Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mother's Day

They are selling cut-price flowers in Tesco's, for this special day, for all those last minute sons and daughters.

I came back from Wales yesterday, on a long Pendolino train which arrived at 11 o'clock in the evening, then I caught the last bus home. Today, I am shattered, and have been attempting to cultivate a pottering state of mind - one which concentrates only on the unpacking of tea cups, the re-aligning and colour-coding of books on shelves, and the playing of crap bubble-bursting logic games on my mobile phone.

I knew at some point today I would need to sit myself at my computer and attempt to recapture the last few days, and I knew it wouldn't be easy. My heart feels like it has been pumped with helium, so swollen with life, it is, so engorged with feeling, I fear it might just sail right out from under my tee-shirt, out of my living-room window and into the dark rainy night.

I arrived in Shotton at lunch time on Tuesday, tired from the train journey, the early start and the lack of sleep I've become used to in these recent weeks of late night music and writing sessions. I have been wanting to see my sister for some time, we met jubilantly on the station platform, caught the train together to our village and walked home.

As I sat in my Mum's old bedroom, which looks out over the playing fields, I could see, through the trees in the distance, the partly hidden walls of our old sprawling family home, the house I grew up in from the age of four until I moved out at eighteen. With its vast tangle of bushes, trees and flowerbeds, its large echoing rooms, the endless driveway, it is still very much a mythical place for me, a place I still dream about, I still think about. It is a house of so many memories, and I'm still trying to understand and come to terms with what went on within its four walls.

I've known for a while that I needed to go and have another look at the old house. I hadn't seen it close up in some years, I've avoided going up our old road. Right next to it stands the Poor Clares Convent, just on the other side of the wall. I hadn't been back to the Convent since I was a little girl. I have known for a while that I've needed to return here aswell. I've wanted to see what it was like on the inside, as I can't remember from all those years ago, and I've needed some answers in order to piece together the missing pieces of a puzzle that is my childhood. So I have needed for a long time to go and visit the Poor Clares. This week felt like the right time.

I can't locate much in my memories of childhood that, looking back, seem normal or ordinary, if there is such a thing. At the time, I thought that was just how things were in family life, it was all that I knew. But I so longed to be normal and ordinary, in an ordinary house, with an ordinary family, ordinary friends, ordinary wishes and an ordinary experience. The more I look at it, though I know that the idea of a normal family-life can only largely be myth, the more I think what an extraordinary existence in some ways my childhood and teenage years were.

However, when I remember, it is usually the bad that I remember, the darker parts, the shadowy overhangs of branches in our gardens, the crawling in the undergrowth. It is the creaking in the loft above my head, it is the white statue on the lawn that, in the night, always seemed to be moving. It is the death of the bumble bee in the spider's web next to our back steps, it is the crying in the night. We kept the back door locked tight and the front door gleaming with red gloss paint and a brass knocker.

This is what stays with me most, the feeling that someone was always hiding in those tall poplars that lined our long driveway, that there were forces out there, surrounding us that me and my family didn't want to know about. We were all haunted.

But then there was the Convent, with its clock that chimed on the half hour, with its Cross that stood tall above all our heads. I would hear the nuns singing in the morning at dawn, as my mother took me by the hand and gently led me down the front lawn when I was little and I couldn't sleep, and the sun was just beginning to shine and birds were just waking.

There was something about the Convent that I didn't understand, but which has affected me all my life. I am only just realising why. The nuns would come and visit my Mum and they would bring us hand-carved Crucifixes and tiny painted nuns made out of wooden clothes pegs. I would keep the prayers of St Francis on my head board, stuck with blutack, and I would pray every night and feel the kindness of those words trickling down my forehead.

..Lord .. grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life..

A thread has run through my veins and through my life from as far back as I can remember. I still don't quite understand it, and it is still unravelling. It runs all the way back to my childhood, to the old house and to those closed Convent walls.

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