Monthly Archives: June 2012

You are loved

I was driving along the coast road this morning when a dog bounded into the road just a few metres away from me.

Time froze, as the cliche goes. I braked hard. Hard enough that the seatbelt lock mechanism activated, and I remember feeling surprised by the sudden sense of being pinned to my seat as I steered frantically to avoid the dog, who just seemed to keep running directly into the path of my car.

I don’t know how I didn’t hit that dog, or crash my car in my effort to avoid it. I ended up on the wrong side of the road and by the time I lifted my eyes from the steering wheel to check for oncoming traffic I was already in tears.

The dog was nowhere to be seen.

Later I joked about how relieved I was that my last words to my kids that morning had been light-hearted ones, and how fortunate it was that it happened on a day when we had, at least, parted on laughing terms.

My kids are convinced the rogue beast was Sirius Black from Harry Potter, in the form of his dog, Snuffles, which also made me laugh later, too.

But before I started laughing about any of this, I found myself sitting in a car park trying to compose myself, listening to Doreen Lawrence (the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence) on the radio. She was being interviewed on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, and she spoke about the couple who found Stephen lying in the street, bleeding to death. The woman held his head in her hands and whispered in the ear of the dying boy, a stranger: ‘You are loved, you are loved.’

I was already a dithering wreck but when Doreen began talking about what that meant to her, I was in pieces. She described how we take children for granted and tend to believe they’ll always be there, but that when you lose a child you find yourself wondering if they really knew how much you loved them, and wishing that you had only told them more.

I don’t have a pithy conclusion to wrap this up but I plan to be much more vocal in telling my kids how much they are loved.

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Britain in a Day

Did you watch Britain in a Day on BBC 2 last night?

Wasn’t it astonishing?

Crafted from over 750 hours of footage and more than 11,500 clips submitted via YouTube – all shot by amateurs on a single day – the Beeb’s blurb says it’s a 90-minute documentary which offers ‘remarkable insight into the lives, loves, fears and hopes of people living in Britain today’.

“On Saturday 12 November 2011 an eclectic range of British people turned the camera on themselves, capturing the entertaining and mundane, the exciting and unusual, the poignant and the everyday. The result tells the fascinating story of the British public in their own words.”

Jonathan Freedland, writing  in The Guardian today, touches on the fact that 2012 is a big year for Britain. “It is a time-capsule year, like 1851 and 1951, one of those moments of national projection and introspection, when we deliver a collective statement on who we think we are. But what, exactly, are we saying?”

I’m not sure I can answer that, but it’s a long time since I’ve watched anything on TV that could be described as spell-binding, and this most certainly was.

I love Freedland’s point that some viewers will have written it off as little more than  a sentimental, extended John Lewis ad, designed to get us all weeping into our soft furnishings. But to see it that way is to miss so much. It was wildly discomfiting in parts, and blatantly bonkers in others, and I agree with the critics who’ve said that the emphasis on this being a distinctly British film is just plain bizarre.

But none of that matters to me. What does is the fact that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, and at the end I couldn’t shake a sacred sense that I’d seen something exceptional. Something life-affirming and yet not sugar-coated.

Watch the dying man who weeps at his daughter’s wedding, held in the hospital chapel so that he could attend, and tell me that doesn’t move you to see your life and relationships in a new light.

Or watch the young father desperately trying to eke out an early-morning moment alone for meditation, only to be interrupted mere seconds later by his two little girls, creeping into frame, their minds clearly not set on silence. I winced in recognition, and marvelled at his capacity to give up his meditation to be in the moment.

Or listen to the bubbly young woman feeding her pet rabbit, admitting that it’s a substitute of sorts for the child she’d much prefer. She sheds a tear and describes her need to mother something, and the next scene is of an exuberant child – full of joy and unfettered – running on a beach. I can’t watch that as a parent without a palpable, throaty ‘thank you’ rising up involuntarily for the kids I take for granted. They squabble, they never flush the toilet and they can’t brush their teeth without smearing toothpaste in the strangest places around the bathroom, but this film recalibrated my perspective and reminded me that parenthood is precious – and a privilege.

Watch the man bursting with anticipation as he waits for his weekly Skype date with his son who lives thousands of miles away. When the connection breaks unexpectedly and his face falls, you feel for an awful moment what it’s like to be a long-distance father.

Is it all maudlin or vacuously sentimental?

Only if you’ve got a heart of stone.

Words for love

Here’s a curious thing: in making my living from the thing I love doing, I find I’ve stopped doing it for love. 

I rarely write at all these days, except for money, but no commission fee can compare to the richness that I used to feel when writing was an end in itself.

In pursuing writing as a means to an end – that end being payment of my rent – I seem to have lost touch with myself. When I don’t write for love then everything around me seems to grow less lovely too, myself included.

So, to shake things up, here are some words that serve no real purpose beyond the benefit to my soul that comes from having dug them out.

Sitting outside – in my brown garden chair on our newly gravelled driveway – making myself a little dose of Vitamin D and feeling uproariously incongruous, I notice that my hands look old. Marvelling that they’re the very same hands I had when I was seven, I remembering staring at them then, lying in bed, holding them aloft above my head and wondering what they would look like when I grew old.

Outside. The breeze soothes me. It’s a calming influence. The wind is different on the coast. Warm but still insistent. I love the thought that no matter what happens or does not happen today, the wind will still be here tomorrow. The leaves on the wisteria are dancing in a frenzy, like over-excited children in fidget mode, incapable of being still.

When the children are not here, I miss them. When they’re here, I wish for five minutes’ peace.

I sometimes worry that five minutes peace has become a euphemism in our house for ‘go away’.

Far away I hear a child shouting ‘Daddy!’ and I resist the urge to jump in the car and go to see if they’re all alright.

When I read, I breathe better. Putting down my book, I inhale deeply, startled by the sensation of cold air filling my dusty lungs, surprised that I have forgotten how good it feels to breathe.

He always tells me we’ll miss these days. All too soon. One day the house will seem too quiet, he says. I raise an eyebrow disdainfully. He grins.

‘But at least all the rooms will stay tidy.’

‘Really,’ I say, mischievously. ‘So you won’t be here then either?’

There’s this thing that happens with long-term love. Things go unsaid. But when you push against that tide of slow-creep indifference, the thrill can be more palpable than any temptation to illicit love. We say things that surprise each other, and in so doing we breathe one another back to life.

Outside, with the soothing presence of the wind, I feel unfettered.

Abruptly, they all come home and my reverie is ended.