Time is a funny thing. When you are not motivated to exercise  and you are required to warm up before your gym class , five minutes  run on the treadmill can seem forever . But  when  you  wake up in the morning, it is 7.30 and the next thing you know it is 8 a.m.. Where has the time gone? Perhaps when you are indecisive about whether you should walk your dog seeing that the sun is out. Or when you think about whether you should hand wash or dry clean the dress that you do not think you will be wearing sooner so you turn over the tag and read the instructions and  feel the fabric and you recall your experience  when you have chosen not to follow its instruction and after much deliberation, you decide against it. Your instinct tells you that fabric is stretchable, hence you place it in a dry clean bag. It is better to be safe than sorry.  

We are now past the middle of June.

Early this month,  I wished two people Happy Belated Birthday.

One is a new client. The other person is one of my very good friends. Her  

birthday was early May.

One week night, I wasted one hour trying to activate my credit card. After setting up the mobile account, I decided that I should install  the app on my phone , then I got stuck because  I had got the wrong Apple ID that I had reset umpteen times due to forgotten password. Perhaps I should not have bothered doing it when I was dead tired, certainly not when I could not   remember if the alphanumeric characters contained any upper case.

 Now that you are able to  perform tasks online and accessibility to information is a matter of  taps on your keyboard or smart phone,  every task appears to be  screaming for your attention and with the availability of infinite options for your entertainment, you absolutely need to keep up with spearing technology. On top of that, we have to take  additional precautionary measures to fight the pandemic. All these are made to make you lose your mind.  I read that on average, a person’s attention span is merely eight  seconds.  I certainly find that  my mind is  constantly running on several planes, very little gets done.   

The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell is a book that I would have read in one sitting if I could.  It is a captivating story where the female characters are strong and you will be drawn to them. Two women though separated by fifty years, are linked by their determination not to settle for ordinary lives. They are Lexie Sinclair and Elina Vilkuna.  

 It is in the mid-1950s, Lexie Sinclair’s original given name is Alexandra but when  her mother later decides that she does not like it and shortens it to the final syllables ‘Sandra’, she reminds her mother that her name is Alexandra. She is sent home from the university because she walks out of an exam through a door reserved for men. She is not allowed to graduate unless she apologises. Her family lives in the border between Devon and Cornwall.  She is twenty-one going on to twenty-two years old and she has plans to live in London so off she goes and make a life for herself. She first gets a job as a lift attendant in a big department store and then she begins an affair with Innes Kent, a journalist who publishes a magazine called Elsewhere. Innes, thirty-four sees her as a Lexie, thus Lexie it is.  As years go by, she grows into her own woman and becomes a caring mother and provider to her child with a renowned journalist. She names her son Theodore as it contains the sound “adore”.

Half a century later, there is Elina, a Finnish artist  who almost died from giving birth to a child and she lives with her partner , Ted who is in the film industry.

‘ Ted is thinking about paternity leave. It is an idle, meandering train of thought he’s been having ever since he left the house with a list of things Elina needs for the baby. Or a list of things they need. Wipes, cotton wool, barrier cream – on and on it  goes. Who would have thought that a person so small could generate such heaps, such mountains , of stuff, of needs?

    He has been reflecting that his role, as a new father on his two weeks of paternity leave, is akin to that of a runner on a film set. The baby is the star, undoubtedly, with its every whim instantly met, its demands and timetable slavishly adhered to at all times. Elina is the director, the one responsible for proceedings, the one trying to keep everything on track. And he, Ted is the runner. There to fetch and carry, to assist the director in her work, to mop up spillages, to make the tea. ‘

As Elina is dazed and struggling to cope with her recovery,  her work and caring for their new born, wondering how she ends up there, Ted is  disturbed by fuzzy memories of his own childhood that do not tally with his parents’ version of events.

The story alternates between the two heroines. The past connects with the present. Both heroines share a strong affinity to art. Throughout the novel, there is another type of mother. The  antagonist , Margot who is  Ted’s mother  is very much influenced by Gloria,  the monstrous kind of mother.  Gloria is Innes’s estranged wife and she is devious and manipulative.

Maggie O’Farrell is detailed and descriptive in her  narrations  about  how Lexie and Elina are experiencing motherhood such as  sleep deprivation, anxieties  amidst  having to  juggle  between their own work and responsibilities as a mother. I do remember those nights when  our babies did not sleep straight through the night and all those anxieties whenever  they cried  because I did not know why. I was  exuberant to hold them close until they grew too heavy for me to lift them up. I did not need to go to the gym to lift weights then.  Whenever our babies were asleep, I  worried  if I had tucked them in properly and placed their tiny bodies rightly.

Thanks to those books on  babies’ first two years. I had to constantly refer to them to check on what I should expect from new born and their first two years.  For our first child, there was her paediatrician who used to live down the road and I was grateful when the doctor was kind to drop by our house and examine her and  told us that it was  colic that was causing her discomfort. All that humming of  the nursery rhymes, the lyrics of which I would not have otherwise bothered to learn and  memorize, things you would fuss  as a mother, croon and  tuck in the baby,  you  no longer think about  your own dreams and  possibilities. You take your time  because like what O’Farrell wrote,

‘ But babies don’t like a sense of urgency.’

Motherhood had kept me grounded and I had to grow up.

Incidentally the author starts the book with a quote by Matthew Arnold. click

‘ And we forget because we must’. I note  from googling that the full quote is  ‘And we forget because we must and not because we will.’   

Her Majesty’s Theatre December 2014

The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell is a  captivating read about memories, romance and motherhood. The author is an excellent storyteller.

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