Time, time, time, see what’s become of me

1554_HourglassSandTimer-3Minute_1A   I turn 45 this month. It’s time to accept that I am no longer a vague ‘early forties’, but definitely in the mid forties zone.   In middle age.  It is, after all, halfway to 90. Suddenly, people turning 40 seem really young and people turning 50, an age which used to feel positively geriatric, feel in the same general ball-park as me.

I have every hope and expectation of making it to 90 and of making the most of the second half of my life.  I also have the mid-lifer’s increasing awareness of the fragility of life, of the random bad luck that can befall some and not others, of the health crises that can descend without warning. I have in the last year seen not only the unfairness of my mother barely limping past 70 before reaching her allotted time, but also encountered very many older, impoverished and disabled people through my work, living lives of quiet desperation and heroism. Some, the victims of shocking misfortune – being born with spina bifida AND being knocked down by a car; doggedly continuing to care for a husband who, through dementia, has become incontinent, abusive and oblivious to the identify of his wife of 60 years; being a severely disabled older person, a double amputee AND being financially abused by the very relatives who are purporting to look after you; being a mid-nineties mother still caring for a mid-seventies learning disabled child.

I have an increasing awareness of wanting to make the most of whatever I have left, to make it all count, but also of how quickly the days, weeks and years are slipping by and how powerless I am to stop time’s march. How can it be that five years have already passed since I reached forty? How can nearly a quarter of a century have gone by since I left university? I have never forgotten a conversation I had with a very drunk man who appeared to be in late middle age, in a pub in Queens Square in London in 1994, who gripped my arm as he earnestly exhorted me to make the most of my time as ‘life passes you by, it just passes you by’.   At the time, my friend and I giggled at the attentions of the old soak and made a swift, clattering exit in our high heels and skirt suits.   Now, I understand him. I still don’t feel as old as he looked, but I understand him and I would love to step back in time and tell him so and apologise for dismissing him. Likewise, my indomitable, tiny grandmother, who finally accepted, at the age of 91, that perhaps it was no longer wise for her to climb a stepladder to change a lightbulb. I will never forget her wry smile as she told me that the trouble was, she still felt seventeen inside and could not accept that her body did not agree with her mind.

Suddenly, it is also not just me who has leapt forward in time, but my children too. They are no longer babies, but fully formed, sentient beings beginning to forge their own paths through life. My oldest child has a newly acquired, deepened voice and breadth of shoulder, catching me unawares as I see him out of the corner of my eye as a man in waiting. It is shocking to see him suddenly at eye level and to know that soon he will be looking down on me.   My youngest child, so long a baby, has lengthened and straightened – chubby cheeks turning (almost) sleek and chiselled, chubby thighs turning coltish and awkward.

With the passage of time has also come a change to the way my day to day time is ordered. When the children were younger, there was a long period of time when my life felt ruled by the clock. The painfully early starts, the breakfast by seven/lunch by twelve/tea by five/bath by six thirty/bed by seven thirty treadmill of keeping them fed, watered, clean and safe. The rainy days with a toddler, when the day could stretch ahead emptily, with all planned activities and reserves of energy exhausted by 9am, the day already three or four hours old by that stage. The painful early starts still happen with my ‘baby’, but it’s so much easier when they have learned to read and you have bought them electronic devices and can send them away again for an hour, safe in the knowledge that they are not going to hurl themselves down the stairs or pull the kettle on their heads.

The bed time routine still happens, but has now become elastic and never ending. The process may start at a similar time as in my treadmill years, but will then last several hours, through bathing, reading, homework, trumpet practice, sit ups (the teenager), more reading, hair styling (the daughter usually but not exclusively), and will not limp to a conclusion until the protesting teenager is dragged away from the television and ordered to bed sometime around 10pm, followed a short time later by his mother.   I can now potter about, as the children do their thing around the house. I still need to be there, am never off duty, but am also not always required as an active participant and I am not always quite sure what to do with myself. My time is not my own, as I am an on-call negotiator and arbitrator, required to respond to the cries of ‘it’s so unfair’ or ‘it’s my go’ or ‘he’s just so annoying!’, never sure when or for how long my services will be needed, but there are portions of time where I realise I am being left alone.

I find myself feeling nostalgic for the baby days, when I was their everything during their waking hours and then for those times when I had tucked them up, safe and warm with a bellyful of milk, and my evening was my own (choosing to forget that there was very often screaming and/or puking, and that I was so wracked with tiredness that I just sat and stared into middle distance, rather than using my time meaningfully listening to radio plays or reading fine literature).

What I would dearly love to do is have a day swap. Give me, say, a day in 2006, the lost year, when I had three children under five and from which I am left with just a fog of inchoate memories. Let me hold them, play with them, stroke their beautiful soft faces (because they would let me do it then).  Let them fall asleep on me and let me regulate my breathing and centre myself to their soft ins and outs. Let me hold their pudgy paws and take them for a walk, read them sweet, simple tales and sing their favourite songs. I’ve got more energy now, I would do it really well! And I miss them as babies now that I can recognise that their babyhoods have definitely gone. Let me also talk to myself nine years ago, tell the 2006 me that it’s ok, they will be ok and I will cope (apart from that one awful day when I nearly dipped the baby’s feet in boiling water when wearing him in a forward facing sling whilst cooking pasta, jiggling him up and down to try to stop him screaming whilst having a wailing toddler daughter wrapped around my leg and with a furious four year old son kicking next to me on the floor. Apart from that day).

And I would give a 2015 day to the struggling 2006 woman and show her that they are growing up beautifully, that they are bright and bonny and make me laugh every single day and that we are all growing older and wiser together.

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Injured (playing with the kids)

226“So, how did you injure your shoulder?” the physio asked, eyeing my back, perhaps looking for clues.

“Playing tennis last August. I don’t play often.” The bright light of that summer morning in St Andrew’s reappeared. No.1 son, up and dressed by 8.30am for the only time all summer holiday, and I had the tennis courts all to ourselves. It was chilly to begin with, but still. As we ran and hit (and missed) we took off layers. Serving from the north end, even with the sun low, made me squint and play the point with watery eyes. It was that service action that must have tweaked something in my shoulder, which three months on, was getting some therapeutic attention.

“And that was it. You did nothing else to it?” The physio began digging her thumb in amongst the tendons and joints of my upper back.

“Eh, yeah. No. Oww.”

“It won’t hurt for long,” she reassured me, with talon poised for another incision.

Adult men suffer injuries when playing with children in one of two ways.

Method number one is a result of the mismatch in size between them and their little play pals. A child’s shoulder, elbow or flying fist can catch the man amidships. A gentle kick-about, a friendly wrestle brought to an abrupt halt by a grown-up doubled up wincing, while the child tries jumping on his back, an extension of the game that has already taken a victim.

Method number two is entirely self-inflicted. The adult, infected by the carefree spirit of the child, forgets the limitations of his body, or finds himself propelled by a sense of competition to try to match or outdo the youngster.

My friend Dave visited us from Washington DC recently. The pleasure of seeing an old cricket friend is intensified by reminding ourselves why, six years ago, he earnt the nickname ‘the funny falling down man.’ Dave was on a business visit and it was out of season, but being old teammates, I thought I would show him my cricket club.

The astroturf of the practice net area was ideal on a sodden day for a few games. The kids and I kicked and bounced balls, chased around and ran races. Off to the side, Dave, in suit and work shoes, observed the four of us. Eventually, I called time and announced the last race before home and tea. We lined up on one edge of the astroturf, ready to race to the other side. As the starter called us to our marks, Dave joined the racers. He burst out of the blocks, assuming a commanding lead. Then trying to ease up, his leather soled shoes found no traction on the wet astroturf. He skidded, tripped and flipped head over heels, landing on his shoulder, four or five metres over the finishing line. The kids howled with laughter. Dave struggled to his feet, holding the right shoulder with his left hand.

Back at home his shoulder continued to throb and a lump appeared above the blade. Getting ready to go out for the evening, he called for me. The shoulder had now seized up and he needed me to help him get his shirt on. I kept him company that evening downing healthy quantities of liquid pain-killer. Back in the States, he too went to a physio, although he claims he can still feel the lump as a reminder of the dangers of competing with kids.

The physio had asked me: “And that was it. You did nothing else to it?”

“Eh, yeah. No. Oww.”

And another image of that week in St Andrews flashed into my mind. Not the tennis court on a bright morning, but a patch of grass by the East Sands. The boys were in the car. The 1&onlyD and I waiting for Mother in the Middle. The 1&onlyD began turning cartwheels, and I awarded marks for precision and flourish.

“Nine… Nine… Ten!”

“Go on, Daddy. Your go.”

“Five… Six… Six. Now try a round-off [cartwheel with a two-footed landing].”

“Four.. five”

“Owww”

Just the tennis, then. Not showing-off or being over-competitive – that would be dangerous for a man of my age.

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Penalty pants points

gym judgesSitting on mats beside the trampoline at the gymnastics club championships, we had a clear view of the floor exercise. Girls took turns flipping, skipping and rolling to music. Seated across the floor from us was the judge, clipboard balanced on knee, pen in hand. She gave a slight nod as each girl saluted her at the start of the routine. Her eyes followed the movements, flicking down to her clipboard as she made brief notes, then back up to take in the performance. And a final gentle nod as the girl turned her way and bowed before leaving the floor. The judge’s face expressing earnestness and concentration.

It was the turn of the daughter of the mother sitting in front of us. In her first year of gymnastics, but with eight years of dancing experience, her routine was simple but graceful. As the girl completed a cartwheel in the middle of the floor, from our vantage, she stood for a moment with the judge directly in the background. The judge’s serious mien snapped suddenly into a look of Frankie Howerd-style camp outrage. We had seen the expression and laughed. We had also seen what had elicited the abrupt loss of the judge’s calm, objective visage.

frankie howerdThe gymnast had tugged the bottom of her leotard down over the top of her legs. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, she had incurred a penalty pants point.

The average person carries out a minor adjustment to their undergarments, at least four times each hour* – more often if active. But in the world of gymnastics, any such gesture of self-consciousness means a points deduction. It’s not just the pants: flicking of the hair is cracked down on just as hard. But it’s the penalty pants point that is so at odds with the need to get girls involved in physical activity – currently popularised by Sport England’s, This Girl Can campaign.

At the annual club competition, the girls are instructed to wear their leotards bare-legged. I understand the need for the outlines of the gymnast’s body to be clearly visible as maintaining the correct the angle of limbs to trunk is part of the control they seek to achieve. Loose clothing could also impede the gymnast and potentially endanger her. I just don’t understand why so much flesh should have to be shown. Leggings would enable the competitor’s form to be assessed, without them feeling self-conscious about their bare lower half, which causes the nervous tugging at leotards. Male gymnasts, it’s worth noting, wear shorts or even long trousers.

This Girl Can has a genuinely laudable aim: “it is here to inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.” Gymnasts in a competition are, of course, offering themselves up to judgement. I don’t feel any great respect for a judgement that places such an onus on a pre-teen or teenage girl’s ability to resist the temptation to pull her leotard down over her bare legs.

* Made up statistic.

 

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The Unexpected Consequences of Having Sporty Children

photoWhen I was a pre-teen and young teenager, the kind of age my own children are now, I liked nothing better than curling up with a good book or doing some sewing. I happily ploughed through the works of the Bronte sisters (fondly imagining I was one of them), Noel Streatfield, Jane Austen and their like, then spent time emulating my grandmother, making patchwork bags and cushions. Sedentary, contemplative, solitary pursuits. Sport for me was something to be endured and the best I could hope for was to get through PE lessons unscathed and escape humiliation, whether it be on the hockey field or – shamefully – cross country running in nothing more than an airtex t-shirt and a pair of sturdy gym knickers, as was the requirement at my northern grammar school in the early 1980s.

Fast forward thirty odd years and I have three pretty sporty children and do my best to encourage and support them in their interests. This has several expected consequences: my children get a lot of exercise and are reasonably fit and strong; the house and garden are littered with bats, balls and sundry pieces of kit; and they (and my husband and I) spend a lot of weekday evenings and time at the weekend driving to and freezing at various training sessions or matches.   However, I have recently also noticed a number of more unexpected consequences, showing how sport has invaded every aspect of my life. For example, the contents of my email in-box. It is full, not with meaningful emails from friends, but with contact from various sports retailers and team coaches. I get at least daily emails from Sports Direct, UK Soccershop and the Grip Guy (whoever he is), regardless of how often I try to unsubscribe, as a result of buying a seemingly endless supply of kit, boots, skins and leotards from them online.

These purchases are not just for replenishing worn out or grown out of gear, but also because the lot of buying Christmas and birthday presents for the children generally falls to me. Not just for presents from me, either, but also from grand-parents and other relatives who kindly give me money to buy the children presents ‘as you know best what they want’. What my sons generally want, several times a year, is football boots. Fancy, branded football boots, with the latest bright colours and designs, not the plain black affordable ones that I would buy if left to my own devices (and funds).

This also means that I have an intimate acquaintance with local sports shops and spend what feels like a wholly disproportionate amount of my free time in these appalling, soul-sapping venues. Hours are lost in vainly trying to attract the attention of some poor, bored, unhelpful teenager on minimum wage to ask him or her to get stock down from the ludicrously high height at which they are stored or in waiting as they saunter off to search the out of sight stock room for differently sized football boots.   Afternoons slip by as I try to show an interest in the design of a ‘swoosh’ or the brilliance of a boot’s white shine (without muttering under my breath ‘two minutes on Saturday and you may as well have got the black ones, they’ll be so muddy’). Trying also not to show my disgust at the prices companies – particularly football clubs – charge for branded merchandise marketed at young children. Trying very hard not to rain on their parade when the children have saved all their birthday money, for example, and want to spend it all on one current season football shirt at a cost of £50 or £60, with a hefty extra charge for getting their own or a favourite player’s name printed on the back. It’s their money, after all, and I absolutely do not want to make them feel bad about something that obviously means so much to them, but it makes me so angry that the clubs can continue to get away with it knowing that the children set so much store by getting the shirts and fitting in. To voice my concerns too vociferously makes me into the bad guy, so I now try to button my lip and hope that as they get older they might come to appreciate my point of view.

Another unexpected change in my life is around food. I have hungry, growing, sporty children who have inherited their father’s slight build and fast metabolism and I yearn – quite rightly – to feed them up. I really do try every day with the healthy stuff but, as they are fussy and I am weak, they also have a regular supply of biscuits, crisps, cakes, doughnuts etc which they burn off immediately. Not so for me, alas. An unintended consequence for me of having sporty children is the difficulty in remembering I am not a marathon running mother, but a sedentary forty something who does not need to curb-load for the school run and the office job.  It is also difficult to remember that just being really, really cold at the end of watching a match in biting January winds does not justify a stack of buttered toast in the same way as actually playing in that match.   Before I married, I had largely empty cupboards and a fridge containing, usually, rotting salad and a hard lump of old cheese with which to manage my poor willpower around food.   I have now swung to the opposite extreme of a bulging fridge and cupboards full of crisps and biscuits, but with little change in my willpower.

As a non-sporty person, I can sometimes feel like an alien in my family.   I do try to take an interest but feel I never quite pull it off. Take the terminology, for example. I have spent very many hours trying to perfect the relevance and timing of the ‘well in!’ cry at a football match. Usually I ask for clarification, sotto voce of sympathetic companions, ‘was that a well-in situation?’. If I’m feeling confident, I might try it out loud, only to meet with a disgusted shake of the head from whichever son is spectating with me and not participating, showing that I have failed again. Recently I really thought I had been paying attention and was eager to show off my knowledge, commenting breezily ‘good nutmegging there!’.   Pitch side, I got the sorrowful shake of the head; later on, my teenager pulled me to one side to explain, quite kindly, that the only acceptable thing to have said would have been an understated ‘nice meg’. To use ‘nutmegging’ as an expression had caused acute embarrassment and marked me out as a. ancient and b. someone who didn’t understand the game. Guilty on both counts, obviously.

When it became clear that my children were sporty, it gave me a lot of pleasure to watch them enjoying themselves. However, what I did not expect as they began to kick balls or walk along the beam was the level of fear I would start to feel as a spectator as they got older, faster and more proficient. I try not to, but I gasp at near collisions, wince at tackles, shriek at falls off beams and bars. I have seen other people’s children breaking bones and know how little separates a brave tackle from a recklessly incurred injury; how easily grasping the bars from a flight through the air can turn into a near miss as little fingers fail by a crucial whisker to make a firm connection. Sometimes I can hardly bear to watch at all and yet with churning insides and adrenaline coursing through my veins try to appear cheery and nonchalant, knowing that my fear could be contagious and not wishing to spoil it for them. I am hugely relieved that, at the moment, none of them seem interested in rugby (but remain worried by my younger son’s gleeful watching of free running videos on You Tube).

There are other side effects of how my children’s interests have infiltrated my life that I notice from time to time. The fact that, eight years or so since my older son started playing football, I have now acquired without realising it an encyclopaedic knowledge of parks and backstreet recreational grounds in my borough, which would otherwise be hidden to me. The fact that I have a nose trained to sniff out the smell of screwed up football kit rotting in corners of my car and house and intimate working knowledge of the nylon wash setting on my washing machine. The fact that we are developing a family tradition of a trip en masse to a New Year Premiership match.

The most important thing it has taught me, however, is the need to respect my children as individuals. I never would have predicted that I would have children whose interests were so different to mine. I never would have thought that being solemnly invited by my beautiful, trusting eight year old son to take the final, crucial decision between the shiny orange boots and the brilliant white boots would feel like having a sacred privilege bestowed upon me. I would not have thought that there could be as much poetry in watching my boys run at full pelt across a muddy field in the rain, wind in their hair and laughs at their lips, or in seeing my daughter’s face light up with joy after landing a backwards walkover on the beam, as there ever was in reading Wuthering Heights.

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Out of the house by ten

ten oclockFrom around the 12th month of parenthood, I realised that domestic harmony depended upon getting out of the house by ten in the morning. The build-up of unexpended child energy after that hour could damage fixtures, fittings and other household occupants.

Twelve years on and I have found that it’s a realisation that recurs most weekends and holidays.. at about 11.30 in the morning. The kids are turning feral. The slow, relaxing start to the day has paradoxically made me twitchy and ill-tempered. And yet, that simple dictum – ‘out of the house by ten’ – still slips my mind until it’s too late.

Weekend sports activities are a blessing that take away from me the need for initiative. Matches or practices have to be attended and so we are up and out before that mid-morning hour that can have an effect as transformative on my kids as midnight did on Cinderella.

Christmas holidays mean a stretch of three weeks without structured sporting activity to make us be virtuous before midday. How did we fare? How did we channel the energy of our sporty kids?

My memory of last month is already a little hazy, but I couldn’t swear that we made it out once before ten. December’s dark, cold and damp mornings are a strong discouragement. So, for the kids, are the bright, shiny digital devices that they acquire at that time of year.

The urgency for morning activity no longer applies to no.1 son, who has embraced fully the teenager’s role of laying-a-bed ’til noon. The major threat is his younger brother. We spent Christmas week staying with relatives in South West London. On Boxing Day morning, I woke before seven to the sound of no.2 son dribbling his new Premier League football barefoot around the Christmas tree and across our relatives’ parquet floor hallway.

The new football had been taken outside on Christmas Day before noon. Two sons, a nephew, brother-in-law and I played six or seven variants of football in the park, culminating in foot-volleyball on the deserted tennis courts. Good appetite-enhancing activity.

The 1&onlyD was more difficult to draw outside. We had a few walks in Richmond Park, but could never generate our off-springs’ enthusiasm to walk all the way across the park to the lodge where Mother in the Middle and I were wed. When the 1&onlyD’s younger cousin arrived a few days after Christmas, she had a companion with whom to devise gymnastics routines. Up until then her only opening had been the Boxing Day night talent show. There was piano and guitar playing, poetry reading and the 1&onlyD springing across the living room floor.

Back home for New Year and the late mornings and lazy days persisted. The boys and I invented an indoor cricket game in no.2 son’s bedroom. His new carpet has a dense texture that makes it a spin bowler’s paradise. The game was played in high spirits and skilfully, but provided no aerobic benefit.

Then like the lip of a cliff, always visible in the distance, then suddenly at our feet, we tipped over the edge, careering back into seven o’clock starts for school and work. No.1 son was welcomed back to football with a series of punishing ‘suicide’ runs. The 1&onlyD has succumbed to gastric ‘flu and hasn’t been back to gymnastics. No. 2 son had a surprise early fixture on Saturday. His team competed for about ten minutes before a combination of the cold and sheer effort got the better of them and their game went about 18 months backwards.

After the lots-nil defeat, the coach walked over to the parents on the opposite touchline. In a gesture of exasperation, he spread his arms and implored “What have you been doing to them?”

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No sport for the weak

gymGymnasts are wiry, resilient, persistent and brave.

Had the parents of the junior gymnasts forgotten these truths, they would have been forcibly reminded within ten minutes of the start of the annual club championships.

The 1&only daughter’s cohort began on the uneven bars. The first competitor missed her transition from the lower to higher bar and brought her routine to an abrupt end. By the time she had returned to the bench she was sobbing. Her upset continued. The girl sitting next to her put an arm around her. Her parents watched, but were forbidden from crossing onto the competition area to give her their succour. The coach remained in his scorer’s chair, waiting for the next competitor.

That second competitor completed her initial moves on the lower bar and struck out for the upper bar, but in a way that immediately felt unpractised, speculative. Whatever the reason, the young girl upended and fell, like a winged bird, to the mat. She wailed, as we all wanted to do. “My arm feels funny. What’s happened? I’m frightened.” Her father, seconds after the coach, did not respect the sanctity of the competition zone and went to her aid. An ambulance was called, a sling improvised and after a few minutes of comforting, the girl was lifted from beneath the apparatus.

Four girls left to perform. The coach asked them one-by-one to return to the bars and repeat the warm-up of ten minutes before. And then it was competition time again. First to perform after the interlude was the 1&onlyD.

Her routine involved six or seven maneouvres, all but one of which she had managed time and again, with increasing polish. The exception was the opening move, the upstart, which after months of practice she had finally achieved two weeks before the competition.

To complete the upstart she would need to attack the bar to create the momentum for the backward swing that could lift her body up. Logically, after seeing her classmate fall after a tentative move, attack would be the right approach. Emotionally, self-preservingly, a little caution could be understood.

The 1&onlyD pitched herself forward onto the bar, arcing first one way and then back. Up her body rose, bendy elbows struggling for an instant then snapping her atop the bar. Upstart achieved, the 1&onlyD rotated and launched for the upper bar, another swing, a shape held and then a dismount to the crash-mat. Arms up to salute the scorer. The audience clapped with relief, with admiration, and in our corner, pride.

The drama of the 1&onlyD’s bars performance may have affected her for the rest of the evening. Neither beam, nor floor routine went smoothly. But she picked up gold for the uneven bars.

The girl who had cried received a quiet word from the coach and went on to compete wholeheartedly in the remaining disciplines.

Little J, who fell, was kept in hospital overnight. Her arm was broken and dislocated. She came back to the gym the following week to see her classmates, collect get well cards and her competition participation certificate.

Wiry, resilient, persistent and brave.

 

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The Cardigan

WIN_20141120_133852 I was with my mother when she bought the cardigan, about a year before she died. We went on a ‘girls shopping trip’ – my mother, my daughter and I, to the Trafford Centre. I had planned it carefully, to take account of her limited mobility combined with her refusal to acknowledge her physical limitations.  So we parked directly outside one of the main entrances in a disabled parking place, using her newly (and begrudgingly) acquired blue badge and only took in one shop.

The cardigan caught my mother’s eye almost immediately. Baby soft cashmere, with coloured stripes over a gentle cream background. Her fingers stroked it, feeling its softness, but she moved on after checking the price and then shortly afterwards said that she would have to sit down. My daughter and I dashed around the shop whilst she sat, fulfilling our ostensible purpose of finding a swimming costume that my mother could buy for my daughter.

When we arrived back at the bench, she glanced quickly back in the direction of the cardigan and commented casually ‘I could just try it on here I suppose?’. It was duly fetched and she tried it on at her seat. We looked around for a mirror and saw one on the wall about ten metres away. She stood up slowly, finding her balance and set off on the short walk to the mirror with her characteristic lurching start as she launched herself on her mission.

As she glanced in the mirror, I saw her appraise herself from the front and then, very briefly, turned to at a side angle, whereupon she grimaced at her bent and broken back and commented that she couldn’t get used to seeing herself look that way.

I was despatched to pay for the cardigan for her and my mother and daughter sat together back on the bench whilst I dashed through the shopping centre to buy us all ice creams. My mother always prided herself on being an ice cream connoisseur and I can remember very many occasions when ice creams purchased at various venues around the country fell below her exacting standards. But this day, she gave a nod of satisfaction and pronounced ‘now that is a good ice cream’ and I felt proud and happy at the resounding success of the trip.

The cardigan remained a big hit with my mother, quickly becoming a wardrobe staple. Light enough to be worn the rest of that summer, warm enough to be of use during the Scottish winter, and gentle on increasingly tormented bones and skin.

And a year on, it was one of the few items of clothing which came to the hospice with her. As she fell asleep whilst we watched the Wimbledon final together on her television in her room during my first visit, I laid it over her. When we took her out in the wheelchair into the hospice garden on my last visit, it was light and soft, tucked around her shoulders.

So after she had gone and my father invited me and my sisters to ‘claim’ any items of clothing which held significance for us, I asked for the striped cashmere cardigan. My father brought it to my house in a plastic bag, tied at the handles. As I opened it, the sweet, characteristic smell of the hospice seeped out and overwhelmed me and I quickly resealed the bag, unable to open it again for a few weeks. When I did, the same thing happened. I decided I had two options: keep it in the bag forever, or wash it and wear it.

I decided on the latter. So far, I have only put it on once or twice, in the house.   This year, I found myself back at the same shopping centre on Remembrance Sunday, delivering my youngest child to a birthday party. After dropping him off, I took my place amongst the crowds gathering to watch the television pictures transmitted from the Cenotaph in London on the big screen. As the poignant strains of Elgar filled the hall, followed by the cannon and then the silence, I was undone, suddenly and unexpectedly, by grief. I was not crying for the soldiers or the families, or for my ancestors affected by wars. I was crying for my mother, a war baby, and I was crying for myself and the renewed shock of realising what bereavement feels like. It’s the little things, like the cardigan. And it’s the big things, like knowing you will never see them again.

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