I am all grown up

by Miranda

One letter from my mother begins with the line ‘I have managed to find your socks and shoes, but the laces are gone.’ 

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This sentence does not begin to capture the furious rage and five hour sulk that my incompetence provoked.  There had been an unspeakable half hour on the back seat after I announced that I’d forgotten my shoes, seated beside an appalled little brother who would have thrown me from the car there and then if he could. 

Littler, but wiser, he only allowed himself the luxury of incompetence once he left home.  He now litters houses like a teenager.  But back then he never, ever left anything behind.

Perhaps what enrages a parent most is this kind of repeated behaviour.  Behaviour that is proof that the child they have ended up with is clearly not the child they intended to have.

One Easter I managed to drop my wallet beneath the London train at Glasgow Central, and mother, unable to speak for fury, put her back to me and walked.  Away.  I watched her diminutive figure, purple anorak clamped tight over her bum, and wondered where she was going.  Really?  Really?  She wasn’t even going to wish me goodbye? 

I had a job by then, and a mortgage even, but clearly still wanted mothering. 

When, reluctantly, she did reappear ten minutes later the train had rolled away to Kings Cross without me.  After her trailed a guard.  Together we three peered over the edge of the platform, down at the scrappy red velcroed wallet, so overrun by receipt crap that it had developed a paper frill. 

Wallet.  God, how I hate that word.  As much as others flinch at the mention of moist, plinth, squirt.  Wallets sit at the centre of so much of my failure.  They are the full stop to all that is wrong about me.  There was the one drowned at Dhahran beach, another lost at the Rec Centre, a third left behind on the Swiss Air 737 on which we were transiting in Zurich, and worst of all that fourth, which contained two hundred pounds of my first pay packet, falling open like a bird as it fell over the guardrail, and sank into the Sound of Mull.  The only safe escape was to lock myself in a cabin.  When he found  me Dad beat the yellow hatch hood with a fist. 

But it was not a pochette, or a purse, or a pouch that mother and the British Rail guard peered at, balanced drunkenly between the tracks, it was a stained, over-used wallet in cheap manmade red. The guard, certainly irritated too, raised his eyebrows.  Then fished for it with the Glasgow Central equivalent of a boat hook.  Failing he finally lowered himself down into the hole that the Intercity had left.  Mum and I watched his movements, his scan up the tracks for incoming trains, the crouch, and I wondered whether I should do what Dad would - to tear open the Velcro when he gave it to me, and give back a tenner, even a twenty, in gratitude.  A big note to lend gratitude an appropriate value. 

However, in the manmade red there were no big notes.  Only shrapnel of the coppery kind. Perhaps unwittingly I had instigated this wholesale decline into this very, very pissed off place, by asking Mum, not half an hour before, for money.

Just to get lunch in the buffet car?  Five pounds?  Three even?  It wasn’t like I was skint or anything. I just hadn’t been organised enough, I told her, to take out the money myself. 

The guard reached up with his catch.  He stretched one handed towards us standing on the platform, Mum snatching it from his hand.  Although it seems unlikely, part of my remembered discomfort comes, I think, from her not being able to bring herself to say to him thank you.  Rage had drenched entirely all politeness in its sour.

All Adults are Intelligent

By Sue Chase

Sue is a Creative Writing student who's spent the last decade coming to terms with the many untruths from her own childhood.

When I look back I realise that my initial perceptions of life were driven largely by the type of meaningless platitude and overworked cliché that I have purposefully outlawed from my vocabulary when addressing my own children. A young and impressionable child, desperate to fit in and craving acceptance, I was surrounded by dominant women of very little real intelligence who knew everything and explained nothing.

I was a perceptive child and would ponder deeply about some of their offerings, not being able to fully accept, but hampered by some deep rooted belief that it must be correct. An adult had said so.

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Luckily I have managed to delete most of these banalities from my memory bank. Those few that stubbornly remain deep rooted still leap out and wrong foot me on occasion – unsurprisingly when my teenage daughter and I conflict.

“Patience is a virtue” Not true. Then it meant always being last as I waited patiently whilst others, not so emotionally cowed, would demand and grab; in later life aching for an errant husband to return, guilt and inadequacy overshadowing broken promises and infidelity.

 “Only the good die young” To an impressionable and thoughtful child, this was a horror. So, anyone who didn’t die young must be bad? I recall covertly studying family grownups and wondering what they had done to live so long. Out in the street I would stare at the old men and wonder how they could be so wicked when they appeared so ordinary. Of course my knowledge of sin was very limited at that age – lying and stealing – so the novelty of speculation soon wore off and doubt as to the veracity of the statement crept in.

The untruth of my title was not realised until my early twenties when I went to work in the accounts department of a well-known frozen food factory. Here, for the first time in my life, I was mixing with a wide spectrum of people, most of whom were older.

“Adults know best”

“Wait until you’re older” (….wiser, more knowledgeable)

“Don’t argue with your elders” (they know better than you)

“You’re too young to understand”

My formative years were peppered with such sage pieces of wisdom – all with a common theme; adults were all seeing, all knowing, sensible and wise. My early life was overseen by women of strong character who believed they knew everything - and what they didn’t know they had a platitude or cliché to cover. I was a quiet, shy child not given to questioning but to absorbing and internalising. And I learnt my lessons well.

I can still, over thirty years later, recall the moment of enlightenment when I realised that not all adults were intelligent. In a factory block across from mine worked a very chatty administrator; anyone new was easy prey. It took about a week, but having been trapped yet again by a torrent of meaningless gossip from a practical stranger, I could only stand and think ‘How odd. How silly.’ And surging up from some hidden well of understanding the startling realisation that far from being universally intelligent, ‘Some Adults are really quite stupid’

You will be dick

by Miranda

Inspired by Bee Wilson's good, good Radio 4 series: Sweetness and Desire: A Short History of Sugar

‘You’ll be ‘dick’ like your mother,’ my father-in law told me over lunch. He is German. Dick translates as fat.  What he meant though was: ‘You are dick.’ Maybe I had unwittingly exposed myself, by accepting his offer of pudding. 

Mother was dead when he made this observation.  She was also fat.  Lovelorn she was only able to rely on a chocolate and caramel surrogate. Until Motor Neuron Disease made it impossible to swallow.  But my father-in-law has never acknowledged her dying, and has no idea how it went. Motor Neuron Disease robs you of everything, even chocolate.

Mum fell by hours and days and weeks from millionaire shortbread and Diet Coke down through blueing bread to gavage.  Soon we had to pump protein packs directly by tube into her stomach.  They smelt of school dinners, of hospital trays, of wrong.  From the first day that sticky plastic syringe was put to use, there was a yeasty heaviness that hung about her, the house, my hands. 

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Each time we loaded her lunch I wondered whether she had been able to mark the last time she tasted love.  Whether she had enjoyed the soft sweetness, or if that final square of Dairy Milk had been rushed, undone, unenjoyed, forever laced with the sourness of guilt.

Dick guilt. 

ALS, as this neurodegenerative disorder is called in the US, progresses rapidly.  It is fatal.  Nerve cells deteriorate, and along with cell death the ability to regulate muscle.  Yet scientists writing in the Lancet have found that what makes MND blaze slower through a body is a high calorie, high carbohydrate diet.  A millionaire shortbread affair.

Mum first lost control of her mouth - the elocuted sound of her gave into slur. Without the ability to chew and to swallow she lost all motivation to eat.  Loss of weight, both muscle and fat, is common as this disease progresses.  Obese patients, research has found, live longer.  Yet she did not.  Because what had kept her from stepping over the edge into rampant obesity was guilt. 

Guilt killed her months earlier than necessary.  Nerve loss ran down her neck, killing first the swallow, and then, within a year, the breath.

Although my father-in-law uses health as his excuse I have always suspected that what motivates him, when he judges others, is Selbstachtung.  Self respect.  Fat is a letting go, a miserable lovesickness that we should not force into the face of others.  

For me there were only two possible responses: to eat or to starve.  So I went with the latter.  Because much more essential than living or loving, is winning.  Though there is some irony in knowing that if I ever start slurring, the choice to eat would possibly save me months.

Family Ties

by Jacqueline Mordue

Jackie will be travel writing and blogging from her overland trip between London and Australia.

Jackie's grandmother was the only child of Heber, aged 26 at the time of this photo and Emily 46

Jackie's grandmother was the only child of Heber, aged 26 at the time of this photo and Emily 46

Em Eileen Rose sat as still as she could on the hard wooden footstool. The lace of her dress itched and scratched the back of her bare legs. Her brand new leather shoes felt stiff giving her feet little room to move freely. The bow in her newly brushed hair tugged, pulling against her scalp. She could feel the tension in the room as they all waited silently for the camera to take the photograph. Although young, Em Eileen Rose could also sense a deeper tension settling around the family. The gestures, the angry expressions, and muted suppressed conversations that passed continuously between her father and mother, made her feel on edge; nervous. She almost preferred the time she spent away from the family home with her Aunt and cousins. At least there was laughter then.

When I got home

When I got home one Summer there was a minister living in my bedroom.  Recently ordained, he stuttered and he smoked.  The rest of the female congregation at mother’s church were envious.  He was the child of their dreams. 

Staring through the sitting room window at the texture of rain, I ignored my mother’s monologue on her new charge.  Beyond the blur of raindrops my father emptied my bag from the car.  He carried it the fifty yards between the back door and the caravan, past the Minister’s ash pot, the woodpile and the compost, and deposited it just inside the caravan door. 

I was exiled. 

Throwing myself across its brown, man-made covered foam I wondered why I’d come home. 

The rest of the holidays I ventured out only at mealtimes, padding up the path in my socks.  Otherwise I read, or watched the minister smoke through the greasy window of the caravan.  Occasionally I would have a cigarette myself.  It momentarily muted the biscuit stench of last year’s holiday, and of myself. I was not in any mood to wash. Demoted into temporary accommodation it felt like the most appropriate protest.

Not that anyone noticed.  Lost to the brown and beige, the beach stains, the five year old crumbs and the portaloo, home was no longer somewhere I could go.  

The one where I try hard

by Miranda

I am up in the loft reading my school reports: ‘Disappointing’, ‘Tries Hard’, ‘Average Progress’. On two occasions there is a mention of ‘nice’ handwriting.  You can feel the lack of engagement.  I am entirely forgettable.  I presumably provoked weariness.   Occasionally there's a wry remark about lack of expectation - I was bound to get married anyway.  Perhaps we were all supposed to feel grateful about the quality of the men being put my way.

Downstairs, when I ask Mum about the reports she says blithely that she never thought Aberlour House was right for me.  Nor Gordonstoun.  She’d looked at other schools but none of them seemed any better.

‘Maybe because they were all boarding?’

Her reply, unfortunately, is not in the diary.  Neither is there any record of my resentment. 

The Tyholt Tower

By Fiona Nolan

Fiona teaches in the state sector and has lived in England for the past 15 years. Born in Melbourne, Australia, her formative years were spent in rural New South Wales.  She completed the first draft of a semi-fictional memoir, based on her experience of symphysis pubis dysfunction and motherhood (among other things) in 2013.  Her second novel is set three hundred years in the future, in a post-apocalyptic world run by women.

Half an hour before they arrived at the restaurant, Frances had been doubled over in the street, trying to hide her head in the hood of her jacket, while making shushing noises and constantly moving the pram back and forth. When Jack asked what she was doing, she mumbled something about being a crap mother. She was annoyed, mainly because she reasoned that anyone with half a brain could see she was a crap mother. In fact, the authorities were more than likely waiting for their chance to pounce and take her baby away because she was such an utterly, utterly crap mother.

Jack hadn’t been able to hide his frustration and humiliation at her bizarre behaviour. He couldn’t understand why she wanted to hide in the alleyway, rather than push the baby in the pram along the footpath.

She couldn’t tell him that every passing car along the nearby road contained someone who would see how obviously crap she was at being mother, and who’d either pull over to phone the authorities, or simply drive on to the nearest police station in order to report her.

With much cajoling, Jack did manage to get Frances and the baby to the restaurant. Their friends had given up on waiting for them and were already seated, enjoying some drinks.  One was taking  photos from where he sat opposite them in the booth, in that ridiculous rotating restaurant. His beautiful Spanish wife leant back so he could get his shot; their baby asleep in an expensive-looking buggy, parked up beside the table.

Frances lifted her own baby out of the pram, but was struggling to manage the infant on her lap. The camera continued to click and whirr, but she was lost in her thoughts, wondering how much happier the baby might be if someone else, anyone else, could be a mother to it instead of her.

Not Being Me

by Lizzie Cook:

Born in Harrow Weald 1946. Flirtation with BBC TV, punctuated with travels in Southern Africa. Co-author of 'Sugar Off! A Practical Guide to Sugar Free Living'. Four children, three grandchildren. Lives in a Victorian house with a cellar and a leafy garden in the Cambridgeshire village of Cottenham.  Works for Citizens Advice Bureau.

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My dead mother’s face in the mirror,  now gone
Gone with the Catholic threat of purgatory for a lapsed soul.
Did she die, that mother of four,
consumed by this thing called Christian Science.
Belief killed her off, but they didn’t say so.
They didn’t say ‘cancer’ until after she was dead.

I didn’t see her thin body.
I dreamt her alive, walking casually about her business,
in the streets,
not in her lovely garden, now lost to her. 
“How is your mother?” friends said.
“She’s dead.”
And then I knew it was true, and I wept,
the school found out.
Not from my father.
He grief-stricken? Perhaps.
Her name banished from his lips, until it was too late to tell all
Too late to let me mourn; too late to let me be a sad child.

When I found her grave there was a mound of ivy to tear apart.
Beneath the tangle was Marjorie;
In Loving Memory, Died June 1960.
The pity of it breaks my spirit and I weep.
“Where have you been? I was looking for you.
You didn’t die did you? You just went away.”

Her face has faded and she no longer meets me on street corners.
She’s gone away.
Again

The One Where I don't Care

by Miranda

The claim that I have put my mother’s over-used phrase behind me. I tell myself often that I no longer care what anyone else thinks.  Yet often find myself worried that everyone will wonder what shore I washed up on and how they can reasonably put me back out to sea.

Crochet for burning at  The Feminist Times  Launch

Crochet for burning at The Feminist Times Launch

The One that's Extinct

by Miranda

Dad’s brain is a worse colour than this and has a larger and more ragged hole. But it is the shell of who he was, his memories, and self escaped. Kept on a shelf in a white plastic bucket, his donation is not in as many pieces as Einstein’s, but Dad’s brain does weigh more.

Extinct (ok) for Visual Verse

When I found the conditions he was dead in, I wanted to have him buried, like geochelone galapogeoensis, at sea. Dad liked the sea. But they told me a brain has the same properties as semtex. There are rules about human remains. Lobbing him over the side for the seagulls wouldn’t be allowed.

His brain also has a label, which is not as yellow as this. His label is wet with formaldehyde, the black felt tip fuzzing round the edges, without any tippex or crossings out. There’s no talk of Charles the 1st or Galapagos, or of giants and tortoises, no necessity even to write the paraenthisised ‘extinct’ for that is already known. I’m not sure he would even deserve the little ‘ok’. Because it is not ok that he is dead. Nor that I will never have the opportunity to ask him why he lied.

Image by Marc Schlossman