I am 27…

… and you’re still here (correcting my grammar.)

Normally, I share the opinion of many people that you shouldn’t need a special day to tell your parents you love them. And I don’t, not really.

However, as) a journalist and b) a procrastinator, I do need deadlines. Some form of schedule telling me when the random thoughts flitting about should be written down in some kind of logical way.

Add to this the fact that my new shift (and therefore sleep) pattern means I have hardly spoken to my parents for two months and  you get the below, a post about my dad, which happens to fall on Father’s Day, for no reason other than it seems to make sense.

(Some ages approximate due to not having a great memory):

I am too young to remember, and my older siblings learn what embarrassment is as my dad waltzes with me through Sheffield City Centre to stop me from crying.

I am three, and he picks all of us up at once and I think he is the strongest man in the world.

I am four and he lets me wear a spiderman outfit to the supermarket.

I am five and I curl up in the crook of his legs as he lies on the sofa teaching me the rules of cricket and rugby.

I am six and he reads me The Hobbit for the first time and we listen to PG Wodehouse in the car on family holidays.

I am eight and he drives me to judo every Saturday morning, a ritual that will last a decade.

I am nine and he carries me up the road from where I have fallen, breaking my arm.

I am 10 and we drive to Scotland and he does all the regional accents on the way. The same summer he teaches me how to do cryptic crosswords.

I am 11 and we begin the University Challenge challenge, a game I have never won.

I am 12 and we still watch nature documentaries together, marveling at Attenborough’s world.

I am 13, 14, 15, 16 and he drives me all over the country for fencing, waiting in the car or walking the dog because I won’t let him watch me compete. He introduces me to Bob Dylan, the Stones, the Boss, and the Kinks – the soundtrack of our road trips for years to come.

I am 17 and he never says ‘you’re not going out dressed like that.’

I am 18 and he bends the laws of physics to fit all my stuff into the car as I start university.

I am 19, 20, 21 and he picks me up at the end of each term, and takes me back in time for pre-season training. We still sing along to Bob Dylan as we drive up and down the motorway.

I am 23 and he helps me move into my first flat. He loves the river and the swans that nest outside my window.

I am 24 and he helps me buy a house, sitting through mortgage meetings I don’t quite understand.

I am 25 and he is confused when people ask if he is worried about me moving to Doha.

I am 26 and he fills me with bacon whenever I come home. We watch University Challenge, and do crosswords, and drive to see my nieces and nephew, singing Bob Dylan as we navigate the country.

I am 27 and he probably can’t lift all three of us at once anymore, and I have long outgrown the crook of his legs, but he still beats me at University Challenge. Every. Single. Time.

For some reason I only have pictures of Dad and my brother on my computer. So here's one...

For some reason the only old pictures I have are of Dad and my brother on my computer. So here’s one. (Sorry, Rob.)

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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.

You are my sunshine…

… a memory for Mother’s Day.

It would be so easy to cheat this year. So easy to repost my Mother’s Day blog from last year. The list of things that my funny, wonderful, utterly eccentric mum has done and will (I hope) continue to do.

But I won’t cheat. That post will stay nestled away in my archives waiting for a time where I am too tired or uninspired or homesick to write something new.

So let me tell you a story:

 

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

 

I’m sick, lying curled up in bed in the small room at the front of the house.

It is my room, with Paddington Bear on the walls and Mr Men on the lamp shade and thick curtains to block out the sun.

In a few years, stuffed toys will give way to posters of impossible girls as my brother takes over, needing to escape the sisters that bookend him in our family tree.

In a few decades more, as we desert the nest, mum will create an office full of books and model cars and a whirring, over-used computer with a cluttered desktop.

But right now it is my room, and I am snuggled in the single bed that is far too big for me.

 

“You make me happy when skies are grey…”

 

“MUM!”

One of the ‘nothers’ – the collective noun I give my siblings.

My mum’s hand pauses slightly at the noise, then carries on gently stroking the tangle of hair that has flopped on to my burning forehead.

I am staring at the picture that hangs on the wall, a view of fields through a window. It is the frame, really that I am gazing at. Thick wood, it seems big for such a small picture.

“MUM!”

I can’t tell if it is my brother or my sister trying to break into the cocoon of comfort wrapped around me. It doesn’t matter.

The Little Grey Rabbit book we have just finished reading is on the chair next to my bed, next to my snowman who always stands guard over my sleep.

 

“You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.”

 

I have Poppy clutched to me with one arm, the white dots on her red dress swimming as I begin to drift.

My free hand is running along the soft green blanket with the family of ducks on it, untangling the green and white tassels, trying to separate the colours and then knotting them back together.

It is my sister’s blanket really, I am devastated when she takes it from me, because it ‘was hers first.’

In twenty years or so I will nearly cry when she returns it without a word just days before I fly away.

“MUM!”

Mum shifts from where she is lying, facing me, wrapping me up in her softness.

The mattress lifts as she stands up and suddenly there is too much space in my bed and I’m breathing in the cold air of the room instead of her warmth.

I feel lost, rather than angry, now that her attention has been stolen away from me.

She walks softly to the door, dims the light until there is barely an orange glow illuminating the adventures of the bear from darkest Peru on my walls.

Click. The door closes.

The mattress squeaks in the new-found silence as she lies back down, a barrier between me and the world.

Peace at last.

 

“Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

 

P.S.

(A quick aside, according to this article using the apostrophe after the ‘s’ is grammatically correct but not historically accurate. As a Classics student, history beats grammar, as a journalist, this is a decision for an editor so I copied the Guardian’s style guide.)

(This digression was mainly to head my dad off at the pass when he corrects my punctuation.)

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.