Saturday, 15 December 2018

To and Fro

Sometimes it is a hum. A quiet, constant droning hum - always there - always, unstoppable. It is a comfort and a hindrance depending on the message it echoes, depending on the unconscious voice being familiar or being that of a stranger. It is I and We all at once, just like the days of childhood spent with siblings, where there was no I but always we, no singular only plural. Sometimes I crave the We of times past when it did not occur to me that there would ever be days of I. The We of siblings is like no other We, love or hate the We. Sibling We is irreplaceable. It is tender and savage. Bitter and sweet. Hard and soft. Full of laughter and tears. Forever changing. My mind thinks mostly in the I now. It shifted with time and tragedy and let downs and disappointments. It gave up. Surrender came begrudgingly at first and then the I began to stand and bellowed for independence until I gave in. I wanted peace and goodwill. I sometimes feels alone even when surrounded by the most exceptional love of the creatures you have found and chosen and the ones you have given life to. I sometimes just wants the closeness that comes from late nights spent in the bed of your kin, talking about what you'll do 'when you grow up', 'where you'll live', 'whose house you'll spend the most time at'. It would be cruel, pessimistic and unfair to say that We lied and told untruths. It would be an even greater lie, if I said that they weren't dissatisfied with the reality of a grown up We. Growing up is a painful, succumbing, prickly affair. It is also full of shades of sunshine, sprinklings of gold dust and the cultivation and gathering of the sweetest memories. It is a mixed bag. Figuring out whether to ask We to leave forever is as hard as choosing only I which quite frankly would just be boring and tedious. What remains is a little of each, a little of everything which means a mix of the bitter and the sweet and everything in between and in constant oscillation. This is the to and fro, the swaying and the swayed, the to-ing and the fro-ing, the to-ing and the fro-ing ...

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Unknowingly, I told a lie

God's plans are not my plans, no Sir, no Mam. I learn this more and more over time. Just a few days ago, I wrote a post titled: 'On having a dirty house and why I won't clean up the crumbs, no matter who is visiting.' So there, right there in the title, I lied. And yet, just a few days ago I sincerely meant each and every word I wrote. It's what's so temperamental about me and perhaps you, perhaps all of us? So much is about 'that' very moment, the present, the now. On Friday, I returned home from work to find two brothers (my sons) fighting. It was unclear if fists had been raised or if just words had been thrown like punches but the younger of the two was on the floor sobbing. I immediately set to work, like Columbo, trying to find the trail to solve the crime. I had my most serious 'mum voice' on when I heard the key opening the door and my husband tentatively shouting, 'Hi, I've got Harry with me.' My first thought 'Oh no, not again! The last time we saw Harry, the kids had to be told off!' Then my next thought was, 'But it's Friday!' - the house is at its dirtiest on Friday because I clean at the weekend. So, I swallowed my pride thinking how proud I was and am of the new me that refuses to get bogged down in futile, petty details. Our home is 'homely' I said to myself and continued on with life. Then, later that night, I got a message from my husband just before midnight saying that our friend (who he was out with) had missed his last train home and would be heading back home with him and would be sleeping over. Already tucked up in bed and slowly drifting off, I leapt out of bed and began 'the clean'. I cleaned the bathroom, made a makeshift bed on our not very recently vacuumed sitting room floor, changed pillow cases and found extra blankets and returned to bed, smelling of cleaning products and feeling ever so slightly like a fraud. Well, crumbs are annoying and no one wants to willingly revel in crumbs surely?

One thing that I did learn is this: Friendship and kinship and relationship does genuinely surpass the embarrassment of crumbs. Watching my sons engaging with Harry (a close friend of their fathers) a man full of rich experience, a gifted musician and educator, an actor and teller of great stories. The boys deeply entranced by his knowledge and his sharing of facts, by his charm and their not quite knowing what are truths or half truths, just about able to keep up with his quick wit and cleverness with words. The morning after brought more delight in the form of conversations over teas and coffees, the thirteen year old playing guitar for a seasoned pro and receiving feedback that I can only imagine, will stay with him forever. Later in the day, before lunch, we all piled into the car and drove Harry back home to Leamington. He entertained us the whole journey and even when traffic slowed us, his running commentary on the pedestrian carrying an umbrella and walking just ahead of our car, kept us giggling for a good while and again later on when we spoke of it once more. When we arrived at Harry's home, he nervously invited us in. I was delighted. I am not alone. Others worry about their crumbs too. Harry's home was perfect. Spectacular. Filled with all of the vibrancy and range and brilliance and precision and extrovertedness that is Harry. 'Your flat describes you, without you having to' I told him. It reminded me of one of my favourite books 'Paris Interiors' that featured the homes of many creatives. It the home I dream of for myself when I think of the self without a husband or children. I think I made my husband a little sad when I described this but it isn't meaning to be so. Just that idea of a place to be that inspires and nurtured, surrounded by books and music and plants and photographs and vinyl and candles and more books. A haven. A place to be. It is a wonderful thing to have friends to share with your children. It is a privilege for them to learn from the experience of others, others that are other than their parents too. It was a delight to watch Harry doing what Harry does, with all the flair and nuance and cleverness with just a dash of cheekiness, just like a musician. My youngest wants to play trumpet now, 'just like Harry'. Don't we all. Don't we all. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

On having a dirty house and why I won't clean up the crumbs, no matter who is visiting

I have a dirty house. No, really I do. When I began working full time around two and a half years ago, my thoughts turned to the many conversations I'd had with many of my friends (and fellow mothers) who discussed with me the frustration of working all week, only to have to work some more at the weekend carrying out household chores. Some talked about how they were negotiating with their other halves so that they could hire help, a cleaner. Thus giving way for them to spend time with their children/family or having time for self care (most likely at the bottom of the list of priorities). As time has passed over these thirty odd months, I have delegated more and more to my offspring. They each have weekday and weekend chores and they are very basic. Put dishes away, take recycling out, make beds, lay clothes out for next day, pack bag ready for school. Less regularly, they are asked to wash dishes, iron clothes, vacuum the house, clean the bathroom and toilet. Often, my husband and I find ourselves absorbing the delegated chores back into our own duties, thinking that we are being kind and helpful to our not so little anymore offspring. Well, this week, I lost it. There's nothing worse than feeling that you are being taken for granted, that your offspring (who you breastfed and tenderly weaned, whose poop you endured, whose every need and whom you mostly put before any needs of your own by the way) are behaving consistently selfish. I lost it. I shared my feelings. I shared the stress of the accumulation of duties that need carrying out versus the depleting amount of time set aside to complete these duties. I shared again, how they need to do their part and step up once more, as they have in so many, many ways that have made me immensely proud in the transition I have made from stay-at-home mum to working mum.

So. As much as everyone is doing their part and as much as my husband and I drill in this notion of working together as a team to make our family life run smoothly, I am coming to accept this. My house will sometimes be dirty. I know that my offspring won't always move the sofa to vacuum the nooks and crannies behind it. I know too that they might not move every shampoo bottle, cream or vitamin bottle off the ledge to clean the bathroom properly or remember to change the hand towels. I know they definitely won't remember to dust ... anywhere. I know too that when the weekends come, we can't wait to get out and be in the countryside, to explore new places, to go on road trips and when this isn't a priority none of us feels quite so alive as we should. For this family adventure time to happen by hook or by crook, sometimes other things have to get knocked further down the list of duties. This is ok. So if you come to my house and there are a few crumbs down the side of the sofa, I know they're there. It's just not important enough anymore for me to prioritise getting rid of them. It's taken a long time to reach this acceptance but boy, am I glad.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

First Frost

The alarm sounds and immediately we're all resistant, our senses telling us to remain curled in our thick blankets. We all take a few extra minutes processing what is to happen next, all except my husband. He rises quickly, fearful that slumber will steal him away again. Last night without realising the turn of the weather, I had already decided to gift the boys a bacon sandwich for breakfast. It was after watching my eldest lifting and dropping thick globules of congealed weetabix from his bowl the day before. A true sign of being 'weetabixed out', a signal to tag in something new. My heart hits a quickening pitter patter as the teenager looks me in the eye and utters words of thankfulness and gratitude and gives me one of those smiles that makes you filled to the brim, the sort of smile that you could draw on with a pencil, its just so perfect. I leave the house with layer upon layer, ready for my daily walk to work. Today the ground is glistening, cheekily shining and showing off its newly acquired armour. I step carefully, thinking especially of the tenderness in my right knee. As I walk I catch sight of the glorious low rising sun, she is magnificent today and the reddest I have seen in a long time. I mistakingly glance at her, mesmerised. She returns my gaze and leaves me with spots before my eyes and I delight in the nostalgia and think of girlhood and memories of playing in the heat of the African sun, a different friend. A different time. I walk on. Past the folks breathing out billows of smoke, their faces marked with the concentration of ice removal and the weary interruption of routine. The season is upon us and suddenly thoughts of festivities stir in me: the scent of cinnamon and orange, of Christmas cookies baking and homemade concoctions of warming alcohol. A mental note made to retrieve the wooden advent calendar from its loft hiding place, to begin a list of ideas for stockings that need filling with the lovely but simple things in life. My motivation motto that I use annually when buying gifts for those boys of mine: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. It is still so fitting, still so perfect. Late night drives. Walks, short and long. Visits to the prettiest of villages with picture perfect scenes of decorated trees and sparkling lights. Thick socks and blankets and oodles of hot chocolates. Finding pubs with real fires and cosying in for shared puddings and warm drinks. Moments snatched for journalling. Time spent sat in silence amongst loved ones, each person doing their own thing. Books sifted through and perhaps even read. Letters written and perhaps even sent. Popping out on foot for items forgotten and left off the list that suddenly you can't do without. Films. Ahhh, dear films. All the favourites and the hope of some new. Coffee. Fresh, fresh coffee and the ritual of preparing it. The soundtrack of home. The promise of the new. Vinyl and pain au chocolat and scrabble and early mornings when there's no place to be and no rush to go. This first frost has stirred a-plenty and I am thankful for all that it is bringing my way. I'm swept up in the magic of the season, a Grinch no longer perhaps or for now at least.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

A trip to Slad in search of Laurie Lee

A couple of weeks ago, during the half term holidays, we ventured to one of our favourite places. We took a spectacular walk through Woodchester park, a place we return to again and again, this time admiring all the shades of autumn. A wondrous display of leaves scattered Pollock style across the landscape and upon the floor making the most delicious of swishing sounds as our feet moved through their clusters. The day seemed cold, only for us to take off layer upon layer, undecided about whether to leave coats off or on, a true sign of our mild start to the autumn season. This trip, we finally decided to make the trip to Slad to visit The Woolpack. The Woolpack is a freehouse immortalised by the writer Laurie Lee who lived and died in Slad and wrote of his childhood spent in Gloucestershire. We have spoken often of visiting but somehow have never got round to it even though it is a mere fifteeen minutes away from familiar haunts of ours. As I remember now, it wasn't the easiest of days. The thirteen year old  and the ten year old were hard work. It is the bickering phase, perhaps one of my least favourite spells. Whilst sat in idyllic surroundings, drinking our cokes, munching on crisps, listening to locals relaying farm talk and how they were 'done for the day' and feeling extremely English (in the best of ways) sat gazing at the open fire and breathing in the perfect scent of a combination of wood burning and ale and hot pies, I resorted to swapping seats with the ten year old to try and dissolve some of the tension. My husband and I glanced at one another and we whispered to each other how we might return alone another time and stay at one of the bed and breakfasts nearby and enjoy an evening of slow living in this inn. Of course, adventuring as a foursome is magic too even with the ebbs and flow which is always worth remembering. I was hugely inspired to leave my words here once more after our visit to Laurie Lee's resting place, in the churchyard just opposite his beloved drinking place. I hadn't really believed that I would be so impacted by this biography of his Cotswold boyhood. But there again, I never thought that I would fall so deeply enchanted by the Cotswolds. Childhood and legacy and moments and the passing of time, all so precious. It is wonderful to be reminded to depict the passing days in words and pictures, to leave some trace of the mood and current interests and concerns. Recently, my sons and I trawled through some old posts here and we were all struck by we were quickly transported back in time to earlier days, lovely, simple and ordinary days. Sometimes the ordinary becomes magnificent with the passing of time and the memory of times that will never return again. So, here is an ode (of sorts) to those who have gone before, those who inspire and those who grow and go on to become their finest selves, this is our hope.  

Monday, 19 November 2018

Filling the gaps and adding colour

On Friday nights, often we have film night. This week it was the boys first viewing of Yellow Submarine. Saturdays are the ones for heading out for a road trip, this week it was Ludlow. Often I make sandwiches and a flask of hot chocolate or coffee but recently we've been indulging ourselves with a cream tea or coffee and cake upon arrival at our adventure destination. After getting home from work, sometimes I make 'a real coffee' and share the pot with my husband. In our car glove compartment, I keep my husband stocked up with Werther's Original Butter Candies. I know he likes to have one on his journey home from work, they have also saved many a journey on our road trips too. Occasionally, I like to walk the longer route home so that I can walk past the house my parents once owned before I was born. I think of how my feet walk on the same pavement, the same road that my father did many moons ago and that brings me comfort. Sometimes when one of us needs comfort we have a blanket downstairs on the sofa (my husband isn't a believer in the blanket downstairs but we have managed to continue the habit for years in spite of this). On Wednesdays it's date night and it Mondays and Tuesdays are all the better for knowing date night is just around the corner. These are a few of my favourite things, they fill the gaps and colour the week and I'm constantly searching for new ones to add to the routine.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

A note for a lost friend

I think of you often, in particular when amused at the most of trivial things, things that others muster a half raised eyebrow at, that we would still be laughing at weeks, months and sometimes even years later. I think to send messages to you on most days but something stops me, it's hard to describe what and even harder to describe why. My guess is that I am pestering you, forcing you into a place that feels uncomfortable and not comforting. This idea pains me, the notion that I am causing you more harm than good and so I keep my distance. Of course then a little time passes and I'm back again suggesting meet-ups that never take place and my head spinning like a love forlorn teenager waiting for a call back from their chosen one. 

My heart aches for the grief that you endure, for the losses, all that you have had taken from you, for lost years and your broken dreams. Your strength and ability to remain in full control are both your greatest strength and your greatest weakness. I can't find you. I CAN'T FIND YOU! I cannot even get close. Every door is shut and firmly locked. And of course my heart burned with rage and sadness when you chose (it seemed to me) to let everyone and anyone but me to be along your side, even the folks who you spurned and told me you couldn't stand when I gently tried to help you see reason - to accept all the support that was being offered. Those gentle words I offered took much strength from me over the years, really. I never wanted to assign a cost for my emotional service to you but the months and years since, the time to reflect, the experiences that I have endured myself of loss and sadness, all of this has left me able to say - it's not all about you. There, I said it. I so desperately needed you when I too felt broken. I needed you and you were nowhere.

My love for you remains endless. Forever. I will take your heart and mine to my grave. But you broke my heart. Do you know that? Do you have a note folded in a drawer or in a corner of your mind that has similar words to these? Did I break your heart too? It was always different rules for me, I never got where that came from. Maybe because of my faith, perhaps your expectations were and are higher of me? It is definitely part of the complexity of it all.

So, how do we move forward? I wait. I wait. I wait. Is it too late? Is it ever too late? One thing I have learned since we have grown apart is this - I do not have the energy to be continually sad, now I stray from those who cause me pain. If attempts at resolve leave my mental health in jeopardy then it's simply time to move on, even if my heart muscle is torn irreparably. I leave you with these words from Walt Whitman, 'Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.' My hope is that you find this happiness in every corner that you seek it, in every minute that you seek it. This is my hope for you, dear friend.