How it feels to be older than my father

One of the cruelties of losing a parent at a young age is the opportunity to discover their individuality is gone.  They are forever fixed in the parent persona.

 

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Photo by Nikolay Vorobyev on Unsplash

 

Today is the fortieth anniversary of my father’s sudden death.  I’ve never been able to ignore this anniversary, not least because it marks the day my childhood ended.  Despite now being in my fifties, at times of extreme difficulty, I speak to the black and white photo I have of my parents taken on their wedding day and ask them: “If you have any influence, wherever you are now, help me, please.” Mum and Dad Wedding

That embarrassing admission shows how, when life is challenging, no matter how old we are, there’s often still a yearning for Mum and Dad to sort it all out.

As children, we suppose our parents know the answers to everything – I certainly didn’t realise Dad was still learning himself until he returned from a business trip to Moscow when I was about six and I asked him to speak to me in Russian.  When he told me he couldn’t do that, I simply asked him to speak to me in Chinese instead.  Sensing my disappointment in his linguistic abilities, Dad saved the day by offering to show me how to write the Russian alphabet, although he likely made up most of the letters on the spot.

For the past five years, I’ve been older than Dad ever lived to be.

I’m older than my dad!  Is it strange how his influence still informs the way I think and behave in a world he wouldn’t recognise?  Probably not.  While I’ve had to stick the memories others have of my dad to my own memories in order to find his true character, his essence is with me in his moral code and values.  I look up to him and often ask myself what he would think. I imagine he would be intrigued by the Mac I’m typing at now when the computer he grappled with in the ’70s filled a room.  I expect he would marvel at the mobile phones we carry, having begun his career as a telephone engineer.

On reaching the age of sixty, my elder brother told me how he still follows Dad’s guidance by striving to be the son he would have been proud of.  Perhaps it’s easier for Marcus to imagine Dad’s responses to all those achievements and milestones because of the brief friendship they shared as Marcus began maturing into a young man  –  before it suddenly stopped.

But no matter how hard my brother tries, and no matter how good we are, we’ll never get Dad back.

He’s still my senior, above me in the family hierarchy which may seem odd now that I’m a nana and at the generational top of my own family.  We are still connected and there are many times connections are made.  Today I had a look online at the Russian alphabet. The word ‘Nana’ translates as ‘Dad’ and I’m happy to have learned that today.

 

 

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The waiting room

 

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Photo by Nadiya Ploschenko on Unsplash

Drew and I are in the waiting room again.  We’ve been visiting this place from time to time over the past four years, but it never looks the same.  Sometimes it’s a quick visit when daylight finds its way through somehow.  Sometimes it’s dismal, like now, when there’s no chance of any light getting in for weeks.

 

Fearing the worst comes with preparing ourselves for possibilities in a grown-up fashion.  The best outcome we can hope for is embarrassment for even thinking it could be another cancer – three would be more than unlucky, but not unlikely.  He’s not a fraud, the signs are there and there’s little else to rule out, although there’s still hope that, when the waiting room door opens, we will walk away again exhaling at last, until the next visit.

This time the waiting room has many chambers.  “The test result wasn’t all bad, but we found something else; please make yourself comfortable in the next room.”

Then: “Your second test was grim so we have to ask you to wait in another room and we’ll call you through at some point, but we won’t say exactly when.”  And: “Yes, it is going to hurt.”

“After that, we’ll be keeping you on tenterhooks for a while longer, but you’ll be right at home in the waiting room.”

There are others just outside the waiting room, peering through the window, urging us to know they are near, powerless to let us out. We can almost see their crushed expressions already as we brace ourselves to face the darkness outside.

They hold their breath too in their desperation to share our relief should we be allowed out into the sunlight.

 

What I Hate About Spring

Spring is my favourite season – no question. There’s blossom on the trees, bluebells in the woods and … something else beginning with B would be handy, to make this sentence work.

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

However, spring is also the season when I look in my wardrobes and say, “There’s absolutely nothing I like in here.”  I do love a hat, but dressing the rest of my body takes a depressing amount of thought when the weather begins to warm up. I tend to feel dowdy in dark colours on a sunny, spring day, but a tad ridiculous in bright ones. Right now I’m wearing a shirt with a blue and a green stripe I bought online. I’m conscious the green looks a bit fluorescent now it’s here and I’m not sure hi-viz clothing is altogether necessary at my desk.

Drew doesn’t understand: I have three metres of bespoke wardrobe hanging space plus two metres of shelving and a tall, wide chest of drawers as well as a cupboard for coats and jackets.  There’s not much I want to wear in there though. The trouble is, although I have a vague idea of how to look professional when I’m teaching, I don’t know what I like, nor what I’m supposed to look like anymore, unless I’m hiding at home.

After work, I relish slipping on a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt or, if I’m particularly done in, PJ bottoms and anything which doesn’t draw attention to the fact I’ve stuffed my bra down between the cushions on the sofa.

I don’t know what I’m doing when dressing for this time of year.  I’m not the only one evidently: some people are wandering around sleeveless and others in woollies and boots. And this is complicated by the concept of ‘dressing my age’.

Wear what you want

No longer can I dress the way I would when I was young, but unlike younger women who are usually more inclined to follow the current fashion, women of my age probably shouldn’t, so there’s never a discernable ‘trend’ for us. You might be thinking: wear what you want.  Well, that’s fine if I want to look nuts. Fashion being cyclical, my age group has to be careful if wearing something ‘bang on trend’ which we recognise as a returning style from our younger days because what looks chic or edgy on a young woman, can look withering on a middle-aged one, who was likely wearing these styles the first time around.  Pleated skirts are a recent example.

My grown-up daughters are disappointed I didn’t keep some of the clothes I wore when I was in my twenties and I remember feeling the same about my mum’s 1950s tailored skirt suits which would have been perfect for me when I was power dressing in the 1980s.

The disparity between what’s available for men and women in clothes shops doesn’t go in our favour either, contrary to what you might think.  Guys don’t appear to be well catered for while we’re apparently spoilt for choice.  But, in my opinion, they are the lucky ones.  If he finds the corner of the shop where menswear is tucked away, he might bemoan having to select from only black, blue or grey trousers and a rail of checked, or not checked shirts.  He may be offered the choice of skinny-fit or regular, but nobody should wear skinny-fit over 40 if they’re male.  Women, on the other hand, aren’t able to shop this simply.

He can take a complete outfit into the changing room knowing the shirt will be the right length and shape for the trousers and they will work together.  She has to work out what goes with what, whether the cut of each is a match and try every posture behind the curtain, which doesn’t quite reach across, to check for exposure of bra straps or tummy roll.

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Photo by Cedric Wilder on Unsplash

Shopping for new season clothes recently, I unwittingly brought a smile to an amused gentleman’s face who’d overheard me say to Drew that I couldn’t face taking my clothes off yet again, just to be disappointed.

Finding your style when you’re young is fun; figuring out your style for mid-life these days is troublesome.  I don’t want to look like ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, my body shape is different from what it used to be and I’m unsure what women my age are supposed to wear.  It’s hard enough trying to fathom that out without having to take the weather into account.

Perhaps I’ll have grasped it by the time summer comes, though I doubt it.

Stop the Music

 

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Photo by K15 Photos on Unsplash

The build-up to Christmas is the one time of year I feel I need a short break from music.

Although I’ve recently enjoyed zooming around in my car listening to carefully chosen soul classics from my phone and joining in an impromptu sing along with the family, it’s the small selection of songs forced on us at this time of year, wherever we venture out in public, which really gets on my last nerve.

I’ve trudged past shops along the local high streets, assaulted by the sound of jingle bells, as stores compete with each other to entice us inside. Or worse: I’ve slipped between concessions in a single department store playing conflicting tunes.  There will be a spot where two songs collide and it’s impossible to differentiate between them.  That, of course, will be the exact spot where I need to locate what I’m looking for.

Last week at the checkout in the supermarket, weary after about three years of trying to edge past others keen to fill their trolleys with festive foodstuffs, I turned into the worst version of my Scrooge self and moaned to the poor student made to work there wearing a ridiculous jumper: “I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”  I regret not showing more sympathy for the lad who’d been suffering Christmas songs on a loud loop his whole shift and was verging on the edge of insanity himself.

Christmas shopping means listening to the same few songs over and over again all day.  If you time it right (or wrong) you could skip between shops and repeatedly hear just one of the few at every single location.  I’m sure last year I was followed around by Noddy Holder reminding me “It’s Christmaaaassss”.  Noddy, I know – that’s why I’m struggling with these bags and I’d appreciate a bit of hush to make some decisions, mate.  And I’m unconvinced that all Maria Carey wants for Christmas is “yooo” when we all know she won’t even step on a carpet unless it’s red.

The one Christmas song I do like is Fairytale of New York but I’m no longer comfortable with it because of the inclusion of a particularly offensive word, no one who has ever grown up facing homophobic bullying should have to be subjected to in the spirit of Christmas. That said, I’ve noticed it hasn’t been as prominent this year.

After the big day itself, Christmas hits have no purpose, becoming even more repugnant – like leftover, soggy, brussel sprouts.  Have mercy people.  We should then cease to be force-fed these cheesy compositions and place them in custody after Boxing Day for everyone’s sake.

Happy new year all.

 

 

 

 

Why we need so many knickers

By the time you reach my age, you’ll have been through many phases of knickers, starting off with something serviceable then probably shrinking to something scanty, and back again on occasion.

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Photo by Serhat Beyazkaya on Unsplash

When I was old enough to choose my own briefs, I remember my mum voicing her disgust at the scarcity of fabric.  But knowing her mother (my grandmother) was from the era of the bloomer, I’m pretty sure Mum was considered racy herself.  So modest was my grandmother, she couldn’t even name what she wore under her dress and referred only in a whisper to ‘undergarments’.  I may have inherited this revulsion as the word ‘panties’ perturbs me if uttered aloud and as a small schoolgirl, I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘navy blues’, so my uniform unmentionables were known as ‘nabynoos’.

Life was so much simpler when you could buy your undies of choice in a multipack and one style worked under every outfit.  For a while, the range of knicker types a woman requires has been expanding not least because much as we love how feminine lace lingerie looks when choosing from the drawer in the morning, we must weigh up the pros and cons of committing to it for the day.  Will knowing you’re wearing something sexy be worth the discomfort or will the scratchy surface and lack of stretch simply get too distressing?  I can be quite moody if I’m uncomfortably conscious of my pants.  But that’s nothing compared to the irritation caused by accidentally wearing them the wrong way round – these days, knickers are often illogically smaller at the back than the front.  And as for gussets: I’m pretty sure the word indicates strength, support and width, so what’s been going on there then?

In Australia, thongs are what we call flip-flops which suggests they don’t bother with the bottom strap variety – how sensible of them.  There surely has to be an extremely good reason to decide to spend the day with a wedgie.  I’m not certain what the difference is between a thong and a g-string, but one does sound slightly more slicey than the other and now we are expected to deal with the c-string which, in case you were wondering, has no strings at all.

Just like the kitchen cupboards we can’t reach, these garments are likely to have been designed by misogynists – for men.  I wouldn’t want to deny anyone the boyish excitement of glimpsing his consenting other’s netherwear, especially if he bought them for her, but what he imagines will look sexy doesn’t often allow for her spare tyre flopping over the top and quite possibly concealing the entire triangle of fabric which barely contains her lady region.

 Industrial strength knickers with armholes anyone?

Folded up at the other end of the knicker drawer, we can choose between ‘Bridgets’ (sturdy control briefs, the source of surprise for Hugh Grant’s character who had finally managed to get Bridget Jones on her back) and the whopping ‘Hollys’.

Why we need so many knickers
Holly Willoughby

When asked on telly how she got such a smooth line in her dress (by the bloomer-wearing drag comedian Mrs Brown) Holly Willoughby disclosed her underpinnings started at her navel and came down to her knees and then revealed her expansive, flesh-coloured underwear to prove it.  Quite remarkable for someone who’s modelled lingerie for years.  But Holly is now a mother of three.  As a mother of three myself with more than a few years on Holly, I’m wondering if the next phase will be industrial strength knickers with armholes.

I recently ventured with Drew into a lovely lingerie shop saying: “You can’t ever come in here without me or you’ll look like a perv.”  I needed some Hollys to wear beneath the weather-girl style dress I’d chosen for my nephew’s wedding. While Drew sat on a velvet chaise trying not to make eye contact with anyone, I disappeared behind a swish curtain and squeezed myself into the ugly, tight instruments of torture hoping the seams wouldn’t split.

The effort required made me very hot but even under all three different lighting settings (day, night and dusk), I couldn’t see in the mirror where all the extra flesh had gone.  What I could see, however, didn’t resemble a human abdomen in any way.  And I simply hated how they felt, so braced myself for the reverse procedure which was when I noticed the livid, red wheels on my skin.  I was having such an extreme reaction to something in the fabric (fibreglass perhaps?) that Drew had to walk very close behind me on the way out while I had a good ol’ furtive scratch.  He even began to talk quite loudly to mask that noise you just have to make when relieving a powerful itch.

From comfortable ‘nun’s knicks’ through fun frillies to bedroom pretties, our drawers are full (pun intended) but if they’re not on show, do we really need so much choice?  Do you honestly care about the neighbours seeing them on the washing line? When I moved in with Drew, he felt uneasy unloading the washing machine because it meant handling my briefs without me present.  To me, with a lifetime of dealing with it, our underpants are just laundry at that stage.

 

What? Are you reading?

 

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A classic, 1 non-fiction, 1 trusted novelist, 1 shortlisted for a prize

I’m unembarrassed by my love of reading; I’d be more ashamed to admit I’m not an avid reader.

I don’t consider myself especially well-read though, which probably sounds ridiculous to those who know I teach English, studied literature at university and have never been without a book since I cracked the whole reading to myself thing before I even started school. I still remember the thrill of finally convincing my mum I could safely catch the bus to the big library in town after running out of books for my age group in the local library.  I read either fiction, non-fiction or both every day because I have to, just as much as I have to eat.  Occasionally, I admit, I may only manage a few pages before the book lands on my face and wakes me up after a particularly industrious day. But I don’t enjoy the pressure to meet the expectations of others because reading is how I relax, retreat and learn.

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My favourite wall in Krakow

Unsurprisingly, I’m expected to have an immediate answer to the question: ‘Which is your favourite novel?’ That’s OK – it’s Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, if you’re interested.  However, I’m also supposed to have an opinion on every recent bestseller and to be an authority on all works of classic literature – which really isn’t OK at all.  If you’ve recently enjoyed or remember a work of fiction well, you might try to engage me in an awkward conversation which will probably fizzle out when you realise I either have no knowledge of your chosen book or I’d never choose to read the one you’re recommending.  Either I’ll be slightly red-faced by my lack of expertness, or you’ll be by your lack of persuasion. I usually mumble something about how great literature speaks to you personally and my towering to-be-read pile.

We are not all the same, I understand that.  Reading isn’t as sexy as other pastimes and there are many who haven’t read a single book they weren’t forced to wade through at school.

I’m between two worlds in my work: teaching teenagers who are struggling to achieve an English qualification but obliged to keep at it until they are nineteen lest the government comes to get them in the night and, in a parallel universe, the writing community who devour books hungrily, connecting with enthusiastic book bloggers/reviewers without whom indie writers especially struggle to promote their work in this digital age.

‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

The first group is tough to excite.  For them, reading is uncool (or whatever the current term is), a book is the worst possible present to receive and challenging them to even skim-read creative publications in return for prizes isn’t working. Compulsory English qualifications can steal reading pleasure when the escapism element is replaced by the requirement to analyse and evaluate.  Trying to hook them when approaching 19th Century literature, I showed my students images of Charles Dickens and my heroine, Jane Austen and asked if anyone wanted to have a go at naming any of their novels.  I had to back up and give clues until we were eventually discussing the films The Muppet Christmas Carol; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (who was THAT aimed at?) and the TV series Downton Abbey (good effort, Sam – not one of Jane’s though).

Over in the reading and writing community, the chance to analyse and evaluate is relished. Reading doesn’t have to be a solitary experience – unless that’s what you want.  Reading groups, book blogs, book fairs and cafes in bookshops all forge a sharing space for the widely-read along with the opportunity to add a personal review to a bookseller’s website which benefits other readers and the writer.  These days, once you’ve done the industry research and perhaps joined a writing group for support, the chance to publish your own work is wonderfully wide open.

Recently, I think I spotted a bridge between the two worlds.  Unlike the Harry Potter generation who are now graduating, working and starting families, my experience of millennials is that they are seemingly unable to easily engage with a story unless watching it or taking part via a games console, whereas the Potter Posse are beginning to share literature with their own children and some are using their innate techno-savvy to self-publish their own stories.

And the winner is …

In the meantime, I could possibly be the only one in her class who bothered to take out at least three books this term from the college library and write a review of one.  Silver lining: “The winner is … me!”

#amreading

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Bloglovin’

 

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Photo by abi ismail on Unsplash

I think I might be a little late to the party, but I’ve just discovered Bloglovin’.  Who would have thought there was so much to learn about being an indie writer?  There’s barely any time to write!

This is what Bloglovin’ says: “When you create an account, you can follow any blogger on any platform, whether or not they’re also signed up. Then, you can log in and see the latest posts from all the blogs you follow in one spot. There’s also an app, so you can catch up with your reading on the go.”

https://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/closet-drama-19388891