Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Surprise

I know people like to judge me, I’m the stuck up cow who never joins in with the summer fayres, Christmas fetes or whatever other nonsense these yummy mummies spend their time organising. What these people, my neighbours, fail to realise is that I simply don’t have the time. Ever since I became Head of Human Resources at one of the top three hospitals in the U.K. my focus has to be work.

They can look down their noses at me all they want but I’ve achieved everything I ever set out to accomplish. It’s not been easy and my personal life has had to take a back seat but luckily my husband understands. You can’t break into the top three without some sacrifices. John and I met at uni and have been together ever since. To be honest, neither of us had much experience and sex has never played a major role in our marriage. We connect on a deeper level than that; the intimacy we have is far more powerful than sex.

My sister says it’s not healthy to live in each other’s pockets but what does she know? She’s got a divorce and a string of failed relationships behind her. We never had much in common even when we were kids; she was the apple of both my parents’ eye, pretty, sociable and not clever enough to make anyone feel threatened. I, on the other hand, came out of the womb with the drive to succeed. Boyfriends, pop stars and inane TV programmes were of no use to me.

The last time I saw my sister she decided to issue a few ‘home truths’. It was quite out of the blue and I don’t know what brought it on but she called me a ‘hard-faced cow’ and said I had no friends or real family to speak of. She’s never understood me so I don’t know why I felt so disappointed. I haven’t got time for friends and the nature of my job means I have to be hard. I’ve had to let people go who I’ve known for years and any attachments would make that difficult.

Anyway that was about six months ago and since then everything’s changed. So much so I’m tempted to email my sister and tell her how wrong she was. It all started with Olga – obviously with my busy schedule I have to have staff and Olga had been with us for years. I suppose she was what you might call a housekeeper; she did the cleaning, shopping and generally kept things ticking over. At least she did until she became a grandmother and her daughter couldn’t afford to pay for child care. I mean why people have children when they can’t afford to pay for them I’ll never know. It was an enormous inconvenience but there was no dissuading Olga against becoming an unpaid nanny.

As it turned out the whole thing couldn’t have worked out better as I found Tess and she is quite literally an angel. Despite all my training and instincts warning me not to get involved with an employee, Tess and I have become the best of friends. Even John adores her and he’s not a social creature by nature. Somehow it’s as if she’s opened all of the windows and let the sunshine into our lives. She even moved in with us after some sort of misunderstanding with her flatmate and now I can’t imagine life without her.

In fact John and I have been talking a lot lately about something so incredible it hardly seems possible. It was actually John’s idea, which is unusual because he normally leaves that kind of thing to me. However he’s so fond of Tess she must have inspired him to think outside the box. We’ve really never met anyone quite like her before, so full of life and adventure. We’ve become a sort of family. For the first time ever I look forward to coming home from work, wondering what John and Tess are doing. I’ve even left work at the same time as everyone else on a couple of occasions and we’ve watched TV together with pizza ordered in from the local takeaway.

John’s idea then feels like the next step. You see we never wanted children and, now that Tess has shown us the possibilities, it’s too late. My child bearing days are over. I feel silly just saying it but a surrogate could be the answer and who better than Tess? When she came to us it was because she’d run out of money travelling around the USA and most of Europe. She’s a free spirit and why should a lack of funds clip her wings? It’s the perfect solution, we get what we want and she gets her freedom.

Obviously we will have to work out the fine details and we’ve not really broached it with her yet. John is convinced she’ll agree and they are so close I’m sure he’s right. That’s why I’ve taken a few hours personal time and I’m going to surprise them and put our plan to Tess. I can’t leave this kind of thing to John; he’s not got much initiative which is why I’m surprised he came up with this idea in the first place. I can’t wait to see their faces when I arrive home early. An afternoon off is quite unheard of. 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Who Do You Want To Be?

During a recent visit to the hairdressers I met up with an old acquaintance who brought me up to speed with her life. She had ended a ten year relationship and was loved up with her new perfect ‘partner’ of seven weeks. The said ‘partner’ had already moved in and everything was amazing as they played happy families with her three children.

This is a woman who I have known for many years but our paths only cross every couple of years or so. It might sound like I’m judging but I’m really not. It’s just that listening to her I had a moment of clarity that I’m sure could apply to all our lives. You see I recognised a fellow ‘fresh starter’. We really have very little in common other than the desire to frequently start over. My acquaintance does this via relationships, she’s had several long term partners including a couple of husbands and always seems happiest at the start when she’s got it all to play for. There’s an obvious pattern here but she presumably can’t see it.

What became obvious to me is that we all do it although not necessarily in the same way. For some of us it’s jobs or travel, friendships or houses. The sense of new beginnings creates a heady feeling of euphoria, the illusion that we’ve found our perfect life. The truth is once the novelty has worn off, for most of us, we’re back to square one.

The older we get the harder it becomes to make the grandiose changes that we might have embraced when we were young. Moving cities or even countries is easy when you don’t have anything to tie you down but life has a way of, depending how you want to look at it, blessing us or encumbering us with kids, mortgages, careers etc. This means we either have to make do with little changes, my aunt used to decorate her house constantly – she would put her family through the horrible upheaval only to start again a week later when it wasn’t what she’d imagined, or swallow down our dissatisfaction and disappointment.

We all know that alcohol is the great equaliser and I’ve had many surprising conversations with people under the influence. Conversations they wouldn’t dream of having sober. I’ve had women tell me how motherhood is nothing like the fulfilling experience they thought it would be and how they feel ashamed to admit that they go to work not because they have to but because to be at home with their kids would drive them insane. Other women have spoken about their hatred for their successful careers and a desire to just pack it in and get a job at Tesco’s. How can they though when they’ve spent their entire adult lives striving to be in the very place they currently reside – what would people think?

The unwritten rule of drunken confessions is that they are never referred to again and the next morning life goes on as if the dark dirty secrets were never uttered. The truth is though it’s this denial that makes us miserable and leads us to make choices that often make us even more miserable. What those of us who are ‘fresh starters’ fail to see is that wherever we go we take all our disappointments and failings with us. The only way to truly make a change is to examine exactly what it is that we want and have the courage to embrace it.

Nobody gets to middle-age without realising that expecting to be happy all the time is foolish. Alain de Botton put it succinctly when he recently said that being middle-aged means becoming a pragmatic depressive because let’s face it, life is hard. So why do we make it harder than it needs to be by denying ourselves the things that might bring us the most joy.

We seem to live in an age where doing anything for the heck of it is seen as something to be ashamed of. Who can remember learning for pleasure or working ‘just for the money’ to fund your leisure? Nowadays if we aren’t all striving for promotions or reaching targets we’re deemed to be unsuccessful. We are all subject to endless scrutiny courtesy of performance management, a faceless, moronic system designed to help us all become ‘outstanding’ in whatever role we happen to be in. Those of us old enough to remember when  some imbecile first came up with the idea that if we weren’t all adhering to mid-term and long-term targets then we weren’t up to the job, will know that at one time Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory actually meant just that. Now though anything other than Outstanding means you have a target on your back. Somehow the definition of the words have been distorted so that to be Satisfactory or Good equates with, in the eyes of more often than not less than satisfactory management, incompetent.

Now I’m the first to admit that given the chance I would spend my life loafing my time away indulging my imagination. I recognise though that not everyone is the same. I inherited my loafer gene from my maternal grandmother who was forced to work three jobs to keep her family afloat after being widowed in her 40s. She was 63 when I was born however and so already retired. A retirement she spent next to the fire with a constant supply of tea and biscuits, reading Mills and Boon books. She was quite possibly the most content woman I’ve ever known. In contrast my mother, who was widowed at 60, has spent the ensuing 11 years filling her life to the brim with courses, groups and volunteering. She doesn’t have a minute to spare and that’s the way she likes it.

She’s always been like that, as kids my sister and I would howl with laughter at her need to list everything she had to do within a day – make breakfast, clean the bathroom, go to the shop, make tea, blah blah blah. We would joke, behind her back of course, how she should include, breathe in and out, switch on the kettle and pick up the tea-cup, such was the minutiae she’d include in her list. The scary thing is though all that list making and boasting about how much you have to do has become the norm. I’m sick of people telling me they are rushed off their feet without a moment to spare, multi-tasking and making me feel guilty for wanting to sit drinking tea all day.

So the upshot is I’m not playing any more. You can stuff your medium and long-term targets that I never read anyway; I’m quite satisfied to be satisfactory. You can keep your multi-tasking, the only thing on my to do list is to get in as much loafing about as humanly possible. Maybe if we all stopped trying to be something we’re not we wouldn’t need to be constantly looking for pastures new. Instead we’d be happy with what we’ve got because we’d have chosen it for the right reasons and not because we felt we should.