Facelifts

Post lockdown haircut day: my hair is tidied up. Embracing its four months growth, I kept a softer look; I celebrate my grey.

The faded bench in the garden; mature silvered teak, bought at an offer price we could barely afford over 30 years ago, has also had a face lift. There was an advert in the Sunday paper, declaring it to be a bargain. I sent off the coupon, with a cheque, posted in a small brown envelope. That was how we bought things in the eighties.

It’s lasted well, done good service. But it was beginning to look in need of a little care. ‘Maybe it needs some oil’, I said, ‘to keep it moisturised’. No sooner said than done, Mr A is nothing if not thorough. He likes things kept in shape.

I came home to find him hard at work. ‘That oil looks dark’, I said. ‘I hope that it will fade.’ ‘It’s wood stain’, he replied. ‘Teak. I couldn’t find the oil.’ He stood back, agreed it didn’t look so happy with its fake tan look. He power washed it, but the stain has sunk in deep. Perhaps it will fade back over time, we agreed.

He’s repentant and forgiven. And we’re both a little sad. It’s only a bench, past its prime, but still much loved. It’s screaming at us rather loudly, rather than blending in right now.

Birthday adventurers

It was Pauline’s birthday last week. Some of us from the Friday writers’ group planned to meet together, under the rule of six, to celebrate. We booked tickets to visit RHS Harlow Carr Garden. The sun shone down on us, blessing the day, lighting Pauline’s bright red hair to perfection.

This group has supported one another through the toughest of years. A year of change and isolation that none of us had anticipated. A year of plans ditched, dreams shattered, a year of bereavement.

It’s been a year of opportunity too. In the internet age we came together via Zoom and WhatsApp. Friendships deepened, new friends arrived. Some arrived in the flesh, in 3D for the first time for the birthday celebration.

We gather together, online for now, each Friday, dare to call ourselves writers, give each other the courage to do it. We have written poems, memoirs, stories, even a radio play. We laugh and cry together.

We’d gone to the gardens to read the poetry tweets scattered around like seeds. They went largely unnoticed in the chatter and celebration of being together. Until that is, Pauline announced: ‘I am 70. I am going to sit down for a while.’ She sat, just by a poem that we had previously debated over WhatsApp.

We had already agreed that this piece was not our favourite. But we also agreed that we will be adventurers in our writings.

About time

Now that we are on summertime, the clock in my car is showing the right time again. I get used to making a mental adjustment over the winter months. Mr A gets confused by this and has, in the past, ‘put it right for me’. He was surprised by my lack of gratitude.

My own time management was bad last week. Monday, thinking that I had double booked myself, I left a zoom call early to meet a neighbour for a walk. She wasn’t ready. ‘I may be a little early’ I said.

‘Yes’, she said. ‘A week early. You said you were busy today.’ She was right. It was there, in the text I had sent.

Tuesday and Wednesday went to plan. I even managed to meet the previously 2D Liz, from the zoom writers group. We both turned up, in 3D, at the right time and place.

Thursday, I was getting ready to go out for a run when the doorbell rang. Hazel was there, looking confused. ‘Hadn’t we planned to meet for a walk today?’

Whoops, yes we had. She’s a fast walker, so it made some sense to join her in my running kit. I’ve written our next walk in the diary and on the calendar. And she will text me a reminder.

Now that we are permitted to do a little more, I need to make a summertime resolution to get myself organised again. And maybe, make more use of the calendar in my phone.

Anniversary angst

This anniversary week has felt tough. It’s been a year of Zoom and local walking; a year of tiers and tears. We’ve struggled through landmark dates without a proper celebration.

In the first few weeks of sunny weather, and lighter evenings, we became accustomed to finding new ways to fill our days. Fortunate and blessed, our income was unaffected. Many were saved by furlough. Others weren’t, for them it was much harder.

There have been days of joy when we’ve had re-unions. A special service in late summer saw two granddaughters baptised in their village church; both wearing pink tutus, selected by the elder sister. Tutus that have come in useful. Worn with wellies, they are perfect for twirling in the garden.

A scaled down Christmas; no new year’s parties. We lived through some dark days with sad news. Then, the joy of a first grandson, arriving in the midst of winter.

I dusted down my running shoes in this anniversary week. Ran a slow 5k.

Passing a milestone early last year, I joked that it would only require one annual parkrun to stay ahead of my age. Not a funny joke, less so now that it’s over a year since the last parkrun (my 63rd). I ran, at ‘chatting pace’, with my daughter in the shadow of Fountains Abbey. Foolishly, we crowded into the café for a post run coffee. Now, there’s news that parkrun will soon return; I’m not sure I’ll be up to speed but I’ll maybe plod round at the back. Someone’s got to be last.

Mistaken wisdom

I’ve made lots of mistakes over the years. I have a bad habit of storing even the smallest of them in my head and punishing myself.

For too long, I was haunted by the harsh voice of an audit manager who, back in the days of handwritten ledgers, ridiculed my misspelling of ‘stationery’. I learned from that mistake, I don’t think that I have misspelled the word since that day: if you buy it from a stationers, it’s stationery. It’s only stationary, if it isn’t going anywhere.

I would much rather be known as a voice of encouragement than of correction. If I am a voice of cruel correction in anyone else’s head, I am very sorry. I will apologise, unreservedly.

Carrying critical voices in my head, confusing simple mistakes and failed efforts for my own complete incompetence feeds the imposter monster. I’m learning to fight it. I’m battling my fear of failure. I don’t always win, but I will keep fighting the monster.

My prayerful hope is that, one day, I might become a wise old woman. Wise enough to admit my own mistakes and lack of knowledge; wise enough to keep on learning. I’m working on it. I’m a work in progress.

PS Today, I also learned about ‘fronted adverbials’. They have strangely been in the news a lot this week. I curiously asked a teacher about this. She wisely gave me an answer. I happily learned from her and excessively used them here.

Imposters

Forty years ago, in a time of high unemployment and economic decline, I was faced with an existential crisis. What to do with my philosophy degree?

With few openings available, I responded to a comment addressed not to me but to a fellow student (male): ‘You’ve not shut the door to accountancy.’
‘So, I could do it even with Philosophy?’
‘Er, yes’ came the response, ‘But the exams are very hard…’ The unsaid ‘for a girl’, clearly written on his face, hung in the air between us.

I took it as a challenge. I passed the exams, no resits required. It wasn’t a perfect career path, but I made it work and achieved a reasonable work life balance. I confess that I did spend most of my career waiting to be found out as an imposter. I think I got away with it.

Moving on now, towards an encore to accountancy, I have started to write. With some encouragement, I have dared to describe myself as a writer on my Linkedin profile. I’ve been longlisted in a couple of competitions, started blogging, and contributed regularly to Friday Flash Fiction. I write, therefore I’m a writer.

I’m still waiting to be revealed as an imposter.

I know I’m not alone. I’ve walked this week with a wonderful young woman who has recently started a new role. And no, she is not just as good as they believe her to be; she’s much better than that.

Friday Flash Fiction – Friday Flash Fiction

Memory bank

I found myself wandering through the churchyard once again. I noticed, not so much the names and dates, as the recurring theme of memory. In remembrance of; remembered with affection; sacred to the memory of…

Whatever the form of words, it prompted me to remember the grannies, grandpas and various great aunts and uncles that I knew from my own childhood.

Their memories, and the stories which they told, were a link from the late Victorian age to the changing times of the 1960’s. My memories of their tales of life before the First World War remain strong. At the time, their childhood seemed like ancient history to a child born into the age of television (2 channels, black and white).

Now in the internet age, with entertainment on demand and on the move (when we are allowed out to visit anywhere), my childhood seems quite remote. I will no doubt tell tales of adventures and freedom of the time. Although, if I’m honest, I was always happiest curled up in a corner with an Enid Blyton or a Puffin book.

But it is the remembered stories; often overheard as I hid, forgotten beneath a table, lost in my book; that I should be passing on. A century ago, my gran was already a mature young woman starting her adult life. The relay baton of memories, of family tales needs passing on. It’s now my responsibility to dust my memory bank, to remember those stories and pass them on.

Gender matters

This granny is celebrating the arrival of her third grandchild. I spent my birthday week awaiting news of the new arrival, and not so secretly hoping that we might end up sharing the date. As it happened, he arrived some 3 days later, choosing to have his own birthday.

Yes, he, my third grandchild is a boy. The exciting message arrived by WhatsApp, the 21st century telegram: ‘You have a grandson!’ It was a moment of pure joy. After 3 daughters and 2 granddaughters, I can’t deny that it also came as a bit of a surprise.

‘He’s a boy.’ It’s a simple and factual statement, but strangely one that has provoked an unsolicited emotional response from some quarters. I had been perfectly happy with a run of girls. I feel equally happy to now have a gender mix in my grandchildren. Apart from anything else, it gives him the privilege of being a first to us.

He’s delightful and adorable, not because of his gender but because he is so lovely. (And I’m not biased in the slightest.) A child of either gender arriving into our family will always be much celebrated and loved. But I confess that I have been a little shocked this week by the reaction of a few folks as I tell them the news. You must be so pleased with a boy at last, they say. As if I were a Tudor monarch, seeking to secure the succession. As if my daughters and granddaughters have been a disappointing failure.

I want them to know that they are not. My daughters are all successful, strong women. My granddaughters are adorable, whether spinning in a pink tutu or splashing through a muddy puddle. Or both, simultaneously. There is no doubt that my grandson is equally adorable.

And, I hope that he will soon want to paddle in the North Sea with his Granny and his cousins.

Snow days

We had a snow day last week. We woke to a grey morning with just a few flutters of snowflakes. All day it kept on falling; our town was covered with a thick white blanket.

For those of us with no journeys to make it was a welcome white out. It blotted out the darkness of the world, covering up its flaws. Let’s make a snowman, I said. No, said Mr A, let’s not spoil the perfect covering. Ignoring him, I broke the surface and started to build. It didn’t take too long for him to join in and show me exactly how it should be done.

The snow stayed just long enough to be enjoyed, then went away again. Today we had another snow fall. This granny made snow angels then walked, through the falling snow, into the world of Narnia.

I was a winter baby, born in a particularly harsh year in the days before central heating. I love my January celebration, brightening up an otherwise hard time of year, all the more so when it snows. And now I’m waiting, with increasing anticipation, to welcome a new grandchild, expected any day. With each day that passes without announcement, I wonder whether this baby will come as a birthday gift. And more, in the sensible way of grannying, I’m hoping for snow free roads when the baby’s on its way.

Epiphany

The eve of epiphany sees the start of another lockdown. Lockdown number three, I think. But I may have lost count in the in-out of this hokey-cokey. The tree is down, as are most of the decorations. Some of the lights, re-designated now as winter lights, will remain to shine in the darkness of January nights.

Christmas cards are down, their messages and greetings waiting to be re-read. Maybe this year will be a good one to get in touch and send replies earlier than next December. Among the cards, a picture of Magi travelling to see the child Jesus makes me smile. ‘We three kings can’t go very far’ was a favourite Christmas parody.

Now, as of today, we may only travel if we ‘have a reasonable excuse for doing so’. Traditional colourful scenes leave me wondering how these wise men might have justified their journey; or would they maybe delay their visit? This granny, anticipating the imminent arrival of a new grandchild, is currently grateful that travel to a support bubble remains a reasonable excuse.

It’s been a dark start to the year. Too much bad news overwhelming us some days.

Brisk winter walks on frosty days bring joy and hope. Today was muddy and slippery. I walked, as we are permitted, with a friend carrying her own burden. She shared it, and we carried it together for a while. A hug was needed, but not permitted. Now, at the start of a long journey, she knows she’s not alone.