Ramblings: Christmas Time

Christmas has always my favourite time of the year – ever since I was a child where there were all of the joys of decorating a Christmas tree, watching Mary Poppins and Oliver!; the anticipation of Father Christmas coming down our chimney after midnight and trying to stay away to hear him, but always suddenly waking up at dawn and running downstairs to see what presents lie waiting for us under the stairs. School plays and The Snowman, two weeks off school and the time to read and write and relax… Then later, Christmas parties and shopping for gifts, midnight mass and the smiles of goodwill from even the grumpiest of people; the smell of pine and vanilla and gingerbread and the excitement of a snowfall on Christmas Day. Searching for childhood Christmas movies in France and the delight of finally finding Scrooge on VHS, making Christmas playlists and wearing Santa hats outside; Christmasses spent away from family, trying to recreate the same atmosphere and happiness and never actually making it work; Christmasses spent traveling to be with family because that is the only place where it feels right. Christmasses in England, in the Netherlands, in France, in Israel, in California, in New York… 

Last year I failed at Christmas. I didn’t plan anything properly and ended up staying in New York, alone, with no real plans except for maybe cooking a meal for everyone who didn’t have a place to go. I put the old fake Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve, spent the weeks before trying to get into a Christmas spirit by playing my favourite Christmas songs everywhere (and making everyone else play them too), drinking many a Christmas shot of Powers and buying gifts and sometimes losing them along the way. Christmas Eve was lovely, spent baking cookies and watching movies with a friend… Christmas Day came with people too hungover to come over for dinner, so luckily my friend invited me to other friends’ house, people who just added a chair to the table and made me feel welcome. Even though all ended well, I was determined to never spend Christmas in New York without my family again.

Fast forward to today, a year later, a year full of ups and downs and big surprises, and I am spending Christmas here, this time planned and with the same anticipation that I had when I was younger. Next year C. and I will be celebrating our baby’s first Christmas – this year we are celebrating together as a family for the first time. There is something really, really special about showing the one you love all of the different traditions you have at Christmas… Starting with the Christmas tree. I was really intent on getting a real tree this year. I’ve tried to do it over the past few years, and have always failed for some reason, but this year I was determined it would happen. On Tuesday night C. came home from work brandishing a beautiful Christmas tree (at 2am – because tree stands are open 24 hours in this city), and we spent Wednesday decorating the apartment and the tree with lights and baubles and Christmas music. This will be my last Christmas in this apartment with B, so we are planning on spending it all together, cooking and watching movies and relaxing, and just being cozy while it is probably going to be freezing and snowing outside. Remember that blizzard that started on December 26th a few years ago? Bring it on!!! Snow angels and snow men and snowball fights! Although I should probably find another winter coat soon, as this one isn’t going to close for much longer…

And once Christmas is over and the New Year has been rung in it will be time to seriously relax, save as much money as possible, find a new apartment, and finally welcome our little girl into this world… All part of this new adventure that is honestly the most amazing one that I have been on in my life.

Ramblings: Siblings

I've been terribly lazy about writing all week, blaming the fact that I am tired on my complete lack of concentration. It's not like I am lacking in inspiration - I actually have a lot of it at the moment - I just can't seem to sit down and just write for a few hours. I need to refocus my attention on what I need to accomplish over the next three months. This novel is never going to get written otherwise, and if I want to move on to something else I need to at least finish the first draft.

For some stupid reason I always seem to get inspired about certain topics when I'm in the shower. Not exactly the best place to immediately write things down so that you don't forget them, so I find myself repeating them over and over again until I have finished washing my hair and can jump out and write notes on some random paper/magazine/bog roll that is hanging around. Anyway, the other day I was thinking about brothers and sisters and family and everything those words entail in my life, and in the lives of those that I love, and was inspired to write something. Sometimes it's just so much easier to express yourself with written words rather than spoken words (in my opinion anyway - I tend to be quite crap at expressing myself at the best of times).

Remember that time when you and your little sister shared a room when you were kids and were always dancing and singing to Elvis Presley and fighting about who was going to marry him (never mind that he was already dead and had been for quite a few years)? That time when you thought your sister was a doll so you proceeded to go and try to pull her head off while she was sleeping, just like you did with all your other dolls ( I WAS 2 at the time, so cannot be blamed for thinking my sister was just a big doll)? Or that time when you got home from school to find your little brother had finally been born and was sleeping peacefully in his cot? Not that he remained peaceful for long - he the fantastic ability of screaming the house down whenever he needed to. What about that time when you and your sister walked into an empty bar, and your sister went up to the DJ and asked him to play Bauhaus because it was your "happy music"? Yes, he did play Bauhaus and Siouxsie for that matter, and we all ended up going to Yaffa Cafe for breakfast and I put Tabasco on my sister's eggs for a laugh while she was snogging one of the guys somewhere else in the restaurant. What about all those times you and your brother would have drunken conversations at 4am your time and 1am his time? Actually, I think that's more like one-sided drunken conversations, because I doubt he had been drinking most of the time.What about the time you went on a road trip from Sacramento to Santa Cruz with your sister, and just as you were driving into the town Dead Skin Mask started playing and you both ended up doing crazy air drum and air guitar moves while shouting along to the song to the amusement of the people walking down the street? Or that time when you went on a roadtrip to Bodega Bay and made your brother run/roll down the sand hill multiple times so you could get a good photo?

There are so many memories, good, bad, funny, interesting and just plain weird. I've lived pretty far away from my siblings for a long time now, but we text/talk/write/comment on each others posts every day. My brother is the only person up until now who has read all of the 123 pages I have currently written of my novel and took the time to write his comments down and send them to me. We've all been through so much shit together, even not speaking to each other for a while, but it always ends in hugs and tears and more hugs and tears. I tell my sister everything and know when she's not doing well, even if she hasn't told me how she is feeling. Whenever I feel the slightest bit lonely (and it is possible to feel that way in this city, even if there are always things to do and people to see), I know that I'll always be surrounded by my sister and my brother, however far away they are. I'll be in California for 2 weeks in June, and I know that we will have a million laughs, probably fight a few times, complain to each other about each other and create more memories that I will probably end up writing about over the next few years. Then I will be back here in NYC, and they will be over there in Sacramento and we will continue to count on each other forever, even when we fuck up and hurt each other.

Ahhh... I was just thinking back to that rave we went to back in the 90's, when we drove for hours and finally found it around 5am, then got kicked out by the police at Noon, only to drive all the way back to Grenoble in the boiling heat... And when I decided that one NYE that it would be a wonderful idea to drink a bottle of Baileys followed by a bottle of white wine followed by a bottle of cider and my sister tried to cover for me when my mum called from the party she was at because I was puking my guts up...Every time I think of a story ten others follow suite.

I don't even know why I am even writing this... I guess I miss my siblings more than usual at the moment and just know what a blessing it is that they exist in my life. I get that protective older sister feeling (even though I feel like they spend most of their time trying to protect me from getting hurt by everything) and want to be there to make sure they are always happy. Sometimes I fantasise about living nearer them in California, but I know that NYC is my home now and I would miss this place too much. I wouldn't miss the winters or my family so much, but I know I would miss my home too much.

Maybe I will just go and call both of them right now.

For my Nana - an amazing woman

Last week was very happy/sad and emotional for me but uplifting at the same time. The sorrow I felt at losing one of my grandmothers was also countered by the happiness I felt to have had the chance to know and spend so much time with my Nana, who was such an amazing person and who lived such an amazing and full life. However close or far away I lived she was always there in my life, and always had something funny to say or do that would make me laugh until I cried. She had so many stories and anecdotes from days gone by, and I hope to be able to live such a full life as she did.

The service itself was simple and beautiful and I felt honoured to read a piece I had written for her during the service. Here is the piece I read, in honour of my wonderful Nana.

For Nana, the one and only little old crock

I talk to my father every day. I don't know where he is exactly but I know that he's around somewhere, listening to me, gently guiding me in certain directions. He has watched me make mistakes, fall down, pick myself up and carry on. He's also watched me succeed and make the right decisions. It's been 23 years since he left us, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss him. Now Nana has gone to join him, and to join all of her husbands and boyfriends and sisters and friends who left us before she did. Whatever you may believe in, you know she is already sitting on a little throne-type chair somewhere, directing everyone and making everyone roll over with laughter at one of her jokes.

I'll always remember the time when I was a little child and wanted to send Nana a letter (even though she lived just a few doors down the street in Manton). If I remember correctly the postman thought it was funny that I had addressed the envelope "Nana Nicholls", that being because he knew her real name was Brenda, because he knew she lived down the street or because he just thought the name "Nana" was funny I will never know. But it's always been Nana. It did become "little old crock" at some point too, although I don't know if Louise or I started that one. Louise of course being the middle crock and me being the young crock. Although I'm not THAT young anymore.
I'm lucky. We are ALL lucky. Nana lived until she was 92 and we were all lucky enough to be part of her life and spend as much time with her when she was alive as we could. She was born in 1920! Lived through WW2, through the post war, past several husbands and still remained herself: funny, stubborn and classy. I have never known anyone (apart from my sister that is) who would make such a fuss about making sure her outfits were always matching. Even when we finally got her to wear trousers, she would only wear the posher type (unlike me, her granddaughter, who tended to run around in ripped jeans and holey jumpers). Even the orthopaedic shoes she had to wear after her operations had to be of the prettier kind! Nana wouldn't leave the house unless she felt good about the way she looked, and she always used to tell me that she didn't want to end up in hospital wearing holey underwear! She wore heels until she really couldn't anymore, and even then she kept them, you know, just in case she would be able to wear them again!

Nana never gave up, until she just couldn't fight anymore. I spent literally every summer and more at Nana and Auntie Louise's until I moved to NYC. At 80 she was getting on the bus to Stamford and Oakham, doing some shopping and going to the library. She loved to be surrounded by the people she cared about, and she had a heart big enough to still care about the people who didn't act as if they cared anymore. There were times when I would turn my back and she would climb up on chairs to clean the tops of the kitchen cupboards, just because she couldn't sit still. There was another time that she didn't want someone to see she was at home, so we both hid behind the couch when this person knocked on the door and were giggling like children. I tell you, never a boring day when you were around my Nana.

I’m sad because I know I will never see her again. I’m sad because I know I will never talk to her again. I’m sad because I will never be able to laugh at how she would take her hearing aid out when she didn’t want to listen to people talk anymore, and how, with her hearing aid, she would still have selective hearing. I’m sad because I will never see her beautiful little old lady face again, and I’m sad because I’ll never see that amazing person who was behind that little old lady face again. But I know that she wouldn’t want me to be sad. She wouldn’t want anyone to be sad. We should celebrate her life by remembering all of the wonderful times we had with her, by laughing out loud at inappropriate jokes and by remembering how fabulous Brenda May Ellis/Hughes/Nicholls/Beeby etc was. I know where I get my mischievous side from and I hope, just like Nana, that I never lose it.

Always tell those you love how much you love them, and always live your life in a way that you will never regret you didn’t do something because you were too scared to. And last of all, because all of you here today loved my Nana in some way or another, I love you too.

(To finish off, a phrase that she would say to me every so often when we watched Eastenders together):

"Oh yeah… You know the woman who played Pat in Eastenders? She’s a lesbian you know!"

A special story, dear to my heart

I spend a lot of time reviewing books/movies/articles/causes that may or may not have touched me in some way, or ranting about things that annoy or upset me. Talking about my personal opinions and life when the need takes me.

Right now I would like to talk about a beautiful story that belongs to someone close to me. Just to remind everyone to look around and tell those they are close to that they love them, and to remember, that there is always hope if you are willing to fight for it.

Months ago my friend Dara told me and our group of friends that she was pregnant. We were so happy for her, because her and her husband Patrick make the most wonderful parent-material. Then back in June, Dara let us know that the little baby growing inside of her had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, meaning that his left heart ventricle was not developed. This meant that Shane (the name Dara and Patrick gave their little boy) would need an operation on delivery, another shortly afterwards, and then a third one in a few years time, this is, if he survived through the first operations. There were additional complications that came with the initial problems too.

From that day on so many of us have been sending all of our best wishes to the family, urging Shane to keep gaining weight and be strong. A few weeks ago Dara gave birth to Shane naturally (which is what she really wanted), and he has since been through the first and second operations and is doing really really well. If he continues to eat as he has been doing and put on weight, he may even be able to go home this weekend!

Even writing about this brings tears to my eyes. Little Shane is going to grow big and string, with his parents who love him so much. And knowing how strong Dara and Patrick remained through-out everything. They are two of the bravest people I know.

If you would like to hear more information on how Dara and Patrick coped with this, and how Shane continues to fare as he grows bigger and stronger, please let me know <3

England... I forgot you somehow...

I left London 6 years ago, and landed in New York with a couple of suitcases, a new job and what appeared to be a sea of new experiences to have, people to meet and a new life to explore. I never really looked back... I wasn't really happy in London. I didn't enjoy my job that much (especially not the pittance it paid), I didn't really know anyone, and didn't know how to meet people, couldn't afford to do much more than work and eat. I did live in a great house, with wonderful people, but at the same time I missed my mum, sister and brother who were in California, my on/off boyfriend who was back in Colombia (is boyfriend really the word? I don't know anymore), and all my friends in France and Israel. I missed the sunshine and the desert, the "real" coffee, the long nights... I was lucky to have the rest of my family in England, and made regular trips up to Empingham to be with my Nana and Aunt, but I was too restless for London at the time, too full of anger at not being able to live in the US, too full of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life.

New York swallowed me up. A lot happened over the space of 6 years, some of it covered very openly, or more discreetly, in this blog. But now I feel like it has spit me out, the same person, a little older, a little wiser, but with a lot more hindsight, and also, foresight.

I finally went back to England last week for 6 days. 3 days for work, 3 days for myself. It was quite a revelation, in a sense. Everything is still in segmented phrases in my head for now, so that is how I am going to portray it here...

I love London. The buildings, the Tube, the smell of the soap, the parks... The politeness of living in England. Yes, people DO stand to the right on elevators, and wait for people to get off the train before they get on, however busy the platform is. Fruit pastilles. Chips and mushy peas late in the evening.
The countryside... Rutland. The green of the land, thatched roofs, The White Horse and Sunday Lunch. Jacket Potatoes and long conversations with Auntie Louise. Home.
The proximity of the rest of Europe and the idea that Paris IS only a short flight or train ride away.
Charlie and Cristi and Lynn not far - why were we not all such close friends before I moved? Would I have moved if we had been? (Probably, but I still wonder).
QUIET. The ability to actually sit in a pub and have a conversation with people who are not off their faces on something.
People who have known me since I was born. Family. REAL news on television. Really, really old things. Israel being only a 5 hour flight away.

There are more. Just let me get my thoughts together properly. Sometimes I see everything through the opposite of rose-tinted glasses, and I feel like I spent my time in London looking through grey-tinted glasses 6 years ago. Now I have more perspective...

Back later.

Village Life

After a seriously grueling Sunday morning spent on the phone with some majorly annoying clients of mine I took a 40 minute walk through the most picturesque part of the village. Mastic Beach is a very pretty place and I could imagine myself living here. A little dollhouse with a porch by the bay, peace and quiet, inspiration to write, a little dog, my little cat...

It reminded me of the long walks I used to take in Manton, walking Mick and Rosie's two dogs when I was 16. Down the Old Road, past the cemetery where my grandad is buried and where my father's ashes lay, out to Rutland Water and back up through the village where I was born and lived the first 8 years of my life.

I've lived in towns and cities more than I have lived in villages, but I will always be a village girl. I miss the life, the community, the quiet and the memories. I always remember wild weather and happy summers.

And here's a trip down memory lane... The Janitors and my dad in the back with the dark glasses on. Mid-80's. <3