Gratitude

I subscribe to TUT notes which sends daily inspirational quotations. Sometimes they fit, at other times they haven’t.  Today’s goes like this:

‘Please tell anyone who wants to know, Anne, that a dream not followed by consistent action, however humble or small the actions may be, points to either a huge contradiction or a gigantic misunderstanding. Because when people are clear and they realise just how powerful they already are, wild horses can’t stop them from taking baby steps, every day.’

I’ve been taking baby steps for the past month, recovering from surgery, and as I emerge from a world of Clexane, Zapain, anaesthetics and pain relief, I wonder now, ‘What next?’

‘It’s not every day you get your life back,’ someone said to me recently, and I was forced to agree and yet it was not entirely taken from me – more reshaped by disease and the need for medical intervention, and the questions, anxieties and fears that go hand in hand with that process. Then my life was refashioned again, by the words, ‘You’re cured. We don’t need to see you again.’ Indeed I arrived home from hospital to find the house the same as I had left it – my perspective had fundamentally changed. Luck has played a part and in the midst of worry and fear there have been wonderful moments of friendship, joy, prayer and a sense of the absurd. These moments too,  expanded my universe –  made the world a slightly larger and infinitely kinder place.

I’ve been privileged that many people have shared stories with me, sent texts,facebook messages, get-well cards; gifts of flowers and books, random hugs. I loved everyone in my morphine-induced, post-operative state and for ten days or so functioned in a bit of a bubble. I’d had so many worries about major surgery and it was all fine. I was treated with care, compassion, skill and expertise by the NHS. What more could one ask? I was in good hands.The euphoria and sense of relief have not receded. However, the question of  what all these experiences mean for me remain.

One of my favourite authors, Daphne Kapsali, serendipitously popped up on a Facebook feed with her book, “How to live a deliberate life.” Here she details the forces that conspire against writing, and she details how social conditioning and expectations shape what we do with our dreams. It contains a moving tribute to her father, ‘a fucking good poet’ and the impact of Greek austerity on his life and literary career. In fact, I had hoped to find a few pointers. but all I encountered was a brave writer, who personifies the competing forces in her life and details the tensions between them. Kapsali has the ability to describe a literal walk and suddenly it becomes a metaphor for encountering difficulties and  joy in experiences, and as she writes and rewrites sentences, fashioning and refashioning  words and phrases, she pushes towards finding joy in an ordinary (and therefore extraordinary) life. Perhaps that too is my answer.

Increasingly, I have the sense that the universe has flagged up a few questions about my life and where it goes from here. I guess there will be difficult choices at some point: Stay, Move, Relocate, Move South, Write More, Teach Less, Give up writing. There are no answers in neon lights, no lottery thumbs, no answers on a post card and this time no 50/50 answer – for that would mean continued compromise. And yet I have to balance the need to provide with my increasing urge for freedom.

But just for now, I’m thankful. I escaped with my life.

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A day of delights

The day started out with ‘The Last Breakfast” meaning that this was the last chance I and a couple of friends could get together before my planned surgery next week. It was lovely – we had chance to swap notes on consultants, swap notes on the various house moves that are ongoing in this lovely group.

“You will learn a lot,” one beautiful wise lady said to me. “Nothing happens to us that we cannot learn. It is from the heart. It is mostly about friendship and love.” Then she gestured to the group and the customers in the cafe and as we laughed about Bridget Jones’ underwear. I knew she was right. Who better than your best friends to guide one through the maelstrom of appropriate night wear and preparation(“natural kelp, or spinach  darling”) of a biggish operation.

She continued,”I was surprised about how loving the care was.” And suddenly I was reassured. The professionalism was always going to be there but it is supplemented by good  nursing staff . I’ll gloss over the conversation about clean or cleaning bowels, but I will never again eat poached eggs without chuckling and grimacing as there is much to be said but not repeated  for alternative healthcare approaches!

By the end of the day as I prepared to wave my bestest church friend away, I was doing the pig snort… my pig snort a sure sign of a joyous transaction, this time fuelled by whitebait and chunky chips.

It happened like his: “You said you want to go on a rib ride,” said Anne. “I’ve booked it.”Now the thing is despite my inner love of speed, adrenaline and danger, I hate getting off and on boats – the bouncy thing is just too dangerous. The jetty was, to put it mildly, exceptionally buoyant and  I had visions of being seasick before leaving it. The life jackets were  a mix of neoprene origami . My only instructions for drowning were out of Outlander: Don’t struggle, discard surplus clothing and float to the top. Except in my case it was all tied in the jacket. My harsh lesson was that Gabaldon’s Outlander is not a lesson for a rib ride.

None of the passengers wanted to sit at the front so Anne and I got the wet seats on the prow of the rib. After bouncing on the inflatable side and gripping the pilot’s hand aboard, I was initially dubious. But hey here I was In my own micro-mini -Titanic. My friend, Anne was initially bemused by my cries of “jack… jack… draw me like your French Girls.’ But I forgot all hilarity when I saw the first cormorant; bobbing mid stream. His cousins’ wide winged, black fanned and skittish watched the approach of the rib. Their wings stretched and lengthened  as the hull of the boat drew closer to the rocks. And we were off – flitting between buoys and craft till we hit the Swellies.

I have a healthy respect for these current in The Straits  – if only because someone ran aground there with my daughter on board. We bounced on the sea: looking at the site of the Conway’s destruction, looking back at the post and seeing where the rocks pushed above the green water surface. Our pilot pointed out various landmarks and explained why the swellies were dangerous. I had a sudden vision of a vessel aground between the bridges, smoking – on fire, maydaying for help and  explaining that there were children on board. God Bless the RNLI and then,as today, I was reminded of y grandfather’s plea: When its stormy, rough or just plain sailing weather – remember to pray for those at sea. To this day I love the chords of ‘ The Sailors Hymn”  and I have a feeling it was sung at his funeral , he survived The Battle of Jutland and was a life long pacifist and communist.

Without doubt it was cold on the water. It wasn’t as bouncy as I had feared  but the turns were thrilling as was the slalom amongst the buoys. We needed more of that.  We got a glimpse of the Lion on the bridge, which was amazing and I got a sense of was how the landscape fits together between Beaumaris, Bangor, Menai Bridge and Felinheli. It took a while to recover my land legs so I popped into the library and chatted to the librarian, who I have to say looks really pretty and well and glowing since she took early retirement from work. And then I caught a sedate bus home.

More lowlights and a haircut followed , I really can’t wait to go grey!

The ribride was the perfect antidote to yesyerday’s preop. which I found an ordeal. “Think happy thoughts.” I was told but my BP just continued to elevate , my thoughts at variance with my smiling demeanour. “Happy thoughts? Here? Right here? Right Now? Are you serious? I don’t think so! ” Optimism may be a bonus but the humour comes with hindsight.  I can laugh now, I was so cross and cranky the numbers just got higher as my inner language and vocab deteriorated: capital F floating in my mind like ticker tape. I tnought of all the places I loved being.

I Thought of childhood beaches, sitting in my favourite places, being with my favourite people and friends; and the more I thought,  the more the numbers increased, and by the fifth or sixth or seventh go, I suggested that maybe we should just cancel everything and I could resume normal life. I know that work would love to have me back, and I could sit in the over fifty corner AKA Menopause  corner ( christened by me oh dramatic irony) and chatter with Karen, Sioned, Caroline and Helen and anyone else who joined us there. Because I miss my work friends. However, cancelling isn’t really an option.

Following the preop, friends from homegroup that I used to attend brought and prepared a cream tea of scones, strawberries and jam and we sat and giggled and it was fun to be together  for the first time in over a year since Anne moved to Waunarlwydd. Helen gave me a gift of a butterfly notebook and I love it, and the house is still filled with sunflowers.

” Most of all, you will have to learn to accept and let others take care of you.” Lyndell Alison and Gabby said at breakfast. It’s a tough one for a closet control freak, but I think it’ll be ok.

Truly I am grateful for so many lovely women in my life. 💕

 

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Wish Lists, Bucket Lists and Fuck it Lists!

sometimes life jumps at you and leaves you thinking of the things you wish to do and the things you wish you had. This is by no means a bucket list but it is a list of activities I would wish to accomplish before I hit 75 an age which is meaningful for my kids and me – as  they promised NOT to shoot me.

take a rib ride

ride a horse on a beach

go fishing for sea bass

go fishing for lobster

cook said lobster and sea bass

sleep out under the stars like I did in Gitzenweilerhof

sleep in a yurt

take a SARS flight around Anglesey

re read the Laura Ingall Wilder Series, Little House on the Prairie

re read Little Women, Great Expectations and read A Tale of Two Cities

Finish the Outlander Series and read the Lord John Series

have a Pirates of the Caribbean DVD-fest

Volunteer for a Writing in Health course

see friends

Watch Friends DVD

Zip World? errrrr maybe … not?

make and keep a gratitude  jar

visit Build a Bear

watch old favourites like Brief Encounter, This Happy Breed, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes, Little Women, the Ghost and Mrs Muir

revisit Haworth

stay overnight in the Bronte museum, the Dylan Thomas Place and Plas Newydd

have an outdoor meal of roast lamb and salad with candlelight and music

dance in a barn dance

dance at a wedding

eat Joe’s

drink tea from china and porcelain cups

plant wild flowers

swim un the sea everyday in September

make a herb station

read LucyWorsley’s bio of Jane Austen

buy L’occitane Lemon or Vetiver fragrance

stuff a lemon and orange with cloves

stare at the sun and watch my eyelids make patterns

cuddle Ginny everyday

Go to church

sing in a gospel choir

visit the library

write

stand on Cymyran beach and feel the rumble in my guts as the jets fly overhead

persuade BBMF to make a detour over my house

steam train from Caernarfon to Beddgelert

train from Porthmadog to Aberdovey

tell my kids I love them very day

review a novel once a month on this blog

diarise

see one familiar deeply loved face from my childhood

candlelit BBQ

swim in Caswell Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No! I Won’t Write about this!

No I won’t write about this  – at least that is what I said to my sister.

Anyway.

My house is awash with flowers as I write this: yellow sunflowers, pink peonies, daisies, gerbera, roses, lilies; an orchid and a pot of marguerites – gifts from my daughter, friends and colleagues. My bathroom is filled with a variety of bubble bath, moisturisers and candles — sensuous gifts that soothe the mind and body. To add to this some crisp bedding, and a room burner. Frankincense is today’s choice for writing.

A few weeks and months ago I felt that my life was heading out of control: The merry-go-round was spinning faster  that I couldn’t see the view to the edge of the park. The feeling reminded me of the time when as a child in nursery school we had excursions to the park opposite in Middle Road. We would lie down and look at the sky while one of the boys hurled the machine. We were like mini dervishes: couldn’t tell left from right, top from bottom inside from out.    At work I mentioned to friends that I ‘felt my age’ and wondered how on earth I could carry on in a profession that has, lets face it been a political football for over a century. Cooking always a source of joy became a chore.

Determined not to ‘let the side down’, I worked through a bout of shingles, dealt with home renovations/ tarting up in order to sell quickly, wielded paint brushes, dealt with the lovely builder’s yard, CL Jones in Llangefni (they’re ace!) and surfed the web for my dream “two up, two down” in Bethesda, Talysarn, Trimsaran, Llannerch y Medd. I fantasised about knocking on the door of a pretty terraced cottage here and asking “fancy a swap”. My itchy feet were fast needing a dose of antihistamine.

Suddenly everything came to a stop and I was flung off the merry go ground skinning my knees and bruising a few limbs. The last two weeks have been spent catching up with friends and family, while I prepare for surgery and I will be home, off work for a minimum of three months.

I’m unclear what all this means for my writing, whether I will write or whether I   will just take time out for me, working out what it is I want – broadly speaking: three day week, writing for two days and a two up two down in a quiet sunny street, with a rose around the door (why not?), a herb garden and a lavender lined border. Window boxes trailing alyssum, lobellia and scarlet geraniums, and French doors from the kitchen to the garden decking. One thing at a time!

I don’t know if I should even be writing about my experiences. I’ll probably keep a private diary but illness narratives are just that. They do what they say on the tin; inform, give insight, share experiences are uplifting and heart breaking. Moreover I think the genre is just about full. This doesn’t mean I’m not grateful to other writers who share their experiences. Joan Didion, Gwyneth Lewis, Daphne Kapsali (to name a few) But it takes a special kind of writer to write these books and I’m just not that kind of writer. Really, I’m caustic with a cynical, gallows, sense of humour with an eye to the absurd and the bull shit, and theres a tiny lazy part of me that wishes to watch crime box sets back to back. Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, NCIS, The Bridge,Wallender to name a few. Then read the Outlander series and watch (again!) the first two series. – Every Girl needs a Jamie Frazer!

And, the stories I had sketched out in my ideas book, the flash that came to me of a story set in the interwar years, have scattered like pearls to the furthest corner of the room. I  can see them glowing but I’m not quite deft enough to recover them just yet.

And yet, I need a deadline and it seems the universe has offered one. I applied for a Lit Wales Bursary and was turned down. Mildly, disappointed  is an understatement of how I felt in the context of failing to secure a job in South Wales, the School Governors turning down my request for paid leave to present in the NAASWCH at Harvard.

However, the start of the sick leave coincides with the date I had requested to commence my bursary application. Part of me thinks I would be a fool for not writing but sitting down and plotting in the midst of so much uncertainty now feels an enormous undertaking, and yet as someone pointed out to me – life’s uncertain anyway!

So I may blog, but it maybe that this will be a blog that focuses on the good things in life: Criminal Minds, outlander, essential oils and flowers. And if an element of doubt, cynicism or sarcasm appear, someone needs to give me a swift kick in the butt.



 

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Amy’s Story

I wrote tonight. I’ve had a story in mind about a child whose father died, only because she doesn’t understand euphemisms,the child, Amy, believes that her father has physically abandoned her in favour of better behaved children. As her Nanna says, ‘He’s left us to go and live with the Angels . At no point does anyone use the word ‘dead’ which might have given Amy a better understanding.

Amy decides she will never attempt to be good again ( there’s no point she’s been abandoned for angels) and given incompetent bereavement care she becomes disruptive with  verbal and physical punches. There are reasons why Amy is not told the truth of her father’s  death.

It will be tempting for those of you who know me to assume these are my experiences. They are not. But I am interested in how death is a disappearance of an individual and how children deal with that and how the seek to make sense of the gap.

Also euphemism in the midst of other half truths can exacerbate an individual’s sense of betrayal . Why o why am I exploring this murky territory? I have no idea! just that I wanted to explore the ideas of loss and abandonement that shape later behaviour and decisions leading to a betrayal of self.

 

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The end of an Era


I have spent some time researching my family tree, not so far back but widely, it is a sprawling, ungainly, thing;  more like an unruly hedge than an oak. What it shows that my family is rooted in Swansea, but that the disparate branches arrived there from Ireland, Scotland, the Upper Swansea Valley and West Wales, at various times during the Industrial Revolution. 

The youngest of my grandparents’ children, Esther, died this week a huge, personal loss to my cousins. “Oooh that’s strange,” my sister said when I phoned to tell her. “Why? Were you thinking about her too?” The phone line fell silent. We don’t ‘do’ premonitions she and I.

 “Well that’s odd!” my mother’s sister ( the same age as Esther) exclaimed when I told her. She said, “I was peeling potatoes and thinking of your dad’s brother and I found myself praying, for all the Jones children, their wives and husbands,   and for your grandparents, Mr & Mrs Jones, too.” 

I did not know my aunt very well. She was closer to my sister in age. I was the last but one cousin born out of the twenty one or so, and so closer to the younger ones than to the generation born in the late nineteen forties. But it was with considerable sadness that I learned of this death. It brought to mind Arosfa a house I never visited, but have imagined often. My grandfather bathing in a hip bath after his shift, my grandmother, wrapped in a pinny, redfaced shepherding children around the table. Three boys, four girls. Vegetables growing in the long back garden, and chapel on sunday with welshcakes for tea. Welsh speaking inside the house, English outside.  Opposite, the farm where my dad was a labourer, and the long road with the bend at the top that stretched from Llansamlet to Birchgrove and Heol Las a hamlet in between.

And I thought of my grandmother, her bold, audacious and enterprising house move. How I’d have loved to hear that conversation. “yes, I’ve bought the house. I bought the one next door too.” I wonder if my grandfather choked on his tea.  So that her brothers lived next door and she looked after both houses. Tenacious hard working woman it took its toll and I know her children adored her.  I wonder what her dreams were. I wonder what their shared dreams were. I suspect he was a gentle person, quiet but with the final word. She was the smacker. “Eh Price, dere ‘ma.” she’d say to my dad . Using his middle name, was a sure sign of trouble for my dad. She’d wag her finger at him, and yet he never told me the story without a smile , a sure sign of their love and affection.

 Eight children, the eldest born in 1919, the youngest born in 1933/4.One, a  daughter, died in infancy but I’m unsure when. The family straddled the inter war years, the depression years and a tough time they had of it. Now that their youngest has died,”the last one” as John my cousin messaged me sadly from New York,it feels like the end of an era. She was the last link to our grandparents, and her own grandparents who came from Llanon and were illiterate and who had a tangible link to rural uprisings , the last tangible link to the woman who made the best jugged hare and was a serving girl in the  house of the Earl of Jersey. We never did learn why he left her a house for her lifetime. 

Aunty Esther was the last tangible link. But John we have our own links: shared holidays, memories,squabbles, rivalries quarrels, teasing and affection. We have our shared losses and the shared sense of our grandparents’ love for each other and for all their children. Heol Las is our shared thread too. The road that links Birchgrove with Heol Las runs in our blood. We have our grandparents and parents to thank for that.

Cysga’n  dawel Esther, oddiwrth Anne a’r plant xx

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Which is a review of Maid of the King’s Court by Lucy Worsley

I’m not writing much at the moment, so as part of my recovery from bouts of illness I am reading a lot. So it was with interest I came across this book for young adults. The novel is impeccably researched as you would expect — Worsley is my favourite historian  — and the cover is sumptuous, showing a young red haired girl, dressed in green stepping through the shadows of  the court of Henry VIII.

The story follows Eliza Camperdowne from the age of 12. We see her betrothal, to an earl, a subsequent visit to his family home and her removal to Trumpton Hall and the dubious ‘training’of the Duchess of Northumberland, where she is groomed to be a Maid of Honour at the court.

Eliza is a spirited heroine in thought, while outwardly she schools herself in an almost callous, outward,  indifference as she learns to negotiate the tricky world of the royal court. Through her eyes we see Katherine Howard, her cousin who is groomed by her family, exploited by it to become the next queen. This exploitation is horrific, and has a tragic end when she is beheaded. But given the initial dislike between the two protagonists  when they meet at Trumpton Hall, and Katherine’s manipulative behaviour as the novel develops, it is hard to feel sympathy for her.

The counterpoint to the intrigue and secrecy is Eliza’s friendship with Ned Barsby. At various points in the novel, a look from him, a message or a gift, are enough of a reminder to Eliza that she is being superficial and false, sometimes necessarily so. Henry’s  court is a dangerous place, and it is Eliza’s pride and ability to cultivate a polished demeanour which simultaneously protect her at court and drive away Ned. Moreover, at times she loses the friendship of other maidens, particularly Anne Sweet. This is inevitable in the insecure world of female jealousy created by men and senior courtiers, such as the Duchess of Northumberland, for the pleasure of the king.

The fact that the young girls are simply expendable puppets is brought home suddenly in chapter 34. The young girls, including Queen Katherine have no idea what is going on. As the story progresses Eliza is fed snippets by Ned and others mirroring the gossip ridden court. Eliza gets off lightly in the court of enquiry. She spends time with Katherine, her cousin, in the tower before the execution and the two girls are reconciled by their youth  and Eliza’s realisation that Katherine Howard had been ‘ambitious, false and selfish’ but that , ‘the (old) duchess (of Northumberland had trained them) to be bait for the king’ . Furthermore, Eliza realises she is as much a pawn in her family’s ambitions:Katherine’s fate could have been hers; for while Katherine played a better dynastic game she ultimately pays with her life.

Depressingly, Eliza is told by her father to do her duty, in otherwords to become the kings mistress if necessary and she wonders how she can escape this fate.

Set nearly five hundred years ago, this novel portrays a dangerous world for young women. In some respects the  historically distant setting dilutes the horror of sexual exploitation and grooming of young teens and yet Eliza’s veneer of callous indifference when in danger resonates today. Indeed, their vulnerability is highlighted as soon as Eliza reaches Trumpton Hall, just that the experience is viewed through Eliza’s naive eyes so that the reader accepts her interpretation of what we know to be historical events and supposition.

However, Eliza is as much a narrative puppet as  she is a pawn in courtly intrigue. She is a character through whom the larger historical narrative is retold. Her position allows us to see the intrigue and exploitation first hand, but because of her pride and her narrative perspective it is hard to get close to her. This is exacerbated because she is not narrating her own story but Katherine Howard’s. Eliza’s jealousy and dislike of Katherine dminish our sympathy until the end of the novel, so that this work of historical-fiction leaves me feeling uneasy, because what the reader is left with is the notion of a courtly paedophile ring where fathers, brothers and uncles are prepared to give up their daughters, sisters and nieces in the pursuit of preferment, power and wealth.

Lucy Worsley turned received historical narrative on its head. But then history was once written by men!

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