Monday, 17 June 2013
In the evening the sun came out, and my younger son, on the first of his Fathers' Days, was able to go for a walk with his wife, while his brother took photographs and his mother did the washing-up and baby-sitting duties.
Prior to that he had changed a couple of uncomfortably full nappies, spooned an assortment of foods into his small daughter and had a quick nap in the middle of the lawn, even though it was cool and starting to rain.
He had a bad night, a very early morning, and a number of joyful, laughter-filled hours in which small daughter trampled on him, played the keyboard with him, chewed whatever he was trying to read, patted his head, swung on his hands and broke into rapturous smiles whenever their eyes met.
A day pretty much like many others, in fact.
Fathers' Days are not that old.
I never experienced them in my own childhood, but a couple of decades back my sons spent a school afternoon producing heavily decorated cards, and were also persuaded to part with pocket-money on chocolate bars.
('Do you think he'll share it?'
'Oh, I'm sure he will.'
'Perhaps I'll put a note on it to remind him.')
This year my older son visited the place where his father's ashes are buried, and at dinner-time both of them fondly remembered their intense dislike of his morning cheerfulness, bursting into their bedrooms singing, 'Morning has Broken', but at the same time bringing them cups of tea.
I hadn't realised about the tea. In my own jaundiced early morning state I could not have trusted myself not to tip it into their tousled beds.
The early morning cheerfulness seemed like a trial for all of us.
I have tended to feel cynical about the commercialisation of these 'special' days, seeing them as opportunism yet again, but yesterday was special, with so many confused memories of my own father as well, and my feeling of regret that I knew so little of him as a person because his interests and enthusiasms were always elsewhere.
But the celebration of the day felt right. There were memories of old fatherhood, with all its good and bad and confused bits, and there is the real joy of seeing new fatherhood, growing and strengthening with every soggy nappy, early-morning wake-up call and radiant recognition by a happy little daughter.
And now the early-morning cheerfulness is back - fresh, irresistible and so very welcome!
Wednesday, 5 June 2013
The Kyoto Garden, Holland Park.
Two days in London, and hardly a shop in sight (well, only for basic foodstuffs).
Two days of wonderful greenery, magnificent gardens, a spectacular river trip, and a brief skirmish with the paparazzi because we had forgotten that Her Majesty was due at Westminster at the same time as us.
This is parking in London at its very best. In glorious sunshine as well.
I was visiting my son, who lives very near to Hyde Park, one of the many Royal Parks in central London.
We walked, admiring wonderful trees and shrubs, through the park to Holland Park, which is not Royal, but might as well be by virtue of its surrounding wealth. It's in the Royal Borough, anyway.
How enjoyable to be in a great city and to walk, by way of leafy lanes and exquisite small streets, from one magnificent open space to another.
How enjoyable to each lunch out of doors in Holland Park while a rehearsal for the current opera is taking place a few feet away.
And then to wander along to the Kyoto Garden with its high waterfalls, rocks and traditional Japanese planting, a gift from the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in 1991.
Admittedly the sunshine helps a lot.
As does the time of year.
As does the company.
The next day we moved up a notch in scale and went upstream, up the Thames to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, inadvertently arriving at Westminster just ahead of Her Majesty and Entourage, but still managing to get through the crowds and to the boat at Westminster Pier.
Here is the iconic view, just before we met the paparazzi: Westminster Abbey, the clock face of Big Ben, and, just to the left, the London Eye. And a big red bus.
London, sparkling in the sunshine, green and fresh and beautiful.
The Queen out for the morning too, and my son, knowing how to give his old Mum a good time. I hope Prince Charles can do as well, but I know he couldn't do better!
Sunday, 19 May 2013
I think I want one of these.
I'm not passionate about it, but I do my best with recycling, and now most of the town population has one I'd quite like one too. It would save a few clanking trips to the bottle bank
All the houses around here have one, except for our little bit of the area, the bit where the road bends and goes under the bridge. I think we got missed off the map.
Some of my close neighbours have one, but they had to ring up and make a bit of a fuss and wait for quite a while.
So the other morning, feeling full of recycling zeal and with not too much else to do I thought I'd have a go and also ask on behalf my next-door neighbour to save an extra phone call.
It's not straight-forward, trying to be green.
I have to be assessed.
I asked if the assessment involved making a phone call and a request, but I was told no, it depends on my personal circumstances.
At this point I became more interested.
What personal circumstances?
I would have to be assessed to see if the special new van could access my road.
'It's already accessing my road', I said, 'Some of my neighbours have wheelie bins.'
But I still have to be assessed. My house and my circumstances have to be assessed, and then a decision will be made about whether I get a bin or stay as a bag.
'I have a flat drive area with space for a bin,' I said.
Not good enough.
Further assessment is needed.
I capitulated. Fair enough.
'Could you assess my next-door neighbours at the same time?' I said. 'They want a bin too.'
This is impossible. They must make separate application. There may be confidentiality issues at stake here.
So I'm waiting to be assessed. Should I bake a cake, wear my best clothes, tidy up the front garden? What needs do I have, and how can a wheelie bin be judged to meet them?
In the meantime, in this tense hiatus, I hear nerve-wracking stories. Wheelie bins are micro-chipped and are able to record the quality and quantity of their contents. Should I remove the labels from the cheap wine bottles, or does cheaper wine indicate greater need?
I hear tales of people falling over, under and even into wheelie bins, of wheelie bins being out of control on sloping driveways, of them causing damage to parked vehicles and garden furniture.
It's all so much more complex than I realised.
Maybe I'll fail the assessment and stay as a bag.
Update - June 1st.
I feel sure I'm getting closer. I've passed the assessments, and one of my neighbours now has two recycling bins and is trying to send one of them back. Things are moving, even if not as expected.
Update - June 5th.
After a couple of days away I return to find a letter welcoming my new wheelie bin, saying the Council hopes we'll be happy together, and also saying it will be emptied this morning.
BUT - no wheelie bin!
The story rolls on.
Update - June 10th.
Still no bin for me, but my neighbours, both having some physical problems, were told that their wheelie bin could be collected from the top of their garden steps (and returned when emptied). Now they have been assessed (following a failure to return the empty bin to the garden), and the four steps are judged too hazardous to be negotiated by the Bin Operatives. Life becomes unspeakably perilous!
Update - June 13th.
Someone in some office has ticked the wrong box, saying I have a bin when I haven't. What a surprise!
I now have a reference number so that the next time the bin doesn't arrive I can quote the number. Then what.....?
This Council uses a logo which claims it is 'Committed to Excellence'. How would it be if it was 'Committed to Confusion'?
Update - June 17th.
My neighbour (he of the confidentiality issues) makes one call to the Council Hub and receives a wheelie bin the next day. A lorry comes along the road, laden with wheelie bins, but none has my vital reference number. Do I quote non-delivery, or do I just forget the whole thing and either dump my empties into someone else's bin or throw them over the fence into my neighbour's garden now that he has a bin? Am I dealing with sexism, ageism or just everyday daftness?
Monday, 13 May 2013
The restorative power of Welsh rocks........
Nearly all our family holidays when our sons were young were in Wales. In a specific area of Wales where we kept a caravan for many years beside this, which was endlessly interesting for small and even quite large boys and their father.
I liked it, too.
Tywyn boasts not only the Talyllyn Railway, but also the only working Wurlitzer organ in Wales. What a place! There are beaches and rivers, waterfalls and mountains, sheep, rain, sun and honey ice-cream.
There is a timeless magic about most of Wales.
The rocks and the beach in the photo above are not the same small area, but are the same small country with the same wind and rain and sun and restorative powers and I watched my son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter (in her back-pack) walking across the pristine sand. My son was warming up after a quick swim in the roaring surf, his first for ten months.
It's been a tough ten months for my daughter-in-law, both sons and for me by transference and maternal anxiety. Some very painful things have happened, but they are all still smiling and being wonderfully positive. I am so proud of them all for their courage and strength - and I don't just mean by wading into a foaming sea when the temperature is in single figures.
My daughter-in-law is an excellent organiser. She is keen on a company called Under the Thatch and organised for us to have a few days in a charming farmhouse high in the hills. So high in the hills, so windy, that when I arrived I had real difficulty in opening the car door.
Inside the house was warm and there were spectacular views over rolling hills. We could watch the lashing rain in comfort. Then the sun came out, as it nearly always does, and there was a magnificent rainbow, arching low over acid green fields.
When the rainbow faded we could watch lamb Number Seventy force her way through the wire fencing into the house garden where the grass was even more lush. No other lamb could do it, but Number Seventy did it at least once daily, and got back in time to butt her mother off the ground in a demand for milk.
We did things.
I did my daily drawings. I drew sheep in the rain, more sheep in less rain and multiple studies of different aspects of sheep. Then I drew a castle.
We read the leaflets in the house. We could have gone to a watermill to have a tour and then to watch the process of wheat being ground into flour. We could have gone to a woollen mill to have a tour and buy a blanket.
We did other things. We visited a National Trust house and garden and discovered that even a Barbour is not totally impervious to Welsh rain.
We walked beside a river in sunshine and saw a castle and some beautiful beaches before the rain started again.
But the best thing of all was seeing and hearing six-month old grand-daughter helpless with laughter at the sight of a log-fire and the sound of logs going 'pop'.
You can't get more restorative than that.
Monday, 15 April 2013
Interesting visitors, supplying me with interesting reading.....and then there's my own prosaic writing.
One of the themes of the interesting reading is about the need for self-reinvention.
The interesting person who gave me the book is heavily involved in Art and Fashion; her view is that when the two come together, as they must, the Person becomes Art.
One view is that what artists have as basic material is Themselves, and so it may be considered entirely justifiable to enhance the Self, to make the Self more exotic, more desirable.
If it is thought more interesting to have been born in Paris, then one says one was born in Paris, and if one's sister remembers it as New York..........well, 'Sisters remember things differently'.
So when is a fib not a fib, but an art form?
I don't like giving too much of myself away. I managed a bit for Molly on her blog, and I have a good many journals, some bits of which I may use in various ways. I love a good story, I am not averse to telling a good story, and sometimes I spice things up in the cause of a good story.
It could be a family trait.
I could tell you now, for instance, disclose for the very first time that my uncle always claimed to have Spanish ancestry, having been washed ashore in a crate of Seville oranges, just like Cheburaska. I have not made capital out if this piece of exotica, but I realise it affected me throughout my childhood, never knowing for sure whether I had Spanish ancestry too, and thinking that perhaps the little Spanish Infanta in those melancholy portraits was really my great, great, many times great grandmother. It added a certain magic to my early years.
The same uncle also had a rather more detrimental affect on my infancy. Somehow he acquired a number of cast-iron plates from a zoo, giving names and details of the animals. He attached a plate reading, Beaver, native of North America to the hutch of my pet rabbit and managed to convince me (I was a gullible five year old), that my rabbit was really a North American Beaver, and I was the only child in the village to have one as a pet.
So I went to school and told the others.
Artistry on his part?
I keep my own observations in my Moleskin journals. I am delighted by the tiny details of everyday life, by the sight this morning of a robin beating the hell out of a sultana below the bird-table........but when I read that detail again more analytically I could think, 'Actually, it was just pecking at it so that it could swallow it'.
But I don't change anything. I prefer my original version.
I can make people laugh.
Am I an art form?
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Dear Small Grand-daughter,
It is hard to believe that you have been here for only five months, such a complete person, so clear in your needs and wants, and now so interested in everything around you.
Is it possible that your age is still measured in weeks when I think of what you have learned since your birth?
Is it possible to think of you in terms of weeks when I think of how you have changed our lives, and when I see what you have managed to acquire?
Your parents used to toss a few things into their hatch-back car and go off for a day. Now you and they travel in their camper-van, and even that is not always enough for your equipment.....the pushchair, the travel cot, the changing mat and all its accessories, the changes of clothing, the toys, the jingly things you like, the owl with rustling wings. You sit in your padded seat, surrounded, protected, safe in your red coat with black spots, a ladybird.
Weeks it is, and only weeks since your parents could have a lie-in at the weekends, and I was careful never to ring too early. Last weekend I came downstairs early to find you and your father sitting beside the fire, reading a book about a pig and a frog who apparently have a meaningful relationship and are trying to find a way to live together. You were both rather interested, in your different ways.
Later in the day a couple of your father's old school friends came to visit. One of them brought his son, a week or two younger than you, a cool dude in two-inch long Nike trainers and a pirate bib patterned with skulls and cross-bones. You and he glared at each other, but how wonderful to see these men proudly displaying their babies. Oh, how the very young and innocent can change lives.
Your parents went out for a meal, the first time in five months that they have done so without you.
I felt the most interesting weight of grand-motherhood as we spent a few hours together. Not only is there the joyfully huge responsibility of caring for you, but the extra layer of responsibility towards your parents. Grand-motherhood seems weightier than motherhood, lovelier, infinitely precious.
With age I become more aware of the fleeting quality of life and the preciousness of time. I want to hold it back a bit, to say, 'Don't change too much. Stay like this a little longer'. But you can't and you won't.
You beam when you see me, and that is the most amazing thing.
I know your father used to do it too, and still does on occasion, but from you it is more profound. Because I don't see you so very often I am deeply touched by your interest in me, and in my house. You want to be held and carried round to look very carefully at everything.
There is a great deal to look at in this house. You know where there are prisms in a sunny window, and you have seen the magic of rainbows fluttering round the room when the sun shines. As you are carried into the room you twist around to see them.
There are specific things in each room that you know are there, and you know how to turn towards them - the clocks, the mirrors, the Chinese cat that waves good fortune your way. You know where they are, yet you have only visited here a very few times.
How can you possibly know so much?
What entrances you most at the moment are your hands and feet. You analyse your hands, moving regally from the wrist. You can grasp both feet and get them up to your mouth. Your hands and feet must seem as magical as the fluttering rainbows.
Your life is full of wonder and discovery.
Long, long may it stay that way.
With love from Grandma.
Friday, 15 March 2013
A few days ago, in her almost-daily meditative blog, Zhoen wrote here about salt and pepper and I threatened to show her something of my collection of condiment sets.
So here you are, Zhoen.
A very small part of the collection!
She may well ask 'why?', as I do myself.
Well, the little Dutch couple with the windmill, standing on their original box, were a wedding present to my parents in 1937. They were never used, and were hidden away for many years because they were made in Japan, and the British did not have a good association with the Japanese in the 1940s.
Many, many years later I found the other little Japanese Dutch girl with her goose and her windmill, and added her as a matter of interest.
So why the Dutch influence?
These sets are Marutomo ware, and for a great many years the Japanese only wished to trade with the Dutch and the Chinese - hence the clogs and windmills are a 1920s, 1930s hangover from much longer-established trading traditions.
Why condiment sets?
Goodness only knows.
I know why I have collected them. They don't take up much room on a shelf in the kitchen, they are interesting and quirky and colourful and funny.
I have a salt mill and a pepper mill. People may use them if they wish, but I am not very happy if they reach for them before even tasting the food I have carefully seasoned. They are filled with Malden salt and good black pepper, whereas these little things would be used for fine-pouring table salt, dusty white pepper and a wet paste of English mustard. Not usable at all, so their little cork bungs are still immaculate.
What you see is the tip of a small iceberg of three-piece condiment sets. Several English potteries made and still make them, as did and do German and many other European factories. So I have three-piece sets of timbered cottages, loaves of bread, little mills with attached water-wheels, birds in a nest, fruit and vegetables in a dish, wrestling elephants, posing dogs, flowers in baskets, sea-shells ................you think of it, and it's likely that someone has made it into a condiment set.