Sports Day ’95

It’s 1995. We are laying in a heap across a small airing cupboard and an elegant entrance hall. All we can do is pant and laugh and curse.

She is my best friend, someone who calls and then we talk hanging upside down from the bed, forever.

We are bang in the middle of the road from childhood to adulthood and can’t breathe! Because school sports day has just ended.

Their home is airy and bright. It seems even larger from floor level. It is also decidedly tidier than ours, which can also be distinguished upside down; and it’s all white inside! The only thing that doesn’t fit the sophisticated image is now us: a sweaty and foul-mouthed heap of two teenage girls on the doormat. I love her and I wipe my eyes.

It’s 1997. She is brave and she is confident, and so she is leaving for a whole school year. Now we are seventeen and things are moving so fast; I write her very long letters, dozens of pages I think, but she isn’t here. Others are, and we get ciders and sit on the hill in the afternoon while boats are swaying gently down in the harbour. I try, but cannot imagine her life over there.

It’s 2001. Everyone has left except for her, she missed a year. I have crashed into early adulthood like a drunk cyclist into a wall (just a metaphor for my part): it hurts everywhere!

My work friends party on Mondays. I have darker heartaches and well-deserved hangovers and suddenly I am feeling old, of all things! So I head out again.

It’s 2019. I sit at a restaurant by the bay, stunned. I listen and I do see her, so familiar, and behind her the water is shifting gently and calmly as ever.

This girl turned expatriate remembers whom I remember, days I remember – remembers me like even I don’t.

She brought this charming piece of evidence with her

Darnest life! We walk our bikes slowly homewards in the dark and it’s summer and the town sounds just the same.

We say see you soon and I hug her tight.

For Laura

Babies seem to come with a spell that is able to stop time. Everything that is anything in a 38-year-old visitor’s life melts away instantly when meeting someone three weeks of age.

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Young babies and young parents seem to live in a timeless bubble of their own. Weekdays or weekends don’t matter, night and day come at the same time and continents easily and effortlessly switch places around them. For a new family, only this moment exists, this moment and what it’s made of.

The parents live only for the baby – and the baby lives because of Mum and Dad. She lives their joy and their tiredness, their heartbeats and the smell of their hair. She lives their warm voices and stroking hands. She feels sudden, frightening bursts of hunger and a content happiness at being cuddled and fed and loved like no-one ever was. Warm baths briefly remind her of something – but she’s with us now, she’s here!

This is her life today, tomorrow it will be a little larger. Tomorrow and every day, until one day she’s 38 and visits someone else’s wonderful baby bubble for an hour or two. To sit and talk and admire, on a spring-time work trip to a beautiful capital somewhere maybe.

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Yesterday’s News

So much happens after nightfall that we never know of.

Every night, new babies cry, and new parents, they cry too.

Every night, horses lie down in their stalls and stand up again to ward off wolves, wolves that never come. Clouds move, winds pick up, rain pours over cities and fields and stretches of ocean.

Tonight, like every night, on a factory loading bay somewhere bleary-eyed immigrants hunch with cold fingers in their pockets, waiting for trucks. A mismatched couple screech insults at each other further down the long block. At last, they get into a car and it’s quiet again.

In a bakery nearby, bread is being made. It’s soft and hot and smells of morning. Tonight like every night, newspapers are being printed and children being made. Tomorrow’s essentials!

At dawn, shattered beer bottles lie on suburban streets. Birds peck at chips dumped on a curb. Forgotten laundry hangs outside a cosy country home, smelling of flowers. An elderly man in the kitchen tries to load the coffee maker without waking his wife. In a bend near his house, a car has shrunk to half its lenght against a tree.

Still, half of human kind lie and dream. Babies and family parties, shooters and killers, long forgotten friends. Deaths and births and reunions. Fears and embarrassments for a fleeting moment nearly come true.

When morning comes, for most people things find their places again. The sky is up and the ground is down, a pleasing frame for a young day. All that just happened – or didn’t really – will soon be just yesterday’s news.

The Cypriot Cure

‘Did you bring the bloodwork?’ mumbled the doctor, gazing at me over her glasses. ‘Oh no, I just had so much on my mind, I’m sorry.’ ‘Get me the bloodwork’, she huffed, visibly annoyed now. ‘You have to take care of yourself! If you don’t, how can you care for your kids?’

Looking at all the things I manage to worry about in my everyday life, worry over my kids tends to be a little bit on the consuming side. Most days I feel good about things, but there are some days in between when just fret, worry and brood and just can’t help myself. On Worry Days, I eat, I worry, I drive, I worry. I go to the doctor, for myself, and remember only upon leaving what it was that I actually phoned in for.

But no matter!

I can just drive back home and indulge in some good fretting over my kids again; over what I’m doing as a parent and whether it’s enough.

Yes I’m doing all I can, obviously, but maybe I should do more? More than I can?

Maybe I should change completely? All of my qualities, for their sake? Be less selfish in my love and give up my spot to somebody else, ffs? Someone confident who knows what the heck they’re doing and what it was they went to the doctor for, that sorta person? Someone on social media, perhaps? Swarms of confident and knowledgeable mothers over there, I’ve noticed!

When it comes to my work, feedback is usually quick. Ok, add a bit of descriptive text then resend. I add descriptive text and resend and everyone is happy. Payment ensues.

With our youngest generation, immediate feedback is often a bit ambivalent. And I guess the real results of our blood, sweat and tears won’t materialise until a decade or two from now. And then, my worried self figures, there will be no kid anymore, but a glaring adult who may choose their graduation or a similar public event to announce they never want kids themselves because their own childhood was so off-putting because of those people, those two over there! We’ll look around and others will look at us, with disapproval, and we’ll look at each other. And I’ll tell my husband I told you so.

‘Have we eaten today?’ he now asks, stroking my hair.

Not at the imaginary graduation (because in all of my imaginings, the last word is mine: ‘so’ from ‘I told you so’) but now here, on our sofa at 22:35.

In Cypriot folklore, whoever goes off the railings with fret is probably a bit peckish. When fed, they will regain their composure and their confidence instantly. Not to mention their belief in God and the unwavering certainty that everything will turn out fabulous at the end, actually. You eat, your worry goes elsewhere, to someone peckish!

But he’s got a point! When a worried person eats, it’s seldom with much mindfulness.

I don’t know it yet but I will eat mindfully tomorrow. I will be sat in my pyjama trousers at the dining table, in front of a hearty bowl of pasta and between us two, a flickering tealight and a bottle of white will sit firmly and decisively on the table.

The wine is to be finished. Music is to be listened to.

Later, snooker will be watched and I can rest my head on someone who knew me years before I became anyone’s mum, and has eaten, and knows the kids the way only we two know. And he is of the opinion that things are going to turn out just fine.

The next day, an alternative graduation scenario shyly comes to mind. A small grin, not vengeful but just relieved and triumphant and young. Rows and rows of parents swept up by a communal silent cry of pride. A tall boy on stage will look for us in the crowd and he’ll smile a bit and we’ll try to wave. And my husband will say I told you so.

The Cypriot cure.

Now testing against pessimism, melancholy, worry and self-pity in overwhelmed working mothers!

Blue and White

I had an aunt who wasn’t related to me at all. She lived a couple of floors below us when I was a baby. Her son slept over at ours sometimes, drew cartoons and built houses in the woods with my brother.

After they left town, this aunt never slipped out of touch for long. Not with my parents. And not with me, either.

Come to think of it, she was the only person outside my own family who knew me my whole life.

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I grew up, moved cities. Felt restless, toured the continent. She was interested in where I was and how I was. I calmed down, got married, babtised my kids; she booked plane tickets and brought presents.

This talented and spirited woman, this wonderful Finnish aunt as a young restless one herself had toured Cyprus, singing in tavernas. She was really pleased with my choice of a husband. So she painted us a picture of two Greek lovers and carefully wrote wedding verse in Greek. Blue and white. White and blue.

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In my childish entitlement, it never crossed my mind that she might one day die.

That day arrived last week.

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I now have a new brother. A brother from another mother! Not related but dear in any case.

I so wish his sadness lets light in one day.

White and blue.

Blue and light.

These are for him, from his childhood and ours:

 

 

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Sitting and Knitting

Once upon a time, on a cold and clear Christmas night way up north, two sisters were sitting and knitting. It rhymes and that is a wonderful thing.

These two sisters had grown up in this house, then left it and braved embarrassments and breakups and other painful things, but now all was well and they were smiling and guffawing. For it was Christmas night and they had been drinking a bit, and to top it all off, there were two hunky men lounging by their side. One, the artist, was drawing and the other one, in elf slippers with jingle bells at the toes, was eating and tweeting.

Now, the sisters were confiding in each other about painful things that adult life had brought their way, things too raw to share with anyone else, and this is what they said:

‘I felt a pick-pocket’s hand in my backpack’, recounted the younger one. ‘Turned around and said in Spanish, ‘They call me the police!” She hung her head over her craft and continued, in a barely audible whisper: ‘He froze because my Spanish was so bad.’

The shared hurt of saying a ridiculous thing in a foreign language gripped the elder sister’s heart, for she too had blurted out outrageous stupidities in foreign tongues. (The hunky men at this point admitted nothing.)

The elder sister contemplated the gravity of what she was about to confess to, then began: ‘I was going to a procedure and was given a hospital gown to wear. I didn’t know if I should remove my underwear or not, why don’t they tell you? I didn’t remember the French word for bra. Instead I boomed through the curtain: Qu’est-ce que je fais avec la brasserie? What do I do with the restaurant?’

With this, the hunky artist ran out for an e-ciggie and the hunky tweeter ran for a long gin drink.

Upon the artist’s return, he surprised everyone with his own sad story. ‘I was out partying in Leeds’ he recounted gloomily, ‘and asked a guy, ‘Can I bum you for a cigarette?’

At this moment the hunk in the jingle bells elf slippers strode back into the room, which was good because all needed cheering up. En route from the kitchen he had heard this poor chap confess his spectacular cock-up and in a sudden surge of solidarity, he went for it, too:

‘I was hosting some Ukranian officials and some Cypriot ones, and thought I knew how to say cheers in Ukranian’, he wailed, ‘So I lead everyone to say that all evening – only to learn it means let’s f**k.’

At this, the sisters fainted and the artist ran for the bus station. The elf slippered hunk went back to tweeting, and the night was again peaceful and bright.

Sweet silence reigned over all lands where during daytime, so many people screw up so badly, and still live to tell the tale. And that, my dearly beloved, is also quite the Christmas miracle, innit?

The Last World

After the café and the swings you said, ”Mummy, is this the last world? After this one, will there ever be another one?”

Your innocent wondering may have been Super Mario inspired, but it stopped me cold in my tracks. All my guilty plane tickets, all my kilometres driven and all the plastic items I ever bought came over me right there, like a huge dirty tidal wave.

Of regret.

I am sorry I haven’t done more to save your last world, love. I don’t know how, or I do I guess, but it seems next to impossible as a choice. You don’t have to but I hope you can forgive me one day. I haven’t tried hard enough.

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There’s no other world for you honey, this is it. This is what I’m leaving you. It looks beautiful and peaceful today, but it’s going to become harder to live in.

I hope you’ll be strong enough, I hope you can stay kind and caring if things get difficult. I hope after it gets worse, it gets better. A lot better, better than we could ever design or plan for, or indeed make happen.

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We are not a great generation that saves you and your world. We are the bad guys: the selfish, the stubbornly ignorant and the lazy. The image-anxious. The corrupt and the power hungry.

I see you get to know the world around us, I can see how exciting and beautiful it is for you. I see you study the stars and I want to see them through your eyes. I want to see them through your kids’ eyes, and their kids’. I want them to study and stand on the rooftop and look at stars, because everything down here is fine, and they can – why couldn’t they?

‘There’s no other planet where people can live, dear’, I say gently, squeezing your little hand a bit tighter. But of course, your busy little mind has already moved on.

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After Cyprus, Where Would You Go?

‘When the man loves the woman more, they have sons’, declared the Ukrainian grandma at the head of the table, nodding at our kids. ‘Da’ attested my gentlemanly husband, giving my thigh a gentle little pat.

We are not this slim, it’s my friend’s camera:)

We were seated around a solid wood table with flowers in the middle, this is Cyprus after all. Outside the air was restlessly shifting under November rain. It was just about to hit these cobbled alleys and mountain pines, and the village dog running up and down the main street barking at cars.

He wouldn’t mind. He had a job to do. So many funny looking Nicosiades to chase!

On the table there were glasses of red, white and water, hot plates of veg and lamb and a salad with fresh bread softening in sweet olive oil. I was tasting something with a difficult name, something quite heavenly when my friend asked of our plans after Cyprus.

‘Where would we go after Cyprus?’ I wondered, looking from plate to plate desperately trying to decide what to try next. ‘What would we eat?’

There was pleasant agreement over the impossibility of eating anything in other countries. We continued the meal surrounded by the old stone walls and happily lunching kids. My other half who has been so absent-minded lately seemed to be quite content too, amidst steaming little plates being entertained by our friend the walking library of… romantic jokes.

I can imagine someone leaving Cyprus for New York maybe. Lots of good stuff to eat there!

But right now I really can’t see where else anyone would like to go after Cyprus, nor indeed why!

And I think grandma might just agree with me! She is clearly a very wise lady.

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