Friday, 12 May 2017

I Spill Some Oats

Earlier in the week I broke a Japanese teacup: part of a set of six my parents were given as a wedding present.  I broke it in the process of cleaning my living room windows to let the sun in more clearly.   I keep the cups on the window sill where their delicate-thin china is well-lit, their blue glaze offset against the white paint.

Making flapjacks this evening, I spilt some oats.  I did this as I was using a peg to close up the bag.  Before I could secure the opening, the bag slipped in my hands and some oats tumbled onto the kitchen floor.

And I have a scab on my shin from where I banged it climbing up the loft ladder to put my suitcase away after my trip to the Outer Hebrides.

Breaking the cup prompted the memory that my parents' wedding anniversary falls in May. I checked the date in my birthday book, and realised that on Sunday 14th it will be 60 years since they married in Salisbury Cathedral. 

Neither of them is alive to celebrate, and the date would have passed without me thinking of it had I not dropped a pane of double glazing Perspex onto the teacups.  As it is, for the past couple of days I've been imagining 1957: my mother just turned twenty, my father thirty-two; she so full of romantic dreams, he so full of his faith.  What an act of courage and innocence. 

What I've came to thinking is how extraordinary it is that those six cups survived as an intact set for so long.  And how amazing that only one of them broke.

As for the oats, before sweeping them up I took a picture of my kitchen floor.  It's a galaxy:

I've kept the pieces of teacup - I will glue them together, or I'll make something with them: take a leaf out of my cousin's book.  This is the cousin who's broken enough china to create a beautiful mosaic to frame his kitchen window.

And my shin?  It's nearly healed.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

I Rave About The Hebrides

You can find my review of the Station Café in Crianlarich on TripAdvisor.  It's entitled: "I haven't eaten a sandwich like that since 1991".

As far as Berneray in the Outer Hebrides is concerned, I haven't been on a Scottish Island like that since 1986 when, filled with post-finals joie de not having to revise any more, my longest-serving friend Helen, her brother Richard, Dave, Sebastian and I filled up a Ford Cortina and headed for Mull, in the Inner Hebrides.  We spent a few carefree days in full sunshine on white beaches and plunging (yelling with cold) into the turquoise sea. 

Here are the pages from my photo album of those days.  Allow for fading:

The others are all now quite respectable.  Helen usually sits the right way up, for example.

I don't think Dave drops pudding on people's heads these days:

Or leaps at such an angle:

I had had no idea Mull existed before I went there.  I saw Tobermory, puffins and otters for the first time.  We went on a trip to Staffa and saw hexagonal rocks.  We bunked up in a Youth Hostel in the days when you were put on a toilet cleaning rota.  It was glorious.  We were the Famous Five on an island adventure, though none of us was a dog and we didn't drink ginger beer.

I had no idea Bernaray existed before Anna and Hilary started talking about it, and about their home there. But Ted, another longest-serving friend, and I have just got back from seven days of sunshine on white beaches, paddling in clear seas, walking around breezy headlands, collecting exquisite shells: and all this in near solitude.  I was reminded of my 1986 Mull-happiness.

This is the West Beach of Berneray on Bank Holiday Monday:

This is what I had to buy in the island's small but perfectly stocked shop (an excuse for ginger beer in the Lobster Pot tearoom next door):

This is the access to the beach on North Uist where poet and artist Pauline Prior-Pitt took us after an excellent lunch, which included the best salmon I can remember eating, peat-smoked from the island's smokerie

This is the sea, and a token gesture of clouds, it being Scotland:

This is the sea, the sky and a glimpse of the machair, a rare natural habitat for which the Uists, Barra and Berneray are renowned, and which will be flowering soon:

This is Ted, questing for cowries, a theme of the week.  He found seventy:

These are my shells.  There are eleven:

This is me, camouflaged in white and blue:

This is sun on the water on the return from our day trip to rock-tastic Harris:

This is my Trangia stove, a transitional object and all I need (plus Lady Grey teabags, a thermal mug and matches) for a really good brew:

We sat in the garden drinking Prosecco in the evenings, feeling slim, smug and lithe as we watched the seals lumbering on the rocks.  Rocks a bit like this:

And apart from that, this is why I didn't want to leave.  The last day.  West Beach.  Just look at it!

And this was the sandwich at Crianlarich, which gravitated me with a doughy flump.  The tea was okay:

Friday, 14 April 2017

I Inspect The Small Print

Yesterday, I had my eyes tested.  I'd received a voucher and I'm a sucker for a free offer, and I've noticed a deterioration when reading, so I'd booked myself an appointment.

The optician engaged me in witty banter about my occupation, wondered whether I could teach him anything.  I doubted it.  I suspected he was bored, weary of repeating the various tests in a windowless room - puffing air into my eyes to test for glaucoma; photographing an image of my eyeball; and then getting me to read traditional letter charts.  I felt, seeing as I was a non-paying customer, that I had to be amenable, so I expressed my concern about the length of time it takes for NHS fees to be paid (up to a year), and I chuckled when he suggested I read the row second from the bottom which was to all intents and purposes illegible.  As for the bottom row, it was a series of fuzzy dark rectangles. 

Slipping various lenses into the frames sitting on my nose, the optician asked me if they improved (or disproved) my vision.  In the interests of being helpful, I gave answers which sounded like disclaimers on advertisements for financial services, "Well, that one makes the letters easier to read but they all have a shadow which is a bit distracting so it may improve my vision,  or make it worse, depending on other factors."  But I was cut short.  Did the lens make it better or worse?  Yes. Or No?

I came out with a prescription and went to the desk.  A short discussion about glasses ensued, and I said I'd wait to visit with my son, so he could help me choose frames.  I was (secretly) thinking that I possibly wouldn't bother after all, glad that my eyes (though a bit worse for seeing print so small I probably wouldn't really need to see it) had been declared healthy.

At the moment I was asked to pay for the test I produced my voucher from my bag with a modest sense of triumph at my organisation.  "That'll be £25.00 please," the assistant said.  I looked at the voucher again.  I read it properly for the first time. 

Free Eye Test 
with every new purchase of glasses.

Perhaps it's not my eyesight that's the problem.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

I Increase The Volume

There are times when nothing will address the condition of being human, this particular experience of being human, except very loud music. So the volume's up, and it's Mahler 7.  Because Mahler 7 is sweeping, exhilarating, soulful, poignant, mad, grandiose, wild, melodramatic, experimental, desperate and sincere. 

Why the Mahler, and the volume?  (I expect my neighbours are asking the very same).

If I tell you that today, on "I'm Still A Mother A Week After Mothering Sunday Sunday", my younger son gave me a present of my words (This Is Not To Exaggerate) set to his music (for Soprano Solo and String Quartet) - if I tell you this, you'll know why I have felt like bursting from the sheer pleasure at the fulfilment of one of my deep desires (to have my words set to music by my son) and at the sheer terror at the fulfilment of one of my deep desires (to have my words set to music by my son).

It's exhilarating, it's terrifying, this joy.  There's so much love in it, and there's so much I cannot express.  So I'm listening to Mahler, who seems to know how I feel.

I wrote This Is Not To Exaggerate coming out of deep loss and grief, and out of the relief of being able to speak about it: its coming to me was a gift - it was enough to be able to articulate it, but it was another gift to have the poem recognised by people I trust and admire.

And then this, my son's music: another gift, another joy, another transformation.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

I Text The Poet Laureate

"Yours, Friday evening, 8pm. Okay?"  is what I texted to the Poet Laureate this morning. I've always admired her, and she's been instrumental in some of the highlights of my life so far, in particular endowing the Roy Fisher Prize.  When I won that back in 2011, I finally came to terms with myself as a poet, even saying the word close to my name on occasion.  But I didn't mean to invite myself round, especially on a Friday night when she will have had better offers already.  There's respect from a distance, there's gratitude, and then there's overfamiliarity.

There's a danger with texting / emailing and so on, of sending the wrong text to the wrong person, or the right text to the wrong person, or the wrong text ... you get the picture.  I did this once before, explaining to one person what I thought about another (who, in my defence, had hurt me) only sending it to the another by mistake. It led to a free and frank, robust and, in the end, very healthy conversation.

As the background to this morning's mistake, I'd meant to text my good friend Carol, as we need to rehearse for our upcoming performance of Still Life.  When I explained to her what I'd done, she texted back LOL!!!!

As for my first text, I'm still waiting for a reply.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

I Fail At DIY

I need more storage space for my stuff, so last week I bought a shelf to add to a wall.  It's more of a wall-box - something into which spice jars might go, or anything that will free up cupboard room for, well, other stuff.

I've done shelves before.  In a previous home, I put up a Good Enough floating shelf onto which I could place things which wouldn't roll down a slight incline. Considering my own advice in the light of that experience (I Put Up A Shelf) I decided to follow instructions.  Sadly, no instructions were supplied with the shelf. I went ahead regardless with my usual kit - electric drill, rawl plugs and two inch screws. 

The Rule of Stuff to Space Ratio seems to be that Stuff > Space where Space = anything from a small tent to a large house and Stuff = Stuff one could mostly live without, if push came to shove.  So, I know in my heart, and possibly in my mind, that an extra shelf won't make any difference to my storage space problem, and will inevitably lead to the acquisition of more Stuff and the need at some future date for more Space DIY.

I measured up where I should drill holes, then drilled the holes, the drill bit getting hotter and hotter.  It was only after a couple of frustrating hours that I realised I couldn't physically screw the shelf to the wall because of the angles involved.  I probably need to draw some annotated instructions - How Not To Put Up A Shelf - to show you what I mean.

So at the end of my afternoon of DIY, I had a wall with four new holes in it, and an abandoned shelf, for which I need to find some storage space.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

I Volunteer For The parkrun

Shrewsbury parkrun volunteers - March 11th 2017.  Photograph by Margaret Connarty

The Shrewsbury parkrun has become an important weekly routine, so much so that last weekend I ordered the t-shirt.  It's orange - a colour that makes me look ill - and I have to say that the first time I did the run back in November, I felt so sick at the end I had to sit down immediately I'd finished.  Now, though, running 5K on a Saturday morning has the effect of making me feel very well indeed, and afterwards I stroll home nonchalantly.

At the beginning of the run last Saturday morning, there was a shout out for volunteers.  It was my 12th run and I hadn't yet helped out, but I faced a dilemma.  Missing a week sets me back in so many ways. I've started going for jogs on my own, but there's something about being in a group that makes me keep going for longer.  So when I found out from Glenn that I could volunteer and run, I emailed the volunteer organiser.  Within minutes Susan had signed me up for set up and token counting.

I have done many things as a volunteer in my time, some of which (such as re-wiring churches and cutting privet hedges) I prefer to forget, and other things (such as organising sports evenings with the youth group in the park) I remember fondly as rewarding but hard work.  However, if you were to ask me which of all the voluntary activities I have ever done I would most recommend, as of today it would be token counting for your local parkrun.

Setting out cones before the race, unwinding the tape and pushing the starting flag pole into the soft ground were all great fun (especially as I was able to chat to my friend Julie throughout) but post-race token counting takes the biscuit (though I need to point out, for the sake of clarity, that I've given these up for Lent).

To understand the pleasures of token counting, imagine a café.  Imagine being served a cappuccino by James who was the same class as my son in primary school, whose his smile and chatter is warm as the new sunshine edging its way through the windows. Imagine a light space with colourful tables. Imagine on one of the tables well over 500 small pieces of numbered plastic in one large tub, and 5 smaller empty baskets.  Imagine sitting round this table with 6 year old Jess, and her mother Kathryn.  Imagine them telling you, very gently, how to sort the tokens first into their hundreds, and then their tens and finally into consecutive order. Imagine the pleasure, as Kathryn said, of making order out of chaos.  Imagine coming across the token numbered 0001, handling it like Olympic gold. 

Imagine doing this on a Saturday morning, body at peace, having run 5K; doing this chatting about the London and Paris marathons with people who are actually going to run them; doing this with the whole of the rest of Saturday stretching ahead; doing this with people who care about their community; doing this at the beginning of spring, the daffodils just coming out, the birds delighted with everything, the trees about to burst into leaf.  And all of these things adding up to something necessary to write about.

Tokens similar to the ones we counted at Stop Café in Shrewsbury ...