Friday, 25 September 2015

We say good-bye and drive away.

"Thank you for my childhood," he says. Then we say good-bye and drive away. Last Sunday. I look out of the car window. Each mile forward, a further mile away. So much to leave behind. However much I don't want it to be, this is a line drawn in the sand, the end of something as well as the beginning of something. It's the beginning of his independent life, his proper first steps out into the world. It's the end of family life as we knew it. Things will never be the same again. He's right: his childhood is over. In truth it was over some time ago but I had my eyes covered and my fingers in my ears and was la-la-la-ing loudly, so I couldn't see or hear that it was gone.

I can't ignore it now. His room at home is 'ransacked' - to use a word he once employed when he was about six years old and outraged that I'd tidied it up - most of his belongings gone. Things have changed. We will be four and not five. There will be food left in the fridge and fewer pairs of shoes in the hall. He's grown. Evolved. Moved on. Aged. As we all have. As I have. And that's another thing your child leaving home makes you do, it makes you see forward into your own future, to places you don't want to look...

We say good-bye and drive away, incredible though it may seem. And now there's silence in the car and I'm trying to keep it together. "Put your audio book on," Husband says, when we're only minutes away, "that Ali Smith thing." 

I need to read it for book group and I've run out of time. Husband bought it for the long car journey home. It seemed like a good idea.

Ali Smith! What do I care for Ali Smith now? But I scroll down my iPhone and find it. It hasn't downloaded, it's on the iCloud. "It hasn't downloaded," I say.

What is downloading is my son's life in my head, unbidden. Not just the teen in the car park but the new-born baby looking through me in those first few moments at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital as dawn broke outside; the toddler sitting proudly in a puddle in a farm yard, his nappy ballooning with filthy water; the little boy laughing on the beach under the sun umbrella, ice-cream clutched to his face; the child running out of the foaming sea, arms outstretched toward the camera, toward me.

All of it running faster and faster away as the car speeds forward. Each lamp post and lay-by passed, another moment gone forever: a hug, a bedtime story, a game we played, fun in the park, a streak of tears, a flutter of kisses, finger paintings, dress-up time, Play-Doh, Sellotape, Pritt Stick, sticks and stones, programmes he loved, songs we sang, sicknesses he had, schools he went to, plays he was in, assemblies, guitars, skateboards, jokes he told, music he loved, friends who called round, shouts up the stairs, laughter, rows, fights with his brother, clumsiness, infuriation, infatuation, all of it left behind in a university car park, September 2015.

I would not cry, not then. I said, "I love you. Have a great time. I am happy to be leaving you in such a lovely place." And then we said good-bye and drove away. But my heart is still there.

"Oh for God's sake!" says Husband, "are you sure the book isn't there? That cost 12 quid!"

Love E x


P.S. I know he'll be home in the holidays.

So that's a bit of bathos for you there at the end.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Leaving home? Then you must go to IKEA.

A Wednesday lunchtime in September and the kitchen department at IKEA is overrun with mothers and sons. Turns out there's a customer demographic I knew nothing about. Besides prospective parents buying cots and stacks of those colourful plastic plates all homes with off-spring must have, apparently, IKEA also caters for parents at the other end of the spectrum, with children about to leave home. I'm one of them.

"But I won't need a milk pan at uni, mum!" I overhear a boy saying. The boy is tall and baby-faced, the mother trailing behind him, arms laden with duvet and pans, has blonde highlights and Converse trainers. It's like looking in a mirror. Move away quick! I think, we are not like these people. But the truth is, we are these people.

I pick a wok and some towels, among other things. He adds fairy lights and a cactus. We have a lovely time and as we're leaving he says, "This is blog post gold." So here it is.

I also want to buy a car. Not for him but for me. I will NOT roll up at university in that crappy twelve year-old Vauxhall Zafira. I'm not even sure it will get us there. So just to add to the pressure, the sense that time is running out on us, I'm trying to find something to part-exhange our knackered Zafira for. I don't really care what it is, just so long as I can play music and talk on the phone while I'm in it, and that it goes.

Right up to the wire, on Thursday evening before we're due to set off with all his belongings on Friday morning, a car salesman at the local Ford dealership comes up with something: an S-Max, our old car can be part-exchanged.

"Should I take this old radio out?" I say to Eldest, as we empty the Zafira together. We've already removed most of the plastic detritus floating in the foot wells, McDonald's toys from yesteryear and half-empty water bottles, the radio I bought from Halfords some time back to stick my iPhone in just feels like another piece of flotsam. It doesn't even fit the space properly, sinking back ever more deeply into the crevice each time I press a button.

"Yes!" says Eldest. It's a teenage boy's dream: permission to vandalise a car. He dashes back to the house for a screwdriver.

At the garage the red S-Max Titanium sits gleaming on the forecourt. It has tinted back windows and leather seats which you can heat up with the press of a button. It has a panoramic roof to watch the clouds roll by as you sit in the back. It has built in Sat Nav and a bluetooth phone system. It has keyless entry, which means you need only hover in the general vicinity and you can open the car. This freaks me out. Will it open itself as I walk past to go to the shops? Will I have to take an MA in electronics to work out how to use this thing?

We sit at a desk and the salesman fills out the paperwork. He tries to sell me insurance, for scratches, for wheels, for things he says my regular insurance won't cover. So that's insurance for my insurance. I'm not having any of it. He asks me to sign God knows how many pieces of paper, all of which I question in minute detail until his tone becomes a tad exasperated. It becomes even frostier after he spots something sitting on the edge of the desk in front of Eldest: the battered radio. I can't quite believe Eldest put it there. I pop it in my bag as the salesman watches.

"I'm just going to check on your old car," he says, and dashes off.  When he returns he asks if I have, "The radio fascia, to put back."

"The what?" I say.

"The radio fascia, from the Zafira."

I assume he doesn't mean the radio he just saw sitting on the desk, the one I popped in my bag as he watched, or he'd say so. I assume he must be asking for something else, something I don't have. Honest. I tell him this, repeatedly, until it finally twigs that he does mean the radio he just saw me pop in my bag.

"Oh that!" I say, "The radio. I bought that in Halfords. It didn't come with the car. It's ours. He removed it." I point to Eldest. (Turns out there's no honour amongst thieves.)

"She told me to do it," says Eldest. (See what I mean?)

"Well it's no use to you," says the salesman, "I need it to sell your car."

"Sell it?" says Eldest, "you can't sell that, it's only good for scrap!"

I sheepishly hand over the radio. Under the circumstances I think it's the least I can do.

Love E x


P.S. We left our resident parking permit inside. Do you think the salesman will post it back to me if I ask nicely? 
No, me neither.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

I've just seen a face.

It's Sunday night at the London Palladium and four of us are here to see Jerry Lee Lewis. Husband and Middle One are very keen on Jerry Lee Lewis. Eldest and I are on a A Ticket To Ride. Youngest is too… well, young.

It's Jerry Lee's 80th Birthday Tour. Not exactly a Magical Mystery Tour, more just London and Glasgow. Let's face it, there probably won't be another. As Mike Read says in his rambling intro up there on stage, this is the last great Rock And Roll Music concert in London. Probably. And despite Going In And Out Of Style, I'll Tell You Something, Jerry Lee still has this - rather ageing - audience eating out of his talented hands.

He opens with an old classic, and one of the first songs Husband ever played me from his eccentric record collection in his room at university, when it was just the Two Of Us. It's Drinking Wine Spo-dee O-dee, although Husband played me the Stick McGhee version. I can't say I really got it at the time, my musical taste lay elsewhere, and still does, but I remember it like it was Yesterday.

I was probably the only teenage girl in north Yorkshire in the 80s with a Beatles obsession (get it now?). It certainly felt like it. Everyone else was in love with Simon Le Bon or Adam Ant. I guess that's what happens when you Think For Yourself and grow up in a house booming with Beatles music. Because my father lectured about The Beatles as part of his undergrad 60s course, and wrote a compilation of their lyrics with one of his students when we lived in Vancouver. It took him Years To Write and was called Things We Said Today. (Available on Amazon.)

For a while I liked The Beatles in an ordinary kind of way and then one Dead Of Night, when I should have been Sleeping Like A Log, I dreamt I was at one of their concerts and that was it: I woke up obsessed. Gradually I saved up and bought every one of their records. Vinyl. Actually there was this Norwegian boy, Horgan, younger than me, friends with my brother, who had the hots for me and bought me Abbey Road and the White Album. I've only just remembered that! True story. Maybe a Norwegian Would? (Okay, I'm cheating a bit there.)

I joined the Beatles fan club. Put posters of them all over my walls. Played only Beatles music at my 16th birthday disco until all my friends wanted to kill me. I was Dizzy Miss Lizzy, probably needed Help, and nearly had a breakdown when at the zenith of my mania someone shot John Lennon. Bang, bang. Happiness was not Warm Gun. Silly Girl, I Gently Weeped all the way to school and most of my class showed up at the gates to see my reaction. 

Much later, all grown up, I saw Paul McCartney in concert (Earls Court, Monday 21st April 2003). When he suddenly appeared on stage, belting out the first line of Hello Goodbye, I was moved to tears. (I've seen him A Second Time since at the Hammersmith Apollo.)

So I'm pretty keen to see Jerry Lee, because of course he was a huge influence on The Beatles. But I'm even keener when after the interval, just before Jerry Lee comes on, I spot a member of staff with a walkie-talkie leading a group down the aisle and suddenly catch a glimpse of a Face I Can't Forget. Close up. Ringo!

"Oh my God it's Ringo!" I say to Eldest, who shares my appreciation for all things Beatle, "and he's tiny!"

"They're all tiny," says Eldest, beaming. (Not quite true, but none of them were/are up to my 6 ft benchmark).

Ringo Starr! Yes It Is. He walked right past us. He's about to sit in the same section of the stalls as us, albeit a hell of a lot nearer to the stage, and breathe the exact same air. 

At the end of the concert the boys want to hang out at the stage door.  Middle One hopes to see Jerry Lee and guitarists Albert Lee and James Burton (no, me neither, played with Elvis apparently). I say You Can't Do That, it's too uncool, but then I hang out with them anyway because maybe we'll see Ringo again; he was up there on the stage at the end, presenting Jerry Lee with a birthday cake.

Middle One lucks out and gets a photo with Albert Lee and a glimpse of James Burton. There's no sign of Jerry Lee or Ringo so I say sorry But It's Time To Go, I'm So Tired and we need to Get Back before the tube stops.

Your Sincerely, Wasting Away, All You Need Is Love, Love Me Do, She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,

E x

Phew. (Okay, I cheated a bit and used lyrics as well as song titles. It's been pointed out!)


P.S. Taking Eldest to university this weekend.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Guess How Much I Love You.

We're home and it's raining, just for a change, and Eldest wants a lift somewhere. The perfect moment to ask him for a favour.

"That's fine," I say, "but can you just help me carry these picture books up from the basement to the car first?" 

It's time for a clear-out so I'm taking some of our massive stash to the charity shop down the road.

He happily obliges, but then as we're shoving books into plastic bags he stops, book in hand: "Not this one!"

It's a book he remembers me reading to him when he was little, so we put it aside. "Okay," I say, "maybe not that one."

Somehow trying to get rid of just a fraction of our many picture books sums it all up: his childhood, the past, moving on, the fact that he's about to go to university…

Can't you sleep … In a dark, dark house…. When Max wore his wolf suit ... All the way to the moon and back again… And all of Daddy's beer… Rapscallion cat… She swooped through the trees… Each peach… Look what the caterpillar turned into!

It's his childhood soundtrack, played on constant repeat in my head. When I'm old and all my faculties have finally gone, head lolling, dribbling down the front of my polycotton blouse (please don't put me in a polycotton blouse), I will still be able to recite the whole of Owl Babies perfectly from beginning to end, and Where The Wild Things Are and We're Going On A Bear Hunt and Guess How Much I Love You and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Tiger Who Came to Tea...

I loved reading to them when they were little, even when they were not so little. I was never very keen on getting down on the floor with Lego or trains or doing a jigsaw, but give me three wide-eyed little boys and a rainy afternoon, throw in a massive supply of picture books because I used to work in children's publishing and then children's television (Jackanory for one), and then briefly reviewed picture books for a children's books magazine. Add a mother who's a bit of a frustrated performer ("I was in plays at uni you know,") and there you have it, a perfect storm, no, a veritable blizzard of storytelling. 

The rise and fall of a beautifully honed text, written by a genius such as Martin Waddell or Michael Rosen (I've met both, the first, grumpy, the second, charming) is a pleasure to read aloud. Worn smooth sounds that roll from the tongue to fall as a series of heartfelt kisses atop a rapt child's head.

You might not be able to see his expression, as you both face forward looking at the illustrations together, but you can certainly feel his frozen attention. A small boy, lost in a fantasy of owls and hares and bear hunts. Is there anything better than a moment like that? Is there any gift more precious you can offer a child? There isn't. Except, perhaps, for a lift when it's raining.

Love E x


P.S. Did you see the article in the Guardian by Emma Brockes (this August 27th) about starting to see sub-texts in picture books where none is intended? She wrote that perhaps The Tiger Who Came to Tea is really about stay-at-home mums. Agree!