Three things: finding friends

This article was written for a Readwave Challenge: 3 things I learned whilst...

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I live in a small village in rural Wiltshire. Villages can be very friendly, but also very cliquey. When I first moved here I worked full time and tended to gravitate towards neighbours who did likewise. We had all moved into new build houses so knew few people in the area. Gradually these new found acquaintances formed friendship groups amongst themselves. I had different interests and desires; friendly though they were, I did not feel that I fitted in.

When my children first started at the village school I struggled to befriend the other mums at the school gate who all seemed to know each other well already. The same groups seemed to serve on the various committees that kept village life ticking over. They had coffee mornings together, looked after each other’s kids and ran the many fundraising events that all were cajoled into supporting. By then I was a stay at home mum and knew that I needed to emerge from my shell. In my quest to find friends I learned the following lessons.

1) Do not rely on first impressions.

That young mum who appears fully made up, perfectly coiffed and dressed in the latest fashion at 8.45am each morning? She is not necessarily a societal victim, but is simply interested in how she looks. Just as I am interested in literature, she is interested in fashion. How she looks matters to her as much as an opinion on an author matters to me. We may not have a lot in common outside of parenting, but she can still be a lovely person and interesting to talk to.

That pierced and tattoo’d lady keeping her head down? She may look a bit scary but her kids are amongst the best cared for in the village. All the kids have a great time when they go to her house because she does not fuss about mud or crumbs or noise, although she will expect plenty of pleases, thank you’s and sharing. She appreciates what really matters, and that is a fine lesson for us all to learn.

That mum who looks just like me and who I was inclined to get to know better? The slightly offhand reactions may or may not be shyness, but after a year of never being invited inside her house, accept that she is not interested in furthering the fragile friendship you have made such an effort to build. One sided relationships are rarely a good idea.

2) Smile at everyone

Once I realised that I was not going to naturally slip into a friendship group I decided to simply make the best of a job I had to do twice a day on every week day. As I walked between house and school I would keep my head up and smile at everyone I passed. A number of people seemed surprised by my eye contact. I did not try to engage in conversation but simply smiled as I walked past.

This resulted in people recognising me outside of school (the smiley lady) and I would be acknowledged at village functions and local clubs. I still didn’t have friends, but it gave me a sense of belonging.

3) Only befriend those you are comfortable with

This was a really difficult lesson to learn. I wanted local, adult friends so did not feel that I could decline invitations to social events when they were proffered. This led to some awkward situations when I would be sitting in a room full of people who knew each other well trying to work out if my acceptance of the invitation had been unexpected.

Many of the ladies were lovely but had radically different views or interests to me. I did not wish to go shopping or discuss the sort of television shows that they watched. I did not wish to go the the races or learn flower arranging. I wanted to talk books, films, politics, and had a habit of speaking my mind. I was often at odds with the general consensus.

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Eventually I did manage to slip into a friendship group of lovely young mums with children the same age as mine. I was also invited to join a book group populated by a disparate group of literature lovers. A few of these acquaintances have become loyal, supportive and valued friends. Others I have let go over the years because, although I may struggle with finding friends, I have learned that quality is worth far more to me than quantity.

 

 

 

 

A square peg in a round hole

I am currently feeling alone within my family. Throughout life we are all constantly changing; recently I have come to feel that I have diverged from the place that my family has moved to. It seems at times that I no longer fit comfortably and easily within my own family unit.

It could be an age thing. It is said that age is just a number, that we are only as old as we feel. If this is the case then I have reached my dotage. Such a view could be partly a result of living with teenagers who regularly berate me; who ask me about the pet mammoth I had when I was a child. More than that though, it is the ache in my bones and in my soul.

The media tries to convince us that we are young for longer now that life expectancy has increased. I have no wish to be young again. Youth was a painful time filled with insecurity, pressure to conform and a need to be seen to succeed. I could never be all of the things that those who cared wished me to be, despite how much I tried back then. Age has given me the confidence to be myself, the experience to realise that there are many routes to achievement. I have learned that success is a subjective concept.

Preoccupation with youth is not new. I think of Dorian Grey, fictional but still someone to whom many can relate. History and literature recount many examples of powerful, old men who took younger and younger women to their beds in an attempt to feel young again themselves. How many marriages break down for just such a reason, and not one that is only confined to men?

Ageing is not something that I fear. I watch others as they try to hold back the years with cosmetics, procedures and clever tricks of concealment. It is not what is on the outside that makes me feel old, it is the person in the mirror who stares back at me through my tired eyes, weary from never being quite enough for those around me. It is the being that I am inside rather than the body that carries it around.

I feel as though I have lived through several lifetimes already, and am now expected to find the strength to demurely live through more. I do not claim to have had a hard life. Always there will be those who have had things much worse and somehow come through. This knowledge does not invalidate how I feel, although it does add an element of guilt.

Do I sound self pitying? I do not feel sorry for myself and do not expect anyone else to. I wish to be supportive of those I love, but the principle reason for my existence is not to sit at the bottom of a pile pushing them ever upwards. The expectation that I will always put up and shut up is crushing my spirit.

This Lent I have been taking the time to consider my well being, both physical and mental. I have enjoyed walks in the fresh air, beautiful views of the countryside around my home. I have visited the gym, taken long swims that offer me thinking time, been mindful of my consumption. Left to my own devices I can easily work with my body and mind to improve my health.

What I cannot work out is how to change the way I am treated. I do not know how to persuade others to act more gently or kindly towards me. I retreat into myself as an escape from the hurt that they inflict when they mock and deride me.

As with most personal blog posts this is a snapshot of a detail, not a panorama. It is a particular issue in a life filled with variety. For now this has bubbled to the surface, but it will sink again if other aspects of my life distract. I find it sad though that I am currently at my happiest when I am alone. My family has moved to a space where I do not feel that I am welcome.

I created this family, have held it together; perhaps that is why I feel so despondent when I see that I have diverged from their path. I need to work out a way to carve out a space for myself, to return to their fold.

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Moods

Riding this roller coaster of moods is exhausting. Yesterday I woke up feeling low. By late afternoon I had cheered up sufficiently to pour myself a glass of wine and start my Christmas shopping. An hour or so later I was feeling festive and regretted not decking the halls as my youngest had requested. Yet a short and innocuous enough exchange with my husband whilst preparing dinner brought me close to tears again. I can’t be doing with this. It makes no sense. I retreated under my duvet early last night, I mean really early. I will try to do better today.

First though, an observation. I seem to have lost the ability to talk sense. As can only be expected, my family discuss an eclectic mix of topics. Space travel, chemical reactions, medical issues, the latest innovations in computer technology, and television programmes that I do not watch were all covered this weekend. There was little that I could join in with. I try to follow what is being discussed in the hope that I may learn something, but trying to take part merely shows up my ignorance. It is therefore galling that, on the rare occasions when I should know what I am talking about, I can still spout nonsense and allow myself to appear witless.

We have plenty of areas of mutual interest but they rarely get raised around the dinner table. I seem unable to present my thoughts in a way that generates curiosity. I no longer seem able to contribute anything coherent enough to be worthwhile. It is frustrating for me that I am turning into the foolish old woman that my children see me as.

What happened to the clever young thing that I used to be? Despite attempting to exercise it regularly, my brain appears to have atrophied. It exasperates me that I seem to be contributing to the low opinion my children have of my mental abilities each time I speak.

However, I must learn to live with what I am and seek to improve when I have the opportunity. Today is Day 2 of my countdown to Christmas and I am looking for positives in my day.

Our weather continues to be dry and not too cold so I decided to work outside. This view from the bottom section of my garden, even on a dull December day, is cheering. There are still enough leaves to add colour, but the view over the fields has opened up as the foliage descends.

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It is this descent that I was tidying up. Barrow load after barrow load of leaves were raked and lifted into sacks for disposal. I am sure it must be a great workout. As my husband has taken my little car to work, something that he does fairly regularly to keep it ticking over as I use it so infrequently, I was able to fold down the seats in our MPV and use it to cart rubbish to the recycling centre. Thus our garage is no longer clogged up with an old mattress and the broken door and bed end that have been gracing the front of our house for well over a month have now gone to be turned into…  I do wonder if the myriad of rubbish that is so carefully sorted and transported to the recycling centre actually get recycled.

I enjoy a good clear out though. It has been a tiring but fulfilling day, I am well exercised and my garden looks a lot neater. I will put my hens safely back in their runs and prepare for the return of my children from their long day at school.

Then I just need to make sure that I hold on to this positive mood through the evening. That would make it the good day I am aiming for.

December

And so it begins. December. Today we can open the first door on our advent calendar and start the countdown to Christmas. Light the advent candle, deck the halls.

Despite having an enjoyable and relaxing day with my family yesterday, I felt jittery. After a pleasant and easy dinner, just before we settled down together to watch a film, I had to control myself to prevent weeping. For no reason. Nothing had happened to upset me.

I am fighting to overcome the dread that has settled in the pit of my stomach, that threatens to wrap itself around my heart.

Yet this will not do. The festive season will not go away and I have a family who will want to enjoy the build up and the event itself. Much as I would like to hide under my duvet for the rest of the month, this is not an option.

I need to find strategies that will enable me to cope. Perhaps if I exhaust myself at the gym each day I will be able to sleep, an elusive activity when I feel anxious. Perhaps if I avoid all gatherings and instead head out into the countryside to enjoy the stark, cold beauty of this time of year I will find solace.

There is only so much that I can choose to eschew without causing offence. I have no wish to cast a shadow on the bonhomie of the season. I want to run away and hide but am aware that my absence would tarnish what is a happy time for others.

A season of joy has become a season of obligation. The enforced sociability, the expectation of gaiety has stripped my resoluteness to the quick. I wish joy to the world, goodwill to all men, as I fight to quell the rising panic in myself.

So much negativity.

Throughout this month, as I open each door on my advent calendar, I will seek out a reason why this season is good, a reason that will help me to get me through that day. It is the anticipation of what is to come that I fear, not what is happening today.

So, what can I find that is good today?

In my garden there is a small flock of hens who crowd around me the moment I step into their garden. They follow me to the shed for the handful of corn that they know I will scatter for them to enjoy. They find happiness scratching over an area of freshly dug soil.

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These creatures rely on me yet demand so little. They always make me smile with their funny little ways. They tolerate my hugs and welcome me, even if it is only for the food that I provide. Their presence will help me get through today.

Words

I am thinking about words. Not the fifty thousand or so satisfying words that I poured into my NaNoWriMo file, now floating in the Google cloud awaiting rewrite. Not the thousand or so words that I fill each post on this blog with. I am thinking about the words we speak and, more significantly, the words we cannot speak because they are so hard to find.

On a typical day I do not say very much. Many of the words that I speak could be pre-recorded and played on remote. ‘You need to get yourself ready’; ‘Have you packed your lunch?’; ‘What time will you be home?’; ‘Have a good day’; ‘How was your day?’.

I suspect that the daily repetition is irritating to those around me. The alternative is to say nothing, to stay out of the way, which I sometimes choose to do.

Over dinner in the evening I find that my children now drive the conversation around the table with their happy chat about friends and teachers, television shows and funny happenings. When I try to join in with an anecdote of my own it often falls flat. It is best if I remain largely silent.

My husband rarely makes conversation. We pass each other essential information or significant news. Sometimes we find a topic of mutual interest, an update from someone we have met, a topic from current affairs, but this is a rare treat.

Perhaps this is why I have found my writing to be so therapeutic. All of those words in my head that want to come out, all of those thoughts and events that I want to share but have nobody wishing to listen. I throw them out into the ether and feel pathetically grateful when someone, anyone, responds. It feels like interaction, sometimes even understanding.

Television shows depict friendships where people can share anything and everything with their close friends. In order to draw the viewer in to the plot there is necessary dialogue. Do friendships like this exist in real life? Do people ever share the plot lines of their lives so openly?

I was brought up to adhere to a strict set of rules. There were some things that we should not do, but if we did then it should never be mentioned. There were some things that we should never discuss. If nobody talked of the shameful thing then we could all pretend that it hadn’t happened. It would remain hidden, secret, unspoken, unacknowledged. Eventually it would go away.

Words spoken do not go away. A careless, cruel or unkind word will bury itself deep in the hearer’s psyche where it will fester and grow in proportion, beyond anything intended. It will shape perception of the speaker, creating waves that spread out as a pebble dropped in a pool of still water. Little wonder that many words are better left unsaid.

What to do then with the emotions that are so hard to express but which affect not just the bearer but those around because they cannot be fully contained, they affect the way we live and act? I have tried to explain so much to my nearest and dearest, yet have been unable to find the right words. I encounter blankness, irritation, misunderstanding. Do I keep those words inside and cope as best I can? Do I try to share in the hope that some sense can be made of the way my life is being blighted by these feelings of despair?

Words are powerful and dangerous. A lack of words can be equally hard to bear.

Am I looking for understanding only so that things may go my way? If I cannot make myself understood, the repercussions may cause a reaction that is worse than holding it all inside. How do I find a language deep enough to express such intense emotion in the short time that I can hold a listener’s attention?

My silence is painful but words, once shared, cannot be contained or controlled.

I cannot explain, even to myself, why these emotions exist and affect me so negatively. How am I to find the language that will allow someone else to understand? If I bottle it all up inside, will it explode and cause more damage because the cause was never adequately communicated?

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The Best Christmas Ever

It is coming. I can duck, dive, weave and hide but I cannot avoid it. Yesterday, as I walked through our village to the gym, I saw the first decorations glittering outside a house. To misquote Eddard Stark, Christmas is coming.

I used to love this time of year. I would bake my huge fruit cake in October ready for the children to ice and decorate on Christmas Eve. Throughout November I would make copious present lists and place numerous online orders. I would write more cards than I needed to send; spend days composing and rewriting my annual update, carefully choosing photographs that I felt depicted each family member’s year. I enjoyed this preparation and looked forward with excited anticipation to the big event.

As the day approached there would be dinners out with friends, celebratory drinks and house parties to attend. I took pleasure in putting on my glad rags and heading out into the cold, dark night to drink and chat with my lovely friends. The children would take part in organised events at school and their various activity groups, bringing home goodie bags of sweets and small toys. It was a joyous time.

And then it all started to go wrong. Little things happened that took the shine off the anticipation. That general feeling of wellbeing and joy slowly dissipated. Friends fell out and would not accept an invitation if another was to be there; the children were less keen to partake in organised events; I was asked by one recipient of my annual update to please stop sending it. The relaxed, happy expectation leaked away to be replaced with stress and confusion. I found it harder to please even those I felt close to; I began to worry about everything.

But before all that, before I began to feel that I was a square peg in a round hole, sometime in between the joy that it had once been and the drudge that it is threatening to become, before it all started to go wrong for me, there was The Best Christmas Ever. For three days running I was as relaxed and happy as I believe it is possible to be.

It started on Christmas Eve, after a typically manic December. We closed the curtains to keep in the warmth, turned on the corny Christmas music and filled the oven with party snacks before starting the little family party that had, over time, developed into an annual ritual. It was a time together between the plethora of parties and socialising with others. The children were still young enough to enjoy the company and attention of their parents. We chatted and ate and messed around together before snuggling up on the sofa to watch a funny film. Afterwards I read aloud ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas  and we all settled down for our long winter’s nap to allow Santa to visit (we had been good, of course).

Christmas Day started early with much excitement as presents were opened and happiness reigned. This day was even more special than usual though; this was the only Christmas Day we have ever experienced when it was just the five of us.

With only us to please it had been agreed that we would forgo the big turkey dinner and let the children choose what we ate; they chose pizza. With only us to please there was no need to get dressed so we spent the entire day in pyjamas. With only us to please we could do what we wanted, when we wanted, so we spent the next two days watching the entire, extended edition of the director’s cut of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on DVD. Each film was around four hours long but we still managed to watch loads of the extras as well. How they managed to film grown men alongside each other looking so wizard tall and hobbit small was impressive.

Between disk changes we would dash out to grab food from the fridge, refill drinks and take comfort breaks. Other than that we stayed sofa bound, in our pyjamas, with the curtains closed for the entire time. It was fabulous. I don’t believe I have ever felt so snug and happy as I did over those few days, alone with my family, eating what we wanted when we wanted, the rest of the world ignored.

It is not something that would be easy to repeat. My children have become less satisfied with me as they have grown older. I am no longer regarded as amusing, but rather foolish and behind the times. We can still spend time together and enjoy that time, but the underlying antipathy towards me from one teenage child or another rarely goes entirely.

Last year I tried to recapture the spirit of the season but it all went wrong. I tried to turn back the clock, but it cannot be done. For now, my wishes are no longer heard or are not regarded as important. My family have their own ideas about how they wish to celebrate, and much of what they do involves me only as a facilitator.

And so to this year. If we choose to have a cake it will be shop bought. Only my nearest and dearest feature on my very short present list; I have yet to place any orders. Cards will be sent to just a few people; I have not prepared a Christmas update and am undecided if it would be worthwhile. I have declined all invitations to outings; my children will organise for themselves any that they wish to attend.

The day will happen and I am steeling myself to cope with whatever expectations my family have. I will cook the big dinner if it is required and try to fit in around the plans that are now made without consultation. I will make the most of any moments when we can recapture the joy that can still be shared if the five of us choose to spend time together, but I will try not to expect such times to happen for fear of disappointment.

Last year I did not manage to get through the festive season unscathed and it took me many months to recover. This year I will be more aware of the catalysts that bring me down and work to manage them. There are some things in life that can neither be avoided nor changed and I must cope.

Alongside all of this I will hug the knowledge that we once enjoyed The Best Christmas Ever. I have that happy memory, and January brings a whole new year of opportunities to explore. Life moves on and, just as Christmas was once a time of joy, it may become so again. I will do my best to go with the flow and keep my head above water. Who knows, I may even find a new way in which I may celebrate that I can enjoy.

lor

Friends and other conundrums

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme Imaginary Friends

Remember the Time Blog Hop

What is a friend? From the books that I read and the TV shows that I watched, a friend was somebody with whom one shared everything. Best friends would do fun things together, talk freely about thoughts and feelings, sleep over at each other’s houses. There would be love, respect and mutual trust in warm, fuzzy abundance.

Except at eight years old I didn’t think like that. This is my adult interpretation of how I remember thinking at that time. As we all should know by now, memory can be a cunning trickster; who knows how it really was.

I do remember having a couple of playmates before I was eight. On my first day at school, aged five, I sat beside the one I was taken to play with most (our mothers were friends) and wondered why she kept sitting in her chair as she wet herself. Other children cried in front of everyone without shame, which I also couldn’t understand. The behaviour of these children perplexed me.

A year or so later a local boy I liked to play with took a couple of photographs of me looking as if I was about to ride my sister’s bicycle before I learned to do so. I asked for a camera for my next birthday. I spent time with these children and liked their toys, but were they friends?

And so I would consider that my first, best friend came into my life when I was around eight years old. We would play at each other’s houses after school and I enjoyed those afternoons. We may even have become the sort of friends I thought we should be as we got older, but her family moved to a house several miles away and sent her to a different grammar school. Although we didn’t lose touch until university, we drifted apart and found new friends to be closer to.

At primary school though, she was the one that I played with the most. She was also the one who I always wanted to do better than, although I never succeeded in this aspiration no matter how hard I tried. In tests, if she was top of the class then I would be second. She won a slew of dancing medals compared to my two or three. She went on holiday by aeroplane to Majorca or Tenerife while I was driven to a caravan in Devon or Cornwall. I did not feel pleasure at her experiences and accomplishments, but rather the green eyed monster of jealousy.

I took out my frustrations at my shortcomings in my imaginary life. I did not have an imaginary friend, I had a slew of imaginary enemies who I showed up as lesser beings than I, before torturing and murdering them in the fields, woods and glens around my parent’s home.

I would be a master archer, hiding behind trees and killing my enemies with a single shot. I would be a master assassin, aiming my gun from a bedroom window and taking out those who made me feel small as they walked down the street. I would run across fields as fast as the wind while those I hated got left behind and were laughed at. My bicycle was my sleek and beautiful horse on which I escaped the hordes who wished to put me down.

The games that I played on my own allowed me to be the action hero, powerful and admired by all. I would save the world and gain the wonder and attention that I craved. When I played pretend games with my friend I had to compromise and share. Much as I enjoyed her company, if I got above myself in our game she would simply get up and go home.

I was a slow, fat child. Sometimes I would stuff pillows up my t shirt and look at myself in the mirror, wondering what my mother would think if I ate all the cakes, biscuits, sweets and crisps that I longed for and turned out like that. In my games I was lithe and beautiful like the little girls who were chosen to wear the pretty tutus in my ballet class, where I was put at the back with the other awkward floor thumpers.

Towards the end of primary school I played my imaginary games less and developed a desire to fight back in real life. I still longed for admiration and dreamt of a day when I would gain fabulous qualifications and a job where all would look up to me.

Friendship is still something of a conundrum to me, but at least I can now gain genuine pleasure from the experiences and accomplishments of those I care for. My imaginary enemies continue to be psychologically tortured and murdered in abundance; these days I write it all down.

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You can read the other great posts in this week’s link up by clicking below

Guilt

I feel the pressure of so much guilt weighing me down. I am unsure if there has ever been a time when I have been able to live my life without feeling guilty. I wonder if this guilt is a result of the successful imposition of other’s will upon my psyche, or if it is an alarm system that I have developed to ensure that I function as an acceptable citizen in the community in which I am required to exist. I suspect it is more the former, but fear there may be a little of both at play. I sometimes wonder if I would find more contentment with a hermit’s lifestyle. The guilt I feel can, at times, overwhelm me.

It is my own response to other’s perceived expectations that can floor me; I so desperately want to please those I care for. Some days I will pour the time and effort required into being the good wife, mother, daughter, friend; but it is never sustainable at the levels demanded. I cannot be the person that other’s appear to want me to be.

Growing up I was taught how I was expected to behave. I should eat my food and be grateful because there were hungry children around the world. I should follow the rules set out in the bible and preached at church because God and my neighbours were watching me all the time. Bad people went to hell to burn and suffer for eternity; they also embarrassed their families. In my head each was as bad as the other. I should be kind to my parents, obey them and make them proud, because they had done so much for me in so many ways. I picked up a subliminal subtext here, that they could have led a better life if I hadn’t been me. I knew that I was loved, but could never quite live up to that which was expected of me.

Sometimes the demands were clear and vociferous, more often they were passed on through the anger or sadness that my wicked actions created. As a child I was desperate to please and impress. It felt impossible.

My mother would voice her admiration of other children and I would hate them with a fierce jealousy. I would offer up my own tokens of achievement that rarely generated more than a ripple of praise. Whatever reaction I expected, it never felt enough. My accomplishments, looks and behaviour fell short; the disappointments I generated in those I cared for washed over me in huge waves of resentment and guilt.

How does a child live with such negative emotion? I rebelled. When I realised that I did not want to be the girl that my mother was bringing me up to be I changed direction. I could not leave the guilt behind though. The feeling that I was letting her down, that I was an embarrassment and a disappointment, bubbled on below the surface. She would express fear that other’s she knew would notice my behaviour and that I would bring shame on us all. I did not care what those other’s thought, but I did still care about fostering her good opinion. Not enough though, not enough to change the way I was. The guilt gnawed away at me but I fought it, suppressed it, rejected what it was telling me.

I changed my view of the church. I discovered a loving God who forgave and accepted. I could not believe that he would send me to hell for rejecting a rhetoric that inspired so much hatred. I lived in a country full of hate and violence, perpetrated in the name of the God who threatened pain and suffering. I rejected that deity and found my own; a loving and supportive being who would accept me as I was and then help me to be a kinder and better person. Knowing my bible became less important than knowing how to support a friend in need. No longer would I reject people for their wickedness; I would hold their hands and show love and practical support as Jesus would have done.

My guilt is a construct of the muddle of thoughts that developed in my formative years, but that has been built upon since. It worries me that I have the same desperation to please my husband that I once felt towards my father. Both men are quiet, kind and supportive; neither demonstrate emotion unless sorely displeased. I fear that displeasure.

I skirt around my mother warily, trying to offer her contact that will please whilst holding back that which may not. I do not wish to hear her judgement; I do not want her to worry about me. I am not a good daughter because I do not give her my time. How can I spend time with her when it may allow her to see me as I am and then open up the floodgates of her efforts to mould me into the person she has always wanted me to be? I am not that person; I do not want to be that person. Neither do I want to let her down.

I live with the guilt of my failure to fit the moulds that others place before me. The hardest to climb into is the one that I have created for myself.

Inner Demon

Teachers?

This week’s blog hop is about teachers. Remember the time you had that awesome teacher? Sorry guys, but no. I mean, I did have lots of different teachers with varying personalities teaching me over the course of my fourteen years at school. Some of them were good and some, well, not so good. I just didn’t experience any that I remember clearly and think of as inspiring, or incredibly amusing, or even, you know, a little bit special.

I considered writing about my very first teacher, Miss Holt, who I made very angry by telling her a dirty joke when I was five years old. I did not understand the reaction and was utterly mortified. At the time I had no idea that it was rude; when I had heard a big kid tell it, as I did, everyone had laughed hysterically.

My third year teacher at primary school, Mrs Dodds, kept cards in slots under her blackboard with Maths problems on them. Each slot held several different cards and each card had about ten sums to solve. From left to right under the board the problems on the cards got harder. I loved doing sums and relished the opportunity to work on problems that the other children found hard. I can’t remember how far along I got, but I don’t believe I made it all the way to the right before I gave up. At seven years old I learnt that I wasn’t as impressive as I had thought.

Then there was Mr Kerr who taught me in my last year at primary school. He kept an old trainer that he called Willy under his desk and beat the boys on their behinds with it when they misbehaved. Even though I was only eleven years old I was annoyed at how sexist this was. Determined not to let such a situation pass without protest I misbehaved until I became the only girl he ever beat. Looking back, I must have been considered a weird kid.

My all girls grammar school was full of characterful teachers. Miss Kloss and Miss Jackson used to march around the school grounds together every lunchtime. I think one, other or perhaps both of them had a dog. What I remember is the marching, Miss Kloss with her hands behind her back, both of them deep in conversation. They seemed so old to me at the time, but were probably younger than I am now.

We had a student teacher for Geography one term who wore high heels and called female sheep ‘Yow’s’. The heel on one of her shoes snapped in class one day and we thought this was very funny. School kids can be so cruel.

I had an English teacher who was very thin and had red hands that turned blue where the skin touched the bone at joints. I found it difficult not to stare at those hands as she clasped and unclasped them, trying to engage with us and share her love of literature. My most abiding memory of her lessons was when we were studying Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’. We were required to dress up as the characters in the book and hold a tea party. I hated, hated, hated role play. I could never put together a convincing outfit and felt foolish pretending to be someone I was not. It was only when the BBC produced a television series of this book that I reread it and found that I actually enjoyed it. Teachers must despair of truculent pupils, refusing to endorse their ideas when they are trying so hard to share their enthusiasm for a subject.

Throughout my time at grammar school I took extra curricular music and was taught to play the oboe by Mr Osborne. I took all of the ABRSM exams up to Grade Eight, and then spoke to him about studying for my diploma. He had a fairly direct manner and informed me bluntly that I was technically competent but was not a musician as I could not feel the music. I gave up the instrument forthwith.

I did not enjoy school but managed to come away with enough exam qualifications to get me into university and on to a job that I enjoyed. Whatever I may have thought of the various teachers through whose tutelage I passed, they must have been doing something right. There may have been none that I loved but neither were there any that I hated. I did not disrupt the class and always did my homework, but would still guess that a few considered me troublesome. I believe that I was the only regular member of the school Scripture Union not to be made a prefect.

Both my brother and my sister made teaching their career. It is a job that I could never do, at least not in a formal setting; I would find the students much too intimidating. I did home school my younger son for a little over a year (Why I became an amateur teacher). I wonder how he would rate me.

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You can read the other great posts written by others taking part in this blog hop by clicking to view on the link below

The making of an incompetent cook – Part 2

(If interested, this saga starts here: The making of an incompetent cook – Part 1)

I moved into my first flat late in 1988. I had started work the previous summer and was eager to make the home for myself that I had been dreaming about and working towards for the past eight years. I arrived with my newly purchased bed, fridge, kettle, toaster, crockery, cutlery, pots, pans and an iron. The previous occupants had left their rather tired looking oven and washing machine. Although I had no other furniture, no curtains and no idea how to work the heating system, that first night spent in my own home felt blissful.

Over the coming months I started to gather together some of the other things that I both wanted and needed. I bought a squishy sofa, table and chairs, shelves for my many books and a cabinet to store my hi fi. I replaced the washing machine when I discovered the old one leaked, painted my bedroom and hung curtains at the windows. In the spirit of the times the decor was a mix of black, white, grey and red; to my eyes it looked fabulous.

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Having built my nest I wished to show it off so invited a few of my new friends from work round for a meal. When my parents socialised this is what they did so it seemed a perfectly natural course of action. I did not consider that I still had no experience of cooking. Having received five acceptances to my invitations I consulted a recipe book for a suitably impressive three course meal for six. Starter and pudding could be prepared in advance and I sensibly opted for something that sounded straightforward for the main course. I decided that I would roast my first chicken.

Instructions on the cellophane wrapped bird that I bought told me how many hours it needed to be cooked for. Having cleaned my flat from top to bottom, bathed and chosen what I would wear for my exciting evening, at the prescribed time I switched on the oven for the very first time. As it began to heat up black smoke gushed out, filling the flat with a noxious smell. Panicking a little I threw open all the doors and windows before frantically attempting to clean the beast as best I could. With my inadequate supplies and lack of experience (I had never cleaned an oven before) I felt impotent, but knew that I needed to try again. By the time my friends arrived the chicken was bubbling away in it’s juices and only a little smoke was puffing out the oven door. A few comments on the strange smell that permeated the now freezing flat were made, dinner was served a little later than planned, but we survived the food and an enjoyable enough evening was had by all.

Perhaps I should have learned my lesson, but I would continue to invite people round to eat, and try out new, exciting dishes on them. Most of the food that I cooked for my many dinner parties was tried for the first time on the night and never repeated. There were many close calls and disappointments that went unmentioned: the soup starter that took me five hours to prepare; the range of expensive spices that went into the only curry I have ever made from scratch and which tasted totally bland; the prime cuts of meat whose potential succulence I failed to appreciate, ending up with a jaw challenging dish that resembled biltong.

At home, alone, I was still content to live on simple fare, although I did begin to cook a little more often for myself as time went by. I’m not sure that I ever got the oven in my flat properly clean though; it was only ever used when I had people round.

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