Sunday, 27 December 2015


The day after Boxing Day in a quiet and mostly slumbering household. A star from Berlin shines out against a sky just becoming light on a mild, damp morning. Birds sing outside, thinking it is Spring. The rhubarb reaches out through rich earth, and spring flowering bulbs creak steadily upwards.

Inside the house all is calm.
The smaller of the two Christmas trees has lurched about a bit since the chocolate teddy bears were removed. There are still a few paper hats, remnants of ribbon, tinsel and wrapping paper on the floor, under furniture and lurking in odd corners. A pair of very small slippers disguised as mice hides under a sofa.
The recycling bins are stuffed to bursting.

Family have come and gone, and come and stayed.
The weeks and weeks of preparation have been worth it, every moment.
Granddaughter explained how sad she felt on Christmas night. She really, really wanted Father Christmas to come back again so that she could see him and say thank you, (well. it was worth a try, wasn't it?).
She really, really wanted to do it all again.
Even I am prepared to do it again, even now, even before the turkey carcass has been dealt with.

I hope your Christmas time is as good.

Happy New Year to you all.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

If You Go Down in the Woods......

It was a lovely day in the forest, the soft mulch of fallen leaves, the deep patches of rich mud tugging at the boots, the sunlight sparkling through the over-arching trees. We followed the trail of coloured ribbons; round the bushes, through the thickets, under the straggling brambles, over the mossy fallen logs, until we arrived at the cluster of Hobbit houses.
There was the smell of wood-smoke, mingled with dampness in the clearing as small gnomes staggered and scampered in their Mini-Boden sweaters and Scandinavian salopettes. Little Luciens and Berties, Rubies and Aramintas, attended by their Eco-friendly Mummies explored the dangling wind chimes, the percussion instruments made from empty plastic milk cartons (plastic!), old tin lids and chunks of bamboo.
Sheltered beneath a massive well-used parachute they were encouraged to paint and print their little hands on to a giant Anti Global-Warming banner, and the Mummies were urged to come and march with the banner and the little gnomes.
The hand-prints were all in the most natural of colours, shades of raw earth: beige, olive green, sludge and mustard.The paints had been hand-made, ground up from earth and bark and berries, totally, utterly natural.

For this is one of the many Forest Schools, earnestly run, carefully giving their little middle-class patrons the chance to get down and dirty in the name of saving the planet.

There were other things to do, of course. Drawing with locally made charcoal and pieces of genuine chalk rock seemed popular. There were paint brushes and a jar of water, and one small Bertie mashed up some charcoal into the water and took a deep and obviously satisfying swig of the mixture while his Mummy was talking about bamboo fibre nappies. ("Tell me, Chloe, have you ever, ever, used a disposable nappy?")
There is the opportunity to paint stones, peel fruits, finger paint, jump along stepping stones, walk through a tunnel, and generally to have an awfully big adventure in the forest.

Then there is a real live fire, lots of flaring twigs in a real fire pit, and things can be toasted and spread with home-made jam or even peanut butter out of a jar (just like at home). There is tea, disappointingly ordinary, bog-standard tea for the Mummies and the one attendant Granny, and fresh water for the little gnomes.

The Mummies and the gnomes (and even the Granny) all get frightfully dirty and have to get changed and cleaned up before getting back into the Volvo.
And then it's a bit of a chore, getting through the school-rush traffic and the city centre in time for tea.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Letter to a Granddaughter: Butterfly in Pyjamas.

Dear Small Granddaughter,
Here you are in essential morning style, pyjamas and butterfly wings, flitting around as I prepare your breakfast. You alight at the dolls' house and do a quick rearrangement. The tiny plastic baby is meant to be cared for by a little fat pig and a small red bear. You comment on the fact that the bear and the pig have been drinking wine. The empty bottle is on the floor of the miniature sitting room and the baby is alone in his nursery. You fit him into his high chair and remonstrate with the pig and the bear... "This baby is hungry. He hasn't got a nappy. You are not looking after him.....come on, baby, I'll look after you."
I call from the kitchen, "Would you like porridge?" 
"I don't know," you say. "I'm too busy now."
The porridge will keep warm until the baby is sorted and the empty glasses and bottle tidied, but then, suddenly you are in the kitchen, jumping up and down, wings quivering. "Porridge, please, and some toast and marmite, and....what's that?"
"It's a nectarine."
"I can jump very high. Can you hear me jumping?"
"Oh, yes. I can hear you. Would you like a nectarine as well?"
"I can jump just like Mr. Jeremy Fisher. Look!"
"What about the nectarine?"
"Can you jump like Mr. Jeremy Fisher? Can you jump as high as me? Can you?"
"Not now, but I probably could when I was nearly three."
"When were you nearly three?"
"A very long time ago."
What a good question, but I choose to ignore it because 'why?' is the  standard response to so many things these days. We will concentrate on porridge instead. And the nectarine.

In three weeks time you will be three. How amazing is that? That little fragile bundle who studied her moving hands with rapt attention is now bursting with opinions and thoughts, and can dance and sing and jump like Mr. Jeremy Fisher (although this is an ambitious concept as you've been watching The Royal Ballet: Tales of Beatrix Potter)

You love books and are frustrated by not being able to read just yet.
"Tell me the words," you say, pointing to the pages, and then, "Now tell me the words in your head," meaning, make up a story. Such an enjoyable difference between words on the page and words in the head, and I find myself thinking the same thing: "Tell me the words in your head, Little E."

You have travelled by air and paddled in Portugal, eaten French ice-cream and slept in tents and yurts. You have made new friends and learned to share and play. You like to be kind to others. Sadly it is becoming rather obvious that I have slowed down a lot and you take my hand and do your best to help me. I find this most powerfully touching. You are becoming an experienced, lovely little person.

You need to make sense of the world, and your way to do it is to act it all out:  You say, "You be me and I'll be you. Now, do you want porridge?" and "Daddy, you be Mr. Jeremy Fisher, and I'll be the big trout"
"Mummy, you be Daddy and Daddy can be Annie" (Granny). Challenging for all of us. Do I really ask everyone about porridge all the time? You give us all such food for thought.

Of course, it's not all sunshine. Storm clouds gather when you are hungry or tired. You refuse to eat or drink or have a cuddle, and you may lie on the floor in noisy protest. You are not like your father in this. He went in for much quieter negative protest, but then would have to shout out, "Look at ME! I'm sulking!" But you are finding a way out of the big holes you sometimes dig for yourself. After refusing everything you may revive, smiling and say, "I've had a good idea. Let's share!" (whatever it was you'd just been refusing.). Good idea. Charm trumps tantrum. A useful lesson for life, and a difficult one to maintain, especially when you're nearly three.

But charm or tantrum, I hope you'll always be able to tell me the words in your head, Little E.

With love from Annie.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Passing On

Around seventy-five years ago this  hand-embroidered silk dress was made for me in China, and rather surprisingly managed to make its way to England in the early years of World War 2. I was born just after the outbreak of war, and have vivid memories of my clothes when I was a young child. I remember the textures as much as anything, for I grew up in a time when clothes were scarce and everything was passed on, passed down, recycled, remade. But this dress, with its matching embroidered knickers was made especially for me, and sent right across the world for me. Sensational stuff, and a source of considerable pride to my mother.

I hated this dress. I hated the matching knickers even more. I had to wear the whole slippery outfit for any occasion when I might be on show, when my mother's visitors were coming, or when members of the family needed to be impressed. My mother would instruct me to flash the matching knickers. I was probably no more than four years old, but I felt terrible.
I used to hide this dress, but it was always found again ('However did it get there?') I also collected any scrap of string that I could try to use as a belt. I loathed the way the dress drooped and sagged, and tying a belt round it helped a bit. However, that was counter-productive, as was the hiding. Being silk the dress had to be meticulously laundered and ironed, and tying string round its middle did not help at all. It holds some uncomfortable memories, this little dress, but I kept it all the same, or rather my mother did, for I found it again after her death. It evoked such a storm of memories for me that I kept it, too. Looking at it now I can't believe how young I must have been when it generated such powerful emotion.

At the time of the 70th anniversary of VJ Day I have been thinking a lot about my uncle and aunt, who sent the dress for me, and who suffered terribly at the fall of Singapore, where they were living at the time of the Japanese invasion. My uncle spent the years of Japanese Occupation in Changi Prison, and was never able to speak about his experiences. My aunt and infant cousin managed to get on to a boat without even knowing where it was going. They ended up in Hobart, on Tasmania.
The dress and knickers came to England, and look who was wearing them yesterday:

Granddaughter, knowing nothing of wars and conflict and uncomfortable clothes and shortages, liked the seventy-five year old dress and even the matching knickers. She would have kept them on all day, but was persuaded into something more robust and also made in China. Some day she may be interested to know the history of the little dress, but not for many years.

A long walk down memory lane for me, and a sadness that my uncle and aunt could not see another generation in hand-embroidered silk, nor get a quick flash of the embroidered knickers.
I know they would have loved that.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Some More Things to Do With Sheep (for Zhoen).

In her almost-daily blog posting Zhoen has been meditating on a theme of sheep, so I have allowed my own sheepish family to come out of the wardrobe and be photographed in the garden for her.
These are TinkaBell bears, made of sheepskin.

I have a collection of English teddy bears, most of them being around my age, or even older. Because of fabric rationing during the time of World War 2 the few manufacturers still making soft toys turned to sheepskin. In 1946 a sheepskin soft-toy business was started in Worthing, Sussex, by John Plummer and Dudley Wandless with one member of staff. They became very successful, and made other things for children, such as baby linen, playsuits and tents - not all made of sheepskin - until 1972.
Teddy bears were their most popular item. Over 70.000 were made annually during the 1960s, and many went to Canada.
The trade label (usually sewn into the foot) is TinkaBell, and they were made in eight sizes.

 I have five different sizes here, plus a real oddity - the orange and black character with green eyes and a studded leather collar. Fifty shades of orange? Goodness knows where he's been, but he in distinctly unplayed-with condition. The others are natural sheepskin. They are all quite heavy and bulky, with wide flat immoveable heads and jointed limbs. The small one in the striped outfit reminds me of my elder son in his Rugby playing days. Not that he has a wide flat head, of course.

Many teddy bears are cuddly, but TinkaBells are very butch and straightforward. You'd have one in bed as a guardian (although possibly better as a door-stop), but not to cuddle and confide in. A TinkaBell wouldn't be listening. He'd be thinking about the next meal or the next Rugby match. But comforting, in a familiar sort of way.

Anyway, they can go back in the wardrobe now they've had a little airing, but TinkaBell doesn't really seem the right name, not even for the one in the pink frock.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

In at the Shallow End

Late evening in the kitchen, and the swimming gear dangles, damp and depressing after a bad day in the pool.
How I hate this swimming lark, but how determined I am not to be defeated by it all.
Then I think, 'Defeat is all right. It will give me more time in the garden'.
But no, I will struggle on.

I was quite excited when I found out that at my local pool people over 75 could have unlimited swimming for £10 a year. When I told my younger son he said, ' Come on, Mum. Everyone in Malvern is over 75. You'll not be able to stand in there'.
Well, he was wrong. Not everyone over 75 wants to swim. And neither do I. At least, I do, but I hate this process of having to master skills that seem to require far more coordination that I possess.

Recently, in a small warm pool in Wales, with lots of grab rails and ladders I could do widths and lengths and float and glide and swim a length underwater. I didn't splash or flounder. I even felt a touch of triumph, once or twice, and the very kind instructor told me I was good. How positive is that? How reinforcing? And how incredibly childish, to need such reassurance in the mid 70s?
Not childish, or rather child-like in the most basically human way. How much better we all feel and respond when we think we are being good. Doing well, accepting approval are things we all need throughout our lives, and when you live alone such things can be in short supply.

However, in the small warm pool in Wales a length is equal to considerably less than a width in the impressive local pool.where a length zooms so far into the distance that it makes my goggles steam up.
A leisure pool is nothing like a swimming pool.
At least not to an insecure old biddy like me.
For starters I can't climb down a ladder, which is my preferred way of getting into water. I have to walk down a sloping tiled 'beach' and when I totter into deeper water there are no comforting rails along the sides.
There is a wave machine, there is a great plastic tube that hurtles people into the deep end. This is fun, apparently.

There is, in compensation, another kindly instructor, and he and I have the vast, echoing, shimmering acreage of turquoise water to ourselves - apart from our own private life-guard, up there on a high perch.
I tell the instructor what I think I can do, and then I find I can't do any of it.
I can do the arms bit.
I can do the legs bit.
I can't do them together. I can't balance, I can't breathe. I gibber. I haven't gibbered for a very long time, but I gibber in the glittering water, and then I can't do anything at all.
How elderly. How humiliating. I wished my son was right, and that it was a case of standing room only. But this is a private lesson, and there is nowhere to hide.
Absolutely nowhere.
The instructor and I formulate a sort-of plan, but I suspect that he sort-of thinks I will give up after such an uncomfortable time..
But I won't.
Even though at that point two dinky four year-olds appear for their private lesson and immediately go into efficient front and back crawl modes.

As I creep back home down the hill, toting a soggy bag of towelling and with knees like jelly, I know that I must creep back up again.

P.S. I've found a ladder. I can get into the water without gibbering. Things are looking up!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Letter to a Granddaughter: Peas in a Pod.

Dear Small Grand-Daughter,

High on a list of my wishes for you is a creative imagination, along with good health and happiness and all the usual grand-motherly concerns. Imagination can be the spice of life, creating magic from the humdrum, peace from the turmoil, fun from the banal......and last weekend, joy from pea-pods. Who would have predicted that shelling peas could be such a wonderful entertainment; for you as the pods went 'pop' and for your parents and me as we watched you quivering with anticipation.......'Do it again, Annie. Do it again,'?

Then you decided that each pod contained a family of peas; mummies and daddies, babies, uncles, aunties, cousins, grannies, so each had to be checked out, and some families were found to be larger and more complex than others. After that came the need to taste uncooked peas, and perhaps their pods as well. It takes quite a time to prepare lunch this way, and perhaps it's only grannies who have the time and patience to do it.
So, thank you for giving me a weekend to spend with you and your widening horizons, and to give me the realisation that grannies are good things with lots to give, even if they can't run about very much.

The question, 'Why?' has become significant lately. Sometimes it is used as a delaying tactic when you've been asked to do something else, but more often it is a real need to know, fuelled by imagination and by your great enthusiasm for books and stories.
We worked through some of your favourites, looking at why things happened the way they did. Peter Rabbit, for instance, had been specifically told not to go into Mr. McGregor's garden, but defied his mother and did so. A few weeks ago you told me that Mr McGregor was 'not kind' shouting at Peter, chasing him and taking his little coat and shoes. This time you worked out that it was Peter who was not kind, eating the vegetables that Mr. McGregor had grown, and that Peter was a bad rabbit, taking things.
Similarly you now think that Goldilocks was wrong, going into someone's house, eating their breakfast, breaking a chair, sleeping in someone else's bed without asking them. You used to think the bears were not good, coming back and frightening her, but now it's Goldilocks who is not kind, frightening the bears.
Not kind.
Not kind at all.
Kindness is important.

In the peace and seclusion of Walnut Cottage we ventured into thoughts of why people ask you not to do things, and we reached a sort of conclusion that it is because Mummy and Daddy don't want you to be hurt. This was clearly the case with Peter Rabbit.

Then you cooked a few meals in your cottage - fish and cheese with tomatoes and carrot juice - yum! You fed your new horse  who is called 'RideaCockHorse' and you are a Fine Lady when you sit on him, although Banbury Cross defeats you somewhat.
You made a lot of (private) phone calls on the remote control for the old t.v. because we couldn't find your official plastic phone. 'Hello...yes, I'm Annie's house. Yes, cooking now....... I'm too busy. Bye!'
This afternoon many people call you via the old remote control, people you know, people from books and nursery rhymes. The witch from Room on the Broom really needed a quick word, but again you were busy in your house, working hard, keeping an eye on the plastic babies in their cradle, constantly mashing up juice in the little liquidiser.....'Tomato or orange, Annie?' 'Have you any cucumber juice?' 'Oh, you are silly, Annie!'

At least  a year ago I found myself marvelling at how much you knew, and how you were making sense of the world.
Now I'm really marvelling, and I have to remind myself that you are someone whose age can still be counted just in months (32).
How on earth has all this happened?

Thank you for teaching me so much, and for reminding me constantly of the simple joys to be found in life.
With love from Granny (Annie).

Monday, 29 June 2015

Indignant of Middle England.

Here I go again.....the equivalent of last week's door-to-door pressure selling. Now someone has found me a buyer so I can move house. Well, not really move house, but move into one of their so-called Assisted Living Apartments.
Extremely thoughtful of them, but the sale presents a few problems, the main one being that my house is not on the market and their hopeful purchaser is going to be disappointed. They might have asked me before they found this buyer, but I guess that someone, somewhere found my date of birth and decided  that at the age of 75 I must be past making any sort of rational decision.
This potential sale offers me a worry and hassle free time with no estate agent fees, no removal fees, free valuations, a guaranteed price and a contribution (unspecified) to solicitor fees. You bet!
I wouldn't need removal fees because I'd have to sell the furniture. None of my Victorian family clobber is going to fit into the tiny retirement rooms. Free valuations? By whom? Presumably by the same agency that gives the guaranteed price. What on earth does it all mean? (Don't tell me, I think I know.)

But it also claims that I can start enjoying 'a more colourful assisted living retirement'. Now this might have its moments?

As with the countless helpful schemes involving computer repairs in exchange for bank details, Nigerian diplomats wanting somewhere to put their money and other too-good-to-be-true offers there must be people who respond to this sort of thing. There must be senior citizens who receive a letter like this and make a decision to downsize and move. Other retirement facilities in the area have been offering M&S vouchers to anyone who will go in and have a look round. Just look round, no pressure, no signatures needed? Enough vouchers to buy a new cardigan.
Similarly does anyone suddenly decide they really, really want a conservatory or double glazing because someone rings up and offers amazing prices in return for an instant decision? Well, they must do, or else people wouldn't keep trying it.

When I was in Madeira a couple of years ago I was puzzled by the boat trips which promised 'No Time-Shares'. Then I learned something of the degree of pressure applied by Time Share Salespersons to visitors when they were captives on a boat cruise.
What with the dish-cloths and the assisted living it's starting to feel a bit like it here.

To cool down I look a a photo my son sent yesterday: It's of the giant waterlily at Kew.

Then I remember how, as a very small child, I loved the photo of this in The Children's Encyclopaedia. There was a little girl sitting in the middle of a leaf.  Magical! My parents took me to see it in its real and humid flesh, and again I was filled with indignation at not being allowed to clamber into the pool and sit on Victoria Amazonica.
Nearly seventy years on.
Still indignant.
Still in Middle England.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Coffin-Dodging or Death by Elephant?

A young man has just been to the door. He had a battered sports bag filled with dish-cloths and tea-towels, a selection of which he expected me to buy. When I declined his offer his mood deteriorated rapidly (it's a hot day in Middle England) and he threw his wares back into the bag and stamped off down the path. As he reached the gate he turned back and called, 'Effing coffin-dodger!'
Who? Me?

I would have been interested to take him up on a few points. Effing and dodging coffins, for instance. Surely an oxymoron?
Dodging coffins? How? Are they being thrown about? Dodging them implies a level of physical activity and agility which I could actually see as being quite complimentary.
Does having white hair and declining to buy an over-priced dish-cloth imply that you should be in a coffin?
I would have liked to explain a few points and find out how he justifies this sort of approach to potential customers.

Avoiding a coffin? Yes. I already have this one organised, I hope. I wrote about it here some years ago, and the forms have been registered.  But it is necessary to die neatly and and the right sort of time for this one. Not during weekends and Bank Holidays, for example, when the relevant University office is closed, and not with too many bits missing.

In the time it took me to get back into the garden my thought processes had cantered on, and I was thinking about people taken totally by surprise when they thought themselves invincible, and when there was no insurance either. A number of Burmese Kings in the 15th and 16th centuries, for instance. I've been reading about them.
King Tabinshwheti had heard about a most auspicious white elephant and went off on a three month campaign with some of his staff to find it. On his 34th birthday he was decapitated by some of the staff in the general confusion about the elephant, although there were a great many other political issues going on at the same time. The elephant remained elusive. Can this be the origin of a White Elephant stall at the jumble sale?

King Razadarit went out to lasso an elephant, but lassoed himself instead and died, strangled by his badly thrown rope.
Crown Prince Minrekyawswa died when his own War Elephant was wounded and rolled over, crushing the Prince in his howda, while King Uzana was trampled to death by an enraged elephant.

Who would have thought it? All those active, rich, powerful young people being mashed by elephants, or while looking for elephants.
No matter how well-protected and agile you are you can't avoid the ultimate end.
But I think you can dodge a coffin.
The young man was right.
Bless him!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

When the going gets tough.........

...........I get going here.
Here in my garden with Patty's Plum, one of the most dramatic of big Oriental poppies..... and with Allium Christophii (below, right). This sort of planting makes me realise I can be something of a drama queen in the privacy of my own garden, but Christophii has decided to spread itself around the place, as have the equally big Alliums, Purple Sensation. 

So has this bright red honeysuckle, rescued as a dry twig many years ago and now weaving itself all through the frame of the big swing, so that visiting sons can barely manage their chin-ups.

Many plants do their own thing in my garden. I put them in the ground and stand back. Things that are difficult to grow sometimes escape from where they have been carefully planted and appear somewhere else, somewhere that is meant to be inappropriate, but they have decided otherwise. 
Some things just appear all by themselves, like the great big pineapple lily eucomis that came to live under the kitchen window. I have no idea how it got there, but it's very happy by the drain and puts up more flowers every year.

When the going gets tough the garden is a huge consolation. There is always something to do, and I mostly manage to do it, one way or another. There is always something interesting happening, and there are visitors who come and share it with me.

Granddaughter waits for afternoon tea, and she had (mostly) made the shortbread. 

I am grateful to the kind people who expressed concern over my lack of blog postings. I hit a bad patch, as we all do, and so went to ground for a while. 
Thank you. 
I am very appreciative of the concern.

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 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 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.