Write My Life

Alongside my new venture as a life coach, I have decided to realise another ambition – setting up a service to capture people’s life stories. At school I remember being fascinated by the stories I read about the soldiers in the world wars, and their families. As the years passed, with each world war memorial service it struck me as sad that eventually all of the soldiers who fought in the wars would be gone, and their stories with them.

Closer to home, I have often found myself wishing I knew more about my own family’s history, so that I can tell my children and grandchildren (God willing) about it. We so often spend time with our parents, aunts and uncles without ever really uncovering who they were before we came along. Of course it’s natural that the younger generations grow up and usurp the family’s attention, but wouldn’t it be nice to capture the older relatives’ experiences, first hand, for future generations to discover? My goal in setting up this service is to do just that – to immortalise the stories of loved ones.

So if you have a loved one whose story you would like committed to paper, or if you would like your own story told, do get in touch. In the early stages of setting up the service I will be offering free stories in exchange for (hopefully positive!) testimonials on my website. So let’s begin…

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2017: The Year of Cautious Optimism

Despite the many terrible world events that happened in it (Brussels, Paris, Nice, Orlando, Syria, Turkey, Brexit, Trump, Berlin to name but a few), 2016 was a great year for me personally. I married the love of my life after five years together, had the most joy-and-love-filled celebration with friends and family followed by a two week trip around my favourite places in northern Italy. I also had not one, not two, but THREE fantastic hen celebrations in London and Las Vegas (!), a relaxing break with friends in the beautiful Belgian Ardennes and an amazing holiday to Vietnam (thanks to Tom and Lily for having their wedding there!), plus numerous other special moments shared with special people. And for all of this I feel incredibly thankful.

The instability in the world has proved our future is far from certain, and that every day is a blessing and not a guarantee. I am therefore approaching 2017 with an attitude of cautious optimism. From a personal perspective there is much to look forward to, and potentially big changes afoot, not least my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology starting in February.

From a wider world perspective, I do believe that we can, to some extent at least, be the change we want to see in the world. Even if it’s only on a micro rather than a macro level, when individuals come together to realise a common goal – whether it be helping other humans, animals and/or the environment – something magical happens. If we never look outside of ourselves and our own immediate concerns we not only lose perspective but we also fail to make a positive impact on the world around us. Whenever my time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil I hope it can at least be said I made some progress on that front.

So here we stand on the threshold of a new year. The future may be uncertain, but it is also what we make it. I don’t know about you, but I plan to make 2017 the best year yet. Happy New Year.

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Parting Gift

The following post was written in response to the Creative Ink Writing Prompt on 15 Dec:

The present sat, unopened, for weeks. As if preserving its integrity would bring him back, somehow make it all un-happen. But it wouldn’t, obviously, she knew that.  They all did. But nonetheless they had formed a tacit agreement that the gift would not be touched, nor moved from its place on the living room floor, despite the tree and all its fallen needles having long since been cleared out.

And so they carried on with life, or at least some semblance of it; Matt going to school, Abi to her part time job to make some cash for uni. Philippa painted on her face and cooked them dinner each night. But she spent her days wandering the heath with Barney the dog; bare faced and aimless. She kept it together for the children, thanks to the prescription drugs she had tearfully begged her doctor for. They blurred the edges, made the pain a little less acute. But when they started to wear off reality crept back in, and she was faced once more with the abject terror of being alone, in an empty bed. And an empty life.

He had been a healthy man. An active man. And yet. Cancer could be so indiscriminate. Sometimes no amount of spinach smoothies and early morning workouts could stave it off. When it’s your time, it’s your time. That’s what he’d always said. What a tragedy that his time had come so soon. Just past the post of fifty, the milestone Philippa had dreaded for years. But not him. He was ever the optimist. And now he, and all his optimism, had gone.

Today the children were both out; Philippa couldn’t remember where although she knew they would have told her. She made a cup of coffee, her brain on autopilot, and carried it through to the living room. As much as she wanted to avoid looking at the present, her eyes were drawn to it like magnets. He had known, when he bought it, that the time he had left was short. She knew he had made peace with that in a way she couldn’t imagine herself ever doing. After twenty years of marriage, losing him was like losing the use of her limbs. They had so much still to do, so much still to see. How could she do any of it without him?

Their big plan, once both kids had left home, was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. They had talked about it often, sat at the kitchen table late into the night, drinking Malbec and plotting out the route they would take. Philippa couldn’t imagine herself climbing a mountain, but with him by her side she knew she could do it. With him by her side she could do anything.

She was on the floor now, kneeling with the present on her lap. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks, splashed onto the Christmas wrapping paper. Whatever was inside would, she knew, break her heart. But it was time. For the kids’ sake she had to move past this. It was part of the process. So she steeled herself and started to peel back the layers. Inside was a head torch, a pair of hiking socks and the Dr Seuss book they had read to the kids when they were little. He had marked one of the pages with a yellow sticky note. Philippa opened it on that page and laughed aloud when she read the rhyme:

You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!

As sad as she felt, the pain that had held her in its thrall since his parting loosened its grip just a little. She took a deep breath and exhaled. With his parting gift, he had set her free.

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Eight Weeks to Wed: An Update

Last weekend I went to Las Vegas for my hen party with six close friends. It was predictably fabulous. We crammed an enormous amount of fun into a short space of time and did ourselves – and Vegas – proud. Wild, unbridled hedonism like that is harder to come by as you march inexorably further into adulthood, which is why it’s so important to appreciate it when you have it. The same applies to friendships. Whilst they should be nurtured throughout life, opportunities to  celebrate them become fewer and farther between as the myriad demands of life creep into our daily existence. And so the memories of last weekend and all the laughs we shared will stay with me forever. I am truly grateful.

And now it’s time to look ahead. Eight weeks ahead, in fact, to my wedding day. As a child I always dreamed of this occasion, wondering who I would marry (or, more specifically, who would want to marry me!) Now it’s nearly here it feels surreal, like a dream. The organisation has been a  challenge, but I know it will be worth it when we look around at the hundred or so loved ones who are so generously travelling to Austria to share it with us. I feel so blessed not only to have met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with, and to be so utterly confident in that statement, but also to have such wonderful and supportive people in my life.

Getting married feels like such a grown up thing to do. I feel ready for it, yet at the same time the little girl in me is tugging at my sleeve, chewing her nails down to the stub with worry. Will I be a good wife? A good mother? Am I actually mature enough to take this step? I have always felt a dichotomy within me. On the one hand there is the dreamer, the thinker, the artist; the one who likes to party and who yearns to travel, to explore, to be free. And on the other is the planner, the matriarch-in-waiting who wants nothing more than to care for others, to have a family and thrive on being responsible for others, instead of being concerned only with myself.

In some respects I suppose I’ve always felt that having a family would save me from myself, and stop me from pursuing the relentless search for meaning that drives my every waking moment. But now I’m on the cusp of that I’m filled with fear; of all that I ‘should’ have done up to this point in my life, and of all I will not be able to do if and when I take that next step. I suppose these worries are normal, and that everyone has them at some point in the run up to making such a big commitment to another person.

I don’t expect for one moment that getting married will mean a life free of worry and drama; far from it. But what it will do is cement our partnership in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, in whom I do believe, at least in some form. It is a statement of intent on both our parts that we are prepared to put each other first, to work through all our issues together, and to co-create a stable and loving environment for our future children. The divorce rates reported so gleefully in the news don’t bother me at all. Marriage has always been important to me, and I am entering into it with my eyes and heart wide open.

The fun-loving, free-spirited party girl will always be a part of me, I have no intention of shunning her or locking her away. But despite my fears what is becoming ever clearer to me is that I owe it to myself to explore the other side of who I am, to get to know the girl who wants so desperately to help, to make a difference, to put love above all else.

This is a new chapter in the story of my life. And I am ready to turn the page.

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Nostalgia Rules

Tonight, over dinner with my best friend, we took a stroll down memory lane and revisited our memories of the family holiday we spent in Corsica when we were 15 (dare I even speak aloud that was not too shy of 20 years ago now?!) On a recent visit to her family home she found a wallet of photos from the holiday, and we spent a good couple of hours poring over them and recalling all the funny moments we had shared and the people we had come across during our time on the island.

Whilst the nostalgia trip was in itself a wonderful and long overdue experience, what interested me most was that we were able to remember things that had long since been consigned to the depths of our memories – so much so we thought they had been lost forever, when, in actual fact, they had spent all these years gathering dust in boxes at the far recesses of our minds.

The prompted recollection of names (like Ingrim, the lifeguard who rescued us three times from sea when our newfound windsurfing skills failed to render us proficient enough to turn around) and occasions (like the time we found a litter of kittens in our luggage on a previous childhood holiday to Italy, or the time we blagged our way into a Corsican nightclub foam party) has triggered so many other, related memories in my mind (did I really wear underwear from Knickerbox as outerwear?!), which has sprung open like Pandora’s Box.

It’s comforting to know nothing in life is lost, but rather pushed aside by other, newer and more relevant memories. And that all it takes to recall what’s been forgotten – and remember what it was like to be in those long forgotten moments – is some visual prompts and an animated conversation with a good friend.

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The Great Sibling Debate

Though it pains me to admit this, as an only child I have grown up to be a bit of a princess. When I was younger I had no shortage of toys and pretty clothes (some less pretty-we don’t talk about the puppy fat and lumberjack shirt phase-that never happened), and if I wanted something my parents (or, if they said no, my grandparents) would invariably give it to me. I suppose it’s fair to say that I was spoilt, but whilst being an only child does have its many benefits, I always craved a brother or sister to share it with.

This craving has, I suspect, directly influenced my choice of relationships. My best friends all have siblings and my boyfriends have all had large families. There’s nothing I love more than coming down to Devon where my boyfriend’s family lives and spending time with him, his parents and four brothers on the farm where they live. It’s about as far from my princess roots as I could get, but it gives me an enormous sense of belonging and I enjoy having surrogate brothers in my life.

That’s not to say I don’t still love the time I spend at home. Christmas always has been and always will be a favourite time of year for me as it allows me to go home, close the doors and spend some much needed time relaxing and recharging with the small family unit that comprises me, my mum and step dad (my dad being up in rural Yorkshire where he runs a self catering cottage that requires a manager to be in full time residence over the festive period should anything go wrong).  Being only three of us for Christmas means no big family rows or tensions, just quality time en famille, and for that I’m truly grateful.

I feel fortunate to have struck this balance between spending time with big families and retreating to my small (but perfectly formed) one, and though sometimes I still wish I had a sibling with whom to share the familial memories and obligations, I wouldn’t change my situation for the world. Many people don’t have any family to speak of at all, so I know I am a very lucky girl.

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He’s Behind You…

I’ll admit it: I love panto. Not a sentence I would have been caught dead saying a few years ago, but now I’m getting on a bit (having reached the grand old age of 32) something’s changed. The embarrassment of youth has faded and, in its place, a newfound respect for the magic and comedy of pantomime has sprung up (rather like Jack’s beanstalk, if you’ll excuse the simile).

The thing is this: Life can be too serious. Bad things happen to good people; death, disease and poverty are rife in our society. Sometimes it’s just nice (for those of us fortunate enough to have the luxury) to be a little silly; to watch something ridiculous that makes us laugh and takes us far away from reality (on a magic carpet ride-sorry), evoking the unbridled joy and innocence of childhood.

And on that note, it’s wonderful to see the enjoyment that the children in the audience glean from a good pantomime performance. When Wishee Washee throws the sweets and a mad scramble ensues there’s a palpable sense of delight that’s hard to manufacture in these modern times of computers and smartphones.

What I’ve loved most of all about the pantomime at Windsor for the past few years has been (and here’s another sentence that I never envisaged saying) Britain’s Got Talent’s Kevin Cruise. The best supporting actor I’ve seen in years, he’s a true comedy talent and national treasure (also someone I’d quite like to be my male best friend).

In short I think it’s safe to say that panto’s a tradition that’s set to stay in my family (oh no it isn’t…). Roll on next year…

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