Monday, 25 June 2007

A Week In The Life

It’s been a week or so since I last blogged; nice to take a break, sometimes, but strangely hard to get back into the habit once you pause for breath. I don’t want blogging to become another chore; the guilt at not catching up with all those I love to read becoming bigger each day. I think weekly blogging may be the way forward, but then again who knows; some days the words flow and the desire to communicate is there, other days it isn’t. Anyway, a snapshot of my week lies below.

Thursday 21
A friend came to lunch today, and brought with her a large pack of chocolate cookies for the children, the speciality kind which negates all the benefits of their healthy home-made status by having extra-large chocolate chips – slabs really. I told the children about them when I picked them up from school and pre-school respectively. They arrived home hungry and expectant, and headed for the cupboard. No biscuits. No biscuits anywhere, in fact. The children soon got cross and bored with the game of hunt the biscuit, and I could hear my voice becoming strained and manic with forced jollity as I brightly declared, for the thousandth time, that they must be somewhere. They were, of course. In the bin. I looked there in the end, reluctant to believe I could have put them there, but relieved no the less that they’d turned up and they were still unopened – just a little wipe was all that was required to remove the salad dressing and cat food that stuck to the surface of the packet. They had a biscuit each, then later, after tea, asked if they could have another. I agreed, and off we went again, on what was fast becoming a family ritual of hunt the biscuit. It didn’t take me as long this time – there they were in the bin again. I recognise that look of exasperated irritation mixed with amusement on my children’s faces; I used to give the same look to my mother when I was a teenager. My children aren’t teenagers, though; they’re eight and three.

Later, I found the toothpaste I knew I’d bought …. in the fridge. I called a friend to wish her happy birthday, and chatted away merrily, only remembering when I’d put the phone down that I hadn’t mentioned her birthday. I have memories of my former self, striding be-suited across the City, from power meeting to business lunch. Surely I was mega-organised, always on top of things? Memory can be a false friend. When I probe those memories a little deeper, I suppose I can remember rather a lot of hanging around by the water cooler, too, and holding forth in the office kitchen, making yet another cup of tea to break up the day, and endlessly forgetting where I was supposed to be next. I wasn’t this bad though. I suppose it must be my age. Or the fact that I have, with grim inevitability, turned into my mother.

I did remember, though, that it was the longest day (too often I am like Daisy from The Great Gatsby, only in forgetfulness, sadly, with none of the breathless charm: “Do you always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it.”) and proudly uncorked my elderflower champagne. I am having a ‘dry’ fortnight before going on holiday next week, in a vain attempt to become fit and healthy and toned before unleashing myself on the beaches on France. The children, ungrateful little wretches that they are, spat it out, but R and I sat in the garden and watched the clouds – heavy and rain-filled though they were.

Saturday 23rd
I didn’t forget, either, to make a picnic for the school midsummer fun day, which had been planned with meticulous care and attention; the only thing not factored in was the British weather. A quick recce in the morning confirmed that the school field was a mudbath, and the bouncy castle people were cutting up rough. Whack the Rat would have been more like whack the puddle, and the tug of war would no doubt have descended into mud wrestling. My friend and I had both made huge picnics, so we decided to have a big, messy indoor picnic at our house instead. Her four and my two were mollified by the thought of eating on the sitting room floor and not being chastised about crumbs, and the grown ups decamped to the kitchen and ate ourselves stupid, and talked too much, and watched the afternoon slip into evening. Much better than standing on a muddy field.

Sunday 24th
I spent the greater part of the day entranced by an old gardening book, dating from the 1930’s, that I’d picked up once in a second hand shop and promptly forgotten all about. It was amazingly informative, with some gorgeous illustrations. It was written in that brisk, military style so redolent of that era, and which seemed to bracket gardening as a patriotic duty, along with keeping a tidy house and being punctual. There were some outrageous comments – apparently the reason that the English (not the British, of course) are so obsessed with gardening is because we have a greater sense of aesthetic pleasure than other nations, who tend to prefer gaudy, bright colours, the poor fools. Never trust a foreigner who doesn’t appreciate a garden, is the stern message, any more than you should trust a man who doesn’t appreciate dogs. Don’t get me wrong –the bigotry and arrogant prejudice makes me gasp. But I sometimes feel the tiniest bit nostalgic for the confident certainty of past times. I know, I know, that need is what dictators prey on. But just occasionally, I’d like to be sure of myself.

Monday 25th
So here we are, the end of June. Wimbledon starts today. I’m going on holiday in a week. I’m freezing. I want the aga back on. In fact, I want the heating on. The garden is ravaged by too much rain and high winds; the plants are bowed and bruised, petals and leaves everywhere. My strawberry crop was a bumper one; now they are rotting before they’re ready to pick. The herb garden looks like a jungle. I’m on lifeguard duty for after-school swimming at the school pool today; no doubt once again the children will leap in, only for a flash of lightening and an ominous rumble to signal the end of the fun. Everything feels dishevelled and streaming. I’m British. I should be used to it. But I’m not.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Overwhelmed Children, Pi**ed Off Mothers

I’m feeling defensive today. Defensive in the face of my children’s fragility. Why is our society so obsessed with our children becoming independent? Is it so that they can stop hanging onto their mother’s work-jacket tails and allow them to scurry back to the office unencumbered? Is it because, as a nation, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief at not having to deal with the time-consuming little tykes any more? Why is it that the outgoing, confident, striding-forward-hopefully children are applauded and their parents congratulated, while those peeping out from behind their mothers’ legs are somehow seen to be letting the side down? Both my children have struggled with the big bad world at times. Both have had periods of being happiest at home, where they know they’re loved, and both, as babies and young toddlers, were hugely sensitive – to emotions, to noise, to any kind of over-stimulation. I say this not as an over indulgent mother, (‘my precious children are so sensitive, they need special care’), but as a mother who accepts them as they are but who has seen the downside of this; the babies who wouldn’t be left with someone they don’t trust, the toddlers who were terrified of the bigger brasher kids, the children who need extra encouragement, affection, love. My son was an anxious toddler, and I lost count of the people who would exhort me to ‘throw him in at the deep end of life’. I didn’t. I held him close. At eight, he is gregarious and sociable, happy and confident; he looks adults in the eye, he’ll address the whole school quite happily in assembly. My daughter won’t speak to the two new teachers at her pre-school. She’s not sure of them yet – why should she be? One of them told me “She needs to say ‘yes’ to her name at register time instead of putting her hand up. It’s a health and safety requirement. If there was a fire we’d need to know she was there”. I suggested, mildly, that if there was a fire, they’d soon know she was there. I think, at three, that you should reserve the right to speak to whoever the hell you like. I think, at three, that your world should be cosy and familiar, your limits small, your horizons close. I think it’s weird that we’re so keen to push our infants out of the door, yet we’re overprotective and won’t let them out to play when they’re older and ready to explore. Above all, I think that you have to advocate for your children at every opportunity. I don’t think that you should have to apologise for shyness. My dear friend has four independently minded little souls - the sort who charge into school on their first day, who beam at strangers, who never cling. They’re gorgeous children, and I love their fearless feistiness. That’s just the way they are. But children are different. We don’t expect them to all walk at the same time, after all. “I just want to be with you”, my daughter explained, refusing to take her coat off one day when I dropped her at pre-school. “I love you so much, so I want to be where you are”, she added, with touching reasonableness. “She’s manipulating you” said the brash, gum-chewing Mum, whose opinion I hadn’t sought, and who grins in mock exasperation and not-so-secret pride as her offspring push and fight their way through the throng, ‘cos that’s what boys do (if they’re real boys, is the sub-text). “She’ll get a shock when she has to go to school every day”. Oh yes, school every day. At four. SATS at six. (She’s a summer baby). Her path has been carved for her – and she’d better be walking down it alone. Can’t have her holding ME up now, can we?

Monday, 11 June 2007

Eight Things About Me ....

Having been tagged by @themill, I have been thinking all weekend of eight things to reveal. This was horribly hard – but then perhaps everyone has more interesting lives than me - and I couldn’t start; then when I did, I found I couldn’t stop! I clearly have some sort of compulsion towards disclosure. So here we go:

1. I’m a die-hard and ever-hopeful Newcastle United fan, who by a tragic quirk of fate is married to a Chelsea supporter. My gorgeous son, however, has chosen blood and family loyalty over money and fame, and has probably doomed himself to a life of disappointment.

2. When I was sixteen, for some bizarre and to this day unknown reason, my school was asked to enter the schools version of the European finals of ‘It’s A Knockout’ (remember that, anyone?!). My little ‘gang’ all put ourselves forward, as it involved a five day trip to Belgium, and we duly experienced one of the more surreal episodes of our lives. We were all set to win, but were pipped at the post by the Germans. It was later announced that they’d cheated and we got the trophy, restoring honour to our glorious nation.

3. I fell in love for the first time when I was 15 … with a Spanish waiter called Manuel, from Barcelona. I’m not making it up.

4. I have an inappropriate (given he’s 17 years younger than me) crush on Lee from Any Dream Will Do.

5. I’m sometimes slow on the uptake – I used to have big crushes on George Michael (back in the eighties) and Christopher Eccleston.

6.I speak French, Italian, and Spanish, but probably very badly by now, given that I don’t get out of Suffolk much these days.

7.I won a poetry competition at the age of 11 – unfortunately, I have a horrible feeling that that was the peak of my literary fame – I still write lots of poetry, but generally rip it up the next morning.

8.I would describe myself as outgoing, communicative and open (and hot-tempered, according to my husband) – but am occasionally beset by the most horrible anxiety and ridiculous over-sensitivity. Hence my family and my garden are my greatest refuge.

I’m not sure what to do about passing the tagging baton on, as most people have already been tagged, as far as I can see. If you haven’t, and you’re reading this – then please go ahead!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Prophecies and Playful Birds

Other people’s dreams are rarely that fascinating, so I’ll try to bear that in mind as I write. I dream vividly, unlike my husband, who claims to remember nothing, apart from the occasional surreal adventure, involving, wouldn’t you know it, car chases and shoot-outs! I remember atmospheres more than incidents – sometimes spooky and disturbing, sometimes joyful. Sometimes I awake with a sense of deep loss, although for what I’m not sure. Recently I’ve been dreaming of kingfishers (well, twice). A stretch of shimmering water, a close-up flash of a bird, all jewel colours and bright eyes. I’ve duly read up on the mythology of the kingfisher, that harbinger of the eponymous Halcyon days, when the bird breeds in the calm waters and the world enjoys respite from winter. I’ve read the myth of the original Alcyone, changed into a Kingfisher and forever swooping plaintively over the waves. I also read with interest that there is a link with my favourite constellation, the Pleiades, as one story has it that the original seven sisters were changed into kingfishers before taking their appointed place in the heavens. Cait O’Connor, (why can't I get a link to appear?), told me that Kingfisher in Welsh is Glas Y Dorlan – blue of the river. How beautiful. Maybe this all has some significance to me; I have been feeling mellow lately, with my husband no longer constantly away from home – I feel like the family is back in shallow waters, after the storms, paddling happily.

Yesterday K and I saw a kingfisher by the shallow stream that runs through the village, as we were walking back from dropping J at school. I saw the sudden, unexpected flash of colour and grabbed K, willing him to reappear. He did, this blue of the river, diving in to catch a fish, showing off. My daughter acknowledged his beauty nonchalantly, but was disapproving; censorious by nature, she thought he shouldn’t have snatched the fish. I just smiled at him in delighted recognition.

Unfortunately, last night I dreamed of a tiger – huge striped flanks appearing through the roses in the garden, a cruel velvety death awaiting us if we dared to step outside. I woke sweating and terrified to the imagined sound of it’s roar. I hope my foray into prophecy isn’t repeated.

Friday, 1 June 2007

School Stories Save The Day (and the half-term)

What a dismal, dreary, deluge of a half term it’s been. Cubs camp was a wash-out; the picnic planned for Tuesday was too. My daughter lost her voice (I take my blessings where I find them, ashamed though I am to admit it), and I finally succumbed to the full-blown flu bug that I‘d been fighting off for a week. The silver lining in this case was that R was able to take a day off, instead of breezily waving me goodbye, passport in hand, so I did what I haven’t done in years – allowed myself to be ill and went to bed for the day. I wanted to read, but couldn’t face anything that I picked up; I had the concentration span of a gnat and even a paperback felt too heavy. Magazines didn’t work, either; I wanted to be totally taken out of myself, and their focus on celebrities/current affairs/home make-overs smacked too much of the real world. So I lay there feeling sorry for myself, and then suddenly remembered the boxes of books that I’d brought back with me when my parents moved and I had to clear out the cupboards which held the detritus – and treasures - of my childhood. I dug out a pile of puffin paperbacks, whole series of school stories with dazzling, heroic titles full of exclamation marks: “Henrietta Saves The Day!”, “The Best Term Ever!”, “The New Tuck-Shop!” I was lost to a world of lacrosse sticks, butch games mistresses and hopelessly inefficient French Mam’zelles, just as I had been as a 10 year old. The lightest of reads, I was able to get through several in one afternoon, and I marvelled – I really did – at what writers were allowed to get away with over fifty years ago. The plots are predictable and paper thin - though I remember them, of course, as utterly compelling and gripping – and usually centre, in a slightly sadistic way, on some schoolgirl getting above herself, coming an inevitable cropper, and being saved/taught a lesson/reprimanded by the heroine, whose British character and schoolgirl pluck ensure her inevitable triumph. Anyone showing a modicum of originality or talent is slapped down; the girl with a beautiful voice who breaks bounds to enter a singing contest gets pneumonia and loses the beautiful voice – for ever, natch. The girl who’s too good at games and wants to go professional (how very un-British) swims too far against the current and gets her legs dashed on rocks (I know, quite savage, but as a girl I lapped up all this divine retribution). The worst scorn is, of course, reserved for the foreigners; there is often a wild Spanish girl, usually half-gipsy, who’s parents run a circus, but she can never settle down to the rigours of school life and generally runs back to the circus. The French are continually sending their daughters to English boarding schools, it appears, in the vain hope that they may develop the prized English Sense of Honour, but of course they can’t – they’re too French. A direct quote: “But Suzanne was French. She would never have the same sense of responsibility that the British girls had”. They’re universally hopeless at games, too, standing shivering on the side of the pool until a hearty British girl shoves them in – teaching them, of course, to lose their idle foreign ways. The working classes are magnificently ignored, on the whole; wonderfully sweet, with their funny accents and willingness to labour for the school, so long as they know their place. If any of them dare to send their daughters to the school, having got rich quick in some shady scheme, they are destined to failure; the Headmistress will avoid them on speech day or enquire who the funny little man is; the girls usually leave after a term, because of course they can’t learn ways of the British upper class, either.

The funny thing is, is that I remember seeing all of this as a child – my sister and I used to giggle at the treatment of foreigners, and at the ludicrous and never-changing speeches of the Headmistresses – but I devoured them all the same. In fact I used to beg my parents to send me to boarding school. Perhaps I felt I needed to learn that sense of honour and fit in, too. And what’s even stranger is that I devoured them all over again the other day, too. Maybe it was just the sense of nostalgia that they evoked, the memories of reading them with a torch under the bedclothes, the recognition of their place in my childhood. I had a great afternoon, though, and was immensely cheered up. I’ve got all my old pony stories too, though they will have to wait for another day. Freud would have had a field day with those.