This, obviously, is NOT a picture of my Mum.
This is a picture of our beautiful Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, the year my Mum was born.
With me living in mid rural France and my Mum living in West Cumbria, the opportunities to actually get together and spend time in each others company are few and far between but we speak regularly on the phone, sometimes several times a week, always for an hour plus, sometimes for considerably longer and more often than not even after a very long phone call one of us will then immediately send a Facebook message to the other about something that we clean forgot to mention whilst on the phone for an inordinate amount of time, sometimes it can have been the very reason for the original phone call itself. It’s not forgetfulness per se, moreover the fact that we probably have far too much to say and invariably end up going off on a complete tangent.
Born in 1952 to working-class parents; my Grandmother was a housewife and an enthusiastic seamstress, my Grandfather was from ex-Parachute regiment stock, following this up with a career as a Prison Warden for H.M.P.S. before retiring and becoming the author of two Military history books as well as painstakingly tracing our family history and ancestry back several hundred years, my mother is the eldest child of four, with two sisters and one brother.
My Grandparents still live in Cumbria today, about ten minutes from my Mum, though unsurprisingly they are no longer the busy little bees of yester-years and often they find that there are insufficient distractions to occupy them through the long days.
My mother, on the other hand, does not suffer from that issue in the slightest!
I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a ‘typical sixty-five year old’ these days because, of course, people come in all shapes and sizes, different styles, different attitudes to life, a huge array of fashion choices and with both a tendency to live far longer and the fact that culture has changed so dramatically in the last few decades, the stages of life are not so clearly defined as they were before. Some people become grandparents in their forties (some even considerably earlier than that!), whilst others are just embarking on starting a family of their own at this point in their lives. We used to conjure an image of a sixty-five-year-old woman as having greying hair, kept in a short, manageable hairstyle, a full set of dentures and perhaps wearing some comfortable shoes and a heavy-knit cardigan and an endless supply of Werther’s originals.
For those of you who don’t know my Mum, you can wipe that image from your mind straight away.
“I don’t want to date old age pensioners” she will often declare in abject horror.
It’s true though, she does visibly belie her age by a good many years and if you were to base her age on her choice of activities? Well, let’s just say that several more years would presumably be knocked off in addition to those already subtracted. Her preferred activities are playing the drums, bass or guitar in a variety of bands (be they hard rock, rockabilly, rhythm and blues and even Jazz), open mic nights at her various haunts are a particular favourite past time and anything artsy or crafty, essentially anything that keeps her actively occupied, sociable and avoiding boring things like housework.
Her habitual bedtime is normally well past two am.
In fact, we really couldn’t be more different:
I could go on and on and on but it’s probably simpler to say that there are in fact very few common interests or shared opinions between us so we simply have to agree to disagree else we would be debating pretty much everything.
We have, over the many years, just learnt that we like different things and we like to do almost everything differently and that no amount of nagging each other about our own personal preferences will change that of the other. It has taken age and wisdom to arrive at this equilibrium. Not that I am suggesting that we have spent inordinate amounts of time arguing, what I mean is that we have simply learnt to respect each others choices and habits on the understanding that just because they are different to our own does not mean that they are wrong. If I ever find myself prowling on the boundaries of sticking my oar in, I am much better now at recognizing it and withdraw before I overstep the mark.
Offering helpful advice is showing concern and being thoughtful and considerate, offering constructive criticism is acceptable though often less well tolerated, offering an opinion on something that doesn’t directly affect oneself, no matter how well intended, is of no consequence to anyone else. My opinion, is simply, my opinion and if mine is to be respected then I, in fact, we all have to accept that everyone else’s opinions are equally as important.
I love this meme
Other people’s business is exactly that and the only time I choose to involve myself is if their business directly affects me. If not, I’m perfectly happy to stay well and truly out of it. I can’t stand idle gossip, I have no interest in knowing, second or third hand, about the ins and outs of other people’s lives. I avoid unnecessary drama at all costs, it’s such a waste of energy. I suppose, perhaps in that way, we are more alike than I have ever credited.
My Mum just gets on with life, doing what is necessary as well as making time for doing what she enjoys and in the process not taking it all too seriously. Good for her.
Anyway, I have digressed, I have rather veered from the subject of age.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” wrote Mark Twain.
Let’s face it, as we get older different things take on different importance.
As a teenager, you longingly wish to look older than your years, as a mature adult you yearn to be able to wind the years back a little or wear a permanent Snapchat filter.
The once coveted notion of being mature for one’s age becomes far less appealing. Nobody wishes to be ‘mature for their age’ once we actually get to a ripe old age!
Time appears, inexplicably, to speed up the older you get. As a child, it would feel like an absolute eternity from one Christmas until the next yet as an adult you barely have time to catch your breath in between.
Thankfully, everyone’s inner child is ageless and amazingly whatever age we reach, we can instantly be transported back to our childhood with a simple smell, a taste, a song, a faded photograph or perhaps even a long forgotten memory, whether it be good or bad.
A recent blog about school shoes took my Mum instantly back to her first terrifying day at senior school where she arrived and found that she was not kitted out in the correct school approved socks. Entirely not her fault, of course, the school outfitters had run out of stocks of these particular socks when her mother had purchased her uniform and thus she was given slightly different socks that they gave assurance would still be perfectly acceptable attire, I mean, can you really imagine my Grandmother, the wife of a Prison Officer, being a rule breaker in the slightest? Not likely! Yet, despite these efforts to ensure strict conformity, my mother was ordered to the front of the classroom and mortifyingly and rather unnecessarily reprimanded in front of the whole class on her first day at this new school by the fearsome bully of a Schoolmistress, who no doubt also wholly needlessly kept a watchful eye on my ‘rebellious, rule flaunting’ mother for many subsequent years. Unfortunately, a rather unpromising start at any new school can often have the undesirable effect of putting you firmly in the target of such characters who look for every opportunity to flex their power and carry out their perceived essential discipline with utter glee.
These days, she would quite happily tell such people to “Piss Off” but obviously she wouldn’t have dared do that back then, though there was one such girl at my school who thought nothing of talking to the teachers like this, she was, unsurprisingly, often in trouble and she was eventually expelled but at the time we were all in absolute awe of her. Her name was Vicky Adams and she was absolutely fearless!
The older we become, the happier we are with the skin that we are in, though perhaps we wish that in places it wasn’t quite so saggy and in others it wasn’t quite so expansive but metaphorically, I mean, we are more comfortable with ourselves and who we are. We are less concerned with what other people think, we think far less about material possessions and concern ourselves more with having experiences and making memories.
Here is one of my favourite pictures. It is a John William Godward painting from 1892 called ‘Leaning on the balcony’, this is what it would have originally looked like.
I have this particular picture. It is an old print that has been framed and entitled Memories and there is a quote at the bottom that reads:
“Oh! Memory, fond memory, when all things fade we fly to thee”
This quote was written by British author Hector Hugh Munro (1870–1916) better known by his pen name Saki or H.H. Munro. It is a quote taken from the short story The Blood-Feud of Toad-Water: A West Country Epic. He was an intensely interesting character with a colourful life. Perhaps, as a Munro, there is a family connection, perhaps that is why my late father came to be in possession of this picture with this particular quote attached to it.
This picture now hangs in my bedroom and there is not a day goes by where I do not gaze upon it, however fleetingly. It is beautifully and rather aptly faded with the many years that have passed and it is mounted in a warped glass that gives it a distinctively imperfect quality with its muted colours and its aged border. For all of these reasons I adore it, for the print has now fully transformed into the poignancy of the quote itself. This is what my example looks like…
To follow, is a poem that I wrote several years ago, perhaps sub-consciously with the quote above as my muse.
Those times when faded memories spring suddenly to mind
Leaving you to rediscover, to remember and unwind
A million fond, forgotten things and lovely places,
To reminisce good times and recall lost smiling faces.
Sometimes you will remember parts of life that were unkind
Certain memories you evoke, you would rather leave behind
But time is a precious commodity that one can never buy
So often taken for granted, though we have to question why
Time, both the giver of all things and the one who takes away
How much longer you or I have, one never can quite say
Time is not available to beg, to steal or borrow
And one can never just presume that there will always be tomorrow
Time cannot be bargained with and won’t listen to reason
Time waits not for mortal man nor the changing of the season
Time, it will not falter, will not pause, nor will it stall
And thus time is merely wasted or spent wisely by us all
It is not intended to be sad or melancholy it is, instead, a pragmatic acceptance that no matter what we do and however we choose to spend our time, time is ticking by regardless. We all know this but somehow we don’t all realise this.
I’m delighted that both my parents did and do.
Realistically there is no such thing as wasting time, as long as you are enjoying it or spending it in the pursuit of happiness whether it be an extravagant indulgence or something very, very simple.
What many people consider as ‘wasting time’ in today’s modern, busy society, is merely the practice of not being actively involved in a specific ‘activity’ or ‘function’ that is deemed constructive or worthwhile, but in reality what could be more luxurious or more important even, than spending time doing absolutely nothing except ‘being yourself’ without any distractions or limitations (with exception of morals and ethics, of course).
The only way you can really waste time is to spend it trying to be something you are not and never will be or to spend it trying to keep everyone else happy and never achieving happiness for yourself.
Some people like to spend their free time being very sociable, getting involved, being a part of a team, some people like learning new skills, new languages, an instrument, some people like to bake or paint or be creative in a multitude of other ways, some like to be active, playing sports, climbing mountains, running marathons and some prefer a quieter life, they may like to read or to write or simply just to sit and think and ponder and reflect. No two people are the same and therefore no-one, assuming they are decent individuals and causing no harm or wrongdoing to anyone else, should be disapproved of for the way they choose to spend not just their free time, but how they live their life in general.
It takes all sorts of people to contribute to this world, a marathon running fitness fanatic who spends most of their free time dedicated to achieving their personal best, still wants to read the occasional well-written novel or listen to some wonderful music whilst doing their training. If everyone else, by comparison, was considered lazy and unmotivated by their own active standards then who would be writing these novels or these pieces of music for them to enjoy?
So, whilst I may not always be on the same page as my Mum with regards to her hobbies, her latest passions, her various forays into self-improvement or broadening her horizons I thoroughly applaud her for living her life the way she wants to and for refusing to be defined by age or social conformity.
May she enjoy many, many, many more years of wonderful, fulfilling experiences or doing absolutely nothing; her life, her choice.
Life may well be the longest thing we ever do but in reality it is short because by the time we have it figured out, by the time we realise that we don’t necessarily have to be like everyone else, by the time we are comfortable in our own skin and have stopped comparing ourselves to everyone else, we are probably well advanced in our years and our remaining years are certainly the thinner end of the wedge.
If only someone had told us all of this at a much younger age.
If only we had listened!
The Virtual Recluse