Well, it’s been a while – plenty of stuff sloshing around in my head I want to get down here but time seems to be filled with so many other things right now. Anyway, the following will have been by some of you already because it’s been published on my Café website and mailed out already to my subscribers. However, I thought it is worth repeating because sometimes the importance of family is forgotten when we are caught up in our own worlds and lives.
Some people don’t have a family, or not much of one anyway. Some people have enormous ones, with extensions to at least fill an east wing two. For some family is made up of friends, chosen and loved unconditionally. I am very, very lucky because I have both an enormous and extended family and a handful of friends who date back to prehistoric times (sorry gels) with whom I have seen thick, thin, fat, baggy, fun, laughter, tears, abject misery and that thing simply called life.
The following bit is about two of my brothers, and me, and our businesses in Bristol. Read on.
I am having a fat month. I am not looking for posts in response that squeal ‘you are NOT fat!’ please, because, oddly, that isn’t the point. I wear my new layer of fat like a winter coat, one with a fairly large kitten concealed beneath it, i.e. mostly up front. It could be seen to be a comforting sort of fat, which can be stroked as though a pregnant belly (why is it that is acceptable to stroke one’s own tummy only if it contains a baby?), but it isn’t. I don’t want this layer. It has grown out of age, marriage, and lack of fitness; the latter of which in turn is due to laziness, ill health and no bloody time, laziness.
Now I have the time, sort of, but not the inclination. It’s been a hard winter so far. Not cold and frosty, but grey, rainy, flooded, damp and almost warm. This is not weather to make you want to stomp about, huffing into your hands and sweep your eyes appreciatively across the horizon as you clamber to the top of the ridge in good, solid walking boots, the slight gnawing in your stomach a satisfactory response to a 10 mile hike in the knowledge that there is a pie at the other end of it and you can eat it. It is weather to make you stay in, watch another Netflix box set, eat whatever is in the fridge.
Marriage for all it’s benefits, and there are many I could name but that’s for another, cheerier entry, brings about regular meals where one might have skipped a few, or replaced them with a bowl of muesli. It brings out the feeder in me, the need to make sure he is well fed, especially now my son is no longer around to feed and fatten up. So we eat well. Very well. And the pounds/kilos pile on. Even the husband has a belly. He is tall, skinny, bit gangly, with a tiny, little pot belly which protrudes rather shyly beneath his shirt, as though unused to the limelight and a little confused as to what, quite, is going on.
And age, 52 currently, is no friend of the figure. The menopause (or what EVER the HELL it is that keeps making me SO CROSS) is attempting to rearrange my hormones, my fat cells, my mood (bleak, moi?), my joints. I creak now. My back screams ‘no’ as I hoover the sitting room (any excuse) or carry more than a hand bag. It’s a conspiracy to make me sit still and get fatter. Ill health contributes to the decline of all animals as they age, no escaping that one whatever species you are. It’s boring, and we rail inwardly and outwardly against the injustice of it all, fight it and treat it, while also sometimes giving in, because, well, no choice really and it’s quite nice to have an excuse to sit down.
On holiday this year I spent some time with a woman well into her 70’s who used to be a ballet dancer. She is fit, healthy and lithe still. We went swimming together. That is to say, she swam and I flopped about in the shallows, getting puffed just watching her as she disappeared into the horizon line. She wore a bikini, and if you squinted she looked about 25. So there are degrees in the inevitability in the decline of health and fitness. Mind you, my holiday pal’s mind was failing infinitely faster than her body. It will get you on way or another.
Anyway. Of course this pondering on the fat issue, never mind health blah blah, brings us to the feminist issue, because they are naturally entwined. It’s all about societal acceptance of the current form of beauty, isn’t it? If Rubens was still around we’d all happily pile on the pounds and smile constantly over the top of our chins. Not so I think. For a start Rubens’ women were young girls, and as chunky and dimpled as their thighs were, the rest of them had a youthful taughtness. Undressed I do not look like a Rubens’ painting. My bosom is large and unwieldy (can one wield a bosom? hmmm), my tummy, see above.
Back to society’s notions of beauty. I don’t actually care anymore whether society thinks I’m beautiful, which is one of the small compensations of being in my 50s, and I don’t care if society thinks I’m fat. At least not in my clear, feminist mind. But woman have been made to consider how they appear to the opposite, and same, sex for centuries, for ever, whatever, too long – it’s ingrained, it seems to be almost in our DNA. Men too have had to consider this too, granted, but, but… it is different for girls. For the record boys have many of their own, and shared, issues – it is bloody hard being young these days, and I say that without a shred of irony. Will the next generation feel the same? I sincerely hope not. I don’t have a daughter, but lots of nieces, and I would say they are roughly divided 40 – 60 between having a good body image to crap body image so we have a ways to go, as they say.
So, as feminists where are we now with the fat issue? Same place I reckon. Still fighting against the unfairness of having our ‘beauty’, and therefore acceptability, assessed in terms of pounds per square inch and yet all of us but the most brilliant and strong are giving into it somehow, judging ourselves, and others too if we are honest, by the same rules. The head says ‘don’t be ridiculous, look at me, I am intelligent, funny, a contributor to society, parent, wife, doer of good things, superb crocheter’, the heart-mind says ‘I want to look like Elle McPherson because she is my age and put together like a perfect 25 year old’. This of course forgets that even the most perfectly put together 25 year olds are already suffering from the anxieties of not being perfect enough and never mind the money spent to keep old Elle in tip top nick… So, am I a true feminist (as Caitlin Moran defines it – if you put your hand down your pants and find a vagina, do you want to be in charge of it – if yes, you are a feminist, then, yes), yes I am. Do I despair when looking in the mirror? Yes I do, always have done. Stale mate.
I digress. I want to lose weight. I don’t feel comfortable with this kitten up my jumper. It does not sit well on my 5’2” frame, my clothes don’t fit and I don’t have enough money to replace my entire wardrobe, and it makes everything so much harder to do. So, how? I don’t like exercise, we’ve established that, although I do yoga almost regularly (that can be quite hard when you have manoeuvre said bosom around a lunge I can tell you). So it’s got to be the diet. Another septuagenarian (almost) friend is also on this quest. She has bought a book about this 5/2 days diet thing, and also has a recipe book from the 80’s where calories are counted. She made me and husband dinner the other night, of chicken with chorizo, tomato and olives, served lovely home grown kale, but no carbs. It was delicious and apparently only 225 calories per helping. So we ate some cheese and crackers after that, to go with the bottle of wine. It’s easy this losing weight lark.
It’s another Year! 2014. Who’d have thought we’d get this far? For some New year is one of the biggest events in their calendar involving champagne and fireworks, others snuggle down at 9pm with cocoa and a book, while others hit a midway point with a vague feeling that they are missing out on a much better party somewhere as they struggle to stay awake, to knock back some Aldi Cava as Jools Holland starts his count down, eat some cold vol-au-vents and wonder how much they will get charged for the taxi home. But here we all are anyway, on the other side.
My New year however was none of the above. A dinner party hosted by my sister Sue’s friend up the road was where I went; all bling and glam and Dom Perignon thank you very much. Although my bleeding feet (literally as opposed to bloody damn etc) were not glamorous and I had to borrow said sister’s boots to walk home. My past is littered with events where my clothing and/or footwear was inappropriate. Hospital bedsides in filmy silk, muddy walks in sheepskin boots, no coat in arctic weather, walking up the road in brand new, tiny gold shoes* …
The party was to be black tie, sort of. Russell wore a floppy dark red bow at his neck and looked very louche indeed. I tried on everything in my wardrobe and settled black on black as usual, to hide the where-is-my-waist-line, and red lippy to make my point (what point?). None of my clothes fit me anymore, can’t imagine why, they must have shrunk.
We were welcomed with Bollinger in the first floor drawing room, all cream, beige and gold, and for once found ourselves the youngest members of the party. The other guests were an idiosyncratic bunch, an artist with an eye patch, powerful business women with a penchant for the ponies (Cheltenham races, box booked for next day), my lovely sister and her equally lovely husband, one louche chap to beat all louche chaps including my husband despite his floppy bow tie and rakish hat, and of course our hostess, who had a cold but knew how to rally way over and above that in her duties in looking after her guests.
Dinner was served in the ground floor dining room, on a glass topped table which stood on legs of rococo gold. The plates and crystal glasses were decorated in gold and red and were presents to our hostess from a prince of Arabia. The ‘ting’ from the glasses was pitch perfect. It was a feast for the eyes, and the food wasn’t bad either, especially when accompanied by Chateau Mussar – I may not be a wine buff but golly gee whizz that is nice vimto.
Then upstairs to the boudoir, it being the only room with a working telly and we needed some fireworks and Jools to count us into 2014. Up we went to the top, all wheezing slightly after our exertions of downing quantities of the finest wines available to humanity and delicious foods, past the Christmas tree that stood at least 9 feet tall “for the grandchildren”on the landing. The bedroom was all cream, carefully hung clothes arranged like works of art, subtle lighting, angled mirrors and a soft, welcoming bed, which a number of us reclined on as we watched 2013 disappear on the tv.
To usher in 2014 we drank Dom Perignon champagne. I have no idea what year but it tasted wonderful, light, crispy with little bubbles that made you want to sneeze, in a good way. I had not had Dom Perignon before, for the very good reason that it costs over £100 per bottle, whatever the year. I don’t know why it does, but I do know that it felt like a grand treat, and as the youngest person in the room I took a a huge and childish delight in such extravagance.
It is how I sometimes think I’d like to live, but probably would only manage about 5 minutes before I filled the place with noise, mud, paper, Aldi Cava and my life. What ever we think of as good taste there is always someone who doesn’t agree, and in my more recent years I have decided that good taste (that is, my taste) is overrated, and even though I find it hard to shift some of my more snobbish notions it has has opened a whole new world to my eyes. I love a bit of gold (see ref. above*) and over the topness, and here we had it in spades and our hostess was gorgeous and generous and everything you imagine a model from the 60s would be in 2014. It was a wonderful way to be ushered into this year, despite tragic feet.
For Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’t in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid willie-waught
For auld lang syne!
And surely ye’ll be your pint’ stoup,
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
Well, it turns out there are quite a few versions of this famous poem/song, and the above is certainly not the version most sassenachs would have been singing when merry and reeling at midnight – more like ferrauldlangsssssynemdear, shouauld cups be forrrrgot, ferrrthessake’o’alangsssynnnne… hic. Robbie was probably spinning in his grave. But on Burns Night, on the 25th January, he will hopefully relax and enjoy being remembered with haggis, daggers, pipes and kilts (even if it’s in Wales which is where I shall be, wearing sensible shoes and a woolly).
Another year drawing to a close, another wrinkle on the face of time. The comet Ison, which has been traveling since the dawn of time as we know it, crashed and burned last night in the glorious fireball that is our sun. It has travelled billions of miles over billions of years, from the icy outreaches of the solar system (the Oort Cloud- I have been learning stuff today), a dirty snow ball traveling at speeds of around 900,000 miles per hour. It does rather put a human’s time on earth in perspective, and as a way to go, well, pretty spectacular really; a Thanksgiving fly by, though I think it could have waited another month so we could celebrate New Year by its light, after all what is a month in that time frame? Which brings us on to the knotty issue of what is time? At which point my brain halts in its tracks and re-enacts the outer edges of the solar system by becoming frozen and unreachable.
But did it burn up? There seems to be a slim chance that part of it did survive it’s sling shot journey round the sun. Is this a metaphor? Is it saying ‘don’t give up on me just yet’? If so, who or what is saying that? The Earth? Bristol’s traffic conundrum? The co-op bank? My son*? My stair carpet? Take your pick, from those or any number of other messes (and yes, I am aware of the irony of choice * after my last posting but hell, I am a mother and entitled to such irony) that need to clearing up.
New year is always a time of vows, clear outs, promises to self, diets, surreptitious returnings of tragically wrong gifts, new horizons, new ideas. I know we still have to get through the party month, the gorging, the jollity and general silly season, but while I’m on this slightly darker path bear with me. I have plans for the New Year, uncrystallised slightly fuzzy plans, determined to make changes and make my work life better. At my most bleak I think we are all on a fixed, immovable path into the metaphorical sun, with no hope of bits surviving to make the loop back and start again. At my more positive I am convinced that things can change if we have enough will, foresight and energy. And by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’. I have some will, I have quite a lot foresight, I don’t yet have the energy. Working on that. I have signed up for a one day bookbinding course in May as a start. Turning back time in my own way.
It’s that time of year. Autumn; golden, windy, wet, colder, darker, melancholy, beautiful, happy, emotive. My beloved son, the one and only fruit of my womb, turned 20 yesterday (note to self – must change my ‘about‘ page on here). So exactly 20 years ago I was dazed, confused and slightly euphoric, staring from my bed in the Chelsea & Westminster hospital into the transparent bucket that held my newborn baby, with awe and a the kind of love that literally changes everything, right then, right there.
Three days prior to that I had started my labour. Well, the nurse said I hadn’t, but she wasn’t on the receiving end of the contractions so what did she know? I had a series of midwives visit me throughout this period, including one called Andrew who wore a stripy waistcoat. Jasper, father of said child, stayed with me throughout it all, sleeping (sort of) on the floor beside my bed, eating oysters brought in by his father, with champagne, with the mistaken idea that the baby had been born and/or I might want some anyway. That is most definitely a man’s take on giving birth. That and “maybe a spicy curry might help?” .
It seemed clear that Stormy (at that time baby-no-name-no-sex) was not in any hurry to change his abode. Despite walks down the Fulham Road, propped up between my sister Sue on one side and Jasper on the other for support during contractions, not even gravity could shift him (not much has changed in 20 years thinking about it). Labour and giving birth is one of those times in life when vanity and self consciousness seems to utterly disappear. The one exception to this during my time was the fact that Jasper had, from god knows where, found a pair of pale, institution-green, cotton-polyester track suit bottoms, into which I was inserted for my Fulham Road perambulation. Anyone who has been to the Fulham Road in the last 50 years knows that it is a very chi-chi place, teaming with the beautiful people eyeing each other up in a desperate attempt to out-gorgeous the next person. I, in my bile green baggy bottoms, tummy the size of a small planet, bosom akimbo, hair raised by sweat not gel, knew, even my zoned out state, that I did not fit in. The walks continued on the high up walk ways of the C&W hospital, Sue battling with vertigo, Jasper soldiering on, occasionally remembering some of the things we learned in a pregnancy yoga weekend we had been on, and where everyone looked a little bit more like me; or wore a white coat or stripy waistcoat.
Eventually it was all too much and despite the desire for a perfect birth in a warm pool, with whale music and yogic back massages, I gave in and had an epidural. First on one half of my body, vertically, then on the other, and then both together simultaneously. That ranks as one of the most peculiar sensations I have ever had. Once it all finally worked, after a night’s sleep, Stormy was brought into the world with a giant pair of tongs, making very little noise and with the only fanfare I could muster, a very loud yell. Sue had scrubbed in and come into the theatre to hold my hand, as though to the manor born. Jasper had seen enough to last quite a long time and paced outside.
I was given a little wrapped bundle with a cone shaped head and squinty eyes to admire for 5 seconds before Jasper was called in and there was our family, all present and correct.
Except of course, just like the water birth with whale music, things rarely work out as perfectly and neatly as one would like. It took us six weeks (all the time you are allowed by law before they take the child away and name it Darren 23) to name our baby (Stormy Orlando Samuel Tranter Haughton-Smith), and two years to unravel our little family.
Twenty years on the family is very much together again, in a very different shape, but stronger, more solid and loving than many more regular shaped families I know. Stormy brings together a family that now includes my wonderful husband Russell, Jasper (of course) and Sophie (my niece) their two children and Stormy’s half siblings (and cousins.. it’s a bit complicated). Ron too is part of this family, Jasper’s father and super Dad-dad. My siblings too, their spouses, and ex ‘s, their children and children’s children, and those who came to us as foster siblings and remained within the family dance with their families too. It of course includes my mother Rosemary, and her partner Nancy. My Dad, Algy, died in 2008, but he and Stormy were good friends as well as family. It includes Russell’s family too now, although they might be a little startled to know what sort of a club they have unwittingly joined.
Yesterday, after a stressful drive through central London (who knew there would a be a Diwali festival in Trafalgar Square?), Russell and I joined up with our smaller section of this family to celebrate Stormy’s 20 years with us, with towers of seafood in a Parisian style brasserie, complete with enormous mottled mirrors, gold leaf cornices, banquets and be-aproned French looking waiters. Seafood and fancy restaurants is one of the traditions of this anniversary – he was born with expensive tastes and they don’t seem to be diminishing with age.
I always find Stormy’s birthday an emotional time, but this year even more so. It has been a rocky one for him, but as ever he is aiming toward a better one, never giving up despite sometimes appearing to do so. He has brought and kept a lot of people together in his life. He is a loving and responsible (sometimes!) older sibling, creative, charming and self effacing, self centred but aware, kind, talented and funny. I am so grateful for these 20 years, and so full of hope for the next, and the next, and the next… He doesn’t live with me anymore, but he is in my heart forever – to misquote ee cummings – I carry his heart, I carry it my heart. Stormy, this one’s for you.
While wasting time on facebook recently this popped up – too good not to pass on.
ALERTS TO THREATS
IN 2013 EUROPE
From JOHN CLEESE
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country’s military capability.
Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”
The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”
Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels ..
The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be right, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.
British writer, actor, and tall person
And as a final thought – Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.
Life is too short…
It has been a long time since the story of the ring. Nothing quite so mysterious has happened since then but I felt I should make my presence felt just a little so I am not completely forgotten.
I have been lots of places since then, West Wales, Edinburgh, Brighton, London. Most of these trips involved family and of course my nearest and dearest, Russell, and were without exception lovely times.
I have worked a considerable amount since then too, despite closing the cafe for two weeks to give it a jolly good sorting out, lick of paint and some pretty-fying, including new tables with rather fabulous prints of the Folk House brochure covers printed on them.
However, what this entry is about is the revisiting of old school friends. On Thursday, after spending the day with my two sisters, as if that we’re not treat enough, I will be meeting up with three old school friends at the Chelsea Arts Club in (unsurprisingly) Chelsea, London. Well, I say three. Two of them were in my year and in my house, named after the martyr Margaret Pole. I forget what sticky end she came to. We knew each other well then, and were close in a way that comes with living cheek by jowl with each other for four years, spending half terms at each other’s houses (well, me in theirs usually) and smoking in the haystacks together. Their names are Alison and Sophie. Their stories are fascinating and not what you might expect of a well bred, catholic school girl, and frankly all the better for that. And while they may have a slight penchant for the Daily Mail there is more to a person than their choice of newspaper and they certainly seem to cope with mine (hello magazine). As you may have gathered this was a catholic school, a convent, run by the sisters of the order of the holy sepulchre. I was distinctly odd by comparison to Most if my compadres, coming from what could only be described as a hippyish sort of commune in Scotland. Sister Mary Ignatius described me as ” a bit bohemian but quite nice”.
The third old chum is Belinda. Belinda wasn’t in the same house, nor the same year. Belinda was the younger, wilder girl we all wanted to be, well, I did anyway. I haven’t actually seen her since school, apart from once, when I was standing in a queue in the post office on the Kings Road and saw her at the counter. Unutterably glamorous and with even more glam friends I did not speak up or make myself known to her.
Such is the power of a memory of being a misfit. No matter that I made many friends in that school, three of whom I am in regular contact with today, and now Belinda too ( via Facebook – more on that later), that feeling of not being quite right, not having quite the correct look, or parents, clothes, politics (even then) or of course enough money is a very powerful thing, or perhaps I should say disempowering.
Had I known then what I know now, after all our stories have run this far, of course I would know that what makes people interesting, loveable and worth a punt is of course their very differences. I look back at that school and see a mass of very different girls from all over the world, whose only thing in common was the fact that their parents could pay for their education, some easily and some with enormous difficulty, and chose to do so in a catholic boarding school. So many gorgeous and interesting girls who are now women, and too, so many deeply dull, narrow minded girls who are now the wives and mothers of broods of politicians probably.
So, Belinda surfaced on the dread facebook. I say dread because as clever, middle glass grown ups we are supposed to revile it. But actually despite it being a bit of tyrant over my time and some really truly stupid and pointless stuff being posted on there, it brings a lot of amusement and in my case has helped promote my business, find me my husband (another story for another day) and now reintroduce me to Belinda, who apart from being an Old Fish ( yes, as ex pupils of New Hall School we are known as Old Fish. Lovely.) lives as exotic a life as one could wish for, sailing the seven seas, cooking up a storm, sometimes in a storm, meeting chefs and cooks all over the world and still doing cart wheels on the beach at 50. I am still somewhat in awe, but happy to be so. I couldn’t cart wheel now to save my life, so I will sit back, glass of champers in hand in the most elite of artsy fartsy London clubs, delighted to be in the company off my very dear old muckers Sophie and Alison, and my new mucker Belinda who I am hoping will at the very least sing us a shanty or two before the evening is quite done.