There and back again – an overview

No matter how exciting or fun a trip away is, it always feels good to come home. After five days of full on activity I spent much of yesterday recovering. I am not used to coping on five or six hours sleep a night, especially when the days are so busy and active. With much to see and the company of a good friend to enjoy I did not wish to waste a minute of my time away. This did take it’s toll when I stopped. It felt good after all the excitement to have a quiet and restful day at home.

I have experienced so much in such a short space of time. Learning about the city we were staying in was fascinating, but the lessons to be learnt about myself will also be of value. I feel as if I have been frantically filling up on facts and now need to sit back and process all that I have taken in. This was no ordinary holiday, not least because I did it without my husband. I was absolutely myself rather than his wife for the first time in many years.

I was away with my two older children who I hope got as much out of the trip as I did. I made a deliberate decision to try not to mother them while we were away. My aim was to allow them to be themselves with my friend; four people enjoying each other’s company and learning from each other along the way. Ian was a truly excellent host and tour guide; he was also a fabulous teacher of alternative culture. The late evenings and early mornings spent at his flat, where he backed up his pedagogy with music or cartoons, were as illuminating as the history of many of the sights he took us to see. Even when our disparate views meant the discussions became uncomfortably heated at times I felt that I was learning.

Berlin is a city packed full of contrasts, history (ancient and modern), vibrancy and colour. As well as being filled with wonder at the more obvious tourist attractions, buildings, and museums, we were offered background knowledge on more quirky sights that would have gone unnoticed without a resident host who had obviously put significant effort into preparing for our visit. Ian coped admirably with our invasion of his flat and his life making us feel welcome and valued throughout.

Having fitted so much into our short time away I now wish to give myself time to consider all that we have seen and done slowly that I may fully process my reactions. Although we visited the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag I was more moved by the nearby Jewish Memorial. Our lunch outside the Hansa Studio and subsequent discussions about Bowie’s musical development gave me more food for thought than the typical tourist destination Bellevue Palace (official residence of the German President that has no actual living accommodation inside). The stunning architecture of the city is not confined to the surviving older buildings, but the city offers so much in addition to the incredible sights.

We spent two full days travelling around the city being tourists plus one challenging and thought provoking day at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I felt it was important to take my children here, but the discussions the place provoked between Ian and I probably brought our views of current government practice closer than I thought possible. It is not a place one can visit and forget.

The remaining days of our time away were spent preparing for and travelling, with much waiting around as seems necessary these days when trying to get from one place to another by public transport. The many train journeys we took allowed us to view the more ordinary aspects of the city so were not wasted. We also ate out a great deal, trying to find a restaurant or cafe that offered cuisine from a different country or culture each time. I was grateful that such activity costs much less in Berlin than it would here at home.

I am immensely grateful that Ian offered us the opportunity to get under the skin of a city that, as he put it, grows on you. Although our visit was necessarily short, the time was used with maximum efficiency without feeling rushed. I do not normally warm to city life preferring the peace and space of rural locations. I think that Berlin could well prove to be an exception.

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Celebration

It has been quite a week. Celebratory cakes and champagne have been consumed in abundance; special dinners have been enjoyed with much glass clinking and happy smiles. It has been a joyful, family time as we have shared in each other’s events and achievements. I feel exhausted by it all, but in a good way.

My children did well in their exams. There is quite a fanfare around collecting GCSE results from school and my daughter did not wish to be a part of this. She opted to attend late morning in order to miss the rush and avoid the need to open her results envelope in front of friends. She was happy to share once she had absorbed the impact of grades given. After the nervous anticipation she needed that initial space.

Schools are under a great deal of pressure to produce a slew of top grades each year. Teachers must be so relieved when their charges put in the work and fulfil their potential. Although the overall marks can, year on year, impact a teacher’s professional progression, it is the pupils whose lives are affected by the individual outcomes. It is a relief to get beyond results day, and a joy that we did so with the satisfaction of success.

I am very proud of my children’s achievement. I am also aware that it is theirs, not mine. The way I have mothered them may have set the groundwork for future success, but it is their ability and the work that they put in that resulted in their attainment. As I bask in the shadow of their happiness I will not try to take any of their credit.

For them, the next stage is higher level coursework and the preparation for more exams. As a parent there will be many more results days to anticipate and deal with. These good grades will make my children’s lives easier, but I do not wish exams to be the focus of their development. Their learning and preparation for adult life and independence should not be confined to the classroom.

As my elder two children relax in the knowledge of their success, my youngest son’s belief in himself has been knocked. Where my elder son takes his sister’s successes as a challenge to emulate, my younger son allows himself to feel pressurised and inadequate. His self doubt and fear of failure will need to be overcome if he is to achieve his potential. I can understand that his siblings are a hard act to follow; convincing him that he should be doing what is best for him rather than attempting to imitate is tough.

However, I do not wish to bring negativity into a period of our lives when things have gone well; it would be sad indeed if we could not fully enjoy these times. Whatever may or may not happen in the future, it is important to retain the ability to take pleasure in the here and now.

Another milestone has been passed, but we still have much to look forward to. I have our imminent trip to Berlin to prepare for as well as catching up on more mundane activities, neglected in the excitement of this week. I will enjoy my time away so much more if I know that those left at home will not have to deal with the tasks that I can complete in advance.

It has been a good week. I will cache the experiences for future times when life is harder to cope with. For now though, I will simply enjoy.

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Letter writing

I have a birthday coming up later this month and have received some cards already. The best thing about these cards is that they contain letters; I do so love to receive letters. In these days of instant communication and prolific use of social media a personal letter is a rare treat, especially when it is my only contact with acquaintances who are uncomfortable with sharing details of their lives on line. Although I would welcome more regular contact, these occasional updates are appreciated.

Most of the personal letters that I receive are from family members. My parents do not own a computer and I dislike talking on the telephone. We have been corresponding regularly since I moved to England twenty- five years ago. These days I word process my missives and print them off in a large, clearly spaced font as my mother’s eyesight is failing. She would probably like it if I wrote to her more regularly than I do. However often I wrote this would probably be the case.

When I was growing up I loved to write letters. I had many pen pals and, every few weeks, I would craft pages of rambling prose about my life for them to read. Perhaps this was the precursor to my blog.

Today I received letters from my brother and his wife who live on the other side of the world. Although (or perhaps because) my brother has worked with computers for much of his adult life, he will not sign up to any social media sites. The letters that we exchange at Christmas and birthdays are now our only form of contact. He left our parent’s home when I was a young child so my view of him has been gained largely through this correspondence. I sometimes wonder how well we know each other at all; I guess the same could be said about anyone though.

In his letter my brother told me that he has recently celebrated his thirtieth wedding anniversary. His wife seems so lovely and I regret that I have not had the opportunity to get to know her better. She shares my brother’s mistrust of social media but is also kind enough to write the occasional letter to me. They both write of the same experiences but in very different ways. A letter can be a window to a personality, but only through a glass darkly.

A lovely young lady, who is the daughter of a good friend of mine, also sends me a letter from time to time. I would love to get to know her better but value the communication that we have. One of the attractions of Tumblr is that it allows me to gain a better understanding of the next generation. It is too easy for us oldies to mix only with their peers. How are we to support young people with the issues that they must face if we do not have any understanding of the lives they must live?

Sitting down to write a letter takes more time and discipline than a few lines on a social network. A letter is crafted for the recipient whereas a status update is offered to a crowd. I do not gain the same pleasure from writing letters that I once did, perhaps because I write of myself in so many other ways now. I am still more comfortable corresponding than talking though. I find it hard to express myself as I would wish with the spoken word.

Communication with others is so valuable yet each of us harbours different preferences for achieving this sociability. I will read and reread the letters that I receive but can only interpret the information contained therein based on my own experiences. Conveying an intended message with words is an art form; perhaps that is why so many shy away from it.

Although the letters that I receive cannot show me the entirety of the writer, they can open up a side of them that others may not see. Our personal writing style can be as individual as our character, multifaceted and full of a curious ambiguity.

We can never fully get to know and understand another individual, not least because new experiences are constantly changing how we think and feel. The occasional snapshots offered by a letter are still of value. They are a reaching out that tells us we are thought of; a sharing of highlights offered for our delectation. A letter does not invade our time and space but may be enjoyed at our leisure.

I hope that there will always be those who are willing to write to me; the consideration offered is appreciated as much as the update.

English: Postbox for letters and bird box. Woo...

From Bohemian Rhapsody to MTV

Another post for the weekly blog hop. This week’s theme: MTV
RTT Blog Hop

Back in the day my sister loved Top of the Pops. She would listen to the Sunday evening singles chart show in the car on BBC Radio One as we drove home from tea at my grandmothers each week, and then watch a selection of the bands mime perform on a Thursday evening on Top of the Pops. As we had one television in the house, and it was integral to our main living area, the show was watched by all but my Dad. He would find a quiet corner to play chess in or listen to his choice of music. My Dad was not one to put up with things that he did not enjoy and he did not enjoy modern pop music.

If Top of the Pops wished to play a song and the band was not available then a dance group called Pan’s People would perform to the music. They were corny. Even at such a young age, I knew that they were corny. Some of the bands were laughably bad but this group of scantily clad females just annoyed me.

And then the band Queen went to number one in the singles chart with Bohemian Rhapsody, staying there for nine weeks. Top of the Pops played a promotional video that the band had produced to accompany the track and the MTV age was born.

At least that is what music history now tells us with the benefit of hindsight. At the time the concept of MTV was unknown; I just loved the video, especially as it meant less Pan’s People dancing. I liked the music and I liked the visuals attached. I was rather sorry when the number one slot was taken by Abba with Mama Mia, a catchy but much less impressive track in my young and limited view.

MTV did not start to register on my radar until many years after this. Sure there would be bands that I wished to see perform on television, and promotional videos for individual tracks became more common, but we still only had four television channels to choose from and the music shows that I watched were largely populated by young presenters who seemed to love themselves a great deal. Looking back, I suspect that many of them must have been high on drugs when on screen.

Do I sound miserable and bitter? A lot of it was, of course, jealousy. Those skinny, admired and well groomed young ladies presenting and performing were drooled over by the boys that I wanted to notice me. I was about as uncool as it was possible to be and had no idea how to change that. I remember starting to pay attention to the band Beautiful South purely based on a Top of the Pops performance when their lead singer, Jacqui Abbott, appeared fully clothed. By allowing attention to be paid to the music rather than her body they gained my respect.

MTV was being talked about long before I first got the chance to see what it was all about. Sky and cable were only just becoming popular in Britain and I knew few people who were willing to pay to watch what was being offered. Pubs and clubs started to advertise link ups, but I was not interested in watching television when trying to socialise. Even then I found this took effort.

I joined a gym when I started work and this establishment had a television high up on the wall in a corner to help take our minds off the tedium of the treadmill. Depending on who got to the controls first we would watch various sports programmes, although normally football (yawn), or a selection of videos from MTV. I started to understand what the hype was all about; I was interested but still not impressed.

The performer who sticks in my mind most was Madonna. I had quite liked dancing to a few of her songs, but I disliked her attempts at self promotion via sex and shock tactics. Her videos on MTV made me feel much the same way as Pan’s People had all those years ago. Too much exposed flesh gyrating to camera; too much of everything on show.

When my kids started to get into pop music we tried to pick up some music DVDs for them to watch so that they could see the bands whose songs they enjoyed. This proved much harder than we expected; we wondered if bands no longer made promotional videos. As we had not had broadcast television for many years we had no idea what was available.

Eventually we found some disks from the Now, Pop Party, Grammy and MTV Award collections and sat down to watch; it seems that little has changed. There are a few more imaginative offerings from some of the better bands, but many of the female performers are still gyrating to camera dressed in as little as possible while the men surround themselves with plastic babes for no apparent reason other than they can.

At least I have grown out of the whole jealousy bit, although I was very amused to read about a farmer from my homeland who took exception to Rhianna stripping off for a music video in his field (BBC News – Bangor farmer tells superstar Rihanna to ‘cover up’). Perhaps I retain more of my upbringing than I realise.

I guess that MTV must still exist. I prefer to watch such things as the Black Veiled Brides film ‘Legion of the Black’ (available on Wretched & Divine (Deluxe Edition)). Now that’s what I call a music video.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Possessions

A number of years ago we had the roof of our house converted into rooms leaving just the space above one bedroom for the water tank and miscellaneous storage. By the time the Christmas boxes and suitcases have been squeezed into this small area there is little room for much else. We have to be quite ruthless about what we keep that is not required regularly.

A water leak, now dealt with, caused some damage to a few pictures I had stored here recently. These needed to be disposed of so, last weekend, I decided to go through the accumulated boxes and clear out anything else that I felt we could part with. I find clear outs therapeutic. I am not a big hoarder but, over time, things do tend to be put away just in case they may one day be used again. They rarely are.

Unlike many people, we put our cars in our garage so have limited space for other things here. We have a shed for our bikes and a second shed for chicken feed, a few garden chairs and outdoor toys. As all require regular access they have to be carefully managed to prevent them being overrun with what is, essentially, junk.

Having gone through all of these spaces I now have a very full bin and a sizeable pile of items that need to be driven to the local dump. We still have far too much ‘stuff’ sitting around, but much of it is treasured by the children so will be held onto for the time being. It would be too much of a wrench for them to be made to get rid of the papier-mache and clay creatures they lovingly created, or the many DT projects of which they are proud.

As a teenager my bedroom evolved into something of a shrine to my memories of travel and romantic attachments. When I moved out of my parent’s home to start work in England I unceremoniously dumped most of the items that I had gathered over the years. In my mind I was starting afresh and wanted to put all of these things behind me. I think that my mother was more upset than me as she watched the cards and tokens of affection that had adorned my shelves and walls for so many years being consigned to the bin.

Although I like my home to be clean and comfortable I do not like clutter. I have photographs of my family on display but no longer hang pictures on the walls. The ornaments that remain generally have some sentimental value having been gifts from loved ones. I try to keep my home in good condition but will not fuss if marks or stains are left on furnishings in the course of using them. I prefer a relaxed and happy environment to a pristine one.

As I have got older I have found that my attitude to my possessions has changed. I no longer feel a need to put on a show or to try to impress. I like order and to know where I can find things, but beyond this I aspire only to comfort and reasonable hygiene. I have never felt the need to follow fashion and can live with a chosen decor for many years before tiring of it.

None of this means that I do not value the things that I have, but more that my priorities have changed. My reasons for holding on to possessions tend to be practical (they are in regular use) or emotional (they make me feel good). I hope that I will always be able to keep my books and teddy bears, however much space they take up or dust they gather.

I think it is important not to place too much value on material things. Perhaps this is just easy for me to say from my privileged perspective; I am well aware that I have all I need and more. I can get quite frustrated when my children seem to want so much; I need to remember that they have still to build their nests, that they are just beginning to create their own spaces.

My big clear out has inspired me to continue to sort through the things that we are using less than we once did. Our large collection of CDs could be put away as they are only used regularly in one car now so do not need to be kept beside our in house music player.

Sometimes my tidy ups unearth items that intrigue my children. I have held on to my original Sony Walkman only because it amuses one of my sons by it’s bulk and ability to play only a single cassette tape when the memory card on his phone can hold his entire music collection. Likewise my other son wishes to retain the first laptop my husband bought, which still works but has such limited memory and processor power that it cannot handle most modern software. These museum pieces entertain them, especially as we remember them as being so innovative.

The things that we have, that we choose to surround ourselves with, can say much about the people that we are. I wonder what others make of me from the way I have organised my home; what impression is given of the sort of person that I am. It is my sanctuary and my safe space; I am happiest when I am here. Would I even want to know what others may think that it tells them about me?

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Eating out

After considering our options for the second week of my husband’s fortnight long break from work, we decided to stay at home but go out and about from there. The weather had turned wet and my teenage boys, being overly attached to their electronic entertainments, reluctant to commit to any ideas we suggested for days away. Add to this mix my own minor health issues and we have ended up spending the week fairly quietly. We have, however, managed to eat out locally on a couple of evenings.

I have developed a dislike of cooking so a meal out is a real treat, although eating out with teenagers can also be a challenge. By checking menus beforehand we can select a venue that offers the type of food that they are likely to be willing to try, but there are no guarantees that they will show any sort of enjoyment of the experience. I find this apparent sense of entitlement frustrating. I mean, what do I expect, gratitude?

Having determined that we would regard this week at home as a holiday, and treat ourselves accordingly, we were keen to try out some new venues. All too often we return to favourite places as we wish to celebrate an occasion and do not wish to risk disappointment over a meal that is intended to be a treat. We gain a great deal of enjoyment from eating good food but the cost of going out has made this an indulgence, albeit one that we have been allowing ourselves to do more in recent months than for many years.

Our first foray was earlier in the week when I hobbled down the tree lined drive to the Bowood Hotel to eat at their Brasserie in the company of my little family. I thought that the casual menu would suit my boys and the food did not disappoint. Service was excellent and the atmosphere relaxed and convivial; it should have been a very pleasant evening.

However, for whatever reason, my boys decided to squabble. Nothing loud or embarrassing, just jibes and unkind comments thrown at each other over the course of the evening that tarnished my enjoyment. My husband and I agreed that, if they considered this behaviour acceptable during a supposed treat, then we would leave them at home next time.

And that is what we did. Last night we decided to try out The Bridge Brasserie, a venue that had been recommended to us but which we had yet to explore for ourselves. Leaving the boys to find their own entertainments, we caught a bus into town and spent a very enjoyable few hours indulging in what turned out to be delicious and well prepared food. Service was excellent and the various dishes presented in a timely and attractive manner. I do not like being rushed when eating, but here the waiters were attentive enough to note when we were ready to move on without hovering. The ambiance of the place was friendly yet discreet; it was a very enjoyable experience.

We like the current fad adopted by good restaurants  of small portions, artfully presented, combining interesting flavours that complement each item of food on the plate. I have read reviews of other places that suggest some patrons feel short changed when charged a large tariff for a small amount of food; we prefer flavour to quantity.

The Bridge Brasserie certainly ticked all boxes for taste and presentation, but nobody could complain about portion size. This generosity did not detract from the deliciousness, merely surprised us. I could not finish my main course and skipped pudding to avoid spoiling the pleasure by overeating.

My husband would have liked to have seen a little more variety in some of the wine recommendations but, mindful of the pricing structure and clientele at which the establishment is aimed, enjoyed the drinks offered with each course. I was happy with my well chilled and tonic heavy G&T (just as I like it) followed by a fruity white wine that held up to the deliciousness of the perfectly cooked lamb.

Just as, after recent experiences, we wonder how we can provide a family holiday away from home that will suit my teenage boys, so my husband and I are now wondering at the wisdom of including them in meals out. It is important that, as parents, we expose them to different situations to enable them to pick up on social cues and learn acceptable behaviour. It is also important that we, as adults, are allowed to enjoy the experiences ourselves.

I need to mull over the best way to proceed as regards balancing family time with the enjoyment of expensive experiences, and to discuss with my boys why they sometimes behave as they do. Perhaps all we need are ground rules for participation. In the meantime, The Bridge will be added to our list of places worth considering for celebratory nights out. We will undoubtedly return.

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Dinner with friends

My normally quiet and uneventful life was crammed full of a variety of experiences last weekend. My sons finished school for the summer on the Friday and my elder boy brought home five friends, most of whom I had not previously met, for a sleepover. What a lovely group of young people these friends turned out to be. The event ran smoothly, with minimum disruption, and seemed to be enjoyed by all.

Saturday was spent cooking and clearing up before starting to sort out the many things that we would need for the camping trip that was scheduled to start the next day. Before that though, my husband and I had a dinner out with friends to look forward to. This had been arranged at fairly short notice and I had not investigated the venue beforehand. I was happy to accept whatever was on offer as the main attraction of the evening was the chance to catch up with two of our favourite people who we had not managed to see in over two years. What an unexpected treat we had in store.

Despite my dislike of being late for any appointment, I managed to run behind schedule due to my desire to be as well prepared as possible for the next day’s trip away. Had I known more about our destination I would not have allowed myself to waste a minute of the experience. From the moment we were reunited with our friends, after too long without getting together, I knew that their chosen venue was particularly special.

Whatley Manor is located just a half hour drive from our home. Having driven through the historic town of Malmesbury and out into the countryside beyond we approached the hotel buildings along a tree lined drive. We disembarked from our car and realised that it was unclear which of the low built, stone buildings housed the restaurant. Being already late arriving we decided to phone our friends for directions. They came to our rescue and walked us in; I am so glad that they did. At their suggestion we enjoyed a short tour of the hotel facilities, including the opulent Spa. It was becoming obvious that this place offered a level of luxury that we were not used to encountering.

Although my husband and I have enjoyed delicious meals at restaurants that can boast AA rosettes we had never before eaten at a Michelin Starred establishment. The Dining Room at Whatley Manor boasts two stars and offered an experience that my husband and I will be discussing for some time to come. At the suggestion of our friends we opted for the Taster Menu with wine matching. How happily we accepted their suggestion, quite oblivious to the generous offer that was being made.

Undoubtedly I enjoyed the evening all the more because I was so unaware of just what I was being given. Of course I realised that the food was delicious, the service impeccable, the ambiance delightful and the accompanying wines an experience in their own right. To enjoy all of this with our lovely friends was what made it so special though. Had I known of the exclusivity of the venue beforehand I would not have been able to relax so fully; I would have worried about foolish things such as what to wear; I would have felt cowed by the sumptuous environment.

As it was, we had an utterly delightful evening. We caught up with each other’s news while I merrily critiqued the food and wine; we enjoyed ourselves to the full. We have always valued quality food and fine wine but this evening offered us a whole new level to enjoy. Our friends have gifted us a memory to treasure.

The following day we packed our car and set off on our family camping trip. For five days we slept in a tent and lived on simple, campfire food such as eggs, sausages, burgers and beans. The wine we bought in the local supermarket was chilled in a bucket of freshly drawn, cold water and drunk from plastic goblets. We enjoyed getting back to nature but continued to wax lyrical about our fabulous evening with our friends. As a result, my elder son appears to have added ‘dining at a two Michelin starred restaurant’ to his life goals.

It would be too easy for me to feel embarrassed that I took this dinner out so easily without realising what was being offered. However, knowing my friends as I do, I feel reassured that they did not expect anything from us other than our company. Going so unprepared was ultimately for the best as it precluded the awkwardness I would otherwise have felt. The enduring memory of the evening, and of our friends, remains absolutely fabulous.

Gardens at Whatley Manor

Radio Ga Ga

Zebra Garden

I was born in the swinging sixties, the youngest of three children with a brother who entered his teens just as I was learning to walk. He left home for university before I could get to know him, and moved to the other side of the world a few years after graduation. What he left behind for his baby sister to enjoy was a vinyl record collection from the sixties and seventies, and a portable record player that had settings for 16, 33, 45 and 78rpm recordings.

Music was always being played in our house. My mother would have the radio on in the kitchen every morning as we ate our breakfast and again in the afternoon as she prepared the family dinner. She would listen to stations that offered news, comment and the ‘easy listening’ songs that she favoured. In the evenings my father would change the radio station and listen to classical music as he washed up the dishes. My sister had a little portable radio that she used to follow the latest chart toppers; she has always been more fashion concious than me.

I preferred my brother’s record collection and developed an enduring love of the Beatles, The Moody Blues and many of the singles covered by unnamed artists on the much maligned Top of the Pops collections released in the late sixties and early seventies. It was many years before I would hear these songs sung by the original artists.

When I started to add my own purchases to my brother’s record collection I continued to favour music that rarely made it into the charts. I chose Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan over the latest boy bands being swooned over by my classmates at the all girls grammar school that I attended.

Soon after it was purchased I borrowed my parent’s music centre, moving it up to my bedroom and not returning it until I was able to afford my own separates system several years later. This device allowed me to make numerous compilation cassette tapes of my favourite tracks and to listen to these endlessly until I could bear them no more.

When I learnt to drive most cars had only a basic radio for entertainment. I saved up and splashed out on a decent in-car stereo system that was stolen within days. I reverted to the radio and, for the first time, started to listen to new releases on BBC Radio 1. At home I would still opt to listen to my record collection or my compilation tapes, but my music appreciation expanded and I found that I could enjoy some of the offerings of my own age. Even when my father purchased a car that had a cassette player as well as a radio I continued to tune into Steve Wright in the Afternoon, learn from his Factoids and laugh at his Mr Angry.

In my late teens, when I was building my Hi Fi separates system, I purchased my first CD player and my vinyl collection started to gather dust. The only recordings that I chose to buy on CD that I already had on vinyl were by Pink Floyd and The Beatles. The rest of my CD collection was made up of new recordings from the eighties and nineties. When my husband and I married and joined our music collections together we found few overlaps; we continue to have quite different tastes in music.

With the birth of my daughter I became a stay at home mum and started to listen to the radio for the news and a little music, much as my own mother had done. However, I soon grew tired of the phone ins and debates; it seemed to me that those who discussed the topics of the day were ill informed and hopelessly biased. I tuned out in boredom and disgust, reverting to my recorded music of choice.

My husband took a job at a phone company just as it was setting up a rival to Apple’s iTunes. As an employee he could add any music from the in-house music store to the MP3 player on the top end phone that they provided him with. Over the two years that he worked there he amassed a huge collection of albums including everything we already had on vinyl and CD. Suddenly the entire music collection of my youth was available in high quality surround sound. Much of it has aged rather well.

The twelve year old car that I now drive has a radio and a CD player but no MP3 capability; this is the only place where our CD collection sees use. Steve Wright in the Afternoon can still be found on the radio but I will rarely tune in. There are few of the latest chart toppers that appeal; the latest boy bands still fail to capture my attention.

Radio has been a background noise to my life but never an integral part of it, yet I would not wish to get rid of the radio as I have done with television. I prefer to tailor my listening to my own tastes but wish to retain the option of a live link to the outside world.

On a sunny, summers day in 1984 I attended a Radio 1 Roadshow at a seaside resort a few miles from my home town with a friend. We had a fabulous day out, dancing to the music and cheering with the crowds. I immersed myself in the atmosphere just as I would do at the many live concerts that I would attend in the coming years. The music that was being played mattered so much less than the convivial spirit of the revellers.

Radio on it’s own is too sterile an entertainment for my taste; the DJs are too talkative and the adverts on commercial stations unbearable. Music has always been important to me, but I make my own choices over what I will listen to. Perhaps I am just too set in my ways to be willing to accept what appeals to others; perhaps I am just too different to the norm to be catered for.

It delights me that my daughter has developed a taste in rock and metal music rather than the vapid and transitory chart toppers. Just as in my day, it seems that our favoured bands are rarely given air time on the radio.

Whatever we are doing there is usually music playing somewhere in our house. It is, however, rare indeed for our radio to rock.

English: Close-up shot of a turntable cartridg...

A trip to the seaside

England is currently experiencing a heatwave. I love the sunshine and outdoor living so I am not going to complain about this relatively rare phenomena. I will concede though that trying to get anything done in temperatures that are hovering around the 30’C mark can be wearing.

With my daughter now safely arrived in Madagascar I have been checking the daily weather forecasts for the area that she is exploring and, if correct, then she is having to cope with daily temperatures about 10’C lower than back home. This is probably just as well given that she is required to walk a fair distance each day with a heavy pack on her back, and to work outside on projects the group will be challenged to complete. At least it does not appear to be raining and she has a good sleeping bag to keep her snug in her tent when the night time temperatures drop significantly. I do hope that she is enjoying her big adventure.

Having waved her off at the weekend I was whisked away to the seaside to take my mind off her departure. It was a very welcome and enjoyable distraction. For a couple of nights I was able to enjoy the comforts of a hotel on the beach with delicious food and a cooling, outdoor swimming pool as well as the sea. We had taken a room with a balcony that overlooked the water so morning coffee was sipped and pre dinner drinks imbibed whilst watching the yachts and expensive motor boats as they made their way in and out of the large, natural harbour. It felt wonderfully indulgent to spend time in such luxurious surroundings.

There is something about the sea and the tides that calms and relaxes my mood. The beaches were understandably busy on these hot days with young people swimming and diving off the rocks, fisherman casting their lines from the jetties, and the many birds gliding and diving in search of tasty tidbits. The surrounding roads were chaotic with traffic trying to move from one place to another along the coast, or in search of an unused parking space; I was glad that we could walk from the hotel to our desired destinations without having to move our car until it was time to head home.

Due to seasickness, I do not generally enjoy going out on boats. However, our proximity to an island that I was eager to visit and the relative calmness of the water in this weather persuaded me that we could risk the journey to spend a day enjoying the cooling shade of woodland. Thus we had a fabulous few hours wandering the paths between quiet glades in search of deer and the rare, red squirrels of Brownsea Island. We saw families of peacocks and flocks of chickens roaming free as well as the wildlife we had come to admire.

Most visitors to the island stay close to the visitors centre. We prefer to enjoy peace and quiet so chose to explore the many woodland paths as we circumnavigated the small island. In doing so we came across a small pond surrounded by trees on which interesting paint marks had been daubed. Intrigued by the apparently random nature of the strokes we moved around the pond and discovered that, with the right positioning and perspective, hearts appeared through the foliage. Created by painting a part of a heart shape on several trees at differing distances from the viewer these would only come together from one vantage point. We enjoyed the challenge of searching out the best place to view each of the four hearts.

Having enjoyed a few days of good food, a fabulous location and an air conditioned room in which to sleep, I returned home from our short break feeling rested and relaxed. I cannot put aside my natural concern for my daughter’s well being but, knowing how eager she was to take part in this expedition, I cannot wish her anywhere else.

My boys have now returned to school to complete the summer term before we head off camping next week. If this heatwave continues then it could be an interesting experience; our family camping trips are rarely taken in fine weather. We have coped with rain, wind and overnight frost in the past but never extreme heat. There will be no assisted air conditioning in our tent; neither will there be wifi. That could be the biggest challenge for my gadget addicted children.

In the meantime I have a few days of quiet reflection and preparation. With my daughter away I have the house to myself while my boys are at school; I must ensure that I make use of this time. Although she was only at home in the day with me for the few weeks around her recent exams, it quickly came to feel normal making this solitude more noticeable. How quickly we humans adapt to changing circumstances.

For today, the heat is building once again and I have much to do. Whatever the good or bad that comes our way, life goes on. I am grateful that, for now at least, the life I am living is very good.

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Sunshine / sunshade

It seems like quite a few years now since we had a warm, sunny summer here in England. I love to sit out in the sun, sipping on a glass of chilled white wine, dining alfresco. My husband tolerates my wishes but becomes grumpy if he gets too hot or if he has the sun in his eyes. This is one of the reasons why we do not travel abroad on holiday. He prefers to be active and finds that the heat restricts him; exhausts him before he feels he has worked hard enough to justify a rest.

At the end of the last sunny summer I was mulling over how to allow us both to enjoy the glorious weather and decided that we needed a sunshade for our patio, where the large, wooden table and benches (that I spent months hunting down) are located. We had acquired a collection of garden umbrellas but none provided enough coverage. They were sufficient for the smaller table that adorns our upper deck and for the picnic table that we keep on the middle deck (we have a sloping garden with lots of levels built in). What I needed for the patio was a shade that would cover it entirely.

I considered having a sail and supports custom made but this proved too costly an option. I looked into having a wooden gazebo built, but this was a permanent solution where I wanted something temporary for the warmest months only. Eventually, I came across a site that offered sturdy marquees of the sort used by market traders and party providers. A small, cheap marquee can be picked up easily in the high street, but these were not available in the size that I required. I was also unconvinced about their longevity in our exposed, hillside garden.

At around the same time as the boxes containing my new purchase were delivered, the weather broke. We have not had a prolonged period of warm, sunny weather since. Each year I have erected the marquee either for a social event (it has protected us from more rain than sun over the years) or because the weather forecasters have promised us barbeque weather that has not lasted. The marquee takes several hours to erect so once it goes up it is not taken down until the end of the season. It has survived wind, rain and hail; it provides us with a useful storage area for the garden toys that emerge from the depths of our shed each year when the sun teases us with a brief appearance.

This year I decided that I would only go to the effort of putting the thing up if I was reasonably confident it could be of use as a sunshade. The weather forecasters tentatively suggested last week that this month could be unusually warm and sunny. When it started to look as if their prediction might actually happen I decided to go for it and spent yesterday constructing. I am writing this from under the marquee’s welcome shade; it is hot out today.

My husband’s reaction to the prospect of a prolonged period of good weather was to order a garden ping pong table. Thus, he is out in the sun making use of this while I sit in the shade, sipping on my glass of cooling water. He has been in town today with our younger son, watching a civil war re-enactment, while I have been tidying the house. I am the one who is supposed to enjoy being out in the sun.

The British spend a great deal of time discussing the weather. It has been said that, if the weather didn’t change once in a while then nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation. The welcome arrival of the sun has prompted much happy comment. No doubt it won’t be long before some start complaining that it is too hot to sleep or be exposed to the rays for extended periods.

For now, I am enjoying being able to be outside in the fresh air. I have looked out my underused shorts and strappy tops (unflattering but so comfy to wear) and am making plans to partake of activities that can only be fully enjoyed when the rain and cold stay away.

I seem to have written a blog post about the weather. Oscar Wilde would not be impressed.

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‘Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.’