I Want “Cheese Lover and Wine Connaisseur” In My Eulogy

01e820bca18fe83260bc6c121631447a.jpgThe old man and I went on a mini-break to a farmstead in the south of Sydney a few weeks ago. Due to the risks posed by Australian wildlife – wallabies, wild horses, spiders and no doubt brown snakes, waiting for me in every corner – we left The Princess at home with close friends.

I packed her case – her favorite food, her blankie, a couple of toys, some treats – and then in a moment of separation anxiety, I texted our friends a few pointers about her habits in case she had any problems vocalizing them.

Doesn’t play nicely with other dogs

Zero road sense

Needs lots of water

Loves cheese

Scared of men

One of the friends we went to the homestead with is a celebrant, who conducts weddings all over Sydney. One morning – in our search of the best hot chocolate in what was apparently a town – we bumped into a fellow celebrant, and the two of them got into a lengthy discussion about funerals and the underlying pressure they feel to write the perfect eulogy. The other celebrant admitted to us, that in view of the terrible eulogies she had witnessed, she has already written her own.

At the mention of speeches, I am always transported back to the scarring memory of the old man’s speech at my fiftieth birthday. Although my therapist has told me to bury it in the past and move forward, each time I go to a friend’s birthday and I have to listen to their husbands’ loving, glowing speeches about their wives, it is like a dagger straight through my heart. As a result of my PTSD, planning my own cremation and writing my own eulogy is something I have had to consider quite seriously if I don’t want a very sad affair with a minimal amount of planning and thought, and which only my husband and two children are likely to know anything about. Because my idea of a funeral is like the one at the beginning of Love Actually or a Viking sea burial, or at the very least a group of gospel singers. And rather than risk a Target two-for-one special, I have given the responsibility of making sure I get a worm-proof coffin to Kurt, who understands anxiety.

BTW, kids, there are “death of parent” playlists on Pinterest.

However, after giving it some thought, I have decided that retribution will be served best by leaving everything to the old man. After all, surely a eulogy is something other people need to make up about your achievements and not even he can ignore my achievements with cheese and wine? But if I should need to provide the man that I have known for most of my adult life and the father to my children and The Princess with a few pointers, it turns out that my eulogy would look a lot like the list I gave to our friends, who were looking after our dog: 

Doesn’t play nicely with others

No road sense

Needs lots of wine

Loves cheese

Scared of men

What would be on your list?

 

 

Your Fifties: The Make Or Break Age Where Bad Decisions And Bad Genes Can Catch Up

c360d830ff6fe6d59c4cd99911501992It is always a shock to hear about the death or illness of celebrities around our own age. While I don’t believe that their lives are more special than mine, it can be hard not to secretly suspect that their barbeque areas aren’t paved with gold.

 

Which was why the passing of Emma Chambers at 53 and Stephen Fry’s cancer diagnosis were all the more shocking this week. Without meaning to give them god-like status, it’s easy to assume that these people are untouchable, for no other reason than they have the money to pay their way out of death.

 

Not true, sadly.

 

I don’t know Emma and Stephen personally, but the gifts of the arts and culture are their reach and the poignant way they touch our souls. The works of these two, in particular,  have resonated with me on different levels: I have followed Fry’s struggles with depression and tested my stress incontinence several times watching Emma in Notting Hill and The Vicar of Dibley.

 

Emma was 53, Stephen is 60 – similar in age to myself – a make or break period where the poor decisions of youth and bad genes can start to catch up. I’m not afraid to admit that I get a bit scared when I look back at all the cigarettes I rolled in my twenties.

 

Worse, I know from experience that death is forgotten, quicker than any of us would like. Not because of our shallowness or callousness, but because of its inevitability, because of the prolonged pain from dwelling upon it, the busy-ness of life and the salient reminder to squeeze every last drop out of it.

 

So I’ve decided that I want to die from a long illness – words I imagine I will eat should my fate work out that way – and in spite of the inevitable pain and suffering that decision will cause to my others and myself. I want the luxury of being able to say my goodbyes, and in a perverse way, I want to feel spoiled during my last moments. I want everyone to focus on me for once, and the role I played in their lives. I don’t care if there’s a wake or a party – I’ll be dead anyway.

 

Thanks for the laughs, Emma. Good luck, Stephen.

 

Family and friends: FYI, I don’t like grapes, but weirdly I am quite partial to wine.

To Be Loved In Death As In Life Is All Any Of Us Can Really Hope For

I lost an uncle over Christmas. And as I write this post, an aunt lies in a hospital bed somewhere in the UK in a medically life-changing situation. Both events have been a sharp reminder that the wheels of time stop for no-one.

girl-2934257_1920

In words that echo the theme tune of Love Actually – sort of – it is a sad fact that death is all around us, and no matter how much we cut down on wine or how much time we spend in the gym, it gets all of us in the end.

 

Death doesn’t terrify me as much as it used to. Anyone who has been exposed to the death of a close loved one at a young age will know that it has a habit of fucking you over, yet it can also harden you to its inevitability. When you’ve experienced such a huge disappointment at the start of your life, nothing else comes close.

 

But that experience can mean that I don’t react appropriately to the news of a passing. I don’t grieve for long. With a heart half-closed and a head that has forced itself into defense-mode, instead, I focus on the practical; on how best to utilize the time I have left. There is a satisfaction in spitting at that sucker in the face, the closer you get to doomsday. After all, none of us has the power to change the rules.

 

I’ve shared lengthy discussions with people over the years about the best way to go. I’ve seen people go slowly, through debilitating illnesses that have nevertheless given them time to say goodbye, and I’ve experienced first-hand someone go just like that, with no warning. Whoosh! – in a puff of smoke. 

 

Optimists and religious people tell us that we grieve for our own loss, rather than for the person that has died. And I believe that to be true when death is provoked by natural causes, although not if someone is taken in the appalling circumstances of murder, for instance. I try to remain optimistic about the day I will finally meet my maker. I comfort myself with the knowledge that although my body will pass, no one can take my legacy away from me.

 

My name will remain on my family tree as a fully paid-up member, and although I might not see them often, the branches of my extended family remain close to my heart – as they have been this week. The hope is that my successors will keep my memory alive – through silly and embarrassing anecdotes and stories, I imagine, rather than a pompous list of achievements that I deemed important at one time.

 

‘Remember that time that Lou (or Auntie Lou or Grandma or Mum) ‘… they’ll say…and for a moment I’ll be remembered – in all likelihood for that time I made a complete ass of myself when I fell off my bike into a rice paddy in Bali.

 

My uncle will be remembered for being a good man, who took us cousins swimming together on the weekends with the boundless energy and enthusiasm of a man half his age. He was also one of the archetypal dad-jokers before the phenomenon was formally recognized, and he will continue to be as loved in death as he was in life.

 

Which is all any of us can hope for.

 

 

Why Glastonbury Is Not On My Bucket List

One thing that won’t make my bucket list – and I can say this with a certainty – is going to an outdoor music festival again. While I have the utmost respect for those fifty-somethings that decide that outdoor music festivals such as Glastonbury will make them feel young again, the idea that trawling through mud and the great unwashed (for even a couple of days) is fun, is completely unfathomable to me. audience-868074_1920

 

Looking through the photos of the fashionistas at Glastonbury and Coachella and the Australian equivalent, Splendor, I rather see myself as Sienna Miller, colored gum boots, cut-off shorts and cowboy hat, swilling my beer from a bottle as I watch bands that I have only a vague chance of recognizing – and I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted.

 

And then I remember the toilet situation.

 

To be honest, the only time I’ve come close to venturing anywhere close to an outdoor music event in the past ten years was at Opera in the Domain last year – the only reasons being the toilets at the local pub and its duration of only two hours. No sinking in mud, so crowd-surfing, no old man on my shoulders so that he could see, while I sniffed the armpits of the tall guy in front of me, and as we sat in the semi-comfort of our beach chairs, gourmet picnic spread in front of us, not an aging hippie in sight, I could relax in the knowledge that we were going home to our own beds that night.

 

The mosh pit idea is an interesting concept, whereby you pay the same money to stand amongst the crazies forced into the public by government cuts, and unless you give up your pre-drinks, there is no guarantee that you will be any closer to the band. I run a risk assessment before I buy tickets to any gig these days and my strict rules include a capacity no larger than two thousand and ample seating with clear exits to bathrooms. After a horrendous experience in the Coldplay mosh pit a few years ago, where the tallest man in Australia, (who happened to be visiting Sydney at the time), stood in front of me for the duration of Chris’ singing, thereby blocking my exit to the bathroom and the bar and pushing me in front of the path of a giant out-of-control balloon, there’s no going back.

 

We are not a family that roughs it or camps. You might think that from a financial perspective, the idea would be the old man’s idea of heaven, but even before children, the concept of communal bathrooms, roaming wildlife, having to cook for ourselves on holiday and eating off plastic crockery seemed very unappealing.

 

I am still scarred from Brownie camps with latrines and my therapist continues to work with me on long-term issues relating to a school biology field trip to the Lake District, that my brain has completely blocked out.

 

The one and only time we did go camping, I was awoken by the old man on the first morning, the tent and children already packed away in the car, as he released the valve on my airbed.

 

‘We can tick off camping,’ he said through gritted teeth. The tent and hundreds of dollars of equipment were on Gumtree that same week.

 

You can “glamp” at Glastonbury now, and there is even a pop-up hotel…OR… you can watch the festival on television from the comfort of your sofa. If anyone has seen the movie, “Bridget Jones Baby”, don’t  think that her stay in a safari tent had anything to do with fun or recapturing her youth: what it had, was everything to do with McDreamy in the vicinity, and even I might camp for a piece of that. Kind of reminds me of how much golf I used to play when the old man and I were courting…  Starting at around $1400, the tents are hardly competitively priced when you consider the four solid walls to be found in hotels to segregate you from the hippie riff raff, the offer of WIFI and the kettle and tea bags in your room.

 

No, Glastonbury will not be on my bucket list. It will be added to my ‘I’d rather fucking die right now’ list, along with skydiving, ice bars and swimming with sharks.

I Hope I Go Doing Something I Love

beach-1838501_1920Laeticia Brouwer, a seventeen-year-old surfer lost her life to a shark yesterday, and shortly afterwards her devastated parents were forced to give the press their thoughts about her life – presumably, so they’d leave them alone to begin the grieving process.

‘She died doing what she loved,’ is a comment we hear often after these sorts of uncontrollable, unthinkable events; when death is caused by the hand of nature. In fact, what Laeticia was doing, was living. Just like when people get caught up in floods, tsunamis or earthquakes, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlucky. That shark had no idea that it had latched onto a human and not some salty old man version who had surfed his whole life and probably would have welcomed a death doing what he loved. No, she was a young girl with her whole life ahead of her.

 

What we need to remember is that as a surfer, she would have had an ingrained respect for the ocean. She would have known that she was a guest in the territory of others, even though I struggle with that mindset and have often questioned if it’s some surfer psychobabble they tell themselves to get back in the water after a scare. Since I’ve lived here, however, I honestly believe now that it is actually an unwritten agreement they make with nature for that first-hand privilege of being at one with it.

 

Anyway, what do I know? I struggle to put my toe in the water a millimeter beyond the lifeguards’ flags and according to scientists, I take greater risks with the amount of alcohol I drink every day.

 

Anti-shark protesters are inevitably baying for a cull because we don’t want the rest of the world to know that there are sharks in our oceans, and after two similar deaths in Western Australia last year, those sharks are getting a bit big for their boots. Let’s put to one side the recent increase in the death tolls from ocean rips and road accidents or the increase in youth suicide and domestic violence (leading to death) while we consider those statistics. Let’s forget that there are actually more attacks in the US, (and I’m not alluding to the results of Trump’s shaking finger on the button). Let’s overlook how sharks actually boost our tourism, and how virtually every Australian souvenir is plastered with the smiling, perfect dentistry of the Great White or how our zoos put on shows using their deadliest creatures as the star attraction, to fuel the perverse interest in how we Australians actually manage to leave our homes at all.

 

Part of the reason this story has stuck in the headlines, I believe, is because the victim was a young girl. Since Jaws, death by shark attack is everyone’s worst nightmare and somehow (unreasonably) it feels worse that a girl should have to go through such an ordeal. Such brutality should be reserved for tough young men, not girls, shouldn’t it?

 

Wrong. It made me proud to think that this girl was out there doing what she loved, in spite of the risks. Because she could, and because she chose to. Anyone who has seen the wonderful series, Puberty Blues, based on Kathy Lette’s books, will know that as late as the seventies, it was frowned upon for women to surf in certain cultures. It was seen as a man’s sport and women had to fight their way into the ocean.

 

I hope I go doing something I love, like Laeticia. I hope I go doing something that shows I was embracing my life to the full, and that I wasn’t afraid.

Broken People

Wow! ‘Manchester By The Sea’.

 

sad-505857_1920It’s unlike me to enthuse about movies on this site. Truth be told, it’s getting much harder to walk away from a movie and feel truly motivated these days, (Hidden Figures is an exception), so exhausted am I by the blatant ageism, objectification and sexism that Hollywood continues to get away with.

 

But then a little film like this comes along.

 

Admittedly, it had my name all over it. Grief, depression and dysfunctional relationships are the sort of dark ingredients that get my blood pumping, although hardly the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, even when they are blended so beautifully together that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Even the visual is bleak, as the storyline is set up in a backdrop of snow, sleet and the sort of bitter cold weather that makes the characters appear even more vulnerable and our heart ache even more viscerally for them, before anything awful has actually happened.

 

You might not go and see this movie because of the controversy surrounding the lead actor, Casey Affleck – sexual harassment allegations from some years back which have tarnished the production because they were settled out of court, leaving inevitable question marks. NC refused to come with me, and I had to overcome the sour taste in my mouth because the theme of the movie is so important to awareness about depression and, well frankly, personal.

 

I won’t spoil it for you by giving away the storyline. Suffice it to say that this is a ‘real’ film about broken lives, shattered relationships and fragmented families, hence no solution and no happy ending where you walk away with a smile on your face and a good feeling in your heart. I commend the filmmakers for that, because when it comes to depression, it’s a falsity to think that anyone fully recovers or that they wake up one morning and are miraculously fixed.

 

Below are some thoughts I wrote about on a bad day:

 

Do you ever think about doing something easier? Until you realize all over again that nothing is easy.

 

Do you ever think that everything is too hard? That no matter how many times you re-invent yourself, you’ll never be truly happy?

 

Do you often feel so tired that even your most reliable friends, coffee and wine, can’t get you through the day, can’t lift your mood any more, and your only solace is buried beneath the bedclothes with your anger and self-pity for company?

 

Does that voice of self-pity become so loud sometimes that the only way to keep it in check is through thoughts of escape?

 

Does that grinding ache of impending panic in your belly take over every waking thought some days, and do you hate yourself for being such a loser, for being so pathetic, so spoilt, when you have more than most people would ever want?

 

Do your relationships and interactions with close ones feel two-dimensional? Do you feel like they ask too much of you one day and not enough the next? Do you feel that you can’t give back what they need from you and that what you have to give, isn’t enough?

 

Is the visual of happiness in your head completely different to what you thought it would be? Is it closer to a small room, these days, by yourself, where you can do what you want, eat what you want, the only place where you feel in control of your destiny?

 

Friends, don’t worry because I’m fine, and reading this back today I realised that it is the voice of the typical creative who has a platform where she can explore, through words, all dimensions of self-pity.

 

Sometimes, I think I suffer from ‘perfectly hidden depression,’ a word made up by Dr Margaret Rutherford, which she explains in her piece When People With Depression Function Too Well. Most of us suffer from this some of the time, I suspect, mainly because it turns out that life is not the fairy tale stories we were brought up on.

 

I function well, but as Dr Rutherford so cleverly describes, sometimes I feel as though I don’t have the vitality for life that I should have, and the closest I get to it is via pills and self-medication, aka wine.

 

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us are ‘broken’. Some by trauma; some by inherited mental illness.

 

And some will handle it better than others.

 

What I love about ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is the rawness of Lee, the main character, and the honesty of his depiction of ‘the black dog’, which is a real dedication to nothingness, because the trigger to his illness has left him barely functioning. He continues to work in a non-challenging environment, but the only way he can function outside of this distraction is to isolate himself, self-medicate and not have to explain why. Trauma has changed his life irreparably, in spite of society and his family’s expectation that everything will be okay in the end.

 

Casey Affleck deserves an Oscar for playing a ‘dead’ character who will never go back to the person he was before, no matter how much others want or try to coerce him to. Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away and I don’t think that Lee really wants it to. He sees it as his punishment.

 

Most of us find a way to move forward after trauma; to appear normal on the outside, at least. It is assumed (or hoped) that we will get through whatever triggered the depression because no-one wants to talk to the sad person at the dinner table when they’re hellbent on having fun.

 

Sadly, many don’t get through.

 

 

The Value Of Celebrity In Our Lives

I can’t remember when I finally grew up and began to like mushrooms. Oh, that’s right… I didn’t grow up, I just began to like mushrooms and a few more of those foodstuffs that I never trusted when I was little because they were fugly.mushrooms-756406_1280

 

One of the biggest pieces of wisdom you acquire when you get older is the knowledge about not judging books by their covers.

 

People, like mushrooms and olives and maybe even tripe, often camouflage their true flavors, so now, whenever I meet new people, (and in my job I meet a lot of wealthy people, who seemingly ‘have it all’), I am very conscious of the falsity of that assumption.

 

There is an analogy between the fugliness of mushrooms and what the recent spate of celebrity deaths has signified to each of us. One thing to come out of it is the sad fact that we often we only get to hear about the real side of people after they die. For a celebrity cynicist like myself, it’s reassuring to know that their value to society was not wholly tied up in their need for attention.

 

I think that the sudden flurry of these public deaths has made all of us more sensitive to the impact of loss and our place on earth. While generally I do have a healthy disdain for the whole ‘celebrity’ factory – (unless I feel the individuals have earned their public acknowledgement, which doesn’t include reality tv stars, stars of sex videos, those who have made it by their looks alone or by selling their souls) – I think these did. Especially now, in the aftermath, since the sensationalist, media-fuelled post-mortems have died down and their behind-the-scenes stories have come to light.

 

I have to agree with Carrie Fisher, when she said that, ‘Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.’

 

So in this instance, I’m glad I didn’t judge these particular celebrities by their “cover” because as much as I can be cynical about the fame game, I also have a healthy admiration for those with the ability and drive to harness their talents. I understand that to reach a status of public acclaim takes more than a good voice or sound writing skills, that you have to be tough, work hard and need passion, commitment and self-belief – a perfect cocktail of qualities that most of us don’t possess.

 

But do those public talents determine their value? Is the musician’s musicianship more important than the fact that he visited homeless shelters in his free time? I imagine that different people will have a different response.

 

The problem with worshipping at the feet of celebrity – and the recent outpouring of grief is proof – is that it can undermine our own sense of worth and contribution. After all, is a singer’s contribution more important than what the Human Rights lawyer or the person who sets up homes for victims of domestic violence does?

 

It suggests that the majority of us – normal people – and what we give to society, isn’t as valuable.

 

It’s common knowledge, and I realized when I washed my bra by hand this morning (Yes, I washed my bra!), that because everything is so much easier and instant for us in the modern world, we expect our thrills to come quicker and the more shocking they are, the better – it’s that “instant gratification” problem that we bunch together with millennials – something I’ve witnessed as an emerging writer trying to get published (at the age of 51) – because unless you are happy to sell out your family or provide details about your sex life, it can be hard to be heard.

 

As sad as 2016 is now being depicted, I can’t help feeling that this ridiculous fascination with these celebrity deaths devalues our own relevance and importance. Is the fact that Debbie Reynolds died of a broken heart more important than the number of women killed at the hands of domestic abuse this year, for example?

 

I have always believed that we are put on this earth for a reason and like most people, I imagine, through several periods of self-absorption I have questioned my own existence. As a young woman, I had no obvious talents, no real sense of purpose, (other than my own survival), and I realize now that I pinned my personal value on being a parent, so when the wheels fell off that as well, I felt worthless.

 

Sadly, the reasons for our existence may not be evident until we pass, which is something that needs to change. Think of the writers who only achieved recognition posthumously, the heroes who died in action, the doctors, the nurses and police that save people on a daily basis or the millions that die in war. The point is that we all make an impact. No matter how minimal our contribution to society may seem or how short our existence is, we make a difference to the lives of others just by being there, and we don’t to be on tv to prove it.

 

Most will argue that Bowie, Prince and Michael will be remembered for their music legacy, while others will remember them for helping clear pathways for the LGBT community; Carrie Fisher will be remembered for Star Wars by many, but it is her honesty (rather than her hair buns) about her personal struggles with mental illness that will have inspired others; for George Michael, it may not be Wham and those shorts, but his private acts of generosity.

 

We all have something to give and we will all leave a legacy, that may not be as obvious as those left by the likes of Alan Rickman or Victoria Woods, but which are just as great a contribution, nevertheless. In my opinion, the majority of talent is not manifested in public, on the stage or in writing; true talent comes from the heart, and is a much more powerful currency, with a much brighter star.