Thursday, 23 May 2013

Identity crisis

Who am I? How did the core of me come to be? How much am I influenced by surroundings and events? What makes me tick?
After nearly a quarter of a century of almost total immersion in Greek society, why are some aspects of me still so utterly English?

And why, when visiting my old haunts, do some things seem so familiar whilst others feel like I’m visiting a foreign land?
It’s a common theme with many who live far from where they grew up. That sense of disconnection. Never really ‘belonging’ wherever you end up, always being the outsider, the odd one out, and yet feeling like a tourist when revisiting your roots.

Has living abroad really changed me? Or am I just the same old square peg in an all-too-often round hole that I ever was – just with a second language?

I want to believe that the core of me is the same as it was in the late 1980s. That I am still the same person, with the same values and outlook on life I always had, but that I have (hopefully) learned a few lessons from what life has decided to show at me.

I’m still the one who’ll speak up (often to the mortification of my companions) when someone starts spouting hateful nonsense. That “Oh no, she’s scrambling back onto her hobby horse” rolling of the eyes was seen in many an English pub back in my youth, just as it is today in Greek cafeterias or parents' meetings. That look of panicked “Bloody ‘ell, find something to distract her and shut her up” has been seen in in as many Celtic peepers as it has in my Mediterranean mates' eyes.
But maybe I’m looking at the wrong dimension. Perhaps it’s not the place that makes the distance, but the time?
Someone once said “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”. Maybe that’s what creates this sense of disconnection?

The past two decades have wrought massive changes to both the place I grew up in and the city I moved to. The jury's still out on whether the change was for better or worse.

When I’m back in the place that threw my own unique mix of DNA together (as I am this week), the place is reassuringly familiar and packed with reminders of what moulded me into the person I am today. But there’s something that feels a little ‘off’, a tweaking of the details that makes it feel like we don’t really belong.

But, and this is a great big beautiful 'but', there are some things that stay the same.
Family, friends, things that make you laugh out loud or talk with real passion. People who have always loved you, accepted you, even celebrated you for who you are – partly because more often than not, they helped make 'you'.
They're the ones who never had any issue with your square peggedness, and never EVER tried to use a sledgehammer to bash you in round hole submission.

They're the ones who will always have that ‘connection’ with you – even if it’s been decades since you last spoke. The people you can pick up the thread after half a lifetime, just like you saw each other only yesterday.
So, next time I have one of my existential identity crises, I’m stop thinking about the gaps in time and space that separate me from my touchstones, but I’ll smile and be thankful for those constants in my life.
After all, they’re part of what make me that closet outsider that I always was – and which, secretly, I'm rather proud to be.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Weighing the odds

Today, I took a brave step back into territory I haven’t dared enter for more than three years.

I weighed myself.

It’s something I’ve assiduously avoided for a long time. I knew the numbers that it blinked back at me – even stark naked, with newly-shorn hair and after a visit to the littlest room – would not be happy ones.

They would stare back accusingly at me, defying me to feel good about myself in the face of evidence of my obvious gluttony and general piggery. And in doing so, they would rip my self-esteem to shreds, despite the fact that I know I have many qualities unrelated to what size jeans I wear, and I have lovely friends and family who judge me for ME, and not whether my undies are teeny-weeny thongettes or the biggest pair of control knickers M&S can churn out. 

And yet, just a few numbers on the scales display can cancel out all the positive and return me to that gibbering lump of insecurity that haunted my teen years.

So for the past few years, my closest contact with the bathroom scales has been making the sign of the cross as I walk past them, occasionally throwing some holy water in their direction and hissing like a scalded cat when someone suggested hopping on them. 

It was either that or surrender and submit myself to a very 40-something rage against the machine.

I’m a big girl, always have been, and tall with it. Think Miranda, but less posh and with the kind of chunky thighs that make me look like a human representation of a bell-curve. But despite my bulk, I’ve always been healthy and active. My bulk has never stopped me doing a thing, except hold my head high and come back with a witty reposte worthy of Dorothy Parker when a pasty, spotty stick insect of a shop assistant looks me up and down with a look of thinly-veiled disgust before announcing loudly to the entire store that “We don’t have anything in YOUR size”.

But I recently decided that after years of accepting middle-aged frumpiness, it was high time to take myself in hand and DO something. To take control and refuse to go quietly into the menopause that’s lurking somewhere around the next corner, or at most a couple of blocks down from it.

I’ve changed my way of eating and I’ve hit the gym with a vengeance. I feel good. My clothes are a little looser, I have more energy and parts of me stop wobbling a little sooner after I’ve stopped jumping up and down  in front of the mirror than they did a month ago. (You may ask why I jump and down in front of the mirror? Don't, it’s another story, for another day.)

And now I’ve succumbed to the propaganda of lost pounds and swallowed the story that I have to track what (if anything) is falling off me as a result of all my efforts. So today, I stripped down to my trusty M&S undies, took a deep breath and stepped on.

On the plus side, there was no scream of electronic agony, or a panic-stricken robotic voice telling me “One at a time,  please!” but the number was much more than anyone would be prepared to admit to in public, private or even the safety of the cupboard under the stairs. 

Of course, I knew it would be. But that didn't stop me wincing and feeling a wave of self-disgust and defeatism threaten to engulf me. I hopped off those scales quicker than a Chinese gymnast can dismount the asymmetric bars, I can tell you.

While the dreaded number is – and will remain – a closely guarded secret, at least now I have something to compare to when I bravely drag the dreaded confidence-buster out from its hiding place again next month.

But I will not, repeat NOT, be getting back on again a moment sooner!