Lets start in the middle (few ever said)

So here I am middle aged, and I find myself between jobs, between houses and potentially between lives …
Scary, liberating, confusing, exciting, a myriad of emotions and thoughts, and for someone with an overactive and uber creative mind the opportunities are infinite. Well, perhaps slightly curtailed by my energy levels, and my own, others and society’s perceptions of what a 56 year old single women should / should not do. In practice I find my mind is more adventurous in the mornings when I’m likely to consider catching a plane somewhere on a whim, then by the evening putting on my slippers and pjs and simple home comforts are much more appealing.
I was going to say this was never in my life plan, but I rarely plan, I’ve certainly never had a life plan. I am not sure I ever really considered it, I find thinking too far ahead bizarrely scary and as I’ve aged I’ve realized the true futility of planning as life events are bigger than any SMART plan I may have been advised to make or considered writing. Reflecting though there have been decision points in the last year where I could have opted for another less transformational or less extreme choice, but I chose not to. I’ve lived most of the last year driven by the stress ‘flight’ response, occasionally interspersed by a desire to ‘hide’ deep in the duvets on my bed; against this emotional backdrop I was not well placed for moderated or considered responses. And I suppose even before this year I would occasionally mutter under my breath that I needed a bit more adventure or that I would regret it if I stayed in this well-paying and enjoyable (am I crazy) but exceedingly long hours (I couldn’t continue to work 50- 60 hours) job – until I retired.
But I did not make a conscious plan for so much simultaneous change, and I don’t have a plan yet for a way out.
Feeling stymied by choices and indecision I’ve decided to live this part of my life, which I’m calling Chapter 4 (more to follow) along two principles; one is happenstance (as this has governed most of my life so far) and the other is sustainability (again much more to follow).

When someone fulfills a dream

My attention span is currently quite limited, so I’ll have to admit Facebook neatly fits my entertainment requirements. I can dip in and out for 5-10 minutes here and there it requires no effort, the headlines are brief. Whilst doing this today one story caught my attention.

I’ve been divorced now for 11 or maybe 12 years – I think it’s good that I don’t know exactly how long, apart from for the odd financial issue why does it matter what I once was?  

During this time of being the unmarried / divorced me (and overall happy with that) I have had a couple of flings and relationships – I am not sure where the official cut off point is between these two. Probably another way of looking at it is, how many of these potential suitors (what a great word) did I introduce to one or both kids / my family / best friends and the answer is 3.  So, these 3 are definitely significant, then there’s the one that got away (and I still lament over this) and the one that was lust at first sight who will also be worth a mention at some point.

However out of the 3 there is one who stands out, one who whenever I think of or talk about still makes me smile – let’s call him Sam.

I remember my first date with Sam. We’d met on Bumble and after a couple of good phone calls we’d agreed to meet for a drink and possible meal. He was further away than I would have liked and he was not my usual type, for starters he had hair – I actually prefer the follicle(ly) challenged man   (this is incredibly helpful now I’m dating in my 50s)!

I remember my first impression he was a real man, a man of presence and gravitas. The meal went well, but I wasn’t quite sure, then during the after-meal drink, he tried to sneak a kiss on my cheek, I advised him this could be considered sexual assault, but I was beginning to fall for his charm.  We left the evening arm in arm…. The next morning, I woke up to lovely text messages. It was odd I’d never had such overt compliments, within a week I had flowers, the first of many bunches. I initially found it hard to relax into this type of relationship, my over cynical mind at play – what does he want? Why’s he doing all this? As a good friend said – perhaps he just really likes you and is being nice……….

The relationship lasted 8 months followed by a further almost 12 months of re-trying, finishing, stalking, crying, you know the usual end of relationship antics….. . The first 5 months of our proper relationship were simply amazing and included one of the best holidays of my life touring the south of France in the heat of the summer in an MG sports car. As we travelled around Provence we danced, we ate, we swam, we played scrabble, sadly there was not much love making (that was one of the problems) but it was a summer of love.  I was glowing, he said he loved me, and I think this was the first of three times that he asked me to marry him – each time I said no, I’ve never regretted this.

Over time the reality of the real Sam was revealed. Some of the truth he volunteered and some I stumbled across. The apparent confidence was a huge (and very successful) mask – underneath he was shy, lacking in confidence and incredibly lonely and much more (but that’s another story). Bullied terribly as a child, and with parents who did not know how to show emotion. There were parts of him that had never grown up – he was a great dreamer and a huge fan of Disney.  Whilst sometimes endearing and inspiring this love of escapism translated into a childlike lack of responsibility, and a complete inability to accept his part in the many issues which eventually drove us apart.

One of the dreams he shared was to sail across the world. He’d been on one sailing holiday around the Greek Isles years ago which he’d loved and his plan was to buy a boat and sail.  I remember the many hours he sat poised over great shipping manuals. In the earlier days he tried to persuade me to join him. It had never been a dream of mine and I get seasick quite easily, but I loved him, so I seriously considered it.  I tried to work out how it could work, how and when I would see my children. But to be honest I doubted he’d ever do it. He was not actually a qualified skipper, he had no boat, and he had limited money, but he had huge unfaltering dreams.

After the initial 8 months we broke up, and then during our on-off time his obsession became greater, it was all he’d talk about, we watched videos of round the world sailors and this obsession continued until we finally completely and utterly parted, and metaphorically sailed off in opposite directions.

Of course, with Facebook you never completely let go unless you consciously choose the ‘unfriend’ option. I thought about it many times, would seeing less of him help me move on, but as a wise friend said, ‘once you unfriend there’s no going back’. So, we stayed virtually in touch.

Time passed, I realized I really was so much better off without him, Covid struck, both his parents sadly died and clearly with the money he bought a boat.  Not a boat that would be allowed anywhere near to Monaco but a boat still.

And yes, you can see where this post is going… The Facebook post today ‘and we’re off – currently crossing the Channel’.  I’m smiling again as I write this. I never believed he would or could … its amazing that he has… it shows where there’s a dream there’s a way. Bon Voyage Sam x

Covid – not a nice happenstance

Wednesday morning it was raining, the proverbial cat and dogs type, but with a dog that needs walking I had to get dressed for a short walk so he could do ‘his business’ (since when did going to the toilet become ‘doing business?’).  I pulled on my jeans, wellies and a thick coat over my pj top and a new blue woolly hat. We headed out, there was flooding by the kerbs, I was very conscious that the dog’s legs are shorter than mine and looked for suitable crossing places so he wouldn’t get wet legs – does this make me a good dog walker (the dog is not mine but my brothers where I’m staying) or make the dog a pampered pooch?   He quickly did his business and then turned to home, pulling me at such strength I was almost running.  I love walking and had been prepared for a much longer walk but having done in excess of 20000 steps on each of the last couple of days and feeling slightly tired I realized it might be good for me to have an easier day. 

I came back and soon got dragged into helping to bathe the dog expecting splashes and protestations I came ready with phone to film the ‘fun’ but he was surprisingly calm and well behaved. He clearly really likes a bath- I’m going to have to lock the bathroom door from now on or I could have company. I then cleaned the bath, had a bath myself and then it began. Out of nowhere I was shivering, shaking and despite adding layer after layer I could not warm up. I got into bed with two hot water bottles and only warmed up four hours later shortly after I’d put my woolly hat back on. With a very slight cough and being told I looked painfully grey, I did a Covid test – it was negative, but I still decided to stay in my room away from everyone else, as whatever this was it wasn’t nice.   A day later the PCR result politely informed me, I was positive. I wasn’t expecting this result, I’d convinced myself it was some other bug, but I was not feeling well at all.

I’d been relatively ‘lucky’ so far in Covid terms, my sister had been very poorly, and my daughter had struggled but thankfully neither had needed to be hospitalized.  Suddenly, all my plans for the next ten days were thrown up in the air, the appointments I’d made the social dates, my overdue weekend with my daughter cancelled.   I acknowledge these are such a non-issue in the scale of Covid’s impact and as I was feeling so ropey that cancelling these (apart from not seeing my daughter) did not really matter. Illness is one of those incredibly grounding experiences, suddenly life is washed of its thrills and its back to pure survival mode – rest, drink, eat and recover.  

So far, I’ve spent 5 days in the confines of my room, feeling like an inmate as a knock heralds the arrival of food. Having no energy or focus – I got a paper delivered but it’s too much energy to read it, I lie with the lights on or off, blankets on or off drifting between sleep and wakefulness, slightly delirious at times. At night my mind is trying to solve a rubix like puzzle and it keeps on working, twisting, turning, I want it to stop I want peace – this is painful, I tell my dream it’s not important to me – but it continued. I seem to drift in and out of the same stressful dream most of the night, then I’m out of the street trying to find a hotel which is just round the corner, but I can’t quire remember where, I get anxious and panicky why can’t I remember isn’t this an early sign of Alzheimer’s.

I force myself to switch the light on hoping this will break the cycle, with a half open eye I survey my room – it’s such a mess – tablets, packets, empty cups, creams lotions, unread newspaper, different pieces of clothing strewn across the floor. I guess the room smells – you know that’ sick person smell’ but I am too immersed in it to realise. I wonder if the tablets are creating the weird dreams, I don’t take many analgesics, so I think I’m hypersensitive. I must be coming to as I recognise a proper thought for me – do tidy people’s room get messy where they are ill? (I’m going to check this with a few uber tidy friends).

The fine art of doing nothing

Recently I’ve been quite unwell. At the age of 56 I realise I’m truly ‘vincible’.

Covid that unanimously unwanted guest came to visit totally unannounced and with no clear leaving date. Covid made me stop all normal activities and sit with them, sleep, lie and stop. Recovering from Covid feels like being in a Maze. I know eventually I will surface but I have no idea when that will be and I am experiencing many false starts, dead ends and backwards steps on the road to recovery.

But alongside the frustration has come an acceptance and one unexpected benefit has been a slight joy in doing less, or I should be honest here, on many days doing nothing. Doing nothing, planning nothing and I have permission to be like this. After years of living in constant overdrive, feeling I was constantly up against the clock and that every waking hour/ week / day/ month and sometimes whole years were accounted for at last there seems to be some space. Don’t get me wrong I hate having it and I need my energy levels to return, but whilst I have to accept this as my current reality I have discovered the unexpected joy of doing nothing, sweet FA, nada, blank – however you choose to describe it.

My days seem to focus on how little I can do, ensuring if I have to go out I do everything in that one journey and looking forward immensely to returning to base and once more doing nothing. I’m not sure if in purest terms my ‘nothing’ qualifies for meditational or wellbeing nothingness but it is without focus and I do not care if the hand of the clock seems to jump forward without any outcome or output .. I’ve always railed at efficiency and productivity programmes but yet I’ve always achieved this is different, different in a still and empty way.

I wonder if I will allow myself protected nothingness when my body once more enables me to do the physical pursuits I so love. I hope so… you may be thinking ‘you have control – you can make this happen’ and yes I know I absolutely can, but I also know that change can be difficult to embed and the active side of me is more hard wired than the no-nothing version, but I will endeavor to remain an occasional nothingness practitioner from now on.

Rejected by Marks and Spencer

I left my last job exactly four weeks today. In some ways the job seems to be distant memory, I guess ‘checking out’ had started a few months ago, in other ways the four weeks has flown by. This has been the first month of exploration; giving myself permission not to think about work or what next whilst I indulged in a short adventure.

Overall, my working life has been easy in terms of being able to do what I want with limited rejections, but hard in terms of volume. And not thinking about work is very hard. I am someone who has devoted a ridiculous amount of time to work, at times to the detriment of my own health and over work was one contributory factor in my divorce. I have always been driven by a need to do a good job, to be helpful and flexible, to learn about something new and this has translated into regular 50 – 60-hour weeks. When you’re on your own its easy to do silly hours. Work is a constant companion, work ‘is always there for you’.

I’ve tried to trace the origins of my strong work ethic and I think it’s a combination of my mum (sorry dad I can’t credit you with this – other things but not this) and my escapism as a child in a busy house. When things were turbulent in the house – family arguments etc., I would retreat to my bedroom sit by my radiator and either study and or do yoga, this was yoga without the frills basically stretching, and I loved it. Then, as I did well at school, the endorphin shot of a good mark and learning something new would continue to motivate me and so the cycle began.

Moving into adulthood I went to Uni, I wasn’t really sure what to do but knew I wanted to go so I plumped for a general business course as a safe bet. Once there I enquired about moving to Biology (as this had been my favorite subject at school – but on paper I didn’t have the pre-requisite sciences to do it at degree level) unbelievably I was offered a chance to transfer to it. However, at the same time I won the first term award on my business course, and I was swayed by external recognition over personal satisfaction.  As my career has progressed I have repeatedly prioritized the needs or feedback from others in my career choices , ‘I could not possibly do the exciting shift role when we had young kids’  – but of course my husband could take a job which was pure adventure requiring totally flexible hours,   several people put me off teaching and shop work due to the long hours, and my decisions seem to have been based on what I’m good at and get good feedback in rather than what provides a deep sense of achievement or satisfaction.  And even recently when I’ve toyed with doing some part time care work again others have put me off…  Mind you I recognise this says as much about me and my inner lack of self-belief, as it does about them.

I know I need to give myself time (and I am fortunate I can now take a short break) to really think more about what might give me that greater satisfaction, to see what presents through happenstance and what will ensure sustainability, which in its simplest form means not working crazy hours at the same time as adding value for others and the environment. 

My intention was to get a part time job to bring in some pocket money whilst I ruminate…. and applying for Marks and Spencer seemed an obvious move.  So, I filled in the 100-question personality assessment – am I resilient? – big tick, do I prefer structure or freedom at work? My honest answer is freedom, but I thought this is Marks and Spencer, I’m guessing there will be more rules and so the overthinking began. I then moved onto multiple choice scenarios – do I prioritize front of house tidying or checking a new stock delivery? I soon realized this was more complicated than I’d expected.  I finished off with a nice covering letter and pressed send… but lo and behold within 10 minutes the dear john arrived.

Did I flunk the scenarios or personality part or both?  … I was surprised and slightly disappointed, I was looking forward to the new part time adventure, but most of all I was slightly worried. Imagine if I can’t get another job, imagine if this won’t be as easy as I’d thought. I quickly kicked the thoughts out of my head, something always turns up – it just does, and I have an unending belief in that.

 But I did think imagine if applying for Marks and Spencer was your 50th application, and it’s much harder than you think and with no feedback given I have no idea if it was my personality or the scenarios. There’s nothing for me to learn from or to bring into the next application. For someone who was really struggling with confidence that could be soul destroying.  I think all big employers should be made to give feedback to all applicants who request it – try harder Marks and Spencer.

What happened to chapters 1-3?

I am one of those readers who a) has multiple books on the go at the same time (I rarely finish any) and b) who will often flick through a non-fiction book and start reading where it looks most interesting and c) who attends the book club for the social aspect rather than the actual books.

So, calling the blog Chapter 4 seems very natural, but I do recognize for others will require some explanation.

Walking away from all the key blocks of your life – house, location, work at a similar time is either a time for sheer panic, great planning or to ‘see what lands and what happens next’ – and I’ve plumped for the latter. Stepping away, I am asking myself a lot of why’s, what’s, what ifs and probably totally over complicating things.  From my musings I have realised that I am at a pivotal point and that if I choose to do so my priorities can significantly change.

This all requires much more work, but in essence my first three chapters were as follows:

Chapter 1 – youth, fun, growth and exploration 

Chapter 2 – adulthood, love, my own family and stability 

Chapter 3 – survival, adaptation, single parenting, career

Chapter 4 – happenstance and sustainability are my intended guiding principles, but the reality may differ

And I guess that after Chapter 4 there might be two more chapters?  -Consolidation and then perhaps endings … but let’s see how this life continues to roll…

Although I’ve always avoided detailed plans, and I am not guided by any religious doctrine, I have often created my own ‘strategy’ or principles for parts of my life.  Being a ‘great’ (ironic) overthinker I can talk myself into and out of the same thing within about 60 seconds, so having something to ‘hang’ my life on has helped.  When I say ‘helped’ the best analogy is that I’ve placed one of those lovely bentwood hat stands in the hallway of my life so I know where to hang and find my coats. But in practice most of the coats have generally landed in that part of the hallway and few are neatly hung on the stand.

In the past I’ve had dating strategies – aka how to stay sane through the pitfalls of online data, and personal mantras to help guide my decisions.

I’m now entering a new chapter where the children are largely self-reliant and sufficient, where I don’t have to earn so much, wanting a job that makes a real difference and realizing that if I want to fulfil any of those ‘pipedreams’ I’d better get a move on… 

I realise that once again I need something to steer my life.  Basing Chapter 4 on happenstance and sustainability, whilst potentially conflicting themes, these represent a merger of my past modus operandi with what should, and soon will, be everyone’s major focus.  I hope that I can adopt and demonstrate a sustainable way of living which in some way benefits myself, my family and friends and wider community.

A time capsule for my dotage

I’ve been mulling the idea of a blog for a few weeks.  I find writing exceedingly cathartic and absorbing, I also recognize the need for some vague structure on these free-flowing days. But most of all I am creating a time capsule for my dotage, I love finding lost treasures, reminiscing over an old photo and revisiting important places from my past. I recently managed to get a tour of the house I grew up in which my parents had left about 30 years ago.  It was a truly magical 15 minutes of re-exploration, the pinnacle perhaps the moment I saw the house still had our old hall carpet (mum always said it was a good investment) and wall lights. Walking slowly through the house I was trying to take everything in, looking for the familiar, ignoring the new, confused by the sense of smallness (walking carefully on the stairs thinking have my feet really grown since my mid 20s?). Feeling indebted to the current house owner for indulging me I managed to feign an interest in the way he had converted the box room into an en-suite, ‘yes’ this was an improvement but totally ‘meh’ to me.  Somehow, I resisted the voice at the back of my head encouraging me to say ‘you know what could you just pop out for half an hour and let me explore on my own’.   I could not however contain the sea of emotions that rose within me as I entered the garden …. I just about managed to keep my voice steady, but I still can’t get over the fact they’d removed the willow tree.

Three months prior, whilst packing up to move out of my house, I spent a lot of time reading old diaries, reminiscing over old photos and memorabilia, sending photos of pictures, items, diary extracts to those ‘involved’ with the memory, and then wondering why my packing was taking so long. 

The highlight of it all was going through my ‘letters bag’.  This was an old black and white school P.E bag, handmade by mum, which I had used to store letters over the years. I knew the bag was home to the 100 plus love letters between myself and my ex-husband, many penned when he did his year abroad during Uni, and before mobile phones existed. When we’d divorced ten plus years ago, I had briefly wondered whether to chuck these but decided not. They do not upset me and why would I want to lose a memory of a very happy part of my life. I started to skim through these, I did not have the time, energy or that much inclination to read them all, but suddenly I realized there was much more to this bag than I had ever imagined.  Buried amongst the mass of airmails covered in kisses, sharing lover’s jokes and lingo I stumbled across another batch of letters, letters from others, letters I was unaware existed.

 As I pulled the first white envelope from the bag, I shallowed hard as I recognized my mum’s handwriting. I had stumbled across a cache of letters from my mum to me in the first year of Uni. I was overcome with emotion, which I can feel rising again now. I suddenly had a way to connect with my mum once more. My wonderful mum whom I’d lost 8 years ago, suddenly felt unbelievably alive again. I had never imagined such a bittersweet surprise.  The letters moaned about my dad and my auntie, told me about meals, and washing and reminded me of the realities of those last few years at home, and made me realise just how much my mum missed me when I went to Uni. I was the youngest of four and the last to leave the family home. At that time my parents had a less than perfect marriage and I was mum’s sanity and escapism. And I had left her and gone to Uni, and our contact was now only a weekly call and the occasional letter. How I wish I’d written more; wish I’d made more of an effort. It’s a cliché, but such is the cycle of life, and now when I wish I had ‘more contact / time’ whatever it is from my grown-up kids I take myself back to when I was their age and ask myself ‘how much time did I want to spend with my parents’?