by Kim Kelly

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
SARAH

Our intrepid Reflector today is another old pal from uni days, someone whose eloquence and honesty astounded me like a lovely dancing light when we were teens, but someone I lost contact with soon after we each went our separate ways.

I’m not sure that she’d remember, but that crisp candour of hers attempted to warn me off making a terrible mistake with a fellow when I was in my early twenties. I didn’t listen, of course. And of course, she was right about him.

I’ve carried her rightness around with me all these years and, as rightness goes, we’re back in each other’s orbits now.

And I’m delighted to introduce you to her here as she answers our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

I’m Sarah Maddock, born in Chatham, Kent.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

The first time I played Duran Duran’s eponymous first album. I remember putting the LP on the turntable, playing it over and over again and dancing around the living room like a lunatic. It was such an awakening: the realisation that pop music could excite me so profoundly and transport me from my tedious, suburban life into another world. The world of the New Romantics.

What does home mean for you?

I moved from a little village in Cambridgeshire to Manly when I was seven. My mum was terribly homesick and wanted to return to Australia. It was my first time on a plane and I spent most the journey feeling travel sick. I recall being engulfed in a blanket of humidity when we walked across the tarmac during the stopover at Kuala Lumpur airport.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Australia was vomit in a taxi. I remember my stressed dad shoving a clutch of dollars into the taxi driver’s hand to pay for cleaning the car and the shame I felt at having disgraced myself in this foreign place.  

My first Australian home was a migrant hostel with a communal kitchen. Soon afterwards, we moved into an apartment on the beachfront. Everything was so alien. I’d never had a shower before or heard sea spray lashing the windows on a stormy night.

Mum would pack chocolate milk with cream cheese spread and cucumber sandwiches for our school lunches. She’d forgotten what it was like to live in a hot country. Every day I opened my bag to find the milk was curdled and the white bread sandwich melted into a soggy mass of processed cheese and limp cucumber.

After a few months, we moved again. Out to the western suburbs of Sydney, where I was known at school as ‘Pommie bastard’. I quickly learnt I had to be tough and strident to survive. But at least I wasn’t the Aboriginal girl in the year above me or one of the Greek kids who lived in the purple house around the corner. They were the school pariahs. It was white, outer suburban Australia in the 1970s. Barren, small-minded and mean of spirit.

I guess I’ve spent my adult life running away from that version of home. Searching for somewhere that embraces diversity, where there is always something new to see or do, where history and modernity combine to create a place that is as stimulating and vibrant as it is challenging.

Right now, that place is London. London means home.

What makes you smile?

My kids being silly together. Random acts of kindness in public places. Watching the HBO series, Veep. Unexpected invitations. A beautiful garden. Art galleries of all shapes and sizes. Shaun Micallef. Birdsong. Buying books. My neighbour bringing over a plate of date scones. The Cornish coast.

And more, so much more.

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What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

The hardest lesson, so far, has also been the simplest.

About five years ago my relationship with my son was at an all-time low, so we had some family therapy together, which led me to return for some sessions on my own. I’d been to a therapist in my early thirties, but this time it had a more life-changing effect.

I learnt some hard truths about myself, but also – and most importantly – some simple ways of managing my mind. I’m a lot more self-aware and less anxious as a result, and my relationships with family and friends (old and new) have benefitted hugely. I now understand where my negative, controlling thoughts come from and know how to keep them in check.

Whenever I feel the urge to control my environment or someone else’s behaviour, I ask myself, ‘What’s the worse thing that can happen?’ If it’s not death or permanent injury, then I usually just let it go.

Who or what is the love of your life?

Definitely my partner of twenty-one years. He’s intelligent, empathic, patient, forgiving, level-headed, highly organised and a great dad. He’s easy on the eye, too.

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What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

Much as I love history, I’m not particularly interested in my own. My past – and that of my parents, grandparents and so on – is done and dusted. I don’t enjoy looking at old photos very much or revisiting ‘the good old days’. I find no comfort in nostalgia. It drains me.

Perhaps I avoid my own past because my childhood is best forgotten. I was unhappy and bored for much of it and family life was strained and dysfunctional.

(Philip Larkin was spot on when he wrote, ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do.’)

That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting tales to be told on both sides of my family’s history. But right now, I’m greedy for the here and now and I look forward to tomorrow with the enthusiasm of a small child.

After all, I’ve only a few more decades left to make the most of this one, short life. So I’d better get on with it.

Yes, go on, bugger off now. Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Sarah. And for that precious honesty – may it never fade.

I love the way these Reflections we’re collecting here are creating a kind of a rambling map of women’s experiences. I hope, dear reader, you’re enjoying these glimpses into others’ lives too. We’re all so different, but we share so much, don’t we?

If you’d like to read more about Sarah and her world – and she’s a fabulous writer – you can find her at her blog here.