Sitting in the front window admiring the ruby red geraniums in the hanging basket across the road. Wondering how to deal with the astonishing mess two pigeons have left all over the conservatory roof without the hiring of some scaffolding. Hoping for a downpour of Noah’s Ark proportions.
Today then. Magic to be worked with a make up bag because my face is sporting the impact of too much food and not enough sleep. Tootling into Liverpool in the newly fixed car to collect Mark’s Mum. To spend the day with her. To take her away from all this. To take her for coffee and then to visit her son Simon, who is terribly ill in hospital: sorrow swimming in his veins after his Father’s sudden death. Ignoring Mark, who said “Don’t go. You don’t need to see this” because this isn’t about me. Nor what I can bear. I am, at least, stronger than that.
A fistful of vitamins. More nonsense to be taken to the tip. An odd-job man calling at four to do the odd-jobs. Two dreams about affairs with men I don’t know, so raw I open my eyes and confess them to Ste like so much adultery and he laughs because I am silly. And I am allowed my own head. Always. Tonight my first session of Buddhist meditation because that same head needs hushing. Worrying about entering a room full of strangers by myself. Daring myself to be brave regardless.
The detritus of a busy weekend still scattered around the house. Gold foil H’s sprinkled over the carpet as though my Helen has been leaving a whisper of herself all around the house. Bewilderingly, a 20p piece sitting at the bottom of the toilet and refusing to be flushed. Money down the drain. Two new pairs of flip-flops in the middle of the living room. The ironing board still standing in the kitchen as if waiting for the charlady to arrive. Soup we will eat tonight burnt at the bottom of the slow cooker.
A new ethic to be employed if we are to live this life. A course to be taken in September. A new direction. And willingness to learn. A new, astonishing commitment to each other. A stack of virtual books to be read in my Kindle, if I ever find time to read in anything other than the piecemeal way I have been managing lately. A child’s room so tidy I thought I had woken up in the wrong house. His explanation “I couldn’t stand the mess anymore” a singular source of ludicrous pride.
Olive bread to be baked. (Though it won’t be as good as Kath’s). Simple lunchbox cakes to be fashioned from cornflakes and dark chocolate. Fingers mildly swollen and hay-fever tickling my nose. A new car soon, thank heavens – because we can’t go on like this. Next week, a half-term that has arrived way to fast. This week, preparations for the disruption to routine that must be allowed for. Another party to attend at the weekend. Though this reluctant social butterfly knows not whether she is coming or going. A strong cup of Rocket Fuel instant coffee to tip me over the edge.
Rushing now. Hopping barefoot across the gravel to fetch the milk. Muttering to myself about getting out into the front to deal with the weeds appearing through the cracks. Planning a vegetable patch. And pots full of color. Blowing out my morning candles so the house doesn’t go on fire. A phone-call that divides loyalties. A new, preposterous, obsession with badly written ghost stories found on the internet. A leak in the fridge. A tiny pot of rich dark chocolate mousse that must be resisted. The lovely hum of the washing machine. The racket of the NutriBullet. A smoothie full of goodness to cast away my sins.
Sudden enormous waves of gratitude. A hard won life that feels charmed now. (Quell the fear, Lady.)
The sweet sigh of relief when the house is yours again and silences becomes it.
The first cup of coffee you sit down to sip in a room that needs a hug. The stain of a red wine glass marking the coffee table and a pair of abandoned socks lurking on the blanket box. Why oh why oh why?
A list in your hand. Things that must be done. (Though without a car you will struggle – The clutch must be replaced). The child met on foot on his way home from school. Something financial to be arranged on the internet. A Father checked upon after a day gadding about at Lords.
A week’s menu planned from the myriad of leftovers in the fridges. Tonight a salami and feta affair with veg roasted in smoky paprika. Tomorrow a sausage casserole.
All the usual suspects trotting up and down the lane. He who drinks already passing by with a blue plastic bag full of cans. Cars pulling up outside to gawp at the house that will not sell in what was once your back garden.
A kitchen fragranced by basil. Lavender at the back door. A pot full of rosemary for remembering. A fortune teller at the weekend. A woman who knew your Mums name as soon as you sat down. Do Sue and May mean anything to you? Dis-belief suspended because she gives you no choice.
Concern for your boy. Because he spends too much time scooting around in circles. Three hours in the garden just going round and round. The need to crawl inside his mind and invade his privacy so prevalent because you cannot help but want his truth. Pink bunting fluttering along the fence. Pots of greenery to fill up the deep bed that must be planted soon. Lovely pictures growing damp in the little brick shed.
A yard brush and a new watering can on your shopping list. Peri-menopausal black hair growing spiky on your chin.
A slice of burnt toast topped with cucumber and black pepper. A windowsill a dragonfly has chosen for his grave. A black candle burning on the sideboard. A pot full of dying succulents though you had assured yourself it was barely possible to murder them. A busy, lovely weekend that has taken too much out of you.
Sometimes, on a Monday morning, when the house is yours again, you think about going back to bed. Crawling under sheets cooled by the open window. But sleeping wouldn’t get the kitchen floor mopped. Nor let you enjoy the bliss of standing in the morning sunshine pegging out the first load of wet washing. Sleeping is the enemy of getting things done. And things do have to be done. There is no avoiding it.
And so you will do them. For you cannot start the week with an over-flowing laundry basket. And you must collect the bottle of milk the naughty milkman now hides down the side of the conservatory for he has convinced himself, contrary to all evidence that points otherwise, that the milk mafia are trying to ruin his round by stealing every pint he delivers. There are beds to be refreshed and re-made. Windows to be flung open everywhere. The washing line tied back up after you took it down in fear of your scooting child garroting himself. A wasp to be chased out of the farway room. Clarry’s lost snuggly dog to be hunted down.
So much to do. Though you would rather be watching Odd Mom Out. Or reading The Housekeeper. You would like to be drinking coffee with Kath. Or baking pretty cakes no-one will eat, just for the photo opportunity. You would like to be travelling down to Oxford and spending the day with your family. Visiting a gallery or sitting on a grassy hill just staring at the whole world.
There is so much you would like to be doing. And so very much that must be done. Carry on Housekeeper. Carry on.
So you see that lady up there in the picture in her Brocante-Pink dress and pretty pinny?
See how assured she looks? How well-groomed and organised? She is clearly throwing a party and she is obviously oh so very prepared, calm and not all demented. She is who we should be when our partners take it in to their heads to throw a party that turns out not to be the Engagement party my family convinced themselves it was going to be and is instead just a really, rather lovely shindig complete with my favorite people in all the world. And one or two I really don’t mind at all.
She is who we should be and yet she is so far removed from who I actually was when I found myself feeding fifty people on Sunday afternoon that it would be comical if I hadn’t found the very idea so traumatic, my lips broke into a fright of cold-sores the very next day. A sure sign of stress for this here Alison, if ever there was one.
So yes. We threw a party. It was supposed to be a diddy affair because we do not live in a mansion, but before I knew it I had made a list and was texting our Barbie to describe my fright because there were so many people on the way, even though I am the sort of much flustered hostess who freaks out when she finds herself feeding an extra mouth at the dining room table.
And so it was that I worked myself in to a frenzy. And forgot to dye the halo of grey hair sprouting around my forehead and I worked Ste and the boys to the bone in an effort to have every inch of the house immaculate, and I set up popcorn and sweets tables for the kids and drinks station in the laundry room and the faraway room and bought too many lemons because they looked so pretty on the copper cake stand, and baked cakes till they came out of my ears and made fiddly little wraps on sticks and some extra special egg spread thingy, sliced watermelon, piled strawberries up on a plate with meringues, wrapped prosciutto around asparagus, decanted shop bought dips into terracotta bowls, filled an entire laundry basket with sweets for the many babbas wandering around, shouted at Ste because he said there were no daffodils in the shops and I couldn’t possibly have a party without daffodils (?), and finally threw together a vaguely snazzy outfit and went downstairs to welcome the hordes.
For a while I was borderline mental as I greeted guests and showed kids where the juice was and hugged my family and walked in and out of the crowd gathered in the kitchen usually dragging one of the little ones behind me, forgetting to fetch the ice I had promised people and agreeing to grill chicken burgers someone had brought with her and forgetting almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth. And there was lovely Vicki who kept telling me to calm down, and Helen who kept re-filling my gin glass, and Ste’s precious Mum, Marg, who sat me down and told me take a breather. And suddenly the food was out and every last morsel eaten and apparently thoroughly enjoyed, and I could breathe again, and chatted with everyone I know one after the other and stole my bestest women away to the bedroom so I could grab five minutes alone with them in a room where I could actually hear.
And then the fire pit was lit and the kids were toasting marshmallows and a certain section of my own society had tipped over way beyond merry and the red wine was flowing and I was suddenly hit by the sheer joy of it all. Laughing with Ste’s brother in law, Glyn who had discovered asparagus for the first time in his 54 years, stroking the puppy my dog-minding Auntie had snuggled in her arms and hugging my Dad while we watched the kids spin around the paving stones on their bellies steered by skate-boards and joie de vivre…
It was lovely. So very, very lovely. But frankly had Ste proposed when I was so completely around the bend I would have smacked him, so Barbie will have to keep the engagement card she had bought in a preemptive strike, and I can’t agree to making our May-Day party an annual event as my uncle, Steve suggested it should be, but it turns out that Ste and I make a rather good party-throwing team and Stevie loves helping in the kitchen and Finn is great at keeping the little ones entertained and all is well because I survived… and by nine o’clock the next morning the house was spick and span and I hadn’t taken a single photograph to prove how wonderful it was, but that certain section of society aforementioned were sporting bruises after the pair of them took a tumble on the way home and that is I think all the proof we need that the party was a blast.
Sometimes the things we worry ourselves demented about turn out to be all kinds of wonderful and at forty-five I really should start believing I am capable of a whole lot more than I ever give myself credit for. Happy days…
Today I am bringing you a poem of sorts. Made famous by Charlie Chaplin but originally written by Kim McMillan, I am sharing it because it is so very much about knowing oneself and reflects the journey all of us here at BrocanteHome are making towards a life less ordinary…
“As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.
As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody if I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this person was me. Today I call it “RESPECT”.
As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life, and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow. Today I call it “MATURITY”.
As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance, I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at the exactly right moment. So I could be calm. Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE”.
As I began to love myself I quit stealing my own time, and I stopped designing huge projects for the future. Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in my own rhythm. Today I call it “SIMPLICITY”.
As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism. Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”.
As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since I was wrong less of the time. Today I discovered that is “MODESTY”.
As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worrying about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where everything is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.
As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. But as I connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally. Today I call this connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART”.
We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing new worlds are born. Today I know “THAT IS LIFE”!”
By Kim McMillen
Today. A good nights sleep. Two cups of tea. A single magpie the size of a chihuahua hopping over the grass in the back garden. Good Morning Mr Magpie, how is your wife today?
Ivy creeping through the cracks in the wall of the little laundry room. A front door filthy from the relentless traffic outside. Ste shell-shocked by the kind of truth even Jeremy Kyle would frown upon. Finley in odd socks. Again. A boy-man lurking outside school I have no choice but to report to the police because I nearly ran him over. So sorry boy. But you cannot get away with what you are clearly doing.
Hebes to be planted. A border to be dug around the lawn. A blue watering can with teeny flowers starting to tumble out. Wet sheets to be bleached by sunshine we cannot guarantee. Plans for a dinner party tomorrow evening. Which starter to cook? This or this or this? A trip to the farm to buy the kind of steak that melts in your mouth. A horoscope that says evil is lurking all around me. Oh joy.
Teenage acne on my middle-aged face. An office to be created in the Far-Away room at the end of the kitchen. A stack of books that must be moved. A wander through the Faerie Glen with a little picnic of cream cheese bagels. Bird-spotting. A little slice of heaven just a few minutes down the road. We love living here.
A weekend without the children. Just us. Flipping the mattress again because we are both hunched with back-ache. Time for a new one. Time for bigger dreams. Time to accept that there is nothing to be scared of now and I can breathe again. So odd that the absense of fear creates a very particular kind of anxiety it is too difficult to describe to those who have led peaceful lives. Time to stop playing small.
Spritzing the kitchen with the fragrance of a Hummingbird Garden. A lovely, nonsensical description of a scent that smells so very pretty. Feet grubby with the garden. Must wear garden clogs. What is wrong with me that I don’t?Clumps of shorn grass. Endless raking. My first proper garden. A darling little stone shed with a teeny window that would make the most perfect BrocanteHome office. A hidey hole for tiny baby frogs. An outdoor loo that appalls me. Drains full of leaves. Singing as I wander about with the brush. Lovely neighbours on one side. The outwardly pleasant but passive-aggressive sort on the other.
A funeral soon. For Marks, lovely, mad Dad. Finley’s Pops. The death of another Grandparent too hot on the heels of Mum’s. Mark, broken but always so very steadfast, yet in his own confusion telling my child that Pops had stopped breathing. To which Finn responded, what, for always? And I had to step in and say Yes Baby, for always.
Now, a pink face-mask. A prescription to be collected when I am presentable again. Another hole in another pair of trousers because there is a nail in the corner of the bath we can neither pull out nor bang in. Kim Wilde singing about the Kids in America on the TV. All this life.
Life and work. Life and family. Life and vintage housekeeping. Life and love. So much life. Happy Weekend Housekeepers.x
Is one middle-aged when mornings suddenly become so terribly hard to wake up to? As if enduring a hangover born of crazy cocktails on a permanent basis.
Today. An early morning doctors appointment with a lady with quite the primmest smile you have ever seen. Tea with no milk because the milkman who has taken to blowing kisses at you is late again. A gluten free Tiger Loaf that toasts exactly as it should. The spinning of yesterday’s revelation round and round your head. Cold feet.
A conversation with your son who tells you he just doesn’t understand why adults don’t take more advantage of being grown up. Outrage when he realises you have accidentally doodled on the back of his homework. The house messier than it usually is. A spot of red wine still staining the coffee table. Bags to be packed for a weekend in Oxford. The ache for a hug from your Dad. Salt and vinegar rice cakes with marmite and cucumber. Yoga clumsily performed on the bedroom floor. That yearning for a nap that never leaves you. Ten minutes staring at a flickering flame.
Perhaps a film? This one? Or another hour spent re-reading Mrs. Miniver. Funny how re-reading no longer strikes you as a waste of time as it once did, but instead simply re-affirms the truth you long ago injected in to your veins. Peppermint rubbed in to the back of your neck to wake you up. Another cup of green tea. The constant tribal thump of the washing machine.
Eyes closing as you take your elevenses on the sofa. A head-long dive in to the rosemary plant on the kitchen windowsill to wake you up. Yet more dishes to be washed. A puttery hour spent in the bedroom. Wiping away the dust that permanently coats your glossy walnut dressing table: as if to remind you that it is less vintage than it is relic. Creating a pyjama drawer lined in lavender paper. The mattress sprinkled with baking soda and the deadly windows flung open so wide a person could surely just step out of them.
The prospect of two and a half weeks filled with boys freed from the shackles of school. A sense of gloom and gladness at the thought. A sharp smack across your own hand for not being the kind of Mother who treasures every single moment her son forces her to listen to the demise of Wolverine. Easter eggs to buy.
Later, a trip made specially to procure a gluten free Scotch Egg that is your teenage boys favorite treat. Mince and onion in the slow cooker. The return of the grown-man home for dinner. A long bath in Fenjal. An early night.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you declare your intention to be a milkman growing up, you will be packed off to naughty school faster than you can deliver a pint of semi-skimmed. Oh yes. Milkmen are naughty. Loose cannons with loose mouths and the general demeanor of “heckity pie, I’m round the bend and do not give a damn“.
The last one I employed to have bring fresh milk in lovely glass bottles daily, took the opportunity while I was paying him to reach out a hand and ask if he could touch my hair. Because apparently he just couldn’t resist. Well excuse me, but no. Touching me on my own doorstep just will not do Mr. Milkman.
So I cancelled him. And went back to many years of supermarket milk. And then we moved here and a new milkman came a knocking, a tiny cheeky little chappy in his sixties who didn’t look like he was going to be any trouble at all, and he said why yes, of course I do skimmed milk in glass bottles and and arrangement was made to have one pint delivered daily and two at weekends and my tea tasted lovely again and I was awfully happy shuffling out to fetch the milk in my dressing gown each morning, scaring passing lorry drivers and pigeons alike, and then it all went wrong.
The milkman couldn’t hold his naughtiness in.
The other day he knocked and I answered in a floral pinny, and he took one look at me and boomed in a voice much bigger than his person, YOU LOVE THIS HOUSE DON’T YOU?
And while this struck me as a rather random statement from a stranger, I nodded and agreed that yes, I do love this house and paid him £12.50 and waited for him to stop writing whatever milkmen write in their little leather books and go away, and when he didn’t I shuffled awkwardly and fiddled about in the pocket of my apron where bizarrely I seemed to be storing a selection of conkers, and then he looked up and boomed “NOW TELL ME DO YOU RENT OR HAVE YOU BOUGHT IT?”
And I felt mildly appalled and muttered I rent it, and he shouted “BLOODY STUPID! – A WASTE OF BLOODY MONEY! I DO HOPE YOU HAVE GOT MONEY PUT AWAY. YOU HAVE GOT MONEY PUT AWAY HAVEN’T YOU?”
And for a moment I stood there debating explaining myself. The reasons why I sold my lovely little house and the thought process behind renting at this stage in my life, when it struck me that it had nothing at all to do with the little toad standing in front of me and I went to say goodbye, but sadly he wasn’t finished. No Siree! He wanted to clinch the cancellation of his service right there and then!
“WHAT DOES YOUR MAN THINK OF THIS STATE OF AFFAIRS? YOU HAVE GOT A MAN HAVEN’T YOU? YOU AREN’T ONE OF THESE BLOODY SINGLE MOTHERS ARE YOU??”
Oh my word. Tears popped in to my eyes. I considered giving his face a good shake. And instead I said thank-you with something pretending to be a weepy kind of dignity and shut the door, determined to both spike the tyres of his noisy milk wagon and buy my milk in Tesco.
Because frankly, right now, I do believe I would have preferred it if he had asked to grope my hair.
The man who lives next door to me is quite unaware of this truth, but him and I are in a fierce coughing competition and today I am winning with aplomb. Last night was peppered by his coughing: the rapid gunfire of a man seemingly chocking to death and in return, in sympathy, I responded with some rather dramatic coughing, hissing and spluttering of my own. Catching his cough through these old walls in the same manner that the mere suggestion of a yawn can have me yawning too.
Oh yes. I have caught the dreaded lurgy. And although I warned myself rather severely not to give in to that felling many a better woman than me around these parts, I, as usual, took no notice of myself and all the vitamin C and zinc in the world turned out to be no match for the Lady Flu – an ailment a man today assured me was only about 5% as terrible as the man flu. Ahem.
It has been a lovely weekend. I took my cough to the Lake District yesterday, having decided that I was made of sturdy stuff and could easily manage a walk up and around the loveliest waterfall in the land, despite the fact that there was clearly not enough air in my lungs and I looked like Mad Mary, with a huge mohair scarf wrapped around my head and deeply unsuitable boots on my feet, edging down slippy steps and stopping to choke every few minutes. Because I am not so much sturdy as nesh. And a nesh woman, climbing cliffs with the Lady Flu is a terrible combination indeed. And one that inspired much mirth among those who purport to love me I will have you know.
So this morning I woke up and knew that the lurgy had won. That hanging around a damp forest on a cold Saturday in February was a lovely but otherwise preposterous thing to do and a person will be made to pay by losing an entire day to croaking and sniffing and generally being rather dramatic, and will in her delirium do all ten of the things she usually does when illness takes hold. Namely…
- Try to carry on. Go a little housework crazy in an effort to prove that I will not be defeated by something as common as a cold. Splash the whole house in Thieves Oil and convince myself this alone will do the trick.
- Eat pineapple till it comes out of my ears. Because I once heard that pineapple will go in to battle with congestion on our behalf so I consume it by the bucket-load when I’m snuffly and I don’t know whether it works or it doesn’t but I can’t stop and risk feeling worse.
- Have a little cry over something silly. While furiously sweeping the floor and sipping at a glass full of dis-solvable Vitamin C.
- Fall in to a flat, sweaty sleep and wake up at four o’clock in the afternoon thoroughly bewildered.
- Feel incapable of reading so watch something surreal instead. This time The Love Witch. For which there are no words but should you ever find yourself wanting to experience something utterly weird and true then this visually stunning, downright bizarre film is for you.
- Eat marshmallows and take Buttercup syrup at regular intervals. Because nothing soothes a sore, scratchy, hairy throat faster than this cosy combination from my childhood. (And I swear I have never had a throat that felt quite so hairy as I do today!)
- Wrap up my sore throat in a pink pashmina so old it is almost threadbare. Occasionally alternate my Lady Flu fashion choice by wrapping said pashmina turban style over my itchy ears and appalling my thirteen year old.
- Decide gin might be a good plan. With whisky. And brandy. In a vase.
- Wonder whether I will ever feel normal again. Rack my brains to remember how normal felt. Resolve to feel grateful for normal next time I notice the absence of the damn lurgy.
- Change my sheets. And my pillowcases. Twice in a day. In case they are riddled with Lady Flu and I keep on re-infecting myself. Feel fully aware of how ludicrous I am being.
It’s such terribly hard work being a person isn’t it?
Night night Darlings. I am heading to bed to compete with the man next door. It is entirely possible we might just get a bit of sleep in before the dawn chorus of coughing begins all over again.