Sunday, 28 August 2016

Missing You, Already

All three girls came to us for lunch on Friday. Part of a plan to allow mum and dad some packing time and space before all five head off to France the very next morning.

Our first floor flat is quite small. And it becomes unbelievably small when three active children are slotted into the equation. It's also quite warm all year round. I'm sure the girls think it has something to with being old. I believe it’s because we’re closer to the sun. The girls feel the warmth, even during the winter months. So we heat fill them up with eggs, chips and beans, then offer an ice-cream dessert as an antidote extra special treat.

Then I suggest, “Let’s walk to the shop,” (only a mile across country).

Muted response.

“We could buy lollies.”

Did three girls ever don their shades and sunhats more quickly? And I speak as someone who has just watched a considerable slice of the Olympics. So I know how to gauge speed.

Trips to the shop seem to take no time at all in their company. All the constant chatter, the running ahead (them, not me) and the extras like choosing an apple that’s fallen from the tree near the railway bridge, setting it still in the middle of the road, and seeing who can kick theirs over the humpback bridge with the fewest attempts.

Two ‘Pop-ups’ and a ‘Twister’ later, and we’re plodding our way home. Our group becomes straggled due to an almost microscopic blister on Iris’ toe. I hang back with her, offering reassurance that her foot will be intact when we get home. It seems to work, for a while, until she complains of stitch. She’s holding her left side, at a point around her hip.

“I don’t think you get stitch there."

“You can get stitch anywhere,” she says. We walk on in silence. Well, I walked, she limped, slightly.

Then, at the end of an enjoyable few hours, dad came to pick them up. Normally when we say goodbye, it’s in the knowledge that they will be just a couple of miles away. But this was us saying goodbye before they crossed the channel to France. An altogether different prospect.

The view from the gîte appears to be quiet and still. Rather like our days without the girls in them.

They were hugged, we were hugged. We did ‘high fives’ (several times) and we told them how much we love them. Then, just when I thought the old heartstrings couldn’t tighten much more, Imogen looked me square in the eye and asked a question in such a way that only a promise would suffice as an answer.

“Will you still be here when we get back?”

All three stared, waiting for my response.

We’ll do our best. Of course we will.”

Ouch, that really tugged, young lady. But who knows what though processes are taking place inside such a young head? This is the girl who asked me to print a photo of Monty, their dog, so she can see him when she's away. I had to print another, of all three girls, to pin up next to his basket, so he could see them, too.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Cobs and Monsters

When I was about seven, I watched an episode of Robin Hood starring Richard Greene, which included a scene where the “baddie,” in black armour, lurked on a great staircase. I couldn’t sleep for nights. In my dreams/nightmares he was always after me. A pursuit that caused me to eventually wake, hot and breathless.

A few days ago, the eldest of our twin granddaughters (by ten minutes) told me she’d had a nightmare. For her, a giant Christmas tree began to move and wobble, generating monsters that began to chase her and her family. In fact the monsters in question were hideous hybrids of her favourite animals. Anyway, the family all crammed into the smallest of their two cars, and made their getaway. This, her sister told me, was the severely abridged version. “Ugh, she told us this at dinner, and it went on forever. We were all, like, *pulls the expression of someone in a catatonic trance* enough, already.” Sympathetic little soul.

Swan, Flying by Imogen

It was a different tale, today. Today number one twin presented me with a hand drawn picture of a swan, flying. I think it’s charming, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

A place for imaginings.

She’s also been taking advantage of this hammock that her dad’s suspended beneath their horse chestnut tree. The perfect place for recording her imaginings.  

Monday, 22 August 2016


Each summer, when I was a kid, my green-fingered gran would enter her blooms and various categories of produce into the local village shows. The fruits of her labours were judged and invariably won prizes. I suppose I must have been proud, but I was most likely distracted by the sights and sounds of village folk gathering to inspect the exhibits for themselves.

I have a pretty good memory for these kinds of events. Though it’s not photographic. Unless, of course, slightly out-of-focus, tilted-in-the-frame snaps count.

My gran (on the right) with her neighbour, Mrs Cooper, all dressed up for the Owlsbury Show.

A couple of things I recall, with great clarity. My great uncle Harry laying at full-stretch in the wooden box-cum-sidecar that my grandad used to carry his tools and goods in. On a trip to the Owlsbury show we followed grandad and Harry through the winding lanes, to the site where a considerable square yardage of off-white canvas had been carefully erected. Grandad, sat upright on his Triumph Thunderbird, and Harry reclining, his hands clasped behind his head, with the summer sun occasionally spotting through the leafy branches, lighting up his silver hair.

The second vivid image is that of my grandad stood talking to a man with a huge block of wood to one side of him. The surface of the wood was studded with nails. Some with their heads just above the surface, others bent double, and some brutally misshapen. I believe the idea was to drive home a six inch steel pin with three blows.

I begged grandad to have a go, and he did. The prize for successfully hammering the nail home, was sixpence. I’m guessing it was probably a penny for three blows. Anyway, the challenge was on. Grandad took a nail from the man and pushed the sharp end into the wood. Just enough to make it stand upright. Then he took the hammer and delivered an almighty blow. The block shook, the nail sunk to its middle into the wood, the man had lost his jovial smile. Another whack! This time there was only a small gap between the nail head and the wood. On the third strike, the nail was buried. The man dug deep into his trouser pocket and retrieved a sixpence. He handed it over to grandad and, in turn, grandad passed it to me.

I held on to that little coin tightly, for the rest of the afternoon, before it was tempted away from me in exchange for a bag of sweets.  

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Summer of Love

Yesterday we enjoyed a family day out under sunbeams. We breathed deep, the heavy fragrances of ageing roses and lavender, served up on barely perceptible waves of crushed grass.

We picnicked under a plane tree, and watched children wearing their warmth lightly as they played.

Later on there was ice-cream. Dripping salted caramel, vanilla, and raspberry sorbet. Crunchy cones and sticky hands.

SW, nicely captured by her sister, Imogen.

SW was looking forward to having a sleepover at her best friend’s house.

There was a little apprehension, that emotional tug we feel when facing time away from the family home, even if it is just one night.

"Love you."

After she’d been picked up, our daughter went into the garden, to find that SW had left this message.

Sunday, 7 August 2016


I was born and raised in the countryside, so you might think my formative years were awash with wild life in all its forms. In a way it was, I suppose. But knowledge and awareness are not the same as having contact and bearing witness. This is how it was with foxes. I heard them bark late into the night, from the comfort of my bed. I saw evidence of where they’d been, and what they’d left behind. I caught fleeting glimpses of stealthy movers in the surrounding fields, but I never saw one, up close and personal.

Fox by SW

Of course, foxes have been urban dwellers for a long time now. I’ve seen a vixen with her cubs in the car park of a major city hospital. Our daughter had one who was a regular visitor to her city garden, just yards away from six busy lanes of traffic. When I used to take the Thameslink from Wimbledon Chase to Farringdon, another fox family had established itself as something of a landmark. People craned to see them lazing in the sun or, on a wet day, sheltering in the lee of a steel cabinet that housed the gubbins necessary to the efficient operation of the track.

Slick Fox by Immy

I suppose the point I’m making is that you probably stand a greater chance of spotting a fox in the town, than the countryside. In the sixteen and a half years we’ve lived in this deepest rural setting, I’ve only spotted a few. Mostly catching them in the headlights as they trot imperviously across the road ahead. Once in broad daylight, on the lawn of a neighbouring house.

Foxy, the friendly fox.

Early in the 80s, I interviewed a local man who had rescued a fox cub, and kept it as a pet. That would be very controversial now, but I found the visit fascinating. Jack Toms, his wife, and “Foxy”, were all perfectly charming.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


When I was about 6 or 7 years old, someone gave me a torch as a gift. It wasn’t just any old torch either. It had filters. I don’t remember if I changed the colour by sliding a switch or pressing a button, but one thing’s for certain, red, green and white shone brightly for me. However, I didn’t use the torch to see my way around in the dark. In fact I don’t recall thinking of it as a useful device in that way. To me it was a toy. A key to unlock my imagination.

The best place to appreciate the full effects was under the bedclothes. Pre-duvet folks will know that with a sheet, two blankets and an eiderdown pulled over your head, the world became a very dark place.

Illustration by SW

Sometimes I used to screw my eyes tight shut until when at last I opened them my vision was blurred and watery. The ideal time to turn on the torch. Suddenly the folds and shadows, moving in and out of focus, were cave walls or wild seas. A red filter brought an extra air of menace and on occasion I’d have to pop my head out into the open, just for some reassurance. The green filter reminded me of the sea. Although thinking of how vivid it was, perhaps the leaking of some radioactive substance would have been more accurate. But the sea, it was, and one I had no fear of drowning in.

These adventures were almost always followed by the same dream. There was a small trapdoor in my mattress, probably about the size of a small shoe box. Yet somehow I lowered a rope with a cage at the end and, one by one, I would rescue random animals by calling them into the cage and hoisting them up through the impossibly small trapdoor to the safety of my bed. These rescues could last some considerable time and, by rights, my bed should have collapsed under the weight of saved animals. Often my bedclothes were in disarray in the morning. So either I was a restless sleeper, or the mess could be attributed to a hoard of escaping creatures. One other odd thing: I could never find that trapdoor, in the daylight.