Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Who's That Girl?



The girl on the left is Tina, painted by J H Lynch. Tina hung around for more years than was strictly fashionable, above Dad’s writing bureau in our front room. My parents adored Tina, but for me she’s powerfully evocative of the stomach-churning embarrassment of early dates because Dad’s bureau was where the only phone in the house sat. And, unfortunately, because it was the front room, it wasn’t just the phone sitting there; inevitably the date calls came when Ma and my kid sister were in the room too, keenly anticipating the opportunity for a bit of sport.

A discussion thread started by Faith over at Purple Coo on ‘Firsts and Worsts’ this week got me thinking about Tina and those first dates again. Before The Best Optometrist In the World and I became regulars at the youth club discos and learned to flee the dance floor before the last slow record was played and all the extras from the Thriller video emerged from the shadows to grab a snog (ooh, get me, Miss Gorgeosity with bad skin, bad hair, bad glasses and braces) I’d gone with another friend to my first grown-up disco.

The lighting levels in the church hall where it was held were so low that they wouldn’t be allowed now on grounds of health and safety, but when some bloke asked me to dance then, later, asked me out I felt quite pleased with myself for getting through a difficult rite of passage quite smoothly. Until that was, a few days later when my date turned up at the house. The fact that I had made lip contact with the person before me was made even worse by him declaring undying love. Arriving home to jeers and sniggers from Ma and Little Sister didn’t help and prompted me to write a hasty letter asking to be excused from our relationship forever on the grounds of too much homework.

Tina also reminds me of a time when Ma was at her most glamorous, she’s pretty damn good for her age now. We’re lucky to have Ma, Mil and Dil and having them to stay gives us a chance to check them for signs of wear and tear, especially since Mil claims to have everything wrong with her and Ma claims to have nothing wrong with her – both equally inaccurate. But, two weeks of back-to-back Planet Parent have been fairly exhausting. There are the three very different lines of conversation for a start; Dil’s tend to the entirely random, ‘Scotch eggs. Why aren’t they called Welsh eggs?’ (please don’t tell me, it’s Dil who cares, not me), Mil’s are dedicated to seeing all the good in the world, Ma’s to making lots of mischief.

And then there’s just the sadness that comes with seeing the effects of time passing. Sitting on the sea wall one glorious afternoon opposite Ma and Tom whilst we ate ice creams, I watched Ma’s eyes dancing with amusement. ‘I can smell a funny smell,’ she announced. ‘It’s not you, is it Tom?’ With her eyes crinkled up and her shoulders shaking with laughter at her own joke she looked more like a six year old than a seventy-six year old. The years may have taken their physical toll but it’s curiously comforting to catch a glimpse of that little girl and know that in some ways, Ma will stay forever young.

If any book can make you grateful for your family, friends and home comforts this is it.
My legs were shaking with fear at times when I read it, but it’s beautifully written and ultimately redemptive. An extraordinary read – although probably not a book for bedtime.

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 13 = 25 miles.

17 comments:

Elizabethd said...

I found Cormac McCarthy's book incredibly bleak, wouldnt want to re read it.
When does the mother stop being the mother and become the child, I wonder? I feel I might have turned that corner.

JJ Beattie said...

Oh dear I've definitely turned the corner in the parent/child thing. And jolly difficult it is too all the way from Thailand.

I loved The Road. I couldn't work out how he managed to write a book where nothing much happened all the way through and I was still gripped.

That Tina... Mmmm, enough to give one nightmares.

muddyboots said...

Now you've got me thinking, our phone was in the hall in a drafty corner not exactly conclusive to the long chat. Oh village hall dances, parents walking around peering into the dark corners trying to find their offspring, what fun.

Milla said...

ALl of Cormac McCarthy's are fantastic. Bleak, spare and compelling. Love the description of your parents and, funny you were asking about Scotch eggs because, d'you know, the reason why ....

Debs said...

I find it strange that my mother now looks how my grand mother did (seemingly only recently) and I've now turned into my mother. Strange, and a little sad.

Flowerpot said...

My mum hasn't turned the corner yet but she is 80 so - well, it's something I try not to think about it. She's still bright as a button so let's hope that lastsa a long long time.

Brown Dog said...

Oh God, yes - those cringe-filled memories that you only re-live to remind yourself how much more hideous things could be! I have so many Tina moments. One of the worst was an early date being quizzed about cake-decorating techniques by my overbearing father, after which he was so desparate to make a quick exit from the whole situation that my goodnight kiss was throught the viser of a full-face motorcycle helmet. Oh yes - we've all been there.

Love your description of Ma. (Well, was it Tom? The funny smell, I mean? Go on - you can't not tell us now...)

xx

Lane said...

Got to read that book.

The parent/child thing is so difficult. I see it creeping up and try to bury my head in the sand.

So Tina? Did you inherit her? Is she above your writing desk now? :-)

Cottage Garden said...

We had a similar painting to Tina in our sitting room when I was growing up - I always thought it a bit spooky.

Love your description of the youth club discos - I've managed to completely erase similar memories - after many years of therapy!!

You're very lucky to still have your mum and her sisters (?) they sound so bright and sparky.

The Road has been on the bookshelf for a while now (bought, read and raved over by the other half) so time to delve in I think.

Jeanne x

ChrisH said...

Elizabeth, yes, bleak but don't you think there is hope there too? And, yes, I think I've reached the tipping point.

JJ, I find it bad enough from Wales so it must be very hard for you. V true about 'The Road'. Tina - once seen always there!

muddyboots - good or bad thoughts? You'll have to tell us!

Milla, in which case I'll read more. And DON'T tell me about the Scotch eggs!

Debs, sorry I haven't picked up my award yet. I know - I've always tried to avoid passing that tendency on to my daughters.

Brown Dog, - was that you or the date wearing the motorbike helmet? I'm sure some of my dates were longing for me to wear one. Ooh, scary dad!

Lane, yes - do read it. And keep on burying your head in the sand. Tina? Last seen relegated to a shed wall - poor girl.

Jeanne, it's therapy or blogging I think! I've gone for sharing the pain in public - it's cheaper! Do read, 'The Road' but try to do it in bright sunshine or when you have something pleasant to do afterwards.

Rob-bear said...

Wonderful, gutsy post. Glad I dropped by. Hope things keep going well.

countrymummy said...

We had a porch on the front of our semi that had a very handy bench on which to snog but a very stern looking bronze-ified centurion staring at the snogees from the opposite wall. I often wonder what happened to him (the gladiator, not the snogee). There was also a picked patch of woodchip by the hall table where the phone sat. Happy days!

Fennie said...

This is the second beautiful piece I have read this morning. Well I recognise Tina. My Mil had someone very similar - also Spanish, or Latin of some description and rather more clothes, I think, but the same allure. Mind you I wonder whether the entrancing expression was because she was perhaps thinking about Scotch eggs and whether she'd remembered to turn the gas off. Still she must have launched a million fantasies.

Could we, I wonder, measure fantasies in Tinarettes? You know as beauty is measured in Helens - one Helen being the quantity of beauty it takes to launch a single ship? How many Helens would make a Tina, I wonder? Would you believe there are 30 items on my to-do list today?

Cait O'Connor said...

I might pluck up courage to read The Road.
Loved your post Chris even though I cannot identify with the parent thing except for being one I guess.
Sorry I haven't called by for ages but life has been in the way. I will call by more now.

ChrisH said...

Rob-bear, greetings! Thanks for visitng and for your comment.

Countrymummy, welcome! And I thought having Ma shouting, 'I can tell you've been snogging - your lips are all red' was bad enough. Glad we didn't have a gladiator too!

Fennie, I think you've cracked it! Tina, must indeed be pondering the mystery that is a Scotch egg. But why has she taken her clothes off to do it??

Cait, drop by when you can - it's always lovely to see you - but please don't feel you have to! I know how busy you are.

Calico Kate said...

Great post - Couldn't finish The Road too too sad for the likes of wimpish me - I get too 'involved' in the books I read.

I'm fine with the eggs being Scotch!
CKx

gaelikaa said...

Funny....my mother is a great one for smells - I remember her going into a room and saying 'there's a funny smell in here....' and I'd be just after cleaning up the place! My mother has the sharpest nose I've ever come across! We nearly lost her ten years ago to cancer, and I'm so glad she's still around!