Just the Queen’s, mind – we have only had reasons to celebrate here and absolutely no one has died. Two birthdays in quick succession: Otis turned nine and I turned 45. Here’s Otis doing what he likes to do the very most – presiding over something made of sugar:
I say that we’ve only had reasons to celebrate here but we have also had some sadness and a fair amount of marital discord. We’ve experienced the first real teenage breakup which was so much worse than I anticipated, although I am not sure I had given The End much thought. I haven’t personally had a breakup ever*, which makes me unusual and a bit out of my depth. I tend to get quite weird around vulnerabilities – my default is to get all stoic, distant, and cauterised rather than meet the vulnerability where it lies. It’s all ‘chin up’ and ‘don’t fuss’ and ‘suck it up’ in my narrow, brittle-hearted world.
But this wasn’t something I could easily ignore and all of my limited stores of empathy and care and softness and kindness came spewing right out. There were mutual tears, leg stroking, cups of tea, emotional check-ins, hair-ruffling, hugs, and a fairly extended amnesty from having to do the usual chores for a bit. It was just so heartbreaking.
As the old lady now in the room, I also become aware of what I’ve lost – that innocence, naivety, and sweet, deluded optimism. That total belief in love, in that it is special to you and different from everyone else whose love stories aren’t quite as real or lasting as yours are. Everyone else has slightly inferior love. While this is sweetly arrogant and quite wrong, feeling this way for the first time is something I know now to be a beautiful, short-lived thing. Wasted on the young of course, etc etc.
Mark was a bit brusque about the whole breakup thing until I reminded him about when he got his heart broken by someone called Leeann who dumped him when he was young and in love and new to it all. He said she blind-sided him completely and he felt so sick he couldn’t eat or sleep and wondered how he would be able to live through it. I reminded him of this and asked him to dig deeper and it suddenly hit him – that terrible time came back for a moment. Which was lucky because up until that point he was flailing about and actually said the thing about there being more fish in the sea. I think I might have kicked him in the shins.
*No breakups because I married my first boyfriend!** Can you imagine?
**There was actually a week-long tentative boyfriend/girlfriend situation with a plain boy called Matthew Keen when I was 11 but that lasted a week, involved one out-of-school conversation via the family telephone, and then Matthew fatally asked to see me after school one day and I freaked out and had to end things.
Things have begun to settle down now and the sadness feels lighter and more manageable, except that Remi is now extremely morose about having to go to nursery every single day. The shock of it gets him every morning – what, again? He keeps telling us emphatically that there is no nursery in the morning, that it has now closed. Like, out of business closed. Big fat tears roll down his face as he scoots silently along the road, trussed up in his oversized uniform of burgundy trackpants with a massive, clean backpack which sits covering his whole back and bum. Luckily I don’t take him there in the mornings so I only hear tales of the crying and the misery, the nerves which see him sitting on the tiny baby toilets for a bit before he goes in. MY POOR BABY!
I guess it is fair to say we all felt a bit sad about the Queen, though the day off work was quite cheering. The best bit (if I am not struck down for suggesting there is a ‘best bit’ about an old, familiar and hard-working lady dying) was when the casket got driven down the road a few streets from where we live and the whole family stood out in the rain to wave her past. I didn’t go because I was out for dinner eating very good roasted aubergine and roasted peaches from Honey & Smoke, which was just one of those things as we booked before the whole ‘dying monarch’ situation. But I do wonder if I will always regret not standing in the road along with the whole neighbourhood in our raincoats, doing a bit of crying. I’m almost regretful about not standing in that queue for 20 hours, but then I remember my knees. There’s a limit. I did go and see the flowers in Green Park which was pretty nice, wandering among hundreds of people in the afternoon instead of preparing dinner.
A bad bit was when Remi got lost in the crowd while in Hyde Park watching the funeral on massive screens. I didn’t even know Remi was lost and accidentally blurted that out to the cop who had him. He was not amused and it became a little written-down kind of police-ish incident. Luckily Charlotte was on hand to document my moment of maternal humiliation:
Green Park Queen flowers:
As to marital discord
We have been having a little tussle over a cane basket filled with cassette tapes. I am sure this isn’t the first time I have written about this cane basket, as it certainly isn’t the first time we have had terrible fights over it. Basically, one day Mark came home with a big cane basket filled with many cassette tapes that he rescued from the skip of a London record producer.
The ideas behind the skip foraging and subsequent hoarding were:
- the tapes might contain something of value – an unreleased INXS recording, say, (which we do seem to have in our possession, but as to its value, and as to whether it is actually unreleased as opposed to us just wanting it to be unreleased is another whole thing), and we would sell it and have enough money to buy a house, or
- that Mark would one day be able to play the tapes because one day he will have a beach house with a tape recorder in it and he and I could while away many kidless hours (there are never kids in his fantasies) listening to cassette tapes as the imaginary but atmospheric rain lashed the corrugated iron roof.
Obviously, these things have not come to fruition quite yet but the cane basket and the tapes remain in our bedroom, stuck awkwardly out in front of our filing cabinet which houses 20 years’ worth of paperwork. The bedroom also contains a massive bed, a cot, too many perfumes, an amp, two guitars, golf clubs, a camping chair, a map of the world, a Victorian room divider, my clothes, Mark’s clothes, quite a few unwired lamps from skips/auction sites and piles of to-be-read novels. I have argued for years that the cane basket and tapes are just one step too far, but Mark sees this as some sort of affront to his authority and puts his foot down about it. The basket and tapes are not going anywhere, apparently: he gets all flinty-eyed and humourless when I say anything about them. So I don’t. I just put up with it as one of those marriage compromises, though it pains me deeply. Actually, it fills me with perimenopausal rage. But I choke it down and carry on.
Anyway, to put this into context, Mark has cleared out storage we have at the front of the flat so that our eldest son can make a kind of small cupboard-y bedroom to get away from the small children who go through his stuff and drive him mental. It has taken Mark years to find somewhere to transport his stuff – a friend felt sorry for our kids all sharing a tiny space and so asked her neighbours to give up their garage space so Mark could clear out the storage area and create a ‘room’ (hollow laugh) out of the old coal store. But finally it has been cleared out and all we need to do is paint the front bit and then the cupboard-y bedroom will be ready for a very big son desperate for a little privacy.
Mark, however, apparently had a bit of a plan to stick the cane basket and the cassette tapes into the tiny space – space that I think should be reserved solely for the eldest, longest-suffering son. I was not amused and tried to explain that Mark should think twice about colonising the new room – that, actually, his stuff is all over the flat, and that the eldest son of ours needed to be fully free and able to be alone, not sharing with anyone or anyone’s stuff any longer. Taking back something we had just given him seemed to be a heartless thing. But Mark disagreed and the flintiness returned. I left it at that because I know the drill.
So a few weeks ago, Mark came out of the bedroom with a bleeding leg because the cane basket scratched him. Like a vengeful cat. I laughed and said it was God telling him to chuck the bastard thing out. Mark got mad and told me that IT WAS STAYING AND WOULD GO INTO THE CUPBOARD-Y ROOM, LIKE, TOMORROW! The next morning I hatched a plan to take the fecking useless cassette tapes and transfer them into my stack of Matches Fashion marbled boxes that sit atop our bedroom filing cabinet, before Mark could get to them. They would be hidden but safe for the one-day-a-beach-house-outing that we one day may get to experience. But as the secret transfer was taking place, he came into the room and said
and dragged the entire m’fo basket and its out-of-date crap cassette tapes into the new ‘bedroom’ and left it there. And so I am still sulking about it.
I know this fight is not really about a basket and some old crap tapes. It is about much bigger things – about what it is to find yourself compromised, frustrated, older, resentful. What it is to feel like your life isn’t what you hoped for. It is about feeling trapped and bossed around, told off and a little mocked. It is about mortality, the passing of the baton onto your children who are becoming men and you didn’t even see it coming. It is about facing uncomfortable truths. About marriages. Feeling stale. Taking charge when you don’t feel in charge. Repressed feelings, unexpressible feelings. Missing your mum. Missing your youth and the smorgasbord of choices you had then, and missing the beach. Looking around an overcrowded basement flat in a city you came to once, on a whim, when you were young, and wondering why you are still there. With nowhere to shove your stuff.
I have sympathy for that, and I feel my own disquiet creeping up sometimes. But still, I just wish he would chuck the basket and the shit tapes out anyway.
Photo essay time
Me and Charlotte, finally appearing on Antiques Roadshow. I said nothing but nodded a fair bit and had a problem with hand placement:
My fella in a less flinty and more humorous mood, bowling. It’s our origin story, the bowling alley:
And finally, a bowling alley son. One might say, a natural progression: