Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Art of Graphophobia and Turning Pages

There is a name for every phobia imaginable, including “fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth” - Arachibutyrophobia. Weird as it sounds, I can understand this one. I’ve never liked peanut better because of its cloying dryness, although I think that my condition is fear of it sticking to my arteries.
   
There is not, however, a listed phobia for what I discovered today when clearing out my upstairs office. It’s not the one I work in, but it has served very well over the years as a storage area for supplies - well, three areas to be precise (it’s a big house).
   
I clearly have a fear of running out of paper. I could open my own Ryman store with the amount of paper up there. Small notebooks - plastic-bound, leather-bound, cardboard-bound - and every size and shape of writing paper: lined, blank, A4, A5, Post-It notes, big writing cards, little writing cards, blank and lined, exercise books I took with me when I left my teaching job in the Bishop of Llandaff - in 1983, for goodness sake! Who keeps a stash of blank exercise books for 33 years? But there they are - ten E J Arnold olive green books, now a little faded at the edges. 
   
I’ve always liked writing in exercise books and, in the States, buy the same ones when I go to Staples, where every day they have more irresistible bargains, and none more glorious than the five pack boxes of A5 (the US equivalent of our A4). Yes, I have another paper stash in New York - rows of empty exercise books (and a lot filled with writing, too), and more paper - for ink printing, photo printing, note-taking. 

When I first moved to the States, I took ten five ream boxes of A4 and, now that I have run out, I have a fear - no, terror - of having, finally, to convert to A5. Then there is the Staples stash currently sitting in a Los Angeles storage unit, too. I think I would be happy renting a shelf to live on in Staples. 
   
But, upon investigation, there is no named phobia for fear of running out of paper. There is fear of running out of toilet paper (Endrollphobia), and fear of paper (Papyrophobia); there’s also fear of writing (Graphophobia), which I obviously don’t have (I have a fear of not writing, but I think that’s just called work avoidance), and  fear of running out of reading material (Abibliophobia). Given the thousands of books I am having to get rid of, I think I might have had that one for many years, but appear to be getting over it during this move. 
   
Not all of the paper in my possession is blank. There are boxes of ‘A’ Level notes and essays for English and History, my ‘O’ Level art paintings (all designs copied from How to Draw), university notes and essays, thousands of handwritten newspaper articles, and more half- written plays, books and stories than I could ever have believed possible even from the most prolific writers. Why didn’t I finish any of them? A cursory glance gives me the answer to that. I was a veritable little Sylvia Plath (in temperament, not talent) in the making. I half expected a razor blade to fall out of the pages.
   
Then there are the diaries, going back as far as 1977. Acres of angst over men, worry over exams, concerns over health, and even a letter written to my mother in 1983, telling her of my money worries and how, once I wrote that big novel, all would be well in the financial coffers.
   
Thirty three years on, little has changed, at least in relation to men and money. Paper is a recorder of emotions, and writing something down doesn’t change the fundamental you. Have I really learned so little since that 19 year old self wrote about her tears, crying over an unavailable man? (No, I haven’t). But there, on 1st December 1977, is the editor of the university magazine, Link, who came to see me in my halls of residence after I submitted a piece for their Letters page. 

And here’s the entry: “ He said that the letter I’d written wasn’t like a student’s; they’d thought it was a lecturer. He said it was very unusual to find a girl who could write with such punch.” I remember being thrilled. Patronising git, I’d say now. So I have learnt something.
   
So, while I haven’t made much cognitive progress with men, I can say that the paper trail has grown, and the decades of words I’ve written have given me opportunities I could never have imagined when I made that entry during my first year at Cardiff University. I have been lucky enough to write for the smartest people in journalism, and still do; it wasn’t easy, by any means, but that’s a struggle I’ll save for another day.
   
Yes, I am sure I have a fear of running out of paper, because it is my life. Every word I put on every sheet is a privilege - a privilege to be part of the family into which I was lucky enough to be born, a privilege of a great education paid for by the State, the privilege of having been born with a skill that really was the luck of the draw that so many are denied. 
   
My fear now is not one of running out of paper, but of running out of time in which to fill those empty spaces. 

But panic aside, the blank pages before me today are tomorrow’s story: a story that has yet to be written. 

Only fate will decide when the final page dictates The End.


    

Monday, March 14, 2016

Storage with Benefits

I lost it. 

Most of the time, I deal with the idea of selling up pretty well. It’s a practical decision, as well as a financial one, given that I spend most of my time in the States. I’m resigned to leaving my house, as I really enjoy the simplicity of living in a much smaller place in New York that has 24/7 security and fantastic views over the Hudson, where the exquisite sunsets can move you to tears. 

And I have a life that is rich with friendship, music and literature, in addition to restaurants and bars where a single woman of my age is not treated as a social leper. I’ve even learnt to speak American – and it’s a lot harder than you think; certainly more difficult than French. 

But yesterday, I cracked. Attending the 90th birthday party of my friend’s mother, I met up with so many people who were in my life over 30 years ago during my ballroom dancing years as an adult (I had been a competition dancer as a child, too). I was sitting at a table with Paula Goodyear, whose Bath dancing school was the centre of my social life when I lived in the city. 

I remembered the smell of polish at the top of the stairs, which was when you first heard the music from the ballroom. I recalled Boxing Day mornings, which were the highlight of my Christmas. A trip to Antwerp, when the bus had to stop every half hour so that I could empty my tiny bladder, an event that earned me the nickname “Taffy Leak” from Paula’s mother.

I was sitting next to my mother, who is nowhere near 90, but the day inevitably made me think about aging and the inevitability of losing the people we love. When the waiters who had been serving us transformed into a musical singing duet, I went. Completely. Show tunes just do it for me. They transform me to a world in which raw emotion is everything – the here and now, and I am always lost in the occasion whenever I listen to a musical. 

I don’t have quite the same experience watching some of them. I love Blood Brothers, but when I saw it in London’s West End, the key scene was ruined when one of the brothers pulled a gun, and a strong Welsh accent from behind me, said, way too loudly: “Ooh, God, ’e’s about to shoot ’im!”

But you can’t beat a good show tune. Yesterday, what set me off was This is the Moment. I love it. I sing it. I think I’ve heard every recording of it ever made . . . in fact, I just took a little break from writing this to listen to another glorious Michael Ball version.

My tears started. Plop. Plop. Plop. They wouldn’t stop. My mother held my hand and my tears plopped even more. They stopped only when the duet went into Time to Say Goodbye, during which my tears turned to hysterical laughter (it’s a thin line between the two), as I felt it a tad inappropriate for a 90th birthday.

Anyway, I recovered enough to get everyone up dancing, and a thoroughly good afternoon was had by all.

Reality is starting to hit home (or should that be away from home?) now. Travelling back from London to Cardiff this week, I realised that this was the last time I would be taking the journey with no permanent residence awaiting me at the other end. I even went to see a Cardiff Bay apartment I thought I might like to rent, to alleviate, or at least sideline, the emotions I suspect I will feel on the day of completion. I decided against it and returned to packing boxes. I will, however, have to take a storage unit for my personal effects and a small amount of furniture I want to keep in case I need a UK base at some point.

This means that by the end of the month, I will have storage units in Cardiff and Los Angeles, although I will be living in New York. Yes, I know it sounds daft, but storage is cheaper than renting another place. There is stuff I just can’t bear to part with – so many memories that are part of who I am. 

Who knows, I might need those reminders in advancing years, when there is a nurse shouting at me in the Last Home Saloon:  “What’s a book?”

So I’m thinking of my new life as Storage With Benefits: it serves a purpose because I know it’s always there, should I need it. 

They are units that house millions of moments of times gone by, all of them special and meaningful in their individual ways. Memory boxes.

But still I must look forward and focus on so much that is promised in the future. 

Maybe this is the moment. 

And maybe that, too, was why my tears fell.


   

Friday, March 4, 2016

Everything that Glitters is Sometimes Plastic

Ahhhhhh. Clearing the shelves in my attic, I find two oval shapes: blue at the bottom, clear at the top, with tiny shells embedded in each.
   
Plasticraft. Toy of the Year in 1972 when I was 14. Not since Santa had delivered the board game Mouse Trap when I was five had I been this excited. I think.
   
I probably had been, but every Christmas brought a new joy that filled me with such all-consuming toy lust, I was consumed by its new mystery (it’s not hard to see why Woody was put out when Buzz Lightyear arrived in Toy Story). Booby Trap – blue and yellow bobbles you had to extract from a trap without letting the whole thing blow up in your face and blinding you on Boxing Day; Pick-a-Stick (ditto – if the trap didn’t get you, the spears would); Hats Off, a gentler game perfected by our tiny poodle Emma, whose paw stayed on the plastic hats’ launch pads long after I had moved on to my next adventure.
   
Plasticraft was the first toy I remember that enabled me to make something. The John Bull Printing Set of my early childhood had come close. It consisted of rubber letters that you stuck on a rack, pressed on a pad of ink, and then watch as the imprint magically appeared on a piece of blank paper. The word made flesh. It was my first publication.
   
The art-work that will go down in history as my Plastics Period was altogether more adventurous. Now, instead of my hands being covered in ink that I couldn’t get off for days, they were glued together with dripping colours that might well cripple my fingers for life.
   
But I loved it – especially the sea life I created in each key ring, paperweight (they couldn’t have held down a dead fly, to be honest), or ornament. Ever impatient, I sat for hours waiting for the blue sea level to set before I could pour on the clear plastic that would create the arena of an aquarium. Today, I hold them in my hands, unable to part with these jewels, and remembering, as if it were yesterday, the smell of roast turkey, mince pies and molten plastic that was the purest pleasure my fingers ever tasted.
   
I have them in my possession because they were gifts I gave to my grandmother and, when she died, I took them when clearing her house. They were still in pride of place alongside the photograph she had when she and Grandpa won a prize for their garden in the Old Globe, the pub they managed in Rogerstone, near Newport.
   
Without life experience, do our primal sensations make more of an impression when we are young? I remember the smell of freshly cut grass at Cefn Mably Hospital where Grandpa died in June when I was 13, asking my mother “Do you think he’s going to be all right?” and hearing, through her tears, “No, I don’t.” 

Is it just in my imagination that I recall the smell of dark wood and the touch of the sticky sugar imprint of the Lucozade bottle on his bedside table before he went into hospital for what would be the last time? Could I ever forget the smell of freshly baked Cornish pasties baking in the downstairs kitchen when I stayed at the Globe – my grandmother up at the crack of dawn cooking for the lunchtime rush?
   
Plasticraft holds Grandma’s life in my hands: a woman who worked tirelessly her whole life, brought up three daughters during a war, and who I never heard complain. I am moved to tears now, finding things she also gave to me. There’s a picture of clowns, in various facial expressions of sadness and joy (“She’s got your number,” said a friend, at the time); my Children’s Bible; A Chid’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson; and, my favourite, A Book of Girls’ Stories.
   
Re-reading the tales, these are not just any girls: if they have a horse, they are not going to be content trotting around a field: they are going to win that damned gymkhana. Yes, every girl is a winner. Was this, in my early teens, where I discovered the ambitious streak that propelled me forward? I never had a horse, but I was always in it for the race. I still am.
   
I pack my shells in plastic carefully, with bubble wrap, even though I know they don’t need it. Along with my grandmother’s gold watch and my grandfather’s banjo, they are the only material things I have left that belonged to them. But I have Girls’ Stories, and a grandmother who clearly understood me and took pleasure in the life I was about to live and she could never have. 

No bitterness, though. Get on that horse, girl, and Giddyup. It’s a long ride, but it’ll be worth it. 

Bless you, Grandma, Elsie May Culliford. I will remember you forever.
   

Thursday, March 3, 2016

(President) Donald Pucker - the People's Mouth

I’ve always found Donald Trump’s mouth sexually alluring. 

There. I’ve said it. I’ve been whispering it in dark corners for months now, fearful of suggesting that I might wish to engage with anything other than the man’s opinions, but there you have it. It’s out there now. I’m a Donaholic in the oral department.
   
This in no way means that I condone his political views, but I’ve been interested in hearing people in Britain, as well as in the US – both countries in which I spend a lot of time – taking the “He’s only saying what we’re all thinking” line. At which I become involved in very heated discussions that involve low-flying beer.
   
But still, to my mind, it’s something different altogether: people are thinking what they all think Donald is saying. And I think, for the most part, they are getting it wrong.
   
Listen, I’m Hillary and Democrat all the way (and really good arguments have been made this week for Donald, in essence, being a Democrat, too), but I still can’t get away from the feeling that Donald is an ok guy – I just think he has really crap speech writers, who also say what they think he is saying (I’m not even sure he knows he’s saying it half the time). The media may be at fault also, but when your own people are fuelling the rhetoric with the same language as the people you are criticising, you are going to sound as mad as the headlines. 

Oh, Donald – if you let me write just one speech . . .
   
I’ll tell you the main reason people are fascinated by what comes out of Donald’s mouth – it’s his mouth. Not the words, the noises, the ideas – it’s his goddamn mouth. I can’t help it. I’ve always found it incredibly sexy: the knowing clench, the pouting lower lip, the slight smirk, the hysterical laugh (ok, no, I made that bit up – those lips weren’t made for laughing). I’ve never even got as far as the hair, to be honest.
   
I watched the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump for the second time this week, and the mouth underwent several more incarnations: mild incredulity, indifference, hurt. Yes, hurt. There were some moments when that perfect bottom lip looked as if it had been stung by a bee and was begging for a visa to escape the face on which it had been planted.
   
I mentioned this to someone who said that Hitler used to do the same thing with his mouth – a kind of “You might say that, but I know I’m right” expression. I checked it out in the archives but, to be honest, I can’t see the comparison. Hitler’s bottom lip is an altogether harder, severe one, as if he has just come in from the field after biting the heads off gerbils. Donald’s is softer, kinder, more welcoming (although still says I’m right, you’re wrong). 

Like Diana, Princess of Wales, was The People’s Princess, Donald’s mouth is The People’s Mouth. But if I had to compare it to any mouth in Presidential history, it bears the most resemblance to that of Bill Clinton (it really does; trust me on this).
   
I know that I have always had a curious obsession with mouths (or maybe not so curious: I know where I want them to go and, more to the point, fear where they may have already been). I don’t like too thin, too thick, too wet, too dry – but I’ve always been a big fan of Donald’s. 

It’s not always what you say, it’s how you don’t say it. 

And Donald Pucker has it down to a fine art.

Or President Trump, as you will be calling him this time next year.
  

   

No Comfort Here: Culling the Library - Part II

I’ve always thought it strange that someone whose surname was Comfort would put his name to pictures that look less comfortable and comforting than riding naked on a hedgehog.
   
Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex just popped up on my Twitter feed, as it’s World Book Day. The Tweeter said that The Joy of Sex was the book we all secretly read in our parents’ house. That made me feel very old, as I have The Joy of Sex (A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking), More Joy of Sex (A Lovemaker’s Companion) and The New Joy of Sex (Newly Illustrated and Fully Revised Edition), all of which were bought with my pocket money and not pilfered from my parents.
   
I was not sexually active when the book was first published in 1972 (heck, I was 14 and still playing secret agents with corned beef tin keys in my local castle), but was, like any teenager, curious. Resuming the great library cull in my house, I’d put all three in the slush pile, but have just rescued them to remind myself of what “joys” I must have felt upon first opening its pages.
   
The first volume sprang open at ‘Semen’ and explained: “There is no lovemaking without spilling this, on occasions at least.” I can only imagine with what horror my OCD first met this information. The fact that the book opened at this page makes me think it must have been the most worrying part of the whole sexual operation. ‘Mons Pubis’ must have been a walk in the park after this.
   
However, Mr Comfort has some comforting advice: when the stain has dried – and, get this - it’s removable from “clothing or furnishings” with “a stiff brush”. Trust me, oh blessed Comforter, it ain’t as easy as it sounds. I recall a politician I was involved with in the late Eighties, and he ruined my red sectional sofa. Mr C’s cleaning tip is a lie. Keep men away from furnishings, I say; or don’t buy foam-filled sofas.
   
By the way, should you find semen spilling onto your partner, he says you can “massage it gently in”. Apparently, “the pollen-odor of fresh semen is itself an aphrodisiac”. Forget 1972; that’s news to me in 2016, I can tell you.
   
The first volume illustrations feature a man who was way too much like the Jesus in my Children’s Bible (I’ll be moving on to the culling of my religious section next). I just couldn’t get to grips mentally or emotionally with a man who was one day raising people from the dead and turning water into wine, and the next engaged in ‘Feuille de Rose’. This was Jesus we were talking about; I just couldn’t see him using that stiff brush to dispense with any ungainly bodily fluids stuck to his robe.
   
The problem with all three volumes is that they make sex sound so . . . well, nice. Of course, it can be, but where are the sections titled ‘What to do when he’s shagging your best friend’, or ‘What to do when he’s so tiny, you need sat nav to find it’?
   
I binned my whole sex section (two shelves) along with George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway, figuring that I no longer have a need for any of them. It’s not that I know everything there is to know about politics, fishing/shooting yourself, or sex, but if there’s any of the latter to be had, I’d rather be out there doing it than reading about it. And if I haven’t learned enough from the many books on my shelves by now, then I deserve to be punished and not get any.
   
They are all yellow and falling apart at the seams now (the books, not just the men I know): Love and Orgasm, The Hite Report, Men and Sex, Transcendental Sex (who could be arsed with that, quite frankly – apart from Sting), and, my favourite, Nice Girls Do. I’m pretty sure I liked that title because my Baptist background assured me that nice girls really don’t until they get married. 

I must have been thrilled to read the section headed ‘Janet takes a chance’. Janet was 31 and owned a candy store and, when her husband was playing with her thighs one night, she remembered her childhood pediatrician, Dr Rosenbloom. She loved him because he was “so gentle and he gave me suckers every time I went in for an examination.” 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Janet starts talking about the joys of the good doctor when she’s having sex, and this sets off “an explosion of orgasms”. And it gets better: “Not only didn’t my husband criticize me, he got the hardest erection I’ve ever felt . . . This talking stuff really works!” Good old Dr Rosenbloom and his suckers. 

Anyone else a tad worried about all this?
   
I wonder what I also learned from The Opposite Sex (Telling the Teenagers), first published in 1957, a year before I was born. The focus is on home making, and there’s a whole section on furniture, which “must be easy to take care of and clean”. 

You’re telling me. Especially if the likes of Mr Comfort and his mates are popping by of an evening.
   
Do we ever learn anything about sex from books, or is it an ever elusive thing that, once you think you’ve nailed it, surprises you in whole new ways? It has to, because people are different, and what works with one might not work with another. Not being a fan of masked balls, for example, Mr Comfort’s picture of a man and woman facing each other wearing eye-masks would have me running screaming from the bedroom (or the sofa).
   
So, having briefly returned to the sex section of my bookcase, I’ve decided that the whole thing needs to be culled. It’s as much as I can do to remember a guy’s name these days, let alone what I have to do to keep him entertained. My demands will never again be as high as anything in these tomes. Forty-four years on from The Joy of Sex, if a man has a penis, that’s fine by me.
   
Happy World Book Day!
  

   

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Nigella, Me and Ramekingate

Ramekin dishes. 

Six red, eight white. How often have I used them in the 30+ years since I bought them?
   
Twice. Actually, I think two of the white ones have never been used. I’m not even sure what ramekins are for, but when my mother told me of a recipe that was so goddamn easy and, moreover, a veritable meal in a tiny pot, I was on that Ramekins4U hit list.
   
So, here’s another dilemma: do I keep the six red and dispense with the eight white? How can I possibly assess how many ramekin loving friends are yet to enter my life? Will these as yet imaginary people prefer white or red? You see? This moving lark isn’t as easy as it seems. The ramekins are top shelf, kitchen cupboard one. I’m already a wreck. Heaven help me when I get to the Pyrex section.
   
I recall supplementing the red ramekins with white ones I bought from the Lakeland Plastics birthpool that became my life when the store opened in the Hayes in Cardiff. The first time I used them was when they transferred to a dinner party that involved Nigella Lawson –  I’ll return to that. But the tiny pots got me thinking: whatever happened to Lakeland Plastics? Were they still in the Hayes? Did they still fill their glorious shelves with things I never knew I wanted until I saw them and then never used because I didn’t know I didn’t want them until I’d bought them?
   
Upon writing that, I just looked them up and discovered that they are, indeed, still in Cardiff (Oh no: “Taxi, please!”). However, they changed their name from Lakeland Plastics to, simply, Lakeland, in 1997, and I’ve just been online to find out where they are on the ramekin issue.
   
Dear lord! There is now an “Elegance Large Ramekin”, which seems to me to defeat the object. Isn’t an ELR essentially a pudding bowl? Maybe it’s not as big as it sounds, as it’s only £1.59 (I’m pretty sure I paid, like, £159 when they were de rigeur back in the Nineties). But now there’s a “Dura 230 ramekin”, which is £5.97. Why am I even looking – and, more disturbingly, considering them, when I am sitting looking at 14 ramekins that don’t even match and haven’t seen a blowtorch in . . . Well, ever.
   
Now, you see, just because I’ve Googled ramekins and blow torch, my computer has decided that I need the Kitchen Craft Deluxe Cooks Blowtorch and Ramekin Gift Set at £15.71. No! Please leave me alone: I’m ramekinned out! They are so going into the Kitchen Cull box.
   
But I will explain the last time they were used. I was in my early thirties in London and I was friendly with people who many might consider the “in” set. But that’s always an illusion: everyone on any In set always has the feeling of being an outsider – that is what, ironically, makes them the In set: the outsiders who have found common ground.
   
I knew Nigella’s first husband, the journalist John Diamond, who was not only a great writer, but adorable company – sharp, funny, a late night hanger-outer at the Groucho Club, as I was. I met Nigella through him and we too became friends, so much so that I decided to throw a dinner party for them and several other In people.
   
It was a disaster. I spent just 20 minutes in the dining room as I was in the kitchen the entire night. My speciality was the starter – some smoked salmon and cream thing baked in the oven – in a ramekin.
   
John had forgotten to tell me he was allergic to fish and I remember rushing down to the local shop mid-dinner party for extra supplies that he might like.
   
Victoria Hislop, hugely successful author and, seriously, the best chef/cook/host on the planet, told me when she received my next invitation that they had come to see me, not sit at the dining table while I entertained myself in the kitchen. The ramekins never saw the light of day again.
   
As for Nigella, we are still in touch, and she uses ramekin dishes to make gooey puddings that I would never like anyway, as I don’t have a sweet tooth. I know her to be a brilliant, beautiful woman who has come through so much personally to forge an extraordinary career; but I was never crazy about her food.
   
I feel so bad saying that - I'm sure it's me, not her. But I used to go round for a meal when John was working and have to go to the local Indian to pick up a takeaway when she served up the likes of broccoli in oil. John hated the smell of Indian food and, upon his return, would throw my leftovers in the bin. I still buy Nigella's books and watch her TV shows, though. With a takeaway in my lap.
   
Funny what comes back to you in life in the culinary eye-bath of a ramekin dish.
  

   

So Long, Farewell

I thought I’d be crying. 

This time last week, I was on a bus in New York heading to JFK airport to catch a flight back to the UK, where I was selling my house of the past nine years. I was fine until I arrived in the UK and caught the train home.
   
Home. Soon, it wouldn’t be that at all - not for me, anyway. Other people, new paint, different pitched voices would soon inhabit it: a space transformed in one swift movement handing over a set of keys. So long, Farewell, as the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music sang.
   
I started crying at Newport. Twelve minutes before the train was due at Cardiff Central, I phoned my friend Mary and sobbed. I was dreading arriving at my house in Llandaff and seeing the SOLD notice outside it for the first time. And I was dreading putting the key in the lock and seeing over five decades of life getting ready to say goodbye.
   
So much stuff. Where to begin? Top to bottom? Kitchen to attic? Hide under a pillow in my bedroom on the middle floor and just hope that it would all go away without my having to lift a finger?
   
I’m now on my fifth day back and it hasn’t been anywhere near as painful as I had imagined. The first strangers through the door on Sunday morning bought some garden furniture, clothes and a vase; the afternoon, a couple of light fittings went; yesterday, four pieces of furniture.
   
I’ll be honest – and I really mean this: I’m loving it. There is no feeling of loss, just one of incredible gratefulness that I have been able to live a life that is filled with so much happiness – people, travel, experiences that so many could only dream of. Yes, much of it has come at a price, and a heavy financial one that I have documented elsewhere; but far from a feeling of emptiness, I feel, for the first time in years, a sense of overwhelming richness. I have always said how blessed I am in my family and friends and, almost everything I pick up carries a memory that has had me laughing so much. There is sadness among the possessions, too, but that is just the nature of the lives we all lead.

Mainly, it's a garnering the evidence of a live well lived.
   
Today, I found an invitation to my 40th birthday (17 years ago, ye gods), hand-written by my mother, to Auntie Muriel and Uncle Les, who were our next door neighbours when we moved from Cardiff to Newport in 1962 when I was four. My first party had been in London for my close friends, and Mum organised this one in Bristol, where she lived, for people who had been a big part of my life when I was growing up.
   
I remained close to Auntie Mew (as I called her) and Uncle Les until they both died. Living in 2 Farmwood Close, I was friends with her youngest son, Tim, who was older and very adventurous. He had a guitar he made out of one long piece of wood attached to a square piece. He attached nails to the wood, hooked them up with elastic bands, and sang Beatles songs. When he made me own guitar, we formed a band. Well, a duo. We were great.
   
I was always keen on music, as poor Auntie Mew found one Saturday afternoon when Mum went to town with Dad and left me (eight) and my brother, three years younger, in the house (in the days when children could be left with a neighbour listening through the wall). I raided my parents’ record collection and decided that I would learn the songs in The Sound of Music, which I had seen with Mum, Dad and Nigel three years before, during the traumatic holiday when Nigel had managed to get hold of a bottle of Junior Aspirin (that story’s longer than the movie). 
   
By the time Mum and Dad returned from town, Auntie Mew wasn’t just listening through the walls, she was climbing them. I had played the soundtrack eight times and, worse, been singing along. In subsequent years, we laughed about it every time I saw her.
   
I remember so much from that house: Diane, whose birthday (October 31st – I have a phenomenal memory) I loved because her mother put tiny silver baubles on her cake; the smell of creosote on the fence Dad built at the side of the house; the rose bush planted in memory of his father that moved with us to Bridgend when I was 11; being carried home from school with glandular fever and Mum answering the door, hysterical.
   
I’ve been crying today, but not in a sad way. 

Auntie Mew replied to the birthday invitation in a poem, and these lines particularly struck me: “I watched this little being/So serious in her play/And smile when I remember/She carried her treasures around on a tray.”
   
I smile so much at that because, in addition to The Sound of Music horror, she always reminded me how I used to carry my things around with me. 

Was that the need for security? The tray that served as my comfort blanket? Was it fear of loss, known but not articulated at such a young age? 

Am I now, at 57, still clinging to my  treasures on my tray? Or, am I finally learning to let go?
   
So long. Farewell.