It is a common belief that when we reach a certain age, the creating of it is done, and the living with the creating of it, begins. We have schooled, married, sired, buried and built. Post the half way line, we should be savouring and more importantly, be satisfied.
If you were like me, I don’t think I ever thought a philosophical thought in the first half century. Nothing like what is going to happen to me in my old age, am I going to be purposeful, leave a legacy, that sort of thing – it was just the daily demands of life.
Until life comes and shakes you like a rag doll in a wolf’s jaw and that sense of belonging is shattered, confidence eroded and directionless is the operative word of the day. Or you just find yourself in a place of iffiness, it happens to all of us. When we are of a certain age, finding a place again… that’s tough. Many are feeling just a little left wanton, in need of another go.
Which brings to mind, this afternoon, the time I first became a volunteer for The National Trust, all eleven years ago. Totally out of my comfort zone. At the time, the only out I could find from a confining flat and a big bump on my soul after moving to London. For someone who prided myself on my English everything knowledge, I had never heard of Ham House, but it was the closest.
The initial ‘hello’s and interviews were concluded and I was accepted. So began the pages of notes to learn by heart. Finding a way to get there on public transport and finding myself drenched long before I got to the bus shelter, in some ways so much harder than I anticipated. Despite all the talk of diversity and inclusion, it has been very difficult to become part of the team, this giraffe of a South African taking tours on English Garden design – those ‘get together evenings’ when you wished you didn’t for feeling so out of place. Out of place. Not my place.
When I shifted my focus from feeling excluded to concentrate on what it was that makes me look forward to the next time, I began to find my place. Engaging with guests, romantically thrilled at the change of season, deeper discovery into the history of the house and the fascinating folk that lived there, it was to own my experience that brought about place. It was not about making small talk over tea and biscuits, but the deep sense of being part of something that found me in the Orangerie to work and watch the planting of the next season in the kitchen garden.
Others are surprised when I tell them I have been there for eleven years – it as if they are seeing me for the first time. I yearn for my time there, push myself to be better at the tours, embrace the seasons as if they are my children, for no matter what time of the year, the garden is a magical place to be. I have discovered the underground passages, and those between the walls. Breathed in the perfume of history and layers of paint in the mess room, felt the texture of the panelling in the buttery, the grandeur of the Gallery ( which for some reason is more dramatic in the winter) and the cheese scones I cannot resist.
Moving to a different country was, at the time, so awful and frightening. Finding my place at Ham House was the beginning of finding other places, more and more until I can now say that I know the city, that great Lady, as if I have always been a part of her.
Never easy to step outside the comfort zone, or start again, but it is but a step. And then, it’s your place. You belong, at times just need to find out where.