Tag Archives: family

Absolute Beginners

It’s been emotional.

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Fly on, little wing. Image: sjohart Artist unknown

The past week and a bit has seen my baby spend several days in hospital. The care we received – all if us, not just Junior – was impeccable, and a full recovery is imminent,  but still. If I never have to call an ambulance for my tiny child again, it will be too soon.

The picture above is one I took in Baby’s hospital room. The tiny bird reminded me of the child in the cot beneath it in better, healthier days – all wide, sparkling eyes, the mouth barely open in wonder and curiosity – and I found it hugely comforting. As kind as the nurses and doctors were, however, it was exhausting, both practically and emotionally, to maintain a bedside vigil and I was glad to be allowed home again last weekend.

I listened to ‘Lazarus’, a track from David Bowie’s latest album, on one of our trips to or from hospital. How incredible, I thought. Bowie is still a relevant, creative genius.  I loved the track. I resolved to buy the album.

And then news broke of his death.

I haven’t been so broken at a celebrity death before. Not even the loss of Terry Pratchett, who I adored, hurt as much as this. I can’t process the idea that Bowie, the chameleon, the otherworldly, the unspeakably beautiful, is dead. I prefer to think he has returned home. He will never be gone. He is part of the air now, and the night sky.

I don’t have a favourite Bowie track. I love pretty much all of them equally. (The video for ‘Let’s Dance’, however, is dearest to my heart). I wanted to share the video for ‘Absolute Beginners’, though, not only because I think it’s a fabulous song, but mostly because it was in my head a lot as I looked after my sick child.

I absolutely love you, but I’m an absolute beginner.

I am an inexperienced mother, but I hope I’m doing an OK job. ‘Absolute Beginners’ lets me know I probably am. I wish David Bowie knew how much his music and image have meant to me, and how much he has helped me just by existing and creating and showing us all how to turn our lives into art.

I loved him. I will never forget him. And my child will know all about him, in time.

Like I said. It’s been emotional.

 

There Are So Many Ways…

…to tell someone you love them.

There’s the hug when they walk into the room. There’s the way your eyes light up when you see them, and the ‘I’m so glad you’re here!’ that you whisper into their ear. There’s the laughter you share, and the private jokes.

There’s the lifetime of memories: the special Christmases made all the better by the knock of your loved one on the front door, and their silhouette in your hallway, and the presents – always the same, but no less loved because of that – which, year upon year, they gave you. There’s the way you used to watch, open-mouthed, as this person you love did magic trick after magic trick, opening your mind to a world you couldn’t understand but were fascinated by. There’s the Bruce Lee posters on his wall, the tiny hints of a hidden life, one separate from you – a grown-up life, full of mystery. There’s the motorbike parts in the living room, which made the other adults tut, but which made you smile because it seemed so cool. So free.

Photo Credit: next. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: next. via Compfight cc

There are the memories you’ve made from all the family gatherings – the happy and the sad – made whole and perfect by the fact that your loved one was part of them. It wouldn’t be the same without him.

It wouldn’t be the same.

You show you love him in the way you roll your eyes as he rolls another cigarette, and the chuckle he gives to show he knows you care, but he’s going to smoke it anyway. There’s the glint in his eye as he stands at the pub door, and the nodding assurance that he’ll make sure to get home safe. There’s the affectionate way he tells you he’ll be grand and not to be worrying about him, but both of you know you will worry, regardless.

There are the bad jokes that you can’t help laughing at. There are the phone handsets that fascinate him, and the crazy ringtones, and the way you smile when he wants to show you all of them, all at once. It’s the the fact that he doesn’t eat broccoli because he doesn’t like the look of it, and you just let him away with it even though you shouldn’t.

There’s the fact that he brings an umbrella with him no matter what the weather – and you never make anything of it, even for fun. It’s just part of who he is, and you love it because you love him.

But I realised when this beloved person became suddenly, deathly ill, that in all my life I have never told him I love you. I have never spoken the actual words, the simplest and hardest in the world. Of course I hope I have shown it through actions, through the enjoyment of his company, through all the smiles we’ve shared and the happy days we’ve spent together. There haven’t been enough of those, of course. Of course.

But I have never spoken the words. Today I’m thankful I get the chance.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share their warm wishes with me after yesterday’s post. My uncle remains stable after surgery, but I would ask you to continue the good wishes and prayers, with my gratitude. There is still a long way to go.

 

A Note, on a Stressful Monday

By all accounts, today has been – and will continue to be – a challenge.

Firstly, my husband has gone on a work-related trip.

Secondly, spiders have taken over my house, and my only weapon against them – the vacuum cleaner with a pair of old tights stretched over the intake pipe – is banjaxed. (This may be because I accidentally hoovered up a pair of tights while trying to catch a spider, but I can neither confirm nor deny such rumours).

Thirdly, I was supposed to begin the second pass of edits on Emmeline today, but chances are high it won’t happen now. Because…

…fourthly, and most importantly, one of my dearly loved family members has been taken to hospital with a serious illness, and I am waiting anxiously for news.

If you’re the praying type, please remember my family in your petitions today. If you’re not, a handful of good vibes strewn in the wind will do instead.

And I hope you’ll be able to forgive me for not posting a proper blog today. For all these reasons, some more than others of course, I am not in the right place to do it justice.

So, here’s a photo of a tiny baby hedgehog in what looks to be a purple toilet roll holder for your enjoyment instead. It brought a bit of levity to an otherwise stressful morning for me, at least. I hope it’ll do the same for you.

I hope to be able to talk to you tomorrow; until then, may all go well for you and yours.

Innerspace

Hey! It’s great to see you again. Thanks so much for calling over. Welcome to my head! I like it in here; it’s comfy. Stretch out, and make yourself at home. Have a glass of wine. Enjoy the view. Pretty, isn’t it?

Talk to me – though go gently, won’t you? If you ask me a question, give me a second to think about my answer. Be prepared for me to look at the problem from all angles before I make a decision. I like to look, and look, before I leap.

Don’t worry that I don’t speak all that much. I will, once I get to know you a bit better. I just prefer to listen at first, that’s all. I like to soak in whatever’s around me, at my own pace. I like to set the permeability of my own boundaries, and deal with whatever I encounter in private, when I have time to sort through it and think about every detail.

Oh, no. I’m not shy. Not really. I love people. I’m just quiet, and careful, and I tend slightly toward anxiety. I like to think more than I like to act. I like to plan. I like solidity, certainty. I like to know where I am and where I’m going. I don’t like to take risks. This can look like shyness, sometimes.

And I like to be by myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like other people. I just get swamped quickly, and I tend to panic when that happens. I don’t like to be out of control or – worse – to appear out of control. I can be good in a crisis, but only when I get a handle on what’s happening, and I have a second or two to make a plan. Then, I’m unstoppable.

But when something’s new, and scary, and unexpected? Yeah. Then, I’m not so good.

Hipster cat and me, well - we understand one another. Image: fbcustom.me

Hipster cat and me, well – we understand one another.
Image: fbcustom.me

What’s that? Oh – yeah. I don’t know why I embarked upon a professional life which is so full of unknowable newness and instability, either. Strange, isn’t it? It would’ve made more sense – infinitely more sense – to stay tucked up in a steady-ish, predictable, quiet-life type of job, just like the one I had before I decided to change everything in my world. I would have spent the rest of my life dreaming and gnashing my teeth, probably. But I wouldn’t be waking up scared every morning, either.

It’s not fun not to ‘know.’ It’s not fun to feel like things are out of your control, and that there’s nothing you can do about it. In a way it mirrors the reality of existence – because, when it’s all said and done, is anything truly under our control? – but then you remember that you don’t want to be reminded of the arbitrary, chaotic nature of reality. Your little life, your patch of world, is supposed to be your domain. It’s supposed to give you the impression that you’re the boss, even if, deep in  your heart, you know you’re kidding yourself. So, if your square of turf is a mess, and you feel like you’re taking one random step after another, it can all get a bit too much.

Which is why I hide out up here, where all the cushions and the books and the warm wall-hangings are, where all the memories live and where dreams haunt the rafters like restless ghosts, yearning for release. I can close my eyes and breathe, and get through the next five minutes, and the next, and the next, and before I know it I’ve survived another day.

And then we – for I know I’m not alone – get up the next day and do it all over again, hoping that someday (maybe, when we least expect it) all the disparate little edges of our lives will line up with a click, and the picture that appears will be beautiful, and exactly what we planned all along.

Until then, all we can do is work as hard as we can, and hope that the path we’re taking – albeit circuitous – will lead us where we’ve always wanted to go.

And if we have a few friends to drink wine and read books with along the way, all the better.

Wednesday Write-In #86

The prompt words this week:

mistake :: baggage :: curlew :: tear :: shatter

Image: brokesch.blogspot.com

Image: brokesch.blogspot.com

The Uncrowned King

Whoever found the curlew would be crowned King of the Slob, and Da had been limbering up for weeks, getting himself in prime hunting fettle. Me and Jimmy had been spending every evening after I came home from school gluing feathers to our paper headbands, which Mam had measured out just right for us, like crowns. Camouflage, she called them.

Now it was the night before, and Jimmy and me were nearly sick with the excitement.

‘It’ll be us, this year. I can feel it,’ Da said, striding around the kitchen table with his legs spread wide, body low to the ground. ‘The Flahertys, lads. This year. Kings of the Slob!’

‘King of all the eejits, more like,’ said Mam, stepping over him to dump a load of warmed plates on the table.

‘That’s what you say, Mary,’ said Da, in a dark and shivery voice, turning on Mam with his hands outstretched. ‘But it’d be a mistake, me dear. A big mistake!’

‘Phelim!’ she shrieked, flicking the tea-towel at him. ‘Will you ever cop on to yourself!’ But she was laughing, too, so me and Jimmy knew everything was grand.

‘I won’t!’ he roared, grabbing Mam up into his arms. She shrieked as Da tickled her, and Jimmy started clapping, like a baby. He slithered down off his stool and ran to them, but Mam swung back her hand just then to clatter Da around the head, and she knocked Jimmy down instead.

There was a second when nobody moved or said anything, and then Jimmy’s little wail – like a newborn lamb – rose up from under the table.

‘Holy Mother of God,’ said Mam, dropping to her knees.

‘Is the child all right?’ asked Da, holding onto the sink to keep himself on his feet. ‘Oh, sweet Jesus,’ he muttered, half to himself. From beneath the table I could hear Mam’s gentle whisperings, and Jimmy’s sobs, easing until they were barely there at all.

‘Come on, now,’ she said, straightening up, a red-faced Jimmy in her arms. His whole body was juddering and he had one fat fist shoved into his gob. Mam wiped a tear from his cheek. I wondered if I was the only one who noticed his curlew-hunting crown was shattered, though – it hung down at the back like a broken washing line, trailing feathers and bits of glue and Sellotape.

‘Me poor little man,’ said Da, and Jimmy started sobbing again. He threw himself forward, reaching out, and Da plucked him from Mam’s arms. The crown fell apart then, tumbling down in pieces all over the floor and Mam’s clean tablecloth.

‘Ah, will you look,’ said Mam, flapping at the shards of hat with her tea-towel. ‘There it is, gone.’

‘No matter,’ said Da, smoothing Jimmy’s sweaty hair, fine and blonde, back from his sticky face. Jimmy blinked, his bottom lip puckering out like the bowl of a spoon. ‘Sure there’ll always be next year. Won’t there, Joe?’ Da looked at me. The band of my own curlew-hunting crown felt hot against my head, and a stray piece of feather was digging into my skin. I felt like I’d swallowed something that was too big, something that was struggling as it went down into my stomach. Something with claws, and a long beak.

‘Answer your daddy, Joseph!’ said Mam, scooping up bits of feather with her hand. She frowned down the table at me. ‘You can hardly expect to go hunting the curlew without Jimmy, now, can you?’

I slid my crown off and put it on the table, and before anyone could say anything I ran out the back door and off down the lane. Redmond, the farmer, kept cows in the far field, and they seemed to understand most things.

I came back when I was ready, muck to my ears, and Jimmy was sitting on the kitchen table playing with Mam. She was clapping, and he was giggling, and he was wearing the crown I’d left behind like it was his birthright, and not one bit of bother on him, none at all.

**

Note for the curious: The ‘Slob’, or Sloblands, is the name given to an area of marshy land not far from where I grew up; it is now a bird sanctuary, where curlews are encouraged to breed and nest. I’ve invented the ‘King of the Slob’ and the curlew hunting, and – because curlews are endangered in the British Isles – I really don’t recommend hunting them for real!

Wednesday Write-In #85

Apologies for not only the lateness of this week’s post, but also the fact that this story may make sense only to me. In my defence, I have had a high temperature, sore throat and quaking, shaking limbs for the past two days, and have been mainlining Paracetamol for the last twenty-four hours. If the story sucks, let’s blame it on the flu. Cool? Cool.

This week’s words were:

porcelain  ::  flex  ::  shadow  ::  strawberry jam  ::  frozen

Image: aicsa.com.au

Image: aicsa.com.au

The Clause

‘Well, of course, we’ll have to divide up the estate,’ droned my uncle Philip. ‘I think the porcelain should come to us, naturally, and I was promised the oak dresser years ago. It might be sensible to start moving the heavier objects now, in advance of the Will -‘

‘Oh, Philip! Do shut up!’ yelped my aunt Teresa, and Philip stared at her as though she’d slapped him. I watched his fingers flex as he, no doubt, fantasised about wrapping his hands around his sister-in-law’s neck. ‘Mum is still warm, and you’re already divvying up her things!’

‘I beg your pardon – ‘, he began, before the frozen tones of my aunt Tracey filled the room.

‘You shan’t speak to my husband in that manner, Teresa,’ she said, and it was like a shadow had fallen over the sun, or a dark hand had yanked the lightbulb out of the ceiling over our heads. ‘I simply shall not stand for it.’

‘But he’s being mercenary about Mum’s property!’ protested Teresa. ‘We’re all entitled to our fair share. Don’t you think so, Trudy?’ she said, turning on my mum, whose jaw dropped.

‘I – um.’ Her mouth snapped shut again, and she shrugged.

‘Eloquent as always, dear,’ sniffed Tracey.

I rolled my eyes. Enough’s enough. ‘He’s being an ass –

‘Pauline!’ gasped Mum, whirling around to face me.

‘Well, it’s true!’ I licked my lips as I flicked my gaze from face to face, one pair of eyes more crazed and incredulous than the next. ‘You sure know her stuff well, Philip, but what year was Granny born, tell me?’

‘Well – ah. Well. Nineteen twenty one… no! No. Wait. Nineteen twenty four. I clearly remember -‘

‘Nineteen twenty six,’ I snapped, ignoring Philip’s muttered Poppycock! ‘And what was her favourite colour, aunt Tracey?’

‘Purple,’ she crowed. ‘I gave her a beautiful purple brooch for her seventy-fifth birthday – which I’ll have back now, of course – and she told me it was quite her preferred shade.’

‘Nope. Green,’ I said.

‘But, I -‘

‘Now. Aunt Teresa. What was Granny’s favourite thing to eat? In all the world?’

‘Well – ah. She was partial to roast lamb, I’m sure, and there was something about rhubarb – wasn’t there? I’m certain she liked rhubarb.’

‘Well, maybe,’ I said, in a small voice. ‘But her very favourite thing was strawberry jam.’

The silence that followed this was deafening. Even Philip, for once, said nothing, and the four of them spent several long moments avoiding one another’s eyes. Clever girl, Granny, I thought, swallowing hard. You had the measure of them, right enough.

‘Come on, then. Plenty to do. The undertaker’ll be here soon,’ I said, levering myself out of my chair.

Nobody moved as I walked across the floor. I stood in the doorway looking in at them, each wrapped up in their own cold little cocoon, and Granny’s face washed over my memory like a sweetly remembered dream.

‘I’d love to see their faces when this is read,’ she’d said, signing on the dotted line with a flourish. ‘Philip, particularly. He always thought he was in the money as soon as he put a ring on Tracey’s finger.’ She grinned, rather grimly, as she folded up the large document in front of her. ‘The fool.’

‘Are you sure about this, Gran?’ I’d asked, but the look she shot me left me in no doubt.

‘Just remember the clause, girl,’ she’d said, her eyes sparkling. ‘Say one word about this – one little brag, just the barest hint, and you get nothing. Just let them all believe they’re getting everything they’ve ever wanted, and more. Do that right, and it all goes to you.’

She’d be so proud of me, I thought, as I turned and made my way out of the room. As I passed the mirror in the hallway, I spent a few seconds practising my ‘surprised’ face, so I’d be ready when the time came.

Like my Granny before me, I was a gifted actress.

 

 

Is it Tuesday already?

Here’s the problem with promising to be back on blogging duty on a particular day: that day comes, and your brain is still a gently steaming pile of scrambled egg.

Unfortunately, such is the reality of my life today.

I had such a Weekend. There’s nothing for it but to come right out and call it the best I’ve ever had. There were vows, tears, laughter, songs sung, food eaten and many hundreds of hugs exchanged, and a celebration of shared love so beautiful that it made me glad to be alive, and human, and me. And that doesn’t happen all that often.

Image: thegospelcoalition.org

Image: thegospelcoalition.org

So, it wasn’t my own wedding day – that’s old news. But it was the wedding day of someone I love so much that I don’t have a word for it, and – in some ways – witnessing their joy was even better than going through it myself.

So, for lots of reasons, I’m not fully functional today. I have Plans to tell you all about query letters and how to make the most of your work when it comes time to try to get the attention of the publishing industry, and how to keep going when it seems like there are no more corners left to turn, but – yeah. You’re going to have to wait until my brain regenerates.

And that, my friends, might take some time.