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.

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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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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.

Homeward bound

I’m coming home, I’ve done my time.
It’s just too darn hot.
So I’m sitting in a railway station with a ticket for my destination.
Enough.
Actually I am milking the wifi of this hotel next to the station. H and I checked out at 7.30 and hopped over the road to buy tickets home. She got her train to Holland and I am waiting till midday for mine. So I checked back in, ate my body weight in croissants and had another shower re packed my rucksack.
In our bin are Hs boots, a lurid pink technical top of mine – never liked it but it would have saved lighting a fire on a mountain top emergency- my toothbrush, paste, Vaseline etc etc – I mean business I am really going home.
I feel a bit sad but mostly relieved. It’s been a very different experience and lots of things conspired to make it tricky.
Lots of little things:these are all mine 🙂
Recurrent small blisters which almost dry out overnight then get rubbed into existence again by their being pounded in the hot sweaty caves of our boots.
Self generating grit in my socks.
Heat rash!
Bites on my torso. How? I am not naked ex at night. Not a nice thought which ever way you look at it.
Soreness between my teeth.
Petty body grumbles but they add up.
Wrong kit. We could do this walk in trainers, sandals even, not boots but had it rained we would have needed them.
Washing not drying. Huge humidity. 75% today. So despite our various wiles- ever used the cupboard drying technique? ask Helen for details- and taking every opportunity to charm the locals into using their lines, we have damp kit.
And a few more which no doubt I ll go into in another post. But the heat is our nemesis. Last year too cold. This year too hot! Last night we agreed that while we could cope with all the other small annoyances the heat was just insuperable.

So I’ll be seeing you all a little sooner than planned. Just off to catch my train from Cahors to Ashford. We made it nearly halfway: but we’ll be back.

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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?

The Writers Almanac

I get this delivered into my inbox everyday and I am grateful. The last few days’ poems have been a delight, and speak to me of that late summer feeling when every sunny day is a gift and a tiny triumph over the looming dark days of winter.

It’s an old style almanac: a nice mix of information and whimsy but read by Garrison Keillor  who surely must have one of the most listenable-to voices on the planet.

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/#

And in case you don’t click on links here’s today’s poem.

Take Love for Granted
by Jack Ridl
Assume it’s in the kitchen,
under the couch, high
in the pine tree out back,
behind the paint cans
in the garage. Don’t try
proving your love
is bigger than the Grand
Canyon, the Milky Way,
the urban sprawl of L.A.
Take it for granted. Take it
out with the garbage. Bring
it in with the takeout. Take
it for a walk with the dog.
Wake it every day, say,
“Good morning.” Then
make the coffee. Warm
the cups. Don’t expect much
of the day. Be glad when
you make it back to bed.
Be glad he threw out that
box of old hats. Be glad
she leaves her shoes
in the hall. Snow will
come. Spring will show up.
Summer will be humid.
The leaves will fall
in the fall. That’s more
than you need. We can
love anybody, even
everybody. But you
can love the silence,
sighing and saying to
yourself, “That’ s her.”
“That’s him.” Then to
each other, “I know!
Let’s go out for breakfast!”

🙂
“Take Love for Granted” by Jack Ridl, from Practicing to walk Like a Heron. © Wayne State University Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)