I Smile Because If I didn’t, You’d Ask Me Why….
Norman Wisdom. The Fool. The sad, funny fool. Norman Wisdom, my comedy hero.
I vividly remember crying big heaving sobs of wet tears at the age of eight watching Trouble In Store one Sunday afternoon on our big old lumbering black & white television as he sang Don’t Laugh at Me ‘Cause I’m a fool.
I suddenly had an affinity, I wanted Norman to be my friend. I knew I would be able to look after him, to make him feel loved and happy, just like I loved my battered old teddy bear. I couldn’t understand how anyone could hold such sadness in their heart, but be so incredibly funny at the same time.
At the age of fifty, I sadly found out the how and the why.
In the space of a few short years, I lost both my mum and dad to cancer and whilst still coming to terms with being an overgrown, ditzy orphan, I was diagnosed with a painful, life changing disease that eventually took away the career I loved.
Suddenly I had two options:
a) Walk around with the cares of the world on my shoulders, weeping and wailing with my now ever developing jowls smacking my knees and tripping me up in Morrisons Fruit & Veg aisle
b) Smile, laugh and be the fool whilst designating the melancholy and hurt to a little box, carefully tied with a mental bow, and pushing it to the back of my mind as in truth, nobody loves a misery-guts.
‘A‘ wasn’t much of an option as I actually shop in Sainsbury’s and vanity made me horrified at the thought of anyone seeing my jowls swinging from side to side knocking the organic carrots from the carefully stacked display.
So ‘B‘ it was….. and that’s how I live my life. Everyday I count the blessings I have rather than notching up the negatives. I’m happy, fulfilled and nutty as a fruitcake!
I manage my condition with powerful medication that prohibits alcohol. Yep, no Gin, vodka, wine. My saviour for so many social outings was banned, and in doing so, my false confidence went with it but on the plus side, no hangovers or photo’s of me I’d rather my granddaughters didn’t see.
I’ve always had this nasty habit of proving my hypermobility after a couple of vodka’s by throwing my legs behind my head. All good fun until I realised I’d left my stiletto’s on and the heels had jammed behind my neck like Frankenstein bolts making it impossible to extricate myself. There were many occasions I was left rocking backwards and forwards like my nan’s old mahogany chair whilst everyone howled with laughter….
….and that’s where the how came into being. Their laughter lifted my spirits. It made me feel happy too, and I suddenly realised how he did it. His character Norman Pitkin’s heart was filled with this special fluttery feeling because of the laughter and I wanted to feel like that too.
This past eighteen months have been amazing for me, to have my book Handcuffs taken up and published, was my dream come true.
But it has also been a difficult time too. Sadly, my step-dad, who has been a father to me for over 40 years, was diagnosed with Alzheimers. It is a dreadful illness that destroys a little of him every single day and at the same time my health has deteriorated, giving me constant excruciating, unmanageable pain. I could be sad, downhearted, miserable but that’s not me. I have to see the positives.
When I first saw my GP he called it ‘non specific back pain’ and told me to live with it. I completely forgot where I was and promptly replied “Well it’s feckin’ specific to me mate!” I don’t think he appreciated my life observation or the slamming of his door as I left. I was actually gutted as my display of pique and the impact I had wanted in hearing the wooden door hit the frame with force was lost in the slow squeak of the pneumatic safety door closer which completely ruined my dramatic exit.
Six months down the line I have now found myself walking around like a geriatric wearing extra-large, thigh chaffing incontinence pants. Each time the pain travels down my legs I either howl, groan, ooof or uuuugghh, which makes me sound like I’ve got Tourette’s. Not to disappoint, I’m currently researching swear words to make a greater impact in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday amongst the Derby & Joan brigade.
This week, after the results of an MRI scan, I am finally being referred to a Neuro specialist. This has led me to two great emotions.
Elation that finally something might be done so I can live a normal, pain free life. I want to be able to care for my Dad without feeling a failure due to my limitations, I want to run and play with my beautiful granddaughters, I want to have a proper nights sleep and I want to have lovely, romantic walks with my hubby, and it would be amazing to wear a pair of stiletto’s again without looking like Dick Emery in drag as I totter along the path.
And then there was the sheer panic. Knickers, or thongs or G-strings or strips of nothing. I would have barely a gusset between me, a backless surgical gown and some poor unsuspecting specialist with what was currently stuffed in my underwear drawer.
I would just have to go shopping.
Leaving the GP’s surgery with a prescription for some miracle drug called Gabapentin clutched in my hot, sweaty hand, I planned a trip to Primark to see if they had any knickers that actually had a bum in them. It was also to be my first day of Gabapentin ingestion.
Oh dearie me, that definitely wasn’t one of my better ideas.
High as kite, completely bombed out of my brain, I took my dilated pupils into Primark for a wander. Finding the Underwear department I suddenly and involuntarily, let out a very loud squeal of utter delight. I was a child in a toy store. As much as I wanted to stop the ridiculous display of elation I was currently experiencing, I couldn’t, Gabapentin had me in its grip, I was possessed. Hubby, who had taken to hiding behind the Onesies and PJ’s on a nearby stand, cringed with embarrassment as I went on a verbal rampage trying knickers on over my jeans and throwing a rainbow of colours and lace into the air.
Twenty minutes later I stood in the queue at the cash desk, several pairs of mahooosive knickers in my basket and one pair hanging from my head. This had occurred purely due to the sudden desire to dance to the piped music with a cerise pink firkler draped over my pony-tail which had then become wedged under a hair clip.
In my floaty state I didn’t care. I shoved the basket towards the cashier, my heart jumping with joy with each bleep of the scanned panties. Suddenly remembering the pair on my head, I thought, what the hell, in for a penny, in for a pound. What’s an extra pair between friends.
Much to the horror of Cashier No. 4, I promptly slammed my head down on the counter, proffering the knickers and their price tag for scanning whilst my left ear got jammed in the security tag removal hole.
Two hours later, Gabapentin fading from my system, I was suitably chastised by hubby, who was currently making a meal of untangling the laced edged frillies from my hair. I began to ponder my disgraceful behaviour. I wanted to be embarrassed and cross, I wanted to feel horrified, and I suppose deep down I did, but there was also an overwhelming desire to giggle.
It couldn’t happen to anyone, because it would always happen to me. I was the proverbial fool, the idiot, the dipstick, the dork….
….but do you know what. I actually didn’t care. Whilst I was laughing and being a fool, I was hoping others would giggle too, and in turn any pain, hurt or sadness I felt would be forgotten because their laughter made me happy. In truth, a smile disguises everything.
Some days it is easy, on other days I do struggle a little, but I will always find time to find something funny in life. I wouldn’t survive without that hope, that glimmer of humour in every day situations, it’s my safe place, my hiding place for my heart.
GIN, BOOK & LAUGHTER
Opening one eye as light sneaked its way through the gap between my budget B&Q blind and the window frame, I stretched lazily out in eager anticipation of the summer day ahead.
Slipping out of bed, my knees popping and crackling like a bowl of Rice Krispies, I simultaneously chided myself for getting old and patted myself on the back for having managed to negotiate my way to the bathroom without falling over the cat.
This was to be my first day of no shirts to iron, no SWAT boots to polish, no shifts, no pub fights, no 999 response runs and no paperwork. This was my first day of retirement as a Police Officer.
I was a civilian again.
To be honest, my visions of slipping into Gin & Tonic induced ‘Nana Naps’ in the garden, shaded from the afternoon sun by dappled shadows from the trees, whilst the busy world I had been part of carried on without me, had seemed rather exciting.
Sadly, as romantic as this vision had appeared, it was doomed to failure. The reality was that the first three months offered only perpetual rain, high winds, which are the downside of living by the beach (along with globs of sand sticking to your lip gloss when you step out of the front door) and a huge price increase on the gin!
So, logs on the fire, a pot of tea on the go, half a packet of Ginger Nuts and three sheets of paper later, I had drafted out a plot, a character and a story and I was off on a most exciting adventure.
I was going to write a book.
It would chart my career in the Police, not as a Super-Detective or a muscle-ripped fighter of crime, but as an ordinary woman, a single parent, who looked towards humour as a coping mechanism in a demanding career. This book was not to be for public consumption, after all, I had never written before and I certainly wouldn’t dare to think that anyone would be interested in reading my ramblings. It was to be cathartic. A way of storing my memories of a fabulous career, honour those I had worked with…..
…. actually no, scrub that! It was to fill in the hours whilst the rain systematically destroyed any hope I had previously held of staggering around my back garden like a manic Miss Hannigan after a litre of homemade sloe gin once boredom had set in.
Within eighteen months I had completed my first manuscript, all 142,000 words, and had avidly scoured the pages of The Writers & Artists Yearbook 2014 for the do’s and don’ts of submitting and the etiquette of querying. By page 639 I was frantically editing down my offering to 78,000 words whilst wailing in despair into my coffee. For someone who suffers from verbal diarrhoea at the best of times, particularly when nervous, a reduction in words can be deemed to be complete and utter torture. I then had the added trauma of producing a work of art called a ‘Synopsis’.
I mean, come on….what’s that all about? Eighteen months of my life, a final 78,000 words, 1,478 mugs of tea, 23 packets of Aldi Digestive biscuits, 19 packets of Polo mints and a rather alarming increase in the size of my derrière, only to be told it all had to be reduced down – my writing, not my derrière, I hasten to add. Not to be downhearted I ploughed on, carefully creating ‘My Book of Submissions’.
This masterpiece was crafted with the best four-ring binder I could find, that sported a rather fetching picture of Joyce Grenfell on the front. Various coloured felt-pens were used to rigidly mark-up columns and headings with the assistance of a freebie Kellogg’s Cornflakes coaster in the absence of a ruler.
I was on a roll.
Each submission would have its own page so that I could meticulously keep track of who I had submitted to and who had replied. In the very real fear of forwarding spelling bloopers, poor grammar and dreadful predictive howlers, I read and re-read my first submission e-mail over and over again before my index finger hovered over that one button on a keyboard that could suddenly make even Donald Trump become super-indecisive. The SEND key.
I pressed and clicked…
… and no sooner had the ‘swooooosh’ sound informed me that it had gone, did my keen eye catch my sign-off at the bottom. I felt sick. Hands trembling, a trickle of perspiration meandering its way down my back, I re-read my email to the poor, unsuspecting Literary Agent, again.
‘… thank you for allowing me the opportunity to query and submit my novel, Handcuffs, Truncheon & A Polyester Thong.
Jeez, I bet my Mum hadn’t seen that coming when she’d christened me Georgina in the 1950’s pre-predictive text era.
I also knew, with another bout of absolute gut-wrenching certainty, that after making a first impression of that calibre, I had about as much chance of getting a reply and an offer of a publishing deal as Elvis would for a comeback concert.
I’m just hoping the shortened version I now use won’t get me into trouble, although if you get rid of the ‘a’ and add Tonic…. I’m actually back where I started!
©2017 Gina Kirkham
First published as a guest post for the lovely Sonya on http://www.aloverofbooks.wordpress.com
The Most Perfect Gift….
Oh….err….it’s lovely Gina, how clever…….”
I watched mum lovingly caress the soggy brown toilet roll tube in her hands whilst discreetly wiping the vivid, still wet, purple paint from her fingers onto her pinny. She grimaced as the pink pipe cleaner I had twisted into a myriad of coils before gluing it onto the cardboard, pricked her thumb.
“….I’ve never seen such a beautiful umm.. beautiful… robot, yes it’s a robot isn’t it?” She looked at me, cheerfully expectant.
I felt a deep stab of disappointment as one eye started to sting with the onset of tears. That was something else I would ponder in years to come. Why, when I wanted to cry, did only one eye fill up and brim making me look like I had a festering eye infection rather than a dramatic display of pique and mortal hurt.
I was distraught. Only the week before I had failed in my quest to obtain a Blue Peter badge….. and now this!
“It’s a oonicorn mummy, a purple oonicorn.” My bottom lip quivered.
Mum looked at the creation again, turned it over in her hands. “Yes, of course it is, how silly of me…” She placed it on the kitchen window sill in the weak March sunlight and then turned to fold her arms around me. “… and it’s a very beautiful unicorn too, I’ll treasure it forever, thank you sweetheart.”
This was my forever memory for Mothers Day, 8th March, 1964.
Many more years and many more Mothers Day’s were to follow. As those years progressed I fell away from the self-made creations and started buying, firstly from the local stores and then as my earning capacity increased, from Debenhams, M&S and Lewis’s. Each year, I felt the need to outdo the previous years offering, searching for the ‘perfect gift’.
“Bloody hell Gina…!” Mum sat on the sofa, wrapping paper strewn across the multi-coloured shagpile carpet as she held the most hideous silver blue FM stereo radio in her hands. I grinned, safe in the knowledge that neither my brother or my sister would outdo this years little offering. I had used a fair whack of my clerk typist wage to purchase this fabulous 1970’s piece of equipment to replace her old Roberts one, which was only just about managing to pick up signals from passing police panda cars, let alone the Bee Gees squawking Stayin’ Alive in falsetto.
She sat with it perched on her knee.
“Look mum, see this button here…” I excitedly pointed to the highly polished chrome disc. “… if you press this…”.
My finger hovered momentarily…….
…. and forty-five minutes later we were ensconced in A&E, mum with a cotton wool plug stuffed up her left nostril, whilst we waited to be seen. I sat next to her, meekly pondering the speed in which a telescopic aerial, that with one press of the button from my deftly positioned finger, had shot right up her nose with some considerable force, whilst at the same time nostalgically musing the benefits of bog roll tubes and Blue Peter creations.
The following year I duly arrived on mum’s doorstep, a bunch of daffodils clutched in my sweaty hand along with a carefully wrapped present and card. After the previous years fail, I was desperate to compensate and had opted for a very muted, safe gift to show my undying love and appreciation for all the years mum had tolerated me and my unintentional attempts to kill her, the aforementioned radio episode being merely one of them.
“Oh it’s lovely Gina.” Mum smiled as she read the words inside the Hallmark card, pecked me on the cheek and then placed it with a flourish of pride next to the other two cards on the mantlepiece. A knot formed in my stomach as my offering suddenly became wholly pathetic in comparison to the cards my brother and sister had sent. It sat in hunched desolation, dwarfed by padded satin on one side and glittery crystals on the other, a lost sub-standard exhibit displaying a curled up 35 pence price tag.
Suddenly my ‘safe’ gift, still clenched in my hand, seemed even more of a disappointment. I could visualise through the brightly coloured paper the two pairs of carefully folded M&S belly-button hugging knickers complete with airflow crotch. Why I had thought an airflow crotch would be gratefully received by mum, I had no idea, but it had sounded rather exotic and useful at the time. So having toyed with fanciful visions of mum being able to fart in complete comfort as she perused the Biscuits, Crackers & Tinned Fruit aisle of the local Co-op whilst wearing a pair of these beauties, I had parted with my money to the snotty sales assistant.
“Thank you sweetheart.”
If she thought they were as hideous as last years radio, she never let on. Over the years, every gift I produced, with either a flourish, a hint of one-upmanship over my brother and sister, or just plain gut-churning excitement, would just be happily accepted with a smile. I remember feeling a sense of achievement that as an adult, I could now buy better Mothers Day presents for her, take her out to a posh restaurant for dinner or buy her a bottle of her favourite tipple. The naff hand-made stuff she had endured year upon year had been resigned to a mere embarrassed memory. Now my mum got only the good stuff.
That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? The hype, the lush Mothers Day ranges stocked by supermarkets, the bigger gifts, the better gifts, the more expensive gifts.
……that’s what I thought too…. until 26th March 2006.
This was my first Mothers Day without my mum. She had sadly passed away the month before from cancer and I was to experience this day, the one that had played such a huge part in our family life, without being able to buy that all important present, without being able to kiss her, tell her I loved her, to show my appreciation of her and to thank her for being my mum. Instead I took a bunch of her favourite roses and placed them on her grave.
It struck me that day that I was not alone. Each grave bore the telltale signs of a son or daughter visiting their mum. There were so many flowers, so many graves, so many lost mums.
I realised in that moment that I didn’t care anymore about silver blue radios, Ponds Cold Cream, M&S Knickers with Airflow crotches or even our lighthearted one-upmanship with cards. There would never again be a need for me to excitedly choose a different gift as every Mothers Day would now be the same, just a heartbreaking sense of loss and a bunch of roses from Sainsbury’s.
I sat down next to her grave and wept.
Two months later I finally plucked up the courage to go through mum’s things. As the clock ticked away the hours, I filled boxes with clothes, handbags and shoes, sorted donations for the charity shop and the local hospice whilst keeping a separate box for anything that was sentimental. As dusk descended upon the spare bedroom, one small, battered box remained. I lifted the lid, pushing the cardboard flaps to one side…..
…..and there it was.
My ‘oonicorn’. My beautiful purple ‘oonicorn’.
Squashed, faded and missing half of the pink fluff that made up the pipe cleaner, but there was no mistaking it. It was my unicorn and mum had kept it.
Just as she had said on the 8th March, 1964…..
“I’ll treasure it forever.”
… and for over 42 years, she had.
A huge lump formed in my throat. As my rogue one eye, still doing its party trick, brimmed with tears, I broke down sobbing. Holding mum’s treasure in my hand, I knew then, just as I had on the day I had given it to her in my childish innocence, it was and always would be, the most perfect gift.
It had been there all the time.
Grabbing the nearest thing to hand, I used the soft cotton to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. Holding it up to the fading light to check what ghastly deposit I had just snorted on it, I started to laugh…..
….at the rather large pair of M&S knickers complete with an Airflow crotch and a price tag, that was dangling from my fingers.
Happy Mothers Day, Mum…. wherever you are!
My love, always,
© Gina Kirkham 2017