Friday, 24 June 2016

What a soon to be 8 year old boy collected on a Summer's day



What I heard

. Children playing in the school next to the park
. A train
. Dogs barking
. Birds making a tweeting song
. Water splashing down at the water fall


What I saw

. Fresh helicopters on the ground
. Old tree that has been cut down
. Nettles
. Cute labradoodles, one black, one white
. Mushrooms growing on a dead tree stump
. A Woodpecker
. A duck feather floating in the air by the duck pond
. A Butterfly
. Some friends from school
. Bamboo in a muddy marsh
. The tree where I liked to squish berries when I was little
. Earwig hiding in the Elderflower bush
. MILA
. A squirrel
. A Robin
. Unstable rocks sticking out of the ground
. A feather by a pine tree


What I smelt

. Roses in the rose garden (I couldn't smell it much but mum could)


What I tasted
. Banana from mum's bag of goodies
. Water from my water bottle
. A couple of chocolates from mum's box that Year 4 gave her as a  leaving present
. Salt on my fingers
. Wind in my mouth
. A burp 


Monday, 21 March 2016

Papercuts on a Blue Day


When I stop and listen, I hear the birds. They are singing sprightly and with driven purpose. They shout in jubilation at the unexpected blue skies. I catch my reflection in the grey bathroom tiles and listen to the rhythm of the drip drip hot tap. I'm spent. Saddened by the bickering and attitude of nonchalance at my instruction, the boys and I did not exist as one this morning. This leaves a small cut in my heart. It stings like those incidental papercuts that take forever to go away. I'm spent. My body is telling me so as it does every three years or so. My latest spend has meant a week-end of antibiotics and a wall being hit, hard. Still, I keep on, because that's what you do. I hate having to do the school run with a fever and the drip, drip of my nose, the ache in my lower back that comes from trying all night long to find a comfortable position. The blinding pain in my sinuses, that right side of my face, that flash like lightning, that's gone in a flash. The one that makes me question if indeed it happened, until the next flash of course. I try and distract myself with a list of chores, I muddle through the fog in my brain and recite things like, put a load of washing on, fold dry clothes on radiators, marinade the chicken, check e-mails for job application pack. Through the fog I hear whispers of a few of my favourite things, watching films, eating ice cream with real coffee poured on top, cutting my toe nails after waiting far too long, writing ideas on scraps of paper about art and writing and people I've watched. I think of the days when a day off sick meant tall glasses of Lilt, and a blanket on the settee with the remote controls to the TV and video tucked under my thigh for easy access, and crisps, always crisps, my lover and friend and forever foe. I think of how this sick day could mean I finally put together all of those random notes from my phone titled 'blog post'. Like this one from last friday:


Watching Breathless. Drinking proper coffee. And trying to stop my brain from enjoying the memory of the first drag of a Marlboro. Talking with my husband about how we can't ever let our youngest watch this film. The clothes. The sassiness. The cigarettes. The girls. He would love it all. Thinking about that dill vinaigrette that I haven't got around to making that will be the perfect accompaniment to the puy lentil, roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad. Wearing slippers in bed. Fantasising about walking the streets of Paris carrying pretty patisserie boxes by the string. Short walks in the rain, with wet faces that shine. Melting dark chocolate in a large ceramic bowl over a saucepan with simmering water and topping ice cream with the warm velvet that hardens like ice atop mountains. Remembering the weight of their heads on my chest before they were even double digits in months, how I watched them rise and fall with each of my breaths.

And back down, I fall from the fluffy clouds of lingering. Waiting, for something to happen, to feel better, to have energy, to be cleansed, healed, rejuvenated. Not quite it would seem. And so for now, here are some words that have spilled, they may seep and I may mop them with the cheap white serviette I have ready to hand. It greedily drinks up and spoils and all that's left is a pool of emotion tainted with the dirt of lifes grimy spills. There are spills and it would seem that they are far apart and then suddenly so frequent. Why so? I ask. Who knows. But such is the sequence, such is the pattern. And it smarts and stings, just like those papercuts, the ones that itch and burn and remind you that they are here to stay. The ones that take forever to go away.



Sunday, 6 March 2016

Because there's never a good time ...


Because there's never a good time. Because every day I think I'll get time to write, I mean properly write and then when I slip myself between my favourite, creased white sheets, I realise once more, 'I haven't written today, not really written'. Of course, there are the notes and ideas scribbled in pencil on school newsletters and junk mail that sits on top of my fridge forming a kind of paper pyramid art installation, but those words are not transferred from this place to a journal or even here. No. They gather dust and eventually join a new installation. The one on my desk. The desk that I haven't touched in months and months and months. The one that resembles some kind of shrine, the sort of shrine dedicated to someone who has died and their belongings are left, preserved, exactly as they left them. This is me right now. And that's ok. I started a teaching assistant course back in September, and life has been accumulating dust since then as the pace of life gathered momentum and then speed. My role has shifted, changed, morphed. I have dust gathered in the corners of the fitted carpet, particularly in the hallway upstairs. I have a morning schema of looking at the dust ball clusters each morning when I get up and out of bed to take my first pee in the morning. Once I arrive in the bathroom and sit on the toilet, I notice the dirty bathroom mirrors and the stray afro hairs of mine that decorate the light bathroom floor. My Artist self tries to convince my Mrs.Beeton self that there's beauty in the lines and patterns that my dead hair is making, like ripples in water, yeah, beautiful marks in sand. I glance down at my feet as I sit in silence, a few seconds after I've finished peeing. I look at the book mountain that every male in my family has contributed towards making. Comics, art magazines, books, encyclopaedias, fact books and then my contribution, the miscellany of Barack Obama. I wonder if the dust cover of my book is covered in pee since the collection of books are stacked on the floor, dangerously close to the bowel of the toilet and you know, I live with three males. I begin imagining tricks that you see on programmes like CSI and imagine powder and brushes and uv light identifying all the areas in my bathroom that have pee. I think about pee a lot. I realise too as I hear the delicious tap, tap, tap of the keyboard that I've done it. I'm finally here, I've shown up and what am I doing? I'm talking endlessly about pee. But that's ok. 










I'm thinking too about my friend Maggie and how I can't believe that a week has passed since I saw her, how time flies. Last friday, on my way home from the morning school drop off, I decided to pay my friend Maggie (who lives simply a road away) an impromptu visit. The art of 'the drop in' has been lost I fear. There are very, very few people now that I feel free to turn up unannounced on their doorstep. Maggie is one of the few and I love her even more for making me feel crazily spontaneous, when put simply, I am just popping over, dropping round, passing by. I met Maggie a few years back. It was around the time that I decided that I needed to shift the baby weight, the baby weight that was meant to be on a short stay that outstayed its welcome for over five years. Resigned to the fact that this burden was going nowhere, I decided for the first time to join a local slimming group, and this is where I met Marvellous Maggie. We hit it off immediately and sparks flew and then she said 'you have the most wonderful shaped head, I'd love to sculpt it!' Well, being half African that's just about the greatest compliment you can offer and I thought of how proud my Aunty Adelaide would be. So, I think of Maggie, my dear friend Maggie. I call her 'Mad Maggie' and sometimes in my head I give her a full title: 'Mad Maggie Cotton'. She is 79 years old now and was the first female percussionist to play with the City of Birmingham Orchestra. She's a fabulous Yorkshire lass and one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. Last friday, when I called round unannounced, we sat and drank tea and coffee and ate buttered scones next to the fire and put the world to right, just the way you should on a friday morning. We laughed and laughed, about what I can't especially remember but there is always laughter with her and I. I think too of my good head and just how Aunty Adelaide would say these words to me with her lilting voice and Ghanaian accent, 'you have a good head oh'. I ache for her, for her words, for her firm reassuring hand that she would place on my forearm to reassure me. I think of the friday mornings that I spent with her, watching and taking notes as she cooked our traditional food. I thought of this as I prepared jollof rice this week and I took my time as I prepared the food, I took my time, just like she told me I should. And when my family sat down to eat the jollof, we spoke about her and the homeland and celebrated a little and made plans for our return. 











I think about that youngest boy of mine, the one that I can see in the background as I type. The one who is swishing and turning and whacking his light saber around the sitting room. The one who knows he's not allowed to do this but is depending on me being immersed in what I'm doing enough to be able to get his own way. That's ok. I think of earlier in the week, Monday to be specific, when he asked to play on his pogo stick after school. I think of the horrific thud that I heard and the flat indentation on his forehead where it slammed against the concrete slab in the back garden. I think of me shouting minutes before 'stop making holes in the grass with that pogo stick'. I think of the next day, my free day, the day I was meant to be writing a module on how to safeguard children and young people and how instead I had a boy with a bad headache to take care of. I think of how I had to prod him a couple of times in the night and wake him to make sure he wasn't concussed. I think of the pale face of my eldest boy at the scene of the pogo stick injury, his body in more shock than the injured party and I accept there and then, he will not follow his maternal grandparents into the medical profession. Because there's never a good time, during a particularly busy week, we found the time to celebrate the good news of our eldest boy finding out that he had received his first choice of secondary school. We celebrated with curry at our local, served lovely food by people who have been serving us food since our boys were babies. Because there's never a good time, we avoided chores and headed out to Leamington for the day yesterday. We found a parking spot just far enough from the centre to be able to longingly admire the many town houses as we walked in, whilst that youngest boy of ours flung his new light saber around and we added just a pinch of melancholy, by missing the eldest boy and brother who is adventuring away for the week-end with our church youth group. Because there's never a good time to write, yet alone edit and there's definitely never a good time to get back to the drafts in the draft box. And so, warts and all and jumbled and out of sequence words it is today. Because it's always better to do an okay job than not get round to the job at all and today I got here and I wrote words, and they weren't scribbled on scrap paper around the house and then stuck surreptitiously to kitchen cabinets in the hope that in some stolen moment, they will jog my own memory. No. They are here, just where they should be, for now at least. Because sometimes, the greatest gift is time. Time to get round to doing the things that make you happy, time to move the scribbles and the blurry images into their proper place, in spite of the wobbly lines and in spite of the blurs. Because now is always better than later, always.


Friday, 29 January 2016

Blow Gold All Over The Place






Christmas happened some time back and I am just surfacing from both the rest and the surge of busyness that followed all of the rest. We moved slowly over the festive period. Relieved to have reached the end of term. We listened to music. We enjoyed parties at good friends houses that were suitable for adults and kids and stayed up late drinking good wine and prosecco. We ate good food. We played games, uno and ludo and cluedo were our favourites. We made lots of coffee, fresh percolated coffee. We stayed in pyjamas all day long. We savoured the smell of homemade cookies and filled the old biscuit tin with cookie after cookie. We had long naps in the middle of the day. We took off for rainy walks and drives in our old car. We had our moments, both good and bad. We drank in us four. 

I'm never sure about this season, all the expectation, all of the spending, all of the chaos and family entanglements. Never sure. But this year, despite some stomach wrenching disappointment with family and said entanglements, this year I really enjoyed the christmas holidays. This year I felt like a grown up, able to make choices without any obligations, able to do as I please and it was a good feeling. As we headed into the holiday season, our family of four kept reminding one another, 'let's be patient and kind'. That was the best thing we could have done, of course we weren't always patient and kind but we gently reminded one another to be so and those words became actions.

We like spending time in the city as a family and we did so over the christmas period. I think I will always have happy memories of time spent in the city with these boys of mine. Like the afternoon that we headed into the centre and we each took one boy and split up so that they could buy a gift for one another. It was busy and buzzy. It got dark early and we had a fairly long walk back to the car which we'd parked in Digbeth, during this walk back that youngest boy of mine 'tiggered' his way through busy streets and puddles and sidewalks and curbs, jumping and kicking and splashing and thrashing and causing my hubby's wrists to ache. Of course, that ball of fire promptly fell asleep seconds after getting into his carseat. I even managed to transfer him from the car onto the sofa just like the old days. He slept there for a long time and I thought, 'hey, it's the holidays, let Tigger sleep!' That night, full to the brim with rest, Tigger couldn't sleep and so hubby and I played Ludo with him till stupid o'clock. I didn't really mind, plus I especially loved the way he made fake fart noises with his armpit every time he rolled a six on the dice. 

There were happy moments like on christmas day, when the youngest boy disppeared and I found him tucked up in bed, with a bowl of tortilla chips, reading an adventure time comic and loving life. It's the little things, always the little things. Like watching my husband most evenings, in the corner of our living room working on a drawing. When you live in a small house with children that have turned into giants overnight, you need a corner. I admire his discipline and dedication and ability to turn off everything else that is happening around 'his corner'. I love watching the boys watching their dad and knowing that this image of him will be one they keep with them always. Peeking through the crack in the door of the boys bedroom and seeing my boys curled up together on their top bunk. Then hearing my eldest boy reading Winnie the Poo to his little brother and feeling my lip quivering remembering when that big boy of mine was under two and covered in chicken pox and the only thing that would soothe him was watching Winnie the Poo, which we watched over and over and over again for a few days. 

The were moments too when the boys spoke words that will stay with me forever. Like when that youngest of mine told me 'Mum, keep this soft bit forever' whilst nestling into my wobbly belly and I could have cried rivers to swim in with that gesture of acceptance. Or when my ten year old sat alongside me whilst strumming his guitar and said 'I don't know what happens but when I play music, I just see a story' and continued talking with the sparkliest of eyes and I could just see all of the romance and angst and heartache and heartbreak ahead. 


Sometimes there's just happiness in the simplest of things, for instance that morning when I made cookies for a friend and there was the perfect amount of cookie dough left over to make a heart shaped cookie muffin for my hubby's breakfast. Also, when you decide at 10pm on Christmas Eve that you want something handmade to go in the children's stockings because you realise you don't really have 'little presents' to go in because you decided not to buy for the sake of buying and you figure that satsumas won't be adequate. So, milk and and white chocolate cookies it is, even if you don't have parchment paper to make it look pretty. You fill their stockings with handmade cookies and the next day they give you smiles and hugs of genuine gratitude and fill their bellies with something you made with love, something that you hoped they would understand as perfectly as they seem to. For these simple pleasures, I am grateful. 

Life isn't without the odd bruise, but words spoken from the heart and memories made together make up for those falls and the cries that come mostly from disappointment. We took joy in staying indoors and saving our pennies, we embraced the pouring rain and the fresh air, we valued family and laughter and we remembered that it's all about balance. It's all in knowing how to stay warm without getting burned.
































Monday, 21 December 2015

We took the A - roads to Nottingham






One day in August, we took the A - roads to Nottingham. Because if it's a choice of busy motorways or winding round country roads spotting houses we like and listening to our tracks of the year, then for our family, it's an obvious choice. My husband and I lived in Nottingham for one year in 2002, I think. It was the year that saw him become a newly qualified teacher. A year that was a tough one and taught us plenty about life and about us as a couple. A year where we visited our beloved Broadway Cinema once a week and watched more films than we ever have since at the cinema. We always enjoy taking the children to visit places that hold meaning for us and taking a trip with them alongside makes new memories which feels special. It also naturally makes you reflective, which is no bad thing and I'm always up for having my memory jogged. 

Nottingham is a great place to visit if you still like flicking through vinyl, digging in comic book shops and rummaging in indie vintage stores. Nottingham also has many great nooks and crannies cafes and shops, one of our favourites is still there - The Alley Cafe. After a long time spent in Page 45, the loveliest smelling, cleanest comic book shop ever, one that I'm happy to spend hours in, the four of us made our purchases and headed to The Alley Cafe for coffee and cake and a read of our comics. Along the way to visit Nottingham Contemporary, we flitted into a number of record stores, purchased some lollipops in the cutest vintage store and then headed to the gallery where the boys got stuck into some collage work based on the exhibition. Part of the exhibition was about light and so in the education space there was an opportunity for children to use torches and light sources and magnifying glasses to play and bounce light off different surfaces along the walls and ceilings. My youngest child, my 'sensory boy' delighted in blinding me and half of the gallery with his super experiments with reflective surfaces and mirrors! At around the time of this trip, my eldest boy had developed an interest in Architecture and technical drawing. I loved watching him really savour the exhibition of drawings by Pablo Bronstein which were inspired by buildings and architecture.

Whilst we were hanging around outside Nottingham Contemporary, I managed to get a picture of my youngest boy. The one who is so rarely still. It's the one of him lying down gazing at me. It melts my heart as it reminds me of his gaze when I used to breastfeed him in the hazy baby days. I also managed to snatch some pictures of my eldest. He's 10 now and like so many people say, I have no idea where all that time went. Perhaps, only now that I am re-training and returning to the work world, I am really able to stand back and feel so happy, that I got to spend every minute that I could of those ten years with this boy! I was always grateful for my 'at home years' but the last couple of years have been challenging as I have navigated our family's changing needs and looked to find 'me' again and the question of what my contribution to the world will be in the future. You know, the small stuff! I'm just that little bit more grateful now that I'm able to stand back and see how much they've grown, how far they've come. 

It's becoming somewhat of a tradition to go book and vinyl digging whenever we head to a new city, some members of our family enjoy this more than others. The photos tell no lies! When I lived in Nottingham 13 years ago, I used to spend hours dipping in and out of vintage shops down side roads and tucked behind spaces off main roads, it was joyous alone time. On this trip I managed a quick look and a couple of photos but all I could hear was the clatter of my youngest child 'trying' to move calmly around a jam packed teeny tiny space and a husband exhaling loudly. I didn't buy anything, except the two lollipops because two creatures made begging noises like baby seals till I caved. There was also the moment when I saw a photo booth and went to the effort to get change and for one moment I really thought I was going to have a perfect hula seventy moment. But, it turns out you have to be a genius to get all four of you in the picture or thighs of steel as you assume the correct posture for the vaguely acceptable shot! I would have included our comedy fail pictures but I put them in a book somewhere to flatten the photos and now can't find them anywhere! But that's okay because this trip was just one that was memorable, it was spontaneous and effortless and made me think 'I wish trips were always like this'. Of course, they aren't always like this, at least not in our family. But the days where everything slots into place are worth remembering because it will be good to come by here and take a look on the days when it all feels a bit messy, a bit bleak. And if I've learned anything at all, then it's this, it's always worth taking the A -roads, always.