Saturday, 16 December 2017

Whatever Happened to Nigel and Clare?

When the children left for University it was the end of twenty-one years of family life. 

We would be brave and stand back while they found their wings.

We expected to be sad, and for a time we were.

But soon we found compensations.

Just to go out on a Saturday and enjoy lunch and a walk with Gill and Graham, Nick and Jackie or Jenny and Terry.  
Without having to make a picnic for my whole voracious family.
We could even afford a pub lunch when it was just two of us.

And then the twins graduated and returned home.
We know it’s temporary, so we are enjoying their company while we have it.

But this Saturday, as we tried to lure them on a day out, Christmas party aftermath overlapped with urgent shopping and they declined blearily.

I was tempted to stay home.
Nigel said “We should still go.”

So we drove to Grafham Water where I proved myself a hopeless nerd by getting overexcited by goldeneye and goosander ducks. The words “Just look at that!” may have been over-used.
Then we explored the twinkly market town of Huntingdon, drifted into a few shops, appreciated a Mediaeval church and bridge. 
As we drove home, I said to Nigel, “That was a good day.”
Meanwhile, the twins had begun to text us. 
Looked like we’d see them tomorrow.

As if we cared!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Just Stop

A few years ago when I trained as a teacher, I had a placement in rural North Hertfordshire.  Showing me round,  the pupils focused on the most important thing of all – the procedure for snow days.  
It was only September, but they already had an eye on a day off.  And I quite liked the prospect too.

From that day to this, however, there has been no snow day in Hertfordshire.  Until today.

Even today there is not really a snow day off school as it is Sunday. 

However, there is the same delightful feeling that whatever we were going to do today, it will not be done. 
And it is not our fault.

It’s a very busy time of year, preparing cards, gifts, food and social life for Christmas.  But today it’s as if God just shook his finger at us and said “Shush now – doesn’t really matter.  Settle down.”

We put on our boots and did the things that counted - got to church, called on an elderly neighbour, filled the bird feeders.

But then everything slowed down – home made bread, the wood-burner lit, an old film on the telly.

And a nourishing day’s rest in Advent.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Happy Hair

The order in which information is delivered really matters, and this Saturday proved it.
We had just been en famille to see the Tove Janssen (Moomin) Exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

I find it particularly poignant to revisit activities which I associate with my children when they were small and innocent on a day when they are bleakly hung-over and straining not to be surly.

Afterwards, we parted on Dulwich High Street when Perran went off to get a haircut. 
“Be careful,” warned Carenza “– Could be pricey here.”
Nigel and I were on the train going home when texts started to arrive from Perran.

From this, we figured Perran had gone into a nice barber’s, asked the price, misheard, had a great experience but then been horrified at the true price.

We felt a little sorry for him until he came home and explained that his texts had arrived with us in the wrong order.  Looking back at his phone, there was a very different story.

He had asked the price only after the haircut.  By this time, he had received such amazing service that he feared it would be expensive.  
He DID mishear – what he heard was £70.  
What they actually charged him was £17.  

The story was one of triumph NOT disaster.

And significantly, it was also a story of beer.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Sound of God Laughing

They say “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”

The plan was that I was to have a foot operation to relieve painful wear and tear.  I would be off my feet for six weeks. 
I had painstakingly arranged my teaching work around the operation.
I had done the Christmas shopping and made the cards. 
The only part of it I was looking forward to was reading books by the fire.
Nigel booked a long weekend in Falmouth, so we could see my parents, but also spend time together before the operation.
Then, only a week before, I received a phone call.  My surgeon had a family emergency and had cancelled his operating list. 
After Christmas was no good for me.  I would have to be back at work.

It was all off. 

However, we continued with the trip to Falmouth. 
Romantically, we caught the sleeper from Paddington.
We explored the coasts of the Fal Estuary – golden hedgerows under cobalt skies, and the wistful cry of the curlew.  We visited twinkly craft fairs and cosy tea rooms. It was a brochure-perfect break.
But lulled by my pleasure in the trip, I let one of my rules slip.

On our last night I ate an oyster – part of a starter.  I love shellfish, but, as they say, they don’t always love me.

The train on the way home was wedged crowded and it was like a game of Twister to get to the loo.  However, this didn’t stop me being sick.  To minimise this, I didn’t drink anything.  For five hours.

By Paddington, I had a teeth-chattering temperature.

By Tuesday, still high temperature and bad pains in new places.
Doctor suggested I submit a urine sample.  It was so evidently murky that I was almost proud as I handed it over at reception.

I had managed to transform my food poisoning into a urine infection.

At home, waiting for the antibiotics to kick in, I decided that after all, I would have just one afternoon by the fire reading a book.

And at least that went to plan.


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

You Have Saved the Best 'til Last

Driving down the dual carriageway, I peer out the windscreen and say anxiously to Nigel, “How much longer will they last?”
“Another week maybe?  Not long?”

I love the way that trees which seem a uniform green in Summer each choose a different colour.  The beeches are copper, the birches gold.  I love the way the spindle tree, drab and insignificant for ten months of the year suddenly becomes the Rupaul of the hedgerow - camp pink berries and fabulous, flame coloured foliage. 

But now the leaves were nearly all over for another year.

I was supposed to be going for a last Autumn walk with Carol, but unfortunately something came up.

I decided I’d go anyway.

It was early, bright and frosty.
And the colours took my breath away.

This wasn’t so much the end of Autumn as a grand finale.

As an empty-nester, one of my preoccupations is a regret for the passing of time and the shift from one generation to the next.

But when I saw the trees that morning, a phrase from the Gospels kept going through my head – “You have saved the best 'til last.”

Friday, 17 November 2017

Pigeon postscript

1st pigeon:  “Sparrowhawk! Sparrowhawk! Let’s get out of here!”

2nd pigeon: “But wait, aren’t we flying directly towards some artwork by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, that master of Art Nouveau design?”

1st pigeon:  “I don’t care!  There’s a sparrowhawk, I tell you!”

Me from the sitting room:  “Did anybody else hear that loud bang at the kitchen door?”

Sadly the Charles Rennie Mackintosh window decals haven’t worked.

(The picture above is the print of fine dust which a pigeon leaves when it hits our patio door.)

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Pigeons.

I have never before asked myself whether pigeons might like the Art Nouveau designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

But I am about to find out.

In our garden, we have a cluster of bird feeders.  They attract every kind of finch and titmouse.

Woodpigeons lumber beneath, hoovering up dropped seeds.

However, five times now, we have discovered the complete, yet ghostly, outline of a pigeon in flight on our patio door.  
When they hit glass hard, fine dust flies out of their feathers and makes a print.

But why are they zooming into our patio door?  
There’s no window on the other side to trick them into thinking there’s a through-route.

Fact is, we’ve made our garden such a great place for sparrows that we’ve also attracted a sparrowhawk, skimming stealthily along the hedge, scaring the grit out of our little birds.
I’m guessing it’s blind panic that stops the pigeons from spotting our door.

So how to warn them off?

At the weekend, we visited 78 Derngate, a house designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  I oohed at the luminous stained glass,  aaahed at the detailing in the woodwork.

But the best thing of all was in the gift shop – window decals.

“Do you think the pigeons will appreciate Art Nouveau?”

“Maybe not, but they’ll enjoy not bashing themselves on the glass….And besides, there aren’t any Art Deco decals here so they'll just have to make do.”