How you Know your Middle-Aged!
A Steady Middle-Age
I haven't had much to blog about lately as October has been a fairly steady month. and I've felt pretty ordinary and dare I say, middle-aged. I've corrected myself when using middle-aged derogatively but ... life has been pleasant but uneventful. I've been back in the UK for most of it, hanging out with my oldies, trying not to visit Betsy who is settling into university in York too often and refraining from texting her and Annie (in Spain) more than five or six times a day. The hiighlight for my middle-aged existence has been having my lovely Saint Mick of Thana here for half term. He had a great time but I think was a little perturbed at the large list of middle-aged 'jobs' that I had lined up for him. (No expat life of maids and helpers back in the UK!). He even managed to find time to get new LED lights fitted to ‘our’ old Land Rover Defender while he was here so that “you won’t have to drive home from visiting Betsy with poor lights!” Hmm.
We've been getting a kitchen makeover completed so there were trips to the local dump along with the regular grass cutting, and other 'boy jobs'. for Mick to do. Yes, I know that is sexist. but nevertheless the tasks needed completing. (It is probably fair to say that my whole family hate my lists of jobs, but it has never stopped me writng them!)
Anyway, the Howdens kitchen is finally finished and looks great. (I should thank Terry McKitten the best joiner in England, Martin Barr, a wonderful electrician (so good that I have now got him working in the bathroom!) and Ann Clement and Matteo Hilldrith for a lovely kitchen design..) As the final piece of flooring was laid and the dishwasher started its first cycle, my level of excitement at a job well done made me think the term middle-aged really did apply to me. I'm not so sure young people get as excited as I did by new splashbacks! Not to worry I'm middle-aged and proud!
Anyway, what with one thing and another I've started thinking a bit more about being middle aged and have realised there are other middle-aged give-aways too! Do they apply to you?
They are not the best pics but before and after along with the reluctant kitchen model Terry!
I’m sitting in Humberside airport lounge (again) waiting for yet another Cityhopper plane to fly me to Amsterdam. I am then travelling onto Bangkok. Actually I've just discovered an excellent website about Bangkok called www.thatbangkoklife.com and definitely plan to do some of the tourist things suggested in it, Time is always short in Bangkok so this things to cover in one day will be idea for me. It's fun being a tourist at home!
This time my final destination is Bangkok to see my Mickey. I am beyond excited about this. I can tell it’s been too long since I’ve seen him (six weeks) because I’ve been overcome with sentimentality simply because the background music playing in the airport is Madness’ It Must Be Love. At the risk of a pass the bucket moment we (along with probably half the population of the Madness generation) used to think that this was ‘our song’!
I’m passing the time enjoying chatting with friends online. One of my pals, has just said something along the lines of “I’ve got to go, it’s bin day.” This, for some reason, has really made me smile. (Seriously what is wrong with me this morning that talking of putting out the bins should feel heart-warming?!) It is whacky, though, how a single phrase can lead to so many weird, diverse and simultaneous random thoughts.
‘It’s Bin Day’ – Thought Association … Forgive the grammar.
I used to be a Teacher you Know! ‘It’s Bin Day’ - seems to me like the title to a poem that someone like Carol Ann Duffy or even Roger McGough would write. Duffy’s poems are such a great way of getting moderately disaffected students into poetry. I miss my IB English students. :( I remember teaching Roger McGough's poetry to Year 7 in Fakenham High School. Blimey I was a terrible teacher then, but thought I was great-the confidence of youth! I don’t think Performance Management existed, thank goodness! I can’t imagine that The Lesson is still taught. Why could Jacinda Ardern ban guns in New Zealand in what seemed like the blink of an eye when Obama couldn’t and Trump wouldn’t even try. Bloody hell.
Concerts and Fun. ‘It’s bin day’ - sounds like the line from the opening of a Morrissey song. (The old Morrissey, not the new problematic show-cancelling one!) Gosh it was cold at Colchester Train Station when we travelled to see him in concert. I bet I was only about 18 and I didn’t even have a mobile. I wonder if Annie and Betsy have even heard of Morrissey. I bet they’d find the twig in his back pocket weird. What did it symbolize? Can’t imagine Justin Bieber wearing a twig. That was such a loud concert. I spent half of it standing outside waiting for it to end!
Victoria Wood. 'It’s bin day’ feels like a metaphor for some less than desirable state of being, but in a tongue in cheek way. A verse from Victoria Wood’s The Ballad of Barry and Freda - a.k.a Let’s Do It song’ perhaps? Yet one more reason for Barry to reject Freda’s advances. That song must have made millions of people’s lives just a little bit better for listening to. So sad that Victoria Wood died. Think she was on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life. God I hate Jobsworthy types! I wonder what happened to the ‘jobsworth’ hat? I know a few people it would suit.
Last Times. It’s bin day’ - I wonder what last 'times went through Victoria Wood's mind when she got sick. I bet it wasn't putting out the bins. I don’t care if I never have to put out the bins again! A boy’s job. Why do we have to apologise for sexist comments these days. Don’t be silly Sally … you know why and wouldn’t want it any other way. Just stop being sexist! I wonder how many last times I’ve already had. Shame I can’t remember any of them!
Recycling. Three bins these days instead of one with a black plastic sack inside. Hope Betsy empties our bins or the house will stink when I get back. That bridge area in Bangkok near Bumrungrad Hospital is where you see the kids picking through the street rubbish. That’s so sad. It was funny when we looked out the condo window and saw a tiny old lady pulling a huge bookcase along on the street on a trolley that we’d thrown away. It was awful in Tanzania when the streets were lined with blue plastic bags full of rubbish. I think tourists have been banned from bringing plastic bags into the country now, but I wonder what the deal is with all the blue bags that used to be everywhere?
Fashion Statements. 'It's Bin Day' - Typical me that I got so excited about the kitchen bin we bought from British Home Stores. Shame that BHS doesn’t exist anymore; great homeware dept. Should I have got an integrated bin for our new kitchen? Integrated is a stupid word. It would be out the way, but it would get skanky and I’d spend half my life grumpy that no one cleaned it. I wonder what happens to the old kitchen? Will it go straight to the skip – I think if I looked for it there’s an irony there!
Who’d have thought simply saying ‘It’s Bin Day’ would create such a jumble of thoughts and memories. As I write further ‘It’s bin day’ assocations are springing to mind, but that’s cheating. Also, I think I may be coming across as just a little insane! I blame the excitement of going back to Bangkok or perhaps I’m seeking reassurance that I’m not alone in having a mind as muddled and jumbled as my kitchen draw or, should I say, my kitchen bin? I think it is essential that i keep the lid well and truly closed.
Birthday Trip to Salamanca
I’m writing this blog post sitting on the plane next to Betsy, returning home from a trip taken to Salamanca. Mick organised a mini-break for us to visit Annie so we could celebrate her 21st birthday together. Annie has only been in Salamanca for a couple of weeks so I’d been anxious that she wouldn’t have anyone to spend her birthday with. Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong and I spent, at least, some part of the trip transferring my worry as to whether we were, in fact, cramping Annie’s style and wondering if she would have preferred to be in the night clubs that we side-stepped on our way back to the hotel, very much not in the early hours. Annie assured me, (several times) that wasn’t the case and I am cautiously optimistic that I read the weekend vibe correctly in thinking that we had a lovely time.
As part of the 21st celebrations the conversation inevitably steered towards things like ‘advice I’d tell my younger self’ and ‘things I wished I’d known at 21’. The girls were both open minded to guidance I might have had for them, but in truth, sitting in the Plaza Mayor watching them across the table from me as they sipped their sangria - accomplished, funny and together - I didn’t feel I had a great deal of wisdom to share!
The Last Thirty Years
I find it bizarre this it is almost thirty years since I was celebrating my own 21st birthday. I don’t think I went anywhere particularly special, (or if I did I can’t remember), but I do remember returning to my university digs and sitting in the kitchen where Saint Mick produced a magnum of champagne. At the time that seemed to me the absolute height of sophistication, even though it was drunk from plastic cups and chipped mugs!
I think my own girls are much more aware of themselves, their place in the world and how that world might be different for them in thirty years time than I ever was. When I was 21 there are so many things that I failed to anticipate, think about, or couldn’t have known about. Let’s start with the serious stuff!
Things I Didn't Know
TV. I had four channels to choose from when I was 21. It hadn’t been that many years previously when I’d even had to stand up to change the channels rather than reaching for a remote. It was, I think, around this time that I developed a Countdown obsession. The concept of Boxsets, YouTube and Netflix would have seemed beyond belief. The fact that thirty years hence, young people would bypass TV completely and choose to watch a small portable screen on a phone or a tablet, when a vast monster of a screen was available in most western houses, would have blown my mind.
Sticking with TV: how could I have known that Jason Donovan (Scott), the hearthrob from the soap Neighbours, which I skipped lectures to watch, would go bald, mind his baldness a lot, have a successful hair piece and end up making cheap ads for Cadbury’s chocolate? How could I have known that Kylie Minogue (Charlene) would become a respected singer, a sex symbol for men and women alike, and be a role model for encouraging regular breast cancer screening. And definitely how could I know that Mark Little (Joe Mangel), my favourite character, would disappear for thirty years only to reinvent himself as the worst contestant ever to perform on Dancing on Ice and be knocked out in the first round. How could I even know that shows like Dancing on Ice would become a thing? A thing being an outlet to enable the famous for nothing, or once upon a time famous, to re-emerge in the public eye earning lots of money and, it seems, attain oft-desired social media derision in the process!
A Trashed Environment. I think it was around the time I turned 21 that the notion of recycling daily household rubbish first entered my life, (People in the UK might remember the excitement and confusion over the arrival of the extra dustbin for plastic and card.) I’d have been outraged if I had known that the human race was not only actively destroying our planet but, once aware, would be too lazy and selfish to make positive change to prevent this for future generations. The irony that I am on a plane, from a pleasure trip, writing this duly noted. L
Careers. They (I’m not sure who) say that our young people will have ten, fifteen, or even twenty different careers by the time they reach fifty. They also say that many of those careers won’t even have been invented yet. I don’t think when I became a teacher twenty five plus years ago I could even name twenty different career paths and had no idea of the opportunities that would be in our futures.
Feminism and Equality. I was a feminist at 21 but my knowledge was sketchy to say the least. I embraced the teachings of Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Vita Sackville-West, but it seems, looking back, only in a fairly abstract academic way. I feel quite ashamed how passive I was (what did those poor suffragettes fight for?). I guess I couldn’t have known that thirty years on even though girls would exceed boys in their school academic success, they would still hold only a tiny percentage of leadership positions and often be paid less across all industries.
Continued Predatory Behaviour – When I was at university the stereotypical ‘man in a mac’ flashed my friends and I when walking home one evening. It shook us up but our prime reaction was laughter not outrage. I knew that ‘No meant no’ but I also knew of instances amongst friends where no didn’t lead to no and we didn’t act on this. It has taken thirty years for movements such as ‘Me Too’ to find their voice and I suspect cover ups - royal or otherwise - continue all the time. I am hopeful that now our young people do have a much greater sense of what is and isn’t acceptable, though I bet I would have been surprised that it had taken so long.
The Internet. I was already teaching in Tanzania when the ‘online world’ started, yet these days it is completely taken for granted. I couldn’t have known how easy it would make completing academic research where answers to practically everything are seemingly just a few taps or a spoken question away. (Who could have imagined ‘Alexa’ and ‘Hey Google’?) Equally I had no ideas of the dangers that the dark world of the Internet brings with it.
Social Media. When I was 21 I wouldn’t have imagined that thirty years on I’d be able to pick up forgotten or spoiled friendships using social media. Equally, I had no idea about how people’s lives would be paraded (I’m doing it now) for the world to see on various social media forums. I may have behaved far better on some occasions if there had been the chance of my life being online for all to see! For me, and many teenagers, back in the day the telephone was my social life. The concept of not having to sit at the bottom of the stairway to phone my best friend, but instead have her photos, actions and voice and written words at hand 24/7 would have been a dream come true.
Alcohol. Who’d have thought that drinking shots of spirits would become such a thing amongst the young today? I don’t think it existed when I was young, or at least I never participated in it. Neither have I ever drunk pink gin which seems popular these days. However before I saw the error of my ways I definitely embraced the hobby of prosecco drinking. When I was 21 I don’ t think I’d have anticipated that thirty years hence I’d be a crusader for the ‘no-booze brigade’ preaching to anyone who will listen against it and explaining how alcohol does nothing for waistlines and all round well-being!
Politics. Should I even go there? I think I understood politics better thirty years ago and had stronger convictions than I do now, but I couldn’t have known that English politics would become such a complete mess! When I was young I at least knew who was in power and I did feel that politicians actually believed in something beyond self-aggrandisement. Now it all just feels very sad and the politicians come and go so quickly that I can’t keep up with who is in which role. Back in the day I joined Elvis Costello in his derision of Thatcher, followed the miners’ strike and mocked the ‘falsehood’ of Reagan’s acting presidency. (Why do people now remember him in such a good light?) I went to Essex uni so of course was a good lefty, but I do vaguely remember feeling guiltily (very guiltily – still a bit ashamed) cashing in when the gas shares were sold off and I was also a bit of a secret Shirley Williams fan. These days I would shout that admiration from the roof-tops. Back in the day I loved Spitting Image and enjoyed Private Eye, but these days even hardcore political comedians seem to find things almost too bleak to even satirize.
Anyway, I could keep going but I’m concerned that this blog post is becoming much too long and I am supposed to be focusing on the girls and how they are more aware of their place in the world than I ever was. I am not supposed to be preparing for a party political broadcast! In addition, I am genuinely afraid that if I use the term ‘these days’ once more I may be ostracized by all family and friends.
I did broach the question with the girls of how they think the world might have changed in thirty years time or what they might be doing in the future, but whilst they didn’t literally roll their eyes I am not sure I really got an answer. Annie did say that some of her friends had their life mapped out in such detail that they even had spreadsheets of the things that they needed to accomplish by which date and age in order to meet their goals. Talk about being motivated and knowing what you want! I have to say that I was happy with my girls’ more open-minded blank canvas approach to life. They are both go-getters and I am sure that they will take opportunities offered to them and maintain a bit of an eye on the future whilst living fully in the present. The one thing that I really had no idea about when I was 21 but which makes me happy each and every day is that I would have two strong, independent, feminist daughters who are prepared, if need be, to take the world by its goolies and fight for their beliefs. That’s more than good enough for me.
At school if I’d self-assessed and averaged out my grades I am pretty sure I’d have been a stock standard Grade ‘B’ student. I’d maybe reach an ‘A’ for the odd English piece; in French and Geography I was more ‘C’, but overall ‘B’ would be my forte. Better than fine or satisfactory – we all know what they mean – but not reaching the excellence of an ‘A’. Nothing has really changed, a 2.1 in my first degree at Essex, (though I’m sure firsts were scarcer in those days), and good solid merits in my later Masters’ degrees at the University of East Anglia and Nottingham and librarian diploma.
I think I know exactly why this is the case. Once I am sure that something is ‘good’ i.e a ‘B’, I can’t be bothered to do anymore work on it. I am a settler at good enough. In my life there hasn’t been any writing twice the word count allowed, enabling pruning and editing until the assignment is perfect. For me, once I’ve got enough words and it makes something like sense then that will do!
Transferring School Grades to Life
I’ve realised I apply the same attitude and approach to many parts of my life, especially things I have to do. Take housework, for example. In England I do keep things tidy and reasonably dust free, but I definitely wouldn’t achieve an ‘A’ grade for anything household related. With all house-y, and D.I.Y stuff I know what an ‘A’ looks like (my mum’s house) and an A* (my brother’s house!) but I just can’t be bothered to achieve such excellence myself. To be honest I’d only get a ‘B’ if the examiner was feeling generous! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have sunk so low that I have been known to use socks to dust the skirting boards. You might think that’s not so bad but I’ve been wearing them at the time!
Now I’ve started thinking about it there are loads of examples of my Grade ‘B’ approach to life. In fact it feels like I can’t escape it. This blog, is full of glitches, broken links and the like, preventing Google from even hardly recognising it, yet I just can’t seem to muster up enough umph to get it fixed up. We are back on the road to Scotland, this time heading to Fort William, (the first stop on our North Coast 500’ road trip in Lazarus the Landrover), though my holiday preparation has only reached ‘B-‘ grade. I bought the snacks, cooled the freezer cube thingies, but couldn’t be bothered to actually make sandwiches for the journey ahead of time. I decided we could make them en route whilst driving – which, to my detriment, I’m learning is actually easier said than done.
Even my beloved swimming – my way of maintaining a good enough level of fitness fits a grade ‘B’ rubric. I’ve made the effort to progress beyond, what I call, chinny swimmer, and I’m told I’m not too bad at all at freestyle now, but I can’t put the effort in to really master a decent breaststroke kick. Must do better!
When I was in the library I put ‘A’ effort into making it a fun environment and encouraging kids to love books. I was an ‘A-’ in creating a great collection for the whole school and parent community, (I like to think I know my books reasonably well), but I was only a C- in really embracing digital technology - and as for truly getting to grips with Dewey… I just couldn’t be bothered. I hope I was ‘A’ in developing a strong team, but in learning how to catalogue and classify books I was ‘D-’. So overall I guess at work I came out a ‘B’. No surprise eh!
Video courtesy of Bangkok Patana School Library. a great display we put together in January 2018 around an 'Under the Sea' theme, when promoting the enviornmental books of visiting author Gail Clarke.
It is interesting to see what I have invested an ‘A grade’ level of effort into. My family of course is top of the list, but I’m not sure I am mentally prepared enough to start grading my input into developing these complex relationships One thing I do know is they would probably give me an ‘A’ for worrying and nagging, but I’m not sure that is such a good thing!
The reality is that it seems that outside the personal stuff of family and friends there really isn’t much else that I seem to think is worth accomplishing beyond a ‘B’ in. Perhaps if I view my Grade ‘B’ achievement sympathetically I can justify it with the claim that I know what really matters or that I’m impatient to fit in as an infinite amount of stuff into a finite amount of time so don’t have time to be a perfectionist. I think, though, on both counts that’s probably me just letting myself off the hook!
One thing that I think I am quite good at is inspiring others to aim to achieve higher and being better than I am myself. I kind of expect it and it brings me pleasure that it is often the case. My kids have a better work ethic than me and are both kinder and more forgiving than me. When I was in the library, members of my team were phenomenally good at what they did, always striving for excellence. Perhaps I sewed some of the seeds but they followed through and paid attention to detail in getting things done properly. My housekeeper in Bangkok might smile ruefully at my self-analysis, at recognising excellence and desiring it in others. I certainly exact high standards from her in cleaning, washing and cooking-she doesn’t let me down!
I guess it’s good that at least I’ve recognised a lifelong Grade ‘B’ accomplishment pattern. It’s too late to change what’s been so I will have to be content to have been ‘good’ enough. Perhaps what I have been grade ‘A’ in is at cajoling, persuading and motivating others. The issue is though, that these days, the only person l have to cajole, persuade and motivate is myself. It would be great though to have a passion to be a grade ‘A’ in something and really go for it. Just right now, I’m just not quite sure what that something might be. I can't spend my whole life touring Scotland in the landrover - any other ideas?
The last (I promise) in the ‘here’ or ‘there’ saga!
I was driving through the village today, on the way to Scunthorpe to get Betsy a new bank account set up for university, when she asked the question, “Mum if you hadn’t gone to university do you think you would have always lived in Broughton or somewhere close by?” My answer was “I doubt it” to which Betsy asked “Why not? Hmmm… good question. When I stop to think it doesn’t really make sense to not have stayed local. It seems that I’m a bit Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!
Reasons to Live Locally
When I think about my own personality these are all reasons I might have expected to have stayed close to home; they are criteria I’m happy to adhere to. If I am such a ‘localite’ and it seems, that as a lover of non-wild, steady-eddy routine, I am, I wonder why I have chosen to live 6000 miles away from home in Bangkok for 17 years and prior to that 4000 miles away from home in Tanzania for 5 years. It just doesn’t make sense!
It seems I’ve managed this by turning Bangkok into Broughton and emulating the same life I would have done if I’d stayed. For example, family is very important to me and has always been a massive pull back to Broughton. In addition, I’m not very wild and like a routine (In Bangkok, I always shop in Tops supermarket for example); we have found an area we like to live in, (the oft mentioned Thana City); and stick there. We tend to go to the same cinema (Mega Bangna Cinema complex) or Mahidol University for Saturday concerts by the Thai Philharmonic. This regularity further fulfils the ‘reasons to stay local’ criteria and also we have a maximum of four or five places we tend to eat. The school, the athletes group and my book club basically is my community and I have learned what is on offer for me work wise in Bangkok (Not a lot when flexibility is key!)
I gave Betsy’s question some further thought. When I went to university my mum thought I’d only last a couple of weeks. Allegedly, and I’m not sure this is true, I would do anything to avoid speaking to shop assistants or strangers or anything of that ilk up to being about 25! (Fair enough really as typical introvert behaviour in my view!) I don’t think, though, it ever crossed my own mind to not stick uni out. I think I maybe got the occasional twinge for the familiarity of Scunthorpe’s shops and the treats it afforded, (the High Street was much better then), but nothing major happened. I wasn’t terribly homesick or anything like that. After uni and several months of temping work, I, along with Saint Mick (who was just Mick then and had mainly brown hair not grey – me too, come to that) backpacked extensively in Asia and Australasia. It was probably then that the idea of living and working abroad started to become attractive to me. Perhaps in my youth I must have been a bit more of a risk-taker than I realised.
But as a fifty something mum and wife, I’ve shown there is nothing very wild about our expat lifestyle!
Living abroad means:
And eventually if you stay somewhere a while, you embrace this ‘same/same but different’ as normal. Living an expat life meets the needs of both my Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde sides!
As I worked through the conundrum posed by Betsy I realised that I am easily restless and the ‘what’s it all about’ question is never far from the surface. Perhaps it’s an expat gene that we teachers abroad all have. Those with vaguely itchy feet wondering what else is ‘on offer’ can keep searching whilst simultaneously holding down well paid jobs and bringing up regular families and turn anywhere into a place that is both ‘same/same and different to home. The desire for adventure, sits alongside routine and ordinariness, though thankfully backpacking can be replaced with nice hotels and holidays in exciting neighbouring countries. It perhaps sounds exotic to tour South East Asia, but no more so than our planned trip to Scotland later this month – same/same but different.
Lately, being back in Broughton has made me think once again about the paths that life has taken me on. I have opted to return ‘’home’ and be part of village life at the minute and it’s making me realise how I’ve never really left it. I guess it is back to the idea of it not being the place but the person that creates a sense of belonging. Right now I’m living locally, and doing the ordinary comfy stuff as regularly as I have ever done, and mid August I’ll just as easily slip back into my Bangkok routine.
Reading this back I’m not sure I’ve got to grips with Betsy’s question at all. What I’d like to claim is that although I’ve abroad for twenty plus years I’ve actually stayed local. I wonder though, is that possible? What do you think?