Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Something occurs to me.


My mother is looking at a picture of Hitler on the front of her birthday card. She is sitting at her kitchen table with a glass of prosecco in one hand and the card in the other. "It's from a newspaper, in 1939," she says. I'm in York to see her for the day. The card she is holding is from Middle One. He made it for her. 

"Yes," I say. "Read what he put inside." You are the best thing to come out of 1939 - it says inside.

"That’s nice," she says.

"Yes," I say. "He’s favourably compared you to Hitler."

My mother throws her head back and guffaws at this, and so does my father. It occurs to me that my parents laugh a lot, and that when I'm with them I laugh a lot too.


Not to be confused with my mother.

My mother’s friend Anne pops by with a card and joins us at the table. “I feel I know you, Elizabeth,” she says as we all sip prosecco and eat cheese scones. I realise she's talking about my blog, which I forget some people actually read (hello, Anne).

After opening all the other cards my mother turns to the one from my father, which he bought from a shop. It says - I wonder where I left my glasses. I wonder where I left my keys. I wonder what day it is. Welcome to the wonder years. My mother laughs again, then looks inside. To a wonderful wife, he has written.

After Anne has gone the three of us get a bus into town. My mother goes straight for the back seat and I follow and sit by her side. We have lunch in a tapas bar. "We come here a lot," says my mother, "the food isn’t that special, we just love the atmosphere." 

I order a beer, my parents order enormous glasses of red wine. In addition to my mother's birthday my father is celebrating one of his books being revamped and brought up to date with a new forward by some hotshot American sociologist. He talks about his work, both paid and voluntary, and my mother talks about her work, now all voluntary, and copious. It occurs to me that my parents are some of the busiest people I know.

"Take a picture of me with Libby Lou," my mother instructs my father, who is sitting opposite us across the table.

"Eugh," I say. "I look dreadful in pictures now, maybe because I look dreadful now."

"What do you mean?" says my mother.

"Too old," I say.

"Getting old is nothing to fear," says my father, "it’s great."

"It’s horrible," I say.

"You get over that feeling," he says. "You can finally be what you want, you don’t care."

It occurs to me I'm already being a lot of what I want and being any more of what I want might not be a good thing.





Neither one of these pictures is my mother.

"Rubbish," I say, looking at my parents, in a tapas bar, smiling, holding huge glasses of red wine. "It’s all downhill from here."

"You’re very pessimistic," says my mother.

"I am," I nod. "I like it. It minimises disappointment. Plus it's that voluntary work I do, ringing house-bound old people."

"You’re like that joke," she says. "The pessimist says ‘at least life can’t get any worse,’ and the optimist says ‘yes it can! Yes, it can!’"


Walking through town after lunch they show me some of the pocket parks they’re involved in renovating for York Civic Trust. We stand in one in Davygate, in the darkness, under a skeletal tree.

"We’re on top of dead people here," says my mother, as we watch living people rushing by in the street, frantically shopping for Christmas. "Graves, moved from St Helen’s churchyard when the Georgians built the Assembly Rooms."

"Sad," I say, "ploughing up a delicate old graveyard so Elizabeth Bennet can meet her Mr Darcy at a ball."

"Yes," says my mother. "But the Assembly Rooms are beautiful."

We leave the pocket park and kill time having tea in Betty’s Tearooms because there isn’t enough of it to go back to the house and out again to the station for my six o’clock train.


In Betty's my parents are treated like royalty because they eat here every week on the same night and have done so for twenty-five years, possibly longer. I once rang up and had their bill paid for them as a thank you I was so sure they'd be in there, and they were.

When I'm safely in my seat on the train they remain on the platform, waiting. As the train pulls out of York station they wave. I watch them standing there together, smiling, arm in arm, he very tall, she very small, until they’re no longer visible because of the bend in the track. And it occurs to me that my parents have the happiest marriage of anyone I know.

Love E x

@DOESNOTDOIT


P.S. Their secret? He does what she says. She thinks he's amazing.


Good times. 
(This one definitely is my mother.)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Crazy boots.


I really hate winter. “But you get to wear boots!” said my friend Julie, when I said this to her recently. “Boots,” I replied, “are no compensation.” Winter makes me depressed. Give me a summer’s day any day, a thin dress, a pair of open-toed wedges. Wedges give you a bit of height, add shape to the leg, show off pretty painted toes. You can skip down the road to the Tube in a dress and a pair of wedges and feel like the cat's pyjamas. By comparison, boots are dull.

The problem with boots is they are flat, or, if they are not flat, they risk making you look like a goose-stepping Nazi or a hooker - or both. For the longest time I've been on the look out for the perfect winter boot/shoe. Something to replace the summer wedge, something that is not black or grey or brown, that is not boring and flat, like these...


Or does not make you look like a prostitute, like these...


or these...


And is that hard? I hear you ask. You betcha. I calculate I have been searching for three years, but it could be longer. Last week I found them.

I was on my way to the hairdressers before pre-theatre dinner with mates and I spotted a crazy pair of ankle boots in the window of a high street store. Wow, I thought. I went in, I tried them on, they were perfect, and bonkers, and made out of psychedelic carpet bag material. Mary Poppins boots. 


Mary in the sky with a carpet bag.

The assistant serving me was wearing a pair. “I’ve even had compliments from men about these boots,” she said, and that clinched it. I strolled over to the mirror and the boots looked even better in the reflection than they did from above. They were not black or grey or brown, they had a small block heel but not too much, they were something between a shoe and a boot and they did not make me look like a prostitute. When I asked the price I almost died. Never in my life have I paid such a sum for footwear. “Fuck it,” I said, “I'm having them,” and the shop assistant laughed and then relieved me of my money. I put my new boots on and sauntered off to the hairdressers.

Sergio nearly fainted. “But they’re so gay!” I said to Sergio, my hairdresser. “Darling, darling, darling,” replied Sergio, “they are beyond gay,” and I took that as a compliment. I took a photograph of my boots and entitled it “crazy boots” and sent it to Husband. “Very crazy,” came back the reply, and I took that as a compliment as well.

I went to the restaurant after the hairdressers, which involved a long walk and traversing Waterloo bridge in the wind, which totally screwed up my new post-salon hair, but I didn’t care: I was wearing new boots. People stared, a woman pointed, small children laughed, and I was walking on air. Or rather, on very expensive leather soles, made in Spain.

At the restaurant I showed my friends. “How much?” they said. “I cannot tell you," I said. “But here’s my thinking: I'm making a little film at the moment, for which I will receive payment to pay for my boots, and I have been looking for these boots for years. So right here you are looking at many years' worth of boot, all in one piece of footwear.”

O-kaaaay, they said, and then, when we had to wait too long for the food, I looked down at my boots again, perched on the end of my legs there under the table, and I didn’t care. And when the waiter came over to give us each a shot glass of Limoncello, by way of an apology, I drank it and cared even less. And later, when we went to see Glenda Jackson being King Lear at the Old Vic on a stage full of famous actors, and the actor playing Edmond suddenly showed off his spectacular bare arse, and the actor playing Edgar suddenly showed off his unspectacular bare cock, (it was a modern production) I went to the loo in the much-too-short interval and queued up in a very long line, and a woman behind me said, “the queue for the men's is almost as long as the queue for the women's.” And I said, “well, I guess that’s equality for you.” And she said, “also, do you mind if I just say..." And I said, "yes?" And she said, "I love those boots!" 


One hell of a Lear.

And once in the loos, precisely two more women said, “where did you get those boots?” and I laughed. And when I went back to my seat after the interval, at the very back of the stalls, and rested my head against the sound stage behind and briefly nodded off because of the Limoncello, I dreamt I was wearing the most marvellous pair of carpet bag boots and the best bit of the evening was that when I woke up, it was true.


Love E x


@DOESNOTDOIT


P.S. So maybe winter isn't that bad after all.



These boots make me laugh.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Not drunk, just drinking.


Somewhere along the line turning 18 has turned into a drinking thing. On Eldest's 18th birthday his father met him at a local pub on his way home from work to buy him a celebratory pint, which was a bit of a farce because of course he’d been drinking in pubs for ages, ever since he destroyed the iron and the ironing board attempting to ‘laminate' a fake ID card. Middle One is to be treated to the same ritual on Friday night, except he’s going to the pub with both his father and his older brother, who is coming home for the weekend to celebrate.

I don’t remember this legal drinking thing being a big deal, way back when I turned 18. I drank in the back room at the Black Bull in the village of Escrick from the age of 14. It wasn’t until I won a national writing competition and my photograph was in the local paper with my age underneath that there was a problem with this. Unfortunately the landlord saw it. After that I drank lemonade that my friends spiked with booze when his back was turned. Our gateway alcohol was cider, although there was the unforgettable Malibu debacle of New Year’s Eve 1982 when I was taken to a party by a boy who lived two doors down from us, who was a medic at The Royal Free Hospital in London, and briefly home for Christmas. He plied me with Malibu and then named all my body parts for me, slowly, one by one, using the correct medical terminology (class), with some help from his hands. I haven't touched the stuff since. Not once.

On Saturday night, for Middle One’s birthday, there's a family dinner at a central London restaurant, with cocktails, for four, because now we can.

“I love this bar," I say, as the five of us perch on bar stools like birds on wire. "And I’m definitely having a pina colada like last time. I don’t care if it’s uncool. I like it."

"Don’t get drunk, Mummy," says Youngest. "I don’t like it when you’ve been drinking."

What he means is he doesn’t like it when I’ve had a couple of beers and a glass of wine and I get a bit over-confident and cheerful.

"You’ve never seen me drunk," I say. "In any case, I’m a nice drunk, affectionate, not like Daddy, who turns belligerent."

"I do not turn belligerent," says Husband.

Middle One ponders the cocktail menu. "Have a pina colada," I say, "they’re great."

"Bit gay, though," he says.

"That’s sexist," says Youngest.

"There’s no such thing as a girl’s drink or a boy's drink these days," I say. "It's all gone non-binary and gender fluid."

"I’m definitely not having a cocktail of gender fluid," he says. So we order two pina coladas.



I like pina coladas.

Eldest orders an old fashioned, which is whiskey - I think - and Mr Bartender asks for his ID, and not Middle One's, which everyone thinks is hilarious except for Eldest who has to whip out his student card. But at least it's the real thing, at last. He's keen to 'preload' at our expense before hitting a party with some LSE mates, in Angel; and to use the brand new all-night service on the Northern Line to get home. He needs to eat a lot in the restaurant first, though, because he doesn’t do a lot of that at university.

"It's like Viking heaven," he says, tucking into a mountain of steak with a side order of bone marrow, and a beer.

"Van Halen," I say.

"Valhalla," says Middle One.

"That’s the one."

"You’re drunk, Mummy," says Youngest.

"I'm really not," I say, "I only get drunk if I'm drinking wine, I’ve had one cocktail."

"I’m ordering a bottle of red wine," says Husband.

"Are you sure we need that as well?" I say. "Let's just have a glass each."

"No." He says. "I am ordering a bottle."

"I’ll have some," says Middle One.

"And me," says Eldest.

I think about their fresh little livers (near the diaphragm, not far from the mammary glands), about to be pumped full of alcohol. But what can I say? I was drinking at 14.

"I'm bored," says Youngest.

"You need to discover the art of conversation," I tell him.

"Yeah," says Eldest. "So you can talk to girls, and say, Oh really? Tell me more, that’s so fascinating…"

"Until you marry them," I add. Cheerfully.

At the end of the meal we part company outside in the street, in the rain - Eldest off to the party, the rest of us for home.

"Filthy weather," I say. "Let's get a cab!"

"Oh for God's sake," says Husband. But then he suddenly sticks his arm out to hail one.

Three cheers to that.


Love E x


@DOESNOTDOIT

P.S. Sunday morning we're regaled with tales from the night before, when everyone at the LSE party talked about The Communist Manifesto, apparently, like some sort of cliche. "And was everyone pissed at 3am on the Northern Line?" I ask. "Oh yeah," says Eldest. "Plus there was this guy in my carriage smoking a spliff." 



"Of all the g... " you know the rest.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Eighteen.


Tomorrow Middle One turns eighteen which is strange because it seems like he’s been eighteen for ages, or at least since he was ten. He’s always been older than his years. The sensible one. The one who refused to swim in the sea that time in Crete when all the other kids did because he didn’t like the look of it, and it turned out there was a warning flag and rip tide alert we'd all missed. The sort of kid teachers ask to carry the register to the school office.

When it was his time to be born, at home, as Youngest was too, I spent the following few days in bed with him. Our toddler still didn't sleep through, the new baby was awake all day and most of the night, so here was a rare excuse to excuse myself from life, and I took it. From the sanctuary of my bed I could see two trees across the road and I watched as their leaves turned yellow and fell to the ground and the evenings closed in around us earlier and earlier.


Just born.

On one of those precious, breast-feeding afternoons, I also - somewhat amazingly - found time to read. I'd paid our cleaner to take the toddler to the playground after morning nursery, so the house was unusually silent. Silent as a grave, you might say. The baby dozed between feeds, the November sun sank behind the terraced houses opposite, and I devoured Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. Perhaps because I’d recently given birth or perhaps because Armistice Day had just passed or perhaps because it's a brilliant book - or perhaps for all three reasons - it had a profound effect on me.



Distant rest.

Boys were sent to that war, the one that book is about, to die long before their rightful time; and die they did in their millions, British, French, German and more. All began as babies at their mother’s breast, like the one I had at mine. No one will ever have this boy for their war, I remember thinking, or any boy of mine. Over my dead body. But of course there were mothers in 1914, 15, 16, 17 and 18, who must have thought the same, to no avail.

That late afternoon, with the toddler at the playground, the telephone off its hook, the infant replete with milk, the pages of the novel flying through my hands, the baby raised his head from my chest in a startlingly precocious manner and looked straight into my eyes and down into my heart. And he’s been there ever since.

Happy birthday my beautiful boy.

Love E x


@DOESNOTDOIT

P.S. And by the way, I forgive you about the K9 costume I made for Halloween that time when you were eight - the one that I took hours to make, with the red Quality Street paper eyes, the ears that swivelled, that you said was crap -  it's ok, really. No charge.



Yawn.


With a knackered - but extremely young-looking - Mummy.


Ok, so I found the K9 costume and he's right it was crap.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Das Beste.



On the journey into Vienna from the airport Husband speaks fluent German to the taxi driver. “That's so impressive," I tell him. "I thought you said you'd forgotten all your German, since you last did it at school, 34 years ago.”

“I’m only speaking German to impress my wife.” Husband replies to the taxi driver, in German. 

At the hotel the guy behind the desk says “this is the best room in the hotel,” in English, as he hands us the key card.

“There’s no bath,” I say to Husband, after inspecting the best room in the hotel, which is stunning (I love a bath) and his eyebrows shoot up. “Aber das ist das beste Zimmer des Hotels,” he says.

We look at another room with a bath but it's not nearly as nice as the best room, so we stay in the best room.

"Why do we always have to have a thing about rooms?" Husband says. "And tables in restaurants?"

"Because I like das Beste," I say.

In the morning I shout: “Sod the bath! This is das beste shower I ever had!” from the shower, and Husband's eyebrows shoot up again (I don’t actually see this because I’m in the shower but I know that they do).



Seeds.

At breakfast the muesli comes with ten types of seed and dried fruit to sprinkle on top. It's das beste breakfast I've ever eaten in a hotel.

“I need your phone,” I say.

“Why?” says Husband.

“To take a photograph,” I say, “and make a note for my blog. I left mine upstairs.”

“You’re like Schubert," he says, "waking up in the night with inspiration and writing a song."

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m exactly like Schubert.”



I never knew the old Vienna.

A note about Vienna - all the people are lovely and if you like wide roads, massive rectangular white buildings with flat roofs and Roman figures on top and big statues with men on horses, you’ll love it.

“There are lots of big statues with men on horses,” I say, as we walk across the city to the Belvedere.

“I think you mean equestrian,” Husband says. “There’s always a word.”

“I’m really looking forward to seeing The Three Ages of Woman,” I say.

“What’s The Three Ages of Woman?” he says.

“You know,” I say, “the Klimt, of the three ages of woman.”

He looks blank.

“We have a little detail of it in the house," I say, "in a gold frame. There’s a postcard of it by my desk. It's on my key ring.”

“Nope,” he says.

In the Belvedere we see The Kiss. It hangs alone on a black wall. She has coloured circles with a few rectangles, over gold. He has black rectangles with a few coloured circles, over gold. The pair of them glow together inside a halo of, gold.



The Kiss.

A woman standing next to me isn’t looking at all the gold, she's looking at my coat, which is green. “I love your coat,” she says, in French.

“Thank you!" I say. "It’s new and I like it too because it’s pretty and colourful with a pattern and so many coats are sombre and dark and it’s from this shop in London called Joy and it's really not expensive and you might be able to get it on line and it would be even cheaper for you because of the Euro!” In English.

The woman stares at me. Husband repeats everything I just said, in French. Then the woman smiles.

“I do that all the time now, too,” says Husband, after the smiling French woman has gone away.

“Do what?” I say.

“Talk to complete strangers," he says. "It must be our age.”

Just off the gallery is a room with nothing in it except a full size reproduction of The Kiss, expressly for people to take selfies in front of, kissing each other. 

"That's depressing," I say to Husband.

"Why is it depressing?" he says.

"I don't know," I say. "It just is."



Rock me Amadeus.

Later in the Mozarthaus I trail behind Husband as he reads all the blurb on the walls. I'm bored. I want to see Mozart’s belongings: the bed he slept in, the desk he composed at, that sort of thing. There’s nothing like that. I stare out of the window, trying to imagine Mozart composing The Magic Flute and getting stuck at a hard bit and staring out of this exact same window. Down in the street a flotilla of Japanese people drifts past on a boundless sea of tourists.

“Is Mozart your John Lennon, then?” I say, when I catch up with Husband again.

“Oh no,” he says. “That would be Haydn.”

In the souvenir shop they sell pasta shaped like musical notes. I find this depressing as well.



If music be the food of love, play on...

In the evening we see The Magic Flute at Die Volksoper. We wanted to see something at Die Staatsoper but all the tickets had gone. The Magic Flute is wunderbar but I forgot that the story is bonkers, perhaps because Mozart got stuck and stared out of that window.

We go on a tour of Die Staatsoper next morning instead. It's beautiful and fascinating and was nearly bombed out of existence at the end of the war - Goodnight Vienna! - but they rebuilt it. The guide tells us there are two stages now instead of one so it's easier to shift the scenery. I'm tempted to say we did them a favour then, but I think better of it. She mistakes Husband for some famous Russian heart-throb, which makes his day.



Mahler in the mirror.

We walk to The Leopold Museum in the rain. “Es regnet Katzen und Hunde,” says Husband.

“I’m looking forward to seeing more Klimts,” I say, “particularly The Three Ages of Woman.”

We don’t see The Three Ages of Woman, we see a lot of Schiele. 

“I don’t think I like these,” I say to Husband, as we're standing in front of one; this one...



“I know what you mean,” says Husband, tilting his head to one side, “his paintings are... kind of… a bit...”

“Gynaecological?” I say

“Genau,” he says. 

"There's always a word," I say.


Love E x


@DOESNOTDOIT



P.S. Turns out Klimt’s The Three Ages of Woman is in Rome.



Here at home.

The best rooms - Hotel Rauthaus, Wein and Design.
The best food - Miznon, Huth Grill House, Die Fromme Helene, Cafe Central, Cafe Corbaci.