Dismantling a life

Today’s gospel reading from Mark tells us ‘He ordered them to take nothing for the journey except a staff’. If only I had the confidence to divest myself of absolutely everything I do not currently need. Emptying the house ready for a move has given me a number of insights into myself. For starters why did I need to have 50 gardening books (I never garden!) 60 cook books, 25 knitting books and 200+ business books. If pressed I could argue a case. But the reality is that I ignore gardening tips, get my recipes online and even use YouTube and Ravelry for knitting patterns and tips. Of course many books are gifts and for that reason it is more difficult to part with them. The inscription from the giver reinforces the relationship and remind me what really matters. Then there’s the kitchen and bakeware. Copper pans only used as decorative hangings in the kitchen, French style. Bakeware – what a joke, I rarely bake and have never made a children’s birthday cake in my life. Board games – regularly used on wet Sundays; still used at Christmastime. But 30 of them? No! Then there’s all the stationery. I have always loved paper and pens. This week I had to stop myself buying yet another purple pad from Paperchase. But I have dozens and dozens of pads that I won’t live long enough to use.

The thing about all this stuff is that it is quite tricky to dispose of. Sold some books to Amazon trade-in. American hardbacks gave me the best deal. Sent some books as gifts. Can’t be bothered with a car boot; too cold, too early. EBay a hassle. Cuddly toys and more books to charity shops. Girls have taken furniture, plants, pictures, odds and ends. Loads of bedding, furniture and household items to a local homeless charity. Stationery to schools. Business products to clients. Business books to the university. But still loads left.

So what have I learned as a result of tbis exercise? Firstly, that I can live without most of all this stuff. Much of it I purchased on a whim, to make myself feel better, to reward myself for working hard. Secondly, that whatever it is, the attraction soon fades. There is always a better, improved, more up to date version that you want to upgrade to. Thirdly that these physical items clutter my brain. I spend too much time dusting them, cleaning them, thinking about them but rarely using them. Finally that in the future I will curb my spending, give more stuff away, avoid receiving gifts (unless they are consumables) and focus on what really matters. Like the disciples I will set out for the journey with what I need. But as for only one tunic … I haven’t even started on clothes!

How to plant indoor bulbs for Christmas

The girls tell me off for using the ‘C’ word too early. But I have an urge to create at the moment, the first conkers are on the ground and there is an autumnal chill in the air. So I decided to plant some indoor Paperwhite narcissi in order to fill the air with their scents at Christmas. Planting bulbs is not usually my domain so I consulted good old Alys Fowler who taught me the basics. Bought the bulbs from a garden centre, checking that they looked healthy and were of a good size. Assembled my tools, including a plastic mat I decided to use as a kneeler. Got to watch the old knees at my age. Selected some pots fro the garage, including an old glass sink I found. Then set to work.

Filled each pot with soil two thirds of the way up. Placed in the bulbs, green shoot upwards (not that dumb!) Added more soil and lightly compacted it. Gently watered. Next question? Do they go in dark or light? Light apparently, til the frost sets in.

Creation is eternal. Creation is instinctive. And the garden is a great place to create. Another objective achieved!

I wanna tell you a story

A few years ago six of us went to Alassio, on the Italian Mediterranean. A beautiful old-fashioned coastal resort where we never me another English speaking person. We stayed in one of those hotels beloved of elderly Italians where everything is regimented and meals are served promptly and in a small dining room. I was the one who chose Alassio because I remembered it from Saturday evening holiday programmes as a child. One of them was presented by Max Bygraves whose death was reported today. I think it was probably my introduction to Italy. Max must have had a house there because I remember his family on the programme. It all seemed so exotic, at least compared with the Northern coast holidays we were used to. So when trying to decide where to stay on the Italian riviera these memories returned to me. And we chose Alassio. In fact there is a memorial dedicated to Max Bygraves in the centre of the town. And there may have been a statue. Of course, Alex, Susie, Dave and Ross had never heard of him. Why would they have done? He was our generation. One of those generation of ‘crooners’ who appeared on ‘variety shows’. How quaint that all seems. And I think that I may have gone to see him on Blackpool pier, with my brother and cousin. He used his hands a lot when he spok. And his catchphrase was ‘I wanna tell you a story’. Fancy going to see him when we were so young. That’s a bit like George and Liam going to see Gareth Gates in concert. Willingly. We’ve had conversations about Max. Of the ‘Is he dead?’ type that you do with aged stars. Well now we know. And it’s quite sad. Wonder if they are remembering him in Alassio tonight?


An experiment in learning

Life’s short and there are so many things that I want to do. Things that I’ve never had the time, the skill, nor the inclination for. And some that I’ve paid other people to do, or managed without doing, or never thought of doing. So now that I’ve got more time on my hands I thought it might be useful and fun to draw up a modest list of 62 things to learn (my age this year) and see how I get on with them. If I share them with you then it’ll feed my motivation. And you never know you might want to try them too! Almost certainly some of you will be able to do many of these things already. So you can provide tips. And I’ll treat the whole venture as an experiment. Which means that I’ll be honest about my failures, as well as successes, and consider whether some of the lessons in learning that I’ve provided for others apply to me too, at my age. There has to be standards too. Just doing it isn’t enough. I’ll get someone who does know to judge. Not just me. If you don’t mind mention of the C word in August I thought I might produce some gifts, Kirsty style. Groans from the girls! Here is an initial list of 20. When I’ve done most of these I’ll add more…

1. Make and preserve sun-dried tomatoes – to avoid Tesco’s rip-off price for a jar
2. Speak Italian – well enough to get by in shops, bars, hotels and restaurants in October
3. Knit socks for a baby – with normal feet
4. Grow some winter veg from seed – edible results are a must
5. Plant paper-white narcissi bulbs for indoor growth – good growth and ready for Christmas
6. Use a sewing machine, threading it myself and sewing in a straight line (no, I really can’t do that!)
7. Sew a scarf – in an original Italian silk design (figure that one out!)
8. String broken beads (I have so many)
9. Bake and decorate a birthday cake (bad mother, never done this in my life)
10. Knit a beanie hat in an evening
11. Learn a poem a week – good enough to recite without prompting
12. Write a travel article – and submit it to a newspaper (no, not the Loughborough Echo)
13. Paint a room (nope, never done that either)
14. Meditate – for half an hour without fidgeting
15. Crochet a shawl
16. Light a fire (this is me, who doesn’t like to get dirty, remember)
17. Use a twitter account and tweet
18. Make and frame a montage
19. Organise a pop-up fund-raising supper – it has to be quick and spontaneous
20. Cycle 10 miles – without constantly getting off

That’ll do for now!


Crochet unravelled

I recently took up crochet again. The first time since school, all those blurry years ago. Using a gem of a book called Crochet unravelled I reminded myself of the stitches. Painstaking at first as I had to keep looking back to the pattern and undoing what I’d done. But faster and more satisfying once I got into a swing. There’s something about the rhythm that is calming and meditative. Like knitting but better because it grows faster and more forgiving when you make mistakes. You can also design your own patterns as long as they are not too complicated. As I am about to become a grandmother for the third time I have been crocheting a pram blanket. Knowing that my eldest daughter prefers shop made to home made I showed her the results of my efforts. She held it up to the light and said ‘Well it looks perfect’. Which it isn’t of course, but obviously acceptable. I like the thought that it might become an heirloom.


Wool is cheaper on eBay. I used merino wool for babies. Debbie Bliss is as the name implies. Bamboo hooks are better than the metal ones we used to use. I learned to crochet from my Mum. We both made crochet dresses in the 60s. I still have one of Mums. It’s long, black and glittery. Size 10. Maybe I’ll turn that into a blanket or something. There’s something about passing on these domestic skills that I like. If I have a granddaughter this time I’ll teach her too.


Isn’t Spring wonderful?

As I walked with friends Saturday I was struck by how beautiful the trees are at this time of year. And all this despite the fact that I get early hay fever with an allergy to trees. The sky was perfectly blue and the spidery outlines of the trees made me want to draw them. I wish I could draw. I once went to a class called ‘Anyone can draw’ and proved it wrong. My best friend was a rubber. The teacher was Californian with the laid-back approach that this suggests. But he did prefer to spend time with those who could already draw, like my daughter. We went outside and drew a tree. I threw mine away and kept Alex’s.

Cherry blossom trees might be good to draw. You could use the soft side of the pencil to smudge for the blossom. The trees that line our road are so pink they look artificial. It reminds me of when I was a child and used to collect the blossom in baskets. It was a pointless activity as it dies almost instantly. Then there are the camellias. They flaunt their beauty but you have to admire them when the sun shines as they lose their petals with wind and rain. Finally hydrangeas, my Mothers Day gift this year. My favourite shades of mauve and blue. Being able to notice all these beautiful things is a recent thing. It makes me grateful to have more time.

‘Are we to look at the cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon when looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of Spring – these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with flowers are worthier of our admiration’. Yoshida Kenko




In praise of … Blossom
The Guardian today reminded me of the playwright, Dennis Potter’s interview with Melvyn Bragg, in 2004 as he was dying. Seated near a window he described the blossom as ‘the elitist, frothiest, blossomist blossom that there could ever be… The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous… There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it…’