(Excuse a second blog in quick succession, but, to my mind, this follows directly on.)
Born in the deep midwinter snows of 1947, 2017 therefore marks the passing of seven decades of being me and, hopefully, I have gained wisdom as I’ve aged through these years. Since the milestone birthday, early mornings have found me lying in a half-awake state reflecting on the past as I hastily push away any black thoughts of time passing too quickly; time running out. We can, after all, only live in the present and try to make the most of each day we are given. But I have enjoyed living in the past for a while and have felt a sense of warmth and gratitude for the love and friendship that have always been there for me.
In this world of rapid change, the global dark side is all too present still, with wars, atrocities and natural disasters. Each of us goes through our own challenging, stressful, sad or, perhaps, tragic times when it is not possible to appreciate the simple pleasures of life or remember the good times. However, on my trips down memory lane it was the simple pleasures which came to the fore with the bad times fading into the background. The perfume of a beautiful rose; the song of a blackbird or sunshine after a storm are cherished. The cry of a newborn; the laughter of children at play; a rainbow are all to be treasured.
Cat Stevens sang about remembering the days of the old schoolyard – “‘we used to laugh a lot; we had imaginings; we had simplicity”. I do remember and I also remember the trepidation of the first day at school and the distinctive smell of newly polished floors and chalk; trepidation which was soon replaced by a love of reading and writing which has remained with me throughout the decades.
Many other memories have come flooding back of the first ten years of childhood, when I grew from a shy little girl who was happy playing and imagining by herself in her father’s garden, to a confident ten year old with friends, ready to go forth into a more expansive future. There were the pre-school days when I followed in my father’s shadow as he worked in his garden learning from his actions and observing nature. There were, too, the weekly visits on the bus into town with my mother; the fascinating sights and sounds of the colourful market and the enchantment of the ephemeral balloon on a stick which was always my treat. During those years, a third sister was born and we were all gifted with the beginning of a life-long close relationship with one another. For our family holiday week each year we travelled with Mum and Dad by steam train to the seaside and no crowded airport and tightly packed aeroplane going to far-flung places can ever compete with the excitement and magical sounds, smells and sights of our train journeys. In those days when violent crime was not so widespread, we enjoyed freedom to play and explore our environment on our own. Parents were confidently able to give us ‘roots and wings’.
Tempus Fugit and, when I was eleven, we moved to another part of the country where I experienced the ups and downs of secondary education and the hormonal upheavals of puberty. Yet it is the good times with close friends which remain uppermost in my mind. The images are plainly recalled. We still had our freedoms and could indulge our dawning interest in the opposite sex, although the ‘Swinging Sixties’ were slow to reach our community! Aged seventeen, I met my future husband and began to enjoy shared life as a couple. Life remained uncomplicated and we embraced the simple pleasures of dancing, walks in the park or trips to the countryside and coast in his car.
The next decade, my twenties, saw my first ever holiday abroad and my first aeroplane journey giving me a sense of real adventure, unlike the jaded resignation I feel about air travel nowadays. This decade also brought many significant changes, not least marriage and our first tour on the island of Cyprus. They were heady times full of youthful laughter and a zest for life. They were full of hope and anticipation. Being caught up in the Cyprus Troubles of 1974 could not diminish the deep joy of becoming a mother. Watching our son exploring his world with freshness and wonder enabled the reliving of our own childhoods. It was good to enjoy again with him the fun of collecting beautiful shells, frolicking in the sea or running carefree in wild meadows.
Later decades brought me a different type of satisfaction as I furthered my education and retrained and I began writing in earnest. Empty nest syndrome descended; further bereavements and illness were experienced, but comfort was found as we gardened, created meals in the kitchen, spent quiet times with friends and family or holidayed as a couple once more. There was pride and joy to be found in our son’s achievements and his gift of choral singing.
The seventh decade all too soon arrived, but it also brought the welcome arrival of grandsons. As they go about their explorations and learning, we, too, are able to view the world again with fresh eyes. Once more I can enjoy a writerly delight in making up simple stories and silly rhymes.
Who knows what this eighth decade might bring for me, but, whatever, I hope not to lose childlike awe and appreciation of the simple pleasures of life. After all, the name Jill apparently means ‘Forever Young’.