Monday, 29 June 2009

A Day in the Life

I have just come in from the garden, finishing abandoned tasks before the light fades completely. I have finally been planting plants which have been hanging around in their garden centre plastic pots for, in some cases, nearly four weeks now. Despite dipping them into the trough to drench their roots reasonably regularly, they were looking yellow leaved and unloved and I desperately wanted to show them that I cared. I really did. It is just, as ever, a question of time.

I had reluctantly gone inside at about 7.45pm to get the children into bed. N went off to Nigeria at 7.30 this morning, so I was doing my single parent bit as I so often do, even when he is not travelling. They had eaten tinned tomato soup and bread and butter (a favourite quick supper – spare me the lecture), and E had explained to her little sister that, although she preferred it to the one at school which has lots of bits and lumps in it (i.e real tomato soup), it really wasn’t very good for you ‘because, you see, it’s really bright orange and things’ (her mother, meanwhile, earwigging from her task of removing whole fields of ground elder from the herbaceous border, was pleased that the E-number discussion had clearly taken pleasing root in eldest child’s brain). Youngest was pleased to spend what remained of the evening with alarming orange stains around her mouth, nonetheless a cheerful reminder of a supper enjoyed and consumed without fuss or waste. Everyone’s happy.

So, what did we still have to do before bed could be achieved? (I had hoped for an early one. Vain hope.) Well, E had to practise her piano piece (Autumn, Vivaldi) for the Year 5 -music festival first thing tomorrow morning. I played it for her and told her that though it should be loud in parts, it need not be plonking. Lightness of touch was the key. (A tangible improvement ensued and I wish I’d told her that before she'd performed it for her Grade 1 test the other week.) She then had to print out some more homespun invitations from the computer for their all-in-one summer birthday party (42 children screaming around the place while the rain pisses down outside – spare me a tender thought on 12th July) which had to be named and put into envelopes. G had to go and wash from head to foot, covered as she was in mud from the party she’d been to this afternoon where, like my own worst nightmares, the Heavens opened as the clock struck 3pm and the party began – leaving 40 children screaming round the garden and throwing themselves down a huge blow-up double slide which had effortlessly turned itself into a water slide – except no-one was in a swimming costume as they sloshed through the lake of water at the bottom of it, plumes of liquid flying like Diana at Alton Towers (remember that shot?).

Indeed, it was a total monsoon. Anyone would have thought we lived on the Equator rather than in the Peak District this afternoon. We set off from home in 26 degrees and beautiful sunshine. 10 minutes away and, with the windscreen wipers on full frantic mode, I could still not see out of the windscreen as veritable curtains of water were hurled at the car from every angle. We were driving at 5 miles an hour, the window de-mister bellowing at us so we could barely hear ourselves think, negotiating 30cm flash floods on main roads, me muttering unkind words about ‘bloody parties and I knew we should never have said we’d go’. After all, we could have been at home in our garden enjoying the sunshine – a rare treat, let’s face it. But no, here we were doing some kind of Indiana Jones thing just for everyone to get soaked to the skin, or worse, the car broken down with a flooded engine. I couldn’t find the house. I couldn’t SEE the house for all the rain. My nerves were strained – and this was the second trip I’d done to Macclesfield today already, having hoiked them off to tennis lessons this morning at their school. I cursed my husband’s absence. Never bloody there when you need him. Blue balloons eventually found. Long drive. Smart house. Fountain. Gravel. Pond with coy carp and netting over the top. Lots of flashy cars and private number plates (they just LOVE private number plates round these parts). Tasteful blinds at the windows. Tasteful chairs and tables on tasteful terraces. Manicured lawns, sweeping parkland views. Would have loved to have been able to stay and have a nose round, even in the rain, but alas duty called and I had to turn swiftly on heel and schlep back through the torrents and rivers to home and, for once, the high dry land, hopefully to find my two other daughters still safely ensconced – one chained to the dining room table doing her history project (deadline fast approaching), the other chained to the coffee table in the sitting room doing her scrap book and watching television. I phoned them to let them know I was on my way back and to check that they were still alive. All was well and I’d spared them another wasted hour driving around the highways and byways of Cheshire and Derbyshire. They probably won’t even miss me when social services call to take me away.

So – back to this evening - while G scrubbed herself down, I washed little L’s hair which was dry and matted (almost as abandoned as my plants). I poured over the conditioner and tied it all up in a smart turban with a linen towel. She loves hats and scarves on her head. She picked up my dark blue pashmina the other day at the pub, when she and I were having lunch as a treat on an inset day, and said in an unfortunately shrill little voice ‘Look Mummy, I’m a Muslim!’ Cough. Didn’t seem quite appropriate at the village pub in the depths of the Peaks. ‘Yes, lovely darling, now let’s take it off, shall we?’ It suited her though. She pulled the same stunt while we were in Turkey, having observed the girls at the market in Fethiye. She wrapped an orange headscarf with sequins dangling off the edge of it round her head, tucking it behind her ears quite delightfully, and, well, quite looked the part, it has to be said. Funny little creature. Anyway, back in the bathroom, I sent her upstairs to get on her pyjamas (she’s such a little twiglet that she’s currently sporting a nightdress which is for a 3 month old! – though it is a tad short, it has to be said) before we then lay on my sheetless bed (stripped in a moment of enthusiasm but not yet re-made) and finished her school reading book all about donkeys. Lots of complicated words, took forever. By this time E and G had joined us and we curled up together to listen to L practising her recorder pieces for her Big Concert on Tuesday. It was quite painful. E started to giggle. This annoyed L. G just continued brushing my hair which made me feel calm, despite the screeching notes in my right ear. Finally, though, I could stand it no more and declared emphatically that this rehearsal should be finished in the morning. Just then N called to let us know he was safely arrived in Nigeria and that it was basic accommodation, to say the least, and very hot and sticky. I suffered no envy.

We climbed the stairs to their bedrooms, pulled curtains and said goodbye to the day, me twittering the while about how I still had so many jobs to finish in the garden and around the house. With that I heard the rain splattering on the velux window on the top landing and rushed outside to rescue lemon cake, mobile phone, place mats, deckchair, scrap book (mercifully The History Project was already inside) and the other detritus of our day. By the time I’d flung everything into the kitchen, cursing, it had started to ease and I soon found myself pottering about completing my tasks and feeling totally at one with the world outside. The air was damp and soft and as I weeded around my sickly looking garlics the heady citrus scent of the lemon balm behind me was intoxicating. I finished putting dark loamy compost from my wonderful heap around the plants I had placed in their position in pot or border. I did a little desultory weeding around the paths and terrace and tidied up abandoned tools and now empty plastic pots. Every now and then I glanced up and took in the milky grey views across to the reservoir or over the valley to the escarpment. The sheep bleated softly in the background and the birds sung their evensong. The dampness threw up so many heady scents of grass, honeysuckle and rose. Through the lit windows of the house I could see that all was chaos within – the laundry room with piles of clothes, washed, unwashed, ironed or waiting to be ironed; the kitchen table littered with the remains of their al fresco soup supper, clothes discarded from this morning, school bags, tea cups, magazines, tennis raquets and a hundred other miscellaneous items which roam the house in vagrant fashion, never quite finding a home; the kitchen sink piled with unwashed pots and pans, the worktop covered with dishes ready for the dishwasher. How I would love for it all to be in perfect order, but you know, if I have a choice, I would always rather be tending to my garden, breathing in its sweet air and feeding my soul with its shapes and perspectives, its dark corners and its wide open lawn, looking up from my tasks and seeing the world from on high.

Goodnight all. It is now midnight and I still have a bed to make.

Friday, 26 June 2009

A Sad Goodbye to Michael Jackson


I was just about to turn off the telly tonight when a newsflash came up that Michael Jackson has died. Heart attack at home. There will be a lot of disappointed fans who bought tickets for 'The Last Ever Concert'. What a cruel irony that he never even got there himself.

How can a man of such immense talent have become such a sad, lonely, isolated, dislocated, bizarre figure? Too much pressure, too young. If you look at the footage from the newsflash, all you see is a hollow hunched body, bleached and emaciated. A far cry from that bouncy little boy who first appeared on our TV screens with his brothers all those years ago. It is no surprise, frankly, that his body has given up on him. He'd given up on it, trying to turn it into something it was never meant to be. No surprise, perhaps, that it has said 'Enough!'.

His songs were the backing track to my growing years, and all of my generation's. Who could ever forget the seminal 'Thriller' album? But my favourites have always been the quiet ones like 'You are not alone'. If you click on the link you should be able to hear it. Very beautiful lyrics and with huge resonance for me. Here they are:

Another day has gone
I'm still all alone
How could this be
You're not here with me
You never said goodbye
Someone tell me why
Did you have to go
And leave my world so cold
Everyday I sit and ask myself
How did love slip away
Something whispers in my ear and says
That you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though you're far away
I am here to stay

But you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though we're far apart
You're always in my heart
But you are not alone

All alone,
'Why, oh

Just the other night
I thought I heard you cry
Asking me to come
And hold you in my arms
I can hear your prayers
Your burdens I will bear
But first I need your hand
Then forever can begin

Everyday I sit and ask myself
How did love slip away

Something whispers in my ear and says
That you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though you're far away
I am here to stay

For you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though we're far apart
You're always in my heart
For you are not alone

Whisper three words and I'll come runnin'
And girl you know that I'll be there
I'll be there

You are not alone
For I am here with you
Though you're far away
I am here to stay
For you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though we're far apart
You're always in my heart

For you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though you're far away
I am here to stay

For you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though we're far apart
You're always in my heart

For you are not alone.


Though I cannot stick up my hand and say I was going to be one of the ones shelling out for the concert, I recognise that a great pop icon has passed away - too early and rather tragically like so many before him - and I just wanted to make a note of this moment in time.

I trust he may now find the peace he never quite found on this earth.

----

Ps: Friday morning now, and I've just found this video on You Tube which I thought would act as a nice tribute and serve as a memory of him in happier times

Saturday, 20 June 2009

News Flash!


Have just posted a new Fridge Food recipe. Since the weather has turned so wintry again, it's a tasty sausage casserole to warm the cockles...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Domestic Bliss

The day dawned with sun streaming through the bathroom window – always makes it so much easier to get out of bed and get on with living. My mood instantly light, to match the world outside, I hopped into the shower and thought about how to plan my day. Having taken E and G to the school bus, I came back home and roused L who was still in bed, surrounded by her favourite soft toys and asking me to take a photo.
I duly obliged. Who can resist a just-woken six year old with freckles across her nose and a gappy smile? After a quick breakfast, I insisted on us walking to school. We do not have many opportunities left, with just the rest of this term to go before we leave Combs Infants behind forever, after six happy years. They must be grabbed. Walking to school down a leafy lane with a small child’s hand clasped inside yours is one of the great joys of life, believe me. Though not in lashing wind and rain. Which is why we have to make the most of the sunny days. Carpe diem and all that.

So off we trotted, picking hedgerow flowers along the way for the Nature Table and chatting about this and that. L is very into bees at the moment after a talk at Brownies from an Api-whats-her-name. So, Pooh-like, we made up Busy Bee rhymes which went along the lines of ‘I’m just a bzzzzy bzzzzy bee and you can’t catch me.’ All very high-brow. We hopped over horse pooh and admired the farmer’s cockerel (so to speak) and skipped into school where everyone was…skipping. After a sponsored skip the other week for the British Heart Foundation, they’re doing a lot of skipping at school at the moment. It’s L’s new ‘best skill’ – having been useless at it just a month or so back. Tuition from her sisters helped her turn the corner and now a new obsession is born. I’ve long since given up. Boobs too big these days. Get all huffy and puffy after three jumps which doesn’t encourage either.

I put the flowers in water and said hello to The Artist, resplendent in his strawberry-covered pinny, who they were going to do sculptures with this morning. This term’s topic is ‘Holes’, so there would be lots of holes. I lurked around and listened for a while, before deciding to take a stroll along the lane from school to the newly formed ‘Bench’. This has suddenly appeared about 200 yards up from the school. All beautifully done in a nice stone walled alcove with a view of the escarpment. There is a slightly annoying bit of hawthorn hedge just to the right, but if you lean left you have an uninterrupted view of meadow and hillside stretching up to the heather-clad heights of Combs Moss. It is the view I have from our house, but closer to, and therefore offering a different mood and perspective. As I sat, a bloke was taking pictures of telegraph poles, rather annoyingly, but he was quite young and handsome, so I let him off. I felt a little silly stopping and sitting there as I had already said hello outside school and he probably thought I only stopped cos I fancied him or something. No, no. Far too old for that. I just wanted to make the most of this new facility, to make it feel loved, and take five minutes to myself just to stop, look and listen. No-one does enough of that these days.

A field of silky long grasses and bright yellow buttercups stretched out before me, a figure in the middle distance skirting the edges of the next field, lingering like me, the black silhouette of his dog scuttling back and forth from Master to Object of Excitement (unknown) and back again. I was unclear whether it was a farmer or just a walker, but it was part of the rhythm of the morning. A blackbird sat on the wires above my head and performed a beautiful solo to the background accompaniment of plaintive sheep and a chorus of unknown feathered creatures. Crows cawed in front and behind and all was cacophony for a short while. Then just as suddenly as the symphony had begun, the orchestra departed, leaving me to admire the empty stage in relative peace. I turned and looked up towards my house on the other side of the valley and the steep field dotted with sheep and lambs. I asked the young man what he was doing and he replied that he was just checking out the situation with these older wires, to make sure all was well. Very reassuring.

With that, I thought I should probably head back home to perform my daily domestic chores. Once back, I emptied the dishwasher, made beds, took out a wash, did some messy washing-up of Bolognese pans and plates (designer pinny firmly in place), put on the kettle (on my Aga – oh, what a scene of domestic bliss) and made a cup of tea before taking it outside to sit on my new teak bench (old one rotted and now ashes) and write my thank-you letters (yes, it was my birthday on Monday for all you naughty friends who forgot). One of my presents was a Cath Kidston peg bag which now hung resplendent on my washing line, in all its retro 1950s glory, the decade of the ultimate housewife.
As I wrote, the sun was hot, the light sublime, the grass, trees and hills greener than you can imagine. The air was still and bursting with birdsong and the thrum of bzzzzzy bees and I felt, quite simply, truly truly content.

When I was fifteen, I knew that the hardest task which lay ahead for me - a good old Gemini who likes a bit of everything different and can see the good and bad in everything - was to find contentment. It has taken me 46 years, but I think this village nestled in a corner of the High Peak, far from my roots and erstwhile dreams, holds the key. My neighbour doesn’t feel the same. For her the dream has turned sour and she wants to return to ‘civilisation’. For me, this could hardly get any closer. On a sunny day, at least.


PS: I'll write about Turkey next time, promise.
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