I recently lost my sense of humour, hence the reason I’ve been away from this blog for a while too long. My humour is a well worn blanket, a comfy pair of slippers, a friend when I’m in need and an asset when a conversation is flagging or steering into the “woe is me” domain. Without my friend, humour, I’ve felt stranded. Here follows a rather dramatic story behind it’s loss and finally, it’s thankful return…
It was a regular Monday morning back in April – school run, quick dog walk with my two dogs (one, Ginger, adopted the day before, quite by surprise, from a photo shoot) and then a car ride to a shoot. I was off to photograph a gospel singer in a church on the south side so I was driving at a snail’s pace as it’s an unknown area for me. For about ten minutes, the roads were eerily quiet and empty of cars. I was ambling across an intersection just two minutes from my destination when WHAM! CRASH! WHACK! SPLAT- I was HIT with horrendous force by a speeding car and flipped over and over.
My life did not flash before my eyes and I didn’t feel fearful. Instead I felt absolutely, indignantly furious. “What?!” I thought “this is NOT happening to me! I’m on my way to a church for goodness sake! I’ve been putting money in the karmic bank of goodness for years and THIS is how I’m repaid?” Well all these thoughts and more were squashed together into one enormous “NO!” and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I was surrounded by a large bubble (not sure how else to describe it) and felt like I was floating in very slow motion. I heard loud and clear in my head “I am protected. I am ok” and then, as I hung upside down, I found myself wondering how big the car was. Yes dear readers, that utterly prosaic observation was what I thought about at my junction with life and death and life again.
Then the car stopped, stank of smoke and the panic began. I’ve seen all the films where, at this point, the car blows up, so I got out as fast as I could (I don’t know how) and scrambled through a broken window to an arm reaching out for me. Once out and surrounded by at least 40 gaping onlookers, I proceeded to spin about and wail very loudly in my very English accent, wearing my neat mac and tidy shoes. I could see people staring in wonder. “How could this happen to me?” I cried. ” I am doing a project for this city and THIS is my repayment. I am so upset! I am furious! I can’t believe this!” I continued for a while until my inner voice interrupted “How much longer are you going to wail you drama Queen? I think it’s time to quieten down- you’ve made your point- be quiet!”. I must say it’s quite odd to have such a loud inner voice and even stranger for it to be so entirely and utterly sensible. I may have heard it whisper in the past but now it had taken charge and it had the tone of a bossy headmistress! I decided to ignore it until two nice ladies with the look of social workers managed to sit me down on the pavement and calm me.
Then, when everyone decided I was sane, out came the endless questions “Do you have insurance? Were you wearing a seatbelt? Where were you going? Can you call your insurance? Shall we tow your car?” I quite fancied a cup of tea and a hug but needs must so I found myself taking charge from my pavement seat. Then came the police- two very cool looking ladies with mirrored shades. “You are lucky to be alive” they said in unison “hardly anyone gets out of these accidents alive- ever.”
With that, I was strapped onto an ambulance bed and rushed off to a trauma unit. Once there, I was surrounded by doctors who told me they needed to cut off my clothes to check my spine. “Cut my clothes?” I asked them incredulously and in a tone as bossy as I could muster whilst lying down. “You will do no such thing. I have just bought this outfit in London and you are not going to cut it.” “Oh” they replied, looking surprised and chastised. They let me take control and take off my own garments. Once checked from top to toe, I was declared ready to go home and took an uber. Yes really. Friends rallied round and my husband was flown back shocked and shaken from his trip in Hong Kong. For a while my sentences came out a bit topsy turvy and I had a few flash backs but my main thought was one of relief, wonder and gratitude.
Three months have passed and my sense of humour has finally returned. It took lots of small steps, love, friends and a very conscious effort to live in the present and really appreciate every moment, to finally get it back.
My neck still hurts but I do have a great place to go where I get my bones cracked into place by a cheerful lady and then a handsome young Physiotherapist gets me to make double chins endlessly and then laughs AT me whilst I do them, which I find quite endearing.
I look back now and feel like my excess emotional baggage from the past that I was quietly dragging about, exploded on that road and I walked into my present life clean , shiny, free and ready for new adventures.
Valentines Day is nearly upon us. How does that make you feel… excited, indifferent, desperate, desperate to be indifferent?
I received my first Valentine’s card from a boy when I was fourteen. I met him when I was home for the weekend from boarding school and he was visiting us with his family. For some reason we had to go to the local shops together. I remember him being quite excitable about being with me, which as a slightly mean 14 year old, I found slightly vile. In his sweaty excitement, he took a lunge and tried to kiss me! Heaven forbid! Yuck! I managed to duck just in time behind a red letter box (the days of snail mail!) He must have found my indifference alluring as unfortunately on Valentine’s Day he sent me a card. I was sharing a dormitory with about six girls in an old fashioned, creaky, cranky English boarding school set in large, spooky grounds. I’m not sure why I refer to it as a school as it was more akin to a prison. We were watched over by unloving, brittle old matrons with enormous pointed bosoms who marched up and down the corridors to check we were in bed on time and not disobeying the many rules laid down for us. Above and beyond the formidable military atmosphere, it was the relentless tedium that I un-fondly remember.
The “Day Girls”- those lucky girls who actually lived at home – raced off at the end of each school day to their families, decent meals, hugs and comfy beds whilst us boarders stayed at school. It was in this heady atmosphere of teenage hormones and blistering boredom that I opened the aforementioned card. He had written his words of admiration on lilac paper and I do believe he must have poured a whole bottle of perfume on it. I was horrified! I could hear my friends snigger but could also sense their watchful longing. When would they get one they wondered? I on the other hand hoped I would never get one again! Romance – Pah!
As boarders in an all girls’ school, sightings of the opposite sex were rare and enough to get our hearts fluttering. The thought of romance and boyfriends started to permeate the hormone drenched atmosphere – nearly everyone wanted one or at least pretended they did. By this time I had taken to secretly reading books by the notorious writer Harold Robbins (look him up! 70s filth!) and was being informed by the pill popping, sex addicted, drug and drink fuelled fantasy lives of his shady heroes and wild heroines (so much more raucous and exciting than Fifty Shades of Bore!) I have no idea how I came across those books in the sterile atmosphere of school or how I managed to hide them from “matron” but I must have been quite wily.
With all those lurid and decadent images racing through my mind, my very funny friend Jo and I decided to write a novel. We spent a whole month fighting over the first page, both determined to make our mark on it and equally determined to include some “naughty” scenes of our own- what were we thinking? We had absolutely no idea- we were just two completely naieve 14 year olds with only heresay to go on and our imagination as fuel! We finally gave up our burning desire to be literary heroines but not without the thought of romance brewing in our hearts.
My poor maths teacher took the brunt of this. He was one of only two men who taught at the school (brave, brave man!). I remember with shame (and I have to admit, some mirth) how he used to teach me and Jo (yes her again- definitely a trouble maker!) and my great friend Rozanne, an after school club entitled “Skills of the Darkroom.” We certainly had some skills to show him! He was a bit lacking in the looks department, was probably in his late 20s and was sweet and very shy. Each time he turned off the lights to process the image (which was at least 10 times a session) we took it in turns to pinch his bottom! The poor man! He never, ever mentioned it (and we did it every single week) whilst we giggled relentlessly.
Yes, I admit we were awful, but when you lock up loads of girls together, you have to expect some mischief!
Now you might be able to tell from these stories that I wasn’t particularly romantic. On my journey through life, until I met Leo, young men did try and lure me with flowers and romance, one even hired a yellow rolls royce to take me out – but I wasn’t having any of it!
When I finally found Leo I was so relieved that he had no idea at all that he was supposed to display his affection like that. He gave me flowers if he saw some he liked but never on Valentines. The thought of us two going for a romantic dinner with candles surrounded by other couples being “Romantic” would just make us cringe. Even on our honeymoon we went out of our way to avoid the typical, exotic, far flung location with secluded beaches, private bungalows and nightly rose petals adorning our beds. Instead Leo chose Turkey (Air miles! He was so chuffed!) where we filled our days with action packed adventure – from mountain climbing and yoga to swimming and sight seeing. We even joined a tour group who were very surprised we were with them – “Are you sure this is your honeymoon?” they kept asking “Really sure? Here with us?” “Yes” we laughed, “It’s perfect!” We then hired a car to race about the coast line, stopping to stay the night in little places we liked the look of. Yes, this was much more “my cup of tea”.
I am happy to say I think my 14 year old self would definitely approve of the woman I’ve become. So if you have kids (nieces/ nephews/ God kids), take a good look at them now (especially teenagers) as they are already showing you clear signs of exactly who they are going to be!
Are you worried about life? Do you think it’s all going belly up and/or down the tubes? Are you looking for help and a clear answer amidst the unfolding chaos? Yes? Well you won’t find one here BUT you will find some stories that might just make you feel better about your own life, even if it is at my expense!
So it started like this; here we were staying in a fancy big house for our opening number in Chicago. I’d like to say that we were happy and cheery and embracing change but that would be a huge false positive and my current mood embraces honesty. So we were moaning, homesick and having adjustment issues. In desperation, Leo decided to fly in my sister Gemma and her son George to help us settle in. She has a soothing and gentle personality and laughs joyfully at ridiculous things, which is deeply infectious- so yes, her presence was an immediate and very gratefully received tonic.
Chicago, through her eyes, sparkled and shone and we all felt hopeful again. We took ourselves off to the lake, swam, frolicked on the beaches, hired bikes and ate in the elegant Lincoln Park cafe near the famous Chicago zoo. We spent hours in the incredible Art Institute, admired the sculptures in Millenium Park and wandered around our neighbourhood feeling happy and jolly.
We noted how smiley and friendly the people of Chicago were and our spirits lifted. We could make something of this time here! It was ok. Then they left and we fell into doom and despair. When would we see them again? We didn’t know and our hearts bleeted like lost lambs looking for safety.
A few sullen days later, I heard a huge shout from the scarily stylish sitting room in our air B and B house. “Mummy” screamed Anoushka “there’s water pouring through the ceiling” I ran in and there it was pouring all over the yellow velvet chairs. We dragged them to one side and found a bucket, but not before it had throughly soaked me.
I sprinted up the stairs to find the dastardly culprit, imagining it was an overflowing sink but to my horror it was the toilet-yes toilet! It poured all over my feet and wooshed and flowed like a tsunami over the floor and down the expensive polished wooden stairs, heading for the sitting room rugs with a horrid determination. I felt my insides flip over with fear and mild disgust. I found a plunger and whacked it up and down in the toilet like Superwoman (it’s remarkable the strength you have when in “fight or flight mode!) and thankfully the water resided.
I inspected the damage and saw a large crack beginning to appear on the sitting room ceiling. I would have to call the owners. I felt sick. I mustered up the courage and got on with it and was surprised by their very relaxed response. Leo’s work were paying a very large amount of cash to them each week so I presumed that accounted for it! I managed to clear up the house and the ceiling didn’t cave in – we had had a lucky escape!
A few months later, when we had moved into a more permanent rental, I was woken up on a Saturday morning at 6am by enormous shrieks and shouts. I came flying out of bed in my nightdress, hair squashed to my head, glasses left beside the bed so the world was slightly out of focus and found my feet drenched as I ran up the recently cleaned, carpeted stairs.
There was my husband looking seriously stressed by the small ground floor bathroom and there was that water yet again pouring out of another toilet. Even without my glasses I could see he was wearing a frantic expression. “Plunge that thing down it!” I shouted “What thing?” I pushed past and grabbed the toilet brush “This!” I screamed, whilst bashing it up and down inside the toilet bowl. “Oh no!” I cried “What?” shouted Leo “the brush has got stuck!” There was nothing I could do – I plunged my arm down into the bowl to retrieve it. This was too awful. I handed the brush to my husband -“You do it!” I shouted again, this time adding a string of colourful expletives (well wouldn’t you? I hadn’t even had a cup of tea and my feet were soaked in wee!) He took charge (hooray!) and with enough pummelling the water finally retreated- the battle was won!
The kids by this time were standing watching us in bewildered bemusement. “Go back to bed!” I shouted at them too. It was a very shouty morning. “Where are you going?” Leo asked “I am going right back to bed myself. You can sort this out! That was the most disgusting start to my day ever!”
We recounted the story to our lovely upstairs neighbours “But” noted Andrew, a Pilot and all round brilliant and practical human with great cooking and gardening skills “Why didn’t you just turn off the valve?” Yes dear friends, next to the toilet was a little tap and if turned, the water stopped. Well you live and learn!
About six months later (yes, there’s more) just before we were due to move into our new and just decorated house, I noticed that water was pouring through the bathroom ceiling. I rushed upstairs and knew immediately that it was the devilish toilet but this time I was too quick for it – I reached down, turned off the valve and defeated it! Under advice we replaced all the malicious toilets, thereby averting any future potential catastrophes – what a relief.
The moral of this story is that sometimes life throws a pile of filth your way (in our case, literally!) but once it’s faced and washed away, things start to look a lot brighter. I’ve learnt from experience that there is normally a silver lining in most situations and if in doubt – laugh it out!
What a year it has been – I’m sure for most people, not just me. I have to admit that I will look forward to putting this year in a box entitled “I’ve had enough of you already, go away and don’t come back!” then closing the lid and never looking in it again. Fortunately, there are some tiny nuggets of usefulness that have emerged out of the chaos and I have decided to share them, just in case anyone else needs a quick boost……
Be the change you want to see in the world. Really. You can do this.
You can’t make people like you.
Happiness is a state of mind. Take charge of your state of mind and your mind will take charge of your happiness.
Worrying gets in the way of progress, as does pettiness.
If you don’t exercise and you eat lots of chocolate, your bottom will grow. It has no choice.
True friends honour you. Honour them and honour yourself.
You can’t have a successful relationship with someone if you don’t share the same principles and morals.
Laughter is definitely and without a doubt, the best medicine. I definitely need more of it.
You can’t always help people, even if you want to.
Sarcasm is a good tonic for the soul. If you are looking for some, find a Brit and tap them and out it will pour.
Get a really good hairdresser. A really good haircut will transform your mood/life. Same can be said for a really bad one.
You can tell a man by his shoes.
Don’t make excuses.
If you have to lie, make it convincing or don’t bother.
Learn to forgive but don’t forget.
Forgiveness is the best form of revenge (success helps too- never give up!)
Life sometimes throws a pile of 💩your way. See it as fertile manure and grow something good out of it because within every pile of 💩is a lesson.
Your thoughts create your world. Literally. So clean them and make them sparkle! Get them shiny and ready for 2017. As I’ve been taught this year- “what you focus on you get more of!” So change your focus!
A bit of moaning is a good thing. Relentless moaning is really dull.
If you are feeling down, here are my top tips for instant mood enhancement:
1. Eat dark chocolate (70% does the trick) One small bar is enough to lift your mood and get your heart racing. 2. Eat eggs – any style 3. Eat hot chilli. You can even have the chilli in your chocolate or on your egg! 4. Watch a comedy. Anything with Bill Murray, Martin Short or Michael McIntyre works for me. 5. Call a friend who really likes you and doesn’t mind you moaning. Just remember, they will need to be able to moan back. 6. Have a good cry and/or shout (preferably somewhere private) and then walk in a park or go to a beach or hug a tree- just get outside and exercise! 7. Find a pet to stroke 8. Find an old person to help (not stroke). 9. Give to charity. 10. Every single time you walk past a mirror, give yourself a compliment – not just of the superficial kind, although they are pretty good too.
By the time you’ve done that lot, you will be too tired to moan.
The day had arrived, the evening was beckoning- it was finally time to get ready for my first night out with the Madrid ladies. What should I wear? A dress? Heels? Oh my goodness – decisions, decisions, decisions! You might think that these decisions are trivial (yes, they are!) but this was the equivalent of a first date or a job interview, this was my first night out with five potential friends. When you are friendless in a new a city and your only company for three months (apart from your kids) has been your dog and shopping trolley (my husband was always travelling), this definitely felt like a big step. So, what was i to do? Would a glamorous dress speak volumes about my desperation to be liked – probably – I opted instead for nice pants, a pretty sheer blouse and some stiletto shoes – elegant but with a youthful touch. Mabel (my new friend) arrived to pick me up impeccably dressed in a cool jumpsuit, multi strapped high sandals adorning her feet and driving a vintage jaguar with a remix of “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell on the stereo. I stepped in and off we sped to the city centre picking up her various glamorous friends along the way.
Our first stop was an old fashioned spanish bar where we sat for a few tapas and wine. I surreptitiously checked my watch – the time was now around 9 pm and this wasn’t even the restaurant for dinner – these girls must have real stamina. I needed to pace myself, I had to get in touch with my inner Viking and drag her reserves of strength to the surface, there would be no yawning tonight, no racing home like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight – no, tonight I would be full steam ahead
At the table I casually revealed a few personal anecdotes (I’ve had a pretty colourful life so I have quite a library to draw from) and these piqued their interest. I needed to make a good impression, the point being to be interesting but not too interesting. Too interesting can also be seen as just plain weird (anyone going on a first date, please take note!) and that is just plain off putting! Well, by this time I had got through my first hour and now it was time to move to our dinner destination, an unassuming Cuban restaurant a block away.
By the time we ordered food it was 10pm (Madrid does not have the same social schedules as any city anywhere else!) and there were now six of us in our very international group – two Spaniards, a Cuban, an Icelandic, a Belgian and me, the Brit. Out came the plates of food but i can’t be certain what they tasted like as they were accompanied by a steady stream of mojitos. A Cuban band then took to the stage, tables got pushed back, loads more people arrived and everyone started dancing. It was all so alive! The mojitos kept coming as did my anecdotes, which were taking on a slightly bluer hue! My husband started sending me texts “Pace yourself” “Don’t let them know who you really are!’, “Let them get to know you slowly” “Oh dear” was my response “too late for that!’ as my new friends laughed at my latest joke!
“Let’s go dancing!’ exclaimed Mabel “I know a club!’ A club? an actual nightclub? I hadn’t been to one of those for about a decade! Grown up (rather dull) drinking clubs maybe, but a proper dancing club – no way! We jumped in taxis and off we went.
Now the club was the sort of establishment that i hadn’t graced since the late 80s and had probably hoped never to grace again. It was a very mixed crowd, pretty uncool (who cares!) BUT, there was a dance floor, we were a lively group and we were ready for fun. I didn’t know if I would ever get this opportunity again so I decided to embrace it whole heartedly.
I found a dancing partner in my new friend Helena and off we went, moving and shaking our stuff. Some bits shook rather more than they used to, my body was not quite as fit (dancing is exhausting!) but enthusiasm and an extreme mojito driven sugar surge took care of that! The other club attendees looked rather drunk and wobbly as they danced in a purposeless way (one must always have a purpose!) but our purpose was clear – we wanted fun and we were having it and nothing would stand in our way – not even the rather lifeless songs the Dj was playing. I took the situation into my own hands and forced him to play some livelier tunes (by this time the inner Viking had really taken hold) and it injected some well needed life into the dance floor’s amblers (they really needed some direction!). As to us, well we danced, we pranced, we laughed and we danced some more and then it was time to bid farewell.
I was finally dropped at my house at 4am. Leo came down to the door to look at me. “Abigail, it’s 4am! It’s so late! What were you doing?” “Dancing and having fun!” I called back and then wobbled off to bed, finally emerging at 4pm the next day, exhausted but exhilarated. Friends! Dancing! A new life! Nothing could hold me back and this was just the beginning!
This new life in Madrid had a big friendship sized hole in it. Once the novelty of living abroad had worn off (around one week!) reality set in like cement and it sounded something like this, “Mummy, we don’t have any weekend friends” ” Mummy, weekends are so boring now” “Mummy, do you actually have any friends here? Will you ever have friends? Will we ever have friends?” Unfortunately answers were in short supply as I felt the same way. That friendship hole needed filling and fast but it was proving quite hard. Where do you start without the language? I suppose it would have been sensible to join one of those “British women abroad- Let’s unite, wave the flag and empower each other!” style clubs, but I’ve never been good at being sensible and joining groups has never suited me – or the group for that matter. I really hoped new friendships would emerge organically. After a few months my hope was stretched as thin as a pair of nylon stockings with holes in them.
At the school gates I attempted to make small talk with the mothers. It was so small I reclassified it to teeny. Within three minutes they would look at me with pity in their eyes and then continue conversing in Spanish, while I stood there feeling rather foolish. I pretended to be nonchalant. I took up looking at my new iPhone a lot (does twenty times a minute count as a lot?) and pretended to be “busy.” I called my sister, so the mothers could see that I had real humans who wanted to interact with me and I wasn’t a sad and lonely drifter. She answered (about ten times a week!), which was a relief as she hates the phone. The phone became my life line. When I couldn’t call the UK for a few days I felt completely abandoned, although weirdly I could still make calls to my husband. Poor man – I called him ranting and railing. He took to travelling and coming home late.
I was pining so much for home, my friends and my family, that my heart actually hurt. I hadn’t felt this isolated for years and it was unpleasant. It was just me and the dog. My smiles became bigger to mask my tears, although not too big as that would highlight my desperation and make me look like someone to avoid. I needed to keep my new needy character under control and under wraps. I wasn’t sure where brave and courageous Abigail had gone but I prayed she hadn’t abandoned me completely. I had to see this process in a positive light – it was a metamorphosis and eventually I would emerge refreshed and renewed, like a butterfly breaking free of it’s cocoon. Well one can dream…
By this stage we had moved out of the centre of Madrid and were now living in a beautiful home in the suburbs. It was spacious, gorgeous and had a little pool in the garden with fresh basil and rosemary growing around it and red roses climbing the walls. The house was idyllic, which did cheer us up.
Each morning, after dropping the kids to school, Skyla and I walked down to the local village high street where I found a perfect restaurant to sit with a cup of cafe con leche whilst enjoying the warmth (from a sad distance) of socialising humans. After about ten visits the owners (it was a family affair) began to talk to me. Two lovely sisters, who didn’t speak English but were hugely kind and warm and their five languages speaking, charming brother- thank god one of those languages was English! This became my morning safe haven. Now we just needed those weekend friends.
I discovered the mothers in my son’s class had a what’s app group, where they shared jokes (some looked quite rude!), party plans and homework. Unfortunately it was all in Spanish. That, plus loitering alone at the school gates at pick up, made me feel like an unwatered wallflower, quietly wilting on the side lines.
I was feeling helpless, wishing we could pack up and return to London, when a flurry of activity appeared on my phone. I was struggling to understand it and then a message appeared -“Do you know what’s going on?” It read. “Do you need help?” It was Mabel, the Spanish mother I had met about a month before. “I have no idea what’s going on !” I responded, relieved yet desperate. “I do need help!” She decided to take this lost English lady under her wing – I was someone who obviously needed steering in the right direction – she would be my fairy godmother, my guardian angel!
At school pick up, needy no mates finally had someone to talk to. Mabel introduced me to “the gang” – a gorgeous group of her friends, some of whom spoke perfect English. “Do any of you like going out and drinking wine?” I asked them after about a week- “Because I’m desperate for a girl’s night out and equally desperate for a large glass of wine.” They laughed and a plan was hatched.
Within two weeks I would be going for my first girls’ night out in Madrid!. What would it be like I wondered. What should i wear? Would they like me? Would I like them? Maybe, just maybe, they would fill that large friendship hole. My excitement began to brew…
Top Pic: Casa de Campo Park, where I spent many hours walking Skyla in quiet contemplation.
In the first month of our new life in Madrid, my mother in law came to stay from Mexico. At this point we were squashed into a cramped air B and B and Teresa, who is a very decent person, accepted that she would be sleeping on the sofa. She is in her 70s so I was pretty impressed by her resilience! Leo and I had our own teeny room with a teeny bed – you couldn’t move or you fell out, whilst the kids squeezed into a short, skinny bunk bed. Skyla, who has her own bed, was determined to sleep in my mother in law’s and she was equally determined to get her out! Yes, it wasn’t a perfect set up but we muddled through.
One freezing January morning, as we got ready for school, I put on the kettle for our morning tea and the heating for our cold bones, when suddenly, we found ourselves in total darkness! What? Teresa was in the shower – “Abigail, help, help!” she called out rather helplessly, “I can’t see! What’s happened to the lights?” Oh my god, I actually like my mother in law and needed her alive! I rushed about searching for a torch so I could navigate my way to the electricity panel, wherever that might be? Amazingly I found it and got all the lights back on without blowing us all up. Well done me! We then had to decide between heat and tea. Tea won.
Five more black outs later, I called the landlady, expecting instant help but instead got a lack lustre, “I just don’t know what’s going on. I can’t do anything.” I began to believe this was her canny ploy to control our electricity usage but there was nothing we could do. At least the radio Leo had installed worked! Each morning we sat shivering, listening to BBC Radio 2, eating our buttered toast and warming our tummies with hot tea.
Moving country was beginning to prove harder than we had imagined. I thought back to those last days in London, remembering the enthusiastic good byes “How lucky you all are, what an adventure! I wish we could do it too! You’ll love it!” or “Oh, don’t worry about the kids, kids are so adaptable. They’ll fit in straightaway!” The fact is, adventures feel adventurous because they are damn hard work! When do you ever get a protagonist in an adventure story who just sits back and has a good time? No, he/she has to climb mountains, fight demons, face challenges, shout at a boss – you get the idea. So yes, we were definitely having an adventure and this was the chapter entitled “Drama, Tears, Crisis!” As to the kids being adaptable, well maybe some are but mine certainly were not! Actually, nor were we! I could talk the talk of adventure and I had got us this far but could I walk the walk?
The first week of school the kids raced off excitedly to make new friends. By the second week reality was pounding at our door, “I don’t want to go to school Mummy!” (Anoushka) “I hate it! I don’t want to make new friends!” (Xavier). Teresa and I attempted to console them but they were having none of it. “Why are we here Mummy?” “Why did you make us leave London!” “We will never like it here!” The guilt was settling on my soul like a layer of lead and it did not feel good. I was no better myself. Once I had got them through the school gates, I would join Teresa for a coffee, a moan and a weep. “Oh Teresa, I miss my friends, I want to go home. I can’t speak Spanish!” She tried to make me feel better but only time heals and we are an impatient family.
Teresa had to return to Mexico, Leo was off working across the world and it was now just me and the kids. My daily ritual was to sit in the local cafe, Skyla at my feet, a cafe con leche in one hand and my iphone in the other, posting sad messages underneath pictures of my beverage, to instagram. Thank god my friends (including new IG ones!) sent me words of encouragement. “You can do it Abigail!’ they wrote! “Don’t give up yet! We believe in you!” Their support made all the difference.
Eventually the kids got their first invitation to a party and parents were invited too! It was at an ice skating rink. Leo and I got our hired ice skates on and powered about feeling rather daring, whilst the Spanish parents chatted at the side lines. One Spanish mother lent me her gloves, took a good look at me and after my turns on the rink said, “Abigail, I can take you out. I have time. I can show you Madrid.” I realised that here was a potential friend, a possible life line in this new reality of mine. Finally here was hope and her name was Mabel.
Pic: Skyla looking rather cosy and mildly guilty on Teresa’s blankets.
Some people love cars. They romanticise them, taking great pride in shining, dusting, polishing and admiring them. The thought of driving the open roads, engines purring like cats, fills them with glee. They even take photos of them, which they store on their phones as if they were family members. Well those people are not me! I have no idea what my car is apart from that it’s a Mazda. Am I supposed to know something else about it? Gas cylinders? Tanks? What? Anyone? You see, I have no idea at all! Do I feel shame? No!
This indifference meant I avoided driving for as long as possible but eventually, in my early twenties, I took lessons. I was pretty useless. I could never get my head around the idea of looking in the mirrors – I mean, why look in the mirrors – just look straight ahead, that was my motto! Well, that certainly got me nowhere! Finally, four tests and sixty lessons later I passed!
At 24 I got to put my skills to the test when I went to work for an art director. She bought a car for her penniless artist boyfriend, which she then allowed me to drive during the week. Now this car was a second hand Skoda and really, it should have been CRUSHED. It was ugly, really old, really slow and for some really weird reason you could only feel the pedals if you took your shoes off. As a first time driver I thought that was just me, but no, her enormous 6ft 4in boyfriend also had to take off his huge shoes and use his big, scary, hairy bare feet to feel the pedals. When I drove it taxi drivers routinely chased me, attempting to push me off the roads, their fists clenched, waving violently out of the window “Stop driving!” they would shout. “Get that car off the road!” Yes, insults followed me daily!
My next job was at a photographer’s studio. About a month into the job, my boss asked me to drive to the post office in the Studio’s car. Well, there I was looking for it, going round and round in circles when I got stuck down an alleyway. I left the car and found a truck driver, “Hello kind Sir, do you think you could help me please? I am stuck and I can’t reverse out of this winding alley”. I mean honestly, how had I ever passed my test? It was criminal! Luckily the man helped me without laughter or disdain! I arrived back to work two hours later. “That should have taken you 30 minutes” said my boss, shaking her head in disbelief. No, I wasn’t a natural.
I decided to give driving a rest, which lasted quite happily for another ten years. Then I had my daughter and there was no getting around it, I had to drive. My husband suggested gently that I take some more lessons. Forty lessons later my instructor told me I was ready to be let loose on the roads of London. “Great!” I cried excitedly “We’re buying a car this weekend, I’ll be driving by Monday!” He leaned over towards me, expression a mixture of doom and desperation “Please, please buy an automatic!”
Twenty years later I can finally say I am happy to drive. I push my way across the five lane motorway here in Chicago every morning on the school run, occasionally shaking my own little clenched fist at other drivers (much to the horror of my kids) and you know what, I feel pretty darn good about it! I can drive! I’m the Queen of the road and I like it!