The bed of forlorn hope

Today I did something I should have done months ago. I repotted some scented geraniums I’ve carefully nursed through a couple of winters. Why did it take me so long? I knew it had to be done: I love these plants. I like their flowers and their perfume that they release as you brush by them. Some are lemon scented, some of them liquorice.

I like their tenacity and grit: they survive much neglect. A good thing as Katetastic and I bought some from a specialist nursery in the Weald and I couldn’t find it again on my own.

What held me back? I could just have thrown them in the compost bin, out of sight out of mind. It would have been a clean end for them. Instead they limped along looking accusingly at me until eventually the manky shriveled leaves outnumbered the healthy ones. Time for action.

(I know what stopped me. It was the thought of carrying the massively heavy compost bags, because of course I must get the three for two bargain. I just couldn’t face it. Pitiful really. But that’s the way of things often. For me at least the small things trip me up. Note to self. Address the little things. I heard some advice on the radio about people with depression. It was: Make your bed. )

I bought the compost and got it home -it took all of 35 minutes and approached those poor pot bound plants. Mmm how to do this? The aforesaid Kate my horticultural consultant is off having Alpine fun. (Hope that doesn’t mean something dodgy. )

They were so pot bound it took a knife and a lot of tugging to release them from their pots. They didn’t take to the change easily, nor give up their old homes without a struggle. With one of them I had to choose between the pot and the plant. No contest – choose the living thing. Smash the pot.

Image Image

So into their nice new pots with room to grow and not have their roots circling frustrated round the contours of the container. Water. Feed. Fingers crossed.



But some were too far gone. They were leggy. Now that’s a nice thing in a teenager or a dog but in plants, no. Looking about me I saw this. Sorry about all the horse poo pics.


I remember planting some dahlia tubers which promised blowsy colour like saucy seaside postcards. Where are they now?

I cut reluctant growers no slack, so I decided the remaining ailing plants who have suffered long enough in restrictive pots can enjoy a summer of freedom. The dahlia tubers must have shrunk away from my trowel, they were nowhere to be found. So this is my bed of flowers of the Forlorn Hope. Into it have gone all the odds and ends lurking in corners of my garden. It’s not planned. It’s not pretty. They will do or die. But I think at least they’ll be ok for taking cuttings from. Everything is metaphor. I’ll keep you posted.


Who’s to say…?

In the corner of my bedroom there’s a vase containing two of last year’s alliums.

Everyday I look at them and sometimes I see them. You know what I mean.

A good friend asked me a few years ago, Verity how do you hear God speak to you? And I was a little flummoxed as I wanted her to remain my friend but I didn’t really think of God in those terms much anymore.

I don’t go to church. I don’t read the bible as I did. I don’t ask much of him as I used to. I don’t pester him with requests and temper my tiresome prayers with praise. But I feel closer to him than ever. And I believe in his goodness and faithfulness.

So I gave her this reply. I find God through metaphor. I also find God in nature and solitude. In stillness and presence. In poetry, and it doesn’t have to be lofty. In everyday things.

Here are some more alliums: this year’s.


They are of course stunning and upright
and glorious. They are also crowded round with self sown nigella which I don’t have the heart to pull out. It would
show the alliums to better advantage but those beauties stand tall and proud anyhow.

And that’s how it is when we’re young. Whether we knew it or not, we were pretty darn gorgeous. I look at young people today and find their youth so beautiful and precious.

(And soon it’s over and you find yourself a dried out husk in the corner of the bedroom. No just joking.)

But who’s to say one is more beautiful than another? They are simply at different stages of being. And the naked elegance of the flower which has dropped its blooms has its own glory. It’s vulnerable but still strong. It has a kind of dignity.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3 v11.


June 4th

A year ago yesterday Helen and I walked into Santiago de Compestella having spent nearly six weeks walking across Northern Spain. It feels like yesterday and also a distant memory. It was a huge and varied experience, up there with childbirth for the full monty. We arrived sweaty and elated and a little disbelieving that we’d made it. We hugged each other and lots of other people. Had our picture taken by another pilgrim and then sat in a corner of the sunlit square, taking time to arrive as our guru, John Brierley advised. I had a silent weep, of joy I think now, relief maybe, though we never really considered giving up.


We checked into the swankiest hotel on the square and made full use of their sparkling facilities.

In some way it compensated for the dire places we had stayed along the way, however there was still a piper playing strangely unconnected notes outside our window from before dawn till well after lights out.

The fluffy white towels were just as we imagined them. And imagining them had helped us when the towels had been grubby and thin.

But the varied experience was all part of it.

The blisters, the snorers, the borers, the unimaginative menu, the hail and snow. The quiet pleasure of leaving an anonymous village before dawn and feeling the sun on our backs as it came up, casting our shadows long before us as we walked westwards.


The daily ritual of café con leche.

And not knowing what we might find around the next corner, unexpected kindness and beauty.

One of the joys for Helen and me was the lack of planning. Normally hyper-organised we let a lot things just fall into place and felt the freer for it. For that time it was right.




Three years ago yesterday my daughter got married and the wedding and reception came together in a fluid and joyful way as a result of months of thought and careful planning. It wasn’t without hitch or incident, the bat, the fight, the gas going out, but on the whole it was great.

And since then, so much has happened. I have two grandsons. Both of whom were surprises and both bring life and smiles and energy to my world. Who’d be without them for not being planned?


My dad had a stroke not long after the wedding and is with some courage, rebuilding his world. My son fell in love and then out of love with a beautiful girl and her daughter who are now lost to us. Today I heard of the death of a young woman I never met but who had so much to live for. Her loss makes me weep, even at some remove.

So what am I saying? Sometimes we plan and we need to. It is fitting. Sometimes plans are unnecessary and we can enjoy spontaneity and the flow of life in all its fullness. Sometimes things happen and they knock you sideways and off your feet, on to your back and kick you in the guts. You don’t know what’s around the next corner. So live today. Say yes.

Live while you are alive.

Buy those flowers. Smile at him.  Invite them over.

Look up.





I thought I’d deleted this picture below, but it snuck in.






Dressing up

This is a piece which I wrote and read at on a writing holiday, not long ago. The theme was Changes. The starting point was Mr Benn, a bowler hatted cartoon figure, who, older readers will remember, used to go in to a dressing up shop and have adventures depending on the outfit he tried on. Sounds strange now but all very innocent.

Mother of the Bride

When my daughter got married it became clear that her ideas for the wedding were markedly different from my rather more modest ones.“The mother of the bride is the second most important person ON THE DAY” she explained, and added, not quite under her breath, “And should dress accordingly.”

Having attended countless of her friends’ weddings she was aware of nuances, shades of theme played out among the floral arrangements and canapés.  “There’s country Mum, and then there’s rustic. Terracotta vases are rustic.”

She was right of course. And we were going for classy country wedding – there were to be no hay bales and no barn dancing. (Though had we suggested a pony and trap to take her away from the church, she may have been tempted.)

So when it came to my outfit, she had opinions. Naturally a casual dresser I dreaded going to the smart ladies of John Lewis and parading my sagging body in something formal and tasteful for their close scrutiny. Ever the coward I sent off for six dresses to be tried, and returned postage paid, should none suit.

They arrived and I tried them on in turn, amid a packaging-mountain of tissue and card. I gravitated towards a gauzy, floaty floral number which had looked very pretty online. On the 17 year old who modeled it. I however looked like Titania, Queen of the Fairies. And not in a nice way.

In contrast the dress suit made me look like a posh secretary. All I needed was a chignon and a notebook. It was all too formal, too short, too shiny. And too tight.

Eventually I found a sleeveless shift dress with a clever twist about here – just under my ribs and to the left. Where another woman’s waist might be. It was quite fitted but cleverly concealed, maybe even flattered my mature curves.

And after the dress, the shoes – some black patent Mary Janes with a slim heel, high enough to show an elegant ankle, but not so high as to cause a wobble.

Then the hat: and it must be a hat, not a fussy fascinator. And no glasses. The style queen insisted I practise with my lenses.

With the hat I finally found my inner MOTB. Choosing my hat was just like dressing up as kid and the best fun yet. Helen and I both tried on dozens in all the Canterbury stores and finally settled on a wide rimmed, black creation with feathers and frou frou. It was quite a statement and I peeped out from under it like Princess Diana.

A nipped in jacket, silky shapely dress, heels and hat, a neat bob and nicely hairdresser-straightened hair, eyeliner just short of Claudia Winkleman, and some strategic facial waxing, and I was ready.


My son slowly walked me down the aisle past the seated congregation to wait for the most important person that day. I felt every eye on me and for once, enjoyed it.

My oldest friend remarked afterwards, “When I saw Josh walking a tall woman down the aisle, I thought ‘She must be somebody important – I hardly recognized you.’ ”