Friday, 28 March 2014

Lettuces ,Squashed Eggs, An Allotment and Sandals

Portrait  at Lake Te Anau NZ

Driving to the Private View tonight the traffic is snarled up all the way to Exebridges. My husband spots a blue light flashing on a police car and imagines an accident.
I divert him with ideas for supper. Then he says,

Were there any lettuces?

I wonder what starts with the letter L that he's thinking of....

You know, the things that come through the door.


Of course, what are lettuces then?

I tell him and we laugh.
And yes there was a letter from the neurologist about the anti-depressants he's suggesting my husband takes if he finds that his 'emotionality is becoming bothersome'.

We discuss eggs for supper. I explain what an omlette is but he doesn't have a picture of it he can recall.   So he says,

Would you like them poached or boiled or squashed instead?

 I make up a vivid picture of squashed eggs.

I think you mean does start with S too...

An ambulance speeds past us in the opposite direction with its siren blaring. 

Oh no, an allotment, he says, his face crumpling and tears coming.

The anti-depressants may help you with that, I say - not to be so upset when you hear an ambulance.

Anti-depressants? he says.

I explain. And we also talk about using the Emotional Freedom Technique he's learning in these situations. But not when driving as it involves two hands tapping.

It's cold when we finally get through town and start walking to the Age UK offices where the art exhibition  is being held.

 You haven't got sandals on, he says.

No, I say but I know he means gloves as he is pulling on his own - the usual starting-with-the-same- letter guessing game not necessary in this case.

The exhibition called Faces of Older People by Rachel Jamieson is brilliant, moving and inspirational.

And I'm so thrilled that she is going to paint my husband's portrait - she works from photographs and she's in the process of trying to get a photo of him in profile when he's not pulling a silly face....

Check her out this weekend as part of Exeter Open Studios or find her at

And now I'm getting hungry for my squashed eggs.......

Thursday, 27 March 2014


In the wake....Doubtful Sound, NZ

Doubting I have anything to say... I remembered this joy of a poem by Samantha Reynolds and found these crumbs...................

The room with the lights turned low is bubbling with seated conversations.
You stand, you clap your hands. The voices hush and the faces turn to you.
Ladies and Gentlemen you announce in your big best tones.
And you say Thank You in the way that you do, with your hands clasped at your heart, with your smile reaching out.
Thank you to these friends. For their cards and their gifts, for the fruit birthday cake and the tender hearted biscuits.

And for their love in your life.

Which flows over to me at the back of the room, melting with gratitude, and praying that words don't let you down or you repeat yourself too much.
Or that my secret, shameful fears for you will tarnish this night.

A manifesto for the uncreative

When your brain
feels clotted as gum
just make something

steal an idea
and let your mind dangle
in the invisibleness of it

take your pen
or a tree
and stare at it
until it starts telling
you secrets

clap your hands
until they burn

you will unstick
only by prying
yourself open

and if all you find inside
are crumbs
then set the table
and feast.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Happiness In A Graveyard

The church and daffodil graveyard at Chagford on Dartmoor this afternoon after a delectable but miniscule  fishcake lunch - made up for by the generous company of dear friends - and tea and polenta cake later in a different cafe.

It's late and I'm lost for words tonight. My big toe is red and sore and throbbing - self inflicted infection after digging around with scissors last bandaged with dressing of Manuka honey....will succumb to antibiotics tomorrow if no relief....need to be able to get walking boots on at the weekend when we are going to Cornwall for my husband's birthday.

Been thinking about Robert Holden's favourite Proverb - 

He who tickles himself can be happy whenever he wants. 

Which means breathing in the drifts of daffodils in the churchyard, letting them bless my day with their short lives....
and not thinking immediately afterwards  If my husband was here he'd be sad and upset and thinking about death..... and all the people who died in the war..... and his parents... and mine.... and all the pain in the world.....and miss all that fragile butter-yellow beauty between the gravestones. 

And so I wonder how can I hold on to my happiness in those moments when his heart is turned away from the sun?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Coconut Rice Pudding

  Fresh coconuts and

Pomelos and 


 in Little India in Singapore.

Kitchen beaming with vases of daffodils and sunshine - 
mine for the afternoon
 while husband walks in Somerset with brother-in-law.

I stand at the stove 
stirring a pan of strawberry and redcurrant ruby jam.
Then another one  - the hidden depths of last year's black currants.

 In the oven, perfumed cake rises
and cracks open its burnished top
showing almondy fruity lava.
Tender sweet promise
of husband's birthday 
still to come.

And then my once a year 
indulgence - 
stove-top rice pudding.

Except this time
no butter no milk no cream.
Just the contents of a coconut
or several coconuts in a can
and the black sticky scrapings of a vanilla pod
all the way from India.

Simmered to a soft white bumpy sea
ready for its pebbly wave of black currant compote
and pool of Maple syrup.

Waiting for a spoon
 and a husband 
to come home.

Thank you to My New Roots for inspiration...

Monday, 24 March 2014

Are You Sure You Don't Want Anything To Eat?

At Coleton Fishacre House and Gardens near Kingswear, South Devon, on Saturday Morning.

Magnolia blooms coming to the end of their petal life...

Giant snowdrops?......Leucojum ?

Into the depths of Camellia...

 View from the bottom of the garden at Coleton Fishacre...

Snake's head Fritillary...

The beginnings of Gunnera....

Fire of Cotoneaster...

Saturday evening 7.30

You discover me in the dark sitting room, in my tangle of blankets, wrapped around the hot water bottle you filled for me after we got home after our trip to Coleton Fishacre ( which you read as Fishcake and which makes me laugh).

You : How are you feeling?
Me : Sick. Will you pull the curtains and come and talk to me for a bit?
You : Of course. Your face is long and crumpled and worried. Can I get you anything? Do you want some supper?
Me : No I don't want to throw up again. Will you make yourself some cheese on toast?
You: Is there any bacon?
Me: In the freezer, but I don't want to show you how to make French Toast now.
You: No, but I could just have the bacon.
Me:  The smell of cooking bacon would make me feel more sick right now.
You: I could fry it.
Me: That would be worse.
You : Do you want the fire on?
Me : No, I'm burning hot already.
You: Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?
Me: You could bring me a glass of water.
I think about asking you to bring me some paracetamol but I can't remember if it's in a red or a blue packet or which drawer it's in and you don't know what it is anyway.
Me: Really, when I'm sick I just want to be left alone.
You: I understand.
Me: Do you? Do you want to be left alone when you are sick?
You: No, but I know we're different. Basically you are saying F**** Off.
Me: Just for a bit. While I concentrate on not vomiting.
You: I'll make some supper then. Shall I eat it in here or in the kitchen?
Me: Kitchen, please.
You: Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?

Then you bring me some water and close the door so I can't smell the toast or hear Mamma Mia on the CD player. Thank you for thinking of that. And for leaving me alone for a little while.  Sometimes NOT doing something is more helpful than doing something.......

Friday, 21 March 2014

Pendants and Crowns

Pendant Helibore bud

Helibore -  wide open

Patio pot primrose

 Green Stone Jade pendant - late 60th birthday gift from my dear family which I bought in New Zealand.

Spring Equinox in the garden today - I nip out to take photos between freezing showers and bursts of sunshine.

I'm feeling the effects of a mouth full of novacaine after a visit to the dentist this afternoon to get a temporary crown made  - after  a piece of my tooth broke off when we were in Cromwell in New Zealand last month. My lip is still prickly numb, my gum sore and throat scratchy, my head hurts and I'm grumpy I can't eat yet and when I can it'll have to be all very soft. Maybe rice or mashed potatoes...

I love my Jade pendant - which I bought in Hokitika. The note in the box says it's made from Flower Jade also known as Picture Jade because of all the different colours and patterns in the stone, unique to New Zealand. I was warned to only buy NZ jade as there are imports from other countries in the shops as well....

The design is the Triple Twist-Crossover which symbolises the bond of eternal friendship. I didn't know all that when I bought it but I love symbols.....and you can't really see it in the photo but it's very beautifully carved. 

 Everyday I am eternally grateful for the deep circle of love and friendship which crowns my life......

Thursday, 20 March 2014

In The Round

In the grounds of a NT's house, A la Ronde, at Exmouth -  these sawn up logs had a strong sweet smell of almonds....

Cheese wedges come to mind..


 I love it that the architect chose hearts to ring the chimneys....

 In the small garden around the house -  a grandfather tree with solitary crow...

A la Ronde, near Exmouth - a sixteen-sided house built for two women cousins - Jane and Mary Parminter  - about 1796.

I still miss my wonderful cleaner - keeping the dust at bay every week. Now it's up to me. I've been feeling burdened by the enormity of the housework I don't do. My husband does a great hoovering job on a Monday and that's about it.
Yesterday I stood in the kitchen talking to the plumber for a long time while he drained the boiler. While we chatted I  cleaned and polished the sink. It looks so much better. And ridiculously I feel so much better. So now I've caught the spring cleaning bug and I want to make the whole kitchen shine - within the boundaries of its ten year old shabbiness anyway.

It feels like it would take whole days and days to do ....and I don't have the luxury of that. But this morning when my husband comes back from walking with his lovely supporter from Age UK, he goes for a lie down before lunch. And while he sleeps, and my tummy rumbles, I clean a few sticky cupboard doors and wash the dusty teapots on the shelves and contemplate the state of the oven.

And I realise I can do incremental, mini-spring cleaning - one crumb-speckled drawer, one smeary window, one finger-marked door at a time.  Little bites instead of great gulps.....Which means instead of spending all afternoon scrubbing the kitchen - which I was planning to do - I can spend it with my husband whose ceramic class is cancelled.

 Time together - resentful free - feels precious now. And I know I'll still have a clean kitchen somehow -  even if it's not now or all in one go. 

So this afternoon we wander through the tiny, cluttered, shell-filled rooms of A la Ronde House in the half light and just manage a circular tour of the spring gardens before great gusts of rain splatter out of the white-out sky and we run into the basement cafe, which once was the kitchen, for a cup of tea - and a very mediocre slice of carrot cake.

 And I didn't once wish I was at home shining my kitchen sink.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

One Hundred Percent

At The Welcome Cafe by the river on Exeter Quay this morning......

 Pots of Cyclamen and Narcissi in the sheltered garden courtyard where we ate our lunch,

our faces turned to the hot hot sun.

This golden eyed, slate grey pussy cat  followed us through the Celandines on our walk by the river.

The plumber arrives at 8am this morning. He has three jobs to do. When he leaves at 11am he declares he's been one hundred percent successful. Tricky taps fixed, leaking radiator sorted. And he says my flapjacks are as good as the high energy bars he eats on his cycle rides.

My husband and I do banking errands in town. I write down the model number of my printer to buy a replacement cartridge. And leave it at home. So not one hundred percent successful on that front.

My husband loves his plate of French Toast at the Welcome Cafe. It comes with blueberries and raspberries sprinkled on top of the bacon.

Where's the beetroot? he says, meaning banana.

I won't let him pour the whole jug of maple syrup over it all. It looks like about half a litre.

Who says I can't have it all?

I do, I say.

After our stroll by the river in glorious spring sunshine - just like spring should be - I ask him to drive me to TKMAX to return a changed-my-mind purchase. At a big junction he does an illegal turning. I'm horrified. I'm cross. I'm scared. I harangue him. I slam the car door and take my mistake back to the shop. He says sorry and crumples. I hate myself. My anger makes me feel dirty.

At home we find two more brown envelopes on the welcome mat. More stuff from the DWP and the DVLA. I hug my husband and he leaves for his ceramics class. I make two phone calls - the DWP letter is a mistake. The DVLA letter is standard - nothing to do till next year. At least I think that's what the nice Welshman says  - the line's so crackly I can hardly fathom a word.

Now I'm waiting for my husband to wake up so we can have supper. Fat wedges of Crown Prince squash are spitting and melting in the oven. I'm wondering what would make it a one hundred percent supper. Probably a litre of forgiveness on the side.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Imperfect Beauty and Driving A Lot

I'm looking for beauty on our late afternoon walk by the River Exe. The smell from the water treatment works isn't great, the hum of the pylons over our heads makes me jittery, the roar of the traffic along the  motorway means we have to shout to each other. The footpath is muddy, overhung by straggly Buddleia bushes still clinging to their dead brown flower cones.  Not a daffodil or crocus in sight.
But if I let go of my pictures of spring bursting out all over in sunny pink and white blossom and keep looking at what is right in front of me I can see imperfect beauty in anything - feel it through the wind freezing my fingers.....focus on what's there instead of what isn't there....

My husband needs to go to get the tyres on his car checked after my brother in law notices one of them is nearly flat and has to pump it up and I notice another one has gone down a lot in the night - the RAC had to change one last week after a blow out. I write a note in my best hand writing about the history of the tyres.... and what I want done...... and ask my husband to give it to the man at the garage I spoke to this morning. I  explained why it's hard for my husband to describe what happened and that he won't know what a slow puncture is.

We have several conversations on the phone while my husband is at the garage and between us all it works only costs £20 to re-seal, and unbend the rims of the tyres.....but may need a whole new  wheel if he drives into another pot hole....

He drives a lot now - long distances - revisiting the places of his old life.....driving through his grief.... with the music turned up loud.

Monday, 17 March 2014

My Lost Valentine

The Birthday cake that didn't need rescuing after all -  Carrot and Walnut and Coconut  - not dry or raw in the middle - studded with juicy golden sultanas ( that I brought back from Portugal) and layered up with orange zested cream cheese frosting - glad I put it in a bigger tin  - even though it took ages to cook.
Thank you Delia Smith and Yottam Ottolenghi  - you don't know it, but the combination of your two Carrot Cake recipes that I fiddled around with, was a great hit with the birthday party guests.

It was a full moon last night. Last full moon was on Valentine's night. ( What's Valentine? asks my husband?) We were in New Zealand and this was the view we had from the restaurant over looking Lake Tekapo with the sun going down .....

and the moon rising. My husband wants to leave after our meal but I want to stay and have a dessert even though it's getting chilly. I like watching the couples having their photos taken with the moon in the background and the children running around and the band playing in the bar next door. So I order a creme brulee with a sour berry compote on the side -  which isn't delicious and doesn't fill the hollow hunger for my lost Valentine.

Three brown envelopes arrive in the post this morning bringing out my nervous dread......although I do hear my sister's voice in my head Don't panic yet. The first is from the DWP ( work and pensions). My fear is that letter will be calling my husband to have another medical and to be reassessed for his benefit....or that he'll lose it and we'll have to go to tribunal again. It isn't that. His benefit has actually gone up by £2 a week because of changes in the system....

The second envelope is from the DVLA. My fear is that my husband will be re-assessed for his driving licence and they won't re-new it. The letter says they are looking into the medical evidence and it could take 12 weeks. I think this means he will have to take a test and he probably won't pass.

The third envelope contains his re-newed licence for another year. Which is a huge relief and makes me  wonder if the people at the DVLA ever talk to each other.

Our lives would change dramatically if my husband couldn't drive any more - a lot of his independence would go..... I'm so grateful for this extension .....but I know we'd still find a way to be when it does happen....there is always a way through....through the fear to the other side..... if you expect miracles.....

Friday, 14 March 2014

Put It In A Bigger Tin


This afternoon we walk in the misty gardens at the National Trust's Knights Hayes Court. My husband mostly looks up to the sky and marvels at the height of the trees -  still winter skeletal. I mostly look down at the bare earth and wonder at the brightness and perfection of small flowers pushing their way to the light.

The wind is sharp and cold and the mist is turning to drizzle  - our excuse to have tea in the cafe. We share a slice of Carrot and Pumpkin Seed Cake topped with a thick layer of white frosting. It's crumbly and moist and orange flecked with carrot and apricots. To drown out the noise of two tiny crying babies I think about the birthday cake I made this morning cooling on a rack in the kitchen at home.....and the drama I had about taking it out of the oven after 5 minutes and transferring the sticky mixture to another cake tin because I had doubled the recipe but didn't put it in a bigger tin...even though all my experience and instincts said put it in a bigger tin.

I won't know till I cut it tomorrow if it's tender, moist and crumbly or raw in the middle and dry on the outside. My instinct  - and the evidence of the skewer I stuck in the middle before I took it out of the oven - says it's the former. But it seems I don't always trust my instincts.....although I usually know how to rectify culinary mistakes... a covering of white frosting often works....

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Half In and Half Out

Garden primroses.

Solitary daffodil.

Crocuses -  tender as skin.

Wild violet - I think.

Wild stitchwort? Belinda would know - check out her lovely wild flower blog at Belinda Whitworth - Her Outdoors.

Market Narcissi -  heavenly perfume -  loud enough to drown out shouting....

Today's bunch of spring

Willow buds ( possibly) in the park.

I'm sitting in the open doorway -  half in and half out of the kitchen - my feet on the warm patio step - the sun on my face. A bee is hovering and humming over the mauve flowers of the trailing rosemary bush - the one our pussycat used to snooze under. Behind me on the table is a mixed bunch of daffodils and narcissi  which I bought in the market this morning - I can smell their deep perfume - almost like tropical frangipani. The shouting voices of the neighbours' children, playing with a ball, are drowning out the bee.

I'm taking a break from cleaning our spare room, including the shower, and making up the bed for my big sister who is coming to stay at the weekend.  The sun on the garden is such an invitation to stop and  gaze at the early tender signs of spring - even though there's only one solitary daffodil bud waving like  a curled flag from a pot. Usually I wouldn't linger when I'm in my 'I have to GET ON mode'  but something keeps me there - half in and half out of the doorway.

I'm thinking about yesterday's blog ....about what happened to our old life and how do I do this new one....and then I realise with a sort of drawing back a veil moment that there isn't an old or a new life. The past really is over and I only made up some fantasy future anyway about how I imagined it would be....and it hurts and hurts if I spend too much time there. But what I do have is my life now - uncertain, messy, scary, sad and also full of love and gentleness and support and possibility.

So instead of being half in and half out of my life I could embrace it all, just the way it is today - give all of it house room - like in  Rumi's The Guest House.... I could take my husband's hand and let the perfume of the narcissi drown out the shouting in my head.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
 Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
 He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
 and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.