Saturday, February 17, 2007

The brave and the fair

One of the things I like the very best in life is casual bravery. Not the uniformed and heroic soldier, a gun in either hand, carrying between gleaming teeth a wounded comrade from the bloody, muddy battle-scene. Though I like that too - who doesn't like a saviour? But I have particular regard for the everyday, matter of fact bravery of the civilian caught in accidental cross-fire; the bereaved, the lonely, the mothers of the sick.

My cousin has a daughter, elfin faced with a silken ponytail which slides down her slim back. She is seven and has one missing tooth. I know it is missing because today I saw the gap and looked; the tooth was definitely not there. On a half-term too-quick visit, my cousin flicked open her laptop and clicked the mouse to show me pictures of her daughter at three and kidney-sick. "Look, no hair," she said, smiled and pointed to the Jpeg'd child. I remember. I took her daughter to the village shop. Instead of a ponytail and pink feathered clip, her head was tufted bald and round, the soft hair harvested not by fairies but chemicals. There is nothing like sporting a child with cancer in your trolley to bump you, spit-spot, to the top of the queue in a supermarket. Other shoppers smile at you and pass you tinned goods so that you do not have to lean too far and the woman in front says: "I'm not in a hurry. You go first" as if you might have particular need of that extra minute or two with your trolley child. Your shopping too is not mother-wise but an altogether mix of slurpy yoghurts, cheese strings and chocolate bars. The shop a child might do if you said "Buy what you like darling". I had no intention of making a child with cancer scream out loud in a supermarket aisle by saying "No" to Pringles. Now, my cousin's lovely daughter is out the other side of pain. For two days, she bounced around my house in screaming fun games with my sons and babe. I held her by the ponytail and thought "Little one, I like your hair this way. "

18 comments:

tom said...

Well done you! A blogging book deal. I'm very pleased for you.

Eric Forbes said...

Dear Judith - I enjoy reading your musings on your blog. And congratulations on having your musings published. I look forward to getting a copy when it comes out.
Eric Forbes, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

barnaby said...

a lovely blog..thank you.

kinglear said...

Well done on the book deal!

Anonymous said...

I have just read your article in the Sunday Times and you have made me laugh out loud. I live in London and could not contemplate a move outside zone 2.... Congratulations on your book contract - I will be looking out for it.

Ellee said...

Children with terrible illnesses do have a remarkable bravery and resilience, the parents suffer far more than them.

My son is under Great Ormond Street Hospital for chronic osteomyelitis in his jawbone, his jaw used to swell and cause him considerable pain, he has been in excrutiating agony. It's a long story, but he is on the mend, I have seen so many terribly sick children at GOS - and they all smile, they are all cheerful - it's their parents hearts that break.

I hope the dear little girl is making a good recovery.

wife in Cheltenham said...

Just read your extracts in the ST. Struck a real chord as I was wife in Barnard Castle for 3 years. I remember well the desperate trips up to Newcastle in the Discovery (smelling of wet labradors) for a decent florist,cup of coffee and some urban grime when I couldn't stick the sight of another sheep. Local wives were baffled by this behaviour.They will never understand you either, I am afraid. Its not that they are unkind its just that these tight knit rural communities don't really need anyone new other than as a bit of cabaret (I was known as Mrs Waitrose). Anyway am now wife in Cheltenham thank God where the countryside can be kept at bay and accessed as required. By the way get a dog (but not a townie one, there are strict codes about these things)-it really helps with the loneliness and the kids will love you for it. Also then you have a good reason the walk those gorgeous beaches everyday.

Cathy said...

I'm not sure that parenting a sick or disabled child is necessarily heroic and it certainly doesn't always arouse sympathy in society. It can be isolating and frustrating, as at times it feels like 'you and me against the world' when you have to do battle with the NHS, Social Services or Education. But it is something you just get on with to the best of you ability because you love your child and it soon sorts out who your real friends are.

Congratulations on your great blog and the book deal, I have just found you via the Sunday Times article!

Cringe said...

Looking back on it makes it all that much more of a bounce back.

Children don't know much about being heroes, they don't pause to think and anaylze it like we do, they generally just get on with it, tomorrows are measured by birthday parties, Christmases and what's coming out in the cinema.

Speaking of which, I'm being hailed from the bedroom, nap time is over.

It's cold up North said...

I just read about you in the Sunday Times and thought it worth a look as we also moved from London back to Northumberland five years ago. Your blog has brought up conflicting emotions in me. In one instance it brought a tear as like you, I have elderly parents of 87 and 89 and I know how much I just want to wrap them up in cotton wool so they will stay with me forever, however their stubborn independance never ceases to amaze me. On a fine day they will jump in their Noddy car and go off for a little drive - a 250 mile trip around Scotland little drive! They may be old in body but in spirit they're still the young couple they were way back when and they still have the same ridiculous arguments too. They were the main reason we came back here, so we could be near them to be a support when they started failing and just the fact that we are nearby seems to have given them new confidence. I just regret the years I spent running around London like a headless chicken, thinking that what I was doing was worthwhile whilst my parents got older and older and somehow I never noticed. I hope your parents are completely recovered from their accident and that you have many more years with them.

I spent nearly 20 years in London and then returned to my birthplace out of choice. I know it must be hard for you, I still sometimes find it hard - and I knew what we were coming back to. But you're a middle-class mum with options - a £70,000 option by the look of it and you can move back to London or anywhere else for that matter. You are one of many who have moved here with romantic notions without thinking it through first. It's hard to make friends once you're past 40, no-one knows you like the friends who have shared your teens and twenties and once past 40 we all feel we need to act like responsible adults, at least to those we don't know well. Five years in and I still spend more time on the phone to friends in London than I do with anyone I have met since coming back. I also think that, friendly as the people are in this part of the country, they feel uneasy about incomers - not quite Royston Vasey territory but they will only welcome you so far and they will only welcome so many. What has really got me prickly about your blog is that southerners, and particularly Sunday supplement writers, if that is what you are, don't bother to acknowledge that this part of the country has been isolated and ignored by the south for years. To you this county is like Gloustershire, it's just that it is a few hundred miles further away from London. Utter nonsense. What you don't bother saying is that due to the coalmining and heavy industry, the north- east was not somewhere anyone would choose to come to live even 10 years ago. I remember several snotty comments about my birthplace when I first moved to London from those who considered it to be somewhere you might find in Dickens, and looking back I suppose to some extent it was. This area during the miners strike of 1984 was like a cold war eastern block country. Margaret Thatcher was prepared to starve the miners back to work but the broader community made sure that didn't happen. However those communities became blighted by unemployment and drugs once the heavy industry was gone. Now those industries have been replaced by service industries and the area has been cleaned up and there is, in some areas at least, considerable amounts of money sloshing around and suddenly it has become trendy to 'move to Northumberland'. However, lets not paint too rosy a picture, as there are plenty of areas of poverty and deprivation just as severe as you will find in any Peckham high rise block with the accompanying gun crime. It's not quite the same as moving to the Cotswolds, as I'm sure you have found, and popping up here from London for the weekend is quite an exercise, as a lot of our friends have discovered - Northumberland is not for the feint hearted. And let's not pretend that people born and bred here are not resentful of people like us - the locals are well aware of what happened in Devon and Cornwall when the London 'cottage in the country' set bought all the property. The 4WD's of the farmers up here are battered and covered in mud - the clean, brand new, ridiculous models - like the Porshe and the BMW's belong to the townies who want to play at living in the country and we are seeing more and more of them. The county is being swamped by southerners trying to escape the madness that Tony Blair and John Prescott's housing plans have made of the south east and second home owners are getting in on the act. It's a fact that 41% of homes bought in the area last year were second homes - so a lot of the locals have been priced out of the housing market by the money coming into the area from people moving from the much richer south east. So your (and my) ability to be so fluid in our movements actually disadvantages those who are not so well off and many of those people would be happy, quite honestly, to see you fuck off back where you came from (whereas I am seen as the prodigal daughter and so have a passport to live here! Ya Boo). You and I are fortunate enough to live in the less populated rural Northumberland but don't kid yourself that the old Tory farmers will welcome you with open arms either. They are cynical to the bone and will see us for what we are. Having said all that I love the people here: they are down to earth, cynical, hardworking (even some of the builders, believe it or not, are rough diamonds) - a totally different breed from the rest of the country, they will be kindness itself as long as you show them the same, but be warned that if you cross them the old border reiver blood will rise and you will be cut off at the knees. Just thought I'd warn you!!!

Sarah Kelly said...

Have just read about you in The Sunday Times which was obviously 'meant to be' as I can count the number of times I have read The Sunday Times on one hand. As a mother, your observations make me laugh out loud. As a working mother your dilemmas make me groan. As someone who has recently upped sticks from a thriving metropolis to a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea I can completely sympathise and empathise. Sometimes the need for greater shopping choice (and I'm talking basic necessities here, not just clothes and decent coffee) outweighs the pleasure of being able to see sky, hills and sheep from my bedroom window. The main difference between you and me however, is that I wasn't dragged here by my husband - much more of a dragger than the draggee. (Doesn't mean I can't sometimes look fondly back to the grey building and congestion and sigh wistfully!)
Congratulations on holding it all together (for the most part) and coping admirably.

Sarah xx

miller said...

Saw the article in The Times, really made me laugh, congratulations on the book deal!

Anonymous said...

Well done on the book deal, honesty in motherhood is a rare thing!

Maybe in the country sick children are pitied but as a townie trying to get by with three kids and one constant oxygen bottle and a very overstated yellow tube taped to her face my daughter gets more bad looks than pity. It's all very jaded here maybe we should move!!!!

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog through the ST, know how it feels. Spent early motherhood lonely and miserable in a Fenland village, that beats your Northumberland experiance by miles, you have fabulous coastline - I had drainage ditches and no footpaths! Remenber the local GP who was an idle snob, telling me that my neighbour was also new to the village - she had been there for 12 years! I could only take it for 2 years. Thankfully the children were too young to remember or realise how miserable their mummy was and I have a wonderful husband who did.
Looking forward to the book.

James, said...

Just read the article in the Sunday Times and laughed out loud on numerous occasions to the annoyance of my partner who was engrossed in Ugly Betty.

Congratulations on your book deal! From what I've read so far it seems thoroughly deserved.

Gareth Barnes said...

Caught the article in the Sunday Times after hearing about your deal on the news. I was intrigued at this way of getting yourself published and had to see what all the fuss was about... I have written a few manuscripts of my own over the years and either got rejected or the publishers went bust! [Nothing to do with me!] I like your style. It all sounds like a comedy when you stand back and read it, but it must have been hell at the time...until now!!
Congratulations! [See, you don't have to fill your columns with gratuitous sex!]

Anonymous said...

A really compelling read...this is much more interesting than what JK Rowling churned out in the Edinburgh cafe...it's a tribute to people's resilience or is that female stoicism?

Does anyone know of a blog that describes a mid life crisis relocate to rural France that is as good as Judith's? I'm planning to do it quite soon ...Peter

wife in the north said...

re congrats.
you are very kind but keep reading the blog won't you?
re elle, cathy and anon: you and my cousin know far more about the day to day difficulties than I do.