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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Absence

I’m sorry for the lack of posts – I have had  a short story on the go since February and a few more episodes of Amy planned. 

Events got in the way. I hope normal service will be resumed soon
Anne

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Writing Dilemmas

A nasty pesky persistent and painful dose of shingles has kept me from writing. In “The Railway Children”, Mother states, ‘I haven’t an idea in my head for a story, so there won’t even be (iced) buns for tea for some time.” Cute! Sixpence per story and enough cash  to to buy buns. The “Bring back Fiction to Women’s Magazines” Facebook page would be apoplectic at such poor rates.

I’ve got the ideas for stories but I’m unsure how to proceed with them. Moreover while there were no hot cross buns over Easter, we didn’t exactly starve as I became the Queen of Spices serving up vegetarian fare for visitors and offspring. It’s amazing how many different ways courgettes and aubergines can be presented – but this research was not exactly at the forefront of my mind, and I would kill for a juicy, charred, salty,  steak right now. It’s been an adventure, this veggie thing —  my personal favourite being the Thai veggie burgers masquerading as Thai fishcakes, served in pitta bread with salsa and jalapeños. Hopefully, an overdose of vitamin c and spice will kill this virus, before the extra cooking and prep kill me!

So why the writing dilemma? Part of my research about Amy involved watching documentaries about Looked After Children and care leavers. It was sobering, heart breaking,unjust, filled with profanity, despair and disillusion. It was unbelievable the obstacles they faced. Young people in care forced to move placement multiple times, and more likely to fall into prostitution and drug use. So my fictional Amy is just that: fictional, far from lifelike, and yet to depict the realities I’d have to write from places that are beyond my experiences and criminal. I don’t know whether I have the courage for that. I mean consider my opening line: “The first time I gave  a **** *** for money I was twelve years old. I was ******** ** by the time I was sixteen.”  It’s not biographical, not young adult, and alienating in terms of language. And yet….

The other dilemma is of course whether I have anything of value to contribute — and I am worried about this. Friends are going through crises of their own: mental health, relationships,  dodgy hips, arthritic knees, ageing, renal failure, dementia,  God, Church, family and marriage. Where they write about these , they do so movingly, from a vulnerable place. Where they speak of them they do so in various ways guaranteed to elicit my sympathy, humour,exasperation and impatience. Where they talk continuously, repetitively and endlessly ruminating, I mutter, murmur and shrug. If they Facebook them, I scroll past. But in these contexts my Amy preoccupation and worry about the writing of her  are inconsequential.

Perhaps I should just get on with writing her but I am worried that in pursuit of reality I will offend and alienate.  In the meantime I have more aubergines and courgettes to prep.

Thai spices? Check.

Moroccan Spices? Check.

Italian Spices? Check!

OK Greek spices tomorrow and maybe Amy will pick up a stir fry from the Chinese where she is sleeping rough.

 

 

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