Monday, 30 July 2012

Love songs: 2. Old love

So there I stood in aisle 22 of Sainsbury’s (pondering over the honey as if I were Pooh Bear) when I overhead a woman saying: ‘Oh he’s terrible for nodding off. I’ve left him home now dozing in the chair. Pinned a note on him saying where I was going. He’ll find it when he wakes up.’

‘Just as well he’s still working I s’pose,’ says her friend.

‘Oh yes, I couldn’t do with him being home all the time,’ she replied.

I manoeuvred my trolley in the direction of the biscuits (is it just me or do you find that the more choice there is, the longer it takes you to choose, until the packet you finally end up with seems altogether less tempting than it did when you began?). And I started to worry that in thirty year’s time my marriage might be held together by a pack of post-it notes and a biro. Or worse still, I'd be living with the looming fear of his retirement and of being under each other’s feet. Since being apart so much of the time seems to have brought us so close, who's to say being together might not pull us apart?

The prospect of old love doesn’t have as much going for it as young love. When two taut, prospective bodies have become saggy and rheumatic, and the forces of entropy have set in, and every bad habit has grated and amplified, and nearly everything of worth that two people could possibly discuss has been said – then what joy, what larks, what pleasure to be found?

I suppose it is natural that whenever I think of ageing couples I think of my dear old grandparents. At their diamond wedding anniversary I read a piece from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernière, who talks about young love as the passion that burns away, and old love as that which is left. When the temporary madness has subsided, he says:

‘You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.’

It still seems to me as good a definition of love as anyone has ever written, and you can hear the whole of that wonderful passage here:

My grandmother had such a hot temper and quick frustration that living with her must have been like inhabiting an emotional cyclone. And yet - and yet - if my grandfather was ever tempted to leave, there was something that made him stay. They may have fought, but they also laughed, and this mutual mischief was enough to make a marriage work.

She remains endlessly quotable, her caustic wit is still the source of an aphorism for every occasion. Perhaps it’s a small, insignificant kind of thing, but I think it punches above its weight in the field of relationships, a shared sense of humour.

We can be connected by families, or social groupings, or shared tasks, or shared experiences. We can be connected by blood, by loss, by mutual need. But to find the same things funny is an elemental connection, as strong as passion, only with a longer shelf life. How very important it is to be able to cheer each other up. I can still hear them singing: ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey...’

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Love songs: 1. Young love

I spent last week in quarantine with an infectious, but unreasonably lively, Boo. At times like this only mummy will do - mainly because no one else will take on the childcare. By the end of the week I'm not sure who needed out more. We cuddled and shouted our way through it, the days punctuated by far too many DVDs and the odd reward sticker (later replaced by more effective smarties) for timely use of the potty.

But the chickenpox was the least of his worries. His sickness was pure lovesickness - for the Impster's friend, Isabella.

Six months ago, the only way I could get him to cooperate was to use the prospect of seeing (or threat of not seeing) Is-Bella. 'If you don't get in your car seat right now,' I would reason firmly, 'then we won't go to see Isabella this afternoon.' And within moments he was clipped in peaceably.

At his birthday party there must have been nearly thirty children, but when they had left it was clear that there had needed to be but one. I shall never forget the sight of him holding his balloon and with a puzzled little frown repeating: 'Where Is-Bella gone? Where Is-Bella?'

Since the dawn of time (by his clock at least) he has loved and tormented her. She is two years his senior and quite the most beautiful child we know. Both are quite set on marrying the other, and will tell you so in a heartbeat, with a coy, knowing smile.

Naturally he is rough and tumble in his affection, but Is-Bella is wise beyond her years and understands the nature of his attention. 'It's because he loves me,' she will say after the Boo has energetically launched himself upon her. And on one occasion she was even heard to say: 'I like him on top of me.' To be honest she's got used to it, so we don't worry quite so much about his molestations these days.

Anyway, last week we have a proper stand-off, a full blown tantrum. 'I do NOT have the chicken pops!' he bellows, inflamed with spots and anger. 'I CAN see Is-Bella.'

Momentarily I have a vision of his 15-year-old self standing before me, acne-ridden and brimming with unrequited passion and anger.

But the Boo's two-year-old outrage is relieved in a series of stomps and shouts of 'It's not fair!' And then he sulkily puts in a more measured request: 'Want to dress up as Rapunzel.'

This desire to dress up in Disney princess costume and role play the way through the afternoon is their shared interest. It's what has brought the Boo and Is-bella together. To begin with it was very cute and he looked good in pink. Now the cross-dressing habit has become a bit of an obsession and frankly he can out-Disneyfy even the Impster - though in a slightly less graceful, more rugby-tackling kind of way.

Is it possible that my son could be a lesbian? I can answer only with Blurish wisdom that: 'girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they're girls who do girls like they're boys, always should be someone you really love...'