Thursday, 8 November 2012

Old friends, new charities and same old anxieties!

I have often been struck by the way in which my daughter and her friends, when teenagers, and indeed many teenaged girls, are so much more affectionate and open in their feelings than I remember being when I was at school. Lots of declarations of "Love you" and hugs, kisses and more hugs seem to be the order of the day when greeting each other or saying goodbye nowadays. When I was their age, we didn't even hug each other, let alone give voice to any feelings of love or affection. Why was that? Were we worried that we would be mocked for being open in our feelings? Worried that perhaps our words might be misinterpreted and our sexuality questioned? - this was the 70s, remember, when the common expectation was that everyone was heterosexual and we weren't confident enough to want to be thought of as somehow different? Whatever the reason, we just didn't do anything more openly affectionate than maybe writing "Loadsaluv" in a Christmas or birthday card, as if spelling it in a jokey way meant it couldn't possibly be viewed as anything other than a whimsical, throwaway sign-off.

Interestingly, in recent years when I have met up with, spoken to or been in written contact with my very old school friends ( from my old all girls school), I've found that my closest friends and I often sign off with "Love you", either face-to-face or in emails. Is it because we are more confident now that we can say these things without fear of being mocked or thought of as overly "touchy feely"? Or is it because, being older, we are more aware of the preciousness of  good friendships? The kind of friendships formed when you are in your early teens are perhaps particularly special because we were all growing up at the same time, facing the tsunami of puberty, beginning to form our own opinions rather than believe everything our parents do, thinking of our futures and what we wanted from life and making that most tricky of transitions from childhood to young adulthood. Whatever it is, there is some bond there that seems to be pretty much unshakeable, even if we don't see each other for years, sometimes decades and which means that, as soon as we do meet up, the years just roll away and that closeness, that warm support of each other is as strong as ever. Maybe it is even stronger now, as we have all faced our own battles over the years and emerged bruised, a bit fragile but still strong in our friendships and belief that we will continue to be friends.

These feelings all manifested themselves when I met up with 11 of my old school friends a fortnight ago at a small, but perfectly formed, reunion of the class of 1970 - 76 from the Glasgow High School for Girls. We had a huge reunion two years ago, with around 50 of us meeting for a ceilidh, a few  meals and a good old blether; it was such fun that we decided that we would try and have a meet-up once a year, even if it were only a few of us. I obviously couldn't make last year's meet-up, so I was particularly keen to go this year. I combined it with a sleepover at Adam's place in Carlisle, so I got to spend some time with him. As usual, I was anxious at the thought of seeing people - only three of my friends from school had seen my new face and, while my head was telling me that it would be fine and that these were all people who had been hugely supportive in their comments on Facebook and in emails to me, my heart was saying "It's going to be horrible, they'll stare at you or if they don't stare at you, the other diners in the restaurant will stare at you". I so wish I could stop these feelings surfacing every time I anticipate social events. I had hoped that, with time and given that my face does look so much better than it did at the beginning, my confidence would have given chase to the worry but it doesn't work like that. I confided in one of my friends, Fi, about how I felt and she understood exactly and, in fact, said that others had been fighting their own battles of one kind or another, so there would be nothing but support and warmth. Of course, she was right. We had a wonderful time and I even felt okay about having my photo taken, perhaps because a couple of glasses of Prosecco relaxed me to the point where my usual fears about being near a camera disappeared.

Strong, feisty, funny, caring and intelligent women - it was wonderful to spend time with this group of friends. We're already planning next year's reunion and thinking big: we're investigating renting a big house/small castle for the weekend so we can really let our hair down and not be constrained by restaurant closing times or last trains.

My trip to Glasgow was sandwiched between visits to Adam. He gave up his bedroom for me, being a dutiful son, so in return I made him and his flatmates a couple of lasagnes, a chicken casserole and a Sunday roast, being a dutiful mum! It was good to see him and spend some time with him. University life seems to suit him.

This weekend it is my favourite race - the Sodbury Slog. It's a cross-country race starting and finishing in Chipping Sodbury and of variable length, depending on which farmers have given permission for their land to be crossed, but normally around 9.6 miles. And muddy - you have no idea how muddy! There will be a stream we have to wade through which, on normal sized people, will be about knee high but on me will be about thigh high, if not higher and which we have to climb out of, hauling on a rope to help us up the slope - that will be quite a test of my dodgy shoulder! It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on and I was so disappointed to miss it last year. Once again, this is another box to be ticked in my return to normal. I've got my usual room in the hotel where a bunch of us always stay the night before and we will take over the local Italian restaurant after the race for lunch. I'm looking forward to it but with my usual sense of gnawing anxiety about how my face will be received. Yes, I know it's silly and that I will be amongst friends, but I just can't help it.

Before that, though, I have my Institute's Regional Annual Dinner at a posh hotel in London. It's a great event and you might remember that last year Neil and I were invited as guests of honour. It was quite a difficult evening for me for the reasons you all know: showing my face when it was so much worse than it is now, still suffering the after-effects of radiotherapy, unable to eat and feeling constantly on edge about how I appeared to people. This year should be so much better, but there's still that unease about my face. This year, however, I have been asked if I would like Facial Palsy UK (the charity I have been involved in setting up) to be the charity we support with our raffle over dinner, so of course I said I would and offered to say a few words about it so that people know what they're actually supporting. We're a little known charity and, let's be honest, not many of us know anything about facial palsy - I certainly didn't before I got it! Spreading the word about the charity and the condition will be invaluable so it's important that I make it personal by talking about what happened to me and how it feels to have FP. So I shall be standing up in front of over 200 people and talking about my experience. It feels a little bit daunting but it's important to do it. In  a piece of good timing, there was an article on the BBC website about living with Bell's Palsy, so at least some of the people there tomorrow might know something about some aspects of facial palsy. Did any of you see it? will give you an insight into what it's like. If you look at the photos of the woman who chronicled her recovery (Bell's Palsy is, for the vast majority of people, a temporary condition from which they will make a full recovery), my smile is now at about the stage of her photo on the extreme left of the third row down. However, I started from a much worse position than she did, as my cheek was actually hanging down on the left-hand side, so that helps me see how much improvement I have had. I'll never get back to what I was before but at least you can now see a bit of a smile on the left side of my face.

Next week, we have the press launch of our new charity so look out for coverage in newspapers and magazines after Friday 16th.

Signing off now, with my usual thanks and love to the people who help me get through every day and every week.


  1. Once again a thoughtful moving post, by an inspirational woman and friend. Love you. x

  2. I hope you're going to post a picture or two from the Slog! If you think I can help at all with thoughts from a charidee worker, let me know xxx

  3. Hi Ali, Just found this post after searching for articles on the charity launch we attended yesterday.Lovely piece to read especially the observations on true. You are an amazing and lovely person. PXx;o)