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Monday, 12 April 2010

Counting Ants...

My apologies to any of you who might have received a spurious and spammy e-mail purporting to be from my Hotmail account. It happened when my account was hacked into by some Evil Robot while I was out picking up my dad's ashes... Thank you to those of you who have prompted me to clear this 'unfinished business'.

I know you are right...

This was not an easy post for me to write. And to be fair, this was over a week ago now, and much water has passed under the bridge since then...

I am calmer and have begun to make steps to put things to rights. My father, or at least his ashes, are now at their feet, thanks French Fancy and The Chairman for the prompting to collect them after four years of my stalling and fears, and thank you to darling Moannie who has helped me to shed tears for her wonderful words, and for a mother much loved. Love you, Moannie!

...But I still need to tell you of then...

A week ago, as I found it, the house looked much as it ever had...

The drive up to the close; the cul-de-sac, was a little daunting, but I had two big, strong men for company, after all...

I shoved GJ ahead of me up the path, to unlock the door and still the shrill beeps from the alarm.

The kitchen, replete with the cupboards that killed my dad. I checked - the electricity was obviously on. The water too. The electric cooker, however, was gone.

Washed cups stood to attention, like soldiers, on the bench; One, more bizarrely, was creating its own alternative life form, mildewing away in the sink. A bundle of restaurant take-away leaflets littered the counter-tops. Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboards were bare. Filled with nothing I could recognise.


Rubbish, not fit enough to be good enough for Goodwill... For the charity shops that line the High Street in this forsaken industrial boom-bust-bust-permanent decline town.

My Mutti's old pan scourer holder, a china cow, was still in its place. Plants had been watered. The house smelled of damp, or must... Undercurrent of dog.

The hallway. Tattered stained hallway carpet I didn't recognise. Furniture from within the cubby-hole under the stairs, gone -- Sixties glass-topped coffee table in gold and black from which we used to eat Afternoon Tea if we had guests - Gone.

The through-lounge. Boxes. More rubbish wrapped in newspaper. Clearly her stuff and nonsense that no-one had wanted. It lay there. Wrapped in newspaper.


Room - Re-decorated. Carpet new, but gone. Remnants of cut carpet and sheared underlay strips in its place. Bits of kitchen carpet found in here too. Scattered. Discarded. Disembowelled, perhaps, from some now empty cupboard...


I found a peacock blue stoppered glass bottle that belonged to my mother, which we'd bought together at the old weekend antiques fair at the sweet railway station in Tynemouth, lying on its side on the bare floorboards in this room, and a Galileo Thermometer I'd given to my father as a gift one Christmas or another. I gave GJ a smaller one that year... Now they can sit side by side on the window-sill in our Music Room at home.

No furniture remained.

Where were his beloved CDs? His recordings of Sinatra, and the renowned Kings of Swing?

There was the music system, upturned, stacked. Old, of no use to anyone. ...His CDs mostly gone. TV gone. The music system cabinet missing. ...Only cheap compilation CDs left that I didn't recognise... I found 'Ella and Friends'.

I'd listened to that very same CD in a restaurant in Edinburgh one night, long before Grizz was born. I knew my dad would love it. But, his other trinkets and treasures, that I had coveted in his absence, appear to be gone.

They appear to have disappeared.

Dad was an avid collector of Worcester porcelain, seconds, mostly faulted in some way, but pretty enough... He'd collected these when the company he worked for was a subsidiary of the ancient china company.

Even the veneered cupboards that contained the cosy cottage miniatures, in blush and peach, are gone.

The silver frosted glasses given to my parents on their Ruby Wedding Anniversary, when we had the big party... Where was their home, their final resting place?

A martini glass tinged with pink given to me by my mother on my 18th. Where exactly was that, given that the cabinet that housed it, glittering for over thirty years, is no longer there?

I gathered my graduation photo - GJ and I naptured in our youth, startled, beaming for the photographer. About six dress sizes smaller than we are now - and a couple of other things into a plastic bag. Mine.

...I could have wept then, but I breathed in the musty air, unhooked the fragile web that holds my feelings, and moved on. Upstairs. Nothing could surprise me now.

Bathroom, cracked tiles and cupboards empty of life. A duck collection that had been my Mutti's remained. One of the pieces, that probably looked as if it were Royal Copenhagen, it was very pretty, was absent. I wonder why?

...The bitter taste of things to come?

Bedrooms. One. Two. Three.

Beds pressed against walls. Floorboards checked for anything stashed away. ...My dad used to keep money under a floor-board somewhere upstairs.

It's just that I'm not greedy enough to even to know which one.

Nothing recognisable as a home. Little anyway.

I found an empty cane laundry basket that might have been my mother's, for I had one of those too once. ...I quickly filled it with the fragments that remained, pictures torn from frames, while they'd left empty frames whose pictures I would never know; My dad's small pocket coin purse full of foreign coins; A spare wooden violin bow case that had been given to me as a youth by my wonderful violin teacher who'd worked with my maternal great grand-father when he was only a boy himself. His writing was on the bow box's label. Treasure.

I found a copy of the photo of the Thirties', or perhaps Twenties', orchestra that they'd played together in, man and boy. I still have the original and had it copied for my dad, after my music tutor gave it to me as a gift, signing 'to the memory of' the great-grandfather I'd never had the pleasure to know. Mr Wedderburn was very advanced in years himself at that point, his eighties to my teens, but still a bright, vivid, intelligent man. Full of memories.

There stood the spotless, and probably chin-less, local nobility who patronised and financially supported the working men's orchestra then, in front of the tired leopard skin rug I remembered... I found the picture scrumpled carelessly, or spitefully, in the bottom of an otherwise deserted drawer in my dad's study...

I found a Sixties' view-finder picture of my mother there in those drawers. One of my grandfather too. And me as a podgy 'Tween... It might have been Scarborough, or Blackpool. Family holiday. B & B. Sun, sea, sand, Kiss Me Quick hats, donkeys...

I found albums and boxes of their holiday photos. Why would they have left pictures of their own mother behind? Who could ever bear to do that?

I also found the Christmas gifts that I'd sent this woman. Through the post, afraid to see her in person... Still tagged. Unused. Scattered on her last lying place - the bed. Only the tiny porcelain dog that I'd sent her - A modern repro antique pill-box, in fact, was gone... Someone liked it, at least.

Perhaps I've got some taste after all... Just not in some of my 'relatives', it seems.

Over an hour had passed. I haven't yet put my hand upon their wedding picture from the Fifties. Black and white. Bridesmaids in pale chiffon with hand-tinted burgundy velvet capes and muffs to put their tiny, cold hands in. A December wedding, my mother blushing and hopeful, my aunt and uncle in attendance. My mother all in white, matching the bridesmaids in bashfulness and youth.

At seventeen.

My dad proud and elegant. Twenty-one. Mothers in law, both flanking their children, and looking aged beyond their years by war and loss, scrimping and saving. In December's dark woollen winter coats and white gloves, index fingers pointing formally down towards the stone church steps. All for the photographer...

I began to flag physically. The light was failing, in spite of Daylight Saving Time, and I could hear rumblings from The Men Downstairs...

We secured and left the house and my treasures.

What lies behind in the screwed-down loft?

What more remains to be found and regained, or not, in the all-but void cupboards and drawers, the loft, the brick sheds...

I feel as if I am counting ants.


slommler said...

Vividly written...I felt as though I was taking that journey with you. I could even smell the smells.
Hugging you

vegemitevix said...

So sad. So beautifully written. I honestly don't know what to write to support you. All I can do is send my virtual love and hugs. Vx

French Fancy said...

Oh sweet Fhina, this must have been such a difficult day for you. The worry in advance and then everything you found - or didn't find - when you finally got to the house.

How awful of someone not to even wash up their mug and just leave it getting more and more yukky - this to me shows exactly what someone is like. In such minute details are people's true personalities to be found.

I presume that only the daughter has had keys to the place and would have accompanied her relatives to poke around and steal what was not theirs to take. Can you contact her and ask her who specifically has certain things or would you not want to do that? Perhaps you just want to move on. I'm glad you have the china cow scourer holder and the blue stoppered bottle at least. Things your lovely mutti held in her own hands.

Well done on your father's ashes getting to the next stage. This must have been very difficult for you and you have been very brave. You should rightly feel very proud of yourself. Perhaps a little treat is in order - go on, you deserve it totally.

I'm proud of you, Fhina and also desperately sad for you.


The Spiv said...

If I had one, I'd send you a medal! You are doing all the right things, however difficult it may all seem.

I do have some idea of what you have been going through for the last few years, but we have one thing that no-one can take away from us - our memories! Thirty years after going through something similar, my world is still full of "triggers" that set off memories, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Sometimes I smile when I hear a particular song being played and it takes me back, just for a while, to a different time and place that only I know - only I CAN know - and that is the magic of memories.

I have no physical memories to link with, not even a photo, but I find now that they, although longed for, are not necessary. You have some of your physical memories but far more importantly, you have what is in your head and no-one can take those from you.

As Spike Milligan used to say when ending his letters....

Love, Light and Peace.

Moannie said...

I walked through that empty house with you, holding tightly to your hand, gasping at the meanness, the smallness of the person who did this to you. The worst is almost over, darling. They must not win by making you bitter, though that will be a hard row to plough.

Fab, feisty and fifty... said...

l too felt l was holding my breath as you took each tentative step in this place, no longer a home...but the memory of i as it once was still hot in your minds eye...you are very brave and have done the right thing...l hoe you get to go back soon and look see if any more ants are lurking, you must double check, just in case some hidden morsel gives you the sustenance you seek and crave...

we all dread this day and avoid it...but it comes to all, one way or the other, always painful on some levels, often on several...

you are a star...and l am very proud of you...your words are beautiful though full of hurt and pain...
l am honoured you are sharing them wit us..

lots of luv, hugs soonest..

saz x

blognut said...

Beautifully done, Fhi. I'm so sorry that so many meaningful things were taken from the house.

Love to you,

Suldog said...

It's always a melancholy business. As My Dad's only child, I handled his 'estate' (that being a small home and very little inside it, all of which I inherited - including the tax bills and other problems.) Aside from the financial and legal aspects of such things, which are a pain but not sad, the going through personal effects is what brings the tears.

I cried the longest and hardest when I came upon a copy of "The Velveteen Rabbit" on Dad's bookshelf. I recalled how, despite his rough boxer/wrestler/burly exterior, he was such a sentimental and romantic person. I knew he had probably cried during the reading of that book - as most folks with some leaning toward a belief in animism might - and that thought brought the tears to me, which flowed uncontrollably for perhaps five minutes.

God bless, and best of luck in the current situation. You'll get through it.

auntiegwen said...

Sending you the love x

carma said...

so sorry that you are having to deal with all this stress...I hope things are settling down. xxoo

Something I wrote earlier...

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