Monday, 3 April 2017

The Struck Match

I've been clearing my mother's house; those of you who follow me on Instagram might have seen my hashtag #thestruckmatch and marvelled at my ability to be entirely self-referential.

Grieving is an odd animal. When it began - which really, was before my mother died - I was convinced that I would lovingly document everything I gave to the charity shop/ shoved in the bin/ nicked and took to my house in a beautiful new blog.

Turns out I didn't. Turns out I got all practical and goal-orientated, which is not like me at all. So I share this post, the first and only post on what was to be my house clearing blog (and with hindsight what a mesmorising read that wouldn't have been).

I was an only child. An only child of a mother who liked to keep things, who liked the history of objects, who didn't like waste, who was brought up in the original Make Do and Mend era, when you had to, when it wasn't pretty. She threw few things away.

Sometime back in the early 2000s I went out for dinner with my friend D in London. She was in a similar position, except that she had just lost her grandmother, and her mother was making no attempt to get rid of anything from that previous generation. We were both, we realised, going to inherit years and years of accumulated clutter, and have to deal with it alone, with no siblings to say, yes, get rid, for heaven's sake. Just us. With the houses full of junk, and the grief, and the guilt.

We made a pact. (We had been drinking). When the time came, we would call on each other to release us from our plight, and we would give the poor, bereaved, be-cluttered person permission to put a match to the whole lot.

I texted her the other day and told her to ready the matches.

There's an irony here, though, for as I made a start on looking in cupboards and drawers, I found that my mother had been hoarding scented candles. She didn't like them. But if people gave them, as a present, she wouldn't give them away. What if you needed them? So she stowed them in the cupboard under the telephone, or in a drawer full of thread and old spectacles (again! old spectacles! why?).

A house smells different when it's empty. It smells still, and unfamiliar, and discomforting. Or maybe that's just me, noting how it doesn't really smell like it did when my mother was truly living - not surviving - but living in it. I thought I would light the scented candles during the times I was here - I like them, even if my mother didn't.

So I started the process by looking for matches. "Where are the matches, mother?" I asked the empty house, and I found them, damp and unused (because she had nothing to light) in a drawer.

And I struck one.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

So now I am actually trying to sell you something

A few years ago, the lovely Driftwood and I met up with our families at a National Trust place and did a whole load of activities that were designed for slightly less sarcastic people with slightly younger children.

One of the activities was making flying kites out of bits of plastic and string. This obviously led us to spend the afternoon wandering around the landscaped gardens dreaming up a business that sold kites made out of Liberty fabric that didn't fly at all. Because what kind of self-respecting craft business would actually make an item that had a practical use?

However. I was at a point in my career - go on, let's at least call it that - where I wasn't sure what direction I could go in. I thought I could take a bit of control for myself. Perhaps a little craft business, where I tinkered around making lovely things with lovely fabric, would be just the thing?

And so it was that I bought some books in order to learn to make kites that actually flew. 

I learned about dihedral joints and eddy kites, and buying string that was measured in lbs, and the Beaufort wind force scale. I spent hours in the garden with a hacksaw, balancing poles. Making kites, it turned out, is more about physics than fabric. I had loads of fun, lots of trial and error and scribbled notes, and eventually came up with two kite designs, a small 'pocket' kite and a larger, fold-away model, and I made a few little kite brooches and did a couple of craft fairs and set up an Etsy shop and told no-one about it.

Megan recently used this quote by James Baldwin on her gorgeous blog, the scent of water
...this collision between one's image of oneself and what one actually is, is always painful, and there are two things you can do about it; you can confront the collision head-on and try and become what you really are, or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish

Which is a bit dramatic - I'm not on the verge of perishing by selling a few kites - but true. Over time, the job I took three years ago because I needed a job and the hours were right has gradually turned into a home, into the only job I could possibly be doing. It's lovely. But it doesn't solve the problem of this suitcase full of kites.

So. Come and buy. The link is in the sidebar. I've listed the kites one last time before I shut up shop. The kites fly, and they're pretty, and I adored making them and I learned a lot - about taking control, and about going where the wind takes you.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Getting hyggy with it

(I know. You don't say higgy. Leave it.)

A new routine has taken shape at home. Most evenings, my mother comes over to eat; after dinner we wrap her in a quilt and try to work out what to watch on TV which she won't dislike. She dozes.

Eldest could be homeworking (not) or messaging friends and watching YouTube videos. Mr Coffee could be working on his laptop, or playing Minecraft with Littlest, who would be playing Minecraft without him if he was working. I may be knitting a row or two of my ill-fated sock (unravelled 4 times already).

I've started to light candles, because these evenings deserve a reverence. They're normal. Normal is good, normal could end at any time.

The other night I went to a friend's house for a bonfire party and we all stood around watching the fireworks whilst drinking cheap whisky out of jamjars. At one point I thought - and I held onto it, in that moment - "I am so happy just now. I am SO HAPPY."

I like this quote from this article about hygge:
It feels incredible to share these drama-free moments with those you care about. If you realize that it is only for a dinner or a lunch or a limited period of time, it makes it much easier to really try and enjoy that moment."
"A limited period of time". That's the fella. That's where we are right now.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Winter is coming

“Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths.”
George R R Martin, A Song of Fire And Ice

We were a bit late to the Game of Thones party, Mr Coffee and I. It was only a few weeks ago we finally got around to watching Season 2. (DO NOT TELL ME WHO IS DEAD ALREADY.) And by the time we did, it was so long ago since we'd watched Season 1 that I'd forgotten who everyone was, so I got hold of the first book, and came across the quote above.

Anyone who has watched more than a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones will know that all that 'winter is coming' stuff is not just about it getting a bit colder. It's about a family's life changing, and the realisation that complaints about kids throwing up in tents and not having enough time to do the garden are just summer squabbles. Winter is coming, and we must keep each other warm.

I made a quilt. It only took me two years.

It's a rainbow quilt, hand pieced and machine quilted, made up of bits of Liberty that I collected during my summer squabbles. I wasn't choosy. If it was even slightly related to the colour next to it, it went in. And even if it didn't.

It has an extra warm batting from the local fabric shop, which is suitable for the coming colder months. Because in Winter we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths.

My children's strengths lie mainly in recrimination and anger. This enforced familial protection is not one they buy into very easily. I just had a screaming row with Eldest whilst I was actually writing my blog post, which culminated in me holding her close, really hard, whilst she struggled with her anger, her frustration, and both our desires to punch each other in the face.

There's a lot in store for us, this Winter. It's GCSE year. And my mother - The Grandmother, my children's beloved refuge, who lives just down the street - has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

And it strikes me as bizarre, right now, the things I used to complain about. The state of the living room floor. How difficult it was to get to swimming lessons on time.

I honestly don't know how many people still read blogs now, and it's so long since I wrote on mine, I don't know who is still around. If you do, and you are, please no comments that will make me cry. If you like, you can tell me the most bizarre and unimportant thing that you complained about this week. Because Winter is coming, and it will be good to have something to look back on and laugh at our whinging summer selves.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Five things that are not on a Friday

It really doesn't matter whether you understand the title. I do. And it's my blog, and I can do what I damn well please.

Oh, OKAY.  It's from Tess's post, which made me laugh out loud this morning and remind me all about the tiny things and made me want to do my own. It's not Friday anymore. But it's my blog, and I can do etc etc etc.

  1. I bought Alys Fowler's The Thrifty Garden from the charity shop for 50p, which was super-thrifty.
  2. I harvested, parcooked and froze Red Russian Kale that I planted from seed in the garden last year, and if that doesn't make me super-flipping-human I don't know what does. The results are a golf-ball sized blob of frozen kale. I am like Barbara Good over here. (Including the drinking).

    1. I started listening to The Archers. Eldest watches Emmerdale. Nothing is right about any of this.
    2. I made four dresses. I can't photograph them. I've tried, really hard, but the pictures never seem right and I refuse to accept that this is because they represent what I actually look like. Nope. Not at all.
    3. All kind of crap is happening right now. All kinds of potentially life-changing horrible crap. So I came back to the perky space, to the space where I can use kale and dresses and Barbara Good and not have to apologise for that.
    Five things. It was a stretch.

    Sunday, 3 January 2016


    So on January 1 I started a diary, in which I recorded ground-breaking information about whether or not I had managed to do any yoga, and then on January 2 I thought What! on earth am I doing? Surely if anyone should know whether or not I have done any yoga, it should be The Entire Internet!

    Just to clarify: I haven't done any yoga. Not that that was one of my New Year's Resolutions. Not that I had any. I mean. Well, apart from Dry January and trying to do More Useful Things and eat healthier and exercise and generally set myself up for failure.

    Let's see what's actually possible instead.

    In 2016 I resolve not to begin any huge paper-pieced quilt projects that will take a couple of years to complete. This is a part of the border of my Rainbow Nightmare Quilt, pieced whilst waiting for the Epiphany Carol Serice, and I look forward to the day that the nightmare ends. Hopefully in a quilt.

    In 2016 I'll continue to relish my job as Mum's Taxi to a chorister. Littlest joined a church choir some time ago, and allowed me to discover an unexpected love of choral music. Once I week I sit in a pew near the front and marvel at this gorgeous sound. Cub Scouts was never this good.

    And in 2016 I'll continue to learn. Last Autumn I took an eight-week evening taster course on counselling; and I've signed up for the next step, which starts in a couple of days. I have a new notebook all ready. I'm going back to school.

    Monday, 7 December 2015

    AND I missed my Ebay auction

    It's been raining here. It's been raining so much that we made the national Guardian. (This happens very rarely when you're in the North of England). It's been raining so much that the river overflowed, the power station flooded, the electricity went off and actual rescue boats started actually operating in the actual city centre.

     Mr Coffee set off the night before last in his waterproof trousers to look at the river, which had gone slightly insane, and came back with blurry photos of an underwater skate park and some lights reflected in a road. In a road, that is, which was no longer a road, but a small waterway running past the fabric shop.

    The power went off on Saturday night. Those frock dramas on the TV when they wander about by candlelight fail to convey quite how little light one candle gives off in a completely blackened house.

    On Sunday morning we dug out the camping stove, assessed the 'what will go off first' situation, and came up with something based on prawns. Then began the race against time to get the floors clean of life-threatening Lego and small items with wheels which might be our undoing when darkness fell.

    At 3.30pm, Littlest and I started ramming things into a paper bag rather than putting things in drawers - darkness was coming. We could see the sunset over the chimney pots.

    Here is an extract from Littlest's Power Cut diary. (Actually this is all she wrote. It got too dark to see the paper.) And yes, that does say 'arguing' by candlelight. It's always best to start a physical scrap with your sister next to a row of naked flames.

    Oblivion was upon us. We had to actually talk to one another, because due to the huge power outage there wasn't even a mobile signal. The newspapers reported students queuing up outside phoneboxes in town 'for the first time in their lives'. 

    This morning at 6am the house sprang to life. Littlest was rather sad, until she found her school was closed for the day. Eldest was rather sad because her school wasn't closed for the day. I was rather relieved because the chest freezer had somehow held its contents in an icy stasis despite a complete lack of cooling electricity.

    There are families and businesses who will take months to get back to normal; we've been very lucky. I had booked the day off to get on top of Christmas shopping, but with Littlest at home there is little chance of that. I might be forced to sew myself a new top instead.

    Yes. We've been lucky indeed.