‘touch wood’ (or American ‘knock on wood’) comes from pantheistic religions
where trees, rivers etc were supposedly inhabited by spirits or deities. To
touch a tree was to seek the spirit's blessing and/or ward off its wrath.
‘I got you some cherries’ - he
said when I called and caught him in Tesco’s in the middle of a weekly shop. I
smiled and something so long forgotten that almost unfamiliar stirred up in my
chest and a flurry of butterflies filled my stomach.
The weekend before I told him I
liked cherries and that they reminded me of my childhood. What I didn’t say was
that to me cherries smelt and tasted of sun, and innocence, and home, and mum…
When I was growing up in Ukraine
there were two cherry trees in our back garden. Every spring they would explode
into blossom filling the garden with the fresh, clean, flowery smell, the smell
of spring. Within a couple of weeks the blossom would fade away making the way
for new tiny cherries. They grew and before we knew it, these babies would
ripen up under the hot Ukrainian sun giving the tree an injection of red.
This is where my brothers and I
would appear. Like a little army of hungry invaders, who had never seen
cherries in their lives, we would pillage the trees, plucking and eating the
cherries straight from the low hanging branches. Hardly any of the cherries
made it to the table for family consumption – the trees were bare within a
matter of days after the three kids raid.
But by some miracle mum would
always manage to salvage some of the cherries and those used to make it into
varenyky, Ukrainian stuffed
dumplings. They bear a slight resemblance to Cornish pasties, but only in their
shape. The traditional varenyky in Ukraine would be stuffed with either mashed
potatoes, or stewed cabbage, or sweetened cottage cheese. But every summer when
the berries were in season we would stuff varenyky with cherries and/or
The varenyky making process on 3 Tolstoy Street involved the whole family.
Mum would make dough and cut it into shapes, my brothers and I would stuff the
varenyky and dad was in charge of boiling them, tossing with butter and
sprinkling them with sugar (if they were the sweet ones).
They of course had to be eaten straight away while fresh and hot. The big
bowl full of varenyky would be placed in the middle of the table and five forks
would reach into it. I still remember
the sweet smell, the sugary, buttery coating, the way they would explode in my
mouth with hot sour berry juices.
My baby brother would lick the sweet butter coating and chew the crust
until he had no choice but to bite into a varenyk and prepare himself for a
sour berry explosion in his mouth. (Although the explosion not always happened
in his mouth, and I can still see his cute little face covered in red berry
Those were the years when the happy childhood memories were created. The
memories of summer, sunshine and cherries; when I was carefree, didn’t
have to work, pay the bills and could sleep for as long as I wanted. The
magical years when mum was alive and healthy; the long hours spent in the
kitchen where she taught me to cook and to bake; and told me fascinating stories
about her childhood. I still remember the smell and the warmth of her rustic but
very happy kitchen…
A few hours later I was sitting
in the conservatory having dinner with my own new family that I was creating
the happy memories with. We were talking about school grades, scooters, DeeQ’s
new girlfriend and making plans for the weekend. As the evening was progressing,
the grown-ups moved on to the second bottle of wine and the negotiations with
Little Dude over eating all the vegetables. The usual after-dinner
entertainment involved boys playing the music as loud as possible, singing
along and dancing.
And as I looked at the boys, so
happy and carefree, I couldn’t help but wonder, what memories would they take
away from our family time? What smell or taste, or sound will bring them back
to our family dinners?
That evening we all shared the
cherries; I don’t know whether it was the long forgotten taste of my childhood or
Little Dude sitting on my lap, but as I reached to my neck and touched mum’s
wedding ring that I wear on a chain as my lucky charm, I realised I was finally
home. For the first time after leaving Ukraine I was home again.
That the story of ‘let the cat out of the bag’ started centuries ago at the farmers markets in England.
Buying a pig those days was quite a costly affair. A dishonest merchant would put a cat in the bag instead of the pig and the poor buyer wouldn’t find out until he got home and let the cat out of the bag
It all began in the late Middle Ages. A loop was a narrow window in a castle that an archer could shoot
through, but so narrow that it made it almost impossible for his enemy to shoot
back through. This became the loophole.
Today the expression
'to find a loophole' simply means to find a forgotten condition in a
law, agreement etc. that allows to interpret and get around another
The expression 'cold shoulder' (meaning, to feel unwelcome) has got nothing to do with barging someone out of the way. In times gone by, an unwelcome visitor would have been given the cheapest and most common type of food: cold shoulder of mutton.
In the life of a new stepmum there
are huge milestones that nobody ever talks about. Nobody ever warned me that I would get a
flutter of butterflies in my stomach the first time I heard ‘love you’ from the
boys; that the most responsible I would ever feelwas when entrusted to spend the night with them and get
them to school on time. And nobody told me that attending a primary school
leavers assembly play would make my mascara run like the Niagara Falls.
That Monday night as I walked into
the school hall, I felt I had entered into the sanctuary of parenthood. There
were parents, siblings and grandparents chatting away, discussing the ‘big’
schools their little darlings would go to, checking the cameras, and excitedly
waiting for the play to start.
The performance began. And when my
little Romeo appeared on the stage, I got that flutter again and out of the
blue my eyes started welling up.
His performance was outstanding,
he hit every single note and he sang like an angel.My eyes were on him, I didn’t see any other
kids. I kept catching his eye, smiling, giving him the thumbs up – anything I
could do to let him know I was there.
My heart was swelling up with
pride. The tears were stinging my eyes but I felt I had no right to shed them.
I wasn’t there to send him to school for the first time, I hadn’t spent long
hours doing homework with him.And
seeing him on stage felt almost unfair, someone else should’ve been here. This
wasn’t my place.
As I looked around at all the
mums openly wiping their eyes and loudly blowing their noses, I suddenly had a
strange feeling I was living someone else’s life. I felt out of place in the
hall full of ‘real’ parents whilst I wasn’t a ‘real’ mum; I hadn’t given birth
to him and I wasn’t there for him through the school years. I stepped in when
his real mummy was ripped away from him by a horrible illness.
I couldn’t help but wonder, if
all the world’s a stage and we are merely players, was I given the right role
to play? Did somebody mix up the addresses and send me the wrong script?
After the play all the kids went
to get changed and I stayed mingling with the parents. Even that felt wrong. Talking
to mums about ‘how quickly they grow up’ I felt a lump in my throat. Because I
didn’t know how quickly they grew up, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t a real mum. Suddenly I wanted to leave, jump
on the train and go far and fast. I could no longer bear the sight of ‘real’ parents,
I felt like a fraud. As I started saying my goodbyes I
suddenly saw him. He was now changed into a pair of shorts that I’d hemmed for
him and a t-shirt that we’d picked out together. He beamed as he saw me, I could
no longer hold my tears. I knelt in front of him and hugged him, freely
shedding my happy tears and telling him how proud I was. I held him tight - for
every tear he cried, for every big moment his mummy wasn’t there, for
everything I couldn’t say to him. And he hugged me back. As I finally broke the embrace
and looked at him I realised that I got the right script after all, I was born
to play that part.I was where I should
be – holding the little boy who needed me. For the first time the prefix ‘step’
in the world ‘stepmother’ got blurred.
I quietly opened the door to find
them both cuddling on a single bed, my favourite boys in the world - a father
and a son. But before I had a chance to make my presence known I heard a sob, a
doleful sob that resonated in my heart.
DeeQ was crying whilst his daddy
was comforting him. He was missing his mummy who passed away a couple of years
ago. Only 20 minutes earlier DeeQ was laughing his head off.
It all started with us all
arriving home late after a party. Instead of being a responsible adult and getting
the boys into bed, for some reason (which is no other than an undisclosed
amount of good old Sauvignon Blanc) I found myself in DeeQ’s bedroom laughing
and making jokes with him and his little brother.
A few minutes later I was
giggling and sliding down the stairs on my bottom making everybody laugh. All
the boys quickly joined in, sliding down on their fronts scraping their arms
and legs leaving them with painfully looking carpet burns. But in spite of
self-inflicted injuries, we were laughing so hard that my stomach ached.
And now DeeQ was weeping
uncontrollably, pressed against his dad’s chest. Something about sliding down
the stairs triggered a memory that was long forgotten.
Hot silent tears were rolling
down my cheeks too and my heart went out to the boy who became my family, who,
by the twist of fate, became my stepson. My instinct was to move forward, get
into bed with them to give him a cuddle, but I simply couldn’t move. I froze on
the spot unable to even breathe, let alone move.
I knew what DeeQ was going
through. The pain of losing his mummy mixed with unexpected memories he thought
he long buried, was tough enough to swallow. But adding a twist of daddy moving
on with someone else and a splash of a girl in the house who was not his mummy
made it into one hell of a cocktail, especially for a boy on a verge of
My memory drifted to 2006, to
many nights that I spent in my own single bed crying myself to sleep. When my
mum died just a day before my birthday, four months before my wedding and my
dad remarried within a matter of months, I was inconsolable too.
The longer I stood there, the
more I felt like an intruder witnessing a private moment of grief between a boy
and his father. And for some reason I suddenly felt guilty, and not just for
being there but for being alive. The boy was crying his heart out, missing his
mummy terribly while I was there, healthy and alive, and not his mummy. I silently shut the door - the third important man in my life, Little Dude, was calling me to
say good night to him. He kissed me on the lips and said he loved me, our
little bedtime routine, and then he kissed a photo of his mummy above his bed.
Somehow in his little heart he found a place for both of us, his mummy and his
As I got in bed by myself that night I couldn’t help but
worry, would DeeQ ever be really ok with having a stepmum and not resenting the
fact that his mummy was gone and I was there? He never said anything to me but
I knew the ropes of losing a mum and dad moving on all too well.
Within seconds I fell asleep. That night I dreamt about DeeQ
and his mummy, about my mum; the carousel of my memories tangled up with DeeQ’s
stories – it was a night of broken sleep and raw emotions.
In the morning DeeQ told me he came looking for me much
later that night, wanting a cuddle, only to find me asleep. I must’ve been
doing something right, I thought, silently breathing a sigh of relief, as I a
hugged my boy burying my face in his hair, hiding a smile.
is virtually nothing in a girl’s life that can’t be solved by a bottle of wine
or a shopping trip – both shared with a good girlfriend.
weeks ago on a rainy Saturday morning both, my girlfriend Lora and I, found
ourselves in need of retail therapy. Me, because nothing fitted me anymore, and
her, because of boyfriend troubles which meant she was after some shoes. You
know, the ones, they cost half of your salary and say
arrived in the first shop and I picked up a few items in my usual size
12. In the changing rooms, as I was trying everything on, Lora filled me
in on the major argument she had with her boyfriend and presented her dilemma
as to whether or not she should stay with him. But as big as her problem was,
mine was no less important – nothing from my selection fitted me. The skirt was
sitting on me like a hip scarf on a belly dancer casually dangling off my
waist, and the trousers I could easily pull down without undoing the fly.
stood there half listening to Lora and half wondering why on earth nothing
fitted me, it suddenly dawned on me – I’d lost some weight recently so why not
try on size 10? Now, I have never been a size 10 before so the prospect of
fitting into anything that says size 10 was actually giving me butterflies. I
asked the shop assistant to get me my selection in size 10 and… everything
fitted like a glove. On the way out I was so excited, I nearly kissed the
helpful girl. She hated me – she was size 18.
and many shops later we popped in to a little Italian for a spot of lunch. My
shopping bags featured old faithful M&S, New Look and Next, while Lora was
carrying bright pink House of Fraser bags with two precious pairs of full
retail price LK Bennetts.
amount of designer shoes could make her feel better - she loved him but the
arguments were becoming more and more frequent and the relationship was
weekend I did a serious wardrobe clear out. And as my no-longer-fits pile was
growing I realised how attached I was to my old clothes and how sorry I was to
see them go. I felt like I was losing a part of me with each item; and when I
was done, the pile was enormous and my wardrobe virtually empty.
couldn’t help but wonder, in relationships and wardrobes, why do we keep sizes
that no longer fit us? Whether it is a baggy jumper or a dead relationship, why
do we not leave it behind and go shopping for stuff that actually fits?
popped in later that day and as I was putting my clothes into a black sack
ready for a charity shop run, she asked - ‘Aren’t you going to store them
somewhere? You know, in case you need them again…’
had a choice - to box everything up and store somewhere or get rid once and for
all and cut all the connections with size 12. I chose the latter. Stupidly or
bravely, I decided to move away from 12 and towards 10, no looking back, no
safely net, no back up.
pizza and 2 bottles of wine later Lora made up her mind to leave her boyfriend,
kidnap the dog which they had a joint custody over, move back to Eastbourne and
start all over again. Except I knew she wouldn’t do that.
night as I was getting ready for bed I opened my wardrobe, and although it
barely had any clothes in it, I felt happy. I didn’t have much but I had
exactly what I needed and in the right size.
I went to bed feeling content and happy. As I was turning the lights off
I texted my boyfriend good night. Lora called hers, apologised for the row and
got back together with him.
There is that one dreaded
appointment in a girl’s diary that makes her wince every time she thinks about it.
‘Is it that time already? Didn’t I just have it done?’ – a heavy sigh at the prospect of the
inevitable. Because as much as you would like to, you can’t postpone/cancel/pretend
you don’t need it/acquire a magic power/cast a spell on it, and have no choice but have a shower, get dressed
and drag yourself to that waxing
And it’s not just because waxing
itself is rather an unpleasant
procedure but because you are required to expose parts of your body that come
under category ‘Restricted Personnel only’.
There is a saying in Russian ‘красотатребуетжертв’ which means beauty demands
sacrifices.And I couldn’t help but
wonder if whoever said that actually meant that very experience of hair being mercilessly
ripped off your body with melted wax, procedure bearing a faint resemblance to a
medieval torture, in the name of the very beauty in question.
But although the experience in
itself isn’t exactly what one would call relaxing, it really isn’t half bad. And
with the right attitude and the right person you can be set free, from the unwanted hair that is. I
remember my first waxing exodus with my current beauty therapist.
It was a cold November night. One
of those nights when you yearn for layers and layers of jumpers, with the feet
cosily wrapped in woolly granny socks, topped with a blanket while clutching a
steaming cup of tea and munching on anything stodgy and with as many calories
as possible, because who counts calories when it’s this cold?! That very night
I arrived for my first waxing appointment.
After the pleasantries were over
we went to her beauty parlour which was pleasantly warm, courtesy of a little
portable heater in the corner. In fact, it was so balmy in there that I
immediately forgot the cold outside and was more than happy to bare all.
When it comes to waxing etiquette
and getting undressed , the biggest question a girl has to face in front of a
new waxing beautician is knickers on or off. Up until that moment I have always
kept my knickers on so when she casually dropped ‘Oh, just take them off, they
will only be in the way’ I suddenly felt really shy. And I’m not a shy person,
ask the girls in the gym!
‘I can do this’ – I thought. And
with a light air of bravado I slipped off my little thong and climbed on the
couch. I was now laying there wearing nothing but my top. There is something
very unnatural about wearing your top but not your bottom. Even when getting
dressed, I always put my knickers on
first and only then, my bra. So to be on the couch wearing my top and nothing
else below my waist felt very odd.
And then she started waxing. I
knew the drill here, I was an old waxing veteran – wax applied, then a strip, skin
stretched, the strip ripped off and voila – a bit of my body hair free for 4 to
6 weeks.She kept chatting to me while
meticulously applying-stretching-and--ripping which put me at ease and I
stopped feeling conscious about the lack of underwear and complete exposure of
my lady parts to absolute stranger.
And as I became
almost-comfortable, out of nowhere came something that took the whole
experience to a completely new level - ‘It’s not a very good light here, let me
get the lamp’. The use of lamp was a completely new and a tad alien experience
to me;a) I felt shy and the last thing
I wanted was more light on my ‘keep out’ area, b)I didn’t think the light was
that bad c) did I mention I felt shy?
The lamp was living in the
opposite corner from the heater and looked like a love child between spaceship
and a medical theatre – steel, slick and ever so slightly scary. I don’t know
whether it was the lamp itself or the idea of its intentions but I suddenly felt nervous and uncomfortable;
however I had no choice but to trust my beautician.
A couple of minutes later I was laying there: no knickers, with my legs in the air and what
felt like the Sun itself shining brightly at my area 51 and my new beautician
bent over that very area, like a surgeon, waxing and tweezing withscientific
precision. I think it is safe to say
that up until that moment I had never ever felt so exposed in my entire life. Or
ever since for that matter.
The thing is it strangely felt ok,
and I think it was a combination of factors - of the girl not pausing for a
breath and talking like there is no tomorrow whilst going about it in such a
matter-of-fact fashion that it almost felt normal to be laying on a stranger’s
couch with no underwear and with my legs
in the air.
Before I knew it I was done -
de-haired, moisturised and feeling pretty-damn-good. And the feeling of being
exposed, uncomfortable and almost-humiliated melted away like yesterday’s snow
when she gave me a hug as I was leaving, wishing me a good week with the next
appointment in 4 weeks time safely in our diaries.
On the way home I realised that I
had just had the best waxing experience of my life and had discovered the holy
grail of hair removal having met the Waxsiah herself. That night I got saved.
From the unwanted hair. And it really wasn’t half bad.