Forty is great. Forty is where it starts for me. Marc Almond said recently "It's like you spend the first forty years of your life learning the lessons of life. If you're lucky enough to have forty more, you spend those years applying the lessons". Well, take that right out of my mouth and tattoo it on my forehead. (Maybe not).
The start of my life was not particularly well fated. I don't have wedding photos of my parents, or handed down stories of their courting days, because I was the accidental result of their affair. They set up a temporary home in the little Brighton bedsit my father rented, my very respectable mother having caused a local scandal by abandoning her young family to live with her itinerant lover. They didn't marry, although they called themselves Mr and Mrs, and mum had a cheap wedding ring. They loved each other very much.
It didn't get much better from then on, and we were always moving around, under the eyes of Social Services, living on state benefits in council owned properties. I didn't realise just how difficult life was for us, and what a sheltered, odd life the three of us led, my father's eccentricities amplified by his illness, his alcoholism and his depression. No TV, no friends allowed in the house, no telephone, no car, no money. I have just one photo of the three of us together. I never ate a meal with my father - ever. My mum loved me - lots. I was happy enough, and I learned to enjoy my own company. Toys - a motley assemblage of jumble sale finds - were always my best friends; it's no wonder I paint so many now.
It's only as I get older - and I am still learning things about their life which trickle out from occasional family contact - that I appreciate what a struggle things were for them. I had a few foster homes when mum was ill and dad couldn't cope. I got a bit more psychologically mixed up. And then, when I was twelve, they died separately, from unrelated illness's, first dad, then mum a few months later. I was told she was dying on Christmas Day night. I was not allowed to see her - she was dead by Boxing Day. I never got to say goodbye or tell her how sorry I was for being rude and difficult and it took me a long time to forgive myself. My world fell apart, but as children do, I coped. I coped so well that no one noticed how damaged I was; no one was really looking. By my teenage years I realised that I would never by loved by anyone in that way again, least of all by what might laughingly be called my family, both sides of which melted away when my parents were gone, with one or two exceptions.
I left the indifferent people (family) I was living with and by the time I was 16 I was independent - the Social Services didn't seem to give a hoot what I was doing or who I was doing it with. Although that was when they chose to tell me that I was illegitimate. I coped with depression and the mental fallout from my early life. Living on benefits as my parents did, I often went hungry and cold. Without a support system of any kind, I found it impossible to take control of my life.
And then somehow (maybe my guardian angel kicked me up the ass), I got a grip and started my art education properly. I almost mucked it up, but I didn't. I got counselling, and realised what a long way I had come, and what the odds were against it. The kindness of strangers replaced the lack of family care, and bless them for it. Sixteen years ago, at college, I met Andy - he mended the big hole in my heart and dosed me with love and common sense. The last five years, living in this wonderful part of the country, have been the final part of the healing process for me. I've pottered about the countryside on foot and by bike, mulling over the big tangled mess of my life, and gradually teasing it out into a smooth skein. Some of my best moments I've recorded here. I know how lucky I am to live here, doing what I do, and am often told so - but it has been hard fought for and hard won. I made my mind up a few weeks back that on my 40th birthday I would discard any remaining excess baggage. To my surprise there's not a lot left. I now finish things I start, after a life time of loose ends. I know who I am and I'm not afraid of much. I know who I like and who I don't. I don't give a fig for opinion and I don't pretend, ever. I've met some wonderful friends through blogging, and sometimes we even meet in Real Life. You all know who you are but I wonder if you know how much I appreciate it.
This is the best part of my life so far. And in the serendipitous way that these things seem to happen, I've got an interview in London next week which may (or may not) be a new dawn - I'd like to jump up and down like an excited child, but I'm forty now, and we don't do that kind of thing...
(...runs into a corner and jumps up and down with glee).
PS - thank you everyone for the birthday wishes - I have been typically circumspect, as it was actually last week sometime, but you can never have enough and I am still celebrating!