If you fly with the crows

Dear Leo and Miller,

I’ve said before how lucky you both are to see so much of your grandparents. Not everyone is lucky enough to have both sets within such easy reach.

I want to tell you about your Popa, my Dad. My wonderful and impossible Dad who surprises me every day and after 37 years I am still trying to figure him out. Kind and contradictory, sensitive and confrontational, he is a maddening typhoon of charm and temper. He still tells me what to do and sometimes I still listen. The best advice I have from him that I want to share with you wasn’t even directed at me – he said it to Uncle Max or Uncle Freddie when they were teenagers. But it could just as easily have been applied to me at that age: “If you fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows.” You don’t have to be the one causing the trouble; just being there in the mix is bad enough, so don’t run with a bad crowd, is basically what it means. And he is right. The other memorable piece of advice he gave his children is less profound but still a useful lesson: “Don’t stand in piles of leaves because there’s probably dog poo underneath.” Those were his parting words to me when I went off to university and I think of him and what he said every time I see piles of Autumn leaves on the street.

You both shriek with glee when he comes to our door, so you’re clearly enamoured with him already and I can see the feeling is mutual. He’s delighting in a new batch of fans to appreciate his fart jokes and juvenile sense of humour. To help you on your way to a harmonious and lasting relationship with this force of nature, here are 11 things I think you should know about him. Remember children: knowledge is power

  1. He loves bikes, brass handles and locks, dogs, fried bread, tools, Vintage TV, golf, books… And he can never get enough of any of them.
  2. He likes animals a lot. Over recent years he has trained a black bird in the garden, which sits watching him and flies to meet him at the back gate for breakfast. He is convinced it also understands what he is saying. It’s actually quite amazing and I want you both to know that this is not normal: most people can’t befriend wild creatures. He definitely has some kind of gift with birds in particular.
  3. All he wants for Christmas and birthdays is £20 and a giant Toblerone. Don’t try and be thoughtful or clever and get him anything else. You will be thanked with a stony silence at best.
  4. He spends a lot of time in charity shops and auction houses. Some are hits, some are misses but the sheer scale of the amount of stuff he buys means there’s a winner for both of you at least twice a week. He has an excellent eye but also no editing function, so manage your expectations when he says things like “What size shoe are you again?”
  5. He hates Americanisms and will not talk to someone if they use the word “guys.” Life-long friendships have been severed over this. If he even overhears someone say “guys” he launches into a rant. (Same with “train station”: it should be “railway station.”) And if he asks how you are, never, under any circumstances say “good.” Say anything else. It would be better to say “none of your bloody business” than “good.” This, above all, sends him over the edge.  Rudeness doesn’t bother him: poor command of English really does.
  6. He is funny. Very very funny. And when he’s on top form, no-one can touch him.
  7. He wants Bat Out of Hell to be played at his funeral. And there is a really long Meatloaf documentary (saved in Sky Planner) that we as a family call ‘The Happy Place’ which never fails to shunt him out of a bad mood.
  8. Watching television with him is a painful and stressful experience that should be avoided at all costs because he only likes golf, MASH and Vintage TV (and ‘The Happy Place’, see above) and will give you a live, running commentary on why everything else is shit.
  9. He will try and help anyone and is absolutely brilliant at giving lifts. His generosity with lifts knows no bounds and he always says yes. But he’s not big on road safety so be prepared for a stressful ride in a chaotically messy car with cardboard boxes full of books on every seat. And please remember to put your seat belts on because he doesn’t bother with them and drives around all day with that beep beep warning sound going off the whole time.
  10. It is a complete and utter waste of time trying to argue with him. About anything. Seriously, don’t bother.
  11. If you do Ebay searches for him (usually for obscure bike parts or discontinued telescope lenses), he will love you forever.

I have a thousand more things to tell you about Popa. Hilarious and exasperating and brilliant stories. But the above information is a handy overview and even if you skip the first 10 and just do 11 – you’ll be fine.

Love Mum.

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Sail Happily On

Dear Leo and Miller,

You have both been very poorly and I have spent the best part of this week grappling with both of you, trying to keep you calm and settled. This has meant both of you being in my bed most nights – sometimes all night, sometimes just for a stint, always a struggle. Not much sleep has been had by any of us. Or reading or writing.

But now you are both back in nursery and normal life can resume. Or at least what has become our normal. I have not been wearing mascara for the last few days and I do that when I am tired or over-whelmed, and when I know I am most likely  going to cry at some point in the day so I just don’t bother putting on any make-up. At the best of times I feel as though I have been taken hostage by parenthood but when one of you is ill, all bets are totally off and I don’t know what I’m going to be faced with or how I’m going to react. The lack of control over what used to be a selfishly led life is still something I struggle to resolve with myself.

I read a very good piece of advice in The Telegraph at the weekend. Graham Norton writes a problem page for the Saturday paper. If you are familiar with his television persona (of which I have never been a fan) you might consider him an unlikely source of sound and sympathetic advice. But he is surprisingly compassionate and sensible. One letter was from a woman who thought she might be suffering with depression and he replied: “I understand your concerns for the future, but try thinking about this afternoon instead. Is there a pile of magazines you’ve been meaning to go through? A lampshade that needs to be washed? Stress and anxiety consume us when we feel the world is going to crush us, but the truth is that our lives are made up of moments. Manage them, enjoy them, endure them – you will get through them.”

These words rang true and I want you to remember them. Because there will be times when you won’t have it in you to bound through life enjoying every minute. There will be many times you’ll be lucky just to pick your way through without hurting yourself. And that’s alright. Do not compare yourself to other people who seem to sail happily on through whatever comes there way: some people simply find life easier than others. Do not be disheartened: it’s all a series of moments that don’t last. You must find joy in the ones you can and try to stand the rest.

Love Fa.

x

A Birthday Party

Dear Leo and Miller,

We had your 3rd birthday party on Friday Leo and you were duly spoiled rotten. You were still up at 8:30pm delirious with tiredness and every now and again you would ask in a pathetic little voice – more present? more cake? I felt terrible for Miller during the party. Every so often I would spot her through the legs of adults, pushing her little pram about and staring up at everyone. It has always been a tradition in my family that you have a ‘party tea’ on the day of your actual birthday. Some cousins still have them now in their early 30s. It’s more a chance for grown ups to see eachother because the months fly by so quickly and everyone is so busy that making plans is just impossible. So at least you can rely on the next birthday coming up for an enforced get together or we wouldn’t see each other half as much.

I have reached the part in the Steinbeck book where he has sold the rights to Of Mice and Men to Hollywood which has enabled him to buy a new typewriter and go on holiday with his wife Carol. In a similar sort of theme (although I have nothing to celebrate, certainly not a financial wind-fall) – I have decided to buy myself a Mac Book Pro because I think it will help me write more and better. A holiday will probably have to wait however.

At this point in the book, his father has just died (not long after his mother) and his tone is so weary and sad it’s almost unbearable. But he tries to sound perky and cheerful at regular intervals, presumably to keep the reader from wanting to put the letter down and never pick it up again… And it made me realise why letters are a much more useful exercise than a diary. If you have some sort of audience to consider, it prevents you falling head-long into a wallowing outpouring of doom and self-pity. If that is your mood that day. So it’s good to have to consider the listener. Because all writers are vain and want their work to be read: I don’t care what they say. Me included.

Love Fa.