Friday, 19 May 2017

Mount Snowdon by Unicycle

Will came to stay with us, and said how much he loved old family videos.
We found an old VHS tape.  Even more remarkably, we found something to play it on. 
But the results appalled Nigel and me. 
There were close-ups of twins being adorable – twins crawling briskly about and smiling at the camera; twins vocalising and playing with toys.
But in the background was Pascoe calling “Look at me, Mummy and Daddy.”  The camera remained trained on the baby twins.
“On no!” said Will, “Now he’s doing star jumps to try to get your attention.”
Still the camera was fixed on the babies.
In our defence, I think we were trying to capture some milestone, like the twins learning to crawl.  But we still felt guilty.

Over the last two weeks I have been fretting mainly about Carenza going off travelling, and somewhat about Perran, taking his finals. (Although he seemed to have it all under control.)
But WhatsApp reminded me that Pascoe was also out in the world doing daring deeds.
I knew about him unicycling up Snowdon.
But I didn’t know about Copenhagen until I saw this:
"In a pout-off with the Little Mermaid."

And I certainly didn’t know he was wild camping (without a tent!) in the woods near to Copenhagen until I saw this:
"Have found great hotel with Dawn Chorus alarm clock and Fairy Forest wallpaper."

I guess over the years he has stopped hoping for our attention,

but I am certainly waiting now to see what Pascoe gets up to next.

Thursday, 18 May 2017


Carenza left on her gap year travels early this morning.
I am attempting to be like a Noel Coward character - brave and witty in the face of emotional turmoil.

WhatsApp from Carenza:
Safely at the gate: flight leaving on time.
Will miss you!!!
WhatsApp from me:
I would be missing you too if only I weren’t so busy interviewing lodgers for your room.

Now the flight is in the air I am thinking that maybe I sounded a little uncaring.
It is all bloody Noel Coward’s fault.
Sadly I go in search of the envelopes, containing her essential information, and only to be opened if absolutely necessary.
And discover that Carenza has left us something to smile at too.

She is probably running bets with her friends on how soon it will be before I give into the temptation to rip them open and discover all her shady secrets.

Eat your heart out, Noel Coward.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Gap Pack

“Have you got a money belt?
Have you got a padlock?
Have you got a personal alarm?
Have you got your passport?
Will you leave us a copy of your passport?
And have you got a waterproof splashbox for when you go swimming?”
“Yes, Mum, I have. And Mum…”
“Yes Love?”

“I’ll be back safe and sound in three months.”

Friday, 5 May 2017

Finding Yourself

The other day Carenza snorted with amusement – one of her friends who was nearing the end of his travels had put up a Facebook post: “Self now 85% found.”
Myself, as a student, I didn’t Inter-rail etc. I still had brilliant Summer Holidays, mostly working on Archaeological digs both in the UK and on the Continent. But as a consequence, perhaps I’ve never Found Myself.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ve ever Lost Myself either.  I tend to believe I have become myself by rubbing along with family and community and developing my role at work. 
However, I do agree that travelling alone does wonders for the self-confidence.
The other day Carenza had arrived back from travelling alone to Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade, but I missed her return as I had flown out to join Nigel in Bratislava at a conference he was chairing.  I landed at Vienna airport and got on a bus to Bratislava.  Nigel had briefed me, but it still felt adventurous.
Carenza texted:
“Where are you?”
“Doing a spot of solo travelling - arriving Bratislava in forty minutes.”

“In that case, you don’t have long left, Mum – better hurry up and find yourself quickly!”

Friday, 28 April 2017

A Bit Flat

At Easter, we had a low-key family holiday in Cornwall.     I may have mentioned it.
We set off to return from Penzance on Easter Monday.  Stopped off in Truro for a pasty with my parents; dropped Pascoe off at Exeter airport and Perran at Bristol Uni.
Carenza, although she did come home with us, departed in the wee small hours of Tuesday morning on a flight  for Eastern Europe.
So from a full table on Monday lunchtime, less than twenty-four hours later, we were empty nesters once more.  Melancholy threatened.
I said as much to Carole:
“It seems ungrateful after having the privilege of a great holiday, but it’s hard not to feel a bit flat now.”
“Ah, but that’s a good thing because it means you get on well with your family.  Apparently the peak time for divorce lawyers is at the end of the holidays, at Christmas and in the Summer, when people have realised they can’t tolerate each other’s company any longer.”
Thanks for putting it in perspective, Carole –

When our holiday finished, it could have been much worse than feeling a bit flat – instead, I could have been feeling relieved.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Why Take a Holiday?

Photo by Will
Sometimes when you are trying to get your work up-to-date, cancel the milkman, engage a helpful neighbour to empty the letter box, it feels like the last thing you need is a holiday. 
On top of that, Nigel and I both felt washed out following a long-lasting cold virus. It was hard to summon the energy.
However, for Easter Nigel had booked a house in Penzance where Pascoe, Perran, Carenza, Will & Dan were to join us.
For a week we tramped the cliffs swathed in blackthorn blossom, bought the freshest fish, foraged leaves and blossoms from the hedgerow, ate round the kitchen table and spent the evenings reading.
When I came to pack for home, I found myself staring at the nasal spray and cough sweets in my drawer.  For a moment I couldn’t think why I had them there. 

That was when I realised just how much good the holiday had done us.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Stick Men go on Holiday

Photo by Adri, Singapore
Since my post about endangered stickmen, I have received good news from Adri in Singapore about the care being taken of Stick Men and Women there and was feeling quite optimistic about the future of the species.

However, a recent holiday in Cornwall has re-awakened my worries about these accident-prone little chaps.  
Whereas Singapore public transport offers them a sanctuary, this is what happened to a Stick Man on a Cornish bus.

And at the sea-side, if there is an accident to be had, then Stick Men seem to have it.

It’s just a good job that we humans would never get into all the trouble that these stick men do when we visit the sea-side.

Perhaps it might be safer for them to stay at home.

Monday, 10 April 2017

I found Jesus at the Garden Centre

Garden Centre statuary is fascinatingly naff. 
It is rare to find a beautiful, simple form produced carefully in good quality material.
I started snapping some prime kitsch at the weekend.
I spotted Greek goddesses suffering from the usual wardrobe malfunction;

Buddhas smiling tolerantly at plaster kittens.

Then finally….was I really seeing this?  Jesus, resplendent in fake marble, sacred heart and all.

It was, after all, Sunday.

Then it occurred to me:-
Garden centres are quite large organisations. 
Perhaps everybody wonders who keeps buying in the weird statues, but nobody knows.  Perhaps in fact, nobody is buying them. 
In our irreligious age, perhaps the deities have spotted where it is that people flock to on holy days and have decided to establish a presence there – in the garden centres.
And from the garden centre, they can find their way into people’s hearts and homes. 
It is a cunning plot to restore religion to the nation.
The only thing that might foil it would be if somebody started to produce garden statuary that was both in good taste AND affordable.

That would definitely put the kibosh on it.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A City at Second Hand

The town where you attend university will be forever significant to you. 
That street corner is the place where Somebody first held your hand, that bridge is where you and your friends whistled the Ride of the Valkyries  so loudly one night that you woke the neighbourhood.  That second-hand book shop is where you bought the little calf-bound copy of Thackeray.  
The town is a map of your youth.
But I also expected to have some sort of a relationship with the cities where my children were at university. When Pascoe went to Norwich I looked forward to getting to know the city.  I would have a confident grasp of its layout, know good places to eat, be familiar with its heritage. 
When he gained his degree and moved on (all of five minutes later), I felt like shouting “Wait! I’ve barely scratched the surface of Norwich.”
And now, as Perran comes to the close of his studies, we are facing the end of our romance with Bristol.  When we visited last month, it was important to take our leave of old haunts – Pero’s Bridge, the murals of Stokes Croft, Banksys, vintage shops on Park Street.

But vibrant Bristol just wouldn’t lie down.  Instead, it presented us with a whole new area to explore – the heritage area of the docks where we went aboard the replica of Cabot’s ship and Brunel’s SS Great Britain. We had a great time, and I suspect that Bristol will never become a city of memories for us – we shall go on visiting.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Airbeds and Karrimats

When Carenza held her 22nd birthday party here both local and university friends came along. 
She had warned us that two or three might stay over.  On Sunday, we found ourselves frying up sausage sandwiches for thirteen people.  Seeing the tessellation of airbeds and karrimats on the floor in the sitting room reminded me of when we were at that stage. 
A year out of college, Nigel and I married and set up home near his parents in the North East. But we vowed that geography would not part us from our university friends.   We thought nothing of piling sleeping bags into our cantankerous mini and driving to the South East for a get-together.
The most memorable was at Annabel’s where around a dozen of us youngsters were bedding down for the night and promptly ran out of toilet paper.  People quickly became ruthless in appropriating any shred of paper that might serve and it all got a bit Lord of the Flies. This was my earliest and arguably most important lesson in hosting. Always check the paper supply.
We thought these communal weekends would go on for ever, but a little thing eventually made it too difficult.  In fact, several little things – a number of us had children. 

However, now that most of our children have moved on, we are back to slinging sleeping bags in the car and going camping and glamping together again, happily sharing a yurt or tepee.  Have to remember the loo roll though.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Waving to Infinity

When I lose a glove I feel annoyed. 
Where should I look for it?  Do I really have to buy a new pair?
Should I retrace my steps to look for it?
But then, when was it I lost it exactly?  It’s hard to be sure.
Losing a glove has been an entirely negative experience.
Until now. 
But last weekend, spent in the beautiful Peak District has given me a change of heart.
When you lose a glove in a beautiful place, some other walker will find it and put it up high so you can spot it when you return for it. 
In practice you will probably never return, but it has the happy side effect that your abandoned glove is now waving at a beautiful view.

 I have to leave the Peak District and go back to work in the crowded South East, but my glove will remain, gazing out for evermore at green hillsides, Spring lambs and budding oaks.
Kinda “There is some corner of a foreign field that will be forever England.”

Now all I have to do if I feel stressed in nose-to-tail traffic is to imagine slipping my hand back into that glove in its resting place on a bucolic gatepost and for a moment I shall be there.

(Although all grey, all the gloves in these photos were actually found separately.)

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Cake Conspiracy

Even a weird European chocolate wrapper proves unexpectedly tempting.
Something is afoot in the world. 
There are certain signs that something is taking place.

 1. Our team won the inter-church quiz and the prize was Thornton's chocolates.
2.       I went into school to teach Latin.  My pupils had just had domestic science and were each carrying a tub of warm cheese scones.  Several were kind enough to offer them to me.  (Clearly I must appear undernourished….or maybe I was just drooling slightly.)
3.       In came nice Mr P . He was carrying a massive piece of iced carrot cake. His mother had made it to share with his colleagues, but it now needed eating up. My pupils and I are nothing if not obliging.
4.       Then to Hilary’s for church house group.   But house group was having a shared meal.  In the face of the mouthwatering dishes that my friends had prepared, my resolution  crumbled like shortcrust pastry.
5.       The most recent happening is my discovery of a crushed box of Belgian chocolates in our bedroom.  We bought them for Nigel’s parents but he failed to deliver them and appears to have trodden on them instead.  We can’t give them away now!

Have you guessed?

Yes, I am trying to lose weight.
No wonder I am rubbish at dieting.
It is completely not my fault.
The whole world conspires against me.

Perhaps for Lent, I should give up trying to diet.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Hope for an Endangered Species

I am a great fan of David Attenborough and his wildlife programmes.  Yet, there is one endangered species which he has sadly overlooked.

It is the stick man (and woman).
In the case of most species, they are endangered either by habitat loss or by hunting.
But in the case of stick men, it is just that they are particularly accident-prone.

There is evidence (from SS Great Britain in Bristol) that this state of affairs has been going on for at least 150 years.

However, there is good news that breeding colonies have been established on public transport …
and in other public places.

But also, that all sorts of relationships are valued.

So perhaps the future for stick men is not so grim after all.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Still Proud

One of the cool things about being a parent has been attending concerts, shows and presentations.
At primary school, I remember being spellbound by the lisping singing and squeaky violin playing of my own children, then checking my watch while other people’s children performed their party pieces.
Secondary school was a revelation – suddenly the performances were actually entertaining – a good evening out.
I remember attending Perran’s last school dance show and wondering sadly if it was his swan song.
Far from it.  Thanks to Perran’s intense involvement with dance at Bristol, we have continued to attend performances during his degree.   Often they have been spellbinding, especially the Fuze show, and last week’s Bristol University Dance Soc. show. 
Perran has added choreography and direction to his skills (see video below of his and Molly's dance, "Play") and he has been a well-respected Dance President. 
More than that, it often looks as if he is having the time of his life. 

As he moves into working life, it may be trickier to find a group of people to dance with, but we very much hope he continues.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Meant to be

On Tuesday morning, I was supposed to be meeting my old friend Angela for a catch-up.  We tend to do this during the course of a country walk rather than over coffee.
Then the guys who were replacing our double-glazing  announced they’d be starting Monday.
But that was alright.
I simply asked Carenza who is living at home at the moment if she’d cover for me.  Of course she said yes.
So I would still get to see Angela on Tuesday morning.
Then Carenza landed a temporary job “Sorry Mum”.
But that was alright.
The guys would surely be trustworthy enough to leave just for a couple of hours.
So I would still get to see Angela on Tuesday morning.
Then I got a horrible cold.
But that was alright.
I was seeing Angela outdoors so I wouldn’t pass it on, and we weren’t going to walk far anyway.
So I would still get to see Angela on Tuesday morning.
Finally Tuesday morning arrived – my cold was at the running-like-a-tap stage and the double glazing about a third done.  But what actually woke me up was Nigel, right in my face, yelling “Our drain is overflowing!”
He then commuted off, leaving me to ring somebody with the word “rod” in their company name.
I gave in.  It was no longer alright.  I did think of inviting Angela round but realised that a runny nose, overflowing drains and set of gusty holes where our windows once were might test even a well-established friendship.
I wasn’t going to meet Angela on Tuesday after all. 
So my question is this:
Angela and I both believe in a loving Deity watching over us.  Were we being protected from some awful fate?  If we had actually managed to go for a walk yesterday, what would really have happened? 
Might we have been run over by an escaped bison?
Might we have sunken in quicksand beside our modest local river?
Might we have stumbled on a gang of ruthless criminals mid-heist?
The answer remains a mystery. 
However, we’re planning to try again tomorrow.
Just saying.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Bennington Lordship

I hadn’t got together with my friends for about a month this time and was looking forward to a walk with them on Friday.  We planned to hunt for March hares madly boxing in the nearby fields. It is these daft escapades that gladden my heart.
That and the chat.
From Tuesday, I began to watch the weather. “Friday: Heavy rain”.
On Wednesday, I looked again. “Friday: Heavy rain”.
These things sometimes change at the last minute, but on Thursday: “Friday: Heavy rain”
“Heavy rain” I WhatsApped pannickily. “Maybe London?”
The others hedged.
“Will it be raining all day?”
“Clearing by two.” 
Two was late for us – we were usually getting ready to go home by then.
“Maybe the new Design Museum?”
Radio silence.
Then Carol suggested,
“This afternoon – Bennington Lordship.”
We drove.
Within the space of an acre or two Spring was sitting waiting for us. A mass of snowdrops were giving way to banks of crocuses.  Daphne Odorata filled the air with heady scent.  Dogwoods were sending up flames of pure colour. 
And we had a chat and a laugh. 
And some more chat.
No hares of course, but then, they don’t like the rain either. 
Maybe next time.