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 puppy😱. 

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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Another Long Walk

A long time since I last posted-that phrase has become a familiar refrain- but it’s true nonetheless. And some lovely people have asked me “Where’s the blog? We’ve not heard from you in a while.” And there are reasons.

Family stuff mostly: becoming emotionally and otherwise entangled in affairs which aren’t really mine, except they are. Family life is not like a safety deposit box- and it appears even those are not so safe as they might be – you can draw boundaries and tell yourself as often as you like that “it’s not my stuff” but the sadness creeps in anyhow. However I have found solace in a number of practices.

1. Making cake and then eating cake. My waistline has suffered but at least I am not pouring gin down my throat.

2. Walking, of course. Long walks in the glorious Kentish countryside wordlessly reconnecting with my creator and creation. The bluebells are out and however brief their appearance is each year they never fail to lift my spirit. As do the newly unfurling baby beech leaves, pale and vulnerable, and persistent.

3. Some attempt at mindfulness which should be called mindlessness I feel as it’s the mind, its prevailing thought patterns which churn and lurch in a pointless circular fashion, which send a mood spiralling downwards. I endeavour to catch my thoughts before they gather pace and while acknowledging them return to focussing and following my breath in and out. Very basic. Very effective.

4. Spending time with the little boys, who are transparent and do not yet have complex needs. A biscuit, a nap, a story, a cuddle.

All these help restore and ground me.

And yes I have external reasons why I haven’t been writing but there is also a sense of unworthiness/perfectionism which requires me to write something ‘good’ or well thought through or uplifting. As if my readers needed me to be a certain kind of writer! How narcissistic is that!

Anyhow I’ve started again and as
Helen and I are about to start on Another Long Walk I have the perfect re entry point to the blog.

We are walking Offa’s Dyke and start next Thursday. Eek! Day one is 17.5 miles. There are 400 stiles on the way. We will have ascended the height of Everest by the time we finish at Prestatyn. The guidebook has so much information it makes me feel weak to read it.

But what have I learned? One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, and lots of cake. Looking forward to it.

Phew!

Well, we made it. And I think we made it well. The first term and a half of granny day care is done. But I’ve not yet dusted.
It should of course be grandparent day care because Mr T shares the duties 75% of the time but the other day I turned my back and found this:

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It had been a particularly gruelling morning which ended with a bin full of poopy nappies and an intricate web of snail trails on the front of my black jumper.

Looking after these boys is very different from having my own kids. Two boys for a start and the older wholly rambunctious. I had a gentle sociable little girl and an equally gentle imaginative boy 18 months later. She wanted to meet as many people as possible and play with their baby equipment, and he lived in his head and played long complicated conflict games with toys strewn across his floor.
William mostly wants to get things out and talk about them. And have me play with them. So we end up doing this.

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And this.

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Every good dinosaur deserves a bonnet. We play much the same games every week and, whereas I went out all the time with my own kids- I realise now for my own mental health and well being- we stay in a lot. Here in deepest Kent there’s no pavement so prams are hard to handle and, truth be told unless the parents leave the equipment ready for me, I find the technology very tricky. So much equipment with many clips, handles and moving parts. So many safety features and so many choices: a perfect metaphor for child rearing in the 21st century. I find it easier to stay home.

We lay Lydia in a pram body unrestrained in the back of our Ford Escort. No one batted an eyelid. It was an old battered Silver Cross pram, but it did both of them and on occasion they travelled and slept in it together. Shocking!
But then my parents’ generation put their babies out in all weathers in a pram at the bottom of the garden, and if they cried, it was good for their lungs.
Previous to that they were wrapped in brown paper if they were chesty and slept in drawers,so far as I can make out. I am not making a judgement on it: we do the best we can with what we have at the time and frankly it was a time of fewer choices and that for me is a relief. (This is a woman who once did all her Christmas food shopping at the local co op. ) I would be paralysed by all the advice and choices available today.

We brought our kids up in a pretty strict Christian home. We prayed and worshipped with them regularly. They were part of a close and supportive wider church family. There’s plenty I’d do differently with what I know now. I’d try not to smack them. The thought of smacking my grandchildren is abhorrent. I’d also lighten up a bit. Lydia once asked me outright, “Is Father Christmas real?” And in the spirit of Christian honesty I told her the truth. I should have been like my hairdresser Mel who is a woman of some wisdom. Her six year old asked her the same question adding the tooth fairy in for good measure. Mel looked her daughter in the eye and and replied slowly and deliberately, “I could tell you, but then all the magic would disappear.”

I’m keeping that one up my sleeve for these two who make me smile and laugh out loud every time I see them.

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Chemin Q-Z

Does it matter to anyone else? Has anyone noticed that I haven’t finished my A-Z? I doubt it, but in the spirit of Mastermind – ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ – I’ll draw a line under the walk (which I didn’t finish) today.

That’s the problem with blog posts: you need to do them while your mind is fresh with ideas and humming. Otherwise they go stale and become arduous and dull to write and probabIy duller still to read. I  can’t imagine how it must feel to have an idea for a novel, or any book really, start all fresh faced and enthused with plot and characters a-buzzing and to then settle into the routine of writing everyday whether you like it or not. Whether you like the characters or feel the plot holds together or not. That’s when it becomes work. And things take years to write and rewrite and how gruelling that must be, (and that’s even before editing and submitting it to be published).  A bit like marriage really. You start off all dewy eyed and hopeful and then after a few years, a few kids maybe, a few quarrels and differences, some not quite resolved, you realise that it’s all an act of faith. That you are building something which is bigger than the sum of its mundane parts and hopefully it all hangs together somehow. But if it works for you both, then great.

Well that was a tangent. Where were we?

Q – you can do without quite a lot. And quote of the day.

Eg “I am not sleeping in a bothy even if it would make a good blogpost.”

“I’d rather be following Jesus than Rasputin.” Which refers to two young men on the chemin. One of saintly beauty who was suffering with his rucksack and the other who looked his evil twin. And one from last year which has stayed with me: “I’m a pilgrim, not a martyr.”

R – Randonnee as opposed to pilgrimage? This walk did feel different. The French have cleverly integrated the chemin into a long distance walk GR65. And lots of walkers were doing just that. It did change the feel of it for me and there wasn’t the attachment and pull onwards that happened last year. Almost everyone booked accommodation ahead, so that meant you had to too. It changes things. More security but less spontaneity, less choice in a way. It was just different.

S – Stuff. Lots of people we spoke to were doing the walk just to see if they could:not just as a physical challenge, though it was that. To see if they could live more simply. And not as a penance, but as a toe in the water experiment. It was for many a time of refreshment  and opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. To have a break from the news and mediated experience we are force fed – if we allow it. It helps me understand fishing and caravanning a little more.

T – travel. Yes, it broadens your mind. I am a homebody and reluctant to be sociable, but I enjoy the snapshots of the lives that intersect for a moment with mine. Last year on O Cebreiro I saw a tiny wizened woman, probably no older than me, in the pouring rain and sleet getting her animals into her farmyard, thick with muck. Tumbledown fences held together with rotting rope. She was wearing an old dress and overcoat and built up wooden clogs. I would like to have taken a photo of her, but it felt impertinent. This is how she lives.

Tired jollies. Better than ‘panger’ – pre dinner anger. When Helen and I get tired it all gets a bit silly and we start making fun of place names and people and all of it, and I expect it saves us from devouring each other … you had to be there.

Underwear. Three pairs of pants and two bras. Not always dry when you put them on, but clean – ish. Seeing other people in their underwear is  – can’t think of a suitable adjective – an education. The three French ladies we met near the beginning had a complete set of night clothes. They performed an extensive toilette. And after vespers they buttoned up their pyjamas to the very top and turned on their sides and started snoring.

Our last day walking began very early with a surreal breakfast. It happened in an underlit kitchen. The coffee had been made the night before and had to be reheated in a kettle. The bread we retrieved from a paper sack like one we buy large quantities of potatoes in. Toothbreakingly stale. And at the table was a man wolfing  down couscous – his own – in a red t shirt and tight pants. Through a gap in the doorway we could see his wife, still in bed. You don’t get these experiences everyday.

Vaseline. Despite much lubrication I still got a blister. Next time, I’ll wear trainers and change my socks more often.

W wifi. What did we do before it? And offering a Welcome. It’s such a gift and so simple. Of course hosts need to make money from the walkers but some do it with grace and some without. Eye contact doesn’t cost anything.

X – can’t think. Y likewise.

Z – we met Zen boy last year who was pretty gorgeous, though we never spoke to him. He consumed a tiny cup of strong coffee with one cigarette slowly and thoughtfully and could make it last an entire Helen and Verity meal . This year we met Zen man – Racing Snake. He was lean and lovely too. Walked in sandals. Surprising what you remember 🙂

But the final Z goes to Katrin of Asperge fame who was telling a horrified roommate that she had set her alarm for 6.15. “But,” she said, ” It’s very Zen.”

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?

Who’s to say…?

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

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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.

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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.

Everything.

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.’ ”

🙂

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#100 happy days revisited

Personally I blame the hashtag.

#don’t see the point.

# seems to be a look at me, search for me, I fit in, I am relevant/original/#on trend.

All of which make me feel like a #grumpy old woman.

Anyway I haven’t done very well with submitting the #photos. They became a bit samey. Quite a lot of food and the occasional blue sky. Waves on the beach and pictures of my current book and half empty packets of biscuits. William in various poses showing his gappy smile which never fails to raise one in me.

But here are some which conjure up happy moments for me. A pebble with a pair of glasses on it. A ticket to a crazy mash up event in Canterbury which involved a folk band, hip hop dancers, clog dancing and Morris dancing as you’ve never seen it and a beat box performer who gazed in to middle distance while making bizarre noises which they all danced to. Strange but great fun.

And two more stones with holes in to add to my collection. These things all made me happy. I wish I could make the photos all the same size and neat. That would satisfy something spectrummy in me, but it wouldn’t make me happy. That’s something different.

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But while a picture paints a thousand words, there are so many elements of happy days which can’t be captured in a photo. The smell of hyacinths. The sound of the wind and waves outperforming the sound of traffic. My garden at the weekend was like the beginning of a Disney film, birds and insects busy and working up to courting. There was even a dopey bee in my greenhouse.

I like the way a waitress pays my dad special attention and gives him his pudding just the way he likes it. The way in turn his thank you is  old fashioned and courteous and so … him. I can’t reproduce these in a photo. They are moments in my memory and I have to be awake and aware to see them. I have to be mindful, present to the now and not rushing past the moment wishing I were somewhere else.

And I think that’s where middle age and maybe even old age could be a blessing. Because there’s not so much to achieve anymore. There’s plenty to do and aspire to and enjoy but the need to achieve, to have something to show for my time, to do more or better than last week feels less powerful. For example, while I enjoy walking and running, I can only do it now. There’s no point my looking at my mileage and times in November. One day I ran nine miles and averaged 10mins/mile. Pretty good for the terrain and conditions. But today I ran 2.5 miles like the proverbial potato and felt as if I had been mashed. Tomorrow I may manage a walk. I will have to wait and see. Right now it’s time for #tea and cake.