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.

X

Dead Seals and Monkeys Blood

Dear Leo and Miller,

It was Mother’s Day on Sunday which led me to thinking about whether I am a good Mother. I’m trying not to let the fact I’m convinced you both got sun-burnt over the weekend influence my decision too much. Took you to the beach – good mum. Couldn’t find sunscreen – bad mum. Got you ice-cream – good mum. Put you to bad unwashed and without tea because you fell asleep in the car on the way home – bad mum. You both behaved so well all day apart from one unfortunate incident involving you Leo. You weren’t happy with the amount of raspberry sauce on your 99 and began screaming “I WANT MORE MONKEYS BLOOD” at a queue full of people.

It’s definitely getting easier though. The day tripping I mean. Miller, we didn’t take your buggy with us for the first time and it was a revelation. You can more or less get away with not having a day-time sleep now so we just left it behind and only took the essentials (not including sunscreen unfortunately.) No scooters or toys either. Something about the lack of baggage made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. We got up to Beadnell about lunchtime and went straight to the beach. Three hours straight. On the beach. I would like to say that you played in the sea happily together all day but in truth, you spent most of the time fascinated with a washed-up dead seal that was missing it’s face…  And that’s OK because it taught you lots about life and death and allowed me and your Dad to sit and do nothing for a while. It’s getting harder every day now to hide from you that I am a very lazy person. Your Aunty Jess was very sporty as a child. Uncle Max and Uncle Freddie were too and still are now. I have never been. Which is why I’m so grateful that your Dad will happily run around with you in his arms, up and down sand dunes (your new favourite game) for hours on end.

How my Mum found the energy to deal with four small children all at once absolutely blows my mind… And it’s totally understandable why her one answer to all my parenting questions – Did you cry a lot Mum? Did I get chicken pox? Did Dad ever take us all out at the same time? When did we start playing nicely? – is “Sarah, I honestly can’t remember.” The whole experience must remain a total blur. I think that’s exactly what life is like with children – and this weekend with you was no exception – a beautiful blur. Of mess and crying, heart-stopping happiness, exhausted faces, flushed faces, mornings in the dark and night-times when it’s light, furious words, bed sheets and beaches, nothing where it should be, scruffy limbs and sticky hair, out-of-nowhere tenderness, dead seals and monkeys blood.

Love Mum.

x