Monday, 25 February 2013

Musical Statues

The day came to say goodbye. We left the old house pared back to it’s bones; a series of bare and naked rooms. Quiet. Still. Footsteps echoed as I wandered through the hollow space that was once our home, taking photographs to capture the ‘before’, preserving it for posterity.  As the morning light streamed though the mossy roof panes of the old conservatory I felt warm; buoyed with gentle hope and optimism for the future.  I closed the door and walked thirty doors north, the bright red removal van trundling along the road beside me. We arrived in tandem at our new abode, barely a time lapse between packing and unpacking; then began the task of squeezing our possessions into every spare inch of available space.

Our temporary home has a lovely ambiance. Lots of natural light, clean neutrally decorated walls, a power shower with a never ending supply of hot water.  Soft beige carpets; immaculately clean.  I’d forgotten how such simple things can make a big difference.  After two years of living with flowery wallpaper and navy blue carpets the excitement I felt at having a cream backdrop for my possessions was immense.  As we hung pictures and filled shelves, a vase of anemones; a gift from my mother, lifted my spirits at times when the unpacking seemed unrelenting, like cheerful flags waving through the chaos; they spurred on my desire to paint a beautiful picture on the clean canvas we’d been given.

Husband and I decided to sleep in the converted loft.  After the rattling windows and sub zero temperatures at Faulty Towers, I hoped it would be warm, and it was.  I awoke our first morning with a smile on my face. I hadn’t even needed a blanket on top of the duvet, or had to lie shivering as I breastfed EB at 2.30am.  Bliss.

It became evident that our de-cluttering efforts had been far too tame; that still we have much to do.  Even so, a lot of our things are likely to remain bubble wrapped for the next year.   The storage space, from the roof eaves to the small under croft, has been crammed with brown cardboard boxes, packed together as tightly as the squares on a Rubik cube. Getting them all out again to sort through them is a task I can’t face at the moment, so for now they will stay where they are and we will focus life around the essentials.

On our journey from old house to new, a few things have made it out of the recesses of dark cupboards and enjoyed a renaissance.  Music being one of them. As I sorted through box upon box of old CD’s, 4 different generations of ipod and an unused ipod dock,  I wondered when and why I’d stopped listening to music. Once moved, I resolved that I would recharge the ipod battery and let the melodies play once more.

I can remember dancing around the kitchen with Pip when he was a baby; at the house we owned before Faulty Towers.  In his babyhood, he and I regularly grooved to Marlena Shaw - California Soul. It was our song. He loved nothing more than being jigged around in Mummy’s arms to the ‘cheesy tunes’ playlist on my ipod.

But then, at some point, the music stopped.

These last few weeks I’ve wondered why. Possibly we had nothing to play it on, the old ipod dock died, it was years before I bought a new one, and even then it lay unopened in it’s box. Motherhood overtook me; Ladyhawk was swapped for lullabies and concerns that a little voice wouldn’t be audible from the cot took precedence. Other interests; writing, came to the fore and occupied precious moments of ‘down time’.  Singularly focussed, I need silence to concentrate when I read or write.

Unconsciously I allowed my music collection to be frozen in time. The gaps on my ipod show the missing years. I wonder, am I the only person in the UK not to own an Adele album?

On our second night in our temporary house I put the ipod in the dock and cranked up the music.  Bands and songs evoked memories of time gone by. Good memories, happy times. A little wine helped me open my vocal chords and shimmy across the smooth wood of the kitchen floor.  Darkness meant that the french doors became mirror like and casting the odd sly eye at my reflection, I threw my shapes, dancing and singing like a woman who thinks she’s still in her twenties (but isn’t).  Husband, mid sort out, was waltzed round the kitchen before making a hasty escape. Then he returned, and observed;  "This is like the old you". 

I knew what he meant.
The uplifting beat of old school disco had found a little bit of the carefree old me. I hadn’t even known she was missing, but perhaps she was, smothered in a sea of muslin squares, lost in grown up-ness and the daunting task of being responsible for someone else. 

These things take time to get used to, but maybe I’m there now, or have just finally relaxed; having two children makes having one seem easy.

This weekend I showed Pip some moves. The moonwalk and ‘Michael Jack’ are his new favourite thing.  It’s time to update my ipod. The kitchen here might be small but it's definitely good for dancing in.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Tits Up (The Week That Was)

It started on the Monday. A cold, shivery feeling. Sweats; hot then cold. An aching in my joints and back. A feeling of weakening, of becoming rag doll like; floppy limbed. Then an overwhelming desire to lie down, rest my aching self and sleep. 

The rash on my right breast was faint at first, but the area underneath was sensitive to the slightest touch.  By the time the sun rose the next morning, the pain was excruciating. A throbbing, searing pain so bad I could barely hold a crying EB to my chest and cradle him. No. Please no. Not this week. I have too much to do.

I played Google Doctor. Diagnosis; mastitis. An emergency appointment with my least favourite GP at the local surgery confirmed it. I left armed with a prescription for some strong antibiotics and with warnings of delirium and abscesses rattling my already delicate temperament.

All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and cocoon myself safely under my duvet until I felt better. Whatever was wrong with my breast ducts also seemed to be affecting my tear ducts. Not normally one to cry,  I found myself weeping at regular intervals, but with the removals van booked and having made the crazy decision to pack ourselves, I had no choice but to draw on my grit and focus on the task at hand.

There was still much packing to do, an entire house in fact.  The In-Laws arrived to help. After they’d made a 5.30am start to get to London, it seemed only right to feed them lunch before handing them the bubble wrap and the taping gun. 

The oven had other ideas. Clearly it had been listening to our conversations and had decided to protest about the fact that it was shortly going to be consigned to the skip.  The jacket potatoes I’d put in two hours earlier were as hard as if they’d still been sat in frosted ground.  Only a hastily rustled up BLT saved my proverbial bacon with my ravenous father in law.

The builders started work.  Not with full force, more a slow trickle of activity.  Cups of tea were offered and drunk, biscuits were eaten ( as predicted.) For legal reasons, a half hearted attempt had to be made at starting to dig out the foundations for the side extension, until it was decided, they could do no more until we moved out and they could bring in the heavy duty equipment. A molehill sized deposit of broken concrete lay abandoned on the patio - much to Pip’s delight, as he probed it daily with his plastic drill and grubbed about in the toddler sized trench.  Mid week the scaffolding arrived. In the space of an afternoon the house was engulfed by a matrix of metal tubes and pipes. The first of undoubtedly many eye opening conversations then ensued; starting with the issue of encroaching one’s neighbours ‘air space’ with scaffolding pipes.  As night fell it was decreed that all the already erected scaffolding would have to be re-erected the next day with shorter poles. Not the best start.

Pip contracted a vomiting bug.  Rather than packing away fresh sheets I was instead laundering sick stained ones and seeking to dry them as quickly as possible.  Nights were broken as we laid in bed with one ear listening out for a cough turn into something more, and then the helpless cry of ‘Mamma’.  In moments of quiet, I tossed and turned more than I had since late pregnancy, unable to get comfortable thanks to the swollen, pulsating mammary on the right hand side of my chest. 

The In-Laws were very helpful. They took on the challenge of packing us up with almost feverish excitement; which was great until I realised that all the items with which to clean up Pip’s sick were sitting taped inside a brown box somewhere.  I tried hard not to let rising feelings of stress overwhelm me as my MIL; a domestic goddess if ever there was one, set to work packing up our everyday life.   To instead think; you need this help, take it, don’t worry, she’s not judging you, and for the most part, I was successful.

There was a low point when I entered the kitchen and she held up an unidentifiable object. “I found this in this kitchen cupboard; what is it?” A vegetable (possibly a potato) from the broken vegetable drawer had clearly escaped into the back of the cupboard behind. I say possibly a potato, or maybe it was a shallot, it was so shrivelled, I could not tell. From it, had grown lots of fine strings on which had grown tiny beads like things, possibly small onions or potatoes, but again, unidentifiable to a non biologist such as myself. “Erm, I don’t know. Obviously nothing edible.” I joked.  Oh no. She thinks I am a slovenly housewife.  How awful. 

The food cupboard was also helpfully sorted through and quantities of food past it’s sell by date set aside for me to see. (Chinese rice wine vinegar, some souvenir black spaghetti pasta, some pasta sauces, a tin of sardines and various other items from the years 2010/11.) It was a delicate situation to manage, and she managed it well. I was not offended.  It did not however escape my notice that at lunchtime she looked at the sell by date on a packet of crisps she selected from the drawer before she ate them. I wondered if she would ever eat comfortably in our house again. 

By Thursday, the vomiting bug and the mastitis had started to wane.  After being described as ‘pale and wan’ by the architect that day, I headed off to bed early to try and get some much needed sleep, only to be woken at 3am by a loud beeping noise and a light coming from the landing.

Husband was not in the bed. “What are you doing?” I called at 'don’t wake the baby’ volume. “It’s OK - just fixing the smoke alarm” a loud whisper came back.  At 3am?  The beeping continued, but somehow, I managed to return to slumber. The next morning however, I woke to find that something, somewhere was still beeping.

Pip and I played an impromptu game of ‘hunt the beep’ to find that the smoke alarm had been removed from ceiling and had been placed, still beeping, in the lounge underneath every cushion in the house. So, with one week to go, no smoke alarm. The words ‘safety first’ chewed at my conscience all week but I consoled myself with the fact a) we have no oven so that probably limits the fire risk somewhat, b) in the event of a fire we could climb out the bedroom windows and take refuge on the scaffold.

Yesterday we discovered the drains are blocked.  It seems this old house decided to have the last laugh.

What a week.  At times I limped, but I made it to the end. Half the house is now packed and we have the other half to go.  The mastitis is under control, EB is feeding nicely and, strangely, I feel that my MIL very much appreciated me letting her pack up my cupboards. Perhaps sharing my imperfections in the domestic sphere has helped strengthen our bond.

Four days until move date I can confirm that packing oneself when you have two small children is indeed, crazy.  Always hire a packer when you move.

Every time I walk into my kitchen I look at this picture and take a very deep breath.  This my friends, is my motto for the week.

Linking up with The Monday Club at Hello Wall.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Time Travelling & The Pack of Big Pants

In our infinite wisdom we have decided to move ourselves.  It’s a ridiculous idea. We’ve got two small children, a house full of clutter, and the builders have already started work.  The sensible thing to do, the thing any sane person would do, is to call in a firm of movers and packers, get the full service treatment, causing themselves minimal stress and hassle.  But no. We’ve decided to do it the hard way.  Not only does it cut down on cost, (providing respite for our not so elastic budget), it also means that we can sort through our stuff as we pack it, thereby streamlining our possessions.  So, whilst I’d love a houseful of chirpy removal men merrily wrapping even the smallest selection of cocktail sticks in tissue paper, I have begrudgingly conceded, much to my husband’s delight, that there are some merits to this approach.   A proper clear out is long overdue.

At 9pm on Saturday night, when most normal mortals were settled in front of the TV with a glass of wine in hand, or better still, out in the big wide world doing exciting, potentially life enhancing things, Husband and I set about tackling The Tardis; a gargantuan piece of fitted furniture in our lounge.

Brown boxes, packing tape and black felt tip pen at the ready, I dug deep to try and find the required enthusiasm for the task. Three hours later, I had enjoyed myself far more than expected but achieved very little; instead, I had journeyed back in time, rediscovering items from the past ten, even twenty years.  Poignant reminders of good intentions, relics of forgotten dreams, memories bought to the foreshore that had swept so far out to sea, that without that prompt, I might otherwise never have remembered them. Items that time and progress have rendered obsolete, stuffed away as Husband and I ‘moved with the times’, suddenly resurfaced from a cupboard with Narnia-esque depths.

Ah yes, the ‘Italian for Beginners’ course; which I planned to listen to in the car on my hourly commute to work each day. Still in the box.  That’s the reason I only know two words of Italian.  Degree Certificates. Proudly worked for and won; the passports to bigger and brighter things, stored for safe keeping in plain brown envelopes. An old hi-fi, in three parts.  Four generations of ipod, from the first, resembling a brick, to the relatively more recent slimline Nano.  Paper proofs of Estate Agents details, old homes bought and sold in a real life game of monopoly. Hoards of old photo albums bursting with carefree, happy faces; images typical of a couple without children; a photo of him, a photo of me. A few of us together when we commandeered a stranger in a street, or on a holiday beach; ‘Can you take one of us together please?’.

DVD’s, CD’s, Dictionaries, The Holy Bible. Empty boxes for cameras long gone or upgraded.  A host of board games. When all we ever really play is Cluedo, at Christmas.

A box for the charity shop, a box for ‘keeps’. Another box for the charity shop, as we shed the skin of former years.  And finally, we were done. A satisfying but sentimental journey.

Sunday.  More packing and sorting to be done.  I decided to approach the chest of drawers in our bedroom; specifically, my underwear drawer which has been unable to close since the invasion of double cupped nursing bras.   What can you tell about a woman by her knicker drawer? Mine is a mausoleum to M&S briefs.  Bras of various colours and sizes, including some with ‘air bags’. The odd pair of ‘fancy pants’ - invariably uncomfortable, thus worn only once. A black suspender belt from c.1993, worn as part of a fancy dress outfit (cringe). Plus a multitude of other items that don’t fit the description of underwear at all. Receipts, hiding evidence of the odd guilty shopping trip, anniversary cards with sentimental words, the odd box with precious jewellery. And also, The Pack of Big Pants.

Everything has a story. Even an unopened five pack of humongous briefs.

The Pack of Big Pants was purchased when I was pregnant with Pip.  Someone told me that should I need a caesarean, it would be prudent to be in possession of some large comfortable knickers. A five pack of bellybutton huggers was duly shopped for. They came with me to the hospital, and after a successful natural birth with Pip, were returned to the drawer.  As EB’s birth approached, three and a half years later, I sought them out and placed them at the bottom of my hospital bag.  I hoped that if I took them with me, I wouldn’t need them.  I didn’t.  Coincidence? Or maybe they'd become my lucky charm.

Disposing of my collection of uncomfortable fancy pants and ancient bras was not difficult.  Be ruthless, I told myself; post breastfeeding it will give you a good excuse to revamp your undergarments.  I approached the task with efficiency, it all seemed incredibly easy. Until I got to The Pack of Big Pants.

"Are you really going to throw us away?" they asked; "Are you sure?"

"Oh, my trusty, faithful friends. It's so hard. I.just.don't.know." 

We always dreamt of having a big family but sometimes things just don’t work out how you hope.  The stork sack appointed for deliveries to our house was not emblazoned with the word ‘speedy’. Yet,  here we are now, eight years on, with two wonderful boys.

Deep in my heart,  I know that there will be no more babies after EB.  That he really is my last hurrah.  Acceptance of this fact will probably be a slow dawn, something I need to adjust to, that I let creep slowly over the horizon. 

So far, my de-cluttering mission has been highly cathartic. But, I've decided to keep hold of The Pack of Big Pants for now.

Some things take longer to let go of than others.