Reflections on a surprising year!

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Birds of a feather celebrate together!

Happy holidays!

Somehow after my trip overseas I lost the impetus to write the blog and then, as they say, life took over. So now I am trying to reflect on what has happened during the year and continue my musings on aging and so on!

Let’s go back to mid – year!

My brilliant holiday in the UK served to consolidate what I had always known, that friends are the foundation of my life. Yes, I know it’s meant to be family but for myself I understand that it is the continuing circle of friends that has supported, guided and nurtured me

Being able to reconnect and ‘play’ together again was a rare treat and we lived up to our reputation of geriatric hippies! What fun we had visiting places old and new and of course reminiscing. From a wacky trip to the Isle of Wight to the peace of a Dorset village I saw England in a soft rose light, removing some of my greyer memories.

Of course none of us have aged, we baby boomers don’t know how to spell that word let alone how to act grown up and, while most of us are not working anymore, the word retirement does not appear in our lexicon.

Coming back to SA was also a small shock to the system as I, as of end May, had joined the ranks of the ‘at large’ group! What you may well ask is that? New word for semi -retired and one which made me feel at least a bit disciplined, purposeful and retained my identity! A few wobblies later I have in fact adjusted to more free time selecting things I want to do. Saying no has been soooo much easier. And of course the universe was preparing me for a new ‘project’.

With rehearsals for a play as I touched ground I was in for a busy time coaxing my brain to remember lines and moves. That and some radio and NPO work was going to keep me off the streets. Never use the word pensioner in my company!

As usual I threw myself into these activities and then there I was minding my own business when a phone call changed my routine for the next few months!

My ex- husband had been attacked n his garden, found a day later by a friend and taken to hospital. The friend, who naturally did not feel it was his responsibility, then did a search for me and alerted me to the situation. Peter and I parted 11 years ago, divorced for 6 years and no communication. My life has moved on and I am truly happy

However in a situation like this there are no conscious thought processes…. Get up and go and see what you need to do. 27 years spent with him and knowing him for 40+ years does not absolve one of some empathy even though many would disagree. I suppose a subject for discussion and debate.

Some five months later we are seeing the light! His best friend Ernst and myself took on the responsibilty of handling his affairs and ensuring that he is cared for. In a nutshell, the attack led to hospitalisation, recuperation and the understanding that Peter was no longer able to care for himself. We were able to get him into an old age home where many of his contemporaries live and then get his son out from Switzerland to sanction what we were doing…

Simple and practical solutions for the man’ s wellbeing. Or so it seemed…

The day of his son’s arrival Peter developed 2 brain bleeds, back to hospital and 3 operations later and a 6 week stint in hospital and he is finally back in the OAH, a tired and confused man! With the diagnosed beginning of dementia what these brain bleeds have done to exacerbate his condition I don’t know but he is frail and introverted and needs constant care

So it’s been an interesting time of clearing a house of the detritus of 30 years, putting it on the market, hospital visits and generally trying to put oneself into someone else’s frame of reference and remain patient when confusion intrudes and memory fails.

Clearing the house was rather a rollercoaster. Nothing had been moved since I had left and it was this that alerted us to Peter’s real state of mind. The house was a mess, the garden a tip and around the pool – an accident waiting to happen. Sad and scary

Communication is the key. Not isolating yourself and remaining active and putting some systems into place seems to be the answer – leaving keys with friends and so on. We all think it will never happen to us and it just shows that life can change in a moment!

In between all of this I have assisted in stage managing that most wonderfully energetic farce Noise Off. Our local community theatre is very active and has some extraordinary talent and what fun we’ve had. From finding sardines as props to changing sets in front of the audience we have had a huge amount of laughs and made new friends

And now the end of year looms and all the festivities associated with Christmas and the holidays. It is a time of year that can be so lonely for so many so I am really grateful for the friends that I regularly spend the holidays with.

It seems that this has been a year of lessons and never mind easing into retirement – I seem to have lurched into this next chapter which I suppose is an analogy of my life.

And now for the best present that I could ever have – I have had my cataracts removed and permanent lenses put in so that for the first time in my life I do not need glasses or contact lenses…modern technology!!!!

The perfect Christmas/70th birthday gift …I am now able to see clearly in the mirror (a bit of a shock to see the wrinkles!) and everything is so sharp and crystal clear as I gaze around me.

I can now see a world without blurred edges and it has given me a new perspective on my surroundings.

The end of the old and the beginning of the new , and so we prepare for 2016. What this year will bring who knows, hopefully the turbulent economy and politics of this lovely country will settle down, the rand will be less Mickey Mouse and all of my friends and family will prosper and be happy!

Thank you for sharing my space and now I really need to get my writing boots back on for the coming year and be a regular correspondent!

 

 

Travelling to the past

(May 15) Well here I am at Frankfurt Airport with the last leg of my trip to London in front of me. I have had the good fortune of travelling almost every year since 1978 so the vagaries of airlines, airports and flight schedules don’t phase me too much. In fact being older seems to be easier as one knows what to expect. My amazement is always the number of people travelling and the size of the airports. In ’78 Cape Town was this tiny airport with a couple of buildings spanning domestic and international. Now it is a sprawling commercial hub where you could go simply to shop and soak up the traveller’s excitement and travel vicariously through the masses of people moving through. What never ceases to amaze me is the size, a testament to our growth and how important tourism is for our country.

But airports are fairly boring- they are simply a stepping stone to our final destination, which this time for me is the UK. I left 46 years ago and while it is no longer home, the familiarity is very comforting, language, people, places. Each time I visit I see it with fresh eyes and that in itself makes the trip another adventure. What prompted me to come here rather than visit newer destinations was the birth of a new great – nephew and my sense of family has become stronger over the years. What a reversal!

As a 22 yearold escape was my motivation – anything, preferably, 6000 miles of distance, to ensure there was no family influence. Now, with the years in between having ebbed and flowed in the river of life,  it is connection rather than imposition that I seek, and a small sharing of our history and future.

Later: Arriving at Heathrow and the joy of meeting a new member of the family! Family units are so different from when we were young. Then we were surrounded (suffocated sometimes) by cousins, aunts and, uncles, but now we are spread across the world and  family units are small and tight and incredibly self sufficient. Not lonely but so different, as friends provide the support which once family did. And more often with an unbiased view.

So meeting my great nephew Joshua and chatting with Jeannie, my niece was a one on one expereince, fully focused and honest. Different to the old days of family get-togethers when you struggled to get a word in sideways.,

This is the time then, as an elder, to share the stories of families past and allow this younger generation a glimpse of how we lived and who we were. A chance for them to see their roots and pass stories on to the new generation.

To travel through past times to meet the present.

Booking out!

What a joy to be able to read and to disappear into another world, to enjoy adventures without moving, to lap up beautiful prose and eloquent sentences and to live in someone else’s life for a time. Earlier this week I was at a book launch with John Connelly presenting his latest Charlie Parker book. John is such an engaging man and that got me to thinking about the influence of books on my life, hence this blog!

I see life as a series of chapters as we all have a book within us. Not necessarily one we want to write but, as our lives unfold there are stories to tell, to relive and to savour, to forget and to bury…but always stories. Simon and Garfunkel put it well ” ..and you read your Emily Dickinson and I my Robert Frost and we mark our place with bookmarks, to measure what we ‘ve lost” – it resonates with me as I so often don’t want to finish a book I am enjoying and yet know that what I’ve read is now past and in a sense, the mystery is lost. So it is with life – what is past cannot be changed – in a sense lost to all but our memories.

If I look back I can put my life into chapters: My first chapter in the UK, my next chapter in Johannesburg , my marriage chapter(s), my Cape Town chapters – and so on. Most of my chapters have been marked by books. My parents loved reading and so there were always books in the house. Bookshelves overflowing with art and history and Readers Digest compendiums, (yes, that far back). Classics abounded and I got books for birthdays, holidays, Christmas, any time of the year- a book was a good gift.  I immersed myself in reading and devoured the usual, ‘Katy’, ‘Heidi and Peter’, (perhaps that’s why I ended up marrying a Swiss!) Louisa May Alcott,  Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and simply loved Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Anderson.

As a child my parents used to send me to London to stay with my maternal Granny and Grandpa and the aunts who were still at home. One of the aunts had longed to be a teacher but money was tight so I was her pupil ( willingly). During the holidays I was set all sorts of tests! To learn a favourite paragraph, to review parts of the book I was reading, to describe to my aunt what the story was about, to copy sentences I liked. As an eight year old I loved it and my aunt took me on excursions where there were always stories to tell. My grandparents were Russian immigrants; my grandmother completely illiterate but with a prodigious memory; my grandfather a cultured, artistic and well read, cabinet maker. We would sit around the big dinner table in the living room and the stories would flow and I was encouraged to take part.

As I grew up books were always my solace, The Diary of Anne Frank was my ‘bible’ when I was 13 and was read and re-read over and over again. Everyone knew that I loved books; so much so that when I left England my friends gave me “The Forsyte Saga” by John Galsworthy – all nine books – as a going away present! To this day I have them on my bookshelf, along with Herman Hesse, Kahlil Gibran, Margaret Drabble, complete works of Bernard Shaw and my school book “Herodotus” and more – hauled with me from England and not to be parted with, probably antiquities now! The books that have had a deep impression on me over the years remain on my bookshelf as part of my passages though life.

Oh, and just in case you think I was an academic whizz…nothing could be further from the truth…I was pretty wild in my teens, with many a hangover to prove it, my GCE results were fairly disappointing and I did not pursue an illustriously intellectual career ! In fact intellectual would never be used to describe me! But I have marked my places in life with the books that were important to me at that time, and kept those books.

I have read voraciously over the last few weeks, mostly to take the edge of what was happening in reality and when I finally picked up ” The story of Edgar Sawtelle ” by David Wroblewski I knew this was another ‘keeper’. A debut novel (and sadly, looks as if Wroblewski has not written anything else – yet). On the New York Times bestseller list in 2008 and recommended by Oprah, I simply loved this glorious read on such an unusual subject. Briefly it is about a family in Wisconsin who breed dogs and have developed their own breed over generations. The son is highly intelligent but mute (he can hear but cannot speak –  a bit like the dogs). The book is in turn a thriller, ghost story and a wonderful saga. The dogs, and particularly one litter, feature strongly and it is fascinating to read about training techniques ( none of which are boring)  and the natural affinity that the boy and his dogs have. What seems to be idyllic all too soon becomes tragedy and the story is beautifully crafted,  the writing is poetic but (in my opinion) never overdone and the story grips you from the beginning to destructive end. Make sure you have tissues when you read it! A book that will stay in my collection.

Now I am reading ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’  by John Green, the author of ‘The fault in our stars, and will be picking up on a number of books crying out from my bookshelf to be read.  So a new chapter has opened in my life and I am intrigued as to which books will be the markers.

Endings and beginnings

When we have to say goodbye to anyone or to anything it is a marker in our life. We mark the time, the place and the feeling and store it away to use as a benchmark for future loss. We joke in our circle that we attend more funerals than weddings and so it is,….we are at that stage of life. But I  see endings as beginnings and believe strongly that the spirit of those who have  passed is ever present ..it is simply a new beginning for them in a different form. I am not religious; a secular Jew is what I am, with an interest in all faiths.

Part of aging is seeing that final breath closer in your sights – without fear – it is one certainty we have in life and with it comes the uncertainty of when?

And with every loss comes a gain; the memories, the good times, the laughter, the tears, the getting closer as we bond. Getting older teaches us to deal with loss in a more pragmatic way and to see what we have gained from that experience.

And it is not just death that I am talking about. Loss comes in so many forms –  a partner, a job, a friend, a home, a business, an animal – we all suffer loss in some way and learn that it is part of life’s great journey.  Each one of us deals with loss in a different way but the joy of being older is to know that we will come out the other side and there is a beginning in an end.

So why have I chosen this subject?

Earlier this week my dearest cousin passed away and I was privileged to be with her at the end. It had a profound effect on me as I started contemplating life without our chats and get togethers, how her presence had been an anchor from the time I arrived in SA and how she had filled the role of Mother  in a totally unassuming way over the years. She was a gentle person who did not judge and never said a bad word against anyone – she kept her own counsel unless pressed but did not raise her voice in anger…I would say she was pragmatic and private. The lessons I learrned from her are many and  I hope I can tame my volatile personailty to practice some of them. When I ever I spent time with her I would come away feeling peaceful.

My own mother died when I was 18 and I sought a new beginning by coming to SA from the UK some four years later. My aunt and uncle and their two daughters had emigrated from the UK in 1948 and settled in Cape Town and then moved to Johannesburg.  When I arrived in 1969 I stayed with the elder cousin,  her husband znd their son and my aunt, who had been widowed some years before. They became my family unit and shared the ups and downs of my  ‘growing up’!  Which I am still doing ….

So now it’s down to beginning a new journey without her gentle presence, of keeping the family unit together in an unconstrained way, knowing that we are bound by her memory and her values.

And I have the opportunity of yet another new beginning….my business will be taken over by my enormously talented business partner allowing me to enjoy growing older  a little more disgracefully and ease into semi- retirement knowing that she will take the busines to new heights. ‘Semi’ i hear you say? Well, you didn’ t imagine I was going to sit still, There’s plenty of life in the old gal yet.. as Mehitabel said to Archy ( and if you don’ t know the book..look it up!)

A week of huge emotion and much thought but one that heralds a new chapter in my life and reinforces my belief that endings are beginnings.

Birthdays are simply a measure of time

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I said I would start at the beginning and what better than on a birthday! Because we live in the facebook age the number of wishes seem to equate with the number of friends you have gathered over the years! Well I was overwhelmed by the number of messages (most of whom I know!) so thanks for making me feel really special and remembered! And through technology it’s so easy to remember, no senior moments allowed! So 69 years ago today ( I am proud of my years!)

I was born near London. An inauspicious occasion for all but my nearest and dearest, but Bushey Middlesex – so yes, born under a bush, was the place recorded on my Birth certificate! If I think back birthdays never seemed to be very important. when I lived in the UK.. I don’t remember major parties other than maybe going to some and being struck…

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Birthdays are simply a measure of time

I said I would start at the beginning and what better than on a birthday! Because we live in the facebook age the number of wishes seem to equate with the number of friends you have gathered over the years! Well I was overwhelmed by the number of messages (most of whom I know!) so thanks for making me feel really special and remembered! And through technology it’s so easy to remember, no senior moments allowed! So 69 years ago today ( I am proud of my years!) I was born near London. An inauspicious occasion for all but my nearest and dearest, but Bushey Middlesex – so yes, born under a bush, was the place recorded on my Birth certificate! If I think back birthdays never seemed to be very important. when I lived in the UK.. I don’t remember major parties other than maybe going to some and being struck dumb by all the kids there and feeling very much the oddball.

Perhaps that’s where I should begin.

Every choice we make in life has a consequence, good, bad or indifferent. My Dad chose to move from London to live in a small seaside town called Bognor Regis (there, I’ve admitted it!) in 1948. Famed for the dying phrase from King George V (or was it VI?) who apparently loved Bognor for its recuperative properties he died saying” bugger Bognor” or so the urban legend goes, this small town was where Dad chose to open a business and bring up a family.

We came from the Jewish ghetto of Hendon in London to a town that boasted three Jewish families, two of which were family! But since my Dad was in the rag trade and opened a high class ‘dress shop’ suitable for the wealthy matrons of the Aldwick Estate, we were accepted in the main.

That is until it came to coming to our house.

There are only two of my birthdays that stand out. One at primary school  when I thought I should follow the lead and invite kids home to my place for a birthday tea. Mum made jelly, a rabbit shaped blancmange and cookies and we waited….it was soon apparent that none of my schoolmates thought fit to turn up so I gorged myself on the food and learnt the lesson.

I suppose it was then that I realised I was seen as ‘different’; small towns were not very integrated then and the Brits can be very bigoted. A black or brown face would have elicited shock, horror and appalling abuse in those days and those of other persuasions… the devil incarnate! My father was liberal and his advice to me was ‘Don’t discriminate – you have no right to.’

So that is the lesson that I have tried to follow through life.

My 21st birthday was rather different. My aunt Nina, who was the ‘lady of the family’ and had a florist  shop in Mayfair, took us all out to dinner and a show: Fiddler on the Roof with Topol – such magic and sophistication and an experience I never wanted to end.

On the ‘homefront’ in Bognor I went out with the current boyfriend, his mate and girlfriend and we had a dinner at some ‘posh’ place!! Very grown up.

So for me birthdays were not that much of a landmark other than measuring the passage of time – until I came to SA!

Since living here I have celebrated with the best; thrown surprise birthdays and enjoyed recording each ‘0’ that I have reached with much revelry! (and hangovers); memorable 30 – the era of communal houses and a ‘kids’ party complete with jelly and blancmange and a drive home through Hillbrow with matted hair full of the jelly etc and smarties; sophisticated 40 with a small family group; crazy 50 with a Mexican theme and masses of tequila which included the hangover next day and then four parties to celebrate my 60th – Chile, Barnyard, wine farm lunch and a home sort – of surprise party! Watch this space for next year, by which stage  I will have filled in the gaps of the decades.

Birthdays are a good excuse to get together with loved ones and simply enjoy company and good food – but why would we need an excuse…every day is a good day to be together. So celebrate everyday in some way – the fact that we are still alive, healthy and can enjoy waking each morning is not about a  number – it’ s an attitude. And attitude is sexy – so from a 39 year old head I am toasting my 69 years and all of yours too!!

Storytelling and the magic of our own history

I  belong to a woman’s group called Woman Zone and we have initiated a story telling evening at a gallery in Cape Town. Every ‘First Thursday’ of the month the city galleries and restaurants open until late, encouraging residents and tourists to explore the heritage and culture of our beautiful City.

The central city teems with people ( loads of youngsters which is really cool) and at Mogalakwena we have launched these story sharing sessions. We started at the beginning of the year and now people come to listen, to share or simply ‘be’ while enjoying the art and craft of the gallery.

This last Thursday we had Jennifer tell her story of why she started making dolls (not your ordinary type of doll!) followed by Nicole, a young refugee from the DRC who had compiled a book from other refugee’s stories, then Vera who entertained us with a song and story and inspired with her quirky attitude….finally a long-time friend and associate, Margi, told us about how she started Streetsmart – a charity helping homeless children.

This got me to thinking about the power of stories and how, when you are older, they define the person you have become. We have so many to share and laugh over; so many that are a life lesson, record your history, mark the joy and the sadness and your life journey.

One of the many privileges of being ‘mature’  (I have a friend who simply will not allow me to use the word ‘old’;  he says I am mature and that ‘old’ is a putdown – he has a point!) is the bank of history you have built with friends, family, experiences and so on. And how lovely it is to draw on this when illustrating a conversation. (without repetition and running the risk of becoming a bore or labelled demented!! )

Our lives can be likened to a tree or a tapestry – take the one you prefer. But each grows…whether it be a multitude of colourful threads that twist and turn, warp and weft, hang loose , break ocasionally, are taken up in a skein, knotted or sewn into a fine pattern or the delicate branching of  a tree; each have roots in the design of a life.

So I thought I could entertain with some of my stories of where I come from, who has influenced me to who I am today as part of the privilege of growing into maturity (there – I’m learning) and underlining why in our heads we never grow older and it is only the outer shell that changes.

So when you look at someone who may be 30, 40, 50 or more years older than you  – move beyond the outer shell and look inside – there are so many stories just bursting to get out and mostly the age we see ourselves is simply not the age we look!

So like Maria in the “Sound of Music’ sang; ‘ Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start!.

(Assuming everyone has ADD I won’t write much more than a page at a time! )

Keep tuned.christmas2011