Friday, 13 May 2016

High heels on a football pitch

High heels on a football pitch

If I were to write a book for new stepmums, I would dedicate an entire chapter to sporting activities. A girl deserves to be warned against countless training sessions and matches, and the fact that her life will begin to revolve around them. 

In the short period since I passed my driving test, I have turned into a taxi for the boys. The idea of pilates on Tuesday nights vanished like a morning fog in the sun, because Little Dude has football training on Tuesday and somebody has to take him.

For the past few weeks I managed to sync my schedule with Mr Chateauneuf so that I drop Little Dude off and he picks him up on the way from work. Until last week, when I had to take our boy to football and wait for him.

When we arrived at the football pitch, I was still in my work clothes, heels and all. Luckily, the ground where they there playing on this occasion had a bar and it was calling my name.

A gin & tonic (a single only, I was driving after all) and the first half of the game later, armed with a soft drink to help me endure the next 40 minutes of watching a bunch of kids running around, chasing a ball in matching outfits, I decided to make an appearance on the touchline. 

As I stepped on the grass and looked down at my black patent Louboutins, I could’ve sworn I heard their tiny voices, screaming at me: ‘’Are you serious? Do you remember how much you paid for us?’’

I did. And so did my credit card. I couldn't use it for another three months after that purchase. But I had no choice - all the mums and dads were standing on the side of the pitch shouting, sorry, the right term is ‘cheering’, I believe. And to join them was the right thing to do.

I took a deep breath, pushed my oversized sunglasses on and sauntered towards the group of parents.  My heels digging deep into the freshly cut grass, still glistening from the rain, their desperate cries muffled in the ground. 

As I approached the parents, we exchanged kisses and pleasantries, and I caught up with the score - the football parent convention dictates that one should always know/care about the score and which little darling had scored.

Sufficiently briefed on the progress of the game, I took a sip of my diet coke and checked my phone. There was a missed call from Mr Saville Row and I hit ‘call’ immediately.

I walked further along the pitch, as much as my four inch heels would let me, to get some privacy. Somewhere between a bunch of white lines on the pitch and learning that we had a major problem with the helicopter, it hit me. Literally.

A football hit me on the head, leaving a green imprint on my forehead and I went flying. I landed on my back, diet Coke splashed all over my cream skinny Ted Bakers and helplessly soaking into my coral tie neck Reiss.

My diving header drew a crowd within seconds. Dads tried to help me up which was easier said than done, as my four-inch-half-my-salary shoes were obeying the laws of gravity and pushing deeper and deeper into the ground, as I tried to get up.

Somebody got my baby blue tote and was gathering the contents of it, that was scattered across the whole field. It was safe to say my outfit was mullered, as was my pride and dignity. And there was still 20 minutes to go. I wanted the ground to open and swallow me.

On the way home I couldn't help but wonder, would I ever get over the fact that I buried my Louboutins on a footballs pitch? Did I fail as a stepmum? And who won the wretched match?

I looked over at the boy, sitting in the passenger seat, who was excitedly telling me how he was planning a sleepover with a boy called Daron and this new video game they were going to play.

And then, as if he saw me for the first time, he suddenly asked: ‘What happened to your top Tash? Did you spil something?’

I gave him a bewildered look - he had no idea what had happened. I simply shrugged, not trusting my voice. 

“Thanks for driving me to football’’, he then proceeded. ‘’My pleasure’’, I replied. Maybe I didn't fail as a stepmom after all. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

If you don't like the way I drive, get off the pavement

If you don't like the way I drive, get off the pavement

Do you remember those few weeks after you’d passed your driving test? Those sweet firsts - the wonky bay parking, the petrol station visit, the multi-storey car park. Of course you don't remember, you were 17.

That was in a different lifetime. These days you can drive with your eyes shut (although hopefully you don’t), you barely think about how to start the car, or reverse, or tackle a big roundabout - all things that are a big deal for a baby driver. 

One of the big barriers for me is, literally, a car park barrier. There is no particular reason for me to be scared, no trauma or bad experience. Yet I am simply terrified that I won’t be able to tackle a simple job of pressing the button, getting a ticket, finding a spot a parking the car.

There are so many things that experienced drivers do on autopilot, but us, novices, have to really think about. First of all approaching the barrier, it has to be the right distance - not to close, so you don't scratch the car, and not too far, so that you can reach the button and get the ticket.

If you are too far and can’t reach the button and can’t reverse, you might just have to do the  most embarrassing thing ever - get out of the car to get it. By the time you are done, the traffic is building up behind you. All those big experienced drivers getting angry, shouting and tooting; and you just want the earth to open and swallow you.

And, of course, there is a possibility that the barrier doesn’t work. You have to find and press the help button and speak to an illiterate security man, who doesn't speak English very well, and is mostly annoyed that you interrupted him from playing Candy Crush. 

Before I passed my driving test and got my own car, Mr Chateauneuf used to drop me off at the station on the way to work, and pick me up on the way home.  Until a couple weeks ago when he told me he had a board meeting the following day. That meant that I had to drive myself to the station and face the scary barrier - for the first time.

What followed next was the worst night sleep of my life. In fact the term ‘sleep’ is used loosely here, it was more on the border of non-existent. 

All the driving horrors you can possibly imagine decided to visit me that night. There was the ghost of roundabouts (I wasn't even scared of those up until then), painting the pictures of me crashing into another car on the roundabout by Waitrose, next to Peterborough station. The stalling zombie dropped by in my dreams and took me though me stalling my car on in rush hour on Bourges   Boulevard and a big truck can crashing into me.

And finally the car park dragon barrier - first the barrier won’t open; then the car wouldn't move once I got the ticket; then there were no spaces. Somewhere around 3am, as the barrier was repeatedly hitting my car, I woke up with a massive headache.

By then I knew that sleep was simply not happening that night. So I got out of bed, found my laptop, painkillers and curled up on the sofa. Two hours, a bucket of tea and endless Google pages later I felt I was finally combatting my fears. 

I learnt that hazard warning lights aren't just a pretty triangle on the dashboard, they can actually be helpful. Or that I can always call the number by the barrier and ask them to help, in case there is a problem. I was feeling much better, I knew I could deal with the barrier and nothing could stop me.

By 5am, armed with freshly gained knowledge and a cup of tea for Mr Chateauneuf, I went back upstairs. I slid back in bed and shut my eyes. Five minutes later my alarm went off.

Mr Chateauneuf rolled over to my side and put his arm around me. ‘’Do you want a lift to the station?” - I heard his sleepy murmur. 

‘’Yes, please’’ - I replied. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Every girl needs a wife

Every girl needs a wife

For years I have been quietly irritated by the comments on Facebook where girls referred to their female friends as ‘wife’ or ‘wifey’. In fact, they used to annoy me so much, that I would delete them from my ‘feed’ to make sure I never saw them again.

Two years ago, somewhere between Easter and a bout of insanity (I was THAT unhappy with my role at the time), I finally got a new job. It was an unfamiliar industry, a new type of role and an upgraded salary. 

The new position was like nothing I had ever done before - I was working in a private office of a high net worth individual. It’s a world of private jets, numerous properties, countless staff, unlimited resources and great expectations. 

Fortunately for me, the job also came with Charlotte, my new boss’s business PA. She welcomed me with open arms and a box of documents for me to file. (All the personal paperwork that she dealt with had to be filed in the private office).

In the next few months that I was settling in my role, we became friends. Coffee breaks and lunches  quickly became our weekly rituals. And let's face it, nothing pushes girls closer than swapping gossip and paperwork over a glass of wine/ a cup of coffee right in the middle of a working day.

Weeks turned into months, and I began feeling more relaxed. The job no longer felt daunting, I finally found my feet.

And the more I understood the role and its requirements, the more I was beginning to realise that I could easily do flexible hours and work from home a couple of days a week. This was my chance to finally move in with Mr Chateauneuf and away from London.

I started working on a proposal to my boss. It had to be flawless - no question had to go unanswered. I had set up new systems and processes to enable me to be remote and yet for the support to remain seamless. And the important part of my new plan was Charlotte.

When I shared my idea with her, she supported me - with her on my side I knew I could literally do anything. A week later the boss accepted my proposal.

Months flew by. Since I started working from home a couple of days a week, I moved in with Mr Chateauneuf and the boys, we moved offices and I had a really bad hair cut. But one thing remained unchanged - my friendship with Charlotte and her solid support. 

She saved my skin more times than I can remember. There was that cheque to raise to an angry contractor while I was out of the country, an urgent bank transfer to orchestrate, a bigger jet to find and a different island to book for a holiday (because the sand had to be white, not yellow).

The latest near hit was last week, when the new Ferrari I ordered arrived in Estoril blue instead of Topaz blue. At the time I was dealing with a sick pony, tracking down a Chanel dress for the reception the following night and overseeing a shipment of antiques for the new town house. 

Charlotte called Ferrari. I don't know what she told them but the next thing I knew, I received an email from them apologising profusely for the inconvenience caused and promising to deliver the vehicle in the correct colour the following week.

A few days later, over a thank you lunch, I opened my mouth to express my gratitude and ended up saying ’You are my wife and I don't know what I would do without you.’ Both taken aback by my outburst, we laughed. 

And as our mains were cleared and the coffees arrived, I couldn't help but wonder, did I really just call Charlotte my wife? And if she really was my wife, then where did I stand on my girlfriend-wife-concept-hating policy? 

Back in the office I opened the pack Charlotte gave me for filing. And as I began the process of putting the papers into the correct lever arches, I realised just how much she does for me. Not only does she save my skin on a weekly basis, she also made it possible for me to move in with Mr Chateauneuf. Charlotte really was my wife, without her I wouldn't be where I am today.

I finished the filing, logged into Facebook and granted all my girlfriend-wife offenders a virtual pardon. It was official. I was now one of them. I had a wife too.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

No winter lasts forever

No winter lasts forever

In the midst of winter, I found that there was, within me, an invincible summer.
Albert Camus

It was a long winter for me. Daddy passing away chilled me right through to my heart and turned it into a block of ice. 

Not knowing how to deal with the death of my only surviving parent, whom I adored, I turned into an ice queen and pushed away the people who loved me the most, my family. 

I only allowed myself to cry when children (or any other human being for that matter) were not around. On a couple of occasions, Mr Chateauneuf witnessed my indiscretion of displaying emotions, I got embarrassed and apologised. The more he tried to help, the further I withdrew. Frosty demeanour became a part of my disposition.

January turned into February, and between Mr Chateauneuf being busy and my malfunctioning, we somehow still remembered that we had a week of half term coming up, childfree - both our boys were away for the whole week. 

Not the ones to waste a week, we promptly booked a trip to Prague. It was the break we both needed and it couldn't come soon enough.

Before we knew it, Prague was upon us and we were speeding on the way to Stansted Airport in the early hours. A short flight and a cab ride later we were sitting in a bar in Prague, the tension of the previous weeks slowly leaving our bodies. 

The next couple of days were nothing short of amazing. We wandered the streets of an old town that hadn’t changed much in the past few hundred years; ate local food; drank Czech wine; admired the architecture and on the second night we found ourselves in a cathedral listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. 

On the day three, we woke up to a grey morning, it was snowing. But as pretty as it was outside, neither of us wanted to be out. Tired from two days of non-stop exploring, we decided to stay at the hotel and make the full use of spa facilities and the executive lounge.

A few hours later, bored of Facebook, Twitter and reading, I found myself staring out of the window, watching the snow lovingly covering the square with the white blanket. As I was watching the magic of nature unfold in front of me, I had a flashback to another winter, in a different lifetime. 

I was sitting in my room back in Ukraine, looking out of a window and watching our dog trying to catch snowflakes. Mum was busy in the kitchen, filling the house with the delicious aroma of freshly baked goodies, one of my brothers was watching TV, the other playing computer games, daddy snoozing on the sofa - a perfect winter day, an idyllic family.

My daydream faded and I was back in Prague. Suddenly I needed to get out. I couldn't explain it, some invisible power was pushing me outside.

I looked over at Mr Chateauneuf, who was reading a newspaper, a glass of red in front of him - it made me smile - the man was just too comfortable and no power in this world would shift him from that chair. I kissed him and said I wanted to pop over to the shopping centre across the road - cabin fever.

Once outside, I inhaled the cold air and strolled across the square, snow flurries tickling my face. Something in that feeling was familiar and nostalgic. I knew my grief was surfacing but I couldn't allow it.

Determined to get distracted by retail therapy, I started marching toward the shopping centre, when I heard a laughter. It was a child’s laughter.

I stopped and slowly turned around. It was a little girl, who couldn't have been more than three years old, doing snow angles in the middle of the square with her father. The resemblance between them was striking, the bond obvious. 

She was squealing with laughter and in-between each giggle, she was saying something to her daddy. He was looking at her with so much adoration.  She was his little princess and he was her hero.

I knew that feeling, I was that girl once upon a time. My daddy used to take me sledging, we had lots of snowball fights. One particularly snowy year, he even built me a fortress out of snow in our back garden. I felt like a real princess.

The tears were flowing now, blurring my vision and wrecking my mascara. I lifted my face up in an attempt to calm down, and with the next snow flurry, I felt a touch, a kiss. It was fleeting, a wishful thinking but I wanted to believe that it was daddy, kissing me in the snow. 

I took a deep breath and looked at the happy duo again, this time I smiled. Right in the middle of Prague, in a snow flurry I found my summer.

As I approached the mall and stopped to shake the snow off my coat, I turned around to take one last look at the father and daughter. Something made look up at the hotel where we staying. And there, in the window of the executive lounge on the third floor, stood Mr Chateauneuf. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Which label shall I wear today?...

Which label shall I wear today?...

I was flicking through a yellow press publication on the train the other day, when I came across an article about Adult Orphan syndrome.

Ever since daddy passed away I have been repeatedly reminded of my new ‘label’ by various people, who evidently took it upon themselves as a duty to point out the obvious.

The article was worthy of its ‘yellow press’ origins. Having stretched for half a page, it was a piece of writing about nothing, just a painful reminder to me. But annoyingly it stuck with me for days.

Later that week I was card shopping. I needed to pick up a Valentine’s card for Mr Chateauneuf and a couple of birthday cards for family members.

I take card shopping very seriously. A card means something, it says so much about what you think about the person.

So selecting a Valentine’s card for Mr Chateauneuf was no small challenge for me. It required maximum concentration, the right frame of mind (i.e. not immediately after a fight with the man in question) and an enormous card store to shop in - the bigger the better.

To my utter pleasure and delight, Clintons on Cheapside take Valentine’s day seriously and their cards selection splashed out on the whole wall, taking up a whopping 1/4 of the shop. I was in cards heaven.

As I started browsing the love selection, I quickly worked out that the cards were divided into categories of ‘Husband’, ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘Fiance’. There were, of course, other ones, like ‘to my Valentine’ or ‘to the one I love’. For the first time in my professional card shopping career, I got lost. 

I didn't want to get a ‘Boyfriend’ card as it somehow felt tacky and year 7. Other generic ones seemed just too… well, generic. They were sitting there on their shelves, mocking me, challenging me. None of them felt right. In a 1000 sq ft Clintons shop I couldn’t find a card.

I left the store without a purchase and decided to clear my head. Suddenly it felt like the whole world wanted to define me, to give me a label - girlfriend, stepmom, adult orphan…

I couldn't help but wonder, why do we strive for a definition? And if the definition is so important, then who really benefits from it?

I headed for the one place that I knew would cheer me up - L.K. Bennett shoe store. Shoes don’t want to define me, they don't care who I am and what I’m worth. They are simply pretty things that want to be worn. And in return they make me feel taller, slimmer and better; they are real friends.

As I slipped on a new season fern printed leather pair of courts, I felt like my old self again. It dawned on me that it didn't matter what they wanted to call me, it was all about what I thought about myself.

Yes, to the outside world I am a stepmom, a girlfriend, and an adult orphan. But to me, I am a woman who loves, works, writes, shops, has dreams and a mild addiction to laundry products; who doesn't drink ordinary tea but Lady Grey and who is proud of her roots.

I left the store with a new pair of shoes, an upset credit card and a big smile on my face. There was only one thing left to do. I walked into Clintons and picked up a card. It not longer mattered how they labeled it. It was Valentine’s day and I had another excuse to tell Mr Chateauneuf that I loved him. And had a girlfriend, who is fabulous.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Mr Big

Mr Big

Mr Big (proper noun) - a man who dips in and out of a girl’s life, usually wealthy. He has no intentions to marry her or develop any sort of relationships. Often already attached, he creates havoc and quickly retrieves.

‘Dinner tonight, no excuses! Need to talk! Disaster!' - read the message from Emily.

My heart sunk. Emily doesn't do dramas, but the message indicated there was one. This definitely called for an emergency dinner.

We met after work in our favourite restaurant in the heart of the city, and as soon as the wine was poured she started her story. 

Bored, battling January blues, and following a major argument with her boyfriend, Emily was in desperate need of a romantic fix. So she arranged to meet Mr Big for dinner.

They have known each other for years, flirted, played the ‘shall we, shan’t we’ game so many times that in the end they decided not to and remained friends and each others’ guilty pleasure. 

Both Mr Big and Emily are attached. He has a girlfriend, whom his oh-so-wealthy family adores, but she is cold and unaffectionate. Emily has a live-in boyfriend of six years, who loves her but doesn't know the first thing about romance and lets her down on a regular basis.

Mr Big didn't let her down. He was early and had her favourite Dirty Martini waiting for her on arrival. He also made dinner reservations. In Le Gavroche.

Emily was impressed. Starved of romance and chivalry, she went along with the night and let herself to be carried away.

They ate exquisite food, drank exorbitant cocktails; they talked and laughed, the inhibitions were lowered and Emma let Mr Big take her back to the Four Seasons where he just happened to have booked a suite.

In the morning over a lavish breakfast, he promised he would keep in touch. One last kiss and Emma hurried to the tube to get to work. Nobody knew, no harm done. Or so it seemed.

I knew exactly what Emily wasn't saying and what was eating her away. She needed to convince herself that the mind boggling one night stand won’t ruin her relationship, that it didn't matter and she didn't tell her boyfriend.

And now Emily was sitting in front of me draining glasses of wine one after another, as if the solution to her moral dilemma could be found at the bottom of the bottle.

Emily’s story astounded me. My brain was struggling to process and file away all the information it received. For the first time in our friendship I didn't know what to say. 

As I sat there, opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish, I couldn't help but wonder, when it comes to relationships, if the grass is always greener on the other side, then how… I mean who can possibly afford a suite in Four Seasons? How did Mr Big get a reservation in Le Gavroche within 24 hours? Who is he?

The waitress brought another bottle of wine, I didn't even notice when Emily ordered it. I looked at my gal, there were so many emotions in her eyes - confusion, remorse, excitement. Yes, it was a one night stand but Emily needed to decide whether or not to tell her boyfriend, what it meant for their relationship, what it meant for her. What if she was in love with Mr Big…

As I finally snapped out of my trance and found my voice, I looked Emily in the eye and asked that important question that any good girlfriend would ask: “How was the food in Le Gavroche?”

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Dream a little dream of me

Dream a little dream of me

Daddy is hugging me. He is big and warm, and I feel like a little girl again. ‘Daddy you are better again. And they told me you were ill,’ - I say, inhaling his familiar smell and enjoying the sense of safety I always feel when with him. ‘No darling, I’m not better, I have cancer and I will die’ - he says and his eyes are sad now. 

‘No, you can’t die, daddy, it will break my heart.’ - I cling to him and my body shatters with sobs…

‘Are you ok honey?’ - I hear as I am jolted out of my dream and into Mr Chateauneuf’s arms. He is gently stroking me as I try to get my breathing under control.

‘You were dreaming again.’ - it wasn't a question. I nodded, not trusting my voice yet.

I have been dreaming every night since I found out that daddy had passed away. Most nights, I  had been able to get back to sleep but not that night. My mind was racing but the grief was  suffocating me, causing physical pain. 

Ever since I came back from the funeral, I felt I couldn't grieve properly. From the moment I arrived home and heard the television with another football something-or-other feature on, I realised nothing had changed for anybody other than me. Nobody knew him, I couldn't talk to anybody, there was no connection to home, no link to daddy. 

So that night, as soon as I heard Mr Chateauneuf’s steady breathing, I quietly slipped out of  the bed. I needed some air and some space, so I headed to my favourite place ever - to my writing cabin at the bottom of the garden.

It was freezing cold there and I flicked the little heater on. As it started blowing out the hot air, I climbed into my Papasan chair and wrapped a blanket around me. The tears on my cheeks dried and I was able to breathe again.

I looked around me. It was the haven Mr Chateauneaf built with so much love for me. I chose the colour on the walls, the furniture came from my Whyteleafe flat and the chair I was snuggled in was a present from Mr Chateauneuf. My cabin felt cosy, it was home.

Minutes were ticking by and I finally managed to relax. My eyes kept scanning the walls, stopping on the pieces I loved - the miniature daisy mirrors above my desk, the candle holder reading ‘Love’ I got for Valentines day from my man, lever arch folder I deco patched, until I stopped on the photos of mum that were arranged on the shelf. It made me think  - memories.

Within minutes, I dug out my treasure box. It was full of old photographs, mum’s notebooks and other memorabilia. Carefully I picked up a stack of albums that looked all too familiar. At the bottom of the box, there was a brown envelope, it was bulging with photos. As I pulled on a protruding photo, it caused a chain reaction and all the others spilt onto the floor. 

They were all old pictures, in black and white, ones I ripped out of family albums. And although the photos were monochrome, the kaleidoscope of memories they brought up was full of colour. 

My parents young and healthy, laughing; my brothers and I sledging; our family house; me age two in my first fur coat wrapped in so many layers I was barely able to move; photos of mum and dad in their early 20s - young and carefree; my school years and very questionable fashion sense…

As I was looking through them I couldn't help but smile and somehow feel warmer. I could see an unmistakable resemblance on my childhood photos - I had mum’s hair and dad’s eyes. As I grew older I realised I inherited my mum’s temper and dad’s glass half full attitude. Both of my parents were in my DNA, a part of them lived on. 

And as much as I was hurting and grieving, I found some comfort in knowing that their legacy lived on, in me. They both taught and passed on to me everything they were meant to.

I knew there would be many more dreams in the months to come, a lot more grieving to do. But that night, in my cabin at the bottom of the garden, I put something to rest.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

The hardest phone calls I have ever made

The hardest phone calls I have ever made

It started off as a normal Wednesday morning. I arrived in the office, powered my PC on and went to make myself a cup of tea. There were people in the kitchen from the big office across from mine chatting about the night before - evidently very hungover, trying to fix the January blues.

I got back to my desk, mentally making a to-do list. I was planning to process the invoices that accumulated during the Christmas break, ‘close’ December accounts and send all the paperwork off to my accountant. I needed all my concentration and a lot of coffee.

As I was gathering all the invoices, I happened to glance at my phone. There was a Skype message from my brother and a text message from my sister-in-law. The Skype message read ‘dad is dying, there is no hope’. I didn't bother reading the text.

Daddy had been ill for the past year and a half. He had opted out from the treatments available and we had no choice but to respect his wishes. His condition was progressively declining and I knew it was just a matter of time.

So that morning, as soon I saw the message I immediately found ‘Daddy’ in my phone and pressed ‘Call’. His wife picked up. Her voice was quivering with tears. ‘He has just stopped breathing’ - she said. 

My brain knew what it meant but my heart refused to believe. How could he stop breathing? People need oxygen to live, don't they? Daddy just needs to take a deep breath and everything would be ok, couldn't she make him breathe again? He has to be ok, he is my daddy. Daddies don't die, my daddy can’t die, not yet.

But instead of crying, I asked her if there was anyone to stay with her. When I got an affirmative answer I told her I would make the calls, the hardest phone calls I ever had to make in my life. 

First I dialled my baby brother. As I heard the dialing tone I suddenly panicked. I had no idea how I was going to tell him that he had just lost his daddy, his second parent.

He picked up and I froze. I still didn't know what to say. ‘Tash, are you ok?’ - he asked. ‘Daddy has just stopped breathing’ - was all I could muster. I couldn't say ‘daddy died’ or ‘passed away’, it sounded too final, too scary.

The suppressed sob from the other end of the line sliced through my heart like a knife. My baby brother was hurting and I wasn't there to hug him. I muttered something about being in touch and hung up. I still had to phone my other brother.

Phone calls made, I sat staring at the screen. The pile of invoices was sitting there, the cup of tea was still steaming. Everything must’ve happened in a matter of minutes but felt like an eternity to me. My heart was still hoping that it was just one big joke. Maybe daddy was just holding his breath and messing with us. 

I wished for somebody to call and tell me that daddy was breathing again, that he was ok. But my phone was showing no signs of life. Anguish started spreading through my body filling me with despair. I was scared and crashed. I couldn't  imagine my life without daddy. He was always there - school, university, my wedding, my divorce. He was my shoulder, my friend, my mentor. And now he was gone.

The tears started streaming down my face. But I wasn't ready for them, couldn’t fall apart in the office. Besides, I had one more call to make. I swiped my phone to life, found ‘Mr Chateauneuf’ and pressed ‘Call’.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The power of 'sorry'

The power of 'sorry'

They say that the hardest things to tell someone are ‘I love you’, ‘Help me’ and ‘I’m sorry’. And because of their significance they are often the most important things to hear. They have the power to change everything.

The 00s wasn’t a good decade for my middle brother – he mixed with the wrong crowd, hit a rough patch and started stealing. As a result our relationship grew colder, froze and eventually shattered like an icicle that fell from a skyscraper.

In summer 2005 I came back from the UK after my gap year, with my boyfriend. One day we all were hanging out in the lounge in our parents’ house. I remember sitting on the sofa and my handbag was on the floor, right next to me. Mum called us for dinner and we got up and went to the kitchen. An hour later when I came back to the lounge, my handbag was gone.

We searched everywhere but I knew what had happened – my brother had stolen it. He denied it of course. That was the day when our relationship ended and to me he was dead. From that day onwards I only had one brother.

We haven’t spoken for ten years. Ok, that’s not completely true – we did speak out of necessity a handful of times to keep up the appearances for the sake of our family. And the last time we spoke, it was me who made the phone call because I needed him to come home to see daddy.

Over the past year daddy’s health had progressively deteriorated. Knowing that it might be the last opportunity for all of us to get together, I summoned both my brothers.

We all arrived on a cold October morning; we hugged and we acted like normal siblings. But the frost of the betrayal still chilled me to the very core, and I simply couldn’t get warm.

I looked into his eyes – he was my blood, my brother. But we were strangers and we had nothing in common, apart from our father and the desire to have a picture taken of the four of us.

The old wound had long turned into an ugly scar and all we had to do was to get through a few days. After that we all would return to our lives, separated by thousands of miles and mountains of recrimination and hurt.

We had a wonderful day with daddy. He wasn’t well and couldn’t get up. But we stayed with him all day; we joked, laughed, reminisced and made sure he laughed with us.

In the evening, as he was nodding off, we quietly slipped out, leaving him to get some sleep. It was the time for a long overdue siblings catch up so we headed to the nearest bar where the boys promptly ordered a bottle of vodka.

An hour and a bottle of vodka later, we were happily chatting away, filling in each other on what’s been happening in our lives. Suddenly my middle brother pulled his chair up and sat right next to me.

‘’I need to tell you something’’, he said. My heart stopped beating for a second.

‘’I am sorry’’, his eyes were welling up. ‘’I am sorry I stole your bag ten years ago and I am sorry was such a jerk to you’’. Unable to utter a single word, I hugged him and we sat motionless for a couple of minutes.

I couldn’t believe he remembered, or how sorry he was.  The brother I considered dead for so many years, was suddenly back in my life and very much alive.  

Of course I forgave him, and in true woman style I pretended it didn’t matter and said it was ancient history, water under the bridge. But he shook his head and said that although it was water under the bridge, it also took ten years of our lives.

And as I looked at his sad eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder, what did it cost him to say sorry? When did he turn his life around? What did we miss out on?

The boys ordered another bottle of vodka and champagne for me. The night was young and we had a lot to catch up on, ten years worth.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Why autumn is so important

Why autumn is so important 

Autumn has always been my favourite season. I never cared much for summer – it was always too hot, spring – too muddy, and winter – way too cold and snowy. But autumn was special - mild and colourful - to me it was the best season of all. Even when I was a kid and the beginning of autumn also meant the beginning of school, I still loved it.
And as the years were flying by, my love for autumn never faltered. I would still go for a long walk in the park and collect a bouquet of colourful leaves. Even shopping I find more inspiring in autumn and I always pick up a new jumper or a pair of boots, or a coat, or a scarf – or all of the above.
The beginning of this autumn was very exciting – Mr Chateauneuf got a new contract, and we quickly realised that it demanded all of his time and energy. And the more he was getting involved with the job, the more house responsibilities I took on. Until everything began to spiral out of control.
Mr Chateauneuf filled his days with meetings, emails and phone calls – oh, there were so many phone calls. There were made and taken at ungodly hours in the morning and inappropriately late in the evening; they interrupted our family dinners and brought to a halt so many conversations.
Some nights I would go to bed and Mr Chateauneuf would still be working, I would wake up in the morning, and he would already be on his phone answering emails or taking/making yet another call – at 5am.
I became a full time mum, desperately trying to hold a full time job as well. My priorities shifted from writing, shopping and lunching with girlfriends to making sure the boys woke up on time, had showers, changed their pants (Little Dude had been known not to shower for days!), did their homework, fed the cats and that there was a dinner on the table for them in the evening.
I also lost my mascara but didn’t realise it until a week later, because I hadn’t worn it. Elegant heels were collecting dust in a shoe cabinet while flat boots were getting more wear than ever.
Our diaries were filled with carefully planned entries, and we had to live our lives with a military precision to ensure nothing was dropped or forgotten. And as crazy and manic as our schedules were, somewhere in that whirlpool of events, there was a long awaited annual lunch with some dear old friends.
We usually meet up in our friend’s house, and this year was no exception. On arrival we were greeted by a bear hug from our host and the traditional glass of champagne. And once everybody was there and the kids ran off to play, we all gathered around the Aga, enjoying its cosy warmth and a long overdue catch up.
The entertainment for the kids was carving out the pumpkins in  preparation for Halloween. The idea was to carve out all the pumpkins and set them on the table covered and surrounded by leaves. As the kids expedition to collect the foliage was getting ready, it was hardly a question of who would go out with them.
In the garden all the girls were bubbling with excitement, admiring different shapes, sizes and colours of the leaves. We were rushing from one tree to another, collecting the most colourful and bright leaves. These were then carefully deposited into plastic bags and given to the boys, who bored and disengaged, were awkwardly tugging behind us.
And as my own leaves bouquet was growing bigger, it suddenly occurred to me that in-between cooking dinners, washing and worrying about clean pants, I nearly missed autumn.  
Ok, I didn’t forget to shop this year but I didn’t go for my traditional walk. I missed the smell of fallen foliage and rain, I never stopped and listened to October silence and I didn’t collect the leaves. An important entry was missing from my diary – I forgot to schedule autumn.
Much later that night, as the pumpkins were carved and placed on a vibrant blanket of leaves, and my glass was refilled for the hundredth time, I couldn’t help but wonder, maybe I didn’t miss autumn. After all I shopped – check, collected leaves – check, kind of been for a walk – check and as a special addition to my traditions, we carved out pumpkins.
Ok, I wasn’t carving out anything – Mr Chateauneuf was – I was drinking wine. But still, pumpkins were carved and most of my boxes were ticked. Autumn officially happened and I most certainly didn’t miss it.