Wisdom (teeth and lemons)

One of my biggest pet peeves is when young people write ‘wisdom’.

It annoys me on so many levels.

Level 1: They are way too young to have accumulated such an insane amount of wisdom (see: ’25 things I have learned in 25 years on this planet). Level 2: Wisdom is more impactful in smaller doses. Level 3: It’s irritating and assumes people will want to hear what a green, relatively inexperienced young person has got to say about life. Level 4: If you overlook all the previous levels and actually delve into what they have to say, you will more often than not discover that they have listed the most mundane, common sense things ever.

So it might appear ironic that I am here today to list some things that I have learnt from other people.

I don’t pretend to think that my things are of any value to anybody but myself. But I like that I have learned them, and wonder at what others might think of them.

Are they mundane?

Are they common sense?

Do they mean anything to anybody?

Who knows.

Thing One: My mother taught me through words and actions that people will like you much more if you don’t take yourself too seriously. You see, growing up, my sister and I were lemons. Oh, such lemons. It shames me to remember it. If we were at a gathering, even if the party was full of people we knew, we would just stand there and wait for people to socialise with us. We never thought to join a group and attend the party properly. My mother, a social butterfly, would become so impatient with us. She would flit from group to group leaving laughter in her wake. We felt awkward and shy and socially inept. Complaining to my mother about my inability to make friends or be happy socially, she told me it was because I took myself too seriously. Let loose. Laugh at yourself a little.

I am still trying to learn how to do that.

Thing Two: My father taught me about faith. Real, sincere faith. This thing is perhaps an incredulous thing to believe, if ye are of little faith. Or not religious at all. I am religious. Not fanatically, but respectably so.

My dad has such strong, unwavering faith. He always says to me in Arabic, ‘you will see wonders’ (If you have faith), and I always see goosebump wonders happening to him. Once his car got stolen. Somebody broke into our home, stole all the keys and phones, and took the car from the garage. We reported it to the police, nothing. It was a Chevrolet Suburban, and our first big car since the seven of us used to cram into my dad’s ’89 caprice. We loved it. I was in tears. My father, however, was stoic. You will see, he told us, it will come back. I have strong faith. It’s in God’s hands. God has never let me down. Two days later, my father received a phone call from an old man who said, Your car is outside my house. It was the strangest story. The old man had noticed this strange new car outside his house for two days, and on the second day went out to investigate. He said he found the car keys under the car, and when he got inside it he found some of my father’s work papers with his work number on and gave that a call. The car had cigarette butt stains on it and the seats were a little torn, but was otherwise in perfect condition. This is not the only story I have about my father’s faith, there are many more, but this one has stuck in my head for 12 years. You could call it luck, you could call it coincidence, but I have never seen anybody as sure as my father that he would get his car back. And he did.

Thing Three: My sister in law taught me to wash the dinner dishes, clean the counter and broom the floor in 15 minutes. Look at the clock, she would say, porcelain arms slipping into rubber gloves, in 15 minutes, I shall have finished everything and will be sipping my tea. Then she would daintily, yet efficiently wash everything up, wipe the counter with a furious deftness that was fascinating to watch, and then neatly broom the floor and empty the dirt into the bin with a little flourish. Gloves off, neatly and quickly draped over the tap, feet sliding out of slippers, cup of tea in hand, little tidy dance, arms out, hands elegantly swaying. It all looked so neat and tidy and efficient and deft and, dare I say, exciting. A challenge. So that is what I do now. And seeing a tidy kitchen in the morning makes me more likely to have a productive day. Also my sister in law is a little sparrow and makes me laugh, so it’s nice to remember her as I deftly and neatly scrub away at my kitchen counter.

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Image Credit: Elizabeth Floyd. Check out her beautiful website!

Umbrella

I am challenging myself to write a post every single day in May, to kickstart my writing again. I will be following some prompt words that I ‘stole’ from somebody on instagram. Here is my ninth post.

When my brother and I were very small, our parents moved us away from rainy England to Dubai, where it barely ever rained and the sun shone down upon the barren desert with a beaming ferocity that unrivalled anything we had ever known.

You see, if I were to describe England to you using only the colour spectrum, I would say it was ramaadi (grey) and a thousand shades of green, with a few splotches of brick red thrown in for good measure. Clouds here are stunning, and seemingly perpetual. When it rains it does not rain as it does in Malaysia (there it POURS). It is a slow sort of rain, seemingly innocent and gentle, but viciously incessant, soaking you through in a matter of minutes all while apologising meekly and drizzling away.

The green is of all hues. Dark sultry evergreens, pale shoots, regular green of birches, the humdrum green of privet, cheery green of oak, green hills rolling away into the distance and grass that just grows and grows and grows. Green ivy creeping over beautiful homes and driveways fringed with neatly clipped grass. An abundance of green and all looking like it came out of a picture book – which I suppose it did, for Beatrix Potter did base her paintings on the Lake District!

When you fly above England it’s all neat little squares of varying shades of green. It’s similar in France I suppose but there is a foreign vibe to it there and lots of browns creep in.

When you fly above the United Arab Emirates the land is brown, a hundred shades of it, and you can see the winding marks on the earth where rivers and mountain ranges signify a land that barely changes. It’s always changing in England, for we have seasons. In Dubai there is summer and winter and a week or two of rain and that’s it.

So whenever we came back home to England for the summer holidays, my brother and I relished the rain and the greenery like a pair of mad children. We ate buttercups and yanked all the dandelion seeds off their stems, blowing until we were blue in the face. I naughtily picked the neighbour’s flowers because they were pretty and sobbed inconsolably when my mother gave me a good telling off about it.

My mum bought us two children’s umbrellas one summer, darling little things, coloured like a rainbow, and we would rush into the garden when it rained and stand out there like a pair of wallies under our umbrellas. The neighbours thought we were bonkers and their dog barked at us.

Those odd children standing out in the wet under umbrellas!

It was such a novelty, you see. The pattering of soft rain on the umbrellas, splish splash of water by our wellies, tap tap of heavy drops on wide tree leaves.

It’s funny what makes children happy.

Love letters #47

There was a strange, still emptiness in the room. Something amiss. Shrouded in darkness, wrapped in the cocoon of her duvet. A small light filtered in through the gap in the curtains, it appeared to twinkle. Oddly comforting, like a lighthouse. A beacon in the dark.

But what was missing?

It was chilly. Drafts wafted under the gaps in the door and through cracks in the floorboards. She was not used to this, of-course, but the hot bricks by her feet and the layers of blanket snug around her body kept the warmth on her; only the tip of her nose was icy.

That was not it, though.

She closed her eyes. Sleep evaded her that night. Her first night. A shiver ran down her spine, of excitement, anticipation.

A long voyage over seas and land, through changing climates, meeting wonderfully odd folk. Folk from forest and desert, rich folk and poor folk, scroungers and generous benefactors. Chums, and motherly matrons. She thought of all the personal cards she had stacked so carefully in the writing desk they had put in her room, what a pretty desk, such ornate inscriptions, and what a lovely set of paper and pens left for her to use.

She was simply exhausted. Her bones felt leaden, her neck ached from months of travel, and yet, that evasive slumber!

WHAT, oh, what was missing?!

She thought of home. Of her mother laughing, her singing loud and warbled, in tune but not in tone, but her song much loved, much adored, and so, oh so taken for granted. She thought of her father, hammering away at the cracks in his home, restoring and fixing in his free time. He adored his children, and worked so hard for them. His beard was speckled with white, and wrinkles formed intricate webs around his kind eyes. She thought of what she had left, and a lump grew sturdy and strong in her throat, stubborn against her swallows. Her house on the little hill, the beach just a few metres down, and always the sound of waves crashing against the shore.

The sound of waves lulling her to sleep like a soothing lullaby.

Angry waves in the storm, gentle waves lapping against the sand, up and down the shore, sunrise and sunset and vigorous, tropical rain. Incessant, rhythmic, comforting. The one constant in life’s ever growing, ever changing flow.

The waves.

Slumber finally crept around the door, seeping into her room, her mind filled with the sound of the sea.

I Stopped

I stopped washing the dishes, and doing the laundry.

I stopped cooking.

I stopped hoovering after every meal, and rushing around with a broom.

My skirting boards are in desperate need of a dusting – but who cares?

I used to care. I used to rush home from work, become anxious that dinner wasn’t done, that the house was messy, that my things weren’t sorted for the next day.

I used to spend all day at work, then all evening (what was left of it after my commute) cooking, cleaning, tidying, preparing.

And my husband would chill out in front of the TV.

Why won’t you help?! I would cry out, in anger.

Because I am tired, I need to rest. I’ll do it on the weekend. Leave it, chill out, we can do it on the weekend.

But I was not having it. And live in a messy house?! And leave dishes overnight?!

Oh, the abhorrent thought.

But soon I began to be stressed. It crept up on me, and poked its bony fingers down my throat and in my ears. I was surly all the time, constantly frowning, nursing a perpetual headache. When I visited my family, I was mean to them too, resenting them for stealing my personal time.

Finally, one day, I came home from work, got undressed, and flopped into bed, where I napped for a solid hour. What a glorious nap that was.

When I woke up, we had mashed potatoes and baked beans.

What a delicious, easy dinner that was.

I left the dishes soaking overnight. I didn’t even choose an outfit for work… no, I lounged about on my laptop and read people’s blogs.

And I felt so free.

And I thought, what was all the fuss about? Who cares?

So now, when my house is messy, when both of us lie like zombies on the sofa, I don’t care anymore.

Because the house WILL get clean, eventually.

It just doesn’t need to be cleaned everyday.

I don’t need to prep my work clothes or gym clothes the night before. I can grab whatever in the morning, if it saves my sanity. We can eat easy dinners, and wash up later. We can rest our minds and bodies after a gruelling day, because housework and all other work will always need doing, every single day, so why stress over it?

I stopped caring you see, and my mind and body are so grateful, even if my house is not.

On the Introduction of a Lady

Lady Pinky-Moe was born on a cloudy day at the bottom of my grandmother’s garden. She was born amid a glass of delicious, satisfying berry juice and the chirping of birds, the screeching of crows, and the deliriously haunting sound of the leaves swaying in a ferocious wind that was significant of the sad departure of the last dregs of summer.

It was cold, the day Lady Pinky-Moe was born. Cold, windy, grey.. simply divine. You may be thinking that I am slightly off my head by saying that; how could it be ‘simply divine?’ you wonder, ‘if it is utterly cloudy and grey and cold?’

Well, quite simply, dull days have a magic of their own. The magic of this day was the leaf-shaped glass that held the satisfying berry juice, clouding up as the biting wind chilled the drink to a perfect temperature, sweet on the tongue and cold down the throat. The magic of this day was the sound of the swish of the bright pink skirt as the lady stepped out from behind the white rose bush that leant against the old ebony fence right at the back of the garden. The flash of bright orange as her scarf was blown about her face, her smooth black hair waving in the wind as she straightened up, looking about her in a confident manner. The magic was in the way the line of trees behind my grandmother’s back fence were whipped about by the wind, whispering to each other, creaking and groaning and then rising in a chorus of psithurism. When I turned my face to the sky the fresh breeze was accompanied by little flecks of rain.

When she saw me in my little blue checkered dress, the glass of berry juice loosening in surprise in my hand, she darted forward sharply and grabbed the glass from my fingers.

‘Well, now. You don’t want to spill this delicious drink, do you?’

‘No -no.’ I said, completely awestruck. She was beautiful, and so elegant. My nine year old mind struggled to comprehend how she managed to be so commanding and kind at the same time. And she was talking to me. Never mind she stepped out of nowhere. To me she was real.

Her eyes were sharp, stark, large. Her hands were gloved, and she had a loud voice which she used to air her many opinions about all sorts of matters.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was Lady Pinky-Moe, named by the childish version of myself and the name had stuck against my whim, as names are wont to do.

The Girl in the Mirror

‘My mother was a witch.’

He laughed loudly. Throwing his head back to let his mirth spill into the night air. She looked piqued at his reaction to her confession.

‘I mean it. She really was!’

‘Okay, sure. What, she was so mean to you?’

‘God, no. Never mean to us at all. She was an enchantress.’ 

She watched his eyes search her face for the lie. There was no lie, however. She bit her lip.

‘Go on,’ he prodded, finally.

She had the night sky in her eyes.’

He rolled his.

When she spoke, her voice was like the angels. So gentle, so quiet. A calming effect in the stormiest of seas. When my little sister bawled my mother sang to her. She swayed about the room, swishing her skirts and singing until my sister, sprawled on the floor, stopped her fit and stared in wonder.’

He shrugged, ‘She loved her mother.’

It was more than that.’

The silence hung between them like a heavy drape. The air was still, the stars above twinkling brightly. The city spread beneath them, their feet resting solidly on the edges of the plateau. He was staring out at the lights, she couldn’t read the expression on his face.

‘Well?’

Well?’

‘More than what?’

Oh. She was ethereal. Every mundane experience we had was something magical when she became involved. The table was a plateau. The fox was a wolf. The bread was cake dripping with honey. The blossoms were homes for the fairies and the daises were their purple tinged dresses.’

He turned to look at her then. His blue eyes looked black in the darkness. His face was thrown into shadow. She saw his outline against the backdrop of lights, which spilled into the inky blackness of the sky above, so that the stars over the city vanished, even though the ones above them were so brilliant.

‘You really loved your mother.’

His voice was soft. Sad.

I loved her, yes. But even if I hadn’t, even if I hadn’t’

‘How did she die?’

She looked down at the city again. She could hear it, all the way from here. The sound of  a rising highway. The sound of hundreds of machines. A loud, yet soft humming. A thrumming in the earth. The roots of concrete and people. She knew this was not the natural noise the earth made, and it made her feel part of something greater, somehow. As though she wasn’t entirely alone.

She didn’t.’

‘What?’

She didn’t die. She just tripped back through the mirror from where she came’

‘Emily, come on..’

‘My father always said that she stepped out of the mirror one day. He called her the Girl in the Mirror, when we were children, and we would laugh at him, calling him silly. He would tug at her long black tresses sometimes, and his eyes would look at her sadly. Once, when I was ten years old, he held her in his arms and whispered, ‘thank you for giving me your four little gifts’ – he meant us, of course. When she went back in, he told us it was her time to go back, and that she had left us four for him to always remember her by.’

‘Emily..’

She did not look at him. Her large violet eyes reflecting the thousands of lights spread before her.

There’s a girl in my mirror. I know she is not me. Sometimes when I blink, she doesn’t. Her smile is a little more sly than mine.’

‘I think this is all your imagination.’

And once I caught her making faces at my little sister.’

‘A coping mechanism, to cope with the pain of losing your mother..’

We are enemies now.’

‘Emily..’

I’ve always wondered who my mother’s Other Woman was. And if she looks like her at all. And if she knows her Mirror Woman came out and lived with us for a while.’

He didn’t say anything. Her face had a faraway quality to it. He realised that she wasn’t even there, with him, at that moment. He didn’t know if she’d heard anything he had said. He began to wish he hadn’t said it at all.

A low breeze wafted suddenly through the trees behind them, tugging gently at her long, ethereal black tresses, that cascaded all the way down her back. He heard it, swishing in the leaves and rumbling in the sky, he saw her dress move with it, but he didn’t feel it.

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Comfort

There is honestly nothing like a hot, buttery crumpet, with a scrape of jam on the very top, washed down with a mug of sweet, well brewed tea on a sunny day in spring.

In Morocco they have a similar sort of food, a pancake called ‘Baghrir’, fluffy and filled with holes just like a regular crumpet. They refry these pancakes in olive oil sometimes, but my favourite way to eat them is fried in butter and honey, sweet and succulent, with a small glass of sweet mint tea, steaming and oxidised from pouring from a height. My dad was a baker back in his student days, and when I was particularly small, he used to make them for breakfast every so often. A massive family breakfast. Usually when we breakfast together on a weekend we have a fry-up. Eggs and beans and toast and mushrooms and hash browns and sausages and whatever else you can add to a fry-up. My dad hates baked beans. He doesn’t really like much English food because he is not English, you see, and growing up his palette included much more savoury, aromatic Middle Eastern foods. So on his breakfast days we had moroccan pancakes, Spanish omelettes, cream cheese, honey, olive oil, plenty of olives and round, flat arabic bread. And lots of fruit!

Both kinds were comfort food to me. A plate of buttered crumpets with a moroccan teapot (ibreeq) and lots of small, gleaming little tea glasses, bits of mint floating on top. A nice contrast of cultures, in a way!

Moroccan mint tea is made in a special way. You don’t just pour boiling water on the mint, because you then have tasteless peppermint tea. You put in half a tablespoon of gunpowder tea, or Chinese green tea leaves into the pot and simmer with some hot water for a while. Then you pour it out and add more hot water until the metal teapot is filled to its workable capacity. You boil it until it bubbles, and then add your carefully cut and washed fresh mint. You close the lid and boil for about a minute, then you can sweeten to taste. Moroccans love their tea sweet. Too sweet, sometimes. But oh the taste of that fresh liquid, hot down your throat. I can have five or six glasses in a row. When I was in Morocco they would joke about how many glasses I would have, one after the another, greedy in anticipation.

When I was very small my father used to cool the tea before he gave it to me by pouring it from one small glass into another a few times until the heat dissipated enough for me to drink. When I went to Morocco last summer, I noticed that the Moroccans did that a lot for their little ones. I hadn’t known it was a thing they do.

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This is how to pour Moroccan tea. From as high above as you can manage!

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Ah, the fluffy, buttery hot English crumpet.

 

A Bit of a Think

So far this month things have been crazy. And by crazy I mean CRAZY.

I used to think people’s lives couldn’t be that crazy, but lately I have begun to measure crazy using an odd concept. I measure it by how many times a week I can sleep in my OWN bed at my OWN home.

This week it has only been twice. And once more tonight but that doesn’t count since I have to wake up at 4am. Which is technically midnight and not a full night’s sleep at all.

I now know truly what it means to be run down. I caught a ‘cold’ last Thursday. Thursday the 27th, I mean. It was so mild, nothing that a good night’s rest wouldn’t get rid of, you know? But I never got to have a proper rest because I spent the weekend getting ready for the week and catching up with writing and work, and then bam I was travelling again and living out of a bag and staying up till 1am feverishly working whilst trying not to fall asleep and then the weekend arrived and family obligations arose and on Saturday night we got ‘home’ at 2am, and slept like logs until 1pm the following Sunday and it passed SO QUICKLY and today is Monday and I am preparing for tomorrow when I have to leave at 5am again and I am just so exhausted. And I have not recovered, my throat is burning and has been since that Thursday and there is a terrible cough that only attacks me at night, and it constantly wakes me up.

It is time to question my life choices. I mean, really. I think I am just doing this job for the sake of charity. I am basically doing charity work because it is not like I am earning anything substantial and what I do earn goes on train fares. And I can’t quit because I can’t leave those people in the lurch, it is for a good cause, really.

But.

It’s just so hard.

And my husband keeps saying he doesn’t want me to go. And now I feel guilty too. But the big question is: Do I even want to stay at the job?

See, at first I did. I love this job. I love the kids. I love the opportunity to help out and be involved in guiding people and giving them opportunities. If it were closer to home I wouldn’t blink an eyelid. But since we moved it’s getting harder and harder to juggle two lives.

And I am constantly ill. And this illness keeps me up at nights so it is not like I am getting a good night’s rest.

Oh.

I just wanna stay home and lounge about and flick through Netflix and watch Youtube videos while I munch ice cream and D hammers away on something upstairs.

I just wanna be cosy and snuggly in my own bed instead of cold and uncomfortable in a lumpy bed in a cold room away from my husband and have to walk everywhere and carry heavy bags all over the place and have my boss breathing down my neck for those bloody target sheets.

I MEAN, I WILL DO THEM. JUST GIVE ME A DARN CHANCE.

Oh dear.

Well. I will carry on, of course. But at some point, I will need to rethink my life choices.

These decisions sound so great in theory but when you actually have to live it, it is not easy at all.

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Physical Relief

Had a terribly busy week. I was travelling since Saturday, when I drove two hours to go to a party, where I burned 600 calories dancing, according to my fitness tracker. I then drove to the in-laws’, where I stayed for the next three days to get to work. I walked to work daily and it took a good forty minutes, and helped my mother move house, worked till 2am  preparing lesson plans and studying for my first assignment.

On Thursday I went to work as usual, carrying a pile of heavy books.

‘Want to add more to that pile, Mrs Sparrow?’ one of the teachers muttered as he walked past, then offered to help but I declined. After work I went to my mum’s and slipped on my stilettos, then my brother dropped me off to the train station and we had a massive argument because he can be an arrogant overly sensitive jerk sometimes, and he refuses to listen to me and he kept speeding on second because I told him to put the car in third gear, even though it was a HIRED car, and he has never had practise driving while I have had a good year and a half on my belt. He is so stubborn it is maddening.

I got out of the car in tears, and caught the train to Birmingham where I went to the loos to slap makeup on my face for another party, this time more sophisticated and in a restaurant.

Then I caught another train all the way back home to my husband.

I hadn’t seen him for a good three days while I was at work. The minute I set eyes on him, waiting by the exit doors with hands in his pockets, my heels aching from my stilettos, and my shoulders heavy with bags, a wave of fatigue washed over me and I sank into his fresh perfume scent and the cold of his heavy leather jacket.

I don’t understand this phenomenon.

It was as though the mere sight of him took my stress away and my body began to really feel the duress I put it under. As though my brain subconsciously knew it didn’t have to hold on anymore because he was there and he could take care of me.

My throat felt scratchy and as he took my bags from me, lifting them as though they weighed nothing, my head started to pound, and tears prickled the back of my eyes. I hugged him for ages before I got in the car, just letting the feeling of home wash over me.

I had never experienced anything like this. A second ago on the train I had been perfectly fine!

All day today I have been in bed feeling ridiculously lousy.

 

 

Gossip

Don’t talk about people.

I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. I don’t like knowing anything about anybody unless they have told me themselves, or they would be okay with me knowing it. Anything else is just nasty and I really could not care less.

Why do people feel the need to gossip? Also, why do they defend themselves by saying it is not gossip, just facts, when in actual fact it is gossip. Gossip is anything you say about somebody else without their knowledge that might hurt said person.

And that stuff is hurtful.

I would be hurt and angry and annoyed if somebody was discussing my private life with somebody else.

It’s none of their business.

I hate gossip.

It makes me very very depressed.

It’s also hard when a member of your family is partaking in it and they get very emotional/upset when you point it out and defend themselves by lecturing me about ‘self-righteousness’ and listing all the reasons why it is ok to talk about what they talked about. I don’t want to hurt or offend anybody in my family.

I just really REALLY don’t care about that information. I don’t want to talk about it or why its okay to talk about it. It is not okay. It is not our life. It is somebody else’s life. I don’t give a flying rat’s bottom what other people do with their lives. I can’t stress this enough. I don’t care so much that I will cry if I hear any more information I don’t need to. It is clutter for my brain.

Can’t we talk about something else, instead of other people’s lives? Why must we speculate on why they do things? Especially when we know nothing of their lives.

It is not important, really. It makes my insides feel rotten.

*sigh*