Both sessions this month were particularly enjoyable, as someone leading the session seeing the group and the relationships within it grow, but also as a participant, hearing other’s relatable, moving stories, and getting to share my own.  In the online session, there was a small group of us. Gathering in a cosy cluster lent itself to a wonderfully open, supportive and joyful conversation about the situations, people and moments which have shaped us.  One participant said that it felt “safe” and “like an extended family” to be in this group, connecting the way we do.  

In the other in-person session we did later that month on the same theme, there were lots more participants but just as much trust.  For me, the golden thread that united us during both sessions was that everyone has learned and grown from the often challenging things they have been through, which reminded me of this quote I shared with the group.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Read on to accompany the writers on their journeys of change, as shaped by key events in their lives.

Pauline Omoboye

On Saturday the 11th of June some of the members of The Stories of our Lives joined in the online session. We were once again soothed by Jolene’s voice as she guided us through a relaxation technique. This led us into a discussion about experiences that had shaped our lives.

My immediate thoughts were of my four children and nine grandchildren who have certainly made an impact on my life.  I could share many of those experiences but that seemed too easy so I thought back to my younger days when I made a decision to change the whole of my family’s lives.

I was heavily pregnant with my fourth child and had three very young children.

I made a decision to be come a single mother and raise my children the best way I could.

The rest of the story is told through poetry. I make no apologies when I share this part of my life as I believe we should raise awareness and share our experiences and say ITS NOT OK!

IN SLOW MOTION

She screamed as he held her and gripped her tight
She screamed out loud way into the night
The people who heard it and turned in shame
They thought the best they could do was to take no blame
And to take no blame is to dismiss the facts
That the back of his hand is more than a slap
And the heel of his boot is a kick and a crime
The sound is the siren not arriving in time
As her head hits the floor and the blood starts to drip
Once again as he laughs at his male ego trip
She cries
No she wails
Then she sobs 
And she hollers
Then she begs
And she prays
It won’t tarnish tomorrows
In time she looks in the mirror
The damage digs deep to the core
She knows to survive
She must take no more
Just pick up the pieces
Brush away her fears
To remember her future is to starts right here. 
So she stands up tall
Holds her head so high
Grabs hold of the tissues and starts to cry
They are tears of yesterday
Not here for tomorrow’s
With bravery and friends 
There will be no more sorrows.

P.OMOBOYE© 

Margaret Williams

I had always been keen to be outdoors, with my father and brothers, with my friends and finally with my husband and sons.  One day a trip was proposed for members of the YMCA to follow a high-level route in the Italian Dolomites – which sounded exciting, although pretty hard, as it involved carrying tents and food for several days.  Frank and Alun – our youngest son – were very keen to take up the offer, and we went to see a slide show of the route.  Unfortunately, the other women, on seeing the route decided that it was too difficult – thus leaving me as the only woman among the group of men.  Frank and Alun were
adamant that they would not go without me, so I couldn’t spoil the chance for them. 

As a result, I was introduced to the European mountains which extended my outdoor life in an amazing way, and just by having to agree to fit in with this project.  So, it isn’t always easy to predict exactly how an experience will affect your life afterwards.  In this case, on each of our trips when my husband and I walked many mountain routes, staying at the comfortable ‘huts’ en route, I used to write a report each day and now, in our older years, we can recall these experiences and enjoy them again, often viewing our many slides.    

The huge finger-shaped white mountains stand out against a dark, cloudy sky.  The rifugio mountain hut in the foreground is tiny by comparison
Rifugio Re Alberto, Catenaccio, Dolomites Watercolour painting by Frank Williams
Alpine Meadow

A profusion of flowers
warm pink of alpenrose, indigo blue of gentian,
plump yellow pouches of lady's smock,
and most delicate mauve and purple orchids,

White marguerites, their slender stems
merging into the verdant background,
appear suspended
like stars in a deep green sky.

Air humming with insects
bees and hover-flies select with care
the perfect flower heads
from such largesse.

Butterflies and moths are everywhere
large golden yellow chase tiny blue,
settle and open bright patterned wings
to bask in summer's lovely sunshine.

Honey-coloured cows with gentle liquid eyes,
enjoy the sweet morning-wet grasses,
their slow unhurried movements 
echoed in their ever-ringing bells.

Horses, less passive, flick their tails,
kick up their heels to race across the meadow
then rest in the cool shade of the trees,
breath gradually slowing as they bend to graze.

The path winds invitingly upwards
where a small capanna, windows shuttered,
rests snugly into the sheltering hillside,
huge timbers dark with age.

What perfect pleasure to sit here a while
on the split-log bench worn smooth by use,
to look, to listen, to breathe in
so beautiful, so peaceful, a scene.

A black and white drawing of the view looking up at the mountain hut with shutters on the windows and flowers in window boxes.
Starkenberger Hutte, Austria
Sketch by Frank Williams
The mountain hut is in the foreground in front of huge mountains, drawn in black and white on a sketch pad
Rifugio Zsigmondy Comici
Sketch by Frank Williams

Annette Bennett

My memory is of camping with the Girl Guides at Osmington Mills near Weymouth when I was about 13 or 14.  It was the first night and after boys from a local town let the guy ropes on our tent down, the fly sheet got soaked by the pouring rain.  The tents leaked and everything got wet through.  This coloured my opinion of camping adversely to this day.

As far as I can remember we all enjoyed the week, apart from not having any dry clothes or bedding!  It was what it was though, and I look back at this experience with a wry smile on my face.  

A view of the coastline with moorland, sea, and pebbly beaches. It isn't raining but the sky is grey and it looks windy, with white topped waves on the sea.
Chris Downer / Osmington Mills: looking west / CC BY-SA 2.0

Maureen Beeston

When my family moved home in 1967 from Blackpool to Sheffield it shaped the rest of my life.  If that move hadn’t happened I would not have met my husband and then had the life I have had.

Later, with my husband, another influential event was our first holiday camping in France in the 1970s when, due to a Ferry Strike, we ended up being stranded at Ostend.  We witnessed how well those who had motorhomes were equipped to cope with the situation.  After that, we began a lifelong love of France and motor homing, including a passion for Le Tour de France, leading to many different holidays in and tours of different areas of the country.  An unfortunate incident turned into a way of life from which we got a lot of pleasure.

Four cyclists in racing gear, with sunglasses and helmets, obviously travelling at great speed.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Margaret Kendall

The character she grew up to be.”   That’s the title my sister Mary gave to the last of her series of three applique and embroidery art works, which mean so much to me.  What a wonderful birthday present!  Mary used a recently discovered photograph of me, aged 6, with my beloved Polar bear teddy as the inspiration for her triptych.  

In the first rather formally posed indoor picture, I'm wearing a yellow party dress with bows on the front, a bow in my hair and my arm round a new-looking Polar bear teddy.  In the second picture, I'm in the same pose with the bear but am more relaxed, transported into the woods with a daisy chain round my neck.  In the background is a stone bridge over the river, next to which there is a little green elf.  In the third picture, I am wearing a knitted purple hat and a purple, white and green suffragette sash.  Behind me there is a patchwork of green hills and flowers, on the top of which there is a VW campervan.  Over them all is a rainbow.  I'm holding an open book on which the word "Stories" is written, and from which a sunflower grows.  The teddy bear is holding two red tulips and there is a bee (for Manchester) on my dress.
Textile art works by Mary Marsland: 1. Margaret aged 6; 2. Storytime with the bear; 3. The character she grew up to be

So many experiences that have shaped the person I am today are stitched in to the final picture, in which I’m reading from the book of my own stories. 

“L’amitie”, on the now threadbare teddy’s arm, refers to my dear and enduring friendships made in France in the mid-1970s.  At our last “Stories of our Lives” meeting, I talked with Connie about my lonely and sometimes frightening experiences in the early days of my “year abroad” as a student.  Her experience of moving to Manchester from Edinburgh at the age of 18, following her promotion in the civil service, had similarities, including difficulties in people understanding what she was saying and living in hostel accommodation in the Whalley Range of those days.

At 17, when I applied for a four-year degree in English Literature and French, it seemed like a brilliant idea to spend the third year in France.  At 20, I wasn’t so sure.  It was all so strange at first, the University in Lyon was enormous and most of the French students lived at home, travelled in to classes and worked part time, so it was hard to get to know them.  I was in a hall of residence for International Students, many from Morocco, Algeria and Senegal, who no doubt experienced racism as well as the homesickness I felt.  

Later, as a university lecturer, my experiences helped me to empathise with international students.  Looking back, I was so lucky to be from the generation given grants rather than student loans, and even my travel expenses to go to France were paid!  I did a lot of growing up that year, gained confidence and above all, made lifelong, treasured friendships.

Jean Thompson

I could think of so many things which have formed the adult me under three headings: Life, Death and Work.

The life event which was most important in shaping me then and forever more was the birth of my two children. How could it not be? But possibly too much to write about in this short piece.

On a lighter note, another event which seemed catastrophic at the time, definitely shaped my working life. When I was at school I always wanted to be a social worker. However, in the mid 1960s that was THE thing to want to do, so although I got my 3 A levels, the grades weren’t high enough to guarantee me a place at university. Devastation! I had no idea what else I could do, but my headteacher suggested teaching, even though I had never thought of it.

My first teaching practice after two terms at college was in a Primary School in a deprived area near the old docks in Salford. I should have guessed it was not going to go well when one of these cheerful but very street wise 7 year olds told me gleefully on my first day that as I was a student they could do what they wanted! It didn’t get any better. I planned a music and movement class in the hall. How these children would love dancing around to their class mates playing instruments, thought I in my innocence.

They certainly did love dancing around; instruments were grabbed, instruments were fought over, instruments were generally misused. To say it was chaos would be the proverbial understatement, it was like a scene from Dante’s Inferno in a film by Fellini. Suffice to say the headmaster had to come into the hall and rescue me so the classes around the hall could get on with their quiet work. My lecturers were sympathetic, but I decided then and there that teaching was not for me and left college before the end of the first year. Had it not been for that traumatic experience I would probably have continued on in a profession that I had not chosen for myself.

Much, much later after having children and having worked in the field of Education Welfare I finally trained to be a social worker so ended up where I was always meant to be!

Tony Goulding

For this month’s sessions, the group focused on the meetings and events which have impacted our lives in a marked way.

Thinking back over my own story on events which have initiated an alteration to my life’s circumstances, I noted that, where as some were obvious, in which the lifestyle change could be to some degree foreseen, others only proved to have been of major significance with the passage of time.

In the first group I would have to include the day nearly 30 years ago when I sought help so that I could stop drinking alcohol and so turn my life around. Also, in this category would be major life events such as deaths in the family and retirement from work.

A view of the small red brick church on the corner of the road, with a wall in front of it.  There are semi detached houses on the other side of the road.
St Barnabas Church, Hardy Lane, Chorlton-cum-Hardy

A great example of what I referred to as the other type of lifestyle significant event took place in this unprepossessing church hall on Hardy Lane, only a short walk from my home.

I had taken early retirement and after almost a year I felt my life was beginning to atrophy. I attended a community event in this building and at it, was “recruited” by Chorlton Good Neighbours for their new initiative, aimed specifically at older men, a Friday gardening group. I still attend this group quite regularly but out of this first step many other opportunities have materialised. I got involved firstly with the history group which indirectly led me on to write many contributions to a local history Blog. More recently the organisation hosted the start of Stories of Our Lives and now they have added drama productions to their activities.

I am minded of the old adage “from little acorns mighty oaks grow”.

A yellow acorn on a twig
Ivar Leidus, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some changes may be forced upon us but others only happen when we take some action which could act as a catalyst for change.   

Carpe Diem

4 thoughts on “Events that have shaped us

  1. What a great idea to write a memoir in little chunks.!I really enjoyed reading all the reflections on personal lives. You are an inspiring group. I look forward to the next instalment.

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  2. There are some very powerful stories in this blog. Thanks to the contributors who have been prepared to share their experiences of life with us. You are an inspiration!

    Like

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