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.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Gap Pack

“Have you got a money belt?
Have you got a padlock?
Have you got a personal alarm?
Have you got your passport?
Will you leave us a copy of your passport?
And have you got a waterproof splashbox for when you go swimming?”
“Yes, Mum, I have. And Mum…”
“Yes Love?”

“I’ll be back safe and sound in three months.”

Friday, 5 May 2017

Finding Yourself

The other day Carenza snorted with amusement – one of her friends who was nearing the end of his travels had put up a Facebook post: “Self now 85% found.”
Myself, as a student, I didn’t Inter-rail etc. I still had brilliant Summer Holidays, mostly working on Archaeological digs both in the UK and on the Continent. But as a consequence, perhaps I’ve never Found Myself.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ve ever Lost Myself either.  I tend to believe I have become myself by rubbing along with family and community and developing my role at work. 
However, I do agree that travelling alone does wonders for the self-confidence.
The other day Carenza had arrived back from travelling alone to Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade, but I missed her return as I had flown out to join Nigel in Bratislava at a conference he was chairing.  I landed at Vienna airport and got on a bus to Bratislava.  Nigel had briefed me, but it still felt adventurous.
Carenza texted:
“Where are you?”
“Doing a spot of solo travelling - arriving Bratislava in forty minutes.”

“In that case, you don’t have long left, Mum – better hurry up and find yourself quickly!”

Friday, 28 April 2017

A Bit Flat

At Easter, we had a low-key family holiday in Cornwall.     I may have mentioned it.
We set off to return from Penzance on Easter Monday.  Stopped off in Truro for a pasty with my parents; dropped Pascoe off at Exeter airport and Perran at Bristol Uni.
Carenza, although she did come home with us, departed in the wee small hours of Tuesday morning on a flight  for Eastern Europe.
So from a full table on Monday lunchtime, less than twenty-four hours later, we were empty nesters once more.  Melancholy threatened.
I said as much to Carole:
“It seems ungrateful after having the privilege of a great holiday, but it’s hard not to feel a bit flat now.”
“Ah, but that’s a good thing because it means you get on well with your family.  Apparently the peak time for divorce lawyers is at the end of the holidays, at Christmas and in the Summer, when people have realised they can’t tolerate each other’s company any longer.”
Thanks for putting it in perspective, Carole –

When our holiday finished, it could have been much worse than feeling a bit flat – instead, I could have been feeling relieved.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Why Take a Holiday?

Photo by Will
Sometimes when you are trying to get your work up-to-date, cancel the milkman, engage a helpful neighbour to empty the letter box, it feels like the last thing you need is a holiday. 
On top of that, Nigel and I both felt washed out following a long-lasting cold virus. It was hard to summon the energy.
However, for Easter Nigel had booked a house in Penzance where Pascoe, Perran, Carenza, Will & Dan were to join us.
For a week we tramped the cliffs swathed in blackthorn blossom, bought the freshest fish, foraged leaves and blossoms from the hedgerow, ate round the kitchen table and spent the evenings reading.
When I came to pack for home, I found myself staring at the nasal spray and cough sweets in my drawer.  For a moment I couldn’t think why I had them there. 

That was when I realised just how much good the holiday had done us.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Stick Men go on Holiday

Photo by Adri, Singapore
Since my post about endangered stickmen, I have received good news from Adri in Singapore about the care being taken of Stick Men and Women there and was feeling quite optimistic about the future of the species.

However, a recent holiday in Cornwall has re-awakened my worries about these accident-prone little chaps.  
Whereas Singapore public transport offers them a sanctuary, this is what happened to a Stick Man on a Cornish bus.

And at the sea-side, if there is an accident to be had, then Stick Men seem to have it.







It’s just a good job that we humans would never get into all the trouble that these stick men do when we visit the sea-side.

Perhaps it might be safer for them to stay at home.

Monday, 10 April 2017

I found Jesus at the Garden Centre

Garden Centre statuary is fascinatingly naff. 
It is rare to find a beautiful, simple form produced carefully in good quality material.
I started snapping some prime kitsch at the weekend.
I spotted Greek goddesses suffering from the usual wardrobe malfunction;

Buddhas smiling tolerantly at plaster kittens.

Then finally….was I really seeing this?  Jesus, resplendent in fake marble, sacred heart and all.

It was, after all, Sunday.

Then it occurred to me:-
Garden centres are quite large organisations. 
Perhaps everybody wonders who keeps buying in the weird statues, but nobody knows.  Perhaps in fact, nobody is buying them. 
In our irreligious age, perhaps the deities have spotted where it is that people flock to on holy days and have decided to establish a presence there – in the garden centres.
And from the garden centre, they can find their way into people’s hearts and homes. 
It is a cunning plot to restore religion to the nation.
The only thing that might foil it would be if somebody started to produce garden statuary that was both in good taste AND affordable.

That would definitely put the kibosh on it.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A City at Second Hand

The town where you attend university will be forever significant to you. 
That street corner is the place where Somebody first held your hand, that bridge is where you and your friends whistled the Ride of the Valkyries  so loudly one night that you woke the neighbourhood.  That second-hand book shop is where you bought the little calf-bound copy of Thackeray.  
The town is a map of your youth.
But I also expected to have some sort of a relationship with the cities where my children were at university. When Pascoe went to Norwich I looked forward to getting to know the city.  I would have a confident grasp of its layout, know good places to eat, be familiar with its heritage. 
When he gained his degree and moved on (all of five minutes later), I felt like shouting “Wait! I’ve barely scratched the surface of Norwich.”
And now, as Perran comes to the close of his studies, we are facing the end of our romance with Bristol.  When we visited last month, it was important to take our leave of old haunts – Pero’s Bridge, the murals of Stokes Croft, Banksys, vintage shops on Park Street.

But vibrant Bristol just wouldn’t lie down.  Instead, it presented us with a whole new area to explore – the heritage area of the docks where we went aboard the replica of Cabot’s ship and Brunel’s SS Great Britain. We had a great time, and I suspect that Bristol will never become a city of memories for us – we shall go on visiting.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Airbeds and Karrimats

When Carenza held her 22nd birthday party here both local and university friends came along. 
She had warned us that two or three might stay over.  On Sunday, we found ourselves frying up sausage sandwiches for thirteen people.  Seeing the tessellation of airbeds and karrimats on the floor in the sitting room reminded me of when we were at that stage. 
A year out of college, Nigel and I married and set up home near his parents in the North East. But we vowed that geography would not part us from our university friends.   We thought nothing of piling sleeping bags into our cantankerous mini and driving to the South East for a get-together.
The most memorable was at Annabel’s where around a dozen of us youngsters were bedding down for the night and promptly ran out of toilet paper.  People quickly became ruthless in appropriating any shred of paper that might serve and it all got a bit Lord of the Flies. This was my earliest and arguably most important lesson in hosting. Always check the paper supply.
We thought these communal weekends would go on for ever, but a little thing eventually made it too difficult.  In fact, several little things – a number of us had children. 

However, now that most of our children have moved on, we are back to slinging sleeping bags in the car and going camping and glamping together again, happily sharing a yurt or tepee.  Have to remember the loo roll though.



Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Waving to Infinity

When I lose a glove I feel annoyed. 
Where should I look for it?  Do I really have to buy a new pair?
Should I retrace my steps to look for it?
But then, when was it I lost it exactly?  It’s hard to be sure.
Losing a glove has been an entirely negative experience.
Until now. 
But last weekend, spent in the beautiful Peak District has given me a change of heart.
When you lose a glove in a beautiful place, some other walker will find it and put it up high so you can spot it when you return for it. 
In practice you will probably never return, but it has the happy side effect that your abandoned glove is now waving at a beautiful view.

 I have to leave the Peak District and go back to work in the crowded South East, but my glove will remain, gazing out for evermore at green hillsides, Spring lambs and budding oaks.
Kinda “There is some corner of a foreign field that will be forever England.”

Now all I have to do if I feel stressed in nose-to-tail traffic is to imagine slipping my hand back into that glove in its resting place on a bucolic gatepost and for a moment I shall be there.

(Although all grey, all the gloves in these photos were actually found separately.)



Friday, 17 March 2017

The Cake Conspiracy

Even a weird European chocolate wrapper proves unexpectedly tempting.
Something is afoot in the world. 
There are certain signs that something is taking place.

 1. Our team won the inter-church quiz and the prize was Thornton's chocolates.
2.       I went into school to teach Latin.  My pupils had just had domestic science and were each carrying a tub of warm cheese scones.  Several were kind enough to offer them to me.  (Clearly I must appear undernourished….or maybe I was just drooling slightly.)
3.       In came nice Mr P . He was carrying a massive piece of iced carrot cake. His mother had made it to share with his colleagues, but it now needed eating up. My pupils and I are nothing if not obliging.
4.       Then to Hilary’s for church house group.   But house group was having a shared meal.  In the face of the mouthwatering dishes that my friends had prepared, my resolution  crumbled like shortcrust pastry.
5.       The most recent happening is my discovery of a crushed box of Belgian chocolates in our bedroom.  We bought them for Nigel’s parents but he failed to deliver them and appears to have trodden on them instead.  We can’t give them away now!

Have you guessed?

Yes, I am trying to lose weight.
No wonder I am rubbish at dieting.
It is completely not my fault.
The whole world conspires against me.

Perhaps for Lent, I should give up trying to diet.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Hope for an Endangered Species


I am a great fan of David Attenborough and his wildlife programmes.  Yet, there is one endangered species which he has sadly overlooked.

It is the stick man (and woman).
In the case of most species, they are endangered either by habitat loss or by hunting.
But in the case of stick men, it is just that they are particularly accident-prone.






There is evidence (from SS Great Britain in Bristol) that this state of affairs has been going on for at least 150 years.


However, there is good news that breeding colonies have been established on public transport …
and in other public places.


But also, that all sorts of relationships are valued.


So perhaps the future for stick men is not so grim after all.