When Depression is not a dirty word. Owning up to mental health.

This week is the decade anniversary of my moving to London.  Is this a depressing article, on the contrary, it is a joyful one.  So the title … yeah, about depression, but also in the owing up to it, the owning of it, and the liberation of saying out loud ‘I was, and still get, depressed.’

Let me explain.  I am in South Africa, mid-winter.  Sitting outside, the sun only just gone, with candles and a glass of wine and having a little chuckle to myself.  This for me, is England summer.  The days are warm, the sun shines all the time, and even though our houses are chilly early morning and night, it is so mild. Gets cold I know, but I have to smile when others are complaining and lighting fires and I think about the winters in London, and the SAD syndrome I suffer from every year. I get massively depressed in winter in the UK, I know I shall, and I do, and the best part of it is that I admit to it.

At first, a new recce to the Seasonal Affective Disorder, I was sort of taken aback at the absolute honesty of those who admitted to depression in winter.  Curious as to the easy admittance of those around me suffering from it.  But more, was intrigued that so many I met, openly talked about being depressed.  I never did.  I never really knew anyone who did. Mental health is a real thing in the UK,. not just in winter, and addressed, talked about, support groups in hand, a subject not to be hidden, but dealt with. Being depressed at times, was acknowledged.

Sort of wondering how to put this.

Growing up in South Africa, I hardly ever heard the word, depression. My mother, I learnt, took lots  of tablets, and later I learnt, some for depression, but it was never spoken about.  One never admitted to it, why I don’t know.  She never spoke about it. I didn’t know anyone who was depressed, or even just anxious, we simply dealt with life.  Life in London, was tough, I thought it circumstantial and smiled my way through it, especially when I came back to visit and like no, I wasn’t going to tell anyone how tough it was, how depressed I was, what would they think of me? A failure?

So it took some time, coping. It took some time.  Still never recognised the situation, until I found others in the same situation. Openly claiming to be depressed. But wow, aren’t you just supposed to deal and get over it? Like family secrets, is it not supposed to be way, way back in the closet?

Yet, my friends in England, famous people, the media … all addressed the situation.  Mental health and the effect of depression, particularly in the winter when the SAD syndrome is most prevalent.

Monty Don,. a secret crush of mine, wonderful gardener and personality, when interviewed in the Guardian in 2018 and in his books, speaks openly about the SAD syndrome and depression.

‘What do you hate most?’

Depression. Uncertainty. Crowds. Parties. Lack of sunlight.

A man talking about depression, uncertainty, crowds (get that), parties (get that too) and lack of sunlight – wow, I get him even more. Being open about mental health is not only important, it is essential and if everyone could just talk about it, then our struggle with mental health is a positive one, one to be addressed and shared, and solved. One can only solve a problem if one is honest about it, let it out, talk about it, and deal with it. And it is not a dirty word, but part of our journey.  Why do others still find it difficult to mention, or own up to it?  Why is that?  Does it lessen us in some way, make us weaker, hell no, it makes us stronger for the diagnoses and living with it.

I face the oncoming winter in the UK. I know the lack of light will get to me, that February will be my ‘Macbeth month’ and at times, I find it hard to deal with it.  I know that things happen, and have happened, that have seen me in the spiral of depression but I also know that facing it, admitting to it, and dealing with mental health issues is so good. I am a different person in winter there, but then, when spring comes … I know the life is back in my veins and I love it.  We have to go through the seasons to explore ourselves, and muster what is good and admit what is bad.  And it not just in winter.

So, here in the winter of not my discontent, I am not depressed when the sun rises and keeps me company. Natural light is the making of me in some ways. Rather I find myself depressed at the many who have to brave the cold in shacks, without heat, jobless and begging at the stop lights. I find myself depressed that they live depressed lives every day. Having to beg, never thinking things will be better. Hopeless.  That I find depressing. That they cannot even think about being open about mental health and finding support for it. When you have nothing, you are allowed to be depressed about it – so no, I am fine here, but depressed at times for the situation of others.

So what am I saying? Yay for finally being open and admitting that I am a depressive person, through environment, through situation and through circumstance.  That in England I can go and find help for it. That I know it does not lessen me, but empowers me to admit to it.

And it is wonderful! Mental health is as important as physical health and I have learnt that now. It is not a sign of weakness but part of my life.  Death, divorce, re-location, relationships, they are all party to the depression that I have experienced but take me out, not at all, it is the growth of me, because I admit, I do get depressed and I do seek help for it, and it has made me a better person.

So positive yes on the owing up to mental health. It is the stuff in the creation of many novels, discussions, politics, world events. It is the small stuff of positive change. When I sit here and wonder at how I survive the British winters, and love them still, even if I get depressed at the lack of light, the darkness and greyness, I know that by saying, it happens, I value the coming of the light, the first signs of spring and the impending summer all the more.  And it is good.

Talk about your depression. Talk about feeling low, about how life gets the better of you sometimes and in the harnessing of being depressed,. you will find that that sometimes, your admitting to it, is true, situational and really, just ok.  Saying you are ok when you are not, why? Say you are struggling and you have mental health issues, and get depressed sometimes – it is the most freeing thing you can do.

And you know what? I miss the British winters sitting here – there is something in her seasons that lifts my soul to another level, the contrasts are amazing, and exhilarating, and to get that high, I have to go through the low of the British winter, no sun, grey but with such promise of what is to come.

Life giving. It is a decade of moving, and a decade of growing. And more importantly, a decade of embracing not only my physical health, but my mental health.

PS. Dark now, but still mild. Nothing like the winters in the UK but I go back to another winter now, and so ready for it.

Images: Unsplash, the medium and the torch.

 

 

 

Feeling low? Get yourself gorgeous, for you, wonderful will follow.

Yeah, let’s talk about the slumping time.  It happens.  Nobody loves you, darling has well, darling has … the children have flown, the job is sort of unfulfilling or non existent at the moment.  Menopause is the devil, you are feeling less than sexy … unhappy … and then … of dear Lord, you have succumbed to the precarious, comfort fit of being slumped in the standard outfit of tracksuit pants and can I say it … can I even say it … comfortable shoes … and oh, my … crocs.  There I said it.  You have taken the mood and suited up, or not, to the depression outfit. It exists, the depression outfit, it does.

I get it.  Not feeling up to getting dressed … who for … much better to do the no-make up, grey uniform, plastic shoes (or slippers) and for some, an entire day in the pj’s.  Not the sexy lingerie type pj’s but those flannel numbers that remind you of childhood. A wardrobe nest against the world. I had the gown you remember, the purple cloak of depression that was worn with despair, a castle of wallowing wrapped safely around the ‘giving up body’ to sit on the balcony and eat crips and drink wine and care not an iota for anything but the wallowing. I admit to the gown, much ripped from me by concerned children and tossed into the skip, but for the rest, never.

Why is it that all the slumping and feeling low clothes are so ugly?

Admittedly there is a time for the tracksuit pants – when you are actually an athlete, or slippers when the snow is outside.  There is reason for hoodies and flannel gowns, even pj’s that are Bridget Jones status, but unless you are boxer, an athlete, a gardener (and I am and don’t do the crocs) or stranded on an island, there is never a reason for crocs. Yeah, I can hear the indignation, at the sighs and ‘what the hell’ coming my way, but just hear me out.

It is a simple truth. If you look good, you feel good.  No matter how dire the situation, falling into the well of hopelessness is fine for your spirit and may be necessary for your mind at this time, but your body? Never. It is the one who is going to save you. It did me.  If you look good, you feel good, and being proud of how you look is going to resonate and that will drag the spirit and mind out of the well, in time. Apart from the fact that it will send a clear message to others out there … excuse me, I am going through some shit storm, but I am going to look fabulous whilst doing it. And more than that, looking good is all about self respect.

A little note here:  Having just delivered my first child, in hospital and feeling like death warmed up, wanting nothing more than sleep and everyone else to go away, except for darling little girl of course, there was this amazing woman on the ward. A neo-natal nurse and though she did the usual, she also gave me the best advice ever: ‘Put make up on everyday, get up and shower, prepare yourself as if you were awaiting the Queen, for your little girl, she is a Queen and she wants to see you strong,  You have just become a mother and that is immense.’ I never forgot that.

So, to the here and now, and life has been a orchard of lemons, but what I am trying to say is, getting up, making an effort and still thinking myself, despite the muffin top and sagging boobs, wonderful, it was the antidote to depression. Some went for counselling, I went for a wax.

Apart from the gown episode, I still get up every morning, dress as if to receive the world, do the highlites, the tinting and facials and let me tell you, best therapy ever! A single compliment is like the best anti depressant drug. Found myself striding rather than stumbling through the storm.

So what am I saying?  Many are going through tough times, like I did. Many are wondering what the hell is the point and letting go of the one thing that is the most important thing. You. Your body and your beautiful you and if you think no-one is caring, the fact that you do, is everything.

Others may take it all from you, but not the real you. And the real you is not festering and loathing in some grey track suit pants, or crocs, or pj’s that need mending, not in comfortable mum jeans and big tops and hectic eyebrows and no exercise.  It’s being absolutely determined to be the person you used to be, and still are … and care less about what others think but about who you are, beautiful on the outside, and on the inside.

The slump is good for awhile.  But if you must cry and rail against the world, do it in Chanel. Do it with flair, fortitude and grace. Do it with presence, with elegance and attitude.

Not about revenge in mind. Or pretending. It is about you remembering who you are. The sophisticated, cultured, educated and classic woman who may have forgotten, but will come to remind you, you matter. You are the gift to the world. You matter and you have much to do.

Image techjunkie

 

 

 

My fifth visit to Babylonstoren, and not my last.

 I am listening to the soundtrack of ‘Downton Abbey’,  luring my heart to rural England. I am watching Monty Don’s series on French Gardens, calling me also. Writing tonight about the magic of Babylonstoren, in the heart of the Cape Wine lands.

Best in a garden. Most spiritual in a garden.  The grander the better, no, that is not entirely true, I love the small cottage gardens just as much.  Babylonstoren is grand, in a style I see in Europe and of course, it was when reading Monty Don’s book: ‘The Road to Le Tholonet’ that it came together.  Monty talks of visiting Babylonstoren and that the garden was designed by well known French garden designer, Patrice Taravella.  Inspired by the Company Gardens in Cape Town and the early Dutch influence, Babylonstoren is a tribute to European garden design, lots of Delft influence and then, the lovely mixture of South African taste.

 

Perfect rows of lettuces and the heady surprise of hanging calabashes – watch out!

Driving into Babylonstoren is like driving into a beautiful painting.  The mountains rising in the distance, almost surrounding the farm, the golden Autumn hue, pink and mink wild grass by the roadside.  The vines are turning deep jewel colours, rich and crisp.

The buildings seem newly whitewashed, gently put on verdant, lush lawns.  A contrast to still signs of the crippling drought experience last year. Everything is fresh and growing.  As a wedding venue, you could not ask for a prettier background.  And the donkeys say ‘hello’ as you enter, the speckled chickens scratching at the base of the old, oak tree. Proud and haughty chickens.

The Kitchen Garden begins around the corner of the shop and I always leave the temptation of visiting the shop, till last.  And the rooms begin: long, rustic pathways of dirt or peach pips that cross-cross the garden.  Small squares and rectanglular blocks.  Ponds of shimmering water and a variety of fish, water-lilies, glossy and clean.  The ponds and water furrows, instant attractions for children, playing their own version of ‘pooh sticks’ with leaves and twigs, anything they can chase down in the game of winning.

This is a working garden, food supplied to the hotel, Babel and the Greenhouse, which is the reward at the far end of the garden.  The actual planting and schedules of it, as well as daily tours are all available on the Babylonstoren blog and I am no expert, but fancy the odd recognition of plant and design, much to the thrill of the brain so long last used when it comes to gardening.

Shades of Autumn and twisted vine, and the gorgeous delft mosaics.

For me, it is the ambling, the ‘flâneur’ and picking of path in an unhurried way.  From dappled light to cool repose beside the fountain, a minute here, careless adoration of it all.  Much like any successful garden, the garden at Babylonstoren works in any season.  Planting is done in such a way.  Structures take on a bolder presence when leaves are lost.  All fifteen clusters offer up a difference scene.

The Insect Hotel.  Something to think about for your own garden, no matter how small it may be. With all the fear of disappearing bees and pesticides, fostering sanctuary for wildlife should be a priority for any lover of this planet.  And I do so miss my garden, have spent many years living with a single crabtree, and then David Austen rose on my balcony, and now have a sliver of a patch around my house here in the Cape, but I think I shall find a little place for an Insect hotel – as long as they stay there and don’t come into my house!

As a wedding planner, Babylonstoren holds an added charm.  Their Wedding venue is the stuff of dreams.  A perfect backdrop, ideal accommodation, old Dutch style buildings, nature in a five star setting.  Love the whole idea of it.  Stay, even if it just for a night, partake of the cuisine and spa.  The new Scented building is pure indulgence: Karen Roos has thought of every detail and it will be difficult to tear yourself away.

And you can shop, take a token of this heavenly repose with you.  First a wine farm, their wines a gift to my palate, but there is so much more, eg, as the Dutch say … leuk. A deli too. In short, everything for the perfect day out and indulge, in sheer beauty.

I like to visit early in the morning, and late in the afternoon.  When the mountains are pink and envelope the farm in a calmness difficult to emulate elsewhere.

Please take note that there is an entrance fee of R10.00 on weekdays and R20.00 on the weekends, which is little for the glorious experience.  I did however, on my last visit, enquire about some sort of loyalty card, much like the National Trust, and was offered an annual, as many times as you like to come, card for R50.00.  Ask for it if you, like me, cannot stay away.

If you want to know more about Babylonstoren, are planning a trip to South Africa or getting married, kindly contact me at karen@londongreenafrica.com, or karen@mysilverstreet, or even at karen.devilliers1110@gmail.

Thank you so much for reading.

If the past few chapters were written in blood, this one is going to be in Rôse.


My model crush of the moment. Anna Sainte Marie.

Those bloody forces of nature are perpetually on my case – and it is so very easy to feel depleted and it is so quick to spiral downwards in the firm belief that the death eaters continue to single you out.  Call me a semi-expert in the sphere, but daunted, dear lord, the office balcony is gone!

I mean …

I found myself on the other side of the world.

AND what do you say to yourself, as one does when you are verbally attempting to remedy  your current malaise?  You say to yourself. ‘What you need darling, is a brand new chapter. A chapter and a plan to Saint-Jean-cap-Ferrat.’

It’s ok that the fuckery may be ongoing, or that the postcode needs to change, these are but temporary setbacks.  Instead, muster the angst and secret potions and venture forth onto that blank page. Not as those written in blood of past,  as if in a cell with nothing but hay and a guillotine outside, but one tainted the colour and taste of Rôse, Provence mark of origin.

Write another chapter.

As one does.

And one does.

Sans angst, avec un petit portion of poison in the larder. (pardon the french)

When my first boyfriend (well technically I thought he was my boyfriend but he never got the memo) broke my heart, I truly believed that Gloria Gaynor had written and was singing ‘I will survive’, just for me.  Every drama in my life had me manic on the dance floor to the song … yeah, yeah, yeah, I will survive … and so on. She so gets me, I wailed.  Now the Wedding planner goes … yeah yeah, it’s on the playlist with Whitney Houston and everyone from the Dragon Queen to Aunty Daphne thinks it was written especially for her. You did too, didn’t you?

Anyway, I am on the other side of the world, for now, for maybe a little longer than an English winter, but no longer than the 100 year spell cast on the pretty princess.  I am here now, with an enormous bump and entitled to a zillion years of free counselling but I am to the blank page. It is no longer sad, a case of survival or ‘the wretch in the alley with the pox and soon to die’ sort of me, it is going to be amazing. A change of scenery, is always better perceived looking out than looking down at my sagging stomach.  So a blank page.

First positive thing to report.  I can see again.  Ten years of no lighting in the bathroom in London has given way to the naturally lit, much larger bathroom.  And it is good.  And it is not good.  The multitude of sins once cast in dim light is glaringly obvious. If called facing one’s fears is required, I am facing the fearful truth. Dear Homeslice, we cannot meet again.

The opening of this new chapter will be … the return to Avonlea.  Avonlea was the name of my childhood home (my mother living in the Free State, imagined herself on Prince Edward Island).  I grew up in a drier place of Avonlea but where I am now, my mother’s home is.  My children’s home is and in a sense, the curator of our family is back. If every trinket were gathered, they are here with me now, I am surrounded by three generations and wallowing in the joy and nostalgia and multitude of it all. You can imagine some of the forthcoming chapters – how to let go of Delft, for example, or how to finally break the bond of noodle Christmas decorations?

The chapter taking place involves a whole lot of firsts. First time in my life I have every had to buy a car for example.  Go figure, I am the most gullible woman alive when it comes to anything to do with cars and just wistfully plead for all to treat me as they would their own mothers and not add a whole new level of fuckery to my life. A little runaround; I am at that stage, but would rather a little run around here and enough money to run around Paris again.

Speaking of Paris, I have two loves in Paris.  The actual city and this gorgeous crush on Anna  Sainte Marie, icon model of the 50’s and 60’s.  The photo shoot she did in a bridal gown  with Karen Radkai for Vogue, before the Notre Dame, is my muse. Into Vintage in a big way, all part of the going back to go forward therapy.  Beautiful women such as Anna, Margeaux, Karen and Beverley graced the pages, ethereal and airbrushed with great mastery.  Am trying to, in my new chapter, remember what it was I loved about them, the pictures, the frosted, feint, silent mystery of who they were and what they represented. So loved them, the circa ancient pic featured is moi trying to be Margeaux as Babe whilst at high school. It was the confident stride.

So I am returning to the allure of vintage and when I was a girl, with a curl, right in the middle of her forehead.  You see, the blank page is now the carefully written one, no scrabbles of sos and dear me, but Dear Me.  And Dear you.

Perhaps if we acknowledge that all is not lost, that beauty exists, if life turns as if it always needed to, then we can love the Silver Street, no, adore Silver Street.  My Silver Street love started in an ancient city, it continues to an African beat and like Anna Sainte Marie, I am on the edge of the river Seine, sylphlike and avec immense attitude.

How do you picture the image on the first page of your new chapter?  And may I ask, pourquoi?

PS was looking for some smaltzy quote and quite frankly, those about beginning again are like a chocolate milkshake after a whiskey – icky central.  Just take it as it is, that new page, that new chapter, it’s got to be real.

Image Vogue

 

 

 

So it begins. Flat hunting in London. Give me strength she prays.

 

 

So it begins.  I know that I am allergic to morphine, but of late find myself allergic to Estate Agents as well. Who knew?  Not so much of late, have had to deal with them for some time, but lately, and especially since one cretin chose to play the underhanded game, I am not a fan. Yet, like morphine, there are times I need them and in the next two weeks I am going to have to rely on them even more.  Cue in the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ music.

As a result of the one who underhandedly led to the demise of my current home, I find myself having to enlist the help of others to find my new abode.  Today was the day.  It requires, as you know, endless, wasted time on the internet, looking at properties to rent within the said budget. I could be planning a trip to Barbados but no, I am looking a photos of properties to rent. In the winter, in grey light, in the mood of caved bear who wants to sleep and eat rather than engage.

There is something so wrong with this picture.  Rather than have to ask for a new address from college leavers, I should be smiling at the last mortgage payment on my home bought a few decades ago.  Not this gal, she is the ‘all over again’ kind of gal. And they think Dry January is a good thing.

Anyway, to the front I went today. To be fair, some were lovely, patronising and sweet. Others smelt of too much aftershave. My first visit resulted in the Estate agent, not pitching up. Ok, gave up a work day for this and rather than the coronary imminent, chose to Zen and move on.

Let’s talk about some of the properties seen shall we? First one. Could not see out of the windows.  The windows that were filmed with years of London pollution came twofold. Original windows of sash (pretty) did not keep out the cold and noise, so landlord put in other windows that resemble those of bus drivers, or the ones you find in the cockpit of planes – shift and small. No air here, but at least it cuts out the noise.  Dark blue walls, lovely for the winter months.  Depression acute guaranteed. The bedroom was that of a hamsters cage, but some may call it intimate. Bathroom – um, blinked and it was fuzzy and gone. The advantage of this place was the bus stop right outside – with the entire London traffic close behind.

Moving onto two.  Quaint, lovely outside. Quiet location and I thought, let this be the one. It was the one and only place I am sure long inhabited by mould.  Black along the window frames.  There were lovely remnants of past lives, on everything, even the picture outlines on the walls.  Imagine the rush hour on the tube and spaces between people – that was the size of the kitchen. Can I work with this I kept thinking, can I work with this as the boiler stared at me and the gas meter plonked under the sink, sneered at me. Oh my Lord … this would be punishment still.

Third.  Not even going there.

Fourth – already dark so the black bedroom doors, in the kitchen, did not appeal. Where is the taste I wondered? Where is the modicum of decent living, and at the price of a five bedroomed mansion of past living?

But in fairness, the agent was lovely. Thought I would be lovely, and I was, and when we parted, the nausea was kept at bay.

Not their fault on my budget. Perhaps if I move to the island of Orkney, I will find something suitable. But am not daunted, am resilient and have a million more viewings to do.

No more Dry January. Champagne is cheaper than these stupid options.

The search, as Alan Sugar says, continues.  Watch this space.

Image: Cartoon shock.

 

 

Colette – a quiet lesson to remind yourself to be yourself.

 

“Is that you there all alone under that ceiling, booming and vibrating under the feet of the dancers? Why are you there all alone? And why not somewhere else?” Yes, this is the dangerous, lucid hour. Now, whenever I despair, I no longer expect my end, but some bit of luck, some commonplace little miracle which, like a glittering link, will mend again the necklace of my days.

There are times, following a hard day working, flat hunting and generally that phew moment, that you just … well … don’t want to go home.  The city is bustling with after office hours catching up, lots of options on offer.  So I found myself thinking … rather than crack open a furtive bottle of wine in Dry January, I shall to the movies.

Right now, on my office balcony, the singing of post work drinking revelry is in force on the sidewalk below. I have come home to download the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack of ‘Colette’ by Thomas Adas.  I am post wonderful film scenario.  It stays with me still.

‘Colette’ was exceptional.  The story, the film locations (oh the house in the country), the music – all was strong, so strong. I learnt something new – never knowing about the tale of Colette: a young woman from the country, married and ghost writing for her husband – encouraged to engage in different relationships for his, and perhaps her growth, to the point where she realises that it is her story for which credit is absent. Words of her childhood, her nuances, her thoughts … she has instead gifted her husband her tale and he takes credit, urging her to write, for him, until she cannot stay in the shadows any longer and despite financial hardship, she takes control of her own life.

Literally takes control, engages in a relationship (which was then still frowned upon) and risks all to live life on her own terms. Bring in the fantastic score.  Would we fare better in our own stories if we had the most enchanting music to accompany it?

What was it about the film that made such an impact?

What did I learn tonight?

We go to the movies to escape, to pause on our own realities, and also to be empowered through someone else’s ideas – the written work, the notes, the ideal of it all. We are transported to what can be, what was, what others have experienced and come out there, in the dark, winter’s London night and think, hey, I have a story too. May not have the brilliant collages and film locations but have the story nonetheless.

Why not be glad for it? Inspired by it? Add to the necklace of our lives and be proud? Sometimes we need to relate to the stories of others to remind ourselves that we too have deep, rich and meaningful lives to lead.

Be yourself.  Others may not like it, judge but it’s ok.  It is your life. Be so very proud of it.

Think of the necklace of your days.  Add the pearls. I put the Fengal in my bath (my mother’s favourite), poured the wine (don’t tell anyone) and thought … this movie has been great for me.

We need heroines to champion the kindle of our own heroism. Mentors and music to get the juices flowing, the sparkling of an idea,  alight.  We need examples of struggle to muster our own.

And the music is hauntingly beautiful.  The idea of Paris is there for me.  Popcorn gone, and hour and somewhat blissfully born and so I shall tell you, watch this film – I even googled the film locations for the country home and thought, this is where I shall go and write, buy a little property and be amongst the wheat fields and poplars, to the city of lights and endless romance – to find it was filmed largely in Budapest (where I have not been) but no matter …. I continue to dream of how it touched me.

And I have the music to write by.

Images: The Guardian, pintrest

 

 

 

 

 

Did Chanel have a toaster?

‘Pardon Mademoiselle Chanel, avez-vous une grille-pain?

Before you think there were no toasters around back then, there were, developed in the late 1890’s in fact.  And I stood here with my toaster a few minutes ago, thinking … do I really need you anymore?  Such is the packing of self – in more ways than one.

When one is about to box up your life, once again in my case, and relegate it to storage, which is a costly endeavour, one tends to scrutinise every item in terms of ‘do I really need this?’ We all know about the accumulation monster – mine is intrepid and has no limit.  Where did all this stuff come from!

The life gets smaller and smaller.  Has nothing to do with age – I am not one of those who goes ‘ah getting older etc, etc’ I loathe the giving in to age simply because another candle has appeared.  In many ways, it gets more exciting, exact.  Handbag has gone from the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ and all the maybe’s you need when children are small, to the functional cross-over from Guess that contains the wallet, diary and keys.  Liberating and far less cause for harassing fellow passengers on the tube.

So to the packing.  I am going to discard all that no longer serves the new life I am planning, which could well be directionless at present, but easy to store and recover when needed.  So what to pack, and why Chanel?

More like a changing of attitudes.  I was of one order, from one origin and so the collectables suited.  Work hard at school, get a degree, get married, have children and the proverbial picket fence home.  Had everything that went with it.  Boom came next.  For years I continued to carry the Albatross of past life along; the memories of dinner services, old Christmas trees, enough framed photographs to cover every surface, coffee table books, medicine in case and of course the clothes that one day, on a dream day, I would still fit into.  Oceans of luggage.  

Also, oceans of thinking everyone else was doing the same. Can I say that I wondered at those women who chose never to marry, or have children?  Women that worked since they were fifteen and do so still?  Some never other than renting, never owning a car, being on the PTA or holidaying at the beach?  It was coming to London, and Europe that all these gorgeous women became part of my world, opened my mind to individuals other than me … and, how to put this, now that my world is more akin to theirs, the stuff of past life needs clipping.

So I thought of Chanel.  I refer to her on a tour I give.  Success after a severe beginning.  Basics grew to belief. It’s wonderful that she could re-create from nothing, and an inspiration.

‘My life did not please me, so I created my life.’

At present, my life does not please me.  So I am creating a new one.

And the toaster does not fit the brief.  As a child, no vegetables but loaves of bread. No longer.  Sugar too. Don’t do the dinner parties anymore, so why hang onto the ice bucket and tablecloths, baking trays (can count a dozen) only taking up space.  Unused martini glasses in case James Bond popped in. Mouldy Christmas tree in the damp garage.  Mother’s clothes packed in grief, to hold and talk to.  Coffee table books, outdated cookbooks and enough silverware to please a Medieval feast? Know what I am doing?

Photographs of all above when used and enjoyed are enough. Tables groaning with food, friends around tables, children decorating – have them all and so the actual articles no longer suffice. Good times still, just going to do it a little differently.  Going to acquire new memories, with a slender inventory and a new resolve.

And so the lady thinks again …

 

Style does not need a million pots and pans.  True living no longer requires post Christmas cards, twenty unused note pads, linen from era dot and cookie jars without cookies (re no sugar).  Thank goodness for charity shops around here, they are on the receiving end of a gorgeous time.

What will I keep?  A single, something Silver Streeter, will need only the photograph albums, some pretty cups and saucers, excellent wine glasses and a multitude of pencils.  These are for drawing and setting up the new enterprise.  Don’t need medicine, or a recipe for jam. dog bowls (no more dogs) or that Jenni Button suit circa 2007. Actually, may keep the suit, just in case the lack of bread and sugar will get me back into it sometime…

So that is what goes. And what next?

Sexy, new linen to slide into.

Fresh, hedonistic towels.

Totally new make up and beauty products.

Holiday planner.

New lingerie to suit the no sugar, no carbs, new body.

New business, finally, to suit the needs of this woman.

New playlist. Face it, I need music to live by, to strut and be empowered by. Think I will keep some of the old songs … they are what I am. They are the ones I love forever …

Keeping the things that I love the most.  Letting go of things I love but no longer fit the new brand.  Letting go of things that don’t fit anymore but acquire those that fit the new experience.  And Chanel, if you could have the fabulous life, perhaps without the toaster, I am converted.

So, what are you going to let go of, to create the new, fabulous life before you? Let me know.

Images: red on line, biography

 

 

 

 

 

Three degrees on a Saturday. Sunset 15.51 pm. Wonderful.

‘The constant rendezvous for men of Business, as well as the idle people, so that a man is sooner asked about his coffee house, than his lodgings.’ Samuel Johnson.

If there was ever a need for a coffee house, a warm place, a sanctuary in the midst of winter, I am sitting in one.  The London day of many seasons: bitter with sun, bitter with rain:  bitter with sleet and … well bitter.  

Waiting to take a tour in the bitter outdoors.  ‘The history of London in 4 drinks.’  And it is wonderful, for it is history, and learning, and learning some more.  Two and a half hours of meeting interesting people, being the drama queen, in and out of that doing I love – cold outdoors to warmth indoors – why do I love that so much? and when all is done,  clients wooed and won, to early dinner with friends in Sloane (the place of blue Christmas lights and true selling of steaming chestnuts) to family.  Grayson is leaving on a skiing trip to Austria – a first in many ways.

Some may feel sorry  for me deep in the European gray, and as I know, I feel dreadfully sorry for myself most of the time in the living quarters scenario part of my life, but today I am witnessing a hundred different stories, and I can only say, I feel blessed.  The morning tube ride began with the kindred Christmas spirit of wrapped up children and wrapped up canines, chatting, barking and breaking the normally austere silence of the carriage.  The ‘day out’ thrill was tangible and I do so love seeing little people with fashionable clothes: he is country squire right down to the beret and she in French Rachel Rileyesque prettiness.

Alighting at Temple and a short walk to Somerset House, Christmas well entrenched. Contemplating a skating session (has the hesitation something to do with the fear of falling?) but veer towards Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas – 18th century particular for Tea and Marmalade.  The combination of Wooden floors, fireplaces, baubles and truffles ideally suited to mood setting for the walk up fleet Street.

Have to remind myself that so much of London was bombed.  Between the new edifice of the city lies so many buildings of old, of history with stories I plan to tell on the tour.  If you take the small alleyways, turn the unknown corners, you will find them.  One being St. Brides.

Built by Sir Christopher Wren, the three tired spire was the inspiration for a local baker to create … the three tired wedding cake.  Truth, we get the idea from there.  Close by, the Old Bell, a pub Sir Wren encouraged his workers to frequent to save time on going somewhere else and he could keep an eye on them.  There still.  St Brides was badly bomed, leaving only … the spiral. Restoration was to the original plan but also revealed so much more: an ancient Roman road and Saxon walls, which tells me this church has so many layers to her heyday stature.  She has survived centuries of life.  More poignant, the church is a homage to journalists – alone in her sanctum, I stood before an alter to all those of recent loss, kidnapping, giving their lives to tell the world what was happening.  Haunting photographs of all, including Marie Colvin and now, Jamal Kashoggi. I light candles and think of their parents, their children, their loved ones. Life … oh what diaries we can create about her.

The tour today is about the history of London in four drinks. No, not wine.  Wine is not quintessentially about London – if you think about it, mostly imported.  It is about the history of coffee houses, afternoon tea, beer rather than the disgusting water from the Thames back then, and Gin.  The mother’s ruin.  About poor Judith Dufour.  Pelting rain, gale winds that mock my umbrella, hidden pubs and secret squares. The black cat secret, pineapples and St. Pauls and all goes well.  Interesting guests and new friendships, but I am soaked down to the woollen gloves and soggy socks. 

Suitably sitting in warmth with gin – Sir Christopher Wren gin – I bid them adieu and leave for the tube.  Still raining.  Night.  And I am Bridget Jones on the line, for home.  It is the lights I see as the tube moves through the city, the Christmas lights that needs the dark to dance, on the river, in the puddles and sidewalks trodden by generations before me.  One with it all, with my own story, and it is good.  Christmas is ‘Love Actually’. Love shared in this season, with the bending to offer kindness to the homeless outside Waitrose, the carrying of Pointsettias on the bus.  Passing those dragging the Christmas tree bought, the Father Christmas hats, flashing headbands, the patient faithful.  Jingling songs, choirs in the station and the majesty of spirit at this time.

An ordinary day?  I think not.  An extraordinary day – I call it a London day. Missing the life past, the sun and sea, the easy life, but if I had to be anywhere to feel truly alive, I am there. 

So why do Mince Pies have no mince? Well …

 

 

Christmas, dealing with it when you are on your own. And those parties …

It’s Christmas …

Right in the middle of the ‘Christmas Carol’ at this moment, I am.  All the ghosts of past, present and future just swirling and swirling around. Don’t you find Christmas can be the most marvellous, and also the most emotionally profound, all at the same time?  I am such a memory hoarder! Such an emotional button.

Technically not alone, as I have my precious darlings to celebrate with, but technically, and especially when it comes to those umpteen Christmas parties (the office kind) well, it sort of a hit and miss situation at times.  Of course we know this madam is doing about four different jobs (all of which I love) at the moment and that means lots and lots of year end celebrations.

Given that these are not careers but jobs new in the making, the Christmas parties are either with many I do not know well, or mostly those a few decades younger than me.  Interesting when it comes to the Secret Santas and I am National Trust when others are party games.  I am the thinking of leaving pronto for my bed and the rest are only just starting the night’s festivities.  For me, a Christmas party is watching the Christmas movies with loads of popcorn and Sauvignon Blanc.  Oh how dated I seem…

Then there is the single situation.  And the commute situation – getting home seems like Hannibal crossing the Alps. Also, and it must be said, having a great night out and walking to the tube past so many homeless sheltering in doorways from the bitter cold, is upsetting.  On the plus side, I am the chipper versus the hungover brigade next morning.

Then there is this:  The shift.  It has happened.  

My gorgeous children want Christmas at their home this year.  No longer Christmas at mum’s.  If I were still in the family home with a dozen Christmas trees in every room and cooking enough to keep the Romans off oysters, I may just sink into the redundant spot of self pity.  This year I am in the transitory living situation so my abode is somewhat cold in hospitality and I am happy to join rather than host.  But it is something to ponder – is this the ghost of the future coming a little too soon? Has it happened to you?

Find myself thinking of Ghost Christmas past and it gets me so teary.  Little people with big eyes and huge expectations at the Barbie/Postman Pat/lego possibility.  Family large in generation, feasts and fondness all around. God, I loved Christmas then.

Ghost Present and small, but significant.  Survival and change.  Micro family, with greater depth and understanding of the fragility of life but equally loving and kind. More appreciate of the essence of family.

Ghost Future.  Oh this is a nasty thought.  Looking forward to the grandchildren and oh, hugging is going to be my favourite pastime, but to the further than that.  The thought of me being sat at a communal table of white haired grumpy people, paper hat on head and warbled voiced ‘Santa’s coming to town’ as the tissues and tears flow, and a box of ‘Celebrations’ as my only reward for staying alive, fills me with dread. The hoping the children will come and visit the death nest and my teeth in a glass, well some know me – not on my itinerary.  Not going to have a Christmas when someone denies me wine and I cannot chew the mince pie.  But I digress …

Back to dealing with Christmas when you are alone.  Truth, never are.  

As depressing as your situation may seem, you have it good.  The need around Christmas time is greater than any other time of the year and you have the ability to make a difference, no matter how small.  Charities are desperate for people like you, for an hour, a chat, a touch of hand upon lined hand, for making food, saying a prayer, simply being there.  You have no excuse not to be part of another’s story at this time of the year.

It is then when I look past the shiny shiny, the glitter, the surge in celebration.  Then I can say, I cannot walk past the homeless and not stop, moan about just about everything and know a mother is struggling.  Someone is lonely, another is grieving.  Alone, no, not alone, rather a little timid at getting out of the comfort box to be a fairy for good.

The thing is.  The other night I lead a tour (in blisteringly cold weather, wind chaffing, fingers numbing cold) of ex-pats joined by a singular company on a Dickensian experience through South London.  There were all – religions, cultures, ages and gender.  What London was like in the earlier centuries when kitchens were unknown and heating was scarce.  We were all different yet all together, far from home, new home and linked.  A little mulled wine, some mince pies and story telling and another Christmas story was written. 

Ending along the ever riveting Thames, Christmas was good.  I had made a difference to their Christmas, in my small way, and that is what it all about.

To Bridget Jones, The Holiday, Love Actually and all the movies that make me cry buckets for Christmas past … to the joy of being able to watch them in Christmas present and again in Christmas future.

Don’t feel alone and stand in the corner at the Christmas parties.  Be yourself and give of that substance that is you, to others.  The gift will be returned.

Images: BBC, history.com and pintrest

 

 

 

 

Sometime serf visits The Sanctuary – faith, law and feudalism.

THOMAS PAINE: Founding father of the United States.

“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but is always the strongly marked feature of all law-religion, or religions established by law.”

little date cocktail this morning, as I sit in The Celerium; off the Dean’s Yard, through the Sanctuary, in the depths of Westminster Abbey.  My journey –  to deliver, (and not happy about it)  the deeds to my little home in this place, armed with city mapper (without I will be lost), the irony did not escape me (it was not lost.)

Following the little headlight (which is me) on my app, I stand before the Abbey.   I am before the entrance to the Greatest Abbey on earth and yet I have a date with solicitors.  The Sanctuary.  Ever so politely, the security detail (who I am sure prays all day not to bite a tourist in anger) reveals that I am beside the law firm I seek  … right there… number 1 … next to the gift shop.  What is this?  Church and Law?  Law and Church … smacks of Medieval practice.  Circa 476 AD.

During the perpetual darkness of the Medieval period, death and taxes – what has changed? The Church was in control of the landowners and if you wanted ‘everlasting life’ you paid them taxes.  The landlords forced the minions, called Serfs, to live on the land, work the land, give the landlord your produce, which included blood and sweat and all sanity, in return for military protection.  The only thing you may be lucky to own, was your teeth and back then, not guaranteed.

Me, Third from the left.

So, the situation has me entering the hallows of the Law world. Could not be more of a cliché:  panelled, dark oak, royal red carpet with golden detail that is so deep and spongy, no sound will escape these walls for sure.  Traditional, stoic and serious happens here.  Feeling like a puppy going to the SPCA.  Sit and wait, for fate.  With apologies to all my wonderful friends in the legal world (you are awesome), I also remembered why I never finished my law studies:  

‘You should do law’. I was told.  Was it, now I think, a compliment or because I talk too much?  Anyway, my experience of the law (wee bairn back in the day I had the visions of justice and pretty solved relationships)  has always meant sorrow.  The world of the struggle and I am not for that world.  I struggle enough to decipher my own heart, let alone deal with the others breaking all around in those deeply carpeted chambers.

‘The Sanctuary’ is the incorrect address for my legal date.  But I am not sad or unhappy anymore, and as I leave through the ancient stone steps, one, two, to a different kind of chapter, I need only to look to the right and the Majesty that is the Abbey.  Our little love affair goes back a long, long way.  My virgin pilgrimage took me to St. Margarets next door, and then the looming edifice of the Abbey, young and ignorant of poets till later, my first sighting of the tomb of the unknown soldier left his mark forever.  A mother’s son lies there.  Overwhelming story.

Watched the weddings, and the funerals in this Abbey.  First foundations laid in the 13th Century, though King, Church and Law still closely connected. It still feels spiritual and I contemplate going in again, but the hoards of umbrella following selfie stickers deter me.  Sanctuary when tourists are around, it is not.

Remember buying the smallest of English soldiers for my son in the gift shop.   Little boxes of chain mail wearing fighters – and now he is in the British Military: okay … my eyes lift up to the heavens and I am having a little conversation …

In refuge of Tea and Lemon Drizzle cake, the realisation that my own path has been too much entwining of Church and Law.   Raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, schooled at The Convent of Notre Dame with Jewish friends – doctrine rather than faith to put the fear of God into me, rather than the Love of God into me.  Here, the Law and Church lies side by side – an idea, perhaps practical who knows, but I am fascinated by it this morning.

Felt like the serf for a little while.  At the mercy of … the law intervening and dictating, once again, my life.  Strangers making rulings.  All the loving, the messiness, the dreaming and stumbling of relationships cold in the archives.

Liberating actually.  Good to know history is once again jabbing the curiosity  for learning is fun.  Excellent to know that irony can be delicious.  Serf no more no more – would rather be a smurf.

And the most important thing.  FAITH. 

Faith is not a set of rules, limited to time and place, class or power.

Faith is not judgemental, critical or pompous.

Faith can be in yourself, in family, in nature or religion.

Faith is calming, accepting and spiritually rewarding.

Faith is hope and hope is love.

Images: FEE and Pintrest