Now we are forty

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 alco
holism 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, a
nd 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.

Thank you to my friends and Andy for a lovely 40th birthday

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!


ellen said...

Best wishes to you on your birthday. You have had a hard row to hoe, but you have done an amazing job of it! I wish you all the success and happiness that one could have in the next 40+ years of your life. May those years bring you wonder, joys, and everything you hope for.

Stephanie Roth Sisson said...

Happy Birthday!!! I'm so fricken proud of you!! How amazing you are. Please, sometime, write a book about all of that- k? I like that quote from Marc Almond, and I think it's true (looking at 40 for my next birthday too).

I think you should jump up and down about that interview- jump, laugh, celebrate and enjoy!

Virtual HUG,


Erica-Jane said...

You are one of the most together, wise and beautiful people I've ever "met", (not in the flesh, but soon I hope!).

Three cheers for Gretel!

Chitweed said...

Wow. An amazing story.
What a tangled up life you had at the beginning... I like that it is now a 'smooth skein'. Lives often start smoooth and become a tangle...I am glad yours was in the order you speak of if there was to be any tangle at all.

All you are now has been through your own efforts and strength, helped along by others who love you. A great Birthday post. Well done. Great life...well earned.

As I am now 44, I cannot jump up and down as a youngster like you might...so I will put my hands modestly behind my back and clap madly...that way no one knows (but you) that its me making all the clammer. Happy Birthday!!!! (clap clap clap...and a standing ovation!)

Anonymous said...

Great posting, PG! Quite a story that's now going into the second half! Ditto your thoughts on the Marc Almond quote. I'll be turning 50 next year and I'm happy to do so, feeling better than ever (mentally, not so much physically--darn)! Thanks for sharing your life and Happy Happy Birthday!

Shona said...

Happy Birthday, Gretel. You really are an amazing lady.




Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday and a big hug from your friend Mara

Paula Bowles said...

Oh my god, I nearly cried...

I'm so glad I joined R.I and moved to Oxfordshire, cos I met you! and Andy and the Cats and the wonderful Hovel!

Oh, and if you're going to jump up and down, do it outside - the ceilings aren't high enough!

Happy Birthday!

joanna said...

You write so beautifully; visiting your blog is like happening upon an unexpected, but most welcome, sweetie treat! I feel proud and privileged to call you a friend, and am very excited to hear about the London prospect!

Joel Stewart said...

Happy birthday!

Here's to your applying, and another decade of learning (ouch) for me.


Feeling Simply Quilty said...

Fabulous forty and better years to come. Cheers for your birthday and your developed life.

tlchang said...

You are such a strong, caring, generous and artistic soul - you deserve much credit and admiration! (and it sounds like Andy deserves a hug as well. :-) I am grateful and blessed to know you and to count you amongst my friends.

Here's to the best decade yet! :-)

fp said...

Gretel you are one of the most amazing people I have met on my internet travels and you don't realise how much your kind words are appreciated when I am feeling down. So I want to say a big thankyou on here. You are a wonderful person and your story is inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday to you Gretel...you are a survivor!

Francie...The Scented Cottage Studio said...

It's said that the best revenge is living well...and I think that it is the family YOU choose that is the best and in your case the truth.
Your Mum and Dad were a true love story, sad but wonderful at the same time and from it YOU and your talent.
Thank you for sharing that. Will anxiously wait for the news about the new venture
(( ))

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

Happy Birthday!
As someone who also just recently turned the big 4-0, I can say it was much harder to TURN 40 than to actually BE 40. Sounds like you have an amazing handle on things.
Best wishes,

gilfling said...

What an incredible story you have - you have clearly worked hard to be where you are and are so deserving of all the blessings that you have now! Jumping up and down with glee is only thing to do on occassions such as this for the young at heart! Wishing you another wonderful 40+ years ahead.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, sorry I'm late in posting it. Your story is so touching, and sad to read but there is a happy ending and that made me smile. That you found 'your person', Andy to share your life with and who made you happy ~ that definitely made me smile (I was once jaded enough to believe there was no such thing as true love, but I found it). I hope you had a wonderful birthday and the next 40 years bring only joy to you both :)

Sarah said...

Happy Birthday tooo yooouuuu...crikey you had me in tears for that poor 16 year old, glad you made it, glad you are happy, glad you dont give a fig for the crappy people in life, glad you blog, glad that I found your blog, in fact it was your blog that I clicked the make your own button from so thank you for that. And many many happy and successful painting and blogging years to enjoy... to you...lots xx

Tart said...

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx from Ash and L

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!!! What a wonderful story. I mean, not wonderful for the difficult things you had to live through, but wonderful for you getting through it and becoming a whole person.

I spent a few short moments freaking out when I turned 40 a year ago, then I spent the rest of the time being surprised at how much I liked it. For the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin. It seems you're in the same place, and I'm happy for you!

OldBagNewTricks said...

Happy Birthday, Gretel -- You've come an amazingly long way, Baby! Most of us come from tattered beginnings -- even if it all looks pretty and nice. Do enjoy 40; in my opinion it's entirely the best. (Every year when my birthday comes round, I celebrate the whole month.)


Tea said...

Happy Birthday!!!! Thank you for sharing your story. I think it`s all up-hill from here on out :)
Best of luck with your wonderful art!!


Anonymous said...

Oh my God the honesty of this post makes me feel quite humble - that you feel free to share such memoirs with us, your blogging pals. Life really can begin at 40 and having got a little further than that I can tell you that things just get better and better - more acceptance of self, circumstance and less angst. Hip hip hoorah for less angst heh? So Happy happy birthday to you and the very very best of luck in LOndon.
Carolyn x

Mary said...

Happy birthday!
Sending you a virtual 'Tiramisu dessert'
All the best.

Dave Shelton said...

Just wanted to add to the general belated birthday good wishes. And best of luck with the exciting meeting in smelly London.

SueC said...

Gretel..you are a true trooper and a fantastic remarkable and unforgettable person to boot. Happy Birthday honey and remember that life just keeps opening up from now on in. ...I truly wish you all the happiness, contentment and HUGE commissions from here on in.xx

Anonymous said...

Oh, happy, happy birthday to you, Gretel!

weirdbunny said...

Happy Birthday !!!!
Your mother looks so beautiful in the photograph, and I love the photo of you as a teenager. It's definately a proper teenage photo !
Your parents would be so proud I'm sure of their daughter at 40. Who did you get your arty side from ?

Soozcat said...

Oh, Gretel, I was up on the top of a mountain the week of your birthday and didn't have Internet access--but even if it's belated, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! You're a lovely and marvelous person, even more so considering the challenges life has thrown at you. I'm pleased and honored to know you.

P.S. If forty-year-olds don't jump up and down yet, that obviously needs fixing. Congratulations on starting a trend. :)

Anonymous said...

Happy belated birthday Gretel! I always enjoy visiting here, your honesty and creativity. 40 does get better and better.

Anonymous said...

Heres wishing you the very best of birthdays, that you have found the strength to rise from your childhood saddness says a lot about about your parents and you. I am so glad you and Andy found each other. I have a glass of wine next to me and I am toasting you. Happy birthday Gretel. XXX
ps Good luck with the London interview.

Karen Jinks said...

Happy belated birthday! You've come such a long way and should feel very proud, I'm sure your parents would be too. Good luck with the interview too xx

Anonymous said...

Haaapppyyy Birrrthday tooooo yooooo! You'll love your 40's; I did, so much I wish I was still there, ha ha ha!
Seriously, I want to add my best wishes and my thanks too; it was your blog that got me back into printmaking. Thanks Gretel, you're an inspiration!

Aaron Paquette said...

I love coming here. You're such a great person to "know", Ms.Parker.

Thanks for this entry.

Lisa Oceandreamer Swifka said...

Please forgive me for having a huge lump in my throat as I read this. I know full well you didn't tell this compelling and heart breaking story for sympathy - that much I do know about you. Yet I cannot help but be moved and feel badly(and yes sorry) for the childhood lost.
I also must tell you that I feel a rather large amount of respect for the adult. I realize it's been a hard fought battle to reach this pinnacle in your life and yet you mastered it. You have enormous talent, a giving heart and damn the things you can't do with road killed pheasant(lol). There are some who would be on a very different path (even at 40)right now and that includes those with a seemingly "normal" childhood. So let me say after this long winded comment, I wish you(albeit late) the happiest of birthdays...AND great success for this London "thing".
I am happy we've "met" and no matter if I knew this story or not will always celebrate that.

Anonymous said...

Hey - happy 4-0... I'll be joining you next week on that side of things! It does feel like time to take a bit of a life-stocktake, and I feel like "I've been here this long, better get down and on with 'it'"!

Anonymous said...

You have obviously been blessed with 'fairy' toys and 'angel' Andy's! HAPPY BIRTHDAY - a week late! Your strength and self-preservation shines through your work! What a blessing to be 40 at last! (p.s. I loved turning 40, and can barely wait till 50... like good wine - they say - age makes us that much better!)

Merisi said...

May your celebration never end! Happy 40th birthday, many happy ones to come.
Every day lived is such a blessing, having lost my sister at 38, I appreciate every day I am getting older and I am happy for you that your life has taken a much better turn, you seem like a person who truly earned it. So good to know you!
A big hug from Vienna,

John Nez said...

That's a sad life's story... especially the part where both your parents died. I only lost my mom at an early age, when my parents broke up and things got crazy. Being a step child is a real bummer.

But you found your own bootstraps and that's the most important thing in life.

40 is still 'babyhood' by the way... lol!
Thanks for sharing your story. I think it makes everyone better to share like that.

Happy Birthday!
(those are SUCH gorgeous photos... I wanna move there)



Colleen said...

You are a beautiful person, Gretel. Your mom and dad would have been so proud of the 40 year old that you have become.

Anonymous said...

I was sitting here sobbing as I read your birthday post...not because I was sad, but because I was so moved by your braveheart story and picturing the hurt child in you blossoming gradually over the years into one of the greatest writers and artists that I've had the privilege to meet through blogging. You inspire, teach and share such a zest for living and I wish you a new birth year filled to the brim with continuing joy, love and laughter. Jump up and down forever!

Anonymous said...

Happy belated birthday Gretel!

I'm so glad I came across your blog. It is a joy to read and I felt really moved by this entry. You are such an inspiring lady and an extremely talented illustrator!

All the best,


Ps - the sad little rabbit has settled in well to his new home :)

Marianne said...


Happiest birthday to a fellow Cancerian - mine was 26th June, and I'm three years older than you. Don't worry, life still rocks along after the big 40. :-D

What an incredible story your life is. Moving and awesinpiring. But remember the biggest thing, inspite of all of the painful 'stuff': you were born of love, and have come home to love. The rest has built your character with gentle tensile threads of steel. I could fill a page with words telling you so, but I think you know what I mean. :-) Continue to be happy in your lovely corner of the wondrous natural world, and congratulations on the interview. Age be damned! Cavort and dance with glee all you want - it shows you're alive. :-D

Blessed be

Cait O'Connor said...

I am very late but just wanted to say I am so glad I found your blog via purplecoo. So much to read, wonderful photos and art work to look at and I do identify with your experiences. You have worked very hard.

lettuce said...

i'm even later than cait! and hope you see this some time. Sorry i missed it in july.

Happy 40th.
you are great and i hope to meet you sometime in RL.