Sunday Up The Braes

Sunday comes.

We fetch our summer buckets; gaily coloured, red, blue, yellow and green. In a while, the plastic pails will hold Autumn’s fruits. Dad holds hands with one or other of us, alternating as each child takes a turn to race ahead. We skip along, stopping to check the hedgerows, trying to spot the nests that are hidden there. And, when we do, a proud cry goes up.

‘I’ve found one!’

We count the eggs but do not touch. We have been warned. None of us wants to be responsible for the mother bird’s non-return. Dad’s previous instructions are always bidden; his wisdom heeded, if not always completely understood.

We examine the markings on the eggs and note their colour. Dad identifies them. Sometimes we are proud to remember their names from earlier lessons. We scan the skies for the parents and wait quietly some way off to see if any bird spotted will return to the nest while we watch.

‘They never go too far away,’ says Dad. ‘They protect their young.’

The air is fresh and there is a crispness that makes it pleasant to take deep breaths.

‘Breathe deeply,’ says Dad, ‘in through your nose and out through your mouth. It’s good for you.’

We all inhale deeply and the smell of manure sails down tubes to eager lungs. Two or three deep breaths render us dizzy. One of us starts to turn in circles, arms outstretched, going madly round; adding in a fun way to the light-headedness of the moment.

In a twirl of excitement, we reach the woods and our first activity is to retrieve our home-made swing; hidden in the undergrowth on a previous week. We always expect someone else to have found it. We are always pleased to discover that they have not.

Dad ties the long rope to one of our favourite trees. Legs astride the swing’s strong branch, we take turns. We throw our heads back laughing, shouting for a turn, laughing in turn. We swing back and forth and round and round; sometimes pushing, sometimes being pushed. We swing until the fun in doing so is exhausted. The moment of completeness coincides with Dad calling on us. It is time to light the fire.

Collecting twigs is a competition. Are they dry? Will they burn? I’ve brought most. Look at me. I’ve done well. Dad’s praises are limited, directed and precise.

He smokes his pipe and leans against a suitable-sized rock; his legs outstretched to the fire we are preparing. We place the kindling in the middle of the stones already selected and positioned in a neat circle. Dad has previously shown us how to light a fire. Little bits of dried grass catch the flame, while gentle blowing helps it along. Soon the twigs burn and the smell …….I remember it still.

 

Every time I smell wood burn, I think of Dad and those days up the braes. Childish feet walking to a known destination where freedom, fun and adventure unfolded under Dad’s sparse but timely advices.

How I wanted one of the penknives my brothers used, to whittle little twigs to pointed ends that then pierced the potatoes Dad always magicked from hidden pockets.

We roasted those potatoes on our little fire. The boys, who were older, were permitted to turn them with their pointed sticks while my sister and I enviously watched this grown-up activity and wondered when our moment would come.

The potatoes burned nicely on the outside while eventually softened enough inside to eat with tentative fingers. We slugged milk, bought for pennies from the nearby farm. Creamy milk and hot potatoes hit stomachs only aware of hunger pangs when the activity stopped. No thought was given to whether the milk had been pasteurised or not or whose germs we shared in the communal drinking.

Sometimes Dad brought his billy-can and we shared sips of his tea, made from boiling water pilfered from a cattle trough. I was afraid of the cows, sure that they resented my unsuccessful forays at their watering hole. On more than one occasion I had to be rescued by one brother or other. While I stood transfixed by a mucous-laden cow, one of them would fetch the water, patronisingly reassuring me that the cow would not hurt me.

Even after eating, the day was still not over. My brothers carved their names in a broken-down tree, alongside an earlier week’s initials. The tree was our friend and plaything. Lying on its side, from whatever disaster had befallen it; its roots were exposed in a spreading mass. Sufficient exertion on our parts raised its purpose to a magnificent see-saw. Living trees were forbidden us. Nothing else was. There was only one rule. Do not hurt anything. That one rule enfolded us and all of nature in a protective embrace. And so we played freely.

We jumped burns, found special stones and leaves and spread all our treasures out for Dad’s perusal and identification. We only partly took in his words; understanding to follow at another time.

We scattered soil onto the dwindled fire to completely extinguish its living flame. We hid the swing again. Penknives were already closed and we trod the homeward journey.

Now birds were warming eggs in nests already spotted and not. Our bramble buckets were half-empty, the contents already mostly consumed earlier in the day. Dessert before dinner. Etiquette unbound. No silly rules to be observed. Just one rule; respecting the natural order of life. And that one was strict.

Dad’s walks up the braes were an adventure, giving Mum a break with younger siblings only to be attended to. The dinner she had prepared was always eaten with less relish than her efforts deserved. Stomachs full of brambles, potatoes and milk could not enthuse. Eventually Mum learned to abandon the Sunday dinner rule on such days. A plate of home-made soup was more than sufficient.

Faces rosy. Hands dirty. Smiles wide. Sunday bath-time followed.

 

                                                                                                                        

Reason

(Sun. 22/2/09)

A long, long time ago in a land far away a princess awoke from a deep sleep.

Daylight had begun to filter through the windows casting a tentative finger into the darkened room. Lucy lay still, waiting. Furnishings in the turret room were still in shadow. She could identify every piece without much thought. There, over in one corner, was her mahogany dressing-table with the ornate gilt mirror hanging on the wall above. To the left her wardrobe stood guard, massive in its presence, the four doors stretching over most of that wall reaching almost to the door. To the right of the window a large desk covered in neglected papers occupied all of that side of the wall. From her position she had a clear, unobstructed view of the window although she could see nothing through it for the filmy curtains allowed in light but no image of the outside world.

She waited. Would the sun grow stronger and brighten her waking hours as she hoped? Or were there clouds without that she could not see? She waited. Immobile to any action other than this.

She did not think of anything while she lay staring at the window. All thoughts were kept at bay, locked in a separate tower in her mind. Time would determine further thought and action. The clock sitting on her side-table ticked by the minutes while she lay inert.

Faint noises from the outside began to permeate her senses. The sound of an occasional vehicle passing in the nearby street. A voice not too far-off raised in command to a dog which responded with an obedient bark.

Outside, the world was beginning to come alive.

For Lucy the world could wait a little longer. Perhaps forever.

Still she did not stir. Waiting had become a perfected occupation. If only she knew exactly for what she was waiting.

No night in shining armour would rescue her from this place. She shunned the thought. The light darkened imperceptibly. No one in the room below was demanding her attention. She had nowhere that she had to be other than the space she occupied.

The room had grown darker still. Clouds had begun to encroach on that little measure of light and Lucy tensed her body expectantly waiting for the onset of further gloom.

She was not disappointed. As each tiny, obtrusive thought began to find a foothold in her consciousness the room seemed to grow darker and darker. The ever-present bubble of fear in the belly of her being began to expand. It began to effervesce, shooting thousands of smaller bubbles along her limbs and through her torso. She gulped nervously, knowing that if she did not get a hold on her thoughts and control the spreading fear she would lose this day too.

It was already too late. The bubble from which the others had emanated and spread had grown so large there was nothing for it to do but burst and it did.

She gulped just as the internal explosion occurred. Her mind imploded simultaneously and one great wracking sob escaped in response to the release of pressure. A giant hiccough. A major bout to follow.

Lucy was no longer still. Or waiting. Her body now moved to the tune within. No harmonious melody was this. An orchestral feat of disassembled notes crashed within her mind, clamouring noisily and creating havoc where a tentative peace had existed a short while ago. To this timeless cacophony her body found a steady rhythm of rocking, an infantile attempt to find soothing comfort from regular tempoed motion.

Rocking was only interrupted by short, moaning periods of turning and twisting as she tried in vain to shake off the phantom that presided and filled her with fear.

If this were only a nightmare she could scream for her mother and, in doing so, awake from deathly dreams and be comforted in the arms of one who could soothe and wipe away the fears and tears.

She wept louder because she was not five and this was no dream. She wept louder but still tried to smother it because her mother lay below and Lucy did not want to see her pain mirrored in the eyes of one she loved so well. There was nothing her mother could do. Nothing anyone could do.

These were her dark days. The days of never-ending nights. Of winter without end. Of sunshine never reaching her soul. The mere thought of endless winter nights shook Lucy to her core and her terror and torment were complete.

How could she live in a world where nothing held any hope or sunshine for her? How could she move from this bed, shrouded in blankets but not cocooned in safety? How could fear and loathing and dismal phantoms find her here? She had hidden herself so well, she thought, from the outside world that filled her with dread. Here in her bedroom in the home of her family she ought to feel safe and secure. That had been the thought all those many months ago when she had all but retired from the living. A refuge in this place of safety surrounded by love was supposed to have been the antidote to her malady. But this zombie existence where her half-life only frightened herself and those she let near had never been the intention.

There was no place of safety, no hermitage where she could dwell in harmony with herself. She was her own fears. Everything that filled her with terror lived within her not in that world she had shunned. The torment and the tears belonged only to her. Her spectres were inside her mind, her heart, her soul. They had flowed through her blood and reached every part fed by it. She was the living embodiment of her own nightmare.

She screamed then. ‘Leave me alone! Give me peace!’

A sudden sound below made her realise her anguished cry had not been internal. Her mother soon would appear and Lucy could not bear, even in these extremities, to inflict that pain.

She gathered every ounce of will she could muster to control her precarious mental balance.

A light knock and the door moved swiftly inward. In seconds her mother was on the bed beside her, cradling her in her arms, rocking her and shushing gently in her hair.

Lucy wept louder. They both knew this physical comfort was only that. Mental anguish is not so easily assuaged. But still, there was comfort.

Wrapped in the arms of love the sobs subsided gradually. Petted and patted, the gloom dispersed. Each, ‘there, there’ chased the phantoms to their hidden closets. In her fingers, in her toes, in her belly, in dark, secret corners of her mind and the blood vessels within her heart. They crept away, diminished by the presence of love.

Only this immediate presence of love had that effect.

She knew they would return, that they would wait for a vacant moment, a vacuum to fill. In the dark days. In the lonely hours. In the empty minutes of each day. They would stay hidden till the next time. Shorter and shorter periods between each time. So short now, they seemed ever-present.

These enemies of life, these fear-filling suckers of life source were resident in her body. She had given them house room. Only she could evict them.

All this now known to her. The ever-eluding question was how? How to banish the deepest darkness? In the absence of sunshine? A bulb? A candle? One small match? A flint to strike the first blow?

A reason to live. A purpose to her being. A command to which her mind and soul would respond.

The now tiny bubble in her belly fizzed hesitantly. Dare it? Was this a good moment?

Still wrapped, but no longer shuddering, in her mother’s arms, she sighed deeply. One huge sigh. And another.

‘Mum, I have to find my purpose. My reason. For being here, I mean.’

‘That’s a good place to start,’ whispered her mother and tightened the hug for a few short seconds before releasing her to start a new day.

Apologies

Apologies to any followers. I’ve just realised I may be flooding your page if what I write on mine appears on yours. Does it? I’m busy uploading poems and stuff and going at it enthusiastically. Really what I’m trying to do is build my page but am I going about it wrongly if everything I write appears on another’s blog without them searching for it? I’m so new to this – just a couple of days- I could be offending without realising. So sorry if I am. Please let me know and I’ll try to figure out how to upload without it flooding yours. That’s if it is.x

Supermarket Thoughts

Tomatoes. Apples – that’s a good price but they won’t eat them. What’s the point? Buy the other ones. Bananas, take enough; they’ll do for the pieces and Rachel likes them mashed up. Potatoes – some for boiling and a few big ones for baking – those’ll do for Tuesday – we’ll have pasta tomorrow.

God, what am I making for today? Something easy.  I hate cooking after Sunday shopping. That’s not right. Sunday dinner’s meant to be special. That’s more or less what Father was saying today in his sermon.

Get a few cartons of orange juice. It’s good for them and they love it. Own brand, it’s just as good. Right, tins. I need beans, spaghetti – own brands, they’re fine. Pasta too. Get the shells. I don’t know why David loves the shells more than the bows. How much are they? That can’t be right. Must be a mistake. It’s cheaper buying two 500g than 1kg. Odd. Oh, well, get the two.

Curry paste. Buy two get one free. Bargain. They all like curry except David and Mary. And Rachel’s too wee for it. I’ll make them something else. I’ll get tuna for them. Must remember to lift coconut and cream for the curry; they don’t like it too hot. Except Claire. Have I got enough rice? Better get more anyway. You were going to stop buying more than you need for the week, Anne-Marie. Can’t budget otherwise. End up with too much of one thing and nothing of another. End up back in here on Tuesday spending all over again. I hate this on a Sunday.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I could just buy what I wanted. Always checking prices, ingredients, bargains. Got enough brown sauce. Better get red. Hardly any left. They’ll all be looking for it when we have chips this week. Right, tuna. Hmm. A pack of four. Good price. David loves it. So does Mary. Must get cheese to go with that for Mary. Cooking oil. Own brand. Shouldn’t really fry chips. But they’re tastier like that. Oven chips get burnt so easily. Or half-cooked. Or soggy if I just stick them in the micro.

I wonder what kind of vegetable oil that is. I must try the extra-virgin oil one of these days for salad. Ali said it was great. And that balsamic vinegar. Can’t afford that. Noodles – I’ve forgotten those. They should be here. Where have they moved them too? I hate when they do this. Will I hunt or leave it? David likes them. But what a mess he makes on the kitchen floor. Just as well it’s lino and not carpet. But I hate having to clean the lino. Can’t just hoover on it like the rest of the place. Brush. Mop. Must get floor cleaner.

Have to get a new carpet for Joe’s room. All the bedrooms could do with a new carpet. Even just to soundproof the place. Sounds as if they jump about upstairs. They don’t. The carpets are just too thin. Have to get new ones. At least, for Joe’s room to start. Wish I hadn’t lifted his carpet this week. Or stripped his walls. Have to get something done with it now. What colours though? Space – stars and rockets. He doesn’t want much.I could do it though. That craft programme more or less showed how.

Wish I had more time to do these things. I could quite enjoy being in the house being a mum and wife. I could get on top of all these things. I could enjoy making dinners and decorating and creating.

I’ve still got all that work to do for school. Wish I hadn’t brought it home. Och, I’ll  just have it to do tomorrow night.

Wish I could win the lottery. I’d pack it all in tomorrow. Not millions. Just enough to ease the pressure and let me come into the house. Frank could keep on working. He would miss it. Or, at least, he could take some people on and build up the business. He’ll not be able to graft like he does forever. He should have stuck in at school. He’s smart enough. Oh, well, he made his choices. Gallivanting about Europe. Now, you made your choices, too. You love him. Pity he couldn’t have had a career.

I wouldn’t have to be out working now and feeling guilty about leaving the kids. I’ll probably regret leaving them when I’m old. I might even be regretting it when they get to their teens. Maybe they’ll all flip and cause us bother because I wasn’t at home with them. I’m regretting it just now.

If I could work from home that would be a bit easier. What can a teacher do from home – apart from homework? But there’s lots of other things I can do – want to do. I want to write. If I could only find the time to do half of what I wanted to do. I’m 37. If I don’t find the time soon I won’t do any of these things at all. A bit here. A bit there. It doesn’t work.

Can’t even find the time to go out for a night. Even if we had the money. Or a babysitter. But I wouldn’t swap them for the world. I would have more as well. I love kids. They’re not easy right enough. They take some looking after. So much washing. Cooking. Cleaning. Not ironing. I hate that. People get obsessed with ironing. You don’t have to do as much as they seem to think. Thank God for manmade fibres. And the tumble-dryer. Shouldn’t really use that. Costs so much, so they say.

Have to get my eyes tested. They’re sore. Can’t see where the cereal is. Definitely not own brand corn flakes. They’re rubbish. The birds didn’t even eat them the one time I bought them. There they are. There’s too many too choose from and I’m definitely not buying chocolate covered anything. Imagine. For breakfast. Fair enough, a bar of chocolate with a coffee for breakfast in the morning but chocolate crispies – disgusting. Porridge. Rachel likes that. No salt for her yet, though. Margarine. Funny how none of us likes butter. Own brand margarine – pretty good. Milk – loads of it. And Frank or I will be here again getting more by Tuesday or Wednesday. Can’t store all we use for the week.

And bread. Tons. At least I can freeze that. Cheese. Where’s the cheese? I like it strong. So does Frank. But not the kids. Will I get two kinds? I love that creamy pepper cheese. It’s too fattening, though. I’ll get it anyway. Did I pick up crackers? Frank and I can have some cheese and crackers tonight after the kids are in bed.

Might even get a bottle of red to go with it. A few cans of lager for Frank. After they’re all bathed. That’ll be nice.

I’ve still got all that school work to do. I’ll see. I might leave it till tomorrow. I hate doing schoolwork at the weekend. Don’t know why I bring it home on a Friday. The intention is always there but I never get the time until Sunday and who wants to do it then? Except I do, sometimes. And it’s not fair on the kids or Frank. That’s their time with me. I’ll leave it till tomorrow night.

That’s the meat in. I’m sick of looking at pork and chicken. A nice bit of stew ,or hamburgers even, would go down a treat. Mad cows. Wish I’d never heard of them.

Better get soap powder. And squeezy. Floor cleaner – nearly forgot. Have we got enough bin bags? I think there’s only a small roll left. I’ll get more. We’ll use them anyway. Oh, nappies. Two sizes. Rachel needs maxi now. David won’t need his much longer. He’s doing well. Just a nappy at night now.

I’ll get a sweet for them tonight. Their weekends nearly over too. Chocolate for Frank and me. A variety bag for them. Crisps for packed lunches. Got the cold meat too. Joe likes pickle on his pieces. There’s enough left in the cupboard. Red wine. Some lager. Juice for the kids. Is that me?

Have I forgotten anything? Probably. But I won’t know till I get home. Oh well, too bad. Can’t think of anything just now.

Look at the queues here. Which one will go quicker? I won’t go to her. She talks to everybody and takes ages. He’s quite efficient. They’ve nearly emptied their trolley. That’ll do for me.

I wish somebody would unpack your trolley for you as well as pack your bags at the other side. I’ve got to fill it up, unpack it, put it into cupboards, freezer, fridge. Cook the stuff. I’d be worth a fortune if we didn’t have to eat.

‘Could I have a packer, please?’

I stack too high. That meat’s ready to fall off. I could probably have done without those bin liners. And those sweets. And the wine. And the creamed cheese. And they’re eating too many crisps.

Och, you’ve got to live. Have some respite. ‘Give the cat the canary’ as my Mum says. We don’t get out much. We don’t go for burgers every week or go to the cinema often. A few sweets with a video tonight. It’s a weekend treat.

They were out at the country park too. Rachel could do with more fresh air. I should go with Frank and the kids to the park. But it’s the only time I have to catch up on the housework. If I wasn’t working it would be different. I could have Rachel out every day down the street. Buy what I needed just for a day or two. I would probably save a fortune.

‘How much did you say?’

Bang goes another seventy quid. Well that’s between seven of us for a week. Except, Frank or I will be back here midweek spending another £20 on things I’ve forgotten today or things we’ve used up or need – like milk or bread or eggs. Shit, I’ve forgotten the eggs. Too late. I don’t care. I’ll get Frank to get them when he comes for more ice-cream. Shit, I’ve forgotten the ice-cream too. Too bad. I’ll make custard. I should have shares in this place – never mind points.

Better get money out for that Big Issue guy outside. Poor sod. There but for the grace of God…. That was a good sermon today. Father really hit the mark. Do your best. It’s all you can do. I’ll make something nice for tonight. Pork chops, boiled potatoes, peas, carrots. Corn for David. Wish I’d remembered the ice-cream. Maybe I’ll get Frank to nip down to the café for some. They like that even better.

‘Keep the change.’

Must read this Big Issue if I get the time.

(2-2-1998)