Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Distraction and comfort

When you're alone
And life is making you lonely,
You can always go downtown
When you've got worries,
All the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown, no finer place for sure,
Downtown, everything's waiting for you

You might have noticed that the tone around these parts has been a little woebegone recently. That despite lovely things ahapenning and lovely people abounding, the air has felt a little heavy, a little sorrowful. I've been trying to keep cheerful but you see, my Grandad is sick and I am sad, and try as I might I just can't keep my chin up.

The Boy and I are Up North for the week, staying with my Gran and visiting my Grandad in hospital. Relief at finally being here to hold hands, hug tight, give love, keep company fights with a constant desire to run, to hide, to find somewhere (preferably sunny, with a cocktail and a masseuse) where everything is ok and one of my very favourite people in the world is not in hospital, not dying.

But I don't think that this is one of those situations, unlike say... a bear attack, where running away would actually help (all bets are welcome on who the first person will be to leave a comment telling me that when a bear attacks you would be an idiot to run away, that what in fact you need to do is play dead, shout 'bad bear' or sing Copacabana at the top of your voice because that really scares the crap out of those big furry bastards.)

I can however run away temporarily. There are places, very certain places that help. When we're at home, ikea is my Downtown. The palace to organisational devices instantly distracts me, reassures me and calms my worried soul, assuring me that there is order in the world, that chaos and unpredictability can be banished, if only for the couple of hours it takes to follow the well sign posted path, testing the best sofas, resting in that bouncing chair that The Boy oohs and ahhs over but I tell him is just too damn ugly to ever find a place in our home, opening and closing the drawers and cupboards in those perfectly formed, never used kitchens and uttering a sigh of contentment as the drawers slide silently shut on their magic, cushioned rails.

I buy the same things every time - glass jars in all three sizes, energy saving lightbulbs, cafe style tumblers and a birch photo frame. Sometimes a plant pot. You can never have enough of any of the above.

I don't even like ikea though. Most of their furniture is nothing but offensive to the eyes, as durable as if it were made from weetabix and destined to end up in landfill within five years. The teenage staff with their pest-control blue and yellow outfits and their 'do I havvvvve to?' expressions make me growl with irritation and that all pervasive smell of meatballs and hotdogs has turned my stomach ever since my aunt who's a nurse muttered 'that's exactly what gangrenous flesh smells like' when we were standing in the queue.

And yet when it feels like life is going to overwhelm me, like I'm drowning in a sea of uncertainty and the ability to Just Keep Breathing is starting to slip away, ikea is my life raft. Which does of course indicate that I'm nuts, because who but those people that live in white boxes filled with white shiny furniture and organisational devices hidden behind white lacquered doors on silent hinges is actually calmed by ikea?

However as we are Up North, there is no ikea. The nearest ikea is 166 miles away. Which is probably for the best as we have about 18 of those damn tumblers, the kitchen counters are filled with glass jars, all of the lights are lit and I can't afford any more photo frames. (Oh god. The nearest ikea is 166 miles away and the Boy and I have been discussing moving Up North one day. Would I even be able move 166 miles from ikea? That would make it a seven and a half hour round trip each time I have an anxiety attack. Not including shopping/recovery time. And I don't drive.)

While there may not be a Palace to Organisation, there is my favourite shop in the world, a shop a million times better and the polar opposite to ikea. An antique shop, in the countryside, down a lane lined with fields, filled with sheep, who have just had lambs, who bounce in the air and make me smile. The shop is divided between a church where the furniture, fashion and fireplaces live and three outbuildings filled with china, linen, jewellery, antique cameras, old postcards, countless other intriguing whatsits and swallows nesting in the rafters. And there's a courtyard, littered with a collection of vintage toy trucks and tricycles, rocking horses and tin cars, sitting there as if they were abandoned this morning when the children were called in for lunch. Or to sweep the chimneys, or whatever it was kids did back when toys were made of tin, not plastic.

And this place is my heaven. It too calms me on days like today when it felt like a world that is supposed to be solid was threatening to start crumbling. A slow walk through the mounds of furniture, stacked high but not nearly high enough to reach the vaulted roof of the church, not nearly high enough to touch the beams. Finger tips traced across polished wood, carved stone, cast plaster. Chairs with three legs, burst cushions, escaping springs. Ceramic bed pans and foot warmers and the wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, bursting with furs that make my stomach crawl with fascinated revulsion. Lace veils with holes in them, kid gloves that have never been worn. Velvet top hats and army uniforms, bath tubs with cast iron feet and deep deep sinks from gutted farm houses. And on and on it goes, each item with a history, a soul, fragments of the person who owned it embedded in its makeup. And with each thing a reassurance that something remains, something survives, not everything brakes and sometimes, even when it does it is still beautiful, still valued.

Ethnic jacket

All photographs by me.


  1. *hugs* I just went through the same thing with grandfather. It's not fun, or even easy, but it is so good of you to be there for yourself, for him, and for your family.

    Growing older sucks. It's so easy to forget that other people are growing older too. At least no one says we have got grow up as we grow older!

    One thing that helped me was making a photo album. We all brought our albums/laptops to the hospital and sat around (beteen feeding times) tagging photos to be copied or making CDs and had all the photos printed and put them together into themed grampa albums. It was nice to have lots of good memories to look at and talk about.

    PS- I wish I'd had a shop like that to visit while I was home last week.... Instead, I ended up eating too much takeout with the rest of my family and then sitting around talking about how we ate too much until we got too tired or thought it was time to eat again.

  2. PPS- I wish there were a way to go back and fix typos in that novella of a comment I left

  3. sending you & your family well wishes...

    i too, find sanctuary in antique shops...

  4. What an extraordinarily beautiful post. It occurs to me, perhaps Ikea calming you down is akin to Ritalin, a speed of sorts, calming down ADHD kids. Disrupting all circuits.

  5. When my granddad was dying I wandered around Edinburgh, went to the Chamber's Street Museum and drew the animals, I don't normally draw but I liked trying to draw a capybara. Difficult was better than not.

  6. So sorry to hear about your grandfather. It's very hard to be far away when someone you love is ill.

    Beauty is so restorative. You have the right idea! xoxox

  7. I just went through this with my grandmother, but it was made easier because it was her choice. Lots of love, hugs and well wishes headed your way!

    P.S. I never would have thought to say something, but you're right about the Copacabana. MUCH better than running. ;-)

  8. Hugs, lots of love and good thoughts being sent your way. So sorry to hear about Grandad (you're only the third person I'm aware of her uses Grandad, makes me miss mine).

    I hope the trip proves to be what's needed for all of you, however things may turn out.

  9. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather, my thoughts go out to you and your family.

  10. Oh, babybabybaby. This is the very worst. I'm so so sorry. All I can really say (because what is there to say) is that when you look back you will be so glad that you were with them right now. I wasn't, and it's still hurts.

    But it hurts so much now because you love them so much, which is a wonderful good thing. And I'm glad that he lived to see you get married, no matter what else happens. My heart is with you, way way up there in Scotland.


  11. You have a blog award waiting for you! Head on over to my blog for directions. :)

    xoxo KB

  12. Lots of love & hugs ... I'm so sorry to hear that your grandfather isn't well. I wish I could send you a bunny Just Because.

  13. How are you able to articulate everything so beautifully?

    I'm so sorry. It is good that you can be there with him right now, though, regardless what happens. I wish I could've been with my grandmother when she got sick. Like Meg, it still hurts my heart that I was thousands of miles away. I'll be thinking of you.

  14. Aw, honey. Wish I had something either particularly wise or particularly comforting to say. But I never do. Just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking of you and your family.

  15. 'distraction and comfort': exactly what your beautiful images and careful words bring to so many readers. Will be thinking of you. x

  16. I am so sorry to hear about your Grandad. This post is written in such a touching way, your attitude is so refreshing and honest. Even though I don't know you my thoughts are with you and your family at this awful time.

    ps. I also love to hate Ikea, visits are a great distraction technique, though sometimes stressful for the reasons that you mentioned!

  17. hi.
    Sorry to hear about your granddad. I know how you feel. We are going through the same thing at the moment with my future father in law. And no matter what I try, I still seem to have no happy spark.
    it'll get better, and being with them is the best thing for them and for you.
    You write so beautifully too, all I can manage is 'I hate it, it sucks'
    I'd love somewhere with a lion the witch and the wardrobe wardrobe. I have been re-reading my CS Lewis books recently, takes me back to being a kid. anyway, my thoughts are with you and your family.

  18. I was quite taken aback when I saw the word 'Ikea,' and in a post about comfort. But of course you brought it around and made it make sense and shared a little bit of yourself. And it was beautiful.

    I'm thinking of you, love. Just being there is the best thing you can do.

  19. my kitchen counter is covered in jars, too! i think it drives my roommate nuts...

  20. i've been thinking about this post all day. and sending out happy thoughts in the direction of you and your family... it's such a shitty thing to go through, because grandparents are amazing. it's great that you can be there though. and wonderful that there are quaint shops to take comfort in. x

  21. So um I'm pretty new, and I feel a bit like I'm intruding -- but how can I not reach out after this beautiful + poignant post. Even in describing your emotional reaction to Ikea (hey, cleaning and organizing *always* soothes me, so this is just one step away from that...) Lots of hugs (in the least creepiest way) and thoughts sent to you + yours.

  22. Am thinking of you. And tomorrow, I shall think of your images. x

  23. Hon, I'm so sorry.

    Being there makes it so much better. I was there for my grandfather, but not for my grandmother, and I still cry about that sometimes.

    I hope you find all the comfort you need Up North.

  24. I'm sending lots of love your way, across the not-so-very-big distance. Also, bunny thoughts. Also, xoxoxooooooooooooooooooo and delicious muffins.

  25. I wish I could bring an ikea to you. This is never an easy time, having gone through this too many times this past year, I know what this feels like and can recall the hospital smell as I am writing to you. I hope that you and your family can spend a lot of quality time with your grandad, shower him with love and that he is not suffering. A big hug your way.
    Sending love and light to you and your family,

  26. Your pictures really say allot about how you feel. They're pretty, and somehow reflect quiet sadness.

    I hope you get to have more time, in your own personal heaven. Going through difficult periods isn't easy. Best wishes, for the journey.

  27. That was a very beautifully written post.


play nice.