in the juke box of life the tunes that we remember can connect us to people, places and times gone by. We remember the music from the big events, a love song, the first dance, and the song we play as we say goodbye for the last time. Then there are the other tunes, those we don’t remember at all until we hear them again, and then we are suddenly singing, somehow knowing long, lost, lyrics.
This morning I am driving along the busy road beside the sea, on my way to work. The sky is pink and orange as the sun begins to chase away the night on a winter morning. I am listening to the radio, to an episode of a radio drama with very distinctive theme music. Whenever I hear this music I am back in our family home, hearing this tune from my Nina’s room. Her huge wireless was her connection to the world, she didn’t watch TV but loved this drama, billed as an everyday story of country folk. As children we knew not to disturb her listening. It was many years later that I too became a fan of this programme, and I had no idea what it would lead to.
You see, it was my love of this radio programme that took me through the best sliding door, for there on the other side I met the man I would marry. He also loved this radio show, and now almost thirteen years on, we both still listen, me in the car and him at home on a Sunday morning.
So, this tune is filed in my memory bank several times over. A tune from childhood, when the my world was small and safe, and later the key to a future I had never imagined. It was played at our wedding, as we left the venue together, followed by friends and family, the familiar, dum di dum di dum di dum, well it made everyone smile.
there are a lot of caravans in North Wales. In some areas I think there are more caravans than regular houses, there are plenty to choose from. So, when we decided to purchase our perfect holiday home there was plenty of choice.
We scoured the internet and settled on a site in the hills, a mile or two from the sea, and made an appointment to view. There was a lot of choice, in fact it took most of a day to view so many different variations of tin box living, but finally we found the right one. Unfortunately it was on the wrong plot and after negotiation it was agreed, our new holiday home was sited on our perfect garden. All was well.
The first time we visited the neighbours gathered around to say hello, and to tell us that we were getting new people to the side of our garden, who were moving a new caravan next door. They also told us that we would be losing some our garden to their new plot. We were unsure who these people were going to be.
We need not have worried, the couple who moved next door turned out to be two of the nicest people on the planet. We have been gone for almost three years from our happy place, but our neighbours are still firm friends. They make us laugh, are kind and helpful and every day we are glad that they picked to put their caravan nextthe next to the garden we picked.
So, when we chose our caravan, from all the possible sites at exactly the same time are now friends were also choosing to move. That we ended up neighbours who became good friends, is another example of what can be on the other side of our sliding doors.
stuck in the middle with you
sometimes we don’t even know we are heading through the sliding doors until we are on the other side. Sometimes, carried by excitement or tragedy, we find ourselves in unfamiliar places, our feet not quite standing on firm ground.
Then comes the time when we realise that we have grown old enough to have lived a life, and yet still have a life to come. It is here the time and place where we are no longer children, or even parents of young children, and yet we not old enough to be elderly, it is in the middle years when we become invisible.
It can seem as if, while you have been busy building a life, the life has been slipping away. The fun times with babies and children turn into battle grounds with truculent teenagers, and then, as quick as a flash, it is done. Over. Similarly the career we studied for, worked our way up and finally found our spot in the workplace, suddenly that is not quite as we had thought it would be.
You see the choices made over the years, well we are so busy making them we stop thinking about them. Then children are grown, perhaps with children of their own. The workplace becomes populated by the hungry, ambitious people that we can recognise as ourselves. Except we are not like that anymore. The world has moved on. It can come as a shock to realise that others don’t know the younger you. They have no idea of the passions, the battles and the pure fun and adventure you have stored in your memory bank.
So I have been quietly embracing my middle years, certainly they have brought change and drama and now as I am moving onwards there is also a sense of peace. Looking back, and forgiving past mistakes, looking forward to future adventures maybe the best is yet to be.
when the words won’t come.
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes writing feels impossible. An empty page lies on the screen waiting for ideas, waiting for thoughts. Then it happens, a rough draft, which is deleted, rewritten and amended and finally approved. Then it is read and re read, and eventually other people read it. When that happens, there is moment of relaxation, of reflection then it is back to another empty page. another blank screen.
I guess this it a bit like life. Sometimes you are unsure of the next step, of the right road to choose, well it can seem a bigger struggle than it needs to be. We need to get words on our page. We need to have something to work with, something to change, to adapt, to make our own.
Decisions, the sliding doors of life can come thick and fast, and our instincts, our reactions are as the words on the page. It is always worth remembering that words can be edited, the story can be changed, that we can all write our own endings.
when the words won’t come, we write them ourselves.
I was given my very first proper job, because the candidate they wanted turned it down. I didn’t know this until some months into work, and it did rock my confidence a little bit. I wouldn’t have been looking for a job at all if I hadn’t had a disagreement with our Head Mistress, who foolishly tried to remove my transistor radio from the class room. That was a fun day.
I arrived home telling Mum that I wasn’t going back. She was spectacularly unfazed by this, and suggested I start looking for jobs. We found the job, office junior in a University Admin, Mum thought it was perfect. I applied, and Dad took me into the city so that I would be able to find where I was going. Such a special thing to do, Dad and me on what I think was our only trip alone into the city centre.
As we walked up the road towards the Senate House, Dad stopped and pointed out a building. Old, huge and looking quite battered, this he said was the hospital where they fixed your heart. To my shame, I wasn’t that interested. I was more keen to look forward not back. It is only now, as a parent I realise just how important that building and the people inside it were to Dad. He would come off the docks at lunch time and change into a suit in the public toilets, before visiting me, his tiny baby daughter, Mum and him desperately hoping that all would be well. Then he would change back into working clothes and go back to the dockside.
I was one of the very first babies to have open heart surgery in the UK. The man who operated on me was an American, who had been invited here to teach this new technique. Mum and Dad, married for seven years before I was born, had almost given up hope of being parents.
They were told, and told me that if I had been born just a year earlier, well I wouldn’t have seen my second birthday.
So it seems to me that things do happen for a reason, and maybe it isn’t just sliding doors, but also a chain reaction that influences all our lives. I was born at just the right time to be fixed, by a man who had decided to come to another country to share his skills.
So when Dad and I passed the hospital on the way to my first job, it must have been a huge moment for him, and for Mum, the little girl grown up.
Three years ago, we were living on the hill, our future uncertain. I was working part time, some seventy miles from home, in a job I loved, however arduous the travelling was.
At the same time the dice were rolling. Do we settle here, near the sea, or do we try and get back to our land locked home town? Nothing seemed easy. Then two things happened at once. Well two jobs to be precise. My part time job suddenly had the chance to be full time, my application was in, things were looking good. Another job, this time near our house on the hill, an interview offered. A decision made, whichever offers first that is what we will do.
A week later, and the job by the sea is offered. I withdraw from the other application process, and make preparations to begin again.
It isn’t easy you know, to start again from scratch. A new team, new work, everything is different. However, here I have found a work family like no other. Over the years we have shifted, people leaving, new people starting, and now, despite a pandemic and lockdown, well now, we are good.
This team mostly speak a different language to me, although thankfully they can also speak English, but mostly they speak with kindness. The work we do brings us in touch with those children who are most broken, most affected by the decisions of adults around them and mostly it is us, one our own in a room, listening.
You would think that would make us quite sad, but this just isn’t true. This team have a wicked sense of humour, and collectively are the best bunch of people you could hope to know.
do you ever wonder what might have happened if you had made difference decisions? If one day you had chosen another path, or if life had not offered you the glimpse of what could be on offer?
I used to wonder that, in a very abstract way, the way you might chat after watching a film, or on reading a book, then sometimes I would think about how my life may have been.
This December, at the end of an absolutely dreadful year, my Advent has to reflect some of the positives, not only from this year, but from across the years, those sliding doors, and where they have taken, sometimes me, or my family or indeed others across the world.
I am going to think of it as a, ‘what happened next’ series of events, those when one decision impacted and changed everything in subtle and not so subtle ways. I think it happens all the time. We don’t actually ever just find ourselves in places, jobs, relationships, without us having had some input into the situation. It is a rare person who glides through life, with little change, and for whom everything stays as it was.
This year the daily blog, counting down to Christmas, will hopefully be full of cheer and some humour too. Together we can visit the consequences of walking through the sliding doors of life.
2020 the year that no one understands, will be ending soon, and in this last month I want to raise a smile where I can, and remind us all that we are in charge of what happens to us. We all have chosen our own sliding doors.
So, a quick one to get us started. I am in my late teens, and recently enrolled in college, having given up a ‘safe’ job to do something more interesting. However I hadn’t quite grasped that the absence of boring work also led to the absence of a salary, so by the end of the first term I am cashless at Christmas. I decide I need a holiday job, and apply successfully to be an usherette at the city centre cinema. This job was quite the worse ever. I had to wear a uniform, purple polyester blouse, complete with unattractive tie around the neck, and a boring skirt. I had to check tickets, wait in the dark, watching the same films over and over again, and then the horror that was the ice cream sales, everything about this job was dreadful.
After the first week, and pay day, I was getting used to it. Watching pensioners shuffle it every lunchtime to sit in the warm for a while, together with the drunk people who needed to fill the time between the pubs closing at 3pm and reopening again at 5pm. Evening brought the first daters, the old couples and the holidays brought the kids. All of human life was there. By New Years Eve, I had had enough. Together with a fellow temp we led the audience in a conga line into the film, singing, and laughing, whether they liked it or not. Those who moaned were told in no uncertain terms to shut up and join in, as they were boring enough to be in the cinema at New Year!! We didn’t care as this was our last day.
So that choice, prompted by another, to leave a steady job, set in motion the rest of my life. Literally. If I hadn’t left the job, I wouldn’t have worked in the cinema, and I would never have met the boy with long dark hair, who chatted to me at the back of the auditorium. Two weeks later I would meet him again, this time in a pub, and eventually he would become my husband and father to my boys, and almost forty years on, no longer my husband, but still one of my best friends.
Siding doors, he could have chosen a different film, I might have stayed in the safe job, we may never have met, and our gorgeous boys would not be in the world.
I wish you could have met my friend, she was funny and bright and brave and sometimes got she us both into trouble. I don’t remember meeting her, we knew each other as babies, she was always there.
As kids we played crazy games, her Mum would let us take all the cushions off the sofa to make dens, and she never minded us making a mess. She didn’t even shout at us when we smashed her display cabinet in a particularly energetic game of twizzing on a rainy day. We laughed all day long, my friend and I.
We started to grow up and still remained friends. Teen years were full of pop music, she only loved Elvis, and fashion. My friend would never wear a skirt because she thought she had knobbly knees and her legs were too skinny! Back in the day that was actually a thing, being too skinny. We met boys, often spending time in couples, and again her sense of humour and practical jokes made for a fun time.
Later we grew up, she went away to work in Europe, I stayed home, I had babies, she never did. She married, in her typical style her wedding had little planning, it was a ‘just let’s do it next week’ kind of wedding, which saw our Mums, her sisters and I baking and cooking up a storm days before the reception.
She was happy. I was happy. We saw each other less frequently. I visited her Mum often, she had helped me with my babies, and the grief of losing my own Mum. The world moved on and so did we.
Then one day my friend was not here anymore. Gone long before her time, and suddenly, it took us all by surprise. Her Mum, who by now had lost three children, remained brave and kind. Her sisters, nieces and nephews, and her husband, all family to me, well we all managed.
I wish you had known my friend, and then you would understand how she is still in my thoughts, years after losing her, and why on every 4th November I wish her a Happy Birthday.