Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stripy T-shirts

The day we went to London was also the day we met up with some cousins who had flown over from America. I hadn't seen them in years and I wanted to make a good impression.

The couple have two boys who are 10 and 12 years old. They didn't accompany them on this trip so I hand over a couple of small gifts for the parents to take back for them.

I had read somewhere that one of England's favorite children's writers isn't promoted in America as she is thought to be too subversive. I decide that I'll get my son to root through his box of old CDs and find the one with her stories. The boys will love them. I'll also pick up a couple of new books to go with them.

When my son gets home from school I ask him about the CD.

'You never bought me CDs Mum. It was always cassette tapes from the bargain section'

I vaguely remember this and I doubt if the boys will even have a cassette player.

I go online and find the CD, the price is good but the 1st class postage needed to guarantee delivery is a whopping £8. It seems a bit much when I could drive 5 miles and pick it up from a local bookstore.

It is the next day and I am in the store and have found the CD but am now wondering if the age range is a bit low. It states that it is suitable for children down to the age of 3. I'm quite certain that my own son was still listening to it when he was the same age as the younger one but I think I'll be pushing my luck with the 12 year old. And I'm now not that sure about what sort of books to buy them. I'll have to think of something else.

I decide to go into the shop next door and look at T-shirts.

Upstairs I start sorting through the sale rail. There are lots to fit the younger one. But nothing for his brother. Then I start to worry. I have no idea of what they might like. I still have items tucked into drawers that distant relatives kindly bought for my own son over the years. They either didn't fit or were hideously out of step with their choice.

And then I see a row of stripy T-shirts.

I love this look. Particularly on children. I find two of the same design but in the correct sizes, one blue and one green. I'm happy and relieved.

Later that night I show them to my son.

'But I thought you were buying them books and a CD?'

'Well...I thought maybe the CD was a little young for them and I don't really know their taste with books. It seemed like the best option'

'So you buy them stripy T-shirts instead? That's so boring. And you're inflicting your own weird sense of taste on other peoples children. You're sick'

I'm used to my sons scathing breakdown of any personality traits or defects he feels I may have.

'Well, I think they'll look lovely'

'Mum, not only have you got them your own twisted version of what you imagine boys would want to wear but you've also got them exactly the same. They'll hate you'

'They aren't exactly the same, I chose different colours'

'They'll always hate you'

A week or so after our lunch my cousin sends me an email thanking me for the T-shirts - the boys love them, she writes, they've worn them all week!

I'm thrilled and show my son.

'It's all lies Mum. She has to write that'

He looks at me pityingly.

'You've got to stop being so gullible. Even with family'

Friday, February 25, 2011


During the half-term break I take my son up to London for the day. A museum in the morning and then his choice in the afternoon. He has always loved history but his favorite is a trip to the Tate Modern art gallery, mainly to see the latest installation in the Turbine hall. He seems to get real inspiration from them. It's a familiar routine, but he is getting older now and is less willing to fall in with my suggestions.

We start off at the British Museum.

'Oh God!!' he says 'not that again!'

He has a point. We always start off at the British Museum. In fact we never seem to get any further than the marble statues on the ground floor. Or the Egyptians next door.

We push through the heavy double doors and into the vast atrium. It is filled with people all scurrying with purpose in and out of the different rooms. My sons face is cemented within an expression of thunderous gloom. I try to match it with one of perky and uplifting insight.

'Well, we're here now so we'll just have a quick look at the sarcophagi and some of the statuary. You'll probably enjoy it once we're in there '

I look at him warily. He gives me a death stare.

I feel as if we are entering the Dark Ages. After years of him fitting in amenably with any of my plans all of a sudden we are constantly at battle. And yet I know its normal. That knowledge doesn't seem to make it any easier though.

I decide that the best thing to do is to ignore him. I plough on with deep parental disregard for his misery and march ahead with an energetic flounce. I glance behind to see him following, twisted torment written upon his face, nausea and revulsion playing across his pursed lips.

We start to elbow our way into the Egyptian rooms and through the milling masses all circling around the sarcophagi. It's too warm and too crowded and it gradually begins to dawn on me that it's actually a rather unpleasant experience. I remember my own childhood visits to museums with my father.

My father was always an avid museum goer. He loved anything ancient, dusty and trapped behind glass. Add a couple of wretchedly bored children and a queue to get in and he'd have had a highly enjoyable afternoon.

He didn't ever listen to us when we moaned, sulked or even cried our way behind him on endless stifling excursions. The only highlight was the gift shop at the end and the feverish purchasing of postcards featuring exhibits we had studiously avoided for the previous 3 hours.

I treasured those postcards. They were kept for decades. I still have some from a visit to the Tower of London with pictures of the Crown Jewels, the corners now well-thumbed and as soft as rabbit ears.

But it put me off museums for years.

I tell my son that he has twenty minutes to do what he wants while I go and look at the Parthenon Friezes. A look of utter relief floods into his face.

I walk through into the hall next door and stand and gaze in blissful peace and at the overwhelmingly beautiful Roman statue of Aphrodite bathing. I marvel at the exquisiteness of the artistry which has created her smooth voluptuous beauty. I go on inside and view the Sirens, their damp dresses clinging to their thighs, chiseled painstakingly and miraculously out of massive slabs of cold marble. I am enthralled by the centaurs on the Greek friezes, they rear up lustful and vicious, fighting warriors and galloping off with their maidens. I look at each piece, drinking in the tiny details, each breathtakingly crafted feature, each furrowed brow and taut polished muscle. They are magnificent.

My mobile rings. It is my son.

'Hi Mum'

'Where are you?'

'In the gift shop'

I go and find him. He is standing in the queue for the till. He looks happy. He is clutching a set of postcards.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


It's been a very blustery day and I'm standing by the car in Tesco's parking-lot, holding my hat against my head and staring high up into the sky at a huge tree that skyscrapers above me. It is stripped bare of leaves and being bent treacherously by the powerful gales that are still blasting through the area.

Highlighted against the great pale empty sky is a big birds nest perched right in between the very top branches. The branches are being battered and bruised and beaten by the wind but they still manage to hold on, not to tear or break. I stand open-mouthed, transfixed and marvelling at the sight and at how the nest manages to survive this cruel maelstrom of natural violence.

I think of the occupants quivering in fear of sudden eviction, I picture birds with spindly legs and little hooked claws clinging frantically to the nest and trying to keep it intact, feathery bottoms dug in hard against the tiny twigs and dead foliage that they call home.

My son ambles past slumped against an empty trolley he is wheeling back to its station.

'Look!' I say 'Just look at that birds nest, isn't it incredible the way its surviving in all that wind?'

He looks up at the tree and then back at me. He continues wheeling and slumping.

I think about birds and their mothers and harsh environments.

On his way back my son comes and stands next to me. 'It isn't a birds nest', he says, 'it's a clump of Mistletoe'.

'Oh. Yes'.

We share a smile and get back into the car.