My Five Favourite Firsts After Fifty…

Since turning fifty a year and a bit ago, I’ve deliberately experienced a few new ‘firsts’ in life, and so far my fifties are proving to be great fun – so here is a list of my five favourite firsts after fifty to date, in no particular order of preference… 🙂

  • I’ve started blogging, and even after a year am still thoroughly enjoying it, in spite of (or perhaps because of) my recent two-month break. Through blogging I’ve finally found my voice after a lifetime of shameful silence, and am learning to be more open and honest about my long-term struggle with recurring episodes of deep depression – it may not be gone forever, but thankfully it is something that no longer looms so large on my horizon…
  • I’m working locally in a pub for the first time in my life, and am finding the complete change of scene is giving me a refreshing new perspective on life. There is a stunning simplicity in being able to walk to and from such a socially-oriented, welcoming workplace – not to be reliant on the ubiquitous daily commute in rush hour to an impersonal office-based technology-loaded 9-5 desk-job, however well-paid it may be. In many ways I’ve never had such relative freedom before, wherever I have lived or worked, and it is only now, through working locally, I’m learning to appreciate the strength of the community I’ve lived in for the last decade…
  • On a more creative note, I’ve explored and have happily embraced the challenging minimalistic rigour of writing haiku in English, and over the last few months have definitely become hooked on this ancient form of Japanese poetry…
  • I’ve also enjoyed both creating and wearing fancy dress costumes to work as appropriate, both for Halloween and Christmas, and am very much looking forward to partaking in our next optional dressing-up-for-fun day, whenever that may be…
  • I’ve recently had my first ever experience of Karaoke, at a friend’s fiftieth birthday bash – she too was initially shy of singing in front of a crowd, but as a group of five girls from work we all got up together and sang along with much love and laughter to Sister Sledge – We Are Family – and it was a truly fun experience, a perfect positive memory to treasure… 🙂

Better to Travel Hopefully than to Arrive…

There’s something about the rolling impermanence of working in a pub that I’m finding surprisingly intoxicating. I can be on my feet and on the go for a good eight hours solid (bar a very welcome half-hour break), barely stopping to catch my breath, and yet at the end of my working day I have absolutely nothing to show for it but aching muscles and a healthy glow in my cheeks.

There is no finished product – no end game – only a constant conveyor-belt of customers and colleagues coming and going, food and drink eaten and drunk, tables cleared and filled again, glassware washed and used again, bottles re-stocked and barrels changed, day in, day out, like some magical never-ending cornucopia of repetitive chores.

Conversations and complaints and catcalls and compliments all blend together seamlessly to create one rhythmic sound-wave that speeds and slows, rises and falls like a complete orchestral music score. It’s like a Public House Symphony, sometimes mellifluous, sometimes cacophonous, occasionally reaching a crescendo of broken glass and drunken jeers, but always entertaining.

It’s as if each shift brings a journey to be travelled rather than a destination to be reached. Often a journey potentially fraught with obstacles and challenges – the heady mix of people and alcohol can sometimes create a dubious cocktail that leaves a bad taste in your mouth – but I’ve learned that overall, that’s what actually makes it fun for me. And so I enjoy starting each shift with an open mind and a light heart, secure in the knowledge that whatever happens on that day it is the journey that matters, and that it always better to travel hopefully than to arrive… 🙂

Image

Santa’s Little Helper…

When it came to creating a fancy dress costume for wearing to work in the pub over Christmas, after careful consideration I decided to go with the Santa’s Little Helper idea of (from top to toe) red and white Santa hat, red T-shirt with white fleecy trim and black felt buttons, black skirt, red and white striped tights, and black boots. It has to be practical and comfortable enough to work in, so can’t be too fanciful.

I finished trimming the T-shirt today so tried it all on together to see how it looked – it’s not the sharpest of images taken on my phone camera (I tend to be infinitely happier on the other side of the lens, so you’re lucky to be seeing this much of me in shot), but hopefully it’s clear enough to get the picture! Let me know what you all think… 🙂

santas-little-helper

Christmas Fancy Dress…

Having surprised myself by actually dressing up for work on Halloween earlier this year – I work locally in a busy pub – I’m now thinking about dressing up once again for working over Christmas. I’d chosen to make my own Halloween costume (like we did as kids) rather than buying a generic, ready-made version, so I raided the local pound stores (and my sewing box) for bits and pieces, then created my own take on being a fallen angel dressed all in black, which was great fun, both to make and to wear…

So with Christmas fast approaching, I’m wondering what kind of fancy dress costume I could create for myself this time around? As before, I need to consider the same practicalities – nothing too restrictive, nothing too cumbersome, nothing too revealing, and nothing too awkward to be serving food and drink in! So far I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of options, both variations on a theme of my usual (very practical, very comfortable) black T-shirt and skirt work uniform.

I could maybe be a snowman, with a base of white T-shirt, black skirt, white tights and black boots. I could add a black stove-pipe hat of some invention, either as a hat or as a headband, and I’d need to add three large black felt ‘buttons’ to the front of the T-shirt and drape a scarf around my neck – et voila, instant snowman.

Or I could perhaps be Santa’s Little Helper instead, with a base of red T-shirt, black skirt, red and white striped tights and black shoes. I’d need to trim the T-shirt with white along both the neckline and hemline, and add the same large black felt ‘buttons’ as for the snowman, and top it all off with a red and white Santa hat…Hmmm…!

Either way, the prospect of dressing up for work doesn’t feel nearly so daunting this time, and I’m quietly pleased to be looking forward to joining in the fun. I’m not historically a great fan of all things Christmas – more of a boring old ‘Bah, Humbug’ than a seasonal shining star – so this is a real break from tradition for me to be embracing the Christmas spirit and going with the festive flow… 🙂

Fifty-Something Pink Lady…

I’m not one of the world’s best socialisers – I tend to feel uncomfortable in large crowds, as high levels of sensory over-stimulation often leaves me feeling somewhat out of my depth. So the prospect of being expected to participate in the obligatory corporate Christmas night out with work colleagues is generally problematic for me, wherever I happen to be working.

Luckily I missed out on mine this year – I was away on holiday at the time, so avoided the issue altogether. But not so with my husband, and as he’s still off work after an accident four months ago it was a welcome chance for him to catch up with everyone en masse, and so along we both went, unsure of quite what to expect. We’re neither of us big drinkers, and the usual free-for-all piss-ups that these work get-togethers tend to turn into isn’t really our scene at the best of times.

Along with many other workplaces, my husband’s work Christmas night out last Saturday consisted a meal and cabaret at a busy hotel, with twenty-something large round tables laid out in a ballroom-style purpose-built function room, catering efficiently for several different groups all at once – a bit like Butlins with bling. The star attraction was a Grease tribute act – and although the set meal (traditional turkey with all the trimmings) was altogether a little disappointing, the table wine was flowing, and the cabaret was excellent, which more than made up for any deficiencies in the food.

Of course it helps that I absolutely love all things Grease – I have no idea how many times I’ve seen the movie throughout my life, but I never ever tire of it. I remember when it was first released in 1978, and together with a few teenage school friends (all girls) I saw it at our local cinema, falling in love with the Danny and Sandy love-story right from the start. We all owned the soundtrack (either on vinyl, or cassette tape), playing it over and over again so many times we could all sing along, word-perfect, hopelessly devoted.

And so we roll forward 35 years or so to a cold winter’s night in a heaving hotel in Essex, where the resident singer – a big-built man with a strong voice to suit – sang the perfect medley of fifties and sixties songs to set the mood for the main act. The older members of our group – those of us in our forties and fifties – were amongst the first to hit the dance floor for the duration. By the time’ Danny’ and ‘Sandy’ took to the stage, dressed accordingly, we were all limbered up and as lively as the bunch of excited teenagers we once were.

They took us faithfully through the entire soundtrack in order, and it was such fun to sing along with all our favourite tracks, re-living the memories of our lost youth. I honestly haven’t danced so much in years , and was surprised to find that I can still hand-jive and do the twist (of sorts, as long as I don’t get down too far – getting myself back up again isn’t as easy as it used to be). By the end of the evening I felt all hot and sweaty with distinctly glowing cheeks – my very own fifty-something Pink Lady – but was also tingling all over, feeling alive in a way I haven’t felt in years.

A few days on, I find I have aching muscles in places I forgot I even had muscles, and am still singing the songs silently in my head, with a wistful smile on my face. I’d forgotten how much fun it is just to lose yourself in the music; I’d forgotten how much I used to love to dance, just feeling the rhythm and going with the flow. So overall I’m delighted that a work night out that initially I had approached with trepidation turned out to be such a positively enjoyable experience, and one which I might even – horror of horrors – look forward to repeating sometime in the future… 🙂

Goodbye 50, Hello 51…

Tomorrow I turn 51…

This time last year I was struggling through each day with low-level depression, unsure of myself and my life and my future. Earlier in 2013, having hit an all-encompassing emotional wall of depression that stopped me dead in my tracks, I took a prescribed course of antidepressants and attended talking therapy sessions for a few months, and together the combined chemicals and conversation definitely lifted the worst of my black mood, but unfortunately not all of it.

Having already suffered several severe depressive episodes over the course of my life, I decided at that point just to sit with the tail end of that particular emotional storm, and leave the last of it to pass on its own, given time. For a while things improved a little, but yet again I got so far in my recovery, then everything stagnated, plateaued all over again. So as it happened I spent my 50th birthday feeling in limbo, stuck in an emotional rut, not at all sure how to get myself out of it.

After several months of frustratingly treading water emotionally, as 2014 dawned I finally got thoroughly fed up with feeling so permanently low and miserable all the time, and made the difficult choice to push myself through a period of deliberate change in the hope of breaking the deadlock I seemed to be stuck in. To actively challenge the worst of my negative habits, however uncomfortable I may find it to do so, in the hope of creating a more positive approach to living my life.

I chose three main areas of personal change to focus on: to talk about my ongoing mental health issues and finally find my voice after years of shameful silence; to get myself out of the house to meet people again and reduce my life-long, not-good-enough debilitating self-consciousness; and most importantly to be kinder to myself, to learn to be more self-compassionate and give myself the same caring consideration I seem to find it so easy to give to everyone else.

In February I decided to start writing a blog, Quietcalliope, with the aim of sharing my lived experience of depression, and for a while, that did help me feel empowered. But I very soon found it too much to be focusing so deeply only on depression and the more negative experiences of life. After only four months I chose to stop posting to that particular blog, and to start another with a different, more positive, less fixed focus. And so Mad Meandering Me was born, and since then I’ve never looked back.

I also went back to work after a whole year off – I took on a part time, minimum-wage job in a local pub, a million miles away from my previous ten years of relatively well-paid, office-based University administration – and that too has done me the world of good. Forcing myself to face lots of people every day with a smile and a friendly word has become so much easier the more time passes – my smile and my conversation has become more natural, surprisingly I find myself smiling inside more, and that feels good.

And lastly, and probably most importantly, I’m learning to forgive myself for not being a perfect person, by trying to focus on the many good things I have achieved in life rather than constantly punish myself for my myriad failings. I can clearly see how my constant emotional self-flagellation in the past has had a sadly negative impact over the years on my ongoing relationship with my children, and I don’t want to continue this negativity through to the next generation. I still have a long way to go, but I’m determined not to give up, to keep faith with myself, to believe I can become happier in life – with life.

And so as I say goodbye to 50 and hello to 51, I’m delighted to feel more hopeful for a happier future than I have for a long time. Although I’ll never say never, at least I feel confident that my depression has, for now, substantially subsided again. I have much in life to be grateful for – a loving husband, three loving children, and three loving grandchildren (so far – we’ve very recently learned that grandchild number four is due early next summer!). There’s a lot of love out there if only I’m willing to accept it, truly appreciate it, and return it multiplied to those that matter most 🙂

Halloween – Part II

Halloween

I actually got dressed up for Halloween this year – woo-hoo! I work in a pub, and it was surprisingly good fun to get into the spirit of things by wearing a Halloween costume to work. I’m not one of life’s natural joiners-in of things, so it was a big thing for me even to be thinking about it, but I did it, and I’m really pleased with myself 🙂

Getting my costume together in the first place was wonderfully therapeutic – I bought some cheap bits and pieces from our local pound shop and raided my sewing box, and created my own. The end result was probably quite subtle, as Halloween costumes go, but it had to be something practical enough to work in for a full shift – bending and stretching, lifting and carrying – as well as looking good.

I decided to be a Fallen Angel – angelic but dark – so had a short black net skirt, black bedraggled wire-and-fabric wings hanging down my back, and a black wired-flower headband, all of which I wore over a plain black T-shirt and a short black skirt. As we wear black for work anyway, it didn’t look startlingly obvious at first glance, but it was enough to be recognisably dressed up.

For a first attempt, I’m really pleased with how it all went; I not only wore my costume for my full shift but also walked all the way home dressed as a Fallen Angel. To my absolute delight I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Dressing up for work is definitely something I’ll happily repeat in the future – so I suppose now I’d better get started with planning my next costume, for Christmas… 🙂

The Art of Pulling a Perfect Pint…

I’ve been working part time in a local pub for the past six months or so, working the floor – serving food, keeping front-of-house clean and clear, chatting to customers – pub waitressing, I guess is the best way to describe it. But this weekend I’ve been learning to work behind the bar as well as cover the floor, and so far I’m finding it great fun, if a little confusing at times… there are just so many different drinks to learn to serve correctly.

One of the many new skills I’m in the process of learning is how to pull a perfect pint – and there’s a lot more to it than I’d thought. It’s nothing like serving draught soft drinks – glass, ice, hit the correct button, dispense the correct amount, serve. Instead each beer/ lager/ cider seems to have its own little set of peculiarities and peccadilloes when it comes to the perfect pour, and there seems to be a knack in knowing how to handle each individual situation as it arises.

I’m discovering variables I didn’t even know existed – whether the pint is hand-pulled or on tap; which glass is used, and the angle at which the glass is held; spout under the liquid or spout over the liquid; glass held high or low; tap pulled forward or pushed back. How much pressure is available, is the barrel nearly full or almost empty, is it the first pint of the day – and if so, expect it to be quite ‘lively’. It’s a good word, lively – it seems to be pub-speak for frothing all over the place as it pours.

It’s important to get each pour right, aiming for the correct amount of head on the pint – not too much, not too little, with no wastage (for the pub’s benefit) but no shortage (for the customer’s benefit, and of course for meeting licensing requirements). Achieving that aim seems to be more about getting a ‘feel’ for how that particular draught alcohol is behaving in that particular glass on that particular pour and adjusting your approach accordingly, than following a fixed set of instructions to the letter every time.

Understanding the science behind it all is definitely a big part of it – knowing the difference between cask and keg ales and the different methods involved in transporting the liquid product from the cellar to the bar, from barrel to glass. But I’m also finding that there’s a distinct art in pulling the perfect pint, and however hit-and-miss it may still be for me at the moment, so far it ‘s proving to be a surprisingly satisfying challenge to be learning to meet. 🙂

Halloween – Part I

Halloween-costume

I’m in the middle of making myself a Halloween costume for wearing to work – I work part time in a local pub – and it feels such fun! I’m not naturally one of life’s joiners, so I’m pleased to even be considering dressing up for work, especially at 50 years old. I don’t think I’ve dressed up for Halloween since I was in single figures, and it seems that the concept of what counts as a Halloween costume has certainly changed a lot since then.

When we were kids we used to create costumes out of various bits and pieces – some bought, some re-purposed, some made from scratch – but we all looked unique because we all ended up being dressed differently, each creating our own individual outfit. And in those days we were mainly, witches, ghosts, devils and vampires. But the plethora of complete costume sets available today – including pirates, zombies, and even little red riding hood – seems to me to take away some of that fun, the creative imagination required to make something of your own design, and that’s such a shame.

So I’m having fun making my own costume again – I’ve decided to be a fallen angel, dressed all in black, wearing nothing too revealing (plump middle-aged angels need to maintain some level of dignity!) but also nothing too difficult to work in, either – basic Health & Safety measures still have to be considered. My base is probably going to be a plain black tunic and leggings, over which I’m going to add a little black net skirt, a pair of black bedraggled wings, and a black headband head-dress.

A quick visit to our local Poundland furnished me with four black Halloween-patterned net tablecloths, each 1m x 0.75m, a pair of child-sized devil wings, and four small black wired roses, all for a grand total of £6. From my collection at home I’ve found an old black velvet headband, a black fabric flower brooch, a fabric belt, an old pair of black fishnet tights and bits and pieces of black ribbon.

Two of the net tablecloths formed the basic skirt shape, and 2/3 of the other two made the frill for frothing out the bottom of the skirt. After stitching them all together, I attached the skirt to the fabric belt, and will pin the fabric flower brooch to the waist for decoration.

Most of the last third of the net from the tablecloths was used to decorate my wings. I stripped the devil wings down to the wired frame, then turned the framework sideways to create a drooping wing-shape. I stretched the legs of the fishnet tights over the wire frame to create the base, then layered pieces of net and ribbon over them to give a bedraggled, ragged look to the wings. I still need to finish fixing the ribbon and net onto both wings before joining them together and adding the arm straps, but I’ll get there.

For the head-dress I shaped the four wired roses into one curved line, attached them to the headband with ribbon, and used the last of the netting and a few strands of ribbon to decorate – and so far I’m really pleased with the overall result. Hopefully it’ll all look OK on the day – and the big question now is – will I spend my Halloween shift as a fallen angel, or as a chicken… watch this space! 🙂