My mother’s influence over me is immeasurable. I can’t think of a point in my life when I have been truly independent of her. I have always needed her – to share something absurd, to tell her a secret, to ask her advice; there is no area of my life in which her opinion has not featured. True, sometimes I have ignored said opinion, but I have always been well aware of it.
Her thick as bricks kade paan and beef curry sandwiches, her magical way with animals, loud rock music while she cleaned the house, French toast Sunday mornings, sponge baths when we were ill, sitting on the swing with her while she read to us from 'The once and future king’; hours spent on the balcony during power cuts chatting and drinking iced tea, waking up at night and listening for the reassuring sound of her typewriter in the next room. The pillars, not just of childhood, but of life.
A lifetime of being there for us; of forgiving, of supporting, nagging, advising, nurturing, keeping our secrets and telling us tough truths. A life time of devotion to three women all of whom are versions of her, but all of whom are also very different to her and to each other. Loving us for the things she recognizes and admires in us, but also loving us for the things she doesn’t understand but knows are integral to who we are.
If I leave my son Trou with half as much to hold on to as my mother has given me, I would still have done well.
My elder sister Coq Au Vin is like the still, small voice of calm in my head. She is my mother minus the sarcasm. Even today people say “Myee THAT’S your older sister? Unbelievable, no? She is so sweet and soft spoken, and so TALL also” Indeed. I forgive you for being perfect Coq Au.
Macaron, my younger sibling and I have always enjoyed a healthily tumultuous relationship, but I can say with perfect truth that she is the woman I always thought I would be; independent, brave, visionary, with a laugh that is utterly infectious. She also smells nice all the time. Even after a run or hours at the gym. It’s like she sweats cinnamon. Ridiculous.
No tribute to the ladies in my life would be complete without the inclusion of my nieces. I thank them for being the daughters I don’t have. For allowing me into their lives, heads, and wardrobes. For insisting that I listen to Taylor Swifts’ RED album, and thus converting me to the music of a woman almost half my age. For giving me a fresh opportunity to play with Barbie dolls (the clothes! The shoes!), and another chance to have a crazy crush on Westley in 'The Princess Bride’ (As you wish. Anytime). For being nerdy and girly and tomboyish by turns, and for not feeling like they need to choose. For being Trou’s best friends, and for helping me raise him to be a man who loves and appreciates and respects women for themselves, just the way they are.
I owe my life and sanity to these women.
Rain and floods
I don’t necessarily consider myself to be very “Good in a crisis”, but fortunately I know lots of people who are. When the rains came and then the floods hit, we all jumped in wherever we felt we would be most useful. Playing to our strengths, Coq Au Vin turned her home into a collection and packing centre while Baguette went out with aid deliveries. Macaron cooked packed lunches and fostered kittens while the two Oeufs and Trou helped with sorting and packing. And what did I do? I did what I was told – shopping, driving, fund raising, calling, sorting, packing, whatever, whenever.
And it’s not over. Not by a long chalk. A crisis like this is kind of like a funeral, everyone makes a big song and dance till the body isn’t on display anymore. Then most people disappear. We really can’t afford to let that happen. The water may be gone but the after effects will take a long time to sort out. So remember:
· Once is not enough. Already donated? If you can afford to, please do so again.
· It’s definitely not always about money. Donate time, donate energy, donate strength, brains and imagination, donate empathy, will power and effort. Give of yourself.
· Stop criticizing those who want to pray. You don’t think it does any good? Well it won’t do any harm. So leave people to it.
· Those of you praying? Good for you. But if you can also DO something more, then please do. Action always helps and really what God (or whatever higher power you believe in) wants us to do should be pretty darned obvious.
· Please don’t look to help only your community or religion. That’s crap. Just help people.
· Don’t like people? Then please help animals. They really need it and are worthy of everything we can give them
· This is not a 'who did more than whom’ volunteering contest. It is life, with real people at stake, just help.
· It’s actually possible to help out without saying anything about it on FB. I know! Crazy right?!
The flooding also resulted in me opening my home to two very different people for two very different reasons.
The first was for a stoic little 5 year old girl (the serious and bespectacled daughter of a friend of mine. The child has Hermione Granger written all over her) who had invited her class to her birthday party and then discovered that her house was in peril due to the rising water levels in her area . So there I was, for the first time in close on a decade, surrounded by two dozen 5 year olds. It was a Doc McStuffins (first time I had heard of the girl – turns out she is pretty cool) theme. My rather monochromatic décor provided an unobtrusive backdrop to bunches of pink and purple helium balloons, bows, glitter, bowls of pastel striped candy and goodie bags bearing the good doctors’ beaming image and stuffed with toy medical kits. A large pink (yes, what a shock) bouncer dominated my garage and a giant marquee sheltered a merry go round and a rather impressive magic show in my garden.
Half way through the party the Granger doppelganger came and stood beside me.
Granger Jnr: Thanks for hosting this shindig
Me: You are most welcome (Shindig?! Did this child just use the word shindig?!)
G Jnr: Do you think it’s bad that I had a party when people are in trouble?
(Good grief! Like I wasn’t still reeling from the whole shindig thing)
Me: I think it’s great that you asked that question. That you even think like that is remarkable. It’s not wrong to have the party, but maybe once it’s done you can think of some way to help those people who are in trouble?”
G Jnr : That I can do. Thank you Aunty Bouche
She was good on her word too. Once they got back home she went through toys and books and put enough aside for a very generous box.
My second guest stayed for longer than an afternoon, and caused far more complications. It all started when Trou came into my room and told me (with his heart in his eyes) that Foie Gras’s (my ex husband) house had flooded and that he was going to check into a hotel. So, naturally, I called him.
Me: I am sorry about your house.
FG: Nonsense. You called to gloat.
Me: Did not. Look, forget the hotel. Why don’t you come and stay here? Till things settle.
FG: Are you sure?
Me: Yes. Mi casa su casa and all that sort of thing
FG: Funny, that’s not what you said in court…
Me: Please shut up
FG: Now if only I’d known earlier that all it needed was a little flood and you would be inviting me back……
Me: One more word and the invitation is withdrawn
He turned up and moved into the guest room. I must confess - it was weird. I mean what is the etiquette when you find yourself living with a man you were once married to, and who you recall categorically instructing to never darken your door again? Not that he hasn’t been inside the house over the years, but 24/7? That was brand new (albeit also old) territory.
My verandah slowly beginning to smell of cigarette smoke, my TV permanently tuned to a sports channel, having to remember to always wear a bra in the house … all irritants. But, Trou was so happy. I found them sitting on the couch one evening and he said “Ammi! Come and sit with us” and so we sat on either side of our son and the whole scene was incredibly domestic, and inappropriate, and normal and abnormal, and wonderful and awful…and frankly it gave me a giant migraine.
It also caused the normally placid Man in my life to become rather irate, a circumstance which brought us dangerously close to a major argument. I called him immature and selfish and said I was disappointed in him. He could have yelled back. He didn’t.
Man : No, Just jealous
Me: Jealous? Are you completely bonkers? I am just being helpful. It’s for Trou’s sake!
Man: I know. But he is a French cuisine and I….well I am still just the Man
Ah. Now we come to it.
The fact is, my 'French cuisine’ is only for those people in my life that I don’t want to, or can’t escape. The forever people. And by virtue of being the man who I thought was the love of my life, who broke my heart and most importantly fathered my child - Foie Gras is here to stay.
So yes, the French cuisine is a big commitment. It’s the anonymous blog equivalent of an 'I love you’.
Saying I love you has got harder for me as I have got older. Not in general of course, but certainly to men. Truth be told, since Foie Gras, I haven’t said it to any man.
Has the Man said it to me? Yes he has. With a matter of fact simplicity and gentleness that made my heart feel like it was about to explode. But still, I haven’t said it. Am I a fool? Don’t answer that.
The big question of course is, do I feel it? To not say something is one thing, but surely one must know the state of one’s heart?
Perhaps I am worse than a fool. Perhaps I am a coward.
I don’t have the answers right now. And since the case for the defense must always be a carefully considered one, I intend to maintain my silence until my summing up is as close to Alan Shore worthy as I can get it.
In the meantime, there is important work to be done; cleanup crews to equip, fostered animals to find homes for and yes, most definitely, an ex husband to send back to his real home.
It has been a strange and complex month. Here’s to June being a better one.