We all loathe them, don’t we, those Christmas letters on especially-bought expensive red paper, strewn with holiday photographs taken in increasingly exotic locations, telling us just how fantastic the year of our friends has been; how over-excelling their children; how wonderful the touches to their lovely and vast new house?
I’ve always found them doubly destestable as I’ve really never been sure of how I fit into the world, and to see everyone doing so much better than I feel and then rubbing my nose in it makes me miserable not only for the contents of their letters but also because people feel justified in rubbing my nose in it.
I even wrote one myself a couple of years ago, which was supposed to be a satire but which, in fact some people thought was the truth. In case you haven’t read it, it’s here. I’m still pretty proud of it too. Using real-life quotes from a few people I actually know, it encapsulates all I abhor about these letters.
Anyway, for those of you still reading, 2014 been a pretty eventful year for me and I’d quite like to mark it by setting out the major happenings. If you’re squeamish about feelings and that, and some have said that I should censor myself a little more, you should look away now. If, however, you’re curious about me as a person, read on, as this is honestly me. If you don’t want to read on that’s fine too. There are plenty of people whom one might expect to have some interest in what’s going on with me who never seem to get around to actually reading it, so I’m used to that! This is, after all, my blog and that’s your choice. If you’re interested, you’ll read. I’ll try not to go on too long.
2014 started with worries about my mum and her state of mind. Her dementia had suddenly taken a nosedive and I was getting letters from the management company of her retirement flats complaining about her unreasonable demands on their building managers, who were going out of their way to help her. Something had to be done, but what? Readers of the My Mum, the Elephant and Me dementia posts will know how I agonised about the next step for my mum, which would be full time care and you’ll be familiar with the process that lead to my decision to take her to India to be cared for at the Dignity Lifestyle resort.
I think I have blocked that two weeks out of my mind much as one does with the pain of childbirth. The callous high-handedness of my mum’s GP practice; the behaviour and remarks of some of the hospital nurses and the way I was made to feel like a criminal by two social workers still make me shudder. I can laugh now at the horrendous journey to Neral via Dubai, with my mum biting and pummelling me like a toothless Montgomery Burns. I can even smile wryly at how no-one in India wanted to receive the funds that were in our account waiting to be transferred to India because no-one wanted to be liable for tax by having it in their bank accounts for just one day. Funny how people are much less helpful when it comes to money.
I cast my mind back to the struggles to obtain Overseas Citizenship of India for myself and my mother: the lack of documentation and the sheer bloody-mindedness of some Indian Government representatives whom I had literally to beg for them to grant my mother the piece of paper which means I don’t have to renew her visa for 10 years. And the contract that is not worth the paper it’s written on is another story. Anyway the main thing is that she is now safe and well cared for.
I visit my mum every two months or so and she’s different each time but it’s clear to me that we could not have left it any longer to get her to a place where they speak her language and cook her food, where they dress her in a sari on her birthday. In some ways, my relationship with my mum is better than it’s been for decades and I am torn in half every time I have to leave the poor little thing she has become to return home.
————————————————————————————————————————————– I realise that Grade 8 last year was just the start of my singing “journey.”. My voice and technical knowhow has improved vastly since then and, Alice-like, I seem to unlock a new Wonderland door and find a new part of my voice with every lesson. It’s terrifying but joyful. I’m now widening my previously non-existent opera and Lied repertoire and it has, of course, opened up an inconceivably vast new world. My teacher’s horrifying plans for a recital with me and a couple of other students were put on hold by all the to-ing and fro-ing at the beginning of the year but I hope they’ll happen eventually.
I’ve been doing some solo singing whenever I can make the monthly session in Bromley, and that seems well received. Some there have suggested that I should tour the local care homes and sing to the old people and maybe I’ll do that but my lifelong vision persists of myself as a torch singer in a nightclub wearing a fabulous dress slit to the thigh. Who knows where the care home contacts might lead?
Choir has been eventful. I must say that I really didn’t warm to Honegger’s King David until the last minute until I flew in from India the morning of the concert but I’m glad I know it now. By contrast Jenkins’ The Armed Man, despised by so many musos for its accessibility, had an enormously deep emotional effect on me, as it seems to affect many people who sing it. I particularly like the pulling together of wisdom on war and peace from so many different cultures. It felt right to take my place in the choir that night dressed in black churidar kameez as some sort of expression of diversity. It still saddens me that I am one of a small handful of non-white faces both among performers and audience at almost every concert I attend.
I’ve adored being at choir this year, and going to the pub afterwards with a handful of people has cemented my place in it, I think. This time last year I was really shy of everyone and now they’re my friends. It makes me really happy.
I was confident enough to sing Schubert’s beautiful Ave Maria at the funeral of my cousin Nisha in July. She had struggled so long with the pain and uncertainty of her cancer and her family had suffered so much. Of course we were willing her with every last shred of muscle to live despite it all but in the end she just could not put up any more resistance. Everything is very different without Nisha. I have so many regrets about the wasted years of misunderstanding and bitterness when we did not take the chance to know each other better and we discovered only near the end that we actually rather liked each other and had a similar outlook on a lot of life.
Also lost this year was J’s Uncle Keith. I’ve not really mentioned it because his passing was such as shock. We’d arranged a long-awaited family gathering for a Saturday in October but were going to be late for lunch in Bury St. Edmunds as E had to go to Saturday Music School first. We arrived and had a little chat before having our share of the lovely lunch that Carry had prepared and then we were going to take the dogs out. We were just putting our coats on when Robbie said, “I’m sorry but I think Dad’s died,” and that was it. He’d gone. He and Mavis had been together for 58 years. And there he was laid out on Robbie and Carry’s sofa, with a blanket over him in case he’d get cold.
Sadly we were on holiday in India for Keith’s funeral but I gather that the church was completely packed with all the people who came across him in his extremely active life as a parish councillor; photographer for the local magazine; gardener; school governor. Dear Uncle Keith. He was lovely and he’ll be hugely missed. It’s so gratifying to see what a lovely warm family he leaves behind and how they all look after each other.
————————————————————————————————————————————–So when Nisha died, we acquired her beagle, Raffles, as her husband and daughter are not at home to look after him. At first I thought he would be good company for Oscar but the dogs have not really taken to each other. Not yet, anyway.
Raffles is a very sweet little thing, and he does seem to enjoy training class. At the moment he’s improving every week and we even managed to pass the Kennel Club’s Bronze Good Citizen test in November. I’ll try for silver next year but I’m not sure how much further we’ll get than that. He’s temperamentally more cat than dog, I think, and doesn’t seek approval like a retriever would.
I do enjoy having two dogs around but, if I’m honest, a beagle would not be my choice. Poor Raffles has to be kept on the lead during walks certainly for now, although we are working on him wanting to be with us enough that he will come back and not keep running. I’m hoping that our garden will be Raffles-proofed in the next few months and that we’ll be able to let him play there without being tethered, poor lad.
Which brings me to our house. It’s still falling down around our ears as the wretched insurance company STILL have not settled our subsidence claim. It will be three years next week. We have not been able to do anything to the house and I’m utterly ashamed of it when people come round. And then I get embarrassed at my explanation of the dinginess and cracks.
Having said that though, we have finally bitten the perfection-or-paralysis bullet and started pressing ahead with our house extension. Currently we are freaking out about exactly how much it’s going to cost – how on earth do people afford this stuff? – but it’s going to be fabulous when it’s finished. We’ll get our garden done at the same time and the current dining room will be fully functional as a music room. I’m going to do it out in welcoming Moroccan style: all red and orange and turquoise and silver so that people will actually want to go in there and practise. What do you reckon?
We’re hoping that the larger kitchen and sitting room will accommodate our family for a while, especially since young people have almost no prospect of starting out on their own these days. I want always to have a home for the children when they need it.
And talking about the children: well it’s been a mixed, human year for them. J finally found his work ethic towards the end of Year 13. I honestly had no idea how to frame my face on the day of the A level results. This was, of course, the child who was off the scale in ability tests in whom so much time, effort and money had been invested. You can take a horse to water… In the end he did much better than I had feared, which I hope wil stand him in good stead for a good university course next year. He will be sitting one paper of one subject to try and bump it up to his expectations – he wasn’t far off – but I can’t help feeling disappointed and frustrated at what he has missed out on. It does not help that so many of my friends have had children going to Oxbridge and other top universities. They are lucky to have such compliant children with such a strong work ethic, I guess.
Not, of course, that I have ever wanted to bring my children up to be unquestioningly obedient. They have grown up unafraid to debate rational opinions, as interesting and lively personalities and I’m grateful and proud of that. I just wish that J had been able to see what he undoubtedly sees now about four years ago. Anyway, we are keeping our fingers crossed that he’s on the right track now. I’m hoping that by this time next year he’ll be more settled.
E has also had a mixed year. Her daily debilitating dizzy spells, that often lasted four hours meant that she was constantly running just to keep up. Her parents’ evening was so traumatic for me that I kept bursting into tears at such a promising future obviously disappearing down the toilet because of this illness, the cause of which remains unascertained. I had to keep rushing out to be calmed down by comforting words from J.
Happily, though, the dizzy spells seem to be dissipating of their own accord and seem only to be occurring at intervals of a few weeks. She’s spent the last half of last term dividing herself between the Bearpit theatre company; the house band for the Sixth Form’s production of Anything Goes and her Bromley Youth Concert Band and Symphonic Winds commitments. It’s been really tricky trying to juggle these gigs and has necessitated elaborate chauffeuring arrangements and me emailing respective conductors and teachers to apologise and grovel for the double booking. She’s managed to keep up with her music but we still haven’t received the results of her recent music exams and I’m sure her heavy co-curricular commitments, resulting in lack of time for practice and study have had a huge impact on her eventual results. She’s been asked to be Music Director for the Lower School production of Oliver Twist in the summer, and she’s busy trying to compose the music in the holidays to lessen the impact on her academic life next term. Meanwhile, I’m chewing my knuckles.
————————————————————————————————————————————–In the meantime, poor J continues to be as overworked, stressed and overtired as usual. He works so hard and with so little gratitude for the huge responsibilities he has on his shoulders. In the meantime his industry is derided and pilloried by all. It’s so utterly sad. He’s managing to play the trumpet in the band and to play the piano but I have serious concerns for his health and stability as time goes on.
————————————————————————————————————————————–On the bright side, I accompanied the Bromley Youth Concert Band on their Sicily Tour in July. For the first and last time both children were band members and it seemed appropriate to go and watch. I utterly adored Sicily and especially Taormina and I do hope to return there in due course. J joined me after his weekend with the band in Neuwied, but not before I was caught on a 12 hour driving odyssey with Elizabeth, who has since become quite a close friend. I spent a lot of my time in Sicily doing this:
But we went to see this sort of thing:
We went to India in October, first to see my mum and then to Goa at Diwali, were we came across the worst form of obese, entitled, odious, over-wealthy, ill-mannered species of nouveau riche Indian that it is possible to imagine. I was truly ashamed at their treatment of the waiters and hotel staff, their fellow countrymen, just doing their jobs. So embarrassing and nothing ike the ordinary Indians I meet. Yes, you can tell an awful lot about a person from how they speak to a waiter.
Goa was great and we loved the Grand Hyatt. J and I even tried sailing for one afternoon. And we sunbathed around the pool with the legendary Robert Pires, who later sang Happy Birthday to himself in English and French.
————————————————————————————————————————————–So that was my year. I’ve lost loads of weight, of which I’m really proud and I’m loving my new much more chic look. My nails are manicured and my make-up is primed. I like the newer me. And the picture at the top? A friend did it for me. I had it done a few weeks ago, just to remind me who I am.
I’m looking forward to 2015. Lots of change, and I hope most of it will be positive. There are fears and worries, and hopes and dreams but I’m lucky enough to have a comfortable life and friends and a close and generally happy family. So there we go. My honest Round Robin didn’t take that much soul searching, did it?