Tag Archives: Memories

This is your house now: a tour for the person about to buy my house

I’ve had this post in my head for months, and months. The thought of writing it kept making me cry at inconvenient points. Now we finally have a fixed move date (in, um, two days), it’s probably time to let it out. 

Come on in. This is your house now.

Here are some stairs. You’d better get used to that, because there are a lot of them. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve staggered up and down with furniture and work bags, then later car seats, endless bags of groceries, and boys, always boys. The very first time we came here to stay, straight out of the taxi from a South African honeymoon, we found a basket of food and wedding presents just here. We carried it upstairs and sat on a brand-new bed to open them, and laughed a lot.

Once we manhandled our old oven down the steps, just the two of us. Don’t ever do that.

We don’t have a cat (people always ask). The boys like to use the cat flap for poking their heads through. I wouldn’t recommend this either.

***

Come in here, to the living room. The kitchen is small, but we’ve attempted all sorts. Mostly pies and things involving potatoes. Do you like pies? This oven does.

I brought my first baby home to this room, and I set the car seat on the floor just there and thought how alien it looked, and how nothing would be the same again, for my whole life. There was a before and an after, and the point in the middle was marked by that car seat on the floor. I was so sore, and so frightened. Then we sat on the sofa just here, battered and bruised together, and I smelled his head, uncurled his tiny fingers, and knew he belonged here just as we did. It worked out alright.

Henry walked for the first time from that sofa to that chair. He’s climbed up here and fallen off. And here. And here. And (lots of times) here. Right here is where he said ‘car keys’, which was the phrase that set loose all the others. Teddy worked out how to propel himself backwards here. And here he went forwards. And here (see those dents on the floor?) he went turbo-charged.

If you lie on the sofa and the weather’s just right, you can look straight up through the skylight like it’s a window into space.

Come and look out of the bay window. It’s nice. Be warned though, the neighbour will be able to see you dancing from their window.

This is a good floor for dancing.

***

This room started off as a study, became a nursery, then Sarah’s room, then back into a nursery for two boys instead of one. I thought a lot (too much) about putting that green on the walls, but now it reminds me of industrious train-building afternoons, early bed-head mornings, and quiet nights with soft breathing and soft warm bodies. I like a room with history, and this one has the most.

I like to sit here on the sheepskin rug, against the radiator, and write.

***

Upstairs again, and this is our room. I think of love and lazy mornings and that magnificent balcony. Sitting on the edge of the bed for a 4am feed, everything still, breathless with ache and wonder.

Teddy arrived just here. Yes, here. There’s a reason the carpet is new, and it isn’t that we liked the pile.

I’ve saved the best till last. Look, here’s where the sun floods through the skylight onto the floor. I’ve sat here to dry off, to cry, to read, to shut my eyes and let the sunshine bleed through my skin and light me up from the outside in. Sometimes I’ve sat here feeling broken into pieces. But I promise you, sometimes I’ve felt like every wonderful thing I ever dreamed of has flown through this window and landed on my lap.

We’ve been so happy here the walls must hum with it. It feels like I’m leaving my heart behind. It feels like I’m ripping myself in half.

Stand here, and let the warmth come up through your feet. This is your house now.

Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. Oh my dear, they have been multi-coloured, diamond-sharded, breath-taking things.

I’ll let myself out.

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Crocodiles

The sky this week has been like a damp, grey, fuzzy blanket. The itchy kind my nanna used to keep on her sofa. You’d accidentally exfoliate your legs as you leapt on it to escape from crocodiles. You know the ones? Of course. Everyone’s nanna had those blankets.

I think of crocodiles when I think of my nanna because she had a big, crumbly volume of poetry with a crocodile on the front cover. This was the point in my life at which I thought ‘Anon’ was an actual person. ‘This Anon chap wrote a lot of poems’, I thought, sitting in front of the three-bar electric fire on a scratchy blanket, a slice of toast at my elbow and the crocodile book on my knees.

She didn’t stand for any nonsense, my nanna. She wanted your best manners for everyone from the fishmonger to Uncle Barry, whom we didn’t see much, but who probably lived upstairs and definitely had the best Batman movie collection we’d ever seen. The fishmonger smelled disgusting, but there were always pink wafer biscuits at the end of it, and a fire, and Mr Anon to catch up with.

Now that’s the way to spend a wet autumn day.

Yesterday, stuffy with cold and headache, dizzy from a frantic weekend, we stayed in. By 5pm Henry was bouncing off the walls, so I did one of those right-shoes-on-out-out-out things I’m doing a lot at the minute. There’s only so long you can stay indoors watching Small Potatoes before the air goes stale in your mouth, even on an itchy-blanket day.

I rolled Henry up into his coat and we went for a walk round the block. There’s more to do than you’d think. The tree on the corner has shed all of its fiery leaves at once, hiding the pavement underneath damp and shiny yellow. He doesn’t believe in pavements, anyway. Who needs ’em. There are drain covers to stamp on, puddles to wash your hands in, other people’s cars to embrace when your mother’s not looking. He was wet to the knees within five minutes but I let him wander for ten more before we went inside.

And then, fuzzy-haired and pink-cheeked, I found a blanket and we read a book about crocodiles. Because that – thank you, nanna – is the way to spend a wet autumn day.

(if I could be a no-nonsense, best-manners, pink wafer sort of mother, well: I’d think that was pretty much a-ok.)

Music in the dark

The cover of my Grade 8 piano book was scarlet and shiny. It looked intimidating.

‘You sit here’, said my beloved, red-headed teacher, ‘and I’ll play through them so you can choose three’.

Over half an hour we whittled them down. A Bach prelude and fugue. A crashing Schubert allegro. Then –

‘Stop’, I said. ‘This one’.

It was a Chopin nocturne in E, and it was beautiful. Soaring and wistful. I never had to try hard to hear Chopin in my head: he came as naturally as breathing. But pushing it out of my fingers was harder. I spent hours going over it that autumn, playing a single passage twelve times just to get the right rise and fall. The middle two pages were a dense thicket of impenetrable notes. Played slowly, they all sounded like discords. Evening after evening, I tugged at it. Took it slow. Pulled the tangles free. Until it started to come out smoothly and the sweetness came back.

When I played the last notes of the nocturne in my exam that November, I turned around to see the examiner with his face cupped in his hands. He just smiled, sighed, and made a note (and thank goodness, because I totally bombed my aural test and Schubert, damn his eyebrows, was a disaster).

***

That’s the last normal memory I have of that year. Soon after, things at home blew apart and everything became messy and distressing. I don’t think I have ever, before or since, been so eager to escape my own head. I felt poisoned, down to the root of me. Like I was crawling around in the dark, and everything I had held sacred turned hollow, and nothing would ever, ever be alright again.

In the depths of all of that, I came back to the nocturne in E. There was safety in letting my fingers do the thinking. I couldn’t do much, but I could take a flying leap at that middle two pages and the discords would resolve themselves into sweetness every time. My muscles remembered it, and brought it out for me to hear.

Nocturnes are night music. As I shut the door on whatever was outside and placed my fingers carefully, I sent the music out into the night and a small part of my ferocity was soothed.

***

This afternoon I found an old hardback book of Chopin nocturnes on our bookshelf. Lovely. After I’d made a pig’s ear of a few and removed Henry’s sticky fingers from a few more, I found the nocturne in E.  It is ten years this autumn since I took my exam, ten years since those endless evenings at the piano. This afternoon I removed all the baby wipes and sat down on my old battered seat to play, and I could hear it again like new.

Oh, I would tell that broken angry girl some things if I could. My fingers are stiff and the middle pages are back in a tangle, but the remedies now are the same. I can keep tugging at it. Take it slow. Pull the tangles free. And sooner or later, my dear little self, I will see past the discords and all that glorious soaring sweetness will come flooding back to me, to be held like a bright thing to my heart, to be mine, this time, to keep.

Inside and out

This time last year, almost to the day, Tim and I went for a picnic in Prospect Park. It was unusually good weather for early spring. I was working from home on Wednesdays, sick to my bones, and Timothy took a break from his finals revision and pulled me out of doors for an hour. We chose the slope uphill from the playground because the grass was nicer, and ate sandwiches and smeared Rolo ice creams all over our faces. After lunch we watched the families by the swings, thinking about the point not far distant but still unimaginable, when we’d be one of them.

Today, Henry and I went back to the park. It’s been unusually good weather for early spring. We chose the slope uphill from the playground because the grass was nicer, played with Sir Prance and the blanket, and took a nap. He’s much better company now he’s outside making me laugh and not inside kicking my ribs all to heck.

It’s odd for me to think back and realise that Henry was who I was growing. It was him, all the time. I’d find it hard to believe if that ski-jump nose hadn’t been present and correct right from the outset. Some noses are determined to make their presence felt. This one was.

There’s something about that little ditty

It is the day-after-the-day-after-Christmas, and I’ve just said goodbye to my sister and packed her off into the gym (she’s a personal trainer. I’m not a January health freak insisting her relatives work off their Christmas turkey).

I am trying not to cry and failing.

Look, I know I’m not sending her off to the Western Front. I just don’t get to see family much, and when I do I remember what I miss about them. My sister and me, we’ve got the same face. I don’t have the same face as anyone down here. Imagine all the Sweet Valley High-jinks we could get up to if one of us dyed our hair.

We drive off, Henry hiccupping in the back and me hiccupping in the front, and Timothy is changing gears one-handed so he can hold mine. ‘Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll’ comes on the stereo and we smile because suddenly we are eighteen again. Timothy is wearing big baggy jeans and driving his little Punto with teenage-boy aplomb. He is tapping out the tambourine part on the steering wheel, like always. I am thin as a rake with a head full of Renaissance plays and am terribly in love with him already. One day quite soon he will leave for South Africa for two years, so we are trying not to become too attached. But for now there is pizza ahead of us and a Punto at our disposal and ‘Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll’ on the radio, and if you can’t make a good evening with a combination like that – well.

It is eight years later. We are driving towards home with a baby hiccupping in the back, and so much has happened since then that I can barely recognise myself. I don’t know everything about him, but I know eight years’ worth. He lets go of my hand to tap out the tambourine part on the steering wheel. He doesn’t have my face, but I still think he’s pretty rad.

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