Thursday, 23 October 2014

I Unpick A Seam

When I walked into the sewing class with my son, the air molecules shifted.  It's strange how the reaction of a group can be felt as a frisson, a gasp, of atmospheric pressure.  Eighteen women recollected themselves, smiled, accommodated to the idea of sharing cutting tables, machines and space with a good-looking young man.  I stood up straighter.

My project for our six weeks of dressmaking classes is to make two pairs of pyjama bottoms; my son's is to make as many t-shirts as he can from a 4 metre stretch of wide black cotton jersey.

Having cut out my fabric, I predicted that I would complete the first pair of pyjama bottoms within the two hour session. I offered my son advice about cutting out. He, meanwhile, was unpicking the sleeves from an old t-shirt to use as a template.

When my mother taught me to sew, she showed me how to undo a machined seam by cutting through the tiny ladder of tight stitches using a Wilkinson Sword razor blade. Handling the blade felt dangerous - an adult secret.

One-and-a-half hours into yesterday evening's session I held up my work.  It looked like nothing; or rather it looked like a large replica of a diseased heart - a slack set of pouches with small tubes  protruding.  It looked like nothing you'd want to wear in bed, under any circumstances.

With my crumpled work in my lap, I watched my son as he draped black jersey over a mannequin and threaded a needle with cotton.  He looked confident, happy, fluent.

"Can I borrow your unpicker?" I asked him.  He chucked it over, smiling.  These days, I use a purpose-made hook with a sharpened edge to cut through my mistakes.

"Thought you were being a bit optimistic," he said, drawing long white stitches up the side seams of his new design.  Then, "You can't use pins in conjunction with an over-locker, so I'm doing tailor tacks."

"Ah," I said.  "What about the neckline?  It looks a bit ..."

He turned to me, grinned.  "It's in the Brutalist style," he said.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

I Make A List

Picture Frame
Badminton Court
Post Office

Sunday, 12 October 2014

I Mourn My Mother

Some poems I wrote for my mother - they are all quite old now.  She died 25 years ago today.  I loved her deeply and am grateful for all she was.

In duty, without complaint, rise early,
take dawn’s sheen to the day.
Dust particularly what is unseen,
sweep up any flakes of ingratitude,
stitch loose threads into purpose, and
cleanse from your mouth the unspeakable;
do this quickly, before is added
tarnish to steadfastness, loyalty.
Unwrap, slowly, the gift of evening,
soothing the uneasy earth with music,
surrender yourself to laughter,
catch the sparkle of late-night exchange,
dream of the eternal and possible.
Live full, not fast.

The days do not admit your face,
your image somehow fading in the light.
Yes, there are the photographs,
the chair on which I drop my clothes.
Sometimes there is even a look of you
in my son’s dimples, when I put up my hair;
but there is also the end-to-end claim
of the present, the squeeze of the young.

So yours is the half-wakeful space,
the small-houred time where,
dreamful, I drift amongst
fragments of your story:
I strive to place them, piece them,
fit them together.

It is fitting, this blazed-red end,
this final heave of summer heat
sustained into your fraction of a season.
The earth is giving you all the glory
of the autumns you are owed,
saving its most till your last.

It is the trees which know best,
gold-framing the bedroom window
where you lie, opening an eye
to greet them; these trees which have
marked your life in so many quarters:
bare, green, broad and shedding.

Now, most innocent you,
fetched up high on the drugs
we have fed you,  remark,
wistfully, on the teddy bears
ambling, picnicking in the branches;
untethered now, you join them.

If I opened this tin,
if I opened this tin again,
this tin, which was yours and is mine;
if I were to grasp, twist, slide, lift,
reveal the ribbons, clasps and bands
which held your lovely, lively hair;

if I, reckless and wanting,
were to open this tin again,
I would breathe in the last fragrance,
residue of the smell of you,
captured, kept, for a time, in this tin
which was yours and is mine.

Sally Lefroy - 1937-1989

Saturday, 11 October 2014

I Pay To Be Waxed

I dreamed last night that I am going to die soon - in the next few weeks if the people I assumed to be experts were to be believed.  The strange thing was that I felt perfectly well.  I was pretty upset about the prognosis because I love being alive and, amongst other things, I have a party to look forward to.

It was a relief to wake up.  I checked my body for signs of imminent demise.  None.  I mean, there are many imperfections, but most of them aren't, as far as I'm aware, fatal.

In the past, the things I don't like about my body have stopped me from living fully.  I remember being 17 in a heatwave in Sweden and refusing, despite my Swedish friends' incredulous protestations (it was Sweden for goodness sake!) to wear shorts.  I spent two wonderful weeks of blue skies, islands and boating trapped in dungarees in a strange closed-circle of self-consciousness.

Since then, I've learnt to look at my body square-on, to experience it for what it is.  It's been a sort of existentialist awakening - taking on board what Sartre calls le vĂ©cu,which is something to do with the validity of lived experience as a form of knowledge.

So, on waking this morning to find that I am (as far as I know)  perfectly healthy, I thought about whether to keep my appointment at the salon.  Reason argued that subjecting myself to pain in an effort to reach a constructed ideal of female beauty would be a trivial way to spend half an hour of the time that remains to me.  Experience has taught me that acting on the knowledge I have about what gives me the confidence to take my clothes off leads to a freedom to engage with life more fully.

I may go for a swim later.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

I Consider My Height

I am five foot ten.  And maybe a half.  I can't be sure because I haven't measured myself for years (I've been too busy measuring envelopes) but I seem to be about the same as I was when I last looked.

My above-average-for-a-woman height seems to be, judging by the comments I get, the first thing people notice about me.  That's if I'm standing when I meet them.  If I'm sitting, and then stand up (because I was brought up to do that) it might be the third or fourth thing. 

My sons are both taller than me and now in serious competition for tallest place.  They delight in patting, and then resting their chins on the top of my head.  Friends or strangers feel free to remark on their heights. What is a bit different, however, is that above-average-height-for-a-boy seems to be regarded as an achievement.

I've found that it is useful to be a tall woman for some things.  Examples are: the Goal Keeper / Shooter positions in netball, getting things off high shelves for people who are afraid of tall men, and wearing extra long skirts that have been reduced in the Monsoon sale.

But it can be a social disadvantage to be a tall woman.  Consider the market for websites devoted to the phenomenon of 'tally-smally' celebrity couples: a couple in which the woman is taller than the man is regarded as somehow 'freakish'. 

I find I am attracted to people because of the depth of their souls and the warmth of their hearts.  Sometimes they are taller than me, sometimes shorter.

I wish, as with all defining characteristics, my height could be seen solely for what it is: a genetically determined fact about which I can do nothing.  Though on reflection, I'm not completely powerless .... I could buy some high heels and break the six foot barrier, and a few toes into the bargain.