giovedì, febbraio 21, 2013

First world problems: family house

I dreamt about Scarborough last night. I was taking the train into town with my aunt, and some cousins I think, and we passed a row of houses along the cliff front with superb design values and shiny new burgundy funiculars heading right down to the beach.

"I always thought that if I got really rich I'd buy Granny and Grandpa's old house back," I remarked to my aunt, "but maybe I'll just get one of those instead."

She smiled her approval, but even in the dream, and even though they were beautiful, I didn't mean it. I was just saying it because I knew she wanted that house gone. I knew those houses on the friable sandy bluffs would slip into the sea, maybe in a matter of mere decades. They weren't legacy houses. They weren't something my children could use with their children.

And neither will G&G's house be. I don't blame them one little bit for selling it, my aunt and my mother, and that's even before I factor in the emotional side of their lack of healthy attachment to that house. There were basically zero candidates in my generation to use it on a regular basis, aside from me, and that not for at least two years, and that only for holidays, which - England being England, that fucking deregulated dump of a country with all the inconveniences of northern Europe and few of the benefits - would be untenably expensive and difficult in insurance, maintenance, services, mold, etc. terms.

Mum did consider it until faced with the resounding indifference of my generation, some of whom are more into wilderness holidays, others of whom are more into Caribbean resorts, and others of whom just don't have the money to jaunt off across the Atlantic for a short stay in fairyland, and she worked out the sums in her head, and said if I cared to spend time there with my family she'd just rent us a holiday flat because it'd be cheaper. I won't let her do that of course, but her point was made.

But - besides Magnum, whose chip on the shoulder about G&G has become deeply ingrained over the years, and besides the littlest, whose reasons I won't speculate much on because I don't know - we did all make our final pilgrimages back before Granny died. Considering how much she disliked us I wonder if it was actually the house we were saying goodbye to. Especially as the littlest did make a pilgrimage back after she died, and was with his mother when she handed over the keys. Last night's dream and today's heavy nostalgia was sparked off by him posting pictures of the empty house on his Facebook page.

I'm spending a small fortune putting the furniture and some other odds and ends from the house in storage; in fact if the timing works out, it'll cost about the cash amount Granny left me in her will, which is serendipitous to the point that I'm half-managing to convince myself it's what Granny intended at some deeply-buried level of collective unconsciousness. And I'm glad that's waiting for us when we get back to Europe, in a way I'd have to write for a long, long time to quantify. But it's strangely gutting to remember the house. It's making this song stick in my head:

Nick Cave is at his best violent or mournful, I always think.

And I think what's pulling at my guts the most this morning is the way the house smelt. A sort of combination of Fairy washing up liquid, fabric softener, the greenness of the garden, lavender, cleanliness and a hint of the mold that one was always fighting back in the attic. And Granny, of course. It smelt inescapably like her. And as little fondness as we had for each other - I loved her, but it wasn't possible to be fond of her, and I think she was fondest of me by the time dementia had helped her forget I was her granddaughter and not someone she used to know from the bank - that combination is probably my favourite smell in the world that doesn't belong to my mother, father, old man or son.

Gone forever now, I suppose. Of course Granny being dead meant it would be gone forever anyways, house being sold or not, but when I saw the pictures of the empty house on Facebook that sort of reasoning was beyond me. Anyways, when I die, if I've been sufficiently good, I expect the afterlife to smell more or less like that. And I hope that in a couple of years if I stick my face into the wardrobes, etc., that I've had socked away, I'll still be able to sniff a bit of it out.

The other thing that's pulling at my guts is that the house was ours, as well as G&G's. A common point of reference for me and my brothers and my cousins, wrapped up in our mutual childhoods in a way no other place is, either singly or collectively. In the same way G&G were ours - a shared and difficult way that most outsiders, even those who didn't get on with their grandparents, couldn't possibly appreciate because of our very particular circumstances.

Well, as my boss (who's Buddhist in the same way I'm Catholic) told me, aging is a process of falling away and letting go. I don't think any material falling away and letting go will be quite so psychologically fraught as this one, though.

domenica, febbraio 17, 2013

Sydney flavoured bacon

Just back from a Lunar New Year trip to Sydney. And gosh, was it nice. Cosmopolitan (ergo est enough Asians to make it feel like a real city) with a different kind of food every meal and all sorts of people hanging around doing interesting things.

The more I travel in Australia the more I have a sense that Australians aren't all bad and that it's the special cocktail of white middle-class anti-vaccination NIMBY hippies, bankrupt farmers, meth addicts and dispossessed Aborigines that makes our particular region so fucking annoying. The F-word assures me, though, that where we are is really terrific in terms of Country Australia, which cross-country car trips and stays in Shepparton, the Victorian dump the F-word hails from, both back up.

All of which is a long way to say that I'd probably like Australia better if we lived in Sydney, but if we lived in Sydney we'd need to be rich, and if we were rich we'd live in a better city somewhere else, like Singapore.

Nonetheless it was a good trip, during which we got to see a so-so exhibition of Alexander the Great crap from the Hermitage and a really nice Francis Bacon exhibition at the NSW gallery. The Bacon exhibition was just gravy. We had no idea it was there, just stumbling across it in its closing week. Not as good as the one we saw back in 2008 but still very good and it made me feel like I was part of the wider world again to just stumble across something like that and be able to see it . . . sigh . . . oh, wider world, I miss you.

The most important outcome of the trip, however, was watching Godzilla spend it being as good as gold, looking around calmly during the exhibitions, and gawking at all the skyscrapers and trains, and charming people in restaurants. He slept better in all the hotels than he does here. I know babies change every day but I can't help be hopeful he's gonna be a good traveller - heaven knows the poor mite will be doing enough of it by hook or by crook.