Archives for posts with tag: GCSE’s

A removal van has just driven away from next door. I watched it move out of sight, around the corner as the post man walked up my drive. New letters to open, bills to pay, worlds to live in. I watched the son-in-law drive away from my neighbour’s house, after he’d let in the house clearance people, then drove off ahead of the van, as his late father-in-law’s furniture was carried away.

I used to know my neighbour’s daughter, way back in the old world, I used to sit around committee tables with her and in the early months, when I couldn’t leave the house, she popped by with bread and milk and calpol and we hugged. We’ve lost touch over the yesrs, I folded into my new world and she became someone I’d occasionally nod to as she visited her father next door.

I used to see him, tall and bent, like an old willow tree, sturdy, despite his age and he would drive slow with care, potter about and do his lawn. He started to build a greenhouse years ago when he first moved here. He was widowed, moved down from Scotland to be nearer his girls. He had a lilting gentle accent and I always thought he could have been an old film star. He had the look of Peter Cushing and eyes that must have sparkled long ago. His greenhouse project came undone with the Parish Council’s restrictions – no permitted development allowed here, so he never finished the job and it remained a carcass in aluminium, un-glazed, silver struts frozen in time.

In the summer, around the time our son prepared for his Prom, some relatives came and took the greenhouse down and while our boy swaggered in his evening suit, amongst his mates and bare shouldered girls with twirled up hair – some family came and painted his fence, painted over the pale blues and greens from old tins that he’d used up. I liked his patch-worked fence, his rainbow of creosote by the hand of a practical man. It’s just uniform brown now, waiting for the new owners to put their stamp on the land.

When I look out of my kitchen window I imagine I still see him, slower in frailty, heading out in his car, repeatedly heading out in a loop in my mind. In the summer, around the time our boy had left school and was holed up on the PC, laughing with his mates on theirs, I noticed his neat grass had become long, left to grow and before I could offer to have it cut for him, his family came to help out. And then more people in cars and his daughters tidied the patio out the back.

Around the time our son got his exam results, a skip turned up next door. As his face filled with pride and relief, when he compared notes with his mates as the summer crept along, my neighbour’s garage was cleared and I dropped a card in through their door.

Our old neighbour bridged the gap between our worlds, he moved in a couple of years after us and I went to see him as he chipped the snow from off his car. I asked him if he needed anything, could we help him out at all?

But he was fine.

‘No thank you, Lassie, I’m just going up to help my girls.’

I told my husband.

‘Oh he’s so grateful for the offer of help!’

He said, ‘is he?’ and I laughed.

‘No! He’s doing much better than we are,’ and he was. He dug himself out of the snow, he helped his daughters, despite his age and was active right up till the end.

I didn’t speak to him much in the new world, I used to imagine he’d see me from his kitchen window as I trudged home, and in his widowed world he’d have a sense of what I was dealing with in mine – but we never spoke about it. I could see it in his eyes though and he could see it in mine.

It’s been that kind of year somehow, so many changes and transitions. And as my neighbour’s family prepare to make the best of Christmas somewhere, when they go through the motions for their kids, I continue with our new traditions here.

I see our boy at the edge of a man, sturdy and strong, growing long college hair because he can. I see him stretching up and out. I am swamped by the Christmases we had, the best ones by the sea, all together with Thomas and masses of track on the floor, the military operation of the dinner and never enough roast potatoes for us all.

I see myself as a teenager unhindered by loss, spending half a day to create the perfect tree and how stressful it was, how the symmetry had to be spot on, how the baubles alternated in colour and size. It was a spectacle. And more than that it was something to control, something to bring order to, a sense of certainty in the world.

I noted myself as a girl, the structure of Christmas, the need to get everything right and I thought of her last weekend when a friend visited us. When we were running late and the tree and decorations were still barricaded in a cupboard, behind a chair and our boy did the heavy work while I checked on the food as he wrestled the tree to the floor. And there in our lounge with twenty minutes to go, he threw the tree into action. It’s our new tradition now and he dresses the tree like a true teenage boy. I stand and laugh and place a few things as he throws baubles at the green plastic hulk in the corner. If the baubles drop down and through, so be it, it doesn’t really matter at all. It’s just a game. Our friend turned up just as the tree settled into the corner. It has a designated ‘front’ sign where all the activity takes place and round the back, well it’s round the back so it’s not important after all. And this year we have a kamikaze polar bear who wasn’t placed but hurled and he lies where he landed, a symbol of a different Christmas now.

I’m less concerned with control now. There’s little I can do and I’m more accepting of that these days. I have control over how I respond to situations and how I spend my time but other than that, the world will do its thing.

We have climbed mountains this year, my boy and I, not literally, but mountains none the less. We are climb weary at year end but respectful of the need to rest and catch our breath.

It’s almost Christmas as I type this, eighteen years from the best Christmas I ever had. And now a different Christmas presents itself again, with my mother just out of hospital, after three months of illness and care, with my father marching on, despite the weariness of weeks by an empty chair. My mother came home last week and as they adjust to their own transitions we’ll take a small Christmas over to them this year.

It’s nearly lunchtime now, the blackbirds are still at the berries on my tree. I do enjoy the bareness of winter, the stripping back to bleakness and despite the thunderous charge of stressed people in shops, the clamouring, the need to consume, there is stillness. It is a time to stop and show gratitude, a time to take stock and breathe out.

And there is much to be grateful for. I breathe in deep as my neighbour’s house sits quiet and empty, waiting for someone else’s story. I focus on gratitude for my mother’s resilience, despite the treatments she has endured, and my father’s determination, despite his tiredness and his frosted window on my world.

And our friends, how grateful I am for the ones who are near, who support and encourage, despite their own trials – and our son. What can I say that I haven’t said before? How he shines out like a Christmas lantern, bright like the fairy glow, casting lightness all around me when it’s dark.

It’s winter, I am a winter baby and I resonate with this season. Time has had its way with me this year and so I am resting before the next phase. It’s almost Christmas as I tap away, the tree is up and I have many presents to wrap.

I’m focussing on now. In gratitude for the things that have past, the things that remain and the unknown adventures ahead.

In many ways – we are thriving.


And right now, editing with fifteen minutes to the New Year, we continue, we turn pages and we persevere with joy.





June 18th 2017

I prepared his lunchbox for the last of the school days, the penultimate exam, the final full day and I secured the sandwich in the tired out plastic box. And as I did, I recounted the changing faces of the vessels over the years. The turquoise Thomas box bought at a day out with a friend when the steam made our eyes run and we chuffed down the rails and after the Reception class came Spider-Man in primary coloured nylon as he learned how to write. Year 2 was Lazy Town, a soft cover which caught the crumbs before a Year 3 army camo box with a matching water bottle. Year 4 saw us chugging up the hill with Toy Story, with Buzz at his side, falling with style and it was this lunch bag which I stuffed with cold fish fingers when we rushed back to the relatives room, to sit and wait, to watch the walls close in around us in Year 5. And afterwards his Sponge-Bob garish lemon shape turned up, it grinned at us for the rest of the year when our muscles forgot how to smile and into the final Primary walks with a tin box ordered from Amazon, flown over from the USA with Star Trek on its side.

Then Secondary came without the merchandised logos, without the beaming smiles and we settled on the lime green nylon that supported him through the days, right up until this final year when the blue-black lunch bag was the way. I’ve just turned it inside out now, given it a symbolic good clean, old crumbs and straws tumble into our sink, the residue of things past and as it dries out I make one last sandwich and recall.

I remember dropping him in the Reception class and leaving him kneeling on the floor with things to piece together, a new track, a new map to construct and I walked away. I looked back, his hair was lighter then, his head bent down busy, engrossed as I left and I walked as the trees blurred in my path.
And now I iron the penultimate shirt, aware of the years and minutes. Feeling the hours that bought us to here.

June 19th 2017

Next door’s scaffolding should come down soon. It watches over me, grey struts at odds with the soft spikes of my bamboo, with spears that have grown over time. A bluebottle dithers, disoriented but stays outside and the garden is poised in the sunlight. It will be warm today, the soil where the roots and weeds used to be, heats up, beaks poke, legs crawl and I can see my garden to come, when the work has been finished. How like a meadow it will look with lupins with salvia and an area to walk, with places to sit and watch but for now it is waiting. We are in the lull. The old has been ripped away, bagged up and hauled onto their van but when they return, when the fence becomes solid, when the trellising goes up, then the grass seed will come, then the mulch and flower food. How dark the compost will be, rich with nutrients, particles to bind to roots, to wrap around them and hold as they grow.
And the shoots will come, sap bright, saturated with a need to pull to the sun and they will flower. There in our garden when the pond is complete, when the water flows without restriction and the stones bring balance, bring clarity.There in our garden colours will grow, earth will sustain and rain drench us all.

A magpie clattered down the roof of the summerhouse and perched on the edge. How strong the contrast in his feathers, how they pushed out, bold in black, in white, through my green and away. He paused before flight regaining himself, judging his next move. Like the old man I see on our lanes most days, with his cap and zimmer frame, out every day despite the weather, to make his journey to the shops and back again and he keeps going, keeps pulsing despite his obstacles.
And the old man on my summerhouse surveyed his land then flew, beat wings into the day with grace and power.

And I am waiting, it’s not long now. Our son head down again today.

June 21st 2017

The shadows stroke the trees, like a hand across a head, like a soothing touch against the day and pupils wander through the gates – the young ones with rucksacks almost too big for their small shoulders, the older ones, term weary weighted down by tests and work and then our son’s year – the veterans with end of school hair in their eyes, with rag-taggled uniforms  hanging on to the last. And they have the air of resignation after the build up, after the heft of expectation, they are almost there, almost done and now it’s a process to complete, a final hoop to jump through. And there goes our boy through the gates we used to know, for one more time, one last moment to follow their rules, in their system before the giddiness of the open door.

And as he sits at the desk, pen poised, waiting for the words ‘it’s 9:09, you may begin,’ I sit at my pc and pause. Outside in the park behind our house I hear the workmen’s radio and the distant throb of machines. The play-ground is being renovated and as the cement whirrs in the growing heat, they dig and prepare. There used to be bouncy tarmac out there, to soften the fall and in the places where I brushed stones from his knee, where I kissed hot skin better when I could, is a pile of silt now and the space where the climbing frame stood.

And in our home and garden as the curtain billows at the open door, I see flickers of our boy, of his countless faces, turning and changing, of his voice peeling out, giggling higher than it is now and he fills the space around me, he saturates our garden with all the children he used to be. There, as the light moves across my new bird feeder I see him running towards us shouting ‘charge!’ I see his pristine primary sweatshirt and, right now I see his broader shoulders as he marches off with all his mates.

its quiet, apart from the tweep of fledglings, apart from the flutter of wings and under the hum of machinery, I anticipate his end of school face at the door.

For our son – beyond proud.


In the quiet morning, when the day had not yet decided if it would be warm or if it would rain, I watched his legs. From the window I could see them as they walked the path to school, as they were coated in spring leaves, dappled on his black trousers and then the branches came and covered him and took him into the tree.

A moment later, higher up and further along the path, a flash of black in the gaps and then he turned right, to our subway, to the one I painted years ago when brush strokes, not words were my way. And it will echo to his feet now and then he turns left. I feel his journey though I cannot see it, the hill he has to climb and now the brush of traffic. The cars full of aftershave, the makeup tweaked in rear view mirrors and everyone has motion, needs, relentless nature turning and by the railings with his mates, with friends, he’ll start on the cut through road.

I know these roads but never walk them with him, only sometimes on the way to a fayre, but these are his streets, the dips in the pavement and the old school we used to know. And as he passes it now, we are there years back, younger, smaller with sparklers in our hands and friends who don’t live near now, whose hands have turned round clock faces like ours, who’s changes have carried them away in time and we all hang in the air, like a scent of jasmine or lavender, like the not quite forgotten lyrics of a song.

And at the junction near the main road the cars pick up steam, they knit and weave between each other, giving way or scowling and in the far off greens behind him, the rolling downs fade up through lilac and grey, under flat bottomed clouds, cropped just for him today and a sky we used to know.

And at the lights again in the push and shove of morning ready, for the almost starting day, he will be there, bag getting lighter as last lessons come and go, his lunchbox lid has spilt across the middle, a diagonal tear in red plastic and it hangs on. Each day the split grows more but it will make it, the lid he’s held for years is almost at its end, like his own phase. And it’s tucked away in his lunch bag, next to his exam pencil case which he will need today.

And through the gates now, I imagine, with the heartbeat slightly raised, there, passed the drama rooms he use to visit on Saturday mornings when we sat in the coffee shop downstairs.

The blossom is coming out on the tree outside my window, like every year, like years ago on the early walks to primary with hot hands and book bags and the spelling hill to the roundabout – and now.

Now even his blazer is getting small and I watch the leaves on the tree outside my window, so still today, so quiet as though it’s holding its breath, as though it’s wishing him well and in every leaf at a cellular level it buzzes, particles whirr like his neurones and in every atom I see the image of him growing and forging out through time.

Our son, preparing, and today every leaf and every insect wing, every photon of light knows his name.