Thursday, 21 December 2017

Greetings from Berlin

Happy Christmas to anyone kind enough to be checking up on me here.
Happy New Year, too.

Here we are in Berlin for an early family Christmas get-together, very kindly hosted by elder son and his partner. I am staying in a beautiful, cutting-edged, stainless steel and polished concrete apartment where my son's partner spends some of her time. She works in Berlin and can cycle to work through one of the many attractive parks. Younger son, his wife and two children are staying in a rather more family-friendly apartment a few minutes walk away through the same park. By family-friendly I mean without a mezzanine kitchen with almost irresistible (to a 15 month old climber) metal balcony and open-tread metal staircase.

I am surprised by how much I appreciate polished concrete and stainless steel. I know I appreciate German efficiency and design, things that work, trains that run on time, and I'm drawn to the relaxed atmosphere of this major city,  criss-crossed by so many cyclists and runners.
Children are transported in splendid side-cars attached to the bikes, or in padded boxes over the front wheel. People are keen to be healthy, to remain active. The trains have generous accommodation for cycles (and for wheel-chairs, I must admit). When I was here earlier in the year I was suitably impressed by the nude-bathing in the local lakes. One felt rather stand-offish, keeping one's clothes on, when everyone else - babies, grannies, the lot - had the most complete all-over sun-tans.

There are excellent playgrounds all around. When so many families live in low-rise apartments such as these the playgrounds are essential. They are much appreciated by granddaughter and grandson, who is now walking and keen to have a go on anything, especially if it involves climbing. In fact we spend much of our time admiring the playgrounds and what various people can do in them. Some of the climbing frames are adult-sized, so sons can alarm me was well as grandchildren: "Be careful up there - you're only 35 and you haven't got your gloves on...."

Then we return to the warmth of the heated floors, and uncle and niece can teach each other how to build a Lego space-ship - a special moment of togetherness for a far-flung family.

Seasons greetings to you all, and may all your family times be as valued.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Letter to a Granddaughter.

Dear Granddaughter,
It's nearly five years since you entered my life, changing it for ever in ways that are entirely good.
I remember thinking at the time of your birth how amazing it was that such a tiny person could have such a profound effect and,'s gone on.
I try to think why the whole experience of being a grandmother is so different from that of being a mother, and in my case I think it's because I have time to reflect. As a parent there is not a lot of that going on.
I don't see you and your little brother so frequently, but after one of your weekend visits, while I'm gardening, walking, pottering around I think of you and remember what you've told me, how you've responded to me, and all the many questions you've asked and observations you've made.
(Little Brother isn't talking just yet, apart from 'cat, Daddy, banana', but we can build a meaningful exchange with that.)

Last weekend you and I talked about magic, and whether there is real magic or not. I confessed to writing the tiny fairy notes.
You said, "Yes, I thought it was you, but it's a good game, isn't it?"
Yes. It's a good game, but a better one followed when I taught you a couple of 'magic' tricks and you gave us all a conjuring show. The magic part of the magic is to keep the patter going and not to give away your secrets.
A good lesson for life? Aw heck, what have I taught you now?

You are concerned for me, living alone.
You asked me, "Do you talk to people when I'm not here? Not on the telephone, real people, I mean?" I told you I have friends, people come to see me, I go to see them, but I'm also happy on my own. A better lesson for life, hopefully.
Then you said, "Granny, I've had such a good idea. You could have a baby!"
I explained that old ladies can't have babies because they are meant to be grannies, not mothers. Old ladies can't do all the energetic things that mothers can do, but you fixed me with a steely glare and said, "Well, I think any baby in the world would be happy to live here!"
When you're a lot older you will realise what that remark meant to an arthritic old lady.

But next week you will be in school full-time.
How can that be, this incredible growth and development when it seems only a few weeks ago that you were learning to walk, just like Little Brother now?
And he too will race away, over the hills and vales of life, learning new skills every hour of every day.

Be safe and happy, both of you, on your feet, on your bikes, with your friends, in your classrooms.
And Granddaughter, thank you for  nearly five years of all the right sort of magic.

With love from Granny.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Darth Vader meets the Fairies

A busy weekend in my garden, so much more activity than I appreciated because it's going on all the time apparently,  right under my insensitive nose.
A happy, hot family weekend with Granddaughter E who, unbelievably, will be starting school in September, and little brother who equally unbelievably will be one year old at the same time. And their parents. Of course, their parents, looking tanned and happy but a bit jaded, hoping for lots of home-cooking ('Five puddings on Sunday. Only five!') and a bit of a respite.
Where has this year gone?

The garden has been such a success for everyone, especially in the warmth. So much so that the fairies have moved in on a large scale, except that I'm told they have always been here, it's just that I'm not a fairy expert, unlike E. who clearly is.

My sons were not experts in their childhood, either. They noticed lots of things, insects, stones, sticks, mud, stinging nettles, poisonous potentials,  amphibians, but not fairies.  They were never aware a single one, not a gnome, nor a pixie.
I wonder if Grandson will be an expert, and how much his big sister will influence him. At the moment he's concentrating on standing, jigging, crawling, eating and mostly smiling and laughing with the odd burst of singing and chatting (he's in a choir, after all).

Granddaughter knows all about fairies, their haunts and habitats and habits, and they have been fairly demanding this weekend. She has had to keep them supplied with tiny meals of specially dainty and flavoursome items. They like the several special herbs in the garden, notably the fruit-flavoured sages and mints. When they don't have anyone to wait on them they have to go and pick them for themselves, which is why E. explained they were tired and needed a rest from foraging, so Granny could do it for them.
In return they play music at night, and they leave small post-it notes around the place. Sometimes the writing looks like mine, but it's a lot smaller. I have to be careful not to tread on them in the garden. It's perilously easy and sometimes almost tempting to do so, but during the weekdays they have to go to school in the Hedgehog House at the bottom of the garden. (Sadly lacking hedgehogs for years now - but I digress). So we all have to be understanding. They will be working hard in school, and need to be well looked after at weekends.

Oh, what lovely not-so-subtle messages come through. Luckily the fairies will love going to school, they will love their new uniforms, they are going to be with their friends. It's just that they need to make sure that everything is going to be just right at home as well, that the attention and care is unchanged, that everything is safe and happy. That if they need tiny delicate meals someone will provide them as quickly as possible. Or even large meals with extra cheese, come to that.

Darth Vader is another matter. He is likely to be in the lavatory upstairs, which makes it difficult for a rising 5 year old to go up there on her own, especially along the long corridor in this house. A Granny  waiting at the bottom step will do as protection, but it needs that extra adult vigilance. Darth Vader might even have his light-shaver up there. We are all very sure that he wouldn't dare to go into a school though.

How good it is when we can recognise our own Darth Vaders and talk about them and find the right levels of protection and support. We all have them in there somewhere, just as we have good and happy influences flitting around, playing beautiful music that no one else can hear.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Perfect Finger Food.

I've been away for a while, looking at some beautiful gardens and interesting buildings, and then I come home to this.......... the wisteria which now reaches half way around the garden, twining itself on a thick, strong marine rope that elder son fixed for me a couple of years ago.
A couple of years. So much has happened, apart from the wisteria more than doubling in size.

Here is a rare, probably one-off photograph of one such wonderful happening.

Grandson, now just eight months old.
I haven't written letters in this blog to him, as I did to Granddaughter in her babyhood because it seemed better to do something different. I have done many things differently. He's a different little person, clear from the very start. When ever he catches my eye he beams and laughs. I have a feeling that we are sharing some tremendous joke, but I don't know what it is just yet. Sheer joy in life, probably. I'm happy to share, whatever it is.

So here he is, engrossed in an encounter with Evesham asparagus, the ideal finger food for babies who like doing it for themselves, as he does now. Asparagus is great. You can wave it about, and when you've bashed it a bit it even waves back. Then you can eat it. Great stuff!

He can spend an hour, happy in his high chair, sampling a variety of foods, wet and dry, hard and soft, mashing them into the tray, wiping them all over his face and arms, squelching them in his little strong fists.
How deeply satisfying it all must be. How totally enjoyable when you don't have to clean up.
Why was cutlery invented when you can have such rich sensory experiences with simple food?

Watching his level of concentration makes me think of what engrosses me, what makes a mess, gives multi-sensory experiences, can occupy me for an hour at a time without me even realising that time has passed?

Well, gardening, of course.
Here's a bit more of it on the rock garden.........

Perfect finger food for oldies. Even if you have to miss out on the eating bit such activities are still food for the body and the brain..
Perfect for youngsters too, because Granddaughter is meanwhile examining her own patch of garden outside the kitchen window.
"I'm going to have lots of strawberries here. You can share some of them," she says, which is really just as well, as that's my strawberry bed she's got her little strong fists on.
Her little bit of garden started with a old sink in which she planted daffodil bulbs, but it has now expanded into what was my herb patch and strawberry bed. Somewhat more invasive are the fairies who are apparently active in her patch and are threatening a take-over of larger areas. My larger areas no doubt.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

All Alone with Mickey

"Look at this!" said Granddaughter on Skype. She was in a tent on the lawn and Little Brother was bouncing about in front of her.
"What is it?" I said. "I can't see it properly."
She waved it more vigorously. "It's the Pre-School Bear," she said. "I've got it for the weekend, and it's got a book with it and we have to write down everything the bear does and we have to give him lots of adventures and lovely food."
"That will be interesting," I said.
"Oh yes," said my son darkly. I could tell his heart wasn't really in it.
"But," shouted Granddaughter, remembering something important. "But this is a new bear. It's a different bear because someone....SOMEONE took the old bear to Disneyland, and they LEFT him there. They LOST him. He's still in DISNEYLAND."
"It's a lot of responsibility," said my son.
"What a pity it's not next weekend," I said. "He could have come here with you and had an Easter egg hunt in the garden."
"I think it's got to be even more exciting than that," said my son.
Little Brother continued to bounce. He didn't care.

So what will it be this weekend for an indulged Pre-School Bear and his diary, out to impress Pre-School staff as well as all the other parents with access to the record?
Parents who may have visualised a few hours of rest and relaxation, or a weekend putting up shelves and doing a big shop will need to get the bear to some sort of centre of excellence, a museum, a stately home, a zoo, a river trip, a concert, a theatre, a hot air balloon ride.
How much warning is given about this bear's visit?
Perhaps just about time to get a Ryan Air flight to somewhere like Disneyland, but will anyone dare
to go there again?
Maybe there's time for a last minute cottage booking in Cornwall.
And then there's the food.
Recorded in detail.
Wholesome, organic, home-cooked food.

"In no time at all," I said to my son, "It'll be the school gerbils. Then you're talking about
real responsibility. You'll have to send the cats away for the weekend."
"Oh, don't!" he said.

P.S. That is not the Pre-school Bear pictured above, old or new. It's one from my own collection. No bear of mine is going to Disneyland.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Dubious Performances

Not being disparaging about Shirley Temple, of course, but interested in the era (my long ago childhood era) when children, even the most lacking in talent, were expected to have something to contribute to a social gathering. A party piece. A performance to make Mummy and Daddy proud. A miniscule demonstration of some sort of skill or even talent to impress visitors.

I was reminded of this by a friend's recollection. At the age of two and a half he was trained to spell Czechoslovakia. Then I remembered that I was told I could say 'Antidisestablishmentarianism' while I was still in nappies.
Why on earth were such achievements considered desirable, useful, attractive or anything other than dotty?
As a parent my priority would certainly have been on house-training rather than antidisestablishmentarianism, but I suppose I can still say it, and he can still spell Czechoslovakia, so the training must have done something to our respective infant brains, even if it wasn't terribly useful in the following seventy plus years.

The party piece was often a poem or a song, a hesitant tinkling on the piano or, even worse, the latest practice piece on a stringed instrument. The party wasn't a party at all, but a gathering of adults, sitting around, as uncomfortable as the performing child. An ordeal for all concerned, and a great sense of relief when it was over.
 All this happened in the days before television, of course. The days when adults also sang and played musical instruments at home in the evenings. Everyone had some sort of party piece, even if it was only an uncle who could make his finger-joints crack like castanets.
There were expectations of all of us

Then I remember the emphasis on learning by heart throughout the education system in those distant years. Multiplication tables, hymns and psalms, poems and, at grammar school, great chunks of Keats and Milton and Shakespeare. And I can still do lots of those, too.
And much of the imprinted poetry remains with me, safely in my head, and comes to life at times of stress, sadness and happiness. Great words remain for life, and  I think they are not Czechoslovakia and antidisestablismentarianism.

But then I realise, oh.....actually, they are!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Team Spirit in Ambridge.

                                          Strong Archer women in the kitchen....why not on the pitch?

At last....after the months of doom, gloom, fear and threats, bloodshed, personality disorders and legal complications The Archers get back to life's real issues, catering, extra-martial affairs and the inclusion of women in the village cricket team.
It's so good to see that there are places for the more mature ladies of this busy community in the areas of catering and extra-marital affairs, but it seems sad that apparently only the very young are being considered for cricket. Think how active Lilian is, in so many ways. Wouldn't she make a great wicket-keeper? Pat, with all her nervous energy, could be darting about all over the place, and Linda....well. Linda could do anything, any time, any where. What a loss of potential talent, and how the team could be revitalised, reorganised, reborn.

But perhaps this is all part of the great plan, and the many over-30 year old females of the cast will emerge in glory to save not only the day, but the weekends and the midweek practice sessions as well? And the men can take a turn at putting the kettle on and making the sandwiches.

I write as one who is not unfamiliar with cricket. At my all-girls' school, long, long ago, we padded up and waddled around the stumps with the best of them, and I spent many peaceful hours skulking near the boundary, watching the gentle play of light on the grass, only very occasionally being woken from my reverie by the yells of class-mates as a red leather ball hurtled past me into the shrubbery.
A peaceful time, unless one had the misfortune to be put in to bat. But then it was usually over very quickly.

Peaceful, but in the hands of skilled script-writers the sort of scenario that could become as fraught with tension and perils as any of the other Archer situations. Perhaps we have it coming? I do hope so, for as Miranda said to Justin last week: "The whole area's so barren. There's a dearth of restaurants, bars, cultures. What do people do all day?"

Play cricket....and watch the play of light on grass? It worked for me.

6th April: I'm glad I got that one right!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Nearly a Year Later........,

The heavy-duty extra-insulated vacuum flask I gave to my elder son the Christmas before last is still working well high in the mountains of Kazakhstan. My younger son, his wife and my two grandchildren are leading a busy life in South West England, and I am still here, appreciating my wood-stove and many other things in Middle England.

I'm not sure what happened a year ago, the point at which a very new grandchild was confirmed to be on his way, but it seemed appropriate to stop blogging and wait to see what happened next. It felt as if things would change for all of us, as indeed they have done.

Grandson was obliging from the start. He was on his way just at the point when I had finished baking for a planned visit to his home the next morning. I was to be there for his birth and luckily I was able to load hot cakes, pies and casserole into the car and set off down the motorway in a warm and fragrant cloud.
"It would be really good if you can come now," said my son. "I don't think we can leave it until morning."
He was so right.

Granddaughter and I had a mostly happy time while we were waiting for her brother, but it took another night and morning before he came home. Not-so-Little E dressed herself with care that morning. She said, "I want to look beautiful, so that Little Brother will like me." She chose football shorts, a tutu as a petticoat, a dress to top it all, and a flowery headband. I thought he would love her from the start.
Things changed, of course .The camper-van has been exchanged for a five-seater family car with a great big luggage space. The music studio has become a nursery. There's a baby gym on the floor again, a pram in the hall, a mountain of washing to be dried, and two cats who realise that just when they thought it was all over.......well, it isn't yet.

Good things, very good things happen, and sometimes it feels as if I'm on a calm(ish) plateau, looking back over my 77 years, and forward into the lives of my sons and grandchildren. Then I find that someone, somehow has hacked into my gas and electrical supplies and tried to change my suppliers.. Oh, how perilous the serenity.

So it's been nearly a year of much significance, of small events, irritations and happiness, and to anyone who revisits here I say thank you, and I've missed you (but I've been reading all the time).