Tag Archives: books

Death, distraction and dandelions

When Ida sleeps she usually flings her arms up above her head – It’s hard to describe but she has the air of a very relaxed hipster sprawled over a heap of stuffed animals like a Shoreditch dragon stretched over her hoard.

And yes – she’s back in the cot although happy enough in the lower bunk – that’s a whole other post.

I know quite a bit about her sleeping habits as I’ve taken to spending  time next to her whilst she’s sleeping. This is partly to remind myself how much I love her, easier to remember when she’s not trampling over me in her bid for world domination. Also it’s because I’m in a quite a reflective mood recently.

Steve’s dad, stepdad, passed away recently. He had Alzheimer’s and was quite frail but it happened unexpectedly after a fall and a bad reaction to general anesthetic –  and very, very – as anyone who’s sat by a similar bedside will recognise, quickly.

The death certificate says pneumonia but as we said to Zeph whilst stroking the back of his head – he was just tired and the springs had wound down.

Now I’m no stranger to the complexities of dealing with death, many of my ponderings I’ve shared here before; here and here but once again I find myself wrestling with big questions from my lovely boy.

In  a recent early morning he raged at me, pummeling and kicking in frustrated anger – demanding I promise the cancer will never come back. Which of course I can’t, especially since my particular, highly treatable, flavour is high recurrence.

I have to bear it, shoulder the anger – cup the punches and stroke his back keeping up the murmur. The I love you, it’ll be okay, even when it isn’t murmur.

I know exactly where he’s coming from. Don’t we all? The sudden overwhelming urge to gather up all the people we love and hold them still. To freeze them in this moment so they come to no harm.

So they come to nothing at all. No change, no  danger, no growth. No living – no life. Hard as it is you have to unclench that fist. Because death is not waiting for us at the end of a line – it’s traveling along with us. Being alive is moving through your days with death right next to you. The other side of the coin.

Still, it’s a big life event and as such is rippling my pond. Watching Steve dealing sensitively with Zeph while struggling with the legacy of losing his biological father at a similar age. Recognising his sadness at the loss of someone from his life and a piece of his childhood gone. Sadness for his mum and family and sadness at certain gulfs that line difficult relationships.

Remembering that his default position is to retreat and not talk and mine, after serious therapy, is to talk talk talk it out. That neither way is the right way although an ocassional meet in the middle is good for both our souls.

The funeral was last week and Zeph was very sure he wanted to go and so he came. It was a lovely service – fitting for a very quiet gentle man. At one point we listened to a recording of him singing a solo at a past christmas concert.

The poignancy of listing to his sure voice while he lay in his coffin at the front of the church was very nearly unbearable. At the end of the service Zeph and I went to sit in the churchyard to collect ourselves.

“It was my favourite bit and the worse bit” he said. I just nodded, feeling, as I do now, as I write about it, my eyes prickling painfully. Sometimes our digital age seems crudely cruel. Like magnets pushing at each other it seemed indecent to have hearing him and to never yet hear him brushing shoulders in almost physical collusion.

I try hard not to avert my eyes and talk openly to Zeph. He seems hyperaware of the frailty of life. Every day seems a balancing act of talking about it yet not obsessing about it. Making allowances and setting boundaries.

Mostly I feel not up to the task. Never has the mantra of being good enough is good enough been muttered more fervently as I spread myself ever thinner.

I also have taken to watching him in his sleep as well. Parenting sleeping children is a piece of cake. We’ve also been reading this picture book.

Death, Duck and the Tulip which I’d whole heartedly recommend.

As always most hours are filled with Beautiful Things. This weekend particularly has been lit by the most glorious sunshine. An afternoon of constructing a cardboard robot costume with Ida is hugely satisfying and baking brownies with Zeph soothing with a satisfying end result.

My peony is covered with fat buds and the garden is full of forget me nots and dandelions.

I am very fond of dandelions.

Frosty Morning

 Oh it’s a very cold day here today. This morning was more than usually hard due to a very patchy nights sleep. If it wasn’t Steve coughing and wheezing like some nightmarish germ-ridden steam-punk engine it was Ida who had a series of troubling dreams.

I’d sat up too late finishing some more wings so was pretty tired to begin with which meant I was even slower on the uptake in reassuring her about her dreams which seemed to centre around some sandwiches being stolen, a christmas tree walking around downstairs and The Number Taker (damn you numberjacks.)

Although I don’t love how upset she is I do love that her language skills have upped to the point were she can tell me what she’s wailing about. I also love when you can see where the dream has seeded from. I can’t identify the sandwich trauma but I do recognise the tree from Mog’s Christmas which is one of her current favourite picture books and who wouldn’t be unnerved by the Number Taker? In fact he got jumbled up in my dreams and I woke sweating at 5am from one that involved him, christmas shopping and not being able to open my eyes because they’d been sewn up. *shudder*

Getting in from a very cold walk to school has clearly triggered some kind of hibernating cooking instinct. As I write there’s a plum jam steamed pudding and lentil soup steaming and simmering  on the oven top. I might even put dumplings in the soup…

Steve even grudgingly agreed to put the heating on which means Ida and I don’t have to hang out round the sewing machine in coats.

 Last night Zeph helped me pack up these teacup pincushions. They’re now wrapped up in cellophane and looking very pretty piled on top of the piano. It helps ease the pain of breaking into my teacup collection. I can’t resist them in charity shops and jumble sales much to Steve’s disapproval. Finally the raggle-taggle collection under the bed has been put to a satisfying use.

They’re voting today in Egypt. I think of it hopefully. Thin ends of wedges, small steps on long journeys and all that. It’s my best BT of the day and I send optimism up into the air and blow it their way.

Wonder by R J Palacio

I am way too tired today. I keep yawning and going wrong in my sewing due to absent-mindedness. Watching Zeph’s swimming lesson today from the tropically heated balcony I very nearly fell asleep and shamed myself in front of all the yummy über organised mums.

I have no sensible parenting reason either. I can’t blame Ida’s recent spate of bizarre and troubling nightmares that require hourly cuddling and reassuring in a slurred voice. Or Zeph’s occasional sleepwalking foray. I can’t even blame money worries and an early morning period of reflection and hysterical list-making.

No I picked up one of the proofs from the stack Steve keeps stocked up with the idea of reading a chapter or two before sleep and was so riveted I read the whole thing, the last quarter I was wrapped in a duvet on the corridor floor as Steve was so incensed by the light.

The book is called Wonder by R J Palacio and, I’m sorry, it’s not out until next year.

(check it out here on the book behemoth – Amazon)

I feel sick about how much I loved it and have a fevered urge to thrust it into your hand. This was one of the things I like best about working in the bookshop; gushing helplessly about something I loved and practically forcing a poor customer to buy it out of sheer embarrassment. Actually the best bit was if they ever came back and said they had loved it. A woman who swore up and down she’d never enjoy either science fiction or short stories once bought me in a bunch of snowdrops to say how she had loved the copy of Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice I’d practically bullied her into buying.

Some of the reviews I’ve read are comparing it to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and I can see why. It has had the same hold on me. Auggie Pullman, the books occasional narrator and hero has been on my mind since I turned the first page. It’s a complex difficult subject handled incredibly astutely and left me feeling I’d had a real insight into someones heart.

I did cry but there was no sentimental mawkish tugging of heartstrings. I mean, Spielberg makes me cry but leaves me feeling manipulated. I didn’t pity Auggie – I empathized with him, respected and admired him.

I’m  turning  over the things I loved about this book, the change of narrator giving different views of the same event. How hard growing up is, this amazing time when children turn their eyes out to the world and begin to ask who they are and what they think. Most resonate to me, the messages about kindness and the impact choosing to be kind has on the world, whether you see its effect or not.

I’m planning to read it again tonight.

Recently I read this great post by Wham Bahm which very nearly sent me out to buy a copy of the Night Circus although we had a slightly battered proof. I do love a beautiful cover and on the occasions I am browsing I know I’m more influenced by them than I would like to be – visual flibberty gibbert that I am – but there’s also something magical about picking up a drab plain cover and finding treasure within.

Yep, I was lying before. Proofs are the best bit of the job. Luckily I can still experience the pleasure thanks to Steve (although I have to abide by his rules..he’s got first dibs and no reading them in the bath – he put that one into our wedding vows…)

The book page of my blog makes me feel a bit ashamed. It’s a bit like when visitors glimpse what’s under the sofa cushions. It’s not that I’m not reading lots – just not writing them up.  Must try harder… and have a good hoover around.

Alfie is thirty


Alfie is one of my  favourite people ever.

 Look, he’s even got his own website. I remember him vividly from my childhood but considering his age I probably read him more to my sister. Now, often sat in the garden watching my urchins grubbing around in the mud, poking ants and making rose petal perfume it’s as though a Shirley Hughes page has come to life. Her illustrations feel so familiar and right. There’s a reason picture books become classics. Because they hold eternal truths.

Bits of Alfie’s messy, chaotic, love filled childhood are very similar to mine. Full of wicker, messy play, finger painting, earthenware, teapots, jam-jars of dandelions and homemade whole-wheat (nobbley as Alice and I called it) bread. My mum and dad had hardly any money but always plenty of time for us and they were pretty relaxed about mud, climbing, sharp knives, tool use and den building. Not all of my childhood was idyllic and flicking through these picture books today I remembered how important it is to celebrate all the good stuff as well.

It warms my heart that Zeph loved Alfie as much as I do and he’s already a favourite of Ida’s – who yearns to get in first – we don’t have latch locks so – good luck – although I caught her trying to turn a key yesterday – uh oh.

Happy Birthday Alfie and I’ll be drinking to another thirty years as soon as I’ve packed the kids off to bed.

Geektastic – we will inherit the earth.

Never Let Me Go has been all over the papers this weekend with lots of speculation about the films release and success at translating the novel to the screen. I  loved the book and am sure the film will have merit as I’m a huge fan of Mark Romenek. What galls me ( and I freely admit I’m an irritable soul) is the gushing praise for its breathtakingly original and as yet unexplored themes in its speculative fiction plot.

Well I thought they were pretty  bloody well explored in Spares by Michael Marshall Smith when I was blown away by it in 1995 when it was published.

Speculative fiction is the term used by people too lily livered and literary lite to sully their delicate Daily telegraph book club sensibilities in genre fiction. Sorry – bit harsh, each to their own and all that. I just enjoy reading a bit of everything and have a few friends who are openly snobbish about science fiction. WRONG I say – wrong! Good science fiction taps in to the fears of a generation. Look at Frankenstein and its open fears of electricity and a burgeoning rational scientific culture of experimentation and dissection. William Gibson tapping into the zeitgeist of cyberspace, AI and genetic engineering. Today Lauren Buekes, Max Barry and Ian McDonald are all writing exciting, thought provoking “speculative fiction” about the growth of corporate power, global village phoenomonem, technology, corruption and modern decay in the developing world and they can all be found in your local science fiction aisle.

It’s not all star trek.

Nothing wrong with star trek mind… more on this another time

Anyway – lovely saturday all round. Papers, Steve, a walk on a windy day with giggly kids, a packet of new pins, indian takeaway for tea, starting a new book sprawled on the opposite end of the sofa to Steve as soon as I’ve finished this. Reader, I’m easily pleased.

BT today – showing Zeph how google translate works for his homework. I’m worried I may have unleashed a demon as the simple polish phrases he was finding became more and more quirky and an element of toilet humour crept in. He is an eight yr old boy after all…