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My friend and why I liked her

29 Mar

Yesterday I said goodbye to a very dear friend. I only found out recently that she was 84. Of course I knew she was in her later years, but her mid 80s? I’d never have guessed. She was such a youthful lady with a very young heart.  Her daughter told me recently that she still shaved her legs.  It didn’t surprise me.

The almost 50-year age gap just didn’t seem to matter. I hardly noticed it.  And meeting all her friends and family yesterday at the funeral, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only 30-something or even 10-something who’d laughed and loved and gossiped with her. How can someone cross generations so effortlessly?

To me, good friends are both interesting and interested.  The former seems obvious – we all like someone who is fun, can share a good story, and throw out a thought-provoking opinion, but to me it’s more than that. It’s someone that will give instinctively of themselves – who isn’t afraid to be open, to share not only the things that make them look good, but those that make them look weak, vulnerable, foolish even. I love people who are honest almost to a fault – not with malice or judgement towards other people – but about themselves.

Likewise, a person may be witty and intelligent and make you roar with laughter but if they’re not prepared to listen, a camaraderie will soon fall short of a friendship.  And finding someone who can really listen, who is genuinely interested in what you have to say because they value you, and like you, and are interested in the world, is something different.  Above everything else my friend was always willing to listen, always wanted to know what you were up to and what you thought and how you felt.  She was genuinely interested in other people and she made them feel important.

And if you have all those friendship ingredients? Age doesn’t matter – it simply gives you better stories to tell.

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Marjory was my dad’s partner for the last years of his life and I will always owe her a debt of gratitude for the selfless care she took of him when he needed her most, and when he was incapable of giving much back.   But after he died our friendship didn’t endure because of the connection to my dad, nor from any sense of debt I felt to her; we remained friends simply because I really really liked her.

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We miss you Marjory. Good friends don’t come along every day. xx

dad&marjie

envy is an empty emotion

15 Nov

When I was a teenager my mum once said to me “Never be jealous of someone else,  you never know what life might throw at them.”

At the time I was 14 and jealous of EVERYONE.  Jealous of Kate for the money her mum gave her to buy the naughtiest knee high boots I’d ever seen. Jealous of Lucy for the boys that she kissed and of Rachel for the pink Kickers she wore with her white denim skirt. I was covetous of Ruth’s copy of We are Transvision Vamp! and bemoaned the passing resemblance she had to Wendy James, and I swooned when I heard about Carol’s trip to Hollywood where she was chatted up at the airport by a Michael J fox lookalike.

It turned out Kate had the clothes but her father had not hung around for long, that Ruth’s mum was having an affair with the local vicar and would fall pregnant with his child 2 years later, and that Carol’s father lost his job and they would never get to go on another holiday again.

So don’t be jealous of me for my beautiful, healthy boys for whom I fell pregnant easily. Don’t envy the nice big house I’m hoping to buy, or the time I am able to take out to reassess my life.  I am lucky in so many ways, but I also lost both my parents to be here.

Life gives and takes in equal measure. Your grass might be greener than mine but I have a kick ass mower.

Balham on the up

14 Oct

Soon after diagnosis my mum uttered the heart-stoppingly sad words  “This isn’t my world anymore”.   Of course she wasn’t talking about Balham at the time but the life that was slowly being robbed from her, but as I wander around Balham today, taking surplus plates and old saucepans to the “Mary Portar-esque” charity shops I can’t help but be reminded of these words.

When we moved to Balham in the 1980s my dad warned that he would not see his children brought up in “this hole” (we were of course –  big words, small muscle as usual).  Prostitutes on the corner showing skirt for trade, children playing in the gutters (still not sure what was meant by this part of the story – like they were washing in the drain overflow or something).  Neighbours with tatty clothes and half-wild kittens they’d swap for cigarettes. Damp, white-washed concrete streets interrupted by the threatening graffiti daubed on the pet shop’s walls.

But within the tattered edges was a colourful, characterful place. The Caribbean market with its exotic fruits with unpronouncable names, the tucked away Asian supermarket throwing forth its dizzying spiced aromas, and  the flame-haired grandma selling flowers at the corner of the traditional street market,  calling everyone love and signalling to the deaf fruit-stall man that “Old Bert” was on his way and causing trouble again.

And now? Gone are the corner shops selling single malboroughs for 10p and liquorice shoe laces longer than your arm. Gone is the russet-haired flower lady, the site of her stall now occupied by tables of overpriced wooden toys and other superfluous, but mesmerisingly cute trinkets. (“objet shit” Mr Milk likes to call it).  Gone is the opera-singing homeless man at the underground station and the rainman postman who could recall a little too much about your personal mail. Replaced by artisan bakeries, glossy estate agents selling houses at unreal prices, asian-fusion eateries, Starbucks and Waitrose.

Where once was life in all its technicolour splendour, now are just subtle degrees of parlour grey. Cinammon and five spice replaced with hibiscus and lightly smoked turbot.  Whitewashed concrete and shabby edges improved by brushed steel and clean lines and poor old Bert edged out to make way for Richard and Miranda and cute little Angus.

Balham isn’t the same for me anymore either mum.  I think it’s about time to move on.

30-something orphan

17 Sep

Original sketch by Doodlemum

Today marks the 4th anniversary of my father’s death. It is also 5 months exactly since I lost my mum.  Two journeys, both with many more miles to tred.

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This week I locked myself out of the house.  Returning from a hard day’s work – forlorn, within an inch of my patience. Two tired children yelping and jumping at my knees like impatient, rivalrous puppies vying for  attention.  A childminder desparate to reclaim her family home, a husband tied up in another meeting, neighbours immersed in their own bedtime squabbles. My desparate calls unanswered – two, three, four times.

And as I stood on my own doorstep I have never felt so alone.

When you lose your parents, you cease to be someone’s child.  An obvious point, but in that subtle twist of perception is something more significant. The moment you are orphaned you lose the people whose primary role is to protect you.  Unconditional, instinctive, tribal. This is no comment on my loyal husband who I love dearly, or my sister who is truly exceptional.  Yet as peers, the needs of our own families must come first.  The selfless, unquestioning devotion is focussed on the children whose lives we have been entrusted to protect, nurture, bring to fruition.

And the truth is, my parent’s job was done.

Yet the vulnerable needy child in you is always there.  The infant yearning to be wrapped in its mother’s arms, safe from the loom of the bogeyman. We still crave to hear those words  “Don’t worry darling, I’ll sort it all out for you”, to hide under the duvet and to let someone else carry the burden.

But the truth is, the buck now stops with you.  There won’t always be someone else to come to the rescue.  And that can be a lonely thought.

Spell M-A-N!

13 Jul

“Let’s go round the table and introduce ourselves”.

Oh isn’t this always a really interesting part of any project kick-off meeting?

Personally I get a bit nervous at this point and start writing notes; usually I’m still trying to work out what I do and how I fit in, sometimes what my workname is if I’ve had a particularly early start with the children (married/maiden/mum, it can get confusing),  so i just say something mildly funny and pass to the person sitting next to me. There are those that are specific and straight to the point “I am going to deliver X for this project” – concise, relevant. Some give a little bit more detail, but then there are those that launch into full-on self sales mode. How much they made for their last employer, how many people they have working for them, how big their package is, their golf handicap, that type of thing.  It’s like a luminescent confidence light-show in a drab meeting room with luke warm coffee. And these self-proclaimed work-Jehovas seem to be the only ones not a bit embarrassed by it, not thinking it’s a little over the top. I’m always half expecting them to leap frog over their swivel chair onto the meeting desk and start doing pelvic thrusts to Bo Diddley’s I’m a man  “Spell M-A-N”.

Or is it me that’s missing a trick here? It’s that difficult line between the confident, the not-so-confident and the scarily self-assured. Like at school when you came out of an exam and there was “A-grade Annie” bleating on about how badly she’d done, while “Ego-Eric” was already patting himself on the back for coming top of the class.  Of course Eric always failed miserably, while Annie went to Oxford.

None of this ever equates to any real ability. In fact the cleverest in business are never at the top.  The ones with the biggest balls are. As my dad used to say “It’s all margeding”.

Truth is, you might be able to sell £200 pet insurance to a nervous goldfish breeder, but doesn’t mean you can sell yourself to the e-enablement project team.  If you’re no good at selling yourself, they’ll just have you taking the minutes again, while Gerald demonstrates his finely tuned lambada.

exclamation smirks

3 Jun

image courtesy of writers-edge.info

I’m a bit of a grammar nazi.  I don’t like it, it’s  a prescriptive and anal way of thinking.  I’d like to think my university days studying english language had paid off,  that I could see language as just a tool to fit a purpose,   a product constructed through its cultural usage.  Evolving, morphing, adapting.

But the truth is, I can’t.  I can still  hear both my parent’s voices in my head scolding me when I misuse an apostrophe, choose incorrectly from “more” and “less” when  expressing quantity, failing to follow Tony with I when proceeded by anything verblike.  It kind of ires me because I like the idea of the evolution of language, that the use of words or phrases should never be wholly dictated by rules and convention, but be fluid and playful. Christ, I’m a writer after all.

And my distaste is not just limited to grammatical mistakes. I can get disproportionately offended by punctuation too.  Take exclamation marks for example.   I just don’t like them. To me, at best, they should only ever be used to denote humour, and even then it feels as if I’m being told to find something funny before I’ve even made up my own mind.  A bit forced, cocky even.  I suppose they might clarify a statement’s mood – “I’m saying this as a joke, not an insult” – but then what is a smilie for? Surely they’re a lot more cute, less “in your face”.

Technically I think exclamation marks can also be used when conveying shock or suprise, the impact of something. But it always feels inappropriate to me, offensive even.  To me they are laughing marks, used with something serious it just feels like you’re belittling its gravitas, worse, taking it as one big (bad) joke.

“I’m so sorry you’ve broken your leg, it must be really frustrating!” or

“That’s dreadful, I can’t believe that someone nicked your car the day you lost your job!” or more recently for me

“I’m so sorry you’re mum died, you must be a real mess!”.

And what is it with some bloggers or commenters that seem pathologically incapable of writing without punctuating every single sentence with one?  Sometimes I wonder if it’s a kind of defense mechanism – they’re worried other people might think their writing or attitude stinks, so it’s a way of poking fun at themselves before anyone else does. Kind of like the extrovert chubby lady.

God it really is all a bit anal isn’t it? And this is all coming from someone who started her blogging journey refusing to capitalise i at the start of the sentence, thinking it was a bit quirky or something.  Bless.   Well my nazi self quickly put paid to that one thank god.

In Memoriam

8 May

It was a beautiful, special, poignant and most importantly, really happy day.  A day about my mum, for my mum, in memory of my mum. That might sound odd ( it was her funeral after all) but believe me most other funerals I’ve been to could have been about anyone.  Tom, Dick OR Harry.

After this experience, I’m not sure why anyone would choose a standard church service.  Okay, that’s easy for me to say – I’m not religious, and I’m not desperate to make things right with God and send mum off to an eternity sitting on fluffy clouds and eating honey from golden spoons. (I’m being facetious of course, my lovely churchy friends). It’s just I remember my Dad’s funeral – held at the church where he had attended for years – and you’d never have known that the vicar had even met him. His name just cut and pasted at the top of his sermon.

My mother’s, on the other hand was a humanist service, filled with the usual tributes and poems and music (but beautifully written, expertly chosen and exquisitely read of course), and with the added treat of a rather remarkable humanist celebrant. This lovely, kind lady held it all together expertly, speaking eloquently in length about my mum, negotiating the usual unexploded familial landmines like an unshakeable divorce mediator.  She was sensitive, humorous, respectful, despite never having met her.  She’d come to visit us for 3 1/2 hours the week previously and listened as we rambled on about anything and everything to do with our darling mum. Cheap therapy.


After the service we’d invited everyone back to my mum’s house for a reception surrounded by all her things – photos, music, cards – memories of a life lived, things achieved, struggles fought and won.  We’d half expected noone to come back, or to visit for just a respectful glass of water and an exchange of a few, brief pleasantries. You  never know with these things.   But it was packed to the brim with sandwich munching, wine guzzling,  (rather a lot of wine guzzling in fact) and happy revellers, enjoying the moment, celebrating a beautiful lady, bidding farewell to a much loved friend.

My mum would have been truly proud.

Angry

29 Apr

I’m ANGRY.

Angry that the grandparents my children will know, grow up with, remember, won’t be MY parents. That the one they will call Grandma won’t be MY mum, the one they will know as Grandad will be someone else’s.

I’m angry that my Mum will be a hazy recollection, snapshots – splintered and one-dimensional – just as my Dad is now just a photo on the fridge. Their absence juxtaposed against a life filled with love and cuddles and memories from their other, “real” grandparents.

I’m angry that it won’t be my mum that picks them up from school, that wraps her arms around them and asks them what their day was like. That she’ll never see the expression on their faces as they unwrap her carefully chosen Christmas present, or heap praise on them when they read their first words.

I’m angry that I will have to live more of my life without her than I have done with. One of the most important people to me – my mother, my best friend – here for just a fraction of my life. Killed off after only the first few chapters.

I’m angry that the person that has been at the centre of my universe for 34 years has been snatched away from me, cruelly, suddenly, and that I have to relearn to live my life without her.

I’m angry that at just 34 I am an orphan.

I’m angry that my “go to person”, my reference point for all the decisions I make, the person at the end of the telephone when I’m feeling unsteady or unsure, has become unavailable. Permanently engaged.

I’m angry that I have to make sense of all of this by myself.

I’m really fucking angry, and my rage is selfish and personal. For now it’s all about me.

How well do you really know someone?

7 Mar

We spend our lives listening to our parent’s potted histories, groan at having to hear them over and over – once, twice, three times – sometimes late at night, often with high emotion.

We internalise these stories without question; it’s only when we go to recount them back to an unconnected party that we start to see them for what they are. Glimpses only. Snapshots. A biographical history – selective, biased, incomplete.

We may know intimately our loved one’s character traits, their struggles, passions, desires. We may learn to predict their behaviour, know how to cosset them against harm, support them in their personal struggles, marvel at their hard-fought triumphs, but do we ever really consider the person they were before we met them? They are “our mum” or “our dad”. We give only a fleeting thought to the experiences that shaped them into who they are today, take foregranted who they might have been to someone else.

My dad had a few anecdotes he told time and again. Like the time he blew his falling out money from the navy on a suite of rooms at Manchester’s most expensive hotel, while his equals slummed it in student halls throughout fresher’s week. Or the first year he spent bording in a madam’s house, looked after like a son, fed cooked breakfast every morning as debauchery went on around him. Snapshots of a life lived to the full, a man with a cheeky glint in his eye.

The thing with anecdotes is that they’re just that. Improved over time, polished, made more funny, more enchanting, more impressive. If we start to ask questions, we soon begin to realise how much more there is to know, that what we know is merely a scratch on the surface of a life lived.

It was only when my father lost his sight and hearing, became isolated, more reflective, when we used to sit for hours talking because there was little else he could do, that I really got to know him. Started to fill in the gaps, build the flesh around the anecdotal bones, get to really know him as he was in life, from beginning to end.

My mum has her own stories, funny, poignant, some tragic, many filled with enormous strength and achievement. We are incredibly close, like sisters, and yet, I’m beginning to realise that for as much as I do know, there is still so much that I don’t. Have never thought to ask, question, or clarify. Or I have listened but never really heard.

I’m looking forward to finding out even more not just about a mother, but a sister, daughter, friend.

argumentative sod

15 Dec

My dad was an argumentative sod. He’d sit at the dinner table with a bunch of friends my mum had carefully invited, and be purposefully provocative. Take the most extreme view on something just to get a reaction and kick start a heated debate. Quite understandably my mum was frequently mortified, vowing never to have guests over again.

Once, he ordered a pink gin from a very camp waiter at his local restaurant. I could see the glint in his eye. He wanted to see what might happen. To anyone else looking in he’d have looked like a rude, misogynistic pig. But if you knew him, however rude it might have been, you knew what he was up to, and you couldn’t help but smile.

With this blogging thing, i’ve started to realise i’ve got a bit of the argumentative sod about me too. Not that i would ever deliberately say anything that might hurt someone else, and i’m certainly not about to order a dirty white mother at a pub in Toxteth. But i certainly like a debate. And I’ll usually try to provoke one.

Yet I find good banter really difficult to find in blogger world. I’ll often deliberately make my posts a little provocative, and my tweets are often cheeky. But sadly someone rarely picks up the bait and runs with it.

You see, opinion isn’t fixed. Just beause I might blog about something one way one day, doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind the next week and take the other side. That’s what life is all about, surely? You learn through experience, so your views can only ever be supported by the experience or the coversations you’ve already had. There is nothing more humbling than to go from one point of view to the opposite extreme simply because someone has so convincingly argued their case.

So i long for someone to come along and disagree with me. Feel so passionately that we can have a good old chat about it. I’m not saying i like a slanging match. In fact there’s nothing I hate more than unnecessary aggression. The way forward is always through intelligent and respectful debate.

So if that makes me an argumentative sod then so be it. At least I won’t have a sore arse from sitting on too many fences.