Monday, May 29, 2006

Face Painting

My friend Carol popped in with her daughter and grandson yesterday. They'd been to a boat show where Kai's face had been painted like a lion. Roar!!! That's the first thing he said when he walked through the door, scaring the living daylights out of me! At 46, I can't take too many scares like that!

Seeing him with his face painted reminded me of an incident that happened about fifteen years ago. Linn Marie was just about two and her sister, Inger Lise, was a couple of years older.

I can clearly remember being in the kitchen, baking a cake, and thinking that the girls had been quite for a just a little too long. It didn't feel right. You know what kids are like: they're noisy even when they're doing so-called quiet activities. I listened, heard nothing and decided to investigate.

They were in my bedroom. Linn Marie was sat on the bed with her sister standing in front of her. I can picture it clearly. We had the most horrendous green crocheted bedspread that Bjørn's gran had made as a present, and that definitely didn't match the pale blue floral wallpaper! Not that the dark wood bed with the deep red velour headboard helped matters much!

Anyway, I stood in the door opening hardly believing what I saw. Inger Lise was painting her sister's face with nail varnish! Not a pale pearl pink that wouldn't notice too much, either. Oh no, she'd chosen bright cherry red! Her forehead, cheeks and nose were covered in it. The only part that hadn't been painted was her chin, but only because she hadn't got that far yet!

I'm sure I don't even need to describe my reaction but let's just say it wasn’t "Oh you sweet little darlings, what fun you're obviously having" or anything along those lines. That my voice rose an octave or two is an understatement and there were probably words uttered that children ought not hear.

I was livid!

The next thing I knew, the bloke who lived below us came flying up the stairs and smashed our front door in! Yepp. Broke the lock clean off!

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he shouted. "It's two thirty and you know damned well that I sleep in the afternoon when I've been working nights".

"Well, I'm very sorry but what exactly do you expect me to say to my children when they've done something to make me angry? "Don't worry, kids, just carry on as you are and I'll tell you off in an hour?" I don't think so."

But could he understand the logic. Not a chance. So not only did I have a two year old with a face covered in red nail varnish, I was having to explain myself to a neighbour for having a go at my kids during his napping hour! The nerve of some people.

And he refused to fix the lock!

I phoned the doctor to find out what I could do about the nail varnish and was told "Nothing. You'll just have to wait for it to wear off". Great. She'd have to go to nursery with a bright red face. Not that she seemed to care but I certainly got a few strange looks from passers by!

It took about a week for it to go completely, and Inger Lise never ever went near her sister with anything from my make-up bag basket again.

The neighbour? He ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Make of that what you will.


Thursday, May 25, 2006


My mum's always been up for a laugh, so when we went to Pontin's Wall Park Holiday Camp in Brixham, Devon for our annual family holiday, my best friend Carol and I had no worries about asking her to pretend we were her twin daughters.

I don't know why we wanted to be twins because we looked nothing like each other - I suppose it's just one of those things teenagers do - but Mum was fine with it, thinking it surely couldn't be too difficult. After all, she was used to Carol calling her Mum already.

There was one thing she hadn't reckoned with, though.

One afternoon whilst sitting outside the chalet relaxing with a magazine, the woman in the opposite chalet asked her where the twins were.

"Oh, they'll be off boy-hunting probably," Mum had replied, and was probably right. At fourteen, that was pretty much what holidays were for.

"So what was it like giving birth to twins then?"

"Excuse me?" Mum wasn't sure she'd heard right. Did this total stranger really want her to describe the birth of twins? Yes, she did.

Poor Mum was somewhat flustered when we got back to the chalet. "That nosy old cow opposite has been asking me the ins and outs of giving birth to twins. How long it took, how painful it was, how long it was between babies coming out, what it was like breast feeding two and gawd only knows what else!"

Obviously, we thought that was hilarious, and as it happened, Mum had done a pretty good job of bluffing her way through it, but she did say that next time we wanted to pretend to be twins, could we please leave her out of it.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Going Back Where She Came From

Paul was eight when Inger Lise was born. Until then he'd had all the attention and, having severe learning difficulties, was a very demanding child.

All through my pregnancy I'd been worrying about how he'd react and although he'd made it plain from the start that he wasn't happy with having the new baby around, by the time she'd turned one, he appeared to have accepted her. After all, she wasn't going anywhere, was she? Or was she?

It was winter 1987. Lise was about a year and a half, and Paul was almost 10. It'd been snowing all down so with nothing else to do, we'd stayed home and spent the morning baking buns.

That afternoon we settled down to watch some cartoons on video, and Paul asked if he could have a buttered bun. Of course he could. I went out to the kitchen, buttered a couple for him and one for his little sister, poured two glasses of milk and went back to the living room.

When I'd left, Paul had been sitting on the floor and Inger Lise had been sitting in the armchair. Both places were now vacant and both children had disappeared.

I looked in both their rooms. Nothing. Looked in the bathroom. Nothing. Looked in my room. Still nothing. Then I noticed that two pairs of boots were missing from the hall. Had they gone outside to play? Surely not. Inger Lise hadn't been wearing anything!

Because the flat was warm, I'd let her play in her nuddy pants (that means the nude). It's good for kids to be free of clothes, and nappies especially.

I looked out of the window but the back yard was empty. There were, however, two sets of footprints leading towards the side of the house, where the gate out onto the street was.

I quickly pulled my own boots on, grabbed my jacket and rushed out. Luckily, it had stopped snowing so even though I couldn't see them anywhere, their footprints were easy to follow. I ran up to the crossroads and followed them round to the left, onto the road that led up to the hospital where Inger Lise had been born. There they were, two tiny figures in the distance.

Although I ran as quickly as I could, I felt laboured by the deep, fresh snow. The temperature had fallen considerably during the past hour or so and was now around minus 10, and my baby was stark naked!

When I finally caught up with them I grabbed Lise, pulled her to my chest and wrapped my jacket round her. Her skin was blue and she was crying. The poor little thing must have been sooooo cold and as anybody who's ever been out in that kind of temperature without proper clothing will tell you, it's damned painful!

Paul looked at me, guilt written all over his face.

"What on earth were you doing?" I demanded to know.

Paul can't speak but he's extremely good at making himself understood through gestures. He pointed to the hospital (Buskerud Sentral Sykehus) and explained that he was taking his sister back. He didn't like having her and I can only suppose that in his mind, if that was where she came from, she could just as easily go back.

Yes, I was angry. What mother wouldn't be? But he didn't understand that taking his sister out naked in the cold could have been very dangerous, or that they could have got lost, or... well, all sorts of things could have happened to them.

But once again, things that could have gone terribly wrong turned out ok in the end, and we were soon back in our flat, eating buns, drinking milk and watching old Betty Boop cartoons.

Photo: Jarle Bryn

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Tiny Tears

Do you remember those dolls? They drank out of a bottle, cried real tears and peed themselves?

Like any other 5 year old girl, I wanted one. I begged my mum to buy me one but because money was tight in our house, I always had to make do with just your average cheapo doll.

Until Christmas arrived.

I was ecstatic when I woke up on Christmas morning to find that Father Christmas had brought me a Tiny Tears! I'd written to him specifically asking for one, and when Mum took me to see him at the Co-op on Stratford Broadway, I'd asked for one too, but I hadn't really believed I'd get one. But I did. And I was probably the happiest little girl in my street.

Winter passed and with spring came the kind of warm days that made playing in the front garden possible. My friend Gill -- who lived further down the street -- used to come down and we'd play together.

One day we were playing with my Tiny Tears. I knew Gill was jealous of her but until then I hadn't realised just how jealous. Or maybe it was more a matter of being too young to truly understand the extent of jealousy, and for Gill, too young to understand that you sometimes have to keep your feelings under control.

Anyhow, Gill wanted to be in charge of Tiny Tears and I didn't want to let her (mean cow that I was), so she grabbed her head and pulled it off! Yepp. She beheaded my doll!

Now I don't know about you but to me, a headless Tiny Tears just isn't good enough. And to make matters worse, I couldn't put the bloody thing back on again, either! And neither could Mum. Or Dad. TT was well and truly dead!

My friendship with Gill wasn't too healthy during my period of grieving, but it didn't last too long. TT was just a doll, after all.

Gill and I are still friends today, even though we both left England as teenagers and have led very different lives. Although I think it's that understanding of how the cultures we've lived in have affected us that's one of the foundations of our friendship today.

Rest in peace, Tiny Tears.


Thursday, May 18, 2006


Bringing up my son, Paul, alone wasn't easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. He has severe learning difficulties and quite honestly, when he was younger it was a matter of blink and he'd be up to something, and more often than not that something would be something dangerous. This particular story is about one such incident.

Paul was about 10 at the time, Inger Lise was 2 and I was about 8 months pregnant with Linn Marie. A friend had been visiting that evening so it was quite late when I finally got to bed having first checked on the children. They were both sleeping soundly. Or so I thought.

I've no idea how long I'd been asleep when the sound of the phone ringing woke me. A quick glance at the alarm clock told me it was 3am and, tired as I was, decided there was no way I was getting out of my nice warm bed to answer the phone. Whoever it was could ring back in the morning.

But the ringing persisted and gradually pushed the fuzziness of sleep away from me, leaving me realising that anybody who phoned at that time of the morning must surely have something important to say. I pulled the quilt back, slid out of bed and padded out into the hall.

The first thing that met me was smoke! Lots of it! I dashed into the living room and to my horror, the carpet and the clothes that I had hung to dry in front of the fire were on fire. The flames on the carpet were moving quickly towards me, cutting off my path to the kitchen and, more importantly, Inger Lise's bedroom so I had to act quickly.

Everything became a haze. I don't remember being in the kitchen getting water, and I don't remember throwing it over the carpet. I just remember kneeling on the carpet, sobbing as a mixture of fear and relief rushed through me, and coughing because of the smoke I'd inhaled.

When I turned around, Paul was standing in the door opening. I knew immediately what had happened. He'd been playing with the fire.

Unfortunately, apart from a couple of electric heaters that I'd set up, the paraffin fire was the only way of heating the flat. And in the midst of a Norwegian winter, heat isn't something you can go without.

Paul hadn't meant to do anything wrong, he just didn't understand the consequences of his actions. He'd got up during the night and been fascinated by the fire. He'd put paper on to it, watched it burn, and then pulled it out again, dropping it onto the carpet. When the carpet started to burn, he'd panicked and gone back to bed.

To this day I'm grateful to whomever it was who called me that night, although I never found out who it was. I asked friends and family; nobody had called. A wrong number? Maybe. I don't suppose I'll ever find out now but what I do know is that without the phone ringing, it's very doubtful that I'd be here now to tell the tale.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Incident With the Wet Mattress

Hastings. We had a few holidays there when I was a teenager, one of which was spent at Coombe Haven Caravan Park, a typical holiday park just outside of what was once an old fishing town.

The caravan we'd hired was one of the oldest on the park. It had a rounded roof, no running water, no shower or loo and the beds were stuffed with... well, I don't know but they were heavy and hard. Even for 1974 that was a pretty old-fashioned caravan. Still, the communal tap was close enough to see and the shower/wc block wasn't far away so it could have been worse.

Because I'd hit my teens and hanging around with my parents throughout a holiday was starting to get dull, I'd been allowed to take a friend away with us. Carol, my best friend from grammar school, came along. I think this was probably also the first holiday where I'd had a real holiday romance. Tony his name was and he lived over Brixton way.

I really, really fancied him and looked forward to evenings when we'd meet up and have a snog. Unfortunately, he didn't have a mate with him so I suppose it must have been a bit boring for Carol but she didn't complain.

About half way through the holiday I had a wee accident. No, I'm not going all Scottish on you, I mean I had a WEE accident. I wee-ed the bed! Piddled it. Wet it. Whatever you like to call it. And not just a dot or two, either. It was as if somebody had thrown a bucket of water over the bed!

I was petrified that my mum would find out; she'd have gone bananas, so Carol and I turned the mattress as quietly as we could, trying not to wake anybody. As hard as it is to believe now, we managed it! 2am, the camp's silent, and two girls are trying to suppress giggles whilst flipping a heavy double mattress. How did we do it? I've no idea but as far as I know, my mum still doesn't know about that.

Anyway, that night we went down to the camp's entertainment complex as usual and met up with Tony. What did Carol do? Bloody well told him about my wee episode, that's what! If that's not embarrassing then what is? If ever I wanted the ground to open, that was the moment! Thirteen years old, in love for the first time (yes, yes... I know) and having the apple of your eye told that you'd pee-ed the bed. Cheers, Carol.

Why did she do it? Her explanation was "I didn't think it'd bother you". No, of course not. Perhaps just a little jealously at being the third wheel on the wagon? Who knows? As it turned out, it didn't matter because we carried on meeting until the end of the holiday and then -- as is the norm with holiday romances -- we wrote for a month or so and then life went on as it had before Hastings.

Strangely enough I bumped into Tony again when I was seventeen. He worked near to where I was working at the time so we went out for a lunchtime drink. He remembered the episode and although we laughed about it, I still cringed inside. When you're young, there are some things you just don't want the opposite sex to know about.

Tony and I dated a few times but the old spark wasn't there anymore. Just as well really because I hadn't finished wetting the bed. There are more stories to come!

But not just yet...


Monday, May 15, 2006

When You Don't Know Quite Where You're Going

After 17 years in Norway, I lived in Eastbourne with my then partner, Bjørn, and my three children, Paul, Inger Lise and Linn Marie, for about 6 months during 1997/98 (I think). For reasons I won't go into here and now, we ended up leaving without any real plan as to what we were going to do when we got back to Norway. In fact, we had no plan whatsoever.

First up we stayed at a friend's house. Johnny in Tranby. A nice bloke but we couldn't put him out forever so after a week or so we moved on. We'd already been to the social but while they were willing to pay the deposit on a flat, it was up to us to find one. There was one available in Hokksund but Bjørn decided it was too expensive so we spent another week in a cabin at Hokksund Camping. The social were paying for that but once they'd sorted out the equivalent of Income Support for us, it became too expensive so we moved to another cabin at Fiskum. The girls started school and Bjørn found a job in Oslo and if only we'd been able to find a flat we could afford, all would have been well.

This particular cabin was no more than two rooms, one big enough for a bench along each side to sit on, a two ring worktop cooker and a tiny fridge, the other with two bunk beds and nothing else. Considering we also had a Border Collie and pet rat with us, we were just a little crowded. There was no running water - we had to go over to a converted barn for the luxury of a shower or fresh water for cooking.

As 17th May (Norway's constitution day) crept closer, the farmer who owned the cabin (and several others) decided he didn't want us there anymore. "This ain't for long-stay guests," he said, "so it's about time you lot moved on."

To where, exactly?

That night we saw an ad in a newspaper. Basically it said that an agency in Bergen could guarantee you a property to rent. Next morning I phoned them and was told that if I sent the equivalent of a £75 cheque, they'd arrange for us to have somewhere to live in a week's time. Hallelujah! It may have been the other side of the country but what the heck! It'd be a place to live and a new start.

The girls were taken out of school again, Bjørn handed in his notice and off we went, over the mountains from east to west, fully laden and arriving in Bergen on the pre-arranged day. We were all looking forward to our new future in the county of Hordaland on Norway's west coast.

But things are never quite what they seem. The broker hadn't promised us anywhere to live at all!

"But you did" I argued. "You told me quite clearly that--"

"No, I didn't. What I said was I'd have a property ready for you to view. Whether or not the landlord accepts you as a tenant is up to him or her."

"Ok, well let's go see this place."

The house was lovely. Yes, we'd take it.

Hold on -- it's not that easy. The broker had sent a dozen families to view the same house and the landlord hadn't yet decided who he would let to. We could expect to here something within a fortnight!

What???? Where we were supposed to live in the meantime?

The next three nights were spent living in the car. A Hyundai Pony. For those who don’t know, they're about the size of a VW Golf. It was cramped and nobody slept properly. How could we?

Hardanger FjordThe situation did have one positive aspect, though. I clearly remember waking on the first morning and being absolutely amazed at the beauty of the sun rising between two mountains and shining down across the Hardangerfjord, one of Norway's most spectacularly beautiful places. I woke the others (this was about 5am) and we all stood by the edge of the water just watching, awestruck! I'd go back and do it again just for those 15 minutes on that beautiful May morning. I don't think I've ever felt such peace since.

Anyway, we found another cabin on a camping site by Bergen's racing track. The girls used to go sit up on a hill and watch the horse races (and, I've since learned, have a sneaky fag) and all in all, things weren't too bad. The future was very uncertain but we were still together and that's something we all felt grateful for. Having each other made it so much easier.
View over Mountains
About a fortnight later we were offered a house at Bontveit. It was in the mountains surrounding Bergen, and one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

The house itself was old and shabby but the peace of the surroundings and the nice people we lived amongst more than made up for it. There's something incredibly peaceful about going to sleep to the sound of a waterfall crashing its way down the mountain at the side of the house, and eating breakfast whilst watching an eagle fly across the valley. We were only there for four months before things took another dramatic turn and we were once again heading for England, but during that short time we made some good friends, one of which I'm still in regular contact with. Thanks, Britt, for making life in Bergen so much easier for us all.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Smashing Computers

No, not smashing as in, "boy, aren't they smashing?" but as in "smash the bloody thing!".

We were living in Vestfossen (Norway), in a house we were temporarily renting while getting things together prior to moving to England. Back to England for Paul and I, for the first time for Bjørn, my partner at the time, and for the two girls.

Bjørn and I had been experiencing a lot of problems in our relationship, problems that had been ongoing for... oh, I dunno... about six years at a guess. Things were a bit wobbly before that point but it was around there that they started to become a real problem. How we'd managed to stay together so long that we ever came to England together is pretty much a mystery (although there was some kind of passion between us that's hard to define and I don't believe in giving up on a commitment, especially when children are involved).

Anyway, we were planning our move and Bjørn had promised that he wouldn't be contacting the woman who'd already been instrumental in breaking up our relationship. That's how we'd actually come to live in the house in Vestfossen. We were living in a house we'd built on Ormåsen when he fell in love with a woman in Florida, who he'd never met and who so obviously was taking him for a ride. And all the while he was treating me as if I were something that he'd found stuck to the sole of his shoe. Or worse!

To cut a long story short, he told me to either put up with him spending hours upon hours either chatting online or on the telephone with her, or get out. Rather foolishly I'd allowed the mortgage and deeds to the house to be put in his name alone, so not wanting to go through lengthy court proceedings, I decided a house just wasn't worth anymore emotional pain than he'd already caused me, took the kids and rented the place down in the village.

He came crying, begging forgiveness. This was the second time I'd left -- the first time because he'd hit me -- and once again I took him back. We thought moving to England might give us a new start, a new chance to get our relationship together. A foolish idea, I know, but it seemed feasible at the time. Things always do when you're gripping on to straws, though.

Promises were made but as you've probably guessed, they weren't kept. Several times I woke up in the night to find him at the computer, chatting with Denise in Florida. So that he wouldn't get caught again, he started going down to his cousin's business premises to chat from his computer. People weren't quite as loyal to him as he thought they were, though. The crux came when we invited friends for a barbecue but rather than entertain them, he spent the entire evening in the house, chatting with Denise.

The next day, following a huge row, he promised it would be over for good. He phoned Denise and told her so and even phoned her husband and told him about their online affair. Then he took a hammer and smashed the computer to bits. There were bits of twisted grey metal all over the living room, and shattered glass from the screen, but the thing that sticks in my mind more than anything is my younger daughter turning around in the armchair and saying "I suppose that means we don't have a computer anymore, then?"

She should never have witnessed that.

And it wasn't the end. For Denise, yes. But not for the way he abused our love.


Monday, May 08, 2006

The Old Ford

Old Ford's a place not far from where I grew up in Stratford, but it isn't the Old Ford I'm going to be talking about here.

The Old Ford I'm talking about is a car my dad used to own. I haven't a clue what model it was because cars have never held any interest for me and I can't actually remember Dad ever calling it anything other than 'The Old Girl'.

This must have been in about 1968, and it was probably the oldest and ugliest car in the street. Hold on... correction: it was the ugliest car in the street! It was black and sort of upright in design with a gaping hole where the grill should have been and a crank handle to start it with. Whether or not there was a key, I really couldn't tell you.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd give their big toe and more to own one of those cars now -- it had red leather upholstery and a real wood and chrome steering wheel -- but when one friend's dad was driving a Hillman and another had a Rover, I felt deeply ashamed of the ugly black motor with the gaping hole at the front. Luckily, my friends knew nothing of the crank handle!

I remember having this particular car when we went away on holiday with Aunt Emm, Uncle Frank and their five kids. I can't remember which car they had but what I do remember is the engine of our car stalling every time we stopped at traffic lights. I'd have to get out and crank the handle, jump back in and off we'd go - until the next set of lights. We were somewhere in South London when I jumped quickly back into the car, other cars were tooting us left, right and centre, and forgot to remove the handle. Nobody gave it a thought until we were at the next set of lights and it couldn't be found. Dad, needless to say, wasn't impressed!

Looking back I suppose I ought to have been grateful that we had a car at all. Dad had been made redundant and times must have been hard.

Eventually we moved on to better cars, amongst others an Austin Maxi that I clearly remember Dad being very proud of. But that caught fire. Nan, bless her, thought she could put it out with a cup of water, much to Dad's vexation. A bucket, he'd said, not a bloody cup!

Several Cortinas followed, most of which were eventually stolen. But that's another story.