I have been away years
I don’t know how to come back
And so I write this.
If you got this far
I hope you like these ones, that
I wrote yesterday.
I have been away years
I don’t know how to come back
And so I write this.
If you got this far
I hope you like these ones, that
I wrote yesterday.
Frozen solid shrew,
Winter gift on stone cold steps.
The murderer abounds.
Too cold to go out,
Black dahl, blue cheese, tomatoes:
A strange lunch today.
As you hit your 40s, you begin to notice a significant proportion of the people you know start to either get ill, or bits start falling off.
Particularly among the women who’ve had children.
Even the athletes you know, the ones who run 40 miles at a time, or a half marathon during their lunch break, start to suffer from perpetual injuries because their bodies just can’t hack the pace any more. This wasn’t entirely what I was expecting from this decade.
I recently went for lunch with a friend I’ve known for years, who was 40 this year. She’s putting off a major operation because she’s still got a toddler at home. To make her feel better I showed her my hearing aids. Yes, it’s not a glamorous look. If you used to get called the Greta Garbo of the sixth form, it may not go with that version of your self image. However, I wear them. It helps me hear ‘Will you empty the dishwasher?’ instead of ‘Will you have a chocolate biscuit?’. It avoids my husband thinking I’m being selectively deaf. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally practice selective deafness anyway but…….
I have genetic hearing loss, inherited from my Dad’s side of the family and I fully expect to be completely stone deaf in my 80s. Glasses seem to be socially acceptable at this age, but hearing aids are not. There are a lot of adverts on hidden versions and comments on how you can’t really see mine. I’ve now lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people where they’ve admitted ‘yes I need some of those’ or ones that go something like this:
Waitress: ‘The quiche on special today is the leek, mushroom and creme fraiche’
Me: (with my hearing aids) ‘Ok thank you’
Friend in 40s: ‘What was that?’
Me: (laughs): ‘What did you just say to me about needing hearing aids?’
Maybe it’s because they’re my friends, but the way most people I know deal with their problems is to use humour. In my experience the women are fairly blunt with one another. Friends with pelvic floor issues that will affect their performance on the dance floor and need to *ahem*, prepare in advance, will tell you. You will laugh (with them), until you cry. You will share whatever it is that also bothers you and you will console each other.
Others will get really sick. Someone close to me has had breast cancer and has been in treatment for the last year. She has very small children and I don’t know how she’s done it. Her prognosis looks good but she remains the reason I’m making myself run a long race for charity in the Autumn. As readers who have seen this post will know, I love running, so it’s not a hardship and I don’t need anyone to say well done. I am also running it because I want to stay fit for as long as possible and I will carry on doing so for as long as I can.
Sweaty woman in skin tight neon don’t look glamorous either but I’m thankful I’m not doing so badly and that I’m able to carry on laughing with my friends.
When looking after children, whether they are yours or someone else’s, even a basic thank-you is rare.
Compliments are even rarer.
Today I am wearing a cobalt blue 1950s style summer dress. However, apparently it doesn’t quite cut it for my nearly 8 year old daughter.
‘Mummy, I don’t mean to be rude or anything’ (looks exactly like she’s going to say something rude) ‘but not those bits on the shoulders.’ ‘And one of them is folded over.’
I ask my eldest son. I get the scrunched nose and the ‘hmm yeah, don’t like them’.
If he who does not care about clothes is willing to pass judgement, then I’m definitely going to snip them off. They’re gone.
This experience doesn’t beat yesterday’s though. After two hours of swimming lessons, three sets of getting them through the showers (are you with me on why I want to go back to work?), I am sitting in my kitchen trying to get them to eat so that I can get on with cleaning up and get everyone to bed. Wine o’clock (or is it my laptop?) is calling.
This conversation with my youngest follows.
Me: ‘Come on, eat your fish, it’s good for your brain.’
(Thinks. Comes up with motivation through competition with siblings.)
Me: ‘It will help you learn to read faster.’
T is now eating.
Pauses. Looks hard at my face.
T: ‘Does it put those lines on your head?’
Postscript: He did redeem himself later.
‘Daddy, Mummy is warmer than you. ‘She’s cuddlier than you’. ‘I love her more than you’.
You win some, you lose some…….
Mr Trebus was an obsessive hoarder who featured in a 1999 BBC documentary ‘A Life of Grime‘. He gathered so much stuff that there was barely enough room left for him to live in the house.
The British public warmed to him. Despite the filth, there was something about his humour and the way he could argue the case for every single item stacked in the towering piles he created, which were a miniature city for the local rat population. That and his catchphrase ‘stick it up your chuffer‘ which was readily bandied about to every council employee who ever came to the house to tackle the issue. If you read his obituary, you can see where his problems might have stemmed from.
So, you might ask, why am I writing about him?
I’m no minimalist but not a compulsive collector either. However, I do admit to having trouble letting go of ‘stuff’. Until very recently I had emails going back to 2001. If you look in my kitchen cupboards, it appears that I am prepping for World War three. If the nuclear Winter ever comes to Oxfordshire, I will be ready with my five giant size jars of Marmite, ten different kinds of pasta and twenty tins of tinned tomatoes.
My daughter is the same. I recently cleared out 40 boxes from her bedroom. In them, you might find a collection of pebbles, dried flowers, jewellery, small plastic toys, drawings, and lipstick. There is no apparent connection between the things she has collected but they are very consciously put together. They have meaning to her.
The Doctor on the other hand, comes from the ‘slash and burn’ school of thought. Growing up in the forces, his family moved constantly and he would find himself coming home from school to a different house from the one he left at the beginning of term. Nothing extraneous was kept by his parents, nothing. If it didn’t have a practical use, it went. He has very few things from his childhood. There’s no box of toys for our children to rummage through, no history for him to reminisce over with them.
So I am left wondering, why do some people keep so much stuff and others nothing?
I try my best to live by the William Morris quote ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful‘, but as my eldest son puts it so eloquently: #epicfail.
Pretty much everything I own has a memory attached, even the ugly stuff, so I will always have an inner struggle going on when I know the house needs a clear-out.
Which side of the fence do you sit on?
I haven’t been able to write for a while due to a bad case of the mauves. This is something in between the blues and the mean reds.
Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Paul Varjak: Sure.
Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name! (Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961)
Plus it gives me an excuse to put up a picture of Audrey Hepburn. And everyone loves one of those.
I tried to write a post about being made redundant a while ago. I couldn’t quite get the words out. After a long time in a well paid job, here I am at 41, three children at school, in a village where most of the other mothers are working, the Doctor’s career on the up as usual, and life has stalled. I know it’s not very serious. But for now I’m unsure where I fit. I’m working on it.
Other than my four year old repeatedly asking me to search for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that he thinks his dad has bought him and hidden in the house somewhere (he hasn’t) and winking at me every evening before bed saying ‘Remember what I said Mummy’, some other things have cheered me up in the last few days. This explanation of the current weather conditions in England is one of them. I also recommend going to visit Andra, 23 thorns and Ned Hickson, if you need a reason to smile.
It’s the small things that can dig you out.
There are some advantages to the Doctor in the house being away. Which he is, a lot.
Mealtimes are just for me. Fishfinger sandwiches were one of the first things I ever wrote about on here.
Last night however, was a bit more elaborate. I enjoy my food, relish strong flavours and sometimes a meal can take me somewhere else completely in my head. Yesterday evening had me eating tofu with ginger, pak choi and jasmine rice. It was delicious. The recipe called for Sake, and the heady scent of plums, or is it cherries, took me straight to a Japanese snow covered mountainside.I have never been to Japan and one day I would love to go. When the silence closes in around me, when the children have gone to bed and the quietness of the house hangs around me like a cloak, I think of places I have been to or might go to in the future. Those ‘glamorous getaways’ that I am sent emails about and that I can only sigh at before pressing the delete button.
Cooking has never been quite the same for me since I had children. My eldest son, at nine, is convinced that most food is actually poisonous. Black bits, green bits, fatty bits, lumpy bits? All qualify food for instant rejection. Don’t even mention fruit. Don’t even talk about it.
Then there is my daughter, who will gnaw on bits of meat like some kind of warrior queen. Provide her with a piece of steak that looks so rare that it is possible that the cow only just walked past the frying pan before ending up on the plate, and you will be greeted with a beatific smile. The little one is somewhere in between the two of them. I can never, ever, make them all happy at once.
Sometimes I like to forget the need to take a deep breath before putting a family meal on the table. Instead of waiting for a vote out of ten, or a thumbs up or down, I will eat a Thai curry with creamy coconut and the twang of kaffir lime leaves, remembering the time I spent in Bangkok in my twenties.
I will smell the rich enveloping fragrance of a lemony, buttery roast chicken and recall Sunday lunches for fourteen at my Grandma’s house, getting slightly tipsy on homemade ginger beer, and being allowed whipped cream from a can on my ice-cream for pudding.
Hand me a paper parcel of fat golden chips and freshly battered cod and I will be instantly transported to a pebbly Suffolk beach, on holiday, the sea so far away from where I am now.
I can’t wait until my children really start to love their food all the time, as sometimes they show me they do. They are missing out. In a world full of diet shakes, calorie counting and low fat, low taste, are you?
I have a clear recollection of an essay I once wrote at University on the psychology of ageing.
In short the argument went something like this: as you get older you become more like yourself, not less. Every personality trait becomes magnified. This is bad news for me, as it definitely means I am firmly on the path to grumpy old womanhood.
Last Summer I realised that I was feeling quite upset with the owners of the barn next door as they had not cut their front lawn for weeks and it looked like a meadow. In truth I knew that being in well paid jobs, young and yet to have a family, they probably had better things at the weekend than to waste time with a lawn mower and a pair of garden shears. In reality though I was bothered that they were making the place look untidy. As a friend said to me soon after though, I need a swift visit to a yurt in Cornwall and some surfing lessons. Starting to grumble about the neighbours not caring about the environment is a slippery slope to washing out your bin every weekend, deciding a cream tea in the garden centre is a fun day out and thinking that topiary is a good idea.
However, it’s happened again. Today I am grumpy about this. In the middle of a recession, with some countries having been on the verge of a total collapse of the banking system, Barclays in the UK have spent out on an advertising campaign to personalise your bank card with a photo. Every time I see the advert I wonder who on earth duped the banking executives into thinking this was a good idea.
I can imagine that the bank went to the agency with a brief about making the retail banking industry trustworthy again. However, whether or not you have a picture of your friends on your bank card, some cuddly dogs or anything else that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, the fact remains that you do not bank with your dogs, or your friends, and never will.
I am worried that they have evidence that every time you look at your bank card, that you will in future experience some kind of ‘awww’ moment that begins to become associated with their company logo. I hope they do though as otherwise someone in a pinstripe suit has given over millions to some skinny jeaned, black polo necked adman who is currently laughing on the other side of his face.
I’d like to tell the bankers out there that if that’s the best they can come up with, then if you’ll just give me your bonus this year, I’ll come up with something better. In the meantime, I’m off to shout at children on bikes wearing iPods, shake my fist angrily at people who don’t pick up after their dogs and find some nail scissors to trim the lawn.
At the end of last week, I was readying myself for the afternoon’s entertainment when I received an email on my phone. May Pole Dancing cancelled.
As an ex civil servant, who spent most of the last twelve years writing, anything involving semantics amuses me.
However, if you are not familiar with the tradition of Maypole dancing, involving children holding on to pieces of ribbon and leaping round a large pole to folk music every Spring (see here), then you may not understand why I laughed. The school’s wording was unfortunate to say the least and caused me a momentary chuckle.
However, I did then think to myself that I don’t actually know in detail what Maypole dancing is about. So I looked it up. It seems there are quite a lot of theories on the subject. It turns out that one of them is that Maypole dancing is an ancient fertility rite harking back to the time when tree spirits were worshipped, and which originally would have involved a real tree having been cut down to make the Maypole.
My interest was piqued so I read on. You can probably guess what is coming next but it’s probably not a surprise to learn that some think the Maypole is a phallic symbol. A tall pole planted into mother earth illustrating the bringing forth of new life. All this sexual symbolism and the high jinks that went with it (dancing, round a pole, with flowers in your hair – I’m outraged) apparently led the Puritans to outlaw the custom in 1644. The ribbons, which came along in the nineteenth century with the modern formation dancing? Well apparently there’s still sex involved. This time the weaving together of two ribbons by the dancers to form a new element represents the joining together of two people and their resulting offspring. There are other theories but this is the one that appealed to a woman with a mischievous sense of humour and therefore the one I liked the best.
There is one thing that is guaranteed to take me back to the feeling of being a tantrumming two year old.
Sewing. Or more generally any kind of arts and crafts.
Meanwhile I can barely sew on a button. Sewing badges on to cub uniform brings me out in a cold sweat. My eldest son comes home to tell me I have sewed them on in the wrong place. I do that thing little children do – head on hands, face on the table. ‘I am not doing it again!’ I wail.
Like me he is a perfectionist and looks mortified at the thought of going to his beloved cubs with his badges incorrectly located on his sweatshirt. He knows however, that in this case, when I say I’m not doing it again, I mean it.
At school, I would regularly pass my basket weaving (oh yes, we had to) to my more talented friends to finish. As the end of the lesson neared and I was still struggling with crooked stitches, gaping edges and stuffing spilling out, the offending item would be swiftly removed and completed in five minutes so that I didn’t end up in trouble. Wood and metalwork seemed easier but mainly because the teachers took pity on me and did most of my projects themselves.
I have tried though, I have tried. Last year I went with a group of friends to one of those cafés where you sit and make things and chat while you do it. While all of us wondered what we were doing when we were sitting there decoupaging a pottery flip flop, the level of stress I felt when being made to thread beads onto a wire heart and fix it to a piece of card was unparalleled. The whispering of one of the staff members in my ear of ‘don’t give up’ was the last straw. I suddenly realised I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS. So I didn’t. To the amusement of my companions, I sat there, hands in my lap, face set in grim determination and resolved never ever to go back.
I know that sewing is on the person specification for motherhood and is even apparently still up there on the list of desirable requirements for wife-hood. I have always struggled with the fact that I don’t meet 100% of the criteria for either job. Sometimes though your expectations of yourself are too high. You get better at letting yourself down gently as you get older. So I’m letting myself off this and focusing on the fact that my fairy cakes taste just fine.
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