Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Always here

This is only my second go at Josie’s Writing Workshop. It seems that she always moves me to write about death and people who are gone. So far, anyway. Maybe next week it will be flowers and chocolate and fairy tales. (Please? I’d like to write one without crying bucketfuls.)

My Gran believes in Heaven. She believes Papa is in heaven, with my Grandad. She believes that he’s looking down on us. She talks to him. She believes she’ll be joining him some time soon.

I wish I believed that. I wish I knew that, one day, I would see him again. And not just him, but all the people I have lost, over the years. And the animals I’ve lost. And the babies I’ve lost. Sometimes I imagine Papa arriving somewhere and bumping into those children I’ve lost. One of whom is somehow now grown. The others who are still young, though not as young as Rosemary and Eleanor. I imagine him taking them under his wing. Having a beer and going out dancing with the older one, as he no doubt would have done the second she (or he) was 18. And I imagine him watching the rugby with his dad. And now and then having a peek to see what we’re up to down here, over here, up here, wherever it is.

But mostly I know that he’s not up there, down there, or anywhere really.

But he is still here. He is here, in our hearts, in our photos, in our videos, and in our memories. He is here in the stories that we tell our children, our friends, our readers. He is here, with all the people he ever touched, and boy were there many. He is here with his family, with his friends, with his drinking pals, with the blokes he used to work with fixing up old buildings, with the many lost souls he was wont to collect. He is here, with his granddaughters, even the one who never got to meet him.

Just as Miffy is always here with me, though I never knew him in this life. I only ever knew the memories of him, but he is still a huge part of my life. Miffy, who was so anti-smoking that he banned matches in the house, so that my mum had to carry a burning twist of newspaper from the boiler to the fires around the house, to light them. Miffy, who insisted on quiet at the dining table so that he could read. Miffy, who bought almost every new Penguin that came out each month. And read them all.

Just as Mary is always there with Eva, even though she never knew her. Mary, who loved jazz, dated Joss Ackland and wore high heels and perfume. Mary, who worked in an estate agent. Mary, who drove a red mini and knocked a motorbike rider off his bike when going round a roundabout. Mary, who travelled to America to visit her brother on the QE2 and wrote and illustrated an amazing book about the journey.

And so will Papa always be here.

Papa, who had done a little too much wetting of the baby’s head when he went to register my name, so that I was called Natasha instead of Tasha. Papa, who painted clouds on my bedroom wall in our first house – clouds that are apparently still there. Papa, who went and did the shopping every day at the local market when we lived in Spain, struggling with the language. Papa, who cooked the most delicious meals. Papa, who helped nurse his mother-in-law through her last few cancer-ridden months. Papa, who drove to Bristol and back every night to take Mama her special raw-food salad when she was in hospital waiting for months for Eva to be born. Papa, who held the tiniest Eva in his hand and watched her grow from a few pounds into a wonderful woman. Papa, who drove to Weston-Super-Mare, got drunk and slept in the car and then lost his licence, when he found out his wife had been unfaithful. Papa, who looked after Eva on his own for a few months. Papa, who took his wife back and forgave her. Papa, who took an overdose of pills because his wife wanted to keep seeing her boyfriend. Papa, who survived and stayed and gave up drinking. For a while. Papa, who tried so hard to help his wife through her years of hypermania. Only to be kicked out and served with divorce papers. Papa, who still looked after her, when she would let him. Papa, who slowly let her back into his life, as she got better. Papa, who would dance the hours away to live music in the Vic. Papa, who would take me to the Albert and do the quiz with me. Papa, who held my hand and rolled my cigarette (far too fat), when I came out of hospital having lost my third baby, and a fallopian tube. Papa, who stood up and talked for me at my wedding, despite being incredibly nervous and shy about it. Papa, who took Wesley for long walks and dogsat for us when we went away. Papa who loved our dog like his own. Papa, who built our kitchen, laid our floorboards, painted much of our house and found friends to do what he couldn’t do for free or at incredibly knock-down prices. Papa, who plastered the walls when he’d had a few beers and left some of them quite uneven. Papa, who stayed home with dog while his granddaughter was being born and came to visit in the morning, bringing me a Guardian a novel about Cryptic crosswords and a huge cuddle for his daughter who was desperate to hold her baby, but had to wait. Papa, who took Rosemary to Stratford Park and got chased by a swan while I did some work after I cried at not having enough time. Papa, who spent far too much time in and out of hospital during his last year. Papa, who had to lose his dignity and let his daughters wipe his bum and feed him medicine. Papa, who, despite being so ill himself, got up, walked into town and bought a condolences card when Chris’ Nanny died, to make sure we got it before we left. Papa, who went and had a stroke while we were in Scotland at her funeral. Papa, who died before I got home to see him again.

And so Papa will always be here.

And that’s what I believe happens when you die. And that’s what I tell Rosemary. And that’s why I tell her things about her granddad. Happy memories. Sad memories. Funny memories. Memories that, though they are not hers, she will share with her children one day.

So that Papa will always be here.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Reading matters

We need to move. No, not to get into the best school – though ask me again tomorrow, on Allocation Day; I may have changed my mind. Not for work – we work from home; and our office is one of the nicest rooms in the house. Not to downsize – can’t imagine we would ever manage that; clutter is our lifeblood (OK, mine).

No, we need to move because Rosemary has almost worked her way through all the books in the library. The children’s ones, of course – she’s not started on Jane Eyre and Great Expectations yet.

She’s not reading them herself, I should add. This is not an ‘Isn’t my kid a genius?’ post. (Though, obviously she is and I don’t even need to mention it because it’s obvious. Right?) She gets read them. She is showing an interest in the words, now, and recognising some words and lots of letters. But reading herself is still a way off, I would think.

She gets 15-20 books out each visit to the library and there’s usually a couple of visits a week. And she remembers them. We’ll pick up a book in the library and she’ll remember that she’s read it already. Not last week, but a few months ago. (She certainly has Chris’ memory, not mine!) And she seems to have a strange aversion to getting a book out more than once, though we can sometimes persuade her.

So, yes, we need to move. To a different library catchment area. Or maybe go on a library crawl. We could probably manage three in a day, if there was no nursery school or playgroup..

They are mostly read to her at bedtime. She has a shortish book with me and Eleanor, then Chris takes over while I go and feed Eleanor and get her to sleep. He reads anything between three and eight books, depending on length, time and mood (both his and Rosemary’s, probably!).

I sometimes read some with her in the morning, between ‘shower bath’ and school run and while feeding Eleanor. And we often read quite a few when a new lot has just been borrowed. But the majority of the reading is at bedtime.

So, we’re wondering whether this is about normal? Is it not enough? I won’t ask if it’s too much, because I honestly don’t believe there could ever be too much reading! Should we be spreading the books out throughout the day? Should we be varying the types of books a bit? (Most of them are from the early readers section. And, don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re much better than the Peter and Jane books we learnt to read with!) Or is it all just personal choice – ours and hers?

And out of interest, what are your children’s reading habits, whether they’re reading themselves or not? Do you use the library a lot? We’re fascinated by all things reading-related.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Commenting system removed

Back to normal service.

I've removed it, as I didn't like it. Too slow to load up, I couldn't reply from my phone, and got weird errors. Have no problem with it on other blogs, just not for me.

Thank you for testing it out for me, people! And sorry to mess you around. I may try out Intense Debate, but might just stick with the normal thing - let me know if you have any special preferences.

Testing new comment system

Feel free to say 'Hi', so I can check that the new comment system works.

I've removed it, as I didn't like it. Too slow to load up, I couldn't reply from my phone, and got weird errors.

Thank you for testing it out for me, people!

Thursday, 18 March 2010


This is my first attempt at Josie’s Writing Workshop, though I think about doing it almost every week. In fact, this one combines a prompt from this week (1 Tell me about someone from you past who you lost touch with and who you often think about.) with one from last week (4 Imagine there is another ‘you’, living in a parallel universe.).


You were 21 in August, not long after Rosemary turned 3. What did you do? Did you have a big party with all your university friends? Did you have a quiet dinner with your mum and your dad and your half brothers and sisters and your grandmothers, raising a glass to your grandfathers, no longer with us? Were you stuck at home with a crying baby, trying to finish an Open University assignment? Did you spend it in the arms of someone you love? Did I call you to say Happy Birthday? Did I bring you gifts and make you cards?

Was I a good mum to you? Did I cuddle you when you cried and show you what it means to love? Or did I leave you with your grandparents while I went out to have fun and get an education? Or did I manage to do both? Did you come to university with me? Did I read you bedtime stories, then hit the books? Were we on our own? Did I shout at you too much? Was I your friend? Did I help you with your GCSE choices? Did I tell all about contraception and how it doesn’t always work? Did I tell you to never have sex until you had finished your education, just in case? Did you listen? Or did I tell you to live your life as you saw fit and to love when it was your time and make your own decisions? Did I teach you to be strong and stand up for yourself? To always know what you want and what you should do? To never allow yourself to be subsumed by another’s wishes and desires. And to never make a life or death decision after getting yourself drunk on half a bottle of Malibu?

Did you come to my wedding? Did you come to meet your sisters after their births? Or were you maybe even at their births? Do you come to their birthdays and shower them with love and gifts?

Are you happy? Were you happy? And what about the me in that universe? Is she happy? Was she happy? Does that even matter?


Dear Adelaide, I will never forget you and I wish I could have got to know you, like I am getting to know my little girls. I hope that there is a universe out there where you got to know and to love life. And I’m sorry.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

How to avoid the temptation to clone

My sister (Eva) and I took the girls to the circus last weekend. I spent much of my time oohing, ahing and taking the names of various deities in vain. Some of the acrobatics was absolutely stunning. There were three male acrobats climbing on top of each other’s heads, doing somersaults in the air, doing somersaults round and over each other and many more things that I can’t describe. There was a woman climbing up into the big top on a sheet of what looked like pretty flimsy material, and swinging there and doing all kinds of astonishing manoeuvres with it. There was a woman hanging from a rope by her hair. Yes, her hair. Ow! There was a woman who was able to dislocate her back in order to bend over backwards. All the way. Ow, again!

I spent the whole time in awe at the acrobatics. Rosemary spent the whole time in awe at the ballet. She loved the ballerinas. Sometimes the ballet and the acrobatics coincided. Other times it was all about the acrobatics and Rosemary lost concentration and started messing about with the seats in front or trying to chat to the boy behind. Other times it was all about the ballet and I lost concentration and chattered (quietly to Eleanor). Eva and I kept saying to Rosemary ‘Look at them, Rosemary. You keep missing it. Didn’t you see what he just did?’ But she wasn’t really interested in the acrobats.

And I mourned for my dreams of taking a gymnast daughter to the Olympics. I realised that I probably wouldn’t get to watch my daughter live out my dreams. Because I used to be a gymnast. I went to circus school. I was at the top of a human pyramid. I did somersaults over people – or human juggling as we called it. I was going to be an Olympic gymnast. Until we moved to Spain and I didn’t do any gymnastics for a year. Then came home and had fear. I couldn’t do a simple backflip over the horse. Because I was afraid I would fall. And that was it for me.

So I had pinned my hopes out living this out vicariously. But this is sadly not to be. Unless Eleanor pulls through, of course. And judging by her excited wriggling at the circus. During the acrobatics. I might be in luck.

Of course, all I really want for my girls is for them to find their own way and place within the world, to have the confidence to follow their dreams and the wherewithall to know how to go about it. And I will be proud of them and love them no matter which direction they run off in. But it would be a pleasant bonus if it were somewhere in the vicinity of an Olympic podium or, you know, outer space.

(It's not just me, is it? Oh. Never mind, then. Pretend you never read this.)