The Circular Mirror

Returning to the UK at regular intervals makes the meandering journey things have taken in your absence look like a jump. The first thing that hits me every time I get here is that it is ever more diverse. The UK has its fair share of shameful history, and there is still plenty to complain about, but wandering through London I love to see the diversity it has brought us. The UK has hardly been nurturing to many that considered it their mother country but I am always moved to witness the work that goes in to making life manageable for new arrivals now. Taking Neve to the doctor's surgery the sign in screen has 12 language options. For the last couple of years the nearest place of worship to my parent's house is a Hindu Temple. I did a two week placement in a primary school in Leeds during my teacher training that boasted children from 67 countries. This diversity means that kids growing up in our boring New Town listened to Jungle, Reggae, Bollywood and Bhangra to name but a few. I remember my mate learning to sing Madonna in Cantonese thanks to the proprietors of a local restaurant, I was duly impressed.

My home town, Crawley, is next to Gatwick Airport. My Dad once told to us that we were lucky because whatever happened with the economy there would be jobs for us there. When he said it my, arrogant and insecure in equal measures, teenage self said 'Thanks Dad, its always good to have something to strive for'. But of course most of the family have done stints at the airport and have been grateful that there has always been work when we needed it. My particular favourite was the flight meal factory where I worked 16 hour shifts. I had two roles. The first was wrapping the entire tray in clingfilm. The electric shocks received from doing this at the required speed meant I was still crackling several hours after I got home. The other, slightly better, option was taking my place on a production line. Most often this meant placing a scoop of peas in-between mashed potatoes and meat at high speed. I was usually the only English speaker on the line, but we could all sing along to every song on the (limited) Radio Mercury playlist, including the advertisements.

The area of Crawley next to to the one I grew up in is Langley Green. This has at various times been called  Bangley Green or Langley Desh by (not that politically correct) locals. Walking there today it is clear that many of the women wearing headscarves have married into a new way of life. Of course this multi-culturalism has its problems, but I really like these fluid interactions between groups. I am glad that here most people do not presume someone belongs somewhere else just because they haven't yet mastered the language, or their skin or dress sets them apart. And five minutes walk from my parent's house there is a Chinese, a Curry house and a newsagent selling good Polish sausages.

As our apartment on Heybeliada has one small mirror I have largely been able to avoid spending much time looking at the reality of my post-pregnancy appearance (nearly three years of avoidance now). It is always  when I return to Mum and Dad's and face the mirrors that I have assessed myself in since I was 5, that I judge the meandering decline that looks a lot like a leap thanks to the weeks or months in between. The circular mirror in the bathroom has reflected eight Cooke kids journey through puberty and into adulthood, quite a thought. I would have been able to just see my eyes when stood on tip-toe when we first moved to this house (from next door!). One mirror moment that has stuck with me was when I found Daniel (who has Down's syndrome) examining his face and he turned to me and asked 'Are my eyes different than yours?' I answered that they were beautiful liquid brown and that he was so handsome, but I understood what he was really asking. All of us have had to face the reality of the curves and lines and marks that define us, until people know us better. This mirror, the only private one in a busy household is where each of us have come to terms with what we have been given to work with.

I think that at least half the times I have looked in that circular mirror I have thought 'One day I will sort this out' or 'I want to look better than this soon'. I am nearly forty, have four children to nurture, have never willingly let anyone down and have been a very soft place in countless difficult situations. But I still want to look good enough for quick, thoughtless first impressions to be reasonably favorable. If only showing outward patience when your inner self wants to shout, or taking a child into your arms when you feel more like pushing away, awarded you beauty points! But I do think it begins to work that way (though of course its impossible to see this in yourself) because all the people I find beautiful beyond first impressions are also good, and there does come a time when a bitter or judgmental disposition becomes permanent in the set of a face, and there is no beauty in that.

Being with my Mum is also my first real opportunity to have a haircut without two little ones in tow, so I am forced to sit opposite my own reflection for an hour. The hairdresser tells me she would rather live anywhere than the UK, though somewhere hot would be better. I focus on the fat on her chin and the tiny bump of her belly rather than look at my own. 'What are you going to do about all this grey?' she asks me, with all the tact she can muster. I have been thinking about this one, so I have an answer: 'It's ok, I am going to live with it for now'.

Looking in the circular mirror.

Looking in the circular mirror.

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One thoughts on “The Circular Mirror

  1. Loved it Julia. I was a bit disappointed not to get to read anything by you last night, but it was definitely worth the wait. And the theme of waiting and mirrors gave me ideas for two posts too, so thanks for that darling.


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