Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Going to the chapel.

I’m working for my friend Pat, on a film pitch. His office is in a chapel, a deconsecrated one. After kicking around a few ideas he suggests I sit in the sanctuary to write. So I do. It's peaceful in the sanctuary and I get to sit on a leather chair at a long wooden meeting table. It’s a bit like the last supper, except with only one guest and no food.

I take my time writing the pitch because it's a nice change to be out of the house. God damn it, even the drive to his office is a nice change. Hell, even putting my laptop in the laptop case before the drive to his office is a nice change. Christ, even putting smart clothes on to get in the car to drive to his office is a nice change. When I get to his office it's heaven to have colleagues to commune with at the water-cooler, even if the water is freezing cold and hurts my gums. I decide to make a cup of coffee instead.

Back at the wooden table with my coffee I find Jesus staring down at me from a stained glass window. He’s following me around, I think, because there’s also Jesus at my weekly pilates class, which is also in a church, just in case you think I’m having religious hallucinations. He's in a stained glass window opposite my mat. Let there be light, it says underneath him, where the sunshine streams through.

Pat's office.

If you're getting the idea that I hang out in lots of churches you’d be wrong. For many years I never went in one at all. I was never christened, and I didn’t get married in one. There were other people’s weddings in churches, of course, during my late twenties and early thirties - mainly - but not so many of those since a lot of our friends still live over the brush - as my beloved grandmother would put it, if she were alive. And I come from a long line of atheists so I never went in a church as a child, except for York Minster, once, when I was little and we had people staying and my parents were showing it off. Apparently I said, “who’s that?” very loudly, when confronted with a statue of Christ. 

I went through a brief religious phase a while later, though. But who doesn’t? I thought it would be comforting and romantic, make me look deep. This was just after I found a kids' book of prayers in a book shop I was dragged into by my parents. It had pretty pastel illustrations on lovely silky paper, little girls kneeling beside quilted beds, in flowing nighties. "Dear Lord, lay me down to sleep, and take my soul to keep," or something. My father was horrified but he bought it for me anyway, presumably thinking that if he didn’t I might later run away and join a cult.

This flirtation with religion was compounded at the Nether Poppleton church fete later that same year (where we lived), where they had this guess the doll’s name competition. If you successfully guessed the name you kept the doll. I really wanted that doll. I was crazy about dolls. I was forever putting them to bed and kissing them night, night. My mother says I was so maternal I even put butter to bed in the fridge. When we lived in Canada a bit later I had a Holly Hobby doll and a Heather Hobby doll and they were my daughters. When I moved elementary school in Vancouver for our second year in the city and didn’t know anyone, I spent the whole of recess walking round the running track ‘talking’ to my daughters, telling them not to worry, I’d be home soon. This was before I made friends with Glenda and Kelly. Once I made friends with Glenda and Kelly I didn’t bother walking round the track talking to my dolls anymore. The three of us bought iced doughnuts at the snack bar and played with boys who told us all the unholy things we would be expected to do with them when we grew up. One day I went home and told my mother some of these unholy things, and was further horrified by her flat refusal to deny a single word.

Holly Hobby

At the Nether Poppleton church fete my dad didn't think twice. "We want to guess Everilda," he said. 

"Everilda?" I squealed. "As if anyone would call a doll Everilda! Eugh." (This was before I knew people called real girls Glenda and Kelly.) 

"It’s the name of the church," he explained. 

Of course Everilda was the doll’s name and he won it for me, which I thought was miraculous, but in hindsight wasn't so much divine intervention as my dad's.

After a day writing at Pat’s chapel/office I go back to the car in the dark and the drizzle, to where it's parked under some wonderful yew trees, and notice the chill in the air. How is it autumn already? In no time at all it will be Christmas again. Later that night I see One Night in Miami at the Donmar Warehouse. It's an all-male black cast. Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, having a night in, in 1964. Cassius Clay is on the brink of converting to Islam. The actor playing Sam Cooke sings A Change Is Gonna Come, a cappella. Jesus Christ, I think, that's good.

Love E x


P.S. We won the pitch, thank the Lord. Here's a film we made last year.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Baby's gone, again.

It’s the early morning and my baby is leaving home, again. This is the hard bit, the tough thing about being a doting mother: watching your son go off into the world without you. I'm not one of those parents relishing a future empty nest, if you hadn't guessed. And by the way, I know I’m not supposed to write about Eldest because he doesn’t like it, but he doesn't read this stuff so I reckon I’m safe just telling you. 

I kiss him goodbye at the front door, some hours ago now, up on my tippy toes, because he’s a hell of a lot taller than I am, and then I hot-foot it straight back to bed with my laptop. I can’t help it, writing is the thing I do when I don’t know what to do with myself, which is a lot of the time.

Family life with these boys means everything to me, yet sadly in the week Eldest was home I only managed to corral them round the dinner table together three times, despite cooking a meal every day. Sometimes it feels as if it's all slipping through my fingers, now that they're 14, 17 and 20 respectively. And you know, if I sound a little wistful about that, maybe it's because I am.

I pinned Eldest down for a Saturday night steak supper, only to discover Middle One was off to a shubs. I squeezed the dinner in beforehand in the end, but it’s like herding cats. My bonding movie night with Eldest went tits up when the wifi went down and the Apple TV inexplicably wouldn’t work, but at least we managed a trip to the RA to see the Hockney portraits. We bought audio-guides and that nice Mr Hockney whispered sweet nothings down my lug holes in his lovely Yorkshire burr, telling me that apart from the face, it's hands and feet that say most about a person, but especially feet. Really? First it's Magritte without faces, now it's Hockney with feet. I have a bit of thing about feet myself, (you might say it's my Achilles heel) so I thought that was interesting.

 John Baldessari - has big feet

Eldest enjoyed the exhibition, which made me glad I took him along. I like to find common ground with each of them. With this one it’s art and films, with Youngest it’s all a bit of a struggle because he's 14 (God, do you remember being 14? it was a nightmare), while with that grown-up Middle One, it’s music, of course.

On the way to the Hockney we bumped into one of Eldest's old friends, a boy I vividly recall from nursery school days, when he had wild hair and unruly ways, and he still does. He didn't put the work in at school so now he works in Lidl, which is ironic because all he wants to do is drugs and party and that's exactly what Eldest is up to at university, so that'll learn him. 

Any road, as Hockney would say, right now I don't know when I'll see Eldest again, but I do know I should be grateful he’s happy to go his own way, has made a nice life for himself at university with his mates, his gorgeous girlfriend, his part-time job, his band, all that. When all's said and done, that's what I'm here for: raising boys to be men so they're able to go out into the world without me, and be happy. 

Love E x


P.S. You might even say it’s my calling.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Les Scrupules de Bruxelles.

The day before our 21st wedding anniversary Husband asks if I’ve booked a table for dinner, as usual.

“Sod that,” I say. “Let’s go to Paris.”

“Paris?” he says.

“I love Paris,” I say.

“Or Brussels,” he says.

“Not Brussels,” I say. “Paris is for lovers, Brussels is for lunch.”

On the morning of our anniversary I give him the present I bought two days before: a new party shirt, in a square gift box, wrapped in blue tissue paper, and a card. And he gives me... the very same thing he gave me last year. “I got you a card, though,” he says. “It must be in the house somewhere. And I paid for Brussels.”

We get to Brussels on Friday afternoon. The place is quiet except for lots of armed police and beggars. A pale Syrian boy sits crossed-legged in the street. A vacant-eyed woman slumps on steps with a sleeping child. I hold out a Euro for each of them and their gratitude is humbling.

"I need more Euros," I tell Husband.

“We can’t give them all away," he says, handing me another.

I know this, but I reason that if I give them all Euros I might feel slightly less terrible about being incredibly fortunate, and British.

From a quiet side street we are funnelled toward the Grand’ Place, then separated, men from women, frisked, asked questions, and eventually spewed into the ancient beating heart of the city. And it is a grand place indeed. In stark contrast to the deserted streets around it, here, there is colour and light and music, with people who smile and laugh and kiss... because they are pissed.

“The whole world is here,” I say.

“It’s the beer festival,” says Husband.

“Did you know that when you booked it?” I ask.

“Er,” he says. “No. It was £100 each to go to Brussels, including the Eurostar, whereas Paris was £250 each.” Then he adds, “funny thing, when I told the Frogs in the office, they said, ‘it’s cheap, yes, but it’s still Brussels.’”

We eat lunch in the square, sitting next to four British men and a woman all dressed as green dinosaurs. Kids, really. One of them, nearest to me, is a bit of a character, and he's having trouble with his drink, which is huge.

“It’s a litre of Kriek,” he tells me, sipping it gingerly.

‘Why?” I say.

“Well,” he says, unsuccessfully trying to focus on my face, “it was a big night last night, so, you know.”

“Right,” I say, “that makes perfect sense, then.”

On Saturday we check out of the hotel and head off into the city. We eat breakfast in an elegant arcade, with Magritte’s bowler-hatted motif everywhere.

“Where are the Magrittes?” I ask Husband.

“Not far,” he says. “In the Museum of Fine Art. Why, do you want to go and look?”

I do, and I say so, which rather takes him aback. “I’m having my bluff called,” he says.

The gallery is empty. I look for the painting of the man with the apple. I see the man with the bird, and the man with the pipe; I can’t see the man with the apple anywhere. I read that Magritte saw his mother just after she drowned herself and her face was obscured by her dress. Some psychologists think this is why he was obsessed with painting faceless people.

Suddenly I am standing in front of L'Empire des Lumières, with its stunning pool of lamplight. It stops me dead in my tracks, because it’s really beautiful, and a bit desolate, and more than a little melancholy, just like the city itself.

Love E x


P.S. My baby is home! Eldest has been away for weeks. With the others back at school, I now have a whole week with him all to myself.