A year in Geneva

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22 February 2015 was my one year anniversary of moving to Geneva. I celebrated this by trudging through the slushy snow to go to work (yup that was on a Saturday but don’t worry I don’t make a habit of it) and later I met up with a friend for a drink. I forgot to spend any time reflecting on the momentousness of the occasion as I experienced a pretty normal day without spectacle. So I’m using this week’s blog post to consider what failed to register at that time and offer a retrospective on my year in Geneva.

When I first moved here this city seemed so strange and alien to me, so far from ‘normal’ life that for my first few days, well probably first six months actually, I was constantly noting the passage of time and questioning whether coming here was the right move or not. (Parlez-vous franglais per favore, mein leiber dich?)

My first few months, when it was just me, whilst my fiancé tied up loose ends in the UK and prepared to join me, was quite an intense experience. I lost quite a lot of weight through a combination of discovering meat was too expensive to eat and going running most evenings, not because I’m an exercise freak but because I had nothing better to do. In my first flat I didn’t have television or radio so most evenings were spent watching a DVD on the laptop, reading, running and an early night. (“Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”)

I strove to make friends and discovered this was a pretty exhausting process when driven by compulsion. If I stopped to think about it I have to admit I was pretty lonely and I needed some friends in the flesh, although was grateful to remain in contact with those friends I’d left behind. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder)

But it started to pay off and relationships that maybe had to be forced a bit in the early stages developed into something more genuine and I’ve met some very cool people. Although some of these I’ve also had to say goodbye to as their expat adventures have taken them elsewhere. And that hasn’t been easy but the great experiences we’ve shared more than make up for my sadness at their departure. (An expat among expats)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found a lovely flat in an area I really like that suits me well. It is close enough to walk to the centre of Geneva but enough out of town to be pretty quiet and it borders on some truly beautiful woodlands along the river Rhone. We navigated arrangements, which were surprisingly straightforward, for the cats to fly out to join me, travelling as cabin baggage from the UK to Switzerland. I had no idea that animals could even travel in the cabin on flights, probably because you can’t do this coming into the UK, but it was a pretty easy process. And with the cats and then our UK life shipped out to me in boxes, my new abode started to feel more familiar. Normality was creeping up on me, gradually seeping into the day-to-day.

I had a period of illness when I felt completely sorry for myself, nothing serious but a flaring up of multiple minor ailments that I was left to fend to myself. Nothing is worse than feeling a bit grotty and not having anyone to complain to about it (that can’t escape from the whinging by just hanging up the phone). I also didn’t understand how the health system worked, but fearing the financial cost of seeing a Doctor I potentially couldn’t communicate with decided to stick with home remedies and sweat it out. Literally. (Why I’m not great with doctors)

I now had the cats for company but Jasper chose this moment to develop an infected abscess and force me to figure out how vets work. However, having someone else’s needs to focus on stopped me from indulging in so much self-sympathy. And not needing a loan to pay for his vet’s fees was a pleasant surprise! (The forlornest looking lampshade)

Jasper lampshadeEventually the fiancé came out too and my world started to right itself a little bit more, although his being there after several months of living apart did take a bit of adjusting to. (The arrival of the fiancé!)

We settled into a bit of a routine, disrupted by a few trips back to the UK including for my best friend’s amazing wedding. (The art of public speaking) And also a trip to Portugal for another great wedding. (Strangers are friends you haven’t yet met) I’d work, he’d job hunt, keep the flat in good working order and cook for me when I got home. I definitely got the better end of the deal.

His job hunting has been a bit frustrating with nothing resulting in paid employment to date but we’ve scraped by on my salary, and spent a lot of time speculating on how great it’ll be when he’s working and we can buy this, go there and enjoy that. A bit like playing the game of ‘when I win the lottery’ just with better odds. Even on a budget though, we still managed to try some fun new things. (The fears we all share)

Christmas and New Years were spent in Geneva. We had a nice time with great friends on those days and enjoyed a leisurely period of blissful nothingness for the days in between. I’d thought it would be weird to have such a friends and family-lite Christmas but actually it was really relaxing not rushing around like lunatics trying to see everyone, and after quite a disruptive year it was easy to appreciate a bit of quiet time. (Going somewhere nice for Christmas? Well, bully for you!)

This year, has felt a bit strange with personal challenges and exciting work opportunities but these have been absorbed into the new normalcy of life in Geneva. (Resolving on a great 2015, The tedium/tremendousness of travelling for work) I’m not quite settled here yet and don’t think I will be until the man finds a job and can start to find his own way to a regular life here. But the fact that my year’s anniversary here was so unremarkable is a good sign. It doesn’t feel quite like ‘home’ yet but it doesn’t feel like another planet anymore either.

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Ten Reasons I Didn’t Need Valentine’s Day To Know He Loves Me

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As last week’s ten reasons was pretty much why I hate Valentine’s Day I thought I’d counter the idea that I’m a bitter, love-hating, unromantic wench and set out a slightly more romantic ten reasons this week: ten reasons why I didn’t need Valentine’s Day to know he loves me. This doesn’t so much contradict my Valentine loathing ways as reinforce the idea that the day is essentially pointless. The following might not be your textbook romantic gestures but to me couldn’t be better examples of what love is really about. And all examples occured last week.

1. He patiently spent 30 minutes tweezing a shard of broken glass out of my foot whilst I winced and cursed him constantly.

2. When I spent two days working from home and was an intense bundle of frustrated, tired and agitated charmlessness he didn’t hold it against me when I would be vile to him for such irritating things as breathing and bringing me a cup of tea when I didn’t want one.

3. On said charmless days he also didn’t hold it against me when I chose to spend my lunch break watching yet another episode of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, which he hates, rather than watching a show with him that he liked.

4. When I was looking on the verge of another neurotic sleep/Pretty Little Liars -deprived meltdown with another evening of working late he would systematically bring me a cat for a quick stress-busting cuddle/outpouring of affection.

5. He spent several hours helping me get ingredients and make cookie-dough brownies for a party he wasn’t going to.

6. He reassured me that I haven’t ruined his life by dragging him to Geneva for my career ambitions even though he hasn’t been able to find a job here and is patiently forced to tell people over and over again that he hasn’t found a job yet whilst still pretending to be upbeat and positive about it so that other people won’t hold it against me.

7. When my tooth was aching, scabby-nositis (impetigo) flared up and a cold took full hold he made me my favourite homebrew remedy of fresh lemon, ginger, honey, cinnamon and cayenne pepper without my asking.

8. He made me dinner every evening, including judgement-free-stodge-based-but-endorphin-inducing pizza and potato wedges when I was feeling most sorry for myself (with virus/work combo).

brie, hot dogs and sausages (640x384)9. When heading back to the UK for the weekend and thus leaving me in Geneva by myself he made sure the fridge and cupboards were suitably well stocked so that I wouldn’t be tempted to eat brie straight from the wrapping, uncooked hot dog sausages or just spoonfuls of sugar in his absence. I’d like to pretend I’ve never done any of these things but he learnt the trick of leaving me with well-stocked cupboards from experience.

10. He still gave me a Valentines Card and chocolate even though I told the world I hate the holiday and he wasn’t even here on the day so could totally have used that as an excuse if I had decided to hold lack of card against him.

Going somewhere nice for Christmas? Well, bully for you!

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We made the decision not to head back to the UK for Christmas and will instead be experiencing our first Genevan Christmas.

I have come to understand that Geneva will be a quiet place for Christmas. Being a city that is comprised of approximately 40% expats it is natural that a lot of these non-Swiss will return back to their respective homelands for a Christmas with friends and family. Other residents will be running to the hills, as heading for the snow-capped mountains is a popular holiday tradition. This means there wont be many people actually left in Geneva.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 2.24.47 PMI’m actually quite happy with the idea of a quiet Christmas this year. Yes, Christmases filled with friends and family are lovely and magical times but they can also be quite tiring.

As so much of Christmas is a time for thinking about loved ones there is a great deal of pressure to find time to catch up with everyone you care about in this condensed holiday period. Whilst this is wonderful it also entails lots of travelling around, events and activities and very little rest time. Factor in the reality that if you are taking a decent amount of time off over the holidays (and I’ve always been lucky enough to do so) this means there is always a lot of work to be done before the end of the year.

So you are usually tired approaching the holiday season and by the end of it might be more exhausted starting the new year than you were ending the old one. Having had a quite eventful year (moving country, starting a new job, enjoyable but demanding trips to the UK and a wedding abroad) I’m quite looking forward to a quiet Christmas this year with my bearded man and cats.

However, when chatting with various people about their plans for the upcoming holidays a lot of people have expressed surprise at my staying in Geneva for the entire duration of the holidays. A surprise that suggests that this is a mistake and it will absolutely be the worst Christmas I will ever have. Or if they don’t say as much they might pull a face that looks like this:

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At the book club Christmas party last night I was speaking with a friend who said he was staying in Geneva but added the explanation, because clearly he felt he needed one, that he would be going skiing in the mountains. To express my frustration at having to yet again explain and defend my holiday plans I uttered four little words: ‘well, bully for you’ and then started laughing. Aware this was a pretty rude response I tried to explain it was a private joke between me and …er…me, or to be more accurate between me and the memory of my Granny.

Several years, actually decades, ago, when I must have been somewhere around six or seven, I attended a family party for my uncle’s 40th birthday. My Granny and Grandad had divorced long before I was born and generally did their best to avoid each other, however this was one of those rare occasions when both happened to be in the same place at the same time with the same people.

My Granddad, no doubt in the spirit of family goodwill, came to where me and mum where chatting with Granny and started a conversation. He started to tell us about a recent holiday he had been on and my Granny just looked up at him from her wheelchair, said ‘Well, bully for you’ tartly and promptly wheeled away.

I’m not really sure exactly what it was about the scenario that I found and continue to find quite so funny. I think there was a lot of genuine ill-feeling as my Granny delivered her damning one-liner to my Grandad and moved away. But over the years both mum and I have come to adopt the phrase and liberally use it to express mock indignation at anyone we perceive to be potentially bragging about any experiences, circumstances, etc. And every time I say that phrase I remember my Granny and it makes me laugh.

Last night after making a pathetic attempt to explain why I just insulted my friend’s holiday plans and then started laughing about it the memory stayed with me and continued to amuse me. Walking home later that evening, I recalled the conversation and the phrase I’d used and started laughing to myself all over again. I’m grinning away to myself as I type this right now.

Just saying those words or thinking about them brings a smile to my face or laughter to my lips. And, even though when my Granny uttered them she didn’t mean them to be quite so amusing, it also fills me with a very happy feeling about Gran that I can’t fully explain. Perhaps it is just that in repeating those words I can recall her so vividly in all her wonderful, flawed and complete humanity that it makes me feel close to her. There are lots of great memories I have of my Granny, particularly playing a lot of Mahjong or Rummikub, but that particular ‘well, bully for you’ memory surfaces most frequently when that phrase she bequeathed me slips off my tongue so easily.

I wonder if others have such equally bizarre triggers for remembering someone who is no longer a part of our lives for whatever reason? So if I ever seem to guffaw at your new watch, holiday plans or whatever with those particular words don’t take it personally but know that I’m remembering someone I loved in my own unique way.

Dining with the dead

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“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast Sunday I took part in a free walking tour of my new home city, kindly organised by the City of Geneva. This particular walk was focused on Geneva’s parks and gardens and took the group on a meandering tour from the Brunswick Monument on the left bank of the lake across to the newly reopened Musée d’Ethnographie.

One of our last stops was the Plainpalais Cemetery, known locally as Cimetière des Rois (Cemetery of the Kings) in tribute to the notable personages buried there which include John Calvin, figurehead of the 16th century protestant reformation; Jean Luis Borges, famous Argentinian writer; Sofiya Dostoyevsky, daughter of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky and many more illustrious personages.

I already knew the cemetery well, as it’s close to my work place, and I had passed through and visited on many an occasion. So when the tour guide told us that in the summer this was a common picnicking spot I didn’t exhibit the surprise of some of my fellow tourists. I had seen that with my own eyes and have in fact consumed lunch in the cemetery on more than one occasion.

When a colleague first took me to eat in the cemetery, on a beautifully sunny October day, she seemed almost apologetic for bringing me there. I think she thought I might find the idea of eating our homemade food amongst the dead as somehow unseemly.

I don’t know why people have an aversion to cemeteries or fear of the dead, which is presumably where the aversion to their resting place comes from. I don’t know if ghosts exist or not but if they do I don’t see that there is any reason to fear them. If there are ghosts then I imagine them to be a sort of reflection or echo of the person they once were and as I have a tendency to believe all people are pretty decent at heart I see no reason to think that their spirits would be any different.

It also seems strange to me the idea that there ought to be a respectful distancing of ourselves from the dead whereby the idea of showing any happiness or joy in these places of death is to be severely condemned, as though the deceased would want us wailing over them forever.

My only negative experience in a graveyard revolved around a primary school incident of trying to raise a particular spirit from their grave, which ended badly in getting me grounded for two weeks for returning home two hours later than I was supposed to (we were waiting for it to get dark).

But the truth is, I have always rather liked cemeteries. I have many fond, and wholly unsqueamish, memories of walking around burial grounds with my parents from an early age. I liked the flowers, the calm and trying to read the inscriptions washed away by time on the oldest tombstones. But mostly I liked reading through the names, the dates of birth and death, the families recorded in the same plot and taking a moment to stop and think about the once living people who now lay beneath the earth.

I think my love of history comes from the same basic root of wanting to find a way to connect with those of the past. To think how their lives may have been, what they may have felt, to imagine myself in their shoes and to wonder if anyone in the future will ever try to connect with an historical version of myself?

I suppose that is also why I have a strong desire to one day write a great novel in the same way others desire to make their mark in film, be renowned for scientific discovery, bring about a revolution or raise a legion of children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. It’s the desire to be remembered and, in recognition of the truth that our lives are but fleeting moments in history, to think that there is a way in which we may continue to live on beyond our allocated time.

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So, I explained to my lunch companion that I felt no compunction in enjoying the autumn sun, eating my sandwiches and relaxing in a cemetery. I think the idea of the living mingling with the dead is somehow a rather comforting thought.

Those of us picnicking in Plainpalais cemetery probably haven’t chosen the spot because we have some sort of morbid fascination with the ghoulish, we have come because it is a pleasant spot to be in. And if, whilst we are there to enjoy ourselves, we take a moment to look at a few stones, to read the names carved upon and to take a moment to think about the people they memorialise then that seems a more honourable way to remember the dead than to keep a ‘respectful’ distance.

 

An expat among expats

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“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

One of the things I liked when I first came to Geneva was that the city is full of expats from every region of the world. I had the sense that no-one really belonged here but in this communality of not-belonging we all did.

And whilst invariably you would get pockets of certain people from the same country coming together more often than not the groups I would meet would be a real melting pot of different nationalities.

For example the first four friends I made here were Lebanese, Chinese, Dutch and Maltese-Australian. There are about 25 people in my office that represent around 17 different nationalities and you’ll hear a number of different languages floating around the corridors. Coming from my previous job in the UK, primarily made up of white British staff, the cultural mix here was quite new to me but something I warmly embraced.

Events like the World Cup are so much more fun when not everyone around you is rooting for the same team. And I have really enjoyed discovering what experiences and cultural practices are commonly shared amongst this mish-mash of people and what things are unique to each nationality (People in Geneva do have Christmas tree but I was stumped when trying to explain sherbert to a group of co-workers the other day). The office universally shares a love of chocolate but has fun debating which country produces the best or worst chocolate.

I’ve been an expat before when I interned in Cambodia but there we were small in a number and had a tendency to stick together. But being an expat among expats is an entirely different experience with a lot of positives. However, there is a downside as well.

A few months ago I met a chap from abroad who told me that until he and his wife had children they didn’t make any Swiss friends. When I asked him why he explained that with so many people coming and going those that were more permanently based here didn’t want to invest their time in getting to know people who would ultimately leave.

At the time I thought that it was a bit heartless not to make an effort to welcome newcomers into your lives just because they might leave again. But as expat friends of mine have now started to leave or announce upcoming plans for departure I’ve started to understand their thinking. It’s not that they are heartless but rather that its heartbreaking when someone you’ve come to know and care for is going to be gone from your life and possibly never re-enter it.

I’ve always been a selfish creature, for example uprooting the fella and abandoning all UK based friends and family to chase my dreams in Geneva, but it never occurred to me until it started happening to me on a frequent basis how hard it is to be left behind.

A number of people that I’ve met in Geneva that I’ve taken the time to get to know and have gradually forged fledgling friendships with that I thought had the potential to develop into full-on chumminess have announced that they will be leaving in the next few months and I’m honestly gutted.

From a selfish point of view I want everyone to stay and be my friends forever and if I decide to move again for them all to decide to move with me. Is that too much to ask?

I grudgingly accept that not everyone’s lives revolve around me, much as I might like them to, and I understand why certain people are leaving and obviously wish them well in their future adventures. It’s just I feel like someone has grabbed the trunk of a flimsy tree I’d built a nest in and shaken it violently, with the unsettling effect the departure of these people will have just as I was stating to feel comfortable here.

I think it’s good to put yourself out of your comfort zone but it’s harder when other people do this for you. Whilst I know not all my friends are leaving, there will always be constants in my life and that I’ll undoubtedly meet new and interesting people to form new friendships with there’s a part of me that wants to protect myself from future hurt by simply shutting myself off to the opportunity of loving and losing more people.

But then I think, well if I’d done that I’d never have met these wonderful people in the first place. If I hid my heart from other potential friends I’d be letting fear rule my life and that’s against the whole philosophy of what this blog was initially supposed to be about (see ‘The Why’).

So rather than feeling bummed out about the fact that some of my friends will leave I ought to make the most of them whilst they are still here. And it’s quite exciting to think that ten months ago I didn’t know any of them and in another ten months there could be more great people in my life I haven’t even met yet. Plus the further my friends disperse themselves around the world the more excuses I have to go and visit new places. It might be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster but it’s a wonderful world.

 

The Blog Hop

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I have been nominated to participate in a blog hop by WA Woman to World, which entails answering the questions below and then nominating two other blogs to share their responses.

Firstly, thanks Michelle for the nomination. I met Michelle at my very first Geneva International Book Club meeting. The club is a lovely(ish) group of people whose warm welcome to Geneva, where every comment is welcomed and valued if not necessarily agreed with, made me first feel at home in this strange city. And Michelle was one of the first people here in Geneva I really connected with. I was delighted to discover her blog and get to know her better through this medium as well as regular book club meets and to discover what a warm-hearted, funny and inspiring woman she really is. I loved her blog so much that it motivated me to start my own and her words of support were really encouraging.

What are you working on?

That really depends on how you want to define ‘work’. If we are going for the traditional sense in terms of societally-defined gainful employment for which I exchange skills for the money to pay rent and eat, then I am working for an international NGO for the advancement of human rights.

Human rights has been something I’ve been passionate about since we had a talk from a representative of Amnesty International when I was in secondary school. I felt a pull to do something about the global inequality where the rights I take for granted are denied to so many others. This started with my joining a local Amnesty group, later I undertook a Masters Degree in Human Rights, an internship with the Cambodian Centre of Human Rights followed in 2013 and now I’m here in Geneva hoping to put my organizational skills to use for something I care about.

In terms of the broader sense of ‘work’ well, I now have this blog but, my biggest non-work-work is ‘me’. It’s an ongoing project to try and be the best version of myself, not to let myself be held back by fears and to open myself up to new experiences whilst at the same time learn to appreciate the here and now. It’s an ambitious challenge I suspect won’t be finished anytime soon. At the moment, to provide slightly more specific examples, it includes learning French, enjoying a healthier version of me through improved diet and increased exercise, practicing drawing and trying not to be so darn addicted to social media apps on my phone and at work.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

In terms of the blog writing, I wouldn’t say I have a unique voice or perspective, because I doubt whether there is any such thing as a truly original thought or piece of work. Even if you think you are being radically different from everyone else there are probably loads of other people with exactly the same idea, which may or may not have been put into practice or vocalised yet. Or perhaps I’m just not original enough to accept the concept of originality in others.

I started my blog thinking what I was saying was revolutionary, that no-one would have heard anything of the like before. I was quite astounded by the amount of people who came back to me saying this is exactly how they feel. At first I felt a little put out by that but actually I’ve realised how great this is and now I love the idea that through opening myself up on the blog others may find things they can relate to. Through doing my part to create a little interconnectivity I hope we can all feel a little less alone and a little stronger.

But even if we share the same ideas with others which ideas we have in common, how we voice these, how these affect us and shape our own understandings is unique to all of us. I’m trying to hold onto the thought that I am both nothing more than a snowflake in a blizzard and nothing less than a one of a kind snowflake. It’s a dizzying vertigo effect of trying to balance one’s own sense of self-importance with the realisation of one’s insignificance.*

Perhaps my work is different in not trying to be different and not really trying to be anything more nor anything less than mine? Or perhaps it’s the same as everyone else’s in this respect?

Why do you create what you do?

For some time I’ve thought there is a novel or two inside me but it occurred to me that I wouldn’t become a bestseller anytime soon unless maybe I started writing a bit more frequently. I then met a couple of inspirational bloggers and I thought I’d start my blog as a technical challenge to polish my writing skills. However I completely underestimated the effect that blogging would have on me and this developed into a passion in itself.

I wasn’t sure, and still aren’t, exactly where I wanted to go with the blog and what I wanted to say. But I did know that I wanted to write honestly about who I am and how I understand and interpret the world around me. Through trying to truthfully address my sense of self and then put it out there for others through this blog it’s actually helping me to understand myself better.

The concept of the blog was to spell out my life philosophy and how I’m applying that on a daily basis. Since starting the blog I discovered my philosophy isn’t as concrete as I had imagined and is constantly evolving, so this will continue to be something to work on.

How does your creative process work?

Deadlines are pretty essential to how I operate. I’m very good at wasting time and can spend whole weekends doing nothing more than flitting between television, books or perhaps having a little wander outside. I blame my dad, he is king of the procrastinators and passed that particular talent on to me.

So I imposed a weekly deadline on myself, which I’ve actually managed to stick to reasonably well, and try to avoid the trap of thinking ‘oh well it doesn’t matter this week’. I know that sort of thinking will be a slippery slope for me because if I start to make excuses it gets easier to keep on making excuses and before you know it months will have gone by without a single new post.

Knowing I have the weekly deadline means my inspiration drive is pretty much always whirring away in the background looking for ideas for the next post. Sometimes it’s obvious and I’ll see, experience or feel something that moves me to write and sometimes I have to work a bit harder to try and find anything worth expressing. I’m starting to develop a little store of rainy day blogging ideas to avoid moments of panic about what the heck I’m going to write about next, which has happened a few times.

Book club has also been a useful muse by pointing me towards reading books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, thinking about books in greater depth than I used to and most importantly from getting insights into others on how they have interpreted the same texts I’ve read. We all have the same material but our brains make quite different work of it, proving humans are pretty amazing and providing plenty of food for thought.

My nominees

I have chosen to nominate the blog ‘Lori and the Caravan.’ Lori is a truly inspirational person who is not afraid of a challenge and shares her experiences openly and honestly through her blog. Amongst other things she is a loving mother, a historical geek, a passionate vintage promoter, and, obviously a blogger. I worked with Lori in London and then our lives took us in different directions and we drifted, but I’ve been able to reconnect with her through her blog. You can also check out her shop and start thinking of little people you can buy Lori’s great vintage finds for.

My other nominee is the brilliantly insightful ‘Self-styled life’. This was one of the first blogs I discovered when I started my own blogging adventure and it really resonated with me. Despite the fact Jean and I have never met, live on different continents and have very different lives I have felt a connection with her through her writing. When first starting out it was really encouraging to find a blogger that could entertain and move me (my last blog post was directly inspired by one of hers). Her blog was the first stranger’s blog I dared to comment on and I have really appreciated her warm and thoughtful responses to my random comments. It’s nice to know the internet isn’t such a scary place full of trolls under every article.


*This is starting to sound either a bit profound or super self-indulgent and poncey, sorry if it’s the latter.

The age-old question

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I recently read an interesting post ‘In Defence of Aging’, which has got me thinking about that age-old question, which is really two questions: 1) Am I getting old? And 2) Do I care?

What is old?

Age is a funny thing and the perception of old-age is a fairly fluid construct, in that the closer you get to it the further it moves away.

When I was five and the 1990 World Cup was taking place I remember my dad telling me that the next World Cup would be in four years time. To my five-year old brain four years might as well be the end of the world. And from a five-year old’s perspective, when one year is a fifth of your life, then four years is a lifetime.

If we compare that to now, when the 2014 World Cup finished with yet another disappointment for England (and to be fair every other team that wasn’t Germany), my perception is slightly different. It’s only another four years to the next World Cup, barely a wait at all and only a fraction of the life I’ve already lived.

At the age of 10, 50 sounds ancient. At 20 the gap between youth and old age both narrows and widens. 30 sounds terrifyingly old but at the same time 60, which used to turn people into Old Age Pensioners, doesn’t seem nearly so old now that we’ve seen parents and friends surpass that particularly year without curling up into a useless mass of pointless existence.

My grandma is 93 but she has only just accepted that she might be old and only a few months ago she threatened to kick anyone that dared to suggest she seemed to be doing very well for her age. ‘What do they mean,’ she’d indignantly ask ‘at my age?’ 93 does seem pretty old but perhaps when, if, I’m in my 80s I’ll probably be thinking ‘90 isn’t old but 100+, now that is old’.

Am I getting old?

So next year I’ll be 30 and with this upcoming change of decade I’m not entirely sure whether I ought to be feeling:

  • denial (‘no, I’m not 30, I’m 29 (again)’)
  • anxiety (‘I’m going to be so old I wont be able to enjoy childish things like going to the zoo anymore unless I actually have children or borrow someone else’s’)
  • disappointment (‘I thought I’d have done more with my life by now’*)
  • relief (‘thank god, I’m no longer in my twenties, I pity those young’uns searching for jobs, trying to save up for a house’)
  • anything in particular at all (‘maybe I wont transform into a different person with a whole new perspective in life’).

I think feeling old is something we put upon ourselves. Last year, when I was in Cambodia doing an internship I was conscious of the fact that the other interns were all younger than me but it really didn’t matter. My being a few years older didn’t mean we had nothing in common and couldn’t relate. In fact, one of the people I was closest too was one of the youngest of the group but we connected as people not as age-brackets and no segregation of years (or geography for that matter) affects our continuing friendship.

Currently, I don’t feel old but I don’t feel particularly young either and actually that’s okay. I’m a lot more confident now than I was in my early 20s and care a lot less about what other’s think so I don’t really want to go back to that more anxious, albeit slightly younger, version of me.

Do I care?

Laughter linesHere is a picture of me taken up a tree during the rope course adventure I tried recently and at first glance, I thought that’s a nice picture (judgement criteria being: I don’t look fat or overly shiny). On closer inspection I note the laughter lines around my hair and a few grey hairs wisping around my head. Does this proof of aging make it less of a nice picture? Again, it depends on your perspective.

What I liked in the defence of aging post, referred to above, was the idea that the lines on our faces don’t so much add character as show our character. I love that the lines around our eyes are called laughter lines because that’s such a friendly non-threatening concept. Yes, I have quite a lot of laughter lines but I’ve spent a lot of my life laughing and as they show up most when I’m grinning away is it such a big deal for other people to see them? Not really. Yes, I have grey hairs now and every so often I will dye these, but does existence of these prove I’m past my sell-by-date?

We recently had vast amounts of ‘expired’ chocolate donated to our office. It still tastes great, and even the resident Belgian (by birth a chocolate connoisseur) agrees. So I might be old in the eyes of some but that doesn’t mean I’m actually past-it.

I was filling in a form at work recently with a colleague who misheard when I gave my date of birth and wrote 1995 rather than 1985. I laughed and expressed thanks for making me 10 years younger and then I instantly took that back because I realized I don’t actually want to be 19 any more. On the whole I’m reasonably happy with how I lived the last 10 years and the 19 before that, for that matter. I don’t want to be 19 again and I don’t really want to look 19 again.

There’s a poem I like, written by someone who set himself the challenge of writing a poem a day, on the topic ‘If I could do it all over.’ The subject of the poem reflects on the ups and downs of his life and decides that if he had the chance to live his life again he wouldn’t change a thing because then he wouldn’t be the person he is today. If I were offered the chance to relive my life and return to my ‘youth’ I think I’d rather stick where I am as I am grey hairs and all!

I’m not saying I’ll happily accept the continued greying of my hair and wrinkling of my skin but I am going to try not to worry about it. It’s part of who I am, evidence of who I’ve been and evolution of the person I will become. And aging is definitely better than the alternative.

Getting older is inevitable but if getting old is a state of mind and my mind is willing to show flexibility in this area then I don’t seen any reason to have to feel old any time soon or, actually, ever.


* Granted the fear I haven’t done enough with my life is going to affect me, but that’s because this is something I’m already worried about, have been worried about since leaving University and will probably continue to worry about in the future. That’s pretty much what this whole blog is about.