New Year Resolutions

It’s that time of year again when people are harping on about how they’re resolving to improve themselves and their lives in 2010.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Self-improvement is always a good thing.  And this particular New Year could quite easily be seen as a crucial time for personal commitment to major changes or doing something amazing; after all it is the start of a whole new decade.

Just browsing through magazines, and on the internet over the last few days, it occurs to me that many of us are likely to set ourselves unattainable targets and unrealistic goals this New Year based on what it is we think we should be trying to achieve, as dictated to us by random spoon-fed information. It also occurs to me that most of us will be setting ourselves up for a fall.  And consequent disappointment.  And ultimately feeling rubbish about ourselves.

I’m a real sucker myself for information and advice on “how to …”.  I’ve soaked up entire libraries of it over the years.  I’ve implemented some; completely dismissed most of it.  There’s no shortage of techniques one can use to achieve great things, and I don’t doubt that they will all work in their own way for different people.  Visualisation is a popular theory and if applied religiously we will get exactly what we desire.  Apparently.  This New Year I’m going to utilise fantasising, dreaming, visualisation, and developing myself a positive mantra or two, to achieve incredible things.  I reckon if I work hard enough at this then that so far elusive date with the beautiful Jude Law will actually happen.  No, not a word please … Anything is possible.  You know that.

The beautiful Jude Law

I shall also be exercising determination (that’s realistic?) in my quest to stop smoking.  I can actually visualise myself as a non-smoker as I did manage to abstain for a full three years before starting again.  This to me is a realistic goal, although there is no point in my taking advantage of the many expensive aids available to achieve a smoke-free existence, as they’ve all fallen by the wayside in previous attempts.  Point is – how much do I want to give up smoking?  Very much.  And that’s the key that will ultimately unlock the “non smoker” box for me.  How badly do I want to spend time with Jude Law?  God, that would be amazing.  But it’s not going to happen.  That bloody Sienna Miller is back in the frame now.   Be realistic Sooz, and slot in another DVD.

Getting fit absolutely has to be on my list this year.  I’m no longer a spring chicken; a midlife woman to be honest, and know that I have to work at it these days, but there’s no way I’m going to saddle myself with the obligatory gym membership.  I know that I’d start off with the best of intentions but then fail to find the time further down the line.  It’ll have to be option #2 – we’ll buy a treadmill and install it in the garage, because I know that I would definitely go for a trot in my ‘jamas at 6am before anyone else is awake.

Another resolution of mine is to spend more time with my friends, and be better at staying in touch with people. (Hold tight Bernadette, I know I’ve not replied to your recent letter; I’m not going to – I’m coming to visit you instead.)

The goals and targets I set myself for 2010 will stretch me, and at the same time they will be achievable (but not too easy), otherwise the whole exercise would be pointless.  I’ll have a few specifics.  Like breaking my current addiction to Millionaire’s Flapjack.  Mostly, though, I’m aiming to go for the general theories outlined below, all to do with ongoing development and attitude as I’m really not in favour of torturing myself unnecessarily.  Self-flagellation does not float my boat.

TEN SIMPLE TRUTHS THAT LEAD TO AN AMAZING LIFE:

1.  Say Yes to Stress

“An amazing life requires resilience.”

2.  If Not Now, When?

“An amazing life requires living in the moment.”

3.  The Light at the End of the Tunnel

“An amazing life requires optimism.”

4.  It Is What It Is

“An amazing life requires acceptance.”

5.  Laugh It Up!

“An amazing life requires humour.”

6.  Put a Spin on It

“An amazing life requires creativity.”

7.  Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Too Much

“An amazing life requires moderation.”

8.  Just Show Up

“An amazing life requires responsibility.”

9.  But What Does It All Mean?

“An amazing life requires meaning.”

10.  Join The Party!

“An amazing life requires connection.”

These ten simple truths are the basis of one of the best books I’ve ever read –

“Life Is Short – Wear Your Party Pants”  by Loretta Laroche

Loretta Laroche's "Life Is Short, Wear Your Party Pants"

Christmas Eve

Thought I was organised.  I’m not.  Here we are on Christmas Eve and I’m still chasing about like an idiot.  (I’m even late posting this rant online.)

I have delivered the last of the Christmas presents tonight to the friends and family members we won’t be seeing on Christmas Day.  I’m very glad to be home safely; the roads are treacherous as rain is now falling on top of the snow we’ve had lying for days.  The whole world is one huge sheet of ice.  It’s freezing hard and I’ve run out of salt for the paths.  We Brits are rubbish at coping with winter weather.

First stop tonight was at an old people’s home to visit a lovely lady who used to live along our lane.  She’s 83 years old and suffering from Alzheimers.  I first knew Auntie Dorothy 23 years ago when my elder daughter was a tiny girl.  She and her husband, Uncle Nick, befriended our family when they used to see me pushing the pram up and down our lane whilst heavily pregnant with our second child.  They are no relation whatsoever to us, yet over the years they became “family”.  Uncle Nick offered to walk the baby in the pram as I was struggling to walk properly, and that was the beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship between our two families.

Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Nick with our children

Auntie Dorothy taught our girls to bake cakes; Uncle Nick taught them how to tend a garden, and I do believe to this day that it was because of his early lessons that our elder daughter is now a horticulturalist.  These two marvellous people had two grown up sons, but never had grandchildren, and our girls filled that gap for them to some extent.  Over the years, our families have celebrated each other through some great times and helped each other through some terrible times.  Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Nick lost their younger son to cancer when he was only 30; we lost a business and my husband lost most of his family as a result.

It’s days like today when I give thanks for the special people in my life; the ones who really make a difference.  Uncle Nick died a number of years ago and after living alone at home for many years, Auntie Dorothy now resides in an old people’s home where she is well cared for.  She recognises me when I visit after thinking for a minute or two.  What she does recall very clearly, however, are the times long ago.  She remembers the times when her own sons were small boys; she remembers the times she spent with our girls.  Somehow she focuses on the good stuff.  She seems to have forgotten the bad stuff.  Maybe that’s how Alzheimers works; I hope it is.

My grandmother with my elder daughter in 1986

Auntie Dorothy has no idea what day it is; she has no concept of time or seasons.  She doesn’t realise that it’s Christmas even though we sat right by the Christmas tree tonight.  And as it’s Christmas, a time which always makes me think of my own grandparents, as well as Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Nick, the following poem seems so appropriate.  It’s also for my own precious mother:

Look Closer

What do you see nurses, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice, ‘I do wish you’d try’.
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who, quite unresisting, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill…

Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, you’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I move at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who love one another,
A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon a true lover she’ll meet.
A bride now at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home.

A woman of thirty my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my sons will soon all be gone,
But my man stays beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee;
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all busy with young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love I have known.
I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel,
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart,
There’s a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells,
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m living and loving all over again.
I think of the years, all too few – gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer – see ME.

By Phyllis McCormack

Three generations of my family

Cure for a waggling tongue

– What do you do with your tongue when you’re at the dentist?

– What do you mean – what do I do with my tongue when I’m at the dentist?

– Well, the dentist always tells me off because my tongue waggles about.  How do you stop it waggling and getting in the way?

– Oh, I just take mine out and put it in my pocket.

– Mum, you are such an idiot!

Vampire Weekend – “Cousins” and “Horchata”

Vampire Weekend is one of my favourite bands.  I don’t think there’s anything they’ve done that I don’t like.  “Cousins” is the latest single release from their second album, Contra, due out in January 2010.  Have a listen and enjoy.  And for those of you who didn’t take advantage of the free download of Vampire Weekend’s “Horchata” recently, here it is

Video no longer valid – apologies

Taking my hat off to Julia

I had an evening out this week with an old friend I’ve not seen for ages; it was hugely enjoyable.

We drove out to a small village pub a few miles away to sample their lovely home-cooked food and have a couple of drinks.  The place was full of people having Christmas parties, with paper hats, crackers and all the festive paraphernalia.  We managed to get a table in a cosy corner right by the open log fire and got down to some long overdue catching up.

My friend has been on her own for the last six years, since her now ex husband traded her in for a younger model.  Have to say, Julia was looking great.

I also have to say that six years on from the most traumatic period of her life, my midlife friend has things pretty much sorted.  Yes, she struggles financially even though she has a full-time job.  Yes, she has had to take on endless new responsibilities.  But aside from all the obvious problems of being on her own after a being in a long marriage, she’s a whole new woman.  The Julia I knew long ago was always assertive to an extent; she ran her own successful business for many years.  But the new Julia makes the old Julia look like a mere shadow.

Julia is in her mid fifties; her attitude to life is that of someone 20 years younger.  “Young at heart” is a good description.

She told me of her trip to Hungary to get her teeth fixed; she went there because it cost less than having the treatment in the UK.  It involved three trips, and she travelled alone for two of them.  Whilst there, she visited the sights of Budapest, enjoyed the luxurious spa waters in the city, stayed in a good hotel and ate out.  All alone.  And she was happy with that.

This last summer Julia went on a camping trip with her two grown up children; camping would not normally be Julia’s thing.  The three of them and Julia’s dog stayed in a large old tent usually used by the kids for music festivals, so it’s well-used to say the least.  And the camping pitch they had in Cornwall was on a serious slope (they were late booking!), the result of which found Julia waking up each morning in a bundle several feet from where she started out as she’d slipped down the slope during the night.  They had breakdowns with the old car they were travelling in, requiring a new clutch cable and new wheel bearings just to keep them on the road.  All of this she thought amusing, although when her son suggested whilst driving home that they repeat the trip next year, she told him, “Over my dead body!”

There were other very funny tales to tell that evening and I came away with panda eyes from my mascara running down my face.  Inevitably, some of the jokes were at the expense of her ex husband, who incidentally is on to his third relationship since the split from Julia.  “He’s obviously having a hard time finding a good replacement!” was what she said with a grin.

Julia is more confident and happier in her own skin than ever before.  She’s thinking of re-starting her business on a part-time basis.  She’s thinking of the future; she feels that a new man would be quite nice, although she’s not sure where to find one.  She was hoping I could perhaps supply her with one, but I don’t know of any going spare right now.  She also knows that a new relationship could work now that she’s recovered and found fresh confidence; any sooner would probably have spelled disaster.

I’m loving that new sparkle she has in her eyes.  I admire her “young at heart” approach to life.  I adore that she can swear creatively, laugh and joke around and look to the future with joy.  I’m completely and properly taking my hat off to Julia.

Another one bites the dust

News reached me this week that the small village pub which my friends and I have frequented on a regular basis for many years has called time for the last time.  This will be a huge blow for the local community as well as lovers of the fortnightly pub quiz.

Thirteen rural pubs are shutting down in Britain each week, a rate 20 times higher than three years ago, and beer sales are lower than at any point since the Depression of the 1930s.  Experts say that while national bar chains such as Wetherspoons are thriving, community and village pubs are being forced into administration and “popping down to the local” could become a thing of the past.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) estimates that around 4,000 village pubs have disappeared since 1980 – the result of increasingly tough drink-driving laws, cheap supermarket beer, rising costs and alcohol duty, and the smoking ban.

But Harrogate bar owner Jay Smith has decided that enough is enough.  He says that it is the small village pubs which are closing at an alarming rate rather than the town bars.

Jay struck on the idea that if communities took the pub on themselves and ran it on a voluntary basis, it could ensure the future of the village local. He thought it would also be a very good way of getting communities back into the pub. They would only have the pressure of paying the mortgage or rent as everything else would be provided by the community; any profits would go back into the pub or the local community.

He decided to take his idea to a television production team, and thought no more about it until they contacted him and asked if he wanted to be involved in putting a programme together, and he agreed to present it.

Jay has spent the last year filming Save Our Boozer, to be screened on the TV channel Blighty over four consecutive nights from tonight, Tuesday 8th December.  In the series, he visits five closed or failing pubs and enlists local residents to run them.

Jay leads each community through an intense six weeks of training and hard work to revamp their pub – and decide whether they are ready to take it over for good.

Jay has experienced the highs and lows of the industry at first hand. Ten years ago he lost his house, his car and very nearly his business when his first bar failed to break even. But he turned things around. Now, he wants to do the same for the British boozer, one small pub at a time.

Local pubs are the backbone of British society, particularly in rural communities. Once they close it is very unlikely that they will ever re-open because people move on, find new venues and learn to live without their local. Save Our Boozer is hoping to inspire people to support their local boozer and save the species from extinction.

Save our Boozer is on Blighty from Tuesday, December 8 at 8pm.

Christmas Party? Sorry, can’t make it.

We’ve decided to organise a Christmas party.

It’s a while since we threw a proper Christmas bash for family and friends.  Now, I know that we’ve left it a little late, to book a venue, sort out food and so on.  However, I have found a lovely room, and the owners will cater if required.  They also provide overnight accommodation for anyone too pickled to make it home afterwards. So ..  this knees-up will be taking place on Monday 21st December at 7.30pm.

All of that was amazingly easy to arrange; done within 24 hours of the first party thought crossing my mind.

Phone calls and emails swiftly followed; invitations were extended.

A week later it occurs to me that I may have been over-ambitious; I think I may have got a little carried away with the thought of spending a few pleasurable festive fun-filled hours in the company of my nearest and dearest.  It seems that not everyone has the same enthusiasm as me.

I’m well aware that 21st December is very close to Christmas, and people will obviously be busy with their own preparations and events.  I also know that many folk will have to get up the following morning and go to work.  I also definitely know for sure that if a friend was to call our house and invite us to a completely free festive bash, we’d be there like a shot, especially during Christmas week – what a great way to get the festivities started.

I should point out that the lack of enthusiasm I’m talking about emanates in the main from our midlife friends.  Our daughter has had a completely different response from the young livelies she’s asked along, and some of them will have to travel half way across the country to join us.  And that’s the difference.  Young people are keen to get involved in anything that promises to be fun, regardless of undertaking long, expensive train journeys, sleeping on someone’s floor or dragging themselves to work bleary eyed after a night out.

Guys looking lively at a 50th birthday party!

Middle aged people, on the other hand, are not so keen it seems.  Maybe midlifers are just too tired.  Maybe midlifers are sick to death of Christmas; after all we’ve done a good number of them.  It’s completely plausible that my midlife friends are struggling to find that elusive “Christmas spirit” in the midst of this bloody awful recession.  Or maybe their partying days are just, well .. over.

Me thinks not.  Me thinks that lack of confidence is a primary factor; laziness is another.  It’s easier to not do something than to do it.  Comfort zone shrinkage is a common affliction amongst the middle aged; I witness it every day in the people I know.  I have to concede ultimately, however, that it’s possible I’m way off the mark with my entire way of thinking.  Perhaps it’s just me.

Regardless of the midlife reluctance vibes coming my way, and I will waste no more time considering them, we are going to have a lovely evening in the company of like-minded people who love a good old knees-up.  Even if it means holding a recruitment day at the local college.

"The music's playing, but I'll be buggered if I'm getting up to dance."