Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An Impostor in Milan

May is racing by: next week will be half term again! Our lives seem to be measured in these six-week increments, dollops of time. I have been so busy on my PhD stuff recently, having undergone the 'upgrade' panel ( a not-too-painful grilling on my programme and the whole process in general) and delivered my first-ever seminar paper. As usual, I veer between elation that I am actually doing doctoral studies (and getting paid for it!) and extreme pessimism about my chances of completion. I feel sure that I'll be unmasked as an intellectual fraud sooner or later, but recently someone drew my attention to the psychological condition known as 'impostor syndrome' the symptoms of which sound eerily familiar. I am obviously mad. Bwahahaha!!!
Daughter #2 has creaked past her quarter century and we celebrated with a lovely Italian meal on one of the hottest days this month. Sitting outside, under sun canopies quaffing rossofreddo and working our way through the 'taster' menu, we agreed that it was a most civilised way to proceed. Later on we continued by finishing off a bottle of prosecco and some Lavazza coffee ice cream while the husband and Bright-Eyed Boy broiled at a football tournament near Hull.

Daughter #3 became a teenager a couple of days later, which was marked by the arrival of a new electric bass guitar (black and sparkly) which now occupies pride of place in the front room.

Her regattas continue on a pretty regular basis and we're now finding the entry fees and the petrol used in getting to them a pretty major expense. Never mind the early starts and whole days devoted to just standing around on river banks! Hey ho!

We're going to Milan soon, which I've been unable to get excited about - I've just been too damn busy - a fact noted by the Husband who remarked tartly on my apparent lack of enthusiasm. it's not that I'm NOT looking forward to it: I will, on the day when I'm setting off toward the airport. I don't really think Milan has a big enough historical centre to warrant more than an outline itinerary (the Parents tell me it's just one long street, really), and we're only there for one full day, plus two halves either side. The Husband is keen on taking the train up to the mountains, which would be lovely, but I'm against booking it in advance in case the weather isn't favourable for that sort of trip (low cloudbase), or there turns out to be more than enough to keep us occupied in the city itself. I am totally, totally uninterested in the Milan fashion scene/shops so that means a lot of Milan's popular appeal is wasted on me. Let's see what it's like: it's not Rome, or Venice, or Florence, or Barcelona, as I keep pointing out - it's Milan: let's take it as we find it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

G-g-g-golden Years

Daughter #3 is twelve years old, going on thirteen. A clever, quick- witted girl, very into her guitar, social-networking and rowing, part of a circle of interesting, quirky friends - including a 'boyfriend'. She's busy, independent, mature and reflective. In short, she is nothing like I was at twelve.
I can't really even remember being twelve: I have no idea what I was like, or what I liked. My memories of that time are sparse. I can remember (just about) being in the second year at 'big' school, and some of my teachers, but I can't remember what I thought about my life. I can't remember what I did at weekends. I don't remember meeting friends and hanging out, nor playing, although I can remember clearly the great times I had a couple of years earlier aged eight or nine,with a gang of friends, roaming about beech woods, throwing bamboo spears and making dens, before we had to move up north. Those earlier days have assumed a golden haze of nostalgia: it was a totally safe environment where we were permitted to wander within the extensive college grounds from dawn till dusk, the little enclave of staff-houses provided a ready made circle of friends and other homes to play in. In bed at night I could hear the owls hooting and the foxes shriek. My parents didn't bother me (or bother about me) too much and, I guess, I didn't bother them.
In moving north, our lives altered radically. My parents moved from spacious staff accomodation to their first mortgaged property. The house was new-build, a bungalow, small with plasterboard walls, at the end of a cul-de-sac, adjacent what was called in those days, 'council houses'. We were now under each others' feet. I was confined, and thus under constant scrutiny.
I no longer roamed on my bike - I knew no-one in the area anyway. My parents spent a lot of time getting the house and garden to their liking. We spent a lot of time in garden centres at the weekend. I started at a new school for the last two years of juniors and made a couple of friends who lived in surrounding villages. I only really saw them at school - my mother didn't drive, and my father worked long hours in a career he relished.
I think I spent a lot of time reading and drawing: I can't really remember. My bedroom, which had been tastefully decorated without any consultation with me was seen as part of the house in general and it didn't feel like mine. It was no sanctuary from the world, not like my untidy old two-windowed first-floor room that overlooked the length of the garden and onto rolling cowslip fields and copses.
I think I was pretty depressed at twelve, actually feeling that the best part of my life was already over, all freedom and friendships gone. All around me seemed dull, boring, sterile, pointless. I can remember meticulously copying a Leonardo drawing one day and then distinctly thinking 'what is the point of this?'
I can't even remember what books I read, although I do remember that my father ferried my mother and I down to the library every Monday night. I can recall its smell, a unique disinfectant/floor polish smell and the child-unfriendly demeanour and hauteur of the white-haired chief librarian to whom we gave the nick-name 'Snowdrop'.
Did I enjoy school? I think so, although my chief delight was to invent imaginary histories for the oldest pupils, who we considered awfully sophisticated, rather than any true interaction.
How on earth did I spend my time? I can't have spent it all in solitude, surely? But in truth I cannot recall any play-dates, or proper trips out. I have no photographs of myself at that age - I forfeited all rights to that sort of thing when I stormed out of the house at eighteen, never to return. In fact, my memories of my entire teenage years are sporadic and patchy at best. I can recall an odd scene from a holiday, or secretly applying make-up in the public toilets, or walking up the farm-track with the dog, but I think that in the main my life was just so dull that I failed to archive it for future reference!

So what will Daughter #3 remember of her early teenage years? I've always thought that the most important thing I can do for my children is to supply them with a repository of good memories, of good times had, great places visited, nice food eaten, fun. It was a good moment when she said to me on her return from rowing on the river one brilliant sunny day, that she'd gone up river in a single-scull and paused to look around her at the willowy banks and listen to the wind sighing and the birds twittering ".....and I thought,'this is what I really enjoy!'"
And I knew at that moment that I was maybe, just maybe, getting it right.