Sometimes, A Good Chinwag With People That Really Know You Is All The Therapy You Need

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Bonding with someone is ” Like sharing an invisible stream of consciousness with each other.” Those are the powerful words of Zat Rana in his piece The Subtle Art Of Connecting With Anyone on Medium.”

My connection to others has always provided me with the best therapy. I’m needy emotionally. I might even go as far as to admit that I’m emotionally unintelligent. I need the validation of others that I’m an ok person.

And those connections have become particularly pertinent for me recently as I plan a twelve-day visit back to the UK for the two-yearly family summit, when, once again, I find myself caught up in the guilt and inner turmoil of who I can’t see this time.

Unless you’ve done this migration thing, and only return periodically to your homeland as The Prodigal Child/sibling/niece/aunt or friend, you have no idea of the pressure these trips cause, and the painful balancing act between offending old friends and family duty.

Just prior to this trip – thirteen years since my defection – I had come to accept that family had to be my priority moving forward. Validation comes at a price, and it’s exhausting to travel the country for twelve days in search of it, no matter how needy I am. And yet, as much as I know that (practically-speaking) I should prioritize “blood” and downplay the importance of the transient friendships I’ve made during my journey through life, there is a culture and a history with old friends that it is impossible to replicate.

The other problem is, that the older I get, the more I veer towards an embarrassing need for nostalgia.

I could have booked a longer stay, I suppose. But then, there are work commitments to think about, there’s “life”, there’s the discomfort of my dad’s sofa bed and the health of my liver. Because, drinking, eating and talking your way through twelve days takes a toll  – particularly in view of the niggling doubt about what the point of it all is.

And yet, there is a point, because many of these people are the missing pieces of mine and the old man’s life puzzle. They are the people that shaped who I am; wiped away my tears, poured Champagne down my throat when I most needed it and made me laugh until I peed myself.

And this particular trip is particularly poignant because it has been driven by family illness, by death, anxiety and the underlying knowledge that none of us is getting any younger. With the looming presence of a rather nasty weakness on my mother’s side in the “ticker” department, it’s not a duty call exactly, but it is an ‘in case I miss you next time’ type of visit.

Without catastrophizing – which I suspect I’m wont to do – it might really be “goodbye.” Which is why I want to say my goodbyes to everyone; not just the ones that fit in with my ridiculously restricted itinerary. And let’s be honest: a good chinwag with people that have shared your “culture” and your history is sometimes all the therapy you need to take you through the next stage of life.

Memories, Friendship and On The Move Again

downloadI might have mentioned that we’re about to embark upon our fourteenth house move. Reactions to the move have varied:  the Princess has begun twitching so I will need to up her anxiety medication, and she and Kurt rock on her bed together whenever I pack a box. The old man has locked himself inside his office until our move date.

 

We’re heading back to where we started our journey in Australia, back to a community, a slower pace of life and (hopefully) a slightly slower rent, which means we have more options to do as little as possible. It’s not quite the downsize I imagined a few months ago when we first made the plan and foolishly assumed that if we moved an hour out of the city, the kids wouldn’t be able to leave home fast enough – no, we’ll be moving to a smaller house with two more adults than we thought we’d have – in other words, a typically, logical Simmonds plan.

 

So, not a sea change or a downsize exactly, more a move away from the Big Smoke back to old habits, in the arms of old friends as we grow old together. The area is one of many parts of Australia nicknamed God’s Country – all equally justified – a small piece of paradise on the tip of a peninsula, with the sort of stunning coastal beauty of the landscape in Big Little Lies, if you saw the series. With beautiful beaches that have golden sands evolved from the sandstone rock that the water washes up upon, its quaint little towns are packed to the brim with home décor shops, cafes and wonderful restaurants, and the only sound on a quiet day is the clanging of the yacht masts in the breeze. 

 

Our oldest friends have stayed put, so it’s where our heart beats the strongest in this country we have adopted as home. In the seven years we lived in the area, I carved more meaningful memories than at any other time of my life. The beach does that for me.

 

To access paradise, you have to drive along a stunning, winding road around the side of rock, known locally at The Bends, and it is a local custom to celebrate events and good news such as weddings and birthdays, on personalized banners along the route. What you have to imagine, though, is how dangerous the stretch of road is by foot. Often busy with local and holiday traffic, with sharp drops down cliffs to the beach on one side, it’s not the sort of place you stop to take in the view or have a pee.

 

Several years ago, as we approached NC’s eighteenth-birthday, I tried almost everything in my power to cajole the old man to hang out some banners along the “road of death” to celebrate the occasion. Understandably, he wasn’t keen.  Neither of us is that impulsive type of parent prepared to flout the law for our daughter’s happiness, and we worried about being caught by the police, falling off the ladder, (necessary to climb the telegraph pole), and even writing the wrong words, hence scarring our child for life. In other words, we overthought it, (like most things), and eventually talked ourselves out of it like we do most decisions, apart from minor ones such as moving to the other side of the world with two kids in tow and no jobs.

 

It didn’t matter: we had other festivities organized and I knew that the last thing NC expected, (or perhaps wanted), was some awkward public declaration of her parents’ affection splattered for the world to see. Which was why it was such a shock, riding on the school bus on the morning of her birthday, for her to see first one banner, then another, then another, each engraved with her name, a big red heart and the number eighteen.

 

 

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Jaz and NC, still friends, and yes, Jaz is still crazy.

Now, I am certain that at no point did NC consider that we were responsible – which we weren’t, for reasons that are obvious.  And at no time either, did I think that the old man had manned the fuck up and climbed a ladder under the cover of darkness. In fact, it was NC’s best friend who donned crampons under cover of darkness and climbed those telegraph poles like a Ninja, risking life over limb, in a gesture of friendship that has become part of Simmonds folklore and symbolizes everything we have missed since our sabbatical down south.

 

 

‘Remember when Jaz put those signs up on the Bends?’ we still say, as incredulous as we were that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Age Is When You Finally Realize That You Shouldn’t Have To Chase True Friendship

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I posted this quote on my Facebook page a few days ago.

 

I realise that the words sound arrogant at first glance, as though I adhere to the belief that I can pick and choose the friends I want in my life – something that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nevertheless I like them, because they describe exactly how I feel about the truly important people in my life right now.

 

I was never the popular mum in the playground and with a naturally-introverted personality (although carefully disguised) and a less well-disguised introvert for a husband, close friendship has never come easy to me.

 

Added to which, we’ve moved around a lot as a family and where it was relatively easy to make new friends when the kids were younger, teenagers refuse outright to let you hang onto their shirt tails at school pick up. It’s even less easy to attract new friends when you’re the mum of a child with special needs and generally the class clown, although there are two sides to every story and some of my best friends are now the parents of kids with ADHD.

 

When I saw my oldest sister in the UK recently, she jokingly accused me of being a people-pleaser. And she was right, because I do get flattered when people take an interest in me, yet find it impossible to let them go even when it’s obvious to both of us that our relationship has moved in opposing directions.

 

Who doesn’t like to have friends and feel loved?

 

From a narcissistic, selfish perspective, one of the hardest parts about raising a child like Kurt was the closure of a whole avenue of potential friends that I felt entitled to, like the friendships I made with other mums through NC. It also meant that I had to have a strategy about developing new friendships and chase them down. Each time I’ve walked into a new office or a new playground, I’d set my sights on the group I wanted to be part of and worked at it, biding my time until things fell into place, no matter how long it took. And sometimes it took years!

 

I’m ashamed to admit that in my thirties I used to judge my success in life on how many friends we had and whether or not we were socially busy each weekend. Part of that was due to being a stay-at-home mum and in need of adult conversation by the weekend, but the bigger part was related to the reassurance I needed to feel valued.

 

I used to feel slighted when we weren’t invited to so and so’s dinner party, even though I hardly knew them. Fortunately for me I had the down-to-earthness of the man I married who always stood firmly by his principles of introversion and kicked me neatly into touch each time my insecurities threatened to get the better of me. He refused outrightly to see people on certain weekends and would score ‘KEEP FREE’ through them in the family calendar.

 

How things have changed over the past few years.

 

I’m not sure when I first realised I was happy enough in my own skin to look forward to a “free weekend” and was truly able to identify with the quote above. It has come with time and ageing, as well as circumstance. When you move to another country in your forties, the chase becomes much harder without the lifeline of school children to nudge it gently along and the people we met in Australia initially already had their “life” friends, just like we had in the UK. It was so much harder to infiltrate established groups and force them to adopt us – although luckily there are a lot of expats in Australia, and in the end we sniff each other out.

 

Then, when we started to go through the tough years with Kurt, I isolated myself for a while because I didn’t have the energy to socialise, entertain and pretend to be happy, nor did I want to douse everyone’s enthusiasm for their lives with our problems – although I’m sure I did.

 

Whenever I sensed a connection with someone new in the past, it was like a personal challenge for me to get them to notice me, but recently I’ve become much more reticent about my old ‘look at me!’ puppy dog approach. Why? Is it because I know now how much effort it takes to procure a real friendship, or is it because I’m more confident in who I am and no longer need numbers on my Facebook page to prove my worth? Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally recognised what a wonderful, eclectic band of friends we have that I can rely on to be there, indeed have been there even when I’ve been depressed and as boring AF.

 

The realisation that you don’t need to chase friendships or popularity is not about arrogance; it’s about maturity and understanding that the best friendships come from some luck and a lot of hard work, which is why not everyone can sit at your table.

 

One piece of advice I always give NC is that you have to service your real friends.

 

People who need to be chased never stop running.

The Curse Of Anxiety, Dogs and Teenage Commitment

The dog has decided to upstage the rest of the family in the anxiety stakes. I am reliably informed that part of her condition can be blamed on her Poodle heritage, in which separation anxiety is a common issue, but the other part is either a question of osmosis ie. living with us, or a result of the shocking level of pampering she receives. We’ve created a pathetic city dog, vulnerable and basically unable to exist on her own. 

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The Curse of Anxiety, Dogs and Teenage Commitment

 

As a psychotic nail-biting worrier myself, I would never trivialise anxiety, but it comes to something when you can’t leave the two kilometre safety zone around your apartment to take your dog for what is meant to be a treat to Centennial Park. The wailing that ensued in the car was tantamount to a two year old tantrumming about screen time on her parent’s iPad and at several points during the fifteen minute journey, the old man and I questioned our choice to have another one.

 

Part of the problem is that The Princess doesn’t visualise herself as a dog and so she was appalled to find that our walk coincided with the weekly social gathering of our Eastern Suburbs canine cousins – posh neighbours – one of whom was unfortunate enough to be named Boris and who had so much unspent energy and tenacity he took a liking to her at the dog park. Our refusal to carry her to protect her virtue was rewarded by an hour-long sulk.

 

Kurt experienced a similar bout of anxiety when he had his birthday ‘gathering’ last weekend. We’ve all suffered that horrible predicament, or party remorse, before our guests arrive when we wish we’d never organised the event in the first place, rather than expose ourselves to the horror associated with public rejection. Unfortunately, it’s only once you open the cage door do you understand what a prison fear can be.

 

At one point he admitted that he would prefer to phone up all fifteen of his friends and cancel. I understand that feeling only too well, although it is something that gets easier with age, mainly because you’ve ticked off that part of growing up where you learn to respect other people and finally have a secure enough band of friends to rely on, who understand the value of loyalty. Most importantly, they understand how miserable it feels to be let down at the last minute. 

 

It’s something Generation Y could learn a thing or two about.

 

As a loyal Leo, (and much to the old man’s chagrin), once I commit to something I always turn up. We always turn up. I don’t know who was more relieved by the ring on the doorbell that evening when it finally came, myself or Kurt; needless to say it caused the Princess to rock noisily in the corner only to be enticed out of her cell by the promise of pizza.

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child…I Hope

Some people believe it takes a village to raise a child; in our case it will probably take a whole fucking city.The lengths you go to, to prevent your dysfunctional, magnet-attracting-trouble teenager, from creating havoc while you’re away. team-386673_1280

 

When Louisa Clare shared a post from Revolution From Home entitled In The Absence Of The Village, Mothers Struggle Most this week, she reminded me of the idea of the ‘village’ and the way many of our parents raised their children; with support from family and the local community. If you read the post, I’m certain that many of you will be able to identify with Beth’s list of the problems modern parents face today, that stem from not having the same life-line.

 

As she says, ‘In the absence of the village, we’re disadvantaged like never before. We may have more freedoms than our foremothers, but our burden remains disproportionately, oppressively heavy’.   

 

It often saddens me that we so rarely have a ‘village’ at our disposal to help raise our offspring. That extra support that so much of us go without today might be the missing link to premature burn out, mental health issues and divorce and certainly shouldn’t be ignored as one of the root triggers of the entitlement issues manifested by Generation Y today.

 

I was fortunate to have a ‘village’ to support my parents when I was growing up – a tight family network that rallied around when my mother became the first woman in the family to get divorced. We all lived in different suburbs, but congregated to the matriarch (Granny’s) at the weekend to be indulged and reminded about the importance of respecting our parents, taught how to share via rough play with cousins, forced to eat beetroot and salad cream – a lesson in managing our expectations, I assume – and treated with Space Saucers on our way out – something I now realise was probably a bribe for good behavior for the following week.

 

I know from my day job when I talk to my clients, (who come from all different cultures), that having a village to raise your child still happens in most third world countries, but it might surprise you to know that many European cultures still employ some of those traditional child-rearing methods, too. In Italy, the kids rarely leave home until they marry and once they do get hitched, they take on the responsibility for looking after their ageing parents. The majority of Asian countries follow a similar circle-of-life policy.

 

Could this be why many western kids are floundering now? Because they haven’t had the support and protection of close family around to help shape them – the only people close enough to be honest with them, to teach and incorporate within them the right values in their lives?

 

As you already know (here), the idea of relying on other people to look out for our own child is very pertinent for us right now, as the old man and I swan off to distant shores together for the first time child-free, removing some of the scaffolding that has supported Kurt up until now. Rest assured, I’ve been through every stage of guilt about this trip – the early ‘mother-guilt stage’, the stage where I told the old man he couldn’t possibly go after the latest Kurt-fuelled crisis, to this point, where I’ve finally reached a measure of acceptance, and we’re re-writing our wills.

 

And although I may not have the traditional ‘village’ to be ‘our eyes’ while we’re away, I have a bunch of wonderful surrogate family members who have offered their private detective/childcare services to protect the local community from our child.

 

In fact, it has really touched me how many offers of help we’ve received; especially when so many of those offers have come from people who read my blog. It has made me realise how much we Kurt needs this – in fact it could be the making of our boy.

 

So thanks to that friend who advised me that Kurt will be fine… but I might want to take a photo of how the apartment looked before we left, as well as to those friends who are Kurt-sitting for the middle weekend to give NC some space in which to restore her sanity, vocal chords and patience. Thanks also to those many girlfriends who have offered up their middle-aged husbands as bouncers in case an emergency extraction is required when the concierge realises that it is indeed our apartment on the roof terrace, that is hosting the newest live Sydney music festival, and all hell breaks loose.

Shopping, Friendship and Embracing Your New Middle Aged Body

I am usually a lone shopper. I take my shopping habit very seriously and can quite easily waste an entire Saturday trying out new styles that I would never actually buy in a million years. I enjoy the beauty and creativity behind beautiful clothes, fabrics and home accessories – I like looking at them, touching them, trying them on or imagining them in my home. The benefit of my impulsive nature is that sometimes it leads me to try on wildly different styles than neither my wallet or body can really take, but even on those days I come away from the shops empty-handed, shopping is always a delicious stress-buster. buy-1299519_1280

 

And I have built up good brand knowledge as a result of so much active research in the field. I know which brands are shockingly under-sized and make me feel like I’ve eaten all the pies, and which ones are more accurate for older women. Interestingly, I have a far calmer approach to buying clothes now that I’m officially middle-aged, whereas in my forties I stressed out when nothing fitted or looked right, or when I couldn’t find the appropriate style to suit my increasing age and girth. I’m much more chilled about the process now; finally, I know what suits my body and can appreciate that rare experience for what it is, when something… ANYTHING…fits. If all else fails I console myself with lingerie and shoes.

 

Although, that approach may also have something to do with my meds, too…

 

Not so for one of my besties, however, who up until recently avoided shopping malls like holidays in the Middle East. Just as I’ve been forced to discover a new pleasure for buying underwear in middle age, my friend has transferred her shopping affections to the purchase of super-expensive cosmetics, such is her fear of trying on clothes that don’t fit or flatter her new body shape.

 

So much so that occasionally when she reaches rock bottom or has a major ‘nothing to wear’ moment, she’ll reach out to me in desperation for some guidance – I assume to boost her confidence. 

 

I agree that at our age clothes shopping can be about as as much fun as having your eyebrows threaded; not like in our younger years, when everything looked good on our pre-baby/menopausal bodies. Whenever NC and I shop together, I take a perverse pleasure in admiring just how good everything looks on her, as though it was designed for her fabulous, lithe, young body, whereas statistically I have about a 10% chance of getting the zip up on a good day.

 

Yesterday this friend joined me in the city on impulse, and although I only returned home with one purchase (much to the old man’s delight), in the form of a beige trench coat that was reduced by 50% in the Gap sale, meaning I actually saved money, it gave me the fuzzies to see how excited she became in what is normally a terror zone for her, egged on by a little help from a friend. It’s not that we necessarily share the same taste in style, (hence there was no in-store fighting over the last pair of Cue sale trousers), all she needed was a boost to her confidence; someone to push her to try things on, tell her when an outfit looked good, be firm if it looked shit, to surreptitiously steer her away from her comfort zones and force her to embrace her new figure rather than resenting it.

 

We’ve both gone up a size since our forties, although we suffer from different body issues, but we shared a mission yesterday, with trips booked back to the UK in a few weeks time – mine for Dad’s third wedding and hers an overdue trip to catch up with family and friends.

 

So we want to look our best.

 

By the end of the day, I had even convinced her to buy three new bras – once she’d finally conceded that she might have gone up a bra size since her previous purchase at Marks and Spencers in London three years ago.

 

It’s a new world out there, and we need to feel brave and empowered, not anxious. It’s a time where it’s important to draw our true friends closer, and embrace the physical embellishments of a good life lived thus far.

Alcohol: Time To Farewell A Dear, Old Friend?

I’m feeling old today; certainly older than I should feel at fifty, although my kids may argue with that. shoes-402257_1280

 

I look at the recent family photos we took at Easter and although I understand that we women of a certain age never like how we appear under the scrutiny of the lens, the cost of two days of celebratory over-drinking (and I don’t mean ‘water’) has had a very obvious toll on my face.

 

On days like this, I’d love to be able to turn back time and control the seismic shift in mood that hormones and alcohol in partnership together have on my body now that I’ve reached (what should be) the maturity of my fifties. I wake up and still feel like a Spring chicken after days of sobriety, whereas days after I’ve burned the candle at both ends, I’m tired, crabby and full of self-remorse.

 

I can’t keep ignoring the fact that alcohol and me just don’t get along anymore; we’ve outgrown each other, and are ready to move on now to our own respective pastures new. Our relationship has become toxic – these days drinking makes me feel more miserable than good about myself.

 

But how to let it go? I’m naturally an introvert, you see, so I’ve relied on this liquid crutch since I was sixteen when I supped my first illegal Vodka and Orange down at the local pub. Worse, I still like the way drinking makes me feel – up to around the third glass – when from thereon in it’s always the same down-hill debacle.

 

Alcohol is such an easy friend to be around. It’s unassuming, doesn’t judge me, makes me appear far more fun than I really know how to be, puts a fake shine on my normally reserved personality like the one on black patent shoes, and when you can function relatively normally on it, (which I have done up until now), where’s the problem?

 

I’ve been drawn to posts from other bloggers and writers recently who have given up the booze, and swear they’ve never felt better, even though the decision has required more changes than they anticipated. It’s not simply a question of avoiding the bottle shop; a need to to redefine who you are in sobriety and society appears to be a common theme.

 

Which is daunting, because all my best relationships thrive around drinking.

 

But the negative impact of this friend of mine, to my self-esteem and creativity, is no longer worth the minimal gain. The depressant effect it has on a mind already vulnerable to erring towards negativity, not to mention the guilt associated with being a role model to a young adult who is already fighting his own drinking demons and the risks of elevating my chance of all manner of horrible cancers, means it’s time.

 

I’ve used the excuse that I don’t need to drink every day, for so long, it bores me. While at the same time, I’ve come to detest those predictable weekend mornings ‘after’, when the hangover invades my body, egged on by my self-hate for not having the discipline to stop, forcing me to waste another Sunday that I’ve looked forward to all week.

 

You see, the real problem I have with my relationship with alcohol is my body’s poor recovery from its effects, since I’ve aged. It’s how quickly the deterioration from fun-time, party animal to hung-over hobo in yoga pants happens. Self-disgust is not pretty, and I now resent the reliance I have on something so puerile to make me feel good about myself, when there is so much else that should work.

 

But then there is the fear that if I remove this loyal, close friend who has stood by me for most of my adult life, will I become an uninteresting shadow of the person I was?

 

To be continued…

Friendship, And How Twenty Minutes Can Be A Lifeline

This was going to be a post about how I’ve finally found my doctor, which is a big deal in my life because I’m a bit of a messed up, menopausal, hypochondriacally-challenged shell of the former woman I was most some of the time. So finding a great doctor almost feels like I’ve won the lottery, and on top of that, my discovery also led to some other home truths associated with the value of friendship.  clasped-hands-541849_1280

 

Firstly – to the doctor. So I had to visit the doctor the other day to replace some scripts before the Easter deadline and the fear of the pharmacy being closed when I have a major episode, and when I couldn’t get an appointment to see my regular doctor – who I’ve been having secret misgivings about recently – I asked to see the only female doctor available.

 

You see, as I predicted would happen in my post here, things have gone a bit south since I dared utter those words ‘Kurt has turned a corner’, and we’ve experienced a testing few days this week – nothing serious, just the sort of half-week that can make the world look black and white, force you to increase your medication and question what the fuck happened to your life etc.

 

But needless to say, that eggshell situation at home made me feel a little more vulnerable at the prospect of sitting for twenty minutes with some over-enthusiastic new doctor who knew nothing about me, because when you are questioned by a stranger as to why you are on anti-depressants, it’s hard to know where the fuck you start with such a small window of time and a lifetime of shite to get through, and without the risk of flooding out her tiny office.

 

But this doctor turned out to be a real doctor, in the old-fashioned sense, who didn’t look at her watch the minute I started rambling off into unchartered territory; who begged me to come back and see how she could genuinely help me. She seemed to understood the daily pressure our lives and our marriage are exposed to, living with a sad, oppositional kid who suffers from several mental health conditions, some of which are still seen by many as excuses for bad parenting, yet which can be so challenging they can make us question our own place in the world.

 

Because it’s not imaginary when you are trying to close wounds all the time; both physical and mental.

 

And I talked and she listened, and for that precious twenty minutes it was easier somehow than talking to a friend, because I was paying for the doctor’s time, so I knew she had a duty of care and that removed the stigma of guilt associated on my part for being self-centred or depressing or passing on my negative energy.

 

And it reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was telling a friend about how I felt that a mutual friend of ours was dragging me down mentally because she was depressed and I simply wasn’t in the best mental state myself to console her. And this friend suggested that I extricate myself from the relationship for the short term and to preserve my own sanity, because we don’t need to take on the bad energy of others.

 

And at the time – and I hate myself for it now – I was at such a low ebb I selfishly felt her point was valid.

 

But what I’ve realised since – because of the number of times over the past few years I can recognise that I’ve bored the pants off my close friends with my tales of woe when I’ve needed a pair of ears to listen to me, and they’ve listened patiently and been non-judgmental – is how much I owe to those friends who stood by me, not only on the days when I was fun to be around, but also on the days when I was and still can be a self-absorbed piece of shit.

 

The ability to listen to others is one of the greatest gifts you can give as a friend. Twenty minutes is a very short time in the eyes of most, yet it can be a lifeline to others.

 

 

Older, But Still No Wiser When It Comes To Drinking

What I’d seriously like to know is when exactly the middle-aged wisdom/acceptance thingy that my body can no longer drink alcohol is going to finally kick in. drunken-40363_1280

I’d also like to know if I can justifiably lay the full weight of blame for our behaviour firmly on the shoulders of our hosts yesterday, for contributing to the vilest hangover I’ve experienced since …er… last month?

 

Such a shame, because I really wanted them to like us.

 

I realize that they probably thought that they were doing the honorable thing by constantly refilling those massive wine goblets – that must have each held at least four standard drinks when full – but they obviously had no idea who they were dealing with.

 

  • A couple of high-functioning, still in-denial alcoholics.

 

  • A couple that possess the self-control of a pair of Labradors in the vicinity of food.

 

  • A couple that sadly love the sound of their own voices when inebriated a little too much; who have a tendency to become unintentionally (yet rudely) impervious to the contribution of others when under the influence of their favourite wines.

 

  • A couple who misguidedly (and too often) assume the role as the entertainment for the evening; who mistakenly believe that they are hysterical company when drunk, tell the best stories and are completely oblivious to the telltale boredom signs (yawns and watch-checking) of their poor hosts.

 

  • A couple that, (being naturally introverted), foolishly resort to alcohol to help make them appear more interesting.

 

  • A couple that sometimes feel so hemmed in by the responsibilities of the life sentence that is parenthood, they can go a bit crazy when let out from the cage. A couple who with that first whiff of freedom lose all impulse control and throw responsibility to the wind quickly before being forced back to the position of sensible role model.

 

  • A couple who are old enough to know better, but who sadly still don’t.

 

  • A couple that gets so over-excited at any opportunity to make ‘new friends’, they sometimes forget that middle-aged piss artists are very unattractive.

 

  • A couple that should have understood when they received the LUNCH invitation that 9.30pm is probably a little later than their hosts expected them to leave. And that ‘to outstay your welcome’ is unfortunately not an expression that strikes a chord in the midst of their wine-induced mayhem.

 

  • A couple who were having such a good time that at the height of their drunkenness selfishly forgot that their hosts were working the next day,and that they themselves would have to get up early to pick up the car in the morning – possibly still intoxicated.

 

  • A couple that also forgot at the height of their exuberance all those mature conversations they continually share about a glorious future of sobriety.

 

  • A couple that once again chose to abandon all knowledge acquired of the limited tolerance of their changing middle-aged bodies to more than a few glasses of wine.

 

  • A couple who are older, and should be so much fucking wiser.

 

Friends, Holidays And Doing Fuck All

I’ve spoken before about the need to prune the bush of friendship before; about the sad inevitability that as we age, we evolve, yet sadly not always at the same rate or in the same direction as our friends. 98f5fba1da734740819bba3a4c8e642a

 

But fortunately, one of the BEST things about getting older is that we no longer have to tolerate those people or their shit in our lives. If it ain’t working, we don’t have to fix it, as long as we have the balls in our new skin to accept possible repercussions, such as watching Netflix with the dog on New Year’s Eve.

 

Sometime between Christmas Day and New Year, the content on my Facebook news page changed dramatically from glammed up Christmas Day family photos – with associated food porn, fairy lights and every excess imaginable – to the photos of what my circle of friends have chosen to do in the grey area before the last round of binge drinking on New Years Eve.

 

These pieces of photographic evidence provide an interesting method for judging your friends,

 

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have been an Olympian under-achiever this week, and that the only times I’ve set foot out of bed before 1pm have been for food, alcohol or a pee. It has taken a supreme effort to merely lift the remote control to flick between Mad Men episodes and the only communication the old man and I have shared have been arguments over which restaurant to go to or whose turn it is to take the Princess out for her bodily functions.

 

But isn’t the true definition of a ‘holiday’ to do fuck all?

 

That’s why I won’t be guilted out by those friends of mine who have indirectly and (in my opinion) selfishly made me feel more inadequate by posting photos of themselves DOING ACTIVE STUFF, or even worse, choosing to go somewhere cold and geographically challenging when IT’S FUCKING SUMMER IN SYDNEY.

 

WHY????

 

I get that we aren’t all cut from the same cloth and obviously some people see the potential of a week off work as greater than channel flicking as a form of workout; and more bizarrely associate relaxation with exercise, fresh air and maintaining some level of fitness.

 

Who are these people? And how did they become my friends?

 

 

Marking Your Territory In Middle Age

The Princess is in the proverbial doghouse this week, due to an over-exaggerated limp that sent us into a state of panic, then suddenly disappeared at the vet.

Marking Our Territory In Middle Age
Photo courtesy of The Princess and one Greenie.

Incredibly, she still manages to fit in at least fifteen wees during her new, reduced walks that were advised by the vet.

Karma. Just sayin.

Why do dogs feel the need to mark their territory so often?

Apparently it’s to do with marking their dominance or to ease their anxiety – the latter in the case of the Princess, I suspect.

It’s not so hard to understand. We humans like to mark out our territory as well, if that can be defined as feeling accepted or fitting in. Perhaps the more direct, in-your-face approach of dogs, might not go down too well at the school gates or in a new job, but isn’t one of the purposes of life to leave our mark, whether we do it through our careers, our kids or our actions of philanthropy?

In terms of marking his territory socially, the old man has always claimed that he doesn’t need friends (or a wife for that matter) and after thirty years together, I tend to believe him. He has always been a Grinch when it comes to socializing, and it is only with some belated maturity and an increase in his whisky consumption that he has finally accepted his fate of being married to a try-hard socialite and the need to compromise.

It does pain me to know that he would be happier in an isolated world of golf on tv (and just about every other sport ever to grace the Foxtel sports package – ice-skating excluded), ready-made meals and a studio apartment.

He has a very different idea to me about what he judges as ‘fitting in’. I remember when we first moved to a small village in England, fifteen or so years ago, how he lived for the moment our local publican would finally welcome him by his first name each time he walked into the pub.

We all secretly crave some recognition or some meaning to our existence.

After two years in our current suburb – having doubled their turnover, I imagine – the owner of our favourite Japanese restaurant now welcomes the old man by his first name, and my husband, upon whose face a smile is rarely raised, struggles to conceal the satisfaction that brings him.

He has marked his territory in this world via his avid consumption of raw fish.

One of the great things about getting older is that marking new territory becomes less important. That may be due to a greater inner confidence and wisdom, or the serenity created from realising that no-one is indeed ‘better’ than us, or because we have less energy to go to every party we’re invited to because of the physical effects of ageing, anyway.

There is something very smug about reaching that point in our lives.

It’s when we finally find the confidence to let go of people we don’t fully connect with; to turn down invitations we know we’ve been invited to, solely to boost numbers; to not beat ourselves up when friends disappoint us, and instead calmly walk away; and to not feel disempowered by the success of our peers.

For the truth is, the only territory worth marking, the only tree worth pissing against, is the small tree whose trunk contains the people we truly care about and who truly care about us, whose branches bloom more colourfully with each year and whose roots deepen with age.

Happiness Is… A Handful Of Good Friends And Feeling Loved

Volkswagen Golf I red r
Volkswagen Golf I red r (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A British friend of mine, here in Sydney, was telling me the other day about how worried she is because she only has a handful of good friends in Australia.

So I asked her why that was such a problem exactly, because the older I become, the more I realise that to have a handful of good friends is a far superior position to be in than to have lots of friends.

That feeling was cemented on my recent trip back ‘home’; because when you migrate to the other side of the world, you work out very quickly who your ‘life’ friends are.

I didn’t waste any time during my two weeks in the UK and Paris. Every day was organized with a precision previously unknown to me in order to maximize that precious two weeks by myself, but I did have two main missions: to devote some much-needed time to myself, and to spend time with (most of) the people I really care about.

Luckily, the conditions for my trip were optimum. In contrast to the weather we’ve experienced in Sydney over the past few days, the weather in Europe was kind to this acclimatized POM who now considers a temperature of sixteen degrees the equivalent of the depth of winter – although admittedly, that was before I spotted a well-heeled man in Chelsea stroll comfortably down the Kings Road sporting pink cotton shorts and slippers in what must have been all of nine degrees.

And the little red diesel Golf that I hired did me proud as we burned our way from the south of England to the Midlands together, and I experienced moments of real pride in myself as I bombed down those motorways with not a care in the world and a sense of liberation that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I was quite sad to part with that foolhardy car at the end of the trip, although less sad to farewell London traffic, which is governed by unforgiving black cabs and fancy penis extensions.
Embed from Getty Images

But inevitably, the toughest part of any trip back to the homeland is seeing family and old friends, with the added responsibility of needing to appear fresh, entertaining and happy for each visit; to recount the same stories with the same fervour as the first time, and to pretend to enjoy every bottle of wine proffered.

Okay, so that wasn’t THAT hard!.

But it was also the best bit. We all need reminders sometimes that we are loved, whether it’s the unconditional kind from family, or the enduring connection with old friends. I hadn’t realized just how raw I had been feeling emotionally after the last two annus horribilis and the love and support of extended family and good friends, (the people I could talk to unashamedly, because they know me), was the perfect tonic.

Even better, I didn’t have to share that love like I usually have to with my kids, and could lap it up selfishly and keep it all to myself.

It reminded me of those weekends after we first had NC and were still reeling from the shock of parenting a new baby and took every opportunity to head back to the old man’s parents for reassurance, TLC and a much-needed break. While they worshipped our little bundle of joy, we were able to catch up on some precious shut-eye, good food and our own relationship.

You don’t need much in life to make you happy. All you need is some family and a handful of good friends. You need people who will love you unconditionally, no matter what your faults, who can make you laugh or listen when you need to cry.

But most importantly, you need people who value your relationship or friendship as much as you value theirs.

No matter how small that special handful of friends and family, they will be part of your life forever, even if you end up on the other side of the world.

Spa-ing With Your Mates

Spa-ing With Old Mates
Very serious ‘muffin top’ discussion in the hot tub

I’ve never been the spa-ing type, like I imagine the majority of middle-aged women would be, given the chance. The whole ‘beauty-thing’ has always bored me. It kills me to have to sit in a hairdresser’s chair for two hours of torture to get my hair coloured when I could be doing a myriad of far more stimulating things like watching Ellen or picking my toe nails.

Visiting a spa has always seemed like a particularly wasteful form of indulgence, when you could spend that money on important stuff like alcohol and new clothes.

Where is the fun and relaxation to be had in a place where drinking is frowned upon and you’re forced to expose your dry, floppy skin and hairy bits to other, more lithe, conditioned and judgmental bodies?

Which is why, when some old school friends suggested catching up over a spa day during my trip to England, I had to bring out my best method acting skills and feign enthusiasm, consoling myself that the company would make up for it.

My only experience of spa-life until that day was when NC and I visited one in Bali – mainly because it was cheap.

However, certain elements of the experience had left me traumatised and questioning its true appeal. Sharing a steam room with your teenage daughter, clad only in paper knickers, will test the most liberal of mother/daughter relationships; feet massages are probably only good for those who have a high tolerance to being tickled and when a massage turns out to be more of a violent pummelling, whose only appeal lay in the hope that I might lose some weight, the experience made me think twice about rebooking.

Spa-ing With Old Mates
My ability to look naturally attractive whatever the occasion, sometimes astounds me too.

My Pennyhill Park experience was very different, and I’m not saying that just because one of aforementioned bestest mate’s husband contributed a massage, lunch and glass of champers to the three of us out-of-shape, middle-aged women, who I’m sure he realised were far more interested in chit-chatting than having dead skin removed.

Pennyhilll Park is in Bagshot, Surrey, about 45 minutes out of London and if heaven exists, this is it. It is just so archetypally British in its British-ness, it almost hurt me to look at it, so homesick was I already feeling during that first week of my trip. It’s country house beauty reminded me of all those wonderful ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’ weddings I went to in the nineties; so inviting in its warmth and under-stated opulence.

The best part was that even though we were at a spa and impressively out of condition, we weren’t made to feel out of place, even if it was fairly obvious from the speed with which we downed our bubbly that our true vocation was less about improving our bodies and more about luxuriating in the company of good friends.

Our day began with lunch – a luscious quinoa and grilled chicken salad that did not resemble the nightmare I’d had the previous night about portion-sizes more suited to ants, and I nearly screamed with relief when I spotted the bread basket.

Lunch was followed by an unscheduled exercise class spent getting the quinoa out of our teeth before we were then hurried off to the massage rooms.

To be honest, I’ve always been terrified of the invasiveness of the massage, but all the masseurs at Pennyhill Park were charming, beautiful, young British girls with beautician bun reassuringly sat on the top of their beautiful heads and their perfect, pristine bodies adorned in the purest of white beauty power-suits.

I have to admit that one of the highlights for me was being able to walk around in my white towelling dressing-gown in public all day and without judgment – it was like being home-from-home.

Spa-ing With Old Mates
The best part was being allowed to wear your dressing gown all day without judgment.

However, once in the massage room (and in spite of my masseur’s attempts to make me feel relaxed), I still felt more than a twinge of awkie-ness when she instructed me to push my swimming costume down to my waist and wait for her on the bed – still unsure at that stage whether I had to lie face down or (horror or all horrors) face up, fully exposing the sad flaps of skin I once called breasts. Those few seconds of indecision reminded me of every visit to the gyny for anything vaginally-awkward when they tell you politely to remove your knickers and you stand there in shock for a few seconds, as your brain registers that yes you do have to take your knickers off to a complete stranger.

Just me, then?

Anyway, thirty minutes of gently exhilarating massage with yummy-smelling oils managed to relax me and there was even a moment when I forgot the embarrassment of when the masseur had commenced the massage and removed my last vestige of modesty – the protective sheet – yanked my cossie much further down my hips and revealed the top of my butt crack.

Rather her than me, I remember thinking.

Relaxed and feeling less coy about our middle-aged bodies, the three of us spent the remainder of the day as though we did that sort of thing every day, secretly delighting in childish frolics in every hot tub, never-ending gossips in the steam rooms, comparisons of muffin tops and stretch marks (mine won easily) and finally freezing our butts off in a spa that was weirdly located outdoors, where the temperature was about ten degrees – and I might be exaggerating there.

Towards the end of the day we rested our re-invigorated bodies on hot beds and caught up on the previous three years. Nothing has changed really, except our bodies. The kids are still challenging and we’re all still waiting for them to leave home, husbands continue to be disappointing and work is an ongoing irritant.

It’s just lucky that true friendships never change.

IF YOU EVER GET THE CHANCE TO VISIT HEAVEN EARLY, INFO ON PENNYHILL PARK CAN BE FOUND HERE.

 

What Do You Buy For Your Best Friend’s 50th Birthday?

I never really got the hang of how to be a good girl friend.

What do you buy for your best friend's 50th birthday?
Found on everylastdetailblog.com

I’m not trying to make excuses, but what a lot of my girl friends don’t realize is that I’m actually a male in the guise of a woman and I have a very black and white approach to life. I don’t believe in stereotyping but I’ve had to learn the special female skills like how to do small talk without looking for the nearest escape route, how to feign interest in other people’s lives and children, even when those kids are fugly, how to hug people when I greet them and how to be intuitively thoughtful.   I still fail miserably a lot of the time but there is some hope.   The 50th birthday round has begun in my social group and one of my best friends celebrated this monstrous milestone last week.   What the fuck do you buy for your best friend’s 50th birthday? The pressure felt immense. We’ve reached that age where we pretty much buy what we need, know what we like and don’t like and are intolerant of gifts that don’t quite hit the mark.   I also knew that this time I had to get it right. I don’t think she ever went on that pole-dancing course…   A more expensive piece of jewellery than the usual Witchery earrings was the obvious and easiest choice. It would have said what I needed it to say – that I recognized that this was a special birthday for her and that she is special to me (blah, blah, blah!). But the problem is that I have a serious overthinking problem when I shop. I’m a perfectionist and always have a particular design or colour in mind that is impossible to find unless you have the budget for a custom-made from Tiffany, and so I soon realised that the Holy Grail of jewellery that would suit my friend and the old man’s budget, just didn’t exist.   I went back to the drawing board. I researched handbags, ‘experiences’ and beauty therapies, which I knew she’d love – being a real woman and all that – but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.   So I gave her a bag of goodies instead.   But, special goodies. What I hoped was that my little bag of goodies would show some thought and appeal to our shared sense of humor, but best of all, give her more than one present to open!   You see, we’ve been friends for an eternity.

What do you buy for your best friend's 50th birthday?
Found on Pinterest.com. Originally from Anthropologie.

Twenty years to be precise, since NC (was so small that she hadn’t even started organizing me yet) and her son were nine months old to be exact, so even though I might still be incapable of picking the perfect necklace for her, because we’ve grown up together, over many wonderfully boozy evenings (in the days when we still thought we could change the world together), we’ve managed to work out the best things in life.   So that was my theme. I bought six gifts and numbered them as the things every woman needs in middle age.   In no particular order, they were:

  1. Good wine, shared with friends who know which wine hits your spot – in our case, a bottle of Scarborough Chardonnay (www.scarboroughwine.com.au)
  2. Something to keep you feeling sexy – the bigger the better! – if it had been me I would have gone straight for the Agent Provocateur but my friend is a little more classy so I picked some Elle ‘The Body’ McPherson boy-leg lacy briefs
  3. A hobby – my friend plays tennis so I bought her some tennis balls
  4. Beautiful jewellery – a pair of modern silver and pearl earrings
  5. Loads of cheese – she’s a cheese guzzler, this mate of mine, especially with a few Chardies inside her and I found this super-cute triangular cheese board from Salt and Pepper (www.saltandpepper.com.au). We do cheese together really well.
  6. Family – my friend lives by the beach and I found two really cute snow-globe-style photo frames with sand and small shells at the bottom and I put a photo of her with each of her children in each.

    What do you buy for your best friend's 50th birthday?
    Found on http://www.saltandpepper.com.au

Do you have any idea how hard it is to buy underwear for another woman – even one you think you know really well?   I admit that the organization of this gift was so uncharacteristically thoughtful for me I might have vommed cried a little as I wrapped up the pressies. She means a lot to me, this gal.   But surely that much attention to detail means I’m becoming more girly…even… growing up?   But before I finish, I must tell you about the last time I surprised this friend with a goodie bag. We were in our early thirties and I’m embarrassed to admit that I included a packet of Marlborough Lights in the bag back then. I’ll never forget that day because she was stuck at home on an uncharacteristically, stinky hot day in London with a baby with chicken pox, (that she had caught too), yet for some reason decided that a polka dot bikini would make an excellent fashion accessory.   Since then I have laughed hard many times with her.   The greatest gift she was given for her fiftieth birthday was a grandson, a few weeks before.   How far we’ve come.