Last weekend I found myself tramping through the quiet graveyard of a historic church with my children in tow. Back visiting my parents in the village I grew up in, I’d just enjoyed a kind of watershed moment, realising that one day I would probably be back in this graveyard ON PURPOSE and not just doing the cut-through from the park on the way home.
I read some of the recent gravestones and realised with sadness that I actually knew quite a lot of the names there. I was just trying to pass off my misty-eyes and choked up voice as being down to the wind, when my youngest son took it upon himself to start singing. How moving, you might think. Was he humming ‘nearer my god to thee’ in knowing sympathy? Was he practicing a hauntingly angelic choirboy solo? Was he bollocks. He was gooning around the gravestones, coat over his head, completely unprompted, shrieking the words to Ariana Grande’s recent hit, God is a Woman, or “YOOOOO’ll believe GODDDDDDDDD is a WOOOOOOMAAAAAAAAN!” at the top of his oddly high pitched voice.
There’s something about going back to familiar places that brings you back to yourself. Or in the case of my son, brings the most inappropriate song you could think of to mind in the holiest of places, but we’ll forgive him that because at least he doesn’t really understand yet that it’s about boning someone so well that they think you’re God. Honestly, I weep for the future. Anyway I digress.
I’ve written before about how going ‘home’ to the Peak District, as I still think of it even after twenty years, makes me feel earthed in an indescribable way. Every view is familiar. My history and my childhood are riven into the worn stones in the paths, the loves and losses of my teenage years are written in the road signs, every inch of progress and change is noted, stored, catalogued.
Much like my mum’s towel collection.
Every time I go home, I’m reminded of the rigid, bewildering ‘system’ of bath towel distribution my mum operates. Any attempt to circumvent the system and just use a towel from the cupboard results in her writing you out of her will, or at least that’s what I imagine would happen based on past attempts. My parents’ house used to be a B and B, so naturally they’ve got a lot of towels. Not all of which were purchased before 1958, but there is still a goodly number which were. You can tell those ones, as they still have my mother’s school name tape sewn to them and vary between worn away to almost nothing and scratchy enough to flay your skin clean off your living bones.
It would appear fabric softener is for Tories, the weak of character and anyone born south of Hadrian’s Wall, and this applies to ALL towels in use, not just ones from the previous century. The complicated rules of towel allotment are known only to my mum, and involve several variables like quality of towel, length of stay, quality of towel-user (moral, and otherwise), and despite what you might think from this description so far, don’t actually seem to make ANY SENSE AT ALL to anyone who is not my mum. Beloved close family member, staying for one precious night? That’s the shit beach towel from 1986 for you then. Utter stranger, three night stay? New towel. B&B guest, want to pay by cheque? New towel, horrible pattern, clashes with the bed linen (I imagine, because who in the name of ever living fuck still uses cheques for anything? Everybody hates you.)
Their bed and breakfast business actually had an unbroken run of 5-star reviews when it was open, but I can only assume this is down to all guests being so utterly terrified of using the wrong spoon for the homemade marmalade at breakfast they would do anything to leave without further incident, because my mum’s Arbitrary Systems of Inanimate Household Objects apply to much, much more than just towels.
Once I tried to cook myself an egg for breakfast using, HORRORS, The Wrong Pan. People, this nearly resulted in infanticide, if you can still call it that when the child is well into their thirties.
My parents’ house, being an old pub, has three very serviceable external doors, at different sides of the house. Guests are routinely turned away from ‘The Wrong Door’ and made to walk around the outside of the house to enter the premises by ‘The Right Door’, because nothing says ‘welcome!’ like being shouted at by a slightly harried tiny Scottish woman before you even cross the threshold.
Cream may only be whipped in a single, white porcelain bowl, possibly from the 70’s. Never whip cream in any other vessel or face eternal damnation. The cream whipping bowl may also be used to measure sugar, but only in mortal emergencies.
Sandwiches are ONLY to be eaten from small, continental wooden boards. (Full disclosure: I also have these. I like them.) A sandwich on an actual plate denotes moral bankruptcy (Probably. I’ve never tried it. I am my mother’s daughter after all.)
There are two wooden spoons. One is to be used to stir food when cooking. The other is also used to stir food when cooking. But don’t ever get them mixed up because ONE IS FOR SWEET FOOD AND ONE IS FOR SAVOURY. They look identical you see. But they are not.
As recent bed and breakfast proprietors, my parents have amassed a large collection of teapots. Only one of these is acceptable for making tea in. “Mum, how about we throw some of the twenty other teapots away, to make more room for…” “NO.” And that was the end of that.
I point all of this out not to ridicule my mother, although obviously I do quite a lot of that whenever I’m home, but more to demonstrate that these tiny incremental batshit crazy tendencies are what make up a family. It’s how you know that you are home. We all love my mum beyond measure and tolerate her utter weirdness with raised eyebrows, occasional sighs and not a fair amount of terror that we might accidentally be using a forbidden mug or whatever. There’s no way of telling you see.
Going back home is about more than the place. It’s the people in it. The people who know you, who see you, and you them. The ones you’ve spent a lifetime wearing your own groove around, their habits as familiar as the paths you walked together when you were little, and they held your hand.
So here’s to family. Love you mum.