Us, from there to here

I am nearly 39 and in the last ten years I’ve come a long way, a journey I feel which has brought me back to my true self. I’ve ditched the heels and suits, which I never felt comfortable in; I’ve re-embraced the DMs and woollen things, lentil-weaving and clothes, art and objects made by hand (not by my hands, unfortunately, but that’s a goal- to learn a practical skill).

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Christmas Day: full-on festive make up by me and Boat Girl (joint effort). Well, if you can’t look sparkly at Christmas, when can you?

Last New Year, I thought I would be accompanied by a partner- we had just moved in together and I thought we had a future. However, before the end of January he’d turned on me with contempt and aggression and so I started looking around for a way out.

My father became very sick in the spring with mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure. I had hoped to stay in the rented house with S (we were 5 weeks into a 7-month contract when he threw everything up in the air) but in March he physically assaulted me and was escorted away from the house by the police. He’s a tradesman in the local area and has a young son (and a terrible relationship with the boy’s mother) so he didn’t want any real trouble with the police; as a result, I had a couple of days’ grace to move out. I was incredibly fortunate and I know that. However, it meant moving in with my parents, which I had hoped to avoid because I knew my dad’s time was so short and I didn’t want to cause them stress or unhappiness. They welcomed us with love (for the second time; the first time I hadn’t fled but had moved out when my relationship became intolerable in other ways).  Again, I am incredibly fortunate.

I had bought a house with the help of a government key workers’ loan in 2007, and I had a buyer for it when I moved in with S. Rather than going back to that house- which we’d outgrown, it didn’t allow us to do the things we were increasingly wanting to do- I let the sale go through. Paid back the loan. And with the equity (I’m very fortunate) I bought a narrowboat for us to live on. We took possession on Good Friday and began the journey from the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire to the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal in Gloucestershire (documented elsewhere on this blog).

My dad died in May. I can’t add much to that except to say that it was a devastating event.

In August I got a new job, which allows me not to depend on tax credits and to manage our money better. The boat also allows us to spend money differently (much less than rent or a mortgage, no council tax, no utility bills, but dry docking and blacking every three years, plus the cost of the licence and a mooring fee).

The year’s political events have been frightening, enraging, distressing and depressing at different times. On the one hand I want to get involved; on the other, I feel sometimes that it’s too overwhelming. I need to look after my mental health and that isn’t always compatible with a deep involvement in current affairs. Daily life also means that other things have to take priority over demos- being with Boat Girl, maintaining our home, preparing my lessons.

Instead, I’m focusing on changing my own behaviour. I try hard to shop ethically and I teach my daughter about why. Living aboard, we are not on the grid- so we use less fuel. We are getting a composting loo in a few weeks, we compost our food waste and we have two 100W solar panels to top up our leisure batteries. My friend S is at the top of the waiting list for an allotment, which she’s offered to share (apparently they’re huge and it might be too big for her to cope with alone). We walk and cycle when it’s practical to do so.

On the other hand I still have to drive a good way each school day, and I drive a diesel car (bought when they were promoted as being more environmentally friendly than petrol cars over longer distances). Money means I can’t always buy the most ethical thing, sometimes I have to go for the cheaper option. But we do what we can…

Back to us… My daughter was born in 2011. Her father is a good man, and we manage to co-parent pretty well, I think. Tongues are bitten at times, I imagine, by both of us! But we get on much better now, separately, than we did as a couple. I have certainly blossomed since we separated and I think he has too.

Having him involved in our lives limits us in one way- ideally, I would home educate her and we’d live on almost no money, travelling and working ad hoc. However, in other ways it’s a more rooted existence for our daughter, and she will be able to experience two different ways of life; her options will be open and she’ll have well-grounded values and support to achieve her dreams, whatever they come to be. She has loving family on both sides and I too get a lot of support from my mother, and from my ex and his parents.

I have some concerns with her school at the moment, but the last twelve months have been terribly disrupted and I think she needs the stability of staying where she is. She has friends and knows everyone there, and no school stays the same anyway. So while I’m earning our crust outside the home (I teach A level Sociology- until August, I taught French and Spanish in primary schools and before that, in a local secondary school) she needs to be in school, so she may as well be there until we can see a place that might do better for her long-term.

My daughter is smart and funny, kind, brave and generous. She loves animals, except orcas, which give her nightmares. She knows a lot about dinosaurs and big cats, and birds. She enjoys fairies and creating miniature worlds. She loves Star Wars and Moana, Brave and The Princess Bride. She listens to Rhianna, Fleetwood Mac (all their incarnations), Katie Perry, Lissie and Tchaikovsky. She draws and reads- together we are reading The Worst Witch and on her own she’s sitting next to me finishing her first independent read of a chapter book- Mr Birdsnest and the house next door by Julia Donaldson. I’m incredibly proud of her.

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Working on a picture of her friend, to give as a gift to her. Lunch simmering on the stove!

As for me, I like some similar things- Star Wars, Moana, Lissie, Fleetwood Mac but also Santana, Jeremy Corbyn, the EU, Leonard Cohen, Steig Larsson books, Iain Banks books, Terry Pratchett, Nora Ephron films, surfing, walking, dancing and teaching. My goals are to develop a career in writing that I can do from home, live ever more ethically, and live more, rather than exist on the treadmill of working to pay the bills. The last year has thrown up such radical changes that radical change is no longer scary, so perhaps 2017 will bring more. Challenges are good, in the main, but life is a dance and I feel we need to keep dancing as long as the music is playing. You never know when the song will end.

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Christmas on the boat- epitome of our new life