This is the companion piece I promised when I wrote My 2018 in Numbers. I think it will be shorter* because I have already written up my biggest feel earlier in the year in a Facebook post called This Impressionable Townie which I shared in my newsletter too.
My swirling emotions when I think back over my year are all about:
- Falling in love again with the English countryside in our best summer in recent memory
- Visiting what was my grandparents’ farm in Dorset, see photo
- Re-connecting with friends and family in Somerset and Dorset
I moved from Kent to Somerset on a cold and rainy, grey Easter Friday. It was a long difficult trip and the month of April wasn’t much better. But once the sun came out in May I remembered how green and pleasant England is and as the summer months progressed I learned to appreciate it more and more. I loved driving about the West Country and enjoying the views and some special roads with awe-inspiring vistas of spectacular scenery and swooping valleys. I learned to love the A303, a road which had done me wrong by taking the lives of both parents of a special school friend in the Seventies and I had not forgiven it.
But as I was forced to use it I came to enjoy and forgive it somewhat, though never to pass that spot without thinking of them both. Unexpectedly I met up again with both of their daughters (though not their son, my friend) at a funeral in December, see below. Listening to Classic FM when driving past Stonehenge came to be quite the magical experience to be looked forward to and enjoyed at all times of the day and night, dawn and dusk, sunshine, moonshine, swirling mists.
I went to school in Somerset in 1966-1972 and my mother was from Dorset so the West Country was a big feature in my childhood too, all the way up to my grandparents’ deaths in the very early Eighties. But these are your formative years and only six years at boarding school in Taunton, just 10% of my life, is much bigger in my psyche. During those years I would stay with my grandparents during the Easter holidays when my parents were in Singapore. Memories are long. Since then I have lost my grandparents, my parents, all my aunties and uncles in the normal way of life and death, and some cousins due to family rifts (none of my doing).
I cannot remember in which order I rekindled relationships with a man I had been at school with and who had helped me in my first (accounting) career but we had a wonderful evening with his wife and friends, catching up, big hugs all round, a pub quiz, a full moon, another lovely drive. All quite magical. It was as if twenty years had not passed. He tried to persuade me to take up accounting again after more than two decades. No dice. I gave him a copy of my book so he can see what my work is all about now. I don’t imagine they have had the time or the inclination to read it as they have bought a new house and are doing it up themselves.
And then (or vice versa) with my cousins, one I had not seen for several decades until my last Auntie’s funeral just four years ago since when we have become firm Facebook friends and enjoyed not one but two pub lunches in Dorchester this summer. It is quite uncanny how much we both look like our respective mothers and that is bittersweet and remarkable. And yet not. For me, it is like lunching with my Auntie Paddy (her father’s twin) and for her, it is like lunching with her Auntie Daphne, my Mum. We even wear their engagement rings. She even smokes like Auntie Paddy. Uncanny. On our second and final lunch, she brought me a lovely goody bag. How kind! Such kindness and generosity I have been on the receiving end all summer, including and especially my host in Somerset who shared her home with me.
Another family of cousins took me into their hearts and home, with whom I enjoyed a couple of wonderful visits, three if you count the one to their son and daughter-in-law to help them understand the accounts of their own business something I had done for their parents a generation ago. That was just the night before I left the West Country to return to London and as I did that, on Halloween, the first message I received on the road was that my cousin Anne, who is of that same family, was dying aged 69 and not expected to live very long. Sad though that is, I was able to return their kindness as Anne lived in Kent, her funeral was in Kent and I was back living in Kent. So I had a fourth day out with them all again, for the very worst and best reason, loss and comfort.
When you live in London, people who live in the West Country are too far away for you to have any meaningful relationship with. The drive seems long (it isn’t really) and they often don’t like London very much so they don’t come. Fair enough. The gap is also the sense in which they don’t know me and assume I am the very worst incarnation of a Londoner (whatever that might be, well actually it is a Remainer!) and this summer they got to see that’s not true either. I am their cousin and in many and all crucial ways I am just like them; I am interesting and fun and funny, and equally tearfully sentimental about our shared history and DNA. Happy times, mostly. Except for that final one. All emotional ones though, whether happy or sad.
Perhaps the pinnacle in terms of feels was another school friend, who lives next door to what was my grandparents’ farm, arranging for me to visit it. It is still in the same family who bought it in 1963 and the older generation is retired and they live just a few yards down the hill in a house they built for themselves, and their son now runs the farm. What they acquired for £100 an acre in 1963 is worth between £7,000 and £12,000 an acre now. Fascinating to an accountant, the business of farming. But, of course, this was not just a business to them. Or to my mother’s family. It was and is a life. And right now that’s a real fascination to me, the crossover between business and life for us self-employed types.
Susan, my school friend who lives next door, is the younger sister of my oldest and closest school friend, Leslie. Susan is married to a man she met at our school and he proudly announced on our first meal together at their house, as he put the well-used salad bowl on the table, that I had given it to them for their wedding which was in the Seventies. Although Susan is only just 60, having married young, they have three or four children, each of whom also has three or four children so they have created a very impressive dynasty and without a word of a lie, Susan looks not a day older than she did on the day of their wedding. She’s a photographer, and he’s a retired headmaster and a historian, now a writer. And, of course, they are parents and grandparents and fabulous at all roles.
It was on my second visit to their house that we went to visit the farm. I could have stayed forever talking to the lovely older couple who are both still alive aged about 89. They took me to visit the tiny chapel on the farm in which I was christened in 1955 and the three of us sat in there for a long time talking about the things and the people we could remember in common from way back before I was ten. We three loved it and Susan was very patient. I really hope to return in 2019 and take more cousins and my brother and his wife and kids with me, any family member who wants to be included. I would love to sit longer and talk and partake of those homemade farmhouse biscuits Mrs L made especially for my visit.
As “luck” would have it, my second funeral in 2018 was Jo’s. Jo was Leslie and Susan’s mother. How amazing that I got even closer to other branches of another family and would be able to repay their kindnesses in their darkest hour. The two families who were kindest to me this year both had losses before the end of it, and I could be there for them and with them, not out of repayment or duty but because I really feel I know them much, much better now as a result of these get-togethers this year. When you look back and see that none of this could be predicted, it is kind of mind-blowing in its synchronicity.
My childhood isn’t remembered as an especially happy time what with boarding school and absentee parents, and any mention of one’s inner child is consequently generally a real turnoff for me. But these friends and family and places from the early years of my life and re-visiting them and getting to know them all over again was a total healing gift of my time in Somerset this year, and all the better for being completely unexpected, a total bonus.
These are my emotional highlights of 2018. What were yours, I wonder?
PS Apart from the funerals, I have omitted the darker bits. You know me, the Queen of Positive Thinking whenever poss. And on that note, thank you to a client who wrote this to me today. I don’t know where I would be in this life without people like this:
“I really am sorry your year has been so shit. I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but I believe that the outside world would have been oblivious to the fact if you hadn’t said anything. By that I mean that even when you’ve been having a horrible time, you’ve been the consummate professional, and not let it affect how you’ve interacted with clients or followers. You have continued to engage, write, coach, mentor, inspire, encourage. When a lesser woman would have hidden under a duvet. You truly are a Top Bird! I hope that 2019 is the year you bounce back, and have lots of lovely times ahead.”
*PPS Ah no, it wasn’t shorter!