Ooh, look what else I found in my drafts. This must be one of the last things we did before turning our backs on city life – the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden. Amazingly, it’s still on; extended due to popular demand, apparently. And if you’re remotely a fan of Bond, or even just cars, you should definitely go. We all loved it, and our levels of fandom varied wildly right down to the girls who haven’t seen a single Bond film.
A couple of weeks ago we visited my dad for the weekend. It’s always hard to get a date in as they’re so busy at weekends, but this time we went for the ‘if you can’t beat em join em’ strategy and arranged to meet them at Chippenham Folk Festival, where he would be dancing with the Icknield Way Morris Men.
I’m fully aware that at this point you’ve probably either rolled your eyes so far up in your head it’ll take a crowbar to get them back out or fallen off your chair from laughing uncontrollably at the very mention of morris men. Either way, no one is left reading this post by now so I’ll feel free to wallow in self-indulgent nostalgia.
You see, a fair amount of my childhood was spent trailing in the wake of my parents’ involvement in the folk scene; bands, ceilidhs, folk festivals, morris dancing, men with hairy beards drinking from tankards, the works. While I found the music and singing a lot less interesting than the lemonade and crisps I would be allowed in the pub gardens where these events usually seemed to take place, the morris dancing is my most sentimental memory so I was looking forward to it even if Nick and the girls weren’t quite as keen.
Half-term holiday traffic meant that we didn’t arrive until the team’s last ‘set’, but it also meant we missed the heavy rain they’d had earlier (and satisfied my reminiscence just enough without testing its limits too far). We even had some time after they had finished for the day to wander round the craft tent (I’ve always been a sucker for a good craft fair), that requisite element of any self-respecting folk festival.
Back in July the last of my many cousins got married. From booking the date, they had exactly 100 days in which to arrange the wedding; enough to send the calmest of couples into a tailspin when the average time to plan a wedding is 7 to 12 months. Well clearly my cousin and his new wife are the calmest couple EVER as their wedding was quite possibly one of the best planned I’ve ever been to, including my own.
Everything had been thought about from the guests’ point of view, starting with the fairground entertainment and steel band laid on for the boring part between the ceremony and the meal, right down to the baskets of flip-flops, pashminas and toiletries in the ladies and the pizza served at midnight when the most hardened wedding guests were still going strong.
But the wonderful wedding aside, the other highlight of the weekend (for Nick and me, anyway) was the B&B we stayed in. Part of the superb organisation was the usual wedding website with a very comprehensive list of places to stay near the venue, from basic rooms to gypsy caravans to luxury hotels. After some careful research, I settled on the whimsical-sounding Dippersmoor Manor, which turned out to be anything other than whimsical.
It is in fact the most beautiful 16th century manor house, reached by an impressive tree-lined drive and run by the charming Hexie and Amanda Millais. Billed accurately as luxury bed & breakfast accommodation, Nick and I were so taken with the place that we spent a good half-hour before leaving papping the house and grounds, much to the owners’ mild bemusement.
A couple of years ago I wrote about my history of moving house, an event that featured regularly throughout my childhood and even into my twenties. I have a horrible suspicion I may finally have become a grown-up as in the past 15 years I have lived in just two houses, both of which I bought with
my own borrowed money.
That said, there was a house that was a constant for the first 30-odd years of my life, a house that I always loved to return to and for some years harboured dreams of owning and living in as an adult. There was nothing outwardly special about this house; to the casual observer it was a perfectly ordinary 1930s semi in a Bristol suburb. To me as a child however, it was a rich playground, full of special places as familiar to me as my own bedroom; the oil cloth around the carpet in my Nana’s bedroom that became a beach for the animal figures I played with, the little landing that she called the ‘Juliet balcony’ where I made tents with sheets and clothes horses, the anteroom leading off her bedroom where she kept her sewing box which was like a treasure trove to me and (don’t judge me) the amazing old-fashioned pantry in her tiny kitchen that I would sneak into and just look at the contents, fascinated, for hours. I still really want my own pantry; my current kitchen has a bricked-up window that probably belonged to one when the house was built and trust me, I have given serious consideration to reinstating it.
Sadly, when my Grandad eventually went into a home just over ten years ago, the house had to be sold and I wasn’t in a position geographically or financially to be able to buy it myself, although I have been lucky enough to inherit two of my favourite objects from it – my Nana’s sewing box and my Grandad’s piano. A few years ago I had an urge to look the house up on Google Maps to see if it had changed at all. The emotional tsunami that hit me when I saw the same cracked concrete driveway that I had taken my first steps on as a toddler was totally unexpected; I was quite literally reduced to tears instantly – and I don’t cry easily.
I’m often struck by the contrast with my own children’s upbringing, which by its nature has been very settled; Alice was barely a year old when we last moved so remembers nothing of her first home and emphatically doesn’t want to leave this one, which she considers her family home. Having transformed the house almost beyond recognition from the one we moved into, that sentiment is completely fine with me as I have absolutely no intention of moving out of it… for now.
For the first time in what seems like forever, we took a day trip last weekend. Nick’s parents came to stay and we took them to Loseley Park, a place I’ve been to a couple of times, but not one of our regular haunts. My first experience of the place was when I was searching for wedding venues; although I loved the look of it, there was no onsite accommodation so it was reluctantly struck off my short list.
Unfortunately the lack of ice cream weather had us nearly wishing we hadn’t set foot outside, so our first port of call was the café for a hot drink to warm us all up. The house can only be seen by guided tour and we had about an hour until our time slot; once fortified by coffees and hot chocolates we braved the elements in the gardens. Luckily they were mostly walled, so not too chilly. It was only then that I discovered I’d stupidly forgotten to charge my camera battery the night before; after a few shots the poor thing lost the will to live and no amount of cajoling would bring it back to life. Thank god for iPhones – mine came to the rescue in fairly impressive style, and while the photos weren’t always quite the ones I would have taken with my camera, it came a pretty good second best.
So many beautiful flowers. Why don’t my flowers look like this?
And so many things to collect, apparently.
Doesn’t this put you in mind of Sleeping Beauty? No? Just me and Alice then.
This last one was taken in the house, mainly for Alice’s benefit as she loves elephants. Seconds later the guide told us photography wasn’t allowed. Oops. Sshh, don’t tell anyone.
Alice turns ten next month and .. wait, WHAT?!? No, no, there must be some mistake. How did she get to double digits already? Seriously, you take your eyes off a screaming baby for just a minute and when you look back they’ve turned into a miniature adult who rolls their eyes at the stupid things you say and do. I sometimes think I’ve gone back to my teenage years and am living with my mother again.
I swear to god last year on holiday Alice looked at the (rather short) dress I’d put on to go to dinner in and said “shouldn’t you be wearing leggings with that?” Er, shouldn’t you be wearing rollers in your hair and a pinny with that attitude??
It’s been a steep learning curve, this parent lark. You start off with the basics, like how to keep a newborn (and yourself) alive on less sleep than any person should have to endure, ever. (Really, there should be EU regulations on minimum hours of sleep.) Then you swiftly move on to intermediate stuff such as keeping an eye on a crawling baby while simultaneously moving anything dangerous out of its path/steering it away from sheer drops. Following a crash course in toddler tantrum diversion tactics, before you know it you’re on to advanced school-age child handling, covering anything from bedtime negotiations to lie-detecting.
But ten years on I think I’ve probably learnt a few things that should be shared with the world, particularly unsuspecting innocent parents-to-be.
1. From day one, your first priority for your precious bundle should pretty much be food. Clean, dirty, hot, cold, bored, tired .. all that shit is unimportant if you have a hungry baby/toddler/child (or parent) on your hands. Get the feeding right and everything else will follow.
2. Honestly, I cannot stress enough how important number 1 is. Read it again, just to be sure. Go on, I’ll wait here while you do.
3. Toilet training doesn’t end once they know how to use the toilet. Yes, it didn’t take me long to get to poo territory. It won’t take you long either, trust me.
4. And while we’re on the subject, life is too short to wash pants that have been used as nappies by anyone on solids. They make disposable nappies for a REASON. Until you are confident of your child’s ability to control their bowels, I can strongly recommend buying cheap and cheerful pants in bulk.
5. As a new mum at home with a baby for the first time, other new parents can be a lifeline. My antenatal classes were useful for one thing only; the group of friends I made who supported me through those first hideous, terrifying, soul-crushing weeks with a newborn and whom I am grateful and fortunate beyond belief to be able to count among my closest friends ten years on.
6. Every stage of your child’s life is just that; a stage. Although in the darkest depths of sleepless nights, separation anxiety or potty training it may seem as though this is how life is going to be forever more, try to comfort yourself with the thought that somewhere in the not-too-distant future, you will suddenly remember those dark days and think of them (almost) fondly – worse still, you’ll realise that you hadn’t even noticed they were gone.
7. Shopping will never again hold the same excitement that it did before you became a parent; leisurely expeditions will be replaced by fairly leisurely expeditions interspersed with impromptu feeding/changing stops (I am more familiar than I ever thought possible with every shopping centre baby changing room within a 10-mile radius of my house), soon to be replaced by slightly frantic dashes around the shops within the constraints of a toddlers’ tolerance for being strapped into a pushchair (mileage will vary by child considerably here), eventually to be phased out altogether except for dire emergencies and then some. These days I get my retail kicks online and when I do get the opportunity to visit real shops on my own, I find my boredom threshold is worse than that of my girls’; quite frankly, I don’t even want to go shopping with myself. I AM RUINED FOREVER.
8. Calpol can solve most childhood ailments. For those it can’t, there are doctors, NHS Direct or the hospital and sometimes all three. Alice proudly keeps track of her number of hospital visits (more than one for every year of her life, currently) and I will always remember the Christmas Eve I lay awake listening to Jessica barking with croup and waiting for a call from NHS Direct that eventually came at 5am.
9. I have turned into my mother. It happened to me, I can see my husband turning into his father and it will happen to you too. You can spend your entire life up to this point fighting it, but the instant you have children that process of metamorphosis begins and there is NOTHING you can do about it. You know that thing your mum/dad used to say when you were a kid, that you vowed you would never say to your children? ONE DAY IT WILL HAPPEN. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just go with it. There may even come a point when you realise they were right.
10. Confidence. Of all the things I have learned (and let’s face it, this list barely scratches the surface), this is one of the best. Even in my thirties, before I had children I was a quiet little mouse. I may not be a roaring lion on the outside now, but I have the inner confidence to do (and say) things I would never have dared before. I have the confidence to not worry whether people think I’m still a quiet little mouse, because when it comes to my children I will be the fiercest lioness.
If you’re already a parent (and even if you’re not), I’m sure you will disagree with at least half the things on my list and have a better/longer/profounder list of your own. In fact I hope you do; I’m certainly not claiming to be any sort of authority, just sharing a bit of the wisdom(?) I’ve accumulated in the last decade. So maybe you’d share some of yours – what’s the best (or worst) thing you’ve learned from parenthood?
No, I’m not about to go all Julie Andrews on you, I’ve just been reading the WordPress weekly writing challenge which is all about your most meaningful possession. I don’t normally do writing challenges, daily posts, photo a day what-have-yous for the simple reasons that I’m a) lazy and b) stubborn, so not only would I not get round to a regular post (you may have noticed, ahem) but I would also probably rebel against being told what to post about in the first place. That said, for some reason this one started me thinking: do I have any meaningful possessions (apparently your beloved technology doesn’t count, boo), what are they and why do they mean something to me? The first object that sprang to mind was my old faithful sewing box.
So I know it’s not very exciting, certainly not at all sexy and you would be forgiven for rolling your eyes in the direction of this dowdy wooden leggy box, as Nick did when I first acquired it (along with comments like “you don’t really want to keep THAT, do you?”). But unfortunately for him, I do very much want to keep it, not least because it plays a starring role in one of my favourite childhood memories. The sewing box originally belonged to my Nana, whose house I stayed at regularly as a child in the school holidays. The house itself was a consistent feature throughout my childhood; the only house that was as I moved home before the age of 18 far too many times to count on my fingers. It was (and no doubt still is) a fairly spacious and light-filled semi-detached four bed in a quiet suburban road in Bristol, just the thought of which has the power to evoke a rush of nostalgia; even now I have the strongest memories of visits there.
In one of the smaller bedrooms lived her sewing box, which to me was a virtual treasure trove. It contained rows and rows of multi-coloured elastic, bias binding and threads. There were mysterious boxes full of needles, pins and other accoutrements that rattled when shaken. There was, rather excitingly to the young me, a bag full of different coloured ribbon, which Nana would sometimes let us wear in our hair tied at the end of plaits or atop bunches. Best of all, the thing I would always ask to play with, was her button stash. She had boxes and tins full of them, roughly sorted by size and for the smaller ones, colour. My favourites were the more interestingly shaped ones, the oversized nubbly oddities. With my child’s imagination, these took on individual personalities and I would spend hours creating stories for them or just searching through to see how many multiples of the same button I could find. I was lucky enough to inherit this collection too, although the poor sewing box is now too stuffed with my many bits and bobs to hold them.
My Nana was an accomplished seamstress, as were many women of her generation, and she had kept some dresses she made for my mother as a child, which I remember trying on with my sister when we were quite small. She also made us a rag doll each, one of which still survives at my stepdad’s house, that my own children now play with when we visit. It may well have been these that sparked my own interest in sewing; as a teenager, inspired by her industry, I made a pair of dolls from the same pattern which my girls also play with now (and have rather distressingly christened Rosie and Jim).
Sadly, the reason I now own the sewing box is because neither my Nana or my mother are around to use it any more, but I think of them both whenever I see it, which brings back many more happy memories than sad ones. Maybe one day it will even do the same for my grandchildren.