When you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills...

posted on: Saturday, 23 April 2016

Getting back to things. Why is it that I fall out of the rhythm of life so easily? I pretty much had a month off writing, although I tell myself that is what 'writers' do, I am dimly aware that in order to be a writer, you have to write. I find myself making excuses when the kids are around for the holidays; endless pickups and drop-offs are not conducive to creative thought. Instead I turned to audio books, listening to stolen moments as I go about my day, always thinking about writing but just not doing it.

I returned to college yesterday to see my tutor and realised it's not that hard to get back on the bandwagon, I just need to get on and do it. That old procrastination is always there in me and I now need to banish it. I have just over a month to finish the first draft of the book song with a couple of critical essays and hand in year one of my Masters! OMG. Remember when this was just a glint in my eye? Remember when I used to say 'yea, I'm gonna write a book one day' and everyone nodded at their screens and thought 'yuh-huh, get on with it...'? I see that actually I had to get over myself and start studying and making this a priority and so here I am, at the corner of bucket list and academic resurgence central.

And the book - people ask what it's about. I say 'life', glibly. It's about families and marriage, adultery and love, mothers and fathers, adolescence and innocence. It's about choices and envy. All sorts...

Meanwhile, it's summer term, implausibly my son starts cricket and my daughter is playing rounders today. Being back at school works for all of us, although we complain and spend a lot of time looking forward to the next holiday. We are going back to Florida in the summer - again - and this makes me happy every time I think of it. I am reading a short story by John Updike where he observes how American friends move to England and talks about my country's muddy, gloomy grey demeanour and how charming it is, how different. The funny stodgy food we eat. The Britishness of it all. And I think my equivalent is the Florida palm tree. Give me a fake flamingo stirrer in my glass, a view over some sun-kissed water and a fish taco and I am replete.

There's a subtle hint at warmer weather and so it's time to remove the layers of coats and scarves and venture out from winter hibernation.

We have now been back in our house for six months and so in daily life, it has become more normal, I absorb the choices we made and think: yes I am pleased with that tile or no, that wood has not darkened as I expected etc. I can say that given we took so damn long to renovate this house (2+ years) I did think long and hard about the choices and am generally very happy. The best investment was ceiling speakers which afford nightly kitchen music playing of all sorts; of course it was Prince this week. I was so sad to hear he'd gone; he was the soundtrack to my youth.

I am pleased with the bold white patio, the white walls, the white kitchen...if in doubt go white. But the best times are when the sun floods in on a Saturday morning like this and cast shadows across the floor. The puppy basks in it and I think back to the slimy, oil-leaking, ugly monstrosity that our house was and conclude it was worth it.

by my fave jessica cooper

Life from both sides...

posted on: Sunday, 17 April 2016

April always feels like a strange month to me. It comes at the end of a weary, grey winter (the weather bore in me still going strong) and the summer still feels like a long way away. We talk about the weather a lot and the fact that although we hold out for the summer months, they very rarely deliver anything consistent. Bad climate. But still, the daffodils are peaking out and it's light into the evening and altogether I should see that this is all good.

Meanwhile the school holidays are still 'on' - I'd like to opt out now - as we enter the fourth week, complete with aforementioned weather pattern. I'd really rather be in the sun somewhere, like let's say Florida. Sigh.

My son turned 11 yesterday, which for him represented about the most unadulterated bout of joy for a day. There is something just lovely about 11; it's on the cusp, childhood and adolescence vying for first place but still a wonderful innocence and lack of pretension about him. He had the most perfect day of seeing friends and family so we all went to bed last night feeling replete.

My daughter (the inimitable Boo) did a week's work at a new wellbeing/physiotherapy studio last week. Dropping her off to work each day really did feel like new territory in the ever-changing world of the modern teen. We felt very proud that she was holding down a job and learning new and sometimes quite daunting things and all the time, for the first time, earning her own money. I notice increasingly that we are looking to her to exhibit certain characteristics that we will find comforting. Kindness to others, willingness to work, patience, tenacity, bravery. It's so hard to quantify whether children will develop these traits and I have to look inwards and ask myself why I think they are so important.

I think a lot about resilience and how you get it. I see many people go through life without it - myself included - and wonder why it's so hard to come by? We are we so vulnerable sometimes? I also wonder constantly whether I am doing this parenting thing right and see just how many times a day I am bothered by whether I have made the wrong decision or played a conversation badly. Equally there are times when I think I've got it spot on, but I have to say, the self-doubt lingers. I see this as an aspect that all of my peers struggle with, there is no exception from parental worry. But some manage it better and I want to be one of the ones who get it in perspective.

Having lately attended events where everyone was over the age of 70, I have been thinking about that time of life. There is so much preoccupation with parenting and working right now and I do wonder what it feels like when you get to that age. It seems conflicting; some things I read say that it is the happiest of times, freed from many of the issues that shrouded you in earlier years. Other reports suggest it's melancholy, everything starts to be about looking backwards and your body fails you. And of course in both scenarios, health is all. I do wonder how I shall be? Increasingly I don't like the concept of 'retirement', the idea that you work and work and work and then stop. I find this flawed. This consideration has strengthened since I stopped work and have faced the reality of having no paid occupation. I see that there is much scope for misery in me when I have nothing to do, so honestly, getting older scares me unless there is the fullness of life that I enjoy now. Is it the case that you just get weary? I was telling someone about doing my masters and it occurred to me that I would have done this had I been 70 or 40. There's nothing about what I do now (other than the age of my kids) that I wouldn't be doing then.

My sister in law and I discussed wrinkles and botox. We decided: no. It's not a case of not wanting to look younger, to erase the lines, but the knowledge that it is a futile endeavour. Where does it stop? But I do wonder what it will be like to look in the mirror at 80! How does that feel? I have started to think that I'll look in the mirror then and think of all of the things I have done, the mark I left, not the lines of my face. I am not saying I'll leave a big mark - a small, pale stain probably - but I want to have done something. Hence writing  the book...

Maybe there will be more than one book. I think I will become a writer and sit in my eighties enjoying the fact that there is a record of me. I'd like to still be wearing the clothes I wear now - on this point I am determined - I don't want to succumb to the beige. My relationship with Stan Smith Adidas kicks still going strong. I'd like to be like Iris Apfel, all big glasses and flamingo prints. Slightly nutty but OK.

These are the things that occupy my mind in between the writing, the endless ferrying of children, the fretting about parental decisions, the cleaning/wiping/sorting of my house.

I suppose what I am saying is that I'd always like there to be activity and challenge - mental if not physical. I'd like there to be quirkiness and attitude. Interest and passion. Yes? Yes.


posted on: Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Back from skiing; so, that was fun. Long term readers will have gauged that I endure skiing as an annual activity because my husband loves it so and because I think teaching your kids to ski is a gift. Same applies to teaching them to ride a horse, or to play tennis. Or chess. It's one of those life skills that anyone is very lucky to have and when you don't, and a situation presents itself where you wish you did, you curse your parents for not having taught you. Anyone who has skied will know what I mean here; if you learned as a child you will hands down be a million times more competent at it than if you learned as an adult. I learned as an adult and I will never ever shoop-shoop down a mountain like my children do. It's a joy to watch. And as for mountain air and french cheese and vin chaud and the restaurants in Meribel, they all add to the experience. We came back and I faced an obscene amount of laundry but no broken bones and a healthy glow from the April sun.

So now it is Easter holidays - Easter itself seemed to come and go with the blink of an eye - and I am left with three more weeks of school holidays in which to i) finish my book for the deadline for my Masters and ii) entertain my son and iii) manage my daughter's endless demands to be taken here and there. It's feeling rather trying and I am reminding myself that this is a temporary state. There have been hints of Spring and now the clocks have changed I can actually glimpse an evening of lightness and the prospect of summer ahead. Also a gift.

I realise that I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about and planning holidays; they are the momentum that keeps us all going. Nothing better than a booked holiday. Gives me calm; strengthens the marrow in the bone of the everyday.

I wonder whether there is something unbalanced about this approach, as if one should make the everyday more pleasurable so that holidays are not such a requirement for sanity! I conclude as far as my family is concerned, we work hard all the time and holidays are the time when we get to look at each other and say 'well done' and 'I like you after all' and 'family is good.' All sentiments which I consider to be important (crucial) to validating what we do and how we live.

Can I just say: the house is nearly finished! I started to wonder, six months ago, whether I would ever type those words. But yes, the decorators have completed the last room and we are currently getting stuff out that has been stored for over two years. I guess if I haven't needed that stuff in two years, I am not going to now.

Thank you for all of the comments about this blogging thing and what it means, interesting to read and always nice to have the validation that people want me to keep writing. So I shall.