Island Blog – To Fathers

I am not a father. Never will be and there’s somewhat of a relief in that secure bit of knowledge. I don’t think I realised just how much of a weight a wife and children were, and still are, on a father’s shoulders. He mustn’t cry, of course, no matter how lost or useless he might feel. At least, not in public and most of his life is in public, wife demanding, children requiring clothing, adequate food, toys, space, tuition, guidance and a massive Christmas gift. Never mind that there are five all expecting a massive Christmas gift, whilst taking all the rest for granted. I did too. I took him for granted and that is what we do until we notice something, or look back and join the dots because unless you have experienced living life as a father, you, like me, haven’t a scooby. Not a clue.

On raising children in the most humanly perfect of ways, which, naturally, was our plan, fathers have to take the buck, one that always stops with them. Fathers, if they are the main breadwinner, must leap out of bed every morning for decades in order to be whoever they are required to be on any given day. If it is an off-to-work day, then the mental suit is on and the tie tied right. All the way there, he must leave behind the father role for a few hours and immerse himself in whatever business or job lies ahead of him with all its associated demands. Then, knackered and possibly fed up, he must come through that front door and become husband and father with enthusiasm and wisdom. Blimey. That is quite a lot of requiring.

If, like me, a mother is exhausted herself by end of day, she may nip and criticise, demand and wheedle. She may offload her worries, fears and reports on the children as she might empty a dumper truck full of multiple flotsam, jetsam and other random things right into his lap. He may have only just sat down, but she hasn’t had that pleasure since he left at 07.30 so why should he be allowed now, now that she has to cook dinner, clear toys, bath the unwashed, read stories and all in the secure knowledge that Groundhog Day will come tomorrow and all the tomorrows until the children become adults and fledge? Blimey. That is quite a thixotropic thought.

Good fathers are often judged by the memories they make. Bad fathers, ditto. Of course, the same applies to mothers but this blog is not about them. I doubt there is a single father anywhere in the world, one that wants to be one, that is, who doesn’t take great care to be the best he can be, all the way up to the end. Then Life kicks in, a rogue player on the field, one with tremendous tackling skills and a complete disregard for empathy. Demands overwhelm, families get noisier, cost more money every year and never seem quite as happy as this father saw in his mind’s eye. The happy toddler becomes the door-slamming child who refuses broccoli and ignores all pleas for a stable conversation. Blimey. This is the truth and then some.

So, please raise a toast to all fathers, to yourself if you are one, to your dad, your work colleagues, your neighbours, your friends and your extended family. Consider, and remind yourself of the sacrifices these fathers have had to make in their lives. Fathers…..remember the times when everything swam along like happy fish and then remember the times when storms lashed your shores and terrified you. I salute and celebrate you. All of you excellent, strong and resilient men.

To Fathers.

Island Blog – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.

Island Blog 49 – Flight

Sometimes a story unwraps like a ribbon. The words just tumble out in the right order and, better still, reflect what I want them to reflect. But not today it seems.  

I blame last night and that whistling wind and the clack of the plastic air vents and the scritch- scratch of Virginia creeper, not yet softened with leaves, sounding like the bony fingers of a witch against the window glass. Today is a big day.  

It’s launch day for Island Wife, my book published by Two Roads.  Actually, to be correct it is Launch Number Two.  We already held one on the island, for the folk who see me often and I them for over 35 years now.  

The people, who will come this evening to Jarrold’s Book Department in Norwich, will wear faces I haven’t set eyes on for 3 decades.  

I guess, like me, they will look older, a bit worn, a bit broken too, but we will know each other in a heartbeat.  Faces, hair colour, shapes may have altered dramatically or barely at all, but voices stay the same.  I could close my eyes all evening and still know exactly who speaks, even if I have to dig deep into my memory bank.  

So many voices and no two the same. There won’t be time to hear the stories, the tales of joy and sadness, the lost and the found in that short 90 minutes, but when it is done and books are signed and drinks are drained, I will walk out with those voices darting around inside my head like swallows just back from Africa. And they?  

Well, they will drive or walk or catch a train back into their own lives with a new book in their hands. I may never know their stories, but from tonight, they will all know mine, perhaps hearing my voice for the very first time.

Island Blog 46 – Frozen

Island Blog 46

A friend and I play writing games together.  One of us picks a phrase, a subject and we both have to write for say five minutes, or ten, on that phrase or subject.  We are not supposed to think, or lift our pen from the page, but just to let our creativity flow unimpeded.

We have had some interesting projects.

‘The day I didn’t call’  was one, I remember, and another, ‘this exquisite wounding’.

A recent one was entitled ‘Frozen’

Just that.  Could lead you anywhere.

Here’s what I wrote:

‘Whenever I walk past a statue in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that person before someone froze them forever.  Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life?  Was that laudable (obviously) moment in time their only laudable moment in time, or was it all so laudable that we, living out our ordinary lives have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we walk by?

Did his or her feet ever ache in badly made shoes, and were they ever late for school or work or choir practice and did their teeth hurt eating ice cream? Were they kind to others, loving in their homes, humble in opinions?  What made them so remarkable?  And what would they think of the pigeons who perch on their horizontal bits and shit them white and greasy grey, or the homeless wanderers who slump beneath their lofty limbs?

Sometimes I read the plaque that tells of their achievement, but usually I just march by in my badly made shoes, avoiding pigeon shit and homeless wanderers on my ordinary way from A to B with deadlines in my head and a dirty rain threatening.

In Amsterdam, one moved.  A statue, I mean, and I did stop then.  Suddenly nothing was ordinary at all and I laughed out loud as the pigeons burst into the sky and an old man on a bench unfolded himself and laughed with me before sinking back down into the folds of his oversized coat’.