Crushing joy: being a parent, being a child

Last weekend, we went to stay at my sister’s house while she was away (treating it as a free hotel, basically). My sister’s house used to be my house, our family house. Our parents bought it when I was a baby. I lived there until I was 18. Mum lived there until her death in 1999 and Dad til his in 2010. Then my sister moved in.

In front of the fireplace. (I'm on the right.)
In front of the fireplace. (I’m on the right.)

Since she’s lived there, people have asked me – and I’ve asked her – if it’s weird to live in the house we grew up in, sleep in our parents’ bedroom. I’ve said no, she says no. But last weekend I found it really weird. Every room was bursting with memories. I said, “When I lived here, when I was a child…” so many times that eventually Harry said, “We don’t CARE about when you were a child! We’re only interested in us!”

But there I was, sitting on the loo, remembering hiding from my sister while she hid (or I suspected she was hiding), waiting to jump out and scare me. Or the time some boys were coming round, the doorbell rang, Leanne shouted at me to get it, I shouted back “I’M ON THE LOO!” Of course they heard and I was mortified.

I stood in the bathroom, remembering putting on make-up, shaving my legs, lying on a bench with my head backwards over the bath while Mum washed my hair. (Just typing that, I can feel the bench under my shoulders, the edge of the bath against my neck, the perfect water temperature I thought of as being “like a peach.”)

Dad, in the front room (where these photos are taken), with his foot up on the sofa, playing the guitar and singing Country & Western. (Probably The Crystal Chandelier.) Sitting at the dining table, watching Pepsi & Shirlie on Splash! on the portable TV, the windows all steamed up, the smell of boiling potatoes…

I had to keep stopping myself, pushing my mind away before I got overwhelmed. It wasn’t even just the house – we stopped in town to get some cash and by the time I got back to the car I was almost in tears. We’ve talked about moving there so the boys can be nearer to their cousins, but I don’t know if I can. All those memories bellowing at me all the time.

Joe, in front of the same fireplace. (Harry wouldn't pose.)
Joe, in front of the same fireplace. (Harry wouldn’t pose.)

I think part of the reason I get so upset (apart from the whole orphan thing, obv.) is that I feel so guilty about not appreciating my childhood. Until fairly recently, I didn’t think I had a great childhood. I’m not even sure why I thought that. When I scanned in the hundreds of slides after Dad died, happiness shone out of so many of them. We were (almost) always smiling. And we did a lot of stuff. We had great holidays and days out. My sister thinks she had a great childhood, so what’s my problem? Why do the bad memories – they’re not even that bad, mostly the usual childhood angst things – stick so much faster than the good?

I suspect that what came later – Dad’s redundancy, Mum’s MS, their unhappiness, my desperation to leave (to move to London) – has overshadowed the happy childhood stuff. And I worry that all the time (and money) David and I spend trying to create a close-to-perfect childhood for our boys could be washed away too. Does that make any sense?

I guess the upside is that I feel like I’m getting it back. The memories keep coming and I can appreciate them, I can appreciate what our parents did for us. But it’s a total bastard that I can’t share that with them.

“There is a crushing joy that crackles in every corner of this world. I am tiny, and yet I am here…I can do nothing but laugh, and sometimes laugh and cry.”

– N. D. Wilson (via SweetSilver)

Lips like clouds: confessions of a Brosette

Since Bros are in the news, I thought I’d repost this. It was originally published on Dollymix in 2007 (2007!). If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll have seen this (probably more than once). Sorry about that – I’ve added some photos, if that helps…

Before coming clean about my particular brand of boy band obsession, it was suggested I might like to introduce Bros for the benefit of those who may not have heard of them (imagine that!). They were twins, Matt and Luke Goss and their school friend Craig Logan. They were massively successful pretty quickly and then suffered an enormous fall from grace which included court cases, bankruptcy, ill-health and exile. Between 1988 and 1991, they (particularly Matt) were pretty much all I thought about…

It was always known as “following” Bros, but I’ve no idea why. Some fans “followed” – the fans that had cars; for us pedestrian fans a more accurate description would have been “loitering” or “impeding the public highway” which is what the police often threatened to charge us with. I suppose “freezing your arse off for no reason waiting for Bros” doesn’t sound quite as interesting. And it wasn’t.

Scanned Image 7
The day I moved to London, October 1989. That’s me in the red, with the blue camera.

But why do it at all? I have no idea. It was just something I fell into. I liked Bros, I wanted to meet them, I went to London for a concert and met people who’d been to their houses and had met them and told exciting tales of chatting and hugging and snogging aplenty with Matt, who had “lips like clouds”. This sounded good to me. Funnily enough they hadn’t told me tales of police “harassment”, the terrorisation of anyone new by certain other fans, the long-suffering neighbours chucking buckets of water out of windows and the almost interminable waiting and numerous disappointments before this chatting and hugging and snogging could take place.

The die was cast the very first time I went to Matt’s Maida Vale mansion block, Clive Court, and joined about thirty other “Brosettes” in the road at the back of the flat (he very rarely came out of the front). I’d only been there about half an hour when a frisson ran through the throng and everyone began a slow and mock-casual advance toward the back door. I managed to squeeze myself into a prime position and looked up to see the man I had been dreaming about for just over a year sauntering down the path. He progressed about thirty feet, I took about fifteen photographs (if I had the urge I could easily make a “The First Time I Met Matt Goss” flick-book) and then he was standing right in front of me. I murmured, “Can I have a kiss, please?” and he kissed me. On the lips. And they were right. His lips were like clouds. He got into his car and was away. He hadn’t said a word, nor had he smiled, but I was hooked.

PicMonkey Collage
Do you remember the first time?

Perhaps if, that very first time, I had waited twelve hours in the snow and not even seen his curtain twitch – as was to happen more often than not in the future – I would never have bothered going again. But I doubt it. I knew of a way to meet him and I don’t think anything would have discouraged me. But two years later I was discouraged. God, was I discouraged.

In three years I spent – approximately you understand, allowing for illness (though that didn’t always keep me away) and holidays (I only had one) and Christmases – four thousand, eight hundred and sixty hours waiting for Matt Goss (yes, I worked it out). And four hours, at the very most, actually chatting hugging and/or snogging him.

There were good times. He once told us he was off to Hyde Park and we all leapt on the bus. In the park he played us a couple of the new Bros tracks and lay around sunbathing with us. And he once invited us to follow him by taxi to the Embankment at about 3am where we chatted, and he looked at a photograph of me when I was about four years old and said I was cute. And once he turned up on the Kings Road where we just happened to be shopping and weren’t even looking for him. And, er… Well, trust me, there were good times.

Hyde Park. Oh yes.
Hyde Park. Oh yes.

And it was these good times that caused the problem. It would be terrible, boring, cold, for weeks on end. We’d catch glimpses of him getting into his car and his hand waving out of the window as he sped past. And I’d start to think, maybe I won’t do this anymore, maybe there isn’t much point, maybe there isn’t as much snogging as I was originally led to believe. And then there’d be a good day. And I’d think, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that. My Matt, love of my life, thinks I was cute when I was four. My life now has meaning. Well, not quite, but you get the drift.

PicMonkey Collage

Or the worst could happen. One day you’d wake up and think, I won’t bother going today – it’ll be shit as usual. You’d have a day behaving like a normal human being and then, just before bed, the phone would ring. And it would be your best friend. Who hadn’t spent the day behaving like a normal human being. She had in fact spent the day playing Rounders with Matt Goss at Virginia Water, and he’d bought her an ice cream, and dipped his finger in and dabbed it on her nose. And her life had meaning. And yours didn’t.

And it was this that kept me going for three years. For three years I would sit outside Clive Court in the freezing cold, pouring rain, baking sun (although I mostly remember the cold) – bored senseless, waiting, longing for the day when Matt Goss from Bros would dab ice cream on my nose.

A toot from the past: Kool & the Gang at Live Aid

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked for this online. Actually, I probably could – it’s not that many, I’ve got a job (sort of) – but finally someone has put it on YouTube.

Skip to 4 minutes (unless you really like Cherish) and watch the trumpet player as he gets his big moment and can’t understand why nothing’s coming out of his trumpet. I watched this over and over immediately after Live Aid – I thought it was utterly hilarious, particularly when he manages one small squeak.

(I didn’t find it anywhere near as funny as I did when I was 14, but I’m still very happy to see it again.)

Wendy James was ahead of her time

My online friend Stuart tweeted a link to this video of Transvision Vamp’s Wendy James on Going Live and indeed pointed out how ahead of her time she was, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it until just now and it’s amazing. She starts off saying she doesn’t usually wear knickers (and Sarah Greene neither gets flustered nor apologises, as would no doubt be the case now) and goes on to talk about feminism and the environment. In 1991.

I worked with* Wendy James around 93/94, I think, and she was absolutely lovely. I was scared of her before I met her (I was pretty much scared of everyone back then, but she had such a tough image), but she surprised me by being a total sweetheart: kind, funny and completely down to earth (she once asked us to book a flight for her, and my boss – who felt very maternal towards her – told her she should know how to do it herself, so made Wendy do it under our supervision. Wendy was – or seemed to be – completely fine with this, grateful, in fact). I wish I hadn’t been such a nervous wreck – maybe I would’ve got to know her better, god knows I could’ve learned a lot from her back then.

Also, I really miss Going Live…

Interview starts at around 6 mins.

* I worked in a music business accountants and she was one of my “client roster”.

A time before internet

UnknownTrying to make more bookshelf space yesterday, I found an old diary. I hadn’t actually written in it very much, so it was ripe to be blogged about and chucked out. Once I started reading it, I found I probably wouldn’t even blog most of it (So! Boring!), but a couple of entries made me laugh.

From 31 May 1998: Tried to get on the Internet, but failed! For one you needed a credit card and the other took too long so we gave up.

(In case you’re interested, I go on to say that “it was officially announced that Geri has quite the Spice Girls” and that “Gazza has been dropped from the squad for the World Cup.”)

From 17 June 1998: Had another go on the Internet this evening. Not impressed so far. Can never think of anything to look for and the things we’ve found haven’t been v impressive.

Wonder what my 1998 self would say if she could see me now. It would blow her tiny mind.

“There she is in her red coat…”


That’s my nan – my dad’s mum – in the red coat and hat. Crouching down in front is my Aunty Phyl (nan’s daughter, dad’s sister). Aunty Phyl worked for Littlewoods Pools and I think this was a work outing that somehow Nan went along on.


That’s my mum, looking very glam in her red coat and hat at my cousin’s wedding. (That’s me at the front.)

I saw these photos this morning while I was looking for something else and though “Obviously, I need a red coat…” but then I remembered Nora Ephron’s mother’s advice. (I still want one though.)

Is this the most 80s pop video evah?

I had a brief obsession with Sam Harris (in 1984, I mean, not lately) and was reminded of his existence yesterday. I didn’t notice at the time how much Sugar Don’t Bite (“you know I’m a bleeder” just made me laugh out loud) rips off Papa Don’t Preach. Also? How utterly ridiculous the whole thing is. But BRILLIANTLY so. It’s got everything! Anyone else remember him?

I think I first saw him on Wogan doing this

which completely blew me away at the time. Obviously, I loved a tiny, frosty-haired, melodramatic man in his dad’s dressing gown. Now he rather reminds me of Bobby Davro doing a Liza Minnelli impersonation. (Which I think Bobby Davro actually did do when I saw him supporting Barry Manilow. I’m not making this up. I wish I was.) Also, PLEASE watch to (or from) 1:40. The big finish has to be seen/heard to be believed.