Sheer fun

This has been a very difficult year. So many challenges and tough decisions and sad stuff and bad stuff and it’s not over yet. Not only is the year not over but we’re not through with the tough, bad and sad stuff either. 

So we decided – I decided – to add another complication to our lives and get an Airdale puppyđŸ˜±. 

This decision followed  a brief trip to Holland to see lovely Helen, and having seen three such dogs cavorting on the beach. In fact there were hundreds of dogs at the beach all playing in the sand and scooting about with their upright and oh so healthy looking Dutch owners. Really it could have been an advert for dog food or the benefits of dog ownership or even a mass trespass of dog walkers. There were that many you could not but smile. https://goo.gl/images/Z3XZw2

It was like this times ten. And it made me very happy, which was the point of going. That and cycling and walking many miles jabbering on to my dear friend. 

Anyhoo that’s when I decided. Enough pros and cons. Enough shall we shan’t we? There’s always going to be a reason not to do it. Get the puppy. I rang, we drove to Southampton and paid our money and brought him home. 


 So small and so cute with slightly wistful eyes. This is Douglas. Dougie. We already have Tom so two more and we have a McFly tribute band. Anything is possible. 

Doug the dog has been with us for three and a half weeks. And he had already been worth every penny we paid for him. He is everything a puppy should be. A chewing, racing, chasing, falling over on the bends, poop monster.  

Pardon the pants! He’s not staying small and cute -he’s now leggy and gangly and a complete wrecker. He’s met a number of dogs some of whom made it plain they didn’t care for his full on love assault. Was he abashed or diminished by this? Not in the least. He backs off a little and tries to engage them again, from a different angle. 

It’s hard work and feels like madness at moments but we are laughing aloud every day whilst wiping up his piddle and rescuing books and toys from his clutches

So for once the Thompsons did not overthink and and analyse. We just did it. Watch this space. 

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Do it now

This was the scene yesterday. I was by the sea and swam in warm gentle waves. I read some of Wolf Hall and sat with bare arms and legs enjoying what might be my last swim this year. It was glorious.

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And today about the same time this is what I am looking at. Tommy’s first wet walk.

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Everything changes. The leaves that are green turn to brown.  Enjoy it all as much you can. It’s over far too quickly.

And while I am on this theme.

Off now to watch Strictly with my daughter, stir ( and eat) some risotto and help put the boys to bed.

Better get used to blogging by iPhone

We leave on Thursday. My bag is not yet packed but I have everything I need. Vaseline, all purpose shampoo/cleanser, euros i collect tomorrow. I have some collating to do. Some Karrimor sandals that served me well last year and a very thin lightweight running top – bright pink – these are unaccountably in the new flat by the sea. I found myself weighing my pants on my digital scales as recommended by Mary Berry ( the scales, not weighing your drawers) and then thought “this way madness lies” and just picked three pairs.

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I am not taking the blankets though it is tempting. It’s gone all cold and nasty here and though we’re promised tropical heat by the end of the week I think, I hope SW France will be warmer still.

It feels strange to be going. Last time we hit the ground running. I’d been to Center Parcs and a funeral two days before. It was Helen’s birthday as we left. The mountain pass opened the day before we crossed the Pyrenees. It felt like the beginning of something. Spring perhaps? But this feels like the end of something. It’s getting murky and dark as I tap! I feel as though I should be battening down the hatches and making a casserole. Instead I am peering at maps and mentally marking the halfway stage. Cahors I think.

But it is the start of so much. The children go back to school this week. My grandchildren will move into the next village while I am away and as grandparents we will be getting more involved in their precious little lives.

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Can’t move that picture:( anyhow that’s halfway.

This venture feels different: we are not walking to Santiago. The pull won’t be as strong I imagine. But nevertheless it’s a pilgrim route and has its own mystery. I heard the head of Eton speaking of teaching in its ancient halls. He said in many ways it’s a learning and teaching space like any other, but admitted that the weight of history and the sheer number of preceding masters and students has an inexpressible effect. I think this walk will be similar: thousands have been there before us but this is our time and it will be up to us to make it our own.

So many questions and wonderings. I like this poem. Mary Oliver again. This is the end of ‘The Summer Day’

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

There are so many reasons to play it safe but, but we all die at last and too soon. And our lives feel increasingly precious, if not wild. Why not then, if you’re offered it, have an adventure?  So for the next month I hope to be strolling through God’s good earth in my favourite season with a dear friend. What could be better?

Not long now

Two months, TWO MONTHS (!) since I last blogged. And here is an update on my forlorn hope plants.

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Haven’t they done well? Marvellous what a transplant, some intermittent watering and lots of neglect will do.

I’ve had a lot of ideas for blogs, mostly they come when I am out running or walking ie not at a computer. I am not sure how interesting my musings at home are but I know, don’t I? – that writing about trips away are popular with readers.

And we have another one planned.

Last year Helen and I did Our Long Walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostella. On the way we met a number of people who had begun the walk further back along The Way. Some had begun at Vezelay, some at Le Puy en Velay and one from Haarlem – rather alarmingly she had left her family on 1st March and was making her way to Santiago – this was late May. They added a lot to our experience and all said that the walk through France was worth doing. And that the food was better.

So this year Helen and I are attempting to walk from Le Puy which I think is in Auvergne to SJPP in the Basque country. It’s another 500 miles and through some beautiful country side in SW France. We said last year we would do this but now, now we have to make good on our promise. We have the kit, we have the tickets, we have the guidebooks.IMG_3937

There’s nothing like the sainted Brierley this year. We enjoyed his guidebook at many levels. His relief maps and tips were useful and his opinions and honest spirituality were a good starting point. He was the ‘Learn from Me’ parent and we were rebellious adolescents: we enjoyed disagreeing with him and I personally defaced his publication with smart remarks. “Oh really Mr Brierley, 18 km with no shelter and no water is sublime on the meseta. Really? You should get out more.”  (I heard a marvellous quote this morning on radio 4, that a mother’s place is in the wrong. So true.) But like a parent he earned our grudging respect, so much so that I have bought three of the same guidebook for different purposes. One I lost because I left the hostel before dawn and didn’t check my kit properly. One for snipping up, scrap booking and defacing. And one to read and show.

This year’s guides are sterile in comparison. Heavy on the maps and a tad clinical and, alarmingly, Miam Miam Dodo ( Yum Yum Bye Byes) is in French. Both of us have some French and are hoping the total immersion experience will bring all that vocabulary flooding back. But none of this gets any easier as we age. I will celebrate my 55th birthday on this walk and find reaching for the correct English word like feeling into the back of dark cupboard feeling pretty certain there’s a useful pair of shoes in there, but being unable to lay my hands on them instantly. So heaven only knows what it will be like in French.

I made a list of all the words we learned in Spanish last year and it runs to around 150, maybe more. So as I went with five: “Dos cervesas por favor – Gracias” – I am hoping the ratio of improvement will be similar, as actually deep down, very deep in a wardrobe of my brain which may back onto Narnia, I know a lot of vocabulary and indeed some grammar. I’ll let you know.

It’s a strange feeling this year. Last time I was nervous and many things were complete unknowns. This time we have more idea. We have honed our kit list and acquired those important merino base layers. And our thermals bought in the hellhole which is Carrion Regardless are coming with us. And Helen has done lot of snoring research and bought some industrial ear plugs.

I don’t feel so nervous.  The walking will be fun, mostly and that’s the bit I really like. The stages are graded by difficulty green, orange and red. There are three red days.

The food should be better  – could it be worse? And the accommodation will be French. Say no more. I’ll let you know.

 

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

 

 

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Desert Island Discs

Listening to Jack Dee On Desert Island Discs this morning I was struck how genuine he seemed. He wasn’t playing mind games with Kirsty Young and attempted – it felt to me – to answer her questions with candour. He said he chose his discs with the idea in mind that he couldn’t imagine never hearing them again. Interesting. His selection was not particularly memorable. Some Bob Dylan, Bob Newhardt, the theme to Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads… none of them appeal to me much but they shed light on his world.

Less classical music is played these days and many of today’s guests choose ‘light’ music which is meaningful to them. Likewise Kirsty asks more probing questions, so the programme has a more confessional tone. We feel we get to know the guests better, in the same way that a person’s bookshelves tell yo something about them, their music is revelatory.

Which eight discs would I choose? I have asked this question of myself many times, and driven my family nuts with it.  Because it changes: what I choose today, I wouldn’t tomorrow. Music has associations. If I were thinking of family, I would choose Cole Porter for my father, or should that be Kinderzenen?

Or maybe The Grand Old Duke of York which he played for my grandson William on Tuesday. Him doing this for me is one of my earliest memories. For my mum I would choose The Dream of Gerontius with Janet Baker whose voice I know she loves. For Lydia, so many tunes to choose from, but maybe some Shania – Feel like a woman? All those Sunday lunchtimes belting it out while the roasties were cooking.

But these are my tunes. Not theirs. No matter how meaningful the association may be, this music would be for me. What I could not imagine ever hearing again?

Up there must be Dido’s Lament, either by Jeff Buckley or Alison Moyet.

I first heard this piece in the car several years ago on a programme called Soul Music. It moved me so much I stopped the car and wept.

Another choice would be Simple Gifts:

I don’t go for the pics much but Alison Krauss sings so well.

I get stuck around here at two discs because memories begin interfering and I start attaching songs to people. Which is fine, but like this blog, it’s all about me. Cue McFly.

Anyhow this started me looking at my cd collection which sits neglected in a corner of my kitchen. Which of these tunes have lasting appeal? I can’t remember some of them. So I thought I’d play my way through a few – easier than reading all the books you own and haven’t read, or finished : should be only an hours investment for each cd.

So this morning in between hoovering I played Horslips, an Irish folk band which Mr T introduced me to in Liverpool all those years ago and it (and he) seemed so exotic, energetic and edgy. But when I listened to it this morning the energy was still there but the music sounded innocent and untutored. I confess I didn’t make it to the end of the cd.  I then listened to Eagles Greatest Hits. Hotel California and Take it to the Limit still stand out but that cd remained unfinished too. I just don’t have the staying power. I don’t think I’d be bothered if I never heard them again. So I’ll keep on thinking. And listening.

Rather than being tied to the past and its associations, maybe it’s preferable to be open to what’s happening right now, so in my Youtube search this morning I came across this.

Fitting today as this time last year Helen and I were halfway through the Camino and at our lowest, hungriest and coldest point. Eating, or not eating, snail risotto and rice soup.  But a few days later we had bought our longjohns and things felt better.   Who knows what’s round the next corner? Another corner. Another song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work in progress

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Some of you know that every now and then I go to an art class. It isn’t really a class but Clare the artist who lives on the opposite side of the hill from me, has a slot for me and John and whoever to come and play with paint in her her studio.

A fortnight ago in glorious October sunshine she got me outside with an enormous sheet of blank paper and presented me with a vase of sunflowers. They were stunning and of course I could never do them justice but I loved having a go. She has encouraged me to look at the subject rather than my work, so the heads were easy to do and full of energy. Stalks less so and I didn’t get the vase right at all. The flowers would never stand up the way I drew them. I was disappointed as I was pleased with the flowers. I wanted to cut them out and use them in something else.

Then Clare – wise woman – said, ” Creativity starts when you make a mistake.” And she’s right. (” A man who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Einstein this time ).

She then proceeded to help me disguise my mistake and I had a go printing with wilting sunflower leaves and getting messy with acrylic paint. I filled in the leafy blanks with inks this week. Oil pastels, inks and acrylics. and then I am going to collage newsprint into the background. ( Not the work of a moment, she warned me, knowing my need for instant gratification).

So here I am on Monday afternoon, tearing up newspaper and making my sunflowers stand out from their drab background. Easier than trying to make that vase stand on a table, I’ll tell you. I’ve orange tissue paper saved from a Le Creuset shop for that.

October 7th

I know, I know, two posts in a day!

Another day snatched from winter. I was going to the bank in Hythe, had finished my chores and then drove along the sea front, saw a woman, emerging Ursula Andress-like from the waves. The sun was shining and I was jealous.

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So home I went, got my swimmers and in I plunged. I did the same yesterday and the identical programme, The Food Programme,  was playing on Radio 4 on both occasions. It was celebrating the slow cooker and pressure cooker which both suffer from an image problem. They’re thought of as seventies, brown, orange and frumpy. But how wrong can we be? Slow cooking is right on trend in this frugal age, making the most of those cheaper cuts. And a charming professor of physics made a very good case for parboiling potatoes in a pressure cooker before roasting. It breaks down the starch most effectively making for a fluffy outside. Ok, I’ll dig it out.

The weather was predicted to be 18* and the water not much cooler. It was still marvellous and I made pedestrians and cyclists jealous, of that I am certain.

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Yet another snap of sunny Hythe. Aren’t I lucky? Now I know when I enjoy something I can become evangelical to the point of forced conversions, but…

What I’ve learned this summer from so much swimming:

Be prepared. Take your kit with you. All of it, all the time and rinse it out when you’re home ie look after yourself in the same way you looked after the kids.

Once you decide to go in, don’t hang about. Don’t overthink. There’s always a reason not to do it.

Put to bed the childish fear of ‘being out of my depth’. The beach shelves so steeply that if I had to stay in the shallows, I’d be scraping my tummy on the pebbles. Of course I am out of my depth but I don’t let that dominate my thoughts. If I relax and swim gently, the tide will swoosh me back to shore. Everything is metaphor.

And swimming takes me out of my head. Not being expert I have to concentrate on what I am doing, you can’t do that and worry.

So what shall I do when the sun goes in?

Scottish Holiday take two

Yay! I did it! I bagged my first Munro. Admittedly it was one with a nice clear path up and down and only a bit of nasty scrambling in places.

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How about this for an itinerary? Up before 5 in Gatwick Travelodge, having had our curry the night before, (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it). Then the tasty BA omelette at 7.45am. Still good. Arrive, pick up car and be climbing the long steep path up Ben Lomond by 11. At Glasgow we saw some hardcore,
somewhat wild looking and hairy climbers with stacks of gear at the airport which (I think)made John feel wistful for what might have been.

Instead there he is plodding up what is really a very long stumbly hill with his wife, who at the top, sensibly refused the adventure of coming down a different route. Because it was another time when you couldn’t see the path more than three steps ahead and the guidebook said the path was for the sure footed.

Great. Not me then.

Yet.

Fantastic view from half way back down.

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