Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Time gone past

Photographs are strange records of time gone past. My parents didn't have many (see below) because they couldn't afford to buy the film nor have them developed. My sisters and I regularly grumble at the decreasing number they had of us as children - so dozens of the eldest reducing to maybe one or two of the youngest - and with four children any difference shown was enough to start a war. I don't think they were unusual, people simply didn't have as much disposable cash as we all seem to nowadays.

In contrast, in our home we have dozens of photos - pictures of the kids, on holiday, at school, family events. Loads on display and boxes and boxes in the huge cupboard under the stairs. A year ago we were pulling the box out a lot in preparation for the embarrassment we hoped to inflict on the eldest at her 18th birthday party. Sorting through the snapshots has been great fun - causing guffaws of laughter, cries of 'shame about the face' and chagrin from the youngest about the small number we have of her compared to the others. De ja vu, indeed.

But what was interesting and had never occurred to me before was the view expressed by a dear friend on a recent visit - of all the photos on display, there are none of me with the exception of one whole family photograph we had taken at a studio.  Well, of course, it is me who takes the photos.  I carry the camera and pull it our often enough to record the kids and daft happenings or to recreate a shot from years gone by (so last summer we drove to a specific spot to take picture of the kids in the same pose we have up on a screensaver from 10 years gone by) but as the kids are always busy, doing, I record the doings.  And I, well I don't do anything.  I am the recorder, the observer, the big fat controller.

Time under the bridge

I have no idea how long it is since I last wrote on here.  I suspect many months, possibly a few years.  Writing for me has always been a guilty pleasure, managed only with time snatched from elsewhere, stolen moments when I really should have been doing something else like the washing, tidying the kitchen or time spent on me instead of the children and specifically, the daughter.  But now I have no excuses.  I have six months spread out in front of me like a huge magic carpet ready for the ride of a lifetime.

Since I last had time to write I have achieved many things: obtained a post grad diploma, changed career, come off medication (worthy of a blog in itself), walked my beloved daughter through a million miles of heartache and out the other side and now, just now, had a diagnosis of cancer.

So I will have, finally, the luxury of time in which to carve out a little piece of time for myself.  I know this to be true and I know that it will be the way of shaping and controlling my existence, my life.  My whole life I have scratched little snippets down on paper and more recently put it out on postings in the online communities.  But I don't want to waste my writings, so here it will be.  Collected, unlike me.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

musical turns

My last post was about my father and it may be hugely significant that this one will be too. My dad and I have always had a difficult, combustible relationship and since I left home it has never been easy. Last night I took myself off to bed early to read my book and to catch up on sleep after a relentless week of work. As I was falling asleep I heard the children below me playing their guitars, singing and listening to youtube and for some reason, images of my father popped into my head.

Dad loves music and always had the radio on in the car. It was the light programme The Forces Sunday lunchtime programme being a favourite, later radio 2 or he would play records at home on the gramophone later upgraded to the stereogram. He listened to jazz, to Harry Secombe, Bing Crosby, Glen Miller and others, strange to me. He even bought a copy of the Pearl Fishers for one of the arias. He was totally untrained but sang and more often whistled his way through the day to Bing or Harry as easily as to Mario Lanza. I remember him attempting to teach me to whistle one Sunday morning while mum was making the roast. I stood straight backed next to the door jamb and pursed my lips watching him with fierce concentration. I wanted the sound to come from my lips - to be like my dad, to be able to join in with him when he whistled in the car with his right elbow sticking out of the wound down window, cigarette in hand. My mum sizzling and hissing, scraping the bottom of the roast tin, the radio on and dad staring at me, down at my level, saying' come on, you can do it, try' and me hissing and lisping in response. I can't whistle yet but when I try I see my dad's face willing me to do it.

Another memory is of winning the Odeon Saturday cinema club raffle. Oh heady days, mouth full of everlasting strip, looking at my ticket stub and realising I'd won! I had to go up onto the stage and got my prize from the manager - the new Beatles single 'I wanna hold your hand'. I was beside myself with excitement, a single, the Beatles, that I don't think I saw a second of the films, turning the record over and over in my hands, slipping it out and into its sleeve. My first record. I got home and told my mum, again making dinner, this time the Saturday steak and kidney pie, who looked up and was dismissive. She didn't like the Beatles. But dad picked me up threw me in the air and was so excited, joining with and increasing my elation at the prize. We didn't have a record player at the time and even though he promised to borrow one he never did and so the record languished on the dresser later being thrown out without me ever listening to it. When I hear it now I am back in the kitchen with my dad in the air, bursting with happiness.

My daughter sings. She even went through a phase when very young of operatically singing her way through her life. She would sing on the stairs announcing her arrival (I am coming down the stairs, I am dressed, the dog is there), sing her breakfast request (scrambled egg, Please!'), sing on the walk to play group (we have to stop to cross the road, here is Fay, hold our hands) and so on through the day. Since her discovery of mamma mia, she has taken singing very seriously, perhaps fuelled by the belief that there is indeed a Greek island where all the inhabitants always sing and never talk to each other like other mortals, and she now has singing lessons. We have singstar on the playstation and have a brilliant giggly time belting out old songs and competing with each other as to who can hit the highest note (her, of course). She also has guitar lessons (and did have piano too, but after a couple of years informed me that she knew how to play now and didn't need lessons any more) and is often in school plays and musicals, singing her way through life once more. I delight in this. I love to hear her, to have our house filled with song and sometimes, when allowed, I sing along too thinking of my dad, whistling and singing along to the radio.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Tales of my father

My father once walked out of my sister's house because she had served him lasagne for tea. He got up, pushed back his chair and announced that he hadn't survived the second world war to be served 'itie' rubbish. Poor girl, there she was innocuously dishing up for the family with grandad come for his tea. Like me she'd thought that years of annual golf dinners at the only Italian restaurant in town had prepared my father for the delights of Italian cuisine. But he had apparently always had the steak chips and peas and quietly pushed his mushrooms under his napkin.

The grandchildren sometimes get themselves 30 minutes of fun by asking grandad about the war. He was actually just too young to serve (and may be that explains aspects of his personality) but he did have a job as messenger boy for the Home Guard. He has great tales of derring do, mainly bicycle based, him dashing around the countryside with messages for various far flung outposts of dads' army. We had bombs drop near us but not near enough for genuine danger. It sounds like he had a lovely time and was most self important. Extra hot chocolate too.

After the war he did his national service and was lucky enough, I think, to go to the Far East - Singapore. There he lived on a big base with many other young men. In the photos they all look about 15 and he is so young, so innocent and so cheeky! I can tell that it was here that he was happiest, with his mates all serving a common cause. Paydays were spent in the city spending he wages. Cigarettes and a decent meal - steak, chips and peas. Of course. In all hi time there he never sampled an authentic meal (or 'foreign malarky' as he puts it). Such a waste. They played pool and cards and wrote letters home.

At the end of his National Service he went to a dance in the local dance hall and saw my mum. He went up to her and asked her to dance. She mentioned she hadn't seen him for a while, 'well I've been in Singapore for 2 years, in the RAF' 'oh I see, that'll be why then. Wondered where you were'. Two months after they were married and 9 months after that my sister was born. The wedding photo was taken but not developed. They couldn't afford it. After my mother's death my sister discovered the negatives and took them to the same photography shop that had taken them (44 years previously) and had them developed as a gift for dad. They now have pride of place on the sitting room wall. My parents. Never before seen by us like this. Two extremely young, extremely nervous strangers.

They lived with my maternal grandmother for a while and later with dad's mum. My mother hated her. She criticised and picked fault and generally made her life a misery. When mum was pregnant with baby number two, the council took pity on them and gave them a 2 bedroom flat. I was born there.We never had many photos taken, money being a small thing but never enough of it with four children to raise. He took photos I think but could never afford to have them developed. No pictures were displayed in our family home but a biscuit tin in the wardrobe was a box of delights to us. Photos of strange people dressed in fur trimmed coats next to flash cars, babies in huge high prams and then a photo of granny on her wedding day next to a fierce looking grandad. A couple of pictures of my father so young, so thin and so shy in his uniform or off duty vest and slacks. Smiling in the company of his friends in Singapore. Looking uncomfortable standing next to a 'sight'. Holding a cigarette, looking hopeful. A handful of photos of us children (around 5 of me and none of the youngest, poor soul) looking like refugees from the eastern bloc all in a line with our hand me downs on sitting on chairs with torn upholstery or else a checked picnic blanket.

After mum's death the four of us poured over these photos in the days after her death searching for clues to our family's past and maybe future. And now I think of it, no pictures of my parents together nor strangely, none of her at all. But on the wall of my father's home there shines the photograph of the two young hopefuls, shy and uncertain and together for ever.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

and again - 2008 anyone?

I am not only not a good mother but clearly not a good blogger either. Almost year has passed since our move to a new county and a new life. It has been a remarkable year, one of friendships old and new and lives renewed with a sense of freedom. We see more of real friends - an impetus not to lose touch - and we have made new strong friendships. Our little road is so friendly a community and both I and the children have forged strong relationships. I joined the WI, become a good neighbour and forced myself to meet and chat to everyone - village fetes, jam stalls, brownie meets, volunteering for the school - every single thin I could manage. This was the equivalent of 10 years' worth rolled into about 9 months. Hard work but worth every minute spent. I now have lovely new friends, a new WI (getting old I know but I enjoy having women friends across all ages), a new book group, and a range of places to visit.

All summer I have stood in the kitchen watching Rosie playing in the street with her friends - a gang of 13 girls on their bikes and skates terrorising the neighbourhood boys. I was surprised by how many children we have in the village but they all congregate in our no through road which leads to the nature reserve and our house has become the feeding and watering station for them all (thank goodness for tesco multipacks of crisps and juice) and toilet stop too. We now have a very large garden and tree swing and that too is popular after school and if it's raining they squeeze themselves into the log cabin and play the piano or playstation or use the gym equipment with much hilarity. I love the house full of kids, they bring life and joy and noise and bustle and my heart is full.

So life here is good.

Monday, 3 December 2007

where has the year gone

that it is already time for friends to have up the Christmas tree and nativity plays are looming large on the horizon?

It is months since I last blogged and it has been a busy time, fiiled with more than I would have predicted. My whole life has changed since the warm days of August when we sat outside with glass of wine and watched the children play on the campsite.

We came back from holiday to a very poorly mother in law who needed lots of love and support and we took ourselves off many weekends to see her and to give other family members a break. Rosie was still unwell too and we started the term with one of many weeks off school puntuated by trips to the hospital. Eventually we found a kindly paediatrician who seems to have sorted her out (after many false starts). And still the trips up the motorway continued to see mother in law.

We decided that we'd had enough and started to investigate moving nearer to her to make the trips easier. We decided upon Northamptonshire as it is more than half way there, near to canals (my husband has a love of narrowboats) and a lovely part of the country where we have spent happy days throwing dog (and the occasional child, in error) into the canal. Blackberry picking, chatting over the loch gates, friendly pubs - you know the sort of place. We picked a village and found a house. We loved the house. Oh how we loved it. Rosie could walk to school (first time ever, here we are too far) and there were horses in the field next door. We made an offer. It was accepted. I filled in the school admission form. And got excited. Then we did an early Monday morning trip to my husband's office and found it took 3 hours. We'd thought 1 and a half tops. Disaster!

So we withdrew the offer, I cried, Rosie cried, Tim was stoical. We decided not to move. Then looking on rightmove unable to get out of the habit, I saw the perfect place. To be honest the house is horrid but the location was fantastic. Huge garden and next to a nature reserve. School in the village 5 minutes away. In the same road as eldest daughter's best friend from school ( our 2 eldest live half with us and half with their mum so we commute them between the two). So we are moving away. Next week. This was a good move we decided. Very sensible, in the right direction and to a house needing less work (hmm?). Our lives will be easier we said and looked forward to free time and evening walks with children and dog.

And then we started to say goodbye to our friends built up slowly and lovingly after 9 years here. We moved in when I was pregnant and started to make friends almost immediately with NCT groups and quiz nights and preschools, nursery, school, french club, rainbows, brownies. Rosie and I have cried most nights for weeks thinking of all that we will be leaving behind Suddenly common sense doesn't seem to come into it. As she said ' mummy my heart is buried in the garden'. Of course I reassure her that we shall keep the true friends and will stay in touch with everybody we love, she can have sleepovers and I shall too! We have holidays and weekends and all the time in the world to see the people we love. But still we are both uncertain and unsure. My nervousness increases as the date gets nearer - 7 days to go -and I say goodbye each day to someone I shan't see now until after we move. How long will it take to build up this much love around us again?

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Summer and the living is easy.....

And so this summer continues in its very own fashion, not really a summer at all.

We have been away, down to France (Ile d'Oleron) and had a lovely family holiday. I have been set my homework and being an obliging sort, here it is:

We travelled late on a Friday with a flurry of activity. Normally we take the overnight ferry and have a shorter drive at the other end but this year did the short crossing. This meant two hotels on the way down, one in poor grubby Calais, and one in the pretty town of Avrille just outside Angers. This hotel is a converted windmill and has our family essentials, a pool and a creperie. So the first afternoon of our holiday was spent by the pool sipping drinks watching the children 'perform'. The weather was lovely, not too hot but incredibly pleasant after the rotten weather we have had at home.

The next day we visited the beautiful chateau at Angers before reaching the campsite in time for a repeat: the kids in the pool but this time us unpacking the car and sorting out the tent, cooking the first meal and generally relaxing. For the first time ever we took the bikes and this was a good decision, although more hassle on the way down, it meant that the kids could cycle around the campsite, Tim could go for a bike ride while we had a lie in (he misses his early morning walk with the dog) and pick up supplies from the covered market and they could all go off for a ride to the beach. The campsite we had picked almost by chance we found to be perfect for us - lots of Dutch and French families and with very few pitches (they built the site and then applied for a licence and got permission for only 63 pitches when they'd built for 200). It was pure bliss - quiet and family oriented.

Another first was that because of the bikes we hardly used the car - we certainly never left the island and mainly headed out for the little towns and their markets: both covered and 'nocturnals'. The kids love the marche nocturnals almost as much as we hate them. Hate is probably too strong a word but while we do like to mooch around the food markets picking out fruit, veg and fish the tat on sale nowadays at the night markets is pretty much the same tat as you might find anywhere in the world. The exception was the market at Boyardville where we went several times to allow the kids to walk around by themselves and spend 'their own money' while we sat at a cafe having a coffee or drink (in truth we could see them the whole time but no need for them to know that). They bought endless 'bargains' and I bought a lovely ring and also a secret Christmas present for the eldest. We ate caramelised nuts and 'chi chi' (does anybody else know this stuff - it is like the churros found in Spain but long thin strips of doughnut deep fried and sprinkled with sugar. Our kids ask for nutella and they wander along dipping them in the gooey chocolate and getting themselves and anybody else near covered in sticky sauce!) The setting in the little port town was beautiful: bright and shining and relaxed and happy.

The pattern for the holiday was much the same as always. We slept late (except for Tim who wakes at 6.30 every day of his life) and read our books (two kids on Harry Potter, one on Secret Garden and Tim on the God Delusion while I read lots: John Irving's Widow for a Year and (of course) We were the Mulvaneys), cycled, ate salads and grilled fish, played boules somewhat lethally (MJ got sent off for bad behaviour), pingpong and swum. Even I got in the pool one day when the temperature reached 38 degrees. Everyone got brown (either that or their bottoms have got whiter) even MJ with his fair skin and red hair and one day we all burnt in the deceptive cloud cover.

We ate two meals out and nearly fainted at the cost: once because it was so cheap and once because it was so expensive. After that we decreed meals at home and puddings out: glaces or ci chi only. One night we tried sorbets from a little shop and the cassis sorbet I had transported me back over 20 years to Berthillons on Ille St Louis in Paris. We used to queue outside even in February freezing half to death to have sorbets or ice cream and then go to the salon de the around the corner and have chocolate cake and brandy to warm ourselves up. Misspent youth indeed! Can't wait to take the kids.

We tried to find a place to go landsailing but failed miserably but luckily the eldest's keen observation skills found us the most successful day out: parc des arbres, which was one of those tree top zip wire death defying kind of things which all the kids loved. MJ got sent off for dangerous behaviour but only right at the very end. I was ridiculed endlessly for shouting 'ma files est stuck dans la rouge top' very loudly when he froze, couldn't go up, couldn't go down. Yes, I do know he's a boy and I probably do know that stuck isn't french. I panicked.....he got down, of course.

And on the way home to the UK we visited Futuroscope. Too much to do and the queues are too long but it was fun especially watching me (vertiginous) attempting to get to my seat on the glass floored cinema for the 360 degree film. The night show was amazing and we all stayed up far too late resulting in an awful last day of the holiday but hey, who cared? On the very last night we went to a hotel which was really grotty, found online through Logis de France and deeply disappointing. We picked up the day though by finding a cycle track and the kids and their dad rode along the banks of the Seine past Victor Hugo's house and lovely gardens. A 'tasting' menu at a good local restaurant saved the evening and the kids were most impressed by the amusee bouches (and the whole thing cost a fraction of the crap hotel).

So what did we get out the holiday? Time together as a family. Three lovely 'the best/worst thing about my holiday' essays written by the children. A wonderful Q&A session from the two youngest who found our condoms and wanted to know if we were 'breeding' and had a list of queries they had obviously always wanted to ask (the eldest covering her ears repeating 'this isn't happening'). Laughter. Being beaten at swingball. Watching the kids playing wordlessly with the dutch children next door, complete with a full blown water fight and a game of 'it'. A determination to learn French properly. A desire to buy a place in that part of France maybe to retire but preferably earlier than that. Memories for the store. Happiness.