All I want is a room somewhere…

Writing 101 day 6 – Where do you write?

Generally I reserve time in the morning to write.  A couple of hours dedicated tapping on my laptop. I could of course, spend all day, but that ends with my having a guilt trip about not getting the housework done or the dinner ready, so I try and limit my absorption.

Of course, some days my mind is a blank.  There is nothing, nothing, to write about. My life is dull, my imagination run dry.  I think it is with these days in mind that I choose to sit on the sofa in our sitting room when I’m writing (yeah we have a study, but who uses one of those for goodness sake! I’d have to climb over the mountains of paper an’ everything).

We are very lucky to have two comfy rooms with sofas.  One, which I tend to call the living room, is where we sit in the evening and watch TV, or loll about and read the newspapers on a Sunday morning.  It has a bay window overhung by our very old oak tree at one end, and French windows looking out across the garden at the other.  I treated myself to a chaise longue when we decorated and that is in front of the French windows.  It’s where I drape myself to catch winter rays or watch the rain in summer, it is most definitely not made for working from. The sofa in here is facing the fireplace not the window.  And there’s the rub.

So… it would appear that I write sitting on the sofa in the sitting room because the sofa faces the large picture window which gives me a view of the garden (this is news to me too… I’ve never really thought about it before!).  We have a pear tree just in front of the window, which is where I hang the bird feeders.  All manner of birds come to get their share of nuts, seeds, insects (yuck, those dried ones…) and fat balls.  In fact, I have my own little viewing gallery right there.  The room is always bright and cheery, and in the finer weather I can open the door onto the patio and hear the birds bickering while warm breezes circulate.

However, lovely and entertaining as the view is, there are I think, other subliminal reasons why I use this room.

In the sitting room I’m surrounded by memories.  I have cushions scattered about that I have made from tee-shirts bought as reminders of holidays but never worn (right now I’m leaning against a huge gold picture of Mickey Mouse bought as a tee-shirt at Disney in Florida nearly 20 years ago) Photo’s and souvenirs from trips to distant places, a selection of LPs from my youth which we can’t play ‘cos we don’t have a turntable, plants that are growing way too big, in fact just about everything ‘wot I like’.

This room is also the room where we play board games at Christmas, huddled around the coffee table, snacks and drinks on the floor, yelling at each other with frustration or glee when we win or lose or get totally outmanoeuvred (to be truthful its usually only me that that happens to). Where we sit quietly in our ‘oingy boingy’ chairs from Ikea and get stuck in a novel, or where we work out whether or not we can afford that next holiday.  It’s a room for parties – push back the chairs and there’s a good space for a boogie, and for yoga practice – its got a perfect wall for practicing handstands against.

I never thought a room could be inspiring, but with my selection of oddments and memories right here with me, and my wild garden only a glance away, I doubt I’ll ever completely run out of things to say!

Just in case I do though….

We’ve been asked by the wordpress fairies to ask our readers for suggestions on what to write.  I don’t know any more than that at the moment, but if you’ve got any ideas just let me know by commenting below, for now… I’ll think about a contact page later 😉

Have a good day!

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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.

Tea for me please #2

Reading my last post back, I noticed that I failed to mention that although I don’t drink coffee, I am, in fact, a tea connoisseur.  Even I didn’t realise that until after I’d written it.  Perhaps it was when I counted the different teas I have in my cupboard.  Twenty.  Yep, twenty different teas.  There’s the bog standard fairtrade everyday tea bags (I like Diplomat ones from Aldi by the way!) and then there are packets of:

Camomile, Peppermint, Pomegranate & Raspberry, Cranberry & Raspberry, Fennel, Masala, Ginger, Selfridges Afternoon Tea, Boh tea from Malaysia, Tetley’s Earl Grey, Jasmine, Kiptagich Highland Tea from Kenya, Darjeeling, Fairtrade organic Breakfast tea, Sarawack tea from Borneo, a packet of herbal tea from Sri Lanka, Fortnam and Mason’s Orange Pekoe, Pure Ceylon from Sri Lanka and Highcrown BOP from Sri Lanka.

A fair selection I think you’ll agree.  Some of them have been hanging around in my cupboard for a while, but I’ve tasted them all. Many are brought from distant shores and remind me of holidays.

I’ve sipped a thick sweet black tea in a make-shift corrugated iron cafe by the sea in Turkey.  Warmed up with Jasmine tea after nearly being frozen to death, even in the brilliant sunshine, on the Great Wall of China.

The mint tea in Morocco was served from tiny silver teapots into little glass cups, in a sweetsmelling and peaceful courtyard tucked away behind the exciting and exhausting madness of Jemaa el Fna and the Medina’s.

Recently I had my first taste of Masala tea in India.  The slightly curried warmth of it will always remind me of collapsing by the pool at one of the fabulous hotels after a full-on day of exploring the mosaic cities, wonderful palaces and extraordinary rivers that make India such a fascinating and wonderful place to be.

Ginger tea was taken on a rooftop terrace in the sunshine, while contemplating the world of people wheeling around the brilliant white Boudhanath Stupa in Katmandhu, Nepal.

Without a doubt though, the best cup of tea I have ever had, was after a very long and arduous journey in a jeep up into the mountains of Sri Lanka.  We’d travelled through rising seas of tea plantations, lush and green, dotted with women in colourful sari’s plucking the leaves.  We were hot and sticky when we eventually stopped to visit one of the factories.  The manager there greeted the four of us (me, husband, two 14 yr old daughters) warmly, and took us to one of the fields where we learned about the bushes and their growing habits, and the different types of tea.  We then saw the tea itself in different tubs depending on quality (always look for Orange Pekoe!) and were told, somewhat disconcertingly, that the tea bags we get in England are made of the equivalent of the sweepings from the floor!

After the, fairly brief, tour, we were shown into a beautiful, fan-cooled room, where there were huge soft sofa’s that we were ashamed to plonk our grubby selves on.  We did nonetheless, and sat and enjoyed the comfort after the bashing around we’d had in the jeep.  Tea was served to us by a beautiful young Sri Lankan lady dressed in an simple orange sari.  She poured from a proper teapot, into proper china cups.  The tea was black, and untainted by sugar.  It would be impossible for me to describe the flavour, but I would say that it was exquisite, subtle, and refreshing.  To top it all it was served with a slab of perfect chocolate cake.  I was in heaven.

Of course, as well as my travels, tea reminds me of a nice cup of tea with my mum after a hard day at school, and all the time’s when I’ve come home from work feeling grumpy and a cuppa has made me feel better.  Some of the tea’s in my cupboard have been bought for me by my daughter’s when they have been on their travels (Malaysian BOH, and the Sarawack from Borneo for instance), which makes me proud and happy too.

So yep, I admit it, I’m Kaye and I’m a Tea-aholic!

Grandmother said…

My grandmother was a Cockney.  Yep, a full blown, registered, born-within-bow-bells, rhyming slang saying Cockney through and through.  She died some 35 years ago now, but I still remember her clearly.

She was never anything but old to me, even when she must have only been in her early 60’s (it is a truth that 60 is now so much younger than it used to be – thank goodness!). I remember her ‘perming’ her own hair into tight little grey curls using thin plastic rollers lined with cigarette papers (no I don’t know either) and foul smelling home perms.  I remember her and my mum making jellies for my birthday teas, every year, even though to this day I loathe jelly in any shape or form, and floury Sausage rolling at Christmas.  I feel like I remember all her mannerisms, and sometimes see them manifest in either myself or my sister.

Most of all, I remember her sayings.  It seemed she had a saying for every occasion.  We had a ‘lick and a promise’ instead of a wash. Things were always in a ‘muddy puddle’ (about as near to bad language as I ever heard from her).  I often came home from school looking like ‘the black ‘ole of Calcutta’ or the ‘wreck of the ‘esperus’.   Things went ‘up ‘n down like a fiddlers elbow’ and if I had a stain on my clothes ‘a blind man would be glad to see it’!  Not very pc these days I suspect.

However, my favourite saying, and even now I use it more frequently than you might imagine, is

‘It stuck out like a tanner in a sweeps ear’ole’.

Of course, whenever I use that one, I have to explain it.  No one these days remembers that a tanner was a shiny silver sixpence, which would have twinkled amongst the soot in a chimney sweeps ear. And why exactly would he have had a tanner in his ear in the first place?  Who knows? Who cares?  It’s silly, but you have to admit, very descriptive!

These sayings have now become part of my family’s lore, something that the children laugh at, but keep in their hearts as part of their history.  It’s a way of them knowing their great-grandmother even though she is long-gone.  I wonder how their grandchildren will remember me?

Well, I do make up my own expletives I suppose, ‘Cripes-a-lawky’ being a favourite.  I don’t know anyone else that says that, though perhaps, dear blog reader, you might pick it up and bring it to its rightful place in the national consciousness.  Or how about ‘pigs-and-fishes’ in place of your favourite swearword, as I do, or if it’s really annoying just ‘pigs!’  I’m sure my husband and daughters could fill you in on others, but the thing is, I don’t even know I’m saying them these days.   They are just verbal tics that are part of who I am.

We may share the same language, but each and everyone of us uses it in unique ways,everyday.  We should all do our best to use it wisely and memorably!