I am not one of life's planners – not at all. I plan my life about ...well, let's see...maybe 3 months in advance (or at most 6 months in advance for holidays and such like). If I have a plan at all it's a very loose one (so loose it falls to pieces quite regularly) and I've always been like this ever since childhood. Other people think I am organised and focussed and what-not but it's all a lovely illusion - I am really very drifty. For example I was not one of those children who planned what I would be when I grew up (do children ever do that? I'm not sure). I might have thought (or hoped) it would be something to do with writing...maybe...but nothing clearer than that. Likewise I never (not once!) planned a wedding day as I'm told some girls do (and I'm still avoiding that whole business quite effectively). Above all I never, ever, ever planned having a child or children. I never thought about names or how he/she/they might look or what kind of holidays we might have. Because of this Small Girl's arrival was a very, very unlaid plan. I decided at about 33 years of age that...well...you know... maybe we could try after all (my Beloved being a fine, upstanding individual and all that – it seemed a waste not to even try) and then POW, as if by magic..there she was! Our baby! It was one huge shock to the system. For quite a long time I kept expecting Social Services to turn up – the whole thing being so obviously a huge mistake...me in charge of a baby? No way!
Partly because of this lack of any planning whatsoever motherhood has been mostly a series of quite terrifying surprises for me. I really had no idea what I was getting into. The horror of worrying, the tedium of Mums' activities, the never getting to skive off (not what I would call skive...you may not be with them but the worry... that never sleeps) – all this has been like a series of mind blows. I will get through it (most likely) but my goodness... it's a job and a half - it makes me tired just thinking about it. And that's just one very sweet, mostly healthy little bundle of love. I'm a wimp I know but I have never pretended to be anything else to be fair.
One of the many things I was not prepared for was how you have to kind of relive your own childhood when you are looking after a small person. The songs, the stories, the arguments at school, the impossible decisions...all those things you have experienced yourself and then left behind...there they all are to be endured all over again (this time by proxy). Avoiding the heavier subjects this time I would like to mention some of the music and books that I have been reacquainted with over the past few years. Let's start in Sweden...
Now I quite liked ABBA when I was nine/ten years old but I never expected to have to listen to them again once I had moved on to other, better music (nobody tell that white water rafting ABBA fan...he'll be round here to beat me with his paddles...) and yet here I am in the year of 'Mamma Mia' (the film), once more listening to 'Take a chance, take a chance' and bloody 'Fernando'. I mean, come on...all the music in the world and here I am with 'Voulez vous, ah ha'! It's just too bizarre. I know I could refuse to have anything to do with the whole fiasco but then that wouldn't help Small Girl in the fitting-in-at-school business (not her strong point at the best of times). So I watch the film. I listen to the songs (though I draw the line at Pierce Brosnan's singing – we got the ABBA CD not the film soundtrack). However you play it, it is the cruellest déjà vu.
And then the other day it was 'Grease'. Small Girl had borrowed the DVD from a friend and as the story is mainly about sex and she is only eight I knew I would have to sit in for explanations and interrogations ('why does she think she is pregnant?' 'what kind of reputation?' 'is he trying to touch her boobies?'). Watching 'Grease' again 30 years on was just too weird for words. I still knew all the lyrics for a start...quite unnerving and depressing...it's no wonder I don't know much of substance...look how full my memory is with all this twaddle. Mostly I never expected (or wanted) to see it again because it feels like my childhood not hers (hers is 'High School Musical' – she can have her own twaddle). After all I still remember queuing to see 'Grease' in somewhere like Darlington when it first came out (or when it got to Darlington – probably about a year after its initial release). I remember LOVING John Travolta for about 10 minutes (we all did...it was a holiday romance...it didn't mean anything). I remember seeing 'You're the one that I want' on 'Top of the Pops' for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was all very exciting...but then (here's the important bit) I moved on. I never expected to have to watch the damn thing again! I especially didn't expect to watch it again and answer five hundred questions about sex and car maintenance at the same time. Also I am not one of these people who loves nostalgia...I like to move on...to new music...to new old music...and I really don't want to have to hear Travolta stranded at the drive-in again..especially now I'm old enough to realise how ridiculous he looks as a 'teenager'. He and the rest of the leads are so obviously middle-aged that the high school prom looks more like a fairly sad high school reunion. They look like parents! It's kind of sick...
It's the same with books. I read Small Girl a lot of bedtime stories and this week she chose Enid Blyton's 'First Term at Malory Towers' (one of the girls' boarding school books, published 1946). Now I was CRAZY about the Malory Towers books when I was eight or nine so I was quite keen to oblige...and then we started. It is so unsettling rereading these books and realising quite how cringemaking some of them are. It's amusing but that doesn't stop it still being a little awkward. At Malory Towers anyone who cries is a baby, anyone who misses their family is simply not sensible and anyone who breaks a rule is...well, a revolutionary to be shot at dawn before breakfast and prayers. Oh and the Scottish girl is careful with money! How could I ever have liked these books? Was I completely stupid? No, just young and...well, yes, more stupid than I thought at the time, obviously. Small Girl is loving 'First Term' I should point out...some of the girls are 'beastly' (see previous 'Brideshead' post) and do horrible things (she loves that!). Some of them even slap each other in rage...very exciting...in fiction anyway.
Thankfully there are other happier revisiting experiences for me too. Not long ago I read both Dodie Smith's dalmatian books ('The Hundred and One Dalmatians' and 'The Starlight Barking') to Small Girl at bedtime and unlike the Blyton they were a joy to rediscover. This time I didn't have to laugh at my younger self for my junior tastes as I still really enjoyed them both – especially the less well-known sequel 'The Starlight Barking' that had been one of my very favourite childhood reads. I still loved the idea of a day when only the dogs wake up and Small Girl, of course, was thrilled (what with her Magical Kingdom of Dogs fantasy and all). Most interesting of all was the realisation that I have somehow turned into the character of Missus (the main bitch, Pongo's 'wife', nothing to do with hiphop). If you have only seen the films you will be confused by now as they changed the female lead dog's name to Perdita in the films whereas Perdita is more a minor character in the books. Still, it's true, I am Missus – quite nervous, a bit fussy, fairly vague, easily confused by real life but then, to everyone's surprise (especially her own), sometimes a source of wisdom. I haven't got quite so many offspring as Missus but I'm more maternal than I expected too – not very good at the driving to appointments but really not bad at the emotional stuff (so far). I can't tell you how strange it is to realise that you have grown up to be a Dalmatian bitch (strange but at the same time not completely unpleasant). It could have been worse - I could have turned into Cruella de Vil...
Other reread books we have enjoyed together include my favourite of all time 'Ballet Shoes' by Noel Streatfeild (I've always loved big houses full of a crazy mix of people - I live in one right now) and 'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M.Montgomery (that Anne – so feisty!). Small Girl in particular liked 'Heidi' by Johanna Spyri (she went wild for the idea of sleeping in hay) and I really loved getting back to 'The Railway Children' by E. Nesbit. I suppose 'The Railway Children' was an obvious one for me to connect with as a child (the disappearing father etc.) but one of my favourite bits concerned the mother. and how she coped while Father was off in prison, terrible people being beastly to him, being accused of treason and so on. I always loved it when 'Mother' sold a story to a magazine and there were 'buns for tea'. I know..it's so English and of course they were hardly destitute – they were posh folks down on their luck, not really poor people – but still I loved it. There was something about the link between food and writing that appealed to me then and that still appeals to me now. I don't make heaps of money out of writing at the moment and we can't rely on it by any means but I do make some money (books sell, I get paid to read and, most unbelievably, to sing sometimes) and when I do there is nothing I like more than spending it on food - the tastier and more comforting the better. 'Poetry money' I say to my Beloved as I spend it, a big grin on my silly face, on Chinese takeaways, on a trip to the supermarket or just, quite simply and most beautifully, on buns.
So, with that in mind here's a picture of Verona and I earning hard cash at Brechin Arts Festival the other day. I don't put photos on here much...I'm lazy that way...but as I said before we did a show last week with poet Raymond Vettese, singer and writer James Penny and musician and singer Andy Davis. We're fairly tiny on this photo...who knows maybe we really are this small (thanks to Susan Storrier for the pic). It was a great evening and I read poems, Verona and I sang, the audience was lovely and I sold another stack of books. There was poetry money and all was well with the world for a couple of hours. Now, anyone for buns?
2 hours ago