Monday, 18 April 2011

Memories are made of this.

My Great-Aunty Glad was 4ft 9in, Welsh, single and lived in a one bedroom flat in Kings Cross, London until she passed away at 84. She worked well past retirement age in the post room of a store called 'Knobs and Knockers' (I jest not), had a passion for frogs and all things green, smoked two cigarettes every day: one after the other at 6pm along with her daily whisky, was good friends with a wonderfully eccentric gay couple long before it was widely 'acceptable' and was the most selfless lady you would ever meet. She was once briefly married, but always managed to avoid answering our questions about him.

Aunty Glad with me, rocking my shades!

My sister, brother and I frequently stayed with her for weekends, squishing into her flat and sleeping top and tale on the z-bed while the favoured one (we took it in turns) got to share her small double.  She would take us to see the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace declaring that we had seen it so many times we could change them ourselves: grey coats in winter, red the rest of the time, "march, left, right, left, right,  'ttenshun". We would copy them all the way back up the Mall to feed the ducks in St James's Park. Later she would take us on the 14-stop tube journey to Osterly to visit my lovely nan (her sister) where we said, without fail at every stop, "How many stops noooooow?". How annoying we must have been for other passengers, but Aunty Glad was always calm and smiling. What I later realised was that this tiny lady was regularly taking three small children for the weekend to give my parents breathing space and this was her way to wear us out and keep us out of her tiny flat for as long as possible.

Her flat was so small that the rolltop bath tub was under her kitchen worktop and she had a sign on the back of the loo door declaring it 'The smallest Ty Bach in London' (Welsh for toilet). When we arrived we would cannon in through the front door to be met by the overwhelmingly welcoming scent of what I now know was Channel No 5. Aunty Glad had a china cabinet bursting with the most amazing finds from her travels. She would let us play with our favourite things: mine was a beautiful miniature set of Limoges furniture from France which I loved to endlessly arrange into room settings. I was horrified when I accidentally chipped one of the chairs when a large stone dog fell on it while I was getting it out.

But the thing I remember the most was her biscuit tin full of buttons which she kept under her bed. I would spend hours sitting on her bedroom floor tipping them out, making patterns, sorting them into colours, just running them through my fingers; touching them.

We were adults when she passed on and were asked what we would like as a memory of Aunty Glad. Please, just the buttons, I said. But they had gone. In the weeks prior to her death Aunty Glad started distributing her possessions. Her sad friends would leave with arms laden so she knew 'things had gone to the right place'. To larger items still in use, such as her rocking chair, she sellotaped notes: "Lorna", or her standard lamp: "Barry". I can only hope the precious button tin made its way to somebody with equally special memories. I was lucky enough to receive the precious Parisian furniture. And her favourite bug-eyed stuffed frog, Ferdinand.

When I started my own family I decided we too needed a button tin. Over the years I've added to it, snipping the spare on new clothes and those beyond the charity shop are de-buttoned before sending out for recycling. And even though none of Aunty Glad's buttons ever made it into my tin, I am convinced when I open it there is a waft of Channel No. 5. Because precious belongings and experiences that touch all our senses nestle in our minds as memories to launch themselves at us when we least expect it. I love that many of the joys my own children are living are storing up in their little brains as memories to relay to their future offspring, and perhaps for blogs they may one day share about their childhood.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

And the moral of the story is...

When I bought my house, one of the prices I paid was the lack of parking. My house has no drive, but I fell in love, and it's perfectly located for just about everything: schools, shops, friends. It's not terrible, and I gave myself a stiff talking to before I signed on the dotted line that I was not allowed to get hung up and that I would never be one of those people who moved their car if a space became available outside their house. Yeah, well if only I listened to myself when we have these stiff talks I might be a better person. I have never moved my car just to get outside the house (well ok, once, but I wanted to wash it and made overbright noises to the DDs so I didn't seem petty "Yes, darlings, we'll wash this tomorrow" in a loud voice) but that doesn't stop me wanting to even if I'm just across the road. And I consider it a personal failure if on returning home from work on a Friday night and finding a prime spot, I need to drive again before Monday morning. It is beyond petty and I hate myself for it. But the other day I did something which demonstrates just how far I've come from the care-free girl of my youth.

First of all, a bit of justification if you will. In addition to the residents parking there is a car dealership nearby who insists on parking spare cars in our road, and the re-development of a large building to contend with. Every morning without fail at least six white van men descend on us, attempting to squeeze their beasts into the limited parking we have, along with Mr Car Salesman dumping unwanted Escorts for days at a time. (My road is actually lovely, though I realise I'm not painting a marvellous picture of it.)

So on my first day of self-employment, working at home, I decided to go shopping. Yeah, I know, but if I didn't get the DDs Easter eggs this week then it's school holidays and DD2 says she still believes in the Easter bunny... The car was required even though it had been right outside my house for the last three days. How much I must love my kids. I psyched myself up for my return, clicking my ruby slippers, "There's no place like a parking space at home", and I put my shopping bags on the back seat. As I slid into the driver's seat, I noticed an inordinate number of vans in the road and not a single space anywhere. Then one of the van drivers who had been hovering over a drive opposite - oh, how I envy the drive-owning chosen few - saw me about to leave and started his engine. He was going to nick my precious space!

Well, I panicked and did what any sensible grown-up would do. I turned my engine off and went back in the house. So he's looking confused, I'm standing indoors arms crossed, looking like Les Dawson's mother-in-law, thinking "You silly cow, now what?".

Well, the moral of this story is this: I gave it ten minutes and skulked off to the shops feeling very silly. By the time I returned with the chocolate booty, every single van was gone and there were plenty of spaces to choose from. Except the one outside my house. Mr Car Salesman had stuck one of his bloody bangers in it and it's still there three days later.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A new chapter

I mentioned in a previous blog that I've made another major change in my life and it is this: I resigned from my job and I am now working as a freelance writer and clinical hypnotherapist. As a single parent with a morgtage and responsibilities this is quite a scary move, but I was finding it more and more of a challenge to juggle work with school  holidays, sick days, snow days, teacher training days etc. Any working parent knows how hard this is. The DDs are now too old to need a childminder or holiday club; they just want to hang out with their friends, go swimming, shopping, bike riding, and have a base to come home to when they want feeding, fall out with each other or need a change of clothes before they go off again. Although I've been incredibly lucky to have friends and family who looked after them for me, on the whole I felt that if I had the choice to offer them me working at home, then I should do it, hopefully reducing stress levels all round. I qualified as a hypnotherapist over a year ago so I'm putting this into practise on a more regular basis,  and I will also write features for magazines, websites and anything else that I can snag. Oh, plus I have set myself a goal to finish my novel by November.

Of course the DDs have heard me say enough times in the last few weeks that I will be working from home (in the generating money kind of way, rather than the hard slog for no pay or recognition SAHM kind of way I did during their early years), though I'm not convinced they have quite grasped how this will work in reality. DD1 looked quite shocked that I was up, showered and getting dressed as usual when she cheekily tried to commandeer my dressing table and hair dryer this morning. "But I thought you'd be having a lie in!" she said.

I'm sure I'll be pulling my hair out in the loooong summer holidays, trying to fit clients and assignments around the DDs social lives. I envisage much synchronising of watches and texting to remind them to pay attention to the 'Do not disturb' note on the front door if I have a client here, or 'ssshing' if I'm trying to conquer writer's block. But it has to be worth a go. Once we all get used to this new way of life, I hope we find we have the best of both worlds. I'll keep you posted.