Sunday 29 May 2011

The Embarrassment of Living

A few months ago I spent a happy half hour musing about the blogs I follow and deciding on the bloggers who, in my considered opinion, were most deserved recipients of my Stylish Blogger Award.

I spent the next week, however, cringing about those blogs I’d plain and simply forgotten, praying, for once, that nobody would read my blog. Alas, it had the most page views ever at the time and the post is still ranked third most popular of my 37 posts to date. Typical.

So it was with great delight that I learnt that the lovely, Shawna Railey had presented me with another Stylish Blogger Award. Delighted, partly because I love getting awards, but also because it gives me a second chance to do the job properly. I apologise in advance for any fantastic blogs I miss this time; to those authors I say, it isn’t you, it’s my ageing brain cells. 

The rules state that I have to share seven random facts about myself with you. I’d love to pretend that I did all that last time but in truth, I shied away then as well, started waxing on instead about various landmark moments in my life, generally printed large on my psyche for all the wrong reasons. I tried to follow the rules this time, I really did, but I have to admit, even my mind started wandering around point two which didn’t bode well for the rest of the list.  I started thinking instead about the plethora of embarrassing incidents in my life - self-embarrassment is the one thing I’m exceptionally good at.  It would appear that I embarrass myself on average once a week and the older I get, the bigger the incident seems to be.


I struggle with my hearing. There are certain frequencies I can’t hear and some sounds which I don’t hear clearly. So it doesn’t matter how loud somebody shouts, if I can’t make out the individual sounds, there’s nothing raised decibels can do about it.  To save mine and the interlocutor’s unease, I find myself guessing, a lot. 

Standing proudly in front of my stand at an exhibition, our patron, HRH Princess Anne approached and we all performed our practiced curtseys and remembered in which order to say, Your Highness, Ma’am etc.  Princess Anne asked me a question. To this day I don’t know what the question was. I really couldn’t hear. Once I’d asked for a second time and was none the wiser, I drew on my, often reliable, sixth sense to decide between the affirmative and negative in response.  Yes, I said. Alas the correct answer was clearly no. I say, ‘clearly’ because HRH Princess Anne screwed up her face into a look of disgust and asked incredulously, ‘Do you really think that sludge, blooo, wahhh…?’ I couldn’t hear that either.  I shook my head; of course I didn’t think that! The wonderful Chief Exec of the charity for which I then worked followed behind, grinned inanely and winked at me. I think I just about got away with it, however, I never mentioned it to him, nor him to me.

Around the same time, (the more I think about it, my twenties must have been particularly excruciating) the conductor wanted to see my train ticket. The train was packed.  I took my purse out of my bag and out with the purse came a bunch of tampons. The incident alone wouldn’t have ranked worthy of a note on this page in the face of such stiff and substantial competition, more the fact that the conductor, bless him, set about picking up the said tampons as they rolled down the carriage much to the amusement of every single passenger. I would have been quite happy simply to glance away from the scene, feigning ignorance as to the source of the tumbling tampons, however the kind conductor retrieved every one, it would appear, and placed the pile on the table in front of me. And then he checked my ticket. 

I should add that I was going through a stage of blushing for the smallest of reasons. Sometimes I’d go red and didn’t even know the source of the blush.  I do remember turning a sort of deep violet colour on this occasion, so forceful was it, it actually caused my face to sweat.

Otherwise, inconsequential incidents take on a certain gravitas when performed in front of a new boyfriend’s parents, I find.  I break glasses frequently, my family barely even notice any more and I certainly don’t remember every breakage. However, the crystal glass which disintegrated in my hands as I performed my first every washing up stint during my first ever meeting with my boyfriend, now husband’s, parents makes me wince just thinking about it. I realised quite how expensive the glass was when my mother-in-law-to-be did her absolute best to say that it really didn’t matter but no words actually came out, just a sort of painful smiling grimace.

There are other boyfriend ones. I do remember for some inexplicable reason, falling off the pavement into the road as the whole school trooped down the road to church when I was about 13, right at the feet of Chris, my new ‘love’. Our relationship didn’t last long after that, in fact, I don’t believe we ever spoke again.  Teenage embarrassment is really hard to top, isn’t it!

I’ll stop there.  Will you share any with us? Go on, please, we'll keep it to ourselves...  

Many thanks to Shawna for the award. You can see Shawna’s blog over at Her award acceptance speech is great! I like the way she also studiously avoids any mention of random facts about herself. J

Here’s my list of great blogs to follow. Please take a look and for you five proud bloggers, here are the rules:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.
2. Tell us 7 things about yourself.
3. Award 5 recently discovered great bloggers.
4. Contact these bloggers and let them know they have won!

Ooops, was it meant to be only five? Silly me…

Sunday 15 May 2011

Four adults and a baby.

Litopia, a fantastic site for unpublished and published writers looking for feedback and support, was seeking blog posts on the theme of holidays and I just found myself writing about this.  Would love to hear your own experiences...

Four adults. Check! Nine litres of water, eight nappies, three different factor suncreams and a ten month old. Check! Our descent down the Grand Canyon had begun.

Our baby bounced happily at my husband’s shoulders in her rucksack – not just any old rucksack, you understand, “Made in Canada,” my husband boasted. “They know how to make them there.”

We were very proud. So advanced was this baby rucksack that we could adjust it to fit vertically challenged me and vertically gifted hubbie. The straps didn’t rub and the back panel repelled the sweat. And this was when materials didn’t wick away perspiration.  This was 1999 when the only repellents we’d heard of were bad breath and hairy nostrils.

It was hot.

It was OK to take a ten month down the Grand Canyon, we’d assured ourselves, the key was simply to make sure that she was constantly hydrated. Nine litres of water should cover it; perhaps there’d even be a drop or too left over for the rest of us. My husband did question the eight nappies but I reminded him how we found out that the dypers we’d been buying in America were the same in name only to our trusted British brand of nappies - when faced with a wee- infused hired car seat a mere coo and a cuddle after a previous change.

Did I mention it was hot? Stifling, to be precise. My otherwise wonderfully laid-back husband has been known to get a little grumpy in extreme heat and he looked slightly uncomfortable.

“I can carry the rucksack,” I insisted, to which the other three chorused that I wasn’t allowed on account of being pregnant.

“Let me take her,” said Paul.

I should point out here that our friend, Paul, is now a doting father of two beautifully brought up girls and has done his fair share of changing nappies, wiping noses and feeding. At the time, however, he had a phobia: babies’ muck. It was a proper phobia; almost putting him off having children. He could do holding, cuddling and playing but he couldn’t do dirty faces or, God forbid, smelly bottoms. 

However, when our baby was rested, fed and nappy unnecessarily changed, he happily threw her and her state of the art rucksack onto his back.

We were a quarter of a way in. It was getting hotter. The sun was an elongated star right up above us, the air was dry and the orange dust of the path was hitting the back of our mouths.

We took another water break. Our first born was happily flicking her squeaky smurf on a rope back and forth, Sally and I were marvelling, hubbie was enthusing  about the experience despite it being 20 degrees hotter than his sensitive body would generally choose.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” I asked Paul.

“No problem,” he answered, agreeing that the rucksack was truly a work of engineering genius; he could hardly tell he’d got it on.

“You’re so hot though,” I persisted. “There’s sweat dripping down the back of your legs.” Paul claimed it was a mystery. He wasn’t generally a sweaty boy, even playing football, it didn’t spray off him as it did now. We concluded that the body must cope differently when you descend in heat rather than when you ascend a mountain and the air gets cooler.

We set off for the next stop where, it had been decreed, hubbie would take over responsibility for our baby again. 

We didn’t get that far.

“Mate, your shorts are absolutely drenched.  We’ll swap at the nearest opportunity,” hubbie ordered.  We found a secluded area just to the side of the path and huddled together. It wasn’t a designated stop, more a shelf in the orange dust.  

“Oh that’s gross,” Sally said, as Paul removed the rucksack to reveal a yellow edged stain covering his pale t-shirt and sand coloured shorts.

“Mate, you stink!” My husband likes to say it as it is.

“It’s not his fault.” I felt guilty.

I think that was the point when hubbie and I looked at each other and tried unsuccessfully to stifle great guffaws of laughter. Paul, with his aversion to all baby bodily fluids, hadn’t sweated at all, not even a bead. Our baby had simply excreted nine litres of baby wee all down his back, seemingly bi-passing any nappy-type protection en route.

Paul shivered a little, lifted the offending shirt away from his back and pushed out his stomach to keep the offensive material away from the concave this created. We all rushed to his assistance, wiping all visible skin with baby wipes.

“You know,” he said to hubbie, “I will let you carry her now.”

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Oxygen Tank

Through the wonderful world of Twitter, I met Thea Atkinson recently who writes psychological and historical thrillers with a deep and dark exploration into the human spirit. She has no less than five novels published on Kindle available at Amazon, BN, Kobo, Diesel and Smashwords. 
We decided to ‘guest post’ on each other’s blogs and Thea’s going first. Please take a look at her thought provoking musings on ageing – you’ll be digging out your photo albums!  You can read Thea’s own blog and find out more about her books at 
Me, I’m guest blogging over there on 13th June but I’ll remind you before then, don’t worry…

The ever-present hum of an oxygen machine fills in conversational gaps as Stan, a retired light keeper, and I sit in the bedroom he calls home. I sit on his bed holding his photo album while he and a small black poodle occupy the Lazy Boy chair. The summer sun hasn't yet set past the one window that filters light in on both of us. Even in the limited daylight, he looks weary, aged more than his cropped, white hair should allow.
We've both lived in the same community our entire lives: one historically dependent on fishing for survival. While he experienced our hometown through whatever light his small beacon managed, I've grown up in an age where every house has at least one car, one television set, and a phone that can easily call for pizza delivery.
I know my town has a history. That's why I've come; I fancy I can capture Stan's stories before they're lost. He catches me off guard by telling me about a circus ship that caught fire here in the harbour.
As he describes the event, the noise of the animals, the licking of the flames against the wooden hull, he struggles to pull in air from the oxygen tank and I imagine the elephants, the lions, the tigers onboard doing the same. 
I wonder how something so extraordinary could pass through a few decades and become an unknown entity to a new generation. A bit of history disappearing like condensed breath. I wonder what else I don't know....what I've forgotten.
As he drags in a breath and the oxygen machine gives a metallic exhale, he strokes the poodle curled on his lap. We look at his pictures of the town’s past. Besides being faded and brown, they're unfamiliar. Almost all of them are of boats. I point to one in particular, and he fumbles to take it from between its plastic sleeves. It's of his father's vessel, from when he ran passengers from Killam's wharf down to the MarkLand Hotel.
I know Killam's wharf; I've walked it. I replace his photo with an image of my own. I walk in my mind, over its wooden slats and smell the salty air. I remember standing beside the recent gazebo addition during SeaFest celebrations. Strains of popular music filter into the image from the memory of the live band that played. It's a good memory, a recent one. But it was with the knowledge that the historic property wasn't always historic. Once it was practical.
And what of the hotel he mentions--one that had to be reached by boat. I think of the main hotel now -- Rodd's Grand. An image creeps into my head of the red brick shell, the exterior, electronic marquee, the dining room bustling with waitresses hurrying to serve coffee. I think of the bar just around the corner from the dining area and the popular music it plays. Those images flip through my thoughts like Stan's photos, faded yet present.
He shows me the CNR station from July 28, 1916, tells me how the circus sometimes came by train and that he would jump in the dorey and row up underneath the station to watch them unload the animals.
Ah, yes. The train station. I study the photo and the odd look of it because the people are dressed differently. My mind takes me to the station of my youth and it overlays the photo of a station past. I traveled to University many times by train. The station of my day offered travel by bus too, and I'd expected a terminal like in the movies--with rows of seats, luggage everywhere. It turned out to be a cubbyhole. But it still had that sense of impending change--at least, for a young girl who got homesick just standing there waiting to leave town and family.
A few years back, they tore that station down, put up a Wendy's and Tim Horton's. Of course, to honor the era before, they styled the restaurant after an old-time train terminal.
Although I try to keep up with Stan and the shots he shows me, I can't help mentally wandering through my town, through my childhood, my present, and comparing it to his.
My Yarmouth has cars in every driveway. I realize his boyhood home had no driveway. He'd lived in a tiny lighthouse on a bit of land on the edge of an island: the Bug Light, it was called, remote enough to require dorey travel because it was dependent on the tides.
I think of how I hate to get into my car in the dead of winter and wait until the engine heats up enough to blow warm air onto my frigid fingers. I don't want to think of living in a beacon so small its only well for water in the winter is the dorey that caught snow as it fell.
The photos spark something within me. As my memory travels the main street, ducking into the drugstore, the magazine shop, Stan continues to flip his pictures. He's meandering down the path of memory, pulling me along with him through sepia images.
Stan mentions ships powered by sail. There are photos of schooners from the '30s loaded with salt and coal. I'd never before imagined that town supplies would come by boat. There are delivery trucks for that. He talks of lighting the darkness with kerosene, banging on bells to warn the boats.
If I close my eyes and pretend I'm not sitting in an ever-darkening room with the noise of an oxygen machine, I can actually begin to imagine a stormy coast lit by a red light. If I let my memory slip back to my childhood, I can actually hear the foghorn. At least we have that in common: remembering the long-abandoned horn.
I suppose technology has improved things, saved lives, but I miss the horn. It occurs to me that I never realized it had stopped calling to the fog until just now.
I try to jigsaw together his pieces of history, his photos, into my present and sometimes into my recent past. Sometimes it's easy. Other times, I shake my head in disbelief
My hometown bustles with impatience; it can't wait to grow into a city's shoes. His Yarmouth is younger than mine, it's a town made possible by a pinprick of light through foggy darkness. And yet, our community is the same community. Mine exists because of his.  
The sun sets further. The brief orange light against the wall has changed to a dull gray. It matches my mood. I feel I've lost something and only just rediscovered it. Stan is oblivious. He flips page after page. Photos move like a mini movie, but disjointed and silent.
The poodle stirs. I realize I've been sitting hunched over myself far too long, trying to make out faded photographs and the cadence of his words through the rhythmic inhale and exhale of his machine. I stretch. So does the dog. It peers through pebble eyes at the man whose white hair contrasts so nicely with the darkness of the room. Stan adjusts the tubes that supply his lungs with oxygen.
Through the guise of photos, I have been given a lesson. I've learned that this, my present, will one day be my past. I want to savor it. I want to breathe in Yarmouth, as he does, and capture it.