It's my 45th birthday today. I'm feeling blessed. I woke up to a video message from my seven year old nephew singing me lispy, gap toothed birthday message which was perfect. My big sis (a key worker on her way to work) dropped off a balloon and Prosecco early in the morning and sang 'Happy Birthday' to me from a safe distance. And although it killed me to not be able to hug and squeeze her tight, myself and the whole family, clapped and jumped like an excited audience at the end of a performance, all whilst still in our pyjamas. My boys made me a toasted croissant breakfast and my husband made me 'a real coffee'. My youngest spent some time yesterday finding the beginning of Aphex Twin's 'Lornaderek' track because he remembered that there's a 'Happy Birthday' rendition at the beginning, so thoughtful and abstract is his brilliant brain, he set up his Bluetooth speaker next to me on my bedside table and played me my birthday song, whilst presenting my cards. One card was strangely familiar, 'I bought one just like this, great minds think alike' I told him. 'Well ... I kind of used it from your stack of cards.' Resourceful is what he is, I thought to myself. My mama Facetimed me as I sipped at my 'real coffee' and she shared how 45 years ago, it was a freezing, cold, snow filled day. She started with labour pains early but I didn't arrive until the evening because the consultant had a dinner date and was running late. Somehow or other, my dad missed my birth. He'd reassured my mother that as this was number four child, she'd be ok. As I looked into my mother's eyes as she described my arrival into this world, her telling me she wished we could be together today, that she wished we could be pressing on with our plans to spend the weekend together shopping and lunching, I suddenly felt humbled. Just to still be able to look into her eyes, this is enough. Friends sending kind, generous messages, helping and hoping that I'll find the positive in this slightly surreal situation that we find ourselves in. 45 years teaches you a little, enough to know to savour those loved ones, even when they constantly appear at your bedroom door when you're trying to write. Words from family and friends have broken my heart wide open and I feel very loved which is surely, the greatest gift. Parts of the day felt strange. Beautiful blue sky and sunshine but heavy weighted faces of strangers and neighbours, exchanging glances and greetings on the only walk of the day that we took as a family, as instructed by the World Health Authority. At home and listening out for our elderly neighbour, talking over the fence and checking in with her. Worrying that we're already 'behind' on homeschool for the youngest although 'lifeschool' is in full throttle and that, he is ready to graduate from already. Happiness came in beautiful waves of messages from dear ones, sharing words that made me happy, words that made me cry and words that made me laugh till my belly hurt. And one of my favourite gifts? Plans with one of my favourite people, the person who inspires me to write the most, who takes the most beautiful pictures and writes the most exquisite of words, well, she and I have some plans up our sleeves. They involve writing, letters, being friends and exchanging information. I am thrilled and excited and have thought these thoughts a million times and I'm so happy my girl Andrea messaged me this great gift today, on this, my 45th birthday.
Wednesday, 25 March 2020
Saturday, 21 March 2020
I left work yesterday for the last time until I don't know when. I wasn't mentally prepared to say goodbye to my children (my pupils). My colleagues and I had put on a rather impromptu little celebration as a makeshift farewell, in case this would turn out to be their last day in Year 6, their last day in junior school. As I scribbled goodbye messages onto shirts, I tried my best to give each and every child a message that they might reflect on, a message of hope, assurance and above all one that would always remind them - I believe in them.
I went to bed early last night and woke early this morning (at 6am) because I knew I needed to get words down. These are strange times after all. Schools closed their doors yesterday and so for the foreseeable future I will be at home with my children. We are trying our very best not to constantly feed ourselves news reportings and Coronavirus updates but I believe this will take more discipline than I'd like. Words like 'self isolating', 'social distancing', 'homeschool' and 'sanitiser' have become everyday and dare I say it, almost tedious. I try not to roll my eyes with every new mention whlist simultaneously obliging and doing all that is required of me. I follow the rules, do as I'm told albeit begrudgingly.
On my way home from the closed doors of my workplace, I made my way to the closest shops to see if I could get some essentials to keep the family going over the next couple of weeks, a necessary task since my family and I have not stockpiled. We simply carried out our normal weekly food shop last Sunday and since then, apart from purchasing a nine roll pack of horrendously overpriced quilted, aloe vera toilet roll during the week and a fine bottle of Prosecco for Wednesdays date night, we have not shopped. I was overwhelmed by the empty shelves but managed to find enough things to sustain us, the overarching memory however of people's selfishness remains firmly in my mind. Reasons not to follow social media: those pictures which I've already consumed of individuals with trolleys containing twenty cans of baby formula, footage of a critical care nurse after a long shift pleading with individuals not to stockpile in order that people like her can actually purchase fresh fruit and vegetables to try and stay well for us (society at large) and be able to continue serving the community, that is, if there is not a complete breakdown in what it is to be community - to serve not just oneself but those around us, in particular those that are elderly, sick, vulnerable.
Individuals and families will, in the coming weeks be spending hours and hours cooped up with loved ones, of course there will be bonuses but I won't lie, this does fill me with some trepidation. I like time alone. I like alone time. I like time alone with my husband, just him and I. I enjoy spending time with my children individually, I love missing them and the feeling of looking forward to seeing them. We will have to be creative and patient and in our small house, we will have to find the few nooks to isolate from each other in order to remain sane. Headphones will be our friends. Books will be our escape. Primal screaming will be our daily exercise and solace, I suspect.
All of this has made me think about what 'home' is and ways that we might re-imagine it over the coming weeks or even months. As children, my siblings and I spent our three month summer holidays mostly indoors escaping the hottest season in West Africa, remaining as still as possible for as long as possible in order not to tire and overheat. We would search for sections of terrazo that were out of the sunny spots and we'd lie down writhing like snakes enjoying the cool tile against our skin. We'd use the annuals that my grandma would send for our birthdays as ice skates, one under each foot, we'd slip and slide on the terrazo floor practicing our 'ice-skating'! We'd cover our heads and button cardigans at the nape of our necks and flick the arms from side to side, pretending we had the long, wavy hair of Lucy Ewing (an inventive solution developed by my white mother to give her three afro haired daughters what we desired, what we called 'floppy hair'), we'd read, for hours and hours and hours, fantasising about ginger ale or Aunt Fanny's amazing picnics or wishing we could go fishing like Huckleberry Finn. We'd play ampe (a Ghanaian game that requires no equipment and gets your whole body moving) hopscotch, charades. We'd learn hymns off by heart. We'd write airmail letters, mostly to my Grandmother who lived in the UK, we'd sit and sift the stones and husks out of the rice we would cook for later that day, we'd walk to market and carry all of the food home in the hot sun, needing to rest upon reaching home. We would lie on our beds, legs and feet up on the walls daydreaming for what felt like days. We'd collect all of the rubbish from the house, including the paper scraps we used as toilet roll and take it to the dug out pit at the back of our house and burn it. The scraps of organic matter, the vegetable peelings and the like, we'd take next door to my Aunty Gita, who would use it for composting. We would make our own word puzzles and word searches, write our own stories, look through the bird books that out Grandmother regularly sent us and see if we could spot kingfishers, red throated bee-eaters and fat birders (my brother even drew a picture of each species we saw and sent them to my grandmother).
I look back now, especially in this current climate and I recognise the simplicity and joy of so much of those early days, as we often do reflectively. Our childhood was not all idyllic, we went hungry at times and didn't know where the next meal was coming from. There were days of eating just papaya and mangoes and very little else. There were days of being shut inside because of the coup. Times when we longed for the England we heard about and felt so disconnected from, where we clung to cookery books of dishes we craved, clung to letters that had the vague scent of our Granny, who we missed desperately, clung to magazines with the latest fashions that we'd ask our mum to try and recreate with her hands and her Singer sewing machine. What I know now more than ever, is this: it was home.
Us four children. Together. Squabbling. Playing. Hating. Loving. It was home. So much of my identity, so many of my ideals have come out of those long days spent together, creating and being 'home'. So, as I begin this new chapter with my boys at home, I will draw on all of this and rather than falling into the well of overwhelm, slipping and gripping and splashing in desperation to climb the smooth walls, I will think of 'home' in its many guises and draw from it as others have done so historically.
I know now why my father would draw up a rota for each of us children every summer holiday. I think he felt, since he had managed to convince my mother to have four offspring, it was his duty to at least try and get the poor woman through twelve weeks of summer with no childcare respite or entertainment. I remember being as young as six and having six duties on my daily rota: dogwalking, washing up, buying vegetables (this involved a short walk to a lady in our village who sold the prettiest pyramid stacks of tomatoes, okra, onions, garden eggs, kpakpo shito), clean terrazo, sweep compound, get charcoal. I will use this to inspire chores for my boys, the older of the two is competent and mostly willing, the younger less so unless it is something that directly interests him. These are changing times. I'm sure each of us will have to surrender our own vision of 'home' and compromise it for a newer, more adjusted model. It will be an awakening of the lord of the flies, of that I'm sure.
For now, the days of coffee and cake are no more. This, being one of mine and my husband's favourite things to do, will mean giving up a great love, at least for now. Driving out to the cotswolds for a walk followed by good coffee, sometimes enjoyed by a real fire - this is sacrifice that perhaps seems small but is bigger in our hearts. Suddenly, this shot I took of me, alone on the most rainy of rainy days, umbrella on the table alongside that not often to be found, really good turmeric latte, with a trashy magazine, the sort that I'd not read in years and time on my hands. I'll feast on this image for quite some time, whilst trying to quieten the rumpus of the wild things ....
Sunday, 26 January 2020
Saturday, 18 January 2020
I love a road trip. I love a family adventure and I especially love a new find, somewhere we haven't explored before even if it's a teeny tiny pocket of a city or a place well known to us. The adults in the family have whizzed through before, for meetings, change of trains, gigs but neither of us nor the kids have explored the city of Manchester. For me, the trip begins even before we arrive, it starts with the research and the planning. The magpieing of ideas and recommendations from others, for me Instagram and Youtubers Topjaw (their 'recommended' nooks are never a disappointment) are a go to and give a great insight into a place and more importantly, help to identify the areas of a place that you want to base yourself for the day. I say a day, since lots of our adventures are done in one day with us setting out as early as our week-end fatigued bodies will allow and returning often by night having eaten three meals out at a variety of places, some on a budget some less so.
I'm proud to say that I have gained somewhat of a reputation for these food, music and art focused trips with my family. There's alot riding on my shoulders with these trips, from the car park (which has to be in close proximity to all of the places we want to see) to finding great coffee (both the look of the cafe and the taste of it) to finding a locality that we can walk and navigate on foot, seeing graf, art, great architecture and normally some kind of street food or chicken and definitely some indie stores or hipster joints of one kind or another. The kids and I normally say "It's all good, I can see people that look like dad".
Today we headed to the Northern Quarter of Manchester which is full of cafes and bars and restaurants, record shops, vintage stores and lots of independent stores of all kinds. I had a handwritten list of 10 places to visit, all within a ten minute walk of each other and I'm pretty pleased that we ticked off 7/10 with things left on the list for another time. Some things were worth the visit just for the sense of overwhelm at 'a person's collection' like Paramount Books on Shudehill (m4 2af) a brilliant old school second hand book store run by an older gentleman who looked very much like he had a great story to tell. He told me he liked my hair and I sneekily took shots of the quirky good place whilst bravely ignoring all of the handwritten notes on pieces of cardboard that read: TURN YOUR MOBILE OFF. Other things did pretty much what it said on the tin, like Black Milk on Oldham Street (m4 1lf). You want a milkshake with lashings of cream and a big wedge of cake or cookies on top? Then you go to Black Milk. We'd been recommended the Warm Sticky Toffee Shake but alas they'd sold out by the time we arrived, the waitress suggested the Salted Caramel Cake with Cream and Biscoff as an alternative and my youngest chose the Triple Oreo CheeseShake for us. My husband and I had kind of done that parent thing of 'we'll just have a taste', it was pretty tough to surrender these shakes but the call of the wild from two hungry hormonal teens meant they got the lions share, rightly so, especially as I used Black Milk to barter with the youngest child for a good couple of hours.
I was sad to see that Eat New York had closed down, they had a crazy bagel meat stack thing going on that I thought my carnivores would love, the aptly titled 'Half-Pound Reuben Sandwich' but we more than made up for it when we found Jerk Shack on Church Street. The place was rammed exclusively with young males of every shade, every seat occupied in the small and humble yet greatest chicken shop. We were headed back to the car but I couldn't help myself but buy those boys of mine a little chicken to go but there was an amazing selection of meats and sauces, plantain, jerk plus all the sides. It reminded me of eating in Ghana: my african childhood of eating some of the best food in some of the humblest of places. We were all transported to a little beach shack in Jamaica, barefoot with sticky fingers. We tried to go to Evelyn's Cafe Bar on Tib Street (m4 1bn) which looked pretty and had a buzzy, studenty atmosphere but we were told there were no tables and there wouldn't be for over an hour, it wasn't somewhere I was that bothered about missing out on. The demographic was similar to Ezra & Gil on Hilton Street (m1 1fr) which had spaces but was quite dark inside and the acoustics kind of noisy which is perfect when you're a student/young professional that's doing brunch after a busy week and a crazy friday night but you know, I'm nearly 45, I need good lighting. We found that right at the start of our day at a cute, little coffee shop also on Tib Street whose name I didn't notice. The coffee was strong and sweet and spectacular, the name of the cafe, after looking it up is I think, Just Between Friends Coffee.
So, we didn't make it to Mackie Mayor (m4 5bu) which is a Grade ll listed Market building that I wanted to see, nor to the Barton Arcade (m3 2bh) which is victorian architecture and sadly not to John Rylands Library (m3 3eh) which is an impressive Neo-Gothic building that looks like the set of a film and seems very magical. Piccadilly Records on Oldham Street (m1 1jr) however did not disappoint my husband (the harder to please muso) who gave the thumbs up and was salivating at the range of vinyl. I think we'll return again to the Northern Quarter do a little more record shop shopping, to see Manchester's pretty library buildings and definitely to eat in at the Jerk Shack. To top it off, I bought a quirky pair of beautifully made suede shoes. They remind me of two things: The elves and the shoemaker and choux pastry (no pun intended). I rarely buy stuff and like my husband says, rarely in the presence of others, furthermore rarely decisively. I bought my eldest kid a pair of addidas too. I kind of want them myself.
It was a great trip. A great day. So - it ended with both kids being severely told off and being sent to bed early, something which hasn't happened in a good while but hey, you can't have it all. At one time, I would have considered this a great loss and mourned the lack of perfection of the day. Not today. Today, I'm grateful that the kids ended up in bed early and that I convinced my husband to head out with a friend because that's meant that for the first time in forever, I've made it here to share words and pictures in real time. In actual real time. I love a road trip. I really, really do.
Tuesday, 31 December 2019
I don't like Christmas. You only need to scroll through the blog here to see that I have pretty much written that many times over the years that I have been leaving words here. That's ok. In fact, I am more and more ok with this as I get older. I suppose my acceptance with this admission (and by the way i feel the same way about birthdays, halloween, easter and pretty much any occasion where I'm 'meant' to feel a certain way) comes from not feeling the need to please an audience. There's no writing to pass a course, to achieve a score, to get paid, to uplift an expectant audience. I'm a funny one. Once I knew that this dear blog was not really being read any longer by anyone (if it's not shouted about on one type of social media or another, it's not real and hasn't really happened you see) I finally felt able to write again. Perhaps it's the realisation, that in spite of not really being a fan of new years resolutions, perhaps it's just the opportunity to try, because why not? Christmas has felt mostly like, being stressed about my assignment and then actually getting on with my assignment which needs to be completed by the sixth of this new month that is hours fro arrival. I think today may not be the day to be reflective since I've spent about six or seven hours of it cumulatively typing away words. So, here a picture of my husband and I from Christmas day on a walk in our locality. We'd planned to go for cheeky drink at the pub we're stood outside of, alas there were no seats, so we headed home to watch a Marvel film instead. The second picture is of my three boys, I think it was the week-end before Christmas and we went on a Christmas shopping adventure to Nottingham where this picture was taken. It's in the Lace Market in nottingham which is definitely worth exploring. So, Happy New Year! I'm done.
Thursday, 12 December 2019
I found this in my drafts. I'd titled it 'Stopped at the Lights'. It dates back to a little over two years ago. I never completed it but seen as it's just sat there, I thought it may as well just sit here instead. I feel much less precious about words since losing a huge number of these kind of notes, stories and ramblings in my traumatic phone death some weeks back.
Monday, 20 November 2017
She had never planned to suddenly stop writing. It was simply that time lapsed and before she knew it she was that person who used to blog, who used to write. She had once been a person that people had frequently asked 'are you going to do something with your writing?'. Stirred with ambition and feeling a desire to take herself out of her comfort zone, she had even considered presenting a true to life storytelling piece at a weekly arts club. She of course never got around to it. But if she had, her piece which would have to told in situ and without notes and it would have been about her maternal grandmother. Withdrawal from her safe haven began when she had a terrible falling out with members of her family. You see writing had always been what she did to appease a dark mood, something that allowed her to become another self, a thing that gave her both a sense of calm and a great sense of invigoration. A part of her felt that not writing was simply self flagellation, another part recognised this undoing as a physical manifestation of her being unable to process emotional trauma. Some people lose the ability to speak, others refuse to eat or cannot sleep. She could no longer get her words down in a space other than the bubbles in her mind, that cartoon style sprung from different points of her head, filled to capacity with words, words, words. Lyrics from favourite songs, especially ones from numerous mixtapes that she made or was given by an ex boyfriend and an older sister. Loops of conversations gone by, good and bad and almost word for word transcripts of who said what and to whom. To do lists, shopping lists, dates of birthdays alongside the age that the person had reached (she had her mother to thank for this attention to detail as it was her mother who had relayed most of this information in the past). She was still trying to piece together the new version family since the falling out. Mourning the years, the years of buried resentment and denial, of hurt feelings and ebb and flow self confidence.
Wednesday, 11 December 2019
They bicker. They tiptoe up the stairs to suddenly terrify one another, argue over who put the dishes away last, snitch on who ate the last piece of cake when they got home from school (even though it’s meant to be saved for pudding after dinner), they pay huge amounts of detail to portioning food out absolutely equally between each other so that neither has more than the other (unless it's meat with the fat on in which case there's one who will happily surrender), they try and get each other in trouble in ear shot of a parent by saying things like 'I think your shoes have mud on them, you might want to clean those so it doesn't go everywhere.' And then, when I begin to think they are a little broken and that my parenting has failed I overhear things like: 'I'll go into school early with you and we can find your teacher and sort it out', You have the last one bro', 'Love you, love you too'. Of course, it's nice to look at pictures from weekends spent out and about and reflect on these daily occurrences but I can guarantee, at approximately 7.32am tomorrow I will not care one bit about the pink window at the Contemporary that offers the best backdrop or the similarities that their body language has to each other or other males in the family and I definitely will not want to hear about whose muddy shoes need a clean.