Category Archives: family life

Dear childhood self

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sweet little start of me
through ancient mist I see you
aping our mother’s daily routine
washing yesterday’s dollies dresses
while she scrubs the sheets
concentration creasing your cute face
as you rinse and squeeze the tiny pieces
your fingers bleached and shrivelled by the task

and later
you mix a cake
grinning in vanilla-kissed contentment
while she cooks dinner
for your father, your brothers and your sister

a ginger cat curls round young calves
his tail tickling your giggly knees
his unpredictability tripping your feet

I see you
distant as as the stony stream
flowing around the stones
in the crook of our childhood valley
silent as a graveyard angel
frozen in the photographs of my imagination

I tried to keep you near
but you sank away
clinging to what you thought you could keep forever
instead of growing with me

I miss you
and what I expected to be

©Jane Paterson Basil

Drum roll

drummers-642540_960_720.jpgI don’t usually write posts of this flavour, but I feel moved to put my thoughts on record, and where better than on WP, where I feel understood…

My eldest grandson applied to three Universities, all of them in Bristol. His first choice was UWE – the Universtiy of the West of England, but he was convinced that he wouldn’t get in, because he hasn’t worked hard enough at college, and his grades aren’t good enough to fulfil the official requirements. He knew they wouldn’t be anything to brag about, long before he got his results.

He didn’t think any of the Universities would accept him, so he made arrangements to do a degree in the local college where he’s been studying for the past couple of years, but it’s not the degree he would have chosen, and the college has no great reputation for its music. In addition, this town is no place for young people right now, for reasons I won’t go into. He needs to get away and have a chance to grow up outside the confines of his home.

He lost his laptop charger a few weeks ago, and hasn’t bothered to open his emails on another laptop because he didn’t expect to receive any important ones. Today he got a new charger, and he finally checked through his emails.

This evening, when  my daughter Claire rang me with the news, I broke down and cried. I’m still not sure whether my tears were of joy or grief – both, I suppose. I have dried my eyes, but even now I can feel a pricking sensation behind the lids.

Daaa daaa daa daa da da dadadadrdrdrrrr (that’s a drum roll)

His results don’t matter. He has been offered an unconditional place in UWE because they were so impressed with his music!

His birthday is on the 19th September, but we’ll have to celebrate early, because that’s the day he starts his University course.

I watched him come into this world, my beautiful first grandchild, and I’ve stayed close to him throughout the years. I find it hard to express my love, but I love him; I cannot describe how much I love him. We’ve been though a lot together, and many times I’ve feared for his future. No doubt my fears will recur, as it is in the nature of love. That aside, he has given me many causes to be proud, particularly on the many occasions when he’s picked me up when I’ve been down. He reminds me of his father, who sadly died before Mark was born. He was also very musical, and I know that he, too, would be very proud to see the man his son is becoming.

I feel foolishly emotional tonight, and am unable to put my thoughts across clearly. I’m happy that UWE has so confidently held out its arms to Mark, but I’m going to miss him terribly. I can feel a band tightening across my chest. I have to stop writing about this.

The Daily Post Prompt #Eyes.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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The envy of many

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I don’t wish to be smug,
but they tell me I am the envy of many.
It’s not the aspect of the house,
although, since I restored it, it is pretty,
and it’s not the garden, carefully lanscaped and planted by me.
Neither is it the beauty of its interior;
each room was so gloomy when we moved in,
but with a lot of thought, a little flair,
and questionable assistance from my paint-splashed offspring
I redecorated it, taking care to accentuate its finer features
and scupulously removing all ill-conceived details.
I’m sure all of this helps,
but what makes my guests look wistful every time they visit
is the way the sun shines from the eyes of my four children
as they play together, and when they look at me;
the loving smile of their father, when
after a hard day at work, he greets his family,
and how eagerly we hug him back;
the way we sit at the table and chat
instead of dumbly eating in front of the TV.
It’s the pleasure we take in all we do together,
the joy in each other’s company.

Posted for The Sandbox Writing Challenge 38  Something Wonderful

©Jane Paterson Basil

Boobies

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I was on a home decorating kick that summer. It was a weekday, and Paul and I had just walked home from school together. I liked this time of day, when there were just the two of us. Paul’s sister was at Secondary school, eight miles away, and returned home long after Paul. He took off his coat and we went into the living room. It had taken me almost a fortnight to strip the skirting board back to the wood, peel the horrible woodchip paper off the walls, fill the dips and cracks, and re-plaster in places. I’d re-pointed the stone fireplace, and washed it with a subtly shaded matt varnish, to tone down the brash colour of the stones. I’d custom-made shelves to fit into the recess under the window, and a unit to house the TV, video and such. I’d sewn new curtains and hand-beaded the hems. I was looking forward to finishing the job.

Paul glanced at the walls with a thoughtful expression.

“So, you’re going to paint it tomorrow?” he said.

“Yup. I’ll start as soon as I come back from taking you to school,” I replied.

“You should sign your name across the wall, then it will always be there, like a hidden secret,” he said.

He fumbled through his bag, pulled out a felt pen, and handed it to me. I smiled, and wrote my name across the bare plaster.

“Nice idea. Thanks for that,” I said.

He gave me a wicked look. “Can I write something?” he asked.

“Go for it.”

With that he wrote ‘BUM’ in large letters, beside the fireplace.

I took the pen and wrote ‘LADY BITS.”

He wrote ‘WANG.’

Not to be outdone, I wrote ‘BOOBIES.’

He wrote ‘BUTT CHEEKS.’

I wrote ‘WEE WEE.’

By this time we were laughing so much our writing was coming out wobbly.

When his dad and his sister turned up we were running out of words, and still giggling shamelessly. Mike sobered us up. He was furious.

“What are you doing? You can’t write words like that all over the walls! Get rid of it, NOW,” he raged.

“But I’m going to paint over it tomorrow,” I replied, reasonably.

“But people may see it!”

“What does it matter if they do? We’re just having fun, and the words aren’t actually obscene. And anyway, no-one’s coming to see us this evening, are they? ” I asked.

“No, but, but” he blustered, “someone may look through our window!”

I looked out of the window, at the quiet country road beyond our front garden. Nobody would be able to see the writing on the wall from outside, and he knew it.

Mike walked out of the room. I took the pen from Paul’s hand, and wrote “NIPPLES” beneath the window in tiny letters.

Three days later I finished the painting, and fixed the shelves to the wall beneath the window. I put the new TV unit in the corner of the room and hung the curtains. The colour scheme was a triumph, with swathes of deep red and navy blue, a background of natural wood and cinnamon, and spots of soft gold in the beadwork and the cushions to add highlights.

Every so often when Paul and I were alone in the room, Paul would point at the wall, and as if he was reading the word through the paint, he’d say “boobies,” and smile, making me chuckle. My chuckle would start him laughing, and in no time at all we we’d both be grasping our sides, guffawing like fools.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The things kids say

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I spent boxing day with my family. We were all sitting at the table eating when one of my daughters said to me “You do know you’re on the broken chair, don’t you mum?”

Well, no, I didn’t, but I secretly reckoned if it fell apart it would add humour to the occasion.

My seven year old grandson giggled and said “If Grandma falls off the chair she’ll be an even more broken old woman.”

For a split second everyone looked uncomfortable – would I see the humorous side of the remark?

How could they doubt it?.

The chair wasn’t dismembered by my raucous laughter, and I was a little disappointed – it would have been a perfect finale.

©Jane Paterson Basil

My child spirit

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it was a time when magic was ever there;
the iridescent dawn rarely questioned until
the miracle of it overwhelmed,
spilling deep within, overfilling my spirit,
bringing dewy tears which would evaporate
into the still of the morning.

too many unsettling questions,
energetically dissipated by racing limbs,
by shrieks and laughter; by games,
as I tried to hide the differences,
wishing only to fit in.

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I was going to give this poem the title “Now I know how my mother must have felt.” She was deeply religious, and that’s where she kept it; hidden deep inside, because my father did not allow religion into the house.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Anyone for tennis?

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   fervently they bounce me between them,
                                  their aim never missing;
   the incidental sting at each hit
                          gradually sinking to a dull ache
   before the next thwack
                  reverberates through my traumatised skin

   I think back through the years
                           but I have no memory of hearing
   either one of them say
                                      “Anyone for tennis?”
   or the subversive reply;
                            “A ball would make it too easy
   so we should use mum instead.”

                  (They both regret it now
                   and I believe them when
                 they tell each other and me
                 they want to end the match.)

                    ©Jane Paterson Basil

Shine

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A Hidden Ember

when I am broken
my protective shell smashed on
the bleached sands of all lost things
my sticky innards beached and caked with grit
frightened, squeamishly wriggling
while silence screams lies in my ear

and someone makes a remark, which
leads to a thought, which
leads to a smile, and
I give a laughing retort.

I sparkle and shine when everything
lies in pieces around me
and without a tiny tap on the funny bone
I may expire.

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Sparkle and Shine

nobody
knows me
like my siblings do
we share our first
remembered
history

beneath
the waste of all which
has since been
a hidden ember glows, and
sometimes when we speak
we are one again, unchanged
though age has bent us

and familiarity
sends a spark from the
ancient fire of childhood
setting us aflame with merriment
it is then that we shine
we turn dark into light
we sparkle and
we shine

Written for Calen’s Sandbox Challenge

©Jane Paterson Basil

PROSPECTS

Mum told me I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be. All I needed to do was try. So I decided I’d be a mountaineer. Sissy said: You can’t do that. I told her mum said I could. I practised on a cliff when we went to the beach one time, but I fell off it and broke my arm.

After that I didn’t like mountaineering.

My friends at school wanted to be teachers or hairdressers, or marry someone rich so’s they didn’t have to do anything, just sit around in a big house and eat chocolate all day. But since I broke my arm, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up.

One day my teacher told me my paintings were different, so I thought I’d like to be an artist. Famous paintings are always different. That’s what makes them famous. And artists don’t have to do any writing. I’m not very good at writing.

My mum gave me acrylic paints for my birthday, so’s I could practice and get really good at painting. She even got me proper canvases stretched over frames, and an easel. I put it up in the bedroom, near the window, to do a picture of the junk shop across the road.

Sissy came into the room. She looked at the picture. You’ll never be an artist, she said. She grabbed it off of the easel. I think I’ll chuck it in the bin, she said. While I was trying to get it off her, I knocked my palette, and it landed on the floor, upside down. She got on my bed, then climbed onto my chest of drawers, and stood there holding my painting away from her, between her finger and thumb, like it smelled bad. Then she sort of whizzed it away from her, across the room, saying: Catch!

It landed near the window and the paint stuck to the carpet.

You did that on purpose, I said.

Suddenly dad was in the room, yelling at us to shut up, filling my nose with his dirty smell of cheap cider and cigarettes. He was angry about the mess.

An artist! You’ll never amount to anything, he said.

He took my paints away. For a long time after that I didn’t think about what I would be when I grew up.

My dad may not have thought much of me, but the boys at school did. I reckoned I should make the most of it, before they noticed I wasn’t worth the bother.

I’m in the assembly hall, bent over my biology GCSE paper, and I don’t understand most of the questions, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m grown up now, and I know what I’m going to do.

As I put my pen down, and stand up to file out of the room, I feel the first tiny flutterings inside my swollen womb.

© Jane Paterson Basil

POSSESSION

My mother was on the rant again. I suppose I shouldn’t have been baiting her, but any conversation we had ended up this way, so I thought I may as well get some entertainment out of it.

”You can’t put a fun head on old shoulders,” I had said to her, twisting around the old adage she had just slung at me.

Her fingers bent and straightened as she wrapped and re-wrapped the yarn around knitting needles which click-clacked furiously. The scarf was growing at an alarming rate. Already it was so long that it would probably wrap around the house. She knitted when she was mad about something. She was often mad. Almost anything could incite her ire:

The neighbours cat, sitting on the wall, looking at her. ”It’s staring at me again.” she would say.

Conversations between characters in Eastenders. ”What did he have to go and say that for. He’s really hurt her feelings,” she would say, as if it was real, as if she was somebody who cared about the feelings of others.

Puddles in the street. ”They should do something about it,” she would say.

The whir of the cooling fan in the corner shop. ”It’s so loud I can’t think,” she would say.

The sound of my father’s voice. ”That horrible man is on the phone for you,” she would say.

Yes, many things made her angry, but most of all, I made her angry. My presence and my absence, everything I said and everything I didn’t say, everything I did and didn’t do, everything I was and everything I wasn’t.

Which made life a little tricky, as I lived with her.

Now she stopped knitting, and pointed her needle at me.

”Fun?” she spat. ”Fun? You talk about fun? I had fun once. And what do you think the result was? You! Planting yourself inside me, stealing my nourishment, taking my space, growing and making me fat and ugly. Pushing on my spine and my bladder. Scrabbling through my tubes, pushing your way out of my body. Expecting to be fed and clothed! Screaming and shitting all the time. Don’t talk to me about fun.”

I yawned, and looked out of the window at the sky. A dark cloud was forming overhead, signalling an upcoming storm.

The phone rang.

”Well, answer it!” she said.

The voice at the other end asked for her by name. Irritably, she slapped her knitting on the arm of the chair.

I watched impassively while she held the receiver.

”Speaking,” she said, curtly. ”Yes, that was me.” Then ”Is this a joke?”

A long silence as she listened. Finally she said ”This is ridiculous, but yes, I can make it tomorrow.”

She put the phone down. She put her knitting away. She was subdued for the rest of the day.

The following day, she went out. When she came back, she hugged me tearfully. I took in the hitherto unexplored fragrance of her hair, surprised by the smell of flowers and musk, of disinfectant and human being.

She told me about the woman who had given birth on the same day that I was born, and had always claimed that she was given the wrong baby to take home. babyAfter years of being ignored, a doctor had finally carried out DNA tests, and had found that she was right. An enquiry had been opened. My mother had gone in today for a DNA test, but it was considered more a formality than anything else. They were pretty sure that I was the other woman’s child.

”They can’t have you. You’re mine,” she wept. ” I wanted you. I fed and clothed you. I wiped your tears away. I watched your first tentative steps, and I urged you forward. I encouraged you. I taught you right from wrong. I loved you, and I will always love you. You are mine!”

I disentangled myself from the woman. I looked out of the window. Yesterday’s rain had left everything clean and sparkling. The world looked new and fresh.

© Jane Paterson Basil