Monday, September 28, 2009

The Dog and the Y-fronts

It was March sometime in the early nineties at the end of a long cold winter and we had cabin fever. Anyone who has gone through an Ontario winter knows that there comes a time when all the slipping around on the frozen grey slush, and the biting morning cold that freezes your hair and the endless layering of woollens addles your brain a bit, giving a green light to things that wouldn’t seem such good ideas at any other time. Well, that’s what I’m blaming it on.

There were four of us there, toasty warm in the living room of our friends house; one of those houses where everything happened, and we were bored. We’d watched three movies, eaten a lot of popcorn and by three in the afternoon we were drawing straws for who’d brave the cold and hike out to the video shop. This process wasn’t easy because we’d been drinking since before noon. As the only girl there, and as a soft foreigner, I claimed immunity- my poor British bones would surely freeze out there in the outdoors. I was adding the final touches to my argument when, reaching down between the cushions of the soft sofa, I pulled out a large pair of Y-fronts. After the initial laughter and disgust, we laid them out on the floor while we explored possibilities about where on earth they’d come from- a near impossible task considering this was, as I said, one of those houses where everything happened.

I don’t know where the idea came from, but suddenly the alcohol and boredom peaked and before any of us knew what we were doing, ‘the house where everything happened’s dog, a huge lolling Lab/Rottweiler cross was wearing the Y-fronts, a neat hole cut for her tail. We were still wiping the tears of laughter from our faces when the doorbell rang, and as my friend, D signed for a parcel, the dog, knowing it was being laughed at, made a run for it.

As it turns out, Canadians are far faster at pulling on boots and mittens than drunken English girls are and I’d only just got myself kitted up for the chase by the time one of my friends returned, dog in one hand, Y-fronts in the other. He’d found her in the local park, dressed in her Y-fronts trying to get-it-on with a guide dog. It wasn’t one of our prouder moments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Big Red Bus

Although the Big Red Bus that showed up for my son, A’s preschool outing yesterday was neither big nor red, it caused a frenzy of excitement among the preschoolers who clambered aboard wide-eyed and, in the case of my baby S who was strapped to my front in a sling, panting like a puppy. She’s earned the nickname Rocket-Dog from me lately because she chases balls, licks up floor-crumbs, chews everything and pants when excited.

The kids didn’t care about the fact that the bus wasn’t a British double-decker, but the parents were disappointed. The kids also didn’t care for the pre-recorded narration that was telling them about opium dens in China Town, whore houses down by the water and gallows in Market Square, instead they pressed their little noses against the windows, waved to strangers, squabbled with each other, and in A’s case, not quite tall enough to see out of the window properly he sung Old MacDonald over and over for the entire 45minutes. Five minutes into the ride there was an unpleasant eruption from S’s bum- which I remind you was strapped to my chest- so I sat in the stench listening to ‘ee-eye, ee-eye oh’ and thought about double-decker buses to escape.

When I was a teenager, we caught the bus to school every day. It was a double-decker, but not red like in London- blue and cream and in order to have any street cred at all, you had to sit in the dirty smoke-filled upstairs. Even upstairs, segregation was in full swing- the further back you sat, the cooler you were and if you actually got the back seat, you were pretty much in charge. I wasn’t in charge.

The buses drove fast on the narrow Birmingham roads and you learned how to hold on to avoid death round corners, how to lean in a certain way when the bus came to an abrupt halt and how to manage your heavy school-bag without knocking fellow passenger senseless.
I loved those buses.

A few years later when we started going out at night we’d sip our cans of larger on the way to Town, smoking cigarettes- one of the safe places where our parents would never catch us. At 2am, soggy half-eaten-bag of chips clutched drunkenly in one hand, the last bus home would be filled with similarly drunken club-goers and things were never dull- chip wars, people snogging, fist-fights, undercover police, people getting stoned…..I even got pepper-sprayed once, caught in the middle of two sloppily drunken lads fighting over some bog-boobed-girl. It’s been years now. Long ago we graduated from the bus to taxis, then stopped clubbing, traded that in for nappy-changes and night-feeds and the vomit-comet seems a lifetime ago.

Sitting there yesterday on the Big Red Bus (that wasn’t big or red), I smiled, thinking of a particular friend who I caught a lot of buses with when I was thirteen. It’s odd, but I think some of my best memories of her were up there on the top deck. Up there it was just the two of us and we didn’t have to be anything but ourselves. It didn't matter if we were popular or skinny or if we kissed boys yet; it didn't matter if we wore the right clothes or got good marks or got asked to the 'it' parties. We were just two best friends riding to school. Slowly, slowly over the months we moved towards the Holy Grail of the back seat. Slowly, slowly we earned the respect of the upstairs crowd and then suddenly we were there. Back seat all ours: we’d made it.

As it turned out, the back seat wasn’t that interesting. Like a lot of things you think you want when you’re that age, the mystery was broken the second we got there and realized that the shitty vinyl upholstery was slashed and the back window rattled and it was the bumpiest place in the whole bus. But just for a while it was ours, and before we moved on to the greener pastures of trying-to-get-the-seat-next-to-the-cute-boy-of-the-week, we appreciated the moment. And then we discarded it, like a lot of things you think you want when you’re that age.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Net curtains

The people over the road from us have net curtains. I've been staring at them for days now, wondering why I am so attracted to something that I dislike so much and the only conclusion that I can come to is that I am truly British.

My nationality has been in debate for a while between my husband and I, both of us shifting as new discrepancies surface. I was born on my mums and dad's bed in our house on Coronation Road- not to be mistaken for the Coronation Street. Ours was in Birmingham, halfway between London and Manchester and famous for an accent that everyone ridicules, a grotty train station, Cadbury's Chocolate and HP Sauce. It was a typical ex-council house street, with grey pebble-dashed houses with tiny uniform gardens and tight little porches with squeaking doors. But we weren't like the neighbours. We stood out you see, because my parents were 'the foreigners'. Fresh off the boat from Toronto, no really, my dad was terrified of flying so they caught the boat, their accents and weird ways of doing things confused and amused the street in the same breath.

Most of the neighbours were kind. We got hand-me-downs from Jean Smith when her kids outgrew their clothes and if mum needed to go out she would take us in. 'Uncle' George in the house opposite took us all, mum and dad included, under his wing and told stories about being in both wars; submarines and fighter planes. So my parents settled in, lived normal lives, but they didn't do things the same way as everyone else. They didn't eat the same foods, didn't cook the same way, didn't read the same papers, didn't watch the same TV and didn't go to the pub or get fish & chips on a Friday night or watch the football on a Saturday. And Mrs. Woodcroft next door was watching.

Here's where the net curtains come in. My mum started teaching antenatal classes from our home in the evenings. A group of couples would come around during early pregnancy- at that point where it would take a keen eye to notice the 'bumps'. Then every other week they would come back, the same couples, their bumps getting bigger, heavy breathing, panting even, and laughter in the lounge as someone got stuck down on her floor mat or as the occasional loud fart slipped out. And Mrs. Woodcroft was watching, which we knew because her net curtains were twitching. Then Jean Smith came up to tell my parents that the truth was out....via Mrs. Woodcroft, and the whole street knew. We were holding wife-swapping parties. And judging from the multiple pregnancies, no one was using contraception. That pretty much summed it up. If something was going on in your house, everyone knew. If something was going on in your marriage, everyone knew. If you said something odd, or cooked unusual food, or made your own bread or had wife-swapping parties....everyone knew.

Years later, when I was living in Liverpool on a street that looked exactly like Coronation Street- the TV one, I was the only one without net curtains, yet I was probably the one with the most to hide. I wasn't well- spent my days in bed or sitting in the yard chain smoking cigarettes or painting in the back room upstairs. One day, the window washer, wooden ladder flush against the glass stuck his head through my open window as I was standing in front of a canvas, paintbrush in my hand to tell me about the bloke up the road who painted amazing oils. And there was a lady down the street- wasn't sure what number- who did these intricate pencil crayon landscapes- I should check them out.
I got my gossip from the kids who I paid to weed my front garden. They told me about Mrs Biggs who always ate lunch on her own at the cafe and Mr Jenks three doors up who beat his dog after he'd had to many beers, and his wife pretended not to notice because she had her own problems. She wore a wig because all of her hair was gone.

And then I got really sick and decided to end it all. The ambulance came and they wrapped my wrists in tight bandages and walked me barefoot into the street and I remember that there were neighbours coming outside to watch so I closed my eyes. Later one of the kids told me that the woman opposite had taken photos through a crack in her net curtains just in case it made the newspapers, which it didn't because I didn't do it properly. They watched, they talked, they took photos on extreme occasions, but- and this is the thing- they were there. When my kitten got lost everyone helped push notes through doors and I got cheers when he turned up safe and well. When I got a boyfriend, the street was happy because now I'd got someone to look after me. And on New Years Eve 2000, we all tumbled out into the road and pulled fire-crackers and ate cake and poured each other shots and it didn't matter who did what or ate what or who smoked, or who had little strips of scars down her arm because we were all just there, in that moment and I was a part of something. I bought net curtains the next week, a sign that I no longer had anything to hide.

It's a decade later and the people across the street have net curtains which you don't see much around here -with their lacy edges and sticky dust. I think I miss them. I can't stop staring because I'm wondering if there is someone behind them watching the street as it spills it's secrets.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Animals came in Two by Two

I’ve had this bizarre song stuck in my head for the last two days that goes something like, “The animals came in two-by-two hurrah, hurrah, the animals came in two-by-two hurrah hurrah, the animals came in two-by-two the elephant and the kangaroo” blah-dee-dah-dee-blah. It got me thinking about a whole bunch of stuff including the Christmas when we found out the truth about Santa, or as we called him, Father Christmas.

It started simply with a kitten 'Kola' who came down from friends of ours on the train with my mum. She growled and hissed all the way, and we should have sent her straight back because it was definitely a sign. She wasn't an awful cat, but she knew what she wanted, she knew what she didn't and the years of child-inflicted-abuse at the hands of my brother and I pushed her towards her ratty latter years when we all had to refer to her as 'The Duchess' and she'd only eat warmed chicken breast. But I mean, what cat wants to be stuffed into baby clothes- which is what I did to her and seeing as my brother was into chemistry, God only knows what she suffered at his hands.

Next came the chickens. The people who'd lived in our house before us had kept chickens and there was this empty coup at the back of our long garden, just begging to be filled. So soon, Slow-Coach, Quick Quick, Tabitha, Oscar, Olivia and Cecelia joined us. My brother and I would rush outside every morning to check for fresh eggs though this novelty wore off, of course, when it came to mucking out the stinking coup or rubbing ointment onto the rear of the poor lassie at the bottom of the pecking order. But we loved them nonetheless, which should be taken into account when it comes to their rather sinister ending.

I think the next to arrive was the gerbils, Hustle, Bustle and Nustle, though it could have been the rats Fudge and Toffee. These two crews didn't mix as I found out once, when I foolishly thought that they might all be friends. Nustle was never the same and although no one else who was present agrees, that day convinced me that rats could smile. Finally came my brothers snake, Natty. It wasn't very big, not much more then a fancy shoelace but it was a snake- which was pretty exotic for grey-old-eighties-Birmingham and it had a special tank with a warming light and a water bowl and some rocks to sunbathe on.

It's only now, that I am a mum and have bills to pay that I fully appreciate the potentially astronomical cost of Christmas. We grew up on a tight budget and my brother and I were used to getting just one gift each from our parents plus stockings from Father Christmas but as we all know, it's the stockings that get you, and I can picture my poor mum shifting pennies around to try to make sure we had all those little stockinged treats, a book, a chocolate bar, some stripey socks.....And now that I am a mum, now that I know that Father Christmas isn't real and that it's the stockings that get you, I have some sympathy thinking back to the pained look on my mum's face a week before Christmas when I came home from sewing class with stockings for Kola, Hustle, Bustle, Nustle, Fudge, Toffee and Natty the snake. I'd stitched them all with love- to the great amusement of our Home Economics teacher who probably had an idea what my poor mum was in for.

Let's just pause a minute here and consider what the UK was like in the eighties. Shops closed at 5pm, nothing was open on a Sunday and you ate what was in season only. Supermarket vegetable aisles were much more like a greengrocers selling what was delivered day to day without guaranteeing anything more than the absolute staples. So on Christmas Eve what a treat it was when mum came home with a Webb lettuce that we'd not seen before- a Webb lettuce so delicious that we spent the whole mealtime discussing the wonderful-deliciousness of it. I'm avoiding the obvious here- how, with such stimulating dinner-time conversation could my parents possibly have thrown in the towel on their marriage just a few short years later- but that might get me too far off topic and I'm sure you want me to get the the damn point. So after dinner I proudly pulled out the secret project that I'd been working on quietly all day while mum was out slogging her way around the pet shops: a stocking for the chickens. After all, it wasn't fair to leave them out and Father Christmas would be bringing something for them. Of course.

After all these years I can still picture the look on mum's face- the look of a struggle. She was perfectly hogtied. She probably wanted to belt me around the head and shout that Father Christmas wasn't bringing the chickens anything because he wasn't real, and even if he was, he wasn't going to bring presents for the chickens because they were farmyard food not bloody children. But she didn't, she kept her quiet panic to herself and after our ritual stocking hanging we went off quietly to bed.

Christmas morning dawned and bright and early my brother and I leaped from our beds, raced down the stairs ripping open our stocking gifts. Twenty minutes later, when the mess of paper was settling down and my sleepy parents has surfaced we inspected the pet's stockings. We found fish flakes for Natty, cat treats for Kola, millet for the gerbils, a chew toy for the rats and Webb lettuce for the chickens. Hang on...webb lettuce? My brother spearheaded the hunt and we searched through the fridge for the remains of the salad from the night before. There was none. And it was as simple as that- we'd found out the truth about Father Christmas. He was a dirty thief.

It could have been worse, as the chickens found out that summer when we ate them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Son of all Fears

To fully appreciate this post you should read this first
So my son, A is almost three and like most little kids, he has some fears. Like most little kids he is not scared to try to stick a wet finger into a wall socket or walk out in front of fast-moving cars and he is wary about ghosts, the dark, monsters and large dogs rushing towards him at the playground. Here's a list of his other fears:

sand on his feet
having his hair washed
his little red plastic octopus
the man who delivered the groceries that time I shopped online
and my personal favourite, the letter B

Now I 'get' most of these things- you can rationalize why each disturbs him. The octopus for instance, it's pretty ugly and whereas 'A' doesn't want to throw it out, he doesn't want to see it either so he hides it. And considering the octopus's likeness to a spider and considering my own obsessive revulsion with spiders, well, let's just say there's no happy ending when I reach under the sofa for a stray sock and am surprised by the eight-armed menace. Or when I open the fridge late at night to find it waiting for me. Or when I pull back my covers to find the octopus getting fresh with my pyjamas.

I get the beetle thing too -and sad to say my husband M and I have likely embellished that fear a bit by using 'the giant beetle' concept as a tool to get 'A' to do something when he doesn't want to. Like come in from the garden "Uh oh! There's a giant beetle coming". Or there was that time that I really needed to put 'A' off from going into a decrepit playground that he really really wanted to play in...."Quick, run, a beetle lives there!"

Even the letter B has a logical explanation. A friend gave us a DVD that helped her kids to learn the phonetic alphabet and to cut a long story short, during this animated show, a monster pops up right at the letter B, and 'A' really doesn't like it. When he begs to watch "just a little bit of TV" I only have to wave the DVD at him and he starts to freak out, begging to go to his room and play quietly. Not just play, play quietly.

The nagging worry at the back of my mind is that my own ridiculous litany of fears has been delivered genetically to this poor little guy in utero. Or maybe not- maybe he is simply a fast learner, spending his days observing my oddities. Or perhaps 'A' is just three? Consider this: one of his biggest fears at the moment is ghosts. "There's a ghosty in my room" he'll cry, trembling and quaking until I go into his room 'de-ghost' it. So today I asked him what a ghost looked like and he went out to prepare, and I reached for my camera.

Yeah, he's just three.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Mouse #2

I heard the mouse scampering around in the eaves and decided to take action. Now before I go any further I should confess that I have an unreasonable, irrational, ridiculous and somewhat obsessive fear of attics. In fact, I have lots of unreasonable, irrational, ridiculous and somewhat obsessive fears: dogs, heights, small spaces, flying, fruit, belts, the dark, writing in public, falling off the planet, feet, my belly button being touched,spiders, bones in my food, wasting my life, and most recently, plugholes.

Some of those are understandable- heights, flying, small spaces, even dogs are all quite common fears. I was going to say spiders too but my spider fear has a twist. I hate them, I hate the way they appear suddenly without warning with their nasty pincers, bulging bodies and hairy legs, but I don't won't kill them. My particular fear is that I will pick a mug from the cupboard and find a meaty black spider in the bottom. This stems from an incident when I was a child when I found hideous aforementioned spider in the bottom of a stacking orange plastic picnic cup in our kitchen cupboard. I screamed, threw the cup in the air and the spider fell onto me whist trying to beat a hasty retreat. So I still cautiously check cups when I take them out. That was 1982. Obsessive or what?

The attic fear stems back to the eighties too- maybe 1988- when I was a dirty goth and my friends decided to watch Hellrasier one night. Therein lay the problem with my being a goth; I really wasn't cut out for it. I was quite cheery by nature, disliked graveyards, deplored lace and velvet, secretly listened to ABBA and hated horror films. I was so terrified of horror films that just describing one to me in vague detail was enough to leave me trembling in my bed at night. So there I was, peeping out from behind the sofa trying to give the impression that I was watching the film when I was actually staring at the TVs on/off button. As successful as this method sounds, you couldn't really avoid knowing what was going on and anyway, when something horrible occurred, you were naturally drawn towards whatever hideousness was going on onscreen. The gist of Hellraiser was that some guy was coming back from the dead and was reforming cell by cell by feeding on people. He lived in the attic and innocents would be sent up to their doom. It's as simple as that. Irrational I know, but the truth is that I have not been near an attic- haven't even thought about an attic since that fateful night, without the vision of this half-formed flesh eating man popping into my head. So, bearing this in mind, I'll get back to the mouse.

So, it's getting dark, my husband, M is away on his own in Seattle to check out one of his favourite bands (I'm a really really nice wife)and the kids are tucked up in bed. I know that in the dead of night I have enough to keep me awake without having to deal with the scurrying of the mouse. I know what it is that I have to do, I even stopped by the hardware store earlier in the day to buy traps. I have to go into the attic. As I have mentioned in an early post, our attic was converted into a big light room, so the actual attic space is the part above the sloping eaves, accessed by a board that I screwed securely to the wall the day we moved into the house.

I decide that I can't wait until M comes home- that I have to do this now, so I drink a glass of wine- something that I just don't do often enough these days. It tastes really good, and so I pour another, contemplating what it is that I have to do, step by step. By now, it's pitch black outside and the neighbourhood, which usually has lots going on in it is deathly silent. I finish wine #2 and start preparing. I do not know what is waiting in there for me, so I dress securely- wellington boots, jeans, a hoodie and for good measure I put on the heavy duty respirator mask we bought for painting when I was pregnant, and I now have to drink my wine with a straw. I slowly unscrew the board, and then armed with the screwdriver, I pull it away. There is no instant sign of the creature from Hellraiser nor indeed of the mouse- no droppings, gnawed electrics or fluffy nests. In fact, there is not much of anything, just dark eaves and pressing silence all around me. The floor is uneven, part planks of wood, part insulation and I realize that I need a different plan. I retreat, screw the wood back on and go downstairs where I gulp back my wine because I know that I have to go back in.

Twenty minutes later I am there again, this time with a large tray holding six traps set with delicious smoked Gouda as bait. I contemplate, just for one moment that perhaps I look like a waitress- yea, a waitress wearing wellington boots and a respirator. I go back through the same motions, back to having my heart in my mouth and the dark corners and screaming silence. I place the tray. I back out. I screw the board back in place and for good measure I push the heavy computer desk up against the wall. Mission accomplished.

A week later, after hearing no squeaks or struggles from the live traps M and I go back in, though without my home-alone-theatrics. The cheese is undisturbed, the traps are empty and there is no sign of activity. We haven't heard a peep from the mouse since and I wonder if I imagined it in the first place. Perhaps it was squirrels on the roof or a bird caught somewhere? Perhaps the mouse moved out because it didn't like Gouda.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home

I've been feeling homesick recently, but now I have that song stuck in my head and I am feeling an uncontrollable urge to talk about hats. I've owned some really good hats in the past and have an unfortunate habit of losing them. There were two in particular that I loved and lost during the party years when I lived in Toronto in my early twenties. I'd ended up there by mistake after a two week holiday from the UK went in a funny direction and I threw my ticket home into the bin at Toronto airport at six-in-the-morning and ended up staying there for four years.
Both of these hats were presents from my mum, and both were lost on spectacularly drunken nights out. I was so gutted by the time that I lost hat number-two that I actually made 'Missing' posters and stuck them up around the warehouse district where I vaguely remember attending some after-hours party. My poor friend S who'd been out with me the night before was pulled from his bed at an early hour and forced to help me retrace our steps that had apparently included several bars, a fast food joint, an art opening a wee in an alley and the after hours club.

Spurned by my throbbing head and churning stomach we traipsed through Toronto's back streets, me frantic to catch site of a glimpse of red and green (yes, the favourite hat was red and green) or even for some sodden little pile of fabric that would pop back into shape in the washing machine. But there was nothing.

I know exactly what happened to it, the problem was where. I was wearing one of my signature outfits of the time: black boots, black opaque tights, an extremely short green suede skirt (that probably made me look like an extra from a Robin Hood pantomime), a black scoop-necked top, false eyelashes, a chunky black belt and a vintage leather purse that attached to my belt ensuring that I didn't get separated from my money, keys and God forbid, my lip balm. Last, but definitely not least, I was wearing a clip. My good friend D says that I have survival skills and the clip was an early example of this, probably implemented after the loss of the first hat. The clip was to attach my hat to my belt when I inevitably took it off in some hot bar somewhere. But somewhere in my well-laid plans something went wrong and I was left in my Robin Hood pantomime costume sans hat.

After the search was exhausted and poor S had been allowed to go back to his bed and I went back home, I cried. Which is kind of funny seeing as I don't think I ever really cried when my parents divorced or when my grandparents died or when I lost touch with my best friend. I am a squirrel you see- I like stashing things away especially when they involve anything unsafe, like crying. I like to pack it all down uncomfortably inside me and then I occasionally allow a little bit to seep out over something unimportant like an ambulance rushing past late at night, or a daft TV advert or perhaps, a lost hat. I've gone off-topic here....I was talking about the clip. Deep down I knew the fate of the hat- I knew it's clock was ticking and I installed the clip to try to avert or maybe just delay that fate. But the clip, the hat or perhaps even the belt failed me while I danced the night away somewhere and come to think of it, I have had a slight aversion to belts ever since. Sort of like my fear of fruit- I avoid them unless absolutely necessary.

This was meant to be a piece about homesickness but it appears that I know far more about hats and belts and clips and drunken nights out than I do about where exactly my home is. The one thing that I can see clearly is this: If wherever you lay your hat is your home and you are a serial loser of hats- you've got a problem.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Total and utter waste of ink

From February 1984- when I was 12- I was a committed, fastidious and obsessive keeper of a diary. I would have died for my little red & white book; it meant everything to me and despite the fact that I lived with a family who respected privacy I squirrelled it carefully away, paranoid that someone was going to read through it and find out my deepest dark secrets. The fact of the matter was that no one, even my older brother was in the slightest bit interested.
I kept diaries on and off till I was about 20, when between college, work, the pub and drunken stupors there was simply not time to write. The little red & white book, it's covers hanging off from over-use was, along with it's army of successors tossed unceremoniously into a dusty old box where it sat untouched for a decade and a half.

Now, we all know that youth is wasted on the young and all that but I was pretty sure that i was quite aware and profound as a teenager, so it was with riducolus excitement that I unearthed the box of diaries from my mother's attic last time we were visiting the UK and brought them back to Canada with me. Though I was aching at the thought of reading through these detailed accounts of the eighties and early nineties, I waited until my good friend N, a partner in crime since high-school was visiting and together we lugged our heavy bags to the pub and ordered a bottle of wine.

Shit! What on earth was I expecting? The first year, when I was twelve was really not a lot more than lists of boys that I fancied with the occasional reference to friends, parties and summer holidays. The second year started promisingly with a (rather lame) list of new years resolutions......followed by, more detailed lists of boys that I fancied, more detailed accounts of parties and summer holidays. N on the other hand was reading out profound and wise (and I'm sure she'd say somewhat dramatic) letters she'd composed to herself in the future, deep insights into family relationships and....err....lists of boys she fancied. Year three was more of the same with a major slant on alcohol. This had been an interesting year. My parents seperated, I was selecting what subjects to take at school (that would determine perahps my whole future)my dad met my future step-mum, we moved house and I had a long trip to Canada (we lived in the UK) just after my mum's dad passed away. But none of this made it into my diary apart from a cursury half page to Grandaddy- no, I was too busy detailing what outfit I wore to a party (complete with diagram), who was standing where during a chat with a boy at the bus stop and endless records of dialogue about absoutely nothing. I managed to list exactly what alcohol we drank, where it was aquired and which number bus we caught to town at what stinking time, but no mention of divorce, new step-mum or anything else of any worth. Sigh.

Now that I'm over the disappointment it occurs to me that I made a huge assumption that my life was so acutely happening that I wouldn't need accounts of the big stuff because I'd never forget it. There's some truth in that- I haven't forgotten that my parents divorced, remarried and moved from one place to another. I haven't forgotten what subjects I did at high-school or any of the other major occurances, but it would have been nice to read about something a little higher in quality than who snogged who at church youth club. But like I said, I'm over the disappointment and now I can appreciate these books for their true idiocies. They are a true, if boring account of what it's like inside the one-track mind of a teenager and even though there are pages that make me turn fire-engine red, the sheer hilariousness of the total and utter waste of ink never fails to reduce me to tears.

You're an embarassment

My dear friend C who I have known since I was twelve has this theory about me. She says that you can't embarrass me because I embarrass myself before you can get there. I'm not entirely sure if this is a compliment or an insult but seeing as we are still friends *cough* A QUARTER OF A CENTURY (Major freakout.....breathing into paper bag)on, I'll chalk it down as a good thing and move on. She first said this around the time we lived together, when we were eighteen and I looked like this. I don't think she was referring to the way I looked though.

Anyway, before I start getting distracted by goth photos and stories about not washing my hair for months and other such....err....of course, lies.....I'll get to my (weak) point. After years of contemplating what exactly C meant, I've come to view this innate ability to not only embarrass myself, but to brag about it, as a sort of badge of honour. This came to a fine head the other morning when I returned to the house not only with my skirt wedged into my bum-crack, but with baby spit-up gunge smeared across my chest. It reminded me of one of my finer moments when I was in my early twenties and living in Oxford, when I accidentally left the house with no skirt on. It had been drying on the radiator next to the front hall downstairs and I'd been running through the list of things I had to grab before I left the house, late for work as always: keys, purse, skirt. Keys, purse, skirt. So I got out of the house, hurried down the road and half way down, right by the school where mums and dads were dropping off their kids I did a quick check. Keys, purse, skirt. I had them all there- right in my hand. To top it off, I was wearing nylons and my underwear, t-shirt and lazy winter leg hair were all squashed nicely underneath the transparent tights. I really wanted to insert a photo here to get the image across- I have this great one of my brother's hairy legs squashed into my black tights the time we all cross-dressed for Christmas dinner- that's another story but unfortunetaly I couldn't find it. Anyway.

So C, after all these years I have this to say. I am actually a master of disguise. I disguise all the really embarrassing things under the lesser embarrassing ones giving the impression that I've bared it all. But there are other darker things underneath, just like the underwear and the tucked in t-shirt and the overgrown winter leg hair squashed up and visible to those who are looking at the right moment. Things that I can't bear to think about, things that make me turn red in a dark room at night but over them, I have remembered to wear a skirt.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fear of Fruit

To the great amusement of friends and coworkers, I seem to have a fear of fruit. It's not that I don't like it, on the contrary, I love fruit, but I can't stand pips, seams, pith, soft blemishes, surface imperfections, sticky juice and stems. It takes me a long time to prepare fruit in the exact way that I enjoy it most and by the time it's in that state there sometimes seems little point. I thought that that the root of this pickiness lay in the hands of my father, who was determined to pass on his love of fruit picking to my brother and I when we were young. We'd be minding our own business in the back of the car, perhaps reading, maybe having a little squabble when suddenly my dad would veer to the side of the road and we'd be ushered up to some hedge, empty yogurt pots in hand. We weren't just expected to pick the plump little clusters of raspberries or blackberries that hung heavily from the brambles- we'd be expected to enjoy it.

You've got to take a step back here and look at my dad's childhood. He grew up in Nova Scotia and every summer, his two brothers and him would pack up their trunk and take the journey up to Cape Breton where they'd spend the summer working and playing on an uncle's farm. Hay rides, tractors, freshly cooked pies. Laughter, singing, ice-cream eating competitions and inevitably, fruit picking. So it's not so much that my dad was looking for free labour from my brother and I, it's not even really that he wanted the was the experience he was after. Not for him, for us. The problem was that when dad was a little boy, he was a little boy. I however, was a little girl, and whereas little girls might like fruit pies, or crumbles, or warmed berries on top of ice-cream, they do not like spiders, wasps or those wiggly white worms which are the stark reality of fruit-picking.

I'm fascinated by how the experiences in our lives shape us and I love the dawning of realization when, after observing some odd behaviour in oneself the light breaks with sudden realization about where the weirdness stems back to. I can't look at a blackberry without thinking of those little white wrigglers and all my adult life I've been blaming hot afternoons in roadside hedges for my fear of fruit. Until one day, after my second child was born when my mum, visiting from England pulled an apple out of her bag for me. I was about to ask if she could cut it up but she beat me to it, producing a little knife with which she neatly cored and sliced the apple. Then she checked each piece, cutting out a few seams........and next she looked up and down the skin of each segment nicking off a little piece here and there while it dawned on me what i was seeing. "What?" she asked at my amazed face. "I'm just cutting it up for you how I'd want it myself.

I watched her closely that visit and learned why I put butter on oven chips, why I have to pack the car a certain way, why I wash and pat dry a chicken before I cook it and why I eat my food in a certain way on my plate. It made me wonder how many hundreds of other things I did unconsciously that I'd learned from her and it made me wonder what oddities I would teach my children and I vowed that I'd try, just a little to be more tolerant with fruit.

Two weeks later we were preparing a family dinner at my dad and step-mums and she asked me if I'd do the roast potatoes but my husband, M quickly volunteered so I ambled off to do something else. Returning to the kitchen some time later I heard my step-mum thanking M for doing the roasties and he replied "It's better this way....have you ever seen a potato after Eleanor's finished with it?"

The Mouse

Maybe there isn't a mouse after all. Maybe it's the squirrels living in the holly tree that's grown against the house, banging against the sloping roof. It almost doesn't matter because if I believe there's a mouse, then the damage is done. I creep around like I'm being watched, clear away leftovers like something is about to pounce and listen so furiously in the silent dead of night until the blood pumping through my head deafens me.

There's something in all this, I'm sure. Not quite irony, not quite destiny. You see I started as a mouse. When I was young, too young to remember I announced that I was a mouse and from that day until I was a teen, that's what my family called me. Mouse. It still sjavascript:void(0)lipped out of my father's mouth now and then after the separation when we saw each other less and I would chastise him- I'm thirteen- not a child anymore dad, don't call me that. It's melted to distant memories now: The mousehouse- my cardboard box home with windows and a door where I'd sit for hours on end. There's a mouse sewn on the Christmas stocking that my mum made- probably the last visible sign of the story and I wonder if I don't put it down in words somewhere, does it simply disappear, evaporating into the air and drifting away forever.
How many other things will I forget? How many memories have gone already? Now that I have children I want to capture my childhood up: all those ideas and stories and smells and colours and stuff them in a box. One day I can pull it all out, tattered and worn and lay it all out on the floor to show them; faded and loved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My own worst enemy#1

There's a mouse in our attic. It doesn't come inside but I've heard it a few times at night, scurrying behind the walls. We just moved our bedroom upstairs into the loft conversion that the previous owners put in and I've combed every square inch of the room for cracks or holes but there's nothing, we're separated by dry wall, dead air and a layer of thick cream eggshell paint that I put on last week. There have been nights now, more than three that I've turned on the light and M has groaned, pulling the sheets over his head while I sit there staring at the wall, my ears perked for the slightest rustle. Between two pregnancies and two babies I haven't slept through a night in three years, yet here I am, sitting silently in the night while neither child is awake waiting for a tiny noise behind a wall. When I finally lie back down and turn off the lights I'll watch the clock until yellow fingers of light creep across the room and then I'll give up and go downstairs. That mouse doesn't have to come into the house to disturb me. It's already inside nibbling at my small brain.

Monday, August 10, 2009

About Eleanor

I'm a Brit/Canadian mongrel. By day I have a serious job, by night I'm a writer. I don't get anywhere near enough sleep, for reasons that are not as exciting as I'd like. I love film, music, books, words, art, painting, talking, food, drinking wine, procrastinating and a lot of other things that I can wrap my obsessive compulsive tendencies around.