So, we came together today, to celebrate a life, from birth to beyond…
And we said good bye to that earthly part of Vi – or maybe Violet, Miss Round, or Mrs Barker, to you…
We chronicled her courtship, her work and her motherhood; transitioning on to Nanna, then again to Great Granny.
And today we all had our own memories, and smiled with recognition at the ones we shared about her, too, as we shared some of her 91 years’ long, life.
‘My’ Vi was feisty, fearless and sometimes scary. As a child I held her awe, watching as she blazed her own trail – teaching herself to play the guitar, going to night school and leading Keep Fit classes.
She was the mother of my best friend, so I received countless kindnesses from her and her husband George: spending endless Sundays in the back of the family car on trips to the country; or sitting at the dinner table, eating freshly buttered bloomer from a side plate, nestled next to a larger plate with a neat ham salad.
As time moved on, she mellowed more and whilst we had all grown up and left our parental homes, still we gravitated back to Vi’s living room – to laugh, chatter, drink tea and chomp on sausage sandwiches.
Vi would fix you with an eagle eye and speak her mind. So I remember treading on eggshells around her as a child and then turning the tables on her, by teasing her lovingly and remorselessly, as an adult, which she always took in good stead, with a knowing smile.
Along with that, her humour was as dry as a snapped winter twig, and her laughter loud – filling an entire room with its deep chuckles, surrounding you with its vibration, leaving you helpless to do anything other than guffaw along with her.
Her legacies are legion. For me I have the greatest gratitude of the gift of her daughter Susan – my friend since we were five years old. A friend who became kin, now the beating heart of her own growing family.
So Vi is part of the landscape of my life, held in a myriad of remembrances and smiles. She’s gone in one, 1 dimensional way, but here for ever in many more, held as she is, in so countless hearts – not just on our lips, as she was today…
I’ve lived with menopause for a decade. It’s been a bumpy journey. With mood swings, brain fog and anxiety, quite apart from the hot & sweaty sleepless nights.
I lost a lot… of friends, work, confidence as a direct result of it.
Then there were the tears – of confusion, rage and self pity and the gallons I shed when I realised I never would have the child/ren I always wanted…
Sometimes I’ve been silent about what I’ve been through, but so often I have spoken about it – to men, women, anyone… And I always felt listened to, even when I was lost.
And I WAS lost… dazed, indecisive and exhausted, living with it and getting on with my life. Managing it around moon cycles and hormone spikes. All the time with those hormones darkening and sharpening my thoughts. So at those times I avoided the daily commute in motorway traffic, undue stress and processed food. Instead meditating, breathing deep and educating myself. 13 million women are going through this in the UK alone, and it’s still such an unknown quantity. I visited my GP for years, but traditional HRT would only ever temporarily manage my excessive symptoms. I wasn’t even aware until today that there are NHS Menopause clinics. Now I’m genuinely shocked I wasn’t referred to one; although looking at the map there is only one in my part of the country. Instead, eventually I went to a private Menopause clinic – this as far as I was concerned, was a necessity, not a luxury, and it made a major difference to my quality of life. This isn’t a pity post. I’m finding my way through, taking action with mind, body and soul. And, I’m delighted to say, I feel no less of a woman right now or more over the hill, than at any point in my life.
Today, menopause is a fact of my life, and it’s an element of how I live it, but it doesn’t define me. It’s a transition, not a catastrophe; and I’ve decided how to handle it and go with it, as I move on through my life.
And I can still learn – that includes watching this programme this evening. For me, it was compelling and educational, even though I felt I knew a lot about the subject on many levels already (and the private doctor Davina speaks with, is the one I consulted with too).
On International Women’s Day, as I go about my in business, I’m singing Helen Reddy’s anthem ‘I am Woman’…
Several days ago I watched the biopic of her life, of the same name (on Netflix). I must admit I had scant if any (conscious), knowledge of her life and work, so it was illuminating and entertaining. ‘I am woman’ came out in the 1970s and was regarded by many as man hating and controversial. The USA Congress was in the midst of finalizing the Equal Rights Amendment for state ratification and the U.S. Supreme Court was in the throes of deliberating Roe v. Wade, when it was recorded.
Helen has said that she was undoubtedly influenced by the women’s rights movement at the time, but her motivation was to write a song about women that would be different from those that were common on the radio back in the day.“They were all cotton candy and garbage. No one else was writing songs about strong women, so I thought, why not me?”
Some things have changed since those days, yet still, MY wish is to be regarded on the basis of my own characteristics, skills and personality, where gender is intrinsic, but not defining and I stand as I am.
Helen died in September of last year and I don’t recall that being in the news. Yet she was one of the biggest recording artists of her time.
I’m now re-listening to the body of her work, to celebrate her, me and you on this day. And these words keep flowing around my head…“I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman…”
I Am Woman
Helen Reddy I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ‘Cause I’ve heard it all before And I’ve been down there on the floor No one’s ever gonna keep me down again Oh yes I am wise But it’s wisdom born of pain Yes, I’ve paid the price But look how much I gained If I have to, I can do anything I am strong (strong) I am invincible (invincible) I am woman You can bend but never break me ‘Cause it only serves to make me More determined to achieve my final goal And I come back even stronger Not a novice any longer ‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul Oh yes I am wise But it’s wisdom born of pain Yes, I’ve paid the price But look how much I gained If I have to, I can do anything I am strong (strong) I am invincible…
My fridge freezer has kaput and its’ contents are slowly melting…
Everyone I know has a full freezer, so cannot ‘adopt’ my food failures…
Due to lock down, I cannot invite anyone round to share in the quickly spoiling spoils…
I’ve got to eat, cook, or throw away good food…
The cats are dining on steak, salmon and mince (I mean, LOOK at this pic: Sophia the sated cat, sleeping off a full belly breakfast)…
Today the household is eating the most spectacular buffet imaginable… So far on the menu – samosas, bhaji, burritos, Chicken goujons, Yorkshire Puddings, pizza and french fries… & we are adding to it by the minute…
Over the next few days we’ll be guzzling chicken stew, ravioli with the most delicious, chunky, gourmet sauce, and many other foodie delights, bounded only by my culinary imagination (I LOVE being presented with a set of random ingredients and turning them into delicious dining. Got THAT on acid!)…
I’m getting a new, bigger, more environmentally friendly, fridge freezer which (apparently) won’t need defrosting or smell of niffy food…
I used local trades people…
I have to eat, cook and have a clear out [ALL things I LOVE doing]…
So… I could see this as a disaster or an opportunity… And I chose: Laughter, a full belly, ingenuity, learning, and not to overstock or overthink. Ultimately I saw the silver lining and what can I tell you about that? Well, it was moist with condensation from all the chilled out food… Told you then.. 😉
So it’s 14 February 2021. That Hallmarked calendar day of Cupid…
And it’s 8 years since I published a book about the multi-faceted feelings and phenomena of love.
At that point in my life I’d been single for a year. The year before THAT I’d manifested a dream man, along with a whirlwind romance, marriage proposal and engagement ring.
But then the man changed his mind and that was that. Cupid dropped his quiver of arrows and shot a canon ball through my heart instead…
So I had to hurt and lick my wounds and carry on. To hide and heal and find myself.
As part of that process I felt compelled to challenge myself to be the writer I knew I had been born to be. And in thinking about how I would accomplish this, the idea to write about LOVE hit me like a thunderbolt. And not only of love like the coupledom I had lost, but in all of its’ vast and glorious complexity, weaving in and out of the multi-coloured strands of my life.
So I set out to explore love, to seek it and see it. And where ever I sought it, I found it. And as I did, I wrote it all down. It was a cathartic, joyful and expansive experience. And just like that I had written my first published book, ‘Peachey Letters.’
I can’t tell you that I’ve lived happily ever after since that time. In truth there IS no happy ending. I’ve carried on with my life. I tarried with romance again, but it was halting and shifting. And so I’ve climbed the mountains of my life, then ran down into the valleys, with family and friends, and, so often, on my own.
And I thought to myself, ‘it’s better this way. I have my OWN way, all the time.’ There will be no more heartaches or complications for me, instead I’m free, in every way, to make my own choices, without compromise. And after so many years of being this Miss, I decided, with graceful acceptance, that I couldn’t be anything other than on my own.
As I knew that love was all around and within me, I lived without regret. I didn’t need it in one romantic dimension, but to experience it in every way – whether sometimes dark and sometimes diaphanous in form.
Then COVID came and lockdown landed.
At times I felt isolated, then at others a happy hermit. And I promised myself that if someone passed through my thoughts, I’d reach out to and check in on them. In doing so I had every shade of response that can be imagined, from reconnected joy, to nonchalant indifference.
But there was an exception… One person I thought of, but wouldn’t reach out to. Someone I’d cared for in the years in between writing my book and the present day. Sadly it hadn’t worked out for us. So I could only imagine, after more years had passed, that he had moved on, would have found love. Would not want to reconnect. I was afraid of going there.
Throughout this curious time of Corona, my life continued to ebb and flow. I had tragedies, triumphs and 1000s of daily transactions.
Then one day I discovered a text I hadn’t read. It had been sent months before, but I’d only just received it, on an old device I had just happened to turn on. And it was from the very person I’d thought about, but avoided…
Then, to my surprise, after much time, many texts, walks and talks had passed, I became someone’s Valentine again, with red roses and romantic declarations.
That’s been just gorgeous. And yet, you know, it’s a day in the life, not my whole life. I feel blessed to be able to celebrate love in that way again, to add it into the mix of every conversation, realisation and transaction that goes on in my life. Because when I look for it, in every person, situation or station, all coming together in the fabric of my consciousness, love is always there.
So if you’re reading this, love could mean everything or nothing to you. You could be feeling full of it or sore for the lack of it. But know, whatever your ‘status’, that you ARE love, in so many ways: YOUR ways. You deserve love. To give and receive it. To know it is within you and around you, in everything. Red roses are truly beautiful, yet a kind word, a smile, or an act of thoughtfulness are precious acts of love beyond price, too.
And since you are all LOVE, then finally and naturally, it’s time to wish you a very Happy Valentines Day x x
As the UK lockdown continues, my mind occasionally wanders past how my life is structured right now. It lingers over those things I used to take for granted, like hugs, eating out or booking a holiday. So I happily lose myself in dreams and schemes, choosing to start enjoying all the future possibilities, now…
But then I take a breath to think about who and where I am today… And to contemplate how to make the most of this time of Corona… Because this moment in time is what I have… Yes, I also have memories of the past and plans for the future; but NOW is where I am, and that makes it a commodity precious beyond measure.
Look – I admit I’m not some modern day Pollyanna who has cheerfully skipped through this past year. Believe you me, this time of Corona has most definitely had its tears and traumas. There have been adjustments made: up, down and sideways… But you know, I’ve GAINED from it too in many ways. So I’ll continue to count my Corona blessings, and be grateful for all the good things in my world right now.
One such is that I meet precious people in my life, one on one, for walks. As a stalwart rambler I’ve followed navigators’ and orienteers’ routes in groups, for decades. But NOW, more often than not, I have to settle on starting points and map out my OWN walks.
The routes get me (and my walking companion de jour) invariably from A to B and back to A again. Sometimes we get lost or have to ponder the way ahead because the route isn’t clear.
And in the midst of a wet winter, currently we are often encountering mud to a level which merits the label of ‘quagmire’: nasty, deep, dirty, sloppy stuff which sucks at your boots; threatening to slip you up and suck you in. Maybe this is just like life at the moment…
Yesterday I was slogging through a particularly long and evil stretch of the stuff. As a confident rambler I chose to power ahead, splash through and get as quickly back on to dry land as possible. My companion chose to take their time and pick their way through more slowly.
And you know what..? Neither approach was better / worse and got us back onto solid ground. Yet both of us put one foot in front of the other and got to the same place.
So I believe we can find a way that works for us. We can start by counting our blessings and first focussing on those. Then figure the route out, one step at a time – getting to where we want to be, come mud or sunshine.
So… the year of our Lord 2020… What can I say to you as the clock ticks down to your final midnight..?
You have been a year like no other… One of chaos, calumny and confusion, with COVID as the causal link in a seemingly endless chain of catastrophes.
This time last year, Coronavirus was a mere idea… the slightest of sniffles… but now, it has been a cold harbinger of deathly change, born on droplets of disease and disarray.
2020 has been shaped by its spectre and every person who has been battered or caressed by it, has their own anthology of pestilence or nonchalance, with such tales to tell, whether tall or small.
For me, the experience has been defining – bringing in new awareness on waves of tears and bravado, as I have faced then weathered the storm and sunshine of another year in the life.Your gifts to me 2020, are manifold: I have laughed, loved and learnt. I sang, spun and danced. I read, talked and thought. I walked for many miles in sun and rain. I started to run – first wheezily, then easily, when I could begin to exhale confidently. I have cried, raged and despaired. I have questioned, listened and evolved.I have sat in solitary darkness, mired in a wet and muddy gutter of desolation, crying on my feet, then turning my head back up to the stars, with their infinite horizons of iridescent possibility.
I have both fucked up and triumphed. I have hampered and helped. I have been shaken and scared, just as much as I have been strong, honest and bold. I have been a contrary creature of opposing features – knee jerking my way to emotional conclusions; then breathing in and asking the Universe and myself a series of heart and head bending questions. And in doing so, turning my in-grown notion of failure – hard-wired into the matrix of my DNA – into steps towards success. So it was that I constantly coached myself to clarity – listening intently; trusting that intrinsically I knew and had always known what the answers were. So it was all taken care of. As I cared – in every way that can possibly be imagined.
You, dear year, have given me a change of pace, a clearing of head space and the chance to change. So I will accept the angst and anomalies, then lovingly let them go. I shall cherish the gifts you have given me, 2020, giving gratitude for them all: For the expansion of my psyche; for my family and friends; for my profession and passion; for all I cherish and hold dear; for my creativity and for all the love that has flowed out of me, into me and surrounds me.
So ultimately 2020, I will let you go gracefully – moving beyond you, but taking a little of you with me as I go.
As I walk, talk and sleep out here in the conscious world of toil and transaction, I’m getting myself ready for a cosy COVID Christmas…
I’ve planned, shopped, wrapped and written. Then danced around the kitchen, singing along to decades old Christmas hits, slurping snow ball cocktails, as I’ve made mince pies, mulled wine and transformed myself into a veritable Christmas Goddess.
Yet despite my machinations and preparations, most of my Christmas plans have shimmered and evaporated into the misty winter air as the spectre of COVID has slammed down port cullis’s, borders and even, temporarily, small parts of my heart.
But for all that, now it’s Christmas Eve, Christmas has settled into that same cold heart, cossetting me into a cosy blanket of familiarity and I’m feeling it, right to my marrow…
So on the inside all is Christmas sweetness, but on the outside, what a difference a year makes…
You see I have a happy, Ground Hog routine sort of festive season, which has changed little over decades. And as such, I can tell you almost exactly where I would usually be right at this point in the day / proceedings and how it would all play out from here until to the end of Boxing Day. It starts with a family birthday and proceeds through set stages of meals, activities, until another Christmas has passed and is in the past. And I play my part in this, happily sleep walking my way through, sonambulant in the certainty of the fundamental tenets of my life and my kin.
Of course COVID-19 has now put paid to all that. As we have progressed through this year of our lord 2020, the United Kingdom government, headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has made successive announcements of ‘Guidelines’: a raft of measures and actions, described by a whole new language lexicon, including ‘lock down’, ‘furlough’, ‘self-isolation’, and ‘shielding’, all ending in ‘tiers’. This new dire dictionary defining and describing parameters created to keep people apart.
What ever your take on the pandemic – where it sprang from; if it came about by happenstance or was deliberately set upon our world for a variety of nefarious reasons: the reason why we are being kept apart is that we reduce the risk of passing on this disease from one to another. And whilst most of us would feel its effects like a bout of flu, many more, with other ‘underlying medical issues’ would succumb seriously and fill our hospitals to a capacity they cannot currently cope with.
So my own world has fluxed and flexed as the year has gone on, as I’ve gone from nonchalence, to annoyance, to despair, to resignation and acceptance. And still there are more stages to go through… On Saturday 19 December 2020, the Prime Minister announced the latest set of measures designed to combat the latest increases in infection rate and several highly infectious variants of the virus.
With his words suddenly my carefully constructed Christmas crumbled into the carpet and I cried. The latest measures meant that my Ground Hog Christmas wasn’t going to happen. That I couldn’t be with my family, that I couldn’t celebrate with my friends. That everything was turned on its head.
Plans made had to be changed, and so there were phone calls with differing levels of emotion and action in response, with family, with friends, and various cohorts. And then, after thinking through a panopoly of options, we all settled on what we were going to do in this brave new, COVID altered world.
So right at this minute on Christmas Eve, normally I would be driving, onto my way to a birthday meal in a special restaurant – hungry and happy, ready to settle into the next step of my festive routine. Yet instead, here I am on my solitary sofa, writing for me and for you. This afternoon, instead of loading up my car with food and gifts, I went for a run. That in itself, I reflected as I pounded the paths and rounded the fields around my home, was truly weird. A year to the day, I could never have imagined that I would be RUNNING!
COVID has caused this – sent my out of my Corona cave to work out / run out my kinks and cares, to reinvent my middle aged self as an athlete – a label which I still can’t wear without a smug sort of smirk, in that moment just before I get on and go for it.
And running isn’t the only thing COVID has given to me – I have had time to pause and ponder my life, focus on my writing and reach out to people not spoken to in years, yet still holding a place in my memory and heart.
Yet I can’t deny either that it has taken its toll on so many. Having snatched and ended so many lives, isolated people and been a long mental stretch of successive hurdles to jump and negotiate.
But for me, today, in this altered state of Christmas consciousness, I have to choose. And that was bought home for me when I went on a walk several days ago. Whilst running is most definitely and solitarily for me; walking is a gorgeous group activity, where I will meet and greet those in my orbit and we will walk out or around or along; pacing together, talking, laughing, reflecting – making the most of nature and each other, in our strangely straitened circumstances. Walking has been my balm, my place of coming together. It has expanded my horizons, added to my step count and kept me sane.
On this particular walk it was raining and still we stepped out, my companion and me. Ahead of us I saw sunshine and remarked that this would invariably create a rainbow. And minutes after the words had left my mouth, there it was: a double bowed beauty, a major miraculous spectacle of glory and colour. I stopped. I stared. I felt its’ magnificence. And in doing so, I realised that arching over my head was a powerful metaphor for what I was going through.
The rainbow represented the unity of the rain meeting the sun. It needed both to exist. It was filtered through a grey sky and the rain falling down from it. It manifested because the sun shone through the rain to create an arched kaleidoscope of colour over our heads.
So now this metaphor represents my current choices to me. As a result I stopped crying and set out my Christmas stall. I recalibrated my arrangements and re-arranged my heart. I stopped thinking about what had been taken away from me and focussed on what, in all reality, I have. And when I think of my life in those terms, it turns out that I have a lot. I can be grateful for so much. If I miss my family and friends, well that’s because I have them to miss. I have functioning legs that can take me out to walk and talk with them. Those same legs also turned me into a runner.
As has happened so many times over these last mad months, I’m deciding to control the things I can and accept the things that I can’t. I will play my part and I will change my Christmas this year, so that there are many more Christmases to come when I can be with my family, friends and who knows who else, in those fast forgotten ways I had always taken for granted only a few short months ago. For now, I will stay safe to keep the ones I love and care about the most, safe too.
So here I am, content with my changed Christmas and surrendering to it gracefully. Easing into it now, without expectation. Having prepared for it, I can now let it unfurl as it will, breathing into it and living each moment as occurs, in all its guts and glory.
And that is Christmas for me, today. And I wish you joy of it too. As you transmute into your Christmas, despite this years differences, my wish for you is to see the rainbows too.