What skills have you got? And are there any you wish you had? Skills are an odd thing. They accumulate gently through life. One moment you are a child wrestling with wool and knitting needles and dripping tears on the ladder of another dropped stitch in the scarf which is too loose and too narrow and curls up at the edges. Next you are a young working mother with time so squeezed that the idea of knitting anything at all is simply ludicrous. How can you possibly have time to knit when you don't even have time to cut your own toenails? And yet somehow you must have done enough knitting often enough because you find yourself years later able to knit and with time for knitting and finding it satisfying and pleasurable. How did that happen? Did I learn the skill when my back was turned?
What else can I do that I must have learned? Cooking, but that is an easier one to understand. I learned cooking with my mother. My mother was a very good cook who loved food and liked the whole process of putting food on the table for her family. I remember clearly learning to peel potatoes but I also remember the more subtle organic learning of simply being in the kitchen, being offered something to taste and being involved, at the age of eight or nine, in deciding whether something needed more seasoning and if so what. I remember shared cooking, first with my mother in charge, later me, with my children helping, and now with one of my adult children in charge where I take the subsidiary role. "Can I scully for you?" is a question in our family. It means "I know you are the guiding mind here but can I chop something up or bring anything in from the garden." So I know how I learned to cook, by a process of cheerful osmosis, and if it then became more complex and sophisticated from the reading of books or the watching of cookery programmes, that was a honing of a skill that I had acquired by my early twenties.
Gardening is an odd one. I remember as a child wandering around after my mother or grandmother and marvelling that they knew the names of all these plants and could tell by looking at two anonymous green things that one was a weed and one was not. I certainly didn't learn that as a child. I simply wasn't listening. I liked being in the garden, playing or reading or just lying about on the grass picking buttercups or making a grass trumpet but I ran a mile at the suggestion that I might like to help with the weeding. Dull, dull, dull. What skill I have now I learned mainly from books. I became interested in gardening in my early thirties with babies and young children who liked to be outside. It wasuld something I co do while being outside with them and somehow it caught my imagination and the idea of recreating the gardens of my childhood or creating the gardens of my imagination took hold. I read widely and voraciously and began to buttonhole people who knew things that I didn't. What is this plant? Why is this one dying? What would flower in September and not mind the wind? I wanted Frances Hodgson Burnett's secret garden or Lucy M Boston's topiary garden at Green Knowe, never mind that I lived in a suburban semi. These days I may not have a walled garden but I do have sheets of daffodils and white stemmed silver birches. So gardening as a skill is something that I acquired entirely as an adult.
And then there are the skills I do not have, would quite like to have but have now accepted that I am unlikely to acquire. I would quite like to have learned to ski but I didn't do it when I was younger and now I have neither the time, inclination, courage or physical competence to try to learn it in my sixties. I wish I had learned to play a musical instrument as a child but I didn't. That is something I could try to learn now I know but instead I decided to learn to sing, and, while I will never have a great singing voice, I have improved enough to enjoy my choir singing and to feel that music is not such a gap in my life. It might be good to be able to play the piano but then it might be good to play golf or go rock climbing and it doesn't look as though I am going to make those happen! So it seems that many of the skills I don't have are skills that have not been important enough to me for me to make time in a hugely full life to acquire them. And that's ok.
But I think I would really like another language, and to learn to draw......