20 years of life in just 400 words

Jennie Ridyard

Jennie Ridyard

2019 is the year in which I will have written this column for two uninterrupted decades. Quite a thought.

So, here we are, at the end of 2018 – a date once so far in the future we expected hoverboards and colonies on Mars, not this ugly chaos and burning world, punctuated by Instagrammed beauty.

And yet, as we teeter on the cusp of 2019, I’m stuck on the thought that 2019 is the year in which I will have written this column for 20 whole years. My brief? I never had one. I was simply female and that was what was needed.

I started as a 20-something single mum of two. My children grew up in this column and occasionally my motherly pride and frustration spilled out on to the opinion pages and into posterity – or at least remain as clippings in my own mum’s filing cabinet.

“Do you want these old columns?” she asks me hopefully from time to time. I don’t give her my answer because I don’t have one and it seems rather rude to tell her the truth, which is roughly: “I’ll decide when you’re dead.”

I’m now a 40-something, and have been living with Himself – also an occasional character – for 14 years.

My boys are grown up manchildren, still referenced, though now with more pride than frustration. The elder has left home, the younger turned 21 recently and is in his third year of a science degree at Trinity (boasting again).

I’ve moved continents, I’ve lost friends, I’ve gained others, I’ve changed jobs and I’ve changed my mind, yet still here it is, two decades later: this column. It’s 20 years of fretting, of cups of tea, of planning, of worrying, of research and armchair radicalism and the occasional mea culpa, always in 400 words.

It’s 20 years of frantic Sunday morning rewrites, screeching in on deadline, and then doing it all again a week later. If I write 50 columns a year – taking into account nonpublication days and e-mail “decency” filters occasionally scuppering an entire column – this year I’ll reach the landmark of 1,000 of these things, or 400,000 words, which is four good-sized books.

I’ve filed from America, Peru, New Zealand, Malawi … Once, I filed by handwritten fax from Pick n Pay in Robertson.

This column has been, for me, both an anchor and albatross, a beacon and burden, a constant in a peripatetic life.

Yet still I have never felt comfortable doing it. I promise I’ll stop when I do.

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