Sunday, 20 September 2009


I have got nostalgiaitis.

I think it is the changing season.

My sister and I once agreed that New Year ought to be celebrated in September not January. It just feels right, especially if your childhood revolved, as ours did, around the academic year.

Last Tuesday was a stormy day. In the morning, the sky was dark grey, threatening rain and a strong noreaster was blowing.

So filled with that odd coupling of hope and longing, I decided to take Snooks out to play on the common.

With not another soul in sight, we weathered it for about an hour, watching the trees bow like heavenly courtiers in the gale and amusing ourselves by chasing a plastic bag across the common. At this point, those purveyors of nursery school for all children between the ages of six months and four years will be crying: “ See what she subjects that poor child to! See how unstimulated and lacking in social skills he is (Let’s not even get started on her)!”

Actually Snooks loved it and tells the bag story to everyone he meets. He tells the story of how the strong wind caught the bag as I emptied its contents (the football) onto the ground, and whipped it out of my hand, how it blew all the way across the common and how we chased it and were only able to retrieve it when got struck against the fence by the road. Only he says: “Oh no. Bag. Blew. Stuck. Road.” The boy has a future in copywriting.

Anyway when eventually our ardour for the blustery outdoors waned, we took refuge at a friend’s place where we were restored with mountains of toast and wonderful strong coffee.

It was while our two giggly boys were jumping up and down on a bean-bag to look out of the window that my friend happened to show me a photograph of herself with her late mother. It was taken a few years ago - a head and shoulders shot of the two of them together. It looked nice.

At home later that day, I remembered that another friend of ours has a similar framed photo of herself with her late mother. It is a perhaps no coincidence that we three became friends when our babies were born within a week of each other, all feeling that aching loss so keenly, but rarely mentioning it.

Casting around I realised that there is no evidence on show of my life before Snooks and the Engineer, for which I can only blame myself. Years ago I imposed a ban on family photos on the wall, which the kind Engineer accepted without much resistance. (An exception was made for his older children who remain in our hallway, captured on a beach as their prepubescent selves). I had two reasons: first, photos of the ones who had passed simply failed to replace them and second, photos of the living paradoxically, and spookily, always bring to my mind a line from a Doors song “I won’t need your picture, until we say goodbye”.

Slowly, over the years, one or two have made their way onto our shelves as the Engineer has cunningly made presents of framed photos for birthdays and anniversaries, easing me in with happy holiday snaps of the two of us.

And while I can spend a good few hours gazing at the digital images of Snooks on screen – an activity which keeps me happy during the evenings when I am missing him because he is asleep – it took until he was one year old before I was prepared to have a framed photograph of him on show.

The other day Snooks was snookling on my knee and playing with the pendant around my neck. Then he sat up, studied it for a moment and pronounced: ‘A lady’. He had managed to open the old locket I was wearing which contains a photo of my mother, half my age, about to take on the world. It is a black and white professional portrait in which she wears a classy silk scarf and her trademark enigmatic smile. It is how I like to remember her.

I tried explaining to Snookie who she was but none of the words seemed to fit. She was never made for ‘grandmother’; ‘gran’ sounds a bit Eastenders and ‘granny’ is just a joke. She was known to the grandchildren she met as ‘Nanna’, ‘Nonna’ and ‘Bubbles’. But without the intimacy of that acquaintance, these did not seem to describe the woman in the locket.

‘Lady,’ Snooks repeated.

Lady it is.

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