Saturday, 25 September 2010

Spencer (or what a very mad world this is)

Just under a week ago, Spencer came into my life.
Of course, I didn't know his name then; that came later. And, to be honest, I didn't much like him at first.
It all began last Monday, and I captured the slightly inauspicious start on Twitter:
"And....I opened the front door and walked face first into a cobweb. Yeeuch."
The spider got me again the following day - sticky strands of web left trailing across my hair as I knocked him to the floor.
Surprisingly, my request on Twitter for ways to move him on, actually came up with a number of responses. I couldn't bring myself to squirt hairspray on the web, although apparently that would have done the trick. And naturally I quickly dismissed Philip's suggestion that we might clean the house.
By day three, I thought I'd got smart. I remembered the web booby trap, remembered to open my eyes, and ducked as I left home for work.
It was early. I hadn't reckoned on the neighbours being up and about. I'd missed a web hair-do, but my smugness was diminished when I realised the man across the road had been watching my very odd ducking behaviour.
By day four, the spider had worked out that living in the doorway was just too hazardous; he'd moved to the window frame. As I looked out before setting off to work, the early morning sun glinted on the diamante dewdrops caught on the web.
And a strange thing happened. Before I'd even thought of it, I'd received a Tweet asking me how the spider was. From someone I don't even know.
What the ???
Next day I was working at home. No need to rush out the door, no need to even think about the outside world for a while, but I found myself drawn to the front window to check if the spider was still there.
He was. That was when I decided to give him a name.
My Twitter friends seemed to like the name, they soon picked it up. He was no longer just a spider, he was Spencer the Spider.
And so, it went on until today. Saturday; the one day in the week I really, really want to lie in bed. I should have known better than to reach for my phone and check Twitter.
It was only just gone 8 o'clock and someone had already asked me for a Spencer update.
"I'm worried about Spencer. It was a cold night"
My relaxing lie-in was ruined, I felt compelled to go downstairs and check.
He was fine. In fact he'd had a busy night, spinning spider silk down from the window, across the bench and into the log pile. It looked beautiful. I began to wonder, if we left him alone for long enough, whether he might eventually cover the whole front of the house in webs, trapping me like a princess in my castle.
During the day, references to Spencer kept creeping into our conversation. Philip asked if I was planning to change the cat's name to Marks (so we'd have Marks & Spencer).
I suggested I could write a children's book, my beloved wanted to elaborate - he wanted a story from Spencer's perspective; telling just how the spider felt when the idiot woman walked through his web day after day.
So now it's Saturday evening. As I sit here typing this, I've no idea if there will be a spider outside tomorrow. I'm not sure how I'll feel if he's upped and disappeared.
And I can't help but wonder what sort of mad, mad world  it is, where I decide to make a pet of a spider, and where people I love, and people who I've never met, indulge and encourage my insanity.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Nearly 22 years later......

It was an early morning dash to the hospital. I'd left it to the last minute. This was my fourth child - so I reckoned I knew what to expect. A couple of hours and a fair amount of swearing later, there she was.
Megan Elizabeth, my Meggie Moo, a whopping 10lbs 1oz and far hairier than you might expect, but beautiful nonetheless. The last of my children, forever and a day, my baby girl.
So, why am I writing about her today? It's not her birthday, she's not about to leave home. She hasn't just announced her intention to get married / travel the world / take herself off to a nunnery. Nothing significant, nothing earth-shattering. And yet, something is changing.
A few weeks ago she passed her driving test. Tonight, when we both got in from work, she wanted me to look at AutoTrader with her, to help her buy a car.
Of course I'm pleased that she passed her test - not least because I'd given a promise, as a 21st birthday present, that I would pay for however many lessons  she needed to get her through.
And now that she's legally allowed to drive, of course I want her to be able to do so. I realise there might even be a chance, every now and then, that she will pick me up, or take me somewhere.
So all is good.  And things are moving on as I'd hoped and expected they might. Except...except....

I've always been the one who took her places.
....... the trips backwards and forwards, night after night, to her dancing lessons, singing along to the songs of the Beautiful South. With my choice of music making its way, indelibly, into her brain. I need a little time our inappropriate duet.
........the time I set out in a hideous snow storm to see her perform in Fiddler on the Roof at school, because I couldn't bear that she wouldn't have anyone there to watch her, and the hairy scary, slipping, sliding drive home again.
........the journey to Leeds University, where she sobbed every inch of the way
........the trip back home again, with me pretending I was cross that she'd given up university, when really I was just pleased to have her back.
........the countless lifts to the station, to her friends' houses, to visit family; all with a backdrop of overly loud singing to songs from musicals.
I know that there will be plenty of other trips. I'm sure I'll still be driving her around for years - particularly when she finds out just how much it costs to insure a car.
But today, I can't help but feel just a tiny bit sad.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

A casual remark

'Everybody uses a lot of phrases without understanding what they really mean, me included'
This is the opening sentence of a recent post from one of my favourite bloggers - Mr London Street. And, as often happens with his writing, it set me thinking - not only about how we use sayings with little thought for their meaning, but also about the way that things we say are perceived and received by others. And how, in turn they come to define who we are and how others think about us and remember us.
A few months ago I was doing the 'concerned mother' bit with my gorgeous daughter, who had been overdoing it a bit and was feeling somewhat jaded. 
'Ok Mum, I know what you're going to say'
'You're going to tell me that I've been burning the candle at both ends. You always say that.'
Not only could I not remember ever having said it, I was dumbfounded to discover that it was something Megan expected me to say.
There are other phrases I know I use - 'you'll miss me when I'm gone' is one I'm least proud of - it usually earns the loving retort 'shall I help you pack' from one or other of my offspring.  
I remember, many years ago, getting stuck in a traffic queue one day, with them all sitting in the car. As we reached the head of the queue we saw a workman operating a 'Stop / Go' board. 


Without any thought, I commented - 'that's where you'll end up if you don't work hard at school'. Not exactly Ideal-Mother-Motivational-Speaking, but I didn't think much more about it, until I later heard it repeated by one of the kids. It's now become a standard 'family phrase' - one of those sayings that everyone in the family knows and expects.
At work, I've developed various coping mechanisms for when it all gets too much. My favourite has always been a shared team shake of the head and a loud shout of 'it's all bollocks' - never fails to bring some perspective.
When I stop to think about it - there are certain phrases, just a few words, in a particular order, that belong to people I know or have known and loved. Words that automatically bring with them a picture of that person. 
I don't have many memories of my Nan - she died when I was quite young, but to this day if anyone was to say to me 'if Ifs and Ands were pots and pans....' I would immediately be a little girl again, sitting in her flat on a Sunday morning, Two-way Family favourites on the radio, and me coveting her kitchen stool with the fold-up steps.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Atlas

More than 20 years ago, my Dad bought a copy of the Reader's Digest Atlas of the World.
It's a huge book, not only because of its size, but for all the memories and possibilities it contains.
I have it still. 

The Atlas
Slowly, travelling through the well worn pages,
we gazed at all the cities never seen.
Through villages and hamlets, habitations
in unimagined towns in distant lands,

Browsing through those unexplored ambitions,
our fingers trailed a line from port to port,
passed through settlements, portrayed as blotches,
communities as specks on mottled leaves.

Before our eyes, the swarm of dots on paper
rose up. A swirling, thrumming storm,
A buzzing lilting whirl of foreign accents.
A flowing haze of wishes unfulfilled.
Vola con me.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Travelling to Manchester

My beloved and I went to Manchester at the weekend. He did all the planning; booked our hotel, purchased the wedding gift, sorted the social arrangements. He helped me to decide which shoes to take, confirmed that my necklace matched my dress and reassured me that my hair was fine. He did all this while suffering from a horrible dose of a cold, which had sent him home early from work.
Eventually I thought I should make some small contribution to the outcome of the weekend.

Me: "do you want to take the train, or shall we go by car?"
Him: "car would be easiest, if that's ok?"
Me (while silently thinking mean, uncharitable thoughts along the lines of - "well of course it's easier for you - you can't drive") : "Yep, that's fine."
Him: "shall I sort out some CDs for the journey?"
Me (while silently thinking mean uncharitable thoughts along the lines of - "what's the worst possible thing I can inflict on him for a journey of 250 miles?") : "I thought we might listen to my new Jack Johnson CD"
Him: (total silence)

The following morning, we packed our bags and set off, hoping we'd timed it right to miss the early morning joys of the M25.
After about half an hour..
Me: "do you want to put some music on?"
Him: "I thought you were bringing Jack Johnson"
Me (trying to pretend my evil meanness of the previous day had never really existed): "But that was only a joke, you know I wouldn't really have made you listen to Jack Johnson all the way to Manchester"
Him: (total silence)

After another half an hour...
Me: "what about the radio?"
Him (suddenly springing to life and with a slightly disturbing gleam in his eye) : "do you mind if I flick?"
Me (while thinking the exact opposite) " No,of course not, see what you can find".

So, for the next five hours, while we struggled past broken down lorries, crawled through the contra-flows of endless roadworks and generally cursed the decision to travel by car, my beloved 'flicked'.
And what gems of airwave magic did he find?
His first discovery, after all the London programmes had crackled away to a whisper, was Jack FM; a station that appeared to have no presenters, just some decidedly odd pre-recorded soundbites between the tracks. Luckily, it did not specialise in Mr Johnson's music, but we never got to find out why it was called Jack.
As we drove on and Jack FM faded out of range, Philip fast-forwarded; past the mind-numbing horrors of Heart, Magic, and Smooth. He kept flicking as we reached Warwickshire where he landed at Touch Radio, a station specialising in 'songs to sing along to'. 
I was in my element. Although, strangely, my beloved seemed less than delighted that our car had become a mobile karaoke booth. He became even less amused, as in due course we drove on and out of the local radio's limited range...
Me (sniggering) : "Oh, I think we're losing Touch"
Him (silently shaking his head)
Me: "Don't you think we should keep in Touch"
Him (quietly sighing)
Me (admittedly scraping the barrel now) "Ohhh, I really wanted to stay in Touch"
And so it went on, him flicking, me shouting with glee or disdain as the miles and the radio stations slipped by.
I should have known better than to insist that we listen to the whole of Black Eyed Peas' 'I gotta feeling' . After that, it could only end badly.
And eventually, just as we got to Manchester, and as I peered wearily at the Motorway signs looking for our exit, he tuned in to 106.1 FM - Rock Radio.
The Home of Classic Rock Favourites.
In no time at all, Led Zeppelin was blasting from the radio, succeeded by the dulcet tones of ACDC then Jimi Hendrix. He had finally found his revenge.
I won't try to describe the joy with which I spotted our final destination.

But was that vengeance enough for my mean uncharitable thoughts? Apparently not.
I'm sitting in bed as I type this and I'm feeling rubbish - it's nothing major, I'm just struggling to overcome the germs that my dearly beloved shared with me so generously in the car, all the way to Manchester.
And as they say - that really will teach me