Interlude: freedom for whom?

There have been changes in my little household, subtle shifts that affect us all. I suspect that the rest of my family do not recognise the impact that these have on me. Where they see a chance for freedom and expect to be accommodated as they enjoy this interlude in their lives, I find that my quiet days are now constantly interrupted. I have lost my privacy and ability to structure my days.

It was a relief for all when exam season finally came to an end last week. Although my boys still have their music practicals in mid July, the importance of these is not so great that they need cause undue stress. I am enjoying listening to them practice, live music in the house is always welcome.

Daughter was away for five days, on a science field trip with school, returning last night to clean up and sleep before leaving early this morning for a university open day. She has two more of these planned, a chance for her to glimpse her future. She has a busy month ahead with work experience at a hospital followed by a holiday with her writer friends. She sways between wanting me to leave her in peace and needing me to sort so much out for her.

Elder son is now at home much of the time, sleeping through the mornings and then staying up into the wee small hours. I try not to interfere. At sixteen he needs to find his own space and I am grateful that he is home rather than out who knows where. He does not understand my life and often gives me a hard time over my choices. I can only hope that this is a phase he will grow out of, that empathy will return.

Younger son still has school, the only one of us who has not seen a shift in the everyday. I try to engage with him, but he wishes to spend his time on line with his friends. I am assured by other parents that his behaviour is normal. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of parenting teens is going with the flow, allowing these emerging young adults to be.

Yesterday husband finished his contract with work, he is looking for another but we cannot know how long that will take. Thus he too will now be home, wanting to make use of his time. He has tasks lined up that need doing around the house and garden, but I am wary of what he will expect from me. I feel a need to guard my space, to ensure that I do not allow my hard won if still fragile status as a writer to be swept away.

I have found myself in a place that I am enjoying immensely: reading books; writing reviews; creating stories. The interactions with authors and publishers on line is fascinating, a world I aspire to get to know better. The books I am given to read feed me with thought provoking new experiences, offer me challenges as I tease out the reviews from the swirling emotions evoked by the writing. I like it here, I like to immerse myself in these worlds.

Yet how can I resent when a loved one asks for a meal, a cup of tea, a chance to chat? When my company is sought I have no wish to decline. They will each move on in time as work is found, school resumes. I wish to appreciate the time they spend with me without losing the inroads I have made into carving out a space for myself where I feel fulfilled, accepted, even valued from time to time.

Of course my family will always come first, but I fear losing the sense of self that I have finally gained. I find it hard that some cannot see value in what I do because it is unpaid, I am still reliant on my husband to support me. I recognise that privilege and am grateful for it, hoping that I can be a better family member by being happier in this life that I am leading.

Finding balance is always a challenge, giving time and attention to those who matter whilst not giving away what I am, what I wish to become. I value this space with my books and my writing. I wonder can I find a way to share it.

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Crashing a party in reverse

This post was written for the Remember the Time Blog Hop, hosted by The Waiting. This month we are asked to remember the time we got into trouble with the law.

Remember the Time Blog Hop at notthehardestpart.com

I got my first, and hopefully only ever, enforced ride in a police patrol car as a result of the fallout from a party that I didn’t even attend. These were the consequences of that night of mayhem: a dressing down from the upholders of law and order; an eviction notice from my landlord; a summons to explain myself to the university authorities; having to admit to my parents that I had moved out and screwed up. In the end I could put all but one of these behind me.

No matter how well prepared a young person may feel when they first leave the parental home, there are certain life lessons that will only be learned through experience. It is important to know how to budget wisely for rent, food and transport when income is meagre. Limited cooking skills need to be honed when a thrifty but nutritious meal must be planned for and prepared every day. Even though one is free to throw a party without permission and a plethora of rules, it is still wise not to invite an entire pub full of inebriated strangers back to your new gaff after hours.

I had taken a room in a large house located in the streets behind my university. It was the summer and most students had left the city so I had the place to myself. The landlord owned a number of properties which he let out on an annual basis, room by room. As is typical of student accommodation, they were basic and run down. The house I moved into was also filthy. Bags full of rubbish had been left in the kitchen by the previous occupants and large, black insects scurried between them, feasting on the contents. As I lay in bed at night I was petrified to hear mice scratching under the furniture in my room. However, I had finally achieved freedom and convinced myself that this made the discomfort worthwhile.

I decided to have a few friends round for a house-warming, arranging to meet them in a pub down town. Even then I was nervous about how successfully I could host such an event. The big, old house seemed so bare and I was unsure how many people would wish to join me. My circle of friends was in flux and many of those I knew were away for the summer months anyway. I cannot recall why I had thought this gathering would be a fun thing to do.

Only a few of my friends turned up at the pub. As I nursed my drinks and accepted more I began to worry about how cavernous the house would seem, how unfestive the atmosphere would be. When last orders were called the solution came to me: here I was, rocking in a pub filled with happy people, I would invite them all.

I suspect that my friends were a little concerned when I announced my plans to the assembled company, but I was not to be dissuaded. We made our way back to the house and I surveyed the attendees who had rowdily followed. So many strangers, and the young man I had really wanted to be there still absent. As I had done many times in the past, I decided that this party wasn’t for me and left, somehow forgetting in the fuzz of alcohol that this was not how one typically acted as host. In my head I wished to be with my crush, not here, so set off across town to find him. I told no one of my plans.

The medics accommodation was silent and still as one would expect at that time of night. There was no reply when I knocked on his door, I hadn’t considered that he may be elsewhere. My befuddled brain reasoned that he would likely be back soon, so I sat down in his doorway to wait. I fell asleep.

At around 5am he returned, rather shocked to find his stalker blocking the way. On waking I realised two things: this was a really embarrassing situation for which I had no explanation that I was willing to admit; it was daylight and I had missed my own party. Leaving my crush to come to whatever conclusions he wished, I bid him farewell and made my way back onto the streets. I realised that I was not wearing any shoes and had no idea why.

I had only walked a short distance when the police patrol pulled up alongside me. That the policeman knew my name worried me so much that I could not fully register what he was telling me, only that I was required to get in the car. Once ensconced in the back they kindly suggested taking me to my parents house, which in my estimation was akin to driving me to my execution. It seemed that my friends at the party had reported me missing to the policemen who had been called to the house by neighbours, concerned about a loud and lively event that appeared to be getting out of hand.

Later that morning, with a hangover that should have been punishment enough for any misdemeanour, I had to face my angry landlord who had been called by the police in the wee small hours. He was not interested in anything I had to say and informed me that I had twenty-four hours to leave the place. This meant that I had to call my parents anyway, as I had nowhere else to go. In my estimation I could sink no lower.

Perhaps amazingly, when the drunken bodies had slept off their excesses and left, there was no damage to the bare property. Neighbours were appeased and no charges were pressed. The police, who reappeared to give me a strict talking down, seemed to relent when they saw my misery. I guess sometimes it helped that I was a young, slim, blond female who could find her manners when she had to.

I felt horribly guilty, foolish and decidedly ill. I spent the day packing up my few possessions and cleaning the place from top to bottom, an act that resulted in my landlord subsequently returning the month in advance rent that I had paid along with my deposit. He withdrew the formal complaint that he had lodged with the university authorities and told them that I was a lovely young girl but needed to choose my friends more wisely. The university satisfied itself of my contrition and let the matter go.

To this day I have no idea who attended that party or how it went. I was married and with kids before I hosted another big gathering at my home. Other experiences from that night I have not repeated: sleeping in a doorway; losing my shoes; stalking a crush. No matter how law abiding I may consider myself to be, I will still feel nervous if I ever find myself being observed by the boys in blue on patrol.

 

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Feminism in the modern world

Written for a ReadWave challenge.

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” (Rebecca West)

Emotive words like feminism can be difficult to use. I would call myself a feminist, yet often find myself disagreeing with opinions professed by others who would also describe themselves in this way. For example, I do not believe that everyone should be treated equally at all times.

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There are occasions when I would not complain about a job advertisement asking for a man or a woman; for example, a play or television show that desires a particular gender for a part. For every rule there will be exceptions.

What makes me angry is misogyny, and it is unfortunate that this is alive and well in our supposedly open and free, western society. It is not always recognised or acknowledged, but one only has to look at such examples as the everyday sexism project to understand that woman are not regarded as they should be, that rape culture is prevalent and accepted by many. While this type of behaviour exists, I would argue that feminism continues to be relevant and necessary.

For me personally, feminism is about recognising ability and offering choice based on individual circumstance. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend and graduate from university. I studied a subject that interested me (computer science), not one that was typically chosen by women at the time. After a decade of working hard to further my career, unhindered by the fact that I was a woman, I then opted to become a stay at home mother. I do not consider, as some may, that my education and work experience are wasted. I have used all that I have learned in raising my children and conclude that I help and advise them more effectively because of my life experiences.

There are women who are happy to become an attractive accessory for a man. There are women who choose not to marry or have children and who are as capable as any of having a career that society would regard as successful. If these women are able and willing to follow these paths then I would not wish to condemn their choices. Most of us, men and women, will have a variety of aspirations and will have to make compromises along the way as limits are imposed by personal abilities, conflicting desires and individual circumstances. It is only when limitations are put in place due purely to gender that I would see cause for complaint.

Feminism exists because too many cultures have, historically, seen woman as of less value than men. They consider women to be flighty and vain, unreliable and overly emotional; whereas men are considered to be strong and determined, jolly good types to be trusted and relied upon. I suspect that men often choose a man over a woman for a job due to that natural human tendency to go with the known and familiar, to gravitate towards that which we see in ourselves.

All people are individuals and will thrive if they are not forced to conform to rigid, cultural expectations. Abilities exist on a broad spectrum and are fluid; all can learn and adapt as situations change. Problems occur when those in power seek to impose what they see as right for a section of society, when they refuse to accept those who choose a different way.

Societal expectations can be hard to oppose, but this is why feminism still matters. Men can be victims just as much as women with the expectation that they will provide, support and succeed. Feminism should not be seen as putting men down, but as a means to offer wider choice for all.

As we go through life we change. I am not the person I was at twenty or thirty. It would be sad if I was as this would suggest I had learned nothing in the intervening years. There is no ‘one rule fits all’ for men or women, any more than there is just one rule that fits an individual throughout their life.

I guess what I am fighting for is flexibility. Do not expect certain behaviours from me because I am a woman, because I am pale skinned, middle aged, middle class or British. Allow me to be me. I am both ordinary and extraordinary, as are all the people that I know.

We need feminism to stop those in power considering woman as one, homogeneous mass and deciding what is best for them. They do not know what is best for me anymore than I know what is best for you.

 

Weekend thoughts

I have been immersed in my book for much of the weekend. I will talk more of this when I have reached it’s end and have had time to process the many threads of the plot, the ideas explored, and have decided if any of the characters are to be liked or admired as seems to be expected. Too often I find that an author writes in a weakness, a flaw, that changes my perception of an otherwise admirable person. Their life’s work is tarnished by their inability to be faithful to those who were close to them and trusted them.

I lay great store by how a person treats those who support and rely on him. Academic ability, commercial success, even a great contribution to society will become less impressive to me if the person has not treated his family and friends as they deserve. As the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela I find myself holding back. How must his family have felt when he put his country’s needs before them? Perhaps no great things would ever be achieved if there were not men willing to do this. Perhaps his family were supportive and proud that he did not give up on the apparently impossible dream that he helped make come true. I did not know him. I do not know if he was a good man, only that he achieved remarkable advances for his country.

I am sceptical of those in the limelight. I wonder who supports them unseen to enable them to climb to such heights. Have they shown due gratitude for the support, or trampled on those who got in their way?

My social media feeds are full of mixed messages today. The government of this country appears to be outdoing itself with it’s wasteful spending alongside withdrawal of financial support for those most in need. Cogently written comment pieces abound yet the policies of suppression continue. Perhaps we too need a powerful figurehead to shake up the establishment and orchestrate change.

Alongside these depressing, political postings are the photographs of friends as they enter into the spirit of the festive season. When I declined the various invitations that I received I wondered how I would feel, if I would regret missing out on the dinners and parties. For this year at least I find that I am deriving enjoyment from afar. My lovely friends look so fine and happy in their party dresses, but I am not wishing that I were there to join them.

On Friday evening I had a fun filled few hours at home. My husband has recently acquired an amplifier and new cables that allow our old turntable to be linked into the digital music system that runs through our house. I put on a few vinyl records and started to compare tracks against the digital recordings we have stored. I was amazed at the depth of the sound. My old vinyls may crackle under the ancient needle, but the quality of the music is rich and fabulous. Beside this the digital recordings seemed clean but void. It amused me that my teenage children complained that I was playing my music way too loud.

It was good to be home, surrounded by warmth and love. I am happy for those who are posting photographs from interesting holiday destinations, from seeing friends enjoying their outings dressed so beautifully, but I am glad not to have to face the crowds myself. I can be content with my family gatherings at home.

Perhaps today we will deck the halls, play our corny Christmas music, try to capture a little of the joy of the season. I still have much to do to ensure that expectations are met, but we are getting there. I find that I cannot close my eyes to the selfish evil and lies that our leaders perpetuate, but I can derive pleasure from the happiness of those closer to home.

It is sickening that those same leaders who will order the violent suppression of dissent at home are singing the praises of a man who fought for freedom and won; a man who was imprisoned as a terrorist yet inspired a nation and much of the world. I wonder can they even see the vainglorious irony of their words and actions.

English: The prison cell where Nelson Mandela ...

The Hot Rod

My first car was a Mini. Not a BMW Mini such as half the world seems to want to drive these days (personally I would prefer a new styled VW Beetle, even though I do know it is simply a Golf with a different body). No, my first car was what is now known as a Classic Mini. I loved that car; it gave me my freedom.

Beneath the dirt (I don’t recall ever washing it) and rust (it had a lot of rust) it was a sort of mustard yellow colour. I inherited it from my sister when she upgraded to a Ford Fiesta (I eventually inherited that from her too). I covered my car in stickers that advised those behind me to ‘Back off, I’ve got a sensitive bottom’ or ‘Who says you can’t have everything? Here I am’. The rear and side windows displayed such information on their many stickers as ‘Sex Appeal, please give generously’ and the much derided ‘My other car is a Porsche’.

I was given all of these stickers by friends and attached whatever was offered (which was probably why I was given a few; as a challenge to see if I would dare display them in our conservative neighbourhood). The pièce de résistance, however, was the blue sun strip that ran across the top of the windscreen and proudly declared the car to be ‘Hot Rod’. And it was.

Thanks to some clever tuning work by a friend (and a friend of this friend, who enjoyed rallying) the engine, when it went, went like the clappers. Back in the day the VW Golf was the car to have and my little Mini could outgun one from a standing start (I did this at lights just to annoy the drivers who thought they were so cool). My car had a top speed of 80mph, as measured by a police speed radar on the Outer Ring Road at Knock in Belfast. How I managed to sweet talk my way out of that one I don’t know. A nineteen year old’s seemingly innocent smile and feminine charms can work wonders when needed.

Did I mention the rust? If my front seat passenger lifted the soggy carpet there was a fine view of the road. This was sorted by my friend who rivet gunned a sheet of metal over the offending area. The carpet dried out eventually and the car smelt much better after that.

This was not the only leak the car could boast though. The radiator leaked and the brake pipes leaked (I learnt to pump the brake pedal when I needed to stop). The electrics were also dodgy, particularly when it rained. I wrapped tinfoil over the front grill and sticky tape around the distributor. If the engine cut out in heavy traffic a spray of WD40 would normally get it going again.

In the boot of the car I carried brake fluid, a gallon of water and a tow rope – all a girl could need in the event of breakdown. When the exhaust system fell off I went back to collect it and drove noisily round to my friend’s house to have it reattached. To get the car through it’s MOT I borrowed a set of tyres that had more tread than mine and sent it to a garage with a sympathetic mechanic. I never really knew how much an MOT was supposed to cost.

Driving a car such as this meant that I was never intimidated on the busy, city roads. When a smug, besuited, middle aged driver in a sleek, shiny jaguar tried to push into my lane I just kept going. If he wished to risk a scratch on his bodywork trying to get me to move out of his way then let him; bodywork scratches were the least of my worries. It was a bit embarrassing when, having forced him to give way, the Hot Rod then conked out in the busy stop, start traffic. Luckily I had that gallon of water to top up the radiator and get going again. I gave the drivers behind my best smile but I’m not sure it was appreciated.

I would have continued to drive this amazing machine for longer if a taxi driver hadn’t slammed into the side of my beloved car trying to do an unexpected u turn. He took me to court to try to pin the blame on me but lost. During this time I drove around with a polythene sheet where the passenger side windows had been (visibility was a bit of an issue but I coped) and the door attached to the car with string. Eventually my friend got me a replacement door, nearly the same colour as the rest of the car. With the help of a tractor and chain he pulled the car into shape and managed to get the door to fit pretty well. I had to remember which key opened which door but felt well sorted with this arrangement.

Unfortunately the accident drew the attention of my insurance company who declared my little car a write off. The assessor pointed out the dodgy brakes and treadless tyres but it was the potential damage to the chassis that made him refuse to reinsure. I was devastated.

Recovery was, however, speedy. Not only did I get money from the insurance company (lucky that I was on the winning side of that court case), but another friend found a farmer who was willing to take my broken car and do it up for his daughter. He even paid me for it.

After a few drinks to celebrate I put the accumulated cash aside for my second car. This ended up being another mustard coloured Mini with dodgy brakes, purchased from a couple of guys who did up and sold on such cars. I heard a few years later that the police were prosecuting them for selling unroadworthy vehicles to unsuspecting customers. For the money I had paid, I expected nothing less.

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Thanks to The Waiting for the inspiration for this post. Sorry I missed the relevant Blog Hop.

Time out

I have a day off. My husband has taken our boys out for the day, to the  Naval Aviation Museum; not my sort of thing so I stay home. I have a day to myself, to do what I wish without being judged. That is what it feels like too often; that I am being judged and found wanting.

What to do? There is so much that I want to do! I had a leisurely breakfast and caught up with the news, but that is a whole hour gone. I need to slow the time down, to make the most of this freedom. I have chores to tackle and tasks to complete. I want to lie down, look up at the sky and allow my mind to wander. I want to read and write and dream.

I have locked the doors, closed the blinds and cocooned myself in my quiet house. There are no expectations to live up to, no demands being made. I am alone and free to breathe.

I should make lists of the things that I must achieve today. There are letters to be written to family members, cleaning to be dealt with, tidying to be done. I cannot just sit here and allow the hours to pass like the clouds that float by the roof lights above my sofa. They look so light and free, but even they are carried by a wind that is beyond their control.

Slow down the clocks. Allow me to wallow a little longer in this delicious tranquility.  I will make this a good day; I will make the most of this me time.

When my little family return this evening I will be the good wife and mother. I will be cheerful and happy to welcome them back home, to hear their tales of adventure.

For now though I have the space to open up my heart, to relax and to be myself; whatever that may be today.

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