I was born in a small village near Ross-on-Wye in the winter of 1964. My sisters, aged 5, 9 and 11 at the time, say that I had a square head and no hair.
By the time I started school when I was 5, I had developed into a socially awkward child with a pronounced overbite, knock knees and pigeon toes, and a tendency to blush bright red if anyone noticed me. No longer bald, but that minor triumph brought little recognition. Consequently my primary school years were not a success socially, being friendless throughout. Other children found entertainment in making me blush, as I honed my invisibility skills and kept myself beneath the radar.
At the age of 11 I started at Ross Grammar School, a fresh start as none of my primary school peers had passed their 11 plus. Here I slowly developed some basic social skills, had my hair cut to provide a fringe behind which I could hide part of my face, and started to develop a little confidence. I was good at learning things, quick to acquire academic skills, and so were my peers. A place where I could blend in at last! I made some friends, or maybe they made me as I still can't claim to have mastered that skill.
I already knew about my love of music, and had started to play instruments at primary school. But at the Grammar School I didn't need to be invisible so was able to join choir and orchestra. I became part of another community - life was opening out a little further. I also developed a liking for sport. Who knew that a person with knock knees and pigeon toes could be any good at sports? Previous experience had taught me the opposite, being ridiculed and mimicked if I dared join in. But I was ok! I was never going to win any prizes, but I made it onto school teams (it was a small school) and took part in everything with enthusiasm.
By the time I left school at 18 I was fairly happy. All of those things that had made me such an unhappy child were still a part of me, and still caused me sadness if I dwelt on them, but there were other good things in my life to balance them out. I was always taller and larger than I wanted (not good for merging into the background) and never did grow the much longed for bust that some of my friends had. I did well in school and had a social life outside of it. Things were looking up.
Then, at 18, and both under the influence of alcohol, I met my husband. Paul had been a cyclist for several years, so one of the first things he did was take me cycling. My kindly sisters had taught me to ride a bike as a child - pushing me along then letting go of me on a downhill until I stayed on - so I had no fear of 2 wheels. After a couple of weeks I was going out with Ross-on-Wye & District Cycling Club for 50 mile rides. Pigeon toes don't hinder a cyclist, and I found I was ok at it and enjoyed it.
Marriage soon followed, and then 2 beautiful daughters. Life became busy, and time precious. I did a degree with the OU and trained to teach. I got a job and life became frantic. There was no time for outdoors pursuits and lengthy sedentary periods and a very busy life led to a lack of coping mechanisms. Sorrow or anger were my default positions. I struggled to keep positive and sometimes found myself spiralling downwards into the gloom.
During one such period I discovered how walking could lift my mood and restore me. Being outdoors is good medicine. I had played tennis for a few years, always with much more enjoyment than success, but injuries to my arm put an end to that. Walking was good, but often involved driving somewhere first and I don't like being in the car unnecessarily. I returned to cycling. After a couple of years I spent twice my budget on a new bike, George, and that year Paul and I set off to the French Alps for a cycling/activity holiday with some dear friends. The first of many, many wonderful trips to cycle in France. Cycling, so good for me. Exercise that makes me out of breath, outdoors in beautiful surroundings, alone or in the company of friends. It never fails to shift the mind fug brought on by other aspects of my life. It also balances out my greed for food and beer by burning off calories and toning up muscles.
I was in my mid 40s when I looked in the mirror one day and was pleased with the reflection looking back at me. Still larger than I'd like to be, hardly any bust, overbite undiminished by time, prone to blushing beetroot without warning. Aside from those purely physical things, there was a woman happy in her own skin, confident in her abilities, secure in the love of her family. A woman who accepted her faults and appreciated her strengths. Me. It had taken a long time, but I could finally say I was happy to be me, and I liked what I saw in the mirror. Up to this point there are very few photos of me, but I learned to bare my buck teeth and face the camera with a smile.
Fast forward 12 years and I'm a little squishy around the edges, have some rather weird gnarly lumps in odd places, wrinkles and grey hair. Life has changed. Mum got ill, then iller, then died. Our house got a little fuller and far less clean and tidy. Different stresses come and go, and I cope in the tried and trusted ways; be outdoors have the wind in my face and the beauty of the countryside laid out before me. I'm not a churchgoer, the outdoors with mother nature is where peace, wonder and spirituality are found for me.
I have now "discovered" yoga. I'll never be more than ok at it but that's not a problem. It is helping to keep me flexible, to mobilise the stiffening joints that were worrying me. It also provides a feeling of wellbeing and peace that I've not found indoors before. It resets my emotions. I assume, if you're reading this, that you've tried it already. I hope it works for you too.
I've come a long way in the last 52 years. I can't remember the first 5. In the words of Gloria Gaynor, I am what I am. And that's ok with me.