Sunday, 27 November 2011

Angela's 2011 Birthday Address - Guest post


Rather than mentally starting my year each January 1st or in line with the academic calendar, I tend to start my year on my birthday, so a year for me runs from November 27th to the next November 27th. My 32nd year has been a tad turbulent and I am very much looking forward to saying goodbye to 32 and hello to 33. Don’t get me wrong, I know how very lucky I am. I haven’t had to cope with a natural disaster, a life threatening illness or any other mega life changing catastrophe, so please do not consider me conceited or worse still, someone who holds the ‘O woe is me’ attitude to life.

It’s just that I got to thinking about my past year, how different it was to the previous one, how much change those close to me, our nation and I personally have had to learn to cope with. I got a little reflective and wanted to share my reflections and my hopes for the future. So in a twee Dawsons Creek kind of way (my peers will understand!) with a flagrant 2011 social media awareness twist, here are my thoughts.

I have realised that I’ve been scared all year. After the emotional highs and pure glee of my beautiful wedding, the amazing honeymoon with the man that I have been in love with for the past thirteen years, and the fantastic camaraderie that had been built amongst my friends and family during the planning of our big day, there was a massive change in circumstance and mood for everyone around me in my 32nd year. 


By November 2010 my colleagues and I and other friends in similar sectors no longer had job security and therefore possessed a sense of gloom and financial fear that we were unaccustomed to. From a personal perspective I became wracked with fear that the relationships that I’d built over the previous seven years would alter irrevocably. The security that I felt from seeing the same people every day, the peer support that I had grown to rely upon and the genuine fun and satisfaction that I got from working with some of the most dedicated and wonderful people who shared a common commitment to helping brilliant, often challenging young people was slowly and painfully being torn apart. Everyday seemed to bring new dread as more bad news filtered through.

Simultaneously, close friends, family and colleagues were valiantly coping with pernicious illnesses, bereavements, breakdowns, relationship crises and whatever else life could throw at them.

When redundancy notices were served the shock and sadness was in no way an anti climax. I thought it would have been, experience had taught me that sometimes when you have to wait a long time for a big event it’s never as good or as bad as you had anticipated.

Spring, usually a time for fresh starts, new ideas and optimism brought with it long goodbyes, frenetic working conditions and feelings of uncertainty and instability for so many of the people around me. We realised that we’d had it good for a long time. For those a generation or more older than me there was the sage  understanding that this had happened before. They seemed to know that it would probably right itself eventually. They had the experience to know that people cope and move on. For those my age it made us try to remember our childhoods, to think about what our parents must have dealt with and generated within us a new respect for those that had seen it all before and survived.

For those of you that are still reading, having not been deterred by the bleak picture that I seem to be painting, thank you. I’m about to get cheerier. For those of you uncomfortable with ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ happy clappy, clich├ęd sentiments, you may want to stop reading. I feel a sappy paragraph or two coming on.


Summer and autumn have flown by somewhat interchangeably due to the freaky weather conditions.  I was fortunate enough to spend a wonderful two weeks in the sun with my family, an experience that we hadn’t shared for thirteen years. I marvelled at how intelligent, thoughtful and unique my brother and sister have become. No longer the babies that I used to care for, tease or traumatise (!), they each have developed into wonderful adults that I am so proud of.

I’ve learnt that my brother Joseph is at heart a family man, who wants to follow in his own father’s  footsteps and become a loving, reassuring and reliable husband, father and mentor (not quite yet though!).  He has become a loyal friend who treats his friends like family and is therefore loved well beyond the boundaries of our family. He is full of youthful verve and enthusiasm, often saying things like ‘that’s what society says a person should be like but....’ or other post-university, optimistic phrases that will probably be erased by realistic cynicism in the next ten years (though I hope that doesn’t actually happen!). And, I love that about him. He makes me remember the strongly held beliefs that I used to have at 22 and that desire to change things that made me choose a vocation rather than just a career.

My sister has become the one person who can really make me belly laugh even when most of the time it is unintentional on her part! Alice has amazingly managed to sidestep the too frequent obsession that many young women have with appearance and weight, a truly refreshing and inspiring trait. And, she has a laid back gene that seems to have escaped the rest of us, rarely worrying about the big things, relying instead on an ‘it’ll be reet’ mantra that somehow always comes true. As well as a great little sister, I know that she is an incredible friend to all who know her. She is certainly my best friend.

I have also been lucky enough get to know my parents as friends.  I now know Marge and Nige the way other people must know them, not just as wonderful providers of care but also as hilarious, loving, fascinating and wise companions.  I know that many people say this, but I have no idea what I’d do without my Mum, she’s so supportive and patient with me and always on hand to give me great advice. I’m pretty sure she has all the answers!

I am pleased to inform you that my fears about my friendships being altered irrevocably by events have not come true. I had thought that one of my favourite friendships was contextualised, that it relied on a stable environment and lifestyles frozen by familiarity and role. This is not the case. ‘The Angelic Buffalos’, (private joke), have survived and evolved and are stronger than ever. And for this, I am both truly grateful and relieved!

This year I have also been incredibly lucky to make new friends and re-establish old friendships. I am proud to know men and women who have transformed their lives with sheer grit and determination, who have fought illness and stress with pride and courage and some who have matured into incredible, doting parents. You all know who you are and I salute you.

A year into my marriage I am still impressed by the strength and contentedness that our union has provided. We have excellent role models in Sheelagh and Laurence, whose dedication to one another and their family is incredible and in whose footsteps we hope to follow. I am grateful for the kinship and joy that I have received from my new family. I am so proud to be a McGough. Apart from not developing an obsession with smelly cheese (which I think is actually a male McGough trait), I think I’m fitting in quite well! I look forward to another legendary Christmas with my ever thoughtful and considerate big sis Kate, the amazing 93 year old potato loving machine and all round good sport that is Grandma Kitty and my partner in the art of clumsiness (so reassuring to know it’s not just me), Aunty Anne.  And last but not least, my Achilles heel, my handsome, intelligent, incredibly loyal and loving husband.

So I guess what I’ve been trying to say in a long winded way, (but to be fair, the clue is in the title, think State of the Union 'West Wing' fans) is this. Year 32 has been tough, tough(ish) for me but much tougher for others around me. However, I have witnessed great resilience and drawn strength and inspiration from my wonderful friends and family. Whilst there has been an early indication that Year 33 might be another bumpy ride, I do hope that it is less traumatic for all concerned. I’m fairly confident that (in the words of the great sage Alice Palmer) ‘it’ll be reet’.

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