How the years roll by

May 13


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Helen Whitten

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How the years roll by

A very long time ago!

I am about the be 70 tomorrow.  How can that have happened?  I still feel about 18 on most days – except when I do something stupid like trying to exercise with Joe Wickes.  As I struggle to get up from a squat I suddenly remember, oh yes, these bones have been on this earth rather a long time!

It’s fun to look back but also sobering.  We are watching Normal People.  I am not enjoying it any more than I enjoyed the book.  It makes me cringe and reminds me of the time when I really was 18 and falling in love with unsuitable boys, going on dates, teenage parties where there was too much unwanted fumbling.  Much of it was excruciating: awkward conversations and the boys you fancied often didn’t fancy you, the ones you didn’t did, etc.

But the music was fantastic. I was Beatles-mad and no. 36 of their fan club – what a talent-spotter!? If I hear some Motown or Stones I can still dance all night, even if I can’t move the next day!  But of course we aren’t normal people at the moment so I can’t have a party, can’t dance the night away except in my kitchen with David.  And today’s teenagers and young adults are being deprived of those identity-shaping experiences too.  They can’t meet up, can’t kiss, or get drunk with their peer group friends.  I hope this changes for them soon.

I still have my collection of Beatle mania!

But of course our parents and grandparents experienced worse – long years of separation, no communication, threat of death by bombs, not knowing if sons, lovers or husbands would ever return or would return changed.  And so in many ways we are the lucky ones and I hope this period ensures we do not take for granted all the freedoms and pleasures that we have enjoyed over the last few decades.

Do we learn anything as we get older?  Returning to Normal People, the series has sparked a debate in The Times between James Marriott, who argues that the raw emotions we feel as young people shape our identity, and David Aaronovitch, who argues that it is when one gets older that one feels emotions more deeply.  I think I wandered around in a fog when I was young.  Things seemed to happen to me without planning.  There was little reflection or understanding.  Inevitably, as I have gone through life, I have experienced the great highs of love, motherhood, grandparenting, friendship, of career and of the amazing places I have been fortunate enough to visit.  But alongside that, the pains have, I believe, felt deeper, the losses and bereavements more poignant.  And our identity continues to be shaped, shaken and stirred throughout our life.  It doesn’t stop when we reach 21.

I didn’t have any sense of a ‘career’ until I was about 42. Work was just something I did. I didn’t give it any proper thought in terms of a trajectory.  I would have loved to have been a foreign correspondent had I been brave enough.  But I wasn’t.  So I worked with books, in publishing.   I always made sure that it was interesting, and that the people I worked with were stimulating, but I didn’t think about the future at all really. Yet amazing things happened along that journey.

And so now what?  In lockdown I am discovering all kinds of ways I have to adapt.  No cleaner, for a start.  I know it is lazy of me to say this when I am retired and should have all the time in the world to clean the house but I simply don’t enjoy it.  And maybe someone else needs the money, so I am happy to give it to them.  I am now fed up with cleaning the kitchen floor for the nth time and the pile of ironing fills me with fatigue.

I have learnt to chat, organise our book club and residents’ committee meetings on Zoom.  I have just started to become a virtual babysitter for my 4 year old grandson, Max, via FaceTime.  Of course, his parents are in the house but as they work full time, should both of them have business meetings concurrently, the iPad gets turned on at Max’s end, I have mine on here and we play ‘virtually’, me with my toys here and him with his toys there.  He has even worked out how to call me himself now, and, amusingly, how to mute himself so I can’t hear what he says!

What do I hope for now?  Gratitude takes one a long way towards contentment I have discovered.  I feel so lucky to have met the people I have met, family, friends, colleagues, clients and acquaintances of all kinds.  Look around you and count your blessings.  It changes the shape of your day.  I am also thoroughly grateful to those of you who have the patience to read these blogs and to those of you who respond, though that is by no means a requirement.

Right now I hope life starts to get back to normal so that our young can keep their careers and enjoy the pleasures I have enjoyed.  I long for our theatres, galleries, museums and concert halls to be open again.  We are so fortunate to have this amazing resource of talent and skill here in the UK.  We can’t let it die as a result of Covid.  I hope the young can one day travel to the far distant places I have been lucky to visit, by environmentally-friendly transport systems.  And I long for us all to be able to be together again in family groups and friendship groups.  I never thought I would wake up to this kind of world on my birthday, that’s for sure.  We have lived through post-war austerity, recessions and more austerity but we ain’t seen nothing yet, I fear.  Hold on tight!

In the meantime, we have updated my poetry website, which is, as you will see, a trip down memory lane of some 70 years.  There are some reflections of ‘Normal People’ type moments here too.  Take a peek, it might remind you of some happy or even cringe-worthy memories too…!

Keep well.


2 Responses

  1. What a great post Helen.. Thankyou! It resonates as am a fellow Beatles fan … yeah, yeah, yeah!.. and also as someone who has always worked .. and yet didn’t find my true work focus until the age of 39 when I started my psychotherapy training..
    Yes, who could have seen or imagined this strange situation that we’re now living through.. and that we couldn’t all come together to do something so normal as to celebrate you on your special birthday together .. Yet we humans have seemed hell bent on a strange destructive trajectory recently, where human life seems to have got increasingly speeded up and indulgent at the expense of the natural world which we use thoughtlessly as an endless resource.. so am not surprised that as a species we have been brought to a complete stop by a force that has emerged from our exploitation of nature … Yet we are a clever, adaptive and endlessly inventive species so am sure we can face this challenge and come through albeit with changes to our lifestyles ..I wish you a wonderfully memorable special birthday on alert in lockdown Helen and send much love as always, Julia and Charles and all of us xxx

  2. Ps – we’ve found that cleaning is actually quite fun if you dig out your old cds and records and do it to pop music.. Jx

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