[Scintilla Day 03] Where’s your mama gone?

The Orthopaedic Hospital, Gobowen.

Where’s your mama gone? (Where’s your mama gone?)
Little baby Don (Little Baby Don)
Where’s your mama gone? (Where’s your mama gone?)
Far, far away

It’s 1971.

British Leyland have launched the Morris Marina, Margaret Thatcher schemes to abolish free milk for school children, and in a hospital in the middle of the countryside on the border between England and Wales, I’m in hospital. Despite being a mere eighteen months old, I’ve spent a large part of my life in hospital having corrective surgery on my left hip, which was congenitally dislocated but not spotted initially because they didn’t do a postnatal check for ‘clicky hips’ in those days.

In addition to surgery, they’ve put me in traction, hung me upside down on a special bed made by the young apprentices at the local Rolls Royce factory and tried all sorts of experimental remedies, all without any degree of success. One of the latest things they’ve tried is ‘frog plaster’, where my legs are forced out at unnatural angles and plastered into place. For months at a time – and it’s going to need regular replacements because in addition to growing, children of my age need nappies and well, I think it’s safe to say that things down there must get pretty ripe.

Luckily – for me at least, I don’t remember any of it. The sole memory I have of the whole ghastly process is of a tall, dark man coming towards me with what I’m guessing must have been a tool they used to cut off the plaster. In my head it’s whirring with all the high-pitched and anxiety-inducing sound of a dentist’s drill. My mum says that for years afterwards I would scream and hide if I heard a vacuüm cleaner.

My mum, though – she hasn’t forgotten. She doesn’t talk about it much. She told me – just the once – about how she felt when she discovered I had to go into hospital aged what? four or five months, maybe? She told me how the sight of the empty nursery had distressed her so much she had to give the baby equipment away. She told me how she used to drive to the hospital, a fifty mile or so round trip, to visit me in the afternoon. If your baby was in hospital in those days you didn’t get the option to sleep over on a camp bed at the foot of their cot. There were no Ronald McDonald houses or twenty-four hour vending machines. The wards were ruled by old-school nurses, the kind that wore starched cuffs and intricately folded caps. On one occasion my mum turned up and someone had cut off all my baby curls; apparently the hours spent lying on my back had caused them to become matted. Another time she arrived to find the all other babies wearing my clothes – and I know she bought me beautiful things back then: velour all-in-ones in scarlet and navy stripes bought mail-order from Sweden where people dressed their children in bright and stimulating things, a world away from dreary seventies polyester.

I don’t know how she coped with all that. The photograph above is shocking for all kinds of reasons, but what makes me saddest is how harrowed my poor mum looks. She’s always been slim but I’ve never seen her as gaunt as she is in that picture, and that smile… is it a smile? It’s hard to tell. She used to leave late in the afternoon, always telling me that she had to go now, to buy some potatoes for Daddy’s tea. Apparently when I started talking, one of my first sentences was, ‘Daddy eats lots potatoes.’

I don’t know where I heard the song first. Did they play the radio on the children’s ward, I wonder, or did my family or one of the nurses sing it to me? I guess a cheesy yet catchy song like Middle of the Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep was always going to be popular with a child, and I know that singing it became one of my party pieces when I was a little older.When I listen to it now, the song horrifies me. All I can think of is my poor mum hearing it on the radio, driving all those miles in the dark in a knackered old car, and leaving her baby behind, day after day after day.


This post is in response to a prompt from The Scintilla Project: Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

[Scintilla Day 02] All grown up

Baby's hand.

I went into labour at about half past midnight. I breathed through the contractions for a few hours, distracting myself by watching ABBA: The Movie on late night tv.  At a little after three I woke my dad. It took him a few moments to understand what was going on.

‘I need to go to the hospital. Now.’

The drive there was awful. Every chipping and  pothole on the road sent huge waves of pain up through my perineum towards the centre of my being. The only way I could cope was to squeeze my hands under my thighs and suspend my torso in an endless tricep dip. The hospital was locked up and dark when we arrived, and  it took the porter ages to answer the bell; he had a wheelchair with him, and insisted I sat in it, despite my protests that I was fully capable of walking, thankyou-very-much.

After that, it all becomes blurred. I know there was a deep, deep bath – long enough for me to lie down fully in, too – and an enormous plastic jug, like the one I had in my kitchen, and at the height of each contraction my son’s father poured jugful after jugful over my belly, and I surrendered myself to rhythms which were of me but not mine as my body took over, leaving me a mere passenger along for the ride.

Night became morning, and outside the frosted windows of the delivery room a pair of workmen listened to Radio One on their scaffolding, silhouetted against the glass. One was much taller than the other: funny how I can still see it so clearly. In a haze of endorphins and entonox I laughed to myself about two strangers – two men – being so close to me as I writhed and squatted and panted on the bed with my nightshirt hoiked up around my armpits. In the distance I could hear a fearsome, terrible noise. I once found myself outside an abattoir, and the sounds were reminiscent of that –  a long, keening wail punctuated by guttural grunts. As my head cleared briefly I realised it was me who was making those noises, and that I had no control at all over what was happening to me and that nature was at the helm, steering the great wreck of my body with its priceless cargo safely into harbour.

The second stage of labour was fast. Nineteen minutes from start to finish, although it felt like hours. And the baby was at least two weeks late – four, by my calculations –  and when he came he was huge and I tore and we spent our first minutes together with him propped on my chest, still covered with blood and mucous, while a student midwife practised for her handicrafts badge in my nether regions. They showed me the placenta; it was big and liverish and dotted with calcification.

We just stared at each other. He didn’t cry at all, just fixed his beady eyes on mine and kept looking. The front of his head was bald and his forehead was so stern and wrinkled. I don’t think the midwife could have been a Star Trek TNG fan like I was back then because she didn’t laugh when I said he looked like a Klingon; she scolded me and told me he was beautiful, and I think I started to cry a little then because it hit me like a slap round the head, he was infinitely beautiful and he was mine, and I was a mother: his mother.

I thought I knew it all. I was just twenty-one.

All grown up.


This post is in response to a prompt from The Scintilla Project: When did you realise you were a grown up? What did this mean for you? Shock to the system? Mourning of halcyon younger days? Or the embracing of the knowledge that you can do all the cool stuff adults do: drink wine, go on parent-free vacations, eat chocolate without reprimand?

[Scintilla Day 01] Who are you?

I don’t mind telling stories about myself – hell, I have some really good stories that I’m often asked to relate to new victims: there’s the one that involves a plant pot and a curtain rail on a first date, and the one about the cat on heat- I can guarantee that if I told you these stories you’d either be peeing yourself with laughter or looking at me in a slightly terrified manner. Possibly both at the same time. Through neither luck nor judgement I’ve ended up in some strange situations in my life, and I fend off potential ridicule by turning them into stories, stories that I know will entertain people and either endear me to  or alienate me from them forever.

Talking about myself is another matter entirely. Opening myself up, letting my inner thoughts spill forth like seeds from a ripe, split melon – that’s not something that comes easily. I can articulate the thoughts and the feelings, I can even put them down in words, but sharing them takes me well out of my comfort zone. I have a whole sackful of cunning strategies to avoid this – and yes, I suspect telling my legendary stories is probably one of them. Choosing not to answer questions like, ‘Who are you?’ should probably be another, but it’s a little late for that now, isn’t it?

I was mulling over the question during idle moments this morning, and the more I turned it over, the more I realised that the answer depends in a large part on who’s asking it. My mum would tell you that I’m her daughter, my former colleagues would say I was a fellow nurse. My son would be the only person in the world who could tell you that I’m his mother, and I’d like to hope that my partner would say I’m a lover, an equal and a friend.

I know it’s not fashionable nowadays to define oneself in relation to others, and that some people might say there’s a hint of dependence there, or the suggestion of subservience, of subsumed identity; but I don’t exist in a vacuüm. Like John Donne said, ‘No man is an island,’ and that makes perfect sense to me. Without the people I care for and the roles I choose to assume, I’d be a duller, flatter version of myself. There’d be less quirks, less intricate details, fewer opportunities to challenge myself and blossom through rising to the occasion. I would be quite boring, I think, and more to the point, I’d be lonely and miserable. Sometimes people are like mirrors, shining your best – and worst – bits right back in your face.

And most of my stories involve other people, too. Yes, even the one about the cat in heat. Hang around long enough and I might even share that story, and hopefully plenty more that will show – rather than tell – you who I am.

This post is a response to prompts from The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of story sharing

Countdown to Scintilla

Well, I think we can safely say that my good intentions to participate in Reverb11 were well and truly scuppered by a bout of illness garnished with a hefty soupcon of real life. At the time I did feel a vague and nagging sense of regret but really, I had so much other stuff going on that the whole project seemed to sneak by without me noticing.

BUT! A few weeks ago I learned that some of the jolly people who took up the hastily-dropped Reverb 11 baton had created a new project which sounded just as – if not more – exciting. It’s called Scintilla, and it starts tomorrow, so hurry on over there now and sign up. You can use the #scintilla hashtag, too, if you like that kind of thing. There’s a part of me that can’t wait to get back into the swing of regular blogging, and another part that’s just the tiniest bit scared, because I haven’t been writing that much lately, and what I have been writing has mostly been rudimentary Welsh.

In a roundabout way, the writing Welsh thing is actually a good thing, because one of the things I was doing when real life got in the way of my Reverbing was plucking up the courage to leave the job I was doing, the one which was making me miserable and ill and not a nice person to live with. In the end, it turned out that I didn’t actually need the courage, because I found something I wanted to do more – which was to take an intensive Express Welsh course. (I should point out that the ‘express’ bit refers to the unnatural speed at which we’re learning – I’m not learning how to right schlocky newspaper articles about Lady Di conspiracy theories.)

Learning a new language is blooming hard, even when you’ve been surrounded by it for the past ten years and picked up little bits (helpful phrases like, ‘My breasts are like the mountains of Snowdon‘ and suchlike), but I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying not doing the Job of Doom and enjoying not feeling like I was selling a little bit of my soul every time I walked through the doors of that place.

Anyway. Onwards and upwards, as they say. And plenty of Scintilla excitement. And lastly, here’s a nice picture I took at the Hafod Estate last week, to show you all just how beautiful Wales is.

 

 

[03 – event]

This year I’m taking part in #reverb11, an online initiative that’s all about reflecting on 2011 and looking ahead to 2012. Each day in December will bring a new prompt to reflect on. Today’s prompt comes courtesy of Perpetual Ramblings

December 3. Event: Did you attend or host an event this past year that rocked your socks off? Please tell us about it!

It all started off as a bit of a joke.

My friend, Kerry, came round and we sat drinking coffee, like we always do, and looking at silly things on the internet. One of our favourite things to do is search words like ‘hideous’ on eBay and see what it throws up. Somehow we ended up reading a blog written by a women who’s heavily into ‘comping’ – entering competitions in frighteningly hardcore way. She’d won cruises, a new kitchen and heaps more besides; the list was seemingly endless. Cynics that we are, Kerry and I both agreed that Ms Comper was maybe a bit sad, and ought to get out more. Of course, that cynicism lasted about half an hour, and as soon as Kerry had left, I was searching for comping websites and entering competitions willy-nilly. (I later discovered that Kerry had done the same as soon as she got home.)

I wasn’t that optimistic; I seem to recall there was a cookery book I was quite keen on winning, and a weekend in Venice. I’ve never been to Italy. Then the joke backfired: to my horror, within days I’d won VIP tickets to see Ringo Starr at Hampton Court Palace. I don’t even like Ringo that much, and felt very embarrassed emailing the PR company to tell them I was sadly unable to attend due to unforeseeable circumstances. In the meantime, Kerry had won tickets to an international cricket final in Leeds. We both decided that from then on we’d only enter competitions if we actually wanted the prizes.

This must have been way back in July. A few days later I opened my inbox to find that I’d won a family ticket to Camp Bestival. I felt like kicking myself, I really did. I’d only gone and won yet another useless prize: I hate camping and the festival was taking place in Dorset, hundreds of miles away.Then I had a brief look at the line up and realised that Primal Scream were playing, and performing their classic album, Screamadelica, in its entirety. I spent the next day with a good friend who’s a festival veteran, and she persuaded me I should go, and take my son with me.

I still wasn’t entirely convinced: I was just starting to recover from a bit of a lengthy blip in my mental health, and wasn’t sure I’d be able to cope with an eight-hour train journey and then putting up the bloody tent, let alone sleeping in it with my dodgy back and yada yada yada. I found an excuse for everything.

I don’t know when it was I changed my mind. I had a burst of energy and excitement that bubbled up unexpectedly. I started to think about how thrilled my son would be to see lots of bands he loved, and how it could potentially be a lot of fun. I delved into my savings and booked us a PodPad – a little wooden house with beds and windows that was totally secure and dry – so I wouldn’t have to camp, and devoted a couple of hours to finding us the cheapest train tickets. I bought almost the entire stock of Mountain Warehouse, and a new rucksack to put it all in; seriously, if Captain Scott had taken to the Antarctic what I took to Dorset for four nights, he would have got to the South Pole and back in a jiffy, ponies and all.

~

We had an amazing time. My son loved it – I was scared he wouldn’t cope with a whole new routine and strange surroundings and being around disinhibited drunk people, but he rose to the challenge magnificently. We were both out of our comfort zones, and the only way to get through it was to throw ourselves into festival life and make the most of it.

Telling you all about it would be a major essay. I’m not sure I can even list my best bits, because the whole experience was one enormous best bit. We danced non-stop to Groove Armada, ate the best paella I’ve ever tasted, watched amazing poets deliver incredible words, amazing fireworks, comedy and BLONDIE! If you’d told me when I was a six year old singing ‘Denis’ in the playground that I’d get to see them play it live one day I would’ve thought you were joking. Debbie Harry is old enough to be my mum, and she was great. And they did a cover of ‘Fight for Your Right to Party’ – magnificent stuff.

~

My word for this year was embrace. I vowed to myself that I would seize opportunities when they materialised, and take risks if necessary; Camp Bestival involved both of those, multifold, and it was absolutely worth it. I felt so proud of us both for doing something completely different, something we would never normally do.

I read somewhere recently that you should spend your money on experiences, not things. Despite my love of shoes and shiny things, I couldn’t agree more, and I’ve already booked next year’s tickets.

[because sometimes I come over all geeky]

I just made a #reverb11 badge, based on a little bit of land art I made down on the beach earlier this year.

Here it is: help yourselves!

[02 my children will do it differently]

This year I’m taking part in #reverb11, an online initiative that’s all about reflecting on 2011 and looking ahead to 2012. Each day in December will bring a new prompt to reflect on. You can find out more here.

Day 2 – My Children Will Do it Differently – If you could choose one thing that your children will do or experience in a different way than you have, what would it be and why?

I have one child. He’s nineteen, so barely a child at all, really, and very much a young man. He just passed his driving test, so he’s already managed to do something differently – and I guess when I say differently, what I mean is better – than I have. I’ve had lessons in sporadic bursts since I was seventeen, failed one test and managed to convince myself that I’m a public transport kind of girl.

Over the past nineteen years I’ve tried very hard to manifest the things in his life I wanted to be different from mine. Things like being sure of himself, of knowing who he was and what he thinks. This is the boy who, at the age of five, happily told the head teacher of his Church school that he was an atheist; he became a vegetarian a year later. He’s vociferous about equality – he simply doesn’t get why differences of any kind result in all the –isms that abound. He knows what he thinks, and he’s proud of what he thinks. He’s proud of himself. Not with a sense of assumed privilege or entitlement, but with a fundamental solidity. Of course, that makes him a stubborn pain-in-the-ass sometimes – and please, no comments about apples not falling far from the tree here.

He lives with Asperger syndrome, although you might not notice that at first. He refuses to view himself as having ‘special needs’, referring to them instead as ‘special powers’. He thinks it’s great that he has a cavernous memory, that he knows everything anyone ever needed to know about buses. He loves that he’s super-organised and happily cleans and tidies around the house. Well, mostly – this is a teenage boy we’re talking about here. Life has thrown a vast amount of challenges at him, from teachers who just couldn’t be bothered to educate themselves to situations none of us could foresee would be distressing. When he was finally excluded from mainstream school he sobbed as I led him out of the building, crying that he needed his education. He has reserves of strength and bravery that are quite remarkable.

I have vague memories from when I was pregnant, thinking about the baby inside me, this little person-in-waiting. I had big ideas about what I was going to teach my child, but over the years I’ve come to see that, actually, it’s your children who teach you about life, who make you see things differently, and lead you into doing things you could never imagine, from shouting right back at the woman in the supermarket who complained about their behaviour, to picking up worms and spiders, because you suddenly realised you don’t want them to have silly phobias.

If ever there was a thing that was user-led, it’s parenthood. The manuals and websites and tips from helpful relatives go right out of the window, and you end up making it up as you go along. And then one day you look, and that scrappy, red-faced thing that you could pick up in one hand has turned into a handsome chap with size thirteen feet who’s waving a driving test pass certificate at you. I’m proud of him, and he’s proud of himself. I think I did well there.

[01 one word]

This year I’m taking part in #reverb11, an online initiative that’s all about reflecting on 2011 and looking ahead to 2012. Each day in December will bring a new prompt to reflect on. You can find out more here.

Day 1 – One Word. Encapsulate the year 2011 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word.  Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2012 for you?

I lay in the bath last night and tried hard to think of a good word that sums up the year, something that was a little more eloquent than ‘bloody awful’, which was the first one that sprang to mind and technically doesn’t count,what with it being two words and all that. I settled on arduous, although it felt a bit dramatic and not entirely accurate. There are lots of positive things that have happened in the past year, and I don’t even have to think that hard to remember them: I’ve met new friends, went to a brilliant festival with my son and acquired the world’s naughtiest kitten, but despite that it feels like it’s mostly been one long slog.

I put out the call on my Facebook wall, to see if my friends had any good ideas, only to find them posting words like challenging and harrowing and sisyphean. I think 2011 has been a difficult year for a lot of people. Amongst my close friends there has been illness, bereavement, financial worries, job problems and a whole host of other things which just tend to make life crap. Some of these things are ongoing, without there being any sense of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite that, we’re all still here. I’m still here, a fact which surprises me, sometimes. It’s easy to forget that while you’re thinking you’re weak, and that you can’t cope, the non-thinking bits of your body are soldiering on, fighting all those pesky infections that gang up and pick on you when you’re run down.

Your body keeps blinking, keeps breathing: somehow you keep going.

My word for 2010 was perseverance – I acknowledged my inner strength, and tenacity. I like the word tenacious, it literally means ‘not easily pulled apart.’ I know I started off saying that my word for 2011 was ‘arduous’, but I’m going to scrap that.Every time I say it to myself I’m seeing myself in a theatrically tragic, woe-is-me pose, complete with back of the hand wafting my fringe of my forehead, so it has to go. Tenacity is a much better word.

~

This time last year, my word for the year ahead was embrace. I said, “I want to swim hard against the tide and jump into waves instead of treading water and slowly getting water-logged and heavier.” I think I squeezed every last drip out of that metaphor, didn’t I? Flowery prose aside, I can put my hand on my heart and say I really pushed myself to take risks, and embrace new opportunities this year. I reached out of my comfort zone and did things that were unimaginable a year ago, but if I tell you what they were you might not come back and read any more, which would be very sad indeed because I’ve spent all morning when I should have done the laundry grappling with graphics and layouts and buying a domain name. See – I am tenacious to the core!

~

Edit: I’m trying not to read anything Freudian or symbolic into the fact that in my original draft of this post I completely failed to choose my word for 2012. I’m not sure I can pull one out of the hat at this stage, but I promise I will revisit this as and when one comes along. It needs to be a good word, a word that encompass change, and freedom, and movement – I’m sure it probably exists in some other, more ambiguous language. When I find it, you’ll be the first to know.

My talented friends 001: Kitty Moran

I’m blessed with good -no, great – people in my life. And as well as being lovely and special, many of them are incredibly talented. So, in the spirit of pushing good juju out into the world, I’ve decided to embark on an occasional series of posts extolling their virtues and hopefully spreading the word about their fascinating projects.

So, let me tell you about the wonderful Kitty Moran…

Kitty Moran - not just talented but gorgeous, too.

Kitty has written a movie. It’s called Boobs in Blood, and Kitty describes it as, “a feisty , funny, femme fatale of a horror movie.

I have no doubts whatsoever that it will be an absolute corker – Kitty’s one of those diligent and quietly ambitious people who throws herself wholeheartedly into her projects: in order to get this one off the ground she’s launched an online funding campaign to raise the money to get her movie made.

Kitty’s already written and published a beautiful children’s book and has a knack of actually doing things instead of just talking about them.

So, what’s Boobs in Blood all about, then? It’s set in an abandoned lunatic asylum, where a motley gaggle of geeks, goths, gays and accountants (!) find themselves trapped at the mercy of dark forces, in a narrative which actively sets out to challenge the traditional archetypes expected of the horror genre. As Kitty explains in her funding pitch,

“The film started out as a joke between friends, a response to yet another horror movie poster that featured a virginal brunette in her pants, being coyly lurid, my friend and I said “they should call it Boobs in Blood, it would be more honest”. We then started to list all the things that irritated us about modern horror; the torture porn, the weak female characters, the absence of positive LGBT characters or even anyone alternative, the lack of heart and wit.”

And,

“This film won’t be about hypersexualised teenagers running and shrieking, but rather about a diverse group of individuals battling against almost impossible odds, the little people versus the big bad. A parable for modern times.”

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Kitty’s pulled together a team of film-making talent who are all giving their services for free, drawing from members of SkillSet Cymru, the Royal Welsh college of Music and Drama, and Disabled Arts Cymru.

I’m incredibly excited about this: I’ve got a friend who makes movies! In fact I’m thinking hard about what skills I can offer to get involved. Maybe I could make tea or hold people’s jumpers or something.

I’ve already made my donation, because really, in these times of drastic cuts to public arts funding, that’s the least I can do, and I’ll carry on pimping Boobs in Blood right here, because in a world where too many trashy formulaic films get green-lighted by the studios, an independent, genre-challenging and female-fronted (no pun on the boobs intended, honest!) movie feels like a good cause to champion.

LINKS

Kitty Moran on Twitter

Boobs in Blood website

Boobs in Blood Facebook Group

Boobs in Blood – Crowdfunder

A Conundrum

 

Sometimes it feels like all I do is moan about not having sufficient time to do all  the things I want to do, but when I do have the time I struggle to work out what it was I wanted to do.

I’m trying to keep mindful about this, to observe the frustration and the boredom and the indecisiveness and just be with it for a while, but it’s not easy. I am so much more organised now than I’ve been in a long while, but I don’t especially feel like I have anything that important in my schedule to organise. I have a natty Filofax and stacks of index cards (which are my default to-do list receptacles) but all my ideas and creativity seem to have flown out of the window.

I was in a grump this morning, about all of the above and a few more things, I’m sure. I did fifty-five minutes of Wii Fit Plus which certainly helped -and eased the horrid sluggishness that has been increasing exponentially with the hip and back pain – but the grumpiness is still hovering like a carrion crow in my peripheral vision, ready to dice down and peck at me.

Tomorrow is another day: this mood can’t last for ever.

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