Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Postcard No. 3

Found a postcard at the bottom of my handbag.

Dear Wifey,
I walked through Greenwich Park on my way to the children's playground. The benches at the bottom of the green and tree-splattered hill outside the Queen's House, were full of promises on steel plaques.They dated from the "Year 2000 Year of the Promise" part of an ITV initiative to mark the millenium.

It made me wonder how many of them were kept.

Some focus on the family:
"We will always remember our family - past present and future." (The Mason Family). (I rather like the idea of remembering a future. When it happens, do you think, "Ah yes, I remember now - that is how it should be."?
"We will adopt a child and give it a loving home." (The Cesvette Family).

People are so brim full of good intentions and all the better for it:
"I will give time, comfort and support to anyone who is less fortunate"(Tracey Fuller).
"We will do a good deed every day and more if possible"(The Hare Family).

There are those with simple ambitions:
"I will practice my bass every day so I am good enough to play in church" (Janine-Jacquline St Leger)
"I will wash up the dishes" (Katie Lansdowne Gillespie)
"I will lose three stone" (Teresa Borg)
"We will make each other laugh every day" (The Murley Family)

Those with big ambitions:
"I will try to be a better person" (Suzanne Sutton)

And those with broken hearts
"I will love Lee and Louise as much as I loved their late mother Maria XXX"(Thomas Anthony Tobin)

Ah promises. The most fragile of things. I have promised any number of things in my time. As a child, I promised to be a good girl. As a seven-year-old I promised a judge to look after my stepfather after he had married my mother and legally adopted me. I promised various bosses that I would "give it my all" and "do what I can." (Occasionally I meant it.) As a journalist I promised to keep comments "off the record" which I did and as a bride I promised to "love and honour" which I do when I remember. 2000 was not a good year for me but I made a promise. My husband and I promised each other we would try to be happy and do what it took to get there, to that place called Happiness. should check the small print sometimes.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Through the looking glass

We went to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and on the way in I saw a sign that my favorite patisserie had opened a cafe there. I gasped, bringing the buggy to a stop and making the four-year-old stumble slightly. My six-year-old said: "What is it?" I said: "It's Mummy's favorite cafe darling...We can get hot chocolates. And cake. We can have cake." He looked at me, accusingly. He said: "Are you crying? Mummy, you must love coffee a lot if you cry about it." I pushed the buggy forward. I said: "Mummy's not crying. Mummy is just very pleased."

The whole day went very well till the loud crash. That evening, I was in the kitchen of the house we had borrowed from friends while they were on holiday. My gay best boyfriend had come round for supper to keep me company. I started to make tea and the boys chose just that moment to decide to play with the large silver exercise ball in the basement TV room. They could have rolled it gently between them but that would have been no fun at all.

Luckily when they broke the large dressing table mirror balanced on the cast iron stove, my gay best boyfriend was still with me. He took over cooking tea while I swept up the shards of etched glass and glittering dust that littered the carpetted floor. I said to him: "The baby had already pushed over one of the speaker's for the stereo and broken the front off it. I think she may have peeled off and eaten some of the pink gel hearts on one of the bedroom windows. There is also a suspiciously straight bit in a metal slinky which I don't think was there before. But apart from that, it was all going so well. What am I going to tell them now?" He said: "They've got children. I'm sure they'll understand." I picked out a fragment of glass from the ball of my index finger and watched the tiny globe of blood rise to the surface. I said: "They've got teenagers, not children. They might have forgotten." What really worried me was the fact I thought the husband might have been left it by a dear departed ancient relative. I thought: "He'll have said: 'There's only one thing I want from the house - her mirror. Maybe one day, I'll look into it and see her little wrinkled face smile back at me'." I did not sleep well that night. My friends rang the next morning from South Africa. I said: "I'm so sorry. I'm afraid we broke your mirror in the basement." I explained the how's and why's to the wife. I said: "We're just on our way out to get you another mirror." I said: "It wasn't 'Granny's' mirror was it? He wasn't left it in a will was he?" My friend said: "Don't worry. We got it from a skip."

Since they said they did not want another mirror, I thought I would get them a photograph of London as a thank you for letting us use the house. My husband took the children to a playground and I had an hour to myself in Greenwich market. In retrospect, maybe I should not have been allowed out on my own. Maybe I should just have kept busy. On my own, I wandered into a photographic gallery and felt myself seized again by London in all its black and white beauty. The exile home again; I stood before my past. Each view opening up a wound in my soul: Big Ben spiking the sky, a rainy embankment with a solitary woman, a riverscape at night - the Eye, Parliament, the bridges and pontoon, the magnificence of a city sky. My soul trembled to see London within my grasp again. I thought: "I can buy a photograph. I can buy two. Or I can move back." I bought a photograph. Two. I thought: "Are these photographs enough? I don't think I should feel this way."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Postcard No. 2

Dear Wifey,
This has been the first visit to London for a long time when I have been willing to risk haunting the old neighbourhood and seeing a whole parcel of old friends, all crammed together in a week. On previous visits, I have had to avoid former routines because it just made me feel bad, this strange halfway house between living here and being a visitor. Maybe I am feeling braver or maybe enough time has ticked on by to be more comfortable about it all. Yesterday on a trip to an East End park with my six-year-old's best friend and his artist father; the boys threw up armfuls of dry autumn leaves and showered in them while the baby girl kept saying: "What dat noyuz?" every time she heard a police siren. The only problem is struggling around London with three children and a buggy requires more patience than I have. Yesterday it was counting grey squirrels and talking about art, today it was all more of an effort. I knew it would be because I missed my slot to go out this morning. If you time it right you can go out before the baby has her nap. This means she goes without the nap but the alternative is what happened today which meant she got the nap and we did not get to go out till after lunch (which incidentally was pasta and all three of them hated it) and which is far too late for an expedition any further than the corner shop. The poor behaviour was all pretty low grade stuff but built up to the point where I was not even out the door when I was forced to utter The Mother's Prayer: "Dear Lord, give me patience." I have variations on this prayer. Sometimes I make it: "God give me strength." Occasionally, I just say: "Fucking hell." We went to a movie, they ate their own body weight in popcorn, had a quick tootle round Canary Wharf shops which meant you had to keep finding and then going up and down extraordinarily slow lifts which smell of cheese, my bank card got declined, I realised my two mobile phones did not work and then we went into a pizza restaurant where we were meeting my husband and I ordered a glass of wine and the waiter said: "Would you like a small glass or a large glass?" If you say large glass you sound like an alcoholic. If you say small glass, you sound like an alcoholic when you drink the first one in 30 seconds and then order another. I felt like saying: "I am sitting here with three children, the baby girl is fractious - despite the nap, the two boys are quarrelsome, getting everyone home is going to be a nightmare, I obviously want the large glass."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Postcard No. 1

Dear Wifey,
Spent yesterday at the dinosaur museum with the children. This was a good idea. It was such a good idea every other mother in London decided to have it too. Utterly heaving. Thought about queuing for dinosaurs, decided the queue was too long; similar decisions regarding Antarctica exhibition, coffee and even the shop. Saw a large number of stuffed birds and a great many backs of heads. The very worst moment was in the picnic area where we were waiting for friends. It too was crowded. I had wrapped four salami sandwiches in a tea towel, popped in three satsumas for the children and a bottle of mineral water between the four of us. I had been entirely happy with this as a lunch until I sat down at a table with a woman, a baby in a pushchair and a little girl. There was a reason this table was the only one with free seats. Every other mother in the place knew that this woman was going to make her look bad. My children ate their baps watching the banquet opposite with wonder. I knew I had made a mistake as soon as I saw the first Tupperware box, but it was too late - we had already sat down on the bench. Sandwiches, hummus, carrot sticks, raisins, yogurt, chocolate soya dessert, sliced melon, green grapes, juice. There was probably more but you can only use your peripheral vision for so long before your eyeballs drop out of your skull. She also made endless "happy chat" with the little girl; the more happy chat she made, the more silent my own children became. Having watched for long enough, my baby daughter decided she had no intention of eating the substandard fare I had provided; she emptied out her salami on to the floor, picked apart the bread and then dropped half her satsuma segments. My six-year-old immediately handed her what was left of his. The Picnic Queen took pity. "She can have some melon if she likes," she said and pushed over the left-over melon. This was so humiliating, I blushed. The boys leapt on the melon as if they had never seen an exotic fruit before in their lives. Obviously, I said "Thankyou; that's very kind" as you do when someone has just shown you up in front of your children as a mother who cuts corners. She then compounded it by telling me: "You worry too much." I "worry too much"? I felt an incredibly "British" locking up of those facial muscles that were not already in spasm from the humiliation of the pity fruit. I wanted to say: "If I worry too much it is because women like you make me feel bad." She was the sister of that irritating stranger who accosts you in the street with "Cheer up! It might never happen." I hate people who tell you to cheer up. I hate mothers who feel sorry for my children. I stopped hating her as they left the table when I heard her say to the little girl: "I told your mummy..." I thought: "Oh, you're a nanny. You should have said. That's alright then. That explains the carrot sticks in their own tupperware box and the expensive fruit and the relentless chat. Right. I'll stop worrying then."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Boxes and blues

Ever since we moved up from London, we have had "stuff" in cardboard boxes hanging about us. First, we kept the boxes in our own house; then, desperate for space, we stored them in the empty cottage next door; when our builders started, we asked the farmer whether we could keep them in a large metal container in the barn behind us. The barn is due to be demolished and this weekend we opened up the container and emptied it. Straight into the bin for the most part - or the brazier, tip, or for recycling. I cannot believe we wrapped it, moved it and kept it all for so long.

One box though was worth the waiting. As I unwrapped the newspaper from the cut glass candlesticks, I thought: "Ah, home." A wooden bowl from a hot and dusty place and a blood red vase with a golden glass stag, fragile and at bay, once my grandmother's. A doll from my childhood, all smile and shiny blue trouser suit, the double of a songbird cousin. Photographs too: my husband, absurdly young, holding a glass of champagne and looking out into his future; my mother in hyacinth blue, more radiant than the bride I think, on my wedding day. Two small and rose strewn hearts capturing the exchange of rings, though not the congregation's laughter when the wedding band would not slide onto my finger. A picture of my eldest the day after he was born and in folding pine, my wrapped up boys fishing and laughing hard. Memories then and my precious and most sparkling things; no hallmarked value, no antiqued glory, important just to me. But I grew sad as I unwrapped my loot which had once sat on the mantelpiece of a black stone hearth against sunshine yellow walls in London. " I do not have a mantelpiece," I thought, "and now my walls are cream." Still, I polished them and scattered them about, sat back and thought: "My memories about me where they belong. Now, am I at home?"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What am I bid?

Thought I might try to save some money by going to an auction in the village. (A hotel was closing down; the owners have plans to develop the site.) I thought about equipping the kitchen with 13 small stainless steel teapots or a double basket electric fryer but decided against it. I toyed with the pair of ornamental stag's antlers and the pool table but I ended up bidding for an old Ordnance Survey map of Northumberland and a print of the wrecks off the Farne Islands. I took a little time to figure out my bidding strategy. A couple of lots had come up, a tent and a blackboard. Tucked away at the back of the bidding, panicked by the auctioneer's song of "DoIhearfiveIhavesixonmyleftsevensirthankyoudoiheareightninetenonmyrightten
tensoldtotheladyonmyright", my nerve failed me and I ducked out of the bidding. I decided on the "I want it" approach for the maps. I stood at the front and nodded decisively at every opportunity. I thought it might psyche out any opposition although I think I may have been bidding against myself at times. I paid £25 for the OS map; tonight I realised it is marked with railway lines which were closed down more than 50 years ago. I paid £50 for the framed print of the wrecks; I suspect you can buy it for £2.50 in the local lifeboat station but it was worth every penny.

It is a work of art, put together by a lifeboatman of 20 years who doubled up as the local funeral director. The map has a little scroll in the bottom left hand corner telling you his name: "For Those in Peril John Hanvey 1976". I rang him. (Life is like that in Northumberland.) I said: "I love your map". He told me he spent seven years researching the wrecks, using information from the logbook of the Longstone lighthouse keeper as well as RNLI records, Lloyd's, a local museum and newspaper. He said: "I carried around a pocketbook. Any old fishermen I met up and down the coast, I would say 'I have the name of a ship I suspect was wrecked, what do you know about it?'." When he had the information together, he drew up around 50 of the maps; each one taking him a week at a time. Later, he had the prints made up.

The names of the ships and the small hand-drawn crosses remind you this is a map that charts bravery, smashed hopes and the graves of drowned men. The earliest wreck: November 2 1462 "Two French caravels" in the area off Bamburgh sands. Another early disaster ("vessels foundered...positions doubtful"): November 1774 six ships and "100 souls perished in one night". Some of the losses are more modern. East of Longstone, January 25 1940 the steamship Everene of Latvia sunk by torpedo with nine drowned. Cobles, sloops, ketches, tankers; the hungry sea will take what it can. Occasionally, it will lose its grim and salty battle and the ship can be refloated. More often though, they are lost and there are deaths like those on October 11 1840, the steam ship Northern Yacht with 22 passengers and crew, or again on July 20 1843, the steamship Pegasus with 54 passengers and crew (both around Goldstone Rock midway between Holy Island and the Farnes). In the worst cases, they are lost with "all hands".

The map of the wrecks is in blue with the rocky islands brown and lapped by a dangerous and broken green. The sober columns of dates and black inked names are broken by the picture of a seagull aloft, a ship in full sail and a lifeboat breasting stormy waves. Underneath the lifeboat are the words of the sailer's prayer: "Oh! Lord the sea is so large and my ship is so small." These lost ships and sailors are not forgotten: their names still sail on a paper sea. John Hanvey made it so.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Show stopper

I think you can go to one country show too many. We went to the border shepherds' show, cutting across the browning moorland and into the Cheviots. Bit of a problem - no sheep, courtesy of Foot and Mouth restrictions. At least we had the terrier racing. I swear to God my palate is jaded, because if the terrier racing could not do it for me what could? They had sixty terriers racing, boxing up five or so terriers at a time before letting them chase what looked like a fur tail on a piece of string, leaping a pipe at one point almost as big as they were. We could see the finishing line but not the start. Only one terrier finished the race in one of the heats; we were told the other dogs had a bit of a scrap at the start. Without jockeys, it was also difficult for them to know which way to face. In another heat, the commentator said: "We won't be starting just yet because I can see one head and four tails." Then there was the Cumberland and Westmoreland wrestling. This is very popular. A significant number of competitors were members of the local wrestling club. The advantage of being a member of the wrestling club is knowing how to throw your opponent to the grass; the disadvantage is the strip. White long johns, white vest; baggy pants outside of the long johns, sometimes in velveteen burgundy. But who is brave enough to tell a wrestler that the outfit does nothing for him? The men would lock their fingers together, wrapping their arms around their opponent, their cheek against the other fellow's cheek. They would stand apart, legs akimbo and lean into one another. Then they would attempt to toss their opponent to the ground, unbalancing, lifting up, wrapping one of their legs around one of his legs. In one heat between boys, the bigger opponent got hold of the littler boy and was swinging him round and round by the smaller boy's head. I was worried it might come off. It is the best of three falls. Sometimes if both competitors smash to the ground at the same time, it can be difficult to tell who won; sometimes it can be difficult to care. My boys needless to say loved it all: the terriers, the wrestling, the fair, the stalls. My husband loved it almost as much as they did. He said: "What did you think?" I said: "I think I need a few days in London."

Sunday, October 14, 2007


The North East is big on golf. In my previous life, I never saw the attraction; the clothes for one thing. All those pastel colours and slacks. But I like to give things a go and look the part when I am doing it. Move me to the country and I will buy a tweed cloche and wellies; invite me to a golf club and I will buy a pale pink golf shirt, sun visor and one pink leather glove. (You only buy one glove for reasons that defeat me.) And golf shoes of course. They get quite fussy about the shoes you wear. (I had thought I might get away with my lambskin slippers.)

My friend said he would take me golfing about six weeks ago; we tried but it was pouring down so we only made it as far as the clubhouse. I made the mistake in the intervening period of wearing the pink shirt. (What can I say? It was new.)This meant that when we tried to play golf again, I had a lovely stain of pasta sauce just where the baby girl rests her head when you lift her out of the high chair and carry her upstairs after dinner. I did not have time to attempt an industrial strength stain removal. Instead, I tilted my head so that my hair which is shoulder length and frankly, badly in need of a cut, would cover the stain. It worked but I looked as if I was slightly simple or needed a neck brace.

One of the attractions of golf up here are the views from the courses; this one has sandy beaches, pounding waves, a castle built on a basalt crag, the Farne islands, lighthouses and Holy Island in the distance. All that beauty and you spend your time looking at or for a small white ball. I would stand, legs slightly apart, hands gripping the club, I would attempt to keep my left arm straight as I swung the club then I would bring it down in a fluid motion, entirely missing the ball. I think the damn things jump. It reminded me so much of playing rounders at school that I almost broke out in acne. Then, I could never decide which I found more traumatic batting or fielding. There I would be in my games skirt and my sports knickers, rounders bat gripped in my sweaty hands. I would stand sideways on. I would look at the girl about to throw the ball. I would grip the bat a little harder. I would think: "This time, I am going to hit it." She would throw it. I would thresh the air with my bat and the ball would sail by into the hands of the backstop. I hated that game. Even now, the thought of it depresses me. That must be why golf courses have those little sandy oases with the rakes: when it gets pressured, the players can unwind with some Japanese gardening. They do make life difficult for themselves though. As we walked the six holes we played, I noticed various gullies and ravines, gorse bushes and hillocks. If they levelled the ground, they would find it so much easier to play although they seem happy enough wandering around with their teddy bears. Or maybe that was just the chap I was playing golf with. All very Brideshead. Apparently, if you have a soft toy covering the head of your club, it shows you have a sense of humour and do not take the game too seriously. Right. That would be why they have so many rules then because they treat the game as a bit of a laugh.

They have rules for everything:
Rule 1-1/4 "Player Discovers Own Ball Is in Hole After Playing Wrong Ball"
Rule 1-2/4 "Player Jumps Close to Hole to Cause Ball to Drop"
or this one
Rule 1-4/3 "Flagstick Stuck into Green Some Distance from Hole by Practical Joker"
or Rule 1-4/10 what you do in the event of a "Dangerous Situation: Rattlesnake or Bees Interfere with Play"
or my personal favorite Rule 2-4/17 "Player in Erroneous Belief Match Is Over Shakes Opponent's Hand and Picks Up Opponent's Ball"

Having trawled the rule book of around 500 pages, I guarantee lawyers like golf. But it is fair to say, despite a chronic inability to hit the ball, I enjoyed my game of golf more than I ever enjoyed a game of rounders. My friend said as we drove away: "If you want to take it up, you'd have to have lessons." I said: "How can I do that? I'm working: I'm supposed to spend any spare time I have with the children." He said: "Well, men do it." I said: "Exactly."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Samaritan city

My friend's husband just broke his hip - he is a dairy farmer and was involved in a fracas with a cow and a large amount of slurry. I always suspected cows were dangerous. I buy walnut whips and pineapple chunks and set off for a visit to the sick.

I pull off the A1 onto a country road. I check I do not have the handbrake on. I check I have enough petrol. I think: "The car is going to break down" and realise I have a flat tyre. Thinking about it, it must have been flat for a good 10 minutes, maybe longer. I climb out of the car to stare at the smoking tyre. It smells bad and it is pouring with rain. I am in the middle of nowhere and have given up on mobile phones as there is never a signal or the battery is flat. I have been happier.

I think: "Right, well it can't be that hard to change a tyre." I open the boot and find a jack, screwdriver, dirty nappy, pushchair, large amount of children's clothing, two teddybears, banana skin, spacegun and underneath it all, a tyre which I cannot lift. I go back to the front of the car with the jack. My husband has always maintained that if you use a jack in the wrong place on a car, your car will break. I slide it next to the wheel. A car goes by in the rain. I leap up and wave at it frantically and a nice man stops. He lends me his mobile phone so that I can call my husband (who is of course in London) and he can call the RAC. I think: "I can't call the RAC direct because it may take too long and I do not want to keep the man waiting for his phone." I have to ask the driver what road I am on. It turns out he is another local farmer and has heard all about the broken hip. He drives off.

I go back to the car and cautiously try turning the screw in the jack while working out whether the car could kill me if it falls off the jack. I decide I am reasonably safe as I am not underneath it on a trolley but kneeling next to it in a muddy puddle. I go back to the boot and pull out a few other pieces of metal that are lying around the spare tyre. I realise that rather than lifting the rear end of the car off the ground in a bid to extract the spare tyre from the boot, it may be easier to unwind the bolt holding it in place. I feel inadequate. A car drives by and I try to attract its attention but the driver does not see me. I contemplate putting on some lipstick and undoing some buttons. I am glad I have not done this when a little red runabout draws up and a white haired old lady peers out. I say: "Hello." I do not want to frighten her. I crouch down. I say: "Do you by any chance have a mobile pohone I could borrow?" I wonder if she knows what a mobile phone is. She says No, she is driving to see her daughter and had not wanted to drive by me. I know she is wishing she had a toffee she could offer me. I say how kind of her to stop and thank you. She drives on.

I go back to the car and look at the wheel. The tyre is still flat and I am getting wetter. I look at the signpost at the junction. I am about four miles from my friends. I wonder if I shout very loudly would they hear me. Another car draws up. I think: "For the back of beyond, you get a fair amount of passing traffic" although the hands on my watch stopped going round some time ago. I say to the elderly man driving the car: "Could I borrow your phone?" He hands it to me. His elderly wife looks at me with deep suspicion. I ring my husband. He tells me the RAC will not come as I am not named on the cover for the car and the AA cannot find me. While I am trying to explain where I am to him despite the fact I have no idea, the elderly man goes over to look at the wheel and says he can fix it. I tell my husband I will ring him back. The elderly man, a caravaner, digs around his own boot. He pulls out a walking stick come zimmer frame and then a wheel brace. I wonder if he is carrying it in case the zimmer ever gets a flat. We spend some time trying to find a place for the jack to go. He is incredibly game but is now wheezing very badly. His breath is so laboured I am seriously worried he is going to have a heart attack while he changes the wheel. I suspect his wife is sitting in the car having a hissy fit. He has to give up when the jack refuses to go any further. I shake him by the hand and thank his wife for lending him to me. I do not think she likes me.

I go back and have another go. I pull the jack out and slide it further along the car and turn the screw, but the wheel remains resolutely on the ground. I am not sure I care by now as I have no idea what to do once the wheel is in the air. Another car draws up. The man (who spends half his year in Australia and used to do something with trucks), cracks on with the job in hand. It takes him about five minutes. My tyre has a lenthy gash in it. He pours scorn on my spare wheel and implies I will die horribly if I go any speed at all. He says I must go straight to a garage and get a new tyre. I have the impression it could abandon the other three wheels and roll away from the car at any moment. He drives away. I open up the walnut whips.

Monday, October 08, 2007

On the right page

Sometimes in the country, you have to order things. Shopkeepers write down your order in an exercise book and when you go in, they greet you by your name and ruffle through the pages. I went to a borders town this weekend to pick up a pair of boots. They had not arrived but it did not matter. Whenever I go to this particular town, good things happen: I stumble across a cafe that doubles up as a church; there is a food market with great olives; the cookware shop gives me a whistle for my Aga kettle (I managed to lose mine) and they had not even sold me the kettle. This weekend, Elvis strutted his leathery stuff in the market square; occasionally, cocking a leg up on a wooden bench to kiss a granny. Elvis is alive and well and appearing this coming Saturday in aid of a village hall restoration fund (tickets available from the local newsagent.)

Once Elvis had "left the building" that is to say strode off through the doors of the tourist information office, we went back to the Christian cafe. A couple of weeks ago, I had to buy eight copies of a book for my book group from a bookshop. I had already bought eight copies of a book for my book group on Amazon but I must have clicked the "Post them when you like, I'm really not that bothered option" because they did not arrive in time. So there I was looking for eight copies of anything that was not a map of Great Britain and noticed that they had a whole section of "Tragic Life Stories." I thought: "Cor Blimey - who reads this?" I can understand why you would write it. Therapy. A reality check for the happy people - you might have had a happy childhood, mine sucked big time and nobody cared. I can understand why you might read one, but are there people out there who work their way through the whole "misery genre"? And do publishers sit round their shiny tables with their Starbucks coffees saying: "You're going to love this. Let's call the book 'Ugly'." Nope. Done that. "OK: `Damaged'." Nope got that too. " 'Abandoned'? 'Unloved'? 'Betrayed'?" They also tend to have the word 'true' on the cover. "Unloved. The True Story of a Stolen Childhood." "Abandoned. The True Story of a Little Girl who Doesn't Belong." "Damaged. The Heartbreaking True Story of a Forgotten Child." "Ugly. The True Story of a Loveless Childhood."

As a natural depressive, I am not brave enough to read such books. In any event, they were not selling them on Saturday. Christan cafes in small border towns sell books called "Lift your Spirits". It had a picture of a flying dog on the front with the words: "Even if you're living a dog's life, you'll find something here to lift your spirits!" You can stand it on your desk and flick the pages over to the right day. For instance, May 15 "Is the glass half empty, half full, or twice as large as it needs to be? ( I am still thinking about that one.) Then underneath a reference to Psalm 23:5 The Message "You revive my drooping head: my cup brims with blessing."

One company looks like they are cornering the inspirational market with their 365 Day Brighteners. They have titles such as "Sunbeams Through My Window" and "Whispered Words of Encouragement."My personal favorite has to be "Words to Warm a Mother's Heart". There is a thought for every day in case you do not have any of your own.

Today then: "It isn't the great big pleasures that count the most; it's making a great deal out of the little ones." (Jean Webster in For a Woman's Heart).
Then again:"When one door closes, another one opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." (Alexander Graham Bell in Words to Warm a Mother's Heart).
And of course: "Every path He guides us on is fragrant with His loving kindness and His truth." (Psalm 25:10 The Living Bible via The Beauty of Friendship)

I bought six of these books and next time, I go shopping, I am trying this: "It doesn't take monumental feats to make the world a better place. It can be as simple as letting someone go ahead of you in a grocery line" (Barbara Johnson). Or this one: "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming" (Goethe) - this one might change my parenting strategy. And I love this one by Augustine "Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure: where your treasure, there your heart: where your heart, there your happiness." And Elvis is not dead. Life does not get better.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mothers and daughters

I saw them walk away from me, my mother and my daughter. My mother in her slippers with her stick, head bent to listen, best she could, to my girl's burble. My baby girl beside her, pushing a buggy with a pink and brand new dolly along the road outside the cottages. I thought: "Engrave this on my heart: my mother walking, talking with the little mother next to her.". "Shall we go in?" I heard her granny ask her. "No. Walk again." And walk they did. I thought: "When you are all grown and a mother to more than just a doll, when my mother is no more, will something in you recall this autumn morning's promenade?"

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My old china

My parents have arrived for a visit. The arches are still not ready and they cannot manage stairs so they are staying in a friend's holiday cottage down the road. I say they cannot manage stairs. This is their first visit since we moved back in. I showed them round the downstairs and said: "I won't show you upstairs because you won't be able to manage the stairs." I completed the last bit of this sentence to their backs as they disappeared up the staircase they cannot manage and down the landing. I trailed up after them. I said: "You can't manage stairs. Remember? That's why we're having the arches built. So you can have a downstairs bedroom and a bathroom." "Yes, that's right, we can't manage stairs," my mother said, pushing me gently to one side as she went to inspect the en suite.

Everything measured up to their high standards so I do not have to move again immediately, thank God. My mother said: "It is everything I ever hoped you would have." This is not entirely true. At one time, she would have liked me to marry Prince Charles and she would have preferred me to be a doctor. She sat back in my cream leather sofa in the kitchen. She said: "Would it be a good idea if I gave you a china cabinet?" "No," I said. She got tougher. "But there is a china cabinet sitting in our front bedroom's bow window and it doesn't belong in there. There isn't room for it." I said: "Have you just looked round my nice empty house to find where I can put all your old tat?" Her game was up. "I do not want a china cabinet. I do not want that little head of a Scotsman in a glass with a fly in his eye." (Don't ask.) She changed tack again. "But if you don't want it, I shall have to give it all away." She had been in the house less than 30 minutes before she put the knife to my throat: take the tat or lose your childhood memories. I cannot remember all that is in the china cabinet. As a child, I thought them marvels and would extract them, one by one, to carefully, and with clean hands, admire them: the silver model of the shrine of Lourdes which plays a hymn to the Virgin Mary if you wind a key, a little clockwork Russian doll with red bobbles on her hat who does a goosestep and at least one flamenco dancer, complete with castanets. My mother is a firm believer in decluttering providing she is the one doing the decluttering. I shall take the china cabinet. I think when the arches are complete, I shall find a place for it in their bedroom.