I woke up this morning to discover I am sixty (though still nineteen inside my head - I still don't feel grown up). Not sure how this happened or what to do about it. Tracking back over the decades...
At ten I lived on the Isle of Wight, attended a school I loved and spent my time roaming the countryside, painting, writing poetry, reading, and either on the beach or at the swimming-pool with my best friend Elizabeth. Later that year we moved to deepest Oxfordshire - an unhappy wrench but that's another story.
At twenty I was at London University. I met my husband-to-be at a poetry reading and had ambitions to write (I was doing an English Lit degree and enjoyed student life so much I delayed going out into the real world, two years later by doing an M.Phil in Cultural History at the Warburg Institute). My twenty-first birthday party was wonderful - someone brought along John Mayall and he played for us.
Thirty came as a bit of shock - as it does to all of us. By that time I was teaching in Leeds in a so-called "tough" school, Foxwood but I really loved it. Turning thirty seemed to mean the end of my youth but as both my husband and I had vowed never to grow up if we could help it it wasn't too bad.
Forty was a different matter. Decided it was high time I stopped letting others decide for me - from now on I would live life my way. Became very active politically (in the days when there was a local Labour Party worth joining) and in the National Union of Teachers (became area President and served on several national bodies and even gained the confidence to speak at a national conference). I really felt I was a force to be reckoned with during that decade.
By fifty the workload (meetings every evening in addition to my full-time job which in itself demanded on average 65 hours a week) had taken its toll. I had been diagnosed with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and had had to retire from teaching on ill-health grounds. Fortunately by that time I had learnt to quilt and that is what kept me sane (the muscles in my hands couldn't last long enough to knit, and concentration levels were such that I couldn't read for long either but I could, with frequent rests, do hand-sewing and could think better in pictures than in words). By the time I was fifty I had already won awards at shows and been featured in magazines and had partially recovered (I still get some bad days); I was planning to set up my own business hand-dyeing fabrics - working for myself I would have long working days but I could take the regular rest periods I needed to keep going. My friends threw an amazing surprise party for me.
The last decade has had its ups and downs. The business prospered for a while but really only kept going through will-power and being subsidised by my teacher's pension and lump sum: it can be difficult to make money through craft, and at that time I wasn't exactly a genius with money (my brother had all the money brains in the family having run his own highly successful business for years). My husband died suddenly two days after my birthday in 2000 and though I kept going for a while things started crumbling around me. I also was diagnosed with cancer two years later - fortunately treatable with surgery and radiotherapy and I'm pretty sure I'm clear now. So most of this decade has been about reconstruction. Paying off business debts, taking a job to do so (I have a part-time job at a local supermarket where the people are great and keep my feet firmly on the ground and where I can walk out the door at the end of the day without having to take work home with me). I've also done an amazing amount of work on the house (though it still needs a lot of redecoration and the garden still needs work) and - most importantly - got my head together.
My focus now is to turn myself from a reasonable contemporary quilter into a quilt artist. I'm not sure if I'll get there but the journey will be fun.