Sunday, 11 March 2012

Five minutes, more than twenty years

Saturday - Petts Wood

We lived there once.

We moved in just a week before Megan was due, I brought her home from the hospital to the first house she ever knew. As she grew up, we walked through the town almost every day, crossing and re-crossing the foot-bridge over the railway, from east to west, past the library and the church, between school, shops and home. We picked blackberries in Jubilee Park when the weather was good, pick-and-mix in Woolworths when it was bad.

We learned about the Pett family as we played in their woods. I read the faded information boards, green with the moss and damp of the surrounding trees and told my children how the Pett dynasty had built ships for the royal navy. I was busy building my own dynasty then.

In Station Square, there used to be a gentlemen's outfitters. I remember peering into the carefully dressed window as I passed on my way to the bank or the chemist, it was full of tweed jackets, cashmere scarves, woollen socks.  I never bought anything then, and I'm sorry about that now. Today it's a coffee shop.

Sitting in the window where the clothes once were, I stir my coffee and look out across the square. There's a huge pub called the Daylight Inn. It was named for William Willett, a campaigner for daylight saving. I know there's a memorial for him in the woods; a huge sundial.  Just behind the Daylight there used to be a kitchen shop, with a small office above it, where I worked for twelve hours a week while Megan was at nursery. Cornwall Lord Chartered Accountants moved away long ago; but I still remember how I used to dash out of there at lunchtime to pick Megan up, I remember how she loved to cross the road to the bakers on the corner for a hot sausage roll.

Sunday - Sidcup

We lived there once.

I was nineteen when we moved in a month after getting married, and it was the first house I ever owned. In the nine years we lived there, I learnt to cook and clean, knit and sew; I worked out what it meant to be a wife and a mother.

Today, Megan is sitting in the car beside me as we drive into Sidcup. As we go past Queen Mary's hospital, where all my children were born, she chatters on incessantly; but I'm tense and tetchy with her, not really listening to anything she says. As we pass the roundabout, where I once thought she might arrive too soon, she reaches forward and turns up the volume on the CD player and just as we've done so many times before, we both start to sing.

A few minutes later, she points to a house up ahead "there it is - the one with the white fence." I turn into the driveway carefully, trying hard not to hit the gateposts, trying hard to sneak a look at the house.

Megan's friend Lara opens the door. She's smiling as she tells us to mind the wet floor "I've been cleaning for hours" she says proudly. We follow her into the kitchen, and admire the purple accessories - the toaster that matches the washing-up bowl and the cutlery, the purple leather bar-stools and the empty glass fruit bowl. Then she takes us on a tour of the rest of the house; the other rooms are big and bare. Upstairs we look at the bedrooms; I ask questions about where the furniture will go, I smile as she describes a small bedroom as a walk-in wardrobe.

We come to a third room "And this will be my room" says Megan. I picture the room she's left behind this morning, the bed piled high with black plastic sacks full of clothes and rubbish. I try to imagine what this room will look like in a month or two, when she's settled in here and forgotten to be tidy.

I don't stay long. They both come to the door to say goodbye. "come and see us as often as you want" says Lara generously. "Not too often" adds Megan.

I drive away slowly, not really thinking about where I'm going, along streets that were once familiar. It's only five minutes from the street we once lived in. Five minutes, more than twenty years.

I remember the excitement of moving into our first house in Sidcup, the pride of bringing Megan home to her first house in Petts Wood. I know today's a good day.

I just wish it hadn't come so soon.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Casting on

I was sixteen, tall, skinny and awkward; still trying to work out what clothes suited my gangliness, still wanting a style of my own. I wanted originality, but nothing too scary, something that would make people look, but not comment and never laugh; I wanted something more than Topshop but not quite punk.

Of course, I knew how to knit, I’d made squares for charity blankets at school, ungainly mis-shapen objects that really gave new meaning to the idea of casting off. But I’d never attempted something that was actually meant to be worn, not until I saw a pattern for a sloppy joe jumper in a magazine.

So I took the bus to Brixton, to the old Littlewoods store, where I'd seen shelves of wool stacked up high. The pattern told me how many balls I needed, but I hadn't yet learnt about yarn weights, or plys, needle sizes or tensions, so I simply picked the colour I liked best, a soft flecked grey, and some thick metal needles that felt smooth and cool in my hands.

I started knitting as soon as I got home, no messing about with tension squares, I just launched straight in. The two T-shaped pieces of knitting were thrown together with much more enthusiasm than expertise  and, of course, the yarn was too thin for the needles. My joe was very definitely on the sloppy side, but that didn't matter; I’d experienced the irresistible alchemy of taking a long straight piece of yarn and turning into something else. And since then, there’s never been a time when somewhere in the house I haven’t had a bag of wool, a stack of needles, a pile of patterns and a half finished piece of magic. 

I've often wondered what it is about knitting that captured me all those years ago, and has held me ever since. No doubt there's an element of pride in making something myself, a genuine pleasure in taking months to make a gift for someone else.  There's the way the continuous action relaxes and soothes, even the knowledge that I'm continuing a craft that's been around for hundreds of years.

Recently though, I've realised there's something else.  When I knit, I watch something take shape and grow. I have a picture in my mind of how it will turn out, though I'm never quite sure till it's finished. There are a limited number of stitches, but I can use them in a thousand different ways, and it's up to me which ones I choose and how I put them together.   I can work on it a little at a time, make it shorter or longer, bring together different threads, or try a different style. And if I'm not happy with how it's turning out, I can unpick it all and start again.

It's really just like writing a story.