Got to keep going

How many ways can I keep you entertained,

How do I keep the wolves at bay,

How do I keep the balance

When its tipping left to right,

Back towards a far off month

Unnamed,

Where the hope of a new day lies

In a seed of thought, which allows

for just about anything

I still have faith in you

I am thinking out loud, trying make sense of a block. A block that emerged years ago I think but did not become apparent until late last year.

Abba released a new album on November 5th 2021. I started to write about it, then I stopped. I listened to it, then I pressed pause. I have tried countless times to start this copy again, each time finding something else to occupy me. I have been wondering why that is. Perhaps I was not as big a fan as I purported to be? Maybe it’s because music doesn’t play the part that it used to in my days. Not like when I would sit and listen to lots of songs. It used to be a process- an event even; I would read or hear about an album and then either go to Woolworths or travel on the 88 to Colchester. I would buy and then go home ,sit and play the album, from start to finish without interruption.

CDs emerged and with it the power of skipping forwards and backwards easily and then of course along came the streaming services; Apple, Spotify, Deezer etc. All fabulous but for someone with a naturally busy and very distractable mind, they are a nightmare sometimes. When you are a fan though, these services enable you to pick up new music in the home, especially exciting when a old band takes a new path. Like Abba.

For me, It is not like when Take That reformed, or when news came to me via The One Show that STEPS were taking to the stage again. I am not a huge fan of either; I like them, OK I really like Take That, but I do remember the reactions of people that I know; the excitement in them recalling just how significant they were in their lives.  The music, the posters, the concerts; how they spoke to only you in a sea of thousands of faces- even I was smiled and waved at by Danny New Kids on the Block when I was 12.

I remember being taken to Wembley Arena by my sister to see NKOTB. The excitement when she did the big reveal in the tunnel on the way out of the tube station. I remember thinking how nice it was what she had done. Of course I am sure she had a good time, despite not being an  fan, NKOTB the allure of the concert, particularly from visiting band can be incredible and music, well it has the capacity to reach across  generations. My favourite band is The Jam and I was a babe when they were formed. Half the songs on eldest’s and middlests Spotify are from artist’s famous prior to her arrival.

Music is timeless and sometimes something more.

My sister loved ABBA and subsequently so did I. Still nestled in my Vinyl collection is her battered copy of the Album Super Trouper and ABBA Greatest Hits Volume 2.

At some point her love turned into our love and a second copy of Greatest Hits Vol 2 emerged, one of these remains, again in my stack of vinyl. I has always puzzled me when I requested this as I would have been 2 or three when these were released making me wonder whether this was purchased not for me but because the first had been played beyond recognition. It would not surprise me.

She loved singing and she loved all their songs;

She loved Super Trouper, I loved Chiquitta

She loved Does Your Mumma, I loved Money Money Money.

We both loved Gimme Gimme Gimme

WE would play the vinyl on an old 1970s multi record player. Not a portable affair but a proper set , housed in a teak casing, with a drop bar upon which we could line up the next record to be played. It had two speakers positioned in the room to transmit best the best of what was a predominantly abba playlist. They played one after the other although I remember the holding bar on the record player didn’t work quite as well with LPs and you would sometimes have to manually override the catch to let the record drop fully.

Every weekend at our Dads, on went the ABBA,

Chiquitta turned to Kick your teeth out,

Thank you for the Music- with a heavy emphasis on the Uh-Huh

The air guitaring to Does your Mumma

The attempt to keep up with he speed of angel eyes leaving us breathless and ready for  something a bit more down tempo,

Which was usually

The winner takes it all.

All sang with much generosity on our behalf, me taking the low note and my sister the higher range performed with gusto into the obligatory plastic hairbrushes. And of course there was a bit of mirror watching on both our behalf.

Over time our tastes and lives evolved, she moved out I moved in and we would see each other less and less but the affinity through Abba remained, we would always ,always put on Abba, in the car, in the kitchen. A track for every occasion and with age our favourites altered.

She moved towards songs like Mamma Mia and Voulez Vous, songs which she played with her Nanny charge and her fellow Nannies; I started to hear more closely slower tracks like Winner takes it all,  and then of course was Dancing Queen. Nights out and parties with her friendship group saw her gain a reputation for being the one who loved ABBA and she was nick named the Dancing Queen.

It was played at her wedding and as the first bars rang out it housed the only moment, the  only time my Mum , Dad sister and I have danced together. Or shared any happy moment together.

And as with any good song the happiness it can facilitate is just as easily superseded by the sorrow.

At her funeral I remember looking at a wreath , the card scribed with “you will always be our dancing queen” and it was the first time I was exposed to the realisation that other people felt the same too, they associated her with Abba.

 Then two months ago I was driving home, listening to BBC Radio 2 and Ken Bruce was playing. I wasn’t really paying attention until he said

And here is the new one from Abba

The first bars opened and I felt overwhelmed.

I cried. I stopped the car and I cried. Abba had reformed and she would never get to hear them,

I didn’t examine the song for imperfections – because it was perfect. The voices that came from the radio was my sisters and mine, voices from round the corner a long time ago, in the bedroom, the kitchen – definitely in the car – on the dancefloor and ……….from that flipping tape!!!

Years before, I must have been about 17, she was nannying in London and another nanny friend moved back to NZ. She really missed her and the first Christmas she was gone my sister decided, for some reason -and I never really asked her why-  that we should make a tape of us (notice how I was dragged into this ),singing abba to send to her. AS a gift. Bizarre.

At home I dug the tape out , but like the new album I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it all straight away. When I did I cried. Throughout most of the tracks. I chose carefully when I would listen to it as I knew it was something I would find hard. I don’t usually cry about her anymore. But I knew this would be something I would find sorrowful.

‘Listening is bittersweet, each song plays, strums upon the memories we share, except those memories are now only mine and with every year that passes, I find reminding myself of who we were back then more exacting. Until that is I play Voyage and then you are there in the moment because when I hear them , when I listen to the lyrics I hear your voice. Listening to I still have faith in you and don’t shut me down  I hear myself in conversation with you now but not ever and in return, I hear your voice in reply. And it is your voice that I hear every time I play abba and perhaps it is the reason that I know I will only play the album a few times- because it is strangely echoic of conversations we will never have, a Christmas song you have never heard from a band that you never thought would get back together – even though you have never sang those songs, I hear your voice in single one of them . To me, when I hear Abba I hear you’.

So I play back our Abba Tape. It was an odd idea of yours to make a mix tape of songs in this format,  however given life’s trajectory, I am glad that you did  because actually it is the only recording of your voice we have. Other than ABBA of course.

I wonder if the person in New Zealand had the same thoughts about this reunion and she was prompted to dig out her cassette of the two strange pommies singing Abba, into a battered twin cassette player mike.

“I have learned to cope to love and hope

And although I may not have done everything right

I have done it in the best way I could at the time.

I still have faith in you” (Abba,2021).

Eliza.

School days part 1

For smallest, who has started school.

Ride the wave

Here we stand at the divide,
Lining up to receive
other influences.
Like swarms of insects
in the distance,
coming closer.

A black cloud of Mums
Wringing hands on the edge
Of a playground
Waves of memories
Flicked back through sands
Then pulled under.

Its at times like these
Our substance shows itself,
Troubles ripple against
The threat of a north east offshore,
Then caught in a riptide,
What I am is suddenly all there

My love for you laid bare,
And as the moon
Pulls against the water within,
I turn and letting go
I pray every aid I have given you
let’s you float.

Here goes!

Below is an extract from a novel I am writing. It is only a tiny extract but any feedback would be greatly appeciated.

The guy came out the back, he was all breathy and enlarged, with pale eyes and blonde spikey hair. His torso looked uncomfortable and overstated on top of tiny legs. He introduced himself to the room and she thought it was a bit like youth club when the leader comes in and introduces them self to the group and tells them the rules. Vi sat looking at him and around the room at all the phone accessories. The guy sat down and put his feet up on the desk. The owner of the shop was on his phone and when he came off, her friend, who she had come with, well he started to chat to him and they got onto pills and billy. Vi was interested now but played the opposite game, looking down as she played with the belt on her satin ravers skirt. She listened to them earnestly, running her fingers over the hole made by the hot rock which had landed on her, on the way back from united dance. She drank the conversation which was leading to when they were going to get the billy. The blonde man intercepted then just as quickly the shop was lit up with the sound of children who had been brought in by an older woman. The children were his and she soon learned that there was another one but he was waiting to get custody. He needed to show he could care for the kid though and so he was looking for a childminder. You any good with kids he said looking at Vi, I go to college she said- and she does billy. There was laughter. You are the Billy freak then are you? The blonde guy asked. They all laughed and Vi smiled at her new title. It made her feel like she was known.

They were shutting up shop and so Vi stood up and waited for whatever it was she was waiting for that would lead her to the Billy. The blonde guy said he would give her a lift. The lift it turned out was going to his flat which was right at the other end of town. Vi had never been to the other end of town before, in her mind or person. It was as if she was gradually irking herself away from her end, where things were private and tidy, to this end which was public and messy. It stretched up a hill and across roads like trails in a warren which seemed to stretch in every direction. Roads she had never heard of except in conversations between people that she listened to, who had once lived there. Till the council had moved them to another road 5 minutes walk from that one. Though it felt endless, the drive took no more than 5 minutes from the shop in his mark two BMW, his kids sitting like undersized kings in the back. She sat in the front, in a chair sunk so low she swore she felt like the third child, her size giving credentials to her growing sense of being under the age for any of this type of activity. She looked out the passenger window as he moved swiftly through the warren of roads, turning abruptly at each junction, as she focused on the flats and the houses all looking the same, the same red brick, the same tile roofs, the same squares of grass area spotted here and there, the pockets of kids hanging out on the pavements and in between housing blocks. The cars deposited on driveways, the bikes leaning up against them, the plastic toy ride along cars left upside down in the grass before tea. It felt as if they drove right to the edge of the town, the very last road, where flats lined the streets sandwiched between 1960s two up two down council houses. A water tower stood at the centre of it all cordoned off by a wire fence. Beyond this you cold glimpse fields of wheat, rows of rows of dancing corn, it looked pretty. Life beyond the road looked pretty. He pulled up to the second block on the road. A four storey high block with 8 flats. The front door was in the middle and as they walked up to it, a woman came out dragging a buggy and a bag of washing.
You alright kids, alright Dal, she said,
Alright Trace Darren replied. Yeh im alright mate. Trace grinned at Vi. Alright, her voice went up an octave and Vi smiled not finding her own alright forthcoming.
Ya all right trace said the eldest kid.
Yeh, Sweetie, you alright., Trace’s voice trailed off as she carried on walking

Apparently, everyone was alright in this road where things felt less than alright. This was it though, where it had all brought her, right here to this place.

Sarah Harding

“Here I am, a walking primrose.…” Sarah Harding in Girls Aloud’ , The Promise.

Yesterday Sarah Harding, who I will always remember as the core member of Girls Aloud, died at the age of 39 of advanced stage breast cancer.

I spent my evening trawling the internet news, watching micro-videos of her life as a celebrity and listening to Girls Aloud on Spotify. It is very sad to hear she lost her battle.

Sarah did not have children and I am not going to claim to be a huge follower of GA but I bought Greatest Hits on CD and I still rate Biology as one of the greatest pop tunes ever. However, they were one of a few bands in the noughties which formed the backdrop to middlest and eldests early years. When I hear Love Machine or No Good Advice, it reminds me of crazy dancing in the living room with the kids. Biology, of tea in the morning after drop off and Stand By Me triggers a memory of the community in which we lived.

The music just made it past the point where I would associate it with the chaos and aftermath of their father and had become established enough to avoid being linked with losing my sister.They held their own, never attaching to bad thought or feeling so I can listen to them freely though of course now, listening will be bittersweet.

I am sad. Her death is another reminder that death comes to us all it’s not selective or considerate- it just is.

May your soul rest in peace, Sarah.

Harry and Meg Part 2

The other day I bumped into an old work collegaue at the beach. We chatted, our conversation turned to work and they were surprised when I said I had taken the year off.  Intially, I explained my decision as it was – based on my desire to be with my children. Following the silence I began to pad out the reason making which fed my decision; filling in what I thought were gaps, with justifications based on the pandemic, my dissatisfaction with the education system and a need to reestablish my place within it.
This seemed to generate more response and so eased what I thought was tension but I came away annoyed with myself. Why did I do that? Was it not enough just to say it as it was – I want to be with my children.
Why did I feel the need to provide an explanation?

I considered this in light of a previous article, Motherhood and Society, discussing the importance we attach in our culture to being stay at home Mum’s. My thoughts then wandered to Meghan and Harry and the initial decision that they made to step back from Royal Life. I remember when they made the announcement and I had nodded to myself. A strong woman empowered, willing and wanting to raise her child herself, away from wider world’s expectations. A woman who is prepared to stand up for her child and how she perceived Motherhood. Admiring her choice I wrote about it and then of course I made my own choices regarding what I felt appropriate for my family’s life. I half kept an eye out for how they were getting on, interested in how it might pan out for them. 

Then came the aftermath of their decision in all it’s manifestations, the press articles, the  interview with Oprah, the book, potential show, podcast and I felt cross, as apart from anything else, in doing all of this, they  seemed to have removed themselves from their original intention.

It’s difficult to avoid emotion laid commentary on this. Social media is spilling with often vile opinion. The couple in return have offered more fuel. Reading through some of it, I do not think it is for us to discuss whether or not Meghan had a miscarriage and certainly not to  question how she grieves. Neither is it possible to know , through endless Twitter threads who is arguing with who and for what reason. The conversation, in so far as you can call it that is a collection of venemous statements regarding aspects of their life. The only hard facts seem to be are that they gave up their role, moved to the US, did an interview, released a book, are about to release another book and have discussed a tv deal. Everything else is speculative.

What stands out though is the lack of reference to the loss of the original intention. Which is a shame because,  the intention was admirable. To raise their child how they wished, away from the public eye and by themselves rather than as is traditional in the royal family, in a shared way and very much in the public domain.   It must have been tricky, especially for Harry. Harry is the person whose life has unequivocally been turned upside down.

Unfortunately, though they have not achieved   a life outside the public domain as they suggested. Instead, they have very much placed themselves in the media spotlight seeking, it seems to follow it where ever they can , no channel left untouched. What is more unfortunate,  rather than celebrating their lives with their young family they appear to want to share personal information about their past which can only be interpreted as an attack.  It could and has also been interpreted as the real reason for their decision, rather than as they suggested, to raise their children in the way that they wished to. Which is perhaps what people have reacted to, the realisation that they have been deceived.

Or have they?

Reflecting on my sudden anxiety at the beach – that I was not understood, that I was being flimsy and perhaps had gone slightly mad at giving up what was actually shaping up to be a promising career-  perhaps Meghan and Harry  reacted in the same way. They paniced at silence and then the rush of opinion and rather than sit with their decision, they padded it out.

While I believe that Harry has struggled with his family and there are some unhealthy relations and perhaps some difficult situations emerged for Harry and Meghan I just wonder about the origins of their tell all resolve. Perhaps they felt the need like I did at the beach to justify themselves and  their decision to the listening world. Perhaps they felt their original reason for giving it all up,   wasn’t enough. Perhaps we felt it wasn’t enough and in probing we prompted further defense. So they expanded their reasoning.
They didn’t need to. Their original explaination was sufficient.

Or perhaps they don’t care. Perhaps it does make them feel better. I don’t know and neither do you. The only thing I do know is that I did admire their decision but I am not so keen on the follow ups.

Smallest starts school in two days and I have waited for the follow up feeling to my decision to hit me; for the what did you do, what were you thinking voice to emerge regarding my own decision.  However I remain still and feel quietly confident that my decision was exactly what we needed as a family. Perhaps it’s time for a bit of verbal stillness and reflection for the Sussexes.

Of course I can say that now with hindsight – hindsight is a wonderful thing. Particularly when it allows you to say that you were able to judge the needs of your children correctly. It is tricky though to always think carefully  about the impact of decisions on children. In Meg and Harry’s case  theirs will live in the shadow of their attempts at self branding and the reputation that they muster. 

I do genuinely hope that when hindsight  catches up with Meghan and Harry , separately or together, that their hindsight it isn’t too hard for them to face.

Everybody hates a tourist



On this beach of sand packed
tight, smooth as marble floor,
a spa touched now by masses of
uncertain feet carrying
bags, windbreaks, trolleys, mats, inflatables.
We stare at their arrival with a title
Dressed as an edgy absolution
for what will do for now, they say.

Here they still are- closer now
running in circles on the sand of
our forever green light;
our only first choice,
looking for our space taken by
the occupants of a staycation
as weeks,leak into months
where they make the best of it.

While with a stiff upper lip
we sit back and scowl.

Soap opera

“Learning how to live takes a while life.” Seneca.

Sometimes it takes every fibre within me to get it right and then i am not so sure that I have managed it. They are so different, so many ages, so many needs under one roof.

Everyone wanting, no needing something different . A different tone of voice, a different glance a different level of enthusiasm. It’s the little things which make a difference; the nuances in behaviour which will have the biggest impact on them. The things which when they are on their own are easy. When you have to swap between them though, sometimes with only seconds in between; as you pass from one conversation to another, giving attention, affection, direction , whatever they require in that moment- these little things are exhausting.

After a day of worrying about eldest, taking middlest camping (and driving back to the campsite in the later afternoon with all the items she had forgotten) , and keeping smallest on a level, I reach for a book and manage a paragraph. EastEnders seemed the best way to zip the day up.

As I made my way to serenity the phone rang. “You will never guess what Splods!”

“What’s that Dad?”, I say , pumping the last of my enthusiasm into my response.

“You know those bloody bars of soap I ordered from Amazon?”. He is tripping over his words now.

“Yup”, I reply.

“They have arrived- six weeks late! The bloke down the road had them.”

His excitement is palpable as he then tells me how, with the replacement order , he now has or will have 32 bars of soap.

“Enough to last me till the end of July 2023!”, he states triumphantly.

I laugh out loud. Both at the fact that he has calculated this and at our enthusiasm for soap, of different varieties. The laughter seals what was, quite honestly a day where I know I existed for everyone else but I’m not quite sure where I was in it all.

New Beginnings: The Other Side

Back in July 2020 I resigned from my welfare role at a secondary school to focus on my own children. My decision was documented in my blog post New Beginnings. It initiated a lot of positive conversations, some with people I knew and some with people who I got to know. Over the year we have found ourselves in a space which was alien to us all however we have nurtured it. We have all learned new things, smallest has learned to ride his bike, has decided he no longer needs songs and nappies at night and can now write his name independently. Middlest has started college and Eldest has a new job. We have all learned to relate to each other differently so we can live together easily.

A year on we have reached the other side and smallest still keeps an eye out for the snails. He has progressed though to picking up one of the many snails that gather daily on the white painted brick steps wich lead up to our door. Rather than placing them together, he places them on the side of the house or on the tips of the ferns that shelter, an otherwise visible basement bedroom window. “They are on an adventure”, he says.

I remember working with a child once whom I would often observe in the playground at break. Just before they were due to make an important transition to a different school, I watched them make a series of journeys using play equipment to get from one side of the playground to the other. Each day I watched as they did this until finally they got across. I marvelled at the the power of the unconscious and how it allows us to work things out; in this case for the child to make sense of a time of upheaval. I also felt privileged to be observing what was happening for them. Seeing this happen with your own child is even better. Smallests snails no longer have to be together, they can go off to different places on their own. When we look for them later though, they have gone.

” I wonder where they could have gone on their adventure” I say.

”America” he says triumphantly,” they are having a fantastic time”.

My blog has been absent of posts relating to smallest recently because well, to write something new when nothing new is happening. It’s like Scrabbling around at the back of a cupboard for the scraps of what you didn’t want to write about before. Or stuff you couldn’t give a shape to.

Thinking about this post though I realize stuff has been happening, from the structure we have created this year and from this weird mix of ingredients we have been given, we have created something. And now we reach the final stretch before school. Smallest sits with Lego. He bashes down the building which has stood on the mat for a while. “I am knocking down nursery mummy and there is anew buildings over here” . “What is in that?” I say.

“Oh I don’t know yet mummy”. He stops and leans over to put a block down.

Smallest is showing me what is happening for him right now – he is preparing himself. And he’s done that through having the right space and the right person next to him, to allow him to do so.

So what did I learn this year? That I can make choices that are right for me and my family without even the slightest compromise to the well being of any of us. That I feel that what I set out to do, prepare him emotionally is a job well done. That I am glad – glad I took the time off to look after my own children. That that, is probably the understatement if the century.