Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Response to the end of summer

I have eaten
the last
plum not from
the icebox

but from
the tree you
long ago

Be happy
it was delicious
so sweet
and so warm

Friday, 28 August 2015

Love song for a human

A young man knocked on my door. He had a card. It said he was disabled. He wanted to sell me a tea towel I didn’t want. It was expensive. I had little money but I believed his story so I bought it. Later I read about men who drove groups of youngsters into suburban areas to exploit the easy kindness of the well-off. I felt cheated of my money but not my compassion.

The next time a young man came to my door with a card saying he was disabled I did not buy a tea towel. I would not be duped a second time. I sent him away with a lie, saying I did not need anything. I kept my money but I lost my sense of honesty. I felt uneasy.

The time after that another young man came selling tea towels. With a card saying he was disabled. He bounced a basket ball on my doorstep. I felt cross. He looked young and fit. He seemed as uninterested in selling the tea towel as I was in buying it. He seemed to want something else. I didn’t want his tea towel. I told him to go. I kept my money that day and gained a fear. Of needy young men  coming to my door.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Mother's Day

I was going to post a short-hand message on the worthiness-wall that is called FaceBook but reconsidered on the grounds that some things should remain private. Going for the relative obscurity of a blog is hardly an improvement but I trust the people who read this will know it's not flag-waving sentimentality.

We seldom hear a mother's point of view on Mother's Day; cards and posts are  generally full of eulogies from children of all ages. And I too am grateful to my mother for her many sacrifices. For her, motherhood was sacrifice. Like most religious concepts, sacrifice turned out to be a disappointing investment.

Today, I want to say that, living in times of choice, I was able to choose to have my children. There's a difference there between my parents' generation and my own; the greatest benefit of which I see as the absence of sacrifice. Sure, all parents have their share of sleeplessness and poverty but it has been, hopefully, not foisted upon them.

Many parents, I suspect, have moments of resentment and regret that their lives have become compromised (how could they have known) but imagine if the choice was not theirs?  For earlier generations the burden of forced responsibility must have weighed heavy. Imagine the resentment of a woman whose light and lithesome body was taken over, coupled with the relative freedom experienced by fathers; it must have felt like an entire life had been sacrificed for the sake of a child. Happy Mother's Day. One day of recognition when the serving girls and boys went home and what joy, I wonder did they bring?

Today here's my voice. I am a mother. I have three children. I chose to have them. I wanted them. I like them. I love them. I am proud of the people they turned into. They have already given me far more than I ever gave them. They have nothing to be grateful for. But there will be trouble if the threatened bouquet of pink carnations sprinkled with glitter ever arrives. There are limits to a mother's love.

If I thought I could, I would always watch over them. It's my job.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Sock it to the New Year

Many years ago, when I was an aspirational mother, organising the family's laundry was one of my finest achievements.  Through my labour I could show the world (or the very very small part of it I mentally inhabited) that I was successfully in control.

When my first baby came (she just came, just like that) I held a very Catholic state of mind. She was pure and unstained, and must remain so for a long as possible.  Therefore I dressed her all in white so that I could notice any little mark on her. That child was held from the world's corruption until it was no longer reasonable (or practical) to continue - about six weeks.  Come on, it takes a lot of effort to keep a white-clad baby spotless. Anyway, in the early days, the child's nightgowns and babygros (yes, really - there had to be a difference between day and night - how else would she know it was bedtime?) were hand-washed nightly at the kitchen sink; often by an exhausted weeping mother resisting her husband's appeals for common-sense.

I did not iron socks, underpants, fitted sheets or towels. I did iron duvet covers and pillowcases.  There is something sublimely appealing in wafting a crisply ironed duvet cover over a clean sheet ready to accept its pie-filling of feathers. And something even more appealing about sinking contentedly under it at the end of the day, knowing that one has done one's duty well.

Socks, on the other hand, were more problematic. Tangled socks are generally unruly, mismatched, grumpy things.  To bring a tangle of socks under control takes time and systematic thinking.  Balling up tiny piles of tricot-edged baby socks alongside a larger pile of men's black socks might initially seem a quaint domestic chore of any evening. But when the tangled mass started to grow into boys' socks, girls', babies' and men's, the nightly task became overwhelming.  You see, one needs a very large space to sort, pair and ball; and the arm of the sofa was not up to it.

Systems need strategy, and when a system fails, then the strategy need a review.  I purchased three plastic baskets, and labelled each with its child owner's name.  At least then I could balance them on eh chair arm whilst untangling, pairing, and watching television. (I was tempted to write 'whilst reading' but we all know that would be both unlikely and pretentious, don't we?).

The novelty of the new system worked effectively, with proud husband smiling benignly at his wifelet's ingenuity and organisational skill.  Happy man to be able to leave the house of a morning, confident that the children's feet, at least, were well-managed, that the baby wouldn't be dropped by a gin-soaked mother or the children left unfed.

Gradually, as the children developed and their sock repertoires expanded, the task of sorting, pairing, balling again became tedious.  By then the break for both their freedom and mine had started.  As our separations began, at first, they were pleased to seek and find their own socks, to pair and ball and drop them into their baskets. Even if the basket contents were never quite decanted into drawers. But dissension soon arises in the passionate, besting breasts of pre-pubescent teens. And I'll tell you a secret, it arises in the passionate beating breasts of their parents too.  The three little sock baskets were redundant.

The heroine of this story (me, and she was a heroine too for even caring about the laundry) conducted another strategic review. To say I actually calculated how many hours of my remaining time on earth might be swallowed by sorting, pairing and balling my family's socks would be an exaggeration. What I did instead was an act of outright rebellion. Without consultation or even mention on the agenda of the next family meeting (yes, really - try it, it's hilarious to read the minutes years later), I went right out and bought ONE LARGE SOCK BASKET.  From then on, if anyone wanted a matching pair of clean socks they knew where to find them. The morning scramble through the basket secretly amused me as I watched yet another piece of my children's puzzlement click into place, and I'm pretty sure they never caught me smirking, not even furious eldest.

To this day the sock basket exists.  Over the years as the family has contracted, and expanded and with each arrival and departure, the basket acquires more odd socks; some not even ours. I still pull out the one soft white tennis sock with grey trim and remember the girl who threw my child's clothing out of her  bedroom window at three in the morning.  There was a lesson that badly needed learning.

There in a new year, one ending in a five which makes it feel special and so it is. It marks a change and another strategic review. A bit of life-cleansing the mindfulness police are suggesting. So I may just take some time out of my seasonal fever to throw away the odd socks, detox the basket, down-size the tangled bondage that stands between me and my goal of morning-clean socks and start the new year lighter for it.  All except for the soft white tennis sock with the grey trim.  There are some lessons only another woman can teach a mother's son.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Simply human

'It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.'
Primo Levi

This picture and quotation sits above my desk; it will never be removed because it reminds me how easily we could fall prey to beguiling words and economic imperatives. Sometimes, maybe, we could forget too that we are all simply human.

Music? Of course it could only be The Killers, but later...

Monday, 13 October 2014

Worlds in which... half believed possibility

I would take you to Corfu and we would leave the soft white pebbles to lower our bodies into the gently tepid water of the Ionian Sea and laugh at our nakedness like children still.

I would take you to Venice to marvel at its pink water and we would walk and talk about Thomas Mann and see how many red-haired boys we could spot before realising how cheaply we'd sold our intellect.

I would take you to snow-laid Krakow to gasp at the Szopka and we would drink bison grass vodka at dawn before St Mary's Basilica to hear the trumpet call more clearly.

I would cook you sensual food, taking care in its presentation.

I would take you to the top of the hill so you could regard your life below.

I would look keenly at you.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Clean away

The thought came to her in the pulsing shower as she waited for the hot water to come back.  A forty year-old memory of Clive, who worked for the Civil Service and was proud of it, displayed his Civil Service Car Club membership disc in his sturdy navy blue Rover.  She’d mused over that badge even when they were together, and she did so again now as she soaped herself.  He’d taken such pride in his life, she was sure he’d displayed that badge to show his greater membership and professional position in the Civil Service.  Because he was – Clive - very civil.  Proper, in his tweed jacket and dark cavalry twill slacks - casual wear for evenings and weekends - soft Viyella shirt. Neat, but odd for a man in his late twenties, when most men she knew were wearing tight velvet trousers, flowery shirts and silk neckerchiefs. 
She laughed aloud as she remembered her drunken ministrations on drunken Nigel one night as he sat vomiting between his legs; she pushing his head down with one hand while the heel of her other firmly trapped his necker against his bony knee, effectively strangling him.  She couldn’t imagine Clive ever vomiting in a pub car park.
The hot water returned in time to calm her shivers. She stepped into it, rinsing and remembering Clive’s Bristol basement; dank and dingy.  She’d always been concerned about his piano as he worked his way through his classical-seduction repertoire.  He’d quickly understood which melodies stirred her to wild emotions and would carefully introduce them, a few bars at a time, until finally he played Chopin’s Polonaise Opus 53 in A flat major throughout; allegro ma non troppo.  Looking back, theirs was more of a Nocturnes arrangement but she was young and in love with love, so. What Clive didn’t know was that her analytic mind was systematically assessing his technique.  But that was alright, she had a choice.  Congress was silent and perfunctory.  Afterwards he would thank her, get up and wash his hands.  Things might have continued this way had it not been for his ski-ing trip to Zakopane.  She’d always admired his allegiance to his father and Poland. 
Having need of his camera, to capture the beauty of the mountains, he arranged to meet parents, sister and brother-in-law halfway, at Thatcham. They’d dine, hand over camera and meet the new girlfriend, more or less in that order.  Father was charming, as was sister.  Clive conversed almost exclusively with mother.  Now, there are social protocols without which relationships can neither commence nor develop.  Formal introductions are made, there follows mild and discrete appraisal in the form of small talk and a decent acknowledgement by way of eye contact, if not in speech.  A cordial parting salutation normally sets a seal on the nature of future encounters.  Clive’s mama gave few of these and hardly had the braised kidneys been cleared than judgement had been decided, swift and brutal.  The crack, once begun, widened. 
Back from ski-ing, hapless Clive resumed his life and quasi-courtship.  He liked her hands, he’d said.  He liked to straighten her fingers, balancing one hand at a time, palm down on his as he reviewed their genetic acceptability. ‘You have good hands; they are slim, soft, long fingers, good nails.’  This, she knew.  He went from appraisal of this singular feature of hers to one of his own body parts.  ‘I have a good forehead.  It is noble, high.’  She was not a fool; slim hands and a noble forehead do not a relationship make.  Neither was she interested in subjecting any more of herself to racial scrutiny when she knew mama would have a say in it.  The end was not well received.
Clive was shocked, naturally.  He’d obviously considered himself a fine catch: noble forehead, Shooters Hill Grammar and the Civil Service Car Club.  Her failing was the gentleness of the let-down; they never believed she was serious.  But at least Clive didn’t accuse her of having someone else.  She’d always felt that, deep down, he knew.  He asked for friendship of course; the usual bargaining.  She agreed, tentatively.  A clean break was always preferable she thought though when, a week later, he called at the flat, just passing by he’d said.  Of course.  Crispy brand new denim, gay shirt (checked not flowery) and horror; red cotton neckerchief tied with well-ordered gay abandon. His forced cheeriness, staccato, over frugal milk-less coffee barely carried them over the time it took for him to run through his prepared questions. Then he was gone.  She’d miss the piano.

The shower pulsed tepid.  Time to get out before the lasting memory of her morning ablution should be a cold one.