Sunday, 22 February 2015

Family ties

I wasn't what you'd call a pretty baby.
There's nothing good about getting old. I can say this confidently, as at the moment, I'm getting regular reminders about the horrors of being elderly. As you already know, DB and I are staying in his grandparents' house, as said grandparents are both in a care home suffering different forms of dementia. My own grandmother - positively bursting with life and good cheer four or five years ago - is poorly and frail, currently also in a care home - possibly on a temporary basis, possibly not.

Granny. She practically raised me - for the first few years, at least. She and Gramps had farmed for years, but retired either just before or just after I was born. The house they bought after selling the last farm still had a good two and a half acres round it, plus a paddock, because how could it not, after years of fields and fields? The paddock was, at various times, home to sheep (a ewe butted me into a shallow ditch when I was two; needless to say, I was not impressed) and pigs, named Pinky and Perky. We kept them for a while, then ate them. How's that for food miles? Between the ages of 8 and 12, I frequently asked if, since we had a paddock, couldn't we keep a pony in it?  Maybe even two? "Well, the fencing's not good enough, and it's costly to repair" came the reply. When I was seventeen, the fencing was suddenly repaired - because someone in the village was going to rent the paddock off us. To keep her horses in it. Pfffft.

At the other end of the property was a chicken run. As soon as I could walk, I was following Granny up there first thing in the morning, collecting the eggs with chubby toddler hands. I can still smell the chicken house now - a bit musty, a bit like damp straw, mostly just warm and feathery.

And then I got a year or two older, and we would go for walks on the common - the sizeable stretch of woodland onto which the property backed. We had Samuel, the springer spaniel, until I was 13 or 14. God, he was a brilliant dog. Smart (ish) for a spaniel, and always full of beans, in the way that the next dog - another spaniel, called Buffy - wasn't.

Writing about it now is like opening a floodgate. Each memory sparks another; I could be here for days, trying to cover it all. Learning to ride a bike without stabilisers on the lawn. Falling off said bike on the patio, skinned knees, ripped jeans. Evenings in the summer holidays where I'd be in the garden til 8 or 9pm, seeing the wild rabbits scamper about where the lawn met the woodland, watching the sun set in a riot of orange and pink, sitting on the swing between the silver birch trees and imagining being 'grown up'. I still have a soft spot for silver birches.

She taught me so many things, my gran. Some of which I will always live by: "never go to bed on an argument" and "never have an empty biscuit tin", and some of which I'll just remember with affection, such as her G&T making quantities: half and half. If I'm half as generous and giving as she is, I'll be happy (I suspect I'm not there yet) - one of her most-used mottos* was "there's always room for one more at the table". Sunday lunches were tight on elbow-room. Whenever we spoke on the phone, she'd always, always ask "is there anything I can do for you? Anything I can send you?"

*One of her other, more nonsensical ones was "coo, it's chilly-willy-wombles" whenever the weather took a turn for the frosty... Nope, me neither. I will, however, be saying that one to my kids, just to witness their bafflement. 

It's hard to know how to end this post without sounding morbid - Gran really isn't well at the moment, and I don't know if/when we can expect her to recover. So I will just say this: I am incredibly lucky to have had her help to bring me up, and I count myself lucky to have inherited her love of animals and the countryside, and her sense of humour, and her tendency to start laughing and not be able to stop.

I will hold on to those things.

This week I've been re-visiting Lissie's Back To Forever. It's such a gutsy album, that veers between gentle post-break up introspection and rowdy, snarly rock. So, if you want to feel like a woman on a mission - and who doesn't? - I can highly recommend it. Again.

Despite promising myself that I absolutely will not buy any more books until I've read all the ones I got for Christmas, I'd heard a lot of good things about The Girl on the Train, so when I saw that it was half-price in WH Smith's, I grabbed it and tried not to feel too guilty. I'd finished it by midnight the same day - it's a delicately-written "domestic thriller", which manages to keep the final twist close to its chest until impressively late on.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Bloody Valentines 2: on the other hand...

 Yes, this is just a picture of our dinner tonight. It is delicious, though.

It's never nice coming down off your high horse about something. I don't think anyone enjoys resigning themselves to the fact that perhaps they spoke too soon, didn't give something enough thought, were a bit too quick to judge. With that in mind...

A couple of years ago, I made my anti-Valentine's Day stance pretty clear. And, rest assured, I stick by most of it. I still can't be bothered to care about it, really.  However - yes, sorry, but you must have known it was coming - however, this year, I am feeling... Valentiney. I can see the appeal. Hell, I can see the need for a calendar day earmarked for romantic nonsense. Or, to put it another way: I certainly don't think one calendar day of romantic nonsense is going to do anyone any harm. Yes, it's cheesy and cliched and really just a money-maker for Thorntons and Paperchase, but you know, so's Christmas, up to a point. 

So why, this year, am I giving up being vehemently anti-V-Day?

Because life is fucking short (I'm not dying; it's just true).

And once you get out of your student funk, and into a life where all the things that really define you have to be crammed in between 6pm on a Friday and 10pm on a Sunday, you realise that this is it - this is all we've got. Here, now. You have to seize your joy where you can. There are more than enough dark, depressing, horribly unfair events unfolding everywhere, all the time. If we have a chance to revel in being totally and utterly, revoltingly in love, then by God, we should grab it with both hands and not forget that it's a bloody great privilege.

And also, why not? If you're lucky enough to be with someone - and it is luck, really; a game of numbers and fortune (the lesser-known book franchise) - then why not utilise the opportunity to embrace that, and indeed, them?

I'll admit, part of my new-found enthusiasm for V-Day has come from actually having a good idea for a couple of small gifts for DB. I'm a terrible present-buyer, so whenever I do have a flash of inspiration, I feel the need to act on it sharpish. I'm not really bothered about receiving anything myself (no, really), because I can't think of anything that I need or want, and anyway, it's my birthday next month. Also, the usual Valentine gifts designated for women are, for the most part, wasted on me. Chocolate? I do not need any encouragement to eat it. Don't be an enabler, unless you can handle me wanging on about the calorie guilt. Wine? See 'chocolate'. Flowers? I'm just not particularly interested in them. The flowers that give me most joy are the ones you find growing in woods or on roadsides - accidental flowers. Bluebells, snowdrops, primroses, daisies. It doesn't help that I have an incredibly poor sense of smell - you'd be better off buying me a nice bit of Brie.

As I've said, the vast majority of Valentiney bullshit irritates the socks off me - and most other people, I'd wager. I certainly won't be posting photos of a massive bunch of roses on any social media channels (#bestboyfriendever), nor will I be tweeting about how "blessed" I am, or how much I love "my man" (I'm getting queasy just typing this, and it's nothing to do with the amount of malted milk biscuits I ate this afternoon). FYI, unless you are a sassy black woman, or an eighties disco queen, you cannot get away with calling him your man.

But I stick by my sort-of U-turn on this one. A bit of romance is only ever a good thing. So enjoy it.

I cannot emphasise how much I love the song I'm going to link you to, and how much I regret completely forgetting about this band's existence. This track is what would have become of Bruce Springsteen had he grown up in Vegas in the eighties. Singing along and punching the air: not optional.

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Beer and cheese: on moving in together

I finally have my own kitchen, cluttered and temporary though it may be.

So Drummer Boy and I have sort of moved in together. Not properly - we're looking after his grandparents' house (as they are sadly both in a care home now) while decisions are made about what becomes of the property. The house is conveniently three doors away from my own parents' place, so it's easy for me to dash home when I get too cold, or I run short of socks.

Here's a few things I've learned in the ten days or so we've been unofficially cohabiting.

1) Gender stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason.
In the last week, I've heard myself say the following things:

"You didn't make the bed this morning!"

"Why do you just leave things in the sink? Or by the sink? They don't have legs, they're not going to walk themselves through hot soapy water on to the draining board."

"Erm, do red knickers not belong in a dark wash? I was kind of hoping to have some underwear this week..."

2) The idea of something is often far worse than the actual thing itself. For reasons that were 70% hormonal and 30% genuine angst, we managed to have a serious argument every day for the three days before we actually moved in together. Once actually in the house, it was all sunshine and rainbows and "do you want a cup of tea?"

3) I have spent the last three days complaining about, but trying to hide any 'evidence' of, having fallen to the Communists/having Aunt Irma to visit/hosting the Red Wedding (pick your euphemism). He's an educated and liberal man, but by God, he must be protected from the realities of menstruation.

4) Tea and cheese is the best post-work, pre-dinner snack. On Fridays, swap tea for beer.

5) It is possible to be quite comfortable in a house that errs on the side of chilly, has a lot of floral wallpaper and brown carpets, and is home to a set of curtains that can best be described as "quintessentially Seventies". You can just make them out below:

I was describing them to a work colleague, who has a degree in something art-and-design-related, and she got really excited and said "Ebay them! Seriously! Some vintage fabric freak will go nuts for those!"

6) While I've spent the last two years or so wishing we were living together, it does take some getting used to. In the week it's fine, because I'm out of the house between 8.15 and 6.15. The weekends have been a bit "are you still here? Can't you go out? No? All right, I'm going out. No, don't come with me."

7) But when all is said and done, I picked a good'un. He is easy to live with, and - importantly - supremely tolerant, and doesn't mind that I get into my fluffy white dressing gown at the earliest opportunity once I get home from work, and proceed to waft around the house like a cuddly ghost. Most touchingly of all, when he could tell I hadn't slept well on Sunday night (that 'back to work' dread after a week away from the office had me waking up every hour or so), at 6am, he whispered "have an extra hour in bed and I'll drive you to work". I could have cried with gratitude. Sitting next to him on the sofa now, while he reads out funny comments in AskReddit threads and I try and stop him reading over my shoulder, I feel incredibly lucky - and incredibly smug.

In other less nauseating news... if you want to make the most of Orange Wednesdays before they're gone forever, go and see Whiplash. It's amazing, and you don't have to be a drummer, a drummer's girlfriend, or a jazz fan to enjoy it. I didn't think I'd live to see the day where I enjoyed a pyschological thriller about jazz drumming, but I have.

This has nothing to do with jazz drumming.