26 March 2009

The Talking Tree

I forgot to add this to the photos of my daily walk in the park with Snoopy. It always reminds me of the talking tree in the Disney film about Pocohontas.

22 March 2009

Mothers' Day

My diary always seems to fill up months in advance these days so there is always something that demands my attention here in London or elsewhere, but never gives me enough time to spare to drive the 120 miles trip (there and back) to see my poor old riddled-with-arthritis mum. She lives alone and finds it harder to cope with the house, garden and shopping.

She is virtually housebound now and relies on me more and more. We really ought to move her closer to us, but in the past we have had thoughts of moving ourselves, once Kay left home, so we put off moving Mum until we knew what we were going to do. Then in more recent years, with Greg's behaviour being so impossible, I have not liked to move her in with us and I cannot always spare the time to drop everything to visit her for a few days. Now, with the credit crunch and housing recession, I doubt we could sell her house quickly enough to facilitate a move. It has been awkward but so far we have managed. I telephone her every day and try at least to visit her for a week every 6 weeks or so to do major chores for her. Thank heavens too for Internet shopping. It has saved our lives. During one of our telephone conversations , Mum will every so often give me her shopping list. I order the groceries online from the supermarket and they deliver to her a few days later. I pay online and Mum reimburses me by cheque when she can get a neighbour to post the cheque to me. We have been doing that for a few years now and the system wo
rks quite well. Recently, however, I have been up to my eyes with sorting things out for Kay (interviews at university or just being there for her while she did exams), attending hospital appointments with Greg or for myself. Unusually, I haven't been able to see my mother since New Year, as there was always something vital that got in the way. She never complains, but sounded a bit down recently, so I was damned if I was going to miss the chance of seeing her for Mothers' Day, though, which takes place in the UK today.

I went to see her on Friday, stayed overnight and came back late yesterday evening. We had an incredible action-packed 36 hours together. Even the weather was glorious with wall-to-wall blue sky and sunshine. On the first day, we wandered around the shops (as best as mum can manage with her dodgy knees and back), spent time in her favourite cafe watching the world go by and reminisced about the old days. On the second day, she suggested a very long-walk down to the sea-front. She never gets the chance to walk far and is afraid to do it on her own (she has had very bad falls in the street in the past which has now made her very nervous). She felt she needed the exercise and the fresh air. We walked very slowly and stopped lots of times, but we made it down to the seafront. We sat at a promenade cafe and watched the crowds of people drawn out by the sunshine. We got a taxi back home but it was amazing just how far she was able to hobble. She was delighted with her progress and felt elated that she had got out of the house for a while. I cooked lunch and then we sat in her garden basked in sunshine until it was time for me to leave for London again.
I later rang her and we both said what a marvellous time we had had.

Today is Mothers' Day and I came down to find Kay was already up (before me? on a Sunday?) and had prepared breakfast for me. She also gave me some lovely presents and a vase of flowers. I rang my mother and then was put on a pedestal for the morning. Told to do what I wanted. As I write, Kay is preparing lunch for me. After lunch, Greg, Kay and I plan to have a walk with the dog in the wild park I mentioned in my blog recently. The sun is still shining furiously.

All in all a truly good few days.

16 March 2009

The Good, (The Very good) , the Bad and the Ugly

I have had extremes of emotions over the last few days ranging from elation to downright despair.

My mood soared on Thursday when Kay telephoned me from school with the results of her A-levels (the early ones taken in January to reduce the number she has to take in the summer).

Grade A for Maths
Grade A for Statistics
Grade A for Biology
Grade A for Chemistry

When she came out of the exams, she thought she had done so badly in a few of them, so I was more than surprised let alone delirious that she had gained top marks.

Then on Friday a letter arrived addressed to Kay from a certain university we had visited in February for interview. It was A4 in size and quite bulky so I took a chance that it was unlikely to be a rejection and phoned Kay at school. Fortunately she was in the school library on a free period , so she was able to take my call. I told her a letter had arrived and asked if I should open it. (Secretly I was unable to contain my curiosity and I was almost working out how to steam the letter open without her knowing, if I had been unable to contact her. Not that I would have done, but I was bursting to know the answer). We agreed that I would drive in at her break time so she could open the letter herself. Kay had been rejected by three of her four choices of university because the course she wants to do is so competitive. In one case there were twenty applicants for every place and the others were about twelve to fifteen for every place. I will not reveal the course yet as I do not want to jinx things, but suffice to say that it is nigh impossible to get in unless you are Einstein. Kay opened the letter and my mood went to the dizziest heights imaginable when she revealed that she has been accepted on the course providing she gets equally good grades in the summer exams. We were on the phone after that telephoning my mother, aunts, cousins, anyone who was equally eager to know the results. Kay spent the rest of the day barely able to believe that her dream may be within reach at last.

The high we continued to remain on all over the weekend came crashing to the ground this morning when I woke up. Greg and I sleep in separate rooms - something I have insisted on since his personal hygiene fell to an all-time low a couple of years ago. He remains in what was our bedroom on a very comfortable double bed with wardrobes, bedside TV and ensuite bathroom. I have decamped to the smallest room where Kay used to sleep as a baby. Then there was just about room for a cot and a table; now there is a rather uncomfortable single bed with a bedside table. To add to the claustrophobic ambience, I share the room with the dog whose bed takes up the remaining bit of floorspace there is. The dog decided long ago that he did not want to share a spacious room with Greg but preferred to sleep with his nose pressed against the base of my bed. Anyway, when I went into Greg's room at 7am this morning, there he was asleep on the top of the bed, fully clothed, including his shoes, with all the lights on. When I went downstairs, lights were still on everywhere. In the evenings, Greg normally sits at the kitchen table to watch TV so that he can smoke outside or at the back door - a rule made at the hospital conference back in September) . On the kitchen table was an unfinished glass of whisky. My heart sank. I had not wanted to believe that he might be drinking again. He had seemed to be doing so well. But there it was. He had obviously been so tired (or drunk) that he had staggered to bed and fallen asleep instantly with all his clothes on and without turning out the lights or removing the tell-tale signs of whisky.

I got Kay off to school, walked the dog in the park and he was just surfacing as I returned home. I was so mad at him, I let rip and we have had a day of blazing rows. He has in turns either lied about how much he has drunk or refused childishly to talk at all. By 5pm this evening, he was so tired/hung-over he went to bed, just as Kay was returning from school, and has been there ever since for the last 5 hours.

11 March 2009

The park

There are lots of parks in London. Many of our American visitors in particular always comment on the amount of greenery there is in our large city. In central London there are the well-known large parks such as Hyde Park, St James' Park, Green Park, Regents Park and so on, but farther out in every suburb there are many many more local ones. Our part of London is no exception; there are at least four parks within a mile of where I live and even more to add within a two-mile radius. Two of them are, I suppose, my most favourite, but as different from one another as chalk and cheese. Having had Snoopy, our loveable dog for ten years now, I have come to frequent those parks regularly and know them intimately.

One park is wild and deliberately kept as natural as is possible (without the threat of being sued by someone tripping over a log!) It has vast acres of woodland complete with bluebell displays in Spring which attract horticulturists from far and wide, a stream and a couple of fields which have been turned into football pitches in winter and picnic sites in summer. I can usually walk a three-mile circuit of this park and get completely lost in the woodland. It is strange to think of being completely cut-off and completely alone in a city of ten million people. I suppose I visit this park about once a fortnight.

The other park I visit nearly every day. I drop Kay off at the bus stop for her journey to school and carry on with Snoopy to the park arriving at about 8.15 am. It is in the heart of the "village" within London where I live. It too has a much smaller wooded area,
a lake, a children's playground, a cafe and horticultural beds, as well as hundreds of squirrels, dozens of geese, ducks, herons and a family of swans. I have in the past (see here) mentioned the dog fraternity here. It is again strange to think you are in a large city yet on speaking terms with every one you meet with a dog. After a while they become firm friends and you stop and chat with them daily. Someone will often pass and hand your dog a biscuit or ask how you are.

Over the years I have come to love this park. When we first moved back to London from Germany, some thirty years ago, Greg and I used to come as a newly married couple to walk the stresses of our jobs off, commune with nature and relish in the thought that we were not really in the hustle and bustle of London. We would take our American or German visitors there and delight in their surprise at so much greenery. I would sometimes go there on my own for solace when it felt like I would never ever be pregnant and my body-clock was on the verge of exploding. Then when we were blessed with the arrival of Kay, we would parade round the lake with the pram and later, as she toddled, show her the ducks and geese and teach her how to throw bread to them. We would scoop her up when she squealed as the geese ran after her and then gently place her in the box-seats of the toddler swings in the playground. Much later we watched

with bated breath as she climbed the stairs of the helter-skelter slide and hurtled downwards in a corkscrew of flailing limbs. When my father died, I would often go there and find my grief would melt with the ripple of the lake and the rushing of leaves; my heart would lift and be happy once more. When things with Greg got really bad, a good walk through the woodland or alongside the lake would cure my low moods or help Kay when she got stressed about it. We would sit by the lakeside
watching the sinking sun and consider what to do, if things got worse.

I sometimes walk round it and thank my lucky stars that I am still able, despite everything, to witness Mother Nature's work. If ever we should move away from this area, I shall miss the park more than anything else. I feel as if it has become a microcosm of my life and has witnessed the ups and downs of my marriage and my life.
With the arrival of Snoopy, I have covered every inch of that park on a daily basis and know every tree, every bush, every bit of fence and railing. I see subtle changes in the seasons, arrivals and departures in the wildlife and in the staff that tend the land. I sometimes imagine I am the lady of the manor surveying her land and fuss over a broken branch or a piece of discarded litter.
Right now, the cherry trees are bursting into girlie pink, the ducks are forming pairs, the daffodils are expectantly waiting to fanfare that Spring has arrived and
nature's cycle in all shapes and forms is beginning all over again.

05 March 2009

The Joys of Parenthood

For those who are contemplating becoming parents for the first time, preparation is not just a matter of reading books and decorating the nursery. The following are twelve simple tests for expectant parents to help them prepare for the real life experience of being a mother or father. Those who are already parents will be able to confirm the following advice. Don't say you have not been warned.

1. Women: to prepare for maternity, put on a dressing gown and stick a bean bag down the front. Leave it there for nine months. After nine months, take out 10% of the beans. Men: to prepare for paternity, go to the local chemist, tip the contents of your wallet on the counter and tell the pharmacist to help himself. Then go to the supermarket. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office. Go home. Pick up the paper. Read it for the last time.

2. Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who are already parents and berate them about their methods of discipline, lack of patience, appallingly low tolerance levels and how they have allowed their children to run riot. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's sleeping habits, toilet training, table manners and overall behaviour. Enjoy it - it'll be the last time in your life that you have all the answers.

3. To discover how the nights will feel, walk around the living room from 5pm to 10pm carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 pounds. At 10pm put the bag down, set the alarm for midnight and go to sleep. Get up at midnight and walk around the living room again with the bag until 1am. Set the alarm for 3am. As you cannot get back to sleep, get up at 2am and make a drink. Go to bed at 2.45am. Get up again at 3am when the alarm goes off. Sing songs in the dark until 4am. Put the alarm on for 5am. Get up. Make breakfast. Keep this up for 5 years. Look cheerful.

4. Can you stand the mess children make? To find out, first smear Marmite onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains. Hide a fish finger behind the stereo and leave it there all summer. Stick your fingers in the flowerbeds, then rub them on the clean walls. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?

5. Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems: first buy an octopus and a string bag. Attempt to put the octopus into the string bag so that none of the arms hang out. Time allowed for this - all morning.

6. Take an egg carton. Using a pair of scissors and a pot of paint turn it into an alligator. Now take a toilet roll tube. Using only sticky tape and pieces of foil turn it into a Christmas cracker. Last, take a milk container, a ping pong ball and an empty packet of Coco Pops and make an excellent replica of the Eiffel Tower. Congratulations. You have just qualified for a place on the playgroup committee (or the next presenter of Blue Peter, which at least comes with a salary).

7. Forget the Audi and buy a Ford. Don't think you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don't look like that. Buy a choc ice and put it in the glove compartment. Leave it there. Get a 20p piece. Stick it in the cassette/CD player. Take a family size packet of chocolate biscuits. Mash them down the back seats. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car. There. Perfect.

8. Get ready to go out. Wait outside the loo for half an hour. Go out the front door. Come in again. Go out. Come back in. Go out again. Walk down the front path. Walk back up it. Walk down it again. Walk very slowly down the road for 5 minutes. Stop to inspect minutely every cigarette-end, piece of used chewing gum and dead insect along the way. Retrace your steps. Scream that you have had as much as you can stand until the neighbours come out and stare at you. Give up and go back to the house. You are just about ready to try taking a small child for a walk.

9. Always repeat everything you say at least five times. I said, always repeat everything you say at least five times. I SAID, ALWAYS REPEAT EVERYTHING YOU SAID FIVE TIMES!!!!

10. Go to your local supermarket. Take with you the nearest thing you can find to a pre-school child - a fully-grown goat is excellent. If you intend to have more than one child, take more than one goat. Buy your week's groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goats eat or destroy. Until you can accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children.
11. Hollow out a melon. Make a small hole in the side. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side. Now get a bowl of soggy Weetabix and attempt to spoon it into the swaying melon by pretending to be an aeroplane. Continue until half the Weetabix is gone. Tip the rest into your lap making sure that a lot of it falls on the floor. Now you are ready to feed a 12-month-old baby.

12. Learn the names of every character from Postman Pat, Fireman Sam, Teenage Mutant Turtles, Teletubbies etc. When you find yourself singing "Postman Pat" at work you finally qualify as a parent. Well done!

This was given to me when Kay was a toddler. It made me laugh then. It still does. By the way, no children were harmed in the compilation of these tests! Incidentally this is not based on my experience with Kay. She was an angel (apart from the first 8 years of not sleeping through a single night).