Roseraie de l’Hay

Roseraie de l'Hay

I feel bad that I don’t remember her name; she was a lovely old lady, white-haired and soap-scented.  We lived next-door to her for eight years, we couldn’t have called her Mrs Next-Door for all that time.  And besides, I seem to remember Christmas cards being exchanged, so her name must be in there somewhere.  But it won’t surface and I feel discourteous.

Merry Christmas to you all,

from

Mrs Next-Door and Jeanie.

See, I remember her daughter’s name, but then Jeanie is difficult to forget – a lean woman with pale ankles, long squirrel-coloured hair, a thick stripe of red across her thin lips and everything else green: emerald eyeshadow; lime clothes; olive sandals; even her bedroom glowed jade.  When things got too much for Jeanie, she would take her bongos and her glockenspiel into the garden.

– It’s her glands, Mrs N-D told me once.  I worry about what’s going to happen to her when I’m gone.

Mrs N-D died last year, and what is happening to Jeanie is that she’s selling up and moving to Penzance, to be closer to a creative community.

Roseraie de l'Hay

When you drive into this city – I guess this is probably true of most cities – you get a feel for the localities by their street signs. Or lack of street signs, such as when you pass through rural villages (think The Archers) on the outskirts, where rights and responsibilities are taken seriously and any reminder might be considered condescending and reported to the parish council.  The signs begin, then, further into the city, tentatively, tucked between the leaves of the suburban Stepford estates –

Streetlight not working? Call us…

They are in full swing by the time you reach the council estates –

Kill Your Speed, Not a Child

and by the inner city – the neighbourhood as near to a ghetto as this tiny city can muster – they have lost all sense of decency:

Prostitution is a Crime! 

This is where we live now.  Posh end, mind.

When we lived next-door to Mrs Next-Door, we were somewhere between speeding admonishment and lighting reassurance; a comfy place to be, and when I saw her house up for sale, I flitted with the possibility of returning; to take the kids back to the street they were born. The possibility was slight, but I had to explore it, decide whether to persue it.

I mentioned it first to my home-bird boy.

– But you’ve just decorated the front room, with the comfy settee, and had the stove fitted. It’s so cosy, I don’t really want to leave.

– The settee could come with us, and we could have a new stove fitted.

He looked at me doubtfully and returned to FIFA 13.

So I suggested the idea to my daughter.

– It’s alright here, why would we want to leave?

– Wouldn’t you like to be able to walk home at night without being hassled by cars full of men?

She shrugged.

– It’s character-building, Mum.  If I get to uni next year, nothing and nobody’s gonna scare me.

– Well, that’s a positive way of looking at it.

– Yeah.  Besides, I like when I tell people where I live and they look all shocked.

I didn’t think our address was enough to provoke shock, but if it makes her happy… and sonny-boy is content with his creature comforts, wherever they’re located: just me to convince.

This here is an interesting place to live, but sometimes the enmity threatens to take over.  Especially when driving; a sport that has few rewards for fair play around these narrow streets, where civility is viewed as a weakness.  People seem overwhelmed by their own problems; struggles arouse hostility, drives out humanity.  Look closer and you will find integrity and grace, but they are harder to come by.

Roseraie de l'Hay

I spent this afternoon in the late-summer sunshine, tidying the front.  I trimmed the yew that I’m trying to turn into a hedge, pruning it back to leave room for the daffodils to poke through in the new year.  (Last February they were just about to open when I found all the buds snapped off and strewn on the pavement: we’ll try again next spring.)  When I had done what I could with the yew, I moved on to clip the lavender edging.  (A few weeks ago, I found that someone had dumped a dirty carpet on top: once I’d lugged the big muddy square into the bin, the lavender soon sprang back to life.)  My final job was to hack at the Roseraie de l’Hay, my beautiful rugosa rose.  Rough and tough and thorny, the deep rich crimson of its carefree flowers in the summer is matched by the exuberance of its perfume, but this late in the season it is past its best, so I chop back, save its energies for next year.  I was nearly done when I noticed Mrs Atwal standing beside me (the two Mrs Atwals were introduced here: this was the sedate one).

– Are you throwing the sticks away?

– Well, I was going to…

– Please can I take one? I’d like to put it in the soil of our garden to see if it will grow.

– Of course.

– I walk past here every day.

– Yes, I see you sometimes.  (I don’t tell her I used to buy 10p mixes off her in her shop, but I wonder if she remembers me.)

– In the summer, this rose smells beautiful. I asked my sister and she smells it too. We would love that in our garden, thank you.

 – You’re welcome. I hope it works for you.

Roseraie de l'Hay

Once outside was spick and span, I came inside and checked the estate agent’s website.  Mrs N-D’s house is sold: Jeanie will get her dream, get to live where she wants to.

I will keep on living here, keeping searching out the grace.  After all, this here is an honest place to live, and my kids have lived here longer than anywhere else.  After all, it’s our home.

Roseraie de l'Hay

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Summer in the city

*

This morning’s tour of duty; boy’s room first, open the blinds.  Nearly a teen and he’s still my baby boy, my puppy dog.  Two weeks today since I last saw him.  He’s off round Europe in a motorhome, playing Max to his dad’s Paddy. Not long till the weekend is my mantra.

But for now, I’m alone.  Girl in Africa, boy in Europe.  Sister on some island in the Med, friend in Scandinavia.  Utterly alone.  Even Les next door has escaped to Blackpool for a few nights.  In general, I think I do quite fine with alone, but these are testing times and I’m feeling kinda forlornely.

I consider taking Regina’s advice and finding a protest, to rub up against strangers; but this is a tiny city and its best offering is a rerun of Macbeth at the independent cinema. I settle, it’s ok.  Reminds me of when my boy nudges and says come watch the rugby with me, Mum; I get the gist but not the finer points and when I tire of concentrating, the scenery is easy on the eye.

Back at the car park pay-station, I find my plastic park-card and hold it out ready to slot it in, but there is no slot.  I wave it around in hope.

Just hold it up there, duck, where them three lights are.  A head peeks out from under the paymachine and a grimy finger points up to guide me.  Right up there – look, says the crosslegged imp, patiently.

Right, thanks I say.  I show the card to the buttons and like a jackpot in reverse, they flash rainbows and tell me how much to pay.  I feed a note into the machine and it spews out a few paltry coins, which I press into the grubby hands below.  Spend it wisely, I counsel, I hear wet wipe washes are the way forward.

Walking to the car, my phone rings.  My boy tells me he will be home in about an hour.

But you’re not coming home till the weekend.

Change of plan.

Well, that’s great, but couldn’t you have let me know?

I told you Monday didn’t I?

No, you said the weekend.

Hmmm… oh yeah, I wrote it on the postcard.

I see.  And when did you send the postcard?

Well, I couldn’t find anywhere to post it.

So, you’re bringing me the postcard that you wrote to tell me you’re coming home?

I could hear his grin, the sweetheart.

*

*

Now you’re really living

An evening of failure and listening to too much Eels takes its toll the morning after.

The light was beautiful this morning, but the air smelt sour.

On the way to school, my son told me about a dream he’d had:

– It was snowing, but it was like 32° and everyone had shorts on.

– How strange.  Why did the snow not melt?

– Because it was a dream.

I admire my son’s simplicity as much as my daughter’s complexity.  It makes me think of a time when they were younger, colouring at the table.  I looked over and watched as son decided which green to colour the grass; daughter stared intently at the landscape on her paper.  Then she looked up, threw me a quick smile and said:

– Mum, I was thinking last night.  You’re born, you have kids, then you die.  Is that really all there is to life?

Teen -v- coffee cake

– Got any pudding?

– Do you want some cake?

– No thanks.

– Don’t you like my cake?

– It’s not chocolate.

– It’s coffee cake.  You like coffee.

– OK, I’ll have some.

– Here you go.

– Yuk.  You didn’t tell me it had nuts in!

– You like nuts.

– No I don’t.  Yuk, they’re all crunchy.

– They’re not crunchy they’ve been cooked in the cake.  They’re walnuts – coffee and walnuts are lovely together.

– I swear you’ve put yoghurt in the middle.

– It’s not yoghurt, it’s cream.

– Don’t like cream.

– Yes you do.  You like milk, you like butter, you like cream.

– What did you put in it?

– It’s flavoured with vanilla.

– Don’t like vanilla.

– Yes you do.  You like white chocolate, you like vanilla.

– I’m full.