Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Inside out

When my London diva visited with her family, my house was perfect, pretty much, give or take the odd builder or odd box. Houses are one thing, lives are more difficult to primp.

We went to look around the castle and smell its ancient stones. The baby decided she did not want to walk around a castle; she lifted up her arms: "Carry, carry Mama." I picked her up, carried her awhile then put her down. "Carry, carry Mama!" This time mildly outraged I would think that she might walk. I hefted her anew. The six-year-old clung to my side: "I don't want to be here. What about the ghosts?" Suicidal soldiers and a small and long dead little girl, he had heard tell of. "Can we go now?" he pleaded. I put the baby down to rest my back. "No darling," I said, "we've only just arrived." "I feel sick," my four-year-old informed me as the baby began to weep again. I reached across his brother's head to stroke and pat his cheek, said: "Do you darling, never mind," and stooped to pick the baby up. I calculated the distance from the entrance where we stood to the exit. Far too far away. We staggered on past china plates, armour and still and waxy dungeoned gore. "Look children, history, no, don't look there." I put the baby down; she wailed again. She did not like my habit. Maybe it is here, that ghostly stories start: a weeping child, a desperate screaming mother around a corner and out of sight? Climbing down some steps, my six-year-old barked his shin; his face crumpled. I put the baby down to kiss him better. He cried. She cried. The four year old said: "Don't you care that I feel sick?" My London diva, walking ahead with her husband, her pair of beautiful teenage and near teenage girls, turned back. She paused a moment to admire the family snap we made and said: "Is this your life?"

On Sunday, we went for lunch and a tractor trailer ride on haybales down to the beach. I have occasionally seen such groups sprawled across the sands. They picnic and play cricket, the children like ants, the men in long, flapping shorts bowling out their sons, attractive wives and mothers lounging on blankets with tumblers of wine. I have thought: "I wonder are they dear, good friends or one great, happy family who holiday and play charades together in the evening when their sunny day is done?" The reality is this. The wind is cold and the sky grey when we get down to the beach. We do not blink. We think: "This is the beach and summer. We will be fine." The braver types strip off and plunge on into the sea including my own children. I think: "They must be mad." I wear my wellies though and do a little dragging of boys on boards through salty waves; try not to mind too much when I am drenched by childish play. The men break out their wickets. I break out into a cold sweat. Ball sports can do that to me. As I watch them bowl and field, I think how very bad I was at rounders. How I would stand among the last and most despised in school to be chosen by the girls who could use a bat to hit a ball not just spin round with it like me. I would watch them while they whispered in each other's ear and hope it was my name that they were whispering behind their hand. I was never last. Never quite last. I was never fat enough for that. But I was never all that far away I was so very, very bad at catching.

Instead then of playing "Nice shots Sir" with the boys, I sat around with the babies and the girls in an all together different kind of game. I moved my seat closer to a pair of chums; lobbed in "God" as a topic. (In my defence, it was a Sunday picnic.) Then, tried to break into their chat. It dropped out of the sky and died. I picked it up, threw and tried again. Still dead. No resurrection here. I put on sunglasses; the baby and I filled a bucket with sand while someone filled my plastic cup with wine I would not drink. Does everybody drink as I think they do in the country or do they just pretend? Conversation changed to eyecream, wrinkles, things well within my ken. I tried again, said: "You have lovely skin". As the talk moved on, asked: "Why? How old are you?" No compliment flew back. No question in return. Still zap. The two women sat closer on the rug. I dug another hole and poured the wine into it. From a distance, I think we would have looked a happy band of chums with wine and bikes and blankets spread out upon the sand. You would have said with envy: "Is this your life then? Can it be mine?"

43 comments:

laurie said...

your london diva friend is pissing me off.

Mopsa said...

I lobbed God this weekend too - being a complete unbeliever and thrusting a question at the botherers. It did create some response, but I still felt like pouring my wine in the sand; it had turned to vinegar in my mouth.

Beth said...

I hope they don't read the blog, they'll be really pissed off if they find out you didn't even want the wine.

Minx said...

Is this your life? Could it be mine?

- is maybe what your visitors are asking themselves. Jealousy often wears a different hat. Maybe you are more settled than you think.

Tina said...

I guess it goes to show that all of us can be fooled by outward appearances. Until you're a part of it, you never know the reality

Daniel said...

Dear Mrs. Wife

When you mentioned your mother's unfinished tapestry in a previous blog, I have a thought; maybe you could find someone to finish it for you. Just put the word out, that you are looking for someone talented along these lines, maybe a little girl from your kids' school, who might like to do it. Not only would you get it finished, but you would make more local socail connections and maybe some friends, too.

Also, I wanted to comment about your outing. It reminded me of a documentary I saw on TV about the Russian royal family, the last Czar and his family on a trip to Britain, to visit all the relatives. They all went out on a picnic. They took the tables and chairs, and the fine china and crystal, and the women carried their parasols, and they had alot of servants to wipe the rice pudding from their chins, and they seemed to be having a splendid time.

But you know, I wouldn't have wanted to trade places with them.

sarah said...

Is it any wonder you don't enjoy living in the north when all you manage to do is be rude about people? I would have thought you had no need for a coat on the beach as you obviously have thick skin. There was no tractor ride onto the beach a trailer behind a 4WD, the sun was shining, your god question was answered, you were involved in all conversations when you wern't behind the dunes taking notes! In future say no to wine, which will leave more for the rest of us. I think that it's a shame you did't enjoy the hospitality or watching your family having fun relaxing in the sea and the sun. Take a large dose of prozac or drink the wine!

Swearing Mother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
merry weather said...

Wifey, I am inviting you to come and stay with me, at once. Who is Sarah??

I will show how to play rounders really well if you like - it's the only team game I excel at. I spent a lot of time at the back of the PE queue too....

It'll be fun.... we can bury the children in the sand and talk about God, skin, whatever....! I will listen. I'll teach you self-defence too....

Sophie King said...

I don't think I like the sound of Sarah's hospitality. These are not the kind of friends you need, methinks.

patsy said...

Just goes to show there are two sides to a coin. Is Sarah's the correct version of the day out or was it Wifey's? If I'd extended the hand of friendship to a newcomer as Sarah apparently did, and then had it written about in such a scathing dishonest fashion, just to make a better story,I'd be pretty mad like her too.
Whom do we believe? Certainly I don't recognise the Northumberland full of unfriendly people that WITN writes about.But then that wouldn't be such a good story would it?

mutterings and meanderings said...

I'm with Patsy on this. I don't recognise the Northumberland full of unfriendly souls either.

Bamburgh Castle as a pink lady ghost as well.

patsy said...

And just to add to Sophie King's comment.
So you think Wifey is good at picking friends..after reading about London Diva? That's not friendship that's self-flagellation!
And no, I've no idea who Sarah is, I'm not defending her ,she might well be in the wrong too, but she seems well able to look after herself! But I will defend the warm-hearted people of Northumberland who were so generous to me when I was an incomer.

knifepainter said...

Yep, I'm with Laurie at the top.

Jeff said...

Isn't it interesting how well we seem to fit with some people in certain settings and environs, and then how unexpectedly dissonant the relationship becomes in others. So difficult to lose our illusions, to let go and become dis-illusioned and thus live in reality.

And, as an aside, don't read more into this post than is there. Those who think of WITN and Co. as anything but an absolutely impeccable and gracious hostess and host probably don't know them at all...

Beth said...

Go Sarah! I wasn't there but that's how it looked in my mind, just from reading the post!

(If you weren't really there either you are very good with sub-text)

@themill said...

I'm staggered. I've aways tried to give you the benefit of the doubt but that is hurtful beyond belief. Do you really wonder that people are hurt by your writing about them? I'd be livid if you'd treated me this way.
You do not write of a Northumberland I know. And does your husband know you are insulting the hand that offers friendship?
As for your diva friend - I bet her gorgeous children had tearful, whinging moments too. I've got four children and they're wonderful now, but when they were that age they could be a pain so don't blame Northumberland for your children's behaviour.

I Beatrice said...

Oh my God (thought I'd bring Him in for you), that brought back miserable, shivering memories of my exploits on the hockey field! Or rather the total absence of them. I lived in terror of the ball actually coming my way - I think I must have been a worse hockey player than you were a rounders one. (Though I was no good at that either!)

Sometimes I think I won't be able to watch my grand-daughter going through all that! I watched my daughter after all - do I really have to go through it all for a THIRD time?

Sarah just missed the point that's all, didn't she? (Perhaps she doesn't understand irony?) But you really shouldn't bother a bit about her...

London Diva said...

For the record, I don't recognise me either.

Liz said...

Oh Crikey. What are you going to do now? Sarah’s public rebuke seems a bit spiteful and OTT to me, but I’ve never lived in the country. Always a bit unfortunate when your inner feelings of alienation come into contact with other people’s reality. Positively Jane Austen, this one. Seems to me you will have to drop the blog and get a job with the Northumbrian Tourist Board, or take the first train south to the city where nobody cares. The writerly-ness of your blog has left me unsure what was art and what was reality, but good luck with sorting this one out

mutterings and meanderings said...

Liz, in reality, it was sunny on Sunday and they don't let tractors on to the beach ...

Liz said...

To Mutterings: After my comment, a line of Robert Frost came to mind

"Your head so much concerned with outer, Mine with inner, weather"

I read this entry as expressing a fairly common feeling of exclusion, of not belonging, not as a personal attack or a literal description. I suppose it boils down to whether you see Wife as a persona using literary licence and metaphor, or a person giving an accurate description.

Daniel said...

Don't let all of these negative comments get you down. Just remember Joan Crawford's reply, when asked if negative press bothered her: "It's when they stop wrting about me, that's when I'll be worried."

All of these outraged comments! About what I wonder? So I went back and re-read. It just looked like a Mom, trying to get along.

In America, we have a saying, "are we having fun yet?" That is what this reminded me of (besides the Russian royal family).

sunshine said...

Liz, I very much valued your Frost quote. What I enjoy most about WITN's writing is that she writes from her heart, not her head.

The beach vignette sounded like her heart's impression of the day -- her inner weather, as Frost said -- rather than her head's recording of it.

We had a great brouhaha over here about a memoir that was written by a man, using much creativity in his rememberings. What I learned from that whole todo was that a memoir is not an autobiography. It is written as one felt it happened, not verbatim.

I loved Wifey's earlier description of the cream cabinets etc -- her elation with her new kitchen. Such a happy heart that day. On the beach she seems to have had an alienated, darkened heart. Hard to see the sun when one's heart is dark.

Beth said...

Liz, "expressing a fairly common feeling of exclusion, of not belonging" fair enough, but, to me, the post reads "I tried really really hard, even though I am actually so much better than them, and *still* they snubbed me"

There is a personal attack on those present behind the "poor me, see how I don't fit in" guff.

I know 'Wife' is laying it on with a trowel for effect, but surely anyone who feels misrepresented by her has a right of reply?

Exmoorjane said...

Sorry you had such a lousy time at the castle and the beach....

We're just back from two weeks in Northumberland and have to say it was a totally fabulous fortnight.
Met THE loveliest people - smart, witty, down-to-earth AND up-in-the-air (the best combination in my book).....and yes, by heck, they DO drink like fishes (halleluyah, pour me another!)....

I'm not a good beach person yet even I managed to have a good time doing the wine in the sand dunes and cricket thing....(like you I was usually second or third to last to be picked at school)...let's be honest, if you're going to do beaches (and if you have children it sort of goes with the territory) you'd have to go a long way to find such brilliant ones.

I dunno, I really don't. Northumberland is certainly short on snazzy shops and designer outlets (but a swift trip to Newcastle or Edinburgh could solve that)....but to my mind you'd be hard-pressed to find nicer people, more stunning scenary and, by heck, a serious overload of castles. But it's obviously not to your taste and it's tough you're stuck there.... Time to run away maybe.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Liz, Sunshine et al, I apologise for missing that the Wife was being literary.

I thought she was being snidey about the people she went to the beach with because she wasn't the centre of attention.

Silly me...

Daniel said...

I think there is alot of irony and humor, here, that is going unnoticed, not the least of which is the term "London Diva;" since our heroine, obviously prefers London, there is some irony that, she, a "country woman," is now referring to her city friend, in that way. I think it is a humorously descriptive, but not mean, characterization. That is how I read it. Everyone has a different read, depending on the many, even numberless contingecies of our lives.

Sarah's Rug Chum! said...

I can't believe your all so sucked in by the Wifey's tales.
Spending time with our husbands (thankfully the ones with the long flapping shorts!) children and good friends during the busy harvest months is quite unique. Especially with a tumbler full of wine.
Our day on one of Northumberlands most oustsnding beaches was another one to treasure.
Sarah and I were enjoying watching all the activities going on around us. We played hide and seek in the dunes with the little ones whilst cradling a 5 month old baby when her mother went for a swim. Obviously all this time not realising that the Wifey was not being the centre of attention!
Why not listen to the real wives of the North?

Swearing Mother said...

When two people look at a room through a mirror, they each see a different reflection depending on where their individual standpoint is. From two different places, they see two different scenes reflected back at them and react differently to what they see, even though they are in fact looking into the same room. It's a matter of perception - same room but seen from a different angle.

What one person sees as a failed attempt to break into a tight knit group of friends where she feels an outsider, could be seen completely differently from within that group i.e., "we tried to be friends with a standoffish woman from London who doesn't like our wine and writes about us", for instance. Who really knows what the reality is in this situation - each person thinks their perception of it is the one true version. Maybe both sides are right, I don't know. But that's the way life is. If we all perceived everything identically, there would be no arguments, war or violence in the world because we would be reacting as one, not as individuals who don't see things the same way. Misunderstandings would be a thing of the past.

I have been back several times to check in case I was missing something offensive in WITN's post,(unlike me to miss anything offensive, obviously!) and I don't think so, but maybe I'd feel differently if it was my wine she'd poured into the sand. Who knows? Knowing me I'd probably have asked myself round to hers for a coffee so I could check out her new kitchen and find out what's bugging her.

I think WITN writes as she feels and I don't get the feeling that she's being anything other than what she is. Which is a bit lonely. OK, so Sunday was a sunny day and WITN wrote that it was cloudy and cold. Maybe that's the way she's feeling at the moment. A bit bleak. But to me her post was about how things aren't always how they look and the comments that followed illustrate her point beautifully.

Personally, I think those who find her blog insulting would probably be better off not reading it, if it offends. It's just a blog after all, it won't break your bones.

Hilary said...

I enjoy Wifey's musings and tribulations on moving to The North,but no wonder she is finding it hard to make friends if they fear she will be blogging about them afterwards!
And what was wrong with the wine?...

sunshine said...

I have been very interested to read the extremely varied comments the "beachblog" has elicited.

While reading "Swearing Mother's" latest comment, an interesting thought hit me. What attracted me to WITN in the beginning, and what has kept me a daily reader, is her heart. She seems to be searching for a depth of relationship which may be uncommon among the wives of the countryside. Note that they discuss kids and face cream, and she longs to have good discussions about faith and God.

Expectations can cause ecstasy in a friendship, when they are met and more; they can kill a relationship when they are not. Wifey seems hungry for depth, not just regular contact. If she were satisfied with being fairly superficial, she would probably have tons of friends. But contacts of that type would leave her (and me) yearning for the "real thing".

I don't sense her trying for a "social life". I think she yearns for friends.

laurie said...

i have a friend who is a novelist. she wrote a short story a while back that really bugged me. i thought i hated it. i thought, when i read it, "that would never happen." it got under my skin.

i couldn't stop thinking about it. i went back and read it again. it bugged me the second time. it rankled. i worried it like a sore tooth.

and then i was talking with another friend and i mentioned the story, and he was ecstatic. it was brilliant, he said, the way she did this, and the way she did that.

and suddenly the whole story became clear to me, and i realized he was right. it was brilliant. i just hadn't seen how.

but i'd seen something in there--something made me go back and read it again and fuss over it and think about it.

and from that i learned that often when something annoys me greatly it's because there's a truth in there that i haven't quite winkled out for myself yet.

Lady What Lunches said...

I'm sure that in order to write well you are going to insult someone along the way. Most great writers are miserable or despised, or both. You have to choose - do you want to write good, honest stuff (which you do) or be self-censoring and 'nice'?

You were a London diva once and you envy your friend. I don't see your comments about any of these people as a criticism of anyone other than yourself. You seem to be generally dissatisfied with your life, and the afternoon at the beach was just one example of how your dissatisfaction doesn't allow you to fit in and enjoy yourself.

But we all have these days - days when jokes just don't 'work' and it almost hurts to smile and you're sure no one would notice if you just walked away. However, I'm sure there are other times when you ARE the life and soul of the party, when your life seems quite enviable, even to yourself.

Loving friends would understand this and come round and give you a hug and a cup of tea. You'll probably lose one or two friends while you're writing this blog, but I'm sure you'll gather some more to make up the numbers.

@themill said...

Sunshine - She seems to be searching for a depth of relationship which may be uncommon among the wives of the countryside. Excuse me? Believe me, relationships and friendships do not run much deeper than in the countryside.
I've never met Wifey, I'm sure she's very nice and purely using journalistic licence, but she has to accept that if she is going to throw insults, people have to have the right of reply. I was asked to be in a book group with her and declined because I had no wish to be a subject of her blogs. On the contrary to what you may think, some of us have rather active brains. We even, on occassion, use them.

Cathy said...

To add to the debate...WITN was a London journalist and there is still a city/country divide, not least in people's perceptions. Though as someone who has lived on both sides I suspect that in the modern internet age those old cultural differences are rapidly diminishing.

My personal take on public writing, blogging and blog commenting is always be aware of who might read your work and if you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all, even if it is witten in irony with artistic licence. But then maybe that is my country upbringing showing through my townie veneer!

WITN...I really hope you find some friends and settle soon.I want your book to have a happy ending.

Stay at home dad said...

There are a host of interesting philosophical questions in here. I don't think there's any guarantee of verisimilitude in a blog. And is the person who makes public their feelings (because reality is just an embodiment of feelings, like Emma Bovary's variable eye colour for each person who views them) in a visible diary better or worse than the person who commits all their darkest thoughts to a secret one?

I don't think there's an answer to that one.

Marianne said...

True friends, like true love, are hard to find. It all takes more time that you could possibly imagine. Many people will cross your path and you will try to know each other, but eventually someone comes into your life and you just do know them on a visceral level, friend or lover. Give it time.

Supernight said...

Perhaps when joining conversations it might be better to listen and ease oneself in rather than to lob topics and expect a response?

Just a thought...

The thinker said...

I think I agree with Swearing Mother's.
BUT as Sarah and Sarah's Friend on a Rug don't have blogs themselves then who know's who they are? They may be WITN writing an alternative view on her day.
However, having moved from one region to another 3 times I know how hard it can be to settle down. It takes at least 2 years - if you are lucky. I often experienced depression without being aware of it and it does make you feel detached and hard to please and you find it hard to 'connect' properly with people. However, Wifey comes across to the long established wives in the area there doesn't seem to be any one really friendly attempting to make genuine efforts to get Wifey into the 'gang'.
Don't forget that moving involves a great deal of stress and grief (not to mention the builders). After Bereavement and Divorce Moving is high on the Richter scale for stress.
To the other comments about people finding the natives friendly while on holiday in the area - 'well, they would, wouldn't they?' Tourist = income - and you'd soon be going home again - so no probs.

Iota said...

This post and all the comments have caused me to ponder at great length - me and many others. I wonder what it is like for you, though. We are onlookers, ponderers in safety. This is your life.

I'm hoping that in a while, there will be a post about how you contacted Sarah and her rug chum and said "look, I'm sorry", and invited them round. Eventually you all had a good laugh about it, and became friends. Not life-changing bosom friends perhaps, but rubbing along friends. Or maybe Sarah made the move. Or maybe that nice new friend from a few weeks ago happens to know you both and had you round together.

But I'm not holding out too much hope. My guess is that even if in time there is a happy ending to the story, it won't make it onto the blog.

And Sarah, I think you should move to the south-east. You could start a great blog!

anudderwifeyintnorth said...

having been on the recieving end of been snubbed by the likes of sarah at school gates in northumberland and feeling like a outsider i can see were she is coming from and all WITN wrote were observations on how she felt that day. she was speaking from her heart and not trying to gain sympathy. people can be friendly up here in the north and knowing both people in question i know who i would like to have batting on my rounders team ha ha

Sandra Montgomery said...

@themill wrote: I was asked to be in a book group with her and declined because I had no wish to be a subject of her blogs.

And therein lies the problem. Instead of accepting the invitation with the idea of befriending her and giving her something happy to write about in her blog where finding a soulmate is concerned, you took the easy way out. You snubbed her in your own way. No wonder she is having such a hard time of it.