One Toothbrush – A Tale of Days Gone By

At my mother’s house, there is just one toothbrush in the bathroom. And I think about that a lot.

I noticed it a few months ago and it hit me hard. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s become a sort of marker in my mind of life, death, time and family. I realised that one toothbrush is my future.

My mother brought up four children, five if you count the one that wasn’t even hers. At one time she would have brushed her teeth at the end of the day, weary, perhaps frazzled, and there would have been seven brushes in the pot. Then six. Then five when my oldest sister left home. Then four when my father left. Then three, two and then finally, one day, (surely a day that was hugely significant and heartrending for her, but didn’t seem to register at all in my mind…) there was one.

And one day, this will happen to me. Assuming I outlive my husband, after all my children have grown up and left home, it will be just me. Where once there were six toothbrushes, there will only be one. Mine.

And now I think about this every time I brush my teeth and look at their brushes, one less already since my eldest left home for University. One less again when my next daughter leaves in September… One by one, they will all fly the nest and one day, it will be just me.

I think about how that will feel…

Sometimes when I’m really tired, when the demands have come thick and fast, when I crave just a few peaceful minutes to myself to pull myself back together, I look forward to being alone. I’m quite a solitary person and I don’t mind my own company at all. As the years go by I find myself becoming even more introverted, and even less likely to socialise or mingle with crowds. I imagine what it will be like to wake up to a quiet, still house. To go to sleep at the end of the day alone. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me at all. Other times, it fills me with shock and dread. Shock because it slams home how short and fleeting this one life really is, and dread because I sometimes feel motherhood has defined me, so who will I be when they have all gone?

I guess I will find out, just like my mother did.

That single toothbrush caught me off guard. Made me see my mother in a new light. I had never stopped, not once, to think about how she must have felt as we one by one drifted away. I had never, until that moment, stopped to wonder if she ever feels lonely, living alone. Waking up alone, going to bed alone. I felt a surge of guilt and then a surge of fear. That solitary toothbrush stood for so much. A life lived in love, giving more than taking, nurturing, protecting, feeding and clothing and then at the end of it all, sitting alone in a small house, with one of everything.

I wonder how often she looks around and thinks there used to be lots of pairs of shoes in the hall, lots of coats on the hook, lots of mugs in the cupboard, lots of voices and songs and footsteps and calls in the night. I wonder if she wakes up in the morning and thinks, what shall I do today? Who needs me? Is it liberating or lonely? Or both?

I will one day find out.

I have loved being a mother. But I have also understood that a big part of being a mother is learning to let go, almost as soon as you hold them for the first time. They grow so fast and growing is always a form of leaving. They start to crawl, then walk, then run. One day they pull their hand out of yours in case their friends see. One day they tell you not to kiss them in public anymore. One day they ask if they can go out on their bike without you. One day they leave home and you have no idea where they are or what they are doing most of the time, and you have to live with it. Because they have to do it.

At the moment, my eldest is almost twenty and living in another country. I miss her but I want her to do exactly what she is doing. My second eldest will be leaving soon too. My household will shrink again. My eldest son will be going into his final year of school next month and will be making decisions about what he wants to do with his life next. He doesn’t need me for much these days, but I am very lucky that he does still want me. My littlest baby is no longer a baby, no longer so little. He grows taller every time he walks in the room. He has started to strive for independence lately; taking showers by himself instead of me running him a bath, riding his bike down the lane alone, rushing ahead of me to prove he can do things. It’s even harder letting go of the littlest one, but let go I must.

And what I must also do is prepare myself for the time when they have all gone. When I wake up to a quiet, still house just as my mother does. When I go to bed alone and hear no voices or footsteps in the night. For a time when I barely have to run the washing machine. For a time when I only buy the food that I like. For a time when I no longer walk around the house picking up stray shoes, bags, books and toys. For a time when I don’t find random piles of stones and sticks in strange places. For a time when at the end of the day, there is just one toothbrush and me.

I hope the way I feel is pride tinged with sadness, a dose of nostalgia mixed with relief that my time is my own. Imagine how much more writing I will get done! I hope this is how my mother feels at the end of the day when she reaches for that solitary toothbrush. I hope she feels a surge of pride for bringing us into the world and then sending us on our way, fully equipped. I hope she knows it was a job well done, despite the hard times and tough times. I think that I should tell her how hard that one toothbrush hit me, how much it made me think of the speedy retreat of days gone by.

Come Back To What You Know

I’m feeling nostalgic.

I don’t look back on the past with rose-tinted spectacles. I think every decade in human history has been seeped in tragedy, usually man-made, of some kind. But there is something in me at the moment constantly yearning for simpler times.

I wouldn’t do away with the internet or mobile phones, but only for one reason. I’d never sell a single book without either of them!

But I find myself tiring of it all. I suppose everything becomes tiring after a while. Everything loses its shine. Sometimes though, we go back around again, we go full circle and return to things we once turned our backs on.

For me lately, this has been bringing some unexpected comfort in an increasingly fraught, depressing and uncertain world. I’ll just talk about a couple today; things I have returned to and how they are helping me navigate these seemingly endless difficult times.

Walking

I’ve always liked walking. I feel I have some sort of affinity with it, like it is something I am supposed to do. I like how it is so solitary and gives me time to think. So many stories and ideas came from walking when I was a teenager. I thought nothing of walking an hour or more to get to a friend’s house and I hated buses. I would always rather keep walking. I used to run too, mostly in my late teens and my twenties when I got rather caught up in trying to control my figure. But these days, 44 year old me is a bit kinder to myself (most of the time anyway,) and I worry about falling over or hurting my back or my knees. So I think my running days might be over but my walking days have begun again in earnest. I now walk to save money on petrol and I feel good about this. It’s good for my wallet, my body and the planet. I also sort out all my plot holes and writing struggles when I am walking.

Letter writing

During the lockdowns of the pandemic my eldest sister who lives in a very rural location a few hours away from us, started writing letters and cards to my youngest son. He loved this and wrote back every time and they have kept this up ever since. A few months back I decided to join in, so now me and my sister converse through letters. Of course, we text, phone and Whatsapp each other too! But there is something so calm and patient about writing a letter, posting it and waiting for one to fly back to you. Whenever I receive one, I wait for a special moment to read it. I need peace, quiet, a comfy spot and a cup of tea. I have also started writing letters to two friends. It’s not something you do instantly. It’s something you wait until you have time for. And then you go back over everything that has happened since you last wrote and make sure you also address and respond to all their news. This all takes time and that’s what is so nice about it. Knowing that someone took time over doing something for you, knowing the extra effort that went into it – it really is lovely and I feel like people talk differently in letters too. It’s interesting.

Wearing a watch

I got my first mobile phone when I was 19. I think that must have been the last time I wore a watch. I can remember that last watch too because I had it all through my teens and I really loved it. It was a chunky silver Timex and rather than a strap and a buckle to fasten, it was attached to a stretchy silver bracelet. Weird, I know, but it made taking it on and off easier! Gradually it started falling apart and I really missed it. I think I kept the clock head for a while somewhere. After that, phones took over and recently I realised that whenever I need to check the time, I check my phone. I think we all do. But carrying a phone everywhere is getting annoying. They’re not just phones anymore, are they? They’re mini computers we lug around with us, which means we have the entire world in our pocket weighing us down. It’s annoying, especially in the summer when you are less likely to have good pockets! I also thought about all the post-apocalyptic TV I watch and books I read. In that eventuality, phones become useless but watches return. My husband bought me a lovely watch for my birthday and I’m in love with it. I absolutely adore it. I don’t have to take my phone everywhere anymore and I am prepared for the end of the world. Win, win!

Childlike curiosity

There are so many things I don’t know about. I am 44 years old and I still can’t identify that many birds, trees, or plants for example and I know barely anything about the Universe or space… As adults I think we stop being curious. We stop asking questions. I am sure you have all experienced the incessant questioning from a young child who wants to know why, why, why…. I am trying to get back to that. If I don’t know what something is, I am trying to find out. Mostly nature based things! For example, I have a plant identifying app that has helped me learn the names of a lot more plants and trees lately. And I just got this cool app that records and identifies birdsong for you! It’s really addictive.

Collecting stones

Walk around my house and I can guarantee you will find a pile of stones in every room thanks to my youngest son. Like most young children he still has the habit of picking up natural objects that look or feel nice. Sticks and stones mostly. There are sticks everywhere too, though of course really they are guns of various sorts. But stones… I looked the other day and found a pile on the kitchen window sill mixed in with fossils. Another pile on the table. A few more on the side. Some on the stairs. A few in the lounge on the coffee table. A whole gang of them in his room which seem to have been decorated with various spots which apparently mean different things. This stone obsession reminded me that when I was his age I had a whole shoe box of them under my bed. I wasn’t as good as he is at finding cool ones though! He really does have an eye for it. The other day I emptied his school bag and found a whole pile of smooth brown pebbles at the bottom. They were all almost identical in size and colour. Today he brought home a big stone which had been sheared in half at some point, so we could see inside it. My son is right about stones. They are fascinating – apparently pebbles on a beach can be as old as 4 billion years! It’s not like we often get the chance to hold something so ancient in our hands… They can be beautiful, colourful, smooth, jagged, tiny, large. I recently found one with a sad face but then I lost it again, which was sad. Anyway, thanks to my son, my love of collecting random stones just to hold them for a bit has been well and truly rekindled.

Longhand writing

If you follow my social media writing updates, you will know that I often write in longhand. This is also something I have returned to. As a kid I wrote in notebooks of all sizes and shapes. I wrote on anything I could. I was very excited when I got my first electric typewriter! Years later, and it’s all laptops and Word and Google Docs and so on. I still use these things, but I love starting a story off in a notebook. It means I can carry it about with me, write in it at weird times, like when cooking dinner or waiting in the car. Sometimes I end up writing the whole thing in a notebook, just like Black Hare Valley I blogged about last week. Sometimes I’ll get so far then start typing it up. Short stories and poems nearly always start their lives in notebooks these days. There is something about holding a pen in my hand, scratching words out on paper that returns me to me, that makes me feel more connected to it.

What about you? Are there any ‘old-school’ things you have returned to? Or any you never gave up in the first place? I’d love to know so feel free to leave a comment!

A Very Merry 80’s Christmas

When I wander through the memories of Christmas past, I inevitably recall the Christmases of my childhood. I was a child in the 1980s and I think, looking back, that there was something very innocent, magical, garish and unique about Christmas back then. I suppose everyone must have a kind of classic Christmas they look back on and feel nostalgic for and sometimes I find myself hunting for things that made Christmas special as a child, such as retro 1980s things! Here are some of my memories from Christmas in the 80s.

  • Fairy lights – I loved fairy lights as a child! I still love them now but they’ve all become a bit sophisticated and high tech. They are LED now or battery operated, which is great, because I can still remember my parents breath held when they switched on the lights, because if one bulb had gone, none of them would work. They’d then have to try and hunt down the faulty bulb and replace it! But I would love to find those kinds of lights again, with their little lantern style heads. They were so perfect.
  • Foil garlands – oh my, I loved these so much. We had loads of these as a kid. I remember my mum and oldest sister standing on stools in our lounge and using pins to attach the ends of the garlands to the ceiling. As they attached one end, the garland hung down to the floor and when I was very young I thought they would stay like that. My sister soon put me right and the garlands were draped in loops from one corner of the room to the other. Gorgeous! I’d love to find some again.
  • Quality Street – in later years we would enjoy Cadbury Roses, Celebrations and Heroes but in the 80s it was Quality Street that dominated Christmas. We would have one tin to last the holiday and even the tin was exciting! The smell when you pulled the lid off and the sight of all those chocolates wrapped up like shining jewels. I loved all of them so choosing one when it was my turn to pick was really difficult! Everyone loved the green triangle so they went first. My second favourite was the big purple one!
  • BabySham and Bucks Fizz – neither of my parents were big drinkers but at Christmas they did like to get some bottles in. My dad enjoyed a whiskey or two and I remember the women enjoying glasses of Babysham or bucks fizz. To me they looked very inviting!
  • Christmas Hampers – hampers are really popular these days. Hampers for dogs, hampers for vegans, wine hampers, sweetie hampers, you name it! But when I was a kid in the 80s they had a different meaning. All year my mum would pay into a hamper scheme. Then a few days before Christmas two large cardboard boxes would arrive. One was the meat hamper which was boring. The other, much bigger box was the fun hamper! It was so exciting to unpack and it always felt like Christmas had truly started. There were tins and jars; I remember things like Spam, Campbells Soup and silverskin pickled onions. There were boxes of sweets, such as Black Magic, Roses or Dairy Box. There was packs of custard and jelly and angel delight as well as chocolate fingers, nuts, and crisps. All of it so enticing!
  • Studio Catalogue – anyone remember these? Are they still around? One would turn up in our house every year and each of us would spend ages poring over the Christmas gifts, toys, decorations and food you could buy to make the holiday just perfect. There would be pages and pages of wrapping paper alone!
  • Family get togethers – When I was a kid, every New Years Day my grandparents would have a house party. I absolutely adored these parties. We would get dressed up in our new Christmas clothes, grab a few of our favourite presents to show off and pile into the car to get to their house. On arrival, we would be greeted by various relatives dogs first! This was a big deal for me because I was obsessed by dogs and wasn’t allowed my first one until I was 10. I adored my Uncle Colin’s collie Laddie the most and would spend a lot of the party fussing over him and taking him outside to play! My Nan had six kids and when they all turned up with their kids, it really was a houseful. I never remember any grumpiness or arguing. Us cousins would run around excitedly and my Nan would leave a present for each of us under the Christmas tree. It felt like Christmas was not over yet. Superman or James Bond would be on the TV and the men would congregate there with my grandad. The women would fill the dining room and kitchen with good food and laughter. The table would be piled high with party food and treats and I used to love sitting on the window sill which overlooked the garden, with my brother and sisters alongside me. The best thing though was our Uncle John and the games he set up for us. He would gather us around and convince us to dunk our faces in flour in search for elusive pennies! He was absolutely brilliant. I also remember us cousins sitting on the stairs, filling every step and gossiping. Great times! I never wanted it to end.
  • Toys – of course its the toys I remember the most. Waking up on Christmas morning with my stocking lying across the bottom of my bed, heavy on my feet. There would always be a soft toy poking out of the top! Once my sisters and brother were awake we would pile downstairs, dragging our heavy stockings behind us! And then on to the big presents under the tree left by Father Christmas in the night. A truly memorable Christmas for me was when I was eight years old and we spent a month in Florida, staying with my mum’s Aunt Julie. Not only were we extremely lucky children to be visiting another country at Christmas but they made it even more special when they woke us up on Christmas Eve to say there was a visitor to see us! We shyly entered the lounge and there was Father Christmas, or Santa as they called him in America, with these sacks of toys for us! Me and my sister had wanted Cabbage Patch Dolls forever; they were the toy we desperately wanted and guess what? That’s exactly what he had for us! I can still remember that moment of perfect joy as I unwrapped the box and my very own little boy (Dean Emery!) smiled back at me. My mum managed to catch a photo of me and I think it sums up how magical it was. Over the years, I also remember many toy dogs, a Charmkins house, and My Little Pony beauty parlour among others.
Image by Andy M. from Pixabay

How about you? What decade brings back the most Christmas memories for you? If you were a child of the sixties or seventies, what kinds of food, drink, decorations and toys stood out for you? I’d love to know. Feel free to comment and share and I do hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!

The Soundtrack To My Life

‘I don’t have my headphones on yet, but the music is always there. I have a constant walking soundtrack to my life, you see. There is a song for everything.’ (Danny, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series)

I’m currently reading and enjoying my own books – the entire The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series – which may sound weird and vain, but it’s for multiple reasons. I’ll probably talk about them in another blog post but it just felt apt to begin this post with a quote from Danny and his ‘soundtrack to his life.’

I’m at that stage in my life where I have lived through enough decades to have soaked up many musical phases and fads, for various artists and bands to have had profound effects on me, and for my nostalgia to go into overdrive every time I hear a certain song. Every Saturday when I am cooking dinner, I make a G&T, put on very loud music and dance around my kitchen. Sometimes I go back to the 80’s, sometimes the 90’s, sometimes I play new music! Anything goes!

And while I am dancing and singing and enjoying my drink, I go back in time. I revisit my own life in songs and moments and it’s a glorious and emotional thing. So, for fun, I thought I would break it down. My life in music, in sections, in moments, in songs.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Birth – 10 Alas, at this tender age I had no control over what music affronted my ears and my dominant memory from childhood is being forced to listen to Cliff Richard in my mother’s car. Every car journey, ever. I suspect at one point I thought Living Doll was quite funny, but only because The Young Ones covered it! The rest meant nothing to me, but I bet you if I heard any Cliff Richards song now I would know all the words to it… Other music I was introduced to at this age were also my mother’s favourites, Bobby Darin, Billy Fury, The Everley Brothers, Neil Sedaka… Significant songs: All I have To Do Is Dream by The Everley Brothers and Oh! Carol by Neil Sedaka

10-12 Around this age I fell in love with my first boy band, and boy was I embarrassed about it just a few years later! New Kids On The Block, remember them? Me and my sister were obsessed! We bought all the albums, and any magazine they graced the covers of! We even got to see them live at Wembley Stadium! I don’t think I could stand hearing one of their songs now though. It’s too cringey. They were too awful and the songs meant nothing, but I suppose it was fun at the time and at least it got me into music! Significant songs: Step By Step, Hangin’ Tough by The New Kids On The Block

12-14 Once I realised how awful modern pop music was, I went back in time. In many ways I was a peculiar kid! I don’t know how I discovered Bob Dylan, but it wasn’t from my parents. I remember buying one of his greatest hits cassettes when on a shopping trip aged 12. I absolutely loved every song on that tape. From there, I grew interested in any music from the sixties. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and so on. We had a little radio in our kitchen and I would keep it tuned to Classic FM or something like that while I sat at the table and wrote stories. I wasn’t interested in pop music in the slightest. Significant songs: Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones, Positively 4th Street and Blowin’ In The Wind by Bob Dylan and Catch The Wind by Donovan

14-16 It was a school friend who introduced me to Guns ‘N’ Roses and I devoured them for a year or two. I bought the albums and used to lay on my floor with my head between the speakers to listen to them scream! As with Bob Dylan, I was intrigued by the lyrics and started jotting them down in notebooks or on scraps of paper I was writing stories on. What really blew my mind though was moving from them to Nirvana. I was totally in love and soon forgot all about Guns ‘N’ Roses (though when I played them in the kitchen the other day, it as uncanny how well I remembered the words!!) I was genuinely devastated when Kurt Cobain took his own life. I remember hearing it over the radio when I was sat in my garden drinking strawberry milk. I wrote a similar scene in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. Significant songs: Breakdown and Coma by Guns ‘N’ Roses, Lithium, Dumb and Something In The Way by Nirvana

16-24 The Britpop era. Oh, what a wonderful time to be a teenager! Looking back now, we were so lucky! With the arrival of The Stone Roses, Blur, Oasis and Pulp, not to mention Supergrass, Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, The Bluetones, the Happy Mondays…. the mid to late 90’s Britpop era was an exciting time to be into music. Around this age I had started going to pubs and clubs with my friends, I met my boyfriend (now my husband) and our first conversation was about the bands we were into. Getting ready for a night out meant putting Oasis on really loud! At this time I was buying music regularly and religiously. Tapes and CD’s of all the bands I have mentioned plus many, many more. We would read Select magazine and NME and watch TFI Friday on the TV, plus Top Of The Pops, of course. I was lucky enough to see some of these bands live and at Glastonbury. Brilliant, happy, carefree times that come back to me every time I hear these songs. Significant songs: Slight Return by The Bluetones, Live Forever and Spersonic by Oasis, Misfits and Disco 2000 by Pulp, Motorcycle Emptiness by Manic Street Preachers, If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You by Super Furry Animals, Beetlebum, This Is A Low, Tender, by Blur. Too many to mention!

24-34 The lost years. There was some good music about in the early 2000’s, but as I had my first child at age 24, I had less time and energy to seek it out. Top Of The Pops had ended. Many music magazines had died out. We had our own place, our daughter and bills to pay, so music slipped away from us. Kasabian, The Thrills, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Keys and Kings Of Leon all took our fancy during this time, but I increasingly found myself turning to the past for my musical fixes. John Lennon and Bob Dylan were the first songs I played my baby daughter. Significant songs: Imagine by John Lennon, Forever Young by Bob Dylan, Clubfoot by Kasabian, Whatever Happened to my Rock and Roll? Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

24-43 Finding new music is hard! I think I’ve got fussier as I’ve got older. Maybe that happens to us all. I was always so open-minded about music, enjoying what was new while appreciating what came before, but now I really struggle to find anything new to get excited about. Perhaps that is inevitable as you get older. New bands and new music tends to be geared towards the young and most of it does nothing for me at all. I think most radio stations play utter bile and most music magazines seemed to have died out or moved online. There is no Top of The Pops or music programmes to introduce you to the next exciting thing. I am lucky though that my 18-year-old daughter is very into music and has very open-minded and eclectic tastes. If I have found anything new to admire in the last decade it is because of her. I particularly love the Canadian band Mother Mother. Between us we have all their albums and we are going to see them live in March! Very, very exciting. They seem to be on my level, whatever that is, and so many of their songs feel like they are speaking directly to me. Significant songs: I’m Alright, I’m Okay, Bit By Bit, The Sticks, Ghosting, Body, Forgotten Souls, I’ve Got Love. Actually, all of them!!

So, what about you? Does your life have a soundtrack? If so, what songs and what bands would be on it? What memories do they bring back for you? Please feel free to share and comment!