Two Beds, A Birthday & A Bouquet of Flowers

If you’ve read The Tour de France & A Parquet Tour de Force! you might be interested in how things turned out, after the parquet was restored – that is, how the room was finished, and Mum and the family’s reaction.

Here is the finished room:

It is no mean feat decorating and furnishing a room that has to be used by toddlers, teens, twenty-somethings and my 87 year old mum! In its previous incarnation, it was painted in aqua and mostly used by the older boys, but more recently, it is increasingly used to sleep in by my youngest grand-daughter and my mum. The boys these days come on day-trips and mostly use it as a bolt-hole once they’ve raided the fridge on arrival!

They wanted white walls – but they’ve been brainwashed by their minimalist mother! My grand-daughter likes purple!! But she is three. I opted for a very pale yellow.  I find yellow welcoming and uplifting but not so energising that you can’t sleep. It makes me smile.

My mum hates yellow.

She also dislikes wooden floors.

She was coming for her birthday visit and things were not looking promising.

There was the problem of the bed. The old bed had been our daughter’s: it was her half of the set of pine bunk beds she shared with her brother. All the grandchildren and my mum had used it. It had a memory foam mattress and was very comfortable. However, when my husband took it apart, we were appalled to find that it was cracked around one of the bolts holding it together and a slat was also cracked. I dread to think what could have happened when Mum used it. It was time it retired.

We thought we had come up with the perfect solution and were very proud of our find: a wooden bed that had a trundle bed underneath so the younger boys no longer had to sleep on the floor, and 3 storage drawers. The existing mattress fit perfectly, I bought a new duvet cover and some colourful cushions. But as soon as I saw the completed construction, I knew it was too high for Mum. It was the night before she was due to arrive when the room was not quite completed, but enough that she could use it. There was no option but to cross our fingers and hope that our only other alternative would work if my fears proved correct.

She loved the floor. She spent some time admiring it and asking questions. We told her the whole story of how we’d discovered it, the difficulties in restoring it and how long it had taken. She listened and ackowledged. We were prepared for the next question but it still made us laugh:

‘What kind of carpet are you going to put over it?!’ Oh, Mum. Every one of our neighbours is green with envy at our new floor. The rest of the family love it. Only Mum would want to carpet over it. It’s a generational thing. For her, wooden floors are associated with having a low income, you had bare boards or at best lino over it. Fitted carpets were the height of luxury and meant you were in a higher income bracket. She really can’t understand our fascination with wood. She likes the feel of carpet. We put a rug by her bed (backed by non-slip underlay) and she was ok.

The next hurdle was the colour.  I was ready for her next question: ‘What colour is this?’ ‘Vanilla, Mum, vanilla ice-cream,’ I lied. ‘Oh, right, it’s very nice.’

And so to the final hurdle, the bed. I could sense her nervousness and building anxiety as she looked at it and I stepped in to reassure her. I acknowledged that it was too high and we weren’t able to change it, but we had a suggestion: my husband would dismantle the single bed upstairs and bring it down for the duration of her stay. This we did and will have to do every time she comes to visit. One final final problem (or so I thought): she  couldn’t have it positioned with the headboard in the alcove under the window as she didn’t feel comfortable getting in and out of bed on that side. (At this point, there was no chest of drawers in the alcove). So it had to be positioned with the headboard in the middle of the room.

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But we were still not done with the bed issues. I took one look and said to my husband, ‘I know what’s going to happen, the pillows are going to slip through the gap in the headboard and end up on the floor.’ My husband was of a mind to cross our fingers once more and see, we might get away with it.

Of course, we didn’t! So next day, he found a large piece of cardboard and attached it to the headboard with bicycle ties! Not the look I was going for, but it worked!

She slept well in it and was happy with the arrangement.

Phew!

Mum had a quiet birthday, watching her new André Rieu dvd, eating Carrot, Apple & Spice Cakes with Cashew Frosting and curry (not together!)

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Mum’s birthday was complete when she received flowers from my brother who has recently emigrated to the US, she was convinced she would never receive flowers from him again – or indeed, see or hear from him.

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The day after her birthday, she was returning home, but not before the Littles arrived to see Gran on her birthday, and to inspect their new room. They loved it! They especially liked the pull-out trundle bed and all the drawers with their toys in.

We can never have much of an overlap of visits by Gran and great-grandchildren as there is too much potential for tripping over racing toddlers and racing cars! Also, these days Mum tires easily and her deafness means she can never follow the conversation. So we keep visits short, just time for lunch together and then my husband took her home, while I got to spend the afternoon reading stories as well as catching up with my oldest grandson, newly returned from working in France – oh, and given there was no Gran or daughter-in-law present, we took a sneaky look at the Tour de France too!

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Ps The painting by the window was done by my eldest grandson when he was still at school and the stars above the picture rail were made by my three year old grand-daughter, who gave them to me for Christmas. The boomerang above the door was a gift from our Aussie friends to our son when he was small and has been there since we moved here 30 years ago when he occupied this room. There is a smaller one above the door in our daughter’s old room. No-one can bring themselves to remove them, a small part of them is still ‘home’.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

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Long time, no see …

img_2602A quick post to apologise for lack of (hopefully) inspiring posts: we are metaphorically and literally running around like headless chickens trying to regain some sense of control over our living space so that we are prepared for a lovely surprise visit from the two family smalls tomorrow. We weren’t expecting them until Christmas Eve and have unwittingly turned their bedroom into something resembling a packing warehouse and their play room into Santa’s grotto, and so we have to try to clear it all away before they discover their presents a little on the early side!

Their bedroom is full of boxes, big and small, from all the parcels that have contrived to arrive all at once this week – some as part of a project we’re working on (can’t say more than that, walls have ears and all that), some awaiting returns labels, and some containing presents. The playroom has rolls of Christmas paper, cards in various stages of completion, wrapped up gifts strewn around and half-completed projects.

We are also in a quandary: is it too soon to put up the Christmas decorations for them, should we wait until Christmas so they get the full effect for their special visit (we don’t usually see them at Christmas and this year my mum will be meeting the youngest small for the first time too).

Then there’s food to prepare. Always a head-scratcher, this one. Littlest small won’t eat anything resembling a vegetable but will eat fruit and porridge till it comes out of his ears (sometimes literally!), older small will eat most things on her day but on others may decide she’s not in the mood and would rather be playing.

We spend a lot of time discussing what to have, trying to make sure we have their favourites only to discover those have moved over to the detested list and they’ve moved on to something else. Last time we were sure we were on to a winner with pizza, older small’s favourite, but neither of them ate any – older small actually preferred the salad! And younger small doesn’t like chips (fries)!! What child doesn’t like chips?? Husband makes them from scratch and is very proud of his oven chips, the older bigger ones gobble them up. Nope, smallest small only wants cheese and grapes, banana if you’re lucky – but he does love the Aduna Baobab bars* (and I happen to have just had a delivery), and they like my raw treats, so not all is lost.

It’s so hard fitting in two meals into such a short 6 hour visit, we end up spending most of the time preparing food, eating food, clearing away food, washing up and then there’s just enough time to read a story or two and we’re onto the next meal and then they have a bath and it’s into the car and off they go!

We spend such a lot of time and energy trying to get it right, but never really succeed. The teenage ones much prefer takeaway and so that is what we usually do for them and I cringe at what my followers would think of me, a vegan health and well-being blogger paying money for some of the most disgusting ‘food’ on this earth, which they wolf down with big grins on their faces while all I can think about is how many chemicals and processed unmentionables are being stored up for future health catastrophes! They, of course, think it’s hilarious and enjoy watching me squirm. (They eat healthily at home but regard visits here as opportunities to cut loose and have ‘treats’!)

Anyway, that’s our week so far. I am so tempted to put up all the lights etc. because I love to see the little ones’ faces, but I think HB will put his foot down and since he is the one who has to do it all, I have to acquiesce. Besides, there are only so many hours left before their visit and the grotto still isn’t sorted, we don’t yet know what food to prepare, the house needs cleaning and toddlerising, my back is shouting for mercy, oh, and I’m in the middle of a soup and juice plan!

I can’t wait to see them.

Wish us luck!

PS Here’s a link to a Guardian newspaper article on Aduna and the impact on local African economies of their market for baobab fruit, traditionally picked by women.

*https://aduna.com/

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ode To Our Piano, a Faithful and Long-Suffering Friend

Today is a momentous day. A dear friend is leaving us and I am quite emotional about it. The silly thing is, it was my idea. But that was last year. It was a whim. I don’t think I ever really meant to do it. But then, in the spirit of change that has swept through our house this past year, the idea grew wings and took flight last week when my husband suddenly uttered those fateful words: ‘if we got rid of the piano we’d have a lot more space.’

I let it sit. I thought about it. I felt sick. I went round and round with it. All the grandchildren loved playing around on it. Our daughter had her first lessons on it. My husband spent decades trying to play Frère Jacques on it (I won’t miss that!!) Our gorgeous ginger cat, Charlie, used to sit imperiously on the top, watching us all (and gave me a hard lesson about vases of flowers on pianos when she knocked it over and ruined the bottom notes forever).

And how can we forget our 5 year old daughter getting up at dawn on Sunday mornings, wearing her purple Victorian-style dress with its lace collar, Mickey Mouse shower cap on her head (!), singing Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ while dusting and polishing her piano. (How I wish I had a photo of that, there must be one, surely!)

I remember the trapped fingers, the music holder breaking as Number 1 grandson and friend let the lid drop before folding it back; the blackbird that somehow came down the chimney, got trapped in the big lampshade then found its way into the back of the piano and refused to come out! Every toddler in the family has had his or her first music lesson on that piano. It is in the background of all our Christmas photos, bedecked with holly from our garden and candles made by our grandsons.

But the hardest part of letting go is the reason we have it in the first place.

Our daughter and her grandma were close: it was a relationship built on a mutual love of Polo mints and cleaning! She always carried a packet in the pocket of her apron and Grandma’s housework routine definitely had an influence on her grand-daughter. (If anyone needs any decluttering done, she’s the one to call!) Sadly, when our daughter was only just five, her grandma suddenly became ill and died.

Here is a photo of Grandma (wearing the ubiquitous apron) with me, taken in her garden where she had just cut me a bunch of sweetpeas, my favourite flowers.

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When Grandma died, there was a little insurance money which the family had to fight hard to claim – Denis Healey, former MP and then Lord Healey, helped us – and we wanted to do something special with it. We wanted it to be spent on something significant, that she would have liked and that would keep her with us. My husband said she always liked the piano even though she never learned, I too had always wanted a piano and our daughter had been showing interest when she went to nursery where they used to sing around the piano every day. So this seemed a good idea. We bought a reconditioned Wilson walnut upright with flower inlay, you could see that it used to have candle holders too.

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The chair was Grandma’s and went perfectly.

It was so exciting when the piano was delivered. We had a piano! I never thought I would see the day. I remembered my great-grandma’s black piano with the lace runner on top; the brown upright in our school hall that I loved to watch Miss Johnson play every morning in assembly, her toes going up and down and her fingers operating magically all at the same time; my best friend’s dark mahogany piano that I always envied and wished I could learn to play. Her mum said I could practise on it if I had lessons, but we couldn’t afford them. The nearest I ever came to playing an instrument was my wooden recorder! (But I could read music).

We organised lessons for our daughter when she was seven and I was sure it wasn’t just a whim. She and I would go along to her tutor’s house on a Saturday morning, and I would sit fascinated by the number of pianos and keyboards he had, always trying to work out how he got the grand piano into the living room – which also had an upright – and once when that room was having some work done, we had to go upstairs into a tiny box room where he somehow managed to fit an upright and two keyboards. It was like the Tardis.

In years to come, she went on to do her grades and play clarinet, five recorders and guitar. She loved Tori Amos and worked her way through her songbook during her student years, having long since given up formal lessons.

Now, her sons are having music lessons. They chose violin as their first instrument, and their mum accompanied them on our piano during reluctant violin practice at our house in the holidays. Here is the youngest teaching himself on the same piano having found his mum’s beginner’s book. He and his mum played a trick on me when, in a very bored voice, he called me to come listen to him do his violin practice. I found his mum playing violin and him at the piano with a cheeky grin on his face! He has since become keen on keyboard and drums and likes to compose his own music.

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This instrument took on such significance in our lives that it even had a room named after it: being in the fortunate position of having two living rooms, one of them became ‘the piano room’!

The piano also became a repository for significant, much-loved items:

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From the left, a cookie jar from Portugal (a wedding gift from student friends), my great-uncle Billy’s bachelor silver teapot (an apprentice’s passing-out piece), the Russian sculpture of a young woman’s head that has a thick plait down the back (a birthday present from my husband two days before our son’s first birthday). Next, my husband’s Morris Minor teapot, a gift from my mum and a replica of his real life pride and joy. Finally, the cake stand made for me by my very talented son, who seems to be able to turn his hand to creating something from anything being thrown out or abandoned. In the earlier photo of my grandson, you can just see in front of the sculpture, there is a clock he made from a bicycle tyre!

(Where am I going to keep all these now?)

This room’s become a bit of a museum: it also houses my great-grandma’s rocking chair, my grandmother’s Father Christmas cream jug, my great-aunt’s porcelain basket of flowers, a three-legged stool my mum bought me when our son was born and a more modern version made by Number Two grandson at school last year. That’s not to mention the shelves of photograph albums and 70’s cds (husband’s).

It’s time to let go. Our grandchildren live a long way from us and are growing up fast. The oldest (below) gave up piano and harp long ago, the boys now have their own piano and keyboard, the tiny ones will no doubt also benefit from them, too. When everyone visits, there’s never enough room to sit (especially in winter when everyone gravitates to the room with the woodburner), and I want the room to have a makeover.

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So we’re saying goodbye to our old friend. We wanted her to go to a new home, but finding one was a bit of a struggle. The local charity shops didn’t want it. Age UK* didn’t want it. I widened my search to the surrounding towns and a lovely lady in a Sue Ryder* charity shop gave me the name of a new shop nearby: Forces Support*. They help families of injured and lost servicemen and women with house and garden maintenance and building projects etc that were started but can no longer be finished off. The man who answered my call couldn’t have been more helpful or welcoming and once he had found his ‘spectacles’ took down my details and arranged a day for collection.

Now we are just waiting for the men to arrive. Agony of agonies, they phoned last week to say the van had broken down and could we rearrange?! It’s somewhat nerve-wracking. A bit like the day we had to take a very old and sick Charlie to the vets and she didn’t come home.

My eyes are watering.

Not long to go and it will all be over.**

Hang on: what are we going to call the piano room now it no longer has a piano in it?!

*http://www.ageuk.org.uk/

*http://www.sueryder.org/

*http://www.forcessupport.org.uk/

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** Except it wasn’t! See Ode to Our Piano – What Happened Next…Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?, and Ode to Our Piano – Flowers & Phew!

Here’s a fun video of Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box to cheer us up! (If you’re reading this via email, you’ll need to click Like or Comments to take you direct to the post so you can see it).

Copyright: Chris McGowan