Thursday, 31 October 2013

Whistling Here Now

Getting ready to go away on holiday for a week - washing tee shirts, buying toothpaste, checking out library DVDs, clearing out the wrinkled carrots at the bottom of the fridge, peeling and cooking a mountain of apples....and not actually packing.....wanting to be there without going through the process of getting there.

I suppose that's like wishing my life away....missing the gifts along the journey while my eyes are fixed on the view up ahead......I've never been a very relaxed traveller though. Being here now sounds so easy but I find it the hardest thing. My husband seems to manage it .....something I could learn from him. 

I wonder if whistling helps him to stay present. It's a cheerful thing to do.....except when it's the same tune (an Abba song - Money Money Money - it's a rich man's world) and it's all the time.....not sure how to be here now when I think I'm going mad with it drilling into my head....

But a phrase comes back to me from somewhere - 

Include it.

It's me imagining my life would be better without it that causes me all this angst...

I'll be back in ten days or so - hopefully with sand in my shoes and light in my soul.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

How Can I Serve You?


Sharon fruit....custard apple.....pear

 All orange reflection..

A dear friend is treating me to a late birthday lunch in a high arched, light filled restaurant.

The pumpkin soup is  frothy, creamy, salty.

The tiny bread roll is warm, the butter-pat smoothly spreadable.

The tart tatin is a  mound of appley sweetness - although a bit fridge chilly.

 When the the snake-hipped French waiter comes to clear our table I hand him my plate before he has time to pick it up.

Oh no, he says. I don't want you to do any work  - this is my job.

I want to swoon at his feet. It's not the absurdity of considering the lifting a plate as work but his total commitment to the concept of service, of looking after us so considerately, that stuns me. As if he knows that we do plate lifting and its equivalent a million times a day and just for this moment he is saying,

 Allow me, let me do it, let me take care of don't have to do it all, all the time.....

Words he's not saying of course but I've put them in his mouth because I want to hear them...the kindness of them.

 I do want someone to take it all away - the pain of it. But sometimes there is another voice in my head which says,

I can do it - but I don't have to do it on my own.

 There is always help ....if I only remember to ask - and trust.

Sometimes there is a different voice which says,

 It's not always about me and what I need. What if I make it about you instead?

How can I serve you?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Last night's sunset - one hour earlier than last week.

Red heart leaves - delicate as angel wings...

Supper waiting to go in the oven and melt into sunset comfort....

I keep thinking about that woman on Strictly Come Dancing the other night who had to be fierce and feisty, sexy and aggressive in her Paso Doble  - a stomping Cha Cha Cha dance from Spain. They had to bring in an acting coach because she didn't know how to do it. Because she was so nice, so sweet, it just wasn't in her to even pretend to be seductive, dramatic.
She didn't get good scores from the judges. She wasn't being asked to change her personality - just to play the game of the dance to have a chance of winning.

Each game has its own rules - you can't play a new game by the old rules. If you are a new mother, a new widow, newly retired, newly disabled, newly wealthy, newly promoted, newly married, newly bereaved you have something to rise to, something to dig deep for inside you....

I am a new carer. It isn't who I am. It's what I do now. And being afraid all the time disables me - like a creeping disease. My other choice is to trust in something bigger than me. Learn some new dance steps.

 So today when I sit in the office of the lawyer with my husband and two lovely angels by my side -  he turns out to be an angel too, the lawyer -  says hopeful words that sweep away my worst fears about my husband's speeding offence  - then I feel as if I'm learning new rules - a new way of being .....all that worrying that I didn't need to do....

Which made the hot chocolate and almond croissants which we celebrated with in Carluccio's afterwards taste much sweeter without the usual background music of this can't be true thrumming in my veins.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Life Line

I'd love to be a kite surfer like these speeding, dancing free spirits on the sea at Exmouth on Saturday ......leaving the dry weight of my fear on the shore.

The batten-down-the-hatches storm that was expected last night came for me in the early hours this morning as I lay awake listening to my husband breathing and the wind smashing against the house like a fury. But no damage done - just someone's recycling bin up-ended in the street with plastic bottles and tin cans flung between the parked cars and in the gutters. And the road closed on my way to yoga - a tree uprooted - its broken branches blocking the way, men with electric saws clearing a path through the debris.

And later this afternoon my own internal storm calmed a little with my mobile phone ringing, a dear friend throwing me a life appointment with a lawyer tomorrow .....a sea kite to lift me clear of these never ceasing dark waves in my mind.... 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Hide and Seek

The sky looked a bit like this French one this evening, when my husband and I walked by a muddy brown river, in spitting rain and occasional sun-bursts through the clouds.

A peace dove on a Levada walk in Madeira.....for the man who died in a car crash on the  M5 yesterday.

My old straw hat bought on our honeymoon Greek island....finding itself in a red Devon field....

Random photos.

Random moments from the last few days......

 Wednesday - lovely soup and salads and spiced roast sweet potatoes round a table with two dear women.....cups of tea and flapjack..... listening  and laughing.... making more dates to meet in the diary....threading the gift of them into the future....

 Yesterday, in the car with my sister on our way to Bristol, crawling along the motorway, finally driving past the jack-knifed lorry and mangled van straddling both sides of the M5 - metal bits littered across the tarmac....praying no one died.  But on the news last night they said the man driving the van was killed.
We are late for our appointment and so are hundreds of other people sitting in their cars and lorries -  but today we are all safe, in our families -  still breathing. I'm so grateful it wasn't our time to go -  like it was for the man in the van.

Pretending I can't see my sweet great-nephew when he's hiding under the table, looking everywhere but there, knowing he's watching me and then his squeals of delight, his huge bubbling laugh when he's found.....rushing away to hide and be found again....

Coming home and finding the letter we've been waiting for - from the Magistrates Court -  with the date of the summons for my husband to appear for his speeding a few weeks time. A relief to have a date but my head full of what ifs ....if he's disqualified. And practising my new resolution to trust in any outcome as being for the best - even though it may not feel like it yet.....

 Buying a game called SET (matching cards according to shape/colour/design) and downloading it onto my ipad so my husband can play it when we go on holiday next week....he's much quicker than me at it....but then he always was quick and bright in the games department ......good to know his competitive spirit is alive and well and not affected by semantics.....

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Jumper Solution

Our  lovely heating engineer arrives to service the boiler. He stays nearly 2 hours because we are talking so much. While he fiddles with pipes and radiators and airlocks, I whizz up a batch of mayonnaise, make a bottle of French dressing, scrub out the bottom two shelves of the fridge and clean the sink. 
I ask him how we can save money on our gas and electricity bills which have doubled in a year. He says keep the doors closed and lower the room thermostat temperature. Get used to being cold, wear more jumpers. Turn the lights off. Change your supplier. ( I have Googled comparison sites and we could have saved money with one company but they just raised their prices by 10 percent last night.)

 I don't want to live in a cold dark house this winter full of soggy washing.  There is probably a compromise.........  the jumper solution? And getting used to change ....being willing to change. Without  being miserable about it. The trouble is is that it's a really mild October - warmer outside than in -  so I haven't had to test my willingness yet....

To make up for last night's horrid battered fish fingers I bake slabs of fresh haddock slathered in a Teriyaki style sauce of chopped garlic and ginger, chilli and soy sauce....... and roast a  tray of  tiny pebble potatoes with the first allotment Jerusalem artichokes which collapse into sweet fragrant heaps in the oven.

Then I  make a cup of tea, turn the lights down low, close the door, wrap myself up in a blanket and watch the final of The Great British Bake Off.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Le Weekend

 Saturday -  on our way to a cafe brunch.......walking along a river bank I spot  this pussy cat perched on someone's garden fence.

 He lets me take his photo....but his expression

reminds me of the old saying that,
Dogs have owners
but cats have staff.

My orange zesty tart tatin just before the caramel caught on the bottom of the pan - the colour of the marmalade pussy cat.

It still turned out sweet and sticky and appley and orangey... dolloped with Greek yogurt - sweetened with honey and vanilla - Yogurt Chantilly I suppose....

 Tiverton Canal

on a drizzly, dank Sunday afternoon,

crunching on hundreds of acorns underfoot.

Snapshots of our weekend. On Saturday night we went to see Le Weekend a Hanif Kureshi film - a middle aged couple on their anniversary in Paris -  with Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent. Afterwards I asked my husband if he understood it - he said not all the conversations but enough to be moved by them. I found their performances riveting but it left me feeling sad and somehow unsettled by the careless unkindness in some of their exchanges....the poison of mis-directed hurt....

My husband says he'd love to go back to reminded him of our four days there a few years ago..... before, before....

I read an article in the Saturday Guardian by Eleanor Catton who won the Man Booker Prize last week for her very long novel The Luminaries. She grew up in New Zealand and she writes about the inadequacy of language to describe sublime natural beauty.

'The language of description is always a matter of equivalence (a word equals the thing it describes) and so cannot contend with the sublime.....words cannot convey the scale of a view that is so stunning that it is felt..."

I wonder what it must be like for my husband to have no other word for his view of the sky except extraordinary.....but if  Eleanor is right, words can't say it anyway.  I see how beauty touches him  all the time -  fountains of stars rushing through his heart.... 

Maybe it's better to stay in the slipstream of that galaxy rather than in the muddy regret and irritation I feel sometimes when we walk under the relentless clouds together.....

Tonight while my husband is singing in his choir I eat my supper, standing at the kitchen counter. I'm not really hungry but I hoick out the steaming length of line-caught haddock in its horrible greasy coating ( won't buy those again - Waitrose Fish Fingers - not sure what possessed me) and stab my fork into last night's (cold) garlicky broccoli spears, dipping them into my homemade gluggy mustard mayonnaise. 

From the sublime.....

Friday, 18 October 2013

Green Wellie Love

The  green wellies of my great-nephew.

Yesterday, on the very first birthday of my sweet great-niece in Beirut, I spent in the company of my sweet great-nephew in Bristol.  He captured my heart with his little hand and serious eye, his lighting- up smile and that wonderful laugh that he uncorks -  showering you in spontaneous infectious joy....

He ate spoonfuls of my spicy coconut soup from his mother's plate and said,

Who made that?

He pulled on his green wellies with some help, and splashed in the stream in the woods, threw stones in the water and fell asleep in the pushchair while his grandma and I sat in unseasonal warm sunshine in the garden. 

  He kicked a squashy football between us and waved his arms in the air every time he hit the wall or the apple tree and scored his goal.
 He buried three yellow plastic ducks in the sandpit and dug them up again and again, brushing the damp sand from his fingers in swift delicate strokes. 
He bashed the rainbow coloured metal keys of his xylophone with a smooth wooden stick, then threaded it through the elastic loops of two baby brass symbols and advised me that the loops were meant to go on my fingers. 
He pulled the squidgey white eyes off a green rubber, wriggly worm with tentacles the texture of fluffy omlette and announcing they were like bubbles.
He lay down low on the wet grass to examine the real worm casts in front of his nose and chucked his chuckle when he squished them with his palm.

And all the while I felt the happiness in him - recognised his undiluted trust in the love that enfolds him,    certain as the rising moon.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Light That Never Leaves

Some of last year's squashes - the ones on the allotment this year didn't grow this 

This huge pumpkin at Barrington Court in Somerset on one of our National Trust days out.. I love the walled vegetable garden there....

and these Chinese ornamental psyallis also in the garden there -  like paper tangerines...

As I write tonight the perfume of my pumpkin soup is whispering up the stairs -  savoury curry spices, and coconut. My husband says he doesn't like soup - but I don't think he remembers this version I often make in the Autumn with any orangey fleshed squash, carrots and sweet potato, ginger and garlic  - blended velvety smooth with coconut milk - which I know he does enjoy.

Anyway he won't be eating this soup as I'm making it for tomorrow's lunch in Bristol when I'll be sitting with my sweet great nephew who is 2 years and 4 months old....... and who may or may not be sampling it....possibly too spicy -  although he has very eclectic culinary tastes.

Earlier today I stepped out of one of my old habits and changed the flavour of my morning which was turning sour.

The ingredients for curdling - feelings of overwhelm, headache, panic, weakness, inability to even turn on the computer, pick up the first piece of paper in my in-tray....a sort of admin paralysis.

The habit - ignore all feelings, berate myself, think I'm ridiculous, stupid and force myself to start on my  to do list.

The change - I let the tears come and voice of my very little girl who says over and over,

I don't want to do it....I don't want to do it.

Which I know has nothing to do with not wanting to write to the accountant about my tax form.

Then I wrap myself in the soft folds of a blanket, and sit on the sofa in a half lotus position - my right hip still doesn't want to bend -  and just breathe..... and wait..... and make a still, bright space inside me till it's time to unfurl again into Things To Do.

I'm surprised that I sit for more than an hour and in that time the rain stops and the sun filters through my eyelids...... and I feel more than see a deep orange light in front of me, luminous as a Chinese lantern with a flame inside.

I don't complete my list but it doesn't matter. It stops feeling scary to do the ordinary things of my life.....when I remember to call on that Light that never blows out, that never leaves me.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Hidden Gifts

Studland Bay, Dorset.... barking at the waves..

Yesterday we walked along this beach in steady pouring rain with my amazing cousin, his family, their dog and some friends. The occasion  - to join him on the final 3 miles of his 630 mile trek around the South West Coastal spite of the cancer he lives with....or maybe he would say because of it - the hidden gift of illness.... 

Later we dried out in their holiday house and toasted him with champagne - or Elderflower fizz - and a light and creamy vegan coconut cake......followed by a huge celebratory meal in an Indian restaurant....

I feel so inspired by his courage....his family's support.... all finding a way through this winding tunnel of living with loss....

Today I had a Family Constellation session ...throwing some light into my own dark tunnel......asking the question
  Am I feeling my own dis-connection, isolation and fear or is some of it my husband's? 

 The thorny problem of transference......the possibility of more freedom for both of us if I unwind this one.....its roots stretching far back into the past when I thought somehow that I had to look after my mother - even though I was little....and it wasn't my job.....

This evening we walked in chestnut woods..... stepping over the split prickly shells of the conkers.. picking up their smooth satin brown seeds......clean new offerings for the taking...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Hopeless But Not Serious

 Barbary Macaque Apes ( rescued from Morocco) in Rocamadour SW France

After our long Family Therapy session at the hospital with our young clinical psychologist and two psychotherapists my mind is swimming all over the place so we treat ourselves to coffee and cakes in a cafe -  Plum and Almond for my husband and Moroccan Orange for me - fragrant, sweet and crumbly moist - just what I need. Afterwards we walk and talk by the estuary in bright sunshine.

We are talking about conflict, how do you get your needs met if they are in conflict with another person's? And about addictions - alcohol and others....

I say,

 You may be addicted to sex but if you are married you can't just sleep with anyone you fancy....
or you may be addicted to sugar and want to eat 10 slices of cake but it'll make you sick....

Quick as a trout snapping a mayfly, my husband says,

Or in my case it'll make my wife sick....

Which makes me laugh and laugh....(I'm always nagging him about how many biscuits he eats.)

Our homework from the family therapists - who say we need to value and treasure this transition time - before it's too late -  before everything changes beyond recognition -  is to try and get to the essence of our relationship, the truth of who we each are - our core values and write them down for next time. Not a big request then....

My husband asks me what essence means ....what core means.

 I say,

 You've always been able to make me laugh. That's a core thing in our relationship....

It's just that recently I've forgotten how essential it remember what some wise person said,
  the situation is hopeless but not serious...

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Autumn Snail


This time last year for my 6oth birthday we were in SW France - in the season of tiny pink peaches, juicy fresh walnuts, wild meaty mushrooms and purple and orange cherry tomatoes.

 In the chilly air of the farmers' this morning I bought giant stalks of ruby chard, the last few sweetcorn cobs, muddy carrots, a bunch of slender spring onions, a hard round squash, and crinkly leaves of curly kale.

I sat with two dear friends in an elegant cafe in the shadow of the cathedral..... drinking  hot coffee...... sharing our chocolate brownie and lemon polenta cakes...... catching up with our lives..... opening their delicious, generous birthday gifts.

All afternoon the sun warmed the kitchen while I chopped heaps of onions, apples and pears..... and cleared out the spice cupboard....tipping packets of cumin, cinnamon and cayenne powder, coriander and mustard seeds - well past their sell by dates -  into my boiling cauldron of chutney.....filling the air with the scent of vinegar and dark brown sugar.

Stocking my cupboards with the bounty of autumn....feeling the night drawing in.....feeling like a snail curling back into my shell.....

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Birthday Love

 It was my birthday yesterday. My husband and I bought train tickets  - using our new senior rail cards ( a third off standard price tickets) -  and travelled along the coast two hours into Cornwall.

 I feel tiny in the shade of this giant tree - one of the many lining the paved 2 mile path from the station  to Lanhydrock House ( National Trust) - a huge Victorian manor house -  near Bodmin.

First stop - lunch in the restaurant - the rose flavour in this lemonade very vague - but good accompaniment to my smoked salmon tart - even if it did have a soggy bottom....

Copper pans in the wonderfully preserved Victorian kitchens - imagine keeping them clean.

In the dairy -  one of the many small rooms off the main kitchen....all very Downton Abbey...


Examples of Victorian desserts - the jam tarts look like Mr Kipling's to me though...

 Hand written recipe for Victorian Peach Ice cream - thank goodness we have freezers now.

Next to this typewriter was a letter written in 1913...from this to an Apple Mac in a hundred years....I am so grateful for each generation's inventiveness....

As it was a misty drizzly afternoon we spent more time in the house than the gardens which are beautiful .... and after double decker Cornish ice cream cones - blackcurrant and lemon curd ( peach wasn't on offer)  we walked back to the station past the giant trees listening to the sound of the River Fowey long the way.

And back home to  this wonderful coconut, non dairy or egg chocolate iced birthday cake made by my sister who comes bearing a bag of beautifully wrapped presents from her and my big sister who is in the air on her way to New Zealand and my brother who is in Holland and nearly on his way to Fiji

 I feel so touched and so loved by all the cards and emails and texts and phone calls from my dear family and dear friends - remembering me.....keeping me connected.....just when I think my world is getting smaller and narrower....I find it full to bursting with love and kindness...

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Apples The Ladder and The Fall and The Rose

Our beautiful apples - wheelbarrows full of them.

My husband up the fateful ladder....

Saturday night sky from the upstairs landing window - with a shooting star cloud effect...

 Sunday in Sidmouth - you can't walk on this part of the beach because of the landslides..

You wouldn't know from this photo that the promenade was heaving with families enjoying the sunshine like we were.

I've been waiting for a dry day to pick the apples. Saturday was perfect. My husband did a stirling job - climbing into the tree to reach the ripest red ones on the top branches....leaving the still unripe ones for another day. My job - to sort and store them in Sainsbury's cardboard boxes and stack them in the shed - but I felt bombarded by the storm of perfumed red and gold fruit...

 Just before we came in for lunch I asked my husband to prune the rambling rose on the back trellis. He   set up the ladder and started attacking the long whippy stems at least 8 feet in the sky. I don't know exactly what happened but I watched completely helpless as he shouted out, the ladder collapsed one way and he fell backwards onto the ground with a great crash, right on top of our pussy cat's grave, his legs trapped in the metal rungs, hitting his head on the compost bin. He kept screaming,

My leg, my leg....

 I imagined broken bones, concussion, contusion, blood, the hospital....but within a few minutes he was untangled, standing upright, brushing off the soil and dead leaves from his neck and saying he was alright -  but limping.....badly bruised on the back and side of his leg.

I dose us both with Rescue Remedy for shock. I notice how although it was my husband who fell I feel guilty, that it was somehow my fault.....he was tired after picking the apples, I shouldn't have asked him, I've been meaning to replace our old rickety ladder with a sturdier one....

And I notice how immediately I make those thoughts real - afterwards, clearing up the rose cuttings, shoving them into a recycling bag, one of the long thorny branches whips back into my face, cutting my top lip, blood drips onto my sleeve....

But I'm beginning to see how attacking myself is so much worse than a bruise or a cut.... and that maybe the way to surrender, to let kindness in, is to stop seeing myself as the enemy.......

And to start noticing what else I could see  - like at the end of the prickly,waving branch that drew  my blood is a late rose -  soft petals falling open, pure white  - the colour of peace.