weekly writing challenge: the power of names

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This challenge is all about the power of names.

I should have been a Christopher I was told. A first born son. Instead a girl, and then another one, a boy and then unexpectedly another girl. The eldest of four. But not the eldest son.

Susan Barbara were the names I was given. Not called after anyone, just names my parents liked, when they realised as I was born that Christopher, the selected name, wasn’t going to work. Thankfully not called after my father’s mother who, given the woman she was, went by the surprising name of Patience. I wonder what age she was when her parents realised the inappropriateness of that name. Many virtues she had – boldness, energy, optimism, generosity, vision, determination but patience was in very short supply. She was in a perpetual hurry to get launched into her next adventure.

Susan Barbara. Nothing much to either like or not like about those names. Deliberately chosen by a mother who had changed her name by deed poll to Lydia when she was legally able to do so. So much did she hate the one she was given. She thought I’d be ok with Susan Barbara. And she was right. No teasing.

So Susan or Sue I was through childhood and adolescence, Susan when either parent was displeased, otherwise mostly Sue. And so it went. All fine. I was a quiet shy girl with a quiet shy name and all was as it should be.

Some years later on my first day at University in student rooms on campus, I came across someone looking as lost as me. I’m Brian, the too keen young man in jeans with ironed creases down the front (unforgivable it seemed to me). I’m Susi I replied. It was all quite unexpected. The confident assertion that I was a Susi. Not Susie, but Susi. A stand perhaps against the perfectly fine but predictable safe Susan and Sue. A new life, a new name, impatiently ready, like my grandmother, for my adventures to start.

Sunny Sunday

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I love British seaside places in the sunshine. One glimpse of blue sky and sun and some accompanying warmth and out come knees that haven’t seen daylight for months. Bottoms of all sorts of shapes and sizes squeezed into last year’s shorts and perhaps there was a brief thought about why they fit a bit more snugly than last year.

Fish and chip shops with queues around the corner. Ice cream cones with real Cornish ice-cream sold from vans like the one in the photo. Brings back memories of a job as a student driving one of these. “Often licked but never beaten” was the slogan on the side. We were taught how to make hollow scoops. Never sat right with me. Mine were always full scoops and sometimes an extra one. It was perhaps that generosity and lack of interest in the advances of one of the bosses that brought about the end of my short career in ice-cream. The vans with their tunes always remind me of that time. “I’m not in love” was the favourite song on the radio that summer. Ah the late seventies.

Plymouth in the sunshine in March.

More smiling at strangers is allowed when the sun shines. Shy somewhat hesitant smiles for some, big generous confident grins for others. I love that. British reserve versus the pull of the sunshine. And the sunshine wins. Just.

weekly writing challenge: golden years

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/weekly-writing-challenge-golden-years/#more-70347

This weekly challenge is all about age and ageing.

I can no longer remember the day I found, with horror, my first grey hair, wiry and curly in a sea of dark brown hair. An unwelcome guest at any age, let alone at 24. Nothing had prepared me for that. It was pulled out of course but one by one more appeared. It was the early eighties and though henna really had been part of the earlier decade it seemed to do the trick. Rather have increasing lots of brash orange than grey. Seemed the smart choice at the time. And then the grey turned orange bits began to outnumber the dark brown bits and so finally defeat was acknowledged. Grey I was.

And now I like to think a little Judy Dench-ish, but a younger version. If i look anywhere as good as her at her age I will be delighted. I look in the mirror and am happy with my silver grey hair. So few of my peers are grey, on the outside anyway – between them they keep hairdressers in business topping up alternative colours. Not ready yet for grey. I can understand them. For me it’s different. So much longer to get used to it.

The lines mystify me a bit. My carefully lit bathroom gives me the start to the day I need. All looks generally fine til I later catch sight of myself in an unexpected mirror and wonder who the face belongs to that is looking back at me. Surely those lines aren’t mine.

I remember being a teenager and my very eccentric grandmother said, in her eighties, that when she looked in the mirror she was always surprised because she still felt young inside. With the arrogance of teenage-hood I looked at this very very old lady who wore knickerbockers and smelt of lavender and wondered how on earth she could think that. And now I find myself in a similar spot. I feel not much different inside – more experience, a bit less certain on my views on everything (my student years where all seemed to clear…), more tolerant, perhaps a bit less spontaneous, the occasional twinge in one hip. So I feel very similar inside but that face belies that feeling. So I’m sometimes surprised at the face that looks back at me. Surprised but not unhappy. It is a face that shows a life well lived so far – open to more that lies ahead.

My grandmother was always my role model. Eccentric, given to passing fancies and enthusiasms, with a gusto for life and living. Hopelessly impractical, an adventurous spirit, someone you never forgot meeting. Intensely embarrassing as a teenager to be invited to afternoon tea with her in town – because she always told everyone around how clever her granddaughter was – how mortifying. But at the same time I loved her stories, real or imagined, it didn’t matter much, of her life out in Africa running a coffee plantation where enthusiasm was greater than expertise so she saved herself from financial ruin by marrying the local Barclay’s Bank Manager. Such impressive problem solving!

She spent a life challenging the norms of what a woman like her was supposed to do or say and died in her late 90s, having spent almost every penny she ever had, which was lots. Until the last few years was still a force of nature. I really loved her and her energy.

Here a great photo of her in her car which she drove across Africa with a female friend. What a surprise she must have been to so many.

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Very rarely do I mind being older. Almost always I am happy to be the age I am and look the age I am. No need for all the things people do to try to cheat time that give them tight faces and foreheads that don’t move.

Getting older along with all my long term friends is just fine with me. We look out for each other, share glasses round the table when people can’t read menus, prompt each other when we forget names or tell the same story twice. And mostly we keep each other laughing, sharing, loving and enjoying the lives we have. Who could want for better than that!

La Boheme

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A birthday treat. A glorious performance of La Boheme at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Spectacular singing, heartstoppingly beautiful at times, wonderful choreography. So blessed to be able to be here soaking it all up.

Happy Birthday to me!

And finally the walk home past a lit up Natural History Museum. The beauty of London.

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