Friday, 31 July 2015

All Things Must Pass.

We follow Youngest up north, arriving at my home town by train on Friday afternoon. The queue at the taxi rank snakes right across the elegant front of the station. Women in fascinators and too-tight dresses, exposed arms revealing tattoos as well as flesh, fat feet squeezed into too-high stilettos: it's the York races. 

"There weren't queues like this when I was a girl," I say.

We stand and wait and listen. To short 'a's, to long alien 'eee' sounds, to 'the's' gone missing entirely and replaced with 't's'. "Eeee, it's a right long queue, in't it," I say to Middle One.

The taxi crawls through town and out again towards my parents' house. Tom Jones is coming, says the driver, they're expecting 40,000 at the race course tonight. Really? we say, and then we chat amongst ourselves: about the news, about politics, about Jeremy Corbyn. How old is he? I ask Middle One. "He's 66!" chips in the taxi driver. I'd forgotten how friendly taxi drivers are here.

For the whole of the weekend, at the end of the cul-de-sac on which my parents' house sits, cars idle in long queues into town, nose to nose, engines ticking over, obligingly moving to let us through whenever we emerge. I'd forgotten how courteous the drivers are here. 

"There was never traffic like this when I was a girl," I say to Husband.

On Sunday my father and the boys drive to the community orchard, the one my father helps to run. Husband and I walk there, along 
the river. "Himalayan Balsam," I remember my father saying, the last time we were here, "look how it's invaded the landscape, taken over everywhere," and it has. 

"There wasn't all this Himalayan Balsam here when I was a girl," I say to Husband.

There's no one at all by the river, and I'd forgotten how lovely it is, except for the hum of the cars on the bypass, a hum which never ends. 

"There wasn't a hum like that from the bypass when I was a girl either," I say to Husband. 

A mile or so later we reach the orchard, where my father and the boys are moving cut grass. Husband pitches in, quite literally, while I sit reading under a tree.

There's no one else in the orchard. Just fruit trees, wildlife, flowers, but all around are cars, rows and rows of cars, parked for the shops here. 'Designer Outlets' it's called. Most of the people stepping just a few short feet from vehicle to shop, have no idea there's an orchard nearby, a little oasis of calm. 

"There wasn't this enormous car park here when I was a girl," I say to the boys, as we criss-cross the tarmac, on a mission to buy some lunch. "It was a maternity hospital, and fields. I was born here."

We walk through Designer Outlets. It's packed. People everywhere. Shopping, buying, eating, talking, calling out to one another. But mostly shopping.

"There weren't all these people here when I was a girl," I say, to anyone who will listen. But they can't hear me over the racket.

Love E x


P.S. Eldest returns from the Far East tonight!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Strangers on a train.

It's the summer holidays. The usual household timetable is suspended. I stay in bed reading in the mornings, because I can. Unfortunately this pleasure is tainted with guilt, about Youngest. He is free from school. He should be larking in meadows, his face browning in vitamin D-sunshine, his muscles strengthening through running and jumping and climbing. Instead he is in London, indoors, glued to the computer in my office from morning till night, playing games with a headset on, talking to his friends, who are also indoors playing computer games with their headsets on.

As an antidote to this I have arranged for him to go away for a few nights with his cousins, who are very close to him in age, to stay with my parents. I know that when there he will play and play and play, in the house, out of the house, for hours on end, not a computer in sight. 

I meet them, accompanied by my brother, at Kings Cross Station. "You do know they're travelling by themselves, don't you?" says my brother (usually our mother travels down to London to collect them).

"Yes," I say, "I'm cool with it. I have a child wondering around South East Asia. Compared to that this is a doddle."

I'm especially not worried when I see my brother has booked seats for them in First Class and a kind lady nearby offers to keep an eye on them, and so does the train guard; and also when I realise that all they have to do is get off at the last stop, where they will be met.

"All you have to do is get off at the last stop," I say to Youngest, handing him a list of all the station stops, so he can tick them off and know where he is (this is along with a packed lunch, emergency money, and a fully charged mobile phone). "And you do know the landmark to look out for, just before you arrive at the station?"

"Yes!" says my eldest niece, enthusiastically, "it's a Tesco, isn't it, Aunty Libby?" (Libby is my family name.)

Actually I was thinking of an old abandoned windmill on a hill, which to me always romantically signals that I am about to arrive 'home'. But Tesco will do.

"I guess the only concern is if they need to go to the loo and a stranger accosts them," says my brother as we walk away together across the concourse, having waved them good-bye, "So I told them to go to the loo in pairs."

"Right" I say. I hadn't worried about that. That's a new thing to worry about. I had worried, in the middle of the night a week or so ago, that someone might plant drugs on Eldest in Asia, making him an unwitting  and innocent drug's mule, who will be banged up forever in a boiling Thai jail, just like Nicole Kidman in Bangkok Hilton.* (A vivid imagination is a terrible curse.)

But now my brother's comment reminds me of a another story, about him on a train, which for years my mother relished the telling of. I think he was about seven, I was about ten, we were  travelling from Vancouver to New York (glamorous, I know, my whole life has been downhill since that point). He went to the loo and did not reappear. The train arrived at a station, then left the station, and still my little brother did not return. My mother began to panic. Perhaps he'd got off the train to look for a toilet? She rose from her seat to find him, quickly coming across a locked loo door and banging on it, hollering my brother's name at the top of her voice. Now she imagined he was trapped in there, or he had fallen and banged his head… 

A guard came, my mother explained, he dashed off for a key. Some time passed, time during which my mother continued to bang on the door, shouting my brother's name at the top of her voice. Eventually the guard returned and began to unlock the door from the outside. Suddenly the bolt shot back and a man emerged, cool as a cucumber. He looked from my mother to the guard, did not say one word, and sauntered off. Shortly after that my brother reappeared with a tale about having walked the length of the train to find a vacant loo.

No wonder, now fully grown, my brother is worried about his girls going to the toilet on a train. But he needn't have, they arrived without incident. And no one spotted the windmill.

Love E x


*Bangkok Hilton is a three-part Australian mini series made in 1989 starring Nicole Kidman. Its name is a fictional prison but a  reference to the real Hanoi Hilton, used by North Vietnam in the Vietnam War.

P.S. I saw To Kill A Mockingbird at The Barbican Theatre on Thursday evening, and I stood at the end, along with most of the rest of the audience. Absolutely fantastic, and no elephants in sight.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Elephant in the Room.

I tell a friend I'm going to see Bradley Wiggins in The Elephant Man tonight at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, before realising that isn't quite right. Cooper! Bradley Cooper. Two of our usual theatre-going crowd declined the opportunity some weeks back. "Seen it already in the 80s," said one. "Terrible play," said another. Terrible play it maybe but - BRADLEY COOPER! Are they mad?

The auditorium is full, the audience noticeably more appreciative than we've grown used to of late at London West End theatre. They laugh a lot, even when it isn't funny. As Bradley expertly transforms his body into a series of excruciating contortions there are gasps. "He's good, isn't he!" Says a woman behind me, loudly.

Meh, I think to myself. Good, yes. A circus act? Maybe. Does contorting your body and executing a near perfect facsimile of John Hurt as The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980) constitute great acting? Not sure.

At half time (as a friend calls it), I run for a gin and tonic, dragging one of our number with me. "Full measure, please," I say, to the girl at the bar. When we return we're surprised to find the rest of our group has also left their seats: they went to buy a second bottle of Cava.

"I thought you like to stay in your seats in the interval? And not drink anything more?" I say, when they return.

"Oh," says one, "we do, usually, but she suggested it." They point at friend K, who wasn't with us for Death of a Salesman, or View From The Bridge.

It is, as that friend had forewarned, a pretty terrible play. Not much happens dramatically speaking, not once John Merrick makes it to the London Hospital. Except a lady takes her top off; I woke up for that bit. Where's the narrative arc? I think to myself. (I'm currently obsessed with narrative arcs). Unlike in the book, which I've read, and the film, which I've seen several times, there isn't much of one.

The audience in the Theatre Royal Haymarket, however, beg to differ. At the end of the play, as Bradley and cast take their bow, some of them stand up, and then a few more... 

It really wasn't THAT good, I think. I mean, not better than The Vote, or View From The Bridge, or Death of a Salesman or Wolf Hall, all of which I've seen, and none of which were rewarded with a full house standing ovation. Are these people standing for the play? For Bradley Cooper's performance? Or because it's a Hollywood superstar up there?

Then those around me begin to stand as well, even my Cava-swilling mates, until, finally, I'm the lone sitter in the stalls. Should I stand because everyone around me is standing? Or should I remain seated because, although I thought it was good, it wasn't THAT good?

I remain seated, and down the last of my gin and tonic. A full measure.

Love E x

P.S. I reckon Bradley Wiggins could have made a good fist of it, he's athletic enough.

The book - The True History of The Elephant Man, by Michael Howard and Peter Ford

The film - The Elephant Man, David Lynch 1980

Review of current play -



Today's blog was entitled 'The Suit' and was great. It featured Middle One in a starring role, rather than his usual cameo performance and so I responsibly (and regrettably) asked him if he minded. He did, and so this blog post has been removed from the internet and remains in draft. Email me if you want to read it. Here is a picture I used on it…

And here's another…

I will leave you to work out what connection these pictures have with each other. All suggestions are welcome below. I'm now trying to think of something else to blog about…

I like the way Tim Dowling gets around this tricky problem of featuring his own family in his weekly scribbling. He's obviously done a pact with his wife.

Love E x


P.S. Eldest is now well. Last heard of in Ho Chi Minh City, having a shirt made for himself and his brother.

The Paying Guests - My mother and friend were right. I got to the lesbian bits. TMI.

Oh! I thought of something else to write for today, about going to see The Elephant Man, watch this space...

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Reading in bed.

It's midweek, evening, after supper. 
The warm weather has drifted away. Sticky yellow leaves are falling from the lime tree to the lawn, and it's only July.  Today I heard that Eldest is unwell in Vietnam; and I can't look after him. His friends are moving on and he will catch up with them later. I decide to go to bed early to read.

Since I got my hands on the Kindle at Easter I've hardly stopped: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: Karen Joy Fowler; F Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (plugging gaps); Tim Dowling: The Giles Wareing Haters' Club; my brother's self-published book: Foehammer, Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing; Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread; Jon Ronson: So You've Been Publicly Shamed; Lynn Barber: An Education; David Nicholls: Us; Nick Hornby: Funny Girl and now Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests.

I'm reading The Paying Guests even though neither my friend nor my mother, who have both read it, recommend it. My mother says she found it "too lesbian", which only makes me want to read it more.

I'm in bed, duvet pulled up to my chin, at the bit where Frances is in the garden throwing the dead mouse away (yeah, I get it, it's a rehearsal for the murder) and the creepy lodger is there in the shadows, watching her, when Youngest comes in.

"I can't sleep," he says.

He suffers from insomnia.

"Everyone can't sleep sometimes," I say, "I can't help, I'm afraid. Try NOT to sleep and NOT to think about it and eventually you will sleep. Maybe put your light on and read for a bit."

"I'm too tired to read!" he says, mildy hysterically (can you be mildly hysterical? I say you can).

"Well, try," I say.

He goes away.

Husband comes in. He's been doing his accounts so he's cross.

"I'm trying to email the accountant and your email's not working," he says.

"Why are you using my email?" I say.

"Because mine's not working," he says.

I get up, go to the office, fiddle about with the Mac, decide to quit Mail and start it up again, which works.

"There you go," I say to Husband, "sometimes it does that, it doesn't respond, the hard drive is too full. You have to quit it and start again."

I go back to bed. Youngest is in it.

"What are you doing in my bed?"

"I just thought I'd lie here with you for a bit," he says; and then after a moment, "you're my role model."

"I'm your role model?"


Blimey. The idea of being anyone's role model is terrifying. What do I model? Being miserable and going to bed early? Swearing too much? Being impatient and annoyed pretty much the whole time?

Middle One comes in. "Oh! I thought we could watch Frasier," he says, "but you're reading."

"Yes," I say, "I'm trying to. Sorry, let's watch it tomorrow."

"Have you seen my leather jacket?" he adds (it's not real leather).

"No," I say, "it's probably under that pile of clothes on your bedroom floor."

"It's not," he says, and he goes away again.

"I still can't sleep!" says Youngest.

"That's because you are in my bed and it's only been ten minutes," I say. "Go back to your own bed and try for longer."

He goes.

Husband comes in.

"Have you seen my specs?" he says.

"They're probably in the kitchen by the phone," I say. "I need to go down for a drink of water so I'll look."

I go downstairs to the kitchen for a drink of water. His 'specs' are by the phone. I take them upstairs and give them to him, then I go back to bed. Youngest is in it.

"What are you doing in my bed?" I say.

"I just thought I'd lie here with you for a while," he says.

I go up to the next floor to say goodnight to Middle One. He's watching Frasier on his laptop. His school rucksack is on the floor by the door. It's bulging suspiciously.

"Here's your leather jacket," I say, pulling it out.

"Oh thanks!" he says.

I go back to my room. Youngest is asleep in the bed, on my side. I get in next to him, open the Kindle, find where I was, then close it again and turn out the light. 

Love E x


Friday, 3 July 2015

Sunday morning and Thursday night.

Sunday morning.

The flight is at midday but they need to be there three hours before. His two friends stay at our house. We all get up at seven. We make pancakes for them. Husband drives. We chat and laugh in the car for a while, until we reach Hammersmith and the turn for the motorway. Then Eldest says put some music on. 

There's a random assortment on my iPhone. I play Gary Newman, Cars, Elton John, Love Lies Bleeding, The Teardrop Explodes, Reward, Eagles, Take It Easy. Hotel California is just finishing as we reach the edge of Heathrow. Now it's quiet in the car. No one is chatting. A huge Jumbo flies over. I look round at Eldest and smile. I don't really feel like smiling.

I take some photographs at the entrance: the three of them standing beneath the departures board. I hug and kiss Eldest but not too much. His friends are there. 

When we get home I mow the lawn as Husband sits on the decking and reads the papers and then his book. At five to twelve I say, "it's five to twelve."

"So?" says Husband.

Monday evening.

We have a message via Middle One, on Facebook. Eldest can't access his email. He has arrived in Hanoi. He didn't sleep once the whole trip. It's incredibly hot. He walks a few steps and he's drenched in sweat. It's mad. The roads are crowded with cyclists and mopeds. The locals say if you close your eyes and walk across they will all avoid you. He doesn't fancy testing this out. His cash card doesn't work. He's hoping to sort this in the morning. Maybe they will stay here two nights and then go to Ha Long Bay. He loves us all very much. He actually writes this, to his brother.

Tuesday night.

In the evening I go with some friends to see Death of a Salesman. We sit in the stalls. A tall man with an enormous head sits directly in front of me. I scrunch to the left in my seat to get a view of the stage and he moves his enormous head to the left. I scrunch to the right and he moves his enormous head to the right. He spends the first half of the play moving his enormous head rapidly from left to right.

In the interval I get up and go to the bar with a friend. "I'm going to get a gin and tonic," I say. "Good idea," she says. I order a gin and tonic. "One measure or two?" says the girl behind the bar. "Half," I say, "I'd rather not have a full measure, please." "I have to serve you a full measure," she says, "it's the law," and she pours me a full measure. I ask for a second glass and as she stands and watches I pour half the measure back into it and hand it to her. "Thank you," I say, although really I am thanking her for nothing.

I go back to my seat. The man with the enormous head sways even more but some of the action has moved left of stage so I have a better view, for a while. Then the action resumes centre stage and his enormous head is in the way again. I drink my gin and tonic and pretend the play is on the radio.

Wednesday afternoon.

It's very hot. 

"Bad news, I'm afraid," says Youngest, when I open the front door to let him in after school. 

"What?" I say.

"I put my blazer down in the playground at lunchtime and when I went back to get it it was gone. It's not my fault."

"Right," I say. "That's not bad news. I sewed your name in it. It will turn up."

"It has my glasses in the pocket," he says.

"Okay," I say. "Come and have your eye drops."

He needs eye drops because he has bad hay fever and rubbed his eyes so much that one became infected.

He lies on the low bench in the kitchen as I prepare to squeeze the drops into his eyes. "I hate this with a passion," he says.

Later we go to his parents' evening at school. It's incredibly hot. We have to queue to see his subject teachers. I count how many sets of parents are in front of us to see the English teacher. Nine. When we get to the front she tells us she's not worried about him anymore because he met his target.

Thursday evening.

I'm going to the Luna Cinema screening of Zoolander on the common with some friends. Before I go I check my email. Again. And I ask Middle One if he has heard anything more from Facebook. Again. He hasn't. But I do have a message from one of the other mothers, "Have you heard anything?" it says. 

We watch Zoolander. I've seen it a few times before. It's a silly film but I like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Actually I really like Owen Wilson, and there's some good music in it. 

It's a warm evening with a huge yellow moon low in the sky. People all over the world are able to see that exact same huge yellow moon, I think. What time will it be in Vietnam? Four am? Something like that. I imagine that huge yellow moon looking down on Ha Long Bay, where Eldest is asleep on a boat, somewhere. Maybe. I hope.

The blazer turned up.

Love E x