Archive for October, 2011

Dessert or cheese, madam? Part the first by 72 year old Superwoman

October 20, 2011

Dessert or cheese, madam?

 Part the first

The last course. What do you fancy ladies? Not to follow the nice main course you just had, your splendid career, but what to do with your life after that? What, me, retire? I’m miles away from that yet. Course you are. That’s what you said about being 40 when you were 20, remember?

At some point in the not that far away future you will glad hand and hug everybody at work, have a great retirement party and walk away with the witty cards and the carriage clock (or whatever) go home and say What now? Some of you will have breezed through the career trajectory as if on gilded wings, others will have had to struggle to get where they ended up. Either way they have indeed ended up somewhere and the idea of “ending up” is not appealing. The career might have ended but life hasn’t. So what do you do for an encore?

From the vantage point of the 72 year old superwoman….. (Aren’t there any other oldies hiding in the woodwork as part of the superwoman mob?  Reveal yourselves please.) Anyway from the oldie totem pole position I am about to share my pearls of wisdom with you.  First ask yourself what makes you happy? Happiness is a very elusive concept and one which I don’t propose to go into much here. The things you thought made you happy – often material things, you will have found out by now are temporary. That fancy car you  worked your socks off for made you happy for a while. Until it got its first scratch then it became a heap of tin you spent rather a lot of money on.  That love of your life relationship you made a massive emotional investment in made you happy, until it fell apart at the seams.  There is nothing wrong with temporary happiness but lasting happiness has to be self generated and come from inside yourself. Ask yourself the happiness question and it is likely you will find that what you put into something is reflected in the happiness reward you get out of it.

You’re all achievers. What would you like to achieve in the rest of your life? Go round the world on your yacht? Climb Everest? Feed the birds in your garden? Hang on a minute, before you set your goals you need to take stock of your assets. Forget the 38D boobs, they’ve drooped, as has the pert bottom you once had. Mental, physical, emotional and financial assets are the ones up for stocktaking. List the strengths and weaknesses, blessings and limitations.  Financially you might be very well set up and you have enough money to last you for life.  Everything goes up in price, so do a quick budget before you throw £20K at the Nepalese Government to get to the foothills of Everest and then have to find a team and supplies to get you up the hill. Ten years on your Council Tax might be a bit of a pull financially.  Bare necessities are always with you and whatever your budget for these double it for ten years down the line. Now can you afford that yacht?

Your brain is almost certainly ticking along like clockwork. Do you want to use the skills you built up in your job or do you want to go in another direction? I started my career as a psychologist, then acquired business and financial skills. Wrap those together in one parcel and my God people will beat a path to your door. Just one of those will have a queue forming round the block. I speak of course of working with charities.  There is an endless demand for people with financial, business, admin and legal skills within the 3rd sector. It took me about 5 mins to launch myself as a charity treasurer. It can be enormously rewarding but sometimes it’s not quite what you expected. I went to my first regional meeting of a sub section of a charity I will call the Gaspers and Wheezers, for people with lung problems.  At the entrance to the venue was a lady hanging onto a handrail gasping for breath. Are you alright? Not really I didn’t think it was so far from the car. Where’s your car? She pointed to a car ten yards away. Would you like me to get you a wheelchair? Gasp, gasp, wheeze Yes please. Me and my new mate walked in to the room. Which was awash with people in wheel chairs with oxygen cylinders attached.  Then the coughing started. I spent the entire meeting running around giving people drinks of water in the absolute certain expectation that half of them would croak before the end of the meeting. They didn’t of course, they’re toughies, the gaspers and wheezers. Don’t ask about the money. Almost every small charity is run on a shoe string, and you return a deficit balance sheet every year and will achieve legend status if you can reduce the deficit. I do it by being very tight on the purse strings and slapping down any trustee who is looking for a little perk. The words “misappropriation of funds” works a treat.

Charity work is usually volunteering. You might get expenses or a small honorarium. Which will buy you a glass of wine or three. Not a bottle. Be in no doubt that the status of a volunteer is nothing like being head honcho of your own department when you were at work. A volunteer has no power at all as a worker in a sub branch of a national charity where decisions on policy are run  from London. And not much more in the little local charity you fancy. The only power a volunteer has is to walk away.  Your best bet is to get on the board of trustees of the charity of your choice and get a seat at the top table. I’ve hopped about various charities in my time. It’s a good idea to get involved with a charity whose objectives you care about.  If you do not have some empathy for one legged blind black lesbian asylum seekers don’t even think about working with them. There are dozens of charities requiring your expertise.  Medical, children, the homeless, the elderly, abused women, everything under the sun. Where there’s injustice and deprivation there is always going to be a charity for it. You need to decide at the outset whether you want to be hands on with the people you are helping or a back room girl. If you cringe at the smellies in the soup kitchen or have no aptitude for communicating with the mentally ill, while you may wish to be dedicated to their cause there is no need to  be hands on with the hapless victims of a society determined to keep them under who  you might be working your socks off to keep afloat financially. Plenty of space for you in the back room.

The other thing about charities and other well intentioned outfits is that you will not see eye to eye with everybody working for the same cause. You might have been top bitch in your job, some of these people have been top bitches/dogs in the do – gooding business for ever. You are a new broom, so they’ll be watching you like hawks. Is she going to make changes? Course she is – she was brought in  to try and drag you out of the doldrums. Any first meeting where you are advised to sit in the wings and watch what happens for a year doesn’t deserve you. There are inevitably change resistant old sticks who are very suspicious of new brooms, and will vote down your every change proposal. There are several approaches to this one. One is – you want to stay on the verge of going down the pan  and I’m supposed to sit on the touchline and watch that happen? OK you don’t need me- I’m outta here. Tact and diplomacy for getting them on side individually is another. One at a time is the divide and rule strategy here. Watch out for the deeply entrenched alliances. The other is to get a bit manipulative.  Like shoving a wedge between the entrenched alliances. We’ve all done the tact and diplomacy and the manipulations at our regular jobs – these are transferable skills. These people are all volunteers too usually and can be edged out. Just like the good old days at work, without the redundancy payments. Play to things that interest you and play to your strengths.

Working for a charity can be very life enhancing, for others as well as yourself,  and also gives you the rosy glow of giving something back and trying to empower people who have no power.  Be very careful which charity you choose and vet your colleagues equally carefully and you too could be the next Mother Teresa. Or not.  If you’re in it for a halo, forget it – try hang gliding instead. Charity work is the cheese course, filling and satisfying. Next blog about other fluffier retirement options. The lemon syllabub madam?

On Tempestuous Seas – Rowing Two Oceans – by Elin Haf Davies

October 10, 2011

“How do you do it?” is a question I often get asked when people hear that I’ve spent 22 weeks rowing across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. My answer – anything and everything can be done when you want to do it.

When you adjust to the physical demands and sleep deprivation that comes from rowing 2 hours on 2 hours of, 24 hours a day for 11 weeks at a time, rowing across an ocean is actually very straightforward. Simple even!  Because there are just three things in life that has to be done – rowing, eating, sleeping.

How many times in the last week would you have jumped at the opportunity to be juggling just three things in your life? Every woman I know is constantly juggling a 1000 and one things. Work deadlines, bills to pay, school uniform to be stitched, car insurance to be renewed, and your mother-in-laws birthday present to be wrapped. The list for everyone is endless and ever growing.

So while my time at sea was physically gruelling it was emotionally and psychologically detoxifying. I didn’t need to worry about paying bills. Keeping my boss happy. Travelling to work in the rush hour. Or worrying what to wear. It was the perfect time for me to STOP! STOP rushing around. STOP worrying about things that really aren’t important but that society dictates that we should. STOP being part of the rat race.

And when I got back, and was re-adjusted to life on land, I felt the same sort of relief when I STOPPED to write a book about my experiences. It was a time to reflect, a time to appreciate what I have and a time to thank those that made my life what it is and to decide what direction I want the rest of my life to take: a PhD, a successful career developing safer better medicines for children, and many more ocean crossings.

I obviously appreciate that ocean rowing or even writing a book doesn’t appeal to very many women, so I’m not going to attempt to persuade the Superwomen of Wales to pick up their oars and pens. But I would certainly advocate that every single one should, now and again STOP. Stop to do something different. Something that takes you out of your daily grind. Something that helps you to see the woods for the trees. Jumping off the rat race treadmill now and again is like recharging the battery, so that you can continue being the Superwoman that we all have to be these days.

On Tempestuous Seas: rowing two oceans (£8.50) and Ar Fôr Tymhestlog (£7:50) are published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales and is available on line via GWALES .

Dr Elin Haf Davies<>

Hello I’m Nain – from 72 year old Superwoman

October 7, 2011

One  of the delights of getting old is alleged to be becoming a Nain ( Granny for the monoglot English or Mam-gu for those in the benighted south).  Particularly, I am told, the handing them back to parents when you’ve had enough. I just became a granny – to Eva Myfanwy now 9 weeks old. So way to go on grannyhood.  This  in not actually my first grand child. I have three teenage grandchildren in New Zealand.  I dashed out there within a month of the first’s birth.  What a gorgeous baby etc. I said to the parents.  Why not have a night out and I will baby sit. They got all dolled up and went out. Within half an hour grandson was bawling his head off. Unfortunately his mum had waltzed off with the milk bar and I had nothing to give the hungry lad. No idea  where they had gone and no estimated time of return. First rule of grannydom – don’t let parents leave without a forwarding number and ETR.  When will you be home doesn’t stop when they’re teenagers.

I jogged the little wailer round the room singing soothing Welsh nursery rhymes. The babe’s a Kiwi, isn’t he, so I cut no ice.  I finally got him to doze off to Taking a chance on love from my Frank Sinatra repertoire. I went out for the other two as well. It is quite hard to be a decent Nain at a distance of 12000 miles and they were all at least 5 years old before they recognised  me when I showed up again. Even then the eldest had to give the others a nudge as to who I was. I used to go out annually. As they got older I would stop off in Kuala Lumpur and raid the local Toys ‘R Us. She was into  Barbie dolls last year, he was into Lego, cuddly toy for youngest. Guess what? They had all moved on in a year so it was thanks Nain and quiet dumping of Barbie. Lego and Teddy. Those three are now teenagers and I feel I hardly know them.

This one’s different. Born in our fair capital city. I was down the minute she and mother were out of hospital and presenting my Nain credentials when she was 3 says old. Hello, I’m your Nain. Will I do? Hard to tell, they don’t do much at 3 days old but suck and sleep. Absolutely fabulous, gorgeous baby. Course she is. I had gone armed with a bucketful of Welsh nursery rhymes and early books. Dafydd Iwan and Edward did a lovely CD,  years ago. Nursery songs don’t change. I think we all know what happened to Dafydd but what happened to Edward since early 70s?  Touchy feely books with stuff like this feels like cat/dog/cow/sheep hair and they go miaow, woof, moo and baa. Preferable I think to trailing the real thing through the house. The first issue was her name. They had chosen Eva as  easily manageable in any language (my own kids having had to struggle to get people outside Wales to pronounce their names.) Myfanwy after paternal great grandmother. Eva seemed to be a problem. Welsh daddy pronounced it I-fa, spitting out the short “I”, French mother stuck an accent on the first E so it comes out as Ava. I opted out and said I would call her Myfi. I am hoping that will catch on. No two ways about Myfi – rhymes with luvvie. Next issue national identity. I said to Welsh son We’re claiming this one for Wales, quick, plant a Draig Goch in her cradle before the French grandmere shows up. I was privileged to be first on the scene as French grandmere has other grandchildren within spitting distance. French grandmere only speaks French. I said to son – tell grandmere in her own language to put her tricolour away, this one’s Welsh. Rough translation: Gerroff madame, this one’s mine. Happily grandmere has not I think attempted to launch a French invasion, and mum’s learning Welsh.

Myfi was a very placid baby. How do they do that? Mine all popped out yelling and fighting and haven’t stopped since. Maybe stroppy mothers have stroppy babies.  My lovely d-i-l is also placid. And how. I’m quite sure I didn’t have her patience when I was a young mum.  I visited Myfi again when she was six weeks old. Not quite so placid.  How they change in a short time. I am not sure whether she smiled or if it was wind.  I am not that experienced with babies as it’s 40 odd years since I had one , and I don’t go round chucking other people’s babies under the chin and doing the coochie coo bit. I do not think I am a natural grandmother. But will make a major effort with this one. Myfi responds well to Nain bouncing her round the room to Dacw mam yn dwad.  Halleluia – she knows she’s Welsh. There’ll be hell to pay if she doesn’t. Get out Ol’ Blue Eyes, you’re redundant and I’ve got a blue eyes of my own. Myfi is the image of her dad. Right down to the double chin when in repose. I’ve said to d-i-l If you want one that looks like you, better have another.

The new little family are now in Norway for a few months.  I’m going to visit in another month. Myfi will definitely give me a smile next time. I have offered to baby sit while parents have a night off. Don’t forget to get a bottle and express some milk. The deals’ off if you don’t. Nains of Wales unite. You have nothing to lose but the milk dribble on the shoulder.

Western Mail’s 50 sexiest women in Wales 2011

October 3, 2011

It’s that time of year again!  Western Mail has published its annual 50 sexiest women list with  the 50 sexiest men list to follow next week .  It’s also  the time of year I usually publish my annual rant about the inanity of these two lists.    I seriously debated whether I should bother this year – the Superwoman blog gets a lot of hits  from people searching not for my rant about the sexy lists but for the identity of those featuring in the lists.    But just in case there is anyone out there who might possibly miss reading my views …

Each year a different Western Mail journalist  has to do their level best to stretch the definition of sexy to something far more meaningful and rounded as per this effort on Saturday for the sexy woman list:  “The word sexy embodies a whole host of other adjectives.  Sophisticated, sassy, stylish”  Er no, those are adjectives all in their own right actually.   And then this little gem:  “Having a close relationship with your family and friends is sexy, as is going out of your way to help others and putting those less fortunate than you first.”  What rubbish.   The fact that a woman gets on with her father say or her friends from school is unlikely to have any bearing whatsoever on whether people find her sexy.  “Sexy” and “Her Dad” are two images that don’t normally come to mind at the same time and if they do the reaction is likely to be Bleurgh.  Nobody ever used the adjective sexy to describe Mother Theresa.    The meaning of sexy means someone you’d like to have sex with.    If correctly labelling your list “the 50 women in Wales we’d most like to have sex with” doesn’t sit right with you, then come up with another adjective rather than pummelling extra meaning into “sexy”.

There’s amazing talent in your women’s list – some of our best actors, singers, presenters, athletes,  hotel sales and marketing managers.  They are wonderful women bringing Wales to the world and the world to Wales; flying the flag high for our determined little nation in our struggle to get our businesses and business skills, our langugage and culture, our creativity and our sporting talent taken  seriously by the big wide world.  There will be the same kind of talent, with a heavier emphasis on rugby players, in the men’s list next week.  But to me, publishing a list that categorises our people by reference to being sexy is a list that says:  we don’t really care what you’ve achieved  or how talented you are, we’re only interested in you or your achievements if we think you are shaggable.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again.  If the Western Mail, Wales’ National Newspaper, must do lists – and lists do seem to attract a lot of comment and debate  and thus presumably sell newsapers – then do 50 Wonderful Welsh Women  and 50 Wonderful Welsh Men instead.  Because Wales, we’re worth it.