You never know who’s watching…

On Saturday, my husband just happened to switch the tv on during the dying moments of the women’s Wimbledon final.

‘Ah, Serena Williams is losing!’ he exclaimed.

My youngest perked up! ‘Serena Williams? We’ve been learning about her in school. She plays tennis!’

It was heartbreaking to watch Serena lose but equally the winner, Simona Halep was such a joyous winner, she won my heart over too. Her speech was incredibly humble and humorous, I was enamoured. Meanwhile, my youngest waited on tenterhooks for Serena Williams to light up the screen. Although Halep was the champion, in her eyes, Williams was no less. She watched in awe as both women lifted up their trophies. The camera shot to the board where the names of the previous winners were emblazoned in gold. We counted how many times the Williams sisters had won the Wimbledon tournament. It was a lot! Finally, Shreeya to me and said, ‘I want to win a gold trophy like Serena Williams!’

‘Ok, that’s good,’ I responded, ‘Do you want to start playing tennis?’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘but I want to win a gold trophy at something, not tennis!’

Her words stayed with me. Maybe it’s because Serena had been discussed at school. Maybe it’s because Serena is a female of colour, like Shreeya, but the fact that she saw her pick up her trophy, saw her name written so many times, pride of place on the board of Wimbledon champions, my little girl was inspired to be so good at something that she too would win trophies.

In a similar vein, my brother called me up to check up on how I was. Our conversation moved onto a colleague of his, whom he regards as a big sister. He was so incredibly proud of her because she’d recently been made a director. He’d seen how incredibly hard she’d worked for years, inspiring others, leading by example a consummate professional. She was promoted alongside a few other people – all of whom were men. As she was the only female who was promoted at that time, a few trolls decided to insult her by saying that she was a ‘token’, trying their best to denigrate her achievement.

I listened to my brother’s outrage about the situation and anger towards the people who would make such ridiculous comments – then I stopped him and began to explain something that I hoped he would pass onto his colleague.

The truth is, the haters, the people who are inadequate are their jobs, the talentless are always the loudest and most resentful of those who are successful and do achieve. The higher you go, there where will be more and more people who will be envious of your success. What your friend needs to remember is the number of silent women whom she is inspiring with her success. The number of young female graduates, just stepping out into their career, looking up to your friend and thinking, if she can do it, then so can I.

Even at my age, I am constantly inspired by both men and women who achieve success – because it inspires me to try harder, do better and question – What am I actually capable of?

The point of what I am trying to say today is that not everyone can be a Serena Williams, but in your own way you never know who you are inspiring. You never know who is watching you and your achievements and thinking that they want to be like you or achieve what you have.

Keep working hard. Ignore the loud haters. If they were any good at anything, they wouldn’t have the time to criticise what you are doing. Instead, know that you are helping a silent group of people who will want to follow in your footsteps and grow towards the sun, through the glass ceilings that you have smashed.

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What we can learn from the Serengeti…

I was watching ‘Serengeti’ on BBC 1 the other evening. A wildlife programme about how the animals in the wild interact with each other. A lot of people hated it because it was edited to be more like a film than a wildlife documentary. I let the outraged keyboard warriors on Twitter, whose part time occupation is to be permanently angry, think what they like. I enjoyed it.

There were several parts that stuck with me. There was a lioness, Kali, who had given birth to cubs and was kicked out of her pride because the cubs had not been fathered by one of the males in her pride. As a single mother, she has to now protect her cubs and feed them, facing dangers all on her own. Another narrative was about a pack of hyenas who were led by a strong and intelligent matriarch – who sacrificed her life so that her daughter could survive. She then became the new, reluctant leader of the pack – cowering under the responsibility of this new role.

People’s criticism of the programme was that the ‘stories’ weren’t real. That it was the equivalent of a Disney programme because of the anthropomorphic nature of storytelling. I saw what people meant – but I took a different message away. I looked past the contrived nature of the programme. I looked past the anthropomorphism. What I saw was two mothers, fighting against all odds to protect their children. That much was true. That the instinct to protect the children that you have given birth to, is the most powerful instinct of all – regardless of whether you are a human or an animal.

You see, watching that programme I was thinking about the choices. Some people go through life thinking that they have no choice but to stay in the situation that they are in. Often they are bullied into believing that they are worthless, disgusting, disappointing – that their only option in life is to remain in a situation that is damaging to them.

Choices are more difficult to make when you have responsibilities on your shoulders. Children. Mortgage. Mouths to feed. Bills to pay. Not much money to play with. The fact that people in these circumstances stay and rise up to face their responsibilities full on, without backing down, without backing away – they feel that they have no choice. But the truth is – they do. They can walk away. They can lead their own life and do whatever they want to do. But the choice of doing that – and the consequences of what would happen, are unthinkable.

When I was watching ‘Serengeti’, two of the male adult lions were about to tear the tiny lion cubs apart. They had been fathered by another lion. They didn’t belong in the pride. A code had been broken. The mother, Kali, had a choice. Watch her children die, whilst she remained in the safety of the pride – or fight. As soon as she saw that her cubs were threatened by the menacing lions, she reacted with such ferocity – willing to fight both of the lions, willing to lay her life down for her cubs. It was a choice – but an instinctive one. One that she had no choice over. One that that she made before she could even think. By making that choice, she was exiled. Leaving the security of the pride, she had to leave with her cubs and survive – somehow.

We make choices in all aspects of our lives. The choice to remain in employment in places where we might be treated badly, unappreciated and undervalued. We sell ourselves the narrative that ‘it’s like that everywhere’. It’s not. You’re making a choice to stay in a situation that is destroying you. It’s not like that everywhere. You might tell yourself – it’s not that easy at my age to move on. Nobody else will want me. I’ll just see out my days here…. Well how do you know that? How do you know that nobody else will want your experience? How do you know that your personality isn’t exactly what somebody else needs? You’ve been sold a tale – and you’ve believed it. How do you know that’s true? Why do you accept that?

What inspired me whilst watching ‘Serengeti’, was the fact that within us all, there is a fight, there is a will to survive. There is a will to protect ourselves and those that we love.

Within the story of the hyenas, the matriarch sacrificed herself for her daughter. The daughter, Zalika, then had to step up to becoming the new leader – and to do this, she had to gain the respect of the pack by fighting against other predators and crucially, bringing back food for the pack. There was an opportunity for her to find food for her pack. However, she lost her confidence and let the opportunity pass by. As she was about to give up, she looked back at her pack, saw their eyes on her – understanding the responsibility that was on her shoulders, she went back and fought again to snatch the food away and was victorious.

Each of us, is the hero of our own story. We aren’t so different from animals in our need to survive. In our need to protect the ones we love. As you are the hero of your own story, behave accordingly. Don’t tolerate people putting you down, or treating you as though you are a lesser being. Don’t put up with being someone else’s second choice – and treating you that way. Move on. We lose confidence in ourselves – I know that better than anybody else. But that is a feeling that you have to fight against. We can never let ourselves believe that we don’t deserve to be treated well.

Finally, the most incredible thing that I saw was what happened when Zalika, the hyena, wanted to give up. She looked back and saw who was watching her. And that alone drove her forwards to fighting on. Think about who drives you. Who do you see when you look back and makes you realise that you can’t give up? Look at yourself through their eyes. How would they want you to be treated? Are you being treated that way? If so, wonderful.

If not, what are you going to do about it?

Mistakes

When I was pregnant for the first time and people realised that it was our first baby, there was just so much delight and happiness everywhere we went. Everyone had so many good wishes and plenty of advice to offer. The bits of advice that stuck with me the most – enjoy the time when they are little – it may be the hardest part physically, but it’s the most amazing part and it just flies past. The other piece of advice? Take pictures and videos of children as they grow up. Take them all the time.

The man who gave this advice, was actually the person who we were buying new sofas from. He was so excited to help us. Giving great advice on what to buy, as we would need something robust that children could climb all over. Something that would resist all the inevitable spillages associated with children. But the instruction that he was most insistent upon was – take millions of photos of your children as they grow up. They change in the blink of an eye and you will forget how little they once were.

I listened to this sage stranger who obviously knew his stuff about sofas and also about life as well. As a result, I take photos all the time – of silly random things. Photos of the girls posing but my favourites are when they don’t know that I’m taking a picture. When they are engrossed in a task. Or just playing and in a world of their own.

My eldest is now 8. She’s a very grown up, head screwed on her shoulders, wise for her age girl. She’s always been that way. This morning on Timehop, I saw a picture that I had taken of her from 4 years ago. I remember taking the photo and although she was only 4, I felt at the time that she was somehow older….and I look at this photo, 4 years on, this little girl, with chubby, baby cheeks, and the cutest smile is staring back at me…and I’m horrified with myself. I feel sad, guilty, angry – why did I forget that she was such a little girl at the time? I’ve always treated her – and still do, as though she is so much older than she is.

This photo has come as a timely reminder – because I was tough on her this week. Long story, but the point was that she wasn’t being herself and had done something wrong and I’d been extremely and at the time I felt, deservedly hard on her. But looking back at the photo, a flashback from the past, I see that only 4 years ago, she hadn’t started school yet. She was still a baby. I wasn’t wrong for telling her off this week – but perhaps I need to remember how young she is…

I think back to myself at her age. I did silly things. I said silly things. And even at my age now, I have said or done things that I know are stupid – and I should have known better.

I believe that the universe sends you messages and guidance when you need it the most. Sometimes a gentle nudge, other times a huge knock. But I’ll take this Timehop photo as a reminder to be kinder and more patient. We all make mistakes and that is fine. To remember that I’m talking to someone who in reality is so young and impressionable and not genuinely wanting to disappoint – just a little girl, who sometimes makes mistakes.

We all know better. Yes. We all know better. Despite that, we all make mistakes. That will never stop. But sometimes, I think I need to let my children behave like children a little while longer?

Do what scares you…

Both of my daughters take taekwando lessons. They both enjoy learning the patterns, the different types of kicks, the punches etc. My eldest now is at the stage where she wears protective headgear, gloves and footwear – and this girl, who is small for her age, has to spar with others who are often a lot taller and bigger than her.

A few weeks ago, we picked her up from her lesson. She had tears in her eyes and looked angry. I’d not seen her like this before and asked what was wrong, ‘I don’t like sparring!’

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘I was sparring with my partner and they punched me in the stomach. It really hurt. I don’t want to spar anymore.’

She was sitting in the back of the car, directly behind me. Although I couldn’t see her face, (I didn’t want to look at her and see the tears in her eyes), I could hear her trying to control the emotions in her voice. Really trying to hold it together, not wanting to cry from anger at being punched, it hurt, the outrage – how could someone hit me. Worse still, within her voice I could hear a request. No. More than that. Thinly veiled pleading. Please don’t let me go back, Mum, I don’t want to be punched again.

Within that split second, I had two choices as a parent. I didn’t want my daughter to be punched. I don’t want her to be hurt. Clearly, she was upset – so I could say to her, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to go back. We won’t go again.’

That was one choice.

However, I made the other choice….

‘Baby, I know that you were hurt. But that’s what happens when you’re learning to spar. You learnt a valuable lesson today. You don’t like being punched. Next time, make sure you watch your opponent and put up your guard. Don’t get punched.’

It’s not what she was expecting to hear. The words left my mouth before I could even think. But the reason why we were sending both girls to these lessons was so they were confident out there in the big, bad world. Nobody likes being hurt – and the thought of my daughters getting hurt both angers and terrifies me equal measure – but I couldn’t teach her to give up.

Whilst we ate our dinner that night, we sat around the table and tried to talk it through a bit more. My husband and I both tried to explain to her that she must have punched the other person too – that must have hurt them too. (She wasn’t consoled by that).

Eventually, I said –

‘Well, the worst has happened. You were punched in the stomach and it hurt. But now when you spar again, you won’t be scared – because you’ve been punched. You know what it feels like, you won’t let it happen again!’

She turned to me and said, ‘You’re right Mummy, that does make me feel better. I do know what it feels like. So I’m not scared anymore!’

The following week, she went for her lesson and we kept reminding her, watch your opponent, remember to block, watch their moves. Are you feeling ok? She appeared to be fine but she’s one of those who puts on a front because life is sometimes easier that way. My husband and I just kept our fingers crossed and hoped for the best.

45 minutes later, he went to the class to pick her up. As he walked in, he scanned the room looking for Eesha. His eyes were drawn to a little girl sparring with a boy almost twice her size, circling him and sparring with him fearlessly. He sent a text to me immediately: Our little girl’s a warrior!

At the end of the lesson, she leapt down the stairs and ran towards the car with a huge spring in her step. ‘Daddy said that you’re a little warrior! Were you sparring with a much bigger boy today? What happened?’ I asked.

She just grinned and shrugged, sweaty, happy and slightly out of breath and said, ‘I chose to spar with him because he was bigger and I wasn’t scared anymore!’

I was incredibly proud of her and incredibly pleased for her. She was scared and worried – but those are the moments in life when you have to be courageous – it’s not that you’re not scared. You are. But you push through – do what terrifies you and have a go anyway.

I wished I could tell her that she’d never be fearful of anything again. But that would be a lie. The truth is that even as a big, grown up adult, I still get scared. I get worried.

This week I had to face some fears. I had to take part in something that I didn’t want to do and was worried about it. My husband was away and I was pretending to be strong and fearless in front of my girls. He sent me a text with a message containing just what I needed to hear:

Remember what we said to Eesha when she got punched in the stomach? Go back keep guard up and fight back – similar analogy 😘😘😘😘

And so I went, remembering the advice that I had given my daughter. Remembering that you never stop being scared but you have to step out of your comfort zone and do things that scare you anyway. And it was fine. Absolutely fine. And I realised that it was something that I needed to do, for my own good. For closure. To move forward.

If I could, I would always try to do things that frighten me the least – but growth comes from being challenged. From doing things that you don’t necessarily want to do, or feel that you can’t.

Sometimes – willingly or unwillingly, we learn most about ourselves when we do what frightens us. And when we come through the other side, we can look ourselves in the mirror and feel that we’ve changed somehow. Perhaps standing a little taller. Shoulders rolled down and leaning further back.

But it’s the eyes that give it away the most. The eyes show that you have been hurt, but you came through it and you’re that bit braver and wiser now….

Saying thanks

I’ve never worked in retail before. I’ve not experienced working in a shop, dealing with the general public, working the tills, seeing different faces all the time. My job is very different, you work with a group of children, day in, day out. You help them to the best of your ability, you build relationships with them and their parents, at the end of the year, you receive lovely cards with extremely kind messages from both the children and the parents, sometimes gifts and you feel overwhelmed by the love that you were lucky enough to receive. People thanking you for doing your job.

Retail isn’t like that. Retail is a very different type of beast. And that’s only something that I learnt once I met my husband. My husband travels around the country, delivering training and providing further professional development to people in optics. He loves his job. He loves the travelling, going to new places, meeting new people, seeing people benefit from the help that he gives. But for years, he worked in a testing room – day in, day out, meeting patients, giving them the best service that he possibly could.

He talks about his work a lot to me and I like hearing about a world that I’ve never experienced before. One of the training sessions that he delivers to people is about communication with patients. In these sessions he talks about how it doesn’t matter what time of day it, whether it’s first thing in the morning, you’re feeling tired (you’re not a morning person, or you’re feeling under the weather, or you’ve had an argument with someone at home); or 15 minutes before closing time (you can’t wait to get home, you’ve got things to do, you’ve had a really hard day) and a customer has walked through the door to have a quick browse. It could be that you’ve had 3 customers complain on the trot, you’re short staffed and you’ve had the day from hell – the next patient/customer who walks through the door needs to be treated with the same courtesy, energy and enthusiasm as the first patient of the day. They deserve to be treated in such a way that makes them feel valued and makes them want to come back. Basically treat others in the way that you wish to be treated. It’s not hard is it?

It really resonated with me because I work with children. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling inside – whether I’m angry or tired; whether I’m feeling heartbroken or ecstatic – I always try to treat them with care and consideration. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling inside – they deserve to be treated fairly.

When he used to work in the testing room, I remember the number of times when patients had been so delighted with how he had helped them, my husband would receive letters and cards of thanks, emails sent to the customer care teams mentioning his care and professionalism. Boxes of chocolates, gifts for our daughters. People just feeling really grateful for the help that he had given them and wanting to show their gratitude somehow.

It always stayed with me, how happy he felt, just being recognised by someone for just doing his job the way it was meant to be done.

Obviously, before I met my husband, when I was out and about I would always recognise good service when I saw it. The people who go above and beyond to help you, and do it with a smile. It occurred to me that we are so quick to complain when things aren’t right, when we aren’t happy with the service that we have received. Why aren’t we equally as quick to thank people and give recognition to those who have done their job well? I suppose people do that in restaurants – the size of the tip that you leave is one way of showing thanks. Whilst shopping, I’ve now started approaching managers to let them know about members of staff who have been really helpful and courteous, I’ve started tweeting to publicly thank and show recognition for those who have been incredibly helpful.

Today there was an incident in a bookshop where I was served by an incredibly joyful, enthusiastic person, who knew their stuff and made time specifically to help me even though she was really busy with other customers. I thanked her, then spoke to her manager about what a delight that particular member of staff had been. I know this sounds incredibly corny but the manager became really emotional and thanked me for my feedback! She explained how refreshing it was to hear positive feedback because usually people only approached her for complaints. I could see the relief and happiness written all over her face, and I felt really emotional too. Which is what inspired me to write this blog. People shouldn’t only ever hear what they are doing things wrong. That is not the way we should be. We absolutely have to make the time to let people know when they have done the right things, when they got it right!

I don’t flourish in an environment where my faults are picked at and exposed all the time, give me praise and tell me what I’m doing well and I’ll work even harder and better for you. Children are the same. So why don’t we adopt that approach to all aspects of life? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t complain when things are wrong. What I believe is that the same amount of energy should be put into acknowledging people when they have done their job well.

Angels

Last month, it was my youngest daughter’s birthday so we had a party to celebrate. As the children were quite young, a few of the parents stayed to keep a watchful eye on their child, whilst others went and did the inevitable Saturday morning chores that everyone has to do. After all the running around, racing through the obstacles in the soft play area, dancing in the disco, taking pictures in the photo booth, it was time to eat. All the children settled down to tuck into the party grub. And that was when it struck me. I took a step back, looked around and was astounded at how many dads were there, all making sure that their child had enough food, making their children laugh by telling silly jokes and making funny faces, making sure that they were eating enough food, and swiping the food off their child’s plate to help them out. It was actually really beautiful to see. I mention it because a) normally, it is mothers who stay at the parties; b) a few years ago, you would not have seen so many dads be so ‘hands on’, in this fashion.

I stood there feeling happy that at least times are beginning to change. I imagined that a lot of the fathers standing there, making their children laugh, joking about, actually looking like they wanted to be there, not that it was a horrendous chore being at the party, were also the types of dads that would have helped willingly with the nappy changes, the night feeds, the endless sleepless nights. Whether that was reality or just my imagination running wild, of course I don’t know – but that was the impression I got anyway.

I often marvel at the way my husband is with our daughters. We might be watching a film, or a programme at night, deeply engrossed and interested. Suddenly, he’ll press pause on the remote, rush out of the room and race up the stairs to where the girls are sleeping. Why? He will have heard a noise (that I didn’t hear), and he just wanted to make sure they were ok. He takes pains to cook what they want; he spends time making them laugh and joking with them; nowhere is too far to drive or travel to take them to where they want to go. He’s the one that instils in them the drive that they should ‘never give up’. He tells them how strong they are and tries to instil the discipline of tidying up and putting things away. (That’s still work in progress by the way!) And they adore him. He’s the fun one that they want to spend time with. He’s the one that they want to rest upon and snuggle up to when we have ‘Movie Night’. He’s the one that they want bear hugs from, who lifts them up in the air and swings them around and up onto his shoulders, whilst they scream with delight. Do I feel envious of their bond? A pang of jealousy perhaps? Absolutely not. For me, there is no greater pleasure than watching the three of them together and I’m grateful that he is the way he is.

Those of you who read my blogs all the time, know that I write about this a lot – but my father passed away when I was 11 years old. You never recover from something like that. Never. I would always watch other fathers with their daughters, and it would feel like someone had placed huge bricks of concrete on my heart. The pain would feel as if I was being crushed. Unbearable. Of course, I just got on with life. You don’t concentrate on your pain, you concentrate on the tasks that lie ahead of you, you get things done. You feel like you’re coping, you feel like you’re getting on with things, when suddenly – BAM! The smallest thing might happen and the pain resurfaces, as raw as ever.

I remember when I was about 14, I had a dream that my dad hadn’t really died. In all the years that have passed, that was the only dream that I’ve ever had about him, so I remember it vividly. Honestly, it was like watching a film from the 1970’s, it had that type of filter, he was wearing a dark chocolate brown waistcoat, over a long sleeved white shirt, with brown flared trousers. We were on a bright, white yacht, sailing on the sea, my dad and the rest of our family, and he explained that he was sorry that he had had to fake his own death, but he had had no other option. We were all going to sail away together to start a new life somewhere else. I woke up convinced the dream was real, he was alive, everything else had all been a terrible nightmare… Of course when I realised that everything was still just as it was, I was devastated all over again – but a part of me was so happy that even for a few seconds, even though it had been a dream, seeing him again had felt so real – I hadn’t lost him after all. A part of him was there with me…and always would be…

I believe there have definitely two times in my life when either he, or another angel was there to look after me when I could have possibly died – or at the very least, been badly hurt.

Once, was when I had just passed my driving test, and was driving back home one evening. I was extremely confident and cocky about my driving skills, driving faster than I should have been, braking later than I should have been. Overestimating the control and capability of myself and my mother’s ruby red Ford Escort, that she would let me drive. So there I was, driving a lot faster than I should have been, approaching the roundabout that people often call the ‘Ribbon roundabout’ in Coventry, due to the sculpture of a huge blue ribbon, in the middle of the huge, grassy mound. A nod to the days when Coventry was a famous ribbon making city. I could see that the traffic was slowing down, but I foolishly maintained my driving speed. All of a sudden the car in front of me, which had seemed quite far away, came to a abrupt stop – but I was still hurtling towards it. I panicked. My heart was thumping. My palms were sweating. My breathing, fast and shallow. I don’t know why but I closed my eyes. I was convinced. This was the end. I was going to smash into the car in front of me. I pressed the break pedal with my right foot – but I felt it go down deeper, much deeper under my foot. The only way to explain it, was that it felt as if the brake pedal had a mind of its own. It had gone down much further than I had pressed it because by this time, panic had made me lose a lot of the strength that my legs normally possessed. The car had miraculously come to a halt. Tentatively, I opened my eyes. My car had stopped just in time, and the traffic was moving again. With so much gratitude in my heart, I drove home safely – and have been a careful driver ever since. I know many of you won’t believe me, and a lot of you will scoff – but I know that I wasn’t in control of the car when it managed to break without hurting anyone. I was just immensely grateful to be alive.

The second time – and this one – I can’t believe that I made it out of the situation unhurt and safe – I was at the Pool Meadow bus station in Coventry. It was a Sunday night. I was a student at the time and I was returning home after a friend’s wedding that had taken place in Wolverhampton. I had had a terrible time getting home. I had caught a train from Wolverhampton to Birmingham New Street, but there were only replacement bus services to Coventry. I arrived at Coventry station quite late, but felt really unsafe as there were no members of staff around, and there were a huge number of unsavoury types, who were clearly drunk, yelling aggressively at each other, I knew I had to get out of there. There was no real time to use the phones at the station to let my mum know the change of plan. She had been due to pick me up at about half past 9 from the station. Another woman, who could see that I was feeling distressed said to me, ‘I’ve ordered a taxi, jump in with me and get off at Pool Meadow, you’ll be safe there.’ I was so grateful to receive some kindness when I was feeling so frightened and vulnerable, I immediately agreed.

Her cab arrived and we both got in. I realised my mistake as soon as sat down and the doors were closed. She knew the cab driver. They were arguing. My brain just shut down. My head ached. I was so tired. I just wanted to get home. Why had I got into a car with a complete stranger in the first place? She began asking me questions and I answered mono-syllabically, trying to muster the calmest and friendliest tone that I possibly could. Carefully, I scanned the route that we were taking – hoping desperately that the roads were leading to Pool Meadow. When we finally got there, I thanked the lady and the driver and ran out of the car as fast as I possibly could. Racing into the station, I hunted for the telephones. There they stood, in the middle of the empty, deserted station, a cluster of phones that would let me hear a friendly voice once again. I grabbed the receiver of the nearest phone, shoved in some coins and tapped the buttons to call home. To my relief, my brother picked up the phone, he relayed the message to my mum that I needed to be picked up from Pool Meadow now. She leapt into action, and I continued to talk to my brother. Whilst on the phone, I saw a figure, not much taller than me, walking towards me. It stopped directly behind me. I turned and saw a man, with a strange look in his eyes, staring straight at me. ‘I have go to now,’ I whispered to my brother, as I placed the receiver back on the hook. I remember hearing him cry, ‘Wait! What’s the matter?’ But there was no time to explain. I knew I was in trouble. I looked at the man, straight in the eyes – then I heard a clatter on the floor. I looked down. By his feet, there lay a kitchen knife. The type that you use to chop vegetables and cut meat. I looked back at him. Everything happened in slow motion. I grabbed my things and ran to the nearest door. I didn’t scream. I couldn’t. I didn’t look back. My arms and legs felt like lead. I wasn’t running fast enough, I couldn’t make a noise. I needed to get out. Outside to safety- where I would be able to breathe again.

I reached the door, pulled it open, saw some cab drivers and stood hovering near them. I couldn’t tell them what had happened either. My mind couldn’t quite process what had just happened. A man, with a knife, had been standing behind me. His knife had dropped – and I left. What if the knife hadn’t clattered to the floor? What if the echoes of the sound hadn’t reverberated around the hall? What if I hadn’t run away fast enough? What if? So many what ifs? Eventually, my mum’s pulled up to pick me up and I sobbed all the way home. Not able to speak. Unable to explain what had just happened. All I could think was – I could have died. But thank God, I didn’t.

Several months later, after I was able to process what had happened, I realised how incredibly lucky I was. I was grateful to God, to the angels who are there to protect you, to my Dad, who I felt was always there looking after me. I don’t know who saved me, who protected me, or what forces were in action to save me on both occasions. All I know that I was blessed and incredibly lucky to come out unscathed on both occasions, and that it makes me feel comforted that even though he physically isn’t here anymore – perhaps my father played a part in making sure I was safe and ok, just as he would have done, had he been alive today.

Strong!

There is a lady that I sometimes see in passing. A mini-celebrity you could call her. She has gone through some incredibly hard times. Through heartbreak and hardship. Bereavement. And she pretends that she is strong. Her social media suggests that she is strong. She tries to inspire others through giving hope and using her own life circumstances to make people understand that things can get better and you can overcome adversity. Better times are possible if you change your mindset.

I wholly subscribe to what she says. I totally believe in what she preaches. There isn’t a part of me that doubts her intentions. Yet, when I see her, if I ever look at her in passing, I see etched on her face, a look of grief, of unspeakable sadness that I don’t think she is even aware of. Her mask, her smile, that glowing positivity reserved for the adoring public, subconsciously slips off and the real her is revealed for all and sundry to see…..that’s if they are paying attention in the first place.

Public persona versus private demons. We try so hard don’t we, to control what people see of us? We try to control people’s perceptions of us. However, try us much as we want, during times of stress, or sadness and even happiness, we leak who we really are. The mask will always slip and we reveal glimpses of who we really are or how we are really feeling – even if we don’t want others to know.

Whenever I see this lady, looking anxious, looking sad or preoccupied – I feel incredibly sad for her. For any ordinary person, it’s horrible to see another human being in pain. I see her battle. Wanting to be strong. Presenting herself as an accomplished, successful woman, doing her best to make a positive life for herself. Inspiring others to feel better about themselves.

But quite often, she just looks broken, lost and alone.

I wish I had the courage to go up to her, strike up a conversation with her and ask her if she was ok? I don’t have the guts. She’d probably think I was a massive weirdo. But I think to myself, if a non-threatening, friendly stranger (which is how I see myself in this scenario), came up to me one day all of a sudden and asked if I was ok – I think initially I would be shocked, but then I think I would be grateful that someone had taken a few precious moments out of their life, to see if I was ok.

It’s just not done though is it? To ask people you barely know, how they are, if they are ok. It is way more acceptable to watch or not even notice people struggle from afar and then lament afterwards – I wish I’d reached out. I wish I’d taken the time to do something.

I suppose there are two things that I’m getting at in this blog. People are never as strong as they pretend to be. They are definitely not as strong as how they present on social media. And the other thing I suppose is a rhetorical question -what do you do when you see someone you don’t know very well, appearing to do their best, holding everything together, not giving up, being a role model for others – but you can see that they are finding life tricky?

I don’t have any answers. I only have observations.

Finally, if you get the chance, please read the writing on the photo I took when I visited Baddesley Clinton recently. The lady who wrote it, explains how she communicates so much more easily through writing, than she could through talking with someone face to face. Struck a chord with me….