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.

My little angry

This morning I was angry. Robert had double booked me with something else. It isn’t as if I have never done this. Countless times I have had to reschedule, but for some unbeknown reason, this morning I felt really angry. I felt sidelined, rejected and suddenly it was all I could think about as I was on route to meet him. Now at this stage in my anger, I am generally unable to look at the person until I have calmed down. Am really not sure why, maybe I might shout, or more likely I have to confront the feelings head on. And in absolute fairness, I would rather they just go away, just dissipate into the ether. When I saw him I told him I was angry, he accepted my angry, then after ten minutes of a hard run (we were at the gym) I felt much better and service as normal resumed. The most resounding positive that I can take from this was that my sprint at the end was a half minute longer and faster than it has been. Anger is curiously quite motivating!

Several thoughts occurred to after this experience. Firstly, Robert is one of only a very small handful of people that I can admit to being angry with. After I voiced my angry, I do feel a lot better, it is empowering. But I seldom ever do this. People have let me down in so many different ways and I instantly forgive them. At least on the surface. I make excuses for them, work out the motivations for their (appalling) behaviours, but I don’t confront. Inside I seethe and just get a little bit quieter on the outside. Generally, if someone causes me too much pain, I simply distance myself, as no one of a healthy and sane mind actively wants to cause themselves harm. But what would likely be even healthier for me? Actually resolving the issues that others create in me.

The other thing that I have learnt, quite some time ago, that I am not, in fact, the centre of the universe. As a child, everything is about us, every slight is deeply personal, every joy was sent to us gift wrapped. I know that many of the issues that make me angry have utterly nothing to do with the person creating the issues. Everyone has their own stuff. Rarely (I hope) would anyone wake up with the sole intention of causing someone else harm, but I am not naive in this either. We are all getting through as best we can, and sometimes, that does seem to involve making other peoples lives difficult. Everyone has triggers on the things that make them most angry. What will incense one person will not even be noticed by the next.

I love that I have a friendship with someone who I trust enough to share my angry. I feel good that my increasing self-confidence has allowed me to express how I feel, however dark that is. It is also good that Robert did not become defensive, instead, he listened.

And my last thoughts on this for now. Gym time is sacred Robert, mess with it not! (but if you do, we are still all good!)

Map Point. Where do I feel safe enough to express how I feel?

I am single

I have been on my own, single, without an other half for a fair while now. Years in fact. But the assumption is always that I will meet someone. Eventually. I was out recently with Robert and I bumped into someone that I had not seen for a while and her immediate presumption is that he was my boyfriend (he isn’t) but I get that. I guess if I see someone that I know is on their own and they are out with someone new, then I sometimes make that same presumption too. It is tricky.

I guess for me, the presiding issue is that I seldom, if ever, find anyone else attractive. It isn’t that I don’t admire awesome qualities in others, or appreciate the pretty (I utterly do) but I look on these qualities with the same sort of admiration that I apply to lots of things, a beautiful sunset, a Lichenstein painting, the complete Oxford Dictionaries. I love them all dearly, except I don’t want to take them home and keep them forever. Okay. I lied on the last one. I would absolutely love to own a massive set of a letter a book dictionaries. But essentially, I hope my meaning is clear. I have to have a lot of love for something to want to engage with it further.

Sometimes I do. But there feels to be a social pressure to this, until I am coupled off, I am unresolved, thus other people feel a need to see me ‘complete’. But what if I never have that sort of relationship again? Was chatting with my daughter about how she might feel if I had a relationship with someone and her resounding answer was ‘that it would be weird’. I agreed.

It isn’t that I have resolved to never fall in love and do the things of relationship. In the past, I have completed two seven-year stints at this, but I can’t judge my now against this sort of standard. What I wanted back then is not necessarily what I want now. So perhaps it would be useful to spend some time working out what I do want.

It is still the dictionaries.

Map Point. Am I still judging myself against past wants?

Permission

Over the last few days, I have been thinking about permission. What I allow myself to do, and more importantly what I don’t. Some of those things I know are based on fear, and I guess I will get to them eventually, but the ones that have no particular reason felt somehow more interesting, more important.

Buses in London. For years whenever I have travelled around London, I have done so by the tube. The Tube presents me with a wonderful map of exciting coloured lines that represent whole galaxies in my estimation (though realistically a fair few miles square). It is organised. I know that from my usual mainline station, it is four stops south on the northern line, followed by a couple of stops westbound on the circle and district that will take me to a not too shabby noodle place followed by the magnificence of Tate Modern. Has it ever occurred to me to do this journey on the bus? Not once. However, upon going to London with my Mum (who used to live and work there) I discovered she is massively bus proficient. She crosses bridges, ducks down side streets and somehow finds her way to wherever she needs. She is a bus travelling divinity. And for me, someone who doesn’t get to London very often, it is actually really nice to see some of London, the architecture is incredible, the shops, the parks. Which makes it more exciting than zooming through the blackened tunnels. But until my Mum showed me the way of London Bus, it never occurred to me they were an option.

In a practical sense, permission is easy, once someone else shows you something new, it is easier to replicate than having to forage your way alone the first time. But what about the emotional permissions that I have not allowed myself, stemming from lack of confidence and lack of self-worth? These ones feel much harder to overcome. The times I have held back, not through lack of skill, but through lack of voice or when I have felt alone and wanted to reach out to someone, but didn’t want to bother them. These are the permissions that feel like restraints, and they do not serve me.

It is really difficult sometimes to feel that I am allowed to ask for help, to feel that I am valuable, not only to others but to myself. And then I considered this. It isn’t permission I am looking for, its trust.

Map Point. Am I being honest about my motivations?

 

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!

Growing green things

The first plant type things that inspired me enough for ownership were cacti. I was in my early teens and I loved the strange mystery of this previously unknown plant. I had several of them. I remember one afternoon hitting upon the most marvellous idea that if I put a huge block of ice on the cacti tray then it would melt slowly providing watering for several days. By the evening (it was summer) the tray and my window ledge had flooded. I learnt how fast ice melts which was likely a useful thing to know. I discovered several years later that cacti are more likely to bloom if they are not regularly watered. So my efforts concerning their daily deluge were somewhat redundant to begin with.

The next thing that I grew was a kombucha mushroom. I was given my ‘starter’ mushroom by my reflexologist. I bought the required bowl (this was at age nineteen, this bowl lived a long and happy life until my daughter’s dad managed to drop it on the floor some twelve years later. RIP epic bowl, may you be resting in kitchen paraphernalia heaven) and all the other bits too. The first mushroom worked beautifully, and the ‘tea’ that was produced was most excellent. The second time my mushroom went mouldy. I did not pursue this a third time, as the prospect of actively growing mould in my bedroom, was not something I had any wish to repeat. (Cue the miniature drawers on my Sindy Kitchen, in which I crushed some grains and mixed them with water. I then left the moosh to grow. I was five and I can still remember the acridity of the smell now). I also grew a crystal (it was blue), potatoes at the end of the garden (those things keep coming back, year after year..) and an assortment of other plants and malarkey. It was fun.

More recently I have grown little peppers (mass bug infestation, despite the daily leaf washing.. how did my world come to this?), basil (bug infestation and leaf mould, double win! One afternoon I could take no more and chopped them all to oblivion, well not oblivion per se, more like stumps, I chopped them to stumps. Now they sit near the window, quietly judging), spider plants (things of such radiant bug and mould free existence!) and my aloe vera. The Aloe Vera is my kitchen monster. She is radiant, forthcoming when I burn myself and is my most favourite plant in my house (the basil knows this, its why it only very quietly judging). It sort of scares some of my friends, but that’s okay, Aloe doesn’t judge.

Ever since I can remember I have grown things. This often comes with contention, but this is met from a place of love and unholy stubborness to will something into existence. Watching seeds sprout, and plants grow is something quite magical. Watching mould develop is somewhat disgusting but still incredible none the less. Nothing is constant and everything is open to change.

Map Point. What inspires me to change?

 

 

 

Little tears of happy

Yesterday I took part in a mother and daughter yoga class. It was run by a woman who taught my young one ‘baby yoga’ when she was small. It felt strange to go back to something that we had not taken part in for such a long time, and also incredibly powerful, for many reasons.

When young one was small we went to lots of classes. We did baby sign language, music classes and we also went to yoga. I loved the stories that Caroline (the yoga teacher) told the children. They were magical and offered the little ones a quiet space, which is something that I think is genuinely overlooked. I think that I find it easy to forget the need for peace sometimes.

And then I think about how that is linked to my body. I know that I have time when I supposedly relax before going to sleep at night, and sometimes this happens. More often I go to bed just before exhaustion kicks in, which does not make for the sleep of angels. Or babies. Or something that is generally perceived to sleep well. Last night I slept really well. And I think that taking the time to actively relax during the day really helped with this. But back to the class. It was in the time at the end of the class after we had all laid on our mats with little lavender bags over our eyes and little blankets on our bodies to make us feel extra snuggly (lets not even go to the block to support our heads and the bolster for under our knees.. yoga folks are seriously into the comfy!), and the meditation started to play. I then had a moment of clarity. I had not felt this relaxed for such a long time, and to have had this time with my daughter, this utterly chilled time felt like a privilege. When I sat up, I was very much aware that my face was getting wet. Not the sort of tears that require contraction of facial muscles, but that sort that spill out unbidden.

In recent times this has happened to me a lot during moments of gratitude. I suddenly feel my eyes producing tears and am taking this as a good thing. I talk a good deal about feeling appreciation for the things that I have in my life and feeling this connected, makes me feel more me. But is it also an overwhelming experience that I need to learn to embrace. It makes me feel beautiful.

Map Point. What makes me beautiful?

 

My dinner party

I was thinking about the seven-course meal that I made after my last blog. In terms of my personal cooking endeavours, it really was the stuff of legend. I think it counts as a dinner party as there were six of us. What made it memorable was that everyone had to sit on the floor (not enough chairs) and hang onto their cutlery as that was in short supply too. Washing up seemed boring to do between courses and if ever I am a person that owns in excess of thirty forks, I will seek out an intervention.

  1. It started with a starter (of course.. what else would it start with?). This was a mozzarella, tomato and basil salad, affectionately drizzled with the virgin oil from olives and cracked black pepper of divinity. It was quite low-key in preparation, however, the tomatoes were locally sourced, so extra points for that. Even more extra points for basil that had almost zero food miles as it grew with gusto at my kitchen window. The oil, mozzarella and pepper likely flew further than all the other ingredients put together. Maybe. I like this meal a lot, it reminded me of eating this same thing whilst overlooking the sea, sitting on an outside table in Sorrento. It was all very beautiful.
  2. The soup. It was a roasted butternut squash variety that I gleaned from a Jamie Oliver cookbook that I no longer have (belonged to the ex I was then living with. Sometimes a relationship ends, that is okay. What isn’t okay is that I suddenly lost things (like books) that I had come to rely on (like cookery books) and I don’t want to buy replacements, because, in my head, I still own them! Buy a ‘second’ copy of a book I already own? Preposterous!). The soup was thick and topped with fried sage leaves. I also made parmesan crackers to be dipped in. These were very good. Both of these variants were made the day before. I also made it ‘velvet’. Sometimes I get carried away with terminology that I hear on the television.
  3. The sorbet. This was made at the beginning of the week and was the lemon variant. There isn’t really a good deal more I can add about this. It was sorbet.
  4.  The main. Now even by my standards, this was formidable. It was also made up on the day. Not as in I made it on the day, which I did, but that its inception was that day too. Now likely this is a standard recipe for many, but to me, on that day, it qualified as utterly new. Thus was very exciting. I started with making an egg based pasta. This was not new to me, and something that at the time I did quite a lot. There is something about the mass destruction of at least two rooms that really appeals to me. Sheets of pasta hanging and laying everywhere, flour in abundance, mucho happiness! This was then turned into a feta and spinach (wilted, of course..)  ravioli. But did it stop there? No, it very much did not. I created a most marvellous tomato sauce (reduction quite likely, but the word sauce is definitely more me). From more local tomatoes. I bought a massive tray of them for a miniscule amount of money from my local farm shop. Whenever I visit there, I feel really food inspired as it smells really good. Supermarkets either smell of pumped out bread smell or almost an absence of any smell. Sometimes they smell cold. And from these two (ravioli and tomato sauce) came the next phase. I ‘painted’ the bottom of a large baking tray with ‘hint’ of the tomato sauce before arranging the ravioli in the tray in neatly ordered lines. I then topped this with more sauce and added a crumb topping made with bread (which I did not make, I could pretend that I did, but to lovingly make a loaf of bread to then smash it to ‘rustic dust’ in the food processor was a level that I just did not go to. Clearly, I just wasn’t putting enough effort in), it also had more parmesan and a ‘signature’ herby blend. This is another way of saying that this was mixing up all the herbs that I had available to me at that given time. I also made bread rolls (flavoured with sun-dried tomatoes and olives) to accompany this course and a ‘dressed’ mixed leaf salad. The green variable on the plate is important.
  5. Next was the pre pudding (…). Chocolate mousse served piped into brandy snap tubes. At least this was the plan. I had never made either of these things before. Brandy snaps were a mission, in a tube shape, more so. So, in the end, the mousse was served in a little cup with a brandy snap wafer on the side. I would like to say that there was an artfully cut strawberry on the side of the plate. But there wasn’t. But these were nothing compared the ’twill’ of the next course.
  6. Vanilla ice cream served in a twill basket. There may have been some fruit with this. There also might not have been, but am remembering something else being on the plate and fruit seems to be a likely contender. I had made ice cream before and used a ‘custard’ based method. It was very good. And twill baskets are delicious. I ate several (possibly more than ‘several’)of the ones that did not resemble baskets.
  7. Chocolate truffles. No one ate these as everyone was too full up. But they were also fun to make. We did drink hot caffeinated beverages to finish.

I should do something like this again. I am now hungry.

Map Point. What am I really proud to have achieved?

 

A little nervous

Tomorrow I register for university. I am about to start my master’s degree. And whilst I know that this is utterly the right move and will be amazing, I am also scared. What if I cannot live up to my own expectations?

My brother was talking today about the lives that we had planned for ourselves when we were younger. Aged around eleven, I envisaged a life that involved going to university, working for a few years, buying a house, getting married, having babies and being ready for the (part-time) workplace again by the age of 35. It really never occurred to me that there was any variable contained within this. All of my friend’s parents had lived like this (the university was the added new variation, that was my school’s expectation added in for good measure!). Everyone I knew owned their own houses, the husbands worked ‘in town’ and the wives had part-time jobs or were full-time parents. Thinking back, this was my entire worldview, and despite my own circumstance (divorced parents, most anomalous in my world) this was still my expectation.

So I went to university at eighteen (still on track), fell in love with someone who was entirely inappropriate, got engaged (on track!), then left university in the middle of my second year (deviation, but we have still got this!), relationship ended (no white dress?) and it occurred to me that I was not living a life that I intended.

My friends from school (that I heard through generalised gossip) were living that life, my life. They had good jobs, marriages, houses and children. Possibly cars, dogs and expensive holidays too. But my life wasn’t fitting into such a neat boxes, my life was becoming perceptively different. At the time I was aware of this, but I wasn’t sure if my life was on the right path. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to deviate from my original plan.

I went to festivals, university, took holidays by myself, developed a love of facepaint, saw theatre, museums, had a couple of relationships, owned a house, didn’t own a house, played music, was a children’s nanny, worked in shops, offices, schools, cafes, shook hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury when I got my degree, had a baby, learnt sign language, became a single parent, grew a monster plant of aloe vera (it scares some of my friends), honed a muchly eclectic house, changed my politics and read enough books to fill a small library.

This had not been the plan. I was going to carry out scientific research in a lab and make pottery at weekends, alongside attending fancy dinner parties where everyone sparkled (I held a dinner party once, it was for six people, we all sat on the floor and the instruction at the beginning of the seven-course meal was to hang on to your cutlery, as I only had enough for one set per person. The meal was legend). And this would have been a good life. But now I recognise fully the life that I am actually living, it is abundant with new and sometimes chaotic enterprise! I do sometimes resent that I compared myself to the other life for so long. It is hard for me not to compare myself to others sometimes, but when I am comparing myself to an imagined perfection that never actually happened? That is much harder.

I am learning to accept that I am not already written. I am possibility.

Map Point. Do I fear the judgement of others?

 

My brain, again

At the beginning of the summer, I had a doctors appointment. I had been waiting for this appointment for around nine months (which was an improvement on the year that I was originally quoted!). Part A took place in London, and part B was closer to home, and for this one, I was required to bring support, so I enlisted the assistance of Robert, as he knows me well. By the end of the appointment, I had two things. A wet face and a diagnosis of A-typical high-functioning autism.

A while back this was called Aspergers but medical chaps and chappesses are trying to phase that term out as it means the same as high-functioning autism. I understand why people like the differentiation. The autistic spectrum covers a huge range of people with hugely varying behaviours. And to put everyone in the same box can feel somewhat misleading. Some people develop better coping skills, others not so much. I have been told that high functioning autism means autism without learning difficulties, but I don’t know how true this is.

What I do know is that as a woman, my chance of being diagnosed is only 20% compared to that of a man. Women apparently develop stronger coping strategies much earlier, thus it is less likely to be picked up. And everybody has quirks, things that would qualify as being on the autistic spectrum, but that does not make someone autistic. Having lots of quirks, that have always been present, does. I can never appreciate what it is like to have a neuro-typical brain and I guess the reverse is true too. (Incidentally, the a-typical bit means that I don’t present as a typical autistic person, in case anyone is wondering, I have exceptional coping strategies! I rock!).

When I first got my diagnosis it made sense of the obvious things, my social ineptness in unfamiliar environments, my broken sleep and levels of anxiety. But as I started to read up, it has become increasingly apparent that other things that I do are also common traits. Like rarely initiating social contact despite having lots of love for my friends. It mostly just doesn’t occur to me. And if I have one appointment in the afternoon, my morning will most likely be entirely unproductive until that one thing is done. I was diagnosed as hyper-sensory in my early twenties and apparently, this is true of almost 80% of people with autism. When Robert recently got into my car in the evening, having used TCP disinfectant in the morning, it was still strong enough to make my eyes water. And I should probably not share the most voraciously grim smell that I could smell in Kate’s car recently that no one else could.

The biggest contention is how I think. I never stop, even when I am sleeping, my brain is running variables on situations and I have to make a conscious effort to stay asleep. And am not just considering one thing, it is usually two or three. sort of like listening to piece of music and being able to pick out every instrument’s melody. Or maybe more like listening to a few different pieces of music at the same time and being able to follow them all. Curiously, analogy aside, I find that listening, playing or dancing to music really helps my brain to switch off its usual chatter; the quiet is sometimes nice. I recall an ex once asking me to tell him everything that was on my mind. Forty minutes later he was looking like he had just been steamrolled into oblivion and back. He was a brave man to ask that question!

The most utterly best thing about diagnosis is that I seem to be going easier on myself. I am not judging myself as harshly when I struggle with things, which has led to me mostly feeling a lot calmer. It is also giving me permission not to do everything just because I feel I ought to. This is massively empowering.

I had many reservations about writing this post, but it has been on the forefront of my mind for a while and has made writing other things more difficult. I am also aware that this might change how others perceive me, but that is ultimately down to them. I am no more or less me than before my diagnosis, but I am happier.

Map Point. What am I scared to say?

Photo note, I love liquorice allsorts, but not the fondant, they are the wrappers to the good stuff!