Monday, 30 December 2013

My Beautiful Children

 Christmas is complicated in our combined family, perhaps for all families as we all try and see as many family members as possible.  I have three sons and a daughter-in-law and my partner has three sons, a daughter and a small granddaughter.  Two of his children are in serious long-term relationships and the youngest has recently taken the initiative and is engaged. I now have a relationship with people for whom there is no clear definition - my partner's son's fiancee visited over Christmas and as for her extended family, both her parents are divorced and re-married to people with families of their own.  Modern life is complicated.

I was talking about this recently in my weekly French class; my teacher is a French national and she and her partner came over to England about 10 years ago and settled in East Anglia, running a very successful cafe with delicious home-made food and welcoming fires, all very much in the French tradition and very popular too!  I can drop in for a cup of coffee and a croissant before heading upstairs for some serious French conversation. She tells me that the French too have no words for this complex interweaving of family ties but simply have the same name for in-laws and step-relations. Thus my daughter-in-law, my step-daughter and step-daughter-in-law-to-be are all my belles filles, my beautiful daughters, and my step-sons etc are my beaux fils. So they are all my beautiful children!

And it was wonderful to see so many of them over Christmas.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

City of Dreams

The fast evening train to Liverpool Street cut through the darkening countryside, the hinterland, the outer suburbs and the inner city; high rise flats, little boxes stacked one on top of the other, each little box containing someone's life, their hopes and dreams, their fears and failures, every individual with their own path to follow, their own agenda and challenges to face.  Lights shining out into the darkness.

Then suddenly it reared up, towering above the cheap, high rise blocks of flats.  A wall of glass and steel, chrome and concrete, sharply defined corners and hard edges, bright lights, tempting, challenging. The City of London, the ancient Square Mile, city of dreams and towers, a city that can make or break you, destroy you and spit you out, or endow you with riches beyond your wildest dreams.  Enter at your peril for it will surely change your life for ever!


I came to the City over 40 years ago, a young girl fresh from the provinces, weaving her dreams, with an exciting new job in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral and an entire life stretching before her.  A crisp, white page waiting for a story to be written on it.  It's a rather tattered page now, with lots of crossings out, re-writing and notes in the margin but there's still space for more as I work my way through my story.  I worked in the City for 10 years, met the man who became my husband, had children and moved out to the country, living the dream, and it has been a constant thread running through my life ever since, although the marriage has long gone.  But life turns full circle and so last night I found myself yet again in the City of London, dressed up for a formal dinner with my partner at his club, sitting chatting with new friends and watching the dark waters of the Thames flowing swiftly past the windows on its relentless journey to the sea.


I rarely come into London now and it is an expensive treat but there is a sense that, after all that has happened and all the changes in my life, all I have gone through since I first came to this place, I am at peace with this great City.  In the end it is a mirror.  It can only do to you what your own spirit allows it to do.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Gratitude - Autumn Walk



Today I am grateful for... 

...the wind in my hair, 
the damp, green autumn grass under my feet, 
the sunlight streaming through the trees, glinting on the last of the falling leaves, 
the quiet embrace of the empty woods and the peace that I find there, 
the muddy stream running through the valley, 
the uncut, faded grass in the meadow where wild flowers grow in the summer 
and the ecstatic freedom of my beautiful, bouncing, bounding, young yellow Labrador as she keeps me company on my walk, 
but most of all I am grateful for the lives and the love of my three beautiful boys. 


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Nostalgia

"Footfalls echo in the memory 
Down the passage we did not take 
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden
My words echo thus
In your mind"

Burnt Norton - T S Eliot

We drove past my old home the other day, on a brief visit to Kent, and stopped for a moment in the road outside.  A house I once lived in, a home that once was mine, a garden I once loved, an orchard where children played and a life that fitted me like a glove; a door that once was open to me, now closed for ever.


It is a strange thing, to so utterly possess a house, to sweep through the white five bar gate and park my car in the drive outside, put my key in the latch and go inside, to find my life laid out there, my possessions just as I left them, my pets waiting for me, my family coming and going, to wander outside, sit and have a cup of coffee making plans for my day, answer the telephone, put a wash on, go for a walk.  Ordinary, everyday things. And then one day it's finished.  Someone else has the keys.  I am a trespasser now and my life has moved elsewhere.

Drive on by, it's not my home anymore.  It exists only in my mind.






Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Autumn Blues (again)

I make no apology for re-posting this piece - it is one of my favourite blog posts and one I feel proud to have written.  Another time, another place, another life but still the essence of an English Autumn for me.  I miss my orchard so much it hurts!




"Leaves and fallen apples litter the grass in the orchard now. It has an air of faint neglect and spentness, the hammock stashed away, no more time for lazy afternoons. The bonfire has burnt itself out and the charred remains smoulder gently in the light breeze. A lazy wasp investigates the fallen fruit as I wander through the trees, wondering when I will find the time to cook the apples to a fragrant pulp and mix them with the blackberries that grow so abundantly in the hedgerows as I walk through the quiet lanes.

Jars of plum jam are stored in kitchen cupboards or have been given to friends and family. Pears have been pickled with cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries and peppercorns and glow palely as they marinate in their spicy vinegar, waiting to be opened when winter bites. Logs are stacked in the woodshed and the year begins to unravel slowly towards it's busy end".

Monday, 16 September 2013

Sunflowers (2)



There's something about sunflowers 
 bright, bold and brash. 
But still I love the way they brighten up a corner of my kitchen today

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Baltic Summer


The Baltic is the Mediterranean!  A huge bowl of the bluest of cloudless bright blue skies sharply etched with vivid green trees and pretty houses washed white, pale yellow, red and ochre, each topped with a neat red-tiled roof, clustering around ports in the small towns and villages of Danish South Zealand. 




There is something magical about living on a boat on the water at sunset during the long twilight hours of the Baltic Summer, being part of the unfolding drama of the closing of each day.  The swifts swooping for their supper, the splash of fish jumping for theirs, the water like ripped silk, as we watch the achingly slow draining of the light as the sky turns from deepest blue to soft shades of silvery lavender, rose and the very palest of spun gold, laughter and voices drifting across the harbour; ancient, impenetrable tongues.


For days we hopped from one idyllic island to another drifting on a light breeze, exploring inlets and bays, mooring up or anchoring for long lazy lunches and a siesta, as one long, hot summer's day followed another, swimming with the fish in the clear, clean water then threading our way back precariously through the shallow inky-blue waters, reading the runes of the sea to bring us back to the relative safety of deeper waters, before  moving on to the next harbour, each one prettier than the last then slowly heading north towards Copenhagen.




Sailing into Christianshavn Kanal right in the centre of Copenhagen, and mooring up there for two days in the shadow of the brightly painted converted warehouses that line the canal, was a complete contrast and an opportunity to spend some time exploring this busy, vibrant Cosmopolitan city, dipping into museums, galleries, shops and restaurants, sampling home-made schnapps and eating freshly caught fish, before returning each evening to our own small boat, sitting in the cockpit with a glass of Aquavit watching the world go by, then rocked gently to sleep by the movement of the boat.



We tore ourselves away from Copenhagen and reluctantly left Denmark, crossing the Sound to Sweden and the somehow cooler delights of Malmo, spending a day exploring the old town, lunching in the market square and stopping off for delicious Italian ice cream before setting off the next day on the final leg of our journey, sailing under the Oresund Bridge in a very fresh wind which threatened to blow us off into the massive concrete pillars, a train rumbling overhead, then fighting the wind on a rolling swell for a while as we sailed off the coast of Southern Sweden, spending the night in a small fishing harbour smelling strongly of fish, too tired to care. 



A change in the wind the next day swept us straight into the seaside town of Ystad in Southern Sweden and, finally, time to spend with a small Swedish granddaughter, building sandcastles on the long white Baltic beach and paddling in the dark blue waters that had carried us safely here.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

"See you in Copenhagen!"

"I'm cold, wet, exhausted, uncomfortable, nauseous and I've been bumped about on a rough sea for the last 24 hours."  And this is fun?  I am so glad I decided to stay at home and go to a garden party instead of joining my partner in crossing the North Sea in a small sailing boat.  Once was more than enough for me!  He had good crew and apparently they all rather relished the challenge. I guess it's a man thing.

This is the post I wrote about my first (and last) crossing of the North Sea to Holland before I found out just how tough it can get out there.



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 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 clothes 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".


I shall fly out to Copenhagen and join him there, potter round the Baltic sea and end up in Southern Sweden with his son and granddaughter, which is after all the point of all this.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

May flowers


I love the simplicity and colours of this arrangement of garden flowers.  
It makes me feel happy today!

Monday, 13 May 2013

May - Morning Walk


                                               
Bluebell wood


Beautiful blond labrador, looking for trouble

Contrasts

Shady country lane

Moody Suffolk skies

Dog tired and very muddy



Sunday, 7 April 2013

Wedding Bells


It was a very special day and despite still feeling drained by the wretched flu which is still pulling me down, I put on my best smile and dug deep.  Wild horses would not have kept me away from my son's wedding.  Of course there was a hat involved!  Someone had to do it, and who better than the Mother of the Groom, smart for once in black and ivory.

The Winter Garden at the smart London hotel was the perfect venue for afternoon tea with the bride's parents, the first opportunity we had had to meet them, before the beautiful, simple ceremony at the nearby Registry Office.  The Groom was suitably nervous and elated and the Bride, when she finally appeared, was beautiful and radiant as only a bride can be on her wedding day.

Afterwards the newly weds, family and friends piled onto the specially commissioned red London Route Master bus, to be greeted with glasses of champagne as the party began and we set off across central London laughing and chatting as the tension was released, children waving to us as we stopped at traffic lights - for once part of the sights of London!

The Thames-side pub/restaurant with its stunning view of the river was warm and welcoming after the short walk from the bus in the still freezing-cold late March wind.  The food was delicious, the atmosphere relaxed and informal and the party took off.  Meeting so many of my son's friends and having all three of my children, as well as my new daughter-in-law, together in the same room was a special joy, and it was a great pleasure also to welcome three of my step-children, who joined us after the dinner and speeches, the first time they had met my son's new wife; we are a combined family that is still evolving and growing.

As the evening progressed, fancy dress clothes and wigs were produced from somewhere, adding to the fun.  Of course, there were cupcakes and very delicious they looked too, I thought, choosing one and putting it down on the table for a few minutes while chatting to someone, only to find, when I came to look for it, that my ex-husband was sitting in my place scoffing it.  It was My Cup Cake! There was something rather predictable about that, I thought.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Letting go

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”

Mary Oliver


This poem is dedicated to my wonderful firstborn son, Tom, who was married on Saturday
to his beautiful, talented bride

Wishing them all the love and luck in the world!

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?