A celebration…

…even if it is on the wrong day

Happy Mothers’ Day America! You might get this wrong along with a load of other things (use of the letter ‘u’, pronunciation of lieutenant, etc etc) but that doesn’t make it a less important version of the holiday than the British one. (It kind of does.)

On a serious note, a special very first Mother’s Day to the wonderful Carolina who gave birth to Julia Marie a mere eight days ago and who is basically amazing and one of the only people I know who can rock the hospital gown look.

Because this is fake Mothers’ Day, I have decided to repost something I wrote for my mum last year, but which got lost in the great blog disaster of 2012.

This has the added bonus of meaning I don’t actually have to think of anything to write today.

So here it is:

“My mum… and just a few of the things that make her my mum.” (First published March 18 2012)

1) She once forgot I was in the back seat of the car and drove all the way to college only to have to turn around and drop me at my grandma’s house.

2) She made me wear a blue, knitted jacket with a bell on the hood so she didn’t lose me in shops. It made me look like Noddy. (For this I have always blamed my brother who used to hide from her in clothes racks.)

3) She once forgot where she left me and was fairly surprised when she walked into her friend’s house to find me there. She later admitted this on BBC’s Woman’s Hour to the hilarity of all concerned.

4) When I forget to get in touch, she thinks it is a good thing because I must be having fun.

5) She was always right when she told me to take a jacket and I would never admit that I regretted not listening to her.

6) When we went on ferries she dressed my siblings and I in the same outfit so she could show people in case one of us got lost. (Again, this is totally my brother’s fault.)

7) She definitely isn’t eccentric.

8) When having a bad hair day she drives wearing a woolly hat to flatten her hair.

9) In recent years she has been on more jaunts, adventures and trips than I have managed to fit into my entire life. (2013 UPDATE: She will be spending Christmas and New Year hiking to the Everest base camp. Obviously.)

10) When we were growing up, she kept our baby teeth and now has no idea what to do with them.

11) She’s always right, even when she’s not.

12) Sometimes, when she is laughing at something, she sounds exactly like Eeyore.

13) One year, when asked what she wanted for her birthday, she said ‘An Indiana Jones pinball machine’ (we’re still working on it.)

14) She plays the drums.

15) If she pays for things on her credit card, and then doesn’t open the bill, it doesn’t count.

16) She really definitely doesn’t snore.

17) When I was 18, she bought me a plane ticket and packed me off Greek island hopping. In the months I was away she only called me once because she thought something felt wrong. My purse had been stolen an hour earlier.

18) She has absolutely no frown lines, or wrinkles at all really.

19) If people take the time to listen, her life stories are some of the best they will ever hear.

20) She’s a journalist who would rather stay silent than tell a lie.

21) I miss being small enough to curl up in her lap.

22) Every night, she would read to us for half an hour. When we got older we all wanted different books, so she had to read out loud for ninety minutes every night. I used to follow her around and listen to the other stories as well.

23) When she read, she did all the voices.

24) She strives constantly to make me more organised and less of a procrastinator despite the fact that this has been a losing battle since the day I was born.

25) She came on our school trip to Cadbury World and so I wasn’t restricted by the spending money limit the school set.

26) She once made bread and butter pudding without the butter.

27) When my dad was on a teacher-training course, she set the fish fingers on fire and he came home to find her putting out the flames in the back garden.

28) She won’t be called grandma, but my brother’s and sister’s kids don’t know how lucky they are to have her as their not-grandma. They will one day though.

29) Sometimes, she doesn’t know what country she’s flying to until she gets to the airport. Sometimes not even then.

30) She doesn’t want me to grow up, come home, or settle down.

31) When we speak on Skype, I can only see the top half of her face and her collection of model cars. They aren’t toys, they’re models.

32) She used to sing ‘You are my sunshine’ to me until I fell asleep.

33) She introduced me to The Beatles and, at five, I would bounce up and down on her bed singing all the words Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

34) We’re undeniably similar, and I long ago gave up fighting turning in to her. There are far worse people to be.

35) For more about my mum, visit www.notdeadyettravel.com – says it all really.

Doing all the voices for a whole new generation.

Doing all the voices for a whole new generation.

PS, I already did the discussion of where the apostrophe should go in my real Mother’s Day piece.

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A room of one’s own…

…or making a home in a city of hotels.

 

As a result of the latest in a long line of inexplicable visa rules that seem to be controlling my life at the moment, I was given about 48 hours notice to return to the UK.

One set of cancelled flights to Beirut, an afternoon of ‘throw stuff at bag, take whatever lands inside’, an eight hour flight, and a drop of 26 degrees later and I found myself wandering around outside Manchester airport at 7.30am trying to find my friend’s car and rapidly losing all feeling in my ungloved hands.

I have been back since Friday and will be mooching around my parents’ house until my work visa is finally granted.

This will allegedly take 3-5 working days, so I might see the Dohaze again in June.

Being back in Sheffield is excellent. There is cricket, a sofa, and a steady stream of cups of tea and bacon sandwiches, but it is always a little strange to come back.

I haven’t really lived in my parents’ house since I was about 20. Summers at university were normally spent, at least in part, working in Durham. I did my journalism training in Newcastle and then went to work in Lincoln before hopping on a Qatar Airways flight to Doha for the first time.

Having said that, I have never really moved out either. Student accommodation didn’t exactly lend itself to holding an entire life and while the house I own has an attic full of the paraphernalia of my adult life, I did not live in it long enough to make it my home.

The remnants of childhood and teenage years are still very present in my Sheffield bedroom. The same posters adorn the walls (Shaolin Monks, Bruce Lee, Star Wars – what else would a teenage girl have on her walls?), the giant Taz I won at a theme park still sits in a green, high-backed armchair that used to belong to my grandmother, and the werebear I’ve had since I was five is as battered and hugged as I remember, but cleaner, I suspect he has been through the washing machine since I left.

As children, my sister and I shared a room, but she was older than me and very neat and I was (and am) one of the messiest humans who ever existed so eventually I was shuftied up into the attic, previously the play room, and the toys we had outgrown were hidden under the eaves.

Now those toys litter the floor once more, either to be thrown away (finally) or to be played with when my nieces and nephew come to visit.

Swords won at competitions hang from purple-painted beams while questionable teen fashion choices still hang from clothes rails.

It is a hotch-potch of my youth, a testament to my ever-changing identity from toddler to teenager, and it is a reminder that I don’t really have a home that displays any part of my adult identity.

My house is another couple’s home, and the rest of my adult life has been spent in a dusty city that everyone leaves eventually.

All the flats in my building are carbon copies of each other (apart from the ones that are mirror images, which leads to some very confused hangovers when you wake up on a friend’s sofa and can’t work out why there’s a wall where the kitchen should be), and so everyone tries to make little changes, little nods to who they are and how they live. Posters, plants, pots, anything that means you know you are in 2101 and not 2503.

We all try to make a home without buying anything that could be a pain to move to a different flat/building/country.

Bucking this ‘easy-to-move’ trend, my flatmates came with a piano, a drum kit, and a cat in tow and so our living area has a distinctive feel and the flat does speak of ‘us’ as flatmates, which I like because not everyone has the good fortune to find flatmates who are more than people to share the bills, but are people with whom you end up sharing your life.

For me though, apart from some photos, postcards, and a cricket poster, there is nothing in the flat that that makes my feel as though I have stamped my identity on the place in which I live.

Part of this is because I moved so much when I first arrived, and as wonderful and welcoming as my flatmates were, I always felt like I was renting a room in their flat rather than actually living there.

The new set up is different as we all moved in at the same time and have developed a shared history within the social hub of our living areas.

Still, there doesn’t seem any point in buying a lot of stuff when in a month, or a year, or two years, I could be moving house or moving country yet again, no-one wants to store, or ship, or sell a flat worth of furniture and artwork.

It might be different, I suppose, if I was with a family, or knew that I would be here for the next six years, let alone the next six months, but right now putting down roots only to have to rip them up again in a year or two, seems like an exercise in futility.

 

 

Archived post the first…

…a few words about my father.

The evaporation of my old blog was not an ideal situation, but I have quickly come to love the format offered here and so I have decided to re-post a few of my previous entries, rather than attempt to salvage the entire site.

After a momentary panic when I realised some of the posts I wanted to upload were nowhere to be found, a friend of mine sent me all my old drafts, that had by some technological wizardry been saved to his Google reader (Hooray for Kian, king among men.)

As Mum was the subject of my last post, I felt it only fair to kick off the archives with a post about my dad.

The below was originally posted on Fathers’ Day (Sunday, 17 June) 2012.

______________________________________________________________

A while ago, I wrote a post about my mum in celebration of Mothers’ Day.

It got some attention and some kind comments and, most importantly to me, my mum liked it.

Then someone said “I can’t wait to read your Fathers’ Day post” and I had a moment of panic.

To me, my parents are the most important people on the planet, but part of what defines our relationship is that we rarely feel the need to express this. It’s just there, as obvious and constant as the baking sun that currently beats down on me everyday (I’m aware this simile doesn’t actually translate to the UK but the sun is very much at the forefront of my mind right now.)

I wrote a list of great things my mum has done and said, and included some of her more obviously wonderful qualities, and it made a surprising number of people happy.

Part of me thinks I could just do that again, but with my dad as the subject. A larger part of me thinks that would be cheating, and that I should do something different in deference to the fact that, right down to the way they put lavatory paper on the holder, my parents are very different people. (Seriously wall side or not – after more than 30 years how have you not agreed on this…)

So on to Fathers’ Day, an event I don’t think I have ever acknowledged with more than a phone call, more often with a text and, far more often than that, with nothing at all. Yes, I’m rubbish.

I think maybe the best thing about my dad is that I know if I didn’t write this, he wouldn’t mind, he wouldn’t feel short changed, he probably wouldn’t notice. I’m really not sure how he is going to react to the fact I am writing it, but then, I don’t really know what I’m writing yet. Let’s find out.

I have a very hazy memory of a TV show or book or some other medium, when someone said the only man a girl can rely on is her father. It was probably in the context of some romantic maelstrom in which the male protagonist was being rubbish in a way that, at what I think was about seven, I didn’t understand or care about.

Despite not really paying attention to the reasons for the statement, the truth behind it seemed to me so obvious I was surprised anyone needed to say it out loud. Obviously my dad is the most reliable human on the planet, why is that even under debate?

At the time of hearing it I could still fit, albeit awkwardly (I was a lanky kid,) into the crook Dad’s legs formed when he fell asleep on the sofa watching Sunday sports.

When I was there, in that nook between his faded blue jeans and the back of our old, brown sofa, I never felt safer. In later years, when I was stressed, or sad, or vulnerable, that was the part of my childhood I retreated to. You know your “happy place?” That’s it.

I don’t think it is that unusual to believe your dad is superman. The fact he used to be able to lift all three of us at once seemed to me like a feat of strength to rival the World’s Strongest Man competition we used to watch together each year. I’m sure I’m not the only person to have this memory.

What my dad always did was protect me.

I vividly remember the time I came off my scooter into a ninja tree (the thing just jumped out) and broke my wrist. At first I was in shock, by the time Dad arrived at where I was lying in the street I was bawling uncontrollably. I can’t remember him saying anything, but I remember the instant feeling of safety that came with his arrival and that stayed with me while he lifted me effortlessly, carried me home, placed me in the back seat of our Cavalier and drove me to the children’s hospital.

As I got older, that protectiveness never turned into “you’re not going out dressed like that.” He was always good at letting me live my life. In fact, in 2009 when I told him I was going to Afghanistan one of his initial questions was “I’m not going to have to look after your cat am I?”

This was followed by a certain degree of paternal concern, but the cat was the thing.

It wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I realised some people didn’t have this uncomplicated relationship with their fathers, that there were stresses and strains way beyond the teenage tantrums and rows over mess and back chat and general ungratefulness that we battled through.

No matter how furiously or how frequently we argued, as I became the centre of my adolescent universe and he became increasingly keen to not have teenage children anymore (as the youngest of three I think by the time my 20th came around we had put our parents through the ringer several times,) there was never a time when I thought Dad wouldn’t be there if I needed him.

It wasn’t even a conscious thought that he would be there. It was just a fact, underpinning my life and keeping it so securely on track I didn’t even need to acknowledge its existence.

And through all this, he still found time to be my dad.

To read the Hobbit, the Three Musketeers and PG Wodehouse to me while our tent was being hammered by rain in France.

To teach me the rules of cricket and rugby and to scream and shout with me as catches were dropped and as Johnny Wilkinson kicked a World Cup-winning drop goal.

To write a meal plan at the start of each week so we knew what we were having for tea and to get something different for lunch at school, to cook our meals, and to write the shopping list in the order we’d come to it in Sainsbury’s.

To bake cakes in the shape of elephants and to put up basketball hoops, football goals and to sacrifice his garden to our sports.

To get up every Saturday to take me to Judo, and to pick me up again with various broken limbs.

To endure 5am drives, having dragged me out of bed, to various backwaters, hell holes and cities around Britain so I could fence, dealing with service station sausage and beans on the way and having to sit in the car listening to 5Live once we got there because I was too nervous to let him watch me fight.

Perhaps most importantly, to never once let me win the University Challenge challenge during the 15 or so years we have been playing.

And so to my dad, the most intelligent man I know, the other reason I am as I am, someone who I would never want to let down, but who would never ask anything of me anyway, a man I hope many of you have had the pleasure of meeting, and the one man I can truly rely on, thank you.

dad recovering from the aftermath of my 17th birthday - as exhausted as he looks.

Dad recovering in the aftermath of my 17th birthday.