Does Pain Make Life More Meaningful? How I Navigated The Shit Show That Was 2021

I have been sitting on this post for several weeks. Partly because I am struggling to write anything cohesive at the moment, and partly because I can’t make this a “things I was grateful for in 2021” post with which to wrap up the past year.

Not even the most optimistic blogger could reframe 2021 as a great year. Months of lockdown, fears about catching COVID, distance from family and friends, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness have ensured that the past twelve months were a shit show for many of us.

Girl leaning against tree looking empowered, resilient

The Australian government did a reasonable job of tackling the pandemic, but who knows what the real, longterm cost will be to our mental health and the economy. And it is terrifying to think about how many other important policies have been sidetracked to save us from this virus, not to mention their lacklustre approach to climate change, their ongoing lack of commitment to women’s issues, and the arrogance of our PM on the international stage.

But this isn’t a political blog and several personal challenges last year, that started with a serious health-scare in February, have been followed by a problematic transition into semi-retirement.

Did I really feel optimistic in January?

But we were in a different situation back then. Our family had just survived a lockdown Christmas and re-entered the world with the excitement of William Shatner on his descent back to earth, optimistic and eager to move onto the next phase of our lives.

So blinded was I by the excitement of what semi-retirement would bring me, I forgot that the finger of fate is always on the button and that it would take more than a fancy-pants new computer to fulfil my grandiose intentions of becoming the next Sally Rooney. Hence, when the emotional ramifications of the pandemic dried up my creative juices like a harsh summer in the Northern Territory and I couldn’t string even a few words together or achieve anything other than watching back-to-back episodes of New Amsterdam, the year started to unravel.

I wondered whether my lack of motivation was caused by menopause or if some greater force was at work

Was I suffering from a case of minor PTSD related to COVID, or had I simply underestimated the disparity between the expectations of retirement and the reality? Whatever the reason for my lethargy, my focus went out the window and I spent most of the year wandering aimlessly around the apartment.

The difficulties that some people experience during the infamous transition into retirement are well-documented, but in my defence, what the brochures fail to mention is that you don’t suddenly land in some nirvana after your last day at work. You still have to balance the books, care for those in need, and worry about the unknowns, currently under the permanent shadow of a pesky virus that appears to morph into something even scarier each time it mutates.

Then there’s the overthinking that accompanies your approaching mortality. I mean…don’t get me wrong, I am inordinately grateful to be still be here with a wealth of choices, but what has materialised so far will require some adaptation. For example: Having waited my whole adult life to implement a proper fitness routine, my body has conveniently decided to degenerate with the speed of light since I acquired my new gym membership.

And I’ve lost count of the number of conditions ending in itis I’ve suffered from this year, none of which I’d heard of before

But my biggest bete noire has been my preponderance to overthink. “Existential crisis” doesn’t cover the number of Camus moments I’ve experienced in my quest to work out exactly what my purpose is now. I have days when I feel guilty about not being productive enough and days when I feel guilty about taking on too much and not making the most of this wonderful privilege of free time. The only thing I have recognised is the underlying pressure to reinvent myself and redefine my purpose.

I would struggle to answer the question of what I do right now

Like most retirees, when people ask what I do, I bore the pants off them with how busy I am. And I am busy: I write a lot – although, very little worth publishing; I read and file a lot of research; I try to stay fit within the allowances of my degenerating body, and I attempt to live vicariously through the lives of my children – albeit, they don’t seem as keen on that idea.

But what am I actually achieving? And do I need to achieve anything?

My single accomplishment from this year’s shit show has been my clearer understanding that LIFE IS HARD for everyone, an acknowledgement that has carried me through many difficult moments and highlighted the importance of resilience to me again.

Fundamentally, I have always believed that resilience is the key to happiness but in the past I struggled with the in-egalitarianism of that idea, i.e., why some people (seemingly) sail through life whilst others struggle through no fault of their own.

I never quite understood the “pain makes you stronger” theory because I allowed the traumas of my childhood to define me. Unlike some people, I struggled to harness my pain and transform it into a strength. Instead, I chose to wallow in it, allowing it to weaken and control me.

I chose to be a victim

Unfortunately, victimhood has served as the perfect excuse for my inadequacies, my fragility, my tendency towards mild depression and my struggles with work and parenting. It makes sense that if your emotional battery has never been fully charged, you go flat much more quickly when faced with challenging life situations like parenting, relationship disharmony and rejection, which must increase your predisposition to mood disorders. And as I discovered recently, difficult transitions like middle age – when there is more time to overthink the meaning of life – can also be a trigger.

The struggles of people who have suffered trauma are valid – as proven by research into the longterm effects on their potential and mental health – but I’ve come to understand that being a victim is neither a healthy option nor a solution to my low moods.

So how do you stop the pain?

For years, I masked my low-grade depression with self-medication. I still do, to a degree. I had to, because despite my awareness that no one leads a charmed life, my anxiety-induced perfectionism and hypersensitivity ensured that the knocks hit me harder.

But this year, I had the time for an epiphany. Tired of wondering why the fuck I couldn’t enjoy what (by most standards) is a pretty good life, I spent the year experimenting with different strategies and medications – HRT in combo with my anti-depressants – in an attempt to change my outlook. I took the opportunity provided by COVID’s restrictions to rest, exercise harder and create boundaries in relationships that were becoming toxic. In brief, I sought a way to approach the rest of my life in a way that suits my brain.

I chose to live by two maxims:

1) “Life is shit and then you die”. Because when you expect the worst, (which you do when you suffer from anxiety), things can only get better;

2) And “Tomorrow is another day”. Because time does indeed move relentlessly forward and dwelling for too long on the unfairness and the absurdities of life is clearly a waste.

Now, I realise that to the optimist that those maxims sound ridiculously defeatist, but they work for me.

Which brings me back to the question of whether pain makes life more meaningful?

Maybe. I haven’t experienced life from the other side, so I suppose I will never know what might have been. What I will say categorically is that my pain has shaped me in many ways for the better despite my moans about the negative impact of my trauma. I believe the knocks have shaped me into a kinder, more compassionate person – if not a happier, stronger one.

The writer, Paul Bloom, an advocate of this theory, agrees. He says:

“Some degree of misery and suffering is essential to a rich and meaningful life.”

And I think he has a point. Maybe we do have to experience pain to understand our purpose here. The gift of semi-retirement has given me the time to look at my life more closely, to separate its different elements and compartmentalise. All those cliched strategies for people with depression – walking in nature, fortifying relationships with family and friends, standing up for my rights, and being more self-compassionate – have helped me develop more resilience and autonomy.

Anxious people like me place an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves to lead perfect lives and then, when they don’t succeed, they see themselves as failures. But as Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe’s points out in her article on Medium, though many of us may have come through the past twelve months without any outstanding achievements, we must remember that some of us have “fought different, less glamorous battles…clawed through {our} own darkness and now {we’re} standing in the light.”

Every year brings a mix of highs and lows, and good stuff did happen to me this year: I caught a potentially life-threatening Melanoma in time, I watched my children continue to grow with pride, I discovered what I can only describe as the spirituality of swimming in cold water, and I fell more deeply in love with my husband. I have also been fortunate to live in a democracy that provides a wonderful healthcare system and (for the most part) promotes values I agree with.

And so, I will leave you with one final, simple quote which I hope inspires you as much as it did me, or at the very least helps you reframe your pain if it is holding you back.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” Gratitude Addict

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash.

Isn’t It Funny How Our Priorities Change With Age?

The old man opened the vault last week. Last month was the first time he didn’t lose a ton of our money since he became an investor and it triggered un uncharacteristically generous response. Of course, I leapt at the opportunity to spend.

Photo from Sophie Elvis on

I’m sure I must have mentioned that we’ve owned our current sofas for almost twenty-two years? Or that our television is so old it doesn’t fit through modern doors and has to be turned off manually? And that our dining set is from IKEA, circa 1800, and I bought it with my first pay after Kurt was born?

According to the old man’s philosophy, the money we spend is about making my life as miserable as possible “financial choices” i.e. nothing to do with an appreciation for antiques or sentimentality, although I believe that it also has something to do with the old man’s natural parsimony, his complete disinterest in what our house looks like, and my uselessness with money – as in saving money. That’s why – and I am embarrassed to admit this – I relinquished joint control of our bank account a long time ago.

I know…bad feminist!

Anyway, unsurprisingly, furniture has never featured highly on his list of priorities (unlike top-of-the-range golf clubs and wasted memberships at gyms), so the deal he offered me last week – to purchase two sofas, some dining chairs, and a new tv for him – could have knocked me down with a feather.

There were a few conditions, OBVS: I had to pick the furniture within an hour; it had to meet the practicalities he deems important ie. the color had to be a practical shade of neutral because of the Princess’s habit of wiping her bum and her spaghetti mouth on them; and I was NOT TO GO OVER BUDGET.

Sometimes, it really is like he doesn’t even know me!

And, honestly, I can’t describe to you the anticipation both of us felt as we travelled to the mall like a proper, grown up couple going furniture shopping. Although, then again, this grown up business does seem to be becoming a bit of a habit, if you remember here.

Of course, his generosity in terms of patience in the furniture stores didn’t extend as far as the family wallet. He lasted all of five minutes in the first shop before he had his first tanty and I had to send him packing to the tv store, which brought back horrible memories of Hawaii and our lifetime ban from Avis. Which left me an hour – negotiated up from half an hour – to find the furniture we will most likely wee and die on, before he changed his mind.

And I did it. The furniture had been ordered and is due to arrive before Christmas, and I am …well …not nearly as excited about it as I thought I would be, as I admitted to Tightarse the other night.

‘So if what would excite you if you could buy anything?’ he asked me, stifling a yawn.

Well… not the material stuff, anymore. We are lucky, we have everything we need. No, these days what gets me really excited is the thought of giving, having new experiences, learning about new stuff, the luxury of time (if I have the option), being a part of social change, and er…food. The prospect of taking the kids out to dinner and giving them free range to pick what they want from the menu – even dessert; shoving $50 in their hand when they need it – because I remember how much we appreciated the gesture from my in-laws when we were hard up; travel, education, and the freedom to do exactly what I want. All of those things excite me more than plush new sofas that someone will spill red wine on the minute I’ve unwrapped them – although, needless to say, I still made sure they will arrive before Christmas, in time for the family visit from the UK.

Isn’t it funny how our priorities change with age?

What excites you now?

Middle Age Is About Making Important Choices

I knocked back some paid work last week. Not that we’re rolling in money and I can pick and choose the hours I want, but this time my choice was based on my health. I knew that working five days a week in three different fields would have undone all of the good I got from my holiday.

I know how lucky I am to have that option, but that’s because we have made choices about the way we live. We sold the family home and rent an apartment now, and the old man is we’re careful about what we spend. In the past, both of us have struggled with stress and anxiety – which have been exacerbated by our problems with Kurt – and so we are well aware of our limitations.

I believe fervently in the importance of recognising those when it comes to your mental health, particularly in middle age when menopause can trigger anxiety and reduce our tolerance for working with dickheads for someone else. Sometimes, when I listen to friends who constantly moan about their jobs – and who are fortunate to have those options – I want to shake them and ask them exactly what they’re waiting for?

I am aware that there are people out there – mostly self-employed – who love their work, and that perhaps my view sounds somewhat narrow-minded. But I learnt about the fragility of human life very early on, and I’m also fortunate that I can do some of my paid work from home.

Instead of working on those days I was asked to, I took my first dip in the ocean since the end of winter. I lay in the water like a pig in shit, looking up at the blue sky, and acknowledged how lucky I am. The water in Sydney doesn’t get higher than 24 degrees and it was predictably icy, i.e. enough to shock my body into questioning what the fuck I was doing. Nevertheless, it was clear, bathed in sunshine, and personally I can’t think of any better experience.

So I won’t be getting that new dining set to replace the one we’ve had for over twenty years, which is now so old it has come back into fashion – much to the old man’s delight. But I did experience another of life’s precious moments, and without being maudlin, who knows how many opportunities I’ve got left to do that.

Menopausal Mood Swings And Not Turning Into “That” Couple

Elderly couple sitting on bench in front of a view of the water.

There are weeks when we reach for the bikini briefs from our underwear drawer each morning, and others when we choose the big girl panties. There are weeks when we stop at the second cookie, and others when we devour the packet.

Life can be like that; a rollercoaster of emotions and ups and downs, with no real warning of how the next day will turn out. We are led to believe that the downs are a necessary part of growth and make us stronger, and yet it can be hard sometimes to embrace life lessons when we find ourselves permanently in the dips.

Menopause may contribute to those dips. Hormonal changes within our bodies make us vulnerable; they exacerbate our mood swings, diminishing our confidence. Some days it can be hard enough to get out of bed, let alone think clearly enough to make life-changing decisions that affect our future. 

Menopausal mood swings make PMT look like a walk in the park and the worst part is that they don’t stop after five to seven days. We never know quite how we’re going to feel each morning, and those disconcerting changes to our mental make-up – such as increased forgetfulness – can force us to second-guess ourselves. This is a period of our lives when we are coping with the passing and care of elderly parents, children leaving, downsizing – perhaps a terrifying sea change to another area – and changes to our work patterns and stability, and it can be easy to feel insecure and unsupported.

The topic of retirement or semi-retirement, (and more poignantly, WHEN we will be able to retire), is a subject that dominates conversation among my female friends. Most of us, independent of how successful our careers have been up to this point in our lives, have been ready to reduce our hours or work for ourselves (in an ideal world) for some time now. Sadly, few of us have the financial means. A reality that increases the anxiety of some women to such a level that they can find themselves reliant on anti-depressants to cope – or in the hands of dubious personal trainers. This, at a time when they should be reaping the rewards of empty-nesting.

There is a growing sense of frustration and restlessness about still being on the hamster wheel as the tiredness of age seeps into our bones, tempers and tolerance to dickheads. We feel compromised about still having to work for other people – often with no acknowledgment of the good job we are doing and that permanent, underlying fear of the consequences of ageism in the workplace.

A different headspace comes with the territory of middle age where our focus changes to freedom. No longer dazzled by the riches promised by work, (because we have a newfound sense of what is important), the dangling carrot is now the greater freedom to do what we want with whatever time we have left. How many times do we hear the story of the couple that worked hard all their lives for their retirement, for one of them to fall sick at the start of it?

Don’t be that couple.

Why Glastonbury Is Not On My Bucket List

One thing that won’t make my bucket list – and I can say this with a certainty – is going to an outdoor music festival again. While I have the utmost respect for those fifty-somethings that decide that outdoor music festivals such as Glastonbury will make them feel young again, the idea that trawling through mud and the great unwashed (for even a couple of days) is fun, is completely unfathomable to me. audience-868074_1920


Looking through the photos of the fashionistas at Glastonbury and Coachella and the Australian equivalent, Splendor, I rather see myself as Sienna Miller, colored gum boots, cut-off shorts and cowboy hat, swilling my beer from a bottle as I watch bands that I have only a vague chance of recognizing – and I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted.


And then I remember the toilet situation.


To be honest, the only time I’ve come close to venturing anywhere close to an outdoor music event in the past ten years was at Opera in the Domain last year – the only reasons being the toilets at the local pub and its duration of only two hours. No sinking in mud, so crowd-surfing, no old man on my shoulders so that he could see, while I sniffed the armpits of the tall guy in front of me, and as we sat in the semi-comfort of our beach chairs, gourmet picnic spread in front of us, not an aging hippie in sight, I could relax in the knowledge that we were going home to our own beds that night.


The mosh pit idea is an interesting concept, whereby you pay the same money to stand amongst the crazies forced into the public by government cuts, and unless you give up your pre-drinks, there is no guarantee that you will be any closer to the band. I run a risk assessment before I buy tickets to any gig these days and my strict rules include a capacity no larger than two thousand and ample seating with clear exits to bathrooms. After a horrendous experience in the Coldplay mosh pit a few years ago, where the tallest man in Australia, (who happened to be visiting Sydney at the time), stood in front of me for the duration of Chris’ singing, thereby blocking my exit to the bathroom and the bar and pushing me in front of the path of a giant out-of-control balloon, there’s no going back.


We are not a family that roughs it or camps. You might think that from a financial perspective, the idea would be the old man’s idea of heaven, but even before children, the concept of communal bathrooms, roaming wildlife, having to cook for ourselves on holiday and eating off plastic crockery seemed very unappealing.


I am still scarred from Brownie camps with latrines and my therapist continues to work with me on long-term issues relating to a school biology field trip to the Lake District, that my brain has completely blocked out.


The one and only time we did go camping, I was awoken by the old man on the first morning, the tent and children already packed away in the car, as he released the valve on my airbed.


‘We can tick off camping,’ he said through gritted teeth. The tent and hundreds of dollars of equipment were on Gumtree that same week.


You can “glamp” at Glastonbury now, and there is even a pop-up hotel…OR… you can watch the festival on television from the comfort of your sofa. If anyone has seen the movie, “Bridget Jones Baby”, don’t  think that her stay in a safari tent had anything to do with fun or recapturing her youth: what it had, was everything to do with McDreamy in the vicinity, and even I might camp for a piece of that. Kind of reminds me of how much golf I used to play when the old man and I were courting…  Starting at around $1400, the tents are hardly competitively priced when you consider the four solid walls to be found in hotels to segregate you from the hippie riff raff, the offer of WIFI and the kettle and tea bags in your room.


No, Glastonbury will not be on my bucket list. It will be added to my ‘I’d rather fucking die right now’ list, along with skydiving, ice bars and swimming with sharks.

A Tree Change For Your Act 3?

I’d never heard of the expression “tree change” before some brave friends of our did exactly that and moved six hours north of Sydney to the foothills of a beautiful inland town called Bellingen. 

When you go for a dip and someone’s playing a f**king didgeridoo.


Tree changes are a real thing and another retirement option when we reach this middle stage of life with a limited amount of time left to get it right and find the secret to happiness and a better lifestyle. It’s inevitable that as the kids step closer to independence, our priorities change and the draw of freedom away from the ongoing constraints of city life becomes harder to ignore.


As opposed to a sea-change, a “tree change” is favoured by ‘thousands of Australians who are ditching the hectic city life in favour of a more relaxed pace in the country’s regional and rural towns. Housing affordability and a yearning for greater work/life balance sees many Aussie couples and families make such a tree change and reap the many benefits of flexible work arrangements. Better connectivity through technology and improved infrastructure enables them to work from home more, have a faster commute, or set up their own home-based businesses.’ (


Christmas markets in Bellingen

The old man and I talk endlessly about what he has termed our Act 3, because even though we don’t voice it, as non-believers we know we are approaching the final chapter of our lives, and we don’t want to f**k it up. Each argument discussion takes us one step closer to some clarity about what each of us want once those halcyon days finally arrive and we’re free to put ourselves first again.


So far, here’s what we agree on:


  • Neither of us want to be consummate travellers, and certainly not with each other, because history has proven that the combination of Mr and Mrs Anxiety on any form of transport where we are not at the controls is a recipe for disaster.


  • We came to Australia for a beach life and both of us find our peace by the water. The fluctuating temperature of my menopausal body means I need cool water close by if the old man is to have any chance of surviving our Act 3.


  • In reality, we did our sea change eleven years ago, when we first moved to Australia and I’m feeling jaded from starting over, so I want to remain in the environs of Sydney and downsize to a shoebox to save costs if we have to. I’ve had to reinvent myself and make new friends so many times, I don’t even know who I am anymore.


The problem is:


  • The old man’s plans involve locking himself away from society, preferably in a man shed with WIFI, where he can watch sport all day, live on a diet of Twisties, and only has to make limited conversation with his chosen canine companions.


Evidently, there are some things that still need to be worked out.


Our friends in Bellingen wanted a lifestyle change and bought “Moo River Farm” impulsively, set on 45 acres, which handily came with a house and an old dairy on it. They live in the house and have converted The Dairy into a sumptuous holiday cabin, sustainably, using local salvage. Their eye for design and detail is written all over The Dairy, from the romance of its four poster bed with mosquito net and bedsides made from local milk urns, to the copper sink in the en suite with taps formed from gas pipes. The house offers a restful, rustic decor in keeping with its surroundings and infused with touches of its local history.

When The Princess forget she wasn’t a farm dog and had to be saved by dad.


Lush, green pastures are fed by a river that winds its way through the land. Committed vegetarians, (information they’ve been forced to conceal from their new farming buddies), they intend to grow their own food as well as small crops, such as garlic and macadamia nuts, which they will sell at the local markets. Animal life is abundant on the farm, and they exude a quiet confidence, safe in the knowledge that there’s no danger of them becoming sustenance. Pets that roam the land include dogs, chickens, cows and horses as well as the sort of wildlife Australia is famous for, I imagine, the kind that we refrain from bragging about on tourism sites.


Inevitably, it’s hard work to make money out of any new venture, and takes a huge amount of enthusiasm and passion to start over again at this time of our lives; but nowhere more so than on the land and in what can be an unforgiving climate. Although physically challenging, the change in our friends’ lifestyle and the way in which their world has already slowed down to the pace of their environment is evident, and it has fired up their interest and increased their knowledge about how to protect the environment; knowledge that they are passionate to share.


Now I’m not one to blatantly plug products on this site, but if you fancy a taster of this kind of lifestyle, you can find The Dairy at their website (here), or on airbnb, and trust me, the minute you enter this property, all the stresses of modern living evaporate and your heart rate quickly acclimatises to the slower, healthier rhythm of the streams close by… and you will lose weight…or maybe not.


Moo River Farm is a retreat of sorts, but far from cut off from civilisation. With a wealth of nearby water holes for dips on those HOT AF days, there is also the buzzing town of Bellingen to explore, offering an array of community-based activities, live music, a monthly market, boutique shopping, and a plethora of wonderful restaurants dedicated to healthy-eating foodies.


A green paradise, in contrast to the ocean paradise of a sea-change, a tree change would afford the old man the sort of privacy he aspires to, yet it would be close enough to a thriving community to give me the sense of belonging I would need to put up with him.


More food for thought.


Retirement: Sea Change Or No Change

It feels like we’ve been planning our retirement our whole lives, yet now as we inch closer to our target, the old man and I have realised that the dreams we shared in our early years together may have changed. ball-2517_1280

I thought that my aspirations would centre around little more than long lunches at the golf club, beach walks, getting my hair tinted and dabbling in oil painting in my artist’s studio. However, this week’s beach holiday, whilst supremely relaxing, has highlighted how aimless I can become without routine and with limited Internet.


I’ve discovered the middle-aged body’s propensity for sleep when you have nothing tangible with which to fill your day and I can see myself slipping quite naturally into the cozy vacuum of retirement where a game of lawn bowls becomes the week’s entertainment. Just like dogs that are left at home while their owners work, I can already sleep on command and it’s becoming an effort to lower my tired body into my beach chair, hoist up the umbrella and slip, slop, slap more cream into my leathery skin each day.


In fact I’m so busy sleeping that the charge on my creative battery seems to have died and the only conversation I’m capable of is to quip back at Kurt’s barbed comments about why we dragged the poor kid away to this isolated detention centre where he can only get two bars on his phone.


I’m also fairly certain that my walks along the shoreline don’t fully compensate for the generous lunches that are somehow okay on holiday, or that they will they keep the extra kilos of contentment at bay.


Needless to say, the old man and I have been inspired to waste hours discussing and planning a sea change. The rediscovery of this gorgeous, un-spoilt little haven on the North Cost of New South Wales with its cluster of beautiful beaches edging the coastline has re-ignited our enthusiasm for an adventure or lifestyle change, perhaps a year out to commence Act 3 of our lives (more about that in another post) – for me to concentrate on my writing and for him to continue to pretend to work, like he does in Sydney.


And as I listen to the waves lap outside our window at night and pad through metres of hot sand by day, the tingle of salt on my skin and the wind in my hair makes the thought of escape tempting, to become anonymous and closer to nature.


Or perhaps not. Because what those discussions have made us realise is that our plans for Act 3 have unknowingly evolved over the intervening years and revolve less around relaxation and mocktails now and more around grabbing whatever time we have left by the balls.


And a sea change would involve more than a three-hour drive from everything we know and hold dear to us, like the pub that serves my favourite wine and the old man’s kebab shop. It would mean pushing the chicks out of the nest before I suspect they are ready to fly.


And although there are times – last night being one of them – when I would dearly love the kids to fuck off…or should I say transition to the role of “welcome visitors” rather than the freeloaders that they are, and that it’s almost time to force the them to stand on their own two feet and embrace the independence we’ve prepared them for (if we’ve done our job right), Kurt is nowhere near ready, and in all honesty, neither am I.


Anyway, I’ve read far too many articles about what is really important to people on their death beds and it’s never the “two-for-one Chicken Parmigiana with free glass of wine” at the local golf club on a Monday night.


How The Conversation Changes With Middle Age

My pet peeve, aside from slow swimmers and water waders hogging up the fast lane at my local pool, is when I go to a dinner party and no-one asks me about my job… or indeed anything about me. restaurant-690975_1280


This has happened throughout my adulthood, since the very first time I was invited to my first grown-up lasagne and garlic bread dinner party back in the eighties.


The old man was always asked.


Its not that I’m self-obsessed, (well, perhaps a little), or do anything that is spectacularly interesting – although my job, I would argue, is far more appealing than the old man’s profession as a *yawn* accountant prior to his fall to middle-aged layabout, it’s the assumption that either: I don’t work, hence have nothing to offer conversationally unless it’s about my children or my organic veggie patch; that my career is not interesting enough to warrant attention; or that women’s chit chat is less valuable than that of the opposite sex. ie. a gender thing that if men get close to could give them a world of regret.


Don’t panic, it’s a little too soon since my last post (here) to climb back onto the feminist soapbox again, but why do I always feel like I have to initiate conversation and pose the questions the keep the conversation going?


When will someone ask me about anything other than my children?


What, apart from sport and a few comments about the state of the stock market and the horror that is Trump, do men talk about? Nothing wildly interesting in my experience.


The majority of them refuse to even pretend to have opinions on the sort of stuff they believe women are interested in, which is fair enough. Dare to mention fashion, cosmetics or interiors, and watch their eyes glaze over. But women can contribute to conversations about politics, honest! We do have the vote now, and some of us even have opinions; if push comes to shove I can even bluff my way through a five minute review of the Olympics or some recent golf tournament without sending myself to sleep.


So what other common ground is there for conversation between men and women once they reach middle age? Unsurprisingly, retirement and health are popular topics. Then there’s the question of how much longer we will have to work, what we’re going to do once we retire, where we can afford to downsize and how much longer we can stand working for our bosses? Because it becomes very difficult to work for anyone once you become a know-it-all – a character trait many among us in this age group share.


Then there’s the age-old question of when the kids are going to finally fuck off, I mean …become self-sufficient enough to leave home so that we can actually consider retirement? Our own parents health? Whether our knees can withstand another ski season and where our future holidays will be? The general consensus being closer to home because even though we all expected to travel the world once we retired, many of us have become a tad anxious about flying, and then there’s the whole leg-room issue.


Compare this to what we we used to talk about in our twenties and thirties, when we’d brag about our drinking prowess, whereas now we moan about how much our tolerance to alcohol has slipped and how much drinking so much water affects our bladders at night. We’d recount stories such as the one about how much we drank that night we got so pissed we ended up playing dead in the middle of the motorway while we waited for the petrol station to open to get some fags.We discussed work and who was banging who in the office, which band was playing where and where the cool new shops and hip new restaurants had opened.


The problem is, we don’t have the energy to do much more than watch Netflix series these days after a day at work, we’re too fat for cool clothes, far too comfortable on the sofa and we can’t eat out much due to bloating, anyway.


Remember how we used to get excited about where we’d be in twenty years?


Hey, wasn’t that because we were supposed to be retired now?


And how we’d talk about what we’d name our children – although I’m sure ‘critter’ and ‘waste of space’ didn’t cross our minds back then.


I suppose we don’t talk about our career aspirations anymore because we have the wisdom to know now that they don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, because in reality many of us are working to live now whilst fervently praying that some day we’ll discover the secret to get out of the rat race early.


But then that involves the kids leaving home, doesn’t it?


And so we pour ourselves another glass of sparkling water and get back to joint pain.




The Importance of Family Relationships: In Memory of Ken

It was a very sad day in our house the day we had to retire Ken.

English: Barbie Portrait
English: Barbie Portrait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ken had been with us for nearly five years and for the first four years he had done a fantastic job. Although his position in the family was beneath the Spoodle Princess in the family pecking order (at her insistence), he was nevertheless a well-loved and respected member of our family.

We had a lot of laughs with Ken. Like the time he was trying to take us home from the Central Coast and thought we could somehow swim across the ocean or that time where he completely freaked out in Parramatta and we were all concerned for our lives.

Everyone has bad days.

But then he started to get older, to slow down, to lose his faculties. Ken became middle-aged. He would take longer to wake up in the morning, to be ready for work on time, and you could easily find yourself heading to the opposite end of the country before Ken realised.

Ken was our first GPS.

I remember the first day Ken came to us and we hadn’t realised at that point that we could actually choose the personality of our GPS, rather like picking the sex of your child. So being the risk-takers that we’re not, we obviously opted for the safe option of the British voice. It was only when we realized that we couldn’t understand a bloody word that he said that we switched to good old Aussie, Ken – it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made as a family. Ken made us realize that we had truly settled into Australian life.

And Ken never let us down. No matter how often I tried to confuse him by ignoring his instructions or disorientated him, he always got me back on track and ultimately home.

We forgave him his mistakes. You could never stay angry with Ken for long – even the times when he adamantly insisted on taking us over the Harbour Bridge (incurring a $4 charge each time), when we could have come off much earlier to get home.

He could make some frankly ridiculous suggestions in times of stress, just to get himself out of trouble. I could be in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel for instance and he would suddenly tell me to ‘turn around where possible’ in that calm voice of his, while I would be hyperventilating behind the wheel.

The problems really started when we moved to the city. I hadn’t realised how much Ken obviously loved the slower pace of life on the Northern Beaches – I didn’t know that he was such a ‘suburban GPS’ until we moved.  He never got flustered in the generous, wide streets of our old suburb, where you could park anywhere, but when we introduced Ken to rush-hour city traffic, he just couldn’t cope. He started stuttering and repeating himself –  basically he had a minor breakdown – the stress of city life was just too much for his mild-mannered, middle-aged temperament.

Ken was simply too old to cope with change.

But while it was glaringly obvious that he couldn’t cope, we let him stay on out of love and respect. It was only when he directed me to Canberra one day when I had set his destination as Canberra Street that I understood that we would have to replace him. I needed someone I could rely on, after all, having the navigational sense of a blind person behind the wheel.

And so Barbie joined the family.

We have told Ken that he is now in a 2IC position and have retired him to the glove compartment, where he is happy. He really liked the watch. He will remain there just in case I get truly f*cked navigationally, (if Barbie gets her period or something).

My decision to hire Barbie has nothing to do with my new feminism, but in terms of quotas, it just felt right. Despite her name, Barbie is more Lady Penelope than brassy poster-girl teen. She is posher than the Queen if that’s possible, and she has the most ridiculous pronunciation for Australian suburbs and roads that I have ever heard. When we went to Pymble the other day, she kept talking about Pimeball and we kept re-routing her, thinking her settings were wrong.

Judgment is still out on Barbie. Her skill-set is a little more advanced than Ken’s and the changes have taken some getting used to, especially when you’re behind the wheel of the car and trying to eat, drink, argue and manage fights all at the same time as interpreting her ridiculous accent. I sense she’s not as patient as Ken and I am obviously wondering how PMS will affect her.

We’ve told her she’s on a three-month probationary period but if she successfully gets us to Thredbo this week without us throwing one of the teens out of the car en route, she will have earned her place in the family.

The dysfunctional family is heading off for a week of arguments and mayhem in the mountains this week. None of us want to go – obviously. I won’t be able to blog due to the wine consumption necessary to stay sane in the mountains but if you want to keep up with our shenanigans, make sure you like my Facebook page here

I Bet Tiger Woods Doesn’t Need A Retirement Plan

We’re determined not to slum it in our retirement. When you marry an accountant, you save to the grave.

And when one of those spanking new, schmick, over 55 apartments goes up in our neighbourhood, the old man and I start frothing at the mouth like rabid dogs.

We’ve been saving for our retirement our whole life. While all our mates were splashing their cash on fabulous Caribbean holidays, sky-high mortgages and recreational drugs, we were surreptitiously saving. Smugly. But with the Greek-effect on property, there’s an air of uncertainty that our precious nest egg may not be Ostrich-sized after all, and the ‘timeless elegance, sandstone pillars, handrails on every wall and panic button in every toilet’, might be just out of reach.

Maybe retirement is over-rated after all, or a myth as perpetrated by the doom-and-gloom tabloids.

Having retirement as our ‘life goal’ is no doubt considered foolish by some. But after years of soul searching, tinkering with sea and career changes in search of that balance between ‘quality’ of life and ‘standard of living’, we’ve arrived at the same nirvana. To ‘work our bollocks off and retire early’.

Our retirement plan has been modified a gazillion times. I bet Tiger Woods doesn’t need to modify his.

It has been the source of Friday night banter/ferocious debate, since we first had kids and our social life ended. ‘Friday night potential’ should be bottled and sold.

Some Fridays we’re touring Australia in an old graffitied combi van, the next we’re circumnavigating the world via catamaran. We’ve been philanthropists in Africa and hedonists in New York, but the ideal has remained the same.

The dream is to rediscover who we were, without life’s interruptions. No clocks, no routine, no conventions, no-one to answer to. Once upon a time, the fire in our bellies burned with ambition; it now burns with freedom’s potential.

But is retirement over-rated? For no matter how you spin it, no matter how secure the gated community looks, or how green the grass, you’re still fundamentally too old to enjoy all the things you’ve dreamed about for the last forty years. Old bodies, addled brains and the memory skills of an ADHD kid, may simply not be synonymous with an ‘active’ wish list.

And then there’s the boredom issue.

The old man refuses to acknowledge boredom as an ‘issue’ in his /our retirement. I’m not certain our common bond of kids and Penfolds is enough to sustain us?

Like Tiger, the old man is aspiring to play a lot of golf in his retirement too.

So how will I fill my days out in the pasture while he’s on the course? What happens when the initial jubilation of being permanently on holiday begins to wane?

Routine can’t be the answer; that would be anathema to the newbie retiree, who’s spent forty odd years fantasizing about breaking down the walls?

Once we’ve booted the progeny out of the nest, will we really be expected to change the habits of a marriage and do things together, like we used to before ‘effort’ became a dirty word?

His daily schedule will no doubt change. To be considered a serious golfing twat, he will need  to sink thirty-six balls a day, wear very silly long socks and develop a taste for Cuban cigars. I can picture him now, dribbling on the orthopaedic mattress between rounds, in our manicured ivory tower.

He can be Tiger’s bitch.

But if we do have to cut our cloth accordingly, and if ‘the egg’ turns out to be disappointingly quail-sized, how will I fuel my mojo if I don’t have the financial means to bitch with the girls over skim caps and Margaritas?

A vocal embargo will be enforced, once his new best friends are Ted the green keeper and his nine iron. And as my brain could atrophy, if it’s under-utilised, I will need access to some intellectual input beyond Fashion Police, OK Magazine and Masterchef.

We’ll need a routine, a plan, new parameters. We’ll need to learn how to compromise. There are only so many times the kitchen cupboards can be reorganised, the oak handrails polished. Stuck in the tower, there won’t be ‘days off’ to look forward to, jobs to moan about and impossible bosses to badmouth. They’ll be little social interaction beyond the antique white walls and Facebook.

Separate bedrooms are non-negotiable because we’ll need our space; separate hobbies and lives have worked so far. An escape plan could be as important as the retirement plan.

He owes me something. Please don’t let him let me get to the stage of forgetting to pluck my eyebrows, or thinking that elasticated-waisted trousers, blue hair, matching sun hats or socks with sandals look really cool. Please don’t let him think that Viagra is the answer. Flat shoes are already becoming more than a passing fascination. The slope is slippery.

The only thing we’re likely to come together on is our secret fear; the fear of the kids coming back.

Or maybe…….

I’ll unexpectedly catch his eye one day and remember that handsome and shy sixteen-year-old boy who somehow found the courage to invite me out for coffee all those years ago.  And I’ll be glad we made it to retirement, togevver. Even if we do end up ‘slumming it’.

Unlikely though……

Our Bus courtesy of vdub victim at

Retirement Plan courtesy of s_falkow at

Midlife Mayhem – Am I A Hypochondriac Or Just Getting Old?

The subject matter of good dinner party chitchat has found a disturbing niche, now that we’ve hit our forties. Although ‘life was supposed to begin’ at this stage of our lives, we seem to be stuck at the ‘recognition of our own mortality’ roadblock far earlier than we anticipated. Whereas in my twenties we used to wax lyrical about alcohol consumption, sexual prowess and the female orgasm (apparently they were mutually compatible then), and in our thirties we circum-navigated career goals, marriage and babies, discussions these days seem to have stagnated around our health, or lack of it. I blame all those self-righteous health magazines and the Internet for our health obsession, but maybe it is just another symptom of the ‘midlife crisis’.

The ‘midlife’ alarm seems to resonate somewhere between your late thirties and mid forties, and serves as a reminder that you’ve reached the ‘half time’ point in your life and there’s not much time left to score some real goals. For some, those goals might be a new philosophy of life (Madonna and Kabbalah?) and for others they might involve a sea change. But at this stage in the game of life, sometimes your fitness doesn’t necessarily live up to your promise. It is a worrying indictment of our age group that in our circle of friends, more people take Statins these days, than drink alcohol.

Take my own health. Over the past six weeks, I have experienced debilitating lower back pain (I’m guessing it’s NOT a sports injury), the cold virus, severe toothache and the monthly peri-menopausal utopia caused by my female reproductive zone being forced into retirement. The old man’s sympathy has extended to ‘you’re getting old’ when I’ve sought comfort, whereas I suspect that I could be the first human, still walking, to suffer from cancer of every major organ. All other ailments aside, I am obviously suffering from mild hypochondriasis.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I have been assigned the ‘time-waster’ label by my GP, although, contrary to popular opinion, this hypochondriac is rarely spotted at the surgery. Consulting a doctor is a double-edged sword – if I go, she might tell me there’s nothing wrong with me (when I know that there is) and if I don’t go, and there is something wrong with me, I’m going to die anyway. A visit will have been precipitated by the ‘doom and gloom’ of self-diagnosis on the Internet, and the standard appointment time invariably stretches to double time as my telephone book of unrelated symptoms are analyzed. All roads lead to cancer when you pump a symptom into Google. 

There was a time, before cancer began ravaging acquaintances and freaking the rest of us out, and when it was fun to smoke, drink heavily and consume vats of any ‘type’ of fat, that conversation at the dinner table covered world politics, the career vs children conundrum or religion. But these days, world news has lost its x factor in comparison to the anguish caused by faulty bodily functions. ‘Man talk’ now encompasses ‘piles’, ‘wind’, and ‘bloating’, while ‘girl talk’ dissects issues of ‘bone density’, ‘vitamin supplements’, and ‘muscle mass’. Can someone explain to me how, scientifically, you can still put on weight when both your muscle mass and your bone density are decreasing? You might want to note that we’re saving ‘death’, ‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘loss of sexual libido’ for our fifties and sixties.

So if I’m not really ill, why do I spend more on health than retail therapy and possess the energy levels of a dying battery? My svelte, septuagenarian next-door neighbour is still surfing, so maybe my physical well-being is being compromised by a poor mental outlook to aging, and my dwindling estrogen is not the culprit after all?

In one of his more lucid moments (Friday night; 2/3 of a bottle of Penfolds, Bin 28), the old man compared retirement to Buddhism. Apparently, once you retire you stop worrying about premature death because your philosophy of life changes and you finally appreciate that it is a positive state of mind that brings happiness, not wealth. Retirement, (and the reason our neighbor is a living advertisement for Viagra), provides the luxury of free time, time to focus on happiness and make yourself that ‘better’ person you always dreamed of being, physically and mentally, rather than focusing on what is missing, when you are a small cog in the large wheel of the rat race.

Hypochondriasis is ‘health anxiety’ in disguise and it’s pretty common for us midlifers. It is a bonafide illness and we can seek help for it; middle age is not, unfortunately.

Dinner Party from courtesy of Alastair R

The 7 Gals of Menopause (back) from courtesy of HA! Designs – Artbyheather