It's been the sort of Bank Holiday Monday that makes every single rainy one turn into a lament for the golden, sun-kissed days of childhood. The sun has shone relentlessly and we've spent most of the day at the beach. We took a picnic, and Small Person paddled until she was soaked from the waist down and smelled of seaweed. There were boats, kite surfers and lilos. There was sand everywhere and nobody finished their sandwiches. It was freezing bloody cold in the wind and I ended up in cropped trousers and a fleece, while Small Person turned blue and resolutely refused my offers of warm clothing, ultimately travelling home, salty and exhausted, in her t-shirt and knickers with the heating up in the car. The sort of day that I hope will remain in her memory and prompt her to give her own children glorious, messy days out in her future. It pays to bear in mind that at the end of a day spent thinking "for goodness' sake, she's drenched. Those trousers are dripping and filthy, and, eeuww, she just put seaweed in her mouth
..." that kids go in the bath and clothes go in the wash with no harm done. It's the sort of day I never had, and that makes me even happier as I sit here typing away while Small Person languidly stuffs Monster Munch into her mouth, watching David Bowie's disturbingly tight trousers in Labyrinth. With the neighbours
bellowing death threats at each other through the kitchen window.......(theirs not mine).
Our visit to the family seat in Wiltshire was a complete success. My father and the Other Half bonded, and he got along famously with my Stepmum. It was proved that I had in no way exaggerated the Woodlands Experience, as we enjoyed a spirited game of Uno, followed by a lurching, semi-inebriated attempt to figure out the rules of gin rummy. Halfway through a hand the following conversation with my father ensued:
"You have to lay the first card you picked up"
" I did"
"Which one was it then?"
"I don't know"
"Well you picked up five cards so which one was it?"
"No I didn't"
"Right. How many cards did you have to start with?"
"And how many do you have now?"
"So you picked up five cards"
"No I didn't".....
At this point the only possible recourse was to retire, which we did.
It was a great weekend for me - I love spending time with the normal side of my family. As those who have been treated to my family history are aware, my family is generally about four miles past normal so any calm time is welcomed. In the mid-seventies, my parents and my stepsister's parents did what can only be described, in a very cliched way, as a swap. They divvied up the kids between them (in my head this is rather like picking teams for rounders), and I was on the losing side. Even now, I have nobody in my life that I call "Dad" - I haven't spoken to my stepfather for over ten years, and I've never had that sort of relationship with my father. I love him very, very much, and time spent in his company has the effect of reducing me to a six-year-old, intent on winning his approval. On this visit, a new chapter opened up between us - when I came down to breakfast on both mornings of our stay I was greeted with a kiss. When we left, my father hugged me hard and said how happy he was. On one level I knew he meant that he was happy to have met the Other Half again - they have much more in common than he and the Ex ever had - and to see me so happy. But part of me is still, even at thirty two, hoping that being with me is the thing that had made him feel content. I haven't lived with him since I was two, and I sort of know that it'll always make me sad. I heard him talk this weekend about "family" holidays they took when my brother, sister and half-sister were young, and it made me yearn for the sort of normality they must have had while growing up. My own "family" holidays were home life squared, with the added horror of close proximity for two whole weeks. My stepsister and I would lie, terrified, in a sweltering hotel room, turning up our walkmans and longing for home where at least we had the sanctuary of our own bedrooms to escape the bitterness and shouting. I know my Dad regrets what happened when we were all small. My mother prefers to blame others and pity herself, but my father knows what he has done, and, I believe, tries to make it up to me. And I love him for it - but will I ever find the courage to tell him, before it's too late?
My favourite poem, and one that I carry with me, is "This Be the Verse" by Philip Larkin:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had,
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
Well, I have Small Person, so it only remains to be seen whether I can shove her towards adulthood with her self esteem and sanity intact. I'm much happier these days - being with the Other Half has brought me peace I never thought I'd find, and I hope that filters through to Small Person. However, my demons are still very much on the prowl, and my only hope is that I can beat them before they beat me. This started off as a mellow, upbeat post and seems to have trickled off into melancholy. I'm sorry for that, but weekends like I've just had make me nostalgic, self-pitying and sort of despairing once they're done.
Blimey, makes you long for a rant about telly noise, doesn't it. I'll be back to normal (?!) tomorrow, honest.
I'll be off then....