Dad’s story – my eulogy read at his funeral

James Peter Arnold was born in May 1933 in Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset. His parents ran a small holding in the neighbouring village of Corfe Castle where his dad was also a driving instructor.

Dad spent his first eleven years in Corfe, sharing life with his parents, his sister, Jill, born a few years later and his cousins who also lived in Dorset. He went to the village primary school to begin with but his parents had aspirations for him so at eight he went to Hillcrest Preparatory school in Swanage.

I think he enjoyed those days in Dorset, he told me of walking over the fields to Dancing Ledge and swimming in the sea, as well as being out on the hills over Corfe Common.

Growing up around animals on the smallholding his love of all things furry and four legged was born and we can think now of his menagerie of cats and dogs that accompanied him through his life.

At eleven he was sent to Gresham’s, a boarding school near Holt in Norfolk and he remained there completing A levels. His parents dreamt of a doctor in the family but unfortunately, dad was not too great at science!

He spent the next five years working in and around London at London Transport and at Vickers, both in admin posts. He was heard proudly boasting in later years of having signed the Official Secrets Act at Vickers, but of course, he couldn’t say why!

In 1956, at 23, he applied to the School of Librarianship at Loughborough College, where he spent a couple of years becoming a Chartered Librarian, the career he would follow for the rest of his working life.

He loved the classification work and the book binding elements of the course particularly. And it was here that he met Alfreda, our mum.

They were married in March 1959, a small wedding with just close family. They started out married life in Northamptonshire but jobs moved them around the country. By the time Chris, their son arrived in 1963 they were living in Clacton on Sea and by the time Rosemary arrived (that’s me!)  in 1966 they were living in Wall Heath in the suburbs of Birmingham.

Mum and dad could not have children of their own so Chris and I were adopted. Sometimes this fact feels easy and sometimes more difficult, but dad never once made a distinction; we are his children he would say and nothing else was important.

1968 saw a move to Doncaster and dad became a district librarian with particular responsibilities for the mobile libraries.  I think this was a job he really enjoyed and would like to have stayed in but the local government reform of 1974 saw his job literally disappear as the West Ridings vanished!

The family moved first to the moors over the west side of Doncaster and then finally to Mirfield as dad got a senior job in Kirklees libraries, based in Huddersfield. He stayed there until he was made redundant in 1985.

During all these moves and changes, one constant for the family was the annual pilgrimage at half term down to Dorset to see family and friends. Dad’s dad had died suddenly in 1960 and I know this was a massive loss for him, his sister moved away to live in Switzerland and married over there so only his mum remained and she stayed in Corfe until she died in 1998.

Every year we would go and stay with Granny Goose, we all called her this as one legacy from the small holding days was she still kept geese in her back garden. Dad’s Uncle Emil and Auntie Joan lived at the seaside at Swanage so some days were spent down there as a family or on Studland beach nearby.

Dad didn’t have a great number of hobbies during his working life but he had inherited a stamp collection from his grandfather on his 21st birthday so this was where his love of classification and order would be exhibited. He was not a fastidious man in many ways (who can forget the cat haired trousers and the fights to get him to change out of them to go out for meals!?) but the stamp collection in big leather bound files with thick squared paper pages classified by country was pristine. Sunday afternoon he would spend sorting and sticking in collections that arrived, first day covers or single stamps he wanted.

His other great love was, as I have said, the furries that he chose to spend his life with. His beloved Susan, the spaniel he had as a young man, and then Furzy and Pearl, the dog and cat Chris and I knew first as children.  Then numerous cats and dogs, all special in their own way and all, of course, great providers of the pet hair we fought over!

Dad seemed to have a way of collecting waif and strays so the pets he had were always from shelters or ones that literally came in from the street.  In the later years he and I shared many calls over Tommy, the feral ginger tomcat he worked really hard to tame. Then there was Jack who was so timid he literally hid under cupboards. Dad got them to come to him and it was immensely pleasing for him to succeed at gaining their trust and love.

His special attention was also directed outside, where he always put food out for the birds and particularly at Great Hale he was delighted with “his” family of hedgehogs always fed in the shed.

After his working life was done, dad was heavily involved in voluntary work. He used to visit Kirkwood Hospice in Huddersfield and drive for visitors and patients there. Once he and mum moved to Lincolnshire to retire in 1991 he was involved in the hospice in Sleaford as well as the voluntary car service in Heckington, where they lived.

Dad was fond of secrets, so he was ideal for a secret society and he became a Freemason during his forties and remained so for many years, joining lodges in Yorkshire and his alumni, Greshams. I am not sure this was a popular move for everyone as mum was upset about the time it took up and Granny had religious reservations. Nevertheless, he persevered and rose through their ranks, changing the colour of his pinny (his word!) as he went!

The regalia were kept pristine, in sharp contrast to his other attire; I remember as a child we always had running conversations about where the yolk from his breakfast boiled egg might end up on his tie!

As part of the Arnold family heritage he became a liveryman of the Fishmongers’ Company, when he was 21, as his father and grandfather had before him. Fishmongers is one of the oldest livery guilds in the City of London and has close ties to his school, Gresham’s.

Invitations to black tie dinners in the Fishmongers’ Hall by Blackfriars, and to the oldest sculling race in the country, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge, along the Thames were exciting to attend and dad tried to rotate his invitations so everyone in the wider family had a trip down to London.

Dad was not always the easiest of people to be with or to know. As his family, we saw the stresses and strains of his life and the struggles he had at times, but I know he lived in Great Hale as he wished and was more content here.

He had his animals and he had his own particular habits. He loved to read thrillers and crime stories and he would always enjoy a good classic old film on the telly, as well as liking a variety of musical styles from baroque and early church music to jazz and swing, but he never modernised beyond about 1950 to be honest! This lot plus his voluntary work and such groups as Probus filled his time well.

He relished time travelling with cruising on the high seas being a great pleasure. Sometimes he and mum would go off but he also went round the Baltic and across to the Caribbean as a solo traveller.

He gave Chris and me a huge gift last year when he bought us, as a family, a 5-day cruise on the Saga Pearl. We mended bridges and cleared air that needed clearing, and he gifted us the opportunity to become a family again.  I will always be grateful to him for that, particularly as largesse was not his usual style!

He was very distressed when mum passed away in 2014 and although their marriage had its ups and downs they lived in a sort of symbiosis and it was a tough blow when she died so suddenly.

His own physical health was always a struggle and he succumbed to a heart attack only a year later, as well as beginning the tricky period where falling became a real issue. This led to an unfortunate stay in Boston Pilgrim in September last year, whereupon he was so ill it was deemed unsafe for him to return home to live alone.

This was when York House in Billinghay came into our lives. He went there last October and lived there until his death, being rude to staff and blustering at every opportunity! My brother and I both visited with our partners at various times over his stay and over his last week in particular. I can say we were all moved by the level of affection and care he garnered from the staff; for all his grumpy old man (his words, again) he had a blue eyed twinkle and a little wry smile that was hard to resist even when he was being outrageous!

As I have made phone calls and talked to people about him after his death they have said he was funny or he was clever or witty, and I have heard he was loved. Thank you to all those here, and elsewhere, that helped him when we, his family, could not.

His attitude to being over there (gesture to the coffin) can really be summed up in a comment from him. Chris, Jane, John and I sat in his room at York House the afternoon after he died doing some initial sorting out, we sat as a family and laughed and cried as you do at these times.

Dad’s love of order had been so systematic that he had planned for events that needed to be attended to after his death.  He had given to Chris some years ago a Life Book as a way to annotate the necessary actions for dealing with any illness, and to help us at this sad time. Dad only wanted it to be used after he died so a section about medication was completed in his spidery writing. It said “Not filled in because when this is read I will be dead” and dead was underlined twice.

RIP 30.05.1933  – 08.08.2017

Thoughts…

Today so far have read uplifting things and had a lovely soulful chat with John… these really really helped. I talked about how amazing it is that my life feels so different in such a short time: dad, Chris, my own personal growth and some adult self that seems more certain and appears to stay around more often. All in this current year! Plus my lovely group of new friends, again all since the start of this year! Wow!

I am going to stay with the positive, Judy gave me a good bit of advice yesterday, she said she uses the criteria of how much shit would she bear and what is the most emotionally good thing for her to do (we were talking in the context of our families and the aged parents/siblings etc ) when deciding how involved or what actions she takes. I think this might work for me in anything! So, I adopt it and today I did not start by reading the news or anything of the fuckwittery in the world of men, or depressing stuff. I read Brainpickings and some intelligent and thoughtful writing, I wrote a couple of good communicating emails to ladies in my life who care, and then I had an honest and soulful conversation with John. These feed me… I need to remember!

It is not that all the things we speak of are joyous and light, but hard and emotionally heavy things are easier when shared with a good connection and soul friends, and with John… that leaves me feeling blessed that I have these opportunities.

I feel like I have been wordless for a while. I appear to have found some!!

Lilli

We weren’t going to get a cat we said; we liked the freedom of being able to take off when we wanted to, and at holiday times not having to think about organising care for said cat, plus we were renting in properties that were not open to pet ownership. So that, we thought, was that.

We both had beloved cats in our past lives, and left cats behind with our ex partners. I, particularly, was bereft when D and I separated and  I couldn’t take Squiggy. It felt like I had left a piece of me behind, but she had a home and was with her brother who she’d lived with all her life, so I decided it was best to leave her as a Granary cat.

Roll the clock forward four years and my mum dies. This is tragic, and difficult enough, but she had four cats that we have to re-home…

Three of these are “new” cats – well mum had them as kittens two years previously, but I didn’t know them very well as one was a mad kitten (Perky by name, perky by nature) and the other two hid under the kitchen cupboards every time I visited. And then there was Lilli.

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She had been a tenacious rescue kitten from the RSPCA. She was found on top of a garden shed with her litter mates, none of whom survived, and she was only 8 weeks old when mum brought her home on 8 June 2001. Mum had also just got a tom cat kitten called Gulliver  and as the new arrival was so small she decided to call her Lilliput, or Lilli for short. I have known Lilli a long time and she was the only one that I considered making ours, but that meant we were getting a cat!

After mum died we came back to our house for a few days between doing the initial sorting and “death run” (collecting the death certificate…registering the death… will reading…house sorting) and the funeral. While we were back home, amongst other things, I tried to consider the effect of bringing home a cat. In a funny way I knew I would end up with Lilli. While mum was alive she had up to six cats at a time, and I would berate her for her “mad cat woman” look and the fact that often the cats ran riot in what was a very chaotic house to begin with, so it really didn’t help having lots of felines and their mess to manage. Mum would be cross and then ask if we wanted one of them. I had said I would have LIlli, but mum replied she wasn’t offering me her!

When I did decide finally that I could not bring the cats from my old life as  I could neither separate my cats, not D from either cat, I told him it was OK and that J and I would find a cat that fitted here in this house. I didn’t know then how that would work, but the universe was making the space for Lilli. She had always been in a multi-cat household at mum’s, and dad said she wanted to be an only cat. Well, she got her wish, on 4th December last year she moved in with us. Two days after my mother’s funeral we loaded up the car with her in a basket, and as much cat paraphernalia as we could muster from mum’s house. We had sprayed her basket with Fellaway, which is a pheromone spray to calm the feline nerves – worked a treat, not a peep from her on the four hour journey here, the longest time she has ever been in a car. We did refer to it as drugging the cat, but that and a plug-in dispenser of Fellaway in her room here did wonders for her settling in.

She did seem to be at home very quickly,and over a couple of weeks explored every bit of the house.10885030_10153493119384045_6181903743810070078_n The wood burner in the living room soon became a firm favourite as she craved warmth, and the winter days it was lit she was always parked somewhere near. She was a bit skinny and waif like when she arrived; no teeth meant she ate slowly, and the “new kitten”, Perky, at mum’s had taken to stealing her food. We heard her growl at him while we were house clearing after the funeral –  I haven’t heard her growl once since she has been with us.

She has always been a vocal cat, and has shouted to be heard. Mum gave all her cats voices, and Lilli’s was a yelled “HELLO! I WANT ….”. Now she is an only cat her voice has grown more varied and more mellow. She will still shout, particularly when she is saying “WHERE ARE YOU!?” as she has found herself upstairs and we aren’t anywhere to be seen, but she will also churp and wurrup when we are closer. Her food noise “MMMMM…EHHH” has been received into J’s and my lexicon as the “I want food!” demand for all of us,  and her purr actually became audible after about three months – I had never heard it before.

And so we do have a cat; she is now doing more happy cat things; she rolls, she stretches out; she does more washing of herself and she does like to be fussed (on her terms of course!) She is far more sociable than I ever knew; she will walk round the garden with us, and11403461_10153961762219045_4451546741847466703_n sit in which ever room we are occupying – particularly the kitchen where she knows ham may be in the offing. She loves to perch on our knee, and will demand we sit down for her, or she makes a bee-line for the sofa when she sees an available lap. This is a revelation as I always considered her quite a grumpy cat when she lived with mum. I now think she was not happy with lots of other cats, especially as she got older, so is relishing her queen bee status with us.

And we are relishing our cat servant status again too. She dominates our morning routines with breakfast and litter trays (and possible vomit on carpets cleaning – never known such a vomiting cat!) While at 9.40pm she will move to her intercept position on the top of the stairs on the way to her bedroom and demand we put her to bed, after her supper, naturally.

It does of course mean we have another responsibility, and more planning is needed for trips and holidays, but the flip side is we have the satisfaction of providing a lovely retirement home for the old girl, and we are all enjoying her coming into her own at the grand age of fourteen and a half.

Taking care of her is an honouring of mum too. Lilli and I shared an adopted mother and both of us had our lives changed irrevocably when she died, I like that we can be together now taking our shared past with us

 

The last few months

These have not been “frost free” months emotionally, I have been processing much about the unfamiliar life without mum, and the new life I have chosen after our big, big changes last year (moving areas, our marriage and J’s retirement).

There have been some happy days and some sad days, such is life I guess, but the roller-coaster has felt more than a little out of control at times, and with some mountainous ups and downs. When life feels like that  I tend only to write in my journal (a lot!) and any creative writing is limited to short poems. This means I have been absent from the blog pretty much all this year.

It hasn’t been an overly creative period but there are poems from the last few months that I want to share here. They concern “roots of family history, place, emotional growth and development.”, which, as I noted when introducing this site, I created this blog to explore. They talk about how it was, what I saw and how my parents lived. Not easy reading maybe (certainly not easy writing) but it is my truth and I am honouring it, moving on with it and letting it be. There is something about these words resting here that means I am letting them go, putting them down, and, finally, being freer from the past. (And thanks, Linden, for your loving conversation with me about these thoughts that helped me to start to put into words why I am sharing here.)

 

It wasn’t what I would have chosen

He said
The only tell-tale sign of regret
In those words

So,
In future
Cards go to his address
And flowers
Go to hers

 

Look mum

They all came,
the cousins and the friends.

“No one would care if I lived or died.”
She said.

Look mum,
at the warm friendship
and soothing affection.

“No-one loves me –
Except, maybe you.”
She said.

Look mum,
at all the condolence cards
and fond memories shared.

“I would be better off dead.”
She said.

 

 

What he knows now

He remembers her now
With fondness
And love,

He tells the six grieving strangers
at the bereavement group
“I loved her; I loved her for 60 years”.

He talks to her, he reads her poetry!
“She would like that”, he says,
When is the last time he did that, I wonder?

On her last day, round her bedside, we sat,
He held her hand,
“It was years since we touched” he said.

 

 

The Diaries

They crouch chronologically, as I left them
in the box I brought here
from the chaos of those times.

They hold secrets
for me; my life, her life
told in loads
of washing
and ironing, and resting
and rows.
Told in letters for Granny
and tales of pets.
Thirty years of life in that box
just like her.

 

 

Mothering Sunday

This will be the first time in, probably, 40 years I have not sent a Mothers’ Day card to my mother. Actually she had a very traditional view of this, and it was always my job to find a card that said Mothering Sunday, and not Mother’s Day, the former being the original festival. Having just Googled this I find that the term Mothering Sunday originated in the 16th century, it was a date in Lent when people went back to their mother church, and were said to have gone a-mothering. This was overtaken by an American institution of celebrating motherhood which was begun by Anna Jarvis from West Virginia in 1905 who celebrated her mother in memorial the year she died. It eventually became a national holiday in the US when Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration in 1914. As with other parts of the world in the present day, this holiday is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in the US. The UK is peculiar in that it conflagrated the two things, and left Mothering Sunday in Lent (therefore the date moves about) and overlaid it with Mothers’ Day, so, unlike many other counties, this is not celebrated in May.image

I have missed the search for the card. It was always possible to find a Mothering  Sunday card, although it did get a little harder in more current times, but it had also to be one that wasn’t too soppy or trite; as the holiday got more commercialised this became more troublesome. I found myself automatically looking at the cards in the supermarket about three weeks ago, and then suddenly realised that I didn’t need to buy one this year as I didn’t have an address that I could send it too.  It is the first Mothering Sunday since mum died and it is difficult, unexpectedly so. Given this, and the fact that I can’t  send something, instead, I will say it here, happy Mothering Sunday, mum, wherever you are.

 

Meditation on my mum

A very strange and surreal week just ends. We were called by dad who asked us to come up to see mum. She had been in hospital for 2 weeks. Very odd to begin with as no one really knew what was wrong; after blood tests, scans and prods and pokes, still the medics seemed to be none the wiser. We were called, mum was asking for us, dad said, so we went. Then to our surprise, shock and sorrow she slipped down hill really very fast, and two days after we arrived she passed away. Her heart and lungs were tired and old, and did in the end fail, but actually, for a woman whose reproductive system was the bain of her life for 70 years, her death certificate proclaimed metastasised malignant ovarian cancer as the secondary cause of death. A diagnosis that was only made this last week, and the prognosis of “maybe a couple of months” I finally heard as she was dying. A rum affair indeed.

So, to a funeral. I have taken on quite a lot of the work in organising this, including working with the celebrant to tell her story in the tribute. To this end I wrote a meditation on mum, and I share it here, respectfully to honour her passing and recognise what an amazing lady she could be.

Mum – my meditation

Mum was an arts person, not a scientist. After studying literature at Liverpool University her greatest love was reading, although in later years she seemed to have “far too many to mention” magazines to get through before she could start on the books – but it didn’t stop her buying books… and books and more books… so many that when we emptied boxes when she moved to her bungalow in Swineshead that they were two abreast on some shelves. We could now fill a library with her collection!

mum and dad's 004

She didn’t just read but was a skilled writer too, her love of words shone through in her creative expression. She wrote creative non-fiction as well as some stories, but also poetry, like the one Harry read at the start of her funeral service. She was a stickler for grammar and punctuation – very old school – and I remember my school essays having her read pen corrections as she tried (mostly in vain) to help me with my English. This upset me a lot at the time, but I am envious of her very great knowledge of the mechanics of the English language. This skill was very useful when she was contributing and then editing the village magazines in Lincolnshire.

Talking of mechanics, this was one skill that was essential whenever she made her beloved train journeys. It was a standing joke in the family that every trip by train was fraught with delay, engine trouble or some other drama. She never failed to complete a journey, but she always alighted with a tale to tell.

Telling her tale was major inspiration in her abundant writings. Many did not make it to print but part of her collection were a set of fine stories she entitled “Pilgrimages” where she was in A&E or subsequently admitted to the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston and these appeared in the Heckington magazine. They still make me giggle, and on reading her collected works I see her humour and storytelling were a large part of who she was even if not everyone was privy to them.

When we went to see Julie, the florist for her funeral, she remarked that mum was a clever lady, and I think that is something people will remember about her. Also her dry wit – quite sharp at times – but always delivered with a straight face. She liked satire, and programmes such as “Have I Got News For You” were a staple in her TV schedule. Intelligent conversation as found on Radio 4 was another source of pleasure, and this station was a long standing accompaniment to her life. I remember as a child we started each day before school with the Today programme, Brian Hanrahan being a favourite. Later on when I would ring her there was often Radio 4 in the background – she liked to listen while she ironed. Women’s’ Hour, The News Quiz… these were all favourites.

Later in life she often resorted to Classic FM, especially at night when she wasn’t sleeping. Her love of music was also revealed in her piano playing, she tried very hard! During our childhood there was a time when Chris, mum and I were all taking piano lessons. (Mum and I were both jealous of Chris’ effortlessness with music, his ability to hear a tune and reproduce it with seeming ease!) She reports from this time the piano teacher saying “You have a good knowledge of the geography of the keyboard…. It is just a pity your map reading is a little off!”  (I found this quote amongst the vast quantity of dog-eared A4 jottings that are her writings) However she persevered and worked hard at difficult Beethoven pieces, the pages covered with many, many black notes… I loved hearing her play, and I now have the privilege of owning the piano we all played.

Singing was another great love; I remember her singing enthusiastically in church all my childhood, and after the move to Lincolnshire she joined Heckington church choir when she was only one of three at times. She also was vociferous when watching Songs of Praise, belting out the words which she always seemed to know from memory, even before the BBC helpfully started to put the lyrics up on the TV screen.

Although mum was much more of an indoor pursuits person it seems she did love to dig a vegetable patch – she found it therapeutic she said. I remember black and white photos of her at various homes in the past, sleeves rolled up, fork in hand, smiling. At Swineshead she still enjoyed her fruit and veg patch, always having copious fruits for jams and pickles – there are still jars and jars in her kitchen cupboards today!

She was very proud of her North-East heritage. Both parents hailed from the Durham area and both degree educated, not usual for mining families in those days – she came from a clever family indeed! Mum loved Durham and many pictures in her home were of this beautiful city and its magnificent cathedral; there is one arresting image I recall vividly of the church looming moodily over the river in a northern fog. Dad has said that the cousins should have these; I think that is a lovely idea.

Being an only child, her extended family; her grandparents and numerous uncles, aunts, cousins, were important to mum. She loved to visit the old places, and talked fondly of the annual trips “up north” with her parents when she was a child. When I went to Newcastle University I think she was doubly proud, and it gave her an excuse to visit once again.

Mum was not an easy person sometimes; she had had many difficulties and sadness in her life, which seemed to weigh heavy with her. When I could approach her in the creative places, (we shared writing and reading as great loves) I found a thoughtful and quick witted woman who would play with words to comic effect. The night we spent alone in the house together just when my parents were moving to Great Hale, and we read Mills and Boon to each other – all heaving bosoms and rasping breaths – we both laughed until we cried. Our shared writings and poems, our exchange of letters, our talking into the night or over long, long days (once for 12 hours straight)  about our shared history and thoughts on that. These were small and, sadly, not so frequent glimpses we each got into the others’ world… I will honour these times.

Rest in peace, mum. 17.8.34 – 20.11.14

Been busy….

… away from my computer and from home, so thought I would share here one of the adventures.

Roz at 5

Me at five years

Last week I enjoyed a couple of days with my adopted mum reminiscing over my childhood. Well, I was only able to cover 3 years in the time we were together, but I left with a promise that I would return for more.

Mum used to keep a housekeeping and events diary during the time I was growing up. It was used mainly as a way of completing the weekly letter to my Gran who lived in Dorset, whom we saw twice a year in the half term weeks. Apart from that I think it recorded household expenditure (in the days long before home computers) and some reminders for birthdays. It was the family “go to” book for what happened when. This was true for my inquiry, and the main thrust of our discussion on this occasion centred around 1972 – 1974 when I was between the ages of four and seven. In this time we moved house twice, dad seemed to always be painting and repainting rooms, and mum was constantly washing bedding of various sorts, as well as massive amounts of clothes and curtains. These were the events that were worthy of inclusion, along with the car breakdowns, plus the job and school starts and stops. Included too are what appears to be a constant set of illnesses of one sort or another; we were faithful congregation at both doctors and church.

I am engaged in life writing, and am working on the autobiographical material in my life. I had spied the diaries in the bookshelf last Christmas when I was up with the parents, and it reminded me that they would be a good way to access some facts through the years of my childhood; what really happened when and where. At the time I arranged the visit this was all I was thinking would be possible, but as mum and I were talking, the factual record became dotted with living memories. We recalled my brother’s 8th birthday, long forgotten until we remembered him being car-sick and not making it out of the car in time during his special day out. The car had plastic seats, and although mum and dad tried to clear it up as best they could, the car stank for weeks afterwards.  Mum reckoned that it stank until they sold it – lovely!

We talked too of mum’s history and childhood; my grandparents and her cousins. She has a great pile of stories ready to come out, some of them she has already written for various magazines, competitions and writing groups over the years. I love reading her reminiscences; by doing so and in hearing the stories (some old favourites of hers I have heard many times before!) I am able to add adult understanding to my own history, and that of my adopted family. This feels like an important process of growing up and accepting what has gone before as well as appreciating the long and winding road that brings me to where I am today. Besides, it is all work in progress, and grist for my writing mill…

 

 

 

No Place Like Home!

“Where are you from?” has always been an awkward question for me, it may sound simple enough but my answer is definitely complicated. I used to find a pause would build up while I ran through the many alternative responses in my head, and the questioner would look at me with increasing curiosity.  After years of stumbling, I worked out the simplest solution – give the inquirer the answer they are looking for. As the question often comes when people hear me speak, and my pronunciation is not from wherever I currently am, saying “My accent is from Yorkshire” covers the ground I think they want to cover. I made this leap when I realised that when in Yorkshire I don’t get asked the question, so there it must sound like I am from “round these parts”.

Now I come to consider it, my answer has me assigning a separate identity to my accent and disowning it as a part of me. I think this reflects the difficulty I have had identifying myself as a Yorkshire woman in the past. Although I spent the years aged three to eighteen in various Yorkshire towns and went to school there, I was born in London to an Australian. Then I was adopted by parents of whom neither are from Yorkshire, so we all arrived in God’ country as aliens. The school years and family life in the county did nothing to embed me, the Yorkshire identity sitting uneasily; I never did own it and so answering The Question with “I am from Yorkshire” does not feel truthful.

Until recently I have felt neither at home nor found much belonging in my adult life. After I left Yorkshire I headed to the north east, to university and beyond. Leaving there ten years later I did feel a deep sense of loss, that life was ripped away as I moved south with my husband to accommodate our future plans. I had a connection with the region and made good friends, so moving away was difficult as I felt I lost my footings.  We moved closer to relatives geographically, but as I had never felt relaxed in any family this did not prove to be a comfort. I again felt alien; my accent and lifestyle so out of place and unfamiliar in the south. I have lived in the south now for 19 years, but it is not my home.

I have a notion that home (where one belongs) has a deep attachment to family or heritage or place. Families move around so much more in current times, some are very loose and separations are common. Very often children are not familiar with grandparents, or even parents, who live miles, or continents, away, and scant time or inclination may impede many meetings face to face. Heritage and family ties can get lost within a haze of disinterest if not nurtured. I wonder how many people today feel displaced or dislocated from their home as this cultural isolation from their past is more prevalent.

When the element of adoption is added then this can intensify the dislocation; I certainly have had a “lottery” feeling to my history. My mother happened to be in England when I was born (she may have been traveling on and I could have been born elsewhere), I was adopted here and did not return with her to the antipodes. My adoptive parents were randomly selected, and just happened to be registered at the same adoption agency as me – and I was born early, so if I had come on time, would I have had different parents? This leaves all elements of home (family, heritage and place) very fuzzy indeed. Who and where is home? And to whom and to where do I belong?

Answers have begun to emerge; I have finally found places on the earth, within the soil and with others, that feel like my heritage and family; I have established an identity that comes from inside me; I have taken a name I chose that fits me, it incorporates where and to whom I feel I belong.  I have created a homeland within myself, a heartland that sustains and comforts me. It may not help me yet in answering the question simply when asked “Where do I come from?” but I am working on a new answer that feels authentic and valid in the context of all my history.

Soulmates

When I first anticipated a relationship with J I was berated by my best friend because I banded about the term soulmate. She, quite rightly, was cross as for 15 years prior to this event I had always poopooed the idea of soulmates as romantic guff. She had insisted that it was her soulmate that she was looking for, and I, irritated by her insistence, would try to reason with her, explain how the world was not like that – and even if it was what were the chances of meeting this supposed soulmate? Her response was unwavering. She looked at me sympathetically and announced that Fate would play a hand – and didn’t I believe in destiny?!

In those days I did have a view that soulmates, if they existed at all, spent their entire lives looking dewy-eyed at each other and cooing gently; a condescending viewpoint at best, I concede.  At the time I was married  to a lovely bloke; we got on well, we lived if not always harmoniously then with a great deal more accord than some of our friends – we were friends, and at that time I thought this was as good as “soulmates” got.

Then unexpected things started to happen. I became “Hallmark woman” thinking and saying romantic things. I developed a jukebox in my head, and I found meaning in all sorts of love songs that I had previously not taken seriously. I started singing – out loud!  It was weird I tell you, but it was not the most weird thing of all, that happened 2 years earlier.

I began a masters degree, and as part of the practical work I was to be allocated a supervisor. In the room with me on the day of the allocation were my 25 fellow students and seven strangers – our soon-to-be-assigned supervisors. I immediately noticed the tall, silver-haired, bearded man and I distinctly remember saying to myself – he will be my supervisor and he will be called J .And so it was, and so he is, and I was not surprised. And this completely unremarkable and forgettable event was lodged in my memory for ever as clearly as if it had just happened yesterday.Two together

After the year we spent in a professional relationship we became friends by mutual consent. I did not know at this time that J does not make a habit of “acquiring” friends from professional contacts, and so I did not know that this was a rare event. At this point all was unconscious, maybe now I could perceive it as we were being driven by destiny, and Fate was taking a hand? We talked of things as we did with no other, and we shared our secrets in a growing intimacy that neither of us was able to prevent; it slipped in while we drank tea and by the time we became aware it was too late, we had gone over Niagara Falls and were waiting to splash down – to sink or swim, to drown or endure.

A rendering that may be seen as inevitable began, as both J and I sawed up our past lives to be together. We ripped up marriages and families like ripping up carpets, leaving exposed and cold surfaces. We alienated people and had major transition issues, going in to shock which lasted months if not years. We were a million, million miles away from looking at each other with dewy eyes and we were not cooing gently.

As I look back on this from a few years down the line I see that my original issues with the idea of soulmates were correct; there is nothing lovely-dovey or superficial about meeting someone who unpicks the fabric of your being, which is as painful as it sounds, but wants to help you to weave a different one in the more colourful pattern of the new life you lead. Someone whose deep soul needs are so whispered that you can hardly hear that they are the same as your own. Someone who has spent a lifetime hushing and stilling these needs so as not to have to feel them unfulfilled, but whose eyes reflect the fountains of sorrow you share, and reveals those you can help to heal.

No, I still don’t believe in soulmates in the way that I perceived them back then – but who’s to say my dear friend wasn’t imagining what I have since discovered; soulmates are not found in Hallmark card sentiments, nor in trite lyrics to love songs, but they are found in other people and that precious, intimate connection between souls.