Aside

Five Wonderful Grandchildren!

I’ve been away in Scotland for the last couple of weeks – my new baby granddaughter is thankfully born safe and well, and both she and her mummy are doing fine.

To have had two new precious grandchildren born in the space of only twelve weeks has been an amazing experience, and I’m so appreciative of the privilege of being invited to spend such a truly magical time together with both daughters and all five of my lovely grandchildren – I love them all so much ❤

21 Things That Make Me Happy…

Suzie from Suzie81speaks has today posted a list of 21 things that make her happy – what a lovely idea, so I thought I’d do the same.

As ever I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now, some good, some bad, some big, some small, including several ongoing complicated issues not easily resolved.

But whatever else is going on in life I realise there are always things to be thankful for, so here is my list of 21 things that make me happy, spilled out onto the page in the weird and wonderful order they came to me…

1. To be alive… I’ve suffered from depression on and off throughout my life, but having survived an overdose at the age of 24, I can honestly say I’m just glad to be alive, to feel everything there is to feel, to embrace it all and remember how lucky I am to still be here…

2. To have a family to love, who love me too… we’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but I’d still far rather have my family than not…

3. To have good friends… friends are different from family, but equally as important. Of course, the best people can count as both, with one foot in each camp…

4. To be married to my best friend… even though we’ll only be celebrating our third wedding anniversary this year, we’ve been together as a couple for 15 years, and friends for 42 (since I was 10 and he was 12)…

5. To be growing older… sometimes I look in the mirror and feel old in a bad way, with my saggy flesh and greying hair and wrinkling skin and hooded eyes. But then I think of friends and family who died so much younger than expected, and I remember that growing old is a privilege denied to many…

6. To still have all five senses… to be able see, hear, smell, touch, taste life and all it has to offer – because I’ve always had them I can sometimes take them for granted, so it’s good to remind myself of that from time to time…

7. Hugs… it’s probably the one thing you can’t give yourself, a hug, which to me makes them so much more special…

8. Reading… a love of words has always been a large part of my life, I inhale the words of others as naturally as breathing…

9. Writing… to be able to express myself clearly helps me understand myself better, lets me exhale my own thoughts out into the world…

10. Photography… I love making photographs as well as taking them, expressing myself in images as well as words…

11. Blogging… my blog is my own space to be me, and I love it…

12. Cooking… cooking for me is a kind of alchemy, taking the individual elements – ingredients – and turning them into compounds of something else. And I also enjoy the comforting repetition of chopping, whisking, sieving, or whatever the particular action may be…

13. Chocolate… I eat way too much of it, but I do love it…

14. Walking… there’s just something about consciously putting one foot in front of the other and moving myself along under my own steam that just never fails to lift my spirits…

15. Trees… particularly old trees. I love their age, and the fact that they grow from the inside out so that the tree surface you touch has been there throughout its entire history – it makes me wonder who else has touched that same spot over the years…

16. The beauty of nature… it’s just breath-taking, and I never tire of looking at it, photographing it, walking in it, just being in it…

17. Beaches… liminal spaces draw me in, those thresholds that are neither fully one thing nor the other – beaches are neither land nor sea but are also both all at the same time, and I find them magical spaces…

18. The smell of sea air… perhaps because I grew up on the coast (and being a small island we have a lot of coast here in the UK) I just love the blustery ozone smell of sea air…

19. The smell of babies heads… it maybe sounds weird, but most parents I know agree with me on this one…

20. Human reproduction… not just the sex part – although that makes me happy too – but the physical growing inside you and pushing out of a new human being that is half you and half somebody else is just an amazing feat of nature…

21. Curiosity… I was going to write learning, as I like to know new stuff about lots of things, but I realise that behind my insatiable desire to learn is the curiosity that makes me want to find out about new things in the first place… 🙂

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol – Take II

My mum had been an art teacher before getting married, and many of my early childhood memories revolve around the comforting but pervasive smell of oil paint and turpentine – there was usually at least one someone or something being painted somewhere in the house, usually done in the kitchen with it’s linoleum flooring, presumably in case of errant paint splashes.

This portrait of me was painted in oils when I was seven years old, and I remember sitting for it, putting on my best yellow party dress for each session, sitting quietly on the kitchen stool, being thoughtful and still while mum daubed and dabbed, concentrating on me, then on the painting, then on me, then back to the painting, until she was happy with its progress for that day, when she would wipe her brushes on a crusty old rag and clear her painting stuff away until the next time.

portrait-painted

People often wonder why I look so sad in it, but I don’t remember feeling particularly sad or happy – this is simply my natural expression. I may be looking a bit moody or sulky but I wasn’t feeling anything much at all at the time other than just being internally ‘me’…

It was (and still is) normal to smile for everyday photographs – simple memories snapped in an instant. We’re all so used to seeing past pictorial representations of ourselves capturing a momentary smile pasted on for posterity (say cheese!) as if that fleeting smile encapsulates the whole reality of our existence.

But I feel that a portrait painted over several live sittings in real time can in many ways capture far more of the hidden essence of the real underlying you. Sitting for a portrait makes it so much harder to wear a fixed mask, to keep up a make-believe illusory representation of yourself, day after day and time after time.

So when I look at this painting of a seven-year-old girl done so many years ago, I see a glimpse of the real me of my childhood memory – quiet, introspective, deep – rather than the surface-smiley-faced girl of so many family snapshots. I see behind my blue eyes the silent potential for the ongoing depression that has dogged me for so many years. Faded and dated it may now be, but this portrait remains for me a poignant symbol both of the young girl that I once was, and the grown woman I have since become…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol

Storytelling…

One of my earliest memories of primary school in late 1960s rural Scotland includes the absolute joy of daily story-telling. Our first task each morning was to draw a picture on the top, plain paper half of a pristine page, then write a sentence or two about our picture on the lower, lined half of our jotters.

At five years old we would just draw at first, and the teacher would add a few words dictated by us. But as we grew in confidence we could pencil our own stories, however hesitant and faulting the spelling to begin with. For me it was a thoroughly liberating experience – I was learning to develop my own written voice.

I can still remember the thrill of anticipation as the blank page welcomed me in – the silky smooth sheen of the creamy top section begging to be crayoned and coloured and the faint blue lines empty and waiting patiently below for words to make them flow. I remember the strange dry-dusty papery smell so reminiscent of school exercise books – even today a whiff of school paper makes me smile with fondness.

Drawing and writing my daily story was one task I needed no encouragement to complete, as I always had something to say and an image in my head to illustrate my tale – sometimes fanciful, sometimes mundane, but there was always something ready to pour out onto the page. It was my space to be me, my space to show the rest of the world how I saw my world. The blankness of the fresh page never daunted me. Instead it spoke to me, inviting, beguiling, openly seductive, and I loved it for it.

I suppose for me blogging feels a bit like a grown-up version of that long-lost activity – this is my imaginative creative space to explore and expand my world and share that experience with others. I can post my own images and write my own words on a whim – I’m indulging in my own kind of visual/ non-fictional storytelling, my blog a modern-day equivalent of my beloved school jotter. And that feels like a good thing to have, an individual outlet for self-expression, as much or as little as I choose, my own virtual space to show how I see the world and to say exactly how I feel about it… 🙂

My Five Favourite Firsts After Fifty…

Since turning fifty a year and a bit ago, I’ve deliberately experienced a few new ‘firsts’ in life, and so far my fifties are proving to be great fun – so here is a list of my five favourite firsts after fifty to date, in no particular order of preference… 🙂

  • I’ve started blogging, and even after a year am still thoroughly enjoying it, in spite of (or perhaps because of) my recent two-month break. Through blogging I’ve finally found my voice after a lifetime of shameful silence, and am learning to be more open and honest about my long-term struggle with recurring episodes of deep depression – it may not be gone forever, but thankfully it is something that no longer looms so large on my horizon…
  • I’m working locally in a pub for the first time in my life, and am finding the complete change of scene is giving me a refreshing new perspective on life. There is a stunning simplicity in being able to walk to and from such a socially-oriented, welcoming workplace – not to be reliant on the ubiquitous daily commute in rush hour to an impersonal office-based technology-loaded 9-5 desk-job, however well-paid it may be. In many ways I’ve never had such relative freedom before, wherever I have lived or worked, and it is only now, through working locally, I’m learning to appreciate the strength of the community I’ve lived in for the last decade…
  • On a more creative note, I’ve explored and have happily embraced the challenging minimalistic rigour of writing haiku in English, and over the last few months have definitely become hooked on this ancient form of Japanese poetry…
  • I’ve also enjoyed both creating and wearing fancy dress costumes to work as appropriate, both for Halloween and Christmas, and am very much looking forward to partaking in our next optional dressing-up-for-fun day, whenever that may be…
  • I’ve recently had my first ever experience of Karaoke, at a friend’s fiftieth birthday bash – she too was initially shy of singing in front of a crowd, but as a group of five girls from work we all got up together and sang along with much love and laughter to Sister Sledge – We Are Family – and it was a truly fun experience, a perfect positive memory to treasure… 🙂

Girl Guide Interest Badges…

I was a Girl Guide, way back when. I was actually a Brownie Guide, a Girl Guide, and then a Ranger Guide, so I probably spent the best part of ten years of my life between the ages of seven and seventeen within the Guiding movement. I achieved my Queen’s Guide Award too, although in those days it was more to do with cumulating a particularly plentiful set of specific Interest Badges over the years than to complete the complex set of Duke of Edinburgh Award type challenges I understand is required now. Nevertheless it was a big thing to do, even then, it took a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve, and I was – still am – very proud of that achievement.

Interest Badges were such fun to do, as well as proving pretty useful in later life – I gained a lot of skills while being tested for my Interest Badges that I still use today. Some badges that spring to mind are Homemaker, Hostess, Child Care, Cook, Laundress, Flower Arranger, Thrift, Backwoodsman, Camper, Rambler, Map Reader, Pioneer, Scribe, Minstrel, Artist, Craft, Book Lover, Collector, to name just a few – and there was also a Challenge Badge, and a Commonwealth Knowledge Badge.

But unfortunately there are also some skills learned as a Guide I’ve not kept up to scratch. Once upon a time I knew all my knots and when best to use them, and my constellations, and could recognise trees from their bark and leaves. Today I can manage a reef knot, could probably point out Orion and the Plough, and I can tell an oak from a chestnut, but not much more.

Perhaps it’s time I re-found my dormant interest in such things, reclaimed the knowledge that must still be lodged inside somewhere, rusty and reclusive? Not necessarily because I need these skills in my everyday life – with all the light pollution, star-gazing in London is a bit of a non-starter, and with the invention of plastic cable ties and elasticated bungee ropes, there’s not much call for knots any more. And knowing which tree is which is not generally the main consideration of most Londoners, who are just happy to see trees in whatever shape or form they appear in.

But maybe I can set myself those kinds of challenges again, just for fun, and just see what happens? Hmmm… interesting idea… 🙂

Shipping Forecast…

I remember getting my first ever digital radio alarm clock as a teenager, way back in the late nineteen-seventies. I remember lying in bed late at night with the soft green glow of the numbers making everything in my bedroom look quite ethereal, listening to the Shipping Forecast at precisely twelve minutes to one. I’d have the volume really low, and almost have to strain to hear, but it was always so soothing to listen to. ‘Sailing By’ would play, and then the forecast would begin, with the same introduction, the familiar names and rhythmic tones lulling me softly to sleep.

I remember a male voice, strong and sedate, booming deep like the waves yet resounding clear as a bell… gale warnings first, then Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Trafalgar, Finisterre, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes, Southeast Iceland… wind direction, strength, precipitation, visibility, each called out singly, or sometimes huddled together in similar swell or squall… a strange spell of magical incantations recited daily, a prayer for protection, wrapping words of weathered wisdom around our jagged little island and keeping those of us ashore safe from harm as we lay tucked up cosily in our warm beds.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast – family generations

My final entry for this week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast.

For me this family portrait, of my grandmother proudly holding my first grandchild, beautifully captures the contrast between the oldest and youngest family members across five generations. generations

My grandmother was born in the summer of 1914, just a month or so before the outbreak of World War One. Eighty-seven years, two children, six grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren later her first great-great-grandchild – my first grandchild – came into the world, giving us at that time five living generations of direct line descendants.

We took several family photographs on that particular day – different combinations of my grandmother, my mum, me, my eldest daughter, and her baby boy – but out of all of those images we took, this picture has always stayed my favourite. Sadly my grandmother died in early 2006, in her 92nd year, and with this year marking the 100th anniversary of her birth, she is perhaps more on my mind than usual.

She was much loved, my grandmother, and is still very much missed by all her surviving family. But she had lived a long and fruitful life, and her time had simply come. Nevertheless we as her descendants all remain her enduring legacy, and through each of us her memory lives on, held safe and warm in our hearts and minds forever…

My Spaceman…

I’m playing with my toys, and mum calls me through to the living room. The telly is on, and mum tells me to sit down and watch, because it’s important. It’s not time for my programmes so I don’t know what is happening. It feels a bit weird, but I do what I’m told and sit down on the rug in front of the fire.

Grown-ups are talking on the telly, and there is a spaceman. I’m bored, and I wonder if I’ve maybe done something bad, like at school when you have to go and sit in the naughty corner and be quiet. The spaceman is walking funny and he sounds all crackly. He’s not a very good spaceman but mum doesn’t seem to notice. I start to ask a question but mum tells me to shush a moment, so I play with the top of my sock instead, rolling it up and down and looking at the flowery sock marks on my leg until mum tells me I can go and play again…

I was five years old when man first walked on the moon. We watched that first moon landing on our old black and white TV back in April 1969 – grainy grey picture with the ubiquitous ghosting and muffled white-noise sound, but we watched it and that’s what mattered. I had no real understanding either of the enormity of the occasion or the historical significance of what was unfolding before me, and have a far clearer memory of being engrossed by the pattern of my sock imprinted on my skin than I have of witnessing any giant leap for mankind.

Television for me at that point revolved mainly around the escapades of Andy Pandy, Pogle’s Wood, the Woodentops, and Tom and Jerry cartoons – not boring men in suits and ties, or even more boring spacemen seemingly doing nothing much in particular! But with hindsight I know that, conspiracy theories notwithstanding, it was an important historical moment to have shared, important enough to keep squirreled away as one of those confusing, not-quite-understanding-what’s-going-on childhood memories that surfaces from time to time and somehow never fails to make me smile…

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Pretty poppy…

‘I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers’ ~ Claude Monet

Poppies always remind me of Monet, I’ve always loved his painting ‘Poppies’ (1873) – I had a print of it on my bedroom wall when I was growing up, but sadly it eventually became dog-eared and faded and fell out of favour somewhere along the line. But when we saw the original at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris a few years ago it looked so vibrant and fresh I promptly fell in love with it all over again…

Poppy flowerThis particularly pretty poppy is growing strong and proud in a crack in the pavement in Wanstead, East London – I walked passed it on my way home from work today, and my smartphone camera captured it for posterity 🙂