on how it can be tricky to find your tribe

When your life changes rapidly you do well to look for the familiar in new places. Over the past year we have done just that and have found lots of nice friendly folk. However not everywhere and everyone is quite so welcoming.

I have been a member of a political party for most of my life, so it was natural to go to our local constituency meeting once we were settled.  We went along with high hopes, thinking that here we would find our tribe, folks like us who believed in fairness and working together for a better world.

It hasn’t quite worked out like that.  Firstly my reference to our current leader when asked to introduce ourselves, drew palpable hostility from the the assembled members.  All but for one lovely woman who came to say hello, we would have gone home with a heavy heart.

Undeterred I sought out my local branch meeting.  It wasn’t easy.  No real address, vague instructions about a church in an unfamiliar town, the darkness of a February night making it all the more tricky.  I managed to find them, despite the lights being off, I made my way to the rear of the church and found an open door.  Result, I was in.  Most of this meetings agenda was a discussion about the fact that no one ever comes to meetings.  I shared my experience so far and suggested perhaps better directions, an address and illumination may help. I was, by this time beginning to think I was getting on people’s nerves, having the audacity to want to join in.

However I am tenacious, I have also been to many meetings so I held fast.  It was decided we needed to reach out to the membership, via a letter inviting people to the AGM of the branch.  I offered to host a folding and enveloping session at my home, which was welcomed, there would be cake I promised.  All agreed this was a good idea, the date was set.

A week or so later I set off for meeting number three, another constituency meeting this time in another town.  I found the venue with ease as there were a small, but growing number of people standing outside, it soon became obvious that we did not have the keys to gain entry.  We made our way across town looking for somewhere to meet before everyone recognised we needed to postpone. I was disappointed but happy to have met more people, some of whom were very friendly.

A week or so later and everyone is due at my house to sort and fold letters and come up with a plan for engaging members.  I duly baked, a chocolate and a coffee cake, if you are interested in detail.  A phone call half an hour before we were due to meet from colleagues making sure we were meeting, ‘of course we are’, I said.  How little did I know?  Reader I kid you not, just five minutes before we were due to begin I received another phone call, this time telling me that no letters were available, the meeting was off.  I know what you are thinking folks, but luckily cake freezes well.

Sadly personal circumstances meant I couldn’t get to the Branch AGM, I found out later in was inquorate, pity no one had been invited really.   I had emailed and messaged those who were in charge of the missing letters to no avail. Six months later I still have had no reply or explanation why the meeting was cancelled and letters unavailable.

The next few months our lives were difficult and we couldn’t get to any meetings, however I always sent my apologies.   I was therefore delighted to find the constituency AGM fell on a day when we could go along.  That was last Friday.  It is true to say this was the worse meeting experience I have ever had.  I am not going into great detail as I am filing an official complaint,  but what I will remember most is the hostility I encountered from elected officials, one in particular ranted at me and threw wild accusation after accusation about my lack of involvement in the branch and constituency.  All a bit rich I thought, given how much I had tried to join in.

It seems to me that when you are looking for the familiar in unfamiliar places it would serve you well not to expect too much.  I have been lucky to find a group of kind and generous people, without whom I would be walking away from local politics for ever. Perhaps, like Orwell before me, I have stumbled into a world where all members are equal, but some are more equal than others.

 

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.

Advent – on life’s lessons learned – life and the alternative

when thinking about what to write in this year’s advent I had to bear in mind the fact that my hubby and I, together with several close friends and family are living in worrying times.

Is it perhaps, a sign of growing older, when so many people we know are ill or fighting illness?  Can this be the beginning of a roller coaster ride, until, as my eldest relative is fond of saying ‘everyone has gone, there is only me left’.  Something I have listened to for years, and while understanding where she is coming from, not really paying any heed to how it must feel.

So we began this year knowing that hubby had a medical issue, his broken heart has been well documented here and elsewhere, as has the wonder of the medics who fixed it for him.  It has been somewhat of a shock to discover that all is not as well as we had hoped.  Never mind, we say, life goes on, and it does.  Yet the life that is going on is one that is immeasurably different to the one we expected to be living.  The same goes for several friends, who are also managing to live the life they have, rather than the one they thought they would have.

I am minded to think of others for whom life changes with the spin of a coin, the twist of a wrist, the decision of a politician or the change of the wind. The people who have run from all they know towards a hell on earth, still trying to live and love and make things work.  I am thinking of my family members from childhood who lived through the blitz, at a time when medicine and doctors were for those who could pay.  My Dad’s sisters, one who lost a leg, and continued determined and strong to live a life not disabled by the lack of a limb, but enabled by true courage.  Her sister, lost her life in childbirth, a family gone for the price of a nurse.  Truly tough times.

Challenges, that is the lesson today, the side swiping, crazy, tipping the world upside down moments that come without warning and change everything forever.  How do we cope, and what do we learn?

Following on from our very own year of change, we are coping, as we have always done, by holding on tight, looking for the good, finding and relishing the happy hours in dark days and by refusing to be beaten.  We learn we are stronger than we could ever have believed, that the world isn’t fair, and not everyone has a happy ending.

It seems to me it is not where we end up, but how we travel the road, that is what is important.  At the end of our time we will take nothing away with us, but what will we be leaving behind?  That is the lesson.  For a struggle is just that, a tough time, they all will pass, as do all the good days, the sunshine and the glad to be alive moments. I think the lesson I have learned is to stay in the moment, not to overthink, and above all to not allow worry to diminish joy. For worry has never changed anything, but joy, well that changes everything.

Advent Day 5 – on life’s lessons learned, power of poetry

I love poetry.  My poetry books are old friends who I reach for in the good times and the bad times, when they help make everything better.  I seldom re read fiction, but some of my poetry books have literally fallen apart over the years with constant reading and turning of the pages.  Sharing verse and poetry with children is amazing, the rhythm of the words dance on a page, then later discovering the big poems, the words that reach into your heart and stay there, well that is nothing short of magic.

Maya Angelou to Brian Pattern, Seamus Heaney to Roger McGough, Wilfred Owen to John Betjeman and many many more, they all have written a manual for life.  Here you will find hope, and loss side by side, joy and tragedy sitting close by, each there for you,  to be used as entertainment, as consolation and also for reference.

Roger McGough’s Defying Gravity, speaks of loss like no other, while Maya Angelou being Phenomenally a Women is inspirational.  There are so many more I could speak of here but this is a quick blog, it all there to find.  Seamus Heaney’s Digging with stay with me forever, conjuring up images of fatherhood, of difference and of solidarity.

I would urge everyone I know to read a poem, at least once a week, dip in and find your favourite, you will be surprised just how relevant words can be.  In a world of chaos and darkness it is a true comfort to settle down, open a familiar book and step inside.  Indeed I think it should be compulsory for everyone.

If you have a favourite poem, do let me know, I am constantly open to new adventures of the written word.

 

 

Advent Day 4 – Life’s lessons learned – on resilience

It is fair to say that my lovely hubby and I have had our ups and downs over the past year or two.  Things we thought were forever sorted slipped away from our reach and we found ourselves with a whole new life.  A pattern developed as each time we made a decision the universe tipped us in a different direction.  It has been quite a time.

Resilience is gained through adversity.  Each time any of us face a tricky time we learn from it, and that learning stays with us for the next time.  I think our resilience is strong  Together we are sitting out storm after storm and still have much to be thankful for.

It is true that no one can choose what happens to them, good or bad, but we can all choose how we deal with these times.

We are keeping on keeping on in our brand new life, grateful each day for the little things, and holding tight, there is no other way to be.

Advent Day 3 on life’s lessons – learning to put the right foot forward

I have always been a bit chaotic, preferring to be getting on with things rather than actually thinking about what I should be doing.  I will never read instructions, always unplugging, connecting, building and eventually returning to the manual to find out how I should have done things.  Attention to detail is not my strongest point.

Over the years this lack of care has put me into situations that, frankly, are embarrassing.  Not looking in a mirror, getting dressed in the dark and generally being to impatient to get doing, well it seldom ends well.  During my teenage years this reached a pinnacle, when up late and rushing to get to school I flew out of the house without any thought.  This was not an unusual thing for me, I was probably up in plenty of time, but engrossed in a book I would forget to check the time, meaning a panic to leave in time.   One such day I remember well, I had left it to the last minute and couldn’t find my shoes.  Eventually I went upstairs and grabbed them from under the bed.  With a quick wave goodbye to Mum I was off up the road, school bag in hand.

I arrived at our large school before the bell, and was just about to go into the playground when a friend came to say hello.  As we are chatting I notice she is staring at my feet.  I followed her eyes and suddenly felt very warm.  A couple of the older boys were nearby, we were always trying to impress them, as she said, more loudly than was necessary, ‘your shoes’  She looked, the boys looked and a passing teacher of PE, who had a mean throw with the board duster stopped and looked.

In my defence it was a winter morning, I had paid no attention to what was under my bed and I even now I think a black patent leather slip on and a brown moccasin style shoe are a natty combination.  ‘how did you not notice?’ she asked, ‘on is a slip on the other has laces’  I have to admit she had a point.  I then had to go to the classroom and ask our form teacher if was ok if I popped home to change my shoes.  Trying not to laugh he agreed and I dashed out of the school quickly before anyone else could notice.

Do you think that when I returned, wearing the brown moccasins if you are interested, I had got away with it?  Not a chance, for the next week or two where ever I went there were jokes about two left feet, getting dressed in the dark (not entirely far from the truth) they followed me everywhere.  Eventually someone else became centre of attention and people seemed to forget.

You would think something like this happening would have taught me to take more care, but sadly that is not the case.  In fact only last year I got to work and realised that I had odd boots on. As were both black and slip on, albeit one had a tinier heel, they were virtually identical, I did get away with it this time.  I suppose I really should learn to start paying attention to such things.

This palls into insignificance when I think of the mix up in the swimming pool, but that is a lesson for another day.

 

Advent 18 Day 2 Lessons learned on staying afloat

 

As a toddler I held a fascination for water.  We lived on the coast and spent many family days on the beach.  Even at three years old I would want to be in the sea, so much so that while the family were unpacking the car I raced off down the slipway and jumped into a large pool, left by the outgoing tide.  The commotion that followed involving my Uncle dashing down and jumping in himself to scoop me out, Mum and Aunty being both furious and scared witless at once.  I was told never to do that again, and I didn’t, not at least until the next time we went to the beach.  The pool was always there, and I would always attempt to jump in.  I had no fear of the sea, but the family feared for me!

When I turned four, my elder cousins started swimming lessons in the local pool.  Mum went along to enrol me.  On being told, ‘we don’t teach them until they are at school’ Mum famously replied, ‘she will be drowned by then, she keeps jumping in the sea’, needless to say, I was the youngest learner in the pool.

I remember some of the swimming lessons.  We were taught by a pair of brothers, who were fair and tough. We were put through our paces and I soon realised that there was more to swimming than jumping in and out of water.  Eventually I got the hang of it, and over the years I went through the various certificates. The pool was my place of choice for exercise, and later for meeting up with boys.

Thinking back to these times always makes me smile, life really was simple then.  I was blessed with a warm loving home, with an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles who were regular visitors in our house and with whom I shared some fabulous times.  It also makes me think of how my parents worked together to make sure that we knew our boundaries at the same time as encouraging us to reach for the stars.  That is such a clever thing to do.

I guess it would have been easy for Mum to stop taking me to the beach, or to strap me into a pram or put me on reins to keep me from the sea, but she didn’t.  She simply decided that if her daughter loved the water, then she must learn how to respect it, and to keep herself safe.  That is a lesson for life in itself.

I can’t even add up all the hours in my life I have spent swimming.  The fun I have had, eyeing up the boys in the outdoor pool in the summers of my teenage years; swimming competitively, though seldom ever winning a race; under warm sunshine on holidays across Europe, with my children; floating on a wave and being at one with the world.

There have been a fair few disasters while swimming, but these will appear later this Advent, each one a learning curve in itself.  More tomorrow.

 

Advent 18 – Day 1 on life’s lessons learned

on choosing the theme for this years Advent I needed a subject broad enough to fill a months worth of posts, while at the same time being diverse enough to be interesting.  Here you will read of hilarious attempts to master riding a bike and on teaching a pal to swim, alongside the bigger lessons on life and death.  I needed a starting point, and it seemed right that in an advent of life’s lessons learned I should begin with my earliest memories of learning.

For this I am right back in my family home, I am young, not yet at school and I am interested in lots of things.  The days had a pattern to them, meal times were fixed, the food predictable and leisure time was playing with dolls.  The highlight of the day was always the bedtime story, when Mum would read, usually poems or short stories to me.  I had a book of 365 stories and verses, one for every day of the year, and I loved to listen to each and every one.

I can put myself right back to those days, sitting with Mum and looking at the pages as she read the tales out loud.  I remember being fascinated that the patterns on the page next to the pictures related to words and sounds.  I found myself understanding more and more of the words and I became hungry for more. I can see myself now, picking up Dad’s Daily Mirror and picking out the patterns I understood.  I can remember him saying to Mum, that she had me reading the newspaper!   Dad was so happy about this, he hadn’t gone to school very much and always struggled with the written word.  Mum tapped into my interest and began to explain the words to me, and quickly I could understand.

One Christmas, I think I was about five or six, my baby sister was still a baby for sure, I received a dictionary in my stocking.  This was not a children’s dictionary with pictures but a proper grown up dictionary full of words and their meaning.  I have a clear picture of me sitting on the floor beside the French windows in our living room, in awe of this little book, containing all the words I thought I would ever need.  I spent hours reading from it, working out connections between words and finding new words.  I also remember my Uncle explaining to me about alphabetical order and showing me how to find words quickly.

At the time I was not aware that this was slightly unusual for a five-year-old child. To me it was exciting, then and now words were important to me.  It was when I arrived in school, aged five years and three months, that I discovered that not all my peers were able to read.

I was sad to only spend a couple of months in the baby class, the teachers telling Mum I was already a good reader and my writing was coming along nicely too.  Thanks to my dictionary, my spelling was acceptable.  I can remember leaving school one day delightedly telling Mum I had ten out of ten for spellings, one of the words I had learned was promenade, I think it was the longest word I had learned so far. They moved me into the next class up, and there I stayed, I remember missing out on the play house in the ‘baby’ class.

By now my love of the written word was so firmly embedded in me, there was nothing better I could do than open a new book.  One morning I came into the living room to a pile of books left on the table.  I still don’t know who gave them to me, but this was the day I discovered reading for pure pleasure.  Now We are Six, a book I loved because I was six years old and thought it had been written for me, together with the House at Pooh Corner, became firm favourites. These were the first books I read to myself, and the beginning of a lifetime of joy in the printed word.

Later, trips to the Children’s Library, a magical place set in a large house with huge windows looking out onto a park, became the highlight of the week.  There I could choose from so many different books, and I have never looked back. I have read every kind of fiction and a fair bit of fact.   Learning to love reading and later writing, has been such a precious gift to me for my whole life long.  Over fifty years of being able to access information, escape into fiction and put my thoughts onto a page, a lifetime of learning began here. It seems a good place as any to begin this years Advent.