  • Signed up to do volunteer work for a mental health charity

None of this is earth shattering, but I’m quite pleased with how it’s going so far. I have lots more I still want to do. This brings me on to objective number 2.

My personality defects are many and varied, but one of the first ones I wanted to tackle was the way in which I deal with Jobs To Be Done.

In my professional life, I was reasonably good at making lists, prioritising tasks and meeting deadlines. I was able to get through jobs, fairly methodically and in good time. On the home front, however, it’s a different story and I feel that I’m always chasing my tail and getting nowhere, to use a doggie metaphor.

Having left a job in which I had to record everything I did in 6 minute units, I am loathe to regiment myself in that way again. So I don’t make actual “To Do” lists, though I do carry around a list of jobs for the day, in my head. The trouble is, I allow myself, daily, even hourly, to be diverted from the jobs for the day. I will find something that I think I must do before anything else, so my daily “head” list gets totally mashed up. Then guess what? Yep, I think you can see what’s coming. I get to the end of the day and find I haven’t done half the jobs I intended to. I then feel (i) dissatisfied with self and (ii) a bit stressed that my “To Do” list is almost as long as when I started the day. Often I get that overwhelmed feeling that there are more pressing jobs for me to do than I will ever have time to complete.

I then repeat the whole process the next day, as well reminding myself that I now only work part-time, I don’t have children and so what the hell am I doing with all my time? To add to my shame, I now realise that women with children and jobs and pets seem to do a lot more than me and write a daily blog. How does that even happen?

Last Monday, I started all over again with my “head” list. I decided to put less on it, in the hope that I would complete the list. There were quite a lot of boring domestic jobs on there. Surprise, surprise, I did not get to the large pile of ironing that was beginning to form a tower-like structure in my spare bedroom. Much worse than that, I did not phone the family friend, who needs support, and who I have been meaning to call for weeks. A pretty poor showing, I think you’d agree.

So this week, I have been thinking about the problem and also the blog I will write about it. The hour or so I spend walking the dog each day, is a good time for this and I think I may have had a bit of a light bulb moment this week. I think the problem may lie in my attitude to Jobs To Be Done. In particular, I think I attribute too much importance to minor league jobs e.g the ironing and other domestic chores. Of course, these jobs must be done and I should trust myself to get them done in a reasonable time. Some jobs, and it’s not really a job, but a pleasure, are much more important e.g phoning the family friend. As I write this, I realise it’s not rocket science and anyone reading this might wonder what is wrong with my head. In my state of enlightenment, I would respond to that, that it’s sometimes the simple stuff that is the hardest to get right.

Something else that has dawned on me, as I hoof along with the hound, is that there comes a time in life when you have to accept who you are and stop beating yourself up about who you’re not. After 57 years on this planet, I think I need to ease up on that metaphorical rolling pin that I keep hitting myself on the head with when I think I have failed myself. I wish I could have said, to my 26 year old self, that life doesn’t come along in bite size chunks and I can’t always control the chaos, hard as I try. It’s important to realise what’s important and to deal with that. The rest gets done when it gets done. Easier said than done, but I’m going to try and focus on working on my attitude rather than on my Jobs To Be Done.

I wonder if anyone else struggles with this sort of stuff and how they deal with it? How on earth do the women with children/jobs/blogs/pets and more, deal with it all? You have my total admiration, though I think I will have to stop comparing, as that exercise always leads me to the metaphorical rolling pin. Another lesson learned perhaps?

As I write, it occurs to me that I’ve found dog and blog therapy. Love it! That sounds like a topic for another blog……………

 

I do love to be beside the seaside (or view from my motorhome sofa)

We’ve been away for the past couple of weeks. Me, my partner and our dog, all together in the motorhome we bought a couple of years ago.

If you’d told me, thirty odd years ago, that I would one day enjoy holidays in a motorhome, I would have snorted at you, derisively. Back then, I thought motorhomes and caravans were for middle-aged and older folk who lacked a sense of adventure. Well, hey, how time flies and here I am, very middle-aged myself. Though not the most adventurous person I know, we have so far been through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany and Denmark. Last Christmas and New Year, we took the motor home down to Spain for a month and there have been several mini-tours around the UK, most recently in Cornwall and the south-west. Our 2 year old Labrador accompanies us wherever we go. We all have a jolly good time.

When planning a trip, I try to choose a variety of locations, but at some point, I am always drawn to the sea. Having read a few interesting blogs recently, on the “nature/nurture” theme, I have come to the conclusion that we are drawn to places where we found happiness in our formative years. In my case, I was born and brought up in seaside towns and lived beside the sea until I went away to university, at 18. As a child, most of my school holidays were spent happily playing on the beach or in the sea. In my teenage years, my adolescent angst was eased by the big skies, the vast expanse of sea and the forgiving, soft sand of the beach.

So I chose Cornwall for our Spring break, as it is noted for its fine coastline. I went there with my parents, when I was 15 (no, not in a motorhome or caravan, incase you’re wondering). I didn’t want to be on holiday with my mum and dad, at that age, and boy, did I make that clear. Every photograph of me on that holiday has me looking glum or scowling. I decided it was time to revisit Cornwall, this time with more grace and appreciation. It turned out to be a cracking choice. So here is a quick “big-up” for Cornwall and I’m not being paid to plug.

Wild and rugged coastline, tempered by a variety of vegetation along the shoreline and coastal path. Mediterranean coloured sea:-

 

Gorgeous and extravagant gardens, including The Eden Project.

Culture at the fabulous Tate Modern St Ives, where views of the Atlantic Ocean provide a backdrop to some wonderful art.

Oh and not to forget the cream teas, Cornish pasties and Cornish crab.

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I must also mention the wonderful Shalikabooky cafe right on Pendower Beach. Again, no incentives for me to do so. The food is simple, but delicious and the lovely owner has an eco-friendly business culture, avoiding single use plastics. The location and view from the patio garden are to die for.

View from Shalikabooky CafeShalikabooky Cafe

Who knew motorhoming could be such fun??!!