Autumn friends

Are friendships rated by how long they’ve endured?

Lindsey Kinsella looks at Friendship
Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

It’s not really fair to have more than one partner at a time, but it’s acceptable to have many friends. Different friends fulfil different needs and as our ‘requirements’ change, so do our friendships.  Some blossom; some wither.  If we’re lucky, new friendships form.  But do you rate these newer friends lower than your old chums?

The writer and politician Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797), viewed old friends as “the blessing of one’s later years” and noticed “half a word” could convey meaning between friends who have a history of shared experiences and conversations. I don’t disagree with Horace – it’s bliss to be in the presence of someone who knows you enough to detect the meaning of half a word, but is it necessary to be old friends to reach this standard?  How old is old anyway?

In my experience, there’s also joy in finding a connection with someone new.

For a period, my friendships were largely conducted chatting in the aisles of supermarkets while my toddler in the trolley scooped out the soft innards of the crusty bread baton up to the length of her arm. Later I became pals with other mums who had children in the same classes as mine at school.  Not all of those friendships survived my transition from mother of young children to the person I am now. I don’t feel they were less meaningful or important at the time though and I’m wise enough to know some friendships simply run their natural course.

I suppose my friendships were evaluated when I was in my forties – not particularly consciously.  I was single again after a long marriage, my ex-husband got custody of many of our joint friends and as my closest girlfriends all seemed to be in stable marriages, I felt as though I was pitied and didn’t quite belong. Sometimes I felt let down by those who were around for the good fun times, but not during my struggles because they found it difficult or upsetting.  So rather than roll my eyes at that, I began to socialise more with workmates and people I’d known growing up.  My autumn friends didn’t refer to me as someone’s wife or mum and I felt I was reclaiming my identity.  When one remarked how pleased he was to see the new version of the old me, I felt empowered by the reconnection and safe in the familiarity of the past we had shared.  I am lucky to have some old friends, newer friends and some new-old friends too – I haven’t even used them all yet.

I wasn’t welcomed everywhere however.  Bouncing up to the first face I recognised at a school reunion, manically grinning to hide my nerves, I was dismissed with the words: “I never liked you.”  Apparently a grudge against me had been borne since I was chosen to take the class hamster home for the holidays – in the seventies!  Some friendships are just not worth pursuing. Horace also said: “Nine-tenths of the people were created so you would want to be with the other tenth.” He was choosy was Horace.

How do you measure the calibre of your friends?

I recently went for cocktails with a close friend, made in mid-life, who told me she wanted to talk about our relationship. Almost choking on my cosmopolitan, I suddenly felt cornered, you know the way a man does when a woman starts a conversation about commitment. Surely she didn’t think I fancied her when I joked I’d never snogged a woman.  Then I thought: What did I do?  Is she breaking up with me?

Over the past few years, we’ve studied together, worked together, survived divorce together, both suffered losses and become grandparents.  I’ve known other friends a lot longer, but not many have I correlated with as much.

Now neither of us feel the need to study for more qualifications; I still work as a teacher, but she has moved on in her career; she lives alone while I live further away from her with my partner, Drew.  We no longer find ourselves in the same place unless it’s arranged. And that’s what she wanted to remind me of.  All our shared experiences and our relatable ones helped to form the bond we have, (them and the cocktails) but unless we pay attention, we risk losing it and that’s unacceptable to her. She told me: “There are some people you can say anything to,” and although she wasn’t testing my calibre in relation to her theory, she explained how that rare person is a true friend and should be cherished.

For Horace a friend needs only half a word. I’d add that good friends can tolerate hearing any words you need to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beauty Befuddlement and Makeup Tips from Men

 

Beauty Befuddlement and Makeup Tips from Men - closetdramablog.wordpress
Photo by William Ivan on Unsplash

Sent:

Please have my back at work tomorrow.  I’ve just had my first ever spray tan and look like an African tribeswoman.  The guys will crucify me. 

Received:

Don’t worry – I’ll tell them you’ve had your teeth whitened.

That evening, on returning home sticky, grubby and humiliated from the beauty salon, where I’d stood in a pod as an apparently pubescent beautician knelt at eye-level with my pasty, bare bottom, Drew asked if he could take some photos of me for when he might need cheering up.

My male work-mates were more subtle the next morning.  They just looked puzzled at each other whenever I spoke and when one passed my desk to go to lunch, he slowly and deliberately enunciated:  “Would…you…like…to…try…some…of…our…local…food?”

And I only realised after I’d stormed into the boss’s office barking: “I need a decision right now!” she was probably trying to remember when she’d recruited a mud-wrestler.

Since passing 50, I have become resigned to needing a little more help from the beauty industry unless I want to look a fright. I’m not unfeminine, but I’ve never had much interest in cosmetic upkeep and I’m baffled by the procedures and products.

No more so than on a recent European hotel and spa holiday where the salon staff spoke very little English. Probably thinking he’d hit on what any woman would want, Drew generously arranged for me to choose a ‘treatment’. I declined to have my feet nibbled by fish (after very little consideration) and instead opted for a type of manicure I didn’t understand. The options were ‘regular’ which I presumed was a file and polish I could’ve managed myself; ‘permanent’ which seemed like too much of a commitment and a mid-priced one I didn’t quite catch the name of, but which sounded the safest nonetheless.  Fortunately, being on holiday, I had no need for typing skills, but when I returned, it was evident the nails had to come off – somehow.  After a period of frustration, my daughter came to the rescue before I slammed my fingers in the door.

I never leave the house without mascara – people might think I’d been crying.

The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup, I say a little prayer:  “Please let this go well and without me smudging a ruinous blob of mascara on my nose in the final moments.” I never leave the house without mascara – people might think I’d been crying, but it’s not enough anymore. There are literally dozens of things you should be putting on your mug in the morning if cosmetics companies are to be believed.

Makeup primer for example, is pretty pricey for a tiny amount of something you may have thought belongs in the shed with the undercoat and gloss. I asked a friend if she knew of such a thing and was told hers had lasted a couple of years. I took this as a good sign until she admitted never using it because she was unsure what it did.

I felt sure spritzer was a white wine drink. I’ve learned it’s some sort of spray to set my makeup.  As it turns out, a shot of hairspray works just as well according to a male friend  who also suggested using haemorrhoid ointment instead of lashing out on extortionately priced unctions to control the bags under my eyes.

Apart from the nails and reckless respray, eyebrow tinting is another salon treatment I was pressured to try when my own started to turn grey.  Over 50s must resist plucking random, grey eyebrow hairs or we end up looking like ancient Japanese aristocrats as our eyebrows don’t regrow.  Don’t throw away your tweezers though – you’ll need them for your chin.

Eyebrow mascara, according to one red-blooded work colleague, is a less expensive alternative to tinting and he wouldn’t be seen without his.  This nugget was passed to me in such a conspiratorial manner, I began to wonder if women aren’t being taken for fools here as there must surely be a think tank somewhere hatching pointless practices and merchandise with the purpose of defrauding women who are hopelessly trying to look youthful or worry about being found with only lip balm, sunscreen and mouth fresheners in their makeup bags.

Much as I welcome tips from men, daughters are the best for guiding the mature mum through the maze of makeup and accessories on the market as well as letting us know when we’ve got it wrong.  You’re not kidding my look needs updating – have you tried applying liner to loose-fitting eyelids wearing reading glasses? But it was helpful to have clarification regarding the brushes.  The biggest type is for agitating my foundation – was I supposed to be doing that? I now have two of those for when one’s in the dishwasher – does anyone else do that?  Another brush is for contouring – what even is that?

Although I’m slightly suspicious cosmeticians are collectively taking advantage of our insecurities by intimidation, I’m not suggesting starting a movement to reclaim our right to be preservative free.  I know I’d be left hanging.  But it now takes such effort and a chunk of time every day to look this natural and I really can’t get up any earlier than I already do.  And now when I tell him I’m nipping upstairs to do my ‘colouring in’ for an evening out, Drew is unsure whether to start the car or stick the kettle on.

He is patience personified however and completely understanding after a recent remark made by his little granddaughter.  Lying on his chest early one morning, she gently stroked his skin and asked:  “Grandpa – why is your face cracked?”

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The Granny Grievance

A one-woman protest against the G-word

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Firstly, let me get this straight:  I have nothing whatsoever against grandchildren. I won’t even bother trying to convince you of that by telling you how wonderful and loveable mine are – much more so than anyone else’s in fact.  My grievance as a British grandmother is how anyone yet to reach the grandparent milestone uses the word ‘granny’ as a default derogatory term to illustrate how something is old-fashioned, irrelevant and dull.

And it’s often inaccurately used to mean elderly.

Sometimes, when others also in their 50s congratulated me on becoming a grandmother, there was an undertone of ridicule. “Congratulations Granny” implied I had suddenly somehow managed to become elderly without them and was officially slipping into senility.  My response was usually, “I’m not your granny.” And anyway, my grandchildren call me ‘Nana’.

Even my colleagues had to be warned: “Granny in the room,” at a recent planning meeting when the G-word was used to stress how our resources should be up-to-date and accessible for our teenage students. It’s important to point out when others show ignorance or bigotry lest their ill-informed attitude should be allowed to influence others and perpetuate the myth that all grannies are ‘little old ladies’.

There’s been much discussion recently about female stereotyping and discrimination.  I’d like to add another layer to this abomination: age.  Mature ladies are offered even less respect than other women and girls.  I’m not asking for special esteem, but I’m neither silly nor unconnected and shouldn’t dismissed.

The Granny Grievance
Nigella Lawson in a cardigan. Photo by Justin Lloyd/Newspix

If you must know, I was born in the same year as Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. I’m only three years older than Halle Berry. I’m younger than Iman, Sheryl Crow and Nigella Lawson and many others you wouldn’t expect to see in a pinny and pearls knitting cereal.

I’m at a funny age which doesn’t fit the granny stereotype: too old to be Jennifer Lawrence and too young to be a sassy senior such as septuagenarians Jane Fonda or Lily Tomlin (above).  The older lady, older than me that is, seems increasingly unlikely to be labelled as beside the point with the likes of Helen Mirren (72) and Diane Keaton (71) captivating us all.  I think I’ve fallen through a gap though.  Nobody seems to know where to plonk the fifty-several female in popular culture.

One fifty-three year-old reader told me: “What you write needs to be read.”  And what is there for people like us who enjoy contemporary fiction, but can’t stomach any more romantic shopaholic stories which focus on the twenty to thirty-nine year-old’s dilemmas?  I would have thought women in my age group read more than them, but we are even overlooked by studies.  I remember skimming a report on the reading habits of different age groups.  The findings showed American teenagers read books on their phones (if that’s not an oxymoron) and that 30 – 39 year-olds were less likely to be reading electronically.  Those older than 65 weren’t reading much at all by comparison.  Er excuse me – I’m over here in the demographic you ignored with a pile of books, a Kindle and … oh never mind.

Some of us are running marathons and companies.

Little secret: I was asked by therapist and counsellor Lisa Etherson what I thought should be included in her soon-to-be published book about the love lives of the over 50s.  One of my points was that we are are under-represented in popular culture, fuelling the misconception that all grannies are comical, crusty creatures who can’t keep up with the conversation.  I reminded Lisa that when we aren’t having sex, some of us are running marathons and companies.  And then we still might find the energy to run around after our grandchildren.  Just don’t call us grannies!

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If you can recommend any literature (or films) with an interesting, midlife, female protagonist, I’d love to hear about them.  I’ll bet you find it difficult.  Better still, watch this space … I’m writing one myself.

In the meantime why not have a look at the Shreddies nanas doing what nanas apparently do best. Notice the strings of pearls and cardigans.

 

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Threads

Mother of the bride memories

threads
Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

I’m writing this in a Cretan hotel room early on the Friday morning before my daughter’s wedding.  The wedding gown, hanging on the door, hides here from view until Sunday when I have the privilege of dressing the bride, my beautiful girl, probably for the last time.

When I would dress her as a child, I never stopped to think of the time I would be helping her into the most important dress of her life.  I was instead negotiating an agreement on which outfit was most practical or appropriate before the last button was done up and she would slip from my grasp to change into something else, or even undress altogether on more than one occasion.

From a very young age, my daughter had her own ideas about what she wanted or didn’t want to wear, so it makes me smile when she looks at old photographs of herself and asks why I let her wear THAT?  These days I find myself  listening to her suggestions as to what I should wear and even gamely traipsed off to London with her before the wedding so that she could select my ‘Mother-of-the-Bride’ outfit, which turned out to be something completely different from what I had in mind.  I won’t be wafting around like Meryl Streep in Mama Mia after all and hopefully will bear no resemblance to anyone from My Big Fat Greek Wedding either.

When she was about 7 years old, after a particularly cheeky and wilful episode, she calmly sat at the end of the table, half-listening to my exasperated ranting – all directed at her.  She waited patiently until I had run out of steam, looked me up and down in my new outfit and asked: “So who told you orange goes with pink?”  I suppose she had a point.

I wonder if choosing a hot country for her wedding has a subliminal connection to how she was swaddled  as a winter newborn and left in her moses basket close to a radiator, so afraid was I that my first baby would freeze.  She’s lucky I didn’t cook her! And as a toddler she would be wrapped in layers of woolies, gilets, padded coats, gloves, hats and scarves until she wobbled like a weeble – remember them?

I remember those moments when she would wait to be called with her dance classmates, all in pink leotards singing hand-clapping songs together:

When Susie was a teenager/A teenager she was/And she’d say/Ooh ah!/ I lost my bra/I left my knickers in my boyfriend’s car.

That line somehow found its way into the innocent version of  When Susie Was she’d learned and when asked why Susie would’ve lost her underwear, she suggested Susie must have been changing for ballet.  Obviously

Susie had a busy after-school schedule of dancing, piano lessons, gym club and swimming too.

I have so many memories of vibrant dance wear and swift backstage struggles to switch between costumes before the next dance piece and her uncomplaining compliance as arms went up in the air to have one creation whipped off before the next was pulled on, balancing on one foot, then the next to change dance shoes beneath a wide width of tutu or diaphanous folds of flowing fabric.

I remember our battles over sensible school shoes, just as I had battled with my mother and later the urge to throw a cardigan around her when she and her friends would be getting ready in her room for a night out, wearing less than I would wear to bed.

And now as we all gather here in Greece to celebrate my daughter’s marriage, I remember what I have gained since she came into my life when protecting my fragile baby was uppermost in my mind, much like the delicate wedding dress and veil in my care now.  As others gasp at the stunning bride, I will congratulate myself for creating someone as breathtaking as she is to look at, but the credit for her beauty is not mine as it radiates from within her and shows in her pretty face, her ready smile and her ever sparkling eyes.  Mine, no doubt, will be brimming with tears.

 

What Goes Through Your Mind at a Funeral?

 

what Goes Through Your Mind at a Funeral? closetdramabog - wordpress
Photo by Firesky Studios on Unsplash

 

Be honest.  What goes through your mind at a funeral?

If, like me, you have been attending them from a young age, you might find yourself thinking about funerals you’ve been to before the one you happen to be attending at that moment. If so, does it make you feel guilty to realise you have been remembering someone other than the person whose life you are supposed be celebrating?  I’m not saying I compare them you understand, rather I’ve noticed that funerals don’t get any easier the more experience of them you have and, if anything, they have a cumulative effect.

Painful as they are, we feel compelled to arrange and attend funerals as a mark of respect and from a need to make sense of our loss.  Despite knowing every life surely must come to an end, our minds mostly have difficulty accepting that someone who was here with us, suddenly is no longer and so we gather together with our thoughts.  But while thoughts are private and individual, are they really that much different from the thoughts of our neighbour?

I’ll admit my mind has wandered to wondering what’s so wrong with flowers these days?  We are often told, ‘family flowers only’ and a donation to a relevant charity may be made via the funeral director instead.  I don’t disagree with collecting money for a charity in memory of anyone, but flowers make a funeral smell good and give us something fresh and beautiful to look at while trying not to lapse into morbid imaginings.  Would you admit to staring at a coffin and picturing  what lies under the lid?  If you ask me, it’s difficult not to, no matter how wrong it seems.

In the five years since we have been together, Drew and I have been to eight funerals.  We are starting to lose count now, it might be nine, but even for people in their fifties, that’s a fair few.  All of them have been at churches or crematoria, so I can’t comment on any other type, but the tradition of congregating with a coffin before you surely means there are others picturing a cold corpse too.  So I’m in favour of flowers, especially atop a coffin – lots of tastefully, expertly arranged flowers.  But please not those floral tributes spelling out ‘Mum’ or ‘Grandpa’ or whoever. Seriously, if only ‘family flowers’ are allowed, make a good job of it; spelling out names or other words in flowers belongs in municipal parks or similar, not at funerals.  Just put their name on the card!

At a funeral, I always feel it’s best to have a look at the order of service before the proceedings commence and be prepared for the choice of music.  I have often tried to figure out what lies behind the musical choices and make the lyrical connection between the deceased and the song or hymn – which isn’t always particularly obvious.  I heard once that Robbie Williams was aghast at the popularity of his song ‘Angels’ when selecting funeral music although it seems a perfectly appropriate choice to me.  However, the popularity of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ has rendered it a cliche which is embarrassingly inappropriate if the deceased led a conventional life in the town where he or she was born, working for the local authority for example.  Though to be fair, that choice would almost certainly have been made by the deceased themself and who would argue with a last wish?

A word of warning here: if you choose music for a loved one’s funeral, think carefully about how often you might hear it again when you hadn’t been expecting to.  The sudden, unforeseen loss of my father when I was still a girl was the hardest thing I have ever lived through and it affects me still, almost forty years later.  It catches me unawares sometimes, especially when I happen to hear a particular piece of music which was played at his funeral, a piece I couldn’t hear for many years without silent tears streaming down my face.

When Elton John asked Bernie Taupin to revise the lyrics to his song ‘Candle in the Wind’ to be sung at the funeral service of The Princess of Wales, he vowed he would never perform it again afterwards.  No doubt this was to save himself from many distressing moments as well as protecting her sons from having to  endure hearing the saddest song of their young lives again.

You may have reached the stage when, at a funeral, you begin to consider what you would want at yours.  I know I have.  Were you so impressed or moved by a little touch that you have earmarked the idea for your own service? Cardboard coffin? Your portrait on an easel perhaps?  Flowers?  I want lots of lovely flowers.  And just to be sure, the music I’ve chosen is ‘The Flower Duet’ (Duo des fleurs) from Delibes’ opera, ‘Lakme’.  I don’t expect many people I know will follow the words because they’re sung in French, which is just as well. It ends with …

‘descendons ensemble’.