Thursday, 22 June 2017

Mango Heaven and 1976

My first Honey Mango of the year. They are the best champagne of the mango world.  The flesh is the colour of Cling peaches and apricots.....the texture on your tongue is soft slippery satin.... the taste is rich gold nectar of the gods... the scent is honeysuckle and frangipani verging on the edge of overripe exotic.

When I worked at Sharwoods' many years ago I knew them as Alphonso mangoes. Their origin is in Mexico but these are from Pakistan. Their season is short lived hence their expense and rarity.

I attempt to bargain with the Indian shopkeeper in the Continental Stores ....if I buy two boxes of the biggest ones will he give me a discount?
He snorts in derision and says yesterday he ordered one hundred boxes - 6 mangoes in a box - and they only sent fifty. And they will all be gone by tonight. I believe him. And willingly pay full price for my golden treasure.

At home this afternoon while I'm peeling my mango, the sky darkens and threatens thunder and rain.  I rinse my juice dripping fingers and rush about the house, closing all the doors and windows which have been wide open for days to try and get some relief from the rare blistering heat which has been burning us up for the last week.

The newspaper says that yesterday was the hottest day in this country since June 1976. It was the summer I finished my teacher's training certificate in Oxford.......the summer all the grass died and turned tinder brown....the summer I lost my first true love.

This evening the rain doesn't arrive but the sultry, thundery tension lingers in the air, leaving me headachy and unsettled.....I'd got used to it so quickly, the new drenching heat..... suddenly it's gone again, another breaking wave ....another abandonment.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Food For Friends

 Feta, Sweet Potato, Pea and Asparagus Frittata.

Roast chunks of sweet potato, butternut squash and onion quarters in a shallow baking dish. 

When they are soft and catching colour, sprinkle over crumbled feta cheese, petit pois, chopped grilled asparagus spears and sliced fennel and red pepper. 

Pour over the egg mixture - beaten eggs, chopped dill and parsley and spring onion, S &P.

Finish with a fine grating of Parmesan cheese and return to the oven and bake till just cooked through and firm and golden on the top.

 On Sunday, I took this frittata for a lunch to share after a long trek

through the wilds of sweltering Somerset with a lovely walking group of friends. I managed not to expire after two and a half hours - sustained by kind conversation, beautiful views, shady pit stops and bottles of tepid water. And the thought of lunch ahead in a cool farmhouse garden.

Lunch to share today with 2 gorgeous women. My contribution - walnut and roasted pumpkin seed savoury rice with fried banana plantain slices - which I wanted to experiment with. There was a lovely African woman buying plantains in the International Stores where I was shopping so I asked her for a recipe. And she said fry them and serve with a spicy tomato and onion sauce.

I was going to make my standby green beans, garlic and tomatoes but as I didn't have enough green beans I cooked up a mish mash of all the vegetables I had left in the fridge with baby tomatoes and a whole bulb of wet green garlic to serve with the rice and plantains.

It all dovetailed beautifully with the green garden salad, boiled eggs and olives, butter bean hummus, rice, veggie and bean salad and fresh baked Life Changing Loaf of bread containing no wheat flour or yeast. A veritable feast for friends.

But it was the laughing and listening and crying and sharing that nourished me the most.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Balloon Garden Tour and Watermelon Tears

This morning from my kitchen armchair I'm watching this pigeon, one of a pair, quenching her thirst,

when  a birthday balloon, one of a pair, floats over the honeysuckle fence from next door and makes a little bouncing tour of the garden,

buffeting itself over the daisies like an enchanted ballerina.

I catch it before it snags on a rose bush and bat it gently back over the fence.  I'm rewarded with a little voice saying thank you floating back to me through the honeysuckle thicket.

This is Africa hot for me - this enervating sticky heat that I used to love but it just makes me cross and lethargic now. This afternoon I can only lie on top of the counterpane on my bed, the curtains blowing into the room, and read my book trying to ignore the black fly beating itself against the window pane - a tiny demented Dalek.

It's too hot to eat much so all I want is slice after slice of this crisp perfumed watermelon, not caring about the juice dripping down my chin like tears.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Rose Petal Ritual


I wake early after a hot restless night
with a longing for the ocean,

and drive to the place where the estuary flows into the sea at Budleigh Salterton.

The last time I threw wild  flowers into the sea for Robin was in Portugal on his birthday .

That time the waves swallowed them up so fast and I lost sight of them in seconds. 

This time my gold and amber rose petals falter in the shallow water on the river's edge,

and linger round smooth pebbles before a current catches some of them

and they drift towards the bigger rougher sea.

There was another time, in the winter time, when I did this same ritual in exactly this same place....standing with my father and my sister....throwing dried red rose petals into this estuary .....honouring and remembering my cousin who died when he was even younger than Robin.

Although you aren't supposed to take them away, I choose some lovely pebbles that I think Robin would like -  speckled, veined, polished ovals and hearts -  and I fill my small rucksack, 

bring them to his grave,

 scattering the rest of the rose petals over him,

light and soft as ashes.

Friday, 16 June 2017

His Life Lived In Ink and My Own Heart

In Robin's office on the top floor of the house.  On the mantelpiece above the fireplace is his portrait by Rachel Jamieson, Robin as a baby, a collage of our visit to  New Zealand in 2014....Mount Cook in the background.

 He kept everything neat and tidy, in order and organised.  And now it's such a mess as I have started to sort and clear it. I've taken everything out of the drawers and cupboards. Each paper clip, each photograph, each cheque book stub, each CD with his handwriting on it....I need to make a decision about.

 And I haven't gone anywhere near all his diaries and notes and innermost thoughts and insights and angst and his personality, his humour on paper, in box files.... his life lived and written in ink. I keep thinking he won't write anything ever again.

Today I armour myself with resolution to be gentle. I stay with the easy stuff.... fill black plastic bags with reams of bank statements and old receipts, and account ledgers. The figures on the pages reflecting all the effort of his work, his commitment, his care and his promise to look after me. I'm drenched in gratitude ....

 when I feel wrapped too tightly
 in the memory of him, 
in the ending of him,
 all his things surrounding me
 on the carpet,
 on the desk,
 on the walls,
 I go downstairs into the garden,
 where the patio stones are still warm
 under my bare feet
and I sit with a glass of cold wine
and listen 
to the evening 
settling down
on the grass
and the leaves
and the petals 
of the begonias.
And hear 
my own heart

Thursday, 15 June 2017

In Their Absence

My Uncle writes from Canada that his father's house in South Africa has burnt down in the Knysna fires.
The house on the Lagoon holding our family holiday memories.

The photos of that time - the 1960s -  are all in black and white.
But I remember it in surround-a-sound techni-colour.

The deep blue Jeyes Fluid in the bucket to clean the non-flushing loo.
The perfume of the waxy frangipani bushes in the garden.
The racket of the cicadas as we walked down the path to the edge of the lagoon,
where the little rowing boat was moored.
 The whole hot day, the whole sunburnt summer ahead, waiting to be explored.

And my grandfather sitting at the head of the table with a white starched napkin tucked under his chin, smiling his lopsided smile as he peeled a very ripe banana.

You can't burn down the memory of happiness.

Pelargoniums I planted in a pot close to the patio door which I see every day. In memory of my mother who loved them.

The salad I made tonight to take to my mediation group supper. Broad beans, french beans, radishes, carrots,  courgettes, garlic, parsley and fennel. Everything Robin grew on the allotment. In memory of his love for the earth.  And for me.

The new potato, asparagus, sun-dried tomato, olive and chive salad I also made tonight and served in the blue, white and green flowered bowl I bought for my father, which has come back to me, which lives on the kitchen counter and which I see every day, which reminds me of him and his passion for the "green revolution".

Love is a bowl of cherries....

In the chapter of her book, 'Grief Works', about what we need to do to help us grieve, Julia Samuel writes that....
 We have seen in case studies that the relationship with the person who has died continues, although in a radically altered form.
They are loved in absence rather than in presence. Some people may need to do this a great deal, others only occasionally or on special days like anniversaries. A central pillar in the support of our system is  finding ways to externalise that relationship.

e.g. wearing something that connects to them - like an article of their clothing.
eg visiting their grave.
e.g. creating a memory box of special objects.
 eg. writing to them in a journal.
e.g. cooking their favourite recipe

Finding an external expression for the continuation of the relationship, through regular rituals has been shown to reduce negative emotions and increase positive ones.
Over time the regularity of these rituals may decrease.

 Reading this, I realise that the ritual of making meals - even if it's just for me -  using fresh and alive ingredients, is one of the ways I connect to Robin.....and actually all the people I love who have died.

In their absence keeping them...and me... alive in the present.

 Without the poison of my regrets.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Death by Neglect

Driving east towards the dentist
I am trapped in the hot capsule of my car.
The sun 
a magnifying glass through the windscreen 
burns my leg
inside the material of my jeans.
It reddens the skin on my arm
already  stained 
with raised spots of
solar keratoses.

Only sun damage.
Not death
 by fire
by searing flames
by chemical smoke
by someone's

Someone who did not live alongside
 the 600 people -
child -
that tall
 box in the sky 
 they called

 Now a black
 water hosed
and out.

A careless capsule
An  agony
And damaged.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Every Small and Sweet Thing

Pink elderflower cordial I made from the lace cap flower heads, dew wet with rain, that I picked in my nephew's garden on Sunday....remembering the 12 litre bottles of it - rosy nectar - that I took to my niece's wedding nearly two years ago. That batch was made from the elder tree on the allotment.

Will it always be like this ....everything ...every small and sweet thing.... hooking me back to that other life I had with Robin?

The remembering is good. It's the remorse and what ifs? that I hurt myself with that aren't good.
Today I wondered if, like any habit, I could stop it.....notice when I was going too deep into the wound...and do something  radically different .....think kinder thoughts....not exactly ignore the elephant in the room but take it gently by the trunk and feed it fresh grass.

The salad I couldn't eat tonight easily as earlier on I broke a tooth on a piece of yesterday's stale focaccia bread I was nibbling, soft but chewy. I felt something come away, sharp against my tongue -  I thought it was a chip,  a tiny piece of enamel. But I was horrified to find it was my whole tooth sheared off, rough and decayed, at the level of the gum in my lower jaw, the root still intact but leaving a gaping hole. And it's such a big hole as I'm one short of a tooth on that side anyway.

 Up till now I've kept all my teeth even though some of them are heavily filled.  I expect to find them there. Suddenly there is this raw empty space where once there was certainty and strength I thought I could rely on....with the help of the dentist. Now it's gone - that particular tooth with it's own particular history, that I've taken for granted all my life. 

Leaving me surprisingly bereft.

Monday, 12 June 2017

An Old Comfy Cardigan

Freshly dug garlic bulbs hanging up to dry in my sister's poly-tunnel today.
 I took my friend who is staying with me to visit her.  We share an African history. She and her family lived in the same road as mine in Lusaka, Zambia, when I was a schoolgirl. I used to brave the gauntlet of the dogs barking in our neighbour gardens to go and play with her in the long hot afternoons. Our mothers were friends. She now lives in Harare in Zimbabwe.

For the last two days I have been immersed in another dimension laced with memories of our past and filled out with the details - the  stories and the changes  - of our more recent lives.

Tonight I cooked supper  for us of grilled asparagus and boiled eggs, butter drenched Jersey Royal new potatoes and a deep bowl of sliced  fried green garlic - a whole bulb - and a mush of cherry tomatoes coated in fresh feathery dill.
We ate it outside on the patio, next to the red geraniums, till a duvet of cloud smothered the sun and it turned chilly in the shade.

It's only the second time I have had a visitor staying in the house since Robin died. I realise how I have grown used to living on my own, got used to my own routines especially at the beginning and end of the day.... like wrapping an old comfy cardigan round myself.....and however much I love them and their company, which I do, it takes some digging deep into my reserves to accommodate and include the whole breathing soul of an other into the cocoon of my newly single space.

A tray of Smoked Garlic at the Exeter Food Festival a few weeks ago. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Toe Dipping and Red Geraniums

I miss writing.

 I miss writing this blog. I miss you witnessing my life as I write it.  I never find it easy to write. I notice that watching TV late at night to escape - currently Law and Order Uk -  instead of writing this blog, is good escapism but the next day I have no words to mark my hours spent. All those thoughts and feelings I had are lost and un-remembered. Which may not be a bad thing -  like the washing up, thoughts and feelings can be never-ending. And demanding. And in constant flux. 

Tthere is also a bit of So what? in the mix. Maybe there are already too many words in the  world.
 The art is to choose which ones say it best.

But when you ask me,

How are you? How are you doing?

and you seem to want to know -  which makes me feel so very loved -  I don't know what to say. 

Because I feel different every moment of every hour of every day and night - a clashing pendulum of  misery, hope, despair, pleasure. And making decisions has never been my strong suit. So to help me to answer your question -  and to tell it to myself -  and practice choosing - I thought the best place would be here - in this blog.

Choosing today to dip my toes back in the writing water, tentatively,  to test my courage temperature.

This morning I planted geraniums -  their scarlet ball heads holding hot memories of early summer in this garden, memories of a different variety - pink starlets -  cascading over balconies in every small French town we ever drove through - during all those late summer holidays. And I felt nostalgic.

 I thought about what does it mean for us - the confusion of this hung parliament?  Of course I voted yesterday - for the Suffragettes -  but I feel distant, disconnected  from the whole mechanism of government and politics. Which don't represent me. Although I'm grateful someone is doing the impossible job of PM. If it was mine I would pour all the money into parenting  classes - fierce loving and guidance and support for parents and children....teaching self love from the first breath.

 I thought about the terrible fires, claiming lives and livelihoods, in South Africa in the Knysna area where my grandparents lived. Knysna which holds all my childhood holiday memories of sizzling heat and giant curling waves and white sand beaches. And sweet watermelon and yellow peaches. And I felt sad for all those peoples' loss and pain.

And I thought about Robin  - which I do nearly all the time. Wearing his old blue gardening T-shirt. He would have dug out the wormy compost from the bin and filled the wheelbarrow for me so that I could plant my red geraniums in their terracotta pots on the patio. So that I wouldn't strain my back I did today.

Then I remember that senario was a long a time ago. In the last year he couldn't lift a spoon let alone a spade full of compost. And then I feel bereft all over again. Digging and planting the garden without him. Even when he couldn't do it he would look at all my hard work and say,

You're wonderful.

I didn't believe him then. I wish I had. I could believe him now.... but the pendulum has swung again and I only feel the cold wind of his absence pulling me away from the sunlight of his smile and dropping me into the dungeon of my own shame and regret....where self love is hard to find me.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017



Pink campion and bluebell.

Wild cherry blossom, dandelion, daisy and burnt orange roses from a bouquet gift from friends. A bunch of spring from our garden for Robin. I laid them on the red earth of his grave last week.

This morning after the cleaner leaves - leaving the rooms smelling of furniture polish and Flash - and while the man who is clambering on the plastic kitchen roof, banging lead flashing into the brick wall, takes a break, I sit in the old rocking chair in the bedroom alcove. The seat where our pussy cat used to sleep curled into a furry comma. The back of the chair where I used to hang Robin's jogging bottoms, his T-shirt and  jumper after I undressed him so that he could rest in the afternoon, in the evening, at night.

My hands are too cold to hold a pen so I sit in this chair with the sun sliding through the bamboo blinds, my fingers curled round a cup of hot tea, and think about what to write in my last blog. At the end of 7 years tomorrow.

I feel sad about this ending - even though its time is right. Like my life with Robin, it gave me a structure. A scaffolding to hold around me in the darkest days. A place to fan the stuttering flames of any creativity I could muster. I don't know yet what to put in its place - if anything. 

But I do know that  because of the last 7 years I have carved grooves in my bones... writing channels which I will sometimes allow to dry up for a now....but which will always nourish me when I return to them. Which I will  - not sure in what format - drops of poems maybe....a line or two with a photo....something small or light or keep me alive.

However I have no doubt that the single most vital thing that has sustained me, enabled me to keep writing, to keep going, has been the incredible love, kindness, active support, encouragement and high praise of all of you who have read me. My niece who said, begin it, my father who said, you must carry onthis could help other people, my husband who read every word even when he couldn't understand them, my sisters and my brother who have never given up on me, all my big wide family, all my dear friends, old and new, and all of you who have read me and said wonderful things to me, even you who I've never met. 

You have made more difference to me than you can ever guess. Thank you. Bless you. Thank you for blessing my life.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Coming to an end....

Last day in Portugal Friday 31st March. Robin's birthday.

I pick bouganvillia  flowers and daisies and sweet peas growing wild at the edges of the cliff path and find my way

down to this beach, where once we played a game of frisbee. The tide is out this time too,

and I wade out as far as I can beyond the rock pools and throw my bunch of wild flowers into the sea. 

A wave sweeps them up and they are gone in an quick as his last breath. 

Sea anemone waving in the rock pool just near where I threw the flowers.

It was so hot the day before I had to buy a wide brimmed hat.

A pebble I picked up to take back to his grave.

 The last time we were here. He would have been 64.

It was also the day I began a new letting go.... saying goodbye to hurting myself with regrets and recriminations .....unchaining myself from guilt....letting myself remember all the sweetness of Robin and not only the hard and horrible times.

Today I have been clearing out the kitchen. Taking down the framed pictures and the photos on the fridge, putting away the bottles of oil and the knife block and the stacks of bowls on the counter tops.

And painting sample squares of Dulux colour on the walls. In the end I choose one full of light called Dutch Gold - although I'm still not sure it will go with the tiles. But I have run out of time. On Monday the decorators are coming in to clean the walls where the candles made a mess....Robin encouraging me to let go..... and to paint the rest of the kitchen. As the decorator said of the Dutch Gold - it's not a safe colour but good if you want to make a change.  Which I do.

I'm going away for a week tomorrow.  So I won't be blogging.

 And I know this blog is coming to an end soon. It was my sweet niece who encouraged me to start it. I wrote the first one on 20th April 2010. Seven years ago next week.  It was 6 months before I knew about Robin's illness then and it'll be about 6 months now since he died.

 It feels like a natural ending.