Monday, 23 April 2012

Not cool.

I am not cool. I am old. I look ridiculous in my new dress and my cooking is not as good as I think it is. I know all this because my son told me, my Eldest son, to be precise.

It’s hard to go from being desperately needed “pretty mummy” not that long ago, to the object of disdain - sometimes. I should add that. It’s not always. It’s only sometimes. Most of the time he's lovely. And it's particularly not when he needs help with homework… or wants new clothes… or paint from the art shop… or to talk late at night … or when he proffers his forehead for my kiss… or at the front door when he’s about to leave…

I understand. I think. My Good Old Friend, in the playground at school, she says he has to pull away from me to find himself, it's his age, she’s read a book about it. As his nurturer, his primary carer, and a woman, rejecting me is a right of passage: becoming a man… something like that. It doesn’t mean he won’t come back. I know it’s true. I know deep down he’s still the same.

He may say “shoo!” when I walk in to his room to check he’s doing his revision. He may say that I’m living in a “bubble of my own narcissism” at the hairdressers when I’m about to spend £20 on his haircut (he must have heard that line somewhere…it’s rather good).

Actually, when he said that, as we were waiting, just after I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he replied that he hates everything I cook and doesn’t need to eat most of the time anyway (he knows where to put the knife), I lent towards him and hissed quietly into his ear: “Don’t you dare speak to me like that. I’m about to spend 2o quid on your haircut and I drove you here and I went back for your hoodie when you’d forgotten it, because it’s cold, and I am this far away,” and I held up my thumb and forefinger to indicate an incredibly small distance, “from walking out of here and leaving you with no money."

And he got it, to give him his due, he knew I meant it: he apologised, profusely, straightaway, as well he might. He looked terrified. I’m sorry, he said, I’m really sorry, I just feel angry and I don’t know why (I know why, it was because it was lunchtime and he hadn’t eaten any breakfast). It took the wind out of my sails, to be honest: that apology. I couldn’t be cross anymore when really I wanted to carry on being cross for a bit longer. I had to gulp my anger back down. Because I understood.

I remember what it is to be fifteen and to feel… well… to feel cross and to feel things, words, coming out of your mouth and not being able to control them and wanting to backtrack and really needing someone to understanding and be tolerant and let it go, at least sometimes. So on that occasion, I did. I do. At least, I try.

And I know sometimes I am cool because he asks me about music and film and fashion, even about my work occasionally, and because the other day I found him listening to Bob Dylan and I showed him the film of Subterranean Homesick Blues on YouTube. You know the one, with all the words on pieces of card, that he throws away as he sings them in the street. And he watched it, nonchalantly, like he wasn’t particularly interested in anything I liked. And then later, a few days later, I saw Middle One watching it in the office. “Have you seen this!” he said, “it’s so cool! Eldest showed it to me.”

And I know sometimes he thinks I look ok, too, because of the look on his face when I ask his opinion, just before I’m going out somewhere, asking for trouble, like an idiot, when he doesn’t say I look stupid and old and there isn’t a grimace, only a slight nod of the head instead.

And I know he mostly likes my cooking because he eats it and because he says he does, which he knows pleases me, which is why he was tormenting me about it.

And I know he has to grow up and on the way he has to hurt me, sometimes, and all that jazz. But still, it’s hard. Because I love him so much.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A mouse's tale

There’s the vile smell of dead mouse in the house. It’s emanating from somewhere in the kitchen but has no respect for boundaries. Inexplicably, it’s particularly stomach churning by the front door and there’s a strong nauseating waft of it every time I approach the top of the cellar stairs with my arms laden with clean laundry.

Husband says there’s no point pulling the kitchen to pieces to look for it. We tried last time and had to give up concluding that the poor creature met its demise behind the fridge. It’s warm and completely inaccessible there because the knackered old fridge is built in to the cupboards in classic eighties style (don’t get me started). I’d like to look under the food cupboard where we found mouse droppings last winter but that too is screwed down. Husband says there’s no point looking at all. We should just give up and put up with it until it goes away.

“Living with this smell is child abuse,” says Eldest, “and unhygienic. You shouldn’t make us eat in this kitchen.” He has a point. I take to leaving the back door open as much as possible, even when it’s freezing. I buy pots and pots of hyacinths to try and drown it out. I boil up strange medieval-style concoctions involving honey, lemon and vanilla pods and leave them by the front door so they're the first thing the children smell when they come in from school. Friends begin to give our house a wide birth. Husband’s weekend jogging companion declines the invitation to wait in the hall. Lovely Friend over the road refers to it as “your dead rat.” It goes on and on.

I moan about it to everyone. I write about it on Facebook. The smell evolves. It morphs from rancid rotting manure, to high old fruit and nappies. It is our constant companion. It seeps everywhere. It contaminates everything. It makes me loathe the house. The days turn into weeks. By the middle of week three I crack. “It’s definitely under there! under the food cupboard! Unscrew the base! Now.”

“Now?” says Husband incredulously. It's evening. He has only just plonked himself down on a comfy chair in the living room.

“Yes. This minute! Get the screwdriver. I think it’s under there!”

Reluctantly he abandons his slump. He comes into the kitchen and immediately and effortlessly lifts the bottom of the cupboard out. It wasn’t screwed down.

“It wasn’t screwed down!” I yell.

“No, I didn’t screw it back last time,” he replies, while shining the torch underneath.

I wait. He makes a sound. It is something between a gasp, a sigh and a cough but it is also unmistakably the sound of someone coming across the remains of a very decomposed mouse. It took him seconds to find it. I could kill him. Or I could laugh hysterically.

Which would you do?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Easter escape to Sweden


There is actually silence as I sit at the table typing in a log cabin by a lake in Sweden. To my left, through the long windows that dominate this lovely room, silver sunshine dances across water. The lake is surrounded with conifer trees, occasionally interspersed with rocky outcrops. The water is a perfect Swedish blue. There are perhaps two or three other wooden houses like this one but they are far away across the lake, only apparent from their little lights at night. It is truly stunning.

But wait, there are noises: wind gently blowing in the tall pines, a snap from a log on the fire, a rustle as Husband turns another page of his book. How so quiet? Have we buried our three noisy boys in the woods? Certainly there have been moments when it’s been tempting over the last two days, when they moan or bicker or fight in the back of the car… But no, now there is actually peace. Eldest sleeps on into the glorious morning. Middle One lies in his bunk playing on his Nintendo DS. Youngest, below him, silently places stickers in his sticker book. It’s nothing short of an Easter miracle: a very rare moment of family calm - and the reason we came.

You’re going where for Easter? friends asked. Sweden, I said, for four nights, to stay in a cabin in a forest by a lake, not far from Gothenburg. It will be perfect, the space and the view from the cabin, the city only twenty minutes away for when we get bored and want coffee and a cinnamon bun or a mooch round a museum. You’ll be chipping the ice off the lake! they said, or finding a dead tattooed woman in the woods! But we’re here now and there’s neither, in fact, it’s wonderful. It’s everything I dreamed it might be, and I have dreamed about coming to Scandinavia a lot. Not quite sure why… Actually, yes I am.

It started with furniture catalogues when I was a child, clever blond-wood shelf systems and sparsely designed chairs, all Swedish or Finish or Danish, and was later consolidated by Carl Larsson’s illustrations, the Swedish painter/writer, whose children’s books I came across years ago when I worked for a publishing company. I took my favourites - charming domestic scenes from the 1800s, cozy interiors, picnics among silver birches - every one an idealised tableaux of family life, and framed them. And then there was just this vague notion that Sweden would be beautiful and clean and empty and quiet, a bit cold in April perhaps, but still the perfect antidote to hectic life in south London. And so it is.