This is when the mourning starts. The Tour de France is over for another year and I can’t watch it for hours at a time, reminiscing about when I rode up some of those mountains myself.
It’s 10 years since that ride and also 10 years since I gave up alcohol – and I still can’t quite believe that I actually did it. The ride I mean – giving up booze was the easy part.
I was asked to join a friend and then she had to bail because of a knee injury. Something in me did not want to bail when I had the chance. Mentally, I had already committed to it you see – there was no backing out.
It was a total of 320km over 3 days, , and included 6 pretty tough mountains to get over. I wrote a bit about why I was doing it back then and why I was driven to achieve such an incredible goal. Of course, the more time I spend looking back on it, the more incredible it actually was. To be fair, it was without doubt the hardest thing I ever did.
I learned a bit about myself doing that ride. When you are cycling up 25km of mountain road with altitudes of up to 2600m – some 1st, 2nd and HC climbs (for the non-cyclists amongst us – HC stands for Hors Categorie – Beyond Categorisation! – They big ones!) you have a lot of time to focus on mental strength.
I told myself that getting off my bike wasn’t an option. I did get off once – just to see if it would be better and easier. Getting off on a steep gradient of 11% is NOT easier. Take it from me. How I kept going I will still never really know. At times it was reading messages of support that would occasionally pop into my phone. It was thinking of the money people spent sponsoring me, it was thinking of my best mate’s mum dying of cancer, regardless of how many kilometres I cycled. Basically it was thinking about anything other than giving up.
It was also about not caring. I genuinely didn’t care that other people were passing me. I didn’t care that one man at 75 years of age passed me on one of my worst days. I wished him “bonne journée” and stayed focused on my own challenge. It didn’t matter to me what was going on around me. I was in a group of 34 other cyclists and some of them were absolute champions. Some of them ascended Alpe d’Huez in just over 20 minutes. I lost count of how long it took me.
The things that brought me extreme joy on those incredibly tough days were things like seeing Mont Blanc from the descent of the Col des Saisies en route to the Col des Aravis. The massive and rewarding descent off of the Col de Madeleine after a bloody tough ascent; sheep on the road that we had to navigate around, the sense of camaraderie between everyone on that ride, being helped up Alpe d’Huez by a bunch of other riders – all doing it together when I am fairly sure they could have done it faster without me dragging them behind, the friendships I have made, and the absolute sheer exhilarating experience of it. I look back now and am so proud of my achievements. It was worth all of that self-talk to take this experience away as mine.
As well as the joys – there were some utterly awful experiences too: I usually came in last on most stages – one day having spent 11 hours on the bike because I got lost going into the evening’s hotel; the cold, the rubbish food (as a coeliac) and gels, the frozen hands, the wet cycling kit…the list goes on. Then to top it all off, getting news about Rose dying as I was cycling up Alpe d’Huez. I stopped briefly for a cry then got back on my bike and kept going.
I had never thought of myself as resilient until then. Much like the Inner Critic, there is a voice in my head which tells me to keep going. I had plenty of opportunity to listen to the Inner Critic – because, make no mistake – it was having a field day about how rubbish I was, how unfit I was, how old I was… and yet – during this time I chose to listen to the one that told me it was only another 23km to go or, it was only 4 more hours on the bike, or I’m 44 and apart from the 75 year old man, I was kinda up there in age! I told myself out of the 34 people on that ride, only 3 of us were women – and that also helped. Those women were at least 20 years younger than me, and whilst I couldn’t quite keep up with them, I was still a girl – doing it for the girls!
Resilience is about how quickly we can recover to be able to front up again and again. On an endurance ride like that one, I had to give myself small goals to enable me to achieve the big ones. I had to countdown, I had to envisage getting to the end of that monumental climb having achieved that incredible feat. When I fast-forwarded that image into my head, I felt able to cope.
Sometimes we need a REALLY good reason to achieve our goals and sometimes we just need to know that “This too shall pass” and that the discomfort or pain or hurt, anger, whatever – will soon be ended. We will not only be back to our prior state, but we might just be richer for it.
It certainly holds some weight when I’m watching Le Tour!
Resilience is another way we can be kind and compassionate to ourselves.
I’m very familiar with the Inner Critic. My dear friend Karin Peeters has talked about the inner critic ever since I’ve known her – over ten years. Until recently – like very recently….OK Thursday, I honestly thought I didn’t really have one anymore, so well hidden she was. In a brilliant coaching session from the wonderful Heather Parker yesterday, I realised that my internal wanderings and challenges of not being good enough, consistently pushing myself to earn more, be more, do more – just might be my inner critic! (mind blown…) Well I’ll be! It fascinates me, that old adage about the cobbler having no shoes…..but boy is it real! I talk to people all the time about being kind and compassionate to themselves. And whilst I do practice that myself, I seem to have not quite nailed this one.
In my meditation this morning I decided that my Inner Critic and I will be friends from now on. This idea was planted in my head by Nishe Patel, who even has an identity for hers (a bright green fluffy crocodile no less!). I haven’t yet fully imagined mine, but I really want her to be uber cool. A cross between Kate Bush, Michelle Obama and Tina Turner. It might be the flowing robes, mini skirts, power suits….??
I write this because I want my clients to know that we are all works in progress. I want to normalise what we think of as being wrong or confused or unclear or foggy or as I used to say FITH (F***ed in the Head). I’m not FITH. I’m my own version of kooky normal. By being kind and compassionate to myself, I can start to listen to, hear and understand what this very uber cool chick is telling me. We can be mates, she can challenge me, but she no longer has the power to criticise me or put me down.
I often wonder why it can take us a long time sometimes to see what is obvious – or obvious to others. I knew I had an inner critic but I thought her only focus was body image! She was REAL busy there for a while. I obviously missed a few other messages she had in mind for me.
As Karin and Nishe say, the work we do on our inner critic can change the way we think of ourselves. If we sit with them and befriend them and make some sense of why they are being so vocal, then bringing it into our conscious mind can help resolve the angst. Being kind and compassionate with myself looks like telling myself it will be OK; that I do have this, that whatever I am doing or being in that moment is enough. When I have the resources within, action will take place. When it’s needed.
This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.
I hear this a lot. Today is one of THOSE days. But not one of THOSE days. Today is not a day I dread – because I woke up. My feet hit the ground, the sun is actually shining and I am already blessed. It’s not one of THOSE days where things go wrong. I don’t tend to have those, I refuse to believe in them.
No, this is one of those days where I move around a bit, looking at the things I have to do, get sidetracked by other things, do them, come back, look at what I had to do and then go do something else.
Instead of being cross with myself for wandering aimlessly between jobs, I just said out loud – “Oh, this is one of THOSE days”. I let myself off the hook. I kindly and compassionately told myself it’s OK. Those days come to help me be mindful. To breathe, to take things in my stride and to alert me to things that are happening around me. To be grateful that I get to do exactly this.
I’ve already been visited by the neighbour’s cat, a few squirrels and the sun – so this is a great day. Whenever the moving from one thing to another takes away my focus, I have decided today to let that be my focus. So I sat and wrote about it. I could have chosen to be frustrated because I wasn’t achieving anything today. Instead, I choose to take all the gifts presented to me and be mindful of them today. Because this is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.
One of the joys of being funemployed is the learning. I have learned how to be a systemic team coach, I have learned how to assess people in a number of different ways via some cool psychometrics; I’ve read plenty of very cool books. (Thank you Dave Graham for the latest eye-opening, life changing one.)
Another joy is clearing out old shiz! I’m not a hoarder except when it comes to note books. Stuff with my musings, old work notebooks of lists and meeting notes; great ideas; every imaginable quote, model and teaching on leadership…
I found one today that I wanted to share. It started out as one of those notes to a younger self things which I would not normally do, but was prompted by a relative’s 21st birthday. The more I look at it and the more I talk about Leadership, the more I realise it is about humanity. Something on LinkedIn caught my eye yesterday, (because I have also been saying this for a while.) Excellent leadership is about being the best human we can be. We may have lost sight of that a little lately. So here is my manifesto.
Be brave enough to truly know yourself. Be brave enough to ask yourself tough questions and really listen to the answers
Love yourself. Love your imperfections. NO-ONE ELSE SEES THEM!
Listen to the anger that goes on in you. Find out why
Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be. How do you want to be remembered?
Check-in with yourself: Am I happy, kind? Am I doing what I want? Am I being who I want to be? or am I just going along?
Take time to BE and to explore and to do the things you love
Be a contributor to family, friends, community, causes
Challenge. Question. Say no. Say YES! Play. Have fun regardless of how old you are.
Remember the little girl or boy in you, because they never leave you
Be grateful and kind and gentle. There isn’t always a need to fight everything/everyone, or chase everything/everyone
Be you! Listen to you. It doesn’t matter what you “DO” for a living, it matters what kind of soul you have
Simplify the confusing stuff – break it down. Listen to your heart and your gut. Intuition is underrated
Know you are beautiful. Know you are talented. Know you are unique and know you are loved for all that you are
Don’t strive to make people happy at a cost to yourself. That’s not your job
Feel ALL the feels. Emotional intelligence has more credence than intellectual intelligence
Travel. Eat amazing food. Learn new things – music, another language. Be shocked. Be shocking! BREAK THE RULES
Be whoever you truly are. Know who you truly are. Respect who you truly are
Hold tight to the belief that you are wonderful
Approach difference with curiosity
Have empathy and compassion in your life. For everyone. All the time
There are many more I am sure, so if you have them and would like to add to the manifesto, I welcome your thoughts.
“I am the traveller, not the cartographer”. Nothing here is new, I didn’t make the map I’m just on the journey.
That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Empathy being a burden, or a heavy weight. Of course it isn’t – the world needs more of it. We as humans need more of it – for our fellow humans, for our animals, for our planet. It’s what separates us from our lower level animals. So how on earth could it be a burden?
For me, it isn’t usually. It’s one of the things I seem to have in abundance. And I am so very grateful for it, believe me. Having it means I’m not a narcissist. Good thing. It also means I can help others, I have a clearer window into the world of someone else’s pain or hurt; it means I can feel other people’s pain and excitement and unlimited emotions.
Having it – I hope – means I am a better leader, auntie, partner, friend…all the endless things that I am. Having it makes me self-aware. It makes me laugh and cry and feel sad and reflect and learn and grow.
So why is it a burden? As a Highly Sensitive Person I feel. A lot. Not just my own feelings, but I take on the feelings of others. In my case though, I’m not talking about anxiety. I am not anxious about things – I just feel them more intensely.
Recently I got some good news health results. Yippee for me – thank you Universe for all you moved around and schemed there for the lucky number to have my name on it. The professional person who shared my news with me seemed delighted to be the bearer of wonderful news. And then he also told me that I was the ONLY person that he had given good news to. That day was results day, he said and that means every other person who had gone before my allocated 15 minute slot had been told bad news.
I felt the weight of that statement like a tonne of bricks. I felt the energy in the room that had all day held people and their loved ones hearing bad news about their health. I could feel them all floating quickly around me, darting left and right and over my head. In a panic and a frantic haze. I walked out after shaking his hand feeling overwhelmed. It’s a common thing feeling overwhelmed for me. I felt the pain of his job, I felt the heavy hearts of all the people who had left before me. I had to steady myself in the hallway as the tears very quickly sprung to my eyes. I took a moment. Then I walked into the waiting room – to a sea of faces that I immediately realised may not be as lucky as me. And I felt all of their fear and hurt and anger and sadness.
I stopped again on the way to the car, just to assess my own emotions. I had been given good news right? – So why was I feeling this confusion? This sadness, this tidal wave of emotion?
The feelings I could identify were relief, obviously. Then sadness, then guilt. I think there were dozens more that never made it to the surface.
I was still processing it all, hours later. Was I relieved? Of course I was. Was I worried about it? Not really. I have an incredibly positive disposition and I firmly believe the Universe looks after me. We had words earlier, she is on my side. I felt sucker punched. I felt the weight of the words that were spoken to me “You are the only patient I have seen today who I have given good news to”. This is the NHS. They have 15 minute slots. It was 3.15pm. That’s a lot of bad news.
So, when I talk about empathy and it’s weight and burden, this is what I mean. I am a sensitive person. Sometimes more than others. Sensitive people feel a lot more. We used to be told it was a bad thing to be so sensitive – and I used to believe it. I don’t any longer, that’s not my story and it’s not my voice. I feel more than a lot of people. I feel it like it happens to me. I pick it up, I carry it and it takes me a long while to sit with it, to soothe myself, to reassure myself and to say silent prayers for those who did get the bad news.
I live a life based on gratitude and today there are many millions of things I am grateful for. My health being the primary one. I’m also grateful that I am an empath. I live with an empath too – so you can imagine that car journey home, because he was in there with me and felt that whole wave of emotion, the same way I did. It can be fun in our house – we just pick our moments!
I would rather be an empath than not. I want to feel all the feels and I want to make sure that mine are spoken about, registered, spilled out of me and recognised. I am blessed with this gift. It can be a burden, but one I am happy to carry.
I was talking to a friend of mine this morning about friendship. About how truly lovely it can be and how challenging, interesting and fun and 1000 other adjectives.
We were talking about the “rules” of friendships and how some of them differ drastically, just like the friends. How you can be friends with someone you never thought you would, how those people can change and grow, as we do and how at different times, friends become different things. The friend I was talking to is my sister.
I am so very blessed to be able to call both my siblings friends. I like them as people and I love them as siblings. They are pretty awesome in all they do and they enhance and enrich my life. I’ve got the funkiest 70 year old Mamma who is also a great friend of mine and who continues to disperse wisdom that sometimes saves me from myself. I have friends who are cousins, aunties and uncles, nephews and nieces who I love and like and choose to have in my life. They are people I admire, people who have it mostly worked out and if they don’t – well, we travel that journey together.
The older we get, the more we tend to accumulate our friends. Albeit it, the rate of our new friendships may dwindle over the years as we become more discerning and a little pickier about who we choose to spend time with. I applaud people who continue to make new friends as they age, it becomes more difficult as we get more set in our ways. I’m fortunate enough to share my life every day with a great friend and a great love. I’ve made new friendships through him and some of those are strong bonds, as if they were my very own friends, and not an inherited set.
I am SO blessed to have the wonderful people in my life that I call friends. Writing this blog has made me reflect on all of them. There are lots. There are new friends who fill me with delight just being in their presence. Friends who came into my life and feel like they have always been there. My friends sit in my head in a ring of concentric circles, the close inner ones and the further away outer ones who are no less meaningful, but the “rules” are somehow a bit different. (If you’re reading this, then of course you are on the inner circle! :)).
Quotes and songs abound about friends and no doubt those people were inspired by the special connections they had in their lives, as I do with mine. Friends come in so many shapes and sizes, with many needs, careers, lives and most delightful attributes. Friends can be siblings, parents, relatives, strangers, life-long friends, friends of friends and even ex-lovers. (The “rules” for these ones, are unique right? I’ve never been a believer that you can be friends with exes, but I’m open… and learning!).
I am friends with so many people who inspire me to be the best version of myself. Friends who live all over the world and who I may not see from one year to the next. I am friends with people I met on a life-changing experience who I continue to be in awe of, because they outshine all around them. I have friends who mean the world to me because they always have. One I inherited because our parents were friends. That particular friendship has grown of its own volition and strengthened with time to be one of the ones I treasure the most. One of the men I respect most.
I have a friend I thought I could NEVER be friends with when I first spoke to him on the phone. He subsequently moved in to live with me and he is one of the most treasured souls I know and my friendship with him is a privilege. Another man I have great respect for.
Some of my friends have had the most challenging years of their lives. Some have been struck with grief and sadness and such atrocities that no-one should ever be party to. Some soldiered through depression when very few people still understand it (WTF??) They are the ones that I feel closest to in times of duress. As a friend what is it you can do when you witness horrible things? You show up I guess and that doesn’t have to be a physical showing up. It’s a mental connection of some kind. It’s a continued connection. It’s an email or phone call or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram connection. It’s thinking of them and letting them know. Friends who can still be friends in these times are truly unique. They give back when all the life is being sucked out of them. I find they are incredible, caring souls and I am in awe of their spirit.
We are fortunate to have the use of technology which allows us to be more in touch than ever before. Is it the same? Does it count? It does for me. Words of encouragement, words of support mean the world to me. Questions about how are you doing? What did you get out of that experience, how was it for you if you like! They count. They matter. They make me feel cared for and important, which is just our basic human need fulfilled.
I am sure that my encouragement and support from afar are also important to my friends in duress. I hope that words of encouragement and support are graciously received in times of happiness too. There are so many shared experiences that I miss, living away from a lot of my friends, but it doesn’t mean I am any less happy or sad for them. Sometimes that’s when the distance feels the greatest.
I have friends who are making life changing decisions in the coming year. They are my special kind of heroes. Follow your bliss, do what you want to do and have the guts to do it, because you know in your heart it is right and true and may cause waves, but they are nothing you can’t handle. Hats off. Some have had changed forced upon them and shine like bright stars that I can only admire.
What is a True friend? I have true friends that I don’t speak to for months. I know that I could pick up the phone and call and be in their kitchen having a cuppa like nothing ever changed. Is that a true friend? I hope so, because my life is littered with those ones! I have friends I would die for, would kill for (only one there, so don’t be alarmed!) and who I also know would do the same thing for me. Not that that’s a measure of friendship. It’s swings and roundabouts with friends. Sometimes you are the leaner and sometimes you are the leanee. If we both had to lean at the same time, that would make for a very unstable grounding.
My strongest, most endearing friendship is with a woman who in many ways is similar to me, but in many ways very different. I love her like a sister and always have. From the first day I met her and we didn’t stop talking until the wee hours. Someone I would lay down my life for.
Friendships grow and change and they come in all forms. They are without judgement. That’s a very difficult one to hold onto, but that’s the absolute glue of a friendship.
They are the ships, true ships in our lives. Ones that move and change, ones that remain solid and steadfast, ones that were once something else and have morphed into a different ship. Friendships often pop up in my gratitude journal. There are boundless ones I am grateful for. Some of the most endearing friendships to me are those of people who worked for me and endured some pretty tough times to come out as friends on the other side is a blessing and an honour for me.
I hope there are no boundaries about how many friends you can have in the next version. I hope when I pop into the next life, nobody says – “Sorry, you were particularly greedy in your gathering of friends in this life, so we will have to limit you to 3”. I’d be lost.
It’s RUOK day in Australia, (11 Sept) a brilliant initiative around suicide prevention. I say in Australia, because it doesn’t seem to reach here in the UK, except via the Facebook posts of the Aussie friends and relatives I have.
I absolutely applaud the initiative and I am sure it has made inroads into the public recognition of things like depression and bullying that lead to suicide.
If we only ask this one day per year then it is a start.
It takes a brave person to say that they aren’t OK actually. People who are depressed or leading a terrible life fighting their own demons, or other people’s demons, sometimes won’t say what is really going on for them. Are you OK is a great start. But what if they say yes and they aren’t?
How many times do we get asked Are you OK and we answer, “yes, fine thanks”? In fact there is a plethora of “funny” jokes all over the interwebs about how women are asked this often and they send a chilly “I’m fine” response back! Oh yes, I laugh until I stop when I see these and that’s a short journey…..anyhow I digress.
The thing is – we aren’t usually OK all the time. And that’s OK. The more we get used to hearing that people are not OK – that they might be struggling a bit, that they are tired, or run down, or they have had an emotional day crying on the couch, the more we will realise that life is actually like that.
I think what we could all do with some more of is learning what to do when people do actually say, No – I’m not OK. We can’t always know what people are going through. Sometimes, we don’t even know how much people mean to us until we lose them. That’s what happens in a world where we feel like we can’t get too close to other people, where making friends is hard, where just wanting some “me” time comes before being with friends and family.
A friend of mine recently lost a friend to suicide. She feels eternally guilty that she didn’t see what was coming. Of course she asked if she was OK – and the response she got back was, yes. It’s tough, but I am OK.
We don’t always know when we aren’t OK, as weird as that sounds. Sometimes it takes someone to nudge us a bit and not only ask if we are OK, but to ask some more questions. Perhaps remind them on some behaviour we may have noticed.
This world sees most of other people’s lives through social media eyes, via our computers and mostly through our phones (wankers flashlights as I heard them recently referred to). Am I going to post on Facebook that I am not OK? No way. I don’t want sympathy, or I don’t want platitudes from people who say they are “here for you” and who aren’t. I probably want to be alone with my demons. As awful as they are, they are mine and parting ways with them takes time and guts and courage. I am fortunate enough to have people close to me who do recognise when I am not OK, but not all of us do.
Perhaps what we can say to friends is to not just ask the question Are you OK, but to tell them it’s OK to not be OK just for now. That things will change and life can get better, or we can work on changing our thoughts to make the most of a shitty situation. And then as the website suggests, start a conversation. Ask, Listen, Encourage, Follow Up. Simple steps that could make a difference.
It takes a brave person to say they are not OK, and it takes a true friend and an even braver person to keep that conversation going.
Disclaimer: I’m not a pyschotherapist, nor a mental health professional. I’m just a normal person who is sometimes not OK. (And thank the gods, this isn’t one of those times if you are wondering – I am perfectly OK and I mean it! 🙂
We have a sign on the chalkboard in our kitchen that reads “Rich and Privileged” – and it has nothing to do with money.
Let me clear something up. We are neither rich, nor privileged in the biblical sense. There is no old money in my family (in fact there is NO money in my family!) and there is no peerage status awaiting either of us.
I was at Tesco on a gorgeous sunny day recently, when I was greeted by some wonderful customer service. One of the men who worked there helped me with my groceries and took me to an empty register. He didn’t have to do that, but was just being generous. When I got to the counter, I said to the woman who was serving me, “you poor thing, inside here with a jacket on, whilst the sun is shining outside”. She said to me “Oh, I’m not poor darling, not by any standards, I’m rich in SO many things!” She was Jamaican as I found out later, so you can imagine that statement just sounded so much more gorgeous with that beautiful accent!
I agreed with her and told her that there was a sign in my kitchen which has been in our house as long as we have, almost 4 years. This past year hasn’t been our best, certainly not financially and certainly as I haven’t worked for 3 months or more this year. Some of my friends have given me sympathy and are supportive and wonderfully empathetic. Of course it’s tougher living on one wage than it is on two, but good heavens, there are a few million people in the world worse off than me!
Every day of this wonderful life, I am grateful for everything I have. One of my favourite sayings is that I have two legs and I’m breathing, and that’s a jump on some. Every day that my feet hit the ground – well you know what they say – Any day above ground is a good one. I’m fortunate that I have this mindset. It hasn’t always been with me and there are some days it is tested. But I have so many living examples close to me of people who are worse off than me, that I am grateful, just grateful. (Comparing myself to others isn’t the sole purpose for feeling this way, I do still justify and have my own feelings; can recognise and appreciate them for what they are – for all the psychologists reading this!)
Apart from waking up with all my body working, including the breath part – seriously what else could be wrong? I’ve used applied this mindset lately more than ever during the time I have been looking for work. Every day I get up and think it is an opportunity to re-invent myself. Not that I hate the me I already have, but if you can, why not?
Every day I think there are people out there in recruitment land who haven’t heard of me, so it’s my job to change that. It’s a numbers game. I want to get back into something I haven’t done in a while, so I know it is going to take some time. I also haven’t done much Change stuff in the UK (which by the way recruiters, doesn’t actually mean I can’t do it!) I also don’t have a linear CV – it doesn’t read like a straight HR pattern, one HR role into the next.
I’ve been selected for my career roles because of my attitude. I’ve also succeeded at them because of this attitude and that’s a hard thing to put on a CV. I have won jobs due to my attitude and kept them because of the skills I have learned and applied. My old favourite saying “recruit for attitude, train for skill” gets tested when people only look at the skills side of the equation. Something wrong with that standard recruiting model perhaps?
So, given that I already think I’m streets ahead before I get out of bed, the rest of the day can only go well right? To be able to use the internet, make phone calls; to be able to read and write and cook my own food without hunting it; these are things we take for granted every day. In my world, we have smart phones, laptop’s notebooks, tablets – every imaginable way to make contact with people. I live in a city of more than 12.5 million people. A lot of us are out of work. However, a lot of us are far worse off than me.
I’ve always given thanks, way before Oprah made it trendy. I’m still not sure who I’m giving thanks to – (but that’s another post). I just believe we can be thankful for all the things we take for granted. I won’t go into the people who inspire me every day, they know who they are. And there are millions of people I don’t know who inspire me every day. They aren’t the usual heroes of everyone else.
Even though I am a massive sports addict and I am convinced there is an athlete buried under here somewhere, sports people aren’t the ones who drive me. I’m not saying they aren’t inspiring, but I do get my inspiration from people who just have a great handle on the balance in their lives.
I get my inspiration from people who do jobs they hate, because there is a greater good; from people who have problems in their relationships and fight to keep going; from people who have made massive life decisions and have had massive life decisions thrust upon them. I get motivation from people who are the antithesis to all these things. If we can’t see the truth and beauty in other people, learn from them and adapt those lessons to ourselves, what on earth are we doing here?
Please don’t think I am a Pollyanna, I don’t “DO” this to win points or to write great blog posts! I am optimistic and I am positive – and yes, those two things are different. I believe we can always be more, and I believe we can learn all of these things. One of the remarkable books I have read in my life is Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. To say it changed my life is an understatement.
We are 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. It’s a choice. We choose our reactions, our mental state (mostly), our surroundings. If we don’t like it and it starts to go a bit off course, then we have the power to change it.
A recently appointed mentor of mine (although he may not yet know that!), recited a story to me about going to a circus as a young child. He watched the clown practice and practice and practice juggling. He got it right most of the time, and when he didn’t, nothing happened. No attitude, no despair, no reprimanding himself because he had got it wrong. He just kept going. What a gift, to have obstacles put in your way that will make you fail – and go on regardless.
In my rich and privileged life, I am taking the lessons from the clown and applying them, one day at a time.
In the light of a Facebook post from my Mum two weeks ago, celebrating 61 years of living in Australia, I’ve been prompted to share this history, which is part of my life and culture. My maternal grandparents both died when I was very young and I have always felt a bit ripped off to not have them share their cultural history with us as kids. I do know that in the lead up to and during the Second World War, they were living in Malta, with five of their six children. As the youngest, my Mum was yet to be born and my Grandparents were up to seven years from leaving Malta to live permanently in Australia.
I’ve always thought my Grandparents were so very brave, moving their six children and the only lives they ever knew, to a new country. This was 1951, only a few years after the war finished. This story ends on the 10th of July 1943. Granny probably just found out she was pregnant with Mum; incredible for me to imagine!
Having emigrated myself, I know how difficult a move like this can be, let alone with six children! English was widely spoken in Malta during that time, but it was still their second language. It surprises me how my Grandparents survived the war and what was happening to their beloved home country, then decided to leave, when peace arrived.
Even though I didn’t know them, I have great admiration for the risk they took. Had they not have done this, my Mother would not have had the love affair of her life with my Dad, my siblings and I would never have been here; I would most certainly not be living in the EU….and so it goes. I was enthralled to read this story.
The history of the Siege of Malta is on a stone plaque here in London. I have transcribed the words below. If you don’t know the story, it’s an interesting read. If you do and like me, have part in this brave and courageous culture, you will no doubt be as proud as I am.
Malta GC: The Siege of 1940 -1943.
In the sinister shadow of fascism spilled across Europe and into North Africa, Malta under the protection of Great Britain, found herself alone in a hostile Mediterranean 800 miles from her nearest allies in Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besieged by enemies, Malta became a fulcrum on which the fate of the war balanced for the next three years. If Malta fell the rest of North Africa would follow, opening the door to the oil fields of the Middle East and for the Axis powers to join in Asia and threaten India. The allies knew this, so did the Axis powers. Malta, besieged, became and remains the most bombed place in the history of war.
Supplied only by sea, at great cost, Malta was defended not only by her own people but also by forces drawn from the whole free world. Figther aircraft delivered by the American and Royal Navies were piloted by Britons, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. Convoys crewed by British, American and Commonwealth seamen were supported by the free forces of Greece, The Netherlands and Poland. Free Norwegians added their merchant fleet to the allied cause.
In April 1942 King George VI awarded to the people of Malta, the George Cross, the highest decoration for civilian courage and heroism.
By summer 1942 only weeks of food remained and the Allies mounted Operation Pedestal as a last attempt to save Malta. After a five-day running battle the convoy’s four remaining merchant vessels and the immortal tanker Ohio, all that was left of the fourteen that set out, entered Grand Harbour. The date was 15th August 1942. The Feast of Santa Maria. The siege was broken. Within months North Africa was retaken and the first steps of European Liberation begun.
The stone this text is from, was taken from Malta and presented by the Maltese Government on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War to commemorate all who participated in the siege and defence of Malta, 1940-43.
Italy declares war on Britain. Malta is now only 100 miles from Axis Airfields. Defences are three obsolete fighters and a few guns.
The first convoys arrive. Air raids total 80 already.
More fighters and better guns arrive; civilian population evacuated from target areas.
Two more convoys arrive with troops and equipment; Malta is to become an allied fortress in the Mediterranean.
More fighters and additional airfields commissioned.
Torpedo bombers attack the Italian fleet at Taranto with devastating effect, a strategy later copied by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour.
The Italian army is defeated in North Africa forcing the Germans to send massive reinforcements. Striking forces from Malta cause so much damage to axis supply lines the axis high command decide to annihilate the island. The Luftwaffe moves to Sicily and begin round-the-clock attacks on Malta.
Axis bombers attack and damage the British carrier Illustrious in a convoy to Malta. The ship arrives at Malta for emergency repairs and is subjected to three days of ceaseless bombing before leaving to the USA. 39 axis planes are lost in the blitz for only 2 allied fighters.
The attacks continue; the civilian population are moved into rock shelters underground. Air raids now total 400.
Four ships arrive in convoy with essential food, ammunition and fuel; they are bombed incessantly on their approach and in harbour.
The carrier Ark Royal delivers another consignment of new Hurricane fighters.
Malta’s fighter defences are strengthened and reorganised; a bombing squadron is added to attack axis supplies to North Africa.
Axis forces invade and occupy Crete with airborne troops, a similar plan is proposed for Malta.
Sixteen Italian torpedo boats attack newly arrived convoy in Grand Harbour; all are destroyed by the defences.
The siege is gripping more strongly, food is severely rationed, the air attacks continue incessantly.
Eight ships reach Malta in convoy with vital food, fuel and stores. Malta striking forces are now destroying half of all axis supplies being sent to North Africa.
Food is desperately short, 3 British submarines shuttle in supplies under water to avoid the air attacks. Rationing is made more severe.
Malta striking forces are reinforced and increase axis losses to convoys to North Africa. Axis air forces increase the attempts to subdue Malta.
Air raids increase to 175 in this month alone; the entire civilian population is now conscripted into the defence of the island. Everyone lives underground in rock shelters. This memorial is quarried from that very same rock.
The axis determination to eradicate Malta continues with no demarcation between months; some bombing raids last up to 36 hours, during this month there are 263 of them. Food fuel and ammunition run dangerously low.
An allied convoy from Alexandria is attacked and destroyed on its way to Malta; the supply situation becomes even more critical. What food there is is now contaminated with the taste of high explosive.
With great determination, two fresh deliveries of spitfire fighters are made by aircraft carriers. Three ships arrive with 5000 tonnes of supplies which are discharged under ceaseless bombing. 177 axis aircraft are destroyed.
Raids are now between 4 and 10 per day in waves of 100 or more aircraft. By now, 15,500 buildings have been obliterated but civilian casualties are mercifully light at 1,104 thanks to the shelters hewn into the living rock of Malta. Air raids now total 5,807 accounting for more than 6,557,231 kilos of high explosive bombs. Food is shared between the entire population via communal “victory” kitchens. Ammunition is in very short supply. As the raids pass the 2000 mark, King George VI awards the entire island population of Malta the George Cross in recognition of their gallantry in the defence of their island fortress. With fighters now depleted to dangerous levels, reinforcements are desperately needed.
As April becomes May the USA comes to Malta’s aid, USS Wasp successfully delivers 2 cargoes of Spitfires and their pilots.
General Lord Gort replaces Sir William Dobbie as Governor and Commander-in Chief, he brings in his hands the George Cross medal and citation from the King.
The new fighters take immediate effect in improving the defences but food and supplies continue to deteriorate. Single-ship deliveries by fast warship and submarines cannot keep up. In North Africa, the axis retake most of the coast of Libya and fears of an airborne invasion become acute.
The axis, encouraged by their advance in North Africa and the success of their air raids on Malta opt to press on to Egypt, invasion fears recede. Fuel and ammunition stocks are critical, food stocks weeks from starvation.
With no alternative, Britain recalls all available warships to fight a convoy through to Malta. 14 of the fastest merchant vessels are committed to Operation Pedestal. They are escorted by the heaviest concentration of warships in the war so far. For 5 days, the convoy is continuously attacked. The attrition is horrific, but finally the 4 surviving merchantmen are delivered to Malta. The new American-built tanker, Ohio, decks awash, engines wrecked, bombed, torpodoed, a crashed axis plane burning on her deck; is, by a miracle, brought into Grand Harbour on the 15th of the month, the Feast of Santa Maria. All of her 11,000 tonnes of fuel are intact. The entire population watch as their salvation is nursed home by two small destroyers. The tide of the Siege and history, was turning.
Malta striking forces again press home their interdiction of axis convoys. Air defence goes on the attack seeking raiders before they reach Malta skies.
In a 4 day onslaight, the axis lose 114 aircraft to 25 Spitfires. Axis losses now total 1,252 with another 1,151 unconfirmed. The civilian populaton has lost 1,600 killed and 1,818 grievously wonunded.
Axis forces retreat in North Africa, allied landings take place, leading to their eventual rout. A convoy arrives unmolested. The siege is finally over.
Malta becomes the forward base for the first steps in the liberation of Europe. Allied and Commonwealth troops begin to build up in Malta with supplies arriving unhindered.
On the 10th of July 1943, the invasions of Europe begins in Sicily.