Saturday, 22 July 2017

Graduation

11.20 am
As I write this, we are sitting in nose-to-tail traffic on the M4.  Perran is to be in his seat in the Wills Building by 12.45 at the latest.  Before then, he must have picked up his gown and graduation tickets from the Richmond Building.  But our ETA is currently 1:40.  We have already abandoned hope of the photo session we’d booked.  And even when we get there, parking will be tough – we thought we’d left plenty of time, but apparently not.
There has been a crash ahead.  As callous human animals, we are measuring only the inconvenience to our own lives.  I force myself to say a prayer for those whose world has just been turned upside down by the road accident.
But then it’s back to us again.
This was supposed to be a carefree day, all dressed up in our best clothes, tipsy on sunshine, prosecco and happiness. 
And now Perran might miss his own graduation ceremony.

8.30 pm
On our way home now.  It has been a splendid occasion.
This morning, the traffic had started moving and our ETA dropped rapidly, like a tide of disaster ebbing. 
We rubbernecked at the wrecked Landrover.  The headroom was largely intact so we hope the passengers and driver survived.
In Bristol, the graduation ceremony was brisk yet meaningful, cleanly choreographed and garnished with homilies of good advice. Afterwards there was the pleasure of meeting the parents of Perran’s friends.
It rained heavily, which shouldn’t be allowed at graduation ceremonies, but we were just pleased to be there.  Even the rain made us happy.

And now it’s time to say a little prayer that we get home safely.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Last Bash

After exams finished Perran stayed in Bristol until the rent ran out.
We didn’t mind.  Those last days as a student are so precious.
Then home for a short space. Then off to Spain with thirteen friends for a week. And then we were expecting him home sometime Tuesday. 
The exact timing seemed vague.
I came home from one job and had a cup of tea.  He wasn’t home. I went out to another job; came home and began preparing dinner. Should I make some for Perran? Perhaps if I cooked something with the tomato sauce from the fridge… In fact I couldn't find the sauce. On the shelf where I had expected it to be was a can of beans I didn't remember opening. 
Nigel came in.
“Heard anything from Perran?” 
“Nope.  And I’m not sure if he’s even got his keys.  Perhaps we should just install an enormous cat flap in the back door.”
“I’m sure he'll turn up. I'm just off to change out of my work clothes.”
Then from upstairs he called sotto voce "Clare, Clare. " 
Mirroring his quietness, I tiptoed upstairs. 
There asleep, face down on his bed and fully clothed was our son.

Bless him.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Back-packer

I was teaching Latin in school, when I put up a slide of the answers.
My pupils stared in silence.
One or two of them cast a glance in my direction.  The rest just went on staring. 
I inspected the screen – it was obvious in a flash that every single “model answer” was wrong.
Should I tell them why?
In fact, all I said was: “I’m terribly sorry – those are all wrong.  Let’s do it on the whiteboard instead.”

So what was wrong?  

Carenza was back-packing on her own in the Far East for 3 months.  And she hadn’t WhatsApped us for three days.
I had begun to wonder about tracking her down – how did they go about it in international thrillers? 
Of course she was soon back in touch – she had just away from the Internet, or out of signal , or maybe just having a really, really great time.
After that it was weeks until the next real scare – just about to run an adult class, I checked my phone to see if any students would be absent.  From another girl’s phone she had emailed “Hello – it’s Carenza here.  I have left my phone in the hostel in Mandalay.   I am trekking across country to Lake Inle and the phone will catch up with me when I get there in three days.
And miraculously, it did.

But just for the last two days I have not been worried at all as she has been safe with our friends in Singapore.  Carenza has enjoyed wonderful hospitality, and I have had a small oasis in my maternal fretting.  Thanks Mark, Adri, Kit, Dan, Thea & Ben.

Photo by Adri

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Thank Heavens for Churches

 Last week, the most beautiful thing I saw was in a church.  It was Sarrat Flower Festival and the ancient church was glowing with fragrant dewy arrangements, each representing a saint.






Last week, the funniest thing I heard was in a church. Sue was being ordained as a priest in Aylesbury.  A senior priest issued a cautionary tale to the new ordinands.  She had been visiting an old lady and had helped herself to the little dish of peanuts on the old lady’s coffee table. At length she realised she had eaten all of them.  Guilt-stricken, she bought her another bag.  The old lady’s response: “Oh you needn’t have bothered, Vicar.  I don’t like peanuts.  That’s why, when my son gives me a box of chocolate peanuts, I just suck the coating off, and put them in this little dish.”

Last week, the most inspiring thing I heard was in a church.  Kath was preaching at St Luke’s.  She reminded us of the brilliant rainbow which had lit up our neighbourhood the night before.  When God blessed us it felt like that.  However, just like the rainbow, the memory would fade.  But that did not mean we had never been blessed.  Just like the rainbow, it had really happened.  We must try to hold on to remembrance of glory.


And in each of those places, a volunteer was manning the tea urn and offered me a cuppa afterwards.

Thank Heavens for our churches – still at the heart of our communities.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A Profound Learning Experience


I left Buckingham Palace in my fascinator and court shoes, took the tube to Euston and caught a train to the Peak District. 
I loved the stateliness of the Garden Party, but I would enjoy hiking in the Peak District even more.  Walking in the hills would encourage contemplation and help me to answer some of the Questions that Life Poses.

Carol, Caroline and Diane were there waiting for me as night fell on Buxton Station.  They told me my fascinator looked “Lovely!”  I preened coyly.

Unfortunately, when I removed my court shoes that night, I discovered that I had sustained a Garden Party Injury – a large, raw blister.  It limited the scope of our walks.  The others were very patient.  Although at breakfast the next day they did suggest that I might like to stop wearing my fascinator now.
However, in spite of our walks being curtailed, I DID discover the answer to one of the Questions that Life Poses.   Carol was kindly putting us up in her house so I was not surprised to see an unopened pot of my jam in her larder. 
I was surprised however to see that it was Mirabelle jam.  I have not made Mirabelle jam since July 2014.

I had thought that I had begun to see the rolling eyes of panic when I handed friends their annual selection of jams and chutneys at Christmas, but when questioned directly, they always pronounced them “delicious”. 

So I had two choices.  The first was to re-think my entire food-manufacture and gift-giving policy; the second, to carry on regardless. 


I think there is a photo somewhere of me eating toast heaped with three-year-old jam, my fascinator crammed firmly on my head.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A Phalanx of Fascinators


What is the collective noun for fascinators?
A flotilla, a flirtation, a fluttering?
Not a word I have ever needed before the Royal Garden Party last week. 
When Nigel and I boast loudly and shamelessly about our invitation, people ask three questions:
1)      Why were YOU invited? (Tone varying from the incredulous to the mildly aggressive.)
I was there as Nigel’s plus one.  Nigel was there because, as chair of his industry trade association, he helped DEFRA solve a problem with electricals recycling. The invitation was their way of saying thank you.
2)      Was the tea good?
It was very nice indeed thank you.  My fave was the cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off and the innovation of an added mint leaf.
3)      Did you get to shake hands with the Queen?
No – nobody does.  I don’t know why not. Possibly she has a fake hand which comes off if you shake it?  However, we did set eyes on her trundling around elegantly in pale blue. 
There seems to be more hat and less Queen with each passing year. 

But to return to fascinators, (and who wouldn’t wish to), headgear was a requirement of the day.  I tried on only one fascinator and declared, “This makes me look like a complete pillock.  I’ll take it!” I felt sure that no other fascinator would look any better, so why waste time? 
During the course of the afternoon I caught my fascinator on tree boughs, Nigel’s jacket and the flap of the marquee. 
Looking about me, I regretted our collective fashion choice.  Women of substance who had achieved accolades in their careers or in charity work were bobbing along looking as if they had sexually-aroused tropical birds on their heads.

As one fellow guest said, “This is a very sad day for the man who invented the hat.”
In Royal loos

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Dawn Chorus

It was 4am when the sun tilted over the brim of the hill into Hidden Valley in Worcestershire. First the larks, then wrens, dunnocks, blackbirds, goldfinches joined in a jubilant and ear-splitting dawn chorus.  The families in the six tents stirred.  Some lay listening in wonder.  Others rolled over to grab the tail end of sleep before it departed entirely.
The birds and the humans were doing the same thing  - forming community.  Speaking for the people, some of us met thirty-five years ago at university.  Others are partners or children who came along a little later.  Communication nowadays is often online, but every so often, Annabel shoos us out of the ether and into tents.
We shared adventures in a way you just can’t on FaceBook.  We learned to cook over an open fire.  We invaded the local pub.  We followed Dave tramping  across fields and challenging the owners of luxury homes who had blocked rights of way. And when the heavens opened, we all sardined into Nick and Jackie’s tent.

Then, at the end of the weekend, it was time to strike camp, and our little village melted away.  As we rise for work tomorrow, we shall remember the larks soaring in song and waking all the many other birds.  They will sing to the Hidden Valley where only flattened rectangles of grass show we were once a community there.