Skool dayz – travelling in time

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So recently I went back in time, around 12-19 years back. I went to my school reunion to once again spend time in the company of a group of people who, for better or worse, were such an important part of my life.

When I first heard about the reunion, I thought it sounded like a great idea, especially when it was going to be held in the same haunt that we used to frequent as teenagers: the local cricket club which could be hired out at reasonable costs for nights of youthful debauchery and sweaty walls.

However, as the date for the reunion started to loom closer, the apprehension kicked in. The reunion seemed less like a fun opportunity for reliving our youthful misadventures and more as a critical point in our lives when we would submit ourselves to the judgments of those who knew what our childhood dreams were.

We all came from the same background, more or less, but where were we all at X years from that fateful day when we (thought we had) finally left our school days behind us?

I tend to review my life, what I’ve achieved so far and where I’m going, on a fairly frequent basis, particularly around this time, as the year draws to a close. However, my self-imposed annual report is scary enough when it’s assessing what I’ve been doing for the last year. Did I really want to voluntarily put myself into a room full of people who would want a report not of the last 12 months but of the last 12 years! On a year-by-year basis my life doesn’t seem so bad, on this more mega scale, was I really going to live up?

Navigating the nervous explosions going off inside my skull I realised I was the one setting all these potential landmines. Would my old school mates really care for a blow-by-blow, marks out of ten, consideration of my life? Probably not. But confronting my reunion was forcing me to confront my worst critic: me. And not just current day me, who can be tough enough, but that youthful aspirational me who believed life would all nicely fit into place after university and I’d fulfill all those dreams I didn’t yet know I had. You leave school and you believe you can do anything. I still believe I can do anything but now I know that ‘anything’ entails a lot of work and sacrifice I’m not necessarily prepared to make any more.

If I want to give up on my current career and become a doctor, is it still possible? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Maybe not. Would I really be prepared to return to intensive education, take loans or find ways to support the costs of doing this and put myself through all the stresses and strains it would entail? Perhaps, if I absolutely wanted to be a doctor more than anything else. But this is the kicker, and the way in which I feel I’ve most disappointed 18 year old me; you see, life didn’t automatically all fall into place after university, I still don’t really know what I want to do and suspect there could still be 100+ interesting career options for me.

I might have narrowed the field a little bit but I still haven’t committed myself to a singular path. Whilst, this isn’t in itself a bad thing, I think my ability to be flexible and to continue to be interested in new avenues isn’t something to be ashamed of, nevertheless sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to have that one goal to rigorously pursue? But that isn’t me, I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point at which I can sit back and think ‘right I’m done now’.

Although my biggest concerns about the reunion were self-imposed I was still nervous about meeting up with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen since I was 18. I didn’t have any arch-nemeses at school and although there were people and groups I didn’t like, I‘d given up on worrying what they thought before I even left the institution. I was actually more concerned about confronting the people who used to be my friends, but for one reason or another I’ve fallen out of contact with. I don’t know whether this fear was motivated by guilt that I’d not made enough effort to stay in touch or a sense of rejection that they’d not done the same with me.

I generally think of my old school friends fondly, they were a great bunch who were part of an informative part of my life. And I have accepted that it is a fact of life that some friends we make are friends for certain times in our lives only and only a few are friends for the entire duration. However, it felt strange to be revisiting these old friends with the distance of over a decade between us.

I wasn’t the only one with butterflies in my stomach about confronting my past, pretty much everyone I knew who was going seemed to feel the same way. So we concocted a plot, we’d meet for dinner and a little dutch courage first, arrive en masse and, if it was terrible, escape to one of the many pubs in town. We had a nice dinner and I caught up with some old friends, some of whom I remain regularly in contact with and others who I wish I was able to see more.

After dinner we managed to work up the nerve to totter across to the cricket club. Inside it quickly became apparent that we can’t have been the only people worried about the reunion, of the 100+ who’d signed up, actual turnout seemed to be closer to 40.

I soon saw a few friendly faces, including some of those good friends I’d lost touch with, although the majority weren’t actually there, and…I had a really good time. It was great to see how people had and had not changed and it quickly felt like old times, except we spent a bit longer talking before hitting the dance floor than would have been normal in our sixth form days and I’m not sure we danced enough to make the walls sweat but it was a great night we didn’t want to end. After the official close many of us decamped to a nearby pub. The only thing that could have topped it off would have been if the kebab van was open when we left and I could have got cheesey chips on the way home.

 

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The exhausting adventures of an over-organiser

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The last week or so has been something of a whirlwind as the fiancé and I came back for a wedding and decided we would stop in the UK for the following week and visit as many people as humanly possible.
In 11 days we clocked up around 1500 miles between us, which is about 4 times the length of England, as we traversed the South East, Midlands and North. We managed to visit both sets of parents, my grandma, Tom’s grandparents, my aunt and nine separate meetings with friends.
This logistical feat of pulling off the who, how, where and when of maximising UK friend and family absorbing time has caused me to finally accept that I am good at this sort of thing. So in acknowledgement of my true self I’d like to say ‘my name is Briony and I’m an organiser!’
Despite the fact I have been in a number of jobs where organisational skills are an absolute must I never really think of myself as being an organised person, because I have always felt I could be better at this. But this doesn’t really make sense. It’s like me saying I’m not a runner because even though I regularly run 5k a couple of times a week (brag brag) I could be better at this. So yes, I could be a better runner and I could be better organised but this doesn’t stop me from already being both of these things.
An essential requirement of being disorganisedly-challenged (desperately trying not to keep repeating ‘organised’) is the ability to plan ahead. The amount of people we managed to fit in on a relatively brief visit was a result of my spreading out the charts and forming a touring battle-plan, if you will, carefully scheduled to within an inch of the agenda’s life.
Had I left the UK trip to the fiancé we’d have gone to the wedding and then just pootled about in London for the rest of the week and seen a couple of people. Granted, this might have been a relaxing alternative but, having been an expat abroad for almost 6 months now, would have seemed a wasted opportunity.
My methodical and systematic approach to work, holidays and so on definitely has its place but I know that I’m capable of this sort of thing because it comes naturally to me, which means I can’t really turn it off. And always going about my life in an orderly and controlled manner isn’t necessarily a good thing. For one thing, it sounds pretty dull. Nobody wants to be described as ‘organised’, even if it does get you jobs and has practical purposes. For another, I’m also pretty rubbish at spontaneity and just doing things on the spur of the moment.
However, the most debilitating aspect of being Queen of the Planning is that I find it almost impossible to live in the moment and actually just take stock of where I’m at without constantly question where I’m going.
On a day to day scale I can do this to some extent, I can enjoy a nice leisurely walk and stop to take in the view and think how great it is to be in the here and now. But I can probably only manage this for an hour or two at best before the brain starts going into overdrive with thoughts of ‘what’s next?’
I’ll eat lunch and even as I’m eating it I’m already thinking about what’s for dinner. If I’m having an evening out with friends I’m perfectly capable of enjoying myself, and it’s not that I’m wishing the night were over its just that I’ll probably also be thinking about what time I’ll be home and what I have to do the next day.
On a small scale the over-planning’s not so bad, on a bigger scale it’s exhausting. Moving to Geneva happened fairly quickly and there was a lot to sort both before I went and then after I arrived. This preoccupation worked pretty well at distracting me but now I’m more settled here I can’t stop contemplating the future.
Should I start studying again? Where do I see myself going within the new job? Will we come back to the UK in a couple of years and if not, do we stay here or go somewhere else? Should I have a career figured out by now or at least have all required training out the way before thinking about children? And on and on it goes. I don’t know how to just sit back and think well Geneva is nice and leave it at that.
When I was working full time in the UK and also studying part-time and trying to see friends and family and sometimes taking on voluntary work it was pretty manic. I often look back and think how the hell did I manage that? So now I’m kind of enjoying a more relaxed pace of life, and think my hair is greying at a slower rate, but I’m also kind of hankering after those activities that serve so well as distractions. Always working towards things in the future means you don’t really need to think about what your place in the world is now and what the point of it all is.
I clearly need a new project.
We had a great time back in the UK and loved every minute catching up with those we got to see, although still missed a fair few off the list, but the whole thing was a little hectic. To ensure we get round everyone at a slighlty more leisurely pace I’ll have to plan a number of trips over the course of next year. I hope it will be enough of a diversion for now.

The art of public speaking

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This weekend was the wedding of one of my very best friends and, with her other Maid of Honour, I was tasked with delivering a speech to celebrate the occasion.

People laughed. I was told the speech was extraordinary, that people had never heard anything like it, that it was quite exceptional. The bride didn’t hit either of us. I’m pretty sure that counts as a success.

The bride was an old school friend who lived less than a hundred metres away from me as a child so we were foisted upon each other from an early age as a convenient drop off zone for working parents. She knew my folks pretty well so they had been invited to the wedding. One of the guests on their table said that the Maids-of-Honour should be a comedy double-act and I’m sure they were in no way simply being polite to my parents. There was definitely talk with the bride’s mum about sell-out shows at next year’s Edinburgh fringe festival and I’m sure that was also meant seriously. We were evidently a knock-out.

Perhaps this doesn’t  need to be pointed out,  but public speaking isn’t a skill that comes naturally to me. However, I wanted to do a good job and make the bride proud. (I might have failed there.)  I asked mum for advice, who told me to make it funny so I thought I’d start with a joke or two to keep it light. The bride’s only request was to include the groom in the tribute so I bore that in mind when starting work on the speech.

I didn’t have much time to coordinate with the other chief bridesmaid but at the hen-do (bachelorette party for you non-Brits) we came up with a vague plan that we’d chop and change so that one of us would talk then the other and so on. As it happened we thought that approach might ruin the flow of our sentimental texts so we decided to just go one after the other. I was to go last.

I had planned and written out a speech, which I think balanced the humour and sentimentality reasonably well. Unfortunately that wasn’t the speech I delivered. I thought my speech might be a bit on the long side so tried to cut it down a bit the night before the wedding, and then again after the ceremony. But it wasn’t until the father of the groom gave his speech that I realised just how long my speech was. So when the other Maid of Honour decided to put down her speech and ad-lib I thought I’d do the same.

Her speech was a little brief,  mine wasn’t brief enough!

I didn’t want to go straight into the mushy stuff so started by telling everyone how much I used to hate the bride. Remembering to include the groom I also spent some time explaining how much I also didn’t like him very much when I first met him. I did at least manage to briefly touch on the fact I liked them both now but completely forgot all the sentimental wishes for the future and faith in their love stuff, which would have probably rounded it all off a bit better and made me seem less like I loathed everyone there! 

In retrospect it may have been better not to drink quite so much before the speeches began.  I was pretty nervous and thought  a little Dutch courage in the form of vast quantities of wine was the way forward. On the plus side I could use drunkeness as something of an excuse later. 

So if you were wondering how not to give a speech at a wedding then follow my example and focus on how you don’t like the bride or groom and see how well that goes down! Ideally with a suitable co-wedding party personage dancing behind you the whole time. If the father of the groom feels the need to give an impromptu speech to try and save the day you’ll know you’ve struck exactly the wrong note. 

I’m not entirely sure it was what the bride had in mind. I’m fairly sure in hindsight she wouldn’t have asked us to give a speech. Still, she did say that fear of us ever giving another speech again was a darn good incentive not to get divorced. So in our own, unique way, I think we can proudly say we have contributed to a lasting marriage! 

You’re very welcome Mr and Mrs C!

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

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The saying goes: ‘absence makes the heart grows fonder’ but this is only true up to a point. Certainly, absence makes you keenly aware of being apart from those you are fond of, and a return after a relatively short period away makes you appreciate those you have missed all the more intently. Although more often than not this heightened sense of appreciation is only of a limited duration.
However absence over a longer period of time, say for those that up sticks and move away from the job/area/country of those they care for can have a different effect entirely. In time fondness alone can fade away into an affectionate memory of a part of your life that no longer exists.
Just as some friendships will stand the test of time, and you will meet people you know will be there for you no matter how much of a plonker you are at times, some friendships won’t last and absence won’t do these any favours. There is nothing wrong with this. I believe that it’s perfectly natural that you may have bonds with certain people only at certain periods of your life. It takes a lot of time and energy to preserve relationships and for most people it just isn’t feasible to keep up every friendship that has been acquired.
But absence can also take fondness and transform this into something far more substantial. After university it was the very absence of one person I had known there, who went to work abroad for a couple of years, that really established our relationship. Before she left I liked her but didn’t know her very well, by the time she returned our friendship had transformed into something solid, which is still strong some eight years down the line.
Whilst she was away we took on the seemingly now old fashioned approach of communicating through letter writing. What sounds like a distant means of staying in touch was the most liberating correspondence I have ever had. Sitting down and taking the time to think about and write a letter but not worrying about the immediacy of a response, and with someone I knew but initially wasn’t emotionally invested in, meant that I felt free to really open up and expose a very honest side of myself. What could have taken years in a more naturally evolving friendship began to take shape in about six months. Absence in that instance took mere fondness and transformed it into a long-lasting friendship.

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I haven’t been an expat long, only a few months to date, but knowing that this is a longer term move for me, likely to last a couple of years if not longer, has made me very aware of those that I have left behind. Facebook is great for being able to keep in touch with lots of people and share details of your life and take in aspects of theirs, but it can be too easy to rely on this and think that because you have kept up with a few snippets of people’s lives that this is the same meaningful connection that may have led you to add each other as Facebook friends in the first place.
Now that I know friends and family aren’t just a quick bus or train ride away, even if I didn’t actually make those journeys all that often, for the first time in years I’m consciously working on keeping these relationships going because I’ve realised I don’t just want them to fade away into distant memories.
I’m calling people far more frequently than I ever did in the UK and I’m making greater efforts to meet up with people in person in Switzerland, the UK or somewhere in between. Now that it has become harder to stay in touch, my efforts to do so have multiplied to meet the challenge.
If nothing else my little adventure in Switzerland has made my heart grow fonder and has energised me to realise that, like with so many other aspects of my life, my friendships are worth working at. If I want to keep relationships with friends strong (family too, but they kind of have to be there so it’s a bit different) I can’t just sit back and expect these to flourish all on their own. If I don’t keep them going, and my friends are similarly content to sit back and simply assume we’ll stay in touch, then we will drift apart due to the sorry excuse of just not making an effort.
My whole fear of the reaper philosophy has been great at motivating me to take on new challenges and to try things that scare me on a sliding scale from slightly intimidating to down-right terrifying. But I wouldn’t want this motivation to keep on moving forward to come at the cost of losing sight of the valuable things I have acquired in the past.
Just as what I achieve, or at least have a go at, each year is down to me so too is the art of maintaining bonds with those I care about. Obviously friendships do require an effort on the part of those I want to be friends with, or at least a weary resignation, but this doesn’t mean I can shirk my responsibilities in this regard and nor would I want to.