The 26th candle

Dear Dad,

You died today.

It doesn’t matter that it was in 1986; and although the raw pain has gone, I do and probably will forever get a pang of misery and regret when this day comes and I will, as I have done every year without fail, light a candle for you in a church.

That was a difficult year, such a difficult year. When your only sibling died that February, the pain etched on your face at his death was heartbreaking. You had that stunned look of disbelief and you must have thought about all those wasted years when you did not have much contact with each other due to stupid, stupid family nonsense.

His dying was the final straw; the catalyst that set in motion the countdown to you dying nearly eight weeks later.  There is never a good thing you can say about family dying but these events did bring our families closer, much closer than we had ever been when growing up.

Yours was the first dead body I had ever seen and even though I did not want to see you lying in your coffin, I was curious and you looked so peaceful; sleeping the permanent sleep.  When I bent to kiss your forehead, it came as a shock at how hard and cold your head was. Daft really, I mean, what did I expect? You looked so smart in your suit, and on the day of your funeral, when we were saying our last goodbyes, I placed the poem I wrote for you in your breast pocket next to K’s Star of David.

The turn out for your funeral was huge, not surprising really as you had met so many people during your life.  All your friends from the golf club, non golf friends and old family friends that you were still in touch with, professional acquaintances, the staff and Directors from your factory. And of course, most importantly, your family.  I sat and cried through the whole thing and could not sing Jerusalem, even though it was a favourite of yours.

The golf club you belonged to had its flag at half mast – mind you, you collapsing and dying whilst playing a round of golf must have shaken them up somewhat, bloody good job you were winning by the way!

It would have been nice however, if alot of those who professed to like you and Mum, had bothered to stay in touch with her after you died. She was dropped like a hot potato by so many who had greedily enjoyed her wonderful cooking and hospitality over the years, but then shunned her so quickly after your death. That hurt her very much Dad, and I often wonder how I would feel or if I would say anything to them if I met them again.

I know I was not easiest person to live with when I was growing up.  I had alot of the usual teenage shit to deal with and I truly believe that you saw alot of yourself in me so tried to curtail those more spontaneous outbursts.  Ah Dad, if only you knew the half of it, how sometimes you didn’t make it easy for me and I suffered at your words and actions.  But you know what?  I was not bad; I was confused and angry and I didn’t know why, I do now.

I wish that I could share with you all that I have discovered about your parents, particularly Granddad.  He hardly ever talked about his family so you did not know much and I have discovered such alot!  Did you know he was one of 10 children, and one of his brothers did not come home from the Somme?  I know that would have interested you and that you would have gone to Thiepval to pay your respects. K and I will do that one day, I promise.  I know that you always said that you had Polish ancestors through Nan’s family, but did you know that you also had German and Dutch?  K and I walked their London streets last summer and tried to imagine what it would have been like in their day.  Oh, by the way, the building where Nan was born still exists.

I got used to your absence a long time ago, and that was something I never thought would happen.  You were not perfect, you had many faults and it was not always easy having you as my Dad, but know that I loved you, still love you and have never forgotten you.

You always liked my poems Dad, and I wrote this for your funeral:

IN MEMORIUM

When death was one,
Your grief was great.
You pondered memories of your London past.

When death was two,
Your sorrow true.
Your feelings though, were sweet relief.

When death was three,
No words expressed
The silent tears wrenched from within.

Now death is four.
We bear the scars, our grief immense, our sorrow true.
We gather the ashes you leave behind and pick up our hearts as you want us to.

Several years later, when I was sorting my head out, many things became clear to me about myself and I wrote this by way of an apology:

DAD

You died too young,
I was not there
To rush into your open arms.
Tell you that I care.

My growing years were fraught with pain,
Could never find the love inside,
Display it as I ought.
I am that fool with much to hide.

I find the words you wrote to me,
Cannot stop the falling tears.
Reading them turns back the clock
Of how I wasted many years.

I light a candle every year,
Assuage my guilt, lest I forget
That you meant everything to me,
And I miss you yet.

I still love you very much,
This message is belated.
I was stupid then, but know I know,
It was never you, but me I hated.

Love M-A xx

London on a new spring afternoon.

I am happy.

I see you London, waking up after your holiday.  Shaking off winter, and swapping it for the optimism of spring.

And you, the sun, new spring warmth glistening everywhere.  Making me smile and be happy now that the stark beauty of winter is dead.  You shine on everything as I pass.  There is the golden boy on his rocking horse in Trafalgar Square, and if I look hard enough, I can almost see him rock back and forth laughing at the tourists looking up at him.  Shafts strike across Hungerford Bridge hitting the Houses of Parliament making the building shimmer and shine, but hiding the decay of politics within. Whilst across the bridge, there stands St Paul’s and the city, and flashes of you bounce off the windows, like a hundred cameras going off as my train continues on its way.

At last!  The heavy coats of winter can now be shrugged off in favour of the lighter clothes and brighter colours.  I see the first glimpses of sandaled feet, the skin soft after a season of living in socks, tights and boots.

The sunglasses that have been frantically looked for in the depths of wardrobes, cupboards and drawers, now placed in their rightful positions or perched on tops of heads.  Are you sure they are real Raybans sir?

New life bursting in parks, gardens and trees.  Animal and bird parents frantically preparing for new young to come or feeding that which has already been born.  Fresh greens and the pink and white blossom that catches on the wind and dances in the air to then land, becoming a carpet of loveliness. Shoots thrusting through the soil and a sea of yellow as the daffodils bob and sway in the breeze and brighten everyone’s mood.

People straighten as they walk, realising that they no longer have to brace themselves against the winter elements.  The edges of their mouths soften, is that smiling I can see..?

Tables and chairs placed outside, silver cutlery against the white of the starched table-cloth anticipating al fresco eating; so lovely to do.

And the Lady of St Johns has returned!  She must have been hibernating for winter as well.  She is rocking and singing to an unknown song.

Oh, how I love London on a new spring afternoon.

“There are no foreign lands…

…It is the traveler only who is foreign” – Robert Louis Stevenson

I have, on quite a few occasions talked about my favourite cities and my top five has been pretty constant for many years.  I also seem to publish these types of posts when I am having an unproductive afternoon in the office, and today is no exception!  I have visited these cities at least once, and of course, London is where I live so I visit that daily, and all of them hold a special place in my heart.

So, to begin…

1: London.  Well that was a pretty obvious start wasn’t it?  Those who know me know of my love for this great city; a place that I have had an emotional attachment to all my life, because it is where my father and his family came from, mostly.  A city I came to several times as a child when Dad would drive up here to go the theatre.  A place of eccentrics and eccentricities, where punk rockers and the suited and booted can walk side by side down the King’s Road.  A city that indeed was not friendly to me when I first moved here and one that made me work to find my feet and get used to the way of life here.  However, I now regard it as my home and I won’t and can’t live anywhere else.

2: Paris.  Obvious to those who know my French heritage.  A beautiful, vibrant city that I also adore, have enjoyed visiting for as long as I can remember and one that I look forward to seeing again in the future.  The city (or, to be more precise, one of its suburbs) that my lovely Mum comes from.  The city into which my chic, beautiful aunt fitted so well and she really was one of those gorgeous Parisienne ladies you see in magazines and films.  The city of lights, with the smell of Gauloises and Gitanes cigarettes (that I used to smoke at times) in the air, bistro’s, a well deserved café au lait and a croissant and lazily watching the world go by whilst the waiters scurry around you with their long white aprons fluttering in the breeze.

3: New York.  Brash, loud, fast, non-stop, full of life.  I first visited NY in 2000 and loved it.  Loved the madness of the city, loved the sights and tastes, the melting pot of differences (just like London), and the New York Jewish accent!  When I flew out again on 11 September 2002, it was to a much more sombre city, that was still coming to terms with the atrocities of the previous year, it was confused and dazed, bruised but not beaten and the heart was still beating.  I felt duty bound to pay my respects at Ground Zero, you could not go there then and not do that.  One day I will visit it again.

4: Venice.  This is such a wonderful city and I was spellbound when I saw it.  Quite unlike anywhere I had been to before and going up the Grand Canal to our hotel was an experience; the volume of water traffic was as much as you would ever see on a road!  A city you can easily get lost in, whose little alleyways echo with ghostly footsteps that fool you into thinking you are going one way, when in fact you are going somewhere else.  The Gondoliers in their striped shirts competing with each other for your business.  The sound of water gently lapping against the buildings.  It’s a lovely place.

5: Jerusalem.  I am not religious and don’t subscribe to a belief system, but here, here you can almost taste and smell the strength of the feelings of those of a religious bent.  And it is easy to see how strong a hold religion has here.  Here history is almost alive.  Here, where the four quarters of the old walled city are so different to each other you could be fooled into thinking you were walking in different countries.  I have been here twice, visited all the traditional places, seen where Christ is said to be buried, both from a Catholic and Protestant perspective.  I have had my bag searched at a check point leading down to the Wailing Wall, have walked bare foot on the sumptuous carpets of the Dome of the Rock.  I have seen the desperation of those who lay claim to this city.  In this city, my normally low levels of religious tolerance become more mellow, and that is fine.  This has to be one of the most fascinating and captivating cities on earth, and I will visit it again.

Your list will indeed be different to mine, and if you feel like sharing, I would love to know what places you love/admire the most.

Waterloo

I was away at the weekend visiting my close friend P and her family.  I can’t remember the last time I saw her or my god-daughter so I was really looking forward to it.

As I had some time to kill before my train was announced I thought I would sit and pass the time away by indulging in one of my favourite pastimes of people watching, and like any other main London terminus, Waterloo is extremely busy so there is always something to see and hear.

Therefore, in no special order I give you the poetry of feet from:

People rushing, or not, pulling suitcases and bags or struggling with bags over shoulders trying to juggle ticket, coffee, food and mobile phone, sometimes not successfully.  Oops!  Another coffee for you sir?

The rows of trains in their South Western livery of blue, red and gold looking remarkably clean for a change.

A couple of staff in their high Vis vests, chatting to a concourse cleaner, whose rubbish sack bulges with the dirty mix of discarded cups, fast food bags etc that he has picked up.

Assorted prams and pushchairs, kids either in them (some asleep, some looking around) or walking beside them, their hands firmly held in their parents grip, some of the dads wearing every year’s accessory of a child on their shoulders.

A line of Converse All Stars snaking past me, belonging to the foreign students who have no idea and probably give even less of a shit that they are in one of the most exciting and wonderful cities in the world.

The queues of people trying to use the ticket machines, pressing the wrong buttons and then having to run to get their train.

A rucksack and high heels, not a clever mix on this occasion, watching her totter about trying to balance herself, the back of her top riding up to reveal the skin of her back.

The multitude of day trippers, weekend visitors, and grandparents happy to be visiting their families, excitement on their faces.

People munching on greasy pastries that were cooked a long time before they bought them, and the smell of coffee wafting past my nose.

Those familiar green Marks & Spencer bags bulging with the train picnic, a sandwich, crisps, drink, chocolate, sushi…?

Pigeons fluttering down to land, only to be chased off and land again a few feet away.

Sports fans in their team’s strip, cracking open tins of beer and loudly taking the piss out of each other, full of testosterone and up for the game and anything else that comes their way.

Bicycles; various shapes being walked by their owners because you are not allowed to ride on the concourse.

A copy of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar flash past me to catch their train because the queue was too long in WH Smiths and they now have to rush.

One man walking on prosthetic legs, a casualty of Afghanistan?  Is this the immediate
conclusion we come to when we see these people now?

A group of female Morris Dancers, their multicoloured ribbons fluttering in the air as they walk.

The people who discard their unwanted rubbish; the ‘I don’t care, it’s not my problem’ brigade.

And me, getting up to board my train, getting lost within the crowd.  I hope your weekend was as good as mine.

Soho Stories

This is not the post that I intended to add today.  That one did not suit my rather melancholic mood so I will post it another time.  Instead, I wrote this, and I hope that you enjoy it.

London has certainly moved towards becoming more of a 24 hour city, not that it will ever overtake somewhere like New York for example and I don’t think I want it to, this is not a pissing contest after all!  Despite that, I do like to know that if I wanted to or needed to buy a pint of milk at three in the morning, I can do so.

I am an early riser, and it is not uncommon (once my train pulls into Charing Cross) for me to walk to my office on Regent St, a walk which takes me 20 minutes – yes, I know I am not the world’s fastest walker before you lot jump in with your comments!

With my iPod on and not knowing what the next track will be I cross Trafalgar Square, turn right up Whitcomb St where my route will then take me through Soho and the fun begins.  The people up and about at that time never notice me so I can look and glance at them and attach little scenarios to their lives.

With that in mind, this is what I witnessed on my walk from 6am this morning – in no particular order:

One drag queen on her way home maybe from working in a club, still in her full slap and gaudy clothes, perhaps the false eyelashes have drooped though, yawning and sleepily stumbling about in her ridiculously high heels.

Two Japanese girls in the eclectic outfits and shoes that only Japanese girls wear, huddled together, holding onto each other, whilst giggling and chatting.  Whose telephone number did they get last night?

Couples wandering about after a night in the clubs and/or casino, still in their evening finery looking for somewhere to eat and drink, because they want to put off for as long as they can the moment when the night has to end and they have to go home.  (By
the way, MacDonald’s in Leicester Sq is open).

A group of men hanging about on a street corner, talking and gesticulating, some still holding a bottle of beer or two, one of them is taking a piss in a doorway.  Perhaps they are doing little deals and selling dubious substances to each other, who knows.

The Berwick St market porter talking to a stall holder, leaning on one of the dilapidated wooden stalls with its paint peeling, animated even at that time and putting the world to rights, whilst further up the street, a young man tries to manoeuvre his stall into his pitch so that he can start setting up.  I bet he wishes the porter would shut up and give him a hand!

Workers in the sandwich shops, preparing the ingredients that will fill the stomachs of hungry people at lunch time, the domes of fillings like tuna mayo and chicken Tikka with their parsley garnish sitting proud on the silver platters.  The smell of what seems like tuna and cucumber reaches my nostrils when I walk past one of them.

A delivery man in his white van (of course!), not bothering to indicate and parking illegally, throwing out the papers and magazines to sit higgledy piggledy in a heap in front of the newsagent’s door.

A middle-aged lady off to work, probably a cleaner, rubbing the sleep from her eyes having clumsily pulled on the nearest thing to hand when she got up, clasping her handbag and the bunch of keys to her, ready to unlock the office she is responsible for.

An early morning street cleaner, wearily pushing his cart and broom, sweeping away the detritus of last night.

The bin men, collecting the many bags of rubbish left out by the commercial enterprises in the area, the only real constant noise penetrating the early morning.

Another man with a fag in his mouth,squinting as he directs the jet hose along a pavement and gutter to clean them, using a solution that smells too lovely and fresh to be associated with this area.

A couple of ladies of the night, either solo red light workers or club performers make their way home, yawning and grimacing as they totter about on platforms that make their feet ache and gives them blisters.  Eagerly looking forward to the moment when the fantasy facade they wear every day will be removed and they are young women once more, needing the comfort of their beds.  Perhaps though, they have families to see to before all that, who knows?

Foreign students milling about enjoying being in a different environment, either having been up all night or not, laughing at the signs in the sex shop windows and pretending they are sophisticated and know it all.

Mr and Mrs A N Tourist, hunched over a London street map, working out their Wednesday route, him clutching his camera to his chest and hoping it won’t pour with rain (their likely thoughts!).

Having to take a slight detour because of an incident that caused part of my route to be cordoned off by the police, hoping there were no injuries.  Or worse.

Gulls circling lazily in the sky calling to their comrades on the ground to steal from the pigeons who have discovered a tasty morsel discarded by those other creatures that walk on two legs.

And I know that whatever shit I was going through yesterday and that might be repeated today is briefly forgotten as I take in these unassuming stories of Soho.