travel

The Benefits of Being Alone

What living and travelling on my own has taught me

On the beach in Portugal as a participant in  a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 - thanks to  Casa Fuzetta

On the beach in Portugal as a participant in a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 - thanks to Casa Fuzetta

For the very first time in my life, I’m home alone.

After years of ‘boomeranging’ my adult sons have gone and a couple of months ago, my youngest moved out. She and her boyfriend got their own place, albeit only 30 minutes up the road. For 53 years I’ve cooked, washed, cleaned and looked after other people and absolutely loved it. It’s been noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, terrifying, challenging but almost always, very rewarding. I’ve been a lover, a mother and a carer and before that, I was a 17-year-old daughter living at home with two parents, three younger siblings – and a dog. Now the only beating heart in my home is my own and every room in my three-bed, two-bathroom flat is just for me.

I expected to feel lonely when everyone finally left and took most of their things. I expected to feel sad and yes, initially all the clichés of the ‘one pint of milk and a small, festering loaf of bread’, judgemental stares from the empty mega fridge-freezer, family-sized dishwasher and large-capacity washing machine were true. But bizarrely, I feel 30 years younger and ten feet taller.

The other night, stressing out about not falling asleep as quickly as I wanted, a voice whispered in my ear, ‘Your job is done.’  Freaked out, I changed track in my head and concentrated on my breath and hit back into the mindfulness meditation techniques on which I can always rely. The next morning I realised what that was all about. Yes, my job is done in so many ways. My three kids are happy in their own homes and achieving amazing things professionally, but finally being alone has shone a light on what I have achieved, especially in the last 20 years since my husband died. It has given me space to recognise my own strengths – holding the family together, supporting them emotionally (and sometimes financially) and using my experience and skills to start a new career that I love, empowering others by writing down my life and encouraging everyone to do the same.

Also, maybe I have relied too much, for too long on my children’s company. If ever there has been a film to see, an exhibition to visit, a new travel adventure to plan my first thought has always been, ‘Would Jamie, Will or Lu like to do that with me?’ I have been enormously lucky that a lot of the time, they have said yes. But, it’s time I finally let go and moved on. Found out who I really am and what I want to do for the next maybe 30 years of my life. And lately I’ve discovered that it IS possible to make fabulous new friends when you’re older, you just have to travel more on your own!

2019 lies ahead and I welcome it with open arms. I have no ailing parents to care for, no partner to accommodate, no grandchildren (yet), no health issues that I’m aware of, no car, no mortgage – and no dog. For the very first time in my life I have no dependants, apart from an ever-increasing army of spider plants. The only person I have to look after is myself. What I have always dreaded has turned out to be a true liberation.

            A recent report in the UK press stated that, according to the Resolution Foundation report, we are happiest in our lives at 16 and 70. That we are happier, more satisfied and feel a greater sense of self-worth in our earlier years – and again as we approach older age.

I’m 70 in September. Bring it on! 

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A Story In Everything

A Story In Everything

I’m never naked, I’m never alone, I always have my friends around me. In bed, in the bath, on the beach.  I always have my constant companions.

 It started with a wedding ring in the early 70s. A three-band Russian from Anschels in the Kings Road, I lost it in a Hot Yoga session in Brighton, slipped off my finger, never to be seen again. My husband had died five years earlier and it had already had migrated to my left hand. Its disappearance didn’t surprise me – its time was up and I was ready to let go.  Then, I lost an earring hung with Wright & Teague charms - all gifts from my husband - during a romantic encounter with a lover in a dark street in Hackney in 2015.  I was bereft for a day or two and then realised, ‘Time for them to leave me as well.’

 Lots of us have ‘lucky’ garments that empower us – pants, a flattering white shirt, a favourite pair of jeans. I miss Gareth Southgate and his iconic waistcoat, worn for every World Cup game. But I bet he took it off at bed time. Mine stay with me, like tattoos or piercings. Or the bright sunset orange varnish on my toenails in the winter that shouts, ‘Sandals! Summer! Spain!’ every time I step out of bed on these dark, dank November mornings.

 For years, I’ve adorned my body with talismans and totems that I sense are are imbued with special powers as strong as Harry Potter wands or the   stones with holes that are strung on rope in front of my bedroom window – hag stones that the Cornish say may protect me from witchcraft and witches.  

Each ring, bracelet or necklace on my body has an emotional history and reminds me of my ability to survive despite what life may throw at me – the twisted silver ring that my son dug up in a garden in Brighton or the thin gold one with a tiny red gem that I bought in Spain, in lieu of an engagement ring from my ex. On my wrist I have memories of Crete, Thessaloniki, Essaouira, Monpazier, Brighton, Hackney, Oxford Circus and Cadiz. Of past loves, present offspring and dear friends.

 In April this year, fearful of going alone to a wedding, all dressed up and knowing few others, I drew a tattoo on my wrist with a Sharpie – a triangle with two circles, an ancient symbol for “Widow  with Children’ that a friend-of-friend had posted on Instagram. It was hidden under   all those bracelets but its silent strength empowered me.  I knew it was there and I plan to make it permanent - when I pluck up the courage. I once had a rabbit’s foot that dangled from the zip of my Parka when I was a Mod. But I’ve never carried a twist of a dead relative’s hair in a locket – I know my limitations -  but the Hamsa, the hand of Fatima hangs in my hall and the Turkish nazar, the eye-shaped amulet believed to protect against the evil eye is nailed on my door.

 In these times of uncertainty, a few extra tools in our armoury against life’s arrows may come in useful and to the bastardise the words of Jenny Joseph, who died earlier this year, in her famous poem,  ‘Warning,’

‘When I am an old woman I shan’t wear purple but I will  believe in magic.’

This post  first featured on That’s Not My Age - the grown-up guide to great style — edited by Alyson Walsh


 

 

 

 

Why Spending Time and Money on Yourself is Essential

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Often,  the responses I get from writers on my workshops or retreats are, ‘This feels such a treat, such an indulgence, having time to myself, being given permission to write.’

In these frantic, challenging and guilt-inducing times when we can feel powerless to affect the bigger picture, nurturing our bodies and feeding our minds is even more important. And writing it down, bearing witness, leaving a written record on paper for future generations to read, handle, hold and treasure is a duty. Not an indulgence, far, far from it. It replenishes our self-belief and self-esteem, as much as it informs and encourages others. Remember John Aubrey, the 'father of lifewriting' and his insistence of 'writing down the minutiae of life'. All our lives matter, not just those of celebrities, politicians or cultural heroes.

This is a piece that I wrote recently  for Alyson Walsh’s blog That’s Not My Age, for older women with style. I hope to meet many of you on my writing retreats in Spain at Finca Buenvino this summer, writing down your lives and enjoying a whole week of indulgence! 

I’m at my favourite hairdresser’s, in charity-shop top and jeans, spending a ridiculous amount on a cut and colour. The guaranteed boost to my fragile self-confidence will be well worth it. Tomorrow I will pay to have my toe nails painted, even though my bathroom needs re-grouting and the tap has a terrible drip. My saloneyebrow maintenance ritual is a non-negotiable expense, I love the therapist’s gentle attention. Last night I booked a three-week runaway to Crete in August, after weeping buckets at the Charmed Life in Greece free exhibition at the British Museum about the friendships between writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and artists John Craxton and Niko Ghika. God knows how I’ll pay for the care home now. What I once believed were indulgences have become essential mental maintenance.

My kitchen blind is held up with drawing pins and I really must paint my bedroom walls but tell me to invest in a new kitchen bin and I glaze over and buy another novel. I’ve been to the cinema more times in the past month than in the past year and my addiction to Eventbrite is causing concern. My membership of the Tate costs a bomb but visits are intellectually invigorating. So many places to go, people to see, lessons to learn.

Is it my age that is causing me to fast-track through life, sucking up sensual experiences, ignoring practical concerns? Is it the global political uncertainties? Fear of impending climate melt-down? Or is it the realisation, at 68, that it is not selfish to nurture myself? That feeding my brain, my creativity and my self-esteem may pay dividends in the fight against dementia, helps me in my work and in my relationships? Yes, I must attend to the mundane, pay the direct debits and remember to eat more fruit and veg but worrying about the what-ifs in five, 10 or 15 years hence seems a pointless exercise if I don’t cherish myself today.