Friday, 29 April 2016


When I scroll through my photos, there is a visual key to the turning of the year.  My pictures turn from the flamboyant golds of Summer hedgerows, through the copper of Autumn woods to the iron of Winter fields.  These are the walks I have taken with my friends and families.  And in Spring, the colour has always changed to a purply blue.
But this year, I set out with my girlfriends and we were surprised to see thronging the woodland floor, a host not of thousands of bluebells but of hundreds of sightseers.  There were so many that they were trampling the flowers!  The narrow paths had spread to become great muddy runways.  The pools of bluebells were clogged with idiots taking selfies.
It seems the National Trust has been advertising bluebells and people have listened.
I’m torn: is it good that more people are getting out in the countryside, or bad that they are wrecking it?
The next week we walked to a lesser-known wood far from a car park. 
The undisturbed bluebells lapped up to the edge of the path and the air above was freckled with bright green hornbeam leaves.  We sighed happily and took our annual photos, none of them selfies. 

And above our heads appeared the first swallow.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Badge of Honour

Clearing out a drawer, I finally found it.
I’ve been looking for it for years and there it was, in my hand. At last.
I’d heard it could be worth a fortune.  Attractions offer free entry to somebody with A BLUE PETER BADGE.
I checked out the website. 
Yep, serious scrolling was required to view ALL of the attractions involved.
“You are gold, my little badge.”
There was a slight catch – badgeholders were only admitted free “when accompanied by a full-paying adult.
That would be okay.  Nigel just about qualifies as an adult.
But what was this?  “Badgeholders must also present a valid pass.”
That would be fine too.  In the envelope, I still had a copy of my letter signed by Peter Purviss, John Noakes and Valerie Singleton.  That must be the “pass”, mustn’t it?
I checked with a colleague who had younger children.
According to Georgina, ankle-biters may now simply write to Blue Peter and they will get a badge.
I had spent days painting an intricately detailed imaginative recreation of a yeti in order to be a runner up in one of the Blue Peter art competitons.  Mine was a Badge of Honour.
Discovering that all you had to do now was write was nearly as bad as, back in the day, seeing Valerie hold up the winning picture and realising that the kid had copied an illustration out of The Phantom Tollbooth.  Come to think of it, that was probably the moment when a tiny seed of cynicism was planted deep within my young soul.
But there was another problem.  Georgina told me that to get a valid pass, I had to be under sixteen.

The world has changed since my heady Blue Peter days: it has become a cold and cruel place.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016


The offspring are safely back at University and I am back at school.  As I prepare my Year 11s and Year 13s for their exams, I think about my own children cramming.
During exam periods  I used to try to provide some small treat for our children to look forward to – chocolate biscuits when they got in.  Watching telly in front of the fire at the end of the evening. 
But now, long distance,  I can’t create a sanctuary any more. 
Even if I posted chocolate biscuits, and even if they survived the journey, the welcome would be a tad tepid. 
“Don’t you know they’re bad for you, Mum?”
At least we can use texts and WhatsApp to jolly one another along.  True, it is banter rather than a deep sharing of empathy.  But at least it’s communication.
Although, it can go wrong. 
Last night, Perran and I had each been out with friends for a curry and, I suspect, a drink, and we were comparing notes by text.  I asked him how his thali had been.
“What on earth do you mean, Mum?”
 I checked my text.  Autocorrect had changed it to “thalidomide”.  
Come to think of it, Autocorrect is clearly ignorant of curries, as over Easter I accidentally asked Nigel to order an “organ josh” for me. 
“I thought you were vegetarian, Clare!”
Even in spite of the biscuit deficiency, I hope their Mum’s silly mistakes keep the kids grinning through their revision.

Sunday, 17 April 2016


All the children made it home for Easter. 
Exams are afoot, especially finals for Carenza, so we had a quiet time. 
Except for Saturday when we visited London.
First, Nigel, Pascoe, Perran and I visited the Foundling Museum.  Carenza would join us in the afternoon, having done some work.
At the Foundling Hospital, it was heart-breaking to see the tokens which desperate mothers had left with the illegitimate babies whom they had no means to raise – a scrap of embroidered ribbon, a tiny ring.  They hoped that their child would survive and seek them out again one day.
Handel had been a great patron of the Hospital and on the top floor were some leather arm chairs which played his music through speakers  at ear-height.
That was when I realised how much the previous term had tired me and how much I needed a rest.
I found it easy to sit down, hard to get up. I listened to the music and thought about the little foundlings.
After the sadness of the Foundling Museum, we were to meet up with Carenza  for the zingy Botticelli exhibition at the bustling V&A.
Even after only a few hours of separation, my heart gave a little jump when I saw her face through the crowd.  All five of us entered the exhibition chatting together. 

Time to count my blessings.

Friday, 8 April 2016


I guess I kind of assumed there’d be a natural point in my life where Sensible would kick in.  Perhaps my thirtieth birthday.
My thirtieth birthday is now as far behind me as the imaginary line which Carenza sometimes tells me I’ve crossed.  And Sensible is still not fully in charge.
Last weekend, we took the family to Paris.   On Friday night we were returning from a bar.  The street was littered with rubbish and I spotted a green cardboard arrow, with something about “lampes” written on it.
Could it be?
From the debris, I pulled the perfect ironic gift for a man who recycles lightbulbs for a living.
I handed Nigel a sign entreating “Recycler ses lampes”
He was thrilled.
 “Ah,” said Pascoe, “The perfect student night out – having  a drink and returning home with a bit of street signage.  Only thing missing is a traffic cone.”
Next day, Pascoe and I got told off in the Louvre.  We had spotted a niche from which the statue had been removed.  Pascoe got into it and I photographed him, complete with label.  The custodian scolded us then turned around only to witness the large Japanese party who had been watching us scrambling into the same niche for selfies one by one.
However, last night, back in my motherland, I finally found Sensible when I was the designated driver for Perran and my old friend Jennie on a trip to the pub in Perranporth.  At the end of the evening, we had just returned to the car when they spotted a nice pint glass left on the wall.  Jennie felt Perran should have it for his student flat.
“It’s fair game if it’s not in the pub.”
As Jennie started to leap from the car, you can tell that I was under the control of Sensible, because I said,
“Be careful not to bang the car door against the wall.”

And I’m afraid that’s about as sensible as I got.  The glass went home to Bristol today.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Selfie Project Continues

2012 - my second selfie - poorly lit.
2016 - at last, somebody worth taking a selfie with - the goddess Athena.
But actually, that was only a practice for the main event - another selfie with Carenza.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Ski Adventure

Never learned to ski and am now too scaredy.
Nigel, however did learn to ski, although he hasn’t had the opportunity for 30 years.
Pascoe didn’t learn to ski – his school’s ski trip was to the USA and was too expensive. (Clearly the only reason they didn’t book Mars or Venus is because there’s no snow.)
But then Pascoe moved to Edinburgh.
When there’s snow in the Cairngorms (and it’s not too fierce), intrepid skiers leap into a car and head for Glenshee.
When we visited Pascoe he was itching to go back there.  
It wasn't something we'd planned on, but when would Nigel and Pascoe ever get another chance to ski together?
Nigel hired a car.  Pascoe divided up his outdoor clothes between the two of them.  I bought them some thick gloves. 
I thought wistfully of staying in Edinburgh and going shopping, but if there were any injuries, I would be needed to drive back.
Never mind, I would take my book of Greek myths and sit sipping a hot chocolate  in the elegant ski café watching the scene.  It would be glamorous.
However, when we arrived the café was a complete zoo.  It was a brilliant mass of tired kids and patient Mums, all jostling on the hard benches while snow melted all over the floor.  People were chatty.  But the queue for tea was out the door and looping back through the blizzard. I didn’t manage much reading and even less hot chocolate.
The boys had a great day.  Nigel had easily recalled his technique.  Despite a fall or two, nobody got hurt.
And my reward? 
Up there in the Cairngorms I saw a pair of golden eagles and a small flock of snow buntings a good outcome for a bird lover.