Wednesday, 31 May 2017

I Outlive My Mother

I've just worked out the number of days my mother lived.  It's 19,166.  I then worked out the number of days I've been alive.  As of today, it's 19,166. When the identical number popped onto the screen, I felt momentarily ... well ... weird.

19,166 days is approximately fifty-two-and-a-half years.

I've never calculated the number of days anyone's lived before.  To do it, I used my favourite search engine and entered 'calculate the number of days between two dates' and found (should you ever feel the need to do the same).

And why did I do this today?  It's not as if my home is clean and tidy, and I have finished writing all the poems I want to write, and that novel, and sorted out all the bags and boxes still languishing in my loft since my move last year.  It's not as if I had nothing else to do. 

How I got to this point is this:

Walking back home this morning, my younger son pointed out a sign in Shrewsbury town centre for the Race for Life.  "You could do that, Mum," he said.  When we got home, I signed up for it, and, as part of that, Cancer Research created a sponsorship page for me.  I thought of the people I know who've died from cancer, and those who've lived through it, and those living through it, and of one  friend in particular.  And I thought of my mother who died of breast cancer, and because I've had some awareness that I'm approaching fifty-two-and-a-half, and because I've got a day off work, and because I am very creative when it comes to putting off housework, I've been idling around on my laptop and in my musings.

From there, where I've got to is this - that the significance of the 19,166 days I've lived equalling, for this day only, the number of days my mother lived is about the alignment of some things.

What aligned today is significant but not because of that number.  It's more to do with my son encouraging me to take up the parkrun; his interest in my progress; our going shopping on a day in half term; our walking back a particular route because of the particular shopping he wanted to do; his noticing the Race for Life advertisement; his prompting me to sign up for the run.

The alignment is to do with the love we and his big brother share, and within all that, our particular love for music - a love he'd also have shared with my mother, a pianist, whom he never met, but whose material substance somehow shines through him in a way that belongs only to him every time his fingers, long as hers were, play over the piano keys, and every time he smiles his smile, which, like hers, is a bright shaft of sunlight illuminating and soothing whatever any day's sadnesses might be.

Friday, 26 May 2017

I Design A Triathlon

Even though I've been participating in the parkrun since last November, two of the words which do not come to mind when I'm asked to introduce myself as part of those share-two-fun-personal-facts ice breaker sessions at the beginning of training courses are: 'Athletic' and 'Prowess'.   I'm more likely to contribute 'Highbury' and 'Islington', for example. 

Having said that, the fact that I can now run 3 miles non-stop and without feeling awful is very important to me. It means I can dance around my living room more energetically, and for longer.  This is information I'm keen to share in the right circles, so each Saturday, at about 11am, I exchange athletic information with my longest serving friend (LSF).  She messages me the details of her parkrun: her time, her position in the field, the time of the fastest woman in our age category, and any other interesting facts, like what she had for breakfast. I reply with my, consistently slower, time. 

A couple of weeks ago, in response to her time of 26'52", I replied 2 hours 39". Unable to face the commute from the Outer Hebrides, I'd missed the previous two runs but this fact alone didn't account for my plunging statistics.  The reason for my personal worst was that, the parkrun being cancelled, I'd decided to go on a run of my own, and to top it off with a swim. 

My LSF remarked that all I needed to do was a bike ride and I'd have done a triathlon.  I'd already reached my physical limit, so I wondered if drying my hair after the swim - by far the hottest event - could count as the third activity. 

My LSF is one month and 6 days older than me, so when she said no, I knew I'd have to come up with something else. Generous to a fault, she suggested that playing the flute might count, and added, by way of encouragement, that her friend G has a triathlon of champagne, white wine, red wine.

The parkrun is cancelled again tomorrow for another event, so I'm considering what tomorrow's triathlon will be.  I think it might include dancing in the rain.

Friday, 12 May 2017

I Spill Some Oats

Earlier in the week I broke a Japanese teacup: part of a set of six my parents were given as a wedding present.  I broke it in the process of cleaning my living room windows to let the sun in more clearly.   I keep the cups on the window sill where their delicate-thin china is well-lit, their blue glaze offset against the white paint.

Making flapjacks this evening, I spilt some oats.  I did this as I was using a peg to close up the bag.  Before I could secure the opening, the bag slipped in my hands and some oats tumbled onto the kitchen floor.

And I have a scab on my shin from where I banged it climbing up the loft ladder to put my suitcase away after my trip to the Outer Hebrides.

Breaking the cup prompted the memory that my parents' wedding anniversary falls in May. I checked the date in my birthday book, and realised that on Sunday 14th it will be 60 years since they married in Salisbury Cathedral. 

Neither of them is alive to celebrate, and the date would have passed without me thinking of it had I not dropped a pane of double glazing Perspex onto the teacups.  As it is, for the past couple of days I've been imagining 1957: my mother just turned twenty, my father thirty-two; she so full of romantic dreams, he so full of his faith.  What an act of courage and innocence. 

What I've came to thinking is how extraordinary it is that those six cups survived as an intact set for so long.  And how amazing that only one of them broke.

As for the oats, before sweeping them up I took a picture of my kitchen floor.  It's a galaxy:

I've kept the pieces of teacup - I will glue them together, or I'll make something with them: take a leaf out of my cousin's book.  This is the cousin who's broken enough china to create a beautiful mosaic to frame his kitchen window.

And my shin?  It's nearly healed.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

I Rave About The Hebrides

You can find my review of the Station CafĂ© in Crianlarich on TripAdvisor.  It's entitled: "I haven't eaten a sandwich like that since 1991".

As far as Berneray in the Outer Hebrides is concerned, I haven't been on a Scottish Island like that since 1986 when, filled with post-finals joie de not having to revise any more, my longest-serving friend Helen, her brother Richard, Dave, Sebastian and I filled up a Ford Cortina and headed for Mull, in the Inner Hebrides.  We spent a few carefree days in full sunshine on white beaches and plunging (yelling with cold) into the turquoise sea. 

Here are the pages from my photo album of those days.  Allow for fading:

The others are all now quite respectable.  Helen usually sits the right way up, for example.

I don't think Dave drops pudding on people's heads these days:

Or leaps at such an angle:

I had had no idea Mull existed before I went there.  I saw Tobermory, puffins and otters for the first time.  We went on a trip to Staffa and saw hexagonal rocks.  We bunked up in a Youth Hostel in the days when you were put on a toilet cleaning rota.  It was glorious.  We were the Famous Five on an island adventure, though none of us was a dog and we didn't drink ginger beer.

I had no idea Bernaray existed before Anna and Hilary started talking about it, and about their home there. But Ted, another longest-serving friend, and I have just got back from seven days of sunshine on white beaches, paddling in clear seas, walking around breezy headlands, collecting exquisite shells: and all this in near solitude.  I was reminded of my 1986 Mull-happiness.

This is the West Beach of Berneray on Bank Holiday Monday:

This is what I had to buy in the island's small but perfectly stocked shop (an excuse for ginger beer in the Lobster Pot tearoom next door):

This is the access to the beach on North Uist where poet and artist Pauline Prior-Pitt took us after an excellent lunch, which included the best salmon I can remember eating, peat-smoked from the island's smokerie

This is the sea, and a token gesture of clouds, it being Scotland:

This is the sea, the sky and a glimpse of the machair, a rare natural habitat for which the Uists, Barra and Berneray are renowned, and which will be flowering soon:

This is Ted, questing for cowries, a theme of the week.  He found seventy:

These are my shells.  There are eleven:

This is me, camouflaged in white and blue:

This is sun on the water on the return from our day trip to rock-tastic Harris:

This is my Trangia stove, a transitional object and all I need (plus Lady Grey teabags, a thermal mug and matches) for a really good brew:

We sat in the garden drinking Prosecco in the evenings, feeling slim, smug and lithe as we watched the seals lumbering on the rocks.  Rocks a bit like this:

And apart from that, this is why I didn't want to leave.  The last day.  West Beach.  Just look at it!

And this was the sandwich at Crianlarich, which gravitated me with a doughy flump.  The tea was okay: