Wednesday, 17 January 2018

80 is the new 30?

A beautiful princess comes upon a frog in a meadow near her castle.
The frog hops into the princess' lap and says, "My lady, one kiss from you, and I will turn back into the dapper, young prince that I once was, and then, my sweet, we can marry and set-up housekeeping in yon castle with my mother, where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children and forever be happy doing so."
That night, as the princess dines on lightly sauteed frog legs, she chuckles to herself, "I don't f**kin' think so."

Read a very interesting article recently. It started with a claim that women are unhappier than men until they reach their 80s, by when the men with whom they often shared their lives dropped dead. Ha! I thought, forwarding the article to Husband, excitedly. 

On the other occasion- A coincidence? But, as they said in Point Blank
 “I don’t believe in coincidence. Where some people see coincidence, I see conspiracy”--someone shared Steve Harvey”s interview of Dana Delany on Facebook. Who is 60. Crazy, right?

She said her secret was that she drinks wine (check) and never married (Oh. I see.) and had no kids. Interesting.

Hope my children never read my blog, but you see where I am going with this. Family life and our husbands make women unhappy, and make us age faster. That’s a scientific fact. 

However, and here is what we have been discussing with an old friend of mine who is quite a few years older and wiser than me… there is still hope, should you live this long. Mind you, you may never get to that age, as, also according to this friend who you will notice is a cheerful old soul, leading a miserable existence will give you cancer and you will die way before you reach that happier older age stage. Kaputskiy.

But, let’s stay positive. Should it be your partner and not you who karks it first; and you end up in your say, 80’s and alone, don’t get depressed, because, according to this friend of mine, that’s where your happy life begins. Her aunt, in her late seventies, just started going out with someone and they are going to Paris in springtime. 

Another friend of mine used to work on a big cruise ship. ‘We often saw’, she said, “happy old couples on our ship, sipping champagne, holding hands, beautiful smiles on their faces”. 

Please! -She asked them-What is your secret to such a happy life at your old age? This sparkle in your eyes, how did you keep this affection alive for all these years??

My dear, one couple responded. You surely don’t think we have been married to each other all these years?! Our partners died ages ago! We only just started dating!

Joking (and all those husbands’ hurt feelings) aside though, there is evidence that people start feeling a lot happier after 60. Perhaps it has something to do with realization how little time you have left an you stop sweating the small stuff? Perhaps you realise that all your earlier ambitions to become a rock star, all your career aspirations and dreams to make a fortune didn’t get anywhere at all, and now definitely wont… but you know what, fuck it. This is it now, no more stress, no more running around trying to achieve something. So, all you have left to do then is relax and watch the rain with a cup of tea in your hand.  

So there you go. Eat well, don’t forget to drink wine, and who knows, maybe in about forty years or so you will find blissful happiness.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Unconditional love.


Guess what, guys. Another year flew past. We all got older. 

And one day, should we live this long, we will be so old that maybe our children would visit us in a retirement home. Some of you, who are proper traditional Azeri, would maybe be living somewhere with your children, or somewhere nearby, looked after by them. But for some,old age mean loneliness. 

I was visiting a friend, who had recently separated from his wife, watching him play with his children who came to stay during the holidays.' Isn’t this great?|" a mutual acquaintance pointed out to me, as we sipped coffee and smoked, thoughtfully watching them chase each other on the beach. "I am so pleased for him", he added, "that the ex allowed the kids to come and stay! It doesn’t always happen".

Very true, I thought. Because, as we get older, many marriages collapse. But not every case is as civilised as the one we were discussing. 

I find it shocking, I told my acquaintance, that so often men seem to simply forget their kids as they decide to separate from the wives. It is understandable that people fall out of love. It is also understandable that they might decide to split up. But how do they emotionally separate from their children? Surely, that should be impossible?

 And yet, so many of my friends report otherwise.

I have to say I feel a little guilty myself for insisting that my mother stayed with my father many years ago, when she first realised it was time to split up. I still remember him taking me in a separate room to say goodbye, pulling me into a strong hug, crying. One might say, manipulating the situation a little? using me as a tool to influence my mother. And boy, did it work! I AM NEVER HAVING ANOTHER DADDY! I cried hysterically, you are NOT bringing anyone else to live here with us! 

Now, looking back, I know I was wrong. She was young and beautiful, and the marriage was going to end anyway, as it did many years later. My tantrums only prolonged the agony. (She should have not listened to me, she should have been strong right there and then, when she knew the end was inevitable). But hey, I was little and I adored my dad. And we all try to manipulate the others. From the moment we are born and till we die.

When my parents did eventually separate though, and until the very end when my father passed away, he and I remained what we had always been- a father and a daughter. Yes, he lived separately, but we never loved each other any less for it. I never felt any less loved by him just because his relationship with my mother changed. My mother didn’t use me against him, and neither did he. 

And perhaps that is why I simply cannot get it. The financial battles, the arguments over alimony, the lack of any interest in their children’s lives after divorce? How is that possible to fall out of love with your own children? 

Out of quite a number of marriages that I know of that broke down, I can safely say that only two fathers remained properly involved with the lives of their kids. They see them as often as they can, they don’t fight over money, they don’t argue over school fees, they continue being what they had been before- fathers. 

And this is not about their responsibilities. Whenever I talk to anyone about this, this is the most overused word. ‘But they have a responsibility to look after their kids!’ women cry in outrage. 

Fuck responsibility. I don’t think anyone should be doing anything in this life because of responsibility. To me, the word is depressing. I hate it almost as much as the word commitment. It implies you are forced to be doing something simply because you have to. Fathers should want to look after their children because they love them. Even if they stopped loving their mother. 

That day, my new acquaintance and I ended up having quite a philosophical discussion about it all- families, children, marriages, the old age…. 'My sister works in a home for very old people', he said. "And, you will not believe how often there is nobody to call when some of those old people die. And you will not believe how many of old lonely men express their regrets for abandoning their children when they were young."

Well, I said. You never really know. There are plenty of cases in Baku of abandoned old babushkas, whose children moved away and left them behind without any contact, any financial support, any…anything. Even if you sacrifice your own selfish interests, and stick around all your life supporting your kids, you might still be forgotten in that geriatric state without as much as a Christmas card. There are no guarantees, of course, that your kids will care about you when you are old. Just like there are no guarantees that your spouse will always be there, either. Life, of course, is unpredictable that way. The only thing that should be guaranteed, is your unconditional love for your children, regardless, no matter what. 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

New Year? AGAIN?

Well... I am back. 

Let me tell you...This job thing gets in the way of everything! Especially if you have not worked for years. 

I can’t believe how long it has been since I blogged. Perhaps it is time to stop altogether. Maybe I will stop in the New Year. Because New Year is a good time for changes. And also because I just have to blog about the New Year. I noticed that I never failed to write something about it this time of year. And the one about a duck is still one of the very favourite blogs of mine. So I can't stop now, can I.

What is it about New Year that makes it so ridiculously important? It is like money, everyone keeps claiming it doesn’t matter but of course they all know it does. 

A girl at work asked me today what was my ideal New Year. 

 “Where” was the exact word she used, and I explained to her that honestly? what I am beginning to realize is that it is not the location but the people you celebrate with that makes it good or bad. I know it might sound a little cliche, but it is true.

The most important ingredient in that Happy New Year recipe you should be adding is the people who matter to you the most. ( +duck + champagne) And it doesn’t really make much of a difference where you happen to be. Have the people you love with you. It could be a quiet night at home in front of the TV, or in bed; or it could be in a big circle of friends, if you have that many that you actually like. 

We say back home that those who you have with you on New Year ’s Eve will be the people you will spend the following year with. So hey, no pressure, guys. 

I tried all sorts of celebrations to figure this one out. One year I was in Edinburgh, listening to live music and getting crushed in the 2,000+ crowd on the Princes street, Another time, husband and I decided to travel to Belize, where friends of ours had a diving school. And then, there was the year with the duck. And there was a year here, in Doha, with Venezuelan friends who made the most delicious fish soup at 5am, and I walked back to my villa in the compound around 6am, as the sun was rising. See, I tried all sorts of celebrations. And yet?....I can’t help but feel a little melancholic on New Year’s eve. Always, whatever I am doing. 

There is something about that night that makes me feel a bit funny.

And I am not talking about this pressure on you to stay awake! Be excited! Be popular! that particular night. Like in this joke I quite like about Valentine’s Day:

So, no. It is also something else. 

Maybe it is the unwelcome, uninvited focus the night brings on to the fact that time flies. It is watching your children turn into teenagers, wanting to escape to celebrate with their friends, and not you. It is about saying goodbyes. It is about missing people who are not with you on that night, whether because they are somewhere else, or had passed away. It is the time you somehow involuntarily take to reflect on the whole year gone, and things you did or didn’t do. It is about the past, about remembering your childhood, which will never return, your grandmother’s hugs, the lightness of being. 

So yes, to me, New Year is inevitably nostalgic, whatever I may be doing that night.  

And yet, I love it.  I love Christmas, even though I grew up without celebrating it, and the New Year; I love this time of  year-with the tree, and the lights, and the kindness and the gifts and the smiles of everyone around you.

I wanted to take this time to wish you all, whoever and wherever you are a very Happy New Year. It is the year of Earth Dog, and according to Chinese calendar, it is the year of changes- good and bad. Here’s to yours to turn out to be good. Good luck and don’t be too sad on New Year’s eve. If you feeling lonely, please refer to my personal guide on how to turn your new year into a happy night. 

And remember! According to chemistry, alcohol is a solution. 

Keep cool, my friends.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Life is too short to be pretending

A friend of mine was telling me about this funny TV series she is enjoying at the moment, Grace and Frankie. So funny, she said. Husbands announced they were in love for years! Hilarious situation! 

It reminded me straight away of a real life story that I heard while on holidays in England last summer.

I was staying at a girlfriend's place and we got chatting one night. A childhood friend of mine is going through a nasty divorce. He had an affair for many years and was finally separating from his wife, and the whole thing was very unpleasant for him. I was telling my girlfriend about it when she got annoyed. Well, he is an asshole! She exclaimed.

I guessed she felt quite strongly about the whole thing and decided not to discuss any further. 

In a few days, via the same girlfriend, I met a very cool gay couple.

It was a beautiful warm summer evening and a group of us sat in the garden. Prosecco was flowing, the sun was setting slowly behind those beautiful trees… A perfect evening for a pleasant chat with a handsome gay man sitting next to me.

He was in his late fifties, with a fabulous career behind him, and he was a great person to talk this whole-you know?- life shit with. Intelligent, witty and just very pleasant overall.

I asked him about his son he had mentioned earlier. 'Oh yes' he said, 'I was married to a woman before. And I have two children. Because, I tried! I tried very hard to be straight! For 13 years!'

Wow, I said. That’s a long time to be pretending to be someone you are not. That must have been awfully difficult. (And WOW?!- the size of the balls on that guy?! To come out like that after thirteen years!?)

On an assignment somewhere in Asia, he met his English partner. The rest is history.

Life is too short, he said, to keep pretending.

Later, when everybody left and I was helping my girlfriend to tidy up, I asked her about the gay friends of hers. Oh yes, she said, aren’t they adorable?

I waited for her to add that the friend was also an asshole for making his wife believe he was straight (and quite successfully so, judging by the fact that they had two children together) for such a long time but, interestingly enough, she seemed fine with that story.

So, listen! I asked, getting excited. How come you don’t think he was an asshole? Is it just because he is gay? Is it better then? If you husband leaves you for a man rather than a woman-is it not so painful?

Hmm, she thought about it. 'I guess so? I guess if you find out he is actually gay, that makes it a little easier to accept. Because he can’t help it, can he?'

But isn’t it the same thing, in the end? I asked. If you are fundamentally unhappy in your relationship, if you meet someone else, if you fall in love- does it make any difference whether it is male or female? Making a decision to leave your spouse can’t be easy, whether you do it for another person, Salsa dancing, a cult or a newly-found love for Jesus; and surely, the very same set of difficult issues would have to be dealt with? So isn’t it a little strange that your reaction should be so dramatically different?

Isn’t it peculiar, I said to my friend, that we live in such a world, where being gay actually makes you look better in the eyes of the society, should you decide to make such a big change in your life? Both of us, not just my girlfriend who might have been a little biased since the guys were friends of hers, but myself too, were impressed by their love story. So brave! So cool! So romantic!

But what about the ex wife, I wondered. Would she have been just as accepting and understanding?

-Sorry darling, I am leaving you after all these years, but hey, don’t be too upset I am not going to be with another woman, I am in love with a man!

-Oh, honey I am so proud of you! Kids will understand! We can be friends with your boyfriend and have sophisticated dinner parties together!

It made me think though. Every relationship, every story, however banal and predictable it might appear at first, has its own nuances and circumstances. And who are we to judge without knowing the people involved? And even if we think we know, do we really? Yes, pretending to be straight when you are not cannot be easy. I can't even imagine living such a life. Making a decision to suddenly come out as gay and announce it to everyone- your parents, your wife, your children must be seriously gut-wrenchingly terrifying, and very brave. But so is admitting that your marriage is lacking something important, when you had invested years in expensive wine glasses, mortgages and cute babies, and having the balls to change things. In the end- theoretically- it is the honesty that should win, however difficult and painful it might be, however judged and hated you would be, whether you are gay or straight. Because yes, life is too short to waste it pretending to be someone you are not. And everyone deserves a shot at happiness: You, your partner, and your gay lover.

Friday, 25 August 2017

The day I discovered I was just like Frodo.

It is official. My summer is over. I am back in Doha after a lot of eating and drinking and relaxing first in the UK and then, in Azerbaijan. The usual. A friend has noticed the lack of Facebook activity on my part and commented to my husband that I was probably so fat these days after all the eating that I no longer posted any photos of myself. I sent him this latest picture to reassure him I was still alive and well in shape.

I have not written here for so long not because I had nothing to say. Quite the opposite: My head is full of thoughts, memories and experiences that I would love to share, I simply don't know where to start. I want to tell you how I met a wonderful gay couple and what philosophical thoughts that meeting raised in my head. I want to tell you about my almost trip to Georgia, my almost staying there forever when I realized I had no return visa for Azerbaijan, and almost not drinking at all while in Baku.
Yes, so lots of thoughts. But, I will start with the most domineering of them all. The one that rules them all, so to speak. The one to bring them all and in the darkness bind them…got carried away a little here.
I would like to name this particular funny feeling the Frodo syndrome.
You see I was on the airplane going to England when, admittedly under the influence of a couple of extremely strong G&T’s the pretty stewardess prepared for me (she did apologise in advance, saying she was new, and asking if they were any good and I, having watched her fill the plastic cup half full with gin, assured her it was just perfect) and having realized, as usual that there was nothing decent to watch, decided I actually quite fancied the Lord of the Rings, the very last one, you know? I just love the battle scene where Legolas jumps on the oliphaunt, and when the dead dudes emerge from the ship from behind Aragorn...



Sorry. Anyway. So, I thought I would fast forward the film to my favourite parts and enjoy them again. But, as I continued to the end of the movie, to my astonishment and embarrassment, I realized I was extremely affected by it all. I felt Frodo’s pain and confusion as he described returning to his beloved shire. Fuck, Frodo… I thought. We are the same! We are of one blood, Frodo (like Kaa said to Mowgli) you and I.
Yes. I am just like Frodo.
That thought almost sent me to tears. I only resisted crying because nobody seriously cries at LOTR do they? OK, I also got all teary at that moment when what’s her face? Princess Eowyn tears her helmet off to face the black rider on Nazgรปl and says I am no man! And stabs the shit out of him. 
That was amazing with my strong G&T, let me tell you. Sent shivers down my spine.
But, still. Seriously. Nobody cries at LOTR. Especially not at the end when all the painful stuff is over, everything ended well, the world has been saved, the best looking people all alive and Aragorn marries the elf princess? You will of course say I was just being silly, but listen. You just don’t know how it feels to suddenly realise you don’t actually have a home where you belong anymore. I felt Frodo’s pain when he, having spent all that time missing the lovely shire, returns to it only to discover that, having experienced everything he had experienced, he cannot ever possibly be the same. The shire, the normal hobbits, with their normal hobbit business would never seem the same to Frodo.
Okay, I appreciate that living in Qatar as a western expat is not quite the same as going through all the shit poor Frodo had to go through. Me, going to Aspire to work out in my air conditioned car in the mornings is not quite the same as Frodo barely surviving in Shelob’s cave, even on a very bad driving day. Still, I am a writer, so allow me some allegoric connection here. Frodo said, and he definitely knew what he was talking about, that he could not really stay in the shire, not after everything he had lived through, not after what he had seen in the world. And I realised, as I was looking forward to seeing my lovely Hertford-shire that I could never really return there and settle back into my previous suburban life. Not after I Iived as an expat for all these years.
I don’t know how others do it. I have met people who spent years here only to suddenly announce they are going back, to the same little village they came from. I just want to wear shorts again, they say, cook dinner for my kids and walk to the local pub. Well, really if you want to bring normality to your life in Doha, I thought, just fire your maid and do all the cleaning and cooking yourself, as well as go to work and then, if you still have any energy left, get a raincoat and wellies on, not shorts, and walk to that pub. Where you could probably afford one pint of beer since you probably wont have much money.
But that is a personal choice, and we, expats are all very different.
I myself am just like Frodo when it comes to returning to the shire. I have definitely changed and there is no going back to the old suburban myself.
Yes,visiting felt nice. I love it, don’t take me wrong. I miss those enormous green trees and the smell of rain in the air, wearing warm clothes and the normality of it all. But, as I sat in my friend’s car on the way from the airport, I kept thinking this feels wonderful but it is not my home anymore. It is a peculiar feeling, let me tell you. Because, you know that place. It is familiar. It is comforting and relaxing. But, knowing myself, I know that I no longer could fit right back in. It wouldn’t be easy.
Now, perhaps it is more obvious for someone like me for whom England was already a second home. I know all about emigrating, I had been there before. Still, having lived as an expat, how do you go back and continue your old life?
My friends…I missed them so much. I loved seeing them but I also noticed how by now, they had moved on with their lives. They were excited about me visiting, of course, but they were also very busy with their own schedules. Schools, events to attend, paperwork to fill in, family routines. I was grateful they still found time to see me.
If, after just a year or two of being abroad it all felt temporary, now after this many years it was different. They probably realized I was no longer going to be a proper part of their circle. They mostly stopped asking when I was coming back. I was someone who used to live there, who used to have the same concerns and issues. Now I was just a visitor from abroad, someone with a completely different life, whose visits they enjoy but there are more important things going on. I am different. I wear different clothes, I talk about different politics. I definitely drive differently. I worry about different future. The topics I come up with to discuss and my jokes are all different now…Well, those were always different, some might correct me here, but hey, at least I tried to control them a little better before, trying to fit in, adjusting the volume to the level of appropriateness of the English suburbs. Nowadays, I have moved on, too.
Which brings us of course to a question where to next? But, as Scarlett O’Hara would say…
I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.
So yes, Frodo. I know exactly how you felt.