on making friends

it has been a long time since my first day at school.  The thing I remember most was Mum telling me I would soon make friends.  I had no clue what she meant, but there was a lovely new girl called Gillian who I bonded with in the play house and who was my friend for the first three decades of my life.

Later, I got the hang of the making new friends thing.  I started work and soon found people I got along with, our shared love of dancing and drinking alcohol stood us in good stead and some of those people are still friends today.

Motherhood brought a whole new set of new friends, coming together in the shared horror of having to care for babies, we talked of cracked nipples and sleep deprivation and somehow, with wine, we got through the early years.

Then came a move to a completely new town, somewhere I know nobody at all.  With four children to keep me busy at first there was no time for friendship.  Gradually they came, the life long tribe who are my go to crowd.  We have spent twenty years together these friends and me, and I can count on everyone of them. I was settled here and ready to grow old alongside these people.

Now, my world turned upside down I find myself once more in a town where I know nobody. This time there are no children, no school gate or workplace.  I admit I felt a little lost.  A couple of phone calls later and I have a volunteering job, lots of people to meet and slowly it is starting to get better.

The friendship thing is different this time, I am older, a bit wiser and not sure of my place in this new town.  I am determined to make the most of this, if this is where we live I shall live and not exist, and for me to do that I need to find my people.

Today I was invited out for lunch, a lot of volunteers coming together to eat and chat, it was charming.  We laughed so much, our shared humour and stories made it great fun.  There is talk of us going for a walk, maybe to the pub, it is getting better this finding friends thing.

Later I have to pick up some shopping from the supermarket and I am wandering around, thinking about the new people I have met and feeling lucky to be there.  I suddenly notice there is a plant in my trolley.  I haven’t put it there.  Puzzled I take it out and then notice other items in there.  I check this is my trolley, yes my shopping bags are on the handle.  I look around to see who is mistakenly putting their choices in with mine.  No one around.  I am just about to unload when I hear laughing.  Yes, one of my new pals is messing with my mind.  She has been popping items in my trolley and hiding, and getting very frustrated when I didn’t notice.  It made me laugh a lot.

So, here I am, on a hill in the wind, but down in the town there are people who I think I am going to enjoy spending time with, people who one day may become friends.  Things are getting better for sure.

on remembering my Dad

today my Dad would have celebrated his 93rd birthday and, as every day, he is on my mind.  I thought it would be nice to reflect here on his life and on his influence on my life.

Dad never got to be as old as I am now.  This is a sobering thought.  For the last ten years or so of his life he was unwell, and the fifty years before that had been a challenge.

Born the first, and to be only, son, in a family of girls, they were beyond poor.  Living in a two up two down terrace with very little money, his childhood was one of love, family and not much else.  It is true they did not have shoes, and that relatives helped with providing food in the lean times.  My Grandfather was a tradesman, in a time when work was scarce.  He would go out daily to queue for work at the docks, something my Dad did alongside him in later life.  The inequality and injustice the family suffered stayed with my Dad his whole life long.

His first job was a butchers boy, dashing around on his bike delivering meat he knew he could never afford.  The money earned was turned up to help the family.  Later he would gain a trade and during his apprenticeship learned more about the world.

Dad was a Catholic, the whole family were, descending from Ireland, religion held them together.  Dad was an altar boy and attended church school, at least some of the time.  It was when he started work that his faith was challenged, and changed forever.  The city he worked in was divided religiously, and his apprenticeship placed him working with those who despised the Catholic faith.  On learning the new apprentice’s faith, they set about bullying him and eventually he gave in.  Something he never forgot.  In years to come when we talked of faith and religion, he would say, keep your beliefs to yourself, and never, ever take someone’s faith from them.  I understood what he was saying and think of this often through my life.

So, apprenticeship done, he was finally working in a reasonably paid job, together with Mum they decided to buy a house.  This was an enormous step.  Everyone warned against it, no one they knew owned a house.  Dad was determined and was proud of his house until the day he died.  I remember standing in our back garden with him, looking at the house, he would say, Millionaires build their houses with south facing gardens, look this is what we have.  House ownership defined his adult life, security and a place of our own, gave us, his daughters a stable place to grow.

When I think of Dad, I think of that house, and I think of his firm steady hand, steering us through the process of growing up.  I talked to Dad more than Mum about life.  I think he understood me more.  I have written before about how his politics gave me my moral compass, and it is worth saying again.  Dad was ahead of his time.  Uneducated by schooling his learning came from a lifetime of working across the country.  He understood the politics of difference and made sure I did too.

So, thirty two years without you Dad, today on your birthday, I am wondering how you would think I am doing?  I reckon we would have had some real battles this past three decades. I know some of my decisions would have you in pieces, and we would have argued, me being me, might not have always been what you wanted.

I hope you will be proud, it has been tough without you and Mum, and there have been so many times when I needed your wisdom.  Still we did what you taught us, we kept on keeping on.

Every time I stand up for something I believe in, I am doing so on your shoulders.  Every second I spend trying to right injustice you are by my side.  Every time I laugh at ridiculously silly jokes, it is you in my ear.  Without you, there would be no me.

Happy Birthday Dad.


on the people you meet on a train

finding. ourselves with an unexpectedly sunny Monday we decided to make the most of it and have a day out.  Catching the train, we headed for an old city, founded by the Romans and full of interesting history.  We were in a great mood, set for the scenic coastal trip.

The train was busy but luckily we found two seats sharing a table with a couple who had obviously been a pair for many years.  Within seconds of sitting down we were chatting away.  Hubby is still getting used to these Northern ways, when people assume you are interested in what they have to say, without introductions, this couple were a great double act.

We learned they have been married longer than hubby has been alive, we heard tales of working on ships in the 60’s and fun stories from their weekend by the sea.  We didn’t notice the coast, we were far too busy listening and laughing.  How lucky we had been to sit next to them.  Their cheerful anecdotes had us chuckling long after we left the train.

It made me think about all the stories there are out there in the world.  All the ordinary tales of lives lived long.  The little things, that together make a lifetime.  I am so grateful to them for sharing their tales with us.  It reminded me that it is the things we are doing right now, the little things, the days out and the times life is tough, all of these make up our memories, our stories.

So, on a train, sometime in many years to come, I am wondering what my story will be.  Perhaps the things that seem to matter most just now will be the least remembered.  It could be that it will be the time we grabbed a day in the sunshine and on our way met lovely people, that could be the memory that lasts long.

Whatever you are doing right now, remember that it is but a moment in time, a brief passage of this life we all have.  The mundane, the ordinary and the magical sit side by side in our bank of memories.  Make the most of every second, for whether we remember it or not, now is important, in fact it is all we have.  Plus if you are travelling on a train, riding a bus or sitting in a cafe, do look out for the story tellers, they are worth a smile and a hello for you never know what they will have to tell you.

the hard to love

in all the years I have worked with young people some lessons are repeated over and over again.  The boy who can’t sit still in class, becomes the fool and gets in trouble, the same one that knows more about cars than I could ever hope, maybe watch him pick up drumsticks and make his anger into music, this happens. Then there the girl who tries so hard to fit in she stands out, for all the wrong reasons.  Then you see her with a little one, or an older person, or when she is running or swimming, she is different, she is good at this, and that is what we all want, to find what we are good at.  Sadly you see everyone doesn’t fit in, and yet everyone has their place.  It just takes time to find it.

I am thinking of those who make it very difficult to get alongside and offer help.  The truth is that the ones that are hardest to love are the ones that need love the most.

If we begin by accepting that everyone is doing the best they can, then that is a good place to start.  When you are confronted with aggression, with tears, with alcohol infused rage or silliness, it is helpful to remember that right now, at that point, this person is being the best they can.  Not forever, or even for long, but right now this is them.  Taking the person out of the behaviour is a skill developed over time.  Looking past the front and seeing what is behind, this is what makes a good youth worker.  I know this, for I have worked with some of the best in the world.

When I was new to working with teenagers I had a boss who understood what it was like to feel marginalised.  He set out to work with all those young people others had given up on. To work in an alternative way.  I am ever grateful that I was on his team.  He taught me about patience, about expectations and most of all about acceptance.

Back then we worked with people who had made choices that severely impacted on their lives.  Those who had chosen drugs and alcohol, sex and violence, and many should still of been at school.  He taught us to see past addiction and to look at the reasons behind it.  He said simply ‘people in pain, take pain killers’.  I have never forgotten that, and have never forgotten him.

So, if we start with the premise that those that need love ask for it in the hardest of ways, we suddenly begin to see the angry boy, the drunken girl in a different light.

In my career, which has been long and varied some things have never changed.  When I meet someone for the first time I always look them in the eyes, smile and offer my hand to shake.  I do this very deliberately and for specific reasons.  Sometimes the people we are helping have not seen anyone smile at them for a long time, having an open face, eyes and a smile says we are unafraid and we are welcoming.  Hand shakes came later.  It was something we introduced when working in a drop in for young people and we noticed what a difference it made.  Later, one boy, who had appeared in very unclean and smelly clothing, he had been rough sleeping, was welcomed with a smile and a hand shake.   We offered a shower, clean clothes and support, and over weeks he got back on his feet.  This boy said the thing he would always remember was that first hand shake.  He said that no one came near him and no one had touched him for weeks and weeks.  He was seventeen this boy, and he taught me another valuable lesson.  Never, ever underestimate kindness and a warm handshake.

Once again it is the simple stuff that makes a difference.  No matter if you are working with teenagers or older people, or no one at all.  In life you can always make a difference, with a smile and an offered hand to hold.



on when no place is actually home

It is Sunday and once again in this strange life I find myself in I am back in Wales. Friday and Saturday spent back in the place that used to be home, I find the journey Westward gives me time to adjust from one life to another

Strange things come to my mind while i am driving.  A song, that was once a significant tune, and maybe not in a good way, well that song innocently pops up on the radio and almost floors me.  Instantly I am back in another difficult time, and to be honest it doesn’t feel good.  Luckily the tunes following are more upbeat and I recover my mood, the traffic is light and the hills and coast are beckoning me.

I spent the rest of the journey trying hard to count my blessings.  It isn’t the easiest of things to do just now.  For every positive it seems that there is a negative alongside, yin and yang in the worse possible way.  My thoughts are drifting to the old life.  I find myself thinking about our sofas. chosen with care and delight, they were probably the nicest sofas I have ever owned.  Currently sitting in a storage facility, safe and sound, I am wondering if they are missing us.  Missing how my big girl would snuggle up, watching rubbish on the box with her comfy blanket over her.  Wondering if they are missing how we would all squeeze on when friends and family came around, how my baby  Granddaughter would lie full length catnapping between stories and TV.

We have sofas here in our Welsh home, of course we do, and they are also lovely, but here they are missing people, the ones who are not here, not sitting down chatting, not lounging on a Sunday, it makes me feel a bit lost to be honest.  I am wondering if there will ever be a place for our old sofas, will we have another room to make memories in, to welcome friends and family? Geography is making distance difficult today. I have to stop this thinking it is making me too sad.

So, between homes, between towns, in two different but connected countries, my life is continuing.  Meals are being cooked, shopping unloaded, cups of tea are brewed and memories are made.  It is all very strange.  As I type this I am looking over the hedge to the hills beyond.  I know that behind me, down another hill is the sea, and all of this I love.  I am just sad that miles away, in another country, are my family and my friends.  I didn’t plan this, it wasn’t on my list of things to do this year, and yet here we are, a half life, in two places, neither truly feeling like home.

Big girl’s pants back on I am remembering that we are the lucky ones.  We had someone to go to when it went wrong.  Somewhere that is comfy and cosy, with a garden I adore, and new friends to be found all around.  We can do this, we are doing this.  A friend this weekend said that no matter where we move around we take ourselves with us. I love this, it says to me that no matter which sofa we are using we are still ourselves and if home is where the heart is, then we are home right now.


on not giving up

today I bumped into an neighbour from our old life, someone who we had seen on a daily basis for three or so years, it was nice to catch up.  She commented that I haven’t been writing much lately and she is correct.  I promised to do better, so here we go.

I have been thinking a lot this last couple of months about strength, about tenacity and about how do we really keep on keeping on.  Even when all seems lost, somehow, from somewhere comes the thought that this too will pass.  So we carry on.  Eventually things settle, life reorders itself and we come to accept what we thought would be impossible to accept.

It seems to me that the ability to see through a situation and beyond is a vital skill, one we develop as life takes us in many different directions and we learn through experience.  In our big move I came across my teenage diaries, kept faithfully every night from thirteen years old to seventeen and a bit, they make for boring reading.  There are a few highlights.  Heartbroken confessions of unrequited love,  the assertion that I will never be able to laugh again, all written by my hand about boys who I loved in the 1970’s.  I do not doubt the pain and hurt the fourteen year old me was feeling, but now, I have no memory of the boys or the agony.  I have laughed often since, this teaches me things.

Last week I had a bit of a down couple of days, worries over hubby and his health, missing friends and family, I took myself for a walk.  You will know how the sea can calm me, I have talked before about the power of the waves, the big sky and how I feel my place on the earth is defined by such places.  Doubtless this comes from my fourteen year old self, who would run to the banks of the Mersey for solace and to speak her anger at the world and all that was unfair.  Then as now I walk back from the beach feeling calmer.  My walk takes me through towards town and there is a path I can follow that leads through the churchyard where the graves, some from two hundred years ago, are on either side of the path.  It is a peaceful, old place, with heavy trees and Welsh slate and stone marking the lives no longer living.

This morning I stopped here and looked around me.  Everywhere there was the evidence of people who were once loved, and for just a while they felt close to me.  They spoke of loving, of sadness, of war and of loss.  They spoke of worries for family, for friends and for themselves.  They spoke of joy and fun and friendships, long gone.  They had all, at one point, been here.  Before they were left here forever, they walked and talked the paths I had taken.

I felt comforted in a way I have never really felt before.  It was an understanding of the true meaning of all things will pass.  All things including us, including me.  At that moment the futility of spending these precious days worrying and being angry was clear.  For no matter how much we fret, this too will one day pass.

Today is one of those days when my old life and my new life collide, and this can sometimes feel unsettling, however I am going to hang on to the lessons learned in the church yard and try hard to get the most out of everything, even the tough stuff, sometimes especially the tough stuff, it is all part of the plan.

So, I hope my neighbour is reading this, I shall endeavour to write regularly and often, it helps so much, to order my thoughts and to recognise the good, for that is what is all around.  I just have to notice it.