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.