Monday, 11 March 2013

The Family Script

My maternal grandmother was a redoubtable woman.  An Edwardian nursery governess, she spent her 20's and early 30's living in exclusive hotels in the North of England, where she ruled her nursery with a rod of iron.  She didn't marry until she was 33 but nevertheless she and my grandfather (having by now emigrated to Canada where he had a farm) produced a large brood of their own; my mother and her four brothers.  Needless to say, they were all brought up in accordance with her strict views on child rearing.  Her voice can still be heard echoing down the generations.

Granny didn't believe in celebrating Mother's Day, seeing it (wrongly as it happens - Mothering Sunday has a long and venerable tradition) as a recent and purely commercial innovation.  My own mother, being strongly influenced by her upbringing, was also not inclined to make an occasion of it and I, in my turn, although delighted with the handmade offerings of my sons when they were very young, paid scant attention to the occasion.

It wasn't until my marriage broke down and I realised too late that Mother's Day fell on a Sunday the boys were to spend with their father.  I didn't see the need to change this arrangement and fight my corner, the family script being so deeply ingrained, and spent the day alone, feeling lost and displaced, missing my sons on a day that focuses so strongly on the mother/child relationship.  It was during that long, painful day that I began to think again about Mother's Day and to accept that it did matter to me, that I did want my children to think of me on this special day and from then on I have carefully nurtured it in my own family.

Yesterday, it was a special joy to spend the day with my youngest son, down from University especially to be with me on Mother's Day, and to speak to my two older sons who couldn't join us this year but made special efforts to phone (they so rarely do - is this a boy thing?).  In  this family now, every Mother's Day will always be a special day.

I am rewriting the family script.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Putney Bridge

London. 

Liverpool Street Station teeming with people, scurrying about their busyness as I plunge into the underground, crowded escalators carrying me into the bowels of the earth, then jammed onto a Central line train packed with strangers, fellow travellers.  Unknown, unknowable lives.  The District line is quieter, room to sit down, closer to the surface and, finally, three hours after leaving my sleepy Suffolk village, I arrive at Putney Bridge Station surfacing, blinking, into the bright February sunshine and take a deep breath of fresher air.



I set out across Putney Bridge, red London buses, cars, taxis, bicycles, pedestrians, all suspended over the fast-flowing Thames, creating it's own spaces, microclimate and ancient rhythms, indifferent to the world that has evolved around it.  Then I see him walking towards me, the tall, dark, handsome young man with his grandmother's vivid blue eyes and a warm bear hug for me.  My first-born son.  We walk together, chattering and laughing, exchanging news, so pleased to see each other, into a bustling Saturday Putney High Street, then take a turning into a quieter residential road, following it through towards the Common and a quiet pub for lunch.

The next time I see him will be his Wedding Day.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Winter's Icy Grip

Disappointingly, February has failed to live up to her early promise and is busy reminding us that Winter is not yet ready to release its icy grip.

Tramping through the snow-bound fields with Asha, our yellow labrador, the iron-grey sky sealing us into the monochrome landscape, it was a real pleasure to see a few brave yellow daffodils pushing through the crust of snow.


A promise that the English winter must end soon, the sun will shine again and the Spring flowers in this Suffolk meadow will return once more.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Things that make me Happy

I don't want to wish time away, but I'm glad to be saying goodbye to January, always a difficult month in the aftermath of Christmas, with its short gloomy days and long freezing nights, the worst of the weather and the horrible bugs.  February at least promises brighter, longer days, the return of birdsong and new growth pushing through in the garden.  Bringing hope.

I have just visited the Three Beautiful Things blog for inspiration, and it set me thinking about what has made me feel happy today.

Putting on a pretty, warm, knitted dress, smart woollen jacket, winter white scarf and black leather knee boots today to go into the beautiful Suffolk riverside town of Woodbridge and do some shopping, instead of my usual jeans, jumper and fleece.


Buying two new books at the Browser's Bookshop, an independent shop with interesting and thoughtful stock beautifully laid out, where I could spend far too much money.  Today I bought Tea Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife" which struck me as both unusual and well-written and Helen Castor's "She-Wolves" about influential Medieval Queens, a subject which has fascinated me ever since I picked up an Alison Weir book detailing the life of Katherine Swynford, a commoner, mistress, then later third wife of the 14th century prince John of Gaunt and the ancestress of our royal family. Medieval history has become something of a passion and I am absolutely riveted to the Richard III saga.


Stroking the silky-soft velvety fur of Asha's ears.  I love to stroke her ears and she can happily put up with it for hours! Soothing for both of us.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

"What will you do now?"

"What will you do now with the gift of your left life?"

Such a lovely evocative line from a Carol Ann Duffy poem.  She has such a spare way with words and chooses and places them so beautifully.

And reading this made me think about my own left life, the children having grown and flown the nest, busy with their own lives, and my mother having recently died.  This has been a time of great change for me and a chance to reflect, reassess where I am, where I want to be, what I will do now.  What really matters.

I have loved being a mother.  For me, it has been the best thing in my life and, now that I find myself only a small part of my children's lives, it is hard to find something meaningful to fill the huge space they have left behind in mine.  I could spend hours listing the things I miss about having my sons living at home with me.  Not that I would want them at home all the time now that they are young adults - they need to have their own lives and I need to have mine.  Nor has it always been easy; far from it! Yet somehow the only time I really feel whole again, and at peace, is when they are here with me, chatting and laughing in the kitchen while I cook at meal for us all, bake a cake I know they like, feel the warmth of that primeval relationship we only ever have with the people to whom we have given birth.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Let it Snow

Snow and icy conditions certainly make cocooning the most inviting option and tomorrow I am planning a satisfying session of marmalade making and bread baking, having spent most of today tramping cross country to the lovely foodie pub in the next village for a bowl of hot, spicy soup while thawing out by the fire and reading the newspapers.




With schools closed across the country, I was thinking of the heavy snowfall in South Yorkshire where I grew up, during the severe winter of 1963.  At least a foot of snow fell overnight but, nevertheless, we got up before first light as usual, dressed in our freezing cold bedrooms, breakfasted and went out into the thick snow well wrapped up against the biting cold and waited patiently at the bus stop for the first of the two buses I took every day across the city to reach my Catholic convent school; a journey of over 6 miles.  Amazingly it arrived eventually. Those were tougher times and people just carried on regardless.  We didn't get far however as the bus got stuck on the first of the many hills we had to negotiate on the journey and, delighted, we returned home for a day of snowballing and snowman making with mugs of hot chocolate by the coal fire.

The reckoning came the next day by which time, amazingly, the roads had been cleared and transport was back to normal, despite the heavy snow still lying in drifts all around.  The nuns kept us under a strict regime of humiliation and tongue lashings and we lived in daily dread of being singled out, annihilated by an icy look, seared by a harsh word, made to stand isolated in front of the class for a sharp character assassination.  The survival strategy was simply to keep our heads down, not to be noticed.  So, each girl who did not make it into school the day before, and there were many as we came from miles around, had to stand up and explain to the class exactly the circumstances that prevented her from making the epic journey.  The feeling was that we should have walked to school, even if it took us all day.  I still remember how, a very shy child, I was quaking in my shoes, waiting for my turn to justify my awful transgression!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Hospitals

I have always hated hospitals.  My initiation was the birth of my first baby which was so traumatic and unsympathetically handled that I resolved to have my next baby (as soon as I could contemplate such an idea) at home.  Despite all the pressure I did just that and had a very peaceful and stressfree experience, although I did panic a bit when the midwife admitted that the gas and air had run out. 

It wasn't until my mother became ill last year that I was reintroduced to them.  She was admitted to hospital last Christmas with pneumonia and to my horror, I discovered that everything I had read in the newspapers was true.  My partner and I nursed her through the worst of her illness as the nurses seemed too busy to do anything much for her other than pump her full of antibiotics and tick boxes on a chart.  Delirious and suffering with dementia she was completely unable to fend for herself and had a terrible fall from her (too high) bed one night in her unsupervised cubicle just after we left, splitting her head open and needing stitches.  She was discharged looking as though she had been badly beaten up, though thankfully the antibiotics had done their job.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I attended an outpatient appointment for an assessment on a painful knee.  Although it had been excruciating intially, things had settled down and I felt well and was walking confidently, just wanting a diagnosis and a treatment plan.  The humourless lady physiotherapist insisted that we discuss only the presenting symptom and didn't ask about my history of back problems at all, proceeding to manhandle my leg in order to confirm her diagnosis.  I left in a great deal of pain, limping and wincing with a trapped sciatic nerve.

Is it really acceptable, I wonder, for patients to leave hospital in a worse condition than when they arrived?    Whatever happened to empathy, caring and the concept of healing?

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

"It's coming near Christmas..."

"It's coming near Christmas, they're cuttin down trees
They're puttin up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace".

Joni Mitchell 



There's always magic in the air at Christmas.  I love to think of people through the ages celebrating the winter solstice in one way or another, from the ancient pagan tradition to our more recent Christian era.  Despite the commercialisation, it is a wonderful occasion to have a family get-together, share a feast, the warmth of our homes and the giving and receiving of gifts.  I cannot think of a better way to distract us all from what can be a rather depressing and miserable time of year, the short days and often dank weather.  I love the sense of anticipation and goodwill, the lights going up on trees in houses and gardens, the bustle of Christmas markets and the smells of the Christmas cooking wafting through the house. 


And yet, increasingly as time passes, there is such a complex layer of emotions simmering away beneath the surface and I think this is particularly the case where marriages have broken down and families have been fractured and reconstituted.  More than anything, I miss my small sons and their joy and excitement at this time of year, the carol concerts and nativity plays that used to fill my days, whilst at the same time I look forward to seeing the grown-up versions of two of my three sons and spending some time with them; the youngest, sadly, having decided not to join us this year.  My partner, too, misses the family Christmases he shared with his own children when they were an intact family and from which he is now excluded, even as we prepare for them to come and visit on Christmas Eve,  knowing that they will be leaving early on Christmas morning to spend the rest of the holiday with their own mother and her new husband.  


And, of course, this is the first Christmas without my mother.  Bittersweet.


Life is full of challenges and changes, adjustments and adaptations, the weft and the warp. Christmas puts our lives under a microscope and exposes the flaws as well as the beauty of what we create.  It is a time of joy as well as sadness, but this Christmas I hope, mostly joy.

 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Hoar Frost

We are living in a deep freeze in East Anglia at the moment, the weather from Siberia hitting the East Coast hard.  The cold is intense and relentless and makes our daily dog walk a chilly but exhilarating experience as every blade of glass, every fallen leaf, every holly bush is etched with a thick coating of hoar frost, the shivering bare branches of the trees silhouetted against the bright blue sky.




Coming home is a real pleasure too and I have never appreciated more our lovely warm, welcoming house and the joys of the woodburning stove.

 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Requiescat in pace

We were out on the water when it happened, battling strong winds and wayward tides, trying to negotiate the sandbanks at the mouth of the river so we could sail the boat back to our home port. Daunted by the size of the waves and the hostile conditions as we headed out to sea, we turned back, making for the charming riverside town two hours upriver where we planned to spend another night, try again tomorrow.

There were three missed calls on my mobile when I went down below to change out of my foul weather gear and fear gripped my heart.  Something was wrong. My sister broke the sad news that she was gone, her heart had failed and she was lost to us.  My lovely mother.


I cannot yet even begin to comprehend my loss or work out how to live in a world where she is not. She has been part of my story all my life, her life entwined with mine and somehow in all the busyness of life, all the additional responsibilities of the last year since her health deteriorated so rapidly, I never really thought about this.  I was too busy living to think about dying.


She had a beautiful Requiem Mass early one morning at the little church on the green beside the river in the market town nearby.  She would have loved the service, the music, the flowers, having so many members of her family come to bid her farewell, as well as the love and laughter that flowed afterwards as we all sat down for lunch before heading back to our various lives.  


And yet, in some small corner of my mind, I still think that if I got into the car, drove the 10 miles cross-country to the Nursing Home where she spent her final contented months, greeted the staff, climbed the stairs, opened the door to her room, she would still be there to welcome me with a delighted smile, a big hug and a kiss, that I would coax her out into the garden to sit in the dappled shade of the old magnolia tree and share a cup of tea with her again.


 It was, in truth, as she would have wanted it; a quick, sudden ending.  She was spared more slow deterioration, the deepening of her dementia, the continuing failure of her body.  She was a good woman and very dear to us.  She will be much missed.  




"Few have maps and fewer still know which bright star might carry them home"

Monday, 2 July 2012

Summer Garden





The roses under my bedroom window are so beautiful this year.  They, at least, are loving the wet, cool weather we have been having this summer.


I dream of having the time to just sit in the garden on a warm afternoon and not constantly to leap up to pull up a weed, or grab a trowel or spade to attack whatever is discordant.



And this is where we do sit on the rare warm evenings we have had this summer, with a glass of cool sauvignon blanc when the day's work is done.



It was so good to have Mum to visit the other day and see her enjoying a bit of late afternoon sunshine in our garden.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Musings on My Mother

She's actually very happy.  My mother.  Happier than anyone else I know.  She lives entirely in the moment and is indeed experiencing a second childhood.  The cast of characters in her mind consists mainly of her mother and father and her three brothers, whom she adored and who looked up to their older sister.  Only one is still alive.  She's looking forward to the Queen's Jubilee celebrations, the Queen having been there all her life practically and part of the long-lost childhood where she spends her time.  She still knows who I am, which is a real pleasure.

Born on a Prairie Farm in the wilds of Saskatchewan, her father having narrowly missed the catastrophe of the Titanic - a telegram from the farm manager calling him back early made him cancel his booking and take an earlier boat across the Atlantic - she will probably end her days under the wide skies of Suffolk, a place she has no connnection with at all, just part of the random pattern of her life, of all our lives.

Dealing with all this has made me step back and reflect on my own life.  To try and come to some sort of terms with the things that have happened and where I am now, the pattern of 'birth, death and the whole damn thing' as Elizabeth Luard so succinctly put it.

Monday, 14 May 2012

My mother

I lost my mother sometime last year.  A series of transient ischaemic attacks have destroyed part of her brain and taken away most of who she was, leaving a large, guileless child/woman in her place.  Someone who has lost the ability to care for herself and needs help with even the most basic tasks.

I mourn my mother, the lovely, warm, kind woman who was always there for me, who always understood my point of view and supported me in everything I did, all the choices I made, no matter how questionable.  I miss calling her to talk about my dilemmas, to tell her about her grandchildren and hear about her day, make plans to see her again soon.  I still see her, more than ever now I have moved her to a lovely nursing home nearby where I can keep a close eye on her, but the mother I had all my life has gone.

She was always there for me when I needed her, and now I need to be there for her now she really needs me.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Perfect



A walk in a rain-drenched bluebell wood 
the last cool rays of the evening sun 
a wicker chair, a woolly jumper 
and a glass of white wine   

Practising for summer!

Birthday lunch

It was 21 years ago when I finally came face to face with my youngest son.  The time just flies by from baby to toddler, small child to large child, teenager to young adult.  

We met for lunch in a bustling London bar, all Farrow and Ball and mismatched tables and chairs, red buses swishing by on the busy, wet, Saturday streets, people scurrying under umbrellas in the relentless icy rain, but warm and cosy inside.


I miss my boys and the homes we made together, the lives we shared, but how lovely to meet up like this and share a birthday lunch.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Postcard


Delicious ice-cold, fruity, blond beer, steaming pots of fresh mussels cooked in white wine with onions and celery, perfectly fried chips dipped in garlicky mayonnaise, and pancakes (pannenkoek) met slagroom (cream) yes, really!

The entire nation on its bicycle; mothers and fathers, boyfriends and girlfriends, grandparents with grandchildren perched in front, clutching tiny pretend handle bars and looking terribly serious. Or walking dogs; big dogs, little dogs, every possible variety of dog.  I think every Dutch family must own at least one - they even take them out on their boats.



A huge bowl of sky in gorgeous shades of palest duck egg blue and grey.  And water.  Water everywhere. Canals leading off inland seas, taking us right into the very heart of lovely ancient towns where we could step off the boat straight into the nearest cafe or bar, wander through the streets, shopping for fresh bread, coffee, cheese and fruit, or just admiring the pretty Dutch houses and wondering how on earth they get their windows so very clean, before heading back to the boat to sit in the cockpit watching the world go by with a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta, cooked on the little swinging stove.


From Goes we sailed across the Oosterschelde to Zierikzee for the Mussel Festival, joined friends from England, stayed a day longer than planned because of severe weather then, setting off for Willemstad, were forced back to Goes, probably my favourite place in Holland, by an unpredicted Force 7 in the Oosterschelde, which is like standing fully dressed in the wind and rain, with someone chucking buckets of freezing water over you every few seconds. Not my idea of fun at all! Lovely fish soup and a glass of warming Calvados helped to ease my recovery from the difficult conditions at sea that day.


A long day's sail up the Volkerak finally brought us to Willemstad, another pretty dutch town, to stay for a couple of days before taking the boat up the Haringvliet to Middel Harnis for pannenkoek, then on to Hellevoetsluis where we fell in with a crowd of Dutch boaties who all have the same boat we have - an instant connection there.  We spent a couple of days with them and joined them in a race (my first) where we were totally outclassed, but great fun anyway, then a barbecue in their clubhouse in the evening, watching the sun go down over the water and chatting with the English speakers, swapping sailing stories and practising Dutch pronunciation to their great amusement.

                         
Time now to retrace our steps, back to Willemstad, then back across the Oosterschelde again, this time into the Veerse Meer and the pretty town of Veere for the night, then on to Middelburg in the pouring rain, then the train and the ferry home across the wide, cold Noordzee. 


Now where did I leave my waistline?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Getting There... maybe

I'm sitting here alone in my house tonight with a glass of Kentish white wine and a frittata, made with vegetables from a neighbour's garden.  I bartered the vegetables for a pot of the marmalade I make every January, a popular present.  Yesterday afternoon was spent sitting in the garden of another neighbour in the village, together with the latest additions to the next generation.  Tomorrow my next door neighbour and I are planning a blackberrying expedition in the country lanes that surround the village.



It's been just over a year now since my partner and I made the move from Kent to Suffolk and it's been a challenging and sometimes fraught time.  I have often been horribly homesick for my old life and familiar people and places, but having decided to leave my comfort zone, I am slowly beginning to reap the rewards. Friendships take time to grow, but there are some promising beginnings.



Today was spent sorting out the garden, a new challenge for me after years of living in rented houses.  It is a continual puzzle to me, what should go, what to keep, what will thrive and where.  There have been some successes and some ignominious failures. I am currently trying to work out what to grow beside my pink climbing rose, now planted in the courtyard outside the kitchen - should it be cat mint, lavender or a deep blue Hebe?  And what will do best in the very dry corner of the bed by the front door when the Cosmos has finished?  I'm tempted by a deep red lavatera framing the herbs - the silver thyme I planted there is spreading itself very nicely indeed. There is so much more to do, so many plans to make, but it's been a good first year and I'm enjoying myself, rootling around deep in the Suffolk soil.  It certainly keeps me grounded.




My peaceful time will end tomorrow, as it should.  I really wouldn't enjoy it so much if I had too much of it.  My youngest son, home from university for the summer, will be returning from his visit to his father in London, soon to be joined by my oldest son and his girlfriend, staying for a couple of days rest and relaxation - them, not me!  Then it's off to Holland on the ferry to join my partner, who took the boat over yesterday, for a week or two of cruising the Dutch canals and inland seas before it's back to earth with a bump and perhaps an end of summer Pimm's party for all our new friends and neighbours.


Monday, 16 August 2010

Diversion

We hadn't planned a visit to Orford yesterday.  The idea was to take the boat upriver and spend the night moored up close to a nearby town and explore, but the strong winds that are sweeping through East Anglia at the moment made us rethink our plans.  Just getting the dinghy up to the boat and back was an act of faith and involved a great deal of splashing and bumping on the choppy river water.  Luckily the dinghy stayed the right way up and it was a huge relief to have solid ground under our feet again. 


Thwarted of our goal, we decided to drive to Orford instead and visit The Jolly Sailor, a lovely traditional English seaside pub, for fish and chips by a nice woodburning stove with the Sunday Times.  A couple of hours later, replete and satisfied that we had made the best of a disappointing day, we started our journey home. 


The diversion sign on the road home was a red rag to a bull.  Of course my partner had to investigate in the firm belief there would be a way through, so when we hit a solid lake of muddy water, with another car firmly embedded in it, he carried on regardless.  We made it to the far side and stopped to see if there was anything we could do.  Eventually, after much toing and froing, we managed to attach a tow hook and pulled the car and it's stranded occupants clear of the water.  The two adorable dogs trapped inside with their owners were particularly relieved!  The engine was, however, completely dead.  We ended up towing the lifeless car for several miles, at one point through a deserted airfield in the fading daylight - a surreal experience. 


Home turned out to be in the town we had originally planned to visit on the boat, so despite our diversions and changes of plan, we arrived at our destination, although not quite in the way we had intended.  Even more surreal, it turned out that our new friends live in a churchyard, the path to their front door marked by ancient gravestones.  We enjoyed a convivial thank you drink at their lovely house and finally headed back to our own home around midnight, well satisfied with the way the day had turned out, and possibly with some new friends.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A Rose for a rose

I call them my shadow children, the ones I lost over 30 years ago; the embryonic lives that were never lived. Their spirits stay with me, on the periphery of my consciousness, the what ifs... the might have beens...

Of course I grieved for them deeply at the time, even though I never held them in my arms, never kissed them and changed their nappies, never left them at the school gates, chivvied them to do their homework, saw them launched onto lives of their own, lives that I would have only a small part to play in. I never knew the colour of their eyes, the texture of their hair, the smell of their skin, their personalities. I planted a rose in memory of my lost little ones and it has moved with me from one house to another over the years. It helps to embody them somehow, gives me a quiet focus for my private thoughts.


I was lucky. Despite the early difficulties, I now have three handsome, hulking, grown up sons who have filled the empty spaces in my life and given me little time to dwell on what was lost. But I have been thinking of them recently, following the sudden, unexpected death of an old friend's 16 year old daughter, a lovely young woman, full of bright promise, she had shared her life and filled her thoughts and dreams. She should be eagerly awaiting her GCSE results - she would have excelled - gone into the sixth form, fallen in and out of love, spread her wings, gone on to university, had a career, married perhaps... children of her own. All wiped away, never to be.



What solace can anyone possibly give to a grieving mother? What can ever even begin to help her to heal? She wakes up every morning to experience her loss afresh, as though for the first time.


I shall give her a rose to plant in memory of her daughter . It's not much, but apart from being there for her if she will let me, it's the best I can do.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Temptation

Oh my god, it's stunning!  Who is that woman in the mirror? The one with the great legs and the fabulous figure that goes in and out in all the right places.  How can a dress do that?  It was the perfect summer shift dress, the one I've had half an eye out for all summer and here it was in the sale in the local posh frock shop.  It just sort of slipped itself on and fitted like a dream. 


I had come into the nearby small market town for a quick trip to the dentist to fix my loose crown before the wedding in Kent.  I didn't really need a new dress at all, but then who ever does?  There are plenty of previous years' lapses in the wardrobe which would more than cover the occasion, but there's something about a new dress teamed with three inch heels and a pashmina...

So, just a quick trip next door to make an appointment with the spray tan lady - those white legs could certainly do with some help - then back home to do unexpected things to myself, like depilate, exfoliate and moisturise all over, most of which I have managed to get through life quite happily without until now, but apparently crucial to giving the tan a chance to take.  You certainly need time and money in bucket loads to be beautiful, or even in with a chance, I realised.

My partner did a double-take when I walked into the room,  looking for once like the woman we would both like me to be.  Sadly this will not happen very often, as the credit card bill will soon land on the doorstep and the consequences will have to be faced. 

Still, I enjoyed pulling out all the stops for once... and I thoroughly enjoyed my friend's wedding  Sometimes you just have to go for it.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Just beam me up

The boat surfed the threshing waves bouncing like a cork then slid into a trough as I glanced behind to see the large, heavy wooden dinghy we were towing poised on the wave's crest and crashing down towards us.  I clung on for dear life and said my prayers as the boat heeled over, seawater rinsing the decks, blinding me with spray.
 
I could think of a million things I would rather be doing right now; planting out my oxeye daisies, painting my nails bright blue, drinking ink ...

We finally made it into the river entrance and sailed more sedately to join the other boats taking part in the rally, anchored deep in the river mud.  Later that evening we joined them for a barbecue on the beach in a remote spot, inaccessible other than by water, chatting, laughing, exchanging stories.  Someone started playing music by the firelight as we watched the most glorious sunset I have ever seen and the light gradually faded from the sky. Then we waded through the mud to the dinghy to join another boat for a nightcap, before making our way back up the quiet moonlit river to our own boat to snuggle in for the night.







"That's the difference between you and me," I said to my partner. "I can quite happily go to a party and enjoy myself without having to half kill myself first."

"It makes the beer taste better," he replied succinctly.

Monday, 7 June 2010

East Coast Mud

We turned off the busy 'A' road and headed into the empty countryside under wide East Anglian skies.  After a few miles we took another turning, down a dusty single track lane, deeper into the remote countryside.  A few minutes later, the river glinted at us through the trees and we reached our destination.


We had moved the boat up to its new mooring late last week and are being initiated into the joys of inflatable dinghies and east coast mud.  Having unloaded and parked the car, it took rather a long time in the hot midday sun to pump up the dinghy, attach the outboard and load it with supplies for an overnight stay.  As I gingerly stepped onto the treacherous thing, it floated away from the jetty slightly, pulled by the tide, leaving me straddled, one foot in the dinghy, the other slipping off the jetty into the thick gooey mud.  Not my most dignified moment, but a baptism of fire into the reality of a river mooring, after the luxury of marinas and pontoons. 

We finally managed to get ourselves onto the dinghy, started the outboard and set off  a quarter of a mile upriver to our boat, sitting rather closer to the water than is entirely comfortable for a landlubber.  We tied up and somehow managed to haul ourselves precariously on board.  At last we got the sails up and drifted up the meandering river on a light breeze, moored up by a riverside pub, lowered ourselves into the dinghy again, rowed ashore for a well earned drink.

There are now two things I have added to my wish list that I would never have dreamed of in my other life.  One is a nice firm fibreglass dinghy, the other is a boarding ladder.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Goats Butter

That's torn it.  All credibility gone.
 
I'm trying an exclusion diet for health reasons but I didn't expect my partner to actually go to the Village Shop and ask if they stock goats butter.  In front of a queue of villagers.  And then explain to the bemused assistant that butter can be made using milk from mammals other than cows...

Well, that will keep the village going for a while, until we make our next faux pas.  They are still reeling from the information that he practices transcendental mediation and is a Bowen Therapist, whereas I am thinking of training to become a homeopath.  Oh, and that we have seven children between us, and we're not married! That's particularly popular and spiced up many a drinks party.

Still we feel we are fulfilling our role as newcomers, giving them something to talk about.  Lots to talk about actually.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Stardust

Nobody said it was easy.

Sometimes there's a glimmer of hope and I start to think that I really can do this, I really can make a life here, but the truth is I'm like a plant without a tap root, frantically trying to push out a network of fine fragile new roots into the somewhat reluctant soil to compensate for what is lost, and I feel discouraged.

I know I've been here before, more than once, in a new place, building a new life and I also know that it takes time and that, sometimes, it never takes at all and you just have to go back to where you were and begin again from that place, and maybe that's going to be the answer in the end.  We no longer have children to help establish us in a strange place and I am struggling to find meaningful work and ways of passing the time.  People are very kind, but I have no deep connection with them and I'm not sure I have the will to keep trying.

There are wonderful things about life here.  The house is as lovely and welcoming as we had hoped, the village is idyllic though very sleepy and set in it's ways, the surrounding countryside is stunningly beautiful and we are enjoying exploring our new terrain.  We plan to carry on getting to know this part of the world, to enjoy what is available to us, to sail all over the coastline this summer exploring the inlets and rivers and try not to worry too much about the uncertain future. 

But I miss the life I had, with all its mess and difficulties.

Empty Nest

I abandoned my youngest son in a cold Northern city one fine autumn day. 

It's what we do with our young, it's our way of pushing them out of the nest.  We hope and pray that they really can fly, that they won't crash and burn.  And suddenly, there's a huge hole in my life, in my heart, in my home.  The house is often silent now, peaceful, serene, still, and I love it, so why do I still crave the noise and mess and sheer vitality of my son?  He regularly used to drive me to distraction and I often longed for the day when I could reclaim my life for myself, it having been so well used by my children for so many years. 


Everything in my life now is so different, it's hard to know where to begin counting the ways in which it has changed, but this has to be the most significant.  I'm now living in my new home, with my new partner in a different part of the country and slowly trying to put a life together, pretty much from scratch.
 
I think we must have been mad to do this, but at the same time, it seems terribly sane.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Marry Me?

'Marry Me?' he said, out of a clear blue sky.

My world tilted momentarily on its axis. We had both said categorically that we would never marry again, so why did I find myself saying 'Yes' without even pausing to think? It just seemed to be the right, the only possible answer. If I thought about it I might find reasons not to, but all the important decisions in life come from somewhere beyond conscious thought. The lunchtime busyness of the seaside restaurant had settled and we were alone with our oysters and champagne, both of us now in tears as he took me in his arms and kissed me.



Life has been very unsettled recently as I struggle to let go of the trappings of my old life and move into the new one that is opening up for me, and sometimes I am so scared to let go. After all, it has been a long, hard journey, rebuilding my life after it was torn apart; raising my boys to be confident young men, able to live satisfying, independent lives; finding friends, homes, work, fulfillment for myself on my own terms and while I don't think it will always be easy, to merge my life with someone else's, it is my new challenge and I shall give it all I can.


We plan to move to East Anglia in the summer after my youngest son finishes school. He has a new life opening up to him too, as he hopes to go on to University in the Autumn, all being well, the grades being right. At last he is beginning to take control of his life and to do what has to be done to achieve his goals.


I know this is not the end of my story, but it is the end of this particular chapter and, whatever problems we face in the future, we face them together.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Create

Create it says at the top of the page, and that is what I'm trying to do. Create a new future, a different sort of life for myself, as the old one collapses around me.

One thing is for sure, things cannot go on as they are. I know I can no longer afford to live in this house, now the maintenance payments have slowed to a trickle and could dry up at any time. I know my youngest son will leave school this year, hopefully to start an independent life for himself at University. And I know that my hands are telling me in no uncertain terms that I can no longer earn an income with them, as the joints swell and burn. No ambiguous messages there then, so what next?



We have talked through the worries we both have about moving in together, my lover and I, about making a life together, and it's exciting and scary in equal measure, but somehow we seem to have moved from 'shall we live together' to 'where shall we live together'. We could go almost anywhere, all our children now being young adults, and that's both liberating and frightening. We have a life here, friends, work, things we enjoy doing together. Could we find all the things we need in a strange place? Can we make a fresh start somewhere new?

We have looked at houses and they all have problems - one is a complete wreck and needs renovating, another is perfect, but a little too expensive and in the middle of Suffolk, another snatched from under our noses, and yet another is liable to flooding.

I keep looking for a sign, a way forward. These are tough decisions and there are no easy answers. Where are the angels when you need them?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Happy Christmas

It just sort of creeps up on you, sometime after the last firework fizzles out, and before you know it there's just a few days to go and a whole Christmas production to put on. If I didn't do it, who would? I don't think any of the people who will be sitting around my table this Christmas Day would consider making Christmas happen, and yet each year somehow it all comes together and we always have a magical day.

This Christmas will be bitter-sweet for me, as I know I will have to leave this lovely house sometime in the coming year, I know change is coming, so amongst all the giving and receiving, the sense of family and love and warmth, there will be sadness too.

I don't know what happens next; my future is an open book and the next chapter has no heading yet. I just hope I can find a way through this maze, and keep shining.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Adieu

The late afternoon sun slanting through the trees transformed the ancient country churchyard, turning the few remaining leaves to pure gold. There was a gentle breeze and a spirit of sadness and regret but also of deep peace. Dozens of black-clad mourners gathered in small groups, all saying goodbye in their own way. A modest woman, she would have been amazed that so many people cared about her and came to see her laid to rest.

We buried her with her lost husband, the love of her life. After all the years of treatment and all that she had suffered, her time had come, and although she was young to die, there was a sense of release and of a life complete.

It was, at the end, where she wanted to be.

Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Romantic Break


Even the birds struggled to stay aloft. My boot-shod feet slipped and squelched on the muddy, almost sheer slope, the wind whipping our words away as we climbed up a little-used track to the South Coastal Path. This was my romantic break, a treat and a reward for all the sometimes tough sailing during the summer.

We had booked a lovely Bed and Breakfast in a remote spot on the Dorset coast, overlooking the sea. There was crisp white linen on the king-sized bed, gorgeous, muted fabrics framing windows and covering cushions, antiques glowing in the soft light, so how did I find myself yet again battling the elements? The view from the top of the cliff was worth the climb, but in the end the Force 6 gale tearing into us became too much of an obstacle, so we abandoned our planned walk after a couple of miles, took a track inland, sheltered from the elements, back to the farmhouse.

Later, changed and rested, we sat by a log fire in a lovely old heavily-beamed pub, drinking beer and eating home-made soup, reading the papers and letting the short November day drift away.

The next day, we took a different route along the coast, keeping closer to the beach, sheltered from the worst of the weather, had a coffee at an ancient smugglers' pub then spent time just sitting on the pebbly beach, watching the light playing on the sea and idly chatting. This was more what I had in mind and it was, in the end, a lovely relaxing break.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Year Turns

After the recent stormy weather, it wasn't hard to fill the car boot with fallen branches to build a fire in the orchard. My son and I carved out pumpkin faces, threaded lanterns through the apple trees and borrowed bales of straw from a kind neighbour, scattered around the fire for seating. We put the stereo outside on a long extension lead, playing party music and waited for the guests to arrive.

There was a nail-biting hour or so, when it seemed no-one was going to come. My son kept smiling somehow as his friends phoned and texted, changing arrangements, re-making plans, but finally a friend arrived, then a couple more. An hour later, there were a couple of dozen youngsters gathered around the blazing fire, seemingly immune to the damp and cold, eating pizzas and hotdogs, drinking beers, chatting and laughing.

Much later, when everyone had left, I wandered around the dark, quiet garden, collecting whatever needed to come in straight away, leaving the rest 'til morning, stopping to gaze up at the clear, cold, starry night sky and enjoying the sense of peace and the pleasure of another successful gathering. Memories that I hope my son will carry with him when his life takes him away from this quiet corner of the countryside and into the wider world where he must make his own way.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Contrasts

Perhaps we shouldn't have gone to the gallery opening. The smart shiny people glanced unseeingly at us as we slipped through the door, so absorbed were they in all the other smart shiny people they had known for years. Strangely, nobody else seemed to be looking at the stunning pictures. More people drfited in and were greeted with shrieks of recognition, air kisses, as we bounced off them like billiard balls, unable to penetrate the invisible shield.


She used to be a neighbour of his, in and out of each other's houses, their children playmates, but they hadn't seen each other for years.
'I can't quite place you ...', she said, puzzled, as he greeted her and congratulated her on her work. 'Oh yes, didn't you used to be married to ... '
'Things change', he replied awkwardly as my smile slipped.

Not the right woman. Not the right place. Not my fault.



The next day, the thin autumn sunshine breaking through the misty morning drew us onto the water. We spent the day sailing up the river, the water like spun silk, dropping anchor in a quiet creek, listening to the silence, soaking up the late sun. Later, as the light drained away, we headed back to port under the bright, almost full moon, shivering in the damp, cold, river air.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Indian Summer

"Butterflies
drifting through a sunlit garden.
A leaf falls"

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Sunflowers


Today is my day off. I'm listening to the 12 o'clock news on Radio 4, the only sound in my quiet kitchen apart from the traffic that swishes past my house on the wet road; white noise now.

Since I tore myself out of my warm bed after a restless night, woken by the shrill alarm clock, I have driven my 17 year old son to school, shopped at roadside stalls for bramley apples, proper free range eggs and brightly-glowing sunflowers. I have bought a large round pumpkin with the earth still clinging to its bottom, to be stored in the woodshed until Hallowe'en.

I have mucked out the messy rabbit, cleaned up cat sick and spread the ashes from our weekend fire around my recently planted parsley to keep the scavenging slugs at bay. I have washed dishes, sorted laundry, put yet another load in the washing machine (where does it all come from)? I have got to the bottom of my son's pile of discarded clothes, a once a week task I cannot quite relinquish - yes I know he should do it himself, but I live here too. Smelly socks, dank CCF uniform, crumpled suit, rank shirts - what is the problem with deodourant?

There are a hundred things to do in my home today, yet I'm sitting at the computer writing up my blog, dipping into other people's lives, because I have to do something for myself. It is, after all, my day off.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Night Crossing

Our crew turned out to be profoundly deaf, a burly 6'2" giant. Somewhere in his sixties and retired, he delighted in telling tall stories of near disasters at sea in a very loud voice, whilst chain smoking, not entirely inspiring confidence. Quite overpowering on a small boat, he felt the need to touch me every time he spoke. I edged further away on the hard bench, trying to maintain some personal space, without falling into the churning sea, fighting nausea.

The night crossing was definitely a test of my courage and commitment and a huge challenge. Sailing in a small boat across the North Sea to Holland, wind over tide for those who know about such things, is a bit like trying to ride a bucking bronco, whilst at the same time trying to make a cup of tea, or go to the loo. A particular low point was trying to adjust my underwear and momentarily letting go of the nearest handhold, just to ram my forehead into the shelf opposite. The damp night sea air crept into every crevice of my being. Even my bones were cold.

Every journey has to end and we arrived in Zeeland on a fine sunny afternoon, all traces of sickness gone, looking forward to a good meal and a hot shower. What I got was a cool shower and wet shoes and clothes - the water went everywhere. The meal was delicious though. Life with TMITPS, I realised, is never going to be dull. Uncomfortable and challenging at times, but never dull.

The rest of the holiday was spent pottering through the inland seas and canals of this charming country, staying in small marinas and quays in pretty Dutch towns, eating wonderful meals and enjoying the hospitality of this gentle country and it's friendly people. Living on a boat was fun and sailing creates a strong bond between strangers. The locks were particularly interesting as everyone jostles in a small space, desperately trying to hook a line onto rings and bollards, whilst trying not to bang into each other or the dank, unforgiving lock walls. I quickly became an expert in fending off and tying clove knots, my new skill.

The journey home was much more straightforward. No crew for this, as I was supposed to have my sea legs, and I did. We managed the trip between us, mostly during daylight, constantly watching for the ferries and container ships that would suddenly loom through the haze, seemingly from nowhere.

It was quite an adventure and lovely to be safely home in my quiet, spacious house. But sometimes I find myself missing the intimacy of living on a small boat and the simplicity it demands.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Stuck in the Mud

The plan this weekend was to take the boat upriver to have it's bottom well scrubbed before we set off for Holland next week. A 26 hour crossing of the unpredictable North Sea which is going to be a serious challenge to my fledgling sailing abilities and probably a real endurance test.

On Friday, however, I started sneezing, had a splitting headache and felt really rough, so TMITPS set off alone to do whatever needed to be done to make us seaworthy, while I curled up in bed to concentrate on fighting the bug.

Perhaps it was just as well in the end as, when he phoned a few hours later, disaster had struck and he was well and truly stuck in the mud, just yards from the pontoon and relative safety, the tide going out rapidly and the boat sinking deeper and deeper into the thick smelly gooey muck, mosquitoes filling the cabin. He had very little food as it was meant to be a quick in and out trip, and an empty water tank, as he had emptied it out in an attempt to lighten the boat and free it. He was completely alone out there, covered in mud, in a very remote spot, waiting for the tide to come in again and lift him out - if he wasn't too deeply rammed in. It was an anxious time for both of us, although I decided that being safe and dry at home was definitely the better option!

Luckily the news in the morning was better. The tide had done it's work and he was afloat again, the boat scrubbed and the prospect of an easy return home. I just hope that the trip to Holland goes more smoothly and the jinx is satisfied for now.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Now (and then)

Staying in the moment is one of life's hardest lessons and one I wish I could have learned better a long time ago.

When I met my ex-husband, I was always thinking about the next step - moving from dating to being in a relationship, then living together, eventually getting married, buying a house, having a baby, then another baby and then another, buying and selling more houses, always searching for the dream, without realising that I had it all the time. Sadly for me, the dream turned into a nightmare and the road ultimately led to separation, divorce, the break-up of my family and massive financial insecurity.

My life is very different now, not better nor worse, just different. It is only when devastation is complete that rebirth can begin. I can hope and dream about tomorrow, but for now I have today. And it's enough.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Remember When It Rained

I'm sitting in my son's bedroom, which used to be our study (he has captured and isolated the computer and I can only access it by using threats of withdrawal of services) and listening to Josh Groban on YouTube singing the most powerful, beautiful song I have heard for a long time 'Remember When It Rained' and quietly reflecting on my life.


I worry about tempting fate, that things will fall apart if I talk about it, make it real, even in a virtual sense. I am so happy with my life now, but experience has taught me to live only in the moment, so I try to stay with that. A couple of nights ago, we celebrated the first anniversary of the beginning of our journey to love each other, and we do. Love each other. I have no idea whether we can continue to hold onto this feeling, make it work tomorrow as well as today, but for now I love and am loved in return.

It doesn't get any better than that.



Monday, 7 April 2008

Cocooned

The iron-grey sky sealed our small corner of the countryside as we tramped through the whitening fields, the rest of the view lost in the horizontal blizzard that whipped our cheeks rosy red, hats pulled down over cold ears, scarves tightly knotted, gloved hands thrust deep into pockets. We turned for home, taking the short cut this time, as the world turned empty and white around us.

Back at the farmhouse, he split the last of the winter logs and we lit the fire, opened a bottle and idled the rest of the snowy afternoon away, cocooned from the outside world. The Sunday papers kept us busy, then a late lunch in the snowbound conservatory, candles lit, spring flowers in a jam jar glowing on the snow white African table cloth. We ate a delicious leg of lamb from the local butchers, with roasted vegetables in olive oil and garlic, red wine gravy, then chocolate pudding. My favourite.

For a little while, it was time out of time, and a lovely magical day.