Before I was born, I was a whim, an idea, a little thought in the heads of two people much younger then than I am now.
One was my mother, a teacher… I’ve always rather thought of her as sensible, dependable and eminently stable. Though the stories of her school days and some wonderfully naughty anecdotes of time in America rather upset that stereotype I choose to see those as highlights that elevate a personality that might otherwise have seemed a little dull. She loves, she laughs, she lives… overall she’s as “sorted” as one might hope to be.
On a trip to the Mediterranean, more or less to find a boyfriend I’m told, she met a young man on a similar mission. He was, I’m told, a student (though of a different establishment to the one the young woman taught at) and once the screen goes blurry it becomes evident that the two of them hit it off!
Not only was he a student, but quite the intellectual with great aspirations to become a writer. Aspirations that became reality when he became a journalist.
Adventure followed, with a trip to Canada where I was to be born. A second child later, and a book which appears to have caused some controversy, “common sense” prevailed and a career change accompanied a return to France.
No matter. My father has always been, in my mind, a writer. He is also the best and worst kind of perfectionist, demanding of himself and of others nothing less than the absolute best. He loves passionately, laughs less than I would like to hear, and lives intensely. Though he can talk the night away, his emotions are often well hidden and it can be rather difficult to tease out the connection that exists between us. A very solid connection, I might add. That he loves me and is proud of me I have no doubt. Having said that, with such high standards of those around him, it comes as no real surprise that compliments from him are rare treasures.
This little, very modest blog has been in part a way for me to convey some of myself that does not easily emerge when face to face with those I love. I shoulder others’ emotions in a rather unhelpful way which finds me avoiding talk when my news tends to be difficult. Sweet Girl is much the same and seeing that trait in her makes me more aware of how frustrating it must be for those who love me! At least I have the written word in its wild and wacky bloggy form to tell them, “Here I am, this is me. It’s not all bad, it’s not all good, but I live, I laugh, I love – and that, after all, is really what it’s all about.”
I have never had pretensions as a writer. I did embark on a wonderful, mad, exhilarating jaunt into the world of writing a few years ago by taking part in NaNoWriMo – a month of daily writing in a bid to pen 50,000 words of fiction. It was a truly brilliant experience but I am still exhausted at its thought! Blogging for me is far less about writing than it is about being. But as I continue to blog, so I become taken with the twists, turns and tangles words can weave. I enjoy the rhythm that sometimes appears on my screen, or the delectable taste of a sentence that begs to be spoken aloud. Mostly, I enjoy the platform, the freedom to express my thoughts whatever they may be.
Once again, I find myself at the end of a long preamble only to discover that the post I intended is very short, and that the preamble is more “me” than the rest. I will leave my lovely readers with the prompt for this rather special post. It is an email sent to my by that intellectual young man, turned financial ethical guru, who through it all is also my father:
Dear ô dear Lady B !!!
I am a nullity when it comes to the modern “net” media, so my comment may be out of place, but the literary quality of your “billet” – not to speak of the content, which would be far too personal for an e-mail destined to be crunched by the American Security Big Brother System – should qualify the author for a regular column in an up-market magazine.
Sempé did enjoy the privilege of the front page in the New Yorker: you undoubtedly equal him in your “genre” !!!!
Turns out, I’m not done!
First, I love the fact that my Papa signs his name. There’s undoubtedly a whole other post in that sentence, but I’m just going to leave it at that for now. The intimacy of that is a gift of trust in and of itself.
Second, “Dear, o dear Lady B”… When at boarding school (or was it university?), my lovely Papa took to addressing his (very lengthy, and far too intellectual for my little brain) letters to me in this way. Shamefully I’m not sure how much of the content made it to the centre of my understanding, though I did try very hard to follow what were often deep philosophical arguments (I am absolutely not a philosopher), but the address became extremely important to me.
Having been brought up largely in England with a name that is, in this country, always a boy’s name, I was often nicknamed “Ben” or “Benny”. Names that I utterly hated. I’ve always liked my name, and the distortion of it into a boy’s nickname when I felt essentially, purely, totally feminine, was just horrid. Upon arriving at university, a fresh start was unfruitful and I became resigned to being known by this phoneme that barely belonged to me.
Resigned, it turns out, until I met Darling Man’s parents. At which point I realised that if I was to become known as “Ben” to them, I would have to live as “Ben” for the rest of my life. The famous buck stopped there. “Benedicte” in English is a little unwieldy. Most people who see me on a regular basis still call me “Dominique” or “Bernadette”… go figure!
Happily, I had that rather lovely, poetic Papa, who wrote me those tomes with a delightful, simple solution… while I would have been rather tickled to adopt “Lady B” as my new name, and I now ascribe such a moniker to a little red beetle known affectionately as a ladybug, I felt at the time it was rather too pretentious. The simple letter “B”, however was just lovely.
Ever since, I have been, “B”. My Sticks and Strings projects are often labelled “Be”, because in the last lifetime, I have come to appreciate the value of “being”, and the letter of my name coincides serendipitously with such a label.
Lastly, and most importantly. I am moved, overwhelmed and rather dumbstruck by the content of this email. (No, no comment on the fact that I’m clearly not dumbstruck – just look at the word count of this post so far!) It turns out that in some ways I am quite simply my father’s daughter. There are many words here because the emotions I carry with me are too big for words. Big words are pretentious and showy and so cannot convey the depth of feeling. Little words are so little… yet sometimes do the best job. Many words are too many, yet few are just too few.
Compliments from my Papa are true treasures because they only come when he truly feels they are earned and deserved. Compliments on writing are even more so because writing is, or was his craft. And here I have the two combined…
So I suppose inside, I’m feeling little words, and not too many.
I hear you, and I’m learning to believe you.
I love you, and know that you love me.
A couple of weeks ago, I undertook a new interpretation of the therapy I fondly refer to as “sticks and strings”. Until now, my particular version of this therapy has been primarily knitting, with some forays into crochet. I find the busying of hands at some creative activity to be very soothing and calming for the soul, and in those times when my mind is abuzz with the activity of a thousand bees I need some physical pursuit to calm me. Unfortunately in those times I also find myself quite literally unable to do all those practical day to day tasks such as housework and laundry.
Sticks and strings offers me a tremendous release and I’m certain that the creative aspect of making something is key. Additionally I am constantly struck by the beauty of the contradiction of such arts as knitting and crochet. Beginning with a solid, unyielding stick and a fluid, often unmanageable string that refuses to hold its shape, I end up with an object that is beautiful, defined in shape yet flexible in texture, and more often than not with a practical purpose. It is, to me, a thing of beauty.
More recently, in search of something “new” (I am easily bored), I entered into the rather different craft of cross stitching. The appeal at first was the new. I am also a follower on Facebook of the rather wonderful charity Love Quilts UK. These lovely people gather together something of a cottage industry in which some volunteers craft cross stitch squares (often themed for a particular child) to specific sizing criteria, and other volunteers then piece these square together into beautiful quilts which are donated to ill children. All three of my children have benefited from donated quilts from a different organisations, and they have provided enormous comfort to them in times of sadness or illness.
So I found myself in need of Sticks and Strings therapy, keen to attempt something new (my current knitting project is beautiful but requires more concentration than I am able to afford it at the moment), and also desperate not to add to the clutter in my very little home. Love Quilts and cross stitch provided the perfect opportunity. Having found a free pattern to download, I printed it, ordered the necessary supplies and got started as soon as the Royal Mail saw fit to deliver the goods. It was thoroughly enjoyable, up to and including the pleasure of posting my finished square in my local post office. (Strangely and happily, it was the first time in about 13 years that the postmaster saw fit to smile at me!)
The cross stitch bug having hit me, I found myself with a project in mind.
I am not good at celebrations, I’m fairly sure I’ve covered that in an earlier post. Shamefully I am not good at celebrating family birthdays (I even struggle to do the children, though the quartet of little girls chatting away with their hair in curlers downstairs would belie that statement), and extraneous holidays such as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day are made even more difficult for me by having different dates in France and England. All too easily I simply forget them.
And yet my loved ones are fairly constantly in my thoughts. I am heading towards an interesting therapy session I suspect in which I explore how one can protect oneself from loved ones’ pain without distancing oneself to the extent of being emotionally absent. Questions rife in my mind that need thinking about.
Anyway… thinky thoughts aside, here I am with a project in mind. It is modestly ambitious and I am fairly certain that if successful it will have the desired result of making my Maman and Papa rather happy.
So I gathered my necessaries… asking my lovely mother for photographs, yet demanding of her that she remain curious and in the dark. And I have to say that she did so beautifully and kindly.
My project is underway and I am now taken with this thought. Is it better to keep recipients of a gift in the dark during the making of the gift ortell them and rob them of the sweetness of surprise? Is anticipation just as sweet? Is it possible, in fact, for the gift to be in its gradual unveiling?
I am also taken with the idea that life has no thought for our plans. It takes its path, with its twists and turns, regardless of our hopes and dreams. So while I happily wield my sticks and strings (a cross stitch needle is a much tinier stick than I am accustomed to), I have become aware that across the sea, and the hills and the plains of France, those I love are in the dark. They are no doubt wondering what new scheme I have up my sleeve, and I am quite sure thery is no upset. But life could easily upset my plans and there is a multitude of ways in which those for whom I am stitching might never see the finished work.
My intention is not only to finish, but finish well and sooner rather than later, but I am taken by the fleeting nature of “now”.
And I have come to think that “now” is worthy of being shared.
My project! To reinterpret my parent’s ancestral family home – that has been in my Paps’ family for around 400 years, and which is now my parents home in the very real, very “now” sense – as a cross stitch image.
So I started with a photograph.
And then tried to find a way to change it, to turn it into a 2 dimensional image, and reimagine what is a rambling farmhouse attached to a tithe barn into a picture more in keeping with the cross stitch sampler.
I started with a picture on graph paper.
And off to stitch I went! As usual I am far less fastidious than i should be. There is much of this progect that will be altered and made up as I stitch. But so far I am rather happy with my progress and so I find myself rather keen to share it!
Maman has long found pleasure in cross stitc – at a time when I found it rather dreary and painstaking. And the one lesson I remember from her stitching is the importance she placed on the neatness of the back of the work. The pride a crafter takes in making even the invisible look beautiful. And in honour of that lesson, I wanted also to share the back! When finished I plan for this project to be framed as a picture to hang on the wall. No-one will see the back, sothis is my opportunity to share, to allow the invisible to be seen.
Surrey Outdoor Learning and Development
Eldest is thirteen and a half years old, and following a very emotional conversation last weekend, I have made what is for me a huge decision. I am allowing him to have a mobile phone.
Now. I know that most parents today give their children phones much much earlier than this. Nearly all of Sweet Girl’s friends have phones, and I believe that even some of Little Man’s classmates have them.
But for me, it is a cost that they have little way of being aware of, and the responsibility of such an item is rather a long way off. They have no need of one in terms of safety since they are always under the care of a responsible adult (or at school). And I am not really keen to fund a plethora of meaningless texts that could so easily lead to misunderstandings and rifts in precious friendships.
I accept that in this day and age, especially when Little Teens are heading out to secondary school on their own, or in a small group of friends, the mobile phone gives us parents a sense of security. A little leash in fact, to enable us to keep tabs on our babies. But actually, that’s really rather ephemeral. Because how many times have you called someone, only to get a busy signal, or a voicemail message? That’s annoying at the best of times, but if that person is your child? And if the reason you are calling is because you are concerned about their whereabouts? Can you imagine the panic and worry that will then besiege you? Quite worse that if there were no phone to call, I feel. Not to mention the fury at having provided a means of contact (at parental expense in the vast majority of cases), only to have the progeny “forget” said phone, or “forget” to turn it on, or “forget” to keep it charged… I feel friction coming on!
From this you may gather that I am not a great fan of mobile phones for kids.
On the other hand, in the last two weeks, two children aged ten and eleven, on two completely separate occasions have been approached by strange middle aged men. The police have been involved but no arrests have so far been made. I do not believe our world is much different now than it was in the past, but we live in a time of heightened awareness of the ugly underbelly of humanity in the midst of our “civilised” society.
Will a phone protect my daughter should someone try to abduct her? Realistically, given her emotional and social skills, no. At best she might be able to turn it on or send an SOS. Even were she able to, that would not guarantee her safety. But the thought of the mobile phone as security is powerful indeed. It ties us to others, makes us feel attached and rids us of a feeling of isolation and loneliness.
As parents, the mobile phone gives us the false sense that we can “let them go”, without really doing so. It is a strange beast that gives us the confidence to tell our Young that we trust them, all the while denying that trust because we attach this leash to it. Yet in our day and age, the thought of being utterly untethered to that virtual community is unfathomable.
The mobile phone is part of “modern” life. (Golly, I’m sounding old, even to myself!)
Enough of the soapbox.
There is a possibility that Eldest will lose a very close friend in the next few months, as he may be changing schools. Whether this will come to pass or not, I have no idea. But the reality is that people move, and he is having to come to terms with the possible loss of someone dear to him. There is no real chance of continuing that relationship through home life, and so Eldest was very upset that he would have no means of keeping in touch.
(Yes, those of you whose brains work along similar wave lengths will already be shouting at your screens, “Has he never heard of paper, pen and stamps??????”… The legitimate excuse is that when your friend suffers from dyslexia, and you are let’s face it rather lazy, the combination makes penmanship an inky form of torture.)
At the same time, we are trying to help this young man gain some independence, and part of that involves learning about cost. I’ll go into cost, and costs some other time when I’m waxing philosophical!! Right now, I’m focussed on Eldest’s ability to manage a budget, in this case of minutes and texts.
My previous deal with this lad was that he would get a phone when he had earned his “Independence”… a school scheme that will see him earn the right to leave school grounds for a few hours without adult supervision (so, so scary!!), at which point a phone is necessary. He made it clear that he had a particular type of phone in mind, far more expensive and fancy than anything I had considered. My answer was that any sum more than the one I had earmarked would be for him to pay.
But here we are… the deal has changed.
In order for him to join that nether world of the mobile phone community, I do feel that a phone may not be utterly superfluous to his requirements. So I have bought him one. On my terms.
It is a lovely, basic, call and text phone. No touch screens, no apps, no anything fancy (he has all he needs in terms of digital entertainment anyway!). He will be given a set amount of money and the first lesson will be how to check his balance.
He will need to show me his call and message log if he feels the need to top up before I think reasonable. Not because I want to check up on him, but because I really want him to be aware that in this game, time equals money, and texts equal money. And since that money is not his, he must be accountable for his use of it.
I will see him at the end of next week, and as of that moment, Eldest will have reached a milestone, as will I. He will have in his possession, a mobile phone…