10 January 2018

Stolen bikes in old homes

With January come to Birmingham, there is constant low cloud cover and mist. One of these days, we ticked off four years living in the house on Victoria Road, although which day it was, I don't remember now. It was one of them. Everyone is older and more mature, although I look at these pictures of the girls from our moves and only see courage. Naomi especially, but all of them, starting again with their book bags and some vague promise from me that it would be okay.

Now, the kids run off in the morning alone, Naomi and Mei, up Victoria Road to school. I take Mia ten minutes later, even though she's crying about having lost her glove. I want to be more sympathetic, but I'm not. A better father would be more sympathetic. Instead, I rush her along, tell her to stop crying, and when the teacher sees Mia's sad face, I say, She's had an emotional morning.

Things change and they don't, isn't it. I look at this picture of me and the bike and the girls. The grass is overgrown and they are all so small. I remember feeling happy at this point, like things might be coming together finally. I knew, but did not really know, the truth that changing places, moving countries very rarely solves problems. It heaps sand on them, buries them, then two or three years later the wind starts to blow. This is the way things go.

Builders have been around to look at the back of the house and make plans to put in the new bathroom. The house on Victoria Road being built at the beginning of the last century had originally had the bathroom downstairs, but at some point, in the opulence of the 50s or 60s or 70s, it was moved upstairs, taking over a full small bedroom. The Pihlajas of Harborne, with our many growing children have decided to move the toilet back to give Naomi her own room and in this, do some other renovations. Take out a chimney breast, move the boiler, add a nicer bathtub, quartz counter tops, a new frig and hob — a long list of middle class amenities which will make the home more comfortable as the children slip into their preteens. It's a fantasy made out of money, but money that is there now, magically, after four years of not moving from country to country.

Of course, this wasn't the plan when we came back from the jungle. I was just holding my breath. All I wanted then was some permanency. Some grace, a year or two to recapture whatever British life we had. I don't know what I imagined. I look in my eyes in this picture and can see myself faking it, faking the optimism. Things worked out, didn't they. They did and they didn't.