Where the heart is

Posted in response to the Daily Post weekly photo challenge. This week’s theme ‘Solitude’

home

Oh I do enjoy a bit of me time now and again.  In front of the fire, with a nice cuppa tea in my favourite cheery uppy mug, slippers on, feet on the table (oh I know, what a rebel), remote, ipad and phone all within reaching distance. What could be nicer?

Little Boxes

Sorting some bits and pieces out the other day, it occurred to me how many boxes I have around the house that are stuffed with random things. The ones pictured are just a small selection!  You can see that some of the boxes are beautiful in their own right, but others have seen better days. What they have in common is that I rarely look inside them. They are poked away getting dusty in cupboards and shelves most of the time. In fact, without opening them I’m not even sure what is in them, only a very few have their original contents. So over the coming weeks I’ve decided to share their secrets with you in a new series of ‘What’s in the box?’.  Look out for the first one which will be appearing soon!

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Keeping memories

Mum 20sWe moved my mum into her new sheltered accommodation last week.  It is a lovely modern studio flat, where she has her own kitchen and bathroom and a key to her own front door.  It is so much nicer than her long, dark, narrow, crabby old flat which she had been living in for the last 40 odd years.

The trouble with living somewhere for so long, is that, without even realising it, you accumulate lots of ‘stuff’. Ornaments, and tacky souvenirs that family members have brought back from holidays; photographs in broken frames; pictures; lots of tapestries that mum had done herself years ago; CDs and cassettes;  very old records; programmes from long-seen shows; and many, many, years worth of birthday cards (‘I can’t throw them away, they’re too nice’).  Of course, moving into a smaller flat meant that she couldn’t take much with her, not even all her furniture, and it’s been down to my sister and I to encourage, co-erce, and downright nag her into leaving much of it behind. Sadly, what seems to us to be old tat, was to her much-loved possessions that were proof of a full and long-lived life.

When I look around my own home, I can see that a lot of the things that I hold dear would, quite likely, seem like ‘old tat’ to others. But every piece has a memory attached.  Who bought it, why and when.  When I dust I caress each piece like a long lost friend, and every plant is loved and nurtured like a child.

Sitting here, I can look up and see photos of my children, a vase bought for me by my husband for one of our anniversaries, a moving fish that my daughter made in woodwork class years and years ago, the remains of a hookah pipe bought on our honeymoon in Turkey nearly 30 years ago, a slate rabbit from a mine in Wales, and a small wooden Buddha bought on our first trip to India. Now they nestle alongside some brass candlesticks rescued from my mum’s old flat.

I didn’t rescue much, just the candlesticks (which I remember sitting on the mantelpiece back when I was growing up), a couple of ornamental plates that we bought for her on trips to Turkey and Greece, a small wooden elephant, and some finger cymbals that I found in a box and had no idea she had. Heaven only knows where she got them, or why – perhaps a relic of a belly dancing phase of her life that none of us knew about?  Hehee..I’d like to think so!

Nan and Lil

My nan, mums friend, Mary, and my aunt Lil enjoying the sea

The only other thing that I took was an enormous suitcase full of old photographs.  There are lots of odd weddings with bride and grooms that I barely recognise, many of them now long dead. There are pictures of my grandmother as a young woman sitting alongside her mum who I never knew, or paddling in the sea in 1951 with her sister and a friend, all of them clutching their skirts above their knees to stop them getting wet.  Of course, there are also lots of pictures of my mum.

She’s there as a child with a big doll, and another very formal shot where she’s posing in a Mum dancingballet position aged about nine.  She’s there looking cheeky with her boyish brothers, and again as a young woman in a smart dark skirt and white blouse, smiling brightly, and it makes me wonder what the occasion was, maybe she was starting a new job?

She is there as a bride, marrying my father, with evidently, and mercifully, no clue as to the bitterness he would eventually bring her.  There are pictures of her at office parties, and on holidays with people I don’t recognise. All these pictures together add up as a testament to her life as a beautiful and vibrant woman.

Now, at 92, she retains her beauty, but some of that vibrancy is lost.  Old age is a dreadful thing, and something we all face, its limitations are both bewildering and frustrating, and ill health and aching joints can make you irritable.  When we meet older people who are suffering these difficulties, it’s easy to forget that they have led these amazing full lives, had jobs, children, experiences, hobbies, interests, just like we are having now.

If like my mum, you have to give up the home that you have created over the years, albeit no longer suitable, or desirable, or that others may be less than impressed with, it is a wrench.  A big wrench. And whilst it’s lovely to see her settling into her clean and tidy new home, and enjoying the company, we mustn’t forget that.

Unfortunately, once we had taken what she needed we had to have the flat cleared. The house clearance chappy told us it would all just go to the dump – the furniture; cookware; washing machine; ornaments; records……and all the other bits and pieces – just disposed of without ceremony. ‘No-one wants this sort of stuff now, you can’t give it away’ he told us, and I’m sure he’s right.  Still seems criminal though.

After this experience, I’ve promised myself I’ll reassess my own home.  Clear out all the stuff that I’ve collected in cupboards and kept in the loft. I don’t want my children to have to face clearing it out and having to live with the guilt of throwing away all those memories, no matter how sentimental and tatty they think they are.

Home but not a house

I never thought much about it when I was growing up, it was just where we lived, but when I told my husband that we lived over a motorbike showroom that was squashed between an off licence and a salvation army hall, with a bus stop right in front of our front door, he swore there must be a story in there somewhere.

Now I come to think of it, there probably is, but I’m not going to explore that now.  I’ll just tell you the facts. It was an old building in Tooting, South London, probably a warehouse at one time. Certainly, our first floor living room was of warehouse proportions, and a devil to keep warm, especially with the three tall drafty sash windows that lined the front wall.  We used to stuff newspapers in the gaps between the panes to stop them rattling in the wind. We had no central heating, and relied heavily on a two bar electric fire at the end where the sofa and tiny TV stood, and a terrifyingly temperamental paraffin heater at the other end beside the slightly out of tune piano that my sister used to endlessly practice ‘The Elizabethan Serenade’ on.

Next to the living room was the kitchen/diner, always steamy, with a kettle on the boil, and the oven alight to warm the room.  The old radio would be humming ‘sing something simple’ or ‘The Goon show’ while we sat at the table for our tea.

The bedrooms were on the second floor.  My sister and I shared a long narrow room with another newspaper-stuffed sash window at the far end.  The room was decorated with willow pattern wallpaper, and we used to entertain each other making up stories about the little Japanese people that were crossing the ornate blue bridges.  When she got married and left home I was allowed to choose the décor and went for a vivid plain orange paper, which I loved, but it had no stories to tell.

When I was very young we didn’t have a bathroom, and on Friday nights mum took as into town to the public baths where my sister and I shared a soak. Eventually though, my dad did a bit of home bodging and put in a bathroom and indoor toilet – luxury!  Like most of his projects, I don’t think it was ever quite finished off, but he did paint the walls using a feather duster dipped in different coloured paints to give a rainbow effect. This was long before fancy paint techniques were discussed on the TV.  In fact, it was long before any DIY shows were on the TV!

Our home was dusty and drafty. There were lots of stairs and a spider filled basement, which had been used as an air-raid shelter during the war, and which I didn’t dare go in, not only because of the spiders, but also because of the scary stories my sister used to tell me about witches and bogey men that lived down there.  I was so frightened of it that I always sidled quickly past its wooden door to get out into the small walled garden.  I seem to have a vague memory of a corrugated iron Anderson shelter out there at one time, but I guess that must have been taken down when I was very young.

Sometimes, but not always, our garden had flowers, once I had a much beloved guinea pig who lived out there, but over-ridingly, there was the huge white pigeon loft which took up pretty much half of the space. When Dad got into pigeon racing, everything else went.  The apple tree in the middle of the grass.  The flower beds.  The guinea pig.  My swing-in-the-door.  Instead, the pigeons became his, and by default, our focus. Trying not to knock the jelly off the window sill where it had been left to set, while we leant precariously out of the kitchen window to see if they were on their way back after a race, or standing outside rattling tins of food to entice them to come down to have their racing rings removed and be ‘clocked back’ became our standard occupations on Saturday afternoons.

Dad’s craze’s and eccentricities were a central part of my growing up, and many of them formed the memories I have of my childhood home. Often when I think back to those times I think of the many Christmas’s when he insisted on decorating the front room with an elaborate spider’s web of crepe paper strips. I have no idea where he got his ideas from, but I have never seen the like since.  I remember being mortified at the time and really just wanting tinsel and paper chains like all the other kids had.  Now, the memory of the ‘ta da!’ moment when we all stood round with our fingers crossed while he cut the strings that temporarily held the strips of paper up, to reveal that they were in fact self-supporting, is a warm memory of home I will never forget.

Written as part of the writing 101 challenge – write about your childhood home with sentence length in mind.

Distractions Distractions

Sorry. I know I’m a bit tardy with this post. I’ve been a bit, well, busy. Busy-ish. I couldn’t really tell you what I’ve been doing all this time, just living I guess. But you know how it is, things get in the way of writing sometimes.

Of course, they shouldn’t. When I gave up work I was determined I was going to write regularly, and start earning a bit through it if I possibly could. Well that hasn’t worked out has it? It started off ok, stories were flowing, rhymes formed in my mind in the way other people’s minds form intelligent thoughts. But then I started doing other things. Cooking. Sewing. Crochet (am I someone’s granny for goodness sake?) and now….THE GARDEN…

Well, to be fair, I’m not actually doing anything at all in my garden, but the landscapers are, and I find it very, well, distracting. Even though they are busy working, bricklaying, pulling up, digging down, doing other stuff with big tools, even though they’re not spending they’re time peering in my windows, (and no, they haven’t got their shirts off), it does feel like I’m living in a goldfish bowl. And they’re noisy. Drilling, banging, concrete mixing, radio playing, electric something or other using…always with the noise..

Hah! The noise. The neighbours are getting a bit of their own medicine. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’re not that bad. They are nice people. A nice family. A nice family who are a lot richer than us. A nice family who’ve got a pool.

Have you any idea how noisy kids in a pool can be? They screech. They splash. They shout. It’s never just a couple of them either, always dozens (at least it sounds like dozens) and the pool is right alongside our boundary, so we hear it all in glorious surround sound. Well, we did. We now have fence. BIG fence. MAN fence. And we’re hoping that it will bounce the sound back their way a bit.

Did I mention they have a jacuzzi too.

You’d think that would be quieter. A grown up thingy. Well, it is a grown up thingy. They certainly use it in the (very) late evening/very early morning. We know ‘cos of the giggling and the chinking of glasses.

Now, I’ve never really wanted a jacuzzi. They make me wrinkly, and the chemicals make my eyes sore. However, I have always, always, wanted a pool. I love swimming. I love the feel of the water slinking over my skin as I pull myself through along using otherwise rarely used muscles. I love to float (floating is my special skill… once in Tobago I was floating in the sea and a tiny girl came up to me and said ‘how’d you do ‘dat? Did Jesus teach you do ‘dat? I had to answer honestly ‘not directly’) or dive under the water and experience the other worldliness of it all, even in the local leisure centre swimming pool (top tip, never wear goggles in a municipal pool, it’s quite revolting what you can see in there). And I have been swimming there weekly for a while. For once using old age to my advantage. You see, they have an ‘over 50’s’ session, where everyone is wrinkly and odd shaped, everyone swims sensibly up and down, and no-one shouts. Almost perfect, but still not as good as having your own pool.

The irony is, that our garden is plenty big enough for a modest pool. And the amount the make-over is costing us would easily be enough to get one installed. Hang on a tick…just going to tell them to stop…Stop what they’re doing..what they’ve been doing for the last three weeks, stop with the landscaping, the bricklaying, the deforestation…stop….put me in a pool instead..!!

Nah, not going to happen is it.

Wish I was awesome

I wish I was awesome.  I wonder what it feels like to be awesome.  To have done something special or worthwhile.

I have never done anything of any note.  Never won a race, or game, or competition.  Never got a medal.  Even my exam results were mediocre to bad.  Oh, I’ve done lots of stuff, had lots of experiences that others would give anything to have had.  I’ve ridden horses, dived to the bottom of the sea, ridden on the back of a motorcycle going at 100 mph.  I’ve starred in am-dram plays, and written stories and poems which people have said they liked.  I’ve been to fabulous, exotic, far-away places, and met wonderful people.  These days I garden, sew, cook, and still write stories and poems that people say they like and I’m pretty good when it comes to techie stuff. But honestly, I’m not good, not good good, at any of them.  Just ok. Mediocre.  Sometimes, that’s a bit depressing.

Watching some pretty awesome people on Strictly Come Dancing – Louis Smith and Victoria Pendleton, who have both won umpteen medals in their own disciplines, and Michael Vaughan, who led England Cricketers to win the Ashes in 2005, I can see that even though they are truly awesome, they can still be as awkward, self-conscious and insecure as me when they are out of their comfort zone.

I guess you just have to find your comfort zone.  My comfort zone is my home, and watching my daughters becoming successful, caring and beautiful people.  I consider them to be my biggest success.

I understand from others that I’m also quite good at listening.  I can’t begin to count the number of times people rang me at work ‘just to have a moan’ and at the end say,

‘Thanks, I feel better now’.

I was the matriarch (according to the dictionary ‘a venerable old woman’!) of the organisation, the go to lady when life was a pain. Ok, I never did anything, and usually couldn’t come up with much in the way of words of wisdom.  But perhaps being able to make someone feel better just by listening is a teeny bit awesome.

And shhh…don’t tell anyone, but I realise now that perhaps we’re all (yep, even me) a teeny bit awesome on the quiet.