Saturday, 17 February 2018

Making it better with sparrows

At the weekend a terrible accident on the M5 made my drive to my parents in Cornwall take 8 hours.  It is lovely to see my parents, but each time there are new challenges brought on by old age.  I was tired when I got back on Monday night.
I spent Tuesday doing my half term marking.
Then Wednesday my lovely friend Angela came to say goodbye before going with her husband to live in Scotland.
Wednesday night we drove to Northumberland, ready for Nigel’s Dad’s funeral the next day.   We arrived back Thursday night. 
And did I mention? - the twins had spent the week when not at work or funerals, gathering their gear in order to leave home and move into a rented flat at the weekend.
So by Friday, I may very well have been depressed and knackered. 
Actually I was mainly stunned.
But as I say, I might have been in a bad way.
Divining this, Caroline asked me if I’d like to go looking for tree sparrows. 
I had never seen a tree sparrow before.
We set off.
The gravel workings had been expanded, which made it difficult to figure out where we were on our elderly OS map.
But we saw a muntjac, and on the gravel pits shovellers, gadwall and a mass of herons.
Then finally, in a hedge, seven beautiful fluffed-up tree sparrows.
The only thing better than the sparrows was Caroline taking me to see them.
Thank you for a good thing in a bad week, Caroline.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Very Last Gift

My friend Carole Heselton writes:
“Perhaps the death of a parent is the last gift they give us.  It’s a chance to reflect on what we ourselves have become and to see the life of our parent led in its entirety, rather than a work in progress.”

Years ago, I heard the advice of the mystic John O’ Donohue that we must grow to know our own death and to befriend it, but I did not quite know what he meant.

Over the last ten days, my father-in-law Maurice has died slowly and comparatively peacefully after a long illness.  There has been time for his children and grandchildren to travel to his bedside and say farewell. 

There is deep sorrow for his parting, but gladness at an end to his suffering.

For a long time, as he was incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease, his successful career and his energetic charity work have seemed to lie in the unreachable past.

However, now is the time to get all these accomplishments out and admire them once more.

But at this time of stock-taking, I can see that Maurice’s greatest achievement is not his deeds in themselves, but that there are people who will want to recall them – people who loved him while he was alive and will miss him now he is gone.

In seeing this, it helps me to know more of the kind of death I would wish for myself and should work towards.

Thank you Maurice.

Sunday, 28 January 2018


Since last August, there has been a plastic tub on our kitchen floor, collecting the water that came through the ceiling.
It started off as a shy dribble of droplets. 
Any attention from anybody and it would discreetly dry up.
Twice we thought roofers had mended it and paid them handsomely.
Each time, the leak waited until their vans had disappeared into the distance, ladders jangling wildly, before it reappeared.
In the last couple of months, however, it has gained confidence and has become a gushing, bubbling cascade, appearing EVERY time it rains.
We changed roofers and were impressed by the expertise and diligence of our current crew.
“It’s done,” they said, “That leak won’t trouble you any more.  If you could just BACS us, we’ll be back in the morning for the scaffolding.”
Luckily, that very night, it rained heavily.
Like a mafia boss, drunk on his own importance, our leak forgot to play hide-and-seek and poured in.
I discovered the water on the floor using my sophisticated leak detection technique – I walked into the kitchen in my stockinged feet.
When he returned, the roofer scratched his head, “Well, I suppose it could be the window that’s leaking.”
We had new windows installed a year ago.
Using a hose, he proved it was definitely the window.
So, Leak, I have you running scared now.
All we have to do is get the window people back.

Whom, needless to say, we have already paid in full.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Interesting Device

Living with grown-up offspring is not at all like living with little children.

The other day, I popped into the bathroom and came to a standstill.
There on the side of the bath was…a device.
I did not recognise it, but then, I’ve led a sheltered life.

Could I deduce what it was for?
In shape it was tall and thin with a nozzle at one end and a hand grip at the other.
On the side was the brand name – NiceFeel.
There was a button with settings – Normal, Soft, Pulse.
Gingerly, I put it back down.

How to deal with this?
I decided that I would just leave it where it was. 
The owner would soon spot it and put it away.

Twenty-four hours later, it was still on the side of the bath.
Perran was even in there washing his face as if there was nothing the matter.
I could stand the suspense no longer.
“Perran….what is that thing on the side of the bath?”
“Oh – that’s my oral irrigator – it’s for flossing your teeth but with a high-powered jet of water, instead of  tape …look!”
“Oh.  Okay.”
“I swear by them.  In fact, this is my second one – my first wore out. Here.”
He pulled another similar device from the bathroom cupboard.
“If it’s broken, why have you kept it?”
“Not sure how to recycle it.”
“Well, your Dad’s an expert on recycling waste electrical items.  Why don’t we just leave it for him on his bedside table?”
*             *             *
7pm: Nigel has arrived home and gone upstairs to change.

Startled voice from upstairs:  “For Pete’s sake, what on earth is THIS?”

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Weekend Stew

When the twins fell back to earth after graduation / gap year , they landed at our house.

Office hours plus commute means they are not home much. 

Fortunately very many of their friends have ended up living and working nearby in London. 
So weekends are particularly unpredictable. I have joked about installing an enormous cat flap.

On the bright side, I have developed a new cuisine - Weekend Stew.

I got out my cavernous witch's cauldron from its semi-retirement at the back of the cupboard and I stew up beans, onions and root vegetables and frankly anything else in the fridge that appears to be on its last legs. I make it delicious with olives and capers, or garam masala, or smoked paprika, and serve with a hillock of brown rice.

Weekend stew divides up between any number of diners. It can be heated up at 3am when one returns from a party. It can be stretched to accommodate guests.

Only problem is I'm tiring of it. Yesterday I'm sure I caught the black-eyed beans staring at me reproachfully as I surreptitiously heated up a pizza. 

However in a few weeks the twins plan to be gone - off to rented bliss - and our weekends will become predictable once more.

So for the moment, Weekend Stew it is!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Storm Eleanor

I come from Cornwall where the weather’s important.
It’s important for farmers when they take in the harvest.
It’s important for fishermen so they don’t sail right into a storm.
It was a common practice for a fishing village to have a communal barometer in the harbour.

But there are also more traditional ways of telling the weather.
If the swallows are flying low, it means it will rain.
If a piece of dried seaweed becomes slimy it means high humidity.
If a fir cone opens up its scales, it means fine weather.
If the cows are lying down, it means rain.
And my personal favourite:
If you can see clear to St Austell clay tips it means it’s going to rain.   If you can’t see St Austell clay tips, it means it’s already raining.

But for the violent forces of Storm Eleanor, just passed, only one piece of weather lore would do.
And it was discovered by my Uncle John, who wasn’t even Cornish.
He said:
“You can tell if it’s very windy indeed….the seagulls will be flying backwards.”

Traditional weather forecasting at Betty's Bothy, Orkney, last summer.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Review of the year

The media have been reviewing the year just gone.
E.g. The Year in Politics.
The very thought is exhausting. 
I can review the last fortnight maybe.
Our dishwasher broke just before Christmas and we imagined a cruel God laughing at us.
Then John the Appliance Superhero arrived, gave the device some sort of Heimlich manoeuvre and out popped a pistachio shell. 
Carenza WhatsApped "Can you imagine a more middle class item to find in your dishwasher pipe? "
Dan apparently could and nominated a single Bendicks bittermint, a Kettle chip or a maths tutor.

Christmas en famille - v good
Boxing Day Walk with chums - v muddy
Lunch with new friends - v companionable

Then to Northumberland.
In spite of snow and ice Nigel managed to take his parents on two outings, including the seaside, wheelchair and all.
However we then snatched failure from the jaws of success when our parked car slid backwards down the steep icy drive and into the garage door.

And how did we spend the last moments of 2017?
With our friends, playing charades.
Which takes us right back to The Year in Politics - you can't have more of a charade than that.

Pascoe, Josh and John - reunited on Boxing Day