London in Spring, My Mother and Life Lessons

This was a long winter.  Admittedly, I went on holiday right in the midst of it, so I’m not complaining per se, more observing.  It’s difficult to complain without being lynched when part of said winter was spent lounging in a bath on a balcony.  But it was long.  Cold, dark, and long.

And now it’s over.  Spring is here.

I don’t think there’s anything like spring in the UK.

Barnes, on the banks of the Thames

This weekend, my mum, dad, cousin, sister, and sister’s boyfriend descended on us for my mum’s 60th birthday celebrations.  We wanted to plan her a weekend of all her favourite things in London, surrounded by her family.

We went to Broadway Market first, where we drank coffee, perused the stalls, and ate a lot, including Banh Mi, the Vietnamese pork sandwiches that have to be eaten to be believed.  The thinnest-sliced pork.  The crustiest. toastiest baguette.  Coriander.  Salad.  Chilli.

I didn’t mean for this post to be an ode to sandwiches, but rather one about my mother (inspired by Aisling’s post).  She had the best of weekends, this weekend.  She’s spent her life teaching, bringing up her kids, caring for other people, and it’s rare she gets time spent on her, and her alone.

We took the boat down the river to Greenwich.  The sun was out.  London was at its best, grand, imposing.  We climbed to the Observatory, and sat on the grass, and looked at the view, and watched the people, and made up stories about them.

Lesson # 1 – always find the story.

No-one can get a story out of anyone like my mother.  She has an uncanny ability to get people to open up, to talk to her, and within ten minutes tell her things they’ve never told anyone else.  She finds people remarkable, their life choices intriguing, and that fascination has passed to me and has stayed with me my whole life.  It’s probably why I write this blog. 

We got the boat back at sunset.  Sunset over London is always surprising.  You think of the city, you think  it’s grey and polluted and that you’d be lucky to breathe any clean air at all, and then you get a sky like this.

To note, as I took the above picture (old in front of new)….I was greeted with a round of abuse from my family, including “oh Anna’s BLOGGING, wait, Anna’s BLOGGING, we’ll be on the blog soon, I bet she writes that she was “baffled by the sunset”".

Pfffft.  I have never written the word baffled.  Until now.

Lesson #2  – never take yourself too seriously.

Some people aren’t good at taking the mickey out of themselves.  My mother is not one of those people.  From a young age, the family motto was; if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’ll be laughed at, so you’d better learn fast”.  To this day, I can’t deal with people who can’t resoundingly mock themselves, and each other.  Love is shown through mockery.  It makes you resilient.  Your family know you better than anyone, they know your weaknesses, and if they can mock the thing you’re most sensitive about it the world, and you can laugh about it, that stands you in pretty good stead for life, I reckon.     

We walked through St James’s Park on the way to the Cambridge Theatre, where we’d bought my parents tickets to see Matilda.  The tulips had come out.  The squirrels were tame.  We watched the ducklings.  Mum came across a statue of Sir John Franklin, who during an ill-fated expedition got stuck in ice trying to transverse the un-navigated Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic.  The statue contained an extract of his diary.

“This breaks my heart”, she said.

I rest my case.

On Bank Holiday Monday we went to Kew Gardens.  I’d never been before.  That will change.  I want to go in autumn, to see the piles of pumpkins.  I want to go all through the year.  It is a glorious place.  That’s the only word that does it justice.

The bluebells were out, as was the blossom.

We went to the Victorian hothouses where we saw the Eastern Cape Giant Cycad which might be the oldest pot plant in the world.  Mind.  Was.  Blown.  We saw plants and flowers from all over the world that twisted and crept above our heads.  We walked through the treetops.  My sister and my mother got lost.  Dad rolled his eyes.  We had our obligatory coffee stop.

Lesson #3 – there’s always time for a coffee.

Coffee might not be your drink of choice, but the point remains.  The world isn’t going to collapse if you stop and take fifteen minutes to relax, breathe, and do something you love…but you might.  Nothing that you’re doing is so important that it can’t wait, just a moment.  Chances are, if you have to work, you’re suffering from some form of stress.  Everyone needs a vice, (try not to make it heroin) and everyone needs to take the time to stop, recharge, regroup.  I am pretty sure that remembering this, forcing myself to stop, to breathe, to just be  for a moment, has saved me more than once.     

Mum and Dad.  Dad is, no doubt, recounting an Interesting Fact.

We ate in a lovely Italian restaurant one night.  Some of use ate pizza, some pasta.   Mum ordered a jacket potato.

Mr K was horrified.   “Have a meat dish.  Look, this one looks good”

“I don’t want steak or fish.  I want a jacket potato”

“You can have a jacket potato anywhere!”

“It’s what I want.  Potatoes keep Britain going”

“That’s not a phrase!”

Mum won.  Jacket potato with sides of vegetables.  She doesn’t like what she calls “fancy dan food”.

Lesson #4 – say no.

Mum’s a people pleaser, like I am, like many women are.  But she’s very, very good at saying no.  To not sacrificing herself for other people.   To not saying yes to promises, to plans, to ideas, if it will be to her detriment.  To saying “sod off, I want a jacket potato”.  I’ve tried to follow this, and my life has become incomparably better as a result.

My favourite lesson of all?

Lesson #5 – just get on with it.

I come from a long line of women who abhor faffery.  Just get on with it.  Just like they just got on with it.  The problem will still be there, whether you spend days stressing about it or not.  Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill; don’t make something out of nothing; don’t think about something so much you stop yourself doing it.  Worrying out loud about something only stresses other people out. 

If I have any drive at all, any ability to deliver, it’s down to this.  So really…I wouldn’t be here, in this job, with this man, writing this blog at all without my mother.

She is not one for excessive sentiment so is probably mortified, reading this.  But there you go, mum.  That’s the risk.  You have kids and then one day they end up on the internet, writing about how wise you are.

Bonus piece of advice from my sister: floral maxis are the ONLY thing to wear when wandering around Kew.

My sister and I, in a bush, in camouflage.

Happy birthday, Mum.  And thank you.

 

Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships, Life Experience, Written By Anna
17 interesting thoughts on this

17 Comments

  1. Posted May 9, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    That sounds like a pretty perfect weekend! Kew Gardens is spectacular, I used to live near there but didn’t go there half as much as I should have.

  2. Posted May 9, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I now really want to spend the day frolicking around Kew instead of going to work.

  3. Chirsty
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a PERFECT weekend A.
    I love Kew. Not just in the spring and summer with all the pretty, but off season too. There is so much strength in the wild winters when the place is all but deserted, or the blustery autumns when you can whirl around like a kid with your arms outstretched and almost smell the chlorophyll in the air. My brother bought me a new year pass for my Christmas and your post has reminded me: it’s rhododendron season (which I always miss!) so now I have a plan for this weekend!
    Coffee stop will of course be written into the plan:) X

    • Posted May 9, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Plus the bluebell wood is open! Not all the rhododendrons were out but I bet in a couple of weeks they will be. i was absolutely blown away by how beautiful it was. Let’s go on an AOW day out there?!?

  4. Posted May 9, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I love this. I love posts about people’s families, how they relate, who they are. My family has the exact same ethos regarding mockery; my husband knew my family truly loved him when quietly watching TV my brother randomly insulted him. I love that your family don’t take themselves too seriously, that you laugh together, at yourselves, at each other, with love. There’s something so refreshing about that ability, laughing off your problems, your flaws, making them just part of who you are, part of why you are loved.

    Your Mum just had to be wise, otherwise she couldn’t have made you, but I do love her wisdom, especially the saying no part, and the jacket potato. Dear Anna K’s Mum, please teach me to say no when I need to… I’ll bring coffee?!

    Also, one of the best pieces of advice my Dad ever gave me was JFDI, Just Fucking Do It, that has made me take several leaps in my life. Stop faffing. Stop worrying. Do it.

    K x

    PS: I wrote about my Mum in my FTMMM an she stuck a quote from what I said about her on the inside of her wardrobe so she can see it everyday.

    PPS: I adore Kew, it’s AMAZING in late Summer/early Autumn, come back then and I’ll take you to the best bits!

    • Posted May 9, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      This came up last week in our wedding preparation course – my family use sarcasm.
      As a sign of affection
      To tease each other
      To argue or wind each other up (often followed by “you’re so gullible” or “you’re so easy to wind up!” if the person gets actually annoyed)

      I am an absolutely expert on sarcasm. I can spot it a mile off. I use it in every conversation (except with, you know, children. Apart from the Brownies who I think can handle it). It apparently takes some getting use to, I have heard. Poor Dan doesn’t always get it when he’s thrown into the mix with my family…

      To me it’s just what I know, what I was brought up on. Now I’m more aware of it, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

  5. Posted May 9, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I keep meaning to take M to Kew as he has never been and because he would love it. This is the second prompt in a week! I must go!

    Also – I love this post but have no words this morning.

  6. Posted May 9, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Ahh, Kew is beautiful – we went one winter, it was -2 with a deep, sparkly frost and the gardens were bathed in soft December sunshine. It’s a magical place.

    I love this post. I also love jacket potatoes. Your mother sounds like a very wise lady Anna!

  7. Fee
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I live a few miles from Kew Gardens and have never been! I will remedy immediately.

    Secondly, I firmly agree that there is always time for coffee. Every outing should begin and end with a sit down and a chat (and preferably have one in the middle too). And if cake or afternoon tea wangled it’s way in, that’s no hardship.

    Fab post as always! Xx

  8. Alex
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I NEED to go to Kew gardens! I love scenery, flowers and the outdoors and those photo’s alone made me dreamy and wish I was there. Your words are so lovely and it’s so nice to read anything you write, but this is so easy to read and I love hearing about other people’s family! My family are the same with taking the piss out of each other, it gets us through some really tough times. Whenever me or my sisters said anything inappropriate and people looked at us my dad used to say “our family uses humour in adverse situations”. That definitely came in when he passed away.

    xx

  9. Posted May 9, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Ah this is so lovely!

    I can’t believe I’ve never been to these places! Why?!

    Must rectify this asap.

    x

  10. Anita
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Oh! Oh!! Kew Gardens in winter when the Crocus Carpet is out!!!!!!!!! I can’t describe the perfection. Yes, it’s good enough to want you to be outside when it’s that cold and horrible. And did you go to the best teashop in all the world -Newens just opposite Kew Gardens? They invented Maids of Honour and I can’t explain how good they are.

    That sky truly does baffle description. Stunning doesn’t even do it justice. I now want to go and get on a boat…

    As ever your writing is perfection Anna K.

    Is that enough superlatives for one comment?

  11. Posted May 9, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Families who mock one another is something I’m a bit of an expert in. Things have got to the point lately where my husband and my brother gang up on me. It was bad enough having one older brother mocking everything you do/like/wear. Now I have two. And then my dad gets involved and so I sulk. Because I’m just that mature.
    Anywho, yes Kew Gardens AOW visit please. I’m in! I haven’t ever been either. And I live embarrasingly close.

  12. Rach M
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Anna.
    I’ve only got 2 and half months left here (that I am under strict instructions not to wish away), but my, do you make me miss London. And spring. Gorgeous.

    Ps- Great writing, as always
    Pps- Big love for Ma and Pa F, as always.

  13. Cathie
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I Love this! Will definitely be taking note of these lessons, and my favourite line in this post is….
    The world isn’t going to collapse if you stop and take fifteen minutes to relax, breathe, and do something you love…but you might. Nothing that you’re doing is so important that it can’t wait, just a moment. – I am going to tell myself and my friends this often!

    I also must take my mum to Kew she would be in Heaven!

    Have a lovely weekend everyone x

  14. Amanda M
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this post and am willing to overlook that you and your sister are both annoyingly pretty and even more annoyingly photogenic!

    But.

    I take issue with the implication that an ode to sandwiches is not a good topic for a post. I would very happily read an ode to sandwiches (although admittedly more happily not on a ‘starve’ day).

  15. Posted June 6, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Am loving all the lessons but the most important things I need to know is, where is your maxi skirt from?! ;)

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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