Thursday 29 May 2014

Bread and Honey

Do you have a favourite comfort food? Mine is a jam sandwich. Mine is baked vanilla cheesecake. Mine is creamy rice pudding. Mine is eggs benedict. Mine is lemon drizzle cake. Mine is a BLT with lashings of mayonnaise, or crumpets soaked in butter. Some are the foods of childhood; a runny boiled egg with toasted soldiers, a fish finger sandwich smeared in ketch-up or a dollop of golden syrup in a bowl of steaming porridge. But the one that tops the page, the favourite above all the rest, is something so simple, so easy on the palette; it's but a homely slice of bread and honey. That smell of sweet, sweet nectar, the taste of peach sunrise on a purple petal, the way it wraps itself around a knife, sticky and golden, the way it sticks in droplets to a breakfast plate like teardrops from a bee. I prefer the bread toasted, a multi-seeded slice mind, with a geological layer of thick, thick butter, that way the butter and honey combines and melts into the fibres, the first dream-like bite a walk inside the craters of the moon or chasing painted ladies bareback on a rainbow unicorn. Heavenly. Bread and honey after an argument with a friend. Bread and honey for a sniffly cold. Bread and honey for a bad, bad day. Bread and honey when the words won't come...

And one day I noticed two spots on her collar bone, and then two became four, became eight, became sixteen, became well over sixty four. Over her chest. On her back. Over her face. On her scalp. Over the backs of her hands. On the tops of her feet. 'Try not to scratch,' I said, 'here, look at the tiny scar under Mummy's bottom lip.' Pink cream from head to toe. Pink medicine in mouth every fourth hour. Three heaped teaspoonfuls of bicarbonate of soda in tepid bath. 'They're really annoying me, I hate it,' she said, 'it's marching over my body like red soldiers, they go chattering and chattering all over me.' We sat in front of the TV, took walks around the garden listening to the monotone hum of lawn mowers and the unfolding creaks of outdoor furniture. And every morning without fail I toasted a slice of special-treat white bread, spreading butter and honey over its browned surface being careful to cut off the crusts, slicing it into four quarters. Bread and honey for a poorly princess. Bread and honey when she's feeling in distress.

What's your favourite comfort food?

I was over the moon, nay astonished, to discover I'd made the final six in the Writer category of the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards (BiBS). I want to give an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who voted and supported my blog; it's meant a lot to me, so thank you very very much! The winner will be announced at a special ceremony at Britmums Live on 20th June.  

I am going away to sunny Pembrokeshire for the week so I may or may not blog, but I won't be on social media nor will I be reading any blogs for a week, so please don't be offended if you don't see any comments from me next week.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

#One Week - Spring '14 - The Last One?

No swansong, no fanfare; spring appeared early this year, and simply kept on growing. I am tired though. It's nearly the end of May, and in some ways it feels like the end of the year. I should be smiling and tap dancing, full of bubbles and beans, instead I'm stock piling boxes of tissues and counting down the minutes to bedtime. The last two weeks have seen gastric flu, head colds, and now, the firm family favourite, chicken pox. I can really do with a holiday; so glad we're heading to Pembrokeshire in two weeks time; goodbye t'interweb, hello good reads. At least the weather held out, warm and pleasant and dry; life could be a lot worse than a puddle of stomach and a runny nose.

But always with spring comes the joy of longer days and lighter evenings, and if you're lucky, evenings spent in the garden with a glass of something crisp listening to birdsong and the neighbour's faint laughter escaping an open window. Spring opens up everything, and brings the quietest of dawns. Days roll into each other, and new plans are made. The storm-torn garden fence was replaced, soil turned over, plants moved and rehoused. Weeds were ripped from the driveway, wood chip thrown over flowerbeds; but still the straggly cats came. A trip to The Natural History Museum in Tring where she drew stuffed bears and stuffed ostriches, eerie and frozen in time. Birthday parties, so many at this time of year; two in a garden, two in a gym, sausages, jelly and iced rings. We grew butterflies, she collected wood lice from underneath mossy stones. We enjoyed the dappled sunshine with an ice cream under the silver birch; she flapped up and down the garden in her fairy wings, teaching the birds how to fly.

Life has taken an interesting turn. I self-published a booklet of prose, finished the first draft of my novel, and to my delight, received an email informing me I'd been picked as a mentee on the WoMentoring Project which pairs professional literary women with up and coming female talent. Exciting times indeed. To add to this, I've been asked to read a post, of which I cannot yet reveal, at the Bloggers Keynote at Britmums Live in June. I have new ideas for stories, and as well as full length fiction, I find myself drawn to penning shorter narratives too... So I've been having a think; that it might be time for a necessary break from #oneweek to focus on these other projects, but perhaps I could still be persuaded otherwise; I'm really rather addicted to my seasonal musings...

This is the third and final day of the seasonal linky One WeekI wanted to say a big, big thank you to all those lovely bloggers who joined in, and those who commented, and tweeted, in support of this project.

Badge Code ...

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Monday 19 May 2014

#One Week - Spring '14 - The Sweetest Goodbye

The first thing we eat is Granny's warming fish pie; that comforting mix of mashed potato, cream sauce with chunks of haddock and cod. And parsley of course, always parsley. A foolproof dish after a three hour journey in a rented van. No pudding though, Granny doesn't have a sweet tooth. I let her stay up later than usual, she's so excited to be here; too many questions to ask, too many cuddles to give, too many new things to explore in the garden... 

...Granny's garden, an idyllic suburban retreat. A quintessentially English back yard. A lawn shaped like a ripple, gentle and undulating. A shore of pale blue forget-me-nots, in their hundreds, waving hello. Fat tulips in magnolia and purple stripes, like boiled sweets. Others an unwelcome pink, rich and dusky, 'that's not what was described on the packet,' says Granny, 'I'd expected something paler, not this loud.' She isn't impressed.

I love the ramshackle shed, the faded paint, the flaking wood, the trug and the twigs, the logs piled against a wall. The huge urns, the way lavender pokes out from cracks in the paving stones, the bird feeders hanging from the branches of the winter blossom, the forgotten trellis buried under heaps and heaps of tangled clematis. At the back there's a little pond; my daughter crouches and watches the clouds of spawn, they look like one-eyed marbles, a little creepy, and she points to the tadpoles, some with tiny hind legs.   

The curtains over the back doors at the rear of the kitchen are closed tight, revealing nothing of the activity beyond the window panes. Outside, the Easter Bunny is doing his thing, scattering foiled eggs over the grass, in pots, on soil, around the pond, on low lying branches. She's finally let loose, and by tea time she's still finding eggs next to flowers, by stones, tucked under the succulents; her straw bag loaded with a six months supply of chocolate. I share in her every delight and surprise; 'the Easter Bunny must be so fast hiding all these eggs Mummy?' 'He is sweetheart, faster than your eyes can blink.'   

She doesn't want to go,  leaving Granny's is always bitter sweet. And she has a plan. Together, she and Granny cut flowers from the garden, and place them one by one on an alcove on the back wall. 'This is so that you'll remember me,' she says. As if Granny would ever forget.

This is the second day of the seasonal linky One Week. Over the next three days (Monday till Wednesday) I'm posting a photograph(s) and a few words that diarises and distills my experience of spring '14. Take a peep at the details here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days. And don't forget to add #oneweek on Twitter, and comment on each others posts...

Badge Code ...

<a href="" title="One Week"><img src="" width="225" height="169" alt="one week" /></a>

Sunday 18 May 2014

#One Week - Spring '14 - The Pile of Pink

She has an idea, it formulates as we drive past a blossom tree; a blossom tree that's shed pink silk, flurried and piled on the pavement. Hand and hand we walk with a yellow bucket, once a vessel for reusable nappies, a little smellier back then. 'It's bitter,' I say, 'dead parky for April.' The chill in the wind makes it feel like February. I shouldn't have trusted in the one thick jumper, at least she's wearing her coat; good that one of us is warm. Daffodil heads are bowed, moping, their time over, but the tulips are still going strong; straight to attention, they remind me of the Queen's Guard, trooping bright in colour.

We turn the corner, and there they are, hundreds and hundreds of pink petals. A great big thing of pinkness. It looks a centimeter deep this freshly fallen delicate blush. Pink. Pink. Pink. Everywhere. 'Pink is my favourite colour Mummy,' she says, and she runs through the blossom creating snow tracks behind her. To her they are like tiny fairy wings or fairy landing pads, to me they are shaped like teardrops, or oddly, like guitar plectrums, their tips curving like sea shells.

The petals fall and float down and down, settling at the bottom of the bucket. We gather more in our hands, soft and smooth, petals slipping between fingers, stuffing them inside, pressing upon them, pushing away extraneous air; there's at least half a bucket left to fill. When I was five, I would make homemade perfume from blossom, and watch it wilt and stifle in tap water in a cup. She, on the other hand, has other plans for our harvest.  

'It's the colour of angel delight,' she beams. Petals are scattered. Over grass. Over pebbles. Over the fuzzy flooring of her garden shed. They catch in tulips, in the nooks where the stem and paddle-shaped leaves meet, they fall amid the russet branches of the sapling, an acer tree, and they collect on the paving stones near the back fence. 'Mummy, do I look beautiful? Do I have pretty skin like petals?' And I have to remind her again - I've found myself repeating it a little too often of late - that her beauty comes from her heart and mind, and most of all, the way she treats her family and friends; it comes from how she blossoms within...

This is the first day of the seasonal linky One Week. Over the next three days (Monday till Wednesday) I'll be posting a photograph(s) and a few words that diarises and distills my experience of spring '14. Take a peep at the details here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days. And don't forget to add #oneweek on Twitter, and comment on each others posts...

Badge Code ...

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Wednesday 14 May 2014

#Once upon a time - The Deep End

Once upon a time .....

The bag was packed. Brush and towel. The purple polka-dot swimsuit, where was it? 'Mummy,' she said, 'I've put my costume on underneath my clothes.' That's my girl; she was so excited, this being her first time, in at the deep end.

Condensation rolls down the windows, steam floats off the pool's surface, like genies, feathered and transparent. I am five years old. There's a strange smell. It thrusts itself up my nostrils, bites both eyes like mardy wasps. We change around the edge of the pool, my clothes piled on a wooden bench. Green pants. I will always remember the green pants.

The teacher was female, stout, and bottle blonde. 'Is this her first time?' she asked. 'Yes,' I said, 'she will wear armbands, right?' It took three attempts stretching the red cap over her head, mouse brown tufts escaping its sides like grass between flagstones. A very charleston look. She followed the teacher with the other children to the edge of the pool; in someone else's hands now.

The teacher has yellow teeth and yellow fingers, she rasps and wheezes and barks out her orders, Mrs Lennox, the hag from the teacher's den. Full of smoke and rotten lungs. I hold the float in my hands. 'KICK. KICK. KICK' she demands. I kick as hard as I can.

On each arm, three orange floats, and in the water her grin was as wide as the seas. Was I feeling the drag of tears? I think so. The teacher mouthed something at me, spinning her finger in ovals. What? I looked towards my daughter chatting with another girl on the poolside step. How had I not noticed? She was wearing her costume the wrong way round. The frills were at the back. Princess wiliness will blame this oversight on me.

Every Friday morning, a trip in a minibus to the local pool. Mrs Lennox, looking more like a cigarette, sits at the front. No one speaks. The pool's surface looks oily. The smell. That smell. And I change in a cold cubicle by the pool side. Inside, at the back of it, is an open drain, where I see plasters and tangled balls of hair. I remember watching the slow crawl of the bald man, his mouth open, his face hanging, slack like a jumper on a washing line.

Four lessons later only two loose floats dangled from each arm. More confident, more liberated, she let go of the teacher's hand. She doggy paddled. She kick, kick, kicked on her back. And smiled and giggled, the water flowing into her open jaw. That week, there was an assistant, a male assistant; she forgets her legs, her head turned towards his face, and she talks and talks and talks at him... Isn't swimming, well, about swimming? Concentrate, you need to concentrate, stop looking at the guy, kick, kick, kick, I thought wryly. I still gave her the thumbs-up. I will always give her the thumbs-up...

I am braver. I have swum with weights. I have swum in pyjamas. I own a bronze medallion. I can do it, I can breast stroke and back crawl; not the butterfly though, no, no, not that, it looks too ungainly, too splashy, too in your face. I body surf. I let waves pull me under, grasping at stones on the sandy floor. I dive and snorkel and feel salt burn as the sun dries the corners of my eyes. Now I prefer the slow lane, don't mind the chlorine so much. Twenty lengths, no more, no less, the effortlessness of a calm relaxing swim.

I feel so lucky and over the moon to have been shortlisted in the Writer Category of the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards (BiBs). If you enjoy my writing, please vote for Older Mum in a Muddle; I would love to be one of the six finalists. Voting ends this Friday, 16th May. I want to thank you all, my readers and friends, for all your support since I began this blog three years ago. X  

Once Upon A Time

Sunday 11 May 2014

The Viewing

The gallery is full of herds. Herds of business suits. Herds of puffy skirts. Herds of art-house cool. It's all very frou-frou. I however am low key; jeans, blue jacket, Hermione Granger hair. We arrived forty minutes after the official opening by Dame someone or other, and the space is as full as a hornet's nest; humming and droning and reverberating. Cheeky so-and-so's, they're charging for the wine and prosecco, five pounds a pop. I'd assumed there'd be sparkling freebies at a private viewing, and olives on sticks; that's what you see in the movies. Oh well, I guess I could wait till the restaurant.

We head over, H and I, to where my brother's piece is stationed; hanging on a wall in front of the bar, next to the toilet entrance. Glamorous. But still, what an opportunity. My exceptionally talented brother's artwork... a portrait, graphite pencil on paper, entitled Deryugina. It looks like a photograph. I stand close, taking in the minuscule detail until it's a blur, like atoms. 'Isn't this wonderful,' says an appreciative voice behind me. Two women, both in their sixties, are smiling at the portrait, and I can't help myself, the kudos is simply too tempting, 'my brother did this,' I say, 'why don't you come and meet him?' And it just so happens that one of them is a member of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

My brother is busy networking, handing out and receiving business cards. H and I take a tour. More fancy clothes. Frills that are waterfalls, floral leggings, very pointed shoes, like knives. We spot a couple of dated celebrities; Michael Portillo (of all people) and Floella Benjamin (let's look through the round window), who's looking shockingly good at sixty-four. Some of the portraits I'm not so sure about. A white haired man dressed in fuchsia tracksuit stood in front of a settee, a radiator behind and paintings on a wall. 'Who paints radiators?' H asks, and she's qualified to judge, she's an exceptionally talented artist herself. There's a small self-portrait of a woman's face, and clearly there's a lack of self-esteem here; all her features are smudged away, only the outline of her face and frame of auburn hair. She looks dug-out and ghostly. Where would you hang her? In the downstairs loo?  

I think about the classical portraiture of centuries before; the pomp, the ruffles, the arm draped over a velvet-lined table, and study its modern day equivalent; pin-striped business men, self satisfied, posing in front of The City -The Gherkin - or proudly beside their red bricked country mansion. Nothings changed. The gaudy upper classes; still a seamless study in questionable ostentation. I giggle at Tony Blair's portrait, the not-so-ironic reference to Cool Britannia, of the Union Jack painted behind his head, making me think of the iconic (and cringe-making) image of that Oasis bloke with the PM.

We were all good to art, my two brothers and I, but J shone; I think his undetected dyslexia helped to hone his talent. Like a microscope in sharp focus, he kept on and on and on. He encourages Little A's creativity, always buying her felt tips and pencils and colouring books for birthdays and Christmas. He's taught her the precise skill of slinking a slinky over the top step, bellows out bedtime stories in earnest interpretations. Uncle J is very much the fun Uncle. His next big project is a portrait of the actor Robert Carlyle, you know, Begbie in Trainspotting. I really hope his time has come now, he's worked so hard for so many years; I can't help feeling proud of my youngest brother...

I have been shortlisted in the Writer Category of the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards (BiBs). If you enjoy my writing, please vote for Older Mum in a Muddle; I would love to make the final six.   

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Listening Walk

It was such a strong urge, to get out, clear my head, find the rhythm in my soles; they were squeaking. The overwhelming need to feel underwhelmed. Sometimes it all gets a little too much, sometimes I just have to stop, to quit the thinking, to shut down the task.

I'm dressed in lounge wear; black yoga pants, neutral sweatshirt, a blue jacket and raspberry crocs dusted in dried earth from weeding the borders. Casual clothes for a casual walk. There's a slight chill and the lightest breeze, but in the sun it feels good and warm, like I'm wrapped in an eiderdown of yellow feathers. The streets have that dozed-out feel, stationary and quiet, the tuned-out lull of a bank holiday weekend. I close my eyes and walk slow, with purpose, filtering the life around, stealing the detail, all the sounds and smells, trusting in my feet as they scrape against loose and buckled pavement...

... Husky wood pigeons and a crow, its caw-caw'ing like a shrill firework. Children's voices behind a garden fence, the bounce of a ball, the lower tones of parents, library murmurs, and the charcoal aroma of a BBQ. I stop to take pictures. A dandelion head, an iris, the pink tree. A woman is vacuuming her car, dried blossom crunches under my shoes; I love the crisp sound, the disintegration, the brown powdery afterthought. Some driveways are precise, manicured, while others are overgrowing in weeds and sky-blue forget-me-nots. I close my eyes again, hear water slosh and music thump, the guttural rumbling of a light aircraft over head and a bus engine's old-aged strain as it climbs an easy hill.

I need to make more changes, prioritise my yoga practise, cut down on sugar and wheat. I've been thinking about a fundamental change in my diet; I'm drawn to the paleo way of eating, I was thinking of trying it for a month over summer. I like the thought of hormonal equilibrium. I used to wake up at dawn and meditate for an hour, a graceful beginning that assembled me for the day. Then I had a baby, and motherhood became the eternal contemplation. On my shelf sits a book, Buddhism Plain and Simple, perhaps I need to read it.

Another walk, this time early evening, a dusky walk in melon light. Again in yoga pants. Again in squeaking crocs. I close my eyes and think of the moment, full of birdsong and the smell of spring warmth rising. I open them and watch a pigeon fly low over telegraph wires and bungalow rooftops, like a fat grey missile. I have my camera, and take another picture...

What do you do to chill?

I have been shortlisted in the Writer Category of the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards (BiBs). If you enjoy my writing, please vote for Older Mum in a Muddle; I would love to make the final six.   

My seasonal linky, #oneweek, returns 19-21 May, and it's spring! For more details, take a look here.

Friday 2 May 2014

Groove is in the words... (a big thank you).

Every record had to count. Each and every single one. I used to plan sets with so much thought, so much precision, second guessing the night's audience, picturing their reactions, their well honed tastes, and my strategy usually worked. Bulls eye. But I had to allow for flexibility, the ability to switch flow at the sight of flagging hips or flailing arms, or even worse, the sight of a naked dance floor. I had to move like water. Music weaves and circles and undulates; it isn't earth. Perhaps we could have flown through midnight stars into the electric heart of a supernova, or down into the purple depths where flesh pink jelly fish swim and moon white mermaids dance among beaded pearls in the four-four thump thump thump of the current. I was good. My selection, my timing, my connection to the dancing pulse. I thought it would last forever, that I'd always be a DJ, couldn't see anything else, certainly nothing beyond the grooves in the vinyl. I had no idea that this was only an apprenticeship, that I was learning to write, that every set I played had a beginning, a middle, and an end...

...The most creative insights aren't necessarily carved from smooth and easy surface, but from dark and grizzled crevasse, the jagged textures. Everything grows from shit. In transpersonal psychotherapy there is a saying; to breakdown to breakthrough. Who would have thought that the postnatal years would lead to possibly my life's work, aside from motherhood, writing. When I began blogging I never considered myself a writer, and here I am, several years on, with three blogs and a self-published anthology, Seasons of Motherhood. Maybe I am a writer after all (I've never harboured much confidence).

So I'm incredibly pleased to announce that I've been shortlisted as a semi finalist in the Writer Category of the BiBs, The Brilliance in Blogging Awards. I am chuffed to pieces about being selected; it actually means a lot to me. I want to thank you, my very loyal and wonderful readership, and anyone else who took the time to consider my blog and vote for Older Mum in a Muddle. There are readers, other bloggers, who have stuck with me since the very beginning, and some of you have become very real friends - this blogging malarky is an amazing thing.

And now I am in a muddle and feeling self conscious and embarrassed *urrgghh I don't like this* and have to ask for one last vote as I would dearly love to make the final six in my category, so er, please could you vote for me?

Every vote really counts. The Writer category this year is very tough, and I'm sadly competing against some of my very favourite bloggers..... so thank you, and thank you for reading me.


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