on lockdown learning

usually when you work in a school there are patterns to the day.  Bells ring, pupils move around corridors, lunch time arrives and people gather, kids in the dining hall, adults in staff rooms, in safe spaces, each to touch base with friends and colleagues and have a break.  It is relentless.  When I first worked in a High School, the bells drove me slowly mad.  I have missed those bells this half term.

Everything is different.  We look at each other across our face masks, transferring feelings with eyes only.  I have seen stress, sadness, anger, hope and humour in the eyes of my colleagues this past five weeks.  Pupils, en masse, the life blood of this school are seldom seen.  They are safely ensconced in bubbles, staying in one classroom, while staff move between.  Staff rooms remain empty, people hurry in to fill a kettle and then move to their classroom, everyone is scared.

We are all learning.  Learning new ways to do things, learning about our own fears and how we react to this new world.  I suspect some of us will never be the same again.  For some this will be a change for the better, for others not so much.

I have learned a lot.  I have learned that I am more fragile than I have ever admitted before.  I have learned that I need people, I need to hug and to live entirely in the world. Sadly a garden, a good book and sunshine are not enough.

I have learned to be vulnerable, to find the words to explain the feelings.  I have learned to let go of my cheerfulness and at times to succumb to tears and fear, that it is ok to not be ok.  I don’t like this much.

I am learning to be kinder, to take a minute before replying to others. I have learned to step away from things that I cannot influence or fix.

So, we get to the end of this half term, and find ourselves in lockdown number two. Five days in, I have begun to write again.  For so long the words refused to come, they would stay in that spot between my thoughts and the keyboard, and steadfastly refuse to move through my fingers and onto a page.

Encouraged by friends who want to read my thoughts, I tried again and this time I know there is much to say. I have so many ideas and am thankful that I have remembered to begin with a word, then write another, and let the stories flow.

From thoughts in my head that move through my fingertips and onto a page, the words will speak for themselves.

 

 

 

on those who went before

tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday, it really is a quarter of a century since she arrived, peacefully and without any fuss into a home full of boys.  It meant the world to have a baby girl, I understood her, having also been a baby girl, and a teenager girl, and a new adult finding my feet in the world, girl.  Every step has been familiar to me, each milestone bringing my own memories flooding back.  She has never disappointed, she is a beautiful human being.

Tonight, looking through photographs, taken over the last twenty five years, I have come across other photographs, of women from our family, all now dead, they have left us with their history, a shared belonging and lives lived across centuries, each connected to us.

There is a very old picture of a stern looking woman in a hat.  She has the look of someone you would not want to argue with.  I think she is my Great Grandmother, and she lived over a hundred and fifty years ago.  Family legend says she fell in love with a boy and together they ran away.  No one knows why, but it seems they married and her baby girl grew to be my Grandmother.  Dad’s Mum lived in poverty, too many children, not enough food, shoes were unheard of and yet those children grew to have strong families, a good sense of self and of fairness in the world.

We have a photograph in the dining room of my Nina, Mum’s Mum, named for her Welsh roots, and she was a huge figure in my life.  She was the first born daughter of a young wife, who was widowed within three months of becoming a Mother.  They moved from Wales, with her new husband, and over time three other siblings joined the family.  One of these was my Aunt Sally, who I have fond memories of.  She worked in a Children’s Home, when I was a child,  and for all the talk had a tricky marriage, and no babies of her own.  None of that mattered to me.  She was LaLa, and hearing her come into the kitchen,the world suddenly became a better place.  It would be years after her death that I found out her story.  She was the first woman Trade Union representative in a large factory, I have a photo of her, taken in her twenties, probably a hundred years ago  she was fighting for workers rights and standing up to be counted.  It makes me proud.

More recent strong women, include my Mum, and my Aunties, who all found their way in a world that was built for men.  The did things together these women.  One learned to drive, they all learned to drive.  They worked in unison, they were a unit that wrapped all us cousins up in love.  Holidays together, in tiny caravans, gas lights and learning to play cards for halfpennies, drinking hot chocolate and laughing until we cried.  My Mum had the biggest handbag in the world, she needed it, for in that bag, was everything you would ever need.  A sewing set, plasters, scissors, paper and pen, string, you name it Mum had it.  She was perpetually prepared for life’s eventualities.

So by the time my girl arrived, I was well schooled in what a woman could be.  I knew my place, and it was never going to be the place people expected me to be.  I understood the importance of a big handbag, although in truth I have never actually been ‘that woman’.  Instead I made my own path, walking on the side of the street I liked the best and probably gave all my relatives quite a challenge.  Over the years, the family gave up expecting me to conform, and instead, took pride in my difference.  I also had fixed ideas how to bring up my girl.  From day one she knew who she was, and alongside the pink, and the ballet dresses, we also had the discussions on history and the importance of being herself.

She is exactly that my girl.  The sum of all the women that have gone before her, she is from good stock.  She moves around the world, using friendship, fairness and fun to navigate every situation.  She makes me proud every day.

Having your twenty fifth birthday in lock down, some people would be feeling sad, not my girl.  She is beyond excited, at all the packages that have been arriving for her, cards and gifts from those who love her, the inventive ways people have been in touch.  She will have an amazing day, and as she laughs her way through these tricky times, I am sure the women who have gone before are standing at her side, as they have been always at mine.

 

 

IsoIation Day 20 – when things start to get real

We have been getting used to this new way of living, staying at home, washing our hands and hoping for the best.  It is not too bad really, we have a lovely garden and plenty to keep us busy.

Yesterday I was browsing online, and came across a post, in it the son is urging everyone to obey the rules, to take care of each other and stay home.  Seems his Mum succumbed to the virus and lost her life.  He was understandably upset, talking of how she would miss her Grandchildren growing, her life cut short.  It was very sad.  The last line introduced her to us with a photograph, a smiling lady, my sort of age, healthy and happy.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

You see this lady was my friend.  When we lived on the hill, and before when caravan days were for fun and freedom, this lady and her husband were our neighbours, who quickly became our friends.  Together we enjoyed care free days in the sunshine, gathering in the garden or on their deck, we would eat, drink and tell stories of lives lived.

I will ever remember the laughter.  One afternoon it began to rain, undeterred we moved under a gazebo, squashing together as the heavens opened to a proper, full on, rainstorm. The men quickly retreated indoors, there was football on the television, but we stayed outside, laughing.  Friends you can laugh with in the rain are precious indeed.  A friend who then demonstrates her line dancing skills while we sing along, in the rain, well that is someone who loved life.

It pulled us up short, suddenly the hundreds of deaths on the news became personal, suddenly this threat is real.  What do we do?  Well once we had telephoned those who may not know, we carried on living, pottering in the garden, reading books, our normal life.  Then at four o’clock, we stopped, poured ourselves a drink, we sat on the patio and raised our glass to our friend, her family and to happy days.  Soon the tears fell, then gradually turned to laughter and then to gratitude as we recognise how fortunate we are with the people we have in our lives.

This quarantine, this self isolation, well maybe it has given us all time to think.  I feel that I always knew my priorities in life, family, friendship and the fight for fairness in the world, but maybe above everything, it will be the small stuff that we will value most in our post pandemic life.

The chat over a coffee, the warmth of a smile, the power of a hug, these things will magnify in our priorities.  I am so sad to have lost a friend, but equally glad to have known her.  For ever after when we are caught in the rain I will think of the laughter, line dancing and love of friendship.

Keep safe everyone, this too will pass.

 

Isolation Day 8 – behind closed doors

we are getting used to this new life.  I have the office set up in the back bedroom, work is work, home is home, all is well.  We are at times getting tetchy with each other, little things that are unimportant suddenly feel large.   Time without others focuses us on each other I guess.  We are still laughing though so all is well.

We have been spending time in the garden, potting seeds in preparation for planting, and planting up potato sacks, these acts give us faith that Summer will follow Spring, that, in the end, all will be well.

It is lonely though, and a bit odd, each morning I look out onto our street and see no one moving about.  Cars that are usually gone in daylight remain sat on driveways, this is good, people are doing what is needed, but everyone seems to be invisible.  Online life goes on, a few new groups to join, positive posts, music and friendship across the WiFi, but isolation is isolating, we do at times feel alone, the lost connection with others obvious in it’s absence.

Last night we settled, as most nights, to watch the updates from government, to see how this story is developing.  I am reminded of Mum telling us how the whole family would gather around the radio to hear the news from the front.  Is this a war?  It feels a little like it, here we all are, behind closed doors, keeping the germs at bay.

The news reader at seven o’clock is talking about a national clap and cheer for the front line warriors in this battle.  Our nurses and doctors, and all the helping services, fighting on the front line to help those who are poorly.  These are our troops, in this war of our time, the people who will make the biggest difference.  Stand in your garden, at your window or on your doorstep and cheer, he said.  Show our appreciation for the troops that heal not harm.  I wasn’t sure, hubby less so than me.  It won’t happen here, he said.  Thinking about the closed doors and the empty street I was inclined to agree.  But you never know.

At the appointed hour I duly opened the front door, ready to cheer or retreat, doing it alone would be weird, right?  I had no idea what was about to happen.  The noise came from all around, darkness meant the people were unseen, but the cheering and the whooping and the clapping, well it was just joyous.  Hubby joined me and together we clapped and whooped and made a noise, our noise joining with others making a magnificent sound, suddenly our street was not empty at all.  Instead the blank front doors and curtained windows were hiding people, just like us, and in a moment everything felt like it was going to be ok.  The emotion was extraordinary and unexpected.  Tears falling I found myself laughing and crying at the same time.

Later back in our living room we watched as the same experience was shared from across the country.  Dozens of messages, videos and posts showing the same emotions at the same time.  It really made me think.  This country of ours is divided as never before, families have struggled with each others views, nationally the fight for who we are and what we want has played out across the media until most of us are unsure which way is up.  Then here we are, all alone and actually all together.

No one knows how long this will last, but this morning when I looked out at the street, instead of feeling lonely I realised that behind each door is a family just like us, and maybe just maybe this shared experience will bring us closer together the longer we are apart.

Keep safe everyone, and wash those hands.

 

Isolation Day 6

Day Six dawns, sunny as yesterday, it is as if the world is showing off, telling us that despite mass pandemic fever amongst us humans, well nature has got this.  Seeds are sprouting, flowers are colourful, it feels like every other Spring, only perhaps a little brighter.

Meanwhile I am alternating between feeling sunny and joyful at this weather and the time at home to enjoy it, and totally losing the plot.  One minute I am completely convinced I have the virus, it is sitting dormant, waiting to explode and infect my lovely hubby, and the next I am playing old tunes and dancing around the kitchen as if I have not a care in the world.  There is no logic in this, it just is how it is, perhaps I shall get used to it.

Working from home, I am learning about conference calls; you need the right numbers or you end up in the wrong meeting. You have to pay careful attention to voices as you work out who is speaking, with none of the usual visual clues, and many co workers with the same accent, this is tricky, but doable.  I am learning about routines or more importantly the lack of them, about how the twenty minute commute to work was a time of preparation, when I would leave home behind me and focus on the day ahead. As my current commute involves coming downstairs and into the dining room there is less transition time!  I am up to date with all the daft tasks.  My inbox is ordered, tidy folders holding all the useful stuff and messages from two years ago finally deleted.  I am doing the important stuff too, but somehow without colleagues to chat to and share information, without regular brews and contact with young people, well it all feels very odd.

Hubby is doing ok,  yesterday he began mowing the lawn, the first cut of the year, and usually a time of great hope, summer is beckoning we are getting ready.  I checked on my seedlings and rearranged the patio chairs so they would catch the most sun.  It struck me that we only need two chairs, for I have no idea when we will once again fill our house with friends.  That feels a bit odd

Well, work won’t do itself, so I am off to fire up the technology and carry on, it is all we can do.  Except look after ourselves and each other, keep our spirits up and wash our hands.

 

on Isolation – Day One

It is a beautiful day here in North Wales, the sun is streaming in through the windows, the trees in the garden are looking green again as the Spring growth is replacing Winter’s sleep.  It is Friday morning and normally I would be on the road by now, driving alongside the coast waiting for the moment I turn the corner and see Snowdonia lay in front of me.  I am sure this morning the sunlight will be bouncing from the peaks, perhaps a little of the snow is still on the top like frosting on a cake.  Sadly I will not be making that journey for some time.

A few weeks ago, self isolation, was used only in terms of those introverts amongst us, and I admit at times I do have these tendencies.  To stay home with a good book, what can be better?   Overnight our language has changed, panic buying, isolation, social distancing, this is now normal life.

Yesterday I did my last session in school, health concerns for me and my family mean I am to stay home in safety for many weeks.  Luckily I can work from home, the world is electronic, we can all communicate, just in different ways.  We have food enough in the kitchen, and a lovely house.  We have got this, it won’t be hard.

My first afternoon and I had the disinfectant out.  Manically scrubbing every surface, I want to wipe away the outside world, make all new and safe inside.  Hubby seems somewhat confused, it is not normal behaviour from me.  I have always subscribed to the the ‘good enough’ mode of housekeeping, but not any more.  The threat of a virus sitting on surfaces has sent me into meltdown. On waking this morning I was struck by how clean everywhere smells.  This is good thing.

The day progressed well enough, lots of work to be done, people to talk to, to reassure that even in this new world order, they won’t be forgotten.  Tonight we get the news that social places are to close, I am glad for that, the sooner everyone retreats into safe places, the sooner we will get a hold on this.

We have at least another twelve weeks of life apart together, keep safe everyone, keep washing your hands!!

 

 

for mothers everywhere

Today is the 36th year I have been a Mother on Mothers Day, and the 37th year I have not had a Mum myself to spoil on the day. Becoming a Mum within six months of losing a Mum was a difficult thing to deal with.  A first baby is as terrifying as it is amazing and to not have the one person who has shown you what a Mum can be beside you is a challenge.  Those first months of the ‘happy/sad’ moments, anniversaries without Mum, and firsts with darling son, all are jumbled and mixed in my memory. I got through it, made up as much of the Mothering I could, and eventually managed to raise four wonderful children into functioning and thoughtful adults.  This alone amazes me.  Today, on Mothers day we will be together apart, messages and phone calls will suffice.

One year my daughter sent me a card which read, ‘sometimes I need a Mum and sometimes I need a friend, thanks for always knowing which one I need you to be!’ This made me think about the value of a Mum who can also be a friend, and how this can be so.

When I became a Mum I was always clear that I did not want to own my children, that I did not want to control them, beyond the necessary controls to keep them safe and well.  I was influenced by The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, who says, ‘your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself, they come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you,.. you are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

This has always made sense to me, the thought that I can influence and inform, can care and comfort but the belief that I must let them be their own person.  This has proved challenging over the years.  Maybe I should have been firmer, I could, perhaps, have stopped them making some mistakes, but then they would also have missed the learning that surely follows each wrong choice.  I have been there to mop up tears, to celebrate success and in truth I wouldn’t change a thing.

My Mum’s mothering was very different to mine, and I understand totally her need to keeping us safe and instructing us in the ways of the world.  She did a great job.  Every time I am faced with a difficulty, which has been often over the years, I can hear Mum’s voice telling me to keep trying and to never give up.  When I have been challenged beyond my imagination, I have felt her beside me, calmly and patiently helping me through.  Memories of childhood are all about Mum and Nina, Mum’s mum who lived with us.  They had a tempestuous relationship, but between them they ensured that my sister and I had a real sense of how women can achieve and how we can be the people we want to be in the world. For this I thank you Mum, you gave me a great gift.

So this is being a Mother.  Sometimes you are a Mum, and sometimes you are a friend, Always you will be the one who loves unconditionally, who forgives and forgets, who supports and celebrates success.  You are also the one who spends hours thinking about your children, who pointlessly worries about each of them, for in thirty odd years I have learned that me worrying does not alter anything at all.

You are also the one who can stand in your kitchen surrounded by adults, all taller than you, and listen to the discussions, the laughter the friendship between those people who are your children, and you can feel the love in the room.

Happy Mothers Day to all the amazing Mothers out there.  It is a tough gig, being a Mum, but one that pays more than all the treasure in the world.

on hello from the other side

so we have lived this new life for coming on two years, impossible as it feels it is almost twenty four months since we left the house in the Peaks, our friends and family, for a new life close to the coast.  So many things have happened since then, they jumble inside my head, out of sequence and out of time, it is hard to remember.  I know that our lovely place, for holidays and happy times became somewhere we felt trapped throughout a winter, it wasn’t much fun.  Spring arrived and with it came illness, hospital, and the seemingly endless travelling to the city, most of which I struggle to order, despite it being etched into my heart.  It was almost a year into this madness we found a new home, and things started to get better.

So here we are, twenty three months on, living in the most perfect little house, with an amazing garden, as I type this the sun is streaming in through the windows and there is much to be happy about.  I am starting a week long break from work, and we are heading off soon for our first holiday together for many years. There is food in the cupboards and money in the bank, we have so much more than so many people.

It is therefore unbelievably selfish of me to talk about what else is happening, but I feel I must.  It is so very hard to be truly happy here, at times I wonder if I will ever feel truly happy again.   Everything I do, from my job, that I love, to our home and new friendships being tentatively tested and found to be strong, everything just feels off centre.  It is as if I am watching myself live a life that has little to do with me.  It is an uncomfortable place to be.

Complications from the surgery that fixed his heart mean that hubby isn’t able to work the same as before.  Things that used to be simple are now tricky.  No matter, he is well and I am thankful for that. I have spent a lifetime being the person who looks after everyone, so there is no change here, this is something I am used to.

Emotionally I am a bit battered and at times I know I can sometimes respond badly to things.  Tears fall when once I would have fought, anger flares and vanishes in a second, and although on the outside I am falling apart, I am still the same inside. Looking in a mirror I see an older version of my Mum, and I wonder at times what she and my Dad would be making of this life I am living.  That way madness lies, so I do not dwell.

So here I am, approaching late middle or early old age and reinventing myself again.  As ever I put my energy into life, smiling and being positive. I am surrounded by lovely people, at work, at home and with my family.  I know they all see a different version of me, than the one I see, and I know that I have managed to help and support many along the way.  I am so grateful for this life.  Perhaps it is indeed the things that go wrong that in the end make everything right.

on changing the world

sitting in the train carriage for the most part alone, I was joined by a couple, girl and boy, travelling for a day shopping in a nearby city.  I was plugged into my headphones and as such fairly invisible to them and pretty much everyone else.They were young, late teens, early twenties, she was smartly dressed with a pretty scarf over her jacket, he took his coat off and sat in a designer t shirt, they chatted and at times embraced, she snuggling into his chest as he placed his arm around her.  They made me think about when I might have been her, in a time when life was so very straightforward, when I had no idea of what the world really could offer to me.

That girl, no not the one on the train, the one I used to be is still here. You would be pushed to recognise me, with my long, Yoke Ono type dark hair, my size twenty eight waist Levis and my tie dye tops, I looked very different to what I see in the mirror today.  Yet inside I think I am pretty much the same, a bit wiser, a bit tougher, but not much different.

I have always had a passion for fighting for the right thing. Brought up by strong women and a socialist father, I was given the tools to understand responsibility, to be able to recognise right from wrong and to want to right the wrongs wherever I saw them.  I was the teenager in the seventies, arguing with a store manager, asking him to remove the ‘girls toys and boys toys’ labels from the shelves.  Even then I knew that boys should also learn to iron and hoover, and that neither of those items are actually toys.

Later I found myself in listening to Dylan, to Joni Mitchell and to John Lennon.  Giving Peace a Chance sounded like a good plan to me.  Still does actually.  In Greenpeace I was shouting from the rooftops about nuclear testing by France in the South Pacific, neither places I had ever been to, but it was important, the world needed looking after, from saving whales to Rainbow Warrior I was there.  If it is important it needs saying, and if it needs changing then it needs challenging. Rocking against racism, Coal not Dole, Reclaiming the Night, Women’s Right to Chose, Don’t attack Iraq, you name it I have protested it, written about it, shouted about it and actually changed stuff.   I was once given a t shirt with the logo ‘I want to change the world’ across the front.  I wore it with pride as it seemed to sum me up.

Forty years on, with the benefit of hindsight I can see that I did in fact change the world.  In many ways, but probably not how I expected.

Firstly I had four children, this was definitely not on my to do list when I was the girl on the train, and yet this is quite simply the best thing I ever did. Each of those children, all very different,  have grown into adults who are kind, open hearted and resilient.  So the world is different for having them in it.  Add to that a feisty almost five year old Granddaughter, who takes no prisoners and already knows her power.  The world is changing.

I have also been able to help and support others on this journey we call living, I have worked with others to inspire and mobilised people to do small things which together became a big thing.  Our work with the Hummingbirds literally saved lives daily. The world changed.

My work with young people now, in my fourth decade, has allowed me to help many through the tricky turbulent times of adolescence.  I know this because they tell me.  Grown adults, with children and families send me messages, telling me how I changed things for them, thanking me for things I have no memory of doing, it is unbelievably moving. The world changed.

This last year or so has been the most challenging of all.  Going through it it seemed never ending, one disaster following another, all out of our control and I was suddenly unable to change anything.  Tired, anxious, sad and mad, as I tried to find a path through new waters.  Stormy seas all around, we were tossed from one bad place to another with seldom a moment of calm.  Heads down, we battled through.  Each time the waters cleared we would rejoice, then look ahead and see the dark clouds forming once again.  Yet, we are still here, battered, bruised and incredibly tired, but still here.  Lessons learned along the way will stay with me forever  What is the important stuff?  How strong can we be?  Who are the good souls, the ones who threw us life jackets, answered our distress calls and most of all the ones who jumped into our boat and took up the oars when we had no more energy to give.  These people changed my world.

So back on the train, I am observing this young couple and I find myself hoping they know love and that they laugh out loud at every available opportunity.  I hope they are kind, to each other and to themselves.  For kindness changes everything for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advent on lifes lessons learning knowing the back from the front.

It seems impossible now just how much we loved going to our local swimming pool as teenagers.  We were fortunate to have a choice of two outdoor pools were we spent long summer days and the indoor baths for the winter months.  The indoor baths boasted two different pools, each with lockers all around the poolside.  They operated a timed session in each pool and we would queue up waiting for the turnstile to open and dash for a locker. We didn’t want to waste a second and always came prepared with our swimsuits on under our clothes, it was a race to get out of the locker and into the pool.

Now, back in the late sixties, early seventies, swimwear was pretty basic.  We tended to only wear bikinis at the beach or the outdoor pools, for winter swimming it was always the one piece.  Mostly one colour, they tended to have a rounded neck and a scooped low back.  Ideal for clean strokes through the water, it was a simple garment that did what it was made to do.  A suit to swim in.

This was a time of puberty, of changing body shape and hormones raging.  I had long black hair, which I thought to be my best feature, it would flow out behind me as I swam and a I fancied myself to look like a mermaid, or a film star depending on my mood.  Anyway the lads at the pool were always really friendly, and constantly teasing us girls. They would swim underwater and lift us up on their shoulders before pitching us back into the water.  We loved it.

So, Saturday afternoon, like every other we were impatient to get through the doors and into the pool.  As usual we dashed for the lockers, stashing our bags and clothes on the seat, this day I was annoyed as I had not had time to put my swimsuit on under my clothes, meaning I would be last into the pool, I had to rush.  Once out of the locker and poolside my friend  I waved to my pals.   There were the usual crowd already in the water so I walked along to the deep end before stylishly diving in.  I swam to the shallow end where my friend and her sister were looking at me very oddly.  I couldn’t think why.  It was several minutes before the sister, two years older than us, whispered in my ear.

I can still feel the shame and panic, I looked down to check she was right, and yes, in my haste to get into the pool I had put my costume on back to front.  The long scoop back that reached passed the waist was now almost showing my tummy button, not to mention my other growing assets.  The walk from the shallow end of the pool back to the locker was a long one for sure.

It didn’t phase me though, I whipped off the soaking suit and slid the wet fabric, this time the right way round back on and was out and back in the water within minutes.

The lesson learned that day was truly about more haste less speed, and a bit about being more attentive.  I wish I could say it worked.