Tag Archives: love

Conjugal Footwear

I had the very good fortune to attend a wedding this weekend. It was my favourite kind of wedding – the kind where it’s palpably evident that the bride and groom are best friends and spend more time than is decent having a damn good laugh together. My marrying friends demonstrated this happy kind of love amply when they only just controlled their giggles at the word “sustain” in the vows. “It’s a funny word,” said the English-teacher bride later, “it makes you think of cows being milked.”

They spent part of the evening before their big day making giant dinosaur Top Trump cards for the wedding tables and they had a cake made of cheese with Lego people and knitted mice on. It was that kind of wedding. Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brachiosaurus all made an appearance, but there was no sign whatsoever of Bridezilla.

Usually, of course, I love a wedding not only for the reminder of the bond humans can share, but also for the photo opportunities. This time I spectacularly failed in the human-snapping department for some reason, but consoled myself instead with accosting people for photographs of their feet. You get excellent shoes at weddings, and through feet I met some very pleasing people indeed. I recommend this method if you ever find it difficult to mingle at parties – all you need is a pocket-sized point and shoot and you need never feel socially awkward again.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love (and more words than there should be)

We’re not a family that talks about love much. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel it – not at all – just that declarations of love can seem a bit insincere to our oh-so-British ears. This is particularly so when the word ‘love’ is flung about a lot in a relationship. To us it has impact only when used sparingly; anything else smacks of insecurity to our cynical ears.

So when son 2 was born and turned out to be a little package of enthusiastic and unabashed love it was a bit of a revelation; we were used to our more reserved toddler who really only wanted cuddles when he was sad or ill, and even then accepted them graciously rather than actively engaging with them like son 2 did. It has always been very easy to give love to our second son because he was born with a nature that invited it. It is harder to be sure that son 1 knows he is loved because he has become more and more detached from us as he has grown up.

Son 1 had a more difficult time growing up than son 2. When he was born we lived in a caravan on a traveller’s site with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation and drunk people all around. I was too immature of mind to deal well with my new responsibility and knew little or nothing of the psychology of children. I became post-natally depressed and if it wasn’t for my spouse, things could have been a disaster. He faced responsibility with determination, compassion and even a little joy. He got up and did the night feeds and woke me up for the morning feeds by singing along to cheerful songs on the radio and handing me a cup of tea.

We loved son 1 tremendously, but we weren’t the finest of all parents. We were very poor, we didn’t know what we were doing and we were tired and stressed much of the time. It wasn’t the best start for a sensitive young boy, regardless of how much we adored him. We made a lot of mistakes. When we moved into a house and son 1 went to playgroup and then primary school, he was only too aware of our difference from other parents. We were still big-booted, pierced and grubby and we didn’t have fitted kitchens or smart cars. He felt this acutely, but rarely said anything about it; he instead spent his time with other families who were more securely rooted in the ‘conventional’ lifestyle that he preferred.

Our son is now 21 and at university. He is independent, clever, witty and stylish and we are incredibly proud of him. When I think of him, however, I am always a little sad because he remains quite detached. It’s nothing serious or terrible, but he wouldn’t choose to spend time with us; he doesn’t really know what to talk to us about and he resists engaging with our interests and humour. Having son 2 has shown me what a parent/child relationship can be and at the moment I don’t have this with my firstborn. It saddens me to my stomach that he was the one who had to suffer the brunt of my parenting mistakes and that son 2 received all the benefits of what we learned from them.

But, son 1 does phone us when he has a problem and he did turn to me when he had his heart broken. I take solace from this and have a secret fantasy that one day, when he has children of his own, he might understand. In my fantasy, he is a famous fashion designer or journalist or publicist or something, and he’s on Desert Island Discs. He chooses a record that has something to do with his childhood and he says, ‘I was a very different person from my parents, but I realise now how much they loved me.’

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Girl meets boy.

Son 2 just inherited nearly £3000 for being 18.

Eighteen must surely be one of the worst possible ages to inherit some thousands. When you’re 18 you think you know everything, you want everything, you are hormonally disrupted, prone to alcoholic excess and have the foresight capacities of a gnat with short term memory loss.

Son 2 would say something along the lines of “speak for yourself” if he read that. Only he would phrase it in a more witty and entertaining way. And he would be right. I am speaking for myself.

I was a total dick when I was 18. I was sort of like a rabbit or a badger. No, not a mammal; more of a moth or a daddy long legs. I certainly wasn’t a primate of any kind because they are curious creatures, and mammals can learn things. I was the kind of creature that would fly around, do some mating, eat stuff then bang itself against a window/light bulb for 17 hours and die.

I inherited £6000 when I was a crane fly/moth combination, and £6000 was a lot then. The man who worked in Midlands bank offered me his boat when I went to pay it in. Nowadays they offer you ISAs. I should NEVER have been allowed to be in charge of £6000 and my parents knew it. They made some enquiries and discovered that the only way they could prevent me from getting my hands on it was to declare me insane, and they just couldn’t bring themselves to do that. They should have. They should have clubbed me over the head or fed me sleeping pills until I was 30 so I couldn’t make it to the bank. But no. I turned down the Midland bank man’s offer, and instead I did the following things:

1. Bought myself a double quilt

2. Bought a 1920s black lace dress, some ankle boots and various other vintage apparel

3. Bought a massive ghetto blaster

4. Lent hundreds of pounds to various dreadlocked wasters and never received a penny of it back

5. Bought a motor bike

6. Bought an ambulance and gave it to a bloke with a name like a 1930s gangster

7. Got exceedingly pissed

8. Moved to London and lived in a squat

9. Took speed

It was all gone in less than a year and all I had to show for it was a taste for Special Brew and Merrydown snakebites and an ex-boyfriend who I left because he didn’t like me going to the pub in case boys looked at me and refused to accompany me on a world tour.

So I was in London living in a series of squats and receiving the occasional letter from the ex-boyfriend who was a bit jealous that I was having a more phenomenally amazing life than he was in Cornwall. I wasn’t having a more amazing life than him, but it was dead easy to expand a visit to an Anarchist bookshop and a chat with a man with a splendid beard into a deep involvement in political activism when there’s 300 miles between you and the Internet hasn’t been invented yet.

So we began a sort of letter-based Battle of Alternativeness. I wrote to him about my arrests and protests and squat parties and whatever, and he wrote to me about being in a band and hanging out with some travellers who’d moved to Cornwall from somewhere up country and held mental drinking sessions on a bus which they’d entirely splattered in paint. I later discovered that these drinking sessions involved building fires out of tyres and other detritus, placing armchairs in the middle of them, seeing who could sit on them for the longest, and eating puppy poo.

So it was I came to encounter my first travellers in their own habitat. A couple of years earlier, I’d been watching the news with my ma one evening, not paying much attention to a story about ‘the convoy’ and how they’d been trundling around being disapproved of, getting evicted from places and generally smelling, when Ma had suddenly said, “You’ll never run away and join the Peace Convoy, will you?”  I was about 15 then and had no idea about anything apart from eye liner, ankle boots and a massive sense of unfocused dissatisfaction, so I looked at her in the way that 15 year olds look at their parents when they speak, and humphed some sort of “of course not” response. But she knew. She must have known.

So when I next visited Cornwall to grunt at my parents, I met up with the ex-boyfriend who was very keen to show off his excessively cool new acquaintances in whom I had so little interest that it was pretty much a vacuum of interestedness – a minus-interest. But he insisted, so I got into his car and drove with him through the desolate wasteland that is the old mining district of Cornwall, feeling progressively more depressed with each clunk and clank of rock against exhaust as we jerked our way up to a rocky precipice upon which was parked this old bus.

The ex-boyfriend was as enthusiastic as a puppy dog. He knocked on the bus door and someone from inside yelled some sort of consonantless sound effect which presumably meant, “do come in”, and he pushed the folding door open onto some darkness, some mud, a pile of boots and some steps.

The bus windows were mainly painted over, so it was hard at first to see in the gloom, but I followed the ex-boyfriend up the steps where we kicked our boots into the pile of others and walked onto the bus in our socks. There were three or four people lurking in the murk, but nobody spoke or seemed particularly bothered whether we were there or not. One of the humans seemed entirely unconscious, another semi-conscious with his eyes open, and two were sentient but had been away from school the week they did social skills.

Ex-boyfriend had clearly been exaggerating in his letters, just as I had been; he’d raved effusively about the hilarity of the bus’s inhabitants. I had obviously caught them on an off day, but we bravely endeavoured to uphold the traditions of social intercourse and chatted about London, Hackney, the squatting scene and whatever. All these topics of conversation were met with mild impatience by the only female inhabitant of the bus, a plain girl with short brown dreads and a lot of brown clothing who had clearly been everywhere and done everything already, and done it in a much more laid back and cool way than I had. She, for example, had never made the mistake of attending a squat party enthusiastically. No fucking way, man. Enthusiasm was a sure sign of a novice alternative type. Real ‘types’ would only ever do things nonchalantly and with visible derision. I was such a twat.

The other sentient being in the bus was a wiry male with big curly hair illuminated dimly from behind by the light leaking between the paint sploshes on the windows, making it impossible to make out his actual face. He was wearing massive, filthy trousers that seemed to be made up of about 5 ragged pairs all stuck together with grease creating a leathery trouser life-form independent of his actual legs. The male in question was drinking his way steadily through an extensive supply of Special Brew and only spoke to make sarcastic comments and laugh derisively.

This may well have been the most horrible visit I have ever made to anyone in my entire life – before or since. The atmosphere was so oppressive that it felt like I was breathing moulten lead; everything I said was met with low-level scorn, and the ex-boyfriend seemed to think everything was dead cool. I was desperate to get out of there. My friend E will recognise the horrible feeling. This was my first ever experience of the horrible feeling that was to become absolutely familiar as I became more and more embroiled in this world where everyone preached community while stabbing each other in the back.

The significance of this story? The significance of this in not just that it was my first ever encounter with the traveller existence that for some unfathomable reason was to become mine for the next ten years or so; the real significance is that the horrible curly haired man I met and despised that day on that bus has now been my husband for 22 years.

Oh, and our second son who has just turned 18; he’s putting two-thirds of his money into a savings account for university and taking his girlfriend out for dinner. He will probably never understand why I am so proud of him.