I am sitting in a quiet room listening to a song by Plain White T’s – a teenage love story, angst ridden about a lost love – yet I identify. I feel it like it was yesterday, which it most certainly wasn’t.
Nothing wrong with that? Well I am 75 and I still love Pink Floyd, as well as jazz and Asian Pop, I also listen avidly to the music I danced to in the 70s. I have other interests too: when I can, I paint. I paint for fun, for pleasure and it would be nice to think for profit! I love people, parties, sunshine, clothes and wine. I believe my ‘Peter Pan’ gene is my protection; life was never easy. Not growing up inside helps. I am like the swan floating on the surface and paddling like hell underneath.
I was born, just before the second World War started, to a carpenter and my wonderful Mum who had been a cigar maker. My brother and I were loved, but it was hellishly cold those years and we had few luxuries – chocolate and other items only came off the ration in 1951. We were never hungry though, as Mum was a brilliant manager and cook; a respite from the austerity of wartime Britain for me when I was ten.
Life suddenly became a vividly coloured dream: we moved to an acre of wild grass and fruit trees in the country and lived in a garage while my parents built the house, mostly in Dad’s spare time. Dad built a house with three rooms underground and seven on top. I ran wild with my brother – we had every fruit tree and bush imaginable, I stuffed raspberries and peaches all day and we had a dog, dozens of hens and a stream at the bottom of the garden, add a few gypsies next door and you have a child’s perfect fantasy.
I was always a dreamer: at school I loved art and writing – it has since sustained me through the troughs of despair – and I keep a journal and have for about 40 years now.
Newly married we went to New Zealand, I was 19 and within three months was in hospital with tuberculosis, I think I picked it up nursing. Long story, but after eight weeks I came home to my poor husband and immediately got pregnant with baby number one. I then found it was a good trick, so had two more in three years. My children were healthy, but with a new house which we could not afford to furnish, it was tough. We went back very reluctantly to England. Even now, my heart is still stuck in those sunny days when I walked barefoot to the shops, two dogs, a cat and a twin push chair. I was so happy, yet had so little, I still love New Zealand. I hated England and I cried for two years to go back to NZ, but slowly life improved and we had our own business, I often felt so alone as my husband was off building a business and I was in charge of the home with no outlet. Money was short, the budget tight and the children, like all children, needed so much time, attention and cash. But gradually we became more solvent.
Since then our fortunes have gone up and down many times, mostly down. We came to Australia when we were both about fifty, leaving a beautiful Georgian Flat in Bath to come to the unknown. Two of our sons are here. We have both lost our parents – mine sadly with desperately poor timing: my father died when I came to Australia for a holiday and my mother died six weeks after she finally made it to Australia.
We both worked hard to try and make a good life, but things change almost overnight. We lost a lot of money, then both of us had to give up work; I only gave up one job when I was 70. Family problems, poverty, and now renting have woven themselves into our lives, and like another thread, we just cobble it in.
The good? We live in a small town in a wildly beautiful part of Australia, where although it is cold in winter, it makes up for it in so many ways. We have beaches ten minutes or so away, hills, and rain forests. The people are generous and friendly, we feel safe, we feel loved. But this year has seen health problems rear their ugly heads, and I think the biggest challenge is yet to come. But for now I am content and love my friends and my life.
Do you have a similar story to Jacqui? What is your abridged life story? What makes you appreciate life and where you have come from? Tell us below.