The accidental techie (6): Going inside

my pad, av de france, Lausanne

 [ 1) the accidental techie, 2) the uninvited, 3) transference california, 4) flow, 5) shadowing, 6) going inside, 7) lost and found, 8) 20/20,  9) creating]

One morning in my 20s, I woke up with a hankering for my own space. So, I said goodbye to my band of merry men with whom I was sharing a flat and found my own place on the top floor of a building which had a pizzeria in it.

The picture above is of that place. I lived alone and alongside studying for my PhD and doing projects shadowing my users and writing software for them, I think I was super keen on shadowing me, connecting to myself and being there for me.

I want to say that it was autumn when I moved in, but I don’t really remember to be honest, though I do remember standing on the little balcony at midnight which was cut out of the roof so that if felt very private, under a harvest moon which shone on the rooftops of Lausanne all the way down to lac leman, Evian and the Alps.

I remember the crisp night air and the rush of total happiness and excitement at being alive, utterly and blissfully alone, without anyone to bother me.

I remember how the sun moved around the flat during the day at different times during different seasons, and how good it felt on my skin in summer. In winter, I remember how the snow piled up on the balcony turning it into a huge white fridge so that when my pals and I made beer it was perfect to keep all our bottles chilled.

Living alone, I realised that I didn’t have to spend time with people inside my flat or outside who didn’t fill up my well. This revelation came to me in an instant one night when I was standing in the pub with a crowd of very nice people. I felt lonely and I wanted comfort. So, I put down my pint, said my farewells, and I ran all the way home, to greet myself, at my own door and I welcomed myself home. I think I probably took a bath too, by candlelight, as I gazed at the stars through the skylight in the bathroom roof.

It’s hard to see on the picture above but the roof sloped right down into the corner which the TV is facing. In that corner, I had made a nest of cushions to lie in, to think, to watch TV, tap on my laptop and be at home with myself. I should think, that night, I went and lay there.

It was a time before mobile phones and the Internet were used widely. If I was working at home which I did a lot, at night and at weekends, I would take what papers or software I needed home. I read them there and ran tests on my laptop.

I could leave all my notes out and no one wanted them tidying up ever because there was only me. And, even though it was full on studying and thinking and quite a few unreasonable deadlines, I remember it as a time of leisure and space and deep thought and lots of reading.

On weekends I would lie around eating shortbread biscuits and drinking tea with the occasional slice of cenovis on toast whilst reading books from the local library which was at the end of the street.

The library had an eclectic English section, probably aimed at itinerant people like me and I read the whole section over the time I was there. After a full day of study, coding, and communicating in French and civil engineering (which is a whole language in and of itself), it was a bit of a relief to relax with a book from the English section, books I never would have read if they hadn’t been there on the shelves, like the Gnomes of Zurich and Susan Howatch novels. One day, a Venezuelan woman came over and asked me if I would teach her girls to speak English and in return she would teach me Spanish. When I asked her how she knew that I was English, she told me that I looked like a porcelain doll holding a book written in English, and we did for a time exchange languages over dinner at her house with her family. It was nice. In turn I would cook dinner at my place, over a gin and tonic, for a Swiss lady who wanted to practice her English with me.

The day I left Lausanne, I ceremoniously took all the books I had bought during my time there and donated them to say thank you for all that the library had given me and to leave something for the section to remember me by.

The flat was great for parties and entertaining. The first dinner party I had, I made soup as a starter and was just turning round to serve it up when I realised I didn’t have any soup bowls. We had to make do with what was in the flat: a big cup, a deep plate, a pan, and so on. One friend who got the salad bowl said that she was just glad she didn’t get the dog bowl, horrified by my lack of organisation. I don’t know where that bowl had come from but it held soup just fine.

Sometimes, I would cook myself very elaborate dinners and open a really good bottle of red wine, a party for one. Other times I would stay up all night reading or writing or sitting under the stars on the balcony, or lie in the middle of the floor and talk to friends on the phone. My phone had a great big long wire so I could carry it right around the flat to talk and alternatively, I could not answer it or the door, if I didn’t want to, especially that time I had a stalker. Bless his lonely heart.

I was busy getting to know myself in the time honoured female rite of passage.

A lovely friend who helped me move told me over the beers we cracked open to celebrate my new pad (we did a special beer run and got a huge crate, and I think I had a flat warming party too) to relish every second as she hadn’t had long enough being alone. I didn’t believe her. I even read a book on living alone along with Women who run with the wolves ordered from that quaint new bookshop online called Amazon. She was right, though. I met the man who became my husband about six months later, and I’ve never really been alone since.

I love my family, I do, but I have occasional fantasies of being alone and living alone. In my dreams, especially when my subconscious is telling me something, I’m back in my flat sometimes alone, but mainly I am with other people. A couple of years ago, I dreamt that the flat was full of loads of people bothering me and an acquaintance handed me a key so that I could lock them out and regain my solitude and joy.

Like many women who have put themselves on the back burner as they raise their children, tend the home, do their jobs, and try to squash in their dreams and aspirations in the tiny slivers of time left over, I have lost touch with myself, I realise that I miss me and I occasionally crave the freedom I had back then.

If I am being totally honest with myself, sometimes I was lonely, the existential loneliness of being human, and I craved deep connection. But, if I was to meet my old self now and tell me about the even cooler flat I live in today, in London of all places, with my lovely little family which includes my cats – I always wanted a cat and now I have two – and that I became the mum/university lecturer/yogini I dreamed I could be, I am sure I would be pleased.

Last night after dinner, I stood in the garden with a glass of red wine, there was no moon to be seen, the air was damp but smelt of bonfires the way it does at autumn, and everyone came out to join me. I was happy to share the moment with them but could have done with a little longer by myself, and I was put in mind of my old self, in my old flat, by myself and it feels like now it is time once more to experience that space again and a coming back to me.

Today, I have gotten out my Halloween decorations. I’ve said before that I dread winter but with ritual, fluffy socks, fires, and warm milk, the heat of Bikram and new projects, autumn is less nowadays about endings and more about beginnings. Tarot reader, Dane Hart likens this time of year to hibernating, going deep, and I love to think that’s what I did all those years ago in my very own space. So, this autumn, I am super keen on remembering that energy, diving deep, connecting to myself and being there for me. I am ready to experience again that rush of total happiness and excitement at being alive and I can’t wait to see what I have to teach myself.

[ part 7 ]


Yesterday, I took this selfie at my desk as the sun came in through the window as everyone looks great when kissed by the sun.

Two minutes later, my eldest daughter came home, and said that it looks as if I’m at the end of a movie ready to say something profound, before galloping off into the sunset.

After some discussion, we decided I would go off into the sunset Lego Batman style:

Emmet: Hey, guys? I think we’re about to crash into the sun.
Batman: Yeah, but it’s gonna look really cool.
(The batplane smashes through the sun, creating a batsign.)

My daughter – who isn’t impressed about it – looks just like me, Ruth, who looked like her mother, Jean, who looked like her mother, Phoebe, who probably looked like her mother, Rhoda. I don’t know for sure, as I’ve never seen a picture of Rhoda, ‘cos we are talking 1800s here. But, it doesn’t seem possible that she couldn’t not look like us. I looked so like my mum and her mum that old people would come up to me when I was on the bus or walking down the street and say: Phoebe and shake their heads in disbelief at the carbon copy of a young Phoebe before reminiscing about what a wonderful woman she was.

Consequently, I have always liked my face. It is a friendly face, a familiar face, and one which resonates on such an emotional level with people that they will come up to me to say lovely things for no other reason than to have a moment, to connect. And, that has been a great comfort to me all my life.

I have said on here so many times that we are all looking to be seen, heard, and experienced. We want connection.

Attachment trauma therapist, Alan Roberge describes it beautifully as our noble need for emotional resonance.

In my own mind, I’ve always called this comfort, because connection to others is a massive comfort, it gives our life meaning. We are seen and heard, we feel that we matter. It doesn’t get more comforting than that.

Roberge says that an emotional engagement is a connection with another person who makes you feel nourished, validated and affirmed, and vice versa. And, it is so important, that he describes it metaphorically as going to church. To bear witness to another human being’s noble need for emotional attachment is nothing less than a sacred act. And, if someone cannot do this for us, if someone doesn’t participate in this resonance, then it causes enormous grief within us. And, we have to detach from them otherwise it can damage us. 

Wow! This has summed up for me the reason why I’ve had so many awful interactions for more years than I care to think about. I thought if I gave more, said more, did more, then people would respond in kind and things would be better. But, alas no, I know far too many people who cannot and will not participate in reciprocal emotional engagement no matter what I do, and that causes my heart no end of grief.

They just can’t.

My mum died last year and I miss her terribly and grieve her loss profoundly. Most of last year is fuzzy for me because even though I was going about my day-to-day, my heart was aching and it took a lot of energy just to stay upright, and even though I told many people in the hope of getting some comfort, too many of them just couldn’t. I thought at times that I would go under. I would drown in my grief, the grief of losing my mum. Thankfully, I was surprised by a couple of people who really saw me and held that space for my pain.

Sadly, I missed my mum for such a long time before she died, because for many years she was no longer herself, and had no idea who I was. The first time she didn’t recognise my face – her face – my whole world shifted and I was lost. Had I had people around me who connected to me on an emotional level then it would have helped immensely to ease that pain. Instead, I had to learn to comfort myself.

I tried so many times to rekindle a connection to my mum and to help her remember who she was, and who I was, but she didn’t want to know, and sometimes she would get really angry with me. Oh my, I recognised her then in those moments. She was quite fiery, my mother. But, I wanted her to see me, to know me, to love me. I needed that emotional connection and grieved deeply in the space where it used to be.  And then on the day that she finally died, it was gone forever.  Or, so I thought.

If she was here today, looking at that picture she would probably say two things: 1) I love me, who do you love? and 2) Did you not brush your hair? It looks a mess.

She was a tough love sort of woman which didn’t sit well with me at all, as I am super oversensitive and I irritated her no end. She was always finding ways to toughen me up and would shout at me a lot: You’ll never get through life if you cry like that, Ruth. 

That said, she had a fabulous sense of humour and she could light up a whole room, and as my mum, me mam, she did a zillion loving acts for me, all the time, all through my life. I had forgotten how she loved me, and all the ways in which she demonstrated how she loved me, mired as I was down in the pain and anguish of watching someone I love slowly withdraw from life.

It has taken a good year for all the lovely memories of her to return and comfort me. I was afraid they never would. That she lived for another seven years after the first time she wasn’t expected to live, and pulled back from death many times more before she actually finally left forever, is a testament to her strength, her fierce life force and, her sheer bloody will. 

Over a number of years there was one person who used to reach out to me on my worst days, particularly on days when I had to have really difficult discussions about my mum’s care. The thing is, this person had no idea that they were doing it. We met online and then we met in person a couple of times, and they comforted to me. They would talk to me a lot, until the day that they completely withdrew.

They just couldn’t. 

I grieve this loss but have, hopefully, learnt the lesson of love this grief has to offer me:

This person and I emotionally resonated. We had a mutual love and respect for each other until they decided to shut down all emotional participation. Now they ‘phone it in’ if I get in touch. If I don’t get in touch, I don’t hear from them. I don’t exist. It’s like I have died, which breaks my heart. But, bless their heart, their poor tender heart, because that’s gotta hurt, or at least, it has to hurt to choose to be that numb because their fear of being vulnerable hurts more. 

They just can’t.

However, what they did for me with their ‘before and after’ behaviour – their emotionally resonant and then emotionally dismissive behaviour –  is that they shone a torch on all the other relationships I have in my life with people who are emotionally connected and those who are not. And, this as painful as it is, has been an enormous gift. Now, I am choosing only to cultivate the reciprocal relationships in which there is room for mutual love and respect to flourish, and enrich both parties lives. I no longer look to emotionally unavailable people for comfort. I try not to get attached because the grief is exhausting and the poor excuse for a relationship, ultimately futile.

I owe nothing less to my mother who loved me all her life and wanted what was best for me. Why would I settle for anything that was not sacred? Why would I spend time and energy on people who don’t treasure me?

And, as it’s the end of the blog, the end of the movie, I am ready to crash into the sun,  because why it still shines when my mother is dead I just do not know and some days it is just too much to bear. But then, I remember to take a breath and think about comfort. And, as I look in the mirror at the comforting sight of my mother’s face, her beautiful loving face, I realise that I was wrong, she hasn’t left me at all.

She never can and never will. I can connect to her whenever I want. I just have to look in the mirror and see her.  And, the comfort that gives me is so immense, it makes me cry.  And yes: I will get through life just fine like that, but, to answer her questions: 1) I love me and I love you, and 2) No, I didn’t. I’m growing it out and leaving it curly.

I imagine her tutting and rolling her eyes in her own way – our own way – to which I would say:

Yeah but, it’s gonna look really cool.