Category Archives: March 2013 Posts

Braveheart II

The owl pendant

The owl pendant

Tuesday, March 26th, 5:30am. Ten minutes into the half hour walk to the Acton Post Office Depot, the heavens open up.  By the time I reach the depot I’m drenched.  In the dark pre-dawn I’m collecting a package from a remote location in an industrial area.  I still have to go home, shower and get myself ready for another frantically busy and stressful workday.  But I happily bop along to the music playing through my earphones.  I’m collecting my father’s birthday gift, and though I know I won’t like the present, I’m very much looking forward to reading his card. 

Page 1 of Dad's birthday card to me

Page 1 of Dad’s birthday card to me

I pay the £29.38 customs charge (that I’m not happy about) and open the item then and there.   I look at a silver pendant of an owl.  No surprise, I don’t like it.  But I look at the envelope containing my card and I know that’s where the real present is.  Dad’s written words.  And I know that the words will contain a link to the owl.  I smile.  When he sent my Christmas present I rushed to a café to savour the experience of reading the card.  Today I don’t have the time to indulge.

An hour later I’m on the Central line.  I pull the card from my handbag, open it, read the first page and loudly laugh – a woman’s dead-eyed glance reminds me that I’ve grossly violated the “silence at all times” tube rule.   I quietly look down to read the second page.

I’ve previously written about Dad’s cards.  They’re the highlight of every birthday and Christmas.  Over the years he’s had countless accidents; he’s fallen off the roof, sliced his hand with a circular saw, and crashed his bike into stationary vehicles (that, he’s done numerous times).  His copious mishaps and narrow escapes from the grim reaper have made him a family joke.  His card makes reference to his dance with death, as well as his frustration at people ruining his cinema experience (the apple doesn’t always fall far from the tree …).

Page 2 of Dad's birthday card to me

Page 2 of Dad’s birthday card to me

The card amuses me and when I emerge from the tube I email a friend about it.  My morning messages to Ed are part of my daily routine.  Rain, hail or shine, I send him a message every day by 8:30am.  My friend, Helen, will also know about my Dad’s card before I’ve reached my desk.  Time permitting, as soon as I arrive at work, I’ll email a friend I call The Hulk (I’m hoping mentioning him in this post doesn’t make him “go green”).

Written communications are priceless to me.  I love sending them, and I love receiving them.  I relish every email, text and whatsapp that comes my way.  My birthday is particularly gratifying because not only do I get more of these, but I also get good old-fashioned hand-written cards; the crème de la crème of written communications.  I’m so grateful for the messages; my father’s funny card, my mother’s meaningful one, my sister’s interesting one … and those from my friends.  I’m immensely thankful for the people in my life.

Afterword

On my birthday last year I flew to China.  Tomorrow I fly to Australia.  The black and white photo that heads up my blog was taken at my 5th birthday party in 1982.  Despite the knowing (and mischievous) twinkle in my eye, I had no idea what the next 31 years would bring.  As I sit here and type this, I have no idea what the next 40 hold for me …

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Two travellers and the farmer

A migraine violently assaults me as I’m walking along Acton High Street.  I need to get out of the bustling crowd and noisy traffic immediately, so look for the closest sanctuary.  I cross the road and enter Our Lady of Lourdes Church.  I take a seat in a pew, open my handbag, swallow my medication and close my eyes.  I can hear some murmuring from the confessional booth at the back, but otherwise I’m surrounded by a still and welcome quiet.

Though I’ve not been to Mass in a few years, Catholic churches are familiar environments for me.  I’ve fainted in them, I’ve giggled in them, I’ve daydreamed in them.  I’ve even listened in them.  They always calm me.  In Church I was surrounded by friends and family, I knew what was taking place, and what was coming – I liked the safety, the routine, the familiar friendly faces.  Church was a place of happiness and fun.  I hear of “Catholic guilt” and of the Catholic experience being that of fear and looming repercussions, but mine was all about appreciating the joy of life, and making other people feel good whenever you could.

My father and me ... ready for my first communion (I didn't realise that was the only time in my life I'd be wearing a wedding dress ...)

My father and me … ready for my first communion (I didn’t realise that was the only time in my life I’d be wearing a wedding dress …)

I look at the empty altar and recall a priest telling a story that has stayed with me.  Precisely where I heard the moral tale is long forgotten (Saint Augustine’s, Kyabram? Saint Brendan’s, Shepparton? Saint Mary’s, Mooroopna?)  But the North American fable is tattooed in my memory.  As I prepare to depart to Australia in a few days, that story feels poignant.

Two travellers and the farmer

A traveller came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road.  Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.

What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger.

What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer.

They were a bad lot.  Troublemakers, and lazy too.  The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted.  I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.”

Is that so?” replied the old farmer.  “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.

Disappointed, the traveller trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked.

What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again.

They were the best people in the world.  Hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”

Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”

Afterword

When I first heard this story, it struck a chord and I agreed with every word of it.  I was a child surrounded by decent and kind people; I assumed everyone was the same.  I still agree with about 80% of the sentiment.  But when I was a child my world was one of greater uniformity and shared values.  I assumed cultural and socio-economic similarities.  At 8 years of age, I wasn’t aware of the Taliban, for example.  As much as I find people to be generally pleasant, I know I wouldn’t find the Taliban to be the same!  Equally, life has taught me that financial circumstances and social environments play a large role in the attitudes of people – and how they treat others.  Sometimes no matter how positively you approach people, your goodwill won’t be reciprocated.

I’m off to Australia soon where I find people extremely likeable, excruciatingly irritating and frequently ridiculous.  I live in England where I find people extremely likeable, excruciatingly irritating and frequently ridiculous.  For me, at this point, the farmer’s words are true.

Galaxy or Dairy Milk?

Galaxy or Dairy Milk?

Anthony’s paid for the petrol and returns to the car.  He opens his door, takes his seat on the driver’s side and holds out two chocolate bars.

 Anthony: I didn’t know if you were a Galaxy or a Dairy Milk person?

Me (smiling): Galaxy.  Definitely Galaxy.

Anthony (returning my smile and passing me the Galaxy): Well that worked out because I wanted the Dairy Milk. I believe people are always either Galaxy or Dairy Milk people.

I adamantly agree.

We launch into a series of questions, purely for fun.  They help pass the time while we’re sitting in traffic on our way to IKEA.  They continue to pass the time while we’re navigating our way through the crowds of people who are wasting their precious weekend by hunting for home furnishings.  I wish I wasn’t one of them but I need a wardrobe; I intend to find, purchase and transport one with military efficiency.  There will be no idle window-shopping, and any time that’s not productive (primarily waiting in queues) will be made entertaining by the interesting Q&A debate with Anthony.  You might also enjoy the questions …

1)      What superpower would you choose and why?  Flight, telekinesis or invisibility?

2)      Top three chocolate bars of choice?

3)      Which of your colleagues/relatives/friends do you think would be a bad date?

4)      Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or Catwoman?

5)      Pasta or rice?

6)      Paper books or Kindle?

7)      First person you thought of this morning?

8)      Ireland or Scotland?

9)      Company for conversation: same sex, or opposite sex?

10)   When you hear the “beep” that signals you have a new text/whatsapp/email, whose name do you hope to see?

11)   When you hear the “beep” that signals you have a new text/whatsapp/email, whose name makes you roll your eyes?

12)   What saying/expression do you use a lot? (If you don’t know, ask a colleague/relative/friend/partner – they’ll know)

13)   Favourite word?

14)   Least favourite singer/band?

15)   Best topping on toast?

16)   Worst feeling in the world? (One of my close friends answered this with “being busted/caught” which I thought was a great response)

17)   Would you rather look at a beautiful photograph (or view), or listen to a song you love?

18)   What trait of yours do you think most annoys other people?

19)   What do you think you’ll be doing on this day, one year from now?

20)   Would the 15 year-old you be happy with you and your current life?

I bought a suitable wardrobe (to replace my broken one) and we assembled it without too much difficulty.  IKEA instructions are often criticised but I find the piece-by-piece construction process quite satisfying. Though nowhere near as satisfying as answering imaginative and stimulating questions!

Afterword

In England, every man I’ve known has preferred Dairy Milk to Galaxy.  Most women have preferred Galaxy to Dairy Milk.  For those reading this outside Britain, “Galaxy” is called “Dove” for you, though your Dairy Milk tastes different.  I like Galaxy in England, but in Australia I prefer Dairy Milk to Dove.  And in America I’d rather not eat chocolate at all (English readers will agree – ask them about Hershey’s and you’ll hear a unanimous “yuck!”).  Who would have thought chocolate could be so complicated?

My special box

“Hi Simone, I hope you’re well.  I know you haven’t heard from me in a long time but I wanted to let you know that Ian’s had a heart attack. He’s okay, but I know you two were close so I thought you would want to know.  Did you know he’s divorced now? Martin”.

There was more in the Facebook message, but that’s the important paragraph.  I’ve not seen or heard from Martin in ten years.  The same time I last saw Ian.  We’d worked together but I haven’t given him much thought since leaving that workplace.  With the memory suddenly thrust in my face, I feel compelled to reflect on our most poignant time together. Belly-crawling like a snake under my bed, I pull out my “special box”.

GrasshopperThe contents of this are varied.  There are a lot of letters and cards, and more obscure items; a shoelace, a plastic grasshopper, a broken Batman key-ring, a cork.  To an outsider it looks like junk, but each of these items holds a specific memory.  Some have “romantic” associations akin to Monica Lewinksy’s blue dress (though more hygienic).  Others, like the alarm clock (a gift to mock my obsession with punctuality), are entirely innocent.  All items have a link to a person or moment I don’t want to forget – good and bad.

I find the envelope I’m looking for and take it to the living room.  There’d been a pub gathering to celebrate me leaving the place I’d worked with Ian and Martin.  At the end of the evening, when there were only a few people left, Ian drove me home.  He stopped the car outside my house.

Ian:  Well, this is it …

Me:  Yep.  The time has come.  It was a good night, though, wasn’t it?  And I’ll email you, obviously.

Ian:  Oh yeah, of course, me too … listen, before you go, I just want to give you this.  I didn’t want to give it to you in front of everyone.

Ian had handed me an envelope and told me to read it when I was inside. He said he’d be embarrassed if I read it in front of him.

For the first time in a decade I open the envelope and re-read the eight hand-written pages.  Ian says he has feelings for me.  He outlines detailed accounts of our interactions at work (we’d never seen each other socially).  He wants to see me again.  He wants to know if I feel the same way.  He makes no mention of his wife.

Mini Alarm ClockWhen I first read this dramatic and detailed declaration I was flattered, and genuinely stunned.  In the years we’d shared an office I never had any idea that he’d felt this way.  I was shocked that I’d been oblivious and tried to recall any moments that I’d missed – I drew a complete blank.  I met him the following weekend to have an awkward and emotionally charged conversation.  That discussion ended the possibility of any friendship and we haven’t spoken since.

Ian must have confided in Martin for him to send me his elusive Facebook message.  I feel like I’ve been shoved back in time; I’d never expected to hear from Ian, or anyone connected to him, again.

I throw out the letter, along with many other items from the box.  Some things are best forgotten.  I don’t want my memory of Ian to be of that uncomfortable shift in our friendship.  He was a colleague who I’d laughed with each day.  I’d enjoyed our conversations, both the meaningful and the frivolous.  He was a good work friend and that’s how he’s going to stay in my head.

Present-day life is filled with things that make me feel bad.  My special box has been exorcised and is now only filled with memories that make me feel good.