So from time to time I have had to come up with something to say when people have asked me how it was going but I haven't done any real thinking or stocktaking. I've just said how busy I am, how nice it is not to get on the train every week and how good it is to have time in the garden. All true, all glib. So I thought I would have a proper think in this blog about what I have lost and what I have gained and maybe even what to do now.
There are certainly some things I miss from my working life:
- my colleagues, both those who are contemporaries and friends and the young shiny ones full of enthusiasm and energy. I miss that sense of being surrounded by lots of people with a common goal.
- the heady rush of the close of a successful negotiation meeting when you feel you have been riding five horses at once, turning and wheeling, keeping everything together, apparently calm but working furiously under the surface. Nothing outside work has ever given me quite that particular adrenalin surge.
- that moment which would happen to me every week when walking down the street in London and relishing being just myself, no-one's wife or mother, not defined by my relationships with others but only by what I did.
- the money, but astonishingly only a very little bit. I thought I would mind financial dependency very much indeed and would miss, not so much the restaurant meals and the new suits, as knowing that I did not have to worry about affording them. Having worked my way out of being very short of money I wondered how I would feel about needing to be careful again. Amazingly this, which I thought would be a big deal, is a very small one. It's fine. If you don't work you need less money and if you live in the country you have very little opportunity to spend it if only you can control your plantaholic tendencies.
And what have I gained?
- time most of all, even though it feels as full to bursting as it ever did. I think this is mainly because if you have lived for a long time biting off more than you can chew, you just keep on doing it. Now however the time is thronged with things I have chosen and have never had time for before: yoga, Welsh, gardening on a silly scale. I found myself agitating today as I went to visit my father in law about the hundreds of bulbs I have still to plant. I had to give myself a quick slap about the head. If I have daffodils which should already be in the ground and tulips which can wait a bit, it is because I choose to. If I have a to do list which runs to several pages just as it always did, it is because I keep feeling that having left work means that I can do everything. There are still only twenty four hours in the day and still a need to sleep. I had a flash of memory today of when the children were small and I was on my own and trying to work as well and would find houseplants dying because I had not had time to water them. That sounds like a poor excuse but at the time it did feel that a plant would always be just a bit further down the priority list than the children, the job, the shopping and cooking and washing, doing all the utterly essential things to keep life afloat. I would mind a lot when I found another plant that had turned up its toes from neglect but it would happen again. I wouldn't let a plant die now.
- And the other thing I have gained which I suppose is connected with time is freedom. This time which is so full is not directed by others, or only in so far as I commit myself to looking after my grandson or going to visit my parents. Even when I am rushing about cleaning the holiday cottage or hanging out yet more washing I am my own mistress now. Sometimes I am so used to reacting to the demands of colleagues and clients that I lose momentum all by myself, drift about from room to room, unable to settle to anything, listening to yet more news on the radio or spending far too much time on the computer. Usually the next day I wake up and am anchored again. I am learning, slowly. I really don't think I want to work for anyone else again now. I am already starting to take for granted the freedom to choose whether to make curtains or work in the garden, to rush over to Blackden or to spend thankless hours on the phone harrassing lawn mower menders. I should remember what a privilege it is.
- Lastly I am gaining something in attaching myself to this place although I find it hard to understand or explain. We lived in New Zealand for a bit when I was a child and after coming back to the UK and going to university I moved about a lot. Even when I found myself living in the same city for twenty years I worked all over the place, often dividing my time between two cities, trying to keep a home and a home away from home going. Now I love just being here, waking in the morning and walking round the gardens and the field, watching the changing light on the other side of the valley, starting to know what the turning year does to the different parts of the garden, knowing my trees and my hedges. I don't yet know this land in the way I would have known it as a child, where to hide, where to find conkers, where to pick the grass which screeches for you when you blow it between your fingers, but I know some things. I know the order in which the trees come into leaf, where the snowdrops flower first, what happens if you walk up the hill into the view. My roots have always been my family and a sense that I could live anywhere. Slowly - we have only been here four years - I am beginning to feel an attachment to place which seems important for the first time in my life. I hated leaving it every week to go to London and being here most of the time is a great gain.
Well I am not sure that this takes me anywhere towards what to do now! Perhaps we haven't got there yet. Maybe it is significant that writing about what I have gained takes a bit longer than setting out what I miss. I wouldn't change it back, that is for sure.