Saturday, 28 July 2007

Au Revoir

I am slowly, slowly and rather painfully dragging my corpse over the finishing line. I was last in France in the May half term, shortly after the Open Meeting regarding the closure of the school. I returned to England with heavy heart knowing the next couple of months were going to be intense and hard. It is quarter to one in the morning, my father's birthday now - Happy Birthday dearest Pa, 79 today, seeming 10 years younger. I have packing still to do, admin to finish off, piles of crap to put in order before departure tomorrow lunchtime. Dramas involving lost mobile phones, cars and garages, and the wrong contact lenses delivered put pay to my two 'clear' days for packing and organising. At least my Tatton Park plants are planted and the cat feeder organised. Card made and flowers picked for new baby at the pub. Not just any old new baby, mind - one that happened to be popping by for a pint. No,no, the publicans are new parents for the first time. Lily Jackson (old family name - not a hermaphrodite). New life, old life. 0 years, 79 years. Both just as precious.

My friend called from France and told me the weather's just come good. Thank God. Any more rain and I would be swinging by my neck from one of the many pine trees on offer in Les Landes. I truly believe this 'summer' is actually worse than winter. But I must be thankful for small mercies - we live on a hill, at least. And in Derbyshire, not Gloucestershire. Which reminds me, I should have phoned my friend who lives there just to check she's not drowning...

So off to France it is. It will be a stressful morning. Much shouting no doubt. But, come supper time, we will be bobbing on the briny (in a force 10 gale and torrential rain, according to the forecast). At least, though, we will be away. Off. On our hols. We will put the children to bed and enjoy our supper (as long as not too many people are throwing up around us, of course).

In France we shall celebrate some more birthdays - my Godson's 10th, G's 7th, my mother's 71st and my brother's 46th. We will raise glasses and open presents and light candles across the generations. Hopefully the sun will shine, we shall surf and sunbathe, we shall eat, drink and be merry. God willing.
So, au revoir, my friends, for now. I shall return before I know it, with another raft of summer memories for my 44th year of life. Another month older, my experiences subtly changing me. Refreshed, renewed. Ready to start again.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

'Daddy! It's my birthday!'

Thursday, 12th July 2007

‘Daddy! It’s my birthday! I’m five! I’m not a shrimp any more!’ The excitement in her voice was palpable. Louisa Mary Lucia comes of age. There is only one child left in her class now who is still only four years old. She is officially no longer a Shrimp. It could not have been a nicer way to have been woken up on my youngest’s fifth birthday.

Her older siblings had not shown similar emotion at this rite of passage. I could not let her down by feeling sad at her growing up. She will always be my youngest, after all. In my mind, at least. I lay in bed, smiling to myself, listening to the exchange between father and daughter. ‘I hear you had a birthday treat last night?’ says N (who had been away). ‘Yes. It was really borwing.’ (She’s never been one to mince her words.) Indeed, it was a mistake. A friend who was appearing in the Buxton Festival (a summer season of special one-off performances, speakers, operas and fringe shows) told me enthusiastically ‘Oh, you MUST come and see me. It’s a musical, based on a bible story [Joseph sprang to mind]. There are lots of children. The girls will LOVE it.’ So, suitably enthused, and thinking this would be a lovely birthday treat for Louisa, I book tickets. We invite another 5 year old. A new friend. The excitement mounts. They skip along the pavement and into the Church where the performance is being staged. We are too late, all the seats are taken downstairs. We go up to the gallery. Again, all front row seats taken. At three foot tall, they cannot see a thing. We ask a kindly couple if they could squeeze in next to them at the front. I sit on a different row. The ‘show’ starts. Oh dear. All discordance and symbolism. Oh look, there’s our friend. Wearing the orange skirt. Dressed as a peasant. What’s going on? Who’s he? Is that Tobias? Is that the Angel? And who’s the scary man in red caressing a young lady’s bosom. I glance nervously across at the little heads. Backs straight as rods, they do not flinch. The show goes on. It gets no clearer. I notice the girls shifting. L gets up, squeezes past knees, up the aisle, past more knees and across to me. ‘I’m borwed!’ Her little friend follows, sniffing noisily. ‘I’m thirsty!’

Somehow, we got through it. I didn’t understand a thing. Not much hope, then, for a 5 year old. I worried they’d have nightmares with the scary man and the discordant notes. Remarkably, they seemed unbothered. It was an excellent performance, fantastic vocals. But can anyone tell me what ‘Tobias and the Angel’ is actually all about?! I need to try and explain it to a couple of 5 year olds I know…

We went to the park and played on the swings. They enjoyed that. And so did I.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Now, where was I?

Ok, so where was I? BC (Before Campaign) I mean. Hmm, [much drumming of fingers]. Ah yes, I remember. Warbling on about my rather dull life, if memory serves me correctly! Was is summer back then? I think perhaps it was. Soft evenings, a sense of hope and things to come. But we've had the longest day now so it will be Christmas before we know it. Mmm, I can almost smell the mince pies...

Oh, hang on. We're actually still in July, aren't we? Despite it being 10 degrees with a sharp wind whipping grey sheets of rain off the moors. 11th July in fact. The night before my 3rd daughter's birth, 4 years and 364 days ago. I remember waddling down the landing as dawn was breaking, 2 weeks overdue, having relieved my bursting bladder. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and recoiled in horror at the hephalump that loomed out at me. No, this wasn't fun anymore. I wanted it out. Nor could I bear the lonely little beige bunny, 'Welcome to the World' embroidered on it's cream T-shirt, lying patiently in the empty crib beside me. It was starting to haunt me. Making me think that perhaps this baby would never come. Something awful was going to happen before it saw the light of day.

I'd taken a swig of castor oil at bedtime to help move things along. As I climbed back between the sheets, reassuring N that no, this was not 'it' - just a pee break, I contemplated the horrors of being induced at the hospital in just a few hours time. The bag was packed, the parents were in the spare room, ready to hold the fort. I lay my head back down on the pillow and shut my eyes. In the old apple tree beyond the open window the birds were tuning up for the first notes of the dawn chorus. The air was soft, the scents of summer wafting into the room. Then, oooh, what was that. Ouch. OUCH!!! Oh my God, here we go (when they come, they come fast with me). N grabs the phone. Can you get the midwife round - my wife's in labour (planned home birth). What do you mean, there's no-one available? Been a busy night? Told you so, says I between gritted teeth and the odd expletive. The trouble is, when they come so quick, your body can go into shock. So there I was, trying to dress myself at 4.45 in the morning, shaking so hard that I could barely stand. 'This is RIDICULOUS!!' I'd asked them what would happen if the baby came in the middle of the night and there was no-one around to come over. 'Oh, that won't happen - there's always someone.' Oh, yeah, right. So I staggered down stairs and into the car. Could barely sit, let alone walk. I'll spare you the rest of the details - many a woman has done childbirth. Suffice to say that, after a longer than anticipated spell in the hospital loo - since contractions prevented my from raising myself from the seat - this little black haired creature finally made it to the outside world, 45 minutes after the birds started singing. I looked at her and instantly fell in love. I hadn't done that with the other two girls before her. Both other births had been so very different, but I won't talk about them right now. No, this is little Louisa's day. Louisa Mary Lucia - born at first light on 12th July 2002. She is upstairs in her little bed right now, cuddling Bunny. Very special Bunny.

I am going to retire to bed too. No castor oil tonight. No exploding bladders. Just the thoughts of a middle aged mother who has to accept that her littlest one is growing bigger every day...
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