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.

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.


The Moving Finger

In “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”

The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

In one of the blogs I’m following (sorry, I can’t remember which one now), a link led to another link and another, where I found what seemed to be a good idea:
The blogger suggested, as an aid to being mindful about the present, and as a deterrent to daydreaming too much about the future, that we should work out the projected date of our death (using actuarial tables), then figure out how many years, months, days etc we have left.  A little program called TimeLeft can be downloaded free, which then works out how much time you have left and displays a countdown on your desktop.  The idea is that seeing the time disappearing before your eyes will make you more conscious of how you use the time right now.

In my case, this has been an abysmal failure.  Having worked out that I have about 29 years of life left in me, my initial response was “that’s ages!”.  I set the countdown to show me the years, months, days etc, but that number 29 at the beginning each day made me feel that time was standing still.

So I changed it to show the number of days, hours and minutes.  It started at 10617 days, and now it’s reading 10604 days.  It still seems to crawl along, even when those individual days are packed with lists of activities that I don’t have time to complete.  The large number at the front makes me feel that I will indeed almost live forever – it might as well be infinity!

My instinct is to delete the damn thing and get on with my life, but I’m intrigued by the subjective nature of time.

On one hand, the weeks seem to fly by.  Has another week passed, and I haven’t decorated the bathroom / put the kitchen curtains up / paid the bills / sorted out my wardrobe?  Is it really March already, when it seems only yesterday that we were recovering from Christmas?  If I’m not careful I’ll miss the Springtime again – it will slip past when I’m looking the other way.

But on the other hand, time seems endless (silly thing to say, of course it is), always the same, nothing ever changing, seasons following seasons, years following years.  I feel I’ve been here forever, in this house, in this village (27 years), in this job (6 years), and there’s nothing new in the world.

But back to the point of TimeLeft.  I’m going to try another experiment and set it to count upwards (if it will do that) so that I can see how much time has passed.  Maybe I’ll make it start today, or perhaps from some other point – from my 50th birthday; or from the start of this year; or perhaps going back to when I started my current job.
I wonder if a visual representation might work? A pie chart perhaps, showing the slice gone and the slice left.

I will return to this.

>Just ticking and that’s all…

>I am a clock without hands
No-one understands this,
That when the Autumn comes
I see no reason for a Fall.
Spring can fail to move me
With its tulips and its clover,
Now the time for love is over
I’m a clock without hands.
I’m just ticking and that’s all.

“Clock without hands” by Nanci Griffith

For many years I’ve thought of the Autumn as the beginning of the end, only Winter to look forward to, and to endure before Spring comes again. Classic “glass half empty” stuff. When Spring comes, I often miss the beginning, only realising it’s here if there is a prolonged period of good weather. Then Summer, and I realise I’ve not made the most of the wild flowers and the new leaves and the uncurling ferns. We’re not good at planning our Summers – this year we’re installing a new kitchen, which will be nice but stressful. By the time we’re done it will be back to school/work and the Summer will be over.

Already it feels Autumnal. Evenings are shorter. Nights are chilly, and there is condesation on the bedroom window in the morning. And heavy dew on the grass.

My life is also entering the Autumn phase. Well and truly middle aged, I wonder what there is to look forward to, and feel I haven’t really made the most of what has gone before. I should be grateful that I’m strong and healthy and not in need, and that I have a nice home and a good family. I am grateful, but it doesn’t give me energy, or enthusiasm. I’m just ticking, and that’s all.

>University of the 3rd Age (U3A)

>Today I was invited to a meeting of the U3A in my local small town. The person who invited me didn’t initially think I was old enough, which is kind of nice. To be a member you have to be over 50 (I’m 52), and retired or working part time. I’m not sure if the latter is a requirement but if you were working full time you wouldn’t be able to go to meetings on weekdays.

The reasons I agreed to go are complex. First of all, I didn’t want to seem rude to my neighbour.

Second, some of the groups within U3A that he described sound like the sort of things I could join – Yoga, Walking, Book Group, Scribblers, Pub Lunch group etc.

Then there is the whole dilemma of whether to join something which is specifically for older people…

I’ve never been a “joining” kind of person. No clubs, societies, Womens Institute, Lions, Rotary, nothing like that. I’m a member of the local library, and Weight Watchers, and a local parish group for which I edit a website. So it feels a bit alien to be thinking of joining anything at all. But recently I find myself rather dissatisfied with life, and rather afraid of what it will be like when I eventually retire. Living out in the sticks as we do, there aren’t all the entertainments you might find in a city, or even a town of any reasonable size. Our little town is 3 miles from home, without a bus service to speak of. Even in the town, there is no swimming pool, cinema, theatre, not very good shops or cafes, not much of a park even. For these things we have to travel further afield, 10 or 15 miles. So anything I can find nearer home that is of reasonable interest to me is worth investigating.

But an organisation for older people? Is this what I really want just now? Well, to be fair, the neighbours who asked me are only recently retired, and only (maybe) 8 years older than me. I saw a few people I recognise at the meeting, people I have worked with, and people who have kids about the same age as mine. And I was quite encouraged by the atmosphere at the meeting. It was all very cheerful and energetic.

And looking ahead, would it really be any easier to join something like this in 10 years time, or 20? My father always says he would never want to join an organisation for old people, but he is a bit lonely despite being a loner. Maybe if he’d joined something like this 20 years ago it wouldn’t be such a big deal now.

But still, a group of old people???

Well, I don’t mean to do anything about it just now, but I’ll go to their July meeting, when they are putting on a big display by all the various groups. Then I think I’ll join and try out one or two groups. It’s not a life sentence, after all. Not like old age…

>Stop the world, I want to get off…

>Do you remember that catch phrase from way back? Was it the 60s or the 70s? Anyway, surely it must be even more pertinent now.

It was brought home to me today, in my job in ICT support at a secondary school. We were looking at a new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) that we are using in school. The government has decreed that by sometime in 2008 all school students should have access to an online learning area, so all the talk is about VLEs and Learning Platforms at the moment.

With us were a group of Primary school teachers who frankly can’t see the need for a VLE. The are small schools; in our area we only have slow internet connection (I can’t get more than 512Kb no matter how much I pay a provider – school has 8Mb); many households in this area don’t have internet, or even a computer at home. Obviously this is changing, but we are behind the rest of the country.

We were discussing the “information age”, and the way everyone expects information to be available easily and instantaneously. Also the fact that we are preparing young people to take on technologies that haven’t even been heard of yet, and to do jobs that don’t exist yet. The rate of change is exponential, and kids have to be ready for it.

But on the faces of the adults, myself included, there was a kind of desperation. I ask myself, how can we achieve this when we ourselves have to run faster and faster just to stand still. How soon will the time come when we can no longer stand the pace? If everything continues to accelerate, surely this time will come at an earlier and earlier age as the years go by. Already I can feel in my bones that the technology will get the better of me sooner or later. I am 50 – people tell me that is much too young to start thinking about retirement, or even slowing down, but every day I fight the urge to step off the highway and let the traffic pass me by; to forget all about computers and new technology and podcasting and video conferencing and learning platforms and all the things I am expected to know about.

Can the human race withstand the pressure of all this information, or is it just me that finds it all a bit too much?

>Dreaming spires


Spent yesterday taking 3Kool (elder daughter) back to Oxford, to university. How I envy the students! They are so free (if only they knew it) and with “everything still to play for” as the saying goes.
I didn’t want to leave to come home. Just wanted to soak up the atmosphere and stay there pretending to be a student again. The sun was shining and those old colleges looked wonderful. We walked into the town centre and the shops were so much more interesting than any we can visit from home. There are hundreds of places to eat, so much choice you could spend a year and not visit them all. I saw a house for sale in the student part of town, and found myself wondering how much they want for it.
It’s not often I get that yearning feeling these days.
What was it about the place, the occasion, that affected me in this way?
Would it have been the same if it was raining? Is it the freedom of the student life that I long for? Or the atmosphere of learning for its own sake? Or being surrounded by young people, so I can pretend to be young again myself? Perhaps it was the beautiful old buildings, and the thought of being able to live in one of them and be part of the history of the place. Or the thought of being able to reach all of these things without getting into a car, ever.
But of course I am not young, and the sun doesn’t always shine, and I am not free. If I talk about learning something new, people ask what for; too late to make a new career; silly to spend money on something you’re not going to make good use of. I don’t “travel light” anymore; I have responsibilities and property. And these responsibilities and property are far, far away from ancient places of learning, with no proper bus services and nothing of note within walking distance.