Posted in Real Life

The one about friendship – weekly update #4

‘Tis the season to be jolly and so writing has taken a back seat what with decorating the house ready for the festivities, catching up with friends and family and gift shopping for the most wonderful time of the year. We have also impulsively updated our smallest bedroom this last week and made it into a study. So time ran away from me but now, better late than never, here’s my latest blog offering.

Friendship. Simple yes? On the face of it, it should be easy. You like someone, they like you and bingo, you’re friends. Oftentimes it’s more complicated though.

Here in the UK, at about age three or four we are thrust out into the big wide world of play school or nursery and expected, as part of our development to ‘make friends’ and once we have, we continue to be cross-examined with monotonous regularity by parents and other well meaning family members as to whether this friend or that one has been allocated ‘best friend’ status.

From a particularly young age we are given to understand that having friends and being sociable is absolutely essential to our growth as people. Right from the word go, as well as learning valuable new proficiencies in empathy and understanding, kindness, trust, giving, sharing and loyalty we’re also heaping on the pressure to prove that not only can we demonstrate all those qualities ourselves but that we recognise them in others. The trouble is that when we are children, nobody fully explains what being a friend really means (other than being nice and sharing) so it’s hardly any wonder that we don’t always get it right and that we receive and send mixed messages from time to time in friendship as we grow.

So what is a friend? The Collins dictionary defines it as ‘someone you know well and like but who isn’t related to you.’ And it’s that simple in theory although more complicated of late where adding ‘friends’ on social media allows you to assign friendship status to someone you barely know. Sometimes it’s a great move and a terrific choice. Other times, not so much. And as if that isn’t tricky enough to navigate, along came the term BFF. Not only is it essential to have a best friend, now it has to be ‘forever’ eeeek!

And if you google ‘friendship’, there are hundreds and hundreds of definitions, all slightly different depending on the author and the expectations each person puts on what they individually value in friendship.

Friendship is complex. It’s this one all encompassing word that has a myriad of meaning and implication attached to it. From toddlerhood onwards there’s an expectation you should have a best friend. The one. The person on whom absolutely all your expectation hangs and vice versa. The one who comes to your rescue, that you can rely on, confide in and who fights your corner. Wowzers! That’s a massive responsibility. And if you have someone you consider to be your absolute best friend, you want to be pretty sure that the feeling is reciprocated. Holding someone in much higher regard than they hold you can be heart breaking if when tested the other way, the intensity of feeling is not returned.

I learned a long time ago that friendship is not a one size fits all thing. I’m fortunate. I have shopping friends, get together for a chat and lunch friends, watching sports together friends, and one or two especially close friends with whom I will confide my innermost drunken thoughts. I’m also lucky enough to have family who I absolutely choose as friends.

I love the delight of having uncomplicated relationships with people that I see a handful of times a year where the only expectation we have of each other is that we will chatter non stop, stuff our faces, glug back the wine, laugh like hyenas and have a truly lovely time.

Quite rare and precious are close friends and one of mine in particular will totally know who she is when she reads this. I’ve known her for twenty something years and she is the kind of friend we all aspire to be.

I didn’t know her back then but knowing the person she is now I imagine her to be that girl that everyone fought to be best friends with at primary school. The fiercely loyal supportive one who’d give the boys hell, pull faces at you in class, tell you when you were being a div and hold your hand if you were scared.

Mind you, I’m glad I didn’t know her when she was a kid, the competition to be her bestie would have been immense! These days I’m happy to share her with a hundred other people who most likely regard her exactly as I do. She gets all the facets of friendship right and she’s funny (yes doll you ARE) and endlessly optimistic and I’m telling you now, that if the four horsemen of the apocalypse showed up ready to dish out pestilence, war, famine and death … and she’d had a couple of espresso martinis …. she’d 100% whoop their asses and chase them out of town. Mate, it’s true, you’re my favourite. You’re also a spade 😉

Best friend status is however reserved for my husband and that is utterly right for me. Where other girls need a female friend who is their greatest, I never have. Me and him confide in each other and have each other’s back in a way I absolutely would not expect from anyone else. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. We have absolute trust in one another, we are committed and loyal to a fault and we laugh so much we cry. We accept each other’s quirks with a snigger or a wry, amused smile. I love him unreservedly and unconditionally. So yes, my best friend is my husband, absolutely no two ways about it. I might have had to wait forty years until I met him but boy was it worth the wait.

So finally back to the point in question. What is a friend and what is friendship? It’s everything and it’s everywhere and it touches so much of our journey through life. So whether we are casual friends or close friends, old friends or new friends, Facebook or Twitter friends and whether we have a tonne of things in common or just a few, thank you. Each and every one of you makes life more interesting and in the words of the fabulous Charlie Mackesy (main photo) this thing called friendship truly is ‘a priceless and wonderful thing’.

Posted in Real Life

The one about the Inner Critic and the Inner Coach – weekly update #3

Happy Friday!

So this week’s little victory is an interesting one. Anyone who knows me most likely thinks I am super-confident. I know I’m a good communicator, good mate, good Mama, I like people and am an eternal smiley optimist. I have an opinion on most things and I’m not shy about sharing it. However, I lack confidence and always have.

As is the case with most things that make us who we are it’s probably a throw back to my childhood. I do remember constantly seeking approval from my parents and friends. Doing my absolute best and hoping it would be good enough. I expect it was for the most part but it often didn’t feel that way. As a result I became a bit of a perfectionist as I sought reassurance and approval.

Being a perfectionist doesn’t necessarily mean life has to be perfect (because it just isn’t) but it does mean that sometimes the anxiety about the things you do being good enough can be overwhelming.

As a child I was a gymnast. I loved it. I was the best in my school, the best in my club and the best in my borough, winning every competition, and yet I always felt it wasn’t enough.

As an adult I’ve achieved lots of things, the most recent being I wrote some short stories and a novel. Despite winning a competition and getting the most glorious feedback, I have always felt a bit embarrassed and that none of it was professional enough. I felt like an imposter saying I was an author or writer and even though a mainstream publisher showed significant interest the pressure to perform was too much. Self-doubt crept in and the first ten chapters of the new novel have been abandoned.

For no apparent reason, this popped into my head this week. About 15 years ago I booked a motivational speaker for an event (Paul McGee author of Shut Up Move On, absolute top bloke). One of the best things I learned that day was that everyone has an Inner Critic and an Inner Coach. Basically, the Inner Critic is the voice in your head that tells you that you’re not good enough. The Inner Coach is the voice in your head that tells you that you are. I listen to the Inner Critic ALL the time. The Inner Coach is mostly crushed and sits quietly on the sidelines because the Inner Critic’s voice is sooooo annoyingly loud.

My problem with listening to the Inner Coach and enjoying a moment of self-praise is probably due to the fact that I’m waiting for everyone else’s opinion before I can allow myself to feel anything (there’s that throw back to childhood of approval seeking) ….. and then even when I get great feedback I’m speculating whether it’s really meant or whether it’s just kindness. Take my new hobby for example. I’ve made a few Christmas cards. They’re not professional. I’m not even sure about sending them (be gone Inner Critic). Hubby says they’re great and the people I know best also say they like them but still there’s something in me that thinks they’re just not quite good enough. Argh! Inner Coach where are you?

So, despite my battles with the Inner Critic lately I do have a little victory to share. We’ve been looking for a nice piece of wall art to put in our bedroom. I’ve relentlessly searched t’internet for the perfect painting or framed print and finally came across a series of photographs of our favourite place in Cornwall. And you could get them enlarged and framed. Hoorah! Imagine my delight.

I showed my husband and he said …….. ‘Why don’t we get one of your photos done? They are as good as those and apart from anything else it would be YOUR photo, our experience together, what could possibly match that?’

So without having purposely sought feedback, there it was, unsolicited but better still, something lovely happened. The Inner Coach crept back into my mind pushing the Inner Critic to one side, as we spent a couple of hours going through the photos of our last trip to Cornwall sharing our memories and choosing our favourites. The Inner Coach reminded me that what matters most is how I feel about something, it’s about my journey and the enjoyment I get from things.

We found a website that would print and frame an enlargement of a stunning, unfiltered Cornish sunset (featured photo), and before I knew it, we’d created a project, framed it and bought it. It should arrive in a week or so and I absolutely cannot wait to get it and see it on the wall. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect. It’s mine and I love it.

And so I’ve finally realised that what other people think matters less than I let it (although in this case it definitely helps that hubby likes the photo that he will have to look at every night and every morning!). The feeling of receiving praise and approval is lovely but waiting for it and hoping for it isn’t. So it shouldn’t mean so much.

What matters is being happy and healthy and fulfilled and satisfied – and I am lucky enough to mostly be those things right now. I am beginning to get to grips with the fact that what other people think is their business and not mine and sometimes I need to let it go, to care less.

So my little victory is that I realised this week that I am good enough and that when I need it to be, the voice of my Inner Coach really can be louder than the voice of my Inner Critic.

Have the best weekend. Big love.

Jules x

Posted in Real Life

The Life Balance Chair – weekly update #2

This week I actually made it into the gym EVERY DAY and so that is my little victory for this blog posting. We are lucky enough to have a gym in our garage with a treadmill, punch bag, multi gym and exercise bike. You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to pop on some gym kit and wander in. Not so. You really have to want to go in and part of that is remembering the great feeling of getting a little gym time in.

Part of my success with the gym this week was having a training partner. My younger son Connor had a week off work and is a huge gym enthusiast. Making an agreement with him and spending some quality time together in the gym really helped. So much so I thought I’d use this week’s blog to share his thoughts on maintaining a healthy life.

So he calls it the ‘Life Balance Chair’. Imagine a chair with four legs. The legs are made to fit the chair perfectly. They are equally strong and together they enable stability, comfort and balance to the structure of the chair. That is until one or more of the legs become unstable or wobbly.

Consider that in life we need four core things (the four legs of our personal chair) that enable stability for our bodies and minds.

  1. Physical Strength. This is about maintaining an active lifestyle to promote good physical health. It doesn’t mean being the strongest person or giving yourself a difficult goal it means doing some exercise, being mobile and keeping flexible and supple in a way that helps you to live from day to day in a physically healthy way. For me that means doing some stretches in the morning, spending time in the gym regularly (not just staring at the equipment) and walking the dog.
  2. Biological Strength. This is the one I probably struggle with the most. This one is about eating well enough. This is not about dieting or going crazy but more about eating a balanced diet and looking after what’s on the inside. Perhaps taking a multi vitamin or some vitamin C, getting a flu shot in winter, eating good (but not excessively naughty) food, eating more fruit and vegetables and cutting back on alcohol, sugar and carbs.
  3. Psychological Strength. This one is so important as it allows you to not feel guilty about spending time on your well-being. It’s about good mental health and self care. So in short, doing things for you. Just you. It might be getting your nails done, taking up a new hobby or spending time meditating or watching your favourite film. It might be admitting when you’re struggling and allowing yourself to talk it through or get help. My plan is to use the Calm app to promote a better sleep pattern and to calm anxiety through meditation and deep breathing. I’m also thoroughly enjoying my new card-making hobby, which provides an outlet for my creative side.
  4. Presentable Strength. I love this one, perhaps because it comes more naturally for me, and probably most of you than some of the others. This is about using your strengths to help or better others. It’s about sharing the things you’re good at, being a listening ear or a good friend, spending time with people and being encouraging. It’s surprising how good this makes you feel and has a big impact on your Psychological Strength.

So those are the four legs of the ‘Life Balance Chair’ and when Connor and I were talking about it I suddenly realised how important it is to have each of these areas of my life in balance. If I neglect a strength (or chair leg) then the chair becomes unstable and wobbly. If all four legs are neglected then the chair is no longer fit for purpose. It no longer provides stability comfort and balance. In effect I’m running on empty.

So here I am taking care of my Presentable Strength by sharing a special moment between my son and me. Which happened while I was taking care of my Physical Strength during a gym session. I’ve just finished making some Christmas cards, thereby adding to my Psychological Strength by taking time to do something I really enjoy and in just a moment I’ll be going out for a nice meal this evening with my husband when I will of course be thinking about my Biological Strength and will only have one glass of wine (because I deserve it) ….  instead of a bottle!

I really hope that this blog post resonates with you the way it’s helping me. Have the most splendid of weekends and a healthy happy week ahead.

Big love, Jules x

Posted in Real Life

Getting Started! Weekly update #1

Good Morning, happy Saturday!

A day later than planned but here’s my first weekly update. I thought I’d use this opportunity to explain briefly what I’m trying to achieve.

Each week I will post an update on the happenings of the week, mostly focussing on little victories, those little things that I’ve achieved which make a day feel like it’s been worthwhile. It might be success in gym challenges (any time I spend in the gym being active is a gigantic victory tbh!), it might be cooking delicious healthy meals, celebrating doing something new or just having a good day. So this blog is mostly for me because how can I expect anyone else to be even vaguely interested in my personal weekly small achievements? However if one person reads it and finds one post interesting or uplifting that that’s another little victory for me. Committing to writing a weekly blog also means I am more likely to achieve the things I want to during the week ….. because who wants to be left with tumbleweed for a picture and nothing to say?!

So whilst I’m lucky enough never to have experienced periods of deep depression, like most people, I’ve had challenging times in my life. I’ve always managed somehow to battle through. Lately and I’m going to be completely honest here, I’ve felt a bit redundant at home.  I’m now over 50 (where the hell did all the years go?), my children are grown ups and they need me less. And because we live in an era of ridiculous house prices and rental costs my two have not fled the nest. I do endeavour to give them the space and privacy they need to be as fully independent as they can be whilst still living in the family home. However, that leaves me with less to do, less to worry about (which is lovely but unnerving) and with lots of time on my hands.

So with that in mind the first thing I’m celebrating in this post is spending less time during the day watching an endless stream of quiz and home improvement shows (although Phil and Holly will be forever on in the background with This Morning) and more time starting a new hobby. I’ve decided on card making because it satisfies the creative in me. How long it will last and whether I will be any good at it is anyone’s guess. However, I’ve absolutely loved spending time this week mooching around Hobbycraft and picking up pretty things to decorate cards with.

I’m a complete and utter beginner and am already enjoying doing lots of research on techniques and materials to use. I’ve even started making (see main photo). The aim is that this year all our friends and family will receive ‘lovely’ home made cards and if they aren’t all that lovely or perfectly finished at least they have been made with love!

So that’s post #1 and my first small victory – starting a new hobby. It’s a good start right?

Thanks for reading. I’m excited about the future, about sharing my little victories with you and kick starting a new period of my life in the most positive way I can.

Big love

Jules 🙂 x

Posted in Real Life

My Family And Other Heroes – Lest We Forget

For the past couple of months I’ve been researching my family history. In doing so it suddenly became clear how many of my ancestors were involved in WW1. As I searched for my relatives, their forces war records reluctantly opened up to me and I was staggered by the realization that so many of the men in my family had served. So this blog post is in tribute to them as we head towards the 100-year anniversary of Armistice Day and the end of the Great War.

Today I’m thinking of and paying tribute to those closest to me especially those who served in WW1 and my great uncle John who made the ultimate sacrifice during The Great War.

I’m certain there’s much more to discover because much of this post simply reflects my father’s side of the family, but for now here’s the roll of honour for my family who served during the Great War, WW2 and beyond. I promise to think of you all this Sunday, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

First of all a nod to my great grandfather William Reynolds who was born in 1853 and who was a gunner in the Royal Artillery. Serving for at least ten years (records being sketchy) I wonder whether his example influenced his sons during their time in the forces.

Frederick Thomas Reynolds. My grandfather (photographed below) – born in 1891. Joined up as a gunner aged 18, served with the 2nd Battalion The West Yorkshires and was awarded the Bronze Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. During WW1 he fought with the 8th division in France and Belgium. On 1st July 1916, he fought in the Battles of the Somme at Pozeires. Hundreds were lost in the ensuing battle but my grandfather Frederick Thomas Reynolds survived and continued to serve his country.

IMG_3128

An extract from his diary almost two long years later after action at Villers-Bretonneux on 25th April 1918 records

“All different regiments mixed up but managed to hold Jerry for about 1 hour …. Jerry got his tanks in action. 2 followed by 3 more. Troops retired to railway and hung on there. Jerry got village but paid for it. Tried to make a can of tea on 4 bits of candle …. Jerry shelling very heavy all the time. Got hit about 5-30pm and began to feel effects of gas …….. Lorried to Amiens clearing station. Treated for gas …… got a bit of sleep. First for 48 hours.”

So difficult to imagine but thank you Grandad for hanging on in there and for coming home to your family.

Albert Reynolds (great uncle) born 1885. Bricklayer Albert joined the Royal Artillery as a gunner in 1903. He served in France from August 1915 to March 1916 and was awarded the Bronze Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Alfred McCarthy (great uncle) born 1886. Alfred was a miner. He joined up in 1915 as a 29 year old. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, received the British War Medal and Victory Medal and was discharged aged 32 having fallen victim to Malaria.

William McCarthy (great uncle) born 1888. William joined up in 1915 leaving his job as a hospital porter. He was discharged in 1920 having served with the East Kent Regiment The Buffs as a sergeant. He served in France during 1915/16 and Bangalore in 1918.

Walter McCarthy (great uncle) born 1891. Walter enlisted age 18 joining the Prince of Wales Own Regiment (West Yorks) having worked at the arsenal in Woolwich in number 2 cartridge factory. Quite the character, Walter’s medical and conduct records are interesting reading, providing an insight into what life was really like for a soldier during the early twentieth century. He served for ten years and received his medals for the time he spent fighting in France, Belgium and Malta. He was discharged in 1919 due to wounds received during active service. The photograph shows Walter and his fellow soldiers posing for a post card that Walter then sent to his mother Sarah McCarthy, my great grandmother.

 

Walter

Thomas Kent (Jnr) (great uncle) born 1897. Thomas was a machine hand, signed up aged 18 and served as a rifleman in France in 1916/17 with the 5th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles. He was taken prisoner in 1917 for over a year until being repatriated on 27th November 1918. Like the others he received his medals and was discharged in 1920, having served for four years.

John McCarthy (great uncle) 1885-1916 John served as a private in the Queens Own Royal West Kent regiment. He was wounded in the Persian Gulf in 1915 and was mentioned in dispatches with the 2nd battalion. He was initially reported missing at Kut-el-Amara and confirmed dead on 31st October 1916. He paid the ultimate price, made the greatest sacrifice. The following letter was sent to his mother in April 1921.

JMcMilitary

I fully expect to discover more ancestors who served during The Great War. Unfortunately my research has been hampered due to the loss of many hundreds of thousands of documents during Second World War bombings. However I’m sure they will eventually reveal themselves to me one by one as those above have.

With WW2 in mind, it’s only right to pay tribute to two of my uncles who served during the Second World War. One of my uncles who I barely knew, Herbert McCarthy Kent, enlisted in 1941 at Bulford, near Salisbury aged 28 and served for the rest of the war. And uncle Fred (Frederick George Reynolds) who, in later life kept detailed records of his father Frederick Thomas’s time in WW1, together with a fascinating account of the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918 himself served in the Royal Air Force (photo below). Uncle Fred was ground crew, utilizing his skills as a motor mechanic and spent time in both India and Canada, latterly as air sea rescue.

UFred 

And so finally to my husband, Brian Cliff who served in the Royal Navy as a Chief Petty Officer Weapons EA from 1988 to 2000. Brian was awarded three medals during his time in the Navy, something he is most humble about and always plays down. I love the connection that he has with the forces and serving his country. I’m as proud of him as I am every other relative who has served and fought for our country.

My final thought here though is for another. For a stranger amongst millions of strangers, who all played their part in WW1. As I walked the dog several days ago on a misty, chilly autumn evening I noticed a large red poppy attached to a lamppost. Quite on it’s own. There are dozens down in Caterham village, fixed to posts, in shop windows, on railings and attached to hedges. Lovely tributes filled with thoughtful messages to those who lost their lives, to those who served and to all who played a part in WW1.

For some reason though, this one stood out on it’s own away from the town centre in a quiet residential road and just around the corner from my home. The name type written across the centre of the poppy was Lieutenant Carleton Wyndham Tufnell. A quick search of forces war records revealed that he was born in 1892, lived locally and was educated at Eton. He served with the Grenadier Guards and gave his life on 6th November 1914 aged just 22 during the first battle of the Somme at Ypres, in order that that we may know the life and the world we now live in.

So to Private John McCarthy, to Lieutenant Carleton Wyndham Tufnell and all who served, sacrificed, kept us safe and changed our world, although it doesn’t seem quite enough 100 years later …. Thank You!

 

All photos from family archives, thanks Chris!