Friday, 22 September 2017

Fencing Champion

A mere fraction of our fence
For over two years now, we’ve been in our new home, and all this time, we’ve been staring out at a featureless rectangle of grass bordered by sinister dark green shrubs.

Finally we found some nice landscape gardeners who were able to drill out some old foot-deep concrete, lay a patio and dig out a pond for us.  They also removed the laurels as we requested.

And now the dominant note in our garden is very much “Fence”.  We have unbroken wastes of wooden slats to gaze at.  We could not have more fence, even if we had joined Fenceflix and ordered the boxed set of Fence.

This Autumn we have gathered a fantasy football squad of new shrubs – some gold, some silver, some with berries, and have ranged them along the Fence.  We have planted them what seems like an unrealistically huge distance apart to allow for growth.  So we still have a pretty much unimpeded view of Fence.

Perhaps in three or four years’ time, when our little elaeagnuses and pittosporums have heightened and thickened, I shall turn to Nigel and say, “You know, I really miss seeing our fence.”


But I don’t think so.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Anyone for dinner?

Strata of saved dinners are stacking up in the fridge. 
Cannellini and spinach is piled on veg moussaka, is heaped on bulgar with peppers.
Why are the meals uneaten?
Does it represent a breakdown in communication between the cook (me) and the consumers (Nigel and Perran and Carenza)?
In fact, it is a symptom of a few weeks which have been busy and uncertain, but for the very best of reasons.
Perran and Carenza have both recently started work and they are in response mode. 
Some days they plan to come home, but work mates propose a drink, and it’s a good idea to join in. Purely for professional reasons, of course.
And then, there are old friends who have also ended up in the London area.  It’s great for them to be back together again.  Purely for social reasons, but no less important.
As a result of this, the fridge abounds in cling-filmed plates.
Plus, I have recently developed a highly sophisticated system which I use to regulate supply and demand –
at 5.30pm I WhatsApp – “Who will be home for dinner and who wants dinner keeping?”
And the twins hold up a finger in the wind and reply.

And if they get it wrong, another ratatouille joins the heap.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Starting Work

Carefree, earlier in the Summer
There’s a nip in the evening air and the nights are drawing in.  Term has started and I am madly preparing lessons.
But it’s only when I take a peep at FaceBook that I realise what I have forgotten to do. 
When the children started primary school I took a photo of them with forced smiles on their tiny worried faces. 
When they went along to big school, the same story – little faces peeping out from massive blazers.
However, over the last couple of weeks, both Perran and Carenza have started jobs in London and I didn’t take the pictures!  First day at work.
How could I have been so remiss?
This time round, they ironed their own shirts and bought their own blazers and they look somehow more grown up than me now. 
I’m not sure they would have let me line them up on the doorstep for a happy snap. 

But as they stepped out into the next stage of their lives, I could recognise once again that same old brave but slightly apprehensive smile.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Welcome Home, Carenza

The train journey back from our lovely holiday in Orkney was a little melancholy.
But the gold at the end of the rainbow was that Carenza was returning home after three months’ solo back-packing in South East Asia.
I had never met anybody at an airport before and neither had Will.  My only experience was watching Love Actually far more times than I care to recount.  Will, who came too, had more experience – he had seen the Gavin and Stacey episode where they return from honeymoon.
“The Mum makes this stupidly huge banner, then she forces the Dad, who’s embarrassed, to hold the other end at the airport…….What’s that you’re carrying, Clare?”
“Um.  A banner.  I’ve rolled it up to make it portable.”
“Looks quite… large. How big would you say it was?”
“Kitchen table sized.”
To do him justice, when we reached Airport Arrivals, Will barely put up a fight as I placed the stick in his hand.  He also held up his own discreet and beautifully made banner.
Many people who came through the gate crowed with delight at the large pink banner.  Blonde girls seemed particularly to like it which was a good sign.
However, it clearly ruined some people’s day – those who were being met by relatives with less sizeable banners expressed their disappointment  resentfully.
For quite a long time we stood there at the ready. 
“I’m beginning to get banner burn.”
“Yep, my banner hand’s gone numb.”
But when Carenza finally arrived, the banner didn’t matter at all. 

After she had diplomatically expressed appreciation for our art efforts, we rolled up my banner , thrust it in the bin and went home with our girl.

Friday, 11 August 2017

When holidays end.

















Every night of our holiday we had been gazing out of the window at the ferry, moored overnight and glamorous with its lights on. It had added to the scene.
But this morning, when I looked out at the growing dawn, I realised with a shock that the ferry was actually there to take us away. In a sense, it had been all along.
Holidays are like that - hopefully you have such a good time that you wish it could go on forever. You begin to consider the local jobs market; slow down as you pass the windows of estate agents.
But however enchanting a holiday is, it will end. That's the very paradox which makes it so attractive.
I guess the only thing we can take back with us is our reflections.
I don't bother with New Year's resolutions, but at this time of year I do generally have a think about how to live more as if I'm on holiday even when I'm back in the daily grind. For me, it will probably be
getting my sketch book out more.
We'll see if I manage it.
And if I don't, well, property on Orkney did look very reasonable.
And I'm pretty certain I could retrain to work on a fish farm.


Monday, 7 August 2017

Tourist trap?

I've been  thinking a lot about tourism lately and the good it does versus the damage. 
Recently on Orkney we visited Maes Howe, the stunning Neolithic chambered tomb, where later, Vikings had left their graffiti. 
So often, I had pored over pictures and now I was about actually to enter the tomb.  Anticipation made my blood run faster.
We checked to make sure that no massive cruise liners would be disgorging their passengers on Orkney that day, then booked our half hour slot. 
We arrived fifteen minutes early, as instructed, and loitered in the gift shop full of tartan packs of shortbread and Celtic jewellery.  
By this time, the mystique had dissipated rather.  
As we waited,  I saw Pascoe trying out a virtual reality headset. It was for people who were not able to enter the tomb - not everybody could crouch down to get through the entrance passage. 
I tried it on.  I could see clearly the stone construction of the tomb around me.  Circles indicated where there were graffiti.  If I clicked on them it showed me the Viking runes and translated them into English. I could explore the tomb with an uninterrupted view
Why did we even need to go in, damaging it with our breathing and touching?

At last our turn was called, and a guide escorted us and sixteen others to the entrance to the green Telly-Tubby style tomb mound where swallows flittered round our head.
We crept along the lengthy passageway and the first thing I saw on entering the tomb itself was another swallow.  While everybody was assembling in the beautifully constructed stone chamber, I pointed out the swallow's nest to Pascoe, close by on the wall.  The guide said "Ah yes, those chicks are nearly ready to fledge."  As he spoke, the four young birds launched from the nest and whirled around our heads inside the ancient monument.
"Correction," said the guide, "The chickss have fledged."
Now a moment like that, I could never have gained from a VR headset.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

This is the life

I owed Perran a post exams trip. He chose Sofia. We broke our flying ban and went.
My objective was to live the high life. I wanted to come back with glamorous photos that looked as if I were saying "This is the life".
Only problem was that I was already completely wrecked from attempting to combine end of term lessons and admin with the London Summer School in Classics.
I managed the Roman archaeology and ancient churches, a slight sheen on my clammy forehead. I managed sitting in the many little parks staring blankly into space. I dragged myself around the controversial Soviet memorial. I enjoyed early evening cocktails, delicious Bulgarian dinners.
But then, when it was time to show what a cool and trendy Mum I was and to prove that I was not over the hill, I limped straight past all the bars desperate for my comfy hotel bed.
I was letting Perran down.
Until the third and final night. By eschewing the famous Bulgarian red wine and by simply inserting matchsticks to prop up my drooping eyelids I was finally able to stay awake through one cocktail at the Absolut Beach Bar.
Fairy lights and iridescent hearts twinkled in the lime trees. And a great live DJ mixed sounds. Perran looked at home. And for three quarters of an hour I felt like a grown up.
This is the life.