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.




Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bucket List

"Why Strawberry Hill?" asked Will from the back of our car on the M25.
From the wheel Nigel answered, "Well it's been on our bucket list for ages."
"List," I said, "it's just a list. A To-do list."
"No, but a bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket - before you die."
"But everything I want to do, I want to do before I die, with maybe the exception  of 'go to Heaven'. Why does everything have to be  a bucket list suddenly?"
"Very true," conceded Nigel, "And  what happens now to people who actually need to make a list of different types of bucket?  What do they call their list ?"
But anyway, we finally arrived at Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill Manor and enjoyed it's delicious Gothic atmosphere. 
So we can tick it off the list.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Perfect day

We've been friends with Nick and Jackie for over thirty years.  Right now each of the four of us is concerned about an elderly parent.
We suffer anxiety and regret for our beloved parent, then an aftertaste of bitterness as we worry about our own future decrepitude.
We discussed all this over Jackie's excellent lunch. As per the cliché,  a trouble shared is a trouble halved.
Afterwards we met Bethan and her family and walked through buttercup-gilded meadows past verges foaming with cow parsley to the mellow stone ruins of Minster Lovell. While Innis and Riley paddled in the river I visited the shade of the church with its alabaster tomb of the long-ago lord of the manor.
It was a perfect afternoon.  
Maybe if we could distil it into an elixir and bottle it, it would be a cure for all our old age worries.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Mount Snowdon by Unicycle

Will came to stay with us, and said how much he loved old family videos.
We found an old VHS tape.  Even more remarkably, we found something to play it on. 
But the results appalled Nigel and me. 
There were close-ups of twins being adorable – twins crawling briskly about and smiling at the camera; twins vocalising and playing with toys.
But in the background was Pascoe calling “Look at me, Mummy and Daddy.”  The camera remained trained on the baby twins.
“On no!” said Will, “Now he’s doing star jumps to try to get your attention.”
Still the camera was fixed on the babies.
In our defence, I think we were trying to capture some milestone, like the twins learning to crawl.  But we still felt guilty.

Over the last two weeks I have been fretting mainly about Carenza going off travelling, and somewhat about Perran, taking his finals. (Although he seemed to have it all under control.)
But WhatsApp reminded me that Pascoe was also out in the world doing daring deeds.
I knew about him unicycling up Snowdon.
But I didn’t know about Copenhagen until I saw this:
"In a pout-off with the Little Mermaid."

And I certainly didn’t know he was wild camping (without a tent!) in the woods near to Copenhagen until I saw this:
"Have found great hotel with Dawn Chorus alarm clock and Fairy Forest wallpaper."

I guess over the years he has stopped hoping for our attention,

but I am certainly waiting now to see what Pascoe gets up to next.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Take-off!

Carenza left on her gap year travels early this morning.
I am attempting to be like a Noel Coward character - brave and witty in the face of emotional turmoil.

WhatsApp from Carenza:
Safely at the gate: flight leaving on time.
Will miss you!!!
WhatsApp from me:
I would be missing you too if only I weren’t so busy interviewing lodgers for your room.

Now the flight is in the air I am thinking that maybe I sounded a little uncaring.
It is all bloody Noel Coward’s fault.
Sadly I go in search of the envelopes, containing her essential information, and only to be opened if absolutely necessary.
And discover that Carenza has left us something to smile at too.

She is probably running bets with her friends on how soon it will be before I give into the temptation to rip them open and discover all her shady secrets.


Eat your heart out, Noel Coward.