Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Time Travel.

The life of a military wife is, by and large, a nomadic one. One’s geraniums are just about growing, the children settled in school and one is finally invited to a neighbour’s soiree when suddenly Hubby calls to say he’s had a meeting with his appointer and ‘Abracadabra’, a few months later your possessions are in boxes, your children displaced and your nerves in wracks. This is why Hubby and I have made as few moves as possible. I just find the whole emptying of my home and forging yet another new life, exhausting. Not being the tidiest of people also plays a large part in my despair, so just clearing the decks before sorting, then packing, then shoving it in a lorry is more traumatic than it probably should be.
So, in 20 years of being together we have moved only five times, Hubby has commuted the other times. It has had its ups and downs most definitely, especially when the children were ill, or I was ill or my thesis needed writing or the bedroom ceiling caved in. At those times I would quite happily have lived Kyrgyzstan so long as Hubby was on hand to say “There, there. It’ll be alright”. I sincerely hope that a long period of time away from their father hasn’t affected the children. At the moment they seem fairly well adjusted, although only time will tell if they end up on a therapists couch, dolefully describing their father as ‘absent’. They may on the other hand just as dolefully describe their mother as ever present: omnipotent to the point of knowing their every thought and action.
Our twenty year anniversary next week when our eyes met over a crowded bar has not only made me reflect on the past, the choices we’ve made and the way we’ve chosen to live our lives but it has, oddly, coincided with the 50th birthdays of friends we have made whilst traversing the country care of the Royal Navy. So, armed with enough pharmaceutical drugs for Hubby’s tonsils we have put on our party clothes and gone back in time.
We drove to a village near Helston where several years ago, when my son was two and I was heavily pregnant with my daughter, Hubby was appointed to Culdrose. I was in my late 20’s and had left behind the city life in Portsmouth. I had also left dear friends that had shared with me the trials and tribulations of a first born child. With only one child in tow we often met in coffee shops and cafes or spent huge amounts of time in each other’s houses. We were very active within the National Childbirth Trust and our lives revolved around these alien infants of ours and our obsessive diktats on how these children should be raised. I never put our son down, never let him cry, fed him on demand, and took him swimming immediately he’d had his first inoculations. We went to a music group when he could barely sit up and where, although I would dementedly sing along to ‘Five fat sausages’ he just drooled and sucked on the maracas. His food was carefully prepared freshly every day and pureed and frozen. When Hubby deployed for eight months when our son was a baby, these friends chivvied me along and supported me until he returned.
To be suddenly wrenched from these friends and this lifestyle and start again in the Cornish countryside, seven miles in either direction from Helston or Falmouth was not easy. In fact only a few months later, just after our daughter was born, in pool in front of the Aga, I did not feel the elation I felt when our son was born. No doubt had I been featured in a lifestyle magazine it would have sounded idyllic. The archetypal earth mother and this was before Cath Kidston became fashionable. I made jam and baked bread but emotionally I was in dark, dark place. I felt trapped by the remoteness of where I lived and couldn’t communicate with anyone, who as far as I could see, were more than happy living in damp houses with no tv, growing their own and smoking rollies.
I wanted to go to John Lewis and take my lovely, Silver Cross carriage built pram along the prom. I wanted to go to the pictures and hang out with my friends. I wanted to wear clothes that weren’t ‘ethnic’. Instead, day after day I breastfed in a dark cottage willing the phone to ring and waiting for Hubby to come home from work. I never got accustomed to living that far west, although eventually I did make a handful of special friends, one of whom was in as dark a place as I. And it was her birthday party that Hubby and I went to last week.
Her twins, who once drove her crazy, are now strapping, gorgeous young men, her husband whom she barely tolerated, held her and hugged her and told her she was beautiful. Their house was enchanting, their wood draped in fairy lights as braziers warmed us from the chill and food and wine flowed freely. Most moving of all was when I arrived, the friends that I’d made when at my lowest, squealed when they saw me, running across the garden to embrace me. It was a wonderful night. Dancing under the stars with faces so familiar made me glad of the past, warts and all. To use the modern vernacular, I, along with my birthday friend are in a different ‘place’ to the one we were 13 years ago, due in no mean measure to the human spirit and its capacity for compassion and empathy that prevails even in one’s darkest hour. In my experience, implacable friendship flings open the dark, heavy curtains of despair allowing the light of happiness to flood in.


Hen said...

Glad you had a wonderful weekend - what do you get for 20 years?

...it ought to be good!


Mary Alice said...

It isn't an easy life is it? But the good friends make it all worthwhile. Congratulations on the 20th....our 20th is July 3rd.

Sally Lomax said...

We are 22 years on 2nd August..

Excellent post Alice. I could relate to it completely... Even down to the carriage built pram, which we currently - since Sunday - have in the hall, polished and t-cut, with a view to finally putting it on Ebay!

enidd said...

lovely post alice. almost makes enidd wish she'd stayed married to the first one (would have been over 25 years now) and had sprogs.

or maybe not...

but the friends stay with you, you're right there.

Candyce said...

Alice--I thought I would give my thoughts on being an Air Force Brat (do they call military kids Brats in UK?)

I think moving around made me very open minded and I can think out of the box.

I do miss having a "home town" and a place to return. I never know where to say I am from.

All in all though I consider my childhood a happpy one.

I think it is really nice that you kept the moves down.

Actually once we were stationed in England for 3 years when I was 7, 8 and 9 and that was our favorite assignment.

It sounds like a lovely weekend.

Anonymous said...

Alice - we come through in the end don't we? sometimes though you don't even know it was a dark place until you look back.

Its 14 years for us on 2 July - so babies in the married years stakes compared to you guys. But ages older in anno domini so no cheek, children!


Sue said...

Hi Alice this is Sue from petite anglaise would love to chat but dont know how to grrrrrrr

Eloise said...

What a beautifully honest post, Alice. Thanks so much for sharing. Happy Anniversary!

Sally Lomax said...

Happy Anniversary!

It's just me said...

I love those kind of friends.

(I haven't vanished or stopped reading BTW - was away sailing across the Atlantic..)

kcinnova said...

Oh, the friends we make in those hard times! And the friends in the good times, too.
We've also kept the moves down (helps to be medical...we move a little less often) but the pulling up of roots has been most painful when the kids hit high school. OUCH. Hanging in there, though, with one more move to go.