Wednesday, 27 February 2013

My Father's Hands

27th February 2013

The last time I was here at the Methodist Chapel in Honiotn was for my father’s Thanksgiving service. This afternoon he fills the room again on the faces of the people who have come to the ‘launch’ of the second volume of his autobiography. I have missed these faces - some of them remind me of him - of how it was to be in his presence -  in the presence of the very old -  holding their long and marvellous lives in the translucence of their skin.

My sister and I pose for a photo for the local paper handing over a copy of his book to the librarian. I stand next to the mayor who looks about fifteen. I make sure my hands are not too visible - the skin round my fingernails is cracked and stained, red and swollen from cooking, from being cold and being in and out of water. I notice the age marks on the backs of my hands now, like a speckled trout. Like my father’s hands.

I wrote inside the front cover of some of his books when people bought them - signed our names. But it didn’t feel right. I wish he’d been there to do it himself. And hear the love in the voices of the people who miss him.

Not going to blog for a while now as I’m going to be spending time with my nieces and my father’s great granddaughter who is only four months old..... finding out how to be in the unblemished presence of the very young......

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Slice by Slice

Two wide damp marks on the green stair carpet
brown splashes, drips, on the primrose yellow wall,
I stop in my tracks, rushing up the stairs.
How long have they been there?
Since yesterday?

What happened? I call to my husband 
who is still in bed.
What did you spill?

Oh it’s just tea.

But why didn’t you clean it up?
Or tell me?
Tea stains you know.

Oh does it? Sorry.

And while I scrub at the marks and wipe down the walls
like a mad person 
as if I cared so much about my carpets
even more than my husband,
my heart is in bad angry splinters.
Because he doesn’t know that tea stains?
Because he would have known what to do? 

Because I keep hiding behind my plate glass wall
pretending everything is normal.

Because it’s such a little thing
with such a long jagged blade 
cutting into the years 
that are coming.
Slice by slice.

Monday, 25 February 2013


4am moon last night....

when I couldn't sleep....

like daylight in the bedroom...

cooked clementine moons in the kitchen tonight....

 leek moons from the allotment.....

My husband is feeling fat. I bought him new jeans last week - his usual size. They are too tight - he has difficulty breathing at our friends’ party on Friday night. Me too. We discuss a weight loss plan. Cut out butter and bread and sugar - all those biscuits after supper. Eat lots of veggies and fish instead. Walk more briskly.

Easy - I make us clean green juices for breakfast which turn the colour of aubergines with the addition of beetroots.
We have poached eggs on a heap of courgettes, leeks and spinach for supper, a pile of pink prawns next to a salad of sharp green leaves and cucumber cubes for lunch.

My husband allows himself a few paper thin almond biscuits. A banana for me.

We walk by the sea, icy winds numbing my lips. We walk in the woods in snow flurries, silent, side by side, my head bowed against the bleakness, missing the views.

I think I can do it -  till I  start baking this afternoon... I lick the chocolate brownie spoon and then scrape out the bowl of the clementine cake and dip a finger into the orange and lime ice cream......and all resolution melts away like meagre snowfall on bare soil.

Luckily the fridge is still full of purple sprouting broccoli and mushrooms and tomorrow is another day  - my chance to make different choices.....

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Green Goodness and Daffodils

From the landing window, in the quiet early hours this morning I glimpsed for a second a nearly whole moon in a silver sky. I stood for a long time with my camera waiting for it to show itself again. But the clouds galloped across it like speeding horses and scooped it up in balloon of parachute silk..... 

I’m going to bed too late these days... never wake refreshed and rested - they sound like words from once upon a time fairy tale.....

Wind full of razor blade ice slows me down in the market stall where I rummage through boxes of spinach and curly kale with my gloves on.....and fill my French basket with green goodness and daffodils...

I like it that the young man who washes my hair checks with me if the pressure on my scalp is right. It is - I can’t bear a wishy washy head massage.....

I like it that the young woman who cuts my hair doesn’t talk a lot and discusses the length of my fringe in a serious way -  as if it could bring about world peace....

Roast potatoes tonight remind me I can make any day special....and not take anything for granted my husband’s hugs....

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cake Plates

Lychees after lunch....

My sister and I are the first customers in the cafe. We are really waiting for the Antiques Emporium to open. We sit on a low couch with two pots of mint tea on the wooden table in front of us. We are missing our big sister as we are writing lists, planning meals, making arrangements for when our nieces, her daughters, come to visit soon - one from Beirut with her own beautiful four month old daughter who we will meet for the first time, and her younger sister recently returned from Nepal.....bringing their youth and freshness and new experiences into the dregs of our Devon winter.

Later, in the Emporium, I find a set of seven Spode cake plates, fluted gold edged, patterned with an outer circle of fleur de lys, in a terracotta colour, which I buy. My stack of little white Limoges plates, which we bought from a shop, spilling out onto the pavement in Paris, are all gone except for two. So these new but old plates, holding someone else’s memories, are interrupting the white theme of my china cupboard. Good to introduce small not scary places. I will use them every day.

But maybe I’ll use them for the first time when my nieces come  - as I know they are especially fond of cake.  And  especially as I’m now the owner of some very elegant cake forks too....

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Homing Instinct

19th February 2013

My morning dribbles away in half completed tasks and tangents off the to-do list...much better to walk with my husband in the sunshine a sheltered bird sanctuary where the Canada geese are massing and squawking on the flooded banks of the estuary. They know exactly what to do ..... insticntively procrastination and question in their ranks.....they know when it’s time to fly and when it’s time to rest.

Taking photos I drop  one of my blue woollen gloves......don’t realise till my hands are purple cold and I can’t feel my finger on the shutter. We turn back and re-trace our steps, past the Robin, and the crocus, past the ivy seed head and the blue sailed boat, past the blackheaded gulls in the mud, hopeful. We both see it lying in the middle of the road, a small blue flag, with car tyre marks across it, wet but wearable. Returned to its twin.

Later I cut through the tough grey skin of the prince of all squashes, slice fat orange discs and roast them in olive oil. My sister is coming to supper. I notice how quickly I can work when I have a deadline, and like the geese, I don’t hesitate when I’m in the zone of just knowing what to do.... with a knife in my hand, my apron on..... listening to my homing instinct.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Ginger, Snowdrop, Fireworks

Teaspoon technique....

the harder part -  grating it....

the easy bit - slicing it, soft in syrup.

Sun going down last night 

on my only snowdrop.... 

clouds on fire in the back garden ..

the poplar tree before...

during ....

and after the fireworks next door.

 Passed on to me from a dear friend - a hot tip - how to peel off the tender thin skin of a fresh ginger root. Use the tip of a teaspoon turned upside down. Scrape gently and you don’t lose any flesh at all.

The skin of a Crown Prince Squash  - hard as Parmesan rind -  can knacker your potato peeler, so best to cut in quarters with your biggest knife, scoop out the seeds and roast till tender. The skin slips off easily then - soft as peaches.

As I couldn’t decide on lemon or ginger for the birthday cake - I compromised with the recipe for my Three Ginger Ginger Bread ( powdered, grated fresh, chopped stem in syrup) and layered and smothered it in a cream cheese and muscovado frosting (inspired by Ottolenghi) sharpened with half a jar of lemon curd.

Hot and sweet, tender and sharp -  like my weekend...

Friday, 15 February 2013

Cakes To Keep Me Here

Baked for me by a dear friend...

one I baked for a dear friend....

my Christmas cake last year...

my nephew's cheesecake for our 25th Wedding anniversary...

honey and walnut tart from the farmer's market, Cognac, France.

15th February 2013

When I get stuck, like I am now, and overwhelmed by what I think I could be doing like de-frosting the freezer ....... or when I scare my self by imagining a future when I can’t use my fingers because they are bent with arthritis..... or my husband doesn’t recognise me......and social services have taken all the money for his care....
then I make myself think about what to make for supper.... or the next birthday cake ....or I read recipes books and look at photos of food in faraway places and open the fridge and start chopping onions.....

and then there will be lots of washing up to do which is much easier and more urgent than  dusting the house plants.....

Silky aubergines and chestnut mushrooms cooked in coconut oil and stirred into sticky brown rice with seaweed green chard help me come home to myself tonight. And trying to choose between lemon or ginger cake to bake tomorrow is keeping my mind in the kitchen and not in an old people’s home.....

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Christmas

 14th February 2013

 Not feeling inspired tonight. My head is humming with another cold.

I make my husband a Valentine’s card - a photo of the two of us in France last year in a field, by a river. I know he has forgotten - he asked me what Valentine’s day is a few days ago. I don’t mind at all - we don’t usually make a thing of it anyway.  Later he writes me beautiful words in a Christmas card with an angel playing the harp on the front. I love it.

I don’t feel up for going out and lay the table with red heart shaped mats - a Christmas present from a dear friend -  and cook us a salmon lunch with sweet potato chips and white sprouting broccoli - my absolute favourite green veggie at the moment. We have it with elderflower fizz and for dessert, crumbly pistachio halva, before he leaves for his ceramics class. And I climb under the duvet with my novel.

I’m practising the LOVING ME FIRST thing tonight .....staying at home when I would normally override my stuffed up head and make myself go out.....

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Fire Alarm

13th February 2013

I nearly burned down the house last night. When I came into the kitchen this morning it felt warm. It’s always freezing even with the central heating on. I’d left the convector heater on since lunchtime the day before. On an old extension lead plugged in behind the rack of chopping boards so I didn't see it was on. The plug was almost too hot to touch. When I pulled it out it had cracked the socket - a tell tale brown smear near one of the pin holes. An electrical fire averted. And I’m not sure there are even batteries in the smoke alarm.

It feels like we are being protected somehow - this time. And warned.

I dreamed about the pussy cat last night. I’ve been missing him even more than when he first passed away.

I was holding his soft furry body under my left arm, trying to climb out of a high narrow window but there were no steps or ladder to reach it. There was no basket to carry him in. A woman’s face appeared at the other window and said she could get us a taxi as we’d missed the coach with everyone on it, but it wouldn’t take us as far on the road as we wanted to go.....

Maybe it means that the Light is really close, maybe it means I need to put down the weight of my imaginary burdens and keep asking for help....

And the gift I received today was through the gentle listening of a dear friend - that if I am loving to MYSELF FIRST - letting go of all my self criticism - then I can be loving to the other person instead of trying to fix them. What a relief that is. 

I could avert all sorts of fire damage....smoking wounds.... burned out hearts, if I practised that.....

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Pancake Day

12th February 2013

We sit side by side at his desk. I call out the account numbers, the sort codes. My husband logs on to the websites and tries to transfer the money, cancel the accounts or make them into joint accounts. We opened two of them at least twenty five years ago. It’s complicated. In the end we phone the banks. I’ve asked him to do this to make our money easier for me. For when I’ll need to do it alone.

He’s very quiet, depressed, while we eat our veggie lentil soup. Remembering the different financial life he had. I’m just so grateful to him that there is any money at all now.

I promised pancakes for pudding. I read out the ingredients from Delia’s recipe and he weighs and measures, sifts flour, whisks in the eggs and then the milk.

I say, 

“Bring the measuring jug.”

He hesitates and picks up a white plastic bowl. Then the jug when I point to it.

We take it in turns to pour thin batter into the pan and turn the lacy disc over with palette knife and fingers. No fancy flipping and missing.  Just delicate long parcels wrapped round a sticky fan of lemon juice and lavender honey.

I want the pancakes to cheer him up but I don’t think they do.

Much later, while he is moulding clay on Dartmoor, I go to a drinks party at the lovely home of dear friends where I sample warm panckes rolled round a compote of deep red forest fruits, sliced bananas and a cloud of natural yogurt.

It’s a lovely party -  buzzy and warm and friendly - and I find myself paralysed with self loathing, feeling dull and plain, unworldly and inadequate..... in the company of the people I love. Which makes no sense at all.....

Monday, 11 February 2013

Orange The Colour of Hope

Mandarin Duck in Richmond Park

Seeds of Hope

Supper tonight

Star candle holder

She said to me,

“You won’t like this but what if every time you want to attack and run away...... just stay there....... and ask your husband to hold you.”

The part of me that wants to be right to the death doesn’t like it.  It’s the part that thinks my survival is at she wolf.

Another part of me longs to let go of it, to stop holding myself at bay, a tight fist ball, to break into a thousand glitter pieces of allowing.. 

Today I glimpsed just for a minute what I’m missing while I’m so sure my way is the right way. 

The possibility of love.

And a little willingness could be my opening.....

I wanted all things orange tonight - the colour of hope in the seeds of a squash.....