The Text


I was sent a text recently informing me that I had failed the good friend test. I was wished well for my present and my future but I was being let go. I had been unceremoniously dumped as a friend by text! BY TEXT!

I was shocked. Confused. Angry. Hurt. I had been going through a pretty rough few weeks so I know I wasn’t up to much on the friend front. I was completely self absorbed . I even bored myself with the sound of my voice going over and over and over and over the same thing again and again and again and again. Thank you to all those who listened with patience. Love. Care. Concern.

It was a bit harsh that now, of all times, I was being dumped by one of my closest friends. I must make it clear that this friend had been, and still is going through the absolute worst of all times. The absolute worst. I would not wish her pain on anyone. My pain could not compete with her pain. But my pain was real and horrendous to me. And because of my pain I hurt her beyond repair. Hurt her with some badly chosen words.

I recently heard a saying – ‘hurt people hurt people’. How very true. Hurt people (sometimes) don’t filter what they say. Hurt people (sometimes) don’t hear what is being said. Many of us will have read posts on Facebook about how to talk to/not talk to people with depression or mental health issues and they often contradict each other. Do this. Don’t do this. Say this. Don’t say this. Everyone has their own mental health experience and their own feelings about how their own personal mental health issues are best met. Someone could genuinely be trying to be kind, trying to do or say the right thing and get it hugely wrong. It is a minefield. The speaker/listener or advice giver/advice receiver are not always on the same page. But this does not mean that the very best of intentions are being attempted to be made. Sometimes we are just trying (to quote Maya Angelou ) ‘to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud’. Sometimes the cloud is too dense to welcome the rainbow.

My issue wasn’t mental health, although the confusion and emotional turmoil certainly tested it. I know that when I heard someone say something I didn’t like I tried to remember that it wasn’t being said with anything other than love and support. They got it wrong/I heard it wrong. Whatever. I also know I said things I didn’t mean or that came out the wrong way. My brain was fucked up for a while. Lack of food and sleep will do that to a person. And I’m sorry. I said I was sorry to my ex friend. It wasn’t enough. I was truly sorry. I am truly sorry. It’s sad that the demise of our long supportive friendship was as the result of some badly chosen words. The many, many good words and good actions swept aside so easily.

Anyway back to The Text. Being told I have failed……by text. Being told I am being dumped……by text. I am completely bemused as to why do that? Who does that? Most friendships that have run their course just fizzle out, a natural, often mutual, gentle way to shed the dead wood in our lives. We can’t remain besties with everyone for ever. The cafe meet ups get fewer. Text messages are not replied to immediately. Days go by without contact. Then weeks. Then, who knows, maybe it has just been a case of life getting in the way and you find a way to reconnect. Or maybe not. But the official ‘friendship dumping’ is what intrigues me. Once a teenage friend of one of my daughters took her best friend to a cafe to inform her face to face that she was being dumped! At least the dumpee had the right to reply if she wanted it. I don’t think she wanted it. I think the she went running into the arms of her new, much cooler, friends cheering and whooping.

As humans I think it’s natural to want a right to reply. To have the last word. In my situation I could have replied an equally long text back trying to put my side forward. But what’s the point? I didn’t want to get into a text argument and I certainly didn’t have the energy to arrange a face to face to bicker out our grievances . I did text back as an acknowledgement (and maybe to have the last word!) I just told her I was shocked and confused but would respect her wishes. Maybe I will miss our friendship. Maybe I won’t. I’ve been let go but somehow I think I will survive!

 

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Yummmm……MadrEat  

Oh wow! Do the Spanish love their food or what?! From the menu del día which is an affordable three course lunch offered by many, especially the more traditional, non-touristy restaurants, to the ubiquitous tapas that comes with every drink, most of the food I have ever been served in Spain has been top quality and very, very tasty.  So it’s not surprising that the go-to event for any Madrileño is the monthly food festival MadrEat.

Emerging from the metro in Nuevos Ministerios, the business area, everything seems eerily quiet as it is the weekend, but then, as you walk towards the nearby Plaza Pablo Ruíz Picasso, the lovely shady park where the festival is held, the music and noise gets louder and the aromas get stronger. The park is a riot of colour with vendors serving wonderful food from their wagons/caravans/airstreams which have been amazingly and lovingly restored to full glory with vibrant colours and beautiful fonts. It is one of the coolest place to be in Madrid. The foodies are out. The hipsters are out. The families are out. Groups of people gather to create mini parties and after a few drinks the loud music encourages some energetic extroverts to show off their dance moves.  You plan on spending an hour or two there…..you end up staying all day!

 But back to the food. So far I have eaten spicy vegetarian couscous, calamari bocadillo, succulent artichoke hearts, hot ‘n’ spicy patatas bravas and the softest, sweetest, pinkest macaron. I have drunk beer, sangria, vermouth and the best coffee I’ve had in Madrid. The queues can be very long especially for the best, worth-waiting-for food. Next time I’m definitely going to try the blackest most chocolatey ice cream I’ve ever seen and some of the delicious looking baked fish from one of the Indian food trucks.

So if you are ever in Madrid one weekend, do yourself a massive favour and check the dates – you may be lucky enough to be able to experience one of Madrid’s best kept secrets!

Sixty Years and Ten Thousand Miles

 ………………………..guest post guest post guest post………………….

I’ve not been blogging much over the last few weeks so I decided it was a good time to do a guest post. This was written by my mum, Caroline. It is about a very special reunion. Enjoy…..

                                                            

Way back in the 1950s, when I was a teenager, my mother had a mid-life motor car fantasy. OK, it’s usually the men who have mid-life car fantasies, but my father never drove, so my mother decided to live the dream for both of them. So she sold her existing car and in its place she bought her fantasy car, a vintage Rolls Royce, a beautiful, dark green and grey Rolls Royce. Well, it wasn’t vintage then – it was not much more than twenty years old. It was a 20/25hp Sports Saloon built by Freestone & Webb in 1933. (At that time RR themselves only produced the engine and the chassis.) We were then living in part of my grandfather’s house outside London. Here the Rolls had somewhere safe to live – a garage where my mother could keep it for the few years she owned it.

It was a beautiful car, all elegant paintwork, sweet-smelling, soft leather upholstery and gleaming mahogany fittings. Poised to take flight, the iconic RR ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ stood at the front of the bonnet. Rare even then, she was the full-sized, tall, standing Spirit, not the more familiar kneeling one. Directly in front of the windscreen was another mascot, a Lalique glass fish that could be lit up at night with a flick of one of the many switches on the dashboard. For their safety both these mascots had to be removed whenever we parked away from home (a bit like taking the satnav with you these days).

On the steering wheel, and on the mahogany dashboard, was a bewildering array of switches, levers, knobs and dials, several of which had to be engaged before the car would start. There was a switch for the ignition; others operated the enormous headlamps, the sidelights, and the interior lights. There was a switch for each of the windscreen wipers. There was a switch for each of the indicators, one for the left, one for the right: these would flick up on either side of the car, and after the turn had to be closed again. The gearstick and the handbrake were positioned on the right of the driver’s seat. Probably designed with a chauffeur in mind, this made getting in and out of the car interesting for the driver, particularly for a lady driver in a mid-calf, much-petticoated 1950s skirt. My mother solved this by getting in and out on the passenger side and sliding across from the driver’s seat.

The rear was luxuriously upholstered in dark green leather. Fitted to the inside of the right-hand rear door was a small holder for two little bottles, for brandy and/or whatever, with a silver matchbox holder between them for the lighting of cigarettes or cigars. The left hand rear passenger door had the disconcerting habit of flying open whenever we rounded a sharp bend, so my brother and I learned to hang on tight as we approached a curve in the road. No seatbelts back in the ’50s!

One day my mother announced she was going to give me my first driving lesson. My very first driving lesson. In the Rolls. I was sixteen, not old enough for L-plates. So I couldn’t go on the road, which was just as well as it happened: the Rolls was not the car for a learner. We headed for the very long drive of a nearby house – well a nearby stately home really. It was far too big and far too stately for its family – wealthy as they were – and they actually lived in a small (-ish) modern house they had built in the vast grounds. Think Downsize Abbey. I took my first driving lesson in its long, long drive. It was a disaster. With all those levers and switches to engage, I jerked and jolted a few yards and promptly stalled. Start. Stall. Restart. Double declutch (double dewhat?) Stall. Restart. Stop. Eventually the Rolls generously allowed me to take it a couple of hundred yards. I can’t really say I drove it. Then my mother turned the car around, so I could jerk and jolt us all the way back to the gates. End of lesson. I must have ‘driven’ all of 300 yards.

My mother happily drove her lovely Rolls around for a couple of years. Shopping, weekends with friends, and so forth. I don’t remember her ever taking it on any very long journeys. Family holidays were then thought unnecessary as there was plenty to occupy me and my brother during the summer holidays. We had my grandfather’s very large garden, complete with tennis court; there was countryside all around for us to cycle in and an open-air swimming pool not far away. About the furthest my mother would have driven would probably have been once a term to visit me and my brother at our boarding schools, maybe 100 miles each way – a long ride back then with no motorways to speed the journey. As a teenager whose aim was to be as unobtrusive as possible, I am now ashamed to remember my embarrassment at being picked up in such a splendid car! Then my grandfather died and we moved back to London, to a flat near Victoria Station. A vintage Rolls clearly could not live out in a London street. So it was sold and went out of our lives for ever.

Or so I thought. Over the years I might have thought about our Rolls maybe a dozen times, perhaps when I came across a photograph of it in an old album. I might have occasionally mentioned to someone that the first car I ever drove was a Rolls Royce, but I have never been much interested in cars – apart from an early yearning for an MG sports car (never fulfilled) – so I rarely spoke of it. So long as a car starts and stops when I want it to, that’s all I care about. Then late last year I was chatting with a friend during the tea-break in our line dancing class. He happened to mention his Rolls Royce. “You have a Rolls Royce?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “I’ve got a vintage Rolls. Had it for years.” “How wonderful!” I said. “The first car I ever drove was a Rolls!” “What model was it?” he asked. “Ah! You’ve got me there! I have no idea what it was.” All I could remember was that it was green and grey, that the gearstick was on the right, and that for some reason I remembered its number plate. It was FXF892. Then it was time to get back to the Cowboy Strut and I thought no more about it.

The following week I arrived at line dancing and my friend produced a sheet of paper full of information. Via its number plate and the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts’ Club he had tracked down FXF892’s entire history since my mother parted with it. It was alive and well, and living on the other side of the world. It had lived in the UK until 1975, when it had been bought by a man who took it to South Africa, and eventually on to Australia. And there I was, thinking, if I had ever thought about it at all, that it must have ended up in a scrap yard decades ago.

Via the Enthusiasts’ Club, my friend contacted NL, the present owner, and put us in touch with each other. He was as excited as I was and we exchanged emails and photographs of FXF892. He had bought the car about five years ago. He wrote: ‘I have fully restored the body (painted in its original colours) so it is in excellent order now. It won the Best Pre-War Rolls Royce at our last Rally and the Company Trophy for the best restoration.’ NL lives in Western Australia, about 80 miles outside Perth, where our eldest son, James, lives. He said that when we were next in Perth we must be sure to come and visit the car. At that time we had no thought of when we might next be in Australia. Then, around February, James phoned and said, ‘We’re thinking of going to explore Queensland in June. Do you want to join us?’ There was only one answer to that! So we arrived in Perth at the beginning of June, and the first weekend we were there, before setting off for Queensland, we drove the hour or so out of Perth to visit the Ls, who had kindly invited us all to lunch.

When we arrived, NL showed us into his garage, one in a row of three, where FXF lives in luxury, its stablemate being a vintage Bentley convertible, even older than the Rolls I believe. It was quite emotional seeing the Rolls again. I had entirely forgotten what a truly glorious car it was. I wanted to stroke it. I did stroke it! Very gently, with the tips of my fingers. How I wish I had appreciated it more when I knew it. The adjoining garage, the middle one of the three, is a workshop where NL cares for all his cars – he also has a vintage Armstrong Siddeley pickup, which is a great favourite at the local green waste collection point where he uses it to take his garden rubbish, and a modern Citroen for supermarket car parks; these two share the third garage.

The middle garage, NL’s workshop, is immaculate. James, whose own middle-aged car fantasy had, a few years ago, involved a 1970s Triumph Stag, was speechless with admiration and envy of this workshop. It is like no workshop you have ever seen. There is not a drop of oil to be seen on the floor. There were no oily tools or rags lying around. No pieces of unidentifiable rusty metal. No scattered nuts or bolts. You could eat off the floor. In pride of place in the middle of the workshop, was a shiny, bright blue and yellow hoist to enable access to the underside of the cars – NL does all the work on them himself. There were workbenches, filing cabinets, cupboards, a desk, and shelves, all immaculately tidy. The walls are a gallery of car memorabilia, including framed photographs of his own and other vintage cars.

FXF892 is a truly beautiful car. I had forgotten quite how beautiful. It is lovingly cared for, restored to all its original glory. The chrome fittings, the lights, the radiator, the number plates, all gleam, and the paintwork shines. The leather inside is soft and smooth. The only difference from the car that I remembered is that sometime over the years its mascots have been replaced: the Spirit of Ecstasy is now kneeling and instead of the Lalique fish, there is a falcon, but now that NL knows it originally had a fish he is on the lookout for one. The current asking price for a Lalique glass car mascot is enough to make your eyes water.

NL kindly took us all for a long drive through the country roads around his home. I rode in the front passenger seat, full of admiration for NL, who reached without hesitation to whichever lever or switch he needed. It was a fine Australian winter’s day with not a drop of rain, but he demonstrated the wipers for us anyway: they swept to and fro over a surprisingly small area of the windscreen. The car ran so smoothly and so quietly it is hard to believe that it is over 80 years old. I didn’t think of listening for the ticking of the clock! He told us that it would comfortably go well over the Australian speed limit of 110 kph, 68mph – FXF’s speedometer is of course in miles. And somehow NL has managed to retain its original British numberplate, the one I remembered – the one that made it possible for the car to be tracked down. We didn’t pass many pedestrians on the road, but those we did pass stopped and watched as we went by. Some of them waved and we all waved back. I don’t remember such a reaction on the British roads of the 1950s. Even then a beautiful RR must have been a rarity, but to Aussies walking along a country road it must have looked like something out of a movie. When we returned we took loads of photographs, and for only the second time in my life I sat in the driver’s seat of FXF892.

So that’s how it came about, that after sixty years, and more than ten thousand miles, I once again met what is undoubtedly the most beautiful car I have ever been in in my life. I’m sure my mother was looking down at us all and loving every moment of the experience too.​​

(Some names and details have been changed to protect privacy)

 

A Different Angle


I know it’s a cliché but every now and again life chucks a hard pain shaped curveball in your direction. Recently I had one of these curveballs.

It crashed heavily into my body.

It wobbled momentarily in my hands before I managed to hold onto it tightly.

Then I chucked the ball right out of the park.

And enough of the baseball analogy but it somehow seems to work here, for me anyway.

So what’s one of the first things I thought of when I realised that although this curveball has knocked me sideways, it has not actually killed me? I want a tattoo. I need a tattoo. I need this period in my life to be marked so I never forget how I resilient I can be.

Those who know me know that I love tattoos. I’ve been under the needle quite a few times and as I get older I want more. And I want them to mean something (although I have plans for a couple of ‘just because they are pretty’ ones).

So I now have a new tattoo on my wrist. It’s an inking of a few words that give me strength, hope and happiness, and it’s in Sanskrit because:

a) I like the look of the script. It is strong and beautiful.

b) It reminds me of India where I had a rollercoaster trip of extreme joy/extreme misery. And despite my love/hate feelings towards the country the love trumps the hate and one day I hope to go back. And this pretty much sums up how I’m feeling at the moment. Love should always trump hate.

and

c) because I want the words for me and only me (unless you read Sanskrit of course!).

So don’t ask me what it means. Just know that I will read the words every morning and smile. And curve ball – you hit me and you winded me and you turned me upside down. But you didn’t break me and now I just look at life from a different angle.

¡Libertad!

 In my beach babe twenties I loved a bit of topless sun bathing. Even though I always wished I had a little more than a handful to flaunt I was never too shy to whip off my bikini top in order to minimise unsightly tan lines. However, since breastfeeding my babies, whose greedy guzzling battered my boobs leaving them unrecognisable, and although I wouldn’t change them because “every stretch mark tells a story” (translation – a boob job is too scary and too expensive!!) I have never got them out in public again. Intentionally that is …. At my 40th birthday party I wore a top with a dangerously deep cut V at the front, but tit tape in place to maintain my modesty I enthusiastically got the party started. The tit tape was useless. The small square of double sided tacky plastic expected to hold a piece of fabric and sweaty skin together was never likely to do the job as promised. As the night wore on and the vodka luge became my BFF, the tit tape gave up sticking, I gave up caring and I spent the night flashing my fun bags at my guests! Sorry guests!

So, post babies, the last 20 years have seen my bosom firmly encased behind well constructed rise ‘n’ shine bras. And even though I still wear a bikini on holiday, despite  the magazines telling me I should be in a one piece at my age, the top half has always remained on….Until now!

This week, in Madrid, I have been spending my mornings at the open air municipal pool just three short Metro stops away from home. Why oh why has it taken me two years to be brave enough to go on my own?! It’s heaven. Yes it’s crowded – it’s a municipal pool in the middle of the school holidays – but in this July heat it’s still heaven to me. And anyway my Spanish is so bad I don’t understand the chatter around me so it just becomes white noise. When I close my eyes I could be on any beach where the sun is hot and the water is cool, and as on any beach, the bodies that are dotted around enjoying the hot sun and cool water are of all ages and come in all shapes and sizes.  Young, beautiful couples position their perfect, lightly tanned, taut skinned limbs on side by side towels, while nearby old couples and groups of regulars sit happily chatting, confident in their own mahogany tanned, wrinkled skin. And almost all the women are topless. Old women and young women unashamedly lie, sit, stand, swim wearing only itsy bitsy bikini bottoms to ensure maximum skin exposure. Despite the media’s attempts to persuade women we should all possess perfect orbs we all know that breasts come in all shapes and sizes. And the pool seems to be the Noah’s Ark of knockers. There seems to be a pair of every one of those shapes and sizes. Naked limoncitos (small ones) y chichis (big ones) are everywhere. At this point I wanted to note that I hadn’t been aware of any of the men ogling. But after a discussion with Matt I was informed that I didn’t understand men and that even though there may not have been overt ogling, ogling would definitely have been occurring. In my naivety I thought that if you had seen one (hundred) you had seen ’em all, but I’m not a bloke. Those sun glasses hide pervy eyes it seems! Anyway on the first morning, off came my top and the feel of the sun on my usually bolstered baps was blissful. So I’m going to ignore the potential oglers who are almost certainly looking at prettier, perkier puppies than mine and go with my who gives a hoot(er) attitude, because I have now freed mis tetas and I’m not going back…I feel liberated! In Spain at least, maybe not in Hove! Plus there’s a major bonus..ugly, stretch marked, slightly saggy (ugh!) norks don’t look so ugly or stretch marked with a bit of a tan. Hurrah! Another reason why the Spanish way of life totally suits me!

Bangs and bomberos en Dos de Mayo

  My nose twitched briefly then the faint acrid smell of burning made me throw myself out of bed. Something was on fire. I ran to the kitchen and scanned the cooker, the toaster, the coffee machine. Noting nothing untoward I opened the kitchen window. The toxic stench hit me as I saw thick black smoke snaking out of some grates on the edge of the plaza just below our apartment block. In seconds the smoke was thick and belching. I shouted out to Matt, “There’s a fire in the Metro!” I had no idea if the Metro even went under the plaza but I knew there was a fire and it was underground. A few people in the square started to look concerned. The stall holders who had just started setting up for market day abandoned their pitches as the smoke enveloped them. Then there was a loud explosion. Followed by another, and another and more and more. Hoping that someone with better Spanish than me had called the emergency services I started to panic! “Bombs! We need to evacuate!” I shouted dramatically. I was not going to hang around on the fifth floor of a building with bombs going off in the Metro right underneath! Matt was more interested in seeing what was going on so proceeded to casually smoke a fag in his underpants on the balcony ignoring my pleas to stop inhaling the fumes which were sure to kill us if the building collapsing under us didn’t kill us first! I was torn between wanting to watch the drama unfold and the need for self preservation. I ran around manically throwing on some clothes – I didn’t want to be evacuated in my pjs. I grabbed my purse, phone, passport, the essential three Ps, and put them by the front door. I would try to calm down but I decided there was no harm in being prepared. Then I joined Matt in his vantage point to take some photos!

At last we heard sirens, first the police and then five minutes later the bomberos. (I love the Spanish word for firemen!) The police and the firemen stood around, discussing the situation. Red and white ‘do not cross’ tape was put up and passers by gathered at the tape to discuss the situation. Everyone was very relaxed, very Spanish! More bomberos arrived and greeted each other with hugs, police took pictures on their phones. The smoke still belched. Then three brave firemen put on breathing equipment lifted one of the grates then disappeared down into the ground. 

Needing refreshment to go with the action I went to make a coffee. That was when we noticed the electricity was out. OK, probably not a Metro fire then, an electrical transformer or something must have short circuited, caught fire and caused a series of explosions. My fear reduced significantly knowing it wasn’t a bomb but the smoke was still scarily toxic smelling. We agreed to shut the windows. 

An hour later all is calm. The electric people are down there trying to resume normal service, though I suspect it may take some time.  The stall holders have finished setting up the market, the dogs are back barking and kids back screeching. A few bomberos remain, standing around chatting. But as there is still no power the bars in the square will be cursing at the lost business, we can’t get that coffee we’ve been wanting for an hour, the aircon isn’t working, Matt can’t have his bath and I can’t get wifi or charge my phone. How lucky are we that these are our only modern day problems!

11pm – Addendum. After 12 hours of activity the leccy is back on. We have cool air once again, hurrah! We have wifi so I can check my phone and its links to my social media (amazingly I survived without it)! And I can at last post this, the latest of my random ramblings 🙂 

HOPE – Hold On..Pain Ends!

I’m sitting in my back garden letting the sun dry me off after a very hot bath which hopefully will have eased my aching muscles a wee bit. ‘And why do you have aching muscles?’ I hear you all cry … Well, I have just completed my first ever Park Run, a 5km run around Hove Park. This is quite a major thing for me because after babies my back was weak and pathetic and prone to give out at the mere sight of running shoes. Consequently, after a few half hearted attempts to run the half a mile down to the beach and back, I swore I would never run again.

But 10 weeks ago my friend Linda persuaded me to join the beginner’s course at The Brighton  & Hove Women’s Running Club. After my new found love of body strengthening yoga and masses of walking I thought it may be time to push myself a little more. I also wanted to do something I could do with Millie (mother/daughter bonding and all that), so I signed us both up.

Millie lasted 2 weeks!

I, on the other hand, embraced the manky feet, sore joints, sweat and personal challenges and kept going. Our goal was to enter and complete the Hove Park Run so every week we were encouraged, pushed, encouraged some more by the lovely ladies at the club. We did hill training (ouch and grrr), sprinting, longer and longer runs and time/distance challenges (ouch and hooray).

As the weeks went by my body seemed to remember that I used to be quite a good runner. I was the school’s star distance runner and even though I didn’t take it further I did make it to borough level; cross country in the winter and 800 & 1500m in the summer. I hated the cross country. I loved the 1500m. Then I went to sixth form college, discovered pubs and boys and I stopped running.

Then decades ago (literally) while living in Australia, I ran Sydney’s City to Surf for two consecutive years. Looking back it seems like the 8kms was a walk in the park! But I do remember Heartbreak Hill!! (The clue is in the name….Double ouch!!) I was young, much fitter, had James, my even fitter older brother, to train with ….. and there was beer and beach waiting for me at the end!

So today, 22 years after that last ‘proper’ organised run, I did another.

I set myself three challenges before I ran:

1) complete the 5km

2) do it without having to stop and walk

3) do it in under 30 mins

I managed one of these challenges but I’m not going to beat myself up about the other two. Yes, I walked for a minute or two, and I didn’t quite make the time challenge, but 32.10 minutes isn’t too shabby for a first timer. It hurt…a lot, but I feel so good and so proud of myself. A huge thank you to Linda who ran the last km with me and to all the gorgeous running club volunteers who cheered and clapped us on. The endorphins that surged through my body once I could breathe again gave me a real high! I can see why it’s addictive!

Maybe next week I will break the 30 minutes. Oh Dios Mio! I’ve become a stats/running bore already. Someone stop me before I sign up for next years marathon…..please!!!