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Archive for April, 2009

Just lately, I’ve really had something of a writer’s block.  It’s been so odd, just to have my inner voice fall suddenly silent.  My inner voice is never silent.  My inner voice rabbits on so much — every moment of every day — that sometimes it drives me a bit nuts.

But not at the moment.  Well, that’s not true — my inner voice is still chatting away to me, but when I sit down to write, it just shuts right up.  Doesn’t have anything to say, won’t talk.  I sit and look at the computer and… get up and wander off again.  Nothing there.

And yet, when I am away from the computer — cooking lunch, doing laundry, wiping mucky faces — the voice is there, chatting away, and I can compose blog post after blog post in my mind.  Until, that is, I finally get the chance to sit down and write it up and then… I can’t remember it.  Not at all.  Not one jot.  What was I going to write about…?  What was it?  Nope, it’s gone… well and truly gone from my head.  Bah!

Last night, however, I was inspired!  The voice came back and the words flowed.  I stayed up too late writing — far too late — and knew I’d pay for it come morning, but I was so pleased to be blogging again that I ignored all that.   I finished, proofread, corrected… and hit ‘Publish’.

And the little icon spun round and round…  and round and round… and then the computer told me it couldn’t make the connection.  My ISP, as it turns out, was having some ‘trouble’ and I hadn’t been connected to the internet for nearly 45 minutes.  I hadn’t published, and I hadn’t even saved what I’d written.  The voice spoke, and the computer choked.

The internet access didn’t return all day — and I discovered what an interesting world it is without the internet to pull me away.  I spent the day with my girls — really, truly engaged with them: we played, we told stories, we cuddled a lot.  And I got so much housework done!  The place has gone from disaster to shipshape in one day.  I was almost disappointed when I finally saw my homepage pop back up on the screen.  …Almost?  Er, no… I really was disappointed.  I’d enjoyed my little holiday from my demanding taskmaster, and considered whether I ought to extend it further, or take steps to make the internet a less invasive part of my life…

But, it did give me something to write about at last.  A day without the internet, a day of quiet isolation from that unreal world, a day engaged in real life…  Now, that is something to talk about.

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Is it grey and rainy in Dorset right now?  Because that’s not what I see in my mind’s eye.  It’s April, and I know the cowslip in the lanes is bursting into its full glory, so full and wild that it brushes the car on either side as you drive.  And the hedges are alive with songbirds, joyful that the days are turning lighter and brighter after the long, wet winter.  And the grass is soaking up all that sun and rain, and turning it into a green so beautiful and intense that when you realise, it nearly takes your breath away.

Is it overcast and windy in England right now?  Because that’s not what I am remembering.  I see clear blue skies punctuated by wispy white clouds.  I can see our garden, unkempt and untidy, bursting with overgrown beauty.  The forsythia is in full bloom, a yellow so bright that it looks slightly unreal.  And the tree above is coming back to life, with those delicate fronds of pale, pale green that will suddenly explode — overnight — into the breathtaking profusion of pink blooms that appeared with perfect timing to welcome my first baby girl home.

Is it muddy and messy in Britain right now?  Because I remember the clean smell of the spring air as the weather turns, the way those first breezes blow fresh through newly opened windows, and banish the stale of winter from a cooped-up house.  I remember the joy of sleeping on sheets that have dried on the line at last and smell of Spring’s bright sunshine, instead hanging over the banister and smelling of the gas fire and last night’s dinner.  I remember a thousand blooms springing forth, in places expected, unexpected, and impossible, that colour every view and change the world from dull to extraordinary in a matter of days.

There is no time of year that is more beautiful in England than the spring.  And possibly no place on earth that can compare to its splendor right now.  And though I know I am conveniently forgetting the negatives — the rain, the mud, the cold — I also know that I am remembering it completely accurately.  For despite the best efforts of reality, England in the spring really is that spectacular.

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When I woke yesterday and sat up in bed, I had to stop for a moment and think where I was.  It just felt like England.  Something… something… I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was giving me the most intense feeling of being home…  What was it?

I got out of bed and padded downstairs, barefoot and in only my PJ top and knickers, to check that the gas stove hadn’t been left on — the smell of a gas cooker always takes me straight back to my grandmother’s house in Yorkshire — but, no, the knobs were all set firmly to “OFF”.

Perhaps it was a new soap?  Something M had opened that morning that smelt as quintessentially British as English Leather…?  I checked, but no new soap.

And then I suddenly sussed it.  Our house in Britain didn’t have central heat, just the two gas fires downstairs, meaning it was entirely unheated whenever we went out and each night while we slept.  This prospect had struck fear in my heart when I first moved into the house, but when I demanded the landlord put in gas radiators, he refused and suggested instead that I “try it for one winter” and see how I got on.  With no bargaining chip to call on, I gulped hard and gave it a go — and found that, except for a few bone-chilling weeks in February when I was forced to spend the night on the couch in front of the fire — it was surprisingly bearable.  The fires were actually quite amazing in the way they could heat the house from cold-soaked to toasty in a matter of minutes, and I came to love the way they gave the house a warm focal point — albeit dressed in some serious 1950’s ugliness.

But though the heat would radiate quickly from the living and dining rooms into the kitchen and then up the stairs to the bathroom and back bedroom, it never really managed to travel all the way into the front bedroom — my room.  All year round, that room stayed cool at best and downright freezing in winter.  It helped enormously when I married a man who himself puts out 20,000 BTUs/hour, and I could sleep so much more comfortably smooshed up against him.  But even he was no match for the dead of winter, when the wind howled through the cracks in the old sash window frames and blew the curtains about, and ice would form on the glass.  Those nights, we’d strip off as fast as we possibly could, breathing heavily — visibly — as the cold shocked our naked bodies like a hard slap, and then we’d pull on PJs, cardigans, bedsocks, and — yes — nightcaps with blinding speed before diving under two duvets and tensing ourselves against the icy-cold sheets until they finally, slowly, began to warm around us.  Those nights, we fell asleep watching frosty white columns rise up with each breath, and trying to keep our noses covered with the duvet.  Those were the nights when I wondered why I ever bloody agreed to “just give it a go”.

But most of the year was not like that.  Most of the year, the bedroom was just slightly chilly — a little unpleasant, but not unbearable.  And it was hardly worth noticing — it lasted only a few moments, only as long as it took to get from the safe haven of the duvet to the back of the door and to grab a dressing gown, and then hop downstairs and turn on that lovely fire.  Tick tick tick whoosh. Arms outstretched, goosebumps receding, fingers and toes warm in no time.

The day before yesterday had been beautifully sunny and warm, and I had opened every window in the house to enjoy the fresh spring air.  When the furnace misunderstood my intentions and burst into life, I had turned the thermostat as low as it would go — and then forgot to reset it when we closed the windows and went to bed.  The house had cooled all night, until it finally settled to a more… a more natural temperature.  And so, as I stood there in the hallway outside the bathroom yesterday morning, and looked down at my goosebump-covered legs, I realised why this particular morning felt so strangely familiar.

I’d woken up chilly.  And it felt oddly nice.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having central heat and I wouldn’t want to go back to freezing nights without it.  But for that moment, waking up to that fresh chill… it just felt like home to me.

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Pssst… Hey, listen…  I need your opinion on something.  Can you come and have a look?

Cheers.

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When I first mentioned to my mother that it was about time I arranged for the cat to come home to us — weeks ago, long before I found out about E2’s cat allergy — she surprised me by pulling a sour face and hmmming her disapproval.

I was startled.  “What?

“Well, I just don’t think it’s very fair,” she replied, with irritation in her voice.

“But… but she’s my cat.”

“Yes, but your sister has had her for a year now.”

“But that was always the deal!”  Everyone had always known it was going to take us probably the best part of a year to find a house and get moved and settled before we brought the cat home.

“I just think she’d really miss her, that’s all.  And you have the girls…”

“Mum, I miss her!  She’s my cat!”

“Well…  well, I at least think you should go and get her yourself.  You shouldn’t make your sister have to make the drive all the way up here, on her own with the cat.  She’d be so upset.”

I should have shut up then — her take on the situation clearly differed from mine — but I carried on.  It didn’t make any sense for us to drive down to get the cat, when my sister was coming up in just a few weeks for Easter.  Besides, it would be hard to fit the four of us, enough gear for a weekend, and a cat crate in the car.  Surely it just made sense for my sister to bring her up?

Deaf ears and irritation, on both sides.  And for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on — and still can’t, to some extent — an awful lot of hurt on my part.

So after the bad news at the allergist’s, I was dreading telling my mother, and began with a defensive and too-strong preface, “Mum, there was something else, and if you try to tell me that this is a good thing in any way, I will be incredibly irritated with you…”  So she listened quietly to the news, then told me she was sorry to hear it and changed the subject.  Somehow, I was irritated with her anyway — not by anything she said, but by what I knew she was thinking and how pleased she must have been for my sister.  I felt sure she was more pleased for her than she was sorry for me.

I held off giving the news to my sister — like if I didn’t say it, it wasn’t true yet — and, besides, I didn’t want to broach it over the phone.  But today, she was here for Easter …and it was time.

I started it off wrong — feeling a subconscious need to stake a now-pointless claim on my cat — and told her we were ready to have the cat come home to us, and were thinking of picking her up next month (when we will be visiting a nearby fiber festival).  My sister’s face went blank, and then stony.

“Are you ok with that?” I asked.  I wanted her to confirm that that was fine, that of course my cat was mine to bring home, that my mother’s crazy idea that one year of cat-sitting trumps eight years of ownership was… well, crazy.

“Yeah.”  She kind of threw the word at me.  And then, “But, I’ll really miss her.”  It could have been a plea for pity or a request for leniency, but it wasn’t — it was cool and with a touch of accusation.  Clearly, she was of the same mind as my mother.  The statute of limitations had run out, and what I was doing was wrong, was unfair.

So when I changed tack and told her the news, I couldn’t bring myself to make it permanent: I told her that we might not be able to take the cat back, that E2 had shown an allergic reaction but that I wanted to discuss all the options with the allergist first.  I don’t know why I said it that way. I know it’s not workable and discussing it with the allergist is pointless — I know my cat can’t come home — but I just wasn’t ready to make it final yet.  I wasn’t ready give my cat away yet — especially not after her reaction.

The stoniness on her face was replaced by confusion — I’d explained this badly, and had to go through it again.  We wanted to bring the cat home, but there was a chance — a good chance — that we couldn’t and so I needed to ask her if she’d be happy keeping my cat for good.  She brightened at that — yes, of course.  She’d be glad to.

“Ok…” I said, not really knowing where to go from here.  “Well, I’ll let you know what the allergist says…”

“S-s-sure,” she replied, and nodded, still looking a bit confused.  The whole mood had gone funny now, and neither of us knew where we stood.

“I was… I was really upset, you know!”   I wanted one of them to realise that this was painful for me, that giving up my cat — for allergies or for ‘fairness’ — was not as easy as they seemed to think it was.  “I really wasn’t expecting it…  It was really upsetting when I realised…”

“Oh… oh… of course.  I know.”  She tried and I think it was genuine, but it didn’t make any difference.  I felt so resentful to realise they both felt this way and she was so conflicted by my two bits of news and confused by the way I’d delivered them, that the whole situation had become tense and odd.

And it was time for them to go home.  Easter had been wonderful: great food, a happy atmosphere, well-behaved children, and — even better — well-behaved adults.  It had gone so much better than I’d anticipated, and then I’d gone and mess it up at the end.  And when my mum and sister finally got in the car, after a million kisses and hugs from two over-excited little girls, I wondered what it was they talked about as they drove home  …and imagined the worst.

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Has someone sped the world up?  Have the days suddenly got shorter?  I don’t know what’s going on, but the last fortnight is a blur, and the days come to an end almost as soon as they’ve begun, and nothing seems to have gotten done.

I see emails in my inbox that I’m sure have arrived this morning — or perhaps yesterday — and then I look and see they’re six days’ stale.  I have projects and chores that I meant to get to today…  yesterday… how about tomorrow?…  and they remain untouched.  And I feel like I updated my blog just recently and then realise it’s been days and days since I posted anything.

I honestly don’t know what’s been going on.  I am exhausted all the time, and have been for about two weeks — just desperate to get back to bed, and so cranky.  My mother kindly took pity on me today and babysat while I took a three hour nap but, honestly, I could have slept for twelve, easily.

I can only apologise to those of you who have sent me emails and then heard nothing — I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, but my corner of it certainly seems to be spinning a bit faster of late.  But I’ve seen your emails and I will answer them!  And I apologise to the rest of you for the complete lack of blog postings.  It’s been so weird — I don’t know what is going on with me.

And…  you!  You there with your fingers poised to leave that comment — no, I am not pregnant.  I am not!  Ask M…  he’ll tell you.  I’m not.

I’m just… out of the loop somehow.  It’s really weird…

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Something I Miss About the UK:

Bartenders who know what I want when I ask for a shandy or a lemon-top, and don’t charge me for a full beer when I’m not getting that.

Beer in halves, when I don’t feel like a pint!

Something I Love about the US:

Free lemonade all night for the designated driver.  How sensible and community-minded is that?!?

Bar snacks — not that I can eat them, mind, because of the soy, but still, bar snacks are such a good thing!

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