Sunday, 8 November 2020

I Spy With My Little Eye Something Beginning with ...

 V                                                                                    V                        v

There were a dozen or more,        V          v                                           v

                                                            V            V

                                                                                       some larger than others.

We looked up to see Vs in the sky at 4.15pm on Saturday 7th November towards the end of our socially-distanced bike ride. Geese, distant at first, flew closer, then directly overhead, honking, purposeful. 

                                               V                                                     v


                                    V v                                                           V

We stopped on the cycleway. Dusk was approaching fast and the fly-past had all the exhilaration of a murmuration - thousands of geese in exact formations, heading north-west along the river.

I took out my phone, my fingers numb with cold. I snapped a wonky photo, then checked the BBC news website, saw that the Democrats had taken Pennsylvania in the US Election.

We pushed the rules, fist bumped, joined in with the geese, shrieked for wonderful happiness. 

The geese passed over, leaving us with a multiplicity of V-signs:

V : for get lost and good riddance.

V : for victory. 

V : for very, very, very, very, very relieved. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

I Party With Friends

Five of my friends have birthdays today - I'm wondering if I can celebrate, if the rule of six still applies for the moment.

At least I have been able to message my Longest-Serving Friend without breaking any rules. The girl I met at camp when we were 10, turns one month older than me today, as she always does. What we had in common back then has taken us 45 laughter-filled years to uncover, and we're still counting. We bonded over ping pong tables when we first met at camp, girls in a boys' world. Eight years later, we met again as freshers at Durham University. From that time on, we took better care of staying in touch, though she still beats me at ping pong. 

It's my other longer, Longest-Serving Friend's birthday too (2). And the birthday of my longer Longest-Serving Friend's son, James (3 - pictured below with the best of smiles and smartest of waistcoats), and of another Very Long-Serving Friend, Rebecca (4). The fifth is Amy (5), friend, colleague, former student. 

3rd November - the day on which Long-Serving Friends are born. Take note, if you want to avoid me.

My friend Paul is (2), though by some definitions, he should be (1). Paul has always been 14 years older than me, and when we first met, I was 6 or 7, and he was organist and choir master at my father's church, and he to tell me and brother Matthew off repeatedly for chatting in choir practice. So it's a semantic point, whether he is, in fact, my actual longest-serving friend. I argue that I was a pain-in-the-neck for the first 10 years at least, only graduating to friendship in my late teens.

Paul might be responsible for this blog's theme, however, as he allowed me to practise early DIY skills at his home, when, with my brothers, I helped to paint (mainly) his walls. And he brought apple juice when I had pneumonia (twice). I was around 8/9/10 on those occasions, and very ill. Paul re-labelled the apple juice 'Lizzy's Apple Juice', knowing how important that level of detail was in a large family. I can see it still, in a green bottle, sitting beside my bed, reassuring me that one day I would feel well enough again to drink it.  

Paul played at my wedding - the organ was half-built, though you'd never know it. It was over thirty degrees of heat, and he played baroque,  making best use of the notes available to him. He also played the organ at my mother's funeral three months later. I became goddaughter to Ruth, his daughter, and he is godfather to Jonty, my son. When they were growing up, spending new year's eve at Paul and Deborah's home was the highlight of my sons' year. And in that very hot summer a couple of years ago, he and Deborah provided refreshments at Jonty's post-A level piano concert. Happy birthday, Paul. Musician. Physics teacher. Steam engine fan. Reassuring and loyal friend. 

So rule of six, tier 2 or 3 or not, I'm going to party, celebrate friendship, eat cake on your behalf, toast you all, 3rd November babies, with a glass of something sparkling, and later, blow out the candles, make a wish that our friendships in the coming year will continue long, longer, longest. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

I Search For Hope

Outside, it's dark, and has been for five hours now. The clocks have gone back to GMT, and after work time has become the type for staying in. 

Each evening, a new breed of driver shatters the otherwise quiet town centre of Shrewsbury with the sound of deliberate backfiring, unsilenced motorcycle exhausts. It's been going on for weeks, this dystopian ritual of explosions: I imagine it as a lockdown strutting of paltry stuff, a defiant emptying out of thoughtless rage past the early-closing pubs. 

Anticipating the earlier sunset, wishing to avoid exercising in the evening streets, I went out midday for my walk in the park, an eye on my watch to get back home in time for the next videocall class. The sun eeked itself out from behind the showers, and the riverside paths beyond the weir were golden-brown with autumn leaves embedded in mud. I walked cautiously. Even in a pandemic, there are dog owners who don't pick up after, and twice in the past fortnight I've come home with stinking dog mess caked into my soles. 

After class, catching up on the admin. which grows heads like a hydra, I needed to search my emails for Hope, looking for the last email I'd written to her. I tapped 'Hope' into the search bar, pressed Return.

What I found was that almost every email I write contains hope:

I hope you are well.

I hope we can meet before too long.

I hope you feel better soon.

I hope you are able to find time for yourself.

 Search your inbox for Faith, for Charity. You may not find them there. But Hope, Hope, Hope. It's everywhere, littering words like golden leaves in all the mud and mess, its small, round, comforting sound topped off with the softest of plosives.

Photo credit - Mike Powell

Thursday, 10 September 2020

I Bottle Abundance

The apples are falling into bags which find their way to my doorstep, the damsons have relaxed, forgiven themselves for not being plums, the dish and the spoon are getting well used, and the courgettes are running away with the beans. Even the herbs in my window box are making a final push for the moon, over-stretching beyond their theme tune ... Parsley, Chives, Rosemary and Thyme - with a ladida and a hey diddle diddle and damn the absence of Sage and a fiddle! 

I've saved jars, and jammed some fruits into them, I've baked an apple tart, sprinkled it with almond flakes and cinnamon. In years gone by I pickled. I stoned. I peeled. I cored. But this year's new harvest trick is bottling. 

Bottle. What a word. I bottle, you bottle, he, she, zhe, they, bottle. We've all bottled it through lock-down and here in the northern hemisphere we're facing, well, we're facing west and the lowering sun, and the coming of the colder months. But before that, the plenty, abundance of good things to store, to shore us up, turn into something warm and friendly, encouraging and faintly medicinal for whatever lies ahead. It's cordial. 

Cordial. A tonic. Or with tonic, or sparkling water, or however you please. Gin, maybe. You won't mind  sloshing it into your glass till it's half full, because it's a lot easier to make than jam. Or jelly, or cheese, or chutney. It requires largesse and no sugar thermometer. It involves simmering, straining, funnelling, and having a lot of glass bottles. Just what's needed for this year's harvest.


Sunday, 23 August 2020

I Plunge Into Cold Water

Here's the reservoir, nestled in hills above Church Stretton. This is what it is like at 7.30am in summer. The sky is blue but the water is cold. Occasionally there are two or three people already swimming, but there's room for me and LJ to teeter on the edge in our wet suit shoes, before taking the plunge.

The plunge is breath-taking, awakening, vital. It confirms my body to my senses, pushes the air out of my lungs and into a shout. The plunge is essential for what comes next - the swim into the meaning of paradise: a new day, everything freshly rinsed by night and dawn's caress. Birds skim the air, call to each other across our bobbing heads. We paddle the length of the reservoir, paddle back, return and turn until we feel the core of ourselves chilled like Chablis. 

To clamber out into the rough care of a towel, is its own pleasure. We talk of stitching two together to form individual changing tents like someone else's mother made years ago. Many swims into the season, and we haven't done it yet, but no matter. 

Back down at the car park, filling up now, we sit in camping chairs by the stream, breakfast on tea, hard boiled eggs, strawberries and banana bread. Not even the Famous Five ate this well after an adventure.

I can be back from the hills and at my desk by 10am on these swimming days, having taken the plunge, the waters, emerged from the vigour of a real paradise.  

Sunday, 16 August 2020

I Enjoy The Memories

It's that time of year - the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled, but my mind is still drifting northwards and backwards. 2013. Threesome's first appearance on 10th August - we'd hardly written the script by 9th August, the same day I met Ms Beeton for the first time.  It's LJay's birthday today, so that has added to my nostalgia.  

And here we are, or were, outside the Word of Mouth Cafe,  highest numbered venue for that year ... left to right ... Ms Beeton, Someone's Mum, Jay Walker. 

I have the look of someone freed from the responsibilities of being any good at performance, and enjoying it.

The show was in 3 parts - I was the opener (or 'delicious entree', as described in one of our two 4 star reviews) with a piece based on the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like ItThe Seven Rages of Woman is a poetic romp around ... well, some of the rage I felt about a restrictive evangelical upbringing and some of the rage I felt about the lack of representation of women in film, and several other rages,: approximately seven of them in fact. Listening to a sermon about women and submission yesterday, some of this rage was momentarily reignited.

Since this photo was taken, there have been new happenings: a beautiful baby for Ms B, glasses to correct my eyesight, a new suit and tie for LJay, and suchlike. But when I look at it, I enjoy the feeling I felt then, right then, at the moment Peter took the shot. It comes flooding back, the camaraderie, adrenaline, freedom, the reckless pleasure of the name of our troupe. And, as Ms Beeton might have said of her microwavable chocolate sponge cake (whose making was the pinnacle, piece de resistance, of the show), the feeling is marvellous, darling!

Saturday, 8 August 2020

I Apply Another Coat

There's something sensual about applying emulsion to walls, covering damage with a paint close to the colour of farmhouse strawberry ice cream (the colour is the same as the one I remember from childhood, when I stirred my carefully allocated fair ice cream share around my bowl with a spoon and great concentration, to make a thick milkshake on a hot day). 

The chart's named the shade 'Calamine', and it also reminds me of the soothing effect of lotion on childhood insect bites and spots. Ahhh - chicken pox. A familiar virus. 

 One layer of paint is rarely enough to give a good finish, which I don't mind in relation to walls, but is a challenge in the case of my living room ceiling which is plain white, and a little too high to reach without a step up of some sort. I like to think I'm working out my deltoids, biceps and pecs as I hold paint overhead on brush or roller, that I'll finish the decorating with better definition. I paint white on white in imaginary squares, so that even when I can't see what I'm doing, each section gets its fair share.
As each coat goes onto the walls, dull biege becomes a more distant memory. I know that in time I'll add marks to this new pink layer - but for now, it's a creamy pleasure to sweeten all this time I'm spending at home.