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This boy

29 Sep

With a precision unexpected for someone his age, the little boy gently positions the bashed-about pink Cadillac into his line of traffic, placing it just close enough that it seems to nudge the green pick-up truck in front, but actually not quite. He squats back on his heels to assess his work, anxious to ensure that not one car, bus or ambulance has been knocked out of place by his final action. Even the various wobbly motorbikes, and the tractor missing one large tyre, have been put to use in creating a snake of vehicles which now curves around the legs of the glass topped dining table, along the skirting board behind the leather sofa, and back towards the French windows. The entire garage is used up – the boy stopped counting at twenty-one-forty and thinks there must be amazing millions of awesome cars now out on his road. He takes a chomp out of the Smartie cookie given to him by the growed-ups, along with the request to go and play nicely in the back room. It’s been hours,  and nobody’s been to check on him. Where is everyone?

“I dun it!” the boy calls out. “Come and see… look at this. Come on, oh come on…” He clambers to his feet, clumsy and rushed but still remembering to tread with caution so as not to disturb his work, and sets off to seek out his missing adult audience. They must be in the bedrooms as the kitchen is empty, and the living room, too.

Starting up the stairs, one hand trailing the wall to keep him on the wide part of the steps and avoid the narrow bit by the bannisters, he traces the fishy shapes carved into the wooden dado rail as he goes. Before reaching the midway turn and the first-floor landing, the ring of the doorbell diverts him. Urgently the boys twists round to head back to the front door – keen to be the first to get there. He has recently discovered he’s grown tall enough to reach up and turn the latch without using a chair. He’d always believed that being 5-years-old makes you important, and now he is. Ignoring all requests not to do so, he believes that opening the front door is something he must now be allowed to do.

“Are you here because my Dad’s dead?”

The man on the doorstep is not wearing a police uniform. No badge, no car with a flashing light. He’s not a postman either although he is in possession of a large box, which looks really interesting, and he’s got a beard which is squiggly, as if it’s been scribbled on his face. The boy likes the way the man’s eyebrows have shot up in response to his question, like a cartoon person. It’s funny. And the man’s mouth has dropped open as if the jaw suddenly became unhinged. He doesn’t answer the question though.

The boy tries another: “Is that for me, what is it?” He waves his chubby hand at the box.

“I’m so sorry.” A tall woman with tired shoulders comes up behind the boy and puts a restraining hand on his shoulder to draw him back into the hallway. “Can I help you?” She smiles in an oh-dear-I-can-see-that greeting-is-not-what-you-expected kind of way.

The boy shakes free, anxious to reaffirm his right to quiz the visitor: “Granny, I got here first.”

Now the man speaks, jump-started by the presence of the woman, and ready to deliver his much-rehearsed lines: “I’m sorry to bother you at this time. I’m sure you’re busy. It’s just my wife and I wanted to say, … well that we are thinking… well, hoping it might, sort of ….” The man tails off as he makes to transfer his cargo over to the older lady. Despite practicing, his prepared speech has evaporated leaving him dry and script-less.

“But Mister Person, what is it in the box?” persists the boy, not ready to be shushed. “Is it for me?”

“Food. Treats, nice things I hope.” For the first time the man addresses the boy directly. “For your mum. There’s a card inside.”

“I hope it’s chocolate. Is it chocolate? You should bring chocolate, and for me too.”

“Now darling, that’s enough. Let him go.” The grandmother accepts the box and moves backwards away from the door, and which her grandson is now starting to close. “And thank you, she’ll be very touched.”

As he retreats down the garden path to what now feels like the sanctuary of the pavement, the visitor is relieved to have run his errand. He can still hear the boy protesting loudly that the box should be for him.

“Nobody is being sad to me, I get nothing.” he shouts. “And it is my Dad what is dead.”



cupboard loves

28 Sep

There’s something pleasing about a line-up of closed cupboard doors – whether kitchen, bedroom, hallway. It’s not simply about efficient storage, but also the thrill of imagining what lies behind! The doors are authority, a formal closure which can be a hiding to all or nothing.
Google tells me the first recorded use of the word ‘cuppebord’ in Middle English denoted a sideboard or table for storing the daily kitchenware, but today we’re centuries on from a description of somewhere to stash the daily crockery. The intervening years have supplied the addition of a door on our cupboard, to conceal the contents of a recessed space or free-standing unit, still usually with shelves. And herein lies the intrigue. Whether you picture a wardrobe or closet, cabinet or armoire, I propose that to most of us a neatly tethered door (latch, knob or push-open mechanism – what’s your favourite?) is the sign of a promise to come. I give you a hiding place, the holder of secrets and guardian of potentials.
An encounter with my open wardrobe for example, will talk to you of all my incarnations whether you knew them already or not. Here’s the larger me, now the trim one, my party-essentials, my one-day-maybe gowns, my smarter, working clobber, and the can’t-bear-to-throw-out threadbares, too. In an effort to remain discreet, hanging garments are racked sideways on making them slower to spill the whole story; shoes below are stacked in boxes to further the air of mystery.
Conversely, the two, floor-to-ceiling hall closets reveal an entirely different treasure. Throwing open the doors with a silent tah dah! showcases a ‘mad professor’ array of boxes, answerphones, wireless receivers, transmitters and modems, each flashing and winking at each other in electronic knowingness. It’s the hub of the house, keeping us online and contactable. Only qualified personnel can rummage in here – you must be schooled by our handy-gadget guy, signed off as someone ‘who can’ before flicking switches and pulling plugs. Otherwise, back off quick.
My über-personal cupboard is the one under the stairs. Not easy to reach into, deep and oddly-shaped, it safeguards a 3-D jigsaw puzzle of boxes and crates. It’s my work of art – all items neatly packed and labeled with love. It’s proper stuff (no nonsense) that I believe just might become re-useful. Sentimentality be praised, all is valuable here. There are practicalities such as Christmas decorations, of course. Collected over years from family and on my travels. A blow-up bed (never used, but you never know), and a hoard of every type of phone charger I will not require again but a guest might? From my hobby years, a stock of knitting wool and used-once dress patterns, indeed a heavy old sewing-machine bequeathed by Granny – idle for 17+ years but too valuable to ditch. A carton of ‘work-papers 2000-04’ records my first essay into running a business and warns of a whole other story for a different telling. Can’t bear to read it, can’t bring myself to rubbish it. Sweetly, my school satchel has become nostalgia-packed, these days the smell of teenage years is wrapped around a carefully selected, representative sample of text books and a copy of my university dissertation. Unpublished.
I wonder what my cupboarded possessions will divulge to a future discoverer? On my demise, someone will go through them all and I hope not simply wonder at all this hoarding, but also smile at me perhaps, and share my thrill of cupboard searching.



The lovebomber

26 Aug

Dear Son
So you’ve gone! Off with friends to a festival somewhere down the M4. Reading is a spot I associate more with a large train station, and long-established motorway services than a mecca for 90,000 music fans gathering in a field to celebrate grime, indie, rock and soul. But that’s my education lacking.
I’m pleased we parted on good terms – I have accepted that you didn’t need to pack wellie boots to wade through the muddy fields, a second sweater just in case of cold nights, or a pillow for your darling head. I do now understand that you prefer not to be weighed down by supplies of Paracetamol, sun cream or sticking plasters – I thank heavens you saw the wisdom of taking your Asthma inhaler. And I consider it a victory you have added a clutch of cereal bars, a toilet roll, 2 plastic bags for damp clothes, and wet wipes to your bag. Would deodorant have been too much to ask, and I wonder if you found the banana and Berocca I hid in the side pocket of the holdall? It was funny that you insisted on a taking a fold-up camping chair to save your butt from the hard ground. In my day we would’ve called you a sissy but I guess I’m out of touch.
So, my boy… have fun. Be safe. Eat something green or fresh occasionally. Keep in touch. Text often. Play nicely. These are my wishes for you and your crew. I hope you’ve heeded my attempts to teach you how to place someone in the recovery position should it be required. I hope you’ve not been searched and caught smuggling in alcohol or worse. And if you have, maybe don’t tell me? I confess I secretly hope you didn’t arrive in time to camp in the infamous ‘under-18s’ purple camp zone, and have had to join the family white camp with shower facilities and adults to watch over you. So much nicer.
In the next few days, I will try and get over my envy at the exuberance and ‘don’t fuss’ attitude of your teenage years – they make me nostalgic for own long gone youth. I will not succumb to the desire to call you 10 times a day to check you’re conscious and hydrated (wearing clean pants and brushing your teeth?). I will be impressed if you could drop me the odd message, and love it if you share the news of which acts you’ve seen and the best musicians you’ve discovered. I will not allow your younger brother to play your Xbox games, take up residence in your bedroom and ransack your belongings – much less report to me any of his findings. I will not be interested. Promise. When you come home on Monday, cranky, smelly and sleep-deprived, I will lovebomb you. I intend to be patient, not mind that you’ve left the tent, chair and sleeping bag behind, or if it takes a week to encourage you to unpack, much less wash, your kit.
Hmmm, and I won’t make a big deal out of the fact that, as I write, I’ve received a message delivered via a friend on an unknown mobile number, that you’ve lost your new iPhone 7 and will not be contactable. My imagination has upgraded the party it was having to a full-on rave in my head… it’s going to be a long, exhausting weekend.
Much love, Mum x

My life in boxes

17 Aug

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.

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.