Letter number nine

Dear Vivienne,

It feels that I should already have written a letter to you, but I don’t think that I have. If I have already, consider this a bonus, and if I have not, then here is your letter.

A few days ago, you read my blog ‘I am single’ and sent me a message that kinda blew me away and I have not yet responded to you. Sometimes people say things to me that seem so powerful, so kind, generous and all those things that feel so humbling. There aren’t enough words to say thank you and I love you all in one. Maybe this is why people use emojis. Sometimes words seem too little.

I met you first as a student, and my overwhelming first impression was that you were shorter than me (a lot of people are), blonde and northern. Maybe this was not so much an impression, but statement of fact. We were doing the same course and although our peer groups were different, the course was sufficiently small to create overlap. Things I remember from that time include watching you contend with a fever by bundling yourself up in a huge amount of blankets and duvets and me genuinely wondering if this might, in fact, finish you off altogether. You including me in a cinema visit with your friends and then bailing, so much argh for me, but Ghost World was officially amazing, which more than made up for the fear of having to contend with people that I didn’t know too well. And drinking with you in halls on the last night of term, where I was throwing shots over my shoulder because I didn’t want to drink them, and you not noticing until the following day when you saw a big sticky mess on the floor (It was Galiano, no one should ever shot that). I should probably write a blog about being in student halls, but that might be much too incriminating.

You were also really good with my hair. You cut it, coloured it all sorts of mad colours, stripes and bands of purples and reds. You also straightened my hair for me when I was going out. You looked after me and made me pretty. After we had finished our degrees, you went back up north, but still came ‘down south’ on occasion and always found time to come and see me. Even now you have moved to the other side of the world, you still make that time (whilst accumulating much time in the sky). It means a lot to me. When you asked if my daughter would be your bridesmaid when you got married, it was endorsement of all the love I felt for you. You are amazing. You are amazing. It is definitely worthy of saying twice.

Sometimes my life is hard and I won’t always share this with others, because talking about miseries does not always serve a purpose. Some people have told me how strong I am, how resilient I must be. And I am possibly both these things. But I am also vulnerable, which doesn’t come across so readily. Your text hit my soft bit, made me feel a crumply mess of almost tears and heart singing gratitude for you being in my life.

Thank you

Love always

Sally.xx

Map Point. Who understands my vulnerabilities?

Picture note – these are Vivienne’s words, but are surely meant in a metaphorical rather than physical way! They make me smile muchly.

A little thank you

I am starting to resent being asked to survey products that I have already bought or the service received or the delivery system. It feels like I am being asked to complete a job that serves utterly no benefit to me. It doesn’t come with a money off my next purchase reward, or if it does, it then requires printing and storing in my already, failing to shut, money carrying device. And then I also have to remember that I have such money-saving piece of paper, when it expires by, and what I am allowed to use it on. In short, aftersales are getting complicated.

Generally, the only time I used to get in touch with companies (however many ‘post-sale’ emails they send asking for feedback) is when something has gone wrong. But recently I have tried to remedy this, by emailing companies when staff have been exceptional. I recently emailed ‘Lush’ about some truly glorious customer service and they responded with a thank you which was a nice acknowledgement. I then got another email asking me to rate their last email. This was a fail.

And then there is Tyrrells. For anyone unfamiliar with this brand, they sell crisps of handcookedness magnificence. However, I opened a bag of ‘mostly entirely missing’ flavour. I have eaten these crisps for many years and this had been the first time that there had ever been an anomaly, so I wrote in, feeling somewhat inspired to write in a somewhat ‘grandiose’ tone of typing. Sometimes companies are predictable when you write in, you get some formal ‘we are looking into your comments and will respond in the next seventeen minutes/four months/an ice age or two’ type malarkey. And then, sometime later, you get a neatly structured generic response which makes me wonder precisely when it was the fun drained out of the world. Or to be specific, that email. But I am digressing, back to the Tyrrells! The chap who responded to my complaint was called ‘Dave’ and he was amazing! I could instantly tell I was dealing with a human who had not lost his sense of fun (I am saying this in a voice of Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Blackadder’), and also he was clearly a man skilled in reciprocal banter! We exchanged a few mails, each one making me laugh more than the last, I enclosed photos of an avocado bagel and the three knitted prawns that live on my Christmas tree, he sent links to some of the first ever Tyrrells television adverts, and a good time was had by all.

For me, this was an utterly life-affirming moment. There are massive companies out there, and having the human component, where a genuine response can be made, felt liberating. Too often I feel assaulted by the bland, the innocuous, the forgettable. From a marketing perspective, too many brands seem to identify with this banality, everything is the same. And this feels tired. However, when I find a brand that offers a genuinely refreshing experience, it becomes a joy to engage with their products, because a human connection has been made. So thank you, Dave, you are the stuff of customer service legend!

Map Point. What brings me joy?

(Photo is of me, surrounded by my crisps and gin of choice!

Fix

I used to work with people who had significant issues. My job was to help them to achieve some life skills and independence. I would metaphorically parachute in once a week and offer support, comedic entertainment and optimistically they would gain a new perspective or skill. Then I would go, and their lives would continue muchly as they had before my arrival. Interlude over. I am not trying to be cynical or undervalue the assistance that I offered, but sometimes I feel that way with friendships too. I want to be able to offer so much more. If I see pain, I try to help, but I can never really know the impact I have on others. I can guess, presume, assume (there is a difference..) and hope that whatever I am doing has value.

I have a particular friend, Cassie, whose life resembles the contents of my wire bag. This bag is a huge tangly mess and has what feels like every wire I have ever owned in it. And quite possibly it does, given my magpie-like nature.  She has many issues, and if I were to approach her like someone who I was working with, I still would find it tricky to know where to start. But I go to see her, she makes drinks and helps me with things that I find tricky. Then I listen to her and we try to bring a little order to some of her chaos.

It humbles me. Cassie is someone whose life, by my appraisal, is hard. But irrespective of how bad her day is, we have an utterly reciprocal friendship. I always feel glad to see her, she is funny, usually in a self-deprecating way, and she has such amazing strength, which she doesn’t always credit herself with. I think that she is the kind of woman that one day will see just how amazing she is and at that point, she will bloom. It is a day that I feel genuinely excited about.

I don’t think that I can ever know precisely how valuable I am to someone else. But I completely understand how valuable the people that I love are to me. They are all shiny.xx

Map Point. Who helps to fix me?

Little boxes

Today I was reminded of something really important. Even during the worst of times, there are still good days. This is easy to forget when I have had tougher times, as that can make memories cloudier. But there are still good days, and it can be a better way to weave my personal narrative. Looking for the stepping stones and ignoring the river flowing through.

Quite a few of my friends at the moment are going through some massively hard things, stemming from the professional to the personal. I listen to these amazing people, trying to put into words feelings that are difficult to express to another, and likely also to themselves. It has made me ponder when I have not had words, and when I finally found them, I really didn’t want to. But acknowledgement of just how foul things are and then the responsibility of that offer the catharsis to heal.

For a long time, I have been able to categorise my sad things, but this is easy. I could distance myself from my words and could recite them with the emotional depth of reading from a catalogue. Although I knew what had happened, distancing myself from the events meant that I didn’t have to acknowledge my part in them. Understanding why I have allowed things to happen, or not happen was important, as it gave me a much deeper understanding of myself.

To give an example. A relationship that I had a long time ago ended utterly horrifically. It was a cliche of badness. A girl who was new at work had felt low, so had taken her out with my friends. Then my boyfriend of eighteen months left me. Over the telephone. And went out with her. In my adult life, I have only truly lost my temper a handful of times; this was most assuredly one of them. I have no idea what I said into that telephone, but it was loud, angry and in the finish, a friend who was with me at the time took the phone out of my hands. I think that we then went to the cinema. And ate icecream. I was desperately sad after. Many tears, much anger. At the time it was because I thought I wanted him back, retrospectively I didn’t really want him to begin with. I had wanted to have a ‘boyfriend’ as I had not previously had one, thus had no idea of the requisites that having one of those required.

When I think back to that relationship now, I can see that I was prepared to settle for anyone, irrespective of how I was treated. I understand why I did this, and curiously, resolving the issues behind why I accepted such poor treatment led to a huge loss of anger over this relationship. I don’t need to be angry at him, he became a mirror through which I could see myself with clarity. If I can understand what has motivated me, I can work to resolve that.

I don’t think that many people want to reflect on situations that will ultimately provoke more suffering, especially if they are currently in a space of acute pain. I left lots of things unresolved for years and years. It served me because I was scared to reopen certain things, and it didn’t serve me as that was a weight that I had to carry. So, whilst my emotional bag was heavy, I looked for the good days. And there were many.xx

Map Point. How can I make myself feel good today?

 

 

Eighth letter

Dear Anne and Victoria,

This is my thank you to you both. The presence you have had in my life has been one of support, love and a genuine desire to see me happy. I love you both dearly.

I first met Anne at the baby clinic, where parents go to make sure that their babies are growing properly (and sometimes to watch the people weighing the babies play on their phones, but that is another story). Anne was wearing some amazingly purple trousers and from then on, I very much hoped that we could be friends! We started talking, our daughters were nine months apart, so it was a friendship of lots of baby play dates. Swimming and coffee seemed to be our weekly purpose for quite a while.

When we got to the stage of trusting each other more and sharing our histories, it became obvious that we had both gone through some similar, but not same, experiences. Finding other people that can empathise with what you have gone through is just so very important. It takes away the isolation. And there was the shared humour, the love of board games and the passion we both have for our children. You are utterly the sister that I never had.

And Victoria. You are one of the funniest people I know. Your facial expressions, your deadpan humour, your sharp observation makes you an amazing story teller, and your stories are the stuff of legend! You also had a way of knowing what people want before they ever have to ask. You get that.

You both gave me so much guidance, so much love. When I went through tough times, you were there for me, you looked out for me and my daughter. When I saw you both, it felt like I was home. And when you have had hard times, I hope that I have been able to offer this feeling in return.

I think what I want to thank you both most for was showing me how to be a good mum.

Love always

Sally.xx

The amazing Mr Roy

When I think back to how I imagined relationships would be, I based it on a premise that there was a ‘happy ever after’ without ever being totally sure what ‘happy ever after’ actually was. Am still not sure that I have an answer. Then I thought about some of the best and most lasting relationship advice that I ever received. It was from Roy.

Roy is someone who I completely love having in my life. He is patient and kind, insightful and humble, ever observant and has an incredibly wry sense of humour. His facial expressions convey more than whole conversations. Roy has given me much advice, always indirectly and never with judgement. What he said about relationships really stayed with me.

I had gone out for an evening in London with Roy, Brenda and several other of their friends. It was near Christmas and we had gone to a massive Catholic church for their carol service. There were a few bits we all sang together, but mostly we went to listen to the amazing choir and soloists that were performing there. I think that this is something that I would like to experience again. I also had the tail end of bronchitis. We were listening to someone singing in one of the inner chapels, their voice resonating as if in direct communication with God, utterly sublime. And I am desperately trying to not cough. The suppression was not really all that successful, as my throat was as tickly as my daughter is when I just pretend to tickle her without actually touching her (which is massively tickly). Roy had some mints which saved a lot of peoples enjoyment that night. Then at the end of the evening, when we could all talk, and I had indulged myself in a good hearty cough, I asked Roy why he had never married.

I was in quite a dire relationship at the time, I wanted to leave, but had not yet worked out the mechanics of how. Almost everyone around me knew how bad things were. I was nineteen and things were confusing. Roy was possibly in his fifties at the time, and am not entirely sure what motivated my question, but it felt important. He told me that he had never met anyone with whom he could share the love that his parents had for each other. Even now, this holds such resonance for me. He had seen something that he viewed as perfect, and he wasn’t prepared to settle for something that he perceived as less.

This was the first time I had heard someone put such definites on their reality. He had decided something and stuck with it. I was amazed. I felt as if so much of my life was compromise, acquiescent to the demands of others. Being just me seemed to be a problem, as it was much easier to passively change bits of me than to state my needs. This has never served me well, but something that I find familiar.

It is easy to be liked when I am doing what someone else wants me to do. It takes much strength of will to decide that I am going to be entirely me and not worry about the consequences. I know people who live like this and I often wonder how they never seem to experience the uncertainty, the panic that I can feel so readily. One part of me envies that, and the other part pities. If I never experienced such lows, how can I ever truly appreciate the highs?

Map Point. What is the most valuable advice I have received?