Something needling you?

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.

The tools of sewing - sight of which always makes me wish I had some Valium.

The tools of sewing – sight of which always makes me wish I had some Valium.


My genes do not support the D- level of my abilities in this area. My mother could always conjure up an elaborate homemade costume for school at the last minute. Can-can dancer complete with crepe paper ruffles, matching hat and actual cans? Check. Bat made with bin liner wings incorporating bamboo skeleton? Check. She has knitted an actual farm complete with animals, thrown together a hobby horse in under an hour and fashioned a zombie bride costume at my daughter’s request. As for my sisters? One has an MA that reflects her talent in this area and the other a business, one element of which involves handmade toys. 

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.

Advertisements

A Poem for Today

My last remaining grandparent died yesterday.  Old enough to remember a time when the gas lamps on the street had to be lit each evening, she faded away in a nursing home in the middle of the night.

Only taking water at the end, there was so little of her left that each bone in her hand was clearly visible, not an ounce of fat was left.  I am glad to say though, that I visited her a few days ago,and in between humming hymns with her eyes shut and saying the odd few words, she looked up at me and gave me the most enormous smile. Her mind had been in decline for a while, she may have recognised me, she may have thought I was another of her granddaughters, but I’m glad I made her smile nonetheless.

Supporting my grandfather in his career throughout her life, she never worked but was a botanist by education and I will remember her for her love of plants and gardening.  She was always proud to show my children her yellow raspberries and could not fathom my eldest son’s complete dislike for fruit. She had a maternal fondness for cats, birds, hedgehogs and any stray animals that came across her path and exasperated relatives by insisting the strays were still fed long after she had left her home and garden to be looked after elsewhere.  I hope I can always recreate her amazing tarragon salad dressing and potatoes with paprika. She would never allow my Grandpa his favourite puddings for fear of his waistline expanding but was zealous in the way she would drink a bottle of Cava, given half the chance.

I had been planning today to post a poem that my daughter wrote recently, as I saw it in print at the weekend and every time I read it it makes me see another side of my stroppy, feisty, seven year old blonde whirlwind. I am adding it here anyway, as somehow it still seems apt in the way it looks across the ages. So goodbye to my Granny, with love from me and one of your great granddaughters.

When I was little I noticed the waves looked like white horses galloping and tossing their manes

and though I am older now I still notice them riding the waves

and when I am older still I only sometimes notice them rampage in and out of the sea

and now I am very old I don’t go to see them anymore

but I sometimes look out the window and see them

they make me remember those happy memories by the sea.

I’m not going husband shopping again…

I have a strong work ethic; I’ve worked since I was 13 years old. My first job was working in the village pub on Saturdays. I spent most of the day with my arms plunged to the elbows in greasy water, scraping encrusted food off catering sized pans and learning new swear words from the chef. The pub’s signature steak and kidney pie was my least favourite to clean off. Glued on pastry anyone? 

If I was lucky, I was given the next level up of crap task to do:  peeling huge pans of hard boiled eggs or whacking the hell out of turkey steaks with a mallet, to tenderise them. I came home with the smell of frying ingrained into every skin cell, clothing fibre and strand of hair – but I loved having the independence that job gave me and was addicted to that from the start. It is now the middle of the Easter holidays, a couple of years shy of 30 years later and I’ve spent a good week with my husband and the children. (And that’s even counting being dragged to the local swimming pool where we attempted to look like we were both enjoying sitting in a bath of tepid chlorine slightly diluted by water, while fending off the verrucca virus.) But I’m still thinking about work as this is the first week I’ve been without it for twelve years.

I’ve come a long way since my days in a pub, spending my days writing, problem solving, project managing and trying not to cry over being told about yet another yard of red tape to cut through before I could reach the end of weeks and weeks of work.  I have sat in meetings with Government Ministers. Early on in my last workplace, as a press officer and before I (thankfully) moved to where the actual work got done, I knew which ones, long gone now, had a crate of Red Bull in the office to get them through the day and which ones picked their nose in meetings. Some things that have happened over the years I could have happily missed. Personally I think that when you are managing a team that it is probably best not to tell them about your Hollywood wax. But most of the time I’ve spent there, I’ve can honestly say I’ve looked forward to each day working with some very funny, clever and committed people. I’ve made friends and I’ve helped get things done.

I’ve still got another week of the holidays to go and I’m enjoying the time with my family. I’ve had little gaps – and bigger gaps – between jobs before. I’ve got an iron in the fire which I’m waiting on. But this time I feel someone is telling me to do something different. I’m mildly concerned seeing as the last time this happened I went abroad, on a whim, with a friend and saw six countries in six months (that’s too many in case you’re wondering – and I still have to fight the urge to overschedule). I never expected that both of us would meet the men who would eventually be our husbands along the way. I met mine on a boat trip through Vietnam, she met hers while scuba diving off the coast of Northern Australia. It makes a better story to tell at dinner parties than some of them. I am not going husband shopping again and seeing as I definitely haven’t won the lottery, I’m not planning on a round the world trip for five. With the spark of my old self floating about though, I am wondering what might be around the corner this time.

Death of the fairies.

My daughter has that look of Nanny McPhee at the moment.  In normal circumstances, if you can see past the attitude, which is almost a physical presence in itself, she’s all Rapunzel length blonde hair, broad grin and flashing Steve McQueen blue eyes.  At the moment though, all I can focus on is the one great big haggle tooth, going greyer by the day and hanging by a thread.  I am struggling to resist the urge to just reach over and give it a good hard tweak.  It’s a bit like that spot you shouldn’t pick at, but just can’t ignore.

When she sees that look come over my face, she bats me away and tells me to get off, in no uncertain terms. She knows quite well what I have in mind. I respond by telling her that the tooth fairy will be very slow to visit if she doesn’t get on with it.  She rolls her eyes and laughs. ‘Mum I am a bit OLD for that now you know.’ She’s 7 and I think I’ve managed to keep the fairies alive until very recently, but now they are definitely on their way out. I tell her that every time someone says they don’t believe, a fairy dies. I dramatise the death. The fairy’s light goes out, she gets paler and thinner, starving and in pain, clutching at her sides and groaning, she eventually collapses to the ground and fades into nothingness. And I tell her that everytime she says this, this will be all her fault.  Unfortunately she knows my sense of humour and just grins. I curse myself for not taking the opportunity to make the death gorier.

I love the fact that she has held on for this long.  Last year, her friends began to tease her for still believing in fairies. She was angry with me for keeping the myth alive and I didn’t know quite how to respond. Is it wrong to want to keep my little girl little for a bit longer? I dragged it out for a bit. On one occasion, she swallowed a tooth and was desperately upset that she wouldn’t get the cold hard cash that the fairy brings. Fortunately however, the tooth fairy is resourceful. She wrote a note explaining that one of her best friends the drain fairy had located the disappeared tooth after it had eventually made its way into the sewer, and had passed it on to her. It hadn’t been the most pleasant of jobs, but you know, friends do things for each other. When she found the note in the morning, C’s eyes lit up – and mine too.

She knows the truth – but we have reached an understanding now. She asks about the tooth fairy and about Father Christmas. A smile flickers over her face as I tease her with what is only ever a half answer.

Image

Photo of the Dan Baines Derbyshire ‘dead fairy’ from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/derbyshire/6545667.stm

 

To dye or not to dye – that is the question.

I was reading keepingitrealmom.com’s blog post the other day about whether or not a woman should have long hair after 40. It brought me back to to a conversation I had some weeks ago, with a small group of internet friends I have, all in their 30s and 40s, about what they were going to do when their hair went grey. It turns out that some have already ‘dealt with the situation’ and I just had no idea.  Even the ones who don’t wear make up have balked at letting any white hairs see the light of day.   I don’t know many women who go ‘au naturel’ at this age.  It got me wondering what I should do when I have to accept that there are more than a few twinklers threaded through the chestnut.

Grey hair, if you look at a single one on its own, is actually quite beautiful. It’s reminiscent of starlight. It glitters and sparkles. A whole head of grey though on a young (or youngish) woman, unless you can do a glamorous Vidal Sassoon bob, worn with elegance, confidence and expensive clothes, is hard to pull off. Throw curly hair into the mix (mine is) and what you have is a look that says less ‘attractive older woman ageing gracefully’ and more ‘wicked witch of the west’.  I really don’t want my children suggesting I lose my current wardrobe and replace it with the Halloween dressing up clothes – and I wouldn’t put it past them. They can be scarily blunt.

I found my first grey hair last Summer on the way back from a holiday with my family in France. I nearly choked on my croissant. I was not happy. I am not comfortable with the whole ageing process, inside, outside, in any kind of way. I am seeing the older generation in my family slowly fading out at the moment. My paternal grandmother is in her 90s, living in a nursing home, slowly becoming demented and already almost completely bedridden. She hasn’t liked people photographing her for a long time, her skin is paper thin, her hands claw like. She’s not giving up easily though, singing ‘Onward Christian Soliders’ at the top of her voice in the middle of the night, still retaining the upper class airs of someone who had has a less than average life, and demanding that she’s kept in an adequate supply of chocolate biscuits. Whilst I have to admire her spirit, she’s clinging on rather than enjoying life.  Grey hair, rather than wrinkles, seems to signifiy the start of a long road in that direction. And I plan to be the woman in the well known poem ‘Warning’,  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/warning/, rather than taking old age lying down.

If I eventually dye my hair though, which I suspect I almost certainly will, am I not contributing to the ongoing beauty treadmill that women get on from their teenage years? Should I make a statement and try having my hair grey? Caryn Franklin of howtolookgood.com seems to have it right. Daphne Selfe at 83 looks pretty amazing. And Helen Mirren always looks like she is having a pretty good time. But unless anyone can prove me wrong, there are far less of the women more towards my end of the age spectrum who’ve bucked the trend and not reached for the hair dye.

My little sister (she’ll always be that) while holidaying in Milan in her twenties, sat in a square with her friend and later re-counted to me the number of ‘silver foxes’ walking past. She was not talking about the women. Growing silver (note, not grey) is fine for a man. It’s distinguished, it seems to emanate gravitas and a deeper understanding of life. It’s a little bit Sean Connery and it looks good with a dinner jacket. On women though? I’m not sure the world has moved on that far yet. I’m not ready to be put out to grass, for people to assume I can’t run a marathon, or that my brain doesn’t work just as well as someone twenty years younger. So I suspect the #634 chestnut honey creme gloss will be hitting my bathroom shelf at some point in the next few years. In the meantime though, I will be retaining the right to change my mind. After all it’s a woman’s prerogative. 

Caryn_Franklin_54373