I see you, single white eyebrow hair!

Yes, I see you. There’s no hiding from me. Not that you were trying to hide that much anyway. I mean, how could I not notice you? One bright white hair sticking up in the middle of all the black ones? You weren’t exactly trying to be anonymous, were you? No, in fact, I rather feel your flamboyant combination of stark white colour and blatant lack of respect for the order hairs lay in, was more of a giant fuck you, to be honest!

But that’s okay. I can take it! I’m a big girl. And you know that already don’t you? And anyway, I hate to piss on your party parade, little white eyebrow hair, but you were beaten to it by a couple of head hair a few years ago! So there! And there have been a few more since then, believe me. So you weren’t such a shock, I’m sorry to say. You looked sort of weird and out of place though, so I plucked you out and examined you, and I expect you’ll be glad to hear your brief existence as part of my body did encourage me to stand and consider the passing of my time.

But the white hairs on my head was a bigger deal. Because those little bastards crept up on me. They took me by surprise, unlike you. Those hairs got me in a right little spin. They had me thinking about age and death for weeks! But you, I’m not so sure. I feel like I will just shrug you off. You see, back then, I was a few years into my thirties. And let me tell you, shocking white eyebrow hair, your early thirties are a time of massive denial and self-delusion.

You’ve just come out of your twenties and you can’t quite believe you’ve actually crossed the threshold into your thirties. It doesn’t seem real. Or fair. Twenties sounds so nice, doesn’t it? No one really wants to be a teenager forever, not with all the angst and insecurity, but your twenties are fantastic. You’re still young. You look young! You feel young. Old age feels a million years away; something that can never touch you. Then you roll on into your third decade, and it feels like quite a beating if I’m honest.  Quite a shock to the system.

I remember when I was heading out of my twenties. Being thirtysomething distressed and confused me. As that big 3-0 approached, I started looking around at other women of that age. How was I supposed to dress? How should I act? I felt like I had to leave my old scruffy, student style clothes behind me and try to appear a bit more polished. I genuinely thought this!

Early thirties is a strange time. You tell yourself you are still young, and of course, you still feel exactly the same. We never really change much on the inside. But you are suddenly confronted with one hard, cold fact. Entering your third decade is the beginning of the end of being young. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t suddenly wake up with crows feet and saggy arms, thank God. You don’t suddenly turn grey or develop arthritis. But it’s the start…or the end.

And towards the end of your thirties? There is no denying it. You’re a woman now, not a girl. You’re approaching middle-age, something you never, ever, ever thought would happen to you. You see, we witness the changes of the seasons. We watch leaves turn yellow and brown. We see them twist and twirl in the air as they fall to the ground. We kick through them and watch them turn to mulch. We see their decay but not our own. The new buds start the process again. Another season. Another Spring. Followed by another Summer, and Autumn, and so on.

Realising the world sees you as an adult, is weird. I still don’t feel like one. I always think people are older than me and feel genuinely shocked when I find out they are my age. I mean, they’re old…I’m not? 

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Those first white hairs were amusing to me. I pulled them out and looked them over. I was pleased by them, oddly. I liked that they were bright white, not grey. And I feel the same way about you, white eyebrow hair. So funny how things go full circle! I was so blonde when I was a toddler, my hair was almost white. To think one day I will have white hair and white eyebrows and eyelashes is really sort of exciting. I can just about see myself if I stare hard enough.

When I stop to think about it, and yes, okay, I admit the appearance of white hairs like yourself, does inevitably cause me to ponder…I really think I am okay with getting older.

There’s something I always think about and that’s how lucky I am to be here in the first place. You know, out of all those eggs and all those sperms, and all those opportunities for life to exist or not, I made it through. I saw a video this week where a guy was saying you have more chance of winning the lottery 10 times than you do of getting a life in the first place. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I agree with the sentiment. It’s mind-boggling if you think about it.

Getting older, spotting wrinkles and white hairs, it does make you feel a little sad, a little bit nostalgic. Of course, I stare at my face in the mirror and try to see the younger me. I hear songs that take me back, I experience memories out of the blue, ones I had forgotten. I think, how nice it would be to go back to that time. To do that again. But I would never really want to go back. To go back would be to lose who I am now. The years that have passed have shaped and moulded me into who I am now, someone I mostly quite like!

I think the whole fucking thing is amazing. This life. Getting up every morning and placing your feet down on the floor. Feeling the rain on your face. Facing the dark. Watching the shadows. Catching the light. Feeling the endless earthy beat of the world beneath your feet. Knowing love. Holding tight. Inhaling embraces. Star gazing. Paddling. Holding hands. It’s beautiful and amazing that we have the gift to look back, to remember and feel the emotions of the past. And it’s exciting and enthralling that we have the vision to look forward, to dream and imagine and hope. And it’s breathtaking when you think about it, that we have this same, one moment that we live in perpetually. Just us. Inside our skull. Looking out. What do you see?

For me, life is full of small, perfect moments. Of bare feet on warm concrete. Sitting on the doorstep with a hot cup of coffee. Watching birds fly in and out of the hedgerow. Finger nails filled with dirt. The sun setting and rising. Listening to the rain at night. Getting lost in a good book. Falling asleep beside your child. Smelling their hair. Knowing that nothing lasts forever, least of all you. But you can wake and walk and sleep and dream and live and love, day after beautiful day, until it ends.

So, you don’t scare me little white eyebrow hair. You don’t worry me. In fact, you make me smile. There will be more of you along, I know. One day I will give up plucking you out and I will let the white takeover. And that will be okay.

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Life Is Story and Stories Are Everywhere

Just recently I penned a guest post for another blog, the topic of which was the reason I write. I know people write for many, many complex reasons, and I think there is more than one reason that compels me to make up stories, but certainly one of the biggest reasons is simply to live more lives. To become other people, to step into their shoes, to create them and control them, to live with them and die with them. It’s the same reason I read, I guess. So that I’m not just me, living this one life.

What I also notice, as I go through my one, short life, punctuated by the lives of the people and worlds I have lovingly created, is how stories are everywhere. How they make up our lives and our worlds, and our day to day existence. Maybe you don’t always notice them, but if you look, stories are everywhere. Everything is, in fact, a story. Or at least, the potential for one. The inspiration for one.

When you get an idea for a story, it’s because you asked a question. You asked, what if? You asked, why? You asked, what is going on here? And you wanted to know the answers to those questions, so you made some up.

Children are wonderful at doing this. Natural play in childhood is nothing but stories and make-believe. I find this utterly enchanting. How they lose themselves completely in made-up worlds. These worlds and stories might make no sense at all to us, the adults, but to them they do. They set them up and let them roll. They start them out of nothing, out of the thin blue air. And they carry them on, for weeks, sometimes years.

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Look at this Playmobil set up. My 3-year-old got given a box of the stuff this week but it was his 10-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister who set it all up like this. I walked past it while tidying up and found myself wondering what was going on. There is one fellow, an outlaw, tied to the roof of a wagon, for instance, and I wanted to know why. There are a lot of rifles placed on a table in the sheriff’s office, and this was also obviously part of the story. The kids had dinner and went back to the Playmobil. I had to do other things, but I would have loved to know what happened next to all these people! This might look like play, and it is, but it’s also a story in action, one that I am sure will develop over the next few days.

A few days ago my youngest sat down to do some drawings on his chalkboard. I wasn’t allowed to join in, I was only allowed to watch. He started drawing big circles and little circles with lines joining them, up. He chatted to himself and when I asked about it, he gave the circles all names like Hop and Plop and Poop and said they were all holding hands because they were friends. They didn’t have faces, but some did have bananas! He then drew a square around them all and said they had gone into a house. This went on for a while, with my son adding further layers to the story. It was a lovely moment, art and storytelling interlinked quite naturally!

Children are just natural storytellers, and we should notice and cherish and encourage this as much as possible. Tonight, one of my older sons early creations, came back to visit us, and I was once again reminded how naturally children construct stories and carry them on through their lives.

When he was almost three, my older son used to get scared at night and get into our bed. We would ask him about this and he would talk about odd little creatures he called the Muckoos. In the day, his sisters would question him, and he would describe them in ever greater detail. (They were small and spiky and multi-coloured and liked to steal biscuits) They also kept him awake at night with their noise and they did lots of naughty things around the house. As the story grew among us all, my son started blaming the Muckoos when things went wrong. I wrote a story about it at the time, which I still have, and may one day do something with!

I’ve never forgotten the Muckoos, and I quite often call my littlest son a Muckoo, as in my mind it sums up a small child, mucky and messy and troublesome and cheeky! I sometimes call him Muckoo Madness, and he will retort; I am not Muckoo Madness!

Anyway, sometimes we have trouble getting the littlest one to bed, and my older son has been helping out the last few nights, by pretending to be a creature called Gavin, who loves stories. This in itself, is just gorgeous. He insists on sitting on a pillow on one side of me, while his little brother sits on the other side. They both get toys to cuddle and we all choose one book to read. Then ‘Gavin’ has to go back to his cave, and my little son happily goes to bed. What a way to use storytelling to encourage a young child to sit still and listen to stories! Tonight, my older son remembered the Muckoos, and ‘Gavin’ told us he was a Muckoo, in fact, the last of his kind. Quite a poignant moment, I felt! It was magical to witness this ‘story’ resurfacing after so many years and I am quite convinced it will continue to develop further layers and complexities…

And for anyone wondering what the last Muckoo looks like, my oldest son agreed to draw one for you!

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10 Songs I Can’t Sing Without Crying Like A Baby

I’m a huge music fan and music seems to creep into nearly all of my books. Danny is addicted to the grunge and Britpop of the 90’s in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side.Joe dreams of owning a drum kit and playing in a band in The Mess Of Me, Jake remembers his missing mother’s love for 60’s music This Is Nowhere and in my current WIP, Bill Robinson is a talented singer. I can’t sing myself. I can’t play any instruments either. Big regrets! But like I mentioned in my post Reasons To Be Cheerful, singing along to songs is one of my favourite things to do. I know my voice is terrible, but there is just something so uplifting and life affirming about letting rip, singing your heart out because you know every single word and because every single word means something to you!

There are, however, some songs I can never sing. Not without succumbing to genuine tears. I told my 10 year old this the other day and he demanded a demonstration. So I tried singing the first one on this list and instantly got tears in my eyes, a hitch in my throat and couldn’t get beyond the first verse. So I thought I’d share them with you. The songs I absolutely cannot ever, not even once, manage to sing without crying like a baby. (If you want to have a listen, click on the links for the Youtube videos of each song!)

  1.   The Littlest Hobo Theme TuneI can’t listen to this, let alone sing this without welling up. I loved this show when I was a dog obsessed child of the 80’s. It never failed to pull at my heartstrings every time the poor dog traipsed off on his lonesome after helping strangers in every episode. I think if I heard it for the first time now I’d be all right. It’s the way it plugs me back into my childhood in an instant that does it. Instant memories and emotions = instant tears.
  2. Slipping Through My Fingers  Abba. This is the Meryl Streep version, because it was through the movie Mama Mia that I first heard this song. I don’t like Abba one little bit, and if I didn’t have little girls slipping through my own fingers, I would also hate this song. But I took my little girls to see this at the cinema and watched this most poignant scene with unstoppable tears rolling down my face. I couldn’t even look at my two little girls while this was on. If I’d been all alone I would have indulged myself in a full on cry, with proper noise. It’s had me every since. It’s everything. Every sentence, every lyric. There’s not a mother out there who doesn’t feel like this, like every moment is slipping away from you, like you can’t ever really know these strange little people you brought into the world. And with girls…Every time I hear it I see my little girls when they had ponytails and dresses, when they were skipping out ahead of me. I wish I could have frozen the picture too. Go on. Have a listen. Have a good old cry!
  3. Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel. I’m sniffling already just listening to this on YouTube. I still can’t watch Watership Down or hear this song without crying. I just can’t do it. Impossible. It’s another instant emotional link to childhood. I adored this book and this film. I read it so many times. It has a very special place in my heart for that reason. It inspired me to keep reading and it inspired me to write stories about animals. It reflected my love of animals and wildlife. It made me think about life and death. Heavy stuff for a little one! This is what music does to you. It floods you with thoughts and feelings from the past.watership-down
  4. Disco 2000 by Pulp. You might think this an odd one. It’s a quirky, dance song. Typical of Pulp in the Britpop ear. This didn’t make me cry back in the day, oh no. I totally loved it and Pulp were one of the first bands I properly fell in love with, but it does something else to me these days. It reminds me that I’ve grown, just like the characters in the song. It reminds me how many years have passed since the year 2000 seemed an impossibly long way off! It has another emotional connection for me now though. Before I knew I was definitely pregnant with my fourth child, I had this CD on in the car during the school run. It made me cry for the first time and I knew I was pregnant long before I had to do a test! Now it’s always gonna’ make me blub.Britpop
  5. Oxygen by Willy Mason This is a new one for me. This song was out in 2004 but somehow I only came across it a few months ago when they played it on BBC 6Music. It came on and it made me slow down, demanding to be listened to. I think I was cooking the dinner, but I gravitated away from the oven and ended up hovering next to the window where our radio is. I soaked up the lyrics and felt a lump in my throat. So much of this makes sense to me right now. It could have been written specifically for the times we are currently living in, and sadly shows that not too much has changed. I wrote down the artist and the title of the song when it came up on the little bar on the radio and tucked the scrap piece of paper into my cutlery draw. I often do things like that and totally forget about them. But in the end, I did look Willy Mason on YouTube, and was impressed enough to order two CD’s. Since they arrived, I’ve played Oxygen in the car on the school run and I have to mouth the lyrics. I can’t sing it out loud without getting all choked up.
  6. Days – Kirsty MacCollI love The Kinks version, but I think Kirsty MacColl had a really beautiful voice, so I prefer this one. I first heard The Kinks sing this on the radio when I was about 12 or so. I used to listen to old fifties and sixties music on the radio in our kitchen, with my notebook in front of me. I’d write the lyrics around the edges of the paper. This was one I wrote the lyrics down to and I can remember how it made me feel sad and nostalgic, even though I was only a kid, and hadn’t even had any ‘days’ yet! Now when I hear it I fill warm and sad and my mind fills with my own memories of days past. I also can’t hear it without thinking about the tragic death of Kirsty MacColl. So yep, this is another one I try to sing along to and just can’t.
  7. Ten Storey Love Song – The Stone RosesThis one gets me every time. I am totally lost in so many thoughts and feelings when I try to sing to this. My husband introduced me to The Stone Roses when we first met. He used to make me mix-tapes and this song was on one of them. He also used to write me very amusing letters on A4 ruled paper, with lyrics and funny quotes written around the margins. He’s actually not that keen on this song, but I adored it from the first time I heard it. It makes me think of him, and us, when we were young and first in love. I wrote this song into The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, giving Danny and Lucy a similar scenario, where he made her mixtapes and this was on one of them. She wrote him love letters and scrawled these lyrics onto them. We saw The Stone Roses play at Finsbury Park in 2013 after they reformed. It was a dream come true and everything I had hoped it would be. I’m not ashamed in the slightest to admit I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I sung along to this one, and thought about everything it meant to me.
  8. Something Changed – Pulp Another Pulp track, and another one that reminds me of my husband and me when we first met. He also dislikes this song, but that doesn’t stop it meaning something to me. The lyrics seemed so perfect at the time. We met at the local night club when we were 17 and 18. He was there because it was one of his friends 18th and I was there because it was one of my friends 18th. One of my friends went to the same school he had, they chatted for a bit, and then she introduced me, and that was that. I’ve always liked the line ‘when we woke up that morning we had no way of knowing, that in a matter of hours we’d change the  way we were  going.’ The song questions what made the couple go to the same place at the same time, and whether it is fate, or something else.
  9. Little Talks – Of Monsters and MenI’m okay with this one until I get to the last verse. This song has an awesome, catchy tune, but the lyrics are a lot darker. I love the way it has a male and female singer, talking back and forth. For me, the female voice is losing her mind to old age, possibly dementia, and the male voice is reassuring her and also talking about how he can’t bear to see her this way. The last verse goes like this; ‘You’re gone, gone, gone away, I watched you disappear. All that’s left is a ghost of you. Now we’re torn, torn, torn apart, there’s nothing we can do, just let me go, we’ll meet again soon…now wait wait wait for me, please hang around, I’ll see you when I fall asleep.’ Lump in the throat right now, just writing that. It makes me think about getting old and dying and losing the one you love. It packs an emotional punch, I think.
  10. Perfect Day – Lou ReedA beautiful, haunting song, and one that builds up with intensity and emotion, taking me with it. Everything about this song chokes me up. His voice, the story, the piano, the endless search for something perfect and pure, his affirmation that this day was, in fact, perfect, and the way we all have days like that in our heads. I love the way you can interpret it how you like. As a love song, or as a song about drug addiction.

So, that’s my list. There are loads more, but I didn’t want to make this post too long! How about you? Are there any songs that make you well up when you hear them? Are there any songs you can’t sing along to without choking on tears? Or am I just a very strange emotional wreck?? Please feel free to comment and share! I would love to hear your songs too.

(PS. I just remembered one more! This one! Flowers In The Window by Travis. I was heavily pregnant with my first child, and stacking shelves at Asda when this came out. It would play in the shop, and after I had waddled home, hot and sweaty and deliriously excited about becoming a mother, I would find the video on The Box, and watch it. All those pregnant women! The lyrics talk about planting new seeds and watching them grow…You are one in a million… Oh that’s it, I’m off again!)