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Inevitably the time has come to review the year, the successes and failures and things to learn from and do better. Overall, this has been a difficult year for me for a lot of reasons, many beyond my influence or control. The received wisdom is that I should not worry about things I can’t control or that I should learn to think differently about them but when your life is turned upside down it’s not that easy to reconsider and move on.
It’s the year when I finally made a stand against toxic people. If someone is making your life a misery, its important to tell them how you feel of you think it might change things, or remove them from your life if you think they won’t change. Sometimes it takes a huge jolt for them to re-examine their attitude; sometimes they never will.
In any case I have finally learned that life is difficult enough without people who care nothing for how you feel. Some people will happily drag your name through the mud, conveniently ignoring truth or facts, to justify their own behaviour or make themselves feel good, however fleetingly. I don’t need these people anywhere near me and that, in itself, is a positive epiphany and relief.
What follows is a review of how my year has gone. I have to offer a statutory apology in advance: yes, I know that my issues are nothing whatsoever when compared with a starving four year old freezing in bombed-out Aleppo or a Libyan mother who has put her new-born baby onto a rickety boat bound for Sicily because she thinks that is the only way he will live. My concerns are nothing compared with someone who has suffered from violent spousal abuse for 30 years or lives in poverty with a disability and has just had their benefits removed. I know that. I have some perspective.
A major discovery this year was the Brahms German Requiem. I’d had friends who had sung it before and said it was lovely but all I could see was too much complexity and I doubted I’d ever get my vocal folds around it. In the end the three performances were enthralling and the performance at the Neuwied Marktkirche with its stunning acoustic was a high point of my year.
I’ve had to economise this year and my lovely L’Occitane skincare was one of the first things to go. Luckily I found Paula’s Choice, a brand with ranges that address the full range of skincare needs. Of course I use the anti-ageing ranges and, though there are several products that all work together, I find them effective in gradually reducing some hyperpigmentation and fending off wrinkles and other signs of ageing. And despite using several products, I’m still not spending as much as before.
Illamasqua is another brand I’ve discovered this year. Though the range of cosmetics is a bit limited, especially when compared with ranges like Mac, and the brand is young and a bit indie for me, some formulations are great. Their Skin Base Foundation, when applied on top of the Hydra Veil Primer is a long-lasting revelation, with coverage neither too sheer nor too matt nor too full. In addition, you can modify the colour with a drop or so of their Ambre or White Skin Base Mixers (in my case.) I love Illamasqua’s cosmetic brushes too and the tenacity of their eyeliner looks promising. In the last week or two I’ve tried Hourglass’s Vanish cream foundation that comes in stick form and I really like it. It covers and spreads beautifully for a radiant finish and it can be used as a concealer too.
Eliza Acton’s Christmas pudding recipe, as sent to me by my dear friend Dr Kate Tomas. I could not believe that the perfect pudding that detached itself intact and as beautifully as a Bernini sculpture from my Lakeland basin was my own work. The person who found the hidden 10p piece could do with enhanced luck this year and I’m hopeful that the wishes we made as we stirred the mixture will come true.
Diana Henry’s cookery books, especially A Bird in the Hand, her chicken book, have been a major boon to my repertoire. Check them out: the recipes are all manageable; clearly explained and delicious.
One surprising discovery was the revelation that Ms Eliza has specific learning disabilities that have a considerable impact on her academic performance at school. I’d always suspected something was not quite right but she’s a consummate dancer, actor and musician and it seemed impossible that she’d have dyslexia or dyspraxia. Goodness only knows how much harder she’s had to work over the years to keep up with and, in some cases, surpass her peers. You’d think that the discovery at this late stage in her school life would be a bad thing but I think of it only as positive. Now we know what’s wrong, we can do something about it.
Of course my first major disappointment this year was failing my ATCL Singing Diploma. I thought I hadn’t done well but just scraped through so it was devastating when, a full 12 weeks after the exam, I received the notification that I had failed. I wasn’t convinced by all the examiner’s notes and it seems almost churlish to mention how petty some of his remarks were and the fact that he’s actually missed out one of my songs. Some people urged me to appeal but I just didn’t want to poke that hornets’ nest, I guess. The way I see it, not many people get two bites of the cherry. I’ve learned from the experience and when I take it again I’ll make sure that a) I’m completely ready and on top of my songs and b) I talk only to people who are positive and encouraging. You wouldn’t believe how many people out there are competitive or threatened by the idea that someone else is learning and pushing themself. The singing ego is fragile and it doesn’t take much for the idea to grow that one isn’t worthy.
I’ve been disappointed by people’s lack of pride in their work this year too. I have to spend an inordinate amount of time chasing tradespeople to come back and complete the job they’ve left unfinished or that they’ve botched. This has happened with a boiler engineer; roofers, gardeners, a handyman, and an alarm service engineer, a dry cleaner who ruined new leather trousers amongst others this year. They’re all very good with the banter over a cup of tea but it’s when they start saying that they won’t charge me for doing something I’m happy to pay at least the going rate for that I start to get suspicious. Then they’re off and you start a game of telephone and text tennis for the next six months to try and get them to come back and finish the job. It’s not as if we engage the cheapest people, it just seems that so few people are willing to take any pride in their work. This is not a new situation this year, but I think it’s symptomatic of a general malaise that’s descended over this country in the last couple of decades. It’s deeply frustrating when you want to pay someone who knows what they’re doing to do their job and they just don’t. It’s a reflection of this anti-expert feeling: why bother to study or train or research and really know what you’re taking on when you can just launch in with a bit of patter and do a job that you think is good enough? So whom can you trust the next time?
Relatedly, I’m still waiting for my wretched neighbour to mend his fence almost 2 years after it was demolished by removing the ivy that had grown on it. He has a different story of course. We have offered to mend it and to pay for a new fence but he stubbornly says he will do it himself. He swore to me in April and then in August that it would be done but it still remains an eyesore. Raffles has escaped into the road on more than one occasion and, I’ve threatened legal action but in truth what are you supposed to do about a man in his 90s who simply doesn’t care about the state of his house or his neighbours? There’s a metaphor for something right there.
Also disappointing to me was the Beautyblender make up sponge that everyone on YouTube raves about. I just don’t think it gives as good a finish as a good make up brush.
I’m particularly disappointed with how much weight I seem to have gained in the last year, particularly as I lost so much on the 5:2 diet. I’ve more or less resolved this issue in my mind: I’m actually not doing badly for a woman of my age and as long as I can fit comfortably into (most of) my clothes, I’m probably doing OK. I’ve had to give up my gym membership as it wasn’t really tempting me to go enough times in the week to make it worth the expense but I’m currently trying to rekindle my running. (I was going to write rekindle my interest in running but in truth I have no interest in running.) I can hardly believe that I used to run 30km every week ten years ago when I can barely puff and pant my way around 12 now and even some of that is walked, but I’m hoping to start a running course next week, so watch this space. I don’t think I’m going to lose a whole load of weight through running but some would be nice and as long as I’m toned and strong, I’ll be ok.
Well, these have to be the result of the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump. Both the votes and their implications for the Uk and the world but also for what they say about their respective electorates. It’s almost too depressing to contemplate but I’ve been doing little else since the results.
I think it’s easy for people to vote motivated by goodness knows what for something they don’t think will affect them, from which they are removed. It’s turned my life upside down and I feel like a limb has been torn away. For a long time I surveyed people I met in the street carefully and wondered what they really, REALLY thought of me and my family. Yes, I’m still angry, no I’m not over it, no I’m not moving on. I’m not going to go over this ground again here, as I’ve covered it in depth elsewhere on this blog but I can see nothing but harm in with of these votes for future generations to deal with.
Well, I’m going to say it. The idea of a move half way around the world is disastrous for me and the life I have made instead of having a career. I hate the thought of leaving my friends, my choir, my voluntary job, my house that’s only now beginning to resemble how I envisaged it when we bought it 14 years ago. I am trying to look on the bright side, truly I am, and I know that it will be a break and an adventure and a chance to see more of the world and travel but all of this is at a huge cost to me and something completely beyond my control. I considered not going, best not to talk about those discussions, but marriage is supposed to be a partnership, isn’t it, and besides, with my children flying the nest, what role is there for me here on my own and out of the job market for 12 years?
This was never going to be a cheery post. This year and its implications have been utterly gloomy in so many ways and I’m going to feel their repercussions for years to come. It’s really difficult when you’re dependent on everyone else for your livelihood and you have so little control over your life. If i’m completely honest, this year has been emotionally harrowing for me.
There is a little brightness, though. I’ve spent a lot of time working through some personal family issues this year and, although I sense very strongly that I will feel a lot of the fallout unfairly descending on me, at least it’s good to have said my piece and tackled it all head on.
This time next year we might have a better idea of where Eliza will move after school and whether the extra support and help that we can now offer her will make any difference to her prospects. I hope she will be taking her driving test in due course and that I’ll no longer be in such demand for #mumtaxi duties. I don’t mind those really: time in the car is often a good chance for a deep chat with a captive audience.
Of course, I’ll still have the singing for a little while and I’m looking forward eagerly to performing the St Matthew Passion with my choir on Good Friday. I’m also planning to join the school parents’ choir for the first time to sing Carmina Burana at St John’s Smith Square in May. In order to improve my solo singing, I’m summoning up the courage to enter for a local music festival to try out some of my Diploma songs in front of an audience of strangers which is, to my mind, far better than an audience of people I know.
I’m also looking forward to improving my photographic creativity. I was given a voucher for an intensive one day DSLR photography course for Christmas – I asked for it – and I’m investigating an upgrade to my current camera. The idea is that I take good photographs when I move overseas as a sort of photo journal on this blog. We shall see.
There will always be new and exciting challenges but I don’t really want to let go of the old ones. Does that make any sense? As this dreadful year closes I am feeling weighed down by emotional burden but I’m aware i’ll just have to make the best of things and muddle through, as we all do, don’t we?