Dear Son,

There are so many things I want for you: health and happiness. Your father’s brains and your mother’s hairline. Principles and appreciation for a good piece of cake.

I want you to be confident, not arrogant.

Brave, not foolish.

Interested, not obsessed.

Optimistic, not deluded.

I want you to be strong enough to stand up for what you believe and strong enough to change your mind when you realise you are wrong. Because you will be wrong, but how you deal with mistakes will make all the difference.

I hope you have interests and are never ashamed of them. Whether you’re a bookworm or a model builder, a sportsman or a cook, do what you love with pride.

I wish good things for you: an education, a decent job, a home, and a family. But above that, I wish good feelings for you: self worth, self belief, happiness alongside the ability to deal with sadness, satisfaction with the little things, fulfilment from doing and being, not having.

You will need to have things, of course. You were born with the opportunity to do anything, be anyone, or have anything. There is no shame in that; perhaps just be careful how you use that priveledge.

May we always be friends, even when we think differently. May we always communicate, even when there’s nothing to say. May we always be welcome in each other’s lives, as guides, as supporters, or as non-judgemental observers.

And last but not least, I hope you do good in this life. No single man can save the world, but if you put in as much as you take out, more even, and can feel well doing it, then I will feel I’ve done my best by you. 

 Yours forever,

 xx

Photo credit: RDP

Coffee And Strangers

When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know
Downtown

Petula Clark

The rattling of trays and the clinking of coffee cups. The indistinguishable chatter, voices gradually getting louder, each conversation competing with that to its left and its right. Not loud, just noise-some. Not overbearing, simply loud enough, so that no single voice dominates. Each tête-à-tête easily heard by those who need to hear yet lost on nosey, prickling ears. The sound of friends together, sipping their tea or colleagues grabbing a bite in a hurried lunch hour.

There are things to see in every direction. The couple with their heads together, plotting, perhaps romancing. The mother, worn with the day by noon, ignoring her bundle of joy as he bangs the spoon more and more ferociously on the china cup. The businessman, all suited and booted, who tries to ignore the banging. The young, the old, and the inbetweeners all in one place. The coffee lovers and tea drinkers all sharing air space. Everyone different, with their own baggage and dreams. Everyone interesting in their own, private way.

Then there’s me in my spot on the comfy red and grey sofa. A cup of milky coffee sits next to a plate of crumbs, the remnants of today’s quick bite or daily treat. The little guy lies on his blanket, cooing at the white ceiling like it’s a miracle. Ageing ladies peer over and smile fondly. Nearby caffeine junkies look on nervously, perhaps afraid we’re going to disturb their peace.

And I am happy. There’s no need to talk to anyone; occasional eye contact and the odd smile is enough. I am alone with my thoughts but never lonely, watching the world go about its business. I sit hearing but not listening to the voices of folk I don’t know. Baby and I are delighted to be out, and happy in the company of strangers.

 

Answer Honestly

Is he a good baby? 

(What on Earth do you mean by good? No, he’s evil. I had an affair with the Devil and spawned a monster…)

Yes, he’s pretty good. Thanks.

How’s he sleeping?

(On his back with his mouth open, for about forty five minutes at a time, an hour if we’re lucky. If we go out for a walk, we can push that time to 90 minutes. Getting him to sleep involves an intricate dance that involves bouncing, rocking, white noise, cuddling, swerving the pushchair so frantically that on coming pedestrians jump into hedges for safety, or, as one friend recently commented,  pushing and pulling in such a way that it looks like we’re trying to mow the lawn with the pushchair. Now, don’t you dare, dare, dare ask if he’s sleeping through yet.)

Okay, you know how it is with babies.

Is he sleeping through, then?

(Oh you went there, didn’t you? No. Well, yes, actually, he did once or twice. Although technically he woke up and banged his legs on the mattress for ten minutes, but we ignored him. Then he started waking up every three hours again. Then the next night just once. Then through again. So I’ve got no idea which way is up and every night it’s like lying in the room with a time bomb. I mean, do you always sleep through the night? Does anyone judge you for not staying asleep for a full eight hours?)

Sometimes which is great. We know we’re lucky there.

Oh, he’s crying, what’s wrong?

(I don’t have a bloody clue. It’s not like I enjoy the persistent screaming and keep the solution hidden up my sleeve for emergencies only.  That question implies that I have a clue about what I’m doing when actually I am just making it up as I go along and trying not to get caught out.)

He’s probably hungry.

How are you coping?

(I’m not. Last night I ate half a box of dry cereal directly from the box because I didn’t know what else to do. I haven’t shaved my legs in three weeks, which is why I am wearing tights in 25 degree temperatures, and my spare room is a dumping ground for all the things in our life so that the living room at least looks tidy when people come over. Oh, and yesterday I cried because I couldn’t get the pushchair to collapse.)

Pretty well, thanks.

Don’t you just love watching them sleep?

(HAHAHAHAHA! In the space of a twenty minute nap, I can wash up, empty the washing machine and take a shower. If I’m having a good day, I can drink a cup of coffee whilst it’s hot. Watching them sleep…)

I know, it’s precious.

Do you love him enormously? 

(Oh yes. I love him so much that it hurts, I could talk to you about him for hours and hours and hours. I love the chunky rolls on his legs, the way he looks at me and his papa, the way he tries to copy our faces, the way he…)

Oh yes. I love him more than anything.

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Image: Schade, https://openclipart.org/detail/247285/stork, 2016, accessed 16.06.2017

Three Months 

It wasn’t just that the world turned upside down. No, the world was uprooted, rigorously shook, and then replanted on uneven ground.

Everything familiar changed. Night and day switched, mixed, and became one continuous and tired existence. The confidence we’d honed over thirty years melted away as every decision was now for three not two. Suddenly, this tiny being was entirely dependent on us. He took our time,  our energy, even part of ourselves. He still does.

When you can count life in hours, every hour counts. Ups and downs are magnified; emotion is intense and inconsistent. Then hours become days, many dark, as the enormity of it all overwhelmed until the first time he grabbed our finger or opened his eyes. Magical moments were enough encouragement to feel like it was possible to cope, to keep going on this rollercoaster we’d created.

As days became weeks the spinning world began to slow. A touch of predictability, coupled with an ability to cope with unpredictability cushioned the ride. Confidence crept back,  day by day. One month passed, then a second and life began to feel familiar again. The first smiles rescued us on days when we felt like we were failing. The miles we strolled, the hours we spent in the small hours feeding and rocking all became normal features of our new existence. 

Now three months have passed. Three whole months. The world is still spinning at a different rate, it’s still a different way up to the way it was before, but it’s a pace to be grateful for, a way of living that we wouldn’t swap. Our own wonderful new world order.

From A Penine Garden

After the sun has burnt the morning mist to a memory, the sky is as clear as a bell. 


The cool dawn air is replaced by a warm morning sun, gentle and kind on the skin.

The birds sing. They sing and sing all morning long, punctuated with a bleating lamb or contented cow.

Along the lane, quiet except for the odd tractor, ramblers embrace the best part of the day, cyclists take on the ups and downs, and dog walkers cover well – trodden paths. Greetings are exchanged,  raised hands of acknowledgement, and kindly waves between strangers as well as friends. 

In the barns and in the fields, work is done, graft on England’s green hills. In the kitchens, the smell of baking masks the country smells, briefly at least.

It’s a culture of its own. The views are the artwork, the nature the music, and the comings and going of every day people are any storyteller’s muse, their lives steeped in the history of the old stone cottages and distant mill towers, the bread and butter of life for previous generations. 

Yes, it’s nice up here, with the sun on your back and the air in your lungs. With a second cup of coffee before the morning is done, it’s hard to want to be anywhere else.

That Kid

That kid, you know the one, who always clapped half a second after everyone else.

That kid, you know the one, who went left when everyone else when right.

That kid who grew a bit, but was always short. Awkwardly so. Not short enough to be cute, just short enough that trousers were always too long, skirts on the knee not above.

That girl who got a bit older and wanted to wear the right clothes, but always got the shade a bit off, the fit a bit awkward.

Awkward covers it. Shy, then loud at the moment when everyone went quiet. Quiet, then found a voice but said the wrong thing. She thought about it too hard and too long. Maybe you know her. Maybe you met him.

He was that one who was so scared of missing out he barely did anything. She was desperate to be in, desperate to get it right. Maybe you were her. Maybe you were him.

That kid always grows up. That kid hits 21, 30, beyond. But she’ll always be that kid. Out of step at fitness class, a disaster on the dance floor, often awkward, still acutely aware of her average height and questionable clothes. Only now she’s ok with it, now she knows that the people who love her do so inspite of these things,  because of these things. Yeah that kid became that woman. And today, anyway, she’s just fine with that. 

Stay Curious

An empty square with an old fountain. A few wooden slatted benches. Three giant plants and a bike, locked up without love, rusting against the town hall brick. It’s pleasant. It’s pretty enough. It’s nothing remarkable. 

And yet…


To the five eager children that burst around the bend, it is a wonderland. Enthusiasm radiates from their eyes and through their laughter. An adventure is afoot. Anything could be hidden under those benches. Treasure and chances await in every corner, behind every plant pot. The bike tells a thousand stories; it’s a bike, a car, a spaceship.

On hands and knees, they manipulate themselves into tiny spaces, scrabbling to find the best prize. One finds a stone, cold and smooth. Another discovers a stick, wonky and knobbly, but a stick nonetheless. It, however, does not remain a stick for long. It fast becomes a wand, a sword, a pen, or whatever it needs to be for the next adventure. Heaven forbid that the stick should be lost. For today at least, it is irreplaceable.

Turning around, treasure stuffed in pockets, the red berries on the bushes are just out of reach and therefore they must be had. Standing on one leg, then the other. Jumping, hopping, reaching, stretching, whatever it takes until the berries are won. 

From what’s on high to what’s hidden below, the edges of the fountain are perfectly matched to the height of these six year old pioneers. On tip toes, with fingers grasping desperately at the the harsh stone lip, they peek excitedly over,  desperate to discover the hollow darkness, the pit into which the water trickles.  

Every nook is a question, every cranny a mystery, every paving slab a possibility, a game or a scheme.

The landscape is a castle, a desert, the moon. The seemingly mundane surroundings are the props and the tools to build a game, to extract squeals of delight, and to pass away a happy hour. The possibilities are endless. They could find anything, discover anything, do anything or be anyone. A space is all they need. 

A space and pure curiosity to find the answers to questions they didn’t even know they’d asked.