It’s a funny old game

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.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

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?

  1. Trust your instincts. If something feels very, very wrong, it usually is
  2. 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
  3. Sometimes the hardest thing is the best thing for you to do. Have courage
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Forgive yourself, even if you have acted totally out of character and against your moral code
  8. Only when you forgive and learn to like yourself can you build a good future for yourself
  9. Women are much, much stronger than they think
  10. 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.

Bonne chance all you fellow travellers.

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I said – turn left!

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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!

 

Home sweet home

I mentioned that I have recently been on holiday in Scotland.

On our return trip, we broke the journey in the place where I was brought up and lived until I left for uni at 18. The main purpose of the stop was for me to meet up with a dear lady, who, together with her late husband, was very kind to my parents when their health and strength was failing. I also wanted  to have a look around the old place and to reminisce.

There is nothing beautiful about my old home. It’s a north-west England seaside town, close to Blackpool. Let’s call it Sandcastle-on-sea. Like it’s ugly sister, it has seen much better days. As I walked around, in the only rain to be found in the whole of the UK, this blazing summer, I got to asking myself, in a blog sort of way, whether I could call this place my home? After all, although I hadn’t lived there for decades, I passed most of my formative years there and my much missed parents lived there more or less until their end.

I debated with myself, as I do, that, during my 50 odd years, I have lived in a number of different places, most of which, I have called home, whilst I have been living there. Sometimes, I have called more than one place home at the same time e.g Sandcastle-upon-sea and also the various places where I have lived and owned my own property, from time to time.

Then there was my old university town where I had the time of my life and did a bit of studying as well. I met some of my dearest friends there whom I have known now for most of my adult life. I pushed the boundaries of my overprotected only childness and learned my limitations. So was this place home?

There is also the Lake District National Park, in Cumbria, in north-west England, the beauty of whose scenery never fails to make my heart soar. It did it for Wordsworth as well, in a big and very poetic way. I’ve visited there many times and we stopped off, for a few days, on our recent road trip. Although the hordes of tourists are annoying (that doesn’t include me, of course, as I’m practically a native), every time I see the magnificent mountains and mysterious lakes, I feel a tremendous connection with the place.

I could go on, but I need to get to some conclusions here.

The old proverb says that “home is where the heart is.” I googled around to check what that proverb actually means. It has been interpreted differently to mean i) your home is where your loved ones are or ii) your affections and memories will always be tied to the place where you live.

Hmmm. Not totally helpful.

For me, “home” is a state of being and belonging. It’s a place where you can comfortably live your life and be yourself, supported by some of the people you want to be with, whether they are friends, family, animals or all of the above.

It’s also a place for which you have some affinity, such that you are happy to spend most of your time there. It may be urban landscape or remote countryside, but the external environment touches something within you.

You may hang your hat in lots of different places, but for me, these are the criteria which determine whether a place is “home” or just the place where you live.

So, not quite as pithy and succinct as the old proverb, but I think I got there in the end. My only remaining question is, where do you call home?

 

 

 

 

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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