Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Can't you write it on the wall?

The weekend was all about things said and things left unsaid.

It was my parents Golden Wedding anniversary, and, while just about all the people who attended their wedding are dead or not well enough to travel for a night out, they had invited remaining family and friends to a local venue for a meal.

On Friday, the girl came home from York for it. My brother and his wife travelled from the Isle of Wight, and I got a phone call from my father on Friday evening saying that he'd like to meet up with my brother and myself before the party, at a specific time, and just us, no partners.

This threw me into an anxiety that I haven't known for some time. My parents don't tend to formalise things, and we don't really do shared emotion. My father told me on the phone when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, and has continued to update me in that way about the ups and downs of his condition. Partly, I'm busy, and I don't see enough of them. Partly, maybe it's about allowing us both the space to absorb difficult news. How bad could it be, if he wanted us in a room together, and without our families?

Me and my brother, his wife and Ms K (who lived with my parents in her teens and who is a big part of their lives still) met for coffee in the morning, and ran through what they could be planning to tell us. Because we were both convinced that it would be health related, and bad, our suggestions got wilder and wilder as we tried to think what the hell else it could be. My brother was betting on that he was going to tell us we're adopted. I thought he might be going to reveal he had a second family. Or they were going bankrupt. Or he was standing for UKIP in the election. Or they were disinheriting us in favour of the Cat Protection League. We both said that the worst, the very worst, news would be if  there was an expectation on us to make a speech that evening. Laughing about the worst news that it could be, with the shadow of what would really be worst, like an image on an x-ray where light doesn't go through.

In the end, when the two of us gathered and sat next to each other on their small, uncomfortable sofa, lined up like children waiting for the adults to tell us how the world is going to change, he handed us each an envelope with a cheque in it. An amount that will allow my brother to start saving for a new kitchen, and that will allow us to go back to Crete for a holiday, this year or next. An act of generosity, no words, no drama. Who knows why he did it that way? Maybe there were things he wanted to say, but couldn't when it came to it, out of long years of us covering up the important stuff with laughter, or a stiff upper lip. With a love that is implied, and real, and there, but not talked about.

In the same way, neither of us made a speech that night, in a room full of people celebrating my parents long marriage. And I might always regret that I didn't take the opportunity to say the things that should be said.

What we should have said, my brother and I, is that we know how lucky we are to have parents who have always given us an example of a loving relationship, with a mutual respect that has allowed them each to grow. We should have said that at the core of us is a knowledge that we are loved and while each of us has tested the relationship we have with them, ultimately, they are firmly on our side. We should have talked about the way they face up to new challenges, with humour and determination to make the best of things, and always the two of them, together. And we should have acknowledged their influence on the way we live our lives, the way they have always spent their work and their leisure time in activities that try to make the world a fairer place. They did it differently from the way that me and my brother do, but our choices of career, our passions and convictions, can be traced back to their example.


Yesterday my dad was having the first in a series of chemotherapy treatments, to manage some of the effects of his lymphoma. On my way home from work, I got a call from my mum to say that he had reacted badly, and would be spending the night in hospital. I diverted my course, picked her up, and we went together to take him pyjamas and a book. He was surrounded by nurses, upright, cheerful, making the best of it. "Hello love", he said to me, the way he always does.

I Should Live in Salt - The National

Thursday, 26 February 2015


Every week, Kale and Beans and Ot and Et provide themes for reflection and contemplation, and invite people to link up with their responses. This weeks themes are calling, going, breaking, taking, wondering.

Last night an old friend was calling to tell me how her first week in a new home had gone. She and her family have moved out of East London, and are now a little bit closer to us. I first met her when I was new in Greece, when she knocked on the door and took me for a drink. We have had some unique and unforgettable experiences together. Twenty + years on from first meeting, I think we are only now realising how alike we are.

I have been going for long after dark walks with Goldie and the dog, so that Goldie can practice his skills on his new penny board. It's good, in that he nags me up and out into air and physical action after a long day at work, and the dog appreciates it. But it's a little nerve-wracking. He is at an age where my 'be carefuls' are worse than useless, and  I wouldn't be able to catch him to prevent a fall. I guess I'm there to pick up the pieces, and to give him lots of praise, in a quiet, undemonstrative and very specific stylie, to avoid embarrassment. "You've got better in just a week!" "Have I? Have I actually? How much better?" "70%" "Really?" Yes, my love, really, I am able to measure your skills in travelling on a truncated skate board mathematically and precisely. 14 year old boys are such a mash up of cool and needy, know it all and believe everything. He is over 6ft tall with size 11 feet, and there is still an element of "watch me mum!", and I pretend to while trying not to, so scared am I of him falling and breaking some essential part of himself.

Today I am taking the opportunity to meet up with someone who has offered me some time as a sort of mentor/ advisor/ supporter in my work role. I am a little scared - he is very impressive, and I am very not. But I guess that's the underpinning of whatever it is we're doing. Over a coffee, he will teach me impressiveness. Prepare to be impressed.

Argh, I have screwed up in a small/big way that is playing on my mind in something that risks becoming a "you're so stupid, you can't do anything right" soundtrack in my head. Anyway, it's left me wondering what to do with two spare Elvis Costello tickets that I bought by mistake. I went online to book for me and Ms M and somehow managed to go through checkout twice. Which equates to £90 I didn't mean to spend. A very small disaster, really, but I feel bad. We don't have a spare £90. Anybody want a couple of tickets to see Elvis Costello play in Cambridge in June?

Monday, 23 February 2015


Five days with 14 year old Goldie was lovely, really lovely. But he's noisy, you know? And he forgets that he's over 6 foot tall now, and strong. He'll still occasionally throw himself at me as though he's a toddler, totally absent of any thought of consequence, powered by sheer exuberance.

Anyway, we had a great time. We had 24 hours in Edinburgh during which time we climbed Arthurs Seat, then took a wrong turning coming down and I, basically, fell back down to street level. Not all in one fall, luckily, just repeated trips and stumbles on a very steep and muddy path. We walked up to the castle and went into the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery, and met an old friend for lunch. Then we headed off into the hills.

I had arranged to stay with my cousin Fru and her family. I love Fru. She is tall, like me, and we make each other laugh. Her oldest son is the same age as Goldie, and we all relish time together. The differences in our sons upbringing is startling, though. The village where my cousin lives is inhabited almost exclusively by people working in the Aberdeen oil industry. It is very beautiful, and very privileged. Fru's sons have access to mountains and rivers and space. They ski and snow board, and kayak and climb, as, it seems, do all the other children in the village in a constant round of healthy outdoor pursuit. But in other ways they're very sheltered, less aware of difference, with far less exposure to all the benefits of diversity. It looks like the ideal childhood, what they have, and on an individual level maybe it is. But (apart from my deeply held concerns about the oil industry that would mean I would be in constant conflict with the whole interlinked community) (oh, and earning about a fifth of what would be needed to buy even a shed there) I don't think it's what I would want for my two, and definitely not for me.

I had a day's work to do while I was up there. It is a strange longstanding agreement whereby I travel to the foot of Ben Nevis to spend a day with a group of people. It shouldn't really be part of my role any more - I'm not even part of the responsible team now - but I cling to the task fiercely, because the 3 hour drive to their from Fru's is via what must be one of the most beautiful roads in the world, right across the Cairngorm mountains. I have to keep stopping to take photos and to just stand in that landscape and catch my breath. It's stunning. There was some snow on the mountains, but on my way over it was a clear day, with endless views and sharp, bight air. The space felt immensely healing.

I set off back well before dark, but about halfway, down an uneven track with no sign of human habitation, I realised I had a flat tyre. And no spare because my car is a weird eco car which saves as much weight as possible by not worrying about things like spare tyres (never mind that I counteract that by throwing in boots and coats and ridiculous things that who knows I might need one day - not as much as I might need a tyre, hey?). Not that I would have had the first clue as to how to change a tyre, to be honest. Luckily I did have a mobile signal, and between us, myself and the breakdown operator managed to work out where I probably was, and it all got sorted. But by then it was dark and cold and a wet snow was falling. Still, I made it back.

Meanwhile, Goldie had spent a day with Fru . They climbed a waterfall, visited a small, pink castle, ate pizza and brownies, and Goldie drove Fru's car up a farm track. When I got back, late, cold, tired and achy, he was watching a Liverpool match and exuding happiness and satisfaction. Pretty much a perfect day for him.

We set off the next day, back south, stopping for a night with the girl in York. She is pissed off with her boyfriend and has taken his name off her phone and has taken to calling him No Name (a reference to a character in one of our favourite films, Spirited Away). The three of us cuddled on a sofa under blankets and watched Celebrity Bake Off and Gogglebox.

There were other lovely things - another cousin turned up for a visit and I got to cuddle her 4 month old daughter, and we climbed a hill and had a picnic, and the night skies were clear and endless. And I got to see and cuddle my own, grown girl. And I had a half term away with my noisy, exuberant boy.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

500 miles

Goldie and I are leaving early in the morning to head away for a week. Really early, because Goldie likes the adventure of that, and I'm usually awake by then anyway and like the idea of getting a good way up north on still empty roads. So the alarm is set for 4am.

There are a couple of reasons why it doesn't feel like the best timing. Snake, the most balanced, sane of people is having a hard time at work at the moment, and it's tipping him a little, making him question his own ability, his place in the system that is meant to keep people safe and sometimes struggles to do so . Unlike me, he doesn't relish extended time alone, and he is expecting to find the week lonely and empty. I wish he could come with us, or that I could be here to remind why he does one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and why it's worth doing.

And, it's our anniversary this week, at least, our official wedding anniversary. It's not something that we particularly celebrate, since getting married was a sort of after thought for us, but still, it feels wrong that I'm heading up to where we got married, without him.

Plus, on Friday, just a couple of hours after finishing work, I started to feel achy and shaky and deeply tired, and it's developed into an energy draining cold that just needs to work it's way through my system. It will go, but not quickly enough.

But, still, I'm off to see beautiful places with my beautiful son, and I am excited to do that. While I'm gone I'm likely to miss another anniversary - this week, this blog will be 3 years old.

The Proclaimers - 500 Miles

Thursday, 12 February 2015


This is a Currently post hosted by Ot and Et and Kale and Beans, who provide weekly themes. This week they are falling, talking, warming, seeing, saying.

I am annoyed at myself for falling for my Smiths loving colleagues tricks in a big meeting this week, when he managed to infiltrate two quotes before I'd even caught my breath. "Ahhh, meat is murder" he said in a pre-meeting discussion, and then, as he introduced me as the speaker he managed to get in a reference to there is a light. I'd meant to incorporate a "stop me if you've heard this one before" and a "I know it's serious" into my talk, but he won this round.

As part of the project I am leading at work, I am travelling around talking to lots of individuals and groups of people, and feeling happier and more comfortable with that than I ever would have thought possible. There is something about being, by default, the expert in a subject I genuinely find hopeful and exciting that allows me to talk confidently and with some enthusiasm.

Finally, I am warming to the idea of the MA, having found (I think) a research question. I plan to run away from my family for a few hours to spend Sunday in the uni library pulling it all together a little.

Over the next week, Goldie and I are going to be seeing good friends and beautiful sights, when we head off first to Edinburgh, then up into the Scottish highlands, then across the mountains from East to West, with a stop off to see the girl on our way back down south. It's hundreds of miles of driving, and part of why I'm going is to do a piece of work up there in the mountains (a long story) but there is going to be plenty of good stuff, and both Goldie and I are looking forward to going off alone together. We work well as a team.

Once again, for the second week running, I'm saying to myself that I can't drink large volumes of wine on a school night. It was a good evening, out with a good friend, but really. REALLY. I'm way too old for mid week wine induced next morning grogginess.