Entering into Jo's house for the first time was like encountering a different world: It was a different world, different to the life I'd hitherto known. As we sat on enormous beanbags on the floor of the spacious and empty room gazing at the expanse of polished parquet and sipping herbal tea, I felt more at home in this place than I had done back at my parents. John and Jo lived ethically and politically, both in his job in overseas development, and hers helping women in childbirth in Bolivia and now here at home in middle class suburbville somewhere off the M4.
The NCT class was populated with highly educated professional people all in their sensible mid to late thirties, and early forties. And a couple of kids, really. Us. I was 20 years old, barely out of college, and in that seemingly unlikely state of being straight out of school and able to buy our first house. Back in the early '80s when a two bedroom terraced house in East Reading could be had for £19,000, it was strangely possible.
Jo was bright-eyed and dark with tight curly hair and an eternally youthful stance and outlook on life. Coming in as the second wife to a man who already had three children and a view on population, meant that her longing for children only allowed her the one. The longing was always there and she used this to help drive her desire to help others create families of their own. Even though she'd taught as a teacher for many years she'd never been invited to attend a birth - that most personal and private of times. Until now. I think my main motivating desire for Jo's support was the fact that my then husband was prone to passing out at the sight of blood, and I was more worried about what would happen to him than what would happen to me. So Jo was enlisted to cart him off at the ninth hour should it be necessary.
The birth was fairly 'textbook', as they say. Age had a huge part to play in that way, I think. Our society has unbalanced the natural order of things as far as mother nature is concerned, and it shows in the steep rise in intervention in childbirth in this country. Jo was there. Miraculously, Richard was still standing too. And there was this little bundle of joy that looked more like ET than the photographs I'd seen in baby books.
Jo returned the next day with a framed piece of calligraphy she'd done of a piece out of Kahlil Gibran's poem 'The Prophet'. It said -
'Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.'
It carries on in this vein. Many of you may know it well. But it gave me - a young, naive new mother - a different view on children to the dolls pram and pretty dresses one so many little girls are brought up on. Jo helped me to look on life and its blessings in a different way. Over the years I have tried to preserve the differences between my children, guarding the personalities that are entirely their own and nothing to do with the way I have brought them up or the way I might wish them to be. One is sporty, another quiet, one flamboyant, another hot and fiery. All quite different.
Jo indulged her desire for daughters in running the local Brownie pack and for the bizarre and spectacular in her beautiful millinery creations (a passion for which carried on through the years). We wrote, usually at Christmas, keeping in touch as my unethical family grew and life wove this way and that across the country, putting down roots, ripping them up and planting fresh ones elsewhere. Her family spread out world-wide in their high-flying careers and she carried on in the same house, imparting the same sound knowledge where it was needed.
She sits at the table now, swinging her legs up to sit cross-legged on the seat in her bare feet and smiling like a young girl. The dish is just right, I think: vegetarian, inexpensive, spicy and hot and of elsewhere. She is notably pleased.