It is my first day in my new winter workplace and when I got up this morning I felt exactly like I used to do all those years ago, when I changed schools, or when it was the first day of the new school year.
Remember those times? Changing schools was awful. The mix of nerves beforehand and stomach-churning excitement. Going from being the important big fish in the little pond to being the small and very insignificant sprat at the bottom of the pond-life pile. Not only that, but there was a massive new building to navigate around. Prior to this I had attended small primary schools and so to be thrust into what seemed to me at the time, a huge and unfriendly leviathan, populated by giants bestriding the corridors, filled me with terror and awe. It was many weeks before I became familiar with the layout of the building and accustomed to living with giants and able to deal with the new world of academe.
A new school year, a new term. These bought their own problems. After the long summer holidays, new items of school uniform would have to be purchased. My mother, in common I suspect with every other mother in the land, allowed for the future growth of her offspring when making these purchases. Thus I would be sent unwillingly to school in a skirt much longer than I would have chosen, a blazer at least two sizes too big, (it has to last darling) and truly hideous, nut no doubt sensible round-toed flat leather shoes. Not to mention long brown socks, (everyone else wore fashionable white ones) and large shirts and jumpers, )allow for 'development' darling.) I, at an innocent eleven years at the time had no idea what she was on about. Times were different then. No doubt eleven year old now know far more than I ever will. And lastly, we come to the school bag. I longed to sport the mega-cool rucksacks or duffle bags my classmates possessed. Instead I was sent off with a stiff new leather satchel and in later years, a sturdy leather briefcase. How uncool was I?
Yes, there was a lot of teasing, mostly good-natured and friendly. I smiled and shrugged but inwardly I would have loved to have been cool and hip, in pointy-toed shoes, tights and a mini-skirt, maybe even a hint of mascara around the eyes. But that was never going to happen.
And here I am again, the new kid in the building. I was up early this morning, excited and raring for the off. No stiff, new uniform for me though. I am dressed for autumn warmth and comfort, with sturdy sneakers on my feet with a view to a walk later. I don't mind being the new kid now. I am still a small fish in a big pond, but everyone is kind and helpful and I have settled into my new quarters already. I have peace and quiet to work and best of all, a beautiful view out of a large picture window. The morning clouds have lifted from the bay, revealing the Cumrian hills beyond. Move over John Donne, a can feel a sonnet coming on.
My friend moved into her new home a few days ago. Good friends rallied round and in no time furniture was placed, beds made up, boxes emptied, flattened and despatched to the amenity tip. So far so wonderful.
Husband and I arrived after all this activity had taken place as we had been detained over the border at book events. However, there were still minor, or seemingly minor jobs to be done. We did a meg-shop for all those little bits and bobs that mysteriously go missing in a move, or else you know very well will be packed at the very bottom of the largest, heaviest box, still lurking unloved in the dark and cold depths of the garage.
Hammers, nails, screws, picture hooks, washing lines, lavatory brushes, waste bins, the list goes on and on. We drove home so laden with booty that I could only just squeeze in the back of the car and then had bags and boxes piled on top of me. As we bumped and bounced our way along roads long strangers to a good layer of tarmac, I hung grimly on to the packages, regretting not taking the bus, as hubby enjoyed himself happily swinging the car around the tight bends.
Home to the little jobs then. Great strides were made in very little time and then we came to the hanging of the pictures. You will have to forgive me dear reader, I'm not ashamed to say I baulked at participating in this one. I took myself off to the kitchen to prepare a gastronomic delight for our supper, or what can loosly be described as a beef casserole.
Why the non-participatory role? (A) Because having been through this process with my husband in various homes before, I knew it could be a tricky process. We are seldom in accord as to the placing of pictures and this can give rise to heated arguments with regard to the arrangement of the room, the placing of the said artwork to its best advantage (a matter of opinion), leading on to the meaning of life/aims/ambitions - you get the idea. (B) My friend is as ditzy as they come. She can swither and dither over the smallest of decisions and as for hanging pictures - we only had a long weekend and she had a lot of pictures.
I listened from the safety of the kitchen and it was the best entertainment ever. Fortunately, my husband is a patient man. There were the familiar debates about the siting of each picture, its suitability to the room, the height it should be hung from etc. Happily, the discussions remained amicable, then hubby threw a spanner in the works by introducing the idea of grouping a family of like pictures together on a very large wall.
This idea had to be absorbed and agreed upon and the implications of this modus operandi contemplated. The complicated mathematics, the centreing of the picture on the wall, lengthy calculations of fractions of inches and equi-distances between this one and that one calculated. As I happily chopped vegetables and cried over onions, I could hear the clanking of the mathematical cogs being exercised and the socks coming off for the toes to be counted as matters got serious.
After much head scratching, muttering and labour, the pictures were precisely placed and looked at. A long silence followed as they contemplated their handiwork and they both agreed that this maths lark was all very well, but a much better job would have been done by ditching old Pythagoras and his chums and placing the pictures just where they liked - where they looked right, equi-distant or not.
Harmony reigned thereafter and pictures were hung with minimal debate. 'I think it looks nice here' says one. 'Tad to the left' says the other.' 'Up a bit,' 'down a bit, perfect. Whack the hook in the wall right there.' In a day a house became a home as they moved from room to room placing much-loved treasures to their mutual satisfaction. Below stairs, I tidied and cleaned and miraculously managed not to burn the dinner. Thankfully, it was only centuries of mathematics that were consigned to the dustbin that day.
It is nothing short of a miracle that I have arrived at the more mature stage of life and have managed to retain a modicum of sanity and, I hope, a balanced view of life. It has been a feature of my personal landscape thus far that the question of my identity has been somewhat up for grabs. I know I have referred to this matter previously, but another aspect of this subject recently presented itself. It was always the case that my mother could never lay her hands on my name. Even after she had known me a good forty odd years, it was still the same. She would laboriously go through the list of female offspring and relatives until she located me.
During our recent local book festival I have been helping out at my favourite bookshop/cafe. Nothing too grand, mainly skivvying in the kitchen, as the very new and very expensive dishwasher broke down the moment the festival began and a new part could not be fitted until almost the end of the festival. Now I am not averse to a bit of honest toil, in fact, I quite enjoy it. The cafe was heaving with customers day and night and book sales rocketed. The atmosphere was convivial and I made new friends. So, what's not to like about all that? Nothing as it happens. Only it's the name thing .... Gerrie, the cafe owner, started doing the 'name' thing - only this time going through the list of her children and hoping to get to me.
As I said, my mother could never lay her hands on my name even after she had known me for forty odd years. She would look at me, the puzzled expression on her face giving way to mild panic as she sought to identify me and then her lips would soundlessly begin to move, as she wandered through the list of female offspring and relatives until she located whom she hoped was me. I admit, this could be a tedious process, especially if I was waiting for an instruction from her, but the little devil in me always triumphed on these occasions and I would watch and wait in a detached manner, mentally clocking her fastest time.
This mildly amusing pastime took me through my early years and then I was packed off to the convent school in Leeds, following in my sister's illustrious footsteps. Here the 'name' issue multiplied. The Sisters of the Holy Family had my aunt Mary in their midst and had also had 5 years of my sister Mary in the school before me and in their minds that was the way it was going to stay. I looked almost the same, sounded the same, so the same name would do. They needn't trouble their heads to learn a new one.
I tried, I really did. For long enough I would not answer to Mary, but in the end, the surprised and rather hurt look of said nuns defeated me and I succumbed to answering to 'Mary'.
Scroll forward a few years and grandchildren came to our family, thus adding to the list my mother recited when she clapped eyes on me No, dear reader, I did not get promoted up the list, hopefully to one day arrive at the top. Sadly, with each new arrival I was demoted in the 'snakes and ladders' of family life. If my dear mother had lived to see her great-grandchildren, what a list that would have been!
We all have our favourite items of clothing and I am no exception to this. I have some extremely ancient favourites and you know how it is, you just throw them on without a care in the world, knowing that they are oh-so-comfortable and well-loved. And that's just it, you throw them on - without actually looking at them and admitting that perhaps they are... maybe... just a wee bit past their best, or in my case, long past their best and probably should have gone in the bin long ago.
This fact was brought home to me last week. A friend was coming over for lunch and feeling energetic and zealous, I decided to clean and polish in her honour. So naturally I donned my favourites and then got completely carried away into a full-scale spring clean - even though it is autumn and the light isn't as good - however, good enough for me I can tell you, as cleaning is not in my top ten of fun things to do.
So, the time whizzed by and my friend was at my door before I knew it. But as she's a friend I wasn't too worried about not looking my best, even though she was dolled up to the nines. Lunch was soon organised and we ate and talked with animation. Afterwards we repaired to the sitting room with our coffee and gradually I became aware of her staring at my feet. Not full-on staring, but her gaze slipping floorwards at intervals.
Now I'm a polite soul and not wishing to draw attention to this unusual behaviour, I kept my own counsel, but endeavoured to surreptitiously follow her gaze now and again. At first I could not see anything untoward. I still had two feet - firmly planted on the carpet - no cause for alarm there. Or was there? Suddenly, I saw what she saw and then she saw that I saw what she saw and she laughed in that joshing, embarrassed way people have when you catch them out in a mild social gaffe.
It turned out she was fascinated by the black shoelaces in my ancient, originally mauve and now-sort-of-brown, cracked leather shoes and the spectacular way they did not match. That was only the beginning. Apart from my very old brogues and corduroys, she is also fascinated by my Barbour jackets. They are so old and have been patched, repaired and re-waxed over more years than my memory can shake a stick to. So much so, they can stand up on their own now.
My friend is at a loss as to why I continue to wear my ancient shoes and even more ancient jackets. 'Why don't I go for the new season's styles and colours?' she asks. 'Could she throw out her old friends every year?' I reply. For my part, I cannot. I love every inch of my cracked old shoes and my patched old jackets, which I have been sending back to the manufacturers for loving repairs for the last thirty years.
So, here's to all old friends, the fashionable, colourful and well-shod and to the old-fashioned, plain and shabby ones. There is room for them all. My dustbin will stand empty for a while yet.