Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Dawn Chorus

It was 4am when the sun tilted over the brim of the hill into Hidden Valley in Worcestershire. First the larks, then wrens, dunnocks, blackbirds, goldfinches joined in a jubilant and ear-splitting dawn chorus.  The families in the six tents stirred.  Some lay listening in wonder.  Others rolled over to grab the tail end of sleep before it departed entirely.
The birds and the humans were doing the same thing  - forming community.  Speaking for the people, some of us met thirty-five years ago at university.  Others are partners or children who came along a little later.  Communication nowadays is often online, but every so often, Annabel shoos us out of the ether and into tents.
We shared adventures in a way you just can’t on FaceBook.  We learned to cook over an open fire.  We invaded the local pub.  We followed Dave tramping  across fields and challenging the owners of luxury homes who had blocked rights of way. And when the heavens opened, we all sardined into Nick and Jackie’s tent.

Then, at the end of the weekend, it was time to strike camp, and our little village melted away.  As we rise for work tomorrow, we shall remember the larks soaring in song and waking all the many other birds.  They will sing to the Hidden Valley where only flattened rectangles of grass show we were once a community there.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bucket List

"Why Strawberry Hill?" asked Will from the back of our car on the M25.
From the wheel Nigel answered, "Well it's been on our bucket list for ages."
"List," I said, "it's just a list. A To-do list."
"No, but a bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket - before you die."
"But everything I want to do, I want to do before I die, with maybe the exception  of 'go to Heaven'. Why does everything have to be  a bucket list suddenly?"
"Very true," conceded Nigel, "And  what happens now to people who actually need to make a list of different types of bucket?  What do they call their list ?"
But anyway, we finally arrived at Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill Manor and enjoyed it's delicious Gothic atmosphere. 
So we can tick it off the list.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Perfect day

We've been friends with Nick and Jackie for over thirty years.  Right now each of the four of us is concerned about an elderly parent.
We suffer anxiety and regret for our beloved parent, then an aftertaste of bitterness as we worry about our own future decrepitude.
We discussed all this over Jackie's excellent lunch. As per the cliché,  a trouble shared is a trouble halved.
Afterwards we met Bethan and her family and walked through buttercup-gilded meadows past verges foaming with cow parsley to the mellow stone ruins of Minster Lovell. While Innis and Riley paddled in the river I visited the shade of the church with its alabaster tomb of the long-ago lord of the manor.
It was a perfect afternoon.  
Maybe if we could distil it into an elixir and bottle it, it would be a cure for all our old age worries.

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!”