Saturday, 31 December 2016

One I Made Earlier: Dishy

Thanks so much to all who left kind comments yesterday. You have affirmed that telling the story of my sister's life was the right thing to do.

Today I bring you another thing that I found on the wall in my brother's home.  I made this!  It dates from the time that I was an occupational therapy student.  Do you know I wonder if I might have entered the profession just on the basis that I got access to an arts and crafts room and a pottery studio while I was studying!

This is one of a series of four dishes that I made which are based on maps. Only two survive.  One is on one of my mad walls.  It is a representation of  part of the ordnance survey map that depicts  Exeter.  This one puzzles me.  I can't remember where it's supposed to be.  It may be Dartmoor.  If anyone recognise the topography please enlighten me.  Bear in mind that it might be upside down!

Friday, 30 December 2016

Esther's Story

This is one of the latest pictures of Esther, the guide dog who was bought with some of the proceeds from the estate left by my sister.  She came to visit my parents just before Christmas.

Esther's eulogy, that I read at her burial, is so personal that maybe I thought it wasn't meant for a wider audience than those around her grave. I've said before that Blogland is a sanitised version of real life and I reflect deeply about what I choose to write. Yet after much um-ing and ah-ing over several months I've decided that it needs to be shared.  For  the story of this highly unusual life is part of her legacy from which  others might take inspiration.  It is the most important piece I've ever written.  I like to think that, we as a family, in piecing together the memories, did my sister proud.

The Eulogy of Esther Harris 1969-2016

This eulogy is based on the shared memories that Mum, Dad, my brother Paul and I, as her sister, have of Esther’s  life.    I am honoured to be able to speak today on our family's behalf.

My first encounter with my sister was in a children’s home in Westcliff when she was a baby.  I still remember her beauty and that she was wearing a yellow hand crocheted outfit when we went there to bring her home to live with us.  She must have been about four months old.   My sister was originally called Sarah but her name was changed to Esther, when she was adopted. It was also the name of my Nan, another woman who, in her time, bucked trends.

As siblings we had our own very different strengths.  I showed academic promise.  Paul, my brother has been an outstanding artist from an early .age.  Yet we were all in awe too of Esther’s amazing ability for common sense and prowess in the practical.  She was incredibly skilled in many different areas, a talented cook, gardener and craftswoman. I have never yet mastered how to throw a pot on a wheel but Esther did this with ease and made a teapot soon after she started classes.

In contrast to her personality as an adult Esther was an outgoing child.  Paul remembers how she used to sing to the people who worked in the greengrocer’s shop that we visited.  I remember that we used to wear hand me down clothes from our cousin.  Esther was particularly taken by a very ‘70s jumpsuit and would wear it to impersonate  Freddie Mercury singing  ‘We are the Champions’.  The music that I will play in a moment is influenced by this memory and  has also been chosen as it reflects the feelings of someone at the end of a life shortened by tragic illness.

Esther had incredible recall of childhood events.   Our mum, who is, to this day, very chatty, made up stories.  My sister was very fond of these.  She also remembered many of Mum’s comments as she went about  her daily life. For example, all of us were brought up from an early age to be respectful of nature.   Esther was particularly taken with a phrase that Mum uses:  'The bees like it'.  We are keen that this should be incorporated into a memorial to her in accordance with her wishes.

Yet it was during early years that Esther started to become troubled.  The support for adopted children and their new families was non-existent in those days.  How can being rejected at birth not take a toll?  The seventies was also a time when prejudice against minorities was overt and tolerated to a far greater extent than today. From an early age my sister experienced cruelty  because of her colour and this began to take a lasting toll on her mental health.

My mum was very adamant that I should talk about how compassionate and kind Esther was and I am so happy to be able to do this.  When she has been well enough my sister has impacted positively on the lives of others and had a special affinity to those, like herself, who have been  marginalised in society.  She left home at sixteen to work as a carer in London but was unable to sustain this due to illness.  However  it was then that she started to demonstrate a theme that was repeated throughout her life. This was a determination to rise back up and do good.  She went on to volunteer for the Terence Higgins Trust.  After returning to Southend she worked for several years at the ‘Growing Together’ project, a garden open to the public.  It was there that she found that she had an aptitude for working with people with learning difficulties.    But it was at the Salvation Army’s Hadleigh Farm that she found a real sense of belonging.  There, Esther used her incredible ability to teach and guide those with special needs so that they were able to find meaningful employment.  I was very touched to see cards from trainees at the centre when I was with my sister in the hospice.  These were with her at the end of her life and meant a lot to her. We, as a family would like to give those that Esther trained our heartfelt thanks.  For she felt safe with people like you and you brought out the best in her.

Although my sister was shy she was outwardly flamboyant in the way that she dressed and presented herself. Her dreadlocks combined with the distinctive tattoos on the side of the head were part of her identity.  The more recent tattoo of a hare that she had on her scalp when she lost her hair to cancer treatment seemed to be a symbol representing both her courage and her humour.  My brother reminded me how she used to travel the tube in an Army surplus jacket with a toy parrot sewn on her shoulder.  And I thought that I dressed to stand out!  When I was with her for a few days before she died the first thing that she wanted to tell me about was the dress with skulls and roses that she had ordered to wear to my Paul’s wedding.   She was going to  set  it off with a purple bowler hat.   Sadly Esther died three days before  Paul got married.  She is being buried in the outfit that meant so much to her and many of us today are joining her in being colourful.

At times when Esther was well she achieved a great deal, for example studying horticulture and being accepted onto a social work course.  She also embarked on a trip around the world even though her eyesight was failing her.  She was so excited for me and my son Louis last year when we went to Vancouver as she had such fond memories of that city. In spite of setting off with trepidation she met many good people on her journey and formed a close friendship with a  handsome Maori in New Zealand.  At one time she was very overweight but had the determination to lose over twelve stone after which she maintained a daily exercise habit.   She viewed cancer as especially cruel as it hit at a time when she was trying to live such a healthy lifestyle.

This eulogy would not be complete if we did not acknowledge the impact of the  severe mental illness that Esther endured during large parts of her life.  It affected her ability to work, her self esteem and at times made it difficult for even those who loved her to sustain a satisfactory relationship.  It led to a period when she even lived on the streets of London.   At times   she would not leave the house and would do little else but lie in bed for weeks.   She  was often hostile but this was a woman suffering. The world seemed like a terrible place  to her and she felt angry and afraid. News stories touched my sister deeply and we are glad she is at peace and no longer troubled by events that are outside her control. In a moment of black humour shared on her death bed we joked that it was a good thing that she would never see Donald Trump as the US president.
 
Because she had such poor experiences with mental health services and I work in this area my own relationship with her was often strained.  At these times I offered support to those family members who were still able to maintain a closer caring role.  My sister’s own tales of how she was sometimes treated in the health service with a lack of dignity continually hits home and I use her experience to reflect on my own practice.  I hope it is part of Esther’s legacy that no-one in my care feels that they are treated with a lack of compassion or respect.


Perhaps the last few years are those that Esther has felt most settled and was able to build a meaningful life and walk away from a past marked by vulnerability and abuse.  When she moved back to Essex she started to build lasting friendships with good people.  You know who you are.  I am sure having the support of Mum and Dad when she lived over the road from them helped to sustain her too.

Paul has told me a couple of stories that demonstrate  my sister’s wicked sense of humour.   Just before she died she wanted to take up photography and asked Paul to look for a camera for her. She wanted to join a photography group and see the looks on their faces when she walked in carrying her white cane.

As part of her exercise regime she took protein powder. She noticed that it made her fart and told Paul about this.  He suggested that it would be funny to have 'Sorry it's the protein powder' printed on a tee shirt. She thought this was hilarious and arranged for my brother to order one which she wore at the gym.

Esther’s compassion for others and her sense of her place in nature outlasts her natural life.   As she had requested many of her belongings have been donated to help the homeless and those with health problems.  Her corneas are being used for medical research and a large portion of the money that she left behind has been used to buy and train a black Labrador, Bolshie Esther.   The residue of her estate will be distributed to other charities that help those she identified with  She chose this burial site so that her bodily remains might contribute to a beautiful habitat for plants and wildlife. It will also serve as a lasting memorial to my sister if we all work to fight prejudice in all its manifestations, examining ourselves first.

We can also take from her example of living a remarkable life in spite of adversity. I promised Esther that I would run my first half marathon in about twenty five years in 2017 for Idiopathic Intercranial Hypertension UK.  This charity supports those with the condition that caused Esther to lose her sight.   If you wish, please join me in taking action in her memory.  It could be a challenge or maybe doing  something that you’ve always wanted but never got around to.  She would like that.

I would like to mention the exceptional care that my sister received at Havens Hospice in her last days  The staff there can be enormously proud of their role in helping Esther to transition from being scared and in considerable inner turmoil to dying  pain free and with dignity. They could not do enough to individualise her care so that she was as comfortable as possible. Their role in supporting us as a family at the end of such a difficult journey cannot go unnoticed either.

Thank you all so much today for being here and listening.   I am particularly glad to be able to share these memories with Esther’s only nephew, my son Louis.  I know she loved him dearly even though her illness meant that she could not play as big a part in his life as she would have liked.

‘Goodbye – see you on the other side’.  These  were my last words to my sister as I left the room in the hospice.    Esther, you remain so loved in the hearts of your loved ones who remain here.  Rest in Peace.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

McCalendar Guys

I love my gay male friends.  They provide a wonderful perspective on life.  They give me insights about the seemingly inexplicable  working of the male mind when it's needed yet combine it with being like a girlie confidante.  What straight man would come into the office and point out to all his female colleagues that there is a dead cute bloke in the car park?

Of course Mr Metrosexual and Ruff Stu are at the top of the pile.  I popped around for a quick gossip and a glass of wine the other night.  They were keen to show me their 2017 kitchen calendar. Last year it was camp rugby players that adorned their wall.  I didn't know that there was such a thing but you live and learn.  I like this year's offering better.  It's like Highlander all over again - with innuendo!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A Sequel

After writing a post about mindfulness yesterday I crashed the car on the M25. The irony is not lost on me. Almost a carbon copy of the accident earlier in the month  except no rogue cruise control this time and I was the one who shunted another car in the back when it stopped suddenly  in heavy traffic.  Just a moment of inattention caused such a change to the best laid plans of two  mice and men who anticipated a long evening of chilling at home. Squeak!

Our prolonged journey back to Devon included a two hour spell waiting at the side of the motorway in a refuge area as water was pouring out from under the,car which threatened to overheat thick and fast.  Yet Louis kept me entertained as we froze our socks off on the safe side of the crash barrier.  Is that the rescue people?'  he exclaimed as a family saloon pulled in.  ' 'Oh no, it's just another stranger stopping for a random piss.' There were quite a few people with weak bladders I can tell you.

I was  very touched by the man who stopped just to see if we were okay and gave us a bottle of water.  He was keen to let me know that he was doing it because he was a good Muslim and had been moved to help us.  He also told me to move on and not take the accident to heart.  Bless!  We're still not home yet. The journey developed Bank Holiday complications and the outcome last night was a rescue at Exeter station by the Second Martha Stewart wielding toothbrushes. She brought us to her holiday home in Exmouth and administered TLC  which involved delicious turkey sandwiches. Our luggage is with the car on a driveway in Reading where the breakdown guy prematurely posted keys through a door.  The word pallaver is not unfitting here.

As an addendum to my previous post I 'm surprised to say that  this incident  has not traumatised me.   No-one thankfully got hurt.   And call me a bit loop the loop but what has happened seems to have propelled. me into a state of peace rather than shock.  The Second Martha Stewart is in agreement here that all things happen for a reason!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Present

It's that time when the old gives rise to the new and we reflect on what has been and what is to come. Normally I come up with reasons why lots of things in my life should change.  Even when I don't make resolutions those dreams and schemes come thick and fast.  For after all aren't we're taught from a early age to strive for more and more?

This year was a tough one where I saw off my own demons and walked with my friends and family experiencing their own losses and suffering.  Yet content is a word that now keeps coming to mind.  I'm healthier mentally and physically than I've been for years. My work-life balance has been restored and I'm enjoying my job again,   There's no desire to advance my career if what I do is rewarding and stimulating anyway.   And giving up formal study was such a good move.  It means that I can be with those that are dear to me without thinking that I really should have my nose in a textbook instead.

I'm using some of the time I've freed up to re-invigorate the mindfulness practice that's been part of my life for over a decade.  It will help me weather future storms.  I've been looking to my new virtual bestie for guidance on how to live in the present and stay connected with my 'true self. Seemingly she lies underneath the stressy one that often dominates.    The aim is to banish her for good by a focus on the present moment that can be sustained lifelong.  So my holiday reading is a pile of Eckhart Tolle books that I reserved from the library.

Here's another link to another one of his videos that I found inspiring. I'm interested that he makes reference to one of 'The Four Agreements, the one about not taking things personally. I'd been thinking all along that the teaching of Tolle and Ruiz are a good match.  After all, even if expressed in different metaphors, I reckon universal truth is going to be a constant.

Monday, 26 December 2016

410 RNO

My brother has this drawing framed and hanging in the hall of his home. It's like that angel plaque all over again.  He insists that he drew it but it's definitely one of mine.  A perfect example of how each of us have a different narrative on life even if we've been through the same experience.    My evidence for my version of events being true is that my brother is a way better artist than me. Had he drawn the picture it would have been a much more detailed and accurate representation, probably in 3D.

It was our family car, a Ford Prefect with its pre 1963 number plate.  Today it would be regarded as a classic but then it was just one in a line of old bangers that Papa Lovelygrey bought for a few quid, fixed up and then continuously tinkered with to keep it on the road.  He must have done an okay job.  I remember it fondly as being with us for a number of years.





Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Baubles

I'm sending out the warmest of seasons greetings.  May this day be a truly blessed one for you all.  After a two stage journey with a stop at a hotel just off the  M25, Louis and I finally arrived in deepest darkest Norfolk yesterday where we're sharing the holiday weekend with my family, a happy time together after this, the toughest of years for us.   This isn't an East Anglian scene but one that's very Devonian.  Totnes Market is held on Tuesdays in December and has become a bit of a tradition for me and my son.  I give him a detailed public transport schedule and somehow he manages to turn up at my office just as I'm about to leave for the day.  It's a minor miracle!  We then head off, eat street food, buy presents from the traders and generally take in the  atmosphere.

I  was fully imbibing the festivity when  I came across an Indian man's stall.  I bought these baubles and have given one of them to Lovelybloke.  I thought that it might mirror the scene of the meadow at the front of his house on a day when the wildlife fancy a frolic.  The chap told me that they were hand painted and lacquered in Kashmir by his uncle and grandfather.  It was such a wonderful story and I imagined the scene in that far off land.  After all I like things with provenence.

 With my tendency to take people at face value I didn't predict the  response of my work colleagues when I recounted the story to them. 'Ha!' laughed Chicken Mama.  'He must have seen you coming.  If you get out a magnifying glass I'm sure you'll find 'Made in Taiwan' printed on them somewhere!'.  I can't find it though and refuse to put on a cynical hat.  Maybe, just  maybe the tale is a true one.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Spock Spot

We had a moment of pondering at work the other day for we are deep buggers.  'Where does the saying 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few' come from?' one of us asked.  Someone thought that it might be a bit of ancient wisdom from long departed forefathers.  Another, quite reasonably, volunteered Shakespeare.  I googled it and discovered that this particular piece of wisdom is way more recent.  It fell out of the mouth of Dr Spock in the movie Star Trek II. Well, well!

Here's a quote from Leonard Nimoy, one of his own rather than out of the mouth of his alter ego with the wax-like pointy ears.  This resonates for I know it to be true from personal experience. There is  a wonderful symbiosis here.  For this time of giving and receiving presents here's a sweet little article about the benefits of gifting.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Happy Christmas to Me!

Now I've got living proof that I'm an athlete for I have a sporting injury!  Since my last running update I progressed to a 9.5km circuit that took over an hour to complete.   Not bad eh, for a tubby fifty something who struggled to step up from a sixty to ninety second jog less than six months ago?    A little bit of internet research suggests that I've been a little over enthusiastic and increased the pace and distance too quickly. Consequently I developed plantar faciitis, inflammation in the heel region of my right foot.  Even walking about the house in slippers hurt. I've gone a bit stir crazy because I've caught this running bug real bad.  But there really was no other choice apart from letting nature's healing take its course.   There's been no pounding the pavements for a bit more than a week  but thank goodness my tactic of resting up rather than  running through the pain seems to be paying dividends.

My old trainers are about three years old  so the foam cushioning in the sole is probably a bit squished by now.  Disco Queen Vikki said that a new pair might be a good investment to prevent further injury.  I hadn't planned to buy myself a Christmas present but maybe my arm didn't need twisting too much to persuade me to self gift.

So here's my new funky footwear, a good make, Brooks, bought at less than half their retail price.  Everybody will see me coming in these beauties.   They're ready for the restart of my exercise regime after Boxing Day.  I should have a few mince pies in my tummy to burn off by then!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum



Let's have a little bit of festive music today shall we?  Bear with  (Rah!) the toe curlingly awful introduction.  For after that the wonderfully pure voices of a couple of late greats kick in.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Easiest Cake Nigella Knows

Mum has coeliac disease which is not some faddy food preference but potentially a life threatening condition  Before she was diagnosed she was in a bit of a state.  Happily she's now the picture of health.  In one of my early blog posts I gave some ideas for  gluten free Christmas fayre.  Nigella's Clementine Cake is another recipe that fits the bill.  Mum was very excited when I told her that I was making one for Christmas.

The plain appearance of the finished cake belies its deliciousness. It's packed full of flavour, predominantly from clementines which are boiled the night before for a couple of hours. Who needs posh scented candles when you're doing this job.  The whole house smelt wonderful.

As the glorious Nigella says, this cake really is the easiest going.  Just shove all the ingredients in the food processor and blitz.  Lining the cake tin is the hardest part!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Proof That I Am Geeky

Today  I've posted this as it pleased my inner mathematician.   She clapped her hands with glee when she saw it.   It made her heart sing. In my younger days I did a science degree and enjoyed studying maths to a level that went beyond A-level.     Even though I've forgotten most of what I learnt  I reckon its influence still bangs about in the subconscious. For rationality and logic balance out all that Totnesian nonsense that's seeped in from twelve years of working in a town known for its hippie vibes.

There's succinctness to equations, secret codes for the initiated containing truths that it would take many words to express.  Once I did a course about quantum mechanics where a stereotypically nerdy lecturer strung together long lines of symbols, like this one, Ψ!  With a focus at nuclear level he unfolded a story that described the interconnectivity of the whole universe.  Whoah!   I was mesmerised and came out of the building with a head buzzing with joy and wonder.  Who needs mind altering drugs when you've had an encounter with Schrodinger!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Now!




I've only discovered  Eckhart Tolle in recent weeks.  There!  The fact that this influential spiritual author has just appeared on my radar after  he found fame over a decade ago demonstrates quite how off the pulse my finger can be.  Mind you I was talking about hygge six years ago and that's a topic that's just gone viral as the dark winter nights of 2016 closed in.  Trends: you may or may not get wind of them here first!

Anyway I'm so glad that I found this lovely  chap who, as well as being  witty and wise, seems to own the largest collection of tank tops known to mankind.  Now that I've completed my own exercise of belly button gazing and freed up a whole host of time I've had space to explore just a fraction of his extensive offerings on Youtube.  With the frenzy of Christmas upon us I thought that there may be someone out there who'd appreciate the moments of peace that this man's teachings can instill.

My favourite so far has been from a question and answer session where Eckhart reflects on breaking the habit of excessive thinking.   As a person who is famous for a busy little head that still needs taming, it speaks volumes.   Seemingly straightforward but so much to master.  It's not possible to embed that particular talk in this post so you'll have to follow the link in the first sentence of this paragraph.  But here's another Eckhart talk about bringing a meditative quality to everyday life.  Enjoy the simply explained profundity, the beautiful gentle humour and his wonderfully expressive face.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Finally Wired

On the last day of our Breton trip in the summer, Lou and I ended up in IKEA at Brest.  It's quite a frequent stop when we're in that neck of the woods. Of course a slap up lunch involving meatballs has become part of the tradition.

The main reason that we went there was to seek out picture frames and fabric. I'd also hoped that I'd find a cheap, nifty solution for drying my linocut prints in a space efficient way. . There are beautiful wire racks for this purpose but I don't have the space. There are also systems where the prints are held in place on beechwood rails with ball bearings.  Now I really love those but they are expensive.

And IKEA came up trumps.  Dignitet curtain wires are just the thing.   I decided to hang two parallel lines in my crafting area and then the prints could be clipped between the wires with Riktig curtain hooks.. They'd take half an hour max to put up and then Bob's your uncle.  I'd be set for crafting.

Three months down the line I've been tearing my hair out.   The job has been a nightmare.  It's been like that DIY SOS programme before they send in the heavies to sort out the numpty who doesn't know one end of a screwdriver from another.  Eighty year old plaster and wires under considerable tension aren't a good mix.   I knew the physics but thought that maybe a little bit of magic could  be brought into play.  Several attempts at doing the job left me with big holes above the picture rail on the outer wall. The fairies just weren't playing ball.

Thank heavens  for the  very patient man in our local DIY store.  It's one of those rare places that you can buy a single screw.   He spent half an hour explaining how I could solve my conundrum.  It included an introduction to Milliput epoxy putty and which of my drill bits to use to get through the brick behind the crumbly plaster.  For girl's schools in the 1970s did not encourage young ladies to get down and dirty with power tools. Even though they said that we were there to be career women we were really learning how  to cook for prospective husbands and make skirts so that we could look pretty.

Finally, finally here's the result.  The wires haven't pinged overnight like on previous occasions.  The curtain hooks needed a twist so that they'll hold the paper at the right angle but that was easy.  Pliers are tools that I'm already nifty with.    At last!  I'm all  ready for some hardcore printmaking in the New Year.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Lies, Lies, Lies

Often when I'm wondering why the hell I'm still working in an overstretched NHS I get a timely reminder. Yesterday I was genuinely  moved when a carer told me in  a heartfelt manner that I was like a ray of sunshine in her life. Now a ten percent payrise would be rather wonderful but  confirmation that I'm still making a  difference is worth its weight in gold too.   It brings a smile everytime I think of her words.

I was talking to this woman about life with her husband who has dementia.  His behaviour is getting more and more bizarre and difficult to cope with.   She says that, sometimes to manage, she will tell 'golden lies', fibs that defuse difficult situations and don't hurt anyone. When the dear man gets an idea into his head it can persist for hours if it's not nipped in the bud at the outset. It's at times like this she uses this little resource in her virtual toolbox  to minimse her husband's distress. She was also honest enough to say it's sometimes brought out of the bag just to make her own life a bit easier. After all this is someone who already has more drama in her life than most of us would cope with.

The last time I remember using a golden lie was  when I was single.   There's a sweet man that I often bump into.  I can't work out if he has sustained a head injury, has a learning difficulty or is overmedicated.   He seems to lead a lonely life and  I often pass the time of day.  Once he asked hopefully whether I had a boyfriend.   When I said yes I was a liar, liar, clearly with pants on fire. I still can't quite reconcile being untruthful but maybe a knock to my conscience is a reasonable price for it avoided a vulnerable person feeling hurt and embarrassed.

I often lie by omission too with similar motives to avoid inflicting  undue suffering..  What trouble could I cause by  letting a person know that I'm taking them from their home and they'll never return there?  A demonstration for sure that things are rarely black and white and that we often have to resort to the grey zone.  I like to think that a judge might understand why I do not always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Let's lighten up shall we?  Here's Baron Munchausen whose fantastical stories delighted many and stretched the knicker elastic of honesty beyond its limits to good effect. Ping!

Friday, 16 December 2016

Want, Need, Wear, Read

Kids are not cheap.  Mine is no exception.  At the moment I'm paying for two of those school trips that have the potential to trigger my moaning gene.  One, to Barcelona, in the summer time seems profoundly expensive in my book, £650 for four nights where 3-4 boys will be sharing a room!  I'm sure that I could get double the time away with nicer accommodation for both of us. At a pinch  I could include Lovelybloke in this theoretical break and still come within budget.  When it comes to travel, extreme thrifting without scrimping on comfort is my forte.  The other trip is a skiing holiday at half term in 2017.  £1050 all-in is a lot of money but doesn't seem far off what I'd be paying if I took Louis away myself at this, the most expensive time for winter breaks.   It gives me the perfect excuse to nip away myself with friends in term time.  It's way cheaper then.

In order to counter some of these costs I'm curtailing present buying at Christmas and birthdays.  I've had a chat with Lou and he understands.  The reality is that kids these days don't play with a whole bunch of stuff. Most of their entertainment comes in electronic form.

So we're adopting the Want, Need, Wear, Read present buying tactic.  And they'll be a Christmas stocking filled with a whole bunch of sweets from Poundland.    It feels a bit 'Bah Humbug!' but I've checked and  Lou's entirely happy.    A book, a hoodie from Saltrock and loads of pens for school will fulfill three of the categories.

In the scheme of things his 'Want' is very modest. Inexplicably he fell in love with these 24K gold plated playing cards in the Timehouse Muzeum's shop.    As an added extra, that he doesn't know about, I've bought him a card box to keep them in.  It's got a secret opening mechanism and with my extensive mothering experience knows boys like things like that!



Thursday, 15 December 2016

Bearing

Bears are one of the animals I've got a thing about. Representations from the Zuni people have inspired my own arty dabbling.  I'm also the proud owner of this stone plaque that was carved by my brother.  It sits above the fireplace in the living room.

Later there will be a video in this post but I'm having massive laptop problems.  I saw a pertinent '50 shades' parody that fits the bill.  I've always found that book much more inspirational as a comedic rather than an erotic resource.  'Punish me!' said Lydia.  So he installed Windows 10.

While I rebuild my computer for the second time this month I'm blogging from my phone.  I can't work out how to embed videos so  for now you'll have to follow this link to see the comedian Reginald D Hunter 'bearing'. Since I watched it I growl and wave floppy paws every time anyone directs me to bear left or right.

Later...personal laptop still not working.  I'm bearing with it. Rah!   Thank goodness for the work computer!


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Little Red Messenger

As a family we lost  Esther my sister over four months ago now. My parents and brother, stay in  close touch, despite geographical distance, and seek solace in each other. My current experience of grief mirrors that of my brother's.  We don't think about her all the time but waves of sadness can hit quite suddenly.  I still cry more frequently than I let on to anyone.  In secret because excessive  emotion isn't part and parcel of British culture.   I'm accepting the tears, seeing them as restorative rather than a sign that depression is rearing its furry black dog-like head.  Grief is healing and, counter to what modern culture may be telling us, rarely has to be medicated.  Please bear that in mind if you are in a similar situation.  For as a mental health professional, I see pills prescribed rather too freely at times when people might be better off experiencing the emotions that are appropriate to the circunstances that they are under.

Those lovely robins come closer at this time of year.  The sensible scientific explanation is that the risks of starving due to reliance on nature's larder in the chillier months is far greater than those associated with hob knobbing with humans.  For even though we are dangerous beasties in the worldwide scheme of things we are suckers for wildlife and can mostly find a titbit or two for  a cute little birdie that comes begging.  However I heard the other day that seeing a robin is a sign that loved ones who have passed remain with you.   I was rather taken by that symbolism.  For my adopted sister, in spite of her Afro-Carribean blood, was always fond of the cold.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Days Out in London: The Geffrye Museum




Little trips to London with Aril from Gnat Bottomed Towers seem set to become a regular tradition.  Last time it was South London's Horniman Museum, with that name guaranteed to raise a snigger from the childish.  This time we headed north of the river to the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton.  Billed, as the 'Museum of the Home' this collection in converted almhouses, displays  among other things, mock ups of rooms from 'typical middle class houses'  from the 17th century onwards.  At this time of the year they're all decked out for the festive season. Although the Christmas decorations were  a bit underrated in this early period room, just a few sprigs of random greenery, it seemed that our ancestors liked to cook up a bit of a feast at this time as well.

I've taken the liberty of taking a hop, skip and jump through the centuries to a time near my own childhood.  I can't quite recall that normal people's houses were quite so tasteful in those days but I do remember the loopy paper chains! Making those was an essential part of the run up to the big day.


Let's skip to some details shall we? Aril was particularly entralled by the mural by Jonathan Early in the Garden Room.  In fact she's dedicated an entire post to it.  So many natural curiosities to spot.   There are teeny tiny ants in this picture if you look hard.






Even though they're not my usual bag I was very taken by the intricacy of these candlesticks.





Maybe this clock was the piece that I would have liked to have taken home the most. There's so many places around my house where it would be a good fit.


There's a rather gorgeous modern extension to the main part of the building.

At the moment it houses a temporary exhibition about teenage bedrooms.  Here's Aril posing as an adolescent who's been sent to her room.  The room get up wasn't too accurate in my book. There wasn't nearly enough Haribo wrappers or dirty washing strewn all over the floor.  The curators need to come to my house to watch and learn!


Loved the sentiment of this offering from the gift shop but not the price.  Six quid for a box of 'luxury' matches!



These lovely wooden wreathes got us talking about all those things that you see that you could make yourself but would never get round to doing so!

 Our little ritual has evolved to involve beer at the end of our museum trips.  Why ever not!  We found a deserted pub that filled up with hipsters after we got there.  It must have been our influence.

It is lovely to get together with a like minded blogger.  After all we're both  Essex girls with a twist.   It's good to know that writer's block can hit us all but even better to be with someone who wants to use their writing to share delight and kindness.    Our next little outing for the spring is already planned!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Two Cats



I rub along well with felines.  Even though I don't want any of the responsibility of pet ownership  I reckon that there's something about me of the 'mad cat lady' genre that they recognise.  Okay I'll admit that maybe some of the credentials are there.

In the past I've mentioned Mayhem, from my Exeter days.  Our relationship came to a very abrupt end as his  nose was put out of joint when I brought Louis home as a new born.   This is my latest cat-partner in crime, the incredibly pretty Lola Boo, Calamity Jane's rescue moggy.    Whenever I stay at her house she follows me around like a little lapdog and sleeps on my bed.   She's such a little dear.  I took her picture as I thought that I'd do a bit of animal matchmaking.  There's a certain tomcat who'd be right up her street, I thought.
When Lovelybloke moved into his house the semi feral Mr Finlay, a moody Manx came as part of the package.   Look, hardly any tail at all!  Apparently he can be left to his own devices for days.  He hunts and steals food from neighbours  if there's no-one home. Lovelybloke seemed disbelieving when I told him that Mr Finlay let me stroke him and even purred.  'Was he eating, was he asleep?'  was the line of his questioning. He poohed poohed the idea that Lola Boo could be a stabilising influence.  In spite of being a bad boy Mr Finlay will not be succumbing to her charms as he's had his bits removed!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Little Prince (English Version)

I spent yesterday in London with Aril from Gnat Bottomed Towers and then went on for an evening in Essex with my old school friend Calamity Jane.  I've travelled light without my laptop, barely more than clean pants and pyjamas.  It is hard to do a picture post on my phone so you'll have to wait for news of the shenanigans of me and Aril.  She might pip me to the post on her blog.

I re-read 'The Little Prince' on the train.  OMG I'm  glad that I did.  For it is a wise and beautiful tale in so many ways, not least because it reminds us what children can teach us.  Here is my favourite quote that gave food for thought around my own questioning of my kid.

 'Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: "What does his voice sound like?" "What games does he like best?" "Does he collect butterflies?". They ask: "How old is he?" "How many brothers does he have?" "How much does he weigh?" "How much money does his father make?" Only then do they think they know him.'

The illustration is of the little Prince digging up the baobabs before they damaged his planet.  An apt reminder to dig up the bad seeds before they take hold.

Back to the West Country today.  I have the French version of the book for the return journey.  Something tells me that this won't be such a quick read!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Cute Curb Appeal

Photo:  Bored Panda
This little flight of whimsy caught my attention.  In Malmo an artist called Anonymouse has decided that opportunities for retail therapy and dining out for mice are pretty darn poor.  So teeny tiny shops selling nuts and cheese have popped up at pavement level. There's a restaurant called El Topolino as well. That's Mickey Mouse to us in the English speaking world.




You'll be pleased to hear that, in ourBrixham streets, little creatures need not feel left out either.    For  on a hill near where I live there's a wonderfully decorated house called 'Arcana Cottage.  It's certainly not a dwelling for lovers of bland minimalism as it's painted orange and is embellished with 3D  trees and all sorts.  Down at kerb level there are tiny doors like this one.    What do you think?  Are they for rodents or pixies.  Or maybe there's room for both.  It certainly looks like a friendly kind of place!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Poorly Car, Poorly Me

Wednesday evening did not pan out as planned. A pub supper in Plymouth with Salty Dog was on the cards.  But Leif, my little green Skoda, developed a fault on the way that caused him to stop dead suddenly in rush hour traffic.   Scary stuff!  Consequently we were rear ended by a big black van.  I put the queasiness that I felt afterwards down to shock but suddenly came over very poorly indeed.    Nursing a sick kid earlier in the week  had taken its toll and I'd caught his tummy bug. Salty Dog and our other friend Spiky Kate came up trumps and fussed over me like a couple of mother hens. Bless!

Yesterday I crawled back to my own bed from where I had to make lots of car related phone calls before I could sleep my little socks off. Some of that metta meditation, where I foster loving kindness is now  needed.  For it'll remind me to be gentle with myself and take it easy on the rest of the world too.  For peace and joy are way better things to spread than angst.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Bags and Banter

Here's my latest in the line of Skipping Girl bags,  my third since discovering the brand in 2012. I've also gifted a fair few to my friends.   As I predicted after I bought my first, in a Plymouth charity shop, they're extremely robust.  But after a couple of years the plastic tubng covering the handles splits and they look a bit tatty.  This replacement was an Ebay find that cost the princely sum of £12.  You'll note that I've accesorised it in Abfab style!

I popped into the library yesterday to pick up those Little Prince books that I'd reserved.  A lady in the library enthusiastically complimented my bag.  The strawberries had caught her eye. We had a little chat, a frequent occurrence in Devon, and in my mind, one of the pleasures of living here.  I read an Guardian article about,  the Tube Chat campaign to get Londoners talking to each other on the Underground.   Many are horrified at the thought.   One Tweeter talked about it in terms of 'undermining the fabric of society'.  Strong words indeed!  In my mind they're missing out on little human interactions which can be really rather special.  Off to the Big Smoke on Saturday.  Let's see if I can freak some of the locals!



Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Seasonal Snowbert



Here's a  little wintery offering to enthrall the teenier peeps in your life.  It takes me back to the days when  Lou was wee and  CBeebies seemed to be the only thing that was ever on our telly.   Anything for a quiet life.  I probably wouldn't be a grown up if I hadn't found a lot of kid's TV exceedingly annoying,   Those squeaky voiced Tweenies were the prime example.

But I looked forward to the utterly charming 64 Zoo Lane.  Each night a little girl called Lucy escaped from her home for a bedtime story from the animals in a neighbouring zoo.  The one about the arty polar bear, Snowbert, has to be one of my favourites.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Holding Space

I'm a bit of a chatterbox in real life as well as in Blogland.   Often I hardly draw breath and there can be about five different conversations going on at once.  Really! Sometimes it is good for me to just shut up and let someone else do the talking.

So I'll do that today by sharing this link.  It'll lead you to one of the most thought provoking articles that I've learnt from this year.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Only in Totnes: The Timehouse Muzeum

It's been a weekend of two halves with Louis.  Yesterday he was struck down with a tummy bug and spent the day in bed,  A teenager seems to be a heady mix of grown up and child.  When they're poorly it's definitely the inner kid that takes precedence.  So I holed up with him, doled out the mama love and in between fetching, carrying, soothing and snuggles, I read my book, meditated, sorted papers. That kind of thing.  Enforced battery charging isn't such a bad thing.



Satuday was a different kettle of fish.  I've been planning to vist the Timehouse Muzeum in Totnes for a while now.   After all it's only around the corner from where I work.   It's housed in former mental health offices where I used to go for meetings.  I was curious to know how it had changed.  The journey starts in the shop at the front called Narnia. I was given 'a festival wristband to add to my posh wrist.  A good start in my books!


Our journey began down in the basement.  Yep, it was very different to how I remember the place. There were no trainlines.  Back then it was just bland and tatty.


Back up on the ground floor, Louis decided to kit himself out as an extra from 'Allo 'Allo in the communications room.  He NEVER likes dressing up normally and was definitely getting into the swing of things.  Whatever was going on!


Through to a Moroccan cafe where I sat, contemplated my navel and drank complementary mint tea. By now you might be getting the idea that this is no ordinary museum.  It's more art installation. Right up my street then!  I'd have been happy there all day but there were another two floors to explore.



Onwards and upwards.  This fine lady was on the staircase.


Ah!  We reached my favourite room of all, 'Cloud 9'.  Curiouser and curiouser. Lou was well chilled in here.  The wonderful lighting made us very photogenic.



See what I mean! Here's one of both of us.    There's not many conventional museums where you get to hang out lounging around on the floor on a bumpy carpet in a fluffy room watching randomness on a big screen!


After being persuaded to leave my most hippiest of hangouts we peeped into a room full of pop memorabilia.


And then there was the perfect pairing of a '50s kitchen and cinema complete with the proper seats.  Every home should have one!  A film about alien invasion was being show. Here's me in the cheap seats!


The front room on the first floor was utterly gorgeous.  Very roccoco.  This place could be an interior designer's dream source of inspiration.


The top floor had a very happy retro feel with lots of stuff that maybe wouldn't have been out of place in my own home.  Loving that mad wall of clocks!  Old TV adverts were the audio-visual backdrop up there.


And here's Lou reading old annuals, modelling his new rose tinted specs that stop the words moving around the page.  One of his dyslexia problems solved then!  Have you noticed that my son doesn't smile so much in photos these day.  I think it's something about cheesy grins not being cool!


Oh I forgot the little courtyard that used to be a no-go area in the mental health team days. So, so pretty now though.

This is a brilliant place although I understand the viewpoint of more conventional folk on Tripadvisor After all they were expecting a proper museum and were disappointed that they didn't get it!  From the reviews, most folk though, seem to go with a sense of wonder and love it, just as we did.

The staff in the museum and shop are lovely.  However they told me that even though this is the No 1 attraction on the most famous of travel websites, visitor numbers are down.  So opening hours are limted at the moment.  It would be a shame to lose this place that is such a good fit with the alternative vibe of Totnes.   So please go if you're in the area and give me a shout.   I'd love to visit with you if I'm around. I'll definitely be bringing my friends back to my new favourite chill zone.