Those Two Old Friends – Anxiety and Fear

After Dark: Fear

After Dark: Fear (Photo credit: the_exploratorium)

Let me introduce you to two of my closest, long-standing and most loyal “friends”: fear and anxiety. We’ve been “friends” for so many years, I’ve lost count. Like all friendships we have had our ups and downs – sometimes almost unbearably close, other times we have been apart for lengthy periods of time.  In their absence, I have thrived, come out from their shadow.  As comfortable as I think I feel in their presence, fortunately I do have a wide group of other friends which counter their hold over me: humour, a sense of fun (and the ridiculous), determination and happiness.

I know there are millions of us out there who count these two amongst our nearest and (not so) dearest.  Over the years, I have come to understand that it is these two which actually allow me to experience and appreciate their opposites in sharp relief. They have certainly shaped me, but will never define me.  They have given me the ability to empathise with, sympathise with and understand others.  I am a more rounded person because of them.

Why am I telling you all this? Partly, I guess, because usually my writing is observational and light-hearted but not everything I observe is like this, life is more complicated, and partly in response to an article I read in The Times at the weekend about how you can deal with a child who worries incessantly, who is anxious, unable to relax.  Not only did I recognise myself as that child, but also similar traits in my own children – particularly my eldest.  It got me thinking…is this a trait peculiar to eldest children?  Does that burden of responsibility that the eldest feels from such an early age allow a burgeoning relationship with anxiety and fear which to different degrees stay with you through childhood and adulthood?

I am not just talking about obvious childhood fears, like monsters under the bed (although needless to say I had an veritable zoo under my bed as a child – snakes, sharks, lions, tigers – you name it, they were there – along with the whole cast of Ghostbusters).  No, I am talking about those more intangible fears – fear of failure, fear of not living up to expectation (largely self-afflicted), fear of the unknown, fear about taking risks.

In my experience, the second child, without the burden of forging the way like the eldest, feels a sense of freedom from responsibility and a freedom to take risks, throw caution to the wind, unencumbered by fear and anxiety.  This is, of course, not to say that fear and anxiety are solely the preserve of the eldest child but in my experience, the eldest is far more cautious and less willing to take risks, more concerned about failure and the “what ifs”.

It will come as no surprise then to you that I am the eldest of three children. My greatest wish for my children is that they do not allow my old “friends”, fear and anxiety, to determine their path in life. To that end, I try very hard not to allow my “friends” to stay in my house very often, especially when the kids are around.

Just because something is familiar, it does not mean it is healthy or not to be challenged.  The old adage of “familiarity breeds contempt” is certainly true as far as my old “friends” are concerned and I am finding as I get older (and wiser?) that I am moving away from this circle of “friends” and embracing my new friends – happiness, laughter and joy – much more.  Now, I’m 40, I am also ready to discover new friendships – success (as I see it) and fulfilment of potential.

I have realised over the year, that just because these two hanger-ons are familiar, that does not equate with being comfortable.  Fear and anxiety are largely self-fabricated and built on no real foundations, just years of being allowed to co-exist.  There is no real substance to them, you can just push them away if you really try. Fear and anxiety in a small measure are part of the human condition but you shouldn’t let them be your “friends”.  Real friends make you feel good about yourself, boost you, laugh with you, cry with you and support you.  Fear and anxiety are impostors – see them for what they really are.  Stand up to them and watch them fade.  Well, that’s my experience and that’s what I shall be telling my children.

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Pensioner Pop…

English: A40 Western Avenue The A40 looking to...

English: A40 Western Avenue The A40 looking towards London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew today was going to be a good day when I drove onto the A40 towards London and then heard the travel report on the radio less than 30 seconds later – two incidents on the A40 London bound, expect delays.  Typical.  So I thought to myself this could go one of two ways: either I swear a lot, bang the steering wheel, get stressed or I just sit back and let it wash over me.  Quite out of character, I decided to do the latter.  I think it was because the sun was out, something of a rare occurrence in the UK of late.  I think I was a bit giddy from a glimpse of blue sky.

 

Sitting on the A40 for an hour and a half co-incided with one of those “guess the year” radio shows in which they play you the top ten on that day in a particular year (usually from many years gone by – pensioner pop as I affectionately call it).  I think I’m pretty good on the ’80s ones – I would go as far as to say really rather good, not so hot on the ’90s and pretty damn useless on the ’00s.  As usual there were the phone-in guesses and their back stories, “1982 – I just know because that was the year that Gazza and I met at a roller-disco” or “1983 – I’m sure it is because that was the year that Jezza dumped me and I went to Corfu for a girls’ holiday”.

 

It got me thinking about how memories are sparked, how they become almost tangible, how you are thrown right back into a moment from the past.  We all have different triggers. For some people, it is something visual – a photo or an object; for others it is a smell – a perfume that someone wore or a food that you used to cook; for me, it is music.  A tune can come on the radio or my iPod and I’m straight back there, the time passed evaporates.  I have different tunes that resonate with different phases in my past.  For example, take James’s “Sit Down, Sit Down Next to Me” – immediately I am back in a hovel of a nightclub in Reading on a Sunday evening, I am about 18 years old and we are all sitting down on the dance floor for the duration of the song.  Yes, we thought this literal interpretation of the song was really funny and really cool – like we were staging some sort of sit-in, protest of sorts.  This particular period was at the end of my “goth” phase – lots of dark make-up, lots of black and paisley shirts in various shades of purple – it wasn’t a good look then – hideous actually -and is quite horrifying to me now.

 

Take another tune – “Ride on Time”, Black Box.  I think I’ve mentioned this one before but this is for me the tune that sums up the late ’80s for me (summer of ’89 to be precise) and if I hear it, I immediately want to get up and dance but this time I am wearing one of those lycra mini-skirts so beloved of the late ’80s – the same skirt which my father insisted on calling a belt which gives some indication of just how short it was – and a “body” (do you remember those – basically the same as babygro vests with poppers underneath that your average 6 month old wears nowadays).

 

It is not just the memories that flood back but also all the accompanying emotions of those heady days on the brink of adulthood.  At the risk of sounding like someone who is 40 (oh yes, I just remembered I am 40), I do wonder if the songs I hear on the radio today will do the same for this generation of youngsters.  I promise I am not going to say they all sound the same but I can’t help thinking that those of my youth were better, more memorable.  Actually, in fairness I do actually like a lot of the music released at the moment and I do have a playlist of such stuff to play on the school run – don’t let anyone say I am not a cool mum.  However, I also have a playlist of my so-called pensioner pop – music from my prime.  I would never play my pensioner pop on the school run – I have an image to uphold after all – but today on the A40, on my own, I had my pensioner pop playlist on full volume and I knew every note, every lyric and I loved it.  Thank you A40 for being predictably jammed this morning – blue skies, just myself for company, great tunes (a few odd looks from those who were sharing the road with me) – I had a ball.

 

To ski or not to ski, that is the question?

Skier carving a turn off piste

Skier carving a turn off piste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry for the radio silence this week but I had a knee operation on Monday and have been extremely busy doing absolutely nothing since except periodically inspecting and admiring my surgeon’s impressive attempts at giving me back a useful knee albeit one that looks as if it has had a drawn-out battle with a potato peeler.

As you know I was slightly uncomfortable about the impending forties and this is in part I think down to the three knee ops I have now had in the last year. Knee surgery is definitely one of those surgeries which reeks of age, wear and tear and threatening arthritis. Although, before you feel too sorry for me and the terrible toll the ageing process is taking on me, I should point out that I actually wrecked my knee last year whilst attempting the impossible – keeping up with my kids on the ski slopes. It should have been obvious really that I was going to struggle when their skis never deviated from pointing directly downhill whilst I took a more leisurely turning approach to my descent!). Aside from always playing catch-up, there is also the fact that when it comes to skiing, kids bounce when they fall and adults shatter.

I am probably insane but I am in fact going to a ski resort with the kids in half term. I use the words “ski resort” advisedly as “skiing” would not be an accurate description of the activities I shall be indulging in – drinking and eating in alpine bars and telling anyone who will listen that I would rather stick rusty pins in my eyes than put on skis again. I have now joined that group of people – non-skiers – who desperately hark on (lie?) about how wonderful ski resorts are if you are not skiing. Of course I’ll look the part – I didn’t invest in those now ever-so-slightly tight salopettes and après-ski boots (always known as moon boots to my generation) in order to consign them to the back of the wardrobe because of a mere skiing accident that has just mildly dominated the last year for me. After all skiing is only partly about actually skiing and partly about looking the part.

The writing was on the wall for me with skiing from very early on – the signs were all there if only I had taken heed. On my first ever skiing trip, in the final day race, I came a distinguished 45th…out of a field of 45. I knew then that I was no Franz Klammer. On a skiing trip in my late teens I was knocked out by a rogue button lift within my first 5 minutes on the slopes. On this occasion it wasn’t just my head that was dented but definitely my pride too – there is definitely nothing cool about being knocked sparko by an evil little button lift in front of a packed piste.

This humiliation led, not surprisingly, to a voluntary retirement from the slopes until my ill-fated trip last year. Surely nothing bad could happen this time – I’d done my skiing penance hadn’t I? Oh no, those pistes were ready for one last “taking the piste” which led to me taking the not very dignified blood wagon route down the mountain and the even less dignified request for payment (extortion?) at the bottom of the mountain or risk being unceremoniously dumped to find my own way to hospital.

It’s funny how things turn full circle – the one thing I remember from my first ever ski trip was my instructor imploring me to “bend ze knees” – ironically 30 years on as I sit on my sofa recuperating I am still desperately trying to do the same thing. All I can do is take heart from what one blood wagon attendant said to another, under the impression (largely accurate) that my French is elementary and therefore I would be unable to understand, roughly translated, he commented that “she has kind eyes”. Who knows maybe that wasn’t exactly what he said or meant but I’ll run with it – I’d choose kind eyes over beautiful knees any day!

Frankie Says Relax…

música

música (Photo credit: hang the t-shirt)

Having been asked recently by my middle child whether I qualify as “elderly” and having reminded him that I hadn’t even reached middle age yet and that I had every intention of at least paying lip service to that stage of life, I got to thinking about what it is that I actually miss about being young. I have spent so much of the last few months angsting about turning 40 and all that being that age entails that I haven’t really thought about what it is I actually would like back from my late teens and twenties…

Let’s get the obvious out of the way – my face and body. You see I never appreciated what I had in those days – no wrinkles, the fresh face and the ability to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without gaining a pound. I think Mother Nature has got it all wrong – we should have the body and face of a 40 plus woman in our twenties and then the process should reverse in our forties because then we would really appreciate it and look after it. As it is, we take it all for granted in our twenties – eat entire packets of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers in one sitting (which I can still do by the way), not take our make-up off for days in succession and exercise once a year – and then Mother Nature sticks two fingers up to us in our forties and presents us with what I now see every morning in the mirror and in the deafening silence when I walk past a building site.

Something I really miss about my teens/twenties is the feeling of immortality, invincibility. It was me against the world and I definitely had the upper hand. At that age, we throw caution to the wind, we take risks, we have adventures. Not so in your forties – throwing caution to the wind is having a take-away on a Friday evening, opening that second bottle of wine or perhaps dancing “gangnam style” with a whole load of similarly-aged, equally “reckless” people (well, at least, that’s what happened at my 40th). We are so much better at weighing up the risks in our forties and this can make it very difficult to be spontaneous or take chances. Although I did promise myself on my fortieth birthday, that I would take chances…perhaps this blog is my first steps?

In a funny way, I also miss the emotional highs and lows. Especially in your late teens, life is a rollercoaster (as Ronan Keating sang) and although those lows could be pretty damn low, that emotional lability did make you feel very alive. One minute you are totally and utterly in love, besotted and the next the object of your affections is a complete and utter b******! Through your thirties and beyond, cynicism creeps in and all that up and down becomes very tiring. Perhaps on reflection, this is not something I really miss – it really was very tiring indeed and I guess now I am much more emotionally stable (although I do recognise that this is relative and there are those out there who might not agree with my self-analysis!)

One of the things I miss the most is the music and the dancing. I still love listening to all the music that is in the charts now (god, I sound like I’m 140 rather than 40) and there is nothing more I like than an evening of drinking and dancing with my friends. However, I am acutely aware that I have probably, in my kids’ eyes, become a bit of an embarrassment on the dance floor (parents dancing – hideous!). I also really miss all those great tunes from the 80s and early 90s – there is nothing for me more evocative of my youth than when a huge 80s hit comes on the radio. Those tunes bring the memories flooding back and largely they are wonderful memories. My children may (and do) look on in utter horror when I shriek out “Ride on Time” but you know what, I don’t care!

Anyway, enough looking back and wishing…time for me to put a tape in my Walkman, put on my “Frankie says Relax” t-shirt and pour myself a cinzano and lemonade!

The Meaning of Shoes

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm ...

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm stiletto heels. Category:Shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little while ago a reader of my blog asked if I could blog about shoes.  Many people might think that a bit strange – shoes, what about them?  A shoe is just a shoe, right – wrong, very wrong.  For the first 30 years or so of a woman’s life, shoes are just shoes.  Then quite suddenly they take on a whole new meaning, shoes become SHOES. For a lady of a certain age shoes become an all-encompassing obsession.

My personal epiphany, my moment of shoe enlightenment, happened in my mid-thirties when I was given my first pair of truly desirable shoes. Up until that point, shoes were just those things I wore on my feet – a necessary clothing item which I tried somewhat inconsistently to match to the rest of my attire. In fact, I didn’t even like new shoes – I hated the “wearing-in” process – I would happily have paid someone to wear my shoes in for me and then pass them back for me to wear.

It took a major shift for me to appreciate shoes and I am not for a moment suggesting that it is the cost of a pair of shoes that focuses the mind (although in my case, as the queen of bargains, it certainly helped, and with my lack of shoe interest it was going to take something quite dramatic to convert me). My moment came when I was bought (by my very generous husband) a pair of shoes with a red sole (can I add that this was very much a one-off) – now you know how significant that red sole is?  That sexy little flash of the red underside of your impossibly high-heeled shoes which signifies to all present – especially all other women – that yes, you own a pair of Christian Louboutins. You understand the power of shoes. It doesn’t matter that they are hideously uncomfortable or that they have cost more than a month’s grocery shop – you have your place at the top of the shoe hierarchy assured.

An aside – it reminds me of that apocryphal story of the lady who took her beloved Louboutins to a shoe repair shop to have some new heel tips put on and when she came to pick the shoes up, the repair man said “I noticed that the red bottoms of your shoes were wearing away and looking rather scuffed so I’ve replaced them with some of ours” – now that is tantamount to treason.

So what is this obsession with shoes all about for women of a certain age?  It has nothing to do with the fact that men apparently find women’s ankles sexy – any old high heel will do for that purpose unless unfortunately you have “cankles” in which case, apart from radical cosmetic surgery, there is nothing you can do.  It will come as no surprise to you that I have my own theory which I’m sure probably does not stack up on any deep, psychological level but here goes: put simply rather than draw attention to our increasingly leathery faces, we would rather draw the eye to the leather on our feet.  Put bluntly, you can’t really tell the difference between the ankles and feet of a 20 year old woman and a 40 year old woman, whereas the same cannot be said for faces.  Hence the “shoe epiphany” – I can’t really do that much about looking older at eye level but I can wear a damn sexy pair of beautiful shoes and that will make me feel a whole lot better, and it does.

I am not saying that you have to spend a fortune on ferociously expensive shoes – far from it – but the shift is more the realisation that shoes have the power to make you feel great about yourself.  Just because I am forty and no longer ( for public decency’s sake (and my children’s)) going to wear a micro-mini skirt, a boob tube or a backless, strapless little number, does not mean that I can’t wear a pair of utterly gorgeous, actually very classy (well-heeled, if you like), fiendishly sexy pair of shoes! If I am teetering towards middle age, I am going to do it in a well-shod way.

2012 – Reflections

New Years Eve 2011 London

New Years Eve 2011 London (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

So as we hurtle (or in my case limp due to age, a bad knee and the fact that I’m currently lurgy-ridden) towards 2013, I thought I would wrap up 2012 (“put it to bed”as those corporate types like to say) with a few reflections.  There is lots I could say about world events, economies, tragedies, successes and I’m sure I could do this in a serious fashion but I’m going to leave that up to the broadsheets and magazines who love nothing more in the period between Christmas and New Year than compiling endless lists about the year gone by – the highs, the lows, the events that shaped our world etc. No, I am going to focus on what directly affected me (not that I’m ego-centric or anything) and as you would expect much of what I say will be bordering on trivial and utterly irrelevant from a world perspective.

Firstly, this was the year that I turned 40.  Admittedly this is of no consequence to anyone except me and actually of very limited interest to anyone except perhaps a handful of family and close friends.  However, since I started this whole blogging lark in the run-up to turning twice twenty, it seems only right that I should mention it first. I have to admit that I currently feel closer to turning twice forty than twenty but putting that aside, I have to say that my experience of reaching this landmark age has been largely positive.  We had lots of celebrations and everyone was really nice to me in November (the month of the actual turning twice twenty) so I can’t complain.  I’ve decided that being 40 is infinitely preferable to 39 which is undoubtedly the most non-age of all.  I am feeling quite comfortable in my own skin (although there does seems to be rather more of it than I might like on my face in the form of wrinkles which I am sure were not there 12 months ago) and I definitely feel invigorated and determined to do more with my life.  So watch out, 2013, big things are going to happen.

2012 also saw the end of various activities which I have to say I shall not miss in the slightest.  No more nappy changing – hurray – I can leave the house without that tell-tale shoulder bag containing nappies, wipes, Sudocrem, nappy sacs, foldable changing mat and various toys to distract my child whilst I wrestle with the hell that is nappy-changing in public facilities. The other thing I have said goodbye to after 8 years is baby music classes – I know I am not the only person who actually only really enjoyed the first ever music class they did with their first child (novelty value) but then endured countless thousands more because if I didn’t go, then I felt that whole parent-guilt thing going on about not doing enough “activities” with my child.  I really admire those people who teach these baby/toddler music classes – how do they stay happy and smiley all the time.  I feel dangerously unstable after just half an hour once a week of singing “wind the bobbin up”.

Now to arts and culture – you know me, a proper little culture vulture.  2012 was the year of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I reckon that with the exception of only one of my friends, I am probably the only person in the world who owns a copy but has not read it at all.  I don’t feel like I’ve missed out, actually if I’m honest I feel a bit smug that I have managed to resist the allure of this “mummy porn”. The other great cultural revelation of 2012 was that one man wonder PSY and his unmissable “Gangnam Style”.  I don’t care how old I am but I can safely say that some of my funniest moments this year have been either watching others or participating myself in some rendition of “Gangnam Style” – that “horse” dance has been the greatest leveller for all ages and all backgrounds.

It would be remiss of me not to mention “Great” Britain in this year.  Not only did we have the Jubilee as a wonderful excuse to indulge in extreme levels of partying nationwide, but we also managed to pull off the greatest show on earth with the Olympics and believe me that although this was obviously a surprise to many from other countries, the greatest surprise was for us, the British.  We are not a nation prone to hyperbole and excessive enthusiasm.  Indeed, on occasion, we seem to enjoy revelling in serious cynicism and an expectation that we shall fall short of any targets we set ourselves.  The Olympics took us by surprise – what an enormous success! Perhaps best summed up by our three gold medals in the athletics stadium in that glorious 45 minutes on Super Saturday.  Despite all the phenomenal talent on show from team GB and all the other competitors, it is worth mentioning that in 2012, it was a DOG that won the popular TV talent contest, Britain’s Got Talent – this would only happen in the UK.

So there we go – that’s 2012 wrapped up, except to say that it is raining again and that is the other record we have broken this year – the wettest ever on records. It reminds me of a statistic I read in The Sunday Telegraph that Britons use their lawnmowers for only 4 hours on average in a year – says it all really. However, think on the positives – what on earth would we talk about if we had wall-to-wall sunshine all year round?

Happy New Year to all and I’ll “see” you on the other side!

What’s your job?

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

At my fortieth birthday party, my husband described me (in his speech) as a collector of careers.  He said this very affectionately but what this rather euphemistic term actually means is that I am a jack of all trades and a master of none.  It is certainly true that I have tested the waters in many different fields and have definitely not, in that dreaded phrase, “fulfilled my potential”.

I was thinking about careers today when my son asked me over breakfast what I did for a living.   Tempted as I was to point out to him that it was staring him in the face and that looking after him and his siblings was a full-time, grossly underpaid profession, with unpaid, daily overtime, no prospects of promotion and constant appraisals (“Mummy, why haven’t you washed my football kit?”, “Mummy, you were 30 seconds late picking me up from school again”, “You know I hate fish pie”) without any hope of those new trendy corporate 360 degree appraisals (“Son, Why do you insist on calling me mate? “Son, what did your last slave die of?”).

While all this was going through my head, I think I sighed and said that my job was looking after them at the moment – the best job in the world (I think  my fingers might have been crossed at that point).  My son then asked me whether I had ever worked (I’m assuming that he felt that looking after them did not count as “work”).  I took him through a potted career history moving seamlessly from banking, through speechwriting, through teaching to life coaching – even if I say so myself, I really have managed an alphabet of careers in my forty years.  At this point, he lost interest and turned his attention to flicking honey cheerios at his sister.

What he didn’t ask is what I wanted to do in the future when they no longer needed me to be there 24/7.  I wouldn’t of course expect him to be remotely interested in this question at his young age but it got me thinking.  I know what I want to do but I just don’t know if I can and how to get myself started – I want to write and I guess this blogging lark is my small beginnings.  I’ve always wanted to write and while some dream of being in films, on TV, being a doctor, lawyer…whatever, I always from a very young age wanted to see something I had written in print with some glamorous pseudonym on the front cover.  Perhaps this is the year when I finally start to put the wheels in motion for this particular ambition – to be honest, right now, I’d settle for writing a column for any publication at all – Deep Sea Divers Monthly or Hair Removal Weekly – not fussy!

What did you want to do when you grew up? I remember my sister, at about age 5, having very clear and very lofty career aspirations – she wanted to be a train driver and if that wasn’t possible, a burglar.  I can tell you that she is definitely not the former and as far as I can be sure not the latter either. I can’t remember what I wanted to be at that age – I think my main ambition was to make it to Mary in the Nativity (never realised I’m afraid) but I do know that as I got older and started choosing subjects that would influence a career decision, I was very envious of those who knew exactly what career path they wanted to follow.  I would have loved to have been able to announce airily that I was going to be a human rights lawyer or a neurosurgeon or particle physicist but I never really had a clear career path.  I just knew that I hoped I would end up writing.

So for the moment I will get on with the day job (what I do for a living as far as my children are concerned) and keep hoping that one day I shall fulfil my potential (there’s that expression again that I absolutely loathe) and who knows perhaps that opportunity to write for Beer Glass Collectors Monthly will one day drop onto my desk!