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I’ve found myself re-counting numbers recently. Second guessing myself. This morning, I counted the handful of change for my morning cappuccino three times. Three. Clearly, the trust has gone.

Maths has never been my strong suit, but still. It’s starting to verge on the ridiculous. At work I find myself struggling to grasp what the month number for May is (it’s five…isn’t it?). Is this just age? Surely not, I’m barely 32. The years of alcohol? Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling the reason behind this strange emergence of Dyscalculia is because I find myself in, well, a strange period in my life.

calc ageI have begun to question things in ways that haven’t crossed my mind for at least ten years. And it’s really annoying because, with my questions remaining unanswered, I feel lost and discontent. And the other, even more annoying, thing is that it’s only me that can provide any answers.

It’s funny how it is generally acknowledged that you become wiser the older you get and, by default, more confident. But my confidence is no longer the unwavering warrior it was when I was younger and knew nothing. Sure, I’ve got less tolerant of the selfishness of others and I am more likely to say so rather than hush into a corner and somehow blame their behaviour on my faults. And yes, I’ve become openly accepting of those with whom I shall never be friends, who shall never like me and vice versa. We are all different. But am I more confident with age? In a word (well, two) – not quite.

I suppose it depends on what confidence means to you. For some I imagine it’s having the guts to go out on stage in front of hundreds of people. To be able to take a risk, make that scary career change. For me, it’s having the strength of self-conviction – the total assurance that everything will turn out ok in the end, because you are you, and you can handle it.

My self-possession rose and peaked almost out of nowhere between the ages of 24 and 29. With hindsight – something I’m pretty sick of now – I realise this time is The Golden Period. The pressure is off. You become aware, for the first time, how far you have come in such little time. Your twenties bring with them an intense personal growth spurt that you have no real control over – grown-up stuff just happens to you whether you want it or not. You accept this fact, grow from it. You have money. You are young. You sit back and enjoy it for a bit. Uncomplicated confidence. You are going places and you know it.

But then you hit 30. Ouch. All that confidence so flippantly built ebbs away. But this time the subtle change in yourself, so frivolously disregarded when it moved in the other direction, does not go unnoticed. It starts to drive you a bit mad. You get angry with yourself. How could you let this happen? Why did you sit back and relax while youth and all its opportunities passed you by – look at all those chances you were too lazy to take. And now, now you’re just too old to do things. You’ve got commitments.

It turns out my star didn’t rise at the same trajectory and speed (hell, I don’t move at the same speed) as was mapped out in my twenties. I got too comfortable. Smug. Other people are younger than me now. It is annoying. They are annoying. To make matters worse they are more skilled than I both was and am now – they’ve been forced to do more internships than I’ve had hot toddies. They don’t need to do IT training. They don’t even call it IT – to them, technology is just life.

Life is hard enough as it is. And when the total confidence that everything will work out how you want it leaves the room, what do you do? For me, well, I’ve got to work out what it is that I want – it turns out thirty-something Gemma might have different (less ambitious) ambitions from those of ten years ago. And it’s sobering to admit that to yourself.

I think the key is nailing that fine balance between accepting who you are and what you can achieve whilst still treating yourself with the respect to challenge yourself and grow. Maybe once I solve that equation two and two might start to make four again.

My parents are redecorating their house. So what? I hear you say. Yawn. Quite – I shouldn’t be bothered by this minor event. If anything I should show a little excitement for them, be hopeful that the experience doesn’t prove too stressful. But I can’t help feeling a little put out, somewhat sombre. Because it means the final goodbye to my old bedroom.

Yes, I know – grow the hell up, Gemma. And yes, it might have been a good few years since I could credibly claim that room as mine. But I think we can all agree that a childhood bedroom isn’t just a bedroom – it’s a whole world. A sacred sanctuary in the tumultuous experience that is ‘growing up’.

The passion those walls hold – they are so brave, so bold, so revealing. They reflect the ‘you’ that you aren’t quite yet able to be in the outside world. This is the place you allow yourself to be honest about your dreams and desires – about yourself – in a way you’d never dream of doing with those around you. Your parents watch you grow up through those walls. Look for clues to help them unravel what’s happening to you, to learn new things about the person you are becoming – otherwise impossible, since you stopped talking to them. Communicating only in grunts and through the lyrics of terrible music turned up tortuously high through hi fi speakers.

I am reminded of a surprisingly powerful film that explored the strange worlds of Depeche Mode fans around the globe, made by British filmmakers Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams in 2009. In Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union the band’s music has been treasured ever since it was available in the 1980s – only on illegal bootlegged cassettes. With an equally massive, but secret, fan-base in Germany the band’s music formed the soundtrack to the march to freedom as the Berlin Wall came down. And it all started in the bedrooms.

And so whilst I am (apparently) grown up, I still feel more of a connection to that room than simply using it as a space to stand in and talk to my Mom as she folds up some washing. It’s been torture, this whole extraction process. First, in 1996, they installed net curtains. There was the first gentle nudge. But I’m not a fast mover – 14 years later I finally leave home but, although I remove my physical self, my ephemera remains firmly put. Don’t even think about it, that stuff said, I am still Gemma’s property.

posters came from the walls editBut my parents are clever. They bided their time wisely – for the socially acceptable number of 5-years – before deciding right, that’s it. She’s definitely not coming back, ever, and we are claiming our room back. And although my stuff would remain in the room they used the space for something else. Primarily, to fold washing in. They packed up my stubborn ephemera into bags. Left the bags loose about the room – hinting. I didn’t take the hint… 18-months later I was asked to take the bloody stuff away. Humph. The CDs were the first to go. Then my posters had to come down from the walls – and that was the most harrowing moment.

I collected my wall contents in solitude, just me and my room alone again, as though I was conducting some kind of ritual. The ritual of letting go. Band posters, postcards, gig tickets, train tickets, club night flyers – it all came down and, because I couldn’t bear to throw it away, my wall now lives in a bag in a dark cupboard. I wouldn’t want to display those things now, because they no longer reflect me – but that doesn’t mean I want to forget that girl. This wall is like a photograph album, and more personal than any diary I ever kept.

And, this week, the last step. Mom and Dad have decided it’s not appropriate to have bright purple walls and a lurid green ceiling in an adult house, hence the total redecoration. Fair enough. At least they’ve gone to the extreme pretence of claiming to need to redecorate the whole house rather than just my room. But I am dreading going to see it. With that last bit of me gone my imprint will cling no longer.

Despite the angst, I do feel lucky. I had a very stable upbringing – literally, we never moved house once. And so no wonder I feel such a connection to that space. I wonder who used that room before I claimed it as my own in 1983? Did it once belong in another child’s heart? Were they forced to leave it for a new bedroom, a new home? If you have more than one childhood bedroom do you have one that is truly yours above the others?

It made me laugh and cry taking apart that room. But at least I can still return to it in my mind (and well, in my drawer). And who knows, maybe one day I’ll resurrect it somewhere else.

childhood, memories, nostalgia, bedrooms, music, Depeche Mode, family, parenting, growing up

As far as I am concerned alcohol is, and always has been, very much needed to overcome (alright, numb) the Terror Of Life.

Wine o'clock_edited

I enjoy a drink. More than one at a time. And surely, that’s ok?

I don’t have any responsibilities – other than to myself, if you count that. Probably should.

I don’t have any children to fail at being a role model for.

As a consenting adult I feel confident, unashamed and guilt-free in my drinking choices…or do I?

I decided to download an app. Yes. The Change4Life Drinks Tracker app.

It all started with a wall chart at the hospital – hang on, reader! I was not in as a result of drinking. I was actually getting some wisdom teeth removed. All four of them. (Bloody HELL, reader – take care of your teeth!)

Anyway I was sat on a bed, naked from the waist up, being hooked up to an ECG machine – this takes forever. It’s like being seduced very slowly by an electronic octopus. In this awkward social situation I thought it safest to just stare at the wall. And there, on said wall, was an enormous alcohol unit chart. Really, it took up the whole wall.

Lovely little pictures, depicting all alcoholic beverages imaginable. Along with the units each little bugger came with. I decided to fill the time by attempting some maths. It was quite sobering.

Already feeling vulnerable – sat half-naked on a hospital bed about to be drilled and hammered – I became panicked by my apparent drinking disorder, and decided to behave like a responsible adult, take some action.

Hence, the app.

A couple of months in, I am finding that this app makes me feel incredibly guilty about the way I lead my day to day life, without actually inhibiting me from continuing drinking in any way…hmmm.

According to the stats and charts that this app has created for me, it turns out that yes – I am in fact a binge drinker.

If I’m being honest with myself, I’m not surprised. I haven’t been living in a bubble or anything. I know about units and I can sort-of count. But I do feel rather unjustly labelled.

Up to now I’ve been ignoring all the talk of binge drinking on the TV, because I don’t relate to it;
a) The coverage is almost entirely about young people and the binge drinking epidemic. I’m no longer a young person – supposedly, I’m now a ‘grown up’. Also, all this coverage is painfully predictable and over the top – can’t the reporters remember being young?
b) The general perception of binge drinkers doesn’t feel like me. I’m not one of those horrendous ladettes (can I still use that word?), crawling around shoe-less on Broad Street, with my pants round my ankles, falling into unmarked cabs. Surely this is all a mistake and the app has got it wrong…

I know I’m no angel. But it’s not like I’m going out partying like I did in my twenties. Hardly. More likely to be sitting in front of the TV, watching The Honourable Woman or such like, cradling a glass of wine to get through the tension.

Basically, it’s harder, harder than you may think, to drink less than 6 units when you go out (…or stay in). Especially if you’re a woman and have less units to work with.

It’s not like our contemporaries of the past didn’t drink – in fact, surely they drank more? It makes me wonder if there is, in fact, an epidemic. Or have social attitudes to drinking alcohol just changed so much now we’ve been brainwashed with all this unit-speak; something constructed by the Government to protect the NHS? Fair enough, but it hardly seems right that I’m made to feel guilty if I want to share a bottle of wine with my meal, and then have a cocktail afterwards.

Martini_edited

I’m being flippant, I know. It’s the 21-year-old in me lingering on and encouraging me to carry bad habits into my thirties. But now, thanks to this app, I am more educated. Whilst it all may be a bit nanny-state, understanding units has helped us to become more clued up about the facts of drinking alcohol, and take control of our health. And it all must have sunk in, struck a nerve with me – otherwise, I would never have downloaded this app in the first place. I must have grown up after all…

The reality – a fact I can’t hide behind with a glass of wine – is that excess alcohol raises the risk of developing more than 200 diseases. That really is quite frightening. And although you could argue that merely being alive increases the bloody risk, I’m going to persevere. One glass at a time.

I just need to learn how to transfer the charts and stats into real life, change my bad habits. Next time I’m watching tense TV, instead of reaching for the vino I think I’ll switch over to comedy, instead.

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