Amazing what you see on the neighbour’s roof

The view from my bedroom window. Gayhurst House, Buckinghamshire, 1998.

The view from my bedroom window. Gayhurst House, Buckinghamshire, 1998.

Sue’s Word of the Week is roof, and – well I just couldn’t resist. This really was the view from the flat I lived in in Gayhurst House, near Newport Pagnell in England.

I’ve blogged about Gayhurst elsewhere, so I’ll be brief here. The building in the picture was originally a servant’s toilet block, constructed in the 1840s by a former tenant of Gayhurst, Lord Carrington. Somewhat eccentric, Carrington was apparently obsessed with plumbing. This led to the installation of an unexpectedly large (for the time) number of toilets around the house including this –  highly unusual one for his male servants. A History of Gayhurst describes it thus:

… the male servants were provided with a remarkable five-seater lavatory in a circular building which still stands behind the house, surmounted by a carved figure of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.

This building is now fully attached to the main house and is the living room of one of the apartments.

Thanks to Sue Llewellyn at A  Word in your Ear.

Here are a few other roofs I like:

Unexpected emergencies

What happens when ambulances get sick?

What happens when ambulances get sick?

I confess I've sometimes got the pinny strings tangled, but I wouldn't exactly call it an emergency. The mind boggles.

I confess I’ve sometimes got my pinny strings tangled, but I wouldn’t exactly call it an emergency. The mind boggles!

Thanks to Sue (A Word in your Ear), who offered “unexpected” as her Word a Week.

Black and white: not how I’d describe my family

If family is a community of love and caring, my son is at the centre of mine.

If family is a community of love and caring, my son is at the centre of mine.

It’s kind of ironic for me that Sonel’s black & white photo theme this week is family, because in my life, family is certainly not “black and white”.

Dad, Mum and two of the three kids.

Dad, Mum and two of the three kids.

I grew up an immigrant; half a world away from any extended family.  For most of my childhood it was Mum, Dad and the three kids. I had aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, but they were represented in my life by Christmas gifts  of The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals and tubes of Smarties that usually arrived in February.

I envied the neighbourhood kids that visited grandparents or got to spend summer holidays with cousins “on the farm”. Although my parents were active in our community and both seemed to have lots of friends, I was a lonely awkward child who probably needed the security of a large family; the sense of people that loved me unthinkingly – because we had shared ancestors.

In my twenties, I moved back to the UK where the majority of my extended family live. I got to know a couple of aunts and my grandmother really well and I’m forever grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. Over the years, I’ve built tentative relationships with some of my cousins – and more recently their children.

These are loose connections though, and although I’m extremely fond of these men and women who share my ancestry, often my facial features and in some cases my name – they are still half a world away. So too are my mother and brothers, all in England these days. The only blood relative I have in New Zealand (apart from my son) is my father, with whom I’ve long had a difficult relationship.

On a day to day basis, family pretty much means my partner and son.

My son's Naming Day; surrounded by those we chose to be an on-going part of our child's life. the babies are teenagers now.

My son’s naming day; surrounded by those we chose to be an on-going part of our child’s life. Those babies are teenagers now.

Yet I do have a sense of belonging to a group that is more than community. It’s made up of my friends, sometimes neighbours and some relatives. These are the people I’m close to; those I call when I feel like shit and need advice or a shoulder to cry on; the people who’ve looked after my son when I’ve needed them to – and more often because he likes being at their house anyway. The people I want to be with when I have something to celebrate and even more when it’s their turn to triumph.

The Maori word for this is whanau – which means family, but not merely or even necessarily in a biological sense.  It’s about the communities of care that we construct – whatever their basis. Whanau is the group of friends, second-cousins and god-parents that gathers for dinner sometimes. It sends me out gift shopping for an old friend’s grandchildren, allows me to embrace my partner’s nephew’s half sister as my niece and my son to regard a friend’s young child as a cousin too.

My son is an only child, and in many ways I worry about his lack of family. Yet I’m confident that his whanau – the people we have chosen and who have chosen us – will love and support him. I’m confident too that he will create his own whanau as he grows older.

Thanks to Sonel at Sonel’s Corner for this week’s Black and White Weekly Photo Challenge : Family

Weekly Photo Challenge: the golden hour

Silhouette of youth

Silhouette of youth

It’s mid-winter here, and cold. Not a good time to be out in the golden hours taking photographs and I’ve posted so many old sunrise-sunset photos I don’t want to repeat myself.

But I like the irony in this shot. It was a glorious evening, making even the extensive mudflats at Pt. Chevalier look spectacular. My partner and I admired the view; our son remained largely oblivious to everything but the music on his iPod. I love the way he’s turned away from the sunset. It’s not only a nice photo, but a nice comment on our different priorities in life.

Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: the golden hour

Earworm: moments of clarity and silly songs

‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’

— Soren Kierkegaard

I suppose this is a kind of footnote to my post on nostalgia.  I can’t remember when I read the quote above, but it would definitely constitute an epiphany moment. Not an epiphanette you understand — a full-blown epiphany.

It’s been a piece of wisdom I’ve held close to my heart and it’s helped me in all sorts of ways, so this is perhaps a bit arrogant, but it has also occurred to me that perhaps Kierkegaard isn’t quite right.

I think there are also moments in life when something happens and you know, just absolutely know, that it will change you forever. And I think it’s also possible in those moments to catch a glimpse of the person you will become.

I experienced post-natal depression and there were times in the first months of my son’s life when I was closer to giving up on existence than I had ever been or have been since; like really close.

One night, probably around 2am, when he’d woken crying for about the fifth time, I snapped and decided that I had to take him back to the hospital and explain that I’d made a terrible mistake and would they please just take him off my hands.

I was out of bed and stumbling around looking for clothes and all the time I was thinking about what to pack for him, and mentally writing the note that I’d hand over to make sure “they” looked after him properly. I remember composing the bit about his favourite toy (he was about 5 weeks old) and how he liked particular songs to be sung to him … and as I was trying to remember the name of the girl band that sang “Kisses for Me” on the Song for Eurotrash album …. I knew I wasn’t going to give my son away.

Call it arrogance, but I knew in that moment a) no-one would ever look after my baby as well as me, and b) that I was going to be a good mother. I saw a future that was clear and defined and although not easy – it still isn’t 15 years later – it was my future.

Until that 2am epiphany, I’d tended to take the easy way out of things; to abandon projects that got too hard. But in my son,  I found a project I couldn’t walk away from.

Has it made me a better person? Probably not. I still waste time thinking of excuses for not doing things when I’d be better off just getting on with it. I do still walk away from things that I don’t think are worth the effort. But perhaps the difference is that now I know I CAN stick with something no matter how horrible and difficult and terrifying it is.

And since this is an earworm post; this is the version of “Kisses for Me” I used to sing to my howling infant. I loved the TV programme Eurotrash, and the album of Eurovision songs connected with it is an absolute mine of fabulosity.

Oh, and the band is called Kenickie.

This is a response to the Daily Post Prompt: Earworm

Others you might enjoy:

Weekly photo challenge: nostalgic for what?

Infant class, Sinclairtown School, Kirkcaldy, Fife 1966?

Miss Simpson’s infant class, Sinclairtown School, Kirkcaldy, Fife 1966. I wonder if any of us look back on those days with nostalgia?

Nostalgia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition (Merriam-Webster dictionary).

Spoiler alert: I’m not nostalgic.

I can’t really think of a single thing or time from from my past that I get particularly sentimental about, or yearn to relive or return to.

I admit that I kind of miss the few years  in my early twenties when I was slim and promiscuous (these two things are almost certainly connected), but if I’m honest, the sex may have been great but the rest of my life was still a mess.

I don’t miss the past because mostly I don’t remember it with much fondness. That’s not to say that there haven’t been moments when I’ve felt really happy, but in general I don’t think I ever learned how to turn life over to find the bright side. I’m definitely a “glass half empty person” with an uncanny talent for locating large black clouds to stand under.

I’m particularly not nostalgic for my childhood, so I guess my choice of photo probably counts as an attempt at irony.

I hated being a kid. I was all the “un’s”:  un-athletic, unattractive, unpopular and probably pretty un-likeable. I hated school because the only thing I was any good at was the actual schoolwork, and lets face it – that doesn’t really count for squat in kid universe. I think even the teachers didn’t really like me. It’s ok to be brainy, but not nerdy too.

At home I had to contend with parents who were so desperately wrestling their own demons they didn’t have the time or perhaps the sensitivity to notice that I was miserable, stunted, lonely, suffering.

And anyway, none of that really mattered since my main role in the family was to give my parents something to brag to their friends about – preferably a glowing report card at the end of every term with a few sensational exam marks in between. This I did, but no matter how good I was, it was never quite good enough. “Ninety eight percent! What happened to the other two?” Eventually I learned that they coped with my deficiencies by massaging the truth of my achievements a little. I’m not sure if they did Apgar tests when I was born, but if they did my parents would have insisted I got 11 out of 10.

So really there wasn’t much point in trying … Except … Except that I wanted them to love me, and I didn’t know of any other way, so I kept on getting A’s and knowing that without the little plus sign, they might as well have been D’s. For a long time it didn’t even occur to me that there was any other point to education.

So I guess I’ve wandered through vast tracts of my life totally without any sort of navigation device. Which is probably ok, because I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going anyway.  I still don’t really.

If I was making this up, I’d be able to tell you that at some point I had an epiphany; a moment of clarity when it all started to make sense and I got my life on track, blah, blah, blah.

Sorry. As a narrative, this one doesn’t obey any rules.

I’ve probably had lots of mini-epiphanies — epiphanettes if you like. I’ve probably even tweaked bits of my existence as a result. Whatever.

I’m a different person now. Maybe my present – reasonably happy – existence is the result of lots of dialectical hopscotch, or maybe it’s just what happens when you get older and slower and less willing to give a shit.

What I do know is that although I still find black clouds and get caught in their storms, I can also make my own shelter and dry myself off and carry on. I’m not waiting for anyone to rescue me.

I can go back to university after 20 years and get A’s because I want to do each assignment as well as I can – not because I think it will make someone love me.

I still don’t have a destination in life, but I have a morality that helps me navigate each day, and at the end of most of them I feel ok.

So right now I feel no nostalgia; and I almost hope I never do because that would mean life and I had stopped getting better. And that would be a shame after how far we’ve come.