Tuesday 25 September 2007

Clarity and confusion

This maybe hard to believe but I rarely if ever am jealous or even envious of others so I find it very difficult to understand why others are - particularly of me.
I will joke that I would prefer to be swimming in the South of France rather than darting from door to door to avoid the rain with the builders’ tea but as Little Britain character Vikki Pollard would say actually: “I’m not bovvered”.
This is a legacy of my peculiar mindset – the fact that I have been clinically depressed since I was eighteen years’ old (at least that was when I was diagnosed). At that time I did not know my mind, I did not know myself and over the years I’ve come to understand a lot about how minds work – especially mine.
Where most people can go with their gut instinct, I cannot trust mine and have to question it constantly. I’ve worked out many methods of doing so. And through trial and error worked out how to gauge others but it is not instinctive. This I fear makes me slightly odd especially on meeting and how I’ve managed to keep friends defies belief! I think the best way to describe it is that I am slightly disconnected.
Because I have had to live with this for such a long time - and believe me a lot of it has been pretty horrendous - I would not wish my life on even those who have caused me great hurt. So I find it surprising when I am the object of either envy or jealousy.
The most extreme example of this caused me to miscarry – or so I believe perhaps it would have happened anyway one will never know for sure.
We had been living at the farm for a little over three years and I was the proud if somewhat incongruous mother of a year old baby boy.
I arrived home from shopping to find that I could not get into the farm because some ditsy girl in a bright yellow Peugeot was turning in the drive. She eventually got herself into gear and I carried on. As I got out of the car I noticed that the girl was pulling up behind me – I thought she was lost and holding the baby in my arms approached the car.
“Can I help?”
“Are you Mrs X?”
“Yes.” I instinctively clutched my baby closer as a huge sense of foreboding descended upon me.
“I’m from Social Services.” She held out her identification – I don’t remember looking at it by this time every muscle in my body was tense. The Boy however, gurgled delightedly and waved his arms about in greeting.
“Can we go inside,” she said, before gently manoeuvring me through the back door and into the Kitchen.
I think natural good manners forced me to go through the banalities of welcome but to be honest I can’t really remember.
“We’ve had a call about your baby and although I can see that everything is absolutely fine we have to check…I can see the call is malicious…”
I don’t think I registered much just the bit about the call about the baby.
As the social worker explained she had had a call concerning the welfare of The Boy and whether I was fit to be looking after him. If I say my world was plunged into darkness I think any of you who have children will immediately emphasise with me. For surely every mother’s worst nightmare will be that someone takes their child from them with no just cause.
I was visibly shaken and the darling girl gave me as much comfort as she could – she tried to make me listen. She tried to make it better. She reiterated that she knew the call was malicious.
She explained that every call logged by Social Services is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly and she laid out the charges that had been brought against me. They were long and detailed – very detailed. But all twisted.
The caller had started off saying that I was often heard shouting at the baby; that I had cleaned its pram with bleach, that it went to bed in hat and coat because we could not heat the house, that we had too many pets, that I had depression and was very clever at hiding it that in essence I would try to hide the fact that I was not a fit mother and that the baby was endangered.
I could not get over the incredible detail of our daily lives that was spread before us – for everything against me had in some cases more than an element of truth. Yes I had shouted at the baby – I was a new mother and the lack of sleep and isolation had got to me on occasion usually I’d then call friends and go to them or drift off over to Annie’s for some tea and let her cuddle The Boy until I was OK again.
Yes I had once put him in a hat and coat because I had forgotten to order the oil and we had run out and most important of all I admitted I had clinical depression – my doctor, the midwives and my health visitor all knew about this - there had been no problems. The accusations seemed to cover a period of about a year.
Recovering slightly I asked who had said these things.
“I can’t tell you.”
”Why not? They’re not true!”
“We have to keep confidentiality, if we did not people would be too afraid to call us if they suspected a problem. They are protected by the law.”
“What about the law protecting me and my family. Who would want to do this?”
“I’m sorry I am not at liberty to say.”
My thoughts could only focus on who would hate me so much as to do this. I was so shocked. I at once was disassociated and unconnected and there all at the same time. I was numb and so very cold I could hardly stop shivering.
I can’t remember all that happened suffice to say that Dear Charlie turned up and the discussion was carried on without much input from me. The Social Worker left reiterating that there was no problem that she had sorted everything out as far as she was concerned and that there was no case to answer.
But me my sense of isolation was never more acute – who had done this. I thought I was going out of my mind. I thought it was my husband – how could these intimate details of our life been so exposed if not from someone close to me?
Was it my mother? My sister? My mother-in-law? My sister-in-law? Which of my friends? And I could not say anything to anyone. We had decided that no one was to know what had happened we did not want anyone, least of all the one who had done it, to have the satisfaction of knowing what devastation they had caused. So I scrutinised everyone felt I could trust no one and even in my darkest moments thought it could have been me and that I had blanked it from my own memory.
Several weeks passed and time that great healer dimmed my concerns and lulled me in its passing days.
Then I came home to find my glorious Marian in tears outside the house. She came to warn me that she had been contacted by Social Services following up a report that she had asked a friend to voice her concerns about me and The Boy. She begged me to believe her that she had never said anything to anyone least of all to call the social services on her behalf.
The nightmare started over.
Marian had been asked by Social Services not to report back to me saying that they would get in contact with me themselves. But Marian could not do that – she had spoken with her mother and her mother, sensible lady that she is, had said to go straight to me and tell me exactly what had happened. Marian was shaking. She said she had no idea who had done this and begged me to believe her again and again. I was cold and my brain was having to work over and over going through all the few facts that I knew. The one thing that stood out was that I knew she loved The Boy and would never do anything to jeopardise him or, said the more cynical part of myself, would she jeopardise her job.
Social Services visited again reiterating that they felt it was the actions of a malicious caller.
“Do you know anyone who would do this?”
“No, I can’t think of anyone…” I dared not voice my suspicions for I could point the finger at several who were not fond of me and leading the troupe was my sister-in-law.
They said they would come and assess the situation in two weeks time. So for a further two weeks the strain built up. It was inevitable that I could not keep quiet this time. My overwhelming urge was to find out who and then to get the full force of the law behind me so that they would never ever do this to me or anyone else again.
Ferris, our gorgeous teenage boy of all trades – was devastated when he heard and immediately but unbeknownst to me set about recruiting his mum to find out all she could at the local school gates. Perhaps he had heard things said about me and wanted to make sure. Marian also was trying to hunt down the culprit, as was her mother who suggested that shooting the bugger would be too good.
Dear Charlie was with me as was Marian when Social Services next visited. There were two of them a man and the darling ditsy girl. I was given the all clear and it was explained to me that my record would show that the calls and accusations against me would be labelled as malicious. And it was then that I begged them to tell me everything that they could – I had to know who was doing this.
“We’re sorry but we can’t say.”
“Is it my family?”
“We can’t say but… well…no it’s not.”
“Is it someone within the county?”
“Within the Village?”
“Yes – look we really are not allowed to say.”
I could sense them weakening and pressed the advantage.
“Is it someone involved with us?”
“Look I can’t say but as far as I can say then no…”
I plagued them to report exactly what the caller had said. They read out from the transcript of the telephone call.
“Was it the same person as before?” I asked.
“”We don’t hold those sort of records…”
“But surely you must log every call, surely you must know who calls?”
“We just get a telephone number.”
“But was it the same telephone member as before?”
“Yes, but we can’t say if it was the same person. We’re not allowed to.”
“Can you give us the telephone number for our solicitor?”
“No. The callers are protected.”
“Can you prosecute people for wasting your time if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the call is malicious?”
“No, we can’t. We get a lot of malicious calls usually between parents especially if there is a custody problem over the children – we can’t even prosecute them. It’s very unusual to get a truly malicious call like this one.”
My thoughts raced – the person who called would get away with what they had done, Scott free and there was nothing I could do about it.
But then something sparked in my brain; the phraseology used in the transcript. I asked for it again and something twigged. I remembered the exact same words been spoken and only recently, the problem was I could not remember who had said them. A faint recollection so I asked if it was she. Their faces across the table were inscrutable.
“Look, we are sorry but we cannot say.”
Dear Charlie ploughed in: “Will you log the callers calls? Will you tell the caller that there is no case to answer if they call again? And warn them that we’ll prosecute.”
“All I can say is that the caller is flagged.”
As we escorted the social workers to their cars to say goodbye Dear Charlie asked again: “Is it her? We just want to know. We won’t do anything I promise we won’t”
The guy looked at Dear Charlie full of sympathy and as he started to pull away said: “You’re not far wrong.”
The woman is a supply teacher, the information about our lives gleaned through village gossip from a variety of sources, as she has never set foot in our house. She must have been building her case against me for over a year possibly longer – and the only reason my mother an come up with is that she is jealous.
What of the aftermath – I collapsed; I miscarried but as I said earlier that may have been on the cards despite this episode rather than because of it.
In order to protect my family I enrolled my son at a Nursery and told them all that had happened I asked them to record everything about my son and how they felt he was being treated so that I would have a written independent record on his health and well being. For months after I ensured that I was very rarely alone with my son during the day so that we would be protected. That we would have witnesses to his welfare.
And when I had my second – I employed a Nanny. Not because I wanted to but just in case.
I think that explains why I am reticent, I think that explains why I do the things I do. I think that explains my isolation here in Suffolk and why this site is so important to me – for here I get to know you slowly. Here I can reveal myself slowly here is the comfort of anonymity and of being judged on who you are rather than what you represent.

Sunday 23 September 2007

The Littlest one…

How do I describe the Littlest One? The one who gets forgotten in the hurly burly of life, suddenly remembered and blamed at the same time for just being there?
He never seems to notice the guilt and exasperation, he just laughs as I snatch him up and swing him round onto my hip. He looks on delightedly as I struggle with school bags and shoes and keys and dogs. He’s thrust into the car every morning and largely ignored as The Boy and I chatter nineteen to the dozen about almost anything or else shout and growl at each other then sulk and listen to the radio in uncomfortable silence.
He’s left in the car as I take The Boy into his classroom a fluffy Jack Russell to guard him as some sort of sop to the fact he’s left behind.
He’s all sweetness and light, bubbles and blond curls. The largest blue eyes and SUCH a smile. But his brother is quicksilver, fearless with strangers, long lashed minstrel brown eyes and a puck-like sense of humour and merry laughter – when he wants.
The Littlest snatches his moments with me at bedtime while The Boy has TV privileges keeping him downstairs in the early evening. While we shop he holds out his rounded plump little arms for a crafty cuddle while his mercurial brother is self-importantly hunting down the Rice Krispies. In traffic queues we catch each other’s eyes in the driving mirror.
And everyday the stakes are raised as each grabs a bit of me for themselves. They try to outdo each other and are oblivious to the fact. One insists on eye spy at the table showing off his fledgling knowledge, the other boasts his dexterity look mama I use a spoon! One involves me in complicated jokes with no meaning the other starts to clamber out of his highchair. One helps me clear away the plates; the other makes a beeline for the dog’s water bowl.
We play peepbo at the table as I swap my attention from one to the other and while I am in deep discussion with The Boy I hold the Littlest one ‘s foot under the table just so he knows I love him too.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

The accidental feminist

Married, living in the country, basically barefoot and pregnant, relying on her lord and master to bring in the bread - an unlikely proponent of feminism.
And yet I find myself championing the right for women to retain their surnames after marriage should they wish. It is sort of accidental; I did not mean it to happen. In fact I never really thought about it until the day after I got married.
My father-in-law greeted me with the words: “Aah, here comes Mrs ------ junior!” I was horrified, I had completely forgotten to tell everyone that I would not be taking my husband’s surname. To be honest, I had never thought about changing my name anyway.
What a pickle – I looked about me and everyone was beaming beatifically as if I had achieved a great feat – all I had done was get married and yet everyone looked at me as if I had become something new and exotic. I was exactly the same person as I was the day before.For the rest of the day I was slightly lost for words and the enormity of what had happened with those six silly little words gradually sunk in. Society expected something from me that I was unable to give.
At first, I let it ride. I still had my job where I continued using my own surname – changing it would only cause confusion, and besides my husband’s surname was far too long. It is triple barrelled, totals 15 letters when used fully and is definitely not Anglo Saxon.
But as time went on I did get annoyed about it. However, I did not change my passport, banking details, tax details or any other form of documentation. It was not needed and after a while I found out, quite by accident, that there was no legal requirement for me to do so. It is just custom.
But going against a custom, means taking on society and causes much hurt and heartache. My family and indeed my husband’s family were horrified. They could just about swallow the idea that I needed to keep my own name for ‘professional’ reasons but that I wanted to keep my own name was an anathema.
What shocked me more though was the attitude of friends. Especially girlfriends. Only the other day I was presented to some new people. I had briefly met one of them for a fleeting moment at a drinks do some 10 months previously. I introduced myself using my own name to be immediately contradicted by my hostess who said: “Oh, you will know her better as Mrs ------!”
I was furious and said without hesitation that I did not use my husband’s surname and pointed out that I never had. There was an uncomfortable silence. It was rather drawn out before conversation resumed again with me being studiously ignored. In order to maintain relations I had to apologise and suffer a lecture on how inconvenient I was.
But that just about sums up the problem, society does not like inconvenience. Me keeping and using my own name is inconvenient. I mean how do you introduce people with different surnames? What do you say to ones children? It’s so terribly embarrassing…So now I have to make a stand. I don’t want to, I am not good at it and quite honestly I am rather scared. But all I would like is to be respected for who I am and that does include my right to be called by whatever name I choose. My husband has no trouble with it – so why should society?

Friday 14 September 2007

What would bring you back....

I wish I could have published what I initially wrote but I cannot. This may get read by my family and what I have written would only upset them.
In essence this piece of homework took me down a route which resulted in me writing down a description of my grandmother's last night down to those very last moments. Suffice to say the most important of those dozen scents, sounds and senses would be someone brushing my hair behind my ear as she did that night in the rare moments when she was with me in mind and body.

So what would bring me back?
1: Someone brushing the hair behind my ear
2. The smell of my dad’s hard working army uniform
3. The sound of my children giggling
4. The feel of my dog curled up beside me
5. My husband kissing the nape of my neck
6. The sound of the sea washing up the beach in Wales
7. The smell of my garden just after the rain on a hot day
8. The feel of a just laid egg in the palm of my hand
9. The smell of dark red tea rose in my garden
10. The sound of the Rookery here at Rookyard
11. The smell of Bonfires on an Autumn day
12. Crowded House (Any Album)

Tuesday 11 September 2007

The sad tale of the Goat Shed and Chicken Hut fowl (apologies to the Bard)

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Rookyard, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where chicken blood makes chicken feet unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of cross patched cockerels take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous cock crows
Do with their death bury their poor flocks' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd fight,
And the continuance of their harangued flocks' rage,
Which, but their cockerel's end, nought could put to flight,
Is now a moments' traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.…

My flock, as you will no doubt have realised, roosts in two quite separate areas of the farm. Both used to intermingle, pass the time of day, scratch at the same patches and generally get on with each other.
Not so two Summers ago. Due to a gradual reduction in the number of hens caused by illness, old age, crossing the road and Mr Foxy Fowler; there was a great need to cull the cockerels – if just for the sanity of those poor remaining hens who would dart from nest to nest as surreptitiously as possible to avoid the avid attentions of their lustful cousins, brothers, fathers and sons.
Thus dispatched; there remained two cocks to crow. Pitt the Younger – a feisty little but rather beautiful bantam of about four years and Big Boy, an extremely handsome Leg Bar cross cockerel of a somewhat startling stature compared to the majority of the bantams on the farm.
All seemed fine; then one morning there was the most almighty hullabaloo; I dashed down from my study, grabbed a suitable looking weapon - turned out to be an umbrella – and prepared to take on any vulpine enemy.
My neighbour, Roger, also came running and to our amazement we witnessed the most savage and vitriolic fight I have ever encountered. Quite literally feathers, blood and gore flew. The outcome of which, was that as far as we could see, Big Boy had won the day.
All should have been settled. But as the course of that summer wore on, I could not but notice that there was more scuffles and general upheaval than before. The two flocks avoided each other; and from the upstairs window you could watch them taking great pains to ensure that they never met during the day.
The Hen Hut became quite empty and it was then that I realised that despite that seminal fight, Pitt the Younger was winning the war. Big Boy had stopped crowing and was reluctant to even come out of the Hen Hut.
But power or absolute power, has the ability to corrupt – absolutely. And after finding myself stalked as an enemy by my pint sized cockerel, there could only be one outcome. Pitt the Younger, for his overtly aggressive ways, would have to be dispatched to the great farmyard in the sky.
The day dawned, the deed was swift. All done and dusted or was it?
Despite the relief afforded to the hen community; Big Boy was clearly not all right. He still refused to come out of the hut. He was still reluctant to crow. And one balmy August evening, I noticed that his breathing was laboured. A visit to the vet confirmed my worst fears and Big Boy joined Pitt the Younger in the vast beyond. During some fight in the previous weeks the bantam had inflicted a fatal kick to Big Boy causing a rupture from which his decline was to be inevitable. So beyond the grave Pitt the Younger killed my handsome gentle giant. And all at once the farm was cockereless.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of less joy
Than this of Pitt and my Big Boy.

Luckily, in the course of nature there is NEVER a lack of cockerels for long and to fill in the gap Ollie and Stanley came to roost - Arcana/Leg Bar cross brothers. They roam the farm and keep down the uppity youngsters. Culling takes place every Autumn/Early Spring and all is calm - on the surface. But who knows with chickens?

Monday 3 September 2007

Do you want to fall out over a handful of Blackberries?

Have you ever done something totally reprehensible? Something really mean?
I did.
I was coming back from the Village Shop, where I had tried and failed to bribe The Boy into giving up his Bobby’s Chocolate Muffins for a handmade choc chip cake from Palmers our local bakery plus a packet of crisps, when I noticed a woman cross the road from the wood opposite our drive and saunter down our verge. I was a bit unsure what she was doing. She carried with her a large white bag that looked extremely heavy. As I got closer I realised she was picking blackberries – my blackberries.
I approached.
“Excuse me can I help you?”
I tried again: “Excuse me, what do you think you are doing?”
“I’m picking blackberries.”
“I can see that. Did you ask the owner’s permission?”
“Why should I?”
“Because I am the owner.”
“Well then I am asking now. It’s only for a pie.”
“Why don’t you take the ones in the wood?”
“They’re not as good as these.”
“No, I bet they’re not.”
Being encumbered I decided to relieve myself of my appendages and took them home where I plonked them down in front of the TV while I dealt with the pilferer.
She was still there quite unrepentant. I walked right up to her with my arms folded.
“Big pie.” I said looking at her extremely full carrier bag.
“Well it’s for more than one…”
I raised my eyebrows at this and said: “Finished yet?”
“Well you are now.”
“Now you’re not going to fall out over a handful of Blackberries are you?”
“Yes, today I am going to do just that!”
“I’ve been picking Blackberries here for years - I always do it.”
“Well you’re not going to do it now.”
“I’ve been in this Village for 34 years…”
“Well I haven’t…”
“No I can see that…”
“I’ve always picked Blackberries here when the Stearns…”
“The Stearns haven’t owned this place for six years. Now I do and if I want to let all my Blackberries rot where they are that is my right.” I turned and stalked off back up the drive. Seething.
Needless to say she left. Five minutes later I shot back down the drive to make sure and the coast was clear. Boy was she a good picker not a single ripe one left.
Winding myself up right royally I thought that in the six years I had lived here I had NEVER seen this woman before. I had NEVER seen her picking Blackberries.
Pounding up the drive I was muttering: “No common decency! I would never pick someone else’s fruit without asking. I have never done so I’ve been taught to always ask permission. The only time you don’t is when you’re on a Public Footpath or Bridleway. It’s not as if my verge is even in the Village. It's on the main road!”
I saw Roger in the yard and stomped off to see him and tell him what I had done. I warned him that I was probably being cursed in the Village and not to worry about it. Slightly startled he said that most people see Blackberries as a gift from God and therefore free to all and sundry adding that there again most people didn’t feel quite the same about Pheasants. I said I had no defence for what I had done and scowled off inside ignoring the Builders who were looking hopefully for another cup of coffee.
Now it started to dawn on me that my behaviour was bad and then I thought shit that is not the way to win friends and influence people. And suddenly I had the most dreadful image in my head of the whole of the Village WI all storming up here and picking all my Blackberries to make a point and cocking a snook at me. What would I do? I imagined myself slapping a great big fence all along the road, or digging up all the brambles. Splitting my nose to spite my face and I knew that I was more than capable of doing both.
Iwas still fuming and humming and harghing and I shouted at the Boys when I got in. My eldest to placate me started to say there were plenty of other Blackberries and I snapped at him sending him upstairs crying. I behaved like the biggest BITCH and felt ten times worse.
There is no defence for what I did either to the woman or to the boys. I said I was sorry to my eldest and cuddled my youngest. The Boy said that’s alright Mummy and I hugged him even closer – to be forgiven so easily; something I really don’t deserve.

Go on you know you want to...


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