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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I wish you kept a blog: take two

I agree. I have some friends and family who live quietly interesting lives and I am interested. I am going to post about my perceived need for originality in blogging and why when I try that I shoot myself in the foot.

When I think about a blogpost, which I do quite often, it’s often when I am out walking or running. I see a crop of toadstools or a broken gate or some such and it gets me thinking and my thoughts just spread out like an ink blot on paper which is just lovely and relaxing and playful. I don’t have a notebook to hand, like a proper writer would and so I have to try to remember them. Hard for the sporadically functioning middle aged mind, but one tries. Still, many promising blog posts are lost by the time I’ve changed my socks and I get caught up with washing and meals and the stuff of life and much of that spontaneous creativity is lost.

Who was it, Walt Whitman or Thoreau who went into the woods in order to live deliberately? “Thoreau”, reples Wikipedia and I am reminded that his sojourn there in supposed isolation was facilitated by his mother and sister who did his laundry and brought him food. http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2012/05/henry-david-thoreau-and-the-paradox-of-self-sufficiency/ Where would he have been without them?  Much thinner even than the gaunt figure we see in the link.

Nonetheless he took steps to simplify his life and find out what vein in the daily tasks of living was most rich in interest, and walking was fruitful to reflection and processing and, lucky him, he didn’t have to think about clean pants or tuck.

Back to me.

I think about what I write. What I might write. I have no idea why people read what I write but they do and sometimes they comment, which I enjoy. It makes it more of a conversation, less of a monologue.

I’d like it to be original but I realise with all the blogs, books and information in the world it’s hardly going to be. And if I overthink these posts they die in the water. Some of the the most popular blogs are about ordinary things, that many of us do. Being a parent. Drinking coffee. Knitting.

So if I put to rest my grandiose notions of being original, what’s left? Random reflections on my very ordinary life? Yes I suppose, there’s nothing terribly intellectual or profound. But I hope my voice comes through in these posts. I hope they sound like me, which is gentle and curious and often amused by the world. And more and more full of wonder. I wonder at the everydayness of things and enjoy them so much more than when I was young. And it’s that voice, my individuality which is unique and ‘speaks’.

Writing is either alive or dead. It speaks to you or it doesn’t. We read and hear so much which lies flat on the page. My daughter recently told me of a book she had been given which she threw away because of the fatuousness of the first page. It described a life she neither recognised nor had any interest in. More than that didn’t feel authentic. Maybe what sets apart all those blogs about parenting and sobriety is their genuineness and honesty.

I write a few emails, fewer letters. Even phone calls are less numerous than they used to be. Texting is so quick and Facebook offers fun but illusory friendship. I follow a few people on Instagram and get a snapshot of their world, in this country or abroad. I so enjoy it. The light and the shade. The pictures of dogs, food and family, shopping and sunsets. No pressure, but I wish you kept a blog.

Walking in sunshine

Today has been a beautiful day after so many days of rain and nasty coughs. Moreover I’ve done no significant exercise for about a month, and I’ve eaten my fair share (and then some) of Christmas treats, and Mr T is off today so out we went to do this walk.

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The book was published in 1986 and much has changed in 27 years but it’s so delightfully illustrated i really wanted to use it. However past experience warned me that I needed a map in addition.

It was a glorious walk but muddy in the extreme: wonderful views of the marsh and some challenging terrain.

This was taken from the top near Lympne Castle.

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And this is looking back up.

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But inbetween this happened.
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Just as we met the only other intrepid walkers of that day who were warning us of treacherous mud further down. They saw me fall flat. John waited till we were almost at the canal before he toppled. Neatly and discreetly. (I laughed anyway.)
Not the most attractive of photos I realise, and I did intend to go to Sainsburys afterwards…
But despite the humiliation and the bruises it was worth it just to be out there. Milky coffee from a flask and Christmas cake at the top. More turkey and ham pie at home. What’s not to like? Aren’t we lucky?
I might need a new map.
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Preparing for Camino

It’s been a long time since I posted. Lots of reasons but the long dark cold winter meant that my mood felt dark and cold and that too lasted longer than I wanted. And I didn’t want to inflict that on anyone else.

There have been bright moments of course. Here’s one:Image

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And there’s another.

Two small people full of colour, ideas and energy: rascals both and I love them for it. They add those qualities to my middle aged life. I’ve written before about my need for shape structure and this winter has felt a bit flabby. Rather dull and lacklustre. Held together by dinners with family and friends – yum always, a few films – Cloud Atlas stands out in my memory, a half hearted attempt at the 5:2 diet  but frankly it’s been too darn cold to miss meals. There’s been a long wait for spring, but it’s coming, they tell us temperatures will reach double figures this weekend and not a moment too soon.

Anyhow, anyhow my point is that there has been nothing in the pipeline, on the horizon, nothing to aim for. I have completed a few small projects. I nursed some geranium cuttings through a blastingy cold wInter – have I mentioned how cold it’s been? I knitted my grandson a hat, but Lydia told me it made him look like a window cleaner because I’d left the bobble off. And I have been completely outgrannied in the knitting department by the other very competent Nana who can do cables and patchwork and line blackout curtains and suchlike.

Other fun? I have been to an arty lady and experimented in her workshop with paint and ink and tearing up bits of paper (not all in one session). What art I did at school was nothing like this. As I remember it I mostly washed out jam jars and tried to retrieve my paintings from the dirty brown shapes that descended on them. Much prefer this way, but I do have a fixation with brown. My work heads almost unerringly that way.

Fitness has gone by the by, what with the small dog dying and only having a doddery, deaf hound to take out. He’s not silly. He puts his nose outside and gauges the level of activity required for the day. Anything below 5 degrees or in a easterly wind means a very short out and back walk. So what I needed was a challenge, a focus.  And here it is.

My friend Helen and I often walk together. It started when our kids were small and we both had dogs which needed exercise. We met several times a week and stomped round the streets of Rochester or the Kings’ School playing fields, the so called Alps. We talked a lot and once one dog, Billy who lives on, got bored walking round and round the rugby pitches being ignored by the two yattering women, and decided to take himself home. We found him twenty minutes later on my door step when we came back for second breakfast.

Walking progressed and we walked and talked our way through the kids’ adolescence, their exams and experiments, broken hearts and marriages, (theirs, not ours) and and into young adulthood. We found a book of Kentish walks and we’ve done 10 out of 15 or so of them. We walked the Jurassic Coast and round the Isle of Wight and other such coastal delights, and this year we wondered about Northumbria and maybe incorporating a retreat.

And then came a quantum leap: Helen said, “You know Verity, we could do this when we’re 60, 70, 80 even – (here’s hoping) – why don’t we look at something we won’t be able to manage then?” It wasn’t that  – it was much more punchy and clever, but that was the gist of it.

And we did. Somehow, we came up with the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. To be continued. Ha!

Walking without dogs


A month ago the little dog I spoke of so fondly in my last post was put to sleep. She developed kidney failure and her health deteriorated rapidly. She died on Christmas Eve on the sofa which she always itched to sleep on but was seldom allowed. Now I wished I’d let her. Her passing – I’ve always loathed that expression, but it fits here – was quiet: she passed almost imperceptibly from life to death, being stroked and gently spoken to by two people who loved her. I hope I have, and I wish you, as easy a passing.

She has left a big hole in my life and a huge absence in our home. For such a small creature she had an enormous presence. I wrote how she only wanted to be close to me, which meant of course that she followed me from room to room, I found it mildly irritating, but she was always there. In addition she greeted each arrival with frenzied barking, peed on the floor with excitement or anxiety and then rolled over in a quite unseemly manner to have her tummy rubbed.

I miss her. Not just her presence, although my eyes travel to the sofa every morning expecting  to see her anxiously wagging, “Will she shoo me off or can I stay?” But as every dog owner knows, having a pet structures your day. Dogs need walking and ours had two decent walks everyday. And then there’s the feeding and hoovering up their hair and so on. I didn’t even play with her much, I didn’t need to, but other people would miss that I know. My mum spends time grooming her dogs, both she and they find the repetitiveness soothing. She also talks to them. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have.

There’s a big hole in my life. There is a loss. During bereavement counselling and much listening training, lists are compiled of types of loss. So many come easily to mind: death, divorce, redundancy etc but it’s not long before someone says ” the death of a pet.” And of course being a nice person and a vet’s wife to boot I would nod my head with due empathy and acknowledge them. But somewhere inside, although I would never have said so out loud, I didn’t think that really counted. It wasn’t up there with the rest of those losses.

And in some ways I was right I think. For most of us the death of a pet is a horrible, totally forseeable event but not like losing your mother or a child or your job or reputation. But I was confusing loss with tragedy. I know what tragedy is: tragedy has visited our family on more than one occasion and left me empty, breathless and nauseated with grief. This isn’t it. In my current situation though we are talking about loss and your sense, your feeling of loss is as valid as mine. There’s no quantifying it.

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Anyhow I have an extra two hours a day and although I have longed for a dog free life now it’s almost here – Billy our first dog, senile and deaf, his eyesight dimming, remains – I am not sure like it. I am getting far less exercise and now have to do that weird thing walking without a dog. It’s ok but I eat a lot of toast and cake which needs working off, and also, and again, I am not sure I like it. It feels odd.

It makes me realise how dependent I am on external events, people, media, Radio 4 definitely to give my life shape. We moved to the country six years ago. When we moved I busied myself in many new activities. Two new jobs, one in a detention and removal centre. Cruse training and volunteering, counselling training and study. A Masters degree and membership of three bookclubs and a running club. All the while my children did that boomerang thing which is a modern phenomenon. And five pets.

Most, if not all of those activities, I found so necessary have been stripped away. Four of the five pets have died. My children have left and are living happily with partners of their choice.  I am fortunate in not having to go to work to supplement our income. I now have great swathes of time. I have attempted to fill it but at present I choose not to. I am looking to live in a different way from an internal place with less dependency on external structures.  I’d like to write that I have taken up Tai Chi or meaningful meditation, but I haven’t, although I do attempt some basic mindfulness. I sometimes feel empty and lonely and afraid of making a big mistake, of deluding myself that I am experiencing a new way of being when I am simply being lazy or gutless.

Last year I read and recommended Richard Rohr who writes in Falling Upward of the two halves of life and the tasks of each. His message deserves far more than a nod at the end of this post but suffice to say, it’s the second half I am addressing now. And that he says, happens mostly on the inside.

Oasis

Not the band. Although I vaguely remember them. Wonderwall? Two brothers, scruffy and moany. They fell out?  I seem to have missed out on popular music – with a few exceptions –  since I was listening to the Eagles in the late 70s. When my kids were at home they’d occasionally play something I liked, bits of Muse or Kate Somebody, but mainly I’ve been stuck with my teenage and early 20s likes. Some of these are having a revival. I’ve heard several versions of Bridge over Troubled Water recently but none a patch on S and G.

Sail on silver girl, sail on by. Your time has come to shine.

All your dreams are on their way.

It brings me out in a shiver even now when I know my dreams didn’t turn up or turn out as planned.   Still, there’s time. Sail on silver girl. Maybe I should go grey. But not yet.

No, I read a writing prompt about oasis and wondered where I go to be refreshed and replenished. My first thought was my bed. I am or was a gifted sleeper. I know psychologically speaking the bed represents the womb and a retreat there is very telling. The descent into unconsciousness is usually a pleasant one. Being welcomed by cool sheets or cosy blankets, yielding mattress and pillows. All very Freudian. I do love my bed but recently I have found that it doesn’t work for me in the same way. Sleep is not so refreshing as it once was no matter how tired I am.

What works for me these days is walking. Of course I’ve always walked. Mind you I was nearly two before I started and my mum had my legs checked in case there was something wrong with me but no, as in so many things I was just a slow starter.

I’ve made up those idle years in good measure. We’ve had dogs for years now and so walking has been part of my daily routine, which is good and healthy and they love it of course. However some dogs are not relaxing to take out. Dogs that fight or hunt small furry creatures. Or those who make a bid for adoption by other dog owners, usually those dog owners with pockets full of treats. My oldest dog Billy, despite being nearly 16 and deaf as a post, can sniff a Bonio or a digestive across several football pitches. He runs off and sits at the prospective new owner’s feet whining gently and looking devoted and meaningfully at their groin and pocket containing the biscuits. Most of them fall for this wheeze and then indulge him with many treats which is why he now has a back so wide you balance a tea tray on it.  P1000056

Naughty dogs run off and you spend all your time chasing them, shrieking their stupid names or practising reverse psychology and walking halfhearted away. At which point they join the group clustered round Biscuit Bob at the far end of the field and attempt to get in his car with him. Then you walk up purposefully and scruff the hound a little harder than perhaps you should and explain that you rehomed him aged one and we don’t know what it was that happened to make him so skittish. On the way home you remember that these were the people to whom you showed the photos of your new puppy in his basket with his mum and brothers and sisters. One of them may even have gone with you to pick him up. What I am saying is that some dogs can make you behave unreasonably and sometimes a walk is better without them. Although it does look a bit weird doesn’t it, seeing people walking without dogs? Especially round here in the woods. Why? And seeing a man walking on his own always feels a little troubling. Or is that just me?

Anyhow I have done a lot of walking with or with pooches and now I have a sweetie little dog who has no desire to run off and explore and make friends with anyone else. She just likes to keep close and go where I go. Easy company and it means I can give my attention to the walk. Not the bloody dog. Also because she is small and only has short legs I am learning to slow down. She is not desperate for exercise. She doesn’t need wearing out. She is content to be wherever we are. I am learning a lot from her.P1030789

So I am walking more slowly, less frantically. I notice more because I am less focussed on just getting through it. Ticking it off my to do list. I have come to love certain parts of the country side where I live. A certain slope in the fields behind my house and a small wood give me pleasure every time I walk in them. The trees are now bare and they line the field like guardians. They stand noble and dignified and entire in their winter nakedness. They do not resist the seasons but in each they wear their beauty fully and naturally. I watch them and breathe in the freezing air. They teach me. I am renewed. Refreshed. Replenished.IMG_1462