Things You Pick-Up

When possible I like to jot down interesting things I hear as the aim is to give myself an aide-memoir for times like these. My four favourites that I have jotted into Evernote recently are:

  • Mental furniture
  • Running away from yourself
  • Dinner party invitees
  • Getting in references dictated by others

This isn’t really a post designed to weave a clever narrative through these idea but rather to expand on them a bit and explain why I thought they were worthy of record. They made me smile so perhaps they’ll give you a fleeting smirk.

To get an idea of my mental furniture picture an apparently disorganised room with various boxes dotted around it. The boxes are not waiting to be unpacked, quite the opposite. They are where I store various not so great memories. They are still in the room as on occasion I may need to rummage through one, drag out a less than pleasant memory and remind myself what it taught me. Perhaps nothing at the time but now running it through the mental mill might throw up lessons. For me it is important to acknowledge these as they are many and varied. What is life if you can’t learn from your mistakes, or at least understand that you are repeating the same, and the likely outcome? The rest of the clutter is all the stuff I need to run my life on a daily basis. Usually fine and at times stupidly self-inflicted chaos. Generally, I like to hang out in it. You’re welcome to join me there for a chat.

Running away from oneself is a hard concept to explain if you haven’t, or don’t realise that you are doing it. Being a reflective type at times I have looked at what I do, the way I act and the choices I make. Many of the structural decisions I make strike me as just this. The moment to moment interactions with friends and customers are quite different. They are not life shaping choices and I try to enjoy them for what they are. Then you meet a girl, your heart flip-flops and you feel all seventeen, impulsive, irrational and stupid. That’s happened before. The difference with age is that you have better tools (past experiences) to try and weave a credible narrative around the knee-jerk choices that accompany such emotional turmoil. When it passes it is easier to let go, not fun but easier than it was.

Dinner party invitees is just like it sounds and is the well worn concept of who you’d seat next to whom in a room at a dinner party to learn, smile, watch the sparks fly and generally get a kick out of the vibe. I have met many people from all disparate walks of life and classes so have a wide list of choices. The man advocating revolution that I mentioned in the last post was bright, quite nutty to me, but very bright so he made the list. Little does he know that he will be seated between a couple of Tories. Did I mention sparks? There will be at least one policeman who can also help calm people if required. It’s dinner after all.

Radio presenters, police officers, judges, priests, in fact anyone who needs to be heard speaking can play this game. If you sneer at it then you lack creativity and chutzpah, IMO. The trick is to be given a very random word by your contemporaries before speaking. Whether it is broadcasting on Radio 4, interviewing a suspect, passing judgement or giving a sermon the idea is to drop it into the conversation in a way that is not questioned. The fun part is that everyone else chooses. Snozzcumber is a favourite of mine, unless the topic is Dahl.

It would be interesting to know what you think. In the words of the Grauniad, for it is they, Comment Is Free.

Lessons From Mother

I know I can bore. I am also aware of my propensity for repetition and exaggeration. I have many close friends and family who have shared this with me more than once. A close friend who, upon hearing me start a sentence with, “My mother said…” politely suggested I may like to write down the pearls of wisdom and Mum stories as a) people buy cheap trashy books like that and b)they were fed up of hearing me repeat myself. That’s the polite version of being told to STFU.

I tried to be offended but the thought of money from selling  trashy books dampened down the feelings of deep hurt. I had a fleeting “if I won the lottery” moment. Really fleeting. Could have been measured in nano-seconds, in fact. It finished with a mental image of the book in a wire bin alongside the autobiograpy of Wayne Rooney in a discount book store. Oh the shame. Would rather change my name to Michael Gove and tell people I play the piano in a whorehouse than languish beside the Spud Faced Nipper in a bargain bin.

As a complete aside, but hey, wtf: I get the feeling that I merrily split infinitives but have no idea how or what or when. Probably doing it now. Hi ho. Doesn’t bother me as I have no idea I am doing it. If it bothers you, and if you are that way inclined, as I know several of my circle are, I am trying to care. Really though, I just can’t. If I even knew what an infinitive is I’d die a more knowledgeable person. Oh yippee.

Back to the list, but before that I’ll try and give a brief idea of why I have a very weird relationship with my Mum. Though I guess most people feel that. Freud could have devoted a lifetime to it but she probably would have weirded him out in some way and he would have left puzzled and slightly scared. Anyhow, in a previous post I rather dramatically suggested she abducted us (I have a long-suffering brother as well) but apparently she did. She lived in Canada, we lived with our father in the UK after they divorced. He sent us on a summer holiday and she didn’t return us. We had no idea and on reflection she had a v. clear idea as from Day 1 she talked as if he was bored of us and had given us over to her care. We were too young to know or care as we were with our mum, and what kid doesn’t like that? As a teenager I was re-homed back with my father because, “if he doesn’t take you I’ll have you put into care”. Thankfully, he did the decent thing.

Herewith the list:

  • Beating. Mum had/has a firmly held belief that, especially with boys, the shortest route to their brain is usually through their backside. In the spirit of learning (lessons I guess) we were were regularly and enthusiastically beaten whilst growing up. The fact is that the majority of the time I think we deserved it.
  • Fairness. A fond memory is when I witnessed my brother getting his licks. We spent a large amount of time trying to pin the blame for various misdemeanours on one another so I had probably dodged a few bullets and pinned the blame on him. She broke an entire pack of wooden spoons on Chris in a week.  The price of a replacement pack was taken out of his allowance as, “no one should be that naughty”. Oh how I laughed. I think I got a smack for that. Mum was nothing if not a keen sharer when meting out learning.
  • Domesticity. She taught me how to sew, iron, clean and cook though. My brother and I were allowed to make the most foul concoctions in the kitchen. Her view was that we were learning and indeed we were. Both of us are pretty decent cooks now. When I joined the Sea Cadets I was issued a uniform, came home with it and very politely and patiently explained where the creases were to go and just how the badges were to be sewn on. She then marched me to the ironing board, iron and sewing kit. Yup, now I can iron and sew as well.
  • Chores. On Saturdays we were always keen to go and play. Before that we had to do our chores. Mine was cleaning the back bathroom and Chris’ the front. Think of a barracks inspection by a Drill Sergeant and up the intensity by a factor of five. We had to stand whilst our handiwork was scrutinised. She had a real penchant for a clean lavatory and if it didn’t gleam above and below the waterline, then time to start over as it was likely that the rest of the bathroom wasn’t unreasonably shiny and ready to double as a food preparation area. I remember being regularly exhorted to get my hand right in the loo with the Ajax and clean it properly. Happy days. I can clean the loo well now.
  • Equality. “Playing” with Chris once I threw a stone at him as I am sure it was adding to the point I was trying to make. Sensibly, Chris ducked and the stone smashed a plate of glass on the house. Cue Chris looking very pleased at my impending punishment, as would I if the tables were turned, when the scrupulous sharer emerged with fire in her belly to mete out retribution. I was told that I would be docked half the cost of the glass from my allowance and then, get this, Chris was to be docked the other half as, in her view he shouldn’t have ducked and allowed the glass to be broken. Astonished and disbelievingly, Chris very reasonably observed that it was a big rock travelling at high speed and it would have hurt him. He was informed that he should have “taken it like a man”. How I laughed, again.
  • Work ethic. Mum is incredibly hard working and proud. She felt that there was always a job if you were willing to do it. Her mantra was “McDonalds are always hiring”, which is true. When we grew up as a family of four kids and two adults in the late seventies and early eighties things were pretty harsh. My step-dad was a helicopter pilot which was a very seasonal feast and famine sort of thing. He would be away working for three months one moment and laid off the next. I distinctly remember Mum had a job on a mink farm skinning minks. She stood there all-day beside the chap that gave the live mink the good news and was then passed the still warm body to her to skin. In case you didn’t know, minks are some of the smelliest animals going so Mum carried Eau de Mink with her everywhere she went. Didn’t really register the social implications as a kid but mingling with others must have been tough. You couldn’t just shower it off. If you read this Mum then may I offer a humble “Chapeau”.
  • Self-sufficiency. She also ran a pretty impressive veg garden and about 1/8th acre – maybe more – was grown for food for use. To keep the kids semi-interested, as a source of cheap labour we were allowed to grow our own pumpkins with the aim of getting the largets one come the village produce fair. Totally random as to who won the biggest pumpkin competition, but it was ultra-competitive as the pumpkins were marked when young and green,  and by scratching your name on with a nail. As it grew the scar tissue was just an expanding name. V. cool and removed any opportunity to claim another as your choice all along.
  • Hard lessons. I rose v early one morning, and wandered into the garage where the gigantic chest freezers were located, to be confronted by my mother taking some freshly born (sub 30 min) kittens and, one by one, giving them a firm bop on the head. Understandably surprised and a bit of a cat lover, as I had assumed my mother was up to that point, I enquired why she had gone all Hitler on them. She was very cool and replied that there weren’t the resources for them to survive and doing this was a humane precursor to chucking a weighted sack in the river with said kittens in – a traditional unwanted pet disposal method in rural Canada – as it was the decent thing to do. All this was very hard to argue against as she was correct on all counts. It wasn’t nice or pretty but she was absolutely doing the necessary thing despite the unpleasantness of the task.
  • Yobs. Mother used to be quite high up in an operational role in the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC from now on) and worked in high security men’s prisons. Mum is a guest in the UK of our then govt prison big-wig, Martin Nairy, and when not sharing her wisdom at a conference goes to visit some ancient old relative. After apparently being taken on a slo-mo but white knuckle ride, the octogenarian lady proclaims that she can’t park her car in the usual place as there is some boy rollerblading back and forth across the entrance. Despite the pensioner’s protest, Mother disembarks and politely requests the young lad go and skate elsewhere. She is met with a less than polite reply. Next thing said young man is being dangled up against a wall by a 65 year old woman who, in her words, used “prison speak” on him to get her point across. When pressed her for a fuller explanation of prison speak I heard words that I was surprised my mother knew, let alone in context. The encounter ended apparently with an offer to, and I quote, “break both of his fucking legs” if he didn’t go now. All delivered with a big smile. When he objected from a safe distance that he’d tell the police he was met with a snort of derision as she observed that the police are hardly likely to believe that a frail old woman had assaulted and properly scared a burly young lad.

So Chris calls me today to check if my appeal to him, Eric and Nicky is serious. I explained that I didn’t just want stories of crazy – which are entertaining I grant you – but also of lessons and insights. Now in our forties and we still don’t *quite* trust one another…

[This post will carry on as long as Mum doesn’t have me killed by a special ninja squad from CSC]