Family Affair: `I never had my teenage years, now I'm loving it'

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The Independent Culture
Tina Galea, 48, was born in Capua, near Naples, and came to England when she was 12. She married at 15 and has five children. Eighteen months ago she separated from her second husband and started going out with friends for the first time. When her eldest daughter, 31-year-old care worker Silvana's own marriage ended last year, she moved back with her mother. They live in Hove, East Sussex.

Silvana

I'm getting up early in the morning, going out to work, coming back dog-tired and going to bed early, and Mum's getting ready about seven o'clock to go out on the dazzle... She catches up the next day - she'll have little catnaps through the day and then do it all again the following evening. She gets a bit overtired, but she knows she's having a good time and that's all she cares about at the moment: socialising.

Normally she doesn't drink as one glass of wine goes straight to her head. We've been out together a few times: to the Excelsior Hotel and the Island in Hove. The Excelsior was lovely, full of different age ranges. Mum knew everybody in there: the bouncers, bar staff, friends she'd met when she used to go on her own. She got up and never stopped dancing all evening.

My brothers and sisters have all been saying to her: "You shouldn't be doing this, you're too old", which is complete nonsense. It took her about a year and a half to get into that mentality - to go out and enjoy herself. Being the eldest, I've taken more of an interest in her than the others do. I know all about some of the problems she's had in the past ,and a lot of it is very disturbing. She's completely different now. She's so colourful: funny, broad-minded, relaxed, laid-back, non-judgmental.

She's always asking my opinion on what to wear. If I say I don't like it, she'll go and change it. I will be honest with her. And on Wednesday night, when she goes to the Island, she gets all the clothes out of the wardrobe - the whole lot comes out, on the bed, and it stays there for two or three days afterwards.

The house is either packed with people, or there's not a sound - just me on my own. It's one extreme to another. People are coming in for coffee or to borrow money or to tell Mum their problems. When I've had a very long day at work - I'm up at six and start work at seven - it can be a bit of a bind when they're going on till two or three in the morning. When you've got your own place you walk in, shut the door and that's it. But I don't worry: I go into my room, put the music on and just chill out.

It's made me realise how much I need my own place. I'm having a break from care work, then I'll be doing the diploma in PA and Personnel at Hove College for six months, and then the world's my oyster.

If Mum ever wanted to get married again, that's fine - as long as she's happy. It'd be lovely, I'd be a bridesmaid again - for about the fifth time!

Tina

Silvana has been living with me since around Christmas. It's nice - it's company. She's a lovely girl. She gets a bit stressed-out. She's very sensitive and gets upset easily, and I'm a bit like that. We're like sisters really: if I've got any problems, I tell her.

My marriage broke up, and sometimes I feel quite low and talk to her about it. In my married life I was just at home, bringing up the children. I didn't really have any teenage years. I met my husband when I was 15 and I was 16 when I had Silvana. But when he left I was crying every day and then I thought: "What are you doing?" I started going out with Silvana. We had a really good time. I think she was proud to have me there: we were dancing and that. We had a good time.

I try to get out as much as possible. For 23 years I was like a prisoner in my own house. Now I am my own person, with no-one saying I can't do this, can't go there...

Sometimes Silvana asks me "Are you all right?" And the other day she said to me: "I don't think you're as happy as you look, Mum". I started being a bit tearful as something was said to me about my husband and it all starts coming back... I usually have a smile on my face, whether I'm upset or whatever I might be feeling.

This house is like Piccadilly Circus. All day long, friends coming in and out, and staying till three in the morning... Silvana's different from me. I like people coming round for a chat and a cup of tea, but Silvana is a bit of a loner. If people come round, she'll go in her bedroom and shut herself in there. When she was younger she used to do the same.

I wish she would sit down with me and talk to my friends. Sometimes she does, for a little while, then she's off upstairs and shuts the door. She puts her music on - sad music. And when I go up to see if she's all right, she's in tears.

I will be divorced soon, but I don't want anyone moving in with me and taking over, because I'm quite used to my independence now. I'm involved a bit with a Turkish chap. I met him at the Island. I only see him about once a week. Once I said he could come home for a cup of coffee, I said to him: "Just coffee, no sex." He goes: "No problem." Silvana likes him and he likes her.

My other children are more wary, I think, because there's a different man in my life, but Silvana says: "Get on with it, whatever makes you happy."

Interviews by Veronica Groocock

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