Showing posts with label Memories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memories. Show all posts

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

'You stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear...'

'I met you on the Midway at a fair last year
And you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear'
That Song about the Midway
Joni Mitchell

I love this vivid evocation of Joni Mitchell's meeting with Leonard Cohen from 'That Song About the Midway'.  As hugely talented fellow Canadian singer/songwriters, they were destined to meet and fall in love (they actually met at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967).  Leonard became the inspiration for several of Joni's songs although, intriguingly, her inspiration for these particular lines probably came from Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'

'It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear'

Music holds our memories.  I only have to hear Joni Mitchell singing to be transported to another time and place.  When I listen to 'The Gallery' or 'Rainy Night House', both attributed to her relationship with Leonard, I am 20 years old again and back in my room perched high above a ravine in my student house in Leeds, sharing with four girlfriends and learning to negotiate the complexities of life, love and relationships in between studying and voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on.  Literature, along with music, has always been a passion and this was the music that formed the sound track of those years. 

Listening to Joni's 'A Case of You', also thought to be about Leonard Cohen, instantly has me back on the overnight train from Madrid to London, travelling alone after a disastrous holiday with a college boyfriend who was studying there (but at least I got to see the Velazquez's at The Prado, so it was worth the trip in the end!), but the face I drew on a map of Canada during that endless, uncomfortable night, was that of my first love, lost to the charms of Montreal, never to return to the UK. 


Sunday, 23 August 2015

'Deep in the Green Lilac Park' (Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen and the story of So Long, Marianne)

'We met when we were almost young
Deep in the green lilac park
You held onto me like I was a crucifix
As we went kneeling through the dark'

So long, Marianne
Leonard Cohen

Marianne is my blogging name.  I borrowed it from the beautiful Leonard Cohen Song 'So Long Marianne' when I started writing this blog quite a few years ago now when I was putting my life back together again following the devastating breakdown of my marriage, which left me a single mother of three young boys. Not an easy time.  It seemed appropriate.

I had never really considered that the song might be based on a real Marianne until my new husband, who is inured to my lifelong love affair with Leonard Cohen and his music, bought me a copy of  Kari Hesthamar's eponymous book recently.  The book is based on interviews with Marianne about her life and particularly about her long relationship with Leonard with whom she lived off and on for the best part of a decade and which took place mostly on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, and which I found quite fascinating.  A more contemporary version of the Bloomsbury Group as it turns out! 

Marianne was only 23 years old when she left her native Oslo to live on Hydra with her then boyfriend, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen, and they joined an artists' and writers' community there. She married Axel and gave birth to his son back in Norway but on her return to Hydra she was abandoned by him and left to raise her son alone.  Leonard introduced himself to her at the local cafe and she became his muse and the inspiration for some of his earlier poems and songs.  

My musical tastes were formed in the late 60's and early 70's when North American and Canadian Folk/Rock were part of the sound track of my life.  Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan were constantly being played in my student house in Leeds and I was lucky enough to see some of these talented artists, including Leonard Cohen, live in the early 70s.   

Leonard Cohen wrote some stunningly beautiful and thoughtful contemporary poetry and prose but did not achieve recognition until he turned his poetry into songs and developed his talents as a singer/songwriter and became the voice of a generation.  He has continued to write and record music and to perform his music live all around the world.  His style has matured and somehow both lightened and deepened, and some of his lines are exquisite.  As a performer, he is mesmerising.  I still enjoy listening to his music which I find timeless and evocative.  His is the one voice that has stayed with me through the decades.

I found this unusual version of 'So Long Marianne' on YouTube recently and wanted to share it. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Ghosts of Christmas, Past and Present


Love it or loathe it, Christmas cannot be avoided in this part of the world, and I do love it, much as I dislike ongoing Christmas creep.  I know retailers need to profit from the orgy of spending we embark upon every midwinter, but I refuse to have much to do with Christmas until the beginning of December.  From then on, however, I embrace it enthusiastically.  The special excitement and anticipation I treasure from my own childhood has never deserted me and we all need to nurture our inner child.  I would always celebrate Christmas even if I didn't have a family but I know I am lucky to be part of a large combined family and there is always a lot of love around at Christmas.

As a child growing up as part of a large Irish Catholic family (now scattered to the four winds) on the outskirts of a large city in the North of England, Christmas was very much a time for church and family and with numerous aunts and uncles and 18 first cousins all living in the same city there was so much fun to be had just spending time together.   I'm sure there were tensions amongst the adults (I know there were tensions amongst the adults - my own parents, shockingly, separated and divorced; the family rift never healed), but we children had a wonderful time and no doubt drove our parents to drink.  Well, as I said, we were Irish.


I have strong memories of cold houses with ice patterns blooming on the inside of the window panes, our breath misting in the bedrooms as we dressed hastily in the mornings, the small, artificial Christmas tree being brought down lovingly from the attic to the sitting room on Christmas Eve and festooned with ancient baubles, the same ones every year, and a string of coloured Christmas lights with a fairy on top - there was always fierce competition to be the one who put the fairy on top.  I remember being woken from a deep sleep at 11 o'clock at night, bundling up into warm clothes, then the long freezing walk to church for Midnight Mass through the clear, frosty, starlit night, cold red chapped knees and rosy cheeks glowing, then back to bed longing to wake up to the weight of the freshly-filled stocking, stuffed with fruit and nuts, chocolate money and tiny treats lying across my feet, and just one very special, much-longed for new toy.  


At eight years old, I was actually secretly disappointed to be given this gorgeous book which I now treasure and will pass on to my grandchildren... 



  
... but I was thrilled to find this baby doll at the end of my bed one year (she had more hair then) and  I wish I could remember what I called her all those years ago.  But what I really, really wanted for Christmas was a kitten and that I couldn't have, my father being allergic, or so he said.  Of course, ever since I have collected cats and currently have three sharing my life and scratching the furniture, part of my animal family, and books and children have continued to be a huge part of my life.


Now my partner and I have a big combined family of seven young adults, many with partners of their own and one living in another country with his small daughter and Christmas has evolved to accommodate our new circumstances.  We no longer focus on Christmas day as, with so many families in the mix, we all need to be flexible and we would hate the children to feel they have to come, so we just try to spend time with as many of our children as we can reasonably see in the run-up to Christmas and spread the pleasure of a big family Christmas.  It works for us.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

Favourite Things

Stuff accumulates. It creeps into the house bit by bit, initially eagerly justifying its presence before falling into disuse and skulking in drawers, cupboards, lofts and garages. I swear it is breeding there right now! There are definitely no-go areas in my house, drawers and cupboards full of discarded things that I can't quite decide what to do with.  The loft is another country...

Of course, there has been much de-cluttering over the years, much editing of possessions as our needs have changed and we have moved from house to house.  There have been car boot sales, garage sales and many visits to the charity shop and the tip, but still some things continue to make the cut for whatever reason.  I still keep a few of the children's clothes from when they were tiny - nothing quite so well evokes a time and a place.  The other day, I tried to throw out some old cookery books, but made the mistake of looking through them first and found myself lost in another world.  Our eating and cooking habits have changed greatly in the 30 years or so since I first acquired them but still they engaged me and earned a reprieve.

I was thinking recently about what I still hold onto from the time I first came to live in London in the 1970's to start my independent life; my early forays into re-inventing myself and attempts at home-making and these are some of my favourite things.


I found this amazing dress in a vintage shop in Covent Garden shortly after I moved to London and started my first job, moved into my first London flat share.  It is an original 1920's silk/satin dress and I wore it to the parties I attended at the time in South London with students from Guy's, Tommy's and King's (are they still there?) who lived in the flat below.  Wafting around in a maxi dress felt so good.  Of course I fell for the handsome, raffish young medical student I met there who promptly broke my heart, instead of the devoted, smitten but less viscerally attractive young dental student who would have cherished me!  I know better now.

The dress is nearly a 100 years old and deserves another reincarnation soon - I think it still has a few more parties in it and maxi dresses are fashionable again. Perhaps one of my new daughters (in and out of law) will adopt it one day.





I couldn't afford this lovely cream throw that I found in Heals in Tottenham Court Road when I was working at the Middlesex but I loved it so much that I bought it anyway and it has graced various sofas in many houses over the years and more than earned its keep.

Children have curled up on it to watch films after school, puppies have jumped up on it for illicit cuddles and it is a favourite venue for my cats who like to sit along the top, making a mucky indentation lined with shed fur and muddy paw prints, but it all just washes off and looks as good as new again.


This colourful enamel tray came from Nice Irma's Floating Carpet, a hippy emporium in Goodge Street, around the same time and it has brightened up the work surface in every kitchen I have ever had.  It is still in daily use for our early morning cup of tea in bed.  I was drawn to the strong colours which are still as sharp today as when I bought it.  
I love the way some things just form the fabric of a life and translate from one place and time to another, providing a thread of continuity, each with their own story to tell and all part of my sons' memories of home, wherever home might be.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

City of Dreams

The fast evening train to Liverpool Street cut through the darkening countryside, the hinterland, the outer suburbs and the inner city; high rise flats, little boxes stacked one on top of the other, each little box containing someone's life, their hopes and dreams, their fears and failures, every individual with their own path to follow, their own agenda and challenges to face.  Lights shining out into the darkness.

Then suddenly it reared up, towering above the cheap, high rise blocks of flats.  A wall of glass and steel, chrome and concrete, sharply defined corners and hard edges, bright lights, tempting, challenging. The City of London, the ancient Square Mile, city of dreams and towers, a city that can make or break you, destroy you and spit you out, or endow you with riches beyond your wildest dreams.  Enter at your peril for it will surely change your life for ever!


I came to the City over 40 years ago, a young girl fresh from the provinces, weaving her dreams, with an exciting new job in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral and an entire life stretching before her.  A crisp, white page waiting for a story to be written on it.  It's a rather tattered page now, with lots of crossings out, re-writing and notes in the margin but there's still space for more as I work my way through my story.  I worked in the City for 10 years, met the man who became my husband, had children and moved out to the country, living the dream, and it has been a constant thread running through my life ever since, although the marriage has long gone.  But life turns full circle and so last night I found myself yet again in the City of London, dressed up for a formal dinner with my partner at his club, sitting chatting with new friends and watching the dark waters of the Thames flowing swiftly past the windows on its relentless journey to the sea.


I rarely come into London now and it is an expensive treat but there is a sense that, after all that has happened and all the changes in my life, all I have gone through since I first came to this place, I am at peace with this great City.  In the end it is a mirror.  It can only do to you what your own spirit allows it to do.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Nostalgia

"Footfalls echo in the memory 
Down the passage we did not take 
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden
My words echo thus
In your mind"

Burnt Norton - T S Eliot

We drove past my old home the other day, on a brief visit to Kent, and stopped for a moment in the road outside.  A house I once lived in, a home that once was mine, a garden I once loved, an orchard where children played and a life that fitted me like a glove; a door that once was open to me, now closed for ever.


It is a strange thing, to so utterly possess a house, to sweep through the white five bar gate and park my car in the drive outside, put my key in the latch and go inside, to find my life laid out there, my possessions just as I left them, my pets waiting for me, my family coming and going, to wander outside, sit and have a cup of coffee making plans for my day, answer the telephone, put a wash on, go for a walk.  Ordinary, everyday things. And then one day it's finished.  Someone else has the keys.  I am a trespasser now and my life has moved elsewhere.

Drive on by, it's not my home anymore.  It exists only in my mind.






Monday, 11 March 2013

The Family Script

My maternal grandmother was a redoubtable woman.  An Edwardian nursery governess, she spent her 20's and early 30's living in exclusive hotels in the North of England, where she ruled her nursery with a rod of iron.  She didn't marry until she was 33 but nevertheless she and my grandfather (having by now emigrated to Canada where he had a farm) produced a large brood of their own; my mother and her four brothers.  Needless to say, they were all brought up in accordance with her strict views on child rearing.  Her voice can still be heard echoing down the generations.

Granny didn't believe in celebrating Mother's Day, seeing it (wrongly as it happens - Mothering Sunday has a long and venerable tradition) as a recent and purely commercial innovation.  My own mother, being strongly influenced by her upbringing, was also not inclined to make an occasion of it and I, in my turn, although delighted with the handmade offerings of my sons when they were very young, paid scant attention to the occasion.

It wasn't until my marriage broke down and I realised too late that Mother's Day fell on a Sunday the boys were to spend with their father.  I didn't see the need to change this arrangement and fight my corner, the family script being so deeply ingrained, and spent the day alone, feeling lost and displaced, missing my sons on a day that focuses so strongly on the mother/child relationship.  It was during that long, painful day that I began to think again about Mother's Day and to accept that it did matter to me, that I did want my children to think of me on this special day and from then on I have carefully nurtured it in my own family.

Yesterday, it was a special joy to spend the day with my youngest son, down from University especially to be with me on Mother's Day, and to speak to my two older sons who couldn't join us this year but made special efforts to phone (they so rarely do - is this a boy thing?).  In  this family now, every Mother's Day will always be a special day.

I am rewriting the family script.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Let it Snow

Snow and icy conditions certainly make cocooning the most inviting option and tomorrow I am planning a satisfying session of marmalade making and bread baking, having spent most of today tramping cross country to the lovely foodie pub in the next village for a bowl of hot, spicy soup while thawing out by the fire and reading the newspapers.




With schools closed across the country, I was thinking of the heavy snowfall in South Yorkshire where I grew up, during the severe winter of 1963.  At least a foot of snow fell overnight but, nevertheless, we got up before first light as usual, dressed in our freezing cold bedrooms, breakfasted and went out into the thick snow well wrapped up against the biting cold and waited patiently at the bus stop for the first of the two buses I took every day across the city to reach my Catholic convent school; a journey of over 6 miles.  Amazingly it arrived eventually. Those were tougher times and people just carried on regardless.  We didn't get far however as the bus got stuck on the first of the many hills we had to negotiate on the journey and, delighted, we returned home for a day of snowballing and snowman making with mugs of hot chocolate by the coal fire.

The reckoning came the next day by which time, amazingly, the roads had been cleared and transport was back to normal, despite the heavy snow still lying in drifts all around.  The nuns kept us under a strict regime of humiliation and tongue lashings and we lived in daily dread of being singled out, annihilated by an icy look, seared by a harsh word, made to stand isolated in front of the class for a sharp character assassination.  The survival strategy was simply to keep our heads down, not to be noticed.  So, each girl who did not make it into school the day before, and there were many as we came from miles around, had to stand up and explain to the class exactly the circumstances that prevented her from making the epic journey.  The feeling was that we should have walked to school, even if it took us all day.  I still remember how, a very shy child, I was quaking in my shoes, waiting for my turn to justify my awful transgression!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Hospitals

I have always hated hospitals.  My initiation was the birth of my first baby which was so traumatic and unsympathetically handled that I resolved to have my next baby (as soon as I could contemplate such an idea) at home.  Despite all the pressure I did just that and had a very peaceful and stressfree experience, although I did panic a bit when the midwife admitted that the gas and air had run out. 

It wasn't until my mother became ill last year that I was reintroduced to them.  She was admitted to hospital last Christmas with pneumonia and to my horror, I discovered that everything I had read in the newspapers was true.  My partner and I nursed her through the worst of her illness as the nurses seemed too busy to do anything much for her other than pump her full of antibiotics and tick boxes on a chart.  Delirious and suffering with dementia she was completely unable to fend for herself and had a terrible fall from her (too high) bed one night in her unsupervised cubicle just after we left, splitting her head open and needing stitches.  She was discharged looking as though she had been badly beaten up, though thankfully the antibiotics had done their job.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I attended an outpatient appointment for an assessment on a painful knee.  Although it had been excruciating intially, things had settled down and I felt well and was walking confidently, just wanting a diagnosis and a treatment plan.  The humourless lady physiotherapist insisted that we discuss only the presenting symptom and didn't ask about my history of back problems at all, proceeding to manhandle my leg in order to confirm her diagnosis.  I left in a great deal of pain, limping and wincing with a trapped sciatic nerve.

Is it really acceptable, I wonder, for patients to leave hospital in a worse condition than when they arrived?    Whatever happened to empathy, caring and the concept of healing?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Musings on My Mother

She's actually very happy.  My mother.  Happier than anyone else I know.  She lives entirely in the moment and is indeed experiencing a second childhood.  The cast of characters in her mind consists mainly of her mother and father and her three brothers, whom she adored and who looked up to their older sister.  Only one is still alive.  She's looking forward to the Queen's Jubilee celebrations, the Queen having been there all her life practically and part of the long-lost childhood where she spends her time.  She still knows who I am, which is a real pleasure.

Born on a Prairie Farm in the wilds of Saskatchewan, her father having narrowly missed the catastrophe of the Titanic - a telegram from the farm manager calling him back early made him cancel his booking and take an earlier boat across the Atlantic - she will probably end her days under the wide skies of Suffolk, a place she has no connnection with at all, just part of the random pattern of her life, of all our lives.

Dealing with all this has made me step back and reflect on my own life.  To try and come to some sort of terms with the things that have happened and where I am now, the pattern of 'birth, death and the whole damn thing' as Elizabeth Luard so succinctly put it.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A Rose for a rose

I call them my shadow children, the ones I lost over 30 years ago; the embryonic lives that were never lived. Their spirits stay with me, on the periphery of my consciousness, the what ifs... the might have beens...

Of course I grieved for them deeply at the time, even though I never held them in my arms, never kissed them and changed their nappies, never left them at the school gates, chivvied them to do their homework, saw them launched onto lives of their own, lives that I would have only a small part to play in. I never knew the colour of their eyes, the texture of their hair, the smell of their skin, their personalities. I planted a rose in memory of my lost little ones and it has moved with me from one house to another over the years. It helps to embody them somehow, gives me a quiet focus for my private thoughts.


I was lucky. Despite the early difficulties, I now have three handsome, hulking, grown up sons who have filled the empty spaces in my life and given me little time to dwell on what was lost. But I have been thinking of them recently, following the sudden, unexpected death of an old friend's 16 year old daughter, a lovely young woman, full of bright promise, she had shared her life and filled her thoughts and dreams. She should be eagerly awaiting her GCSE results - she would have excelled - gone into the sixth form, fallen in and out of love, spread her wings, gone on to university, had a career, married perhaps... children of her own. All wiped away, never to be.



What solace can anyone possibly give to a grieving mother? What can ever even begin to help her to heal? She wakes up every morning to experience her loss afresh, as though for the first time.


I shall give her a rose to plant in memory of her daughter . It's not much, but apart from being there for her if she will let me, it's the best I can do.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Now (and then)

Staying in the moment is one of life's hardest lessons and one I wish I could have learned better a long time ago.

When I met my ex-husband, I was always thinking about the next step - moving from dating to being in a relationship, then living together, eventually getting married, buying a house, having a baby, then another baby and then another, buying and selling more houses, always searching for the dream, without realising that I had it all the time. Sadly for me, the dream turned into a nightmare and the road ultimately led to separation, divorce, the break-up of my family and massive financial insecurity.

My life is very different now, not better nor worse, just different. It is only when devastation is complete that rebirth can begin. I can hope and dream about tomorrow, but for now I have today. And it's enough.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Favourite Restaurants

Debio has nominated me to write about my five favourite restaurants so now I'm wracking my brains for special places to eat that aren't my conservatory!


I love visiting 'Porters' in Covent Garden. It's a good place to treat my sons to a special lunch on the rare occasion that we all manage to meet up in London. Good English food - Wild Boar and Sage Sausages with Mashed Potatoes and Onion and Ale Gravy, Steak, Mushroom and Guinness Pie, Beer Battered Cod, all excellent quality, good value, no pretension, a great buzz and not far from Charing Cross and my escape route to the countryside.


When I go shopping in London, I sometimes head for 'The Bluebird Cafe' in the King's Road. Again good quality ingredients, terrific ambiance and lots of interesting people to watch. A light, simple lunch, a glass of wine and a coffee really make the day special. I love visiting the King's Road and browsing round all the interesting shops and dreaming of living in one of the lovely houses in the side streets that would once have been within reach. I have a passion for Interior Design and there are some wonderful showcase shops in the area to inspire me.


One of the biggest towns in my corner of England is Tunbridge Wells and on special occasions I usually head to either 'Blanc' or 'The Hotel Du Vin'. Blanc is part of Raymond Blanc's empire and the food is simply divine. There is a special deal for lunch on weekdays when you can have two courses for £10. A glass of wine and a coffee on top of that is still an affordable treat. I went there on my last birthday with a good friend whose birthday is the day before mine. We always meet up for lunch in the middle of March.


'The Hotel Du Vin' is a wonderfully luxurious, beautifully renovated building and an oasis in the centre of Tunbridge Wells. Comfortable squashy armchairs, lovely antiques and well chosen accessories make this a special place. The dining room is swathed in white linen, the silver cutlery and glasses reflect light from the French windows that lead onto the Terrace where coffee can be taken on a fine day. I haven't been there for a while, but my ex-husband used to take us there sometimes when he had pulled off a big deal. It was always famine or feast with him, but the feasts were well worth waiting for.


When I was married, holidays were rarely planned in advance but would happen fairly serendipitously. We would sometimes drive down to the Dordogne, hoping that the cottage I had pulled out of a hat - before the days of the Internet- would live up to its promise. They were sometimes surprising. I don't know if it's still there now, but we would always go for a meal at 'Les Glycines' near the caves at Les Eyzies. A simply stunning comfortable small hotel with a lovely garden and a sumptuous restaurant where well behaved children were more than welcome. I remember on our first visit that we took it in turns to wheel our four month old son around the garden when he cried but the staff were so kind and helpful it was more of an opportunity to show off our adorable son. It was there that I discovered white wine Kir and now I always keep a bottle of Cassis in the fridge for summer evenings and remember those long ago summers.

I won't nominate anyone else this time, but if anyone feels like picking this up, I shall look forward to reading your favourites soon.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Turning Point

'You changed the course of my life,' I said to her as we stood talking in the Marquee beside the white-covered trestle tables, laden with food and drink. She looked shocked. I suppose it is strange to think that a casual decision, taken one busy working day, can shape someone else's life.

I was a fresh pretty young girl, newly arrived in London from Yorkshire when she took a chance on me, offered me a job working for a large international company without checking my shorthand and typing, which weren't all they could have been.

Not that I had thought of her at all, these 30 years or so since that day, but seeing her there now brought it home to me that it was that decision that had changed my world, brought me a marriage that lasted 18 years, our three amazing sons, life-longs friends and the invitation to this party in a Sussex orchard on a fine June day.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Eight Interesting Things

Eight interesting things? Well, most of them are already in my blog or will be - now I shall have no secrets left.

The oldest house I have ever lived in was built in the 1380s. It was very, very difficult to clean. There was a mouse nesting in an ancient sofa in my bedroom when we moved in and it would scuttle about the room at night, but refused to be caught, although we trapped it in the end. The bedroom floor sloped dramatically so you had to get your sea legs upstairs, and the bed had to be propped up at the head to even things out. The house overlooked the marsh and was very atmospheric.

I have moved house more times than I care to remember and now have it down to a fine art. Removal men congratulate me on the quality and efficiency of my packing.

When I turned 50 (am I prepared to admit that?) I decided to grow my hair again, get my ears pierced and buy a bikini. Now I need to lose a few pounds so I can wear the bikini in public and I have a serious earring habit.

Neither of my parents were born in this country, but I consider myself to be quintessentially English. My mother was born on a Prairie Farm in Saskatuan and my father's family came over from Ireland during the troubles in the 1920s, following death threats which they took very seriously indeed.

I have never learned to ride a bike, nor a horse, nor have I ever sailed, but I am hoping to try sailing this summer. I think I will probably give the other two a miss now.

I have used up at least four of my nine lives, but am enjoying the five I have left.

I can speak to babies and small children in French, having worked as an au pair in Brussels when I was very young. I developed a strong attachment to Belgian chocolate while I was there. It was the only thing that kept me sane.

I once drove straight on to the roundabout on the A2, near Blackheath and stopped there. It was entirely my ex-husband's fault. He was supposed to be teaching me to drive and I hadn't done roundabouts yet. I was still on traffic lights. Lots of people were very surprised to see us sitting there as I waited for instructions on how to come off roundabouts and rejoin the busy weekend traffic on the A2.

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.