Saturday, 9 December 2017

Marriage - Day 10

Day 10 (Sunday 10th December 2017)
10 day break is possible for UK workers during this year's  festive period, by booking
just three days off - December 27, 28 and 29. The caveat is that workers must not have
roles that require them to work at weekends and they must be able to have all bank holidays off.
The UK has 8 public holidays each year, this does not compare well with Spain (14),
Sweden  and France (11), but equals the Netherlands and Hungary,
 whilst India and Colombia top the league with 18.

I hope your weekend is proving to be a good one. I don't seem to be clearing the mound of tasks I need to get done before the holidays start.

Today's piece is written by Annette Hill. For the past year and a half she has worked as the Director of Workforce development for Hospiscare, a hospice charity based in Exeter. Prior to joining Hospiscare, Annette ran (and indeed still runs) her own HR Consultancy called Acumen HR, through which she started working for Hospiscare. Annette represents HR for the South West region of the UK on the national HR leads forum which is based in the South West of England. Annette cares deeply about others; she chairs a dugs and alcohol charity in Bristol and is one of the CIPD's Steps Ahead mentors. She writes an interesting blog, simply entitled Annette's Blog that covers a wide range of topics as they occur to her. You can follow Annette on Twitter, her handle is @familyhrguru

As many of you will know, in past years she has written pieces for the Advent Blog series about Wizard Oscar - based on the bedtime stories told to her by her father. Wizard Oscar was first introduced to the public in 2014 in the book This Time, It's Personnel, Humane Resourced 2However, in a change from tradition, today she has taken on an even more personal theme.

As you will see from her comments at the end of the post, all of the pictures in today's piece were provided by Annette.


With a theme this year of Darkness and Dawn, it may seem odd to write a blog about marriage, my own marriage in fact. This may be the most personal blog I have written, but here goes.
On 26 September, we celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary. We had been boyfriend and girlfriend, then ‘living in sin’ for 5 years previously, so that’s 30 years. In fact, we’d been friends for a year previously after meeting in a wine bar, well more of a bar really, when introduced by a mutual friend. He was wearing cowboy boots and an Icelandic jumper (note Icelandic, very specifically, not Shetland). I was later to find out that he had another 3 pairs of identical boots and this wasn’t his first Icelandic jumper either. Meanwhile, I was a student, home for Easter from my year abroad in France (the reason I chose to study French at degree level), I had orange spikey hair, shaved at the sides, and may have been wearing my dad’s old gold smoking jacket. It was 1986, and I was doing a joint honours with Art. The term ‘hipster’ hadn’t been coined then. But believe me, I would have embraced it wholesale, if it had.
They say opposites attract… He had a BSc in Physical Sciences and was an engineer (and still is – I still have no idea about what he actually does – beyond software writing and specifications for control systems and Intel being one of the end customers – my brain just can’t process any of the technical details.) I was an arty type and quite left of centre with my ‘bleeding heart’, idealism and social conscience, motivating me to go to work initially in the NHS.
I suppose the best way to describe our different wiring is via the lyrics of the song ‘All of me’ by John Legend. Ray just cannot appreciate the concept of ‘Perfect Imperfection’. I have explained that like most (all) humans, the person John is singing about is not perfect, but such is his love and wonder of her, that she is perfect to him. I have got as far as a grumpy acknowledgment that because this is about emotion, then maybe imperfect perfection can exist, but really, in the logical world, it is just not possible to be perfectly imperfect.

So, why have I chosen this topic? I am always in awe of people who contribute to this series with deeply honest accounts of dark times and how they have overcome serious obstacles and grown. Generally, on Twitter, the bloggers I follow have also written openly and helpfully on once taboo subjects like depression, anxiety, bullying, menopause, childlessness, bereavement. Not sure I’ve read much on marriage – maybe as I don’t delve into ‘American’ style, self help style, motherhood and apple pie style, ‘How to be a good wife in 10 easy steps’ style, blah blah blah bloggage….
I’m writing this from a position of feeling content in my marriage, and ready for another 25 years if we are that lucky. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Some of the things we have in common:
  • Loyalty and honesty.
  • Importance of family, particularly our children – their development, their happiness, their independence and resilience, seeing them become the sort of adults in their own right who we would want to spend time with.
  • Importance of education, and learning.
  • Sense of humour – most of the time – in fact we have been called a ‘comedy couple’ or ‘comedy parents’.
  • Our values.
  • Interest in current events, and love of discussion.
  • Holidays, dining out, spending time with good friends.
  • Good white wine and decent gin (not in the same glass).

Some of the things we do not have in common:
  • TV viewing choices.
  • Film viewing choices.
  • Music (with a few exceptions).
  • Watching any kind of sport on TV.
  • Reading (I mean there are so many wonderful novels out there, why would you read a Maths A level revision guide for fun?)
  • General Arty stuff – with Picasso being an exception – having seen, in Barcelona, that Picasso was very technically skilled, Ray just can’t understand why he didn’t stick to faithful portrayals of the subject matter, instead opting for increasingly abstract interpretations. Ray will spend a long time in front of a Picasso which is supposed to have a guitar or a mandolin in it, trying to find the instrument and the player.

The last 18 - 24 months or so has been quite a difficult time for me – mostly self-inflicted, stuff going on in my head kind of things. I took redundancy on 30 Nov 2015, and started work for my own small business literally the next day. Things went well and in June 2016, I became an employee 4 days a week for one of my first clients, and I love the charity sector in which I now work, and the little bit of freedom and variety a small amount of private work brings. I was (and still am) doing quite a lot of voluntary work as well, although in a planned way, I am phasing out one of my big voluntary commitments. I call this my recalibration (married to an engineer – see above.) Ray meanwhile, has only had two employers – the first sponsored his degree and he has worked for his current employer for over 15 years.

Although the outcome of my redundancy has been very positive and I have moved on from what went before, I firmly believe that our bodies take longer to catch up. I had been under stress at work for over 18 months by Nov 2015, due to a huge restructure. This waxed and waned in terms of its daily impact on how I felt, probably because I made such a big personal effort to draw upon all my reserves of resilience and try to find positive ways of making a contribution to the new organisation. So, back to bodies catching up… over the next year or so, I seemed to get a virus every couple of months, and lots of aches and pains. Nothing major – just chronically not quite firing on all cylinders and feeling so tired so much of the time. Also, I’m certain now that I was having peri menopausal symptoms for a few years, so when I couldn’t sleep, felt very low in mood, had unexplained pains in my legs (or anywhere in my body) or felt stomach churningly anxious, I didn’t know what to put it down to. Then, the piece de resistance – empty nest syndrome…

Our son, who is our younger child, went to University in Sept 2016. We were so pleased for him as he had to do an additional 6th form year, changing from A levels to the BTec route, which turned out to be ideal for him. I spent the whole summer in dread, worrying about how much I would miss him, and I did, and I still do. But video calls on Facebook Messenger are great, he is absolutely thriving and when he is home during the holidays I become irritated all over again by all of the mess he makes! You can usually locate him, if not by the sounds of his bass guitar practice, then by the trail of sweet wrappers, yoghurt pots, dirty plates and half drank glasses of water.

To cope with the emptiness initially, we threw ourselves into a complete refurbishment of our bedroom, then started planning our Silver Wedding Anniversary holiday, which would see us returning to Bali, our honeymoon destination. But meanwhile, we were doing a lot of solitary activities. He would go for a long bike ride, I would walk the dog. He would devote a weekend (or so it seemed) to each Grand Prix, watching everything including the qualifying, I would cook or mess about on Social Media. We seemed to forget how to communicate with each other effectively, meaning in ways that the other one would understand. So, despite knowing full well how literal and straight forward he is, I would expect him to tune into my feelings just like that without me needing to say anything, or I would read an implied criticism into a perfectly innocent remark he made. We weren’t doing much together, and at some point, I recognised that a feeling I often had at weekends in particular, was loneliness. That seems crazy, I know. Was I difficult to live with, or was he insensitive to what I was going through? Who knows? The truth (if such an absolute exists) is probably a mixture. And actually, we can both be hard to live with sometimes, as well as having great fun and sharing glances only the other will get. Over 30 years is a lot of shared history, a lot of ups, a lot of downs and a lot of in between.

Our daughter and partner, both of whom we get on with tremendously, live nearby, bought their first flat a few months ago, are both setting out in careers they enjoy, and got engaged in the summer. It’s fair to say, a lot of really good things have been happening, often making me feel guilty and self-centred for feeling low. I’ve described quite a bit of darkness, and I want to share some dawn as well. This is really the big life adjustment that has probably been going on for 2 to 3 years physically and emotionally, now transitioning into a good place. How have we achieved that? Lots and lots of talking, straight questions, honest answers and listening. Then our ‘big holiday’. I admit I was worried that it wasn’t going to be a panacea from which we would return to a perfect life! Of course, we haven’t (despite how carefully I manage my Facebook page). But we seem to get on better when we spend more time together, sharing experiences, showing each other appreciation and relaxing. This is harder to maintain now we’re back into the daily grind, but there is not much that good communication, kindness and working on the niggles together cannot solve.
A note on the pictures I have chosen:
Picasso. The first is Picasso’s ‘Portrait of the Mother of the Artist’, which we have seen in Barcelona, and shows his technical skill. The second is Picasso – The Guitar Player. It was Ray who made me visit the Picasso Museum in Paris as well, which has several of his paintings in this style. The next four are all photos I have taken of Balinese paintings in my souvenir official guide book of the Puri Lukisan Art Museum in Ubud, Bali, so please forgive the quality – it doesn’t seem possible to find these on line. This is a lush, calm oasis of a place in the middle of one of the most chaotic and bustling places I have ever visited. We loved, in addition to the intricacy of the paintings representing both life in Bali and the richness of the stories and traditions that form their culture, the absolutely literal names of the paintings. The Balinese are so spiritual, yet note these titles: ‘The Priest Frees the Monkey, Snake and Tiger from a Well’, Ida Bagus Gelgel; ‘The Monkey is playing the Drum to wake up the King’, I Gusti Nyoman Gede; ‘Village Life in Bali’, I Reneh and ‘Looking for Fish in the River’, I Wayan Gedot. There are so many more in this vein. Absolutely wonderful. Many of these and the traditional dances we saw represent the eternal dance between good and evil, with good usually winning when ‘evil’ has seen the error of its ways. No marriage allegory made intentionally, I promise. I will say though, that the complexity and detail in many of these paintings, the interpretation of stories, fables and traditions overlaid with a very straight forward name possibly is a good metaphor for the nature of marriage.
Post Script. I have been writing and editing this for a while. I kept having second thoughts about the subject matter, but I’ve gone for it in the end. I wanted to include some pictures about Bali, whatever I did, and this seems so poignant as I finish writing on 26 November, when Mount Agung has finally started erupting, after about 10 weeks of high alert, including the time we were there. We hope that all of the local people affected will not suffer too badly and will get their livelihoods back soon.
Bali - Mount Agung

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