Happy Birthday to me

Today I’m 55 years old.  That’s beginning to sound quite old to me – I’ve already outlived my parents by several years and that’s a strange feeling, I can tell you.  Depending on which one I compare with, I’ve already had three or four years longer on this planet than they did.

55 seems like a significant sort of age even if it doesn’t end in a zero – I’m now definitely closer to sixty than I am to fifty and the likely time left to me can sometimes seem alarmingly short.  I don’t feel this old, but then most people would say that.  I don’t think I look too bad for my age, but then most people would probably say that too.  And I think my attitudes, tastes, and outlook on life are all younger than many people of my age, but then they’d all probably say the same thing.  The truth is you can never see yourself the way others see you and self-delusion is all too easy.  The only thing I know for sure is that I wouldn’t go back to being twenty again even if you did restore my waist to its former glory.

It’s been an interesting life so far.  Bad things have happened – a damaging relationship with my mother, parents dying in a road accident, two divorces, one terrible marriage to someone who I now think had sociopathic tendencies, the ensuing loss of most of my confidence and belief in myself, an illness (M.E.) that took ten years of my life, and many other, smaller, things.  But that’s just one way of telling the story.  I can also tell the story of a father who loved me dearly and with whom I had a close relationship, the time and space my illness gave me to explore and think about my world, the stronger sense of self I ended up with after escaping my second marriage, the most wonderful dog companion I ever had who saw me through a lot of unhappy times, and the lovely, lovely man who’s been in my life for the last eleven years and to whom I’m now married.  It’s the same life, just two different ways of seeing it.

I’m a lot wiser – I think – than I used to be, although the extra wisdom has made me realise just how much I don’t know and don’t understand.  In many ways I don’t mind ageing and actually find it quite interesting.  As a child I used to wonder what I’d look like when I was old and now I’m beginning to see.

I’m quite happy with how it’s gone so far but there is just one thing that bothers me.  I used to be someone who had adventures and I don’t any more.  Some were big and often ill-advised adventures: leaving Scotland and everything I knew to be with a man I’d only known for a couple of months, going a little wild while studying for my MA and effectively making up for an adolescence I never had, and – more recently – making a decision under stress to sell up and go back to Scotland to live and then being so miserable I was back again within six months, considerably poorer and somewhat wiser.

Some were much smaller and more enjoyable adventures: a night out with three Franciscan monks, who invited me to their study centre the next day, where I found the only other women were nuns and I was wearing a mini skirt; a motorbike trip through France where loads of things went wrong but somehow it was all still good; applying for – and getting – a job teaching IT when I knew a lot less than I – and they – realised about how to work a computer; crawling through a field on a summer’s evening to watch badgers; taking part in a river race where you had to launch yourself into a fast flowing river with only an inflatable mattress and a crash helmet, and then, partway along, jumping thirty feet into the base of a waterfall; a Thelma-and-Louise type holiday in a red sports car with two university friends who were ten years younger and considerably more gorgeous than I was, and who spent the whole time experimenting with intoxicating substances, except for when we were having sound healing and being regressed into past lives in Glastonbury – I felt a bit like the maiden aunt acting as chaperone, but I enjoyed it anyway.

I used to meet strange and interesting people, too.  At university – which I went to late in life – there were people of all nationalities and some very eccentric academics with unconventional lives, one of whom lived with three women (not all at once; they took turns).  Another, whom I went out with for a year, would only wear red socks and later took up unicycling and playing the didgeridoo.  A third used to cook exquisite five course dinners for fifteen members of the philosophy society every week, and was said to be the only person who’d acquired a PhD purely on the strength of his wizardry in the kitchen.

My academic phase was followed by my ‘alternative’ phase, where I got to know people who dressed entirely in shamrock green, claimed to communicate with extra-terrestrial beings, built labyrinths, lived over converging ley lines, read tarot cards, modelled penises out of clay (I couldn’t make this stuff up), cleared ghosts out of houses, and many other weird and wonderful things.  Now, I wouldn’t want to be around these people all the time – that would get quite tiring I think – but knowing them made my life richer and a whole lot funnier.  (And a quick note to my more conventional friends – I want to reassure you I love you all dearly and wouldn’t swap you for anything– just so you know)

In the last few years there hasn’t been much of this kind of thing at all.  My last real adventure was to go to art college, having only been drawing and painting for three months (before that, the last time I picked up a pencil or a brush was when I was thirteen so there was a bit of a steep learning curve).  That led to my passion for photography, for which I’ll be ever grateful.

But since then? Zilch, nothing, nada.  I’m living like the middle-aged person I undoubtedly am.  I’m playing it safe and it needs to change.  I used to be much more spontaneous – truly, it did get me into trouble on numerous occasions but I regret the things I haven’t done more than the things I have.  I need a change or a challenge.  And not the kind of everyday challenge like earning money and finding work, but something completely new and exciting and possibly scary, that will stretch me out of the complacent, contented shape I’ve recently grown into, even if it’s only for a few hours.  I don’t know what it’ll be yet, but watch this space……..


Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming “WooHoo, what a ride!”




St Dunstan-in-the-East, London

Kat Sloma is blogging on thresholds today – – and it’s an appropriate topic for me right now.  Our lives are about to change and the change may be a big one or a small one – we hope to find out later today when Geoff gets news about his redundancy (or otherwise).  For the last few months we’ve felt as if we’re both in limbo and in flux, and when you’re in the midst of change and uncertainty life can seem like a scary sort of place.

In this kind of situation the best we can do is to hold on to a belief that whatever the changes are they will ultimately be for the best, and to hope that the life change we’re approaching is going to be like moving through the photo above – passing the threshold into a sunlit, lush, and lovely new place.

Which would you choose?

In reality, it’s probably going to be more like the photo above – two or more thresholds and choices to make.  But both of those thresholds look enticing, both would lead to adventures of different kinds, and both of them lead us out of the uncertain darkness into sunlight.

This uncertainty we’ve been living with for so long has made it hard to remember that this could be the start of something good.  I’ve always loved entrances and half-open doors, fantasising about what might lie behind them. The reality might be banal or even unpleasant, but the excitement of discovery remains, and sometimes what you find is even better than you hoped for.

I’m holding onto this thought today.



To teach or not to teach – is that the question?

Getting down and dirty in a London photography workshop. The people who take the best pictures are usually the ones who're prepared to do whatever it takes!

It’s not the easiest of times right now.  The Walker household income needs to be considerably bigger (we’re running at a loss each month) and I’m not contributing much at all to it – cue feelings of guilt, worry, and shame.  I should be pushing forward with expanding my photography classes but I find myself strangely reluctant to do it.  And the other day I began to wonder if trying to make money out of teaching photography is a good idea.

I love to teach.  I like the interaction with people I haven’t met before, many of them interesting and fun.  I like the look on their faces when they suddenly understand something they’ve struggled with up to now.  I like the thank you emails I often get afterwards.  I enjoy the process of constructing a course and the creativity needed to come up with interesting ways of getting something across that’s basically very dull.  I love to learn new information, distil it, simplify it, and pass it on to others.  I like to help.  I like all of this.

What I don’t like is that, towards the end of last year I was doing so much teaching that I didn’t have time to think about my own photography and wasn’t taking many photos at all.  I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I do make work for myself that isn’t strictly necessary.  I research everyone’s cameras before I do a class, because trying to figure out how eight different cameras do the same thing is both time-consuming and sometimes quite alarmingly worrying.  I regularly tweak or re-write handouts because I think of a better way of doing them.  I spend time looking for new materials that will better illustrate what I want to teach.  And then there’s the printing out of booklets and handouts for everyone and the organising of folders and materials.  And the admin, let’s not forget the admin.  All this takes time, energy and effort but if I’m going to do it at all then I want to do it well.

I also don’t like the fact that I’m struggling to earn an income that will do more than feed the cats.  It’s true that money’s never been much of a motivating factor for me, but the less you have of it the more important it becomes, and at the moment I’m pretty well stony broke.

Last year I did a lot of work for a friend who runs a photographic tour company in London.  I devised a workshop, wrote a 24-page booklet to give to students who came on it, helped recruit new tutors and talked through the structure and format of the workshop with them, wrote another 12-page booklet for a different course and re-typed and reformatted a booklet that was written by someone else but needed to look better when printed out.  I gave photographic advice, brainstormed ways of moving forward, spent time answering emails from students asking for advice, devised another course – which never ran – and taught a large number of workshops.  What did I earn for all of this?  Just over £1600.  Not only is it nowhere near enough in terms of the hours I contributed, I then had to watch new tutors coming in and earning money using my course and my materials.  I’m not usually a grudging sort of person, but I feel that stinging just a bit.  I love to help out, my friend was extremely appreciative and I don’t regret doing all this as it’s been good experience, but there comes a time when you have to start looking after your own interests.

I thought the answer would be to expand my own workshops in my local area and it’s clear that there’s a much better return for effort if I do this. However, to earn anything like the amount I need I’d have to do huge amounts of marketing and promotion and I’m really not very good at that and, even worse, I don’t enjoy it at all.  For me, the advantage of working with my London friend was that she would take care of the promotion side of things and I could get on with what I do best.

So I find myself procrastinating.  There are many other workshops and courses I could put together, and I have more ideas than you can shake a stick at, but I have a deep feeling of reluctance inside to get moving on these.  At the beginning of this year, after a spell when I was often working both days of each weekend in London, I contracted one virus after another.  I’d no sooner get over one bout of flu or cold than I’d go down with the next.  And when spring came and the threat of viruses diminished, I developed problems with my back and my knees.  Illness, for me, is often a message that I’m not living my life in a way that’s good for me and this endless run of ill-health seems to be telling me that I’m off-track somewhere.

I’ve had a lot of time to think, and realised that when I do large amounts of teaching it takes my attention away from what I really want to do – work on my own personal photographic projects, study towards a photography degree, and write about photography.  I do love to teach, but not at the expense of everything else.  So recently I’ve been wondering if I should do something entirely different to earn money – a part-time job (assuming I can find one) that I don’t bring home with me and that leaves me time to play, to experiment, and to think.  I’m wondering if trying to make your passion into a living is maybe a bad idea and that it’s better to separate the two.  I’ve always thought you should follow your heart and your passion and earn money doing what you love to do, but did I get that wrong?  Or is it that I simply need to find a new way of doing things?

I’m still undecided.