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?

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Wait! We’ve not had autumn yet.

It wasn’t the last swim. My daughter, Lydia and I had a spontaneous swim yesterday, it was so warm and still by the sea. It was a vest and pants venture as we hadn’t gone prepared and it was terribly cold going in, but once in, the water was as delightful and exhilarating as it has been all summer. And getting dry was easy, no nasty breezes freezing your parts, the only difficulty was the little orange shape in the corner of the picture.

IMG_2907It was a man with a kayak. He lurked around 200m or so out to sea, of little interest to us, we were more concerned with stopping William eating stones. He’d have a pear in one hand and a pebble in another and forget which was which. But kayak-man was keen to show us his paddling prowess and floated right up to where we were sitting. We sat, she on the changing mat and me on my purple pilgrim coat, air drying, gently swathed in the remainder of our clothes, ie not much and all getting rather damp. Hoping we looked like those Victorian beauties discreetly veiled, we decided not to make a big do of our state of undress and sit in a composed fashion pretending everything was fine. Which it was but he was determined to make contact and beached himself and the kayak sideways on the stones and toppled out. He was wearing middle aged hiking gear, a look I am very familiar with, including a khaki body warmer and taupe cargo shorts. Big thick glasses. No idea of social cues. We are not giving eye contact. Snapping back polite but short answers. I was virtually throwing stones at him but still he advanced.

Bless him, he was very excited as it was his first venture out to sea, having only been on the canal before. It must have been lovely except for the last part when he fell sideways and got soaked. But as we said, no one was watching. We thought no one watched us swim, but I was suddenly aware of a woman stripping down to her bra and pants and entering the water. It was like an advert – one minute she looked all office worker, lipstick and shirt-waister, the next, there she was doing back stroke across the bay. Excellent. Another day stolen from the predations of winter.

Live while you are alive.

Last swim?

September 18th and we swam at lunchtime, and yes it was cold, look at those clouds. They swallowed up the sunshine as soon as we entered the water.Image Image You could paint this picture with just greys!

Is this the end of summer? My wellies are out. The heating is on. The winter duvet is on. I’ve made my first crumble: plum and apple with amaretti in the topping which kept it light. Baked Dorset apple cake, and got half a sack of potatoes in for the winter.

I’ve also made Hugh Fearnley’s mushroom risoniotto, very easy, comforting and not too creamy. While I was stirring the mix I watched Julie and Julia again and resolved again to cook more varied food. But in the winter I want stodge, some food ballast to take me through these next few months. Much as I love fruit and salads, it’s nursery food I crave in winter. And I stick to my old faves. Macaroni cheese, leeks and bacon appears often. Fish pie. Hefty soups with spicy beans and sausage. And I would love more puddings. With custard.

IMG_2901I bought this book for 20p at my local library and while I don’t think I suffer from full blown SAD, I want as many tools as possible to combat the almost inevitable loss of energy and motivation and joie de vivre I feel in the the darker seasons. I’ve not read it all but light boxes are recommended in the first chapter. Mmm, nah, not yet, for now I think go with the flow and follow nature’s direction. Sleep when it’s dark, accept the few extra pounds that accumulate, cook, read, meet friends and family and eat together. Make fires, walk a lot when it’s fine. Walk wrapped up warm when it’s not. Nothing radical.

I have learned to put a few events in place over the winter to prevent me becoming a hermit. Some trips to the cinema or theatre. A trip  to see Helen in Holland perhaps?

Winter tv is often good but I have the attention span of a gnat, and come to things late.  I watched Luther and loved it from behind the sofa cushions. I saw the first two episodes of Game of Thrones and although it was rather bloody and graphjc I really enjoyed it. There’s Strictly waiting in the wings of course. And this year I have got in to the Great British Bake Off, several years after everyone else. Another plan I have is to try some bread-making … watch this space. I may need blue contact lenses for the full effect. Photos to follow, depending on results.

But this evening the sun is shining. All good.  P1000244

One of the things we learned on the Camino was to ask for help when we needed it, so those of you who read this blog: how do you cope with the winter blues?

Suggestions please.

More lovely things


So enjoying this summer. It’s a real one just like they used to be. Image

I am loving:

Walking with old friends in the rolling Dorset countryside.

Many swims. This one began on the sand in Bournemouth. Classy.

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Having picnics.

Eating sweets.

IMG_2828  These are totally yum.

Feeling grateful for being alive, for the time allotted me.

Helen has a friend who practises a form of gratitude journalling.She calls it ‘Today I celebrate’ and focusses her attention on the small things which make her life worthwhile. It may be the coffee which smells so good or a call from a friend. For another person it might be light on the water or birdsong or the fact that the kids slept in till 7am.

Practising an attitude of gratitude is useful.  Recording it is more so. Research has it that that mild to moderate depression can be alleviated by noticing and giving your attention to positive things.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude_journal

At one point I did something called Happy Rambles, a cheesy name for a daily online  gratitude prompt. It saw me through the dark depths of last winter.  If you practise gratitude journalling and reread your entire record from time to time, it provides a map for the people, events and small mercies which nourish you, so, I suppose, continuing the map metaphor, you can return to and revisit those sources of nourishment. Worth a thought.

I’ve done well with my non-vow to swim. It’s been delightful and liberating. And I’ve noticed a number of lumpy middle aged women just like me doing the same, perhaps they were there all the time, perhaps I’ve started a trend 🙂

Today it’s pouring hard as it hasn’t done since Noah, so I am topping up my blog. This nourishes me too in some way I can’t describe. And making cake, lemon polenta, very nourishing. And Thompsons junior are coming for the weekend – toad in the hole for tea: William’s toddler chuckle.

Where is everyone?

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So sometimes it’s too cold to swim, so I indulge in a little beach art. I liked this but my companions didn’t give the outstanding feedback I would have liked. Of course, it’s not quite finished. The tail needs some more work.

Sometimes it’s too cold, and sometimes it isn’t. This is what the beach looked like today. Where is everyone?

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It’s the middle of the summer holidays and the sun is shining. Yes it’s a bit windy, conditions aren’t perfect but there’s a modicum of sand on the beach. Yesterday we (Helen, Jane, Abbi and I)  went wincing and limping over the pebbles to get to the water. Fortunately it shelves really quickly so there’s no room for indecision or pussying about. In you go and within two steps you’re up to your neck. You’re in, you’re committed.  What a relief. And it was great with strong waves and a warm wind to dry by at the end.

So where is everyone? I looked left and right and there in the distance was a self conscious dad and his small son in bright green shorts doing that boy thing of chucking stones in the waves. Nearer me was an extended family of tiny Korean looking people. All wrapped up in windproof layers, socks and trainers and an older woman (probably my age) in the inevitable poke bonnet and mooching about not quite knowing what to do with them selves. “Where’s your picnic?” I wanted to call over. “Come and share mine.”IMG_2797

Admittedly it was modest. Some reduced price Co op strawberries and lots of Kit Kats. But we’d have managed. I am remembering what you do when you go to the beach. You take food.

It was known as the Thompson picnic. Eaten huddled under towels or blankets on the beach, sea mist or no sea mist. Only rain, and big drops at that would make us desert our pitch. Other picnics were consumed in the Volvo, kids in the boot in rear-facing seats, adding their crisps and crumbs and stickiness to the prevailing texture of dog hair.  John and I sat in relative luxury in the front, sharing a flask of coffee, propped in one of those not quite adequate cup holders, steaming up the windscreen. It was all steamy and sweaty and itchy making, nothing really pleasant about it in retrospect. And the picnic was nothing special, just like a school packed lunch really: sandwiches, maybe a pork pie, crisps, box drink, fruit and a chocolate biscuit. My packed lunches would not have passed muster with today’s school diet police, but the kids ate them, or swapped them. And none of us are fat. It sounds hardcore now. But back then in the 80s and 90s everyone I knew did it. Some people had fish and chips at the end of the day: we saved that treat for the last night of our holiday.

In my quest to make the most of the summer (because heaven knows the winter comes soon enough and feels interminable) I have tried to spend some time on the beach most days. If I can bank some good warm days then maybe they will see me through the dark times. I will feel I have had a summer.

I don’t have to swim. I have enjoyed reading my book (The Night Watch – Sarah Waters) and eating flapjack. l am remembering what is was like just to be on the beach, cloud watching, wave watching, listening to the water breaking on the stones. Somehow the background noise is enough to make you feel less self-conscious, if it were completely silent on the beach, I think I might feel uncomfortable and restless. But the white noise of the pebbles and waves lulls me, makes me feel more at ease, like playing whale music to babies gives them something to fall asleep to. And the World Service gives John something else to think about, distracts him from his thoughts, in the middle of the night, but that’s another story.

Making an occasion of it is what I am writing about. So I am not just drifting down to the beach and sort of deciding to go in, or not. I am preparing. Making a flask, taking biscuits, keeping my beach stuff ready, making it easy to go when I decide to. Arranging circumstances so my chances of going are greater than if I didn’t prepare and, when I do go, my ‘beach experience’ will be enhanced.

This is all very small scale of course but I think what when we brought our families up we made an occasion out of not much. A trip to the swings with box drink and some Rich Teas! How sad does that look on paper, but it worked. They felt like we had done something that day. I felt like I’d done something. I feel for all those local kids who weren’t on the beach today. I imagine them doing some pseudo sport on a screen or with a handset. Or brow beating their parents into an overpriced trip to a funfair/theme park. They are missing out on just being kids outside. Maybe that’s what I am doing aged nearly 54. Just being a kid outside.

This is something I wrote a week ago. Same sort of theme really.  (The tail needs more work.)

Summer started in May with the change

From my nanny-knitted  cardigan

and itchy-waistband-skirt

to airy blue gingham, short socks

with Playdeck sandals.

No vest.

Home from school, gulp down orange squash and digestives,

whip off grubby socks and off for long evenings

spent circling the cul de sac on my old bike.

Wide games and handstands

“Knife, fork, spoon!” and British Bulldog.

We were having fun and we knew it.

Because winter meant scuttling to school

in heavy gaberdine

or duffle coats and stiff scarves

Baggy woollen tights needing constant hitching.

Wet play lurking in damp cloakrooms,

pinging infants gloves on threads of elastic.

Reading faded Beanos.