[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.

My little corner of the world

I wrote a little about my study when I was responding to the #reverb10 prompt about appreciation. I took a few photos but only used one of them. I was just looking at them and realised I need to reflect a little more about the place I come to write – not that it’s the only place I write, I have notebooks with me all the time, and love writing at the beach, and even more so on train journeys – but this is my little corner of the world where I know people will give me some space if I’m writing; it’s the place where my favourite postcards – some of which have been with me for over ten years – hang above my desk, and the shelves my dad made for me are heaving with my accumulated treasures.


I should start with my desk. Leo made it for me out of timber left over when we she converted my son’s high sleeper into a cabin bed. It’s the perfect height for me, although I need a new chair. At the moment I’m using one of those weird ergonomic stools that you kneel on. My back loves it but my knees disagree.

As you can see, I share the desk with my dwarf Chinese hamster, Ming. He’s an amputee who lost a toe early in life, but it doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

There’s a lot of stuff crammed into that little corner, a lot of memories; the wig was part of my infamous marionette Hallowe’en costume a few years ago, and the veil you can just see the edges of is attached to one of the mini top hats I made for my Punk Moulin Rouge-themed birthday even longer ago than that.

Lots of Elvis tat, because I love it. I love it so much I submitted a whole portfolio inspired by Elvis tat and its cultural impact as part of my Creative Writing MA. There’s a huge pile of notebooks on the middle shelf. My filing system is based more on archaeological principles than anything more logical – the deeper down you dig the older the stuff usually is. It works for me. (And if you fancy the idea of organising your documents more organically, the Noguchi system is a good place to start).

I found the Mexican puppets in a charity shop. I really do need to make a film with them, because the little man looks very cute when he’s strumming his guitar.

Lady Di’s there because… well, because she’s Lady Di. We have the Queen in the kitchen, on the fridge (stuck on with Elvis magnets, of course).

Flying heart fairy lights and Jesus on my desktop surrounded by tacky silk flowers. These are the things that make me feel like I’m home – the things that sustain me.

The doll on the top shelf, the one on the right-hand side in the orange dress has been with me since I was a very little girl. I’ve got it into my head that someone brought her back from America for me way back in the days when not many  people travelled out of the UK, let alone as far as the US. I need to ask my mother if that’s true.

Anyway, she talks. Well, more to the point, she kind of wails and complains a lot. You pull her head away from her body which then returns neck-wards up the cord that connects the two. Meanwhile she screams, ‘My feet are moving CLOSER!’ and ‘Here comes my BO-DY!’ and my favourite (mostly because she very, very rarely says it), ‘I’m falling apart: UH-UH!’


The flash has obliterated the photo on the shelf below. Here’s a better shot of it, nestled as it is in front of some literary theory text books.

That’s my mum, aged about three, with my Nan, who’s in her late eighties now, so it must have been taken in the 1940s. I love their hair, and their dresses, and the way it seems like they’re staring right out at me. That’s my son next to them, when he was a lot younger.

The green bird on the pink and black base makes a tweeting sound when you wiggle the stick up and down. It’s a bit subdued now, because there’s a slight crack in the base. I can remember playing with this at one of my great aunties’ houses when I was very little. They both had budgies, and I think this hung in one of the bird cages, but I could be wrong.

So many little treasures, all of which have a special meaning for me; presents from dear friends, mementoes of those no longer with me, irreplaceable things my son made at primary school: things that make me feel loved, and whole and, most importantly, inspired.

Reverb 10 – Dec 31 – Core Story

What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

(Author: Molly O’Neill)

Heart, South Beach, Aberystwyth - Dec 2010

Gosh. My last #reverb10 post.

I started something, and then I finished it

And in between those two important achievements I put in a fair bit of work. It was hard, sometimes, fitting in posting around preparing for Christmas and doing a job which has a tendency to sap both my mental and physical energy, but I chose to keep going, because I believed in the project – and crucially, I enjoyed it.

I’ve just spent some time quietly reading back through every post I made, marvelling at the way my posts developed. I began to find places where I could use photos that I’ve taken over the past year: photos that sat seemingly forgotten on my hard drive were given a new lease of life through being shared with you.

My writing has loosened up and become tighter at the same time – does that make sense?

Taking part in reverb10  led me in new and unexpected directions: now I’m reading about the intersection between productivity and creativity and communication and having flashes of inspiration about how these ideas could be applied to my day job to improve the quality of patient care. The more I stimulate my mind, the more it works in exciting and surprising ways; I’m one of the Ideas People again.

One of the things I love about writing is that however measured and deliberate you are, every single word also exists in the much larger context of everything else you’ve written. Reading back through the larger whole – as I have done with my #reverb10 posts – has thrown up some interesting patterns that I wasn’t aware of when I wrote them. I’ve made some connections which seem blatant in hindsight but to which I was oblivious at the times.

It struck me how often I’ve written about being blessed with wonderful family and friends.

From the nucleus of myself, Leo and my son, to my extended family, and my friends – who I like to think of as my ‘chosen family’ –  it’s been the people who have made this year worthwhile. I used to think that having too many friends or a large and bustling family would be overwhelming – too demanding and too much pressure on my time. I’ve changed my mind. I want lots of people in my life – loads of them, in fact! – what I have to give I have in abundance and there’s enough to share with everyone.

This last year has been one of looking at what worked in my life, and what didn’t. And then working out how to make things better. I decided I didn’t want to be an angry person any more.

I worked out that trying to be in control – and inevitably failing, because being in control of everything ever is simply not possible, no matter how much time and energy you devote to trying- was at the root of a lot of the generalised, but exhausting, day-to-day crossness and niggledness I was feeling. This was a massive revelation!

But, you know, allowing events to take their own course, letting situations develop in their own organic way is OK. Nothing got broken and nobody died, and the time and energy saved allowed me to step back a little, to find moments of  stillness where there was no need for frantic mental chatter. When things got hairy, I knew that my instincts – which I’d allowed to flourish – would guide me safely.

It’s been a funny old year. Micro-analysis suggests I had more than my fair share of challenges to deal with, and yet the resounding memories are of learning and growing and feeling proud of myself for getting through them. I don’t always believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger –   it might not destroy you but it can still leave you feeling battered, broken and sorely disillusioned – but I feel curiously self-contained and capable right now.

I’m moving into the New Year with a feeling of purpose and direction

Note that I said ‘a feeling’ there – I’m not entirely sure what my purpose is or which direction it’s taking me in; I have some ideas – and one of my resolutions is to make sure I start capturing all these ideas – but I’m excited, you know?

The possibilities are endless, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

Reverb10 – Dec 30 – Gift

This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?

(Author: Holly Root)

My iPod. In its new pink skin.

Tempting as it is to spend another post waxing lyrical about my wonderful family and friends – because having special people in my life is the gift that just keeps on giving – when it comes to stuff, the best gift I’ve received this year was my iPod Touch, which Leo bought for me in the spring.

It’s meant I can take oodles of music wherever I go, and when I’ve heard something on the radio that I’ve liked, iTunes has let me buy it before I forget what it is.

Being able to check my emails –  and the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter updates –  anywhere in the house has brought me back to the bosom of my family rather than being squirrelled away in my study.

Having weather updates, a spirit level, and a planetarium in my pocket has been really useful – I actually used the iHandy Level app to put up some shelves. Angry Birds, DoodleJump and Words with Friends have kept me amused – sadly the virtual aquarium was less riveting and Leo has frequently chastised me for letting my fish die. Again.

Up until a few weeks ago, I’d never really got into podcasts, but on a whim a few weeks ago I searched for some relaxation/ meditation ones and the choice overwhelmed me . Some of them, it has to be said, are less wonderful – the man with a voice like a robot who sounded like he’s recorded his podcast in a very echoey public toilet is my favourite for all the wrong reasons, as is the lady who obviously kept dropping things while she was recording. I’ve been saying for a while I should record my own: I think I’ll add that to next year’s to-do list.

So yes, the iPod wins, but honourable mentions do need to go to my Pandora bracelet – complete with one-of-a-kind mammoth charm; the Vivienne Westwood skull and crossbones earrings my best friend bought me for my birthday; the set of photos that my son took of me for an art project; My Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chair from my parents, and last, but definitely not least the Fame lip balm which is the only one which never dries out my lips.

And if that list makes you think that I’m horribly spoilt, well you’re right. But in my defence it was my fortieth birthday earlier on in the year, and all those lovely people whose presence in my life is such a treat really did spoil me rotten, I know that. I just hope that in the next year, and the year after that, and all the ones that follow, I’ll carry on being deserving of such thoughtfulness and generosity.

Reverb10 – Dec 25 – Photo

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

(Author: Tracey Clark)

My son took this photo while we were eating at Wagamama, just off Leicester Square. We’d been in London for a few hours and were on our way to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the theatre. I’d been promising to take him to Wagamama for ages, and he wasn’t disappointed.

We had four days of proper quality time together in London, doing whatever he chose, as his eighteenth birthday treat. It was both exhausting and exhilarating.

I don’t know how he manages it, but usually when he takes photos of me, I look absolutely dreadful. This one, though, is lovely – and also proof that you can totally mix leopard-print with tartan.

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