When life throws you limes, make a margarita
You’ve heard of the band that kept playing while the Titanic went down, an island girl’s holiday was my version after an iceberg took the arse out of my marriage.
I hadn’t expected to be single again at 50 but recent events had taught me a lot of things can happen you don’t expect. Least of all was I prepared for the particular kind of hell it is to live in quarantine with your ex. The same one who tore my still beating heart from my chest, stomped on it repeatedly all the while still professing to love me – just not in the “same way”. What the actual fu@k right!
The whole year had been a tsunami of devastating revelations that crashed into me one after the other, it had me crawling into the new year on all fours.
My dear friend, Sadie had been experiencing similar devastation so for the new year we booked ourselves a luxury resort, complete with a castle, in Tenerife – the largest Spanish canary island off the coast of West Africa.
Everything but a plague of locusts
We stepped off the plane and couldn’t see a thing, the landscape was desert-like and the sky completely obscured – I guess we should have known then this wasn’t going to be the fabulous new year we were banking on. The year that would take us out of relationship psychological horror film territory and into a fabulous and single-again musical.
Nevertheless, undeterred, we were on our holidays and for one week I didn’t need to deal with the man-child at home fixing to leave me and Sadie didn’t need to fear her ex turning up on the doorstep with a fresh batch of narcissistic manure. Happy Days!
Grinning from ear-to-ear we rushed into the arrival hall to meet our driver – let’s get this holiday started! Scanning the signs none appeared to have “Josephine” or any other misspelling of it. Excellent! We have time for a quick drink and duty-free cigarette outside.
Returning, still no driver, we called him and were surprised to hear he was surprised we were there. Rushing in and apologising he explained many planes hadn’t made it to Tenerife that day. Sadie and I shrugged at each other, none the wiser and undeterred – we were on our holidays and we planned to milk it for every ounce of fun we could! A few little issues were not going to get in-between us and a good time. Which mainly meant in-between us and the cocktail bar.
On arrival the glittering white marble expanse of the foyer and the sleek-looking lounge bar made our grins broaden. Sidling up to reception we lucked out with getting the only grumpy and sarcastic queen on staff – David.
We liked him immediately, his sarcasm, even when aimed at us “dumb tourists” was still highly amusing. He warmed a little when we laughed at ourselves, which set us up for a firm “friendship” with David. Well, it was more we amused ourselves annoying David daily with dumb tourist questions and delighted at just how bitchy he could get, about us, about other guests, about the rest of the staff – his distain was endless. We checked in with David, choosing the prefix “Your Excellency” instead of the boring Miss, Ms or Mrs. I highly recommend it, being greeted by the breakfast maître d with “Good Morning Your Excellencies” got our days off to a really great start.
We got to our suite, hurried into cocktail dresses and ordered four margaritas back at the lounge bar. All hands suitably holding a margarita we headed onto the huge balcony to flop into one of the comfy sofas and enjoy the views – except there wasn’t any, view that is – there were plenty of sofas, all otherwise empty.
“Happy holidays”! we cheers’d. We could just make out the top of the Disney style castle that took centre stage in the middle of the pool area below. The sky, even now at night was still incredibly hazy, our selfies were coming out great though, the haze might have been view-destroying, but it did offer very flattering lighting.
On our second margarita, Antonio the waiter burst through the doors and rushed towards us with a furrowed brow looking incredibly concerned. “Fantastic service here,” Sadie said, “he doesn’t need to panic quite this much though, we’ve still got half a glass left”. Reaching us Antonio made wild flapping motions with his arms, “please, Your Excellencies, the sandstorm is very bad for your health, please come back inside – nobody in Tenerife is outside tonight!”
Sandstorm?! No wonder other planes weren’t able to land!
Later in the week we heard a nearby resort was in total lockdown due to an Italian doctor checking in with a highly contagious virus.
And let the music play on…
Prawns night, will make it all alright
Food is important. More specifically, enjoying food is important. Enjoying with friends or lovers who also enjoy food – pure joy. There was a lot of joy that first night at Fantasia.
Booking a Spanish owned and run resort was no accident, not if you love food. Sadie is a confirmed buffet snob but quickly recalibrated her view after experiencing a 5-star Spanish resorts version. Some cultures just eat better, I’ve always found the Spanish appreciate good food. I love their style of cooking and eating and could not imagine a Spanish tourist tolerating mediocre food at their holiday resort. So, I’d picked the resort with good food, sangria, margaritas and opportunities to practice my Spanish-speaking all in mind.
Everything including a castle
It was of course though the enormous Disney castle dominating the centre of the resort landscape and its skyline that tipped it. Who could resist that cherry on top! Anything utterly ridiculous appeals greatly to me and is never lost on Sadie either. As my wise and fun-loving Grandfather said, “Don’t take life too seriously or you’ll never get out of it alive”. I’ve learnt in my half century that extends to, “Don’t take yourself too seriously either, or you’ll never stay happily alive”.
Got that good food good feeling
The chef station grilling fresh prawns was Sadie’s idea of heaven. She is sometimes hard to please I’m not going to lie, so I was thrilled to see the gleam in her eye and the smile spread across her face at the sight of it. She spent most of the night there, the chef appeared as enamoured of her as she was of the prawns, so the juiciest most beautifully grilled king prawns and langoustine were reserved for her regular visits.
I have similar heart skipping moments where angels sing in my head at the sight of a good cheese board.
It had been a long day, Sadie looked set to fall face down into her prawn plate in a total food coma so we agreed it would be best to have desert and wine on our suite balcony. I made a cheese board and olive selection and neatly wrapped it all up in a huge napkin for secreting out of the restaurant.
Just needed a good bottle of red. Strolling around the huge restaurant on the lookout I spotted some nice red wine in a bucket by a waiter station. Securing one under my jacket I casually walked back to our table to collect Sadie and the cheese napkin picnic.
She’d taken the opportunity to get another load of grilled prawns, so I sat down and hissed I’ve got a bottle of red wine in my jacket. “Give it here”, she instructed, “I’m really good at hiding a whole bottle under my arm”.
Oh hell, you didn’t!
Chatting away, the still quiet of the mostly empty restaurant was suddenly shattered as a red wine bottle smashed on the white marble floor beneath Sadie’s chair. She nonchalantly kept peeling and eating prawns. I looked her directly in the eyes and said, “I commend your positive attitude but I have to tell you there’s really no styling this out. There’s a large red wine puddle directly under your chair and there is literally nobody else sitting in our area of the restaurant”. Sadie howled with laughter.
There wasn’t anything else for it, we both laughed til we cried. I did of course profusely apologise in heavily accented Spanish to the charming Cuban who came with a mop to clean up after us. We shoved a ton of guilt euro notes at him before leaving, with the cheese in a napkin in my handbag and another bottle of red wine under Sadie’s armpit.
Mum always said the happiest people are happy with the smallest things, like the smell of a sweet flower. Horrible break-ups and sandstorms didn’t stand a chance at making us feel miserable against the almighty power of good food and wine with a good friend.
Don’t stop dancing, we may fall
I see what I’m doing here, I’m focussing on the good times and not telling you about the not-so-good times. This is an old habit which quite frankly is a damn useful survival skill.
Laughter is the best medicine; I don’t know who said that first but I’m an avid practitioner. Could be a cultural thing, humour and stoicism. Where I come from the usual advice is, “Build a bridge and get over it” or “Toughen up buttercup” followed swiftly by “Here have a drink (or cup of tea, depending on the hour) you’re too pretty to cry”.
Nevertheless, I understand it’s a journey and I am grateful for the empathy and the wisdom that comes from the painful times.
The hard times make the good times sweeter; like when you peel a fresh clementine with great expectation, then recoil at the sourness because it’s not fully ripened. The next ripe one is much sweeter and you savour it far more than if you’d tasted it first.
Better to live in truth than a web of lies
Ultimately, once I found my legs again, got up and dusted myself off I’d learnt – it’s better to go through the pain and live in truth than continue to live in delusion and lies. The journey to that was crawling the gauntlet on coals of fire. Sometimes the pain consumed me so bad I couldn’t see any end but fire cleanses and if you won’t wake-up I guess it takes a good smack in the face.
I also discovered it’s scary how deep in a web of illusion you can be, you’ve literally got no idea you’re living a lie. That was me, living the lie.
Love at first sight, in a faraway place
My ex-husband I used to call “the love of my life” and my “soulmate” and I meant it. We’d had a romantic start, met in a tropical paradise and had the whole love-at-first-sight passionate thing going. I’ve always had a romantic heart and I look back now and see it’s got me into a lot of trouble… and a lot of fun. I don’t regret any of it. Do I regret marrying the ex, yes maybe I do regret that because it has become clear I was the only one truly committed to our marriage.
Looking through bubble-wrap
He’s a complicated, difficult man and very prideful. Though not so prideful that he bothered to ever get his life together and stop making me clean up his continuous messes from his continuous bad decision-making. See that was my first mistake, I thought he was a man, he’s not, he’s still a teenager pretending to be a grown-up. That was exhausting, carrying someone who never carries you back.
Self-analysis and criticism are not difficult for women, so I see where I went wrong. So deeply in love was I that I ignored all the red flags. Skipped merrily right over them insulated in a warm cosy thick blanket of love, I felt safe – I wasn’t. Oh! He was so good at that, it’s hard for me to describe to you. He used to make me feel sooo loved, so adored like his every happiness depended on me. When someone loves you hard like that it wraps you in a bubble. I guess it’s hard to see the truth through bubble-wrap.
The smack in the face
When he told me, he wanted to leave me ten years later he said our marriage “was only a piece of paper”. That came as one of the biggest shocks, I’d believed we both believed in our marriage. This conversation happened after I picked up his phone that he’d dropped after passing out on the sofa. I was just picking it up off the floor to put on the coffee table but there was a still active chat conversation on it. With someone I didn’t know called “Sam”, I didn’t even know if it was a woman or man but whoever it was my husband was professing his love to them in the same way he had to me. Turns out it was a she, but for a moment there I was so confused I wondered if I was married to a man having an affair with another man.
In it, alone
We had our problems, that was for sure. But I’d believed it was a bad patch, marriages can go through whole bad years of those – I was playing the long game and believed we’d get to the happy life together I’d always envisaged. Apparently, we weren’t in on that together though. He’d already given up on me years ago, he’d just forgotten to tell me.
Hospitals and police-stations
I was paying all the bills and he was continuing to behave like a reckless teenager. Finding him passed out after partying or not even home at all by 8am was so commonplace I’d long ago stopped calling the hospital and police station in fits of fear he was hurt somewhere. He continued to promise he’d start to come home at a reasonable hour, or at least let me know where he was, but it never happened, and he went out after work (which he finished late) most nights. When he was home, he was surly, grumpy, bossy and frequently criticised me. His verbal abuse was so bad I learned to completely mute him, then I’d be jolted out of that as he’d yell, “You never listen to me!” I did explain why when he was in better moods and he’d apologise, then the merry-go-round would start up again.
No fool like an old fool
Even as I’m writing this, I’m seeing what a fool I sound like. I was a fool but I’m not the type to be a doormat. I believed in our love and our marriage, I really truly thought we could sort it out and things would get better. Ok, I can see now I was deep in my own web of lies, I guess I just wanted to believe so bad we’d get back to that loving place and build a happy future together.
It’s important to understand my ex is very charismatic, charming and the life-of-the-party. He knows how to say all the right things to a woman and he’s passionate. The thing is you just never know who you’re going to get one day from the next. He has his demons, many of them and I understood that. I guess what I didn’t understand is that I couldn’t fix them for him. I made a lot of excuses for him is the truth. Ultimately, he never did anything to deal with his own demons other than try to drown them in alcohol or take the frustrations of his past out on me.
Yes, I was a fool
The people in the pub and at the parties would believe he’s the best guy, so much fun! We’d moved to a small town from the city. Early on I’d got a message from someone’s husband who believed our spouses were having an affair. Turned out the whole town believed it. I didn’t. My ex told me he’d never cheat, he hated cheaters as he’d found his friend in bed with his girlfriend and knew the pain. He told me he’d never leave me; I’d have to leave him, and it would kill him if I did. He told me he didn’t want my money, he wanted to get on his feet and look after me. Time went and as it turned out none of those things were true. You should believe what people do and not what they say – most people already know that; I wish I’d listened to them. Yes, I was a fool.
Becoming a hermit
When he finally told me he wanted to leave me after I confronted him with his own phone messages, which he initially denied – even with my photographic evidence of them. He said he was leaving me because I didn’t listen to him, I loved our dogs too much and I wouldn’t go out to the pub and parties with him anymore.
I’d never lived in a small town before, finding out everyone’s in your business and believes your husband’s a philanderer was deeply humiliating. I shut myself away after that rather than face it, I had my good few friends close and we would get together to ride horses and have drinks and dinner at home. The lonely nights while my husband never came home weren’t lonely because I had my three dogs with me. Their unconditional love and only desire to be near me was exactly the right medicine for my hurting heart. As I admitted I didn’t listen to him because I never knew when his words would be kind or when they would sting – sting had become more likely the past few years.
Navigating stormy waters
We had good times, hell we had great times – on the holidays I paid for. He’s a lot of fun, great company when he wants to be. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my ex is a bad person – he’s a bad, no – terrible, husband but he’s a good person and a fun friend. But he is also a total liability. He’s got a heart; he doesn’t just give homeless people his money – he brings them home and cooks them warm meals and makes them a bed on the sofa if he’s come across them on a stormy night walking home from the pub.
This is how I navigate my way through dissolving our marriage amicably, I remind myself he’s a good person, just a real bad husband. The woman he was accused of having an affair with he told me was just a friend. They liked to drink together and had mutual friends. When I asked him about it, he stopped hanging out with her for a while and de-friended her on Facebook.
Six months later he asked if they could be friends again on Facebook as she’d asked. I saw no harm in it, I knew her too and I believed my husband. He went on to being “best friends” with her and another male friend and they drank together most nights referring to themselves as the three amigos. Yeah, no shit – that hurt me a lot. Especially when I’d seen posing pouting selfies of her on his phone – apparently it was “some joke they shared”. I guess that joke was on me, the faithful trusting wife at home with the dogs.
Open your eyes and save yourself Princess
I was previously married to a terrible husband and that’s the plain truth of it. Not a terrible person, but a terrible husband. A man can be a good person and a bad husband, they are different things. You can of course get your garden variety bad man, bad husband, but my ex – like most human beings – was more complex than that. Not to say he was a truly good person either! He could have been, he had the ingredients but chose a different path. One I guess to him looked easier, but ultimately, was his ruin.
Learning from it all – that has been one of the most important parts of the picking-up-the-pieces process. At least then something good comes out of it.
It’s been important to me to find a path through the pain and confusion that would lead to a wiser, stronger, and more powerful me. That’s where I wanted to be on the other side of the heartbreak. Forgiving I’ve found to be a significant goal along this path. Mostly, forgiving myself for not seeing plainly what a mess I was in, because of him, the destructive tornado he was in my life.
Before I got there, to that realisation, I spent a fair amount of time in shock and denial, desperately hanging onto an old dream, like a Titanic survivor to a floating log.
I believed the dream of what our love could be was still alive, but it had died a long slow painful death, right before my eyes, over a long period of time. Eyes that refused to see the truth and hung onto what was in my heart only, I truly loved him you see – unconditionally. What a fool, nothing like a fool in love they say.
You’ll never find me apologising for loving hard though, I don’t believe being capable of unconditional love and blind loyalty are characteristics anyone should be sorry for. Betraying someone who loves you that much, now that’s what a person should feel shame and sorrow for.
Do you believe in the cards? I do, the one that kept coming up for me while navigating the wreckage of my broken marriage was the Eight of Swords. How right that card was. It pictures a woman blindfolded, bound and encircled by eight swords. She appears trapped but the binds are loose and the gaps in the swords are big enough for her to pass through. It’s up to her to release herself, remove her blindfold and escape her predicament. The card will tell you the path to her salvation is knowing her intuition sees what her eyes cannot, and that she can save herself.
Opening your eyes, seeing what you really don’t want to and starting to envisage a completely different life and future. Scary, really, really scary! But the alternatives staying blindfolded, trapped and unhappy. Hell no! I’m strong, I know I’m strong, I’ve had to be strong before. There was nothing else for it but to feel the fear and with my heart-pounding in my throat, just keep on grappling for the blindfold ties and the gap in the swords. I had help, there were guiding hands from true friends and angels but ultimately, it’s only you alone who can choose to take off the blindfold and keep moving one step at a time forward – hoping it’s in the right direction. Praying for guidance.
The healing of a broken heart
If you think this is anything to do with another man – you’re very wrong!
No, this starts with good friends, soul sisters – and ends with them.
They held my hands while I walked across hot coals to get to the other side of grief. They picked me up when I fell, again and again and they told me the truth when I didn’t want to hear it.
Best of all – they laughed with me – a lot. Laughter heals and I love to laugh – I laugh loud. Apparently, I have one of those laughs which makes everyone else in the room laugh too. That’s probably my greatest gift now I think about it.
My girlfriends – my angels
Not everyone has strong, supportive, soul-connection sisterhood bonds of friendship – I’m truly blessed and grateful every single day that I do.
This kind of gift doesn’t happen by happy fortune or accident though, to have great friends you need to be a great friend.
There are no shortcuts, but we all get our time with the ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ when it’s our turn to be the mess. During those times you’re the one who needs them the most, they don’t need you because you’re screwing everything up, being a royal pain-in-the-arse or going through one of life’s tragedies. We’re all ‘that friend’ sometimes.
When you’re strong enough you carry them – taking it in turns. I learnt long ago if you’re doing all the carrying, all the time though, that’s not friendship – you’re just being used and who needs toxic energy-vampires in their life.
Your true friends will tell you the truth. A good smack in the face with some undressed-up home truths helps us all learn and grow sometimes. If you can put your ego to the side, listen and accept it for the great gift that it is.
Autumn – Letting Go and Forgiving
One of my birthday presents was an Autumn Harvest Queen art workshop via video-call. I attended with my dear friend Kallie and 4 other participants. We’d been sent art materials in the post and been told to get comfy with pillows and blankets for 7pm. Our hostess was a spiritual woman with gentle and joyful energy that emanated through my laptop.
We’d experienced the Equinox and autumn was certainly ushering in with wilder wind and rain. I’d collected leaves, bark and berries as instructed and their smell next to me was uplifting and soothing at the same time. Especially the dried English lavender. I’d not felt right about just ripping leaves from trees and luckily, we’d had instructions to ask permission first which made a big difference. Through my reunion tour travels I’d gathered my natures bounty from friends’ gardens and the magical Avebury standing stones area.
I learnt in the workshop that this time of year is about letting go, the autumn equinox is here and so the tides of the earth change. The night and day are of equal length, everything balanced. Darkness starts to take over and our days get shorter. We reap what we’ve sewn and let go of what we no longer want or need.
A time of peace, I’ve been looking forward to that longingly and preparing for it for some time. I’m ready to let go, it’s been a long time coming, too long. This has also been a gift because initially I was in no way prepared to let go; it would have been too big a shock. Because it’s taken so long to separate from my ex, having been forced to continue to live together during the pandemic, I’m now not only ready but looking forward to it. My ex has been living in the new home I’d organised for myself, to start my new life without him. He wanted to leave me; told me he didn’t want me but followed me to my new home. A variety of calamities including the virus put us in this situation and we’ve been living peaceably under the one roof for months now, but it’s really time for him to go his own way.
I made a mandala (circle) with my leaves, branches, berries, ribbons and other treasures – it symbolises coming full circle and harmony. It’s meditative and brings calmness, clarity and emotional stability – so a great thing to do in such times! I have my mandala set up in my bedroom now so I can sleep and dream in its beautiful nature energy.
Letting go, now that’s a real art. Mastering it really is some Grasshopper Shaolin monk, mind-bending shit. Forgive? When you’ve been betrayed and stepped all over something inside rebels at the very suggestion. Isn’t that making it ok? Making it all ok you treated me badly, it’s totally all ok you lied and betrayed me, over and over… If I even try to think about forgiving you am I saying it’s ok to treat me badly again and you get off scot-free… It’s a real head-fuck for sure and I’ve seen my friends wrestle with it also.
Forgiving – it’s hard to do
Marisa Peer’s guided forgiveness meditation really helped me get my head round it. She’s so great, Sadie recommended listening to her and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve since recommended her YouTube tutorials and meditations to loads of people and without fail her simple “I am enough” therapy works. Being a friendship circle of Brits, Scots and Antipodeans, we squirm uncomfortablyh with any mantras that would sound a little overindulgent to our ears. “I am enough” is everything. Truth I’ve always thought has a certain ring to it – you recognise it when you hear it and hearing and telling yourself “I am enough”, well, just do it and you’ll see what I mean. Do yourself a favour and keep on doing it as well.
So, it’s thanks to Marisa Peer I learnt forgiving is the key to letting go and freedom. Freedom from the rabbit-holes of “what if”, “if only” and “I want to fucking kill you and your whore too!”
I still don’t know what’s around the corner for me, but I presume it’s awesome and I know I deserve awesome. I just have to learn my lessons from the past, forgive, let go, grow and da-da! Hey presto! I’ll be in better days.
I’ll let you know when I get there – in the meantime none of this bollock’s has stopped me laughing and having a good time – thanks to having a circle of fabulous friends. Grab your friends, even on video-chat and as my country crush Luke Bryan sings “Lettin’ go a little, little by little, sippin’ on a frozen drink… One Margarita, Two Margarita, Three Margarita, Shot! Don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow, leave all your sorrow out here on the floatin’ dock….” and everything already feels ok – and breathe…
What’s a girl to do this Halloween
I have a dear friend, she’s a witch. Which means powerful woman not the bastardisation of the word to mean bitch. Which quite frankly is another bastardisation because bitches are great, I have two – a Bassett bitch and a Chihuahua cross bitch and they’re pretty powerful witches too. Especially don’t cross the Chihuahua. She’ll have you sussed out at first glance, if you’re worth knowing she’ll love you loyally and never forget you. If you’re not – well, just don’t go near her. Bassett bitch just does whatever the hell she wants and accepts all cuddles and adoration as her natural birth right – fair play, she’s adorable, hilarious and the baby.
Well, I digress – this isn’t what I wanted to tell you about, but one mention of my dogs and I’ll go on for hours, so I’ll stop right now and get back on topic… Halloween.
Now I hadn’t seen Prunella for some years when my marriage hit the iceberg, but then she just appeared back in my life. Offering me support through a free reading over the phone – which was completely accurate. At the time I was in shock and still trying desperately to save my marriage, she told me by the time I came out the other side of this I’d be the one wanting to get rid of him. She was right, about that and everything else. Best of all she told me it would all be ok, those kind of words at times like that you hold onto like a lifejacket in stormy waters.
With social distancing making the Halloween landscape bleak – I decided to save it by planning a visit to see Prunella. She lives in a big old house full of treasures and sweet-smelling smoke. At the back there’s a huge wooden table where we sat, at a distance from each other, and got on with the magic that is old friends catching up.
My sister Karina and I had driven through beautiful Sussex villages to reach her house and taken gifts, home-made blackberry wine, roast beetroot soup (Prunella is vegan), sunflowers I’d grown, and Karina had found a beautiful carved cat for her. Cats are her spirit animal, so cats are always a good gift for Prunella.
Being the incredibly generous personality she is, Prunella had a banquet ready for us and all manner of beautiful objects for us to make wands and create good luck and protection spells with. We were there from lunchtime until midnight – and we never stopped for breath the whole time, talking and laughing. Prunella has been through her own horrific divorce, restraining order type territory – it was so good to see her now happy, relaxed and safe.
She’s a total powerhouse that could fit in a thimble with a beautiful singalong Irish accent. Prunella’s very pretty with sparkly clear, very mischievous eyes that change colour like moonstone. She’s always rattling in beautiful jewellery and you’ll never see her without her make-up and hair done.
We may have had to stay in this Halloween, but this was one of the best anyway. The energy created by female friends, eating, laughing, talking through every detail of their lives, making crafts together, drinking herbal tea, sharing gifts – it’s powerfully healing. I now have a beautiful crystal wand and some great advice. Plus, some letting go with love rituals to do that is cleansing the ex out of my life – maybe that’s why I’ve been singing and dancing around my house this morning – to the quizzical looks of my dogs. The ex has finally left my house to go visit family, with any luck he’ll stay there. Freedom is in intoxicating grasp and I have nothing better to do this day than carve pumpkins – life is good.
Happy Halloween – it’s going to be a super special one with the blue full moon, can’t wait!
Heck, my life’s a country song
Living close to fields and farms and curving my way through the lower gears of an old landrover, there was just something right about having a country song playing.
It all started with Nashville, the TV series – if you haven’t seen it, you should! Add my addiction to The Batchelor nation series of shows, it all rounded up into making me a country music fan. I’d hear the bands on the TV shows, buy the music and play them while driving. Don’t even get me started on Dolly, she’s an iconic inspiration of Goddessness! There’s a reason “What would Dolly do?” is a slogan, the woman is wiser than an owl. I’ve often asked myself that question and the answer is always pretty much the same – dust yourself off and move on; “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails” (Dolly Parton quote). I better stop now because I could talk about my admiration for Dolly to the cows come home. What I’m meaning to tell you about is one special day with a special friend and some important things we learned.
My country music loving buddy, I call her Lou Ellen (yes, we have cowgirl names for each other), we like to go to the country festivals together over summer. We were trying out a new one in Suffolk on a bright sunny day. It was huge! We’d stayed over in a B&B the night before and got a taxi into the expanse of countryside being used as the festival location. Hiding behind a red vintage pick-up truck, we stashed mini bottles of gin down our bras before going through security. Sunbeams were gleaming across the glossed-up vintage American cars on our long walk to the entry gates. We held hands and squealed in excitement. The music was drifting over the trees and the smell of BBQ and candyfloss filled the air.
Lou Ellen was going through a heart-breaking and not so amicable separation at thirty-five. It was the astrological year when if you weren’t living an authentic life or in an authentic relationship (even if like me, you weren’t aware of it) it was all going to boil to the surface and erupt. Lou Ellen’s eruption had been on an Asian holiday with her husband. At the end of her wits on how to get his attention and affection, she’d blurted out, “Shall we separate then?!” That was the time he did listen and responded, “I think getting a divorce is a good idea.” It was in that moment her heart broke.
But, today – today, we’re in country music fan heaven and we’re here to have a good time! We’d got new outfits especially. Cowboy hats and boots naturally, a floral tea dress for Lou Ellen and a denim skirt and tie-front check shirt for me. Yeeha! Yep, we get totally carried away with this and make no apologies.
The sun was beating down hard and warming our bare arms as we took a full tour of the festival grounds, this took a good couple of hours or so being so big. The first things we saw were shopping huts with unique items like handmade cigar box guitars and a variety of Americana inspired food trucks. People were milling about eating corn-on-the-cob or queueing for cold beer at the bar. All ages were there, some families had carts for ferrying small children and dogs about. There was a special K9 agility area if any four-legged family members felt like it. Ducking behind a barrel serving as a table, we fished our mini bar out of our bras and poured them into the plastic (recyclable) pint glasses of ice and home-made lemonade we’d bought at a nearby stall. A young spaniels Mum was coaxing him through an agility tunnel, he burst through with a wildly wagging tail and they both whooped liked he’d won the Olympics. Lou Ellen and I touched glasses and giggled. The happy atmosphere was working its magic.
Further in was a beautiful lake, complete with pedalo swans and a nearby bluegrass stage surrounded by haybales for seats. Walking past the swaying audience and through a forest clearing we found the main stage. It was inside a vast marquee next to the main bar. Outside the marquee hundreds of people sat around picnicking or just drinking and chatting. Fire-pits were dotted everywhere for lighting after sundown. Hearing an excited scream at the far end we weaved our way through picnic blankets to find an axe throwing hut. “I know who’d I’d like to throw one of those at!” Lou Ellen joked.
After working off some stress with an axe we bought some cold beer and found a pretty willow tree to sit under and put the world to rights. We poured our hearts out to each other that day, it was a relief to get it all out and to speak to a friend who really understood the agony of a freshly broken heart.
As the sun was setting, we took to our feet to sway to the music, swinging each other around. I suddenly had a great idea, “Let’s take a swan ride around the lake!” I blurted. “Brilliant idea!” Lou Ellen agreed. We hurried as best we could towards the lake. Reaching where all the swans were parked by the jetty, I burst into tears to see they were all locked together for the night. No more swan rides today. “Hell JoJo Rae! You’ve got far more going on to cry about than a damn swam pedalo!” Lou Ellen chided. Doubling over, I laughed till I cried some more.
The bluegrass stage had an enthusiastic singer who was incorporating some impressive yodelling into his tale-of-woe songs. I hooked Lou Ellen’s arm for a walk around the lake and started singing all the things we’d confessed to each other earlier, ending each verse with a yodel. I sang a verse and yodelled to the sky like nobody was listening and Lou Ellen sang back the next verse ending with her own yodel. By the time we’d walked the whole lake we’d sang and yodelled all the hurt and wrongs away. We slumped to the ground, hugged each other and exclaimed, “Woah! That felt good!”
I highly recommend putting your woes to a country tune and yodelling – it may not be recognised therapy and I’m no doctor, but I can guarantee you from personal experience you’ll feel a whole lot lighter afterwards.
All that singing made us hungry so we headed to the food truck area and there she was, in all her shiny yellow glory – the mac n cheese truck. It was like the last of the sun’s rays were shining just on her, it was almost religious. We ran the last few yards and ordered a couple of ‘Nostagic’s’ – a classic mac n cheese dish in a paper pot. We’re both purists, you don’t need to mess with perfection. Honestly, it was eye-rolling good. When we finished, we went to talk to the chef to ask where they’d be appearing next. He seemed a little confused, we were deadly serious explaining we were big fans. Turned out they’d be at the next country music festival we had tickets to, we were thrilled! Walking back to the marquee we were discussing our good luck when I suddenly realised, “You know Lou Ellen, I think most people ask their favourite bands where they’re appearing next, not the mac n cheese truck”. We stopped, looked at each other in realisation and fell to the ground laughing at ourselves.
Falling out of love
When I’m in, I’m all the way in. Ride or die. There was nothing I wouldn’t do. Now I’m all the way out, I see I didn’t see all of you when I was all the way in. I missed the serious flaws that make it impossible for you to love the way I do. For you to be honest, even with yourself. I saw through in-love eyes the wounded child, I saw your powerful soul, the one you don’t give life to. It’s been a real learning experience to find out not everyone loves the way I do or even understands it the same. Trust and loyalty are apparently just words to some people. To me, they’re hard-wired with love and sacred.
I’m all the way out of love with my ex-husband now and “falling” out of love doesn’t describe the experience for me. I didn’t “fall” out of love. Dragged kicking and screaming is probably more accurate. Now I see it as an awakening rather than a falling. I hid your ugliness from my eyes, from my ears, from my mind – I even fooled my heart but my soul knew. It used to whisper to me, and I held my ears shut. Believing in the one you love, the one you’ve said vows of marriage with, beyond the point of reason – it’s called loyalty. Well, it is to me. I knew he was capable of being beautiful, and was sometimes, but he kept choosing ugliness for himself and you can’t make other people’s choices for them. No matter how entwined your lives, we’re still all ultimately on our own journeys.
Awakening; awakening to the truth about you and our relationship. I wouldn’t have left you, I’m too loyal – I’d have kept fighting for what we could have been if you’d made better choices. Now you broke our marriage, it’s given me the freedom to see a new path, see you and see the truth. Thank you for that.
Unconditional love, it’s not something everyone’s capable of, it would seem, and it certainly isn’t something you want to be giving if it’s not reciprocated. It only works when you’re both ride or die. I know what beauty that is, I had a front-row seat to my grandparent’s incredible love and marriage. I spent every school holiday as a child with them. Be careful the lessons you learnt as a child, make sure they match up with the ones of the person you’re betrothing yourself too. If I’d known that before, I could have saved myself a lot of sacrifice and pain learning it the hard way.
It took time to fall out of love. The process began years earlier, from the mistreatment during our marriage. Like death by a thousand cuts. So, when the death blow came, it whipped the blindfold from my eyes so I could start blinking into the truth.
Freedom, it’s a new coat of many colours. It’s starting to feel really good on my skin. The endless possibilities, all that energy, magic and power I put into loving you, making your life better – I can now put into myself. I’m definitely far more deserving of it. I still believe in love, I love a lot – my family, my friends, Dolly Parton, nature, this beautiful planet and my darling dogs. Am I afraid to have romantic love in my life again? No, not at all. I know other good souls exist everywhere and when two connect it’s magical. For right now though, I know I need time for it to just be me, me and my dogs. Time to get more comfortable with just nurturing myself, in my own space.
When does kindness cross the line?
I’ve been trying to answer this one for myself and I don’t know the answer yet.
After my ex broke our marriage and hit me over the head with one devasting revelation after another. I stayed knocked down for a beat but that’s just not me. Even while I was in the early days of being deeply wounded and confused, I started to take steps to sorting out my own life – the life that would become my new single life.
I talked it out endlessly with my closest friends, I booked myself into a local therapist and went to counselling. Every session I dreaded; I see now she was trying to tell me the truth but I wasn’t quite ready for it. I’d leave every session feeling emotionally bruised. When you’re still in shock and in the process of falling out of love there’s a piece of your heart that still hopes all this is a bad dream and you’ll fix it. I suppose that’s what they call denial. Probably shouldn’t blame my heart, my heart I believe is smarter than that. Fear, it was fear – fear of change, not being able to see past what I thought my future would look like, fear of heartbreak, fear of being alone. That’s what was to blame. Fear will have you making some dumb-arse decisions.
Regardless of the fear, I can feel that and get on and do what I need to do anyway, so I started to make my plans for a single future. Disentangling yourself from a long-term marriage, there’s a lot of vines to cut down.
First, I thought about where I wanted to live. I liked the quirky small town where we lived, he said he hated it but seemed to really enjoy drinking every night at the local pubs with all his many drinking buddies. My closest friends there, the ones who really knew me, they had busy lives. My friends who are like sisters because we’ve known each other since Adam and the apple, they lived very far away. These were the two friends who knew the truth about what was going on in my life. I’m very private, I don’t tell everyone my business, so they were the only two who knew my marriage was imploding and how awful my husband was being. I decided it would be a good idea to move closer to them, a good six hours drive from where I lived then.
It wasn’t easy arranging house viewings from afar, but I did it and would go down for weekends where my friends and I would see twelve houses in a day. I got a short-list of possibilities, went through the pros and cons and eventually got it down to one. The house I’m living in now. I went about selling the marital home, sorting out finances, moving and I started the paperwork for divorce which is now finalised. This seems to all have come as a surprise to my ex, I don’t know why – he’s always known I’m a pragmatic, got my shit-together kinda girl. I’m also resilient and strong, more resilient than I even realised and that’s a treasured piece of new knowledge.
I wanted to manage an amicable separation and divorce if possible, it takes a lot of discipline and emotional strength, but I’ve done it. Ultimately this has made all the tough financial and legal conversations easier – not easy – but easier. My ex decided to move down to the new area I was moving to. He helped with the move and I said it was fine he could stay with me while he went overseas to visit his family and then got sorted with his own place. He found a new job and a new place in February – then the pandemic hit. He lost his job; we were in lockdown and since he’s also made matters worse by giving himself a significant injury playing sport whereby, he now can’t walk without crutches.
All this has added up to me having my ex as a house guest for months. I really want him out. I’ve carried his arse for years, now we’re divorced after he broke our marriage and my heart – how the hell is this still happening! Ok, I get I could in theory throw him out – jobless and incapacitated and probably already gone through his savings because he’s incredibly stupid with money and his family overseas are master manipulators at getting him to send it. I could, but after working so hard to keep this an amicable split for so long it feels like falling at the last hurdle. It’s also not very kind. He may have been a terrible husband but he’s a human being and in his heart not a bad person. He keeps out of my way and we bumble along politely under the one roof.
Inwardly, I’m screaming – get out! I want to get on with my own life now. This chasm shows how different we always were. I’m now in my own place, the kind of place I always liked but he didn’t – i.e. full of character and old. It’s on the coast because I love being near the sea and I have my support network of closest friends nearby. I’m good. He on the other hand is still on my coattails like the child he is. I’d never seen it when I was in love with him, just how childish and immature he is. That’s why I think our split could be good for him, he needs to learn to stand on his own feet and stop getting in his own way – he’s clearly scared to. I was scared too, but I can feel the fear and do it anyway so I’m now in a better place.
So, I’m choosing to be kind – it’s important to be kind, this is a big part of my belief system. Being kind to someone who has been so cruel to you isn’t easy, I’m not going to lie, but it’s not impossible either. But when is being kind to someone else stop being kind to yourself, what’s the timeline, how much longer can this drag on for …. these are my questions and I don’t know any answers yet … not into the new year I’m praying, let me have my life to myself for the new year … keep your fingers crossed for me please.
Penpals, books and volunteers
When the first lockdown hit, I wanted to find useful new hobbies to fill my time. I was still working from home during the week but there was plenty of evening and weekend time to do some good for myself and others.
Travelling along the coast I spotted the iconic 1930’s building that is the Blind Veterans centre. Returning home, I quickly logged on and volunteered for their befrienders programme online. I’ve some experience in this as I was a volunteer befriender when I lived in East London, for an age charity. Every week I’d have tea and cherry bakewell cake with a true cockney called Doll. She’d regale me with stories of the east end during her childhood, the second world war and later as a widowed mother of one.
One of my favourite stories was about a small plane that whizzed past, pushing a young Doll back into a building when she was walking down the road to buy some milk. She described this small plane like machine with no pilot. Her and other curious locals followed it down to where it’d crashed. One day I looked this up and it turns out it was the first doodlebug bomb dropped in London by the Nazi’s.
Doll also volunteered during the war at the Bryant and May factory building sewing uniforms. She told me they’d write notes with their names and addresses and sew them into the pockets and then get a penpal. Her friend went on to marry her navy sailor-boy penpal.
Unfortunately, the blind veterans said they couldn’t take on any new volunteers during lockdown. At the time I was also doing my best to expand my mind with books and was reading William Whitecloud’s The Magician’s Way, which really made me feel full to the brim with enthusiasm for life and the future. It’s about manifesting what you want and talks about alchemy and magic – two words that always attract me like a magpie to a jewel. It is a jewel of a book too; I highly recommend it.
Late one night, you know – the witching hour when you have all those sudden great ideas – I remembered how I’d enjoyed having penpals when I was a child. There was no internet then and we had the wondrous joy of handwriting letters, adding in gifts of photos and stickers and then waiting weeks for a reply.
I wrote to a girl in Ireland my Nana had got me for a penfriend, she was a distant cousin. I remember her photo, long naturally ringleted golden hair and clear blue eyes. She was funny and seemed much more worldly than me, I was in awe of her. My second penfriend I’d got through by school French teacher, he was a French boy living in Paris. We wrote in English as I was terrible at French. I’d had to tell him at great length one letter how disappointed we were in New Zealand with the French, because of the devastating Rainbow Warrior bombing. It was all anybody was talking about at the time. It still fills me with sadness thinking of it now. If you don’t know; two really bad-at-their-job French secret agents planted bombs on the Greenpeace ship called Rainbow Warrior and sank it. Everywhere these “secret” agents had been they’d been spotted by members of the New Zealand public as suspicious.
Later my French penfriend did military service and sent me a marriage proposal by post, he said his mother was sorting everything out for us and I could come live with them in Paris and plan the wedding with her. This came as a great shock to me as I had no idea we were more than friends. I’d never even had a boyfriend, they were more innocent times. I didn’t marry him if you’re wondering but I do hope he’s doing well in his life – we lost touch many years ago.
I had nostalgic notions of finding interesting foreign penfriends again who enjoyed the romance of snail mail as I do. Upon investigating it’s pretty much all email and online now, undeterred I signed up to an international penpal site, set up a profile and waited. I didn’t wait long, I got a few responses and started lively email exchanges with a Texan, an inter-cambio exchange with a Madrilenian (his English being far superior to my Spanish) and a sincere but funny veteran in a British seaside town. The Texan working on an oilrig was quite flirty but engaging – turned out to be a scammer, as soon as he asked me to help him buy amazon vouchers for his kids, I stopped corresponding. I should have known he wasn’t real when he couldn’t converse on any Texan subject’s I wanted to learn more about.
The British vet I’ve been writing with for many months now, one of his jokes is that he fought a landmine and the landmine won but you should see the landmine. He’s blind, highly functioning and busy writing a book. I’ve been helping him with editing. I suddenly came to the realisation the other day that Mr Whitecloud was right, I got want I’d put out I wanted – to befriend a blind veteran, it just didn’t happen how I’d expected so I hadn’t even noticed.
I’m waiting for my other wishes to come true now; I do believe in magic but it can obviously manifest in unexpected ways so I better stay alert 😉
Staying in – staying sane…
It’s been an interesting year, 2020. An astrologer friend said it’s officially the ‘year of suffering’. I prefer ‘year of transformation’. After being taught by nuns during my school days, the word suffering has terrible connotations of Jesus on the cross. I’d cry in class every Easter, if you also grew up with those stories, you’ll understand why. It’s the same thing ultimately, but words have power, so ones that resonate more positively in your own brain are worth choosing, in my opinion.
I don’t see any point in staring at the mud, never have – ever since I was taught that story in primary school. Was probably the nuns again, though it may have been one of my Grandmothers, all very wise women. Do you know it? The story about two prisoners looking out of their cell – one looked down and saw the mud and the other looked up and saw the stars. I want to see the stars I thought as my five-year-old self, and I do – I see them everywhere. These things are a choice.
When lockdown came, I was fearful, angry, frustrated – even more so that my ex was still living in my house and locked in with me. It takes a lot of willpower to be polite towards an ex-spouse whose behaved terribly. Saying, “would you like a cup of tea”, instead of screaming, “get off my back, I’m so sick of taking care of you!”, takes strength, trust me.
When the first lockdown finished, and he was about to start a new job and go get his own place he injured himself playing sport, so that put paid to that. Watching him limp out of A&E on crutches, I cried silently to myself. For someone so opiniated, bossy and ever ready to tell me my faults – he just can’t seem to look after himself. It’s exhausting. These days he’s polite, after all, we’re not together anymore but he’s still living under my roof on my charity, so be kind of stupid to continue his verbal abuse of our married days. We tend to occupy different rooms and time-zones so I’m in my own company most of the time.
Back to the stars, I decided to use my locked-in time as an opportunity to grow, heal and learn new things. I’ve found all kinds of new things I enjoy and indulged in some of my old favourites as well. My Mum always said the happiest people find pleasure in the smallest things, like smelling a flower. The big difference I’ve been working on is remembering to actively acknowledge how much I like something, in the moment. Like watching back to back episodes of The Batchelor on a rainy evening, fire lit, pyjamas on and covered in sleeping dogs. Add a glass of wine and a little cheese, I’m in heaven.
On the growing and learning front, I’ve been reading and watching YouTube tutorials on botany, yoga and self-improvement. My favourites are Gathering Thyme, Herbal Jedi, Yoga in Bed by Candace, Yoga with Sanela (her voice alone is so relaxing) and meditations with Marisa Peer and Jason Stephenson. Sleeping with healing music I’ve found is amazing to, they’re free on YouTube from posts from Nu Meditation and MoonLight Meditations, plus many others. Trying different exercise classes, loving Lucy Wyndham-Read and Meredith Shirk. Face yoga has been a new skill I’m learning also, KoKo Hayashi is a great teacher.
Yoga really does work! I’ve been calling in body magic and managed to convince one of my friends to do ’30 days of Yoga with Julia Marie’. We’re on day 26 and been messaging each other about our progress. I’m loving it so much because it makes you feel alive, peaceful and happy. The feeling of achievement is a great way to start the day as well, seeing poses and wondering if that’s even possible – then doing them (even for a moment before collapsing) feels fantastic. My flexibility is so improved, and my stress levels are down. I’ve been taking my Mum through yoga breathing exercises on video-chat as well, she’s terrible for shallow breathing when she’s feeling anxious.
Growing plants from seeds, that’s another new hobby, it’s earth magic! I’m still in awe they grow for me, and very grateful. The whole process is fascinating, I enjoy the feel of potting-mix and watching each plants progress, so much so there’s now about fifty pots in my backyard – flowers, herbs, vegetables and a baby willow tree. I also put some fairy lights up, they make me smile when I look out the window at night.
My neighbour gave me an over-the-fence tutorial on how to make blackberry wine. During August I picked loads of blackberries while out walking the dogs – it’s quite meditative as it’s a slow, repetitive task while the sun warms your back. Now, I’m enjoying drinking my own blackberry wine, it’s delicious if I do say so myself and relaxing. Very relaxing.
Rediscovering rainy day cooking, what a joy! Making soups and roast dinners with the radio on and dancing and singing around the kitchen to the quizzical looks of dogs. I’m a terrible singer and most others don’t like my taste in country music so it’s a great pastime for alone time. Mash n gravy; is there anything more comforting than mash n gravy – that’s not a question, it’s a statement of fact. Well, actually, mash n gravy and a glass of blackberry wine.
Twinkle, twinkle little star.
Let’s hear it for the boys!
You might think because of the suffering my ex caused me I don’t have a very high opinion of men. Not true, I don’t have a high opinion of him, but I’ve had the privilege of having some amazing men in my life.
I was lucky enough to have incredible male role models growing up. From my Dad, who unfortunately died suddenly in a boating accident when I was 21 to both my grandfathers, my brother and my uncles.
My paternal grandfather died young too, my memories if him are of a gentle happy soul who would dance with us around the living room to Bony M. His wife, my nana, was a strong Irish woman and the matriarch of the family. So clever and so wise, she kept it all together and worked right up until her late 60’s. I see myself in her because she taught me well, schooling me from a young age to be independent and think for myself. She was truly selfless when it came to her family.
My maternal grandfather Fred was a real character. I want to say IS a real character. Because I don’t believe he’s gone just because he died – his soul still exists, he still exists. What a strong soul he is too. He went to war young, like a lot did in the second world war. He died there too and came back; it gave him the key to seeing others pass through that gate later in years. I spent all my school holidays at my maternal grandparents, as soon as we would wake, we’d pile into their bed and watch White Island (a volcanic island in the sea) smoke from their large bedroom window. It was totally normal for grandpa to say such-in-such has just died. Then we’d get the call later in the day to confirm it via the usual communication route of the telephone.
He adored my grandmother. Every second of every day – he adored her. This was my normal growing up. He was an escaped prisoner-of-war and got over the border to Austria where my grandmother and her family hid him on their farm. She would steal out every night to his hiding place in the barn to bring him food. She spoke little English and he’d only learnt a little German in the prison of war camp but that didn’t stop them falling in love. The language of love goes far beyond words.
They had incredible stories of that time, which I grew up on. He promised her when he returned home to New Zealand, he would send for her. As it turned out it wasn’t that easy as they were on opposite sides of the war from a political viewpoint. He wasn’t a man to give up, he eventually found a church that agreed to marry them and campaigned the government to let him bring her over. And so it was, she travelled many miles to another country to board a ship that brought her to the other side of the world, at 19 years old. She was always a brave and courageous woman.
After they married, they had their fair share of difficulties thanks to what we now know to be PTSD, but they never wavered in their devotion to each other.
My grandfather Fred was a big personality. He loved practical jokes, and everyone loved him. Grandma worked in a charity shop as a volunteer one day a weel. On that day Fred would be lost, spending the whole time working with us grandchildren to make everything nice for her return and counting down the hours till she was back. My grandmother never spent a day not knowing how adored, loved and needed she was by her husband.
He adored and loved me, his first grandchild, too. I could do no wrong even when I was behaving like a demon child. Later, when I was older, he’d hold show slide shows evenings and lovingly narrate a slides of me throwing terrible toddler tantrums with, “that was day when I didn’t get Josephine her ice-cream fast enough because there was a queue of people”. What! I was being a total brat, that’s the truth -but not in his eyes.
My dad was a morale, intellectual person. A closed book but a good man. My brother is the same genius level of intelligence and a loving father and good provider. All the men in my family share great senses of humour, there was always banter and laughter with them.
So, here’s to all the great men, the good guys – let’s hear it for the boys!
Christmas to Christmas, the difference a year makes
I love Christmas – yes, I’m one of those people. It’s an infection I caught from my adored grandfather. He was adored not just by me but everyone who ever met him, so infectious was his larger than life gregarious spirit. At Christmas time he exploded with good cheer and merriment. As children my brother and I stayed with my grandparents in their house by the sea for our school holidays. The run-up to Christmas day Grandpa would have us very excited with tall tales (the only kind he told) and helping with decorations. Grandma would have us salivating as we peaked at what she was concocting in steaming pots in the kitchen.
Christmas morning Grandpa was the first up (yes even before small children) and burst into our bedroom to wake us excitedly announcing “It’s Christmas!” Now I think about it, he was Santa. Tall, robust with a substantial belly (from homebrew making) and a thick shock of white hair. All he needed was the beard, but he certainly had as much Christmas spirit as Santa himself. How blessed we really were.
Last Christmas I was in a very different place, in every way, to where I am this Christmas. This time last year I was watching my world explode, what I held dear and believed in was shattering to pieces. My marriage and the life I’d built crumbling around my ears. I thought it was the worst thing that could happen, it wasn’t. I thought the anguish I was feeling would drown me, it didn’t.
This Christmas I’m living in a new town and new house, both of which I’ve grown to love. When I first arrived I found the foreignness of it all, and living alone, frightening. Now I look around every day and feel grateful and calmer than I have in years. My life is my own again. I write this hoping to give comfort to anybody in the place I was last Christmas. Will it all get better and be ok, I know you’re asking yourself. Yes, it will… if …. and here’s the key – if you decide it will and start moving towards that goal.
There’s a lot of mess to clear up at the end of a marriage. Messy emotions, messy untangling of finances and responsibilities. Moving home. I started the ball rolling last Christmas by selling the married home, which was a stress in itself with a difficult buyer making unreasonable demands whilst trying to get the purchase of my new home, on the other side of the country, through a chain that kept threatening to break. Every week saw a new challenging twist I had to negotiate. Keeping my head was essential, if I’d lost it, I’d be in a “different” (read, “worse”) place now. The decisions we make today see where we are tomorrow.
Get a lawyer, take proper financial advice and keep your head. However, there are things you simply can’t control. Recognising the difference, I’ve always found challenging. Sadie would say to me, “You can’t control everything.” It’s sage advice. When my world starts falling apart my instinct is to try to do just that, but the real power and freedom and peace can only be found in letting go.
When to hold the reins and get your shit together, when to sigh and just let go, saying; “It is what it is” – that’s the challenge. Navigate it right and you’ll come out of this bumpy, perilous white-water rafting experience into the calmer, peaceful, happier waters you seek. I’m no expert, I’m on a never-ending learning journey myself, but these are the things I’ve found to be true from my experience.
It does get my hackles up sometimes when I’m advised, “let go – you can’t control everything”. True, but some things you need to sort out or you’ll sink – simple. As your ship hits an iceberg, rushing to bucket water over the side won’t get you anywhere but neither will sitting in a yoga pose om’ing on the deck. Get yourself a lifejacket and a raft and paddle around the rocks. Then let go, holding onto any of it won’t bring you peace. Things happen that aren’t fair, my ex treated me unfairly – but I’m a grown-arse woman and nobody put a gun to my head to marry him. That was my decision and I take responsibility for it, and also now forgive myself for it. I’ve got better days to look forward to, including today. Today I can choose to be happy and go do things that make me happy – even just savouring this cup of coffee and writing my heart out in this blog.
Once I’d have thought having Christmas day alone would be heart-breaking, today I’m so looking forward to it. I could go to a friend’s house but I’m choosing to do this alone because all I need to be happy is me, my dogs and good food and wine. I’ll be dressed in my Christmas jumper making Christmas dinner, singing Christmas songs, drinking mulled wine and watching the Queens speech and Elf with the dogs and I’ll be feeling very grateful for all of it.
Blessings to you this Christmas, I wish you a very happy one.
Becoming a bear cub
Is it the winter weather or the post-Christmas dinners? Something about this time of year, particularly this year, makes me feel like curling into a ball like a baby bear cub and just sleeping the days away.
I don’t seem to be the only one either, I’ve been checking in with friends and we’re all at it. Well, those of us, like me, who’re on Christmas leave; we’re sleeping like it’s an Olympic sport and reporting in on our impressive times.
This is the first year in I can’t remember when, I’ve got Christmas leave, besides the statutory days. I usually leave this time of year for my colleagues with children to take leave and be the one staying back to cover. I love to travel so used my leave for that or it seemed a complete waste of days off. Taking leave, to go nowhere, is a foreign concept for me. But, if I’m going to have to stay home, I’m going to embrace it. This time, staying home and staying in is for rest. I’m not starting projects, learning new things or using my time wisely – I’m turning doing sod all into an art form. It seems to be just the right time for it and if we needed any further excuse the government’s plunged us into something called “Tier 4” – don’t ask, it basically means stay home, again.
I spoke to Sadie and Nottie on the phone, both were still in their pyjama’s, as was I at lunchtime on a Monday. I’d recommended a new reiki sleep music that had had me having Alice in Wonderland type dreams. Nottie tried it and reported sleeping in to lunchtime, longer than she has in years. It’s my new favourite sleep music by MusiclyZen. I enjoy opening my curtains to let in the light of the moon sometimes too, it seems to stimulate calmness and just looking at it glow makes me smile.
Are we hankering for peace, respite or is it just the natural pull of what our ancestors would have done this time of year – when people lived in harmony with the natural world and light. Maybe that’s just me making excuses to be lazy. Laziness was sacrilege in my childhood home, so it feels a little rebellious to give into it now, even as an adult. There’s something more to this though, in my soul I know I need this time to replenish. I don’t need a book or a guru to tell me that, I feel it.
Over Christmas I was visited by ghosts of travels and relationships past in my dreams, some re-visits I relished and some I really didn’t. I’m not one to dwell on the past, I don’t see the point, which is why I guess I’m forced to do it in my sleep sometimes. Not sure what’s happening astrologically to make a full week of it though, felt like car crash sleep therapy. Glad, that’s over!
I’ve found myself all through Christmas feeling retrospective – looking back, picking over memories like old bones, scattering them about like runes to see if I could spot any patterns or signs.
On this rainy Monday I enjoyed doing little more than lighting the fire and poking at smoking logs while watching the rain run down my window. Nothing but grey outside.
Even my dogs have taken to sleeping even more than usual. I’ve been letting them climb into my bed at night and we’re all sleeping as a pack. It’s quite an accomplishment to sleep with three dogs as you end up in very odd shapes throughout the night. Their sleeping breathing and snuffles are soothing, and they smell great as I bath them in a shampoo that smells like baby powder.
It’s four in the morning as I write this from bed, being on leave has me keeping some odd hours, my baby, a Bassett hound, has manoeuvred herself so she can have her head on my heart. Something she does to feel comforted as that’s how I raised her. As a tiny puppy sleeping on her own, she’d wake and cry and fret. Bringing her into bed and resting her on my heart would calm her and put her back to sleep. It’s how I learnt to sleep very still on my back for months.
This is also the time of year to indulge in movie and TV guilty pleasures. Except I don’t feel guilty at all, I love old movies and have just made my way through an entire season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I could certainly relate to some of the marital issues Teresa had and how she kept a quiet dignity throughout it. Her brother is great to watch as he’s such a fantastic husband. The complex relationships and how things can go so wrong so quickly over a few words fascinates me. The Jersey girls add in throwing and flipping things for added drama as well. It’s a way of travelling when you can’t and seeing how other people from different cultures live.
Morphing into a bear cub and hibernating – it just seems to feel right, right now. The colder weather helps, the drawing to the end of a challenging year, emotional and mental exhaustion, Christmas indulgence, mulled wine, fancy French cheese and chocolates, the urge to pull the bedcovers over my head at the announcement of another lockdown, that Christmas permission to slob-out and not feel guilty about it. Somethings calling me to hanker down so I’m giving into it and going back to cuddle a dog and drift away on cloudy dreams, hopefully to Barbados or the Pacific Islands and not an ex-boyfriend of Christmas past!
Snow-capped memories of Lapland
While my body can’t travel, my mind re-visits the special places of winters past. Like a sparkling jewel, I’m remembering the most magical place I’ve been – Lapland. North of the arctic circle, Finland’s incredible subarctic wilderness – a place of pure magic! Where the nature Gods conjure phenomena like the Aurora Polaris (polar or northern lights), a midnight sun and magnificent reindeer.
A couple of Christmas’s ago, I booked a Lapland holiday with flights to Kittilä and an apartment hotel facing the ski-slope in the mountain resort of Levi. The trip included some excursions and all the arctic clothing you needed. I was still with my ex at the time, unaware of his duplicity, so had booked for us both and spent all year paying monthly instalments until the day arrived to board the TUI flight. I wish I’d taken one of my dear friends, someone who really loves me, but alas that wasn’t the case, so I’ll ignore he was there as Lapland is too precious a memory for me to allow him to spoil it.
The flight was full of families with small excited children in reindeer antlers, I was just as excited in a sparkly Christmas jumper and woolly elf hat. Never take yourself too seriously if you want to be able to really enjoy life. These trips are booked up pretty much wholly by families for kids to visit Santa. I highly recommend going as an adult, there’s so much more to Lapland and the kids aren’t allowed to sit in the coach front seats – so you can rock up anytime and get the best seat and view for the excursions. I also had a hipflask tucked inside my ski jacket which was brilliant for those trips where we were standing around in the snow for a time – a number of parents gladly accepted my proffered hipflask, I think they may have not been using it to just warm up though. Sometimes the most amazing trips are wasted on the very young, wait until it’s something you can really enjoy and appreciate – like me at 49. I’d definitely go back on my own, it’s a safe place, full of magic and Christmas joy, it’d be ideal for solo travel.
I don’t think I ever stopped smiling the whole time I was there, the air tingles with something special – indescribable. The light, it’s other-worldly. The cold didn’t bother me, I actually had to take back the arctic suit the TUI guide gave me – it was too warm, I over-heated in it. At the time I’d been living on England’s north east coast and when you’re acclimatised to wet cold, dry arctic cold is comfortable in comparison. Or maybe it was just one of the few upsides of menopause. Ski jacket, jeans and snow boots were fine for me. Cold weather clothing I really love, the big woolly socks, fury boots, mittens, the Finnish raw wool and beautifully patterned hats with the ear flaps. The thermal underwear I’m not such a fan of, it’s so much to pull on and off. I was fascinated with the clothes warming cupboard in the apartment – what a brilliant idea! I asked a Finnish friend about them, it’s normal there apparently, a drying space for clothes. They have this super cool invention for dish drying too, a Astiankuivauskaappi. Nordic design – simply brilliant!
I’d chosen the apartment as it had a balcony opposite the mountain, that was supposed to be a good position for seeing the northern lights, or so the brochure said. My northern lights app would alert me when there was activity and I’d sit with my nose to the glass of the balcony door at all hours of the night and early morning – it was much like waiting to see Santa’s reindeer and sleigh fly over – it didn’t happen, but I still believed somewhere behind the inky sky and ski-field lights was a light magic show, if only I could look at the right time to catch it… as this didn’t happen it gives me a great excuse to go back to Lapland one day to complete this mission.
Another wonder of arctic temperatures, you can eat without gaining weight! (spoiler alert: this may not be factually correct, it’s just something I chose to believe without further investigation). Fabulous carby, cheesy plates of delicious joy like fondue, pizza and the local Lappish cuisine. Their food is connected to their land, I’m not a meat-eater and couldn’t touch reindeer meat though I do appreciate how the reindeer have provided the people of the region with many gifts, including the gift of life. Their berries, with pretty names like cloudberry, have healing qualities – including in their excellent skincare (bought at duty-free, really great stuff called Lumene). Leipajuusto is a soft cheese fried and garnished with berries, my mouth is watering at the memory of it!
I have many special memories of Lapland, the beauty of reindeer, the smell of smoke from the fireplace in a small dark hut while a shaman retold stories, the taste of warm cheese and berries, strong mulled wine, salty liquorice, playing pool in the local bar, freezing going for a wee in snow encased out-houses, handmade crafts, sleigh rides, walking in deep snow, the sound of ski’s cutting a path, friendly people and Christmas spirit all around.
The most special of all memories though was realising the dream of doing night husky mushing, in the middle of snowy nowhere. The dogs were much smaller and less fluffy than the pet husky’s I know. Strong and lean and frisky – like highly attuned race horses just itching to take off. They were the pride and joy and life’s work of their human. I was deeply touched by how much he clearly loved and cared for his pack of dogs. Though I’d have struggled to leave them in the care of a bunch of dumb tourists, I get to feed them and care for them costs a lot so it’s probably a necessary evil for him. He explained at length if we didn’t keep a careful eye on the dogs, as they may stop suddenly to pee, the sled could crash into the rear pair’s back legs, hurt them and leave them unable to ever mush again. He did make it clear, those dogs that had been in this position always had a home and good life regardless. The thought haunted me, so regardless of the impressive wilderness scenery, my eyes were firmly fixed on my dogs to protect them at all times. That didn’t stop me enjoying every single second though, it was exhilarating! The sound of their howls and the sled running over ice, the coldness coming through my gloves, the pitch-black sky and the brightest stars, the electricity of the dogs excitement mixed with my own.
These are memories that last a lifetime.
Thank you Lapland and thank you magnificent husky’s.
New Year, what now?
Significant markings of time require acknowledgement. Or not, as the case may be – it’s a personal choice. I like to be attentive to certain times; birthday’s, full moons, when to plant seeds, the holidays and the start of a new year.
We were so certain, Sadie and I, at the outset of 2020, that it was going to be a better year than 2019 – we just had to wait for March for the shift. It wasn’t what we anticipated; I think is the simplest way of putting that.
2019 was fraught with the pain of drastic unveiling and change. Mostly in the form of relationships ending. It was also the year I turned 50 and I have treasured memories of my birthday party, on holiday in Spain, with 12 close friends. I was touched they had chosen to spend their holiday with me to celebrate my significant birthday.
It wasn’t long before my birthday that I’d discovered the first sign everything was not as it seemed (to me) in my marriage. My ex (then husband) was in the grip of a midlife crisis and alcohol-induced, sleep-deprived mental trauma – much of it coming to the surface from his past. All brought on by himself. He preferred to take it out on me, rather than deal with it healthily or like an adult. His behaviour was extremely erratic and volatile. I was doing my best at the time to get him to go speak to a doctor. He was toing and froing on everything including our marriage but as it was fresh he’d still ended up coming on my birthday trip. Most of the time he went off separately with his best friend who’d come too (and is also a friend of mine). Being a more adult man, he’d realised it was best to keep him away from me and the group or he’d ruin things.
On my actual big birthday party night, at a Western Bar, all of us in cowgirl and boy outfits – his behaviour was more and more crazy until he yelled at me out of nowhere in front of some friends at the beach bar after-party drinks. I knew he was feeling jealous I was surrounded by friends who loved me and I was getting too much attention for his liking. I just walked away, down the beach promenade, making my escape. I knew there was no calming him down in that state (he’d been drinking all day) so caught up with a couple of friends who’d just left moments before, Trixie and Xavier. They were angry I’d been yelled at – on my birthday to boot. Xavier announced, “You look like Dorothy” (I was wearing a red gingham 50’s dress, cowboy hat and boots), “the boys in the old town are going to love you! I’m taking you both out for a night you’ll never forget in the gay quarter.” Well he did and he was right – it was one of the best nights of our lives – we partied until the sun came up, our jaws hurt from laughing and our feet from dancing. As we swayed, arm in arm, along the promenade back to our hotel, (after a quick pizza slice detour) our hearts were full of happiness and our heads full of Madonna and Kylie songs.
I’d been told I was literally shinning with joy that holiday, playing pool games during the day, or swimming in the sea and then enjoying tapas and sangria by evening. There was constant joking, fun silly games and love. Nothing better than spending time with the people you love. I was happy and having enormous fun, even though I’d been very recently stabbed in the heart by my (then) husband. That proved to me, no matter what else is going on – if you choose to enjoy yourself when you can – you can. That knowledge was helpful for 2020.
Back in lockdown now, my friends and I weren’t able to celebrate the usual ways for New Year’s – boat parties on the Thames taking in the fireworks from the water or house parties full of people of all ages, eating, drinking and linking arms to sing Auld Lang Syne come midnight. None of that, we were all home alone – no fireworks on the Thames this year. We did have a champagne toast on a group video chat and shared our wishes for 2021.
It’s a reflective and contemplative new year. I sat in front of the fire new years eve and thought about how I could distil down into one word my wish for 2021, when I had my one word I wrote it down and put the paper in the fire and lit a good-luck candle.
It’s so easy to write off 2020, instead I thought about each month and what I’d done. Doing that, I realised I’d achieved a great deal more than I’d thought. The achievements were small battles won making the final disentanglements from my marriage, finalising the divorce – those I’d expected because I had to hold on in faith that it would ultimately all come out alright. It took longer than I’d anticipated but ultimately, I got those things done, one by one and feel lighter for it. Freedom, freedom from power he once had over me and freedom to just be me has been my prize. Far more than that though, I’ve learnt so much the past year and thanks to taking up yoga I’m stronger too. The instructor (Myra) I’m tuned into at the minute explained that yoga is so much more than just for your body – it sets you up for life so that you can handle the “curve balls” with grace and dignity. Well, it that isn’t a fantastic goal and wish for the future – handling everything with grace and dignity. I can say I handled the end of my marriage with dignity and I’m proud of that.
It’s clear the world is evolving and we’re all feeling the growing pains. Getting lost in “what’s it all about?” and evolving too is an honourable ambition. I suppose also necessary, we’re constantly evolving – best to embrace it. My prayer for the new year I’ve found in a song, it brings it back to the simplest and true, Stay Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw. I’m just going to add “Thankful” – Stay thankful, humble and kind, that’s my new years wish for myself. P.S. it’s a beautiful song, with wise words for lyrics so do have a listen.
I love women
I’m a girl’s girl, a woman’s woman. I adore women and I’m eternally grateful to the women who raised me and the women who’ve laughed, cried and journeyed this life with me.
Be afraid of a woman who describes herself as a “man’s woman” or “I don’t get along with other women.” Whatever gender you are – run. They’ve just told you about their ugly lens to the world, women are competition, back-stabbers and jealous. Obviously, they’ve just described themselves rather than ‘every other woman.’ Honing their skills at capturing male attention, it never ceases to amaze me how shallow some men are to not see through the veil. I’ve made it clear to male friends over the years, I have no sympathy for you in this scenario – learn.
Growing up in a country and family where gender bias didn’t exist, I realise now how privileged I was. It shouldn’t be a privilege of course; it should just be normal – as I assumed it was then. This was my experience I’m remembering; it may of course have been different for others growing up in New Zealand. The country does have solid factual evidence for being a pioneer of gender equality though.
I wonder if New Zealand being a relatively young country, populated by pioneers who had to all work together to build a new life, helped erode the gender roles and myths of the old countries. The first nation to give women the vote and the first where the five highest offices of power were held by women. Even before that, many Maori women held powerful and respected positions within their tribes and were part of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. One of my own ancestors travelled with the Treaty to gather Maori chief signatures for the Crown. So, growing up – I not only had great female role models in my family but also the prime minister and stories of our country’s ancestors and my own.
My maternal grandmother was from Austria. She would whisper wisdom to me from a very young age – repeatedly. I didn’t know why then, just accepted everything Grandma said was true, even if I didn’t understand it. Now I know she was preparing me for the adult world. She would say things like, “If a man ever hits you, leave, immediately, no matter how much he begs or cries and says it will never happen again – it will.” Later, when I was a young adult and saw this type of scenario happening with a work colleague, I couldn’t understand how she didn’t just know to leave. Then I remembered, I knew because my Grandmother had made sure this type of knowledge was imprinted on my brain. She had a quiet strength; you knew it was her who held it all together, but she felt no need to talk about it. One of my favourite times was being curled up in her lap while we rocked in her La-Z-Boy chair and she plaited my hair or taught me to crochet or sew.
Nana, my paternal grandmother was from a proud Irish immigrant family. The church was hugely important to her and so was independence and working. She worked as an accountant well past retirement age and always dressed well and made the best scones. She would whisper to me, “always have your own bank account, that nobody else knows about, that way if you ever need to go anywhere or do anything, you can.” Both my grandmothers had wonderful husbands who respected them, but they’d obviously seen things my young eyes didn’t know of and wanted to ensure I knew how to protect myself, if needs be, when I was older.
My mum, she was a young mum and loved being a mum. Very beautiful and slim, she’d be mistaken for my older sister when collecting me from school. She laughs loud, really loud and hangs onto your arm to shake with laughter. Mum enjoys being happy and laughing, this is a gift to grow up with. My grandfather told me that his Mum, busy always raising over a dozen children on a remote farm, spent her days singing and would often laugh with them.
I’ve had the privilege to help raise a couple of girls, through former relationships. It’s a special time, that 8-12 age range and you can have a fantastic relationship as Dad’s partner. I knew things, secrets, they didn’t tell either of their parents and we’d have so much fun doing girls things and going on girl’s outings. My girlfriends loved their company too, saying; “They’re just like us, but without the drinking and cursing.” We made an attentive, rapt audience for all the dress-up fashion shows (using my clothes, shoes, dress up boxes and make-up), the dance recitals, the new instrument playing, the school-yard gossip and the confidences about the latest boy crush. It’s all so relatable and a great honour to be there to help out a new generation with navigating girl-hood.
Throughout my life, I’ve had strong bonds of female friendship. Friends where we refer to each other as “sister”, rather than “friend” – because we’re that close ‘friend’ just doesn’t cut it. These women are still the most important people, outside of my family, in my life. As women we put a lot of energy and time into our friendships, and we’re rewarded for it. We hold each other up, encourage, advise, rejoice, comfort and hold each other accountable. Best of all though, we laugh – a lot! Have fun, poke fun and can make the best memories with just each other, a kitchen some music and some wine. I love travelling with my friends, we have girls group holidays and sometimes just go away in pairs or threes. Longer-haul I did with Adey, back in the day. We can chat away a 12 hour flight no problem and upon landing say; “Well, that went fast, feels like we just took off!”
We spent fun, crazy times together during our 30’s in London, Adey and I. Living solo in our own flats not far from each other, we were always together in one of our flats or out on the town. We had routines and traditions – we shared a lot. So much so we discovered we had our own language according to mutual friends. At a gig one night, Sinead wondered over to chat to us and upon reaching us said, in her blunt Irish way, “Oh no, it’s an Adey and JoJo conversation, I’ll leave you to it.” We looked confused at each other and then her with body language that said, “What?!” She explained; “You two can only understand each other when you’re in one of your conversations.” We looked at each other and dissolved into fits of laughter at the realisation she was right. We had so much shared experience, and are both natural communicators (we talk a lot, fast), we’d stopped waiting turns to talk and just talked together working through the same sentence and leaving out large chucks of information because ‘we knew what we were talking about.’ Usually reminiscing about some escapade or other.
Being in lockdown, we had a group video-chat the other weekend where I introduced a girlfriend from Scotland (I used to work up there) to Adey. I explained she was my London life “partner in crime.” My Scottish friend said, you have a few of those then, I was your Scottish “partner in crime.” She was right, I hadn’t realised – I like a “partner in crime” which is just a term to describe a “partner in adventure”. Adey will tell you I talked her into (with zero resistance on her part) a number of adventures back in the day. Maybe I’ll write about some of those one day…
This lockdown I asked Adey to do Adriene’s 30-day Breath yoga programme with me – we’re both really enjoying it. Adriene is an excellent yoga teacher and she’s got her dog Benji which appears in the tutorial videos as well. We’re reporting to each other how we find each day – overwhelmingly calming is the answer but it’s also definitely building strength, physical, mental and emotional.
Treasure the women and girls in your life, spend time developing great relationships – you’ll always be repaid with a richer life for it.
Fingernails down a chalkboard
The frustration is real. Not just being back in lockdown but being locked in with my ex-husband, still. The feeling is akin to listening to nails being dragged slowly down a chalkboard.
It’s my home! I organised the purchase of it and the move across country to it as the start of my new solo life. That was a year ago. My ex is proving as hard to get rid of as this damn virus. He asked to help with the move and was staying a month at most until moving out to a nearby city. Two weeks of that month were spent visiting his family in Central America. So not so bad. Then the pandemic hit hard, he lost his new job and flat and we were locked in together – in my “new life” home, purchased for one human and three dogs only.
It paid off to begin with as negotiating a divorce isn’t easy, especially when you’re the one that stands to lose. I’d had no idea, naively, that he could steal (legally) my saved pension money. I’ve since told all my friends so nobody else ends up in that, just got sucker-punched in the gut, shocking situation. Most didn’t know, we knew about property – which I had a pre-nup for – but my pension! Didn’t know he could go after that. I’ve paid into my pension scheme for years through my job, by myself, all in my name. I’d also supported my ex (when we were married) the multiple times he quit jobs in a bad temper or gambled up debts or his overseas child support needed paying. I paid the majority of that child support over the years, they’re great kids – it’s not their fault their Dad’s an irresponsible man-child incapable of providing for them. I felt I had a responsibility as their step-mum so I stepped in and paid their maintenance. Those kinds of things I don’t regret as it was the right thing to do.
Be careful, very careful
The point I’m trying to make, so others don’t fall down this rabbit hole, is – you can be responsible, sensible and do all the right things, pay the bills, save, put away for your retirement and you can be married to a spouse who does none of those things, doesn’t contribute, drinks and gambles what money they do earn and then…. when it’s over …. steal what you earnt and saved and do it legally with the help of the law. Indeed, when we went to court to have the financial order settled, the female judge practically incited him he ask for more of my money. I’d managed to negotiate amicably a settlement with him that wasn’t as bad as it could have been had he gone full hog…. but ….. I’d made it clear I’d fight and lawyer-up and all that dirty laundry he liked to hide from the world would come out in a public courtroom and I wouldn’t hold back. Therefore, ultimately by the time he’d paid for a lawyer and dragged it all out he’d end up with about the same as I was offering or less. A friend advised I use the encouragement of a “public courtroom” and it was good advice, if your ex doesn’t like anybody knowing their ugly truth this incentive can work.
I by nature keep a dignified silence on my personal matters, I’m not someone who airs my dirty laundry. Only close friends know the truth. It actually pains me to write all this, I feel stupid and humiliated I allowed myself to be treated so badly. Because I’d fallen in love with the wrong person and foolishly trusted them, I’d handed them the keys and the power to steal from me. It put me in a vulnerable position, one I had to carefully manage, while keeping my true feelings to myself, about him and him daring to ask me for my money, that I earnt, after telling me for years he never would. Information is power and I want to tell my story in the hope someone else is saved from making themselves this vulnerable. Also, be careful when you’re marrying another culture, some have different views on these matters, so you better make sure you’re aware of that before marrying. I’ll never forget my ex blurting out, “So, that’s all I get for a 10-year marriage.” Like it was something you make money out of, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything more disgusting and repulsive but unfortunately, he’s not the only person in the world with that kind of thinking. About something as sacred as marriage, just remembering those words makes me want to puke.
The finish line
Now I’m all the way through the divorce, all the paperwork sorted – the decree absolute and the financial order – I’m free! It feels great, it really does. He can’t threaten my life anymore with his duplicity and stupidity. Well, except I’ve just got to get him physically out of my house now!
I gave him a deadline of the end of January after being exasperated he was still here at Christmas. He asked me where I supposed he should go? I explained solving his problems was no longer my concern and he needed to figure that out for himself. Surely, he had more than enough settlement money to go get a place. He then yells he doesn’t have it anymore. This may be true; his family overseas are masterful at taking off him what he takes from me. Or, he’s trying to get more money out of me to go. I don’t know. He said he needed to get a job and I said you have to the end of January.
He’s still here…. yes, I have stepped it up though. I’m so frustrated at the unfairness of this situation and the cheek of him for not getting gone already. He keeps out of my way but just his energy in my home is ruining what was supposed to be my sanctuary. He’s back working and has viewed some places to rent this week – how did we get this far? I rang the police and got some advice. Turns out I was right to keep him only as an unwanted houseguest and not take any contribution towards living expenses – not that he offered any, but I thought if it ended up coming down to it and I needed him kicked out not allowing him any excuse to call himself a “tenant” or “lodger” instead of “unwanted houseguest” was best. The lovely policeman I had my video-call interview with said I’d been very smart to do that as they can remove him immediately from my home any time I ask them too as he has no rights to be here. Now, what you need to know if you end up in this situation is that it’s considered a civil matter but because he’d caused some damage in my home due to a fit of anger and I felt threatened the police advised they will step in to help me as my safety is their priority. This may not be the case if you don’t live in England of course. I’ve got to say, the way they handled my call was exemplary, they were empathetic, supportive and helpful.
Information is power
With this new information, I told him the score, that if he didn’t move out I can call the police and they’ll escort him from my home – it wasn’t easy to do as his temper has meant I’ve tiptoed around him for years. I’m feisty, at least I used to be, and I have a backbone so trust me this can happen to anyone if you live long enough with a volatile, unpredictable, mood-swinging partner. You lose your voice and keep your own anger under wraps.
I’ve thought maybe the universe, my angels, God – whichever higher power you believe in was waiting for me to find my voice again where my ex is concerned and tell him the truth of my feelings. Maybe that’s what was left to do before they helped me push him out the door because believe me, I’ve been praying on it. Well, that came to pass after I found my garden fairy lights all burnt down one morning. I went and knocked on my spare room door, went in and said calmly, “Why are my fairy-lights burnt down?”. “Because I felt angry, sorry” was his reply. Then all the words I’d kept inside tumbled out, I didn’t yell, I remained calm and I started with, “You’re angry? Do you begin to imagine all the shades of angry I feel? Let me tell you …. you were a terrible husband, you betrayed me in every way, then after years of swearing you’d never take money from me, after you ended our marriage – you asked for money! Money, I earnt, you didn’t, as far as I’m concerned it’s like stealing. Now I ask you to move out and you’re still here because you’re incapable of getting your shit together, you make consistently bad choices and you have no discipline. Because of all that you forced me to take care of you and pick up the pieces after your endless fuck-ups. I’ve taken care of you for over 10 years, enough, I’ve had enough, either adult-up for once in your life and get your shit together or find another back to climb on because this ones done!”
That was when I went back downstairs and rang the police for advice on how to get him out. Taking my power back, it’s clearly necessary. Now he’s started a job and looking at places because I’ve got my metaphorical foot firmly on his back …. he knows he’s out of time with me and of course he left it to the last minute to do anything.
Why don’t I just call the police and have him removed? I’ve been seriously considering it; I still hope it doesn’t come to that. Not for him, for me – I know he’s burnt his bridges so I’m aware he’d be in a homeless type situation potentially and I don’t know if my conscious could cope. I don’t love him, not even a little, I have no time or respect for him and realised the person I loved didn’t actually exist in reality but still doing that to anyone, no matter how awful they’ve been to you, it’s a lot. I’m hoping one of these rentals comes through and he’s out quick. I can’t take many more mails down this chalkboard.
My hopes of managing an amicable separation are over but my hope my experience will help someone else are very much alive as I write this.
This bright morning, I’m singing Good Morning Freedom! (Def Leppard) In reality it’s misty outside, early this Sunday. But everything feels and looks bright to me because I have my life back! My freedom back! Finally!
Yesterday afternoon, the ex, he loaded his possessions into a van while I took the pack for a walk to the sea. I didn’t want my youngest hound to witness him leaving as she’s quite attached. He did fuss on her and cook her treats so it’s not totally unfounded affection on her part. He had many, many faults but he was good with animals, it was actually what had attracted me to him. I’ve always believed people who are good with animals are essentially good people. Turns out they can make lousy husbands though.
While we walked, me and the dogs, looking out to sea at the fishing boats, tears welled in my eyes. Tears of pure relief and joy – I felt free, free for the first time again in a long time. Another feeling welled up too, I felt like myself again. I’d always had a free spirit in me. It’s why I love travelling, have moved about so much and I’ve always maintained my independence in a relationship. The ex leaving is a dark cloud moving from my horizon. I was independent, but his mood-swings, temper and volatility had had a controlling effect on me. Everything on my walk looked brighter, the colour of the sky, the sea, the undulating hills in the distance and the smiles on the faces of passers-by, as they smiled back at me.
I’ve paid for this freedom, paid in every way – financially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and in sweat and tears. I’ve fought hard for it, keeping my head and playing a complex battle of wits and hearts to win it back.
How carelessly and quickly I once gave it away. Shackling myself to the wrong man because I followed my heart. I followed it mercilessly. I fell in love hard, in a heady backdrop of jungle and volcanic beach. I’d been reading The Alchemist on that beach, one of my favourite Paulo Coelho books. I some what blame that book for what followed, though I’ll always love the story dearly. More correctly, I blame my interpretation of it rather than the wisdom the author was trying to bestow.
Being strong enough to overcome most anything for the one I love, not a problem for me. Countless obstacles were placed in our way of being together. Trust me on this, I’m not going to go into the details of that time as it would literally take the space of a whole novel – there were a lot, a lot – a lot! My romantic heart thought it must’ve been because you have to battle for true love. Now I see it was most likely a benevolent higher force trying very hard to show me this wasn’t the right path. They tried very, very hard indeed, but there was no stopping me. I eventually wore down their good intention and cracked on with making my mistakes. I didn’t realise then I was running towards giving up my freedom and laying myself down for a far weaker individual to feed from my spirit. The wonderful, well-travelled writer and photographer Mari kindly advised me – compassion can be manipulated by others. I’d always thought of it as a jewel that couldn’t be corrupted so hadn’t spotted that potential peril. Thank you, Mari, you are right.
My foolish, hopeless romantic heart led me right up the garden path! All that effort and energy into another person, I should have loved myself more. I’m not someone with low self-esteem so I didn’t understand the whole “love yourself” thing, I thought I did. But my empathy and compassion has continuously put others needs first, mostly on autopilot, so I didn’t even notice I’m wasn’t being loving towards myself. A spiritual woman in New Zealand told me in my youth to be careful because you can’t change your basic nature and that I was nurturer, therefore I’d attract all the birds with broken wings and I’d want to mend them all. She was right. It’s truly hard to fight your basic instincts, it’s something I’m going to have to actively keep in my awareness from now on. Keep my wits about me and ask, ‘what value is this to me?’ Consistent “correcting-course”, as the wise writer Mr Roger Baker told me. Smart people listen to smart people. I’ll be mindful to do just that from now on, I picture it in my minds eye as my boat’s sail, hear the gentle snap of it in the sea wind – with the tiller firmly in my hand.
I’m off to dance around my own house, in my pyjamas singing “Good Morning Freedom!” at the top of my lungs. This is truly a joyful morning.
Locked-in by any other name
There are different kinds of locked-in. The current housebound one from pandemic restrictions or being locked-in a destructive relationship. I was both last year, now I’m just coping with the pandemic one and I feel free as a bird. So, I think that’s very telling as to which of my lock-ins were worse.
If you’re struggling never forget your mind is always free. Free to wonder, free to learn, free to imagine better times, free to strategise your escape – or great escapes.
My days in the current lockdown are all the same, pretty much, but I refuse to wish my life away and I make the same decision each morning to enjoy this day. I do this by celebrating all the little wins. Seeing the daffodils blooming in my garden and on my dog walks – spring joy! Getting in a good yoga session before work and feeling the blood and movement return to my limbs – big high 5 to myself! Finally getting that task off my work ‘to-do’ list – pat on my own back. Redecorating my guest room – creative fun. Building a fire then watching its glow and listening to its soothing cracks and hisses – warm relaxation. Making the perfect margarita – savouring it’s taste.
I’ve tried out some Zoom live Yoga classes as well recently, both were very good from Light Space and from one of the teachers who does Yoga Fit retreats. Invited some friends to a virtual comedy night put on by one of the London comedy clubs we used to go to – Guinea Pig club night from the Boat Show.
I used to be afraid of living alone, it was one of the reasons I always wanted a dog, the idea of them making wonderful companions. I have 3 now and I was right – I only need my dogs. They are a bottomless source of love, fun, laughter and cuddles. We go on our “adventures” every day, this is their word for “walks”. I understand their language now, they’re all very different. Totally different breeds, sizes and personalities. I know the body language and sounds of each and what they mean. They really know how to enjoy freedom; they revel in it. When we’re in a place of nature, where it’s just us and possible (no sheep etc) I let them all of their leads and smile and laugh at their joyful antics – rampaging around, running races, playing, hunting out smells, rolling in smells (unfortunately), my hound likes to run while barking loudly and continuously – it’s what she does when she’s very excited, long ears flapping like wings in the wind. Passers-by on our street walks often comment, “You’ve got your hands full”, with a smile. I return their smiles and always respond, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Luckily the ex has left me alone and it gives me peace. He text once to ask to borrow some money, I ignored him and he’s not contacted me again. I was worried in the beginning how he’d be, but I’ve changed the locks and he’s left me alone, so my sense of peace and wellbeing continues to grow. A consultation with a legal service has confirmed it would be simple for me to get a non-molestation order if I need it – so I have that knowledge in my back pocket also.
Some friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while, I can now speak freely with. It makes me smile when some ask excitedly, “Is there anybody else? Are you dating?” I smile because that is the very last thing I’m thinking about! I am more than enough to be happy. The joy of not needing to consider anybody else right now – I’m savouring, thank you. If I decide I’m ready and would like to date again I can see at this age it’s quite liberating. There are no big things like “do you want children” on the table, my biological clock did its last tick a while back. I value older and wiser too, there’s a hard-won wisdom, maturity and some great stories that come only from living for a bit. I like people, I like learning what they have to say, I’m curious about their stories. I’m always open to new people and making new friends – everybody has something to teach, something to share.
Longing for adventure
I am desperate to be away on holiday and travel again. Every day I check the post to see if my vaccine invite has arrived, that will take me closer to this goal is how I see it. In the meantime, I use my mind to dream of where I want to go and remember some of the brilliant travel experiences I’ve already had.
When I look back, I see my travels and holidays have provided some of the biggest learning experiences and times of joy in my life. Provided the moments I remember most – moments of pure happiness and feeling free.
So, while I can’t go anywhere right now, I’m preparing by doing my research into trips and travels and adventures – here and abroad. I’ve been looking into holidays where I can hone some skills, sailing, yoga, horse-riding. One yoga holiday offered it with a herd of free horses – there for the privilege of being around rather than riding, I like that idea, I just love being around horses – they’re healing. I’ve been buying new holiday clothes as well; I have a ludicrous number of unworn swimsuits now so that needs to stop. I learnt Spanish years ago so now I’m doing some YouTube classes with Alexa on French. I learnt some French in primary school but that’s all but mostly forgotten, along with the piano lessons I took back then.
Wherever you are, be free – be free to be yourself, be free to imagine what ever brings you joy and work towards it.
A drill and a baseball bat
A lot can be accomplished with an electric drill and a baseball bat. I learnt this last weekend when my ex finally came to get the rest of his stuff.
No, I didn’t murder him with a drill and baseball bat if that’s what you’re thinking. If I was that way inclined, I’d only need my words. When you’ve lived with someone for 10 years, studied their damaged heart and are an expert words marksman – that direct hit has the power to go off like a slow-motion grenade inside someone. However, I’ve got morals and I’d never do that – the grenade would get me too anyway, that’s what happens when you have a conscious. You can’t shatter someone else and not shatter yourself. He tried using words to cut me up during our marriage, but I don’t have his damaged soul, so they only cut me down for a beat. Then I got myself back up, unharmed – hurt, but unharmed. I know myself so nobody else has the power to tell me who I am.
I’d been waiting for the day the rest of his stuff was out of my house, drawing plans and pictures in my head of how I’d decorate the guestroom. How I’d re-arrange the kitchen and living room. I couldn’t wait! Reclaiming your space is one of the great joys of being single. Since he left, I’ve been joyously stamping my personality and eclectic taste all over the place, like a dog peeing on their territory.
I gritted my teeth as him and his van man tramped dirt through my house moving furniture and boxes out. Repeating silently to myself, “this is the last of it.” When they were finished and gone, I ran around opening windows and the back door, cleaned and disinfected everything then got the burning sage out and sage’d everywhere.
Last I flung open the guestroom door and my face dropped, it still had old furniture and rubbish in it! Not the empty space I was expecting. I should have known; he’d never been reliable. My disappointment was palpable, it had a taste – or maybe that was anger, does anger taste? Makes sense, it permeates every pore. I’d already purchased all the things I needed to redecorate this room, but it needed to be a blank canvas before I could start. Now I had a room full of his junk to deal with. A wonky wardrobe, a set of broken drawers, a bookcase and some boxes.
I grabbed a box, ran it downstairs then outside my back door and flung it across the courtyard. My lovely neighbours (and friends) were gardening and popped their heads over the fence to ask if I was ok. “I see he’s finally taken his stuff, that must be a relief,” Sarah said sympathetically. Her husband Brian just made a sympathetic face, he’s a man of few words. “Well it would be,” I answered, “if he’d actually taken it all!” Explaining the issue, Brian offered, “would you like to borrow the electric drill?”
So, that’s how I ended up in an upstairs bedroom surrounded by unwanted furniture with an electric drill in my hands. I’d never used one, Sarah had given me instructions and a quick over-the-fence demonstration though. I’d always been apprehensive of power tools; I can be clumsy so thought they weren’t really a good fit for me. But here we were, me, my borrowed electric drill and my determination that this bloody bedroom would be cleared today, one way or the other.
Needless to say; I had no idea what I was doing. I just took every screw out of the old wardrobe I could find. It was surprisingly satisfying, brrrr and ping, another screw would drop on the laminate floor. When I couldn’t find any more screws, I stood frowning at the damn wardrobe because it was still standing there, like nothing had happened. Tearing back downstairs and into the garden shed, I found the baseball bat. Back in the guestroom I gave the wardrobe a good whack with the bat then leapt to safety as the wardrobe panels crashed to the floor in different directions. “Are you alright?” Sarah was yelling up from her garden. I poked my head out the window and gave her the thumps up.
It took me hours to take each panel and drawer downstairs and out into the back garden. Some were heavy and awkward shaped, plus Victorian staircases aren’t generous, so it wasn’t the easiest of jobs. I didn’t give up until it was all done, and I was standing in a room, alone with only a drill, a bat and a satisfied smile on my face.
Whoever said old dogs can’t learn new tricks was talking utter bollocks. A few days on I’ve been lovingly redecorating and furnishing my guestroom in preparation for the day I can again have friends to stay. I can’t wait!
Transformers are go!
It’s in the air, it’s in my soul, I see it all around – transformation. Waking at 4am, my mind’s eye could still saw the butterfly stars of my dreams. Blinking my eyes open, the dark bedroom ceiling was lit only by a small twinkling light display forming the image of a butterfly. A trick of a little light through a curtain gap and my chandelier.
I’m a believer of signs, so I needed to know what butterflies symbolise. I looked it up and according to Gardens with Wings; “Butterflies are not only beautiful, but also have mystery, symbolism and meaning and are a metaphor representing spiritual rebirth, transformation, change, hope and life. The magnificent, yet short life of the butterfly closely mirrors the process of spiritual transformation and serves to remind us that life is short.”
I’m meant to transform. Everything is, everyone us – evolve or die. When it’s time to kick it into overdrive, the signs come in from all directions or you just get told directly, like I did in a wonderful comment from one of my favourite blogs, America on Coffee.
One of the main reasons I started writing was to share my journey from marriage break-up and heartbreak, at the ripe age of 50, to the new me. You’re never too old or too anything to transform, like a butterfly. I didn’t know how it would all turn out, but I knew I’d be ok – I had faith I would. I started with “ok” then moved on to “It’s going to be brighter and happier!”. I wanted to share my story so others starting the same journey, or who could relate to mine on any level, felt less alone. I also wanted to offer hope, it won’t just be ok letting go – it’s going to be wonderful. Why? Because you’re walking towards life, towards yourself. There is no life or living inside a dead relationship.
Whether you’re one of those smart people (unlike me) who just knows when it’s time to move on (wish I had), or (like me) you have it thrust upon you like a piece of 4×2 round the head – the sooner you embrace the journey back to you, the sooner you’ll heal, grow and find your way. For me that’s to happiness, I always strive to be happy most of all. I am now so much happier, and my new life just keeps on presenting me with opportunities to carry on transforming.
Yoga has massively helped me. I started practicing again early last year through online classes. Not only does it transform your body, becoming stronger, younger and getting rid of aches and pains – it transforms every part of you. Yogi teachers tell you this and although I’m still an infant on this journey, I’ve found it to be true.
I’m loving yoga so much I’ve booked a holiday in Ibiza with YogaFit. I did a lot of research to find a holiday I could do solo and gave me the opportunity to learn and enjoy the things I like. I didn’t want one designed for vegans, sipping spring water and omm’ing about the place – I’m not that evolved! Respect to you if you are though. When in Spain, getting between me sangria, manchego cheese and tapas dishes of seafood like gambas pil pil would be as dangerous as throwing shade to housewives on a reality TV show. Thinking of you Married to Medicine Atlanta ladies. My mouth is watering just thinking about gambas pil pil! On my yoga holiday, I want to be by the sea, I want some sun, I want to laugh, drink, eat and make new friends while throwing in some yoga classes on the beach with the sun rising over the ocean in front of me.
Looking forward to a trip is really important to me, I’ve always used it as a method of joyful anticipation – sticking pictures of the destination on my fridge and chatting about my plans to friends, colleagues and anyone who’ll listen (my dogs). I feel also that embracing a solo adventure will be good. In my research, certain types of holidays lend themselves easier to this if it’s new to you – yoga or wellness retreats being one. I learnt there’s also cruises for solo travellers and tours are good, like the Timberbush trips I’ve done previously exploring the Highlands of Scotland.
I have a few days off work right now, doing some spring cleaning and a couple of days ago I got a Facebook notification from a (new to me) yoga teacher offering a free transformative 3 day #kitchenkundalini challenge. I accepted it and have completed day’s 1 and 2 so far. I shared the link with friends and to my surprise more than one jumped at the opportunity. Looks like there’s a few of us right now enthusiastic about personal growth and shedding the past.
I got in for a hair appointment yesterday, the very first day hairdressers were back open. Us organised type personalities win in moments like this. It was an event akin to the excitement of going on holiday, and I get very excited about holidays. Grinning, jumping up and down, clappy happy at the outset of a holiday. Now that was a transformation! From aging hippy hair mess to sleek, groomed hair of the Goddesses. I took selfies all through the transformation process, sitting in my face mask framed by a new perfect fringe, then much shorter hair freshly blow dried and finally glossy curls thanks to GHD’s curling tongs. I bored my friends on our WhatsApp group with endless selfies at the hairdressers and then sent my Mum a video of me skipping in the sunshine down the high street so she could see my curls bounce. My Mum has always loved my hair as it’s super thick like my fathers and I had two very long plaits I could sit on as a child. Isn’t it great to get even more joy out of simple happiness’s like a trip to the hairdressers?
That fountain of insightful information, yes, I’m still talking about my hairdresser – she said she’s always loved nature but isn’t it great how during the lockdown others have now discovered that love too. She said her husband used to say “What?” when she’d comment on a beautiful sunset and now, he’s also appreciating getting out for beach and forest walks with their dog and small children. Changes lives, transforms them – learning an appreciation and love for nature and animals.
When the yoga cleanse opportunity popped up on Facebook, it said it was kundalini yoga, I’d always thought that as a sexual thing so hadn’t bothered with it. The 3 day “Spring Re-Set Challenge” is pitched as an emotional, life-changing cleanse with kundalini yoga teacher Gloria Latham. It’s definitely different from all the other yoga classes I’ve done but it’s for sure yoga and not porn. You chant while doing moves and its high energy. There’s something about Gloria I really like, that’s important in finding Yogi’s you want to learn from. I’m enjoying it, it feels transformative and fun and strong. I wouldn’t use it as a starting point for yoga, the fact I’ve been practising consistently for over a year has meant I can do Gloria’s 30 minute classes, though I do need to drop to the modification versions sometimes, those frog like squats are a killer! Somethings happening though, the butterflies are emerging, somethings stirring, I feel freer, more confident – stronger. Thank you, Gloria I’m glad I took the leap of faith and trusted this complete stranger to guide me through this transformation. That’s what it always takes, a leap of faith (including frog like bouncy squats apparently) and an open heart and mind.
Here’s to our new chapters and if you fancy a yoga holiday and saying hi, come find me in Ibiza – I’ll be the one laughing really loudly, left hand permanently attached to a glass of sangria, praising the Lord at the sight of a cheese platter and falling over in yoga class. It’s gonna be great!
Solitaire, without the fear
I’ve had a dramatically changing relationship with solitude, it seems to be linked to age and life experiences over time.
I sought and revealed in it as a child. My mother laughingly called me Greta because of the famous “I vont to be alone” Garbo line. Happy hours would go by in my bedroom drawing, writing, playing saxophone and dancing to music on my ghetto blaster. My heroes – Boy George, Madonna and The Cure plastered on the walls. All very ‘I walk my own path’ personalities. I had dreams, big dreams helped generously by watching ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ at the movies a few times, by myself, having bunked off school. I knew I had to go live in the city, ‘The City’ my life would start in ‘the city’ where I’d become a much-lauded jazz saxophonist. That didn’t happen but I did move to the city as soon as I was able at eighteen.
I had friends, I wasn’t a loner as a child, I just really cherished solitude. Then I got older and I avoided it like the plague. Looking back, I think I’d actually become afraid of it. How did that happen? Maybe the early marriage to an army boy who was posted away overseas and then to various other parts of the country for the majority of our short-lived marriage. It was really lonely being married but living solo, even lonelier when your spouse’s rare visits brought home an ever-increasing stranger. He was my first boyfriend and I’d known him since basic training, service changed him dramatically. He left me, for an older woman he met where he was stationed at the time. It was a relief, at least then I could be free, truly single – not living single but not single. Did that life experience link loneliness to solitude? Maybe.
Then I moved to an even bigger city, across the other side of the world. So much to see and do, no time for solitude! A whirling social life took care of that. When I was home alone, in my tiny but beautiful top-floor flat, and not sleeping – I could get out and walk to my best friends flat or meet her and other friends in the local park or pub. We went on group holidays and travelled to festivals, so much colour and life, I was hardly ever alone – just how I liked it. Then a certain age struck, and a primal scream welled up inside telling me I should never be alone, I should have a child. It was a wild and primitive yearning; I finally understood the strong instinct that drives women in this way. I had a long-term boyfriend who had a daughter I adored. We adored each other in truth and spent a lot of time happily making cakes or visiting galleries together. He’d wanted me to move in with him and I discussed having a child, he agreed. I thought we were “trying” we even discussed how we were “trying” with his best friends who were also “trying”. They got pregnant, I didn’t. Later, after I left him (I had good reasons although to the outside world he seemed a good partner) I found out he’d had vasectomy during his previous marriage after having his daughter. He only had a passing relationship with the truth. I accepted the outcome of that a long time ago, it is a simple choice to concern yourself with the things you perceive you don’t have or choose to be happy. Ruminating on stuff you can do nothing about is a sure-fire recipe for misery. My friends with children have a great life, my friends without children have a great life – it’s just different is all.
You would think these bad relationship experiences would have put me off, oh no – I then plunged into the marriage, ‘the marriage’ – the painful one I’ve been writing about and am now finally free of. Did a fear of being alone, mixed with a serious case of romanticism, drive that? Maybe – ok – probably.
Not learning to embrace solitude can lead you down some dodgy paths.
I was talking with an old friend on the phone, she’s known me since my twenties. She asked how I was feeling living on my own now. I said, “Poppy, I couldn’t say this to everyone because until you know it to the truth in your soul it just doesn’t mean anything to you but words, I can honestly say I now understand the most important relationship I have is the relationship I have with myself”. Poppy whooped at that, she’s chosen to live solo for many years and has always been an advocate of what she calls, “rowing your own canoe”. She then said some really important things, “So many people never learn to be happy in their own company and go from relationship to relationship, they can’t be on their own – they’d never understand your choice right now or what you’ve just said.” I didn’t once, but now I do – I can’t be truly happy unless I can be happy in my own company and doing things solo again. Solitude, it’s not scary anymore – it’s an essential part of finding peace and serenity.
Let me tell you about an Owl
This year I’m buying experiences as gifts for my friends. Karina has wanted to visit Drusilla’s Park for years, so that’s where we headed for her birthday. The park is home to a wide variety of exotic animals, which it likes to educate people about. They were freshly open after lockdown rules relaxed and as we were visiting on a weekday, it wasn’t busy. We were just two excited 50 somethings amidst a smattering of parents with strollers and the park wardens.
I’d brought a birthday tiara and made a picnic. There are lovely picnic area’s inside the park and a stunning vintage carousel. Karina rode a tiger next to my parrot, we were 2 of about 8 people on the carousel and we laughed all the way round, until it stopped and my parrot was now much higher than when I’d got on, with a little help from my friend I managed to de-saddle though. Enjoying the first rays of summer sun on our shoulders, we had a good girls catch up over some homemade quiche and mini bottles of champagne. Karina blew out the candle on her birthday cupcake and we packed up and headed for the zoo trail.
It was delightful watching the little monkey’s playing together, there’s a huge array of different monkeys from South and Central America and some tiny sloths. The bats were all just hanging about and the otters were having a sunshine nap. When we got to the flamingo pond, we were surprised to see most of them on one leg with their heads tucked under a wing. Some were kneeling with their feet bent the other way to how we’d kneel. We’d seen flamingos before but never asleep. Fascinating and so beautiful.
Walking on towards an indoor enclosure, atop the rafters was a sign saying, “Indoor beaver viewing area”. That photo has got a lot of giggles on social media since. Inside there were a family of three beavers asleep, just to confirm. Moving outside we both involuntary squealed with delight at the sight of a capybara bathing in his pond like you and I sit back in a hot-tub. He then got out and wondered closer to us. What is it about these giants of the rat family that is just so damn adorable.
We then entered the aviary walk. I moved on to an aviary containing a majestic great grey owl while Karina was still admiring a parliament of white owls entertaining her with almost 360 head spins. We locked eyes, me and her majesty and my heart and breathing calmed to a meditative state. Soon Karina joined me and silently the same magic overcame her. We stood there, motionless and quiet, receiving the incredible healing energy this beautiful owl was gifting to us. We turned to each other and there were tears in our eyes and we both put our hands to our hearts. That’s where we were both feeling this beautiful energy, she was aiming it at our chests. We thanked her and when we moved away, we spoke to each other in amazement of what had just happened. It was a completely new experience for both of us and we felt so humbled in complete gratitude. To render us, especially me, speechless when we’re already excited is a gigantic feat just in itself!
I can’t tell you anymore than what I experienced about the owl healing. It’s not something I know about; I’ve just been incredibly blessed to have experienced it.
People everywhere seem to be coming closer to nature and animals, this warms my heart and I pray we get to a place soon where we all live in harmony and everyone, everywhere respects animals as the sentient beautiful beings that they are.
From hell to happiness – what a difference a year makes
Happy New Year! Welcome 2022. Coming into 2021, I was in the hellish position, or I should say, imposition, of getting rid of a drug and drink-soaked abusive bully of a con-artist ex-husband. He was responsible for the Concorde ticket to hell, his own hell he dragged me into.
Extricating myself from him was difficult, complex, painful and emotionally and financially damaging. I see why some people just feel it’s all too much to face or navigate and stay still instead. I’m writing this for you. My own experience of imagining light at the end of the tunnel, moving towards it and finding, not only a life in light, but an entire rainbow of colours. I hope it provides hope for anyone who needs it. Rainbows can only come after the rain as they say but that apparently isn’t true. Reading Gene Ewald’s M.S. Physics, University of Minnesota explanation, “there must be rain in the air, and the sun must be shining on it from behind you. Light enters the drops and is refracted.” If you think about it, that’s an even better metaphor for finding your light.
After eventually getting rid of all my problems (in the form of one ex-husband who caused them) I was then left at the beginning of a journey. A journey of healing, learning and getting back to my true self. I went through some surprising phases. The angry phase hit me hard out of the blue, I was too busy telling myself and everyone else I was fine I didn’t even realise how angry I was. Anger will out one way or another so best to front up to it, look it straight in the eyes and say, “let’s be having you then!” Trouble was, I’d got so adept at burying emotions and lying to myself, even once acknowledged (with a little help from a friend whose been there) I didn’t know how to un-bury it and deal with it. So, I called for help, and spoke to a therapist on video calls (during a lockdown period). Turned out I was mostly angry at myself. I’d be muted for so long, while I smiled through gritted teeth to keep the peace, not set off his terrible temper or navigate negotiating a divorce without being completely fleeced. Keeping a cool head and a lid on my justified anger did help me avoid ‘worst case scenario’ but there is a pay off you need to deal with later, when all those bottled-up feelings of injustice and anger bubble up. My therapist helped a lot by explaining I had been in survival mode and during those periods it wouldn’t be wise to let it all out, so there really wasn’t anything else for it at the time – if you’re smart. It takes it’s toll though.
What I’m saying to you is this, even after it’s finished – you’re at the starting blocks of dealing with the debris. But this is a fantastic healing journey of re-discovering an old favourite friend, you. That first step I learnt to just sit with myself and ask what I was really feeling to re-learn feeling my truth. My therapist said there’s no such emotion as anxiety, it’s masking anger or fear or both. Later that year, on my first solo holiday to an Ibiza yoga and wellness retreat, I learnt at Somatic Sexology class your own body is your true north of your truth, you feel in your body your ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Discovered there again how out of touch I was with it, it’s still a work in progress for me. But I’m in the light and I’m constantly learning and growing, expanding and evolving and doing me. I’m free now, free to be me and do me and work on me, it’s such a wondrous feeling freedom, it almost brings tears to my eyes, and I don’t cry (probably the out-of-touch with my own emotions thing I’m still working on).
Where am I now a year and a New Year’s Day on? I’m in a new relationship with a giant of a man, in both stature and heart – I’ll refer to him as Lion-heart. The most important relationship I’m in now though is my new relationship with myself.
Taking the time to self-reflect, hold up a mirror and be brutally honest with myself then look to learn ways to heal and evolve – that time I spent by myself in hibernation. Lion-heart’s been doing the same, in fact he’s very brutal with himself and can really take on those periods of feeling it all in technicolour, undilute the pain and the truth and fully and freely acknowledge his own part in wrongs. This is something I respect and value immeasurably. It’s something my ex could never do, all his woes were everybody else’s fault, mainly mine, but of course in reality it was all his own demons and incredibly bad decisions mixed with a complete lack of discipline that were the problem. One thing I know for sure now is that if a person can’t do this and deflects and blames others instead – they rot their own souls and will hurt everyone close to them. It takes guts and heart, maturity and integrity to own your own shit.
After a time in hibernation, working on myself (or you’ll just keep attracting the same mistakes) I thought I was ready to try dating in the summertime and now here I am at Christmas time with an incredible man who sees me, loves me as I am and who I love back the same way. This has taken us both by great surprise! It certainly wasn’t in my plans when I thought I’d try dating. I guess we fell in mutual fascination, then love. This journey has taught me even more about myself, surprising things I hadn’t seen or suspected. Like your body, your heart doesn’t lie. My mind must, I trust it less and less these days and try to listen to my heart and body more.
I didn’t want a new romantic relationship, but I know what I feel, and that feeling is too special to not go with it. I’d told myself if I did have another relationship again it’d be with someone this and that, someone basically very safe and sensible. My boyfriend’s a Scorpio so if you know anything about astrology, they’re pretty much the antithesis of safe and sensible. Though I do feel safe with him. It’s a misunderstood sign with so many truly valuable qualities if you’re not faint-hearted, or too sensitive. AstroPoet’s book I think explains the pretty difficult to explain perfectly. Us, well it wasn’t his idea either, his feelings for me hit him like a sledgehammer and he wasn’t best pleased about it to begin with, declaring one evening, “I love you… and I hate you for it,” said with thunderous feeling. I replied, “Well, that sentence started out so well and ended up somewhere not so pleasant.” We smiled, we understood each other.
It’s been a journey of discovery, discovery of another but also self-discovery. I appreciate his raw unfiltered honesty, with himself and with me. When souls connect there’s no hiding from it, you can try and academicize your way out of it from fear or you can feel what you’re feeling and go with it. I said to him early on, “Loves only a journey for the brave. This will either be our paradise or our hell; the choice is ours.” You see, when you’re a survivor, you know you can survive – even if it all goes tits up.
If you want a mirror that reflects yourself back to yourself in unexpected and enlightening ways – find a Scorpio’s eyes and tongue. They don’t need to be a lover; a Scorpio friend will do. I have one of those too, my oldest friend of 30+ years, that’s not random either, true Scorps are incredibly loyal to those they love. Loyalties everything to me, a character trait I prize very highly. Scorpio’s really see you, all facets and they’re not afraid of the dark places. If I’d really wanted an easy man I wouldn’t have fallen in love with a Scorpio – fact. I’ve learnt that about myself and I’m good with it.
In the beginning of our relationship, I felt like his intensely favourite subject of study. Intense is often a word associated with Scorpio’s, he’s said some have found him “too intense”, but I admire it and am envious of his feral comfortableness in his own skin and nature. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by someone who feels intensely? Are they crazy! I’m drawn to his heat like an iguana to the sun. I also love how he smells, that’s been a powerful source of attraction as it turns out. My friend, Geraldine, says it just proves we’re all basically dogs, being dog-people who understand the beautiful natural nature of a dog, this can only but seen as a positive by us. Either way, it is what it is, the way he smells makes me behave like a cat that’s just discovered a patch of catnip. I’ve witnessed that as I used to grow catnip for my cat’s pleasure and it’s an apt analogy. His presence in my life has brought out the feral in me, I’m rewilding and I absolutely love it! It’s like finding a jewel at the bottom of a lake and for this gift, regardless of our fate, I’ll always be grateful. “I want to grow with you like the Queen of the forest”, he tells me. She’s an ancient oak in the New Forest we’ve visited. I want that also. We’re just two damaged bright souls doing our best and hoping for the best and bringing out the best (and sometimes surprising) in each other.
Life’s messy, timing is often imperfect, we come with our own sets of triggers from past damage. But by staying true to your own heart, I believe it’s possible to navigate a course, hand-in-hand, that helps each other be the best each can be. That’s a never-ending journey and how wonderful it is.
We started Christmas day at the village church together, I hadn’t been for a long time but grew up going to church every Sunday. Lion-heart had found his way there a few years before in absolute grief, crying uncontrollably in a back pew. His pastor approached and Lion-heart told him, “I’m not good enough yet to be here.” The pastor replied, “this is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.” Fantastic words, I love them! Which is why I repeat them here for you. His story is for him to tell though, not me – I’m the keeper of his secrets and the lover of his patchwork of scars and powerful soul. I’ll simply tell my story, my truth and continue to follow what that is for me.
I’d thought some of my unattractive truths, like having been married to someone abusive and having been married more than once would be, well, unattractive. Lion-heart simply said, “All that says to be is you’re a trier, I don’t normally date short women, but you have a huge heart and you don’t stop trying. I love that about you.” I love that about him also, we see it in each other, we’re trying, we have big hearts, and we discuss everything we’ve learnt and are learning from books, from others, from living. Yes, it’s scary to fall in love, I know my Lion has found it scary but more importantly we’re living, and he agrees he’s never felt more alive. So, call me crazy, my friends do with a wry smile but I’m alive and I’m loving it. Written some of my best poetry too while riding the tidal wave of falling in love.
Don’t be afraid, put one foot in front of the other and keep moving towards your truth and what makes your heart fill with happiness. The smell of a flower you’ve grown, your dogs joy on a walk, reading, writing, your own reflection in your lovers’ eyes, the smile of an old friend. Whatever it is, don’t waste precious moments on anything that isn’t making you happy. Love, light and peace to you this new year.
Learning to date, at 50
Wiping away a tear of laughter, I waited to catch my breathe. Prunella was in full animated flight, telling us her best and worst dating tales at our girlfriends Sunday lunch in Greenwich. She’s petite, beautiful, always well-turned-out, eccentric and has a quick wit and lilting Irish accent. She’s also over 50 and now a veteran of the dating world after her painful, acrimonious divorce a few years back. Her ex-husband went full demon on her after 20 + years of marriage, he’d hidden a whole other personality – oh and a mistress and all their savings. When I say it was bad, I mean it was BAD. Prunes still got her strong spirit and her devoted son and menagerie of dogs, cats and foxes though. She also, eventually, got her home back which is fantastically decorated in her lovely witchy style.
Lou Ellen joined in, she’s only in her mid-30’s but had gone through a similarly heart-breaking marriage around the same time as me. Which had been fortuitous in a sense as we’d supported each other in the way only friends who personally understand the pain and confusion can. Lou had thrown herself straight back into dating without stopping to pass go. Ultimately, this led to her current loved-up state with a good egg and gent, Hugh the naval officer. He’s very kind and helpful with her wee toddler, who can be quite the handful, as well. But before Hugh, there were some characters, some unrequited feelings, some romantic dates and some disastrous dates.
Having lived and learnt, neither Prunella nor Lou Ellen will suffer nonsense. They took enough from their ex-husbands and won’t be tolerating fools again.
Driving Karena and I back home to the coast, I admitted, this has got me thinking, “Am I ready to try dating?” It sounded like a fun adventure.
I’d purposely not considered dating or men full-stop for some time after extracting myself from my ex. I’d felt it was necessary to take time to be on my own – to heal, think, feel, breathe and be peaceful. I’d done all that and was feeling balanced and myself again, I also didn’t want a serious relationship, but I did miss male company. I’ve always worked with men, had men in my friendship circle and after lockdown I wasn’t spending any time around men at all. I missed them. I’m a girl’s girl, regardless of my stealing, lying, cheating ex – I hadn’t gone down the “all men are bastards” road, because it was one person, not an entire gender’s failings. I’ve always liked men and I’m talking in the genuine platonic ‘enjoy your company’ sense, not something equivocal to ‘I’m a nymphomaniac’. Quite the opposite, I didn’t realise it then, but my body had shut down as part of my inner survivalist’s tactics during the bad years (with my ex).
A fun adventure, with stories I could later regale my friends with. What’s not to love! I certainly love fun and adventure – what could go wrong? I’m writing this for anyone else out there, thinking the same, at a non-spring-chicken age. I’m certainly not going to put you off, on the contrary – go for it! I’m simply sharing my experience, not as a guide but just to say – hey, it’s possible to learn new tricks no matter your age or past or whatever.
First, I asked my friends for advice about how to get started in this internet-dating world. When I last dated, it simply involved a few tequila shots, locking eyes with someone fanciable, looking away, flicking your hair and being asked to dance. Ah, the good ole days, drunken snogs in doorways with Haddaway singing ‘What is Love’, on full blast. Now, all done via an app on your smartphone. Not as much fun, but it’s the cultural norm in the 2020’s. It’s kept a lot of people entertained during the lockdown’s – hence the phenomenon of ‘lockdown romance’, most of which were over when lockdown was.
There’s so many though! How do you choose which online dating app is best for you? I read some articles on it and then I asked my friends for advice. I learnt that it’s super important which one you choose as to how successful your experience will be.
I’d started with a plan to only date men in my own age range of 50 something. So, ignoring my friend’s advice, I tried a dating site specifically for this age range. It was ok, I chatted on the messaging service with some ok guys and a particularly keen one on the phone. He seemed nice enough, had a cheeky cockney accent and loved nature and kayaking – tick, tick and tick but when he opened his mouth to smile his teeth looked like he’d smoked 100 rollies a day for several years. Which I think during his early army career, he probably had. Now, I’m not a teeth snob (this is Britain) but clean looking is essential or I’m not going anywhere near there with my own mouth.
On that 50 something site, I did learn – don’t bother responding to people just to be polite, they’ll not always be so back. A chap I wasn’t remotely interested in kept messaging me, I didn’t want to be rude, so I’d half-heartedly messaged something polite back but when he found out I wasn’t a rugby fan – he blocked me! The audacity! I hadn’t wanted to talk to him in the first place, had been nothing but polite and got this extremely rude and overly dramatic response. Lesson 1: don’t talk to anyone you don’t really want to, total waste of your time and there are some right idiots out there.
Then I thought, I’ll try a site that appeals to other people that are interested in the same things, like literature. So, I signed up with a quality newspaper’s dating service that appeals to people who like to read. Their sign up process was great for people like me, you got to write War & Peace for your profile – lamenting on and on about yourself. I really took to that, then sat back and waited for like-minded types to contact me. Some did, but mostly it was like a scene from a western movie; where everybody has moved on and only tumbleweed and dust are rolling down the main street. Lesson 2: pick sites that are popular now, you know – ones that other people are on.
Finally, I took my friends advice and signed up on a popular app. One where I got to write very little about myself but post half a dozen photos. Bingo! I was suddenly the most popular girl at the dance. So popular, I couldn’t possibly keep up with the amount of interest flooding in on a daily basis. It was exciting and fun, but I hadn’t planned on getting a part-time job that took hours of my day. Lesson 3: when you’re new to a popular site, you get inundated for a while with responses, something to do with being a newbie.
It’s difficult to sort the good guys from the psychopaths, so I used it as a fun game of ‘who should I date?’ with my girlfriends in our WhatsApp group. Reminiscent of Cilla’s Blind Date show except with a photo and bio. “Contestant number 1, a Buddhist yoga teacher with twin teenage daughters. Contestant number 2, city bloke with Savile Row suits and a Celine Dion fixation. Contestant number 3, Scottish kilt-wearing man with cheeky grin (enough said, got to love a man in a kilt). It was hours of fun, for us all. So many men, so little time. That was just it, I didn’t like the way the app turned it all into a pick n mix sweetie shop experience. We’re real people damn it! Almost doesn’t feel like real people somehow with the way they make us all approach dating; swipe, millisecond snap judgements, next – next – next syndrome. You find out there’s some dating professionals out there and they love a newbie, too smooth, too polished with it all. My friends explained this reptile just baths in the attention, seeking more and more female adoration for their hungry egos. Then there’s the ‘be gentle with me, I’ve been hurt’, women distrusters. Thankfully, a lot of these twats write their feelings on the hurtful callousness of womenkind in their profiles so they’re easy to avoid. Eyeroll emoji, we’ve all had our hearts broken, you’re not unique and it isn’t all women’s fault and it’s not our job to fix you, piss off! Oh, and the ‘I’m just a big kid at heart’, meaning; you’re an overgrown man-child looking for mummy – yeah, no thanks. Some will chat and flirt for a bit, others just the once, some are illiterate, others overly familiar and some think being overtly sexual and offering you dick-pics is sexy, it’s not. Others seem genuinely interested then just fade away when you ask to video-chat…. Worst of all, the married ones who just want to see if they’ve still got it and think wasting single people’s time isn’t doing anything wrong – you’re cheating you arsehole and it’s all kinds of wrong to both your spouse and the single person you’re conning. Lesson 3: People become jaded and fickle thanks to dating apps, instead of investing time in getting to know someone, they don’t really get to know anyone because there’s always someone new…
Be honest about what you want. In the few words I was allowed in my profile I made it clear manners are important to me and that I’m old-school. My first actual date was for lunch with a photojournalist who taken some award-winning war pictures and had recently taken up learning the piano. He was a couple of years older than me, and I liked the fact he was like me, still loved learning and creating. He’d lived in New York for some time and was now back in Blighty. I was so excited to be on my first date I ran up and hugged him warmly upon seeing him waiting nervously outside the restaurant. I told him he was my first date in 15 or more years and first ever via app technology. He said, “oh dear, and you got me,” with a smile. I liked him immediately. We went on four dates all together, ate some lovely meals in lovely places – which he picked up the tab for like a gentleman. I made a picnic for one of our dates and we took my dogs for a walk, I could see he wasn’t quite as much of a dog person as he’d made out. I enjoyed his company; he was intelligent and had some incredible stories. Also, being a journo, he had some interesting inside political gossip. Ultimately though he sensed that’s all I enjoyed, I didn’t fancy him, I didn’t want to kiss him, let alone sleep with him and he started dropping hints about ‘dating rules’ in New York and how everyone knew people slept together on the third date. I blithely told him, “How ridiculous! People should do whatever they want, not play by silly rules.” He wanted more than I could give him, so we amicably moved on. Lesson 4: People probably aren’t just looking for friendship on a dating app
I had some other dates, with a London artist who was good fun but overly keen. He wanted us to get engaged on date 3, way too intense. Then I met a guy that looked quite a bit older than his photos. He sat there over dinner and showed off about how much money he was making and then at the end of the meal asked me to pay – it was an inexpensive Asian restaurant. So tacky, I get that’s normal for a lot of people and I understand it but personally for me, if a guy can’t do the gentlemanly thing of offering to pay (even if you do contribute, at your own suggestion) then it just turns me off. One thing they all had in common, they were very keen to have relationships quickly. Lesson 5: when dating at over 50 the tables have turned, remember all those guys who didn’t want to commit in your 20’s? Well at 50 they can’t wait to settle down and you’ll be the one going, nah – I’m liking single life ta.
Then my wise young neighbour and friend, Sarah, came round for a cuppa and to have a word with me as we’d had a few previous cuppa’s and she realised what was going on…. I didn’t …. but I was about to be told …
“You are a young person; you might be 50 but you’re young and you look young and you’re youthful and vibrant and these men you’re dating look like your Grandad next to you”. “But they’re only a couple of years older than me,” I protested. “No, they’re not, they’re much older than you when it comes to compatibility.” “Oh,” I said. “What’s more, stop telling me you’re feeling anxious because you don’t know what to do about this artist who’s constantly hounding you to be his girlfriend, the one you’re avoiding but texting back, just to be polite.” “I do feel anxious about it, I don’t know what to do.” “Yes, you do, you know exactly what you want and it’s not him, just tell him, anxiety over – do it now.” So, I did, I told him the truth and Sarah was right, I immediately felt much better and very relieved. Sarah then asked for my dating profile, she changed my age range to include younger people and handed it back. “I see you with a tall, mixed race handsome man a few years younger than you”, she said.
A few days later I yelled to Sarah over the fence while she was gardening, “Here, come and look at this.” I showed her photos of the man I’d arranged to meet for a date that weekend. A handsome, 44-year-old, half Caribbean Brit, over 6 foot tall with a voice like rich coffee and custard creams. He’d popped up to ‘like me’ very shortly after Sarah’s intervention. A lion of a man, not backwards in coming forwards, he got onto voice and video calling soon after connecting. On those calls we laughed a lot and talked about everything under the sun, including reading the same books. I was really looking forward to our first in-person date. Lesson 5: always listen to your friends who love you, they know you best and only want what’s best for you.
Oh, and if you want to know how things are with the lion – read From Hell to Happiness – what a difference a year makes.
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