Friday, August 26, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The story of South Tottenham

This isn't a post about the riots or anything to do with London or its history.  It's really about my son's love of all things train and train station.  So much so that when I made him a sock monster (at his request), he decided to name him South Tottenham.  This is his story...

Jake picked out the socks from which to make his monster. 
Incidentally, they are the exact same pair I would have picked.
While I am sewing up his arms, Jake puts him in the doll pram.

Have you ever seen such an itty bitty limb?

Finally I get to use the buttons I bought in Italy years ago.

Not done yet but he's already got attitude.

Couldn't resist!

The genius of using socks means he gets a bum to sit on.

Ta da!  All done!
And yes, those green threads are meant to be there.
They are armpit hairs and got Jake's approval.

Taking South Tottenham and Penguin for a walk ~ or,
How to get weird looks from your neighbours

And from strangers in the playground

I think we did get a few smiles though.
Interestingly enough, the smiles were from men.
The women looked at us like we were wearing meat for clothes
and not in an appreciation for Lady Gaga sort of way.
Little girls smiled and wanted to play but their judgmental mothers
kept them from approaching us.
I still don't know if it was because I was allowing
my boy to play with a doll pram or because
of the wonderful uniqueness of South Tottenham.

Jake colours in a drawing of South Tottenham that I made for him

I know I'm biased, but I think it's fab and unwittingly
captures what South Tottenham's all about.

A story about South Tottenham being worked out in my sketchbook / journal

The "finished" story ~ or at least a draft of one,
including a few contributions from Jake.

I read something the other day about how we have a choice about what thoughts we can hold about any situation, and how that choice leads to inner freedom.  I’m sure I’ve heard this many times before but this time it stuck with me, felt real, felt good real.

Lately I’ve been living with this thought in my head – “hey, this is my reality, so why should I try to live someone else’s?”  It came out of realising that the guilt I was feeling, about only having one child and yet still struggling to cope with one child while many others I know have two or more, was a ridiculous waste of my life.  Whose reality was I trying to live out and why?  Where did that voice come from that was telling me that my struggles were unimportant compared to that of others’, that I didn’t have a right to feel what I feel unless I “qualified” for it by at least having one more child?  I’ve been living with that voice my whole life – that mean, punitive, uncaring voice.  And all this time I’ve automatically listened to it like it was the Truth, reflexively changing the ends of my own inner thoughts so that they sounded acceptable, quietly buried all troublesome feelings and covered them over with a clean and pretty cloth.
What burdens we labour under – and for what?

So yeah, this is my reality.  I have one kid and he is awesome.  Because I don't have to run around after a second, younger baby or toddler, it means we get to spend a lot of time together and we are close.  We talk all the time, and I'm either on the floor playing with him or we're deep in some project or outing together.  Yeah, he's sensitive and yeah, even though he's 3, he's still clingy so that if I try to cook or wash up he'll follow me into the kitchen, wedge himself between me and the kitchen counter and say, "Mummy I need a cuddle."  Sometimes I can't pick him up and cuddle him, sometimes I can.  When I can, his arms go around my neck and he usually says, "I like you Mummy" or "I love you."  Why on earth should I feel guilty about that??

It rained almost all day today.  Jake and I did manage a little trip out, a walk to the shop and back to buy eggs.  But the rest of the day was spent indoors, both of us feeling restless, bored, irritable - but we also had some great moments.

When I started feeling guilty that I wasn’t thinking of riveting or ultra-wonderful things to do with Jake like the perfect Mum should, I reminded myself that I’m human, that this is my reality now and that everyone has days like this – bored, restless rainy days.  And as soon as I accepted it, didn’t fight with myself about it, magic happened.  While Jake was playing with trains and eating raisins, I started drawing in my sketchbook / journal.  He got interested and wanted to join me.  We had a good hour or more of drawing together and it came about spontaneously and organically.  I even let go of the need for my sketchbook / journal to remain in "pristine" condition and let Jake scribble in it like he wanted to.  And of course his touch only added to it.  What happens when we let go of “shoulds”.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Saw this last night ~ a beautiful beautiful story set in Wales and Argentina.  Amidst all the crap out there that is scaring and upsetting me, sitting down to watch this film was like being taken to a safe and magical place.  Apart from being gorgeously filmed and filled with wonderful music, it restores my faith in life. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The one where I vomit all over the page

There has been so much that I've been wanting to say.  About the riots, and especially about how people have reacted to the riots and all the finger pointing that's going on post-riot, the assumptions people have, mostly unexamined, and how ANGRY and dismayed it's making me feel.  But that's a whole other post. 

About how worried and stressed I feel about having to claim benefits and how much I HATE being asked why I'm not working like I'm some sort of criminal.  And don't even get me started on David Cameron's farcical speeches about Broken Britain and having a go at single parents especially in the wake of the parenting tips that were released by the Govt recently, one of which was the clever idea to spend at least 20 minutes a day talking to your child with the TV off - SERIOUSLY?? I mean, I know Jake's not at school yet but surely it shouldn't be such an effort to find 20 minutes in a day in which to TALK to your child? Acccchhhhh!  A whole other post!

About how, in the middle of our housing benefit interview yesterday, Jake, after having stamped his feet, thrown his trains on the floor, thrown papers on the floor, run his trains angrily across the unsmiling woman's desk, stood on the chair and said, "I want to go NOW!" followed by, "Look Mummy, she's got no eyebrowns!" and how right he was cos when I sneaked a peek, I saw that they were drawn on.  To make it up to him for having to go to such a horrid place for such a long time, we later sat on the platform of Walthamstow Central overground station for half an hour where we shared some cake and he could watch the trains go by.

About how alone I felt while recovering from my wisdom tooth operation and how guilty I felt about feeling alone because I ought to be grateful that there is someone to help look after Jake at all so I can look after myself.  It's pointless feeling guilty about feelings but I did anyway, so guilty I even deleted a post I put on a forum that I normally find very supportive because I suddenly realised how many of the people who use the forum have 2 children or more (or are at least expecting their 2nd child) and how churlish it is of me with my mere one child to complain at all. So I kept my feelings to myself and posted cheery status updates on Facebook so I can pretend, along with the rest of the virtual world who partake in it, that I don't have any threatening or scary feelings but that I am acceptable and likeable, so as not to be ostracised and feel friendless. 

And then, the woman from the housing benefit office rang and told me my National Insurance number is invalid (even though the tax office has been using it for years) and I wanted to cry.  Then I heard on the news that six people had been stabbed to death in Jersey, including three children.  And I wanted to cry.  Then I heard that Fiona Robyn's cat died after being knocked over by a car and I wanted to cry.  Then I get hungry and Jake needs a cuddle and life goes on and all the tears get buried somewhere.  Also, I haven't written anything for over a week.  It's taking its toll.  So here I am, vomiting on the page.

Today Jake and I made an impromptu spider and three rainbows out of pipe cleaners, tried on lip gloss (Jake's idea, I have no idea where he found the lip gloss, I haven't worn any for years), drew a mini-train station complete with train tracks and level crossings and received lovely cards from a dear friend - all before 10am.  Later we stopped by Oxfam and found three fantastic children's books (Milo & The Magical Stones by Marcus Pfister which has two possible endings to choose from - a happy one and a sad one, Animal Stories by Dick King-Smith, and The Used-Up Bear by Clay Carmichael) and paid only £2.97 for the lot.  Jake didn't quite appreciate The Used-Up Bear as much as I did.  I really bought that book for me, because I identify so much with that bear, except I haven't had my red suit made for me yet.  I also took Jake to a newly opened local community centre where I am hoping to start volunteering soon. 

And yet, much of the day felt like a struggle.  There was a lot of stress and cajoling to get anything done (getting Jake changed, getting him from A to B, trying to cook) and when that didn't work, shouting and making Jake cry.  There was the moment an old woman standing outside a church with her respectably dressed fellow church go-ers said about me after we'd passed them and she thought I was out of earshot, "Oh I'd never let a child run free like that" because I didn't have Jake strapped into his buggy but was letting him walk (and run) by himself on the pavement (shock horror).  Well, I heard her and I stopped and glared and said, "Oh you wouldn't, would you?" and then walked on muttering to myself about how I KNOW my own kid and hey, how about the novel idea that I might actually TRUST Jake because I KNOW he is capable of being careful even if he is running on a pavement beside a busy road.  How about the fact that whenever I ask Jake to stop when we're out and about, he always stops?  How about cutting someone you don't even know some slack instead of judging them? 

Then there was the moment just after I dragged Jake away from looking at some flowers cos we were on our way to somewhere else and I was so god-damned DETERMINED to get there that he ran and tripped and skinned his knee and cried and cried and cried.  And there was the moment I opened the tub of taramasalata I'd just bought and had been looking forward to devouring and found a spot of mould on it.  And the moment I accidentally knocked a glass of juice all over the carpet and it spilled across part of our newly drawn train station and I totally lost it and started swearing at the stain like I was Lady Macbeth.  Worst of all was the threatening and pushing involved to get Jake into the tub to have his bath.  When I was out of it last week, I found out Jake hadn't had a bath in a week.  He can't have a bath at his Daddy's place cos there's no bathplug.  And he's due to go over there the next two nights, so it suddenly seemed IMPERATIVE that he have a bath TONIGHT.  Except Jake wanted to look out the window at his friend Vlad who was in his garden with his grandma.  So there was more shouting and Jake ended up crying, "Mummy I just need a cuddle!"

He's such a sensitive kid.  He takes shouting hard.  I ought to know this by now.  It may sometimes "work" in that it gets him to do what I want him to do but more often than not he refuses and it hurts him.  I know these things happens sometimes.  We're all human.  There's just been far too much of it in one day.  He finally did agree to get in the bath but he cried the whole time he was in it (which wasn't very long).  I felt so awful.  I asked him he if was crying because he was upset because I shouted at him and he nodded and cried even harder.  After a while I asked him what I could do.  He said he wanted to get out of the bath.  And what did I do?  I said, "I'll just give you a little wash" because he was in the bath and I thought, why not, might as well.  But of course it upset him.  And I said, "But Jake that's the whole point of being in the bath" but then I stopped myself from going any further.  He was already hurt because I'd been coercing him, he cried to show he was hurt and he also told me.  But I'd been doing something like this all day and basically not hearing him.  So I took him out and held him till he stopped crying. 

Then, while I was reading him stories at bedtime, I did it again.  Yes, he was messing around and bouncing on the bed and interrupting my reading and making silly noises and laughing by tickling himself with "Sponboj" and part of me found it cute but most of me got annoyed so I kept asking him if he really wanted me to read him a story because he wasn't listening.  He kept saying he did want a story but he carried on being silly and I carried on being annoyed.  Arrrrgggghhhh!!  I could hear myself and I hated it, but I couldn't stop!!  I kept on at him for not listening and yet, I hadn't been listening to him all day.  And even so, even while I was being a shrill cow, Jake was stroking my arm and saying, "I still love you Mummy."  Oh that child of mine sure knows how to squeeze my heart.

There was other stuff too.  Stuff I've forgotten now.  Stuff about vulnerability and poetry and shit.  But I still have a flash to write tonight.  And this is probably enough vomit for one post.  And because so much vomit should at least be accompanied by a photo, here's one of Jake from yesterday.  He'd had daisies in his hat then put the hat on and just had some daisies in his hair but he took them out just before I managed to get this snap...if you've read this far, remind me to send you a medal in the post. :-)

Sunday, August 07, 2011


still, the sound of slicing blades
the fast-fast wail of sirens

and in the night air
the smell of smoke
real or imagined


Tottenham riots

Saturday, August 06, 2011

stones in my stomach

Lately my blogging has been cryptic and not entirely honest.  There are things I haven't been saying.  Things I am still stunned to find myself living through.  I've been wanting to hang on to some semblance of normality, so I've continued to write small stones (or tried to), but I've been finding it hard to notice things, to really see them. It’s because I’ve been finding it hard to stop and be. There is upheaval, turbulence. There are stones in my stomach.

The last few stones I’ve written haven’t felt quite like small stones. They’ve felt like I’ve been viewing the world through a filter, one I’ve deliberately placed over my eyes, to keep me from the force of the way things are. Maybe it’s because it’s necessary. But it makes the writing of small stones…wrenching. Because it makes me aware of this filter, this deliberate keeping of the world at bay, and yet, I don’t want to not try.  The same could be said of my blog posts here.

If you've been reading my small stones blog, you may have noticed that I didn’t write a stone for Thursday night. I told myself it was because it had been a busy day (it had), because I’d been out all day and then in the evening (I had), because so much had happened (it had) and it was hard to put it into words (it is) and that I was still too stunned to articulate everything that had happened (perhaps I still am).

I did notice something though, after coming out of the theatre on Thursday night. After my very first Chekhov experience (The Cherry Orchard), against the night sky, a tree with vivid red-orange berries, so bright against evening green leaves they seemed to throb. And yet, I didn’t write it as a stone. I still don’t know the name of those berries, I thought. And isn't the image a little cliched?

Then, on the tube home, I watched a boy with brown skin ask a girl with brown curls who was rolling a cigarette if she’d ever used a rolling machine. She smiled, lit up, a spark in her eyes. Her fingers rolling effortlessly on the rocking train, she said, “Here’s a tip. Don’t use so much baccy.” Then licked the edge, smoothed it down and tucked it under a curl behind her ear, the boy with the brown skin smiling, shaking his head in admiration. Then they both stood and left the train through different doors. But I didn’t write it as a stone.

I had a squished California Hand Roll from Wasabi in my handbag. I was worried it was going to stain my programme of The Cherry Orchard. I was wondering whether I should eat the roll first then wash my hair when I got home. And I remembered I still had to do my embroidery. Maybe that’s why I didn’t write a stone. Then I remembered I'm going into hospital on Monday to have a wisdom tooth out and that I haven't yet checked what they mean by "nil by mouth" from Sunday night.  Can I still drink water?  Maybe that's why I didn't write a stone.  And yet, I went to bed at 1am with Chekhov’s stories. (And I can’t even begin to articulate the effect his writing is having on me.) And then, the next morning, I got up, lived another day as if stepping on tremors, then wrote that ”stone” about Abney Park Cemetary, the one that was trying to be picturesque and ”poetic” but left so much unsaid.

So I tried again, even though I can't even begin to say it all.  I've been dreading putting it into words, but life moves on regardless of how we feel. 

I've written this on my small stones blog, but I need to say it here too. ~

Last night was Jake’s first night at “Daddy’s house”. Paul picked him up, we waved goodbye through the open window, blew kisses at each other, pulled funny faces. I watched his back, astride Paul’s shoulders, in his Thomas blue t-shirt, twist round for one last wave. Then I closed the window, ate noodle soup, went to the theatre.

This morning was my first for picking my son up from his Dad’s. I woke up alone, drank half a cup of tea, didn’t check train times, but arrived, stepping over rubble, trying to find the right door. How ordinary things can be, how quiet the whirr of our failures, how invisible the rips and tears, how relentless the workings of the physical world. We still have to eat, sleep, get up in the morning, get trains on time, wait for buses, cross busy roads, knock on unfamiliar doors, deal with our bowels and walk on, occasionally remembering to unfurl the fist in our stomachs, to keep the palms soft, to breathe, stay awake, alive, open.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Conversations with my three year old

Jake: Mummy, did you just say 'fuck', like yesterday?
Me: Yes darling, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said it.
Jake: Please don't say it again, okay?
Me: I'll try darling, I'm really sorry.
Jake: Do you want a cuddle and a kiss?
Me: (tearing up) Yes please.

Jake clambers off his chair to give me the best hug and kiss in the world.


Leafing through the A - Z, Jake instructs me to sit down with him to "read the maps".
He points to a green bit which is Hyde Park and says, "We can ride horses there."
"Yes, we probably can," I say.
"And tigers too.  And cows.  And sheeps.  Are sheeps friendly?"
"Yes, I think they are."
"Yeah, sheeps.  We can ride sheeps.  I think they'd like that."

Jake, holding his toy motorbike and running it up and down the back of the sofa:
Mummy, do you remember that place we went to with Ben-Alex, there was a monkey (he mimics an animal playing a drum), two, no, three really tall mans and there was a motorbike going up and down and up and down and there were some greedy people getting on it?  Do you remember?  Were you there?

Me: Er....I think so?

Jake: Yeah, let's go there again.  Okay?

Me: Mmmmm, sure.


How long til he twigs I don't really know what I'm doing?