The Space Between The Songs

Okay, I am going to totally date myself here, but I remember buying and playing vinyl records.  There, I’ve said it and you now have a better picture of the kind of person I am.

I’ve always liked to consider myself somewhat a connoisseur of music figuring wherever I lack a most expert judgement in my taste of tunes, I make up for it in enthusiasm for the medium.  In fact, like everybody else I know, my life has its own personal soundtrack and I love to delve through my eclectic music selection, put something on and turn up the volume to create at varying times a mood to raise myself up or settle myself down, sing along to and most definitely bop around my kitchen table or a dance floor to. There’s a chance my parents sparked my interest with Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’  Lovers and Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter’s Songbook forever on our turn table or playing in the background while they hung wallpaper to decorate our rooms.  Or perhaps I can blame it on the juke box we had in our basement growing up which played hundreds of singles we could swap out and change as our music tastes wandered.  In our high school years we ran the gambit from The Beach Boys’ California Girls to Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes to The Rolling Stones’ Shattered , The Police’s De Do Do Do Da Da Da , Kool & The Gang’s Celebration, Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody and Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop “Til You Get Enough.  In college, Neal introduced a more international flair to my playlists with Everything But The Girl and The Style Council  being mixed in with the universally acclaimed Dave Brubeck’s Jazz At Oberlin, but then Jeff got me to delve into ska and reggae with his contagious Locals Only shows performing on the college circuit, threw in loads of anything by The Beatles and topped it all up with an exposure to Branford Marsalis and Sting’s Englishman In New York which probably went some way to subliminally influence me to want to be an American in London!  In London, Nick and I spent our Saturdays at the Kings Road HMV buying up all the acid jazz of the 1990’s especially loving Jamiroquai’s Emergency on Planet Earth album as well as splurging on Kenny Loggins Live From The Redwood Forest, and later Bueno Vista Social Club. I told you it was eclectic.

I can even still remember what songs were hits when I was pregnant with my kids and I swear they’ve navigated towards the genres they heard through me as soon as they could hear.  If you check your Billboard rating lists for 1998, Shania Twain was belting out some beauties that year and I find Megan, although her taste is presently rather indie these days, she’s always got a sweet spot for country given a chance.  And Christy, well, Toni Braxton’s sultry R&B was actually on in the delivery suite in 1999 when she arrived and I can see her lean towards sensational, soulful vocals whenever she gets the chance to plug in her iPad and pick the next tune to listen to.  Skyler definitely has 2004’s Hey Ya! by Outkast ringing in his subconscious as although he loves the likes of Maroon Five and Michael Buble he always rouses us with an all-body-moving Black Eyed Peas song when he wants to get the “party started in here” .

Sometimes I love just listening to the tunes and the quality of the human voice connecting with the lyrics.  When I was living through chemo treatments, I would alternate my iPod on a loop of James Taylor’s October Road  to Yo Yo Ma’s Songs of Joy and Peace as I would try and drift off to sleep away from the cancer and the “therapy” . I fear I may sound like an X Factor judge but I have to say the clear tone of James Taylor’s voice and Yo Yo Ma’s cello accompanying top artists of every music discipline saw me through nights and eased me through the worries that wore on me like no medicine my oncologist could have prescribed for me.

So, why the confession about vinyls?  Well, ever since Beyonce came out with her big groundbreaking Beyonce album with a matching set of videos this December which according to the iTunes editor has “cemented her status as a pop visionary”, I’ve been thinking –  what is the big whoop?  I love Beyonce, like it seems everyone else on the planet does, however, I don’t get how it is such an amazing concept that she came out with a whole set of songs at one go instead of dribbling out a single here, and once that ran its course,  a single there.  What she did reminds me of what vinyls have been doing all along.  The artist/band gets to pick their full set of songs, put them in a meaningful order, accompany them with a visual like a defining album cover and include the lyrics and even hopefully liner notes which reveal the human side of the music and allow fans to ponder about the meaning of and person who produced the music.  Don’t get me wrong, I think what Beyonce has produced is super cool and I am really enjoying the music yet I just don’t get how she’s considered such a revolutionary innovator on this front.

Now I am in full flow of my middle aged rant I guess I can let you in on the schpeel I was going to carry on with about how easy our kids have got it filing through thousands of songs at the swipe of a finger while our old compilation tapes actually were labours of love.  Mary Kate adores to laugh at the time I decided it would be a good idea to make a compilation tape for one of my high school crushes while at the same time making him chocolate chip cookies.  With the stereo system, including the record player and tape machine, on the far side of the living room located on the opposite side of our house to the kitchen I really challenged myself one Christmas to produce a gift for the hearing and tasting.  I would load up another round of cookies to throw into the oven between flying back to the living room and hitting the tape to pause so I could cleanly edit in the next track on the tape without cutting off a song or running into the next one on the album.  I was ever grateful for the space between the songs.  All you forty plus year olds must know what I’m talking about.  Kates thought it was the best fun to watch me dash back from the kitchen with an oven glove on my hand to hit the tape deck between batches.  At one point, as I was wearing socks and running on hard wooden floors, I slipped and nearly took the Christmas tree out as I cleared the entrance of the living room like someone sliding into home base.  The biggest damage done was that I didn’t have a perfect mix and had to try and rerecord the Careless Whisper Wham song I was so desperate to include.

Nowadays, we might not have to fumble with needles to amplify a sound out into the world for songs, but we certainly had/have people producing full albums which can be bought and listened to in their entirety just like Beyonce.  I am happy to report all of my kids are great djs when it comes down to it and my listening life is enriched by the music they share with me still some how I think they miss the point sometimes when they just know one song from an artist.  Even Skyler, who at almost ten, has an encyclopedic knowledge of bands and one off songs he has heard and likes from the charts (or from eavesdropping on his super cool teenage sisters’ playlists).  Each of my kids has an amazing capacity to recall these singles in random order and its like having our own personal original compilation pour out of them and their iPods when they manage the audio controls scrolling through the iTunes library and choosing what song will come on next.  That said, I still think there is something worth following an album of ten to twelve songs through from beginning to end.  Wouldn’t you agree you literally get more into the rhythm of the experience and the artist if you let yourself get moved by the full expression of those sets of soundtracks ordered in such a fashion to link together to give us as a whole album?  Even if you eventually fast forward through your less favourites you still know where each song falls on an album.  Just as I can recount the songs of my life along the way, I’d like to suggest on your favourite albums you can finish one song and know without even thinking what that one will segue into?  I’ll go back to James Taylor and if you are even half the fan that I am don’t you just know when he wraps up I Will Follow on Dad Loves His Work with “Follow Love” the most natural sound you hear in your head even if you don’t have it playing is his plucking of the guitar and then him singing, “Believe it or not I’ve been waiting for you to come through.” the first lines of Believe It Or Not.

Finally, I wanted to declare, I even love the space between the songs on an album. Even if I’m not trying to make a compilation tape and need to buy some time – you know just before the last song finishes and the next one begins don’t you love that quiet in between?  Just a moment to reflect, to pause.  This morning that space of quiet came even more profoundly to me when I listened to a report about a woman in her forties who last month had cochlear implants placed in both her ears and who heard sound for the first time this week. PLEASE PRESS HERE TO LISTEN AND TO WATCH I’ve now watched the video when I was looking for the link for you but think listening to it on the radio was almost even more poignant.  Press play and close your eyes and listen to her hear.  The whole recording grips you and especially when the nurse asks her  if she can hear herself and she says, “Yes” through her sobbing, laughing amazement.   Maybe what I’m trying to say about all this music stuff is that however it is packaged there is something so purely good about hearing and being heard.  Whether you cherry pick a song or go for the whole bunch at one go – I hope you enjoy it and revel in the act of listening.


I Yam What I Yam

*Make sure you press the green text to access links if you fancy!

So it’s just gone 9.08am and I am already having, what Mary Kate and I often refer to as  a Henry Hill kinda day.  If you can cast your mind back to 1990’s Good Fellas you will know exactly what I mean.  It was a movie with a huge cast not the least of which was Ray Liotta starring as the ne’er do well Mafia wanna be and it is to his character I allude.  Henry Hill was a real life guy who wanted to “get made” in a big kinda way such that he took on all sorts of horrendous tasks in the hopes that he would get brought into the fold even though it was nearly impossible given his non-Italian heritage.  What you really need to know about Henry is that by the end of the movie, Martin Scorsese shows how his life spiralled out of control such that just before he gets nabbed by the Feds(through whom he later agrees to join a Witness Protection programme, dimes out his old Mafia buddies and eventually relates the Good Fellas story) he is juggling just too many things at one time.  There’s a frantic scene which documents the day Henry got caught that Mary Kate and I are reminded of.  It shows him doing drugs at 6.55am (we don’t do drugs but it is part of the story so stick with me), buying and selling illegal guns (don’t do that either), driving like a lunatic and nearly crashing his car (okay, maybe sometimes I do that), picking his wheelchair bound brother up from physical therapy, planning and preparing a meal requiring braising beef and pork butt for his tomato sauce (definitely me – taking on a complicated recipe), collecting his wife to help pick up cocaine he is sorting out for his babysitter to run down to Atlanta while all along getting tracked by a police helicopter.  I promise in no way shape or form are Mary Kate and I doing any of the illegal stuff that Henry is getting up to, but the way Scorsese shows how increasingly stressed out Henry gets, sweating and glancing worriedly up at the helicopter while trying to stuff in as many activities as possible – I don’t know, I some how identify with that feeling some days.  That push on my life’s accelerator and jam on the brakes as I try and get all the logistics of coordinating our family of five to run as smoothly as possible.  The scene resonates with me.

My Henry Hill day started at 6.00am when I listened to the travel report to make sure traffic was flood free and flowing fine for our imminent school runs then I slurped a cup of tea Nick had kindly delivered to my bedside before going to prod Megan for the third time to wake up and take a shower (the girl loves to get clean but waking up – not so much), I grabbed my iPhone playing BBC Kent Radio so I could listen to the latest on the Crimea and the missing Malaysian plane while I ironed a shirt each for the girls remembering last minute that Skyler has to wear his sports kit today for his rugby house matches.  As it was still drying I threw the lot in for a spin while I pressed out the wrinkles on the shirts. Meanwhile, as the cats nearly bite my ankles if I don’t feed them immediately, I set out their wet food and sprinkled it with dry just how they like it while I heard Winston whine to come back in for his food which I’d just chucked in the bowl.  Uniforms sorted, teenagers and almost ten year old up and now down for breakfast, I made Megan’s lunch and then dashed upstairs to brush my teeth and get dressed only to notice Nick had left his Parking Permit for the Station Car Park which starts today (of course) on the dresser.  I tried ringing him and then texted to let him know it was here but that I couldn’t go stick it in his car ahead of any parking wardens because after I did the school run (dropped Megan down to her bus stop and then came back to collect Christy and Skyler to head off to Caterham) I needed to come home directly as I had a courier scheduled to deliver Megan’s new US passport “some time between 9 and 1” and as it was the third time I’ve tried to sign for it I did not want to miss them.  Nick was updated and then I got my second round of riders into the Bennett Landrover Bus only to have the fuel gauge ping that it was near empty!  AAAAAAAHHHHH!

So it’s 11.40 now and I’ve thrown in more laundry, loaded the dishwasher, made some of the beds, eaten a bowl of cereal, popped my Tamoxifen, met the courier (who strangely looked exactly like the dancing backward speaking dwarf from Twin Peaks but I digress), had the boiler serviced and come back to writing to you.

All along, my thoughts continue to consider how pressed for time we can all feel and how much we are able to cram into an increment of time.  Now, I’m gonna go all cinematic on you today while thinking of time and different strategies on how we manage it and maybe even measure it and I can’t help recalling Hugh Grant’s Will Freeman from Nick Hornsby’s About A Boy and his allocation of life into 30 minute intervals as “whole hours can be intimidating”.  Will has a system of breaking his day down into these units so he can pass his time effectively  only to have it all work for awhile until “a boy” happens to come into his life.  Until then whether willing to admit it or not, Will is rather bored with his life not needing to work and having no relationships of real meaning to him but then a kid comes along and messes with everything – his schedule, his priorities, his boundaries.  He can no longer be the island he loves to profess himself to be and he is forced to branch out and broaden his life and in so doing enriches it above and beyond the inheritance royalties he has luxuriated in his pre-boy time.

Thinking of Will reassures me that the way I’ve chosen to allocate my time, no matter how frenetically, has been in the best way possible.  I love the way I have peopled my life with not just my kids and Nick and friends near and far, but I’ve left it open to some flexibility allowing for opportunities for restoration, refinement and always reflection.  I’m pleased when I look back over the last 47 years I can sit comfortably with the life I have come to lead along the way.  I know I will have Henry Hill days that exhaust me to the point of near hysterical hyperventilation.   At the same time, I know there will be days also mixed in that slow down to a pace when my units of time drift along so pleasingly I am afforded moments to enjoy and even give sincere thanks for them.  Days like this past Wednesday when my evening ended with Skyler crawling into Nick’s free side of the bed (he was on a business trip and we were having a “sleep over”) and asking if before we went to sleep we could work on the crossword.  The deal is, where Skyler can, he fills in the answers then when he gets stuck I see if I can work out the clue and then give him hints without telling him the word.  He was making good progress until he came across the clue “4-letters  Mothers of a flock” and asked if I could help.  I started with “What would you call the mothers of a flock of SHEEP?” and he said, “Let’s see, I know the babies are called lambs and the dads are – rams, right?”.  I concurred and waited.  He then said “Now what are the mums called?”  and I said “Here’s your hint:  I love You.” emphasizing the “y” to lead him to the puzzle answer “EWES”.  He paused only a moment and  replied, “Yams?!  Mother sheep must be called Yams.”  It totally cracked me up.  That unit of time got marked and measured with a laugh; the best kind of unit of scale I can think of.

So I finish this post asking who wouldn’t want their tidy schedule organised around, if not dictated by, a kid who likes to do crosswords and crack funny jokes?  I know having a good laugh just before bed is a small thing and then again, it might be a mother/son thing, either way my boy definitely makes my some times harrassing schedule with its sometimes inherent hiccups worth it!


Dollops of Daffodils



Cue Johnny Mathis…It’s beginning to look a lot like…Springtime….everywhere you go.  Take a look in the Five and Ten, Glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow.   What? ?  I know if you are in the Philadelphia area getting inundated once again with SNOW (my envy, by the way, continues from waterlogged England) this song might actually work for you.  But I’ve been humming it along the way these past few days- substituting in Springtime for Christmas – as I’ve navigated around the lanes of Surrey and Kent because I can’t help  bursting with bits of exuberance every time I see a stance of daffodil blades surging up through clumps of green grass hassocks around the boggy verges.  I feel as excited as a Christmas Eve kid with every citing of them bravely standing tall and sun bound with trees careening over and, in fact, uprooting around them and, yikes, more often than not falling across the lanes I drive home from Caterham to Brasted.  I’m telling you those almost-full-on-daffodils are the business.

And you thought my pumpkin could cop an attitude, well, these beauties – even before they’ve got their trumpets of ruffled yellow blossoms unwrapped from the brown papery spathes* at the top of their stems, they can make you feel so genuinely good with their promise of brighter days and fresher seasons.  I bought three bunches from Sainsburys rubber banded and green through and through on Wednesday and by Thursday evening, they’d delivered with their big reveal and launched their beauty across the length of our kitchen table with their milk bottle vases helping to keep the simplicity of their joyous arrival clean and uncomplicated.

Not only that, they got me so motivated I know I have to wait another eighteen days before it is official, but they made me declare Spring Season Open and the cleaning has begun at the Bennett household.   It has been remarkably satisfying to attack my overloaded, out of date snack pantry, linen cupboard and even my own bedroom clothing closet.  I hadn’t needed to address them until now because I had been lucky to live off the state of affairs from back in 2012 when I did my chemo and we had Debbie join us for the duration, she set the standards on housekeeping at Heverswood so high, to be honest, leaving things in such a tidy state, literally all compartmentalized and labelled, we’ve been almost as well run as Downton Abbey since then or at least close enough to make Mrs Hughes proud.

Eventually, however, the emergence of the daffodils did trigger  a Duracell (almost EASTER!!) bunny-like cleaning mania in me and I’ve been attacking the storage areas of Heverswood with a vengeance.  Interestingly, alongside my crazed state of filling the bags for recycling, the charity shops and the dump, I couldn’t help but get distracted by thoughts about time and how we mark it.  Ever the multitasker in around my scrubbing, scouring and chucking, I became ensconced in  Skyler’s maths homework all of which seemed to be based on Time, telling it and even reporting it in analogue, digital, 12 and 24 hour. He also had words to learn like “decade”, “century”, “millennium” and “fortnightly” which spoke to me.  So much so as I reviewed the fate of a skirt I found folded over the straight part of a wire hanger sporting a line of dust along the crease denoting it was going in the charity bag, I contemplated without obvious clues like the aforementioned dust, how do we know when we are ready to throw out certain items and why do I hang on to some more than others?  I don’t know about you but some of my clothes and shoes escape cleaning culls not because I think I might wear them again but more because they remind me of something I did in them and I can’t throw away that memory.  I am definitely not a hoarder however some items of my wardrobe have become placeholders of sorts in my life.  When I look through to the stuff I might wear sliding along past the items I can’t seem to part with on my clothes rack, it is a little like my own personal Throw Back Thursday popular on Facebook where we post pictures from the past, little touchstones to our memories, and we get to share and even relive some of our experiences again.

That said, it might please your inner Martha Stewart to know, I managed to pitch a couple pairs of trousers I’d bought when we took our first trip to Charleston in 2003 because even if they weren’t appropriate in the UK with their South Carolinian warm, dry weather flair, each time I considered wearing them since returning to our life in England,  they always reminded me of that lightness I had felt when I had splurged on them the time Nick had allowed me a few kid free shopping hours to myself while he looked after single digit Megan and Christy; a gift every young mother can appreciate.  I also decided the black flats which I bought one half size too small ten years ago and had always been convinced I might eventually talk my daughters into wearing for school shoes some time could finally be given to someone else.  My guilt of misplacing the receipt so I couldn’t return the ill-fitting shoes, way back when, finally abated from my penance of giving them a slot for a decade in the shoe rack of my closet.   More harder but still with surety, I finally parted with a purple polka dotted dress I wore to a young mother’s funeral six springs ago.  I’ve come to know her mother well and felt like giving the dress up might be some sort of disrespect to Clair and Joan.  Seeing the dress every once and awhile made me pause and send them both in their own realms a wish for peace.  At the same time, I’ve never worn the dress since , for the same reasons, and decided it was time to send it off into the world of charity shops so someone else could revitalise the dress’ piquancy of purpleness free of my association.  I still hold on to an angel Clair’s daughter made for me on my kitchen shelf above the sink and that is a daily reminder enough to give thanks for her life and my own.

But what did I keep?  Plenty.  There’s the two piece lemon yellow suit I wore as my “leaving” outfit at the Lanesborough Hotel after Nick and my’s wedding reception.  All the Karen Millen dresses I’ve worn to balls and Ascot over the years as I love them almost as much as my sparkly shoes that match them along with the memories of swirling around on Nick’s arm with the likes of the Fergusons, Rigneys and Roubiceks cutting the rug nearby while Chris Kidder, the Mactaggarts and the Lemoniuses shout out as loud as Eliza Dolittle to cheer on our horses at the racecourse in my memory’s mind’s eye.  I also held on to and wiped down once again the cowboy boots Nick bought me when we were first dating in 1993.  He had noted the black boots I wore when we first met were a little tired and he’d taken himself off to Pied de Terre on the King’s Road to guess at my size and buy me a pair thus sealing for me that he was most definitely my sole/soul mate!

I have to admit, now I have got the bags at the ready to bring down to Hospice in The Weald, I feel like I am parting with a little bit of my history.  I am not sad but rather a little lighter from having let go of some of those memories I’ve cycled through each time I’ve come across certain items.  I find I can recall those memories even without the prompts so perhaps they are safe in my heart and the closet can get filled with some new pieces to accompany me in the times that lay ahead.  I feel good for decluttering my space without diminishing the dramas, comedies and tragedies that play out in my head when I look at the costumes of my life.

So as we mark the annual arrival of the rites of Spring this week with the likes of secular cleaning manias, Mardi Gras and pancake flipping Tuesday to the religious Ash Wednesday, Lent and eventually Easter, that leaves me to wrap up this post with wishes for your time to be filled with clusters of crocuses, trappings of tulips and dollops of dandelions.  If you are suffering through inclement weather (besides celebrating the Flyers amazing win over the Caps) remember the old trick my grandmother used when she lived in Florida and missed the change of Spring from the North.  Each year we visited her over our spring break, my mom would bring her pussy willows and forsythia from Connecticut, Illinois and Pennsylvania, kept damp in paper towels and newspaper on the plane which my grandmother then “forced” to bloom in the warmth of her home in Vero Beach with some heated water in a vase and sunshine through the window.  Voila instant Spring!  I hope how ever you measure your time you see it balances with more the bright than the dark weights of memory and you feel invigorated by these thoughts, if not signs of Spring, looming all around you.

*I can not tell a lie and have to admit I am not Becky Lemonious with an encyclopedic knowledge of flowers and I had to look this term up!

PS.  The winner from the Olympics competition are announced as follows…Bronze to my sister, Patty, who didn’t manage to write her story down so I’ll share it with you another time but I’ll let you know it included baby blankets being recovered from one of her dogs’ intestines, Silver to Jimmy Parks whose hilarious account you can read in Sotchi S’motchi comments above which definitely fit the bill, and Gold had to go to my daughter, Christy, who had to suffer the embarrassment of me recounting her little kid throw up session much to her mortification.  So she gets the gold and my public apology for embarrassing her on the internet.