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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

What Wimbledon means to me

I can't remember a time when Wimbledon Fortnight did not feature in my life. Mum who was a housewife for 50 weeks of the year used to down tools in the last week of June. No cleaning, no cooking, no nothing apart from watching as many tennis matches as possible and cheering on her favourites. Looking back, Mum was probably like many stay at home mums (even today) quite lonely and frustrated. She got through her weeks on the promise of Dad delivering Woman and Women's Own magazines every Wednesday. She got through the year by anticipating and then revelling in Wimbledon.
Mum used to embarrass me a little when I was younger as she did love to watch Men's tennis in particular and especially if it was a strapping blonde Swede with good legs. She adored Borg and later Edberg. She thought John McEnroe was a disgrace but also told me I was very like him in character. Mothers and daughters eh? Later she told me that she had meant that I had a strong sense of fairness and insisted on justice. She said Nastase was "a bugger" but adored him all the same and she idolized the fun character that was Jimmy Connors complete with his infamous grunts and play-acting on court.
The whole family liked tennis. You had to really as you would have had a miserable June and July if you didn't. Thank goodness there was no Sky Sports in those days or we would have watched tennis 24 7. My brother played tennis for fun in his younger days. I played on the street with Mum buying me expensive racquets so I was popular for at least two weeks of the year! I remember a lad I liked playing with my racquet and being pathetic and thinking how wonderful it was that he had touched my equipment (in the nicest possible sense lol). I still felt this when he broke the strings in one.
Mum never went to Wimbledon and I would ask her if she would like to go every year. She had a stock response, "You can see more of it on the telly". I wish she had experienced it at least once.
Once I left home, I did not bother that much with Wimbledon apart from one year when I found myself nannying for a family in Kent. It took me a couple of weeks to work out that I was there for the Summer not so much to care for the children but to keep the mum company during the school holidays. So Jennie would encourage me to lounge around with her watching Wimbledon. She also took a huge delight in introducing me to Jilly Cooper novels. Considering that I was well-paid and live-in and did little, it's probably the best job I ever had! It is interesting to reflect how my working-class Northern mum needed Wimbledon for sanity and my employer, a multi-millionnaire wife of a stockbroker felt the same.
Guess what? As a stay at home mum who has to admit she is looking forward to her final child going to school in a matter of weeks, I too relish Wimbledon. Something to engage the brain. Something to remind me of my late mum. Something very English. Something to rely on in a world that is changing fast.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

20 years of life in bullets!

* 1991 Law School, depression, loss, debt, misery, crush on giant, trace birth family, find it very hard to get over the Cambridge experience
*1992 Leaving Law, volunteering, advice agencies, another crush on bisexual bloke, friend's wedding, distance from best friend, first real job and then to Carlisle for a better one
1993 - move from drugs den to 18 year old bloke, happy days of mini, lager and Queen
1994 - move in and fall for bisexual landlord, lovely house, lovely times, career progressing
1995 - move in with the older man, in love, feel nobody can stop us, best and worst of times
1996 - move to Cambridge, work for Oxfam, older man does well, farmhouse in Oxfordshire
1997 - hiccup, burp and split, infidelity, heartbreak, home to roost
1998 - one-night stand period, two new jobs, single parent dad becomes new fella, happy again
1999 - step-parenting is tough, step-child steals and then leaves, estranged from my parents
2000 - get pregnant, first child, first blood relative, wonderful, Mum and Dad's 50th anniversary and trip on Orient Express
2001 - learn to be a mum (still learning now!), have the best son in the world, new job, parents move to be with us in rural North Yorkshire. Blissful times.
2002 - new house, partner and myself working from home, a lovely trio in place
2003 - get pregnant again, move to idyllic cottage with roses round the door, happy
2004 - birth of daughter, my little angel and princess, post-natal depression strikes and stays, redundancies for both myself and partner
2005 - pregnant again and birth of second son, depression not moving, relocate to York, new job
2006 - do really well at work, conferences including Doncaster Prison, Galpharm Stadium and The Deep but bullied by boss, redundancy
2007 - launch a magazine for Mum's and organise an event for Mums, depression starts to shift
2008 - Become a Mrs, lovely wedding day, perfect in every way, great Christmas with parents as guests for first time ever
2009 - Mum diagnosed with terminal cancer and dies. Rotten year.
2010 - Grief becomes more manageable, settle into a new family dynamic, visits to Dad, new friends and learning. Start to believe I can make money from writing. Just need to make it happen now.

NB I do not have a thing about older blokes but reckon they must have one about me!
My many redundancies are not through lack of talent but through lack of funding for the voluntary and community sector
I often think I have had an ordinary and boring life

Friday, 25 June 2010

Roses for Mum

"Grandma's here" screeched the children whose noses were touching the window waiting for their grandparents to arrive. Lucy went to the door and opened the door to her parents. In they came handing over bags of sweets, colouring books and clothing. Lucy laughed to herself thinking how her mum had just used having grandchildren as another good excuse to go shopping.
"Do you want a coffee?" she asked. A silly question really as her parents were big coffee drinkers especially her Mum. Lucy blamed both her own addiction to coffee and to soap operas on her Mum.
Soon everyone was sitting down squeezed into Lucy's small lounge with the children playing and Mum regaling everyone with stories from church and the British Legion Club. Mum was always so much fun and had an incredible style for someone now in their Eighties. There really was no stopping her.
"How did your operation go, Mam?" asked Lucy. Irene had been in hospital to have some lumps removed from her scalp. This was quite a common event for her. Lucy remembered loads of times since she was a kid when the lumps would come up and Mum would have to go and have them seen to.
"Ok, love. Just got to have the stiches out on Thursday."
Lucy went into the kitchen and had soon served up home-made soup accompanied by crusty rolls. Pudding was apple crumble and cream, her Dad's favourite. For years, Mum would not eat at Lucy's house for some reason always identifying herself as "the cook". That had changed a couple of years ago and Lucy loved preparing meals for her parents. They sat around the big pine farmhouse table and Lucy felt great. Brilliant and involved parents and 3 lovely children. Plus her husband and best friend, Daniel. A fantastic family and a lovely day.
In the afternoon, as her husband and Dad swapped stories from their RAF days, Lucy washed up. As she came back into the lounge, she was amazed to see Irene pushing the mouse around on the computer instructed by her 4 year old son, Rory. Would the woman never stop trying new things and learning? She knew her Mum was modern but so far she had run away from involvement with computers imagining they could blow up if you pressed the wrong button. It was a really touching scene seeing her son as instructor to her Mum.
"We'll have to be getting off now. I don't like your Dad driving in the dark these days". As they left, on impulse, Lucy gave her Mum some red roses out of the ones Daniel had bought her for Valentine's Day the day before. Irene was thrilled to bits as they were her first Valentine's flowers. Ken was a good husband but not into the commercialism of 14th February.
The phone call came the following Wednesday.
"Hiya Mum. How are you doing?"
"I'm not well"
"Why? What's up?" Lucy asked distractedly knowing that Mum's not wells usually consisted of a cold or a headache.
"Those lumps on my head. They have found cancer. There's nothing they can do".
"Right". Lucy could hear her own voice sounding quite cold and robotic. She felt unreal as if she were a character in a telly programme. She had worked out quickly that her job was to be strong for Irene. So her voice did not waver and the conversation continued with Irene saying "They don't know how long I've got but we'll make some good memories with whatever time God gives me".
And they did in the next 6 months before Irene passed away. Lucy visited her Mum but the Valentine's Day visit was Irene's last to Lucy's house. And as for roses, well her Dad proved himself a romantic after all when he bought roses in the exact shade of Irene's wedding bouquet for the top of the coffin.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Twitter - the experience so far

I blogged about Twitter last year and then left it alone for a while during the latter stages of my mum's illness and the aftermath of her death. I missed it and knew I would return some day. During those months, I stopped blogging too. I did not make a decision to do these things - it just sort of happened.
In recent months, I have returned to tweeting and the lovely community that it can be at its best. Now that I am taking my writing seriously, I have sought out people involved in writing whether as publishers, agents or authors. I have found most people to be very generous giving tips, encouragement and support. I hope I will be like that and actually know I will be. I always take time to reach out to individuals and offer help. It costs little and can mean so much to somebody. Authors and article writers share their lives on Twitter too and it is interesting to see what I might be getting myself into!
Particular thanks go to @KatieFforde who is always friendly, warm and encouraging. Who knows? One day we may meet and I can give her a copy of my book lol. Katie is one of the first novelists I followed and she said something to the effect of I can make people laugh and cry with my writing. Maybe I am on to something. In any event, her words encourage me to move forwards positively. She is not alone and I thank all those generous writers but she was the first to get in touch and when I was in the depths of despair so here's to her.
There are lovely and kind-hearted folks on Twitter. Mums like me who are coping with the madness of motherhood and its very real challenges. Bloggers who are kind enough to link from their blog to mine and offer guest slots too. People, both male and female, who can reach out and get you through a bad day or share in your good ones. In the main, Twitter restores me when my faith in human nature flags a little.
For fun or because you have things to say, you can communicate with celebrities who inhabit the Twitterworld. In my time, I have heard from @Schofe tempting him in with the mention of avocaat. @richardm56 responded when I made a quip about whose daughter he was going out with. It was his own by the way. Well, you had to be there - it was funny at the time. @SharonTweet provides encouragement about my writing and responds positively to my lame jokes. @therealgokwan responded when I pulled him for a typo saying "Bollocks". Now where else could you find Gok Wan saying "Bollocks" to you?!
Sometimes, you are on Twitter and you find out what is going on the world, even daft stuff like the details of the world's longest tennis match last night. You might find out about competitions, campaigns or dangers.
Tweeters inform, encourage, support, inspire, amuse - just like humans in real life but perhaps with a lack of inhibition in the virtual world. I love Twitter. So much better than Facebook and for me, a very positive experience.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Housework Hassles

Housework is one of the most confusing areas in my little world. I do try to keep some sense of order in the madhouse but all too often fail and, worse, feel so bad about myself when I do. The other thing is that I have always had a strong sense of fairness so I really resent that 99% of the chaos is caused by my 3 children and my husband with another half a percent from the errant puppy and his dad.
Let's start with the bathroom. The bath is cleaned about once a month by my husband. At all other times, it is my job and that includes dealing with all the nasties including my husband's leavings from his severe psoriasis. I know it is an awful condition and he can't help it but he could clean up after himself. Then there is the loo which I dutifully clean every day. You can guarantee that as soon as I have scrubbed and disinfected it, along comes a child who does a poo and forgets that little matter of flushing. I have a very creative daughter who does clean her teeth thankfully but also smears the toothpaste and makes pictures on the tiles. Amusing on a good day, soul-destroying on a bad one. I have also had my little one put complete loo rolls down the toilet for fun and usually when it is the last one in the house. What keeps me sane in this room is the daily cleaning of the loo - if I am doing this, I must be a domestic goddess really, right?
The children's bedrooms are a nightmare too partly because they have hundreds of toys so have no real chance of tidying them all away. Believe me, I have bought every type of storage solution and my daughter does attempt a level of tidiness but my oldest boy just leaves everything out. As he is a lego fanatic, this includes thousands of tiny plastic bricks which I tend to stand on whenever I am going barefoot. The other thing is that I buy them far too many clothes so we constantly have "clothes for putting away" work in progress with no end in sight. Then darling Him Indoors will arrive home from work and start on one of his Widow Twanky sessions despite me protesting that we need to put away before we start on yet more washing and drying episodes. Aaargh!
The lounge usually resembles a bomb site by the time the children set off for school. Pyjamas are thrown wherever, there are cups and plates to be moved plus the toys from the night before's play session all too often. Artistic daughter is very prolific so there are ribbons, sellotape and paper models to tidy too. Other Half will have strewn his post here, there and everywhere to add to the mayhem.
The kitchen is more hard work for this would-be writer who should be creating and not in the scream and shout sense of the word. Since I found white vinegar, I scrub furiously and now can clean microwaves, cookers and work surfaces well and in seconds. I highly recommend white vinegar. If I ever do get a novel published (sorry, that should be when I get a novel published!), I think I will dedicate it to the love of my life known as white vinegar, only 38 pence from Asda don't you know? Washing up is a pain and comes in huge quantities in this house due to the 75 snacks a day my youngest son insists upon.
I would love housework if you could do it and gaze at the results. Ideally, I would like to live next door to my family and keep my little place perfect and then just visit them for family life sessions when the mood takes me. And yes, I know that makes me a terrible wife and mother but in the words on a music class song, I couldn't be anything else!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Fathers Day

Yesterday, we headed to my Dad's house in North Yorkshire to celebrate Fathers' Day. Into the people carrier jump Mum, Dad, three children and 2 Labrador dogs. We were there in about a hour. It always amazes me how you can go from socially and economically deprived area to lush "Escape to the Country" territory in such a short amount of time. Dad lives in a bungalow on a farm surrounded by rolling fields and woodland. He loves it and says how ironic it is that someone who has lived for most of his life in a market town, has settled to country living so well in his seventies and eighties.
As soon as we arrive, the children run in followed by the statesman like older Labrador who likes nothing better than to sleep and the mad puppy who hurtles up and down the corridor like a greyhound on speed.
Dad jumps up and he becomes involved in bacon-sarnie making. Sometimes I wish he would relax more but as soon as we arrive, there is a huge fuss about feeding us and making us drinks. Since Mum died last year, he tries to take her place that way I think. So I can't comment or criticise him as it comes from a good place. As Dad ages, he is slowing down mentally and there is a mild torture in watching him try to work ot where things are in the kitchen. It is such a difficult balancing act between offering help in a subtle way or winding him up by exposing his failings.
The mission of the bacon sandwiches is achieved without major mishap and we settle in the lounge and chat. When lunch is over, I hand the pressies over for the children to hand out to my Dad and theirs. My husband is delighted with his cufflinks, his hipflask and his Mensa games. Summaries him really - cufflinks because he works hard and likes to be smart, Hardy Amies because he likes a drink and I have pretensions of grandeur so could not leave it on the shelf and Mensa games because he reckons he could be a member. In the latter, I expect he is right as he is very intelligent and far more so than his qualifications suggest.
There is chocolate for my Dad and a book about Ewan McGregor travelling around the world on a motorbike. Radical choice as usually I buy Dad books on spies or the war. So he looks a bit confused at first but then when he sees a map in the book, gets very interested and pleased. My 9 year old has bought his Grandad a Bournville chocolate bar - his first genuine (as in he bought it not me) gift for his Grandad. A milestone and makes me realise how much Mum has already missed out on since she left us in September last year. My 6 year old daughter has chosen a Monet card for him and even written in it "In case you have not noticed, this is a Monet!". She is ever the artist! He loves that it is a personal greeting and in beautiful handwriting too. She loves to write - she loves to make marks on the world. My 4 year old thug on small legs rampages around not really taking part in the Fathers Day ceremonies but Dad adores his boisterous attitude so all is well.
We spend the day talking of times old and new. The children play both inside and in the garden racing around and playing football. They enjoy pancakes - a sign we are recovering when they can have pancakes for lunch and it is OK instead of gut-wrenching as they loved Grandma's pancakes so much. The grown-ups have meat and salad for tea followed by ice-cream for everyone.
We are all sad to leave and look longingly at a cottage to rent just down the road from Dad's place. Should we upsticks to be near him or stay where we are to avoid a long commute for my husband. Another balancing act and I am unsure what to do for the best. In the meantime, let's concentrate on a very Happy Fathers' Day.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Naughty but Nice

Denise was in a quandry. Should she go or not? Her husband, Mark, was losing patience with her. "I need to know whether you are going or not if you want a lift. Just let me know when you have made your mind up but please make it quick!"
Denise's negative self-talk was particularly powerful today. What did she think she was doing? Here she was well over 40 years of age with three children and a husband. Exactly, what was she thinking of?
"Well, I'll need some things so you'll have to take me to Asda" Denise told Mark.
"At last. I knew you would go in the end" he laughed.
Twenty minutes later, Denise was in the underwear department at Asda. Helen, her best friend, had reassured her "You will be OK there. They cater for the bigger woman". With best friends like that you might think but Denise knew better. 3 pregnancies had taken their toll and she was size 22 with stretchmarks that could win the world championship if there was one for bodies that have lost their va-va-voom.
The problem was that she was now running out of time and was bombarded with a vast array of lingerie from the burlesque style to the more mundane. Which should she choose? In the end, she turned down the most pervy gear (despite herself!) and went for a plunging bra and pants set in crimson. Bottling it a little, she also picked up a pyjama vest and shorts set. It would cover the cellulite if nothing else.
Half a hour later and we find our heroine being dropped off by Mark in the people carrier. She waved at her 3 children who, mercifully, seemed more interested in getting to Burger King than in what she is doing entering a hotel.
Denise luxuriated as she always does in that first few minutes when she becomes kids-free. Time to be herself, time to think and to feel without the constant demands of little ones. As she approached the Receptionist, she thought how nice it would be to book in for the night not for some wild affair but just to get a good night's sleep, all too rare these days. The Receptionist was male and looked as if all he wanted to do was to move Denise on and as fast as possible. She felt vaguely like he was treating her like a hooker and that amused her considering her age, shape and size.
Denise took the lift to the suite to which she was directed. She then spent a good fifteen minutes walking up and down the corridor with self-doubt stopping her knocking on the door to the room. Something inside her forced her to the door eventually and an inevitably blonde, slim and gorgeous girl answered. She was instructed to go to the bathroom and to get into her outfit. She now knew this was a mistake but how could she escape? She would have to go through with it. She got into the bra and pants and thanked the Lord she had also brought a satin dressing gown to cover herself up. She relaxed a little as she entered the room itself where there were a variety of women of different ages and sizes chatting away. Some were fully dressed and some in states of undress. It reminded her a little of the Maternity Ward. There is something strangely comforting about all-female environments where you can talk freely and not put on some sort of fake act.
Julia, the make-up artist, poured her a glass of champagne and placed a box of soft centres in front of her. "I won't need to do much with you, love. You have the most gorgeous skin and hair." Shock, horror! Why weren't they turning her away for being fat and frumpy? Julia almost sounded genuine and the truth was that Denise had not yet had any booze. Denise decided not to have a chocolate - things were bad enough without going up from a size 22 to a size 24 in a day.
As the drink flowed, Denise relaxed and Julia chattered away pleasantly in a distracting way. As she looked in the mirror, she could accept that she looked OK. There was nothing she could do about the body disaster but her face looked fine and her hair had been straightened nicely.
At this point, the photographer came into the room and Denise got a surprise but a pleasant one at that. Violet was at least size 28 and clearly proud of it with a very revealing top on and a lovely warm face and an infectious laugh.
"Are you going nude?" she asked Denise.
"Oh yes!" answerered Denise and then quietly muttered to herself, "Now, why did I say that?"
Violet ushered Denise into the neighbouring suite where the photography session was to take place. Denise whipped off her black satin cover-up and did some gentle bra and pants shots. Violet made her feel like a professional model. Denise was not quite sure how but she felt fabulous. Soon, Denise was begging to take off the rest and posing on a chaise longue, on a bed spread with feathers, playing with a riding crop and a huge fan, the works. The session probably lasted for about 40 minutes in all.
Walking through the station and later on the train home, people look at an overweight lady in her purple anorak and tracksuit bottoms wondering why, every few minutes, she keeps bursting into fits of uncontrollable giggles. Naughty but nice!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Bleak days of being a stay at home mum

I have 3 children and I still have not worked out how best to balance work, them and myself. I have tried all the options - full-time job, part-time job, own business and now staying at home again. I have found none of them satisfactory or stress-free.
If you work, your wages get eaten into drastically by childcare fees. The free sessions you can claim need you to have a PHD to understand the terms and since when did jobs involve 2 and a half sessions. If you are going to set up such schemes, please make the reflect the real world of work. Better still, bring in policies that insist that employers have family-friendly policies. In our society, it appears if you want to be a parent and particularly a mum, you will be penalised for the choice. Parenthood is hardly a minority sport so why don't we as a society support good parenting more?
Self-employment did not work for me because although I am a brilliant promoter of concepts, things and services, I cannot sell for toffee! Too much of a bleeding heart apparently.
Stay at Home Mumdom is OK on the whole in that it is at least flexible and you can plan when and how your children will do things to an extent. However, I find it very isolating. The truth is I can only do so much raving about Batman or whatever. Sometimes I don't feel like it and I know that makes me a terrible mother but there you have it. Sometimes I would like to talk to an adult. I know I am not alone and that many mums take refuge in the laptop twittering, facebooking, netmumming away for a little stimulation in an long and tiring day. Then when the little babies and toddlers develop an interest of their own in computers, you are doomed.
Yes, you can get out and about and meet other mums but then again, you might have nothing in common with them beyond obsessing about the smell of baby wipes which if I am honest, bores me rigid. You could volunteer but hardly any volunteering opportunities offer to cover childcare costs meaning you would be very much out of pocket for trying to do good and contribute to society in a way other than parenting.
So if you are halfway intelligent, you find yourself frustrated and all too often down in the dumps. You realise you have lost the plot when you turn on Lorraine Kelly on GMTV so she can tell you how pleased she is to see you and how really, really good it is to have you watching. You try to avoid Jeremy Kyle and sink your hands in washing up at which point the boiler malfunctions so your hands freeze and the pots won't wash. A bit of real thought provocation comes from This Morning although over the years that gets dumbed down more and more. World Cup and bee bugles takes over the afternoon currently and yes, it's not great to have the telly on so much. A trip to the charity shops for some bargain-hunting and light relief until your 4 year old decides he wants to buy the whole toy section and you have neither the cash nor the inclination to add to the clutter of plastic in his bedroom.
In the late afternoon, your school aged children and husband come home with stories of their exciting days. Usually, this is fabulous. Last night, I just resented that they have a life and I have a limited one. The one thing that does help loads is blogging - writing out the negative feelings and then moving onto more positive things.
Something needs to change for average mums like me but I don't think it will happen in my lifetime. I read a book with my daughter where a little girl is told she cannot be a knight. She asks why and all bloody King Arthur can say is that it is just the way it is. When are we going to challenge that and say, it may be the way it is but is frustrating and as the little girl in the book said "It's not fair!"

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Yorkshire Ripper

I watched a documentary about the Yorkshire Ripper this week. I was brought up in West Yorkshire where killings happened and was a child when the Ripper was at large. I actually can't remember a time before the very real threat of the Ripper to our communities.
I used to go to the swimming baths with the school and there were posters up with photographs of the women killed. It seemed to me as a child that the numbers of photographs went up every week or so. I know that cannot be true but that is how it felt and I remember wondering if one day, the photo would be of someone I knew and/or loved. The nearest we got to that was when a former pupil from my school was murdered by him.
My mum and my best friend's mum worked as early morning cleaners at another school. They used to telephone each other before setting off to agree a meeting point. Mum was terrified until she reached Mavis. She carried a knife throughout the whole period and was very vocal about the fact that she would not hesitate to use it if "that bugger bothers me". One morning, she bumped into a female jogger, a parishoner of our church, and they scared each other half to death. They laughed about it afterwards but how terrible that a woman can not take exercise freely or go to work without panic.
One day I went for a walk with a schoolfriend. We ended up walking much further than usual and found ourselves in fields. I suddenly said (ever the drama queen!), "This is the sort of place the Ripper attacks". Imagine how worked up we got and the walk home was awful, hearts thumping wildly.
When Peter Sutcliffe was finally caught, he was brought to my town's Magistrates' Court. It was so odd to see streets I knew so well on the telly. It is probably the first time I conciously saw a blanket used to cover an alleged criminal. I remember devouring newspapers covering all the facts that we had not known for so many years. It was quite difficult to accept that the "monster" was a fairly ordinary, some would even say good-looking, bloke. I remember his wife getting a slating for being with him and supporting him. If they can find a woman to blame, they will!
My Dad knew a lot about the police investigation as he insured the police authority but he told me little. When I went to university, a friend asked me to go with her to a talk by the former Attorney General. He appeared to "get off" on knowing all the details of how the women were killed. That may be unfair but it is how it appeared to me and I am not sure young students needed to have that information. It was not nice. It was not pretty. I will keep it to myself but understand families were not told the whole truth.
I wonder if the children and women who grew up in those times and particulary in the relevant areas were affected in the longer-term in some way. I do not trust men or at least that is my starting point with them. The worry is that similar crimes are committed now and there is still that debate about whether the girl was a good girl or a bad girl. Whatever they were, they did not deserve to be killed. Better a working girl than out on the street committing carnage for victims and their families and friends.
I cannot find an easy conclusion. I just believe in my gut that the Ripper events will have ricocheted out to all sorts of people and in some very negative ways. I welcome comments.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Are you sure you aren't making a difference?

This weekend, I was with my Dad in the lovely North Yorkshire countryside where he now lives. A comment I had made earlier in the week about my oldest son wanting to go on holiday to France this year sparked a conversation initiated by my Dad about family holidays in that country in the Eighties.
Dad like many elderly people has a poor short-term memory but is razor-sharp on longer-term recollections. So he reeled off our route, which towns and villages we had visited and little anecdotes. I was struggling to remember some of the things and as I tried to remember one thing, he would be on to the next little story from our holiday when I was around 15 years of age. I served two key purposes on that holiday. Firstly, I spoke French and secondly, I was the map-reader. My husband subscribes to the women can't read maps school of thought and quotes my good navigation skills as one of the reasons he thinks I am wonderful.
So Dad talked and talked and I listened and chipped in from time to time. We found ourselves at a hotel on the River Loire. I remembered eating huge langoustines with mayonnaise with Mum. We are still at the stage in our grief where we tread carefully around each other with strong memories of Mum. Tears come easily and you almost have to make a decision whether you want to go there at any particular moment. I checked on Dad and he seemed fine and talked on.
We both recalled with absolute detail walking late a night up a steep hill in the Loire village to a church. Mum, a devout Catholic, always wanted to visit churches wherever we went. To a teenage me, this generally was an absolute pain but it was how she was. It was very late at night probably approaching midnight and we entered a church that appeared to be in total darkness. Then right at the front, there was light shining brightly but only over the altar area. There was music and there at the front of the church was a violinist playing the most beautiful music I had heard then or have heard to this day. He was in that rapturous state that musicians can access and I suspect he was so into his playing that he never sussed that anyone had entered the church. We stayed for a long time listening but then one of my parents said we should go as we had an early start the next day. I remember not wanting to leave, knowing that once I did I would never have this magical moment again. It was so powerful and has remained with me all my life.
Which leads me to two thoughts on life. The first is that things that appear to be a pain can turn into pure joy. The second and more important one is that whether you know it or not, you might have a huge impact on someone's life in a moment. That nameless violinist gave me a life-long love of violin music. Yet, like many of us, he may have times and perhaps often, when he feels he is unimportant, ordinary, meaningless. I don't think Dad and I mentioned that violinist to each other from the time of that holiday to this weekend 27 years later and yet, it was apparent we had both known that we were in the prescence of something very special all those years ago and have revisited the memory many times alone and with others.
So let the music play on and don't underestimate what a smile, a nod, a word, a quote, your talents, just you can make to other people. I must remember that.