sister act

I think we can all agree that the last ten months have been relentlessly weird, frequently upsetting, and pretty fucking exhausting. (excuse my language.) Inevitably, we’ve been locked down for a third time here in the UK and although it’s scary – weirdly, I’m finding this one scarier than the ones before – it’s for the best.

*closes eyes, tries to think only of sunshine and rainbows and baskets filled with kittens*

To get me through lockdown part three, I’m trying to remind myself of some of the things that helped me feel better during the first. And top of the “feel better” list is my sister (she deserves a medal for putting up with me) and, specifically, all the weird conversations we had over jigsaw puzzles back in March and April. When I was feeling organised, which wasn’t very often woops, I kept a note of some of the stranger snippets we (somehow) came up with and rereading them brought a much needed smile to my face.

Here are a few of the random things we said during Lockdown: The Original…

on homemade wine. ‘It definitely warms the oesophagus.’

on women’s troubles. ‘I felt like a fat dragon yesterday. Today I feel great.’

on not wanting to be distracted from completing a puzzle section. ‘Wait! Fish assembly is going on here!’

on Frida Kahlo puzzles. ‘The monobrow piece is going to be the best one to find.’

on puzzling in general. ‘With that section I just sort of jabbed pieces at it and hoped for the best.’

on memories. ‘Ah, the great crumble debacle of 2019.’

on panic buying. ‘I just felt like we needed a cauliflower in the house.’

on mangoes. ‘This is Mildred the mango tree.’

on death. ‘I accidentally murdered Mildred.’

on redemption. ‘My avocado is coming up! That slightly heals the pain of losing Mildred.’

on tough love. ‘I’ll stop mocking you when you start singing in tune.’

The next few weeks will be tough – just thinking that this will last until at least the middle of February makes my heart sink so, so low – but I am really looking forward to finding out what nonsense Sarah and I will come up with over a fresh round of puzzles…

Double trouble, way back when. The last ten months have seen our faces revert to these expressions a worrying number of times…

What’s bringing a smile to your face this January? What are your happy (or, happyish) original lockdown memories? Have you got any tips/plans for this one?

story time

My mum found this old photo of my brothers and I the other day and I can’t get it out of my head. It makes me smile. It makes me full of memories. It makes me miss dungarees, even though I’m not the one wearing them in the pic. It makes me embarrassed (I mean, who thought a pudding bowl hair cut on an already super round face was a good idea? How could you, Mum?!). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in the story to provoke such an anxious expression from me (clearly it was a nail-biter). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in real life that resulted in all the family (minus Dad) gathered around a book for a photo. It makes me grateful that I grew up with parents who took the time to read to, and make up stories on the spot for, me and my siblings. It makes me realise books have been my world, forever. And it makes me realise that I wouldn’t want it any other way, forever.

31/10/18

So, Halloween last year was an interesting one for me and my family.

It wasn’t spooky and it wasn’t ghostly, but it was scary.

This post explains why.

I started it as a submission idea for a magazine and decided I didn’t want to let it go. So here it is in all its messy glory. It’s basically a stream-of-consciousness letter to my Mum, right from the bottom of my topsy-turvy heart and brain. It may also shine a bit more light on my Moomin Medicine post from November.

And I’m happy to report that, although there are ups and downs, she is very much on the mend.

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Mama Pippin

It’s not right. You. Here.

I sit on the bed and stare at my purple-blue feet that are too cold and too hot all at the same time.

I want to look at you, but you scare me with your smallness and your illness. I want to look at you, but I don’t want you to know that I’m afraid. You know my face too well for it to lie to you. It’s half your face, after all.

I lean back on the hard mattress and scrunch the thin blue sheets between my fingers. In my head a nurse comes over – a Miss Trunchbull style nurse – all stern and angry. The imaginary nurse tells me to get off the bed, tells me to leave the hospital, tells me never to come back.

But outside my head, nothing happens. No-one tells me off, no-one asks me to leave.

I stay on the bed that’s yours but not yours.

The side of the not-yours bed cuts deep into the backs of my thighs and it cuts deep into my heart. I shuffle, wriggle, squirm from both pains.

I talk about work and how it’s been busy. I look at Dad. I talk about the kittens, how they miss you. I look at Dad. I talk about the chickens, about breakfasts and dinners, about the Great British Bake Off and how Rahul has won, about the weather and how it’s cold today. I look at Dad.

I do steal glances at you with my half-yours eyes. I try to make them lie to you, but the look on your face lets me know I’ve failed. You’re not fooled – never have been – by my lying, half-yours eyes.

Dad talks. He’s so much better at this than I am. He knows what to say, knows how to be. I drum my fingers against the sparkly white edge of your bed and I stare at the clipboard hanging from the end of it. Note after note after note.

I wish I had my notebook.

You know the one – it’s the one filled with all the inane and absurd worries that my brain spits out and clings to so desperately, so hopelessly. The one my therapist has told me to keep. The one I chitter-chattered to you about for weeks and weeks, joking – hurting – about all the ridiculous and horrible scenarios my mind invents, all the while not knowing the ridiculous, horrible scenario real life had invented for you. I could fill all the pages of that notebook now. But where do I even start, Mum?

I’m worried about everything.

Why did your surgery take so much longer than expected? What happened? I’m worried that the surgeons might have left something in you – a scalpel, a glove, a piece of cotton wool. It happens sometimes, so why not this time? And I’m worried – so, so worried – about what they might not have taken out. What happens if they didn’t get some of the cancer? What if they couldn’t reach it all? Or, worse, what if they just forgot a bit? I haven’t read about that happening, but I’m sure it’s something that could happen – and if it can happen maybe it has happened.

I’m worried about germs hiding everywhere and I’m worried about all the germs on me. I’m worried that I kissed you on the cheek with all my germs; that I’m sitting on your bed with all my germs; that I should never have come here with all my germs.

Most of all – and this one eats me up alive – I’m worried that I won’t be able to look after you, that I won’t be able to repay all your years of looking after me. How can I be strong like you? How can I cope like you would when it feels like all my insides are going to bubble up and burn out of my chest?

The list goes on and on and on.

Dad’s still talking but now he’s talking to me, looking at me. I come around.

It’s time to leave.

Mum, why don’t you to come with us too? You shouldn’t be here and none of this should be happening, so why don’t we just pretend that it’s not? That will work, won’t it? That will make it go away.

Maybe not.

I stand. I lie badly with my eyes. I kiss you with my germs. I’m desperate to go and I’m desperate to stay. This not-yours bed has stolen all of earth’s gravity and I don’t want to go back to falling through the empty space of home without you.

Time. To. Leave.

Dad and I walk away. A thousand gravity-cords stretch and pop and snap at my all-yours heart, ready to pull me back, ready to stop my hot-cold feet in their tracks. But away we carry on walking.

It’s not right, Mum. You. There.

Come home.

Reads – Lullaby by Leila Slimani

Lullaby by Leila Slimani (translated from French by Sam Taylor) starts and ends with two murders and one attempted suicide. In between, the story tracks the slow unravelling of the bourgeoisie Parisian family and their nanny at the centre of that crime.

It’s not normally a genre I read, and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t set a goal to read more translated books this year (trying to beat my score of one from last year – looking likely at this point). But I’m so so so glad I did read it.

The book grew more and more claustrophic, more sinister, more claggy against my heart with every page. It pulled me under and dragged my wimpish soul kicking and screaming, strangely hypnotised, to its ugly conclusion. The writing and translation are dream-like and smooth, a lullaby. Just a lullaby that drifts towards a nightmare.

‘Her heart has grown hard. The years have covered it in a thick, cold rind and she can barely hear it beating.’

Obviously, there’s no happy ending or salvation. But the journey. Ugh, the journey. It’s not perfect, but it is really, really, really good.

Lullaby book cover, by Leila Slimani. Instax mini 9 photograph.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani

A Life Lesson From a Little Girl

There’s something calming about going for a walk – heading off down lanes and paths and tracks, just letting your feet lead the way. It always makes my head clearer and my heart lighter.

A few weeks ago, after Sunday lunch, my mum and I headed out for a walk along the banks of our local river. It’s a good place to natter/confide/joke/argue/not say anything at all, and I’ve walked the paths there so many times for so long I’m sure they’ve actually moulded the shape of my feet.

It wasn’t very busy – the clouds were very grey and the ground was still sticky from weeks of rain – but there were a few other families out for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

At one point we passed a little family. The parents were timidly picking out a route as far from the mud as possible (which wasn’t that possible) while their little girl was striding ahead through the puddles and marshy ground.

The mum said she thought they should go back, and the dad didn’t look too keen to go any further either. But the little girl wanted to carry on and refused to budge.

The mum said it was too muddy, the little girl said she wanted to get muddier.

*high-five for little girl*

Me and my mum carried on our way. When we snuck a glance over our shoulders further along the path the little family were nowhere to be seen.

Obviously there was no more getting muddier for the girl.

But it got me thinking – isn’t it funny how children can be braver than grown ups? They look at a muddy field and want to keep walking, keep striding forwards, keep getting muddier.

Because who cares about a bit of mud?

I want to be more like that little girl in my everyday life. I want to be more adventurous and less worried/nervous/afraid. Even if it’s just in small ways that seem insignificant. Small things add up.

If I fail, at least I tried. If I fall flat on my face, I can get back up. If I make a mistake, I can learn. If people point at me and laugh at me, I can get over it and move on even though it might (will) hurt.

So thank you, little girl. You’ve inspired this bigger girl.

It’s time to get muddier.