Friday, 24 April 2015

In at the Deep End






An anniversary of sorts. A year since I had unexpected surgery which resulted in many side-effects, and which has put my life into a different pattern for the last year. The pattern has been generally unpleasant, not to say miserable.
So for some reason I decided that I must mark this anniversary by trying to push myself into doing something I really did not want to do. And then I would feel better. Ha!

Pot-holing would be my absolute first choice of things I don't want to do. I am not prepared to go that far, or that deep. I am not prepared, ever, to go down a pothole, to squeeze through a dark rocky tunnel, to possibly be trapped by rising water.
Travelling in a hot-air balloon is number two, or at least travelling in that dangling basket with no sensible way of getting out of it apart from thumping down and probably tipping over. Being dependent on wind and flame doesn't seem the best idea to me.
Swimming is number three.
So I went for the swimming option.

I am bad at swimming. I flounder about and forget to breathe. I don't like the chlorined water, but swimming in open water is a whole separate category of nightmare. Thank goodness I have not passed a vestige of this dislike to my sons, one of whom swims in any river, sea, lake or large puddle he can find, the other who holds all sorts of open-water diving qualifications.
Not only is there a dislike of swimming, but there's a reticence about appearing in a swim suit. I would quite like a Victorian bathing machine to tow me down to the water so that I can then submerge myself very, very discreetly.

Several weeks earlier, when it seemed like a good idea, I booked a swimming course here. But nearer the time it no longer felt like a good idea, and I had extremely cold feet, not just about facing several acute dislikes head-on, but also driving at least twice as far as I have driven in the last year. If I hadn't paid in advance I would probably have cancelled.
But I went shopping and realised that there are swim suits with what is called 'tummy control'. I really need whole body control after surgery, but having some area under control is a positive step.

I drove to North Wales on Easter Sunday, accompanied and over-taken by large numbers of motorcyclists on huge, glossy expensive machines. I envied them, encased in leather, sitting there being dashing. They were just having a great day out, going to see some waterfalls or the sea. None of this nonsense about proving themselves, testing themselves.

I arrived. I booked in. I unpacked and I looked out of my window at the monkey puzzle tree outside and thought how much I would prefer to be climbing it, rather than dunking myself in a swimming pool.
Then we started, five of us in a very warm pool. Well, it had to be warm because we were in it for up to four hours at a time. And we could do more, if we wanted.
I was much the oldest, but I could do what the youngsters did. Steve is a wonderful teacher. He explained a lot about bouyancy and natural floating levels and made us swim with balletic grace. Well, he tried. No thrashing about allowed. Be kind to the water, let it help you, it wants to help you. Don't disturb the water, don't create even a ripple. Just relax. Enjoy it.

I came home again. I felt proud of myself for having faced things I find difficult. I would do it again and try to improve, to be graceful, to breathe sometimes, to relax and enjoy it.
I think I feel better.
It's good to go on learning at 75.



Saturday, 18 April 2015

Letter to a Granddaughter: How to Get Through Nap-Time Without a Nap.






Dear Not-So-Small Granddaughter,
At nearly two and a half you are at that pivotal point of needing but not wanting a rest after lunch. When you reach my age you will be both wanting and needing the same nap.
So you go into a quiet room for at least some quiet time. When you are in my house you sleep (or not sleep) in your uncle's old bedroom which is a treasure trove of unfamiliar objects as well as your own growing collections. You like to check that he's gone off in an aeroplane before you explore thoroughly, and he usually has so the coast is clear.

Your parents go off up the hills for a walk, and you and I negotiate the ground rules for napping. I tell you that talking is good, singing is good, shouting and yelling are not good. You agree.
"Whistling?" you ask, hopefully. Yes, whistling is very good. Lying in a warm bed and practising whistling might even lull you to sleep.
We go upstairs and select three or four soft toys to have a nap with you. We discuss the toys that are at home and reach an agreement that they are not here and we're not driving sixty miles to get them. We discuss drinks and use of the potty and agree that neither is essential at this moment. I tuck you up and give you a kiss and say "Night night", even though it's not. You smile happily and snuggle under the duvet.
I feel successful as I go downstairs.
Then I plug in the intercom.

There is a lot of background noise. The duvet is churning. "Peter Rabbit, hold Annie hand," you say. (I am Annie, you can't say Granny)."Wee now, on the potty...... Now read a book......... Sing a song........ Sing a Peter Rabbit song....la.la.la. like that.....sing now. Sing in my bed. Sing, sing, sing........... Read a book in my bed........another one........... another one. Now singing......wah, wah wah, singing in my bed....... I'm playing..... No! Sit down now by the table. Yes, round and round the table....... Lie down now. No! Sing Happy Birthday.......... There Rabbit, yes, hopping........ Hop. Hop. Hop!"

Feet patter overhead. It must be the rabbit, hopping.
There is the sound of drawers opening and closing.
"Oh, H's (uncle's) paper......... Oh, H's book..........More book............ More paper........ Oh, look! Look! Boys and girls." You have found some old class photographs in one of the drawers.

The wardrobe door opens.
"Oh, big shoes. Big coat. H's shoes........... Oh, look!"
A contemplative pause.
Should I go up and check?

Then, "In my bed now. Oh, oh, I can't get back over there. Sssshhh........... Back now. Where's my duck? I want my duck....... (singing) Little duck went swimming one day, quack, quack, quack.....little duck came back.......... Ringy roses all fall down..........Annie, ANNIE, pick me up..........Oh.....come back, Daddy, Mummy, Annie.
Hello, me come back in that door..........oh."

Then there is attempted whistling and a lot more singing. The bedside cupboard drawers open and close rhythically. Toys are talked to, told to put their coats on, lie down and have a cuddle, eat the food that is in their mouths....eat it all up.

When I guess the time is right I go upstairs. You are sitting happily surrounded by the finds from the drawers and cupboards. A collection of jigsaws, a book with magnetic pictures I had earmarked for next Christmas, photos of your Daddy and Uncle in their primary school days.
You look rested and refreshed, ready for the next adventure.
"Hello, Annie," you say. "Look at this!"

I'm looking.
And listening.
With love from Granny.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Magic in Bed.






Sometimes my nights are long and broken. I awake in the small hours, and instead of worrying about the garden and the roof slates and whether I locked the back door or not I turn on the radio beside my bed. There is always something of interest, and last night was especially so.
Magic tricks on radio!
How much better than on television. Card tricks, when you can hear the flutter of the cards being shuffled, the clicks as they are laid out on a table top, the appreciative gasp of the audience. You can't see the cards, but you know it must be a marvellous trick.
Disbelief is almost suspended.

Sawing a man in half on the radio. You can hear the crunching and sawing. Is it bone, is it wood? You can't hear any screams of pain or squelching of blood and guts, so perhaps all is well? The images are startling, but you know it's going to be all right, really. Such a relief when the audience laughs and cheers. Phew! That was a close one.

A man is chained up with yards of metal chain, secured with three, no.....four padlocks. Four padlocks and yards of metal chain. He can't move. His hands are padlocked, so are his feet. Now they are putting him in a lift, and by the time he reaches the ground floor he will be free. How can this be?
The lift descends........ 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, (it's quite a slow lift, the suspense is great,)..... 2, 1, ground floor. There's a clank, a grinding noise.......the lift doors open......the man steps out, free, mobile, totally unchained. The crowd goes wild. I have the best view of all, alone here in the darkness. There's a glittering pile of chain in the lift. The man is rubbing his wrists. He must be sore. How many attempts did it take to get it right, and how embarrassing it must have been when the lift doors opened to reveal a crouching, contorted chained figure? I can see it all.

Uri Geller is interviewed by Dr. Anthony Clare in the psychiatrist's chair. Just for good measure Uri bends a spoon or two. Dr. Clare goes rather quiet. A vivid image, which I greatly enjoy.

I am drifting a bit in the warm bed.
I think about puppets on radio, especially Archie Andrews who had his own radio show. Even as a child I wondered if he was actually there or not, but he had a tremendous following until he was somewhat killed off by televsion.
I remember Terry Wogan's brilliant fireworks displays on radio every November. The scratch of the match, the hiss of flame and then the glorious technicolour displays. The greatest firework displays never seen, indeed.

So many other great opportunities not yet on radio, roller-skating for beginners, weaving classes, life drawing.
I think idly of the possibilities of a series about origami.
Not seeing is believing.

Night night!


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Let there be Light.






Sunshine creeps round my house, day by day extending its reach, fingering its way past window edges so that each morning and each evening I can catch glimpses of it earlier and later. This week it reached the point when it slid through a gap high in the hills, rolled down them and lit the end wall of my study, briefly illuminating the dust on the wall clock, the finger marks on the glass door.
Oh, it's spring cleaning time.
It happens every year.
This house I know and love so well is my own personal Stonehenge. As the sun hits the study wall, so I also know that I must get out into the garden, to try and get it under control before everything starts reaching out to the increasing light and warmth.

After days of bright sun, but also the sort of blistering cold wind that can remove the skin from your face, two friends and I went to look for new growth in the new light. We found it in the snowdrops here in Birlingham. This tiny ancient Worcestershire village, with its population of just over 300, has a churchyard literally filled with early spring flowers, snowdrops first. There is nothing more encouraging, more hope-filled than the sight of these bravest and earliest of delicate flowers, nodding in the slightly warmer air of early February.
Each small grave of the Victorian babies who lived here for one month or just one day has its own clumps of flowers, as have the imposing memorials of the older past members of the congregation. Snowdrops carpet the churchyard and now they are spreading out beyond the graves to decorate the grass verges of the adjoining road.

Birlingham is one of those quintessentially English places, easily missed by those in a hurry, but really not to be missed this week.
(Tea and cakes available in the village hall at weekends. A wonderful luncheon menu at The Swan Inn just down the road.)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Whiskers on Roses and Raindrops on Kittens......






..............bright copper kettles have recently fallen by the wayside as I've had an experience in the Non-Ferrous Metals Sales business (but that's another story). Warm woollen mittens are good, especially in this weather. But, Sound of Music reference apart, these really are a few of my favourite things.

In assembling them I am impressed by two aspects of the small collection, first that there are several very sharp things, and secondly that my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother would have no difficulty at all in identifying and using all but one of them.

The bread-board is something of real significance. Its carved motto of Give us This Day our Daily Bread has been cut and scrubbed into almost invisibility by countless hands, yet still does its simple task beautifully. I use it several times a day, and never fail to think of all those, known and unknown, who have also used it. I can still see it sitting in the kitchen of my grandmother's house, and on the marble slab of the pantry in my childhood home. In both places it was associated with a large and dangerous bread saw, which I was absolutely not allowed to touch. So I did, of course, on many furtive occasions, once testing the serrated blade against the rim of the bread board. The mark I made is still there, and still provides a frisson of guilt. I was not caught doing it, but I remember it almost daily.

There's so much to be said for plain wood in a kitchen and in a garden. The citrus squeezer does a perfect job and even sorts out the pips. The small wooden spoon is exactly right for my hand, also for balancing in a saucepan or on the edge of a bowl without falling into or out of it. The wooden handled knife, with sharp point and serrated edge actually lives in my gardening tool store and is a brilliant weapon against dandelion roots, and for all those invasive little plants that creep between the paving stones. Old cutlery often makes perfect gardening tools.

There's a wooden handled bradawl there, which I couldn't manage without. It bodges neat holes for all sorts of purposes, some of which may be the wrong purposes but, well, it works for me. Then there are the really sharp blades, the new secateurs and the razor-like sewing scissors, items of great satisfaction. There are few things better than a simple implement that does exactly what it is meant to do, especially when it does not use any sort of fossil fuel.
The metal tools are very satisfying, too. I really enjoy that little grater intended for parmesan cheese, and the small whisk gets the lumps out of any sauce you can think of. Very simple, but they both work as they should and take up no storage space at all.

The blue plastic tool is something else I couldn't manage without. My mother, grandmother and great- grandmother would not have wanted it anyway because they had no need to release a metal lid with a vacuum seal on a glass jar. Well, perhaps my mother may have done, but she had my father around. The blue plastic vacuum release thingy is probably a bit of a weak-wristed widow speciality. The alternative technique of opening a tightly sealed jar can involve trapping it between a door and its frame, and I have evidence of that malpractice, too.
However, if you need one, or a brush for cleaning button mushrooms, or anything else of that ilk, try here.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Letter to a Granddaughter - P. Rabbit's Busy Weekend.








Dear Small Granddaughter,
Peter Rabbit was on the hop all weekend. Originally made by me for your Uncle over thirty years ago, he has stood the many tests of time well. This weekend he took part in an exciting game of hide and seek and did a fair bit of potty-training. He lost his shoes a long time ago, but that is what Peter Rabbit does. He stars in several of your books and features on your plate at meal times, persuading you to empty the plate and see his picture. Also the picture of Mr. McGregor, chasing him, brandishing a rake.
"I like Peter Rabbit,"  you tell us. "I like Mr. McGregor. I like Postman Pat. I don't like Santa."
I wonder what will happen when you realise the true relationship of Peter R. to the McGregor family, and especially to that frightful. pie-making Mrs. McGregor? You do not yet know that one of your double-barrelled surnames is McGregor. Currently you ask happily for your Granny's pies. Things might change.

Wonderful for me, this unexpected visit. You were not to know that I was feeling low and even (dare I write it?) even a bit sad and sorry for myself, feelings I normally fight to the death. But your parents picked up on it and you all came. You burst into the house, shouting, "Book, book!" while struggling out of your coat. You pulled off your furry boots and exclaimed at the coldness of the stone floor while searching for the right book. Nursery Rhymes, or Postman Pat, or the Lift-the-Flap Peter Rabbit book, or the catalogue of farm and zoo animals so that you can check your collection? All at once, as many as possible, sitting with me by the fire while your parents foraged in the kitchen, looking for coffee, herbal teas, mince-pies, cake, kiwi fruit - anything to keep themselves going until lunch time.

The warm weight of you in my lap, your insistence on singing, all of us singing, your cheerfulness, your growing realisation that you can have some control over a situation, make other people laugh, ask them to sit there, read this, sing that, all these actions banish any sad and gloomy thoughts. You constantly remind me of the need to live in the moment, to hold this precious time because it will change, it has to change and you are changing, growing, developing every day.

You ask for a pencil and measure yourself against the kitchen door-frame, where we are all marked. You have grown fractionally taller: It's only three weeks since you were last here. But what has happened in other growth is exponential.
You talk all the time.
You question things.
"Help me," you say if things are a bit too hard, and I find this especially poignant; such a little person knowing when they need help, trying so hard to be good and do the right thing.

And then you tell me not to talk, not to be funny, because listening to a c.d. of Nursery Rhymes is serious business, and I must sit still while you show me the pictures in the song book. I can sing, but not smile or laugh because this is not the appropriate time to be funny. What happens to Humpty Dumpty is important. "No funny," you say, and I agree.

Whatever you do is done with total concentration and whole-hearted intent. A time to laugh and a time to be solemn, a time to run and a time to sit still, a time to shout and a time to whisper. A time to eat and drink with gusto, and a time to purse your mouth and refuse, absolutely.

Thank you for teaching me so much, Little One,
With love from Grandma.


Sunday, 28 December 2014

I Saw Three Ships........





................but not sailing into Bethlehem on Christmas Day in the morning. In fact it's a puzzle as to what geographical/divine intervention made possible this event, but never mind. These three ships were in Bristol harbour on Boxing Day in the morning. Two ferries and a tethered restaurant boat to be precise, but very interesting all the same.

It was a different sort of Christmas, the making of new tradition and the end of the old, a sort of rite of passage for me as I will be 75 tomorrow and life changes for all of us.
The old tradition, for my sons and me, was heavily involved in the church where my husband worked. I use the word 'heavily' with care, because it was. The duties for all of us were onerous, and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were somewhat fraught with duty and responsibility and hard work.
We spent many a Christmas Eve scaping wax off the tiled floors after the Christingle sevice when little children were given lighted candles stuck into an orange and when wax was dribbled into medieval tiles.
I spent the later part of Christmas Eve in a state of apprehension, knowing my husband to be alone in church full of the most valuable silver, and knowing that the churchyard was populated by people who had spent the evening drinking in the local pubs and probably also knew about the silver. There were no mobile phones in those days, no communication between the church and the house in the churchyard where we lived. Only a locked door.

But it was a privilege, always, to have such access to a beautiful building nine hundred years old, to be behind the scenes, to realise just how much dedication and hard work went into the production of the music that created a powerful emotional response for so many others.
Tradition was all around us, centuries of it, tangible.

This Christmas was different, away from home for me, but at home for my younger son and his family. Time for me to let go of some things and let others create new traditions. Time for Granddaughter in her Christmas fairy tutu (which she's inclined to wear pulled down around the knees or up under the armpits) to give out the presents. Time for an evening round of a rather racey new game to be played on a different kitchen table, a game whose instructions advise that it is not suitable to be played with older mothers or grandmothers. I am both and can hold my own in the rudeness stakes. There is nothing new in that.

But some different some things I hope will not become traditional, foremost among these being the slamming of my elder son's head in the car door (by me) as we loaded up.
The disagreements with SatNav will probably be thoroughly traditional with many by now. I have it set on a nice, calm, female voice and I do as she tells me. My sons use a different system which is obviously better than mine. More masculine.
But we got there, as I drove through an unfamiliar city centre late at night, gibbering with exhaustion and fear as the nice, calm female directed us in what was clearly the opposite direction, advising us on 'U' turns all the way.

Perhaps the Wise Men argued with the guiding star? The principle is the same.
We got there, as they did.

Happy, peaceful New Year to you all.