Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Last Hurrah

In early March, we found ourselves sitting in a consultant’s room in a private fertility clinic.  With my 37th birthday approaching, I needed to understand if there was a reason why Mother Nature had chosen not to bestow another child upon us.

The results of an ultrasound scan and some simple blood tests revealed that there was no medical reason why we hadn’t conceived again.  I had a good ovarian egg reserve, and for a woman of my age, the ultrasound scan showed an excellent number of follicles. It felt a slightly odd experience as they waved at me through the monitor, like anemones floating in a deep, dark sea.  As I looked back at the screen, silently I prayed to them; "One of you must be hiding a good egg in there. Let me have it, please." Nothing but quiet filled the room. I wondered if, by some ethearal or higher force, my message had reached them, or indeed, whether finally, I was just losing the plot.

We left the clinic agreeing that the next course of action we would proceed with in the short term was an HSG (Hysterosalpingogram); a procedure that would be carried out under a local anaesthetic to identify if there were any blockages in my fallopian tubes. 

Even when you’re trying to do something as important as conceive a baby, life sometimes gets in the way. Our already booked holiday and my cycle times, meant the HSG would have to wait until our return. A small part of me welcomed a break from the emotional roller coaster before we started the next part of our journey.  A new halo of hope shone on the horizon, but in the period in between, there was a chance to have one week, where I wouldn’t feel guilty or anxious about what I ate or drank in case I was pregnant;  a week where I could truly relax. My husband understood;  we agreed that the holiday would be our ‘Last Hurrah’.  We’d leave the fertility monitor at home and just enjoy ourselves. And on our return, we’d pick up our journey again, with renewed purpose and positivity.
I so needed that holiday.  The sun, the sea,  the time with my boys.  I felt more relaxed than I’d felt for ages.  Knowing that once we returned we would be taking positive steps towards our goal, and taking control of the situation, made me feel liberated. It was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Once we returned home, I awaited my period, so I could then call the clinic to arrange a date for the HCG.  But it never came.   And last week, at 13 weeks, I finally got to see the lasting legacy of our last hurrah,  bouncing around in black and white on a monitor.  Finally, I can  say those words, and believe it.  I’m pregnant.

Maybe one of those little follicles heard my prayer. Or perhaps, all I needed to do was turn off the fertility monitor and relax instead.  Either way, I feel blessed. x

Friday, 25 May 2012

A Picture Postcard : The Arctic Circle

Dog sledding in the Arctic Circle. 2005.
Over the course of three days we lost ourselves in the wintery magic of the Arctic circle.  Just us, the huskies, our sleds and the snow, we spent our days travelling through pine strewn forests, sometimes hurtling at speed; when the dogs had just fed, sometimes gliding more slowly, as they tired towards the end of the day.   At dusk we stopped at wilderness lodges for the night, and ate hungrily by candlelight, sating the huge appetites created by all the fresh air. Then we slept peacefully in rough hewn bunks made from the wood from the surrounding trees, until our canine friends awoke us with their hungry howls at dawn.

One evening, we made our way out across a frozen lake, and witnessed nature’s wonder, the aurora borealis, swirling in hues of alien green across the dark night sky. It were as if the heavens were playing us a silent tune. Afterwards, we ate reindeer meatballs and smash, cooked on a small outdoor stove, still in awe of the spectacular show we’d seen; as if it had been orchestrated just for us.

This was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had.  We built igloos, fished in frozen lakes, and stayed in the Ice Hotel for the night.  But by far the best part, was our three days in the wilderness sledging with the huskies.  It was an exhilarating, breathtaking experience, I look back and feel so glad I had the sense of adventure and the opportunity to do it.

I’m linking this post up to The Gallery at Sticky Fingers.  This weeks theme is ‘A Picture Postcard’.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Reminiscing : Happy Places

I’m one of those people in life that likes looking back. It’s not that I don’t like looking forward, I enjoy that too, but for me, there’s something I love about taking a trip down memory lane.  Now that I’m at home with Pip, I find this happens more frequently, and in random moments, I like to flick through the back catalogue of life, pull out a memory from the dusty recesses of my mind, and try to bring the colour back from the grey; reminiscing and remembering.  Sometimes on dark or dreary days, I find it gives me comfort.

In a post last week, I wrote how I’d recently crossed the milestone of spending half my life with my husband.  We met when we were eighteen.  It seems a lifetime ago now.  Enough time has passed, that sometimes, my husband will now talk about things in our shared life that have happened (aside from the significant milestones) and I can’t remember a single thing about it. It’s impossible to remember all of the same things over such a vast period of time, (that’s what I tell myself anyway, rather than I might have early onset amnesia).  So, sometimes when I can’t remember, I just have to take his word for it - if he says that’s how it was, then that’s how it was.

I find that from the period we started living together, in our mid twenties, the memories are clearer. Maybe it’s because they’re simply 7 years later, but I think it may be because bricks, and mortar, shared possessions, items chosen and bought together, and overall, the sense of sharing the same space, have made more connections in my mind.

I was reading something recently which asked: Is it good to reminisce?  It was interesting to read people’s comments.  Some argued that looking back stops you moving forward, others that they find it a source of comfort or a help.  I’m definitely in the latter camp.  Happy memories of childhood, of teenage years, of work, of love and life, keep me anchored to who I am.

Recently, I had the opportunity to reminisce with Pip. He’s old enough now to be able to have a decent conversation.  So, one day I shared with him the happy memory of this place.

This was the first flat that my husband and I bought together.  A duplex flat in a church conversion in West London.  Ours was one of only four flats that had a little balcony cut from the eaves in the roof. Oh, how we loved that flat.  When we viewed it as potential buyers, it was a dark cavernous space, stacked with furniture; the owners hoarding problem was so bad you could barely get into the kitchen for chests of drawers and wardrobes.  But, he was emigrating, so he and the furniture had to go.  We looked beyond the clutter and saw a home with real potential we could make our own.

This was the flat where we got engaged, the flat that we came home to after getting married, the flat where as our wedding presents were delivered I whooped with joy like a small child, as polystyrene balls found their way everywhere as I ripped open the boxes.  It was the blank canvas on which we experimented with our novice DIY skills. The place we drank copious amounts of wine, and held dinner parties so late into the night that our friends could barely stand when their taxi arrived.  We made it light, roomy and spacious; here we found room to grow, individually and together.

We had happy, happy times at the flat.  There were many things I loved about it. But, the thing I loved most about it though, was it’s little balcony.  Sliding doors from the kitchen opened out underneath a stone arch, onto a small tiled area just larger than your metaphorical handkerchief.  The balcony overlooked the green trees of the gardens in the quiet road behind, and surrounded by our small window boxes filled with herbs and evergreens, it became a peaceful oasis in the sky.  Come rain or shine we would be out on that balcony. Eating a cooked breakfast, at our small garden table on a February morning, cold enough you could see your breath in the air, or, in the summer sitting playing cards, with a glass of wine or two, on a balmy evening, before tucking into an al fresco meal.

Of course, none of this would mean much to Pip.  But, he’s aware of the place, because three times a week, when I take him to playgroup we drive right past it. 

One day, as we sat directly opposite, in nose to tail traffic, I said:

“ Mummy and Daddy used to live there. It’s where we lived when we got married.”

“You used to live there Mummy, in the church?” (If that seemed weird to him, he didn’t question it.)

“Where was I Mummy?  Did I live there too?”

I should have expected that one. For him there is no concept of life BP (before Pip). As far as he’s concerned he’s always been here. 

“ No darling. You weren’t born then.”

“Where was I then, Mummy? Was I in your tummy?”


“Where was I then Mummy?”

Hmmmm.  Oh dear. What next?  A flash of inspiration;

“ You were just a twinkle in Daddy’s eye.”

He thought about it for a while. And then he smiled, and repeated it to himself. And I could tell just from the little smile on his face, that he liked that.  A lot.

Unsurprisingly, in the mind of a nearly 3 year old, things can get a little twisted.  One thing’s for sure, he seems to have inherited my love of reminiscing.  I can guarantee that each day we drive past our old abode, a little voice will pipe up from the back of the car, to share with me his slightly potted version of our life history.

“Look, Mummy. That’s the place where you and Daddy got married (Not strictly true), and I was the twinkle in Daddy’s eye, and then he put the twinkle in your tummy.  And then I was a baby, and then I came out and said Peekaboo!” (The story then normally ends,  “and then I drank milk from your boobies”. (See this post.)

Every time I hear his little voice regale our life story it makes me smile. Like pieces of patchwork, old fabric next to new,  recent memories interlock with old ones.  Now each time I walk or drive past, I have not just one, but two great reasons why this is, and always will be, one of my happy places. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bosom Buddy

From the first moment I knew I was pregnant with Pip, I knew that I wanted to breast feed him.  I just had instinctive desire to do it; I felt it would heighten the bond between us and I could not wait to have him snuggle close and suckle on me.  Of all the things I worried about in pregnancy, not being able to breastfeed was my greatest fear. I was relatively sanguine about labour, but it was the thought of potentially the breastfeeding not working out that worried me most.   After Pip was born, and we were finally left by ourselves in our room in the birthing centre, we embarked on our breastfeeding journey together.  As a novice new mother, I thought it was all going quite well, until a new midwife came on duty and proceeded to tell me I was doing it ‘all wrong’.  She was a stern, forthright, Swedish missus.  For the next hour, she made it her business to manhandle Pip into all kinds of positions until his attachment was correct.  Frankly if she’d rugby tackled my little man, she couldn’t have been rougher, but then, I was still in awe of his fragility and newness;  holding him with imaginary kid gloves. The hour we spent with the Swedish midwife was not particularly enjoyable. Her brusque bedside manner made me feel woefully inadequate and in my fragile hormonal state I found myself on the verge of tears, but in the end I was truly grateful to her. We left that hospital with the breastfeeding well and truly sorted. 

Breastfeeding Pip was all I hoped it would be.  The closeness I felt to him was wonderful. Those silent, hours in the breast feeding chair in his room, just him and I, were special moments I will remember for the rest of my life. I loved the convenience of it too, breastfeeding in public didn’t bother me, so it appealed to my go anywhere, anytime free spirit.  I found it liberating not to have to sterilise bottles, or have to rush home because I had run out of formula and needed to make up more.

As time went on and Pip approached his first birthday. I found that my feelings started to change.  Pip had started to become a grappler, a bra invader.  If I was holding him, his hand would instantly find it’s way down my top, and inside my bra, twisting my nipple or fondling my breast.  Many a photograph is testament to this. The oxytocin that seemed to help me in the early months, seemed to have waned, and instead I started to feel drained and tired. Pip had never had a bottle or formula, and at 11 months was close to being able to just have cows milk from a cup, so I soldiered on in the last month or so, knowing that the end was nigh and that this chapter would soon come to an end.  He had his last ever breastfeed on his first birthday.

Whilst I could not say he was self- weaned, he did not, in my opinion, seem to miss it.  He did not try to attach himself to my breast with any seriousness, but sometimes in a cheeky way would laugh and try and latch on until I removed myself from his reach.  The grappling and the breast fondling continued however.  We jokingly called him ‘The Groper’. Grandmother’s bras were not considered off limits either, he considered their breasts as game for a good fondling as mine.

At age one, none of this worried me. I saw him seeking out my breast as a form of self soothing comfort after the breastfeeding had finished. I thought that he would simply grow out of it.  But so far, he has not.  He is three next month and still as much of a bra invader as ever.  Sometimes I wonder if this situation has arisen because he was not ready to wean.  Perhaps I forced him into it too early, and this is his way of compensating, he finds it comforting, and a way to be close to Mamma still.

Sometimes his preoccupation with the breast can be amusing.  A little while ago, I asked him to help me bring the milk bottles in from the doorstep.  Examining the bottle of milk, Pip said.” Mummy, open your chest and pour the milk in. Then I can drink it”.  You’ve got to hand it to him for thinking outside the box.  “ No darling” I explained. “ Mummy’s make their own milk. This milk comes from cows. ” (I decided to leave the explanation of the fact that chests can’t ‘just be opened’ for another day.)

On other occasions however, his breast fixation can be embarrassing. At the swimming pool last week, he pulled down my top, exposing my chest for all to see, and announced to the other mothers, “ I’m just going to drink some milk from Mummy’s boobies” and then proceeded to give a remarkably good, but very noisy impression of Mr Frog* sucking milkshake through his straw. (*For those ancient enough to remember Bod.)

In the early morning hours when inevitably he creeps into our bed, a small hand creeps inside my nightshirt.  If I try to turn over, or remove it, he cries.  Thereafter, in those short hours before dawn, a battle commences of hand in / hand out of the nightshirt, but his continued persistence often wears me down and so I give up and let him leave it there, knowing that this is my best chance of him falling back to sleep.  Then I lie awake and wonder if a polo neck nightshirt may be a way of solving the problem.

In the cold light of day, I try to remove his hand instantly from my shirt or bra, and I’ve started to say, ‘No, we don’t do that, boobies are for babies, you’re a big boy now’. This doesn’t seem to have any impact and I’m not even sure if that’s the right thing to say or not. I should say at this point, it’s not that I’m opposed to extended breast feeding or that I have any issues with my body, in fact, I’d consider myself an open, tactile person in that regard, it’s just that for me, personally... I’ve had enough.

When I stopped breastfeeding, I felt I’d done myself proud. We’d made it to the one year threshold, and I gave myself a pat on the back.  Reflecting now, I feel that maybe it was too early, and the resultant breast fixation and continued need to fondle is because Pip wasn’t ready.  I was selfishly imposing my will on him.  Now, I feel guilty that I didn’t carry on for longer.  But most of all, after three years, I feel a little bit desperate.  They’re my breasts and I want them back.

Did you experience an ongoing attachment to the breast, post breastfeeding?  Are there any other mums with gropers or twiddlers out there? How did you encourage them to stop? 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

It’s that time of the week when cheery souls link up together, celebrate the good in their lives and their reasons to be cheerful.

Here are my Reasons to be Cheerful this week:

On Monday, we celebrated a special anniversary.  Monday marked the day I’d been with  my husband half my life.  (I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!)  The actual date wasn’t that easy to work out, but as husband is a whizz with spreadsheets he pinpointed the day exactly.  We made the rare effort of getting a babysitter, went out for dinner and laughed about the fact we’ve now been together so long, we’ve forgotten half the stuff that happened at the start. (Age, tiredness, too much wine...).  Reflecting on it all, (or the bits I can remember) the journey so far has been pretty good.  Who’d have thought one drunken chat up line in a bar all those years ago would have lead us to where we are today?

Husband’s work has been manic in the last few weeks. He’s been working some incredibly long days and it’s really taken it’s toll on all of us. Everyone is tired, and Pip has really missed spending time with his Daddy.  On the upside though, the end is in sight, and even better, as a result of all his efforts, he’s been given a new job; one he really wanted. 

We received some positive news on the schools front this week.  We went to visit the school we are considering for Pip, and there seems a good chance that he will get a place. I felt very proud when the head of the lower school commented on what a well mannered boy he was.  He was very polite and well behaved. I just wish he hadn’t got the headteacher’s name wrong. Pip seemed to think he was called ‘Mr Pecker’ which led to me bursting into a fit of rather childish giggles that I then couldn’t stifle.  Thinking about it has bought a smile to my face ever since.

My parents are coming to stay today for a few days. Mum texted to say she was bringing a homemade lasagne for dinner.  She knows it’s been a tough couple of weeks, so it’s wonderful not to have to think about cooking tonight.  I’m really looking forward to seeing them, and having some help with Pip.  My Dad is great at playing with him and doing lots of arts and crafts activities.   When I was little, he worked very hard, and was away a lot, so  he didn’t really do these things with me.  I’m so glad that now he’s retired he has the time and wants to do these things with Pip.  They both enjoy it so much and it brings a real sense of happiness to me, just watching them together. 

For more fantastic Reasons to be Cheerful head over to Mummy from the Heart.

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Nit Picking

I have a phobia.  Head lice.  Even the thought of them makes me start to itch, to want to scratch my head furiously.  I cannot bear the thought of them invading my hair, or that of my child.  Until having Pip, I had all but forgotten about the existence of the pesky head louse. Who gives ‘Pediculus humanus capitis’ a second thought in their twenties and early thirties? No one. They’re left behind with the memories of childhood; with faded recollections of the ‘Nit Nurse’ popping into the classroom once or twice a year and rummaging roughly through everyone’s hair, ruining well braided plaits and swinging bunches.  Unfortunately, like a bad dream I thought had gone forever, they’ve re-entered my life; and I’m finding that just the thought of the little blighters gets me quite agitated.

Last week, I received an email from Pip’s nursery.  It communicated that there had been an outbreak of head lice and requested that parents check their children’s hair and treat as necessary.   On his appointed nursery day, as I dropped Pip off in the morning, I noticed a sign on the door saying there had been 6 cases of head lice in his ‘learning’ room.  Practically breaking out in hives at the thought of it, I nearly turned tail and took my golden haired, lice free angel straight home. But instead, I gave myself a firm talking to, reminded myself that this was my one day a week to myself, (I was still going to have to pay for it whether he attended or not) and then subsequently left him, in the den of the louse, praying that he would not be infected.  By the time I picked him up late afternoon, the count on the door had increased to 7 cases.  It seemed the nursery was on the verge of a nits epidemic.

In the course of the day, my email had been flooded with further messages from the nursery about head lice.  Subject matter included a video link to ‘Lice Assassins’; the mega lice busters featured on Channel 4’s embarrassing bodies, who use a hoover, tweezers and all sorts of other paraphernalia to get rid of the most stubborn of critters. There was another email suggesting an ‘alternative remedy’ using olive oil and vinegar for parents who did not want to use over the counter pharmaceutical treatments on their child, plus, a few other suggestions forwarded from parents all jumping on the ‘Defeat the Nits’ bandwagon.

I sought out the frazzled looking duty manager, to try and understand why this sudden outbreak was upon us and joked slightly about the ever increasing head count of children being infected.  He was clearly stressed, and started to download. The conversation that followed was quite enlightening. 

He told me that nurseries are not allowed to check children’s hair for lice, and neither are they allowed to exclude them if they are infected.  He confided in me, that against the rules, he had however, checked some children’s hair that day, to try and stem the problem, and had asked one set of parents to collect their infected child.  But what really amazed me, as the conversation continued was the revelation that some parents he had contacted had been aware that their child had head lice when they dropped them off at the nursery that morning.  He also went on to tell me that another parent he had contacted was refusing to treat the problem as they were worried about the effect of using chemicals on their child’s hair, but had not, as yet found a suitable ‘alternative’ therapy.

Both of these admissions made my blood boil.  I accept that every parent has the right to choose how to treat the problem, but, treat it you must (by whatever method), and continuing to send an untreated child *that you knowingly are aware has head lice* into a nursery environment is, to my mind, inconsiderate and selfish.   I also appreciate that parents who go to work may struggle with last minute issues regarding alternative childcare arrangements if faced with a surprise head lice infestation but, I do not consider this an adequate justification for sending a child to nursery when you know that they have head lice.  It’s not fair to other children, their parents, staff at the nursery, and it’s not fair to the child that’s infected either. 

As a parent of a small child, I accept that head lice is a fact of life.  It’s incredibly common and there’s a reasonable chance that at some point at nursery or school age, they may come into contact with it.   If Pip gets it, I won’t like it, for him or for me, (trying to get a nit comb through my own hair will be a nightmare) but, the point I’m making is - as soon as I am aware of it, I will treat it. Immediately.

I check Pip’s hair regularly, and especially carefully on the days he has been to nursery. To some, I may seem a tad obsessive but so far, he’s been louse and egg free, and I hope to keep it that way.   After this recent spate, I’ve upped my defensive strategies.  We are now in possession of a Nitty Gritty metal comb.  After each bath and hair wash, I apply some leave in conditioner to his hair and run this through afterwards checking for eggs or lice.  I have been told that if you do this every three days, the likelihood is that you will catch any eggs before they hatch.  It’s not a cast iron guarantee, but if wet combing may help prevent an infestation in my son’s hair, then I’m happy to do it.
And just in case we do get unlucky,  I’ve got a bottle of treatment lotion in the cupboard, ready and waiting. So if on any occasion, I do catch a critter; hatched or unhatched, I can deal with it straight away.  And certainly, I won’t knowingly be sending my son out into the world to pass it on.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

This week has been rather a gruelling one.  Husband has been working 18 hours a day in crisis mode, Pip has been invading the bed regularly in the middle of the night, we’ve spent most days getting wet in rainstorms and generally I have felt a bit exhausted.  But the weekend is nearly upon us and the sun is now shining,  so I thought I'd round the week off on a positive note, and  join up with Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart.

Despite the rain, the garden looks fabulous.  It’s become a lush, green urban jungle, and the branches of the trees and shrubs are laden with blooms. (Albeit some of them are slightly bowed over with the weight of all the rain.)   The plum tree is looking great this spring, and I’m hopeful we’ll have lots of fruit again this year with which to make condiments for Christmas. (Plum Ketchup was last summer’s winner so I’m going to repeat that, and maybe also try my hand at some plum brandy too.)  Last year I said I would try to learn how to design ‘professional’ labels for the jars and I’ve recently reminded myself of that and feel energised to get on with it (although am currently clueless as to how!)

A family friend rang this week with details of two new vocational courses that are starting which are similar to the previous course I was on that went into liquidation.  She’s ‘in the business’ so it was really kind of her to think of me and get in touch. One looks particularly interesting in terms of the level of time commitment required each week and the way the learning is structured.  It’s not something I can commit to in the short term, but it feels great to know that this may be an option on the medium term horizon. 

We’ve just booked a last minute holiday for this summer, to go away with our friends and our god-daughters. Previously, we’d decided it was too expensive, but the sudden promise of a  ‘late booking discount’ meant it was more affordable so we decided to go for it.  I can’t wait to hit sunnier climbs for some guaranteed sunshine and I’ve ordered Pip a super new sun suit to wear on the beach.  My little man is going to look so cool.

In the past couple of weeks we have lunched at restaurants for birthday occasions with family and friends. Pip has been such a well behaved, well mannered boy, I’ve been really proud of him.  My husband’s aunt told me countless times last weekend that he was a credit to me.  Three years of sounding like a broken record on the please/ thank you/ ask to leave the table front are finally paying off.

After an extended period of absence away from the hairdressers I’ve finally had my haircut.  It looks much better than it did before and it’s great to have a little bit more shape to it once again. (Just need to sort out covering the grey next..)

On Sunday I am spending the day with an old flatmate in town.  We’re going to have lunch, visit an exhibition and go shopping.  I’m really looking forward to a child free, grown up day. 

So actually, lots of reasons to be cheerful. Now head on over to Mummy from the Heart to read more.

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Jubilee Me

In the past year, something strange has happened to me; I’ve developed a strange, new obsession.  It crept upon me quite suddenly, almost without me realising.  I can pinpoint the start of it -  April last year.  The date of The Royal Wedding to be exact; the day when as a nation, we Brits did what we do best, put on a fabulous show of pomp steeped in tradition; cheered and waved our Union Jack flags, as Wills and Kate said, ‘I Do’.

And so I confess, I have become a Royalist. Is this symptomatic of my ageing years?  It’s rather worrying really.  When I was a child, my grandmother used to have two gilt edged souvenir plates of The Queen and The Queen Mother proudly displayed on the top of her piano.  How I scorned as I became a trend following teenager. How naff. Why on earth was she giving display space to THOSE?  I’ll admit, I haven’t succumbed to the lure of a Royal Crown Derby gilt edged plate yet, but, increasingly, I am finding it most difficult to walk past a newsstand and not stop to look at a picture of Kate Middleton.   Possibly, I think I might have a little bit of a girl crush on the lovely Kate.  I think she’s fantastic.  It can’t be easy trying to assimilate yourself into one of the most famous families on earth, but from what I can tell, she seems to be managing it adeptly.  The world’s media scrutinises her hair and make up, the size of her tummy (is she pregnant?) daily, and then there are the fashion police; critiquing each and every choice she makes.  My favourite ever Kate outfit is this blush coloured sequined Jenny Packham dress she wore to a Gala in the US shortly after getting married.  I HEART that dress. I WANT, WANT, WANT IT.(Even if I have nowhere to wear it.  I’d just like to try it on, just once, and be a princess for a day, perhaps I could do the washing up in it, or wear it whilst I cook Pip’s tea. )  

Now, where's my tiara?
I’ll admit, my new found royalism is not ubiquitous, it’s limited to certain generations of the Royal family.  The youngsters ( namely Will, Harry and Kate) all pique my interest. Who could not feel a warm affection for the Wales boys after everything they’ve endured in life? However,  the Queen’s own children do very little for me.  But, a generation further back, when it comes to the Grand Dame of them all; her Majesty, I’m suddenly suckered in again. I have found myself with a new found admiration for the Queen.  Maybe I am turning into my Grandmother after all.

I watched the BBC’s Diamond Queen documentary series screened at the start of this year, expecting to view it with half an eye, as I multitasked; blogging/tweeting/facebooking. But quite soon, I found myself transfixed.  The story of a woman who became Queen at 25, in the shadow of the death of her father, is quite remarkable.  Sixty years on she still presides at the helm with the same everlasting sense of duty to her country.  Of course, her role comes with great privilege but what I had not accounted for, until I watched this well made documentary, was the great degree of self sacrifice that comes with it too.   Whatever you think of the Royal family, Queen Elizabeth has to has to applauded for her dedication to her cause.

So, on Jubilee weekend, I will be celebrating the achievements of the Diamond Queen.  I plan to make my way down to the Thames to soak up history in the making, and watch the flotilla of 1000 ships in the River Pageant.   And at some point during the weekend, I plan to hold a traditional afternoon tea.  I’ll be getting the teapot out; warming it properly, and adding ‘a bag for the pot.’ I plan to make some cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches (crusts off obviously) and bake some scones, and perhaps even some cupcakes too.  After an excess of finger food and sweet delicacies, I plan to sit and watch history unfold on TV.   If I had one wish, it would be for someone to share my enthusiasm and enjoy the moment with me.  Sadly, it seems my friends, my husband and my son aren’t bothered; they’ve all said they’ll come for the free food,  but after that, it looks like I’ll be waving my patriotic flag on my own. 

Are there any other secret Royalists out there or am I truly alone?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Preserved In Sepia

Some time ago, I was given an envelope by my mother. It had been sent to her by a distant relative she’d met at a funeral.  Inside, it contained a recently researched copy of my mother’s family tree, and some copies of old family photographs. 

Genealogy has always interested me; I’ve researched the family tree myself in the past. Demands on my time meant I haven’t gone as far back in time as I’d like, but I enjoyed the thrill of searching sleuth like through the annals of time and discovering things about distant people that I’d heard of, but never known.   So it was with great interest that I unfolded the carefully sellotaped together pages sent by my mother’s relative, and laid multiple generations of family across my kitchen table, to cross reference against my own efforts.  I spent an enjoyable lost couple of hours in a world of unusual names, of previously unheard of occupations, and exceedingly large families, often filled with high incidences of child mortality. But in the end, it was not the names and dates on the pages that transfixed me; it was the faded faces that stared up at me from the black and white photographs strewn upon the table. It was these faces that called to me, and drew me in.

Poised with vacant stares, gazing out at me from behind a veil of sepia, these men and women of yesteryear were my relatives. People who had lived one hundred years or more before me, that I shared a blood line with; captured in their Sunday best, for posterity.  Preserved, in a moment in time. Possibly none of them imagined,  when their pictures were taken all those years ago, that more than a century later, a 21st century woman, descended from their lineage, would be sitting looking at their pictures sprawled across her kitchen table.

My Great Grandmother

Of the pictures in the envelope, the only one I recognised was a picture of my great grandmother as a young woman. I remembered seeing this as a girl, in an old carved wooden frame in need of repair, hidden in storage, at my Mum’s house.  The rest of the faces were unknown to me.  I read the accompanying letter, cross referencing against the family tree, trying to place names to faces.  Initially, I had thought that the photographs might make the past seem more real, but as I looked at their faces, it felt that many of these long dead relatives were just like strangers.

Except one.  One face I knew instantly. It was almost a shock, as I stared upon the image before me.  A faded copy of an old photograph which bore an uncanny resemblance to my mother.  My mother when she was younger, in her early 30’s.  With dark long hair, which she would wind up in a coil on the top of her head in an elaborate ‘up do’ when evening engagements demanded it.  The same wide eyes, and defined eyebrows.  Belonging to a woman born over 150 years ago.  The woman in the photo is my mother’s great grandmother.
Great Great Grandmother. Born 1852
I couldn’t believe that, two generations separating them, my mother looked so like this woman.   The wonder of the Victorian love affair with the camera, of posing for portraits, meant I was able to see the familial resemblance, all those years on.  An illuminating thought, as I looked at these long departed people, was how transient life can be; and I couldn’t help but wonder, if one day, I might be the subject of a photograph being studied by someone, one hundred years from now, someone who might be wondering who I was.

Then I wondered if, in this digital age, I have less likelihood of this happening than my ancestors did.  I’m captured on camera, in just the same way, but in the end event, I’m usually just another JPEG, stored on a PC.  It’s rare these days that I ever make it onto photo paper. 

I can’t remember the last time I printed out some photographs and put them in an album.  It’s expensive, I don’t have the time.  To celebrate Pip’s first year, I started making a ‘first year photobook’ to have printed as a hardback book; a tangible keepsake to look back on.  It still isn’t finished. He will be three next month, and his first year book is still sitting in cyber storage somewhere out there on the internet.

Recently, I bought a remote hard drive to back up the photographs on the main computer. I was surprised to discover that there were 830,000 photographs in our photo library;  an almost unmanageable amount of photographs for anyone to have time to look through meaningfully.   When relatives have passed on, the relatively limited amount of photographs they leave behind are amongst the things I treasure most.  They tell a story, capture moments in time, that take us there, show us what everyday life was like, but they are special in their limited amounts - a shoebox full, or less.  I wondered, when I depart from this mortal world, whether someone will just shove a USB stick into my PC - or walk away with my remote hard drive, or indeed, if anyone will really care, and my years of digital capturing will just disappear, like me.

And so I got to thinking, that the legacy of being preserved in sepia, or even in printed technicolour is rather a wonderful thing.  Holding a photograph in your hand, turning it over, and reading in someone else’s handwriting, the date, location, and the names of people in it, is completely different to looking at a digital thumbprint and trying to find a tag.  Technology is fabulous, and I’m all for progress,  but sometimes, there is something to be said for doing things ‘the old fashioned way’.  So, I’ve dusted down the unused leather photo album I received as a wedding present ten years ago, and I’ve resolved, to build my own memory book, for future generations, with printed images, and sticky photo corners too.  Yesterday, Boots the Chemist announced, that they are closing their photo processing services in 160 of their stores.  Maybe I’m reversing the wrong way up the the one way street of progress; maybe I’m out of keeping with the times, but I don’t care.  I’m going to make the effort. I want to be preserved in sepia for future generations.

Possibly not like this though. Slightly scary?