Saturday, 13 December 2014

Dropping the f-bomb

I think I broke my mother. Well, not broke her exactly. Maybe cracked her a bit.  Corrupted her a wee tad. And it’s all because of my penchant for bad language.

I say fuck a lot. I say fuck a real lot. In fact, I say fuck so fucking often that my mother has become desensitised to hearing me say it. She no longer tut-tuts, or reminds me to watch my mouth. She doesn’t give me a disapproving look. She doesn’t even flinch. You know how there’s been about fifteen million pieces of research into how constant exposure to brutally graphic computer games and death metal causes teenage boys to become indifferent to violence? Well, it’s like I’m the Postal 2 of language and she’s Justin Bieber. Truly. These days, sometimes she even SAYS fuck.

When I was growing up, our household was the quintessential middle-class suburban family. No swearing was tolerated. I distinctly remember being dragged to the pink pedestal basin when I was eight or nine to have my mouth washed out with soap. I don’t recall what I said. It might have been shit. Or bugger. It might even have been shut-up — back in the 1960s  shut-up was considered offensive language. But it most certainly would not have been fuck. Fuck came much later. If it’d been fuck I might have had to eat mustard.

We had a swear jar too. For years we all had to pay a fine every time we dropped a swear word in the house. Even Dad. If I implemented one of those in my house, we'd be neck deep in gold coins in no time.

There were also words that were not cussing or blasphemy that were forbidden. Mum couldn’t abide the word fart, for instance. It was vulgar. Crude. Unacceptable. It was right up there on her Top 10 Things Never to be Said. Or done. Actually, it was probably in the Top 5 Never to be Done. Although she did let one slip one time. Just the once.

She was clearing the table, carrying the dirty plates to the sink. She had her back to us. She must have. Because I can remember staring at the bow that held her apron tight. My brother and I were too shocked to laugh. It was as if the Queen had ended her Christmas message by mooning the Commonwealth. Unthinkable. But she didn’t acknowledge it in any way. There was no pardon me for the fluff/bottom burp/ pop-off (all of which terms could be used free of charge). She just pretended it never happened.

I discovered that other families outlawed particular words too. One mother I met disallowed the word stupid. Seriously. The designated replacement word was silly. How fucking ridiculous is that?

I guess it was probably while I was at uni that fuck became part of my daily lexicon. Ironic really. The more I studied language, the worse mine became. But I’m living, walking confutation of the theory that people who swear have a poor vocabulary thus are unable to express themselves any other way. I’m proof that it’s not only the uneducated who drop f-bombs into everyday sentences. And I make no apologies for it. 

But I am sorry that I broke my mum. Really I am. She used to be such a nice little lady before she met me.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A kestrel for a wench

A small kestrel hawk hovers outside my study window. She hangs in the air, only the tips of her wings quivering almost imperceptibly as she fixes her sights on the something in the grass that will be her meal.  Freedom, power, fearlessness — she is all of these. But she does not glower with menace, for she is also patience and grace.
Why do I assume her to be female? Is it her determination? Her single-mindedness? Or merely her beauty?  Her size? Perhaps I confuse her with the doomed creature in A Kestrel for a Knave. There is no logic in my choice. And yet I am certain.
Magpies, gulls, even mud larks and swallows dart and dive about her, trying to distract her from her task, to divert her attention and repel her from their patch. But she is not pressed. She will not be moved. She will fold her elegant wings and dive only when the time is right, or stretch them further and beat in a wheeling turn that carries her to another possibility.
Sometimes, if I am lucky, she will settle just beyond my frame of glass and I am utterly awed. I understand in every cell of my being how Hopkins 'Stirred for a bird, —the achieve of; the mastery of the thing'. 

And I feel blessed.


Monday, 8 December 2014

I used to be a christmas tree nazi

I used to be a Christmas tree Nazi. I really did. When Number 1 son was just a little bloke, I would climb the step-stool to hang the lights and then he would cheerfully loop all his favourite ornaments around the branches he could reach. The lower branches would be a festive cacophony, while the top remained tastefully minimal. 

There would be mutual congratulation and plentiful admiration. And then, as soon as he was in bed, I would begin to rearrange, relocate and reduce. Every year. Without fail. On the first Saturday of December. 

Shame on me.

Today, when Dr Dad and I went down to select the tree from the local farm, Mr 16 didn't want to come. He can't cope with watching the ceremonial chopping down of the tree. It makes his heart ache to think that this glorious green-scented beauty must sacrifice  four years of development for our Yule-time pleasure. He can't watch.

 So when I finally collected the dusty boxes marked 'Super Fragile' from the shed, it was only child number three, Girlchild — Miss 14, who was keen to be part of the annual decorating ritual.

Like me, she revels in the rediscovery of the treasures that have been boxed away all year. But she's not systematic or ordered about it. She bounced joyfully between the boxes and the tree, leaving a trail of bubble-wrap in her wake, singing as she went or chatting incessantly over the soundtrack of the cheesy Christmas movie I had chosen. I just sat and watched.

Number one son is already 31 years old and long gone. Mr 16 is a planet who spins in his own solar system. My baby girl is already a teenager. I didn't want to do anything to break the spell.

Finally, as she appraised her handiwork, she expressed how glad that she feels that we don't have one of those catalogue trees made of plastic. Or worse, one like the silver tinsel and wire thing that Grandma has because pine needles make too much mess. Or a perfectly co-ordinated affair, each year a different matching pair of colours: red and gold, green and silver, pink and blue. Like a department store. I always admire those glamorous creations; they're so thoughtfully designed and perfectly balanced. But I too love our mismatched tree. It speaks of my life.

Whenever I have travelled, since my first overseas trip, I have collected ornaments for the tree.  A Tiffany's box from New York, pandas from China, an embroidered royal tea cup from London, Pinocchio from Milan, satin balls from Beijing, beaded beauties from East Africa, silk animals from Malaysia and Korea, hand-painted balls from Paris and Washington, angels from Indonesia. Every one of them tells its own story.

Then there are all the gifts I have received over the years. Irreplaceable hand-made jewels, delicate glass baubles that belie the enduring strength of true friendship, and lovingly chosen ornaments that reflect how well others know me... like the frankfurt Karin brought me from Germany.  Impossible not to smile.

So this year I think I should apologise to Number 1 son for all those years of insulting his aesthetics. It really would have been magic if all three of them had been here to trim the tree together. 

Maybe next year.