Archives for posts with tag: grieving

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While the Proles were at school I got the cuddly toys down from the loft.

In actual fact it was four bin liners full of cuddly toys.

Four bin liners full.

These are not the current population of the bedroom.

At present the cuddly toy level in both the Proles’ beds is pushing maximum density.

Prole1 has his in neat rows at one end of the bed, compressed into a block in height order, Winnie the Pooh at the back, the Hatty-fatners      at the front.

Prole2 swims in a soup of soft toys, tangled up in dalmations, monkeys, rabbits ducks and bears.

I have to sweep them aside when I put him to bed.
They spill across the floor and I occasionally find infestations of them behind the sofa or in a kitchen cupboard.
They lie helpless on the floor, staring glassy eyed at me as I try to sort the washing.
They appear in ones and twos, scattered down the stairs.
The cats make nests in them.

I always try to know the whereabouts of the Alpha toys, Eeyore and Teddy.
The rest are a plush, fun fur and fabric plague that could be anywhere at any time.
Tripping me up.
Getting stuck under doors.
Being trodden on.
Getting covered in what ever that grey fluffy stuff is under the sofa.

There is a certain amount of guilt that comes with all this.

I remember being six years old and trying to wish my toys into life.
I remember Peter Pan telling me never to grow up and promising myself through tears that I never would.
I remember Kermit the Frog singing that song about Rainbows and thinking “Yes Kermit, YOU speak for ME”.

And yes, I am a forty three year old man, but that was what I was formed out of.
Sentimentality does run through me.
I do have a squashy middle.

Not so much mind.
I remember when the building I was working in became a nesting place for pigeons and I was asked to clear them out.
The rest of the crew were supremely unhelpful so I ended up on my own.
Londoners hate pigeons.
This is well known and well documented.
‘Flying Rats’ is how they are often described.
Vermin.
In fact they are no more or less diseased than any other ‘urban animal’.
The population explosion of pigeons coincided with the post war Fast Food boom.
This was when Londoners stopped eating them and started hating them.

Being from Cornwall and living in or near the countryside most of my life  I approached the problem in a no nonsense manner.
The building had vermin.
My old geography teacher told us about vermin in his shed, he said that the best place to drown rats was in the sceptic tank.
It was a horrible job but it had to be done.
I cleared all the nests into a large cardboard box and, in the absence of a sceptic tank, tipped them all out into the Thames.

The Production Manager just stared at me.

Production Manager: You did what with them?

Me: I threw them in the river.

Production Manager: I said get rid of them, I didn’t mean…I meant….

He never finished the sentence, I have often wondered what he thought I was going to do with a box of pigeon nests.
Re-home them in Trafalgar Square I suppose.

The crew, made up of big people with bald heads and tattoos, barely said a word to me for the rest of the day.
Not all the nests had been empty.
Apparently this was considered bad form.

Anyway, it was with brutality like this in my heart that I mounted the ladder to the loft and pulled the bags down.

I grabbed a really big canvas laundry bag with a zip top.
I emptied the bin liners onto the floor and began stuffing them in fist fulls to the bottom of the bag.

I knew if I kept on going and really pushed them down I could get them all in.

These are the retired cuddly toys.
These were found in corners after weeks of being alone.
These were left in friends’ houses and forgotten.
These were cleared from the floor of the bedroom, corralled in shopping bags under the stairs until there were no more questions before being smuggled into the loft at night.
These were the ‘inconvenient’ toys, noisy, loud or not quite ‘fitting in’.
These were the toys from years of “everyone is a winner” tom bolas in town, interlopers that were rounded up within days of arriving and disappeared.

There were friends in here too.

Girraffey.
Possibly the worst named toy in the house.

Blue Dad.
Named after me.

Buzz Buzz.
The Bee. Probably. Might be a wasp. Or a kind of fish. I am not making that up.

Bananas the orangutang.

Those three Aliens we bought from that hopelessly trendy children’s boutique in Peckham.
Idiots.

Polar Bear 3
Not quite as popular as Polar Bears 1 and 2.

Max the Parrot.
A good friend in the early days.

The Cuddly Rastafarian.
The one that played “Don’t Worry be happy” when you squeezed his bottom.

The Kiwi.
It is hard to make a Kiwi cuddly, this designer had failed like so many others.

Nemo.
The fish that looked a bit like a character from ‘Finding Nemo’ but wasn’t.

Green Bear.
Smells like lavender. Why?

There were snakes, monkeys, endless bears, elephants, fish, parrots and more.
A menagerie of fluff.

So I stuffed them all down in the bag and I tried to get the song “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from the film Toy Story out of my head.

When Loz died the boys were given toys.
Lots and lots of toys.
Cuddly toys were great, both Proles regressed into more juvenile behaviour.
Soft blankets, lots of cuddles, snuggling on the sofa and tucked in with cuddly toys were the sorts of thing they bot responded to well.
I read that on a Widowers’ website.
I tried to make it happen a lot and the landslide of cuddly toys that arrived in the next eighteen months were great for that.

Tucking the boys up in bed, with a favourite toy was part of our ritual.

But the Proles are bigger now and those bin bags have been up there for over a year.

Time to go.

No time to be sentimental.

I will take them to the Proles’ old nursery this week.
I have seen Toy Story 3 as well but, as I say, I have no time to be sentimental.

 

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I saw a Cavaquinho for sale in a shop window in Sao Paolo.
It was about the most beautiful instrument I had ever seen.
Glossy like a boiled sweet.

Samba, the Samba of Sao Paolo, was a complete and utter revelation to me.
Coming from Cornwall where one might be mistaken for thinking every local festival HAS to have a Samba Band thumping along the street at some point BY LAW, the Brazilian music I heard was from another planet.

I don’t play the cavaquinho and probably never will.
I saw it being played with such skill by so many people out there, no way I could do justice to the sound.

We had a banjo on the wall when I was growing up.
I remember it being played twice.

I took piano lessons for ages as a child. After what must have been years, I got through to the end of ‘Teaching Little Fingers To Play’ and shut the book, never to be opened again.

Music was something other people did.

It was always embarrassing when part of a theatre company, to be devoid of any performance skills at all.
I say embarrassing, I was not supposed to have any, it would have gone against the grain somewhat if I had.

Our job as Stage Managers was to create a safe environment for performers to work in.

It was a good job, part alarm clock, part policeman on a bad day, really exciting and challenging on other days.
I liked that people came to me and I would try to help solve any problem.
I hated that people would come to me and expect me to solve every problem.
In the end the problems all boiled down to a breakdown in communication somewhere.
Given that the industry is all about communication, this could get tiring.

I loved theatre.
I was fairly well discouraged from starting a career in theatre but I spent the best part of twenty years doing it.
I wasn’t brilliant in the job, I just tried to be on time and not go too mad.
For the most part it worked and I stayed in employment.

It was a small world of tight families, put together for a few months and then disbanded.
Really very intense at the time.
Nothing to talk about afterwards.

I have many friends in Theatre but unless I am working with them we don’t have much to talk about when I first see them again.
Work was everything.
It was why I got out of bed each day.
I wanted to be in there, drinking it in, feeling the day, helping things happen.
You could feel the mood of the company.
You could watch the big personalities.
You could build through the day to the show and if it was a good show, that you believed in, there was nothing better.

I loved moments of silence in a full theatre, when hundreds of people would hold their breath in a moment together.
I loved the moment of opening a show and the final sweep up at the end.
I loved being dog tired, in the clothes you slept in, seventy hours into the week and no let up with two shows and a session of tech to get through and knowing that you were part of the team that could make that happen.
I loved the empty theatre when everyone had gone home.
I loved the pub and the stories of falls, drops, accidents and the wit of the people the public never see.
I loved being nine feet tall and walking down the street, knowing I was on the best show in town.

I did not tour much, relative to other Stage Managers I knew, but it did take me to some brilliant places.

Sao Paolo is one of the biggest cities in the world.
We were on our way to a tower with a viewing platform at the top.

When we got up there we could see the city for miles in every direction.
If every window we could see was one person…
If every building we could see was one person…
If…no I could not quite take it in.

And it made me think about how small my little theatre ship was and how vast, how unutterably vast the human race is.
And it made me think about my real family, thousands of miles away.

And I realised that everything had to change because the world is so big and we are so small and in the end who would notice if we were not here any more?

My vision of the world was centred around me. Here I could see a million homes.

Would I even make the papers out there in Brazil if I ceased to be in that instant?

The people who would miss me were no where near at all.

It was not just me.

We were a bit quiet when we came down.

I determined that I would leave something behind with the people I love most.
Walking back through the city to the station later on, one of the musicians told me not to buy the cavaquinho or anything else as a souvenir to hang on a wall.
He told me to save my money, buy a ukulele and learn to play.

“Like a cavaquinho for idiots”

He told me to learn to play so I could teach my kids.
He said they would not care if I was any good or not, just that it would be fun.

Because the best audience of all were back at my house and I should bring give them everything.

I don’t work in theatre any more.
I am not nine feet tall any more.
I do still try to make a difference to an audience.
I play ukulele really badly, to the Proles every night while they have a bath.

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I could have gone to see Lee Scratch Perry tonight.

Lee Scratch Perry is the producer who originally mixed all of Bob Marley and the Wailers famous tracks.
He ran the incredible Studio called The Ark and created some of the most innovative music and techniques used in early Reggae and Dub.
He continues to make great music.

He has also been known to wear bladderack sea weed in his dreads and a toaster on his head.
The Wailers sued him for ripping off their music, he burned down his studio and was seen walking backwards through his home town hammering the ground on the day of the arson.

He was a bit bonkers and I have no reason to believe he has changed.

Sounds like it might have been a brilliant gig.

Anyway, I nearly went.
Or rather I poked my head above the parental parapet and thought ‘That is the sort of thing I used to love doing’.

And then I thought it might be a bad thing to do.

I can’t really explain why.

Most of the time me and the Proles function as a trio.

We walk about together, we look at things and we move them around.

One of us will see something they think is interesting and show it to the other two.

We will all look at it.
We talk about it.

We move on.

I have some extra duties in this metaphor that include making sure no one gets squashed, feeding us all and clearing up the metaphorical or reality based poop.

We work well as a team.

As three.

If I am honest, there are many things they are not interested in.
Having watched me do the washing, cooking, occasional cleaning, gardening and minor DIY they are stupendously un interested in any of these things.
If I do something new, however, they appear like wide eyed Midwitch children, stares boring into my soul.
They  used to watch me speak on the phone.
It would ring and before it had been picked up they would emerge from the wood work and just watch me.

I would try walking around the house but they would follow, staring at me.

I would be forced to break off whatever I was saying and tell them to go and find something else to do and leave me alone.

This would invariably result in some kind of fight between them.
I have no idea why they could get along fine for hours at a time but as soon as my attention was on the BT call centre and not on the washing up they dissolved into anarchy and fighting.
They still do this.

It is worse when a real physical person is there, in the room, talking to me.
They can’t really handle it unless I put on the telly or set fire to something to distract them.
People must think my kids are attention seeking lunatics.
Honestly, they are really dull and boring when other people are not around.
They mooch about looking at lego and eating pears.

As soon as someone else turns up they become a cross between ‘Laurel and Hardy’ and ‘Binky and the Brain’ with a complete lack of emotional control for good measure.

It is really tiring.

If I wanted to win £50,000 by making my children cry without touching them, looking at them or using any emotional pressure at all I would just start a conversation with another adult.
That seems to do it every time.

It is not so surprising I suppose.

In out trio I am not supposed to break off and discover new things without sharing with them.
Even if those new things are just idle chat about weather and the price of broccoli.

I see it happen with parents all the time, I suppose I notice it a lot because my two states of being are ‘work’ or ‘with kids’.

I don’t really do the ‘spare time’ thing much.

Spare time is all about the self,your sense of self identity.
Exploring music, food, strange parts of town, other people, ideas and feelings.

This is the stuff that gave me an identity, that defined my ‘self’.

I am also aware that these days ‘spare time’ lives right along side ‘selfish’.

I don’t mind ‘selfish’ really. Or to be precise, because there is a difference, ‘self centred time’. A work friend was recently was telling me how much they needed a holiday. I think they were right, they needed some time with them self. Some time centred around them self. Self centred time.

It is not such a bad thing as language and culture would have us believe.
We may invent new words for it like ‘me time’ to dress t up a bit but tending yourself, your centre, this is important stuff in our culture.

The Proles don’t really know that is what I am doing.
They just want to be there, be in it, experience it too.
And I don’t want them to.
I want them to go away and leave me alone to do my adult ‘me time’ stuff.

And they have no idea why I would be so selfish.

I can be level headed about it to a point but at times, when I am actually having a real conversation for the first time in a week that does not involve “Culture and the Arts Movement and it’s Impact on the Dispersed Communities of the Region” or “Lego” and one of the Proles decides this is a good time to start head butting me I can go quite incandescent inside.

And this is the odd question.
If I don’t take ‘me time’, if I do little that is ‘self centred’, if I expend a minimum amount of time thinking about my ‘self’ then me and the Proles argue less.
I have less of a feeling of injustice.
I am less bitter about my life and my inability to do whatever I want.

If I give all that up, live a quiet life, don’t go out, work hard and keep my head down, it all works out.

If I try to go out, live a little luxury, spend time with other people and indulge myself a bit, me and the Proles shout at each other more, I get depressed and it stops being fun.

I would love to go out more.
But then we would have less money.

I would love to go on holiday.
But what would I do without them?

I would love to have more adult conversation.
But then I would have to face the fact that I have become a bit of a recluse over the last five years.
This is the tricky bit.
I would have to confront my inability to think of anything to say during small talk.
I would have to surpress my deep love of sofas and Professional Wrestling and engage with people.
I would have to look at my hands and think that the last time I went out regularly like this was twelve years ago, before I had the excuse of the Proles to stay in and before Loz propped me up and made me whole.

Because these days an adult conversation that does not involve kids or work is such an unusual thing that I don’t know what to say any more.
I don’t know how to be my self.

Having said all that I hate being defined through my children.
Surely I am more than that?
Surely I am more of a person, more my self than that?

Perhaps I have just put my ‘self’ away for a bit, just until the tricky bit of grieving and child rearing is over.

Once the kids have grown up and I can listen to more than the first three bars of ‘Moon River’ without dissolving into the foetal position in a pool of tears I am sure I will be ready to get my ‘self’ back out there.

Where was I?

Lee Scratch Perry being bonkers.

It would be good to go out more but it is easier and less emotional if I don’t.

This exploration of the self is not something I enjoy.

I prefer the safety of us three.

I am as lost as the Proles when they are not around.

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I am hiding from the cat.

Sometimes at the end of the day, when I finally get the Proles off to bed, I sit down with a big sight and the cat jumps on to my lap.
Then it goes round and round in circles, shoving it’s bottom in my face, shredding my dressing gown with its claws.

I sort of want to throw it against the wall and shout “Stop sucking all the love out of me you parasites!” but the RSPCA take a dim view of that and anyway the cats are family or something.

Usually I just take it and wait ten minutes for it to settle, by which time I have to shift a bit because something is going numb somewhere at which point the cat jumps off and then five minutes later repeats the whole thing.

I have to be extra nice to the cat at the moment.
The cat is stressed.
I can tell because it has started pulling it’s fur out again.
We have new cats in the area. I think this is why it has started tearing it’s hair out.

It has done this before, a fifty pence sized bald patch on it’s side.
And its allergic to fleas, I have just de-flea-ed it but not before the tell tale scabs appeared.

That’s right, the cat is neurotic, part bald, scabby and prone to shoving it’s bottom in my face.

And I have to not make it stressed and cheer it up so it can get better.

So I am hiding.

I can’t say I blame it mind, I don’t know why but it has been one of those days.

Prole1 has a couple of bookings coming up for his burgeoning DJ career.

As gimmicks go, being in primary school and being a DJ has worked well.
I keep thinking he is going to get too old and not be cute as a DJ any more but so far he still keeps getting bookings.

He was playing through some odds and ends today.
Mr Brightside by the Killers.
I am often left cold by the Killers’ lyrics but they do make a right old glorious racket and suddenly I was in tears over the cooker.

This had followed a rather emotional trip to the pool.
Prole2 has been slowly, slowly convincing himself to join Surf Life Saving with Prole1.

When Prole1 started I just said “OK, in you go” and in he went.
If he had not wanted to go in he would have said “No thank you, thank you very much for asking” because that is what he says when he does not want something or is transfixed with fear.

Prole2 is a different kettle of fish.

I know swimming is nice once you are in.
I also know that Prole2 needs to convince himself of this.

Me: Do you want to go in?

Prole2: Yes.

Me: Off you go then.

Prole2: I am scared.

Me: Ok, don’t go in.

Prole2: But I want to.

Me: Ok, go in.

Prole2: But I am scared.

Me: You don’t have to go in if you are scared.

Prole2: But I want to go in.

Me: Well go in then, off you go.

Prole2: No Dad, no. I am too scared.

Me: Well…don’t go in or do go in….do something.

Prole2 But I am scared.

This went on for some time and when he finally did go in I had to have a quiet moment to get over it all.
Prole2 gets locked in uncertainty like that.
Prole1 would just get changed again.

I pulled myself together but by then some Mums had sat all around, and in one case on, my towels and coat so I sat at the end orf the row with some small girls doing colouring in. Them not me.

Prole2 walked past a few minutes later, splotch, splotch, splotch in a pair of flippers and a huge grin.
I was off again he looked so happy.

We finally got home and after ten months of asking we finally bought ‘Lilo and Stich’ and sat on the sofa to watch it.
Disney, not afraid to kill a parent or two at the start of the film to get you on side.

I should have known I would go again I suppose, ‘Toy Story 3’ hits the Achillies heel every time and even ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ has it’s moment.

I sat there sniffing on the bean bag while my scabby cat mauled more threads out of my dressing gown.

Prole2 has joined the Surf Life Savers.
I am so proud.

Excuse me.

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At work today I used the last of the paper.

I managed to use a pack and a half.

What do they call packs of paper these days?
It used to be a ‘sheaf’ in one of the theatres in London.

Oddly archaic thing to be loading into a photocopier, a sheaf.
Pack these days probably.

These are the busy days at work, when all the answers need to be given and all the nerves need to be smoothed and a sheaf of Artists dreams need to be rendered into paper and scrutinised.
It took over an hour to photocopy everything and get it ready to go.
I used to email everything but bitter, bitter experience taught me to post hard copies as well.

It is very odd that nowadays we need to email and post.
Once we would have just posted but somehow that is not safe enough any more.
There was a time when there were up to three posts per day.
You could send a card in the morning and get an answer that afternoon.

I don’t hanker after time gone by as such, I just don’t feel so safe any more about the security of email.
Double nerves.

I don’t like losing people’s forms.

This is the third desk space I have had since I went back to work.
I got the job three months after Loz died.

I was in two minds about it.

Other people thought I should go back to work.
They all gave good reasons.
I was not so sure.

Sorting out our lives after Loz had taken weeks.
That is to say, sorting out the legal side of our lives had taken weeks.
It was to continue for five months after she died.
That was when we got the results of the autopsy.

Every day I would have a list of people to call.

Every day I would spend, minutes, hours listening to hold music.
I spoke to people all over Britain and in other countries as well.
Most were reading from a screen.
Most were very sympathetic.
Most got back to the script.

Some things never got sorted out.
You have to send off death certificates to certain places.
Things like banks, insurance companies, the DVLA, the bloody TV licence people.

I thought it would take a couple of weeks at the most.
It didn’t.

The DVLA swallowed a Death Certificate and then told me I had not sent it.
The lady on the end of the phone was the least sympathetic I spoke to.
She told me four times I had not sent them the Death Certificate because it was not on the system.

“You have not sent it.”

She did not say:

“I am sorry Mr Morrison, you may have sent it but I am afraid we do not have it on our system. I apologise for the inconvenience but is there any way you could send us another?”

She did say:

“You have not sent it”

Four times.

Swansea accent, if you are interested.

I decided I would try very hard never to do that to someone on the phone.
I don’t trust the post.

The next people who wanted the Death Certificate were the TV licence people.
A photocopy would not do.

Since the DVLA had my last one the TV people never got it.
As far as the BBC is concerned Laura Hardman is alive and well and watching telly in Redruth.

I hated that time.
I really did.
I hate the smell and feel and heart sinking gloom of hold music.

Hate is a really strong word.
I have chosen to use it and I stand by it.
I hated it.

The calls slowly dried up, or they slowed to a trickle, and instead I got on with being a full time Dad.

But Laura’s job had been advertised.

I was not qualified to drive a desk but I had seen her slowly construct her workplace and we had spent months discussing how what she had built might work.

Laura was not going to stay there full time forever.
She had aspirations in other areas but the job of building had not quite finished and things had not yet settled.

If I am honest I was terrified someone would take it who did not understand where it had all come from and just spin it out for a couple of years and then let it finish.

I applied and, with a lot of assistance from friends, I got the job.

Day one in the office.
Sitting at her desk.
The place I was to work.
The desk had been occupied in the interim but the only real change since Laura’s last day seemed to be a space cleared around the keyboard and a neatly typed note above the computer that explained ‘the system’.
The work had been continued since she had died but still, here was her pen, her diary, her memory stick.
He writing on everything, her files, her notes, her emails.
Letters and post, her chair, some photos in the drawer.
For several months I would get emails from the occasional person addressed to her.
Sometimes someone would call and talk about how sad it was.
Loz did not take my name when we married and often people never connected us.

Most people knew of course and we all pretended it was not weird that I had taken my dead wife’s job and was now sitting in her chair.

Not weird at all.

But there was method in this weirdness beyond wanting to continue her project.

The chair was probably less than forty feet from Prole2’s Nursery wall.

I would drop him in and cross the carpark entrance to the office.

Sometimes I could hear him through the window.

I would scoop him up in the early afternoon and we would go and spring Prole1 from his nursery at the school.
Twice a week Prole1 would be picked up by Prole2’s Nursery and they would both be waiting for me when I got out of work.

We would go to the cafe for a snack or walk back across the fair field and play on the swings on the way.

That was our new routine.
Walk to the school nursery and drop off Prole1.
Walk to the nursery by the office and drop off Prole2.
Be at my desk less than a minute later.

For a while, Prole2 and I would get days off together.
When he was old enough I began working four or five days a week.
If I work extra time I get the school holidays off.
How nice is that?

The job has moulded around me and the Proles.
I am very lucky, we have a great routine.

One of the nieces things, the thing that keeps me going on so many occasions, is knowing that all I am doing is running a little system that Loz set up.
She did it along side other very talented people but at the heart of it is a set of values and beliefs that she believed in.

I sometimes upset people in my job.
I work hard not to, I try and avoid it al all costs.
Sometimes it just happens.
That is life, getting upset, it’s how we know we are still breathing.

I was once on the side of Mount Sinai, climbing down to St Catherine’s Monastry in the dark and our guide suddenly turned and stared right in my face and said:

“What is your work, Jack?”

I muttered something about stuff and things.

“No” and he looked a bit scary “What is your work?”

And I had no answer for him at all.

I could not answer.

I am still not sure what my work is.

Perhaps the best I can hope for is to make the world a tiny bit better.

I think it is good to try just a little bit to make the world a better place than the one we came into.

If we can.

Even if it’s just being nice to someone whose forms don’t show up on your computer.

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The Proles are sharing a bed.

Prole1 is reading Smurf books to Prole2.

They are doing this quietly for the first two or three pages but once they get into the story it gets noisy again.

Prole1 has the top bunk.
He has all his cuddly toys laid out at the end of his bed in height order, tallest at the back.
A couple of them are reading books.

The only cuddly toy not included is his toy Flamingo.
That’s it’s name as well, Flamingo.
Flamingo was bought by Loz and set aside for Prole1’s fourth birthday.
She must have done this at least four months before his birthday so it shows how organised she was.
I always buy all birthday presents on the way to the party, usually from Tescos.
Flamingo sleeps on the ‘tooth pillow’, a special pillow with a pocket on the front for easy storage of teeth, should they fall out and the tooth fairy is expected.
It was Loz’s pillow when she was small and it has it’s own corner of the bed.
He has decorated the walls around his bed with pictures of the solar system and the evolutionary ascent of man.
His books are piled up on top of the wardrobe behind his head and often come tumbling down in a slide of words and noise.

Prole2 has piled some toys up on the end of his bed.
He sleeps at the other end.
He keeps a spare pillow handy in case the cat nicks his in the middle of the night.
He has a single piece of cotton hanging from the bunk above .
I don’t know what it is for, I am not allowed to touch it.

When I first moved Prole2 into the bed instead of the cot the first thing Prole1 did was come down from the top bunk and get into bed with his brother.

We laughed and I asked him to go back to his bed.

When I went up later he was back in the bottom bunk, asleep.

I gently moved him back up to the top.

I love the way small children will sleep through just about everything.

Prole2 woke up a couple of times in the night but went back to sleep in his new bunk.

When I went in the next morning I found them both in bed, arms round each other, fast asleep.

I did not insist that Prole1 slept in his own bed after that.
I told them both who had which bed and said they could sort it out between them.

Sometimes, if Prole2 is a little worried about the dark he negotiates a pass to the top bunk.
When this happens I find all the cuddly toys on the floor and Prole2 under the duvet in their usual place.
This also seems to be the only time the cats call a truce and they are often to be found, stretched out between the boys.

Bed times are early.
I have worried a bit about this.
I think I may be sending them to bed early so I get a bit of piece and quiet.
I have experimented with later bedtimes but I realise it just totally threw my own routine.

Once the Proles have gone to bed I get to do what I want.

I usually do nothing at all but it is still what I want to do.

A later bedtime for them meant half an hour less of me doing nothing.

I think if there were someone else in the house i might let the Proles stay up longer and celebrate the boys a bit more.
Right now I have to work hard to make sure I don’t resent my own children.
That would be bad.

The Proles are very accommodating about this and spend the time reading books, talking, singing songs and occasionally fighting with fists.
More often than not they are really good and quiet.

I am really grateful for that.
I suppose things will have to change again soon but for now it is very soothing, listening to the story of the ‘Smurfette’ through the muffled filter of the kitchen ceiling.

I like the sound.

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I have a painting on the wall from a well known American Artist.

I say well known, I had never heard of him.
In fact I have just been googling him to see who he is.

He has done a lot it seems.

This one is not actually worth anything though.

The man who digs the garden knocked the painting off the wall.

Actually he bumped it on the way up the stairs and it must have hung by a thread for half an hour before it fell.

We had been discussing the Smiths.
The man who digs the garden does not particularly love the Smiths, the band from the late eighties, but he does not mind them.
He sometimes listens to them.

I had gone so far as to saying I hate the Smiths.
Actually I just actively dislike the music.
In reality it is only Morrisey’s voice I don’t like.

It was something of a pain when I was young.
I hung around with many, many Smiths fans.
In the tribal way of teenagers I looked and dressed very much like my friends.
I looked and dressed like a Smiths fan.

I was not a Smiths fan.
It would have been easier if I had just pretended that I liked them I suppose.

This preconception of me and my musical tastes carried on and carries on now.
I still meet people who are surprised that I don’t like the Smiths.

Laura even made me a compilation CD (as one does on occasion in relationships) on which was “There is a light that never goes out”, a song I used to find particularly unpleasant when I was in my late teens.

However unpleasant I used to find it, nowadays it just reminds me that Laura loved it so much she put it on a compilation CD for me.

Nowadays I can listen to the Smiths and it just reminds me of all those friends I don’t see any more and how much of a laugh it was being young.
That is what Morrisey means to me now.
Thank you Morrisey.
Listening to your voice means something.
It means looking at the man who digs the garden, gnarled hands, bald head, bushy beard, and seeing him as an 18year old again.
I don’t play the Smiths but these days I don’t turn them off either.

Where was I?

The painting is on an old panel of wood inside a frame and it came down the stairs, spinning off the third step and crashed into the hallway.

It made a real racket and dinked a hole in the floor where it hit.

The painting cracked from top to bottom.

Right down the middle and a shiver of the panel came out.

It is an old panel of wood and very dry.

It comes from The Canon Emeritus of Salisbury Cathedral’s time as the chaplain at Marlborough School.
One of the students was leaving and gave the Canon Emeritus of Salisbury Cathedral one of his pictures.
He then went on to Art School and moved to New York where he became very successful.

The painting is from his time before Art School.

It shows a figure that looks like Christ sitting with his head in his hands, weeping.
He is seen through the ephemeral shadow of a Cambell’s soup tin.
Yep, Cambell’s soup can.
It was painted in 1968 by a school boy so we can cut the guy some slack.

Also, the use of the soup can is explained in a Latin inscription across the top and the painted note on the back.

The picture is called “The State of America, 1968″.

Being one of those things that a Clergyman might collect through his life it was eventually passed on to the Canon Emeritus of Salisbury Cathedral’s daughter.

Laura brought it with her when we moved to Cornwall together.

There were many casualties of our moves, we no long have the picture of ‘Donkey by Spanish Windmills” which used to be in Laura’s room when she was a child.
We did not keep the four foot high African fertility doll. Once Prole2 turned up that thing was gone.
We did not keep the 1930s arm chair.
The white chest of drawers went to a bonfire.
My book cases went to the charity shop.
At a conservative estimate about four hundred books went to new homes.

I sort of do and don’t like the painting.

When I first saw it I was not enamoured.
I did not actually dislike it as much as, say, the Smiths but I was not keen.
As the years have gone by I have mellowed towards it.

When I saw it damaged I was actually very upset.

It may be worth nothing to the art world and I don’t know what will happen to it in the future but I love the heritage, the links and the story of it.

I re-hung it and I know enough about these things not to attempt mending it on my own.

It now has a crack, a new piece of history, another page to the story.

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Tonight Prole1 is taking a break from ‘The Hobbit’.

He was finally convinced to start reading it by his teacher.
It has been on the bookshelf for ages now and has been by passed for two re-reads of the Harry Potter series.
My words of encouragement and reason were bulldozed aside by Prole1’s desire to read ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord Of The Rings’ back to back.
He wanted to read them in the correct order.
I tried to explain about Tolkien’s books, why he wrote them and who he wrote them for but in the end Prole1 wanted to read ‘The Silmarillion’ first, “to get the stories in the right order”, so I shut up.

Anyhow, he has just breezed through Mirkwood and Smaug just got shot by the Black Arrow and Prole1 has decided to take a bit of a breather because he found the Smurf Anthology.

He is now up there following the adventures of the Smurfs while the Battle of the Five Armies is on hold.

He actually negotiated extra reading time for this.

He argued that if they did not have a bed time story he could read for a bit longer.

I reluctantly gave in.

Wel I tried to sound as if I reluctantly gave in.

Truth be known, I kind of wanted a bath and perhaps to watch a bit of telly later and spending half an hour reading ‘Monkey Do’ to the Proles just seemed so…so not like relaxing in  bath or watching telly.

We read every evening together.

When I can be bothered.

This is quite often, we have tackled the greats together like ‘Goodnight Moon’ and ‘Moo Baa La,La,La’ which were in rotation until very recently.
We have followed the Little Red Train’s battles against road transport and the private sector.
We have tracked Thomas and his friends from surreal beginnings to techni-colour saccharine endings.
We have read enough of Julia Donaldson’s rhyming couplets. Enough.

We moved up to Winnie the Pooh, Prole2 grumpily telling me to “get on with it” while I was sobbing over the last chapter.
We have run with the right wing Dalmatians and punted with Mr Gumpy.
Roald Dhal has wandered in and out occasionally.

We have had a glorious run of books and books, the floor of my bedroom has been un passable on occasion with spent stories.

It was Christmas that put a spanner in the works.

It was Prole1’s teacher that did it.
He totally broke the spell.
I remember him saying “I urge you all to read to your kids every day, even a few words”

And I thought, hang on.

I have a choice in all this?

I might not read them a bed time story?

I was mulling this over as the holiday started.

We had a few late nights, a bit of a break from it.

The New Year started with a wobble and then the system broke down again when we went to visit friends at half term.

I found that sitting in a chair staring at the floor was quite an attractive prospect and some how we have been de railed.

It was like someone had said “I urge you not to eat cream cakes, even one a day”

Some sort of link to the future happiness of my children as well balanced and literate individuals had been broken

Now, suddenly I was a bad parent who does not read to his kids.
There seems to be no way back over the fence.
I was actively thinking tonight of ways to get out of doing it when Prole1 offered me a life line.

The Routine has been broken.

Never break the Routine.

Don’t mess with the Routine.

Don’t even think about the Routine if you don’t know what you are doing.

It will take me ages to fix this.

It’s not the parts, it’s the labour.

We have ‘The World of Winnie the Pooh’ up on the ramp and ready to go for a glorious second outing.
Prole1 is ready for a bit of nostalgia and Prole2 might hear all the bits he slept through the first time round.

There are clean sheets and fluffy pillows on the bed where the stories happen, it all smells faintly of lavender, childhood and joy.

The real work is in pushing my conscience  all the way back up the hill of apathy again and hooking it back up to the Routine and sparking the whole thing up.

I know I will enjoy it when we start.
I know the Proles will love it.
I know this is one of my opportunities to really give them some of the magic of childhood.

Believe me, I can hear Luther Vandross singing ‘Dance With My Father’ as I write this.

I am editing out the Casio keyboard solo and hoping none of my indie friends can hear of course.

I know I am talking about reading a bed time story but I always hear Luther Vandross singing ‘Dance With My Father’ whenever I think about the Proles looking back on their childhood.

Honestly if someone played Luther Vandross singing ‘Dance With My Father’ and then followed it with Trelawney by the Holman Climax I would be in bits for days.
My eyes are actually stinging at the thought.

Give me a minute.

Any how, yes, reading the Proles stories.

I probably should.

I just have to stop thinking about chocolate, telly, hot baths and relaxing.

Some things are probably more important than that.

Like their entire outlook on life in the future, or something.

Tomorrow night.

Winnie the Pooh, not Smurfs.

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One of the nicest things I do with the Proles is the rolling display of ‘art’ around the house.

During an office move there were a series of picture frames that were up for grabs so with no real thought behind it I nabbed them.

Now every once in a while I take some of the landslide of ‘art’ the boys bring home and put it in the frames.

The frames are relatively large when compared to A4 paper so often one picture will act as a back drop for another or images will montage slightly as I cram them in to fill up the frame.

Being low on critical faculties the Proles don’t mind this so much.

Sometimes I need a little help in curation.

Prole1’s “picture of active sloth’ was presented in conjunction with ‘harbour scene’.
In itself  this was not considered a problem, after all, as Prole1 pointed out, they were both fairly brown.
The problem occurred in that the ‘harbour scene’ went into the frame the wrong way up.
Following the minute detailing of the image and the original intention by the artist I took it down, took the picture out, got distracted by the washing, went back and placed the picture upside down again.

Prole1 patted my hand.

Prole1: If you like it that way up Dad, you keep it that way up.

Then he kissed my forehead and went to spread patronising joy to the rest of the house.

In the hallway there is a small rectangular hole in the wall, this is where the door handle used to go when the door was opened fully.
Nowadays the door is double glazed plastic and I don’t think they really considered the architecture of Redruth when they constructed it.
The hole is no longer used and so we put a small picture frame around it and use it as a temporary display case for small sculptures and more three dimensional pieces.

It is no Tate Turbine Hall but the Proles can on occasion exceed all expectations.
“All the green lego” was a challenging installation, ‘my clay crocodile’ was a  psychedelic  exhibit and we are seeing the return of ‘snail money box’ by Prole2 at the moment.
There is a small piece of paper in there with his name on.

Prole2: So people know I did it.

Me: Great, why is there a picture of a castle on the paper?

Prole2: Extra art. More fun.

Me: Oh, yes of course.

The celebration of their ‘artwork’ is in a way to salve my own conscience.
As I have said elsewhere, ‘art’ comes in through the door at an alarming rate.

What to do with this landslide of mutilated paper and card is a real dilemma.

The Proles put heart and soul into their work, they can tell you all the tiny details of the process and their thinking.
This can be useful most of the time because it is hard to see if any thinking were part of the process at all.

They bring this stuff home and say things like: Here you go Dad, I did this specially for you.

And I can see in their eyes that I am holding their dream. A dream that this piece of work will make me happy. That this picture, dawned in paint and slightly crumpled, will in some way make my life complete.

I have seen the sort of thing they get me for Christmas, even with a chaperone, they have no idea what I might like.
But it is written all over their faces that they think, or rather believe with every quivering fibre of their being, that I love this stuff.

What to do when you hold so many dreams?

Well, not so much hold as stuff them under the stairs.
We have so much ‘art’ under the stairs a fire officer would have a fit.
Fortunately it is so thick with paint and glue I believe it may be th last thing to go up if the house burns down.

What to do?

There is a slow process of ‘retirement’, as you would imagine, but I am nervous of the shattered dream.

I am being glib about this of course but I do love it all as well.
The bright eyes as they talk about the current piece and they la it out o the table for me to look at.
It is wonderful.

But I can’t keep it all. I can’t really keep even a fraction of what they bring home.

My house is stuffed with so much of the past I cannot really afford to keep much more.

I have to clear back for the future.

I have to be brutal with painted pictures, squash clay models, tiny trousers, forgotten toys, worn out shoes, little tiny gloves, faded t shirts and first bicycles.

I don’t have tiny weeny little boys any more.
Riding the leading edge of their growth is like surfing on the front of an emotional wave, I have to be responsive and keep up or I will go under.

I have to take moments and images and artefacts where I can but leave the path clear for the future.
It is a small collection but it tis a vital one.
I am not just being sentimental.

I could clear it all out of course but then if they ceased to be for any reason, how could I ever get it back?

How will I know they were here?

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Sometimes it is best not to stop and think about things.
When discussing parenthood with another father once I asked how he managed his four kids.

“If you sit down, you have lost” he said.

This morning was bound to be a busy one.

Pancake day and with swimming lessons and Pizza club in the offing for the evening the Proles were keen to have pancakes for breakfast.

This is fine as long as I get out of bed and force myself to accept that I will probably not sit down for the next forty five minutes or so.

The plan was slightly off kilter from the start because Prole2 turned up in my bed at about five thirty.

Prole2: I am scared of the dark.

Me: Ok, get in but try to be quiet and get some sleep.

Prole2: Ok Dad.

Then at six am he was curled up under the covers at the other end of the bed.
He had made a nest for himself and the cat and was ‘cooking her breakfast’.
He was being ‘quiet’ and after some time his whispered monologue faded away and I had a final, shallow, quick and deeply unsatisfying few minutes sleep.
Vivid dreams I could not remember.
The alarm went off and I was away.

Flour, two eggs, half a pint of milk, some melted butter.
Clear the table, lay it and roust the Proles from bed.

Prole1 looked particularly dishevelled but I paid no attention.
Hmmm.

Pancakes fired onto the Proles plates fresh from the pan.
Half a teaspoonful of sugar for Prole1.
Lemon, caramel sauce and as much sugar as he could get on to his pancakes when I wasn’t looking for Prole2.

Prole2 was chatty and bubbly.
Prole1 was quiet and introspective with his head resting on his hand.
Hmmm.

I finished the last of the pancake mix and sat down to drink my tea.

Prole1 glanced up at me and then sat back in his chair.
He did look odd I thought.
I really must get him a haircut because his hair is….
His fringe is…
He looks…

Me: Did you cut your hair?

Prole1: Ummm…um….yes…

He collapsed into fits of sobbing.

His fringe, which under normal circumstances rested just above his eyes, had been cropped back to just a few millimetres long.

He looked like a dodgey Monk from a bad historical reconstruction documentary.

Tonsure.
Beautiful word.
Awful on a small boy.

I decided not to shout at him as he was clearly upset.
I was rather low on supportive banter though.

Me: You wally.

Prole2: What is a wally?

Me: HE is a wally.

Prole1: I didn’t know…I thought…oh dear….

Me: Ok…why did you do that?

Prole1: It was in my eyes when I was reading last night, so I cut it off. Does it look weird?

He looked weird.

Prole1: How does it look?

He looked awful.

Me: You look awful.

Prole1: Do I look bad?

Me: You look like a wally that has just cut his hair off.

Prole1 curled up in my lap and cried and cried.
I hugged him tight and let him cry.
I wondered how long this would go on for.
He broke wind over my knee and I felt that was a good moment to move on.

I told Prole1 to stop crying.
I told Prole2 to stop laughing.

School run starting soon.
What to do?
Keep going.
Don’t stop making decisions.

I sent Prole2 upstairs to get dressed.

I got the clippers out and put Prole1 in the chair.

The clippers are quite old and Prole1’s hair was long so it was slow going.
I trimmed back with the scissors and took the hair down to a grade three.
The hair at the front where he had got all Vidal Sasson on himself was considerably shorter.
I tried to blend it in.
I tried to work out if the shorter hair at the front and slightly longer at the back made his head look a funny shape.
The alternative was to take it down to a grade 1.
I decided that I preferred the wonky shaped head look to the ‘This Is England’ alternative.
He has a pretty wonky shaped head anyway so I felt we were playing to a strength.
Perhaps he would get sympathy or something?

Prole1 sat on his chair staring down at his hair all around him.

Prole1: How do I look now?

Me: Like a wally with short hair.

Prole1 had a shower while Prole2 and I had a conversation about sympathy and empathy and not laughing at Prole1 any more.

Prole1: I can hear you, you know!

He came out of the shower and I dried him down and tried to snip off the stray bits.

Me: Well…you look…good.

Prole1: Do I look like a wally?

Me: No. You look like a kid with short hair. You look good. If I passed you in the street I would just think you had short hair, nothing odd at all.

Prole1: Thanks Dad.

Me: Remember though, it’s what is on the inside that counts. On the outside you look great. On the inside you are still a wally that cut his own hair off.

Prole1 half laughed and half cried and we had another cuddle.

Me: I love you. You are not a wally. You just cut your hair off. You are still brilliant. You just did something daft.

Prole1: I won’t do it again.

Me: I bet you won’t.

We got into uniforms and headed off to school, bang on schedule.

Whilst I am boasting about being a domestic goddess I have to point out I also managed to stack the dishwasher and do two loads of washing.
I am Widower, hear me roar.

I kissed Prole1.

Prole1: Will they laugh at me?

He suddenly looked very small.

A very small, worried looking skinhead.

Me: Just tell everyone your hair was in your eyes and I gave you a haircut. I love you.

Prole1: Thanks Dad.

I really hope they didn’t laugh at him.

Work is hectic.
I won’t bore you with it, it is just busy.

I was in the middle of a conversation when my mobile went.
It was the Proles’ school.

Proles’ School: Hello there, I don’t want to worry you, it’s just that Prole2 is complaining about chest pains….

The conversation went on for a bit.
He had pains in the middle of the left hand side of his chest.
It could be a strained muscle.
It could be a stitch.
It could be indigestion.
It could be ‘growing pains’.
It could be anything.

As we talked I could feel the gears shift.

Yes.
He had pains in the middle of the left hand side of his chest.
It could be a strained muscle.
It could be a stitch.
It could be indigestion.
It could be ‘growing pains’.
He might just need the toilet.
It could be anything.

I was ten minutes away and I would be right there.
It was probably nothing but I would drop by.
Best have someone watch him just in case.
It was probably nothing.

By the end of the conversation I had my coat and hat on and was heading out across the Fair Field.
Just keep going.

I was not worried.
My heart rate had not gone up.
I walked all the way there.

He had pains in the middle of the left hand side of his chest.
It could be a strained muscle.
It could be a stitch.
It could be indigestion.
It could be ‘growing pains’.
He might just need the toilet.
It could be anything.

It could be the manifestation of heart problems of some sort.
But it probably wasn’t.

I met a lady at a Cardiac Risk In The Young session, she was a couple of years younger than me.
She asked who I had lost and I said my wife.
I asked who she had lost and she said her six year old son.

There was probably nothing wrong but if Prole2 was going to die I decided it would be better if I was there.

The calm is horrible.

I have panicked before.
Panic is bad enough.

The calm is when everything you have been planning for comes together and you find yourself doing what you know has to be done.
I walked to the Proles’ school.
This is like a fire drill.
It is probably nothing but that is not the point, you must follow procedure because you don’t know if it is real or not.
I didn’t know if Prole2 was going to be ok or not.

If either of the Proles died I would have to be there and I would have to be useful in one way or another.

So no panic.
Just keep going.
It was just the most important walk I have taken for a while.

Prole2 was huddled over his burger chips and beans in the dinner hall.

He was not eating so that was a bad sign.

He stood up and climbed up onto my knee which was a good sign.
No blue lips.
No shortness of breath.
Not clammy, not hot.
No other pain anywhere else.

The pain in his left side was, as they had said, right over where his heart was.

I watched him for about ten minutes.

My house is a four minute walk from the school so I went home and got some Calpol.

When I got back he had still not finished his lunch but he had brightened up a bit.
I gave him some medicine  and watched him eating.

We left the dinner hall and walked down to the playground holding hands.

I watched him playing and after a while I said good bye, I hugged him, told him I loved him, and left.

On the way past the office I dropped in to say thank you.
I said if it happened again they should call me again.
They said that would be fine.

I walked back to work.

I used to think it was soppy to tell people you loved them every time you left, just in case you never saw them again.

These days it seems more like common sense.

I mean, don’t panic, you probably will see them again.

Statistics are on your side.

Probably.

But you don’t know.