When I Grow Up, I Want To Be…

If I’m honest, and I usually am, I’ve never actually known what I wanted to be when I grew up. Some kids have the yen right from the start of dearly wanting to be a train driver, or an astronaut, or a chef or a parent, or Grand High Poobah of Associated Incorporated, but not me. I never, ever saw myself being a mum when I grew up, I knew that right from the get go. I hated those crying baby doll things my classmates cooed over, and I never wanted to have a real baby of my own because they both horrified and confused me. My maternal instinct, if I have one, is mostly for my peers, my friends. There is a Tiger Mama in there, but it’s not for kids of my own. When people ask me if I have or want children, and they do because people seem to think it’s a thing that a woman should have to be complete, then I can say with total truthfulness that no, I have never, ever wanted them.

“Oh you might change your mind one day.” is the classic response of the momentarily stunned. I’m 47 mate, if I haven’t changed it by now, I’m hardly likely to.

My life is quite complete with my amazing mum, my lovely husband, my very floofy cat, my brilliant closest friends and my packed to the gills kitchen. You work out what order they come in.

A Gypsy once told my Nan once that I would be a singer, and I am, but not a famous one. I’m a cook, but not a great chef, I’m a writer but not a grand author. I’m a PA, but not a high-flying EA, or PA to the stars. I have a job, not a career, but I’m happy. I’m settled. I’m being the best me that I can be and will continue to do so.

I have a new job. One where the HR department, my line manager, and the people I work with, treat me like an adult so, therefore, I feel like an adult.  It’s subtle differences, but they make massive differences in the curls and whorls of my brain. I asked about working from home, and boss K said “I have no problem. You’re senior enough that I really don’t mind.” To him that was a brief statement but to me that meant a huge amount, given the hassles I’ve had over the years at Old Job.  Someone thinks I’m ‘senior’. Oh my heart! Maybe I hadn’t done a good enough dye job…

But if you treat someone as a responsible adult, then mostly they will feel, and behave, as one. This is my manner with children. I expect you to behave with respect, because you are a human being in this world the same as anyone else. If you disrespect me, or my surrounds, then I’m not sure I should respect you either, and I will tell you so.

I had, and have, huge respect for my mum, both as a parent and as a person. I never forget that she’s not just Mum, she’s Linda too, with the hopes and fears and feelings that entails. A lot of children either forget that or were never told it. Mum had a life before you, and she still has a right to that life now. She’s a PERSON. My mum always spoke to me as an equal, none of this baby talk nonsense. and for that I am infinitely grateful. I think it stood me in good stead. I learned a lot about how to behave. How to be adult, and to be practical about things even though I was still just a child was a grounding experience, and oh boy did I need those skills going in to my teens.

I never did the coming home later than I’d said thing, or staying out without telling her, because I knew there was a person at home, waiting and worrying. What right did I have to make her scared, just because I wanted an extra hour out? I had my nights out with my friends, I certainly never lacked for fun, but I always told her where I was going, who I was with, and I was home when I said I would be.

Oddly, though, it’s taken me until the age of 47 to feel like a grown up, albeit with the heart of a child, still finding wonder and magic in almost everything I can.

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Hello, this is me.

Well, some of me, anyway.

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I see you…

People keep telling me that I haven’t changed, but oh I have.

The lines are deeper, the hair is definitely silver underneath the dye – because I’m not ready yet to let it grow out gracefully – but the ‘tache is becoming lighter as more of it goes white.

Those lines though. The crescent around the corners of my mouth, the lines running from nose to the edges of my lips, the deeper shadows surrounding the eye socket, none of those were there before and yet here they are, staring back at me in the mirror every day.

To me, they are not things to hide. Even though I might have a moment of “Oh ffs, concealer maybe?” once in a while, it’s not really that much of a bother because that’s my face. It’s not just a collection of lines and pores and sparse brows and random hairs, it’s the picture I present to the world.

That picture has a life lived imprinted on it. Those crescents are smile lines, and to see them get deeper means, to me, that I have smiled and laughed a lot in my life. They are just going to have to get deeper, then, as I want to continue to smile, continue to laugh, and hang the skin related consequences. There have been times when it’s been extremely difficult to smile, but then I remember that I can smile at a person, and though it’s a brief or fleeting moment for me, a kind look can mean the world to another.

I am aware that my genes are to blame for almost everything that happens to my body, inside and out. I have other marks and scars, all reminders of things that happened.

I am grateful that my genes have given me mostly good skin, and a fairly good bone structure that’s under there somewhere. I’ve never been so desperate to see my cheekbones that I’d stop eating cheese, good butter and olive oil because of it, I admit.

My lived experience canvas hangs on the outside of a framework that has withstood a fair amount of battering. For someone who’s had a life threatening illness as a child, been in 3 motorbike accidents, had various tumbles on ice, a slipped disc and jarred hips that won’t quit reminding me they are there,  and plus hauled the MonSter (Relapsing Remitting MS) around since 1996, I think I’m doing very well indeed.

That isn’t because I am, or have done, anything special, or because I’ve lived a good life – though I really have – or a Christian life – ha ha ha – it’s just the luck of the draw. That’s all it is for anyone. We are what we are.

I do joke when people say I don’t look my age (47) that it’s all the olive oil I eat. Maybe it is.

I will never deny myself the feeling of warm sun on my skin, or the blast of the wind in my hair for fear of lines. I can’t imagine hiding away from the sun’s rays, but I am lucky that I have an olive skinned heritage. I don’t overdo it, because who wants sunburn, but I do sit in it when I can to soak it up and boost that vitamin D.

An avocado. Now. That is for eating, not schmearing on your face. I don’t eat them often, but when I do, olive oil and sea salt is the way that I go. I’m always far too grateful to have found a ripe one to even think about splotting some onto my wrinkles. My wrinkles might even love it, but they aren’t going to get the chance to find out. My lines are there for myriad reasons. An avocado is for lunch, my face is for smiling and laughing.

So here I am. This is me. I’m not going to hide the marks that life has left on me just because ‘beauty’ magazines and ‘society’ thinks I should.

Here’s to growing old, to collecting more lines, more experiences, more smiles.

Here’s to living.

Here’s to LIFE.

Chutney Molly

I’ve always wanted to be a capable, organised cook. One of those deft fingered, sure footed women (sorry guys, but this is about me) with strong hands, that know where everything is in their kitchen, and exactly what they are doing. The cakes that rise every time, the crackle crusted breads from silken doughs, the glossy stews. My Nan was like that, and I cannot recall anything that she cooked going wrong. She would criticize it, almost as a reflex, because that was her all over, but everyone else loved whatever she made.

The difference in watching my mum cook, and my Nan, was that my Mum enjoys it. She enjoys food, and combining flavours, trying different things, talking about what goes well with what, and discussing what she’s cooked with other people. Nan always seemed to maybe not dislike cooking, but she didn’t revel in it, not like Mum and I can, and do.

Perhaps, for her, it really was just a chore, but one that she happened to be very good at indeed. Her chutneys and jams were things of legend in their Norfolk village, and she made so much every year that she could have had a cottage industry going if she’d ever thought to charge. As it was she just cooked mountains of chutneys, her kitchen piled high with garden produce. Always a harsh sting in the air from the white and spring onions, heaps of de-strung and sliced runner beans awaiting a mustard sauce, wooden chopping boards stained puce from fresh beetroot. She  gave most of those mountains away.

She had cooked for as long as I could remember. My first knowledge of her girlhood were the tales of her in the Land Army. Hoping to be sent away to somewhere she’d never been, but instead sent to a farm owned by a relative in Thundersley, Essex, was a bit of a blow but she coped, and coped admirably.

She was so small, and slight – “I had a 21 inch waist back then!” – that she could lie down in between the rows of cabbages in the fields when German planes went over, shielded by the dark, voluminous leaves. I can only imagine how terrifying that was as machine guns strafed the fields.

There was the time she had to ‘take the cow to the bull’, which she thought was just a “take that cow there, to stand outside that bull enclosure” instruction. She didn’t realise she had to put the cow IN with the bull, as she wasn’t aware of the purpose of that particular bovine visitation. The farm hands found her an hour later, still stood there, wondering what was meant to happen, with a particularly cross bull glaring at her from behind his fence.

The bull seemed to take a dislike to her after that, charging at her on one occasion and pinning her to the fence, each of his horns either side of her waist embedded in the wood. She wriggled free.

Another time he chased her across a field into a barn, where all she could do was flee up a great pile of chaff which, of course, just kept giving way beneath her. She was, essentially, running on the spot halfway up, while the bull stamped and snorted at the bottom, foaming at the mouth. The farm hands rescued her, once they’d stopped laughing.

Poor Molly Kathleen.

Life never ran smoothly for her. There were Things we never spoke of, which had made her very wary, and almost scared – certainly highly suspicious –  of any man that wasn’t my grandfather, whom she nagged to death. Sadly, that was literally. His last words to her were “For once in your life, Molly Crowe, will you shut up and listen!?”

Life probably could have been good to her, had she not seemed to always tread the path of most resistance. In a way I do wish that I could have made her journey easier, but she withstood even me, her only grandchild, becoming by the end a paranoid and bitter woman, insisting that we only wanted her for her money, which could not have been further from the truth.

Our last conversation, after my cards and letters were sent back torn up,  was her telling me that I was dead to her, because I’d taken the ‘side’ of my mum and my step dad (over some made up row that nobody but she could actually recall), and me telling her that if that was what she needed to do to feel safe, then so be it, but that I still loved her.

That was that. All contact severed, never to be heard from again. I tried a few times, but there’s only so much hurt you can take before you painfully realise that it’s actually a relief not to walk on eggshells, or jump when the phone rings any more.

Molly Kathleen Crowe, you may not have given me your love, at the end, but you did give me your skill, your curly hair, your siege mentality when it comes to the kitchen store cupboards, and two chutney recipes. (in her words, below)

Beetroot, Apple and Onion Chutney
(Nan’s Recipe)

1lb cooked and peeled beetroot, cold (about 1 cm square)
1lb (after peeling and coring) cooking apples
½ lb onions
½ lb soft brown sugar
¼ pint malt vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Chop apples and onions quite small (1 cm square) and put into a pan with the vinegar and sugar. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar is quite dissolved then simmer gently until thick and soft. Season and remove from the heat. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and then add the chopped beetroot and stir really well. Put into sterilised jars, cover with jam pot covers and secure tightly when cool. Try to use plastic lined lids as the vinegar reacts with the metal ones and can cause the chutney to taste awful. (This in a cheese sandwich is pure, sweet, tangy heaven ~ Lisa)

Autumn apple

Apple Chutney
(Nan’s Recipe)

2lb (after peeling and coring) of cooking apples
1lb onions
12 oz soft brown sugar
2-4 oz sultanas
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
½ pint malt vinegar

Chop apples and onions fairly small. Place onions in a pan with a little vinegar and simmer until soft then add the apples, dried fruit, spices and sugar. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved and then add the rest of the vinegar and cook until soft and thick. If you divide the mixture with a wooden spoon and the divide remains then it is done. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
Place in warm sterilised jars and cover with waxed pot covers when cool. Use plastic lined lids as vinegar attacks metals ones and spoils the flavour.

Green Tomato Chutney