Blood is thicker than water (except when it isn’t)
A lovely lady adopting a brilliant little boy!
And the band played ‘Waltzing Matilda’…
Today is Remembrance Day, the Sunday closest to Armistice Day and, as such, many people have been wearing red or white poppies and visiting cenotaphs to remember the dead, both civilian and military, that gave their lives in wars across the world.
Tomorrow is 11th November and 95 years ago it was the day of the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. Armistice Day is a day to remember the sacrifices made by many, too many, people over the years in order to protect the ways of life back home.
From tiny acorns grow mighty oaks.
I’ve been on the bus for maybe 8 mins and I’ve just thought to check my phone. It’s been in the bottom of my bag for the morning, underneath tubes of dye, hand cream, a camera and all sorts of odds and ends. I’ve been sitting reading the second Game of Thrones book – A Clash of Kings – it’s taking me a lot longer than the first because I’ve not locked myself in my room for two days this time, so a half hour bus trip, plus the time waiting for it to come, is a good to crack on with trying to finish it. I dug around for my phone as the bus was waiting at the roadworks at the outskirts of town.
There are two texts and an answerphone message – I can’t access the answerphone message, but the texts tell me something I really should have checked earlier. My hair appointment, the one I’m on the bus for, has been cancelled. Bugger, I’m annoyed but there’s not a lot that can be done.
I’ve decided to get off at the next stop, which is the village of Farthinghoe. I’ve been through it millions of times but I don’t think I’ve actually set foot there. That seems odd to me, so I’ll take this opportunity to take a look around. I walk past the hedge and take some photos of the allotment behind it. I’ve been taking a series of photos of my walk to work and the countryside changing from Summer to Autumn in front of me and it’s good to have different locations to look at.
At the end of the hedge is a huge oak tree that in all these years I’ve never noticed it. I really don’t know how. It’s easily a few hundred years old. It has acorns sprouting all over it, most of them a vivid green, some beginning to brown and fall to the ground. I take some pictures with bemused looks from locals taking in their bins.
I continue on towards the bus stop, spotting a lion in the school playground.
The churchyard next door has many aging and worn headstones but one stands out in particular. It looks brand new, untouched by age and time, it’s bright and clean. At first I think it must have been recently added. Private —, possibly a casualty of recent wars, but no. It’s actually from a long past one. That headstone has possibly been standing for 67. He was killed in 1945.
I love churchyards and churches. I’m in no way religious, but I love the way that they were created with love, care, skill and attention. They are still and peaceful, there is a state of quiet that is hard to find elsewhere. I take some time looking around reading the headstones because I feel that they are there to remember someone who was loved. Reading them continues on the remembrance.
The bus shouldn’t be long, I continue onto the bus stop, it’s wooden and set back from the road, a good amount of shelter. I sit down, taking out my book to continue where I left off. A small movement in the corner of my eye makes me look up, it’s too distracting to try and keep on reading. I move the small brown spider from the sleeve of my coat to rest on the bench. I don’t think it wants to come all the way home with me. I look down again as an old man approaches the bus stop. He has black shoes held together with black electrical tape, holding in dark thick, woolly socks. Baggy black corduroy trousers, a shirt and jacket with some sort of button pinned to the lapel.
“Are you waiting for the bus?” he asks me.
13 Going on 30
Today is the 22nd, so it’s one month until my birthday and 13 months until my 30th. Which I am looking forward to. And which people think is very odd. Apparently you shouldn’t look forward to turning 30, but I don’t see the point in dreading it. It’s an inevitability and it’s not as if I can stop it. I’ve never felt my age. When I was 16 I wasn’t hanging out in the park drinking booze from a bottle hidden in the bag whilst sitting on the tyre swing over the bark flooring. (How was that bark meant to be good to fall on? It got mouldy, it gave you splinters, it got stuck in your tights, it was rubbish, although granted better than falling on concrete. Ok, I’ll just carry on now…) At 16 I was in at least 6 choirs including Brackley Jubilee Choir and Bicester Choral and Operatic Society and I brought the average age of singers down to about 40ish. I went on holidays with my Mum’s Morris team, Owlswick Morris. They were great fun and yes, I am that cool, I’m a Morris baby and proud of it.
When I was about 18 I did do something a teenager is meant to do, I went to Gatecrasher Summer Sound System – it was an all night club with various tents pitched on Turweston Aerodrome. My Dad’s friend was running the security for the event and popped by to see if any of his kids would like to go, so my sister and I each said “Yes please!” and found ourselves being walking through the security office with 4 free passes. I took my friends Ben, Chris and Liam and we had a great time. The main things I remember are wearing combat trousers, a black vest top with a dragon on, my hair in two messy buns (yes, I was heavily influenced by the style of All Saints, I’m not going to apologise for that, it could have been worse) drinking Smirnoff Ice from plastic bottles, blue, pink and purple lights in the Happy Hardcore tent, water dripping on us from the ceiling from the condensation, a pretty rugby boy snogging me and walking home at 6 in the morning with the boys (probably mostly Ben and Liam) nicking the signs from the car park and throwing them in the hedge. If you were one of those people in 2002 who couldn’t find their car that quiet Sunday morning then I apologise, but it was really funny at the time.
Edges are blurring all around
I’m back at school, I’m tired, I’ve got a cold coming on but otherwise things are good.
After my Christmas trip to Kenya I was quite drained, sunburnt and altogether dreading going back to work. Having a break of a month is not necessarily a good thing for me. (Yes, I know, boo hoo, poor me, I’m sure you would love a month off for Christmas – I’m not bemoaning that, I just recognise that I need more structure than all that time to my own devices.)
Begin the Begin
“Fresh starts: thanks to the calendar they happen every year —just set your watch to January, our reward for surviving the holiday season is a new year. Bringing on the great tradition of new years resolutions, put your past behind you and start over. It’s hard to resist the chance of a new beginning, a chance to put the problems of last year to bed.”
Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy [2.13]
It’s nearly the end of the year, very soon I will be by a beach overlooking the Indian Ocean and so many things have changed. The Mayans thought the world would end today. They were wrong but for me, this year, a good many things have ended.
The first, in January, was a three year relationship, I thought that we would get married (mainly because he said we would), I thought that we would have children and that I would live in a cottage somewhere in the North East (he said all that too…). Last December I sat at my sister’s and then at my brother’s playing with their children and decided that enough was enough. Enough making do with someone who couldn’t look after himself, enough hoping that if I was supportive and patient that things would pay off and we would be happy. Enough of being afraid that I couldn’t cope on my own without him, despite him dragging me down gradually with him. So I told him that this was it and he agreed.
…play your piano as the evening sun slowly sets…
Waited a hundred years to see your face
And I would wait a hundred more
If only to be near you
To have you and to hear you
Isn’t that what time is for?
First things first
It’s December the first.
Yesterday, I was sitting in the school pool wearing factor 50. It seems very wrong to be in an open air pool in November. I watched my first live fashion show – the secondary students put it together to raise money for the school’s Saturday school which provides education for local orphans. They put on a really good show, models, dancing and a bit of singing.
This morning I worked as promt for the dress rehearsal of the secondary production of West Side Story. This afternoon I’m heading to Tunza to celebrate a first birthday – they are roasting a pig on the beach.
A kite swooped in on me and stole some of my lunch on Thursday. I’ve seen it happen before – circling ahead and then diving down onto the kids to grab a bit of food, all happening too fast to warn them. It had never happened to me before, I didn’t realise it had happened until afterwards. I felt a change in the air next to my head and spotted that some of my food had gone. Some of the children nearby laughed, some said things like ‘sorry Miss!’ but I found it entertaining, if nothing else. At least it didn’t scratch me, being allergic to plasters means things like that can be a pain to keep clean, especially in the dusty environment we have here.
There have been other firsts too, seeing or hearing something and reminding myself to call Dad to tell him. Then remembering that I can’t. In 12 days it will be my Grandmother’s 100th birthday – the first since she died and quite a significant one. Christmas will be the first without being anywhere near home, the first without getting a scratch card from Dad, the first in Africa. There are going to be lots of firsts, it’s almost as if my life is now divided in two – when Dad was around and after he died. All the potential things that could happen from now – boyfriend, husband, child, job, home, tattoo…whatever. Who knows. It’s going to be odd, some times sad, but it can’t be sad forever. I know he’s not going to be here for the important things. It’s the little things, the silly jokes, the random thoughts, the odd objects that I think to tell him about that keep catching me out. And it’s not as if it’s heart wrenching or anything, there’s just a small intake of breath, a pause mid sentence or foot steps stop whilst I remember and then I carry on. Which is how you manage to have more firsts.
The sun’s coming over the hill.
“Oh how the nights are long
But life is longer still
Oh how the nights are long
But the sun’s coming over the hill.
I can’t say there’s many things I wouldn’t change
There are better days gone than those that remain
But I can find joy in the sound of the rain
You have to find joy where you can.”
So three funerals in 3 days, Gaggy, Dad’s cremation then his memorial. What do we do now? I came back for five weeks with the intention of spending time with Dad, he died 3 days after I got back, so then time was focused on talking to undertakers (the most unintentionally hilarious one), booking churches, ordering flowers, picking music. My brother made an urn. And it all happened yesterday, so what do we fill our days with now?
My friends have booked me a train ticket to Newcastle for tomorrow, then I’m going to Birmingham on Monday to see some cousins and Grandad after his heart attack after that who knows?
I’ve seen some people that I’ve not seen for years and it’s made me think about things. I’ve made some predictions about my life that people think I’ll probably change my mind about but I know now that it’s likely the way things would pan out. But that’s ok, I’m letting people know how I feel about them. Which means that I can make some decisions about who I want to be and what I want to do. Sometimes we hold onto the past without realising, but at somepoint you have to draw a line and make a change. So I have two and a half weeks before I go back to work out what that change will be.
Travelling in time
I’ve come to my grandmother’s house to clean up before my aunt gets here tomorrow; I pressed play on my ipod – there’s 7144 tracks ont here at the moment (I really should get some more) and the first that came up was this song by Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts . Jamie is the little brother of Kathryn Roberts that I linked to earlier in this blog, talented family.
Travelling in Time:
I wandered off today, back to the house we lived in then, the sound of voices play, the children are young 5, 8 and 10.
The rooms seem darker to me, but everyone else says they can see fine, shapes are all I can see, your voice calls me back to present day time.
It seemed to fit with what I’m doing. I’m picking up some cds I loaned to Dad, pinching back the DVD The West that I gave him, and getting rid of the mess I made staying here last week. It doesn’t seem fair for my aunt to come here to come to say goodbye to her brother and mother with some of my washing up still here.
It’s a different house now. It has been in our family for 80 years or so – I think my great-grandmother lived here, my great-uncle, great-aunt, my grandmother moved here after her husband died 38 years ago, my dad moved in 9 years ago after he and mum split up. The house will be sold now, maybe it will stay with another family for as long, but more likely someone will buy it and build something in the garden, sell it for much more. I don’t want to stay here now, it was fine when I was staying to visit dad, my cat was here, but now the cat has gone to live with my oldest brother and his family, so nothing living is here now. It still has its familiar books and pictures, models that dad made, plates, pencils that went towards Gaggy’s collection.
I know that this seems morbid or melancholic, but I don’t think it is really. People are what makes something or somewhere make you feel like you belong. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve lived with 18 people in the last 9 years and I’ve felt at home nearly everywhere I’ve been. I’ve had a good week – I’ve been singing with my old choir, I’ve sat in on some lessons at my old school to see the sorts of things I should be doing when I get back to Tanzania, I’ve bumped into people I’ve not seen for years. Although I can’t picture myself ever living permanently in Northamptonshire or even in England for quite a while, it’s good to know I can fit back in relatively easily. And I know I’ll fit back in Tanzania when I go back there.
It’s been interesting watching people since I’ve been back because I’m the only one on my own – in some respects that gives me a fair bit of freedom because I can decide what I want to do without having to co-ordinate plans with someone else, or think about what they want to do. It’s good to be a bit selfish sometimes. But it’s also good to see people being able to support each other, being happy, doing silly little things together, I do miss that a bit but for now, it’s just me on my own and it’s time for that. I’ve completely lost my train of thought now and should probably get back to cleaning things up…
Burt Bacharach and Hal David put it well, Ella Fitzgerald sings it best
(Although, I don’t think you have to have a man around to make your house a home, but that’s not the point of the song.)
Old woman, old woman, old woman said I
Today was the day my Grandmother died. Very nearly 100 it wasn’t really worth her hanging on for much longer, especially after her husband died 38 years ago.
She had 4 children, one of whom died yesterday, 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
I saw her today, she looked very old and small but not in pain or sad. She loved all her children very much but had a special connection with my dad so it seems quite fitting that she died almost exactly 24 hours after he did.
Some short memories:
- A small old woman dressed in green knitting on the sofa with Countdown and Deal or no Deal on.
- Blue plates with lettuce, tomato, boiled potatoes, coleslaw, chicken and salad cream. Knives and forks with bone handles.
- Leaving for university 9 years ago and her saying that the one thing she would like before she died would be for me to be baptised (sorry, didn’t happen, not likely to, don’t think she minded)
- Sitting in the corner of her sitting room counting hundreds of pencils from her collection.
- Bromley’s soap and lavender.
- One of the only people I know who can bend the top segment of her fingers independently from the rest of her fingers.
- Telling me that she had a special trap door in the middle of the floor that she kept children in.
- Randomly announcing another vaguely famous person that we are related to.
- Her smile when I brought back a picture from Trinity College, Dublin, of the memorial plaque to her father who died in the flu epidemic of 1918.
- Turning to my brother during Star Wars when Yoda has his first light sabre fight and both saying ‘That’s Gaggy.’
- A scrunched up face when I suggested that she was at least 10 years older than she was whenever I saw her.
- Feeding her chocolate buttons, showing her pictures of her garden and her telling me and Dad that she loved us 5 weeks ago, the last time I saw her alive.
- Sitting tapping her fingers together saying ‘People can be so kind.’
And so it is
Today was the day my father died.
When I went to see him on Monday he wasn’t very recognisable as my dad – he hadn’t been completely recognisable as the man I grew up with since he shaved off his beard 9 years ago – but the person lying in the hospital bed riddled with illness didn’t even seem like the person my dad had become. But that person was still my Dad, so I held his hand, talked to him, stroked his hair, tried to give him a bit of water and sat with him.
The hospice has a room where you can paint, so I made a picture of an acacia tree and a mountain with wax and water colours. I talked to my brothers and sister, distracted my nephew, played with my niece. Yesterday was my niece’s birthday, so I told Dad that he could go whenever he felt like it, he didn’t have to hold off for the sake of us, but maybe not on her birthday. So he waited a few more hours.
Some short memories:
- Sitting on a swing in Westbury park with Dad pushing me from the front, I used to kick off his belly to get higher.
- Sitting in a dark, damp caravan probably in Wales or Cornwall or Devon, lit by a crappy little bulb with hot chocolate made by Mum and Dad reading ‘The Dark is Rising’ – I still have to put holly over my windows when Winter is coming in to ward off the powers of the Dark.
- Sitting in pubs with the Morris team with Dad tapping on an empty pint glass with his ring turned into his palm to make a better sound.
- Sitting playing in his dusty workshop in Drayman’s walk waiting for Mum to pick me up.
- Sitting (I’ve just realised that they all involve at least one of us sitting, but then he was quite sedantry) in the Space Cruiser at night, watching stars and stroms out of the moon roof – driving in the dark is always the best driving.
- Sitting in the Grandmother’s house with the cat trying to climb up his legs and then just settling to curl up by his feet.
Waiting for the music to begin
I’m sat on the floor of Gate 11, Nairobi Airport. I did try to find a seat, but they are all occupied by weary travellers, bags and people who for some reason keep replying ‘Si’ to me when I ask if the seat is taken. The sun is setting behind the clouds over the airstrip painting the sky with oranges, golds, yellows and pale blue, a stark contrast to the greying clouds which looked so white as we flew through them. I have about 4 and a half hours until my flight to London, which will bring me back at 5.55am. As we were descending into Nairobi the Captain announced that the ground temperature was 27 degrees, but I felt a crisp chill in the air as I climbed the steps to the departure lounge. I’ve managed to leave my hoodie in the downstairs flat so I have no idea how I will brace against the crisp Autumnal weather that October in London will bring.
The last few days have been strange, trying not to think about what I am returning to, but focusing on what needed to be done before I left. Friday was quite entertaining with my classes – I’m hired as a year 3 teacher but have also been teaching singing to years 7 and 8 in a crafty swap with the PE teacher who has to cover music. On Friday after covering Emili Sande’s ‘Next to Me’ and Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’, I told the year 8s that they would have their regular teacher for the next few weeks because I have to visit my sick father, almost all of them told me to say ‘get well soon’ from them. My year 3s seem quite excited to have the Head of Primary taking them and a few of them made me ‘We will miss you cards’ during their Golden Time.
On Friday evening some of the female staff took me to Diners – a restaurant towards the centre of the town next to our now regular Thursday take away place Sizzlers. (This week for our chicken and chips with a film we watched ‘Never Been Kissed’. I’m a little concerned how similar to the Drew Barrymore character I feel, especially now I’m writing about things, but no sign of Michael Vartan yet, which is a shame.) We had a lovely meal mixing Chinese and Indian foods, before some of us headed off to Hotel Talapia next to Lake Victoria for a drink. I think the bar staff were quite relieved that I ordered whiskey this time instead of a mojito as it takes them ages to make them, but they are a work of art.
Saturday was spent chasing up my plane ticket and organising my classroom – a job long over due. I’ve sorted out the groupings for English and Maths, written out Monday’s timetable, arranged the planning, written some incentives to help my small people behave whilst I’m away and filled a draw with things that need to be organized when I get back. There’s always a drawer like that somewhere and sometimes it takes me years to sort it. Or failing that, I tip it all in the bin.
I tried watching a film with people downstairs – ‘Anchorman’ – but the DVD player was playing up, so I returned to my room to finish of ‘The Hatfields and The McCoys’, if you’ve not seen it, it’s worth a look, I think Kevin Costner won an Emmy for it recently. People climbed the stairs to check how I was sporadically, but for the most part I kept to myself.
This morning I finally packed the suitcase with a few clothes, I’ve not got a black dress because Dad would like the funeral to be colourful on the whole. I watched more TV. It’s a great distractor. Three friends drove me to the airport; we sat having a drink waiting for the departure queue to reduce a bit and talked a fair bit of nonsense. I do know what is going to happen in the next week or so, I just don’t think it will fully hit me until I see my dad in a hospital bed. Until then nonsense and distractions are a good thing.
When I got to Nairobi I realised that Mwanza Airport hadn’t checked my bag all the way through to Heathrow – apparently this is because BA isn’t one of their partner airlines or something. I went to the transfer desk, they said fetch the bag and come back in 2 hours. I went to fetch the bag and you have to go through immigration, which means a Visa and money I can’t really afford. One of the airport workers fetched it for me, which cost me $5, then he said head to the transfer desk to hand the bag back in, but no luck again. So I’m waiting. The floor is cold and I’m starting to get a numb bum, but no one is moving from their seats. So I’m waiting. Peering into the Duty Free and souvenir shops shows prices for tat I can’t afford. So I’m waiting. Waiting for a seat, waiting for a plane, waiting for a lift from my uncle in the morning, waiting to spend the last few days of my dad’s life with him.
‘A storm is coming but I don’t mind, people are dying, I close my blinds.
All that I know is I’m breathing, now.
I want to change the world instead, I sleep I want to believe in more than you and me
But all that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing now
All that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing.’
After standing at the check in desk for an hour and a quarter waiting for someone to come and check us in, I have a boarding pass and a luggage label. I was getting quite frustrated and concerned that I would miss my flight, until, after 45 minutes, someone asked which airline I, and those around me, was waiting for. A handsome man answered that he needed Swiss Air and ‘this charming young lady needs BA’. I’m not sure I’ve ever been described as charming before, but I’m going with it.
Obviously after that I had to talk to him a bit, if only to pass the time until the BA rep turned up (there’s only so many times you can hear “They are just coming in a few minutes” before you start to go slightly mental.) I discovered that he is flying to Zurich (I’ll see you in Zurich Green Wing fans) and then onto Bangkok where he has lived for 6 years. Originally from Shrewsbury he now has more of an international accent and works for a large hotel company. His job involves scouting around different parts of the world for new opportunities – either mergers and take overs or new builds – promoting the experiences in that area. He’s just had a not so great time in Zanzibar and I know have a rough idea of where to avoid when I go for my 29th birthday in February. He has itchy feet and is thinking about moving but has a good life, with lots of freebies, which he is reluctant to give up at this stage. A pleasant way to spend 40 or so minutes, I have no idea what his name was and since Swiss Air had not arrived to check him in and I had my ticket sorted, I had no reason to hang around the desk talking further. Perhaps serendipity will mean that he chances upon this blog, so if he does… Hello! I was at the airport with you, send me a message.
Unlikely, but it is a small world, as was shown by the next person I sat next to, an Englishman presumably in his 60s. Over the course of a 10 minute conversation with him I discovered that his father was in the same hospice as mine is, he went to school down the road from where my father grew up, his son studied at Newcastle University too and I might well know his son as he works where I used to and is in a band with people I know.
“I feel a shadow passing over me, it could stay for ever more
Like a wave I’m breaking far at sea, there’s no one to hear the roar
And the days are drifting into seasons, they’re the hardest I have known
A million spaces in the earth to fill but, no going home, there’s no going home
I can dream before the break of day that I’m back with you again
Then the morning blows it all away and leaves an echo of your name
Still a thousand miles lies between us where we’re waking up alone
And what if I could cross a hundred borders?
There’s no going home, there’s no going home.
When it thunders from the empty skies I shall be there
No one to hold you when the storm birds fly is there no one left to care?
I search the rumours with my hollow plans and all I want is what’s mine
Lost and lonely in a foreign land I’m left too far behind the lines
I want to tear down these walls between us but I can’t do it on my own
A million spaces in the earth to fill and there a generation waiting still
We’ve got year after year to kill but no going home
No going home, there’s no going home.”
At 1am on the 26th of August, flying somewhere over Egypt I couldn’t sleep. I’d said goodbye to my relatives, waited for hours through a storm to pass so that we could set off and my travel sickness pills had worn out. So I couldn’t sleep. I had watched the film – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel if you remember – and there was nothing else on BA’s system that I hadn’t seen or didn’t have on my hard drive, so I turned to my ipod.
I started singing along to the Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts version of Exile from Steve Knightley. Obviously I was singing along in my head, I’m not a complete arse. At that point I kept repeating ‘no going home’, partially because it’s catchy, also because I wasn’t going home. Not for at least two years, and though the lyrics can be read as depressing, I listened to them as full of hope and adventure.
Now, a month later, I’m re-packing my suitcase and heading back again. Dad’s not doing too well and if I leave it much longer, then I might be too late. So better to go now whilst I can talk to him and sort out some bits and pieces than get back justt in time for a funeral.
In the last few weeks since people found out I’ve had some really lovely messages, so thank you if you were one of those. Some close friends haven’t managed to say anything, but what is there to say? Whenever I’ve had friends with sick or dying close relatives, I’ve not known what to say, mainly things along the lines of ‘It’s all a bit shit really isn’t it’ and then going on normally with people. And now that I’m in that situation, I’ve not got much more to say. It’s been commented on that I’m taking it all pretty well, but what more can I do? I’m disconnected at the moment, so can’t be of practical use, I have a job to do and children to teach, I’m now running the junior choir, teaching year 7 and 8 singing lessons and have started a staff singing group. I’m helping out with the West Side Story rehearsals, not to mention planning lessons and marking books. Today we made art works inspired by Rwandan Poo Paintings. They are cool, look them up.
When I go home, I’ll be visiting sick relatives (more than just Dad now, but he is in the worst shape) copying choir music, buying small instruments and chorizo to bring back. I’ll try and update this a little more regularly if you would like to keep reading. In the mean time. get on youtube and listen to Kate and Kathryn sing this song. It’s beautiful.