Monday, 31 October 2011

Who am I?

I am:

Strong; persistent; funny; warm; caring; capable; intelligent; cuddly; maternal; musical; amazing; busy; supportive; kind; generous; witty; friendly; outgoing; helpful; honest; happy; content; crazy; interesting; liberated; liberal; broad-minded; loving;

Obstinate; easily thrown; indecisive; lazy; acquisitive; boring; egocentric; wasteful; boastful; smug; cantankerous; bitchy; hot-tempered; negative; shy; introverted; defensive; bewildered; crazy;

I am not: energetic; quickthinking; alert; mistrustful; distrustful; disrespectful; careful; perfect.

Friday, 7 October 2011


I feel as restless as the gale rocking the house (no mean feat - the house is terraced. The whole row must be shaking). So I've decided to record one of the saddest and yet most life-affirming days of my life.

This afternoon - yesterday afternoon I suppose - I attended the funeral of the mother of one of my best friends from school, one of my longest-standing and definitely my most steadfast friend, who has never, over the years, forgotten me; never given up on me; never let me go.

It was an afternoon of memories, tangible and ethereal, bittersweet but without recrimination. It was an afternoon I don't think I will ever forget. I don't want to ever forget again.

It was the Afternoon-of-the-Not-For-A-Long-Times. Not for a long time have I visited the particular church where the Requiem Mass was held; my last memory of being there, although I know I visited it many times after, was as a bridesmaid at the first wedding of my eldest sister. Not for a long, too long, time, have I seen the friend I want to hug tight from across the church. Not since I sang it as a solo for my own father's funeral nearly 19 years ago have I sung the hymn led by my friend and her family. Not for the longest time have I felt the comfort of ritual and of familiar words I thought I had lost forever.

Not for 38 years have I crossed the threshold of what used to be the infant block of my Primary School before it moved to new premises. Arriving some time before the majority of guests, I have time to wander with my phone and snap away the intervening years - this is the room where I dance to Music With Movement as a five-year-old in vest and knickers; these are the boys' toilets that I walk into by mistake on my very first day at school, not knowing any different - a toilet is surely a toilet? - and get my first educational telling off. Actually, musing on that, I've been straying into men's toilets ever since. That's what I call true equality. But no - today I refrain from entering what are now the men's toilets in what is now used as the church hall.

Some parts I no longer recognise. The main hall itself I am sure used to be partitioned into possibly 3 classrooms. Of course the cloakroom has gone, and I don't recognise Miss Pullen's class, the first classroom I know, that I can still picture to this day. There are new structures, new doorways, but still the same Victorian decoration. Long gone is the dinner hall, which used to be across the road. I stand and gaze at the relatively new (well probably 30+ years old) mechanicky garagey affair that has taken its place - but I can still see the original building, feel the hand of another child in mine as we crocodile across the road every day for lunch, and yes the smell of cabbagey custard is still there. I swear.

Outside - there are the bullseyes we use for ballgames. The bars (aka climbing frames) have gone. But there is the corner I stand in for a whole term because I am terrified of being knocked over by bigger kids. There's the spot where I first redecorate my face, when - what was her name? It's lurking behind the boxes in a dark corner - an older girl who has adopted me, spins me around so fast that I let go, nearly break my nose and black both eyes on the tarmac. There is the alleyway between church and junior block that I walk on the day I take my First Communion. Surely these playgrounds have shrunk? They should be huge. But strangely they're not.

My friend and I can't stop hugging. We live no more than 20 miles apart, but I have been just about as flakey as a friend gets over the years. None of that seems to matter now, we are back in touch, and I can't believe that after all these years she wants me there on such a special and sad day. It is a true celebration of life, and the people-memories are just waiting to tap me on the shoulder. Our families seem to have been intertwined for many years - her cousin was at school and close friends with my older brother, and I am hugged and hugged and hugged by other cousins we also shared our school days with. The reactions are actually quite funny. I smile at someone I once shared so many hours of so many days with; they smile politely back; double-take; shriek "I know that FACE". I decide I will never, ever commit a crime on cctv because even with a balaclava, half of Essex will scream at the tv set - "THAT'S JENNIFER WIGLEY!!!

Even funnier is that more recent friends of my friend have taught my son, and so I seem to know half the people, where I expected to remember two or three. It underlines to me how life twists and slips away from us - people I've known for 6 years or more meet my friend of 36 years once a month - and I don't realise.

But the best feeling in the world, the saddest, the most comforting, the most wonderful, is when another of our original group of friends comes over and we hug like we will never let go. And then all three of us sit and talk as though it were yesterday that we last met. I show photos of Rob. I feel as though I have rediscovered part of my own family.

Back at home, the October winds lash the house with a plaintive song that fills my head and wets my cheeks. So much love, so much acceptance, so many memories. I probably won't sleep tonight, I've already tossed and turned so much in tune with the storm, and I don't want to disturb the workers. I'll dry my tears, wipe the sniffly nose, and smile.