Sad

The clocks went back on Sunday morning at 2am. I feel so down about it to be honest with you.

Usually I welcome this change excitedly. I think about warm coats and hats and scarves and soft streetlamps, cosy bedrooms and dim lighting and warm mugs of sweet deliciousness. Candles. Baths. Hugs. Soup. Mother’s curries. My sister’s apple crumble. My husband’s cold cheeks, his warm hands in which my always cold ones nestle neatly.

This year it feels rather desolate if I am honest. It feels hazy and cloudy and tired and achey. It feels lonely, so lonely. A deep aching loneliness. Family so far away. Life so uncertain. Death knocking at the door. I see him and he is so close this year and I don’t know why.

Anyway I googled ‘why do I feel sad when the clocks go back‘ and it’s a very common ailment that people in the Northern hemisphere suffer from. It’s called SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I don’t think I have SAD but the dark season has made me feel sad this year. I think it’s worse too because I can’t see anybody really, and that is really hurting my heart.

So I decided not to wallow in self pity and do something about it. I have decided to light some candles every evening and tidy up properly once the sun has set, so we have a cosy space to relax in. I have decided to have a hot drink with my son before he goes to bed, just me and him (and maybe his dad if he has finished working on time), have a natter about our day and what books he would like to read before bed. I have decided to keep lamps on in the evening, to wind down. I have decided to take a brisk walk in the morning and a short one in the afternoon while it’s still light out. Get some of that Vitamin D aka happy hormone. Exercise and vitamin D apparently does wonders for the mood. We shall see how these changes help. If they do at all.

Have I missed anything out?

What do you do when you’re feeling low? Has anything you’ve tried helped you get out of a funk?

Rules

Are you following coronavirus rules where you are? What ARE the rules where you live? Is your government/local government making this clear?

Are you TIRED of coronavirus?

I am tired of it but since my son is asthmatic (hopefully it’s only childhood asthma but you can never be too careful) I am wary. So wary. But I have been doing things in this second wave that I would never have dared to do in the first wave.

Like taking my son to the supermarket. Out of necessity more than anything really, but this is something I would never have contemplated in the first wave. I feel guilty about it and like I am doing something VERY WRONG. He is 20 months old this Saturday (I know right, wow?!?!) and the supermarket is a strange and expansive place for him. He is in awe of it. Now if that isn’t a side effect of a pandemic then I don’t know what is.

I make sure to stay far away from people, and thankfully EVERYBODY I see wears a mask, because it’s the law now to wear masks in indoor spaces. And when something is the law in the UK, social etiquette demands that people adhere to it, no matter how much they grumble about it in their own homes. If one doesn’t adhere to it, they will definitely be discussed about contemptuously around dinner tables. (Tea tables if you’re ‘up North’). I live up North and so far, indoors, most people wear masks.

Who knows what really goes on, eh?

If you’re interested in some good thorough coronavirus news from the UK, check out this blog post. Ellen Hawley writes concisely and in a very entertaining way about the various things the UK is managing to do (and not to do) during this pandemic.

Shovelling Snow

Folks, I can’t keep up. There is so much to do. I feel like I am constantly shovelling a snowy pathway, only to have the snow carrying on falling around me, so no sooner do I complete one patch, then it needs doing again.

I feel like I have to keep moving because if I dare to stop for one second, I will drown.

I had a socially distanced evening last night with some other ladies. We met up in one of their gardens, the night was starry and dark and still. She had a wood fire burning, and we wrapped up warm and sipped spiced hot drinks. We talked until midnight. I have not done something like this in… years.

Anyway, it was really good. But I noticed throughout that I kept thinking of the chores I had to do and the work deadlines I had to adhere to, and even though the evening was meant to be relaxing, and I felt great after it, I felt my neck was so sore and my back muscles so tight from being hunched up in worry.

I saw a quote years ago before I had my son, which said ‘Cleaning the house while kids are growing is like shovelling snow while it’s still snowing’. It was on a fridge magnet and I got it for my mum because she appreciates humour. She also always complains about ‘us kids’ and the mess we make everywhere.

Anyway. I feel the quote is apt now, but it doesn’t just relate to kids, it relates to everything.

Someone recently said that the only reason why we feel stressed in our lives is because we want too much. I think we want what we want and we do what we think is the right thing to get there.

For example, I think to myself, why do I work? Well I work to buy my son his winter coat and shoes, to pay off bills, to put food on the table. If I decided not to work, then we would struggle to be comfortable and my son would be cold in the winter. I think sometimes people don’t have choices in these matters.

Choice, I have come to realise, is a luxury.

Bits and Bobs

I often think about politicians and how quickly they age when they arrive in ‘office’. Barack Obama became president with relatively little grey in his hair, and eight years later left looking grizzled, more wizened, but still dapper. Boris Johnson looked like a lopsided clown for most of his time as mayor of London, but you can distinctly see a hollowing around his eyes that was not there previously. A strange look. Age? Narrow escape from the clutches of Covid? New baby? Or just a side-effect of being the face of a nation? Something I think about. Can’t imagine why someone would want that job, but it’s a good job they do, else nobody would be in charge. Not sure how well they run the country but that’s another discussion entirely.

I have been spending too much time on social media again recently. It’s very bad for my brain. It also makes me irritated with humans in general. Like the people who message you demanding you follow so-and-so. No, Margaret. I will not follow ‘Fally’s Fashions’, a small boutique based in South Korea. I don’t live there, I will never visit the boutique, and it does not benefit me in any way. I don’t care if they’re ‘amazing’ and that they’re ‘really good friends’ of yours. It’s not like you’re asking me politely either. Gosh. Why were we friends in secondary school, again? Why are we friends on social media if we have drifted apart and never talk to each other? Back in the day when people drifted apart they did not have constant daily reminders of each others’ lives. I would never know Michelle had twins and is living it up in Australia, for example. Not sure why knowing this benefits me or her in any way. But I can’t unfollow because we used to go to school together and it’s … impolite.

See? What is online etiquette? She would never even notice if I unfollowed her. Or if she did, she would not care.. we NEVER talk! So weird.

I watched David Attenborough’s ‘Witness Statement’ that was recently released. It’s called ‘A Life on Our Planet’ and it basically shows how drastically the planet has changed in the 90 years that Sir Attenborough has been alive. Bloody hell. The timeframes they gave for the inevitable destruction of the earth based on the current trajectory (if we don’t do anything to stop and reverse climate change) is shocking. I found myself measuring it in my son’s lifetime instead of mine. It will be my child and his child who will feel the heaviest impacts of this. It’s so worrying. We can do so many things, but ultimately the hugest changes lie in the hands of the most powerful. And a lot of these powerful policy makers are big fat cheetoes who have lived over 70 years on earth and so won’t be around to see these horrific implications, and who also don’t believe in climate change. Bloody travesty is what it is.

This post is not what it seems.

Is anybody else feeling ‘Covid fatigue’?

Is anybody else sick and tired of staying indoors all the time and panting through a mask whenever they’re out around people?

Is anybody else craving a social life, when previously they were proud introverts?

Does anybody else not want to see their inlaws only all the time, because they’re low-level bullies, and it’s exhausting to brush off being undermined all the time?

Does anybody else want to see a real friend face to face, without lying to one’s inlaws about it, because apparently we cannot see anybody except for them, even if it is socially distanced?

Is anybody else emotionally controlled by somebody?

Don’t you just hate it?

Is anybody else sick to death of living life and making every single decision with the background thought of someone’s mother in law’s feelings and emotions about it?

Does anybody else’s husband act like they don’t love their wife, and tease her mercilessly when his mother is around, because he knows his mother would be jealous and hurt if he dared to show his wife affection?

When my maternal grandmother passed away in 2011, I remember my mum saying something very poignant to someone who came to see her at the funeral.

She said, “Losing your mother is losing your entire world, the one person who truly cares for you, asking nothing in return.”

I was sixteen, I did not understand it at the time, truth be told.

But recently, my mother and my mother in law were in the same room, and my husband and I were facetiming with them. They live five minute’s walk from each other.

My mother in law made one of her usual digs at me, and I laughed and brushed it off with a joke, which made everybody in the room laugh. My mother called me the next day, and asked if I was alone.

“Yes,” I said.

She told me she felt angry and upset at the low-level bullying I was experiencing, and she felt sick and tired of not being able to speak up to defend me, as I always tell her not to say anything ever.

I pacified her, and tried to explain that was the relationship, and not to worry as I don’t let anybody control me. It was kind of a lie, but I can’t tell my mother the truth, she would be furious. My mother is a strong fighter of a woman and I am ashamed to say such things to her, she would never accept it. I don’t know why I do.

At the end of the phone call, I broke down in tears.

Because my husband, who I think loves and supports me in everything, but is sadly also controlled by his mother and doesn’t realise it, would never defend me against any comments made by his mother at me. He would not dare. Hell would rip apart if he did.

Nobody would defend me, I realised. Nobody would even notice. I would fight it off myself, and deal with it, but nobody would care for my mental health and well-being, except for my mother.

She would notice and she would hurt on my behalf but she would respect my wishes and not say anything, but she would seethe inside and she would always be on the lookout for me. No matter how busy she is, no matter how many of her own troubles she has.

And that is what she meant, when she said what she said after her own mother passed away. I understand it now. So so much.

Parathas

When I was little and my grandmother used to visit, she would get her mixing bowl out, a bag of atta (which is chappatti flour), and begin mixing the sticky dough she would need to make parathas.

She wore gold bracelets on her hands, and a couple of valuable and sentimental rings on her arthritic fingers, not marriage rings because she was divorced. As she rolled out balls of dough ready to make into patties, her bracelets would jingle. It’s a sound I can still hear today when I make my own parathas. I would stand next to her and watch her, my head just reaching above the kitchen counter, and she would tell me of her childhood in Pakistan, where her father worked as a lawyer and they lived in a large house with sprawling grounds and mango trees. She was born in India in an area of Punjab called Jalandhar, but escaped during the night in a tarpaulin-covered cart to what was now Pakistan, to a city called Multan. This was during the extremely disruptive time post-colonialism which is now known as the Partition.

She said the maids used to make the parathas and she would watch them, just like I am now, and when she asked them if she could help, they said to wait until it was the last one and then she could do it.

‘So now you must watch me carefully and wait till it’s the last one, and I’ll let you make it’

She took a blob of dough, and began to roll it into a ball, bringing the outsides into the middle in an expert way, until it was a fine smooth ball. This is an important step, she told me. She then began flattening the ball out into a patty with her fingers, from the inside out. Her bracelets jangled comfortingly as she took her rolling pin and dusted it with atta, and rolled it out on the counter. Nice and thin and round. And then a small piece of butter on her fingers, spreading it around the flat roti so it melted into the dough. Then she slapped the roti from her right hand to her left to flatten it further before placing it neatly into her cast-iron flat pan that already had a drizzle of oil heating on it.

The parathas are large, round flat shallow-fried breads. They are not dry like roties or heavy like puris. Sometimes they are stuffed with spiced potato and onion, or minced meat made with spices and coriander, or any other vegetable like cauliflower. They can also just be eaten plain. My favourite kind of paratha was the plain shallow fried kind with lots of butter, and a side of scrambled eggs made with milk and whipped so they’re as pale as can be, sprinkled liberally with ground black pepper.

Coming from such a mixed heritage as I have, you often feel as though you don’t belong. I experienced this very real aspect of Pakistani culture at the hands of my grandmother, but equally, when my paternal grandmother used to visit, I would be immersed in a rich Moroccan culture. The pronunciation is very different. The food is a great contrast. But both have an incredibly strong affinity for patriotism and pride in their heritage.

My maternal grandmother did her masters in Pakistan before coming to the UK in the ’50s, to continue her studies. She met and married my grandfather, who was an abusive man, and she divorced him after five miscarriages and three children, the oldest of whom was my mother, who was 13 at the time. My mother remained estranged from her father until my grandmother died in 2011, upon which she located him in a town not far from where we lived at the time. in 1993 my mother met my father, a Moroccan student who was in London at the time studying for a masters degree, and married him. Nine months later I was born in a small London flat above Streatham High Road.

I grew up hearing, “You’re a beautiful curly haired Moroccan girl”

I grew up hearing, “You’re a true Pakistani. Be proud of your Pakistani heritage”

I grew up hearing, “You’re a very British person, you don’t fit in with us.”

I grew up hearing, “You’re intrinsically Arab, aren’t you.”

I grew up hearing, “You speak English very well for a Pakistani.”

I grew up hearing, “Your Arabic is excellent for a British girl.”

I grew up hearing, “You’re too white to be a Pakistani.”

I grew up hearing, “Your Arabic is not Moroccan enough.”

Last week I made parathas with my son. Just the way my grandmother taught me. I know how to make them just like any Pakistani would. I have been making them for years and years. My friend, who is originally Pakistani, popped by and saw them, and she marvelled at them.

“Wow,” she said, “Well done! I can’t believe you made our food!”, and her attitude was full of surprise. The ‘our’ in her words did not include me. It was more like, wow a foreigner can make my cultural food, I am impressed.

It’s so petty I know but I felt so irritated.

It annoyed me when Mona said well done about my parathas. It felt patronising. Like I had no business knowing how to make them well, and that by making them I had achieved something extraordinary.

I don’t think she meant to be patronising, but I took it that way. Instead of saying ‘well done’ she could have said ‘that looks good’. But she doesnt think that. In her head I am an amateur and I just achieved something great. Nevermind my Nani spent hours with me teaching me how to roll the paratha balls just so, how to get nice round rotis, how to fry, how many I helped make with her over the years. No. This experience is saved only for ‘experts’. Part-Pakistanis like me have no business knowing how to make something so desi as parathas.

It’s the same when I made something Moroccan, my own Moroccan cousins explaining foods to me that I grew up eating. Explaining cultural habits to me that I grew up with and which are intrinsically part of my lifestyle.

It’s the same when I am in England, and my family explain British things to me as though I never grew up knowing them. Or act surprised when I understand references and customs.

It’s nobody’s fault.

It’s just part and parcel of having a mixed heritage. You don’t belong anywhere and nobody accepts you as part of them, not truly. They say it but their actions say something entirely different.

I shouldn’t be annoyed about it, but sometimes I am. People often don’t like to listen to you or who you are, they believe their prejudices and what they ‘see’ over what a person tells them. I can scream about my Nani and parathas till I am hoarse but all Mona will hear is, ‘this foreigner learnt how to make parathas like us Pakistanis and wow let me show off more of my culture to her so she can learn.’

On unwinding

At the end of a long and exhausting day, when your body is battered and shattered, sometimes you just want to flop into bed and close your eyes on the world.

Right?

But sometimes it’s necessary to unwind a little. Let the day’s happenings trip gently through your mind, so you can pick them up with ease, turn them over, mull over them.

I like to do this by thoroughly cleaning my kitchen so it gleams, and then getting my old baking bowl out that my grandmother had in her kitchen for a good forty years. I get my whisk, the spoon, and my measuring cups. The ingredients needed for something warm and sweet and delicious.

Turn the oven on.

And I measure out the ingredients and as I do so, my mind stops racing. It slows down to a jog. Looks behind it. Nobody. Looks in front. Nothing to catch up on. Just flour in a nice soft mound in an old baking bowl. A whisk catching glints of light from the warm spotlights above. An egg cracking into the bowl, running in a little hydrophobic river down the jagged edge of the flour mountain and settling itself in a small valley on the edge.

As I mix and pour and whisk and lick the spoon, my mind stops racing and some sort of grounding happens.

I think and stir, I plan and pour, I contemplate and scrape.

How do you unwind after a particularly stressful and exhausting day?

This is the result of my unwinding baking session.

August’s End

For the first time in ten years, I find myself wistful that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder.

Winter beckons her long, pointed icy finger, and this time I am loathe to follow her down her icy path of starry skies and crisp, foggy moors.

I don’t know what it is. Is it the fact that social distancing has made me anxious to be indoors around other people? Is it the fact that long, bright, heady evenings are now gradually departing, leaving sudden darkness in their wake?

I don’t want to welcome winter. I want it to be summer all year around.

Lockdown for me

Fireflies and blossoms dying and grass growing from seed carefully sprinkled on freshly raked topsoil. Every single day things grow. New shoots poke out from between the cracks in stone tiles, and lilies shoot up so high they are a shock to see on sunny, summery mornings.

Hunger sitting in a belly, for hours and hours, gnawing and gurgling until it is satiated with a plate of spaghetti tossed in olive oil, garlic, chilli flakes and lemon rind.

Small brown paws explore fresh compost, putting it into empty buckets and down little shirts, tumbling over soft baby skin and fat cheeks streaked with the remnants of what a baby has had for lunch.

Exploring waits for no man. Exploring does not even wait for a face to be washed.

Diggers and dumper trucks work hard at removing rubble from an ancient building site, the old Victorian signage toppling down under the sheer brute force of heavy metal machinery. Large brown eyes stare in wonder as the dust rises around high-vis  jackets and yellow hats reflecting the glare of a May sun.

Lilacs dying and being replaced by masses of large round yellow roses, their lemony scent overpowering and sailing with the breeze down a deserted road.

Broken images and a clamour of familiar voices from a computer screen, then silence and the thumping of little feet from room to room, carrying objects from one end of the house to the other.

Shrubs miraculously turning into trees, and the incessant watering of lupins lest they shrivel their purple blossoms up and wilt.

Daily bursts of motivation following slumps of deep exhaustion, and days blurring into a sludge of minor events following each other like dominos.

What is lockdown like for you?

Decluttering

Today, when I sat procrastinating doing some Very Important Admin, I was watching some youtube videos of people’s apartments. Most of these apartments were white, pristine, clean, looking as though they were designed expertly for a high end magazine. It looks suspiciously like there was some artful lighting placed invisibly just beyond the camera angles. The plants were brand new, the sofas hadn’t been sat on, there was no clutter at all.

No coffee cups, no newspapers, no books out of place, no pencils and pens, no thoughts lying on open pages, no crumbs evidencing food was consumed, no clothes absently draped over chairs and no thimbles left to roll on a windowsill. Did these Youtubers actually live in these homes? Or did they pay someone to make a set so that they could get some fabulous content?

I know some people like to live as though they were in a magazine, with no clutter at all anywhere. My husband is like this, which is why he hates my books (which I enjoy accumulating because they bring me comfort). He thinks that if I read a book, I ought to give it away as soon as I am done, so as not to make this house more cluttered than it is.

Anyway the point is, it has now become a trend to declutter your home, and live as though you dare not own anything ‘tacky’ or have any personal taste at all.It has to fit an ‘aesthetic’. Currently the trend is large green houseplants, slim lines, a dark green or blue feature wall, plenty of white, and some rustic ruggedness that is also pristine and new. People on social media apologise for their ‘cluttered’ homes, which are just personal spaces filled with things they enjoy having, depicting their personalities and interests.

So if you have clutter, you get judged. Not me, just people who post things and people who comment things.

Now, this is a stale argument in my marriage, but I happen to think that some clutter is a good thing. A little decoration piece that you got 6 years ago on the edge of a river. A post-it note from your classmate who is now traversing distant lands, but which reminds you of times when you couldn’t control your laughter. A tiny gondola made from murano glass with its edge snapped off, but which reminds you of early marriage days and sweet innocent love. It differentiates you from everybody else who has a feature wall and large houseplants.

It also makes you realise who YOU are.

I read a sad thing yesterday, where a lady who runs a youtube channel and an instagram page said, as though everybody else thought the same as her, ‘I regret painting my wall blue to fit an instagram aesthetic. Next time, you should choose a colour and design YOU like, not what instagram likes‘. It seems like a lot of social media orientated people are doing this.