Cleared a Gap

This week I’m at West Dean doing an advanced glass fusing course with fabulous Alex.

This week I’ve been married for twenty two years.

This weekend I’m going home to my African Outpost, back to the day job: wife mostly (these days), part time mother (when the children come home), wannabe writer and – now – fledgling glass artist with plasters on her fingers.

Life dovetails neatly at times so that all the reasons – the reasons for my being here, here right now – merge as reminders all over again.

Chicks ruffling feathers and spreading wings and an old hen going home to roost.

So at a time when the vulnerability of morphing wife/mother/whatever-it-is-that-I’m-supposed-to-be threatens to overwhelm, I feel mildly gratified to have – for now – reined the flailing me in with (given all that glass cutting and hot kiln shelf handling) a slightly worse-for-wear grip.

The course wasn’t an after thought; my entire trip, the past six weeks, were built to accommodate these few days, this crescendo parting shot which – given the palpable jarring that struck as I stood on a cold east London street corner a few weeks ago saying goodbye to my son – has offered much more than better insight into the way glass fuses and how: it has reaffirmed what we all know but sometimes forget: life moves and changes so there’s no point in standing still for the stagnancy will mean the buffeting is harder.

I am the youngest in my group of eight. My class mates are all, mostly, grandmothers. I look around as they work and I don’t think ‘when I’m a granny I’d like to be like them’. I just think, ‘I’d like to be like them’. They have all trodden the well worn path that I’m on, found a way to mind the gap and, if ever they lost a bit of themselves on the way, clearly rediscovered it. I don’t see age when I look at them. I see grace and composure and strength and stories.

And when we take our pieces out of the kiln I see something else: an analogy: I see in their work the colour and detail and finesse of experience that my crude efforts lack.

As women we aspire to lots of things: when we’re 16 we aspire to size 10 jeans; 18 and it’s a place at university; 23 it’s a glossy career and a pair of Jimmy Choos, 30 and it might be a husband and our own home, 33 and it’s a child that will sleep through the night and understand the point of a potty.

45, I cast my eyes around the studio again, and it’s ‘I’d like to be like them: with stories to tell, an identity all of my own and the understanding that to keep learning means you remain forever young’.

17 Responses to “Cleared a Gap”

  1. Kimm X Jayne Says:

    Gorgeous bowls! Our sea freight just arrived here in Lusaka last week and all of my glasswares and work (I do stained glass). My glass bandsaw was broke and I’ve already received the insurance claim settlement for it to buy and new one and have it shipped here! I love working with glass, despite the knicks and burns.

  2. robyn Says:

    wow! lovely-what a talent!:)

  3. Jo Says:

    I love aspirations – it is what keeps me afloat.
    Love the bowls too. 🙂

  4. Lyn Says:

    I know what you mean about wanting to be like them. My youngest went off to university in the fall and I found myself semi retired from parenting. I wasn’t needed on a daily basis. I just turned 51 this week and I can honestly say that every year has been better and better. There is so much I am learning and interested in and for the first time, I have the time and space to explore. This is my time, and I am loving it. My dad always taught us that if you are learning, you are living. Sounds like you get that. I love the glassware. Simply splendid.

  5. janelle Says:

    ooooooooooooh those are BEAUTIFUL!!!! did you really make those?? and beautiful post anthea…xxx j

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you all; i agree: aspirations and learning – your dad was right, Lynn, stop learning and you stop living.

    the bowls are Alex R’s: aren’t they fabulous. A new personal apsiration: to make one like that. In time. x

  7. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    alas Janelle, no. those are example of some of my amazing tutor’s amazing works. but one day i’ll make a bowl as lovely as that. one day … if i don’t chop all my fingers off trying! xx

  8. R. Sherman Says:


    And congrats on the anniversary.


  9. Mwa (Lost in Translation) Says:

    What a gorgeous end to that post.

  10. Iota Manhattan Says:

    Those bowls are beautiful. Life needs purpose. I think making beautiful things counts as a purpose.

  11. Doglover Says:

    I live quite near the West Dean College – well nearer than you when you’re back in Africa! – and it has a great reputation. I’m sure you’re going to make glassware like Alex’s soon! And aren’t you the youngster – I have 33 years on you!

  12. Paradise Says:

    wow beautiful words, beautiful work.

  13. Carol Says:

    Great bowls – even if they are not yours! Am sure you learnt loads – and are glad to be heading back home. I’m certainly happy that you’re back and can chat on the phone. Talk soon – lots of love

  14. Addy Says:

    I loved those bowls at the end. What a lovely way to end your parting with your son. Now why didn’t I think of that?

  15. Gillian Says:

    Hello Mem,

    It’s a very fine thing to stay in touch with your difficulties and follow along as you meet the challenges. I worry a bit about you and Mr Mem, because you don’t seem to have an actual place that is home. Maybe you have a whole continent or region (Africa or East Africa) but not an actual place. Not a place that your children can settle around you. The Outpost seems like a temporary solution.

    And while we see you grappling with the tough demands of the outpost, I wonder whether Mr Mem grapples similarly? Is he just holding on? Or enjoying it? What are these sacrifices for? For a future where you retire to live in England?

    Where will your children live? Where is home? Where will it be in the future?

    I’m sure these thoughts pester you much more than they pester me? It’s real for me because I’m not in the place where I was born, but I have made a home here, and though it was touch and go for a while, I’m relieved to find that my children are settling nearby. Home is muddled between being a place and being where my children are. Maybe for you too?

    With warm good wishes for you and your family.

  16. tash Says:

    I’m sure I was going to write about the post, but then I got to those glass works of ART and I was so overcome I was going to write to you about them. Then I read all the comments and letters, and learned you didn’t make them. And sighed a little with relief cos nobody could be that clever in so few days – could they? And, as you say, room for aspiration – is that another way of saying breathing space..?

    How inspiring it must all have been, in every way. Well done you for even getting organised enough to do the course – well done! I admire that – and your writing as always xx

  17. Tattie Weasle Says:

    Finding a place to call your own emotionally is wonderful I think I would like to be like them too Iat nearly 45 I am feeling a lot better about life and my plcae init. Not so lost as I was when I was a newbie mother. But I ahev a long way togo the boys are here and I am still a Mum in all aspects…but well you never know what I may learn before they go off to University in 10 – 15 years time!

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