Monday, 14 May 2018

How do we lure our children home ?

Perran and Carenza moved off to rent a house with friends Zac and Ella three months ago now. 
It was the same week that we buried Nigel’s father and we could almost hear the grinding sound of the generations rolling slowly over.

The twins are less than twenty miles from us, but it’s in London. 

We are unlikely to drive there because, as we discovered on moving day, the traffic wardens are super-alert.  Like polar bears who can smell a seal from half a mile away, even when it’s beneath a meter of ice. Not that the polar bears issue seals with tickets – their paws are too big to work the machine.  But I digress.

The public transport links are good.  But why would they want to come out to St Albans?  What for?  Their part of London is full of exciting things to do and favourite friends to do them with. 

Nigel and I have discovered that if we present ourselves in London after work with tickets for a play or exhibition and a table booked for dinner, the twins show up looking smart and make entertaining company. 
But I am after a more sustainable relationship.  

I am developing ways in which to lure them home to us.  We have nice garden to sit in, whereas the twins’ nearest open ground is a prison exercise yard (that’s how come they could afford to rent in that area).  We have a warm wood-burning  stove and decent home-cooking.  Surely that will be enough….
As long as they don’t expect us to be polite to them or make intelligent conversation all will be well.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Where's the Catch?

Last week was Sustainability Week in St Albans. 
Our church ran an Upcycling and Repair Fair. 
I wanted to contribute, but what should I do?

I’ve spent a lifetime putting together charity shop outfits, but Jo was running a stall doing that.

I’ve always altered and mended clothes, but Geraldine was doing that.

In the end, I offered to repair broken junk jewellery.  “Costume jewellery,” corrected Jo.

I packed my pliers, my findings and my reels of cord and wire.
I thought I’d have time to kill, so I brought along my own project.
I needn’t have bothered.  A steady stream of women appeared clutching tiny boxes and plastic bags.
They contained chains whose catches had broken, necklaces which had snapped, spilling beads, earrings which had lost their wires.
I had stipulated “No gold or silver”, so none of these items was worth much in money terms.  Instead, people had kept them for sentimental reasons:
“This was my mother’s.”
“My grandmother gave this to me.”
“I always thought this made me look pretty.”
So repairing them was unexpectedly rewarding. 
Most women could not wait, but put on their mended jewellery straight away with a smile.

And the best was one lady whom I helped to re-string her grandmother’s green and yellow beads.  When they were complete, she put them on, and stood up.  Everything she was wearing was green and yellow to match. 
Before she had even set out that morning, she had anticipated the moment she would get her beloved necklace back and had dressed accordingly.

Now if that wasn't worthwhile, what is?

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

When Love Comes Full Circle

Around thirty-six years ago, Nick and Jenny met at Girton College. 
So did Nigel and I. 
On Saturday, Nick and Jenny’s lovely daughter Annwyn married Andrew whom she also met there.

The wedding took place amid the red brick and wooden panelling that is Girton, in such fine weather that the bluebells were beginning to bloom in the College grounds.

There was one person there who has been witness to all our love stories.  On the wall of the Great Hall, watching over dons and students, there hangs a portrait.  It is Emily Davies, a great feminist and suffragist and the founder of Girton, which was originally a women's college.

I’m sure that our various romances will have drawn only a wry smile from her, but hopefully Saturday’s wedding will have delighted her with its feminist improvements on the wedding traditions:

Emily Davies
The ceremony in Girton Chapel was presided over by Beth and Alison, two female clergy who are (like Nigel and I) godparents to Annwyn.
The bride and groom walked down the aisle together rather than having the patriarchal “giving away” of the bride.
The formal speeches were given even-handedly by men and women - by the groom’s father and the bride’s mother, by the best man and the chief bridesmaid and by the bride and the groom.

It was in fact Andrew in his speech who asked whether Emily Davies would have approved.  We all agreed with him that she most certainly would.

A green dress by Annabel was another innovation.

Annwyn's parents met here too.  And look pretty much exactly as they did then.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Cherry Blossom Against a Blue Sky

Teachers get a fortnight off at Easter and I was both lucky and unlucky enough to spend only a day of it at home.  
We took a family holiday in Cornwall, then I stayed on with my parents.  Then, because it fitted in with Nigel’s work commitments, Amsterdam.  Tiring but brilliant.

My question of holidays is always “What can you teach my every day life?”
Because, in the words of Franz Ferdinand, “It’s always better on holiday.”

This time what I noticed was my relationship with my camera.  On holiday, sights seem more significant.  The thought that I might never be in that place again gives everything I see a uniqueness that has to be captured.  I was constantly snapping away.

Actually, for most of my Easter break, both in Cornwall and Amsterdam, the weather was grey and often wet. 
The sun reserved its transformative glory for when we got back.

But when we got back, I was busy catching up with work. 

Then I trundled my shopping bag on wheels down to the Co-op for essentials.  I looked up and saw young green plane leaves mingling with cherry blossom against the bluest sky.  I hadn’t seen anything more beautiful than that in Amsterdam or Cornwall.  The place where I live is also unique. 
And I stopped and took a photo.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Votes for Women!

It is a perfect storm that the TimesUp and Me Too campaigns have coincided with the UK anniversary of Votes for Women. 
Those of my generation who were feminists in the late seventies/ early eighties are relieved. For a couple of decades it looked as if the battle had been abandoned long before it was ever won.
Now at last our younger sisters are expressing disgust that there is sexual harassment at work and pay inequality.  

It is time to take up the banner again.

And my friend Annabel O’ Docherty is doing just that.

In Newnham College, Cambridge, hangs a banner of azure velveteen and Indian silk, born aloft over a hundred years ago by alumnae of Newnham and Girton Colleges in several marches for votes. 

Although there were two women’s colleges, there was only one banner, and to mark the anniversary, Annabel is making a replica for Girton to keep.

She invited me to assist.
A team of three Newnham maintenance staff opened the special glass-fronted case.
We Aaahed.
Dr Lucilla Burn became the most overqualified person ever to hold a ladder, while Annabel teetered at the top and I scribbled down the measurements as she called them out.

We loved the stencils of irises for Newnham and daisies for Girton.
We appreciated the banner’s message: “Better is wisdom than weapons of war.”  Just as urgent now as then.
And we liked the idea that so many highly educated young women set down their pens to work together at stitching a banner.  Using traditionally female skills in order to produce a subversive artefact is very “now” (cf Tracey Emin and a number of others).

As Annabel sets about using her considerable expertise to produce the replica, I’m sure that all the women in the black and white photo below would be cheering her on. 
The battle for women’s rights must continue!


Friday, 6 April 2018

Family Holiday Fears

Emotionally, I am just not cut out for family holidays.  “Is it the catering?” you ask.  “Does your family bicker?”  “Is it tough spending so much time in each other’s company?”

No.  None of those.  It’s more….metaphysical.

You start the week with a sense that there are endless possibilities and that you will have limitless time.  You will play board games with your children and cook them their favourite meals. You will read the Booker Prize Winner, make watercolour sketches of the view from the window.  There are any number of historic properties and sites of natural beauty within reach.

Then, after a couple of days, one of the children returns home for a work commitment, soon to be followed by another.  By the end of Wednesday, you are more than half way through your week.  It becomes clear that you should have prioritised, should have pursued more single-mindedly the things you really wanted to do. 

Finally, there is the struggle to quell panic as the end of the break zooms up fast.

My problem is this: surely the family holiday is a metaphor for Life itself.

But as soon as I get home, I start looking forward to the next family break, whenever that will be.  And that really is the chief pleasure of a holiday – the anticipation of it.  It is there at the back of my mind, like Narnia at the back of the wardrobe - a land where time will stand still and all will be perfect once more.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

An intrusion

I’m at an age now where my poor old body is beginning to turn traitor.  I wish that in the past I’d regarded it more as a beloved pet dog – fed it a lean diet, taken it for regular exercise.

Recently my number came up for bowel cancer screening.  I’d heard nothing about this program and suspected an elaborate practical joke.  But when the enema kit arrived in the post, the joke was over.

As if that wasn’t enough, the wee infection I had before Christmas (wait a minute, am I really blogging about my own urine infection? Is disinhibiton another sign of old age?)… I said, my urine infection before Christmas led to my GP noticing traces of blood in my urine samples.  Next stop, a cystoscopy.

Yep.  Another camera where I never expected to find one.  Getting those bits of my anatomy to smile was going to be challenging.  

And although the two procedures were to take place in different hospitals, by coincidence, they were scheduled on consecutive days this week.

No wonder my end-of-term celebrations were somewhat muted.

I told Pascoe and he offered me a “bright spot” – under the data protection act I can demand a copy of the video footage taken of my colon and bladder. 

We could show them to our guests as after-dinner entertainment.  Thus trumping the whole holiday photo/wedding video experience.

So during the procedures, I twisted to assess the monitor.  My bladder was fine, although it did look a bit like an alien’s den in Star Trek.  But I actually felt quite proud of the journey through my pink, healthy looking colon.  Except where the enema hadn’t been completely thorough, which made me feel unaccountably ashamed.  I guess it’s not every day you get to watch a live broadcast of your own poo in a small room full of strangers.

So, bottom line (bottom line – ha ha) is that I didn’t ask for the video. After this week’s goings on I have just a shred of dignity left and I intend to hang on to it.