How to be staunch

Following the paperback release of her memoir Staunch, we are so happy to have author Eleanor Wood on the blog with some tips on how you, too, can become more staunch.

How To Be Staunch

When I was younger, I wanted to be cool, or clever, or pretty. Now, all I want to be is staunch. Because staunch means not caring about all those other things. It means just being yourself, knowing that things will work out how they’re supposed to (even if it seems impossible right now), and that what other people think of you is none of your business.

For me, it’s been a long road to becoming staunch. My main inspiration was my grandmother. When I was in my late thirties, I had hit an all-time low. I had been through a bad break-up (followed by another, even worse break-up, and then a very depressing flurry of panic-dating); I was working too hard, drinking too much, and struggling to keep a roof over my head.

That was when my nan, in her late eighties at the time, suggested a trip to India. It might not sound like the obvious solution, but it turned out to be the reset that I needed. My nan and her sisters had grown up in India and came to the UK as teenagers. They wanted to go back, possibly ‘one last time’, while they still could. As I didn’t have much else to do, I was the obvious person to accompany them and carry the suitcases.

And that was how my nan, my two great-aunts, and I came to make an unusual sight around the streets and beaches of Goa, drinking cocktails, my nan usually singing, and chucking my auntie’s wheelchair in the back of a tuk-tuk to go off on adventures. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

While we were away, I learned about family stories I had never heard before. I also learned a lot about being staunch. Here are the life lessons I took on board, courtesy of my grandmother and great-aunts.

Don’t worry about things you can’t change. My nan (quite rightly) believes that I overthink everything. Whenever I’m pointlessly panicking, my nan is the first person I call, and she always asks me the same question: ‘is worrying about this going to help?’ Usually, the answer is no. This doesn’t make the problem magically go away, but it’s usually better to try to do something else to take your mind off it: go for a walk, do a drawing, have a little dance in the kitchen.

Stay interested in people and places. According to my nan, it’s what keeps you going. Stay interested and curious. Say yes to something new, try something different. If you’re feeling really brave, chat to a random person on the bus or in the supermarket queue – and, if you are like my nan, this usually ends in somehow, miraculously, meeting new friends for life (disclaimer: I am yet to achieve this one).

Be kind (but not in a tokenistic, Instagram way). My nan and aunts don’t talk about ‘being kind’ or wear slogan T-shirts. They are no-nonsense. They have spent their lives quietly making a difference. Volunteering in the local community, helping friends and neighbours. When life was hard, people pulled together. My great-grandparents didn’t have a big house, but they often had various friends and distant family members staying with them when they had nowhere else to go. Approaching life from a community perspective brings so much joy, whether through volunteering or just getting to know your neighbours.

Keep it in perspective. If you’re lucky, it’s a long life. When you look back in fifty years’ time, the things that matter now – even if they seem huge – will just be part of the grand scheme of things. I try to remember this when things feel insurmountable. Between them, my nan and my great-aunts have been through divorces, broken engagements, deaths, and a thousand other things in between. While you might never ‘get over it’ (and why should you?), things almost always get easier. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it lets you live with them and keep going until things feel easier.

Have fun. No matter what is going on, my nan will always find time for a strong gin and tonic. She sings every day and speaks to her friends every day. She does her exercises every morning and dances every chance she gets. She wears her favourite dress and keeps a bottle of prosecco in the fridge ‘just in case’. If you turn up at her house, you will always be welcome and well fed. All because, as she says: ‘what’s the point of life if you don’t enjoy yourself, darling?’

Staunch by Eleanor Wood is out now in paperback. Available here.

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