Saturday, 30 June 2007

The Bridesmaids

Why doesn’t Jon have someone like that, I thought looking across the dining table at the two young women sat opposite. Carla with her enormous brown eyes and Spanish looks, and Louise fair haired and petite. Both girls are roughly the same height, small, slim and pretty. But, in spite of being very girly girls, it was their kindness and intelligence that impressed me most. Over a veggie curry that Dan had cooked we discussed everything from wedding makeup to false nails, from Tony Blair’s resignation to Gordon’s Brown’s takeover, from Iraq to the conquest of South America, from Jon’s release and homecoming to his rehabilitation process. They have both travelled the world and now have exciting jobs in London, Carla in PR and Louise in an investment bank.

They had looked on in awe that morning as Kathryn tried on her wedding dress, giving enthusiastic exclamations. She’d bought the underwear in London, and it fit exactly under the dress. The vintage crystal necklace that her Nan had given her before she died, matched the dress perfectly, much to her relief, so she chose a veil edged in tiny crystal teardrops. I shed a few teardrops myself. She looked stunning. The shoes she chose, peep toes, will have to be ordered from a catalogue.

Women love weddings. It’s a fact. Everyone in the hairdressers that morning wanted to know the details: when it was, where it was, what I was wearing, what hymns we were having. We caused quite a stir. Carla was all over the salon taking photographs of us at different stages of coiffeur, for the build up to the wedding album. My hair was cut and blow dried in a style that should, on the day, flick out elegantly below my big hat. Carla had a smooth look, parted in the middle and tied in a tight bun at the nape of her neck. Very dramatic, emphasising her eyes. Louise went for curls, half up and half tumbling down her back. To achieve this look she had to be rollered and cooked under a hair dryer until she cried out to be freed. Carla said she might have a different style, as the thickness of her hair caused the bun to collapse later that night. But I think she may have been a little bit envious of Louise’s very feminine look.

Kathryn’s curly hair had to be straightened before it was swept up into sleek curls on the top of her head, very Audrey Hepburn. The hairdresser, Myra, made several attempts before she achieved the necessary height on which to rest the crystal tiara. It looked amazing.

As Myra was adding the finishing touches to my hair we talked about the wedding hymns and she told me that she sings in church. “You’re not the Myra that the organist, Marie Redfern has booked as our soloist for the wedding are you?” I asked.
“I could be,” she replied. "I'll check my diary."
“Kathryn,” I shouted, “Myra is probably our soloist.”
“Oh wow!” Kathryn said. “That means you’ll be doing our hair in the morning and then singing at the lunch time wedding.”
"That's cool," Carla said.
"You can practise the scales to warm up while you're doing our hair," Lousie said.
“I’ve heard of the Singing Detective.” I said, “But we’ve got the singing hairdresser!”

We sorted the flowers, at last, continuing the red rose theme, with a newly opened florist, not far from the Hungry Buddha, where we’d enjoyed a veggie brunch.

And the finally, in the late afternoon, I picked up Lizzy who was going to do the alterations to the bridesmaids’ dresses. Kathryn had brought the dresses, which she’d bought in London, up with her on the train. The girls looked fantastic. A deep claret red, the strapless gowns had simple classic lines, the bodices clinging to their slim figures and the skirts gently flaring at the bottom. Louise’s dress fit her perfectly in the body but needed to be shortened. Carla’s dress needed shortening and taking in across the bust. More excitement and photos for the album as Lizzy measured and pinned. After tea and cake, I drove Lizzy home. “What lovely girls,” she said. “I’ll have these altered this week.”
"There's no rush," I said feeling satisfied.

“I can’t believe how much we’ve got done today.” Kathryn said, reclining on the sofa, thumping through a magazine. “I’m wrecked.” The bridesmaids agreed. But they managed to muster enough energy to crawl to the nearest pub for a nightcap while Dan and I cleared away the curry dishes.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 28 June 2007

CBT last session

Doreen greeted me in her usual friendly manner.
“Last time you were feeling very down. Do you feel better?”
“ Yes. Since seeing my GP and getting signed off work, some of the stress has lifted and I’ve felt better.”
“What have you been doing?”
I’ve been trying to relax, sit in the garden, (in-between showers) do more Tai Chi and meditation, and generally try to chill out.”
“Good. Have you been successful?"
“To a certain extent, but I’ve still got worries about Jon’s release.”
“It’s only natural. You’re his mum.” We discussed my fears and how I’d deal with the worst-case scenario, but the pain is still there and won’t go until he’s back home.
“His relationships are another thing that worries me,” I said. “He seems to get involved with the wrong type of women. I’m not saying the women are always to blame. Some of them have been very nice. And if it keeps happening to him, he must share the responsibility. His ex-partners were all very good looking and this is what seems to attract him. Which is fine. You need to be physically attracted to your partner, but a long term relationship needs to be based on more than sex.”
“How old is he?”
“He may have different values now that he’s older, especially after his prison experience.”
“I hope so. But I’m afraid that after five and a half years abstinence, he may be rampant,” I said trying to make a joke of things.
“Well if he is there’s not a lot you can do to stop him,” she said smiling back at me. “He’s a grown man.”
“If he’s not careful he’ll end up paying the CSA for eighteen years for a one night stand. It’s happened to a few men I know. I’d love more grandchildren, but not like that. Men eh!”

Doreen told me about her only son who has been married and had similar women troubles. A bit of reverse counselling, a great deal of laughter and a few sexist remarks made both of us see the humour in our situation. She asked me to fill in an Anxiety/Depression questionnaire. My anxiety score had gone down slightly from my first visit.

"Kathryn is home at the weekend with the bridesmaids," I said. "They’re having their dresses fitted, so I’m excited about that. I'll get to see the wedding dress again. I can't wait."

“Enjoy your weekend. Good luck with the wedding," she said hugging me. "And I sincerely hope that everything goes well with Jon’s release and that you have a wonderful family Christmas together.”

She gave me her card and said I could see her privately if I needed to.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Cards are down

I got eighty birthday cards. They have been festooning the house for the past three weeks, reminding me of my fun party, and that I am now sixty years old. They've been a good excuse not to dust, but I took them down today. Part of me wanted to put them back up. Trying to cling on to sixty, fearing what sixty plus might bring. But I didn't.

A typical English summer day, it's never stopped raining. The sky is grey and heavy with clouds. Reading again through the messages on my cards, some funny, some touching, some affectionate, some written with love, everyone special, my dark mood was lifted.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Wedding Dress

"It's arr-i-i-ved," A high pitched female voice sang down the phone. "It's Shirley from Belles and Beaux. Kathryn's wedding gown is in."
"Oh! Great," I sighed, relieved to know it was ready for the first fitting. Recalling what a vision Kathryn had looked when we'd first ordered it, a lump came in my throat.

It was a few weeks after the engagement party last September when we went looking for the dress. It was the first dress she tried on. It looked amazing. "But you can't buy the first dress you try," I said, and she agreed. For the next three days we toured every shop in the area, but nothing compared to that dress. On one of our excursions Lizzy came with us. Ever the romantic, Lizzy begged Kathryn to try on one of those Cinderella style dresses with yards of sticky out net in the skirt. "It's beautiful," Kathryn said twirling around the fitting room spreading the voluminous skirts. "But it's just not me."
Exhausted, we returned to Belles and Beaux for another try on of her original choice. "This is the one," Kathryn said, her smile radiating confidence. "It's got the wow factor!"
She'd never looked more beautiful. "That's the one," I said, with a tear in my eye.

"She's coming home next weekend with the two bridesmaids to sort out their dresses," I told Shirley.
"That's good timing. She'll need to bring in all her accessories, jewellery, and whatever underwear she's going to have, if any," she reminded me.
"It's such a slim fitting dress," I said "she won't need much."
"With her figure, she doesn't need a laced up basque to hold her in, that's for sure. What time do you want the appointment for?"
"We've got the hairdressers at 1.00. Say 11.00am. I'll let them have a lie in."
"After she's tried the gown on, we'll store it for you, at no extra cost to yourselves."
"Oh, good," I said, aware that some dress shops charge a monthly fee for storeage.
"And the remaining balance needs to be paid at that first fitting," Shirley added matter of factly.
"Of course," I said.
"She'll need to come back a fortnight before the wedding to re-try the gown in case she's lost or gained any weight."
"Her weight stays pretty much the same."
"They usually lose weight," she said.
"With the stress?"
"Let's say excitement, rather than stress, shall we?"

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Sick Visit

Signed off work with stress, today I received a visitor. Carol, a long time friend and colleague, arrived at lunch, just in time to share Dan’s famous home made vegetable soup with crusty brown bread.

The expected rain had not yet fallen. The air was warm and humid as we sat on the patio in the intermittent sun, recalling my party, discussing the wedding plans, and forecasting Jon’s release.

Both of Carol’s sons are absent. One teaching in Japan, the other working on a cruise ship in the Med. She obviously misses them. Children eh! The pleasure and the pain. How you want to protect them from everything bad. But you can’t. How you want them to learn from your mistakes. But they won’t. How you want them to always love you. But sometimes they don't. You, never stop loving them.

As Carol was about to leave, I proudly showed her the symbols of my new status: a bus pass and senior rail card. A mere fifty-five, she looked envious. “Roll on sixty,” she said.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Monday, 18 June 2007

Concessionary Bus Pass

I was reluctant to get a bus pass. The very words ‘bus pass’ remind me of blue rinsed ladies, in gabardine macks, carry large shopping bags, elbowing passengers out of the way to get their free ride. Besides, I don't use buses. I drive. But, Lizzy pointed out, it’s good for identification. “Oh yes, if I want a cheap perm or Marcel wave on pensioners’ day at the salon, it’ll be very handy.”
“Don’t mock,” Lizzy said. “When you finish work and have to rely on a pension you’ll be glad of it. You can get cheap rates at the cinema, or 10% off at B&Q on Wednesday, and some restaurants do OAP specials, but you usually have to eat before 6.o'clock.”
“Well sure, the elderly have to eat early, don't they? Otherwise they get indigestion. Oh! The possibilities are endless,” I said.
“And because you don’t look sixty, you’ll need to prove your age,”
“Very flattering,” I said. But somehow I didn’t feel flattered.

After feasting at the Hungry Buddha, Lizzy accompanied me to the Link offices, where I sat looking sheepish, opposite a pleasant young woman who wouldn’t believe I was sixty.
“There you go,” Lizzy said, “That’s why you need a bus pass.”

I didn’t have a passport photo, so Lizzy had cut out a glamorous looking snap from my sixtieth party. With my perfectly styled hair, makeup and false eyelashes, I looked even less like a sixty-year-old. I had that unreal feeling again. Same as my party. As though I was an onlooker at the event, and not physically there. I'm not really sixty I wanted to say, I'm just pretending.

“You can apply for a rail card, which gives you a third off rail travel,” the young woman said, bringing me back to reality.
“I’d use that for visiting Kathryn in London. In fact she is taking me to the Spa at Bath in July for my sixtieth gift. I’ll get a reduction on that," I said, signing the form, saying goodbye to middle age.
Lizzy smiled contentedly. "You’re a senior citizen, now,” she said. “It’s official.”

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

One down two to go

If Kathryn's wedding and Jon's release from prison go a fraction as smoothly as my party, my prayers will have been answered, I'll have my three gifts, and the beginning of the year's doubts will be dispelled.

I have nothing but happy memories from my sixtieth birthday.

Kathryn wrote the day time invitations at the weekend, and is posting them out today. We have only had minor disputes over who to invite, once the embargo on noisy babies was established.

Jon's interview with the ICE agent should be coming up soon. Originally we were told he'd have to go before a Judge. We've since found out that he only needs to see a Judge if he's going to fight the Deportation Order. Which he isn't. Perhaps we'll get a date for his deportation after he's seen the ICE agent.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Fifth CBT Session

The day before the session I rang Doreen in a panic because I hadn’t written one diary entry since I saw her last. “Sorry Doreen,” I said. “I’ve had a bit of a relapse, and I’ve not filled in my thought diary. I was busy preparing for my party and then a few days ago my mood plummeted. Perhaps we’d better leave it for a few weeks?”
“Oh no,” she said. “You obviously need to see someone. It’s not just about keeping the diary. It’s about getting you better. You must come in.”
“If that’s OK then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Driving to Chester I felt nervous and agitated, and had to force myself to concentrate on driving safely. I arrived feeling shaky and miserable.
“What’s happened? You were doing so well,” Doreen asked.
A torrent of tears fell before I could muster a reply.
“Let it all out,” she said handing me the box of tissues.
The tears turned into violent sobs, as pent up emotion shook my body and was released.
“I’d been feeling much better and more in control of my negative thoughts. I was looking forward to my party, which was great by the way, when… I know it’s irrational but do you remember, I told you about the non observation.”
“Yes, the person never turned up, and you were awarded your grade 1 from last year.”
“Yes, well the following week, we had a team meeting and the obs were discussed. I was told that I could have my grade 1 from last year, but that an ALP (Advanced Learning Practitioner) would come into one of my sessions, just for my personal development.”
“I refused. To me this was an observation by the back door. I told my manager, Carly, that if anyone came into my session, I’d walk out. Perhaps I over-reacted, but my colleagues all said I’d done the right thing. I felt betrayed. I’d worked so hard for the observation and I couldn’t go through it again. I felt as though the college was attacking me, not supporting me, as they should be.
“It’s because you are vulnerable, and can’t cope with any extra stress at the moment.”
“I go into work every day and I’m cheerful and because I don’t talk about how I really feel, everyone thinks I’m OK.”
“Being up when underneath you feel low, takes a great amount of energy, and you’re wearing yourself out. You need to express you feelings. You should talk about how you feel more. People will be supportive."
"Everyone has problems, and I don't like to burden people with mine. It's my way of coping - just getting on with it."
"But you can't keep that up for ever. You need to rest. To stop everything. You need some time off work. Is it nearly the end of term now?”
“Yes, my students have all done their qualifications.”
“What would you like to do?”
“Sit in the garden and stare into space.”
“Tell me about your party?”
“It went like a dream. Everyone dressed up. The DJ, the band, the Austin Powers dance, it all just flowed. No one got drunk or caused trouble. The atmosphere was definitely love not war. I got up on stage and gave a speech to thank everyone, and danced till dawn, as though nothing was wrong with me, but I felt somehow detached, and in a dream. As though I wasn’t really there, just looking on. Perhaps the way I feel now is part of the anti-climax.”
“Maybe. But I’m glad I made you come in today. You needed to stop and take stock. To release that emotion. If you carry on pretending that you're fine, when you’re not, one morning you’ll wake up and you won’t be able to get out of bed. You’ll burn yourself out. Instead of the thought diary which might be too difficult for you right now, just write your thoughts down randomly and we’ll examine them next time.”

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 7 June 2007

I'm Sixty

One minor hitch over the lack of champagne glasses at the club, discovered only hours before the party, resulted in a frantic dash to the nearest supermarket for plastic cups for the toast. Everything else went like a dream.

I was in a dream. Somehow detached and looking on.

The spectators from the afternoon’s cricket match were still sitting in the late evening sun when we arrived. Sipping their beer, they smiled and made fun of our sixties outfits as we walked passed. Waving two fingers they shouted: “Peace Man,” and gave loud wolf whistles at our mini skirts.

A six foot poster of me dressed in black and white dominated the room. The black and white image was repeated four times in different sized mini me’s, contrasting sharply with a background of psychedelic patterns, in rainbow colours, bursting from a swirling sun. All designed by Peter.

Lizzy and the girls had done a good job decorating the room. There were streamers, and posters, and photos of me everywhere. The snaps from our childhood in West Bank Lizzy had placed carefully in chronological order near the bar, so they couldn’t be missed.

The balloons hadn’t shrunk. Swaying in the warm breeze from the open windows, they danced along with the party people.

Eddie kept the music cool and low while we greeted hippies, and mods, and rockers with affectionate hugs. San Francisco, California Dreaming and Waterloo Sunset played while friends who’d not seen each other for years got reacquainted.

Elvis was in the building. He arrived with Marilyn Monroe on his arm. Aaron came as James Bond. Hugh Hefner brought along a Playmate. Bobby Charlton with his unmistakable comb over arrived in full 1966 World Cup kit. Austin Powers AKA Peter, startled every female lisping through his dingy false teeth, “Fancy a s*** baby? Grooovy”. He’d have been equally startled if anyone had agreed. Sergeant Pepper jackets, bandanas, flowers, beads, and hippy wigs that got longer and bushier with each new party person, gradually filled the room. All fears of a poor turnout dispelled, Eddie hyped up the mood starting with My Generation.

In the middle of the long buffet table sat my Beatles cake. Perched on pure white icing, in front of their drums, were four black mop topped marzipan Beatles. They smiled up at me. Amongst the enlarged photos posted behind the table was a picture of me holding Jon as a baby. Aged ten months. He stood upright on my knee. Exuding energy. He grinned. I felt his presence.

“What yer drinkin’ Barb”, “Go on, have a drink,” I was asked continuously. I politely declined all offers, aware that alcohol and medication don’t mix. But after the buffet, I was to make a speech. Leaving my veggie curry uneaten, I rushed to the bar and ordered myself a double whiskey and coke. I downed it in one. Up on the stage, mike in hand, I thanked family, friends and work colleagues for their support over the last five years. Singling out three people, Dan, Kathryn and Lizzy, I gave each a single red rose. Eddie toasted my birthday. I toasted Kathryn & Aaron’s wedding, Jon’s release in November, and happiness.

Dan and I did a waltz to the Beatles In My Life. While everyone was still sat down, Eddie announced Austin Powers and the Powerettes. To the tune of I want Candy, Kathryn, the Playmate and Austin Powers performed a sixties routine that the real Austin would have been proud of. The girls, both trained dancers, moved like GoGo girls, in their mini skirts and white knee length boots. Austin wowed the audience with his groovy antics. The party people responded with rousing cheers and applause.

Taking their positions on stage, the dance floor vibrated as the band Reunited belted out sixties songs. A retired band, hovering around sixty themselves, they played for me as a favour to a friend. Any longer than an hour’s play and they’d need oxygen, and a lie down, I’d quipped in my speech. But the energy they played with shocked everyone.

“When are you going to announce the winners for the best fancy dress?” Hugh Hefner asked. “Elvis is sweating like a pig, and wants to de-robe.”
“The winner for the best male goes to the one and only, the King, Elvis Presley,” I announced handing him a bottle of bubbly and whispering,” You can go and remove the lycra jumpsuit, plastic stomach and nylon wig now.”
“Thanks,” He said, sweat trickling down his face.
“The best female goes to the gorgeous Marilyn Monroe.” She wiggled up to the stage, tottering on her high heels, with plunging neckline, head cocked on one side, pouting provocatively at her admirers. “That platinum blond wig really does something for you,” I said.

Although the doors and windows were open, the warm June air, plus so many people dancing in the heated atmosphere of the room, after consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, resulted in numerous hippy wigs being removed throughout the night, to reveal shiny baldheads dripping with sweat. The wigs were pulled back on, sometimes scew wiff, when their owners had cooled down.

The irrepressible Eddie took over from the band, and the floorshow continued. “If you don’t stop playing they’ll stay all night,” I warned him, as the dancing grew wilder, arms and legs flying in all directions, people shimmying to the floor or rubbing up against each other dirty dancing.
No longer in the sixties, he played everything from Woops inside your head to The Deadwood Stage. This was Kathryn's song and dance way back when she was six years old. To everyone's amazement, standing in the middle of the dance floor, she reinacted her old routine, while miming to the music.
Leaving guests hugged us saying, "Best party yet!"
“I’ll just play one more,” Eddie said in response to continued pleas from the dancers. He stopped at 2.00am.
“Is it back to yours?” Lizzy’s extended family asked.
Oh no, I thought, but weakly agreed. The blackbirds were singing the dawn chorus in the trees, when I pushed the last drunken body out of the house. “Go home,” I shouted. “I’m far too old for this. I’m sixty!”

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Friday, 1 June 2007

Card from Jon

Dear Mum,
Have a great sixtieth! I'll be there for your next B-day at least. It's unreal how close things are to freedom. Thanks to you and D and K I've held onto what sanity I am endowed with. Do you remember how I used to buy you house plants for your B-days? I remember cacti and that monstera something or other. Such happy days and such wonderful parents - without whom I would have been crushed.
Have as much fun as is legally permitted.
Love and Good Vibes,

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood


Dan and I got married on 1st June, 39 years ago. The day before my 21st birthday. I didn't want to go out for a meal the evening before my big day, so Dan is going to cook an Italian dinner for Kathryn and I. She arrived by train at lunch time. Arron is coming tomorrow.

Dan gave me a dozen red roses and two M&S tops. I gave him a bottle of Irish single malt whiskey, and a walking book, The best of Wainwright.
"It's a warm, sunny day, "Dan said. "Just like our wedding day."

We have another anniversary today. Dan's mother, Evelyn, died on the 1st June last year. His sister died 6 weeks' later. We visited the place where their ashes are scattered along with his father's. It's called Bluebell Wood. Dan used to take Jon up there, as his father had taken him in his childhood.

It was green and fresh from the recent rain. We stood in silence each with our own memories and said a prayer. Jon could not attend his Nan's and Aunt's funerals. When he's released we'll take him back there.

The Beatles cake looked amazing. We picked it up from the bakery before meeting Lizzy and the girl's at the Hungry Buddha for brunch. Walking up town we kept bumping into 'party people'. "What you wearing?", "It's a surprise!", "See you tomorrow night," they shouted. Anyone who's anyone is coming to your 60s bash," Lesley said.

Kathryn and Lesley started singing Show me the way to Barbara's party to the tune of Amarillo, doing a Peter Kay dance, as we strolled back to the car.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood
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