In Town

Monday afternoon on the river, well not on it right beside. After a wander through Covent Garden when I had been giving a nod to my memories jogged by the sights, the buildings that are my personal landmarks. The sun is sparkling on the light brown regular waves, the tide is almost in and the gulls and pigeons scurry along the shoreline.

There are stalls along the river today, a Christmas market that clutters the space I would usually stand and gaze across the River Thames. Hungerford footbridge has gone. There is no need to do the shuffling sprint to walk past the slow pacing tourists, hoping over the drain worn in the bridge’s tarmac coating. Jubilee Bridge is still smart and sharp.

Today the clutter does not make me cross. I am not in a hurry to be anywhere. I am sauntering with the tourists mingling amongst the languages. I can pretend that London is a new and unfamiliar place. In the sparkling light St Pauls, The Shard and the river really do look special.

These days I don’t really need to pretend. I transit across town not pausing. That is why this Monday afternoon – on a half days leave – is so special.

A quiet afternoon to re-connect with an exceptional city.

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Marvellous and Mundane

It is that time of year when memories are strong. Perhaps in the wind down to Xmas there is more space for them to come into our minds. My memory bank was activated today, and I started to ponder. What are the ingredients of a memory and the recipe for the creation of a strong and lasting memory?

Thinking about memory, the slide carousel of my mind starts to whirl. Every memory I conjure is a slide, a slice of life, a freeze frame of a moment that evolves into the replay of a film as the moment and the memory grows.

Sat here reminiscing, my memories flood back unaided without the prompts of smells or sounds. They are all visual and I gradually add the soundtrack if it is required. The silent pictures and movies are the strong important memories. It is the action not the words, places not prose that re-capture the moment for me.

None of my memories are staged managed or directed. The scene may have been set; location, clothes, the events, I remember are unscripted moments in a tableau. As I pull forward the momentous memories I realise they have small parts, the trigger points or anchors in my mind:

– a funeral – stripy tights falling down the stairs
– a wedding – the bouquet hides the plastered arm
– a birth – being called on the tannoy
– a wake – kneeling on the orange patterned carpet
– a divorce – sat on the daffodil duvet, talking on the phone
– a different wedding – white asparagus and a grey soft jumper
– another funeral – crying in the car park of a Scottish crematorium
– a second birth – small hands clutching the carry cot handle
– a meeting – denim skirt and blue jacket perched on stools.

My mind creates sets of memories, like suits of playing card, a pair, three of a kind, snaps. The roll of images expands, a boxed set, all uncut they tumble in.

As my memories roll past, it is exciting to realise that the set if never complete. I have plenty of space in my mind shelves to gather and store so many more moments of joy, triumph and tragedy as well as the marvellous and the mundane.

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A peckish moment

A plump bird, the soft grey downy feathers looked warm and cosy, protecting the vulnerable breast.
Brown legs designed for balancing, the muscles are taunt and tense, the perfect drumstick.
Bright eyes are closed.
His beak is open.
Red berries just ripe, ready to eat glisten and shine among glossy green leaves.
Not a game bird ready for a pie.
A pigeon gorging himself in the wintery holly.

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Planning for Pleasure

Technology makes the planning easy
An e-mail to make contact
A website to search for a location
Information exchanged to make a booking
A printer is required to get access to the prize
Then the rendezvous is set.

On the day, it is all down to precision timing
Putting on first one arm then the other
Buttoning and zipping to keep out the cold
Tightening laces
Then farewells are said.

Journeying through the city at dusk
The backdrop is dramatic
Anonymous in the crowd
Two methods of transport
One destination
Then the meet is on.

In the hubbub of the station
Brushing past people there is one detail left to chance
The precise location
Only a visual will confirm
A pedestrianized area and the neon signs
Then the path is right.

An important contact
Planned assignation
Co-ordinated Hello
Expectations are high
Yet tempered with doubt
Then it all falls into place.

We realise when we meet – we are dressed like twins
Trainers; jeans; warm coats and a backpack stuff to the zip
We had no idea that our perfect planning would go that far.
An evening of catch up; exchange and positive interaction
And the special prize
A good meal with excellent company (using a voucher).

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Time Bookends

The time when most people are fast asleep.
Dreaming and rejuvenating.
Normally waking at this time, she would be dragged into life, furry eyed and gritty mouthed, into slow alertness.
This time it was a relief.
The nagging, throbbing ache of a migraine had been there for a few hours. She had been unable to take the precious table that would have made it go away. On this occasion the hormone surges and hours had been all wrong.
It was a relief to know that this small hour allowed action.

A start.
Admittedly an early start. The beginning of an adventure.
A journey of discovery to somewhere new.
Days of joy and sunshine, water (salt & fresh), hills and food.
The people watching improves, the gestures are more precise, more dramatic and the looks and glances intimate and atmospheric.

Not talking, whispered words in her ear.
Incoherent murmurings.
Even though there are no endearments the words give comfort and bring a smile.
Later, as always, whatever time of the day someone is drinking a glass of rose or a pastis.
The food is superb the company likewise.

Crunching footsteps over the gravel outside.
A deer? A dog? The old fella that fell flat on his face?
This time it did not matter
That day – crystal clear lake water; crashing waves on the coast.
Wonderful wildlife – lizards; a praying mantis and beautiful floating vultures sailing on the thermals high above the gorge.

Passes unnoticed as it should. Sleeping a dreamless sleep.
This day sees waves of weather washing into the coast.
Not many moments of sparkling sun. The sharp smell of pines.
The frenetic blasts of horns celebrating a just in time wedding.
A delay and long dragging moments of killing time.

Now it is an ending – 03:45
The exact moment they return back to the start and the place it all began.
Her holiday ends at the precise time it started . . . . . . .

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She can dance

It is funny how things change in life. The ebbs and flows; patterns and shapes within our relationships both work and play that create the mesh and mess we live in.

There was a phase in my life where I was confident enough and capable of wearing high heels and pelmets (skirts). I had the legs for it, or I believed I did, and I carried it off. In those days I went out to the pubs and clubs and I danced. I am not of the generation that danced in pairs. Mostly I danced alone in amongst a group of others usually women and we boogied the night away.

Even then the men did not dance. I checked the other day and learned that it is only a certain type of man that dances. Occasionally one did. I remember a “work do” when lovely Charlie (married, not to me, with two children) asked me to dance and we danced properly with spins and swirls, quick changes and some lifts. He was good and we had both drunk enough to enjoy and relax and not too much that we fell over.

Other occasions dancing was my sanctuary, when you are single in a group of couples that are at the smooching stage, being able to get up and dance is a good way to be there; to belong and not feel left out.

I danced a lot in Australia and New Zealand, Cusco and sometimes in Chile. Dancing in the antipodes was boozy, bouncy and brash. In Chile it was a much calmer affair often dances involved avoiding the clutches or advances of the local gentlemen. To them salsa was the way to a woman’s heart. I was more step on your toes than sexy salsa.

Working back in London post work shindigs were always a chance to shake a leg. One morning after the night before, I was told by one of my staff that I was a Latin American dancer whilst one of my colleagues was definitely a line dancer. I took my plaudits with aplomb.

Moving through life, the pubs are for dinner and the clubs are now no go. The times to tango are fewer. Actually they are quite rare. Last month I was invited to an anniversary celebration. A proper do in a village hall where family and friends brought a bottle and shared an evening of entertainment. As the night wore on the floor began to fill and feet started to tap. In no time at all I found my dance moves, was strutting my stuff, shimmying across the floor. I had a marvellous evening, what better way to celebrate a key life moment? It was brilliant and best of all I discovered:

– She can still dance;
– She can still jive; and
– She was having the time of her life

I am still a Dancing Queen!

If you know me and have seen me dance or even if you don’t. Click on the link use your imagination! ABBA – Dancing Queen



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Another step closer

Today is a good day and some would also describe it a bad day. It’s certainly a day when I took a step closer to what they say we all become.

As a child growing up we always had a room called The Study, a place where we played, lined with shelf upon shelf of books, Georgette Heyer sat alongside the whole range of penguin classics, detective novels to the left and right, Dorothy L Sayer, Miss Marple and John Buccan. Later the Oxford University Press versions of Pennington and Flambards were my teenage reads and these sat above Mrs Pepperpot, Milly Molly Mandy
and below Return to Sula and the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. On reflection, I realise we were fortunate that we had enough space. A family of five we still had a room that was not the lounge or the dining room.

The study was a family room, without a TV, as well as the books it was the creative centre of our house. Permanently set up on a black high table in the corner, without a cover – all ready to go, The Study was also the home of my mother’s sewing machine. Initially it was a Singer classic – black with scrolly gold writing. I only remember it being electric. with a black and white curly cable that led both to the wall and the foot pedal. It might have been converted from the hand driven version. The sewing foot could be raised and lowered with a shiny lifting handle and the complicate ritual of threading the needle and the bobbin was a dark and mysterious art that only mothers knew.

Most of our clothes were homemade. School skirts where the right colour and fabric, usually the wrong style. They were knocked up with lightning speed to the sound of the needle running rapidly through the cloth as it was fed with floating hands. Button holes were created at waist bands and pockets were added with zigzag stitches. I remember one time my sister and I had matching white and green striped dungarees made for a holiday. Bibs, pockets and even that funny dungaree loop on the side – not idea what that is for – were added without a problem. We were stylish on hols.
If we grew, or the cutting out made them slightly the wrong size, then “taking in” was never a trauma or a problem. Even zips, that required careful pinning before they were firmly stitched in place; came to order without the need for tacking them in. It really was magic, although we did not always appreciate it at the time. It took a while to embrace our own style, to be happy in unique homemades.

The old singer was shelved (not thrown away) and an updated model arrived. We started to want to make things, and to turn trousers up. It is only when you try that it becomes clear just how hard it is to thread a sewing machine needle, fill a bobbin, pull the bobbin thread through to the top and to sew fabric without losing your ends. Creating a pile of stiches one on top of the other or running out of cloth to sew is easy. Sewing a straight line of stitches that hold together the right pieces of fabric is a lot hard than it looks. The peddle action is key and a sewing machine peddle is as fickle and fidgety as a fly.

With tuition and lots of tantrums, I managed to master the basics. The ritual of turning the wheel manually to get the needle to the top became second nature. Bobbins and thread still played tricks with my tension if not watched with care. I could even make a button hole, marvelling at the simple way you can turn the fabric if you leave the needle down.
I ended up owning the newer machine; it moved from life to life and house to house. I ran up some magnificent orange curtains for a house in Kent, sewing the header tapes and hems with ease. The machine was never serviced or maintained and years later when I lent it to a friend it would just not sew.

For many years I have done without. Managed by hemming and sewing by hand. I have even used iron on hemming tape. This weekend that all changed. I have bought myself a new sewing machine.

I unpacked it with some apprehension. Even got out and skimmed the instruction book. Then I found the bobbin winder & the bobbin case.
I wound my first bobbin for about 12 years – easy.
I threaded the needle – not too hard.
I pulled the bottom thread through to the top without losing my end.
And then I made a jolly cushion cover. My first machine sewing for a very long time.

I have big plans for my machine, curtains, taking in skirts and turning up jeans.

I think today is a good day. Today I took a step closer to becoming like my mother. The material cupboard may follow soon.

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Special cake

Baking was an everyday activity in our house when I was little. The Bero cookery book was always to hand. You never cooked just one item in the oven; the oven was always filled up, with scones as big as your head, fruit pies and crumble.

Grandma was the queen of cakes. Special cakes with a twist. Sponge cakes cooked with real pelargoniums at the bottom of the tin so they tasted of lemon and orange. Fruit cakes where the glace cherries did not sink to the bottom. And Bara brith, a welsh cake using cold tea to soak the fruit.

For a non-religious family cakes for religious festivals were extra special. It struck none of us as odd. Christmas cake always had a layer of marzipan and then a thick layer of hard icing smoothed with a knife. The plaster cast Father Christmas with his sack always wandering across the snow scape. He left a single foot print and his piece of cake was always eaten last.

On a trip to sunny Rye on Good Friday, we stopped at a tea shop.
“One carrot cake and one fruit cake please”
The tea and cake duly arrived. “One carrot cake and one simnal cake”.

Simnal cake – it brought back a flood of memories a wave of jolly nostalgia. Cake at Easter with lots of lovely marzipan, wrapped around and over the whole cake with rolled marzipan eggs all-round the top. My companion ate the simnal cake none the wiser, graciously allowing me a bite of an egg. I smiled a lot inside and thought of my grandma and my mum – one baking cakes in the kitchen and the other sat knitting as they chatted away.

A quick check with my big sister, the oracle on my childhood.
“No idea why we ate simnal cake – I know it was always yummy!”
Happy Easter!

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The joys of WFH

In life I am fortunate. There are many joys.
Today I was lucky enough to be working from home and this brought its own particular joys. I know we don’t all have this luxury, some don’t have a job; some are tied to their work location; some don’t have such an accommodating employer.
Today I was celebrating my good fortune and want to share my smiles with you.

The joys of working from home
You roll out of bed at a sensible hour, no need to get on the train and sit with smelly, sniffing people – unless of course you live with smelly, sniffing people or live on a train!
You switch on the kettle and the laptop and start thinking about what you want to get done without the fight of the london underground to distract you.
You crack on with your list of things to do and make rapid and sustained progress, stimulated by glances out of the window at the sunshine and the flowers.
It is easy to eat ice cream for breakfast.
You take the prescribed health and safety breaks from the screen, drink proper cups of tea and have time to talk to you colleagues properly (The telephone is an old and very good invention).
You may have the windows open and the “office” at a temperature that suites you and that means you hear bird song not traffic noise.
You long list of things to do reduces with satisfying speed, and you innovative thinking time grows.
A proper lunch break is taken – possibly sat in the sunshine and you vitamin D levels are topped up.
Connections are made with your local community – today I made one trip out front to put the rubbish out and I saw and spoke to 3 of my neighbours.
With space, you are able to plan future tasks and key activities and clarify who you need to work with on what.
You finish on time without the hideous reverse journey home and the pressure to catch the infrequent trains.
There is plenty of time for a perambulation around the village and through the lovely woods before you start your evening.
All told a productive and enjoyable day for me and my employer

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Urban hunter

Four furry paws padding over the grass.
Stealth and silence required.
No rustled or crackled can give him away.
And yet, like a beacon he sits stark black and white against the muted hues of green, brown and beige.
An urban hunter in a rural tableau.

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