Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Remembrance

Gone but not forgotten. Loved always.

Cyril Edward Parker (4th January 1923 – 31st August 2016)

Grief is an odd emotion. Most of the time you carry on, you do the day-to-day, and you think, ‘It’s Ok, I’m getting along fine’ and then someone will say something, you’ll see something or even smell something, and all of a sudden you are gasping for air as the weight of grief crushes you. Happiness is weightless, but grief has the stature of giants. We are here today to celebrate the fact that the enormity of that grief is a measure of the privilege we feel for having had Cyril Edward Parker in our lives. 

‘Sometimes it’s the smallest things that take up the most room in your heart’ because it’s the small things that we remember. The knots at the four corners of the handkerchief that grandad wore on his head on the beach; the fact that I have never seen him paddle in a pair of shorts, when simply rolling up his trousers would do; tuc biscuits and shandy at the caravan; and of course the most expensive pair of wellies in the world – at 50 pence a week to my nan’s catalogue for about 30 years.

I didn’t want to speak to you today about death. I am not going to tell you that my grandad is in the wind that brushes past my face, or in the raindrops that fall. He is no more there, than he is in the coffin beside me. He is somewhere else now; he is young and free of pain and happy. What is left here are our memories of him, what he left here for us. I can see him every time I look at my daughter’s hands – I can see my grandad’s long tapering fingers and I am reminded of him. I am reminded of his dry humour, of the legacy he left all of us as a brave soldier who fought for our freedom. I am reminded of his selective hearing when my nan calls ‘Eddie, Eddie!’

So today I am going to speak to you about love. As the nation’s favourite bear once said ‘If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever’. It’s only love that matters, it’s only love that lasts, and Grandad was loved. To have the love of a beautiful woman for almost 70 years is a testament to the man that my grandad was, and my nan’s love lives on. As does ours for him. So, I want to celebrate that love today by reading a poem not about death or loss but about the enigma that is love. This is one of the most mystifying and beautiful poems, and perhaps it goes some way to describing almost 70 years of love.  

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Irene Maud Parker (26th December 1926 - 17th May 2017)

How do you tell a life? Like a Rashamon effect, each of us has a different story to tell of Irene Parker, a different viewpoint from which to tell it: mother, aunt, friend, sister, neighbour. I can only tell you mine: grandmother. A woman married for 70 years to the same man, a woman who shares her birth year with the Queen, who made the best cakes I’ve ever eaten, the thickest gravy I’ve ever seen – who could knit you just about anything. Kindness, cuddles, love – oh and tuc biscuits and shandy at the caravan. So, let’s not mourn her passing, but celebrate her life, and allow her to live through our, very different, memories of her.

In a letter to her friend, Lady Ottoline Morrell, in October 1918 Katherine Mansfield wrote:
Oh, my dearest woman friend – how vivid you are to me – how I love the thought of you; you cannot know. And it is such a “comfort” to feel that we are in the same world – not in this one. What has one to do with this one?

There is always the reassurance that this world is merely a stopover, a transitory series of moments lived and remembered; ‘I am the resurrection and the Life’ sayeth Jesus Christ. And so, we still occupy the same world as Nanny, just with a slightly different viewpoint.

In his Parable on Immortality, Henry Van Dyke describes this viewpoint:

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty and strength.  I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There she goes.”
Gone where?  Gone from my sight…that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her.  And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes”, there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
So, as we see Irene drift away from us and say ‘there she goes’, grandad sees her drifting towards him and says ‘here she comes’. We just see her from a slightly different viewpoint. Gone from our sight, but living on in us: loved and remembered.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Working Mum

“…and at the top of the fishnet stockings, I’m wearing a lacy black garter with a red bow.”
“And what else…?”
“Only a tiny, black, negligee. It’s so hot in here; I may have to take it off. My breasts are hot and sweaty…”
“Describe your breasts to me…”
Audrey leant forward over the ironing board, reached for another pair of school shorts from the pile of creased clothes. Cradling the phone on her shoulder, she continued the conversation. Sarah was right, this chatline business was easy and lucrative. Her husband didn’t need to know. It wasn’t wrong. Just talking, right?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Pain Barriers

‘Pain is your friend, darling. Breathe’.

The contractions were every two minutes. Claire was exhausted.

‘I want an epidural!’

‘Remember we discussed this. Breathe through the pain darling’.

‘Ahhhhh!’ Another contraction bit her.

‘You’re doing really well, Claire’, the midwife reassured her. ‘We’re almost there. On the next one, I want you to push.’

‘That’s it darling. No pain, no gain.’

Claire turned to her husband, raised her fist and hit him square on the nose. He yelled out in pain, blood gushing from his face.

‘Just breathe through it darling!’ Claire turned to the midwife, gripped the bedrail and pushed. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Contemplation of Keys to the Past

We are having decorators in this week, so this has involved a fair amount of packing away of things and a bit of sorting out. On the inside of one of the kitchen cupboards there are a lot of keys. House keys, car keys, suitcase keys, many of which we look at in dismay, desperately trying to remember what they unlock.

Keys tell a history, don't they? When you look at those keys, and try to remember which particular door or cupboard they are married to, what memories do they evoke? Keys can keep secrets like the bridge in France, littered with padlocks to lock away secrets for generations of people who traverse the walkway. I often wonder what people do with the key afterwards? Do they throw it into the river, or, frightened of the consequences of that, that final desperate letting go, perhaps they put it in a box or safe somewhere, locked, paradoxically, with another key. Does the effort of placing the lock on the bridge expunge the memory locked in the compartments of the mind? Does the keeping of the key (or indeed the disposal of it) help cathartically? We can't forcibly forget something, despite Freud's best work on the unconscious - repression is, well, unconscious. You can't choose to repress something. Because the conscious attempt at repression simply recalls the memory.

Keys remind us of our past. They place us, not just temporally, but also spatially in the past. Keys remind us not just of times we have been, but places we have inhabited. To own the key is to own a small piece of that past: to place something in a location in the corridors of the mind. Looking through the keys in the cupboard I recall the first time I placed the key in the lock, to open a new part of my life. Keys, then, signal the past but when we first take ownership of them, they signal the future. Each one of those keys in the cupboard was a move forward: and in their very existence now they hold that memory for me. Where was I going, what excitement did I feel?

The keys are tarnished and scratched; evidence of life lived. We carry keys with us where we go. They experience life with us, recording and remembering, so each one of those scratches, the veneer that is tarnished, means that I experienced life. The key records, in each of those impairments, a step forward in my life.

Would that I could hold, now, the keys of the future. In the future, I will hold the keys I carry with me now and I will wonder what they were for: what areas of my life did they unlock - for good or bad. But as long as I keep moving forward, taking the new keys and allowing them to open new realities, struggles or enlightenment, I am living.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

On a school night?

Dear Member,

Thank you for becoming a member of the 'no wine in the week' society. This contract outlines your obligations as regards no alcohol on a school night, notwithstanding subsections 4 through 9: exemptions for bank holidays, or other religious holidays, noting that members do not have to be active participants of a religious society, doctrine or organisation in order to participate in religious exemptions. This amounts to approximately 143 days per year.

I would like to draw your attention to the following further exemptions which, notwithstanding current stocks of alcoholic beverages, allow for some indulgence on the below mentioned occasions:

1. Homework: in the instruction, assistance with or carrying out of homework with or on behalf of children, one may partake of alcohol;
2. Teenage angst: anyone with children between the ages of 13 and 43 may partake of alcohol on a school night (week night for those with children over 18) for reasons of having to deal with teenage angst. One should remember on all occasions that anything that is going wrong in your teenager's life, IS your fault;
3. Teenage Monstrousness: regardless of exemption number 2, exemptions are also incurred for teenagers with challenging behaviour. This includes mood swings, contrariness, shouting, slamming of doors, de-friending you on Facebook and so on. The amount of alcohol allowed can be increased exponentially with the number of times you say 'black' and the child responds with 'white' or, indeed, 'whatever'.
4. Medicinal Uses: Any alcohol required for medicinal purposes is also permitted. This clause can be invoked for pretty much any reason you like.
5. Husbands: It is recognised that pressures on wives are exerted by husbands being, well let's face it, completely useless, and women may take advantage of this exemption clause, rather than stabbing said husband with something sharp.
6. Morons: It is equally recognised that, for the most part, we are surrounded by morons and alcohol may be partaken of if members have had to deal with moronic behaviour at least twice in a single day.
7. Parents: Despite some members having moved 3000 miles away from parents (elderly or otherwise) it is acknowledged that family issues, gossip, problems, and general annoying behaviour can cross time and space, and this clause allows for that.
8. Finally, and without prejudice to any other exemption clause contained herein, members may engage in alcoholic beverages on a school night if they can think of a reason to, or indeed, even if they can't.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you once again for becoming a member of our society. Cheers!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


I have always liked the word Paradoxical - mainly because it's quite difficult to explain what it means but you nevertheless know what it means. Do you know what I mean?

Anyway, I am having a bit of a paradoxical time at the moment. It goes a bit like this: new medication comes along. For most people it is all singing and all dancing, no side effects, no relapses, going to make your life wonderful, medication. And guess what, it comes in tablet form. One pill a day and that's it. Fantastic.

Well, fantastic until you have the first set of blood tests and your neurologist suggests that you are either (a) a vampire or (b) already dead. Hmm. So, I plead with him to let me stay on panacea-type medication. He reluctantly agrees for a further two weeks because the alternatives are not so all-singing-and-all-dancing. In the meantime, I do that very dangerous thing: research on the inter-web (as my mum in law refers to it).

Research into medical matters on the inter-web is not for the faint-hearted. Within two hours I was convinced that I had dengue fever, chagas disease, leprosy and the plague. The research on said new medication however, was suspiciously elusive. I directed myself to that paragon of all human interaction: Facebook, and joined a group. Therein lay the answers to all of my queries.

So today I see my GP for a minor complaint which she concludes is stress related. Juggling too many balls in the air, she suggests. It quickly dawns on me (cos I'm smart like that) that the most stressful thing in my life is not my job, my kids, my PhD - it's my neurologist and the not so all-singing-all-dancing medication. Paradoxical: the thing that is supposed to make me feel good, is in fact the one thing in my life that I am stressing about. So, what's a girl to do? There's no alternative but to make a list of things to avoid the stress (admit it, you knew there was going to be a list) My GP suggests less coffee, sleeping, eating, that kind of thing. But oh, no. That won't do. So, here's the grown up woman's guide to avoiding stress:

1. Stab the neurologist with something sharp.

2. Give as many people as you can, the finger on the SZR and see how long it takes the police to arrest you (this is based on the hypothesis that it isn't in fact illegal to make hand gestures but is merely frowned upon). There's nothing like a night in Dubai Jail to smooth away all thoughts of anything else stressful in your life.

3. Avoid looking at the photographs that your best friend took at the Christmas party last week.

4. Arrange a further Christmas party (you might be able to remember this one)

5. Respond to the emails asking you if you would like to enlarge your 'member' just to see what they can offer (women only on this one please). The possibilities are endless.

6. Go into Gap and unfold all the carefully folded jumpers telling the assistants that you are looking for a size -1

7. Just for a laugh, spend the day trying to get something done in immigration - if you are really stressing about something in your life do this on a Thursday - all other stresses pale into insignificance once you have to contend with immigration.

8. Decide from now on to cook only things that require 1 tablespoon of wine. Be inventive: beans on toast au vin, sausages poached in wine with egg and chips,red lentil and sauvignon blanc soup, you get the picture. Once a bottle is opened it must be drunk or it goes off (which is a waste of money, which causes you stress, so you need to drink it).

9. Log in to Ebay and look in the miscellaneous-other section. Weird isn't even close. This will make you realise that no matter how stressful your life is, there are people out there suffering far more than you (and they are prepared to pay for it).

10. Finally, write stupid blog entry, include list that you can only think of 9 things when your OCD decrees that it should be 10, and then just add stupid statement on the bottom...

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Week from hell...

This week has been the week from hell. No, really, the worst so far this year (yes, I know it's only March). It has been a week of unprecedented disasters.

This is how the week was supposed to look:

Sunday: Meeting with PhD supervisors during which I would convey my erudite and original ideas for my research proposal whilst cultivating a friendly and mutually respectful exchange.
Monday: Parents evening at secondary school. Teachers would confirm our choices for GCSE options, assuring us of our educated and well informed decisions.
Tuesday: Reading group. Lovely evening with a few friends to raise and discuss profound questions about last month's book.
Wednesday: Highlight of the week: visit arranged by me, to my place of work, of eminent British Detective fiction writer (who shall remain nameless but who writes a very famous series of novels featuring a detective in Scotland). Director would be impressed with my organisational skills and bask in the kudos of opportunity to meet such a famous and charming author. This is followed by 1 hour meeting at secondary school to discuss forthcoming trip to Tanzania for No 1 child to iron out any small wrinkles.
Thursday: Visit to local Dr of dermatology for removal of two moles - a small procedure one has undergone before - relatively painless and minor. This is followed by girls night in at BFF's house - wine flowing, food delicious, riotous company.

This is how the week actually went:

Sunday: Soul destroying meeting with PhD supervisors in which I manage to convey not only my utter incompetence but also my general demeanour of sheer panic.
Monday: Parents evening resembles a rugby scrum in which 5 minute appointments are allocated for 10 minute chats and everyone is behind by 30 minutes into the sequence. Teachers all assured in the belief that THEIR subject is the most important and suitable for No 1 child. Leave totally unsure of GCSE option choices.
Tuesday: Reading group meeting. Most people hate the book. We discuss it for 5 minutes and spend the other 175 minutes drinking wine and laughing raucously. Stagger home and await the arrival of the hangover that will pervade the VERY IMPORTANT DAY tomorrow.
Wednesday: Up at the crack of dawn and into work at stupid o'clock. Driver takes me to hotel to collect eminent author. Arrive at hotel 45 minutes early. Have lovely cup of coffee in lounge. Wait in lobby for eminent author with lovely lady from Literature Festival who is accompanying him. He doesn't show. I panic. I have the Vice Chancellor, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, the Director and about 60 other people awaiting eminent author back at GCHQ. It transpires that eminent author has been given wrong schedule and is currently in the elevator with his wife at the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. I manage to convince festival organisers to allow me to fetch eminent author. Driver takes us to largest mall in the world and I walk the length of it, in three inch heels, to collect eminent author who is understandably, somewhat flummoxed. Wait 15 minutes for driver to find us on other side of world's biggest mall. Arrive at place of work 45 minutes late, stressed out and mortified in embarrassment.  Talk by author absolutely hilarious and worth the wait.
Death by meeting to discuss Tanzania trip simply goes over previous information sent by email; my mobile phone goes off just as they are explaining that pupils cannot take their mobile phones on the trip. I apologise profusely and die of embarrassment for the second time today. My humiliation is complete.
Thursday: Procedure to remove moles agonisingly painful. It transpires that as moles are on back, I now cannot bend. So dressing, particularly putting on one's shoes or knickers becomes a triumph of ingenuity and yoga style stretching without bending. Cannot move without pain from barbed wire type stiches in back.
Arrive home to find cat very ill. Rush to vets. He has temperature of 40 degrees and bowel obstruction. Vet keeps him for x ray and telephones to inform me that charges will amount to the cost of a small car.
Girls night in: masterful triumph from most excellent hostess who plys me with much needed alcohol.

What are friends for.