I had everything crossed; fingers, toes, the works. But not my wires.
Lessons learned from experts in psychology and the verbal tools I’d been shown across months of study and placed in my toolbag of armoury came together in my first major test since they signed me off and wished me well (translate into hugged me, told me they were always at the end of a phone and would I be popping back to the coffee mornings to help new members at the start of their own journey? Too bloody right – it would be an honour).
Had I listened?
Had any of it truly sunk in?
Would I be able to respond differently to the age old vulgarities which escape through my mother’s lips, alongside wild statements about subjects she knows nothing about and her mood so often close to explosion that she walks around with the blue touch paper permanently lit.
I packed simply for our overnight London stay, my toolbag of armoury needing no physical space so is readily transportable.
The first major breakthrough was that she respected our non-smoking preference whilst inside the car. She actually said “Of course dear – that goes without saying!” as if I was being silly to even bring it up yet I had done so on the back of the previous trip, during which she had lowered the passenger window in an almost panic-state during what had become a slighter deeper than normal deep conversation, brought on by her peculiar need to talk deeply about everything. Mind you, it had been 18 minutes since her previous cigarette. “I’ll just hold this outside.” and while doing 50mph up the A1 past Huntingdon, I was speechless and watched in my perifery the swirl of cigarette smoke leaving the tip to reclaim solace through that inch of access back in to the car’s cockpit. And hey – guess what? In order to take a drag, where is Mother’s mouth? On her face… where is her face? Inside the bloody car 😤 … so it didn’t ‘go without saying’ did it!
(Before we go any further, may I take this opportunity to point out I do not negatively judge anyone for smoking if they choose to do so and enjoy it. That’s their prerogative and I respect others’ choices. What I do have a problem with is her antagonistic approach to smoking outside when visiting our home (with our asthmatic son) because she is disgusted that anyone who is a non-smoker should tell her “how to live her life” . So she will stand in open doorways, or outside an open window, pretending to smoke ‘outside’ when clearly the smoke billows straight back inside on a breeze. She relayed a huge argument she’d had with a couple a few years ago and whom they no longer see, who’d been life long ex-service friends, who had decided to give up smoking. My parents had gone to stay with them and had not been made aware of this couples’ new way of life (presumably because they didn’t see the difference as a problem). I guess the issue was mentioned, starting a deep discussion about smoking and how the guests had been ‘banished’ to “outside, no less. I can’t understand it – they were always such fun” .
So I drove and promised I would stop every so often for comfort breaks; in my case that meant what you just pictured followed possibly by a chai tea latte or cappuccino. In her case that meant teetering off to find an area of grass in which to smoke two cigarettes (because she can’t abide sharing normal smoking allocated areas with ‘common’ people) and continue her verbal assault on my father, who was not there to defend himself and probably wouldn’t have tried had he been. He’d have turned his hearing aid off and furtively studied the depth of tyre tread on the DB5 on the flatbed trailer behind a truck, perhaps returning from some classic car rally or event.
That evening I heated up another lasagne from that COOK shop and my daughter joined us at the Airbnb apartment for dinner. Her Oscar-winning performance of delighted granddaughter in the presence of her (mostly for 19 years disinterested) granny was something to behold. I listened to her animated explanation of Section 20s needing to be added to contracts where tenants share a block, from the kitchen area where I was bent double, head in the oven attempting to work out whether I’d had the fan oven on for the previous half hour or was it just the grill as the knob illustrations had long since been rubbed away.
The Airbnb was seriously cute; a ground floor garden flat with access to a private patio (I’d searched for one specially 😇) which showed clear evidence of previous smokers, stubs on the concrete 👌🏼, meant she could, having negotiated the exit, puff away to her heart’s content and I should hopefully maintain my usual 5/5 ‘guest star rating’.
Daughter departed to prepare for an early meeting the next day and I drove mother and I down to Little Venice, an area I’d not visited before but been meaning to .. and it was stunning! (Derrick, you were right!)
We sat outside the cutest Italian restaurant, so she could relax while the small glass of Merlot turned her dried lips black, the blue touch paper fizzing away in the background, and admired the Edwardian architecture of a large London pub opposite.
When the friendly waitress came outside to ask if we would like top-ups, mother enquired if she could buy the ashtray. The wicker chair refused to absorb my embarrassed being and instead I adopted small apologetic smile as the waitress faultered and asked her to repeat the question before concluding she would “ask my boss”.
So beautiful was this area that I suggested with calm and kindness across my face yesterday morning that “I would like to go back and see the barges in the daylight, if that is agreeable?” … (this was me practising my self esteem as she had hinted the evening before we should go reminiscing half hour the other way to an area we lived when I was 13-15). Mother does spend a lot of her day living in the past, recalling “the good times” …
… yet I recall a small private girls school and silently enduring some atrocious bullying from a particularly unsavoury character who ultimately got expelled – but not before she’d repeatedly bruised the top of my skull on a school trip with her elasticated purse belt with it’s 3 metal connectors at either end. She was sat in the seats behind me ‘entertaining her entourage’ … I did nothing 😡 (show me that cow now.)
Little Venice is like the cutest oasis amongst the red buses and black cab-filled roads of W2. The Pièce de Résistance simply has to be an amazing cafe built across this tiny section of the Grand Union canal, Cafe Laville.
.. in which we could have sat overlooking the water, watching as bargemen expertly handled their moving homes. Alas, I made do with this photo while our takeaway coffees were being made. We instead sat outside near the entrance, at one of a handful of tables on the pavement next to the A5.
I am definitely going back there, whether it’s with my daughter, Man of the Woods or Daniel Craig if I remember to send an email. It’s truly stunning.
It was such a delight to arrive back home. MoW welcomed me home and listened to some funny tales .. and laughed at the fact the Airbnb had displayed a Japanese hat (which I found to be a very happy coincidence)
By the way .. that first day I was absent from you? The one I called my DayBreak? It was brilliant. I avoided all 4 apps, as planned and felt free to type away and managed over 1,400 words 👌🏼 … not quite the 2,000 I wanted but I was very pleased. I didhalf hour ironing too! 😂