Monday, August 22, 2011

Chats and changes

After six lovely months at Essex, I am now back in my home town and working near Cambridge again. New job, new house, new car, new life ahead of me.

They say 'life begins at 40', well I guess mine stalled a bit, so I'm going for round two from a slightly older age... ok, no hiding it, I'll be 51 this year. Worried? (I mean me, not you!) Not really, as long as I am reasonably healthy and active and enjoying my job, I guess age is not something that has really made me stop and ponder or worry about my mortality.

However, it's a bit late to start again in other ways, especially if you ain't exactly 'eye candy' (OK, actual definition is OFU - see previous posts for what that means). But never mind. I think finding happiness is about finding yourself more than anything. So, I'm on the hunt! But I won't be navel-gazing or mirror-watching. I'm gonna look out there for who I am and who I can be.

There's things in life I really enjoy - and I want to do more of them. Travel, dance, sing, play, be out there and living life. But that doesn't mean I won't follow my obligations - being a good mother, friend, employee. Yes, the latter is important to me too as, once again, I find myself (by design) in employment with a strong social responsibility. And that is, I know, where I am happiest and most productive. So I am heading for a good life, but not hedonism. Still with me?

I know I need to eat less and exercise more - and one of my 'plans' is to start swimming again. OK, that's not huge, but it means taking time for me. This year has given me many opportunities as well as challenges. I have met some amazing people, done some quite unusual things, and learned (as ever) a huge amount. I never stop learning (I don't always act on what I learn, but I do love new experiences). There's a bit more of a spiritual aspect to my life now, but I still don't buy all that 'god' stuff. Never will either. She's got to show up in person to get me on the team!

Over the past year I have found some new and wonderful friends, as well. And, interestingly, I have learned to 'chat'. No, not the WWI habit of taking lice off eachother (the origination of the word), but simple idle chatter with friends on the phone. Now that may not seem unusual to you - something you do all the time perhaps? But actually not something I was comfortable doing for many years.

I remember a good few years back my friend Jan phoning up and after a short conversation thinking to myself 'now what did she want?'. Well, she didn't actually want anything, just to chat - but I was not a chatter over the phone, it was quite simply a skill I didn't have. She must have felt a bit put off by my response on the phone - but I honestly didn't have the experience of calling just to talk about stuff. Calls had to have a purpose or reason. God - what a bore I must have been! I can imagine some of my contemporary friends raising their eyebrows at this (the calls, not the fact that I am a bore) - I am quite often found nattering away for over an hour on the phone now. See how people change.

Well, we all change, all the time, and sometimes it's slow and unnoticeable, and sometimes it's drastic. Most often it can be a combination - a slow build up to something extreme. Well, maybe and maybe not, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I like change. I have gone through some extremely difficult and challenging things in the past few years, but change - painful as it can sometimes be - is also good.

So here I am, ready to face a new era in my life. And though I am on my own, I know I have my kids, my friends and actually lots of strangers and 'friends to be' who will help me, wish me well and be there if and when I need them. Just like I am for others, so I hope they will be for me.

And if I am dissapointed? Well, I'd rather live in optimism and be disappointed than be pessimistic and proven right. Being right ain't all it's cracked up to be. I know.

I guess this post is the first step in accepting the huge changes in my life. Time to stop feeling sorry for myself and - as my son kindly advises me - 'move on'.

Photograph: me playing at Cambridge Folk Festival 2011.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

University life

You know the feeling? Leaving the family home, off you go, world in your suitcase, to a new set of friends and a completely different environment. Everything is strange and new, there’s so much to learn.

Of course, that’s just starting a new job, it must be tough for the students too. After all, I was only moving to Essex for a few months, not three years. And though I’d be working hard, no one was going to be examining me. Mind you, I wouldn’t leave with a degree either.

Taking a maternity cover post at the University of Essex turned out to be one of the best moves I’d made in a long time. Though leaving my family during the week was hard, I was given the chance to strengthen other friendships and explore new opportunities.

I’ve worked in higher education before – but the University of Essex and the University of Cambridge are two very different beasts. As different as the lion rampant and the wyvern.

When I first got the job in Colchester I had a problem; where to live? I was very lucky to be offered a place to stay with friends - people I knew through music. Though we'd known each other a good few years, the friendship was based around music and, to be honest, we didn't really know each other. This six month sojourn turned out to be a great chance to learn just how much we did have in common. And let's face it, if you can have someone live with your family for six months, it certainly helps if you can get on. Which we did, and had some fun times including living through the fun dramas (noise, dust, hunky workmen everywhere) created by building work.

Whilst in Colchester, and living in Ipswich, I made other friends too. Friends of my hosts, plus people I met through music. There is a great open mic in Wivenhoe, and a nice folk venue in Ipswich, plus the folk club in Colchester itself. I got to see and know a few faces regularly and enjoyed playing in a 'new territory'.

I met other people too and had some completely new experiences, including singing 'ohm' in a circle of very interesting and lovely people. It wasn't as mad as it sounds - in fact it was very calming. I also met quite a few interesting people at a moot in Ipswich and, to my delight, won a set of tarot cards in the raffle!

That was the social life around 'home', then there was the work environment too - the wonderful setting of Wivenhoe Park. The University may be a huge 60's concrete world, but it certainly has its good points. Though not a fan of that period of architecture, the idea of the squares (almost plaza like) is good, and there are great resources on site. From laundry to post office, hair dresser to co-op. And, of course, the SU bar and other eateries. The landscape is wonderful - with lakes and the most amazing old oak trees. You may be in an office in a concrete building, but it was but a step to a completely different environment which was full of wildlife and the delightful atmosphere of youth and adventure. I like that environment.

The people I worked with were really nice - so nice that I had tears in my eyes when I said goodbye. Just six months, but long enough to get to know some great people and know that I've made some good friends. Just take a look through my previous posts and you'll find me singing in the pub with one colleague, taking another bunch round the campus to look at birds and visiting Athens with my boss (OK, that was work, but it still counts).

For my leaving do I was given a dinner party - how cool is that?! Not only did we have great food and champagne, but when the 'lightweights' had gone home, Vicki and I went to the pub. I met a very nice young man called Daniel who I chatted away too assuming he was someone Vicki knew. Nope! Was a good laugh - but that whiskey chaser was just one drink too many. I still rolled into work bright and breezy though, it wasn't that much, just too much.

To top it all, my leaving gift was two tickets to the Royal Opera House to see La Traviata - how cool is that!?

I made many friends in the University in different departments as well as my own. I shall miss them and the challenge they face as higher education enters a new funding structure and interesting future.

So now I've left University, but once again with a strong desire to return to education in the future and get some edufication myself one of these there days.

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