Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Playing the game.



A while ago, I was meeting an English friend for coffee. I mean, it was, very possibly, sometime in the beginning of October. We were chatting about plans for winter, plans for Christmas, whether we were staying in Doha or going home, when I asked her if she had finished her Christmas shopping already.

Well, yes, I am almost done, T responded and I chocked on my drink.
I was, naturally, being sarcastic. But I should have known. T is extremely organised.

Now, we are at the end of November. And, do I even need to say that I have not started any Christmas shopping yet?

But, in my defense…

There are a few excuses I can choose from.

First of all, just like with pretty much everything else, I have to be in the mood.  And how do you try and get in the Christmas mood in the Middle East?

We spent last two Christmases in Doha. I was a bit unsure at first. Every single Christmas ever since I’d got married, we spent in my in-laws house, where everything was prepared, cooked and decorated; and I just had to show up and enjoy. (Not bad, eh?) What if I could not re-create the proper atmosphere for my kids here, in sunny Doha?

I did my best. I made sure I decorated the house as well as I could. From an American friend, I picked up a hint on how to brine and roast a very tasty turkey, from an Irish one-how to cook a fantastic ham a la Nigella Lawson; and from an Italian one I got a fabulous Tiramisu recipe. My big girl sang in a choir and we attended a tree lightning ceremony in a hotel, and the Carols singing in the British embassy, with mulled wine and mince pies…It was all great. Yet , it just did not feel like proper Christmas to me. All my attempts seemed a little unnatural. Just like those of the local shops right now, with their snow flakes and winter coats in the window displays, trying to convince us all it is winter outside. But then (and this is my second excuse…) I reminded myself that I am, after all, not from the country that celebrates Christmas. Maybe that is why it feels like I am just playing the game.

I was listening to a Russian song this morning, for a change. The rainy morning made me a bit nostalgic so I put it on. It was Zemfira’s Don’t let go.
And I thought, as I sang along, that the melody was very Russian.

‘Listen, I just realised something important’, I told my friend afterwards. 'I don’t think I am Azeri?! OK, I am technically Azeri, but really, deep inside, culturally, I am probably Russian.'

She laughed. ‘If I did not know you better’, she said, ‘I would have thought you were constantly on dope, the stuff you come up with!’ But she knew what I was on about. She pointed out that, compared to real Russians, I was not Russian.

The truth is, of course, is that I am an odd product of a bizarre, complicated cocktail of cultures mixed up in the pre and post Soviet eras, that leaves me unclear about what I am. And removes, in huge chunks, the sense of belonging anywhere in particular.

Do you not think though, I asked my friend, that people like us, you and me, who don’t quite belong to their own culture for various reasons, are more adaptable to other cultures? Are we more flexible, because of that? Is that why we find it easy to live abroad, in places that are very different to our homes, like Qatar? And not constantly moan and whine about it like many other expats we know? Is this why we marry into completely different cultures, and adapt easily, raising our children celebrating Christmas, brining Turkeys and filling stockings when we were never brought up to do it?

So really, it isn't that bad. And I don’t really mind not belonging anywhere properly. But, this year, I decided to take my children back to the UK for Christmas. Back to their roots. Back to their country. Where the air is chilly and fresh and filled with the smells of wood burning stoves, real pine and the holiday anticipation. Let me try and give them that sense of belonging that I don't have; and what they choose to do with it later on in life is up to them. But at least, I played the game.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The autumn of your life.

I was trying new shorts on the other day, getting ready for a party. Is this too much? I asked Husband, concerned about that balance. He said that they were fine. But do I not look stupid? I had to check. Do I not look like a cheap whore?

‘I have to say’…Husband announced the next morning, ‘that you were probably the only non-mumsy wife at that party!’

Right, so the shorts are definitely OK, I thought. In fact, had he said I looked a bit like a whore it would have still been better than him saying I looked mumsy.

Not that I am trying to look like a cheap whore. It really is all about that balance. I guess it has always been, but as we, women, grow older, it is becoming more and more important and difficult at the same time.

How do you age gracefully? Can you age gracefully with a bit of botox, or is that cheating? Can you wear short skirts (or white lacy shorts…) when you are officially middle-aged?

There is something sad about an ageing woman. However great she looks, however happy she is in her life and what she has achieved, however great of a mother, a professional or a wife she might be…There is still this underlying hint of sadness that comes with the transition to the old age.

I look at many photos of women of my age on Facebook, and see just how amazing they look. In bikinis, sporting long tanned legs, they pose proudly- look how fantastic I still am! At Halloween parties, jumping to the opportunity to dress up as a sexy nurse…And yet, in their smiles, in their eyes, I can see the panic. The desperation. The fear. The desire to prove to everyone else, including themselves, that they are still beautiful, that they’ve still got it. And let’s be honest, I am one of them. I work hard to look the best I can, and when I think the picture is a good one, why not?  It is very, very tempting.

But then, a sneaky thought crawls into my mind every now and again. How do we know? How do we know at which point, while still believing we look great, we in fact, long ago started to look ridiculous? And how do I protect myself from becoming that pathetic older woman, a mutton dressed (and acting) as lamb?

But hey…wait a minute. Hold on, hold on! Before I reach in my wardrobe for one of those suburban mumsy dresses I used to wear in my post-baby Stepford wife era, let me introduce you to my hippy rock chic girlfriend, who, at the age of 51 is properly, naturally, effortlessly cool. 

Look at her here, in this picture, singing on the stage somewhere in a boho club in London. ( She is the one on the left.) Look at her! 
She could, of course, say to herself perhaps, it is time to dress differently…Perhaps, it is the time to act more appropriately for her age? But, looking like she does, with the cool attitude that she has…does she even have to worry about all that? Don't think so.


And now, that Monicca Belucci is a Bond girl ( or Bond woman as she corrected), I feel it is time to say to those of my girlfriends who gave up too soon on their looks, on their bodies, on their attitude…Come on! Stop it. Throw away those huge white mumsy nickers, big enough to cover a Land Cruiser, work out, eat less, get some fake boobs or botox, if you have to, do whatever you think would make you feel better about yourself, and be OK with your age. Be OK with ageing (gracefully or not) and enjoy the last few years of what life has to offer. Before we completely and utterly retire. Enjoy the autumn of your life. Because every stage, every episode is beautiful, in its own unique way. And life is too short to worry about others judging you. Let them judge. While secretly envying your freedom. But, just remember…it is still about that balance.