Packed

Every last sock, clean and not.

Every last pocket stuffed with stuff.

Big back pack with the items that could be forgotten. Hand bag with the essentials: passport, purse, keys.

On the face of it, we’re ready to go.

But as packed and ready, as excited for home, as organised as we might be, it’s hard.

We’ve done this many times, too many to count. Ten days that start with a tour of visits to say hello only to repeat the trips with goodbyes as the days tick past.

We talk all the time, but nothing beats sitting around the table and talking over the day. Pictures fly back and forth every day, but nothing beats pictures with all of us in.

Yes, we’re packed and ready, of course. But more important than wash bags and chargers, cardigans and sweaters, the memories are packed tightest. Memories of giggles and smiles, long lunches, coffees and chats. So many chats, about the big stuff and the small.

Yes, the memories are packed tight to be treasured and to keep us going until the next time. 

Tap, Tap, Tap

Straighteners, charger, dryer.

Tap, tap, tap.

Oven, kettle, fridge.

Tap, tap, tap.

Phone, keys, purse.

Tap, tap, tap.

Every… thing… off.

Tap, tap, tap.

Again. Once more.

Tap, tap, tap.

Taps get a tap. Tap, tap.

Shower, bath, radiator.

Tap, tap, tap and tap.

One tap too many. Round again. 

Tap, tap, tap.

One, two, three.

Once more for luck.

… … …

This time out.

Front. Tap. Door. Tap. Locked. Tap.

Main. Tap Door. Tap. Locked. Tap

Outside. 

Ready to go.

Tap, tap, tap. 

Deep breath, tap.

Heart slow down.

Boom, boom, slow.

Boom, boom, beat.

Deep breath, walk.

Deep breath, ignore.

Ignore the pull.

The pull back.

The pull to tap, tap, tap.

How Do You Picnic?

Take any green open space, some sporadic sunshine and temperatures above 25 degrees, and  they will come.

Doctors, teachers, mechanics, students, hairdressers, micro biologists, dog walkers, gardeners, the retired, their grandkids, their dogs, and their neighbours. Their neighbours’ dogs. And a few more for good measure.

They’ll eat crisps, dip, and carrot sticks. The fancy will have hummus, maybe a grill with some organic, butcher-prepared burgers. Others will content themselves with bread torn unevenly from the baguette and pre-sliced, tasteless cheese. There will be pasta salad and falafel, burritos and wraps, mango chutney and guacamole. Each party mixing foods never meant to be mixed, their own take on what makes the best food to share.

There will be blankets of every shape and design, brand new ones with the label still on overlapping with tired, washed-too-many-times mats. Groups will make circles that get slowly larger as the day goes on, that peak around four as the late risers join. Then slowly the circle will spiral back to a dot, made up of three or four hardy souls who share the last beer or final crumbs of cake.

This is a perfect Sunday afternoon. A normal Sunday afternoon. And look closely, look carefully and see that no matter the group, from their choice of kettle chip to their creed, they all share the enjoyment of sharing. Groups made up of all walks of life all want the same thing: to spend time with people they like on a warm summer day.  Because it’s an observable truth, from the pretty picnic bags to the wafting away of the wasps: we all picnic the same.

 

20170624_135155
The Neckarwiese, Heidelberg. A popular spot

These Streets 

There’s nothing special about this area, nothing that makes it any more or less than the simple residential district that it is. Two-ish kilometres from the city centre, it has what you’d expect from a peaceful yet thriving suburb: apartment buildings and lots of them, a supermarket, two in fact, a couple of bakeries, a pharmacy, and a kebab shop.  There are banks, doctors surgeries, restaurants to satisfy even the most worldly of palates, churches for every Christian denomination, and, adding some much-needed sound, playgrounds and Kindergartens.

On a quiet Wednesday lunch time, a Monday morning punctuated with deliveries, or a tired Thursday, there is little difference. Mums push prams to nowhere, each street unremarkable but comforting in its familiarity. Dads wait at the bottom of slides for their nervous child to let go and land safely in trusted arms. People go to and come from work on rickety bikes and in freshly-cleaned cars. The retired meet for coffee, to catch up and right the world’s wrong. The weekly patrol by the binmen wakes late risers with their distinctive yet muffled shouts and unrhythmic stop-go of the truck. 

Pockets of space bustle. The Saturday market brings together locals and acquaintances meet in line for the ice cream shop, the busiest spot in the neighbourhood anytime the temperature creeps over 22 degrees.

Benches everywhere offer rest to the gentleman who has lived here his life long. They are a place to consult the map for the tourist who went off the beaten track or a pause for lunch for the local workers looking for fresh air and sunshine.

These streets could be so many places. The pavements are imperfect and well trodden, and the brick blocks mirror a thousand other buildings in a thousand other towns. Almost every inhabitant will remain unknown to the wider world. Almost every action will be small and unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. However, together these people and their lives in these streets are life itself: simple, everyday, and miraculous. 

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

Finding Your Normal

Walking down the street the other day, I heard someone say something to the effect of, …and it’s just not normal. Well, not normal by our normal, anyway.

I wanted to go and shake the woman’s hand. Damn it, I wanted to hug her. In all my years of searching for normal, I never considered that I could just define it for myself.

There’s a running joke in our house where, when confronted with a problem, we ask ourselves what normal people would do. I live with this perpetual notion that I’ve missed a trick, that everyone else knows what’s going on and what to do in all situations, and I am a klutz that gets everything just a little bit wrong. My furniture doesn’t match and my clothes are never quite right for the weather. We sometimes use plastic bowls from the picnic set because we don’t have enough china. I use a jam jar as a toothbrush holder and I don’t own a pizza cutter. I’d rather walk to the next bus stop than wait more than five minutes for a bus. The list goes on and contains an oddity of behaviours and reflections on things I presume are a bit, well, abnormal. So I apologise for them, or worse still, I hide them.

When it boils down to it, though, normal is just a set of expectations that a group shares. And if you boil anything down for long enough it becomes nothing. (Right..?) Sure, sometimes normal is good for society, like the norm of regularly showering or covering your mouth when you sneeze. Public health aside, a lot of the other things we do are based on what we presume other people want to see. We think others expect certain things of us, and we go with it to make sure we don’t seem like a weirdo. It can be big or small, from how we spend our money and our politics to how we drink our coffee. (Confession time my caffeine aficionado friends: I often drink weak-tasting instant coffee. And I like it.)

The confident people out there might not get this. They live how they want to live and don’t care what others think. Maybe “normal people” are actually just confident people. There’s definitely something appealing about individuals who are passionate about their interests, however unusual, geeky, or off-the-wall. For sure, living your chosen life-style apologetically is more abnormal than most of the things you’re apologising for (with notable exception, cheaters, liars, or thieves to name a few). Probably no one is normal, just more or less confident about how they go about their day.

But for me, this hasn’t always been obvious. For me, there’s always been a fear of getting it wrong, a somewhat destabilising and debilitating worry of being considered weird that leaves me feeling awkward and uptight. And it’s probably not normal that overhearing a stranger’s out-of-context commentary on normality would make me reconsider this, but, well, it did and I’m not sorry. How I live is basically like everyone else, with its own brand of me splashed in. And it’s okay to be okay with that.

So I say to each his own normal, quirks and all.

normal-both-tails-shaded-inside-twos-800px
Oderwald, Standard Normal distribution with shading between -2 and 2, https://openclipart.org/detail/171054/normal-distn-shaded-inside-2s, 2012-07-05 accessed 24.06.17

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.