Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Scrap that, Blood is thicker than water...

My children have no blood relative cousins. My husband has a brother in Australia who has no children and I am an only child, meaning my kids are cousin-less. Having grown up knowing the wonderful relationship you can have with your family members of similar ages, having the best of best cousins myself,  I have always wanted the same experience for my kids. I was delighted therefore to create that dynamic with people - who maybe felt for the fact I am an only, or cherished the relationship they had with me - so my kids were not really aware what a 'blood relative' or 'real cousin' even was. They had them. Simple as that.

But there will always be that person - who will tell them, who will remind them, that the relationship is false: like Santa or the tooth fairy - something great to believe in, but not strictly a truth. This year, more than any other has taught me one thing: no matter what you believe you have created, nurtured, cared for and invested in - others will not. That when the chips are down, one thing matters only: are you blood?

I've never seen life this way. Raised every weekend by my Mum's ex-boyfriend (whom I lived with from the age of 11 until I finished Uni) - I decided pretty damn early in life that family could be chosen. That being an only kid, who never felt she was her parents' priority - it was ok, because I could carve out family when it wasn't really there. Never living with my Dad, not having the classic 2.4 and all the trimmings - well, who cares, when you can throw your love at others and make it stick. Breathe life into the word family - in whole other areas, to find that love you are so desperate for.

And up until this year, I would have said, I did a damn good job of it.  But suddenly - in a single moment, standing in the queue at an airport - I realised that my construct of family - well, it was potentially all in my head. Perhaps how I saw a relationship - was in fact only in my imagination. I scrolled through texts and whats apps and our whole history to work out if I had in fact gone mad.... A friend described the effect on me as 'gaslighting.' To say it knocked me for six is an understatement.

Since then I have pondered on what I mean to others and also, what do they mean to me? Being an only kid I have never had a sibling to rely on, someone to charge ahead, forge the pathway for me. Someone to look up to, or to guide. Perhaps my love of company (husband says I am 'energised' by seeing people, whereas he is drained) is based on the fact that as an only child of divorced busy parents - I was often alone. The bonus of this, is I have never struggled to make friends and find it easy to engage with others. So for me, friendship, well, it is family. I choose friends sparingly and once I'm in - I'm there 100%. Thus the majority of my mates I have known 20/30 plus years...

And yet, if anything were to happen to me, I can imagine people turning to my soul mate buddies and thinking 'oh you just lost a friend... big deal.' It isn't like losing a blood relative.... Because we seem to measure love, commitment and importance on that simple fact - being related. Yet, my life is littered with people who mean the absolute world to me - who I literally would do anything for and who have supported me through thick and thin - and they aren't blood. I sent This article by Elizabeth Day to several friends because it was a love letter to friendship - the most underrated and unsung of loves of our life.

This year I lost someone dear to me. She introduced me to Prince on her weekly mix tapes...Taught me how to dress at a time when I thought long kilts and polo necks were cool.  We used to sit on the doorstep in our PJs and play albums loudly during the long summer holidays. She was the first person to get me drunk. (I still can't even smell Martini Bianco without wanting to wretch).  We would sit up late watching scary movies trying (and failing) to recreate McDonald's thickshakes. She showed me The Exorcist and I duly vommed. (Regan had nothing on me). We had each others' backs during the dark teenage years... covering for one another and sympathising when we fought with our respective mothers... Her daughter was flower girl at my wedding, sat in between my new husband and I through the reception. I flew home to celebrate her daughter's 2nd birthday. She wrote my children birthday cards from 'cousins X Y and Z.'  I knew her for 35 years, lived with her on weekends for almost 10 and yet I had members of my own family who never once said: 'I'm sorry for your loss.' I guess because she and I weren't related... we weren't blood. So my grief, it seems isn't valid.

Perhaps a less sensitive person would take this on the chin. But I am not that person. My friend H wisely said: "you have to ask yourself why this matters so much to you." My answer: I am the girl with 3 sets of keys and 3 homes as a teen. I am the girl who sought out family... I am the one who never believed that blood was thicker than water.  I am that lonely only. So whilst I thought that by 45 I had managed to contain all my demons -  suddenly they have come flying out of the woodwork.... A pandora's box opened, the contents mocking me and all I believed in. All I thought I knew. All I guess I had hoped for.

So this much I know is true: blood will always be seen as thicker than water. No matter how much you want it to be different.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

All you need is love

Well, it is that time of the year isn't it? When we down tools... pick up bars of Toblerone and our TV remotes and sink into the sofa. No? Just me?

It is also the time of year we get to reflect on 2018 and all it has brought us...

On a work level, it was one of my finest. I got to work with wonderful people, saw a project dear to my heart rise like the phoenix from the ashes and met a whole bunch of amazing folk in film - waters I had never dipped my toe into before. After a punishing 2017, it was nothing short of joyful.  On a personal level, going back to college was a highlight - again for the people I met and also because it is great to get out of my Berkhamsted bubble and learn new skills.  The loneliness of writing has never sat well with me.

And yet, there have been moments of complete devastation. When the phone goes and someone says -  'Are you sitting down?' And you say 'yes,' because you always do, don't you? Even when you are standing in your kitchen, heart pounding, thinking - what the hell is coming next? And it is never what you expect and it is never, ever good. People dear to me have had struggles - life or death struggles - and all I have done is offer support and love, while I watch them be more courageous than I could ever be. It is at times like this, that I think of my Father's saying: You are nothing without your health. I hope they (and you) have a healthy and happy 2019.

What have I learnt this year?

1. That when cooking it is best if one stays in the kitchen. Maybe not get on Twitter or stop to write that email or two... never ends well.

2. That being near the sea is a balm for the soul. Cornwall and Croatia - easily two of my favourite times in 2018. Beautiful Brela - swimming around the famous rock every day, as schools of teeny tiny violet fish swam just out of reach - was incredible. One morning husband and I got up at dawn and crept out there for a swim. It was silent, save for the quiet sea lapping at the shore and I held that moment in my head for the rest of the year.

When I feel stressed, I go back there.

3. That nothing on earth beats hanging out with those that have known you since you were 11 and still miraculously do. But perhaps 3 drinks and then stop is a lesson I should have learnt back in 1994... Maybe then, texting your first boyfriend, after not actually seeing him for 25 years, (and I quote - spelling mistakes included) : ' Too many drinks later... We are at a girl's reunion... and I have a daughter and a son and I thought I have a lot to thank you for. Thank you fit teaching me sex and thank you fir making me love my own body. I only wish my daughter felt teh same. I wish you only happiness.'  DEAR GOD. 'What,' said my dear mate C, "are you going to say when he asks how old your daughter is and you reply er.. 8?"  My point, was that I wished my kids would have the great first love I did. Perhaps it got lost in my 12 gin translation. Sigh. Oh and I sent YET another text to his gentlemanly reply, but I cannot face writing it here. I would have to kill myself if I did.

4. So really, a lesson is, STEP AWAY FROM YOUR PHONE WHEN DRUNK. I'm 45 - why do I still need to learn this???

5. There is NOTHING wrong with star bothering, even at my age. But when you meet the most handsome and talented actor of his generation, remember he is not of YOUR generation - so to compensate, tell Timothee Chalamet that he looks like your son. Then exit. Quickly.

6. Hanging out with your kids - when you set down the phone, leave the house and go explore - is amazing. They will be gone in a matter of seconds, (my son is a teen next year) so enjoy it while you can. Every hug in the morning, every lazer quazar game at their birthday party, every blackberry pick in September sunshine, it will all be gone in a heartbeat. So embrace. Go outside. Look up.

7. That Dark N Stormy at 3pm on St Paddys - because B thinks it is a good idea and sure didn't we win the rugby and isn't Ireland fecking class - will end in a broken toe. Be warned.

8. Bike rides are always good idea.

9. Freshwater swimming is amazing. Especially with my two old flatmates. Henleaze you are stunning and I wish I could swim in you daily.  Thank you CJ. Summer you were glorious and exhausting in equal measure.

10. As ever, 2018 affirmed that my greatest pleasure in life is when the lights dim low and I'm holding a hot coffee in hand, waiting for a movie to start. Tomorrow, we as a family are off to see Elf at my local art deco cinema - replete with bar! I'm so lucky to have The Rex on my doorstep - meaning I get to see wonderful films like Summer 1993, Wildlife, BlackKKKlansman, The Rider, Custody (the most tense film I have EVER seen), Coco and Ladybird (with my son) there... I'm still not down with films being on Netflix or Amazon before being on a big screen - I just do not get why you would want to see the cinematography of something as incredible as The Rider, on a small screen? End of rant.

11. I've also leant that I may no longer have periods (thank you partial hysterectomy, I love you so) but my PMT still rages and thank god for Evening Primrose. There was a point this year as I wept on the school office staff because my cakes for the cake sale had on the drive to school become cake roadkill, that I realised my hormones are the ruin of me. Evening Primrose helps. Something had to.

12. Most of all, I realise how fleeting time is, that we are here again, about to usher in a new year. I know that we must use our time wisely, in who we share it with and what we chose to do with it. I personally need to get offline more and get outside more. Having almost pet ducks (we named - Daisy and Derek) to feed most of spring; the rest of the family seeing a deer in the garden - but only me seeing a beautiful kingfisher hurrah! - has meant me embracing the outside more. Getting out and walking to the end of the my lane, along a canal and up into the woods - is brilliant.

2018, thank you for being kind to me. For affording me health and a stable income. For giving me sunshine and the seaside. At a time when our country is a mess, when everyone seems to be suffering, when mental health issues are only starting to be less taboo, I try and find one reason every day to be cheerful - from a good book, to a hot bath, to a great cuppa - joy is in the small moments. That all we have and can give, is love -  and that really, is all you need.

Merry Xmas and a Happy 2019 you filthy animals.

CM xx

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Wife

Let me count the ways that I love Glenn Close: she was able to garner sympathy when she played a mentally disturbed woman who refused to be tossed aside like a used napkin in Fatal Attraction (I even bought the DVD in order to see the original ending, the one that Close believed is the rightful one); she played an adulteress herself in The Big Chill, but one who was willing to het her husband father a baby with her best friend - the fact this felt normal is down to the charisma of Close; she was the ultimate feminist in The World According to Garp; deliciously cruel as Cruella DeVille in 101 Dalmations; powerful and determined as Teddy Barnes in my guilty pleasure Jagged Edge and perhaps at her most luminous, most acidic and most memorable as the utterly wicked Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons. (Who could forget the incredible moment John Malkovich as Valmont demands that she keep her side of the deal and sleep with him or it will be war... only for the Marquise to give an aquiescing smile as her lip curls and she yells a triumphant: 'War!').

She is easily one of my favourite actresses of all time, so I went to see The Wife with high hopes. I couldn't have been more disappointed.

The film begins in 1992 in Conneticut, when Joe Castleman played by Johnathan Pryce, gets a phone call to say he has won the Nobel prize for literature. Joan, his wife, (played by Close) listens in on the other line, her face a picture of shock and wonder. The couple with their wet weekend of a son (played by a pudgy Max Irons who desperately needs a haircut and to ditch the leather jacket) travel to Stockholm to collect the award, followed by the human snake that is Christian Slater - a journo desperate to write a tell all book on Joe. (Slater is terrific - at his sleazy best).

Joan gathers up socks, picks crumbs from Joe's beard and tells him when to take his pills. She is the steady wheels behind his success, which he is quick to explain at every given opportunity. When asked what Joan does for a living, she replies 'I am a Kingmaker' and aint that the truth. There is of course a much deeper reason for Joan's angst in her role of sidekick - which is less of a reveal and more of - 'this fact has been blatantly obvious from the second act.'

Joan's rage simmers until it can no longer... which left me with the question - why now? If you have accepted this role for the whole of your life (one Joe's first wife was glad to escape) then why suddenly kick off? Over the Nobel prize? The 'truth' fails to unpick what role Joe had in this arrangement - how did his ego fare, save the fact he ran around shagging other women? There is a whole well of complex relationship questions that remain completely unanswered.

Close's daughter plays the younger Joan in flashbacks and she has clearly inherited her mother's talent; but there is precious little for her to do. Plus there are no styling differences between present day and flashback, which feels like a missed opportunity. When we hop back in time, it feels jarring and lack lustre, as if the budget ran out and they filmed all the scenes in one day.

Which brings me to the woeful direction. At one point I found myself thinking 'did Bjorn Runge run out of shots? Maybe forget to get a better focus?' The lack of skill made me constantly feel outside the film and not at all engrossed in it. The scene where Joe and Joan's son discovers the truth behind his dad's success, is a crash course in heightened melodrama and how NOT to act.

Close is clearly meant to be the mouse who roared but in fact she is a bitter little shrew who simply glowers through most of the film with only a couple of dramatic outbursts. An actress of this calibre deserves better to chew on. Perhaps there are far more nuances and complexities in the book that the director has simply shaved away here making the film feel flat and one note. The climactic scene is so over the top it belongs on a soap opera not the big screen.  Finally, his want to keep Close centre stage, so obscuring other characters from view - literally cutting them from frame - is distracting. Instead of focusing on Close, we are wondering where the headless air hostess is. Did the director not believe that Close was captivating enough without this tedious technique? Mate, the woman steals every scene she has ever been in, so fill the frame!


Spoiler alert: So Joan is the writer not Joe! Who knew! Who saw that coming? Are we to believe that even in the era of Joan Didion, Erica Jong, Sylvia Path and Gloria Steinem that Joan wouldn't have broken through unless under the guise of a man? Perhaps so, but by the late 70s and 80s this surely wouldn't have been the case? I found it somewhat unbelievable that a woman - played by the tour de force that is Close - would have allowed that to happen - to be the silent partner while her husband gets all the glory. If there is a morality tale here, I sure as hell didn't get it.

Perhaps come March, after 6 nominations, Close will win her well deserved Oscar. But it is a shame that it will be for this limp offering and not her blistering performances of old. Close will always be watchable, but give this one a miss.

Friday, 29 June 2018

You learn something new every... Friday.

The best thing I've done this year, has been going back to college.

In truth, there isn't a September that goes by that I don't wish I was picking stationary, grabbing files and heading off to a new classroom. The last time I was at a Uni was back in 2000 when I studied a film course, for one term - simply to know that bit more about it. Prior to that a I graduated (2:1 oh yes!) in 1994. Jaysus. 1994...

This year I decided I wanted to study again, this time to become a counsellor. Of course I love writing - but I want more feathers in my cap. Plus, I miss people. Living and working in the same small town day after day means my world becomes ever increasingly smaller - and I wanted to broaden it again. I wanted new people, new stories, new ideas, new challenges.

It was better than I ever imagined. Counselling training is as much about getting to know yourself and your reactions to situations as it is about helping others. At times you have to really study yourself - in all your naked glory - and its harder than you'd think. You are vulnerable, exposed and all that dark stuff buried deep within starts to bubble up to surface and come out. You may think you've sorted your shit into perfectly packed boxes - but you soon discover that you need to go back and have a good old clear out.

With my volunteering work, past training in life coaching and general fascination with people - I've loved every minute. There is nothing better than helping someone, help themselves. I've got 4 more years of study to go - but I'm excited. There was a time when 4 years felt like forever, but a year now goes by in a flash. By the time my daughter is ready for big school, I'll be a BACP qualified counsellor. There is a real privilege in hearing people's stories; them opening up and letting you in to their lives. The course has taught me - once again - that no matter how it looks on the outside - everyone has had to wade through the trenches of life, that no one is unscathed.

Today was the last day and it surprised me how sad I was to let them all go. Each week I've so looked forward to seeing the group - checking in, doing trios, getting to know them better. Such a wonderful bunch of people: brave, inspiring, honest, caring and kind. Work dependent I may be on the next stage with some of them - but others may be on different paths... We've promised not to lose touch and I genuinely hope we don't. My town sometimes feels like a big glass box; you don't get to know that much behind most masks - so to truly connect with people, has been a joy. My lecturer was amazing... the kind of person that you feel can see right inside you - knows instantly what makes you tick. Unnerving and thrilling in equal measure.

I'm so glad I took the leap - inspired by a lady in my lane, who is a counsellor still at 80. She told me you are never too old to learn something new - I just never realised I'd learn so much about myself into the bargain.  Roll on September and my new classroom... I can't wait.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The book of the summer.

Sometimes you read a book that touches you in a way no other book has done in a long long time...

Amazing Katy Regan's book is written from the point of view of not one, but 3 characters: There's 10 year old Zac, who is overweight, bullied and desperate to find his Dad Liam, who apparently did a runner just before Zac was born. Then there is Juliet, Zac's Mum, who works in a sandwich makers, struggles with her own weight, her car-crash of a love life and her tense relationship with her Mother. Finally, there's Mick - Juliet's Dad, who dotes on Zac, but has his own demons to contend with.

The story centres on Zac's quest to find his father - one that he plots with his best friend Tegan - noting everything in his 'mission folder.' Aware that his Mum may not exactly be jazzed on him finding his Dad, he keeps his plan a secret. Meanwhile, Juliet keeps a secret of her own: the real reasons why Liam went away.... Mick and his wife are still recovering from the death of their son, Juliet's brother. But the closer Zac gets in his mission, the more likely it is that long buried secrets and lies will float to surface...

This is a charming tale, where you cannot help but root for Zac and his earnest ambition. Regan's ability to write a convincing voice of a ten year old boy is nothing short of miraculous. Zac sweetly begins every chapter with a fact (who knew an Octopus has 3 hearts?) and has us championing his need to make his Mum happy while at the same time, trying to find the missing piece of his life's puzzle.

Set in Grimsby, on a grim estate, is doesn't hold back in showing the difficulty in being a single Mum, living close to the breadline. Juliet only wants the best for her son, even if that means telling him a big fat lie. This is the kind of book, where you want to be alone when you get to the end - or at least with a huge pack of tissues next to you - as if you don't cry, you simply don't have a pulse.

I kept going back over chapters I read, not wanting my time with Zac to end. A hero in every sense of the word, his ability to remain positive in the saddest of circumstances is a life lesson to us all.

Miss it at your peril!

Available here. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Mid life C word.

And it aint crisis...but more on that in a sec.

How goes it folks? Round these parts life has been pretty damn good. 2018 couldn't be more further away from 2017 than night and day.... Anyway it's been a while since I did a round up of Things I've learnt part #376 so I thought I'd put finger to keyboard...

1. Nothing is better than waking up to a baby deer in your garden. Life round these here edge-of-town/semi-country parts is thrilling. Yesterday Daisy our (almost) pet duck came into the house. It all went swimmingly until she shat twice on the rug - but thankfully it wasn't on my watch so husband had to clean up... Meanwhile, I spot herons, kingfishers, robbins and goldfinches on a daily basis. Who knew birdies could be so exciting? Their little chirrups and tweets are music to my ears...

2. Nothing is worse than raging PMT. My god, I thought the beast would depart with my womb - but no, as I kept my ovaries - it still rages on. The other week I cried when my (pre-made sponges, iced by my own fair hand) cupcakes ended up cake roadkill after I drove to school. I wept on the school office staff like a BASKET case. Later I wept on my script ed, later still on my children. I knew it was hormones going haywire but couldn't stop it. It was like a car with no brakes. I speeded towards emotional carnage and could only watch - through blurred teary vision.

3. Nothing is better than table tennis, cold beer and kettle crisps.

4. Nothing is worse than a lack of Consistency. Not in cakes - but in life in general. That's all I'm after at this stage of the game. In the quality of pants I buy, in the quality of coffee I drink and in the friends that I have.  I simply don't have the time or energy any more to waste on anything that is flaky/only sporadically good/ doesn't always live up to past experiences. I want the safe, comfortable knowledge that in everything I surround myself with - it is generally what you get on the tin. Anything less has got to go.

5. There is nothing better than a good movie in an art deco cinema. The other week I saw Custody - a fabulous french film that was utterly terrifying. My buddy R and I could hardly look - yet there was no gore. Who knew a seatbelt alarm in a car could be so threatening? If you haven't seen it - do. Also, in my local art deco cinema - replete with bar -  (this is SUCH a good idea.... especially when I saw Mission Impossible 4. A bottle of red and I forgot how terrible it actually was) I saw Beast. The script is flawed, the plot ropey but it has an AMAZING Jesse Buckley in it (more of her in everything please) and the HAWT Johnny Flynn. Is a serial killer or not? Frankly he was so hot I didn't care. I would have shagged him too Jessie - so totally get it hun.

6. There is also nothing better than bike rides. I'm on the verge of buying a hybrid - mainly because in Cornwall for my birthday we hired bikes and cycled 11 miles on the camel trail. The sun shone and we saw a seal frolicking in the sea. It was like a little birthday gift from above. I had forgtten what a joy cycling is... Dinner at Rick Steins with squid ink risotto and lobster salad made it one of my best ever birthdays. Every time I look back on the photos of those 3 days away I feel happy. Mini breaks are the answer to life, I am sure of this and only wish I had thought of it sooner...

7. There is also nothing better than waking up in Ireland on St Paddy's day, realising you are free from the shackles of kids and husband and are with your oldest school buddies. Obviously it would be wrong not to neck Guiness, watch Ireland win the rugby and then join a Neil Diamond sing-a-long with an entire pub, before swallowing several dark n stormies, a bottle of Shortcross gin and going home with a broken toe from energetic dancing. It would be rude not to.

8. There is also nothing better than catching up with your oldest buddies, even if just for 2 beers on a Sunday afternoon in London...You take that time, those moments and reconnect - it is like you saw them only yesterday.

9.  I thought there was nothing worse than turning 45. But actually, I'm fucking loving it. If this is mid-life - bring it on. Sure, the skin on my neck is thinner than paper and if I look at a cake I'm 6 pounds heavier and what is with pubic hair deciding to grow in odd tufts? I mean what is all that about? But apart from all that - I'm just happy to be healthy. To not be walking like a walker like last year. To be around my kids - because sweet jaysus Sproglet is almost 12 and he came home announcing he and his buddies had found my blog at school and were looking at photos on it. Holy shit - what when he reads it? Now that will be the worst thing in the world.....

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Thank Feck for that.

And so it is we come to say Goodbye to 2017. It was a wrong 'un on so many levels for me - personally... so I am more than ecstatic to see in 2018.

In spite of all the difficulties - often it felt like I was wading through treacle - I feel I learned a lot. It is often out of the darkest times that you really do see what your mettle is made of - what you can accept, what you can change and what work you still have to do on yourself.

Yesterday as I was clearing out the family calendar, I realised I had done a disservice to 2017 - by dwelling on the negative. There was much to celebrate too - a house move; my children celebrating birthdays, watching herons swoop down to my garden stream; swimming in the sea in Ireland; star bothering non entities at X factor; holding Prince's guitar; watching Call me by your Name and reading the book; taking my kids to Paddington 2 and all of us crying at the end; watching Marah at Dingwalls; Halloween trick or treating and realising I was having more fun than the kids; tobogganing in the snow: watching my daughter score a goal; my son's leavers' service in July and him being awarded player's player of the year - making his whole year; the Harry Potter play (6 hours of theatre in one day is a LOT); working with some great writers/people who I admire and most of all, getting my health back - walking straight is an underrated joy...

Most of all though, my friends and family saw me through 2017. I valued more than ever those who were supportive, those who cared, those who let me weep and never judged me. It really is priceless being able to be vulnerable with folk and know that they aren't looking at you with pity... and who fill you with hope. It was a year everything went backwards and things I had built all fell... but the only way is up...

My dear friend Jo told me that once I moved, everything would change - and she was right. I feel more at peace than ever. Since then, November and Dec were the best months of my year - possibly because I saw so many friends/family... Which is what matters most to me really - the whole connection to others. I'm not good at being alone, left in my own head. (Something totally at odds with being a writer).

So, to 2018. I'm just glad I'm here. That I have my health. Around me many friends are going through  heartbreak, with their parents being ill. It made me realise how this all goes by so fast - and so many things just don't matter. I'm guilty of sweating the small stuff - worrying endlessly and feeling the fear. So, whilst I'm not making great resolutions - or aiming for dry January (just being a little drier) or writing lists... My plan is simple: To enjoy it. To look out more than in. That's all.

Who knows what 2018 will bring - but I wish you all, what few stragglers still look on here - great joy - please, if you do one thing this year - give yourselves a break and allow all you do, to be good enough. Be kind to yourselves. Before you know it we will be issuing in 2019 - it is but a heartbeat away.

CM x