Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

Warmest New Year wishes to all my readers from a very soggy Britain.  The above photo was taken by Grandson#1 after church yesterday morning. The river is actually behind the trees, though you would never have guessed that. Here’s wishing us all good health, contentment, and somewhat better weather in 2013.

Back home on Wednesday, after which normal blogging service will hopefully be resumed. J

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas greetings

With a Christmas cake to ice and games to play with an excited grandson, I only have time to wish you and your loved ones a happy and peaceful Christmas and all the very best in the coming year. Your blogs and your friendship enrich my life immeasurably.

Image: Adoration of the Child by Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch 16th century) via Wikipedia

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Day with a difference

One winter morning I opened the front door of my childhood home, stepped out onto the garden path and fell flat on my back. It was Christmas Day 1962, I was sixteen, and though we didn't know it at the time, this was the beginning of one of the longest and hardest winters of the twentieth century in Britain.

The rain that had been falling as my sister and I came home from our first ever Christmas Eve party had frozen solid overnight, coating paths, trees and, more significantly, power lines with ice. We had woken to find ourselves without electricity and my mother had sent me to the neighbouring farm to investigate and, if necessary, to report the power cut, as we had no phone at home. Picking myself up, I did as I had been asked and gingerly made my way home with the news  that we had company in our misfortune, as the entire village was without power.

Our cottage was the second from the right, with my grandfather living in the end cottage next door
Thus began one of the most memorable and enjoyable Christmases of my life. Not only had it been heralded by my very first kiss under the mistletoe at that Christmas Eve party, but it would continue to provide experiences which are still vivid in my memory after fifty years.

Luckily the weather was clear, cold and sunny, so that the only immediate problem was how we were going to cook our Christmas dinner. With the electric stove out of action, everything had to be cooked in or on the coke-fired Rayburn range which was our only source of hot water. Christmas dinner was later than usual, but the chicken (no turkey for us back then) was mouth-wateringly tender and delicious after its long, slow roasting.

It was only when the last mouthful had been eaten and the last plate washed and dried that the real difference of this particular Christmas Day came home to us. No electricity meant no lights, no TV or radio for the Queen’s Speech, no Christmas specials from our favourite TV stars – in fact, no ready-made entertainment of any kind.

Instead, as the short winter daylight dimmed towards evening, out came the candles in jam-jars, the playing cards and board games, and we settled down round the kitchen table for a mammoth session of games until it was time for tea.

In the Lancashire of my youth, Christmas tea was always a highlight of the day. Not for us a desultory pecking at a sandwich or a mince-pie because we felt too full for anything else. Instead the table would be laden with ham sandwiches and salad, with jelly, trifle, mince-pies and Christmas cake and of course a large pot of tea. How we managed to do justice to it all after so much Christmas dinner I will never know, but do justice we did. Eating by candlelight made it even more special that year, and in my mind’s eye I can still see my parents and grandfather and my sisters round the table in that gentle glow.

After the tea-things had been washed up, it was back to the games until it was time for an essential part of all my childhood Christmases – singing carols round the candle-lit Christmas tree in our little front room. The tree was minuscule, a two-foot tall fir which was dug up from the garden each year and brought indoors to stand on a small table, ready to receive our much-loved collection of delicate glass ornaments – baubles and bells and two fragile glass birds with long silky tails.

Tiny birthday-cake candles stood in star-shaped holders clipped to the ends of the branches, which were draped with long strands of tinsel: red, blue, green, purple, gold and silver – no tastefully colour-co-ordinated Christmas trees for us! The kitchen and front room were hung with home-made paper chains and the tiny, flickering candle-flames on the tree were reflected as an infinity of points of light by the tinsel and ornaments – a moment of sheer beauty which tugs at my heart-strings even now.

Finally we made our way to bed, still by candlelight, and woke next morning to that special light which told us immediately that it had snowed in the night, snow which wouldn't completely disappear in many places for almost three months. But that is another story…..

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Just reaching for my apron

The third Sunday of Advent is nearly over and time is hastening on. Cards have been sent, gifts bought and the first tentative decoration has been hung from the beam next to the fireplace. Tomorrow I must unearth the crib figures and begin to hang the cards that have been arriving from family and friends, as well as finding the sellotape and the gift wrap. There’s still no rush, but the pace is hotting up slightly, even in the Transit household.

We shall be spending Christmas with DS in Oxford and New Year with DD in Yorkshire, so I have been spared the anxious planning of menus and frantic purchasing of food which seems to absorb so much time and effort for many people.  Instead this week I shall bring out my home-made mincemeat and make a goodly supply of mince pies to take with us next weekend. I’m no great cook, but my mince pies are quietly renowned in the family and I have some lovely new baking trays to make them in.

In addition I fancy trying my hand at Christmas gingerbread this year, using DD’s fail-safe recipe and have even splashed out on some fancy festive cutters. I have a willing recipe tester in DH and my main problem, other than making sure they don’t burn, will be stopping him eating them all before we even leave home.

In this cold and wet weather, with such sad news filling the airwaves, there will be something comforting and sustaining in the scents of mincemeat and pastry, cinnamon and ginger, and the sight of family treats ready to feed the family. Will you be baking too?

Images via Google – I haven’t made mine yet, but the mince pie recipes are on the page above. J

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The sound of silence

Those who know me well would probably tell you that I can be almost irritatingly Pollyanna-ish at times, always prone to look on the bright side and declare my glass half-full, not half-empty.  Just occasionally my normal optimism slips a bit and today is one of those occasions.

For the next couple of days I’ll be on my own at home, while DH visits his mother. Usually this gives me a chance to get on with things more easily achieved when I have the house to myself, and indeed I have a mental list of what I hope to do and have already made a start on it.

But being on my own in a house far from traffic noise, and on a frosty day when not a twig is stirring outside, means that the silence which surrounds me is profound - something I have always loved and valued. The problem is that I have just been brought face to face, as never before, with the stark fact that this silence I love so much has actually disappeared for me and will never return.

The simple reason is that I have tinnitus and it’s getting worse. It started, oh so deceptively, about five or six years ago with a very slight whispering sound in one ear. Over the years it has grown to be a constant, high-pitched, hissing noise in both ears, which is increasingly difficult to ignore and which is gradually making it impossible for me to hear those tiny sounds which are so precious and evocative.

Sounds like the chirp of a distant bird or the gentle rustle of leaves high in a tree or the almost imperceptible murmur of water over pebbles in a slow-moving stream. Close to, the sounds still penetrate, but their clarity and immediacy are blunted by the unceasing noise inside my head. Even music, which plays such an important part in my life, has to be listened to through this barrier and this saddens me.

I’m very aware that this doesn’t mean I’m going deaf and for that I am profoundly grateful. But I still mourn for the loss of something very precious – the silence which I used to find so enriching and sustaining and which made me so aware of being a very small part in the vastness of nature. Tomorrow I will probably bounce back to my normal optimistic state, but tonight I wish I could hear just once more the sound of silence.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Let the people sing

As I sat in church this morning, listening to the magnificent words of the Old Testament and Gospel readings for the second Sunday of Advent, my mind was carried back irresistibly to my childhood and the annual Christmas tradition of the performance of Handel’s Messiah. The readings concerned were a passage from the prophet Malachi and Saint Luke’s account of the work of John the Baptist. Words from both passages were set to music by Handel in two of the most demanding and brilliant of the arias in this marvellous work.

I grew up in industrial Lancashire, just outside a small cotton town, and every year, as Christmas approached, posters would go up in shop windows and on notice-boards, advertising performances of Messiah by this choral society or that chapel or church or school choir.  For very many people Christmas would not have been Christmas without attending a performance of Messiah.

The grammar school that I and my sisters attended always held its performance just before the end of the autumn term. Year after year I longed to sing in it, but was told I was needed to play violin in the school orchestra which accompanied the singers. It was only after I had left school that I was welcomed back at the end of my first term at university to sing soprano in the chorus and hear my next-to-youngest sister sing the contralto solos.

The tender beauty of the solos, the rousing grandeur of the choruses and the Baroque intricacies of the music form part of the essential background to Advent and Christmas for me even now. So, in the spirit of this tradition, here are the two aria inspired by the readings I heard in church this morning. 

Such glory, such faith.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A time of waiting

A few days ago I read a cracking post from my friend Broad, in which she reminded us all that “Advent is not Christmas”. It was a clarion call to put all the rush and bustle of the pre-Christmas season into perspective and remember what it is that we are preparing for.

I have always loved the season of Advent, especially because, long before its religious significance truly came alive for me, our first child, our son, was born on Advent Sunday. DH and I had recently graduated and were poor as church mice, but felt very rich indeed as that Christmas approached.

Years later, at some point every Advent DD and I would drive home from church singing our favourite Advent hymn, the ancient and beautiful O Come, O Come, Emmanuel with its hauntingly solemn melody. The version I've chosen reminds me of my long-ago student days, when I too sang in my college chapel choir, though without the dignified robes.

Nowadays, Advent for me is a time of expectant waiting for the joy of Christmas to come. Neither my house nor our church is decorated as yet and won’t be until shortly before Christmas.  Traditionally Advent is solemn, even austere, rather than celebratory, so that the celebrations, when they arrive, are heightened by the quiet waiting which has preceded them. Counter-cultural, perhaps, in the 21st century, and not easy to achieve in the pre-Christmas frenzy that surrounds us all, but it works for me every time. However you mark it, I hope that Advent will be peaceful and contented for you too.

Image via Google

Friday, November 30, 2012

Season of mists

As autumn turns to winter here in the hills of Mid-Wales, this was the view from the field behind our house earlier this week. Mist lying like spilt milk in the river valley in one direction and drifting gently upwards across the fields in another. This was weather for finding an extra sweater, stoking the fire and getting on with another pair of warm socks for chilly feet. 

When in doubt, hibernate!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Time out

Since our return to Wales just over a week ago, I seem to have done nothing but chase my tail. Now, on a cold and increasingly wet Sunday afternoon, it’s time to relax. For me today that means a big pot of tea, some hot buttered toast with homemade damson cheese, and one of my very favourite cartoon characters. Ahhh, that’s better….

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The best-laid schemes

Rabbie Burns was right! We mere mortals can plan things to our heart’s content and then along comes the randomness of human existence and all our careful arrangements are overturned. Having comfortably settled in for what was meant to be a six weeks’ stay up here in the Highlands, DH and I now find we have to go south again by the end of the week.

So it’s back to the packing and the farewells, almost before the last echo of “Hello, how are you?” has died away. In addition, we have to find some way of piling all the furniture in the middle of each room, so that in our absence the local decorator can at last do the long-delayed repainting of our very shabby walls and woodwork. Wish us luck!

This song is only vaguely linked with the above, but it takes me right back to my university days, when I was young and supple and bits of me didn't creak when I bend and lift. 


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

An ordinary life

Thirty years ago today a woman died in a Lancashire hospital after a short illness. She was sixty-six years old, a widow with five children, all girls, and twelve grandchildren. She had lived in or near her birthplace almost all her life and to all outward appearances had led a very ordinary, quiet life. Yet those outward appearances masked  a woman of intelligence, talent and deep determination, who achieved a great deal against considerable odds. Her name was Annie, she was my mother, and in another three days I will have outlived her.

My mother was born in the middle of the First World War in the cotton town of Darwen in Lancashire. Her father, a builder’s labourer before and after the war, was serving in the army supply corps, and her mother had worked in a cotton mill before her marriage. She was their first child, and after the death of their second baby, Jack, remained an only child.

The schoolgirl

Her childhood was overshadowed by her mother’s ill-health. Money was very short and though Annie won a scholarship to the local grammar school, she was unable to take it up, because the family income wouldn’t stretch to cover both doctor’s fees and all the extra costs of secondary schooling. So she stayed on at her elementary school, where she shone at art and design, winning awards in local art examinations, until she reached the then school-leaving age of fourteen.

It was 1930 and Britain’s economy was sinking into the Great Depression. Unemployment in the industrial north was rising fast and the only job my mother could find was daily domestic service. It almost broke my grandparents’ hearts to see their beautiful, clever and artistic daughter going out charring, as it was known, but Annie’s determination and capacity for hard work meant that she did not remain in this kind of employment indefinitely. 

The young woman

As well as art, she had always had a flair for arithmetic and soon began to go to night-school classes after work to study book-keeping. My knowledge of dates here is sketchy, but certainly, before she was out of her teens, she was working as a book-keeper at the local branch of Burton’s the tailors and later was employed by Unilever, the big soap manufacturer, at their factory at Port Sunlight

The bridesmaid

Not content with this achievement, Annie continue to educate herself, taking night-school classes in art and design until she was qualified to find work in the textile industry in her home town as a fabric designer. When, in 1941, she married my father Arnold, a painter and decorator, she was actually earning more than he was, an amazing achievement for a working-class woman at that period.

The wartime bride
My parents met at a dance in November 1940. What Arnold was wearing I have no idea, but I know exactly what Annie was dressed in and it is no wonder she caught my father’s eye. Tall and slender, and a skilled seamstress who made all her own clothes, she must have been striking in a full-length dance frock of dark-brown net, with a wide flounce round the hem, over a petticoat of flame-coloured taffeta. The reason I am so sure of this is that, as children, my next sister and I spent many happy hours dressing up in this same frock. 

When they met, my father was a widower, with a three-year-old daughter. Within a short time they were planning an April wedding, but unfortunately my father became ill and the wedding had to be postponed until June. By then wartime rationing was biting severely and the wedding cake was only a single layer, carefully disguised under a three-tier cardboard shell, though my mother still managed to collect enough clothing coupons for the traditional white wedding gown.

Annie and Arnold on honeymoon

After a weekend’s honeymoon at Garstang, my parents set up home in Darwen until my father was called up for military service in 1943 and joined the navy. When he was posted to a base on the east coast of Scotland my mother moved up there with my elder sister, so that Arnold’s short and infrequent leaves could be spent with his wife and daughter, rather than on the train to and from distant Lancashire.

It was not until the year after the war ended that my mother gave birth to her first child – me - followed eighteen months later by my next sister. The others arrived at longer intervals, in 1951 and 1957, the last being the only one to be born in hospital. Call the Midwife really did reflect the primacy of home births in the after-war period.

After her marriage Annie was a stay at home wife, caring for her children, home and husband as women have traditionally done. Her workload was made heavier by the fact that I was a sickly child, often ill and needing nursing.  So it was only when I was older and stronger and her youngest daughter had reached school age, that she took the post of dinner lady at the village primary school, serving and clearing up after the mid-day meal.

The catering manager

Before long she began to train as a school cook and when qualified ran the kitchen in the same school. Later she applied for and gained the post of head cook and manager of the kitchen in the big secondary school in the neighbouring town, which my sisters and I all attended over a period of some twenty years.

Here she was in her element, using her book-keeping training and organisational skills to plan menus, order supplies and keep accounts for a large and busy catering service. Sadly, before she could retire and enjoy more leisure time with him, my father, who was nine years older than Annie, was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and died within a year.

One of the last photos of my parents together

Two years later my mother finally retired and settled down to enjoy her little house and her much-loved garden, gardening being another of her many talents. She was still very fit and well and we all looked forward to seeing her enjoy a long and active retirement, but it was not to be. After only two years of retirement, out of the blue she suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and just ten days later she died.

Thirty years is a long time, almost half my life, but my memories of my mother are still clear and strong and happy. She and my father gave unwavering support to their daughters’ education and their encouragement of our talents was life-changing. Neither of our parents was fortunate enough to have had secondary education, yet four of their five daughters went to university and the fifth trained as a nurse.

I often think of my mother and, knowing what she achieved through her own efforts from such a difficult beginning, wonder what she might have become, if she had been given the same opportunities as my sisters and me. I think the same of my father, but that is for another post.

Annie may have lived what to the onlooker seems like a very ordinary life, but to me she was an extraordinary woman. I still miss her and I owe her more than I can say.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The necessity of trees

As many of you probably know by now, our favourite view from our house in Wales is dominated by the magnificent ash tree outside the bathroom window. The possibility that it and its companions may one day fall victim to ash die-back fills me with a mixture of sadness and dread. Yet, even if no longer carpeted with trees as in the past, Mid-Wales still has a wonderful variety of them, especially in the valley of the River Severn, where ancient and gnarled reminders of the mighty Montgomeryshire oaks once used to build ships for the British navy, still stand proudly in hedgerow and field.

In Normandy the garden in front of our house is overshadowed by three huge cherry trees, but in stark contrast to the lush fecundity of more favoured areas, here in the far north-west Highlands of Scotland, trees of any size are a rarity and to be treasured. Most are stunted and bent by the harshness of the climate and the poverty of the soil, but in sheltered places some do manage to flourish.

One of those places is our front garden, where, protected from the worst of the weather by hills on three sides, we have not only a few small fruit trees and ornamental bushes but also a graceful silver birch. Though nowhere near the size of its cousins further south, its beauty draws the eye in all seasons and at all times of the day, especially in the evening as the sun sets behind the fretwork tracery of its branches.

To me trees are one of the essentials of nature and a world without trees a nightmare beyond imagining. Trees are the anchor of the landscape, linking past, present and future and I love them in all their wondrous variety of shape and type. Here is the scene I contemplated yesterday, as the last of the sunset afterglow drained from the sky and night fell over hill, tree and water. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Settling in

I must be getting old. Even though we enjoy the journey north very much indeed, it does seem to take us longer to get over it each time. Still, we've caught up on our sleep, got the stiffness out of our knees and are starting to pick up the reins of life in the chilly north.

Now the rain has stopped and we can get outside without getting soaked, DH is happily occupied filling his new shed with all his ‘stuff’. I on the other hand have been to my first Knit and Natter of this visit, where I finished yet another pair of socks for him. I’m also tackling the garden, as our few shrubs have grown wildly since our last visit. When we arrived, late on Sunday, we almost had to hack our way through the enormous buddleia outside the kitchen window to get to the door.

A view to wake up to - the Kyle of Tongue from the bedroom window
The weather today has been cold, but brilliantly sunny, and the landscape is looking breathtakingly beautiful. It’s definitely soup weather, so I tried a new recipe today and am feeling wonderfully replete.  Small, inconsequential details of a very quiet life, but oh, so satisfying. 

Socks - for Rubye J 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The compass swings to the north

Fallen leaves carpet the ground, the freezer is full of soup, the weather is forecast to turn much colder, and most sensible creatures are snuggling down where it’s warm and sheltered. So what is the Transit household doing in this situation? The answer is simple: busily packing for our autumn migration to the glorious far north-west of Scotland. As the winds from the arctic begin to blow, we are getting ready to head off at the weekend in the direction they are coming from, and what’s more, we’re looking forward to it.

As regular readers will know, we enjoy our twice-yearly visits to the north-west Highlands enormously and are keenly anticipating our arrival and the pleasant process of settling-in and seeing our friends again. Whilst there I will knit more socks at the weekly Knit’n Natter meetings, walk along the road to the little church with one of the best views in the world and appreciate yet again the wondrous variety of landscape our little offshore islands have to offer.

Naturally my trusty laptop will accompany us and I’ll catch up with you all when we arrive. Until then it’s back to the sorting and packing. I love it really…. J

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A childhood on foot

Since I retired, the alarm function of my bedside clock has had less and less use and so it was a shock to the system this morning to find that I must inadvertently have pressed the alarm button last night, with the result that it roused me far too early from a deep and satisfying sleep. With no pressing need to get out of my warm and comfortable bed (these late October mornings are much too chilly for my liking and I’m going to church this evening) I drifted into that pleasurable state between waking and sleeping which allows all sorts of odd memories to rise to the surface of the mind.

To my surprise I found myself retracing my childhood walk to school, a small church primary school in a little village on the western fringes of the Pennines in Lancashire. In my mind’s eye I climbed the slope from our cottage to the stile into the field in which our neighbouring farmer grazed his cows. Once through the stile (a swing-gate, not a ladder stile) I walked along the footpath by the stone wall which bordered the field, until I reached the stile at the far end leading into the centre of the village.

Post Office and shop
From the stile I turned right for a short distance until the lane met the main road through the village. Ahead of me, across the road, stood the village post-office and shop, next door to The Victoria Arms, one of the three village pubs, the other two being strung out along the road through our small, but very straggling community. Turning left at the junction, I passed on my left the second of our village shops, run throughout my childhood by two unmarried sisters, Bessie and Marion.

It was in this shop that my sisters and I bought our small weekly allowance of sweets and the choice was always fraught. For 3 (old) pence we could buy two ounces of a wide variety of tooth-rotting goodies, such as pear-drops or mint imperials, aniseed balls or dolly mixtures, jelly babies or humbugs. I could go on….

Alternatively we could opt for a number of individually priced items like liquorice straps or sherbet dabs or even (perish the thought nowadays) a packet of sweet cigarettes which would allow us to mimic our elders’ behaviour before eating the chewy little sticks one by one.

Once past the shop I left the village centre behind and continued along the road for a few hundred yards to the next group of buildings.  All but one were houses, but the exception also played a central role in our lives back then. It was the Sunday School building for the Congregational chapel we belonged to and was the scene of many of the most enjoyable events of my childhood.

Its large main room acted as a village hall and there we went regularly to chapel socials and concerts and of course the annual Christmas party, with the obligatory visit of Father Christmas and his tantalisingly bulging sack of presents. It was there that my sisters and I learned to perform in the concerts and played our part in the work involved in providing a sit-down tea for a hundred or more people. It was there that we learned dances like the valeta, the Gay Gordons, the Dashing White Sergeant and of course the inevitable hokey-cokey and where I realised that, as far as dancing is concerned, I was born with two left feet. 

Down the hill to school
Beyond the Sunday School building was a walk of another few hundred yards, before I reached the next pub, The Rock Inn, and turned left down the lane to our little two-teacher school. According to the wizardry of the path function on Google Earth, that was a walk of about three-quarters of a mile each way, which we did on our own and on foot, winter and summer, through rain, wind, snow and even sunshine, until we left that school and graduated to the luxury of a bus journey to the grammar school in the neighbouring town.

I’m sure that there must have been many times in bad weather when we wished we didn’t have to make that walk twice a day, but it had its compensations. The details of our daily route, the individual buildings we passed, the people we met and the wonderful distant views from the hillside road, are deeply embedded in my memory and in my heart in a way I don’t think any car journey would allow and I’m glad of it. Perhaps I ought to set my alarm by mistake more often…. 

All images other than the first via Google. Some very old and of poor quality when magnified

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


What is it about soup? As soon as the days and nights reach that autumn point of equilibrium, my thoughts turn inexorably to the delights of the stockpot and the soup pan and I start to flick through my mental file of favourite recipes. DH and I are great fans of casseroles and stews, chilli and pasta, all the warm and comforting winter fillers, but for variety, economy and unfailing moreishness, there is simply nothing to beat soup.

I love it for its range of colour and taste and texture - the way it can be smooth and voluptuously creamy, or thin and delicate, or thick, chunky and satisfyingly filling. I love the fact that depending on the ingredients I have to hand, it can be simple and economical or luxuriously expensive. I love the knowledge that soup is forgiving, and difficult (though not impossible) to ruin completely, and that at its best it rises to a peak of perfection which is a joy to savour.

Like everyone I have my collection of tried-and-tested recipes, but one of the many wonderful things about soup is how inventive you can be with it, how easily you can take what you happen to have to hand and make something reassuringly familiar or deliciously different. The possible permutation of ingredients and flavours is vast and the resulting variety means DH and I are never bored when soup is on the menu.

Just think of the thick, slightly tart sweetness of parsnip and apple, or the luxurious creaminess of broccoli and Stilton, the warming earthiness of carrot and lentil or the savoury simplicity of French onion.

On a cold winter’s day, what could be better than satisfyingly tasty and filling ham and pea, made of course with a ham bone and proper marrowfat peas, and topped with dumplings? Split pea soup is lovely too, but not in the same league in my book. To be slightly more exotic, you could try the spicy richness of red bean and bacon, one of our longstanding favourites, crammed with tomatoes, onions and red peppers and tangy with paprika.

And whenever DH or I are under the weather and need cheering-up, we turn to the creamy comfort of chicken and rice, in our house made with the stock  from a traditional French poule au pot (chicken simmered with vegetables, herbs and garlic).

Of course, for the true soup addict there is no such thing as having enough recipes and I’m always open to new suggestions. These are a few of my favourites. Will you share  some of yours?

Image via Wylio

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Burning the midnight oil

Old habits die hard. Five years after I retired for the second time, I’m still faintly haunted by my mother’s adage that “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” The trouble is that this doesn’t come naturally to me and never has done. Fundamentally I’m an owl, not a lark.

Though I enjoy the early morning when forced to experience it, my normal instinct when I wake up early is to turn over, snuggle down and go back to sleep. In the evening the converse is true. While DH will happily head off to bed and to sleep after the 10 o’clock news, I find myself perking up again, ready to go back online for an hour or two and even read in bed after finally switching off the computer.

The one thing guaranteed to make me put the light off before the wee small hours is the knowledge that DH will wake me in the morning no later than 9. Not that I want him to, you understand, it’s just that we’ve decided that we simply can’t allow our respective body clocks to get too far out of line or life would become much too complicated. So he gets up when he’s ready to do so and wakes me when my morning porridge is ready. DH is no cook, but he can make a mean pan of porridge (it must be his Scottish ancestry) so on most mornings making breakfast is his province, not mine.

The snag comes when he is on a rare trip away without me, as he is at the moment. As I type he’s in the process of taking an elderly aunt home from a visit to his mother’s and has left me to my own devices for a couple of days. As soon as I know there is no-one around to keep me in line, I fall far too easily into bad ways, as I did last night.

Oh, I was good at first. The TV went off at 10 and the computer about an hour later. I told myself I was tired after a busy weekend and needed an early night. So I was in bed soon after 11 and decided to reward myself with the opening chapter (or two) of my latest library book: A Question of Belief  by the superlative Donna Leon.

Who was I trying to kid? There is no such thing as reading only a chapter or two of a Donna Leon novel. Her writing is so good, her settings so atmospheric and her characters so well-drawn that I instantly found myself drawn into the story and emerged to find that it was almost 3am, my eyelids were drooping from tiredness and I was two-thirds of the way through the book. 

Even then something in me urged me to make a night of it and finish the whole book, but from somewhere I found a remnant of commonsense and made myself switch off the light. From habit I woke just before 9, heavy-eyed and sluggish, but still full of the guilty joy of reading in bed until I could read no more. I still have the final third to read, but tonight DH will be home and I will be good again – until next time.

Image via Wylio

Sunday, September 30, 2012

And now for something completely different

Forty years ago, when DH and I had only been married a few years, the children were small and money was very tight, one of our greatest pleasures was listening to the radio. Back in those dim and distant days, radio meant, of course, the BBC, since in Britain commercial radio didn't start broadcasting until 1973.

We listened avidly to classic drama, current affairs and comedy and one of the now almost forgotten gems we loved was a comedy series, written and performed by the hugely talented Ronnie Barker, and entitled Lines from my Grandfather’s Forehead.  Back then Ronnie Barker was almost unknown, but the skilful and very funny short sketches he wrote for the series foreshadowed the immensely popular work he would later create as he became a household name.

Our absolute favourite among those sketches is one we have never forgotten and despite our increasingly unreliable memories, we can still recite chunks of it to each other after all these years. Tonight, however, DH made my day by discovering that it is now on YouTube, and I have just had the enormous pleasure of hearing it again and finding it just as funny and as clever as I found it back in 1972.

Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats for the Three Minute Hamlet.


Friday, September 28, 2012

It’s a conspiracy!

Since we got back safely to the UK, it feels as though the world of technology has been ganging up  against DH and me.  We arrived home in Wales on Thursday of last week to find that our phone line was out of order. Thankfully the engineers were able to come out the next day and have repaired the line after a fashion, but the phone is still crackly and our broadband is poorly again. Even the arrival of a brand-new router this week hasn't solved the problem completely, which is why your wonderful posts are piling up in my Reader faster than I can read them, let alone comment on them.

The dishwasher too chose this week to down tools decisively. I’d forgotten just how much washing-up two hungry people can generate in a day and how long it takes to do it. The more expensive model we chose last time not having lasted as long as we had expected, we chose a very basic one as a replacement and I already love it. Price is definitely not everything…..

Then there was the jungle which we usually call a garden. We always expect it to be pretty shaggy by the time we come back from our summer in France, but this year’s enormous rainfall has nurtured truly rampant growth everywhere and it’s taken every spare minute when it hasn't been actually pouring down (not that there have been too many of those since we got back) to begin to bring it back under control. I did mention that gardening is my main form of exercise, didn't’ I?

The crowning touch to a difficult week came when I logged onto Blogger earlier in the week to find that the powers-that-be at Google have finally carried out their threat and have pulled the plug on my beloved and comfortable old Dashboard. I hate the new interface with a passion because it is just so difficult to use for a person with cataracts and mine are definitely getting worse. This will be my first post using it and I am not looking forward to the experience. I may be some time…. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Little boxes

…and big boxes and bags of all shapes and sizes. Suddenly I can’t see the living-room furniture for all the clutter. Yes, the Transit household is packing up and heading north again and another summer in Normandy is rapidly drawing to a close. Of course it will be good to see Wales and our family and friends again, but that doesn’t stop me feeling the usual pang at uprooting myself from what has become a much-loved home and area.

After getting up well before dawn on Tuesday, we leave France on the early morning ferry and by that evening we will be having supper with DS and his family. The next day will be spent with DH’s mother and by Thursday evening we will be home in Wales, rapidly taking the weight off the very small campervan’s uncomplaining suspension.

I plan to while away some of the almost six-hour Channel crossing drafting the post I’ve been promising you all for ages. It’s just been so busy here recently, with friends to visit, the village soirĂ©e or evening meal and social to attend, and a hundred and one neglected and now last-minute jobs to finish, that writing has had to take a very back seat. But the nights are drawing in and once I’ve unpacked and put everything away again, that will mean much more time for quieter occupations such as blogging.

So it’s au revoir to Normandy until next year and soon we’ll be welcoming each well-known landmark, as we make our way back over Offa’s Dyke to the green hills and quiet valleys of our beloved Mid-Wales. I am so very fortunate to be able to spend my life in such beautiful places.

Image via Google

Friday, August 31, 2012

Where did August go?

As I staggered in from the garden earlier this evening, having just mowed over a quarter of an acre with my trusty push-mower, I realised that we are almost in September and most people probably think I’ve done a midnight flit. J I’ve actually been feeling the first stirrings of blog inspiration again recently and will be back with a real post very soon, but I just wanted to show a sign of life and say thank-you for not forgetting about me altogether.

We have friends coming to stay early next week and after this will come the slow winding down of this latest summer in Normandy. As so often at this time of year, the weather is becoming beautifully sunny and golden, making it hard to think of uprooting ourselves and heading back across the Channel. But the ferry is booked and the diary is starting to fill with things to do when we get home, so we plan to enjoy these final days in France as much as we can, before packing our life into the very small campervan and taking it home again to Wales.

So as the leaves on the trees – cherry, apple and poplar - turn to gold and start to fall, I’ll leave you with a reminder that France is indeed another country, with a beautiful language I have yet to master completely after more than 50 years of trying….