Monday, 25 July 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

We all have little scars on our heart. Pain that has healed over to help us love, laugh and live again. Every so often these hidden marks are lightly touched and although they no longer bleed they are still painful when unexpectedly prodded, the fingers of other people's news opens up old wounds.

Although I didn't know her or see her perform, she has often sung into my ear as I walked along the street, I have danced with her, she accompanied my sister as she walked towards her groom on her wedding day. Like millions of others I didn't know Amy, but when I heard of her death one of the scars of my heart was touched. Her life like many light and easily cut free, heavy in the burden of loss that is repeated so many times throughout the centuries and thousands of times a day. It may be fake to cry for a woman we did not know but we should always be touched lest we lose our humanity.

In Camden Town shrines are being built, sick jokes are told, her songs are being played, people jostle to tell their story of her. She was a celebrity and so she becomes public property, like a cartoon figure it can be easy to forget that she was real. The biggest trajedy of all is not that a genius has been lost prematurely but that the natural order of a family has been broken , a mother and father will have to bury their own child. This is what touched one of my scars. I have been witness to this trajedy a few times in my life so far and it is not a sight I ever wish to see again. When I listen to her music now I will think of the fact that however close you hold your children they will find their own way , lightly given, lightly taken. Sometimes this love is so heavy it is unbearable.

I didn't know her but her death touched me, reminded me that each person we love is only one and that eventually they will be blown away as a feather. This is the unbearable lightness of being. The heaviness is that which is left behind.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Music to wash cups by

Domesticity. Grist for the mill, but do we really want to hear about it. No, me neither. 'Write about what you know' they say. I am laying down my own personal creative gauntlet. You may not want to hear it, but i'm cranking up the sound anyway. This is high kitchen sink drama an ipod epic, a survival guide for behind closed doors.

Friday Night: Barefoot in the kitchen listening to Edif Piaf 'Ma Vie en Rose'. The air is humid and her sweet sorrow fills me. I am Juliette Bincohe from 'Chocolat' as I stir the Sag Panner. I am the little sparrow as I warble along, a five foot urchin in the back streets of Paris. I am not a fading star at forty, but a tragic Diva plunging the dishes into very hot water.

Friday Night: I want to go out dancing. Imelda May is singing of Handsome Devils and she gets my foot tapping. I dance through the daily grind. Knickers shaken and hung out with a burlesque flourish, I shimmy and lindy hop before I tackle the towels. Domesticity is no obstacle as I lasso a tea towel around my head, i'm getting a little over excited and I haven't even opened the wine. I strut down the short hallway running out of space, I shimmy my shoulders to the sound of dirty trumpets and enter am empty bathroom. Life's too short to clean the loo on a Friday night. A night that will end in broken glass and our four year old son buggering off out with his new friends as we settle down to a night by the disused gas fire.

Saturday Morning: Amy Winehouse 'Frank' as I wash the wine bottles from our night in. 'You should be stronger than me" I croak and wail. I wish i'd washed up the curry things from the night before. I go all South London and sassy, the aubergine cubes clogg the plughole adding a little urban grit as I unplug the sink. Pearl Rose crawls in and tugs at my leg. A bit of Led Zepplin methinks. She's that type of little lady. I hope the rain will stop soon as the accidentally broken window may let water in. No drunken dramas here. Just a heavy hand closing an old sash . Luckily the passing dog walker was not injured. George returned home at 10.30pm off his face on fudge cake, reporting that the neighbours have a boat in their lounge. They do.

Saturday Morning Second Sink Load: My hands are submerged in the boiling water. I can never get the mixer tap thing right. The rain is pummelling the poppy heads in the garden and the trees quiver in the short bursts of breeze. The steam from the water creates mist on the kitchen window. My view of the garden is temporarily blurred. I am listening to Goldfrapp's 'Felt Mountain' her voice mainlines into the quietest part of my soul , the beautiful bit that i'm proud of , the bit that makes me strong. I remember I have to wash my hair before Pearl wakes up and run a bath to the ethereal strains of Goldfrapp's 'Horses Head'. I feel decadent as i wipe the sink with a make up wipe.

Saturday Lunch: Man and boy are back from a Claws and Jaws petting party. Man's eyes are glazed but George got to hold a coackroach. We're all getting on top of each other this wet weekend and the ipod dock has run out of juice. Houmous and pitta prepared to the music of the house. The moan of the washing machine, muffled television , the singing of toys. I am granted a pass out of here and walk to the Union music store. They have free American folk music on a saturday.

Saturday Night Dinner-it's a wrap: Twenty four hours later and Juliette Binoche has left the building. The sky outside is grey and threatens more rain. Morrissey sings of there being a place in the sun for everyone as George saturates the kitchen window with his water pistol. As I slam the onion onto the chopping board there is nothing else for it, its time to get in touch with my masculine side. Cue Led Zepplin and a 'Whole Lotta love' . Nothing beats rockin out when the mood strikes, nothing beats Led Zepplin full stop. A brief respite in the sublime before it's back to the grind. All this excitement has worn me out. I decide to have a quiet night in.

Dance as though no is watching. Don't you dare! Dance as though you have an audience of thousands and a backing band to boot. That way you'll give the performance of a lifetime every time. Women of the nation, shake a tail feather as you unload the dishwasher, samba with the mop , shimmy for England as you stir the pot, inject some drama into the domestic.

I notice that the ipod dock is often in the kitchen when I return from my daily jaunts. The hoovering and washing up done, his large marigolds hanging over the tap.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Because we are all 'worth it'

As she shakes her silky hair she tells us we are 'worth it'. When we buy our children the latest treat it is because we love them. When we are bought frivolous gifts it is because we are special. In an age of austerity is it about time we stopped attaching such emotional importance to the things we can no longer afford to buy?

As I approach 40 I have to admit that I am not a naturally thrifty woman by nature. I love beautiful things and have spent many a pound on decadent shoes and wallpaper that was so fine I wanted to peel it from the walls when I moved house.I am cursed with the affliction of having a good eye for detail in these matters and it has cost me dearly. I admired and wanted not only their beauty but the warm feeling of treating myself , to reward myself , to cheer myself up. Sometimes I even shopped in anger. After a bad morning in the office I charged into town and bought some hot, red ankle boots. Don't get me wrong I flaming enjoyed those boots, but it is only in retrospect that I understand my erratic purchasing treats and i'm not alone. Many of us buy things as a way of self medication as a way of telling ourselves we are worth it. The fact is, we are all worth it, the question should be, can we still afford it? There is no shame in being down at heel if you are going through tough times. Pulling your belt in should not be seen as an indicator of low self esteem but a good measure of common sense.

It is not only the things we buy ourselves that demonstrate our love. We are under increasing pressure to treat our children on a daily basis, as though a well turned out child is more loved than the next. It is as though buying that cheaper alternative for our cherished offspring is telling them that they are not worth it. It is a nonsense that has to stop. You cannot gild a lily , nothing that money can buy competes with that winning smile. Parents are encouraged to use sweet treats and gifts to reward good behaviour. They can have it when they have deserved it, when they have earned it. At some point wether they deserve it or not becomes immaterial . Many people simply cannot afford it despite working hard , despite being worth it. When we put so much store in the material, it is no wonder that purchasing power and self esteem are so inextricably linked.

So yes, at almost forty i'm still not a naturally thrifty woman, but old dogs can certainly learn new tricks. I put that critical eye to great effect in charity shops and sales, I am the bionic woman with my eagle eye. Beautiful presents will still be gratefully accepted on the big day but if times are tough let's just clink glasses. We are all in it together, not seperated by love tokens that don't tell us how much we are worth, but how much our family and friends currently have in the bank.

Buying a new pair of shoes today was about a hole in a sole not a hole in my soul and yes they were red. Old habits die hard and at half their original price they were most definitely worth it.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Not drowning but waving

"When people ask, 'How are you?' have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you…" Mayo Angelo.

When the parish priest asked my nan how she was one Sunday after mass, she lent on her stick and let rip " To be honest, I just feel like jumping in the river and letting my hat float. " My nan could moan for England and although her constant rants about her "bloody knees", and the rising prices on the Streatham High Road drove us up the wall, I'm beginning to admire her sentiment. We live in age where putting on a front and being positive have reached critical mass, as though saying how you really feel is akin to wetting yourself in public.

The Internet is teeming with chat rooms and forums full of people pouring their hearts out. Many are lonely, some depressed others seem close to letting their hats float. Nobody has asked them how they are but they feel a need to tell someone because everyone they meet seem to be coping so well. They are referring to the followers of the new cult of positive thinking. Having a moan about relentless toddler tantrums, financial hardship or hating your job is letting the side down. People have become fearsome with their evangelical Zeal, Negative comments or moans are shot down with withering one liners "Oh it's not that bad". " I wouldn't go that far" or my personal favourite ' You just get on with it". I find this brand of pathological positivity oppressive and I'm nowhere near a river in my hat.

I feel like an idiot abroad, if someone asks me how I am I tell them, it was the way I was brought up. I do not expect sympathy or solutions I'm just not a very good actress, I can't help it if my personality is not in vogue. In my mind it is not positive thinking that improves your life it's taking action. A shitty situation is a shitty situation. Brushing it under the carpet with a smile is simply storing up more cleaning for later on, I'm all for dragging the carpet out and giving it a good beating. Some things in your life need changing, not looking at from a different angle with a false grin on your face. Am I the only one that finds moaning hilarious? It lies at root of much of our British comedy , much more of this forced jollity and we won't have anything left to laugh about.

My grandmother never did jump in that river. She lived into her eighties surviving the last rites by six months. She was a woman who danced her way through the blitz but had no truck with the stiff upper lip. People may have looked the other way when they saw her coming but there was no denying she was a tough old bird because most of the time there is no choice but to get on with it, it's a given isn't it. If I've learned anything it is that people don't always want to hear it and the world has it's place for sunny types. But there is also a place for people who like a good old fashioned moan and you may just find, if you let your guard down a little, people won't just smile and cross the street they'll seek you out. Not for sympathy or solutions but for a little bit of recognition. It's not drowning but waving, because we all have to get on with it, it's just comforting to know we are all swimming in the same river.