Living The Dream

24 Nov

Beans, beans, good for your heart

My husband was travelling back from town on the number 68 bus the other day. He sent me a text.

“The guy sitting next to me, without any irony whatsoever, just proclaimed that he was living the dream. He boarded on the Walworth Road.”

As anyone in South London knows, The Walworth Road is not a salubrious address. There is no ‘other’ name for it, like Walworth Village or Passage to Elephant. It does not have delusions of grandeur, such as East Dulwich, or Herne Hill, or Clapham Old Town.

And yet, here was this man genuinely feeling good about his life. He truly seemed to understand that a good life does not always depend on whether you live in the right  postcode, drive a fancy car or eat in the best restaurants.

I am not my grandmother. I do not, at the sight of anyone even slightly working class, start eulogising the whole of the lower ranks of society with patronising terms of affection. “He was so sweet, the way he loved life even when he lived in the back room of his father’s cobblers.” She called workmen ‘ducky’ and anyone who had any sign of the exotic about them (i.e. darker skinned than her) was brave and wonderful, even if all they had done was poured her a whisky.

Like I said, this is not about any of that. People who feel lucky in life should be able to exult about their fortune from wherever they please – be it the top deck of a bus, their private jet, or the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. As long as their good fortune is not to the detriment of others, then I say brag away. It’s a rare thing to feel truly lucky.

It is Christmas, as you may have noticed from the flimsy greeting cards and lurid special edition Mr Kipling Fondant Fancies that litter supermarket shelves. It is the biggest money making holiday of all money-making holidays. I don’t feel bad about Christmas – despite never quite being able to tell my children if God is Jesus or Jesus is the son of God. This is where my husband steps in.

But the presents. They cause me grief. I mean, I like the stockings because I can pop down to Brixton pound shop, Hoover up a few branded nail polishes, re-package them and present them to my terribly scrupulous adolescent daughter. Or I can scoop up  a couple more Lego figures for my middle son, which, within a matter of minutes will be headless, and no doubt end up in the bottom of the Hoover bag along with all of the pine needles by boxing day.

Being children, they want. They have lists, lists not drawn up on paper yet, because all of our felt tips have dried up, but lists in their heads all the same.

“Just remember that my sum-total earnings this year are enough to buy you a packet of jelly beans to share.”

They don’t care. Of course they don’t. They’re children. When I try to include harder up children in their class as examples of those who will no doubt be going without this year, they look at me aghast.

“Him? You think he doesn’t get anything? Last year he got a pair of limited edition Nike Air Max’s and a Wii with all the games.”

My plans to guilt them into wanting for nothing are failing. I am, therefore, already trying to train them for next year. This time around, they will manage to squeeze possibly one of seven things out of me from their mental gift list, (and note, because it is not written down, I can make them forget). Next year, however, I’m going to have prepared them for a total bah-humbug of a mother.

I am already using the man on the bus as my spiritual guide. I didn’t even see him, therefore I am going only by what my husband saw. For all I know, and more likely given that my husband’s descriptions are usually way off mark, he was the richest man on the Walworth Road, taking the bus for the pure hell of it.

In my head though, he was a pensioner living on the fifth floor of a council flat overlooking Burgess Park (nature is always uplifting).

“Kids. The joy in life is never to do with what you have. You know that, don’t you?”

I turn to my daughter:

“You could have the best hair extensions in the world, and the coolest headphones, and a pink car that dispenses Cherry Coke at the touch of a button, but you might not be happy.”

Because I feel I’m on a roll, I turn to my son and continue:

“You could have the life-size Millenium Falcon parked in your garden, and the original Darth Vader costume and a lifetime’s supply of peanut butter cups, but still you might not be happy.”

I even think of turning to my 21 month old, but can’t think of anything he likes more than biting off the heads of Lego figures. This is cheap, and perhaps in his own way he is the only one in our family who is living the dream, so I don’t press on.

My daughter turns to me. “You could ask for a brow tidy and a nose trim for Christmas. You’re beginning to look like Chewbacca.”

Just because I can rarely think of anything I want or need other than a loft extension, the access to a spectacular carpenter for a week, and a dog trainer who works with children, I’ve compiled a list of things that make me feel that in some way, I am Living the Dream:

I have three children. They are mostly a blessing, sometimes a curse. I wanted five when I was young, but then I realised that my mother had far more of a capacity for vomit, sibling brawls and dealing with policemen. She also had a large barn in which she could shut us all if we became too much to handle.

I have a bath. Sometimes, when I’m lying in it, with a great book, I truly believe that heaven doesn’t come closer.

I have a husband who looks like Jesus and is a walking encyclopaedia. In my youth, I was drawn to men who looked like gods, but couldn’t tell me what edify meant if I had asked. Now, every time I’m stuck I shout down the stairs. “I was asleep for the whole of second year History. I never really understood the Cold War. Could you give me a quick lesson, because Wikipedia is not making sense?” He always comes up trumps, and is never patronising.

I live on top of a hill. Perfect for the only muscle toning exercise my body every endures, and also essential for escaping the floods. I can also sing the song about being Queen of The Castle, even though our semi looks like it was built for a “Grandma’s House” style sit-com. Pebble-dash, Lido swimming pool blue paintwork (including gutters) and rice pudding coloured tiles. Not had a revival yet, but I’m waiting in hope.

Not living the dream – well, it could be a list of about a hundred things, but you’ve got me on a good day. I’ve allowed myself one:

My pelvic floor. I wish I’d realised that the exercises post childbirth were a necessity, not a choice. In fact, if it were a real floor, it used to be highly polished parquet and now it’s badly laid lino. I am that woman who has to contemplate whether to have a cup of coffee before heading out. I have learnt to hop expertly from one leg to the other. I have perfected the old woman hunch, the one that says, if I stand up straight, I am sure to pee myself. I have been known to fight small children out of my way on the race up the stairs to the only loo in our house. “But mum, I’m desperate.” I scare them off.”Do you want to see a 35-year-old woman wet herself in front of your friends?”

Love, peace, dreams, piss, jellybeans and a whole sermon from the joyous man from the Walworth Road, who for now will remain a stranger. I hope he boards my bus one day though.

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One Response to “Living The Dream”

  1. smithcharmian January 24, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    hahaha – try the old kent road (worse than walworth)!!!!!!!!!!!
    nice reading tho

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