Flip flops and a family wedding

Although my schedule has been pretty packed since I moved back home last year, one thing I haven’t managed to do is see as much of my family as I’d like. In part, this is because, having been absent so long, my presence limited to flying visits for occasions such as funerals, I have simply fallen out of the rhythm of family life. I don’t have the phone numbers of most of my relations; I don’t know how or where they spend their time. I see my cousin L most Sundays, and when I can I drop into visit her mum, my Aunty A, but other than at Christmas I haven’t seen that much of anyone else.

Yesterday was a chance, then, to see the wider family en masse. L’s daughter Z was getting married out in Durham and everyone would be in attendance. I haven’t had much time to think about the wedding: my deadlines have been hectic, and then I was ill, which meant that my preparations amounted to hastily buying a dress and shoes online (shoes I decided against wearing, in the end, opting for the comfort of boots. But shiny boots – I was making an effort, honest). So come the day, I rather tumbled into it. And it turned out to be just lovely.

The Old Barn at the South Causey Inn was a beautiful venue: rustic and elegantly decorated without feeling too full on or kitchy, and Z and the family had apparently designed many of the flourishes themselves. (The speeches were full of many jokes about Z’s fondness for organising, but the girl deserves her props, as the wedding was full of thoughtful touches, including providing flip flops for the women at the evening do, so that many of the guests could change out of the perilously high heels Geordie women are so fond of: one woman came up to me before the dancing started and said, ‘we’re all smiling and six inches shorter’. Honestly, this should be a widely adopted trend). (I mentioned this on Twitter and someone said ‘this is the best wedding idea I ever heard’).

The glamour quotient was of course high. Northern women like to dress up, and many of my extended family are total lookers, so the combination was a potent one and I spent much of my time cooing compliments at the glossy haired, glammed up women I was surrounded by. Z was a stunning bride, and I admit I had a tear in my eye when her uncle walked her down the aisle (usually a dry and laconic sort, he gave such a funny, moving speech at the reception that a stranger cornered me in the loos and said, ‘I have no idea who he is but he made me cry!’, which has to be the sign of a successful wedding. Though maybe if she didn’t know who he was, she was at the wrong wedding…).

The food was great – I’ve been to so many weddings where the vegetarian option was a few artfully arranged carrots, leaving me starving while all around me guests are tucking into a Sunday roast – but here I was so stuffed I was tempted to find a corner to have a little nap before the dancing.

But while the day was obviously about the young couple at its centre – it was a delight to see them both so happy – for me, it was also a great chance to catch up with the family. And also to be reminded of something I tend to forget, having been away so long: and that’s that I really, genuinely like these people. Oh, sure, they are my family, I love them, I’ve always known that – but I had sort of forgotten just how good company they are. One of the things I am loving about seeing L so often is being reminded how funny she is – we often spend our Sunday evenings laughing ourselves silly at some story from her work or about some craziness she encountered out with her beloved dog, since our neighbourhood isn’t light on the crazy quotient – and it was great to get a chance to reconnect with so many people and to rediscover that they, too, are actually just enormous fun to hang out with.

And to do so knowing I’ll likely see them all soon, rather than be getting on a train the next day to the other end of the country and vanishing for another couple of years, made the day all that more special for me.

If you want to read about a very different wedding, why not check out my book, The Bridesmaid Blues?

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My mother’s daughter

So, the onslaught of Mother’s Day emails have already started. It used to be a holiday I had to keep a sharp eye out for, since my mum was famously unforgiving should a card not be on time. Or, indeed, early, since she liked a fair margin of error. (One year I was getting a train back from London to Newcastle to see her for her birthday, and she called me the morning of her birthday to complain her card hadn’t arrived. I answered the phone from the bustle of King’s Cross: “I have it with me. It’s with your present, in my case, I thought I would bring it. You know, when I come home, today, to actually celebrate your birthday in person.” She let out a huffy sniff. “You could have posted it.”) Now, of course, it is a day of being bombarded with marketing emails urging me “not to forget mum!”. As if I ever could.

Unsurprisingly, my mum has been on my mind a lot since I moved home. I’m not even sure I have yet to process that, and how – if – it affects how I think of her, how I remember her. Certainly, there are days when memories hit me sharply. When I walk past the cafe where we used to get coffee together, the bus stop to her house, the shop where she used to buy her favourite angel ornaments – there are days when I feel like I moved back to her city, rather than to my own. I was already starting to age into looking more like her, and the move up north and the creeping return of my accent means I sound more like her, too, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

I sometimes feel guilty about writing about her – especially as I try to be honest, and that isn’t always comfortable or pretty. My mum was a good woman – if we are all remembered as fondly and widely as she is, we’d be doing OK – but she was as flawed and human as the next person, and when writing about our relationship I feel I need to be as honest about that as I try to be about my own shortcomings. But I console myself that she loved attention, and would be glad that I was still writing about her, even if she didn’t understand so much of what I wrote, or why I wrote it. (“Why don’t you just write more about cats?” she once asked me, after I got published in – I kid you not – Your Cat magazine. To be fair, it’s a question I have asked myself many times since). Anyway, if I got famous for writing about my mum, I know she would be secretly smug. (Or not so secretly. Sorry, fellow beings in the afterlife, you’re probably sick of hearing about me.)

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Your Cat magazine – mum’s proudest moment

Anyway, I wrote this a couple of years ago, and I shared it over on my Dark Dates blog, and a lot of people seemed to like it and even find it helpful, so I thought I might as well share it again.

It’s too early for Mother’s Day. But then, she would have liked that.

On Mothers and Daughters

It’s a weird thing to be no one’s priority, and have no one be your priority in return. It’s approaching four years since my mother died – and ended the one defining relationship of my life – and this is a thought I find myself returning to. In a very real sense, I am completely alone. An orphan without siblings, a partner or children, it’s an unusual form of both isolation and liberation.

Untethered, I am tied down by nothing – I don’t own a home, I don’t have a ‘job’; there is no one who is my unique responsibility, no one on whom my claim is the highest. It’s the ultimate form of adulthood – I have to make every decision, do every task myself, from deciding where to go on holiday to putting out the rubbish – yet it’s also strangely infantilising, since I don’t have any of those things that mark my contemporaries out as ‘adults’: families, mortgages, office jobs. I am a woman lucky enough to be born at a time of better-than-ever opportunities for my gender, with a portable career, and that is a heady freedom – but it also can be terrifying, every day another mile on a journey with no roadmap, where I often have to pave my own path as I go. And in a way I’m only just realising, it’s all because of my mother.

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A friend of mine – happy married, with a surviving father and a bushel of siblings and nieces and nephews to anchor him to life – told me that, on losing his mother, he felt a deep-seated sadness that wasn’t just about her loss, but was also the knowledge that no one would ever love him as deeply again; no one’s love would ever feel so unconditional. At the time, I was moved, but it didn’t resonate with me: so much in my own relationship with my mother felt utterly conditional. It’s only with the passage of time, and the clarity of hindsight, I understand just what he meant.

It’s safe to say my mother and I didn’t always get along. She could be a tremendously difficult woman, and I’m probably no cakewalk myself. It often seemed some cosmic joke that the universe would see fit to yoke such disparate personalities together, without the buffer of a father/husband or siblings to absorb some of the tension, but then again, perhaps much of what I think of as my personality was developed in reaction to hers. My mother liked noise and chatter – she put the TV on ‘for company’, loved it when the neighbours popped in unannounced. The phone was constantly ringing, and conversations were often conducted against the backdrop of the blaring television and the commentary of whoever happened to be on the sofa at the time. I like silence and solitude and, although I can be sociable, I dole out my company in measured amounts, the greatest portion always reserved for myself. My mother loved ‘stuff’ – she lived surrounded by knick-knacks and ornaments and held onto things forever, a shield against a hostile world. I am my local charity shop’s best friend: I treat all of my belongings as temporary. I was 43 years old before I owned a piece of furniture.

Quite often, I suspect we didn’t like one another very much. We certainly didn’t understand each other. My mother was baffled by my choices: a homebody who lived her whole life in the city she grew up in, with family a stone’s throw away, she couldn’t comprehend why I needed to leave. She wanted me home, she wanted me married, she wanted grandchildren she could bounce on her knee. (Her desire for this was so well-known in my circle that once, when asking a friend what she thought I should get for my mother for Christmas, her answer was simply, ‘pregnant’.) The one time I felt we she was truly content with me was a brief spell when I lived in Newcastle – an easy walk from her flat – with a serious boyfriend, a man I could bring to family parties and Sunday lunches. A life she understood.

We were frequently at odds over many things, money being a key bone of contention. We had little of it in my youth, and my mother – who had grown up relatively wealthy – never quite recovered from that lack of status. She had a weirdly resentful attitude to other people’s affluence (an easy way to infuriate my mother was to spend money on something she didn’t think was worth it, no matter who you were, or how little you had to do with her).

When I moved to London, she both failed to understand the economics of the city, and that living there didn’t mean I was suddenly rich. She would regularly make passive aggressive remarks about my lack of daughterly generosity, and get mad when I didn’t take the hint (she wasn’t subtle, either: “It would be lovely if someone would buy me a new washing machine” being a typical opening gambit.) Despite living in social housing all of my life, she thought I was being deliberately wilful in not buying a house, having only the vaguest ideas of how much property in London actually cost. (“Why not just buy somewhere for £20,000 and do it up?” she asked me, on more than one occasion. In an exasperated moment, I finally retorted: “Why don’t you give me a deposit like most of my friends’ parents have?”. She got furious, then upset, and stopped asking the question, though I felt mean every time I thought of it, afterwards).

She could be vain, and selfish, and utterly self-absorbed. (On the morning of a close friend of mine’s funeral, annoyed at my unwillingness to spend an hour going through her holiday wardrobe choices, she snapped at me to ‘stop being so miserable.’ Properly angry, I fell out with her for a while. Her apology, when it came, was ‘you have no idea how upset I am that I upset you’ – managing to make even that about her).

She could be volatile, and petty – she nurtured lifelong friendships, but fell out with friends and family on an almost weekly basis. She cared too much about other people’s opinions and the appearances of being a good mother, of me being a loyal daughter. She could be emotionally manipulative, and wasn’t above weaponising her illnesses (consciously or unconsciously) as tools of control: I could predict that, if I said I was too busy to come home for a visit, she would experience a sudden downturn that would necessitate my return. She genuinely suffered, it’s true, but she also liked the drama and attention that suffering created. Once when I rushed, tear stained and panicked, from London to her bedside after she’d had a heart attack, she gleefully told me afterwards, ‘the nurses have never seen anyone so upset!’.

And yet… and yet. Many of the traits she railed against were ones she herself instilled in me. She resented my habit of reading, taking any silence in her presence as a personal affront, yet it was she who fostered my love of books. She bemoaned that I moved away and didn’t visit often enough, but, herself the long-suffering daughter of a mother who had been in poor health, from my childhood on she told me: ‘Don’t ever give your life up for mine. Stick me in a home, take me outside and shoot me. But don’t ever give your life up for mine.’

She was vibrant, gregarious and open-hearted, with a talent for making friends. She was loyal and generous with her time, always happy to help out a neighbour. For all that her politics were, to me, horrifically right wing, she did more for her community than I, with all my bleeding heart liberalism, have ever done for mine. She raised money for a garden for local families, she helped out at a refugee centre, she stood up to politicians whose policies she thought would hurt the vulnerable. Despite being single all of my life, she was an incorrigible flirt with an eye for a handsome man. I still have a picture of her, beaming, standing between two strapping young gardeners at the opening of the community garden she had worked hard to help establish, and I know she wasn’t just looking so pleased because the kiddies would have somewhere nice to play in. That’s one trait, at least, I hope that I inherited.

She was strong, too. She rebuilt a life that was very different from the one she’d anticipated after her marriage broke up; and when I left to go to university, never really to return, she reinvented herself again. She had surrogates in my absence: a niece she adored became as close as a daughter; she built a maternal friendship with a divorced Iranian woman whose young girls she treated like grandchildren. She filled her life with colour and chaos and I, having failed so spectacularly to meet any of her expectations, was freed to live up only to my own.

She was proud of me. She never really said it to me, though she said it plenty to other people. It was a constant refrain after her death, when I was accosted by yet another stranger who seemed to know my whole life story: ‘she was so proud of you, you know.’ And it maybe wasn’t until then that I properly realised how proud I had been of her.

I suspect, if the universe was such that we could have picked our own families, neither of us would have been the other’s first choice. She would have liked a daughter who stayed home, had children, married a man rich enough to buy his mother-in-law that new washing machine. I would have liked someone more liberal, more travelled and, yes, a bit richer (I really could have done with a deposit on a house). But in the end, forced to move in wider circles because we couldn’t live together in a narrow one, both of us lived bigger, better lives. We might not have got what we wanted, but perhaps, in one another, we got the thing we needed most.

Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

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Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1

Want some swag? Buy a bag or a tee. And be sure to send me a picture! I’m on Instagram (@traceysinclair23) or Twitter (@thriftygal)

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And now to bed

So, after two months of sleeping first in other people’s houses and hotels, then on my sofa bed and in my own spare room, I finally slept in my own bed last night. The frame had arrived last week, though assembly was delayed as my attempts to purchase the ‘assemble on delivery option’ were thwarted, since that is a service ‘not available in your area’. (I was righteously aggrieved at this – am I not posh enough to have John Lewis assemble my bed? But as the cheery delivery men said, ‘nah, pet, do it all the time, dunno what happened there’ – as they rushed down my front drive hastily, clearly scared I was going to implore that they do it anyway, I can only assume it was an IT glitch.)

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In the end, it worked out for the best, as my Capable Cousin Round the Corner came round and sorted it. I had already realised how much I was liking living so near to her – we’ve always got on well, but the last couple of months have reminded me how much I like her company, and since moving in, I’ve discovered just how lovely it is to have someone close by who is generally happy for you to pop round for a beer with very little notice. The fact that she is, like the rest of my family, super practical and capable has just been a bit of an added bonus.

(I am continually astonished that I – cack-handed, clumsy and with the spatial awareness and good sense of a one-winged moth with a head injury, and who lives a life arranged around how many naps I can squeeze in – am related to a bunch of practical, can-do hard-workers who can build you a shelf unit, fix your car or plaster your walls before breakfast, and then go on to do a 10 hour shift. (I blame my feckless, runaway dad. Bad genes on one side, and it’s obviously not my mum’s). (There is a long-cherished family story that one of the grandparents in my extended clan wooed his lady – who, if I recall, came from Roma stock, so wasn’t keen on moving into a terrace where you lived on top of your neighbours’ lives – by building her a house. An actual house. Not sure if this is true or not – given my family, if anything, it’s likely been toned down – but it has left me with some unrealistic standards for men, I can tell you.))

Having already assembled my sofa bed and spare bed in turn, last night my cousin came round to tackle the last of the flat: assemble the bed in the main room and the dining table in the study (since my dinner party hosting skills are as limited as my furniture assembly skills, I suspect it’ll be little used, but it’s a gorgeous table – a gift from friends when I moved into my Brighton place – so I was keen not to let it lie idle and in bits), and disassemble some clothes rails that I no longer need (because I have wardrobes, y’all! Wardrobes!) so I could store them under the spare bed and clear the last of the moving in clutter.

This she did in short order, and we had such a riot doing so we ended up joking we should do it for a living – be ‘lady fitters’ helping women assemble their furniture so they didn’t need no man. (We were getting a bit rowdy by this stage, since as well as bringing her not inconsiderable talents, she had also brought beer – take that, John Lewis, your assembly charge doesn’t include those extras!).

We mooted around a few suitable monikers and catchphrases – all, unfortunately, likely to attract the the wrong kind of call from a business card, but hey. (I think in the end the winner was Screwdriver Sisters: tagline, Sisters are Screwing it For Themselves. We’d had quite a lot of beer by that stage).

I even felt quite the sense of achievement at the end, despite the fact that my actual assistance was limited to keeping the beers filled, holding whatever I was told to hold and passing what I was told to pass, while petting her wee dog enough that he didn’t try to jump into the middle of proceedings.  Though I did help cart all the packaging around to hers for disposal in her jeep tomorrow (in years of having men assemble things, I have never had one worry about tidying up afterwards: which makes me think we might be onto something with this business idea after all…)

And so, luxuriating in more space than I have had in about 2 decades, quietly thrilled by the sight of all those wardrobes, I actually slept in my own bed. Now I’m thinking if I could just get some pictures on those walls…

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(Billy the dog – in situ at his place)

 

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Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

Donate to my Ko-fi. All the cool kids have one. (I am not cool, obviously, but have been assured this is true).

Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1

Want some swag? Buy a bag or a tee. And be sure to send me a picture! I’m on Instagram (@traceysinclair23) or Twitter (@thriftygal)

Week one in the new place

So, I have been in my new place just over a week now. It certainly feels better to have my own space, and after a slightly mend and make do week I am starting to make progress in making the place more homely.

My super practical cousin popped round last night and assembled my bed and fixed my wobbly sofa bed, though did give me a telling off for not asking for help sooner – I have to keep reminding myself I have a lot of people here more than willing to lend and hand, and I should stop feeling useless/flaky/like a burden for reaching out to them.

Bookshelves arrived on Saturday so the place feels a bit less cluttered, and I have a bunch of stuff on order from Amazon (including a multi-tool, whose ordering was inspired by said cousin, who was horrified by my lack of tools…) and have – I think – chosen the bed I want for the main bedroom and plan to order it this week.

I’d forgotten that moving house is both tedious and exhausting (so many companies to contact! So much to unpack), not to mention incredibly expensive, and I am still slightly surprised by how emotional it’s making me feel. But at least with the fairy lights and all the housewarming cards the living room is looking a lot more welcoming…

The Kindness of Geordies

I have written before about kindness, and it’s a topic I find myself returning to frequently. In part this is because my life is such that I have often found myself at the mercy of others’ generosity, sometimes by accident (homelessness, penury), sometimes by design (holidays spent on strange sofas).

I’m fascinated by kindness, because what should be so simple – what is a basic human instinct – gets so very complicated. I’ve written before about the difficulty of asking for help, and why I think it’s important to build a muscle of trust: to not just ask for help, but to get into the habit of it. To ask without feeling you are a burden, that you are weak, that it is embarrassing not to be able to handle whatever you are going through – a financial shortfall, an emotional crisis – alone and unaided.

And likewise, to be bold enough to give. We are so often constrained from our natural instinct to generosity because we fear that we look pushy, interfering, presumptuous. As if we are storing up favours or expectation in return, as if someone will look at our gift and wonder at our motives.

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The truth is, though, there is pleasure and rewards to be had on both sides of the equation. Giving with an open hand is delightful – is there anything better than presenting someone with a gift they truly love? Offering a helping hand when you know you can make a real difference? And likewise, the enormous relief of relaxing into someone else’s aid: of having a hand help you keep afloat, even for a minute, even just long enough for you to catch your breath and start swimming again.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since my return since I have, by necessity, again been dependent on others’ hospitality. Although I had anticipated having to stay with friends and family for a while, it’s taken longer than I hoped, and my plan to spread myself so thinly as to not be too much of a burden (see? I write about this shit and still do it) has fallen through due to not everywhere I was counting on being available. But it’s also been a bit of an unforeseen gift. I’ve been splitting my time between one of my oldest friends and my cousin, and being able to catch up properly with them – as opposed to ticking them off a list as I hare around trying to cram everyone into a weekend visit – has been an unmitigated joy.

It’s also been useful and eye-opening: all my initial plans for my move involved city centre apartments or luxury flats with balconies overlooking the river, a fantasy that is more manageable in a much cheaper city. But staying in very different neighbourhoods has broadened my perspective, and the place I ended up renting is located in an area I hadn’t even initially considered. It has encouraged me to face up to my own issues about accepting without angst – for example, setting up a Ko-fi account was an exercise in asking. (HUGE thanks to everyone who has donated – I get an email every time someone does, which adds a nice little buzz to a day).

Having been the subject of generosity from all over the country (indeed, the globe), I don’t think one region, place or culture has a monopoly on kindness. But I have noticed a difference since I moved back North. In large part, it’s a matter of attention.

In London, as in New York, we train ourselves to look away. Perhaps this is its own form of generosity: in a city where we are living on top of one another, giving someone privacy is a gift of its own. But it does mean that many things go unnoticed. In exceptional circumstances, both Londoners and New Yorkers have proven themselves capable of extraordinary kindnesses – but on an average day, you’re lifting your own suitcase up those stairs, matey.

In Newcastle, we seem more programmed to look towards one another. I’ve mentioned the whole ‘smiling on the subway’ thing, which continues to freak me out. But I had two experiences this week alone where strangers ran to my aid, unasked, and I wondered – how the hell did you even notice that? The other day, I was buzzing into my aunt’s building when I realised that, laden with bags as I was, I was on the wrong side of a barrier: so actually managing to hold open the door, cross the stairs and get inside before the whole thing slammed closed again was impossible – and a young couple literally sprinted across the street to hold it open for me. A few days later, when I was locking up at my cousin’s, and doing my usual ‘paranoid I haven’t locked someone else’s door properly, so I have to check 45 times’ routine, I faffed about so long that a builder from the construction site across the road came over to check that I was OK. ‘You alright, pet? Locked yourself out?’ Neither action was earth-shattering, but each spoke to a level of casual observation I have rarely encountered down south.

Of course, feeling people are paying attention isn’t always a good thing. I could have done with some London indifference the other day when, sitting on a crowded Metro, I went to reapply my lipbalm and only realised, as I put it to my mouth, that I had actually pulled a loose tampon from my bag…

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Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

Donate to my Ko-fi. All the cool kids have one. (I am not cool, obviously, but have been assured this is true).

Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1

Want some swag? Buy a bag or a tee. And be sure to send me a picture! I’m on Instagram (@traceysinclair23) or Twitter (@thriftygal)

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