Odyssey Treasures

I have a box at the top of my house, hidden away at the back of a room. It is a very battered old box. Pretty scruffy and ugly if truth be told. And most of the year it just sits there. Not getting disturbed much, apart from occasionally being dragged out roughly from its confines in order to enable access to some other box that sits behind it or underneath it.

But every so often, some thing will enter my house. Some small item or piece of paper or card and, as I head up to the bathroom or to the bedroom to turn on a lamp, I might drop this small item on a stair and think

“I must put that in the box later”

Perhaps the next morning this item will accompany me and I will, without ceremony, lift a corner of this box’s battered lid, and slide whatever the item might be into its confines – not looking in the box, or paying any attention to where the item lands. But this is where the item now lives. And will live, for as long as I do too.

It all started over an evening meal in Prague with friends, more years ago than I can now remember. We had just ordered a bottle of red wine to go with our ridiculously cheap, but very satisfying meal. We were all smiling. We had been having a very lovely day.

Myself and our friend’s wife had been ice-skating that afternoon and, as we did so, her husband had built a person shaped creature out of the clothes we discarded on each circuit, as we became progressively hotter whirling around the rink, trying not to fall. When we returned to find our clothes now looked like a living being in their own right, we laughed a great deal at the results of his creation. With our friend’s boots for feet, many scalves to keep it warm, and my own hat atop its head. I took a photo and then we decided it was definitely time for a glass of wine.

As we sat together, enjoying this bottle, our male friend sitting across from me, handed me the cork to the wine bottle. It came with a small plastic bull, attached with a thin red string. Putting it in my hand he said

“You should keep this as an odyssey treasure”

I looked at him blankly


“Ah, well you see, what you need is a big box. In this box you should keep little items that enter your life and remind you of a lovely time you have spent, or a person you once knew, or some memorable or momentous event. In years to come you can then look through your odyssey treasure box and there will be a lifetime of memories stored there”

When I got home I got a big box. Its first inhabitants: a wine cork with a small plastic bull attached and a picture of a person built out of discarded clothes sitting next to an ice-rink.

This is my box of Odyssey Treasures. It is ugly, and it is stained, and, if I’m honest, completely chaotic. There is no rhyme, or reason I could properly articulate, for the things I deem appropriate to put inside. I just know it when I feel it, and shove such items in as I see fit. Everything is jumbled up. I couldn’t find a specific thing in there very easily if I was trying to. I couldn’t find the cork and the picture for example. But I know that they are all in there, along with heaven only knows what else. I would need a good few hours and nowhere else I need to be in order to do it justice.

It contains myriad random items. Items that remind me of some time that meant something to me, or someone I am now (or was once) close to. It contains:

  • Bags I have loved and are no longer fit for service.

  • Paper flowers made by a barman my friend and I met on holiday (now very squashed).

  • Postcards I kept from my many travels and some I sent home to my husband.

  • A book of poems I wrote when I was 9 years old (illustrated by my best friend at the time as I couldn’t draw). My school sold this book to raise money for charity (and my mum kept a copy for me).

  • Party poppers from my best friends wedding.

  • My PADI certificate for scuba diving in Thailand.

  • A bag made from recycled fish food sacks that I bought in Cambodia.

  • A CD with photos of me hang-gliding in Rio.

  • My scientific calculator from high school – with a Tipp-Exed smiley face and the names of every boy I ever had a crush on scrawled across the back (and then painted over as and when required).

  • A plastic gorilla my niece bought me at the zoo.

  • An ink stamp from my parents’ 30-year business.

  • A picture of myself and my best friend dressed as the Blues Brothers on my 18th Birthday.

  • A map from my 4 day trek to Machu Picchu.

  • The box from the special watch my dad bought me for my 40th.

  • A score-card from a test match I attended at Lord’s – England vs India. It was rained off on the final day and declared a draw.

  • Every newspaper on sale the morning after Prince died (never opened. I was too upset to look).

  • Some very childlike artwork (representing my life’s journey) which I created as part of a week long retreat (I still can’t draw).

  • A programme from the Melbourne Grand-Prix.

  • Packets of favourite family photographs.

  • Brochures from tours I have been on whilst travelling.

  • An inexplicable poster of geese in my favourite childhood village, and the estate agent brochure for the house my parents sold when we left (a place I still dream about, often).

  • My favourite red alpaca hat I bought in Chile (to wear at 4am and -15C when visiting a geyser).

  • A cap from Peru that I bought for my brother and then decided he might not like.

  • A t-shirt from the best rock concert I ever went to (at Brixton Academy).

  • A scroll of the service for my cousin’s wedding in Ireland.

  • A letter with flowers scrawled all over it from my tiny beautiful niece who loved pink (who is now 16 and loves black).

  • The packaging from some plasticine bought for me by a long-lost but never forgotten friend.

  • A card reminding me of the most expensive meal I ever ate.

  • Random drawings (mostly from my husband), created just for my amusement and which make me smile.

  • A set of beautiful Chinese scrolls that my dad gave me, which I never got around to hanging.

  • A coaster with a picture on that my nephew made at school.

  • A cassette tape of wise words made by a friend who thought I might need them.

  • Obsolete money.

  • Left over Paris metro tickets.

  • The key from my first car.

I could go on. That is just scratching the surface. I know the original cork and picture of a person made of discarded clothes are in there somewhere, right at the bottom. I know, there are old letters in there, one from my best friend that made me both laugh and cry – telling me about a dream she had about me whilst I was away in Canada as a student. There are letters written to me from old flames who missed me, letters I wrote to other lost loves who didn’t. Cards with beautiful words from friends. And myriad notebooks, with stories of good times and bad. Many of which I have often wanted to burn (as some of the stories make me cry, or my blood run cold or my face flush with shame).

But I don’t burn them. Partly because I have burnt my history before and lived to regret it. And partly because I know that when I am old, and I rifle through this box again, any pain will be long gone, but the memories will be fresh, and will remind me that I lived a life. That stuff happened to me, and that I too made stuff happen. That it wasn’t dull. And, though I made mistakes, I took the time to record them, and keep them. To remind myself of people and places and pains and joys, laughter and lost loves.

I hope by then I can say

“I wouldn’t change a thing”

Though I think my treasures may deserve a new box.



Copyright © 2017 · Forty and Everything After


Inspiration From The New Kids On My Block

I spent a few days at my brother’s last weekend. It was so lovely to see him and his gorgeous family. I felt the most myself I have felt for a good while – briefly stepping away from current stresses (which have been causing regular nausea and anxiety), and just being with this person – who in many ways feels like the other half of the person I am. Though we do not live near one another (sadly) our shared experiences attach us with a bond that I could feel with no other human being. I don’t have to ‘Be’ anything with my brother. I am just me and he is just he. I don’t have to pretend I’m fine if I’m not, or hide the things that are not working right now, and I am pleased to say he doesn’t do that with me either. Even though we are both struggling in our different ways at present, it felt good to be there for one another. As it has always been. As it always will be.

It was so joyful (as ever) to see my niece and nephews too. What beautiful, humour filled, captivating people they are. So full of what they are doing and what comes next in their lives. I am truly envious of them sometimes. With it all ahead of them.

All of their choices there for the taking

All possible mistakes there for the making

And their young hearts open to the inevitability of breaking

Read More »

Midlife Enlightenment and Becoming Your Own Butterfly (or how to move on from being a disoriented grub)

Guest piece written by Forty & Everything After

Butterfly Life Cycle / Butterfly Metamorphosis

“The pupa stage is one of the coolest stages of a butterfly’s life.  As soon as a caterpillar is done growing and they have reached their full length/weight, they form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis.  From the outside of the pupa, it looks as if the caterpillar may just be resting, but the inside is where all of the action is. Inside of the pupa, the caterpillar is rapidly changing.

Now, as most people know, caterpillars are short, stubby and have no wings at all.  Within the chrysalis the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation, called ‘metamorphosis,’ to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge”

Source: http://www.thebutterflysite.com/life-cycle.shtml#null

Turning forty was not a whole heap of fun for me. Things in the years prior hadn’t turned out quite as I had planned or imagined. My work life had turned sour, my dreams of starting a family had gone awry, and this had an inevitable impact upon my close relationships. I didn’t feel much like celebrating. In the preceding two decades I had pretty much known what the next step was, where I was supposed to be headed (note the ‘supposed to’ here. It turned out to be significant), and what actions I was going to take to move me toward those so well thought out goals. As I reached this supposedly momentous occasion however, I realised I was actually at a complete loss.

The realisation came over me that I had lost my way in life. My carefully laid out plan had burst into flames in front of my eyes and, in a confused and child-like manner, I sat on my own hands and said “Right, that is it! I don’t want to play anymore!”

Read More »

Loose End, Not Dead End

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Never have. I have always been incredibly envious of people who knew from a young age – could point themselves in the right direction and then work their socks off to make it happen.

You see, I sort of fell into my career path. And, because I always give my all to whatever work I am presented with (even towards things that I don’t much care for) I became really quite good at it and, as a result, kept getting promoted. So successful was I, that I ended up in a well paid, well respected job, with excellent prospects, offers of Masters degrees, yet more promotion, and so on, and so on, and so on.

And every day I died a little more inside.Read More »

Backpacks don’t come with age limits

As I begin to describe my encounters with others whilst travelling, it occurs to me that to many this may sound like just an expected and natural part of travelling alone. But I am an introvert, not always able to converse with others in a comfortable and confident fashion. I only wish that were so. These are not straightforward interactions for me. I sometimes find it hard to talk to my closest family and friends in the most familiar of surroundings, so talking to strangers in foreign lands can take a lot of effort on my part. I have to build up to it. I sometimes have to force myself. This is compounded by the fact that the overwhelming majority of strangers I have ended up travelling with (on a budget, on overnight buses, residing in hostels) are about half my age. There are a few slightly older people on the backpacker trail, but never many, and never, it would seem, as old as me.Read More »

Learning to live without the little people

I really didn’t  give enough credit to the grief I would feel after I finally had to accept I wasn’t going to have children. I glossed over it. I think both my husband and I put it in a box marked “Done Deal” and separately agreed with ourselves we were not going to give it any further thought. There was no point.

But it doesn’t work like that. Boxes burst open. Lids catapult off at inappropriate moments. And randomly crying in public, when you suddenly feel a pang of pain that you can’t give a name to, really is not the most fun to be having.Read More »