I thought I’d try my hand at writing a personal essay and just as I’d written the first paragraph, I found this competition at Wow! Women on Writing just what I needed to focus the mind and prevent procrastination, which is my worst enemy, or if you look at it another way, my best friend. Putting on the washing machine, doing the hoovering (this only happens when procrastination is at its highest), making, eating and making more food, googling just about anything and checking social media, might stop me from writing, but it doesn’t stop the ideas from percolating away in the back of my mind. Yes, I’ve just googled how to brew coffee with a percolator so I don’t admonish myself too much as long as the ideas drip onto the page at some point.
So, having the deadline of a competition helped me focus the mind a little and eventually I finished my first essay and sent it off and guess what, it beat 200 other essays and made it to the final round of judging. It may just be a little splash and I may not have come in top three, but that’s OK because my coffee cup is always half full and this little step has encouraged me to have another go. Here’s the essay for anyone that might be interested.
Finding the Lost Tsapanawas
The kitchen table had come everywhere with us, from house to house. It wore its age with pride. Deep grooves, ink stains, puppy chewed legs heralded years of growing up; homework, school projects and long into the night conversations. My daughter, Charlotte, was sitting opposite me at the table, flicking through a magazine.
“It doesn’t have to be anything grand, just something to mark the occasion,”
she said as she took a sip of tea.
I got up to add a little more milk into mine and stared into the fridge for a moment.
“What do you fancy for tea tonight?”
“You’ll regret it. You’ll wake up the next morning and wish you’d done something,” she insisted.
“We’ve got some salmon, new potatoes, broccoli?” I closed the fridge door and looked at her.
“It’s a big deal Mum.”
I didn’t want it to be a big deal. I didn’t want to celebrate. Why would I? Turning 50 wasn’t something that took any special effort on my part. I hadn’t been in intensive training for it. It’s not like I was celebrating 49 years of trekking through unexplored rain forest, to suddenly stumble upon the lost Tsapanawas tribe, although at times it has felt that way.
My sister, who, being five years younger than me, said ‘it was just a number and I should get over it’. A comment I reminded her of on the eve of her big 5 0. I had to shout it through the letter box, as she’d decided to stay indoors and pretend it wasn’t happening.
I sat down and lifted up the lid of my laptop.
“I really must get this piece of copy written before 5 tonight. If I don’t hit the deadline I’ll be toast.”
“It’s Saturday Mum. I doubt anyone is expecting brochure copy today. It’s only a week away and if you leave it much longer, nothing will happen.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
I sighed. I knew what was coming. My daughters were a powerful force when they wanted something. The three of them would work together. They’d come at me from different angles in a pincer movement. They were highly skilled at combat and they knew my weak points.
“Ellie and Bella agree. We all want you to have a special day.”
“Don’t think I don’t appreciate that darling but…. it’s just…”
“You don’t have to do a thing. We’ll organise it all.”
“I really must get back to this copy… it was meant to be in yesterday…”
Charlotte picked up her bag from the kitchen counter and walked towards the front door.
“I’ll be back later, when you’ve got more time.”
It had been creeping up on me for a while, probably since becoming 40. That’s when you really start to think about hitting your half-century – sounds a bit like the score in a cricket match. And the crowd are hushed as Claire Harrison walks towards the sticky wicket. Poised to take her half-century. Could this be the moment we’ve all been waiting for?
Anyone who came to my 40th will understand why I wasn’t really keen to throw a ‘half way to getting a telegram from the Queen’ party ten years later.
The day I turned 40 was around the time we’d found out my husband had stolen quarter of a million pounds from my father, you can imagine, I wasn’t feeling my best. My husband had been taken into custody and I was left looking after my three girls, then aged 6, 3 and 13. I was in pretty bad shape, financially and emotionally – actually, rock bottom financial shape. But, I’d already booked a private dining room and who was I to let being married to a felon stop me.
“Daaarling, happy 40th!”
My friend Tracey stood up as I walked into the dining room at The Kandinsky, a regency villa in the centre of Cheltenham, with parquet floors and a plant-filled Victorian conservatory. The private dining room, which seated 20 people around an oval, mahogany table, had William Morris style wallpaper and heavy green velvet drapes at the window. Clusters of ivory church candles arranged on two console tables lit the tumbling chrysanthemums on the wall, but it would take more than that to warm the atmosphere in the room, which was brittle bright, like a 100-watt light bulb. Everyone knew my husband had just been carted off to the ‘big house’, but no one wanted to upset me by mentioning the elephant in the room, which was highlighted by the empty place-setting where he would have sat.
As the night wore on, we all began to relax and for a few hours, life felt normal. I’ll always be thankful for the friends that joined me on that difficult evening. I’d asked them not to buy any gifts, because it just didn’t seem right, instead they brought laughter which was the best present anyone could have given me.
So here I was, ten years on, sitting at the pine table in my kitchen. I opened an early birthday card from a friend which had arrived that morning. On the front it said in large glilttering letters: It’s your 50th! Inside my friend had simply written: ‘I know… it’s shit.’ That made me smile, really smile. Yes, the past ten years had been tough, but we’d got through it, my girls and I, the four of us, Muskateers, solid and strong, together. Like the pine table I was a little scarred and worn around the edges, but I was still here, and very much loved. Surely that was something to celebrate?