Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Nine Lives

It was a cold clear winter's morning nearly 20 years ago. My then husband rose early as usual and left for the City, leaving me to dress and breakfast our two young sons, then pack them into the Land Rover and head out across country on the school run. I threaded the big car through the narrow single track lanes, occasionally pulling into a passing place to let another vehicle by, slowing carefully to take blind corners, passing farms and eerily silent, misty fields.

I kissed my five year old son goodbye as he ran into school, greeting his friends, exchanging news, rushing headlong into his day, then strapped my three year old into his car seat and turned the car round, back into the quiet lanes, doing a steady 40mph, Radio 4 playing quietly in the background.

The black and white cat came out of nowhere, streaked across our path. I braked hard and swerved to avoid it, just clipping the telegraph pole sitting too close to the edge of the narrow lane. The Land Rover turned through 90 degrees and crashed noisily to a halt on its left side, my son and I suspended by our seat belts, shocked, bruised but unharmed. With shaking hands I switched off the engine, terrified we would explode into flames, undid my seat belt and tried the door handles on the right side, completely disorientated. They were jammed solid. My son cried out, frightened, and I tried not to panic.

It seemed like hours but was probably only minutes before help arrived. Farm workers materialised from the seemingly empty fields, exclaiming, concerned. I managed to open a window, unstrapped my small son and passed him out to them, relieved to have him safe, then somehow extricated myself and crawled through the window after him, eager hands pulling me to safety. They took us to a nearby cottage, called the fire brigade and the police. Someone eventually drove us home.

If the telegraph pole hadn't been so close to the road, we would have avoided the accident. If I had been driving an ordinary car, we wouldn't have turned over. Land Rovers have a high centre of gravity and roll easily. We were lucky. We survived. The cat disappeared into the undergrowth and licked its paws pensively, eight lives left.

The Land Rover was a write-off. My then husband bought a field with the insurance payout and bought me a Volvo instead. Safe, but a little dull. I still miss the Land Rover though, it had bags of character.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Staff Parking

The Registrar swept past me into the staff car par, with a brief wave of her hand. I turned and watched her expertly reversing her 25 year old canvas-topped, long-wheel base Land Rover into a free parking space.

She descended briskly from the battered, mud-splattered vehicle, long blond hair swept into a neat chignon, tailored jacket and knee length skirt, pearl studs and necklace, kitten heels tip-tapping on the tarmac.

We stopped for a moment to admire her new wheels. A present, she said, from her husband, ideal apparently for towing a horse box, and she initiated me into the mysteries of double de-clutching and the necessity of always keeping a waterproof hat in the glove compartment in case it rains inside the cab!

"There is nothing" I said, "more stylish than a beaten up old Land Rover. With heels."

Saturday, 19 May 2007


"cool clear water
and fireflies that vanish
that is all there is"
Chiyo - ni

Why Japanese? It all began with computer games and an obsolete games console which the boys all particularly loved. We could only import new games for it from Japan, so we did. Japanese dictionaries were acquired and consulted, games were endlessly pored over, discussed and, finally, played. So I now have a Japanese speaking son. The twists and turns in a life often rest on a sixpence.

He had an interesting and very traumatic time there. He fell in love with a beautiful Japanese girl, broke his wrist in several places and was hospitalised, made some lifelong friends, took up smoking temporarily, saw a man throw himself under a train, and lost two stone. He came back very thin and utterly changed.

Sunday, 13 May 2007


Surprisingly for someone who cannot get to Lille, I did once make it to Japan on my own. Perhaps less surprisingly I arrived at Narita and promptly burst into tears and fled to the Ladies loo to recover my fragile poise. He wasn't there to meet me.

I had come through arrivals with my big, so thrilled to see you again smile spilling over my tired face, quivering with anticipation and nerves after a 12 hour flight and no sleep. We hadn't seen each other for over four months, our longest parting in over 20 years, and he had promised faithfully he would be there to meet me.

My son was studying in Yokohama for a year as part of his university course. Wild horses would not have kept me away and when my ex-husband phoned one cold, dank, wintry evening to say there was a special offer in today's Evening Standard and I had to book a flight by midnight tonight, I just went for it and made it happen.

I composed myself and went back onto the concourse, studying faces, watching the ebb and flow of passengers arriving and dispersing. I had a mobile number for him but as the Japanese have their own system, I couldn't call him from my mobile and the public phones were worse than Latin and Greek, the instructions were all in Japanese characters and impenetrable to me. Two hours and several trips to the Ladies later, I finally composed myself and plucked up the courage to approach the doll-like Japanese ladies sitting at the rather formidable information desk and asked if they could possibly give me some change for the phone. "Ah, change!" they said, and promptly offered me more yen.

After much pantomiming and consultation amongst each other, finally a phone card was produced in exchange for a yen note and I again approached the incomprehensible telephones. As I stood there puzzling, a porter walked past and instantly seeing my problem, he inserted the card for me, I dialled the number and to my unspeakable relief, my son picked up the phone. He was on the wrong train, heading at great speed in quite the wrong direction.

Apologetic, he finally arrived at the airport over three and a half hours late and the relief of seeing him loping across the concourse towards me wiped away all the trauma in an instant as we kissed and hugged and greeted each other.

Travelling on the wrong train became quite a feature of my stay in Japan. I have never been in a country that is so alien and impenetrable, but with my son at my side I could just relax and enjoy the journey wherever it was taking us.

Thursday, 10 May 2007


A sharp gust of wind blew my hair across my eyes as I crossed the road towards the Royal Courts of Justice. As I brushed it away, suddenly there he was walking towards me.

Smart in his dark blue suit, purple shirt, tie flapping in the stiff breeze, he was over 6' tall, broad shouldered with heart-stoppingly blue eyes, dark flowing locks curling slightly to his shoulders. He saw me and smiled straight into my eyes.

'Hello Mum,' he said, hugging me. 'Lovely to see you. Let's go and have lunch.'

My 25 year old son, on his birthday.

Monday, 7 May 2007


a beautiful woman sits 
all alone
in a large, empty garden"

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Comfortably Numb

 "There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship-shape on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can't hear what you are saying"
Pink Floyd

A friend of mine is a journalist and writer. A wordsmith. Luckily he has private means otherwise he could be destitute! I borrowed his lovely medieval hall house for a month a couple of years ago when I was between houses just at the point when my ex-husband was re-marrying in great state and at enormous expense.

Although I had been dreading leaving the rented house that had been my home for seven years and did not yet have a contract on the house I am now living in, just a promise and a prayer, I found putting everything into storage and travelling light was a curiously liberating experience. My three cats agreed unfortunately and promptly liberated themselves at the first opportunity, to be found after much heart-break and searching, back in the woodshed of my old home a few weeks later. Two are still with me now.

'Do you ever write?' he asked me one day. 'Not really', I replied. 'I dabble. I have written a bit about the break-up of my marriage'. 'Oh', he responded rather dismissively, 'is that what you write about? Female pain?'

When I first started this blog I put the question 'What do you do if it all goes horribly wrong?' As anyone who has been in this situation knows, when you have finished falling apart, you do what you have to do. You survive, you change, you grow. Yes, I can write about female pain, why wouldn't I? But I'm a woman, I can do a whole lot else besides.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007


He turned 16 the other day, the 10lb baby boy I expelled from my body on a whiff of gas and air after a short, vicious labour all those years ago. We gazed at each other, shocked at where we had just been, surprised finally to see each other. Separate. Different.  Other.

To be cradled in my arms, to kiss his downy new-baked head, to hold him to my breast, wince, relax and whisper "I will keep you safe."