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.