Tuesday, 20 February 2018

How can you mend a broken heart ?

It's been a sad day today. I don't know why in particular. I went to see my hairdresser to plan the big haircut for Macmillan. I'm cutting off my hair and donating it to make wigs for children and we needed to see if it would be long enough to donate. When I was talking to him I felt so sad - not about the hair, I'm not that vain. It made me think about the reason I am doing this. It reminded me how overwhelmed I was when I made the decision to do this. Within hours of hearing of my friend's death I wanted to do something and that was what came to mind. I don't know why and I can't explain what I hope to achieve other than to raise a lot of money for a fantastic cause. 

As I was going about my day today I was listening to the radio. This song came on and I started to cry. A lot. However much I think I've come to terms with loss I really haven't at all. I remembered how the sun shone on the day of the funeral. The funeral director walking in front of the hearse and the tears in her eyes as she also knew Soraya and had arranged her mother's funeral a few years ago. Driving to the crematorium with a family member I'd never met before and making small talk until we got to the chapel. All the while the sun was shining and it was beautiful. 

So why was it that today as I remembered all these things I just felt so very sad. Empty. Hollow. Maybe it is because my heart feels broken.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Some kind of wonderful

On twitter today I spotted the charity Macmillan promoting random acts of kindess by giving out sweets in advance of random acts of kindness day tomorrow - who knew that was even a thing ? As you already know I have a lot of love for the work of Macmillan. They have supported and cared for people I loved and continue to do so for those who are left behind. I've consumed many cakes as both a host and a guest of Macmillan coffee mornings and this year I'm hoping to raise as much money as I can for them in recognition of the amazing work they do. Their aim to ensure no one faces cancer alone is inspiring and much needed.

Earlier this week I was in Brighton with they boys and my sister. As it is half term I thought we'd do some fun things together. The weather put paid to some of those plans as it was cold, wet and windy on Tuesday morning. I still went for a run, but it was pretty miserable and I did keep asking myself why the hell I was outside in such rotten conditions. The evening before, however was much nicer and I had booked to take the boys on the i360 which is on the site of the old West Pier. We'd had a fraught afternoon with the boys getting on each other's nerves - and mine - so I didn't hold out much hope for the trip. As we ascended Blue Bear held my hand tight and said it was like being on a spaceship. We looked outside the capsule at the lights along Brighton Pier as the sky grew darker. I realised the music that was playing was all on the theme of flying. The boys and I danced around and Brown Bear declared, "I thought it was going to be rubbish, but it's not." High praise indeed !

Of course it was also Valentine's Day this week. I know not everyone is into the whole cards, flowers, chocolates, etc. I'm not judging anyone's decision not to join in and I'll thank you not to make a comment on my slavish adherence to all the cliches. I got carried away with buying cards and in the end had to find ways to use them all up so I asked people to address the envelopes and post them from different locations so that Hubbie would get a load of post, but not know it was all from me. The failing in this plan was that I had forgotten I'd signed all of the cards from me. Hubbie gave me flowers, took me to lunch and bought me a hamper of Reese's treats - which shows he's been paying attention to my latest chocolate obsession. The highlight for me, however, was something really simple. When we were in the car he started humming a familiar tune. It took me a few moments to place it, but when I did it was joyful. The night before we'd been to the theatre to watch A Passage to India and the highlight had been the indian musicans playing live on the stage. The tune he was singing was a disco classic from a Bollywood movie. In the early days of our courtship I'd explained the words to this song (something like, "when you came into my life that was something to talk about" - I can't be entirely sure that's accurate though). I was so touched that he remembered the tune and our silly conversation.

Kindness is something I rate highly and when my children are kind I give them a lot of praise to encourage it. In recent weeks I've received such lovely messages from people I don't even know offering condolences for the loss of my friend. I have found a whole new world of kindess that I didn't know before where people have shown care and consideration to me. The week of her funeral was pretty grim. I was honoured to be asked by her widower if I'd like to give a speech and worried about getting it right. I also had a job interview to prepare for and it was all pretty stressful. I attended the funeral on my own as Hubbie was at another funeral for a family member which was attended by my parents and siblings. It was emotional and difficult. As I drove home in the dark - hoping to see my sons before they went to bed - I remembered I had a job interview in the morning. I did my best, but I didn't get the job. All in all it wasn't the best week.

At heart the secret to kindness isn't some great mystery. I do my best to be kind. I like to think it's something that I do as a matter of course. I saw something today that said if you do for someone else expecting anything in return that's not an act of kindness it's a business transaction. My Mum has always been critical of my closeness to my friends and how one-sided she thinks my friendships appear to be. I don't see them that way at all. I love my friends and I will do a lot for them. Sometimes you just have to accept that giving is no guarantee that you will get anything back.

Kindness is not a transaction it is an end in itself. Go forth and be kind.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Rustling up some family meal fun at the weekend

Now both bears are at school weekday meal planning is so simple. They eat breakfast at home, have a hot lunch at school and then I prepare a meal for when they get home. I have a roster of favourite things to eat and chicken is a pretty regualar item. At the weekends it's more freefall depending on their social schedule. If they have parties or football or - like today - we have a family day out planned. Knowing what to feed them is often a spur of the moment decision which is based on what they've already eaten earlier.

The diner meal that inspired us
I'm encouraging them to try new things and it's an uphill struggle with Blue Bear as he is pretty wary of unfamiliar foods. Thankfully he will often try what his brother is eating so that helps. When we were on holiday in Cornwall we went to a few great diners and the boys got into eating chicken burgers. Served with a fab milkshake it made for some pretty fun eating. When we got back home I wanted to try to emulate the meal they'd enjoyed so much.

The lovely chaps at Rustlers asked us to try the twin pack of southern fried chicken burgers that are slightly smaller and perfect for children to manage. They are easy to prepare and make for a quick, convenient and affordable meal when things are busy and they are hungry. The burgers are made with quality chicken and the southern fried coating makes them similar to the famous chicken they have had before and enjoyed.

Mexican twist on the Rustlers chicken burgers

In order to make the meal a bit special we decided to go for a tex-mex vibe. I made nachos grande - a creation of Hubbie's - and served with lots of mexican style dips. I love guacamole, salsa and soured cream, but the boys often just go with one of them. The crunch of nachos and melted cheese adds flavour and texture which I think helps keep them interested in something they haven't had at home before. The sides of onion rings, sweetcorn fritters and spicy wedges did not survive long enough to be photographed !

We bought our Rustlers twin packs in Tesco and also the dips and nachos. As a one stop shop it works pretty well and if they also sold a pinata and sombreros we might have gone for those too. Maybe next time we could try a more italian taste sensation with basil, tomato and mozarella ?

Of course the main thing is to get them fed before they get to this stage. "Erm, Bear ? Bear ? Dinner is served."

My over dramatic bear waiting for dinner

Disclosure: This post is an entry for BritMums Rustlers Burger Hacking Challenge, sponsored by Rustlers 

Friday, 9 February 2018

Movies, music and Meena Kumari.

It's been a bit quiet over here in chocolate towers. Can you imagine that, towers made of chocolate - how fantastic would that be ? Anyway, I digress. I've been taking a break to grieve and process loss and spending time supporting my late friend's widower and her gorgeous son. By the time it gets to the evening - when I usually do my blogging and radio editing stuff - I am so shattered I've been going to bed early. I was over there the other day talking to J about his many visits to India and how much he loves it there. As I drove home I thought about the music and movies I grew up with that were my earliest introduction to my indian heritage. 

Pakeezah: Haunting vinyl memories

From an early age my parents would play indian music on the record player and often it was religious music that I recognised from going to the temple. The other music was from classic movies like Pakeezah which I wasn't allowed to watch because of the morose storyline - it is the tale of a courtesan who falls in love with a man who tries to save her from her miserable life as far as I can tell. Instead my father would tell me all about the beautiful star Meena Kumari who died of cancer during the making of the film so there are scenes where a body double posed as her so the film could be completed. The songs from this film are haunting, but also wonderful and I recall singing this because it was the only one I knew the words to. 

Kabhi Kabhi: The eternal love story.

The film star Shashi Kapoor died a while back. He was from an acting dynasty in India that continues to produce stunning looking actors. In our house he was known for being Felicity Kendall's brother in law and he was in a few Merchant and Ivory films too. When my sister was little she loved dancing on the sofa to Bollywood movies (not that we called them that back then of course) and couldn't say the names of actors so she called them all 'Shee Kapoor.' I first saw him in this classic love story about lovers meeting again years after they broke up when they are with new partners. It now has added poignancy as this song was played at the funeral of one of my Mum's friends.

Sholay: The buddy movie western. 

When I was at primary school we lived next door to an indian family whose older son was called Darminder - apparently because his mother loved the movie star of the same name. We used to walk to school with their children and one morning we knocked on the door to call for them and were told they weren't going in that day. We later found out he had died of a brain haemorrhage completely unexectedly. His movie star namesake was in this buddy movie with Amitabh Bachan - the most famous indian actor of all time pretty much - and it's a classic. It is a western with bollywood dance sequences, a cartoon bad guy and spectacular scenery. If this song doesn't make you smile, well you are made of stone ! 

Namak Halal: Eighties glamour personified. 

In 1981 my parents bought a VCR - good luck explaining what that is to your kids ! - and suddenly we didn't have to drive all the way to Poplar on Sunday afternoon to watch a movie and leave before the end so my parents could open the shop. No longer did my mum have me tugging on her sleeve to ask what was going on. I could read subtitles and follow the action myself. Movies were often 2-3 hours long so we could stop them and go back and watch later if we wanted to. I know other families who barely moved off the sofa when they got them too, but we paced ourselves and would often watch as a family. Namak Halaal was a film that was long awaited in our house as it starred Amitabh and Shashi again and the wonderful Om Prakash. Parveen Babi was the love interest and rocked some pretty stunning dresses in firmly '80s performances like this one.

Kabhi Khushi Khabi Gham: Yes, it's another Amitabh Bachan movie.  

I was walking through Borough Market once and spotted a film crew - someone told me they were filming a Bollywood movie. I never found out which one though. It has always been considered glamorous to film in locations other than India. When I was a child films featured scenes from the Swiss Alps as it was considered exotic to have snow in a movie. The ones I loved the most featured Leicester Square and befuddled passers by wondering why these people were dancing in the middle of London. This one goes a step beyond and is more travelogue than love song.

Generic sixties movies: Beehives and winged eyeliner a-go-go ! 

The best by far - in my opinion - is the truly retro style of the movies made in the sixties. The women were all winged eyeliner and beehives and the dresses were just gorgeous. I recall watching my Mum get ready for social events and she would style her beautiful long black hair and apply make up with precision using a steady hand to get the eyeliner just right. She would choose a pretty bindi colour from a carousel and using a tiny brush she would draw it on. She looked as elegant as any of the actresses - Saira Banu, Waheeda Rahman or Nargis. I love the music of movies from this era. Sometimes it's beatnik, often it's rock and roll and it's always got an indian twist.

No kissing please we're indian: 

While it wasn't the done thing to show too much flesh, movie stars could get away with it in the name of art. The directors even created the infamous 'wet sari' phenomenon which enabled them to show the female form without any nudity. I honestly had no idea it was so well thought out. The puritanism of the movies from my childhood (no kissing, no nudity) has relaxed in recent years. It reminds me of Cinema Paradiso when the priest would go to the cinema to check all inappropriate content has been edited out of films before they were shown to the public. Salvatore's reaction at seeing all the banned kisses on a film reel that he was left by his beloved friend - the projectionist - Fredo was joyous. When the film Sagar came out indian cinemas sold out every performance as youngsters flocked to watch the first on screen kiss of their lives. It was a big moment for kids raised in traditional homes that had banned such 'filth.' Can you imagine if we'd seen this ?

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Thank you for the days

I've been a bit quiet lately. 

Tomorrow we say goodbye to my gorgeous friend. 

For now all I can do is share this with you. 

Normal service will resume in the near future.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Sticking it to cancer

In the last 24 hours two women I know have lost their lives to cancer. Yesterday evening I received a message that my brother-in-law's mother had passed away surrounded by her sons. She had been a carer for her husband for 30 years and enjoyed only 6 years with her grandchildren and a partner who had also lost his wife to long term illness. Following a diagnosis last summer she received a very short and rapid course of chemotherapy, but it was unable to save her life. Christmas was spent checking with my sister how she was doing as we all knew it was only a matter of weeks before her mother-in-law would no longer be with us. At least her sons were with her at the end.

Then this morning I had the message I had been dreading since I heard last week that my darling friend had only days to live. I had just finished teaching yoga and was making a cup of tea. The phone beeped and I stared at the message for a few minutes. Then I broke down in tears. Big ugly, wracking sobs and felt my legs give way under me and I sat on the floor crying. I had only spoken to her a few weeks ago. We saw each other and laughed and joked that when she was done being unwell we'd go back to making radio shows together and making plans to rule the world. So what happens now ? 

It's not supposed to be like this. She's supposed to be at the end of the phone to help me prepare for the job interview she kept telling me she knew I was going to get. Who am I going to talk to about the letter I got telling I have to go for a mammogram ? She was an old hand at them and would have talked sense into me about how it's nothing to worry about and honestly it's just annoying more than painful. Don't even get me started on menopause. We were supposed to go through that together. Comparing notes and sharing mini-dramas and hysteria. Now she's not here any more. 

So, I have to go into this interview with all the confidence that she had in me. Knowing that she had belief in me and when I thought I couldn't do it she told me of course I could. As for the boob thing, well I'll be honest I'm not looking forward to that at all. Maybe I can ask a friend to go with me. Is that being pathetic ? 

I'm also taking on cancer head on. Literally. I'm going to shave my hair off for Macmillan Cancer who supported some people I love when they were at the end of their journey with cancer. Macmillan nurses are incredible and I want to show my appreciation for them. I'm growing my hair between now and my birthday then I'm going to get it cut off and donate it to a charity that makes wigs for children. With my new aerodynamic style I'm going to run the Royal Parks half marathon - at lightening speed of course. 

So that's my plan. Ok, it's not a cure for cancer, but it's my response to the senselessness of it all right now. 

If you want to stick to cancer and help ensure no one has to cope with cancer alone please sponsor me here: https://bravetheshave.macmillan.org.uk/shavers/swazi-rodgers

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Thank you for the music, the laughter and the love

Yesterday was a tough day. I had intended to write a post while the boys were at football, but just before they left I got a text message. A friend I love dearly is seriously ill and has days to live. She is the same age as me and we have been through a lot together. I knew she was ill - of course I did - but I had no idea this would happen. So soon. I spent some time walking round a bit lost. Then I cried. A lot. When I thought I was done it started again and eventually I had to ask Hubbie to not rush home as I didn't want the boys to see Mummy so upset. 

Things aren't so easy at the moment. I have a lot I want to say, but it is all too soon. When in doubt I turn to music so I'm doing that now. For my beautiful, wonderful, talented friend.  The last time we saw each other we chatted, made jokes and played music. All the things we love.  

So for now I can only think in terms of the music we shared and loved. Forgive me if the words don't make much sense. 

Prince - Starfish and Coffee:

Once we were at a conference in Islington and we went for brunch afterwards. Soraya ordered pancakes with maple syrup, banana and bacon. She declared them, "not that bad," and I surmised that it was her pregnancy hormones talking. 

Norah Jones - Thinking aboout you: 

Soraya phoned me one day to tell me she had some news. She had breast cancer and had wanted to tell me in person, but she wanted me to know. I saw her soon after and throughout the treatment we spoke regularly. Even if we didn't meet up, she was in my thoughts. We joked about going shopping for wigs together. She always gave time to talking about my stuff, however mundane it was in comparison. Having said that she did not forgive me for going to see Norah at Ronnie Scotts without her last Autumn. 

Shakespeare's Sister - Stay: 

Whatever happened we were there for each other. When she was given the all clear 5 years after a breast cancer diagnosis we walked the Moonwalk together. At the beginning when they said 'think about who you are doing this for' we held each other and cried. She was my reason - she was there with me. We talked non-stop for around ten hours and still had plenty to say to each other. I don't know anyone else I could do that with. 

David Bowie - Lazarus: 

I remember how devastated I felt when a man I didn't know and had never met died two years ago. His music has been with me my whole life and the idea that he was gone just filled me with sadness. When I spoke to Soraya she expressed exactly the same emotions. As 2016 progressed we shared our angst at how terrible a year it was turning into. 2017 had to be better surely ? It wasn't. When we last spoke she told me she just wanted to get the year over so that we could start a new one and look to the future. I had no idea she would not be part of it. 

Corinne Bailey Rae - Put Your Records On:

This is how I want to think of Soraya - in the studio playing tunes she loved. That and being the DJ for Cheeky in the Chapel, the fundraiser she hosted for Radio Lewes and the Oyster Project. The excitement as she introduced songs by artists she had just discovered and I shared music with her that I had fallen in love with.

In the end I will remember her through music. That and her sign off when we spoke on the phone - lots of love.