My life in boxes

17 Aug storage-box-johnlewis

storage-box-johnlewisI live with boxes; all shapes and sizes, ranging in decoration and made from varying materials. Shabby cardboard or vulgar plastic ones, hidden under beds or the back of cupboards; others proudly decorative and disguised as hatboxes displayed on shelves; a couple more perhaps wooden, large enough to claim place as pieces of furnishing in their own right. Each is replete with my percieved valuable collections of stuff. Such stuff could be ornaments, trinkets, magazine clippings, old letters, certificates even, some papers, many photographs, souvenir tickets, programmes, t-shirts, a tartan jacket (the shame), a guide beret, and school reports. Together they form the edited patchwork of a life at times mostly ordinary. They are my keepsakes, signature notes of my past carefully selected and tidied into order according to life event. It is satisfying to categorise memories and mementoes I find.
Of course in my living today life, I try to downsize: I computerise financial and work records, aim for a paperless home office, become more ruthless about storing kids out-grown toys and hand-me-downs and avoid brimful cupboards which spill open but won’t close again. I’ve chucked out shoes I’ve coveted but never wear (well most of them), single earrings, too-small-frocks, dubious books with torn covers… BUT, I fully intend to retain my stores of real precious-es and hope the sides of a structured box will save them whole, undamaged, undiminished. But for when and who I ask?
My wedding box I opened recently to show my eldest son. Inside, among the place cards, present lists and thank-you letters, pressed flowers and service sheets, Alfie and me found several boxes of saved wedding cake; the juice seeped through to stain the cream cardboard. We munched a piece of the chewy but remarkably stlll edible contents and I hoped he sensed the importance of my sharing the memory of the day I married his Dad. Wishful thinking. Unimpressed, an unsentimental chap he was bored so we closed it up again.
My younger son exorted me to open a vibrant, flowered box so rammed with hand-written letters from student days you can almost hear the chatter and energy of youth contained within. Excited I showed him VIP concert passes from the 90s to Ramones gigs and Michael Jackson concerts. He’s not heard of either! I blushed at the sight of old lover-letters tied in string – how gorgeous to note the abandon with which we dashed off feelings and posted them out. Why do I keep them, he asked? To know that I was once admired by lanky long-haired lads, and was myself less than 50 years old. They remind me I have lived a life before you came, I say. I feel ancient. We replace the box on the shelf.
There is one box I cannot share. It is too hard to open: a purple slim container was as painful to compile as the story it holds. This is the record of loss. Inside, cards, certificates, poems and prayers, a teddy bear and one photograph are memorial to the baby who died before we could know him truely. Baby James was the first of three souls lost to me and my man, and the only one whose body was delivered whole to be held and wept over before being blessed and committed to the ashes. Friends, sisters, mothers and aunts wrote to share and care at the awfulness of no-life. I was comforted to feel less alone. At the morgue they made me ink-prints of his feet on a tiny piece of card, so that he left us his mark. No need to lift the lid on this box. The contents are etched on my memory.
A song springs into my head. Oh My Darling Clementine – my Dad sang to me of the poor miner’s daughter who had herring boxes without topses for sandals. Thinking of him reminds me also how laughed at the ‘we were so poor’ sketch from Monty Python, claiming “there were 150 of us living in a shoe box in the middle of the road..”
There are 150 Nickys living in my various cartons… I like the hoarder in me who, melded with the organised obsessive, packs up my life into parcels. Like packaged gifts, they are there to be opened and enjoyed, mostly by me. In the future they can be disposed of whole, or browsed over by those who might be amused to find out what I cared to box.

Wordy mojo

2 Jul

mojoClambering free from a hole lot of work, shaking off the extra-clingy stickie notes and kicking mounds of magazines, books and memos to one side, I feel happily lighter again. Phew!
This past month or two was some stretch of work activity, but at last I have room in my head for my thoughts to wander and wonder. It occurs to me that I’m getting my wordy-mojo back and I likey like it.
In 1957 Muddy Waters sang “Got my mojo working…”  a tune subsquently picked up by many great artists including Etta James and Eric Clapton. That’s good enough company for me. Hmm, but then tragic singer Jeff Buckley’s ‘Mojo Pin’ song (featuring on his 1994 album Grace) appears to be a psychedelic drug reference. Not so apt, perhaps. I’m reminded that the addition of Mr Mojo Risin to the Doors song ‘LA Woman’ transpires to be an anagram of Jim Morrison, and comes with a cheeky sexy innuendo. This is getting worse!
Diligently, I look up the dictionary definition of ‘mojo’ to find it originally meant magic, magnetic quality or charm. This works. Wait up. Now I read that seemingly ‘mojo’ has come to mean sex appeal – I’m not working so hard on that one. Ah, read can also mean cool or style essence.  Yep, niiiice. I’ll aspire to this last.

Still there?

25 Apr

winnie the pooh & piglet

Still there?” boomed BIG in a loud and confident kind of way down the ‘phone earlier today. “Yep!” I whispered, small-like. “But you’re so quiet – where have you gone and what’s up?” challenged BIG. “Well… I’m doing lots of working hard,  and being reflective, and feeling kind of smallish,” I explained, a tad carefully and just a little wary. “Just checking,” said BIG, kindly. “We’re all here when you want company, no worries til then.”  Hanging up, I felt less vanished. It was nice.


26 Feb

images-3Context (as much as definition, tone and volume) gives a word its resonance and poignancy. Or not.  The how and when can make the most ordinary of greetings, formalities or comments rich with significance and sentiment.
Saturday last, the timing of a simple “Please?” made me stop short as I led my sons out of Waterloo station on a freezing afternoon. We were heading towards a warm café tea – the plea-sayer was already seated, tired and grubby on the icy grey pavement. Sad eyes told me desperation and hunger were the order. Suddenly acutely sad for the beggar, I proffered more coins than usual. Touched by the moment, ashamed that it took the inclement weather to incite this generosity, in my mind I questioned whether humility is the dish best served cold?
My teenage son says “Sorry!” while rolling his eyes and sighing, revealing how very unremorseful he feels. Later, as I bend my head to say goodnight, he whispers his real apology unbidden and I hear the meaning loud and clear.
The declaration “We did it” can signal incrimination, affirmation or celebration according to the moment, while double-entendres are innocent or bawdy with either careless or careful placement. The most generic of nouns can be rendered superbly-special: Train has special meaning as the first intelligible word uttered by one of my children, parental friends cite shoe and duck with similar affection. “Bedtime” has numerous possible intentions: a statement, a question a threat… an invitation perhaps!
My Dad has Alzheimers. He lives some distance away – metaphorically and actually. He’s no longer sure who I am, and loses his words by the day. Those he does share with me don’t always enlighten. But, however muddled, I gift the words with imagined meaning drawn from the context. At the end of my latest visit I kissed him goodbye and promised I’d be back soon. “Back soon…” he repeated. I added a question mark and a requestful intonation in my head. Poignant. Back soon?  I wish he would be.


8 Feb

ImageSome words are wonderfully descriptive, even when you’re not sure of what! A run of four syllables is usually a surefire way to get my attention and recently I’ve picked up one gem of a quadsyllablic word that’s new to me: murmuration. Just roll it round your tongue a moment or two before I reveal – if you don’t yet know – what it means. Stare at the spelling, it looks right but wrong somehow (yes, I did spellcheck and crosscheck and the double u-sage is correct). How delightfully mischievous!
The dictionary advises that mur-mur-ation – from the Middle English or Latin murmurare – is the action of murmuring or emitting a low continuous noise, but also it is used as the name for a flock of starlings and this is what I find intriguing. The bird-word derives from the way migrating starlings collect, and try to fly as close together as possible while copying changes in speed or direction, so that the flight of one single bird gets magnified and distorted by all the birds around it and they seem to be creating one big pattern in the sky. It’s mathematical chaos, and a brilliant visual reference for the ‘murmuring noise’ as they flock and wheel and dance in the sky.
More glorious still is the discovery that a murmuration and a susurration (a whispering or rustling noise) are synonyms for each other, AND they each can be used as verbs. Personally I can’t wait for an opportunities to rebuff some child with the command to “stop that murmurating!” or “no susurrating in the cinema please, I’m trying to concentrate on the film”. This word play is seemingly endlessly fun!


26 Dec

twitter-bird-santa-350Retrospection is in the air.  It’s the end of December and time to indulge the pleasure and the pain of reviewing the year in snapshots; the “ouch!” moments and the “ooh remember that” ones, too. Was it a great 2012 for you, or a miserable time for the most part?  I take a poll. My friends’ responses are divided.

Yay! for the Queen’s Jubilee, Obama’s re-election, the Olympics. Personally, my family breathed a sigh of relief as mother sold her house at last and moved closer to my younger sister, and I exhaled deeply as my youngest moved to a new school moderately painlessly. Anyone within earshot couldn’t fail to feel the love as I loudly announced the loss of the 10lbs I gained at Christmas 2011… and became a nicer person again…arguably.

Yet I’m acutely aware also that some friends and colleagues have hit hard times, and the recession continues to bite down with force. The Greeks, the Spaniards, the locals in my rural home county… few escape the fallout of the banking crises (plural). Times they are a-changing, indeed. But while thanks for the sentiment Bob Dylan, what you suggest as swimming doesn’t quite do it for modern time.

So, here I lounge, stuffed with Christmas dinners (plural again) in retrospection – the memories of the past 12 months clinging to the branches of the Christmas tree, puffing up into the atmosphere as I turn the pages of the TV Times, and seeping out on the radio airwaves as Slade, Mud, the Pogues and Greg Lake continue to hold forth (not my choice of song decade after decade but the ‘chef chooses the tunes’ apparently. And I’m not cooking). This ‘looking back’ giving rise to musing, mulling and pondering. What have I learned and what is important in 2012?

Boing! My Twitter account alert sounds out. Hmm, should I have silenced it for today in deference to the family gathering? I should be paying the nearest and dearest full attention. The laptop flashes up a ‘new message’ or two notice… hard to ignore, but I do. Embarrassed, I notice my text message sound is going mad. Is there no peace for someone attempting a bit of contemplative retrospection…? The phone rings.

And there, suddenly I have it. The answer my friends, is written in the ping. This has been a year of connections, of camaraderie. Of not being alone. The joy in being available, reachable and wanted is apparent everywhere. I will embrace it. Happily. And extend my best wishes to you all – real and virtual.

Homework madness

12 Dec

Domestic mental cruelty comes in many guises and to my mind includes the supervision of children’s homework! A word that now sends chills – and pills more often than not – down me. Described as ‘parent assisted learning’ to be done in the home and an invaluable support of the schoolday? Pah! An unnecessary strain on familial relations and a prescription for parental insanity more like.

I recall how naively as a new, inexperienced parent I longed for the day that our young offspring could dress themselves, feed unaided, and climb in and out of the buggy, car, or bed without assistance. Phew, the hard labour was over. We watched beaming with pride as the little ones grew bigger, blissfully unaware that as they lurch from pre-school to infant years and on to junior then senior status, there looms a clear and present terror to be negotiated and one that will last throughout their schooling. Years, many years – sob. [Visualise this author now rocking back and forth and moaning gently at the prospect]

Carers of tender tikes still nursery-bound look away now – try and enjoy what innocence you have left before the madness begins. From reception class forward, no longer will you ferret through the school bag in search of letters of praise, party invitations, ‘playground star’ certificates. Nope. Henceforth you will learn to view with suspicion and fear bags thrown in the hallway spewing papers and exercise books, forms and charts. Oh yes, dear reader, the homework years are upon you – be afraid.

For sure this form of ritual torture for loving parents has been devised by a truly Machiavellian mind. This weekly dishing out of tasks to students of tender to teen ages – verbal, written or mathematical it matters not – is a cunning strategy for slowly but clearly eroding the sanity of any right-minded adult. The torturous process of completing the homework – and remember it is the child who should be fulfilling the paperwork and not you, tempting as it maybe – will involve cajoling, encouraging, bribing then threatening (usually in that order) your reluctant enfant terrible. How quickly the novelty passes of pleasing teacher by knowing the spellings, the times tables, the capital cities of the world… How rapidly they learn that they prefer their energies to spent in more ego-centric activities. Not more work, they cry, its soooo unfair. Let them take responsibility for their actions, or lack of? They’ll suffer their punishments and learn to work willingly at the kitchen table? It’s not that simple, quick or painless. For what your kids don’t do,  you will be charged as guilty. You will face the prospect of missives from the school, summonses perhaps, and uncomfortable parent/teacher interviews.The shame, the indignity, the frustration is awful, and that is the unfairness you wail. But still you bear the brunt. In an era where ‘middle England’ demands that every word, inkspot, calculation is measured and rated in the pursuit of tabling the academic process, homework has taken on an super-importance of its own.

Not that the little treasures themselves care. Tantrums, tears, melt-downs (yours, not theirs most often) will become the norm as you endeavor to follow the timetable. Missed instructions, forgotten books, lost papers… this is what your evenings will be reduced to. Prepare the darkened room and the soothing head compress. Me? I find I get best results when clutching a glass of the coldest white wine available… and ear-plugs so I can’t hear myself shouting!



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