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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wet winter weather lowers the mood as we stagger towards the end of 2020. A year ago we met up with friends and mourned the 2019 election result together, we had no idea then of the year that was to follow.
A week ago, we were fortunate to meet up with the same friends. We enjoyed the most substantial of meals: hearty pies, served with gravy, chips and vegetables. Wrapped in blankets, we sat beneath a heated gazebo in a pub car park. Rain bounced around us, but it was worth it for their company and the normality of a pre-Christmas lunch.
Uncertainty and worry of a post-Brexit wilderness dominates the news. The footpaths of the town’s edge lands are lost under a thick layer of mud. Against that gloom the lights in town shine brightly this year. Businesses, shops, and homes all seem to have made that extra effort to decorate ahead of scaled down celebrations. We made it through the second lockdown, emerging into the strangest of Advent seasons.
At the end of this year, so much harder for some than for others; we don’t know what next year will bring, we never do. But first we knew we would have Christmas, and that is something that this granny has always loved to celebrate. We were looking forward to five days with our family. We knew that there were risks. But we had made a choice to manage the risk. Suddenly, the guidance is changed; five days reduced to just one for us. Elsewhere in the country, a total ban on meeting.
We will make the most of our day together. Apart from that, we can wrap up warm and meet outside; knowing that we have warm homes to which we can return. We will acknowledge and mourn what we had planned and hoped for. But we must not let that prevent us from celebrating what remains.
Full of life, walking through these days, I wandered into a graveyard.
I was not in search of any particular grave and this was not a picturesque place; it was in fact quite the opposite. It sits in the grounds of a neglected church. The windows broken or boarded, duvets in its covered doorway the only evidence of recent use.
I have often passed this place, running or walking, and noticed the sad sight of memorials once proudly standing but now laid flat in the interest of health and safety.
As I walked around its mossy path, a black marble stone caught my eye. It marked a grave, a quarter of a century old; its occupant, a wife and mother. She shared my date of birth. A life cut short, in her thirties; no chance to test the notion that life begins at 40.
It challenged me, made me reflect on life and living. I felt a responsibility to make the most of life whilst there is breath in me. I walked away, down the hill, back into town, aware of the changing season. It brought to mind the words of Ecclesiastes. For everything there is a time, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die. A time to celebrate life.
The 2020 US election results were declared and will be remembered for a gracious winner and accusations of fraud from the defeated incumbent. Many words have been written, I’m not going to increase their number.
It’s been a week of fresh autumn days, perfect for walking around the edges of town. I’ve taken over 100,000 steps and have covered another 50 miles of my virtual Camino. Red poppies and Christmas lights have been added to the colours of the season.
I’ve walked alone and with friends. On Remembrance Day, I walked with a new neighbour. We had good intentions of observing the silence at 11am; walking and talking, we missed the moment. She arrived in our street between lockdowns and we have discovered much in common. Not least a shared faith and a mutual love of reading. We thought it would be fun to start a book group and managed to get a legal meeting of five together on the eve of the second lockdown. Our first book: A man called Ove went down well, as did the red wine.
One of our number is not a reader, but she enjoyed the chat and she is a keen walker. So, for our next session (in early 2021, subject to lockdown laws) we’ll be talking of pilgrimages and long distance walking books. Simon Armitage’s ‘Walking Home’ and Raynor Win’s ‘The Salt Path’ are on the agenda. Lots of miles covered in each book, many purposeful steps taken and plenty of food for thought for these days of mindful walking from home.
Here we go again: four weeks of national lockdown in England.
There’s a sense of déjà vu. We set off back in March to do those three weeks of lockdown which staggered on for three months or more. We walked our way through Lent, celebrated Easter and family birthdays on Zoom; enjoyed the lighter evenings and lengthening days; saw leaves and blossom grow. We stayed close to home, talked more with our neighbours and celebrated VE day with a physically distanced street party.
I committed to get to the end of that first lockdown with no regrets as to how I’d used the time. For the most part I achieved that. I missed time spent with my daughters and granddaughters, but that was forbidden and out of my control. And it made their company very special throughout the late summer days.
Now it’s nearly Advent, the days are shorter again and the evenings are dark. Leaves are yellow, gold and brown; hawthorn trees are laden with crimson berries.
Whether it’s four weeks or more, I’m committed again to not wasting a day. I’ve challenged myself to walk the length of the Camino de Santiago. Over the last 25 days, I’ve walked 125 miles: an average of five miles per day. This morning, I walked out along the old railway line and clocked up another ten miles. If the autumn weather is kind, I will be adding to that total over the next month.
The weather was great today: this would have made a perfect night for the town’s bonfire and firework display if it was allowed.
Many times we’ve sung a big hymn: Thine be the glory springs to mind now but the list is endless… and I’ve announced that I’m going to have it at my funeral. ‘It’s going to be a long service’ my daughters say, as I make yet another announcement. The fragility of such plans was in my mind this week as I attended a second online funeral. It’s a strange experience. Just 15 masked family members or close friends in attendance and no singing. No comforting touches from more distant friends or near neighbours.
Getting used to such restrictions, and wearing masks in public places, has been strange. Not least with the masks is working out how to avoid the steamed up glasses. This week, a friend said that she felt sad not to see people smiling. But what I have come to realise is that you really can’t hide a true smile just by covering your mouth and nose.
The wrinkles round our eyes are not called laughter lines without reason. A painted on smile sitting beneath cold emotionless eyes is not a smile at all. It can be a sinister reminder of a timeless villain: the child catcher, Hansel and Gretel’s witch, the Bond villain. A masquerade, a deception. Look at my eyes, count the laughter lines. You can usually see that I’m smiling, enjoying your company.
Occasionally I may be exhausted and ready to sleep, in which case I’m really sorry if the smile doesn’t show. You are still very interesting and amusing, but sometimes my sleepy introvert takes over and hides my smile behind the mask.