Admission

It’s been a while. In truth I’ve been tongue-tied, unable to pull the right words from the melting pot of my mind. Not even sure what to say, even if I could work out how to say it. So there you have it. Welcome to my mind.

How easy it is to blame things. Work being busy. Not sleeping well. Time just flying by. Excuses trip so easily off the tongue – far easier than admitting reality. But when we run out of excuses reality always bites. Why don’t we learn? You’d think we would. Or maybe not.

So anyway, time has flown, excuses have multiplied at speed like bacteria in a petri dish. And here we are. Here I am. Facing my reality. Admitting it. Holding a red rag up to it and waiting for it to charge. Come on, I’m ready.

Nothing is wrong. Things have changed, situations shifting like the sands of time on which we are so shakily standing. But nothing is wrong.

Earlier, I meditated. Took some time to step away from the to do lists, to quell the panic rising up inside. I couldn’t quite believe how well it worked. It’s always nice, of course, to close your eyes and find that space, to realise all that really matters is the breath, in, out. The here and the now is all there is.

But this time something happened, not at first, but after. A flash of inspiration, a hint at the solution to a problem I’ve been grappling with for weeks. I wrote it down. In ink. For permanence.

I think I will meditate again tomorrow.

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Friendship

Tonight I shirked the plethora of imminent-house-and-country-and-job-move responsibilities that have been piling up on me of late in favour of a night out with my girls. Four of them, to be specific, each precious to me in ways I won’t go into now, except to say they’ve always been there for me, and for that I’m truly grateful. One of these gorgeous girls is a mother, two are mums-to-be, and whilst it’s clear we are all moving on with our lives (“growing up,” some might say, though I think I speak for us all when I say we loathe that term) what is also unequivocally clear is that no matter what twists and turns we face on the journey of our lives, we face them as a united front, ‘one for all and all for one,’ as the old adage goes. We may not all be together that often, but when we are together the magic of our bond is stronger than ever. I know no matter where I am in the world these girls have got my back, and there is just no feeling like the one I feel right now, knowing that, and realising how lucky I am.

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Papayas, middle class problems and Biffa

Earlier today on Facebook my friends and I had an amusing conversation about middle class problems. It started with one friend-who shall remain nameless-complaining there were “so many bloody pop up things [meaning restaurants] at the mo, I can’t keep up!!” Another friend then volunteered her dilemma (I suspect somewhat sarcastically): “If I put the spice rack there, then there’s no room for the tea caddy. What to do?” And finally a third friend added his: “There aren’t enough plugs for my coffee grinder, kettle and espresso machine. So I have to grind my beans then plug the kettle back in afterwards.”

These comments, along with my favourite middle class line from the Waitrose Twitter debacle some months ago, “Put the papaya down, Orlando!” (if you didn’t see it look it up-too funny), are obviously tongue in cheek, but nonetheless they highlight the huge disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our society.

Several people who would fall firmly into the “have not” category were featured in last night’s episode of Undercover Boss, which really touched a nerve with me. The programme focused on employees of Biffa, the waste disposal organisation, and two men in particular had such sad stories. One had spent five years working ten hour shifts, six days a week sorting rubbish on a conveyor belt in a disgusting, airless factory. When the belt broke down, as it often did, he and his fellow agency workers would not get paid until it was fixed – which sometimes took up to three days.

A second Biffa employee in the programme had been denied time off to grieve over the death of his baby girl, and a third had been made redundant and forced to take another, less well paid job with the company which had led to him losing his house and becoming depressed.

Watching the struggles these men went through every day to survive and put food on the table for their families was a humbling experience, and one that, upon reflection in the wake of today’s “middle class problems” conversation, made me put my own “problems” very much into perspective. I may have recently taken a pay cut myself but I did so voluntarily to make room for my writing, and whilst I have had to cut back on frivolous things like daily Starbucks coffees and new clothes I’m certainly not suffering-far from it, I’m thriving on my new routine.

So whilst Orlando and his papaya will forever make me chuckle, the stories of those Biffa employees will stay with me in a different and more sobering way-and will act as a reminder to be grateful for my many blessings.

The awakening

Wrote this as a way of getting to know Michael, one of the protagonists in my new story. This scene is from his childhood:

At nursery school Michael had been too young to understand why he was different. But today was his first day at big school, and his small world was about to change in ways he could not have imagined.

“Was that your grandma?” asked a small boy in blue dungarees and glasses.

Michael turned to the boy and frowned. “No,” he said. “She’s my mum.”

Now it was the other boy’s turn to frown. “But she’s so….old.”

Both boys turned to watch as Michael’s mother walked out of the school gates. Was his mother old? Michael had never really thought about it. Why would he? She was his mum, and that was all there was to it.

“Aren’t all mums the same age?” Michael said.

The other boy regarded him with a cool stare, and Michael felt suddenly like he was being tested, and, worse still, that he wasn’t doing very well. “No,” said the boy, his eyes rolling in their fat little sockets, “of course they’re not. Well, not exactly the same age, anyway.”

“Oh, right.”

“As in,” the boy continued, “they can’t all be born on the exact same day. That would be impossible. But-” – and here he paused for dramatic effect – “mums normally look the same age – even if they’re not. Only your mum looks more like a grandma than a mum. She’s even got grey hair.”

Michael felt a knot of something horrid form in the pit of his stomach. Before he had a chance to work out why the teacher began to round them up and lead them towards the hall for first assembly. As they walked through the heavy swing doors into the school, Michael cast one last mournful look over his shoulder. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he had the distinct feeling nothing would ever be quite the same again.

I took this photo in Cambodia in 2007 and have just stumbled across it for the first time in ages. I love the look on the little boy’s face – less so his dirty clothes and the packet of cigarettes tucked into his pocket 😦

Epiphany on me

Every so often when I’m engrossed in a book, or lost in a song that’s so beautiful the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I get a sudden rush of overwhelming anxiety. Why? Because in that moment it dawns on me that I will never be able to read all of the amazing books in the world, or hear all of the glorious music that’s been produced over the many years since music began. It’s obvious, of course, but whenever I think about it for any length of time it’s still a sobering enough concept to take my breath away.

Phase two of this bizarre anxiety involves my ruminating that I haven’t read the right kind of books, or listened to the right kind of music. As I’ve grown up – and I should point out at this juncture that I still find it hard to accept that I am, in fact, grown up. Indeed when the prodigal and only child of the family returns home for a familial visit my parents also often have some difficulty believing this – I’ve always thought my capacity and hunger for knowledge would increase and my tastes would mature, not unlike a fine wine.

By my early thirties I was certain I’d have moved beyond childish chick lit ‘novels’ and the kind of soulless popular music that’s relentlessly and indiscriminately spewed out by endless commercial radio stations. I would, I thought, be reading Proust and Tolstoy, listening to Beethoven and Chopin, spending my spare time studying philosophy and going on cycling holidays to French vineyards with my similarly-inclined peers.  

But alas, ‘twas not to be. At thirty one I’m ashamed to admit I still spend most weekends drinking cheap cider and falling out of clubs (playing – you’ve guessed it – popular music). I still haven’t read most of the Orange and Booker Prize-shortlisted tomes I acquired some years ago in a fit of pique at my own ignorance of the workings of the literary world (‘you want to be a writer!’ I’d scold myself. ‘How can you write without reading the works of the great writers?’)  And the sum total of my knowledge on classical music and wine would fit on the back of a postage stamp (and still leave room to spare).

The interest in politics and international affairs that I thought was a rite of passage of getting older never quite materialised. Nor the savvy business mind which would easily decipher tax codes, pensions and such like. Instead of a one woman dynamo I stand before you as an empty, muddled and ignorant shell. I am a caterpillar that failed to undergo metamorphosis and turn into a butterfly. I am a Monopoly piece that didn’t pass Go.

I suppose a psychologist would say that the root cause of my anxiety is my feeling small and insignificant, not knowing my place in the world and worrying I will never make my mark. And I suppose with that analysis they would be pretty spot on (in fact I’ve surprised myself by trotting that out without too much thought and whilst simultaneously wondering what to cook for my dinner – who says we women can’t multitask? Oh, I did, in yesterday’s post. Damn).

But hang on just one cotton picking minute. What about the things I have achieved, the books I have read, the music I have listened to? What about the friends I’ve made, the stories I’ve written, the places I’ve visited? I may never know my Beaujolais from my Fleurie, or be able to discuss the merits of Aristotle’s theories over Plato’s. I may not develop a discerning ear for classical music, know the background to every international conflict or be the next Jane Austen. But I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll write for pleasure, read for pleasure and continue listening to music that makes my hairs stand on end – even if I heard it on Radio 1.

And above all else I’ll do my best to be a good person and make other people happy. Because no amount of knowledge, maturity and finesse can make up for not being able to do that.

I took this photo when I went on a walk by myself along the beach in Lombok. It reminds me of a quiet, reflective period in my travels – appropriate for this post, which actually made me feel surprisingly emotional as I wrote it.