Thursday, 21 August 2014

Herd Mentality

Recently I've noticed a change in the children; they're starting to act like a group. 

As they get older, there's been a subtle shift from playing through each other, to playing with each other. But more than that, there has been a subtle shift from a collection of individuals into a herd. They gravitate towards each other, often happy just to be together; the best of friends and the worst of enemies.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The 8 Mile Bike Ride

Learning How To Ride A Bike

I walked into the house last week to see Keith wearing his best a sheepish grin. I worry when I see that grin, it usually means he’s up to something, or he’s booked in for another tattoo.
“I've got a plan for this weekend, it’s a surprise”
I hate surprises. 

Truly, I loathe them, almost as much as I hate birthday parties. 

I was figuring out how to gently remind my husband of this fact when Alfie exploded into the room and stated speaking in tongues.

Keith face was a picture of dejection; 
“It’s true” he confirmed,
“What’s true? What’s going on?”
“Didn't you hear him?”
“Those were words?!”
“Yes, he just told you the surprise!”
“I have no idea what just happened. We can move on to talking about what’s for dinner and I will know the same amount as I did before he started speaking”
“No, it’s OK. I told Alfie today that if the weather is nice on Saturday, you and he would ride round to Oriental Bay on your bikes for lunch”
I had no reply to that.

That’s a lie; I had several replies about being volunteered to ride a bike and whether Keith had finally lost his damn mind, but I kept my own counsel. 

It wasn't the bike ride that I was dreading; it was the thought of Alfie riding 4 miles along a narrow pavement. I had visions of runners being hamstrung, cars with Alfie shaped dents, and a continuous soundtrack of “I'm tiiiiiired, my kneeeees hurt”.

But I'm a “do something that scares you every day” kinda gal and one thing I have learned about Alfie is to always expect the unexpected. If his enthusiasm for this bike ride counted for anything, we were going to be just fine.

No word of a lie, we got about 100 yards into our ride before I realised this had all the makings of being the most painful road trip ever undertaken.

It wasn't Alfie, it was the bike.

He couldn't reach the brakes, he couldn't reach the floor, and it weighs more than he does so every gust of wind stopped him dead in his tracks.

By the first mile, I had repeated the words “look ahead and don’t stop peddling” so often, I had turned them into a song.

The second mile involved hills, so my song was expanded to include such memorable lines as “PEDAL, PEDAL, PEDAL!!” and “YEAH BABY, DOWNHILL, TURN ALFIE, TURN!!!”

When my phone started ringing somewhere into the third mile I was forced to deal with the small matter of stopping. Eventually we came up with a plan that involved me picking something soft for Alfie to crash into and him not actively peddling into it.

Somehow we made it the rest of the way to our lunch date without anyone losing a limb.

Somehow we even made it home again.

As far as surprises go, it was frickin awesome.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Flying With Children

In seven days we are flying to the UK. 

The list of “Shit to get sorted” is never ending. I mean that figuratively of course, it has an end, and that end is when I either lose my mind, or run out of time and have to get on a plane, whichever comes first.

This is payback good and proper for the fact that I was so chilled about the flight last year while Keith was a basket case. In those 11 months, the newborn haze has cleared to be replaced with the relentless midday sun of toddlerhood and there is nowhere to hide. 

Fellow passengers of Qantas Flight 001, I'm so, so, sorry for the crazy that is about to be unleashed into your life.

I can only suggest you follow my lead and accept every complimentary drink that comes your way.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Saying Goodbye To Grandma Francisca

Last week I got a phone call I knew I would have to face some day: My Grandma Francisca had died.

Stuck on the other side of the world the only contribution I could make to her funeral were a bunch of flowers and a few heartfelt words. It didn't feel like enough, not to mark such an extraordinary life, and had there been more space on my Interflora card, I would have filled it with these words.

My grandma was an extraordinary woman, born and raised in a time of chaos:

During the Spanish Civil War, her family joined the 100,000 strong “Caravan of the Dead” who escaped Malaga along the coast road dodging air attacks and navy bombardment. In later years my grandma was still haunted by some of the things she had seen during that journey, especially the young girl she saw die after being hit in the neck by shrapnel.

As a newly-wed she was evacuated to Central London where she lost her first born after a tragic accident. Two years later she gave birth to my dad while hundreds of V-1 bombs were raining down hell on the city around her. 

When her young family eventually came home to Gibraltar after the war, she put her faith in her husband’s dreams and went to Argentina in search of a better life: They returned nine months later.

She kept home in Gibraltar in a repurposed Nissen hut with a tiny kitchen built from reclaimed wood and water collected in buckets from a central distribution tap. Entertainment was listening to my granddad reading from some dog eared romantic 19th century novel while they huddling by the stove. That kind of behaviour makes it curious that my father was never blessed with siblings.

He wasn't, and after being widowed in her forties, she continued to raise my dad alone.

Of course I don’t remember any of that.

I remember a woman who scared the bejesus out of me as a child. We didn't see her as often as my mum’s parents, her voice was loud, and rough and the language barrier between us made it hard to connect: We stumbled through conversations awkwardly, looking for common ground and finding little.

There was also the small matter of the shelf in her bathroom, stretching wall to wall and covered with a curtain: I was convinced for many years that this was the last resting place of my grandfather. I'm not sure what put the idea in my head to start with and had I asked I would have been shown it was full of washing powder and bathroom cleaner but it’s not an easy thing to crowbar into conversation.

In my teenage years, I saw her even less, but our relationship reached a turning point when she taught me how to cook.

She didn't, she just thought she had.

Truth was I was a regular cook at home and when she asked me to help her one lunch, I took the frying pan confidently and set to work. I remember her gestures, her caricatured nodding and her shouting updates to the assembled family while she stood, hands on hips, beaming. Dad came to the kitchen door and we exchanged conspiratorial grins, both of us happy for her to have her moment of pride.

The cruel irony was that as soon as we had reached an age where we could find any part of the common ground we had lacked in my childhood, senility took away the grandma I knew.

For nearly a decade I was a complete stranger to her as she lived her life in a happier time: One where her son was at school and husband was at sea.

I stopped visiting her because she was convinced that I was her (despised) sister and it hurt me to sit in the corner of the room with her glaring at me for some unknown slight.

Her senility meant that I was never able to share my marriage or my children with her.

I was never able to ask her about the son she lost or grieve with her as a fellow mother. I couldn't ask her about her childhood or compare our shared adventure of starting a new life in a country far from home.

I'm fairly sure we could have filled many days talking about those things.

My sentimental heart hopes that now she is free from her earthly body she can finally see the legacy she has left behind.

I hope she can see the characteristics she has passed down to us: I'm talking of course about the iron will, the bravery, and the tendency to be overly loud when nervous.

And the awesome teacups. Yes, definitively awesome teacups.

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