Rusk Assessment

Phew! Finally, we’ve moved into the house we’ve been imagining for 30 years. And it’s lovely – all new, all clean, and best of all, clutter-free! Thank you, Lewis the fantastic carpenter and clutter-buster, who built us hundreds of drawers/cupboards/ built-ins/walk –ins/ plug-ins and slidey bins that have us as close to minimalist as we’re ever likely to be.

But not for long.

Enter our granddaughter Matilda Florence Byng and her lovely parents, trailing the vast paraphernalia of stuff required to deal with a baby’s hunger, thirst, tiredness, cold, heat,boredom, snot, vomit, plops, and anything else that mess-croppedisn’t going to help her get into Oxford. (Well you can’t start these things too early). And it’s messy. But somehow a pile of miniscule vests, a cereal- encrusted bib or a little coloured brick that gouges a chunk of skin from the unwary foot, are all so cute!

Nevertheless when she leaves, we like having our clean house back – for about ten minutes! Less, actually, before I find myself all teary when I come across a packet of her special organic rusksrusks-cropped – the signature snack for our favourite dribbly person – trailed around the house with her particular pals, Pinkie the pink thing and Kevin the koala. And suddenly we find ourselves with a big Tildy-shaped hole in our lives that we long to fill with all that wonderful mess, tedium, vigilance and joy that a gorgeous little person creates effortlessly. I’ve always thought a clean house was overrated, now I know why.

bob-and-tildy-2

reading-to-tildy

 

We didn’t have long to wait before we were reunited for her first birthday celebration in London. It’s a trip we’ve made at least forty times before, so why do I suddenly feel so anxious? It’s all here – the family, the old friends, the dulcet articulate drone of Radio 4, the shops, the theatres, the streets and buses and tubes we’ve been hopping on and off since childhood. And maybe because Tildy is our tangible, and precious reminder that so much is set down early in life, I’ve been thinking about that childhood.

Freedom to roam the streets, taking ourselves to and from school, risking our lives on dodgy playground equipment with no parents hovering, are all gifts we didn’t value at the time. We were allowed to get on with it, and I can see now, that if you’ve just come slidethrough a world war, letting your kid hurtle down a slide the size of Nelson’s column, was the least of your worries. Nevertheless, I don’t remember feeling scared of my world, and I’m the person who invented risk aversion.

I do get it, that the golden era of free university, a bag of chips for sixpence,fries a month in Greece for twenty quid, and a house that we didn’t have to mortgage our souls for, is long gone. And was it really that golden? I remember pubs so smoky you couldn’t see who you were talking to (just as well really), having to go down the street to make a phone call, living in flats with no central heating,  no fitted carpets and – ikeaunimaginably – no IKEA furniture or Netflix! But there were reassuring, if dreary certainties: a job for life with a gold watch and a pension if you stuck it out, a religion that promised you a spot in heaven if you did all those Novenas, and the knowledge that tomorrow would be pretty much like today…just a bit duller.

This generation has to write its own script – aided and abetted by Messrs Jobs and Gates and Zuckerberg, who may or may not have equipped them for the bumpy ride on the Globalisation/Brexit/Trump juggernaut through a warming planet into a sharing economy, armed with a smart phone and a flexible take on each new scary twist technology throws at them. nokia-3310And while there’s no way they want to go back even to the Nokia 3310, never mind the shared phone box in the street, what kind of world is our lovely little bub going to inherit?

Louis MacNeice – well known Irish poet (and friend and colleague of my lesser known  dad) – must have been having the same wake-up-in-the-night scary thoughts about the future for children yet unborn, when he wrote these lines in his sombre and frightening poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’*

‘That the human race may with tall walls wall me…

Would freeze my humanity…

Would make me into a cog in a machine…

Would blow me like thistledown hither and thither…’ (Oh no, poor Matilda!)

He wrote this poem during World War 2, and it seems like a highly appropriate response to all that carnage and hopelessness. But then it dawned on me that the generation for  whom he held such fears, was mine! And only a few years after all that horror, we just strode on through perfectly OK lives with scarcely a backward glance. Indeed as he hoped, in his last verse, the earth:

‘Provide[d] me
 with water to dandle me,

Grass to grow for me,

Trees to talk 
to me,

Sky to sing to me,

Birds and a white light
 in the back of my mind to guide me.’

So clearly there’s no point in viewing the future through my nanna-shaped lens, so badly distorted by worry and bewilderment. Hell, I don’t even have a smart phone, so how would I know how it all works! parot-3-200x150What I do have is the weight in my arms of a fragrant little person pointing with equal delight at the jeweled bright Queensland parrots, or the soft, dun coloured London sparrow-1sparrows…she’s not fussy…everything is a complete delight to her. And together with trusty friends Pinkie and Kevin, her joy in the adventure of her life is what will inspire us all.

tldy-and-friends

  • These are just random extracts from this poem. The full version is very powerful, and a bit scary. Nevertheless I commend it to you (maybe with a strong cup of tea…or gin.)
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Thrills and Spills

tilda 5Thrilling is not a word I’d use to describe our life at the moment. Comfortable, yes. And predictable. We know we won’t be running the New York Marathon any time soon, I’ll never be size 8 again, and there will definitely be a re-run of ‘Midsomer Murders’ some time in the next 24 hours.

marathon

So predictable is a bit dull, but it’s pleasant. We might cruise tranquilly through the specials at Aldi, or have morning tea at the seniors film club, go to choir practice, or play golf…fortunate indeed to be able to drift peacefully into our sunset years. The closest we get to thrilling is when Midsomer Murders shows an episode we haven’t seen before. Or maybe we just can’t remember.

midsomer murders

But all that changed at 4.35 pm on Thursday 21st January at St Thomas’ Hospital. Within sight of Big Ben and the London Eye and probably within the sound of Bow Bells – if they were dinging especially loudly – our first grandchild, Matilda Florence (Mo Flo* to her friends) arrived.

big ben

Our first sighting was on Skype, but within 24 hours we had in our arms the soft weight and heft and smell of this brand new person. It is nothing short of astonishing. A couple of days before, she was a tidy bump that twisted and flexed, but didn’t stop her mum going to the movies or eating a birthday banoffee cake (made with mango – Queensland style). But now! This wriggly bundle of life with the dark eyes and rosebud lips is so emphatically here! She commands us all to smile and coo and repeat to each other how beautiful she is. And she is.

thea banoffeetilda skype

OK, arguably no more beautiful than all the other babies, but try telling that to all the people grinning stupidly around her. She is beautiful because she’s the next bit of our families – those little houses of hope we constructed in the face of all the crap that life might rain on us (not literally, we hope). Thank goodness we don’t know this when we embark with such blithe optimism on the business of rearing new people out of love and hope. And thank goodness we don’t know how hard it will be to give ourselves over to these new people…to watch and fret over their every move, to minister blindly to their every need, even when we are only guessing what that need is.

Tilda 4

So that’s part of the thrill – the sheer optimism of a new baby. But there is more to it. Trouble is, every time you try to explain it, you end up in clichés, because it’s the most common thing in the world. It has to be, or we wouldn’t have a world, so why is it so special when it happens to you? That’s the paradox – it’s unique and commonplace, profound and ordinary. It’s so huge it connects you with the grand universal story of humankind and yet all these unexceptional people have managed it…even idiots like your own parents!

Tilda me and Bob

But there are a few special thrills for grandparents:

  • You get to relive and remember when it was you that was suddenly responsible for this other life…the whole sweet awfulness of it all.
  • Airbrushed by time, you realize what a remarkable job you did getting them to sleep, feed and poo unscathed. (That’s them. You were extremely scathed at the time).
  • You get to say profound things like, ‘I think it’s wind,’ and people listen to you as if you know stuff.
  • And it’s your baby with a baby of her/his own. We can’t help taking some vicarious pride. Job done, back patted. We must have done something right. (Certainly not tight swaddling…I still can’t manage that.)

tilda and me

And as for that old chestnut, ‘the best thing about grandchildren is that you can give them back.’ Nup, that’s not it. Surely the best thing about the degree of separation is that you feel the same ridiculous love for this little person as you did for your own, but because it’s no longer you in that hormonal haze of exhaustion and exhilaration, you can enjoy the marvel of it, and savour it, think about it, gaze at the baby and later at the pictures (all 529 of them) with a bit of time to enjoy it. Not too much savouring went on first time around. More like saving – your life – before you go bonkers.

Thea, Si and Matilda

Happy two-month birthday Matilda – the thrill that keeps on thrilling!

*Can’t claim the name…that was coined by that well known wit Dr Tim Dark.

 

 

Resolution revolution

resolutions 2Last New Year’s Eve, I had a brilliant idea. We’d write down three resolutions, put them in an envelope, then take them out at the same time next year and check them. I’m not sure what I thought would happen then. I suppose we’d either feel new yearsridiculously smug, or be seething with self – loathing, neither of which are especially appealing. Anyway as you might imagine, it didn’t turn out as planned. Our first mistake was resolving to do this before a few glasses of bubbles. Predictably, by the time the fireworks fired, the clock struck twelve, Auld Lang was signed, no one could be arsed to find a bit of paper and a pen so we decided to do it in the morning!

Given that my first big resolution was to stop procrastinating it wasn’t a promising start to 2016. But my second resolution – to stop wasting time – fared a bit better. At least we hadn’t wasted valuable time writing down fragile promises to ourselves. And that’s when it dawned on me. Stop wasting time making resolutions! If you really wanted to do it, you would! You don’t waste time writing down the things you really want to do, you just do them. If I made mine into a list it would go something like this:

  • Eat some chocolatechocolate
  • Have a drink
  • Watch some telly
  • Walk on the beach
  • Cook something nice for dinner
  • Have some friends over
  • Practise my choir music
  • Read my booktyping
  • Skype the kids
  • Write something
  • Email friends

 

 

Whereas the resolutions go more like this:

  • Lose weight
  • Clean the house
  • Do tummy crunches
  • Start Yoga
  • Clean up and organize all my emails since 1998

But hang on, would I be a better person if I’d achieved the latter and stopped doing the former? I’d be thinner, more toned and I’d have a clean house and a clean computer. But was the old chocolate-munching, beach-walking, offspring-skyping me so bad? That word RE-SOLUTION is basically an attempt to keep solving the same problems…over and over. So maybe it’s time to de-problemmatise my inability to be someone else, and just be me.

And this latest blog post is incontrovertible evidence of the uselessness of resolutions. I started it weeks and weeks ago and we’re already half way through the season of Lent, just in time for another bout of self-flagellation about my shortcomings! So this year I’ve decided to give up feeling inadequate, and just try to do what I like to do, really well.

pink-diaryFor a start I like – more like a compulsion really – to mark the passage of time with some kind of record-keeping. It’s an attempt, I suppose, to make some meaning out of my days on the planet, and to that end I’ve kept a diary since about 1962. Clearly it was part of my make-up long before ‘time’s winged chariot’ went into the warp speed it is now.

So, since we have spent these last three months in London, I decided I’d post something quirky or interesting on Facebook every day. How easy it would be! London provides endless inspiration, and I have my lovely new ipad mini so I can click and post seamlessly. And it was fine for the first few days…a pink wintry sky or a gleaming red bus was enough to intrigue my Facebook friends (all 37 of them).

red sky

bus

me and matilda 2But now – on day 70 – it’s dominating my entire life! I’ve scoured the streets and sky, hung out of train windows, and trespassed in people’s gardens in the quest for some post-able event. I’ve had to shuffle the days, make stuff up, perv on unsuspecting tube travelers, and set my family up in all manner of poses (OK, that one with the Dalek was a bit much.) diaryOnly occasionally have I resorted to granny-bragging, even though our new granddaughter – the main reason for our visit – is completely adorable. But, with one week to go, I’ve pretty much done it. And I have to say it feels OK to set a goal and fulfil it. But more than that I now have a photo-record of a lovely time in our lives – daleks and all.

And in a curious Mathematical equation, which you probably won’t find in the pages of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (because you won’t be looking…and neither did I!) the cumulative effect is greater than the sum of its little parts. It’s something to do with the links and connections, and the blithe ignorance of the future that is in a daily post. After a while a pattern emerges of what a period of a life looks like. It’s a bit like a patchwork quilt. The pieces on their own are unremarkable, but brought together and chucked on the bed…it looks terrific. And – bonus – it will warm you on a cold night.

patchwork quilt