Memory Lane

Recently, there has been a lot of reminiscing: seemingly endless discussions about who lived where, who they married, exactly when things happened and so on.It’s good to remember, isn’t it? It roots us in our past, gives us our place in history, and strengthens links with those who are no longer with us.

A discussion about the future of my late mother-in-law’s house has made me think harder about this.

That house will always be Mum and Dad’s; they designed and built it, they chose the site, the furnishings and the plants for the garden. They lived there for 22 years, only a few hundred yards from their family home of 29 years, and only half a mile from where Dad grew up, and where his uncles and aunts all lived. Their family has been traced at least back to the year 1800 in this parish. That is a lot of history.

I don’t have quite the same continuity in my life. My parents moved away from their families when they married, we moved once when I was a child, and they moved again after I left home. We can trace them back just as far, but we’ve moved on.

I moved here when I married, 28 years ago today. And if I’m honest, I’d be happy to move again.

I imagine that most houses, when their owners die, are sold, usually to strangers who see it as a development opportunity. Those who are sentimentally attached to the place may be sad to see it go; distressed by the disposal of the contents; upset by the changes that are inevitable – but they have to let go.

But this house will not be sold. It remains in the family, and the new owners will find it difficult to decide what to change and what to keep. The décor is dated and in some places a bit shabby; the kitchen and bathrooms are outmoded; electrics and lighting need attention. But it is Mum and Dad’s house and we want to remember them as they were. We want to keep things the same, for ever and ever, amen…

But what about closure? What about drawing a line under the sad events leading up to the death of a loved one? What about moving on and living for today instead of dwelling on the past and clinging to memories?

Increasingly with all that has happened over the past few months, I feel the need for a change of scenery; a breath of fresh air; a new approach. It is possible that a complete change, a fresh start, would be the answer to my unspoken questions.

All this past history drags me back in time. All those old memories weigh me down (and most of them aren’t even my memories!) How will it be possible to move forward. Memory Lane is a nice place to visit occasionally, but do we really want to live here?


Going Home

We took her home to the Haven where she was born and spent her idyllic childhood.

All her life she loved to revisit the north coast cove with its sandy beach and high cliffs.  As a child she swam there in the summer after school.  The boys changed on one side of the beach and the girls on the other, and afterwards they left their costumes and towels on the rocks where they would dry in the sun, ready for the children to return the next day.  It was more than 70 years ago.

There was tension and anxiety as we pulled into the car park at teatime on that unseasonably warm April afternoon.  Holidaymakers swam and played and barbequed, oblivious to our disquiet.

Her son and daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law, two granddaughters and a cousin/friend – the five of us discussed the weather, the view, the parking charges, avoiding each others’ eyes, shuffling our feet, feeling chilly despite the warm sunshine.

Slowly we mounted the cliff path.  We stopped to admire the view and take photos of the light glinting on the water; we mocked the surfers with their wetsuits, calling them soft although none of us would have ventured into the water at this time of year.

Rounding the headland known as Highcliff, the wind blowing gently at our backs, we decided that this was the place.  Taking the container from it’s carrier bag, her daughter opened it and poured the contents out, spilling some on the cliff edge and letting the breeze take the rest out to the bay where the sea twinkled in sympathy.

Not wanting to leave, we sat on a bench and talked about nothing much.  The granddaughters paddled bravely.  We agreed to come back soon, and resolved to swim in the sea this very summer, in her memory.

Later, at a mediocre pub on the way home, we ate, talked and drank too much, then returned home to try and get back to normal; a new and strange normality without our Grandma, Mum, Winifred…

The Woman Who Thought Too Much (Joanne Limburg)

I saw this book reviewed by Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall).  Because of what she wrote, and because of the title, which could describe me, I knew I had to read this book.

Joanne Limburg is a poet and suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  In the review it talked about a girl who used to climb the highest trees and ride her bike everywhere, but as a grown woman can hardly cross a road, board an aircraft or go down a flight of stairs for fear of accidents.  A girl who was not like all the other children, easily embarrassed, an outsider who avoided company for fear of looking odd, which of course she was.

The brief description seemed to sum up all the worst aspects of my self and some of my mother’s too.  But OCD?  Surely not.  But OCD is a spectrum disorder.  Not all sufferers obsessively check that doors are locked, or wash their hands 50 times a day.

The author describes anxiety lying in wait for her every morning when she wakes; never being satisfied with her work; procrastination as a way of putting off the completion of work which is bound to be unsatisfactory; finishing things off in  a hurry as a result; feeling that it’s not worth it, there’s no point in trying anyway.  I recognised her immediately, but her life has been much harder, and her obsessions go much further than mine.  Or to put it another way, I am much further down the spectrum than she is.

It’s a brave and humourous look at a condition that she describes as boring, tedious and uninteresting.  In the media, stories tend to concentrate on the visible aspects of OCD – the compulsions, rituals and so on.  As the author says, “a film about a life spent feeling anxious while quietly avoiding all possible harm doesn’t make gripping viewing, nor a thrilling read.  And so we hear very little about OCD.

Alcoholism, drug addiction and manic depression make sufferers do all sorts of wild and extreme things that non-sufferers would never do, but find compelling to read about.”

Comparing Dante’s vision of Hell in his Inferno with what he might have found if it had been full of OCD sufferers.

“First Circle – people making lists
Second Circle – People checking to make sure they haven’t left the oven on
Third Circle – People washing their kitchen surfaces – again
Fourth Circle – People touching the back of every chair they pass
Fifth Circle – People opening envelopes they’ve just sealed, for the third time, to make sure they haven’t made any mistakes on their job application form
Sixth Circle – People phoning their husbands to ask for reassurance about the roads they’ve just crossed
Seventh Circle – People sitting on their sofas trying to anticipate every bad thing that might happen if they go out on a planned trip, and then deciding it would be easier to stay at home…
It’s a tormented life for sure, but that doesn’t make it an interesting one”

A wonderful description of being “stuck” if ever I heard one.

I’m glad I read the book, but must remember that it’s about Joanne Limburg, not about me.  Her life is not my life, and her future is not my future.  She is a published poet, and what am I?

Glasses; Money; Phone

A couple of days ago I was reading yet more blogs about minimalist lifestyles, and came across  one called “Be More With Less (life on purpose)”.  One post in particular caught my eye – What’s in your purse.  (It’s an American blog, can you tell?)  Love the picture, by the way – wish I could find a handbag that colour!

Anyway it reminded me of a trick my daughters (now 20 and 23) have adopted to remind themselves of the essentials when they leave the house.  They chant “glasses, money, phone”.  These being the essential, irreplaceable things that they will always need.  Sometimes they will add other items, such as tickets (if travelling or going to  the theatre etc), or keys (as they have become more independent).  But it always starts “glasses, money, phone”.

If you believe that parents can learn from their children, here is the proof, as we have adopted their mantra, and found it helpful.  It also helps to remind ourselves that only a fraction of what we carry in our “purse” is really necessary, and when I have an hour or two to spare I intend to go through the contents of mine and reduce them drastically.

Of course, intentions are not deeds (who said that?  Maybe I made it up).  Here’s a better quotation: “The smallest deed is better than the grandest intention.” (Roger Nash Baldwin, pacifist and communist, and one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union)

Home is where the heart is…

“Not going home is already like death.” – E. Catherine Tobler, Vanishing Act

This quotation appeared today on my Google home page.  I like to subscribe to a quotations feed, because the clever or funny things that famous people say often make me think hard about things.
I haven’t looked up the source of this quotation, so I have no context except my own interpretation.
But what is this obsession with home?  I don’t see it myself.  I like to get away from home, and seldom miss it.  It’s a nice home, where I have almost everything I need, and where I can keep warm in the winter.  But there are so many other nice places, different places – places where one can live, eat or even think in different ways.  Going away with a minimum of material goods gives me a feeling of relief and freedom, while every day at home is defined by responsibilities: to family, neighbours, cleanliness and stuff.
We hear also a lot of talk about the elderly having a right to be cared for in their own home.  In the current election campaign, there are promises of help for carers, such as one week per year (one week!) of respite care, to make this possible.  But I have seen in practice what it means to be cared for in your own home, and what it means for the principal carer, and it is no fun.  I believe I would rather be cared for by trained, well paid people who have their own lives, in a place where equipment and proper care is on hand 24/7, than force my loved ones into the narrow way of life that is being a carer. 
What I do want for my old age is to be as independent as possible.  To be able to choose when to be at home and when to go out; to choose, prepare and eat my own meals; to keep myself and my surroundings clean; and to entertain myself.  I may need help for a time, but when these things are no longer possible even with help, I would set my helpers free, not have them tied to me till I die.

Away from it all…

Getting away from home always seems to result in a number of insights into various aspects of life.
At the moment I am on my Easter holiday from my work in school.  I enjoy the change and the chance to see my family – both daughters came “home” and it was quite like old times!

We also made the journey “up North” to see my parents for a couple of days, then over East to take student daughter back to university, then back home the next day.

I realise that in some parts of the world, a journey totalling 750 miles would be no big deal.  Across the USA, almost-empty roads stretch from coast to coast; in France, I’m told, the main autoroutes are similarly clear of traffic.  But here in England, our motorways are packed with cars and lorries, nose to tail, impatient to overtake with the illusion that once past the next artic, the road will be clear all the way to their destination.  Sometimes all of the traffic travels at around the speed limit of 70mph, but if there are road works, or an accident, or just through sheer weight of traffic, it slows dramatically until we are creeping along, sandwiched between each other, overheating our clutches and our selves.  There is no pleasure in such a journey.  And that’s just the motorways.

Crossing the country from west to east, we decided to take the shorter, scenic route through the Peak District, rather than the longer motorway route.  In the middle of a busy Friday we found ourselves on the wrong road in Cheadle, a short but unpleasant interlude until we came across the right road, more by luck than judgement.  Lucky that we had two navigators and a road atlas to help.  The Peak District was as beautiful as I remembered, but then came Chesterfield, Staveley and Worksop.  Again the traffic slowed almost to a standstill under its own weight.  And we felt that weight, impatient as we were to arrive at our destination before the shops closed.

People these days expect to be able to travel where they like and when, at their own convenience and in their own vehicles.  But the roads are full.  There are too many people and too many cars.  Almost all of our goods are transported by road these days too.  Britain is a small country – in America we have seen that when a road is inadequate for its traffic, they build a whole new road through a previously untouched piece of land.  We have no untouched land, no wilderness, and if we did, would we want it to be wasted on roads?  We have beautiful countryside, but it is precious.

However, there are advantages in living in some of the busier areas.  In Cheadle and in Chesterfield, in Staveley and Worksop, it is possible for the people to find any commodity they want within a mile or so of their homes.  Food, clothing, furniture, hardware, carpets, curtains, antiques, lighting, restaurants, pubs, social clubs.  I saw all of these on the same street, and not just one of each but a choice of several.  Not only supermarkets but butchers, greengrocers and bakers shops. And people using the shops, going from one to another like bees in a hive.  Even in the city, it’s only a short walk from the student village to a market in the centre to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a choice of stalls.

At home I have to drive 3 miles to go to a small supermarket.  In the same town there is one greengrocer, one baker and one fishmonger (no butcher).  And an eccentric but rather expensive hardware store.  After that it’s about 8 miles to the next supermarket and greengrocer.  Or 10 miles in a different direction to a different town.  If I want a carpet, I know of three places within 10 miles, but all in different directions, or I can go to the city, 15 miles away, for a similar choice in a smaller area.

Sometimes I feel I’m writing like an explorer in a strange country!

Does living in towns make life easier, or does it just make being a consumer and a traveller easier?

Maybe being in the country is slower and harder, but more real, less materialistic? More minimalist?

But don’t human beings need variety, change, stimulation, to keep us from becoming stale, dull and boring (and bored)?  This is why I like to get away from home, but I don’t do it enough, stuck out in the sticks on the road to nowhere, every trip a major journey.

Time Pie

So I opened a spreadsheet and did some calculations, and I came up with a series of pie charts.  The one showing the division between my life so far and the rest of my life was almost identical visually with the one below, showing the current 5-year period of my life:

A third pie chart shows the comparison between my life so far and the time between now and age 55:

An arbitrary measurement…

But as a means of waking up to the passing of time, this is no more satisfactory than the Countdown method I described before:

Even now that my numbered days are less than 10600, I can’t see it as a matter of urgency.  The pie charts are even worse – you can’t tell that they are changing at all, even though common sense tells me that they must be.

The conclusion is inescapable – I have loads of time left.  Time stretches before me, a lifetime to do and see whatever I want.  Or not, as the case may be.

What a waste of time this has been.  Watching the clouds passing overhead gives me more sense of time passing than this whole exercise has done.