Monday, 29 September 2008

Woof woof, here come the buns

I am not one of life's planners – not at all. I plan my life about ...well, let's see...maybe 3 months in advance (or at most 6 months in advance for holidays and such like). If I have a plan at all it's a very loose one (so loose it falls to pieces quite regularly) and I've always been like this ever since childhood. Other people think I am organised and focussed and what-not but it's all a lovely illusion - I am really very drifty. For example I was not one of those children who planned what I would be when I grew up (do children ever do that? I'm not sure). I might have thought (or hoped) it would be something to do with writing...maybe...but nothing clearer than that. Likewise I never (not once!) planned a wedding day as I'm told some girls do (and I'm still avoiding that whole business quite effectively). Above all I never, ever, ever planned having a child or children. I never thought about names or how he/she/they might look or what kind of holidays we might have. Because of this Small Girl's arrival was a very, very unlaid plan. I decided at about 33 years of age know... maybe we could try after all (my Beloved being a fine, upstanding individual and all that – it seemed a waste not to even try) and then POW, as if by magic..there she was! Our baby! It was one huge shock to the system. For quite a long time I kept expecting Social Services to turn up – the whole thing being so obviously a huge in charge of a baby? No way!

Partly because of this lack of any planning whatsoever motherhood has been mostly a series of quite terrifying surprises for me. I really had no idea what I was getting into. The horror of worrying, the tedium of Mums' activities, the never getting to skive off (not what I would call may not be with them but the worry... that never sleeps) – all this has been like a series of mind blows. I will get through it (most likely) but my goodness... it's a job and a half - it makes me tired just thinking about it. And that's just one very sweet, mostly healthy little bundle of love. I'm a wimp I know but I have never pretended to be anything else to be fair.

One of the many things I was not prepared for was how you have to kind of relive your own childhood when you are looking after a small person. The songs, the stories, the arguments at school, the impossible decisions...all those things you have experienced yourself and then left behind...there they all are to be endured all over again (this time by proxy). Avoiding the heavier subjects this time I would like to mention some of the music and books that I have been reacquainted with over the past few years. Let's start in Sweden...

Now I quite liked ABBA when I was nine/ten years old but I never expected to have to listen to them again once I had moved on to other, better music (nobody tell that white water rafting ABBA fan...he'll be round here to beat me with his paddles...) and yet here I am in the year of 'Mamma Mia' (the film), once more listening to 'Take a chance, take a chance' and bloody 'Fernando'. I mean, come on...all the music in the world and here I am with 'Voulez vous, ah ha'! It's just too bizarre. I know I could refuse to have anything to do with the whole fiasco but then that wouldn't help Small Girl in the fitting-in-at-school business (not her strong point at the best of times). So I watch the film. I listen to the songs (though I draw the line at Pierce Brosnan's singing – we got the ABBA CD not the film soundtrack). However you play it, it is the cruellest déjà vu.

And then the other day it was 'Grease'. Small Girl had borrowed the DVD from a friend and as the story is mainly about sex and she is only eight I knew I would have to sit in for explanations and interrogations ('why does she think she is pregnant?' 'what kind of reputation?' 'is he trying to touch her boobies?'). Watching 'Grease' again 30 years on was just too weird for words. I still knew all the lyrics for a start...quite unnerving and's no wonder I don't know much of substance...look how full my memory is with all this twaddle. Mostly I never expected (or wanted) to see it again because it feels like my childhood not hers (hers is 'High School Musical' – she can have her own twaddle). After all I still remember queuing to see 'Grease' in somewhere like Darlington when it first came out (or when it got to Darlington – probably about a year after its initial release). I remember LOVING John Travolta for about 10 minutes (we all was a holiday didn't mean anything). I remember seeing 'You're the one that I want' on 'Top of the Pops' for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was all very exciting...but then (here's the important bit) I moved on. I never expected to have to watch the damn thing again! I especially didn't expect to watch it again and answer five hundred questions about sex and car maintenance at the same time. Also I am not one of these people who loves nostalgia...I like to move new new old music...and I really don't want to have to hear Travolta stranded at the drive-in again..especially now I'm old enough to realise how ridiculous he looks as a 'teenager'. He and the rest of the leads are so obviously middle-aged that the high school prom looks more like a fairly sad high school reunion. They look like parents! It's kind of sick...

It's the same with books. I read Small Girl a lot of bedtime stories and this week she chose Enid Blyton's 'First Term at Malory Towers' (one of the girls' boarding school books, published 1946). Now I was CRAZY about the Malory Towers books when I was eight or nine so I was quite keen to oblige...and then we started. It is so unsettling rereading these books and realising quite how cringemaking some of them are. It's amusing but that doesn't stop it still being a little awkward. At Malory Towers anyone who cries is a baby, anyone who misses their family is simply not sensible and anyone who breaks a rule is...well, a revolutionary to be shot at dawn before breakfast and prayers. Oh and the Scottish girl is careful with money! How could I ever have liked these books? Was I completely stupid? No, just young and...well, yes, more stupid than I thought at the time, obviously. Small Girl is loving 'First Term' I should point out...some of the girls are 'beastly' (see previous 'Brideshead' post) and do horrible things (she loves that!). Some of them even slap each other in rage...very fiction anyway.

Thankfully there are other happier revisiting experiences for me too. Not long ago I read both Dodie Smith's dalmatian books ('The Hundred and One Dalmatians' and 'The Starlight Barking') to Small Girl at bedtime and unlike the Blyton they were a joy to rediscover. This time I didn't have to laugh at my younger self for my junior tastes as I still really enjoyed them both – especially the less well-known sequel 'The Starlight Barking' that had been one of my very favourite childhood reads. I still loved the idea of a day when only the dogs wake up and Small Girl, of course, was thrilled (what with her Magical Kingdom of Dogs fantasy and all). Most interesting of all was the realisation that I have somehow turned into the character of Missus (the main bitch, Pongo's 'wife', nothing to do with hiphop). If you have only seen the films you will be confused by now as they changed the female lead dog's name to Perdita in the films whereas Perdita is more a minor character in the books. Still, it's true, I am Missus – quite nervous, a bit fussy, fairly vague, easily confused by real life but then, to everyone's surprise (especially her own), sometimes a source of wisdom. I haven't got quite so many offspring as Missus but I'm more maternal than I expected too – not very good at the driving to appointments but really not bad at the emotional stuff (so far). I can't tell you how strange it is to realise that you have grown up to be a Dalmatian bitch (strange but at the same time not completely unpleasant). It could have been worse - I could have turned into Cruella de Vil...

Other reread books we have enjoyed together include my favourite of all time 'Ballet Shoes' by Noel Streatfeild (I've always loved big houses full of a crazy mix of people - I live in one right now) and 'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M.Montgomery (that Anne – so feisty!). Small Girl in particular liked 'Heidi' by Johanna Spyri (she went wild for the idea of sleeping in hay) and I really loved getting back to 'The Railway Children' by E. Nesbit. I suppose 'The Railway Children' was an obvious one for me to connect with as a child (the disappearing father etc.) but one of my favourite bits concerned the mother. and how she coped while Father was off in prison, terrible people being beastly to him, being accused of treason and so on. I always loved it when 'Mother' sold a story to a magazine and there were 'buns for tea'. I's so English and of course they were hardly destitute – they were posh folks down on their luck, not really poor people – but still I loved it. There was something about the link between food and writing that appealed to me then and that still appeals to me now. I don't make heaps of money out of writing at the moment and we can't rely on it by any means but I do make some money (books sell, I get paid to read and, most unbelievably, to sing sometimes) and when I do there is nothing I like more than spending it on food - the tastier and more comforting the better. 'Poetry money' I say to my Beloved as I spend it, a big grin on my silly face, on Chinese takeaways, on a trip to the supermarket or just, quite simply and most beautifully, on buns.

So, with that in mind here's a picture of Verona and I earning hard cash at Brechin Arts Festival the other day. I don't put photos on here much...I'm lazy that way...but as I said before we did a show last week with poet Raymond Vettese, singer and writer James Penny and musician and singer Andy Davis. We're fairly tiny on this photo...who knows maybe we really are this small (thanks to Susan Storrier for the pic). It was a great evening and I read poems, Verona and I sang, the audience was lovely and I sold another stack of books. There was poetry money and all was well with the world for a couple of hours. Now, anyone for buns?


Frances said...

I take your point about re-visiting things that you thought you'd left behind - I never thought about it like that but then I was always a fan of Disney! Young children are wonderful and exhausting. Later on they get to be teenagers - exhausting without being quite so wonderful.

Not sure I agree about the 'middle aged' Grease actors. It was set in the 50s when a separate teenage identity was only just beginning to emerge. The clothes are quite ageing to the modern eye.

Rachel Fox said...

OK...I went and checked their ages...according to that imdb film info site Olivia N-J was 30 (playing what..17?), Travolta was 24 (that surprised me he really looked a lot older), Stockard Channing as Rizzo was 34 and Jeff Conaway as Kenickie was 27 (though it does say in the film that he has been at the school a long time). So maybe middle-aged was a slight exaggeration...and I have been told a million, trillion times not to exaggerate!

Ken Armstrong said...

This is a totally charming post (is 'charming' a bit like 'beastly' except opposite? I hope not.

In an amazing small-world-coincidence (you're not going to believe this but it is quite true) something made me pull out a CD of Grease while cooking the Sunday roast yesterday and I grooved to 'Summer Lovin'' and all the rest. You are *so* right about them being old - check Kinickie (or whatever you call him) as proof.

One of my theatre plays references 'Grease' quite heavily - it's due to be published in the next few weeks so more anon - so I suppose I have a soft spot for the film which dates back many years.

I found 'Charlotte's Web' to be a lovely book to read out loud but my lad seems to prefer Captain Underpants. :)

Rachel Fox said...

After watching the film the other day I too was cursed with singing the songs to myself for the rest of the week! It's not that I don't like 'Grease'...not at all...I was just unprepared for quite so much memory lane business. I must be getting old...I seem to just swim in memories sometimes as it is.

Like the sound of your play.

Yes, Small Girl loves 'Charlotte's Web' - I've read it to her once (or twice) and she has read it a few more times. I'm not sure I read that myself as a child but I do remember we went to see an animated film of it with school and I cried and cried. Not many kids' films allow death...maybe it was the first death I ever saw on film.

hope said...

At age 12, I babysat for most of the kids in my neighborhood. In fact I teased one woman her child was mine because I spent so much time with him, he often called me "Mom". I was 14. :)

Sadly ironic that, as much as I love kids, I wasn't able to have kids of my own...and childhood is so easy for me to conjure up! It's saved me a couple of times at work when these bored kids who don't know how to function without computer games want to DO something. We play games from my childhood. Friday I read a "Curious George" book and giggled as much as the little girl I was reading to.

I've always loved reading. I began collecting books from my childhood that I loved; Stone Soup, Caps for Sale, etc. to go with the Tom Sawyer, Alice in Wonderland, Nancy Drew Mysteries, etc. that Mom bought me. They're all in a drawer that my 8 yr. nephew believes are there solely for him. :)

As for the explaining sex part...I had to laugh. I was 8 when I got that speech. Mom let us play inside on a hot day while she was watching her soaps. My 6 year old sister turned to her with a frown and asked, "Mom, if Rachel is married to Russ, how can she have Steve's baby?"

Life is filled with surprises. Sounds like you're doing well by Small Girl, who no doubt will be reading her own "classics" to her children one day. That's good planning...without actually planning.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes...explaining policy of 'telling Small Girl the truth' does lead to a lot of complicated discussions! I see that policy getting looser as time goes on ...especially when she's wise enough to ask me more questions about my own past experiences!


Kat Mortensen said...

I never for one second, liked John Travolta.

I used to adore Nancy Drew books, but to read them now is intolerable. They are so chauvinistic for one thing and then there's the illustrations.

Rachel, did you ever read anything by Edward Eager? I ate up all his books - Knight's Castle, Half-Magic, Magic By The Lake etc. I haven't seen them recently, but I hope they haven't lost their luster for me.

You're on the left, in the photo. Correct? Looks like a good crowd - quite mature.

I did all the wedding planning, kids' names etc. None of it turned out the way I'd planned - No large wedding - it was a "What are you doing next weekend." kind of thing (to parents). Oh, and no kids--just a quartet of cats.


Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I'm the tiny one on the left! It was in a place in Glenesk..right in the depths of the countryside - gorgeous. The age of the audience was fairly mixed but they were a great crowd - really responsive and receptive.

I don't know that Eager author you mention at all but will investigate! I never read any Nancy Drew either - not one. I did start reading one of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven mystery books with SG a while back though and was astonished to find the gang using a shed with the letters SS on the door...Was Blyton really a Nazi all along? Does everyone else know this and I'm the last one to find out? Luckily Small Girl didn't like the book much because she really still prefers a book with female (or canine) lead characters and the Secret Seven girls do nothing but make sandwiches. I put the book aside and we switched to something else!


hope said...

Hmmm, my Nancy Drew books didn't have any illustrations. Of course the ones I started on were MY Mom's when she was a child. I remember colorful covers as I got older. I'd probably find them politically incorrect now, but at the time, the fact that a girl was smart enough to solve a mystery without any stupid old boys helping was okay with little girl me. :) [The Hardy Boys don't count...they had their own series].

Rachel Fox said...

I'm going to have to read her a Nancy Drew now...just to see what you're both on about!