Meeting up with certain people can recall earlier periods of your life. This week, we have met with friends who started teaching with me in September 1974 and we have remained friends ever since, sharing personal highlights and woes. Another friend started in the capacity of lecturer when I was attending a Post Grad diploma course. Having lost contact, this was resumed when we walked the Emsworth Art Trail some ten years ago. Recently, I decided that I wanted to buy a piece of her art work and we spent a long while exploring the entirety of her work. One series was developed on the theme of journeying, with doors and mirrors playing a part.
This picture I found irresistible, and it now hangs in our lounge. It is one that repays several viewings as it can be looked at in many ways.
If life is seen as a journey, we often encounter new elements. These can equate to doors, through which we can choose to pass or not; these may be job opportunities, a chance of a life-long love affair, the start of a new interest. When they have passed and we haven’t entered, we often look at the route to the decision and how we made it, as if we are holding a mirror to ourselves, to check out whether or not we made the decision wisely.
Sometimes the past is a place that we lock away, for safe keeping, or so that the Pandora’s Box of stored feelings doesn’t break through and distort where you are now. If it’s safe, it can be got out now and again, just to remind ourselves of what we were and what we’ve become. Our memories act to some extent like photo albums, snapshots of time, but, not being a video with sound, we inevitably add a distortion, as if our memory is a hall of mirrors. No doubt there is also some judicious pruning of the less positive or even hurtful elements, to accentuate what’s left to sound more-so, or just to remember happy times.
Family members who pass through the same events can often appear to remember them with polar opposite standpoints. At any point in time, although we might exist in the same space, we each attend to the event with our own personal point of view, honed over time, through our personal experiences and the reflections that arise from them. Our vision, or hearing might, for some reason be the impairment that precludes us from essential information.
It can be that our memories are coloured by dashed hopes; a case of if only, a pity that, I wish I had… none of which is ultimately helpful. For children growing up, as I did, in a (mildly) dysfunctional family, the decisions being made around you will have an impact, to some extent until you can make decisions for yourself. Having successfully locked away my teenage years, while a messy parental divorce was happening, I made the decision at 19 to go to Teacher Training College; it offered necessary security and a positive future. Meeting and marrying my first wife in my last year, working as a team, we created a new future, which lasted for 32 years, until she died. Our 20th wedding anniversary gift from the surgeon had been a diagnosis of cancer!
You have to be able to live the moment and make the most of what is before you at that point. This was the impact where the need to look after a mid-teenage son made my decision to step down as a headteacher, after 16 years. This step, in itself, also opened other doors; a number of part-time, flexible work opportunities, some of which developed over time to take more centre stage as my son grew up and went to university. It also allowed me to meet M, who provided the human centre and focused my thinking more firmly on the present and, given the available time, to develop a strong bond that also created a future.
This year will be one of reflection. I have worked beyond retirement age for teachers, in large measure because I am regularly offered interesting projects, from a range of people who value my expertise and the outcomes of my interactions.
I have got better at saying no though, which I recognise as a significant luxury. While a couple of projects are planned to extend into 2017/18, I do also want to make more time for occasional travel and to be able to spend a little more time in my cottage in central France, as long as Brexit doesn’t create too great a rupture and possibly cause some animosity among my kind neighbours. Perhaps, what I am seeking is a little more “me” time; the litany of “lost hobbies” is significant.
I know, first hand and from long experience, that “me” time can be a luxury while working full time, although it can be accomplished with allocated time slots and making best use of holidays. This was initially through camping breaks, then with the French house, where DIY provided the focus for thinking and planning in between visits.
I do want to stay around though, to provide a long view of what’s happening in education. We have entered the strangest period of “development” that I have ever experienced, even if the word “change” has been a feature throughout. It often seems as if the system is becoming ever fractured, with no-one seemingly able to hold the ends together, so it can feel like wilful destruction, in order to create a system in a particular image. The polarisation of argument is less than helpful.
With grandchildren in the system and some to start, I still have significant personal interest. After all, it will be their world at some stage. They will ultimately be paying for a vast army of retirees. They might benefit from my longer working life, hopefully in staving off dementia and other ailments.
Happy New Year; pass through your doors gently and be happy. Live each day well and be grateful for waking up!
For information, the artist is Bobby Bale. A broader collection of her images can be seen at her website.