The Musician

christmas

Last month, on the 1st of May, my Father would have been 100 years old.

Yes, 100. Yes, Father not Grandfather.

Yes, he nearly made it.

Here’s something from the archives I wrote when he was 96:


In the greenhouse, 1988ish

In the greenhouse, 1988ish

 

My Dad is 96 years old. Most people – after squinting and counting on their fingers, working out how old he was when I was conceived (he was 70 when I was born, FYI) – react by timidly asking how he’s doing. “And is he… you know.”

Short of a few marbles? Bedridden? 

I like to answer with stories, so they can decide for themselves. For example, a few months ago he had a little camera pushed through a hole in his abdomen with local anaesthetic . The next day, because my Mum wouldn’t let him go shopping, he did pull ups on the kitchen door frame to annoy her.

Years ago, in his 80s, he had one of his hips replaced as it couldn’t keep up with him. He was told to rest for at least six weeks. Only one went by and he was off up the road on his crutches to do the weekly shop.

A couple of hours passed and we started to worry. Then, a phone call:

“I’ve had a bit of a fall in Sainsbury’s and they’re all panicking because I’m an old man so they’ve called an ambulance.”

“Oh god!” Mum cried. “We’ll come and get you.”

“No, no I’ll get a cab back – I’m fine.”

“No I think we’d better come and get you.” So off we went to the hospital, and they pulled back the curtain around his bed, and there he was: trousers torn, glasses broken, hair all in disarray.

Turns out he’d been hit by a car outside of the supermarket and broken his other leg.

In answer to the aforementioned questions, yes to one and no to the other.

Posing at Hever Castle, 1998ish

Posing at Hever Castle, 1998ish

Anyway, as well as clearly being a lunatic, he’s quite wonderful. He was hauled in and out of school from the age of 11 to travel the world and sing on stage with his father. He played the drums and piano and sang in bands. He has brilliant stories to tell. He has a fantastic moustache.

Judging a beauty pageant. Great Yarmouth, 1962

Judging a beauty pageant. Great Yarmouth, 1962

Slappin' the base, 2010

Slappin’ the base, 2010

He lead his own big band from the 1940s until I was born, in 1984. Then, 25 years later, he got up on stage again and conducted to cheers that echoed through Birmingham Town Hall. He was brilliant. I am so, so lucky to have been able to see him perform, despite my rather late entry to his life.
dadbirmingham

That’s him, second from the left. With the cumulous white hair.

On the cover of a magazine, top right

On the cover of a magazine, top right


He was 97 when he was finally beaten by cancer in a small room at St Helier Hospital in London. I wrote a sad, but hopeful story about it. His funeral was two weeks later and was a lovely humanist affair with friends and family all getting a chance to stand and speak about him if they wanted, and the wake was filled with happy memories and laughter and his songs playing on the record player.
park
At the funeral I stood up and spoke about his strength and read his favourite poem – Invictus by William Earnest Henley.
 
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 
 
It was something he could recite word for word, even when he couldn’t remember where his watch was.
This was 2011, and my mother spent nearly three years agonising over what to do with his ashes. A gravestone didn’t suit him or our family. We thought he’d like to be scattered in the garden but with him gone my mother sadly had to downsize and leave the home they shared for more than 40 years. We came close to putting him in a window box or plant pot so he could still sit outside but go wherever mum went (which is what he always did).
Finally, she had an epiphany. A park bench, instead of a grave. A view of the rose garden, instead of a cemetery. He would have loved it.
bench
bench2
As for the ashes, they’re still sitting in the box in my mum’s new home. I don’t think he’d have minded, he liked to be out of the way. Plus it means I still get to say hello whenever I’m over there.
And anyway. Whenever I picture him he’s still sunbathing in the garden.
Snoozing
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Christmas 2013

I love Christmas I do.

This was our first Christmas in the new flat, and the first Christmas in our own home. I absolutely love the whole season; decorating the tree to Christmas with the Rat Pack, baking gingerbread to a bit of Slade, buying everything on Amazon because it’s raining outside, having another mince pie and a glass of mulled anything in front of Elf/White Christmas/Die Hard 2.

2014 is going to be all about making things; baking, cooking, writing, drawing, etc.

Hubby (resident chef), among other things, got some lovely Le Crueset pans, a whisky blending kit from Masters of Malt, and a molecular gastronomy kit, so he can get a bit Heston in the Kitchen.

I gave Mum, who has dabbled in making her own gift tags and greeting cards in the past, some blank recycled stationery from Paperchase, a set of rubber stamps and ink pads from Etsy including a personalised “Handmade By Marian” stamp. She was really pleased with them.

And I was massively spoilt with some beautiful gifts, including this gorgeous leather shopper from ASOS, cake tins and a mug from brilliant British designers Magpie.

And (drumroll please), my mad husband bought me my very own Adana letterpress!

Freshly unwrapped

It’s a beautiful bit of kit, and I’ve already been squeezing every drop of advice from the lovely Rachel at Pricklepress (do buy her stationery, it’s super), whom I met at Crafty Fox Market last year.

Hubby and I popped to Lassco after New Years as well, as we had nowhere to put the letterpress or all the accompanying paraphernalia. We bought a set of drawers for a surprisingly reasonable price which was absolutely perfect.

IMG_2892

I’m just waiting on the ink and then I can get on and make a huge mess of our spare room.

All in all, a wonderful Christmas. Some other things we got up to below. Happy New Year everyone!

Boys, bullies and bright pink jeans

This is actually a post I wrote a couple of years ago on an old Tumblr. I’m pleased to say the nice man I mention along the way is now my husband. Hoorah for happy endings!

 ***

Today I’m wearing hot pink jeans. They are bright, tight and unapologetic. Paired with my canary yellow bag I look a little like something that tumbled out of a sweet shop. It’s sunny, why not? Though I know when this delightful Indian summer we’re enjoying inevitably gets rained off, I can slip into my lime green mac, spin my powder blue umbrella and dance through the puddles.

This may seem a rather pointless revelation, but all of this colour is a revelation to me. This is the first time I’ve worn the clothes that I’ve actually wanted to since I was a child; the first time that I’ve felt I can wear an outfit that grabs attention rather than shies away from it. And that’s because I’m happy.

I was bullied at school from the age of about eight, through my teens by horrible boys and nasty girls and a general hoard of people that were apparently better than me. They were trendy, they had their first drink as they fell out of the womb and their first sexual experience when they were 13 with their fit neighbour who we had never met because he was way cooler and way older and no you won’t know him actually because he doesn’t go to school around here because he’s way rich and super smart. Well. I can’t compete with that.

School bullying is something most people have experienced. Mine was fairly mild compared to some of the stuff I’ve heard about. Name calling, rumour spreading, the occasional physical encounter. My earliest memory of it was at seven or eight when I had a royal blue duffle coat with batwing-style sleeves (so very ahead of my time), which I naturally enjoyed flapping around the playground in whilst pretending to be a bird. I loved it until one afternoon two girls launched out of their hiding places in the cloakroom to start yanking my arms up and down, spinning me into walls and chanting the very inventive “Blue chicken! Blue chicken!”, until I slipped out of the coat and away.

On another memorable occasion, a couple of years later, my clothes and towel were taken from me when I was trying to change after swimming class. That was humiliating. And cold. I was ten. Once my “scraggy” hair was pulled (and hard) moments before I was pushed down some stairs by a girl who seemed desperate to make my life a misery for several years. I sometimes see things on Facebook about her. Nothing about falling under a bus yet, but I remain hopeful.

The thing is when I remember being bullied, what springs to mind are the times my clothes and hair were the subject of ridicule. This might seem shallow but at that age it was the very shell I lived in. So my reaction was to shed it, and change it for something that my tormentors would approve of. Everything got shorter and lower cut. The colours got darker. I blended in.

It worked. New friends approved, boys began to notice me in a positive way, my parents were horrified – success! It may not have been me, but I was accepted, and wasn’t that enough?

This all backfired a few years later when I met a man who was also horrified. He didn’t care what my friends thought and he certainly didn’t want me to be noticed by boys. If something was low cut I was deemed a slut and an embarrassment. If something was bright I was told that I didn’t have the confidence to pull it off. Dresses weren’t appropriate for work. Weight gain would get me dumped. I also couldn’t wear heels as he couldn’t bear to look shorter than me. There was a consistent stream of negativity and screwed up faces about the way I looked.

My clothes became a cloak of invisibility. I didn’t want to be noticed. I didn’t want to be seen. I felt sick if I got wolf whistled or cat called and whatever I’d been wearing would be banished to the back of the wardrobe. Donning a new item of clothing was terrifying, and it was a dread that grew until it took more and more confidence just to leave the house. I would cancel on appointments giving random excuses, when it was often just a wardrobe crisis on a severe scale. Everything I tried on made me feel anxious and ugly until panic took hold and I knew I couldn’t go out. People stopped inviting me to things, thinking me flaky. And fair enough.

Bullying on any level (even if it is “only” about your clothes) is unacceptable. If you are in a relationship, whether it’s with a partner, a friend, or family member and you are being held back from being who you are or made to feel small or sad or scared, you need to act. You stand up to them if it’s safe to, or you get help. When someone you trust asks you how you are, you actually tell them. Please don’t hide away. You are allowing yourself to be swallowed whole by another person and this is your life and your right to be happy. So please, please be happy.

Speaking of which, let’s get on to the pink-jeaned happy ending shall we?

I was strong one day and I left. And I made nice friends. Friends that liked me for me, who were there for me and drank to the demise of bad people and toasted the health of good people. Plenty of drinking went on.

And I met a boy. A nice boy. A nice man, really. Since being with him my confidence levels have rocketed and it’s no coincidence.

It didn’t happen overnight. The poor man was left rather flustered at times when an innocent comment about my outfit would reduce me to a wretched heap at the bottom of my freshly emptied wardrobe. But he is built of love and patience, and he has allowed me to become happy in myself. Now I just want to become someone he deserves. I’m still working on that.

So, to cut a long story short, now I wear bright things because they make me feel good and last weekend, for a change, I went blonde. When I told my mother she said, “Goodness Jennifer, are you having some sort of identity crisis?” and I had a little wobble about what other people might think.

And then I decided no, actually, I’m not having an identity crisis. I’m having a bloody identity parade.